Excerpt: ‘Law School: Advice on Sex and Relationships’, with Benjamin Law and Jenny Phang

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Photo by [hailey]herrarasaurus. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Dear Law School,

A few weeks ago I was running errands in the city and I spotted my dad having lunch with a girl who looked about my age. That in itself isn’t too unusual as he mentors a lot of uni students, but this time it seemed weird. I semi-stalked them: her body language (lots of hand-touching) suggested something was going on. My parents have been married for thirty years and they’ve never been happier—at least that’s what I thought. They’re planning a huge hike through Europe, and it’s all Mum talks about. I don’t want to screw anything up for anyone. Should I speak to Mum about my suspicions or stay out of it? Help!

High Infidelity

Jenny: This is a very tricky question. Marriage is complicated. You say they “seem” to have a happy marriage, but some marriages can also be strange. Maybe surface-ly to you it’s happy, but there might be no sex in the bedroom, for instance. There’s a Chinese saying: Jee Bau Mm Ju Foh—it means, if there’s a secret, not matter how deep it is, it will eventually come out. That’s how I would describe this whole thing, because if your Dad is really having an affair, eventually it will come out and eventually your Mum will find out. So leave it to your parents. At the same time, if I was the mother, I’d want to know. So maybe you should spy on your dad for her—I would! Follow him in the streets and get all your girlfriends involved. The more spying eyes, the better.

Benjamin: Hmm, this is a tricky situation. I don’t envy your position. The first person you should level with isn’t your mum, but your dad, who should be given the opportunity to explain himself to you. Be upfront, tell him what you’ve seen, ask him what’s going on, and be clear you’re not going to draw any conclusions until you’ve heard his side of the story. He might have feelings for this student and nothing’s actually happened. Perhaps they are having an affair. Perhaps they’re having an affair and your mother knows about it. Don’t make any assumptions: if he is having an affair, he might have a whole array of reasons for pursuing one. On another level though, he’s also being an indiscreet idiot—flogging it in a public place where anyone, including his child, could see him. So it’s entirely reasonable that you give him a deadline to share with your mum what’s actually happening. If your mother’s hurt that you didn’t take this information to her first, remember their relationship is not your responsibility and existed before you were born. They’re the sole custodians of their relationship’s welfare, not you.


Dear Ben and Jenny,

After committing some horrific fashion faux-pas during my teenage years, I feel like I’ve settled in to an easy uniform that does OK in the style stakes without requiring too much thought on my part. (Neutrals and horizontal stripes are my jam.) The problem is, I’ve started seeing a guy who follows the same rules. When we go out together, we look like we’re heading to a Where’s Wally? convention. Am I within my rights to ask him to change his look, or should I be the one to ditch the stripes? I feel like my style epiphany was too hard-won to give up now!

Yours truly,

Doppelwänker

Jenny: Fashion is very personal, but I would sit down with your boyfriend and have a talk. “What do you think? We more or less look like Where’s Wally fashion, so we might have to shop somewhere else.” However, don’t you find it boring if you’re wearing stripes all the time? Hello? Personally, I like red, but if I wore red all the time, I’d find it boring. There are other patterns! Also, it’s about whether the other person can afford to buy new clothes as well. If you’re a smart shopper, it doesn’t need to be too expensive though. Go to Uniqlo. Is it okay to mention brand names? Because they’re not too expensive and their quality’s good—tasteful—especially compared to Lowes. Even if you put a gun to my head, I wouldn’t shop at Lowes. Only bogans shop at Lowes.

Benjamin: One of the hardest challenges to every couple—but especially same-sex couples—face is leaving the house without looking exactly the fucking same as each other. I’ve lost count of the times my boyfriend’s emerged from the bathroom in pretty much exactly the same trench and skinny jeans ensemble I’m wearing, only for me to say to him, “HOW DARE YOU.” What’s worse is that because he’s white and taller, and I’m Asian and smaller, I basically look less like his boyfriend and more like his racist colonial pet. But look, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge problem. Genocides are happening as you read this; children are being born with microcephaly and Great Barrier Reef is being bleached. Who gives a shit? In China and other Asian countries, it’s actually a fad for couples dress up not even similarly, but in the same outfits. So, whatever. If Dutch designers Viktor and Rolf can make twincest their trademark aesthetic, then so can you.


This piece appears in full in The Lifted Brow #30. Get your copy now.

Benjamin Law is the author of The Family Law, Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East and co-author of Shit Asian Mothers Say.

Jenny Phang was born in Ipoh, Malaysia, and is the mother of five children, including Lifted Brow writers Michelle and Benjamin Law. She lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.