If you look back at your life to that period after childhood and before adulthood, chances are you have at least one movie (or song, or band, or TV show) that you would pinpoint as being definitive for you - something that spoke to the core of the person you were. Or at least, the person you suspected that you were becoming.
Our blog team will be doing a series of coming-of-age personal stories: the LGBTQ+ representation in media that shaped our identities, welcomed and inspired us. This is the first installment.
It's a powerful thing, when you're a teenager or young adult, to see some part of yourself amplified and played back to you. Especially for those of us who grew up queer and isolated, with a lack of representation and an absence of role models of people like us, art can be a hugely validating, magical experience.
Velvet Goldmine was that film for me. I was raised in the Middle East, within the evangelical Christian church. In other words, I grew up surrounded by people who believed very rigidly in binary gender roles and that homosexuality is a perversion. The consequence for being outed ranged from ostracization and social death to jail and actual death, depending on who you were (your level of privilege) and how far you chose to step out of line.
My family moved back to the United States when I was a preteen. We moved to the Central Valley, which I instantly recognized as being similarly rigid and repressive.
I remember watching a train go by with "God Hates Fags" spray-painted on the side of it. I remember listening to strangers shout "Dyke!" at one of the only girls at BHS who outwardly read as queer with short buzzed hair and body hair. It happened all the time, as she walked across campus between classes, and I never saw any adult notice, or care.
No one ever had to tell me to hide who I was as a teen. I could read the room and knew I wasn't welcome most places. That's how it feels when there's something about you that if other people find out, you're pretty sure they will reject you. Not because of something you did or said, but because of who you are. The world feels hostile.
Outside of the theater community, a de facto somewhat-safe queer space, I made sure to keep my head down. Being out and proud was something I knew was better saved for adulthood, when I would have the freedom to be less vulnerable. At least, that was the hope - that one day I'd grow up and get to choose to live my life openly somewhere else.
So when I watched Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine at 17, with it's explosion of color and music and defiant celebration of queer culture, I was enthralled. The film follows journalist Arthur (Christian Bale) who is writing an article on the life of Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Myers), a glam rock star. Slade's career and relationships are retold in a series of flashbacks as Arthur interviews Slade's former wife Mandy (Toni Collette) and lover/fellow rock star Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor).
While not an official biopic, the film is a loose retelling of David Bowie's career and Ziggy Stardust persona - where Bowie had Ziggy, Slade has Maxwell Demon as his alter-ego, an androgynous alien come to earth to shake up cultural norms and toy with the press while channeling Oscar Wilde. The excesses of the 1970's youth culture are vividly depicted against a manic soundtrack featuring Pulp, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, T. Rex and Steve Harley as well as covers of songs by Roxy Music and The Stooges by the in-film band, Venus in Furs.
I loved all of it, from the vibrant costumes to the abstract, theatrical narrative. But my favorite thing about the film was Brian Slade's complete refusal to apologize for being himself.
In the scene below, a teen Arthur watches rocker Brian Slade give a press conference. When journalists badger Slade about his marriage, sexuality and make-up, he shocks Britain by speaking frankly.
The way Arthur stands up in front of his parents and points at the screen, "That's me!" captures the feeling of wanting to be seen so perfectly. Of course, that didn't really happen. Instead he sits quietly, carefully gauging the disapproving reactions of his mother and father.
Slade smirks his way through the interview, alternatively provocative and coy. His answers about gender and sexuality are fluid and expansive. He goes toe to toe with the journalists, never missing a beat, refusing to let them corner him.
Journalist: What about your fans? Aren't they likely to get the wrong impression?
Slade: And which wrong impression is that?
Journalist: Well, you're a blinking fruit.
Slade: Well, thank you sir, and no. It doesn't concern me in the least. I should think that if people were to get the wrong impression of me, the one to which you so eloquently referred, it wouldn't be the wrong impression in the slightest. I mean, everybody knows most people are bisexual.
While I didn't necessarily believe that "most people are bisexual", I adored how he was throwing the intrusive questions from journalists back in their faces. They harp on his sexuality, so he makes them question theirs. It was a glorious inversion.
I, like Arthur, was captivated. It was the first time I'd seen someone acting that way: refusing to allow their sexuality to be a liability, breaking down gender norms - and winning.
Photo by Tallie Robinson on Unsplash
The Bi/Pan+ Workshop is a workshop series for people who are bisexual, pansexual, queer or anyone who has ever been attracted to more than one gender. Last week, I sat down to talk with Dani Muñoz and get the full scoop. Dani is one of the awesome people working at The Annex to facilitate workshops and events for our community. They filled me in on all the details you'd want to know if you're thinking about attending - read on for more!
So what is this group all about? What kinds of things can I expect to talk about at the workshop?
We have conversations about a lot of different topics. We talk about our own gender; about the gender of people that we're attracted to; what it's like to come out; representation in the media; relationships. What are healthy relationships, what aren't; what it's like to be in a relationship when you're not monosexual.
There's still a lot of "pick a side" stigma, both in the straight and gay community. We talk about what it means to be bi or pan, what it means to us personally, and how we can be affected by the erasure of our experiences.
We also talk a lot about how to feel confident and comfortable with yourself in your orientation. There's no single right way to be, and we want to help people be as out as they want to be (and that is different for everyone).
Where do the materials and programming come from for the workshop?
The volunteers that created the group researched and came up with themselves. We have connections with LGBTQ+ centers across the country. We can reach out and get materials from other centers that are willing to share.
The workshop has been around for about two years, and it keeps growing and evolving with each new facilitator, based on feedback from workshop members. We do a lot of surveys to find out what people are interested in and what their needs are.
Do I have to be in a certain age group to attend?
Not at all. Right now the group is a pretty even mix of college-aged people, middle-aged people and people 50+.
If you're under 13, you'd need to get parental consent, and it's up to the facilitator's comfort level on whether we can include someone under 13 in any particular workshop series. But definitely talk to us, and we'll get you connected to support services, whether it's with this group or a different one.
Can I drop in? Do I have to attend every single week?
The workshop runs for eight weeks, and we ask that people try to attend at least five. However, if you can't make it to the full series, drop ins are welcome.
What does it cost to attend the workshop?
It's free! Donations are always welcome, but like every support group at The Center, the Bi/Pan+ Workshop is completely free.
When and where does the Bi/Pan+ Workshop meet?
Where: The Center’s Annex location - 841 Mohawk Street, Ste. 260, Bakersfield CA 93309
When: Wednesday, 6:30 - 8:00 PM
If you'd like to attend the Bi/Pan+ Workshop, get in touch with us by calling The Annex at (661-404-5209). You can download a calendar with all of the events taking place every month at both The Annex and The Center here.
Photo by Vincentiu Solomon on Unsplash
Many members of the queer community, even people who themselves are under the Multisexual Umbrella, are unaware of the Multisexual identities outside of Bisexual. This is a list of the most common Multisexual identities and what they mean.
Multisexual is both an Umbrella Term, a term used to describe a more broad group of people or ideas, and a less specific Multisexual identity.
Bisexual is the most well known Multisexual identity, and is often thought of as only describing attraction to men and women, but Bisexual can be used to describe feelings of sexual attraction to any combination of two sexes, genders, or gender expressions. For example, someone who is attracted to both men and agender people could still label themselves as Bisexual.
Polysexual people experience sexual attraction to more than two, but not all, sexes, genders, and gender expressions. One of the combinations a Polysexual person could be attracted to could be women, demiwoman, and androgyne people.
Omnisexual people are attracted to all sexes, genders, and gender expressions, but still consider themselves to be influenced by these things and often have a preference for some over the others. An Omnisexual may be sexually attracted to all combinations, but still prefer nonbinary partners over men or women.
Pansexuals are the second most well known and most common kind of Multisexuals. They are attracted to all sexes, genders, and gender expressions, and don’t consider any of these things to influence their sexual preference. A common saying used by Pansexuals is “Hearts not Parts!”
Please keep in mind that this is not at all an exhaustive list, and there are many more less common and more specific Multisexual identities. However, these are the most common ones and the ones that you are going to run into with the most frequency.
dinah shore: i'll be back for more
Living here in Bakersfield is pleasant, but sometimes we really need to get the heck out. This year in early April, I went to an event called Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs. My sister had bought me and a friend of choice tickets to the event for my birthday. Dinah Shore Weekend is essentially a five-day spring break for lesbians. I am not much of a partier and I’m really shy, so I was excited but nervous.
What made the situation more stressful was that all I knew about it was that this event is a giant pool party. I do not really like my body in a bathing suit and I do not dance ever, so I feared the whole event would just be uncomfortable. In the days leading up to The Dinah, I also found myself in a position where I couldn’t find anyone else to go with me. A part of me was dreading going all together.
I stayed at the Hilton where all the pool parties took place. Conveniently, every event was walking distance from the hotel. But I soon found myself feeling uncomfortable about being there alone, especially because I discovered that a lot of friends had come together and were sharing hotel rooms. That seemed like a lot of fun that I was missing out on.
A little nervous about spending several days on my own, I went downstairs to the lobby to have a drink and attempt to relax before going out. The bartender was very kind and even tried to set me up with this attractive lesbian, who it turned out didn’t want anything to do with me. She was only at the bar to watch whatever game was on TV. I ended up being friends with the bartender.
Then another girl arrived at the bar to pick up drinks for herself and her girlfriend, and we all started talking. I was surprised to find out how easy it is to meet people in person. She was very kind and advised me to take an Uber to the opening event at the bar a block up from the hotel since I was going alone.
Once I made it to the event, I was oddly relaxed. I was still alone, but I realized that I would be driven to meet more people - especially after how easy it was in the lobby. I was drinking and walking around the place when I noticed the bar had an upstairs. I went up to explore, and not long after I met a girl who introduced herself to me. We hit it off talking for the rest of the night.
She too had come to the event by herself and it turned out that she was staying in the same hotel that I was. She walked me to my room that night and we hugged it out. The next morning, I woke up and realized that we hadn’t exchanged numbers and that I had no idea where her room was. This was upsetting for me, but I was determined to find her.
By 10 a.m. the pool party had begun downstairs, so I got ready and attempted to find my new friend. I was nervous to be in broad daylight around a bunch of gorgeous women in bathing suits. However, I’ve got to say it was actually pretty cool. The environment the entire time was overwhelmingly friendly and positive.
I met a random person from Alaska and talked to her for a little bit until I ran into my friend from the previous night. My friend found another buddy who had come alone to the event just like us. We all became friends by the afternoon.
Dinah Shore Weekend has pool parties in the day and the club at night, along with a number of other events. There were some entertainment options that I didn’t pay for, but sounded interesting, like a stand-up show. A few famous lesbians had little meet-and-greets, and there were concerts by well-known musicians.
The event is hard to put into words for me because it exceeded my expectations. I had so many memorable experiences. Somewhere along my trip, for once in my life, I let loose. I danced for a long period of time, spoke with a bunch of strangers, had confidence in myself and felt bonds with people I just met.
The community at the event was so welcoming and friendly that I felt like I could really be myself, without worrying about what people think of me. I’m not sure if it was because we were all attracted to women and shared that commonality or if it's because the people I met were all just trying to have a good time like I was.
Before my trip, I was worried that I would look like a creep all by myself. By the time I left, I had made a bunch of new friends and gained the knowledge that you have the ability to look at a situation in a positive or negative way.
How you look at things can really change your experience. During Dinah Shore Weekend, I was open to the idea that I would meet a lot of interesting people and it just happened for me. I believe that taking a trip by yourself is something everyone should do at least once in their lives.
Dinah Shore Weekend should definitely be on that list once you become 21+. If you’re not a big drinker, you don’t have to drink there; you could just go and enjoy being around a bunch of girls who like girls. We don’t have a lot of spaces where we are completely surrounded by other LGBTQ+ people. It’s a nice change to be in an environment where you don’t feel like the odd one out.
I’ve never felt more like I belonged somewhere than at The Dinah. I plan to go back every year, whether it's with other people or on my own.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
In my first post of this series, How to Be an Ally: Learning the Difference Between Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, I wrote about the differences between gender identity and gender expression.
For this next installment, I want to go over the gender identity of non-binary. I'll also explain why, for the first time in my life, I'm excited for my upcoming appointment at the DMV.
Non-binary means "someone who does not identify as a man or a woman, or solely as one of those two genders."
A non-binary person may identify as having two gender identities. For example, someone could identify "as non-binary and as a woman". That would make them bigender (having two genders). A non-binary person might identify as agender or genderfree (having no gender); being genderfluid (moving between genders); or as third gender.
A non-binary identity does not mean the person is intersex (but intersex people can identify as non-binary). Non-binary people may define themselves as transgender or they may not. This tends to vary based on the definition of transgender being used as well as their personal definition of non-binary.
Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash
myths about being non-binary
Let's dispel a few of the most common myths about non-binary people.
Myth #1: All non-binary people will use they/them pronouns.
This is not true, as many non-binary people will use she/her, he/him, they/them, or a combination. There's no standardized reason why someone might prefer "they/them and he/him" to "they/them" or "he/him" alone.
As is always the case with pronouns, the best way to find out what pronouns someone prefers is to ask them directly. One easy way is to introduce your own, "By the way, I use he/him pronouns and just realized I haven't asked you what your pronouns are yet - which do you prefer?" People generally appreciate being asked their pronouns and would rather be asked than misgendered.
Myth #2: Non-binary people look and dress androgynously.
This could be true, or it could not be. There's no set way non-binary people dress. Non-binary people can and do dress in traditionally masculine or feminine ways, a combination, neither really, or alternate among several different styles. There's no one particular way to dress like a non-binary person. If you're non-binary and wearing clothes, that's how a non-binary person dresses.
To restate one of the major points of Part I of this series, gender expression (how you dress, shave or don't shave, etc - the outside things other people observe) and gender identity (how you feel about yourself on the inside) do not have to match.
Until gender expression is not socially penalized and discriminated against, there are many reasons why someone might not be able to express themselves publicly to match the way they feel inside.
Alternately, someone who is genderfluid might dress traditionally masculine one day, traditionally feminine the next. This expression perfectly matches their gender identity as a non-binary, genderfluid person.
Myth #3: Non-binary is a label that is trendy right now but will soon pass and be replaced with the next fad.
This is an exceptionally hurtful myth about non-binary people. It echoes previous myths about other groups, like the offensive myths that all bisexual people are sexually promiscuous or that lesbians only prefer women because they were traumatized by men. It's a common way queer people have been discriminated against: people say we are confused, broken or temporary.
The truth is that non-binary people have existed for as long as people and gender have existed. Non-binary gender identities were present within many different cultures throughout history. Labels may change from place to place and from time to time, but there have always been people with non-binary gender identities.
what non-binary means to me
Personally I identify as non-binary and use the pronouns they/them. I'm biologically female but have never identified with my biology. When my peers in early elementary school started really differentiating between "girls" and "boys", I felt frustrated and left out.
I hated being called a "tomboy" by well-meaning adults. A tomboy meant "a girl who likes boy things". I had two problems with that: 1) girls can like anything because there are no "boy things" and 2) I wasn't a girl who liked boy things, because I wasn't a girl at all.
I had zero examples of gender-nonconforming people in my life and no role models to help me better articulate what I thought my role was on the gender spectrum. Regardless, from a fairly young age I was adamant that it was a kind of spectrum. I knew I believed this because I felt like everyone was always reading me on the wrong place on it.
Today, I feel comfortable using a non-binary label. I tend to use it interchangeably with the term "genderqueer" when describing myself. Not all non-binary people do. (Here's a deeper history of the term "genderqueer"; language is fascinating.)
As of 2019, California has started allowing non-binary people to select a third gender option for their driver's license.
So in July when I go in to renew my license, I'll be able to select not "M" or "F", but "X".
I'm not looking forward to the DMV queue, but I am very excited for the opportunity to identify myself legally as who I've always been all along.
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash
How to learn more: talk to us!
I know that personally I appreciate being asked to share my perspective by my cisgender friends. Especially when it doesn't feel like a challenge or a judgment, I am happy to talk about my gender identity and what it means to me.
If you have a question for someone they'd probably appreciate you asking, instead of making an assumption. It's generally better say something like, "I'd like to hear more about how you identify gender-wise if you want to tell me about it". That gives the person an open-ended way to volunteer as little or as much information as they want.
And of course, thanks to the internet, you can learn a lot about non-binary people just by reading first-person accounts in articles and blogs.
Here's a few resources to get you started:
My Genderation (video): This Is What Non-binary Looks Like
Curve: 10 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Non-Binary
Teen Vogue: 9 Things People Get Wrong About Being Non-Binary
National Center for Transgender Equality: Understanding Non-Binary People: How to Be Respectful and Supportive
As an avid festivalgoer and being fairly new to Bakersfield, I was thrilled to find out that the new location this year for Lightning in a Bottle Music Festival (LIB) was only a half-hour drive from me, at the Buena Vista Lake. The only thing I really knew about LIB was that it’s a much more intimate camping festival, which nowadays I preferred over the larger ones. As I deepened my interest for it, I learned it offers an abundance of wellness workshops like yoga, meditation and sound healing sessions and conscious topic discussions featuring key speakers. When I looked at the music line-up, I was excited to recognize electronic dance music artists I’ve been keen to see and I also noticed there will be artists from various genres. Then I noticed that LIB fell on my wife’s birthday weekend (May 8th-12th), so logically it felt like the Universe was hinting for us to pack up our tent and our dancing shoes!
We arrived at the campgrounds on Thursday evening and met up with our lovely friends who did such an amazing job at creating feng shui for our weekend home. We were also situated under a tree so glorious its shades kept us cool. At times, we could feel a gentle breeze since we were close by the lake. When we entered the festival grounds, we were immediately impressed by the eccentric ambiance and how there were plenty of things to do and see! The euphoric energy everyone transmitted out was so contagious that I quickly came to a realization that this experience was going to be magical. Even if we could sense the inevitable rainstorm was approaching.
While the rainstorm during the early hours of Friday morning was harsh, it did minimize the dust for the weekend. The rainstorm was actually cool to witness while camping because it totally set the mood for LIB. The way I see it is that Mother Nature gifted us with a natural lightning show to initiate the weekend festivities – literally placing the emphasis on lightning. Sure, it did rain hard and it got really muddy in certain areas but the sun eventually came out and embellished its heat for the rest of the weekend.
Our Friday started with a psychedelic breath yoga workshop, which ended up being such a special and personal experience. Then we attended some yoga sessions, one facilitated by Stephen and Katherine who operate Samsara Wellness Center here in Bakersfield (You can catch a free Samsara yoga session held at the Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity on Mondays at 6pm). Not only did the daytime activities leave us feeling rejuvenated, but it also prepared us for our evening entertainment. My favourite set was Gramatik who had us literally dancing the entire time!
By Saturday, more friends joined us and I tagged along with them to venture out so they can get acquainted with LIB. While I find comfort in camping with friends, I was also just as enthusiastic to form new friendships. It’s the perfect environment to detach from our mundane routines and disconnect from our phones. In today’s chaotic world, it’s getting tough to simply be conscious of the present moment. There’s nothing more liberating than when you take a moment to reconnect with your divine self and be amongst likeminded people who can express their individuality freely and safely, without judgement and criticism.
Although Sunday was fun, it was also bitter sweet since it was the last day of LIB. We ventured out to admire the live artworks that were brilliantly crafted during the weekend. We even spent a good amount of time roller-skating in the disco rink. The highlight of my day was when I started to notice groups of people gather around the lakeside where we all took a moment together to appreciate the beautiful sunset. The special part of that experience was that we all howled away into the night, just as if we were pack of wolves. Strangely, it felt natural to howl and I learned later on that it was kind of becoming a LIB tradition.
All in all, I’m so grateful that I was able to experience LIB and it definitely lived up to its incredible reputation. All the lessons I was gifted with and the great friendships formed will stay with me for a lifetime. To top it off, I’m ecstatic to learn that the Kern County officials have declared LIB a success. Which could potentially indicate that LIB has found a home in Bakersfield for the following years to come. Time will tell but in the meantime I’ll stay optimistic for the return of LIB in 2020!
about the Author
R. Velasco is a Canadian writer new to Bakersfield. She is actively seeking ways to raise community consciousness about LGBTQ issues and topics, one blog post at a time. She is also part of The Center’s Women Support Group.
June has finally arrived and it’s brought a few of my favourite things: BBQ,
summer vacations, music festivals and Pride! There are endless of ways to
define Pride and how it has impacted on you internally and externally.
Though, I think we can collectively agree that it’s a time to honour the LGBTQ
community – to be aware of how far we’ve truly come. To honour the fearless
voices who’ve fought for our equality and to acknowledge that it’s still crucial
to continue advocating for our rights.
Pride is a demonstration for a safe platform where we can all proudly
celebrate LOVE. Cheer for the love for yourself and for the right to love
whomever you want freely. It’s a time to be one with the LGBTQ community
and it’s a place where we can applaud the expression of individuality even
In commemoration of Pride, here are some of the Pride events happening this
LA Pride Festival & Parade | Fri Jun 7 – Sun Jun 9 2019
Join the celebration in West Hollywood and catch headlining performances by Meghan Trainor, Years & Years, The Veronicas, Ashanti and many more! Plus, don’t miss the DJs who’ll keep you dancing in the beer gardens. The Pride parade and Pride 5K & 10K run will take place on Sunday June 9th. For more details: https://lapride.org/festival-2019/
Sacramento Pride Festival | Sat Jun 8 & Sun Jun 9 2019
Enjoy queer art, exhibitions, lip sync battles and plenty of live performances – don’t miss out on Lizzo who is the headliner this year! For more information: https://sacramentopride.org/
Ventura Pride Prom | Sat Jun 15 2019
A Pride prom for the youths of LBTIQQA+ community and allies - free food and snacks provided so just bring your dancing shoes! For more information: https://www.facebook.com/PridePromOfVentura/
Tehachapi Pride Picnic | Sat Jun 22 2019
Enjoy an inclusive, family-friendly Pride picnic for the LGBTQ community and its allies! For more information: https://www.theloopnewspaper.com/story/2019/05/25/happenings/tehachapi-pride-picnic-june-22/5358.html
San Francisco Pride Festival | Sat Jun 29 & Sun Jun 30 2019
This legendary Pride festivities are filled with love, food, drag shows, and music – make sure to catch Amara La Negra and Pabllo Vittar headlining performances! Pride For more details: http://www.sfpride.org
about the author
R. Velasco is a Canadian writer new to Bakersfield. She is actively seeking ways to raise community consciousness about LGBTQ issues and topics, one blog post at a time. She is also part of The Center’s Women Support Group.
meet our crew: deirdre o'rourke
The second installment of our volunteer appreciation series Meet Our Crew: get to know Deirdre O'Rourke!
What motivated you to reach out and help The Center?
From the name and the website, I knew I wanted to support the mission. Then I met Anne and Jan and wanted to be involved for sure.
What’s your favourite thing about The Center?
The emphasis on community and social gathering.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Singing, eating, catching up with family and friends.
Tell us your most favourite thing about Bakersfield.
The temps during "winter".
What’s your favourite event/shop/restaurant in Bakersfield?
Christmastown at the Kern County Museum.
What place(s) do you enjoy visiting outside of Bakersfield?
Pismo Beach and San Diego (where my sister lives).
What’s on your playlist?
Kacey Musgraves and the soundtrack for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (watch it, but no spoilers! I haven't finished Season Two).
Who’s your favourite musician and why?
I've thought more about this question lately because I've been listening to a podcast called For the Girls about queer people and their fandom of female divas. Audra McDonald is the queen of Broadway; her voice can do anything plus she's an expert at acting a song and I respect her advocacy.
What shows are you currently streaming on Netflix?
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon), Dead to Me, Dawson's Creek (always).
What is your favourite movie of all time and why?
My typical answer is The Sound of Music. You can't beat Julie Andrews. Favorite scene: Maria and the Captain dancing together.
What sports team / athlete do you root for?
I don't follow sports, but if the Pittsburgh Pirates ever make it to the World Series, they'll have my support.
Tell us a unique feature about yourself!
I have a PhD in Theatre and Performance.
about the Author
R. Velasco is a Canadian writer new to Bakersfield. She is actively seeking ways to raise community consciousness about LGBTQ issues and topics, one blog post at a time. She is also part of The Center’s Women Support Group.
Spoiler alert: Season 1 of The Umbrella Academy.
I recently enjoyed binge-watching The Umbrella Academy on Netflix. This is a show I saw very accurately described by a fan (I'm actually jealous I didn't think of this) as "Lemony Snicket's X-Men as directed by Wes Anderson".
The plot follows a team of super-powered children bought (yes, bought) and raised by an eccentric billionaire to save the world. Like X-Men, there's a lot of family dysfunction and drama between the seven "siblings". Unlike X-Men, the queer representation in The Umbrella Academy exists beyond just metaphor.
I am a child of the 90's and still remember fondly Magneto's "come out and be proud" speech, which was a pretty obvious analog for being queer. However, I've been chronically disappointed in the franchise since then. What once seemed revolutionary now seems dated and sad in 2019.
That's why I was absolutely thrilled to see that The Umbrella Academy didn't just use superhero/mutant status as a code word for queer, but actually featured queer characters.
My favorite part is that their queerness is not a main theme of the show. It's incidental. All too often a character's gender or sexual identity becomes their central trait. At best, they don't get to be treated just like any other character; they have to be dissected onscreen and given some being-queer-related challenge. At worst, the main focus becomes how great their heterosexual or cisgender friends are for accepting them "anyway".
Maybe 20 years ago, at age 13, I might have needed to see that portrayed and normalized, but I'd like to think we've collectively moved beyond needing morality lessons in what is frankly, just being decent to one another. Often, that "anyway" feels hateful.
And why? Why "anyway"? There's never a reversal. There are no coming-of-age stories where gay characters get to evaluate and judge a straight character, and decide to accept them "anyway". (If you know of one, please direct me to it.)
I'm no longer grateful for the tolerance of "anyway". I have higher expectations.
These expectations are well-met in The Umbrella Academy. In the first episode, Five (brilliantly portrayed by Adrian Gallagher) turns to his adoptive brother/superhero team member Klaus and says, "Nice skirt."
Klaus twirls the fringe and says, "Danke!" ("Thank you" in German.)
I actually rewound the part and played it again, because I have never heard "Nice skirt" without underlying sarcasm. Without it being a kind of attack on the character wearing it. But I was surprised to find my first impression seemed correct.
He was really just saying, "Nice skirt." It was an observation, not an insult. Woah.
That's how I ended up feeling about the whole show and the way The Umbrella Academy deals with gender and sexuality. It's part of the story, but it's not the whole story, and it's not even particularly important to the story. When I dug into the why of it - why is this show so different - I found that there had been a lot of actor input into the way their characters are portrayed.
Robert Sheehan, who plays Manic Pixie Dream Boy Klaus and steals all the best one-liners/most scenes he is in, has gone on record to point out explicitly that his character is a) pansexual and b) reducing him to his sexuality is oversimplifying a complex person and kind of discriminatory in and of itself.
He told Digital Spy, "It’s very, very lovely that maybe young people who are embarrassed about the fact that they’re gay and they’re keeping it to themselves, can feel a little less uncomfortable about it by seeing a character like Klaus who is very out there and very colourful and unashamed about the fact that he is pansexual, or whatever you want to call it. But I just wanted to play the truth of it, man." (Source)
The character of Klaus didn't start out pansexual. The show is based on a comic series, written by band My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way. In the comics, the seven siblings are white and presumably (with no evidence to the contrary, at least), cisgender and heterosexual.
Many changes seem spearheaded by The Umbrella Academy's showrunner Steve Blackman, and the creative team at Netflix, who chose to have a more diverse central cast. (Gerard Way has expressed his gratitude that they've changed things, admitting his original take wasn't the most inclusive or best one.)
Instead of casting all white actors, they changed three of the seven sibling's ethnic backgrounds: Allison is African-American, Ben is Asian-American and Diego is Mexican-American. They also removed what would have been a terribly offensive character, "a quiet Indian assistant who wears a turban". Thank god.
Sheehan was allowed to develop the character of Klaus in a way that impacted his narrative arc, changing the gender of his love interest to a male and collaborating on a wardrobe that reads as very genderqueer. "[Klaus] wasn’t even gay when we began. Or he didn’t have gay tendencies when we began. But that sort of developed as we developed the character. It wasn’t always the way that it is. And it sort of developed into that quite organically between myself and Steve [Blackman, showrunner] and Netflix and whoever else, you know? The creative input-ers into Klaus. Basically, not giving anything away, but before he was, let’s say straight-er, than he ultimately was – because it just felt kind of truthful." (Source)
You can also see a lot of Sheehan in Klaus' wardrobe. Sheehan has made waves showing up to premieres and press ops wearing skirts, mesh tops, paisley - a whole lot of fashion choices that don't read as what most people think of as "masculine". Most superheroes wear tights (or these days, skintight body suits), but when it comes time to walk the red carpet, out come the suits and dress shoes. However, Sheehan saw an opportunity to merge his real life choices with his character's persona.
"Klaus is completely not your typical cape-wearing, Captain America-style superhero, he's the far, far end of the, let's say, the male spectrum. He's not necessarily a man, he's kind of just this creature that's not bound by traditional societal norms like 'man', 'woman', 'masculinity', 'femininity'. He just sort of… is. That was important for me, and that's not very superhero, because the concepts of quite reductive masculinity and femininity go hand in hand with your traditional superhero role." (Source)
As someone who has had exactly one genderqueer friend in my life before getting involved at The Center, hearing Sheehan talk matter-of-factly about his clothing choices and expressing zero shame while discussing genderfluidity is refreshing and maybe even a little revolutionary.
Sheehan is a fan of people being who they are and wearing what they want. "Why not? If you enjoy colour and vibrancy, wear whatever you like. I think people should feel less restricted by the perimeters of things like 'menswear' and 'womenswear'. It's not something that I really give much credence to when I'm buying clothes. I buy mostly ladies clothes. I think to be yourself, first and foremost, that's the easiest way to think about it." (Source)
I love how simple that is. The ability to exercise gender-nonconforming tendencies is only possible with certain privilege ("Will this effect my job?" "Could I get fired?" "Lose important relationships?"), but I am happy to see that we have celebrities like Sheehan talking frankly about this stuff and leveraging their privilege to be outspoken about their personal choices.
While Sheehan identifies as heterosexual, he has been open in the past about his sexual experimentation with men. In an interview with Hot Press, he replied to a question about whether he has ever questioned his sexuality, "Yeah, of course, man. I think it would be irresponsible not to question it. I had a couple of experiences when I was younger with dudes where I tried it, experimented, to see if it did anything for me. And it didn’t." (Source)
Ellen Page, who plays Vanya, also got to have input into her character's gender representation and wardrobe. In the comics, Vanya's ultimate costume is basically "nothing". Once she sheds her shy, wall-flower former self, she turns into a walking, talking white violin lady, and is drawn to look almost completely naked (think, Mystique from X-Men). You know, something we've all seen a million times before, on the posters of every Marvel movie, ad nauseum.
In real life, Page is openly gay, is married to choreographer Emma Porter and has spoken before about her struggle with depression and anxiety due to living a closeted life until her late twenties. So it's unsurprising that now she has been living a much more transparent and empowered life, having come out in a touching speech at Human Rights Campaign event in 2014, she is advocating for more diversity of gender expression in the characters she plays.
In an interview with Fashionista, costume designer Christopher Hargadon said that Page was instrumental in creating the look that Vanya has throughout the show. In a major departure from the comics, her costume for the metamorphosis wasn't a white skin-tight bodysuit, but a very dapper white suit with tails.
"Ellen wanted to actually play an androgynous character," adds the costume designer, about Vanya's signature silhouettes of oversize sweaters, denim shirts, jeans and her reliable leather-sleeved zip-up coat. (Source)
While Klaus' costumes read as feminine, Vanya's tend toward the masculine. Button up shirts without any tapering in at the waist, done up to the very top button. Muted, neutral colors. Nothing skintight or fitted.
Without Page's involvement, it's very possible that Vanya's transformation would have been yet another "mousy to bombshell" Ugly Duckling story. From Rocky to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the "Beautiful all along" trope is an easy-to-follow formula: Take off the glasses, let down the hair, add an evening gown with a saucy slit and strap on high heels, and suddenly you're worthy of love.
More than Klaus and his eyeliner, Vanya and her suit break with traditional storytelling. She doesn't have to be feminized and sexy to be a badass; she can be a sexy badass in clothing that still fits who she is.
This is how they move the messaging from ostracizing and alienating and patronizing into something inclusive and empowering. From where I'm standing, this is entirely because Page knows the power of representation.
“I have a responsibility to be out now, because I have these resources. I can access therapists and security and support. But the reality is a lot of people can be in severely grave danger. I think, for instance, it would have been very harmful for me if someone had outed me earlier. When I was 20, someone wrote an article with the headline: ‘The Ellen Page Sexuality Sweepstakes’ in the Village Voice. ‘Is Juno a you know?’ I never even touched a woman outside until I was 27. I was very depressed, and very anxious. I was not well.” (Source)
Now that she's out, Page has been fierce about calling out those who endorse anti-LGBTQ policies, from Vice President Mike Pence to Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt.
I'm glad she has found her voice and is using it to speak out against injustice. I'm happy to see that Page, and actors like Sheehan and showrunners like Blackman, are collaborating on projects like The Umbrella Academy to elevate the source material, bringing us characters we otherwise don't get a lot of opportunities to see or connect with in mainstream media.
Hopefully this article, while being fairly ridden with spoilers, didn't give away too much. If you do watch The Umbrella Academy (it's on Netflix), be sure to come back and leave a comment to let us know what you thought!
dating and anxiety
So modern dating is fun. I’m very shy and awkward. It makes for great stories but lots of embarrassing moments.
I think one of my worst dates involved complete silence and me asking boring questions answered with an “I don’t know” every time. I'm a bad source for advice on dating, so I’ll just share some of my anxieties with you.
The key to dating is to be yourself but not too much so you don’t send the person running off right? Finding that balance is something I still struggle with. People just want to have a good time and they want to see if you’re someone they could have fun with. I’m sorry, but that’s a lot of responsibility for me. Especially if I’m nervous around people, I shut off and become really clumsy.
One of my more recent dates, I realized doing something as simple as holding a cup full of water was difficult, because I was shaking too much and turning red anytime I felt like I said something stupid. I forget how to speak proper English as well. With my slight accent, I just hope people think it’s because I’m Middle Eastern and English might not be my first language. In all honesty it’s just my nerves that I still can’t control at 27.
The biggest problem I have though is opening up to people. Keeping people at a distance is my comfort zone. I can have nonsense conversations with people about nothing but talking about or expressing my feelings is a challenge for me. If you really want to take someone seriously, communication is one of the most important aspects of dating or any kind of bonding with another person.
I recently met someone who made me realize it's OK to be honest and open up to people. I’ve learned that as long as you are safe, respectful, and honest with each other, you have the ability to experience something beautiful whether it's for a day, a week, or for the rest of your life. Sometimes being respectful and honest on your part doesn’t always pay off and there are jerks out there, but when you find that mutual respect and chemistry it feels amazing.
Eventually you WILL find people worth your time, even if you’re a lot like me and maybe talk too much or laugh a lot because you’re nervous. It’s funny that someone I briefly met and will never see again made me realize the importance of respect, communication, and honesty. It gives me hope in the future to find others who will show me the same respect and honesty. It is still not easy for me to just open up to people and I will still most likely run into walls on dates and spill drinks on myself, but it’s just another problem I’ll have to get over.
I know even confident people get nervous. Dating is intimidating. It's especially nerve-wracking when we really like the person. But if they are into you enough, they might think your nerves are cute. It's OK if someone doesn’t like you. I’ve been rejected many times. You get over it pretty quickly and move onto the next person, who is potentially better for you anyway.
I’ve learned that it has nothing to do with your worth. Sometimes you just click better with other people and it's OK. We only have the present and we forget to make the best of it sometimes. It's OK to be a nervous mess of a human on a date. If the person is worth your time, they’ll still give you a chance.
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