Category Archives: Reading List

Joss Whedon and the Feminist Pedestal: A Reading List

I don’t remember when Joss Whedon went from being a garden-variety household name to being someone I refer to on a first-name basis. I quote Joss, I verb Joss, I adjective Joss. As a woman who was once a teenage girl who grew up with Buffy, I’ve internalized more than my fair share of lessons from Our Lady of Buffdom. For the better part of twenty years, I’ve known Joss Whedon as the creator of a feminist hero.

For the better part of the same twenty years, Kai Cole knew Joss Whedon as her partner and husband. He was just Joss to her, too — far more intimately Joss than to any of his first-name-basis-ing fans.

This weekend, Cole wrote about her divorce with Joss in a post on The Wrap. She writes about how, on their honeymoon in England in 1995, she encouraged him to turn his script for Buffy the Vampire Slayer — which had just been misinterpreted as a film — into a television show. Joss apparently hadn’t wanted to work in television anymore. I repeat: As of 1995, Joss Whedon “didn’t want to work in television anymore.”

Yet on March 10, 1997 — two years after their honeymoon — Buffy aired on The WB.

According to Cole’s post, Joss had his first affair on the set of Buffy, and continued to have affairs in secret for fifteen years. I believe Cole. I believe that when she quotes Joss in her post, she is quoting him verbatim. I’ve quoted him verbatim, too.

(Or have I? I wonder, knowing more now than I did then about writers rooms, whether every line I attribute to episodes credited as “Written by Joss Whedon” were, in fact, written by Joss Whedon. Every time Jane Espenson tweets credit for specific lines to specific writers on Once Upon a Time — or retroactively to Buffy quotes — I wonder. Every time I watch UnREAL, a show co-created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Marti Noxon that sends up how often women are discredited in television, I wonder. I don’t doubt that Joss was responsible for the vast majority of what I’d call classic Joss dialogue. I’ll just never know which lines weren’t actually his.)

After I saw Joss Whedon trending and read Cole’s post, I scrolled through other longtime fans’ and non-fans’ reactions on Twitter. Many were not surprised. I texted friends about my own lack of surprise, punctuated with single-tear emojis: “I almost can’t even call it disappointed. As though it would be actually inhuman to expect something else.”

Cole quotes a letter Joss wrote to her when their marriage was falling apart, when he was “done with” lying to her about the truth of his affairs. He invokes the inhuman in his confession, too — or, as is so often the case with Joss, the superhuman: “When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.”

Was it superhuman for Cole to expect her husband to resist that kind of power? Would Joss have been running Buffy, if he hadn’t married Cole? “I was a powerful influence on the career choices Joss made during the 20 years we were together,” Cole writes. “I kept him grounded, and helped him find the quickest way to the success he so deeply craved. I loved him. And in return, he lied to me.”

As Marianne Eloise notes below in Dazed, it remains to be seen whether Cole’s letter will impact Joss’s career, most notably as director of the upcoming Batgirl. In the meantime, his fans are left to resolve tense, charged questions, none of which have easy answers: How do we come to personal decisions about whether or not we can separate the art from the artist? Will consequences come in the form of a public fall from feminist grace, or cost Joss professional opportunities he’s been enjoying for decades as a self-proclaimed feminist artist? Do feminists, male or female, need to be perfect to count?

In “Lie to Me” — Season 2 Episode 7, “Written by Joss Whedon” — Angel asks Buffy if she loves him. Buffy answers, “I love you. I don’t know if I trust you.” For fans and collaborators who are working through hard questions about love and the loss of trust this week, here is some guided reading on feminism, fandom, and fidelity for Whedonverse enthusiasts:
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How We Got to Here: A Charlottesville Reading List

This weekend’s events in Charlottesville will resonate long after the crowd was dispersed, long after the cable news trucks leave, long after the school year begins—new students are scheduled to arrive on the University of Virginia campus on Friday. The confrontation — and the resulting deaths of three people, two national guard pilots who were killed in an accident, and counter-protestor Heather Heyer, who was killed in a deliberate act of domestic terrorism — is neither the beginning nor the end of an ongoing resurgence of white supremacy. What was once discussed in closed online forums is now on the streets, armed—as Virginia Governor Terry Mcauliffe described —with more firepower than the Virginia National Guard. “Emboldened” is the word that’s been used by politicians and the media to describe the relationship between white nationalists and Donald Trump’s rhetoric. “Blame” is what the word should be.

Here is our reading list of features from the past two years that trace the disturbing path of how we got to Charlottesville. Read more…

More Than a Riot Going On: A ‘Detroit’-Inspired Reading List

Reactions to Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film Detroit have been polarized, and the considerable backlash may have caused its opening weekend box office to suffer. Bigelow’s films are known for their tightly-choreographed combat scenes and their fictionalization of brutal historical events. In Detroit, Bigelow takes on the story of the Algiers Motel incident, where three young black men—Carl Cooper, Fred Temple, and Aubrey Pollard—were tortured and killed by police officers in the motel’s annex. In the early morning hours of July 26, 1967, a few days into the unrest that would eventually become known as the Detroit rebellion, the three young men, along with many others, took refuge at the motel amid a city-wide curfew. Police forces received reports of sniper fire and raided the Algiers, finding a group of black men socializing with white women. There were interrogations, humiliations, assaults, and eventually murder. No gun was ever found on the grounds of the Algiers, and the police involved were found not guilty on all charges associated with the incident.

Conversation about the film has touched on questions about who has the authority to tell what stories. Bigelow is a white woman from the West Coast who said she knew herself not to be the “ideal person” to make the movie. But she and former journalist Mark Boal, the film’s screenwriter, worked with black academics, historians, and eyewitnesses to ensure a certain level of accuracy in the story. Jelani Cobb, a historian and staff writer at The New Yorker, Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., head of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard were among those reportedly consulted.

Read more…

Failed Promises: A ‘Bachelorette’ Reading List

The Bachelorette came to an end on Monday when Rachel Lindsay, the first black Bachelorette, broke up with Peter and chose Bryan. Seven million viewers collectively released the most exasperated sigh they could muster in an already-exhausting year. Lost love is as horrible to experience on a television screen as it is in real life. 

As a first-time viewer, Rachel Lindsay drew me in with her easy smile, fiery confidence, and honest vulnerability. It felt powerful; a woman of color commanding both the camera and a palette of men eager to woo her. Watching the show was like vicariously living what I thought my twenties would be like: fun, flirty, and carefree. Her dark skin was a desired luxury in Bachelorette paradise. Rachel played the rejecter, not the rejected, and she didn’t have to gloss over her race with her suitors or the viewers. 

Before I could slip fully into this idealized universe, the rosé-tinted veil parted. Instead of the other, better world I’d hoped for, the past nine weeks brought unnamed racial tensions masked as entertainment, a hazy divide between reality and reality television, and millions of regular viewers questioning the morality of the network. 

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Longreads Goes to the Movies: A Reading List

It’s 10:45 p.m., and I’m about to indulge in one of my strangest habits: watching a horror movie, alone, late at night. My cat is nearby, but he sleeps through this particular ritual. There are rules; the lights stay on. I don’t watch movies about home invasions or slasher flicks. Minimal gore, please. I love demon possessions, haunted houses, and paranormal investigations. Tonight, for instance, I’m watching the American version of The Ring for the first time. I perch my laptop on the edge, reach for the soft pretzel I picked up on the way home and press play. The scenes so far are tinged green; it is always raining. There’s an ill-fated Amber Tamblyn, gone in five minutes. There’s Adam Brody, harbinger of death and teen angst. My cat stretches, body bisecting the coffee table. The ceiling fan burns bright, blades in orbit.

What are your movie habits? What films do you return to, over and over? Here are five stories about A League of Their Own, High Fidelity, the films of John Hughes, Ghost in the Shell and, the criticism of Roger Ebert.

1. “‘A League of Their Own’ Stands the Test of Time.” (ESPNW Staff, ESPN, June 2017)

An oral history celebrating the 25th anniversary of the greatest baseball movie ever made, A League of Their Own, a film based on the real-life adventures of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

2. “I Grew Up in a John Hughes Movie.” (Jason Diamond, BuzzFeed, August 2014)

Jason Diamond wrote this beautiful essay two years before his memoir Searching for John Hughes debuted, and it made me want to watch and re-watch all of his films. Diamond’s childhood in the Chicago suburb of Skokie mirrored the neighborhood in Hughes’ iconic teen-centric films, Shermer, Illinois.

3. “Roger Ebert’s Zero-Star Movies.” (Will Sloan, Hazlitt, February 2017)

I finally accepted the fact I wanted to (maybe, possibly) be a Serious Writer the same summer I read Chris Jones’ iconic profile of Roger Ebert in Esquire. Ebert has held a small but significant piece of my heart ever since. At Hazlitt, Will Sloan explores the movies Ebert hated most, where he wonders, “What does it mean when the most famous and widely read American film critic regards a movie as ‘artistically inept and morally repugnant’?”

4. “All Shell, No Ghost.” (Eric Chang, Vogue, April 2017)

On hacking as “a method of seeing,” the parallel histories of Eastern and Western cyberpunk storytelling, and the laziness inherent in whitewashed films.

5. “‘High Fidelity’ Captured the Snob’s–and the Soundtrack’s–Waning Powers.” (Sean O’Neal, The A.V. Club, March 2017)

My first movie soundtrack was PhenomenonI’ve still never seen the movie, but I know every word to Eric Clapton’s lead single, “Change the World.” I can still hear Clapton crooning “and our love would ruuuuuuuule…” I thought Bryan Ferry’s “Dance With Life (The Brilliant Life)” was unspeakably beautiful (still do, honestly). My family listened to the CD on repeat. According to MovieTunes, this soundtrack was “the cutting edge of a collaborative art-form whose time has come.” The exuberance of 1996 stands in stark contrast to 2000—what a difference four years makes!—as you can see in Sean O’Neal’s take on the jaded and vaguely anachronistic High Fidelity and its accompanying soundtrack.

A Transgender-Military Reading List

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced, via Twitter, a ban on transgender people serving in the United States military.

His tweeted justification was that “our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military [sic] would entail.”

It was, several Twitter users noted, an odd way to mark the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman signing an executive order that ended racial discrimination in the military. There are currently thousands of transgender people serving in the nation’s all-volunteer military.

As BuzzFeed News noted, a policy instated last year ensures transgender people the right to serve in the military, and have the medical costs of their transition covered. Trump’s tweet alone can’t undo that, and the Pentagon does not appear to have any new policies in the works that would. In fact, military officials weren’t given notice of the new ban before Trump tweeted about it:

At the Pentagon, the first of the three tweets raised fears that the president was getting ready to announce strikes on North Korea or some other military action. Many said they were left in suspense for nine minutes, the time between the first and second tweet. Only after the second tweet did military officials receive the news the president was announcing a personnel change on Twitter.

Trump’s tweets appeared to come out of nowhere, though hints of attempts to unravel Obama-era protections for transgender service members have been seen in recent weeks.

The policy enacted last year included efforts to recruit more transgender military members, which Trump’s Department of Defense has been delaying, BuzzFeed News reported last month. Foreign Policy published a story on Tuesday reporting that Vice President Mike Pence has been pushing Republican members of Congress to tack amendments onto a Pentagon spending bill that would rescind financial coverage of transition procedures for transgender military members. Similar legislation failed to pass earlier this month.

Pence, for what it’s worth, has long hated diversity in the military. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski dug up a 1990s op-ed by Pence that amounts to a screed against the Disney movie “Mulan,” which he believed was pushing the liberal agenda of including women in the military.

According to Politico, Trump’s tweets on Wednesday were part of negotiations to secure funding for his much-discussed border wall with Mexico, a key campaign promise. Though Trump repeatedly vowed to strong-arm Mexico into paying for it, it appears it will be paid for with the rights of transgender patriots, instead.

Trump’s tweets apparently took even the Republicans he was trying to please by surprise, however. They only wanted to prohibit Pentagon funds from being used for gender reassignment surgery and medication, not wholesale ban transgender people from service. As Politico reported:

“This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” said one senior House Republican aide. The source said that while GOP leaders asked the White House for help, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s far-reaching directive.

Jonathan Swan at Axios tweeted that it was a strategic move to influence midterm elections.

As STATnews and The Atlantic noted, estimated costs of covering transition services for transgender service members are minimal — “little more than a rounding error in the military’s $47.8 billion annual health care budget,” according to the author of a New England Journal of Medicine study in 2015.

The New England study found that there are 12,800 transgender services members eligible for medical care, and fewer than 200 would require transition care. A June 2016 RAND study, commissioned by the Department of Defense, found between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender active-duty service members, out of 1.3 million total. The New England study found an overall estimated cost of $4.2 million to $5.6 million, while the RAND study found providing care to transgender service members would increase military healthcare expense by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million each year — an uptick of between 0.04 and 0.13 percent.

As far as Trump’s claims that transgender service members create “disruption,” RAND found that fewer than 0.1 percent of military members would seek treatments that could delay deployment.

Trans Military Service Member

Army Sergeant Shane Ortega, the first openly transgender person in the U.S. military, works out with gymnastic rings at a park on March 26, 2015 in Mililani, Hawaii. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

For comparison, James Hamblin at The Atlantic noted military bands cost $437 million of the DoD’s estimated total $640 billion budget, and that the increase to care for transgender soldiers amounts to one tenth of the annual $84 million that the military spends on medication for erectile dysfunction. (It’s easy to mock treatment for erectile dysfunction, but important to keep in mind that it’s a common side effect of post-traumatic stress disorder.)

As Hamblin wrote:

The diseases that do seem to disproportionately afflict transgender people are mental-health issues. The pathology behind this is abetted by societal marginalization of exactly the sort that Trump’s language propagated today—portraying transgender people as a burden to The Mission, with a focus on “medical costs” as an apparent euphemism for gender-reassignment surgeries.

For now, the military is taking no action without further instruction from the president.

Some on Twitter noted that the response from both former military officials and Republicans is an indication of how far the struggle for transgender rights has come in the past few years alone. Orrin Hatch, the 83-year-old longest-serving U.S. Senator, was one of the first to speak out against the ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union is already moving to block any potential ban stemming from the President’s tweets.

Here is a reading list on transgender people serving in the United States Armed Forces.

1. “The Military Is An Imperialist Tool, But The Ban on Trans Folks is Dehumanizing As Fuck” (L’Lerrét Jazelle Ailith, Wear Your Voice, July 2017)

One of the only pieces by a trans writer published in the wake of Trump’s tweets, Ailith’s post at Wear Your Voice also talks more broadly about the plight of transgender Americans under Trump.

Much like the debate on which bathroom trans people should be able to use, this issue of trans involvement in the military is less about the actual military itself and more about denying us our right to occupy space, make decisions, navigate authentically, and live within our full dignity as human beings.

But the President’s tweets from this morning are also a distraction. They are a distraction from the multiplicity of ways that the system has failed to protect trans people. Especially Black and Brown trans folks.

2. ‘”Did I just get fired… via tweet?” Transgender troops in Colorado react to Trump announcement” (Jennifer Brown, The Denver Post, July 2017)

Brown followed up with transgender troops featured in her 2015 Denver Post story on trans people in the military before they could serve openly.

“Did I just get fired … via tweet?” Staff Sgt. Patricia King asked on her Facebook page Wednesday shortly after President Donald Trump used Twitter to announce that transgender people can no longer serve in the military.

“This is a concerning turn of events,” said King, who lived for 16 years as a male soldier before transitioning to female while stationed at Fort Carson south of Colorado Springs in 2015. “Please keep trans service members in your prayers and call your representatives.”

3. “A Soldier’s Story” (Jennifer Brown, The Denver Post, October 2015)

At the time of Brown’s story, King was one of an estimated 15,500 transgender service members living dual lives.

For now, Trish must play the role of male soldier while on duty. It is only after work, at her home in Colorado Springs, that she lives “genuinely.”

Splitting her life in two is a torment.

Trans Military Service Member

Army Sergeant Shane Ortega, the first openly transgender person to serve in the Army, shaves at home at Wheeler Army Airfield on March 26, 2015 in Wahiawa, Hawaii. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

4. “What It Feels Like Being a Trans Person Serving In The Armed Forces” (Jess Ruliffson, BuzzFeed Reader, October 2016)

Ruliffson illustrates her interview with former Senior Airman Jordan Blisk, an Air Force Reserves member who joined the military as a young girl because her family couldn’t afford college. “When I started getting called ‘sir,’ I was scared by how right it felt,” Blisk told her.

5. “Transgender, in War and in Love” (Fiona Dawson, New York Times Op-Docs, June 2015)

This short film shares the story of a transgender military couple who at the time could not serve openly as their true selves. The producer, Fiona Dawson, also created “TransMilitary,” a platform for transgender service members.

6. “Transgender airman: ‘I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military'” (Stephen Losey, Air Force Times, July 2017)

After Trump’s tweets, one of the transgender service men in the Times Op-Doc told Air Force Times, “You are not going to deny me my right to serve my country when I am fully qualified and able and willing to give my life.” He was one of several people interviewed by the publication.

A Marine military police officer who is a transgender man (he asked that his name not be used), pointed out that he’s served honorably through two deployments. He’s never endangered his comrades, he said, or made anyone else “conform to my world view.” All he asked for, he said, was the same respect he gave others.

“I have never described myself as trans; I’m a mother—-ing Marine,” the corporal said. “That‘s all that matters. Don’t tarnish my title with your bigotry and fear of the unknown.”

US-MILITARY-TRANSGENDER-RIGHTS

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announces that the military will lift its ban on transgender troops during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, June 30, 2016. ‘This is the right thing to do for our people and for the force,’ Carter said. (Photo Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

7. “Trump’s Pick to Lead the Army Believes Being Transgender is a Disease” (Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post, April 2017)

When Trump announced he wanted to nominate Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green as Army secretary, Terkel highlight Green’s recent comments to the Chattanooga Tea Party.

Green replied that many service members are younger and are more than fine serving alongside openly gay men and women, which have been allowed in the military since President Barack Obama signed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010. He said that although most millennials are comfortable with people who are transgender, it is a “disease.”

8. “Trans Soldier Shane Ortega on Trump’s Military Ban, How to Save America” (Raven Brajdic, Rolling Stone, July 2017)

Shane Ortega, the first openly transgender soldier in the U.S. Army, tells Rolling Stone his thoughts on Trump’s tweets.

This is so much more than people needing jobs, or serving, or war. This is about who is considered a valid human being, and who is not a valid human being. And who gets to decide. Right now, we’re seeing that Donald Trump gets to decide.

I knew what gender I was before I joined. These new recruits will know what gender they are before they join. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. These people still chose to take bullets for you.

9. “Transgender in the military: A Pentagon in transition weighs its policy” (Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, April 2015)

Ortega was first profiled in 2015, before the Obama administration allowed transgender people to serve openly in the military.

He holds a man’s military travel passport, based on the new Social Security card he received when he changed his name. But he is still identified as female in the military’s official computer system. He must wear a woman’s “dress blues” for official occasions.

Looking for clarity, his commanders have formally asked the Army a simple question: Can Ortega serve openly as a man?

“Administratively I shouldn’t exist,” said Ortega, 28. “But I do exist, so that’s still the problem.”

US-POLITICS-MILITARY-TRANSGENDER-RIGHTS-USA

Transgender former US Air Force member Vanessa Sheridan poses for a photo after talking with reporters in Chicago, Illinois on July 26, 2017, after Trump’s tweets. (Photo Credit: DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

10. “Kristin Beck: A Navy SEAL in Transition” (Devin Friedman, GQ Magazine, November 2015)

A SEAL on the unit that took out Osama bin Laden earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, among about 50 other ribbons and medals. Friedman’s piece is so eminently readable and compelling, it’s hard to pull just one quote.

It’s a weird thing to say, but talking about transgender people has become a trend. Which is a good thing. “Visibility is good,” as Kristin says. But trends are also reductive and facile and sometimes dehumanizing while letting everyone off the hook. It’s like using the hashtag Black Lives Matter and thinking—well, we took care of racial injustice, let’s go have brunch. A trend usually fails to make a connection between people like Kristin Beck and the rest of us. Kristin Beck’s story isn’t just about the relatively small number of people who are born with the traits of a gender they don’t identify with. Aren’t most of us hiding some part of ourselves? Would we not, most of us, be terrified at having to walk out into the world with that part of ourselves on the outside? Are we not, often, made up of impulses and identities that seem like they can’t exist together? What Kristin Beck is asking is: What happens if you feel like a Navy SEAL and a woman in a red dress accepting a bouquet of flowers from an admirer at an airport? Are any of us really just one thing? Aren’t we all made up of a bunch of conflicting identities (masculine and feminine, liar and self-righteous, etc.) that we’ll never be able to make fit together? And how do we bear life, knowing we are so many things that can never be reconciled?

Our Zombies, Ourselves: An Undead Reading List

When you think of zombies, it’s likely you envision something like the flesh-eating, immortal creatures created by George Romero, who defined a new genre of horror with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Thanks to Romero, who died this week at the age of 77, the zombie movie has become more than a chance to feel scared. It’s also an essential lens through which we can view pop culture, politics, and society. In honor of the great director, here is some our favorite writing about the terror of the living dead.

1.“Why Black Heroes Make Zombie Stories More Interesting,” by Matt Thompson (NPR Code Switch, October 2013)

One of Romero’s most famous narrative coups was casting a black actor as the hero of his 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. It was a decision that turned a run-of-the-mill horror movie into a complex commentary on the civil rights movement, and imbued other zombie films with the ability to criticize society.

The thing about good zombie fiction (and I say this as someone who enjoys an awful lot of zombie fiction) is that the zombies are never the most horrific thing. Zombies don‘t typically have the capacity for complex thought — they don‘t execute stratagems, play politics, torture people. All they do is feed. The true horror in any zombie story worth its salt is what other people do when faced with the zombie threat. Zombies are merely relentless; humans can be sadistic.

Read more…

Looking Back at Pride Month

No matter what 45 says — or, in this case, doesn’t say — June is LGBT Pride month. It’s a month of joy, protest and, this year, mourning. June 12, 2017 marked the one-year anniversary of the attack against queer Latinx and Black folks at Pulse in Orlando, Florida. The day before, thousands of people came together in Washington, D.C. as part of the Equality March for Unity and Pride, protesting the presidential administration and standing against discrimination.

Here’s what I’ve done this month, Pride-wise: I interviewed Kelly Madrone, the author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens, and our audience was full of queer teens and their families. I writhed in ecstasy at a Tegan & Sara concert, sporting my “Boyfriend” hat. I stood in silence next to my friends at a local vigil for the victims of the shooting at Pulse. I helped the bookstore choose which queer-centric titles to stock, and I resisted the temptation to drop too much money on rainbow Doc Martens. I spent a hot, happy day strolling by the canal with my friends during Frederick Pride.  July looms; I’ll downgrade my gay apparel to a simple rainbow wristband. The work continues, whether it’s leading LGBTQ sensitivity trainings, correcting people who misgender me or continuing to learn about allyship, organization, and liberation.

1. “Should Pride Be a Party or a Protest?” (Shannon Keating, BuzzFeed, June 2017)

The protests at different Pride parades around the country have inspired conversations about working within the system versus overthrowing it and about the intersectionality (that should be) inherent in the LGBTQ pursuit of equality.

2. “Why Can’t My Famous Gender Nonconforming Friends Get Laid?” (Meredith Talusan, Vice, June 2017)

Meredith Talusan analyzes the dynamics of sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression in the dating lives of two of their friends, activists and non-binary femmes Alok Vaid-Menon and Jacob Tobia.

3. “Where Can We Find Queer Space After Pulse?” (John Birdsall, Eater, June 2017)

Outside the queer zone of Orlando Pride, or our misterb&b, in Okeechobee, we’ve tried keeping to the shadows, our own private zone of safety. I realize how much work we all do as queers to enlarge the bubbles we live and move in, make them nice, fill them with friends and allies. But being on the road makes it clear that, fifty years after Stonewall and the active struggle for LGBT civil rights, so much of our lives still exists in isolated safety zones that don’t always keep us safe.

4. “Protests, Parties, and What We Have to Be Proud of at LGBT Pride 2017.” (Rachel, Autostraddle, June 2017)

We don’t lose our opportunities for joy and celebration when we make space for our struggles and the struggles of our most vulnerable, and when we elevate and center those in need. More than that, our celebrations as a community come out of our struggles, and our survival of them, and the ways in which we’ve helped each other survive no matter the cost.

5. “‘I’m Not Done Living My Damn Life Yet’: Disabled Queer People Speak Out on the American Health Care Act.” (Carrie Wade, Autostraddle, June 2017)

Honestly, every month under the Trump administration feels like a year, and one of the awful things that bubbled up during this year-month is the Senate Republicans’ bogus decision to write a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including massive cuts to Medicaid. Many smart people have written about this better than I ever could, and I found the experiences of these queer and trans disabled folks who rely on the ACA to live equal parts compelling and terrifying. (I’m a fan of 5 Calls, if you’re feeling moved to contact your congresspeople.)

6. “Being Gay vs. Being Southern: A False Choice.” (Brandon Taylor, LitHub, June 2017)

The opening paragraphs of Brandon Taylor’s essay slammed into me like a wave and drove me down to the ocean floor. Take these sentences, for instance:

God suffused everything in our lives the way heat suffuses every particle of air in the summer. There is a time of day in Alabama when the heat reaches its most critical point, when even shade is of little comfort; Sundays gathered all of God’s power to its most frightening pitch and beamed it down on us, testing us, daring us to wither.

7. “Born Before Stonewall.” (Barry Yeoman, Medium, June 2017)

Over two years, Barry Yeoman interviewed over 40 gay, lesbian, queer, and transgender Baby Boomers–“the Gayest Generation,” according to professor Jesus Ramirez-Valles. They discussed their struggles (reconciling the trauma of the AIDS epidemic, aging without the guarantee of a support system) and triumphs (fighting for and winning marriage equality and forming treasured friendships with other LGBTQ folks). Their stories brought me to tears and reminded me of the importance of taking care of our LGBTQ elders.

8. “Little Fish.” (Casey Plett, Plenitude Magazine, June 2017)

New writing from Casey Plett is cause for celebration. Plett is the author of the seminal work A Safe Girl to Love, which spotlights the lives of trans women. “Little Fish” is an excerpt from her upcoming novel.

Finally, you should read Edgar Gomez’s essay for Longreads, “Pulse Nightclub Was My Home.” 

Bonus: I love the adventures of these lesbian cattle dogs. 

Harry Potter and the Long-Term Global Impact

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first offering in J.K. Rowling’s billion dollar literary juggernaut, was published in Britain 20 years ago today and its impact has since been hotly debated. Did the Harry Potter series produce a generation of empathetic individuals? Did it increase literacy, infuse life into young adult book publishing, and help dyslexic children overcome their disability? Or was its impact overblown? Do Potterheads really just need to “read another book”?

Ten years ago, the  New York Times argued for “overblown.” While getting middle-grade readers to plow through a 700-page book was encouraging to educators, it wasn’t a magic pill for declining readership. However, the statistics cited by the Times were US-focused, making the argument a little myopic given the series’ international renown. U.K. and Australian statistics made the opposite case, with one Australian outlet quoting a government official crediting Rowling with making reading cool: “Literature is no longer seen as the province of the nerd.”

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Celebrating a Second Independence Day: A Juneteenth Reading List

June 19, also known as Juneteenth, marks the day when, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted, slaves in Texas were informed of their freedom. As the National Museum of African-American History and Culture notes in a Tumblr post, it could — and arguably should — be celebrated as a “second independence day.” But as the museum writes, “Though it has long been celebrated among the African American community it is a history that has been marginalized and still remains largely unknown to the wider public.”

This morning, the White House issued a statement on Juneteenth that didn’t land well. USA Today compared his statement to that of President Barack Obama, highlighting, as a commentator at the Independent Journal Review also noted, that Trump chose to praise a white person where Obama focused on the freed slaves. For more on Juneteenth, we’ve collected  stories that explain the fraught history of the holiday, and the need for celebration.

1. “What Is Juneteeth?” (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Root)

Gates gives a thorough overview of the history of Juneteenth, including a look at other days worthy of celebration.

The Emancipation Proclamation itself, ending slavery in the Confederacy (at least on paper), had taken effect two-and-a-half years before, and in the interim, close to 200,000 black men had enlisted in the fight. So, formalities aside, wasn’t it all over, literally, but the shouting?

It would be easy to think so in our world of immediate communication, but as Granger and the 1,800 bluecoats under him soon found out, news traveled slowly in Texas. Whatever Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered in Virginia, the Army of the Trans-Mississippi had held out until late May, and even with its formal surrender on June 2, a number of ex-rebels in the region took to bushwhacking and plunder.

2. “The Black American Holiday Everyone Should Celebrate but Doesn’t” (Jamelle Bouie, Slate, June 2015)

Bouie is one of many who argues for Juneteenth to be a federal holiday, pointing out that “far more than our Independence Day, it belongs to all Americans.”

Insofar that modern Americans celebrate the past, it’s to honor the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation or to celebrate the vision of the Founders. Both periods are worthy of the attention. But I think we owe more to emancipation and the Civil War. If we inaugurated freedom with our nation’s founding and defended it with World War II, we actualized it with the Civil War. Indeed, our struggle against slave power marks the real beginning of our commitment to liberty and equality, in word, if not always in deed.

3. “City to Acknowledge It Operated a Slave Market for More Than 50 Years” (Jim O’Grady, WNYC, April 2015)

Jim O’Grady’s story on New York City’s plan to own up to the northern city’s participation in slavery notes that the unveiling of a marker to memorialize that history would be pegged to Juneteenth.

“It’s not a feel-good story,” said Thomas J. Davis, a professor at Arizona State University who writes about slavery in the north. “It’s not a story that people have wanted to hear.” Davis and other historians say Americans in the north tend to think of slavery as a fever that gripped the south — a fever cured by the Civil War.

But New York and other northern cities accrued vast wealth from slave labor and profited for centuries from dealings in the slave trade. Africans who passed through the Wall Street slave market contributed to the prosperity of some very famous companies, some of which are still around: Aetna, New York Life and JPMorgan Chase, to name a few.

4. “Juneteenth Should Be a Federal Holiday” (Zak Cheney Rice, Mic, June 2017)

Like Bouie, Rice argues that Juneteenth deserves to be a holiday, in part to combat the attempts at “erasure” by those who claim the Civil War was about states’ rights, not slavery.

In Texas — the state where Juneteenth originated — a new spate of social studies textbooks de-emphasizes the role slavery played in launching the Civil War.

“[It’s] a side issue to the Civil War,” Pat Hardy, a Republican school board member said when the board adopted this new statewide standard in 2010, according to the Washington Post. “There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery. No. It was over states’ rights.”

5. “Juneteenth, Democracy and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions” (Dawn Godbolt, Garnet News, June 2017)

Dawn Godbolt links the importance of Juneteenth to our current Attorney General’s efforts to write policy “in a manner that attempts to steal the futures of African Americans — begetting the question of what democracy means for blacks.”

Previous attorney generals, including Eric Holder and Sally Yates, ordered prosecutors to avoid charges that exacerbated the mass prison industrial complex and to cease using private prisons to house federal prisoners. These changes were implemented in response to a better understanding of how incarceration affects the life chances of offenders, their families, and their communities, and a shift in social attitudes towards marijuana. Session’s policy initiative signals to Americans that race-based policies intended to restrict the freedom of blacks to be a priority for the attorney general’s agenda.

There is an insidious, racially motived ideological belief, that black men in America need to be contained.

6. “Though the Heavens Fall, Part 1” (John Jeremiah Sullivan & Joel Finsel, Oxford American, February 2015)

In this lengthy feature, two writers look at “Texas, old newspapers, race music, and two black lives that shaped the history of civil rights,” particularly at C.N. Love, a black albino who worked as “the Houston advertising agent for several African-American newspapers.”

As a schoolboy in Houston, Love became known as a good public speaker, a deliverer of “orations.” He loved to read, even if holding the book against his face, and he paid attention to preachers’ tricks. His earliest nickname, apart from C.N., was Judge or “the Honorable.” Despite or perhaps helped in part by his unusual appearance, he grew into an object of community pride. In the 1880s he emerged as a figure in the city’s black cultural life, a fixture on the committees that planned the yearly “Juneteenth” or Emancipation Day celebrations, a perennial decider of beauty contests.

7. “National Observance of Juneteenth is Still A Struggle” (Jacqueline J. Holness, Urban Faith, June 2016)

Holness looks both at Obama’s pre-presidency support of making Juneteenth a national holiday and arguments against doing so, such as:

“[Juneteenth] reinforces Black people as passive and as people waiting for others to free them when black people in the South would tell Union soldiers when they showed up that they were free and come and set up camp with Union soldiers,” Penrice says. “Many of them wrote letters to the White House for instructions as to what to do. This influenced the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Penrice also doesn’t believe that June 19 is a particularly special day as slaves throughout the South became aware of their freedom on different days.

8. “Juneteenth Is For Everyone” (Kenneth C. Davis, The New York Times, June 2015)

Davis looks at how celebrations of Juneteenth fell and rose in popularity, ultimately arguing, as Bouie did, that it is “a shared point of pride in the symbolic end of centuries of racial slavery.”

Spurred by a revival of pride in African-American traditions long denied or suppressed, Juneteenth has gained official recognition — although not necessarily full legal holiday status — in a number of states, starting, appropriately, with Texas, which made Juneteenth a paid holiday for state employees in 1980.

Still, 150 years after its birth, Juneteenth remains largely unacknowledged on America’s national calendar. Many Americans are unaware of its existence, or its roots. Sadly, that ignorance of Juneteenth reflects a deeper issue: the continued existence of two histories, black and white, separate and unequal.

9. “Juneteenth and Barbecue” (Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly, June 2015)

On the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, Vaughn pays tribute to “the menu of Emancipation Day.”

Barbecue wasn’t the only item on the menu. The middle of June being the beginning of watermelon season in Texas, it also found a spot at the table. The Galveston Daily News reported on celebrations across the state in 1883 including one in San Antonio where “twenty-three wagons loaded with watermelons…were destroyed with marvelous rapidity.” By 1933, the menu had been cemented per the Dallas Morning News. “Watermelon, barbecue and red lemonade will be consumed in quantity.