I'm Lena Chen, a writer, activist, and media producer who's been called a "skank" (by Bill O'Reilly) and "a small Asian woman" (by The New York Times). My favorite part of my workday is the hate mail.For the unlikely story that is my life, read on.
I think you’ve already demonstrated your strength by sharing this story (which I have been terribly tardy in responding to - my apologies). Hopefully, in writing me this message, you can recognize that the people who ostracized you were wrong in their actions and especially in their opinion. Your ideas DO matter. This note mattered to me, and I’m sure it will matter to someone else who is reading.
I have been told many times that my work and writing are passionate and courageous, but if I am brave, it is only because I am continually humbled and inspired by others who have overcome far more adversity and emerged even kinder and more loving than before. There are so many people I have had the privilege of knowing (both online and in real life) who have shared similar stories of exile and rebirth. And these are mostly regular people - not sex bloggers or hardcore activists or folks who are even necessarily political. Sometimes, all it takes to be made fun of is to be poor, disabled, a person of color, a survivor of sexual/psychological trauma, queer, gender non-conforming, or just plain weird or “crazy” by typical standards of society.
The thing is, most of us are weird, most of us are born with both privileges and handicaps, most of us spend our lives trying to make sense of the suffering we witness or endure in the world, but few of us manage to avoid inflicting suffering upon others, few of us manage to ease the suffering of others. As Albert Camus noted, “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” And it’s precisely because I know how difficult it is to live in this society (no matter what position you might occupy in life) that I have tried to share a bit of my experience. Honesty and open-heartedness and empathy are some of the few tools at our disposal. Writing is simply my way of wielding these tools. I am certain that you will discover the right ones for yourself.
I love it too! It’s one of my favorite gifts that we’ve received as a couple, though our friends and family are generally pretty good about only giving us things we need and will put to use. Anyway, the duvet cover is made by an Italian linen company called Bassetti, which should be available in European department stores and might also be online. Their designs are indeed beautiful, and my bed always feels amazing.
The many, many readers who have complained about this will now be relieved to hear that I just updated my theme to be mobile-friendly, so I hope this fixes the issue :)
By the way, I’m doing a major tech overhaul this fall to get a few websites up, but I don’t have time to design a new theme yet. I’ll figure out a way to put up some photos soon enough (and definitely some Hamlet).
P.S. Just fixed my Disqus and the comments system should be back on!
I apologize if the rant-y nature of my initial “diatribe” made it incomprehensible (though honestly I think the situation called for a rant given the obscene miscarriage of justice we’re dealing with here). I’m not trying to say that news outlets should cover Chavis Carter, and I’m definitely not trying to say that news outlets shouldn’t cover Gabby Douglas. What I am saying is that there’s a reason one gets attention and the other doesn’t. Chavis was a young adult black male with drug offenses. Gabby is an up-and-coming female athletic star with a “million-dollar smile” (as emphasized by every NBC news anchor ever) - and yes, they’re both black but there is absolutely privilege in Gabby’s position, because no cop is ever going to think that he’ll be able to get away with staging her handcuffed suicide in the back of a police car.
Gabby has the type of mass appeal that eludes most Black Americans, and the latter is what I’m trying to draw attention to - the fact that most people who look like her do not have the same advantages, that she is the exception not the norm, and that by glorifying exceptions, we forget in the process that we live in an incredibly messed up nation, a place where media commentators have the audacity to allege that sport is the “great equalizer”, even as fellow citizens are murdered each and every single day for having the wrong skin color or being born into the wrong circumstances. Even for other aspiring black gymnasts, Douglas’ experience is worlds away from their own. Black athletes are routinely commodified or exploited by historically white institutions, particularly at the college level, and sociologists have long acknowledged the false narrative of competitive sports as a vehicle for social mobility. I don’t think that pointing out these unpleasant facts about our society makes one “narcissistic” or “pseudo intellectual”, but I choose not to take either of those accusations personally, just as I would urge any Gabby Douglas or Olympics fan not take my words to be a personal attack against them or Douglas herself.
There is one additional thing I want to point out - and I want to preface this once again with the disclaimer that I realize Douglas accomplishment was clearly not a run-of-the-mill event. I may not have any experience with competitive athletics, but I can appreciate what it’s like to train to the point of mental and physical discomfort. (And hopefully, the 100-hour yoga training I’m signing up for this fall will not break my body!) But while the regimen necessary to produce your average Olympian comes at great financial, emotional, and bodily cost to athletes across the board, Douglas did arrive in London with one undeniable advantage: she’s American, and as a result, she’s had access to first-world privileges and amenities throughout the preparation process. Her competitors from less prosperous nations have dramatically different training experiences, some of which you might even categorize as child abuse. So although I think Douglas could be a very positive role model, it’s important to put her achievement into context.
Which brings me to this: The Olympics produces far more losers than it does winners, and I am talking as much about the social and environmental consequences of the industry as I am about the impact on athletes themselves. It really bothers me that people like me and my friends consider the Olympics a fun excuse to throw a party, while disenfranchised populations - the poor, the homeless, non-whites, indigenous people - are being displaced, ignored, or literally pushed out of their homes to make room for what is essentially a contemporary Gladiatorial Games. I won’t go into all the details of why I don’t like the Olympics here (as some of them are historical reasons that have little to do with the games today), but I would advise anyone interested in further reading to check out Inside the Olympic Industry: Power, Politics, and Activism by Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, as well as the follow-up Olympic Industry Resistance: Challenging Olympic Power and Propaganda. Lenskyj offers “a critical analysis of the politics of Olympic bids and preparations from the perspective of all those adversely affected by the social, economic, political, and environmental impacts of hosting the Olympics”.
All of that said, when it comes to the competitors themselves, I fully believe that no amount of money, but only some kind of passion inexplicable to others, could be the motivation for what they put their bodies through. So, even though I have always considered myself unathletic, that passion is something that I can find myself relating to, and it’s probably why, despite my distaste for the Olympics, I still find Gabby Douglas inherently likable and admirable. I know what it’s like to put a passion before your own best interests, to charge pass the established limits, to learn how to work through pain. That the world we live in treats such dreams like products to be packaged up and sold speaks badly not of Gabby Douglas, but of the industry she’s entered and of the society she lives in. It’s possible that when she won gold, there were millions of would-be black gymnasts in America who had been holding their breath and waiting for someone to represent them, to show them that they could do it too. To me, Douglas’ story does serve a purpose, not necessarily one of racial progress but one of hope, by demonstrating that there are some passions so beyond containment that they find expression even in the least accommodating of worlds.
More burning questions? Ask Lena.
I think we’re basically in agreement here. It bears repeating that I have nothing against Gabby Douglas, since she clearly holds no personal responsibility for how the Olympics are broadcast or how media organizations make their content decisions. But ultimately, this is no more about Douglas than it is about Chavis Carter. She is merely an example of the type of story that most news organizations love to run when they feel like talking about race, and he is an example of the routine racial injustices that get ignored because stories like his probably make most people flip the channel. Yes, she won a gold medal, and yes, that is cool, but I think we can all agree that this accomplishment - while it’s great for her and great for aspiring gymnasts and maybe great for the Olympics too, it will nonetheless change very little about the lived experiences of the majority of black people in this country. And that’s because there’s exactly one Gabby Douglas in the world and as inspiring as she is, her story will never be the story of most Americans. But Chavis Carter? There are countless numbers of people with experiences like his. And if they each got even a fraction of the airtime that Gabby did, well, that wouldn’t be inspiring, no, it’d just be depressing, but it would undoubtedly outrage people and maybe even change the way Americans think about privilege and law enforcement and race.
I don’t think it’s a matter of free choice, and I also don’t specify what an “ideal scenario” would be. Yeah, the media CAN choose to cover both stories, but seriously, is it going to cover Chavis Carter on the same scale and how many stories like his slip through the cracks every day? It’s a matter of what sells papers, and what makes people “feel good” - a gold medal - often sells better than the story of a black man who was likely unjustly murdered by the very people whom our society considers to be its protectors. To me, that is far more worthy of media attention, because while it’s cool that some things have changed, there are far more things that have stayed the same and we routinely ignore them because they’re unpleasant to deal with.
This isn’t about jealousy or bitterness (especially since I have no personal investment in the Olympics, gymnastics, or sports in general), and really, this isn’t even about Gabby Douglas as an athlete or a person. I actually find Douglas much more likable than most athletic stars. Might the media coverage of her victory generate some interesting and progressive conversation? Certainly, but we’d also have some pretty interesting conversations if systemic injustices received as much attention as she did, and guess what, they rarely do. This has nothing to do with choosing Gabby Douglas over Chavis Carter, and everything to do with being fed up with the same old bullshit that pervades our airwaves, infects our minds, and helps us forget that beyond all this Olympic hoopla, there are people being killed, in our own country, by police officers who are not even competent enough to properly cover up a racially-motivated homicide.
I don’t necessarily want children, biological or otherwise, but I do want to start a family.
Let me explain: I dislike most babies, can tolerate and sometimes enjoy older kids, and when it comes to doing activist/sex ed work, I love talking to teenagers. Because of my academic background and professional interests, I’ve learned a lot about maternal health, pregnancy, parenting styles, adolescent identity formation, etc. though I’m admittedly ignorant when it comes to child psychology. So, I am not virulently anti-kids and anti-parenting, and the family unit is something that fascinates me on a sociological level. I’m just sort of doubtful that I’ll enjoy the early motherhood years, you know? And I’m not going to chance it.
I do want a family though. I don’t want it to be just me and Patrick forever. That probably doesn’t make a ton of sense to most people, because without children, can you have family? I think you can. I don’t put all that much emphasis on blood ties; after all, the people who know me most intimately in the world share none of my genes. I’m kind of in the process of creating a makeshift family this summer. Will report back on how that goes. (And no, this is not code for getting another dog - though one day, Hamlet will be siring me a bulldog puppy, mark my words.)
More burning questions? Ask Lena.
This week? Next week? Next month? I don’t know! It depends on how quickly I make progress on my novel, since I want to complete the first draft this summer before I leave Boston. For now, I think it’s best to take it day-by-day and to not try to balance it with other writing. (Because sooner or later, this book will be completed, but all those other things, like this blog, will still be there.) I’ve also been trying to restore some semblance of normality into my daily life in the meantime - i.e. not going into full-fledged survival mode as Patrick did during the dissertation and generally recovering from lack of sleep/peace.
I’ve recently been a bit thrown off by Patrick’s graduation and house guests and friends I haven’t seen in months, and I’ve noticed how much my textual output is impacted so much by my state of mind, diet, exercise, surroundings, etc. Some days I feel entitled to non-productive writing, but more often than not, I feel behind and antsy (like I should be typing away during every available second or something). My time anxieties aside, my brain is in this mode that redirects all my excess energy toward the topics related to the book - so I’ll be in the middle of unloading the dishwasher and will be pondering domestic labor or walking around Harvard Commencement taking mental notes on the pomp and circumstance. It’s so exhilirating to experience this book as something I need to write, an automatic impulse almost, and it’s clearly something I very much need to complete right now, which isn’t to say that I don’t think about or want to blog things anymore but rather that my priorities have been reshuffled for the time being.
So yes, I’ve been neglecting the blog along with email and Twitter, and I’ve basically abandoned my online identity and offline social life, but this is probably the only way I’m going to finish writing. I decided a couple months ago that I’ve spent far too much time over the past few years subordinating my writing to everything else going on, so I need to start making it a priority again. This meant extricating myself from various obligations and eliminating all the less time-sensitive stuff. I think I’ll come out of this happier and a much better blogger.
Also, spoiler alert: a much-needed blog redesign and relaunch will probably happen within a year, sometime after I move - so I have big plans for this space :)
More burning questions? Ask Lena.
Anyone who’s having anal sex should still be using condoms, regardless of their pregnancy concerns. I also generally think that it’s much likelier to be a positive experience if you engage in a sexual activity because you enjoy that particular activity, not because it’s a second best option. If pregnancy prevention is the only reason you’re at all interested in anal sex, then you might want to consider just going on birth control. And as with any type of sex, only engage in it if your partner(s) is someone with whom you’re comfortable :)
More burning questions? Ask Lena.
No, I didn’t book a package. I paid for my transcontinental flights with airline miles and booked a couple hotels at employee rates, thanks to my mom’s discount (she works for a hotel chain). I also stayed with people during a couple points, when I couldn’t find available rooms.
I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of vacation packages. My first trip to Southeast Asia (back in 2008) was planned by a travel agency. I was traveling in a group and there was limited time, so a package made sense then, but if I could do that trip all over again (and one day, I totally will), I would have allowed myself the flexibility to make more spontaneous decisions. Relatively speaking, Southeast Asia isn’t very expensive compared to, say, Europe, so it’s perfectly possible to do all your own bookings while not spending a lot of money. A package might be more appropriate if you’re looking for a guided visit, complete with escorts. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s necessary.
Another reason I wouldn’t do a package again is because I’d like to visit friends in Asia, and that would be hard to accommodate if I have a very scheduled trip. If you want to save money and don’t have folks to stay with, there are plenty of alternatives to hotels. For example, I’ve heard great things about CouchSurfing. You might also want to scope out short-term vacation rentals and serviced apartments, which typically serve corporate clients but are frequently available to travelers as well. And of course, there are also hostels, which often come with free wifi, helpful staffers, and tons of fellow travelers for you to meet and hang out with. (Just look up reviews on TripAdvisor first if you’re concerned about location, safety, cleanliness, etc.)
P.S. My friend Lingbo has been backpacking through Southeast Asia for several months, and she has a bunch of fantastic tips on her blog about how to safely travel on a budget as a solo woman. Read it! She’s far better at this than I am :)
More burning questions? Ask Lena.