Snowcovered Appearances

Amnye Taklung and other mountains above Jiawugang

I am an idiot for not bringing my camera on most of my recent runs into the mountains above Rebgong. For the past two weeks, the region has been going through a spell of wintry weather. Snow has been falling every day or two, descending from above not in skiable amounts but in quantities just enough to keep the town’s normal grime and filth covered with a pleasantly smooth, crisp, glittering blanket.

Yet for all its shine, this snow is nothing more than simply another layer of sediment – one that is pretty, no doubt, but is also impermanent, not to mention frighteningly slippery (full disclaimer: on several occasions this past week, I fell down hard while descending the short but treacherous slope leading from our courtyard to the street – all to the great delight of the nearby audience of elderly women and child mafia members. I somehow felt better, in an unusual attack of schadenfreude, after I went into town and saw that everyone else was falling down, too). And when this snow melts, everything will be back in its old place: the yak carcasses will still line the sidewalks, plastic bottles will be strewn along the country roadsides, and the streets will be as grimy and shitcovered as before, if not more so. As a five-year-old Chinese apartment block sheds its skin of poorly-applied painted plaster to reveal its already weary-looking concrete and rebar bones, snow seems to cover – or at least dampen – Rebgong’s problems or imperfections, or at the very least those differences which separate it from what the Tourism Bureau wants it to be. Snow is Rebgong’s temporary cosmetic surgery, its AutoTune, but the business of covering up reality is truly a slippery one, as we have seen. One misstep, or even one correct step when you’re not paying attention, and you’re down.

Down but not out. All that you can do is dust yourself off, maybe laugh at yourself a little, then pick yourself back up again and start trudging along down the road.

downtown Rebgong in the snow. Caution: more slippery than it appears

So it goes with people and their attempts – or desires – to be what they aren’t. Nothing – the lust for wealth, the desire to accumulate material goods, or anything else – can truly transform someone from who they are into who they think they are or who they want to be; instead, the person simply engages in an elaborate, expensive exercise in self-deception. One of my students (who is by no means rich) has adopted a hatred of such pretension in his weekly journal entries, which express a yearning for the simplicity and peace of his childhood as a nomadic herder in the grasslands and a contempt for the materialism that brought them out of this natural idyll – a materialism that brought with it intrigue, greed, pretension, hatred, a Pandora’s box of the worst in humanity. He, though a model student and likely to attend a good university, is ready to turn back the clock and live in the grasslands; who among us is willing to discard their comforts and complexities and go with him?

Qijia village in the snow, with Amnye Taklung above

But one does not need to revert to the state of nature (Hobbesian, Lockian or otherwise) to simply recognize, as does the student mentioned above, the basic pretension of such materialism – and of humanity in general. For our desire to cloak our identities goes far beyond the simple acts of buying and selling, farther back into our consciousness, deep into our most base instincts. Most notably, our instinct to lie to conform to others’ expectations of who we are (selfconscious hipsters notwithstanding), and, more powerfully, our instinct to lie to conform to our own expectations of who we are (selfconsious hipsters definitely included).

Not all of these lies and pretensions are revealed in due time. For when one is lying to oneself, how does one distinguish the lie from the truth? How does one gain consciousness of the lie, a consciousness which is a necessary prerequisite for the lie to be overcome?

more scenery from Jiawugang, looking across the Rebs. valley to Amyne Shyachung

Now, to transition from the abstract to the personal (and to find out how many people actually read my blog posts in their entirety!), I – like all humans – have engaged in elaborate exercises in self-deception in attempts to deny my true identity. However, my deception has been of a sort potentially more personal, encompassing and confusing than most – self-deception I’ve been unable to uncover as such until quite recently. What am I talking about here? There’s no great way to introduce this, so here goes. Despite anything you knew or thought about me before, I like guys. I’m gay. Discard all preconceptions at this door.

Why has this been so difficult for me to figure out? Why has it taken me so long? Is it my disposition, my relentlessly striving personality? Is it because as an athlete, I didn’t identify – or want to identify – with prevalent stereotypes of homosexuality? Is it because I simply wanted to be more normal – or, in my case, a more accurate formulation would be – less strange and different? Or, on a more basic level, is it because I simply didn’t know myself? Who really knows. All that I really care about is that I’ve finally recognized – and have started to discard – this self-deception.

impressionisticesque night view of the lower town in the snow

This is not something that’s going to be easy to live with here in Rebgong – I’ve decided to remain closeted to all locals, in order to maintain my local connections and reputation in a place that recently decriminalized (and strongly looks down upon) homosexuality – but is something I’ll simply have to deal with on my own basis. And this is sad – not for me, but for everyone else in this country, the people who have welcomed me into their unique cultures, communities and societies. For despite the vehement arguments of locals and of the government that there are no gay people on the plateau, that being such a person is unnatural and abominable, there are numerous closeted young adults (and older adults) in the region. I hope that in the future, people throughout this region – and throughout the world – of all beautifully diverse and wondrously discordant types; a world that Nietzsche, quoting Horace, labels a rerum concordia discors, a discordant harmony of things, will be able to discard their self-deception, to live openly as themselves, to maximize the discord – and as such the overall harmony – to positive reaction and effect.

Well, that’s been the big news out of my recent life. I’m extremely sorry if you’re hearing through this blog post rather than in person – but I live in the middle of nowhere and – to be honest – I’m sick and tired of having this conversation with people on skype. So there you go. NB: I ask you to please respect what I have written and not at any cost forward/show it to anyone in the amazing, yet utterly traditional, region in which I live. I hope that those writing similar posts in the future will not have to write such a disclaimer.

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4 Responses to Snowcovered Appearances

  1. Kailah says:

    Nice invocation of “harmony” at the end… but, bullshit aside, what you’ve written is all really very true. And I do grieve for (?) my gay students who I know will be extremely unlikely to pursue and to live people whom they are genuinely attracted to and interested in. Similarly, for gay adults in town who have married opposite-sex partners (often, both parties are gay), to fulfill families’ and society’s expectations of the roles they ought be playing.

    Anyway, I have to go to class. But, congratulations on this realization and on being open about it (if not locally). And good luck, because it can be hard to be gay on the Plateau, even when you’re foreign and therefore slightly exempt from some of the judgements/expectations accorded to locals.

  2. loebx001 says:

    Jonas, a shout out from the US flatlands…(we do read your blog, I have just become more silently ‘scandihoovian’ in my lurking.) I wanted to send support and cheers for taking a step to be more visible. We love you….and all the different parts of who you are. (although having spent time in several ex-satellites of that other Communist nation- I am glad you are being locally careful.

  3. Kirsten says:

    I meant to comment on this earlier… but I respect you so much for coming to terms with who you are. This does not change the way I view you in any way, shape, or form. I am happy for you! Good luck navigating this new sense of self in a traditional community. YOU know who YOU are and that is the most important thing.

  4. Pat Loeb says:

    (my comment seems to have disappeared…) – glad to see you recognizing and treasuring who you are, and supporting the need to be discrete but how wonderful to be open to and accepting of all the pieces of yourself. Yay.

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