World-renowned geographer Yi-Fu Tuan turns to the subject of his minority status—as a result of his sexual identity—in the latter part of his autobiographical work Who Am I? An Autobiography of Emotion, Mind, and Spirit. In these closing paragraphs of chapter 4, "Intimate: From Justice to Love," he explains why he doesn't dwell on the particulars of this identity but chooses to focus on a larger preoccupation: the apprehension of "the beautiful and good" through his lifelong study of the cosmos.
In this story of my life, I am necessarily the centerpiece. If I do not detail my own attachments, it is because I wish to offer a psychologically accurate portrait of the total person that I am, not a confession or case history of particular parts, however emotionally charged they were for a time. I try to take a page from the poets, who tell us that to capture a mood, a feeling, an intimate or sublime experience, one must resort to the technique of indirection. I resort to indirection for another reason. It puts a distance between me and my loves that seems to me just right, for there is that distance, even in my most aching desire for the warmth of another human being's body. Why this distance? The short answer is to say, again, that I am less a Chinese than a Greek. And to a Greek of the fifth century B.C., yes, there is the beauty of youth. But there is also the beauty—the greater allure—of the cosmos.
Without the cosmos, without, more precisely, my delight in the harmonies of nature and of human works at their best, my life would be miserable—unlivable. I am saved by geography. Naturally, I see harshness and ugliness in the world "out there," as I do in my disordered interior world. I even believe that my own misery, my unalterably subaltern status in society for all the outward shows of acceptance, gives me an insight into human misery and especially into what it means to belong to a disdained minority group. However, I choose not to dwell in the shadows—my own or the world's. Have I gone too far in the opposite direction—have I too often dwelled in the beauties of the cosmos? Am I an escapist, or am I, to put myself in the best possible light, not only expressing an important side of my own nature, which happens to be optimistic, but also reminding the erudite world, occupationally prone to seeing the dark side of things, that there also exist the beautiful and the good? I don't know. How can anyone know?
In a previous post, I had said that I wanted to return to Mr. Tuan's autobiography, and this excerpt may help explain why. Poets also seek to learn that which is difficult to know, and they also sense that this mystery, in its ultimate form, is beautiful and good. They are born to divine their own paths, and in this seeking beyond that which is easily known, they experience loneliness, doubt, and uncertainty. Oftentimes they also question themselves: their aims are so lofty and their abilities so ordinary that they feel they may be deluded in attempting to write poetry.
In another section of "Intimate," Mr. Tuan describes a teenage infatuation:
As a schoolboy in Australia, I was drawn to another boy. But no alarm bell rang, for other boys, especially the older ones, were also drawn to him. I still remember this schoolmate. He was somewhat younger than most of us and looked delicate without being effeminate. He had a small well-shaped mouth that was always slightly open, warm peach-colored cheeks, large eyes topped by long lashes, and a crown of unruly fair hair. But my feeling toward another boy, an athlete with the sleek beauty of a well-oiled machine, was another matter. I couldn't persuade myself even then that it was just displaced longing for female loveliness. One day he came to my desk. We talked a bit. He showed me the palm of his hand and asked me to press mine against his, which I did. He said, quite simply, that my hand was smaller and had the delicacy of a girl's. We left it at that. There was no name calling, no propositioning, no bullying.
Mr. Tuan then describes the kind of incipient fear a fifteen-year-old might feel if left alone in such a situation. He tells us that, unlike his two brothers, he decides to leave the all-male school and join his father, mother, and sister in Manila when his father accepts a new diplomatic post. The technique of indirection can therefore be applied in life: rather than confront something within oneself, one can take an indirect path and lengthen the approach, eventually meeting it at the right time, when one is older.