When the New York Times asked authors to share stories of love intersecting with travel, Alexander Chee recalls a summer in Granada, Spain, with M. — his boyfriend at the time — who betrayed Chee at a local hammam. “He thought I wanted monogamy more than him, and I didn’t. And I couldn’t forgive that I didn’t get to choose.”
I liked M. I was having my first summer in Spain and he was good in bed, funny at dinner, smart about books. Enjoying that was not a mistake. Hiding himself from me was. When I eventually discovered the truth, I was more offended that he wouldn’t tell me. He thought I wanted monogamy more than him, and I didn’t. And I couldn’t forgive that I didn’t get to choose.
Some things I remember very clearly from that summer: learning to love the feel of cold red wine in my mouth on a hot day. The beautiful boy on the bus the whole way to the beach at Carboneras from Granada, burning the back of the rubber and vinyl seat with a lighter, but slowly, never enough to catch fire, who stopped only to take pictures of himself on his phone. The man putting saccharin in his fresh orange juice. And the streets paved with stones taken from the river, smooth and shining in the dark, like the backs of fish.
M. can keep his secrets, I told myself then. I have this. That was my bargain. I still think it is a good one.
Being a woman was helpful. I say that with caution, because some of the most revealing and sensitive stories on rape have been done by my male colleagues: Jeffrey Gettleman on male rape in eastern Congo and Adam Nossiter on the rapes inside of a soccer stadium in Guinea, for example. Both stories put important issues on the map. But I could get these girls to open up by telling them, Somebody very close to me, in my own family, was gang-raped as a teenager. I was raised with her story. I’d tell them they should not suffer any shame for what happened to them. It was not their fault. I tried to make it clear to them that what they’re about to describe is something quite personal to me, given my family’s history, and I do not come at this with some morose curiosity.
Callimachi also discusses her process as a writer.
I tend to fight. I think I’ve been a pain in the butt for some editors. Because writing is so hard for me, when I find a formulation that I love — moments of inspiration usually happen when I’m going on a run; I’ll have an ah ha! moment — it’s painful when editors cut that very thing. I know that the editing is obviously a very important step in what we do. It’s why The New York Times is what it is. So I am trying my best to push less and to be less attached to the specific phrasing.
I don’t editorialize. Sometimes people ask why I don’t condemn ISIS. Why don’t I say this is terrible? I’m like, Are you kidding me? Why would I need to say that, when it is so transparently terrible, right? It’s so obviously horrible and what do I, Rukmini, this writer from America, have to add by saying, This is awful? I think that gets in the way of the narrative.
With eerie political timing, the Hulu version of Margaret Atwood’s prescient 1984 book The Handmaid’s Tale drops next month. In the introduction to a new edition, which also comes out in April, Atwood responds to the three most popular questions about it: Is her novel feminist? Is it a prediction? Is is anti-religious? In response to the third, she takes us through the influences that helped her build the world of the Handmaids.
The modesty costumes worn by the women of Gilead are derived from Western religious iconography — the Wives wear the blue of purity, from the Virgin Mary; the Handmaids wear red, from the blood of parturition, but also from Mary Magdalene. Also, red is easier to see if you happen to be fleeing. The wives of men lower in the social scale are called Econowives, and wear stripes. I must confess that the face-hiding bonnets came not only from mid-Victorian costume and from nuns, but from the Old Dutch Cleanser package of the 1940s, which showed a woman with her face hidden, and which frightened me as a child. Many totalitarianisms have used clothing, both forbidden and enforced, to identify and control people — think of yellow stars and Roman purple — and many have ruled behind a religious front. It makes the creation of heretics that much easier.
It’s a year-long commitment to privately sponsor a Syrian refugee family in Canada, where sponsorship includes funding and helping the family navigate Canadian culture and society. Sponsors assist newcomers with daily tasks of living, including grocery shopping, banking, getting jobs, learning English, and ferrying families to appointments and activities. In the fourth and final installment of Refugees Welcome — The New York Times’ year-long series on Syrian refugees in Canada — Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn profile the Hajj family and members of their sponsorship group, reporting on what happens at month 13 — the point at which the sponsorship agreement officially ends.
Still, with the deadline nearing, the Hajj sponsors faced uncomfortable, nagging questions: Were they doing too much for the Syrian family? Should they stand back and stop acting as chauffeurs, planners and all-around fixers? Were they willing to let the family make mistakes? Even if they wanted to stop helping, would they be able to?
The sponsors, mostly retirees, had the time to help, and they thrived on their shared sense of mission. They wanted so much for the Hajjes: not just the basics, like language and literacy, but for them to participate in the mainstream of Canadian life. They could not bear the thought of the family becoming isolated, the parents marginalized, the children missing out on activities their own children had taken for granted.
One morning in February, Moutayam’s school bus failed to appear, so the boy dialed one sponsor after another until he got Ms. Karas, who rushed right over instead of letting his mother figure it out. She feared the boy would miss a day of school if she did not step in.
“The dependency comes from both sides,” said Sam Nammoura, a refugee advocate who observed similar situations in Calgary, Alberta, where he served as a liaison between sponsors and Syrians. “The newcomers fear taking risks, and the minute they take a risk, the sponsor thinks, ‘They don’t speak English, I will help them,’” he said.
Across the country, as Month 13 turned into Months 14 and 15, the early results of private sponsorship of Syrians looked a lot like Mr. Hajj’s progress — still tentative, but showing forward motion. According to early government figures, about half of privately sponsored adults were working full or part time.
As a group, they were outpacing the thousands more refugees who did not have sponsors and were being resettled by the government — only about 10 percent of them had jobs (on the whole, they were less educated and had higher rates of serious health problems and other needs). Previous refugees to Canada over the past decade — a mix of Iraqis, Afghans, Colombians, Eritreans and more — had followed the same pattern, with privately sponsored refugees more likely to be employed after a year at similar rates.
I was in the lobby of a theater in Washington, D.C. when I saw the first of the tweets about the Trump administration’s decision to stymie protections for transgender students on the federal level. It wasn’t until the play ended and I was on the Metro home that I had cell service; I began to piece together what exactly had happened. My palms were sweating. I tried to make conversation with my friend, but I felt nauseated and heartsick.
I thought of the transgender and gender non-conforming kids in the youth group where I volunteer and the outspoken, proud, lovely trans kids in our county’s schools. I thought of Gavin Grimm, who’ll stand up against the Gloucester County School Board in front of the Supreme Court on March 28. I thought of how often trans folks have to reduce their stories to make them palatable to cisgender people, smoothing all of our glittering edges into sameness, rather than celebrating our differences, to win over those on the fence.
That night, I felt hopeless and scared. Today, I’m angry. It’s Friday as I finish this post, and the people of Chicago will protest for trans liberation tonight at the corner of Wacker and Wabash. I wish I could be there with them, to celebrate our community’s strength and resilience and to honor the lives of the seven trans women of colormurdered in 2017: Mesha Caldwell, 41; Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, 28; JoJo Striker, 23; Keke Collier, 24; Chyna Gibson, 31; Ciara McElveen, 21; and Jaquarrius Holland, 18. Seven women, and it’s only March. Unacceptable and terrifying.
This Women’s History Month, I implore you: educate yourself and stand up for your trans sisters, not only your cis-ters. Stand up for all of your transgender and gender non-conforming siblings, especially our youth, who need advocacy and protection now more than ever.
This article on Autostraddle was instrumental in my understanding of what exactly the Department of Justice put forth two weeks ago:
Under Obama, the Justice Department had been appealing a court injunction that prevents trans students nationwide from accessing the bathroom or other facilities consistent with their gender. Under Trump and Sessions, the first order of business was to cease that appeal, and to allow a lower court injunction to harm trans students unopposed.
Unfortunately, this lack of action? reversal? doesn’t bode well for trans rights. Rachel goes on to quote Mara Keisling of the National Center of Transgender Equality:
“While the immediate impact of this initial legal maneuver is limited, it is a frightening sign that the Trump administration is ready to discard its obligation to protect all students… Transgender students are not going away, and it remains the legal and moral duty of schools to support all students.”
Rachel also describes Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ historical support of anti-LGBTQ legislation, which is unsurprising but scary all the same, and explains how Gavin Grimm’s Supreme Court case could affect the administration’s decision to cease the appeal.
Update 3/6/17: The Supreme Court has referred Gavin Grimm’s case to the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Fourth Circuit and will no longer hear his case on March 28. Read more at NYT and BuzzFeed.
Janet Mock, transgender author and activist, is the author of two memoirs: Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More and the upcoming Firsts: A Memoir of the Twenties Experience. In this passionate op-ed, Mock does what she does best: Use her personal experiences to advocate for trans youth. Mock contrasts her different school experiences–one with supportive adults, one without.
It’s adults like those in the Trump administration who don’t realize that pitting young people against one another has consequences. It encourages some to be bullies and turns others into sinister objects.
When trans students are told that they cannot use public facilities, it doesn’t only block them from the toilet — it also blocks them from public life. It tells them with every sneer, every blocked door, that we do not want to see them, that they should go hide and that ultimately they do not belong. When schools become hostile environments, students cannot turn to them. Instead they are pushed out. And without an education, it makes it that much more difficult to find a job, support themselves and survive.
Transphobia isn’t exclusively conservative territory. There are self-proclaimed progressives and feminists whose philosophies harm trans people in subtle and overt ways. Trans-exclusionary radical feminists, better known as TERFs, are obsessed with the false notion that trans women aren’t really women, and, unfortunately, their illogical arguments continue to appeal to the fearful.
4. Telling Our Own Stories.
The following essays and interviews feature the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming artists, authors, activists, students, cartoonists, administrative assistants, analysts and teachers.
For boxing fans, Cuba holds an outsize mystique. Since Castro took power in 1959, the island has won more Olympic gold medals in boxing than any other country, but its fighters have for the most part resisted the temptation to defect to the United States, turning down multimilliondollar offers in apparent loyalty to the revolution. Mr. Butler found the paradox worth exploring, and his book argues that the sport is as entwined with Cuba’s narrative of defiance toward America as much as anything else.
His adventures over the years were plentiful. He interviewed Cuba’s most decorated boxers, finding them living in poverty: Several had sold their gold medals because they needed the money; another agreed to train him for $6 a day, and another decreed he chug a glass of vodka as a test of character. The book chronicles Mr. Butler’s fling with one of Castro’s granddaughters and the time he bet his life savings on a fight (he won). He also retraced Hemingway’s footsteps, talking his way into his literary idol’s home and traveling to a small fishing town to find the old man who inspired “The Old Man and the Sea,” who was then 102.
These days, you can find him in Central Park. Another tune started to play as his student agonized through pushups. “You’d see these boxers dominate at the Olympics, and then they’d just disappear,” he said. “They were fighting for something more important than money. I had to go find out why.”
Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama.
“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted,” he said, reading gave him the ability to occasionally “slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes.” These two things, he added, “have been invaluable to me. Whether they’ve made me a better president I can’t say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years, because this is a place that comes at you hard and fast and doesn’t let up.”
Writing was key to his thinking process, too: a tool for sorting through “a lot of crosscurrents in my own life — race, class, family. And I genuinely believe that it was part of the way in which I was able to integrate all these pieces of myself into something relatively whole.”
At The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani reports on how reading and writing helped President Obama to “slow down and get perspective” from novelists, memoirists, and historical figures during the eight years of his presidency.
In The New York Times Magazine, Jon Mooallem has a moving profile of doctor B.J. Miller, a triple amputee since an accident in his sophomore year of college, who’s now developing something he’s calling The Center for Dying and Living. Layered into the piece is a secondary profile of Randy Sloan, the late 27-year-old motorcycle builder who became a patient of Miller’s three years after he tricked out a bike for the doctor’s special needs. The former executive director of The Guest House, a Zen hospice center in San Francisco, Miller’s approach to palliative care is informed by his own near-death experience, and finding his way back to living.
It wasn’t that Miller was suddenly enlightened; internally, he was in turmoil. But in retrospect, he credits himself with doing one thing right: He saw a good way to look at his situation and committed to faking that perspective, hoping that his genuine self might eventually catch up. Miller refused, for example, to let himself believe that his life was extra difficult now, only uniquely difficult, as all lives are. He resolved to think of his suffering as simply a “variation on a theme we all deal with — to be human is really hard,” he says. His life had never felt easy, even as a privileged, able-bodied suburban boy with two adoring parents, but he never felt entitled to any angst; he saw unhappiness as an illegitimate intrusion into the carefree reality he was supposed to inhabit. And don’t we all do that, he realized. Don’t we all treat suffering as a disruption to existence, instead of an inevitable part of it? He wondered what would happen if you could “reincorporate your version of reality, of normalcy, to accommodate suffering.” As a disabled person, he was getting all kinds of signals that he was different and separated from everyone else. But he worked hard to see himself as merely sitting somewhere on a continuum between the man on his deathbed and the woman who misplaced her car keys, to let his accident heighten his connectedness to others, instead of isolating him. This was the only way, he thought, to keep from hating his injuries and, by extension, himself.
I’ve found it hard to think of little else other than our country’s future, by which I mean the futures of my friends of color, my queer friends, my disabled friends—the list goes on. I am grateful for Twitter, where writers and activists I admire remind me that what is happening is not normal, that we must resist as long as it takes. There are stories here about the Native-led protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, folks standing up to Donald Trump and his white supremacist cronies, and prisoners striking against their miserable living conditions in a racist system. As journalist Masha Gessen writes, “The citizens have posted guard.”
Masha Gessen is one of the writers I’m thankful for. Yesterday I read her essay in the New York Review of Books, “Trump: The Choice We Face.” Gessen writes about her great-grandfather, a member of a Nazi-appointed Jewish council in his home ghetto, relating his position to the complicity we Americans may come to understand sooner than we think. I cried as I read. The NYRB essay led me to the one I’ve highlighted here, where Gessen examines and defends protest for the sake of protest. Read more…
Limiting access often increases desire. I call this the velvet rope effect. Some of the appeal is psychological. Some of this is a quality differential. On The New York Times Style Magazine blog, Rafil Kroll-Zaidi writes about proxy services which help Western shoppers navigate the Japanese online marketplace and buy the goods retailers refuse to sell outside Japan. Language is only one of the barriers here. The other is disinterest. Many Japanese clothing and lifestyle companies simply don’t want to sell their products overseas, and not just the boutique limited edition items either, but, as Zaidi put it, “a single pair of the 20,000 available units of the megabrand’s standard-issue jeans.” Zaidi’s piece ran in May 2015.
I turned up a number of forbiddingly impersonal and expensive proxy services before seeking direction from nerds on sneaker forums. The proxy service I chose is called SpeBid, run through a creaky community-style message board by a half-Japanese half-Nigerian man named Spencer (or Spe). For $30 a year plus arcane surcharges, Spe buys, bids on and reships wonderful stuff to “subscribers” all over the world. Per Jay Gatsby, “I’ve got a man in England who buys me clothes. He sends over a selection of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall”; but a proxy never proffers anything you don’t already know you need.