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Bad Dates

UPDATED: SUBMISSIONS DEADLINE EXTENDED to March 15, 2015! Now get those submissions ...

In Honor of the Closing of a Lesbian Bar

Here’s an old short story of mine about another lesbian bar from ...

The Hornet Hunter

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me in the ...

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We’re Talking About All of the Wrong Things

cartoon of calvin from calvin and hobbes arguing with a playmateWhen I was a teenager, I was impressed that my father read the newspaper every morning, listened to NPR in his car, and watched the evening news every night. He told me that keeping up on current events wasn’t just an interest but his civic duty. He didn’t use those words, but look, it was a long time ago and I’m left with just the takeaway if not the precise quote. Now my dad was born in 1928, a child through the Great Depression, and one year shy of getting to enlist and fight in World War II (he lied about his age and went to work as a postal carrier instead, and they were willing to take him because they needed people). Duty and attachment to our neighbors has certainly shifted from then until today, and barely anyone reads a newspaper anymore. Our media outlets have grown, merged, super-merged, and drifted from the journalistic standards once popularized by people like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. For example, Fox News broadcasts verifiably true stories only twenty-two percent of the time. Rachel Maddow is better, but not much, at thirty-eight percent.

But in addition to the truthiness of mainstream news outlets, we have a problem with how subjects and topics are framed. Take the recent letter by forty-seven Republican Senators to Iran’s leadership, suggesting that their ongoing negotiations with the United States (and several other countries) won’t be worth the paper it’s eventually signed on. The debate frame is set up around whether these Senators are traitors or patriots, whether they should be recalled or heralded. Clearly they’re not traitors, as they didn’t call for the overthrow of the United States, didn’t send classified information to a foreign government for same effect, and didn’t attack the United States. (They didn’t even violate the Logan Act, but that’s another issue.) Read More…

The Metaphor Translations: Terrorists

This is an occasional series on metaphors in narrative. Earlier editions focused on doomsday scenarios, androids, and monsters.

They are everywhere, plotting, planning, building in the moldy recesses of basements and garages where apparently they are never discovered until there are mere minutes left on the digital timers, receding separation between life as we know it and cataclysm. If there’s one big difference between narratives about terrorists and narratives about the previous topics in this series, it’s that terrorists really exist in the world (vampires, seriously, vampires do not exist, folks). And while I suppose it’s technically feasible that a volcano could rise up from an unstable fault line, it’s not likely to happen in the middle of Los Angeles, so although some doomsday scenarios (The Day After Tomorrow, asteroid stories, for example) are a remote, remote possibility, they’re not realistic in the same way terrorist and terrorism stories are.

Judging from the scripts, some of these narratives have wrestled with the news reports of terrorist activity and the attacks that occur across the world. The attacks on September 11, 2001, basically ended The West Wing’s idealized portrayal of White House politicking and policy making. These days Homeland articulates a reasonable take on the way in which government analysts sort through data on terrorist cells and actors, even as it occurs within a larger paranoid fantasy (i.e., anyone could be a terrorist, even your Congressman!). NCIS, and Covert Affairs cover plotlines that stretch much further from this approach, including stories with terrorists as more like love-torn stalkers with a political interest.

Whether the narrative at hand is an attempt at realism or further afield, it still presents a threat to our culture, which makes it similar to narratives that feature attacking monsters, zombies, aliens, and the like, but there is a notable difference to the fantastical tale. Typically terrorism narratives include a lot about our response as nation-states, as governments with caring and dedicated employees who are working against all odds to stop the threat (think 24, A Most Wanted Man, Spooks), and in this way they reinforce the idea that the tactics our actual governments use are good, be they waterboarding, phone surveillance, or the near-omnipresent security cameras in our cities. The sheer number of plot lines across terrorist-themed shows and movies that include phone tapping, police stakeouts, computer programming to listen for terrorist plots, face recognition software, partnerships between the CIA, MI-6, and Interpol, and so on become a kind of system of justification for presuming our government is on duty for its citizens. Sure there may be a bad apple here or there (and always the double-crossing agent to watch out for), but the narrative of the fight against terrorism nearly always ends with the agents from the government thwarting evil. Read More…

Humor as Discomfort

A couple of years ago I picked apart Seth MacFarlane’s performance as emcee of the Academy Awards for his blatant and frequent sexist and racist comments. I wondered openly why anyone expected he’d do anything different, given his history as the “offend everyone” writer behind Family Guy and other television shows. Late last year I was somewhat surprised and ultimately disappointed when Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson came to Walla Walla to deliver an uninteresting and Islamaphobic lecture, and I remembered that Seth MacFarlane was the executive producer of the Cosmos: A Space Odyssey series on Fox that featured Tyson. For in the Hollywood universe, there are a few individuals who drive cultural production under the guise of many studios, production companies, agenting firms, and talent. It’s the old boys’ club of popular culture at work.

Last weekend we saw something a little different. I wouldn’t climb up on the soapbox with Maggie Gyllenhaal and proclaim it “revolutionary” (and evolutionary) as she did, but it was a crack in the edifice that Hollywood normally supports. At the Golden Globes, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Margaret Cho, Lily Tomlin, and even Jane Fonda (in a brief turnabout from her foray into conservative political stances) poked fun at this boys’ club and made those boys decidedly uncomfortable. Here is the Fry-Poehler opening monologue:

Tina’s very first line, calling everyone in the audience a bunch of “minimally talented brats” signaled a critique of Hollywood culture and production. The line about Joaquin Phoenix calling award shows a bunch of bullsh*t and then the well timed, “Oh, hi, Joaquin!” was a direct calling out of his hypocrisy (and pointed at a performer who once pretended to not care about Hollywood anymore, all for the publicity). From here they made a segue way into the North Korea threats around The Interview which would form the frame of a running joke in the form of Margaret Cho as a North Korean dictator and culture aficionado. From the mention of North Korea there were more jabs at the film and fellow actors that looked at first like the usual stuff of celebrity roasts: Read More…

Empathy as a Radical Act

I didn’t post much to this blog in 2014, though I’m not much surprised given that it opened with a new baby, in addiction to our rambunctious toddler. I’ve mulled over a lot during the interim of the last ten months, including:

  • Our national inability to ameliorate gun violence through legislation, education, infrastructure, and community
  • Why we’re not having a nationwide conversation about police procedure and the role of police in the twenty-first century
  • How small civil rights strides for trans people could exacerbate an emerging hierarchy of care and support for trans people
  • How to support our queer and trans youth better

None of these issues have gone away, so I will spend quality time thinking and writing about them in 2015. I think my days of burger reviews and snarks against reality television (which is in a death spiral anyway) are over, at least for now. This year I’ve got to tie up my next memoir project and get moving again on two fiction projects. Blogging may continue to be on the sparse side, but I’ll make more than 44 posts this year, I’m sure. In the meantime:

It strikes me that in the context of deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of their respective local police forces, in the state-level pushes against welfare recipients, within the curtailing of reproductive rights that further restrict abortion, and that cut off insurance coverage for contraception, and in the effort to talk about the state of the US economy, we have already dug into our respective positions and are quite unwilling to listen to the perspectives of others. If there is a silent majority center in the US, it is extremely good at staying silent. In the meantime, we hear a lot of noise of folks at the ends of the political spectrum, and while we may believe in our own talking points in earnest, the other side thinks we are paying attention to the wrong message, that our evidence is full of errors, and that we’re too stupid to see the situation realistically.

I’m not asking everyone to go watch FoxNews and msnbc or crossover their favorite media sources to the presumed opposition. Rather, I’m wondering if we can find a way to disengage from the polarization of these hot button political issues, especially as the tug of war approach results in very little movement toward a new or caring society.

For example, in thinking about the very recent suicide of Leela Alcorn who posted her suicide note on her Tumblr account (which has since been taken down by her parents), it is easy to fall into a visceral hate for her family who according to Leelah dismissed her gender identity and were hostilely unsupportive of her to the point of forcing her into a trans conversion therapy program. Let me be clear: I agree with the American Psychological Association’s longtime stance (they passed a resolution against it in 1997) against the practice and stand by the mountain of evidence that shows such attempts at behavior and identity modification are ill-advised, harmful, and wholly ineffective at achieving their stated goals. Clearly, Leelah’s parents weren’t on board with her requests for transition support, socially or medically. But demonizing the parents belies a whole series of issues and ideas that bear some reflection, including:

  • How can an individual (a parent in this case) live with the cognitive dissonance between loving their child “unconditionally” as was stated by Leelah’s mother, and refusing with all of their ability, to fulfill that child’s repeated requests for support?
  • Why has Christianity become so popular as a rationale for explaining the world when it has such a long history of harming the people it is mandated to serve?
  • Why has the idea of “religious freedom” moved toward shutting down dissent and a diversity of opinions and people  in a country supposed founded on the twin freedoms religion and speech?
  • How can we work to liberalize Christian teachings to move communities of faith away from such bereft practices of isolation, shaming, and conversion and toward acceptance of young people, no matter their sexual orientation and gender identity?
  • Why do so many trans-identified people consider suicide early in their transition and what can we do at a personal, community, and infrastructure level to support them and minimize suicide?

Shouting at people, writing in all caps online, trolling religious right web sites—these may be laudable tactics for some, but I don’t see them changing minds. If we’re invested in progressive or radical change, it behooves us to think about what outcomes we want to see, and remember that for the majority of people, they are doing what they think is their best. We may not agree with them, but that’s how they go to sleep at the end of every day. If we are to truly communicate with people who are different from us, we will need to see the world at least a little from their perspective.

The Freaking Binky Fairy

Avent pacifiers, two viewsSomeone suggested I tell Emile about the Binky Fairy as a way to get rid of the pacifiers he uses. So I started to weave this mythology to my 3-year-old, and of course he’s been asking questions. I usually plot out my stories and check that there are no gaps in logic etc., beforehand, not on the fly. Where does he take the binkies? (To BinkyLand) Why does he take them? (Because he thinks you don’t need it anymore.) What does he do with them? (He gives them to other children who are smaller and still need binkies.)

In reality, there’s a huge tear in Emile’s last binky standing, so Susanne and I are concerned about it choking him. (We are great parents, really.) I can’t give it to him, and Emile, with a full child’s complement of teeth now, burns through them in a couple of weeks. So I’d like this to be the last one! He doesn’t ask about them as much, and says he’s ready to not have them around anymore (except of course, when he’s TOTALLY NOT READY, DADDY).

Today I was putting him down for a nap when he asked for it. The ruined pacifier is on the kitchen island, about to head into the garbage bin. I said, “I don’t know where it is, maybe the Binky Fairy came already.”

“When did he come?”

“I don’t know.”

“I want to know. Is my binky gone? It helps me sleep, Daddy.”

*cue Bad Daddy music*

“I think it’s gone. I’ll talk to the Binky Fairy.”

At this news, Emile sits bolt upright in his toddler bed.

“You’ll talk to him? He’s here?”

“No…I mean, I’ll call him. On the telephone.”

“What’s his name?”

“Binky Fairy.” My lord with the questions!

“What’s his real name, Dad?”

I panicked. I wasn’t ready for another lie/layer to the story. I blanked. I said the first name that came to mind that wasn’t Emile or Lucas.

“Schmendrick.”

OMG, EVERETT, SCHMENDRICK? WHAT THE HELL KIND OF WRITER ARE YOU? SCHMENDRICK?

“I knew it,” said Emile, putting his head back on his pillow.

And that, people, is how I proclaimed that the Binky Fairy is really the hapless magician from The Last Unicorn.

Read More…

The Dos and Don’ts of Protesting

I’m not an expert on anything. I used to be a quasi-expert on usability analysis, and then I left the field and in the meantime, it emerged as its own real subject area with doctorate programs and certifications and I’m far enough back now that I’m not even in the dust. I write books, because I’m somewhat good with words, but I don’t consider myself an expert in writing, per se. I tend to take a commonsense approach to most topics, I try to get involved beyond the standard dabble when the issue resonates with me, and I’m no longer surprised that a Catholic girl raised to be a conservative republican has somehow become instead a progressive man who doesn’t attend any church. What I am pretty good at doing—though again, not an expert—is spotting contradictions in culture and rhetoric, and I think I owe my skill to some badass teachers from my youth, and my own tendency to complain.

marchflyerIIwebSo that said, I am not an expert on protesting. I don’t know the intellectual lexicon of the protest theorist, or whatever they call themselves (all due deference to protest theorists). I’ve been involved in organizing protests for twenty-two years, was taught specific protest tactics and de-escalation techniques by some of the women who invented them, and have personally taught three dozen people how to eat fire. I’ve gone to some of the biggest protests ever seen in Washington, DC, and been one of three people holding signs on a street corner when nobody else cared enough to show up. So along the way I’ve heard some things that are a kind of best practices regarding protests, namely: Read More…

Bad Dates

UPDATED: SUBMISSIONS DEADLINE EXTENDED to March 15, 2015! Now get those submissions in!

I meant to construct a web site to announce this, and I meant to announce it with more pomp and circumstance, or fanfare, or something, but whatever, I’m busy and you all know how to respond to a call for submissions. So, without further ado: bad dates screen shot from Raiders of the Lost Ark I’m honored to announce that I’ll be editing a nonfiction anthology entitled Bad Dates: Hilarious Tales of Queer and Trans Romance Gone Wrong. We’re talking mortifying but funny, like flipping off a person on the subway who cut in front of you and then realizing they’re your blind date for that night. Or learning the date you thought was a fellow vegan has brought you to a pit barbecue fest, or the old school queer standard, winding up on a date with your ex’s other ex and trying not to let the conversation get swamped into shared tales of those relationships. Submissions should be:

  • In .doc, .docx, or .rtf format, using standard manuscript format
  • Maximum of 5,000 words, but shoot for 3,000-4,500 (and yes, 5,100 words is over the maximum)
  • Free of sexism, trans misogyny, homophobia, racism, classism, ableism, just generally not douchey or reliant on offensive stereotypes of people on the margins
  • Showing your name and contact information (which is in the standard manuscript format, but whatever, it bears repeating)
  • Focused on queer and/or trans people as the main characters in the story
  • True stories that happened in actual life, or like, we can’t call the book nonfiction
  • Funny or have a humorous aspect to the story, or else the subtitle won’t be very accurate

No reprints, please. Unpublished work only. Submitters should also include in their submission a maximum three-sentence bio with any relevant publishing credits. Submissions are due by February 14, 2015, because… oh come on, I don’t need to explain why that’s the deadline, right? Please send in your best work! I’m so excited to read your stories. Submit your stories to:

BadQTDateBook@gmail.com

Life Hazards, Or, How I Learned to Argue with Doctors

Yesterday at 1:22pm, after coming into the office from lunch I had to deal with someone at my syringe exchange and in the process I received a needle stick injury. I am not going to write about the details of how that happened, certainly not online, but enough people have heard about my injury that there’s little sense in not talking about it at all. I’ve known ever since working for this nonprofit that working in the exchange carried some risks, and I’m proud that after fifteen years in operation, this is the first accident in the program.

However, if I thought there was a readily accessible and understandable protocol for dealing with needle stick injuries that I could work through in the hours after the injury, when it is most critical to get care, I was sorely mistaken. For a town known to have a great number of medical personnel and a nursing program, I had to work through six different care organizations and several staff who were close to incompetent, who had poor patient listening skills, and little cultural competence. Here is what happened after I washed my wound out in my office rest room.

I called the health department, saying I had a needle stick event and needed to talk to the infectious disease nurse, who knows me professionally because of my position at the nonprofit. She told me that I needed to contact Occupational Health at the hospital beause those are the folks who deal with needle sticks that have occurred in the workplace. I pulled up their web page and called the number at 1:30pm, eight minutes after the event, and got a recording saying their normal working hours were 8:30am until noon and 1:00pm until 5:00pm, but I could leave a message and they would call me the next day. I hung up and called again. Same thing. I texted Susanne, knowing she would be in class until 2:20pm.

I drove to the emergency department, got a bracelet, and was ushered back to a bed by 1:50pm. I texted the president of my board who offered to join me. I accepted. The nurse on my case told me her computer said to send me to urgent care because they are associated with the occupational health department. She cut the bracelet off my wrist and I drove half a block to urgent care. My board president met me there. At 2:30pm they brought me back and a nurse took my vitals. She was concerned that my blood pressure was 148 over 90, but I said given the circumstances it wasn’t going to get much better. I tried to relax; but my BP readings were just borderline high, which is atypical for me.

The doctor came in and asked what happened. I told him I run a syringe exchange and that I received a needle stick injury through my rubber glove. He asked me the name of the “source patient,” science-speak for the owner/user of the syringe. I said I didn’t know his name as this is a confidential program. This began a strange discussion in which I outlined: Read More…

In Honor of the Closing of a Lesbian Bar

Here’s an old short story of mine about another lesbian bar from upstate New York. Those of you who recall My Bar may find the setting somewhat familiar. I hope you enjoy it.

8 Ball, by Everett Maroon

It’s about the size of a typical urban efficiency apartment, with a faded certificate of occupancy stuck on the wall by the front door, probably with some bouncer’s chewing gum, announcing it is fit to legally house 35 people. Thirty-five dyke pygmies, maybe, but not 35 wide-assed people. Smoke hangs next to the low ceiling, hovering around the light over the small and slanted pool table, a cheap but efficient way of adding a dramatic atmosphere to both the serious and poseur sharks who swim underneath it. Most of the patrons use pool-playing as a tried and true method of picking up dates, but this usually leads to them slamming the stick into the cue ball too hard, ricocheting the shot out of the hole and ending in a staccato set of swears as they express their “disappointment.”

My friends and I have just entered the place for the third time in five days because one of them has a new crush on a townie who usually hangs out here. Usually, however, being the relative term that it is, has not included any of these three nights, and has led directly to my frustration at winding up in this dump once again, cheap beer or no cheap beer.

The bouncer, a woman who seems to value herself based on her ability to be serious throughout all moments of the day and night, claps a meaty hand on Joselyn, the friend with the crush. “How’s it goin’, Jos,” she says, deep-throated and completely absent of any hint of a smile. She is the female version of the Michelin man, having obviously taken the name of her profession to heart. For over these three engaging encounters at My Bar, I have witnessed no fewer than six, count them six, bar fights, the resolution of each ending with her not man-handling the offenders (for that would never happen in a lesbian bar), but by bumping into them and pushing them out the door.

“Great,” says the newly named “Jos,” and we head inside. My Bar, doing its part to encourage patronage of a classically poor community, has no cover. Small rodents didn’t even bother to come inside in the dead of winter, so the owners justifiably decided against asking for any kind of entry fee. Read More…

An Open Letter to Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic National Committee

voting box with ballotHonestly, I have a lot of other things to get to this week, and within that, a lot of other pieces to write. But I have been so ubiquitously harassed by national-level Democrats that hey, I’ll take some time out this afternoon to respond to their litany of email.

Dear Representative Pelosi—

Perhaps there was a time in my life when receiving an email from the former Speaker of the House would have been at least a little thrilling, but the bloom is off the rose now. I don’t really even think you care about me, what with all of your messages—which are too many, honestly, it’s getting embarrassing—addressed to me as <FRIEND:VALUE!>. It feels half-hearted, Representative Pelosi. I know you are well networked in the legislative scene over on Capitol Hill. I used to see you around town from time to time when I still lived there. Okay; that’s a lie, it was Dennis Kucinich whom I saw, and mostly at the Greek restaurant on Pennsylvania SE that has sadly closed down. What I don’t understand, however, is how with all of your knowledge and connections and wealthy campaign contacts, you haven’t come across anyone who has mentioned even in passing that the Democratic National Committee’s strategy on getting donations for these midterms is abysmally bad. Here are the subject lines of just a few of the HUNDREDS of messages I’ve received these past few months:

  • painful loss
  • we. fell. short.
  • Friend we’re BEGGING
  • B O E H N E R wins
  • all hope is lost

The content in the actual email isn’t any better. Read More…

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