In 2007, during the midst of my coming out, David Sedaris was subjected to a scandal for making things up in his works of “creative” nonfiction. Influential writers took sides, some calling Sedaris just a humorist, not a journalist, therefore verifiable facts not being necessary, because his goal was to elicit laughs. Others argued he was abusing his credibility with his audience by labeling his work as “non fiction” or “biography”. After a year of radio silence, Sedaris responded in an interview in the New York Times saying, “My stories are ‘real-ish’. I exaggerate things, especially dialogue to capture a larger truth. But so what? Memoir is the last place you’d expect to find the truth.” He blatantly admitted to doing something he knew was wrong, in service to a greater good, which is pretty much exactly what terrorists say.
Was David Sedaris a literal terrorist? If the story delivers its point, do we even fucking care? Reading David Sedaris was a comforting escape for me, as I spent decades toiling with the idea of coming out as a gay man. But every time I thought about doing so, I was reminded of my mother’s precient words on my 12th birthday. There was a nasty rumor going around in the 7th grade that my best friend Julian Quiterio was a homosexual, a rumor undoubtedly sparked by Danielle DePas who remained untouched while spending seven whole minutes with him in Rose Han’s linen closet. In retrospect, we both knew we were gay because we had P.E. together, along with Martin Choa the captain of the basketball team, and when we saw him and his 12 year old abs, we felt like children playing in front of Hercules.
“Peter, you know there are no gay people in Korea,” said my mother; her voice faintly shaking, telegraphing that she was hiding the truth, like when she told me that she’s never farted. “Really?” I asked. “Ok fine,”she acquiesced. “Maybe there are a few gays…but they’re all Japanese.” Non-Koreans will never understand the insult of being called “Japanese”, a fate unto a Korean immigrant akin to a white liberal being called a racist. It is met with abhorrent denial, followed by gusts of heavy exhalation, strong enough to blow out the trick candles on a cheap ice cream cake from Carvel. I closed my eyes and silently made my birthday wish, “I wish I was Japanese.”
It wasn’t until more than a decade later that I decided to explore my sexuality during Christmas of 2007, my holiday on ice. Years of pent up, closeted frustration was released all over Paris, London, Prague, Dublin, Edinburgh and Berlin, as I baptised myself in the sanctifying waters of shady bathhouses across Europe. Rising from the tubs, born-again as an out and proud gay man with the renewed confidence of a white woman on sabbatical, I was fully exercising my own Eat Gay Love, though I had almost no time for “pray”, except the time I noticed an angry red bump on the base of a German opera singer’s blood sausage, as he sauerkrauted unto my face, and up my left nostril. “Dear God, don’t let that be herpes!” I begged silently. It’s true what they say, there are no atheists in foxholes, or behind dimly lit bushes in Goerlizter Park. As the bavarian tenor helped me up from my knees, he assured me, “Das ist ein ingrown hair.” I sighed a deep breath of relief, and wiped my face with my boxer-briefs, denouncing the existence of god once again.
I returned to the states, and immediately signed up for a Grindr account, fully expecting there to be a huge demand for me — a chubby gay Korean man battling sleep apnea. There was not. For almost a year I went without the touch of another man until one late summer evening, while I was filling the emotional void with fire-sauced gorditas at Taco Bell, I received a message from a muscled up gentleman named Mike. He looked like Vin Diesel, if Vin Diesel gave up on Hollywood and worked for the Gap, which incidentally, a great place to dress your family in corduroy and denim. We messaged back and forth, he asked in-depth questions about myself like “What kind of Asian are you?” Wanting to appear coy, I replied “the type that swallows?” He responded, “No seriously, what kind?” “Korean,” I said. “Good, that’s my favorite…”
Today, I absolutely know he was being a racist. But in 2007, I was just happy we had something in common. It had been almost 300 days since my European sexcation and I was willing to look past a few micro aggressions for nice teeth, and a strong cock. He invited me over, and when I arrived, he opened the door, smiled and said “DwejiSekki” — which is Korean for “Pig Faced Bitch.” His Korean was rough, but I knew he was trying to say “Hello.”
His apartment looked like a spread in Architectural Digest, minimalist clean lines, shelves holding books in color order, and on his walls hung art he collected from his travels, including an antique Jangu — a Korean drum. When he asked me to take off my shoes, I thought it was a cultural courtesy, but as he handed me disposable booties to wear instead, I realized he was obsessive compulsive. “Cool,”I thought. “This will be way cleaner than that bush in Berlin.”
Rain fell, a hot summer rain that was so loud it drowned out the thunder rolling behind it. We talked for a while, and after a few cold beers on a thick coaster, we moved into his bedroom, which looked like a laboratory. Everything was either white, or glass. If you held a blacklight in the room, there wouldn’t be a spec out of place. Throwing me onto the bed, he whispered into my ear, “call me Daddy”, which I felt awkward about so I gently whispered back, “ahem, daddy”. And we commenced intercourse.
Something didn’t feel right though. Physically, it was the perfect balance of pleasure and pain, but psychologically I felt unsafe. Mid coitus, Mike was pounding me so hard, I pulled the sheets off the bed, which prompted him to scream, “Goddammit, stop pulling the fucking sheets off the bed!” He hopped off the bed and walked around to fix the sheets, while I stayed frozen on my hands and knees, only my eyes following his movements like a framed portrait in a haunted mansion. Remounting me, he started slapping my haunches and commanded that I call him “daddy” again. I buried my face into his thousand thread count pillows, hoping this would all just stop soon. When I didn’t respond, he pulled my hair back and said “call me daddy, you fucking chink!”
My mouth fell agape, I looked back at him, his face sullen with the knowledge of what he had just said. “Um, I think you mean gook…” I said, pleased with my witty comeback, but we both knew the tryst was over. Dejected, I pulled myself away from him, and as I did, my stomach started rumble louder than the rain and the thunder behind it, signaling the remnants of the fire-sauced gorditas that shot out of my asshole, all over his alabaster sheets.
Looking at his face, I could tell racist, OCD, Mike was having thousands of tiny aneurysms, for his mouth fell wide open and his eyes went black as they do when your brain in engulfed in flames. I stood there, naked, looking at what I had just done, an act of absolute terror, in service to a greater good. Maybe he talk pretty one day.
Needless to say, I am very nervous and completely outside of my element, but I am so every excited and honored to be part of this year's TEDxColumbiaCollegeChi - on April 1st (NO JOKE!) 11AM-6PM. The theme for this year's conference is "Evoking Presence". My talk is titled "Stand Up with Comedy: Evoking Power Through Vulnerability". It's gonna be a fantastic day of listening and learning, with fellow speakers: Stephen Asma, Kacy Johnson, Rich Alapack, Jocelyn Delk Adams, Jim Bachor, Sajana Kantayya, Volker Rose, Louis Carr, Indira Johnson.