Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes" Is One Sweet Ride

Last week, on consecutive nights, I went to two theatrical events in Chicago. On Thursday, I had the pleasure of seeing "Aladdin" at the Cadillac Palace, a lavish musical derived from the Disney film, one that won me over from its opening number and kept building from there in sheer entertainment force. But the previous night's more low-key experience, played in a black box theatre to a house of perhaps fifteen souls on a cold, rainy evening, possessed every bit of the charm, the joy, and the emotional heart of the far more expansive Broadway in Chicago production. In a tiny theatre, Gorilla Tango Theatre's one-hour long homage to a real-life NYC lesbian biker club, "The Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes," reminds those who seek it out that theatre need not be expensive spectacle to be worth the trip.

The play, a new one written by Camille Smith, concerns a group of lesbian friends (and the trans lover of the group's leader), who have decided to start a biker gang in order to accomplish some altruistic purpose they have not yet decided upon. In a series of short scenes, we learn about these people, the joy they find in their togetherness, their shared and individual histories, and some of the pain in their lives. We also discover that, most of the time, first impressions are only skin deep (though, yes, there are always exceptions), and family is, or anyway ought to be, family, whether you're born into it or you've chosen it as your own.

Katy Johnson holds the story together with a bittersweet performance as Deena, the leader of the group, who is trying both to establish this new biker gang and to navigate the deepening chasm growing between her and her pregnant sister Kelly, a dour Kate Souza, pouring unspoken—and spoken—pain into their relationship over Deena's love for her transgender boyfriend, Quinn (North Rory Homeward) and the loss of their parents. The struggle between the sisters, as well as its effects on the relationship between Deena and Quinn, form the ongoing pathos of the piece, and all three central players here shine. Homeward, a transgender actor in his first onstage transgender role, easily captures the frustration of someone caught between two impossible choices: Quinn cannot make a strong stand either way despite Kelly's apparently transphobic attitude for fear of driving a stake between the sisters and having his lover come to blame him later. There are many small, subtle acting choices all three make that add much to the unfolding drama.

But the play is a true ensemble play, and its other players are every bit as important. The bar at which the bikers meet is run by Marie, (a dynamic, feisty Marie Treadway). Marie is basically a "take no crap" lesbian, and her huge character, to which Treadway gives her heart, her soul, and at one point pretty much all of her breath, often dominates the stage, and creates a large amount of the comedy of the piece. Another comic focal point is the character of Bella (Cat McKay), a free spirit, devil-may-care young woman whose attitude might best be summarized as "life is meant for me to have fun." And right now her fun involves a woman she has her eyes on, Evie (Elodie Sinetra), whom she is sure must at least be bisexual and who is in a completely self-destructive relationship with prototypical frat-boy, self-involved goon Jake (played to the hilt by Nate Curlott, having a great time being a total jerk). The secondary plot of the story is Evie's coming out, and one scene in particular between her and Jake somehow manages to be hilarious, frightening, and full of pathos all at the same time.

By the time the gang discovers its raison d'etre and the light and sound crew have tons of fun with a motorcycle ride through Chicago, the play has done more than its share to inspire and entertain. This may not be a play with a huge name, but it deserves to be seen. It plays on Wednesdays at 8 PM at Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago 60647 until June 28. Do yourself a favor: instead of seeing a movie some night, see this play. You won't be disappointed.


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Friday, April 14, 2017

Once More With Meaning: A Deconstruction of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6


Fans of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the cult hit that celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, disagree about a lot of things regarding what, for many of them, is the Best Show Ever Made. (Full disclosure: I am part of that camp.) Ask about their favorite episodes and some will say "The Body" while others argue for "Hush" or "Tabula Rasa" and more will sing the praises of "Once More With Feeling" or other episodes in the seven season canon of the series. Ask about their favorite Buffy boyfriend and you'll have a huge fight on your hands between Angel and Spike. (No one is likely to expend much breath over Riley.) Ask about their favorite villains or monsters, and you'll get all sorts of answers.
But there is one thing on which “Buffy” fans have, for fourteen years, agreed on as if with a single voice: Season 6 of the show was a low point for the series. Heck, in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, star Sarah Michelle Gellar herself discussed her distaste for that season: “I’ve always said that season 6 was not my favorite. I felt it betrayed who she was.” For a long time, I shared that opinion. It was, after all, Buffy’s own: she spends much of Season 6 loathing her own behavior. She keeps secrets from her friends. She isn’t present emotionally for her little sister Dawn. She can’t sense the deep needs her friends Xander and Willow have until it is far too late. She can’t seem to find a way to “adult” in any variation of the term. She finds herself in a torrid sexual affair with Spike, an erstwhile nemesis who is still, according to both of them, “evil.” And she simply can’t shake her feelings: even after he attempts to rape her, she still trusts him to care for Dawn. Her decision-making in Season 6 is, in a word, miserable.

Fans find a lot miserable about Season 6, starting with its Big Bad. While other seasons gave us The Master, Angelus, Adam, the Mayor, and Glory, all worthy supernatural opponents, Season 6 has Buffy face off against a “Trio” of nerds who failed at everything they tried to do in high school and now have joined together in all of their elaborate nerdness (nerdity?) to try to get some revenge. Even Buffy, in one episode, describes their efforts as “lame.” Interestingly, many fans have even more trouble with the one supernatural Big Bad of the season, Dark Willow. Her power is as great as the Hell-god Glory’s the previous season—perhaps greater—but many fans simply can’t get past adorable Allyson Hannigan as the bringer of doom. And some don’t feel the threat is great enough until the very end, since she is hunting the Trio, who sort of deserve it. Other fans point to the overall depressing tone of the season, noting that creator Joss Whedon was busy with two other programs (”Angel” and the new “Firefly”) and was not involved in direct oversight of “Buffy” that year and thus was not around to insert his trademark wit. (For the record, Whedon disagrees with Gellar about the effectiveness of Season 6 as well as his own involvement.)

However, a two-day binge watch of Season 6 now, a decade and a half after it first aired, reveals something that was not readily apparent the first time through, when we were reeling along with the characters from what was happening in Sunnydale. Watching it now, it’s easy to see that there are several major themes working through this season, and ultimately every one of them ties together. Beyond that, something else becomes obvious: far from lacking wit and cleverness, this season, above all others, is a total deconstruction and self-examination of the entire series that, in the end, blows it all up and puts it back together to set up a grand finale.

Among the themes that weave their way through the episodes of Season 6:

The hell of being alive

At the end of Season 5, Buffy, who had learned cryptically that her “gift is death,” finally understands that, in order to save the little sister who doesn’t even exist when the season began but, due to memory manipulation, seems to her to have been present all of her life, she needs to sacrifice herself. It is the second death with which the Slayer gifts the world, the first occurring near the end of Season 1 at the hands of The Master. Season 6 begins, appropriately enough, three months later, and Buffy’s friends have taken over the slaying with the help of a robot who looks like Buffy, an effort to fool the demons and vampires into believing that she is still around. But Willow, now a powerful witch, can’t get past the pain of believing her friend must be residing in some unknown hell dimension, suffering because of the sacrifice she made for them. Thus she casts a spell that pulls Buffy back from the grave. From the start, it goes wrong: demons scatter the friends as they work the spell and Buffy is left to claw her way from her own coffin, an image we’ve seen so many times in the series: the dead rising.

As we learn, Buffy was not in a demon dimension at all, but in heaven. Returning to earth, she asks a single question in the first episode in which she appears: “Is this hell?” It’s a question that plagues her throughout the season. In the musical episode “Once More With Feeling,” she sings about it directly: “There was no pain. No fear, no doubt, till they pulled me out of Heaven. So that's my refrain. I live in Hell 'cause I've been expelled from Heaven.” It’s a hell without emotion: Buffy can no longer feel.

Now, through the smoke she calls to me To make my way across the flame To save the day or maybe melt away I guess it's all the same
It is in this state, desperate to feel anything, that she turns to Spike, who is everything she hates, for physical solace. Their initial liaison is nothing like the tender love-making she had with Angel or Riley: it is a tornado, a boxing match, an unleashing of emotions so primal that, when they finish, the abandoned building in which it happens literally falls down around them. And she says it is “the most perverse, degrading experience of my life,” but she does it again...and again because she needs to feel. She is addicted. Which brings me to the next theme.

The power of addiction

Buffy learns it through her escapades with Spike: there are times when the need for something is so great that it overwhelms common sense. Dawn also discovers the power addiction has during the season, as she continues the shoplifting that she began in Season 5, bragging to a friend about how much she has stolen and eventually getting to the point where, in “Entropy,” she and Buffy literally can’t shop in downtown Sunnydale because she’s been banned from so many shops. Indirectly, her shoplifting helps bring about the dancing demon Sweet in “Once More With Feeling”: Xander actually calls him for a lark, but it is Dawn who may determine the moment by wearing the charm she lifted from the Magic Box.

Another character dealing with a form of addiction is Spike, who simply cannot get past his emotional need for Buffy.

I know I should go But I follow you like a man possessed There's a traitor here beneath my breast And it hurts me more than you've ever guessed If my heart could beat, it would break my chest But I can see you're unimpressed
Eventually, his obsessive pain is so great that he risks death to return his soul in order to be with her properly.

The single greatest example of addiction, of course, is Willow, whose addiction to magic is front and center for much of the season. She finds herself in so deep that she ends up visiting a warlock to get herself hooked up with serious dark magic, the scene so like an addict seeing her fixer that it is impossible to miss the metaphor. She’s in so far that she nearly gets Dawn killed. Eventually Tara gets her to stop cold turkey by leaving her, and that proves to be her wake-up call. Late in the season, the two lovers finally reunite and all seems joyful and happy until a stray bullet meant for Buffy hits and kills Tara, and Willow’s intense rage and pain send her completely over the deep end, turning her into the witch monster Dark Willow, whose addiction to power is so great that she can no longer distinguish her friends or even herself, and she can’t see the value in human life at all.

The critical importance of friends

Like Dark Willow, every time anyone goes it alone in this season, things go completely awry. Willow with her magic, Buffy with her secrets, Giles with his returns to England, Dawn with her shoplifting, Xander with his wedding fiasco: going off on your own never leads to anything good. Anya, too, makes a poor decision when left to her own devices, getting back into the demon business (though her ability to teleport does indeed come in handy in the season’s climax). Even within the Trio, Warren (clearly the one making all of the decisions) makes many bad calls when he is not tempered by his cohorts, up to and including the bullets that trigger his own destruction. Though people continue throughout the season to undervalue their friendships, it is clear again and again how important they are.

The first images we have in the season are of the Scooby Gang banding together to fight the vampires none of them could fight alone. The only moments of calm during the season come in those rare moments when two or more people are allowed just to sit and talk (though Buffy’s birthday party, as usual, turns into a near-disaster). Very little, really, is joyful in this season. Sex, as we’ve noted, certainly isn’t. Xander and Anya’s wedding devolves into a riot before the groom walks off (alone). Pretty much all social gatherings involve at least one character who is depressed and needing comfort or terribly angry at someone else. Working together, as the Scoobies do in the first episode of the season and as they’ve done all along, just seems to vanish. It isn’t until everyone comes together to stop Dark Willow that they seem to remember that they are a team. Anya holds Willow off with a spell. Giles fights her with powerful good magic. Xander and Dawn work together to move what remains of the Trio away from her.

In the end, Dawn actually joins in with Buffy to hold off the supernatural monsters Willow has called into creation to keep the Slayer busy while she destroys the world, and it’s left to another friend, the usually feckless Xander, to save the day by placing himself in harm’s way and desperately (and successfully) seeking whatever small grain of humanity might remain with Willow’s darkness.

The meta-cognition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 6 is, without a doubt, the most meta season ever put together by a show that was not self-consciously meta in the first place. (”Community” fans, you don’t count.) From the beginning, this season is a complete and complex deconstruction of the entire series that has preceded it.

Let’s begin with the Trio. Positioned at first to be the season’s Big Bad (and they would have been without a doubt the lamest such villain of all seven seasons), what they are, in truth, is a “trio” of high school losers who think that, by joining forces, they can become winners. Call it “Revenge of the Geeks.” My husband, watching Season 6 for the first time, made this observation: “They are the show’s fans.” (Now I took some umbrage with that, pointing out that I am a fan, but he just said that was a proof, not a refutation.) But he’s essentially correct: in previous seasons, “Buffy” aimed high and higher, eventually finding the level of god for its Big Bad. It’s a bit difficult to continue a steady rise at that point. Further, Buffy had, at the end of Season 5, as already noted, died, a fact that had to be dealt with. All of which made Season 6 a very interesting year. Instead of simply trying to continue the unimpeded growth in power and evil of the Big Bads, the show turns its figurative cameras inward, dissecting itself, exploring exactly what made it work, and rewiring some of the narrative threads almost as blatantly as it did a year earlier with the introduction of Dawn.

The Trio works because they are relatable. We all have known (or are) people like that. And as the season wears on and they reveal that, yes, they do have some talents, but their clear ineptitude will never allow them to succeed, we start feeling sorry for Jonathan and weak-willed Andrew, who falls under Warren’s spell. Warren, though, is another matter: he is a malevolent geek. It was clear when he was introduced (in the Season 5 episode “I Was Made to Love You”) that he has a misogynistic and sociopathic streak. Season 6 allows him to play more fully with both, and eventually leads him to murder. But until Warren’s darkness takes over, the Trio are basically everyman. And it is, in fact, as if Whedon and his partner in crime Marti Noxon have unleashed a group of fans into the Buffyverse just to see what kind of havoc they might cause. And the answer, apparently, is a lot. It is the annoying kid of havoc, as Buffy observes, rather than the apocalyptical kind: “You three have, what, banded together to be pains in my ass?” But in its varying odd types, it is also revelatory.

In one signature episode, “Gone,” the Trio accidentally turns Buffy invisible. Far from being irritated by this development, though, the Slayer discovers a newfound freedom in her lack of reflective matter. It’s as if for the first time all season she can breathe. Unobserved, she glides from place to place like a ghost—which in fact is what she feels like anyway—to make little things work better in her life and to have a bit of fun with her newfound status. But what she doesn’t see is what her sister sees easily: her own desire to slip away from a life she never asked for in the first place.

The Trio expand the meta element in other ways as well. One example is quite literal: they plant cameras everywhere the Scoobies hang out to watch them. Thus, within the show, we have characters (the aforementioned fanboys) watching the show.

Beyond the Trio, though, this season is full of meta riffs on what this series has been and continues to be. “Once More With Feeling,” the musical episode that serves as a mini-climax to the first third of the season, uses the motif of a demon who forces everyone to reveal truth in songs to create commentary about characters, secrets, the show itself, and even the very songs they are singing. In one lyric, for example, Willow notes, “I think this line’s mostly filler.” Anya, after the duet she and Xander sing, complains, “Clearly our number is a retro-pastiche that's never going to be a break-away pop hit.” And Buffy, at one point, critiques everything from her wardrobe to the show’s basic demon-hunting tropes:

Well, I'm not exactly quaking in my stylish yet affordable boots, but there's definitely something unnatural going on here. And that doesn't usually lead to hugs and puppies.
The entire episode, a bit of a meta joke in itself, is one revealing comment or busted secret after another. By the time it’s finished, the demon Sweet observes, “there’s not a one who can say this ended well.”

The ultimate expression of this theme lies in the episode “Normal Again,” in which Buffy imagines that her entire universe is actually the insane dream of a lunatic in an asylum. Several times during this episode she questions her own reality, wondering which is more likely: a teenager in an asylum unable to cope and living in a fantasy, or a superhero “chosen one” fighting vampires and demons. The episode is structured so that it is just barely possible to believe that the alternative reality is, in fact, the truth. In this exchange, the asylum version of Buffy listens to her doctor and her mother, who is now dead in her Sunnydale life, deconstructing her “fantasy”:

Doctor: A magical key. Buffy inserted Dawn into her delusion, actually rewriting the entire history of it to accommodate a need for a familial bond. [to Buffy] Buffy, but that created inconsistencies, didn't it? Your sister, your friends - all of those people you created in Sunnydale - they aren't as comforting as they once were, are they? They're coming apart.
Joyce Summers: Buffy, listen to what the doctor's saying. It's important.
Doctor: Buffy, you used to create these grand villains to battle against, and now what is it? Just ordinary students you went to high school with. No gods or monsters, just three pathetic little men... who like playing with toys.
The comment about Dawn’s sudden intrusion upon the landscape of the series and how her presence seemed to have shifted the “comfort” factor of the “fantasy” is a direct reference to a fanbase controversy about that character that was still raging at the time. And the comment about the villains is about as self-aware as any comment can possibly be.

A final area in which Season 6 is turning its cameras inward is in the characters’ individual and collective relationships with life. For the first three seasons, the main characters are in high school, which creates both a comfortable boundary and a fundamental theme (high school is hell). In season 4, Willow and Buffy move on to college, leaving Xander behind. The focus becomes the college campus, especially with The Initiative. Season 5 moves back home with Buffy, once more spreading things out and moving the focal point to the Magic Box. It is in this season, too, that the Scoobies begin to fragment. Xander proposes to Anya. Willow and Tara are deeply in love and nesting. Dawn is in the picture and they are fighting a god to keep her alive. Joyce dies. Buffy dies. It is a painful, sad year despite some emotional highlights.

For five years, with Buffy to lead the group, there was always some kind of cohesion. Now, though, first without Buffy and then with a “broken” Buffy, the whole group seems lost, and entire episodes and parts of episodes are dedicated to the mundane and important realities of living life: getting a job, getting a loan, trying to hold on to your family against society’s odds, getting a haircut, making meals, fixing leaky pipes, cleaning dishes...in a word, adulting. Buffy, for one, is lousy at it. Willow isn’t much better, seduced as she is by the Dark Side Magicks. Anya is almost good at it, but she’s emotionally immature and easily sent over the edge by Xander, who isnt good at it. Basically, Tara is the only one who’s any good at it, and she doesn’t last the season. She does, though, seem to understand that life isn’t a game you play all the time.

“Buffy’s” penultimate season breaks down its previous rules and situations and sets its fans up for one final ride. Buffy dies without another slayer being called, opening the door for the 7th seasons’s concept of Potentials. The two couples created in Season 5 are decoupled, reuniting the Scoobies as the central force of the show. Dawn’s whiny, self-centered shoplifting days appear to be behind her. Giles seems to have returned for good. Spike regains his soul. It’s a new day in Sunnydale.

Ultimately, Season 6 might come down to something that is said, again, in “Once More With Feeling.” Spike stops Buffy from dancing herself to death and sings to her:

Life's not a song. Life isn't bliss, life is just this. It's living. You'll get along. The pain that you feel can only heal by living. You have to go on living. So one of us is living.
It’s a reflection of a line Buffy herself had told her sister before she sacrificed herself so Dawn could live, a line that Dawn echoes, a line that can serve, if any one line can, for the fundamental theme of this pivotal season: “Dawn, the hardest thing in this world...is to live in it.”

This is why “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is such an important program and Joss Whedon such a brilliant writer and producer. In a show about a “chosen one” who slays monsters and demons and vampires he managed to create something completely universal, something that speaks to anyone if they let themselves immerse in it. I’m of the opinion that there are only two types of people in the world: those who love “Buffy” and those who haven’t watched it yet.
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Gorsuch, McConnell, Trump and Russia: Creating a Constitutional Crisis

The Neil Gorsuch confirmation hearings opened yesterday with hours of opening statements by senators that, depending on your interpretation, either foretold a week of tough questioning for the candidate or signaled a Democratic Party in disarray without a unified plan of how to deal with him.
I’ll tell you how to deal with him, and it’s easy:
Dont.
Go ahead: ask him all of the questions you want. Find out what his agendas are, to the extent that he will tell you, since SCOTUS nominees are notoriously tightlipped about anything remotely significant during their confirmation hearings. Ask him about his independence from Trump. Ask him about women’s issues, a topic highlighted this weekend with the notorious letter from one of his former law students. Ask him about his rulings that would overturn years of settled jurisprudence allowing federal agencies to interpret their own rules. Ask him about Citizens United. Ask whatever you want.
And then, if you are a patriotic citizen of this country, filibuster his nomination.
I am not suggesting that Neil Gorsuch is not qualified to be on the Supreme Court; by all accounts he is. However, there are at least two excellent reasons to table this nomination at this time:
First of all, this is a nomination that never should have existed, and we all know that. It is the result of what will in all likelihood be seen by historians as one of the most cynical exercises of partisan politics in American history: the hijacking of a Supreme Court nomination by the Republican Senate under Mitch McConnell from Barack Obama. After President Obama selected a highly qualified, GOP-friendly candidate in Merrick Garland, McConnell orchestrated an unprecedented denial of service: a refusal to hold hearings or even meet with the nominee, with no legitimate reason, eventually acknowledging that what he wanted was to roll the dice and hope Trump won the election and could appoint someone more right wing. An action this brazen should not be rewarded, and if it is, it will taint the Supreme Court forever. It will no longer be the impartial arbiter of the law; it will merely be another partisan branch of the government, subject to the whims of the electorate.
Gorsuch may be a perfectly decent man and an excellent judge, whether I agree with his rulings or not, but there simply should not have been an opening for him at this time. The odds are that this President will have at least one or two more opportunities to nominate him, and that is when he should be considered. Not now.
The second reason is more complex and yet, I suppose, at the same time it is just as fundamental to the Constitution and to who we are as a people and a nation. The Constitution gives the President of the United States the power to nominate Supreme Court justices. Right now, that office is held by Donald J. Trump. But there are legitimate and serious questions about how he got there, and those questions are now under investigations by the FBI and other intelligence agencies. Soon, it seems likely, there will be reason to appoint a Special Prosecutor. And if, as does not appear unlikely, we discover that Donald Trump made his way into the White House by procuring the assistance of a foreign government—not just any foreign government, but our long time enemy, Russia—well, then we have a conundrum: a President whose very election was an act of treason.
Suddenly we are thrown into a Constitutional crisis. We can impeach Trump, yes. But that makes Mike Pence, his Vice President—a man who is only in that office because of Trump’s treason—the President. Do we run the entire election over? How exactly do we handle something like that? The Founding Fathers didn’t give us guidelines for it; we’d be in wholly new territory. But one way or the other, one thing is absolutely clear: if Donald J. Trump is only President of the United States due to collusion with Russia, he should NOT have the ability to appoint someone to the Supreme Court and thus affect an entire generation of American lives.
Therefore: for either of these reasons or both of these reasons, filibuster this nominee if you love your country, senators. If you do it for the second reason and Trump is found innocent of the charges being levied against him, you can always revisit Gorsuch later. But you can’t undo the appointment once you confirm it. Stop it now, in its tracks. It’s your patriotic duty.
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Friday, March 10, 2017

Transgender in the Age of Trump: A Personal Reflection



I remember when I was about three years old, watching my mom change my little sister’s diapers, I first realized that there was an anatomical difference between what my parents referred to as “girls” and “boys.” I understood that they considered me the latter, but it had never made any sense to me until that moment.

We were a Catholic family in 1960. I was precociously aware of things little children usually are not, like the way that parents responded to male offspring as opposed to female ones. I was the oldest “son,” and I was constantly told how important that position was in the family even as a toddler, probably because even as a toddler I already had two younger siblings with another on the way. Intuitively, I understood that what I knew about myself was not something I could share, so I kept it hidden.

But I knew how to pray, so every night I prayed that the extra part that stopped me from being like my sisters would vanish by morning and I would be able to just be one of them. It never did. Neither did my compelling understanding of who I am. I tried my hardest to bury it, to live the life my body dictated I “had” to, but ultimately I simply couldn’t. At age 40, I transitioned, almost four decades after I first understood that I needed to.

Transitioning thrilled me: I was finally getting to be myself. It was also a terrific risk; I was a high school teacher and that had never been done before. But I got lucky and my school supported me, making some history along the way. I recall a lot of fears and concerns in those early years along with my joys, but mostly the joys. And four years later, my son, who had struggled with emotional issues all his young life as a girl, came out as TG, and I got to experience the thing from a parent’s perspective. It was a lot harder watching him go through it than going through it myself. He was the first in his school too, and we fought for any kind of acceptance; it took until his very last choral concert before they finally let him wear a tux instead of the silky white shirt the girls wore.

That was the early Bush era. I thought those days were history. I mean, the Alliance group at my school, in recent years, has had a significant contingent of genderqueer and TG kids in it. Some were open about it in the hallways too. A couple had changed their names officially with the school; others were waiting for college. It seemed to be a completely new level of acceptance.

But then came the backlash. It didn’t start with North Carolina, but that was certainly the most noticeable place to point to. And then “bathroom bills” became the focal point of anti-LGBT measures across the country, as if the vicious “religious” conservative groups finally gave up on gays and needed a new marginal group to lash out at and had just discovered us: someone smaller and weaker. But, thank goodness, Obama was President. He stopped them in their tracks by letting schools across the country know clearly that they needed to protect trans kids and pushed for trans protection with all of the authority of his office.

But now he’s gone and we have The Orange One.

It’s no shock that he has acted the way he has in stripping rights from us. Most of us were shouting that he would do this long before the election. He owed us nothing; he owed the “religious” conservative people a lot. And he’s a bully by nature: he has already attacked other marginal groups, most notably immigrants and Muslims; we were clearly on his radar. The loss of the Gavin Grimm case is particularly disappointing, as it removes the chance to undo some of the damage he has done. A positive SCOTUS decision could have cemented protections for our kids into the law. Perhaps a quick Appeals Court review will put it back there this session. Perhaps. And perhaps my cat will become a youtube singing star.

The thing is, though, that two different dynamics are going on with trans people in this Age of Trump: On the one hand, we’re definitely down from where we were and where we ought to be. We’ve lost Obama and Biden, who were our champions. We’ve already lost protections under the law. We continue to see more and more erosion in states that see us as “other” and buy into the “predator” myth. (The latest example is New Hampshire, which abandoned its long-standing claim of supporting individual freedom–”Live Free or Die!”–to screw over trans people this week.) We are stuck (at least for now) with an Attorney General who hates us and a Vice President who doesn’t believe we even really exist. (We’re just sick people to both of them.) And maybe Betsy DeVos is on our side, but she clearly isn’t strong enough to stand up to the triumvirate of Trump, Pence, and Sessions. And who knows about Bannon? I don’t know where neo-nazis stand on transgender people, but I suspect it isn’t good.

But despite all of this, and the prognosis for so much more damage that these self-righteous bastards now in power can cause, there is something else happening as well that is potentially very positive and far reaching. If you google images for trans kids, you find hundreds of loving family photos along with photos of protests for their rights. You have to scroll through pages and pages of them before alighting on a single one that is anti-trans. (It’s a stupid one too: some idiot advocating prison time for parents who put kids on harmless puberty blockers.) The overwhelming feeling is one of love and support.

Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts (Boy Scouts!!!) have shifted their policies to allow trans members. The military allows trans service people. Pro-trans children protests routinely make the news. Trans actors, characters, and personalities are more and more visible in films and television. Some, like Jazz Jennings and Laverne Cox, have become well-known. Jazz Jennings even has a doll that looks like her. A TG doll!

There is even a kind of positive shift in the most horrible things, like the brutal hate-murders of trans women: these unconscionable crimes were often either unreported or unnoticed just a few years ago. Now they are national news. And the killers, if they are caught, a few years ago might have gotten off with a light sentence; now it’s a hate crime. Some day we may see the horror stop altogether, but that will require a shift in national attitude: of course there are going to be a few a**holes who act this way when their churches, their friends, their congresspeople, their freaking President, tell them we are less than nothing.

In all, the first two months of the Trump era have clearly been a huge step backwards for trans rights in America, as they have been for almost everything decent and good about America. But there are signs that hope is not lost; it resides, as it always has, in the hearts and souls of the people themselves. And so far, it appears that the more he throws at them the more they want to fight back.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Can a Trumpocalyptical Meltdown Lead to an Election Do-Over?


The simplest answer to my title question ought to be “No.”
Of course not. There is no provision in the Constitution for re-doing a Presidential election. When it’s done, it’s done. And there is no doubt whatsoever that the 2016 election is done. Thank whichever Powers That Be that you believe in. No matter what your views may be about the Electoral College v. the Popular Vote, we all know which one counted more in the minds of the Founding Fathers, and that one made Donald Trump the 45th President. Done. Over. Fini. Stick a fork in it.
But...
We are living in weird, “unpresidented” times. They began with the simple fact that the mechanism by which Alexander Hamilton meant to prevent a populist autocratic despot from entering the White House has somehow put one there. Strange. But November 8 proved to be the beginning of the strangeness, not the end. Since then, of course, we have all had ringside seats to the nearly daily news blasts that have revealed, among other things, that
  • The Russians hacked the US election with the intent to swing it to Trump;
  • James Comey, who simply couldn’t sit on an important and allegedly relevant piece of information like the Weiner emails, knew about the hacking and decided not to reveal it before the election;
  • Trump’s campaign was “constantly” in touch with the Russians;
  • Vladimir Putin himself was allegedly involved in the hacking;
  • Trump’s chosen National Security Advisor, Retired General Michael Flynn, held phone conversations with the Russian ambassador before Christmas in which he told him to tell Putin not to retaliate for President Obama’s sanctions because Trump would lift them: a clear violation of the law;
  • Flynn then apparently lied about this to Vice President Pence;
  • Trump may well have known about these calls all along
And that is merely the tip of just one iceberg in what seems to be a sea of them, a huge glacial mountainside that has collapsed into the Washington ocean and broken up into great floating fragments of scandal. Trump’s White House is, less than a month after his inauguration, awash in them. One of the most notable, of course, is the constant and obvious use of his position for personal profit. He is charging the government a fortune to cover rent for his wife’s security in Trump Tower, and now he wants to add a floor or two for the Defense Department. A member of his campaign signed off on a deal in December with the Russian oil company Rosneft for many millions that go to...someone. Just who is hard to tell because the actual money goes to some shell companies. But it doesn’t take a lot of deep thought to guess who might own those shell companies, especially when there is evidence that suggests collusion...

Just this weekend he added another scandal when he brought Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to his “Winter White House” at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. At a lavish dinner in one of the resort’s public dining areas—Trump loves a spectacle—the President received a secure message that North Korea had launched a ballistic missile. Instead of leaving and dealing with this national security matter in private, as he should have, though, Trump proceeded to have his staff bring him charts and computers and other information so he could handle it right at the table, while guests provided extra light with their cell phones. (Remember this was in public view. Also remember the bitching and moaning that Trump did for months about Hillary Clinton and her “insecure” email server. BTW Trump is also using a private email server.)
Donald Trump is a national disaster waiting to happen. Or maybe, with one of the many scandals already simmering, it’s already happened and we’re just not aware of the full extent. Whatever, it doesn’t take a seasoned prognosticator to imagine this President not serving out his full term. Bets were being taken before he was ever sworn in. According to the Constitution, that would leave his Vice President, Mike Pence, in charge. Easy peasy.
But that is exactly what I’m wondering about: is it so easy?
As I said at the outset, we are living in unprecedented times. The framers of the Constitution could not have foreseen—clearly did not foresee—this moment in American history. (That much, as noted, can be ascertained by Trump’s ascendency using the very device that was designed to keep him out.) So bear with me a moment as I go on a little thought journey:
Imagine with me that Trump’s Russia scandal continues to grow. (With the New York Times and Washington Post both determined to get to the bottom of it, plus the US intelligence communities all more eager to help due to their treatment by Trump, that seems not only possible but likely.) Imagine that, as it grows, we discover so much about it that even the GOP no longer can ignore it. In fact, it becomes such a conspiracy, clearly implicating some of them, that normal congressional exploration or even impeachment proceedings are not enough. The Democrats call for, and are granted, a Special Prosecutor.
We have not had one of these appointed in a long time, so let me remind you: they have awesome powers, and I use the literal meaning of the word there. They can subpoena anyone and charge anyone with anything.
Now imagine further that the Prosecutor’s investigation shows that, during the 2016 election campaign, Trump knowingly colluded with the Russians to steal the election. This is more than simply an impeachable or even a treasonous offense. This goes to the heart and integrity of the American electoral process itself. What possible remediation could be made?
Making Pence President continues to reward the theft. There is no Constitutional remedy for this. Hence we would need to find or create an extra-Constitutional one. And there are only two reasonable possible solutions:
  1. Declare Hillary Clinton the winner of the 2016 election, or
  2. Stage the entire Presidential election again.
Staging it again might not be as impossible as it sounds. For one thing, we don’t *need* a two-year run-up to a Presidential election; most countries manage to get by with a whole lot less. For another, our current system of primaries is not sacrosanct: we have invented it and honed it over time; it didn’t even really exist at all until about fifty years ago. A single national primary day could easily handle it all, with a run-off day scheduled if needed. And finally, the work of a Special Prosecutor is a thorough thing. It requires time. Assuming one might be appointed, say, this spring, his/her work wouldn’t likely be completed for at least a year. Tacking a Presidential election onto already scheduled Congressional/Senatorial elections in 2018 would not be particularly hard.


Even if, as the result of an impeachment, Pence becomes President, a Special Prosecutor should still be appointed. Once that happens, floodgates will open. Where they lead us we cannot know. But one thing is certain: it will be unprecedented. Or maybe “unpresidented.”
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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dear White People...Get a Grip!

Hello, 59-year-old white woman here...

Apparently there is a huge new controversy about a TV show debuting in a couple of months on Netflix, a show based on the 2014 indie film "Dear White People."



Now I saw the movie and am looking forward to the TV series (though I'm not so sure it will be as effective without Tessa Thompson in the lead: she had the perfect comic snarkiness for the role). Frankly, I loved the movie. It was very funny and at the same time a pretty important values lesson. It's not a "comfortable" movie; it's not supposed to be. It's about racism in America in what was alleged to be a "post-racial" era (2014, during Obama's Presidency). The main character, the ironically named Sam White, has a radio show on the college station during which she makes such pronouncements as "Dear white people, this just in: Dating a black person to piss off your parents is a form of racism." Her comments are generally humorous but always within her snark there is an element of anger: why at this time in history do I still need to tell you people this stuff?

In the trailer for the TV show, Sam calls out frat partiers dressing in blackface, which were the actual events that stimulated the movie in the first place. In this Trumpian era, when the KKK and neo-Nazis have somehow been elevated into the mainstream, when we can already see civil rights being rolled back for immigrants and LGBT+ people by Presidential fiat, when our nation's public schools are now under the control of someone whose goal is to make them more Godly (sounds great for minority students who don't fit within the fundamentalist Christian mainstream, doesn't it?), when we've followed the most diverse cabinet ever with the least diverse one in several Presidencies, when the majority of white America truly does not understand why a movement like BLM is needed and thinks it is some kind of domestic terrorist thing...when it is 2017 and we are seemingly more divided into a "white America" and a "black America" than we've been in decades...my God, why would we NOT need a show like this?

Just look at the response from the right to the show's very existence: there is actually a movement to #boycottNetflix because of it! Because of a paid streaming network's television program, one that most of the country doesn't even have access to and those with access may never have even known about, let alone watched. (Now, of course, with the controversy, the right ironically has guaranteed better ratings for the show.) All of which leads to the simple and obvious question: WHY? What causes such an emotional and outsized response? What is the right afraid of? If the show's depiction of white people is so incredibly wrong, it should sink under its own misinformed weight, shouldn't it? Or are they afraid that the show is actually revealing an ugly truth that they'd really just rather not talk about?

You know what? We need to talk about this truth. We need to talk about why race relations in this country are so totally screwed up. We need to talk about why, the second a black man was elected President, it so freaked out the white establishment that they decided to abandon any pretense of governing and make limiting him to a single term their one and only agenda. Not only that, but a significant part of the country joined them in feeling this way. Why? For all the "post-racial" talk, we quickly learned that what we actually had was a country in which racism simmered just below the surface and had, perhaps for decades, been waiting for something to cause it to boil over. Well, it's boiling over, people. And if a satire like "Dear White People" can help us to examine it, GOOD! Because something definitely needs to help us. We don't seem to be doing it on our own.
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sunsparks

it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
unmoving
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be


Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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