Power Rangers: Getting Nostalgia Wrong

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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.

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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

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So You Wanna Do A Project On Trans People…

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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

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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

 

Expressing Transgender Pride

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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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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…

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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

The Stumbles of “Strut”

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Outrage over something clearly problematic is easy. My last post didn’t take a lot of effort to get my point across since casting yet another cis person as a member of the still poorly represented transgender community is such a cut and dry case of fuck no. Though even then some people will fail to grasp exactly why you’re angry, the bulk of the readership tends to at least figure it out after you make your case (and I did have a few people say they hadn’t understood why it was a problem until they read the post).

Pointing out the problems in something less blatant is a much greater challenge. Hell, it can even come across as being too picky or trying to find faults just for the sake of doing it. It becomes more touchy when the subject matter appears to be actually progressive and done with the very intention of making right the sins of poor representation. And while I’ll agree that being outright angry over such things is definitely not the right way to go, holding back criticism as a thank you just for trying sends the message that the entity in question got it 100% right, therefore no one needs to try any harder than that to appease said community.

What the hell am I going on about? Well, it’s been revealed that the Oxygen network has picked up a new show called Strut. Seemingly framed like America’s Next Top Model but without being a competition, the show is produced by Whoopi Goldberg and features a modeling agency that only works with transgender models.

Click here to watch the trailer.

If you’re thinking, ‘Faith, how can you think a show like that looks bad?’, let me go ahead and say that I don’t. I actually think this looks like a good show and I plan to at least give it a shot. It shows real transgender people who are allowed to talk about their own struggles. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some issues with it and I believe those issues have merit. Like I said last time, I refuse to just take what I’m given simply because I’m given so little to begin with. I will always be picky about how I’m represented in the media, even when the media in question is trying to get it right.

To break down the issues I have with this show, we need to tackle them from two different angles. First, there’s the issue of Strut as a progressive entity (as in will work to actively progress transgender acceptance). We live in a world where people have access to a near infinite amount of entertainment options. Between hundreds of channels, on demand sites like Hulu and Netflix, Youtube channels, podcasts, ebooks, and everything else the digital age has to offer, there’s virtually no chance you’re ever going to have to watch, listen to, read, etc. something you don’t want to. Strut is a progressive show produced by a progressive person and presented on a progressive network. It’s preaching to the choir. And while that can be good for the choir, it’s not going to achieve anything meaningful in the long run. The people who actually need to be exposed to these people and their stories will still be able to easily sequester themselves away from it. If the show were on NBC, CBS, or even a bigger cable presence like FX or TNT, it would have a greater probability of at least having someone stay on it till their show came on afterward. On Oxygen, it might was well be in a box wrapped in caution tape reading: WARNING: THIS SHOW WILL BREAK YOUR IGNORANCE.

Of course I’m not touting any of this as a fault of the show itself (that’s coming next), but more as an overall observation. Anyone who thinks this is going to be a means of turning public opinion is sorely mistaken. This is any other reality show; period. Nothing more, nothing less. And the thing that makes me the maddest is that very few content creators seem to be fighting for the simpler solutions that actually would work to make things better. I don’t need a show just for trans people, I need trans people on the shows people already watch. Instead of this, couldn’t we get a trans contestant on Dancing With the Stars? How about on Survivor, or Big Brother? These shows are already watched by millions of people, both the progressive and the ignorant. That’s where we need visibility! America’s Next Top Model actually got this right by having transgender contestants in with everyone else. That’s proper representation!

You want to really shake things up? Give us a transgender contestant on The Bachelor.

I said a while back in my post about neutral bathrooms that attempts to be inclusive can often just be a different kind of exclusive. In the bathroom example, the point is that neutral bathrooms are a great thing to have, but to build them specifically so transgender people have somewhere to go is just singling them out in a different way. “You’re not allowed to exist,” becomes “you can exist, but only over there.” Strut has the same feeling to me. There are a ton of shows just like it all over the place, each with a cast of men and women representing a variety of colors, ages, and sexual orientations. Why can’t we just throw transgender into that mix? Why do we need our own special version of what’s already out there?

Secluding the transgender experience from the rest of media further pushes the notion that varying gender identities are abnormal; they must have their own special place because they don’t fit in with normal life. For a long time you couldn’t get a gay character in a story unless the story was about them being gay. That’s gotten better over time, but transgender representation hasn’t caught up. Strut might be telling some great stories about the transgender experience, but it’s not letting those stories exist alongside what our collective culture already knows. What’s more, it’s doing it in the safest space imaginable outside of an online only medium.

As for the show itself (and this is purely impressions off the commercials as I’ve not seen any episodes yet), it’s another show about runway models. The transgender aspect is simply a gimmick, and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I still think it looks like an entertaining show, but there’s nothing remarkable about it. I will say, however, that if we have to have a show with an all transgender cast…can it please not be models? Not to put down models or modeling in any way; it’s a valid profession that takes a great deal of work and talent, but so much of the stigma about transgender people is already centered around appearance.

It would be so easy for the plot of this show to be about how well the models appear cis when the pictures are submitted to magazines, billboards etc. If that turns out to be the goal these men and women have, then the narrative will actually become something harmful. So much of the transgender experience has been poisoned by the notion that passing equals validity. I know I’ve fallen into that trap more than once in my life. The idea that one’s gender identity isn’t worthy of respect unless they can pass for a cis member of said gender is an incredibly difficult battle that most of our community has to fight. Telling the stories of transgender people through the framework of a modeling show is only going to exacerbate that notion.

I’d like to stress again that everything I’ve presented here is speculation based on how the show has advertised itself. Once it’s out and I’ve had a chance to watch it, I might return to this topic and offer more insights. Until then, it’s hard to get excited for something like this. It’s hard to see this as a step forward when the greater advancement could have been made in a simpler way. It’s hard to be optimistic when so many of the same old problems with transgender representation are already showing up in the marketing for this show. It looks like a fun show, but if it’s aiming to be anything more than that, anything meaningful for the lives of the people it portrays, I find it sorely wanting.

-Faith

UPDATE: It’s come to my attention that Big Brother actually has had a transgender contestant before. Just goes to show you how much reality TV I watch.

Trans-face: Exploiting Transgender Characters

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Once upon a time when I was in college, I took a creative writing class. We had to write short stories and have the class read/critique them. I wrote a story about a sniper who finds out his next hit is an old boyfriend. When I came to class the next day after everyone had read it, I kept hearing the same question: this is a really good story, but why did you make him gay? I thought it was a strange question so I asked why they wanted to know. ‘Being gay has nothing to do with the story,’ was the general complaint. ‘Why would you make the character gay if it was just some espionage thriller?’

Hopefully you already understand why this is a shitty thing to ask. I mean, why can’t my sniper be gay? I think he had dark hair, too, but no one asked how that was integral to the story. The LGBT community has always had trouble finding good representation in media. It’s thankfully gotten better since I was in school. I think of characters like Captain Holt on Brooklyn 99 and Connor from How To Get Away With Murder; gay characters whose sexual orientation has nothing to do with the core of the story. They’re just gay…and it’s normal. Because being gay is normal.

Sadly, the same kind of cultural enlightenment hasn’t been extended to transgender characters. First off, even having transgender characters in a mainstream piece of media is rare. With the notable exception (as always) of Orange is the New Black, there really aren’t any trans characters in big name shows or movies (and even Sophia is just an occasional guest star). The bulk of trans representation is currently restricted to small, art house productions as well as online shows like the phenomenal Her Story. Occasionally, directors with the glimmer of Oscar statues sparkling in their eyes will take on a project with or about a transgender woman.

Unfortunately, the directors who do this end up committing a greater sin than not representing trans people at all. They may want to have a trans woman in their story, maybe even portray her in a positive light, but all that gets undermined when they cast a cisgender male to play the part. You already know what I’m talking about. Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl, and just announced; Matt Bomer in Anything. Critics call it inspiring. Hollywood calls it progressive. Wanna know what I call it?

Black-face.

Sound harsh? Sound like I’m blowing things out of proportion? Well, let’s take a look at what black-face (as a general term, not a literal comparison) is. It used to be that black people weren’t allowed to perform as actors, but script writers still wanted to include black characters in their stories. So they took white actors, painted them to look black, and had them perform the part. Fast forward to today, we have non-transgender actors and actresses being dressed up and “painted” to appear as transgender characters, therefore allowing the character to be portrayed by an actual transgender person. It’s no different. It’s the same exploitative practice with the same intent behind it and results from it. It’s trans-face

We can go into debates about levels of bigotry behind this and the practice of literal black-face decades ago, but nothing would change the fact that the actions are one in the same. When you physically alter a person to look like someone they’re not just to play a part instead of giving that part to an actual member of that demographic, you’ve committed the exact same act. What makes this even more astounding though is it’s being done in films that portray the transgender character in a positive way. These movies aren’t mocking their transgender characters, they’re not setting them up as villains or objects of disgust (well, not all of them). The filmmakers themselves genuinely seem to want to shine a light on the struggles, but the sentiment rings hollow when they don’t include actual transgender people in their cast. For fuck sake, transgender actresses like Jen Richards (Twitter: @SmartAssJen) even auditioned for it!

I’ve shared this concern with people before who didn’t understand my anger. “Why are you making such a big deal about it? They’re not demonizing the character. It looks like a positive movie.” And then there’s my favorite…”shouldn’t you just be happy that they have a transgender character at all?” No. No, I should not. I refuse to fall into that notion of beggars can’t be choosers. I don’t care if it means I never see another transgender character on the movie screen: if they cast a non-trans person to play the role, I will not see the film. That’s not even just a transgender sentiment. A lot of people thought the LGBT community should be thankful to the people who made Stonewall. Hey look, it’s a movie that champions your movement! It shines a spotlight on one of the most defining moments in your fight for equality! Aren’t you happy they made the movie and want to go see it over and over? No fucking way.

It’s funny, a lot of media, especially video games, get accused of “pandering” to LGBT people just for having a gay or trans character. Just simply having one is ‘pushing an agenda’ with the film. That’s not pandering. That’s just having a diverse cast. But movies like Stonewall are pandering because they assume we’ll be thrilled just because you bothered to do it at all. Sorry, but no. We have more respect for ourselves and our history than to sell out to your white-washed, revisionist garbage.

To bring that back home, I don’t care if the transgender character in your movie is a positive character. I don’t care if you’re making them the hero. You didn’t let an actual transgender actor/actress with aspirations to be a big movie star get one of the very few roles even possibly written for them. I don’t need to know anything about your movie other than that, because that tells me that your compassion is only skin deep. We may get next to nothing, but we will at least demand what we get is worthy of our praise.

This whole problem goes deeper than most people realize, especially those making the film. Going back to the black-face thing, transgender people have to overcome an extra hurdle when it comes to acceptance. Racists look at black people and say, “I know you’re there, but I still hate you.” But our bigots look at us and say, “you don’t really exist; you don’t deserve anything just for wanting to be something you’re not.”Bigots say they hate our sin and not us, feeling justified in their notion that who we are is a matter of choice.

I said back in my post about the Rocky Horror advertisement that, while media can be targeted to a certain audience, the marketing and news for that media will be consumed by all. Those people saying transgender experiences aren’t real have their ignorance backed up every time a cisgender man portrays a transgender woman. It just further insinuates that being transgender is just cross dressing and pretending to be something you’re not. That same actor wearing makeup and a dress on the screen will be on the red carpet during the premier in a black suit, and everyone will see that. It will color their perception of the transgender community. These movies exacerbate already damaging misunderstandings about transgender people, and lives are on the line.

And even if we could move past this and get actual transgender people to play transgender characters…can we please be something other than sex workers? Look, I’m not looking down on sex work. I have a great deal of respect for it and think it gets about as bad a reputation as transgender people. I’m just sick of it being the only way Hollywood knows to represent us. There are indeed a lot of transgender sex workers as it’s often the only kind of work trans women can find and there are a lot of cis men with a fetish for us. The slur tr**ny exists because the porn industry created a whole genre for guys who get off fucking transgender women. Hollywood knows this. In fact, it seems to be the only thing they know about transgender women, so they overuse it. It’s like how they can’t seem to think of a way to make a cis woman seem dark and angsty without getting her raped. It’s lazy and perpetuates already tired stereotypes.

I for one will never be desperate enough to just take whatever is tossed to me. I will not hold back criticism just because a piece of media acknowledged I exist. People say change comes slowly, and that’s often true. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept slow when it doesn’t have to be. I don’t want to wait until I’m an old woman to see authentic representation of my community in big budget movies. You can call me ungrateful, but I’d rather think of myself as knowing I’m worth more than what I’ve been given. These movie makers aren’t doing us any favors by hiring cis men to pretend to be us. All that does is make things worse.

And to Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer: Shame on you. For fucking shame! I always thought better of the both of you. You’re each fine actors and have done wonderful things for many good causes. I don’t know. Maybe this only further highlights just how little understanding there really is about the transgender community. If one of Hollywood’s biggest names when it comes to social progression teams up with an outwardly gay actor to make a movie with a transgender character and even they can’t get it right, things may be worse than I thought.

-Faith

Quit Bitching About Millennials

I normally like to start these things with some random thought that transitions well into whatever my topic is, but I’m going to skip that this time. If you’re one of those people who’s ever complained that “young people today are so lazy” or “they just want everything handed to them”, or maybe even, “they have no manners or respect”, this post is for you. I’m 32. I was born in 1984, right at the tail end of Generation X. Because of that, I feel like I’ve lived most of my life in a sort of neutral middle ground between X and Y. I have friends that fall distinctly into each group also. I’m not saying that makes me any kind of authority on the matter, just that it colors my viewpoint on this whole thing.

See, some Gen X people and a lot of the Baby Boomers like to complain about the upcoming generation now in college or new to the job market. They whine that they have no manners, spend too much time on their phones, want to make everything politically correct, and are just basically causing the downfall of the once great United States Of America. If that’s you; if that’s the way you think; then here’s the tl;dr summary of the rest of this post:

You’re wrong. Now shut the fuck up.

If you’d like me to elaborate on that, keep reading.

Millennials are just fine the way they are. They don’t need to be more respectful or disconnect from technology. They simply grew up in circumstances that you can’t even comprehend and thus have a drastically different world view than you did as a youngster. We honestly need to look at each point made against them one at a time in order to explain all that, so let’s dive in.

Assumption 1) Millennials spend too much time online.

I’m hitting this one first because the points I make here will kinda tie in to everything else. The notion here is that Millennials are constantly on their phones or computers checking Facebook and Snapchat instead of interacting with actual people or focusing on stuff that’s actually important. First off, let’s address the elephant in the room; if iPhone and Facebook had existed when we were kids, we’d have been just as glued to them and don’t you fucking deny it. 15-year-old me used to dreaof having technology even half as cool as that. I was a kid back in the dark ages before the internet and my family wasn’t exactly a bunch of chatter boxes back then either. We read newspapers, magazines, and watched TV.

Oh yea, did you all forget that before the internet we were all “watching too much TV”? Remember how TV was destroying families? Guess what; before then it was the radio. Human beings have always found ways of distracting ourselves from interaction. With the internet there is at least still interaction going on. You couldn’t communicate with TV back in the 80’s and 90’s. You couldn’t type a rebuttal to what you read in a magazine. If anything, Millennials are more social than any generation before them. With texting and social media, we communicate with other people now more than ever. Sure, it’s not face to face, but if being social and interacting with people is the whole point of the argument, can you really say they’re doing worse than we were staring at the TV for hours on end?

The internet is actually going to be a big focus of basically every point from here on out so keep that in mind.

Assumption 2) Millennials Don’t Care About Anything Important

Nothing is more ironically absurd than a Generation X’er complaining that Millennials are slackers. Gen X practically invented slacking. Think about movies like Clerks where slacking off was championed. The 80’s and 90’s were the time when everything was “lame”. School was “lame”, getting a job was “lame”. It was a time of supposedly embracing the counter-culture, but our counter culture didn’t stand for anything. And we figured out really fast that you can’t make a living off thinking stuff is “lame”.

You definitely can’t say the same for Millennials. Their counter-culture means something. LGBT rights, #BlackLivesMatter, feminism; these are the things they’re pushing. We wanted to fight the establishment, but had no idea what to replace it with. Not only do the Millennials have a vision for the future, they’re fighting hard for it! Think about movements like Occupy Wall Street, the explosive rise of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and of course the protests in response to the killings of black men and women by police. I see stories all the time about girls in high school staging demonstrations to protest the sexist dress code. We had the same dress code when I was their age and we didn’t do shit about it!

Millennials actually fight for something, they get off their asses and try to make a difference. Through the power of the internet, they shine a continuous light on all the crap we either didn’t know about or did know about but said nothing because we thought we were the only ones who saw it. Fuck, remember when we used to think race relations were getting better? How would we have used such a powerful tool at their age? Would we have honed the internet into such a powerful weapon against injustice, or just used it to amplify our echo chamber of decrying how “lame” everything is?

Assumption 3) Millennials Are Lazy and Want Everything Handed to Them

As a tail-end Generation X’er, I can say confidently that my generation was the last to experience something that will likely never happen again: we were the last kids able to grow up ignorant. In the modern world of constant connectivity and unfiltered information (depending on source), the only type of ignorance left in the world is willful ignorance. We grew up with teachers and other adult leaders enthusiastically telling us that we could be anything when we grew up. We were told the sky was the limit as long as we believed in our dreams and worked hard to achieve them. It wasn’t until we spent a few years in the real world that we found out that was a load of shit.

Millennials don’t get the luxury of that bubble to live in. Sure, adults still feed them the same crap about the American dream and the importance of a college education, but then they can go online and get the real story. They can find out that finding a starting salary that can afford you a living is pretty much impossible. They already know most college degrees are ultimately worthless and will only saddle them with an inescapable amount of debt. They know that the generations before them reaped the benefits of an America shaped by labor unions and tight restrictions on businesses, only to then become Reagan-voting idiots who allowed all of that to fall apart once they ‘got theirs’.

And they learned all of this as early as grade school

Work hard and you can achieve your dreams? We know that’s a load of crap now that we’re adults, but they know it before even joining the work force. Meanwhile, they also know that in countries across the ocean, people of all ages are reaping the benefits of socialist societies where they would have the opportunity to achieve their dreams. You can’t save money for retirement if you can’t afford insurance. You can’t buy a house if minimum wage keeps you in poverty. Fighting for socialized medicine and free college isn’t asking for a hand-out; it’s demanding a real chance to succeed the way the old-guard keeps telling them to succeed.

The way they know is bullshit.

But you know who is making a decent living now? The guys playing video games and unboxing stuff on Youtube. It sounds crazy, but advertisers are paying big money to get their ads placed in front of viral videos and the creators of said videos are making a very comfortable living as a result. To Millennials, that has become the new image of success. It’s not about getting a job that you’re going to hate and never make enough doing anyway. They don’t want to be the next PewDiePie because they just want to play video games all day, they want to be the next PewDiePie because it’s a viable path to a successful life.

Assumption 4) Millennials Don’t Have Any Real-World Skills

Millennials don’t know how to change a tire. Millennials can’t balance a checkbook. Millennials can’t drive stick. Millennials can’t read a map. Any of these sound familiar? Even I’ve been guilty of spouting one or two of these off before. We like to think of Millennials as unprepared to face life because they don’t possess the “real-world” skills they need.

I was stupid for thinking this and so are you.

You want to know what kind of stuff our generations largely don’t know how to do: shoe a horse, churn butter, and make clothing. We don’t know how to do these things because technological and societal advancements have made such knowledge largely obsolete. Milennials know plenty, but they didn’t bother to learn the stuff we had to do that simply isn’t needed anymore. Balance a checkbook? My banking app does all that for me. Change a tire? A few taps on my smart phone and a wrecker will be out in a few minutes (hell, my phone carrier even offers that as a service). Read a map? Who even has a map in their car now thanks to GPS? Why do we demand Millennials take the time to learn dying social skills? I certainly don’t plan to learn how to use a printing press to produce this blog.

On the flip side, how often do you ask some young person a question about how to use your smart phone? How about when you need to fix your computer? They might not know how to change the oil in a car, but they can write code to make an app. Millennials aren’t stupid. They just know what skills they need to learn and what archaeal practices we’re holding onto for nostalgia’s sake. Maybe instead of whining that your teenager won’t bother learning to do their own taxes you could take a class in HTML and get with the times.

Assumption 5) Millennials are the “Pussy” Generation

I saved this one till the end because this where I’m going to stop being nice. If you’ve made it this far and still aren’t with me then you likely agree with this assumption and need a sterner talking to than most. Do you complain that Millennials worry too much about being politically correct or that they’re always offended by everything? Well, you might want to check the back of your pickup truck because I’m willing to bet your Donald Trump bumper sticker is a little crooked.

Where do you people get the fucking nerve to treat the push for equality as a bad thing? Politically correct is a term that needs to die in a fire because it means nothing. It’s just a short-handed way for bigoted fuck-sticks to shrug off the people calling them out for being bigoted fuck-sticks. Not only is this assumption about them wrong, the reason it’s wrong perfectly shows why Mellinnials aren’t just okay, they’re better than many of the generations that came before them including mine. Millennials have managed to finally understand what most of the rest of us still don’t get…

You shouldn’t stay silent on injustices that don’t affect you.

The reason this generation has brought about such an onslaught of “political correction” is because they’re giving a much louder voice to movements that have existed for decades but were largely ignored. You think #BlackLivesMatter is something new? The term may be, but police brutality against the black community has always been there! It’s just that now it’s getting broadcast on Youtube and white Millennials are adding their voices to those of black men and women seeking justice. You think transgender people just suddenly showed up out of the blue? We’ve always existed, but now the internet is giving us a voice and Millennials are helping us to carry that voice to more ears.

We no longer live in an America where it’s everyone for themselves. Thanks to the movements that Millennials have started, social justice is now a collective fight. I fight for the black man’s right to walk down the street without getting harassed by the police because he is fighting for my right to live authentically and use my correct bathroom. And what’s more, straight, white, male Millennials were the first to actually realize they have a lot of privileges they take for granted. Political correctness is something you whine about when someone calls you out on not being responsible with how good you have it. You’re too big of a coward to face it, but they’re not. Millennials know that their social status can be used as a tool to help others less fortunate. And all this is to say nothing about their fight to save the environment. Remember when we were growing up and your car was a status symbol? Now you’re cool if you don’t use one because you’re trying to save the planet.

Pussy generation? Bitch please. They’ve got bigger balls than you could even dream.

So yea, stop bitching about Millennials. They’re doing just fine. They’re going to be just fine.

Fuck, they might just save the world.

-Faith