Thursday, January 12, 2017

On Teaching and Learning.

I was a teacher for about seven years, running the drama/acting sections of after school and summer musical theatre programs for kids for a non-profit. It was hard work, and it was good work, and it - as well as the company itself and the really wonderful people I worked with - is something I am very proud of.

There is, I think, a unique pressure that comes with being an educator and mentor, whether you run a full classroom all day in and day out or spend just a few hours a week with a group of students as I did during the school year, as well as three weeks each summer. As I grew into the role and it became my, "real job," I started to feel eyes and ears on me in a new way.

I was being watched as both an instructor and a person. What I said, how I said it, the tone in which I answered questions, the way I chose to handle frustration and discipline, even the way I dressed. It made an impact.

Sometimes I rose to the occasion - maybe even more often than not. But there was one day - not even a day, a moment - where I messed up. Badly.

I was running a rehearsal at an after school program. The script was one of mine - the first show I'd written on my own for the company, and the one I still feel is the best. It's my love letter to musical theatre, and highlights some of the genre's familiar themes, including romance.

Due to the ratio of girls to boys who had auditioned, an eighth grade girl had been cast as one of the male leads. I gave her the option of playing the character as a boy or a girl, and she opted for the latter.

However, it was a Catholic school, and this was one of the characters involved in the "love" act. Before scripts were printed and distributed to the students, I adjusted the language so that the two talked about unseen crushes rather than each other. It didn't feel good.

I had been out for a year and had just literally scrubbed myself out of my own work.

My only comfort was that the students would never know. But I had missed one reference, and during this rehearsal, the eighth grader raised her hand, "Were these two in love?"

It caught me off guard, and the words came out (as it were) before I could even stop to think about them: "When it was still a boy and a girl, yes. When we cast two girls, we had to change it."

Fuck.

I told the truth, but I couldn't explain it - couldn't say that because of the rules, this was what we had to do. Couldn't say that relationships - hell, the world for that matter - didn't need to be defined by, "boy," and, "girl." Couldn't say that I was gay.

The best I could backpedal was a lame, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Fortunately, this kid was one of the best. She paused, then nodded. "I believe that."

I would have been devastated at her age.

I stopped teaching in Catholic schools after that.

It wasn't just this incident - it was the same year the archbishop notoriously proposed adding what amounted to a "morality clause" into the contracts/handbooks for four schools in the archdiocese, and I'd stopped feeling safe. It didn't directly affect where I worked, and I wasn't technically a school employee anyway. In complete fairness to them, I'd always been welcomed and treated warmly by the staff members I worked with. But the rules - written and unwritten - weren't something I could abide by anymore.

What we say matters. What we do matters. There is a responsibility, and I did not meet it. I won't ever be able to let that go entirely.

But I did scrape one bit of positivity from it: I learned.

I started including sensitivity to and inclusivity of orientation and gender expression when I led our drama staff training for summer. The first year went okay. The second went better. I think it will continue to improve.

I also chose the same show for my last summer camp before leaving to pursue new things, and we had an identical casting scenario. However, this time we were operating as our own program, not a school's, and I was fully in control of the conversation.

I took the two students aside and presented them with their options: George could remain male and they could play the scene as written, George could be a female character and they could play the scene as written, or the text could be adjusted so the characters could be talking about people we never see. There was no right answer - it was about their comfort.

They were two of the best kids - mature and sensitive and a beautiful example of what the next generation has the power to be. And we had a conversation and reached a conclusion together.

It was easy. And while it didn't undo the sting of the first time, it was progress.

My mistake did not mean I could give myself permission to stop trying.

My improvement does not mean I get to stop working at being better.

Though I may not be a teacher in the came capacity right now, I hope I still have eyes and ears on me in the same way while I share - and, hopefully, live - that particular lesson.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

On History.

I came out on a Friday in a written post in this very space, and a wave of sweet support started rolling over me almost immediately. My journey along the emotional spectrum of the moment also started pretty immediately: euphoria and elation and liberation, back to dry-mouthed fear as I had to tell a few people in person, forward into anger at myself and the world and the person I'd never gotten the opportunity to be for the first 27 years of my life, over to anxiety that I'd never be accepted by people who had figured themselves out sooner and been brave enough to live authentically in less welcoming places, back to elation, over to...

By the following Monday, I was overwhelmed. I couldn't settle enough to start thinking about what it now meant to be me. My Out Self and I had only just met, and I wasn't even close to being able to see her clearly yet.

I got on the bus with every intention of going to my office in the Sunset and instead found myself walking down to 575 Castro Street, once the home of Harvey Milk's Castro Camera and now the central storefront and action center for the Human Rights Campaign.

It was quieter than I have ever seen it since, but I suppose it was before noon on a Monday in March. Still, there were a couple of people occupying the lone cashier's time, and I walked through the small store, taking in the rainbows on every wall and feeling an immediate punch in the heart because those rainbows were now...not mine, that wasn't the right word for it. Me. They were me.

In the back, a memorial placard for disco queen and activist Sylvester marked the beginning of the Rainbow Walk - a "Walk of Fame" of LGBT+ icons that was just recently completed. I picked up a pamphlet about the project, happy that it was happening and a little ashamed that I didn't already know about it.

When I finally made my way to the register, I was the only one left in the store, save for one other man lingering near the front. The cashier was an older gentleman, kind and soft-spoken, and when he asked me if I wanted to become a member, I said yes. As he took my information, he told me to choose a baseball cap or a water bottle as a gift. I made a joke about my head being too big for most caps and opted for the water bottle. We laughed. And then, very suddenly, I told him I had just come out.

Without hesitation, he stopped, looked me in the eye with a big smile, and said, "Well, welcome to the club!" The other man in the store came over and offered his congratulations, and my new cashier friend let me know that it was his husband.

"Where are you from?"

I hesitated at the question. As I've mentioned, an early fear of mine - one that I may never get over entirely - was that I would be judged for being a San Francisco native and still deeply closeted. But I answered, and the man told me we were from the same neighborhood. More than that, we'd gone to the same grade school, albeit many years apart.

We continued to chat, and as I took my bag, the cashier asked if he could give me a hug.

"Your official welcome," he said, "And your head's not that big. It's just got to hold your big brain."

I left, a little dazed, but also a little more centered. It was the first time I had stood as myself with complete strangers, stood to be counted with members of my community, and it had felt so correct. I still had a lot of work to put in, just in terms of figuring out what owning my identity meant to me (honestly, I don't know that I'll ever be done with that work), but I had started.

As it turns out, the HRC shop had given me an extra gift that would help me immeasurably with that work. At the bottom of each receipt is a coupon for a few dollars off admission at the nearby GLBT History Museum - a museum I, again, am embarrassed to admit I did not know existed. As important as it was to me to be a good ally, I clearly was maintaining some distance. Denial is powerful like that.

Yet that same sense of having been an ally, and a lifelong San Franciscan on top of that, convinced me before my first visit that the museum would not be all that enlightening. I was up to date on current affairs, and I knew my city's history. I knew about the activism of the 70's, about Harvey Milk's life and murder. I'd grown up during the height of the AIDS crisis, confused and desperately trying to understand why it was a word we only whispered, and why so many people were so angry and sad and afraid and moving away to "climates that were better for their roommates' health," in a very Catholic world that did not want to answer my questions.

So yeah. I knew a few things, or whatever (oh, my sweet summer child...).

What I did not know was just how unprepared I was for the impact of the little museum space on 18th  Street.

I don't know that I can properly describe what it is to stand in front of pieces of your history and really recognize and feel them as yours for the very first time, especially when so much of that history is so recent that it feels as though you could just reach out and touch it. In this city, even with everything that has changed, you still can in some instances.

And I don't have to describe that to a lot of people. Ending segregation and securing more rights for women and...how many things that we'd believe to be so far away really just happened? How many actual years had to pass before we started telling ourselves that we did it, we ended racism and sexism and all the other -isms so it's cool, we don't have to pay attention or try anymore? 10? 20? When does history start to feel so far in the past?

I've gone back to the space on 18th Street many times, and I never fail to feel the pull and weight and life of what lies within, no matter what the exhibit. That's part of it, I think - life. The museum isn't a monument to the past - that's part of it, but there's also so much dedicated to the present and the future. Our history - the community's history, my history - is alive. The names and the faces of those who fought and risked and often lost everything to be themselves and make things even a little bit easier for those who would come after them are so young and so close, and so many of them would and should still be here were it not for violence and criminally ignored disease.

Coming out, and stepping in, and stepping up meant letting that in. It meant making that mine, to the degree that it can be mine, and feeling and facing the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hopeful.

Never was that made more clear than on the visit in which I stood in front of the clothes Harvey Milk was wearing the day he was murdered in City Hall.

It was a simple and respectful display, a dark box whose contents were illuminated only when the viewer stepped close enough to clearly intend to actively engage with the exhibit. Soft lighting brought the suit into focus - the damage and the stains neither hidden nor glorified - while a piece of the (in)famous recording Milk made in recognition of the strong possibility of his assassination played.

The good, the bad, the ugly. And the hopeful. I stood there for a good long while, overcome, because a person I had never and would never know had stood up, years before I was even born, and taken action - at the risk and eventual cost of his own life - that had made my life better. He was aware of and accepted that risk and did what he felt he could and should do.

You don't do that without believing, firmly and unshakably, in the possibility of more. Of better. If not for you, than the next folks. And the next.

That feeling is not quiet, and it is not complacent, and it does not erase or justify what should not be. But it is one way forward.

History and hope. It was then, and it's now, and we will make sure that it will be.




Monday, November 7, 2016

On Hitting Reset (Or, Showing Up For Me...)

I've been having a Hard Time.

It's been going on for a couple of weeks. And the thing about depression is, it can take all kinds of forms. My particular brand is very sneaky. It starts telling little lies and graying out the edges of the world until it gets all the way in. By the time I realize what's going on, the insomnia and numbness and general sense that nobody really likes me and probably never has are in control.

Do I think this difficult and personal election cycle is a contributing factor? You bet I do. But there's more to it than that one thing. There always is. And, if I'm being entirely honest, I've been ignoring the activation of some of my self-destructive impulses for a while. I took on a lot of Big Life Changes very quickly this year, some of which I'm in the thick of right now. There was bound to be some backlash.

So I've been having a moment. A longer one than usual. Why write it down? Why now? A-#1) My m.o. when things get hard and I am operating at less than 100% is to keep it a secret. That's neither good nor helpful. No more of that. B-#2) Last year, Wil Wheaton very generously shared that he needed to take a year off to hit the reset button on a life that had, in many ways, spiraled away from him. He shared the system of improvement he had created for himself, and checked in throughout the year with progress updates. I've been thinking about that a lot lately.

"Reset" is a dramatic word. And the thing is, I'm happy with a lot of the things in my life, chief among them the people. But on a basic level, I haven't been able to connect with myself and with all of those good things the way I want to. I've been feeling so inept and timid and tired, and I know that erosion of my confidence has made me moody and distant. If I don't address it head on, it will get worse. I don't want that for myself.

I need to start taking care of myself again in a Big Picture way, instead of limping along with a pocket full of off-brand band-aids.

So I'm borrowing from the Wheaton list, with some changes/adjustments that are more specific to me.  I'm going to take a year, starting from today, to work on all of these things - even when they're going well - to really cement them as no-brainer habits and set myself up for long term improvement.

So here's my list of seven things that need to change:

- Drink less.

- Get better sleep.

- Spend more time with family and friends.

- Exercise more.

- Eat better food.

- Write more.

- Spend less time online.

These are my focal points for the year - a list meant to help and guide, not punish. Because that's the thing about the anxious/depressive brain: as much as lists can set us up for success, they can also be used to point out all the ways in which we've failed. Why these seven things specifically? Again, I stole a lot of them, but they're all things that play into my general well-being almost each day, and they're in need of some repair. Let's take a look:

Drink less.

It almost feels like cheating to put this on, since I've already been practicing this one for a while. But it's important for me to keep actively focusing on it, and to remember why. I genuinely enjoy drinking and making drinks. I've studied all kinds of spirits, whisky (more specifically, bourbon) emerging as a favorite, and I love being that friend at the party who you want to turn to for a top shelf cocktail.

While I've never really been a binge-drinker, and only ever imbibe every couple of weeks if that, I've been meeting a lot of new people over the past year and was starting to feel like I was drinking to ease my social anxiety without even realizing it. My glasses were starting to empty very quickly, and I was refilling them without a second thought. I put in a lot of work to feel more at ease with new folks, and that muscle needs to be exercised, both for me and my friends.

Get better sleep.

I've been having so much trouble getting solid, productive sleep. More and more, I've been relying on audiobooks to trick my brain out of spiraling so I can fall asleep, and then staying out becomes a whole other thing.

On top of that, I haven't exactly been setting myself up for success with a good "winding down" period before bedtime and allowing for enough time to get at least 7 hours, if not more, before I have early mornings for work.

I'm not one of those, "Sleep for 5 min. and I'm ready to go," folks. Never have been. I'm fraying at the edges a little here.

Spend more time with family and friends.

This has been a hard one lately because of a packed schedule with school and a new job - I've been on opposite ends of availability with a lot of people, it seems like. But, if I'm being honest, I could try harder. I've never liked, "scheduling," time to see people - in my mind, it makes what should be enjoyable feel like a job, another task to check off. In reality, it's a part of adulthood. I know this, and it's time to stop resisting it.

The people in my life are important to me, and important to my happiness and health. I want to stop missing people who are right here with me.

Exercise more.

I love being active. But injury and time management has knocked me off the path of regular exercise. I'm most disappointed in myself for letting this one slide after getting into such a great routine, and I've let that disappointment become paralyzing. Time to break out of that cycle and get back into fighting shape - it feels good, it clears my head, and it's definitely a fulcrum for a lot of the things on this list.

Eat better food.

I've been up and down about carving out space to cook for myself - when I do, I'm balanced and happy and nutritionally healthy. When I don't, I end up frantically grabbing-and-going or not eating at all. It doesn't take a genius to see how this is a problem, and that part of being run down and restless is tied into this just as much as it is my erratic exercising. Time to re-focus on the nutritional building blocks that I learned so well and make honoring them a main priority again.

Write more.

It's almost funny to put this here right now, as I made the hard decision to skip NaNoWriMo for the first time since 2010, I think. Given what I've got going on with work and school and a different writing project, it just would've been pure stress with no enjoyment.

But I have fallen out of the habit of writing every day. Creating is important to me - again, it clears my brain, but storytelling is also what has made my heart feel the fullest since I was wee. It's me, and I'm it, and not doing it is not an option.

Spend less time online.

The internet is a beautiful unifier and place to share and connect. It is also a black hole of awfulness and apathy and a fire for procrastination and rage and sadness. I've been living on the destructive side of it - it's been pulling me down, and that means it's time for me to pull back.

This was a hard one to try and get my head around, as I don't mean to imply that it's socially responsible to stop having or raising an awareness of the world and what is happening in it. But it's also important for my own well-being to maintain a healthy distance from the things that hurt me, and right now, the news cycle - and the comments that come with it - are hurting me.

As of today, I'm not deactivating any of my social media accounts. But I am going to be closely monitoring how much I use them, as well as re-evaluating how I want to use them. Whether or not they get to stay will depend on how that goes throughout the year.

So there it is. Just under a week away from my 30th birthday, I figured this was the best gift I could give myself. I'm sharing it because I wanted to, and because talking about struggling with self-care and trying to do better shouldn't be as difficult as it still often is for me. I can't show up for the world in general or the people in my life if I don't show up for me first, and that's a hard thing to remember sometimes.

I'll give you an update in a few months, pals.


**Note: Brain stuff and life stuff are complicated, and this is my experience. I'm not at all a believer in the, "Smiling and hiking will solve all your problems, just try harder and you'll feel better," way of thinking - while I'm sure it's well-intentioned, it discourages and shames people from seeking the treatment they as individuals need. Talk to medical professionals about what you need in your life. I do. And if they're not helping or if they make you feel uncomfortable, find new ones. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

On National Coming Out Day.

Ellen Page came out on February 14, 2014 in her keynote speech opening the Human Rights Campaign’s “Time to Thrive” conference, which promotes the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth. The speech stood beautifully on its own – while her choice to stand firmly and say, “Me too,” made it that much more powerful, it wasn’t necessary. I wonder, often, if that’s maybe one of the things that hit me so hard about it – she didn’t have to, but she did.



I watched the video that night. Then I watched it again. It made my heart race and my palms sweat, and I still couldn’t admit to myself why.

Two weeks later, I got there. I came out. I didn’t have to – I’m not a public figure, I had no one to inspire, I wasn’t in a relationship – but I did. And I had the privilege of doing it on my own terms when I felt ready.

It was the end of one journey and the beginning of another. I had spent the first twenty-seven years of my life visualizing my place in the world through a heterosexual lens, one that dictated how I should look and what I could say and what the future would hold so that I would project Straight.

Side note: that’s part of why I really hate the terms, “girl-crush,” and, “man-crush,” and, “bromance.” For me, the subtext to all of them is just, “No homo.” Like you’re suddenly going to think your pal Cindy’s a closet case in a sham marriage because she said she had just a regular crush on Beyonce.

Coming out stripped away that lens, and eventually the understanding that I was gay and not bi added another layer to how I both saw and actually felt myself in the space that I occupy.

Another side note, and this is a very important one:
the bi community I found was extremely welcoming and supportive and wonderful, and remained so even when I came to understand that I was not one of them on a micro level, though we are brothers and sisters and non-binary siblings in the larger community. And I also know, through observation and experience, that said larger community often ignores, marginalizes, or erases the B in LGBTQ+ altogether. I see you, I celebrate you, and I will always champion you.

Wearing shirts and ties, having my haircut, and existing in the world as a reasonably butch gay woman makes me a political statement by default. I don’t say that to court praise or present my life as the Most Difficult And Challenging Ever Pray For Me Hashtag Struggle – at the end of the day, I’m a white cis-woman in San Francisco, so I’m doing all right – but it is not something I am comfortable with because it’s not my intent. I look the way I do for purely selfish reasons – it’s what I want.

But in some ways, it does feel like a full circle moment to have gone from trying to hard to hide to literally wearing my identity. I feel a certain measure of responsibility that comes with the right.

Coming out and being visible has been altogether joyful and painful. More the former than the latter, because I am extremely fortunate in the family I have and the company I keep, but I expect life to bring me more of both as I keep going and keep growing.

I say all of this now more to record and share than anything else – we are our stories, and this is another piece of mine.

I didn’t think of watching the Ellen Page video, nor realize just how close to the finish line it pushed me, for a long time. My brain had to file it away a bit, I think, until I had the space to process it. She saw an opportunity to both own her identity and do something that would open up the world that much more and make it just a little better.

That’s the foundation that National Coming Out Day was built on.

I am not the biggest or the bravest…not even the butchest, really. Mine is not the loudest voice. But I think I’ve kept my heart open. My ears, too. Being out has made them better tools, and I hope I use them the right way more often than not.

If you came out in some way today, or any other day, I hope you are safe and with people who care about you. If you are still hidden, either by choice or necessity, you are no less real or valid or loved.

We will do our best to open up the world and make it just a little better for you.




Thursday, August 4, 2016

On Doing Better.

I don’t talk politics or religion, really. When I do, it’s typically with a million disclaimers. I recognize that my opinions are not everyone’s. I recognize and respect a person’s right to believe what they choose. I don’t judge the intelligence of others based on whether they agree with me or not. I don’t make assumptions about education.

Do, don’t. Recognize, respect.

Every so often, I get tired. Tired of extending courtesies that I do not receive. I wonder when it will be my turn to speak without having to listen or regard, to shout over whoever would oppose, to hit back – hurt back.

The answer, of course, is never. That’s the shitty part about trying to be even a reasonably okay person – it’s not a trade system. You don’t give some good with the guarantee of getting it back.

My exhaustion is a gentler kind than most, the kind felt by a visibly gay person who is also reasonably well off. And white. And in San Francisco. When I think about the fear that tempered my joy when I cut my hair short and pulled the last dress I owned off the hanger and put it in the donation bin, I have to think about every person who was – and is – born afraid, already wearing an identity that much of the world will hate them for.

The day of the shooting in Orlando, I wanted to be gay somewhere. I wanted to button my shirt and slick back my hair and kiss a woman and do it all in open space surrounded by people because that was enough to have cost almost fifty people their lives hours before, and that was wrong.

Almost fifty people. Who already automatically had the odds stacked against them because they were people of color. Queer people of color trying to claim a small piece of space to exist who were told, in the most violent and final of ways, “No.”

I got to do all of those things that I wanted, full of sadness and fury and the terrifying joy of still breathing, while their stories were already being stolen and rewritten.

These are the events that are supposed to give us pause – historical fulcrums that force us to take notice, rethink, change direction.

Instead, we root ourselves deeper.

We hate and we diminish and we refuse to believe it. Proof plays out before our eyes and ears – black people, Latinxs, trans people, etc. – beaten, belittled, restricted, restrained, killed. Murdered. We see it and we say it is not real.

I don’t want to hear about the Party of Lincoln. You do not get to coast on the name and the accomplishments of a man who died two centuries ago.

I do not want to hear about defending the traditions and explicit intent of the nation’s founders when those were set three centuries ago, back when heterosexual white men were tradition and intent.

If you do not want me to exist, have the decency to say so. Don’t pretend that delivering a pizza is the same as officiating and blessing a wedding in the name of God, don’t say it’s for the children, don’t say you’re “cool with it, but just don’t want it in your face.” Tell me you think I am less than you because I am different from you. Admit it to yourself. I already know.

Admit that you are afraid of having to live in a world that is different, a world where you do not always win, where you have to share – and yes, sometimes even cede – space to people you do not agree with. Then take a breath, put your grown-up pants on, and deal with that fear instead of clinging to it.

That’s all I’ve got. It’s not my funniest post. Not my most articulate, pointed, gracious, or inspiring (I don’t know that any of them are that, though some are clearly trying). It doesn’t solve any problems or answer any questions about how to be a better ally to those who need your alliance and dismantle the system. I don’t have those answers.

I just try to do better. All the time. Not in the interest of getting, but in giving. That’s not to elevate me, or paint me as Johnny Bestattheworld. I fail at doing  better. All the time. All. The. Time. But I try. I have no problem asserting that I honestly, truly try.

It’s the trying that makes it easy to look around and identify the people who are not. Why don’t they think it’s their turn?

It’s our collective turn.

Right.

Now.
   

Saturday, February 27, 2016

On Not Reading the Comments (Or, For Real, I Shouldn't Have)

You're not supposed to write angry. It's pretty much the first rule of writing, right after your teacher tells you that there are no rules and right before he/she lists several. Don't write angry. Doesn't mean you can't write about the things that make you angry, just that...if you're fired up in the wrong way, you'll lose your objectivity and probably make your point less effectively.

I've had waves of anger about this particular issue on and off for quite some time, the most recent of which happened maybe an hour ago. Let's see if enough time has passed.

Recently, when asked about the possibility of LGBT characters in the Star Wars universe, The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams offered his enthusiastic endorsement of the idea. Let's be clear: this wasn't an announcement of an LGBT character, nor even a statement of intent to include one on screen. Rather, it was a statement of support of the possibility of non-heterosexual characters existing. In a fictional universe.

Right away, the comments on the piece I was reading started populating with rage. I shouldn't have read the comments. Nobody should ever read the comments. But I did, so here we are.

Filtering out the blatant and purposeful homophobia, which isn't worth addressing because nobody here has time now or ever, there was a lot of this (paraphrased, because to directly quote would mean going back into the comments):

"And we should care why?"

"What does sexual preference matter, it's STAR WARS"

"Why? How often is sex a motivator in the plot? We don't know about it because it's not pertinent. Will this character blurt it out in a fight? Making sexuality a device to appease a community? Really?"

Let's take that last one first.

Open depictions of heterosexual attraction run rampant throughout the Star Wars universe and media in general. Most of us just don't think about it because it is the societal norm. Han Solo didn't blurt out, "I'm attracted to ladies," in a fight. Instead, he openly flirted with Princess Leia and then just straight up smooched her before they directly declared their romantic love for each other over the course of two movies. Message delivered. And that became a big motivator. It's still driving parts of the narrative.

So. Don't tell me character orientation shouldn't be a part of movies unless you're going to argue that every straight or straight-presenting couple's presence is superfluous to the story and should be kept out of your face.

Now, let's take the other two comments, which are branches on the same tree, as it were.

When we ask, "Why should I care," or, "What does it matter," often what we are really saying is, "I do not care," or, "This does not matter to me." And you know what? That's okay. Really. It's okay to not care about stuff when other people do, just as it's okay to like/dislike something that others feel the opposite about.

The problem lies in the attitude that, because something does not matter to you, it shouldn't matter to anybody else either.

'Cause here's the thing: the subtext of, "This does not matter to me," particularly in this scenario, is, "This is not me."

I am a not a straight person. When I get to see my orientation fairly represented in the stories I love, it means the world to me. It makes me feel a little more seen, a little more recognized. A little more understood within the framework of the world at large.

There are so many types of people in this world, all of whom are real and valid and deserving of a place in our stories - not as tokens, but as heroes and villains and leaders and lovers, because that's who we all can be.

Media representation is something that gets taken for granted by the majority of us because we are fortunate enough to see ourselves on the page and screen all the time. It's why so much confusion arises when the whiteness or straightness or maleness of anything gets questioned - what's the problem? Good stories are good stories, right? What does it matter?

It matters when that story is not, "you."

And it's beyond time we start making space for each other.

Don't tell me the idea of a Resistance pilot turning his charm on another man at the bar or two gals holding hands in the background of a scene is an impossible and ridiculous concept in a world where a wee CGI alien fondly calls a Wookiee her, "boyfriend."

Let go. Open up. Consider the fact that just because it's not about you doesn't mean it isn't important.

And take a minute to think about why you're so upset about an answer to an award season question about something that hasn't even happened yet and, hell, possibly never will.

Try being upset that it's a question that still has to be asked at all.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

On The Look of Agent Carter (Or, How to Send a Tie Message)

Pals, I'm going to take a moment here to talk about two things I love: Marvel's Agent Carter and menswear.

Be warned: Mild spoilers for the show and a few Marvel Universe movies ahead.

We're four episodes into the sophomore season of the Captain America spinoff featuring the post-WWII adventures of Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter, and it remains everything that is good in this world. If you, like me, were deeply disappointed that poor Cap's chilly fate meant that we'd only get one movie's worth of time with the wonderfully strong and charismatic Peggy, then Marvel's original Agent Carter short was a lovely little gift. The vignette - one of a series of expanded universe shorts made before the company began flexing its TV muscles - showed Carter relegated to desk work at the Strategic Scientific Reserve while her male colleagues are sent out into the field. But nobody keeps Peggy in a corner - by the short's end, she has saved the day and is tapped to head the nascent S.H.I.E.L.D.

Little did any of us know that the one-shot would be the gift that kept on giving: not only did it further entrench the character in the on-screen universe's lore - she has since become one of the most consistent through lines in the films, with cameos in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, and, Avengers: Age of Ultron - it gave way to the series that is currently filling in the gaps following the first Cap film.

Agent Carter is an important show for so many reasons, not the least of which is that the very title is the name of a woman, and that woman is shown fighting and losing almost as often as she wins - not for lack of skill or intelligence, but because sometimes we lose and have to keep going anyway.

One of the things I love so much about the structure of the show is that it retains the feel and spirit of an old comic book serial, albeit with a little more gentle self-awareness. At its core, Carter is a period piece with a universal message, and that means it has the aesthetic to match. The look of the show is beautiful, with the costumes speaking just as much about the characters as their actions.

1940's fashion continues to influence modern style, but I think more of that has carried over for women than men, so rather than tread on familiar ground by looking at the ladies, I thought I'd take a moment to celebrate the duds on the dudes of Agent Carter (no more alliteration, I promise - not intentionally, anyway).

During World War II, fabric was strictly rationed on the homefront, and this obviously had an effect on the fashion industry. Flaps disappeared from pockets, pants were straight-hemmed (though some men still preferred cuffs and would simply buy longer pants and have them adjusted to get around this), and vests were nixed entirely as a wasteful luxury - to be seen wearing one, unless you could prove it was made before the war, was unpatriotic.

The conclusion of the war meant relaxing on the restrictions, though some of them stuck - many men  kept the two-piece suits, for example. Pants were typically high-waisted, flat front or single-pleated, and held up with suspenders, though belts were starting to become more popular. They also featured a wider leg and ankle than you see on most suit pants now as modern trends lean toward slimmer fits. The opportunistic Agent-now-Director Thompson, played by Chad Michael Murray, typifies the basic look of the mid-40's, which makes sense, given his character's unwillingness to make waves as he seeks approval.

Agent Thompson. Photo: comicbookmovie.com
Neckties were worn wide and short. It was neckwear that provided men the greatest avenue of individual expression at the time, allowing one of the greatest departures from the drab regulation military uniforms of the preceding years. Patterns were often chosen that highlighted the interests or personalities of the wearer - the louder the tie, the louder the guy. Though it wounds me to say it, bow ties were largely out of fashion and were rare for non-formal occasions.

Wilkes and Stark. Photo: comicbookmovie.com

This season, the story has taken our characters from New York to the SSR's new west coast office in Los Angeles. The location change has not only spurred a great shift in tone that has kept the forward momentum of the show going, but has also been a fantastic opportunity to feature new looks. Different environments and climates mean different fabrics and colors. However, the Hollywood backdrop has also highlighted the emergence of more casual everyday looks.

Howard Stark (above) and Daniel Sousa (below) have been the best models so far, with the latter having undergone the most dramatic transformation, eschewing the traditional suits and ties of last season for Hawaiian shirts and other looser-fitting, often short-sleeved button downs. Not necessarily attire befitting the director of a branch of a major government espionage agency, but that's part of the point - Daniel's loosened up. Not only that, he refuses to play the political game, backing Peggy rather than worrying about his career - a far cry from Thompson. The visual just reinforces that.

Sousa and Peggy. Photo: comicbookmovie.com
The one wild-card is British butler Edwin Jarvis, who is more often than not impeccably put together in a three-piece suit and complementary - if quiet - tie. One gets the impression that Jarvis is not the sort of man who would busy himself with the evolving landscape of American fashion. Proper and presentable - sometimes comically so - his attire also makes him the perfect visual foil to his eccentric employer.
Jarvis. Photo: comicbookmovie.com
Check the wide lapels on that jacket.

You can also see that this was before the popularization of button-down collars, which I use so often that I can't imagine a world without them.

There you have it. Just a little taste, but a fun one. Take note of the ties on all the supporting male characters and extras as you watch - they really are insanely expressive. 

And how much do we love that a lapel pin has been such an integral part of this season's story?