Tag Archives: popular culture

How to Ruin Halloween

We're a culture not a costume campaignA few years ago I wrote a blog post about offensive Halloween costumes and how they send the wrong message to children, mocking people who look different or who come from communities on the margins. The commercialization of Halloween, like the commercialization of every American “holiday” is so focused on profit that there is little left to authentically celebrate. But Halloween has seen a surge in popularity in pop culture and it seems like every year the offensiveness quotient is ramped up another notch or two. Despite campaigns against appropriation for Halloween, there are far more instances of using other cultures as dress up or as object of mockery than resistance against such moments.

Halloween also puts pressure on parents to buy the best, most professional costumes possible lest their class status appear too low. A casual glance at children’s costumes on the Web reveals that if one looks for something beyond a plastic costume and mask, prices start in the mid-$30s and range past $100. This puts children in the position of announcing their parents’ financial resources just to participate in the evening’s festivities (unless they’re in a very cold weather region and the costumes are tucked under coats, perhaps).

Then there’s the fear. Trick-or-treating, once the duty and delight of kids when I was a child, has declined due to concerns about tampered candy and nighttime predators. Parents who do let their kids go door to door follow them around on the sidewalk, or children are corralled into events that take place at the local YMCA or city block. And while I may love kids, I cannot handle having 3,000 small costumed children banging into each other and screaming over the last Snickers mini-bar.

There may still be some glory left in what was once a harvest holiday. If neighbors can agree to have some candy and entertain kids for a few hours, one can get to know those neighbors a little better and get to know the neighborhood more. If children are encouraged to share their candy, get out and walk around and laugh with their friends and family, I see a glimmer of fun in the experience. But certainly there is a lot to wade through to get past the hype, blinking skulls, fake spider webbing, and plush DisneyTM/Sesame Street/PowerRangers/Transformers costumes to get to the fun.

And hooray, Columbus Day is next week. Don’t get me started on that one.

All the Things I’ll Miss About Cristina Yang

Sandra Oh from Grey's AnatomyOne of the biggest badass characters on television is leaving next week and I couldn’t be more heartbroken about it. It’s not just that Sandra Oh is arguably the best actor on Grey’s Anatomy (or broadcast television for that matter), it’s that the character she plays, Cristina Yang, has been an unsung feminist presence in a series often marked by obsession about heterosexual relationships and the men that inhabit them. Dr. Yang had been through bad relationships, abandonment at the altar (“It’s not that Burke broke up with me, it’s how he broke up with me.”), and an on-again, off-again affair with the chief of surgery, but she leaves the narrative at the top of her game, prioritizing her own needs, and inspiring other surgeons in her field. But let me get more specific about the aspects of Cristina that I adore so much, and thus the reasons I’ll miss seeing her around the hospital.

1. Her self confidence has never wavered—She started as an intern with the others, but came out of the gate maximizing her procedures hours and stating what kind of surgeon she would be. Maybe Izzy floated around not knowing which sub-specialty to take up and maybe George was trying to listen to his heart to figure himself out and maybe Meredith was fighting the shadow of her eponymous mother, but Cristina was all focus, all the time. Read More…

Questions Nobody Asks Me About My Novel

cover for TUTTOne of the reasons I enjoy interviews about my writing (other than the most ridiculous ego-tripping reasons, of course) is because it gives me insight into how people are interpreting my work, which is often something new or that I wasn’t creating intentionally. Sometimes an interview veers in an unexpected direction, and then I’m joyful as I get caught up talking about texts and narrative and form and extrapolating into popular culture more generally. But often there are pieces of the story that I think are glaring for readers but that never come up in conversation. So for my love of talking about textuality and literature, I thought I’d go over a few aspects of The Unintentional Time Traveler that haven’t come up in any of my Q&As.

The protagonist’s name(s)—I could answer this self-imposed question in a few different ways. First, “Jackson” is an intentional play on patrilineage, which the character winds up disrupting by choosing at the end to spend a lot of time as Jacqueline instead of in the time of Jackson’s actual life. But more important to me was the iconic use of the name “Jack” as it appears in scads of children’s literature: nursery rhymes, Jack & Jill, Jack & the Beanstalk, Jack Frost, Jack Sprat, etc. It’s almost at the level of generic marker for boys. So I wanted to create a narrative that took the mainstay name and immersed it in a novel that was focused on LGBT themes and characters. I want to see our stories and our lives within this greater mythology and literature, not apart from it. Jack was the perfect moniker to use to make this kind of a statement. And Inman is the name of a family I know from Washington, DC, but it’s also a great double entredre.  Read More…

Not All Opinions Are Equal

Credit: Amnesty International

Credit: Amnesty International

There, I said it. Of course, this itself is an opinion. But give me the honor of a clarification first, and then we can debate the premise of my argument.

While it may be ethical to treat all people equally, provide equal access to resources, equal responsibility under the law, and equal opportunity to basic human rights (which are all debatable concepts, I know), people’s behavior, ideas, and attitudes are not in an of themselves equal. For example:

I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-life.

These are not equal sentiments, even if they are held in equal strength of passion by the individuals espousing each one. Yes, they are opposed, but the definitions of each of these stances makes them unequal to each other. One opinion allows for women to make their own choices with regard to their health and their lives. The other opinion holds that because life begins at some point before one’s birth, that women do not have the prerogative to make any “choices” once they become pregnant, and sometimes it means that women should not have the prerogative even to prevent unwanted pregnancy itself. Thus the effect of these opinions is to approve or denounce specific rights for women. Read More…

Best and Worst Pop Culture Moments of 2013

BeyonceTwo weeks until 2013 is in the dust bin with all of the other expired calendars from years past. So much has happened, including a drawn-out government shutdown, the death of Nelson Mandela, and the Lady Gaga/Muppets Christmas special, among other low points. On the bright side we’ve also witnessed the breakout hit Orange is the New Black, Wendy Davis’s filibustering prowess, and a thrilling conclusion (or even a conclusion) to Breaking Bad. It’s been a year of oh…forget it, don’t let me descend into platitudes. Here’s my best and worst list for the year.

Best Stuff

New Kickass Women in Congress—Yes, Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren were elected at the end of 2012, but they took office this year. And already they’ve gotten involved in issues that have been twisting in the legislative wind for years now.  They sent a letter to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of Health and Human Services to end the ban on gay men donating blood. They’ve also taken on big, systemic issues, maybe most notably with Senator Baldwin co-sponsoring a bill to end to phone tapping by the NSA, and Senator Warren tackling banking regulation, the lack of which got us into the 2008 financial crisis. They’re happy to let us think that this Congress is unable to get anything done, because that’s just when they’ll squeak through urgent changes under the radar. Read More…

The “Passive-Aggressive” Note Thing & Just How Problematic It Is

TRIGGER WARNING for conversations and content about rape culture and sexual violence and intimidation.

In the midst of the Thanksgiving gratitude Facebook posts, reminders that the holiday is an aggrandizement of genocide against Native Americans, and pictures of turkeys, a little story about airline travelers made the viralways on social media. It detailed the hostilities between a producer of The Bachelor and a private citizen in seat 7A as their flight, delayed, sat on the tarmac.

Elan Gale, the Hollywood producer, opened with a tweet that seemed humorous at first:

screen capture of Elan Gale tweet

It’s sarcastic and not particularly sensitive, but it goes to the frustrations and anxieties that many of us have when traveling in an airline system that hasn’t been passenger-focused in a long time. But thinking about it more carefully, there are only some people who can afford to travel by air. Some others of us either take the bus or the train, drive a shorter distance that doesn’t break our budget, or stay home. So already this is a conversation between relatively entitled people.  Read More…

Episodes of My Favorite Shows I’d Love to See

Love It Or List It—

Hillary to homeowner: So we’re not going to be able to redo your en suite.

Homeowner: What? Why? We gave you so much money.

Hillary: Well when we took out this wall between the kitchen and the living room to give you that open concept, we found a Hellmouth.

Homeowner: A what?

Hellmouth from BtVSHillary: A Hellmouth. A break in the boundary between our world and Hell.

Homeowner: You mean, like actual Hell?

Hillary: Yes. The wailing you hear are the actual demons in Hell.

Homeowner: I thought that was just the neighbors.

Hillary: No, it’s Hell.

Homeowner: Well, so what can we do now?

Hillary: Well, Damian has put some new subfloor in and some sheet rock, but I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do to get rid of the Hellmouth itself. Demons will continue to pass through here at will.

Homeowner: This really blows. Nothing came up on the home inspection.

Hillary: Are you serious? You think a home inspector should have realized your house is right on top of a Hellmouth?

renovated kitchenHomeowner: Well, I don’t know, I guess so.

… toward the end of the show.

Hillary: So are you going to love it?

David: Or list it?

Homeowner: Well, I’ve thought it over, and Hillary, your renovation is incredible. But I’m going to list it.

David: Terrific!

Hillary: Whatever, David.

What Could Happen in the Breaking Bad Finale

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul at the 2013 EmmysThe characters are dropping like flies, with few people left standing. At the Emmy Awards last Sunday Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn were giving viewers hints about the series’ last episode. Words like “apocalypse” and “Greek tragedy” have been bandied about, suggesting there are many more fatalities to come, in one last 48-minute episode. Seeing as Heisenberg left his drink on the bar after watching Charlie Rose (who doesn’t get livid at Charlie Rose? Amiright?), we may even tally Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz among the dead by series’ end. So what are the remaining possibilities for our band of nerdy thugs, white supremacists, and broken family members? Read More…

Guesses about Breaking Bad’s Last Season

SPOILER ALERT: This is all speculation, so feel free to read ahead with no spoilers!

roof pizza breaking badTonight’s the night. This Sunday, once the domain of Murder, She Wrote and Touched by an Angel, and now the showcase for Breaking Bad, this Sunday we get to see what comes of a certain DEA’s toilet time revelation. I’m talking about Hank, of course, intrepid brother-in-law to Walter White, whose descent into darkness as response to his sudden sense of mortality has been the main story. We have watched, over the last few years, an emotionally shut down and foreclosed man become the antagonist of the series. Walter has gotten better taste in cars, but other than that, he’s also become a meth mass marketer, a master manipulator, and an unchecked murderer.

The last eight episodes start airing tonight. Thankfully this is AMC, and not an instant boxed set of a season vis a vis Netflix. I will likely scream at the television upon seeing each week’s cliffhanger, but I’ll love Vince Gilligan for it. So just for fun some thoughts on what may flicker across the screen during season 6: Read More…

You Don’t Even Know What Trans People Can Do

If I see one more dead trans woman on a cop show, I am going to pull out my already thinning hair. Pop culture loves the narcissistic trans guy (or even better, “boi”), the drug-addled butch lesbian, the screeching drag queen, and the sensationalized dead trans woman. With media images like this it’s no wonder mainstream America thinks we’re so desperately unhappy and to be avoided at all costs. Well, I know some great folks who are ordinary and amazing all at once. Here are a few of them:

  • My friend Jamie just biked across the continental divide twice today. She freaking bikes all over the place, sometimes for charity. I did an interview with her a while back.
  • My friend Jay is a sociology professor. He teaches about medical sociology. Don’t know what that is? Look it up!
  • Tom Léger started a transgender-focused press and two of his books have already won awards. See his interview with Morty Diamond.
  • Imani Henry is a longtime activist in NYC and just got his masters in social work. Take that, social safety net! Imani is on it!
  • My friend Aleisha owns and runs a kick ass hostel in Ontario with a full-sized Dalek in the lobby. I may be making up the Dalek but I don’t think so.
  • Imogen Binnie and Ryka Aoki wrote two of the best books out there in the last year. Seriously. Buy them. Read them. Tell your friends to buy them and read them.
  • My friend Riley is programming a physician management system, one of the biggest ones in the country. Your blood pressure and medication list? She helped build the system that captures all of those data.
  • A tiny town of 50 in Wyoming has a trans woman postmistress. I was thrilled to get postcard stamps from her, and I’m not sure if she knew why.

I know five trans social workers, two trans nurses, three trans doctors, five trans professors, one trans firefighter, a whole mess of trans writers, three trans folk who run successful nonprofits, and more than a dozen who mentor young people. Many people I’ve met volunteer a good portion of their time, contribute to their communities, and have befriended their neighbors. We are geeky, serious, shy, brazen, endearing, hardworking, curious, affectionate, love animals and movies and pets and long walks on the beach—sometimes.

We are ordinary, except for this radical thing we had to go and do to get where we are today. And for some of us, even that thing feels pretty average. We identify in all kinds of ways around our gender, and often we don’t feel like talking about it. Especially if you come up to me to ask about the dead trans lady on TV last night. For real. Go buy a book by Carter Sickles and then come at me for conversation.

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