Power Rangers: Getting Nostalgia Wrong

power_rangers_2017_reveal

When I was growing up the three pieces of media that most influenced my life were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, and the Power Rangers. Had I grown up in a more gender-understanding time, My Little Pony would likely also be part of that mix, but as it stands I wasn’t allowed to like that one. We live in a world now where the name of the game is nostalgia. All forms of media, especially movies, cost so damn much to make now that having your project bomb can be devastating to the studio producing it. Because of that, studios are betting their money on nostalgia properties from the time older generations were kids since they already have built-in fan bases with disposable income from which to gauge a reasonable expectation of viewership. Sometimes this gives us great things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the return of Star Wars. Other times it makes god-awful shit like the latest crop of DC superhero movies and anything Michael Bay has touched that involved a licensed property.

If you look at all the things that failed over the years to win the hearts of those nostalgic for their original forms, they tend to follow a similar patterns in their mistakes; mostly that they focus too heavily on the visual aesthetic of bringing the old property to a modern age while pretty much ignoring the particular heart and soul of the original that the fans fell in love with. For a great example, the Transformers themselves in Bay’s movies are an amazing spectacle of CGI achievement. I mean, who among us in our youths would have ever dreamed of the Transformers looking that cool? But the films fell flat because the kept the Transformers as background noise so they could focus on Shia Labeouf’s quest to get in Meghan Fox’s pants. Just making our old stuff look new isn’t going to cut it, and I fear we’re in for more of the same with the Power Rangers movie.

After I watched the first trailer for this movie, I was left feeling more aggravated than anything else. I remember tweeting at the time, “Is this a movie about the kids from the Breakfast Club getting super powers?”. Nothing about what I was seeing felt like a Power Ranger’s movie. With the new trailer, I was hoping the inclusion of the suits and Zords in motion would help to amp my excitement. And yea, they looked cool and all, but I still wasn’t feeling it. I took some time after that to ponder on what was bothering me so much. What was it about this that was turning me off? It wasn’t the designs. I think the new suits look awesome, the redesign of Rita is really interesting, and Zordon looks cool as hell! Everything looks great! Well…not everything. I have no idea what the fuck that little metallic abomination was, but it wasn’t Alpha Five.

alpha-new-1jpg-5659b2_610w

Seriously, what the fuck is this?!

Visually, I’m pretty much on board. Much like the Transformers, seeing a modern re-imagining of my beloved Rangers and their kick-ass Zords is exciting. So why can I tell I’m in for disappointment just from seeing the trailer? Well…I think I finally figured it out.

Watch the trailer again and think about the original Rangers versus what you see. At one point one of them says “we’re all screw ups”. There was a reason I got a Breakfast Club vibe the first time I saw this: because they all seem to either always be in trouble or struggling to get their lives together. The Rangers I remember were confident and capable. They did well in school, they were model kids, they volunteered, helped their classmates, taught karate, and even showed empathy to Bulk and Skull-the school bullies. They weren’t trying to put their lives together, they were so capable they’d moved on to trying to help others achieve the same!

This issue cascades into the next problem. Towards the end of the trailer, Zordon says that the Rangers, “were born for this.” Um…no? The Power Rangers were not destined to become what they were. In fact, when Rita was freed and the Rangers were needed, Zordon called on Alpha to find some kids to take up the mantle. Jason, Billy, Kimberly, Zac, and Trini weren’t destined to be the Rangers or any of that Joseph Campbell heroes journey bullshit. They were selected because they were the perfect fit for the job.

Every time I re-watch this trailer, the wrongness becomes more apparent. They suddenly wake up with super powers? The Rangers didn’t have super strength. Hell, Billy had to learn martial arts from Jason and Zack after he become the Blue Ranger because the Puddy Patrol kept kicking his ass! All Zordon gave them was the suits, the weapons, and the Zords. The strength and talent were all their own. This is just another played-out version of ordinary kids get powers and then have to use them in order to defeat the big baddie.

This might all seem like fan-girl whining about it not being a perfect remake, but I think it goes way deeper than that. One of the reason people hold onto nostalgia so much isn’t just because of what we saw and heard, but what those things taught us. It’s about how the show, movie, etc. influenced us, changed us as people. We have piles of stories where ordinary people get some great power thrust upon them because of destiny or whatever and now everything is awesome. Power Rangers had a different lesson. The Rangers taught me that greatness is earned, that callings aren’t pre-ordained. The Rangers didn’t become heroes because they got colorful suits and giant robots. They got colorful suits and giant robots because the were already heroes and were ready to display that heroism on a larger scale. There was a need for heroes to battle a great evil and the best candidates for the job were given it.

To me at least, that’s what this reboot is missing. That’s the soul of the thing that’s been lost in translation. Remember, Power Rangers is still a thing! There are kids getting new episodes of this now! These are impressionable minds that will likely also want to see this movie. Where’s their lesson about striving to achieve rather than waiting for destiny to take hold? Where are their roll models for hard work, charity, friendship, forgiveness, perseverance, and good character? Where are the Rangers that earned the opportunity to power the mighty Megazord?

We don’t need more bland, paint-by-numbers, cookie-cutter, unoriginal, and uninspired rehashing of the same old stories but with a familiar logo slapped over it. If you want to bring back our old heroes, bring back the lessons they taught. Bring back the essence of what made them so important to us. When I see Power Rangers, I want to be reminded that nothing is earned without hard work and determination. If I wanted to see someone be thrust into a position of power they’re neither worthy of or ready for, I’ll just watch our new President.

-Faith

Advertisements

So You Wanna Do A Project On Trans People…

laverne-cox-photographed-by-gillian-laub-for-time-magazine-1-865x577

When you live openly as a transgender person, some otherwise strange things happen in your life with a degree of regularity. You get used to being a little nervous going into bathrooms, reading people’s eyes to see if they can tell you’re not cis, Being careful about how you talk about your past, etc. Some of those things you kind of expect. One thing I didn’t expect when I came out was how often I would get asked to be the subject of someone’s photo shoot, article, documentary, etc. on transgender people. These pop up more often than I’d ever thought and I have some serious reservations about them. On the one hand, expose pieces can offer visibility about a group or subject matter to people not often (or ever) exposed to it. However, done wrong they can exploit instead of educate, perpetuate already dangerous misinformation, and just overall make things worse.

I’ve seen pieces on transgender people go both ways and the ones that do it wrong always tend to screw up in the same kinds of ways. Whenever I’m contacted by someone wanting to do one of these projects, I always ask a lot of questions so I can try to determine how I think their finished product will turn out. I like helping out with these when they really have a chance of educating the public, but I don’t like the idea of having my image and name attached to something harmful. So, I figured I’d make this handy little guide to help would-be project makers determine if their transgender documentary, photo shoot, article, whatever is on track to help or hurt our community.

1 – Ask yourself why you’re doing this.

And I don’t mean just take a second to think. Really ponder and consider why this project, this subject matter, is what you’re focusing on. In my experience, people who make the best projects on a particular topics have a personal investment in it. Are you trans yourself? How about a family member? Did your spouse come out to you? Did your child? What made you want to not only know more about the transgender community but to spend time/effort/money in educating others?

Here’s the hard question: do you have no ties to the trans community at all and you just want to show off your writing/photography skills using transgender people while they still occupy that rare space between edgy and topical? Is that you? Yes? Well…fuck off. Seriously, just stop right here. Your project is going to be garbage and only serve to harm the community you think you’re helping. The only two reasons to take on this project when you have no personal ties to trans people is either this or an overwhelming sense of privilege guilt. Now, privilege guilt (i.e. I’m a straight, white male and my life is easy so I want to use my position to help the less fortunate) is not a bad place to come from, but it does make you less likely to do it right. You people don’t have to fuck off, but you do need to keep reading very carefully before you start shooting/writing.

2 – Consider the diversity of your subjects.

But Faith, I’m making a thing about transgender people, and that already makes me Captain Diversity! Wrong. Just wanting to make something about trans people doesn’t automatically elevate you to grand enlightenment. Roland Emmerich learned that the hard way when his movie about the Stonewall Riots bombed because he made it about a white guy and not the transgender women of color that really started it all. If you’re only contacting conventionally beautiful, white transgender women, you’re gonna have a bad time. 

All transgender people are at high risk of violence, unemployment, homelessness, etc., but the threats posed to transgender women of color (TWOC) are astronomically higher than the rest of us. If you’re not planning to include them, you’re doing it very, very wrong. Include transgender people of various races in your pool of subjects (don’t forget trans men, too; they’re basically invisible in our society) but there’s more to trans diversity than the basic race, color, sexual orientation (oh right! You do know gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing, right? No? Maybe you need to read up more before you start your project), etc. You also need to consider how long the subjects have been in transition, how often they get to present authentically, and to what degree they pass for cisgender (a touchy topic, I know, but I’ll explain why that’s important).

Here’s the number one thing you need to be thinking about at all times when you make your documentary or whatever: this might be someone’s first or only exposure to transgender people. Everything they see and don’t see will influence their perception of the community. That’s a point that can really throw a wrench in things and make you be more careful in your decision making if you’re being genuine in your convictions. Consider the following list of unintended messages conveyed from your decisions:

  • Only use white people? – People of color are never transgender.
  • Only use females? – There are no transgender men.
  • Only use full-time subjects? – Gender identity is only valid when the person presents as it. If they don’t dress like their gender, I don’t have to call them by it.
  • Only use people who pass for cisgender? – If they don’t look like their target gender, they aren’t really trans.

That last one can be particularly damaging. After North Carolina passed HB2, a lot of memes started popping up of trans people in the wrong bathrooms with the caption “Do I look like I belong in here?”. It kinda got the message across, but also perpetuated the notion that trans people always pass for their true gender. A lot of trans people don’t pass for cis, and many never will no matter how many hormones they take or surgeries they go through. Don’t let your project make it seem like trans people are always going to blend right in. You’re going to have trans people in restrooms where you can tell they’re trans. If all the person in the next stall ever saw was cis-passing trans people like the ones in those memes (or heaven forbid, your project), things are going to end badly.

3 – Your pictures will make or break everything.

No matter what kind of project you’re doing, it’s likely going to have pictures. There’s an old saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words and that’s very true. What they don’t say is that many of those words can be unintentional. If a transgender project creator is going to royally fuck up anywhere, it’s going to be in the images. This is also where you’re going to be able to tell pretty damn fast whether or not they went into this ordeal with the right intentions.

Before you start snapping pictures, really consider what you want those images to say. What is it about your subject you want to show? I was in a conversation about this with a potential project maker a couple of days ago. He asked me about this and I told him the pictures need to show that transgender people are “remarkably unremarkable”. We don’t need pictures of how feminine or masculine we look. We definitely don’t need you to include our “before” pictures to highlight the difference.

This is another area where only showing cis-passing subjects can come back to haunt you. If you take pictures of…say…a cis-passing trans woman with no other information conveyed, those who are frightened about trans people will be thinking, “oh god! they could be anywhere and I won’t be able to tell!” You need to show subjects at various stages of transition and different levels of passing. But just showing what we look like isn’t enough.

Images of transgender people in your project need to convey normality. Show your audience that we do what they do. Show us at the bank, at work, at the grocery store. Show us hanging out with friends, volunteering, going to a party, or whatever. Convey to your audience that we’re just normal people. There’s nothing to fear when you come across us in your daily lives.

Lastly, these do not need to be glamour shots. I see this more with pictures of trans men than women, where they’re all shirtless with ripped muscles and it conveys a message of sexiness. Please, please don’t shoot your subjects like fashion models or, god forbid, porn stars. There’s already enough trans-fetish material out there. Don’t let your project get grouped into it. Normal clothes, normal poses, normal activities; that’s the key.

4 – Choose your words carefully.

Maybe your project doesn’t include a lot of text, but if it does it needs to be about the right information. Again, we’re asking ourselves what the public needs to know about transgender people and it’s still all about normalcy. Make sure your text reflects that and isn’t including shock value tabloid nonsense.

Have you ever seen an interview with a transgender celebrity? Have you ever noticed how a lot of times the questions derail into asking about very private things like genitals and plastic surgery? Have you noticed that? Well….don’t do that! That kind of stuff is no one’s business but the trans person and their doctor’s. Unless you’re specifically covering the topic of gender confirmation surgery, I’d highly recommend leaving that stuff out entirely.

So what should you include? Well, what would you type about anyone else? Where they grew up, where they went to school, what they do for a living, what their hobbies are, etc. Again, we’re trying to teach people that trans is normal. If someone is looking through your project for shock-value stuff and not finding it, that might serve as the wake-up call they need.

It’s generally okay to mention when they started transition, but there’s no need to state what they’ve had done, what kind of hormones they take, etc. And, for god sake, don’t include the subject’s birth name anywhere. This is about who they are, not who they spent their life pretending to be.

I’ve said many times that the key to transgender acceptance is visibility. People need to know us, to see us. They need to understand that we weave into the fabric of society just like they do. We’re not out on the fringe. We’re not some scary unknown that disrupts everything around us. Too many expose pieces on trans people convey the wrong message, either intentionally or not. If you’re considering taking up something like this, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and that you’ve got a vision that accomplishes your goal.

-Faith

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2016

tdr_large

I will be giving this speech tonight (11/20/2016) at 6pm at Club Cabaret in Hickory NC for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I hope to see you there. 

When I sat down to write this speech I had no idea where to start. So many feelings…how could I possibly put them into words? A friend of mine reminded me that you should always start a talk with either a joke or a story. This it not a day for jokes, so I’d like to share a story with you. It’s a story of one of the happiest and most terrifying days of my life. I was in the office at work, my boss to my left and the director of human resources in front of me. There I sat; body shaking, fingers like ice, tears forming on the surface of my eyes. I had to force out the words, make myself say what I was terrified to say.

“I’m transgender.”

I was terrified because it was all a gamble. I had a great job that paid enough to keep my family secure, and I was putting it on the line. There were no legal protections for me, no statutes to keep me safe. He could have fired me then and there and I’d have been powerless to stop him. Our income, our insurance, our peace of mind, I was putting it all on the table, and I was terrified. I was lucky, because my gender identity was respected, and two weeks later I showed up to work in the women’s uniform with my new name proudly displayed on my shirt. No longer would I have to wake up and decide who I had to be that day. No more hiding, no more pretending. It was liberating, but also even more terrifying, because now I’d be facing the world as an out transgender woman.

People ask what it’s like to be transgender. It’s an impossible question to really answer. There’s no other experience like it. It’s a journey of personal discovery filled with confusion, doubt, depression, and fear. People say it’s a choice, but I would never have chosen to be in that room, gambling with my family’s future, if there were any other way. When I finally came to terms with my gender identity, I spent the next decade trying to un-choose it. I spiraled into a deep, severe depression, and not a day went by that I didn’t think about ending my life. When you see a transgender person reveal themself to the world, when you see them living openly as they are despite the dangers, remind yourself how much worse it must have been for them otherwise. Transgender people lose a great deal to live authentically. Family, friends, jobs, homes, and yes, even lives. When someone takes on such hardships over staying in the closet, how can it possibly have been a choice to begin with?

As the years have gone by, gay and lesbian acceptance has grown tremendously. Transgender understanding, let alone acceptance, has not been able to keep up. Transgender people are still one of the most misunderstood demographics in the world, and like any other thing not understood, we are feared and hated. Politicians call us a threat to public safety. Pastors proclaim us to be deviants bringing about the downfall of society. We’re the target of crude jokes, the catalysts for fear-based legislation, and the mascots of a seemingly immoral society. All of this swirls into a storm of anger, fear, and hatred. And many of us do not survive that storm.

By the start of November there had already been 26 reported transgender murders in the US. I don’t like throwing around numbers when talking about this subject because the truth is never really captured in them. 26 doesn’t account for the ones that went unreported, or the ones who were misgendered in the reporting. Violence against transgender people is an epidemic. Murders of transgender people are often horrifically violent. Many are shot, more are beaten. These are crimes of passion, fueled by hate and fear. Skye Mockabee was found lying next to a tow truck with blood pouring from her mouth. Keyonna Blakeney was beaten and left to die in a motel room. Brandi Bledsoe was found stripped to her underwear with a plastic bag over her head. Each of these women, and many more, met violent, terrifying ends, just for being true to themselves.

What makes the threat of violence more horrifying is the lack of defense available to us. Transgender people are painted as deviants, bringing the violence on themselves by choosing to live in such seemingly unwholesome ways. A transgender friend of mine has recounted a story where she was jumped by a group of men on a Charlotte street. Her clothes were pulled off, she was beaten, and urinated on. When the paramedics arrived, she was told she brought it on herself for wearing a skirt and heels. Victims of violence are never to blame for their attacks, no matter what they’re wearing or doing. But rather than combat the hate and ignorance that drives violence, we police the victims and make the situation worse. The “trans panic defense”, where someone accused of murdering a transgender person can claim they acted in a state of temporary insanity after discovering the victim’s gender identity, is still a legal defense in every state but California.

What’s it like to be transgender? It’s being afraid, at least a little bit, all the time. It’s trying to read thoughts and intentions in the eyes of those you meet. It’s looking over your shoulder before you go into the bathroom. No one understands this better than transgender women of color, who are likely the most at-risk demographic of any sort in the entire country. A vast number of the transgender murders we mourn tonight were women of color. These were women caught in the perfect storm where racism, sexism, and homophobia combine. Theirs is a bravery I cannot even fathom. I’m at least a little fearful each time I leave my home and face the world as my true self, but I know my white skin offers me far more protection than I’ll ever truly grasp. Even when I am a target, I am privileged, and I try to always remember that.

A moment ago I mentioned 26 transgender murders as of November 1st and how that number isn’t truly representative. There’s another reason. In that 26 we don’t see the largest portion of transgender murders: suicides.

Yes, every time a transgender person takes their own life, they are murdered. The gun, the knife, or the pills may have been in their own hands, but they were forced there by the relentless hatred of an ignorant and uncaring public. Suicide is the last path left to a person who can find no hope on the horizon. When all you see before you is fear, anxiety, and loneliness, death becomes your only friend. The suicide attempt/success rate among transgender people is 41%, and nearly all of us have spent time contemplating it.

When I came out as trans I put everything on the line, and that’s true for so many of us. Talk to any transgender person and you’ll hear stories of family members who turned them away, friends who shunned them, and jobs that let them go. Fear of losing these things keeps many transgender people in the closet. Some keep their secrets for years, living seemingly ordinary lives. But it’s always an act, pretend, and keeping up the act for so long is crushing to both mind and spirit. When you can’t live as yourself and you can’t live as the person you’re expected to be, not living at all can seem like the only option left.
What’s it like to be transgender? It’s to think about death. Either by your own hand or the hand of another, you often contemplate your own mortality. It can be a lonely experience, especially if you have no ally to confide in. This is why allies are so important. Being a shoulder to cry on, a friend to confide in, or even a buddy in the bathroom, can mean saving a life.

When you look at what our world is spiraling into, it can seem like helping the transgender community is impossible. Who could take on such a daunting task all on their own? Trust me when I say you’re more powerful than you think. Just being that person who’s willing to call someone by their real name, to refer to them by their real pronouns, makes you powerful. Telling a transgender woman she’s beautiful when she can’t stand to look in the mirror makes you powerful. Having coffee with a trans person who feels all alone in the world makes you powerful. Having the courage to say something when you hear jokes that make fun of transgender people makes you powerful. Each of these actions seem small, but they save lives. They can make you the reason someone doesn’t load the gun, or open the pill bottle. The reason someone’s heart is opened before they let their ignorance turn to violence. They can make you the reason someone finally found hope.

I can tell you that I would not be here if it weren’t for my allies. I’m alive today because I know I am loved. I know that, even on my darkest days, when a world full of hate and fear weighs down on me, there are people in my life that cherish and accept me. There are people in the world that have kept me from ending my own life, and they did it simply by saying, “I love you for who you are and I will stand by you.”

What’s it like to be transgender? It’s to hold onto love like some never will. It’s to understand the power of community, of friendship, of family. We gather tonight to remember those we lost to hate. Either by the hands of those driven by it or who were finally crushed under the weight of it. Tonight we cry, we hold to each other, we say names and light candles. But mostly we ask what we can do to make it better. What can we do in the face of growing hate and fear?

We can take action. Get involved with the organizations fighting to protect transgender people from discrimination and violence. Donate time or money. Volunteer. Inaction can be as bad as aggression. Don’t light your candle tonight and think you’ve done your part. You haven’t even started. Support organizations like PFLAG that work to help the parents of LGBT youth understand their child’s struggle. Support the HRC, who are on the front lines of the fight for equality and put Sarah McBride, a transgender woman, on the stage at the DNC this year. Here in the Hickory community, I urge you to support OUTright Youth, and show our young people that they are loved and supported.

We can educate. Hate is the byproduct of ignorance which is allowed to grow by apathy and inaction. Take action. Stand up for the transgender community. Don’t be afraid to proclaim you love someone who is trans. Don’t be afraid to walk down the street with us. If someone you know misgenders a trans person, or calls them by a name they don’t associate with, have the courage to correct them. Your voice is needed even when we’re not around, because it’s when our ears are away that the ignorant reveal themselves. Don’t only be an ally when it’s convenient for you, or when it won’t make you uncomfortable. Be better than hate speech, and be willing to combat it with knowledge and compassion.

Most importantly, we can love. We can love bigger and stronger than we ever have. We can see the power in even the smallest actions. We can reach out to those who are afraid and offer them the peace that only comes from knowing you are not alone. Tonight, I urge you to hold to one another. So many transgender people have been lost to hate, lost to ignorance. Even in death, some were not given the recognition they so desperately wanted. So tonight, we offer it to them. To the souls of those taken from us, we say we’re sorry we couldn’t save you, we love you, and we validate you as the beautiful people you were. You are forever in our hearts, and we carry you with us as we fight to save the next victim of hate.

What’s it like to be transgender? It’s to be human, just like you.

-Faith

 

Finding Hope for LGBT in Trump’s America

13329116_145085742575654_2103821391_n

Yes, we’re actually here…

Like the rest of you, I feel numb, sick, terrified, and angry. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This wasn’t supposed to be possible. But, we’re here. Donald Trump is going to be president for the next 4 years. What’s more, he gets a Republican majority in Congress and now a vacancy on the Supreme Court to fill. All of this is frightening, and in this moment it’s hard to find anything but darkness ahead.

I’ve spent all day searching for hope. It hasn’t been easy, but I knew there had to be some somewhere. There must be a glimmer of light in all of this that, no matter how small, we can all hold to. As I meditated on it, I was able to find a perspective on all of this that’s, while not ideal, at least not an absolute Armageddon for our LGBT community. What I propose here won’t be easy. It’s going to take a great deal of struggle. But when faced with only one way forward, the only thing to do is suck it up and walk the path.

This is not the first time in my life the Republicans have held all the power. In the 2004 election, George W. Bush won re-election and was given the keys to a shiny new Republican majority in Congress. It was a very similar situation to today, but we’re not in the same America that existed in 2005. There is still racism, still homophobia and transphobia, but public opinion of homosexuality has come a long way. In the wake of such a vile, hateful man being elected to the White House, it’s easy to think that the country has regressed back to the days when homosexuality was majorly despised.

But it hasn’t.

To understand why Trump won, we have to get inside the head of the average Trump voter. Again, it can be very easy to think they all voted for him out of hate for minorities and the queer community, and it’s true that there are pockets of his base that did have such motivations. But they don’t represent most of them. Most of the people who voted for Trump didn’t do it because they hate gay people, or black people, or Hispanics, or Muslims. They did it because they hate Obamacare (which, sorry, will definitely be gone by the end of January; just go ahead and be ready for that because there’s no stopping it). They hated seeing jobs going overseas, they hated seeing small-town America get worse and worse.

Remember, Trump’s largest demographic by far was uneducated voters. These are people who may not fully understand economics, or foreign policy, or anything else that’s more “big picture”. Their concern was that the factory in their town has been closed for years and main street went with it. All Trump had to do was say “I’m going to get your job back from China,” and they were hooked. Can he actually do it? Of course not. But most of them don’t understand that and it’s going to be a sobering wake-up call later down the road. Trump’s supporters didn’t vote against our interests, but rather for their own. And while the end result of apathy is no different that that of hatred, they are not the same motivation and it’s important to keep that in perspective.

I work in a very rural part of North Carolina. Nearly all of my coworkers voted for Trump. The town was littered with Trump signs. People came into my store every day wearing Trump shirts. But here’s the thing about my store: all of my coworkers know I’m a transgender woman married to another woman and none of them have a problem with that. They treat me no differently. We work together, laugh together, and genuinely have a great relationship with each other. We have been in neighboring stalls in the same bathroom without a single problem. If they went into the voting booth to vote for Trump because they hated LGBT people, I wouldn’t be able to work there.

There are dark times ahead. Anti-LGBT legislation is likely on the horizon. An overturning of marriage equality is possible. Laws like HB2 here in North Carolina will likely keep popping up. We are currently powerless to stop the legislative machine ready to destroy us, but even those in Washington are still (at least in part) beholden to public opinion.  They want to keep their jobs, and that means keeping their base happy. This is where we find our way forward. The only way we combat LGBT hate laws is by having public opinion on our side, and that means being visible in the community like never before. Trump’s base needs to know that we’re their neighbors, their coworkers, their teammates, their friends, and even their family. They didn’t vote for our interests because our interests don’t touch them. I know for a fact my coworkers wouldn’t support an overturning of gay marriage, and I still believe that this holds true for most of the country–even those on the right.

So what does this mean we do? What’s the next step? Well, this is where it gets tough. Step one is to forgive the people in your life who voted for Donald Trump. Yes, I know it’s hard. In my panic-fueled anger last night I lashed out at the Trump supporters in my life online and I shouldn’t have done that. Ever since Michelle Obama uttered the phrase, “when they go low, we go high,” I’ve tried to make that my motto to live by. Last night I didn’t do that, and I sent apologies to those I wronged.

I know what I’m asking for here seems incomprehensible. You feel betrayed, ignored, sacrificed, and all of those feelings are valid. But keeping public opinion of the LGBT community on an upward trend is the only hope we have right now. Burning bridges is not the answer. By all means demonstrate. We will hold rallies and protests, but we will not riot in the streets. We explain our fears to those who don’t understand and who voted against us, but we will not last out and cut people from our lives. We cannot lose those bonds, we cannot lose the community we’ve built nationwide.

There is still a lot of hatred out there for gay people and double that for transgender people, but trust me when I say it is far and above better than it was the last time Republicans controlled Washington. If we can keep that upward momentum, if we can manage not to lose the public favor we worked so hard to build, we might just be able to stem the tide of rights erosion before it starts.

So the first thing we need is forgiveness. After that we need visibility. This is true for the gay community but much more for the transgender community. Hate for LGBT comes from misinformation. It comes from pastors preaching about a God who isn’t about love. It comes from legislators looking for bogymen to make us afraid of so they can “save” us from them and keep their jobs. Opinions are formed by exposure to selective information, but they can be altered through personal experience.

Gay people, trans people, you’re going to have to let the world see you. They need to see you at the bank, at the grocery store, at the post office, at the school function. They need to know that they work with you, share your interests, and live next door.They need to see that we’re not freaks, not monsters, not pedophiles. LGBT is about community. It’s about celebrating diversity. We will stand together with our arms linked. We will not back down and we will not go away, but we will also not wall ourselves off. Our hands will remain reached out, even to those who either hate us or don’t understand us.

The depressing notion being shared by many today is that hate has won. That’s not true. Hate didn’t win. Divisiveness won. Misunderstanding won. LGBT activism will be needed now more than ever to make sure we build new bridges while keeping old ones from crumbling. It’s a hard road forward, but it’s the only road left.

“When they go low, we go high.” We have to live that, now more than ever, or everything will truly be lost.

-Faith

Expressing Transgender Pride

20161106_094235

This post gets pretty personal. A lot of what I present here is a vocalization of something I’ve been pondering for myself. This should not be taken as a how-to guide to living as a transgender person other than to have others consider the same questions for themselves. Also, I talk about the notions of passing and going stealth here, which I know are complex subjects that deserve more consideration than I have time to give them here. While I paint them with pretty borad strokes in this post, I’d like to make it clear that I understand they are not as black-and-white as I might make them sound.

So I have this bracelet…

It’s nothing fancy, just one of those rubbery ones used to show support for a cause like the whole LIVESTRONG thing made popular years ago. It’s white, blue, and pink with TRANS* PRIDE written twice around it in black letters. I got it at a transgender social event many months ago. This story isn’t about the bracelet, but it kind of is. It’s more about what that bracelet means to me in a broader sense beyond the obvious. It’s also about how those feelings have changed and become more complicated over time.

I have to be honest, folks; this is one of those transgender issues where I don’t really have a solution in mind. This is more going to be me tossing my personal feelings on a deeply personal subject into the void of the web and see what happens. A lot of times I come here hoping to share an idea, educate on a not so well known topic, or just have a good old fashioned bitch-fest. This doesn’t fall into any of those categories, but I still want to share it. Maybe you all can help me sort this out.

Anyway, back to the bracelet. When I acquired it I was still quite new to my transition. I wasn’t full time, hadn’t started hormones, and was just all-around trying to learn to walk again (in heels, no less!). Full time came a few weeks later for me. I came out to HR and they supported me in my transition in the workplace. At long last, I was Faith 24/7/365.

Back then I wore my bracelet almost every day. I work with the public and really felt proud to show it off. I know not everyone tends to get as rah-rah activism as I do about stuff, and that’s fine, but strong conviction and trying to change the world have always been part of who I am. I have a passion for standing up for the right thing and educating the public, which is basically why I keep this blog.

I got plenty of stares, plenty of second glances. I heard whispers behind me when I passed people, I was called sir with unnatural emphasis by some as a form of ridicule. This all became part of my normal routine. Back then my bracelet was a silent response to those people. Yes, I’m transgender. We exist. We check out your groceries and handle your bank loans. We clean your bathrooms and cut your hair. We exist and we’re not ashamed. I considered it an honor to show my community (a very rural community in right-leaning North Carolina) that transgender people are just as normal as everyone else they come into contact with. I’m also one of the managers at my job, and it was nice to show them that trans people can even clime the corporate ladder and be the person in charge.

But things started to change.

As the months went by, hormone therapy made my skin softer and my breasts bigger. Laser hair removal made the stubble shadow under my makeup vanish. Practice helped my voice to sound more and more feminine, to the point where I even got called ma’am on the phone. A lot of people don’t like this term and I’m not really comfortable with it either, but after a few months, I realized that I now passed (i.e. people thought I was cisgender female). The awkward stares went away. The whispers went quiet. I no longer felt eyes following me or snap back for a second look. Over time, life became normal for me. And as that happened, I found myself wearing my bracelet less and less.

Was I no longer proud? Did I no longer believe in all those things I was wearing it for? Of course not. But the circumstances had changed. Before, people weren’t learning anything from my bracelet they couldn’t already tell. I looked like a trans woman. You could tell from just about any angle. The bracelet didn’t give it away as much as it said, “yea, I know you can tell and I’m proud of who I am”. When I got to the point of “passing”, it shifted to become the giveaway. I’ve actually had people tell me they had no idea I was trans until they saw my bracelet.

So I put it on less, and even when I did wear it I’d find myself taking it off or turning it over to hide the lettering in certain situations. Sometimes that makes me feel bad, like I’m not standing up for my convictions. But at the same time, it becomes nice to just get to be…well…normal. Being transgender is scary, especially to be a transgender woman and especially to be one in a community like mine (and yes, I fully understand and agree that I’m privileged in the fact that I’m white because trans women of color have it infinitely worse than I do/did).

Trans women have one of the highest murder rates in the country. My life has been threatened on more than one occasion just for needing to go pee. Bullying/harassment against trans people is on another level from most other forms. We’re not just hated because we’re different, we have pastors and lawmakers out there publicly justifying that hatred. I’ve said before that I don’t fear anti-trans laws as much as I fear what they make bigoted people empowered to do. To hate is one thing, but to think you have a pass from authority figures to act on that hatred because the law backs it up is the truly frightening piece of it all.

When I went full-time I lived with that fear constantly. My bracelet was a reaction to it, a shield against what was already being volleyed at me. Now it has become my vulnerability, and that makes it harder and harder to keep wearing it.

And this brings me to the question I can’t answer: what’s the right way to move forward? Now, I’m certainly not saying that all transgender people need to be as activist minded as I am. I know plenty of trans people who prefer to just go “stealth” (just pass for cis if possible and blend into the normal framework of everyday life) and there’s nothing wrong with that. It should be obvious from what I’ve said so far that I’m tempted to go that way myself. But again, I’m little miss got to change the world, and I feel compelled to do more.

There’s a very somber day coming up. November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day to honor all of the transgender people who have been slain just for daring to be true to themselves. Transgender women, especially women of color, are murdered at alarming rates. We must and do honor their memory. They are the martyrs in our crusade for acceptance. When I take off my bracelet because I’m scared, I often think about what they suffered and how I could be next.

But there’s another important day on the calendar to the transgender community. March 31st marks Transgender Day of Visibility. This one switches from somber to celebration as we highlight what we as a community have accomplished. But the key word there is visibility. Visibility is what we need more than anything. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that I’m the only transgender person someone’s ever met, and that’s a problem. With how much attention hateful lawmakers and spiritual leaders get when they spew lies about us, we desperately need to tell our own stories.

As a community we need to be visible. We need to show the world that we’re not scary or dangerous. Trans people are people; not freaks or monsters. We’re certainly not a danger to anyone in bathrooms or changing rooms. But people aren’t going to know that unless we offer that alternative message, and it needs to be done with actions rather than words. People have to see us in their everyday lives; at the grocery store, at the bank, in the crowd at the football came, at the PTA meeting, in the board room, in the pew, and in their neighborhood.

When you can’t help but be visible, you don’t get a choice. Full time is a scary step to take in transition. It means not just being authentic when/where it’s safe to do so. I combated those fears by focusing on the good it was doing, on the lives I was touching and the new impression of transgender people I was giving the community. “Passing” became an oasis in the desert, and like any comfort zone it can be very scary to step out of it. Putting on my bracelet, outing myself to the public, is scary. And I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always have the strength to do it.

But I still try to do it, at least some of the time. I do it because that visibility is important, because it’s the only thing that’s actually going to bring about any change. It’s that example I set that combats the hateful lies told about me. I must stress again that I’m not saying all transgender people should feel obligated to do the same. Not everyone has to be an activist. But it’s important to remember that, while being invisible feels a whole lot safer, it’s not making anything any better.

So does this mean I’m going to go back to wearing my bracelet every day? Probably not. Like I said, this is one of those topics where I don’t have the answer. And even if I did, it would only be an answer for me. I’m offering more of a question to ponder than a solution to present. As members of the transgender community, this is something we really all need to weigh for ourselves. We are targets of so much negativity and it’s largely up to us to combat it, but we must always weigh such things against our own safety. So all I’ll leave you with is this: ponder this in your own lives. Keep yourselves safe, absolutely, but remember the power you do have to help the cause.

Nothing is ever accomplished in a comfort zone.

-Faith

Video Games: Confessions of a Filthy Casual

Boy, we sure have talked a lot recently about transgender representation, hu? Let’s have a pallet cleanser and dive into something completely different. In fact, this post will have nothing to do with LGBT at all! Aren’t you amazed?!

As a child of the late 80’s and early 90’s, I’m in that demographic that got to grow up as video games did. I remember playing SNES at a friend’s house and then finally getting my own console when the Nintendo 64 came out. As I grew up, so did games themselves. They got bigger and more complex with lifelike graphics and storytelling capabilities that I personally think are unmatched by any other entertainment medium. I often think what it would be like to go back in time, grab 12-year-old me, bring her back to the present, and let her play with my Play Station 4. She would go insane!

In addition to getting bigger and better, games have also developed a culture unto themselves. “Gamer” is a self-designated social identifier now. Just like with movies, music, books, etc, games have spawned their own sprawling zeitgeist. Geek culture especially has changed dramatically with games. What were once quarter-munching time killers at the mall for the kids to play with while mom shopped are now immersive experiences with the power to influence the very world we live in.

Unfortunately, not all of that influence is positive. If you want to see some of the very worst humanity has to offer in terms of the treatment of women, minorities, or LGBT people (looks like I managed to tie it in after all) then look no further than the gaming scene. Some of the most horrific and vile things ever said about these demographics have been spewed into headsets during an online match of Call of Duty. Gaming can be extremely divisive,  with its members often broken up into nonsensical sects-often against their will.

Surprisingly, I’m not here to focus on the treatment of women or LGBT in gaming. That post practically writes itself. No, I’m here to talk about another subset of gamers that are often the target of scorn and mockery. And it’s another group I happen to be a part of: casual gamers.

Now, when I say I myself am a casual gamer, the statement comes with a big caveat. I don’t personally identify as a casual player, but these labels are all widely up to personal interpretation as it is. The reason I get labeled a “casual” is that I don’t like to play games that are particularly challenging. I like my easy modes. I like my skip-able levels that are too hard. For these reasons, a lot of people consider me to be “not a real gamer”. Well, I’m here to make the case for myself and other casuals like me.

Easy modes get a lot of flack in the gaming world. Recently, Star Fox: Zero drew a lot of criticism for making an invincible mode where your ship can’t blow up no matter how much you’re hit. The request by many to have an easy mode added to the famously difficult Dark Souls series has been heavily criticized by so-called “hard-core” fans. These people claim that the challenge is the point of it all. If you play a game you can’t lose, what sense of accomplishment can you get from the experience? Why don’t you just read a book or watch a movie if that’s all you want? Games are about the challenge, about working hard to overcome the obstacle, and easy modes take that away from the experience.

Let me explain why I think that’s bullshit.

First, there’s the obvious answer: these are only options. You can still make your game as difficult as you want it. The fact that an easy mode is in the game doesn’t mean you have to use it. Your experience can be as hard as you want (phrasing). The fact that other players are interacting with the game they paid for (that’s an important point for later) in a different way shouldn’t matter to you whatsoever. It’s baffling to me that such a point even needs explaining, but then again we now live in a world where Donald Trump could be president so it shouldn’t be that surprising.

More to the point though, I play games for a different reason than the self-proclaimed “hard-core” players. I set almost every game I play on baby’s first video game. I like almost as little challenge as possible. Why you may ask? Well, because my real life is challenging enough. I work long hours in a high stress environment. Between that I work hard to produce content for this show and for the readers of my fantasy books. These are all big challenges I face every single day. Gaming to me isn’t about further challenging myself. Quite the opposite in fact. When I play video games, I’m looking to feel as powerful and capable as possible with little to no effort. I long to feel like a bad ass without even trying. I often wonder how fulfilling someone’s life can be if they’re looking to find this much of a sense of accomplishment out of something that is supposed to be for entertainment purposes, but that’s none of my business.

Playing a game doesn’t have to be just about feeling accomplished. I like having a story I can interact with, a world I can explore. Games offer a level of immersion that just simply isn’t matched by anything else. My favorite games are RPG’s, and many of them have evolved into such sprawling epics that no two players ever have the same experience. Getting to make those choices and see what unfolds is reason enough to play a video game. Even the parts that are supposed to offer the all important challenge aren’t done just for the sake of accomplishment. When my mage throws a fireball at the goblin and I win the fight, it’s more the experience of taking part in the action than how difficult it was. Not saying that’s how it should be, but that’s how it is for me and many other players.

There’s another reason I’m all for easy modes, one that’s more from an economic standpoint than anything else. Simply put, I want everything I paid for. Let me explain. One of my favorite games I’ve ever played was Bioshock: Infinite. The story, the characters, the art, and the imaginative world all came together for one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. However, I’ve still never beaten the game. I’m on the last level and I’ve tried at least 30 times to pass it to no avail, even on the easiest game setting. I’m frustrated because I want to see the ending. I want to experience it.

Now, you may say that I’ve not earned the ending until I properly beat the game. You may say that it should be my reward for finally accomplishing the final fight. Well, I hate to play foil to your seemingly noble stance, but I see it from a different angle. I’ve already earned the right to the ending, and I earned it the very second I bought the game. I paid for Bioshock. That money bought me all the content held within. I should not be denied access to something I paid for. It’s like if your Blue Ray movie paused every now and then to make you solve a puzzle and you didn’t get to keep watching till you did. Gaming can absolutely be about the challenge, the thrill of overcoming the obstacle, but if you find yourself completely incapable of doing so, you should be able to clear the barrier between you and the rest of the content. It doesn’t matter if I’m not good enough. I bought it, I get to see it. My skill level is irrelevant.

The point is that video games offer such a different way of experiencing entertainment from anything else. With games, we’re each able to take the same thing and enjoy it in our own way. With that said, the way someone else is enjoying something you like should in no way color your experience. You do you and let them do them.

I realize this was a pretty random post from what you’re used to seeing from me, but with this shitty election going on and all the hard-hitting stuff I’ve been covering, it’s nice to just talk about something trivial for a while.

-Faith

Gay Geek Girls Gossip Episode 8: Mad Max is a Sexy Lamp

Tig and Faith reflect on the #BlackLivesMatter protests going on in Charlotte. They discuss Modern Family casting a transgender child character and Mad Max getting a prequel. Finally, the girls talk about ways to identify and confront a fake ally.

Listen or download here.

Hosts: Faith Naff and Tig Pollum

Like what you hear? Please contribute to our Patreon!

Music: “Every Time You Look Around” by Gavin Dunne: used with permission.

Getting Transgender Characters Right

Between the show and the blog, we’ve had quite a bit of content lately discussing proper representation of LGBT characters and transgender characters especially. From Transparent to Anything to The Danish Girl, we’ve had plenty of instances where we’ve picked apart the representation and portrayal of transgender characters. And I’ve noticed that it’s mostly been focusing on the negative. Now, there’s a depressing reason for that, in that the vast…vast…VAST majority of transgender representation in media only falls on a spectrum between harmful at worst and problematic at best.

But there are some examples that not only cross the barrier separating okay but flawed from good but push on to actually outstanding. I’ve listed them a few times as comparisons here and there but I’ve not gotten any time to focus on them and really explain exactly what sets them apart as shining examples of transgender representation. Well, it’s time for them to get their moment to shine (plus I’ve always wanted to do my own BuzzFeed style top list) so here are my top three (sort of) examples of transgender characters done right and why.

Honerable Mention: Cremisius Aclassi – Dragon Age Inquisition

tumblr_o5w8qilwt51qh255go1_500

This one is a honerable mention because I really wrestled with myself over whether or not to include it. As a person who shouts till she’s blue in the face that transgender characters need to be played by actual transgender people, including Cremisius (Crem)-who is voiced by a cisgender woman-seemed like sacrilege. In the end I decided to give it a partial pass since Crem still represents a lot of positive aspects of transgender character portrayal as well as being the absolute best example of trans in games that I can think of. Also, while I recognize as much as anyone that this is a cop-out excuse, voice acting is not the same as camera or stage acting and there are a ton of examples of voice actors playing characters of different races, genders, or ages than what they physically represent.

So yea, let’s at least discuss Crem. As video games have grown to be constructs of deep and complex narratives they’ve given us a way to interact with and understand stories that’s never been possible in any other medium. Remember the old choose your own adventure books where you’d come to a point where you could make a choice of where to go and flip to a different page depending on what storyline you chose? Well, video games have become an amazing realization of what those books were trying to achieve. Two people can play the exact same game and get almost completely different experiences. What you see, who you interact with, hell; even who your character falls in love with are all different depending on the choices you make in the game.

There is only one point in all of Dragon Age Inquisition where all players must see Crem. He’s standing outside the Temple in Haven wanting to talk to you as you pass him by. If you do pass him, if you do just ignore him and go about your game, that’s all there is to it. Crem (and subsequently his boss, Iron Bull) do not become a part of your adventure. If you do talk to him, you have the option of letting his band of mercenaries join your team. Beyond that you can interact with both he and Iron Bull through layers upon layers of optional dialogue. And it’s only when you venture deep into these conversations that you find out Crem is a transgender man.

And this gets to why I simply had to put Crem on this list. He’s a perfect tool for teaching the player what it’s like to meet a transgender person. If you just pass him by without talking to him, you’re absolutely none the wiser. If you talk to him, you’ll notice he has a few slightly feminine traits but pay it no mind. Even after you go kill monsters with him you’re still not privy to the secrets of his gender identity. It’s only through forming a deep relationship with him that you find out he’s transgender. So many people think all transgender people are obvious. To go back to the insufferable bathroom topic, people who are afraid of transgender people in the bathroom think they’re going to instantly recognize any they come across, or that they will somehow telegraph their transness to them. The truth is a lot of transgender people just blend in, and it’s none of your business unless they choose to let you know about it. Crem helps deliver this message in an interactive experience.

Plus, he’s badass.

Number 3: Sophia Burset – Orange is the New Black

 oitnb_laverne_cox-620x412

You all knew this would be on here but I bet you thought it would be number one. Sophia is a great character and I have a lot of good things to say about her, but she’s not my favorite. Still, this is her moment to shine so let’s put a spotlight on her and what the portrayal of her character does right. Firstly, she’s a transgender woman of color, and you will not find a more maligned demographic of people in America. Seriously, on a scale for people who have it rough in America simply because of who they are, I can’t think of any that have it worse. It’s vital that we get TWOC into the media because they are simply so invisible to the collective conscience.

Sophia actually isn’t a main character on OITNB. Cox only has a guest starring role each season so she doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time. Still, the writers have done a great job making sure we get to know her just as well as we get to know all the other women and guards at Lichfield Prison. One of the fun things about OITNB is how many of the episodes each highlight one character and weave in scenes from their past that help us to understand how they wound up behind bars. Sophia got her back story told in the first season and it was beautifully executed.

(Spoilers for OITNB ahead!)

Laverne Cox has a twin brother in real life and that twin was called in to play pre-transition Sophia. This struck me as especially moving because, with how much entertainment media wants to cast cis people in trans rolls, the producers of OITNB basically had the perfect excuse to continue that trend but still chose to represent their trans character with a trans actress. If they had cast a cis male, the argument that the story called for the character to be seen both pre and post transition would have been viable…still upsetting, but viable. OITNB took the harder path in order to properly represent their transgender character and it paid off. Both of the twins gave wonderful performances and Cox’s brother’s portrayal of pre-transition Sophia was so spectacular it could have only come from someone who literally watched a loved one go through it in real life.

Now, each of the inmates’ back stories also lets us know how they came to be prisoners. When telling us the story of Sophia’s crime, the writers one again bypassed the easy road. If you’re trying to put a transgender prisoner in your story, especialla TWOC, and you need a crime for her to have committed, prostitute is the go-to. While it’s unfortunately true that a lot of transgender women, especially TWOC do end up selling their bodies in order to survive, as a narrative tool it’s old and boring. Still, it would have been effortless to just go that route. Again, the show is about criminals and they have a transgender character. The narrative is practically moving them towards it. But again, OITNB didn’t go the easy route. Instead, Sophia was busted committing credit card fraud in an attempt to bankroll her gender affirmation surgery. It’s creative, it works for her character, and it makes her more than a cliché. So bravo to the OITNB crew for giving us a well presented transgender woman at Litchfield Prison.

Number 2: Violet and Paige – Her Story

her-story-cast

Why the fuck did this not win an Emmy?

My love of Her Story should be pretty obvious at this point. This six-part mini series on YouTube is just beautiful. It has a great cast, it’s well-directed, and the story is quite compelling when you consider how many characters it follows for such a short amount of time. Her Story seems like one of those “will obviously be on this list” entries; it’s build from the ground up to let trans actors tell the story of trans characters. Well, you might be surprised to hear that I almost left it off this list for that very reason!

Let me explain. While I have nothing but love for this show, when I talk about proper representation of trans characters I’m often talking about integrating them into narratives we already have. Like I said in my criticisms of Strut, it just always leaves a bad taste in my mouth when proper representation of trans characters can only be found in media that exists largely just to have them in it. Doing so makes the fact that they’re trans have to be a major chunk of the story by default, thus making it feel like some extraordinary circumstance rather than just another way of being.

But I didn’t bring you here to talk about what’s wrong. In fact, it’s how Her Story triumphs over this problem that earned it a spot on this list. It’s a story that kinda has to put a lot of focus on the fact that the characters are trans, but the narrative allows more interesting things to be the real focus of each episode. Paige gets some great focus as a woman trying to make it as a lawyer, but it’s Jen Richard’s Violet that really gets to stand out. Her transgender status, instead of being the focus of her arch, is actually just an additional complication thrown into her quest to find love, get out of her abusive relationship with her boyfriend, and ultimately come to understand her own sexual orientation.

And that’s the part of Her Story that really grabs me. Highlighting that even a trans woman can find herself in an abusive relationship is good, but it’s the sexual orientation topic that sets this show apart. The T has long been a part of the LGBT movement, but that brings with it its own unfortunate misunderstandings. People tend to think of gender identity as a part of one’s sexual identity, and it’s a confusion that even crops up in the LGBT community itself. A transgender woman who is attracted to men is a heterosexual woman: not a gay man. Likewise, a cisgender lesbian who finds herself attracted to a transgender woman isn’t suddenly straight or bisexual. These are the issues Her Story tackles and it does so beautifully. As Violet explores her relationship with Allie (a cisgender lesbian), Allie’s friends call her sexual orientation into question. It’s these outside forces pushing against their relationship that take up the bulk of the story, not the fact that Violet or Paige are trans.

Number 1: Nomi Marks – Sense8

 KJ2A1756.dng

I consider Sense8 to be one of the most underrated things ever on television. It’s a sci-fi series that comes to us courtesy of Lilly Wachowski, a transgender woman herself. Nomi isn’t necessarily the main character of the story, but the beauty of Sense8 is that no one is. All of the eight characters that share a psychic connection also share about equal screen time and story focus.

I did put these characters in a specific order and I consider Nomi to be the best representation of a transgender character I’ve ever seen. She exhibits many of the traits we’ve already touched on in other examples. She has a rich and compelling back story that isn’t saturated in her gender identity. She also lends more to the narrative than being a token character; she’s a bad-ass hacker. But there are two things about Nomi that really help her stand out to me.

The first one revolves around the story of Sense8 itself and thus I must put up another SPOILER WARNING. The story is about eight people who share a psychic connection. They are able to communicate with each other, mentally transfer themselves into the same place as each other, and even take over each other’s bodies in order to lend them their specific skills (seriously, why have you not watched this show?!) Each of the eight has their own unique talents which are helpful for the group to achieve their goals. There’s the fighter, the actor, the criminal mastermind, and in Nomi’s case, the hacker.

Notice I mentioned an actor. See, someone who doesn’t understand what it means to be transgender may be under the impression that being so is an act, that they’re pretending to be something they’re not. But when any of the eight need to call upon acting skills, they don’t call Nomi. It may seem like a small thing, but it helps to confirm to the audience that Nomi is Nomi and no one else.

The second thing I love about Nomi is a trait I’ve not seen well executed in any other trans character: she’s allowed to be sexy. Notice I didn’t say sexualized. We see that shit all the time. Trans women walking the streets in dark alleys are an often used as visual shorthand to add to the motif of a derelict urban environment. They convey sex, but are not meant to be something the audience actually finds attractive.

Sense8 introduces us to Nomi during a sex scene with her girlfriend Amanita. They’re both fully nude and the cinematography is utilized to highlight how sexy the bodies of both women are. Nomi’s breasts, hips, legs, etc. are all given the same care and framing any cis woman would be in a scene intended to get a reaction of erotic enjoyment from the audience. And this is nothing compared to her sex scene halfway through the series which is hands down the hottest sex scene I’ve ever witnessed in anything that wasn’t actual pornography.

I know there’s a lot of ire around the notion of portraying women, even cis women, as sexual objects, but when sex is tied to an already well-rounded character it’s actually a very positive thing. Nomi owns her sexuality. She consents to all sexual contacts in the story and they’re always with partners she feels safe with. She’s not being exploited, but rather allowed to own and be proud of her sexuality in a way we still don’t see with a lot of cis women on TV.

So see, entertainment media, it can be done. There are plenty of ways to properly portray transgender characters. They can be just as diverse, just as deep, and just as engaging as anyone else you write. So can we please try harder–if for no other reason than it’s more fun for me to write pieces like this than to drudge up another thousand words or so on how you fucked it up again.

-Faith

Faith Reviews “Strut”…Sort Of…

screen-shot-2016-08-09-at-3-54-32-pm

There are reasons I usually don’t review stuff, or at least don’t write lengthy reviews like professional critics do. Firstly is that I just don’t have time to consume a lot of media. Between my full-time job, writing, podcasting, con tours, and my family, I don’t get a lot of time to go to the movies or watch much TV. Secondly, I never know how to say much about a particular piece of media without getting into broader subjects that surround it but don’t actually have weight on whether or not the entity in question is good.

I originally set out for this to be just a review of the first episode of Strut, the new reality fashion drama on Oxygen that has an all transgender cast and that I’ve already given my early thoughts on here. It was going to be matter-of-fact; talking about the good stuff, the bad stuff, and closing with my overall opinion. You know…a review. But my mind just doesn’t work that way. The objectionable stuff I could come up with would barely fill a couple of paragraphs and other, deeper thoughts stayed glued to my brain the more I thought about the show. I’m simply not good at thinking of a piece of media on its own (and yes, I know no review is actually 100% objective because that would be boring, but the best critics at least tie the non-objective stuff into judging the merit of the work)

With that in mind, this post is going to be split into two sections. First I’ll look at what I can objectively say about Strut and then I’ll let that lead into a discussion of something that hangs over Strut but doesn’t have any weight as to whether it’s good or bad. And now that I’ve wasted over 300 words rambling, let’s move on.

Strut is good. I genuinely enjoyed the first episode. The show follows the modeling agency Slay at the time of their one year anniversary. What makes Slay unique is that it’s the only modeling agency to only work with transgender models. The show follows a wide array of models, from business veterans to fresh faces, between New York and Los Angeles. I was really nervous at the beginning when one of the models said the word “penis” before the opening credits even started, but for as much as Strut is about transgender models, it doesn’t spend the whole time dwelling on the fact that their trans. I mean, yea, it comes up often, but the show’s direction does a pretty good job of letting the issue fade to the background enough to let the much more interesting aspects of each model shine. There actually wasn’t a single mention of genitalia after that, which was honestly surprising.

The models themselves are quite diverse, representing a wide array of ages and ethnicities. I do wish there was more than on male model in the cast, but that’s a nitpick more than an outright issue.

 And…that’s about it. Like I said, I’m really not much of a critic. It’s a good show and I enjoyed watching it, but it brought to mind a broader issue that took up my mental energy way more than the merits of the show itself. I don’t know whether or not Goldberg and her team intended for transgender people to be the target audience of the show, but undoubtedly we will take up a large chunk of the viewership. I couldn’t help but watch this show from the perspective of a transgender woman, thus my own feelings emotions flavored my experience. And while I did enjoy myself, I couldn’t help but feel…well…inadiquate.

This was one of my worries going in and part of my last post. So much of the transgender experience is unfairly centered around physical appearance, and having a all-trans show set in a world also focused on looks is worrisome. It’s not like this was an all-transgender law firm, or an all-transgender bakery. The fashion industry already has a lot of problems when it comes to affecting the self-esteem and confidence of women since it’s rare to see any model booked who isn’t super skinny. And while there have been some improvements in that regard as of late, transgender models are pretty new to the scene and have to meet one obvious requirement before anyone will even think about booking them.

Passing.

No media outlet is going to book a transgender model, even if the fact they’re trans is disclosed, unless most of their audience is going to have a “that person is trans?!” reaction. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen a non-passing trans person get featured in anything. As I’ve said many times before, if only passing trans people are given the spotlight then the public will continue to judge the validity of someone’s gender identity only on their looks. Again, this isn’t something the show is doing wrong, but it’s an overall problem that Strut is marinading in.

I’m lucky enough that I pass pretty well, but I know a lot of transgender people where that’s not the case. It’s a well-known fact that the media, especially fashion media, puts a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way. Women have to run a proverbial gauntlet of stigmas and expectations to be considered valuable in society, but transgender women have another gauntlet they have to run just to get to the starting line of that one. A woman who is overweight or in any other way conventionally not pretty is going to face a lot of undeserved obstacles, but no one is going to assume (in most cases) they are anything other than female. A trans woman who doesn’t pass can’t even get it that good, and often spends a not insignificant amount of time and money changing her body just to make it to the level of just another un-pretty or unworthy woman. And this isn’t even going into the looming threats of harassment and violence they face when not passing.

Women watching fashion shows often feel a sense of shame or inadequacy about their own bodies, but I was honestly shocked how strong those feelings were for me when I watched Strut. It wasn’t just the feeling of “I’m not that pretty” or “I’m not that skinny”; it was “I don’t pass that well”. I looked for the things I’m self-conscious about on them and felt inadequate when I didn’t see those same flaws. I worry about the aspects that “give me away” as trans like the faint amount of shadow still on my upper lip or how wide my jaw is. When I don’t see those same things on the models on Strut, it doesn’t do good things for my confidence.

And I’m really curious to learn how other transgender women feel when they watch this show. Again, the show is not bad because of this, but it’s for the same reason other fashion shows aren’t bad even if they contribute to low self-esteem issues in women. It all serves to highlight an unfortunate truth: society largely doesn’t care about transgender people and those that do only give you a pass if you…well…pass! And not just pass, but look conventionally beautiful as well. It’s a problem that goes well beyond toxic notions like, ‘you’re not thin so you’re not pretty’ or ‘you’re don’t look good enough to be loved’. No, this reaches the point of, ‘you don’t look good enough to even be accepted for who you are’. And when you live in that kind of stigma, watching models enjoying things you might not even be able to achieve is heartbreaking.

I’m happy to have a show starring transgender people. I’m happy it allows real transgender people to tell their stories. But nothing is going to get better until we show the broader reality of being transgender to the world. We don’t start our journey of transition at the end. We don’t always pass and some of us never will. And we certainly aren’t all going to look like supermodels! The world needs to see the transgender community in a more realistic manner, because there’s a lot more on the line for us than just ‘being pretty’.

-Faith

Gay Geek Girls Gossip Episode 7: A Mormon Housewife’s Wet Dream

***TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE AND SUICIDE***

With Dragon Con behind them, the girls rant about the Broc Turner case, Tig teaches us about how “50 Shades of Grey” gets BDSM wrong, and things get emotional during a discussion about LGBT suicide prevention.

Listen or download here.

Hosts: Faith Naff and Tig Pollum

Like what you hear? Please contribute to our Patreon!

Music: “Every Time You Look Around” by Gavin Dunne: used with permission.