Friday, September 29, 2006

The Dan of a Thousand Faces

A week has passed since my 33rd birthday and it seems appropriate for me to reflect on who I have become.

DANIEL- This was the name I was given at birth. I was named after my paternal grandfather who was a music teacher, a church minister and finally a missionary to the Native Americans. He died of cancer in December of 1972 and I was born 10 months afterwards.

DANNY- My mom said that as she was leaving the hospital where I was born, that Daniel seemed like too big of a name for such a little boy. So this is how I got my second name which I kept for many years. Even now members of my family and friends from elementary school call me Danny.

DANIEL- One day I was at my desk at school and was given my name in cursive to copy. Imagine my shock to discover that my name was not what I thought it was! Changing it back to the original seemed natural as I grew older.

DAN- When I got into Junior High/High School, the full name seemed to be burdensome and too long. So I changed to something that seemed easier, accessible (no one mispelled it) and hopefully friendlier. (Flash forward to 2005 when I received my black belt in TaeKwonDo. I was tickled to discover that each level for black belts is known as a "dan!" I am proud to be 1st dan!)

MR. G- When I became a teacher, my family name seemed too hard for children to learn, spell or say, so I changed it to a single letter to make it easier for them.

KOREANDAN-In December 2000, I accepted a job teaching at an international school in Seoul, Korea. This meant a new email address that wasn't tied to my internet provider. So after hearing and rejecting many suggestions, I chose something simple and easy to remember with a domain.

DANIFESTO-As I started to transition to leaving Korea, the handle no longer seemed to fit my new identity. I wasn't ethically Korean nor was I going to be living in Korea anymore. At the same time, I wanted to jump on the blogging bandwagon. I got several suggestions and finally one from recordstoregeek really appealed to me as an appropriate name for my blog and consequently my new email address at Since then I have used it as a handle for other sites and if I ever need a brandname for a fashion line or publishing company, I'll probably use it as well.

SON/BROTHER/COUSIN- Although the relationships themselves have changed and matured, I've always had these identities throughout my life.

BOYFRIEND- I had this identity first in university and then a couple of times afterwards.

PARTNER- I've been moving toward this identity during the four year relationship I've had. Partner is more substantial and suggests permanence. It's also gender-neutral which is helpful in some situations.

SPOUSE- Since we filed to immigrate to Canada in April 2005, we've been known as common-law spouses. However it is our goal to actually have a ceremony in the future that would solidify this identity for our family, friends and ultimately, ourselves.

I hope this "Dan's Life in Review" trip was fun for you! As you go through your weekend, I challenge you to take some time to reflect on the changing roles and identities you've had and will have as you travel this road called LIFE.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Celebrate Freedom: READ A BANNED BOOK

Most of you know that I'm an avid advocate of reading. (I'm spending today with GNatty exploring Toronto's The Word on the Street!) In that vein, I wanted to honour Banned Book Week which starts today! Banned Book Week is an annual celebration sponsored by the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, an advocacy group founded in 1982 by the 1200+ bookstore members of the American Booksellers Assocation. This event celebrates banned books (one of the many examples of our freedom of press and expression) and protests their censorship.

I'd invite you to look over their top ten picks for 2006 (source) and see which books you have enjoyed and would have missed they had been banned in your school, library, etc. (I have marked my picks with little * next to the number.) Also please consider reading some books you may have missed out on!

*1. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee (Harper Perennial, $12.95 paper, 0060935464; Deluxe Paperback Classic edition, $15.95, 0061120081) "One of my all-time favorite books is also on the list compiled by the American Library Association of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books. Do yourself a favor and read Lee's novel, which examines prejudice and racial injustice and which reminds us of the difference one person can make." --Patti McCall, Queen Anne Books, Seattle, WA

2. GEOGRAPHY CLUB, by Brent Hartinger (Harper Tempest, $6.99 paper, 0060012234) "Repeatedly challenged by school districts, and in 2005 banned in a Tacoma, Washington school, Geography Club is one of the few young adult novels dealing with gay teens in a straightforward, engaging storyline. An important book for and about a group of young readers who have few other titles that speak to them." --Cheryl McKeon, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA

*3. THE GIVER, by Lois Lowry (Laurel Leaf, $6.50 paper, 0440237688) "This book about a 12-year-old boy singled out by his community for a special role conveys a powerful message and should be read by all who are concerned about government going too far." --Elizabeth Taylor, Poor Richard's Books, Frankfort, KY

4. THE STORY OF LITTLE BLACK SAMBO, by Helen Bannerman, Christopher H. Bing (Illus.) (Handprint Books, $17.95, 1929766556) "This edition of Bannerman's story features illustrations from Caldecott Honor-winning artist Bing and will be welcomed by all those who read it as a child or had it read to them. It spells out why the book fell into disfavor and how the illustrator viewed the story and how his work reflects it." --Dorothy Dickerson, Books & More, Albion, MI

*5. THE BLUEST EYE, by Toni Morrison (Plume, $14 paper, 0452282195) "This novel from the Nobel Laureate is an absolutely brutal depiction of a young black girl's desire to be 'pretty.'" --Donna Hawley, Howard's Bookstore, Bloomington, IN

*6. BRAVE NEW WORLD, by Aldous Huxley (Harper Perennial, $13.95 paper, 0060929871; Deluxe Paperback Classic edition, $13.95, 0060850523) "Huxley's novel of a utopian World State explains the world and creates characters with whom you will empathize. Beautiful!" --Katie Redding, Top Shelf Books, Palatine, IL

*7. FOREVER, by Judy Blume (Pocket, $6.99 paper, 0671695304; Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.95 hardcover, 0689849737) "Blume's brilliance is that she writes frankly about teenage sexuality. But, beyond that, Forever is about teens taking responsibility for their lives and dealing with the consequences of their actions. Still controversial, this novel continues to speak to readers today." --Sweet Pea Flaherty, King's Books, Tacoma, WA

*8. HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE, by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, $8.99 paper, 059035342X) "God bless J.K. Rowling, who has brought millions of children and adults around the world to books and reading. Her Harry Potter books have set children's imaginations alight -- and have created an extraordinary new batch of both readers and writers of fantasy fiction." --Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, Windows A Bookshop, Monroe, LA

9. WE, by Yevgeny Zamyatin (Modern Library, $12.95 paper, 081297462X) "One of the very first dystopian novels ever written, and the only full-length novel ever completed by the Russian writer Zamyatin, who was constantly under arrest or exiled for his subversive writing. It's the story of D-503, a mathematician who falls in love and then must decide between his new love and his beloved state." --Michael Karpus, Books & Books at Bal Harbour Shops, Bal Harbour, FL

10. WHALE TALK, by Chris Crutcher (Laurel Leaf, $6.50 paper, 0440229383) "In a war between the jocks and the freaks, T.J. Jones gradually becomes a wise and fair 'Everyman,' representing all that is good in our society. This book should be required reading for every freak, geek, and jock living the American dream/ nightmare of high school." --Collette Morgan, Wild Rumpus, Minneapolis, MN

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Birthday Presents

I had a great birthday (Sept. 22) and thanks to all the nice emails, cards and best wishes. I would say one of the cooler "presents" I received that day, came from Towleroad, "a blog with homosexual tendencies," that I try to read daily. I commented a long time ago on his coverage of a Korean movie and was surprised and pleased that he quoted me (albeit without credit) on my birthday. Yay me!

Read on to see what the hoopla is all about:(source:Towleroad)

Korean Gay-Themed King and the Clown Submitted to Oscars

South Korea has chosen the gay-themed The King & The Clown as its official submission for Best foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards:
"Lee Jun-Ik's film about an effeminate male clown caught between the affections of a 16th-century tyrannical king and the love of a fellow performer, became the unexpected all-time highest-grossing film in the republic early this year - it was reported that one in four South Koreans saw it in cinemas."
The King & The Clown received much hype last year not only because of its high box office but because its gay theme is something of an anomaly in Asian cinema. Gay Korean actor Hong Suk-Chun was quoted as saying, "While I was sitting in the theater, I thought, Oh, my god, director Lee, thank you so much."
And because it came out shortly following the massive attention that greeted the success of Brokeback Mountain, many in the media compared it to that. However, one Towleroad commenter responded that those comparisons are unwarranted:

"As an expat living in Korea for my 5th year, partnered with a Korean and on a first name basis with Hong Sukchun, I feel like I really should comment...the attention 'The King and His Clown' is getting as this 'gay' movie is misplaced. I've seen the movie and it's beautiful and really interesting but unfortunately NOT a gay movie. Based on a true story, King Yongun does a number of violent and bizarre actions. Watch the movie to learn about Korean history and culture. But if you watch it hoping to see the Korean version of Brokeback Mountain, take it from me, you'll be sorely disappointed."

Posted by Andy in Film, Korea, Oscars Permalink Comments (4)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tainted Blood

My new home of Toronto just had their AIDS Walk for Life this weekend which has compelled me to also note another anniversary of sorts. Twenty five years ago this past summer, five gay men were diagnosed with an unusual disease called pneumocystis pneumonia. These were the first AIDS cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To put this in the perspective of my life, in 1981 I was entering the 2nd grade at Beloit Elementary School. I didn't learn much about this epidemic until I was in high school and we had a special assembly. A hometown girl who had grown up and moved away, had married a man who somehow (I forget) contracted the virus and given it to her. I distinctly remember her saying "Someday each of you will know or meet someone with the HIV/AIDS virus." I doubted the truth of this because at that time, I had every intention of spending the rest of my life in some small town in Kansas.

Oh how wrong I was (on that and many other things)! Sometime in 2000, I had the pleasure of meeting A. through a common friend. A. is funny, Hispanic, Texan and adorably cute. One day, I found out that his skin had become jaundiced and when he went to the hospital it turned out he had liver failure. So we went to visit him and I remember thinking how it was just like the time Ted from Queer as Folk was in the hospital and all his friends came together for him. Or that one guy in Brokenhearts Club. (Both of these came out in 2000, so they were very much on my mind!) It was really good to see him happy to see us and know that he was getting better. My boyfriend at the time and I thought that A. might have Hepatitis C and I remember reading up on it. However in the middle of the night, A. tearfully called to tell me he had HIV and he would be leaving Kansas to return to his family in Texas.

I was very upset by the whole unfairness of it all. Here he was, barely an adult (only 20 years old) and his life was pretty much over. What I learned from A. was that no one deserves to get this. Not gay people, not children, not Africans, not wives, not even hookers and drug users. As shown in the play and movie, Angels in America, our humanity, our lives are sacred gifts. There are more than 36.1 million people infected with HIV currently. And by the end of today, 8,000 people will die of this disease.

What drives me crazy is the "ABC" policy of the current administration. A stands for abstinence, B stands for Be faithful and C stands for condom use. When the administration reports that the majority of HIV/AIDS cases are men and that contractions happen through man to man transmission, it blows me away that the ABC policy is targeted at heterosexual couples. Also what are they doing to target racial minority groups? African-Americans and Hispanics are dying in disproportionate numbers to their percentage in the general population. This conservative policy has dangerous consequences for women as well.

What I'd like to see is an emphasis on prevention, testing and research. Prevention needs to target groups that are most affected (see above). Testing is vitally important as well. Typically it takes 8-10 years for an HIV positive person to develop AIDS but late testers start treatment sicker. Just over 38% of people diagnosed with HIV each year in America received an AIDS diagnosis within just 12 months. (OUT, January 2004) And finally research is needed to see how we can finally put an end to the deaths and suffering.

Nations around the world are doing their part. Just today, a group of countries led by France plan to raise at least $300 million next year, mostly through taxes on airline tickets, to help pay for the treatment of children with AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. France is providing $250 million of the $300 million for next year, all from an airline ticket tax it began collecting this summer. It is charging 4 euros, about $5, for every international economy ticket and 40 euros, about $51, for first-class ones. (NY Times, Sept. 19, 2006)

Fortunately for my friend A., HIV wasn't the death sentence we both thought it was at the time. He was one of the lucky ones. He is happily living in Chicago and currently attending nursing school. I'm so proud of how he has come through it all. It's an inspiration of all of us when we are at our lowest, that life is worth living and the best is yet to come!

Friday, September 15, 2006

All Creatures Great and Small

Upon moving into our Toronto apartment two weeks ago, we were surprised to discover that the previous tenants had not moved out, but in fact stayed around. This was in spite of attempts on the part of the building management to use deadly force to evict them. And now it seems that, despite four different kinds of product we've placed around the house, we may be having these unwanted roommates living with us for the remainder of our lease here on the corner of Crack Avenue and Whore Street.

Yes folks, we have roaches.

Now mind you, I haven't seen any of them or evidence of them (ie dead bodies) this week but I'm ever mindful that if you've seen one than there are thirty just lurking around that you don't see. So I'm going a little crazy. I'm opening drawers and cabinets suddenly and forcefully. My peripheral vision is accutely aware of any quick, tiny movements. I'm hunting in the corners of the apartment, putting poisons down everywhere, thankful we have no children or pets.

I have always found cockroaches to be the most vile, disgusting, repulsive and revolting creatures on the face of this planet. I don't see what purpose they serve in the circle of life and wonder why God made them at all. I'm not certain, but I think they carry diseases, or at least some of them do. Or maybe they've been known to. Somewhere. I don't care. At any rate, I don't like them and certainly don't want to live with them in the same space!

A couple of days ago I was on the towleroad website watching a YouTube clip of Reverend Fred Phelps. It occurred to me that he was using the same adjectives to describe me and people like me as I have used to describe cockroaches! And thinking about that, I sort of can finally see Reverend Phelp's point of view about gay people. He doesn't see what purpose gay people serve in the circle of life and doesn't believe God made us this way. He's pretty certain that we carry diseases, or at least some of us do. But he doesn't care because he'll just generalize about us all. At any rate, he doesn't like us and certainly doesn't want to live with us in the same country!

Like roaches, gay people have been around forever, perhaps since the dawn of time. And, despite people's efforts to frighten, discourage, imprison or even kill them, gay people will continue to exist, even if it is in the shadows or edges of society. As we've discovered, learning is what that brings about understanding. And with understanding comes tolerance. And with tolerance comes acceptance.

Now I'm not saying there will be any Roach Pride Marches in this apartment any time soon! Far from it! But perhaps I can learn something about their tenacity to survive and begrugingly admire them for it. After all, they are God's creatures just like me!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mold Me and Make Me

Back when I was in Seoul, my friend had someone from Turkey visiting him. One day, he asked me to show his Turkish friend around because he had to work. As the Turk was coming from a land famous for Turkish baths and had limited English, I decided to take him to a jimjilbang in Myeongdong. After our obligatory shower and soak in the different hottubs, he asked about possibly getting a massage which I readily agreed to as well.

While we were getting our massages, my mind started to wander (as it often does) about the nature of massages. I was first introduced to the world of massage many years ago through my cousin, who has been working in that field for awhile, though never as an actual massage therapist herself(although she did go through all the classes and has the certification). Since that time I've gotten massages (of various qualities) in most of the countries I've visited, even North Korea.

Everytime I get a massage, I'm struck with what a spiritual experience it can be (given someone with the proper training). I don't think many Christians are aware of all the connections. For example, usually I go in with these preconceived ideas of what I want done to me- usually it's my shoulders, arms and hands. However after the massage, I'm always surprised that the therapist always knew what I needed- in this instance finding the tension on the back of my legs or on my gluteus maximus!

God has been this way with me as well. Usually in my prayertime spent with God, I have a grocery list of things that I want. But God always surprises me with what I need. For example, this past extra year in Korea with my partner was not what I wanted at all but it turned out to be exactly what I needed, just like when I'm on the massage table. As Billy Graham has said "Yes, God does know what we need. But often we don't know what we need! One reason we need to pray therefore, is so we'll stop and realize just how dependent we are on him."

Another realization about massage is that it is not as passive as I had assumed. Both parties have to work together to be successful. I learned that submission is action, not inaction. Of course this is what faith in God is, basically the action of working with God while He does His job! There is the old phrase "Let Go and Let God" which I always thought was trite until I was on the massage table. When I'm there, I have to make myself vulnerable, lay down my physical and emotional self, and put my faith/trust in the massage therapist. The same steps are necessary in when we are in God's presence.

But it hurts when you get what you need, doesn't it? And sometimes it hurts BAD! There may even be tears shed. However, as in my first massage, the therapist had me breathe deeply when I was in pain and then release while trying to relax. And it's at that moment when the healing can begin to happen. When the hour is up and the therapist is finished, you rise up, refreshed, with a sense of wholeness or completeness that you didn't have before. You are ready to face life with renewed energy. This is also the object of worship and communing with God.

So in closing, there are many occupational names for God. Mother Creator, The Good Shepherd, the Great Physican, Everlasting Father, The High Priest, King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Judge of the Quick and the Dead, just to name a few. I'd like to add a new one that may help give us another insight into the nature of God: the Ultimate Massage Therapist!