LGBTQ · Life · Trans

Fear and Intolerance in New England Places

Disclosure: This post is published with permission from my child.

Some of you may already know that my eldest child is trans male and gay. He came out as gay last spring; he came out as trans in October; I already knew for years. It was no surprise.

As much as I love my kids for who they are–and am proud of them for standing confident in the knowledge of themselves–others are not so awesomely accepting. In fact, my eldest hit the jackpot in becoming the target of bullying in our community.

I reached out to the school’s guidance counselor and social worker. I wasn’t sure how transitioning worked in middle school and I knew that my kid would need a good support system. He had already been the brunt of abuse from his peers for being gay and trans male and no one was doing anything about it. While the social worker seemed to be understanding and on the same page during my phone conversation with both, there was no follow-through or follow-up. When I spoke with the guidance counselor a couple of months later, she misgendered my son during the entire conversation. I was fuming.

It was bad enough that one of his teachers announced to the class (when we were away on vacation) “C’mon, we all know that M is a girl–who does she think she’s kidding?” Or that another teacher marked him absent for 4 days and when I questioned her about it, she insisted she had never met my child. (I’m so proud of my kiddo’s friend who confronted her on that, since she was apparently refusing to acknowledge my kid.) You kind of expect children to be awful to each other. I know my 7th grade experience was not full of puppy dogs and rainbows. More like shit and more shit. And then some shit thrown at you, for good measure. But the adults? They should be someone the kids can turn to for support and protection. And that is not the case, even in 2018. Even in good old blue Connecticut. Intolerance knows no boundaries.

It’s a different world than the one I grew up in–for better and for worse. In 7th grade, I don’t think I knew anyone who was openly gay. My senior year of high school, things seemed to be moving in a better direction, but maybe that was only at the coffee house where I hung out with other like-minded, artistic peeps. We had an insulated bubble; the outside world rarely intruded inside those walls. Yet, it still existed, and I didn’t experience it like my friends did. I wish I knew then what I know now.

My eldest is very lucky, despite the bullshit. What he lacks in adult acceptance, he makes up for in spades with his friends circle. Far larger than my group of friends, and so true true true to themselves. So knowledgeable. So supportive. They’re lesbian and gay and bi and pansexual. They’re trans and non-binary and queer. They’re informed and strong and solid in their knowledge of themselves. Their parents don’t all know their truths (or accept them), but they are there for each other, a surrogate family when biological family is lacking. And I LOVE them for this!

But at the back of mind, it nags. That CAUTION sign. That concern. That worry that grave harm will come to my child just for being who he is.

It’s 2018. It’s surprising, and yet not at all. Hate has, after all, been given the nod by those in power.

I didn’t want to rain on my kid’s pride parade, but I also needed him to understand the gravity of the situation. The potential for danger. So we sat down and watched The Laramie Project together.

My take-aways?

  • HOW THE HELL HAVE I NOT WATCHED THIS BEFORE???
  • The way the townsfolk spoke in Laramie is so much the same that we hear today about racial intolerance. These people who think they’re accepting, but are really only okay if they don’t have to know about it or see it. Live and let live. As long as they keep to themselves, I don’t have a problem. Which isn’t tolerance at all, but systemic hatred. And it’s sickening. And it’s still happening today.
  • If you haven’t watched it before, pay close attention to when they talk with Reverend Fred Phelps. I was angry sobbing after the talk with the “good reverend.” The hypocrisy of it all was revolting. But not unexpected.
  • I also sobbed through the scene when the angels–led by Romaine Patterson–blocked out the protesting Westboro Baptist Church members during the trials of the murderers of Matthew Shepard. I can’t even remember a time before their hate-filled harassment of grieving families. I really want to.
  • Matthew Shepard’s kidnapping, brutal beating, and subsequent horrible death came just days after I turned 21. I was the same age as Matthew Shepard. It was October 1998 and this was not something you typically heard about back then. In fact, it seemed to be the first in my memory. And sadly, not the last horrific hate crime.
  • The concept of hate crimes came out of this. Think about that. That’s not to say that brutal beatings and deaths weren’t happening before. They most certainly were. But this was THE tipping point, as far as legislation goes.
  • Even though attempts at hate crimes legislation began in 1997, before Matthew Shepard’s murder, it wasn’t until 2009 that they finally gained enough traction. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009 and became law. 11 FUCKING YEARS after Matthew Shepard’s murder. My eldest was already 4 years old, at the time.

It was an emotionally draining experience. (We had to follow up with The Greatest Showman to cleanse our palates.) And I’m not really sure what I was trying to accomplish, or if I accomplished anything at all. Maybe I want my kiddo to exercise a little more caution? But at what expense? Why should he have to deny who he is to make people less uncomfortable? Why should I have to worry that he may become a statistic someday? Why is this the fucking world we live in?

In the meantime, I try to be there whenever I can. We attend rallies. We talk openly about what he’s going through. We’ve researched his options for when he gets older (hormones, top surgery, etc.). I help him dress whatever way makes him comfortable. And I try to find role models, wherever I can. It’s always important for kids to find people in the limelight who are like them. It will be an exhausting uphill climb. There will always be shitty people to deal with. But he has his tribe and the love of his family. He will find his way.

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Entertainment

La La La La La La La La Land

I could just rename this blog Mom Who Is Always Late to the Party and it would still be appropriate. But really, I’m just a mom who never has enough time to do everything she wants to do. I get to it when I get to it.

Spinning off from my mad crush on The Greatest Showman, as well as eldest child’s enrapture with Dear Evan Hansen, we decided to give La La Land a try. What I knew about this movie before viewing consisted of:

  • I think it won some awards?
  • There may have been controversy about casting?
  • It attempted to recreate the appeal and feel of old Hollywood dancing and singing sensations, like Dancing in the Rain.
  • Ryan Gosling? I guess? I don’t know…

No, I’m not one of those women getting the vapors over the Hey girl memes. Ryan Gosling isn’t my favorite. I’m not sure why, but he just doesn’t ignite a fire in my panties. I can leave him just fine and life would be dandy, and that’s probably part of why I took so long to get to this movie.

Mia (Emma Stone) first encounters Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) while both are stuck in an LA traffic jam. A dance number breaks out in the middle of this mundane scene, with wonderful continuous panning during a bright, happy song. I wish my drive to work was so spectacular. When everyone returns to their cars, the jam magically clears and Sebastian is stuck behind Mia, who is lost in thought practicing a scene for an audition. He lays on the horn, she flips him off… it doesn’t take a genius to determine this is their meet cute.

The roadmap to their relationship was laid out decades before these actors were even born–only the players changed. The fact that Mia (not Johnny) hates jazz and JAZZ IS LIFE for Sebastian is as predictable as could be. Or that Sebastian realizes he’s falling for Mia only when she has a new boyfriend. I don’t have a problem with this calculable tale. With movies like this, there’s a comfort in being able to guess this story line before it happens. A familiarity like a warm blanket and a hot cup of cocoa on a cold, crappy night. It doesn’t matter that they’re cookie cutter. I won’t complain if they’re all oatmeal raisin. They’re still cookies and even crappy ones are satisfying.

But… this was soooooo slooooooooow moving.

And Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are kind of sucky singers.

And not especially awesome dancers, either.

Don’t get me wrong–I couldn’t carry a note if my life depended on it, and my dancing isn’t much removed from Elaine Benes, but it’s not my job to perform either task well. There’s no money on the line when I choose to assault ears. Stone and Gosling… there probably could have been better choices made with stronger talents in the musical arena. Then again, maybe I just really dislike Ryan Gosling.

Everyone wins in the end. Mia becomes a famous actress and Sebastian gets his jazz club. There’s a brief Sliding Doors moment when Mia, through a last-minute change in plans, ends up Seb’s club one night. 5 years have passed since they split and she has her husband by her side (and a young child back at home). I feared that they would backtrack the entire movie and go 13 Going on 30 with the plot, but only 13 Going on 30 can successfully pull this off (SHUT UP, I say so, so it is) and La La Land retained its senses and only offered the alternative story line as a momentary daydream, rather than a we Punk’d you! I suppose it should have been sentimental and beautiful to me–how they could have had a lovely life together, if only they stuck it out, and both would have still achieved success. There’s probably something else I should be taking away from this glimpse into another life. But life is full of if only and even this piece of escapist cinematic art wouldn’t go that far into pure fantasy. La La Land sticks with what’s real, in the end.

I’m feeling very…meh about this movie. My eldest was equally unimpressed. While there was the Breakfast at Tiffany’s feel in the beginning (one of my bad mood movies), it fell flat. Obvious inspiration from classic movies and musicals aside, the songs were just…blah. Nothing super catchy. Certainly nothing running itself on repeat in my head. And the dancing was so…not awesome. Sure, they tap dance in the street, but it’s not even a cool scene. It’s more of a pigtail pulling, I-like-you-but-I-can’t-admit-I-like-you-because-being-obtuse-and-teasing-is-always-what-gets-the-girl kind of a played-out thing. And that’s old, in the archaic, crappy way. If you’re going to create an anachronism with a modern movie with a mid-century feel, that doesn’t mean the men have to be douchey. Take the best of now and meld it with the past, and make something better… like a man who has matured past the age of 12. We deserve at least that.

I have a high tolerance for shitty movies if there’s something absolutely beautiful about them, or unique in how the movie was made, even just location. I don’t have any such leniency for La La Land. I’m glad I don’t ever have to watch it again. (Bye, Girl.)

Entertainment

The Greatest Bullshitter

For a few days now, my analysis of my enjoyment of The Greatest Showman has run through my mind. My commute runs about 40 minutes in each direction, so I have ample time to slip into my familiar pattern of overthinking (scratch that: deep thinking, as my therapist would suggest). Despite this pondering, I’m still not sure where I fall on this issue. Let me attempt to unravel some of this for you…

Merely one week ago, I purchased The Greatest Showman to watch with my eldest child. We had rented it the previous weekend and discovered both of us were enthusiastically enthralled. (I hesitated on that final word choice, looked it up, and found an archaic definition: enslaved. That sounds right…) I allowed myself to immerse myself into that loveliness. I bought the album and listened to it daily. I temporarily lost my mind like a teenager with a celebrity crush. Call it my midlife crisis.

I didn’t really have a problem with any of this until a couple things happened: I “accidentally” read some reviews after-the-fact, which made it sound, essentially, like you’d have to have had a lobotomy to love this flaming pile of shit so much. And then I began to reflect upon the story itself, since so many critics decried both the sullying of P.T. Barnum’s legacy with this humbug, as well as the lack of deep delving into the characters so that they would flesh out and become more real. I questioned my sanity. I doubted my life choices. I thought perhaps I wasn’t fit to raise children, since I clearly have awful taste in entertainment. Then I said fuck it to the critics and came to my own conclusions.

  • I don’t give a shit that it’s fictionalized. In fact, it’s better for that. If I wanted to watch the real life story of old fart P.T. Barnum, ringmaster, I’d watch a documentary. Yeah, he was born in Connecticut. Yeah, he was even a Connecticut politician. Know what I don’t want to watch in a musical? Connecticut politicians. If you’re going to make a movie of it, make it good. Make it Wolverine singing his heart out while there’s so much going on in the background that your head hurts trying to keep up. Make it a whir of color, a cacophony of sound, and a ragtag group creating an illusion that’s absolutely mesmerizing. It’s supposed to be a circus. Go big, or go home.
  • I could probably sit down and watch 1 1/2 hours of Zac Efron and Zendaya singing and performing aerial feats. And I had a rather unfavorable opinion of Zac Efron before this explosive piece of awesomeness. I want to see the pretty people do the hard work, because aerials absolutely are hard work. My eldest took trapeze and aerials classes for a year and I know what goes into learning those poses. It’s not eating pizza and sitting on the couch. I’m all the more impressed by the fact that there weren’t stunt doubles. So sing on, little birdies. I’m loving every minute of it.
  • I insist that Hugh Jackman worked a spell on me through the screen. I was so confused by Wolverine’s range in dancing and singing that I didn’t pay attention at all to how truly awful of a person he plays. I love him. I want to make him my 2nd husband. And I wouldn’t do that for just anyone–I mean, really, one husband is more than enough. Barnum the character is a swindler. He uses stolen titles from his former job to leverage a loan to open a business based entirely on spectacle and lies. He gathers a group of outcasts and makes them even more outrageous to fill his coin purse. He claims to hate the upper class, but can’t wait to be welcomed by them and accepted by society. He turns his back on his “freaks” to save face with the snobs. He runs away with his opera songbird and while it isn’t explicitly explored, you know there’s some shagging going on. Why else would her heart be so broken that she attempts to ruin him? And then, suddenly, when it all burns down around him, he realizes he’s been an ass and turns his life completely around. It’s a combination of so many things in narcissistic, borderline men taking advantage of others that should be triggering for me. And yet… All he has to do is smile and I’m like, okay, you do you, Hugh. BUT…bear with me…there’s also the theatre part of this. The fact that he’s a performer, playing a role that suits him. In The Other Side, he makes this pretty clear as he’s trying to deal Mr. High School Musical into his game. He’s going to do like he does, and with Carlyle doing like he does, they’re going to convince the crowds to part with some coin to make them both rich. You know. Like an actor does. In a play, a movie, a musical… You’re paying for entertainment, and lies come with that. It’s all a con. Have you never seen a magician perform an illusion? We welcome this experience. I can live with that.
  • I got a little lost there… I think I’m saying that it’s okay that Barnum (the character) is less than honest with his Museum because people expect him to do so. It’s part of the unwritten contract between audience and entertainer. Suspend disbelief and you win. CGI certainly makes that easier. This is different than politicians who hoodwink the masses with promises of whatever will make them say I like him because he tells it like it is because Barnum (the character) is fake and we should all be adult enough to recognize that, and these politicians are…oh, fake and we should all be adult enough to recognize that. I guess there isn’t a difference other than what Hugh do won’t affect my ability to obtain quality health care and be treated somewhat like an equal to men.
  • I WANT an escape. Please. 2018 is kind of a shitty time in history. Give me something lavish and lush to lose myself in for a little while. Thank you.
  • I had a really cool segue into Curly and Oklahoma! (which, I will admit, is very loosely inspired by the fact that it’s the only musical in which I’ve performed on a “big” community theatre stage and critics called our particular production a “3-ring circus”), but when I sought more details to fill in the blanks 25 years hence have created, I was side tracked by the image of a DVD cover on Wikipedia of Hugh Jackman as Curly from the 1999 film version of the 1998 London revival of Oklahoma!. My worlds unexpectedly collided. Wolverine. Music. Dance. I lost my train of thought. I can’t remember my point now. Damn that magical man.
  • Do you fault the cotton candy for not being caviar? Of course not.

I’m going to do me. You do you. And maybe we’ll meet on the other side. It’s all good.

Entertainment · Life

A new beginning…

One of my favorite pastimes, when I have a problem to solve, is to begin a brand new project instead in which I will pour all of my energy, creating a kind of order in the chaos of my life, and only when I am completely satisfied that I have put sufficient energy into this new project will I return to the real problem at hand and solve it. It’s sort of my way of clearing my head so the solution will present itself, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

So, here I am.

I attempted to re-enter my food blog world (which I had mostly paused during the last year while I worked out some shit in my head), discovered a few new tech hurdles I’m ill-equipped to immediately handle, and, instead, started a new blog. The puzzle pieces will fall into place eventually, I’m sure. But not tonight.

Truth: I missed my old journalistic blog from when my life was both more and less complicated. 2004-2009, I wrote a very personal chronicle of the time spent trying to conceive our first child (TTC), the subsequent miscarriage, the following successful pregnancies, raising kids, adjusting to being a stay-at-home mom, etc., etc., etc. From before Facebook, when I relied heavily upon a group of sistas I serendipitously stumbled upon in an online forum who had my heart and back through it all. Blogging was cathartic. It was also a connection to others slogging around in the same shoes. And it was all very small scale. That was perfectly okay.

My food blog, on the other hand, took on a completely different life. One of reach, and pageviews, and advertising. Analytics, and sponsors, and social media accounts. A full-time job, despite having two additional full-time jobs. And I loved it so very much in a completely different manner. My masterpiece brought me opportunities I never dreamed. I just depleted my supplies for support last year. I needed a break.

It took a year to figure out that I missed blogging. But in that year, I also learned much about myself. A new person emerged from the turmoil–reshaped by anxiety, existential dilemmas, #MeToo, Women’s Marches, LGBTQIA support rallies, stands against violence in our communities, and recognition of the horrific racism in America. In short, I made up for a lot of lost time. And I still have so very far to go.

So where does old me fit in with new? Where does my past mesh with all of this learning that can’t be ignored? Well… it’s turned up in funny places. Like my criticism of Beauty & The Beast. As Molly Ringwald explained in her New Yorker piece, I’m finding that when I revisit my past, it’s not always easy to navigate the murky depths that have flooded those memories and damaged them. How do I not cringe and apologize to my children when, insistent upon them seeing a film from my youth that I much loved, I find instead disparaging treatment of transgender folks, who exist only as the butt of the joke; or the three-lettered f-word frequently appearing in ’80s movies and shows, because that was apparently the worst thing you could be. (And no, it isn’t fat, but it’s only 1 letter off…) Not every example is as obvious, but each time it’s recognized, it makes it so much easier to see how these microaggressions become systemic in a society. And it makes me try harder to do better with my kids.

So yeah, I’m ruining it all. But I have good intentions for them. And I don’t intend to pave the road to hell with them.