Let's Not Have the Talk

Growing up in Hong Kong and in a Chinese household, the topic of sex remains very taboo. It took a long time for me and my friends to be open about our sexual desires. This made me wonder—were we all just a bunch of late bloomers, or were we being subjugated by a compulsive need to be secretive and discreet to uphold our good girl reputations? After looking at Chinese photographers like Luo Yang and Zhang Hai'er, who captured powerful women (AKA society’s "bad girls”), I knew I needed to explore this topic. But the majority of the Chinese women in my life were seemingly pure, innocent, and demure; none of them seemed liberated in their sexuality. So I wanted to explore women's distant relationships with their bodies, showing that this journey is still a work in progress. 

My work is about desexualization. The overwhelming red in my photographs is an overt reference to Chinese culture, but it’s also about untapped passion and desire. The curtain is symbolic of the subject’s hidden sexual desires being unveiled and perhaps finally showcased; but all the while, she’s avoiding the camera and has her back turned away. Really, this subject is simultaneously vulnerable and shy. Shooting with a stranger that has experienced the same culture as me, the photographs not only became a reflection of my own experiences, but also a performance of her own story. The distance imposed between the subject and I is intentional as it heightens the discomfort. 

By Gioia Cheung

So, You've Run Out of First Dates

Nothing quite describes your early 20s like a chain of shitty first dates. You abruptly make plans two hours before because all of your friends have bailed on you and you think to yourself, why not?

It doesn’t take long before you’re looking up “affordable first date spots near me” on Google; you have to avoid the restaurants you love (can’t risk ruining a good place with bad memories), the places where your friends work (imagine ending up on their Snapchat stories), and all of your other regular places. No matter where you go, the date will surely end in the same awkward “I had fun tonight” and no follow-up text.

You’re sick and tired of beating a dead horse. How can a city filled with people leave you with no options?

But you’ve stumbled across this list of first dates, daring you to explore the possibilities and endure the bittersweetness.

1. A night out at the movies
Why not pull a page out of your playbook from when you were 14? This unoriginal idea has stood the test of time because it works.

The two of you end up finally deciding on the latest MCU movie even though you’ve missed a few (or five). You’re not sure who Captain Marvel is, but you did love Brie Larson in Room.

At least it’s simple and doesn’t give the wrong idea. Right? Right. Luckily, you two manage to pick the one that’s three hours long and involves way too many storylines and characters. You have to dash to the bathroom right after it ends and relieve yourself of the giant soda your date bought you (he insisted).

You walk out of the bathroom with slightly damp hands and pants (the hand dryer was broken). 

“So, you liked the movie?”
“Yeah, I did! You?”
“Me too.”

You can’t believe the conversation is drier than your hands. Spiderman could have left and come back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe before the thought of a second date even appeared in your head.

4. A night in his kitchen
It’s almost the end of the month, and your boss doesn’t pay you until next Wednesday. You can’t really risk spending more money without having to owe your roommates the utility bills this month. 

You text your date about the pickle you’re in; luckily, he’s understanding about why you can’t afford to go to the Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant he saw on TripAdvisor tomorrow night.

“Why don’t you come over and we can cook something ourselves? Just bring some drinks. I’ll take care of the rest.”

You’re hesitant at first, not exactly keen on the idea of going to his apartment on the first date. What if he gets the wrong idea? 

“Just cooking?” You ask.
“Just cooking.” He affirms.

He texts you his location, just four blocks away. The drink you pick up from the supermarket is a bottle of premixed mimosa because you hate the taste of alcohol and only tolerate it when it tastes like juice.

With one hand clenching the liter of mimosa, and the other texting your friends his name and address, you reach for his doorbell.

You want to believe it’s a good date—the two of you make chicken quesadillas and you meet his roommate’s cat, Chowder. The cherry on top? You’re able to leave his apartment in one piece and he keeps to his promise of “just cooking.”

Unfortunately, he also wouldn’t stop talking about his ex-girlfriend throughout the night. Don’t worry, he stops to remind you that he is “totally over her” and he “dumped her because she was crazy.”

Hello, red flag! You unfollow him on Instagram during your walk home.

3. A night out for drinks
Even though you’re not the biggest of beer, this beats sipping on grocery-bought mango champagne alone in your kitchen. It always seems like a good idea until your words are slurring and you drop your phone into the pint of beer between the two of you. You awkwardly fish it out and wipe it on your jeans.

“I’m just gonna clean this in the bathroom,” you say. “I’ll be right back.”

You stumble your way into the bar bathroom, pushing past groups of giggling girls downing their first tequila shots of the night. Thankfully, the bathroom is empty; you run your hands under cold water and splatter it across your face, hoping to bring some clarity to your eyes.

You return to the table. “I think I’m gonna head home. I don’t want to sleep too late tomorrow.” You quickly catch the eye of a waiter and gesture for the check, but before you can reach for your wallet, he stops you.

“Drinks are on me.”

You thank him, even though your share was only $8 you’d be fine paying for it. But hey, whatever floats his boat. 

He walks you back, where you opt out of a goodnight kiss. By the time you wash off your makeup and climb into bed, he’s requested “beer money” for $10 dollars ($8 dollars plus tip) on Venmo.

2. A night of studying
The two of you have been talking for the longest time since you commiserated over a group project and shared occasional grins across lecture halls from time to time. With midterms just around the corner, it’s difficult to spare time for an awkward movie date or drinks in the shitty student bar. Thus, you opt to study together.

Between the librarian staring you down for coughing and the amount of coffee you managed to chug in such a short period of time, you begin to wonder if you’re still really writing that art history paper.

He isn’t paying much attention to you either, mainly because he’s too busy calculating what grade he needs on his final to not take this class again next semester.

The silence begins stressing you out. “I can’t wait for finals week to be over,'' you say.

“Huh? Sorry, I didn’t hear that.”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s nothing.”
“Okay, cool.”

1. A night in after canceling the date
“I forgot I had plans tonight. Sorry, let’s reschedule.” You press send and throw your phone onto your bed.

The only plans you have tonight are to make yourself a big bowl of pasta and crawl into bed to catch up on The Good Place. 

You don’t want to be that person and cancel, but honestly, it’s been a long day at school, and you don’t have the strength to put on a smile and endure another grotesque first date. 

Let’s face it, dating is exhausting. We’re given more options than we can process; with Hinge, Tinder, and Bumble just a tap away, it’s difficult to give people a second chance. And so you end up going to the same places, having the same first dates, and even though they’re all with different people, the results are all the same. 

Somewhere along the way, you ran out of first dates, and in truth, the drive to continue dating.

By Wen Hsiao

Writer Ocean Vuong and the Nature of Brokenness

Ocean Vuong’s debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a meticulous portrait of brokenness. I’ve found few novels so willing to embrace that brokenness for what it is, to tell a story about trauma without sensationalizing it. The very first pages detail the abuse of a child—Little Dog, the narrator of the novel, which is framed as a letter sent to his illiterate mother. Raised by two generations of Vietnamese immigrants, Little Dog must navigate the effects of abuse, war, and poverty in a drug-riddled Connecticut. Vuong captures these snapshots of trauma so well, but what makes his writing come alive is how closely he pays attention to joy. 

Little Dog became a constant voice in the back of my head, whispering of light and sorrow, passion and bitterness. His forgiveness struck me most of all—his refusal to pin blame or point fingers at those who hurt him. He doesn’t antagonize the people around him but war, grief, and brokenness. Through Little Dog, Vuong deftly explores the contradictions and nuances of a “broken” family, which is perhaps not so broken at all. 

Vuong, who also grew up in Hartford as a child of Vietnamese immigrants, drew inspiration from his background to create Gorgeous, though it isn’t strictly autobiographical. “I started with truth and ended with art,” he often says in interviews. Gorgeous is in part novel, poem, memoir, and photograph, creating stunning vignettes of a life half-lived by Vuong himself. It was immediately magnetic to me, the idea of taking shades from your own life and creating something new. School taught me to be impersonal with my writing, to view the books I read with a certain disconnect. Writing was a dissection, not a baring of the soul. Vuong’s prose, however, didn’t commit to a genre or format, painting new love with strokes of chaos and fragmented sentences. He borrowed pieces of his world to create a new one, and reading it, I felt as though I had been cheated by the teachers who had stripped prose of its emotion. When I read Gorgeous, Little Dog’s world was both claustrophobic and wide open, a celebration of both fact and fiction. Vuong’s deep, precise use of language made me wonder how many stories each of us can excavate from our pasts. 

Vuong’s obsession with language, both as an escape and a cage, propels the novel forward. For those who did not grow up learning English, such as Little Dog’s mother, language becomes not just a barrier but a sign of weakness: when Little Dog uses English at home, it’s often to hide from his mother, to remind her that she will never fully understand him. As Little Dog grows up, that same language becomes punishing, alienating; he’s looked down upon for his broken English. Speaking and writing in a country that shuns you is an act of survival, laid bare in the work of so many writers of color. It forced me to confront my own privilege as a white writer, to face the complexities of writing in a language that may never feel completely like one’s own. Because Gorgeous is written by and about those who must fight to keep their voices from being silenced, it’s necessary for those with privilege to listen. I used to think I could understand a different perspective based purely on Twitter posts and news clips, but it wasn’t until reading memoirs and novels from marginalized writers that I began to truly internalize it. Gorgeous is a book that balances history and intimacy, at once a paean to identity and a diary entry. 

In the end, the magic of Vuong’s writing is its ability to extend past the page. Long after I read the last words, the book still kept its heartbeat. Vuong reminds us to find understanding in our trauma, if not forgiveness. To find worth in the cages we live in, if not beauty. When we accept the truth of our past and build off it, we acknowledge its role in shaping us without letting it control us. Like Vuong, Little Dog lives and works as a writer—they both draw from their lives, but they press on into the unknown. There’s a thin line between moving on and forgetting, though. Little Dog’s mother asks him if he “remembers” her, rather than misses her, and he cannot come up with a response. Can we trust our memories when it comes to who we’ve loved? I can’t help but wonder how I’ll carry my trauma moving forward, how I’ll cope with it as I become an adult. Inevitably, I will write about it. Like Vuong, I will start with truth and end with art, just as so many young creatives are beginning to do. But how do we move forward from our pasts without completely letting go? On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous doesn’t fully answer that question—but it doesn’t have to. 

By MJ Brown

Loungey Jungle

Loungey Jungle was originally inspired by a friend’s bathroom—the very one depicted in the series. Its beautiful tile, skylight, and hoard of plants sparked something inside of me. It was too beautiful to not use as a location. I decided to build on the idea of intimacy with oneself. This is represented by the lingerie and the photos being somewhat unsteady.

Loungey Jungle is my portrayal of the ideal day spent alone—one without responsibilities. For me this means showering, doing a face mask, and really just taking the time to care for my body without rushing. These days offer a sort of recharge, and that’s what I wanted this series to feel and look like. There’s a sense of being very whole and at peace with oneself that the subject, Monica, really succeeded in bringing to the series. 

The wardrobe I selected was meant to create the not a girl, yet not a woman feeling that I truly believe most women don’t grow out of until their late 20s. I wanted the series to feel feminine but not overly so. There’s a juxtaposition between the lingerie and the floral pieces. The latter is younger in nature, still playful while wanting to be taken seriously. The plants and flowers were also really important for the overall concept since they obviously indicate growth. There’s something about being surrounded by greenery that makes me feel present and at peace.

By Ariana Velazquez


When I found out about the theme of “Blood and Guts,” I just pictured red. I didn’t want to do anything too gory, though; I just wanted the images to hold a sense of isolation, almost in a scary way—like she’s trapped in a room with no doors. An art gallery is supposed to be a haven for community and culture, but I often find that the “white box” design leaves an empty, hollow feeling. Without being able to clearly see the art, a gallery full of meaning and emotion feels empty. When I have nightmares, I’m not being chased by a monster or falling; I’m usually in a strange, unsettling situation where I have little to no control and am frozen. My surroundings are difficult to make out, and so I lose my sense of who I am and how I got there.

Confusion and isolation are what bring me anxiety, and I wanted to play on that for this piece. I feel far more haunted around Halloween by depictions of isolation than by intense bouts of gore—more of a thriller feel than one of horror. Sometimes I enjoy feeling like this, in small bits. Being able to create this eerie sense in a visual format leaves me slightly less jarred by being alone in unfamiliar and understimulating environments.

By Gabbie Vaillancourt

Tarantino's Gore

Quentin Tarantino, the mastermind behind Hollywood classics like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, is no doubt one of the world’s greatest directors. But what exactly makes Tarantino’s films worth seeing? 
I wouldn’t dare dismiss the immeasurable attention he puts into every single detail in his films. The fast-paced editing in Kill Bill’s fight scenes stimulate the adrenaline in viewers’ systems; the use of silence combined with specific sound effects builds up tension; the bold, memorable styling of costumes iconize his characters, like the on-trend shades of Seventies yellow and brown” outfits in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It’s the interplay of these stylistic aspects that Tarantino takes into account when creating his A-grade films. And perhaps more importantly, a uniquely dramatic touch to Tarantino’s films is their explicit and exaggerated content. No matter what Tarantino film you watch, it’s guaranteed you’ll see blood and gore. I'd say this is what makes his work so intriguing, especially given the violence’s eerie comedy. 
This photo series is fully inspired by Tarantino’s signature gory scenes and his consistent use of the colors yellow and red. It’s essentially my attempt at creating something you’d find in one of his movies. 

Photos by Rina Dokai 
Modeled by Francesca Bertazzo