Happy Lives: how the literary Canon doesn’t handle sexual assault TW

Well Hi There!

I haven’t scared you away yet? Hmmm. Must be doing something wrong.

Last week I talked about the myth of the tortured creative and why I personally think we need to completely re-work that social narrative. If you’re curious and haven’t see that post,  check it out!

Today I want to talk about a similar, but unrelated topic, specifically the way we deal with survivors of sexual assault in our books, our movies, our TV shows. For obvious reasons this post gets a trigger warning.

*** TRIGGER WARNING*** Discussion of sexual assault, real and fictional. If you or someone you know has been hurt by sexual assault the national sexual assault help line is 1-800-656-4673, or go to www.rainn.org and open their live chat 24-7, whenever you need it.

I’m going to be focusing on literature today, mostly because that is the medium I interact with most as a human. But, the principles I’m discussing largely cross apply to the big and small screens and all other forms of media. Continue reading “Happy Lives: how the literary Canon doesn’t handle sexual assault TW”

Creative Agony – Beautiful Art and Broken People

Why the idea of the tortured artist really needs to go, insight from being told I couldn’t get better and still make cool shit.

Oh, Hello Again!
I suppose I should warn you, this is going to be a toughie.

I think one of the most harmful ideas I was ever given actually came from my high school psychologist. At the time I admired him greatly, and I will never discount the fact that he gave me he tools I needed to help a lot of friends, and was my connection within that school to official mental health services. I knew a lot of people who needed help, and thanks to him I knew that I couldn’t adequately provide that assistance myself. And yet, he had some ideas and perceptions of the world that I cannot help but find profoundly harmful looking back. Of these, the one that I still struggle with most today is the idea that creativity is born of pain and suffering and that to get better was also potentially to lose my writing, my art, my passion.

That idea is, in a word, bullshit.
Continue reading “Creative Agony – Beautiful Art and Broken People”

2019

Hey there!

Whelp.

It’s 2019. The American Government is still in partial shutdown, Trump is still President, Nancy Pelosi is, once again, the Speaker of the House. I’m back in school, one semester away from graduating with my undergrad degree. As I write this I am listening to Robert Reich’s Inequality For All, on Netflix. Wonderful film, by the way.

Oh. And it’s snowing. Winter wonderland. The roads are shit.

photo of white vehicle crossing a tunnel
It’s so pretty though, right?

Like most years I have been struck, this last month, with a sense of wonder and estrangement from the fact that we have completed another year. A year is both an incredibly long period of time, and a strangely short one. In 2018 the expected lifespan of the U.S. adult was approximately 80 years. So a year is roughly 1/80th of my (and possibly your) expected life, barring unexpected luck and health or unexpected misfortune and ill-health. So, really think about this and sit with it for a moment: Between the turning of the year from 2018 to 2019, you have used 1/80th of your life. The numbers are arbitrary, but our experience of the concept of time is very very real.

First of all, congratulations. You made it. Don’t care if it was a good year, a bad year, the best year, you made it. And that’s something to be proud of. Glory in the little things.

enjoy the little things
Ah, Zombieland. Good Movie.

At the same time, a year is deceptive. This last year, in the United States at least, has been a tumultuous one. I imagine that it has been similar elsewhere in the world. The U.K. is grappling with Brexit negotiations and seems closer than ever to staring down the face of a no-deal exit. President Trump has arranged a second meeting with North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un, meanwhile his lawyers, family, and self constantly contradict themselves on policy issues, the Mueller Investigation, and even basic issues of honesty and empathy. China and the U.S. are both dealing with the results of the Trump tariffs, which have drastically changed the landscape in the seemingly unconnected landscapes of steel and soy in both countries. Japan and South Korea are both relying on a famously inconsistent President to provide the diplomatic and military might to keep North Korea in check.

But the passage of a year is complicated in other ways, unrelated to the newsworthy events of the year. Recently I have been seeing more and more memes concerning reaching adulthood as a person who, for reasons of mental illness, never really planned for it because you never really thought you’d get there. I can empathize with that idea. As someone with PTSD, which I have had since I was a child, a year, much less the larger concept of adulthood and life-planning, is huge. It doesn’t feel real to have made it so far. That’s a huge part of my disconnect from the new year.
I also get the sense that as a collective, not just individuals to struggle with mental health, we’re a little surprised to have made it this far. Between economic crises and climate change and the general instability of the political sphere, well, I won’t go so far as to say that we’re surprised to have made it another day, but it might be accurate to say that we’re for the shoe to drop. I know a lot of people who keep large amounts of food in the house, not because they need it, but because they worry about the snow storm, the missed paycheck, the unexpected bill, that means they can’t get groceries. My mom keeps more than a month’s worth of food in my childhood home. Some of that is a love of variety which is deeply ingrained into my family, some of it is to satisfy an anxiety about being able to provide enough food to live on. We’re middle class. It shouldn’t be this way, but that, my friends, is a discussion for another day.

this is fine - trump

On the drive to campus today I was listening to The Martian by Andy Weir and narrated by R.C. Bray. At one point while I was listening the main character described his labelling system for the last food rations he had and how he had designated when he would get to enjoy them. One was labelled, “I survived something that should have killed me”, the thinking being that some shit was going to happen. He doesn’t know what, or when. But presuming he survives it whenever it does, he gets to eat that ration as a reward for surviving some crazy shit. That’s us. I was listening to this with my partner and one of my roommates, and out of a highly humorous and wry book, that was the only section that got all three of us to laugh at the same time. Why? Because we could empathize with Watney, the main character, on a deep level in that moment. All three of us, going through life, are somewhat waiting for the next pile of unexpected bullshit. We don’t know if we’re going to make it, but for damn sure we’re going to celebrate if we do.

So that’s what I’m hoping to connect with this new year. It’s not a resolution-partly because I know myself and commitment is an… issue, partly because I celebrate new year on Halloween (we’ll talk about that later), and partly because damn it but resolutions feel lame as hell. But I want to concentrate less of the scary BS parts of being a human being, and more on the victories of having survived. The BS will always be there, and boy is there a lot of it in the world right now, but every little victory overcoming it is worth some kind of celebration.

-R.

Representation Matters: Rub and Tug Edition

Upcoming movie Rub and Tug (planned release in 2019, directed by Rupert Sanders and written by Gary Spinelli more info here,), seems like it could be well timed in a world dealing with the realities of trans identities and also grappling with sex work and prostitution. While the two subjects may not seem inherently linked at first glance, both the recent history of the trans and LGBTQ movements, such as the Stonewall riots, link the two. Rub and Tug is poised to unite them in a way that could be both genuine and insightful. The movie’s main character, Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, was a trans man who lived and breathed the sex work world. However, there’s also much that could go wrong, and at least one possibility has already nearly come to pass. I am, of course, talking about Scarlett Johansson’s casting as Gill.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of Scarlett Johansson. I think it’s incredibly impressive that she has managed to gain a reputation as an action actor. No mean feat for a woman in Hollywood. I was skeptical of some of her previous roles, A Ghost in the Shell (2017, also directed by Rupert Sanders), but overall I enjoy her work.
However, much like with A Ghost in the Shell, at some point casting should reflect the character. I’m all for blind-casting with some projects. But there are some things that aren’t ready for blind-casting by simple virtue of having not gotten to experience true-to-form casting. And trans characters are definitely in that category. Sure, there are trans actors playing trans characters on screen (Laverne Cox as Sophia Burnette in Orange is the New Black is one example), but there are few roles that trans actors are cast for. Certainly, as Jamie Clayton (of Sense8, and a trans actress) pointed out, “Actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS. THATS THE REAL ISSUE. WE CANT EVEN GET IN THE ROOM.”  source. If trans actors were getting cast in cis roles (cis being the term for individuals whose gender identity and assigned-gender match) this would be less of an issue. But they aren’t. Trans actors are getting cast for some trans roles, and no cis roles. So when the field is narrowed even further by a cis actor taking on a trans character, of course there is going to be some controversy.

But, as a genderqueer person, I think the graver insult is that Scarlett Johansson was fundamentally a woman playing a character who worked very hard to live and be seen as a man.

It would have been less insulting, in my option, for Gill to be played by a cis-man than a cis-woman. Logistically that also poses challenges, makeup would be necessary for pre-transition Gill, if any such scenes are planned, but makeup would be necessary to turn gorgeous and petite Scarlett Johansson into an older heavier trans man. I would have been accepting of two actors playing Gill, pre and post transition, but even this runs into problems of asserting that pre and post transition are two different people and identities when, for many trans folks, the perception that gender transition also changes who the person fundamentally is is still a problem. Transitioning just means that the outside portrayal of the person looks and is allowed to act more like the internal version of that person. Other key defining factors and interests usually are unaltered, or if they do change it’s better laid at the feet of character growth and development rather than the person’s change in appearance.


At the end of the day I also think that it was a betrayal of the character himself to cast a cis-female as Gill. Gill was a man who managed to define himself for himself, and those around him, as a man at a time when the language and understanding for trans-ness wasn’t there. Moreover, he did it as a criminal and a pimp, where the people surrounding him aren’t exactly likely to be easy to convinced of his identity. Particularly not when Gill was an ex sex-worker himself. The force of character and of will that would have been necessary to do this is immense. And if we want to portray this person in our media I think it is incredibly important to do so in a way the man himself would have been proud to see. Not a woman in makeup and a costume, but a man forging a path for himself in a difficult and unforgiving, not to mention criminal, world.

I’m grateful that Johansson quickly decided to withdraw from the project after the controversy came to light. But the mere fact of her original casting makes me nervous for the movie as a whole. It has an opportunity to bring a conversation about transness and the connection between transness and doing sexwork out of necessity and lack of other options, to the fore. It has an opportunity to bring discussions about why the Nordic Model of addressing sexwork isn’t a positive or effective way of addressing either the legality or minimizing the risks of sex work. And it has a chance to humanize the people who do sex work, by choice or out of necessity. I hope that the movie does these things and does them well. But I worry, given the tone-deaf choice of this casting, and the controversy of Rupert Sanders’ casting Johansson in A Ghost in the Shell, that this is not the director, nor the time, to tell this story. Rub and Tug has a chance to do something incredibly important and valuable here, but I fear it may become yet another freakshow spectacle profiting off minoritized identity and the same sex and depravity sells model we’ve seen too many times before, and may yet see too many times again.

What do you think?

-R.

Pride Month — Pan and Not Proud

 Hey Everyone!

So, I’m Pan!

Uh, no. Not the god. No, not like Peter Pan. Pansexual. No! That does not mean I like to have sex with pans!

Okay, good. Now that that’s over with.

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while, but I’ve struggled with starting it. Especially given the current political climate and the anxiety in large parts of the LGBTQ+ community concerning Trump and Pence in general I worried about coming from within the community and saying anything that wasn’t a message of love and self-acceptance. I’ll be writing those pieces too, and soon. But, for a long time, I have felt awkwardly out of place in LGBTQ+ spaces, or even identifying myself as Queer, and I want to talk about why that is. Even in a touchy political climate it is important to me to identify that we still have major things to overcome in these spaces, and why those challenges still matter even when bigger issues are on the horizon. Continue reading “Pride Month — Pan and Not Proud”

Stress

Hello Everyone!

 

My desk is clean!

No, really, that isn’t a metaphor. My desk is clean. That’s where I’m gonna get started with this.
I figured it might be a good idea to make use of the space since I was so determined to clean and re-organize the other day. Good habits and all that.  Continue reading “Stress”