Representation vs. Inclusion: Finally Belonging to My Fandom

If you know anything about me, you know that I love Doctor Who. Maybe it’s all of my weird collectables. Or you know, that tattoo that’s on my right arm. Whatever tipped you off for my love of all things Whovian, you’d think that I was totally immersed within the show and the fandom. And I would have agreed with you. The show had several queer characters, and I was happy with that. Representation in science fiction television isn’t exactly overflowing. The fact that there was more than one queer character on the show was enough to keep me satisfied.

And then when the 10th season aired in April my whole perspective changed. At the beginning of this season, we were introduced to the Doctor’s new companion Bill. Before the season aired we knew that Bill was gay, but we didn’t know how integral it was going to be to her plot. Within the first moments of the first episode, we were introduced to her sexuality, as well as the impact on the story line.

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The best part about it? The Doctor didn’t say anything about it. Bill was swept away by the Doctor in the TARDIS without care or mention about her sexuality. In the sixth episode, he makes sure that Bill gets a date before they head out on a big and dangerous adventure.

The Doctor is obviously a fictional character, but after the first episode of this season I felt validated in a way that I didn’t realize I needed.

Say Time Lords were real, and one wanted to travel with me, he wouldn’t care that I’m marrying a lady, nor would it make sense to him that other people would care. In a show that has had several queer characters, this was the first time I felt included in the show.

That’s the difference between having representation for it’s own sake versus creating a character that queer people can identify with. Don’t get me wrong, I love Madame Vastra and Jenny, but Vastra is a lizard woman from the dawn of time. It’s representation, but it didn’t make me feel like a part of the Who universe. Bill is an unabashedly queer human, doesn’t hide it, and everyone around her accepts it. When she told male suitor that she’s into girls, he just shrugged and didn’t pursue her any further.

This teaches an important lesson on how queer women should be treated in this instance. We aren’t objects to be won over or converted, and we aren’t secretly waiting for the right man to change our mind. I’m glad this is reflected in the show, and it needs to be reflected in every show with queer characters.

I didn’t realize I how desperately I was craving inclusion in my favorite show until it was served to me on a platter. A beautiful, super queer platter.

Queer Love in Trump’s America

Before I delve too deep into this, I want to get something off of my chest. To quote Game of Thrones (because I’m a giant nerd), when it comes to being queer, I have been a sweet child of summer. My gay awaking didn’t happen until after Obama was elected. I didn’t have to suffer or face discrimination in the high school George W. Bush years. For the most part I’ve had it fairly easy. I was coming into my queer identity as Prop 8 was passed, but Marriage Equality had become a mainstream topic. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, hospital visitation rights were slowly being recognized. It felt like I was living in a Queer Renaissance. It wasn’t sunshine and rainbows the whole time, but it mostly felt almost mainstream to be queer in America.

And then in November, my rose color sunglasses were ripped off my face. In the back of my mind I knew that the gay utopia I was imagining was a farce, but it was still jarring having it ripped away so suddenly and violently. Since the election, so many women (shout out to Twitter) have taught me the lesson of how our existence is resistance. Existing in a world is powerful when people in power would rather see my destruction than my survival.

My fiance and I have always said ‘I love you’ to each other everyday, but after the election it’s felt different. That the words have absorbed extra power within it’s syllables. Every time I utter those three words to her it feels like I’m simultaneously shoving a middle finger in the air at everyone who dares to question and rally against our existence.  

I will rage back at them with all of my fury.

I can exist, I can love my fiance, and I can be unabashedly queer. Sometimes that means wearing my rainbow scarf, or hanging my pride pins up at my office. As a reminder that I’m here and I’m queer. Obviously there are other things to be done besides existing and loving each other. There are going to be many battles to fight. But when I’m worn out and over ridden by all of the things going wrong, I know that there is at least one thing I can do that day that makes a difference.

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Love is a powerful tool. Saying I love you is an act of rebellion.

 

Today is Not a Bad Day

Since writing my last blog, I’ve been in a slump. My creativity, along with my mental and emotional health, has waned. There have been days where I felt my depression come on like a sudden wave while I’m sitting at my desk or fighting through traffic. My social media has become a constant bombardment of terrifying political appointments, people being awful, and terrible things happening in the world. Then there are the people sprinkled in that telling me that I should be caring more, how I need to avoid the sweet siren’s call for apathy and calm—that I need to keep fighting against normalization of the events of the past couple of months.

The call to stay strong and vocal is important. It’s extremely difficult for people to maintain their productivity and rage over an extended period of time, and morale boosts are necessary. A younger version of myself would heed these calls, wearing them as armor as I stormed the gates. Now, I’m just tired of emotionally draining myself over and over to fill the well back up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still paying attention to the aftermath of the election. The genocide in Syria. These things still swirl around my mind like an unsolvable puzzle.

My depression and anxiety makes it hard enough for me not to fall into a deep sea of despair every time that I log onto my social media accounts. Even when I can donate, write, or make the calls, I feel like there is so much more I could be doing, and I’m being lazy by not spending every waking moment stressing or doing something. And when the depression kicks in, I feel even guiltier. People have so much more to lose than me; who am I to sit in my car and cry after work? How can I possibly write anything that hasn’t already been said? Or, has been said by more qualified and talented people? Does my writing actually make a difference or do anything?

With careful thought and sage advice from friends I’m reminded that there is beauty in the struggle. There are days where the weight of the world will be too much for me, and I’m extremely lucky to have a support network to help me stand up after a fall. Every day that I’m here is a victory. I might feel like I’m losing a battle, but the war still rages on, and I’m very much still in the fight. The world may seem like it’s crumbling around me, but today is not a bad day if I continue to write. To think. To breathe.

 

Self-Care is My Rebellion

Like many people reading this, the results of the presidential election sucked out almost all of my energy like an orange vampire. I cried. No, more aptly I sobbed off and on for the next two days after. I was devastated and frightened. My anxiety and my depression flared like I hadn’t seen in years. As someone who deals with managing depression and anxiety on a daily basis, I’m tired. So very tired of everything. Tired of being afraid for my well being, my fiance’s well being, my Jewish family’s well being. All of my queer, Muslim, and female friends. How can I stand up for all of them, how can I work to make sure they’re safe and their rights are protected? Today is one of those days where I want to throw in the towel and dive head first into a sea of depression. Giving up is a temptress, always trying to guide me off the edge in times of trouble. How do I fight against the tide, armed at ready to fight the battle that needs to be fought?

Trying to be ‘on’ all of the time isn’t new to me. Neither is getting burnt out. Working with nonprofits, it’s easy to dive in and try to give 200% all of the time. If you aren’t doing something, you feel like you’re wasting time and energy. The guilt of taking a mental day off or not working long hours can be overwhelming. I’ve seen many tweets and posts about how important self-care is in terms of being an activist. The guilt of ‘not doing enough’ 24-7 runs people down. It’s physically impossible to be on for the cause every single moment of every single day.

In my own unproductive Facebook altercation a women lamented how students were getting time off and teachers were bringing in hot cocoa. Like there is something inherently weak about taking a moment to mourn and take care of yourself. That there was something wrong with people like me who voted for Clinton needing a space to mourn, scream, rebel, and wrap themselves up in a blanket.

Sometimes the only thing we can do in a day is remind others that they are important. To post a hotline or give a friend a hug to remind them how important they are. Self care is about rebellion. It’s about survival. In order to rise up against the injustice of the world we need to take care of ourselves. Whether that means a cup of tea before calling a Congressional office or a bath after a rally, it’s vital that we take care of ourselves and each other. That’s why we’re drinking hot cocoa, organizing get-togethers to learn self defense, and to paint our nails. It’s not because we are soft. It’s to repair and upgrade our armor.

It’s okay to take a break from all of the negative noise. It’s okay to gather resources or to ask for help. Taking care of yourself isn’t arbitrary, it’s necessary.

Support / Self Care Resources:

Trans Lifeline:  (877) 565-8860

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-8255

The GLBT National Help Center: 1-888-843-4564

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200

My Own Worst Enemy

I have been subjected to many bullies in my life. I got made fun of in middle school for wanting to wear shorts instead of a skirt, for having a mustache (and for shaving it), and for not kissing boys. Getting teased for having short hair and looking like a boy. For being too weird. For being the wrong kind of weird. While completely awful, these bullies didn’t have anything on my worst bully.

When I was in school my parents used to tell people that they didn’t need to push or prompt me to study or do my homework because I pushed myself harder than my parents ever would. Initially this created a strong work ethic within me; I had goals that I wanted to achieve, and I better reach them and succeed with flying colors.

The problem occurred when this ethic turned into the ugly, toxic bully that still lingers today. My value and worth were graded on an impossible scale; the more I set myself up for failure, the more excuses I had to internally beat myself up. I got a 90 on a math test, but I could have gotten more questions right. That social interaction you had a couple of days ago? Those people are definitely making fun of everything you said. I became awkward because I told myself I was awkward. I told myself I was never smart enough, so I never felt like any of my accomplishments meant anything. I was insatiable.

Bullying myself became a way of life. From grade school to my Masters program nothing was good enough for myself. Write a really great essay? You’re not actually a good writer. Get into college? Yeah, but not the one you really wanted. Graduate with a Masters from a great school? That’s great, but you’re the fourth one in your family to get one, that isn’t that special you know.

My internal bully questioned and berated everything I did and said. That voice was strengthened by my decade-long unchecked depression. You should feel like dirt, because you aren’t good enough for any of what you have. Don’t count on things staying good for long, you know that other shoe is going to drop, and all of this is going to go away. You have a girlfriend that seems to love and care for you- good luck with that. Once she finds out what you’re really like, how you’re a giant loser, she’ll leave; it’s not like you’re worth someone that awesome.

Like any disease my depression took it’s toll and in the spring of 2013 I had myself a mental breakdown. Three years later, I still say it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I was finally able to look at what I was doing to myself. No one was saying these awful things about me, I internalized the hatred so deeply that it felt natural. Piece by piece I had to pull away the bully that had lived in me for so long. There are still elements left of that bully still inside of me, but I’m much more equipped to stand up for myself and take it down. I was lucky to have a support network that helped pick away those parts, and call me out on my bullying ways. My then girlfriend (now fiance) has been the most important advocate. She sees when I’m about to bully myself and shuts it down.

I’m my own worst enemy but now, I know what I’m up against- and I know I can win.

Engayged

 

While in California my amazing girlfriend (now fiancé) proposed to me – and I said yes! Obviously. This woman has been the best part of my life for the past three and a half years, I couldn’t image what life would be like without her.

Now that I got the gooey stuff out of the way… on to the planning! And opinions. You hear that everyone has an opinion about your wedding, but it doesn’t feel quite real until it smacks you in the face. We’ve been engaged for a month, and if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard ‘well have you thought about’ I would probably have enough to buy me some nice sparkly shoes. I shouldn’t be that mean, people are just excited and they want to help.

What I’ve found interesting so far is how we are navigating around the hetereonormative wedding traditions. There is something truly freeing about not feeling like you have to do this, or have to incorporate things into your wedding. It also kind of sucks? Don’t get me wrong, I love bucking the norm as much as the next queer lady, but I would like at least a road map to start from. Nothing has been clearly defined as gay wedding etiquette and that’s pretty awesome. From food to music to what we want to wear, it’s all up to us.

What’s even more interesting is how friends and family have been managing it. “Are you both wearing dresses? Do you guys do rehearsal dinners? What about cake?” Since neither of us are marrying a dude, people think that we automatically have to be unconventional. We’re bucking the norm because of who we are- I love being unconventional but it’s not something that I need to do. Nothing has to be traditional, unless we want it to.

It feels like we’re free and under a microscope all at the same time. Every time I call a space to look at I’m afraid they won’t even talk to us. Every time I fill out a form where they ask me who the groom is I get mad because I don’t see myself in the bridal industry.

Everything is a reminder that we’re different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like being different. It’s something that I need to get used to because I know everything isn’t going to change as fast as it should or as fast as I want. Change will come by being our beautiful loving selves who will throw an awesome celebration. It’ll come when people realize how we’re the same, yet extraordinarily different.

My Almost Epiphanies

Everyone has the realization that they’re queer at different ages, but at 20 I had felt like I was pretty slow to my epiphany. Why did it take so long for me to get a full grasp on my sexuality- weren’t there glimmers of truth sprinkled throughout my childhood?  Of course. But what may seem obvious to me and everyone else was completely hidden from me. In the midst of it all I couldn’t see the forest through the gay trees.  It’s much easier looking back at my past and picking out how my queer identity had shaped my life even when I wasn’t aware of it.

My youngest queer memories revolved around television. I remember loving the Pink Ranger on Power Rangers. I just couldn’t get over how pretty she was. I didn’t understand why people watched Bay Watch for David Hasselhoff or the other men on the show. Why fawn over them when you had all of those pretty ladies? My 8 year old self was clueless, still pretending that I much preferred the male pop culture icons of the 90s. The biggest crush of my pre-teen life was Captain Katherine Janeway from Star Trek Voyager. I loved her power and her ability to command a ship. I loved her smile and her coyness; her ability to be vulnerable as an authority figure. I thought I wanted to be her when in reality it was a combination of wanting to be her and be with her. And don’t even get me started on Jeri Ryan as 7 of 9.

When I was 15 I had a sex dream about my female best friend. At that time I did have the thought of ‘Hey Amanda, maybe you like ladies? Do you think you could be bisexual or a lesbian?’ That thought process maybe lasted a month or so and inevitably was pushed to the back of mind for another five years. I was so very close, but I don’t think my teenage mind wanted to deal with the idea of being more different than I already was. I didn’t know any gay people and my Catholic education didn’t exactly give me room to explore gender and sexual identities.

Probably the most obvious gay hindsight was the fact that I was never attracted to boys. But my friends had crushes on boy bands and movie stars so I decided to follow suit. I didn’t know what a crush felt like, so I liked people, thought they were cute, but had no emotional or physical attraction to them. I thought it was normal. I had lived a very sheltered existence and didn’t get my boobs or period until much later than my friends- I had just thought I didn’t hit that part of puberty where I felt sexually attracted to guys. I was drunkenly making out with guys on the feminine side in college and I still wasn’t getting it. Why wasn’t it clicking for me? Am I really that awkward where I can’t romantically interact with men?

I truly had my epiphany as I was leaving my study abroad experience and started the spring semester of my junior year. It took a girl telling me she was bi to finally let my queerness out. I wish I could say the clouds opened up and a giant rainbow light shone down on me. Really, this girl wanted to hold my hand and I didn’t back down from it. That’s all it took. Something unconsciously clicked in my brain and I decided to roll with it. Did years and years of building a wall of suppression cause it to collapse? Did all of my queer experience topple it over in one fowl swoop? I’m honestly not sure what happened. The door swung open and I never went back. I was here and I was queer.

 

Our Existence is Resistance

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When I came to the realization that I’m a lesbian my entire world became politicized. Local and Federal laws have determined whether I could get married, be in a hospital room with a partner, have rights at work, or if I could be discriminated against when looking for a home. Everything about the queer experience is politicized. Most of the time, I don’t have to actively think about it. Usually I remember when I have to correct someone if they ask about my ‘boyfriend’ or have to look around to see if it would be safe to hold my girlfriend’s hand in public.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to deal with this. Our identities would be respected and not met with toxic and callous hateful laws and initiatives. We wouldn’t have politicians compare us to animals and call for our removal while preaching their twisted flavor of Christianity. Over the weekend we were horrifically reminded that our very existence inspires hate and violence. The political rhetoric has created a culture where the sight of two men kissing sends a person off in a murderous rampage. In a place where many people in the queer community feel is sanctuary.

There have been hundreds of anti-LGBT laws introduced throughout states and on a national level. Along with politicians encouraging violence, this created the perfect scenario for someone who hated our identities (and possibly his own) to go after the people who have been crafted so perfectly into an evil ‘other’. An Orlando survivor could go into work in Florida and be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Straight people are afraid of becoming uncomfortable. The queer community fears for their lives if they look or act ‘too gay’ around the wrong people.

When we gather at pride parades, go the clubs, or participate in anything in the queer movement we become political entities. The fact that we come together to tell the world that you may hate us but we are here, we’re queer, and we’re not going to stand quietly while our brothers and sisters are oppressed and murdered.

I don’t think anyone wants every part of their lives to politicized, but the queer community can’t escape it. So we gather, we yell, we take down hypocritical politicians. We live our lives to the best we can. We fight against oppression and work to create safe online and physical spaces. We honor the victims from Orlando, we continue rebelling against oppression. And we keep fighting against the people who continue to rail against us.

We keep on existing.

Depression Doesn’t Make You an Artist

I read an article a week or so ago about mental health, creativity, and treatment. I’m not going to mention where the article was posted or anything about the article specifically because it is without a doubt one of the worst, disgusting, and harmful pieces of writing I’ve ever seen on the internet. Now you might say Amanda, there is a lot of terrible things on the internet, why is this one more horrible than the rest of it?

The intention of this article is the reason I would put it up there with the worst of the worst. In it the writer claims that it was better for her friend to have committed suicide than be on medication, because she wasn’t able to be her true creative self. I’m going to write that again. Someone thought, wrote down, and posted on the internet that someone killing themselves was better than their friend living a ‘lesser’ medicated life.

I don’t know what’s scarier, the fact that she thought she was being insightful or innovating, or a person struggling might use this as justification to not try therapy or medication. I can only speak for myself and my mental health journey, but I can say with 100% certainty that my writing was absolutely awful before I started a therapy regime supplemented with medication. Insanely terrible. I could barely write in coherent sentences, and if I did manage to write something not awful I had no confidence to let anyone read it. I wasn’t living up to my true self. I wasn’t living up to my creative potential. Honestly, I wasn’t really living.

After I started managing my depression and anxiety I’ve had people tell me that I had changed and my different self was not as good as the ‘old me.’ Apparently I was a better friend and a better person when I constantly grappled with chronic loneliness, anxiety, and depression. My medication and therapy has helped me find who I really was, not a depressed version of myself. And for some reason people have a hard time when people they know with mental health issues struggle toward being their better selves. It probably does look like we’ve changed, but really it’s just a matter of rediscovering who we are without depression or anxiety completely controlling our lives.

Romanticizing mental health problems as a way to being a great artist is dangerous, unhealthy, and extremely untrue. I was an unproductive writer who occasionally wrote sad, terrible poems in a journal I was never going to share. Now I’m writing a book, writing on this blog, and writing for Geeks Out. I’m a much happier and content person, and my writing benefits from that. A person who is struggling to be happy or stay alive isn’t automatically better at their craft. And even if they were for some reason? A person’s life is far more important than their art. A person shouldn’t feel like they need to sacrifice themselves to create something for the world.

Our lives are more important than our art. Our better lives help us create better art. This is what we need to be telling our friends and family. Struggling doesn’t make you a better artist, writer, composer, or anything else.

Our friends’ lives have no less value when they are trying to get better.

Stop Killing Fictional Queer Women

Dear Straight Writers,

The title really says it all. Stop. Killing. Female. Queers. In. Your. Stories. It’s lazy and overdone. Women who are attracted to women are extremely tired of seeing the death trope in books, TV shows, and movies. You aren’t allowed to be hailed as “groundbreaking” when you included a lesbian couple to only string people along – only for it to end in death. Killing a queer character isn’t shocking or edgy. It’s boring, contrite, and damaging.

‘The 100’ became a show in which my girlfriend and I became extremely excited to watch. It felt like it was too good to be true- a well thought out sci-fi/ dystopic story where two ladies are in love with each other. The show actually explores the relationship in a deep and meaningful way, and neither character is persecuted for their sexuality. It was fantastic. It was beautiful. It was downright amazing. We finally felt like were getting a taste of what straight people experience on a regular basis: two people in love with each other without judgment or persecution.

Then… this past Thursday’s episode aired. It felt like someone had dangled happiness, hope, and equality in front of our faces for a couple of years… pushing us to support the show and keep the ratings up, just to have it so lazily stripped away. Clark and Lexa were finally able to be together at least for a shot while – then Lexa is killed. Not in a badass warrior way, in a dumb manner that made it obvious that no one on the show thought that there was another way to write out, or temporarily write out, a lesbian character.

It’s irresponsible to create a world where queer girls and women feel like they can dive into happiness and hope, and then crush us inside of it. We don’t get happy stories. I can count on one hand long lasting, positive TV representation in the last few years; two of these shows are cartoons. We rely on positive narratives to validate our identities in a world that usually refuses to see us. It’s awful that we have to hunt for quality, positive material to consume.

I really don’t know what I think is worse – the void where quality lesbian content should reside, or the cesspool where ‘ground-breaking’ writers throw another edgy story about lesbians dying? Do you realize how this narrative is so abhorrently toxic? Queer girls and women have had to grow up watching and reading  people tell us that our kind of love and our kind of story isn’t worth putting thought into. And if some thought has been put into it,they tell us that our identity will almost certainly lead to heartache and/or death.  It’s not that these stories exist, many heart wrenching heterosexual stories get the same treatement. But they also get the thrillers and mysteries, cut romantic comedies, stories where they are accepted and no one questions who they are, what they do, or who they love. If you are having trouble thinking of creative things your lesbian characters can do besides die, check out this article on Autostraddle. It gives you many jumping off points. If people are saying that Ryan Murphy’s representation of lesbians is better than yours I hate to tell you that you are doing something wrong.

I’m simultaneously tired and enraged. The moment people start patting your back for inclusion and equality is the moment you have a responsibility to the queer fandom it supports. You could argue that this isn’t fair. One show has to bear the burden to fairly represent queer ladies without the death trope? In a perfect world where I can ride around on a unicorn there would be plenty of positive queer content for me to choose from. So if a gay lady dies in one show it wouldn’t be soul-crushing. Unfortunately for all of us we don’t to get to live in this world. We live in a world where straight people get to dictate how I’m represented if I’m represented at all.

Straight writers, if you are unable to think outside the lesbian death-trope box, just stop writing about us. You are doing more harm than good. Please take the time to understand that our stories our more than tragic endings. Please give us the chance to be seen for who we are and what we are made of. If you aren’t willing to do that, kindly step aside and let queer writers express themselves in a way that reflects our many multifaceted and diverse narratives. Let us tell stories in which no one is persecuted, killed, or tragically dies of cancer.

We are more that your lazy and short-sighted narratives. It’s time to step out of the heteronormative box and let us tell the stories ourselves.