Prompted by an e-mail…

Prompted by an e-mail from Alex H., I've added my essay about race, sex, and old lovers, "Under the Skin: A Survey, to this site. (I'd originally published it in my collection, Silence and the Word.) Would be curious to hear what people think of it. It was scary to write. (This is the one where I e-mailed a bunch of my exes and asked them impertinent questions.)

Also curious whether you like the essay or the poem version better. :-)

(Note -- I threw it up quickly, so as not to take too much time away from grading, so if you find any formatting errors, please let me know.)

What has occasionally caused me concern regarding my sexual past is not the number of lovers I have had, nor the types of relationships. It is true that my mother is not happy that I am still unmarried at thirty-two. She is even less happy about the fact that I am living with one lover, yet am involved with two others -- and yes, everyone knows about everyone else, and we're all fine with it. At this point in my life, my mother just wants me to get married, to marry anyone -- anyone male, at any rate. Which is a funny turn of events, given that for quite a few years, she would have hated the idea of my marrying the man I now live with -- after all, he's white. Not Sri Lankan, not South Asian, not even brown-skinned. He's white as white can be, a European mongrel; his last name is even Whyte. Remembering those lost years, the screaming phone calls, the not-speaking over my dating him is painfully funny now, when all she wants is for us to get married and settle down into something approaching normalcy. I never thought his skin color mattered; what mattered was that he was someone I loved. That was true for everyone I dated (or just slept with) -- skin color wasn't an issue.

Unfortunately, skin color has become an issue. In the last few years, between writing a series of Sri Lankan immigrant stories and studying post-colonial criticism in grad school, I've been forced to actually think about skin color and ethnicity and race -- all aspects of my life that I have dealt with mostly by ignoring them. This is surprisingly easy to do if you're an upper-middle-class South Asian with a doctor for a father and no accent. I was born in Sri Lanka but came to the U.S. at age two; I grew up in a white Polish-Catholic neighborhood in Connecticut, and perhaps because there were so few brown kids at my school and they didn't know quite what to do with me, the white kids mostly treated me as white. Which is a comfortable way to be treated, so I cheerfully went along with it -- I didn't even notice it, in fact. At sixteen, when fooling around with a neighborhood boy in my parents' basement, I wasn't thinking about the color of Tommy's skin, or mine -- I was much more concerned about the fact that Tommy had somehow managed to talk me into taking my shirt off where my parents could catch us. For most of my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, when I left my parents' house, I tended (tried) to forget that I was brown....

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