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Comments: Week of May 23, 2011

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1. Wesley Yang’s essay about the conundrums of Asian-American identity (Paper Tigers,” May 16) proved so provocatively meaningful to so many readers that it quickly became one of the most popular stories online that this magazine has ever published. Many of the numerous comments on nymag.com, blog posts, and tweets commended it for its literary and emotional power. The writer Mary HK Choi praised Yang over Twitter for being “a highly intelligent grown man. shows his ass & says unpopular shit.” On nymag.com, there was a striking number of variations among commenters making this point: “This is the first time someone has totally and utterly articulated what I am experiencing,” wrote one. Said another: “Reading this was almost like reading [my] autobiography.” There was some frustration that the story addressed only the male perspective—a too-particular male experience, some felt. As Nina Shen Rastogi in Slate’s Brow Beat blog observed, “Male sexual inadequacy is a consistent theme in Yang’s lament: Failing to master the nuances of American masculinity is portrayed as a key part of the Asian-American experience. (On the question of where that leaves us Asian-American women, Yang is silent.)” She goes on to observe, “It is certainly possible to be both Asian-American and a dweeb, and the former identity may influence the latter—but does one cause the other? And if so, does it do so across the board?” Sylvie Kim at ­Hyphen magazine online noted, “Many ­readers identified with [Yang’s] middle finger to that dogged pursuit of ­achievement which has left many unfulfilled socially, romantically, or economically, and I wanted to join in, too. But I couldn’t find a foothold in an article devoted almost solely to overachievers, to the most visible archetype in Asian America.” Her critique was echoed in part by Sam Han, on the blog Scattered ­Speculations, who saw “a common thread” in Yang’s examples: “the desire not only to be white but to be white men … What we are left with is quite frankly a meditation on how to acquire white privilege, not the questioning of the value system of privileging based on race and gender itself.” The website Hacker News hosted an extensive discussion on the story that showed its resonance beyond the Asian community: One posted that “This is one of the best descriptions of minority life in the U.S. (or anywhere else) that I’ve read in quite a while.”


2. In an issue unusually preoccupied with questions of identity, Carl Swanson’s profile of transgender singer Justin Vivian Bond provoked a tempestuous discussion about, among other things, the politics of pronouns (The Story of V,” May 16). Earlier this year, as the performer began to take estrogen, Bond had asked to be referred to as “v” and not “he” (or “she”), a request that was acknowledged in the story, which nonetheless referred to Bond as “he.” Shortly after the article went online, Bond declared it “offensive” on Facebook, and some of Bond’s loyal fans seconded this reading. (“It is the plight of sensitive artists to be ­susceptible to the ignorance of their ­detractors,” wrote one.) Other blogs, including Flavorwire (“We think it’s just good manners to call people their requested name and pronoun”) and the Awl (“I mean, Wikipedia can deal with pronouns”), weighed in on the pronoun issue as well. Eventually, Bond wrote on Bond’s own website that “v/he” wasn’t actually the central issue, which was that it was “sensationalistic” and described the story as claiming to be “ ‘supportive’ while presumptuously ­trying to explain me to people who are supposedly even more ignorant than they.”Bond’s interpretation of the profile’s interpretation of Bond bewildered many readers who found it anything but hostile, however. “I thought the article captured how ­wonderful Justin Bond is and how ­transformative Justin Bond is,” wrote one commenter. “This article is for a ­wider ­audience, it will reach people who have never—not for one second!—considered that there might be a space between the two currently ­accepted genders.” Others were just happy to have been allowed to get to know more about Bond. As one put it, “I’ve read every article ever written on Justin, and this is one of the best, actually, at telling the shaggy-dog story of Justin’s career and describing the contradictions of her self-presentation.”

3. At the National Magazine Awards on May 9, New York was honored to receive the General Excellence award for “News, Sports and Entertainment” magazines (against a roster of considerable excellence: Fast Company, People, The New Yorker, and Time). The “Strategist” won for Best Magazine Section as well. New York was also a finalist for its design, for Jerry Saltz’s art criticism, for Jonathan Van Meter’s profile of Joan Rivers, and for its issue “Who Runs New York?” At the James Beard Awards on May 6, Grub Street was anointed the Best Food Blog (team-produced) and ­Benjamin Wallace’s portrait of Keith ­McNally was honored as the Best Food Profile; Adam Platt was a finalist for his restaurant criticism.

Send correspondence to: nymletters@nymag.com


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