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

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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

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

matt-bomer-shirtless

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

Pokemon: The Tao of Sylveon

Here’s something I’m sure no one but the most dedicated MRA’s and PDE‘s will argue: a stupid amount of things in our culture are gendered for marketing purposes. Men and women, both trans and cis, use a lot of the same kinds of thing each and every day. We all have to eat, sleep, work, play, and occasionally relieve ourselves in the bathroom. Now, many of those things we do together, and thus we don’t see a lot of separation. For example, restaurants don’t bring their food out on different colored plates depending on the gender of the person ordering it.

However, once you cross over into the things we buy specifically for our own, personal use, things start too fall on either side of a very distinct line. Just about every teen to adult human being shaves at least some part of their body on a regular basis in this country, but a trip to the razor aisle will yield you two sectioned off groups of blades that are each “designed” for a specific gender. Now, we all know that there’s little to no difference between these items and any difference that is there isn’t supporting a vital function of the instrument (think Venus razors with the bar of soap around the blades), but marketers still feel the need to put a boundary between them as though a pink razor pressed to a man’s face will simply fail to cut a single hair.

We see this in a lot of adult stuff but that doesn’t hold a candle to the amount of gendering in things we see marketed to children. Even before kids are born, their lives are being pre-filled with toys, books, bedding, outfits, and even bath soaps meant to set them up on a specific side of the arbitrary gender binary. Toys are by far the worst perpetrator of this. Just about every piece of plastic aimed at the entertainment of young kids has been branded specifically for either boys or girls. You can argue that there are plenty of neutral toys like Legos, but even they are now themed differently with opposite color schemes and cartoon mascots on the boxes.

I clearly remember growing up as a boy and having a lot of toys aimed at that gender. I had Ninja Turtles and Batman action figures, Hot Wheels cars, Nerf guns, footballs, you get the point. Now, I liked my toys. My action figures especially were some of my favorite things to play with. But whenever I would go to daycare or somewhere else where there was a single room full of toys to be shared, I would always gravitate towards the Barbie dolls and the My Little Pony figures. Those were the things I didn’t have access to at home so I wanted the opportunity to play with them. See, I hear a lot of transgender people say they grew up “hating” the things they were given that were gender coded. I know trans men who only ever wanted to pull the heads off their baby dolls. I know trans women who would make their Transformers have a tea party when mommy and daddy weren’t looking. While that’s a perfectly valid experience, I didn’t share it. I liked my boy stuff, but I also liked girl stuff and I wished there were things that would allow me to enjoy both at the same time.

I finally got my wish in late elementary school when the first Pokemon game released for the Gameboy.

I was obsessed with Pokemon from day one. Aside from the fact that it was a well made RPG with compelling game play and a fun journey to be on, Pokemon was a one-stop-shop for everything I found entertaining. The little monsters (and no so little ones) you captured and battled with ranged from incredibly cute to extremely big and powerful. Some of them were even both. My team of six represented a snapshot of myself, with both masculine and feminine seeming monsters populating the roster. It was the first time ever when I didn’t have to choose. What’s more, Pokemon was something I could admit I liked and get away with it (To a point. High School became a different story). To my parents it was just another video game, and I had a few male friends that also liked it. While I wasn’t exactly free to express all of the reasons I liked the game, I was at least able to openly find enjoyment in something somewhat girly.

I have no idea if was intentional on the creator’s part or not, but I feel like Pokemon taught my generation of nerds (and those after me) a lot about gender expression. The monsters you could catch, even those just in the 150 real original Pokemon encompassed such a wide variety of tastes. I knew trainers who battled with Pokemon solely on how cute they were. I knew others that stuck to a specific type, or only wanted to use big ones that looked like actual monsters. Others still played a mix (like me). Pokemon could be anything to anyone. That could have been enough, but the game design goes a little further to actually convey some subliminal messages about acceptance.

For my fellow Poke-nerds, think back to the original three starters you had to choose from. What’s one thing they all had in common? Well, I’d say they were all pretty goddamn cute. Seriously, there’s a reason toy companies made bank off of stuffed animals of these things. They’re cuddly looking as fuck! Now, a lot of your very masculine fans of the game might have never wanted to try it if that’s all you ever got, but think about what those three evolved into. Gamer-bro X might not be too keen on picking a cute little lizard to start out with, but he’d sure as hell loved to train that thing into a big, fire-breathing dragon! Well, to get that dragon, you gotta step outside your comfort zone for a few levels and play with something cute. They knew some kick-ass moves like flamethrower to make them seem a little less “girly”, but at the end of the day you’re still playing with a creature that your girlfriend or sister probably thought was adorable.

And this is to say nothing about people like me who liked the cuteness factor but didn’t want to admit it. I got teased for saying I liked My Little Pony and Barbie, but I could play off my Squirtle love by claiming I was only training it into a big, bad, Blastoise. It was convenient cover, and it allowed me to feel safe enough in my hobby to peruse it. Looking back, I wish I’d taken more of that time to really try and understand how I felt about being a boy, but that’s a subject for another time.

As more and more versions of Pokemon came out, more monsters were added to the rosters that pushed the boundaries back a little farther. They also added the ability to have a female avatar as well, making the game more accessible to girls. In Gold and Silver (probably my favorites of all the pre-DS releases) many Pokemon were even designated male or female. This is where I think the game made another big push in the gender diversity. See, they didn’t make all the cute ones female and all the big tough ones male. Each species could be caught as either gender. So, yes, that adorable little pikachu you caught with its big eyes and cute little smile might have been a boy.

Gold and Silver started teaching players (again, not claiming this as intentionally) that males and females could look a variety of different ways. Females could be big and tough. Males could be cute and cuddly.It was all good, and the trend continued throughout the rest of the series. When X and Y came out for the 3DS, they introduced a new Fairy type to the game which quickly became my favorite Pokemon of all time.

sylveon

Sylveon

Look at that thing. Look at how goddamn cute it is! I was loving sylveon the very first time I ever saw one. It was a kick-ass fairy type that evolved from an eevee. See, I feel that sylveon represents the apex (at least so far) of Pokemon’s push for acceptance. But I have to do more than just show you a picture to help you understand why.

We’ve talked before on the show about things being “coded” either masculine or feminine. Big muscles, armor (real armor, not boob-plate bikinis), strength, confidence, and power are thought to represent masculinity; whereas bright colors, passiveness, flowing movements, and (sorry to say) weakness are thought to represent femininity. Key words in both of those statements are “thought to”. When it comes to the look of characters, females are treated rather unfairly. Our culture has always (very wrongly) thought of being male as some kind of default state, whereas the femininity of a character has to be clearly expressed to the audience with visual markers.

Think of a character like Mickey Mouse. He has absolutely no markers on him that definitely distinguish him as male, yet if you took someone fully immersed in our culture who’d somehow never seen Mickey before, that person would likely say Mickey was male. There’s nothing on him or about him that identifies him as such, but that means he embodies that stock, default state of being that we only allow males to have. On the reverse, think of Minnie Mouse. She wears a dress, high heel shoes, and most importantly, a bow on her head. In fact, re-watch some old Mickey Mouse cartoons sometime and see if you can identify any female characters that aren’t topped with a bow. As a society, we’ve been trained to only think of a character as female as long as they have visual markers to identify them as such. Watch this video from Anita Sarkeesian for a more in-depth look at this subject.

When you look at sylveon, every single marker it’s given is a visual cue that screams feminine. It has pastel colors with a large amount of pink, big eyes, flowing streamers, and…to literally top it all off…a bow on its head. Every single facet of sylveon from head to tail is meant to convey femininity, and I’d bet good money any non-Pokemon fan would refer to this character using female pronouns if shown a picture. Given my previous example about Pokemon genders, you’re likely expecting my point in all this to be that sylveon can found as both male and female. And while that’s true, there’s a bigger point to be made.

It isn’t that some sylveons are male… …most of them are.

See, a sylveon has to be evolved from an eevee, though it’s by far not the only evolution for that particular Pokemon. The interesting point of note though is that in X and Y, the games where this creature was introduced, male eevees were far more common to catch than female ones. That meant that if you saw a trainer’s sylveon, there was a high probability it was evolved from a male eevee. Imagine the mental gymnastics required to remember to call this thing a “he”.

There were several Pokemon fans, myself included, that looked at sylveon as a  direct representation of the struggle in being accepted in one’s gender identity or method of expression. I’m transgender. I know in my heart that I am female. But I know plenty of people who love girly stuff yet still identify as men. Sylveon is their champion. Sylveon is a way of getting their friends to understand them. You can watch them scratch their heads as you tell them you’re a boy but you just like to play with dolls and wear dresses, or you can just say, “think of me as a male sylveon”. It’s kinda like how some transgender geeks like to use the regeneration aspect of Doctor Who to explain our transition (i.e. we’re still the same person but we just look different). It’s a reference that puts it into understandable terms for those not going through it.

That’s what sylveon is to me; it’s training for people who need to stop assuming genders based on visual cues. It’s an exercise in respecting someones means of gender expression. As I stated already, I’m not implying that any of this was a deliberate intent of the creators. However, one of the beautiful things about pop culture institutions is that they can do more than they were intended to do based on how the consuming public interacts with them. Pokemon is still one of the most important things that has ever impacted my life. It’s one of the things I credit with helping me discover myself. I wish sylveon had been around when I was a teenager, but I’m happy it exists for the next generation of trainers who need a little help expressing themselves, and those who can use it to better understand the world around them.

-Faith

Busting #BernieOrBust

(NOTE: This post is about politics. Don’t think this is going to become a normal thing. It’s just that we’re in a situation where the election is the most LGBT relevant issue at the moment and it’s all that’s on my mind to write about. I promise political posts will be rare from me.)

I’ve always found it interesting that our culture tends to describe advances using the same words. Whenever something better or worse comes along, we always describe it as if it’s the pinnacle of either its greatness or infamy. I’m 32 years old. I’ve grown up seeing the world change quite a bit, but each new advancement was touted as the absolute best possible. Have you seen a commercial for Verizon Wireless and their “blazing fast 4G-LTE network”? So have I, but I also remember commercials for “blazing fast” 3G, and “blazing fast” mobile web.

Now I’m not saying this is a bad or ignorant thing. These were all the apex of what could be achieved at the time, so we liked to use our most descriptive language. What makes me bring up this thought is my example of it going the other way. From 2000 to 2008, America was “led” by President George W. Bush. I’m not going to go into everything he did wrong, but let’s just highlight the endless, costly wars and tanked economy for now.

That was the president for my teenage to young adult years. That was when my eyes were starting to open to the bigger world around me. I got to experience Bush’s effect on America and all the ruin he put us in. Then, just like now, his dissenters took to our “blazing fast” internet to complain about him. One of the things I remember a lot of people doing was comparing Bush to Hitler. Like with the cell phone example, I can’t really begrudge it. I mean, sure, it comes from a place of ignorance on the global scale of history, but in the personal context of what we’d lived through, it was the worst situation we’d ever been in. We all knew Hitler was actually worse, but the Holocaust was that thing we learned about in school that happened a long ass time ago and the world had learned its lesson now. We were sure that in the modern-day, it couldn’t ever get worse than Bush.

Fast forward eight years and now we’re staring down the barrel of a Donald Trump presidency. Trump’s rise has been a wakeup call for my generation that words mean things. We called Bush Hitler as a way of expressing he was the absolute worst. But now we’re faced with a candidate who is frighteningly similar to Hitler on an actual level (blaming minority groups for the downfall of the nation; promising to make the country great again by getting rid of the filth). Our past expressions of anger have robbed the comparison of any real weight.

“Trump is like Hitler!”

“Yea, you said that about Bush, too.”

“No, I really mean it this time!”

“Whatever.”

See the problem? 3G was ‘blazing fast’ once upon a time, but hindsight is 20/20 and the words have lost their impact.

To say the least, this election cycle has been a cluster-fuck of emotional turmoil. The Republicans have seen the rise of a leader I didn’t think was possible without sacrificing a virgin to some dark god and the Democrats have allowed cheating and voter suppression to ensure their primary process was basically a waste of time. I’m a Bernie girl; always was. Sanders was the first candidate basically in my whole life that I 100% believed in. I wanted him to win. I still think he could have won in a 100% fair primary election. But that didnt’ happen.

Still, I said from the beginning that I would back whomever got the Democrat nomination and I still stand by that. Clinton will get my vote. She will get my vote because she’s the best chance I, my family, and my community has. A lot of my fellow Sanders supporters have not done the same. The #BernieOrBust movement has sought to throw a wrench in the system by pledging to vote 3rd party, write Bernie in, or just not vote as a means of boycotting the 2 party system and the illusion of choice.

On the surface, it’s a noble thing. The system is corrupt. Hillary’s win does have a dark shadow cast over it. The idea of taking on City Hall as it were sounds brave and romantic, but in the context of what’s going on it’s dangerous and alarmingly short-sighted.

In trying to understand the Bust crowd, I’ve noticed that a lot of them seem to be in their late teens to early twenties. This puts a very important context to their way of thinking. They are at the age I was during the “Bush is Hitler” years. With that in mind, I want to make my plea to them to change their mind in a way that hopefully puts everything into perspective and doesn’t belittle what they’re trying to achieve.

Here goes…

Dear #BernieOrBust people,

I get it. I wanted Sanders to be president more than anything. I’m a lot older than a lot of you and I’ve never seen a candidate so perfect for the highest office in all my life. I also agree with you that the primary process was a load of shit. In a fair election, Sanders might have won. Hillary’s campaign worked with party leaders to ensure Sanders didn’t win. All of that is valid. Clinton has done some shady things before and isn’t the strongest candidate to go up against Trump. All of that is true. All of that is valid.

Vote for her anyway.

I’m going to wager you’re somewhere in your early 20’s. Let’s ballpark it and say you’re 22. That’s probably a good average age for the Busters. If you’re 22 then you were born in 1994. When Bush was elected you were 6 years old. You were 7 when 9/11 happened. That’s not old enough to really understand what was happening. I was about  your age during Desert Storm (the last time a Bush sent us to fight in the Middle East). I remember not understanding it beyond the fact that we’re fighting a war in the desert. Your understanding of Iraqi Freedom and the War on Terror was likely similar.

When Obama took office you were 14, and as you grew into more mature thinking, you did so under a charismatic, compassionate, and intelligent leader. A lot of your actual world view was likely shaped in this time. You also got to see an explosion of social progress during the time in your life when you were old enough to comprehend it. You’ve seen the wars scaled back or ended. You’ve seen Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense Of Marriage Act sent to the trash where they belong. You witnessed the passing of the Affordable Care Act. You experienced the economy turn around, unemployment fall, and the lives of Americans overall improve.

What’s more, you’ve seen amazing advancements for the LGBT community. The White House was lit up in rainbows, pride was given an official month on the calendar, the Stonewall Inn was named a national landmark, marriage equality came to state after state before finally going nation-wide. Your teen and young adult years have been a flurry of social and economic progress, and you’ve been able to experience it on a ‘blazing fast’ internet that would have blown teenage me’s mind.

Now it’s time to elect a new president and you’re old enough to vote! Even better than that, you got to campaign and vote for Bernie Sanders; an actual socialist! An actual believer in European style social constructs that put healthcare and education in everyone’s reach! He wants to legalize pot and punish those who fucked stuff up to where you’re not able to afford a house or find a decent paying job! Everything is going so well!

And he didn’t win.

Look, I was as crushed as you are. It broke my heart to know I wasn’t going to be able to vote for Sanders in November. Like I said, he’s the best presidential candidate I’ve ever seen! I get the anger, the heartbreak. I share it all. But my generation understands something a little better than yours just because of what we’ve experienced: change comes slowly. When you’ve experienced an explosion of social progression, it’s easy to think it always works that fast. But it doesn’t. Sanders would have been that continued rapid progression like we’ve been seeing and want to continue seeing. Given the context of your worldview, seeing the brakes pumped can feel like a full stop or even a reverse. It’s like being on the interstate for hours going 80 and then having to go 35 once you’re back in the city. It can feel like you came to a dead stop, but you didn’t. You’re still moving, still going forward, and that’s what’s important.

This is what I want you to understand. Clinton does not represent backwards movement. We just might be getting off the interstate for a few miles. Every progressive advancement of the last 8 years she supports. She supports gay marriage, trans military service, Obamacare, raising minimum wage, and a lot of other things. See, what you’re mad about isn’t the issues, it’s the process. You’re mad that the election was rigged (to a degree). You’re mad that things weren’t fair. You’re made that a politician can be dishonest, do shady things, make backdoor deals, and still win. What’s worse, you’re seeing all of this in the age of Wikileaks and Anonymous, which shines a brighter spotlight on those things then has ever been possible before.

In the face of all that, you want to continue fighting the good fight, to stand up for what you believe in. If we elect Clinton, then we’re not moving forward, not progressing! Wrong. We are still progressing, just not as fast as you’ve become accustomed to. See, young adults see the corruption in the Democratic ranks and see a betrayal of the American system, a great injustice that must be stopped before it’s allowed to get away with its wrongdoings.

My generation and those before me see…politics. This is nothing new, it just has more transparency than before. We know elections aren’t always fair, that politicians do messed up shit behind closed doors, make secret deals. That’s normal. What we’re trying to get you to understand is that “buying in” to the process isn’t a betrayal of the American election system, it’s just not a change  we’re going to see this go around. Not voting for Clinton because of these scandals is like winning thousands of dollars in the lottery and refusing it because you didn’t hit the jackpot. Sometimes you don’t get everything you fought for. Sometimes you have to be willing to compromise in order to not lose what you have obtained.

See, in being so angry about the process, you’re failing to notice the progress we have made. Again, it’s not really your fault. You grew up in a different time. You have a mindset of things as the way they are having been the norm forever because they’ve been a part of your forever. You have a president who supports gay marriage, who recognizes the struggles of transgender Americans. That’s awesome, but it wasn’t always the case. You may or may not know this, but Obama first campaigned against gay marriage! Supporting “traditional” marriage was part of his original campaign in 2008, but the LGBT community still overwhelmingly supported him. Why? Why would we vote for a man who didn’t fight for what we wanted? Because he was the best chance of moving forward. He wasn’t with us then, but he was smart enough and compassionate enough to be swayed in the future.

As I said earlier, you probably don’t remember much about the Bush years, but that actually was a time of moving backwards. The housing market collapsed, the stock market crashed, unemployment skyrocketed, war seemed endless, and LGBT advancement halted! Here’s another thing you might not know: under Bush we came frighteningly close to a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. If that had passed, it wouldn’t be legal anywhere today because amendments are nearly impossible to get rid of. That was terrifying! Obama didn’t support gay marriage, but he didn’t support an amendment banning it forever, and that’s why we voted for him. He was slow progression, not going backwards. We weren’t getting everything we wanted up front, but the assurance of moving forward was there.

Fast forward to today. The Democrats have adopted the most pro LGBT platform in our nation’s history. It supports marriage equality, ending conversion therapy, and even transgender rights. Fuck, they let a transgender woman speak at the convention! That would  not have happened in 2008! The Democrats have never been as safe a bet for continuing to move forward as they are now, but the #BernieOrBust crowd could throw all of that away because 99% isn’t as good as 100%

And keep in mind that those things we’re mad about aren’t exactly being forgiven. The corruption has been uncovered. Wasserman-Schultz had to step down to a chorus of boos. Backdoor deals and shady politics may have won again, but they didn’t make it out without injury and the stage is set to fight them even harder next time. What’s more, Bernie’s popularity and rise is a big reason why the Democrat platform is as progressive this time as it is. Clinton has taken up a lot of the things Bernie was fighting for. Sanders always said it was about us and not him, and it’s more important that his ideas and passion make it to the Oval Office than him.

Busters, I implore you, don’t throw this away out of spite. Stein and Johnson are not good alternatives to vote for even if they did have chance in Hell of winning. We are on the verge of electing a man who will not only halt progression, he’ll put us back on the interstate going back the other way, back farther than you or I are old enough to remember! One thing we have in common is we’ve both always been live in a world where abortion couldn’t be banned. Trump could easily form a Supreme Court that overturns Roe V Wade and sees that undone (and he’s said he plans to). This is a man who seeks to end marriage equality, deport immigrants, demonize Muslims, it’s scary stuff. In the face of that, when we’re walking on the edge of such a disastrous future, can you please be willing to accept slow but continued  progression? Can that please be good enough for you?

I hope so, because my future depends on it…

-Faith

Rocky Horror Picture NO!

There’s a great meme I saw once that said you could fairly judge anyone based on what movie they know Tim Curry from. It’s a thought that’s always made me laugh, especially since Curry has had so many roles that each seemed so different from anything else. For me, I’ll always know him as Dr. Frank-n-furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Seeing Rocky Horror every Halloween has been a tradition for me and my partner since we first started dating. I love the performances, I love the music, and I love doing the Time Warp again, and again, and again, and again…

I could probably do an entire post just dissecting the original Rocky Horror movie. When you look benefit its surface of campy, theatrical goodness, you find it’s messages of sexual liberation and personal freedom to be true to yourself that are as needed today as they were back in the 1970’s. Now, the Firefly canceling tyrants over at Fox (no, you get over it!) have decided to revive the tale this Halloween.

And I’m…not feeling like coming up to the lab this time.

I’ve tried to stay positive about this project. After all, stage companies do Rocky Horror all the time. This really shouldn’t be any different, right? I mean, it’s just the same thing on a bigger scale. And it’s not like anyone hasn’t heard of the show before and at least could recognize stuff from it if it were shown to them. So, this should all be good…right? Well, I felt that way until they cast Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-n-furter.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I adore Laverne Cox. I think she’s an amazing actress and she’s done wonderful things to advance the transgender community. And it’s not that I think she would do a bad job in the role. She certainly has the stage presence to play the world’s most fabulous mad scientist. See, my problem was never her staring in the show, but her staring in the show during this point in our cultural history. To loosely quote one of my favorite internet critics, Bob Chipman: “media doesn’t exist in a vacuum”. You can’t consider a movie, TV show, book, play, song, or whatever without considering the world in which it exists.

It’s not a matter of Cox playing Frank-n-furter. It’s her playing the role of a transvestite who is also a villain while she, in real life, is a transgender woman and transgender people are already fighting a stigma of being sick and deranged. Frank-n-furter is a great character, but he’s one that basically embodies the unfounded fears the general population actually have about the transgender community. To see an actual transgender person, arguably the biggest transgender name in the world next to Caitlyn Jenner, assuming that role does not bode well for further transgender perceptions.

Still, this could work yet. The people who turn their noses up at transgender people aren’t exactly the same people who will give a shit about a remake of Rocky Horror. I can’t recall ever seeing any uptight Republican types in the audience with me tossing tissue paper and blowing on noise makers. This probably won’t even show up on their radar.

Then this happened…

FB_IMG_1469152016691

…oh boy…

Now, as a fan of the show, I get how this advertises it. I know all about Brad and Janet stumbling into Frank-n-furter’s castle and being very freaked out by his ostentatious nature. I get how Frank-n-furter himself dressed very flamboyantly, is overly touchy, and likes to strike dramatic poses. I get how the whole story revolves around giving in to your desires and facing what you think is either weird or taboo. I get all of that, and if this existed in a vacuum, this would be the perfect billboard for the show.

But this show exists in the real world, and the real world really sucks. The real world has bigots who threaten to kill transgender women for going to the bathroom. The real world has politicians calling us sick, demented, and a threat to the safety of children. The real world mistakes transgender women for drag queens and doesn’t understand the concept of gender identity. That’s the real world, and the real world is going to be seeing this sign.

This is what has me really worried. This isn’t a commercial that’s airing on FOX. This isn’t a YouTube video you’ll only stumble across if you’re already looking for similar things and you wouldn’t have to watch even if you did find it by accident. No, this is a billboard (or a banner; I’m not entirely sure but I’m going with billboard for this post; my points remain valid either way). It will be seen by all motorists who pass it, from the most helpful of allies to the most vial of homophobes. They will all see this. They will all interpret this. It cannot be avoided. With that in mind, we need to be responsible and think of the message this will communicate to someone who already hates transgender people as they pass it every day on their morning commute.

That person sees Laverne Cox, someone already famous for being transgender, dressed in the same manner of flamboyant costume that their pastor or political representative has told them transgender women wear all the time. She is laid out on the couch with a leg in the air, communicating sexual promiscuity. There are two “normal” looking people (white people no less) at the other end looking very uncomfortable being in her presence. Her foot is touching his face, indicating that she’s okay advancing on them even though they’re visibly uneasy. And to top it all off, the word “trans” is literally at the top of the whole picture.

That is not a person now eager to throw on an Eddie costume and start singing about how they really love that rock and roll. That’s a person who is seeing the media literally manifest all their fears about transgender people on a giant sign for them to see each time they get in the car. This is likely someone who doesn’t actually know any transgender people, has never interacted with them, or at least didn’t recognize them in passing (pun intended). An image like this can only increase their fear and anger towards the transgender community. It can only put transgender women in even more danger. Imagine that person seeing this billboard day after day and then seeing a transgender woman go into the same bathroom as their daughter. Just think of what’s going to go through their head when they connect the two actually unrelated-though not to them-things.

 And what makes me really upset is that I feel Cox should have considered this. Has living in the lap of luxury shielded her from the very real dangers other transgender women face? I know she’s an advocate, but does she now feel so safe in her economic position that she failed to see how this advertisement could put her trans sisters in harm’s way? I mean, I was already worried when she took the role in the first place. But now this…this?!

As a transgender woman who is neither rich or famous, I do have to live with these constant fears. I have been threatened with violence and death just for using the bathroom. I have been called a freak and a danger to children. I’m not saying people don’t say these things about Cox, but she’s not in a position to feel as vulnerable to actual violence as someone like me is.

I wish they wouldn’t put up this sign. I wish they would just keep the advertisements for this production targeted. Transgender people, especially  transgender women, live in a frightening reality. Transgender women have a much higher likelihood of facing violence and murder and it’s still legal to blame the fact that they’re transgender as the reason they were killed (trans panic defense). I’m sure no one at FOX will ever see this post, but if by some reason these words do reach their eyes, I implore them not to use this image to promote the show. Rocky Horror fans may love it, but it could have very real consequences for transgender women already living in fear. And to Laverne Cox, please don’t lose sight of your community. Advocating for transgender rights is great, but a person in your position needs to watch every single move, because the world certainly is.

-Faith

Those Darn PDE’s

You know what’s a phrase I’ve come to love? Social Justice Warrior. I know that sounds really silly, but I’ve been having a lot of fun identifying with that label. What makes it so great to me is the ludicrous reason it exits in the first place. It’s a term made up by people who for some reason think that making games, movies, and TV shows more inclusive will somehow bring on the apocalypse. Any time a movie casts a black character in a traditionally white role, it’s because of “the SJW’s”. If a video game protagonist is a girl instead of generic handsome white male number 38,395,832 it’s because “those damn SJW’s just can’t leave well enough alone”. It’s a means of demonizing something that’s benign yet important and blows it up to be this plague upon popular culture that must be eradicated at all costs. From what I’ve researched, it never really got its toxic reputation until the sludge that was #GamerGate began to stink up Twitter. Before that it wasn’t used as the insult it is today.

Now, think for a minute what kind of mental imagery the phrase ‘social justice warrior’ creates and you’ll realize why I find it so funny. I imagine this person putting on a heavy suit of armor, sharpening their claymore sword, and charging into battle…all to actually just stand there and politely say, “um…can I maybe have fun in this culture too…please?” I mean really, social justice warrior; warrior?! Could we possibly be magnifying this to more a more asinine degree?

So that’s why I wear it with pride. It’s beyond stupid, but it’s a silly name that’s kind of fun to adopt. My pinned tweet is still “I’m the evil, feminist SJW your bros warned you about.” Because that’s basically what this notion makes of progressive thinkers. We’re the boogeymen. We’re the evil feminists. We’re those damn gay people ‘shoving our lifestyles in everyone’s faces’. We’re the transgender people ‘just looking for attention’. It’s the apex of privilege: when you’ve been at the top of the mountain for so long even seeing someone starting to come up in the distance is seen as a threat to your place in the world.

SJW is the go-to put down for anyone pushing for media to be more inclusive. It’s dismissive, as most privilege-based arguments are. They can’t come up with a compelling reason to combat our points, so they resort to their tried and true methods of bullying, insults, and marching out their armies of straw men. Well, I say two can play this game. Not the useless argument game: they can have that one. I’m talking about the putting superfluous labels on your opponent. That’s why I’m proposing a new hashtag, a new answer to the decrying of SJW’s.

If we’re the Social Justice Warriors, they’re now the Privilege Defense Enforcers. (I wanted it to be Privilege Defense Force first, but the acronym PDF is kind of already known for something else)

It’s the perfect counter. If we’re going to be seen as the valiant warriors, swinging our swords of inclusion and empathy as was charge into battle; they can be the vigilant sentries guarding their treasure trove of representation and validation. Like any good enforcer, their tactics all revolve around defense. They’re not about changing anything, but rather expending great effort to make sure nothing ever changes. They’ve developed several tried and true battle techniques in their fight to uphold the status quo and I’d like to outline them now. Perhaps I can help my fellow SJW’s find the weak spot in the enemy defenses and push through to victory! (see why I have so much fun with this term?)

Tactic One: The “Not All” Manuver

This is the most common one. In fact, if being a PDE required some kind of martial arts training, this would be the first kata they’d learn. We’ve all heard this one a billion times because you can literally apply it to anything. Cops are killing an alarming number of black men? Well, “not all cops” are bad people! Christians marginalizing LGBT people and passing laws to discriminate against them? Well, “not all Christians” hate gay people! Women on college campuses have a frighteningly high likelihood of being raped? Well, “not all men” are rapists! It’s a knee-jerk reaction that serves to deflect the conversation. The biggest problem with this statement is that it’s embarrassingly obvious. Of course not all of a demographic is the same! It’s a fact no one would dispute, and that’s the point. They’re making a statement that you can’t help but agree with. It’s an attempt to give them the upper hand in the argument right off the bat by making you concede to a completely irrelevant point. It’s like if I ran you over with my car, and then tried to defend myself by pointing at all the other cars going by and saying, “well, none of them are hitting you!”. It means nothing.

When a PDE gives you the “not all” argument, don’t acknowledge it. Don’t say “I know that, but…” because they will take even that small, meaningless concession and push harder. Instead, respond to it by stating what it is. “That’s irrelevant,” is the only proper thing to say to such an asinine statement. Don’t agree with it, because you and they both know that any idiot already knows that. It’s no different from if they retorted with the fact that the sun came up that morning. It’s a stupid argument and should be treated as such.

Tactic Two: The Magnification Diversion

Even PDE’s know that victims get all they sympathy. No one outwardly likes to cheer for the bully in any situation. Those seen as having the power are more often than not the villain of any story. The best way to garner sympathy is to make yourself out to be the victim. The oppressed are always righteous by default, right? Well, when you’re in the position of resisting change, it’s nearly impossible to be seen as the oppressed. After all, why would you want to keep things from changing unless you already had everything you want?

The Magnification Diversion really has nothing to do with battling the SJW, but rather rallying the rest of the PDE’s to defend the castle with them. As a counterattack, it usually manifests itself as the weaker “You Just Hate” Defense. “You just hate” men, “you just hate” white people, “you just hate” cops, yada yada yada. It’s about as weak an argument as you can make, but it a quick maneuver that doesn’t require any thought.

But back to my point, you’ll never convince your opponent that they’re being oppressive, but you can easily convince your fellow status quo lovers that they are. However, you can’t just take the facts at face value and convince anyone that the SJW’s are on the attack. No, you have to first blow up your opponents actions to ridiculous levels. You have to make a mountain out of a molehill. The SJW’s call for change must be seen as a grand attack against you and your way of life.

You already know what I’m talking about because you see it everywhere. When an Atheist family requests that schools not lead a mandatory prayer that excludes their child, suddenly the SJW’s are “taking God out of schools” and “not letting Christian children worship as they choose”. When feminists call attention to the deplorable violence against women in games like Grand Theft Auto V, it’s “the evil feminazis rallying to ban all video games”.

It’s appallingly easy to convince like-minded people that you’re being attacked when you’ve honestly never been in a safer position. I laugh out loud any time I see a meme on Facebook talking about how the poster is “not afraid to say they love Jesus”. Not afraid? What the hell do you have to be afraid of? There’s a church on every street corner. “In God We Trust” is printed on your money. Every single president of the United States has shared your theology. The notion of Christian persecution in America is completely ludicrous, but the Magnification Diversion has been able to convince people that they’re under attack simply because non Christians are requesting more visibility and inclusion. The same goes for geek media. Even Anita Sarkeesian doesn’t call for the banning of video games, but you’d never know that by reading the posts by her critics. Calling for more inclusion in media is not a cry to take that media away, or even ban what’s already been made, but the PDE’s have to convince their fellow enforcers of that in order to rally the troops.

Tactic Three: The “You Don’t Care About” Counterattack

Even PDE’s don’t live in a perfect world. Believe it or not, there are unfair situations experienced by everyone: even white, cisgender, straight men! And if you don’t believe me, argue your case to a PDE and see how fast they bring them up. This counterattack is a more advanced technique so you don’t see it quite as often. I mostly stumble across it when PDE’s are smart and linguistically capable enough to write a blog post about their feelings rather than a rage-filled Facebook comment of misspelled rape threats. It requires real education and critical thinking to pull off this move and it’s the closest thing they have to a viable argument.

Here, I’ll go ahead and make their case for them so you’ll see what I’m talking about. Don’t you think it’s unfair that men have to register for the draft in order to get voting rights but women don’t? I sure do. That’s some grade A bullshit. How about when a child is conceived through mutually consensual sex, the father doesn’t want it, but the mother does and can force him to pay child support? I think that’s grossly unfair (as long as the sex was absolutely consensual). It’s also unfair that courts almost always side with the mother in divorce cases. These are all  valid points and issues that deserve to be considered.

But why then do you only hear them talk about it when countering an SJW? If these things are so greatly effecting their lives, why not take action to see them reversed? There are some groups and/or individuals genuinely calling for these problems to get the attention they deserve, and I support them in that. However, the majority of times PDE’s bring them up, it’s not to try to change them, but rather to show that “we face problems too, but you don’t see us whining about it”.

There in lies the problem. You don’t want to address your plight to change it, but rather to try to cancel mine out. As soon as I stop talking about lack of representation, or objectification, or rape culture, your big problems will cease to bother you. Whenever a PDE brings up this tactic, I usually come back with, “yes, but that’s not the issue we’re discussing here”. I don’t want to ignore that it is a problem, but bringing up one problem doesn’t mean another one goes away. And if you want to hold a rally where you fight for genuine change to these issues, I’ll happily stand with you.

A thing to keep in mind with this is that feminism is for men too. Toxic patriarchy is what gets effeminate men beat up. It’s what teaches men to hold back their feelings, to treat women like property, to not be into “girly” things. These are real problems that men face, but the answer to solving them is to join us, not fight against us.

Debating on the internet can be fun. It’s a great way to exchange ideas and find like-minded people. Unfortunately, it’s also turned the web into a sludge-pool of hateful and violent rhetoric. Those with all the power seek only to keep it. Those with all the privilege seek to not give it up. The PDE guards their privalege like Smaug and his treasure, brought to great rage if someone so much as requests even a bit for themselves. Social Justice Warrior is a stupid term, but it’s not going away. Those fighting against a more inclusive society will continue to use it to make us out to be villains. So I say own it. I say put on your SJW armor and charge into battle. If they’re going to label us, then we can label them. Let’s get #PDE going. After all, we’re all about inclusion. If we get a stupid label, so do they.

-Faith