Friday, June 29, 2012

The Problem with GLBT Representation in True Blood and Lost Girl

When it comes to GLBT representation in the media, unless a television show is targeted specifically at the community, erasure continues to be the norm. Urban fantasy has moved from a small die hard audience to the mainstream and though we can regularly see shows about vampires, werewolves, fae, and ghosts, there are few GLBT characters and a dearth of decent representation.

HBO’s True Blood and Showcase’s Lost Girl have the most visible GLBT characters on television in North America, in terms of the urban fantasy genre. Though both shows have GLBT characters who have extremely high profiles and a reputation of being extremely GLBT friendly, there are certainly many problematic elements.

True Blood is based on The Southern Vampire Series written by Charlaine Harris. In the novels, Lafayette is killed off quite early and is shamed for participating in a sex party. Thankfully, the character of Lafayette in True Blood has become a staple of the show. Despite being a fan favourite, Lafayette is a character that inarguably fulfills a lot of stereotypes that are aimed at same gender loving men of colour. Lafayette is a cook but he moonlights as a sex worker and a drug dealer. Though he is routinely given some of the best lines to say, he too often falls into the sassy best friend role.

Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette and Kevin Alejandro as Jesus in True Blood
In season three, we learned that Lafayette only started dealing V and doing sex work to pay for the hospitalisation of his mentally ill mother and though the reason is understandable, no other character on True Blood has been forced into this position though they are all working class.

If Lafayette is dogged by several stereotypes, Talbot revels in them. The lover of Russell Edgington (who is an awesome villain but also personifies the depraved, psychopathic homosexual trope), Talbot is a 700-year-old vampire who squeals at the sight of violence. He throws epic temper tantrums over the interior decorating. Someone stamp a rainbow on him and call his unicorn, he’s done. But to quickly fill his shoes we have Steve Newlin - get yourself another trope bingo card because he’s a) a gay man trying to force his attentions on a straight man b) a closeted homophobe, c) a closeted, bigoted preacher and d) getting campier by the episode - have you hit bingo yet? Bet you will by the end of the season, this was just 2 episodes!

The women aren’t free from stereotyping either; Tara finds her love for women and with it an interest in kick boxing - did she get some free dungerees and power tools with that?

I do have to say that not all the portrayals are stereotyped - Eddie subverts many (albeit he exists to serve and help Jason grow) and Jesus more - we don’t see enough about Pam and Nan to see what they fit. But except for Pam, they all fit one trope - GAY DEATH. Yes, there’s a drastic amount of “gay death” on this show. It’s a sad trope that GBLT people rarely live long on the television screen and their sexualty is often the cause of their deaths - and with Talbot (who actually died during gay sex! And to hurt his gay lover), Jesus (at the hands of his gay lover!), Eddie (found by his killers because he hired a gay prostitute), Sophie Ann and Nan were racking up the body count.

But, perhaps the most glaring flaw in True Blood is how the GBLT romances compare with the straight counterparts. True Blood is not a show that is shy about nudity or sex scenes - it is pretty unusual for episodes to go by without at least someone humping someone wearing very little. Eric, Sookie, Jason, Bill, Sam - we have seen them naked and going at it hammer and tongs. But Lafayette and Jesus? The contrast is blatant - even most of their kisses are in low light conditions. They go to bed wearing multiple layers of clothing (in Louisiana, no less) and their scenes together commonly have them sitting pretty far apart and lacking any real physical (or even emotional) intimacy. The emotional distance is very telling in what should be some of the most poignant scenes between them - when Jesus is grieving over his dead friend, when he is risking his life going into Marne’s shop, when Jesus emerges from that shop injured (Lafayette actually ran to hug Tara while Jesus bleeds); you’d expect some emotional angst here. But throughout season 4, you could have mistaken them for roommates, not lovers. This sanitisation is sadly prevalent with gay and bi male couples in television in general - their sex lives are considered more obscene than their straight counterparts, in need of censorship and “toning down.” True Blood’s straight explicitness makes this extremely blatant - with Lafayette and Jesus and even with Sam and Bill’s “Water in Arkansas” dream sequence (that cuts out just before a kiss). The closest we get to any explicit scenes is with Eric and Talbot - again with low light kissing, no nudity and, of course, saved for straight audiences by including the dreaded gay death.

We contrast that with the lesbian relationships and, if anything, we see a different story. But is this putting them on the same explicit level as the straight relationships or is it an attempt to pander to the straight male gaze? If anything, the scenes between women are more sexualised than between straight couples - not because they’re more explicit, but because they are less personal. Nan Flannigan and Pam both have sex (oral sex that doesn’t smudge their perfect make up, no less) with nameless, characterless women. The only actual relationship we have seen between two women is Tara and Naomi - and again, we saw them make out and have sex almost before we knew Naomi’s name. She appeared in exactly five episodes - and not for much of them at that - and in that time they were either having sex or fighting over Tara’s deception. She has now disappeared. Tara and Naomi’s relationship seemed to exist more to show sex and provide Tara with conflict than to be an actual relationship. All of these sex scenes feel even more gratuitous than the majority of the straight sex scenes because they add precious little to plot, story, development or any relationship - they’re there for the sake of the sex.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Last Day of School

'Weird School Bus' photo (c) 2007, Kevin - license:

Today is the last day of school and of course this morning my boys leaped out of bed.  There was no begging for five more minutes, no arguing over breakfast, or what I packed them for lunch.  They were singing and happy.  In fact, I got a joyous chorus of, It's the most wonderful time of the year. There was talk of afternoons spent swimming and playing with friends, and of course plots about how they were going to drive me around the bend.

I will certainly get to spend more time with my kids in the upcoming weeks, but it comes with a loss of peace and quiet.  I can already hear the whines of, "but mom, I'm bored."  Or the shrill screams of, "Mom, he licked me."  Why oh why do they have to lick each other?  It's going to be a very, very, very long two months.  In fact, I think I am jealous that the unhusband gets to escape to work for eight hours a day. 

This is going to be my last day to enjoy the silence and peace and quiet for two months, so I am going to spend it relaxing in the backyard reading and perhaps having a beer or two after 1pm of course.  I'll see you tomorrow, should the children give me enough peace to write around.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

'Bunheads' and Supporting White Women

If you are a marginalized person, chances are that you are you are used to watching media in which people like you are completely erased, or reduced to typical tokens that are grating.  I recently tuned into Bunheads, after reading about Shonda Rhimes tweet regarding the show:

After watching two episodes, this seems to be a very legitimate complaint to me. There is no justifiable reason why people of colour are absent from this television show. Unfortunately, Bunheads creator Amy Sherman-Palladino decided to ignore the homogeneity of Bunheads, to fixate on gender because that's all that really counts.
“I’ve always felt that women, in a general sense, have never supported other women the way they should…I think it’s a shame, but to me, it is what it is.”

Sherman-Palladino, who says she has never met Rhimes before, went on to say that with the increased demands on showrunners–particularly while getting a new program on the air–there’s no room for criticism among peers. “I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t go after another woman. I, frankly, wouldn’t go after another showrunner,” she said.
Do you hear that folks, Rhimes is being disloyal to the great hive of womanhood for daring to point out that Bunheads is racially exclusionary.  Before I go any further, let me just say that so far what I have seen of Bunheads I really and truly like, with the exception of the storyline regarding the gay closeted father.

Ironies in coming out

 Mike is an 18 year female to male transman. He is currently studying psychology at The Evergreen State College between making quilts. He someday aspires to be a social worker, and in the mean time, he wants to fix the fact that not everyone is born with an inherent right to be themselves.

Trigger Warning: This is not a light post. It deals with in depth discussions on living life as a trans person including multiple mentions of rape and murder. Please be aware of this, and make sure you are in a good head space before continuing.

I came out as trans* in order to save my own life. It was a choice in some ways, but saying transition is a choice is a bit like saying it is the choice of a drowning person to climb aboard a raft or to cling to a life preserver. It was come out and transition or drown in a sea of dysphoria and unhappiness about my life.  When I came out I wasn’t really considering the consequences. I did not think about the discrimination, about having to come out to more people than just my mother. I wasn’t thinking about the fear or that I would eventually miss certain things about identifying as female. I wasn’t thinking about bathrooms, locker rooms, binding, or bigoted people who might have it in for me. I knew only that there was this big problem I had that made it impossible to live with myself and that there was a solution.

One of the first things I had to deal with when I came out was bathrooms. I remember one day while I was participating in an educational group about trans* issues, I had pointed out that lesbians and gay men face much of the same problem with the locker rooms and bathrooms. I would not believe the leader when he said it was so much worse for trans* people until I was staring down the bathroom door, debating whether or not I could stomach going into the woman’s bathroom. It is especially difficult around families and children. The first time I used the men’s restroom without my friend death glaring at me and saying that I couldn’t come in to the woman’s room was in a movie theater, because there were a bunch of children playing outside the bathrooms. I didn’t want security called if I went into the woman’s bathroom and figured that if I didn’t pass, I could always just say I was getting toilet paper or something and be done with it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

You Shook Me All Night Long

The unhusband has a sick, sick sense of humor.  Since he decided to share this with me, I am going to share with you because I should not be the only one scared.

I don't even have the words to describe how wrong this is.

Dear Demi Sexual, Trans Ethnic,Trans Abled, Trans Fat and Other Fakers

'Angry Birds' photo (c) 2011, Denis Dervisevic - license:
Over the weekend, Sparky introduced me to a few new faux social justice terms that had me absolutely screaming mad.  I have not been able to get them out of my mind and so I warn you, this is going to be a rant.  It all started when he sent me a link to ONTD_Political.
What started as a movement by people who are suffering to try to help those of us who are privileged to understand their struggle has now become a mockery, hijacked by people whose only tangible shared problem could be described — and recognized by anyone with common sense — as social ineptitude.

They sit, watching equal rights discussions, hearing the terminology and logic, and take it for their own purposes. They quote famous activists far out of context to add that elusive air of legitimacy where it just doesn’t exist. By carefully and secretly treating their “fight” as equal to racism, transphobia, homophobia and classism, they worm their way into the real issues and cleverly tilt words designed to protect to disregard those who are at actual risk for losing their jobs and their lives.

Ever hear of otherkin, or otakukin? They refer to people who “identify” as animals or anime characters. I’m pretty open, do whatever you want as long as you’re not bugging me. According to some, though, lack of widespread acceptance of otherkin is contributing to mass otherkin oppression. Oh? Otherkin are being rounded up from their homes and killed? No? Are they being fired from jobs for being otherkin? Not that either, huh? Are they at least being disproportionately arrested and thrown in jail with sentences 60% longer than non-otherkin? Well then what IS going on? They’re… being ostracized on the internet. Oh.

But otherkin and their ilk have been around for ever. Try googling “Final Fantasy VII House.” Pick a time to read when you have a few free hours and a lot of booze. Now, there are newer, even more mockable “oppressions” coming out. You’ve heard of transgender and transsexual, let me introduce you to the new trans people: transabled and transethnic. Transabled people are disabled people hiding out in perfectly working bodies. They “identify” as blind, deaf, paraplegic and quadriplegic despite having never been so a day in their entire lives, and are well-known for talking about how hard it is to want to be disabled but unable to be. Transethnic people are white people who “identify” as a non-white race or ethnicity. They’re weeaboos multiplied by a million, with bonus “I learned about your culture in a book I read once so I know more than you.” [source]
I thought that this was a sick joke, until Sparky sent me a link about a White man who identifies as trans ethnic. He has decided that he is a black woman on the inside. Seriously, you have to read this shit. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he claims to be oppressed by Black women who have the nerve to question his identity.

First, I want to address the idea that they use the word trans in front of their fake identity.  I am a cisgender woman; however, I find this appropriation of the trans experience, so that these people can claim to be marginalized disgusting.  Trans* communities struggle for acceptance and the right to live their lives in the gender that best suits them. From what I understand, the process of both self acceptance and community acceptance is a difficult process and what these people claim to go through is nothing like the daily struggle of being trans* in a cissexist world.  They are not going to be denied jobs, housing and subjected to violence because they are trans ethnic, tran fat, transabled etc,. These people aren't actually transitioning, they are appropriating. 

The Bad Mother and the Uncaring Community

I normally try to avoid reading about situations in which a mother has been deemed bad and this is especially true when the story involves a WOC.  I came across the story of 26-year-old Brittany Hill who allegedly left her child alone in her apartment, as well as attempted to sell her four month old son for four thousand dollars.  As I was reading the story on The Grio, I found myself thinking, please, please don't let her be Black.  Sure enough, when I followed a link to NBC,  I discovered that Brittany is indeed a Black woman.

One neighbour said that she saw Brittany during her pregnancy and she seemed completely depressed. Now that Brittany is in jail, and the baby has been removed from her custody,  there were quite a few who stepped forward to suggest that had she asked for help, they would have been there for her.  Some in the comments are asking why she didn't just drop the baby off at a hospital or a fire station.  There was plenty of blame and recrimination.  Even the would be purchaser of the baby, who later turned her into the police, showed up to judge her.

From the sound of it, Brittany was depressed before she even had this child, which suggests that post partum depression would not have been unlikely. All children by their very nature and dependency are exhausting. A newborn means a lot of work, and very little sleep.  I have a partner and I can tell you that there were days when I thought I wasn't going to make it.  Even now, their first instinct is to say mom, in the most shrill voice possible, though their father is sitting in the same room with me when they want or need something.

This Shouldn't Be Normal.

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.  

Regularly now one of my oh-so-dearest neighbours has been leaving snide little homophobic notes on my door, ranging from Bible verses to random mutterings about AIDS, to condemnation for the many many orgies we’re not actually having (don’t you just hate it when people have more fun with your life than you do?) At the same time, we’ve had to shoe-horn our cars into The Home of All Junk (who knew garages were for cars?) since they’re picking up an awful lot of potentially-related and very annoying scratches and horrible things have happened to our plants in the front garden. Also, the Bible left in the rain and shredded by cats was vexing – we’re still finding little scraps of soggy, sanctimonious confetti.

It was unnerving to begin with, I took precautions – and several months later with it still happening, we’re playing snap with the nasty little things (they’ve started to repeat themselves. Which I think is just rude – if you’re going to leave nasty little hate notes on someone’s door, you could at least strive to be original! Reusing your old hate is just plain lazy).

There are places in my home city I know not to go at certain times. Or some not to go alone. I know where fool straight folk gather when they’ve had too much to drink, looking for a victim. I know a local park where the police will assume I’m cruising.  I know to avoid these places.

At work, I know that at least once a week, one of three people will say something offensive. I know that, at least 4 times a week, annoying secretary will flirtingly joke about “changing me” or “what a shame it is you’re gay” or some such. I know that I need to check my email religiously or have the extra, over-scheduled work dumped on me because it’s assumed I have no family and no plans. I know I have to book holidays well in advance and fight for them in case they’re moved in favour of those who “have family and partners to be accommodated”. I know that my most senior partner still doesn’t understand why I’m pissed at him for throwing cases of gay-bashers at me and why I don’t want to be in a small room alone with such people to interview them. I know that, in some family and criminal cases, he will act like I’m a woman or use my being gay as some kind of selling point.  I’ve worked out ways around these problems, things I can’t say, things I have to grit my teeth and ignore, ways I have to react and steps I have to take to avoid shouldering the firm’s grunt work.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Mysteries of Engagement and Participation

Biyuti is a bakla Filipina living on stolen Algonquin land. He works to sustain and increase the biyuti of the world through decolonization and through her explorations of the intersections of race with queerness/gender. She also blogs at The Biyuti Collective and you can find her on Twitter: @JustBiyuti

One thing I find interesting about my (admittedly feeble) attempts to engage the (white) trans* community during the #transchat on Twitter is how they wondered, as many white people do, how to get more PoC participation.

This was quite a few weeks ago.

One suggestion I gave to them was to actually engage PoC in the spaces we already are, instead of always expecting PoC to come to them. This seems to be a fatal error in most (white) movements. They so often expect us to come to them, rather than the other way.

Of course, my suggestion wasn't necessarily that hordes of white people should suddenly invade PoC spaces... but there are some venues where this would be okay. One such place would be here on Womanist Musings, a space where discussion is encouraged.

True Blood Season Five, Episode Three: Whatever I Am, You Made Me

I kept waiting for something significant to happen and move the plot along this episode but it never really transpired, though I guess I should be thankful for the a respite from the the homophobia of the first three episodes. We learned that Steve Newlin is the new Ann Flannigan, but with only a simulacrum of influence and they managed to convey that without turning him into the predatory gay vampire. Don't celebrate though folks, there was plenty of fuckery to go around as usual. Lafayette, the only reoccurring GLBT character was told to be his fabulous self, despite the fact that Jesus recently died and his body has disappeared by Sookie. 

Tara is still extremely upset with Lafayette and Sookie.  I cannot say that her reason is unjust; however, it's starting to read very much like angry Black woman syndrome. The very first episode when we met Tara she was angry and watching her since her transformation has caused me to question how often Tara has been angry in this series, relative to the other characters.  I think she has alternated more between angry and depressed than other emotions and this neatly squares up with many of the tropes the media has invested in Black women. 

Unable to handle Tara, Sookie is forced to see Pam at Fangtasia but Pam is far more interested in the fact that both Eric and Bill are missing.  Sookie doesn't even blink when she hears this.  When Pam suggests that they are in trouble because of their history with Sookie, she is quick to deny responsibility.  This leads to a showdown in which Pam pushes Sookie across the room and Sookie returns fire with her fae power. I saw this as pure fan service and found myself wishing that Pam was the clear victor of the disagreement.

Speaking of Pam, we also got another flashback and this time we learned how she became a vampire, as well as saw the first meeting between Bill and Eric. When Eric arrives at the bordello, Pam offers one the ladies to Eric who she refers to as "the chink".  This sort of racism may very well be accurate for the early 1900's, but coming on a show which has had race fail after race fail, it's simply bitter vinegar. There was absolutely no need to throw in this slur to make the scene historically accurate. Did they think that the period dress and furnishings on their own weren't enough to convey the message that they were in the 1900's?

I think the first meeting between Bill and Eric was interesting; however, I would much rather the writers tackle the fact that they have chosen to make these two BFF's all of a sudden.  Pam choosing to die or be turned, I thought was in keeping with the character that we have come to know. I like that she knew that she wanted out of the life she was leading and went for it.