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English 212
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Making Sense

Ngoc Tran

My extended family is quite a huge group of individuals of all ages. My aunts and uncles include those being in their fifties and thirties. My cousins comprise of individuals in their thirties and late teens (not counting the very young ones of course). Whenever they all get together, they can be like those bees, buzzing about everything and anything--that is anything and everything except sex. Yes, they would speak of how vegetables are not cooked right, how ridiculous the most recent world news on TV was or how our relatives in Viet Nam are, but they would never have a conversation, a joke about, or having to do with sex.
The word sex itself is almost like a fortress, a forbidden topic to enter into conversation. Although the rules are unspoken and unwritten, everyone knows and abides by the rules. From the oldest to the youngest, when in the presence of an aunt or uncle or a parent, understands that it is wrong and inappropriate to speak of such vulgar topic. It would be uneducated, impolite, and almost immoral to ask or to discuss openly about sex with individuals of this sexual sub-group.
It seems like they do not even acknowledge the existence of sex itself. To them, there is not need to point out or to define what sex is. Sex is part of life, part of something else that is already deeply integrated into cultures, customs. When conversation does take place, the closest connotation of sex is the discussion of either marriage and children or relationships that would soon end in marriage and children. Sometimes, when in reflective mood, they would recall memories back in the day of naivety and innocence. They all have a story to tell of how they have met each other and how one of them was more innocent in the relationship. Accompanying most of these reflections is their comment on how kids today know too much, too early.
What is too much? When is too early? Having such a comment, they already had an assumption of what kids today do know and at around what age. I wonder then of their expectations for my cousins and other younger sexual members of this extended family. In many ways, Vietnamese cultures and customs are guidelines to unspoken expectations while ones are in a relationship. The language for sex then is a language that is dependent upon another set of language. The older generation uses cultures and customs as filters to silence the possibility of acceptance of spoken desires and open discourse about sex and sexuality.
One would think that younger generation would feel the oppression, the extremity of this whole situation. Yet, to the cousins and to me, the extremity seems not to be an extremity at all. Rather, it seems to be the most comforting situation. It is ironic, indeed. It is true that on a surface, at a quick lance, there seems to be little sexual freedom with all these silence expectations. It is also true, however, that in silence the limitation are less clearly define. In a way, it is almost like the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
As long as it is not exposed in front of their eyes and ears, they can deal with it. With their imagination, they can imagine what the limits are. To them, there is no need to paint the picture. To my cousins, there is no need to talk about sex and that is their language. You would think the younger generation would be different in thoughts and beliefs than those of the older generation, who had been deeply ingrained in Vietnamese cultures and thoughts. Yet, when someone tempted them to have a conversation about sex, they look at the person as if something is wrong. Yes, they too have been influenced but more than that, they have chosen to follow that practice of silence.
Unsurprisingly, in this invisible limit, whatever that is forbidden is also not apparent. Since it is not apparent, it is not a definite fortress always stopping you from experiencing and experimenting. As long as you are a responsible individual, it is not too difficult to manage such an expectation. What is even better is that they will not be constantly talking to you about it. If you ever need to talk, there are friends and other trusted individuals outside the family.
Making sense of something that is never mentioned or dealt with directly is not simple. It is, however, already half apparent what the negatives aspects were when something like sex is not discussed in such an environment as this. On the other hand, there are also the positive aspects that sprung from the silence of this situation. With silence, one can interpret as a more lead way, more freedom to interpret. Silence, while penetrate what appears to be oppression, may also give rooms to privacy and possibilities.
Behind those words and stories with references to sex or sexual interest, are hope, trust and responsibility. Indeed, if it bares that many meanings without a direct word to communicate sex, then would one risk to it all just to bring it, sex, to the forefront. Would it worth the risk and how important is it to speak when silence can be as an effective language itself?

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