TOWOIT #223: Love and Trouble

August 31, 2017… Day 224

I got carried away and wrote three blog posts for one day.

4:45 am: Morning Edition makes me cry in the shower again

The radio takes on a different quality, early in the morning, when you’re alone and brewing coffee and it’s dark outside.

On NPR this morning, they ran a story about a reporter in Houston driving a woman named Angie back to the home she was evacuated from when the flood waters got near it. They ran into some water in the road that the reporter’s car couldn’t handle, but a Latino man in a big jacked-up truck came along and drove them the rest of the way. The Latino man talked about how in Houston during the flood, it has been everyone helping everyone—it hasn’t been about white, black and brown.

For a reason that I missed, the reporter and the other man went in to look around inside the house while Angie waited outside for them. They came back out and told her everything was dry. She’d been especially worried about her clothes, but they were fine. The water had come up to her doorstep but no further. The men had snapped pictures of the rooms to show her they were dry. As they drove away, the woman looked through the photos. She had a low, raspy voice and you heard her say—sort of to herself—“I know my house is junky, but…” and then she just trailed off.

When that recorded story ended, the reporter and the host talked briefly about how Angie was one of the lucky ones.

Although I was emotionally affected by the story, I thought “This is fine. It was a happy ending. I didn’t just see a video of a wet dog afraid to be rescued, or a senior citizen stranded in waist-deep water, or a baby floating in a storage tub. I’m fine.”

Then those tricky bastards at NPR played the first several bars of “The Water is Wide.”

The version they played was instrumental but unfortunately I knew the words. So then I was crying into my coffee, followed by crying in the shower. All the way to the bus stop, I was still humming the tune, thinking about Houston folks and sniffling.

If you don’t know that song, the verse I know goes like this:

The water is wide… I cannot cross over

Neither have I wings to fly

Give me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row, my love and I

 

6:25 am: Love and Trouble 

On the bus to work I read Claire Dederer’s Love and Trouble. I was on the chapter that’s a letter to Roman Polanski, telling him what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl. At one point she asks Polanski if he only sees holes everywhere. We have to point out, because people don’t get it automatically, that a girl is not an object. It’s devastating.

Dederer takes into account the idea that Roman Polanski was a tortured genius, that the 1970s were a weird time. She’s as generous as she can be, but you couldn’t read her paragraphs out loud without tasting piss in your mouth. All the feelings she packs into that chapter—they are what saturate everything now. Rape culture and misogyny are lain bare, retroactive, stinking everything up. It’s in the Oval Office. Every day Gallup tells you what percentage of your compatriots are cool with it, although it’s really more. 53% of white women voted for it. It’s stinking up the Democratic party too.

The founders of the start-up Witchsy invented a male co-founder (hilariously named Keith Mann) to correspond with people who were brushing them off. My social media feeds are full of women I know talking about how real it is — the disrespect, the brush-off, the battle to be recognized as a viable professional. It discouraged me more than usual. I’m turning 40 next year, and I want to take risks and move toward freelancing and my own creative projects. I want to Be Excellent. How clever will I have to be, and how bright will I have to burn, to compensate for my gathering invisibility, for my high voice, for my eyes welling up sometimes when I’m frustrated, for having a woman’s name and being a woman? Because I honestly don’t know if I’m up to that level of witchcraft. (It is worse for women who aren’t white like I am.)

When I was an ecology student 20 years ago, our professor’s wife—also an ecologist—told a group of us women students that the field was changing, turning female. We beamed—sounds great! She scowled. “Oh no, don’t get excited,” she said. “All that means is that ecology will be devalued, trashed, dismissed… and the pay will go down.”

At work, I’m on the outer administrative edges of a prolonged bureaucratic snafu involving a woman my boss is trying to bring onto our team from another team. I don’t know the details myself, but there’s been some thorniness that’s above my paygrade.

Today I wrote up a statement announcing that she would be joining us, and then I took it to her. I asked her if she thought it represented her well, if she was happy with the tone and the details provided. My boss was a little surprised that I’d done that since he’d signed off on it already. I said, without thinking, “I want her to feel a sense of control over her situation, and I want her to know we respect her.”

This has something to do with us being women. And something to do with Trump.

Everything is related and it’s exhausting.  

 

12:00 pm: One of the lucky ones 

At the White House Press Briefing today, the reporters returned again and again to just two themes: Are undocumented immigrants in Houston really going to be ok? Can their safety from ICE at shelters really be ensured? And what about the 800,000 young people in this country who are protected by DACA to study, live, and work in this country despite their immigration status? What is happening with DACA?

Fox News reported earlier in the day that Trump had already decided to kill DACA—something he’s been teasing and flirting with all week. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s stonewalling took on a new cruelty as she refused to confirm or deny or give any real answers. The repetition of the reporters’ questions was like bells tolling, in my mind. These were the humane questions. These were the urgent questions. These were the questions of conscience. This wasn’t grandstanding for TV. Don’t jerk people around about this. There’s no such thing as other people’s kids.

Tom Bossert from Homeland Security was at the briefing too. Tom often seems like a decent person in these situations, but he works for Trump so he’s made his bed. He took two Skype questions from Houston. These Skype questions—new with the Trump administration—have been a handy way to run down the clock on the reporters in the room. The Skype calls often feature cheesy, over-eager personalities from right-leaning outlets who praise Trump and then ask a pompous-sounding question that comes across as either extremely ideological or extremely pork barrel-ish.

Today it was two white guys from Houston, at separate outlets. They were both unshaven, haggard. The first guy was from Fox and he kind of leaned in and barked a question at the camera about the reservoir infrastructure and the army corps of engineers. His craggy head took up most of the screen when he leaned in, and he didn’t care. The second journalist seemed a bit shell-shocked that he had put himself on national television in bad greasy hat hair and a short-sleeved Under Armour shirt. His question was also about the immediate safety and survival for the people of Houston. Both those guys looked like they were sleeping at the station.

After the older guy’s question, Tom Bossert signed off with him by saying, “—and I hope your house hasn’t been affected.” It sounded so inadequate. That was the end of that call, the guy was effectively hung up on right at that point, so who knows about his house. But the guy’s life is probably scrambled. And he’s one of the lucky ones.

State of the Union, at the Library

Since it was Obama’s last State of the Union address, I went to the downtown public library last night to watch it on the big screen with my fellow citizens. I live-tweeted the address by scribbling on a legal pad which I then jammed into my shoulder bag.

A cadaverous white man to my right has feet up on the seat in front of him and keeps muttering “You creep! You weren’t invited! No one wants you here!” Not sure who he is talking to.

When Obama comes in, the room claps heartily, and it’s fun to feel like we are there. Biden looks so proud of Obama.

It’s fun to see this just for Michelle’s yellow dress, Ruth Bader Ginsberg hugging Obama with her bird arms, Elena Kagen looking pretty when she smiles, and Sonia Sotomayor’s big dangling disc earrings.

The guy who was muttering about creeps sits up straight and takes his hat off when Obama appears on the screen. He seems ready to behave himself now.

Obama mentions the economic recovery and a beefy bearded white guy to my left says “Recovery? What recovery? Who recovered?” He sees me looking over at him and says “Did YOU recover??”

Obama says “…incredible things we can do together” and a man clutching a sleeping bag shouts “ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION!!!”

Titters in the room at Marco Rubio’s face. Not sure why, but I get it.

There are clapping types in the room, and non-clapping types. Possibly not an indication of actual relative affection for Obama.

Obama says “…longest stretch of job creation…” and someone behind me shouts “for THEM, not for US.”

People are floating in and out. The elderly, teenagers, homeless people. A lot of people seem to have luggage. The children’s librarian leans in the doorway, looking blonde and willowy as she gazes up at the screen — but this isn’t a very white crowd.

Paul Ryan and Joe Biden share some kind of moment as Obama says we can cut red tape.

Bernie Sanders appears on screen — whistles in the room!!

Huge applause line for the room: “Food-stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis.”

Comparing sputnik to climate change gets a chuckle from me and a couple of white guys who are that special brand of Seattle white collar, possibly may have just emerged from 3-day hike in the woods.

“Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley” — if only this were the sort of speech where Obama could really lift-off and take flight.

“Joe is in charge of Mission Control” — we can haz cancer cure?! Original muttering guy remains quiet and respectful.

Biggest laugh so far: the Joint Chiefs of Staff laboring stiffly to their feet as they simultaneously realize they’re going to have to stand up, even though they don’t feel like standing up.

Talking about terrorists now. “We have to take them out” gets a gospel-style “Oh yes” in the room.

Mad bearded white guy yells “Didn’t we CREATE Isis, Obama? We did!” I hate that he has a point.

Mad white guy says “Sorry you guys, sorry, sorry”

Everyone seems either bored or uncomfortable during this long middle east section. The person I’d identified as the heartiest clapper in the room has become involved with a package of goldfish crackers.

Still talking about ISIL, and mad white guys says “There’s a whole lot of coercion going on!” Slim regretful library employee pads up the aisle and gently asks him to be quiet.

Native American guy in safety orange wanders in and he and the mad white guy greet each other like old associates but don’t sit next to each other.

Mad white guy claps with great enthusiasm at the line about stopping Ebola in West Africa, as if to show that he’s cooperating now, and not just hate-watching, and also that stopping Ebola rules.

General coming and going continues. A skinny black kid in red track pants and gold chains saunters out as an old white guy in a giant sweatshirt and black watch cap wobbles in.

Obama’s talking about leadership and international order as another guy gets up and walks out, throwing a black-power fist in the air in case anyone’s watching.

Obama uses the Pope to bash Trump and says “We the people.” A black man with an afro shaped like a pompadour has laid his things out carefully on the table near where the children’s librarian leans. He is rearranging items from bag to bag, and because he’s right down in front of us, it feels like a performance.

In the room, a woman fans herself with a big gold Japanese fan. On the screen, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, looks small and gnomelike peering over Michele Obama’s shoulder.

Obama says something about people getting discouraged and thinking “the system is rigged” and the man directly behind me, who had been quiet the whole time, leaned forward and said calmly in a deep bass voice, “IT IS.”

The room comes back to life a bit and gives a big hearty clap for “Each of us is only here because somebody somewhere stood up for us.”

Obama wraps up by talking a lot about good and decency, but his optimistic words are falling flat in this crowd. Maybe it’s just more of a stump speech and he’ll be more inspiring again under different circumstances. Or maybe it’s just hard to be sanguine about things working out just fine when you’re in a crowd with a large homeless component.

A parting note near the end, something to hold on to, something we can really feel good about as we head back out to our bus stops in the rain: Edith Childs’ glittering and substantial hat.

 

Postscript: Seriously considering going back next week to watch the big Seahawks game there.

 

 

 

 

A Reveal that Is Years in the Making Is like Old Light from a Dead Star

When Batgirl’s villainous impostor turned out to be (apparently) male last year, I wrote a review highlighting the queering of the villain, as did a lot of other comics commentators. The writers took to twitter saying they were sorry and had learned something from their mistake. The plot twist in the summer finale of Pretty Little Liars also queered the villain, and also employed a surprise gender reveal as a plot twist. Rather than apologize, the show’s writers have chosen to weave themselves little protective bowers out of their efforts and intentions. So let’s look at the result of those efforts and intentions and break the issue down.

Vanessa Ray as Cece Drake
Vanessa Ray as Cece Drake

The Problem

The problem is that in one fell swoop, Cece Drake is revealed to be both a transgender woman and the cruel, warped tormentor of the show’s protagonists for the last many seasons. This plays right into the hurtful trope that trans people are dangerous freaks who can’t be trusted. Also, the trans woman character is played by a cis-gender actress (denying both acting work and representation to trans people).

The Contrast

Pretty Little Liars has been pretty ridiculous and over-the-top in its murdery twists and turns, but at the heart of all that action, it’s been surprisingly, sweetly down to earth about the sexuality of LGBT youth. One of the main characters is a lesbian, and there have been bisexual characters, and unlabeled characters who sometimes do gay things, and characters previously thought of as straight who crop up in same-sex relationships without it seeming odd or noteworthy. The show has had a lot of social media influence and has brought us closer to a world where people don’t even have to come out of a closet, because sexual orientation will no longer be a thing that needs to be announced or declared, for anyone. So, this exploration of LGBT teen sexuality has been a sweet island of understated realism in a swirl of junior soap opera plot points. Not so, Cece Drake’s transgender status. Cece’s trans identity is smack in the middle of the high drama, treated as one of the things that probably wouldn’t happen, like leaving your four-year-old in an old-fashioned mental institution or accidentally burying your teenage daughter alive in your backyard.

Mitigating Factors

The writers clearly had some sense that they were playing with fire. Several things were done to assuage the “queering the villain” mis-step.

  • While Ali is covered in heavy paint and powder for the prom, Cece’s own femininity is downplayed—she is wearing minimal make-up, has her hair pulled back plainly, and is wearing an over-sized black hoodie. This isn’t the glitzy hyper-feminized stereotype of someone who was born physically male trying to pass as a woman (which also unhelpfully conflates transvestites with transgendered people).
  • Even though Cece has been the girls’ tormentor, she is often a sympathetic character in this reveal episode. She was severely misunderstood and mistreated at many early points in her childhood. We feel for her childhood self. We see how her father rejected her. We feel her pain at coming across her mother’s dead body, and we believe that she earnestly wanted to be part of her own family, however she could.
  • Cece’s deceit and misdeeds are in good company. Besides learning how terrible her father was/is, we also learn more about the deceptive actions of many other people in this episode: Sara, Bethany, Mona, and Agent Tanner are also cast in a more sinister light, and none of them is trans. And of course, it’s been long-established that the whole town is full of liars and murderers.

The Casting Dilemma

Cece Drake isn’t played by a trans actor, but that wouldn’t have served the need to surprise the audience. Until it is common for trans actors to play roles that include both trans and cis characters, it won’t make sense to cast them in a role of a secretly trans character. This is a Catch 22 that will hopefully come to an end as trans actors get more work of all kinds, and as writers use trans characters more broadly beyond plot twists and shock value.

Conclusion

Pretty Little Liars used a cheap, tired, harmful trope about trans people and no amount of softening or fancy footwork can make that untrue. You can lift the story out of the societal context and examine it from all sides, but at the end of the day, you can’t pretend the context doesn’t matter—the story doesn’t live in a vacuum.

This plot twist and reveal has been years in the making—the show is in its sixth season and has been wending its way toward this point from early on. In a way, this reveal is like light from a star that is only just now reaching us. Here on earth, in the U.S.A., the conversation about transsexuality has grown louder and wider by leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. And the stories we see have a role to play. A turning point in my awareness was seeing Laverne Cox in the first season of Orange is the New Black, and then flaring up in anger at coworkers talking about how Chelsea Manning doesn’t deserve to have access to her hormones in prison. Caitlin Jenner seems to have been a turning point for my coworkers, who finally stopped saying rude things about trans people after Jenner’s ESPY acceptance speech. Some stories are ahead and dragging us along with them. Some stories–like Pretty Little Liars, at the moment–are coming along from behind. We take a step forward in building empathy, and then stumble backwards when we reinforce gross stereotypes. We can and should call out the laggards, but my hope is that we are all still staggering ahead on this together.

Welcome to Amateur Hour: The Slow-Burn Love Song of Albert & Coop

albert_cooper_tp

All things Twin Peaks & Love over at new Seattle rag STACKEDD this month. I was assigned Twin Peaks fanfic. I expected that to be a larky, campy diversion but did not expect to be so affected by the work of several writers focusing on Albert Rosenfield. I now love Albert Rosenfield. Truly, deeply, madly. Thinking about writing my own fanfic. Kudos to my favorite Twin Peak fanfic writers, Amatara, Amonitrate, Nemo the Everbeing and CJMarlowe.

http://stackeddmagazine.com/2015/02/02/welcome-amateur-hour-slow-burn-albert-rosenfield-dale-cooper-twin-peaks-fanfic/