Friday, January 27, 2017

No, Pence Would Not Be Worse Than Trump

No, Mike Pence would not be worse than Donald Trump. 

The conversation always goes like this: "something something Trump should be impeached" "BUT IF WE IMPEACHED HIM THEN WE'LL GET PENCE AND HE'D BE SO MUCH WORSE"

No. No, no, no, no, no. Stop it. I need you to stop saying that. 

Here's why:

It's an abuse tactic

This is the same logic abusers employ to keep people from leaving them, reporting them, or taking any action. "But I never hit you." "Sure, baby, I hit you, but only a couple of times. I could have put you in the hospital." "Well, at least she's never raped me, not like such-and-so's wife." "I spent twenty years being psychologically abused and manipulated by my parents, but Joe's parents actually beat him." "I'd like to leave, but I'm afraid that living on my own will be worse."

Over time, this creates a twisted gratitude for the abuser -- instead of outrage over the things they have done, you feel gratitude for what they haven't done. When you say, "Pence would be worse than Trump," you are saying, "Be grateful to your abuser, because it could be worse."

Believe me: Trump WANTS you to think Pence would be worse. Why? Because it keeps you from holding Trump accountable. Because focusing on how bad Pence might be deflects from how bad Trump is. 

It is a classic abuse tactic, and I need you to stop it.

It's gaslighting

Saying that you shouldn't try to change your situation because the alternative is worse is a gaslighting tactic. It's also a logic used by abused people use to assure themselves that what's happening isn't all that bad. It de-legitimizes the suffering that's already going on, and minimizes the abusive behavior.

When you say, "Pence would be worse than Trump," what you're really saying is, "Trump isn't all that bad." Yes he is. 

In short, you're trying to gaslight me. Fucking stop it. 

It's normalizing Trump

Similarly, you're implying that we have to accept Trump as our new normal. He is not, in fact, normal. This is not normal behavior for a politician in America. 

If anything, Pence -- despite his many terrible qualities -- is more of a "normal" politician. During his debate with Tim Kaine, he didn't spend his time defending Trump's policies. He spent the whole debate denying them, shaking his head and running interference for his boss. Because hknew how indefensible and extreme those policies are. Pence knows how far beyond normal Trump is.  

Trump is not normal. Pence gets that. Why don't you? Stop trying to tell me these two mofos are interchangeable. They are not. You are normalizing Trump, and I need you to stop that.

The conversion therapy thing

Pence supported conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ people. This surely makes him worse than Trump, right? 

Not necessarily. 

First of all, you've probably seen this image going around:

Image result for mike pence conversion therapy meme
[Image description: Mike Pence smiles; text says, "Reminder:
Mike Pence is a proponent of gay conversion therapy, which uses
taxpayer money to literally electrocute the gay out of teenagers."]

Conversion therapy in any form is horrifying. But this image is misleading. I'll let Snopes explain. 

Essentially: no, Mike Pence did not support shocking the gay out of teenagers. In 2000, he blamed gay people for the spread of AIDS and wanted to fund conversion therapy for willing adults. He is awful. But claims about his hankering for shocking gay teens are exaggerated. 

I'm going to correct Snopes on one thing, though: conversion therapy is ANY therapy which seeks to change a person's sexual orientation. I have personally been targeted for conversion therapy. Believe me, I understand how big and scary a problem this is, and why this makes people claim that "Pence would be worse than Trump."

Here's my problem with that: you want to talk about conversion therapy? OK, fine. Let's fucking talk about conversion therapy. 

Let's talk about how conversion therapy was created as, and STILL IS, a mainstream medical practice for dealing with queer people. 

Let's talk about how transgender people are still classified as having a mental illness which must be "cured" -- and that this "therapy" first seeks to "convert" them from their gender to the one society says they ought to be. Only when they have attempted to "convert" themselves to their assigned gender and try living as something they aren't, only when they have had to prove to medical professionals that they really are trans and really do have a "mental illness," and usually only after they have lived a set amount of time as their true gender and proved to doctors that they really are sincere about being that gender, are they allowed to begin a medical transition. (Here meaning being prescribed hormones, and/or having any surgical alterations, and/or getting insurance for those things.) 

Let's talk about how asexuality was still classified as a mental illness until 2013. Let's talk about how the default response of medical professionals to asexuality is to ask, "Have you had your hormones checked?" or, "Could it be an effect of one of your medications?" If they aren't unhappy, why would they want their hormones checked? Why is brokenness and illness the automatic assumption?

Let's talk about why our knee-jerk reaction is to try to "fix" queer people. Let's talk about why we're so fascinated by what "causes" queerness. Let's talk about how people assume childhood trauma causes LGBTQ+ identities. About how so many doctors, therapists, and other medical professionals deal with mental illness in LGBTQ+ patients by pushing "recovering your natural sexuality" as part of their treatment. 

Let's talk about how hard it is to find an LGBTQ+ positive doctor, therapist, or gynecologist.

Let's talk about how even some doctors who accept homosexuality still try to "convert" everyone after the LG of LGBTQIA+

Let's talk about how intersex infants are mutilated at birth for aesthetic purposes on the advice of doctors, so that parents can raise them as single-sexed, single-gendered people. 

Let's talk about how the PERSON is always seen as the problem to be fixed, the person to be converted instead of accepted, the societal stresses of constantly being threatened or not accepted too often ignored as factors in mental illness, stress, and health problems for LGBTQ+. 

In short: Conversion therapy is not a Mike Pence problem. He did not invent it. Pence's position is the result of decades of doctors and scientists normalizing conversion therapies as an acceptable method of "treating" queerness. If anything, his stipulation that it should be used on willing people is LESS extreme than many of those who support conversion therapy -- the people who have their children shipped off to "pray away the gay" camps. The argument that Mike Pence would institute conversion therapy if he became President is weak when you realize that conversion therapy is already America's normal. 

He's not reinventing the wheel here. His 2000 proposal was just trying to make it easier for people to do what they already fucking do anyway. 

This doesn't mean you can't get upset about Pence. He's awful. He's anti-woman, anti-gay, and an all-around ass. We should be upset about Pence. 

But he's not worse than Trump. 

Oh right, RUSSIA

About that...

Trump has a myriad of conflicts of interest. He may be in debt to Russian oligarchs. He's buddy-buddy with Putin. He has already enacted executive orders which ban Muslims from some countries while exempting those countries in which he has business ties. He is using the presidency to enrich himself.

What's more: if he is compromised by Russia in some way, that should make us all very, very afraid. On the campaign trail, he suggested that he would not protect NATO allies. He said he dislikes the UN. He said bombing civilians, killing the civilian families of terrorists, and using nuclear weapons were all options on the table. 

In office, he is already taking steps to withdraw from the UN. Think about this for a second. All the policies Trump is talking up -- abandoning NATO allies, withdrawing from the UN, bombing in the Middle East -- benefit Russia. Russia has already stretched its muscles in the Crimea. Russia has gotten shit from the USA and the UN for bombing in Syria, including civilian targets. NATO is one of the organizations which keeps Russian expansion in check. 

If you're claiming that Pence would be worse than Trump, did you forget the Cold War? Did you forget that MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) is more or less the only thing keeping us all from nuclear annihilation? If our President aligns the US with Russia, Russia has far less reason not to use nukes. They have less reason to fear retaliation.

Even if that doesn't happen: If America starts using nukes under Trump, other countries will see nukes as an option on the table. 

Pence is awful. But he understands the gravity of nuclear weapons. Trump does not grasp this, or he does not care. As long as it doesn't happen in America, right?

Also, nuclear fucking weapons

I understand that many people cry "Pence would be SO MUCH WORSE than Trump!" because to many Americans, nuclear destruction is an abstract concept. This is privilege. This is an American-centric way of thinking. This shows an all-too-convenient amnesia about history and America's role in it. 

It's funny (not funny) how many Americans quickly draw parallels between Trump's rise and the rise of fascism in Europe, but become conveniently forgetful about genocide, oppression, and war crimes perpetrated by the United States. The government carried out genocidal tactics against Native Americans. The US fought the Nazis abroad but had concentration camps for Japanese-Americans at home, calling them "internment camps." 

Even liberals who get this far fall silent on or fail to make the connection with nuclear weapons. People who rant about Nazis and mass genocide ignore the fact that America carried out the worst war crime in the history of the modern world. 


Image result for hiroshima and nagasaki before and after
[Image description: aerial before and after photos showing a flattened,
obliterated landscape] (source)

Related image
[Image description: US Army photograph showing destroyed buildings
and wreckage after the bombing] source

Image result for hiroshima and nagasaki
[Image description: a gate stands alone among wreckage while
smoke rises from burning debris] source


Image result for hiroshima and nagasaki shadows
[Image description: five nuclear shadows left by the explosion, including
silhouettes of people and a bicycle] source

America invented nukes less than 100 years ago. The world has, so far, managed not to blow itself to hell. But we take that for granted. 

We forget that nukes HAVE been used. On civilian population centers. By America. 

And it can happen again. 

Conclusion

No, Mike Pence would NOT be worse than Donald Trump. Stop saying that.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène, a YA Book By A Young Author

Review time! Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow is a young adult novel by a young adult, so I was very interested to read it. There's also a #MuslimShelfSpace tag going around, and this review is a nod to that. The idea is that there's been a lot of stereotypes and anti-Muslim sentiment spread around, so buying and boosting books about and by Muslims can help educate people and break down harmful stereotypes. 

The author is French with an Algerian background, and Guène wrote Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow when she was in her late teens. Although the novel is not autobiographical, she shares many things with its main character. Doria, like her creator, is the child of immigrants and lives in poor suburban housing projects. Guène wrote that she realized girls like herself weren't really represented in books, and felt that Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow was a way to tell the stories of people in the suburbs who are ignored by the elites of French literature.


Image result for kiffe kiffe tomorrow interview

Plot: Life Sucks, Until It Doesn't 

Doria is an unhappy teenager reeling after her father left to marry another woman back in Morocco. She deals with mandated counselling, flunking out of school, feeling abandoned, an unrequited crush on an older guy, social workers, having adult responsibilities she isn't ready for, and generally staving off despair as she wonders whether this is all there is to life. 

But despite Doria's glum prospects in the beginning, her life steadily improves. Her mom is able to leave her old job and start literacy courses. Doria gets a babysitting job. She starts trade school to learn hairdressing. She even cultivates a relationship with a potential boyfriend, though they got off to a terrible start. Life looks up and Doria decides that things aren't perfect, but they're OK for now. 

Language: This Title Is Awesome

"Kif-kif demain" is a phrase which means, as Doria puts it, "same shit, different day" or "same old, same old." "Kiffer," however, is a French verb which means "to really like someone or something." At the end of the book, when her life starts looking up, Doria coins her own phrase: "Kiffe-kiffe tomorrow," which is the title of the book. It's her own invented combination of the Arabic "kif-kif" and French "kiffer." 

The very title of the book is both the culmination of Doria's journey and a middle finger to French linguistic elitism. I read this book translated into English. The translation was excellent; Doria's voice really came across in all its barbed sarcasm, humor, pain, and occasional poetry. The book also includes a reference list of French and Arabic phrases at the beginning, including "kiffer" and "kif-kif" along with some others which Doria uses. Doria navigates reality with pop culture as a reference and an escape -- another jab at cultural elitism.

What annoyed me was discovering that the British English title is Just Like Tomorrow. I'm glad that the American version kept the non-English word in the title, because it has a meaning all its own -- it's literally an invented word, and any translation would have been dishonest.


Image result for chatto & windus just like tomorrow
Dislike. And Doria isn't white, either. Extra dislike.

The Flawed Narrator: Everyone Sucks (Except For Me)

This is written in first person, and Doria is...well...a teenager. The novel reads almost like diary entries. She slides on a scale between severely depressed and the more typical angst that comes with growing up. She doesn't have an objective view of the world. The narration makes this pretty clear; for instance, our attention is called to the dissonance between Doria missing her father and what her father was really like. When Doria says that it would be better for her family if he was still around, we're shown the sharp divide between events and her opinions. 

Because this is a character-focused book, her growth is the most important thing. She doesn't come out of it wise or all-knowing, but she does become more self-aware. For instance, she grudgingly allows that she judges other people even though she hates when other people judge her. She becomes less judgmental, even seeing sympathetic sides of despised figures like her social worker. 

It's also curious to see what she will and won't censor. She'll censor herself from using slurs against females (in funny asides, she'll remind the reader, "Censoring myself here!!!") but she'll use other -isms casually, employing ableist, anti-fat, and the occasional anti-gay insult. This is mostly when she's really pissed off about something. 


Image result for bleeped out words

I think that most people believe depression is just feeling mopey and sad all the time. There's plenty of that, but Doria's primarily manifests itself as anger -- anger at her father for leaving, at her mom's boss, at school, at her tutor, at everyone who tries to help her. She lashes out with nasty words because she's in a lot of pain. This is also a reason for much of the sarcasm and barbed humor in the book; it's how she copes. Occasionally she slips from sarcastic humor to vicious anger. These instances reveal when the topic is too hurtful to joke about or deflect -- such as when she's thinking about her future half-brother. 

I guess I'm more OK with characters using offensive words and slurs than I am with authors. I was way less bothered by the slurs in this first-person narrative than I was by the same kinds of language in Jim Butcher's omniscient author-voice in The Aeronaut's WindlassIt definitely fits Doria's perspective as a bitter, hurting, sarcastic teen. In an interview with Fatimah Keheller, the author said of writing Doria that she wanted her to be both funny and a jerk. It's a deliberate choice, not another author just being oblivious.

I encourage you to read the full interview. It's relatively short, but provides a lot of insight.

Culture and Diversity

This is an #ownvoices work by a French woman of Algerian descent from a neighborhood much like Doria's. It explores the dissonance created by being of two cultures and not feeling super at home in either one. 

Another area of dissonance is Doria's scorn for the practices and beliefs of her father and his town in Morocco, while she herself is a practicing Muslim. This is a consequence of having an unreliable narrator; also, her scorn seems to be more for her father than her religion. 

This book highlighted some of the difficulties of trying to be a good Muslim while poor; for instance, Doria's mom keeps the fast during Ramadan even though her job is physically strenuous and her boss is a racist jerk. They also have to be able to buy food that's halal on a tiny budget. It made the characters' religious practice seem more meaningful because it would have been much easier to just give it up. I can't speak from personal experience as to whether Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow is an accurate portrayal of Islam; you'd have to find a Muslim reviewer. However, it was written by a young woman about teens like herself. 


Related image
Author Faïza Guène. (source)

So many aspects of Doria's life are also dictated by poverty, down to whether or not she can afford pads when she gets her period. This contributes to her anger at her father: he left them out to dry financially. Other kids tease her for having the "wrong" clothes, and even her lone sort-of-friend's mom forbids him from hanging out with Doria because she's a "bad influence." 

One thing Doria does have access to is healthcare. She can still see her therapist and her dentist. As an American, that difference between here and there was striking. 

Rating

For me, this is a five-star read; however, I like depressing, sarcastic books. Others don't. I also cringe when Doria uses words like "ret*rded" but again, if it's appropriate to the character, I am not as bothered as I would be by different usage. I prefer in-context, character-appropriate slurs or offensive language -- even when it's aimed at groups I belong to -- like in Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow or A Wish After Midnight, to authors casually and obliviously using -isms like this. Obviously, neither are super great, but also, that is how many teens talk. Doria is a jerk, and this was a deliberate choice on the part of the author. It's been compared a lot to The Catcher In The Rye, and I can see the similarities.

I believe Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow is written in such a way that we are supposed to critique its teen narrator and her cruelty, even as we sympathize with her situation. Faïza Guène is dryly self-aware, even though Doria is not. However, that can be a dealbreaker for some people. I'm giving it 5 stars, with the caveat that it may not be for everyone.



Image result for five stars



Thursday, January 19, 2017

I Donated My Hair, and You Can, Too!

Today I got an email notifying me that Wigs for Kids received my hair donation!



Wigs for Kids is a nonprofit which provides free wigs to children without natural hair. Getting a wig can give many kids more self-confidence about their appearance, helping them get through a difficult time. 

My hair was around 22 inches braided, probably making it a good 24 inches in length brushed out straight. It was a lot of hair. Although I have straight hair, people with any hair type or color -- including gray hair -- can donate, as long as the hair you're giving hasn't been dyed or chemically treated. They put the donated hair through a whole treatment process when making the wigs, so split ends and the like don't matter, either. 

I have no personal use for my long hair. I had made a resolution -- what, two years ago now? -- that I was going to grow out my hair for donation. It's bright blond and fine, and I have a lot of it. According to the hairdresser, it's also very similar to the texture of a child's hair. 

Wigs for Kids relies on donations to keep their wigs free, since the creation process can be costly. I will be sending them a donation in the mail later this month, once I pay my bills and rent. This month was tricky financially since I had to take my car to the shop, but I want to be helpful beyond just giving my hair. 

On a personal level, I'm glad to get rid of the hair. It was in the way. It was annoying. It made my personal hygiene routine longer and that much more tiring. I hated the way it made my face look. I disliked the ultra-feminine look of long blond hair, too. Looking at myself with the hair in the mirror every morning was like a punch to the gut, because I've had short hair my whole life and this was not me at all. It wasn't all bad, and it does seem like a weird thing to complain about, but I vastly prefer my new (old) short hair. 

Some kid will get a wig with hair they will appreciate more than I did. That's a good thing. 

You can donate your hair, too! Check here to see if you meet their donation requirements. :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Chelsea Manning vs. Noor Zahi Salman

President Obama will commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning. I'm a little conflicted hearing that, because it comes on the heels of the news that Noor Zahi Salman, the wife of the Orlando shooter, will be prosecuted.

On one hand, maximum security prison as a trans woman would be more dangerous for Manning than many others, and she's served seven years already. In principle, I'm against a justice system which is all about punishment with no chance of rehabilitation.

But also. Also, also, ALSO.

Chelsea Manning is a white woman and a veteran who acted independently. While history suggests that some good came of her information leaks, she also endangered lives. She took her actions of her own free will, knowing full well what she was doing. She clearly believed enough in her cause to do so despite the consequences.

She gets clemency.

Noor Zahi Salman is a Muslim woman who claims to have been unaware of her husband's plans for the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 49 people were killed and 53 were injured. The Pulse massacre was the deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11, the deadliest LGBTQ+ hate crime in American history, and the deadliest massacre by a single shooter in American history. Noor Salman did not fire a single shot in this massacre, but she has been charged under anti-terrorism laws.

Salman was allegedly in an abusive marriage and feared for her safety if she did not obey her husband. This story is supported by the fact that the shooter viciously beat his previous wife as well. Even if she did know or suspect what her husband planned, she was likely coerced into whatever actions she did or did not take.

She gets prosecuted.

The Orlando police chief has also said that he's "glad" she was arrested, because at least now someone will be prosecuted for the crime. In other words: the shooter is dead, but we still need someone to blame. Is this about justice, or vengeance? Finding the truth, or making ourselves feel better?

Additionally, the government has been trying to extend the definition of "material aid and comfort" for a while. If they succeed in prosecuting Salman, we could see those definitions stretch. It's hard not to see this as a witch hunt -- another symptom of Islamophobia in society generally and within a government which has engaged in systemic persecution of Muslims. I can't be happy about Chelsea Manning being pardoned by the Obama administration when I'm reading about the upcoming trial of Noor Salman under the Trump administration.

She does not deserve this. And I wish people would get as mad about this as they did about Chelsea Manning. I'm hearing liberals up and down the aisle voice their opinions about the Manning decision -- good, bad, neutral, and mixed. I wish more people were talking about Salman the same way.

Monday, January 16, 2017

I Need Advice On A Creative Block

I still can't write what I want. 

I mean, I do want to write these posts, and I'd even say I enjoy doing so, but nothing much has changed since I blogged about feeling unable to create after the crushing results of the 2016 election. 

I've focused a lot on nonfiction and other projects, but whenever I want to write creatively...meh. I can't bring myself to open a Word doc. Nonfiction writing can be creative, but I feel more personally invested in fiction writing.

I'm trying to think of how to describe the feeling. It's like when I think about continuing something fiction -- or even re-reading an old draft to ease myself back into it -- I want to glue myself to the floor (and not get up). Or, maybe it's more like a weight pressing down. Or when you know you ought to take the trash out, but it's freezing outside, and all your winter weather gear seems to have disappeared. So you leave the trash in the can. 

Image result for dumpster fire
Since we're talking about trash cans...

I've always been able to at least open the document, look at what I wrote before, and say, "Wow, this is shit," before closing it. Now I don't even want to open the doc. The closest I've gotten is plugging in my thumb drive. 

Everyone is urging creators and artists to create when they feel down about the direction our country is taking. Perhaps it's the overwhelming pressure of responsibility for one's creative output to be meaningful or "worth it," or perhaps it's simply my physical limitations, but this strategy hasn't worked for me. I don't have a ton of energy at the best of times. I have a job, fortunately, but I spend almost all of the rest of my time saving and scrounging and conserving my energy to do that job. 

And my off days I generally spend recovering and preparing for the next day I work. My friends see active and smiley me, but in order to socialize at that level, I need to be a potato before the visit. Sometimes energy output exceeds the rate at which I can replace it, and I just...fall asleep. Or end up sitting quietly off to one side, burned out or in too much pain to be meaningfully present, and knowing that I should have conserved more. Or I'm the buzzkill who has to insist on ending an outing early, because my body imposes limits on how much of certain activities I can do at one time. Depending on the condition of my health that week, I need to spend more or less time conserving and recharging, but I always do need to put significant physical and mental energy towards it. 

Perhaps with the stress that comes with being keenly aware of current events, I don't get any leftover energy for creation. Maintenance is hard enough without trying to do anything new. Or perhaps it's a sense of, what is the point of making a new thing at the moment? 

This is all coming to a head because I have an important appointment on the same day as Inauguration Day. I'm not sure I'll be able to focus on ANYTHING beyond basic, day to day stuff until my unease surrounding the inauguration and my fears over the fate of the ACA are resolved. I don't even know if I'll get an answer at this appointment, but I'll at least have closed off a line of inquiry.

Everyone is writing hopeful think pieces and urging writers to write like nothing fucking happened, like it's business as usual. They're sitting in a burning house pretending everything is fine, and I'm like, that's nice and all, but writing your book is not going to help me if I lose my health coverage. And somehow all these think-piece writers and writing activists and the pressure to be positive and productive have managed to make me feel guilty, as if by having a totally justifiable shock reaction, or feeling too down and blah to write, I'm letting The Bad Guys win. 

Tl;dr: I don't know how to work back up to writing again. Keep plugging in that thumb drive until I open the Word doc one day? Write something total trash that I'm not invested in? Do longhand? Do a different form, like poetry? Just wait it out? Advice would be nice.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The ACA Is In Danger. Please Contact Your Reps.

I had this plan the other day where I was going to call the wavering or opposing Republicans who didn't want to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act, Obamacare) without a replacement plan. They only needed three defectors in order to stop the repeal -- and, as of yesterday, anywhere from 6-12 were reported as wavering. 

Conservatives who have opposed Trump and his policies have tended to make a big fuss at first and then lie down and roll over under party pressure. ("Who's a good ol' boy? Who's a good ol' boy? You are! YOU are!") I wanted to contact people who were wavering and say, hey, this is super important, please vote against your party and don't give in to that pressure.

But then the Senate voted by a tiny majority to repeal the ACA without a replacement. At around 1 in the morning. So, that was my plan gone out the window. 

Now, I'm going to call and send personalized emails to my Representatives, in the hope that the House will see this nonsense for what it is and block the repeal.

Do I deny that the ACA needs some work? No. I realize that as a 24-year-old with a uterus, I'm in the demographic that it's tended to work out well for. I've gotten to stay on my parents' insurance and I've gotten birth control for free. (Hooray! No more migraines so severe they cause auditory hallucinations!)

But that's not what this is about. This is about the conservative party trying to put President Obama's legacy through the shredder. They don't care about making sure they have a less cumbersome healthcare system. They just know that it's called Obamacare, and so they want to KILL IT WITH FIRE. 


Image result for fire

I can't stress enough that this would be a death sentence for many Americans. A quiet, coolly legislated death sentence. It's not like they're going door to door rounding up disabled, sick, and mentally ill people and killing us en masse so that we won't be a burden on society. This isn't Nazi Germany. Not yet. 

But if you deny people the care they need to live, you may as well be doing that. People with preexisting conditions, including children, will die because they are denied health coverage. 

The effects aren't always so obvious. We already have a problem with high rates of homelessness among veterans and mentally ill people. If a person loses their healthcare and eventually their job and home as a result, and then freezes to death, that's on the GOP. If someone loses their health insurance and kills themselves -- from depression, chronic pain, PTSD, or as an alternative to dying of cancer without proper care -- then they may have pulled the trigger, but it would still be the GOP's fault.

I'm not entirely comfortable getting into all the reasons why this is a personal issue for me, but for now, know that it is. I'm going to be contacting my reps about it. If I lived in the state where I was registered to vote, I would consider making the trip to D.C. and walking into their office to deliver a message in person. 

If you are a U.S. citizen, it would mean a great deal if you would call or write (a personalized letter or email, not a form letter) to your Representatives to let them know that repealing the ACA without a replacement is foolish. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Diverse Reads: Defying Convention by Cecil Wilde

I don't read a ton of romance, but Defying Convention was just the romantic novella I needed at the moment: sweet, adorable, but with enough serious themes that I didn't feel like it was total fluff. 

This book was the cutest, OK? The. Cutest. 


Image result for five star image

So What's It About?

Defying Convention is the story of two best friends, AJ and Danny, who have known each other online for five years yet have never met in person. On impulse, they decide to attend a con together, hoping that their long-distance chemistry will translate to friendship...and potentially romance. 

Image result for defying convention cecil wilde

Characters, Cuteness, and More Serious Stuff

AJ was my favorite of the two. They are witty, sarcastic, and a ton of fun to read. AJ ends up being the sexual mentor of the couple (this is romance, so duh, they become a couple). We get the sense that Danny has a lot of body insecurity as well as sexual inexperience, so being with AJ helps his confidence.

These two are just?? So?? Cute?? And so perfect for each other? Their online friendship does translate pretty well to an in-person relationship. The sexual tension between them is obvious as well. 

However, they don't immediately spring onto each other in lustful passion or anything. They are careful about boundaries, talking about what is and isn't OK contact-wise, and picking up on body language. Defying Convention emphasizes mutual consent and respect -- for ALL levels of intimacy, not just sex -- in a way that much romance doesn't. It's a behavior model that I wish more people followed. 

Mental Illness and Romance

Consent and boundaries are particularly important to Danny, who has anxiety. Defying Convention shows some of Danny's symptoms and management strategies.

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source

Danny is also touch-averse, leery of physical contact and hyperaware of boundaries. I am touch-averse myself and I was initially so, SO worried about how this particular symptom would be handled in a romance novel. Most things I've read don't even depict touch aversion as a symptom. When they do, they paint touch aversion as an obstacle for the averse person to overcome (as opposed to a boundary for their partner to respect). Others depict romance as a cure for all things mental illness. 

I originally found Defying Convention in a list of no-cure narratives about protagonists with disabilities. Danny's anxiety is addressed but not "cured" by his romance with AJ. AJ is also absolutely FANTASTIC about keeping an eye on Danny, making sure they schedule breaks for him without insulting his ego, restraining their touchy-feely nature and only touching consensually, and just...!!!! Basically, it's the kind of escapist, wish-fulfillment romance I really wanted to read this week, because it's so sweet, and they are both so caring, and JUST CUTENESS EVERYWHERE OMG.

The One Thing, Though...

The only thing that jumped out at me as a red flag was this: After Danny has a panic attack, he apologizes to AJ for being sweaty and gross. AJ says that they still like Danny..."especially" when he's like this. That was a HUGE RED FLAG for me, because it seemed to fetishize mental illness. 

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It's OK for a romantic partner to say, "I'm here for you no matter what" or even "I like being able to take care of you." That is nurturing and supportive. Not fetishistic. Saying "your illness/vulnerability/weakness/lowest point is what makes you more attractive to me" is basically the mental illness version of that One Direction song where the boy sings that the girl's lack of self-confidence is "what makes you beautiful." That's when the story stops being about the person dealing with mental illness...and becomes about the partner's desire to be a White Knight. 

Fortunately, the problematics of this are lampshaded by Danny. He wonders whether AJ is really attracted *to him,* or whether his vulnerability is attractive. This comment by AJ may have been meant to increase Danny's confidence at a low moment, but actually had the opposite effect. So...if you're dating someone with a mental illness, you know, don't do that. 

Later, the book demonstrates that AJ cares for Danny deeply and does not really fetishize his anxiety or want to be a savior figure. In fact, they're later turned on by a confident, commanding Danny.

Nerds Who Have Sex

AJ jokes that they're defying all kinds of conventions, including being two geeks boinking a lot. Silly comments aside, Defying Convention is a love letter to geek culture, fandom, and pop culture. This treatment ranges from humorous -- Danny admitting that 90's scifi was key to his sexual awakening -- to serious, when AJ and Danny discuss how they found a place among nerds and geeks when they felt like they didn't belong anywhere else. 

There's only one sex scene which I would call explicit, but this is erotic romance. Erotic romance focuses more on the characters' feelings and relationship, with sex primarily used as a way to create emotional intimacy rather than a tool to titillate the reader. The steamier scenes are great overall. 

Trans, Bi, and Racial Diversity, Hooray!

In addition to the depiction of anxiety, Defying Convention is an #ownvoices romance about two trans characters. Danny is a trans man, and AJ is nonbinary and uses "they/them" pronouns. The author is nonbinary as well. Defying Convention also showed some diversity among transgender people in terms of what steps different people may take physically in order to better suit their authentic selves. 

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Trans flag!

AJ identifies as bisexual and Danny appears to as well, which was nice to see. Bisexuals have historically struggled with erasure, and the latest misconception floating around is that it's transphobic. People assume "bi" means "only two" and that those "only two" are just "men and women." The "bi" in "bisexual" refers to two kinds of sexual attraction: same and different-gender attraction. This is why bisexual is considered an umbrella term for other multisexual identities. This is also why you'll see many people abbreviate it as bi+. 

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Bi flag!

Ultimately, you should call people what they want to be called, whether that's bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or something else. But the idea that bisexual is inherently transphobic can be erasive to nonbinary and transgender bisexuals. Defying Convention was positive bisexual representation that included a nonbinary bisexual. YAY. Benefits of supporting #ownvoices and indie publishing!

In addition, AJ is Sri Lankan-American. They talk a bit about their family and heritage. In particular, AJ mentions how their racial identity seemed to clash with the more visible, "typical" white nonbinary person. It's not a huge part of the book, but AJ is specified as a person of color from the beginning.  

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source

Length

It's a novella, but it didn't feel too short or too long. I have a hard time paying attention to longer romances, and this felt like just the right length. And there's a lot of meat to it (pun totally intended). I mean, I managed to write a pretty long review about a novella. 

Basically, this is a really good book, with nerd stuff, cute and sweet stuff, sexy stuff, diversity stuff, and other fun stuff, AND it's indie, AND it's #ownvoices. You should read it. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Diverse Reads: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot (Audiobook)

This was, if not my first-ever audiobook, my first-ever Audible purchase! The narrator was fantastic in every way. She really nailed the emotions, inflection, and overall delivery, bringing characters to life in a way that resonated with me long after the book was finished. I may go out of my way to seek out more audiobooks by Quincy Tyler Bernstine regardless of content. 

Audiobook review

Let's start with that, then! This is a 5-star audiobook for sure.

From my friend who narrates audiobooks, I know there's a bias against female voices in the audiobook industry. The assumption is that they aren't as versatile and can't imitate male characters "believably." Quincy Tyler Bernstine had a mid-range voice and was perfectly able to perform all the male characters in A Wish After Midnight. I call B.S. on this double standard. Every voice had a particular way of speaking which felt natural to the character, no matter their gender.


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Quincy Tyler Bernstine. source

One of the main characters is Judah, an immigrant from Jamaica and Genna's love interest. Judah is something of a firebrand who doesn't identify as African "American" the way Genna does. When he is trying to fit in, his Jamaican accent is less pronounced. But when he's talking about his home country and ideals, his Jamaican accent becomes more heavy. This was a clever move on the part of the narrator, and if I recall, is actually signaled in the text. 

A Wish After Midnight: Plot and Setting

A while back, I posted about this when I was first starting to listen to it. Audible warned me that it contained "diverse content," which I thought was eyebrow-raising. At the time, I speculated that that warning was because A Wish After Midnight uses the n-word. It does, but I think Audible's warning goes beyond that and veers into racial prejudice. This seems particularly egregious because it's an #ownvoices work. Zetta Elliot is a Canadian author and a self-described black feminist who moved to Brooklyn and has lived in the US for 20 years. 

A Wish After Midnight depicts teens living in a poor part of Brooklyn. Genna is a shy and quiet girl who wants to use her school smarts to escape her neighborhood. She does have a bit of a chip on her shoulder as far as feeling superior to other kids, but she's also carrying the weight of her mother's expectations that she'll be the perfect child who will go to college, get rich, etc. She feels somewhat displaced from her heritage, and this question of identity is a major part of the book. For example, she feels unable to identify as Latina despite her Latino father and feels it would be inauthentic to claim her Native heritage. The first half focuses on her dreams, her home life, and her babysitting job.


A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott

When she meets Judah, the new boy from Jamaica, she starts listening to his ideas: she's intrigued by the idea of finding out more about their heritage, she begins to grow locs and practice her boyfriend's Rastafarianism, she gains more self-confidence about her body, and she starts to feel like she has a place. 

After a fight with her mother, though, Genna storms out of the house and retreats to the garden: a place where she goes to feel at peace. Through a string of unfortunate events and a timely wish, she finds herself -- and Judah -- transported back to Civil War-era Brooklyn. There, Genna must learn how to survive as a young black woman in the 1860's, find Judah, and decide whether she wants to return to her own time or try to make a life where fate has placed her. 

So Genna's Pretty Cool

I liked Genna because she was sort of the nerdy, quiet girl, and that was me a lot of the time. People assumed I was boring because I didn't chat much. Introverted protagonists ftw!

She's also a great character in many other ways. While she's traditionally feminine and aware that she doesn't have much in the way of physical strength, she is willing to use the wits, muscles, weapons, and tools available to her to defend herself. At the same time, A Wish After Midnight touches on many of the challenges and compromises girls make when negotiating their interactions with the world. I thought this book handled gender issues with great insight and care. 

The Dudes

Masculinity is also a central theme of the novel. Genna's father, for instance, had issues of feeling inadequate after he was unable to provide for his family after he was injured. Her own boyfriend defines his masculinity by whether he is able to protect her. Genna and Judah have to work through some of the more toxic notions of masculinity in order to make their relationship work. 


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They are eventually able to acknowledge Judah's feelings of helplessness and emasculation -- particularly as perpetrated by whites -- as valid, without forcing Genna to compromise for him by pretending to be weak. Part of Judah's arc is acknowledging the privileges he has as a man and the way he sometimes holds Genna to a double standard, while part of Genna's growth is realizing that as a woman she is exempt from certain types of mistreatment that Judah experiences. 

Idk. I studied masculinist criticism in college, which is sorta-kinda an offshoot of feminist criticism which examines the depiction of masculinity in literature. So I guess it's something I just tend to pick up on, and I was intrigued by its treatment in A Wish After Midnight. Plus, even though Judah made me want to SCREAM with irritation occasionally, the romance between Genna and Judah is really positive and rewarding. One of my top 10 YA romances. 

Err...Genre? Ehh??

So, the summary, cover, and Amazon classification pitched this as a time-travel or portal fantasy. It also sounded like Genna and Judah were equally important viewpoint characters. 

This is not the case. A Wish After Midnight is told in first-person from Genna's POV, with Judah absent for a huge chunk of the book. I would also classify A Wish After Midnight as historical fiction. The time-travelling wish fountain is more of a plot device to get the teens from one era to another. Magic, technology, fantasy, or any other elements beyond realism are never explained and barely feature. If you're looking for a portal fantasy, this isn't it. However, it's great as historical fiction! The concept/setup reminded me of the 1988 novel The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen.


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Buckingham Fountain (Chicago) source

The main conflict is the growing tension between the free African Americans and the immigrant Irish in Brooklyn, eventually leading to the draft riots. Many teens may not know this history. We covered the draft riots when I was in high school, but we spent most of our time on the battles and politics. I have always loved history and was beyond excited to see a novel about the Civil War "home front" that wasn't Little Women. 

Slurs, issues, and other stuff

A Wish After Midnight deftly handles the leadup to the draft riots, exploring racial and economic tensions. I won't go into too much detail; it's all covered in the book. 

Coincidentally, I was reading The Star of the Sea right before A Wish After Midnight. The Star of the Sea is a historical novel about the Irish famine, poverty, the flight of many Irish to the United States, and the total failure of the US government to treat the refugees with respect or basic human decency. A Wish After Midnight takes place just 10-20 years after the book I'd just read was set, which was serendipitous. The two groups were very different but also had a lot in common, and both novels touched on this (though A Wish After Midnight goes more in depth).

Either way, with questions of refugees and current racial tensions in the US, both The Star of the Sea and A Wish After Midnight were eerily relevant historical novels. 



A Wish After Midnight does contain context-appropriate racial and ethnic slurs throughout, including the n-word and several offensive terms for Irish Americans and white minorities. It also contains some of your average swear words, though for someone with my mouth, these barely registered. Overall, this is a book for mature YA readers rather than younger kids -- whimsical as wishing on fountains may sound.

More diversity: Mental Illness, Family, and Body Type

While racial and ethnic identities are the focus of this book, some other themes are touched on as well. After Genna is traumatically injured, she experiences phantom pain from her injury even after it is healed. Genna aspires to be a psychiatrist who helps people with trauma and PTSD, so this issue ties into her established goals and personality. 

Genna also comes from an underrepresented type of family. Her grandmother used to live with them, her father is currently absent, and she has a single mom. She has both full and half-siblings, and they are a multiracial family. While some of her siblings seem to embrace this multiethnic heritage, such as her more conventionally pretty sister, Genna finds it confusing and struggles with accepting her body type. She is skinny and tall and believes her hair is ugly. It's only when she meets a boy who likes her, starts growing locs, and exploring more traditional ways of doing her hair and clothes that she starts feeling more confident in her body. 

It was also unique (and somewhat of a relief) to see a book where Christianity wasn't the main religion addressed. Judah is Rastafarian, and Genna adopts many of these practices as well. Initially she just does it to please her boyfriend, but over time it takes on more personal meaning for her. 

The Conclusion Was a Bit of a Downer (SPOILERS AHEAD)

The climactic scene takes place in the draft riots, where Genna eventually makes it back to the fountain in the chaos and wishes herself back home again. When she asks someone what date it is, they tell her it's...wait for it...SEPTEMBER 10TH, 2001. 

Yeah. They get back just in time for 9/11. I was like, "WHAT? AFTER ALL THE SHIT THEY JUST WENT THROUGH? DON'T THEY DESERVE TO BE HAPPY??? JFC!"

Another message in the ending seemed to be that black and white people can't get along in America and that things won't ever get any better. Hence why they decide to leave, and hence why Genna gets back just in time for things in America to get a whole lot worse (proving the book's point). However, this seems to be troubled by Genna's reunion with her mother and her renewal of her ties to her present-day life. Does she decide there's no hope for America because she's resigned to being stuck in the past, or because she doesn't believe people can move forward in her own time? I'm interested to know whether the author would consider this a separatist book, and also whether the sequel affects this reading of the ending. I'm also interested in hearing from any African American readers or reviewers. What did you think of the portrayal of race here?

Other stuff (spoilers over)


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I really need to know what happens.

Basically, this book takes a lot of emotional stamina to finish, especially if you've got it on audio. I would also like to add: trigger warnings for racial slurs, racial violence, and parent-child and spouse-spouse domestic violence. These things are way easier to read on the page -- where I can see what's coming and skim if need be -- than to listen to on audio with no warning or control over my pace. 

It's an absorbing read BUT THAT ENDING. ARGH. It was VERY sequel-teasing. Luckily, there seems to be a sequel out there!

Rating

I'm giving this 4/5 stars just because I was annoyed by the lack of explanation in regards to the fantasy/science fiction/"speculative fiction" elements. It was just like, this thing exists, OK bye and we'll never mention it again! Perhaps we'll hear more about it in the sequel?