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

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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.

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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

The FairnessUSA Ad: Bringing Light to the Darkness

Republicans like to throw around the notion of God a lot. You can’t ever listen to their speeches without hearing some mention of Jesus, or ‘God bless this nation’, or my personal favorite: ‘we pray for the victims of [insert mass shooting here] because we’re not going to do anything that’s actually helpful’. Now, I’m not Christian; not anymore. But I used to be. I used to go to church, say my prayers, read my scriptures, all that stuff I was told to do. I remember a lot from those days, and one thing that’s very clear to me is that Jesus was all about love. Love for your neighbor, love for the sick, the poor, the downtrodden. His was a message of understanding and compassion, and that was the message he wanted spread to the world.

The right gets God wrong in so many ways. Or, at least the God I remember. They seem to have invented their own Jesus who was somehow the only white guy in the Middle East and commanded his followers to condemn gay people while somehow declaring that ‘#AllLivesMatter’. But I’m not here to talk about hateful Jesus. I’m here to talk about that notion of love and understanding that was preached to me from the time I was a child. It was that message, we were told, that should be taken to the places where it was needed the most. The Gospel wasn’t meant to be echoed off the church walls from the mouths of the faithful to the ears of the just as faithful. You were supposed to take it to the sinners, the corrupt, the heartless. It was supposed to be a torch you carried into the darkness where the least number of people would be willing to gaze upon its light.

I promise I have a point to this other than writing a sermon. See, for as much as the GOP claims this is the God they represent, the irony is that the groups they stand in opposition of often do a much better job of following these ideals of spreading love and understanding. In fact, the right has become the very place of darkness where the light needs to be taken. And on July 21st, FairnessUSA will attempt to do just that by airing a commercial during the Republican National Convention that highlights the need for transgender acceptance.

Let’s watch it together before going on…

*sniff* No, I’m not crying…

I love this ad. I can’t watch it without getting choked up. It’s as moving as it is brave. Sadly, since the news has already broken about it long before the convention, most people watching the RNC this year already know it’s coming and are likely planning their pee break around it (which would be terribly ironic now that I think about it). Still, this ad might still make it to the eyes of some who are living in the darkness, who are letting hate and fear cloud their understanding of transgender people. For those people, it’s so vitally important that this commercial maximize the amount in can teach in just the span of 60 seconds. And I think they nailed it. Let’s break down this commercial into its parts and examine just why it’s so well crafted to deliver the message it needs to.

1) Our Subject Doesn’t Look Cisgender

I chose my words very carefully there. You’ll notice I didn’t say she ‘doesn’t look like a woman’ or ‘doesn’t look like a real woman’. For those who don’t know what cisgender means, it simply refers to anyone whose gender identity matches the one assigned to them from birth. (If you’re currently thinking “I thought the term for that was ‘normal’, please see me after class) This corrects one of the biggest issues I have with how social media activism has tried to educate the public on transgender rights. A lot of memes have been created over the years, especially in the wake of North Carolina passing HB2, that depict transgender people standing in their incorrect bathrooms with the caption “do I look like I belong here?”.

It was helpful at first. Those who know nothing of transgender people and are afraid of using the bathroom with us might find it a bit shocking to discover just how much we can not stick out. The ‘wait…that’s a transgender person?!’ notion can really open some eyes. The problem is that the message kind of began and ended right there. Not all transgender people look cisgender. In fact, most of us don’t. I know I don’t. I get stared at when I walk into a room. I get whispered about when I pass by. I know I’m not fooling anyone into thinking I was born with a female body, and there’s a likelihood I never will even with hormones and surgery. That doesn’t make me less of a woman. That doesn’t make me look like less of a woman.

I’ve been asking for a while when the memes of transgender people like me would start appearing. When will the public see that there are transgender people using the bathroom whom you’re going to be able to tell they’re transgender. Some of us can’t disguise the fact that we’re trans anymore than we can disguise our race or height. It will just always be a part of our outward appearance. FairnessUSA could have easily gone the other way. In fact, if you’d asked the internet to make this commercial, it probably would have been played for shock and laughs as a guy went into the men’s room to find a trans woman who looks like she just stepped out of an issue of Playboy standing at the urinal and coyly saying, “what? this is where the law says I’m supposed to go.”. The people watching this commercial need to see a transgender person who doesn’t pass, because they’re the ones most likely to face violence and harassment. However…

2) The Restaurant Owner Wasn’t an Asshole

When you’re telling a story meant to convey a message, it’s vital that your audience has a means of connecting with it. In the case of an example scenario being acted out, each subject in the play acts as a surrogate for a real-world archetypal person. Everyone watching your skit has to be able to pick out who is supposed to be “them” in the story. A moment ago I said that our main subject doesn’t look cisgender. Because of that, the restaurant owner is confident enough she’s transgender to bar her from using the women’s room. Now, in the real world, it rarely plays out this way. No matter how sure a business owner is that someone is trans, they’re usually not willing to risk it since doing so would take an embarrassing toll on their business if they turned out to be wrong. Most are more apt to simply let the person go to the bathroom and only intervene if an issue arrises, which is exactly why transgender bathroom laws are so stupid in the first place.

Still, for the sake of the show, our owner was confident enough to step up and stop her from going in the bathroom. Even though no one in this skit exchanges any dialogue, a great deal of information is conveyed through body language. Watch the commercial again and pay close attention to the owner. He doesn’t act hostile. He’s not violent. He actually seems like he’s only doing this because he thinks he has to. Notice the looking down as he shakes his head, the closed eyes, the pulled lips. He never raises his hands or a finger to her, he never shouts. Did you notice that he never even looked at her until she got up to use the restroom? He didn’t kick her out of the restaurant beforehand, he didn’t harass her at the table. Everything about the interaction conveys ‘look, I’d let you use the neutral bathroom if I had one, but I have to think of my other customers.’

As a transgender person or even as a transgender community, it can be easy to think this ad doesn’t go far enough. Transgender people, especially transgender women, do experience violence and bullying when it comes to using the restroom. We’ve been violently tossed out, beaten up, name called, publically shamed, even killed. It can make you mad enough to decry this commercial for seemingly making light of a much more alarming problem, but remember that we’re not here to preach to the choir. This ad isn’t for us. It’s for the people who don’t get it. And those people need to be able to see themselves in the scenario. If you depict the owner as angry and violent, the only response you’re going to get from the audience is, ‘well, I’d never treat anyone like that!‘.

And they’re probably right. Most people aren’t quick to violence. Most people don’t lash out at total strangers. If you make your antagonist out to represent an extreme, your audience won’t see themselves in him and thus feel no connection. Without putting it into words, this commercial says, ‘look, we know you’re not all mean and heartless people, but you still need to better understand us’.

3) Our Subject Wasn’t Miserable and Alone

Being transgender is very hard. It’s a scary world for people like us. We do experience isolation, rejection, homelessness, unemployment or underemployment. Our families turn us away, our friends abandon us, our spouses leave us. All of these terrible things can and do happen. They all contribute to the 41% suicide/attempted suicide rate by people who identify as transgender. Like with the demeanor of the restaurant, it can be easy to say that the commercial doesn’t really go far enough to show our struggle.

But again, this ad isn’t for us. We’ve got 60 seconds to get through to our toughest audience. If you saturate the message then it will be lost. Homelessness and rejection are problems, but bathroom usage is the topic at hand. That’s the law we’re trying to overturn. That’s the stigma we’re trying to erase. Those other issues are vitally important, but let’s keep our eye on the ball.

Also, this ad’s take on the transgender experience is rather refreshing. Even our detractors have seen our story filled with tragedy and despair. Whenever the media includes a transgender character, they love to make them as miserable as possible. Just think about all the stuff that’s happened to poor Sophia in Orange is the New Black. Conflict and angst make for compelling stories, but like the images of cis-passing trans people, it’s a part of our collective story that has dominated the spotlight. I’m transgender, but I’m not alone. I have a family that loves me.  I have friends that adore me. I have a job that honors and respects me. I know I’m very lucky to have these things, but they’re a part of my story and my story is valid too.

Not only that, but mine is the story a lot of our detractors haven’t seen. The transgender community has a long way to go in the fight for equality, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have normal days. The subject of our video wasn’t out on the street alone begging for money or selling her body (both things that I know are very real circumstances and extremely important; but again, eye on the ball here). She was going out to lunch with friends. She was well dressed, well-groomed. She was obviously living quite comfortably. This might seem like it glosses over the plight of the community, but remember that a lot of anti-trans people can’t fathom that we live this way. Remember how I said the owner didn’t even look at her until she walked towards the bathrooms? Nothing was out of the ordinary until that moment. And that’s the real message of the commercial that makes it so brilliant. Underneath the narrator telling her story, underneath the owner causing the conflict, there’s the clear message of, ‘you say we’re abnormal, but everything was normal until you said something’.

4) It Gets Allies Right

Everyone has a part to play. Everyone has a character that represents them in this scenario. We have our transgender person and her antagonist, but we also have the allies. The ad gets them right as well. Notice that they don’t shout at the owner. They don’t turn everything into a scene. They clearly see that the transgender woman has already found herself in an embarrassing situation. In this instance, they do the absolute best thing an ally can do, they go with her to the bathroom.

There’s a reason I hand out #illgowithyou buttons at conventions. There’s a reason I talk about it so much. It’s the best thing a transgender ally can do to help. I’ve been in situations where I was afraid to go to the bathroom by myself so I asked someone to go with me. I’ve even had someone care enough to send an ally in to check on me because he knew I was probably in more danger than I realized. In this ad, our allies were alert to the situation and didn’t allow it to escalate. They simply told the owner that they didn’t mind her being in there with them and stayed with her to make sure she wasn’t bothered.

While we’re on the subject, think about the men in the commercial. When the owner opens the men’s room door, we see a couple of guys standing there. They don’t look at her with disgust, they don’t glare or pound their fists into their hands like schoolyard bullies. They looked exactly as they should: confused as to why someone who clearly identifies as female would be coming in to use the restroom with them. The one guy coming out even mouths, “are you okay?”. Again, I know male violence against transgender women is a big problem. I’ve had men threaten to kill me before. But keep in mind that we’re talking to the ‘not all men’, ‘not all cops’, ‘not all Christians’, etc. crowd here. If you only show the worst of them, the audience can’t connect with the story.

I have no idea if this ad is going to change any hearts. As much as I’m glad to have seen it early enough to dissect it like this, I do fear that those watching the convention who know it’s coming will just turn off the TV or go get a snack while it’s on. Still, for those that don’t, for those that stay and watch, I hope the message comes through. I hope it allows them to see our community for who we really are. This was a beautifully crafted commercial that I think has the best chance to succeed at its mission. Here’s to hoping it works. Here’s to hoping for at least a few opened minds and touched hearts. Here’s to hoping for a little bit of light amongst the darkness.

-Faith

The 4G Show Episode 2: Let Loose the Bitches of Feminism!

It’s an episode all about pride! Tig and Faith discuss Toronto Pride and the #blacklivesmatter protest that took place there. They also tackle the notion of #heterosexualprideday and question whether there are some things you just shouldn’t be proud of. All that and a few words about how sexy David Tennant is.

Listen or download here.

Hosts: Faith Naff and Tig Pollum

Like what you hear? Please contribute to our Patreon!

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

Neutral Bathrooms: The Right Solution to the Wrong Problem

It’s Independence Day. In America, this is a day for cookouts, fireworks, time with family, and celebrating all the freedom we’ve had since declaring our independence in 1776. And I’m not feeling it. Since the passing of House Bill 2 in my home state of North Carolina, the notion of freedom has seemed kind of like a joke. I mean, my state just made it against the law for me to pee. How can I celebrate freedom under those circumstances? So rather than go out and do all the cliché stuff like a good little American, I figured I’d stay home and tackle another hard-hitting LGBT issue.

Since we’re on the topic of bathrooms anyway, let’s explore this freedom to pee notion a little closer. The question of where transgender people can use the bathroom has become a hotly debated topic this year. Legislation has passed in Mississippi and North Carolina (#FuckPatMccrory), with similar bills in many other states thankfully falling short of becoming law. As I stated in a previous post, now that gay marriage is the law of the land, those against the LGBT community have shifted their sights to transgender Americans, and the bathroom is the easiest place to hurt them.

The whole notion of where transgender people are allowed to pee has become a big controversy, which would be really silly if it weren’t so sad. I mean, there are now an estimated 1.4million American adults who identify as transgender. That’s adults, as in old enough to have been going to the bathroom for many years before this whole clusterfuck started. We’ve been relieving ourselves for a while now. We’ve done it in the same bathroom you were in, that your kids were in. If we were actually some epidemic of civil unrest, you would have known this long before your pastor and congressman told you to be afraid of us. You would have been calling for a ban long before you were told to. But then this would be an actual problem…like assault rifles being used in countless mass murders every year.

There are those who have pushed back. In spite of growing animosity towards the transgender community, many businesses and political leaders have fought for the rights of transgender people. Even our president and secretary of the Justice Department have stated that they’re on the side of equality. Target announced that they’d continue to allow transgender people to use their desired bathroom within their stores; a decision met with anger and boycotts from the right.

(Side bar: If you’re boycotting Target over the transgender bathroom thing and stating that you’ll go to Walmart or anywhere else instead you’re a fucking idiot. Target’s bathroom policy is no different from what you’ll find pretty much anywhere else. They’re just the only one’s who’ve had the guts to make a big statement about it. No retail or grocery business is going to waste the time and resources it would take to police people using their bathrooms, especially since it would be to stop a problem that’s never existed in the first place. Transgender people use their correct bathroom almost everywhere you shop, eat, play, etc. Pull your head out of your ass and grow up.)

Some businesses and schools have sought to fix the problem by installing gender neutral restrooms on their campuses. Such bathrooms have existed for a while now, mainly being called family bathrooms to accommodate parents who need to take their kids with them and need a lot more room than a little stall can provide, but now they’re becoming much more prevalent. It can be a good thing. But it can be a bad thing if done for the wrong reasons or with the wrong intentions. What’s worse, it can give the transgender community a false sense of your inclusiveness, when in reality you’re still not treating them as equals.

See, there’s nothing wrong with having gender neutral bathrooms. Ideally, I’d like to live to see a day when we don’t segregate bathrooms by gender at all. Everything you need privacy for is done in a stall where no one sees you anyway and I’ve always seen the notion of ‘boys on the left girls on the right’ as a sign that we’ve not actually matured as a culture. Still, if we’re going to have the boys and the girls rooms, having a neutral option is a good thing. After all, there are a lot of people who identify as a-gender, or gender-fluid, or gender-neutral. These people don’t feel right choosing between silhouette of a person or silhouette of a person in a dress. Not only that, but there are people with anxiety issues who just don’t like relieving themselves in a public place anyway. Even under my ideal one-bathroom scenario, I would still like to see a separate, single occupancy space available for those who want it.

The problem comes when institutions try to sell their new neutral bathroom spaces as being for the transgender community. I’ve heard this too many times and it always makes me uneasy. I’m especially troubled when I hear other transgender people praise these companies or schools for their inclusiveness and forward thinking. As mentioned earlier, transgender people using the bathroom is not a problem. It was never a problem. If you’re installing neutral bathrooms as a response then you’re on the opposite end of the same misguided notion as the Republicans passing these laws. You’re still seeing an issue in need of a solution.

Do not create a gender neutral restroom and then tell me you did it so I can have a place to pee. I already had a place to pee: it’s called the women’s room. I am a woman. I have no qualms peeing around other women. A single-occupancy neutral space is not for me. If you give me one and tell me that’s where I have to go, you’re still marginalizing me, still treating me like some kind of ‘other’. You’re no better than the people banning me from the toilet in the first place. But some transgender people are still praising this! It reminds me of when the gay community was fighting for marriage equality but treated civil unions as a victory. It’s not a victory. It’s another way to be cast out, just somehow more politely this time.  We shouldn’t accept it. I’ve gone to plenty of places that have a traditional men’s and women’s room as well as a neutral space and I always use the women’s room, because that’s where I belong. I’m not going to take up the neutral bathroom and keep someone who might actually want or need it from accessing it.

I mentioned last time in the Caitlyn Jenner post that the transgender community can’t allow ourselves to fall into a beggars can’t be choosers mentality. It applies to our figureheads as well as our supposed allies. A business that installs a neutral bathroom is just a good business making a good business decision. A business that then tells their transgender patrons that they must use that space is not an ally and is not a safe space for us to go. An ally is a business like Target: simply stating that they’re not changing anything because there was never a problem to begin with. An ally is a business with a neutral space that’s just there for those who want it. Be picky about your allies. Be picky about your safe spaces. And don’t stand for shady accommodations that have the illusion of promoting equality but are really just hating you politely.

And please remember to wash your hands.

-Faith

Lessons From the Rise of Caitlyn Jenner

I can’t stand Caitlyn Jenner.

Before we go any further, I want to make sure that’s out there. I’m not saying I hate her as a person. I’m sure she’s a very nice woman and her demeanor in interviews and speeches seems to back that up. I’m speaking solely to what she says and what she does. Contrary to what a lot of people would have you believe, it is actually possible to dislike someone for what they do but not for who they are. In fact, that’s kind of the point of this post. The transition of Jenner in the public eye has been a unique experience in the transgender community for a number of reasons. And while some aspects of her coming out have been positive, others-many others-have been rather harmful.

When Caitlyn first came out I, like many more in the LGBT community, were extremely happy. She offered transgender people a celebrity like we’d never had before. We already had a couple of big stars, namely Laverne Cox, but Jenner was the first one to be really famous before they came out as trans. For the transgender community, Jenner was our Ellen Degeneres circa 1997. We finally had a big name that everyone knew expose the fact that they’d been transgender all along and were finally ready to share that with the world.

At first it all went rather predictably. The LGBT community congratulated her on her bravery while the bigots immediately started up with their hateful posts and memes. Everything fell into place as we all thought it would. Those on the side of hate had already been making fun of her former persona for being rather effeminate (Family Guy mocked this fact more than once). I still remember some of the very hurtful things said about her on comment threads and on garbage “news” sites like The Blaze.

I really wanted to like her. I was almost desperate to like her. When Jenner came out, she represented more than the fact that you can be true to yourself. She showed the world that it’s never too late in life to do it. I recall one of my biggest obstacles when deciding to come out as transgender myself was feeling that I was too late. I always told myself that your teens and twenties were the years for discovering yourself. I was in my thirties, so it must be too late for me, right? Jenner was the proof that I was wrong. It was all so wonderful. I read her interviews, I listened to her speeches, I enjoyed every moment of her transformation into her authentic self.

Then everything kinda fell apart.

It started with ESPN giving her the Author Ashe Courage Award at the Espys in 2015. Now, she gave a beautiful speech, one that personally moved me to tears. But it was also an instance where I actually had to side, at least in some way, with her detractors. There was a lot of backlash from the decision because many felt that there were more deserving athletes who should have gotten the award instead of her. Cards on the table, I was one of them. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have been in the running, but there were other athletes who I feel were looked over just because they happened to deserve the award in the same year as the biggest scale transgender coming out in history.

So began the angry posts: why did Jenner get it when so and so did such a thing and wasn’t considered? Don’t you think whatsherface was more deserving than she is? I agreed with these posts, stating that, in my opinion, those athletes did seem more deserving of the award. However, many hateful people resorted to including phrases like “freak”, “tr***y”, “she-male”, and of course, “[INSERT DEAD NAME HERE]”. This is where I, and other champions of common decency, pointed out that they were taking their argument too far. First off, Jenner didn’t decide to get the award and doesn’t have control over the outcome. And secondly, disagreeing with someone doesn’t give you the right to missgender them.

If Jenner had been any cis-gendered person receiving the same award under similar circumstances (i.e. deservedness of dubious merit), there wouldn’t have been such a shit show. The same people arguing about it probably wouldn’t have even known. Granted, the fact that Jenner was getting the award was about the only reason the Espy’s were news-worthy anyway, but even if it werestill  just as common of knowledge, likely very few people would have cared.

What happened with Jenner was those who already hated trans people used the situation as an excuse to make their transmisogynistic bile seem justified. Much like the undo criticism President Obama receives, the issue in question was minor at best but served as an outlet for spewing hate. It was interesting to read comment strings and forums back then as people seemed united on an issue for a few moments and then became sharply divided again.

If that had been Jenner’s only issue, things would still be fine. However, as the limelight continued to shine on her and the press kept shoving microphones in her face, much more alarming and outright dangerous things began to surface. After making the shortlist for Time’s Person of the Year, she sat down for an interview with the magazine. In that interview she alluded to the notion that a transgender person’s identity is only validated by their ability to ‘pass’ and that the general public would be made rightfully uneasy by anyone who looked like “a man in a dress”.

Needless to say, these comments started a firestorm in the LGBT community. Jenner issued an apology, stating that she still had “a lot to learn”. There was sincerity in her words, but I still wonder if she knows the damage she potentially did. The transgender community has very few big-name spokespersons. Not only is Jenner the biggest, but she’s also the only one with an audience beyond the LGBT community. Whether you’re pro trans or anti trans, you hear about the things she says. When she implies that passing is important, anti-trans people feel all the more justified to be hateful towards those who don’t pass for cis. When Jenner refers to non-passing trans women as “a man in a dress”, well…you can imagine the fallout.

I wish that were the end of it. I wish no more controversies came from Jenner, but this was all before the election cycle shifted into high gear. Here is where the LGBT community made what is probably their biggest mistake in all of this. See, as I stated before, Jenner was our first big celebrity to be well-known before coming out. Not only did we know what she was famous for when she presented as male, but we knew about her personally. Her political views and stances weren’t some big, dark secret. Granted, they weren’t common knowledge until she came out as transgender and people started talking about her again for the first time in years, but Jenner was always a Republican and always supported the right.

Jenner said she had “a lot to learn” after the Time interview. Well, she clearly didn’t take that to heart when she threw her support behind then presidential hopeful Ted Cruz. She praised Cruz, saying that he was, “very conservative and a great constitutionalist and a very articulate man” But that’s not all she said. She also admitted that Cruz was, “probably one of the worst ones when it comes to trans issues”. If elected, she hoped to be his “transgender ambassador”.

First she admitted she had a lot to learn and suddenly she now wants to be the representative of the entire transgender community to the President of the United States?! And the sad thing is we shouldn’t have been surprised by this. We knew Jenner was a Republican long before she came out as transgender. We should have seen this nonsense coming from a mile away but we didn’t. We didn’t because we finally got our Ellen, our big name avatar of legitimacy. I was every bit as guilty of this as anyone. I was sharing her images and quotes from her Espy speech along with everyone else. I’m just as much to blame in hoisting Jenner onto a pedestal she never deserved to sit on.

So what are the lessons in all of this? Well, there’s an old saying that beggers can’t be choosers. Those with limited options have to just take what they can get. I think when Jenner came out her position in the national spotlight it  made us too quick to accept her as some kind of spokesperson for our cause. In jumping on the bandwagon too early, we helped turn up the volume for when she started saying the really harmful stuff. Transgender people have so few big names in our rosters and so little understanding from the general public that we allowed ourselves to be beggers. We allowed Jenner to have the stage simply because she got there first. And we should have known better.

The transgender community will never gain anything from letting Caitlyn Jenner speak for us. Her words are poison to our fight for equal rights, and only succeed in helping those who already hate us feel justified in that hate. They think it’s okay to bully us if we don’t pass, to sneer at and mock the “man in a dress”. And yet, though we may dispise her, we still have to defend her. We have to defend her when haters misgender her. We have to defend her when people call her a freak or a tr***y. Because she may not deserve to be our voice, but she’s still our sister. She’s still a part of our community, and we don’t leave anyone out in the cold. If we can just keep the microphones and cameras away from her, I think we’ll be alright.

Heterosexual Pride Day is Harmful

Here’s one of the few statements that’s pretty much guaranteed to have universal agreement: there is some really stupid stuff on the internet. Now, exactly what constitutes as stupid is going to be up for debate, but everyone can at least agree that the web is, among many other things, an ocean of intellectual garbage. One area where people are bound to find disagreements on this topic is in the realm of political and/or movements on social media. Depending on your particular flavor of human existence, you can find a certain trending topic or hashtag either insightful or insulting.

Feel free to make your own list (respectfully) in the comments, but in my positive list I rank anything having to do with LGBT pride, equal rights for minorities or women, or the millionth time we’ve tried in vain to get them to bring back Firefly (No…you let it go! You can’t take the sky from me!) On the flipside, my stomach turns at the sight of posts about Gamergate, those evil SJW’s, or Make America Great White Again. There’s always some movement, some trending hashtag that keeps people talking and arguing across cyberspace. On June 29th 2016, a new hashtag started trending that made my blood boil.

#HeterosexualPrideDay

Just typing that out makes me feel sick. The notion of HPD or even just het pride in general is insulting on so many levels. It’s an idea born as the bastard offspring of hate and ignorance, and it needs to go away.

‘But Faith,’ I hear you thinking (yes, I am psychic), ‘why do you hate straight people?’ I don’t. I shouldn’t have to point that out, but let’s just go ahead and get that statement in as early as possible so maybe anyone wanting to leave a hateful comment will at least read down to this point before typing. No, I’ve got no problem with straight people. Some of my best friends are straight, I dated a straight guy once, and other cliché phrases. Some Christians like to use the phrase, ‘I love the sinner but hate the sin’ to justify their disapproval of homosexuality. It’s a problematic statement, and perhaps one for a future post, but by sort of the same notion I don’t hate the group, but the boneheaded and insulting things some in that group are doing.

Anyone who’s ever attended an LGBT pride event or even spoken up about LGBT issues has heard these retorts: why can’t we have straight pride? Why do you get to be proud of who you are but I don’t get to be proud of who I am? See also: male pride and white pride. Like the blatantly dismissive #AllLivesMatter nonsense, it’s an argument that seeks to silence a call for equality by both turning it on it’s head and drowning out its importance.

But should straight pride be a bad thing? Well…yes! To explain why we need to make sure we understand the semantics at play here. The biggest tactics these notions employ to try and seem relevant is to turn the meanings of words around and insert context between the lines that twists the intended message. There is a misunderstanding of what pride is for. Pride is a positive thing under only two circumstances. Firstly, you can take pride in something you’ve accomplished or you can be proud of someone who has accomplished something. If you wrote a book, or finished college, or even finally got off your ass and cleaned the gutters (note to self…) then those are all things to take at least a little bit of pride in. Likewise, when your friends, family, colleagues, etc. accomplish something, you can be proud of them. This is all very healthy and positive.

Now, being heterosexual isn’t something you accomplish. You didn’t have to go to school to learn how to do it. It wasn’t your prize for finishing a marathon. It’s how you were born and maintaining that aspect of yourself takes absolutely no effort. There’s no reason to take pride in that. When you take pride in something you didn’t actually do, it’s just arrogance. Worse still, it runs the risk of implying that, since being you is something to be proud of, being something that isn’t like you is not.

That might all seem very contradictory to my point. After all, being gay or transgender isn’t a choice either. Neither is being black or Latinx for that matter. Why do these groups all get to feel proud of who they are, but Mr. Cis, White, Heterosexual Male doesn’t? Because these groups fall under the second reason for pride to be acceptable: they’ve been systematically told that being who they are is in some way wrong. Minority races have been treated as lesser than since the founding of our nation. They’ve been enslaved, slaughtered, and driven from their homes. Even today, these groups face obstacles of police brutality, harsher sentencing, difficult access to better jobs, and other issues. Likewise, LGBT people have been told for decades and beyond that they are sick, twisted, perverted, mentally ill, and just plain wrong.

When a group is faced with that kind of adversity, pride is the mechanism that allows them to fight back. It becomes a necessity for survival, for changing the conversation. I’m not proud to be gay because I’m gay. I’m proud to be gay because I’ve been told I should be ashamed. That’s the difference and it’s very important.

Heterosexual Pride Day isn’t about fighting back against oppression; it’s a victory lap. Worse yet, it’s a victory lap after a race where the other cars had to run with no fuel or flat tires. Being heterosexual takes nothing from you. You may fall into other minority categories that have caused you to be oppressed, but the fact that you’re straight has never held you back from anything. No one has ever told you to be ashamed of being straight or cisgender. You’ve never been looked over, dismissed, or beat up because of it. I’ve heard people ask before why straight people don’t get to have a parade but gay people do. Well, as my good friend Michael G. Williams always puts it, ‘gay pride is a parade because first it had to be a march’.

When you use a hashtag like #HeterosexualPrideDay, you’re not celebrating an accomplishment; you’re not resisting oppression. What you’re doing is going on the attack. If you don’t believe me then search the tag on Twitter and see what people are saying about it. Now, thankfully, a good chunk of the posts are either making fun of it or calling it out for the nonsense it is, but those that are genuinely behind it all say some very hurtful and ignorant things. It has nothing to do with pride in one’s self. I mean, how could it? The poster has never been made to feel ashamed of it. No, these posts all seek to push back against the fight for LGBT equality. They seek to make us go away, to belittle our efforts, or to at least make our struggles seem like they’re not a big deal.

But they are a big deal, and this is a harmful response. Why don’t you get to have heterosexual pride? For the same reason you don’t get to have white pride or male pride: you don’t need it. And that’s something you take for granted. You can have pride when you’ve been kicked out of your home for being who you are. You can have pride when you get fired from your job because your boss found out the secret you were keeping from them. You get to have pride when you’ve been terrified to use a public bathroom. You can have pride when you’ve been beat almost to death for holding your lover’s hand. Pride is not something you want, it’s something you need.

-Faith

Getting Political But Not Really

The internet is a fun place to debate stuff. It may be the land of cat videos, like-farming swindles, and “Ten Things You Won’t Believe Look Like X”. But it can also be a place of sharing ideas, gaining momentum for a cause, or changing your friend’s political stances on important issues.

Just kidding. Can you imagine?

Yes, occasionally you do find things online that actually matter (we really hope this site turns out to be one of them for you). The internet is the place where movements start. News spreads online faster than the newspaper industry of only a few decades ago could have dreamed. Yet, sadly, with such a powerful tool for informing and mobilizing at our disposal, many people are actively trying to remain ignorant and/or apathetic when it comes to the world around them.

As much as I hate to say it, geek culture is about one of the worst for this trend of trying to keep themselves in a current-events free bubble. We’ve all seen it. We’ve all read a comment or twenty on YouTube groaning about people inserting politics into their games, music, movies, podcasts, let’s play videos, unboxings, and kids reacting to stuff us old people use to use every day. Now, there can be some merit to that. Not every piece of media is its creator’s equivalent of Atlas Shrugged or Bioshock Infinite, and sometimes you just wanna take a break from the stuff that makes you think so you can chill out and kill zombies. I get that. I respect that. Hell, I do that. I love my thought-provoking experiences that entertain me as well as expand my mind, but I also love re watching Futurama episodes for the millionth time while I catch up with Twitter.

The problem I see is two-fold. Firstly, a lot of nerd culture seems to want to remove all political or social influence from media so it can all just be one big lump of thought-free fun. To them, thinking is never allowed during play time. Secondly, these people seem to have adapted a definition of “political stuff” that is way too broad. Those of you know know me well know that I proudly wear the title of Social Justice Warrior (SJW), but I pretty much do that as a laugh. The term was dreamed up to describe anyone who has the audacity to raise their hand and respectfully request that maybe the media that’s consumed by an extremely diverse public maybe be more representative of that public; or perhaps the venues that bring us that media consider a broader spectrum of people. That’s not “inserting politics” into media. That’s just customer feedback.

Big difference.

Anyway, what set me off on this whole think-piece was a comment I heard talking about one of my favorite events of the year: Con Carolinas.  Those of you who know me know I love this event. Hell, it’s likely where you know me from. I look forward to this con all year. It’s fun, it’s well run, and it’s the one time a year where me and all my wacky author friends get to hang out in a hallway all weekend. This year was an interesting one since, this being a North Carolina convention, it was the first time the show was held while HB2 was law. For those who don’t know, HB2 is a piece of dog-shit legislation enacted by the North Carolina general assembly and signed by Governor Pat Douche-nozzle McCrory that basically makes it illegal for transgender people like me to use the bathroom that matches our gender identities in a public building.

Now, the hotel where the con was held obviously isn’t a public building, but a lot of people in this state don’t fully understand the law, business owners included. I’ve met more than one business owner who thought HB2 required them to police their own bathrooms, which is not the case. The point is, with so much uncertainty, transgender guests and attendees (including myself) were contacting the con chair asking what Con Carolinas and the hotel’s policy was on enforcing HB2. It may seem like a no big deal thing to some, but when you’re transgender it can completely shake your entire reality. For example, I mentioned in my request for information that I would be canceling my appearance there if they were either entity to state that bathroom use would be policed–noting that I didn’t want to have to go all the way up to my hotel room each time I needed to pee.

Con Carolinas responded, stating neither they nor the hotel would be policing bathroom use. But they also reiterated that theirs was not a political organization and that they weren’t going to get involved in politics. Fair enough. I’m not looking to turn Con Carolinas into an official rally against HB2; I just wanna know if I can piss. The con chair wanted to be able to mark the bathrooms in such a way that conveyed the policy but also keep things geeky and fun.

Cleverly, the Prince symbol was placed on all the bathroom doors. It was a stroke of sly genius. It conveyed the message without having to make some kind of bold statement; it was topical since Prince had only just passed away; and, well, it was fun. Problem solved, right? Apparently not. While con went well and we all had a lot of fun. Someone complained to the con chair that the action was “shoving a political POV down their throat”.

Um…no?

This is what I mean about the notion of “political stuff” being to broadly defined. That wasn’t a political statement. There weren’t signs posted saying “DOWN WITH HB2” or “PAT MCCRORY THINKS HAN DIDN’T SHOOT FIRST”. There wasn’t anything political about it. It subtly conveyed a message to the public about con and hotel policy while keeping it fun and nerdy. Aside from actually making it political (because I love to do stuff like that) I can’t think of a better way to handle the situation.

At the beginning of the post I made two points about the idea of “putting political stuff” into nerd culture. Well, those two points coincide with each other. Like a yin-yang, they exist in a perfect circle of ignorance where one always leads to the other. See, the reason people don’t want to think about political stuff is because it breaks the bubble their mind lives in. And, I’m sorry to say it, but the vast majority of people you see complaining about this are white, cis-gendered men: people who face the least number of social boundaries. Thinking about political stuff means thinking about their own privilege, about how other people around them are probably having to work harder to have as much fun as they are because they’re facing obstacles they can’t imagine. It’s because of this aversion to enlightened thinking that the second point comes up. It’s not just the blatantly political stuff that makes them face these truths, but also anything that subtly reminds them of them. This is why a wacky sign that communicates a basic message is “political stuff”. This is why recasting a white character with a black actor is “political stuff”. This is why a video game protagonist just being a woman is “political stuff”.

It’s not political; it’s outside of your version of normal. You don’t want to play as a girl in your video games even though girls have been playing as male protagonists since Mario. You don’t want to see a cast of characters that doesn’t resemble your middle class suburban cul-de-sac, even though black, Latino, Asian, and Native people have been consuming the same media as you for years. And, I’m sorry you don’t like to be reminded that going to the goddamn bathroom can be a terrifying ordeal for transgender people, but I’ve been threatened with murder on multiple occasions just for needing to pee and a clear indication that I can be safe somewhere is worth more than gold to me.

You don’t hate political stuff; you hate facing your privilege. You hate the knowledge that you have it better than other people just because you are who you are. Most of all, you hate that facing these truths reminds you that you have a responsibility to do something about it. But you won’t, and we all know you won’t. If you were willing to make nerd culture inclusive you wouldn’t be so afraid of it when it when the subject pops up. If you were willing to share your toys you would have done it already without having to be asked. You won’t do any of that, and you don’t want to be reminded of it. So you go back to your yearly installment of Call of Duty and ask us all to just leave you alone.

And, for some reason, some of us keep giving you that privilege too.

-Faith

One Year of Gay Marriage and the Fight Ahead

Americans like to talk about “where were you” moments. Our pivotal points in history are defined personally in part by the memories we have attached to them. Every generation has them. My grandparents remember hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor as well as the end of World War II. My parents remember the Kennedy assassination, but also when a man walked on the moon. My generation…well…we got September 11th.

We recall what we were doing in that moment before we heard the news because it was the last time our lives went on uninfluenced by the shocking changes. I don’t know how many will regard the legalization of gay marriage the same way, but I certainly do. I was at the Verizon Wireless store at the time. My partner and I were getting new phones. The sales rep set up my phone and handed it to me to play with as she worked on hers. I immediately downloaded the Facebook app (because I have an addiction), and got logged on. When my feed appeared, that’s when I saw it: images of rainbow flags and cheering people in Washington. I saw headlines proclaiming a victory I’d been waiting decades to see.

It’s been a year to the day now. Gay marriage is still the law of the land. Some states have pushed back, and it’s given rise to the championing of a completely incorrect definition of religious liberty. Folks like Kim Davis still cling to bigoted notions that their faith gives them the right to not do their jobs. Still, after a landmark decision from the Supreme Court, there’s little the old guard can do to keep prejudice alive. It’s nice to have reached such a comfort zone, even if it still isn’t 100% safe. But if the decades since Roe Vs. Wade have taught us anything, it’s that those who trade in hate and exclusion will stop at nothing to see progression stopped.

Sadly, the main counterattack we’ve seen to this decision has been a shift in focus to the next, most vulnerable target: the transgender community. As states gave up the fight to ban gay marriage, they moved on to legislation that seeks to marginalize and dehumanize people like me. Many states have voted on legislation that bans transgender people from using their correct bathrooms. Some of those states, including mine, passed them. The transgender community has had the spotlight thrown on them in the last year. We’re suddenly the topic of news stories, think pieces, and political speeches. We’ve seen positive aspects of this, such as the rise of Laverne Cox and Jazz Jennings, but famous people can only help to sway the minds of the public; not vote on legislation.

What amazes me is how quickly the crosshairs were moved. Going back to Roe Vs. Wade, the decision didn’t end the struggle for abortion rights. Those who still think a woman shouldn’t be able to control her body exploit every loophole they can to keep it illegal. Aside from protecting the “rights” of the hateful from having to perform ceremonies or issue licenses, gay marriage has mostly been allowed to just stay in place for the last 12 months. What’s different here is that abortion didn’t have any kind of additional aspect that wasn’t covered under the decision. It’s a one question issue: does a woman have the right to do what she wants with her body.

LGBT issues are different because there are a lot of things under that umbrella. There’s the right to marry, sure, but there’s also the fights for adoption rights, gender expression, third gender recognition, legalized polyamory, etc. LGBT is broad on purpose. The whole notion of it is inclusion. While that lends strength to the movement, it also gives it multiple targets. When one target is out of reach, it’s just too easy for the enemy to simply move to the next one. And the sad thing is it’s partially the LGBT community’s fault.

As gay acceptance became a centerpiece of the American conversation, the other parts of the community weren’t carried into the spotlight. There was arguably some necessity to this. It’s easier to fight for change when that change is simple and focused. But this doesn’t excuse the fact that the T part of LGBT was largely forgotten, even by same community that claimed to include them. As gay acceptance dominated the conversation, the fight for gender identity and expression was silenced. Transgender men and women fought for marriage equality with the rest of the community, and were rewarded in the end by becoming the new target.

So, what does this mean? Well, that we as a community can’t take a moment to rest. Being LGBT (allies included) mean always having each other’s backs. Transgender people fought hard alongside homosexuals for marriage rights (yes, many of us are gay ourselves-me included-but you get the point). Now that this battle has been (at least for now) won, the gay community needs to keep that same energy and passion to help us out on this next battle. Transgender rights are going to come. Hateful laws like North Carolina’s HB2 will go away, but transgender people will experience a great deal of hardship in the national spotlight until that happens. The more voices added to the cry, the more it will be heard and the faster we reach our goal.

When our victory comes, and it will come, we in turn must stay vigilant for the next target. Once the law is on our side, they will come for the gender fluid, for the a-gender, for the polyamorous. There will always be another target, always a new battle. We must remain a united force. If we never allow complacency once our victory is found, those who fought alongside us will find there’s even faster.

Still, today should be a day of celebration. We need to look back on what we’ve accomplished and feel proud. Because pride is what we’re all about; pride in who we are and who we love; pride in our sense of community. But tomorrow, please let us continue to put that pride into action. There are many battles still ahead, and I will always keep fighting.

-Faith