Monday, April 27, 2015

On Assumptions (Or, Aw...Bro...)

I was on a mission yesterday.

Before we get into that, some background: I love comic books. Not exclusively hero comics, but they were my gateway and I still read plenty. One of my favorites is Matt Fraction and David Aja's run on Marvel's Hawkeye. The book follows the titular character's day-to-day when he is out of uniform, when he is Clint Barton rather than Hawkeye. It is a book that, by Fraction's own admission in interviews, should not have worked. But it did. Its sincerity and humor connected with readers on an epic scale, and I am one of them.

In fact, due to my apparent penchant for falling and his tendency to be busted, I've assumed the mantle of, "the Clint Barton of cycling." I think I wear it well, albeit painfully. More often than not, I ride in one of my myriad purple Hawkeye shirts (all from the collection Fraction curates for WeLoveFine to benefit Futures Without Violence). If you see me, say hi. Just be prepared for me to possibly do myself harm in trying to return the greeting.

So, naturally, when I discovered that Marvel Select had just released a Hawkeye figure from the Fraction/Aja run, complete with Lucky the Pizza Dog and alternate bandaged head, I had to make it happen. 

I'm a toy person, but this was my first action figure purchase in a while. Budget/space concerns and an irritating but growing sense of practicality have made me much more selective over the past couple years. I don't like the way most are designed these days, and the high end figures  - while beautiful works of art - are way out of my price range. So this was kind of a big deal. And you cannot imagine my delight when I laid eyes on this magnificent, lovingly detailed bastard.

Side note: Yes, that is my very professional grown-up workspace. You can also see some of my Avengers Minimates, a Rocket Raccoon Pop vinyl, the Manchester United door poster that traveled from Ireland to San Francisco to Seattle and back to San Francisco (there is a hole in it that I'm in denial about), the Tim Lincecum jersey I got signed at Spring Training in 2010 that I still have not framed, and two bottles of my favorite bourbon. Don't worry. They don't make it anymore. I opened one of those bottles in December and toasted the end of The Legend of Korra with my best friend. It's for special occasions only, obviously.

That should be it, right? Just a fun story about one grown-up lady buying an action figure with her grown-up lady money to put on her grown-up lady desk. But it's a little more complicated than that.

When it was my turn to check out, I handed the package to the cashier. He smiled and cheerfully asked me if I was excited about Age of Ultron. I said I was, and we chatted a little. Then, he asked, "So, you're a big Hawkeye girl? Jeremy Renner and his bow and arrows are your thing?"

I was taken aback for a minute. I hadn't been asked a question like that in a really long time.

"I'm a fan of the comics," I responded, "And Black Widow is really more my type."

I said it kindly and made sure it was clear that I wasn't mad - because I wasn't. This guy obviously had no ill intent - he was trying to make friendly conversation, which is what retail requires of us all. He'd just gone about it the wrong way, and I let him know it.

For the record, my answer to his accidentally leading questions was honest - I was buying the figure specifically because it was comic book Clint, not movie Clint - not knocking him, we just don't have the same connection. And I'm 100% more attracted to the Widow. 

The cashier looked at me and made an assumption. Female customer, male character, she must think he's hot.* Let's agree that if the character were female, or if I were male, the conversation would've been different. That, ladies and gentlemen, is sexism. Gentle, non-threatening, probably accidental sexism. But.

We do this everyday - I'm just as guilty of it as anyone. We look at people and we try to sort them, place them, categorize them. We make assumptions and judgments about race, gender, orientation, and so many other things. We impose our own perceptions on other people based on information we think we have, and we miss opportunities to really see them.

Sometimes, we do it on purpose. That sucks.

Most of the time, we do it without even realizing it, usually with little things. That might be worse. It's easier to let ourselves off the hook for these small, seemingly harmless transgressions. 

Learning to ask people who they are and really let them tell us is a process. We need to have patience when others make mistakes, but we also need to play some part in correcting them. We need to own that we ourselves makes mistakes and that we can learn from them.

I let my cashier know that I existed outside of the box he assigned me, and he responded in kind. We talked about the comics I loved and his own Widow crush. It was great.

How could we have arrived at the same awesome place with less sexist beginnings? He could have led with, "Is Hawkeye your favorite?" Same friendly interest, no accidental assumptions about my motives or orientation based on my gender.

Easy fix, but it can be hard to get into the habit of resetting your defaults.

I think we're all up to the challenge, though.

*To clarify, there is absolutely nothing wrong with loving a character and buying said character's merch because you find him/her attractive.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On Little Victories (Or, Pictures of You - But Actually Me...)

Strap yourself in, dear reader, because I have a confession to make.

Remember my post about my first tattoo? Not to brag or anything, but it's my most read piece, which makes what I'm about to say that much worse. You may recall that said post was punctuated with a photo of myself with Janet Varney, performer/producer/podcaster extraordinaire and creator of the content that led to my wrist buddy. It's a cute picture. A cute picture that harbors a terrible secret.

Are you ready for it?


I have food on my face.

Man. It feels good to let that go.

I realized it almost immediately, of course - it was just a wee bit of curry ketchup (all that remained of the top notch vegan hot dog I'd consumed about 10 minutes prior, thanks, Outside Lands), barely noticeable. Virtually impossible to notice, in fact, unless you were looking for it. But I knew it was there, and had to face the grim reality that it would always be there, haunting me. The question was, would I be able to suffer in silence?

Now, I say, "suffer," like I didn't immediately put it in a blog post less than 24 hours later and use it as my Facebook profile picture for months. Perspective, guys. I do sort of have it.

I did keep the secret for well over a year, though I finally told my best friend and one or two other trusteds when I couldn't take it anymore. Who knew this baby spot of ketchup would become my way less murdery Tell-tale Heart?

I didn't know Janet very well then. I know her better now, and trust her pretty implicitly based on how that's gone. What I'm saying is, in the time between those two points, I probably definitely could've explained the situation and asked for another picture to eradicate the shame. Friends do that. Unless your friend is me, because I am a ridiculous person.

Cut to the last weekend in March. I was in Seattle for a long overdue visit, prompted in part because my favorite places from when I used to live up there keep closing (R.I.P, Piecora's and the Easy Street on Mercer). It was a visit I'd planned to coincide with Emerald City Comic Con, which I'd loved and always regretted not attending every year I was in school. It was a special con for a lot of reasons. It was an emotional con for a lot of reasons. Partway through, I had to start wrestling with the reality that I was losing a family member back home. It was a much more overwhelming and raw trip than I ever could've known when I bought my tickets last fall. That's life, you know? I don't believe the universe punishes you, but it's a little harder to remember that it also doesn't play by your rules.

I'm letting you know all this because I want to make it clear that on the last day of the con, when I placed myself squarely at the back of Janet's last signing line, it was with a serious mission. She was a guest, obviously, and we'd gotten to see each other already. I'd even asked my first question ever at a convention during her panel the day before, as it had seemed like the safest place to do it (also probably my last question at a convention, because it was still horrifying). Under other circumstances, I probably would've texted, "Bye," and gone on living my life. But, like I said, I was a little raw and a little overwhelmed. So sure, I wanted to say a proper goodbye to a friend that I don't see very often, but more than that, I wanted a victory. I wanted to make up for Foodgate '13.

Janet checked in with me about what was going on in my life, because she is a good person. I lost my composure and cried for a minute, because I am a human person. After that, we got down to business. I laid out the tragic story of our only existing picture together, and she agreed that we needed to rectify the matter. Then, to my surprise, I added this: "Also, I don't even look like myself in that picture." It was not a thought I'd shared, publicly or privately, but as soon as I said it, I knew it was true. Take a look at this (I'm the brunette, duh).

That girl is six months away from coming out, and that honesty is going to finally let her settle into her life. She's stiff and she's nervous. You can't tell, but she's wearing a dress, and while she knows how to do it, it doesn't feel quite right - it's a style, not her style. Soon she's going to learn how to tie a bow tie, and that's going to change everything. Almost a year to the day later, she's going to sit in a salon with the hair she'd been growing out for lack of a better idea and say, "I want something different, but I don't know what," and because her stylist is a genius, she's going to walk out looking exactly the way she didn't even know she wanted to (one of her favorite fictional characters will follow suit soon after, and she will be unabashedly smug about it). She's going to start running and she'll learn how to ride a bike and just start doing a whole mess of stuff that terrifies her. That girl is going to remake herself, not to spite who she is, but because of who she is.

And the thing is, I love that picture. Food (can you see it?!?!?!) be damned, it's kind of the beginning of a friendship that I value very much, and it's a stop on a big journey that's gotten me to a place where I feel more like myself - physically, mentally, artistically - than I ever have. The girl in that picture has a lot of work ahead of her, but she fucking did it, you know? She took that on.

The result of that work is that I feel so at home in my body now. I'm nesting within myself, building better foundations and hanging art and decorating exactly the way I want to. Boys and girls are allowed here now. My outside matches my inside, and it's so much easier to move and breathe and be. Because of that, while I do feel total affection for the photo above, I can't look at it and say, "Hey, there's CDog being CDog."

Suddenly, my little victory wasn't about pure vanity anymore. It was about the fact that I had gotten up that morning after a rough night and still put on a shirt and tie because it made me happy. It was about the fact that I stood in line and engaged strangers in conversation. It was about the fact that I let myself feel my feels for a second and be supported by a friend, and despite all of that, still wanted to take a picture. And not the super posed awkward prom picture that I take with strangers. A good, proper, here's-me-making-the-face-I-make-when-I'm-relaxed-because-pictures-are-ridiculous picture.

...and it was about vanity. A little bit.

The girl below? She looks like me. And she's got a lot more stuff ahead of her. Some of it's going to suck royally. Some of it's going to be totally rad. But check it out. I think she's going to be okay, don't you?