Sunday, March 3, 2019

Supporting queens no matter who, what, where, when, why.

TL;DR - Let's stop the threats, especially those of a physical/violent undertone towards any queen. The world is a fucked up place and representation is important.
More words:
I was rewatching the RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 4 season finale, and some things kind of clicked together. (Titles hereby abbrev'ed RPDR and AS4.) (Shout out to the Vulture episode recaps by Matt Rogers, and to Alaska & William's podcast Race Chaser. Both helped my brain cauldron boil and bubble toil and trouble on this. Also, Big Mouth. That's a great show.)
Beyond anyone's feelings about the winner(s) of any season, beyond which girl got the "bad" edit, etc etc. I want to talk about how the show, and especially the finale of AS4, really changed the game with editing and production choices. And to those of you saying, "it's only better because the budget's bigger, RPDR is representative of problematic consumerist constructs," I hear you. That's also a valid and useful discussion to have. It's just not the part of the soapbox I happen to be standing on right now. I'm happy to listen if people have things they want to say about it, though. This is an interactive, big soapbox. Get on up here.
One of the main things that clicked for me during the AS4 season finale rewatch was the change in sponsorship for the show. Yes, there's still money flowing in, but it's from different businesses. There's no more alcohol brand sponsors. (Absolute Vodka in the earlier seasons.) The queens in later seasons are limited to one drink each during Untucked, as opposed to all the available drinks in earlier seasons of Untucked. It's not the sponsor itself that's problematic (I love me a berry acai absolut vodka). It's the atmosphere around the sponsor that was problematic. It's the shade rattles, the editing cuts that show queens drinking in response to another queen's statement, comment, or question. Drinking isn't discourse. For the viewing audience, it becomes a message: when these queens are hanging out together, "untucked," aka as close as one can get on reality TV to an "authentic" representation of themselves, inebriation is a part of that. Ostensibly, even when the queens are hanging out with each other, within a community where they should have lots of similarities, conversation can't happen without an outside social crutch (in this case, alcohol). That's what's problematic.
When queens in earlier seasons finish their cocktail dregs and there's conversations happening? The edit picks the moments when the queens are picking on each other. It's queen against queen; the competition is what's important. Both on the main show and in Untucked. Arguments are loud, commentary in the talking head segments are often related to the arguments, there's two different rooms in Untucked for queens to separate into. Arguments tend to conclude with physical encroachment into the queens space, either by another queen or by the camera. Again, it's not the arguments specifically that are the problem (Shangela's Sugar Daddy tirade forever be in our hearts). It's the repetitive nature of the edit to focus on the arguments, and how it paints the relationships between the queens as contentious.
Slowly, through the course of the seasons, the overall edits, design choices, background music, etc have been changing to reflect the more positive aspects of being a queen. There's still drinks, but only one per queen during Untucked (and, most notably on season 7, conversations with queens who are sober and choosing not to drink). If drinks are brought into the workroom, it's also one per queen and it's for a celebratory occasion (like the previous AS queens coming in for some kiki before the AS4 finale), as opposed to marking the beginning of a new day (when the pit crew used to bring in trays of drinks). That's another really subtle but important change. The drinks are staged before a segment, then the queens pick up their own drinks, or hand them out to each other. Nobody is bringing in the overt obligation that drinking is expected as part of being a queen.
For some reason, the brightness of the background really stood out to me during the rewatch of AS4. The work room is freaking pink. Bright, shiny, glittery pink. The honeycomb behind the judges table - that aqua and pink. It's very visually engaging. If a viewer was flipping channels, those color choices are going to stand out. Maybe make a person pause and take notice, even before they have a chance to understand the concept of the show. Let's say, for arguments sake, that person flipping channels is a young, queer teen who's been told their very existence is wrong. Whether by their parents, their religious community, people at their school (like so much else, it doesn't matter who's relayed this message to this kid, it matters and is fucking horrible that it's been relayed at all). On the other hand, let's say the channel flipper is somebody who 100% would never stop on a program like RPDR. Somebody who has a lot of antiquated and problematic viewpoints about gender representation, the imbalance of the mental workload, or the historical implications of systemic racism. Being that RPDR is up on the networks now, and therefore more accessible if people have "general" cable packages, the move to brighter colors is a great attention grabber. Bring em in, Mama Ru.
Speaking of Mama Ru, let's talk about those minimal work room walk-throughs. Ru does them every episode, but they've been televised less. To me, I see this as Ru metaphorically pushing the girls, and us as viewers, out of the nest. Ru's set up the ground work, incubated our metaphorical life eggs. Now it's time for the queens, and us, to start doing some work on our own. But how do we even get started? Here's some things I picked up from the AS4 finale. Share your thoughts if you've got them.
I noticed the edits focusing on positive, gentle, and quiet moments more so. When Monet and Monique are sitting on the couch talking about the possibility of a highly melanated top 2, and they reach across the couch to hold hands. For a brief second, the camera zooms in on that moment. It's an amazingly subtle message that holding hands or other gentle physical contact is okay, that it can be an important part of connection to another person.
Auditory choices also. I had a tough time with the podcast section first time though. I'm a late GenXer, borderline Millennial. "Podcasts are for listening! I'm watching TV right now!" And then I shook my old person fist up at the sky à la Grandpa Simpson. But on the rewatch, especially with the context of all the other quiet, gentle moments happening, it made more sense. The podcast section is about talking and listening. The lights are dimmed on the main stage, there's stationary mics that are better at picking up voices (as opposed to the rattly, usually under fabric body mics the queens usually have on). Monique's story especially in this segment is so powerful. It's not that she was 300 pounds that was the problem, ultimately. Similarly to the drinks and the edits, it's not the thing itself that's problematic. It's the culture and the feelings around the thing that cause problems. It's not that Monique was in an ex-gay program. The main problem was she wasn't happy.
Last thought. Let's talk about happiness. Matt Rogers in the Vogue recap mentions Trinity's laugh. Alaska and Willam talk about Trinity's laugh on their podcast. Monet literally laughs at everything. And most importantly, the laughter's left in through the edits. Laughter, and happiness generally, has become a bigger focus on RPDR. Yes, the show's still competition based. Like everything else, competition in and of itself isn't the problem.
Let's help this narrative change. Let's STOP belittling, shaming, and, above all else, threatening violence on queens from the show or on each other. Think about that young queer kid finally finding community. In a space in which they should be able to feel comfortable and be themselves, let's not throw the familiar message of wrongness at them. Let's not support that other channel surfer's moldy arguments and gross stereotypes by projecting a community that's so ashamed of itself we'll attack our own. If we can't love ourselves, how in the hell we gonna love anybody else?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Hi, I want to talk about Aquaman

No, not that version of Aquaman. The new one. The one with Jason Momoa. I'm just a sucker for corny cartoons from the 80s.

I'm also a bisexual, neuroatypical, cis-identified female who found a lot of representation in the new Aquaman. And 2 things I would change. (Only 2! Not 3. It's a Christmas miracle, everybody.) Here's the bullet points. (Also, spoilers I guess if you're worried about that.)


  • When dad meets mom for the first time, she's just jumped out of the ocean to escape an arranged marriage in Atlantis. Why can she breathe above water when later in the movie royal guards suck air when the seal on their water-suits is broken? We're not worried about that now. What I want to focus on is how little she understands about the surface, and how dad slows everything down to help make her more comfortable. Altruism at it's finest. I appreciated how dad was clearly interested romantically, but her needs were tantamount. Dress her wounds, give her a blanket, let her get some rest. And then he serves her tea when she wakes up. Brilliant. Milder than coffee, but a level up from water. (I'd imagine the process of explaining tea leaves would be easier than explaining coffee grounds.) She's from the water, that's familiar to her. He's acknowledging and respecting her aquatic awareness, while at the same time introducing her to land.
  • Little grade-school Aquaman is on a field trip to the aquarium. I assume he's actually been invited to come along on this trip, unlike Harry Potter, who was a pity invite to the zoo. But then it turned out HP could talk to snakes! Aquaman can't talk to snakes, at least not that we're shown in this movie. Maybe only if they're underwater snakes. A quick Google doesn't clear anything up. (Bless you, online nerd community. Never change.) He can talk to sharks, though. And that shark is pissed those other kids are being mean to lil' Aquaman! I liked this scene because the shark doesn't physically hurt anyone. (That cracked aquarium glass is going to be expensive to repair, though.) It's a good analogy for kids seeing this movie that they can rely on their internal strength in moments of hardship. (But if somebody comes at you with a freaking bug helmet that shoots lasers? Then punch.)
  • There are at least two examples of characters in the movie being very direct and clear about how they would like to be addressed. "It's AquaMAN." Also Princess Too-Many-Names a.k.a the one that is basically Ariel. She has a "but you can call me Mera" line. I can't remember her line exactly, but it was really nice to see representation of people defining for themselves what they'd like to be called by others.
  • The whole darn movie is rife with allusions to chosen family vs. biological family. And neither winds up being portrayed as significantly better or worse than the other at the end. Put a giant acceptance rainbow over your daughter's marriage boat, King Trident. (I know that's the other queer-oriented underwater adventure. The correlation stands.) I'd also like to take a moment to applaud a vizier who was serving "too smart for this shit" vibes the entire movie, but then didn't turn out to be evil.


  • There's a scene where Mera is piloting the...I don't know what to call it. It's like a combination submarine/spaceship. It's designed to look like a sea creature. Anyway. It's the get-away vehicle after Jason Momoa gets done punching out all the bad guys under the sea. And when she pulls up, she asks, "what are you waiting for? An invitation?" Something along those lines. Like, "hey, I'm here to get you away from these bad guys. You're clearly outnumbered. Get into this combination submarine/spaceship before they kill you." I wish, in that moment, that Jason Momoa had taken a beat to shrug. To say, "yes, I was waiting for you to invite me in." Vampire rules = enthusiastic consent.
  • This last one is something I find irritating in media generally. It's been mentioned before. If you're looking for a Superhero movie where the protagonist doesn't get together romantically with the person they've been sarcastically bantering with throughout the film, I recommend Into the Spider-Verse. (We will suspend for a later date all discussion of how Miles Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy are technically the same person, so it would be weird for them to be a couple.) It's a trope I can trace back, and instances where the two leads don't get together romantically is rare. Which is not to say romance in and of itself is problematic. What's problematic is the notion that if people have overlapping interests and similar senses of humor, that must mean they're going to dramatically embrace at some point in the future. Or that they've got some form of intimate connection that can't be matched by any other. It's okay to just be friends, dear reader. And it's okay to have many people in your life who you share sarcastic banter with, without any obligation past that.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


Every morning, I pour some water in a glass and gulp down a probiotic supplement and an aspirin.

The probiotic is because my IUD threw off my vaginal pH balance. I was getting abnormal pap smear results, and the 6-month (as opposed to annual) screenings were about to turn into a second colposcopy. Call me a no-fun-stick-in-the-mud, but having a pair of surgical scissors inserted into my uterus and used to clip my cervix for a second time wasn't something I was particularly interested in. "What are my other options?" led to an over-the-counter probiotic, and I was back to my regularly scheduled annual paps.

The aspirin is for my hypercoagulability. My blood's just...super good at clotting. But not in a positive way like, "oh man you scab over wounds sooooo quickly" and more of a, "somebody should have told you about this before you started on hormonal birth control, because now you've combined two  risk factors for blood clots and congrats you have a deep vein thrombosis in your left leg." (Also, hence the IUD. After I was diagnosed, I was essentially told if I didn't want to have little blood clumps roaming around in my veins and arteries until one of them blocked something and killed me, it would be best to consider non-hormonal methods of birth control.)

I have a history of weird medical maladies. Like the time I thought I had vertigo but it turned out I just needed reading glasses with a prism (very slight near-sightedness, but the real problem was one of my eyes doesn't focus as well as the other when looking at things up close (like any print in a book or on a computer screen, hence the reading glasses)). I'm also on a prescription medication for my cholesterol, something almost every doctor I've seen has told me I'm too young for. (Thanks, genetics!)

Every night before bed, in with the pill for my cholesterol, I also swallow the pill for my anxiety "Pill" is a bit of a misnomer, because, after almost a full year on this medicine, I think I've found my sweet spot at a pill and a half.

My physical problems were (and likely are) hilariously under the radar. Except for my cholesterol, which I knew was becoming problematic because I was monitoring it every year via the health screenings offered by my employer, the rest of it was like discovering a shitty toy at the bottom of my proverbial, corporeal box of Cracker Jack.

My neurological differences, on the other hand, were buried in the style of the Telltale Heart. I'll spare you, dear readers, the years of circular, allusion-laden personal analysis that's been undergone in therapy. The months of adjusting to medication and the knowledge that neither of these treatments might last or make anything significantly "better" for me in the long term. (I feel as though most people have an antibiotic-centric view of "treatment." You take medicine until the physical symptoms of the disease pass, and then things are back to hunky-dory. I wonder if I would have been as amenable to anti-anxiety medication if I didn't already have a host of other disorders that require more "maintenance" style management.)

I'll bring you right up to the present, where I finally took up the rug that's been hiding the trap door in my proverbial, mental floorboards. Let light in and allowed the self-entrapped perception of myself I've been trying to ignore out. I disparage the word "neurotypical." That's not what I'm aiming for. It's more like...I've passed my metaphorical, mental health MCAT. I've still got metaphorical med school ahead of me. Plenty of things could still wind up going wrong. But I'll be damned if I'm not going to put as much work and effort as I possibly can into all those term papers and practicums in the meantime.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Gotta keep 'em medicated

It's been a busy bit of days, intrepid readers. Although I haven't had to take another divorce-related hiatus, there has been quite a lot of low-caliber disorder for me to wade through.

Frisbee and I spent the entire summer having the house renovated. It was an interesting experience to process the relationship transition both mentally and ornamentally. Although I've identified as some variation of "sexually and romantically open" since I first started being interested in sexual and romantic contact with others, living in an MMF, V-style relationship was something I didn't have a lot of experience with. Having one stem of that V rather abruptly decide they wanted to detach from everything and then maintaining the other side of the V as something completely new and undefined was...super fun.

To channel my inner Expressive Writing 101, having several rooms of my house taken down to the studs and built back up coincided nicely with how I had my emotional self-identity broken and the process of reconstructing it. In very quick succession once the renovations were finished (the physical home renovations, anyway. I'll get back to you on that emotional stuff), the school year started back up, I had to get a new car, and I've been figuring out my anti-anxiety meds.

(It's not as bad as all that. If you've been reading along for awhile, you'll know I tend to use GIFs to attempt exaggerative comedic effect.)

In the midst also was a pretty serious restructuring of how I view and want to format my relationships. While I still have some pretty defined categories for people I'm involved with, there's whole new little subgroups within each type. For example, men that I know from the gang bang that I enjoy being with outside of the bangs, but only in the context of other sex parties. I noticed this pretty significantly after starting the meds, but feel squicky about correlation and causation on that one. I think there's definitely something about these new preferences that's been brought on by the medication. My mental functions have gone from running on every possible track at all times to (mostly) only running on the most pertinent, and I can feel how that's given me the mental space to process what I'm actually looking for when I enter a sexual and/or romantic relationship with another person. On the other hand, I ran into a pretty serious brick wall in regards to my own perceptions about my relationship with Nex-Hubby, and I'm no Wil-E-Coyote about that shit. 

I'm taking a little extra time to make sure the fit's right with the relationships I'm in. No more buying things straight off the rack and then hoping it'll fit me once I get it home. I'm still a total failure at expressing my preferences to other people once I have them decided. Small steps.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The one where I watch Beauty and the Beast

Yes, I'm admittedly behind the times with my movie reviews.

I have a definite habit of spitefully avoiding most things people recommend to me for extended periods of time. It's one of the many hold-over coping mechanisms from my childhood that doesn't currently serve any purpose, but I can't quite completely get rid of. It was a lot more advantageous while I was growing up to know the opinion of those in charge than to try and form my own opinions about things. If I did have an opinion on something, even if it aligned with expectations, it was usually best to shut up about it. Regardless of allegiance, my thoughts on anything were regarded as pretty irrelevant. Hence, in my adult life, people make recommendations on things I might enjoy and I skeptically start gathering opinions on said thing so I'll know what the majority consensus is and how dangerous it might be not to align myself.

In any case, I had been hearing for awhile about the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast and how it was "better than" a lot of people had expected it to be. I also had a fair amount of information about the "exclusively gay moment" supposedly featured.

So when B&B (alternative title: The Re-Beastening) was available in-flight, I locked my tray table in the upright position and buckled in to see what I thought about it.

Fair warning, the remainder of this entry isn't going to be about how I thought Emma Watson did a really good job. Or how stunning the visual effects were. I'm not offering any commentary on whether or not there was more of a "feminist" angle to this version vs. the animated one (although it is something that I've thought about, and my simple answer is "no.") The remainder of this entry is going to be a total soap-box style rage about LGBT representation and how incredibly disappointing it was to be promised something "exclusively gay" and then be delivered a fey side-kick sucking on his pinky for 2 hours and briefly partnering up with another man during a fancy gala dance.

The long and the short of it: it sucks to have a marginalized identity be used purely as a marketing strategy. As if the people that produced this movie were concerned the gays weren't going to go see a musical.

It's a movie about a "weird" girl who doesn't fit in with her little backwoods hometown. You know, she like...reads books and stuff.

It all works out okay, though, because once somebody who is literally royalty gets her to assume that stereotypical care-giver role (and her a whole fucking library full of books to read when she's not busy demeaningly teaching him how to be a decent human being), she's fulfilled and the ending credit music can swell up.

Fucking pro tip. If the main character is skewed from the norm in any way whatsoever, the queers will get to it. That's what happens when a community's integral identity and sexual expression have been suppressed and villainized for the better part of...forever. Representation is found where it can be had. Belle being ostracized for reading books is a very watered-down version of how it feels to recognize that feeling of being "other." But when you're parched, even a drop of water can be refreshing.'s all in vogue now. It's so chic to be queer. I mean, LeFou was clearly, obviously homosexual. Just look at this!

That's gayer than nine dudes blowing ten dudes. And this was a Disney film. What else could I possibly be asking for?

My pinnacle of representation, my Edenic wish, was for LeFou to be gay, and for it to be a non-issue. For the film to not have wasted so much sweat and energy on making him skip everywhere. I wanted "he's 100% dedicated to serving another man" to not be inflated to insinuate anything other than lackey-hood. (Although I'm one thousand percent sure there's some pretty raunchy BDSM Rule 34 out there, if you care to find it.)

There's a perfect moment for this in the film, when Gaston and LeFou are bro-ing out and complaining about how annoying women are but how ultimately they want to be partnered exclusively with one for the remainder of their days. (That's a whole other kettle of fish, dear readers.) Gaston, in a reflective moment, asks LeFou why he hasn't found the right woman to settle down with yet. LeFou's response, "I'm clingy," could have so easily been replaced with him screaming, "IT'S BECAUSE I LIKE DICK OMG."

Okay, so maybe not actually those exact words. I get that you were kind of a school-boy perv, Walt Disney, but I won't besmirch your legacy by advising that you insert all-caps phallus references into your films.

It would have just been awesome to have representation = normalcy. Say...LeFou is Gaston's lackey, but he also makes eyes at the bartender of the hunting lodge. Maybe you see LeFou and the bartender reach for and hold each other's hands when the whole village is going ape-shit about the Beast being a real thing and the townspeople are gathering their torches and other various angry mob accoutrements. It's...effortless. An action two hetero characters could engage in without the audience pausing their popcorn shoveling. That's how representation is done well. Once you brush off all the glitter, we're just boring old humans like the rest of ya'll.