Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: The narrative perspective problem

Because Angela and Christopher Yuan’s book, “Out of a Far Country,” is an autobiography, it engages a narrative voice, just like a work of fiction.  This is particularly helpful in this case, because both Angela and Christopher are describing a transformative journey, a journey that involved transformations of their thoughts and behavior patterns.  As such, the process of narrating their story and telling what was going through their minds at the time enhances and furthers their story and the overall goal of the book.

However, neither author is always clear on whether they are totally narrating from the perspective of their earlier selves — the person who lived through the experience currently being described — or their current selves or both.  As such, it’s not always clear if a given point of view is still valid in their current way of thinking.

The first time this becomes troubling is in the very first chapter, where Angela describes briefly an incident from Christopher’s teen years:

I immediately thought back to when Christopher was sixteen years old and I found out from his brother that he had a sexual relationship with a thirty-year-old man.  Christopher had contacted the man, who then invited him over.  Sure, Christopher may have sought the man out, but no matter how you look at it, this man had used and soiled my son.

Note that Angela does not indicate whether she is speaking as her current self who blames this man for “soiling her son” or her 1993 self, who (as her narrative demonstrates) had a tendency to try and control Christopher and even make excuses for his own choices.  That potential difference makes the difference between Angela telling about her own personal growth and Angela perpetuating the myth that gay men are predators who recruit younger men and boys.

Christopher presents a similar problem when he describes his thoughts when meeting with a retired marine who “‘knew a lot’ about homosexuality.”  Chris writes about part of the exchange as follows:

“Well, for one thing, gay men have a shorter life expectancy than straight men.”  He looked at my mom.  “This has been proven by reputable scientists.”

Reputable!  You’ve got to be kidding.  Was this what you’d call knowing a lot about homosexuality?  Using skewed statistics to “prove” that gay men die sooner than other men?  How could any researcher gather an unbiased, representative sample of gay men, when many don’t want their sexuality to be known and others are still denying even to themselves that they are gay?  Most of those studies only gathered data rom gay men who died as a result of AIDS.  What about all teh other normal gay men?

He continued.  “Did you know that a survey of gay men shows that most have had sex with someone under the age of eighteen?”

Seriously?  Give me a break!  None of my friends slept with teenagers.  Did the survey clarify when it was that they slept with someone under-age?  Most likely they were teens themselves.  And by way of comparison, what were the stats for straight men?

Christopher’s analysis of the shorter lifespan claim is 100% accurate.  Most claims about gay men living shorter lifespan is based on the discredited research of Paul Cameron.  There are plenty of resources explaining how Cameron both distorted his own work to get the results he wanted and distorted the findings of others in service of his claims.  In fact, many of the researchers whose works Cameron has distorted have made very public statements condemning him for it.

I have no hard data on sex between underage boys and men over the age of eighteen, however I will note that this is a standard accusation of the anti-gay movement.  Also, they are quick to link pedophilia with gay men — either explicitly or implicitly — in general despite all the research pointing out that sexual orientation has no bearing on a pedophiles choice of victims.  So Christopher’s dismissal of this man’s arguments is not only reasonable, but based on sound and documented criticisms of such anti-gay rhetoric.

But again, Christopher doesn’t make it clear if present-day Christopher still feels the way that Christopher of 1993 felt.  Given the fact that this earlier version of Christopher is being painted as making poor choices (and many of his choices are undeniably poor) and being generally rebellious, it would be easy for readers to assume that this is another one of those areas where younger Christopher “got it wrong.”  This is especially true considering that present-day Christopher has given some indication that at least his theology, if not his politics and methods, aligns with those who continue to spout such discredited propaganda against gay men and LGBT people in general.  The fact that he does not clarify whether he believes that this is one of those places where his younger self “got it right” in this particular instance is troubling.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Christopher and Angela and their book exist in a certain context, and their book serves the potential to serve the purposes of that context in ways that are potentially less-than-honest.  Assuming that they did not want their book used in such ways, it would have been nice if they made more effort to make it clear where their current-day selves disagree with their younger selves and where they still agree.

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