Friday, April 8, 2016

S is for Stop Backlashing Against Our Backlash

The lesbian character in New Girl is bullshit, but at least she's not dead.

Seriously, though, that character is some bullshit. She is rarely on screen, and when she is, it's to advance the storylines of straight characters. Here she is, proving that Schmidt is good at sex (even him talking about it turns her a little bit straight, ha-ha!) Here is her pregnancy, written exclusively so that the two straight female leads can have a crisis about their own fertility! Seriously, an episode of television where a gay lady talks about getting pregnant and explores that experience a little would be ~immensely fucking useful~ in my life right now but no, all we hear about it is that Cece needs to find a man, stat. Wonderful.

I can't even remember the character's name (Sadie? Is it Sadie? I'm not going to google it, do it yourself) but having her in the show's universe being very occasionally on screen and only ever to further boring straight storylines (literally that whole storyline of Cece's has just vanished, have we even mentioned her eggs in the last two seasons?) makes New Girl one of the most inclusive shows on television.

And the fact that they haven't killed her yet is truly remarkable. The Bury Your Gays trope is real, and it's hurting us.

Only 11% of television shows have lesbian or bisexual characters. Not main characters, just a character. At all. Ever. Even if one guest character kisses one girl, the show counts. Only 11% of shows have managed this feat. Of those shows, 35% have a dead lesbian or bisexual character. In one third of shows that have a lesbian or bisexual character in them, that lesbian or bisexual character (or another one, usually the one they have just admitted they loved/slept with/had a sparkly moment with) will die.

Only 16% have a happy ending for a lesbian couple. Sixteen percent of the eleven percent. 1.76% of television shows have a happy ending for a lesbian couple. (straight dudes, if you make a joke about "happy endings" I will seriously cut you I am not kidding do not even think about it)

The numbers are shocking, and sickening, and sad, but are not why I'm writing this. I'm writing this to tell you why the numbers matter.

I did not know that I was gay until about three months after I met my wife. I cannot entirely blame television for this - I had, in fact, watched every season of The L Word in bed with my lesbian flatmate, desperately avoiding eye contact so that she couldn't see on my face that Carmen was lighting my downstairs on literal fire, and I still didn't know I was gay. I was so determinedly ignorant of my homosexuality that I'm not sure anything short of meeting and falling in love with the most beautiful girl in all of the world could have enlightened me. (Can I just add in here that even The L Word and Lip Service have straight characters because even when writing shows about lesbians for lesbians we are able to acknowledge that straight people are real and interesting and worth having as part of our worlds? What say you, straight TV writers?) But not every baby gay is going to be quite so far back in the closet that they can't peek out from time to time and think about how life would be on the outside.

According to TV, life will have a 35% chance of dying (usually violently) and only a 1.76% chance of a loving relationship, if you even exist at all (and usually, you don't).

How very encouraging!

Straight kids are at risk of life disillusionment because their normal boring happy lives aren't quite as great and shiny and brimming with joy as TV makes it out to be. Queer kids are at risk of suicide, self-harm and hiding away in the closet forever, partially because normal boring happy lives are rarely, if ever, presented as an option by the mainstream media. I mentioned this at work and two, TWO people said "You have The Fosters!". Yes, there is one shitty boring melodramatic "7th Heaven" type nonsense show where the two female leads are a happy lesbian couple. Now go ahead and name every show where the two leads are a happy straight couple. I'll give you, oh, two hours. You'll need all of that just for listing, no time for research.

What bugs me most about all of this, though, is that I'm reading a lot of backlash against the backlash against the rampant lesbian-killing on our screens. "What, you want to be immune from death?" the straight viewers sneer. "I thought you wanted to be treated like the rest of us?"

If only 1.8% (look, I'm being generous and rounding up, honestly I could round it up to 5% and it would still be hilariously bad) of straight characters had happy endings, would straight people bother to watch TV? If you went to 100 movies and you knew that in only one or two of them the characters would get together in the end, would you even bother? What would be the point of wasting your time getting invested in a relationship or a story that you knew had such a tiny chance of a good outcome? If at least one in three of all characters died on TV shows, would you even bother watching TV? I'm not just talking about on shows like The 100 or The Walking Dead. I'm talking about every. show. ever. made. Straight girls lost their shit over Downton Abbey when their favourite characters or their love interests kept dying. "It's not even worth watching if you're just going to kill everyone," they cried with one voice. Fucking tell me about it, mate.

One in ten people identify as queer - lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, or somewhere on the rainbow that scale encompasses. That means that one in ten characters on our TVs should be queer, which means that every show that has ten (or, let's be generous, fifteen) characters should have a queer person in it. And that person should have the same risk of death, and the same chance at a happy ending, as every straight character on the show. That is what "being treated like the rest of you" would look like. We're so far from that it makes my stomach hurt. Only 11% of shows have any lesbian or bisexual people - that includes shows where there was one guest character who was bisexual. Not 11% of characters, but 11% of shows. That means that in 89% of shows, no matter how large that show's universe, no female that has sexual feelings towards another female is ever mentioned in that universe.

Imagine if it was the reverse. Imagine if 89% of shows had no straight people. Imagine if, in that measly 11% that had even one character who had one straight interaction, one third of those straight people were killed off (usually by a lesbian). Imagine if, even if the straight people were permitted to survive, only one in one hundred shows had a straight couple end the show in a happy relationship.

How long would it take you to get pissed off? How long would it take you to notice that that was unspeakably fucked up? How long would you wait before you "boycotted" TV stations and wrote angry blog posts and set up huge fanbases around the rare straight characters only to be shat on from high as they, predictably, get killed. Now imagine that being straight is still illegal in a bunch of countries. Imagine that getting married to each other is a rare gift you rely on one government at a time to bestow on you and your international brethren. Imagine that states in America are frantically trying to pass laws that people don't have to serve you based on your gross straight lifestyle. You sigh, turn on the TV. Another dead straight person.

I know that you, reading this, probably have very little power to turn this around. I know that you can do very little to ensure that one of every twenty (I'm really getting generous here) characters on TV are not straight, and that their odds of happiness/survival are equal to their straight co-characters. But maybe, just maybe, you can care with me. With us. You can stop not caring about it, stop trivialising it, stop acting like we're asking to be the main, invincible characters in every damn show. We KNOW that lots of people die on The Walking Dead. We KNOW that lots of people die on The 100. You are welcome to kill us off on those shows at equal odds that you kill off your straights. But we also know that there are literally thousands of TV shows out there that happen in worlds where dying only happens at about the usual rate, and those TV shows under-represent us so desperately that killing us off on "everybody dies!" shows feels deeply, particularly, especially cruel. It's not our fault that the only shows who think to include us are also the ones with the freedom to kill us and pass it off as equal treatment.

We need you. Bury Your Gays is a real problem. We, the minority, do not have the power to change this on our own. You do not have to help us, but please. Please stop backlashing against our backlash.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

R is for Reality Check.

There is something wrong with me.

I mean, there are probably a lot of things wrong with me. Things that are frequently pointed out are my 'terrible' taste in music, my love for dipping my fries in my sundae, my irrational fear of the telephone, and the fact that I'm actually enjoying living in Rotorua. "What is wrong with you," people cry, and I laugh because these are just little things, the kinds of things that are wrong with everyone.

But not everyone's bodies are slowly eating themselves.

Around two years ago, I started getting really sick. I'd always had a bit of a weird stomach - I have endometriosis, and there had been times in my life where I had been inexplicably ill for a while, but this was something new. There was a swelling, stabbing pain nestled right next to my left hipbone that just wouldn't quit, my stomach was swollen and tender, I was going to the bathroom two or three or four times a day, and every now and then, there'd be blood. I got scared, and one day when the pain got really bad, I took myself to the hospital. I didn't have a proper GP - I was with Student Health, and had never found them at all effective for anything except re-prescribing my contraceptive pill. I don't think, in my five years at uni, I'd seen the same doctor more than twice.

At the hospital, they took a urine sample and a stool sample and a blood sample and told me that I wasn't dying, that I needed my insides looked at, but that because it wasn't mega urgent I would have to go to my GP to get referred. So I went to a GP at Student Health, got my referral, and waited. The pain, the blood, the swelling, came and went. Some days were good days, some weeks were good weeks. Some weeks were write-offs. I kept going to classes, kept writing my thesis, kept seeing my clients, but I was always waiting. And then my appointment came, and I was excited.

I had a flexible sigmoidoscopy. It showed.. nothing. There was nothing wrong with me, it said.

That should have been a relief, but it wasn't. I wanted to call bullshit, but tests are tests. They'd looked inside me with a camera, they took pieces of me and tested me, and it was all fine, and I was devastated. The specialist suggested a low-fibre diet. The GP suggested a high-fibre diet. Neither helped.

I can't remember who first asked if I thought, maybe, it might be psychosomatic, but the second and third soon followed. Maybe it was all in my head? Not that I was imagining the blood, but that it was all a result of my neurosis. My anxiety. Had I considered that maybe I was depressed? I mean, there was nothing wrong with me, so perhaps there was something wrong with me. Suggestions like that are hard to counter, so I started looking for things to blame. I knew that there was something wrong, I just had to find it. I went to the Allergy Food Show, and went to every single talk. One phrase kept coming up over and over again: 'FODMAP'. No wheat, no dairy, no fruits except berries and citrus.. it was a bastard of a diet, but it was getting all these rave reviews for symptoms that sounded similar to mine, so the FODMAP diet it was. And overall, things got better. Sure, I still had pain and occasional bleeding and other nasty bits and pieces, but I felt better, I had more energy, everyone kept telling me that I looked better than I had in ages. 'It's working!' I cried to myself, desperately ignoring the pain and the blood. 'It's working!'. I was occasionally mystified - I'd 'cheat' and feel just fine, I'd follow the diet to the letter and get ill. I persuaded myself to ignore this, to write it off, to explain it away. I plodded along. I even met a boy. A boy who found me attractive even when I felt disgusting, a boy who found recipes that I could eat, and demanded restaurants cook me customised meals, and stayed in with me when I was too sick to go out, and held my hand when I was in pain. And I told myself that it was okay to live like this.

Over the last few months, though, I had to start facing facts. I was in too much pain to work. I was bleeding every day. Eating nothing, eating FODMAP, eating regular person food, it made no difference. I was really, really ill, all of the time. After one particularly awful evening in Wellington, I went back to the hospital. Again: I wasn't dying, and was sent to get a GP in Rotorua to get another referral for another look at my insides. Inside, I was screaming. I'd already done this, I'd already felt the sharp sting of utter invalidation. And now, more than ever, people questioned the basis of my illness. More and more questions about my mental state, from the people who I most needed to believe me.

This time, though, things were different. My GP in Rotorua - my first real GP in six and a half years - listened with a sense of urgency. Her forehead creased. She asked a lot of questions, and her frown deepened. She asked if anybody in my family had the money to send me to a private specialist.

My specialist appointment was less than a month later. His forehead creased, too. Less than 48 hours later, I was being prepped for a colonoscopy.

He found something wrong with me. All this time, there has been something wrong with me. All this time, my immune system has been eating my intestines. I get the biopsies back on the 31st, and then I'll know exactly what's wrong and how I can manage it for the rest of my life. Until then, I'm on a mega dose of steroids and immunosuppresants. I oscillate between the immense relief of feeling validated, and the fear and sadness that comes with being officially damaged, and the utter indignity of having to put steroids up my ass every night, and the dread about the inevitable steroid weight gain and potential moon face. I feel angry at myself for not going back to get more help sooner, I feel gratitude to the wonderful boy who stayed by my side despite having to hear about all sorts of things that no new boyfriend should, and I feel cautiously optimistic about my future. I am having about eight thousand feelings a minute. I'm crying a lot, this week. But some of them are good cries.

I don't know why the first tests didn't find it, but it's there. It wasn't in my head. My pain, in every meaning of the word, was real. And even though that doesn't really change anything, it changes everything.

Reality: checked.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Q is for Quit It.

There are two things which I am officially done with in the New Zealand media this week.

The first is the media’s insistence of referring to Stewart Wilson as ‘The Beast of Blenheim’. For example, if you were on Stuff this morning, you may have noticed the headline ‘Beast move upsets inmates’. If you had clicked on it, you would have seen the following opening paragraph:

“The serial sex predator known as the Beast of Blenheim is already offside with his new neighbours, who have been kicked out of their home before he's even moved in.”

No. Quit it.

I was going to use this space to talk about my opinion, and the conclusions of a wealth of psychological and forensic literature, about prison/punishment in general. Then I realized that I just do not have the energy to read the comments that such a post could potentially inspire, so I’m going to stick with Mr. Wilson himself.

As a somewhat obsessive Belle fan, the creature that first comes to mind whenever I see the word ‘Beast’ is the Disney character from Beauty and the Beast. He is cruel, unsocialised, violent, entitled. He displays no empathy, no warmth, no humanity. But throughout the course of the film, he changes, and develops into a far more palatable creature.

How? By having the news media incite fear and hysteria about his potential actions? By being loathed by an entire country? By having all human aspects that remain in him, god, even his name, ignored and shunned by the world in favour of the things that make him most beastly?

No. The beast became a man because he was treated like one. He was treated like a human being. He was shown gentleness, kindness, respect, and empathy. He was shown a world that he wanted to be a part of, but in order to do so, he had to abide by certain rules. It took him a long time to learn some of the rules, but he got there.

Am I saying that I genuinely believe that the world is like a Disney movie? Not quite. Nor am I saying that I believe that if we just send a pretty girl in to dance around Mr. Wilson’s garden flinging snow about that he will magically transform into a valued and valuable member of society? No. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s a fucking terrible idea.

What I am saying is that if we treat people like animals, like beasts, we can expect only beastly behaviour in return.

Only humans are punishable by human law. If we punish Mr. Wilson based upon his membership in a law-driven society, then he needs to be treated as a member of a law-driven society. If Mr. Wilson is a beast, someone so far removed from humanity that he does not even deserve a name, then why would be expect to adhere to our laws? How can we ever expect him to become an adaptive member of society if we do not even treat him like a human being?

I acknowledge that Stewart Wilson has done hideous and heinous things. I acknowledge that there is a high chance that he will do hideous and heinous things again, if given the chance. But is the best way of preventing him from doing these things treating him like a beast – and not even just treating him like a beast, going to far as to label him one?

No. So quit it. Just use his damn name.

I also think this is an excellent chance to point out that the laws suit a lot of us. Take a moment to think about which laws you would ‘break’ if no laws existed. Would you smash someone’s window and take all their possessions? Would you wrap your hands around the throat of that hideously annoying woman in the supermarket? Would you have sex with an eight-year old? I don’t know about you, but my choices not to do these things are not at all based on whether or not I’ll get in trouble if I do them. In fact, there are very few laws that I follow simply because they are law. I know someone who only has their restricted who does not hesitate to take other people (who haven’t had their full license for two years) out and about in her car, because she thinks that that law is bullshit. And I don’t judge her for that, because she’s amazing. But I digress.

It’s simple to follow the law when your base impulses are congruent with it. ‘I do not want to kill you’ goes excellently with ‘I am not allowed to kill you’. ‘I am only attracted to consenting adults’ goes perfectly with ‘I am only permitted to have sex with consenting adults’. But for some people these things aren’t congruous, and it’s really easy to heap judgment and punishment on them in spades. And yes, sometimes they have done heinous and hideous things, and I am not saying that anything that Mr. Wilson has done is even in the least bit okay. But a man having sex with a man was against the law, once. It can be hard to follow the law when your every impulse screams against it… and that does not make you a beast.

I had a whole different ‘quit it’ to write about the man having a wahh because he wanted to see the Muslim women’s unveiled faces but I just don’t even have the emotional energy to go into that right now. I will just say this: who is more negatively impacted at the end of the day, the man who wasn’t allowed to see one art exhibition, or a woman who feels violated and removed from her beliefs because a male viewed her body without her consent, against her explicit wishes? Oh, you didn’t get to see a little movie? Wahhh. The fact that you’d even want to when you know how much that woman doesn’t want you to is gross. Quit it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

P is for Pinkman.

I am moderately in love with Jesse Pinkman.

For many of you, this will not come as news, due to my frequent use of the ‘#AmyPinkman’ hashtag and the Jesse Pinkman quote that is my Twitter bio. In fact, my adoration is so apparent that the delightful Billie recently sent me a picture of us photoshopped into a quasi-intimate pose, which is now blue-tacked to the side of my bedside table.

While I am unashamedly adoring of many actors, singers, authors, sportspeople and comedians, it is highly unusual for me to be so utterly obsessed with a fictional character. There are a number I’ve been incredibly fond of: everyone in Parks and Recreation, Nick Miller, Ron Weasley, Sheldon Cooper, Pam, Arya Stark… but never have I felt so strongly about any until now.

(Actually, no, that’s a lie. Shane McCutcheon. If Shane McCutcheon was a real person I would sell everything I own and everything I could steal and make it my life’s mission to find her and make her love me. In fact I actually love Shane more than I love Jesse but I’m going to carry on with this blog post anyway.)

And the thing is, it’s definitely Jesse Pinkman. I don’t give a shit about Aaron Paul. I don’t even follow Aaron Paul on Twitter. I do not want to see anything else he’s been in, or know what he had for lunch. Don’t care. I originally had a bunch of people like Summer Roberts in my little list up there of fictional-characters-I-somewhat-adored-but-was-not-obsessed-with until I realized I was actually obsessed with Rachel Bilson who is possibly just the cutest little person on the planet. But Aaron Paul? Nope. I’m Jesse’s girl.

But why? Why do I love Jesse Pinkman so much that, even though I actually don’t think I love Breaking Bad (it’s surprisingly scary to admit that on the internet. But while I’m at it, one of my top five favourite songs of all time is by Coldplay), I watch it near-obsessively? I mean, I like the story, but I hate the main character, and the majority of the non-main characters, but I watch it like it's my favourite show on earth.

I love Jesse because he is a little bit shit at life. He's made one or two more oopsy-daisies than is optimal for being an adaptive member of society. But he's not shit at being a person. He's not cruel. He's not mean. He's not entitled. Even when he breaks, he's not broken.

I know he's fictional, but he gives me hope. He reminds me why we need rehabilitation in prisons. He reminds me to go back, after I've inevitably judged the book by its cover, and read a few chapters. When he gets things right, I feel this overwhelming sense of joy. My bio quote: "Yeah, bitch! Magnets!" was possibly one of my favourite moments ever on television. Why? It's the victory of the guy who has to try harder than everyone else.

He reminds me of the ever-true Vonnegut quote: "There's only one rule that I know of, babies - goddamn it, you've got to be kind." Jesse Pinkman, against all odds, is kind, and I am moderately in love with him.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

O is for Overdue.

Today, a bill got drawn from a ballot. The most important bill. The bill that takes the 'you're wrong' out of 'you're different'. The bill that equalises. The bill that humanises. The bill that says 'we see you'. The bill that says 'we hear you'. The bill that says 'we welcome you'. The bill that says nothing, because there is nothing to say. Love is love. People are people. Joy is joy. Commitment is commitment. Right is right.

Below is an email I wrote to my local MP earlier today. Take a second and write to yours. Let your voice of reason be the first they hear. It's in their hands, which is terrifying, but it's up to us to do what we can.

Hi Todd,

My name is Amy.

I know MPs are very busy people so I promised myself I'd only email you once during the 2011 term, and only if it was something really, really important. Well, much as I hate to use up my email so early in the game, I can't imagine anything requiring me to email you more urgently than the marriage equality bill that was drawn today.

I see from your profile that you're married, and that's wonderful. And four kids! I can't even imagine.. But I'm getting off track. As you’re a clear supporter of marriage, I'm just writing to make sure that you're going to go the right way on this marriage equality thing. And even though I'm sure that you don't need me to clarify, the right way is to grant equal rights to every New Zealander.

Being gay is hard in New Zealand. Shit, it's hard pretty much everywhere. That's how we can tell that people don't choose to be gay, because it's not actually all that fun most of the time. Best case scenario, people stare. Worst case scenario, they yell. They hit. Sometimes, they kill. Families disown children. But people just keep on being gay! It's almost like they can't help it.

Should people be discriminated against for something they cannot help? Can we really tell people that the way that they love, the way they were born to love, is wrong? Can you really say that you’re better, deserve more rights than people who are attracted to those of the same sex? Can you really say you’re better and deserve more rights than anyone?

Some people say that allowing homosexuals to marry will 'ruin' or 'cheapen' marriage. I'm sure I don't need to tell you the divorce rate. I'm sure I don't need to entertain you with stories both from my personal life and the media about heterosexual couples ruining and cheapening marriage all on their own. I'm sure I also don't need to tell you about the gay couples that have stayed together five, ten, twenty times as long as these shams of marriages. All those homosexual couples who are married in everything but name: the name you now have the power to give them.

Do the right thing, Todd. Speak for me, for us, with your vote. Take, on behalf of us all, a giant step in the right direction.

I believe in you.