Category Archives: art

My 2016 Books.

At the end of 2015, I observed that I’d only read ten books for the year, including graphic novels—a record low number since I’ve been keeping a books diary. I had been reading, a lot, but it had mostly been blogs, magazine articles, and single issues of comic books. I resolved to pick up the pace in 2016.

Mission accomplished. I read 26 books in the year just concluded, including graphic novels (but only eight graphic novels, so it’s a pretty substantive list).

The predominant takeaway for the year’s reading is that 2016 was the year I discovered The Expanse. After watching the terrific first season of the television show, I began reading the James S.A. Corey novels on which it’s based. I read the first four, as well as two of the ancillary novellas and a short story also set in that world.

I highly recommend the series to people who enjoy hard science fiction, even though technically I wouldn’t say that’s what The Expanse is. The Expanse is sort of “science fiction science fiction”; the series begins two centuries in the future in a populated solar system that’s a fair extrapolation from the technology we have today—until a particular thing happens that violates physics as we understand it. You’ll know it when it happens, and it’s a thing that will continue to influence the story, but the human characters and institutions react and adapt to that thing as they would in a hard-science fiction universe. It’s all very relatable, and super fun to read.

Each year I try to read a few literary classics that I’d never gotten around to. This year, that project led me to read Dracula, The Wind In The Willows, and Little Women.

I was surprised and delighted by how modern Dracula seems. It’s an epistolary novel, consisting of letters between Jonathan Harker and his fiancée Mina, Dr. Van Helsing and his colleagues, etc. But the story’s also told via newspaper stories and diary entries. It’s a common storytelling technique today; I’d had no idea authors were using it in the nineteenth century.

I liked The Wind In The Willows, that classic of English children’s literature, but now that I’ve read it, I’m astounded that any children could enjoy it. It’s almost entirely devoid of action, and spends most of its pages exhaustively describing Mole and Rat’s picnics and boating excursions.

If Dracula seemed like fashion-forward writing for the Victorian era, Little Women is entirely of its time. I’m glad I read it, and I took some pleasure from the story (that Jo is a real firecracker!), but Twain and Poe were taking much bigger chances, and stretching the bounds of literature. Louisa May Alcott’s writing is safe. I’ve heard she and Twain hated each other’s writing, and I’m not a bit surprised.

In addition to those literary classics, I also read three classics of science fiction: Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp, The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold, and Neuromancer by William Gibson. Yes, I had never read Neuromancer. I can’t read everything within 30 years of when it comes out; give me a break.

Lest Darkness Fall is about a Latin-speaking archeologist who slips back in time to the era of the late Roman Empire, and begins inventing modern tools centuries ahead of their due dates (Arabic numerals, including “0”; the printing press; telescopes) to try to prevent the Fall. I love a good alternate history story, but here’s the thing: de Camp wrote Lest Darkness Fall in the mid-1930s, so reading the book today is like a form of time travel for me as well as the protagonist, because his “present-day” perspective, while much more enlightened than that of the Romans and Goths he meets, still embodies many racist and sexist assumptions that are cringe-worthy today. Which is, for me, another reason to read it. I love to see how the wheel keeps turning: up-to-date becomes old-fashioned in such a short span of time. Reading is itself a sort of time travel.

I had a similar experience reading The Man Who Folded Himself. I also found it to be profoundly creepy, and I’ll say no more about it.

Two short story collections I read in 2016 were F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Complete Pat Hobby Stories and Aimee Bender’s The Girl In The Flammable Skirt. I knew about failed, skanky 1930s screenwriter Pat Hobby because of an adaptation of the stories starring Christopher Lloyd that I caught on PBS a few years ago. I love Fitzgerald, and I love stories of the golden age of the silver screen, so it was a no-brainer that eventually I’d absorb this volume. It’s a stitch! The stories are sort of a prose version of the “cringe comedy” seen in TV shows like The Office. Although the style is somewhat dated, I often found myself laughing out loud.

My partner recommended the Aimee Bender book to me; it’s part of her library. The absurdist stories reminded me of those of the late Amanda Davis in her collection, Circling The Drain. According to Google, I’m not the first person to make that comparison. Davis was funnier, though, and at times Bender gets just a little too fey for my tastes.

I closed out the year (more or less) with my annual reread of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I love it—we all know the story, but Dickens’s prose is a joy that’s lost in most TV and movie adaptations. It’s still the only Dickens book I’ve ever read. I resolve to read Bleak House in 2017.

I further resolve to read more books by and about Charles Darwin in 2017.

Not included in the list below, because I spent all of June reading it and am still only a third of the way through it, is Steven Pinker’s doorstop, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. My final literary resolution for 2017 is to finish reading this fascinating, if voluminous, volume.

For those who take an interest in such things: 14 of the 26 books on this 2016 list were read on my iPad using the Kindle app.

==========

January

  1. From Personal Ads to Cloning Labs; More Science Cartoons From Sidney Harris by Sidney Harris
  2. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  3. Justice League Volume 4: The Grid by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, & Joe Prado.
  4. Justice League Volume 5: Forever Heroes by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke, and Rod Reis.

February

  1. Forever Evil: Blight by J.M. DeMatteis, Ray Fawkes, Mikel Janin, Fernando Blanco, Francis Portela, & Vicente Cifuentes.

March

  1. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.

April

  1. Dracula by Bram Stoker.

May

  1. Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp.
  2. Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion by Brian Buccellato, Scott Hepburn, Patrick Zircher, and André Coelhou.
  3. The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

July

  1. Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey.
  2. American Vampire Vol. 5 by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Dustin Nguyen.
  3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

August

  1. [Citation Needed] 2: The Needening: More of The Best of Wikipedia’s Worst Writing by Josh Fruhlinger & Conor Lastowka.

September

  1. Gods of Risk: An Expanse Novella by James S.A. Corey.
  2. Ame-Comi Girls Vol. 3: Earth In Crisis by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Eduardo Francisco, et al.
  3. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling et al.

October

  1. The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold.

November

  1. Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey.
  2. The Complete Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  3. The Churn by James S.A. Corey.

December

  1. Justice League Volume 6: Throne of Atlantis by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Paul Pelletier, and Tony S. Daniel.
  2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
  3. Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell by Paul Dini and Joe Quinones.
  4. The Girl In The Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender.
  5. Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey.

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My 2016 Movies.

I saw 80 movies in 2016.

Movies of every sort can be viewed in all manner of ways now. The list below includes new releases in the cinema, classics on DVD or Blu-Ray, public domain oldies on YouTube. Personally owned films. Titles streamed on Netflix. I watched the Charlton Heston adventure, Secret of the Incas, via YouTube, on my iPad, for a few minutes at a time each night while falling asleep.

In an easy walk, the worst movie I saw in 2016 was Independence Day: Resurgence. Everyone associated with this movie, from director Roland Emmerich, to the cast, to the baker who supplied bagels to the craft services table, deserves to be chased out of Hollywood with torches and pitchforks.

The best movie I saw isn’t as easy to choose. Limiting myself to 2016 movies, I’ll offer the caveat that I didn’t see too many of them. My film diet mainly consists of Netflix discs and streaming experiences; my partner and I don’t get out to the cinema as often as we’d like. We do sometimes see recent releases once they’ve hit Redbox.

All that stipulated, Arrival was probably the best of the thirteen 2016 movies we slogged out to the cinema to see. Amy Adams is a personal favorite actor, and I just love science fiction that’s smartly written, eschews tedious chase or fight scenes, and isn’t afraid to present big ideas without spoon-feeding them to its audience. Arrival provided all of this, and it’s the one movie of 2016 that I was still thinking and talking about days after I’d seen it. It was sticky in my head. I ate it up with a spoon.

A close runner-up was Sully. I don’t know how much truth is in this “true story” of the commercial pilot who dead-stick landed his plane on the Hudson River with zero fatalities, but it’s a terrific white-knuckle adventure story regardless. Tom Hanks perfectly embodies another real-life captain (after Captain Phillips in Captain Phillips and Captain Lovell in Apollo 13), and Clint Eastwood never disappoints. I loved every frame of Sully.

Another “true story” we saw this year was Snowden. Again, I don’t know just how true it is, and it doesn’t matter. Joseph Gordon-Levitt did his career best in it, conveying all the odd mannerisms and speech patterns of Ed Snowden as well as showing us his inner moral turmoil.

Another year, another brace of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. I really enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. Doctor Strange was time well spent, but it’s heartbreaking to see Rachel McAdams as yet another Oscar-worthy actress relegated to playing “the girlfriend” in a Marvel movie (after Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man films and Natalie Portman in Thor). We need a Marvel super-heroine movie! Or a half-dozen of them!

In a year in which Krysten Ritter killed it on the small screen in Netflix’s Jessica Jones series, is it too much to ask that female-starring super-hero films can become a more regular thing? I don’t think it is. Yeah, I know Captain Marvel is in the works, and that’s great. There still should be a Black Widow movie. And maybe a She-Hulk movie? Wouldn’t that work? I was shocked to discover, today, that the last super-hero movie starring a woman was 2004’s Catwoman with Halle Berry. No one remembers that one fondly, if at all. Maybe when DC’s Wonder Woman breaks the drought this year, we can hope for more female-centered comic book projects.

I saw Zootopia, like everyone else, and thought it was hilarious. I saw Ghostbusters, like many other people, and did not find it hilarious.

The Accountant was fun, but dumb. It had plot holes you could drive an Airstream trailer through, and it pretty much wasted the talents of Anna Kendrick and John Lithgow.

Atlanta-filmed Passengers (which, clearly, wasn’t set in Atlanta) was thought-provoking, as long as you don’t think about it too much. The “what would I do in that situation?” questions can lead to lively conversations, but the “why would a ship with 5,000 souls aboard it only have one autodoc?” questions just frustrated me.

Whit Stillman only comes around every few years. In 2016 he brought Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny with him in Love & Friendship. It’s like every other Whit Stillman movie: if you like this sort of thing (as I do), you’ll like this.

I only made it out for one movie of this year’s Out On Film festival, and that was the documentary The Trans List. Janet Mock interviewed 11 prominent transgender Americans about their lives. I wish she had interviewed fewer people and spent more time with each of them, because I hadn’t heard of several, and their stories of activism and triumph over discrimination were well worth exploring. Stonewall activists, immigrant-rights crusaders, and legal pioneers were among them. Oh, and Mock interviewed Caitlyn Jenner for the film, which is good, because I don’t think Ms. Jenner has gotten much press coverage since she came out and transitioned.

Rounding out the list of 2016 movies we saw in 2016 were Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and La La Land. I liked them both, neither was perfect, and I’ve nothing interesting to say about them.

In addition to feature-length movies, I saw many shorts in 2016. My partner and I always go to Landmark Midtown Cinema to see the Oscar-nominated animated and live-action shorts each winter, to get ready for the Academy Awards. There are always some gems there. Also, she got me the Blu-Ray boxed set of Les Blank’s quirky documentaries for Christmas in 2015. I’ve spent the past year dipping into them whenever I’ve had a few minutes to share. Blank’s movies are a lot like Stillman’s in their idiosyncrasy: If you like them, you’ll like them. Personally, I love them.

Anyway, here’s my full list:

January

  1. The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1970). Directed by Les Blank. Documentary. Personally owned Blu-Ray.
  2. Holiday (1938). Directed by George Cukor. Starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Netflix DVD.
  3. Nothing (2003). Directed by Vincenzo Natali. Comedy starring David Hewlett and Andrew Miller. Netflix DVD.
  4. The Last Waltz (1978). Directed by Martin Scorsese. Documentary about and starring The Band. Netflix DVD.
  5. Smitty (2012), Directed by David M. Evans. Starring Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, et al. Netflix DVD.
  6. Summer of Sam (1999), Directed by Spike Lee. Starring John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Adrien Brody, et al. Netflix DVD.
  7. Spellbound (1945), Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Netflix DVD.
  8. Back In Time (2015). Directed by Jason Aron. Documentary.
  9. The Music Box (1932), Directed by James Parrott. Short. Starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. YouTube.

 

February

  1. Life Itself. (2014). Directed by Steve James. Documentary. Netflix streaming.
  2. All The Little Animals (1998). Directed by Jeremy Thomas. Starring Christian Bale and John Hurt. Netflix DVD.
  3. Lambchops (1929). Directed by Murray Roth. Starring George Burns and Gracie Allen. Short. YouTube.
  4. Ave Maria (2015). Directed by Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  5. Shok (2015). Directed by Jamie Donoughue. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  6. Alles Wird Gut (2015). Directed by Patrick Vollrath. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  7. Stutterer (2015). Directed by Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  8. Day One (2015). Directed by Henry Hughes. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  9. What’s Opera, Doc? (1957). Directed by Chuck Jones. Short. Starring the voice of Mel Blanc. dailymotion.com.
  10. Never Give A Sucker An Even Break (1941). Directed by Edward F. Cline. Starring W.C. Fields. YouTube.
  11. Sanjay’s Super Team (2015). Directed by Sanjay Patel. Short. Starring the voice of Brent Schraff. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  12. World of Tomorrow (2015). Directed by Don Hertzfeldt. Short. Starring voices of Julia Pott and Winona Mae. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  13. Bear Story (2014). Directed by Gabriel Osorio Vargas. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  14. We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (2014). Directed by Konstantin Bronzit. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  15. If I Was God… (2015). Directed by Cordell Barker. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  16. The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse (2015). Directed by Camille Chaix, Hugo Jean, et al. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  17. The Loneliest Stoplight (2015). Directed by Bill Plympton. Short. Starring the voice of Patton Oswalt. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  18. Catch It (2015). Directed by Paul Bar, Marion Demaret, Nadège Forner Pierre-Baptiste Marty, Julien Robyn, and Jordan Soler. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  19. Prologue (2015). Directed by Richard Williams. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  20. Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980). Directed by Les Blank. Documentary short. Blu-Ray.
  21. Like Dandelion Dust (2009). Directed by Jon Gunn. Starring Mira Sorvino, Cole Hauser, and Barry Pepper. Netflix DVD.
  22. Ex Machina (2015). Directed by Alex Garland. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander. Redbox Blu-Ray.
  23. Westworld (1973). Directed by Michael Crichton. Starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin. Netflix Blu-Ray.

 

March

  1. Children of the Century (1999). Directed by Diane Kurys. Starring Juliette Binoche. Netflix DVD.
  2. Bridge of Spies (2015). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  3. Zootopia (2016). Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush. Starring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  4. The Big Short (2015). Directed by Adam McKay. Starring Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  5. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Directed by George Miller. Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  6. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Directed by Robert Wise. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, et al. Netflix streaming.

 

April

  1. Brooklyn (2015). Directed by John Crowley. Starring Saoirse Ronan, et al.
  2. The Grey Zone (2001). Directed by Tim Blake Nelson. Starring David Arquette, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, et al. Netflix DVD.
  3. Cloverfield (2008). Directed by Matt Reeves. Starring T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.

 

May

  1. Waitress (2007). Directed by Adrienne Shelly. Starring Keri Russell, Adrienne Shelly, and Nathan Fillion. DVD.
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Directed by the Russo Brothers. Starring Chris Evans, et al. Redbox.
  3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Directed by Nicholas Meyer. Starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Netflix streaming.
  4. Galaxy Quest (1999). Directed by Dean Parisot. Starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, et al. Netflix streaming.

 

June

  1. Trainwreck (2015). Directed by Judd Apatow. Starring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader. Redbox Blu-Ray.
  2. Trading Places (1983). Directed by John Landis. Starring Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  3. Captain America: Civil War (2016). Directed by Russo Brothers. Starring all the people. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  4. Creed (2015). Directed by Ryan Coogler. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. Redbox Blu-Ray.
  5. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009). Directed by Sam Liu. Animated. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  6. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984). Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy. Netflix streaming.

July

  1. The Red Shoes (1948). Directed by Powell/Pressburger. Starring Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook. Netflix DVD.
  2. Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring CGI. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  3. Love & Friendship (2016). Directed by Whit Stillman. Starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny. Regal Tara Cinema.
  4. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013). Directed by Jay Oliva. Animated. Netflix streaming.

August

  1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1984). Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, Catherine Hicks, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  2. Ghostbusters (2016). Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Kristen Wiig et al. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  3. Men With Guns (1997). Directed by John Sayles. Starring Federico Luppi. Netflix DVD.
  4. The Dirty Dozen (1967). Directed by Robert Aldrich. Starring Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  5. The Lobster (2015). Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. Redbox DVD.

 

September

  1. Snowden (2016). Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  2. Sully (2016). Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart. AMC North DeKalb 16.

October

  1. The Trans List (2016). Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Documentary. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  2. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Directed by Zack Snyder. Starring Batfleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  3. God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance (1968). Directed by Les Blank. Documentary short. Blu-Ray.
  4. Strange Days (1995). Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett. Netflix DVD.
  5. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015). Directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen. Documentary. Netflix streaming.

 

November

  1. Rescue Dawn (2006). Directed by Werner Herzog. Starring Christian Bale. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  2. The Accountant (2016). Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick. Regal Hollywood 24.
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Denholm Elliott. DVD.
  4. Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987). Directed by John Hughes. Starring Steve Martin and John Candy. Netflix DVD.
  5. Arrival (2016). Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Amy Adams, Abbott and Costello. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  6. Doctor Strange (2016). Directed by Scott Derrickson. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch. AMC Sugarloaf 18.
  7. Secret of the Incas (1954). Directed by Jerry Hopper. Starring Charlton Heston and Thomas Mitchell. YouTube.
  8. The Sorrow and the Pity (1969). Directed by Marcel Ophüls. Documentary. Netflix DVD (2 discs).

 

December

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016). Directed by David Yates. Starring Eddie Redmayne. Regal Hollywood 24.
  2. Love Actually (2003). Directed by Richard Curtis. Starring all the Brits. Netflix streaming.
  3. Muppet Christmas Carol (1993). Directed by Brian Henson. Starring Michael Caine, Kermit the Frog. DVD.
  4. Passengers (2016). Directed by Morten Tyldum. Starring Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence. N. DeKalb 16.
  5. La La Land (2016). Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Regal Tara Cinema.
  6. Goodbye, Lenin (2003). Directed by Wolfgang Becker. Netflix DVD.

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The Trans List.

Atlanta’s LGBT film festival, Out On Film, is going on right now, and on Monday evening I went to a screening of The Trans List at Landmark Midtown Cinema, on the edge of Piedmont Park. The film will be broadcast on HBO later this year.

It’s not feature-length; it runs about an hour, and features interviews with 11 prominent transgender Americans. The interviews were conducted by fashion editor Janet Mock, although we never see her on screen after her brief introduction. The subjects are presented alone on the screen, talking about their lives, with a few intercuts to home movies and childhood photos.

The interviewees run the gamut of the transgender experience in the United States. They’re black, white, and Hispanic; teenage through senior citizen; men, women, and nonbinary; famous and virtually unknown (to me, at least, and I like to think I keep up). I won’t recap all the interviews here, but I’ll touch on some of them.

Kylar Broadus was up first. He’s an African-American attorney, and a few years back he addressed a U.S. Senate committee about the importance of passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He briefly told his story about growing up an awkward tomboy in Missouri, usually “mistaken” for a boy even when his parents managed to get him into a dress—years before he transitioned for real. He spoke with a quiet dignity, and it was hard not to be moved by his struggles with the double whammy of being both gender-variant and black in a world that’s too often both transphobic and racist.

Nicole Maines’ segment helps illustrate the better world that all of us are creating by being out and proud in the 21st century. She’s still a teenager, but she has been out and an activist since she was very small; she never had to endure (and then undo) male puberty. Her family, including her (formerly?) identical twin brother, are accepting and supportive. Nicole has fought her high school for her Title IX right to use the correct restroom. Could a story like hers have happened 20 years ago? I find it unlikely; the information, the understanding, and the role models to help such a young person simply didn’t exist until quite recently. Nicole’s is an inspiring story of possibility.Borrowed from bambysalcedo.com

Shane Ortega is an Army non-commissioned officer, and one of the first U.S. military members to transition on active duty. Another transperson of color, he’s charming, very good-natured and funny, and a veteran of two combat tours. As a veteran myself (though not of combat), I’m proud to know he’s out there, fighting for every transperson’s right to serve. Transgender people historically have joined the military in numbers far higher than the general population. Thanks to people like Ortega, soon we’ll be able to do so openly.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy was the most colorful personality interviewed. She was at Stonewall and was a leader in the riots. She’s had a long life full of activism.

Rounding out the list were Alok Vaid-Menon, a writer with a nonbinary gender identity; Amos Mac, photographer and founder of “Original Plumbing” magazine; Buck Angel, the porn star famous as the “man with a pussy”; Bamby Salcedo, a Mexican-American activist and organizer, Caroline Cossey, model, former Bond girl, and current Atlanta resident; and Laverne Cox, internationally-famous television star.

Oh, and finally, Mock interviewed Caitlyn Jenner. I’m glad Jenner was included, because I don’t think the former Olympian and Kardashian-by-marriage has received much media attention since she transitioned last year.

This points up the biggest flaw with The Trans List: it’s much too short, or else there were too many subjects. For the really famous interviewees, like Cox and Jenner, I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know about them. For the more obscure ones, like Amos Mac, I learned enough about them to know they’re interesting people, but got nothing really substantial to take away with me. They’re superficial sketches of personalities that deserve in-depth portraits.

Maybe that was the purpose behind the film. In an era when we all have Google in our pockets, I guess a project like The Trans List only needs to put names in front of us. If we want to know more, we can go learn more on our own.

If that’s the case, I’d call the movie a success, because I’ve certainly done that with many of these fascinating individuals. I hope there will be more; maybe this could become a series.


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Atlanta Maker Faire 2016.

This past Saturday my partner and I attended Atlanta Maker Faire 2016, which was actually held next door to Atlanta, in Decatur (if you’re a local, you know that makes a difference). It was like Atlanta Pride, the Inman Park Festival, and various other annual events, in that relevant businesses and clubs from all over the area gathered to set up booths and tables and show off their various wares and services. Most were set up on Decatur High School’s football field, covered in artificial turf, which seems vaguely appropriate.

There were blacksmiths. Model plane and drone hobbyists. Several robotics teams from colleges and high schools. A guy was in attendance who builds canoes and sailboats skinned in Tyvek insulating fabric. And there were many, many 3D printers, owned by organizations that offer 3D-printing services or offer to help people build their own printers.

As interesting as the Faire was overall (and as annoying as is the precious silent “e” in the name), it’s the 3D printers that really grabbed my attention. They’re a curiosity now; an expensive toy for most people. But in the very near future they’re going to completely revolutionize our world. Pretty much everything we wear and use on a daily basis will be printed at home: clothes, food, silverware, eyeglasses, replacement parts, pets—and it will seem as normal to us as buying things in stores does today.

Even larger items will be 3D printed. Today we have home printers for small jobs, but still go to Kinko’s if we need a big production collated and bound. Three-D printing will be the same; we’ll print whistles, shoes, and ukuleles at home, but go to Kinko’s analogues to pick up our freshly printed couches, or automobile tires, or for that matter, automobiles.

This decade has seen a lot of hand-wringing over Amazon.com and other etailers driving big brick-and-mortar stores out of business. The etailers dominate today, but they will be the next to go, or at least change radically, because we won’t need them once 3D printing technology has matured. The only physical objects we’ll need to buy is the raw stock of plastic, protein, metal, and other materials that our printers use. If the etailers survive, it will be because they’re selling these materials, or they’re selling the patterns that our printers use to deliver the finished products.

Of course, we’ll be making our own patterns, or modifying downloaded patterns to suit our own tastes. The world of pervasive 3D printing will be a bespoke world.

What do you think about this near future? Leave a comment and let me know!

Below are some links I gleaned from my visit to the Faire. There’s some fun stuff here; enjoy!

Creative Solar USA
Solarize Decatur-DeKalb
Creative Solar USA is a company that evaluates residences for their suitability for solar power systems, then installs them. It’s working with the Solarize Decatur-DeKalb coalition.

A solar power installation will be paid off in around ten years, with current technology. The system will last for 30 years, so a homeowner would have free electricity for 20 years before having to replace the system. Presumably by 30 years from now the technology will be cheaper and last longer.

3D Printing Tech
This company sells 3D printing services and consultations in the area.

Kennesaw State University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team
These guys were KSU students who had built what looked like a tiny submarine built into a transparent bento box. I’d have loved to see it in action, but it was broken down when I visited their booth. “We’re waiting on a part,” they told us.

Decatur Makers
Decatur Makers maintains a “maker space” for members to use. According to their mission statement, “Decatur Makers is a welcoming, family-friendly community of inquisitive, motivated people who work together in a safe environment to discover, understand, design and create interesting things.”

Decatur Makers have a “MakerBot Replicator 2” 3D printer. It retails for around $3,000. I found it for sale here at Amazon.com.

3d Orchard
This is an online, crowdsourced catalog of 3d-printable patterns.

Freeside Atlanta
To be honest I’m not sure what these people are about. I can’t get their website to load.

Maven Makers
These folks offer another makerspace, like Decatur Makers.

Nanofarming
Growing produce in tiny glass-walled biospheres!

TSI Solutions
These are your people if you want extruded metal frameworks.

Makercise
These folks have plans on their website that show you how to make your own propane-powered aluminum casting foundry out of a metal cook pot and other items. It would only cost a few hundred dollars; my partner is encouraging me to go for it.

I Made 3D
On display at this booth was a “JellyBox” homemade 3D printer. I doubt it’s as versatile as the MakerBot printer mentioned above, but it’s much cheaper, at about $800. The IMade3D people were selling kits.


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Transgender characters in comic books.

alters72dpiThe New York Times recently reported about Alters, a new comic book from a new comic book company, Aftershock Comics, that’s launching in September.

Normally, this isn’t the sort of news that would hit the Times. The hook here is that one of the main characters is transgender. She’s college student Charlie Young, who is just beginning her transition; everyone in her noncostumed identity knows her as male. She only presents as female when she suits up to be the super-heroine, Chalice, who is able to fly by “manipulating gravity.”

Characters who change gender or sex are not new to comics. Most comic books, after all, are science fiction or fantasy by genre, and transformations, either into a differently aged person, an animal or animals, a mythical creature, an extraterrestrial, or from a man into a woman or vice versa, are quite common in science fiction and fantasy, and they can be found all the way back to the earliest days of the medium.

The earliest sex-changing comics character I know of is a Superman villain, a mad scientist who called himself the “Ultra-Humanite.” In an Action Comics storyline beginning in the December 1939 issue, Ultra-Humanite has his brain transplanted from his old, crippled male body into that of a beautiful, fit young actress.

I don’t know if it was ever explained why he chose a female body over a male one, but obviously Ultra-Humanite wasn’t transgender as we understand the term today, i.e. a person with gender dysphoria. His stated objective was to trade up from his aged and frail original body, regardless of gender. The veracity of this interpretation is strengthened by the character’s brain’s later transplantation into the body of a giant, presumably male, albino gorilla. The gender change was simplyultra-humanite3 part and parcel of the escapist strangeness that defines super-hero storytelling, and this was the motivation behind all sex-changing comics characters for the next several decades.

The earliest character I’m aware of in mainstream (Marvel and DC) comics that could truly be described as gender dysphoric is Wanda Mann, a transwoman in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series for Vertigo. Vertigo is a mature-readers imprint of DC Comics. Wanda’s storyline was published in 1993. For the most part, Wanda was an informed and respectful portrayal of a transwoman, although in some ways she did embody the sad, “pathetic transsexual” stereotype described by transgender author Julia Serano in her book, Whipping Girl. Due credit to Gaiman, but we still had a ways to go.

Most of the comics by the “big two” publishers I read nowadays are by DC Comics (including Vertigo); I only follow a handful of Marvel books, so I’m not familiar with any trans characters who may be appearing there.

DC Comics has Alysia Yeoh. She’s a supporting character in Batgirl; she was for a time the roommate of Batgirl’s alter-ego, Barbara Gordon, and is still in the book as the CEO of Barbara’s tech startup. I’m glad that DC has added an openly transgender character to the lineup, but I have to say, paraphrasing Gertrude Stein regarding her hometown of Oakland, that there’s very little “there” there.

Alysia came out to Barbara in a way many of us will recognize: hesitantly, timidly revealing, “I’m transgender, Barbara.” Barbara immediately smiles and hugs her, as any true super-heroine and friend would. And that was the end of it. Her gender identity is never mentioned again.alysiayeohcomposite

Alysia’s face and body look completely cisnormative, which is true for many transwomen, but not most. Storylines involving Alysia have never shown her dealing with transphobia, family or friend nonacceptance, identity document hassles, gender-affirming health care, finding clothes that fit, or any of the myriad other issues that are part of the daily lives of transgender people. It’s like DC wanted credit for filling in the “transgender” box on a diversity checklist, but wasn’t interested in actually telling stories about transgender people.

You could push back on this criticism with, “Alysia is a supporting character. Going into such details would take storytelling time away from Batgirl herself.”

Sure, that’s true—up to a point. I’d respond that it doesn’t take much to establish such details, even for a minor character: stray bits of dialogue here or there; a telling object or item of clothing in the background of a panel. I mean, heck, it has been established that Alysia is a lesbian (and she recently married her fiancée in the book), is originally from Singapore, and has impressive technological and business skills. Narrative real estate could easily have been borrowed from those attributes to tell readers something interesting that arises from Alysia’s transgender status. Especially since the creative team did find room to bring in a villain that was an embarrassing, transphobic stereotype (who never interacted with Alysia).

And yes, Batgirl isn’t about Alysia; it’s about Barbara/Batgirl herself, of course. We wouldn’t want it to be about another character, and Batgirl isn’t transgender.

There is another version of Alysia who appears in DC’s digital-only comic, Bombshells, written by Marguerite Bennett. This Alysia is a teenager during World War 2, and although she’s only one of a much larger cast than Batgirl‘s, Bennett has managed to elaborate on her transness in some of the ways lacking in Batgirl. But digital-only comics are still a novelty, accounting for a tiny fraction of annual comic book sales, and they’re not heavily promoted.

That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic about Alters. The writer, Paul Jenkins, is a cisgender straight man, but from interviews I’ve read, he seems dedicated to telling Chalice’s story with knowledge and maturity. He shows each of his scripts to a panel of transgender people for feedback, and a transwoman is part of the Alters creative team (the colorist).

Promotional art of Chalice from Alters.

Promotional art of Chalice from Alters.

Another important thing to consider with transgender characters is how they’re drawn. I wrote above that Alysia Yeoh’s appearance is cisnormative, while that’s not always true for transgender women in real life. This is a big part of why we complain when cisgender men or women are cast as transgender women in movie and TV roles. The portrayal usually either hews close to the “man in a dress” stereotype, for male actors, or puts silly prosthetic makeup on female actors, as with Felicity Huffman in Transamerica.

Neither course hits the mark; trans people tend to look androgynous in a unique way that’s hard for any cisgender person to mimic. But it should be doable in comics, as long as the artist uses appropriate reference models. Based on the promotional art that’s been released so far, Chalice is drawn to look like the standard conventionally-attractive cisgender woman typified by all super-heroines. Maybe there will be an explanation for that within the story itself; I’ll wait and see.

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Cisnormativity.

In my last post, I talked about Caitlyn Jenner’s recent unfortunate statements about transgender people, in which she suggested we have a responsibility to look “authentic” and to “play a role”—in a word, to be cisnormative—in order to put cisgender people at ease. She was rightly condemned for these remarks by many opinion leaders across the Internet, because nobody has a responsibility to put others at ease by the way they look. People look the way they look, as I wrote in that post; nobody has the right to prescribe another’s appearance, and no one’s gender identity is beholden to what someone else thinks it should be.

That said, it’s also true, speaking very, very generally, that transgender people strive to look cisnormative, and furthermore, that most of us don’t look as cisnormative as we would like to. That’s simply a fact of life for most people with gender dysphoria. The reasons we feel this way probably would (and probably have) filled books on sociology and psychology, but simply put, transgender people were born and raised in a predominately cisgender society, so we’re freighted with the same biases and assumptions toward the gender binary as cisgender people. We flipped the script, but we still play by it. Maybe we shouldn’t want to, but that doesn’t make it not the case.

Which raises a fair question: what is cisnormativity? That is, when we see a new person and mentally assign them a gender, what are we seeing (or failing to see) that informs that assignment? Most cisgender people never think much about this—why would they? I know I didn’t, until 2005, when I embarked ardently on my transition. Pretty much every gender nonconforming person has given this a lot of thought. Today, and later in a follow-up post, we’ll take a closer look at the matter. It’s kind of a doozy.

Obligatory male/female sign.

Obligatory male/female sign.

In the 1970s, NASA launched the Pioneer 10 probe. It surveyed parts of the outer solar system (mainly Jupiter and its moons), then charged on out of the solar system into interstellar space. It carries an illustrated metal plaque containing information about our planet, in case the spacecraft is ever found by extraterrestrials (friendly extraterrestrials, we hope, although if they turn out to be enslaving monsters, don’t blame me; I voted for Kodos).

The plaque includes a line drawing of a nude man and woman standing side by side. The man holds his right hand up in a wave, as if to say, “Hello from Earth! If you’ve been receiving our TV signals, please don’t get any ideas from that ‘To Serve Man‘ episode of The Twilight Zone!”

These drawings are meant to be archetypes of adult humans. As such, they present a handy example of what we mean when we talk about cisnormativity. So let’s use them for a thought experiment. Let’s imagine you’re outdoors on a wide, flat plain. You see the man and woman from the plaque far in the distance. They’re silhouetted against the horizon, walking toward you. As soon as they become more distinct than hazy blobs far away, you begin to notice how their bodies differ. The closer they get to you, the more gender-distinguishing features you’ll spot.

First, you’ll see that the woman is slightly shorter than the man, and she has longer hair. The man is broad-shouldered compared to his waist; his torso is roughly an inverted trapezoid. The woman’s torso has more of an hourglass shape. Her waist is much smaller than her hips and shoulders.

From just these cues you’d probably already have a guess that one figure was a man and the other a woman. But you wouldn’t be positive; every characteristic you’ve seen so far can vary widely from person to person. As the couple draws closer to you, finer distinctions begin to emerge.

"Hello from Earth!"

“Hello from Earth!”

The way they walk is different. The woman has a lower center of gravity than the man, and since she’s also shorter overall, her legs are also shorter, which gives her a shorter stride, which makes her walk look different.

Another factor: while this archetypal pair is naked and therefore barefoot, as I’ve said, most people wear shoes, and women wear high heels more often than men. This also visibly affects a person’s walk; you can usually tell if someone’s wearing high heels, even if you can’t see their feet.

So as this couple continues toward you, their movements give you information about their gender identities. After a while they’re much closer than the horizon, and you get a better look at their bodies and how they differ.

The man, due to the muscle-building effect of testosterone, has greater muscle development than the woman. Women can also exercise, lift weights and get toned, of course, but generally they don’t get the bulked-up muscles testosterone makes available to men.

Men also have more body hair than women. The Pioneer 10 archetypes are hairless, for some reason, but this is true generally. There’s usually hair on a man’s chest, and maybe on his belly as well. It may be sparse, but it may also be quite thick (as anyone who’s seen Robin Williams in the movie The Fisher King can attest). There’s also hair on his arms and legs, usually sparser than that on his chest. The thickest hair below his neck is at his armpits and pubes.

2pxPioneerplaquehumansWomen have body hair too, but not as much. There’s usually none or very little on her torso, and it’s wispy and sparse on her arms. There would be wispy hair on her legs, too, but in the West women usually shave their legs. The same goes for women’s armpits. Only the pubes will have thick hair, and the recent vogue for Brazilian waxes means that may not be true either.

Speaking of the pubes, the couple is probably close enough now for you to see their secondary sexual characteristics. The woman has a vagina, although that’s not so apparent for Pioneer 10 woman, and on her chest are two nippled breasts. The man has nipples, but no breasts, and between his legs, like the constellation Orion, he clearly has a dong.

Okay, they’re only a few yards from you now. They’re so close you can see the man has an Adam’s apple, but the woman doesn’t. Finally, you have a good look at their faces.

I could devote an entire post talking about the faces. And I will! Stay tuned.


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“Out” Is Activism.

Panorama

The following post is the keynote address I gave on Thursday, October 2, 2014, for the Opening Reception of “Opening Doors, Outing History,” Kennesaw State University’s GLBTIQ Student Retention Services’ art exhibit for LGBT History Month. I was told this was the second year of this event, and I was its first-ever keynote speaker.

I was honored and proud to be given this distinction, and I’m grateful to everyone at Kennesaw State for the opportunity. Jessica Duvall, Program Coordinator for GLBTIQ Retention Services,  invited me to give the keynote and introduced me to the audience.

The Zuckerman Museum of Art hosted the event. The exhibit, as you can see in the photos in this post (which I’m using with permission) is a series of doors describing important events in LGBT history, both nationally and local to Georgia or Kennesaw State. The doors represent the closet.

My speech wasn’t captured to video or audio, so this is the only way I can share it. If you’re reading this, I hope you find it meaningful. 

 

“Out” Is Activism

by Vandy Beth Glenn

Good afternoon! I hope you’re all having a good day. I’m excited to be here. My partner and I arrived earlier today to tour the exhibit, and we really loved it. I love the doors as a concept. It’s brilliant; a powerful and versatile metaphor for our community.

Doors are wonderful devices, aren’t they? I love doors! Dutch doors, pet doors, revolving doors, sliding doors, airlock doors, car doors. Opportunities knock on doors. You can’t tell a “Knock Knock” joke without doors.

I was hunched forward because I was protecting my printed speech from being blown away by the wind.

I was hunched forward because I was protecting my printed speech from being blown away by the wind.

And closets have doors. They have to, or else they’re just alcoves. When the doors are closed, it’s easy to stop thinking about whatever’s inside those closets. Often, that’s the whole idea.

Gay people have been “coming out” since the 1960s in New York City, but originally it had nothing to do with closets. Gay men would “come out” the same way wealthy young debutantes had a “coming out” ball when they declared their eligibility. It was a way for gay men to make fun of gender norms.

The idea that it was a closet they were “coming out” of came later. That was adapted from the older saying about having a “skeleton in your closet.” A skeleton in your closet is a shameful or embarrassing secret you don’t want anyone to know about. Usually, it’s a dark family secret, like “slave labor was the source of the family wealth,” or “my war-hero ancestor was actually a deserter,” or “it turns out we’re actually Kardashians.”

For many families, the uncle who was gay or the cousin who gender transitioned was one of these “skeletons in the closet.” They would never be mentioned except at family reunions, to which they were not invited, and then they were talked about only in hushed tones. Being in the closet was the default status for these “skeletons.” The fact that we were LGBT was, in society’s eyes, automatically shameful, wrong, sacrilegious, and embarrassing, and by extension, we were expected to believe ourselves that we were shameful, wrong, sacrilegious, and embarrassing. We internalized these homophobic and transphobic attitudes and made them part of ourselves.

We didn’t just stand in our closets; we lived in them, like Harry Potter under the Dursleys’ stairs. We made ourselves comfortable there. We had to, because outside the closet we found only scorn and hate and abuse. The closet may have been small and stuffy, but inside the closet, at least, we could be ourselves. Plus, it was the only way we knew how to live. We didn’t even realize the door opened from the inside.

Of course, to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is not shameful, wrong, or sacrilegious, and it isn’t embarrassing. It is simply who we are. We are kind, respectable, moral people, just like anyone else. Or we’re jerks, just like anyone else. Either way, it has nothing to do with our sexual orientation or our gender identity, and those are never a reason why we should be judged or excluded.

There should be no more closets for any of us, or for our loyal families and allies who lived with us in those closets. The people who continue to hate us; the homophobic and transphobic people, the ones who stuffed us into those closets, are the ones who should be ashamed of who they are. We should be proud, and we’ve been learning to be proud. The doors in this exhibit show us how far we’ve all progressed in that direction.

Everyone here today, whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or a straight ally, knows that no one should be made to suffer or to feel bad about themselves because of the sex or gender characteristics of themselves or their loved ones. We are out. I understand that probably many of you are not out to all the people in your lives. That’s just realistic. Not everyone can safely be out, especially in this part of the country. There are still the risks of rejection, of job loss, of homelessness, that go along with being out.

Doors about Atlanta Pride and kicking the 1996 Olympics out of Cobb County.

Doors about Atlanta Pride and kicking the 1996 Olympics out of Cobb County.

But I hope most of you are out or will be soon. I hope that for the vast majority of you, your closets are just places to keep clothes, or cleaning supplies, or canned food.

The closets are still destroying lives, and we need to continue to help others pry them open. And we will. This century, this decade, is our moment in history. It is our turn.

Looking back at where we used to be helps us to understand how far we’ve advanced. The exhibit has two new doors this year, commemorating two terrible stories in United States history.

The Lavender Scare is one of them. In the 1950s, the Lavender Scare ousted hundreds of gay people from federal jobs; it was a part of McCarthyism. Gay people were thought to be unfit for federal service, because their sexual orientation was considered a mental illness. President Eisenhower himself signed an executive order firing all the openly gay people working for the federal government. This is just sickening to me. Eisenhower is remembered as one of the most moderate, middle-of-the-road Presidents we’ve had, so his buy-in to this shocking persecution is a strong signal to us today of how mainstream it was to be homophobic in the 1950s.

Today, not only are thousands of our people working openly in federal employment, but President Obama recently signed his own executive order, which in this case protects all LGBT people employed by the federal government and by federal contractors. Presidents of both parties have been appointing openly gay individuals to federal posts since at least the 1980s, and President Obama has appointed many openly transgender people as well.

The other new door tells the story of the Johns Committee in Florida, which began in the early 1960s. This was similar to the Lavender Menace, but was a state government initiative in Florida by state senator Charley Johns, and it focused on the state colleges and universities—a fact which should resonate with those of us here today. It resulted in many qualified and capable instructors and students being denied the jobs and educations they deserved and had a right to.

Today, well, I tried researching the status today of LGBT people in Florida, and the state is maybe still not a shining beacon of LGBT diversity. But at least there are no longer witch hunts against LGBT educators, and Senator Johns himself has long since died of old age. As an aside, I note that many of the people who persecute us are dying of old age. In fact, if you look at the demographics of homophobic and transphobic individuals, you’ll find that old age is their number one cause of death. I’m not saying older people are intolerant. I’m saying intolerant people tend to be older, so to a large extent, an equal society is just a waiting game.

I don’t remember personally the events described on those two new doors, but in many ways the United States I grew up in wasn’t much better. I was in one of these closets for over half my life. Nobody knew my secret! I had an ordinary childhood, went to college, joined the Navy, worked in the civilian world. I even had an apparently heterosexual dating life. People had no reason not to assume I was an ordinary straight person.

The Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis.

The Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis.

I wasn’t an ordinary straight person. I am transgender. There was a life I really wanted to live, but fear kept me living the lie instead. I was afraid I would lose everything that was important to me. I would lose the people I cared about and the job that sustained me. I would lose the ability to walk unnoticed and unharassed in public. I was sure these things would happen if I stepped out of my closet and embraced my true gender identity.

Eventually the time arrived when I had to do that, though. Gender dysphoria is like that; it’s a tinny little voice inside your head, insisting that you need to make a change, and if you don’t answer it, it grows louder every year. At last it’s so loud that it drowns out everything else, and you have to do something about it. You have to. It no longer matters what you’re going to lose as a result.

Well, it matters, but it doesn’t matter enough. Gender dysphoria always wins in the long run. We transition because we can no longer continue to live as we had been. We’ve been reduced to two options, and transitioning is the only option that keeps us alive. I reached this point, and I began my transition. I did so with the certain belief that I would probably lose most of my friends, possibly lose my job, and definitely, definitely, I’d never have another romantic relationship. I wasn’t happy about any of that, but it was a price I had to pay.

This is a fact that even lesbians and gays often don’t understand about the transgender experience. Before our gender transitions, we are suffering. We don’t transition on a whim, or as a political statement, or because we want to be societal outcasts. We transition because we want to stay alive.

So I stepped out of my closet, and true to my fears, I lost my job. The man who fired me, Sewell Brumby, said that my transition was unacceptable in his workplace. He used words like “inappropriate,” “uncomfortable,” and “immoral.” Yes, he said “immoral.” He said it out loud. He felt so safe in firing an employee for being transgender that he didn’t even see the need to hide it. He had no fear about it.

He should have been afraid. I went to Lambda Legal, and together we filed a federal lawsuit against Sewell Brumby. At first I had no confidence we would win; this was in 2007. The judicial landscape for LGBT rights was very different. There were a few good precedents, many bad ones, and we had a President who was openly talking about a Constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. It didn’t look good for our case, but I knew filing it was the right thing to do. We had to fight the fight, even if we lost.

You know from Jessica’s introduction that we won after all, against all the odds and at two levels of federal courts. Four months after our victory, in April 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced, based partly on our precedent, that it would treat discrimination against transgender people as sex discrimination, which means that now transgender people’s jobs are protected all over the nation.

Doors about ACT UP, the Gay Liberation Front, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, and the Stonewall Inn Riots.

Doors about ACT UP, the Gay Liberation Front, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, and the Stonewall Inn Riots.

I’m proud of that, but I’m even more proud that I finally left my closet. It did cost me my job, but not the people who care about me. They care about me every bit as much, and are happy that I’m happy.

And once I’d become a person I could love, I was able to meet someone who could also love me, and she and I have been together for five years now.

We’re all encouraged to be activists these days: to go to rallies, to lobby our elected officials, to march in protests.

These are all important and praiseworthy activities, but to be an activist, we only have to be out. Part of the reason Sewell Brumby felt so safe in firing me was because he didn’t know, or didn’t believe he knew, any transgender people. He may not even have realized he knew any gays or lesbians. I know for sure that he did. They just were not out to him, so he was allowed to believe they were people who don’t count and don’t matter.

Living our lives in the open is the way to win the rest of the world’s hearts and minds. And we have to win their hearts and minds, because the straight population will always outnumber us.

So we put photos of our partners on our desks at work.

We marry the people we love, regardless of their gender, and we wear our wedding bands where everyone can see them.

We fly our flags, and we put rainbow stickers on our cars, and we’re not coy about pronouns when we tell people about the amazing person we went on a date with last night.

We don’t grin and remain silent when we hear a homophobic joke or comment; we politely and swiftly say that sort of talk is unacceptable in polite society.

We do these things, as out LGBT people, because by being out, we’re all activists. A lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person who lives her life in the light of day, daring any hater to have a problem with it, is an activist. Remember that. Take it to heart. Live it.

Pride isn’t just a word. It’s a way of life. Living openly is the best catalyst for change.

Doors about Safe Space Initiative and GLBTIQ Student Organizing at KSU.

Doors about Safe Space Initiative and GLBTIQ Student Organizing at KSU.

And change is coming. I told you how the employment landscape has improved. In addition to that, marriage equality is the law in more and more parts of the nation all the time. A year or two ago it was only six or seven states. It’s over twice that now; I can’t even keep an accurate count. Even the bigots admit this is a fight that we’ll eventually win nationwide. There are battles left to fight, but the war is essentially over.

The closet doors are standing open now. We don’t have to live there anymore. We’ve stepped out into the light of day, our adversaries are dying off, and the world belongs to us now.

It’s not all happy talk; many challenges remain. It is still legal to fire people for being gay or lesbian in much of the country, and even where it’s not, clever employers can always make up a reason to fire an LGBT worker and hide their discrimination. Legal protection is only part of the solution.

Marriage equality is a war that we’re winning, but it’s not won yet. It’s still illegal for us to marry in more states than not. We have to keep fighting on that front.

Transgender people still suffer and die as a result of ignorance and intolerance. You’re all aware the biggest shared experience each year for gays and lesbians is Pride; for transgender people, it’s the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, when we read the names of all the people who were murdered during the previous year simply for being transgender. It’s a list that never seems to grow shorter.

So, there’s much work left to be done. But the first step, for all of us, is to come out. There are some sad tales told on the doors in this exhibit, but the doors themselves are a celebration. Let’s celebrate together.

Thank you for having me here today.

Doors In A Corner

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