Twenty Years Of Teenagers With Attitude

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In the summer of 1993, I was ten years old. A lot of my memories of that time have grown fuzzy over the years, but I still remember this pretty vividly: I was watching TV with my family when this commercial came on advertising a brand new show on Saturday mornings on Fox. I don’t think I was really watching Fox at the time. I was hooked on Saturday morning cartoons, of course, but I spent most of my time on the big three networks. This, though…this wasn’t a cartoon. This was a live action show about teenagers (or so they claimed; even then I thought these people looked older than the teens I knew) fighting space aliens, driving giant robots, and transforming themselves into an unprecedented fighting force known as the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I knew from the moment I saw that first ad that it was going to be pure unleaded awesome.had to see this for myself.

The Dream Team

The Dream Team

So, on Saturday, August 28th, 1993, I tuned in to Fox to see what this was all about. And it was pretty ridiculous, to be honest. I can’t really recall whether or not I thought so at the time. I know it wasn’t long before I realized my obsession with the show was really a little dorky, and the whole franchise was pretty damned silly. But that first episode, regardless of its flaws, was everything I’d been promised and more. It was a flight of fancy that sprawled across genres, touching on everything I was interested in. I was hooked from the moment I heard that pounding theme song. I still think it’s probably one of the best theme songs ever written. It’s just so perfectly suited to the show. Everything that followed – the spandex suits, the superheroic action, the giant goddamned robot/monster fights – was just icing on the cake.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was never intended to be anything more than a stopgap, a stepping stone to bigger and better things for children’s programming on Fox. It could be made on the cheap, using footage imported from Japan’s Super Sentai franchise combined with framing scenes shot in the US, but no one expected it to last. In a matter of weeks, however, its popularity exploded. The companies involved in producing the show (and the toy line) could scarcely keep up with the demand. When the cast made an appearance at Universal Studios, 35,000 people showed up, literally stopping traffic. The ratings would continue to soar until, two years later, this cheap little adaptation was turned into a brand new feature film. The franchise would never quite reach those heights again – Power Rangers has in fact been through several periods of decline, and has nearly been canceled three times – but it’s managed to survive countless cast and format changes, and now, with the twentieth anniversary upon us, the return of a number of adult fans to bolster the ranks of the fans that never left, and Saban and Bandai pulling out at least some of the stops to celebrate the show’s legacy, it’s even enjoying something of a resurgence.

This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive history of Power Rangers, though. That’s Linkara’s job. Rather, with twenty years of giant robots, morphing sequences, and teenagers with attitude behind us, I want to spend some time reflecting on a question I get every so often: just why do I love this show so much? What, exactly, does it mean to me? I’ve never had a ready answer, really, and I’m not sure I have one now. But I can point to a few things.

I suppose it starts with the fact that the Power Rangers were my first superheroes. That’s probably not the literal truth – I grew up in a geeky family, surrounded by geeky friends, and I’m sure I was at least aware of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and so on. But the Power Rangers are the first superheroes I remember following. Like all the best superheroes, they lived by a moral code. The core of it is spelled out in the first episode, Day of the Dumpster, after the Rangers accept their powers: never use your powers for personal gain, never escalate a battle unless forced to, and never reveal your secret identity. The rest of it emerged over time, and (the secret identity thing aside), it reinforced the lessons my parents were already teaching me. Together, they taught me to treat others with kindness and decency, to keep an open mind and never stop learning (and never, ever be ashamed of my hunger for knowledge), to use whatever power I might possess to help others, and to do these things not because they might benefit me (though I believe they have benefited me, in the long run), but because it’s simply the right thing to do. I don’t really consider myself all that heroic, or all that brave, really, but I’ve had my moments. And every time I’ve stood up for someone who couldn’t, every time I’ve found the courage to speak out, every time I’ve done something to make the world better, it’s because a part of me still looks at the world in front of me and asks what the Power Rangers would do. I have lots of heroes to look to these days, including more than a few actual people, but you never forget your first Doctor, you never forget your first Starfleet crew, and you never forget your first superheroes. With apologies to the Lone Gunmen, you don’t watch twenty years of Power Rangers without learning a little something about courage.

There were also characters I identified with very strongly. First and foremost was Billy Cranston, the resident nerd. I was a geeky kid. Scrawny, lanky, weak, withdrawn and bookish. I wore my heart on my sleeve, I wasn’t afraid to cry (or wasn’t strong enough to keep from crying, at least), and I preferred the company of girls. As I’ve said before, I was frequently bullied. So it meant a lot to me to see someone like Billy – someone like me – rise to the occasion and become a hero. He was loved, respected, and defended by his friends, and while he did learn to fight over time, to defend himself and others, his intelligence was still his true strength. Time after time, he applied his intellect to the Rangers’ latest problems, saving the day with a clever solution or a new invention. His love of science, of knowledge in general, was not just tolerated but admired. Of course, David Yost, who played Billy, wasn’t treated nearly so well – he’s spoken openly about the homophobic bullying he faced on set – but, as an adult, that just makes his story resonate on a personal level. Knowing that the man behind the Ranger I identified with most strongly was going through similar struggles with his identity and the reactions of those around him means more to me than I can say. I admire his strength and courage in building a life outside of Power Rangers, in finally breaking his silence and speaking out about the problems he faced, in embracing the fan community even after everything he went through, and in joining the ongoing fight for equality.

Then there was Kimberly Ann Hart. Kimberly never got the best lines or stunts; in TV Tropes parlance, she was most definitely The Chick. But she was everything I wished I could be. Outgoing, popular, graceful, friendly…and, though it took me a long time to put it into words, feminine. She was the girl I yearned to be. Maybe she needed to be rescued a little too often. Maybe she never really got to play the hero the way the other Rangers did. But she was still heroic, and at the same time, she was comfortable with herself and her feelings. Like me, she wore her heart on her sleeve. It wasn’t treated as a weakness. It was treated as a strength. Her compassion, her sensitivity, her love for her friends made her fight all the harder. Maybe she wasn’t the best fighter, but she was committed to the fight. And, like Billy, she was loved and respected by her friends for who she was. She didn’t have to pretend to be something else. In those days, though I didn’t yet realize it, I was spending all my time pretending, and I was honestly awful at it. Twenty years later – ten years since I began my transition – I’ve found my own style. I’m not Kimberly, and I never will be. I’m not much of a fighter, but I’m not that graceful or that girly, either. Even so, just as the Power Rangers were my first superheroes, Kimberly was my first heroine. My first role model.

My shrine to the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Still a work in progress.

My shrine to the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Still a work in progress.

Above all else, though, I love the Power Rangers because they represent hope. They don’t give up, even in the face of insurmountable odds. Even if they lose their powers, they’ll keep fighting. And they inspire the people around them to do the same. Linkara has spoken eloquently of the character arcs of Bulk and Skull, two characters who start out as cardboard bullies and comic relief and ultimately stand up as heroes in their own right. The Power Rangers and their friends represent a shining ideal: the radical idea that, with determination, compassion, unity and hope, we really can overcome anything. I’ve struggled my whole life with depression and despair, and I live in a world that is far from what I’d like it to be. But I maintain hope that we can solve our problems, that we can learn to live in peace and mutual respect, that we can face any dangers that may loom ahead of us. That comes from being a Trekkie, in part. It comes from all the science fiction I’ve read and some things friends and family have shown me. It comes from stories of real people committing acts of extraordinary kindness, compassion and courage. But it also comes, at least a little, from the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

Twenty years later, my beloved franchise is still, by and large, a dorky kids’ show. The quality varies widely from season to season. But I still find myself drawn in to every new episode of Power Rangers Megaforce, even if the dialogue and acting make me cringe now and then. I’m going to Power Morphicon next summer, and I absolutely cannot wait to spend a whole weekend surrounded by my fellow Rangers. One of my most treasured possessions is my Pink Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger costume, and I plan to add the Yellow Megaforce Ranger as soon as I can. I still love the Power Rangers, and I suspect I always will, no matter how silly I look with my communicator replica and my Power Rangers ringtone when I’m old and gray.

So happy birthday, Power Rangers, and many happy returns. May the Power protect you. Always.

Next Week: The Random Fangirl Live!

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I’ve been pretty quiet lately, mostly because I’ve been plugging away at the job search and working on various other projects. Among those projects, however, is a little talk I’ll be giving at Women in Games Boston next week. I already wrote up a description for WIG, so I’ll just repost it here:

In recent years, the transgender community has become increasingly visible, with singers, soldiers, journalists, game designers and more coming out as trans, and trans activists of all ages crusading for equal rights around the world. With numerous trans people involved in the geek and gaming communities, you may easily find yourself interacting with members of this diverse community as co-workers, employees and fans.

This month’s talk will offer a basic overview of transgender identity and a primer on preferred terminology (as well as a few words you should avoid like the plague) before explaining how you can help support your trans co-workers, how you can be the world’s best boss to trans employees, and how you can build trans-friendly and trans-inclusive games. We’ll also touch on games and blogs that can give you some insight into trans identity and the struggle trans people face every day before moving on to an extra-long Q&A to address any lingering questions.

Last I checked, there were still tickets available, and the event is free, so if you live in the Boston/Cambridge area and want to come see me speak, reserve your spot today. We’ll be downstairs at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square from 7 to 10 pm next Tuesday, July 30th, and I’ll be going on at around 8. WIG Boston is a safe, open, accepting space that welcomes women and allies of all backgrounds, whatever their connection to the video game community (developers, students, journalists, fans, you name it), so as long as you conduct yourself according to the party policy, you’re more than welcome to attend.

Want me to speak at your event? Feel free to e-mail me at cassandra dot lease at gmail dot com and I’ll be happy to discuss the details.

Wicked Weekends: Man of Steel

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All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

My favorite version of Superman’s origin story comes from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman. It’s four sentences, eight words, with accompanying visuals: Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple. That’s it. And we’re off.

I’ve gone on record as saying that I don’t see the point in origin stories, at least not where the legends of our time are concerned. We don’t start every new series of Sherlock Holmes movies by recounting how Holmes and Watson came to live and work together at 221B Baker Street. We don’t completely reboot James Bond with each new actor who steps into that venerable role. As much as I love Batman Begins, we know the story by cultural osmosis. It, too, can be distilled into a few words: Happy family. Unspeakable loss. Years wandering. New purpose. Or Spider-Man: Spider bite. Wasted power. Fallen mentor. Great responsibility.

So we know Superman’s story. The last survivor of an alien race, he was sent to Earth as an infant, where he was adopted by kindly farmers, protected and raised with their values. Imbued with great powers through his exposure to our yellow sun, he now fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.

Man of Steel is an origin story. There’s no getting around that. It’s a reboot for the Superman film franchise, taking up the torch from the classic movies starring Christopher Reeve and the cinematic saga that came to a close with the rather tepid spiritual sequel Superman Returns. I’m not sure we needed that reboot. I’m not sure we needed to be told this story again. As a rule, I would rather see the origins of these characters taken as read, so we can just get on with new tales. But it was an enjoyable, faithful, and thought-provoking ride nonetheless.

Yes, thank you, Zack Snyder. GET ON WITH IT!

Yes, thank you, Zack Snyder. GET ON WITH IT!

As sentient beings, painfully aware of our mortality and our ultimate insignificance in the face of eternity, we have been haunted throughout our existence with the same questions: are we alone? Is there something out there greater than ourselves? Do we need to be saved – from ourselves, from forces we cannot control, from forces we cannot yet comprehend or perceive – and, if so, will we be saved? And, above all, are we worthy of salvation? Superman represents a potential answer. Above all else, Superman represents hope that, yes, there is something more out there, a great and benevolent force that sees the good in humanity and will act to protect it. The parallels to religious doctrine, and particular to Christianity, are obvious. It is not surprising that Man of Steel grapples with those questions and draws those parallels, showing human beings at their best and their worst, and depicting Clark Kent’s struggle to find his role relative to our planet and our people in the face of all our complexity and contradiction. The movie’s failures are similarly complex and contradictory: it either goes too far in pursuit of these themes, or not far enough. The Christ imagery is heavy-handed and scarcely worthy of the name ‘metaphor’: Clark is 33 years old when he’s thrust before humanity and compelled to sacrifice himself for all mankind. He has a conversation about whether or not he should sacrifice himself, whether or not it’s the right thing to do, in a church, with a priest, while sitting in front of a giant stained glass window depicting Jesus Christ. At one point he drops through the sky while extending his arms in a Christlike pose. Yes. We get it. (In fact, it appears that Warner Bros. is aggressively marketing the film to Christian churches. I’m not sure what to think about that.)

At the same time, the movie fails to really hammer its points about humanity home. At one point, we see Clark confront a trucker harassing a waitress, backing down when it’s clear that the confrontation will only end in violence – Clark isn’t prepared to use force in this situation, even if the guy is an asshole. Later the trucker walks out of the restaurant to find his rig completely totaled, impaled on multiple telephone poles in an act of destruction and petty revenge that hardly seems in keeping with Superman’s sense of morality and self-control. Maybe the point is that Clark hasn’t quite become Superman yet – and it’s true, he hasn’t – but while the visual was good for a quick laugh, it didn’t feel quite right, somehow. Later, during a vicious attack on Metropolis, we see a Daily Planet intern trapped under some debris, and Perry White, as well as another Planet employee, stay with her even in the face of certain destruction. It’s a sweet moment, but lacks the punch of, say, multiple citizens working together to free her, racing against time, saving the day even without powers.

As for the Kryptonian side of the equation, the situation is similarly muddled. Jor-El’s plans for his son, the last survivor of Krypton, are unclear. In the movie’s story, Clark’s cells have been imbued with the information contained within the Codex, a Kryptonian artifact holding the genetic code for all of Krypton’s future citizens – Krypton now relies on artificial reproduction, you see, and each citizen is born to fulfill a specific role. Clark, as Kal-El, is the first natural-born child of Krypton in centuries, and though Jor-El and Lara clearly care for him, he seems to be an experiment as much as a child to Jor-El, a test of the value of free will. The movie’s antagonist, General Zod, wants to use the Codex in conjunction with recovered Kryptonian technology to turn Earth into a new Krypton, exterminating the human race and breeding new generations of Kryptonians. Jor-El, brought to Earth in Clark’s capsule in the form of an AI, finally confesses his own plan when pressed, claiming that he hoped Clark would eventually use the information contained within the Codex to recreate the Kryptonian race as equals to mankind, and Clark himself, familiar with both Earth and Krypton, would act as a bridge between the two peoples. An ambitious and worthy goal, to be sure, but considering that the Codex is designed to produce Kryptonians only for specific roles, it’s not entirely clear to me how ‘New Krypton’ would be any better than the old one. It’s also not clear to me how the Kryptonians lack free will to begin with. Certainly Jor-El was able to break whatever genetic programming he had to deal with and act in open defiance of the laws and traditions of his people.

Laurence Fishburne and Amy Adams as Perry White and Lois Lane

Laurence Fishburne and Amy Adams as Perry White and Lois Lane

Still, despite the muddled plot, heavy-handed imagery and occasional lack of conviction, the movie is a lot of fun to watch, and it does shine in several respects. The cast as a whole is solid. Henry Cavill is an excellent Superman, and Amy Adams is fantastic as a 21st-century Lois Lane. She may not be the fast-talking, nickname-tossing, old-school reporter we all know and love, but she’s a bright, clever, determined woman, a skilled investigator, and a dedicated journalist who only stops chasing the man who will become Superman when the potential consequences of her actions become clear. Despite her decision to abandon the story, she’s pulled into Superman’s life again and becomes integral to the fight against Zod. Though she does indeed form a romantic connection with Superman by the end of the story, it feels fairly natural after everything they’ve been through. The movie adds a new wrinkle to the classic story of Clark/Lois/Superman by introducing Clark Kent as we know him (reporter for the Daily Planet and mild-mannered secret identity for the all-powerful Superman) only at the end of the film, after Lois has already tracked down the mysterious ‘guardian angel’ who keeps appearing out of nowhere and saving lives all over the world and stood alongside Superman in both Smallville and Metropolis. In the Man of Steel universe, the Clark/Superman/Lois love triangle simply does not exist. Lois knows his identity from the start. And frankly, as much fun as that triangle can be, it’s been overused and I’m quite glad to see it dismissed completely in this iteration of the Superman mythology. Basically, I love this version of Lois almost as much as I love Dana Delany‘s version from the old animated series, and the movie is practically worth seeing for her alone.

Similarly, Laurence Fishburne is a Perry White for our time. He may not chomp cigars and shout “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” at the drop of a hat, but he’s a perfect foil for Lois, a caring and dedicated boss who isn’t fooled by her shenanigans but quietly supports her in her crusade for the truth nonetheless. Richard Schiff has a small but memorable role as long-time Superman ally Dr. Emil Hamilton. (Amusingly, Alessandro Juliani, who played Dr. Emil Hamilton in the ninth and tenth seasons of Smallville, also has a small role in the film.) Christopher Meloni doesn’t get a lot of screen time, either, but he makes what little he does get count, particularly as the film reaches its climax. And Michael Shannon chews the scenery a bit as Zod, but, well, it’s General Zod, so I can forgive that.

Jor-El on Krypton

Jor-El on Krypton

Last, but far from least, the movie does not skimp on the eye candy. The Krypton of Man of Steel puts one in mind of Time Lords and New Gods and the Asgard of the Thor movie, with ships and robots and suits of armor that reshape themselves at a thought, impossible architecture, gorgeous vistas, and ridiculous hats to spare. The ideas of John Byrne’s seminal post-Crisis reboot (also titled, in fact, The Man of Steel), are combined with modern cinematic sensibilities into something genuinely beautiful. The powers of the Kryptonians on Earth – their strength, speed, enhanced perception, heat vision and flight – are depicted in ways that, if not precisely revolutionary, are nevertheless decently realistic and fun to watch. The set designers and effects artist have even thrown in a few ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameos to reward sharp-eyed fans – notably Lexcorp and WayneTech logos on key props and set pieces.

All things considered, Man of Steel is not a perfect film, nor is it my favorite version of the Superman myth. But it’s a solid film, well-made and a hell of a lot of fun, and it’s saved by stunning visual effects and a charming and talented cast. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Superman Rating: 4 out of 5 capes. Super.

General Film Rating: 7 out of 10. Well worth seeing in theaters, but not the best movie you’ll see all year.

The Ranting Fangirl: Women’s Space. Some Restrictions May Apply.

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The concept of women’s space is a recurring theme in trans circles: what it means, who should be included, who (if anyone) shouldn’t be included, and whether it’s okay for our allies to respect, support and/or actively participate in those women’s spaces that include some women (generally cisgender women) while excluding others (generally transgender women). I personally value inclusion, and fundamentally believe that women’s spaces should include anyone who identifies as a woman. This can get tricky where those who do not identify with the gender binary are concerned, of course, though my gut tells me that genderqueer or non-gendered people should absolutely be included in women’s spaces if they want to be. I would also extend that principle of inclusion to trans women who have not yet begun their transition or altered their outward appearance, but nevertheless identify as women, and to trans men who may still face women’s issues (i.e., sexism based on being ‘read’ as the gender they were assigned at birth, and so forth). This is because I’m basically that girl from Mean Girls who wishes she could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat it and be happy.

But there’s always someone waiting to point out that I don’t even go there, or rather, that I don’t belong there, for one reason or another. I have been fortunate to find women’s groups and women’s spaces that were happy to include me, from my college’s student feminist club (which has undergone some name changes, I believe, since my time there; when I was a student, it was Womyn’s Action Group, and I actually helped design our t-shirt for Take Back The Night one year) to the Boston Dyke March (which is explicitly inclusive and trans-friendly) to Women in Games Boston (which welcomes male allies, so it’s not strictly women’s space, but it is safe space designed for women) to the annual ladies’ brunch/girls’ meetup at PAX East. That’s partly down to luck, and partly down to conscious efforts on my part to avoid places where I would not be welcome. I’m a bit of a coward, really. I don’t like confrontation, and I have to force myself to speak out at all – that’s partly why I retreated into ‘stealth mode’ for so long and refused to discuss my trans status at all. So, as a rule, if I’m unsure about any given group’s policies, I politely inquire as to whether or not I’m welcome, and if I’m not, I’ll generally stay away. And if everything happened in a vacuum, I suppose that would be the end of it.

Spoiler alert: nothing happens in a vacuum.

Everything comes with a bright, shiny context all its own. And so, whether it’s the recurring controversy around the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (or MichFest), the trans-exclusive Dianic rituals held at PantheaCon in 2011 and 2012 (though it appears that there was not a similar ritual this year, or if there was, it was not listed in the program guide), or the debate over whether or not trans women should be admitted to women’s colleges, or the RadFem 2013 conference over in the UK, these issues keep cropping up again and again. Everyone, in my view, has the right to free assembly and association. Everyone should be welcome to gather in any kind of group they want. But when you exclude people, there are consequences, and there should be. And here’s why.

Trans-exclusive events should not be held in public venues. This is why I don’t really have a problem with MichFest in principle, though I do have problems with it in practice. MichFest is held on privately-owned land, and it is organized by a specific group of people with a specific intention. Their trans-exclusive policy is fairly well established and well known by now, though it was not always so. Now, because they sell admission fairly freely, MichFest may technically qualify as a public accommodation (remember that phrase, we’ll get back to it), and I do believe, as a rule, that trans people should have equal access to all public accommodations under the law. If that became national law tomorrow, then I don’t know how the festival would change, though I’m confident that the organizers could find a way to keep going with the trans-exclusive policy intact if they so desired. I’m not a lawyer, but there are lots of organizations and events that have managed to keep going despite policies that explicitly exclude an entire class of people, so I have to believe there are loopholes to spare.

On the other hand, you have Z Budapest’s rituals at PantheaCon. I am absolutely for freedom of religion, and I rarely feel the need to step into anyone else’s rituals, particularly when I’m not wanted. My own religion is, as I’ve said, a very private thing, though I do consider myself part of the pagan community and I have taken part in open rituals in the past. I do not believe, however, that it is appropriate to exclude an entire class of people from a programmed event at a convention open to a diverse population of attendees (as opposed to, say, a convention that is only open to women, trans women excluded – but I’ll get to that). I do not believe it is appropriate to advertise a ritual that celebrates women in their infinite diversity and then exclude trans people – certainly not without explicitly saying so in the event description. I would personally never do anything of the sort at a convention. I have organized events targeted at specific groups during conventions, but I have always chosen to hold them off site, and I have never sought to list them in a convention program. I could not find any similar events in the PantheaCon 2013 program offhand, and I sincerely hope that the PantheaCon community has reached a similar conclusion: attendees are free to hold private parties or rituals in their suites and invite whomever they like, but the con cannot put its stamp of approval on exclusive events. However, I have not yet had the opportunity to join the PantheaCon community (though I would like to, when money and time allows) and cannot speak to that particular matter.

As for RadFem 2013. Conventions are by their very nature exclusive events, and while I find the conference policies and the viewpoints of many of the participants repugnant, they were at least clear about their rules and their intentions. However, after assorted messages of protest, the venue they had chosen reviewed those same policies and the rhetoric surrounding them, found them troubling, and told the organizers that the conference was no longer welcome there. The venue’s operators were well within their rights to do so. We reap what we sow. The conference’s proponents have tried to claim that men’s rights activists and trans activists colluded to get them thrown out (never mind that men’s rights activists tend not to like trans people very much, either, and the feeling tends to be mutual…though I suppose that hasn’t stopped certain ugly elements of the feminist movement from working with certain ugly elements of the religious right when it suited them), but it’s fairly clear from the statement issued by the venue that the protests merely caught their interest, and it was the trans-exclusive politics surrounding RadFem 2013 that got them booted.

Trans-exclusive policies attract and encourage transphobia and naked bigotry, particularly when challenged. The rhetoric surrounding these events is absolutely repugnant. I know, or I would like to believe, that the most vocal, most obviously bigoted defenders of trans-exclusive policies are in the minority, and there’s a much more reasonable majority that simply hasn’t been moved to speak. But we don’t excuse men for their failure to stand up to misogyny, even if they themselves aren’t actively misogynistic. We don’t excuse heterosexual people for their failure to stand up to homophobia, to so much as say ‘hey, that’s not cool,’ even if they’re not throwing around slurs. And we should not exclude cisgender people for their failure to confront transphobia and naked bigotry. It is not enough to maintain an uncomfortable silence. It is not enough to believe, in your heart, that whether or not trans women belong in women’s spaces, they still deserve respect. All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

I have seen defenders of MichFest, RadFem 2013, and other trans-exclusive events throw slurs around like they’re snowballs on a schoolyard. I have seen them say deliberately hurtful things which not only deny the identities of trans people, but our very humanity. I have seen minor incidents like glitterbombing (immature, but ultimately harmless) or a little ink from a marker smeared on someone’s skin blown entirely out of proportion, characterized in some cases as the acts of extremists or even outright assault. I have seen trans people accused of hideous crimes with no justification. I even vividly recall one particularly horrible anti-trans bigot questioning whether a horrific car accident in which lives were lost might not have been a terrorist act committed by trans activists – a baseless accusation, to say the least, and if anyone had been explicitly named as a ‘suspect,’ it might well have qualified as libel.

When the Indigo Girls decided that this year’s MichFest would mark their final performance at the festival until the trans-exclusive policy changed, and announced that they would campaign for trans inclusion during their time on stage, they and the trans community at large were met with ugliness that still hasn’t entirely abated. This for voicing an opinion, and exercising their right to choose where they will and will not perform. Some of the rhetoric put me in mind of the controversy surrounding the Dixie Chicks when they openly criticized President George W. Bush a few years ago. There, too, artists were told that their opinions were offensive, that no one wanted to hear them. Shall the Indigo Girls shut up and sing as well?

I do not believe that going to MichFest, as an attendee or as a performer, necessarily makes anyone a transphobic bigot or a bad person. But, given the negativity surrounding the event, the ugly and sometimes terrifying rhetoric of those who defend its policies, I do look askance at those who go to MichFest without questioning or even thinking about its policy of trans exclusion. I do feel that participation in the event can be a slap in the face to the trans community. And I think the event is irrevocably tainted, at this point, by an aura of bigotry and negativity. If the policy changed tomorrow, I don’t think I’d go. I wouldn’t feel safe there.

And that aura of negativity leads me to say this, too. The Indigo Girls made, or at least announced, their decision regarding MichFest in the wake of a petition asking a number of MichFest performers to reconsider their participation in the event. One of the other artists named in the petition asked for her name to be removed because she didn’t want it affected by the negative energy surrounding the issue – but unlike the Indigo Girls, she plans to continue supporting the event. I am honoring her request to leave her name out of this, but respectfully, I think that if you want to avoid negative energy, you should avoid participating in events rooted in exclusion and surrounded by bigotry and fear.

Trans women are women. There are two arguments that those in favor of trans exclusion love to trot out when explaining why we shouldn’t be a part of women’s spaces. First, there is the privilege argument – the idea that trans women still carry male privilege, behave in typically male ways, and have not faced sexism. Second, there is the socialization argument – trans women were not raised and socialized as women, and so do not fully understand women’s experience.

The privilege argument is ridiculous on the face of it. As a trans woman, I am not a member of the boys’ club. Truthfully, I never was – even when I outwardly presented as male, I was considered a wimp, a sissy, or not really a boy in any number of ways. Certainly I never felt like one. I am viewed either as a woman or a freak. Neither position is privileged. When I began my transition and chose to present as my true self, I surrendered my male privilege, my straight privilege and my cis privilege (which, I assure you, does exist: cis people don’t have to worry about being assaulted for choosing the ‘wrong’ bathroom, for example, or losing their job if they’re ‘read’ as the gender they’re assigned at birth rather than the gender that agrees with their identity and presentation). I promise you, I’m either treated the same as any other woman, or I’m treated like shit for ‘trying’ to be one.

As for typically male behavior? Wow, that’s a fuzzy line, isn’t it? And it sure seems like I can’t win for losing. If I’m outspoken, I’m dominating the conversation, which means I’m not really a woman. If I’m quiet, shy and soft-spoken, I’m behaving according to female stereotypes, which means my gender expression is all artifice and I’m not really a woman. If I’m open about being trans, then I’m not even trying to ‘pass’ as a real woman. If I stay in stealth, then I’m a wicked, horrible deceiver. If I date men, then I’m some kind of artificial woman designed to replace real women and destroy feminism. If I date women (as I strongly prefer to do), then I’m a faux lesbian just trying to get in innocent women’s pants, and really, what is the point of this whole gender identity thing anyway, right? (Never mind that gender identity and expression are not necessarily linked to sexual orientation, or that I prefer to date bisexual women in a desperate effort to avoid offending sensibilities – it doesn’t always work, and plenty of women who identify as gay would be fine with me, but like I said, I don’t like confrontation.) I am who I am: the quiet, shy wallflower who gets really excited and talkative once she’s comfortable with you or you’ve got her on a subject she’s passionate about. The geek girl who can’t get enough baby doll tees, adores Victorian and steampunk styles, and loves to cosplay, but spends most of her days in jeans and glasses, with little to no makeup on, to the point where people express open shock when she shows up in a skirt or a sundress. The trans activist who would really prefer not to have to discuss any of these things, but feels a moral compulsion to do so. The lesbian feminist Amazon who doesn’t quite fit into everyone’s definition of any of those groups.

I don’t know if my behavior is typically male or typically female. I think the range of human personalities is so broad that you can’t really define those traits without resorting to stereotypes, and isn’t feminism about rising above stereotypes? I’m tired of walking this tightrope. No one should have to do it. I am myself. But for the record? I’m rarely read. Even with my horrible, awful voice, which I absolutely hate. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

Then there’s socialization. This much is true: most trans women were not raised as girls. This is beginning to change, to some degree, as trans children begin to reject their assigned genders at younger and younger ages, and with the help of accepting parents, begin the journey to their true selves in childhood. But I, for example, did not begin my transition until I was nearly 20 years old. I had a very strong sense of my gender identity and preferred gender expression from a young age, mind. I always preferred the company of girls. I begged my mother to let me go out for Halloween as Babs Bunny (we ultimately compromised on Buster; I remember her outright refusing to let me go out as Babs, while she, the last time we discussed it, thought I’d simply changed my mind), I was insanely jealous of my little sister’s American Girl doll (though she had Kirsten, and I wanted Samantha), I campaigned for years for a doll of my own (and eventually got a Princess Jasmine doll, just as I was growing out of them), and so on. My mother, a feminist in her own right, involved both me and my sister in baking, cleaning and various chores. I was bombarded by the same media images, and even before I had a word for what I was, I knew I wanted to be like the girls and the women, not the boys and the men. Funny thing: I never even quite got the hang of peeing standing up. I just wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. I told my mother at the age of twelve, just when I’d learned that there was such a thing as sex change operations, that I wanted one, that I thought I was meant to be a girl. (She got very quiet; later, when I asked her about it as an adult, she didn’t remember it at all, though she was very supportive when I did actually begin my transition.) And I spent night after night praying at my bedside, begging God to make me a girl.

It wasn’t a typical girl’s childhood, no. Maybe it wasn’t a typical trans woman’s childhood, not entirely. My parents resisted some things, but I was never forced into explicitly masculine pursuits, and I was encouraged to express myself. The thing is that I’m not sure I believe there’s any such thing as a typical childhood. We start in so many different places, in so many different ways. We all have different experiences. But even if we assume that there are childhood experiences that those raised as girls will always have, and those raised as boys never will…does it matter? We socialize as women now. Assuming we are accepted as women, we have to deal with many of the same issues of sexism and harassment. And where our experiences differ, we can still be allies, just as those women who have never experienced abuse can still support those who have, or those women who have never felt attracted to other women can support their lesbian friends. I still find it helpful to get away from a society dominated by straight white Christian men and seek the company of other women from time to time. In my experience, my presence does not in and of itself destroy the sanctity of women’s space. I’ve never tried to insert myself where I’m not wanted, of course. But I do feel that you get out what you put in. If you bring bigotry, fear and anger to a space we share, you’re bound to have a bad experience. If you come in the spirit of friendship and compassion, you’re likely to have a better one. I do not believe the mere presence of a trans woman is a pox upon women’s spaces, and I do believe that we need them just as badly.

At least some of this is a load of hypocritical bull. Consider, if you will, the currently ongoing exclusion of trans women from Smith College and other women’s institutions. Yes, yes, socialization, privilege, please see above. As I said, I believe that trans women can benefit from women’s spaces just as much as cis women can, and I do not believe that our presence will ruin everything and destroy feminism forever. Here’s the thing, though: many of these women’s colleges are perfectly all right with the presence of transitioning trans men on their campus. So we’re talking about institutions that exclude an entire class of women, but welcome students who explicitly identify as men. Regardless of what you think about trans women at women’s colleges, doesn’t that seem like hypocrisy?

Now, I don’t want to see trans men kicked out of school, whether or not trans women are allowed, particularly if they started their transitions during their college careers. I started my transition at the end of my freshmen year. I know how hard it can be to do that under the best of circumstances. Forcing students to drop out or transfer doesn’t feel right to me, either. But I do think that policy carries some ugly implications. It implies that biology is destiny – that it’s all that matters – which is directly contrary to the ideals of feminism. It calls trans men’s manhood into question as much as it questions trans women’s womanhood. And it feeds into the mistaken notion that trans men really are ‘still’ women, that they’re just an extreme form of butch identity or some such.

Above all else, I simply believe that students’ gender identities should be respected, and that their needs merit close consideration. It’s true that our government tends to be less than enlightened with regard to gender identity, and it’s possible that women’s institutions could face legal trouble, at least in some jurisdictions, for admitting students who were assigned male at birth. In that case, I absolutely believe the law should be changed. There should be stronger protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression nationwide, and I concede that these schools’ policies probably shouldn’t change until those protections are in place. But that change needs to happen, and those who sit idly by cannot be excused for their ignorance or their inaction.

All of this trickles down. Lastly, I’d like to talk to you about public accommodations. Public accommodations cover a wide variety of businesses and public facilities, from theaters to restaurants to restrooms. My home state, Massachusetts, passed a law some time ago which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment, education, and housing. This law very explicitly excludes public accommodations, and it does so thanks to rhetoric familiar to pretty much any educated trans person: the Bathroom Bill meme.

The idea behind the Bathroom Bill meme is that we as a society cannot afford to let people use the restrooms associated with their gender identity and presentation. After all, a man could just dress up as a woman, claim to be trans, and go into the ladies’ room, where he would be free to peep and install spy cameras and God knows what else! Besides, trans people should just use the toilets corresponding to their genitals. It doesn’t matter that toilets are unisex by design (urinals are not, sure, but only men’s restrooms have them and no one is required to use them), or that most public restrooms are either single occupancy (usually with locking doors) or have toilets inside stalls (also generally with locking doors). It doesn’t matter that we have laws against voyeurism and sexual assault that could be used to prosecute anyone who went into a restroom with malevolent intentions, regardless of their assigned sex or gender identity. It’s a shame, really, but think of the children. A lot of those trans people are perverts anyway.

I bring this up because it did in fact come up at a public dialogue on trans inclusion that I attended at Simmons College some years ago. One of the women in the audience stood up to proclaim that she would not be comfortable seeing a trans woman in the women’s restroom, though, when asked, she admitted that she wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing a trans man in the women’s restroom, either. While the Bathroom Bill meme is often invoked by conservative (or simply transphobic) politicians, it also comes up in the discussion surrounding women’s spaces. And, once again, we can’t win for losing. Trans people have been arrested for choosing the restrooms that agree with our gender identity, to be sure, but we’ve also been arrested for choosing the restrooms that agree with our assigned sex at birth. If I’m ‘read’ in the women’s restroom, depending on exactly where I am, I could be arrested. Or I could simply be harassed, or assaulted. If I go into the men’s restroom, on the other hand, the very best I can hope for is surprise; harassment, assault or worse could swiftly follow. The only absolutely safe choices are unisex restrooms, but not all places have them, and when they are present, they’re often intended as handicapped or family restrooms, and I don’t want to use a facility that someone else might genuinely need.

So I use the women’s restroom. Because this all comes down to unjustified fear which has been fed deliberately through naked bigotry by people who, ultimately, just don’t like trans people, and prefer to believe the absolute worst of us. Because, as bad as things could get for me in the women’s restroom, I’m quite sure they could get much, much worse in the men’s room. Because I present myself as a woman and am generally seen as such, and only rarely ‘read,’ so the risk to my personal safety is much greater in the men’s room. I’m fortunate to spend most of my time in what we call ‘protected jurisdictions’ – cities and towns where municipal laws offer greater protection to trans people, often including access to public accommodations. But there are places, even in my home state, where I could be arrested just for using the restroom where I’m not as likely to attract attention, where I’m not as likely to face harassment and violence.

That is what exclusion does. It leaves people on the outside. And the outside is a scary, horrible, dangerous place to be.

I face discrimination, naked bigotry, assault and worse every day because of my womanhood. My experiences are not always identical to those of other women. I have concerns that other women may not share, and other women have concerns that I may not share. But I think this is true of any two women you might choose to compare, not just trans women and cis women. My mother always believed in the value of community, and she taught me by example. Time and again, I saw her join with other like-minded people in common cause, whether they were feminists, homeschoolers, or activists of any kind. Our similarities are more important than our differences, and we are stronger together. There should be room in women’s space for all of us.

The Darkness That Claims Us

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TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of suicide, violence, transphobia, depression and forced outing.

Let me start, selfishly, by saying that this is not the post I wanted to write.

I’ve been away for a while. You may have heard about this little game I worked on. I was absolutely swamped with testing duties for a few months, and then the project wound down and I was let go (in keeping with the cycle of game development), and somehow I still ended up with more on my plate than I expected. I’d been thinking, over the last week, about writing about trans issues again; it seemed especially relevant because I’m preparing to give a talk at Women in Games Boston in July on the subject of treating trans people with respect, and because the whole Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival controversy recently flared up once more, leaving me with all kinds of thoughts and feelings. So my triumphant return to blogging was going to be a Ranting Fangirl post on women’s space and trans inclusion and letting me pee in peace, for the love of God, in a bathroom where I won’t be harassed and insulted and…this is not that post. It’s not a Ranting Fangirl post, either. I suppose it technically qualifies, but it didn’t feel right to slot this into my own silly little categories.

Last night, my friend Amy pinged me on Steam to ask me what I thought about ‘that IndieGoGo thing’. And that was how I first heard about Chloe Sagal.

That link goes to Quinnae Moongazer’s post on the subject, which you should read. Quinnae explains the facts of the situation well and says a lot of stuff that I largely agree with – enough that I initially thought this post would be redundant. Maybe it is. Still, I’m moved to speak.

If you’re really not going to read that post, then the basic facts are these: Chloe Sagal is an independent game developer most famous for the game Homesick, which is available for free. Recently, she launched a campaign on IndieGoGo seeking to raise funds for, as she claimed, medically necessary surgery to prevent potentially lethal metal poisoning. The campaign was canceled by IndieGoGo after she’d raised $35,000, and all the donations were refunded. Afterward, in the face of transphobic abuse from at least some commentators, Sagal posted a link to a Twitch.tv channel where she attempted suicide. Emergency services came to her aid, and she’s reportedly in the hospital recovering.

Following Sagal’s suicide attempt, Allistair Pinsof, who had covered her IndieGoGo campaign on Destructoid, published statements on Twitter and TwitLonger claiming that Sagal had misrepresented herself and her goals for the IndieGoGo campaign, and that she was actually trying to raise funds for genital reconstruction surgery, (or sex reassignment surgery, or SRS). He further stated that he had agreed to conceal that information following a previous suicide attempt on Sagal’s part as well as threats that she would try again if he revealed the truth. After hearing that Sagal had in fact attempted suicide again, survived, and been hospitalized, Pinsof felt empowered to share all the information he had. He did this in direct violation of Destructoid’s social media policy and the instructions he had been given by the site’s staff. In doing so, he forcibly outed Sagal as a trans woman to the entire world.

I hesitate to spread this information any further. I don’t like airing anyone’s dirty laundry. But frankly, it’s already out there. The damage has been done. Allistair Pinsof has caused grave, irreparable harm to Chloe Sagal and, as a secondary consideration, to his own career. He’s been suspended without pay from Destructoid, his staff access has been frozen, and they’re currently investigating the matter and deciding whether or not they will allow him back. Chloe Sagal is in a hospital somewhere, and I can only hope she’s getting the help she needs, though Pinsof claims she complained of mistreatment the last time she was in the hospital. When she returns, it will be to a web full of strangers talking about her. Some will be sympathetic. Many, too many, will be hostile, to varying degrees. Already, if you search for Chloe Sagal on Google, even if you add the title of her game, Homesick, many of the first results lead you to articles about the IndieGoGo campaign, about the scandal and controversy that has erupted as a result, about how she lied and deceived people into showing her sympathy and human kindness. I hesitate to add to the noise. But I find I can’t stay silent.

I don’t know Chloe Sagal. We have never met. I haven’t even played Homesick, though I’m going to have to fix that. I confess that I would never have heard about this situation at all if Amy hadn’t told me about it. I’m not as into the indie game scene as I should be, I don’t follow most gaming news sites, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. But here’s what I think, and feel, and I apologize if it’s all a little disconnected.

First: you never, ever, ever out someone without their consent. I’ve had it done to me more than once. Sometimes it was done with the best of intentions. Sometimes it was done with deliberate malice. It was awful, every single time. I wasn’t always as open about my history as I am now, and I still feel the impulse to run and hide sometimes. In the last couple of years, I have made a conscious choice to speak openly about this part of my life. Nevertheless, I don’t want to be outed to random people. I don’t go around wearing a neon sign that says TRANSSEXUAL. I don’t bring it up in job interviews or casual social situations if I can help it. I discuss it if and when it becomes relevant, or when I feel comfortable speaking about it, and otherwise I leave it alone. Because, simply put, trans people are among the last acceptable targets. We can be mocked and abused with relative impunity. Discrimination laws often fail to protect us fully, or protect us at all, even in states with comprehensive gay rights legislation. In the wrong time, in the wrong place, being trans could get me fired. It could get me thrown out of any business or organization you care to name. I could be assaulted. I could be killed. I am lucky to live in a state where, by and large, trans people are protected under the law, though that law excludes public accommodations (including public restrooms, restaurants, and movie theaters, among other places). I am lucky to spend most of my time in cities like Boston and Cambridge, where municipal legislation provides greater protections. And, as I said, I have chosen to be open about all this, to say it all on the web where a cursory Google search for my name could give the whole game away. It’s still not okay to out me to anyone without my consent. I may not be comfortable revealing that information in all circumstances. You may think that you have my implied permission to out me, based on a talk I gave or I post you read, but you would be mistaken. You need my direct permission. And you need it every time. To out me without my knowledge or express consent is rude at the least and life-threatening at the worst.

And in the case of Chloe Sagal, whose trans status may not have been so widely known (though it does seem she was at least somewhat open about it), and who was already struggling with suicidal depression, it’s unconscionable.

Second: yes, Sagal lied about the precise nature of the medically necessary surgery she needed. But make no mistake: SRS is medically necessary surgery. It is the recommended course of treatment for transsexuals like Sagal and like me. Not every trans person feels the need to get it; some are comfortable between genders, or are fine without the surgery as long as they can present themselves as the gender they identify with. But in my case, I want it, and I need it, and it’s obvious that Sagal does, too. I’ve managed to get along without it, for the time being, while I try to find some stability in my life and carve out a path to completing my transition. Not everyone is capable of that. And thanks to a concerted campaign by people who had no business interfering in the first place, most HMOs don’t cover SRS or any transition-related medical care. This is beginning to change, but only gradually. If you don’t have insurance at all, you’re pretty much screwed. When you factor in all the costs involved, SRS basically costs as much as a car (either new or used, depending on where exactly you get it). It’s true that the body alone is capable of surviving without SRS, but the cognitive dissonance is so overpowering that the stress alone can cause complications, and suicidal depression can result. As it did in Sagal’s case, and as it could have done in mine. Saying ‘well, you can survive without SRS’ is so true-yet-inaccurate that you might as well start with the assumption that we’re all frictionless spheres floating in a vacuum.

Let’s discuss depression for a moment, actually, because depression is another condition that people consider largely psychological even though it can involve physical medical treatment. As some of my friends know, I suffer from chronic depression. For the last few years, I’ve taken medication to treat it – specifically Celexa. I tried seeing therapists, but I found that therapy alone wasn’t effective. Celexa allows me to manage my condition. Without Celexa, I’m not necessarily in a horrible state of mind all the time, but I can fall into profoundly bleak depressive episodes that leave me seriously contemplating suicide or self-harm. In the grips of these episodes, I have acted irrationally. I have threatened to hurt myself. I have attempted to hurt myself. I’m lucky to have survived, and fortunately I was inept enough in my previous attempts at suicide that I didn’t cause any lasting damage.

With Celexa, my moods even out. It’s not that I never feel sad or depressed on Celexa – I do. But the depression doesn’t run as deep. Instead of feeling suicidal, I feel sad, or angry, or bored, or restless. My extended depressive episodes become bouts of ennui, and they don’t generally last as long without outside stressors. It’s unpleasant, to be sure, but it’s manageable.

So many people think depression is all in the brain. And that’s another true-yet-inaccurate statement, though actually there are a lot of factors involved and it’s not necessarily all in the brain. The fact that depression is a psychiatric issue doesn’t mean it’s a purely emotional problem that can be overcome through sheer willpower. It doesn’t mean it’s not a biological problem. The chemicals in my brain don’t work properly. I take medication to manage the symptoms of that problem, just as I take medication to manage the symptoms of my other health problems. The medication is not the only part of my health regimen, but it’s an important part. I would probably get very sick (maybe not physically so, but there would be some physical symptoms and a lot of emotional suffering) or die without it. Similarly, my gender dysphoria is a psychological issue that probably has at least some physical basis (current theories include differing brain structures, hormone washes in the womb, body chemistry, all kinds of things) and is treated, in part, through medication and surgery where indicated. I take hormones to adjust my body chemistry to something my brain can live with. Eventually, I hope, I’ll have surgery to further ease the cognitive dissonance. It won’t be a cure-all, but it will make things better. It will keep me alive, and healthy, and relatively happy.

A few months ago, I was speaking with my father about the various prisoners who have sued to get hormone therapy and SRS while serving their time – most notably Michelle Kosilek, who likewise has attempted suicide while awaiting treatment. I said then that we shouldn’t be asking why prisoners should be getting medically necessary care, including SRS, on the taxpayer’s dime. It would be cruel and unusual treatment to let prisoners go without the medical care they require. We should be asking, instead, why our health care system doesn’t give the same care to free trans people. Why so many trans people have to scrimp and save and jump through so many hoops to get the treatment they so badly need.

That’s a bit of a digression, but here’s my point: we shouldn’t be asking why Chloe Sagal lied to try and raise funds for SRS. We know why: in part, because she obviously suffers from depression and wasn’t acting rationally (and I’ll circle back around to that), but more importantly, because I doubt she would have raised $35,000 if she had told everyone it was for SRS rather than surgery to remove a metal fragment and prevent lethal metal poisoning. The stigma surrounding trans people, our bodies and our needs is just too great. We shouldn’t be asking why Chloe Sagal lied. We should be asking why our society made her feel forced to lie. We should be asking why, when the emerging medical consensus is that SRS is necessary treatment for transsexuals like Chloe Sagal, like me, that it saves and improves lives, we have to work so hard and reach so far just to try and snatch that brass ring.

Third: A related point. All the rhetoric surrounding this feeds into the stereotype of the trans person as a deceiver. You know this stereotype. You’ve seen it play out in commercials, TV shows, movies, plays, books. The cheeky commercial about the ‘man posing as a woman’ who keeps hinting at some deep, dark secret. The comedians’ rants about picking up girls at the club and finding out they had Adam’s apples and body hair. The murdered trans woman who lied and seduced poor, insecure straight men who ended up putting her into a shallow grave, and oh, no, it’s horrible that she died, but if she hadn’t lied, surely it wouldn’t have happened. (Never mind that blunt honesty can also kill us, when someone is already pathologically, homicidally repulsed by the very thought of a trans person.) And now, the trans woman who lied to the whole Internet to get surgery she didn’t really need – I mean, no one really needs that stuff, right? It’s all in our heads, isn’t it? We could get therapy and fix it if we really wanted to, but oh, no, now it’s all trendy to be trans (never mind that we have records of transgender people going back to the ancient world) and everyone wants to mutilate their genitals. Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth.

Yes, deception was involved. No, that’s not good. But it’s wrong to play up that aspect, to sensationalize this story, to feed that stereotype. Not all trans people are like that. Chloe Sagal probably isn’t really like that. In her desperation, she made a mistake. She made a number of mistakes. We are human. We err. She still didn’t deserve to be outed. She doesn’t deserve our scorn or derision. She deserves our sympathy.

And on that note, let me state again Chloe Sagal was clearly under intense emotional strain. As I said, I have experienced episodes of profound, terrible depression, and I have done desperate, irrational things in the throes of it. I do not believe Chloe Sagal can be held responsible for her actions in this case. She deserves our sympathy. She has mine. The IndieGoGo campaign was canceled. Everyone got their money back. And now she’s in a hospital after her second suicide attempt in an alarmingly short span of time. Her reputation is forever tarnished. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But I doubt it will be easy for her. We don’t need to make it harder.

Fifth: Allistair Pinsof probably violated journalistic ethics at some point (possibly multiple points) in this whole ordeal. He chose to conceal information that might have been of public interest; he later chose to reveal private information that wasn’t of public interest in what I can only read as a fit of pique.

Pinsof may have killed his career in revealing this information. I don’t know if I would honestly wish that on him. As much as I condemn his actions, as much as I think he made some grave mistakes, I have to acknowledge that he, too, may have been operating under emotional duress. Someone he’d spent a great deal of time speaking with, someone he talked down from suicide, had attempted to kill herself live on the Internet. He was upset, he was angry, and he did some profoundly stupid things as a result. He seems to understand that, now, though I still think some of his thinking on the whole matter is flawed. He’s made a decently heartfelt if slightly flaky apology. I don’t know if that’s enough. I don’t know what I want out of any of this. It’s really not my place to want anything to come of this, save perhaps for greater understanding and greater sympathy among the general public. I wish none of it had happened. I wish this wasn’t a story I’d heard too many times before.

This is such a difficult thing. The world makes it so hard to be trans. Even now, as open as I am about all this, I know that if I could go to bed tonight and wake up in a world where I had always been female, where I grew up as the little girl I should have been and blossomed into the woman I should be today, and I could just forget about all this transgender business, I would. I would never have chosen this, had I been given the choice. Every day, I and others like me have to walk this tightrope, no wider than a bit of dental floss, really, and keep our eyes raised to the heavens and pray we don’t fall. Too feminine and we’re a caricature. Too butch and we’re just men in women’s dresses. Too quiet and we’re invisible and easily trampled. Too loud and we’re read and ostracized or castigated or assaulted or killed. Too shy and we’re alone. Too flirty and it’s our fault if we’re assaulted or raped or murdered. Too close-mouthed and we’re liars and deceivers; too open and oh, God, are we really on about all that trans activist stuff again? Too much of anything and we could be destroyed…but, if I may borrow from Audre Lorde, our silence won’t protect us, either.

We face verbal, mental, emotional and even physical abuse every day. We get all kinds of shit from clueless cisgender society at large, from right-wing zealots, from trans-exclusive radical feminists, from religious fanatics who think we’re going against God’s will, from hardcore atheists and skeptics who don’t think there’s any scientific justification for transgender identity (or believe that it’s a psychological disorder that should be stamped out), from old-school trans people who think you have to cleave to traditional gender roles and stay under the radar, from new-school trans people who think anything explicitly gendered is crap (even if you’re genuinely girly or butch) and those who aren’t completely open about their history are traitors to the cause, and of course, worst of all, from ourselves. I’m my own worst enemy. I bet Chloe Sagal is hers. Honestly, I think it’s the human condition, but it’s so much worse when you have so much reason to doubt yourself already.

I don’t talk much about my religious beliefs, except in the vaguest terms. But there’s a hymn I sing to myself as the seasons change, or when the winter is cold, or I feel lost and alone and I want to think that it won’t always be so. It’s a humble, homely little thing, and I’ve always been a bit too embarrassed to sing it or show it to anyone else. But I drew the title of my post from it, and I’d like to share it with you all now.

Blessed mother, sweet life-bringer
By the waking morn we pray
By the sacred moon we call thee
Let there come another day
Let the sun shine on a green world
Let your loving children play
Do not let the darkness claim us
Let there come another day

This is my life, and the life of everyone like me: struggling, day after day, not to let the darkness claim us. So often, we falter. Too often, we fail. I’ve had so much to say here about my own thoughts and feelings – more than I really wanted to, when this is not my story, but Chloe’s. I can only pray that this, together with the stuff I’ve linked to, gives you some insight and inspires some sympathy.

And for you, Chloe, if you ever read this, I pray that the darkness will never claim you. I pray that there will be many more days ahead of you, and that you will find everything you need, and everything you’ve hoped for. I’m very sorry this happened. I’m sorry I felt compelled to share this, and if you ever ask me to take this down, to take your name and your story out of this, I will. Likewise, if you end up soliciting donations for your SRS, I’ll happily post the link here and share it far and wide. I wish I could tell you it will get better. But all any of us can do is hope, and try our best to help one another, however we can.

All we can do is try not to let the darkness claim us.

2013 Boston QUILTBAG Gamer Meetup Is A Go!

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Just a quick note to let you all know that, yes, there WILL be a QUILTBAG (gay, lesbian, bi, trans, asexual, ally, etc. etc.) Gamer Meetup during PAX East this year! Sorry for the late notice, but I’ve been scrambling to pull this together in the last few weeks and I just got the details finalized. We’re doing something a little different this year and selling tickets for a little under $17.50 a pop — said tickets include an entree of your choice, soft drinks, and dessert. You can find more information on the FAQ page here on the blog or at the Eventbrite page. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, and I hope to see you all there!

Wicked Weekends: Power Rangers Megaforce

Power Rangers Megaforce
New era, new team

New era, new team.

EDIT: The premiere episode is available on Hulu if you’d like to see it for yourself!

Somewhere around twenty years ago, I was watching something or other on Fox when a commercial for a new show came on — and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Five teenagers morphing into heroes imbued with incredible power, wielding ray guns and magical weapons and giant goddamned robots against an army of evil aliens. I knew, from that first moment, that I had to see that show, and though my mother always kind of hated it, I was soon one of the biggest Power Rangers fans around. I drifted away from the franchise somewhere around Zeo, found my way back for Dino Thunder, S.P.D. and Mystic Force, dabbled in RPM, and finally came back for good only recently, sinking more money than I care to admit into toys and prop replicas and a kickass old-school Pink Ranger costume that should be here this week (and that I’ll definitely be wearing to PAX East). With the franchise back in the hands of Saban, the very people who originally adapted Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger into Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and Saban and Bandai both going all out to celebrate the unbelievable success of the franchise (seriously, how many kids’ shows have lasted two decades and come back from the dead no less than three times?), it’s never been a better time to be a fan.

I have been waiting for this moment MY ENTIRE LIFE

I have been waiting for this moment MY ENTIRE LIFE.

If Power Rangers Samurai was a love letter to the fans, featuring the return of original supporting character Farkas “Bulk” Bulkmeier and a theme song adapted from the original Go Go Power Rangers, then Power Rangers Megaforce is a big handmade Valentine with glitter and frothy pink trim glued to a box of chocolates and delivered along with the biggest bouquet of roses you ever did see. The Power Rangers fan community was already stoked when it was revealed that Megaforce would be adapting two Super Sentai series at once: Tensou Sentai Goseiger and Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, the latter being Super Sentai producer Toei‘s own love letter to its fans. Gokaiger is built around the premise that all the past Super Sentai teams – all of them — fought together against a massive alien empire, ultimately losing their powers in the process. These powers are rediscovered some time later by a crew of space pirates who become heroes in their own right, tapping into the abilities of past teams to supplement their own. Every past Super Sentai team makes an appearance in some fashion, and themes from each past series are woven into the appropriate episodes of Gokaiger. No one was really expecting Saban to do anything so elaborate…but they totally are. In fact, they had Toei reshoot the Legend War scenes from Gokaiger using American Power Ranger teams just so they could weave that footage into Megaforce at some point. Lots of people, myself included, expected that the Legend War stuff wouldn’t come in until the second season, which will reportedly make full use of Gokaiger…but we were wrong. Oh so deliciously wrong.

In the first episode alone, we’re treated to images of past Ranger teams fighting together against a vast army, thanks to the new Red Ranger’s mysterious visions; the Ranger Keys (used by the Gokaigers to tap into their predecessors’ powers) on prominent display in the new command center; the new mentor, Gosei, telling the Megaforce Rangers that he was appointed Earth’s guardian by his mentor, Zordon; and a brand new hangout named Ernie’s Brain Freeze in an obvious homage to the owner of the old Angel Grove Youth Center. Plus there are callbacks to the infamous “teenagers with attitude” line from the original series and Kimberly‘s joke about refusing to become a Power Ranger because the helmet seriously messes up her hair. Like I said — big frothy Valentine with chocolates, flowers, and probably some stuff I shouldn’t spell out on a family blog.

But enough about the past. Let’s talk about the episode itself. There are SPOILERS ahead, so if you’re going to watch Megaforce at all, go find the premiere episode and then come back. For the rest of you, let me sum up.

We’re introduced right away to the aforementioned Red Ranger-to-be, Troy, who wakes from a weird dream about the past Rangers to find that he’s the only one left on his school bus and he’s going to be late for class. In short order, we’re introduced to Emma, a BMX biker with a passion for environmentalism and photography; Jake, the plucky comic relief; Noah, an obvious geek and total technophile; and Gia, a drop-dead gorgeous blonde with a brilliant mind and a whole ton of self-confidence. We get a brief glimpse into their characters thanks to the science teacher posing a thought experiment: of all the life forms on Earth, which is destined to survive the longest? Emma immediately says it’s the insects, hardy and adaptable, who will survive long after mankind has destroyed the planet. Noah immediately objects in a way that leaves me wondering if his character has Asperger’s (not that this would be a bad thing — in fact, a Ranger on the autism spectrum would be very interesting, if handled with sensitivity — but his behavioral tics beg the question), claiming that robots will become the dominant life form. Gia argues that robots aren’t alive, and Noah keeps muttering that they’re wrong, while his best friend Jake is too busy drooling over Gia to offer any further comment. Troy arrives late, and the teacher immediately pulls him into the discussion; in a revealing moment, Troy optimistically proposes that humans will outlast all other life, because if we work together, we can overcome all our problems.

But all is not well on the planet Earth, and Emma’s theory about insects is about to receive a huge shot in the arm, because the evil Admiral Malkor, leader of an army of insectoid aliens called the Warstar, is about to launch his invasion. In an underground chamber, the guardian Gosei senses this threat, and reactivates his command center, instructing his robot assistant Tensou to recruit five teenagers with the attitude necessary to fight the forces of evil. The five teenagers we’ve already met are duly teleported to the command center, where Gosei explains that they’ve been chosen to carry on the legacy of the Power Rangers and defend the planet from Malkor and his goons. Troy immediately recognizes the Ranger Keys displayed on the wall, and we get another brief glimpse of his visions of war, but he doesn’t really explain and Gosei merely says that the figures represent past teams. Gosei wastes no time in passing out colors and animals: Emma is the Pink Phoenix Ranger, Gia is the Yellow Tiger Ranger, Noah is the Blue Shark Ranger, Jake is the Black Snake Ranger, and Troy is the Red Dragon Ranger and the team’s leader. Troy immediately objects that he’s new in town and he’s only just met the others, but Gosei insists that Troy has the character necessary to lead, that he has already triumphed over adversity (which, of note, is never explained either) and he will lead his team to victory in the face of evil. The new Megaforce Rangers get their morphers and the cards necessary to operate them — more on that later — and head out into the field to bust some aliens. They acquit themselves well while still unmorphed, but ultimately have to use their Gosei Morphers (someone has an ego) when the aliens start pulling blasters and Malkor sends a tougher minion down to fight them. But once they’re morphed, the Rangers adapt to their new powers with no problems at all, and very soon the day is saved. They don’t even have to bust out the giant robots. They meet briefly with Gosei back at the command center, affirm their commitment to the Megaforce, and bump fists before uttering the catchphrase of the series: “Earth Defenders — Never Surrender!” Groan.

Okay, let’s break this down.

Gia and Emma: BFFs

Things I Liked

  • Gia is REALLY hot. Not just physically (though that too), but she has a smirking self-confidence, she’s tall and physically capable, and she’s clearly damn smart. I think she may be beating out Kimberly, Vida and Summer as my favorite female Ranger. Okay, no one can ever beat Kimberly, but Gia is definitely up there. It’s not hard to see why Jake is so interested in her, or why Noah points out that Gia is generally considered the hottest girl in school.
  • Emma is also really hot, but more to the point, she’s extremely charismatic. She’s also obviously intelligent, and while she doesn’t have Gia’s spirit, she still has a lot of confidence all her own. She keeps a cool head and she’s creative in a fight — in the initial battle she uses the flash on her camera to help her take on multiple opponents at once, distracting some with the flash while she takes down their buddies, then cleaning up the rest. This is honestly the first time I’ve liked both of the female Rangers in any given series just as much. I almost always have a favorite, but not this time. Emma’s definitely up there with Gia kicking Vida and Summer’s asses.
  • Emma and Gia together are an unstoppable combination. Their affection for one another is obvious. They’re officially acknowledged as best friends in dialogue and in the press packets Saban and Nickelodeon sent out, but I really didn’t need anyone to tell me that. It was obvious from the first moment I saw them together. Yes, I’m already shipping them. But more to the point, it’s easily one of the most compelling friendships I’ve ever seen in this franchise. You feel warm and fuzzy just watching them. It’s adorable, endearing and easily the best part of the show.
  • Most of the callbacks to the previous series in the Power Rangers franchise are very well done, clever little winks that make it clear that Saban respects and loves the adult fans who are watching the show. Richard Genelle, of course, is no longer with us, and could not have reprised his role as the original Ernie, but it’s genuinely touching to see him memorialized through Ernie’s Brain Freeze. The initial exchange between Gosei and Tensou about the new team recalls the similar exchange between Zordon and Alpha 5 in a cute, playful way. And, of course, Troy’s visions are endlessly fascinating and tantalizing, and my heart felt like it was going to burst from my chest when I saw those tiny figures of all the past Ranger teams lined up along the command center’s walls.
  • The special effects, especially the teleportation effect, are really nicely done.
  • Last, but far from least, the writing and acting are much better than they were on Power Rangers Samurai. There are still some clumsy moments, but I can actually watch and enjoy this show as opposed to cringing my way through it just to see the pretty costumes and weapons and robots. It’s not the best show I’ve ever seen, but it’s on roughly the same level as other teen dramas, like Degrassi and South of Nowhere. It’s nice to see that Saban can produce a show of this quality. After Samurai (which was a disappointing follow-up to RPM, to say the least), I was really worried about the future of the franchise. Now my fears have been laid to rest.
By the way, Tensou is about two feet tall. Yeah.

By the way, Tensou is about two feet tall. Yeah.

Things I Disliked

  • Tensou sounds like Alpha 5 and looks like Johnny Five. There is no excuse for the latter in 2013. When the highly advanced robot assistant looks less advanced than the robot assistant from the show made in 1993, you have a problem. I would have preferred to see a guy in a metal suit. At least then Tensou could have been passed off as an android.
  • The basic minions — who are, I am told, called Loogies, and I would really like to know who came up with that name — are obviously guys in spandex. I don’t think I’ve seen costuming this bad since the original Putty Patrollers. Minion costumes on Power Rangers are usually cheap and of obviously poor quality for obvious reasons: you need a lot of them and the budget isn’t big enough for a hundred or so high-quality costumes on top of the special effects and stuff you’re already paying for. But this is still a new low. Honestly, the first appearance of the Loogies brought my enjoyment of this episode to a screeching halt. I got back into it again, but I’m not looking forward to that unpleasant jolt when they appear in future episodes.
  • Jake and Troy are both pretty poorly defined. Jake is a comic relief jock with a crush on Gia; that’s pretty much all we get. Troy is the new kid in town with some unspecified adversity in his past. While I appreciate the attention paid to Emma and Gia’s relationship, I’d really like to know more about the other Rangers. Hopefully they’ll see some more characterization soon.
  • There is no reason for the Red Ranger to be the new kid in town. It happens in a whole lot of Power Rangers series — Wild Force, SPD and Mystic Force, to name a few off the top of my head — and it just doesn’t work for me. At least in this case, Troy isn’t being promoted over experienced Rangers (as Cole was on Wild Force, and Jack was on SPD), and he even questions why he’s being appointed leader, but it’s still a little grating. Troy could easily have been friends with all the others from the outset. Jason was already part of the gang on the original show. Why couldn’t Saban do the same here?
  • Early in the episode, Emma heads out into the woods to photograph the migration of the monarch butterflies, which she describes as a once in a lifetime event. No, actually, it’s a pretty regular event. I realize valid science is a lot to ask from Power Rangers, but could we please have some valid elementary school science, at the very least?
  • While I’m on the subject of Emma, Gosei mentions her BMX biking as one of the skills that will make her an excellent Power Ranger. I couldn’t help but think of the BMX Bandit, and there was much snickering involved.
  • The morphers. They’re big, unwieldy and used for everything. Even in the middle of battle. See, to morph, the Rangers have to feed these power cards into the things. To summon their blasters, more power cards. To summon their heavier weapons, still more power cards. To combine their weapons, power cards that turn into giant power cards. In Japan, the power cards were sold commercially, used as part of a trading card game. There are power cards on sale with the Megaforce toys here in the US, and a trading card game involving multiple Power Ranger teams to come. Obvious commercialization is obvious. The franchise has always lived and died by toy sales, so I don’t mind a certain amount of commercialization. I do mind that it takes so bloody long for the Rangers to pull out the morphers, pull the power cards from their belt pouches, insert the cards into the morphers, and activate the morphers. It eats into valuable action sequence time, and leaves me wondering why the bad guys don’t simply attack while the Rangers are fiddling with those awful things.

Things I Have Mixed Feelings About

  • The color coding is back in force, even before the Rangers receive their powers. This gets a lampshade (Emma notes that pink is her favorite color), but after previous series in which the color coding was not strictly enforced, I find it jarring. That said, it definitely does feed into the nostalgia, and all the characters wear their colors well. Especially Emma with those little pink shorts and Gia with that yellow tank top. Mm.
  • Similarly, the color coded personalities are back in force as well: Emma is the caring, sensitive ‘heart’ of the team. Gia is the tall, athletic borderline tomboy. Noah is the geek. Jake is the entertaining jock. Still, the personalities do work, for the most part, and Troy isn’t so readily pegged. He’s appointed leader, but doesn’t necessarily seem like someone naturally inclined to take control. His background is still a mystery — and once again, I hope we get some more clues to that mystery soon.
  • The theme song. I love Go Go Power Rangers as much as anyone, and it was nice to see it reprised in Samurai, but I don’t know if I need to hear it again — even if it is pretty appropriate, given Megaforce’s naked nostalgia. After Power Rangers Zeo, the franchise started to mix the themes up a little, writing an original theme for each series. Sometimes there were callbacks — a familiar musical phrase here and there — but generally the songs were brand new. I kind of miss those days now.

Still, despite my qualms, I thoroughly enjoyed the premiere episode, and since pilot episodes are nearly always unsteady, I’m sincerely hoping that the series will only improve from here. I’m excited to see the Legend War (or whatever Megaforce ends up calling it) making an early appearance, and I can’t wait for the legacy of the past Ranger teams to make itself fully manifest. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a new series since RPM. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Power Rangers Rating: 4 out of 5 Power Coins. Morphinomenal.

General TV Rating: 6 out of 10. Good, even great in parts, but not spectacular.

Wicked Weekends: October Horror Movie Challenge, Part 1

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It’s been a few months since I last posted, for which I can only apologize. I’ve been slammed with work and various other real life distractions, and I haven’t really had any time to post. But I’ve finally gotten a bit of breathing room, and I’m hoping to get back in the swing of things now.

Let’s kick things off with one of my latest endeavors: the October Horror Movie Challenge, as recently highlighted on one of my favorite community blogs, Gaming As Women. For those of you who prefer not to click on outbound links, the basics of the challenge are this: each participant is meant to watch 31 horror movies in 31 days, including at least 16 films they’ve never seen before. I’ve been squeezing in my 31 wherever I can, so I’m afraid I’m a bit behind, though I’m hoping to catch up soon. As of today, October 14th, I’ve seen eight movies, all of them new to me, and I’m happy to report that I’m putting a real dent in the horror section of my Netflix queue. As part of this process, I’ve decided to share some of my impressions in capsule reviews and tie them into the relaunch of my media-centered weekend posts, which I’m dubbing “Wicked Weekends”. So, for the next few weeks, expect a grand tour of the good, the bad, the ludicrously comical and the goddamned scary.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

2010 – 80 min. – Directed by Jalmari Helander - Available on Netflix Instant

Far in the north of Finland, a drilling operation uncovers an ancient evil – the one and only Santa Claus. As children in the area begin to disappear, a young boy named Rauno must convince his father and his fellow reindeer hunters of the danger Santa poses and find a way to end the creature’s threat forever.

This is more of a horror-comedy than a straight up horror film. Perhaps I should have expected as much the moment I heard the words “evil Santa Claus,” because as creepy as the Santa legend can get in some parts of the world (and it can get very, very creepy), I don’t think anyone’s tried to make an evil Santa film that’s legitimately scary. Rare Exports is no exception. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film by any means. I had a lot of fun watching it. It’s just not all that scary. Creepy in parts, certainly, and there are plenty of deaths, but in the end, it’s more of a horror-tinged farce than anything. It’s worth a watch, but don’t go in expecting a lot of scares. Honestly, it might be best saved for the Christmas season. When you’re tired of Rankin-Bass specials and Charlie Brown cartoons, spin up Rare Exports, spike the eggnog, and let the laughter commence.

 

John Carpenter’s The Ward

2011 – 86 min. – Directed by John Carpenter – Available on Netflix Instant

In the 1960s, a mysterious young woman is captured by the police and admitted to an isolated mental institution, where she and her fellow patients are hunted by a terrifying spectre tied to a dark secret in their shared pasts.

I enjoyed this movie far more than I thought I would. It’s not the greatest horror film I’ve ever seen, but it kept me guessing and it had a lot of great jump-scare moments. In retrospect, the climax of the film was actually quite predictable, but I honestly didn’t see it coming and I felt it was very well executed indeed. The main characters sometimes come off as one-dimensional, but given the fundamental nature of the film, I can’t really say that’s a bad thing. I would definitely recommend giving this one a watch.

 

The Thing

1982 – 109 min. – Directed by John Carpenter – Available on Netflix Instant

The staff of an American research outpost in the Antarctic take in a Siberian Husky rescued from Norwegian scientists hell-bent on putting the dog down, and soon discover that the scientists had very good reasons to hunt the creature. Faced with a monster that can mutate into anything it kills, the Americans must battle their own fear and paranoia as their ranks are swiftly and steadily depleted.

Here’s where I come off as a Philistine: I didn’t enjoy this film at all. I recognize that it’s a seminal horror film, an essential part of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy and a profound influence on countless subsequent movies. But I just didn’t enjoy watching it. Perhaps it had just been overhyped. Maybe I’ve been exposed to too many of the revolutionary ideas that sprung from this movie to enjoy it on its own terms. Maybe the 80s-style gore turned me off, as it did with Hellraiser. Whatever the reason, I could not get into The Thing. I suppose I’m glad I saw it – certainly everyone should see the classics of the genre, and The Thing is pretty universally acknowledged as such – but it was more of a chore than anything. Perhaps I’ll try watching it again sometime and see if my opinion improves on subsequent viewings.

 

Grave Encounters

2011 – 92 min. – Directed by the Vicious Brothers & Colin Minihan – Available on Netflix Instant

The cast and crew of a ghost-hunting “reality” show spend a night in an abandoned mental institution, where they soon discover that the stories they’ve been spinning for their audience are all too real.

Another movie I liked far more than I ever expected. I honestly thought this would be schlockfest, and to a certain degree, it was. The sequence of events was fairly predictable, none of the characters were terribly well-defined, and haunted asylums and found footage are among the stalest tropes in modern horror. But I find that when I walk into a movie with no expectations, I end up enjoying it for what it is. Grave Encounters is not a great movie. It’s probably not even a good movie. But it’s a fun movie, packed with genuine scares and creepy ambiance. I’m actually pretty excited for the forthcoming sequel. If you have Netflix, it’s worth adding this one to your queue. Maybe you’ll never care to watch it again – but it’s a fun way to spend a couple hours. Also, I kind of loved seeing a crew of so-called ghost hunters get taken down a peg. Couldn’t have happened to nicer people.

 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

2010 – 76 min. – Directed by Troy Nixey – Available on Netflix Instant

A young girl named Sally comes to live in the Gothic mansion her father Alex and his new girlfriend Kim are restoring, and whispers in the walls soon lead her to a walled-up basement, where she inadvertently unleashes a long-dormant evil. As the creatures that haunt the home torment Sally in increasingly vicious ways, Kim embarks on a desperate search for answers, racing against time to save Sally from the beings lurking in the darkness.

I wanted to like this one. I really, really did. I generally adore Guillermo del Toro (who wrote the screenplay for this film, a remake of an old TV movie). I’m very interested in fairy lore, and this film draws upon it in very interesting ways. As an intellectual exercise, I find the film fascinating. As a horror movie, I honestly hated it. It was slow and quiet in all the wrong places. The set and creature design were superbly creepy, but the pacing, the writing and the acting were all seriously lacking. The movie wasn’t enjoyable. It wasn’t really frightening. In the end, I don’t think it was worth my time. The Thing was worth watching for its place in movie history. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark will be lucky to be a footnote.

 

Dracula 2000

2000 – 98 min. – Directed by Patrick Lussier – Available on Netflix Instant

A gang of thieves raids a vault owned by none other than Professor Van Helsing, unleashing Dracula, the first and most terrible of all vampires. Chasing Dracula to New Orleans, Van Helsing and his assistant soon discover that Dracula has a very particular target in mind: the Professor’s estranged daughter Mary.

I went into this movie knowing that it would be bad. That it had been near-universally panned. And its reputation is deserved. For all of that, though, I had fun watching it. Christopher Plummer was a wonderful Van Helsing, and Gerard Butler made a decently creepy Dracula. The mythology behind the film was actually quite intriguing, if not entirely original. And after visiting New Orleans last year and falling in love with it, I’m a sucker for anything involving my second-favorite city on Earth. (The first, of course, will always be Boston.) There were some inexplicable and rather jarring elements – the inclusion of Lucy Westenra as Mary Van Helsing’s best friend, for example, even though Bram Stoker’s novel explicitly exists in the world of the film, presumably with Lucy’s role intact, and no explanation for this coincidence is ever provided – but it was an enjoyable romp all the same.

 

Event Horizon

1997 – 95 min. – Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

A search and rescue team is dispatched to the outskirts of the solar system to recover the Event Horizon, the first starship equipped with an FTL drive, which has mysteriously reappeared after a seven year absence. Though the ship initially appears to be abandoned, a malevolent presence soon makes itself known, and the crew of the Lewis and Clark discover that some doors should never be opened.

Okay, confession time: I’ve had this movie sitting on my shelf for ages, after buying a used copy off a friend, but I was too much of a wuss to watch it until recently. Having finally seen it, I honestly enjoyed the hell out of it. It was creepy as hell and scary in all the right places, and while the damned, haunted ship may be a trope almost as tired as the haunted asylum, the outer space setting made everything old seem new again. I’ve seen a few people comment that this film seems almost like a prequel to the Warhammer 40k setting, and even with my cursory knowledge of that setting, I have to agree – and after seeing the film, I’m slightly more interested in exploring WH40K than I was. My one complaint is this: there’s a toneless comic relief character who feels spectacularly out of place every time he appears, particularly as the film grows steadily more grim. I appreciate good comic relief, but this film really didn’t provide a bit of it; the movie would have been better served by having none at all. Still, even that flaw couldn’t really spoil the film as a whole. Event Horizon wasn’t quite as terrifying as I thought it would be – I think I’d built it up a bit too much in my mind – but it was very, very good and I’ll definitely be watching it again to catch any details I might have missed.

 

Sinister

2012 – 109 min. – Directed by Scott Derrickson

Hungry for another smash hit, true crime writer Ellison Oswalt moves his family to the site of a vicious multiple murder, where he soon discovers a series of home movies chronicling a chain of homicides spread across many years and thousands of miles. As he slowly puts the pieces together, Ellison finds himself literally haunted by the grisly events, and slowly comes to believe that he may have placed his own family in harm’s way.

Just barely certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, this film, released on Friday, has been dividing the critics like nothing else. The main complaint so far seems to be that it’s predictable. Let me get that out of the way right now: it is. You’ll probably be able to see every major plot point coming around ten minutes before it hits. But the devil, as it were, is in the details. What this movie lacks in original plot structure, it more than makes up for in execution. It’s well-acted, beautifully atmospheric, wonderfully creepy, and studded with some awesome jump-scares. This film takes ideas that have been percolating in the depths of the horror genre for years and weaves them together into something that’s much, much more than the sum of its parts. To go into details would spoil the film, and it deserves to be experienced fresh. Suffice to say I highly recommend it. Ignore the critics. If you have doubts, wait for the DVD, but turn the lights down low, curl up with your loved ones and give this one a watch. Just don’t do it right before bed.

The Ranting Fangirl: Don’t Call Me A Tranny

I feel I should start this post off with a little housekeeping. It’s come to my attention that my blanket disclaimers to the effect that everything I say both here and on Twitter is my opinion and mine alone may no longer be quite enough. Apparently this needs to be reiterated. So let me be clear – I don’t speak for anyone but me. Highly relevant case in point: I talk about trans issues quite often, because many of those issues affect me personally, but I am well aware that I don’t speak for all trans people. I certainly don’t speak for trans men, or people who identify as genderqueer or gender-neutral. I have never been a part of the drag community, so I don’t speak for drag queens or kings (and very few of them speak for me, for that matter). I don’t speak for transvestites. I don’t speak for trans people of color, or for trans people outside of the United States of America. I don’t speak for transsexual separatists, as that particular movement repulses me on a primal, visceral level. I will never be a beauty queen, a fashion model, or generally drop-dead gorgeous, so I don’t speak for people like Jenna Talackova, Isis King or Janet Mock. At the same time, despite my horrible, awful voice which I hate with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, I somehow manage to pass most of the time, so I don’t speak for trans women who don’t pass at all. I am quite certain that I don’t even speak for all American diabetic geeky trans lesbian writers of Irish descent who pass fairly well but aren’t exactly supermodels, wear glasses, use makeup only on rare occasions, keep pink-maned unicorns and purring tribbles on their desk, and dye their hair increasingly vivid shades of red with each passing year.

I really don’t know how else to say this. Everything I say here, on Twitter, practically everywhere is my opinion. Period. It’s not me trying to speak for anyone else, even if I do think I’m in the majority on some of this stuff. It’s certainly not any attempt on my part to be some noble white knight in shining armor riding to the rescue of the defenseless. I talk about these things because they piss me off. Because they impact my life and my well-being. Because I want to live in a world that pisses me off a lot less. That’s it. My thoughts sometimes agree with high-minded ideals of what the world should be. Some people praise that. Some people think it’s bullshit. And as for me?

I’m not going to promise you nobility, wisdom, or even kindness. This is my oath: I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as I perceive it. I promise to offer my opinion couched in my own terms, and nothing more. I solemnly swear I am up to no good. That’s it.

So let’s talk about the latest thing that’s pissed me off.

As a writer, I am painfully aware of the power of words. This is why I prefer ‘heterosexual’ to ‘straight’ and ‘cisgender’ to ‘normal’ or ‘biologically male/female’ or ‘genetically male/female’ or whatever else. If you don’t like the words heterosexual or cisgender, or any attempt to label you as anything other than ‘normal,’ if these attempts make you feel alienated and marginalized, then perhaps you should stop and consider how the rest of us feel pretty much all the time. ‘Normal’ is a value judgment. Yes, it is also a cold, clean statistical term, but in a social context, it tends to be highly charged. More to the point: very few people are using these words as slurs. They’re using them simply as descriptors. I’m a transsexual lesbian. You’re a cisgender heterosexual man. Zie’s a genderqueer person who is generally attracted to men. And so on, almost literally ad infinitum.

Despite what your teachers or your parents told you, words can bludgeon. Words can cut. Words can wound. They can also be precursors to abuse and physical violence. As a survivor of bullying, I know this very, very well. And when these violent, horrible, threatening, demeaning, degrading words are used carelessly – even as a throwaway joke – it provokes fear. And then it provokes anger, and I think that anger is more than justified.

Here is my blunt, unvarnished opinion: cisgender people shouldn’t use the word tranny. Nor should they use shemale, or he-she, or whatever the hell else. Even if they’re ‘just’ telling a joke, it’s wrong. If they’re trying to reclaim it, well, it’s simply not their place. It is not my place as a white person to use the word n****r. It is not my place as someone who does not identify as a gay man to use the word f****t. If you’re not trans, it is not your place to use the slurs screamed at us as we’re beaten, or slapped on porn DVDs that exploit our bodies for your titillation, or turned into the punchlines of cheap jokes that rely solely on bigotry and shock value. (And I would argue that this is even true of drag performers who do not otherwise identify as trans – though they are generally grouped under the trans umbrella, there is a difference between wearing gender as a costume and actually experiencing the cognitive dissonance inherent to the trans experience. Then again, there certainly are drag queens and drag kings who also identify as trans in other respects.)

I am not, in theory, opposed to reclaiming slurs. I identify quite happily as queer (and I am indeed queer in many, many respects). I have, in the past, participated in the Boston Dyke March (though I don’t really use the word outside of that context, even when identifying myself). I’ve spoken before about my complicated relationship with the word bitch, and while I try to avoid gendered insults myself, I don’t really object to others applying it to me in a friendly or teasing sort of way. In practice…I find the slurs against trans people to be a bit too painful. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with them. I’m not alone in this. The conversation around the idea of reclaiming these words is a complicated one, and it’s full of internal politics that are frankly difficult to articulate to a general audience. But despite my discomfort, I’m not really going to object trans people using these words. (Though I would look askance at trans men using words like shemale, which have generally been applied to trans women…but now we’re edging close to those internal politics.) At the same time, I am going to object, strenuously, to cisgender people trying to ‘reclaim’ these words for us. It doesn’t matter what their intentions are. I’m sorry, but when you are part of a class that has systematically oppressed and assaulted a disadvantaged community, you don’t get to arbitrarily turn the tools of that oppression into compliments or friendly jibes. Imposing a new order from the outside is just another form of oppression.

And jokes using those slurs, or relying solely on the “She’s a MAN, baby!” brand of humor? They’re not harmless. Honestly, I don’t even think they’re remotely funny. As I said on Twitter the other day, they’re basically the equivalent of a three-year-old running up to you with an incoherent joke, finishing it with “POOP!” and running off while laughing hysterically. It’s cute when you’re three. It’s less cute when you’re a middle-aged self-styled comedy writer. And most of us would punish or at least chastise that three-year-old in a heartbeat if the punchline to their joke was, say, “N****R!” Humor relies upon a certain amount of shock value. But when shock value is all you have – when, in fact, the shock value is based on assumptions about your audience that may not even be true (such as the assumption that no one there is trans, or no one there has trans loved ones, or everyone there would find sex or even casual contact with a trans person disgusting) – then your so-called humor is fundamentally flawed.

But, also, at best these jokes amount to pointing and laughing at people who aren’t like you mainly because they aren’t like you, and that makes them weird and freaky. At worst, they denigrate people for something that’s not actually wrong, not their fault, maybe not even within their control. Or they even incite violence.

Do I need to say that using these slurs to hurt people is also wrong? I’d hope not. I doubt I’m going to reach the sort of people who would hurl ‘tranny’ at someone in anger. But it’s also wrong to throw those words at people who aren’t trans, as a way of mocking them. It doesn’t necessarily denigrate them. It does denigrate us. When you say that Ann Coulter totally looks like a tranny, the unspoken conclusion is ‘…and that’s terrible’. When you accuse a female athlete of being trans, you’re saying that ‘real’ women couldn’t achieve what they have, and incidentally saying that trans women aren’t real women. And when you use hateful, emotionally charged words like tranny, shemale, etc., you are compounding the insult.

Now, I should offer a few caveats. As a writer, you can certainly write bigoted or ignorant characters – characters who do use these words – without being a bigot yourself. As an actor, you can portray characters who use bigoted language without being a bigot yourself. And not everyone who uses bigoted language or espouses bigoted views is a bad person. They may be speaking out of ignorance or confusion. Those conditions can be remedied. I was very glad to see that Bill Corbett (whose tweets inspired this rant, as well as its precursor on Twitter) has come to understand how hurtful his comments were, and has promised to do better. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all say stupid things and do stupid shit. You pick yourself up, you learn from your mistakes, and you try to do better. That’s all anyone can ask. If you learn that you were wrong but refuse to accept it – if you choose to stay the course, knowing the needless pain and suffering you’re causing – then, yes, you are a bad person.

There is, as Zach Weiner has pointed out, no such thing as a perfect ethical law. But my mother raised me not to hurt people if I could avoid it. Slurs hurt people needlessly. These slurs, specifically, hurt me. I’m asking you all not to use them. That really shouldn’t be a controversial request.

But then, that’s just my opinion.

The Ranting Fangirl: Survival Through Subtext

Lately I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to lesbian subtext.

Now, my friend Katie is, as we speak, rushing to the bottom of this post to insist that I’m always thinking about lesbian subtext, as well as lesbian text, lesbian picture books, lesbian cartoons, and lesbian interpretive dance. Before you go read her shameful libel, let me state categorically that this is not at all true. I spend ten percent of my time thinking about sci-fi and fantasy in general. Five percent of my time goes to thinking about my holy crap adorable niece, another five percent goes to thinking about ponies (including unicorns and pegasi), and another five goes to thinking about my cats. Three percent of my time goes to thinking about how it would be so much easier to find clothes and shoes that fit properly if my feet were three or four sizes smaller and I was six inches shorter and a few pounds lighter. And, last but far from least, two percent of my time goes to thinking about corgis and Shelties, and what I’m going to name any corgis and/or Shelties I’m able to adopt someday (Tinkerbell or Stellabella for girls; Puck, Robin or Casey for boys). So, at most, I spend 70% of my time thinking about lesbian subtext. Math.

But I’ve spent the last day or so thinking about lesbian subtext in somewhat more abstract terms, inspired by a couple articles I’ve read recently. The first, an Entertainment Weekly piece tweeted by Roger Ebert (and then retweeted by a Twitter buddy of mine), asks if Merida – the newest Disney princess, and star of the new Pixar film, Bravemight be gay. Their reasoning isn’t great; Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress takes it on here. But a lot of the people who responded to both Ebert’s tweet and the original article objected to the very idea – not only from the generally anti-gay perspectives you might expect, but from feminist perspectives as well. I can’t say I entirely disagree with the fundamental point that heterosexual women can reject traditional gender roles, too; nor do I disagree with the related point that we are not defined solely by who we’re attracted to, and saying “Well, Merida just isn’t into men at all, is she?” kind of undermines her determination to choose her own fate, no matter what that fate may be or who else it might involve. (Please note that I haven’t seen the film yet. I plan to. Soon. But I’m working from only the sketchiest details.)

And yet…

Subtext is important. At times, subtext is vital. Especially when decent text is so hard to find. It’s getting better, to be sure, but there’s still a dearth of compelling, well-rounded gay characters, particularly in children’s entertainment. Sure, Dumbledore was gay…but that was never truly relevant to the saga of Harry Potter, and it didn’t even come out until the last book was printed. And too often, even those meager scraps can be ripped away.

This brings me to the second article. Now, I should preface this by saying that I don’t watch Adventure Time. But I do follow another WordPress blog called Misprinted Pages, and today Stephanie posted a review of the Adventure Time comic book, touching on a “controversy” connected with the show in the process. Said controversy is recapped here, but in brief: about a year ago, there was an episode showcasing some “light lesbian subtext” between two female characters, Marceline and Princess Bubblegum, and the show’s creators posted an online video commenting on the episode, essentially upgrading the subtext to some kind of text, and soliciting fan art and fan responses. That video was later pulled – after an outpouring of support from the online lesbian community in particular –  for reasons that still don’t make a lot of sense. The episode is still in circulation, but heaven forbid the creators openly acknowledge  that two characters in a family cartoon might be gay for each other. (Since the same episode apparently also implies or outright states that another character has been jerking off to a lock of Princess Bubblegum’s hair, I’m not sure how gay characters would cross any lines that haven’t already been left in the dust anyway.)

I know, I know – I’m spending a lot of time talking about stuff I haven’t seen. Insert pithy comment about feeling like I’m hardly ever seen here. I’m pretty sure everyone in the GLBT community is used to this game: go through the hundred or shows on television on any given moment, cringing at the stereotypes and crass humor, bracing yourself for heartbreak whenever a decent gay, bi or trans character happens to emerge, and grasping at subtext wherever you can find it. Hoping against hope that Disney will just admit that the Mystic Force Pink Ranger is gay (short-haired tomboy whose one and only date on the show was with a girl and who openly and enthusiastically agreed with the guys that another female character was hot…come on, people), or that TNT will stop teasing us with Rizzoli & Isles, or that you weren’t just imagining that chemistry between Veronica Mars and Meg Manning. Writing fan fic about Kirk and Spock or Xena and Gabrielle (even if the latter are all but canonical).

I’m not going to say it’s okay, because it’s not. I can count on one hand the number of current TV shows with meaningful gay characters that I actually enjoy. And when it comes to stuff I’d want my future kids to watch? Stuff that would show them that, no matter who they are, there are people like them out there, and they’re beautiful and amazing just the way they are? It falls to just about zero.

I get that it’s annoying at times. I get that sometimes the reasoning isn’t great – sometimes the reasoning is actually insulting. And I guess I’m not really saying that flawed reasoning shouldn’t be challenged. But, at the same time, sometimes subtext is all we have. Sometimes subtext helps us cope. Sometimes it helps us survive. And it’s not enough. Especially not for the gay and bi and trans kids growing up now, struggling to come to terms with who they are, still developing those vital survival skills. But don’t begrudge us our icons. Don’t go telling us our subtext is wrong. Because God knows we need all the heroes we can get – textual or otherwise.