Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lezbehonest, you like HIM?!

Cropped screenshot of James Dean in the traile...
Cropped screenshot of James Dean in the trailer for the film East of Eden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As a lesbian, the discussion between others and myself on the topic of male bodies is an enormously complicated one. Reactions go one of two ways, depending on the crowd—they either understand, because they can grasp the concept that sexuality is fluid and exists on a spectrum, or they don’t. 

They can’t. 
These conversations usually diverge into the latter scenario, but it’s not that they can’t understand, usually; it’s that they don’t want to understand. I don’t want to sleep with men, but when I find the occasional man attractive my opinions on the matter are scrutinized and discredited because I am a gay woman. I am constantly second-guessed and pressed on the matter, made to explain why I think so-and-so is attractive. The explanations are never enough.

There are things about men that I find attractive—the mile-long gaze of James Dean, the high but soft cheekbones of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the classic masculinity of a clean-shaven Brad Pitt, even the cheeky, boyish smile of Tom Daley. But I have to explain these things in conversation time and time again more elaborately than any straight woman in the conversation (“Ugh, George Clooney makes me melt.” “James Dean does it for me.” “WHAT? How?! Why? What’s so great about him? What do you like? Why, why why?!”). Most people cannot grasp how I think a man is attractive because it (somewhat ironically) goes against my nature. When I fail to list off countless names of men I find attractive (mostly because the list is limited) they dismiss my views.

English: Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the promotion...
English: Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the promotion event of (500) Days of Summer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
They dismiss my views and my opinions are set aside as invalid because their rigid views on sexuality restrict their acceptance of “something out of the norm”, even outside of the homonormative narrative that they may accept and even understand. But the fluidity of sexuality? The pliability of my attraction to people? The idea that we may exist on a spectrum, a slow gradient of colors instead of sectioned and sanctioned pools of black and white? To them it is baffling, so disorienting to them that they would rather find my opinion on men not an opinion at all. Sometimes they attribute the attraction and my opinion to the rumored posthumous bisexuality of Mr. Dean, the waning femininity of Mr. Levitt, the penis-envy I must suffer from when faced with Mr. Pitt, or the thin body of Mr. Daley.  Or worse—that my opinion sometimes invalidates my sexuality.

“You like James Dean? You’re not a real lesbian.”

But what makes a real lesbian? I would never sleep with a man (and though I would consider James Dean, he is, unfortunately, deceased and so the matter is a moot point) and I identify as a lesbian. You’re telling me that my fleeting attraction to the ever-so-handsome, geeky-yet-charming Joseph Gordon-Levitt invalidates my identity as a lesbian? I’m not bi-phobic, but I’m not bisexual. I am a lesbian through and through, but my occasional attraction to mild appreciation of a select few male bodies will allow you leverage to invalidate my identity?

Please. I believe that sexuality is a spectrum, and I live my life on the far end of the gay-side of the spectrum. But while I may be in the top percentile of gayness, I don’t believe you can be 100% something. So I will always find the occasional male body attractive.

And I am still a real fucking lesbian.

This post is brought to you by Jayne Quan. Jayne is a West Coast transplant living in Brooklyn, trying to navigate her way into the entertainment industry without sacrificing her lesbian identity. See more of her thoughts by following her on Twitter:  @janewithawhy

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Friday, December 6, 2013

PoliticIt Is The Start Up That Can Change How We View Elections

With our current political system seemingly falling into disarray, many are already looking towards 2016 election season for hope. It may also be time to turn towards PoliticIt, the Logan, Utah-based start-up that can measure a politician's performance based on real-time reactions.

For those of you who aren't aware, PoliticIt is an online platform that tracks the digital influence of politicians in all 50 states. The PoliticIt system produces an It Score (you can compare this to a Klout score, but for politicians), which takes into account social media interactions, network appearances, news reports, and other influential events. This It Score can then be measured against those of other politicians -- both within and outside the party -- to track campaigns, monitor debates, and even predict election outcomes.
Photo 3
PoliticIt Bus Tour (Photo credit: Governor Gary Johnson)

PoliticIt was an unintentional creation, said company co-founder and CEO Josh Light. Originally, his team was working on a different start up during the 2011 GOP race, when John Huntsman tweeted something about science versus creationism. The tweet caught the team's collective eye. They wanted to know how people were reacting to this opinion, and whether or not it would impact Huntsman's potential candidacy. The other start-up was put on  hold, and the idea of PoliticIt was born.

"What if there was a way to measure a debate’s success based upon data collected from social networks and the internet instead of relying upon the opinion of political commentators or journalists…well now there is." The first task that PoliticIt took on was to gather data on the 2011 GOP race. Number of tweets, tone of tweets, stock prices associated with politicians, and other factors were calibrated to create a beta version of the It Score to compare the popularity of politicians such as Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Ron Paul, and of course, John Huntsman, before and after key debates. By the end of December, 2011, the It Score was fully defined as
"a measurement of a politician's digital influence. It is calculated by taking inputs from what people do and say in the real world, the internet, and in social media. The "It Score" is updated every other day and is meant to reflect real time feelings individuals have towards politicians. The "It Score" also happens to correlate closely with polls produced by prominent polling companies."
At this point, PoliticIt existed only to help eager voters learn more about the politicians vying to represent them. However, 6 months into its existence, PoliticIt branched out into the political world itself. PoliticIt was contacted by local politician Chris Stewart, who asked for a consultation. After Stewart found success with PoliticIt, the company briefly expanded and offered consultations to politicians based on word of mouth recommendations. According to Light, these consultations benefited both the politicians and the company - politicians gained valuable insight into the best way to create a digital presence and influence voters through engagement, while PoliticIt learned the ins and outs of the campaign process. PoliticIt stopped offering consultations after gaining this insight in order to maintain a more non-partisan viewpoint.

In August, 2012, PoliticIt launched a bus tour, which hit every state in the continental United States and worked with over 200 candidates. The PoliticIt team posted interviews with politicians and calculated their It Scores to create greater transparency among voters, and to help politicians better understand their voting base. 

Though PoliticIt currently offers software to politicians to help improve campaigns and visibility, Light believes that PoliticIt exists ultimately for the benefit of the voter. PoliticIt provides a non-partisan, non-price discriminatory platform that is influenced by a variety of media channels. It allows voters to absorb information from all angles. While it helps to improve communication for politicians, the main benefit of PoliticIt is to help voters stay educated and make polling decisions based on hard evidence rather than hearsay. 

In an age of increasing reliance on social media for both self-education and outreach, PoliticIt will be a necessary tool for staying aware of the important the next several election cycles. To learn more about the company, visit
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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgivvukkah!

My family made some Thanksgivukkah decorations. Be jealous.

Happy Thanksgivukkah, dear reader.

I hope you all enjoy the most amazing food ever in the next few days. Personally, I plan on eating all 8 days worth of food at once, and enjoying all 10 minutes of that consumption.

In honor of my new favorite holiday, which I will probably never get to celebrate again in my lifetime, here are some tidbits of information that you probably didn't know but can now impress all of your friends with. Hooraaaay knowledge!

First, some cooltrue facts about the American holiday of Thanksgiving:

Contrary to popular belief, elementary school education, and enraged liberals who love to point out how messed up it is that we're celebrating the precursor to a massacre, Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Pilgrims and Native Americans.  In reality, Thanksgiving has much more profound - and, in my opinion, legitimate - roots.

Thanksgiving is more than just a celebration of togetherness (though it is most certainly about that, too)-- it is a holiday about freedom. The U.S. Constitution was ratified September 17th, 1787, and George Washington was unanimously elected as the nation's first president on February 4th, 1789. After taking care of some preliminary nation-creating things, Washington & Co. adopted a resolution, which was to be enacted November 26, 1789. This resolution stated that from that date forward, an annual holiday of Thanksgiving should be observed. This new holiday was established in honor of the newly ratified Constitution that was miraculously signed representatives by 13 individual colonies, all of which had different agendas and histories of their own. Moreover, this Constitution was the first that was written and voted upon by a congressional delegation, rather than having been dictated by a single ruler or small group of rulers. In all of these ways, America's foundation was truly unprecedented, and George Washington wanted to make sure we remembered it this way. This is not to say that the country wasn't founded, in part, upon brutality towards native and kidnapped populations; however, it's pretty badass that it all worked out the way it did.

Eventually, Thanksgiving moved to the end of the month. NPR does a better job at telling this story than I do, so read it here.

And yes, there was a feast held at Plymouth in 1621. Both pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians attended. While many refer to this as the first American Thanksgiving, it's not, really. This was simply a huge feast, granted by that year's surplus. It was successful - and possible - because at this time, competition for land and resources had not reached the dangerous levels it would in later decades.

Now, for the proclamation, as it is written:

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

Secondly (but not if we're talking chronologically), the Jewish holiday of (Hanukkah / Hanuka / Chanukah / Cccchhhanukuh).

When you really think about it, Chanukah is also a type of Thanksgiving. The story of Chanukah is one of an unlikely victory in war, freedom fighters, and a reclaimed ability to practice a repressed religion. It's also a story of delicious potato pancakes, gambling for chocolate, pyrotechnics, and, as Rugrats will tell you, meanies.

Because I am feeling so festive, I am taking it upon myself to tell you the short version of the long version of the story of Chanukah.

You're welcome.

From approximately 300 BCE to 50 BCE, large areas of the Europe, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent were under control of the Seleucid Empire, a Helenistic Greek dynasty that was formed by one faction of the former Empire of Alexander the Great. The Seleucid Empire truly, truly did not get along with the Ptolemaic Kingdom, which was a different faction that was once a part of Alexander the Great's Empire. Both of these Empires had claim to land in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian sub-continent, including the region of Judea.

The two Empires were relatively equally matched in strength and power until 223 BCE, when Antiochus III took the throne. Soon after his ascent to power, the king of the Ptolemaic Empire died, giving Antiochus an upper hand. This power shift gave Antiochus the confidence he needed to battle a newly arrived enemy -- the Roman Empire. It didn't go very well. His army was harshly defeated, and he was forced to give up the promise of land -- not to mention a hefty sum of money.

Though his son's reign was spent trying to pay the debts Antiochus had accumulated after his failed war with Rome, his grandson, Antiochus IV, had acquired the same taste for conquest as he had. Instead of fighting Rome, this time he went after Ptolemaic Egypt again. Already crippled, Egypt retreated, their reign in the area coming to an end. However, this victory was also the beginning of the Seleucid Empire's end. The battle with Egypt had crippled the Empire's armies and economic ability. Rebel uprisings became more common, and it became near impossible to defeat these rebels. Eventually, rebellions became so frequent that the regions of the Empire erupted into civil war. That's where the Maccabees come in.

From 167 BCE until 160 BCE, the Maccabean Revolt raged on between a Judean rebel group (the Macabees) and the Seleucid Empire. Refusing to patently accept the religious repression imposed by Antiochus IV, the Jewish priest Mattathias and his son revolted against the Seleucids in the city. After Mattathias's death a year after the rebellion began, his son, Judah, took over his position as head freedom fighter and led a succession of dissidents into battle against Greek rulers and Helenized Jews. The rebellion could not be stopped; 7 years after it began, the Maccabees had won. By the 140s BCE, the Jews had officially established their independence in the region. For a brief period in the 130s, Antiochus VII recaptured all territories liberated by Jewish Maccabean armies, but after his deaths, Maccabean rebellions increased in size, number, and severity, and soon the region was ravaged by civil war. By the end of the century, the Seleucid empire was a shell of what it was.

The Maccabean rebellions were not only a mark of victory for the Jewish minorities living under Roman rule; they were symbols of hope for oppressed and repressed groups throughout the region. Rebel armies during the time of civil war were not only comprised of Jewish freedom fighters, but also of other non-majority factions and under-represented peoples. The Maccabean rebellions not only ensured that the Jewish religion, the oldest monotheistic religion still practiced globally today, could survive for the future; but also turned the tides of history, maintaining the trend of empirical rise and fall.

Holidays are more than times of celebration. Each designated holiday is a philosophical monument, a landmark in time. So as you eat your latke-burgers, keep in mind: history is way too awesome not to celebrate.
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why Blackface Is Still Not Cool

If you’re a good Halloween-er, you know how to rock a group costume.  On these grounds, I am not a good Halloween-er. Neither is Julianne Hough, even though she rocked the group Orange Is The New Black costume. Actress Hough chose to emulate Uzo Aduba’s "Crazy Eyes" by donning the character’s signature hairstyle and way too much bronzer. And by way too much bronzer, I mean, Ms. Hough went into a party wearing blackface with a bunch of her white friends.

Uzo Aduba's "Crazy Eyes"
Uzo Aduba, doing "Crazy Eyes" correctly
Seems like Ms. Hough needs a quick reminder of why women wearing black face is not cool (aside from the obvious fact that black face has been used by White performers to publicly ridicule and degrade Black culture for decades upon decades. and for the record, White men are also super guilty of masquerading in black face, but that’s for another time).

White women dressing as Black characters and other POC characters is exploitative and has been perceived as such throughout history, primarily because this repurposes the Black or POC character to fit a White ideal. For example: the “Indian Princess” costume is not meant to represent the diverse history of Native Americans and the role that women played within that society, specifically the daughters of chieftains, or female tribe leaders, as the garb would indicate. Instead, this costume is intended to show off an idealized counterculture that is often exploited as fashionable in White culture (see: Weetzie Bat and the Dangerous Angels series, by Francesca Lia Block; Urban Outfitters; actually, just search the #hipster hashtag anywhere and find a mall.)
Cosplayer as Belle
Cosplayer as Belle

On the other side of the coin, Black and POC women repurposing traditionally White characters and costumes is traditionally seen as empowering, and demonstrates that the power attributed to the White character is not – and should not – be based on her race. For example, Belle from Beauty and the Beast is a character that I have seen numerous women from all backgrounds cosplay. Belle is a character who is beautiful not because she is a white woman who values her own education and empathy and kindness to others, but because she is a woman who values her own education and empathy to others. She is also one of the few women who call pull of a yellow dress without looking like a bumblebee. Aside from her fabulous dress, though, Belle’s beauty is in her character and personality, not her skin color.
Weetzie Bat
Weetzie Bat, appropriatin'

The reason it’s exploitative to dress up as a “Black Character” or “POC Character” is that the costume focuses on the race or ethnicity of the character, and forgets to recognize the accomplishments or other traits of the character. So dressing up as a Native American is fucked up, because you’re portraying an appearance that is significant to an entire culture as an accessory. And using blackface to represent Crazy Eyes is fucked up, because instead of using her signature hairstyle and waffle fleece-under-the-jumpsuit to represent her character and maybe a bit of an acting tic or shoulder slump to show her 3D personality, you’re choosing to represent her as The Crazy Black Lady.

But hold up, you may be thinking! Not every costume depiction of female POC is racist! And behold, I would respond, you are correct! Not everything is racist, if you’re aware of what you’re doing, and why!

Let’s go back to traditional Native American garb and Disney princesses, because it’s Halloween, and Halloween is a great time for Disney princesses. Let’s say your favorite Disney princess is Pochahontas. My advice to you is, don’t dress up as Pochahontas. If you need a reminder as to why it
Julianne Hough's "Crazy Eyes"
Julianne Hough, doing "Crazy Eyes" incorrectly
could be problematic to dress up as Pochahontas, scroll up, and reread everything about how White people use Native American garb to look cool. But if you were to dress up as Pochahontas because you think she is a strong, independent, female character whose leadership qualities were unparalleled by others in her village – and you also respect her historical significance in the formation of the United States – wear exactly what she wore in the movie. The necklace, the arm tattoo, the whole gig. Be Pochahontas, not a random Native American parody that you claim is Pochahontas. And whatever you do, do NOT dress up as Pochahontas in Pochahontas II: Journey To the New World. If you don’t want to have “I Am A Messenger Of The White Patriarchy” written all over your face, avoid that costume at all costs.

Now, let’s say your favorite Disney princess is Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog. She’s a great character. She can cook, she can sing, she can dance, she’s got a great mind for business, she’s got the spirit of an explorer, she’s dedicated to her family, and she scored a fantastic prince. If there’s a modern day Disney princess to pay some Halloween tribute to, this would be the one (Merida’s up high on the list too, but I’m pretty sure I’d have to dress my mother up as a bear to make that costume realistic, and I don’t know how she’d like that). Don’t worry White ladies, you can still be Tiana without being a bigot! It’s easy! All you have to do is wear her princess outfit!

Yep, that’s it! When Tiana is in her princess outfit, she is at her happiest and her most empowered. She’s faced and conquered her challenges and met her success. This is the moment to pay tribute to her character. NOT when she’s an unhappy waitress at the beginning of the movie. NOT when she’s forced to be subservient around her super-happy White friend Charlotte. Do it in this time frame, and you’ve missed the point. And do NOT, for the love of all things, do it in blackface. Do it in blackface, and you have done fucked up.
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