Twenty Years Of Teenagers With Attitude

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.

The Darkness That Claims Us

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.

State of the Blog

So – hey, folks.

You may have noticed I’ve been pretty quiet lately. Sorry about that. I started a new job not too long ago, and while I’m quite happy with it, it’s been rather exhausting, and it has altered my routine a bit. Bluntly, I can’t keep to the schedule I had before.

There are two main reasons for this. First there’s the matter of timing. I tend to be busy on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and by Friday, I’m pretty tired from the work week and don’t feel much like writing. Second, I put a lot of work into the average Media Mondays or Fangirl Fridays post. I spend as much time (if not more) gathering and editing photos, finding links and referring back to notes and source material as I do in the actual writing process. I think I can handle one fairly involved post a week. I’m not sure I can handle two.

So I’m going to experiment with the schedule, lighten my workload a bit, and see if I can’t get back to blogging regularly once more. Media Mondays and Fangirl Fridays will be rolled into one series of general posts on pop culture – sometimes I’ll blog about a female character I adore, sometimes I’ll review stuff I’ve read or watched or played recently, sometimes I’ll grumble about some character or plotline or character that’s been pissing me off. Those posts will go up over the weekend, when I tend to have a lot more spare time.

On Thursdays, I’ll talk about writing. I don’t expect those posts to change much from the Writing Wednesdays posts you all know and love, though obviously I’ll be giving them a new name. I’m leaning toward Writer’s Block, though perhaps I’m tempting fate with that title. I’ll figure it out by Thursday.

Finally, it seems like my rants on various topics tend to be fairly well received, and I do enjoy the variety, so I’m going to do more of them. On the first three (or, rarely, four) Tuesdays of the month, I’ll speak from personal experience. Talk about something that’s been on my mind in a fairly freewheeling, link-light kind of way. I can’t promise relentless logic or mountains of citations, but I’ll try to make it interesting, at least.

I’m hoping to start all this tomorrow – there’s a blog post that’s been making the rounds among my Mormon friends that’s stirred up a lot of thoughts and feelings, and once again, I feel moved to speak. I hope you’ll all be patient with me. Hopefully I’ll find my groove again soon.

As always, thanks for reading.

Gone Fishing

Hey everyone –

Here’s the deal. I just put a busy-as-hell week behind me. I’ve got another one ahead. And things are likely to return to something resembling normalcy after that, but right now…I’m exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally. That last post, especially, took a lot out of me. That’s not a place I like going back to, and it always takes its toll. I could try to force some posts out, and I do have a few ideas…but I want to get this stuff right. I don’t want to post something I can’t be at least a little proud of. And I don’t want to keep letting my schedule slip the way it has been lately.

So I’m taking the week. I’m going to spend a little time on my mental health. I’m going to focus on writing the next couple chapters of Fall. I’m going to recharge my batteries, and I’m going to come back fresh.

See you in a week. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

– Cass

On Bullying

TRIGGER WARNING: violence, bullying, suicide.

There will be no Fangirl Fridays post this week. I was hoping to write one – albeit a delayed edition – but, frankly, I’m not in the mood. I don’t want to half-ass it, and I don’t want it to draw attention from what I have to say now. I just had a brief conversation on Twitter that got me thinking about some old demons, and while the conversation really wasn’t at all contentious, it still put me back in a very dark, painful place. I’ve literally spent the last hour in tears, and I need to get this out. I don’t know if my words on this subject are all that important. I doubt I’m saying anything that hasn’t been said before. Still: the spirit has moved me, and so I speak.

There’s been a lot of talk about bullying lately. The Weinstein Company’s Bully is, of course, in theaters: unrated, because the MPAA is full of cowards and moral guardians who chose to rate a vitally important, socially relevant documentary R for their own inexplicable reasons. (I confess that I have not seen Bully myself yet, and I probably won’t until it’s on DVD/Netflix. I don’t trust myself to control my emotional reaction to the film. I’d rather watch it in a safe space.) After a wave of teen suicides, the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota has finally revised a policy that blatantly required teachers to withhold support from GLBT students even in the face of horrific bullying. Sadly, the trend of teen suicide, particularly among GLBT youth, continues unabated despite such efforts toward change, with Jack Reese of Utah joining the too-long list of the dead just last week. Bullies and bullying are everywhere, and at long last, we are beginning to recognize the problem.

Hurrah.

Please forgive me my cynicism. Please forgive the snarky sci-fi nerd that has nothing to say to this but “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.” Forgive the sarcastic ass who can’t get over all the suffering and pain and death she has seen as a result of bullying, and can’t quite believe that anything is actually going to change this time. Because I have seen schools try to address the problem of bullying. I have seen them bust out mediation and role-playing and peer counseling and God knows what else. And maybe this is the outsider perspective talking, maybe the folks on the inside actually are seeing real change…but I don’t think so. I just see more empty promises waiting to be broken. I just see another false start that will never become a sustained movement. I just see the latest trend flashing across our radar, to be replaced the second the media grow bored.

Let me tell you a story.

From the age of eight, I was homeschooled. Before that, I was in a public school, and I was bullied. I say bullied. Let’s call it what it was: for two years, from my first day of kindergarten to my last day of second grade, I was emotionally and physically abused. You want to know what I learned in public school? I learned not to bring or share anything I truly liked, because the odds were good it would be stolen, vandalized, destroyed. I learned not to show any sign of weakness, because my classmates would gleefully exploit it just to see me cry or vomit again. I learned that my best friend could become my worst enemy in an instant, for no apparent reason. I learned not to trust classmates who wanted to ‘show me something’ because I would never like the result.

I learned that I could be beaten until scars formed on my back, and the teachers and administrators would do nothing to protect me.

In fact, I was blamed for all of this. I needed to break out of the ‘victim mentality,’ they said. I needed to stop being weird. I needed to stop playing crazy games of pretend. I needed to stop spending my time on the playground with kids a grade or two behind me – younger children, by that point, being the only ones I could trust not to hurt me. I needed to stop playing with the girls and start playing with the boys. I needed to learn to defend myself.

My parents asked the principal, out of idle curiosity, what would happen if I used violence to defend myself from violence. They were told I would be expelled, of course. The same teachers and administrators who turned a blind eye to my being beaten, who took no action against the students responsible for any of the treatment I faced, would expel me in a heartbeat if I threw so much as a single punch.

I did not understand the politics in play then, but I do now: I was assigned male at birth. The school saw a little boy who preferred the company of girls, who liked Rainbow Brite and dolls and playing pretend, who wished (though I did not then realize that anyone could tell) in the dark of night to be like all the other girls, and they panicked. At best, I was a freak. At worst, I was a mob scene waiting to happen. Add that to this: I was WAY ahead of my classmates, and my parents were agitating for me to be skipped a grade, or placed in a gifted and talented program, because I was terminally bored by my classes and it was beginning to show. The school did not take kindly to them rocking the boat. I was a crooked nail to be hammered down until I didn’t stick out anymore. The bullying was just another tool in their toolbox.

I was fortunate in that I had a truly ferocious mother. When I was beaten within an inch of my life – when I was left scarred and bleeding and broken in body and soul – she marched me down to the home of the boy who’d done it and showed his grandfather my wounds. Said boy was grounded. Said boy later snuck out and came to my neighborhood to see his friends there. That was one of the most terrifying experiences in my life. I have never since put so much effort into being invisible.

What did I learn at school? I learned that adults, even with the best of intentions, cannot always protect you. I learned that too many adults won’t even try.

Eventually, when it became clear that the teachers and administrators would continue to sit on their hands, to watch and wait and secretly hope that my suffering would mold me into the good little robot they wanted, my mother pulled me out of there altogether. That was not the end to my suffering. I’m not sure there was ever really an end to it. But the pain was eased. I was protected. I was loved. I made friends. Slowly, cautiously, I let myself become visible. But even now, my danger sense is too powerful for my own good. Even now, I find myself shrinking away at times, trying to avoid being noticed. I often find myself wishing I was smaller, and I tell myself it’s because it’s hard to find pants that actually cover my whole leg, or shoes that fit right, or what have you, but the honest truth is that it would be so much easier to hide myself if I was just smaller.

People have called me brave, even fearless, for being who I am. I think my closest friends know better by now. For the rest of you, let me make this clear: I am not brave. I chose to become myself because the alternative was taking my own life. I have thought and still think about ending it all too many times to count. I attempted suicide when I was twelve years old, and survived not because anyone found me, but because I chose a rather silly method (if I can call it that) which did not work and did not result in permanent damage. I will grapple with these demons for the rest of my life. I will never be safe, and I will never be fearless. I could have been another name on that long, long, far too long list of children who saw no other choices. I will do my level best not to join that company, but there’s still time on the clock.

I can’t lay my depression entirely at the feet of those who abused me. Odds are good that at least some of it was genetic. But the seeds of my depression, and my gender dysphoria, were planted together in fertile soil. They were watered and tended by people who wanted to do me harm. And I didn’t understand. And I still don’t understand. Didn’t these people have parents who taught them better? Couldn’t they see the pain they were causing? Didn’t they care? I was taught from such a young age to show the world kindness, to be gentle with others, to use what power I had to make the world better. What went wrong? Why did no one else learn that?

I like to think that I have grown up and moved on. And it’s true that I don’t think about what happened to me most of the time. It’s true that, sometimes, I can look back on it all with clinical detachment. I can wonder, idly, what happened to the people who abused me, and to the people who were complicit in my abuse. I can wonder if they ever changed, or if they just became grown-up bullies. I can wonder what happened in the past to make them the way they were – if the boy who beat me was also a victim, caught up in the cycle of abuse. I can wonder what they would think of me now, and I can accept that many of them would probably still think I’m a freak.

But there is a dark, lonely corner of my soul where a scared, broken child still huddles, arms wrapped around her knees. Her clothing is torn and her back is covered in bloody scars, and she will not stop crying to herself. She doesn’t understand why the world wants to cause her pain. She doesn’t understand why she can’t just play Barbies with the other girls, why she can’t be grossed out by bugs and spit and blood, why she can’t even cry without being mocked. She doesn’t understand why people would want to hurt her for those things. She doesn’t understand why her kindness and gentleness isn’t enough. She just wants to be liked. She just wants to be herself. She just wants to be left alone.

That is what bullying has made me. That is what it has left in the core of my being: a broken little girl, crying to herself forever.

You can say I should move on. You can say it was just kid stuff. You can say I should let go of my pain. And I’ll say fuck you. My pain is not a choice. God, I wish it were. I wish it was something I could shut off and never have to deal with again, because I hate going back to that place. But I have been forever altered by those experiences. I will never forget them. And sometimes, in my darkest hours, I will be dragged back, kicking and screaming, and forced to live it all over again.

So I see these kids dying, and I think about how easy it would have been for me to join them. I see teachers and administrators and lawmakers making promises, and I wondered why they never even tried making those promises to me, and I wonder what happened to the last round of promises they made. I see history repeating, and it makes me sick to my stomach, and it makes me angry as hell, and somewhere deep inside me, I hear a little girl wailing.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know if there’s any one answer. But I know this: we need to start by refusing to turn our backs on any child in pain. We need to stop blaming the victims of bullying. We need to see ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘children are cruel’ as the bullshit it is, and REFUSE to take those excuses. We need to stop tying the hands of teachers who just want to reach out to children who are suffering for who they are. We need to stop trying to mold children into one specific form and start embracing diversity. We need to do so many things, but above all else, we need to stand up and say no and MEAN IT, now and forever.

Humanity is broken, on every conceivable level, and we have spent too many years passing our failures, our demons, our pain on to our children. We have the capacity for change. For all my cynicism, for all my doubt, I do believe that. But we need to commit to the cause.

Please don’t forget that this time. Please don’t let all those children, all that suffering, be washed away and pushed out of sight by the next big thing. This shining moment of awareness will mean nothing if we can’t follow through on it.

I can never forget what happened to me. I have too many brothers and sisters in the same boat. Those of you who can make that choice: choose to remember. And choose to make the world better. Please.

Media Mondays: The Glee Is Gone

My friend Katie recently had a few things to say about Glee. Well, I say ‘recently,’ and I say ‘a few things,’ but I mean ‘three distinct posts over the course of as many months,’ so here, I’ll just link them allGlee happens to be one of the many interests we share: we were both seriously into it at the start, and we both started to loathe it at around the same time. And good Lord in Heaven, is there a lot to loathe. But, for me, it comes down to this:

In the last season, Glee has come to embody the concept of too little, too late.

Let’s be honest: this show was always a guilty pleasure. I had plenty of friends who rather justifiably proclaimed it terrible from the start. I thought it was cute and quirky and interesting, and I’ve always been a sucker for musicals. I knew it wasn’t without its problems, but I was willing to overlook those problems for a while. And the first season had a lot going for it. The show was basically a live-action cartoon, with outrageous plotlines and no real consequences for anyone’s actions, but at the same time, it tackled real teen problems in an emotionally authentic way. Sexuality. Teen pregnancy. Bullying. It wasn’t always perfect, particularly when it came to racial diversity and actual inclusion. There were plenty of genuinely idiotic moments. But at least they were trying. And the show was suffused with a sense of good cheer, good humor, and sheer joy that made up for a lot.

I don’t really know when that sense of joy started to fade away. I don’t know when I officially became sick of Glee’s bullshit. But I do know that this past season has been a long, joyless slog, and unless the writers pull a damned miracle out of their asses and truly, deeply impress me, I’m done. When this season is over, I’m saying goodbye to Glee.

Frankly, I’m not holding out much hope. The writers have had at least two golden opportunities to impress me this season, and they haven’t done it yet. I sincerely doubt they ever will.

This should have been an emotionally resonant moment. It was totally botched. And that's what you missed on Glee!

Case in point: the recent episode on bullying and suicide among gay teens. This has been a huge issue in the last year, and rightly so. Too many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens and college students are taking their own lives, unable to bear the grief they face day after day. I have struggled with depression my whole life. I have been in that place more times than I care to admit. I could have been one of those kids.

So it made me incredibly furious to see Glee tackle the issue in their all-too-typical hamfisted manner.

I can’t point to any one specific part of the episode and say ‘There. That. That’s where they fucked up!’ To be honest, it all felt wrong. The teen who actually attempted suicide – Dave Karofsky – was a fairly unsympathetic character who had been rather awkwardly reinserted into the show an episode or two before. We didn’t see enough of his story to know exactly what he was going through. The actual suicide attempt, and his father’s discovery of his unconscious body, were certainly difficult scenes to watch. But they weren’t as powerful as they could have been. And they were diminished further simply by being on this damn show. I spent the whole five minutes or so wondering how they were going to fuck things up this time. And boy howdy, they did not disappoint.

In the moments that followed, we had a tired old story from Mr. Schue about how he was once caught cheating on a test and thought about jumping off a roof, as well as a half-assed redemption on the part of a recurring character who had actually committed assault against one of the regulars not too long before and should have been in jail. (He didn’t go to jail because Glee is stupid and everyone on the show is carrying the idiot ball at this point. Also there was something about Michael Jackson in there. It’s all kind of blurred together into an enormous pile of awful.) We had a heavy-handed scene in the hospital with Kurt and Karofsky, I guess. To be honest, I’ve blocked that out too. And then we forgot all about it and moved on to the most boring Regionals competition ever shown on the program and the culmination of one of the most idiotic plotlines of the season (which is saying a lot): Finn and Rachel‘s wedding.

I don’t even know where to start. I really don’t. This episode could have been good. It should have been good. Most of the cast is incredibly talented, and they brought real, raw emotion to their reactions to Karofsky’s suicide attempt. But you know what? For one thing, you don’t take a subject like this and turn it into the B-plot in a three-ring circus clusterfuck of an episode. For another, no, Mr. Schue, your stupid teenage overreaction to getting caught cheating does not compare to what GLBT teens face every goddamned day in any way, shape or form. We couldn’t have heard from Kurt on this? Or Santana? Or one of Rachel’s dads, maybe? Someone who might actually have a story relevant to this plotline? Maybe an anecdote that wouldn’t break the emotional tension of these events like a safety pin stuck in a damned balloon?

But when it comes to ‘too little, too late,’ this last week’s episode takes the damn cake.

Sue Sylvester racing gleefully over the biggest damn line you ever did see.

In the last episode of Glee, we were introduced to Wade, a.k.a. Unique, a young trans woman on the verge of coming out, just about to come into her own. She also happened to be a member of Vocal Adrenaline – the chief rivals of Glee’s New Directions. When she came onto the campus to speak with Kurt and Mercedes, it looked like there was yet another confrontation between the rival glee clubs in the offing. Instead, she confessed her true identity and told them that she wanted to perform as a woman at Vocal Adrenaline’s next show. Kurt and Mercedes, sympathetic but fearing that she might be ridiculed, advised against it. Not the way I would have gone, but fine.

Then Sue Sylvester – Glee’s on-again, off-again antagonist – somehow caught wind of this. And that was when I started seeing red.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty sensitive when it comes to trans issues. I get twitchy when otherwise good shows suddenly introduce transgender characters. When it happens on a show like Glee, I get downright pissy. So many shows get the whole thing so horribly wrong, even when they have the best intentions. And I no longer trust the intentions – or the competence – of Glee’s writers or producers.

I’ll put up with a lot of crap. But when you start fucking around with my sisters and my brothers, with our stories and our experiences, when you start exploiting us for tawdry drama or cheap laughs, my fuse gets very, very, very short.

And Sue Sylvester strolled right on in with a lit match. Because her reaction to this latest product of McKinley High’s rumor mill was not to commend Kurt and Mercedes on their kindness and discretion, or to tell them they should have encouraged Unique instead of shutting them down. Well…actually, it was sort of the latter. But for all the wrong reasons. Sue heard the story and thought this was the perfect opportunity to take down Vocal Adrenaline. The audience would see a teenage boy on stage in a dress and heels and the whole club would be humiliated. She even bought some ridiculously high-heeled shoes for them to give to Unique. And Kurt and Mercedes, though obviously reluctant, agreed to pass along the shoes and the message.

Let me tell you all a story. When I was 19 years old, during my freshman year of college, I came out to my friends and family. I finally admitted to everyone I loved that I felt like a woman inside, and I always had. I was supremely lucky: most of them accepted me for who I was. When I went home for the holidays, my parents helped me shop for everything I would need to assume my true identity, to become the person I had always been inside. We set up appointments with therapists and worked to get me on hormones. And then, the following February, I went with my school’s GSA to the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference…and I went out in public as a woman for the very first time. I spent the whole weekend simply being myself. And when I came back, I realized that I couldn’t go back to living a lie. Within a week, I was living as a woman full-time.

I don’t think that would have happened if there’d been a Sue Sylvester waiting in the wings to turn my first experience in public as the person I truly was into some kind of Carrie moment. I’m not sure I’d be alive today if something like that had happened. That first experience at MBLGTACC gave me the strength I needed for everything that came afterward. That strength sometimes faltered, but it did not fail, because it was built on a strong foundation. If that foundation had been undermined from the very beginning…I really don’t know what would have happened.

Unique puts on her boogie shoes.

So when Sue proposed that bullshit, and Kurt and Mercedes went along with them, it truly damned them all in my eyes. No one deserves that kind of treatment. And Sue knows that, damn it! The whole plotline was inconsistent characterization at its worst. Sue’s a bully, but she has shown in the past that there are lines even she won’t cross. The victimization of GLBT youth was supposedly one of them, as evidenced by her decision to resign rather than reverse her decision to expel Karofsky for bullying Kurt and threatening him with assault and murder. Of course, that’s gone out the window before. But she’s never gone this far. It was clumsy writing, clumsy plotting, and unacceptable behavior on the part of several major characters.

If it had ended badly for Unique, I probably would have stopped watching here and there. I would never have forgiven the characters, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have forgiven the actors involved for letting their characters go that far. In the end, Kurt and Mercedes did have second thoughts. They ultimately went backstage at the Vocal Adrenaline concert to try and warn Unique about Sue’s plans. And that was when Unique showed us all the kind of person she was – because she refused to abandon her plans. She refused to lie about who she was any longer. She put on her boogie shoes and she went out there in all her glory. And it was glorious. For a moment – just a moment – I saw everything I used to love about Glee come rushing back.

But one good moment doesn’t make up for a season or more of absolute shit. I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t. I have been waiting for this moment since this show came on the air. And now that they finally have a trans character on the show – a strong, confident, talented trans woman of color, at that – I find that this victory, if you can call it that, tastes like ashes. I adore Unique, but she doesn’t redeem Glee. I’m not happy that the show is doing this. I’m furious that they’re doing it now. That one of the best trans characters on television is on a show that has long since become a complete train wreck.

Plenty of organizations like GLAAD are celebrating tonight, overjoyed at seeing a character like Unique on television. But I just can’t join the chorus. I’m just not feeling it. The joy is gone, and it won’t come back. I really do wish the show’s entire cast nothing but the best. Many of them are amazingly talented, and they deserve nothing but the best. But as for the show itself, and all its latest attempts to recapture its former glory?

Too little, too late, Glee. Too little, too late.

If you like what you’ve just read, please consider donating to my summer pledge drive. If you can’t donate yourself, but you’d still like to help, please spread the word about the blog and about the pledge drive itself. The more readers and potential supporters I pick up, the better.

Summer Pledge Drive Update

TL;DR: This is getting a little more urgent than I’d originally thought it would be, and I’m upgrading ‘I could really use your help’ to ‘I could really, really use your help.’ Please click here to donate.

Confession time: when I was a kid, pledge season was the WORST. Suddenly they were interrupting all my favorite PBS shows with some stupid crap about tote bags and DVD sets, and I just did not get it. Wasn’t PBS supposed to be free of commercials? I mean, wasn’t that half the reason I was watching? (The other half being that my parents encouraged me and my sister to watch public television rather than network or cable TV…yeah, that really didn’t take as we grew older.) But as I grew older, and I realized how many hoops public television and similar organizations had to jump through just to keep going…I developed a new appreciation for the pledge drive. Boy howdy, do I understand the need for that kind of public appeal now.

I just had a small family conference, and it turns out straits are a little more dire than I’d realized. On top of my own medical bills, we’ve got electric and gas bills and car payments to take care of somehow before my first paycheck comes in. This still isn’t a matter of life and death, but it’s pretty dire. We are really, really close to getting things back on track…but we need a last little push over this final hill.

I don’t have tote bags. I don’t have DVDs. I really don’t have a lot to offer here…except my work. So here’s the deal: you know that novel I keep talking around in my Writing Wednesdays posts? That queer supernatural romance/modern fantasy story I’ve been calling Fall? Well, if this pledge drive gets going, I’ll start posting content. In the long term, I’ll post one chapter, or one short piece set in the same world, for every $500 donated to the pledge drive. But because I could really use the cash sooner rather than later, I’ll modify that offer slightly for the short term: for every $250 donated to the pledge drive before April 30, I will post one chapter from Fall, or one short piece of no less than 4,000 words set in the same world.

Now, I can’t promise that those chapters will be the final versions from the full manuscript – details might still change as I work on finishing the novel completely. And I can’t promise they’ll come out any faster than one installment a week. But I can do one installment a week. I can give you all – every last one of you – a glimpse into this world, a taste of things to come, if some of you can just reach out and lend a hand. I’m sure some of you have been curious about the book itself. Well…here’s your chance to see it.

If you can’t donate yourself, again, please tell your friends, your family, your followers on Twitter, anyone and everyone who might be able and willing to help. Signal boosting is much appreciated as well. The more people who hear about this, the better my chances of meeting or exceeding my goals. And the sooner those goals are met, the sooner I can stop bothering everyone with this campaign. I would not be asking if it wasn’t important.

Please click here to donate. Literally anything will help. Thank you.