Interview: 10 Questions about Transgender Issues in the workplace with lawyer and activist Brooke Cartus

Activist/ comedian/ lawyer/ everyone's favorite, Brooke Cartus.
Activist/ comedian/ lawyer/ personal trainer/ writer/ everyone’s favorite, Brooke Cartus.

Brooke Cartus is one of my top five favorite comedians of all time. But there’s nothing funny about discrimination.

AND THERE’S NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT THAT OPENING PARAGRAPH EXCEPT HOW BAD IT IS. 

For the rest of this post I’ll leave the comedy to Brooke. She’ll also explain how workplaces and business owners can create an open and welcoming environment for its transgender employees, because she’s an expert on that, too. She designs and leads diversity training for businesses across the country. 

Did you know that it’s still legal in the U.S. to discriminate against someone because of their gender identity?

That’s part of the reason Brooke, also a personal trainer (seriously, she can do literally anything and be good at it), decided to study law at Ohio State.

“I went to law school because of the discrimination I saw in the workplace at my gym,” she says. “No one wanted me to train transgender individuals, especially my boss. I guess he saw it as a liability issue, or that’s how he painted it to me. But I knew better. I knew what hate looked like.”

Since graduating in 2015, the landscape of the trans community has definitely changed, she says. The general public has become more aware of the struggles of marginalized communities, particularly the trans community, which has its upsides — like the topic of this Q&A: more employers want to know how they can help promote equality — and its downsides, which you can guess with one bathroom headline.

“With the marriage equality victory came a conservative backlash against the subgroup in the LGBT movement that is the most powerless, that is the trans community,” Brooke says. “Bathroom bills, high rates of institutionalized violence and imprisonment. The trans community is under attack and the rest of the LGBT community should be rallying and fighting inequality for those who cannot fight for themselves.”

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Why did you start working with the transgender community?

I started working with the transgender community when I was a personal trainer in Buffalo, NY. The relationship between the police force and the trans community was really raw – trans people were being attacked and beaten, and when police responded, they would detain the trans victim and NOT the attackers. It was really frustrating to see, and as a young lesbian in her twenties who knew NOTHING about the trans community, I was shocked. I had just come out, slapped an HRC sticker on my red Jetta, and thought that I was an activist. I had a lot to learn.

I helped produce and direct a film exposing the complicated relationship between the trans community and the police, and also started training trans folks in the gym. We all have body image issues, but training individuals who had to fear going into a locker room every time they saw me was really eye opening. I boxed with them and taught them basic self defense. Basic self-defense skills empowered my friends to stand up for themselves safely.

Where does one even start when talking to a professional organization about transgender issues?

It depends on the organization- but what usually really resonates with organizations is the importance of building an environment that is safe for their employees. Safer environments lead to more productive workplaces, and creating a safe space is kind of brilliant for an employer – you retain talent and also increase productivity. Trans individuals who don’t feel safe at work report higher levels of anxiety and stress, and that stress manifests in myriad ways that are detrimental to the company and the individual.

I had just come out, slapped an HRC sticker on my red Jetta, and thought that I was an activist. I had a lot to learn.

Is discrimination against a transgender employee illegal?

We all know that it is illegal to discriminate against an individual based on sex. But under current Supreme Court interpretation of federal law, gender identity does not fall under the “sex” category, therefore transgender individuals do not have federal protection. The EEOC and President Obama disagree with this interpretation, but gender identity is not a protected class under the law. Since 1993, there has been a bill in and out of committee in Congress to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in discrimination legislation.

State laws and city ordinances often try to pick up where federal legislation is mute. And many companies and organizations have policies including gender identity as a protected class. But laws like H.B. 2 in North Carolina try to limit the scope under which LGBT individuals can file suit based on discrimination. There are a million ways to limit protection, and state laws can often chip away at even basic civil rights protections.

What forms of subtle discrimination do transgender people often experience at work?

As a trans ally, I cannot speak to all the types of discrimination faced by trans employees. There are myriad implicit and explicit biases that seep into daily interactions that can make some employment environments exhausting for trans folks, from inappropriate questions to hostility and sometimes even violence.

Trans employees often face a double bind: If they come out as trans early in their employment process (interview, etc.), they may not even be offered employment. If they get hired and come out as trans, they may be isolated, treated as a pariah, and suffer consequences both socially and culturally at work that could lead to termination. However, if a trans employee stays in the closet and then is “outed”, fellow employees report feeling “betrayed” by their lack of honesty.

Frankly, it’s ridiculous. Trans panic has been used as a legal argument defending violence towards trans people just like gay panic was used in the ’80’s and ’90’s to explain violence toward gay men and women.

Since 1993, there has been a bill in and out of committee in Congress to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in discrimination legislation.

What are some common traps that workplaces that want to be inclusive fall into?

I think the most common mistake companies make is attempting to treat every case the same. Each trans person is an individual, and transitioning is a general term. There is no handbook for what it means to transition, and employers should be sensitive to those differences. The best thing to do is talk to the individual who is transitioning at the company to see how they want to handle the situation.

How can you train other employees around transgender sensitivity?

I work a lot with coaching individuals on how to be respectful in difficult and sensitive conversations around sexual orientation and gender identity. Basic protocol can be taught, but to really understand the struggle of the trans community, you can’t just learn what questions to not ask. I believe in talking with people about their experiences, understanding where they are coming from, before making judgments. If an employee has never interacted with a trans person who is out, they may spout some ignorance. But in working with them before and after these conversations, we can figure out the source of their issues and work on creating an environment that is conducive for both LGBT employees and allies.

What about if an employee or co-worker is transitioning? What are some basic principles for handling that?

I think too many people think that a trans person just wakes up one day, decides they are going to transition, and is “passing” as the gender they identify with in a few months. Transitioning is an arduous and sometimes lifelong process, and every trans person goes through this transition differently. Some take hormones, some have multiple surgeries, some don’t do any of these things. In fact, less than 10% of trans individuals opt to have genital surgery. There is no handbook for transitioning the “right” way, meaning an employer should be respectful of the individual. No one pulls a Caitlyn Jenner and just disappears from the spotlight for eight months and comes back as a different gender — you need a lot of money to do that.

I always guide employers to create a protocol that embodies open communication, while also being respectful. If the employee is working with clients, the employer should defer to the individual transitioning about informing clients of the name change they may undergo. 

This is where things can get challenging, because every workplace and individual is different. Trans folks have higher rates of unemployment, suicide, police interaction, and violence. To understand the struggle of the trans employee is to have an understanding of the trans community as a whole.

We just need to acknowledge bias and understand that educating ourselves and those around us is one of the best ways to make marked progress on the road to equality.

Why seek out an expert for diversity training?

Because this topic is not an easy one to discuss — employees often want to talk through sensitive situations and a neutral third party is crucial. Who wants to talk about your bias against the trans community with your boss? No one. I like to create an open environment where individuals can work through their bias, discover the source, and make progress toward creating an environment of mutual respect.

What other resources are available for businesses that want to create a more inclusive work space?

I always encourage businesses to get an idea of the legal landscape as it applies to discrimination protection for LGBT people. Besides reviewing in-house procedures and protocols, websites about legal protections can be really helpful.

Some helpful resources:

Transequality.org’s list of general employment rights

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s enforcement protections for LGBT workers

What does a welcoming and safe work environment for a transgender person look like?

Every individual is different, but for many of the trans folks I have worked with on this issue, they want to be treated like everyone else at work. They want to be valued for their productivity, and walk into their job every day or night with a sense that their gender identity is not going to be in a spotlight for their entire shift.

Isn’t that what every employee wants? To be valued for their work output and not their race, class, gender, ethnicity, or religion?

I think we all have more in common than we care to admit, and the issues around trans discrimination have been played out in the courts in the past. We just need to acknowledge bias and understand that educating ourselves and those around us is one of the best ways to make marked progress on the road to equality.

Interview: 10 Questions about Transgender Issues with Addison James Wicks

AJ Wix

AJ Wicks is a 32-year-old living in California.

“Not too shabby.”

He is an assistant principal at a non-profit special education school.

“It’s life changing, and the folks I work with are an incredible group of people.”

He also loves his friends, family and fiancé, Sophie, whom he’ll marry in August.

“The small group of queer people in my life has been imperative to my mental and emotional well being.”

But only recently did AJ finally feel true to himself.

That’s because AJ was raised female. He started taking testosterone and underwent top surgery earlier this year, a gender reassignment procedure that involves a subcutaneous mastectomy, male chest contouring, and areola resizing and repositioning.

“Some Trans people get surgery, others do not,” AJ says. “Either way, their gender is real and valid. Many surgeries are available for Trans men.”

The transition, the surgery, the new body in the mirror.

“It made me feel whole,” he says.

Shouldn’t everyone be allowed to pursue that feeling free from fear?

Cheers to your bravery, AJ. May others feel as empowered as you to be who they are.

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How would you describe your experience growing up girl in small town Ohio? 

Well, I was never a girl*. I was socialized as female, which is not my true gender. Overall, I had a rather happy childhood. The best times of my life come from memories of marching band. Nerd alert! Growing up in small town Ohio also instilled in me some strong values that I still identify with today: loyalty, hard work, independence, family, honesty, and grit.

Do you think it would be different to grow up now?

Yes, yes I do. I would have come out as Trans sooner. I can’t say I would come out as queer in high school; but I definitely would have transitioned in college.

How can we continue to make childhood easier for children who want to explore gender?

Exploring gender in childhood is easy. Children just are without judgment or fear. It is adults who are afraid.

AJ on his first day of taking testosterone.
AJ on his first day of taking testosterone.

Do you remember your first experience with someone being transgender?

My first experience was in college my sophomore year. I recall being fascinated and slightly jealous. I identified with them and felt intrigued.

What stopped you from getting the surgery before now?

Finances! $10,000 is no joke. Some insurances cover it, some don’t. Even if your insurance covers it that does not mean the surgeon within your network knows what they are doing. Frankly, the majority don’t. Hence me choosing Dr. Garramone out of Florida.

How do you define yourself now?

I identify as a Trans man.

Did you get your name officially changed? Why?

I sure did! Filed my paperwork in September 2015 and had my court date January 2016. I did keep my new first and middle name the same initials as my birth name. As I transition, it’s important to be seen and recognized as who I am; having my birth name and wrong gender on any ID is a red flag and puts me in danger — it essentially “outs” me.

OK so this North Carolina bathroom debate… What are your thoughts on the issue? 

People need to calm down. Trans people have been pissing next to you before transgender was even a part of your vocabulary.

What have been the most difficult aspects of having the surgery?

Recovery. It has been lonely. Physically and emotionally.

What about the most rewarding?

Seeing my chest! Feeling whole. Feeling 110% me.

Do you have any tips for readers who are thinking about getting surgery? 

Save your money. Workout beforehand and don’t be afraid to ask for help afterward.

Post op, day one.
Post op, day one.

What about tips for transgender allies who want to work for equal rights for transgender people. How can we help more?

Educate yourselves and befriend Trans people. Hear the story firsthand from them. Be gentle. The world is and can be a scary place for us. But we exist like no one you have ever known before.

Is there discrimination even in the greater LGBTQ community that should be addressed as well?

Oh yes. I’m afraid so. Some believe the fight ended with “gay” marriage but it is long from over. Those that have their “rights” say calm down, don’t rise up; but they feel safe and would rather not draw attention to the rest of the community that is still fighting.

AJ and his fiance, Sophie. <3
AJ and his fiance, Sophie. <3

Interview: 10 Questions about Transgender Issues with dancer, scholar and activist Michael J. Morris

Michael J. Morris. Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard.
Michael J. Morris. Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard.

The struggle for transgender equality has had top billing on all the news outlets the past few weeks, but the discussions these stories have spawned deserve much more than a soundbite or two. Thus, in order to help you (and I!) develop a deeper understanding and framework from which to discuss this human rights movement with our fellow humans, this week I’ll post a three-part series on different aspects of the transgender experience.

First up, Michael J. Morris guides us through an incredibly thoughtful exploration of the foundational questions, which are sometimes the most basic but most important concepts to understand.

It was Michael’s own personal process of understanding and exploring gender that led to their deep knowledge on the subject.

“I think it was Kate Bornstein, who I heard say, ‘You teach what you need to learn,’” Michael says. “I was drawn to transgender studies from my work on gender and sexuality in dance and performance because I needed to understand more about the ways in which we constitute, regulate and re-create our genders. … I came to this material first because I needed it in my own life.”

Today Michael teaches at Denison University about gender and sexuality in courses such as “Transgender Studies/ Transgender Issues” and “OnStage/OffStage: Dancing Gender and Sexuality.”

Beyond their scholarly work, Michael is a wonderful writer and most gracious human, making them perfect to kick off this series. Following, Michael discusses ways to respect all human experience, muses on how to respond to someone who says they “just don’t get it,” and answers questions about the transgender experience that you may have been shy to ask.

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What does transgender mean?

First, it’s important to recognize that language is dynamic and that it changes over time. Language also carries a complex function of being a primarily social phenomenon—in that words belong to no one person and take their meanings from shared use in different contexts—while also being very personal in that in many ways words are how we come to know and understand ourselves. That being said, the term “transgender” has been used with a variety of meanings in different contexts and communities from the 1970s onward. Some of these usages overlap; some even contradict each other. The term came into more widespread use in the 1990s, and it is continuing to evolve in its use and function. It often means different things to different people who use it to describe their own unique lived experiences.

In her book Transgender History, historian Susan Stryker defines transgender as “people who move away from the gender they were assigned at birth, people who cross over (trans-) the boundaries constructed by their culture to define and contain that gender … it is the movement across a socially imposed boundary away from an unchosen starting place—rather than any particular destination or mode of transition.” I find this to be a really effective and inclusive definition for what transgender means today.

There is not one way to be transgender, any more than there is one way to be a woman or one way to be a man. As with any gender, transgender is a personal identity negotiated
with-and-in a world of others with whom we must live, on whom we depend for various forms of recognition and support, and by whom we are identified. The ways in which we constitute our gender identities—trans or otherwise—are both personal and social, and that complexity works itself out in countless modes of living.

What does transgender not mean?

This is an interesting question. My first response is that transgender may not necessarily mean “transsexual”—someone who pursues medical reassignment from the sex they were assigned at birth to another sex. There are people who move away from the gender they were assigned at birth through changing their language—the words with which they identify themselves—through how they dress or present themselves, through the social roles they take on, through how they understand and enact their bodies, all without any reliance on medical intervention. That being said, there are also people who pursue medical procedures like hormone replacement therapy or surgeries as part of their gender transitions, and they may also identify as transgender. These identities—transgender and transsexual—may overlap, but historically these terms have referred to different ways of living gender variance.

Some people might be insistent that transgender does not mean cross-dressing or doing drag, and for many people who cross-dress or perform drag, this might be true. There are certainly people who perform drag or cross-dress who do not understand or identify themselves as transgender, who consider what they do to be a temporary performance apart from their abiding gendered sense of self. And this is very different from someone who understands and identifies their gender as different from the gender they were assigned at birth. However, historically, before the word “transgender” came into use, before there were medical reassignment options for those who would pursue medical reassignment, gender-variant people certainly engaged in practices we might now call drag or cross-dressing, and even into the 20 th and 21 st century, there continue to be overlapping and intersecting populations who engage in these practices that challenge, disrupt, or even parody the stability of gender identity. So, while none of these terms are fully identical in their functions, and while some people would adamantly argue that practices like drag and cross-dressing are not the same as being transgender, historically and even today, there are people who live in and through these various categories simultaneously, making it difficult to argue for their total discreetness.

From a more social justice perspective, I would say that transgender does not—must not—mean “less than human,” “disposable,” “unlovable,” “undesirable,” or “less real than someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.”

What is the difference between transgender and gay?

At their most basic, “transgender” refers to a gender identity and “gay” refers to a sexual orientation. In her book Redefining Realness, Janet Mock usefully writes, “Gender and gender identity, sex and sexuality, are spheres of self-discovery that overlap and relate but are not one and the same… Simply put, our sexual orientation has to do with whom we get into bed with, while our gender identity has to do with whom we get into bed as.” “Gay” usually refers to someone who sexually desires people who identify as the same gender—as in women who desire women and men who desire men. “Transgender” does not describe anything about who someone desires sexually. People who are transgender might desire people who are the same, similar, or a different gender from their own. We need to be able to understand gender and sexuality as distinct dimensions of our identities.

However, culturally, we confuse or collapse these aspects of personhood into one another constantly. When we perceive someone as “gay,” in the absence of witnessing any kind of same-sex physical affection or sexual behavior, it is often because they act in ways that deviate from the expectations we have for their gender. For example, we often perceive a man as gay based on the swish in his walk or the cadence or pitch of his voice, the clothes that he wears, or the way he gestures when he speaks. We might perceive a woman as a lesbian if her hair is cut short, if she wears baggy cargo shorts or flannel shirts, if she walks with a sturdy gate, and so on. These are stereotypes, I realize, but I offer them to make a point: all of these visual, verbal, movement, and sartorial cues have more to do with our expectations for someone’s gender than any demonstration of who they desire sexually. Culturally, specifically in the U.S., we tend to read gender variance—masculine women, feminine men, androgyny and gender ambiguity—as evidence of someone’s sexuality. There’s a history to these assumptions, a modern history in psychology and sexology that attempted to understand diverse sexualities as emerging from gender disorders, and we can see this carry over into our understandings of sexuality when we assign dominant or submissive sexual roles as masculine or feminine. But how we present ourselves, how we perform our genders, offers no direct evidence of someone’s sexuality. While we may read gender cues as indicative of sexuality, there is no necessary correspondence between the two, and we limit our understanding and imagination of both sexual diversity and gender diversity when we assume those correspondences.

‘Transgender’ does not describe anything about who someone desires sexually. People who are transgender might desire people who are the same, similar, or a different gender from their own. We need to be able to understand gender and sexuality as distinct dimensions of our identities.

Why all the focus now on the transgender community?

There are a lot of different perspectives and opinions on this. I think there are several reasons. First, and the reason for which I am most grateful, is that there are more transgender people moving into roles of cultural production, as writers, as scholars, as actors, as directors, as fashion icons, as artists, as programmers, as CEOs, etc. As trans people move into these roles, there are more opportunities for trans people to influence culture, to share their own stories, and to platform and amplify the stories of other trans people. I believe a lot of the focus on transgender people and communities is an effect of transgender people and allies operating in these positions as cultural producers.

Several years ago, Shine Louise Houston, a feminist pornographer and owner of Pink and White Productions said to me that she saw gender as the next cultural frontier. The 1970s and 1980s were so focused on the gay rights movement and expanding our understandings of sexuality and diversity in regards to sexual orientations and practices. Now we are having to face that gender is not as simple as we thought it was; gender is the next frontier. Houston’s work, for example, involves directing and producing feminist pornography that depicts a diverse range of bodies, genders, sexes, sexualities, and sexual practices, all determined by the performers themselves. By generating more representations of more genders in pornography, Houston creates space for more visibility for more genders and contributes to a culture that can become accustomed to and even excited by gender diversity.

Another reason for the saturation of transgender visibility in the media right now could relate to social justice and civil rights. In the United States, we are finally starting to see legal protection and equal rights for sexual minorities, specifically for lesbian and gay people. We are seeing increased attention being paid to the racial injustice in our country. Alongside and throughout these other civil rights movements, we are seeing increased attention to gender equality and the legal protection of transgender people. This push for civil rights is not without controversy or backlash—as we’re seeing with this current rise of “bathroom bills” being proposed and passed around the country—and I think particularly in this 24-hour- internet-news- cycle world, the struggle for civil rights provides compelling headlines.

Unfortunately, the focus on the transgender community is not always supportive, understanding, or life-affirming. Increased visibility can also mean increased surveillance—as when trans bodies are placed under heightened scrutiny when moving through airports and TSA—as well as increased violence. Trans people—specifically trans women of color—face disproportionate levels of vulnerability, harassment, and violence in our society. My view is that the existence of transgender people destabilizes some of the most calcified assumptions about gender and personhood in our society, and as transgender people become more visible, there are those who feel threatened by the existence of transgender people, and they retaliate. Judith Butler gave an excellent interview called “Why Do Men Kill Trans Women?” that addresses this aspect of increased visibility.

What are rude things to ask or say to a transgender person? For example, is it OK to ask a stranger if they are transgender?

My first response is that these are the kinds of things that we each have to work out with one another. There is no single guidebook. What is offensive to one person might not be offensive to another, and visa versa. I can speak for myself:

First, I would prefer if people didn’t presume my gender. Rather than “ma’am” or “sir,” “ladies and gentlemen,” “she” or “he,” try using gender-neutral language. You may not know how someone identifies based on visual or other social cues. I think it’s best not to presume.

I am not offended when someone asks how I identify, or if I identify as transgender. I would rather someone ask than assume. I identify as genderqueer or nonbinary, which I understand as a transgender identity. I’m open to sharing that with someone who asks, and talking about it if they don’t know what that means. That being said, I would also want people to consider: why do you need or want to know? Is knowing my gender necessary for our interaction? Do you need to know my gender in order to prepare my cappuccino, for instance? Do you need to know my gender in order to cash my check at the bank? I would be so much more comfortable in a world in which people interacted with me as a person rather than needing to figure out if I am transgender, a woman, or a man.

I realize I haven’t exactly answered your question.

I would advise not to ask people about their medical history unless you’re their doctor. Transgender people often get asked what kinds of procedures or surgeries they have undergone, and it’s really not anyone’s business. We don’t usually question one another about our medical histories; transgender people deserve that respect as well.

Although the language we use for transgender people has changed a lot over the last several decades, here are some good guidelines: refer to transgender people as people, such as “transgender people” or “transgender person,” or “people who are transgender” or “a person who is transgender.” The term “transgendered”—with the -ed—has been falling out of use the last few years. Avoid “transgenders” or “the transgenders” as a noun. And in general, it’s best to avoid the term “tranny.” It is a controversial term, and while there are some transgender people who identify with that term, I believe the vast majority find it to be deeply offensive and associate it with violent interactions.

Other than that, my advice would be to consider the assumptions and biases embedded in what you ask or say to a transgender person. For example, when I was hired at Denison University, an acquaintance asked me, “Wow, and they didn’t mind about your … how you dress?” The implication in the question was that they were surprised that the university hired me, seemingly because they assumed there would be some objection to my gender presentation. It felt like they were saying something like, “Wow, I would not have expected a university to hire someone like you.” The person didn’t intend harm, but that question felt rude to me. The actionable lesson from that interaction could be: think about the implications or assumptions that are communicated in what you ask or say to anyone, including transgender people.

How should someone ask a transgender individual which pronoun is preferred?

I think it would be amazing if we asked and gave our preferred pronouns in the same way we ask and give our names. One strategy would be: when you introduce yourself, offer your name and your preferred pronouns. Then when you ask someone else’s name, ask for their preferred pronouns as well. I think it’s really important that cisgender people—or people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth—recognize that they also have preferred pronouns; this is not something that’s special or unique to transgender people. Cis people often benefit from cultural assumptions about names and appearance, such that people usually—but not always—accurately assume the pronouns they prefer based of a variety of visual and social cues. That doesn’t change the fact that there is no necessary relationship between how someone looks or sounds and the pronouns they prefer. If we were all more consistent about offering our own preferred pronouns, it wouldn’t feel so unusual to ask about someone else’s.

Michael teaching a class at Denison University. Photo by Tim Black.
Michael teaching a class at Denison University. Photo by Tim Black.

We are all in a process of becoming our genders, whether that involves continuing to discover and make ourselves as the gender we were assigned at birth or whether we are engaged in a process of becoming another gender.

What other struggles — beyond discrimination, threats of violence and increased rates of suicide — do transgender people face?

This could be a really long list. Transgender people often face difficulty securing employment, accessing healthcare, and securing housing. Transgender people often face legal and financial hurdles when revising the gender markers on their documentation to reflect their gender identities, things like driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and passports. Transgender people often face rejection from their families and friends and social networks, leaving them with limited support networks. Even as we are seeing more media representation of transgender people, for a long time, the representations of trans people have been limited, and when they have been present in films and television shows, they have tended to be limited to the roles of sex workers, murder victims, or comedic devices. It’s difficult to live in a world in which the media teaches you that you might only ever be a joke, a prostitute, or killed.

What I find most difficult are the ways in which our world has been organized to regularly deny or fail to acknowledge the existence of trans people. This relates to the lack of media representation, but it also happens in more subtle, practical ways: as someone who identifies as nonbinary—meaning I do not identify as female or male—it’s difficult to fill out tax forms and medical forms and applications and forms on dating apps and legal documents that only list gender options M or F. It’s challenging to be in restaurants or public buildings that only have bathrooms marked “MEN” or “WOMEN,” and not know which I am supposed to use. It’s difficult to not only explain but defend my preferred pronouns—gender-neutral they/them/their—to people who are confused or feel inconvenienced by the words I prefer to use for myself. The assumption of gender as a binary is embedded in so many parts of our society, and each one of those sites and experiences can feel like a reminder that for many other people, people like me don’t exist.

What can an ally say to someone who says, “I just don’t get it” about being transgender?

Perhaps we don’t need to understand one another in order to respect and accept one another. In fact, perhaps the most radical form of coexistence would require us to accept and affirm those who are different from us, specifically when we do not understand. That’s my first response.

I would also offer to that person that each and every one of us are constantly making conscious and unconscious decisions about how we will continue to become who we want to be. We do this in terms of our professions, our occupations, our hobbies, our health, and our bodies. We could think of this as various forms of self-determination: we choose how we will cut our hair and what clothes we will wear; we make choices about exercise in order to support our health and also to shape our bodies in the ways we want them to be shaped; we take pharmaceuticals for any number of reasons that transform our bodies and our physical experiences at molecular and cellular levels; we choose what name we use with friends and colleagues, and sometimes we change our names to reflect changes in our lives, as when people change their names when they get married. Sometimes we seek our medical procedures in order to change our bodies and how we live as them. As we get older, our bodies change, and perhaps we make different choices in all these different areas. We all make choices of self-determination in all kinds of ways, and we do this with our genders as well.

All of us were assigned a gender at birth, a gender we did not choose, and we came into a world in which that gender carries expectations for how we will behave, how we will dress, how we will relate to others, the social roles we might occupy, the opportunities that will or will not become available to us, and so on. All of us feel various degrees of comfort and discomfort in those expectations. I have met very few people who have never felt any friction or frustration with what was expected of them as a girl or woman or as a boy or man. And yet many people find ways to be at ease within the gendered category to which they were assigned. Perhaps they come to identify with those gendered expectations and come to know themselves through those associated roles and behaviors. Or perhaps they find ways to push against, resist, or subvert the expectations of the gender they were assigned: much of the feminist movement has been shaped by people who identify as women challenging what it means to be a woman in our society. Transgender people are people who—in different ways and for diverse reasons—do not feel like they can become who they desire to be within the gender category they were assigned at birth, and they move away from that assignment towards another version of being and becoming themselves. When we understand transgender experiences on this continuum—the continuum on which all of us are just trying to find a place for ourselves in the world—then maybe it can be a little easier to “get it.”

I would be so much more comfortable in a world in which people interacted with me as a person rather than needing to figure out if I am transgender, a woman, or a man.

What are some solutions or practical changes that can be made to traditional society that will help encourage acceptance and understanding of the transgender community?

In December 2014, Leelah Alcorn, a trans teenager in Ohio, posted a suicide note to Tumblr and then committed suicide. I consider every suicide to be an indictment of society to some degree, a society that did not or could not meet the needs of a life that could no longer imagine going on living. Alcorn ended her note with the phrase, “Fix society. Please.” At the time, I wrote this list of suggestions as to how we might begin to fix society, things that each of us could do to examine ourselves within our daily lives. They continue to be relevant when I contemplate this question:

  • Question the certainty of your own gender, where it comes from, and why you believe it to be yourself.
  • Engage the possibility that all genders are processes and approximations that never fully account for all that a person is or might become.
  • Let the world—others and yourself—change; if we all accept that we are all transitioning in any number of ways, we might be more accepting and caring towards people who are trans*.
  • Be willing to experiment with language, to alter your own habits in order to create a space in language for others for whom there have not been words.
  • Let your desire be experimental; do not assume you know who you might love or what you might desire.
  • Do not assume that how you practice your own gender, language, or desire is innocent; be willing to challenge what has felt true if doing so would allow for more livability for others.
  • Grieve losses that might not otherwise be grieved.
  • Be caring, thoughtful, and loving, even if you do not understand (advice from Justin Vivian Bond.)
  • Do not assume you understand, and still be caring, thoughtful, and loving.

What are some of the misperceptions about transgender people that are commonly portrayed in pop culture?

Julia Serano has written critically about media representations of transgender people in her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, particularly two stereotypes that occur in a lot of different films: the deceptive transsexual and the pathetic transsexual. On the one hand, transgender people are represented as deceiving other people, as if they owe other people a disclosure of their gender history. On the other hand, transgender people are often represented as pathetic, as “failing” to fully “pass” as the gender with which they identify.
The misperception of transgender people as deceptive is not only inaccurate, it creates the conditions for violence: if the world believes that transgender people owe them the disclosure of their gender history, then they may feel justified in acting out violently when that history is not given. Due to any number of factors, not the least of which are the possibilities of violence or duress, transgender people face the pressure to disclose their gender history within a range of contexts, particularly within intimate relationships, but also within broader social settings in which a public may ask or demand to know: are you a woman or a man? Transgender people do not owe anyone the disclosure of their gender history, and yet it is expected of them. I think that expectation depends on the assumption that a person’s gender presentation corresponds to a specific anatomy or gender assignment at birth, which is not the case. It’s an assumption that often proceeds from a heteronormative anxiety: for instance, if a straight man finds a woman attractive, and then finds out that she is transgender, his sexuality may take on complexity that he did not anticipate. He may believe that he is owed her disclosure in order to maintain the stability of his heterosexuality, a stability that may be in question if he finds that he has been attracted to someone who is transgender. This would be his anxiety, his problem, his discovery about himself; it is not a transgender person’s job to confirm anyone’s assumptions about themselves or the world, which seems to be the implication when disclosure is demanded.

 

Comedian Louis C.K. recently presented a brilliant sketch that addresses this assumption on Horace and Pete, in which a straight man anxiously questions a woman he’s just slept with as to whether or not she is trans. It is possible that similar scenes might unfold between lesbian transgender women and cisgender women, or between transgender men and cisgender men or women. In these negotiations of attraction and sexual orientation, a transgender person might be perceived as deceptive if they do not immediately disclose that they are trans, when in fact, such a disclosure only becomes necessary if a prospective partner proceeds on the assumption that the person with whom they are engaging is not transgender.

Of course, romantic or sexual intimacy is not the only situation in which a transgender person might be expected to disclose that they are trans. When friends or coworkers are informed that someone they know is transgender, perhaps they might also feel as if they were deceived. Because a person’s gender history or anatomy may not be legible from their appearance alone, people may not necessarily realize that someone they know or meet is transgender; however, it is absolutely necessary to remember that just because we might have assumed that someone is not transgender, that does not mean that person deceived us. Our assumption was in error.

The misperception of transgender people as pathetic is just as damaging. It depends on the assumption that there right and wrong ways to be or appear as a man or a woman, and that if a transgender person does not conform to or achieve those expectations, then they are failing in some way. In these representations, we are shown transgender people—usually transgender women—struggling to be perceived as the gender with which they identify—struggling to “pass” as cisgender. We might be shown a transgender woman struggling to walk in high heels, for example, or perhaps her makeup is not right, or perhaps her voice or the size of her hands or her broad shoulders “give her away” as “not really a woman.” These representations reinforce the beliefs that there are limited ways to be a woman, or that there are physical characteristics that invalidate a trans woman’s gender. One way we are seeing these assumptions shift is the hashtag #TransIsBeautiful launched by actress and producer Laverne Cox. With this hashtag, trans people across social media platforms are sharing images of themselves and others, proliferating diverse media representations of trans people, and affirming that beauty can take many, many forms. I find this hashtag really life-affirming because it claims that those features that make someone identifiable as transgender does not mark them as pathetic or failed; rather, they add to the possibilities of what it can mean to be beautiful as a woman, as a man, or as someone who identifies outside the binary.

It is absolutely necessary to remember that just because we might have assumed that someone is not transgender, that does not mean that person deceived us. Our assumption was in error.

Are there any examples of the transgender community in pop culture that we can reference or look to as examples of discussing or portraying the transgender community with thoughtfulness, equality and understanding?

Definitely! I am a big fan of the web-series Her Story on YouTube, written by Jen Richards and Laura Zak, directed by Sydney Freeland, and staring Richards, Zak, and Angelica Ross. This show is written, directed, and performed by trans people, and offers an accurate, thoughtful representation of trans people’s lives. I’m also an avid viewer of Caitlyn Jenner’s reality docu-series I Am Cait. Jenner has been a media sensation and something of a controversial figure, but what I love about this show is that in its two seasons, it features a range of transgender people living their lives, sharing their perspectives, learning from each other, and building a community together. It’s not without its flaws; it definitely dramatizes conflict and spectacle like most reality television shows, and it tends to idealize luxury and socio-economic privilege. However, it is the only show I can watch week after week that puts transgender people living their lives together at the focal point of a television show. I also recommend the Amazon series Transparent, created by Jil Soloway and starring Jeffrey Tambor. Transparent not only employs a historically unprecedented number of trans people—as both cast and crew—it also tells stories that do not often get told, specifically about transitioning later in life, aging, and navigating family and community. And most people have probably already seen Orange Is The New Black, but I think the show’s depiction of the character Sophia, played by Laverne Cox, is a really responsible representation of a transgender character in a show that focuses almost entirely on the lives of women.

I highly recommend Janet Mock’s New York Times bestselling memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. It is a remarkably honest, insightful, and accessible account of her own life in her own words. I also recommend Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, and Jennifer Finney Boylan’s memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. I also highly recommend Sam Feder’s documentary film Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger, in which we get to know this remarkable trailblazer in this transgender community. I think first-person accounts, autobiographies, and memoirs by transgender people are so necessary and vital. They give us an opportunity to know someone who is different from us in their own words at an intimate scale.

I recommend Susan Stryker’s Transgender History to everyone. Although Stryker is an academic scholar, this book is written for a general audience. I think if more people understood the history of gender variance and the emergence of identities like “transgender,” we might experience more understanding and respect.

Then there are countless online resources; here are a few of my favorites:

“As We Are: Zackary Drucker and Hari Nef on getting beyond the gender binary” by Caroline Pham for GOOD Magazine.

“Transgender in the Mainstream,” a panel on transgender visibility in the art world at Art Basel, featuring Juliana Huxtable, Kimberly Drew, Gordon Hall, and David J. Getsy.

“Laverne Cox gives us life advice + talks purses and patriarchy” by Gabrielle Korn for Nylon Magazine.

“bell hooks and Laverne Cox in a Public Dialogue at The New School,” a remarkable public conversation between two brilliant public intellectual women of color.

Above all, I would suggest that the best sources for representing transgender people are those that are made by or with transgender people.

Essay: What Lemonade highlights about privacy

The most shocking thing about Beyonce’s new album “Lemonade” wasn’t the roasting of her husband Jay-Z for cheating — it’s that she shared her stories about it at all.

Beyonce is notoriously private, and she has high expectations of the public’s respect for it. Look no further than the time her publicist tried to get unflattering images from her performance at the 2013 Super Bowl wiped from the Internet. The whole Internet. She might as well ask lemons to stop being yellow.

Thus, it initially seemed strange that “Lemonade” would be such a visceral skewering of what listeners can only assume are her husband’s infidelities. The famous pair didn’t so much as blink when the hell fire of the almighty entertainment media came raining down on them after the Solange elevator drama, which made your family’s Thanksgiving look like a gathering of the Waltons. That’s stone cold. Talking about the infidelity then, assuming that’s what the fight was about, would have really been brave.

But upon further review, “Lemonade” is art imitating life. While we think that social media has opened up our lives to becoming one giant overshare, the opposite is true.

We are the most guarded and private that we have been in decades.

“Lemonade” is just a fabulously large scale version of what we all do on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat every day. We pick and choose our storyline. We decide what people see of us and structure it according to our most perfectly envisioned self, untagging unattractive photos and Valencia-ing the shit out of our breakfasts.

Even our most vulnerable posts have been filtered by the wall of time and the energy and editing it takes to type up our emotions, even at their most intense. Nothing is really raw, open, festering on these channels because it’s not happening in person or in real time. The wounds can scar a bit and we have some space to pull our shit together.

And we like it this way. Our online presence offers us control in a world of chaos. That is a completely warranted desire. Plus, with all the stories of public shaming, meme embarrassment, jail time, and job loss because of things people have posted on social media, this unconscious push for a private public life is a survivalist instinct as well.

But what effect does this have on our psychology in relationships with other humans?

It’s no coincidence that use of the word “awkward” has exploded since 2004 A.F. (After Facebook).

“Awkward” basically applies to anything that happens that doesn’t align with a shiny, well-crafted social media identity, when before, being “awkward” was just what happened when you interacted with someone else. It was bound to be messy because it was real. So which came first: The awkward or the Facebook?

More importantly, what critical conversations are we missing out on when we are afraid to be open to sharing our opinions or changing our minds publicly in the moment?

What do we not communicate because we’re constantly on display and we think we’ve shown enough? What do we hold back from others and ultimately ourselves because we feel the pressure of an entitled public, whatever its scale — from millions of fans to hundreds of friends?

It feels as if we’re slowly breeding a culture that calls itself awkward to seem “human” but expects perfection more than ever. And everyone knows no one can be perfect. Not even Queen B.

Inspo: It’s a sign

Recently I’ve been seeing signs everywhere that encourage recycling. I don’t know if it’s because that’s a big priority in Chicago or if my mind is doing that synapsey fiery thing where you think about something or learn about something new and then you start seeing it everywhere. There’s a name for that: The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

Recycling, obviously, is nothing new, but I, like most people, glaze over any three-arrow triangle or mention of “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” We’ve just seen it too much.

So copywriters have to get creative.

TJ MAXX

The bottom says, “Thanks for recycling, maxxinista. We love that you love the planet.” Cute. I definitely put that bag in my recycle bin because I felt congratulated for being a caring person, even though I hadn’t done anything caring yet. All I did was buy $4 perfume.

There’s also this:

Jewel Osco Bench

While this copy is boring, I think its placement is really smart. This bench sits right inside the revolving doors of my neighborhood grocery store. Shoppers pass it every time they leave. And as they’re leaving, guess what they’re carrying? A handful of grocery bags that are recyclable and reusable. The sign might as well say, “Hey jackass! Don’t just throw those out. K?”

These items reminded me of this old Pecha Kucha talk about how signs with copy that demonstrate empathy or encourage empathy are much more effective and helpful.

For example, this hand dryer sign makes me suck it up and take the five extra seconds to keep a bundle of paper towels out of a landfill.

hand dryers

“No, we don’t like them either, but they are the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly choice.”

I love when copywriters can use their powers for good. Here’s the talk:

And, because it’s Saturday and you’ve got time, here’s a greatTed Talk version of the same idea.

Obviously, long haired freaky people, need not apply. Ehhh? (Sorry, Mr. Godin. It was too easy.)

Essay: On moving to Chicago

How many counties does Ohio have?

88.

How do I know this easily Google-able fact? Thanks for asking.

Because ice cream.

Or, more specifically, because of a great idea that wasn’t mine.

…………

Fourth grade was a pretty important time for the development of my personhood. I’ve arrived at this fact by way of life reviews instigated mostly by terrible hangovers that implore me to question nearly every decision I have ever made.

First, there was my first F. I don’t remember what test it was. Or if I studied or why I failed. What I remember was feeling like F stood for “Should be Flogged” and I dragged myself home, terrified to tell my mom.

On her lap I wailed, while she pet my head and cradled me like the baby I was. Her love was constant, she said, no matter what — a statement that I would voraciously put to the test daily for the next 10 years and that I would earmark as my go-to story in Mother’s Day cards for the 10 after that.

Then there was the day I forgot my homework and lied about it. I was so afraid of doing something wrong, that I often did wrong things. We were supposed to bring in something green for show and tell and I forgot about it, presumably preoccupied with making up a pirate scenario to regale my fellow riders with on the bus home. My friend Angie also forgot something green.

When the teacher asked us to hold up what we brought, I surreptitiously pulled a green crayon from my desk and waved it high as Angie looked at me, empty-handed and disappointed. I felt more shame than if I had been scolded by the teacher for my incompetence.

You’ll want to remember Angie, as she is the heart-of-gold protagonist on the losing end of my ice cream story, too.

…………

Fourth grade again. This time I’ve completed the assignment.

Our task: Write an essay about why a certain flavor of ice cream should be the state dessert of Ohio. The flavor (and this part is key) can be of your own creation if you see it fit for the future of our geographical sweet tooth.

Duh. Strawberry. The cute lil’ berry grows in Ohio, not to mention it’s, like, a king among fruits. It’s red, like our flag and the Buckeyes’ football jerseys. And, finally, strawberry ice cream is the most interesting of the classics. Just like Ohio.

I was not alone in this conclusion. Nearly half the class also picked Strawberry.

One by one we stood in front of class and read our essays. The teacher wrote on the blackboard each flavor that was tapped. Then the class voted for which flavor should remain in the contest.

It was quickly apparent to me that this was a flawed system; it meant everyone who wrote about Strawberry just voted for Strawberry because it was theirs. The system was rigged. How could the teacher not see that?

In hindsight she probably did see it but didn’t give a shit. She just needed to make sure we wrote our essays. It was just another day for her. I wonder what she did that evening in the hours after this vote. Journaled about her day? Washed her panty hose in the sink? Do teachers know they are forever in the most banal and most important childhood memories of little people soon to be voting citizens with babies and rent and therapists of their own?

So Strawberry obviously made it to the top two flavors. The next vote was among all of us who had written about Strawberry. We were to pick the person whose essay best described why Strawberry should win.

I won.

And my Strawberry sales pitch was to go up against the underdog, a new flavor all its own, a moment of fourth grade creative greatness! Coming up fast behind Jackie in Strawberry was none other than Angie in 88 Special.

That’s right. 88 Special. Named after the 88 counties of the state. Each county was to be researched and given a flavor profile that represented it. For example, Marion, where we lived, would be represented by popcorn since we were home to some factories and a festival that celebrated the snack.

How fun! How imaginative! How cool is that name!

I loved 88 Special. I wanted to vote for it and felt angry that Strawberry would probably win because there were more of us who picked the stupid boring flavor in the first place. I felt angry and confused that I still wanted to vote for Strawberry because I wanted to win even though I thought 88 Special was such a better idea.

I was angry that originality seemed set up for failure — and that this was something I was picking up on outside the classroom, too.

I voted for Strawberry.

Strawberry won.

Which meant I won, which meant I got a take-home assignment to mail the essay to some statewide contest. Everyone seemed so excited, even Angie, because, like I said, she was a nice girl and was my friend.

I now held in my sticky little hands the hopes and dreams of my fourth grade class. My essay was the ticket to naming a state something. Our class could have eternal elementary school fame! Don’t blow it, Mantey!

I didn’t mail the essay. I “lost” the address. I put it off and out of my mind. All of this was an obvious act of procrastination motivated by unresolved anger and guilt. I felt like I didn’t win fairly.

The teacher asked me about it a few months later. Had I ever heard back from the ice cream picking committee?

“No,” I say. “It’s weird. You’d think everyone would like Strawberry.”

…………

I tell my partner this story as we slowly wake up one recent Sunday morning. I’m not sure why I’m thinking of it, other than the fact that I just moved to Illinois and Ohio state facts are flying through my brain in one last plea that I never leave. It is as if Ohio can’t bear to let me go so it’s appealing to my intellectual side, realizing it can no longer win on emotion alone.

State bird: Cardinal.

State nut: Buckeye.

State county count: 88.

State food: Oh my god, that one time in fourth grade…

It’s a matter of divinity how the brain can rabbit hole you into certain memories, like it’s handing you a mirror because you’ve got something in your teeth, saying you can’t see it, but you need to deal with it.

“88 Special?” my partner says after I’m done. “No. What would that even taste like? It’s too much. You deserved to win.”

Wait.

He has a point.

I had never thought about it like that before. And snap: My perspective on that story, on my little unknowing self, on my narrative of my life all shift a small percentage point.

Then I realize that’s why Ohio has been bugging my brain. I’m filing away these final facts, the easy ones memorized in grade school, the ones at the bottom of the drawer. I’m rounding out a tidying of things I know about that place before I close the box on it and slide the box under my bed — close enough to the edge to be out of sight but easy to find and hold in case things get dark.

Because for me, home is now and will always be a person. From the heart of Ohio to this heart of his, I roam but am not lost.

Story: A Loquacious Word Therapist’s Bar Convo

Have you ever seen a word cry? Its whole damn body shakes. And, at least if it’s a longer word, like, jesus, “Malfeasance,” — that tattletale — it takes forever for the last letter to get the word — ha, ‘get the word’ that’s funny — that the rest of the word is crying, so nearly all the billable hour is spent watching the pain drown through, like a crowd wave at a baseball game.

Trust me, being a therapist for words is not glamorous. It’s mostly just embarrassing. What babies…  or idiots.

Nugget is finally getting some traction, “nugget of time,” “nugget of an idea,” and he bought a Ferrari. Dude’s a school cafeteria cook. It’s like he’s making up for his nugget of a something else, you know what I’m saying?

His cousin Yolk is a piece of work too. Oh, feeling ever so irrelevant after the oxen died off. Now he spends his time desperately trying to convince hipster bakery owners to name their shops after him, which is a terrible idea when you’re not the least bit sexy to say. Yolk. It’s like gagging on a swab of cotton that’s been sitting in the back of the medicine cabinet for a few years, caked in dust and flakes of dead skin.

Aw, no, I’m being cruel. It’s nice to see when a word makes a comeback… But yeah watching them fall is glorious. Nothing better. No one crashes and burns like a new word. Fleek is about to be on fire and I’m going to make that cash of hers mine if a reality show deal doesn’t get to her first.

And couples therapy is a cesspool of ridiculousness and oversensitivity, because leave it to a word to be ultra specific about the meaning of things. No gray area allowed. Curd and Smear are in an endless fight because Curd just can not get over the fact that Smear used to date Phlegm and they’re still Facebook friends.

But the saddest mother fucker I’ve ever met is Bulbous. Ball. Bus. Balllllbussss. Ball puss. Man, he knows he’s disgusting. Take care of yourself, you know? It’s like. It’s like he’s always right on the tip of something. But he just sits there, waiting for life to happen to him. That’s no way to live. You gotta define yourself, old man!

Hey, what do you think about one more round? It’s on me. Barkeep! Barkeep. Now that’s a good word. You can’t touch a classic. Yeah, hey, can you get us two more pints of this stuff.  I’ve got a tab.

The name’s Moist.

Inspo: One hell of a sentence, advice for writers, and sweet opening credit art

Essays by Charles D’Ambrosio.

You should never judge a book by its cover.

But always judge a bookstore by its staff suggestions.

Just a block from my new place in Chicago is a bookstore with an impeccable recommendation section, and I recently picked up writer Charles D’Ambrosio’s book of essays “Loitering” and am smitten with his writing style and ability to build an essay. He’s a modern master of the form who digs on Susan Sontag and Edward Abbey. I love that the title of the book describes what he thinks essays are… loitering. Hanging out around an idea. No conclusion necessary.

Loitering cover

I *do* think the book cover is cool. Whatever, Red Bull. Words give you wings. Sometimes they’re broken…

A sampling of his style, for your viewing. Then get your own copy. Mine’s taken.

Loitering

Damn. That is a sentence.

Advice for writers by way of Andrew Solomon and, of course, Rilke.

This article, which is an oldie but a goodie, speaks for itself, but here’s an excellent taste.

“The worst mistake anyone can make is to perceive anyone else as lesser. The deeper you look into other souls—and writing is primarily an exercise in doing just that—the clearer people’s inherent dignity becomes. … Never forget that the truest luxury is imagination, and that being a writer gives you the leeway to exploit all of the imagination’s curious intricacies, to be what you were, what you are, what you will be, and what everyone else is or was or will be, too.”

I like his thoughts on being an oldie but a goodie oneself. Age isn’t a restriction, and we can learn a lot from one another, young and old.

I also felt this way, though not so thoughtfully, after listening to this NPR article about how Millennials interact with the fantastically conceived Taco Bell brand via social media but they’re still not buying more tacos and as a Millennial I’m just kind of over being a Millennial and I know all of our lives are hard no matter what age we are and we all just want to see horses turn into unicorns and wow that must mean being a Millennial doesn’t really matter anymore because we’re getting old and there is fresh new blood in the water and it smells like tacos and who even am I anymore?

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 2.30.41 PM
Shhhhhhhh…..

Opening credit art.

Ever since Mad Men’s iconic opening sequence, TV series have been outdoing themselves to turn this pivotal piece of production into an artpiece. (Or they’re just not doing an opening credit sequence, perhaps because they’re intimidated or it just feels right for the series or they’re using it as a defense against encroaching commercial time restraints. “Here’s the director. IMDB the rest of this shit, people.”)

The best (read: my favorite) ones are, like Mad Men, openings that don’t rely on the obvious visual styles and/or references of their corresponding TV show’s subject matter. That could go terribly wrong though, right? Because it could look so obviously like they were trying to make it different from what the subject matter is and in the age of Reddit and message boards and bloggers like me, just a whiff of desperation can take you off the air. But if done well it sets the tone and gets the viewer excited or intrigued every time they see it. Here are two of my new (to me) favorites.

Finally, recent title holder in best opening credits, movie edition = Deadpool. Writers: 1.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.41.21 AM

Essay: We can’t all be beautiful

I’ll never forget the first time a boy called me beautiful.

It was at a middle school dance, that magical time when you feel like it’s 10 p.m. but really it’s, like, 2 p.m. and your mom’s pulling up in a mini van.

His name was Brandon. He smelled of Meijer cologne.

The dark gym smelled of farts and Pine Sol.

Savage Garden spoke of forever love on a mountain. (Or a sea. Or the sky. Some landscapey and super romantic reference point that veers on tragic and has killed more people than it has hoisted to passion.)

He told me he thought I was beautiful and I immediately felt disappointed. Why? Isn’t this what every eighth grader longs for? For someone to tell you you’re above average at something.

Anything.

Eh. I knew it wasn’t true. And I was learning to be OK with that.

What would have maybe meant more would have been something like, “Girl, I love the way your snaggle-tooth feels on my lower lip when we kiss.”

OK, that veers on Negging territory, but you get the idea. It would have meant more if it was a statement that embraced my flaws.

I think the real beauty movement deserves a more complex discussion. Why do we all need to be beautiful?

For example, at a restaurant the other week, I went to the restroom and saw this in place of a mirror.

 

"Look Behind You"
“Look Behind You”

Mirror Back

My immediate reaction?

Fuck.

Off.

If I want to look in the mirror, I should be able to look in the mirror without being called out for caring about my appearance.

Girl just wants to look snaggletoof-fly while slurpin’ on some pho.

This mirror shit is counterproductive.

It puts more of an emphasis, more value on beauty by implying that we all should be beautiful—that physical beauty is something we all deserve and have to have to be valuable women. Physical beauty is not a human right. And really it’s not even important, or at least it shouldn’t be, but this kind of thing keeps that perceived value in the forefront of our cultural conversation, even if its intentions are the opposite.

Why do we have to be beautiful? Why is that something we even need to say if we don’t care about it? And if we do care about it, wouldn’t it be more empowering to just say that?

It’s sort of like how in 8th grade I talked about how I didn’t like or care or even think about Brandon, geeze.

BUT ALL I WANTED WAS FOR BRANDON TO LOOK AT ME. DON’T YOU SMELL MY BONNE BELL LIPGLOSS, BRANDON? IT’S PASSION FRUIT.

This sort of beauty movement is predominantly directed at girls and women. Men and boys are not treated with the same sort of preciousness about their feelings in regards to their physical appearance.

Instead, we usually tell them their self-worth is rooted in who they can attract with their charm.

Here’s the “mirror” in that same restaurant’s men’s restroom.

Men's Mirror

Inspo: Writer’s Block Power Moves

Ha. Just kidding. Here are more distractions.

Make believe that’s real af.

Do you want to write a sci-fi novel or the next great dystopian drama where the human race as we know it is being quickly eradicated for a sharper, sexier homo sapien?

Hot Homo
Hot homo.

 

Bigger Faster Stronger
Bigger. Faster. Stronger.

Sure, me too. Here are some excellent research pieces for you.


This video is fascinating (that Ted Talk tag is no lie) and it’s apropos considering this recent StarTalk podcast about the ethics of genomic manipulation and study. What’s StarTalk? Only your most regular dose of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Eugene Mirman, NDT’s co-host of Bob’s Burgers fame who references Star Trek a lot and makes you feel not so stupid. Thanks, Gene(s)!

 

Some feel-good-flavored fuck yous.


So into this band right now. Perfect for gross gray days that should be ready made for play.

What a sound.

Taste all the Radkey sludge on Spotify.

 

And a swift kick in the ass.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

A colleague let me borrow this book. Colleague is such a better word than co-worker. It implies office friendship, no? And one must have an office friendship to recognize the deep seated self-hatred in one another for not yet completing that one creative project you always dreamed of.

It’s all about how to defeat Resistance, which is that internal not-doing that evolves from so many places and defeats so many of our desires.

Resistance 1

Resistance 2

 

Employers sometimes use up their best creative people by giving them too much to do, counting on them for too many things, asking them to solve too many problems. That’s often the case, but it’s important to think about how we let ourselves get used up, too… how that contributes to our personal Resistance… and why we do it.