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Ceci est non seulement une critique de livre
By Alex Carrigan
*Author's Note: Sylvan prefers to use gender-neutral pronouns (they/them/their), hence why I'm exclusively using them in this piece
In recent months, Jade Sylvan has become one of my favorite rising figures in the literary world. A genderqueer* poet, playwright, actor, performing artist, and producer, Sylvan has been called a “risque queer icon” by the Boston Globe and has written for publications like Buzzfeed, The Washington Post, and more. I first discovered Sylvan through the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, reading one of their essays for a project with the group. Immediately, I was smitten, and I knew I had to expose myself to their work. Unfortunately, since I can’t travel to Boston to see the apocalyptic fringe lesbian sci-fi burlesque horror musical they wrote and produced (Spider Cult: The Musical, with shows on June 24 and 26), I managed to find their 2013 memoir, Kissing Oscar Wilde.
Kissing Oscar Wilde follows Sylvan and their friend Caleb as they roam through Paris as part of a grant. They travel to clubs to read their poetry, take in local flea markets and restaurants, and muse on art, sexuality, and a variety of topics. Mixed in between the chapters about Sylvan’s tour are some of Sylvan’s poems and details on their personal life, such as their dating history and their pen name. There are musings on artists and writers like Gertrude Stein, Patti Smith, and, of course, Oscar Wilde.
I read Kissing Oscar Wilde while on a flight to a family wedding, and I was amazed at how much I came to love the book and Sylvan. Sylvan has a very casual and unique writing style, with plenty of humor and heart. At any point, the book can be written in a new style, such as the script pages when Sylvan is visiting the Sacre Coeur. What makes it interesting is that Sylvan’s poetry background manages to work well for memoir. Their descriptions of locations, people, and emotion are very details and visceral. I really felt like I was traveling around Paris with them as they visited Oscar Wilde’s grave or as they wrote exquisite corpse poems late at night in a smoke-filled apartment.
I think what really got me to love this book so much was Sylvan. To me, a young, 24-year-old wannabe writer/editor/critic, Sylvan is everything I want to be. They have a sense of who they are as a writer and a person. They know a wide variety of artists and fascinating people. They get to travel and perform in unique venues. As I read their book, I started to find myself wanting to be more like Sylvan and wishing I could throw myself to such artistic passions as they have.
Jade Sylvan kissing the glass at Oscar Wilde's grave from Kissing Oscar Wilde.
What I did find interesting while reading Kissing Oscar Wilde was that there was a part about Sylvan that I started to realize was very close to my own identity. When I was planning to write this review, I thought it would be me sharing a memoir that I found to be charming and great, and hopefully get more people to look into Sylvan and their work. But as I soon realized, looking over the book and while looking at events that happened around the time I read it, that I couldn’t make this just a book review. I have to get personal and honest.
In one chapter, titled “Jade is a Jade is a Jade is a Jade” in reference to a Gertrude Stein quote, Sylvan discusses how they came up with their pen name (which is admittedly amazing, as it felt like such a natural name I never even thought it could be a pen name). It’s also in this section that Sylvan discusses their sexuality, namely how they would have troubles calling themselves “straight” or “gay” based on where they were in their life. As they write:
"I liked the word queer because it meant unique and started with a q (what word starts with q?) and felt lighter than bisexual. It didn't have the word 'sexual' in it for one thing. It didn't carry a hundred sexy sociopathic film villains in the spaces between its syllables."
As I realized, reading this book, while also living on my own for the first time in my life, and with events like the Orlando massacre happening within a month of reading this book, this made perfect sense to me. Not only that, it felt like it explained me as well.
So yes, that's what this is leading to. I'm Alexander Kirk Carrigan, a Newport News native and the second of three children, with three stepsisters and a younger half-brother. I'm 3/4 Irish, 1/4 Italian, and with some Croat deep within all of that. I'm a Taurus, a lover of British pop musicians, an addict for pasta, chai tea, and watermelon, and a guy who writes shoujo manga plots when he has free time at work. I've traveled to 8 foreign countries in my 24 years of life and written countless fanfictions that will never see the light of day.
And I'm queer.
I think it's because of reading Kissing Oscar Wilde and reading about Sylvan's personal history that helped make clear how I have been feeling about my own identity and my own sexuality. I was always muddled in what I am and what I'm supposed to be. I've tried to reject parts of myself or downplay them over my years, and I've usually been able to do so due to my shy nature and my introversion. But honestly, it doesn't feel right to keep doing that. Not when 49 people are being massacred in a night club. Not when several states can still fire LGBT individuals for being queer. And certainly not when melted wax figures with $3 haircuts and ill-fitting suits try to run for President under the Republican ticket.
The Orlando massacre is partially why I chose to come out this way. The night the massacre happened, I was in a gay nightclub here in Charlottesville for a drag show. The club has become one of my favorite places in Charlottesville, and a relief for me when the work week is over. To know that I could have been gunned down for daring to go to a place I love and to enjoy myself, all because of certain prejudices of myopic individuals, it makes me really start to think. The week after the massacre, I went back to the club, had Pepsi and vodka, and watched men and women cross dress and dance, vogue, and twerk to songs by performers with amazing names like Bob the Drag Queen.
I don't want to be afraid any more. I want to be open. I want to celebrate my identity, and I want to be a part of this community. I want to be someone like Jade Sylvan who can own their sexuality as a part of their identity, be celebrated for it, and create amazing art. I want to explore my world, and I don't want to be limited by fears of how I should act or how people should perceive me.
I guess I should make it clear where I fall on this spectrum. I do not label myself as "gay," "bisexual," or "straight." I admit attraction to men and women, although I do not prefer one over the other. I still consider myself cisgender and want to use male pronouns. At any point in my life, I could date and/or marry a man or woman, but whoever I do date/marry does not mean that the possibility of dating or marrying someone of the opposite gender could never happen. I don't want to use a specific label because I don't want to have to go back on it. "Queer" feels right to me because it allows me more freedom and doesn't make me feel I have to choose and sacrifice. There are probably better and more clearer ways to define what I am (I've had one person suggest I am pansexual), but for now, the umbrella term of "queer" is the one I choose to identify with.
For me, Kissing Oscar Wilde is not just a book about a writer traveling around France, reading poetry, and reflecting on their history. It's a book that shows me everything I want to be written by a person whose style I love and who has such a clear sense of self. Sylvan is someone I want to see more of and who I hope continues to find more opportunities to write, produce, and perform. They're someone I hope I can be half as cool as someday, and I think admitting this part of myself is going to be the first step to do so.
#Real #JadeSylvan #KissingOscarWilde #Books #Reviews #Memoirs #Paris #OscarWilde #LGBT
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