Tag Archives: LGBT

Human sex is not simply male or female. So what?

Aimee Ardell/Flickr

Sex is a divisive topic, loaded with moral weight and the scientific stamp of truth. The word ‘sex’ is of French (sexe) and Latin (sexus) origins, with sexus connected to secare (to cut/divide) and seco (half of). It is no surprise, then, that the sex binary is so firmly rooted in Euro-American thought, along with many others (think body and mind, nature and culture). It underpins and naturalises gendered divisions of labour through, for example, the notion of women as the weaker sex. Language mirrors the distinction between male and female, as in the way we talk about the sexes as ‘opposite’, and throughout life we are encouraged to think in binary terms about this central aspect of our existence.

While these gendered binaries play out in social life in reasonably clear ways, they also seep into places conventionally seen as immune to bias. For example, they permeate sex science. In her paper ‘The Egg and the Sperm’ (1991), the anthropologist Emily Martin reported on the ‘scientific fairy tale’ of reproductive biology. Searching textbooks and journal articles, she found countless descriptions of sperm as active, independent, strong and powerful, produced by the male body in troves; eggs, in contrast, were framed as large and receptive, their actions reported in the passive voice, and their fate left to the sperm they might or might not encounter. Representations in this vein persisted even after the discovery that sperm produce very little forward thrust, and in fact attach to eggs through a mutual process of molecular binding. Martin’s point? That scientific knowledge is produced in culturally patterned ways and, for Euro-American scientists, gendered assumptions make up a large part of this patterning.

In Gender Trouble (1990), the feminist theorist Judith Butler argues that the insistence on sex as a natural category is itself evidence of its very unnaturalness. While the notion of gender as constructed (through interaction, socialisation and so on) was gaining some acceptance at this time, Butler’s point was that sex as well as gender was being culturally produced all along. It comes as no surprise to those familiar with Butler, Martin and the likes, that recent scientific findings suggest that sex is in fact non-binary. Attempts to cling to the binary view of sex now look like stubborn resistance to a changing paradigm. In her survey paper ‘Sex Redefined’ (2015) in Nature, Claire Ainsworth identified numerous cases supporting the biological claim that sex is far from binary, and is best seen as a spectrum. The most remarkable example was that of a 70-year-old father of four who went into the operating room for routine surgery only for his surgeon to discover that he had a womb.

Early in its development, an embryo is sexless, able to move toward male or female characterisation. ‘The identity of the gonad,’ writes Ainsworth, ‘emerges from a contest between two opposing networks of gene activity.’ Different genes guide the gonad to turn into ovaries or testes, or, in the case of the RSPO1 gene, ovotestis, a hybrid of the two. Equally interesting are mouse studies that indicate that the state an individual’s gonads take is not just set early in life and fixed from that moment; rather it could require ongoing maintenance across a lifetime.

The picture this paints is of sex as a composite, potentially shifting over time. Sex is at the same time genetic, hormonal and morphological. All of these different manifestations of sex layer onto each other, so people might go their whole lives without knowing that they have cells or even organs of the ‘opposite’ sex.

Ainsworth raises the important point that while multiple gender identities are gaining social acceptance, and science is lending its legitimating powers to the idea of a sex spectrum, legal systems remain clumsy and ill-equipped to cope with such thoughts. Feminists and lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender scholars and activists have known this for some time, and have offered rich alternatives for thinking through law, sex and gender. Meanwhile, social scientists and historians have looked to other times and places to explore how sex and gender might be conceptualised.

In his book Making Sex (1990), Thomas Laqueur argues that some pre-modern Europeans recognised only one sex, on which they imposed two possible genders. The female body, from this perspective, was a mere inversion of the male. Both were characterised by a penis, which in women was simply interior to man’s exterior. As the anthropologist Rosalind Morris writes in ‘All Made Up’ (1995), Laqueur’s work ‘forces readers to acknowledge that gender dichotomies can be imagined in a variety of ways, none of which are reducible to the absolute oppositions that contemporary biology posits in the so-called natural body’. It also reminds us that the ‘sex spectrum’ is itself rooted in Euro-Western gender dichotomies, with male and female providing the framework upon which the new sex science is mapped.

In parts of Melanesia, the cluster of islands scattered through western Oceania, a person is thought to be made up of other, gendered, parts of people: their father’s bone, their mother’s blood. As such, they are always a composite of male and female. Though people here can resemble ‘men’ or ‘women’, ‘in gender terms, the single sex figure will have parts or appendages “belonging” to the opposite sex’, writes Marilyn Strathern in The Gender of the Gift (1988). Moreover, these parts might not always be of one gender or the other – they change according to circumstance. Relations and exchanges provoke gender to emerge differentially between people, over time.

This ‘dividual’ understanding of personhood is framed as a counterpoint to the individualism so taken for granted in the Euro-American world; dividualism acknowledges a form of existence in which the human person is not a bounded individual but an interpellated part of the social whole. That person’s existence is continually brought into being through interactions and exchanges with others. With such an understanding of personhood, sex becomes less of a totalising phenomena.

In the Papua New Guinean highlands, the Kamea see kinship not in terms of genes and heredity, but in social ties with familial obligations elicited through exchange, writes Sandra Bamford in Biology Unmoored (2007). For Kamea, a mother’s and father’s bodily substances struggle in utero, and the child’s ultimate sex is determined by the stronger. For the first five years of life, male and female children are treated as essentially the same, and referred to as imia (roughly, child) without any gendered qualification. Bamford writes: ‘The difference between “male” and “female”, or “brother” and “sister”, are not taken to be innate, but have to be created against an ungendered backdrop of “one-bloodedness”, which furnishes first and foremost an original field of sameness.’ This sameness drops away when a woman marries or a man undergoes his initiation rites. Through these rituals, people become fully reproductive beings. For the Kamea, biology is not meaningful in and of itself, but is made so through social processes.

Looking to other times and to other cultures, we are reminded that sex is to some degree produced through the assumptions we make about each other and our bodies, and the meanings we derive from our relationships. Now that our science is moving towards consensus on sex as a spectrum rather than a simple male/female binary, it is time to start casting around for new ways of thinking about this fundamental aspect of what we are. Historical and anthropological studies provide a rich resource for re-imagining sex, reminding us that the sex spectrum itself is rooted in Euro-Western views of the person and body, and inviting critical engagement with our most basic biological assumptions.Aeon counter – do not remove

Courtney Addison & Samuel Taylor-Alexander

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

The night when straight white males tried to kill disco

DJ Steve Dahl during Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 12 July 1979. Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

‘This wouldn’t have happened if they had country and western night.’
Richard Wortham, White Sox pitcher

It was a muggy summer night in South Side, Chicago in 1979. In and around Comiskey Park, home to the long-struggling White Sox baseball team, the scene was one of total chaos. Thousands of working- and middle-class young men, predominately white, predominately angry, went riot. Seats were ripped out of the stadium, urinals were kicked from the walls, and the opposing baseball teams were shut in the locker rooms for their own protection. Through it all, the rioters shouted a mantra. It wasn’t about inequality, lingering recession woes or the high-paying industrial jobs slowly seeping out of the Midwest. The slogan they chanted over and over, until their voices were raw, was: ‘Disco sucks!’

That summer, disco music was everywhere, saturating pop culture at the expense of almost all other genres of music. With its pulsing ‘four-on-the-floor’ beat, big vocals and affirming lyrics, disco was a shiny, upbeat escape for Americans living through the smoggy, cynical late-1970s. By the end of the decade, it had become as common as good old American apple pie – there were discotheques in most decently sized towns. Midwestern teenagers skated to Stayin’ Alive in roller discos, and many mainstream radio stations changed their programing to all-disco, all the time.

Disco hadn’t always been so mainstream. It evolved in the clubs and bars of communities that were historically marginalised by the straight, white majority. ‘Disco music was black music, basically,’ John-Manuel Andriote, author of Hot Stuff: A Brief History of Disco/Dance Music (2001), told me. ‘It was mostly recorded by black artists until the mid- to late-1970s, when white artists realised how popular the music had become. Back then, people heard new dance music in the clubs – not on the radio (at first) – so club DJs played a big role in introducing these black and Latino sounds to a bigger public.’

The gay community, its nightlife flourishing after the liberating Stonewall riots in 1969, embraced disco music and its pioneering DJs. ‘The group most responsible for keeping discos alive was the homosexual community,’ the sound engineer Alex Rosner told Newsweek in 1976. ‘The pioneering done in the disco field has been done by gays, with blacks and Puerto Ricans following … The common denominator there is oppression.’

By the mid-1970s, disco was catching on, and creating its own mainstream stars, such as Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer. But it was Saturday Night Fever (1977), the movie featuring a glamorous, dancing, ladies’ man played by John Travolta – and its accompanying disco soundtrack by the high-pitched Bee Gees – that made disco a nationwide phenomenon. ‘The Bee Gees put a white face on what was basically black and Latin music, and it exploded in popularity,’ Andriote says.

One of the victims of the disco explosion was Steve Dahl, then a 24-year-old Chicago radio DJ who pioneered the ‘shock-jock’ persona most identified with Howard Stern. In December 1978, he was fired from WDAI, ‘Chicago’s best rock’ station, when it switched to an all-disco format. Dahl soon found a home at the rock station the Loop 97.9, but he carried a grudge.

Built like the proverbial Pillsbury doughboy, Dahl brought with him a legion of young, alienated male listeners he named ‘The Insane Coho Lips’. Dahl and his posse greeted each other on-air with the salutation: ‘Disco sucks!’

‘If anything, the pushback from disco saturation was an act of self-preservation,’ Dahl would later write in Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died (2016). ‘No kid, just figuring out who he was and where he was going, would be prepared to have his assimilated rock-and-roll identity stripped from him. If the resistance was furious, it was because they were not prepared to shuck the rock and roll, which had sheltered them in their transition from kid to adult.’

Dahl saw disco as slick and inauthentic, and he took to playing popular disco tunes, only to ‘blow ’em up real good’ with sound-effects live on-air. These targeted antics were not isolated to the radio booth. At promotions, Dahl took to performing in a helmet and military jacket, destroying albums on stage. For this complicated, insecure performer, the adulation he received made him feel that he was building a movement – and advancing his career. ‘[My fans] were passionate about their music and their lifestyles,’ Dahl wrote in Disco Demolition. ‘I tapped into it, both as a response to being canned to make room for the disco format, and to build a community so I could keep my job.’

Dahl’s wife Janet took a more nuanced view of her husband’s motivations. ‘He looked goofy and chubby, his hair was bad, and he was breaking records on his head,’ she remembered. ‘But to be embraced was validating for someone like him.’ His fans, often from struggling, working-class Chicago families, lost in a new culture of women’s liberation, black rights, sexual liberation and Studio 54-inspired androgyny and materialism, felt validated right back. ‘I was a chubby kid,’ Kevin Hickey, a fan, recalled. ‘I remember Steve saying the reason he hated disco so much was because he couldn’t buy a three-piece white suit off the rack. That stuck with me because I couldn’t either.’

On 12 July 1979, Dahl would come face-to-face with the community he had created, on a night that became known as ‘Disco Demolition Night’.

That night, the White Sox were scheduled to play a doubleheader against the equally middling Detroit Tigers. As part of a ‘teen night’ promotion with the Loop radio station, fans were told that if they donated one of their disco records, they would be admitted into Comiskey Park for only 98 cents. Between games, Dahl and his cohorts promised to put the records in a giant dumpster at centre field and blow it up, the physical realisation of the audio stunts that Dahl had been pulling for weeks.

Fans flooded the stadium, as ushers struggled to keep up with the number of disco albums being shoved in their faces. One young African-American usher, Vincent Lawrence (who later became a pioneer of house music, disco’s direct descendant), noticed a disturbing trend as he took the albums. ‘A lot of the records were not disco records but BLACK records – Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder.’

The first game passed relatively uneventfully, the Tigers winning 4-1. Comiskey Park, often half-empty on game days, was filled past capacity. More than 47,000 people packed into a stadium whose capacity was 44,492. So far, the promotion had been a startling success.

But as soon as Dahl, clad in military fatigues, emerged in a convertible Jeep, the night took a sinister turn. Fans began throwing beers at the Jeep. Even Dahl was momentarily stunned. ‘When the door opened and I saw all those people,’ he remembered, ‘it was: “What the fuck? They are throwing beers and cherry bombs at us. And they’re the people who like us!”’

To chants of ‘Disco sucks!’, Dahl stepped out of the Jeep into centre field and led the crowd in a countdown to the demolition of the albums. But too much dynamite caused album fragments to shoot into the sky, and a crater was formed from the explosion’s impact. The crowd roared, as players continued warming up on the field.

‘The place went bonkers … People started jumping out of the stands,’ D J Michaels, a witness, remembered. ‘It was like the rats leaving a ship. A few, then more, then total chaos.’

Dahl and his team were whisked to safety. Bonfires were started. The White Sox player Steve Trout remembered the scene:

I walked out to look at centre field, and I heard something go by me. It was an album from the upper deck and landed next to my right foot. It was stuck in the ground. I said: ‘Holy shit, I could have been killed by the Village People.’

The White Sox player Ed Farmer got in a fist fight in the parking lot. The Chicago Police Department, including mounted policemen, appeared at the scene. A little more than an hour after it was scheduled to begin, the second game was postponed due to unsafe conditions.

By the time the riot had dissipated, 39 people had been arrested, and the field was smouldering and gutted. For many of the participants, it was an exhilarating experience. ‘We didn’t take over the dean’s office but we took over our ballpark,’ Bob Chicoine, a vendor, remembered.

Almost immediately, the local media latched on to the story and ran with it. Joe Shanahan, a bar owner and native Chicagoan, recalled watching reports of the scene:

I could see the South Side kids I grew up with on the television running over their field. Those were the douchebags I ran away from in high school. And they were burning records. I thought: ‘Didn’t you all read Bradbury? Burning books? Burning records? This has the feeling of a really bad cloud. And why is it coming out of Chicago? And why is music of any kind, whether I like it or not, being destroyed for some radio promotion or some baseball promotion? It gave licence for people to not be in the modern world.

The story soon became nationwide news. Disco was again labelled ‘other’ – foreign and not tough enough for real, heartland American males. Dahl and his cohorts strongly denied (and continue to deny) that the ‘Disco Sucks!’ movement had anything to do with racism or homophobia. ‘I’m worn out from defending myself as a racist homophobe for fronting Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park,’ he wrote in his book. ‘This event was just a moment in time. Not racist, not anti-gay … It is important to me to have this viewed in the 1979 lens … That evening was a declaration of independence from the tyranny of sophistication.’

Disco did not worship at the altar of the rock god. It was the Village People versus Pink Floyd. Andriote agrees: ‘My take on what happened [at Comiskey Park] was that it was a boiling-over of testosterone from white straight men who saw disco – and the whole club scene – as threatening to their masculinity.’

By the early 1980s, disco was beyond passé, and so were all the fanciful accoutrements that went with it – glitter balls, dance lessons and belting divas. Some people point to the events at Comiskey Park as ‘the night disco died’, although over-saturation and mediocre products also helped lead to its rapid downfall. Yet, despite the best efforts of men such as Dahl, disco’s influence lives on. The marginalised groups who loved the music – blacks, women, Hispanics, Latinos and gays – have increasingly claimed their rightful place in society. Disco informs the work of many of today’s superstars, from Bruno Mars to Lady Gaga, and popular music from house to EDM. As the Village People sang: ‘You can’t stop the music, nobody can stop the music.’Aeon counter – do not remove

Hadley Meares

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Are Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez an item in “Annihilation”?

Sci-fi is getting a little bit more diverse thanks to Annihilation. This movie has been low on the radar, but it’s about to blow up with the first images of Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez exploring a beautiful, yet certainly dangerous, world, making the rounds again thanks to POCCinema.

Fans have already endeared themselves to Rodriguez and Thompson’s characters, with several excited that Rodriguez’s character is also a lesbian.

As far as I know, we haven’t gotten word on if Thompson’s character is also lesbian or at the very least, not straight, but we do have a lot of suggestive tweets and social media activity between Thompson and Rodriguez that are leading fans to hope that Rodriguez and Thompson’s characters are, in fact, an item.

What kind of relationship do you think Rodriguez and Thompson’s characters have in the movie? Leave your speculation below!

Annihilation is directed Alex Garland and stars alongside Thompson and Rodriguez Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sonoya Mizuno, Tuva Novotny, David Gyasi, Crystal Clarke, Bern Collaco, Honey Holmes, Kola Bokinni, and Mairead Armstrong. The film follows a team of female scientists on a secret expedition where “the laws of nature don’t apply.” The film will be in theaters September 2017

“Power Rangers” shows the superhero genre how representation is done

Photos: Kimberley French/Lionsgate

If you told anyone that the movie that was going to shake up the superhero genre in the best way would be the film adaptation of Power Rangers, they would be shocked and probably, in some strange, elitist, I’m-too-old-for-Power Rangers way, appalled. But Power Rangers has come out of the blue as the film when it comes to portraying a diverse group of people in a way that is both organic and makes sense for today’s world and today’s multicultural and diverse audience.

The two characters that have set Power Rangers apart from other films are Trini (the Yellow Ranger), played by Empire star and pop singer Becky G., and Billy (the Blue Ranger), played by Me and Earl and the Dying Girl‘s RJ Cyler. Trini is the first LGBT character in the Power Rangers universe and her story includes her coming to terms with her sexuality and her “girlfriend problems.”

“For Trini, really she’s questioning a lot about who she is. She hasn’t fully figured it out yet,” said director Dean Israelite to The Hollywood Reporter. “I think what’s great bout that scene and what that scene propels for the rest of the movie is, ‘That’s OK.’ The movie is saying, ‘That’s OK,’ and all of the kids have to own who they are and find their tribe.”

Cyler talked to ScreenRant about how he got into character as Billy and what he learned about respectfully playing a person on the autism spectrum.

“I wanted to show a different…viewpoint of people that are seen as bieng on the spectrum…Or people dignosed with autism, ’cause it’s like I feel like us being outsiders looking in and I take that, I cast my own stone when I say that, ’cause there’s a lot that I didn’t know before,” he said.

“I actually sat down and shut my mouth and actually just listened and you know, accepted every bit of information with no judgement,” he said. “I know that it was my job to show, you know, that people that are on the spectrum are just regular people, literally just how we talk, how me and [Becky G] talk, they feel the same way, they have the same emotions, they wanna be loved…they want relationships; they want, you know, connections, and it’s just like I was really excited to be able to play tthat ’cause I know it means so much to so many people, ’cause all of us are affected by it…and it’s something I feel like we needed to have in this movie to be honest.”

If you’re an O.G. Power Rangers fan, then you know that the show has always included a diverse cast, which, in retrospect, might have been kinda daring for the time (despite the fact that the black and Asian cast members were the Black and Yellow Rangers…) I know for sure that, despite for the subject color naming, I was positively affected by Power Rangers, since I saw myself in both Zack Taylor (Walter Jones) and Trini Kwan (Thuy Trang, RIP), who was the only woman of color on the original season, I should add. It seems like we’re seeing another generation of action fans being positively influenced by Power Rangers again, if Twitter is anything to go by.

In short Power Rangers has shown all of these other blockbuster films how it’s done when it comes to representation. There’s no time to worry about box office returns or any other political machinations when it comes to showing people as they exist in the world. I’ll definitely have to check out Power Rangers for myself, because it might just help me with my own increasing knowledge about where I sit on the autism spectrum (since, from research I’ve done and from personal anecdotes I’ve heard about myself, I believe I’m a prime candidate to be diagnosed with ASD). Growing up during a time when your own vision of autism was Rain Man, it’ll be refreshing to see a different portrayal of a condition that affects all of those affected in many different ways.

What do you think about Power Rangers? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“RuPaul’s Drag Race”/”Untucked” Season 9 recap: Mother Monster has arrived

Vh1

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 | Episode 1, “Oh. My. Gaga!” | Aired March 24, 2017

First, I’m SO GLAD RuPaul’s Drag Race is back! This is one of my favorite shows of all time, and even though I’ve never really recapped it because, frankly, I was selfish. I wanted to keep the magic and the glamour of the show to myself and just have something fun for me to enjoy. BUT, I also feel it remiss to not recap it when Season 9 looks to be the most polished season yet.

By now, most hardcore fans have seen the first 18-20 minutes of the first episode, so we already know that Lady Gaga walked into the workroom with the rest of the queens as one of them until she took off her mask. She’s inspiring to the queens, yada yada yada. I’m not trying to sound flippant about it; it’s just that I’ve seen the first 18 minutes about three to five times before the episode aired so that part of the episode is already passé for me.

Instead, let me show you the video of how Eureka was moved to tears by how Gaga helped her in her darkest times.

Since we’re talking about Eureka, why is she living out all of her insecurities through mild bitchery? If there’s one thing that annoys me, it’s when a big queen inadvertently plays into the “bitter big woman” stereotype. I think Eureka is funny and I’m sure she’s a lovely, witty person, but come on, girl, stop cutting people down right out of the gate. Also: stop with the “I’m a big girl” jokes. Again, another thing that annoys me is when a big queen makes all of their comedy based around their insecurities about their fatness. It makes me sad and, frankly, uncomfortable, if I’m being honest. Speaking from a personal place, I know what it’s like to have body insecurities. I think a lot of us get that. But for me, if you’re a big queen, you’ve got to show that you’ve got more up your sleeve than self-deprecating jokes. Rant over.

So the theme of the episode is a Gaga-centric Miss Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent Pageant Competition! The queens had to give two looks: one repping their home town, and the other one being their favorite Gaga look. Also: No queen is getting eliminated this episode! Hooray! We get to know the queens more!

So let’s get into my favorite looks.

Hometown

Shea Couleé–Chicago

I like how, even though she’s a beauty/makeup queen, she still gives you humor. Her reference to Mystique Summers’ “Bitch, I’m from Chicago!” line and her sexual hot dog jokes, coupled with that headpiece and the commitment to the Chicago-style hot dog theme really set her apart for me.

Aja–New York City

I know several reviewers hated this look, particularly since she and Peppermint both dressed literally as Lady Liberty and Alexis Michelle had the Statue of Liberty on her peacock fan-thing. But I just like this look. Maybe I’m just being biased, but it just looks cool to me, and I like the idea of seeing an edgy Lady Liberty wearing an orange wig.

Valentina–Los Angeles

The sombrero, the hair, the makeup, the flowers, the thigh-high garter-belt boots that are also tights??? I don’t need to say much more about this, do I? The look speaks for itself. It’s all so expensive, and that’s what I love about Valentina’s aesthetic; it’s rich and luxurious and I want to live that life.

Nina Bonina Brown–Atlanta

Again, do I really need to explain why this is amazing? JUST LOOK AT THIS PEACH HEAD! IT’S MADE OUT OF CARDBOARD! It’s simultaneously the freakiest and most creative, artistic thing I’ve seen on this show. I like the way Nina’s mind works.

Lady Gaga

Nina Bonina Brown

What I love about this look isn’t just that it’s clearly Gaga; it’s also the winning look. Eureka thought this wasn’t going to win Nina the pageant crown, and lo and behold, it did. I think what Gaga identified with was the originality that still came through Nina’s looks despite having to adhere to a theme, especially one as limiting as dressing as someone else. However, Eureka’s look was also one of my favorites.

Eureka

It’s very clearly Telephone, and it’s very well made. What Eureka does best is give body queen looks, showing you don’t have to be skinny to wear skin-tight or form-fitting clothes. I do like Eureka’s aesthetic and what she’s trying to do with her drag.

Aja

Kimora Blac was saying that picking Gaga’s red carpet looks were boring, and that she wanted to do one of Gaga’s everyday looks. Well, this is how you do one of Gaga’s everyday looks. While Kimora picked yet another black strappy number, Aja chose one of Gaga’s more daring silhouettes. For me, the Commes de Garcons look played very well into the Aja brand, which is simultaneously about pushing the boundaries and just being fun and accessible.

Valentina

I’m used to seeing Valentina in elaborate wigs, so this wig was kind of a letdown for me. But, the look is still one of my favorites because everything is so put together and fashion modely. Her walk was catwalk-ready.

Sasha Velour

It’s funny that Sasha Velour is already being clocked for being the artsy queen, as in that perhaps she’s probably relying too much on artsy-ness. Perhaps it’s the Brooklyn in her; I only visited New York for about a week, but for the time I was in Brooklyn, I definitely got the sense that it was an enclave all about art and expression. Also, having been in the art world for most of my teenage life, I know this type of artist all too well. I’m not saying she’s not great; she’s one of my favorites of the season. But I can already tell that her biggest challenge will be if she can switch from niche artsy-ness to clsasic drag camp. Versatility, if you will.

Having said all of that, I think the ARTPOP look suited Sasha to a T and she sold it expertly. However, ARTPOP itself also suffered from being too artsy, so it’s kinda ironic that Sasha would pick a look that shows both the strength and flaw of being the Artist Queen.

Final notes:

• Poor Jaymes Mansfield. I’ve seen her on YouTube and she’s great on her channel. But she’s coming off as shellshocked on this show, and it’s understandable. But I hope she’s able to get herself together through the season. I really don’t want her to go home early. She’s got tons of talent, and I think she has the potential to go far. But if I can get into my Untucked review, the biggest part I hated about the first Untucked episode is that Eureka decided to come for Jaymes just because she’s quiet. Unlike the other queens, who seemed actually genuine in their concern about Jaymes’ emotional state, Eureka just seemed like she wanted to cut at the person she felt was the weakest. Again, I feel a little personal about this because I’ve been cut at for being quiet or shellshocked in some situations. Not everyone’s got a loud personality and it seems like Charlie was among the queens who understood this. In fact, it was Charlie who inquired about Jaymes in the first place. Perhaps its because he’s acquired tons of wisdom, since he is, in fact, the oldest queen. But Eureka needs to chillax on this and let Jaymes gather herself.

• Gaga needs to become the Tim Gunn of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I feel like she has a deep respect for the art of drag as well as for the lives of drag queens themselves, and I like that she put herself on the mat when it came to discussing the line between appropriation versus appreciation. I know she gets a ton of flack for what she does for the gay community because to some, it comes off as weaseling her way into the a life she doesn’t understand. I admire that she discussed her own hesitancy to appear that way and her sincere desire to uplift the community, not try to selfishly insert herself as one of its members. I think that bit of self-awareness is refreshing, since I’ve also wondered about Gaga’s intentions on that front. I don’t think we see a lot of music celebrities exhibit that kind of self-awareness, and I responded well to it. I also came to admire how she told the queens how she felt about their looks to their faces during Untucked and not just keep it all nice on the runway, then kill them behind their backs. She kept it 100, but she also kept it encouraging. I like that. Good show, Gaga.

• I’ve listened to several reviews as I wrote this recap, and I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one not getting Kimora Blac. Do I think she’s snatched and beat? Yes, of course. But do I think she’s got a limited range as of right now? Completely. As other reviewers have said, she hasn’t varied her look much, if at all, and I feel like she could give us a lot more. I think she’s got the potential to do that; she’s just stuck in a rut.

• I know Peppermint is a seasoned performer, so it’s kinda astonishing to me how she let herself go out there on the runway with her lacefront visible like that. Sure, they don’t have a lot of time backstage, but everyone else had their wigs together! As Gaga said, it’s the details that Peppermint has to focus on, and her lack of focusing on the details seems to be consistent, from what I’ve seen of her in the “Meet the Queens” segment, her RuPaul’s Drag Race premiere red carpet look, and the looks she’s given us in this episode.

• My mom doesn’t watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, but if she did, her clear favorite would be Valentina. When I showed her Valentina’s entrance into the workroom, she said, “She’s gorgeous! And her body looks good, too! That’s amazing!” I completely agree. For your consideration, Exhibits A-D:

• I’m also going to just say this now: I’m a huge Valentina stan, so there might be some favoritism in this recaps, but who isn’t biased when they’re writing recaps of shows? I just love Valentina so much. Can they make a Valentina Barbie? I’d buy that right now.

• I’m also an Aja stan, and I can’t wait for a challenge that will allow her to dance her competition into the ground. As I showed in my predictions article, Aja can dance to literally any music you put before her, and she said as much in this episode. There’s a reason she’s the number one name in Brooklyn; she’s so exciting to me. And the fact that she gives big ups to John Leguizamo is awesome too. It must be true that sexuality is a construct since I’m attracted to Leguizamo both in and out of drag. (Heck, the only reason I liked the terrible Super Mario Brothers movie was because of how cute Leguizamo is in it.)

• I’m also a big Nina Bonina Brown stan as well. I love her originality, and I really identified with her statement in Untucked, in which she revealed that she was at her lowest point when she auditioned for what was going to be her last time. Everything she said about doubting if your dream is something that is actually meant for you hit home, so it encourages me to see that if Nina can make it and achieve her dream after crippling doubt, then I can, too.

The mystery queen!

The internet is saying it’s Cynthia Lee Fontaine, which would be major if that were true, because I, like tons of people, love the Queen of Cucu. Also, the hair, the covered-ness of the outfit, and the closeup on the queen’s butt seem to point in Cynthia’s direction. But some other guesses floating out there include Lynesha Sparx, Coco Montrese, and Jasmine Masters. All we know is that the queen is either Latino or black, has a big booty, and loves short hair, which means it could be any one of these queens since they all fit the bill. Who do you think it is? Vote here:

 

Who is the mystery queen?

Lynesha Sparx
Coco Montrese
Cynthia Lee Fontaine
Jasmine Masters

Poll Maker

What did you think of the inaugural Season 9 episode? Who gave you your favorite looks? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

5 of the best transgender books for kids

The need for transgender books is great, and the need is only growing, especially as children become more aware of themselves, their bodies and how they identify with gender. Jazz Jennings, a transgender teen girl who was the subject of TLC’s I Am Jazz documentary series, summed up why books on transgender characters and narratives are important.

“Having transgender characters leads to more visibility which creates education,” she told USA Today. “Education can hopefully lead to everyone treating our community with acceptance and love.”

With such a need for representation, the fiction world is now beginning to cater to the underserved market of transgender kids and teens. Here are five of just a plethora of books for kids out there focused on transgender characters and experiences.

All summaries from Amazon.com. 

I Am Jazz  by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas (ages 4 to 8)

Summary: From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

Why I like the book: I really like what fellow ASFA-ite Laverne Cox wrote about the book:

“This is an essential tool for parents and teachers to share with children whether those kids identify as trans or not. I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions. I found it deeply moving in its simplicity and honesty.”

George by Alex Gino (by ages 9 and up)

Summary: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Why I like the book: The review by the School Library Journal points to what makes George a must-buy for parents–it’s a book that focuses on the power of pronouns and visibility.

…George offers more than the novelty of an LGBTQ coming-out story, however. Here, what is most remarkable is the use of pronouns: While the world interacts with George as if she is a boy, the narrator only refers to her with female pronouns, which gives her girl-ness a stronger sense of validation. In addition, George comments on the fact that, in past years, gays and lesbians have achieved a certain amount of visibility and acceptance, while the trans* community is still largely ignored and misunderstood. George’s mother remarks that while she can handle having a gay child, she simply can’t accept her as “that kind of gay.” For George, as is the case for many LGBTQ youth, coming out is a process that she must repeat until she is properly recognized. There is pain in George, but not without the promise of a better tomorrow, even if tomorrow doesn’t arrive as soon as it should.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (ages 11 and up)

Summary: Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?

Why I like the book: Gracefully Grayson has been lauded by readers and reviewers as being a thoughtful story that has helped teachers and tutors better understand their students. According to one Amazon review:

“Gracefully Grayson is a must read for middle school teachers and parents. Ami must have been a wonderfully insightful and compassionate teacher. I found myself weeping many times throughout this story. Learning who you are, who you want to be is a lifelong process. No one said it is easy, especially for children who have life issues to deal with. Books like this offer all readers the opportunity for thoughtful introspection and meaningful discussion or just the experience of broadening ones horizons. I am recommending an immediate read for my former colleagues, grandchildren and their parents.Kudos to Ami. Well done.”

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (ages 12 and up)

Summary: The groundbreaking novel from critically acclaimed author Ellen Wittlinger that tells the story of a transgender teen’s search for identity and acceptance has now been updated to include current terminology and an updated list of resources.

Angela Katz-McNair never felt quite right as a girl. So she cuts her hair short, purchases some men’s clothes and chose a new name: Grady. While coming out as transgender feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reactions of his friends and family. Why can’t they accept that Grady is just being himself?

Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in unexpected places—the school geek, Sebastian, who tells Grady that there is a precedent for transgenders in the natural world, and Kita, a senior, who might just be Grady’s first love.

In a voice tinged with humor and sadness, Ellen Wittlinger explores Grady’s struggles—universal struggles any teen can relate to.

Why I like the book: Parrotfish gives readers a look at gender identity on an intimate level. According to Booklist‘s review:

“…[Wittlinger has] done a superb job of untangling the complexities of gender identity and showing the person behind labels like ‘gender dysphoria.’ Grady turns out to be a very normal boy who, like every teen, must deal with vexing issues of self-identity.”

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (ages 12 and up)

From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong―why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?
In Freakboy‘s razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

Why I like the book: Freakboy has been called a “must-have for library shelves” by Booklist, citing its verse, multiple main characters, and an in-depth exploration of gender identity.

When Brendan Chase types “Want to be a girl” into his Mac’s search engine, one word pops up: transsexual. In Clark’s raw, honest debut novel, told in verse, three voices capture a few experiences of teens on the transgender spectrum. Brendan is “not one of those people / who’s always wanted to wear a dress. / Who’s always known / he should have been born female.” Sex with girlfriend Vanessa, although confusing, feels good, and Brendan questions throughout whether or not he’s trans. Fortunately, there’s an angel in his life—literally. Angel, trans without sex-reassignment surgery (“My junk doesn’t dictate who I am”), fights against demons of her own and struggles to reconnect with her younger brother. She’s a volunteer at Willows, a center for queer teens, and eventually introduces Brendan to terms like gender identity, gender attraction, genderqueer, and gender fluid. Meanwhile, the third voice belongs to Vanessa, a girl on the boy’s wrestling team, who can’t understand why her boyfriend, Brendan, is suddenly so distant. Unlike many novels that deal with one transgender character, this movingly explores so many gender identities, from the three main characters (each appears as a different font) to Angel’s roommates. A must-have for library shelves, this will be popular with fans of Ellen Hopkins. Resources and further reading conclude.

What books do you recommend? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Background research: Huffington Post

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 9 predictions: Who will be the top 5?

Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race is upon us come March 24 on VH1, and I can’t even figure out who will be the first queen sent home. All of this season’s queens seem like they could easily take the win, but even still, I have a couple of predictions as to who will be in the top five. Join me on a journey and see if you agree.

Nina Bonina Brown

 

Nina Bonina is someone who is a true unique force. That’s tough to say that with this list is because all of these queens on this list are true unique forces who are bringing something new to the art of drag. But what Nina brings is a truly different way to paint. She doesn’t just “beat a face” in the traditional beauty queen way; she literally becomes the characters in a hyperrealistic, yet very painterly way. It’s astonishing. (Case in point: her Transformations episode in which she made James St. James into Minnie Mouse.)

Also, her performances are wildly entertaining as well. Maybe the use of “wildly” is a bit of a pun, since this particular video is of her Season 9 premiere party performance as an ape. (As a Planet of the Apes superfan, it’s giving me visions of what an Ape City nightclub must be like and I love it.)

Sasha Velour

Sasha Velour is the performance art queen to beat. Sasha is probably the most avant-garde queen I’ve seen, and she definitely embodies that artsy New York spirit. She also has given herself the unique trademark of an artistic unibrow, which takes from further still from the traditional beauty makeup and presentation of what the mainstream might think of as a drag queen. Overall, Sasha’s elevated drag to a fine art level.

Shea Couleé

Shea Couleé has the makeup skills down and her own set of avant-garde references, as she showed in her episode of Transformations:

But she also has some amazing dancing skills, too, particularly with her Beyoncé performances.

I think she’s probably the most conventional on the list, but she’s got tons of stage presence, and she seems to be in line with the RuPaul mold of Young, Gifted and Black supermodel queens. RuPaul does like her Black Barbie queens, as evidenced by the wins of Bebe Sahara Benét, Tyra Sanchez, and Bob the Drag Queen (who does fall in line with that description for me–wouldn’t you count Viola Davis as a Barbie?), so Shea Coulee could certainly end up following in that tradition.

Valentina

I hope one day Valentina’s fans start calling her La Valentina, because she’s a true Diva in every sense of the word. Well, except for being mean; of course I haven’t seen the show, but she doesn’t strike me as a malicious queen. What she does strike me as is humble, graceful, and gracious to her fans, which is how our Divas used to be back in the day (if, for some Divas, only in their outward appearance to the public).

Valentina really embodies that Diva persona in the best possible way, so much so that it does take me back to my childhood in the ’90s, when you would see these larger-than-life singers like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and Celine Dion and say, “Yes, that’s how a superstar is supposed to be!”

Of course, I’m using examples from my very narrow perspective; clearly, Valentina’s true love lies in showcasing the divas of her childhood and of her background, like Yma Sumac, Isabel Pantoja and Selena Quintanilla, to name just a few. Valentina said in her “Meet the Queens” interview that she tries to bring that telenovela, over-the-top dramatic style to her drag, and she certainly does, and for me, it’s the most comforting thing ever.

Also, she’s Boulet Brothers approved: She won a live stage version of “Dragula” two years ago, so if she can get the Boulet Brothers’ stamp of approval, then that means she’s definitely got some skills up her sleeve.

Aja

For me, it’s really going to come between Valentina, Sasha Velour and Aja for the crown. That’s my prediction and I’m sticking to it. Aja really has something special that gives her the X factor, and I think it’s her ability to tie today’s drag trends and direction to past influences, like The Fifth Element, singer La India and John Leguizamo’s drag-filled one-man comedy acts from the early ’90s. We haven’t even talked about her intense voguing yet, or her ability to perform to any song, whether it’s by a man or woman, whether it’s rap, R&B, salsa, what have you.

Many have tried to read her for looking a lot like Naomi Smalls, but could it be the no breastplate thing is just coming into vogue now? As I wrote above, Aja’s just as much about trends and trendsetting as she is about showcasing her varied pop culture influences and knowledge in her performances. I think she’s been able to combine everything we’ve seen from recent seasons and make something one-of-a-kind. It’s that alchemical ability that just might allow her to snatch the crown.

And just for good measure, here’s the act Aja was referencing in the John Leguizamo mix, “Manny the Fanny.”

Aja not only entertained me, but she taught me something new and increased my love for John Leguizamo ten-fold. Of course I’m going to root for her.

Who do you think will be in the top five? Who do you think will win? Give your opinions below!

When your feminism isn’t intersectional: Raquel Willis on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s recent “trans women” comments

Channel 4 Twitter/YouTube

The internet is full of faves, but it’s always the moment that they’re put on a pedestal that your faves end up disappointing you. Partly because they are human and humans will disppoint you, but also because you realize that sometimes, your faves still need schooling on certain areas of life and social politics. Case in point: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Adichie was on Channel 4 News recently, being asked about feminism and women’s issues. Then, she unwisely said that “trans women are trans women,” alluding to her opinion that trans women don’t belong under the same “woman” banner as folks who were born as ciswomen.

Here’s what she said:

Okay, let’s pump the brakes for just a second. As you know, Adichie came to full pop culture power when she was featured on Beyonce’s Flawless. She became lauded for her viewpoints on feminism, particularly where black feminism fits in within the entire “feminism” conversation. Her book sales skyrocketed and she became an overnight “fave” of the Beyhive and laypeople alike.

It’s unfortunate that Adichie has this viewpoint about who does and doesn’t belong under the umbrella of “womanhood,” because trans women are women, full stop. In fact, how she said it and what she said is eerily similar to how black women have to fight against white feminism all the time.

However, you don’t have to take my word for it. Raquel Willis, an advocate, activist, and member of the Transgender Law Center, wrote an important Twitter thread about her experiences as a trans woman and how Adichie’s comments are just a continuation of the kind of oppression trans women face on the daily from ciswomen.

Adichie also wrote an article for The Root, called “Trans Women Are Women. This Isn’t a Debate.”

Some key points of the article:

“I was inspired by seeing another black women so unapologetically claim the feminist label and be willing to discuss it publicly. However, I should have known that her [Adichie’s] analysis on womanhood would exclude transgender women. Plenty of other mainstream feminists have shared their own transmisogynistic (anti-trans-women) views with a conflation of gender, sex and socialization in their core beliefs about equality.”

“…She began by gaslighting transgender people. On one hand, she wanted to give the appearance of inclusion and understanding, but on the other, she stripped trans women of their womanhood. By not being able to simply say, ‘Trans women are women,’ Adichie is categorizing trans women as an ‘other’ from womanhood.

Trans women are a type of woman, just as women of color, disabled women and Christian women are types of women. Just as you would be bigoted to deny these women their womanhood, so would you be to deny trans women of theirs.

Then Adichie invalidates trans women for not having a certain set of experiences. When cisgender women do this, it reminds me of how white women in the United States were initially viewed as a more valid type of woman than black women. In her iconic 1851 ‘Ain’t I aWoman’ speech, Sojourner Truth spelled out how inaccurate and privileged it is for us to use these limitations in public discourse.

…Just as it was wrong for womanhood to be narrowly defined within the hegemonic white woman’s experience, so, too, is it wrong for womanhood to be defined as the hegemonic cisgender woman’s experience. Cis women may be the majority, but that hardly means their experience the only valid one.”

In short, to quote Willis’ article, trans women are women; this isn’t up for debate. Also, if you are in the public eye like Adichie, make sure to talk about stuff you know; don’t make assumptions about stuff you have no clue about.

Another point: Inclusion is key if we’re all going to get somewhere, and that means including and recognizing the humanity of all womanhood, which includes trans women. I’ll let Willis’ speech from the Women’s March be the last word.

What do you think of Adichie’s comments and Willis’ rebuttal? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Beauty and the Beast”: Let’s talk about LeFou – positive representation or token gay stereotype?

Is LeFou breaking new ground or is he just more of the same? (Disney/screengrab)

The big news coming out about Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast is that the Gaston’s sidekick character is gay. Not “coded as gay“–he’s actually, up and down, openly gay. We’re finally in the future, everyone!

Or are we? The character being officially out is something we have been hoping a mainstream family project would actually do. Also, it seems like Disney is also going to give us, as director Bill Condon has been saying, “an exclusively gay moment” at the end of LeFou’s journey in the film, which I can only assume that he ends up with a loving guy to call his own (if Gaston actually still dies in this live-action version, which I’m assuming he will). According to Attitude Magazine, Condon says:

“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

Attitude’s Editor-in-Chief Matt Cain praised the film’s scene, calling it a “landmark moment for LGBT representation”:

“It may have been a long time coming but this is a watershed moment for Disney. By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural – and this is a message that will be heard in every country of the world, even countries where it’s still socially unacceptable or even illegal to be gay. It’s only a first step towards creating a cinematic world that reflects the one in which many of us are now proud to live. But it’s a step in the right direction and I applaud Disney for being brave enough to make it – and in doing so hopefully helping to change attitudes and bring about real social progress.”

HOWEVER, the clip from the film featuring LeFou singing the classic Beauty and the Beast song “Gaston,” seems a little…stereotypical? Check it out for yourself.

Josh Gad, who portrays LeFou, plays the role a little too stereotypically “fabulous,” at least from my point of view. He could have toned it down a little bit–I mean, it’s a broad role, to be sure, but come on! It doesn’t have to be that broad. But I could be wrong; LeFou might be less stereotypical than I’m thinking it is.

Marissa Martinelli seems to share my sentiment about the stereotypical aspects of LeFou in the live-action film in her Slate article “The ‘Exclusively Gay’ Character in the Beauty and the Beast Remake Is Not As Revolutionary As Disney Thinks It Is.” Martinelli discusses Disney’s huge queer-coding past with its villain (because remember: LeFou is still a villain) and how LeFou is still not a shining light of gay positivity:

But since the film has chosen to do that by including a character who is literally gay, it’s worth examining their choice. LeFou is a sidekick and a relatively minor character who spends most of the original film groveling at the feet of Gaston, a living embodiment of toxic masculinity if ever there was one, and receiving only abuse in return. That “falling for a straight boy” narrative is not exactly a shining example of LGBT positivity—though it’s possible, of course, that in Condon’s version, LeFou will finally stand up for himself. (Is that the “payoff” Condon is referring to?)

As Martinelli said, LeFou as openly gay is a milestone, but it’s still not as if Disney is bringing us the first gay Disney princess or even the Star Wars Finn/Poe relationship folks have been clamoring for. Also, Josh Gad is pulling the same basic BS others have done when discussing LeFou’s sexuality, which, from a cynical point of view, could be taken to mean Disney’s trying to backtrack from the small Alabama town (that I’ve never heard of and I’m from Alabama) that decided they didn’t want to show the movie, as well as Russia debating as to whether they’ll ban the film or not.

As he said to ABC during the film’s premiere:

“Is he the first gay Disney character? I’ll leave that audiences to decide.”

Now, someone could read this statement as him baiting Disney about their own checkered history with using gay themes and tropes in their characters (such as The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula the Sea Witch, who’s based on drag queen legend Divine, or Pocahontas‘ Governor Ratcliffe and Wiggins, who are not only voiced by David Ogden Stiers, who came out in 2009, but are also clearly in some kind of relationship, whether that be a surprisingly loving one, given Ratcliffe’s self-centeredness, or some kind of kinky 50 Shades of Grey thing). But that’s being optimistic. He’s using the same tactic Paul Feig used for Ghostbusters when discussing Kate McKinnon’s Ghostbusters character Holtmann. SIGH.

So…there we have it. Everything’s changed, but everything’s still the same.

What do you think about LeFou? Give your opinions in the comments section below!