The letter in which I attempt to explain transgender to someone who isn’t interested in my opinion.
Dear Dave Chappelle,
Honey… we need to talk.
I’ll start by saying thank you for pledging not to joke about us again until we’re laughing together. I’m hoping this letter can help us get there.
If you hadn’t already figured it out, I’m a transgender woman. I’m one of the “manly” ones you joke about, the ones who, if you met me in person, no matter how much makeup I was wearing or how I was dressed, you’d just think, “that’s a man.”
You’ll probably never read this, but I’m writing it because I just watched your newest special, “The Closer,” and there’s a few things I’d like to try to explain. If not to you, to perhaps one or two of the people who also watched the special and want to understand a trans perspective.
I’ve watched all of your Netflix specials and I do not believe in my heart that you wish any harm upon the transgender community. In fact, I believe you when you say that you support our right to exist, that you think we should be allowed to use whichever bathroom makes us feel safe, and that you’ve had trans friends. Generally speaking, I think your views have been understandable, if misinformed.
I’m not sure you understand the power you wield over the minds of millions of people. Maybe you do, and maybe that’s part of why you stepped away from the business for so long. But watching your newest special made me feel less safe to live in the world. For the first time in one of your specials, your transphobic comments were met with not only rousing applause, but standing ovations from your audience. I looked at their reaction to your ideas and saw a malice that had previously been unknown to me.
Let’s talk about Stonewall. Because you talk for a decent amount of time in your special about how much you respect “The Stonewall Gays,” a group of people who seem to live in your mind as a bunch of men who fought the police and won their freedom (maybe you watched the whitewashed film about it from a few years ago). The thing is, Stonewall only happened because of Black transgender women. You can’t mention Stonewall without bringing up Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman who gave everything she had to be able to live her life as she saw fit. She and the other women who fought with her were tired of being harassed by the police. They threw the first bricks. They inspired others to join them.
Another point of contention is your implication that trans people sprang into existence within the last few decades. There are records of transgender people existing as far back as 4500 and possibly even 9000 years ago. Before White People even sprouted, transgender people lived all across the globe. Many native cultures view transgender people as being wiser, or even holy, because of their attunement to both sides of human gender expression (look up the terms ‘two-spirit’ or ‘mahu’ if you want to learn more). They were often spiritual leaders and sometimes kings and queens. This was a common practice for tribes in North America, South America, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and so many more places before the Abrahamic religions showed up and ruined it.
Colonizers and religious leaders found this concept to be repellent, “against God’s will” so to speak, so they stigmatized it. They invented the concept of “only two genders,” and then circled the globe, force-feeding it to every person in every tribe they encountered for the next few millennia. Those who didn’t agree were put to death or made to be slaves.
Transphobia was invented by the very same White people who invented Colonization. The same White people who participated in chattel slavery. At its root, transphobia is a racist idea, created to uphold the cis-normative culture of, “women are for breeding, and men are in charge of everything.” The existence of trans people threatened the very premise of their religion, and the basis of their “right” to conquer new worlds and peoples.
Boiled down into a sentence: Transphobia is racist.
If your fight is, as you say, against White People and White Supremacy, I find it interesting that you’re arguing for their side when it comes to the concept of gender. Part of the culture that was stripped away from the people who were brought to America from Africa and forced into slavery was the normalization and acceptance of transgender people. Part of the culture used to demonize Native Americans and sell them into slavery was the normalization and acceptance of transgender people.
You may not hate trans people. But that doesn’t mean you don’t believe or agree with some transphobic ideas. In the same way that a cop can pull you over and tell you to your face that he LOVES you, think you’re great, and then shoot John Crawford in the same week, it is entirely possible to have transgender friends and not understand anything about the realities of what we face living in the world.
You said it is an undeniable fact that all human beings came into this world because they were pushed through the legs of a woman. This is false. We all came into this world being pushed through a vagina (not counting C-sections, but the point stands), but as you are clearly also aware, there are a whole lot of men in this world who have vaginas. And yes, there are transgender men who have given birth, so some humans were born being pushed through the legs of a man.
“But if you have a vagina, you’re a woman!” I can hear the gender-criticals shout. And that’s the transphobic idea I’m talking about. You don’t have to be “a transphobe” to believe that all people with vaginas are ‘biologically women’, but the genesis of that idea was stuffy White men sitting around in castles trying to figure out how they could own everything—including people with vaginas and the children they bore.
“What if we just tell them what they are the moment they’re born? If you have a vagina, you get to be a wife and a daughter and eventually a mother, because your purpose is to bear children—it’s better for us!”
And trans people made the whole thing messy. So they decided to call us deviants and sinners so no one else would be tempted to look inward and ask themselves, “does my genitalia really define who I am?”
You’re not transphobic, but you believe transphobic things. And when you perpetuate them on Netflix (or just in the world), it makes the people who already hate us feel more outraged at our existence. I watched it happen in your audience. When one of those men gets too drunk one night and tries to hook up with one of us, the outrage might be just enough for them to do something irreversible.
You end the special talking about “punching down.” It is my firm belief that in this scenario, no one has been punching down—we’ve been punching sideways, fighting each other when we should be united in our common cause. After all, our fight is ultimately the same: dismantle the White Supremacist Patriarchy.
Still a fan,
Chloe Jade Skye
PS: Caitlin Jenner is not the person you want to talk to if you want to learn about trans people. We also think it’s outrageous that she won Woman of the Year. We love and respect her but we did not vote for her and she does not speak for most of us.
Hello there! So, for the past year or so I’ve been working on a novel called “Krenduun the Great!”. Early in the process, I hit a lot of snags as I realized I needed to build out more of the world before I could keep writing. I’m about 45,000 words in at this point, which is maybe 30% of the way completed, but I wanted to share the prologue, which is more or less just an introduction to Krenduun and the world they inhabit.
The novel is fantasy, but I’ve leaned away from any pre-established fantasy characters and races that we’ve come to know (elves, dwarves, etc) and instead built from scratch the world of New Verdanthia, with new species and a whole host of new dynamics to explore. Most of those creatures are not mentioned in this prologue, but a few of them are.
One of the underlying but consistent threads in the novel is gender, and the various relationships certain species have with their genders (or lack thereof). Krenduun uses they/them pronouns, which is irrelevant to the story but is ultimately integral to understanding the characters.
If any of that sounds interesting to you, the prologue is below. I hope you enjoy!
It wasn’t easy being the most powerful being on the planet.
At least, it wouldn’t be for anyone else. For Krenduun, it came quite naturally.
Currently, they were standing at the top of a large platform overlooking the stage. At the platform’s base, there was nothing to break their fall—no netting, no cushion, not even a tub of water. A fall from this height would surely kill them. And yet, Krenduun approached the edge fearlessly. They lifted one leg over the edge and held it there, as if they were about to step off, and the crowd gasped.
They’re so easily manipulated, Krenduun thought. Some of them have probably seen this show a dozen times, yet they still act like they don’t know what’s coming. How tedious and pathetic their lives must be.
“Are you afraid for me? For me?!” Krenduun asked, their voice booming out into the farthest reaches of the stadium. No, it’s nothing more than the fear they imagine they would feel in my place. “If I made a mistake and fell to my death, right here in front of you, what would you do?”
The crowd watched with baited breath. Krenduun smirked (as much as their facial scales would allow) and waited, knowing the tension of what might happen was just as important as the details of what did happen. “Krenduun the Great!” read the banners outside the stadium, and Krenduun had always liked the sound of that.
They leaned their head back, opened their mouth, and roared. A burst of light and flame poured out of it, the same golden color as the gelatinous skin beneath Krenduun’s hard scales. As they roared, the gaps between the scales glowed brighter than before as Krenduun’s magic burned.
The audience burst into applause as the hot golden breath filled the air above the stage, casting a magnificent hue across the entire stadium.
Don’t use too much, Krenduun reminded themself, and closed their mouth. Their body grew dimmer than it had been before, but the glowing light was still clearly visible, especially to those seated close to the stage. They fluttered their cape behind them and took an exaggerated bow, causing the applause to grow louder.
Krenduun snorted softly to themself. I really could do anything and it would impress them. Would they still love me if I died? Would they still cheer and applaud the sight of my crumpled body on the stage?
They stared out at the eager faces in the crowd. Or what if I stopped performing magic altogether?
Krenduun began to dance.
The crowd seemed unsure what to make of what was happening. Silence filled the stadium. And yet, Krenduun danced on. They began waving their arms wildly atop the platform.
It started slowly at first, but laughter spread across the room. A chuckle in the front row, followed by a tittering from a small group on the left. Within moments, the entire stadium was filled with hysterical laughter. Krenduun stopped.
“You dare mock me!?” their voice boomed. The laughter stopped. “Are you here to see a display of magical prowess, or are you here to witness Krenduun the Great?!”
One voice squeaked from the fourth row: “Krenduun!”
“Does this one speak for all of you? I asked, who did you come to see?”
“KRENDUUN!” came a booming reply.
“I thought so.” Krenduun turned their back to them, but it seemed the dancing and spinning had offset their balance a bit more than anticipated. As they turned, their foot slipped off the front of the platform. They attempted to catch themself, but it was too late, and they tumbled headfirst off the platform, hurtling straight for the stage below.
The audience gasped, and Krenduun braced themself.
A moment before collision, Krenduun waved an arm in front of their body and disappeared.
On the opposite end of the stage, a golden circle of light appeared in mid-air, and Krenduun stepped out of it, completely unharmed. They threw their hands into the air in a victorious stance, their cape fluttering in the light breeze. The crowd leapt to their feet and cheered.
“Perhaps I should stick to the magic,” they said. The audience froze. “You can laugh.” A few laughed, but most of them remained silent. Maybe you pushed them a little too hard…No, don’t be ridiculous. They’re truffidds.
The entirety of the audience was truffidds, which made sense. Truffidds had no skill for performing magic, and were the easiest to impress. They lived simple lives, in small homemade hovels or caves, but always underground. A truffidd didn’t need a soft bed to sleep in, as they usually buried themselves in dirt whenever they needed a rest.
If I slept in dirt, I’d probably be pretty impressed by me as well. Krenduun lived a life of extravagance, living in the blattneor palace and coming out only to perform, for which they were compensated handsomely.
There was very little Krenduun wasn’t allowed to do—apart from enter blattneor holy sites and worship rooms—but there was even less that they were interested in doing. Most days, Krenduun slept until the late afternoon, waking up only to eat before diving back into the mound of blankets and pillows that made up their bed.
To be fair, Krenduun’s magic only worked if they got enough rest. There was a finite supply, and depending on how much they used, it could take entire days to fully regenerate. If they ever used all of their magic without recharging, they would die. That was fine for Krenduun, as they only needed to use their magic once a week, during their stage show on Neorday. As long as they slept for a full day before that show, there would be more than enough magic to get through the performance.
Of course, Krenduun wasn’t the only magical creature in existence. They were the only of their species, having been discovered in a larval state in the mountains at the farthest point on the island, far from the city of Skrrka Ktahn. The blattneor took Krenduun in and helped them hone their abilities before giving them their own show, cementing Krenduun’s god-status to the nonmagical citizens of the island of New Verdanthia. The other magical species that shared the island, the piddlim, had much less magic individually, but when they came together and focused their skills on the same goal, they could be quite powerful.
But I’m the one with the show, Krenduun thought. No one wants to see a hundred piddlim give a truffidd the ability to breathe underwater when I can do it alone. No, they want to see raw magical power.
“I’m ready to get back to the show. Honest.” The crowd seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. “For anyone who’s seen the show before, you know that for this next part, I’ll need a volunteer,” Krenduun’s voice boomed. Vocal magnification was a simple enough spell, and required very little magical energy.
Stubby truffidd hands shot up across the stadium. Krenduun looked out at the volunteers, and their eyes locked onto a young-looking truffidd whose hand was bounding excitedly in the sixth row. Krenduun focused their energy and sent a thought into the truffidd’s mind.
Step up onto the stage, the message said, and the truffidd leapt excitedly to his feet.
“They picked me! They picked me!” he said as he scooted down the row as quickly as he could. Krenduun smiled as his friends slapped him on the back, simultaneously congratulating him and helping push him along so that the show could continue.
What are you called? Krenduun asked the truffidd. I’m able to hear your response if you allow it.
The truffidd’s mouth fell open in shock as he continued walking toward the stage, as if in a trance. At last, he scrunched up his face and thought, I’m Karna!
With the name, Krenduun also caught a brief glimpse of the emotion behind it: Unworthiness. Insecurity. A feeling like he was beneath Krenduun—and with it, something else. Gratitude, Krenduun realized. He’s thankful that he was chosen. And the thought made Krenduun feel sick.
Karna paused, searching for a way to get onto the stage. How do I—
Before he could finish his thought, Krenduun raised an outstretched arm into the air. A light cloud of golden energy appeared beneath Karna and lifted him up, placing him gently on the stage. Karna turned around and faced the audience, a look of shock and glee plastered on his face.
“This is Karna!” Krenduun boomed. “Have you ever been to the show before, Karna?” Karna shook his head. “So for all you know, everything that’s happened has been a part of the show.” Karna looked out at the crowd, hoping for a clue as to how he should respond. Before he said anything, Krenduun continued on with full enthusiasm. “Have you ever been affected by magic before, Karna?” They waved a hand lightly across the air.
Almost imperceptible golden energy made its way into Karna’s mouth.
“No, I—” as soon as the words left his mouth, he gasped and covered his face with his hands. “How did my voice get so loud?”
The audience roared with laughter. Krenduun approached Karna and clapped a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t worry, it’s not permanent. Now, do me a favor and look me in the eyes.”
“I’m doing magic!” Karna called out to the stadium. He leaned back and roared, doing his best Krenduun impression. “Karna the Great!” he shouted. The audience erupted into scattered laughter and applause.
“Adorable,” said Krenduun, growing irritated. “Now, Karna, I’m going to need you to look me in the eyes. Now.”
Karna did as he was told. Krenduun muttered something under their breath, and Karna’s body relaxed.
“Now I want you to walk toward me.”
Karna looked confused. Like he knew what he was supposed to be doing, but wasn’t able to command his body to do it. He lifted a leg into the air and held it, attempting to move forward, but his leg disobeyed. Instead of stretching forward, it stretched back. Karna nearly lost his footing, but caught himself.
“I don’t understand,” he said, getting frightened.
“You wouldn’t, would you?” Krenduun said gleefully. “Now, step toward me.”
Karna’s other leg tried to run in a third direction, causing him to topple over onto the stage. Just before he slammed into the ground, Krenduun reached out his hand and caught him with that same golden energy.
“What did you do to me?” Karna asked, the fear now unmistakable.
Krenduun flexed their whole body and muttered another word, causing another Krenduun to step out from behind the one everyone had been watching all along. They said the word again, and a third Krenduun appeared, then a fourth. All four moved in unison, but in separate locations.
“Which is the real me?” they all spoke.
Karna tried to get to his feet and run, but his legs felt like they were made of putty. Instead, his arms scrabbled at the ground, attempting to pull his weight away from the four Krenduuns. Instead, he did a sort of somersault and landed with a grunt on his back.
“Please,” Karna said. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
The Krenduuns circled Karna, looking down on him like the tiny truffidd he was. They smirked and sent a thought into the boy’s mind.
I thought you were Karna the Great.
The audience was no longer laughing, as the truffidd’s fear washed over them. Now, they were growing concerned for the poor creature. Krenduun felt the concern and sighed.
The Krenduun copies disappeared. They relinquished control over Karna’s mind. Hesitantly, Karna climbed to his feet and turned toward the audience.
“That’s the thing about magic,” Krenduun said. “You never know what to expect. Let’s hear a round of applause for Karna. Karna, give them a bow.”
Karna gave a shaky bow, and a light smattering of applause came from various corners of the stadium.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it, Karna?”
Karna ran-walked to the edge of the stage and lowered himself over the edge, returning shamefully to his seat.
Krenduun looked out at the crowd, many of whom were looking back with absolute horror. A few truffidds were sneaking out the back door.
“Oh, come now! Don’t you want to stay for the grand finale? I’m just getting started!” Krenduun reached out, and golden energy slammed the doors in the truffidds’ faces. “This is what you’re here for, right? To witness power? To watch me do things you only wish you could? What have I got wrong, here?”
Krenduun spun their arms in a circle around their body, and a flat golden disc appeared beneath them. The circle began to rise into the air, lifting Krenduun with it. As it rose, Krenduun stretched their fingers wide, and golden fireworks exploded out of them, the sound reverberating across the audience.
“What else shall I do to… amuse you?”
Then Krenduun spotted Acktir standing offstage. It had been a long time since she’d bothered attending one of Krenduun’s performances. Once it had become clear that Krenduun knew the performance back-to-front, she’d found better things to do with her time.
Krenduun snapped back to reality. Just when I was starting to enjoy myself.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to end the show early tonight. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Good night.”
They released the spells they’d been holding onto. The doors to the stadium swung open. The disc vanished, and Krenduun began to fall. They waved an arm in the air in front of themself, and disappeared from sight.
They reappeared backstage, where the blattneor assistants were waiting for them. The assistants moved to remove Krenduun’s cloak, but Krenduun pulled away.
“Wheeee muzzt tayk itt,” one of them buzzed.
“You must learn to speak as though your mouth isn’t full,” Krenduun responded, holding onto their cloak but walking lazily away from the lot of them. blattneor mouths weren’t designed for speaking, but they’d taught themselves to make sounds similar to speech by rubbing their mandibles across their teeth like playing a violin. It had been necessary as a means of fitting in on New Verdanthia.
Before Krenduun could get out the door, Acktir stepped into the door frame to block their exit, as if by magic. Of course it wasn’t, blattneor had no magic abilities at all, but it still seemed a strange coincidence.
If there were a hierarchy amongst Krenduun’s assistants, Acktir was at the top. She’d been in charge of the performance structure as far back as Krenduun could remember. What she commanded the others to do was seen as law.
She did not look pleased with Krenduun.
“Acktir!” Krenduun said aloud. “What a pleasant surprise.”
Although blattneor were unable to perform magic, their shells were impenetrable to magic, meaning Krenduun couldn’t communicate with them mentally as he had with the truffidd in the audience. Korm? Was that his name? Frustratingly, blattneor had their own form of telepathic communication that could be used exclusively with one another, a perk of the species.
“Whee muzzt kommuune,” Acktir scratched.
Acktir glared at Krenduun, not wasting the energy playing their games.
“Alright, fine. That was nothing. A bit of fun. The boy will be fine.”
“Yoo muzzt maykk truffiddz frrgett.”
“I’m not interested in altering memories today. Let them speak of it.”
“Then have the piddlim do it.” Krenduun tried to step around Acktir, but she moved to block them.
“Whee muzzt kommuune,” she repeated.
“I could just teleport past you.”
“Yoo arr low on magikk.”
Krenduun paused. “What do we need to talk about?”
“Whee muzzt gayn inzzight intoo yorr reezonzz.”
Krenduun sighed. “I’m bored with the show.” Acktir’s mandibles twitched, but she did not make a sound. “It’s the same every week. I’ve been doing it for ages. My abilities go far beyond what I perform on that stage, and it’s all going to waste.”
“Yoo purrform onzze per weekk. truffiddz muzzt not feer yoo.”
“I hate them, Acktir. I breathe a little bit of fire and they treat me like I’m some kind of god. That boy… when he responded to me, inside my head, I could feel the way he felt about me. I saw me the way he sees me, and it isn’t true. I’m not what he thinks I am. I’m just… a jester. A highly paid jester, but a jester. I’m growing tired of all of it.”
They stopped, seeing a strange look in Acktir’s eyes. Acktir made no attempt to respond, and in fact seemed to have stopped listening. The telepathy.
Krenduun whirled around just in time to see the other assistants approaching them, arm stingers extended.
Krenduun waved an arm in front of his body and disappeared. A golden circle of magical light appeared on the other side of the room, and Krenduun stepped out of it. Between their blue-black scales, Krenduun could see the glow fading. I really shouldn’t have gotten carried away during the show. Flying and firework fingers? That was just tacky.
Barely a second after they stepped out of the portal, the blattneor spotted them. They turned and ran.
A launched stinger bounced off one of Krenduun’s scales. They ran through a doorway and sprinted as fast as they could. Behind them, they heard Acktir buzzing orders & the skittering of blattneor legs in hot pursuit.
Where won’t they look for me? Krenduun thought.
They would have tried teleporting outside of the Palace, but the outer walls were made from blattneor shells, preventing magical travel through them. Besides, Krenduun had never been able to teleport farther than the distance across the performance stage. There was a seemingly exponential magic cost as the distance grew greater.
As they ran, an idea came to them. Risky, they thought, but possibly my only option. By now they’ll have guards, servants, and assistants looking for me everywhere else.
They reached an intersection and turned. They waved an arm and a doorway opened at the end of the hallway. In any other situation, Krenduun wouldn’t have used the magical energy to teleport down a hallway, but right now every second mattered.
They were aiming for the Trophy Room—it was the closest blattneor worship room. If going off-script was grounds for Krenduun’s assassination, they weren’t particularly worried about the consequences of trespassing in a forbidden room. Besides, any worshipping blattneor had probably already been enlisted to hunt them down.
They heard scuttling from around the next corner. Krenduun stopped. I need a place to hide. They snapped their fingers and drew a golden square in the air in front of them. It shimmered for a moment before a tiny room appeared, and Krenduun stepped inside, then quickly turned around and redrew the square in the opposite direction. The doorway disappeared.
Back in the Palace, four blattneor passed through the hallway where Krenduun had just been standing.
Now the issue was determining how long to wait in the Secret Room. If they stepped out too soon, the passing blattneor might hear, but if they waited too long, another group might show up and see the door opening from the rear, where Krenduun wouldn’t be able to see them. Just staying in the Secret Room wasn’t an option either—because the doorway had been closed, there was a finite amount of time before Krenduun would suffocate.
Trust your instincts on this, they thought. You know how fast they move, their patterns—you’ve been living with them forever. Krenduun made a judgment call and opened the door.
This particular ability used a lot of magical energy, and Krenduun could feel their skin stretching with the exertion. Alright, no more magic doorways. To anywhere.
Thankfully, there were no blattneor in sight or earshot. Krenduun breathed a quick sigh of relief and kept running. Running itself was more difficult when they were running low on magic. It felt like being dehydrated.
They made it all the way to the Trophy Room without incident. Krenduun made sure the coast was clear before making a break for the door.
Out of breath but feeling confident, Krenduun carefully pushed the door open. Before their eyes adjusted to the light inside, they felt something sharp and painful sink into the side of their torso. Krenduun glanced down and saw a stinger stuck between two of their scales.
The gelatinous golden magic that held Krenduun’s scales in place began to seep out through the wound, and Krenduun felt their body losing its shape.
“No…” they gasped. The scales beside the wound fell off, clattering to the ground. From the darkness, another stinger flew directly into the opening. A bubble of liquid gold magic burst out as the stinger disappeared into Krenduun’s body.
They gasped as the scales around their neck popped off. Their facial scales dripped onto their chest plates, scraping as they slowly melted to the ground. Krenduun lost control of the direction of their eyes as the contents of their head spilled out from between the scales, leaking down their chest.
They could no longer speak; their mouth had been disconnected from their magic. Their vision went dark.
Krenduun heard the unmistakable sounds of blattneor legs skittering across the stone floor, and then the scratching of mandibles against teeth, but it didn’t sound like words.
You know how some people believe that the universe is literally testing us? Like, once we believe we’ve accomplished something or overcome a personal emotional hurdle, the world will throw you a challenge, or a test, to see if you’ve actually overcome it? I never believed that to be the case… but I do have some pretty strong evidence to support the hypothesis.
This blog is going to be the simple story of me going for a walk.
Here’s the thing—I’ve been officially out as trans for over a year now, but for the first 9 months of that year, we were trapped in a pandemic with a government that seemed to be going out of its way to make sure we didn’t survive. Coming out was a minor salve on what was, generally speaking, the most consistently stressful time of my life. Considering the amount of time that has passed, I haven’t actually engaged with or explored my gender nearly as much as I would have liked to.
As you may have noticed, I haven’t written a post in quite some time, and the reason is that I started a job. The job allowed me to get vaccinated early and will soon give me healthcare, something I felt I needed before beginning the process of starting HRT (hormone replacement therapy, for those not up to date on their transgender terminology). Despite the fact that I’ve been wearing makeup, got my ears pierced, and have been wearing more “feminine” clothing, most people still look at me and say, “hello sir!” without batting an eye. I’m sure part of that is that our work uniform is just a plain t-shirt with the company logo, and part of it is my deep voice and 6’0″ frame.
So, with what little free time I still have, I’ve been trying to explore my gender as much as possible. For the past year, most of my exploration has occurred indoors (again, pandemic) or in a “safe space” like my new job. As euphoric as it often was, I still felt like I was taking baby steps, when I wanted to try to walk so that I would eventually be able to run. One night after work (10pm), I decided I was going to go full-on girl-mode and take a walk through my neighborhood. Because I frequently take my dog for walks around this time of night, I knew that there wouldn’t be many people around, and I would be able to exist freely in the open air.
Before I go any further, I’d like to mention that I don’t live in the greatest neighborhood in the world. Most parts of Los Angeles are kind of a mess even on the best days, and where I currently live has been slowly dying as gentrification rolls ever closer. There have been multiple occasions where someone locked eyes with me on the street in broad daylight and attempted to start a physical altercation when I was in boymode, so for as much as I’d love to say “I’m not afraid of people, I feel totally safe being my authentic self!”, there are valid reasons to be afraid of walking alone at night as a woman of any kind.
I put on a skirt I’d purchased earlier in the week, along with a frilly blue shirt and as much of a full face of makeup as I’m capable of doing at this point. I threw on a pair of comfortable walking heels and headed out.
The Simulation Begins
I approached the front gate of my apartment complex. Typically, this is the easiest part of any walk—literally just getting outside. As I reached for the door, two middle-aged cis women opened it first. The moment they saw me, their conversation stopped (or at least paused) while they took in everything that I am. I smiled, but then remembered I was wearing a mask and they couldn’t actually see it. They made no attempt to disguise the fact that they were staring at me. On the bright side, “middle aged woman” is hardly what comes to mind when you think “hate crime,” so I remained unafraid, if mildly annoyed.
As I made my way down the street, I noticed a number of people out and about. Generally speaking, if I saw someone who seemed like they might be a cis male coming my way, I crossed the street to avoid them. I made it all the way to the end of my street before anything happened. There, I noticed two separate groups of people approaching me from opposite directions. Each group consisted of exactly three people, all of whom seemed at least slightly intoxicated.
Relax, Chloe, I thought. This probably isn’t a setup, no one is going to jump you.
(At this point maybe I should mention I was raised in an environment where danger was seemingly omnipresent, where murderers and kidnappers were lurking around every corner—so I’m a little prone to irrational fear in the face of trying new things.)
I got a few sideways glances, but we all went our separate ways and I carried on with my walk. At this point, everything seemed more or less normal, like I would have expected from a late night walk, albeit with a few more people around than I would have guessed. If I were to liken it to a video game, this was the part where Mario is jumping over the basic obstacles at the start of a level. Sure, he has to crush a Goomba or two, but for the most part, things are pretty simple. But you know, eventually, Bowser is coming.
I round the next corner and pass through a group of people waiting at the bus stop. For the most part, everyone ignores me. They’re veterns of the Los Angeles Public Transportation System—they’re used to seeing much stranger things than a trans woman going for a walk.
I walk for quite awhile without seeing anyone or anything apart from the odd passing car. What I saw next made me reconsider my entire worldview and everything I thought was real in this universe. What I saw next made me realize, with absolute certainty, that we must be living inside a simulation. My encounters with people before this grew progressively larger: from two women, to 6 strangers, to a crowd at a bus stop. But now I’d reached the boss.
In a small garden in front of a church, a man was practicing knife throwing. From a distance of around 20 feet, he was launching knives into the trunk of a tree, and not a single one missed. After one of his daggers stuck into the bark, he would retrieve it—slowly, confident in his movements, like a panther approaching a fresh kill. Then, thwip!—and the knife was an inch deep in its target. Maybe this man meant me no harm—but if he did, I had visual proof he could kill me without lifting a foot off the ground from at least 20 feet away.
I thought about crossing the street, but this one is 6 lanes (7 if you count the turning lane) wide and traffic is a lot heavier than on the street I live on. If I keep going the way I’m walking, I’m almost home. The only other option is to turn around and go back the way I came, adding an extra mile to my journey.
Fuck it, I think, and keep walking. As I get near the man with the knives, he hears my heels on the sidewalk and turns to get a good look at me. Once he sees me, and sees how hesitant I’m being in my movements (I sound a lot more confident in this retelling than I was irl), and he leaves his knives in the tree and steps an additional 20 feet away.
I can’t even tell you how high my hopes for humanity soared in that moment: An adult cis White male recognized another human’s fear and took steps to make that person feel more safe. COVID made me feel like that level of kindness would never again be possible, but I was proven wrong in that moment.
I give him a nod of gratitude and doubled my pace, looking back every few seconds to ensure he wasn’t chasing after me—I’ve watched enough horror movies to know that killers like to toy with their victims (okay, so my faith in humanity wasn’t completely restored).
Home stretch! I’m finally almost—
I thought I beat the boss. Turns out that was a decoy. Now the path home was (being) paved with the literal stereotype that comes to mind when someone says “catcaller”: A horde of construction workers. Better yet, graveyard shift construction workers (I don’t actually know anything about construction workers, please don’t @ me).
If it wasn’t clear before, it was now. I was being sent real-life manifestations of every woman’s worst fears while walking home alone at night—and in increasing order of fear-induction. I’m telling you. Simulation.
The construction workers didn’t do or say anything as I walked by, but they did stop their conversations when I got near and resumed them when I’d passed. That was the extent of it, and now I was on the final final stretch toward home. The only person I saw on the way was a security guard on patrol. He seemed like he didn’t want anything to do with me.
At last, I had reached my apartment complex again! I beat the level, the Princess is in another castle, and I’m ready to get these heels off because even though I said they were comfortable to walk in, that shit wears off somewhere before a mile and a half.
I go to open the gate, and realize I haven’t actually beaten the level at all. And even though I thought “construction workers” were the culminating experience of my journey, there was one type of person who terrified me more than anyone I’d encountered so far, and I was about to run into a full baker’s dozen of them.
Frat guys. Drunk frat guys. I didn’t know anyone that young lived in my complex, but as I mentioned, gentrification.
They take one look at me and more than one of them starts laughing. “Do you see that?!” one of them says, louder than he thinks he is. One of his buddies shushes him. I hold the door open for them as they step outside. None of them look me in the eyes. None of them thank me. But that’s the extent of it—they shamefully avoid acknowledging me beyond their initial amusement.
And then I’m home. I won. I beat the first level. And I know that whatever the simulation throws at me next, I’m going to be that much more prepared for it.
I don’t actually think we’re living in a simulation, but I have to say that was one of the strangest nights I’ve had since coming out, and possibly ever. I’m open to educated guesses and interpretations as to what you think was going on (Mercury in Retrograde?), so click that Contact button or leave a comment if you have a hypothesis.
Thanks as always for reading, and since we cut back on the number of podcasts we’re putting out every month, I have a lot more time for writing, so you can expect a new post here when I’m in between chapters of my novel.
Sometimes I make a decision or a change in my life that rewrites the way I think about and understand the world around me. Exploring polyamory was one of those things. Finally deciding I am atheist was another. It should come as no surprise that coming out as a trans woman was one as well.
The thing is, I thought my perspective had already changed. Before I told anyone I’m trans, when I’d merely accepted it within myself, I thought, “wow, this has changed the way I think about everything in my life.” But I’d still barely scratched the surface. When I finally announced to everyone in my life, “Hey! I’ve been a woman all along!”, things began to change more rapidly, and to greater degrees than I’d expected.
I fully expect this to continue, especially once I begin HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy, for those not ‘in the know’), but I’ve already changed so much from just this single step. Some of the ways that things changed has come as an absolute shock. My relationship with sex, for example, has been completely rewritten. I don’t think I even realized the degree to which being socialized as a “straight White male” affected the way I thought about sex and relationships, but the simple act of coming out has unraveled thoughts and ideas that I didn’t realize were built up and wrapped around lies.
Being Socialized as Male
I want to start off by saying that everything in this blog is a combination of “things I was told” and “conclusions I drew on my own,” and not everyone has the same experience I had. That being said, I know a number of my other male friends drew the same conclusions I did, because we talked about them extensively at sleepovers / parties / etc.
My personal knowledge base was influenced heavily by the Catholic Church, where I spent every Sunday of my life for the first 18 years. It’s hard to parse how much of what I learned about sex and sexuality came directly from religion, and how much of it came from other kids at public school, but I know in my case, the most toxic and harmful beliefs came straight from the mouths of the priests at my Catholic church. Looking back, it’s honestly unbelievable the number of things I was told as a young “boy” that were, at best, horrible advice, and at worst, actual dangerous and predatory behavior.
Because I had sisters, I would sometimes witness the advice they were given, often for committing the same “crimes” I did, and it was wildly different. I have an early memory of learning to masturbate (and when I say early, I mean 5 or 6 years old), and being so excited about how good it felt that I wanted to share it with my sister. I told her about it and wanted to teach her how, so we sat on the couch and touched ourselves (I believe still fully clothed). My parents discovered us and dragged my sister away to scold her in another room. I don’t remember how long the conversation lasted, but when she came out, she looked absolutely ashamed of herself and apologized to me for participating. She “should have known better.”
I was not taken into the other room to have a discussion. I was simply told, “you won’t be doing that with your sister anymore,” and that was the end of it. I walked away feeling lucky, and intuiting that the reason I hadn’t been punished and scolded like my sister was because I was a boy.
I learned, even though I had done the exact same thing my sister had, and had in fact been the instigator, I was entitled to do such things without being punished, while my sister learned that she should be ashamed of herself. I learned that being a boy was “better,” and being a girl meant not being allowed to experience pleasure.
This was a belief I carried into adulthood. In high school, I genuinely believed that women, across the board, did not enjoy having sex. I walked around school feeling sorry for the girls who I knew were having sex with their boyfriends, silently judging them and asking myself, “how could they allow those boys to do that to them?” I felt strongly that I would be a “good guy” by simply telling girls that I would wait until we were married to begin forcing them to have sex with me.
Add to this the fact that the priests at church would often remind us all that “it is a wife’s duty to please her husband,” and that women who did not “submit” to their husbands were sinners and deserved to be punished for their crimes—if not by their husband directly, then by Satan in the afterlife. It was a profoundly fucked up way to view sex, and it’s a profoundly fucked up message to send to men, women, girls, and boys about how sex in relationships is “supposed” to work.
“Boys are just different,” they tell us. “Boys are hornier,” “boys can’t control themselves,” “boys will be boys!” For years and years, we’re fed these lies as universal truths, and they impact and affect how we treat one another. Religion doesn’t give a reason as to why men and women are different in these ways, apart from saying “God made it that way,” so in attending public school and learning about biology and hormones, I, like many other foolish people before me, attributed all the differences to that. It doesn’t matter that people of the female sex also produce testosterone, or that people of the male sex also produce estrogen: these are the biological rules of men and women, and that’s that!
The other big lie that we all seem not to notice as we grow up in a male-dominated rape culture is the concept that masculinity is directly linked to how much sex you are having. Growing up, just about every boy I knew was trying to have sex, and with as many women as possible. The “popular” boys were the ones who had the highest number, and the “unpopular” boys, of which I was one, would have been happy to even have sex with one person. But not another boy! Don’t forget about that little nugget: sex only counts if it’s with a girl. If you have sex with a boy, it sends you immediately to the bottom of the social totem pole because it basically counts as -1 to your “sex score.”
It was a confusing world to grow up in. I simultaneously believed that I was a “failure” as a man because I wasn’t having sex, but also that I was a “great catch” because I wasn’t going to force women to have sex with me like all those other jerks who didn’t even care that women didn’t like it.
The truth is: I felt like I was better than other people. Better able to control my urges. More respectful. More “pure.” My entire life, I was just playing a game called, “Be the Best Man of All the Men!” and I never stopped to question whether it was a game I even wanted to be playing. As far as I knew, this was the only world that existed, and it was the world everyone lived in.
When I found out that some girls did like having sex (and I stress my own ignorance that I couldn’t expand to the possibility that maybe all except asexual girls enjoy sex), I assumed, thanks to pornography, that those women were a different kind of woman, known to porn-watchers as a “nymphomaniac.” These women had no respect for themselves—they were sluts! Ready and willing to fuck any man who came along! They just needed sex so bad, and they were trouble.
Of course, if a man were having trouble getting laid, he could always choose to have sex with a slut, but it wouldn’t count towards his “being a man” score to the same degree. Having sex with a slut was easy, it required no skill and was therefore unconnected from whether or not he was a “real” man.
It’s embarrassing to write these things now, but they are truly things that I actually believed, and things that I recognize men still believe today. I see it everywhere online, whether on Twitter when men feel the need to judge women for expressing their sexuality, in the comments section on porn videos, in the discourse behind Cardi B’s & Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP, and just in the general conversation surrounding whether women are good at things like video games or comedy. The divide exists, and it is based on lies that I once believed.
The Breaking Point
When I was a junior in high school, I had an experience that shook me to my core and challenged all of my beliefs about sexuality: I dated a girl who had had sex with her previous boyfriend. I didn’t discover that fact until we were 4 or 5 months into the relationship, and I honestly believe that if I’d known about it before we were together, I might have chosen not to pursue the relationship.
Up to that point, I’d judged every girl I knew who had had sex for any reason. But this time, I was already in love with her (or at least what I considered to be love at the time), and it was too late to change my feelings. Instead, I became intensely jealous and inquisitive, demanding to know every detail about when they’d had sex, how far into the relationship, how many times, and whether she’d felt pressured into it. She didn’t have to answer these questions, but she did, and she answered them honestly. They’d been in love, and she did it because she wanted to.
I didn’t understand. I thought women who have sex before marriage are sluts, or they don’t have respect for themselves. She wasn’t a slut, and she had a tremendous amount of respect for herself. It didn’t compute. It didn’t fit into my worldview. So I came up with any number of alternate explanations.
Maybe her boyfriend had been so good at manipulation, she’d honestly thought having sex was her decision, when really it wasn’t. Or maybe he’d raped her, and she’d come up with a justification for it afterwards. In any case, the only thing that made sense was that he was a villain for tainting the purity of my girlfriend. I had a class with the boy in question, and I had a difficult time paying attention because I was so hung up on the idea that he was sitting there, smugly judging me or laughing at me for dating his “sloppy seconds.” I felt an urge to prove I was a man, and to prove that he wasn’t “getting to me.”
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fantasize about beating him up to prove my dominance. Thankfully, somewhere deep down, I knew that wasn’t the answer. Unfortunately, what I thought was the answer, was that my girlfriend and I should have sex.
“You said you had sex with him because you loved him,” I argued. “And you also say that you love me, but you won’t have sex with me. That doesn’t make any sense!”
“I’m not ready,” she said.
“That just makes me feel like you loved him more than you love me. But that doesn’t make sense, or else wouldn’t you still be together?”
I didn’t realize how disgusting this was. I didn’t realize I was using her to make myself feel better, to feel “more like a man.” I wanted to feel superior to her ex, and I wanted her to be the one to make me feel that way.
At a certain point, she challenged me: “How do you even know you’re ready to have sex?”
I didn’t know what that meant. So I said, “I’m a guy, guys are always ready to have sex.” Because that’s what I believed. That’s what years of being raised as a Catholic Conservative taught me: there are strict rules for how boys and girls feel and behave, and anyone outside of that is wrong.
She cried and hung up on me. I felt terrible for hurting her feelings, but I still didn’t understand. I apologized, and said I’d drop the subject of sex. I kept having my feelings, and felt inferior, and felt betrayed, and felt weak, but I stopped talking about her ex and my weird sexual hangups. Eventually, we both decided we were “ready” and attempted to have sex, but I was so in my head about everything that I wasn’t able to perform, which just led to her feeling bad about herself. The relationship didn’t last long after that.
Unlearning Toxicity (CW: rape)
Over the next few years, I slowly came around to understanding her point of view. I started reading feminist literature in college and realized that women have exactly the same types of feelings as men, but are socialized differently. I’d never stopped to think how my treatment as a child was different from my sisters’, and how that might have affected them. For so long, I’d merely considered the women in my family to be “dramatic” whenever they expressed their feelings, never bothering to stop and hear the reality that I was denying. I never considered how it must have felt for my sister to be scolded and punished for being curious about sex, when for me, it was chalked up to another instance of “boys being boys.” I first declared myself a feminist when I was 23.
I stopped judging and labeling women, and started actually listening to them. And what I realized was that men and women really aren’t very different at all. Our feelings and responses to circumstances are nearly identical—we’ve just learned wildly different coping mechanisms and are permitted by society to express those feelings in very specific ways. I realized my beliefs had harmed other women throughout my life, and that society still views and treats women as objects to be owned by men, whether that be through marriage or sexual domination.
When I was 25, a man who held a position of power over me coerced me through threat of violence into doing things sexually that I was uncomfortable with, for the sole purpose of his own sexual satisfaction. After a couple years of therapy and soul searching, I finally understood the meaning of enthusiastic consent. Because just because someone has sex with you doesn’t mean they wanted to. It might mean they were terrified of what might have happened if they didn’t. And whether you consider that to be rape or not, it is.
After doing the hard work of unlearning and relearning the definition of consent, I thought I was done learning about sex. How much more could there be?!
Then I came out as transgender.
Identifying as female has completely changed the way I think about sex yet again. For one thing, my sex drive has decreased significantly. Not because “women have lower sex drives” (like men, women have sex drives on every corner of the spectrum), but because I realized some amount of that male toxicity remained inside me. On some level, I was still using sex as a way to build up my ego. I didn’t know it at the time (and am horrified to look back and realize), but sex was still all about me, and not so much about the person I was having sex with.
If you’d told me this at the time, I’d have told you you were out of your mind. “How can it be all about me? My entire goal is for my partner to get off!” That’s all well and good, but sex isn’t about getting off. Sex is about being intimate with someone, forming a physical connection, and allowing your bodies to listen to one another. It’s about having fun and enjoying yourself… because otherwise what’s the point?
No one told me that. At the end of a sexual encounter, if I hadn’t gotten my partner off, I felt like a complete failure. And if for some reason I was feeling like a failure in my life for any other reason, I’d seek out sex to attempt to fill that emotional hole. I was still using sex as an outlet to fill my emotional void, which meant I was using my partners, yet again, to feel good about myself.
There were a number of times in college where I’d go out on a weekend with the sole motivation of finding someone to have sex with. I could literally never see myself doing that now. If all I wanted was to get off, I know how to do that alone, and could probably do it a lot better than a stranger could. There was a part of me, back when I was still living in the “toxic male” mentality, that felt like masturbating was a sign of weakness. A sign of “giving up.” A sign that nobody wanted to have sex with me. Now, I feel like it’s just a way to spend a little time getting to know myself and form a connection with my body. And if I want to have sex with someone, it’s because I want to connect with them, because I like them and want to get to know them better on a physical level.
I haven’t stopped wanting to have sex. I’ve stopped needing to have sex. I’ve stopped trying to use sex as a way to build my ego, because as a woman, I don’t equate “amount of sex” to my value as a human being—which isn’t even something I realized I was doing.
Putting the Bow on It
Gender actually has very little to do with sex. Or maybe a better way of phrasing it is sex has very little to do with gender. As humans, we all like having sex. We all have egos. We all have the capacity to learn both healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms for our feelings. And deep down, we all want to feel loved and understood. The key difference in how “men” and “women” relate to sex is in how we are taught about sex, and how we are treated when we express curiosity and ask questions. If you’re assigned male at birth, you’re told, “sex is how you prove yourself and keep your girl!”, and if you’re assigned female at birth, you’re told, “sex is shameful and you must be very careful who you share yourself with.”
I don’t claim to be an expert. I’ve just lived the life that I’ve lived, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, which have forced me to step back and ask myself questions. I’ve had to interrogate my own beliefs and realize that I was an incredibly selfish person, and I probably hurt more people than I even realize.
I know there are people out there who claim toxic masculinity isn’t a real thing—I was one of them for a long time. But that’s only because you can’t see something while you’re inside it. Much like I couldn’t see my religion was wrong while I was inside it, or that my gender was wrong while I was inside it. We all live in prisons we cannot see, and its up to us to do the work of breaking out.
—Chloe Skye, January 11, 2021
If you enjoyed reading about my process of learning new information and changing my mind about things, check out my podcast Modern Eyes w/ Skye and Stone! My partner and I look at movies from 10 or more years ago and discuss what holds up, what feels out of date, and how you could modernize the films if you remade them today. It’s heavy on the “oh wow we definitely didn’t see this before, look how far we’ve come!” dialogue.
Let’s get this out of the way first… this was a weird year for film. Around this time in previous years, I was watching a plethora of screeners of movies that producers were pushing for Oscar contention. This year, COVID caused mayhem to my finances and I didn’t pay my SAG dues (oops), so no screeners for me. I actually don’t even know if they sent them out this year, what with the Oscars being pushed back a couple months.
So, this list is rather more incomplete than my top 10 lists in previous years. Please let me know if there’s anything glaringly obvious that I left off, something that you thought was great this year that I might not have heard of (or worse, forgot about).
The Ones I Missed
I’ll start by listing the films I’m sad I didn’t get a chance to see yet, because I think they have the potential to edge a few of my current choices off the list and into the honorable mentions category. These might be some of the ones you want to recommend I watch, so I’ll just upfront the ones I’ve heard of.
One Night in Miami, Promising Young Woman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, Possessor, Kajillionaire, Saint Maud, Greyhound, 40 Year Old Version, Emma, First Cow, Devil All the Time, News of the World, An American Pickle, Dick Johnson is Dead, Greta, She Dies Tomorrow, Color Out of Space, Words on Bathroom Walls, Dark and Wicked, Shirley, On the Rocks, The Assistant
I fully believe at least 3 of those (2 of which are pictured) could easily end up in my top 5.
Here are the films that I saw and enjoyed but couldn’t find space for them in the Top 10. You might say this is “cheating,” as a way to get a few extra films onto the list, and you’d be right. I’m not cheating a lot, I only have three films for this section.
Palm Springs, The Social Dilemma, and Class Action Park.
Two of these are documentaries. The Social Dilemma breaks down exactly how social media has infiltrated our minds and our habits and is changing the way we interact with each other in real life, and Class Action Park chronicles a “no rules” amusement park in New Jersey in the 1980s where a lot of the guests died. Both docs are equal parts fascinating and horrifying, and are well worth your time if you haven’t seen them.
If you haven’t seen Palm Springs, I don’t want to spoil the premise here (but the movie is even better than it sounds if you’re aware of the premise already). It stars Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, and JK Simmons. It’s a comedy, and it isn’t what you might expect if you’ve seen any of those actors’ other projects. It’s a blast, and it’s streaming on Hulu.
I don’t like to rag on bad movies. Every movie is made by at least one person trying their best to make it work, so I don’t like to paint with a single brush. That said, these films aren’t horrible, but they’re high profile enough that if you haven’t seen it and are considering it, my honest recommendation to you is that you skip it entirely.
Those films are Mulan, Artemis Fowl, and The Witches.
“Oh, come on,” I can hear some of you saying, “those are for children!”
You’re right. But as you’ll see in my top 10, I’m a pretty big fan of movies for children. These are movies that are just so bland and boring that it would be better to just watch something else. The Mulan remake feels completely lifeless, and Artemis Fowl throws out everything interesting about the book and makes another one of those Disney films that you’ll forget even exists in a year or two (anybody remember The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?).
And don’t worry, Disney is 10,000x more powerful than I’ll ever be, this is punching up.
The Witches takes a 30 minute story and drags it out to nearly 2 hours. It’s an interesting enough story if you haven’t seen the original, but the plot doesn’t do anything with its dozens of setups, with the story feeling like it ends before the interesting part has even begun. If you’re dying to watch it, go for it. It’s not going to hurt you. But if you have even a sliver of a doubt, save yourself. Skip it.
My Top 10
#10 Invisible Man
A version of the Invisible Man that works as a story about the horrors of gaslighting? Yes, please! There’s something that works so well about Whannell’s use of negative space. The villain in invisible, so you never know if what you’re looking at is actually an empty room, or if danger lurks in plain sight. It works so well for 90% of its runtime that I was able to forgive the film for its over-the-top third (fourth?) twist and silly ending. The movie managed to get me to hold my breath for the larger part of 100 minutes, so if that’s something you’re looking for, check out The Invisible Man.
#9 His House
A story as much about survivor’s guilt as the immigrant experience, His House feels urgent. The story follows a young couple struggling to integrate into society after immigrating to London from war-torn South Sudan. As they move into their new government-appointed housing, they begin to believe a malevolent force has followed them to their new home. There are a few decent scare sequences, but the strength of this film comes from its two lead performances by Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku (who you may recognize as Ruby from Lovecraft Country). They imbue these characters with pathos and dignity as they play the very real trauma of losing a child, and feeling unwanted in an unfamiliar land.
#8 The Trial of the Chicago 7
I know he has his haters, but I am a massive Aaron Sorkin fan. A number of films he’s written have ended up as my favorite film of their respective years (like Steve Jobs, Moneyball, and The Social Network), so I was very excited when his new film dropped on Netflix a few months ago. He can’t have known when he was making this how relevant it would feel being released in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the nation after the murder of George Floyd, but the film’s depiction and understanding of police brutality in the face of peaceful protest rang a number of “this just happened” bells. This is a major moment in history that I’d never learned about, and it was both maddening and cathartic to see that we’re still fighting the same fight today that they were fighting in the 70s. The film is not without its issues, including severely underserving its single Black protagonist in Bobby Seale, who in real life was bound and gagged in front of the court for three days, but in the movie it seems like only a few hours. That said, the film is still both entertaining and hopeful, pointing to a world where protests lead to results and people are united against the forces of White Supremacy and American Imperialism.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down to watch Tenet, I’d purposefully avoided trailers and knew vaguely that it was a sort of time-travel riff on James Bond. The real selling point was, “what madness is Christopher Nolan cooking up this time?” To put it bluntly, I loved this movie. Because the film flies by at lightning speed without giving any time for character development, it can be difficult to follow (much easier with subtitles on), but the combination of incredible special effects, camera trickery, and mind-bending action scenes makes for a thoroughly enjoyable viewing even if you’re completely lost.
#6 Bill and Ted Face the Music
I’m as shocked about this as anyone. I was a big fan of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but never really liked Bogus Journey. Even after receiving mostly positive reviews, my hopes were low-to-medium when I finally sat down to watch this.
I was not prepared. I was literally bawling my eyes out for the last 15 minutes. Bill & Ted’s third outing is more hopeful and powerful than it had any right to be, and it’s joining the list of movies I’ll throw on to cheer me up after a bad day. This movie just made me feel so good.
#5 I’m Thinking of Ending Things
This isn’t a movie I’d recommend to anyone. If you’re familiar with Charlie Kaufman’s other work, you probably know you’re in for a mind-bending, time-ignoring meditation on someone’s inner psyche and the meaning of life. That’s more or less what you get here, with more than a few “twists” that are basically irrelevant. This is a movie that happens to you, and eventually you just let it happen. The premise is simple enough: A guy brings his girlfriend home to meet his parents, but she’s already decided to end the relationship. What actually happens in the film is more complex, layered, and baffling, with any or all of the events remaining up for debate in terms of their significance or even their existence.
After spending the majority of the year depressed and terrified about COVID and the election, Pixar’s Soul was exactly the balm I needed to take the edge off. Suddenly, the concept of dying an early death didn’t seem quite as terrifying. Instead of focusing on what you were able to accomplish in life, Soul asks the question, “How do you want to spend the time you have?”
All that being said, the question remains: Why does Disney keep turning their Black lead protagonists into animals? One time (The Princess and the Frog) is a fluke, but when you’re two-for-two, it starts to feel like you’re not telling us something…
This movie took me by surprise. I’ve always been a huge Pixar fan (I’ll probably put out my Pixar rankings as a separate blog soon), and this year we got two films from the studio. If you’d asked me at the beginning of the year whether I thought I’d prefer the film about a jazz musician who dies too soon trying to get back to his life on Earth or the film about two elf brothers who go on a quest to bring back their father for a single day, I would have guessed Soul. Something about the fantasy setting that’s been overtaken by technology and the overall message of Onward struck a chord somewhere deep within me and it leapt to the top five of my Pixar films (spoilers for that upcoming blog).
I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. For the first time, I thought maybe we’d get a mediocre David Fincher film. I should never have doubted him. Here, he tells the story of the man behind the legend: the guy who wrote Citizen Kane, widely regarded as one of the best films ever made. The trailer made me believe it would be a battle over who received credit for the film, but that takes up maybe 5 minutes of Mank‘s running time. Instead, we get a film that feels very similar to Citizen Kane in that it chronicles the downfall of a man who should have been better than he was, and why he chose to write his final screenplay as a very thinly veiled critique of his old friend William Randolph Hearst. It touches on politics, capitalism, the American dream, and wraps it all up in a package that, while entertaining, also feels incredibly timely for 2020.
#1 Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee is one of the most reliable filmmakers out there. Even his worst films feel original and alive in a way most films can only strive to be. Da 5 Bloods centers on a group of 4 Vietnam Veterans who return to Vietnam in their old age to pay their respects to the friend they lost (Chadwick Boseman, in one of his final roles that’s even harder to watch now that he’s gone), and maybe to find some gold they know is buried in the jungles from their army days. It’s about loss, friendship, family, and all the things that get in the way. Notably, PTSD, and what happens to someone whose trauma goes untreated for 40 years. It’s also a blast to watch, and I mean that in every possible sense of the word.
Long before I’d heard the word “transgender,” I was a kid who loved Animorphs.
For the uninitiated, Animorphs was a book series about a group of teenagers who were gifted the ability to transform into animals—assuming they’d been able to touch that animal first and “acquire” its DNA. The sci-fi aspects tickled my curiosity and stoked my creativity, but it wasn’t necessarily the storyline of the books that had me so mesmerized.
It was the transformations themselves.
Every time one of the kids changed into an animal, even if they’d changed into that animal 100 times before, the process was wholly unique. If you wanted to be an eagle, bones might sprout out of your shoulders before being coated with muscles and feathers as your human arms shriveled into nothing. Or, perhaps your arms would become the eagle’s wings. Maybe the transformation would start at your fingertips, or your toes. There was no way to know.
There was a rule within the conceit of the Animorphs books that if you remained in your transformed state for more than an hour (or maybe it was 2 hours?), you would lose your ability to transform, and would be permanently stuck as the animal you changed into. In the third book, one of the five leads, named Tobias, accidentally remains in the body of a falcon for too long, and is stuck that way for the rest of the series. In a number of the books narrated by Tobias, he spends paragraphs (if not chapters) lamenting that his body does not match his mind, and at a certain point, attempts falcon suicide. It is only with the love and support of his friends, who are also shapeshifters fighting a secret alien invasion who can’t trust anyone, that he learns to accept his new body and continue the fight.
Now, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about ways that my body could transform into animal bodies. My favorites were sea creatures, or animals that could fly. If you added up the total time I spent fantasizing about the different ways my body could transform, it could easily total in the weeks, if not months of time.
I loved the idea of my body changing into someone, or something else. I hated my body. It wasn’t my body’s fault, but it kept growing and changing in ways that didn’t feel right. Being a dolphin, or an eagle, or a wolverine seemed preferable. I deeply desired to be something other than me.
Maybe if I’d spoken to a therapist, they could have helped me to interrogate what it was about my body that was making me unhappy, or perhaps what it was about being something else that made me so happy. Instead, I had my parents and the Catholic church, who just made me feel like I was “ungrateful” for daring to wish I was something other than what God had chosen for me.
But even then… I didn’t really believe in a god.
In 4th grade, for the first time, I imagined myself transforming not into an animal’s body, but into the body of a female classmate. I imagined my arms growing slender, the hair falling off my arms and legs, sprouting small breasts, my penis shriveling up and falling off (or sometimes inverting and retreating back inside—again, part of the fun was the creativity involved in making each transformation unique). I imagined her clothes, the cute skirts that she wore and the colorful socks, the headbands she’d wear in her hair. I became her.
I’d never felt so complete.
In my fantasies, I would imagine “accidentally” staying in her body past the 2-hour limit and being stuck. That made me happy, too. The power of these fantasies was so strong that when I finally understood (just last year) that what I’d been feeling was none other than gender dysphoria, I very nearly chose for my name the name of the girl I’d originally transformed into back in 4th grade.
I didn’t have a classmate named Chloe. This name was my choice, after a long and involved search process. I won’t write the name I almost chose, on the off chance that the girl in question reads this blog. She once told me, nearly a decade ago at this point, that she’d been keeping up with my career and supporting me from afar. I doubt that’s still the case, but you never know.
Only after putting all these pieces together did I discover that I am not the only trans person who fell in love with Animorphs. A cursory Google search of “Animorphs + trans” will yield a number of results, from personal blog posts to articles on Vox and the AV Club. It turns out that this year, after JK Rowling revealed her transphobia, trans people came out en masse to tell everyone to throw out their Harry Potter books and buy Animorphs instead, and I am here for that decision.
Granted, wanting to alter your body is not a requirement to be trans. There are plenty of transgender people who are perfectly fine with their bodies exactly as they are, and want only for it to be acceptable for people to dress in whatever they’d like, and express themselves however they’d like.
As much as I enjoyed the process of being in “a girl body” in my fantasies, I’ve also come to accept that my body, as it currently exists, is “a girl body,” by the mere fact that I am a woman and this is my body. It is only the gender gatekeepers that prevent trans people from feeling this way. The people who look at me and say that I look “like a man,” or that I can’t be a woman, because of a certain body part (and we all know which one they’re talking about).
Animorphs gave me the language and ideas to express my feelings in a way that I might not have been able to otherwise. It created a lasting memory that followed me for the rest of my life, until I was finally emotionally prepared to look at it for what it was. I spent years going back to that fantasy, where I could live in a body that would cause the people around me to see me as I wanted to be seen, and treat me the way I wanted to be treated.
So to that I say, thank you, Animorphs. And thank you, K.A. Applegate for writing those books. I don’t know that you even knew at the time how helpful they would be to so many people like me.
There’s been a lot of hubbub in the last week or so about this Cyberpunk 2077 game. I want to say up front that I have not played the game, but have been following the debate online, specifically in regards to transgender representation. I’ve read long and articulate arguments on both sides, with a number of people who love the game saying that its depiction of trans people is a massive step forward and a game-changer for the ongoing gender debate, as well as a number of people who are offended at the haphazard and lazy way in which the game slapped on “gender customization options” that ultimately amount to little more than stereotypes and the unrealistic sexualization of trans lives.
Rather than debate whether or not the game did a good job depicting transgender people (which, as a non-gamer, I am woefully unequipped to do; and it seems pretty clear from everything I’ve read that the answer is a loud and resounding NO), I’m going to discuss my feelings on the concept of transgender representation in our media, and how positive and negative portrayals of people who identify using my label affect the lives of real humans.
In other words: Is bad trans representation better than nothing?
A Brief History: Trans Representation in Film and Television
Western culture has experienced an unfortunate drought of trans representation in our media, mainly due to centuries-old prejudices and fears about what a trans person even is, let alone who we are and what we want. The representation that does exist is typically fearmongering, painting us with a single brush and usually as the butt of a joke that the lead characters make or are a victim of.
My knowledge base goes a lot deeper with film than it does with video games, so I’m going to talk about trans representation in those mediums. There’s a movie called The Crying Game, released in 1992, which features a traditional love story of a man falling in love with a woman only to learn, as the surprise twist ending of the film, that she has a penis! The implication in the film is that she isn’t a woman at all, and has been lying to him throughout their relationship, misrepresenting herself as a woman when in fact, she was a man the whole time!
This storyline is a reaction to what little information about trans people existed in the world. Perhaps the best-known trans person at the time was Christine Jorgensen, a woman who transitioned after having been drafted and serving in WWII. When she returned to the United States after having her operation performed in Europe (it was illegal in America), she became an instant celebrity for being a “boy who turned into a girl… using science!” People were at first morbidly curious how modern medicine could have performed such a feat, but when they found out Christine still had a penis, almost the entirety of America felt betrayed and lied to. How could you call yourself a woman if you have a penis? She was then shunned and seen as “an effeminate, limp-wristed queer” who was only pretending to be a woman.
40 Years after Christine made her debut in America, The Crying Game was released, and the storyline perfectly mirrored Christine’s public perception. For some reason, culture feels that the single most effective way to tell a person’s gender is their genitalia, despite biological sex having (as we’ve learned) very little to do with a person’s gender or gender expression. Because this is the world we’ve lived in for so long, I can see how the creators of Cyberpunk 2077 may feel like they’re being progressive in allowing you to create female characters with penises, or male characters with vaginas. From the viewpoint of the genital gatekeepers, having “opposite” genitals is the only requirement to be trans.
The Crying Game wasn’t the first film to feature a trans character, but it was a culmination of the attitudes in culture at the time and the films that came before, many of which portrayed trans women as villainous murderers or tricksters (a premise utilized by none other than JK Rowling in her most recent novel about a man who dresses as a woman to get away with his crimes).
A few years after The Crying Game came Boys Don’t Cry (what’s the deal with trans films and the word ‘crying’?) in 1999, the true story of a trans man named Brandon Teena who, when his fellow male friends found out he had a vagina, raped and murdered him. Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her work playing Brandon. That said, when Boys Don’t Cry was pitched to me, it was by a friend who described the plot as, “a girl dresses up like a guy to fit in, and when the guys find out she’s been lying, they rape her.” Without having seen the film, that’s how it lived in my mind for over a decade, which just goes to show how little the concept of “transgender” existed in the mind of the average moviegoer.
In the 20+ years since Boys Don’t Cry, a lot more people have come out as trans. The Wachowski sisters publicly transitioned. Caitlyn Jenner made her debut (not that we love to claim her; her bizarre anti-gay rhetoric and support of Donald Trump make her a particularly odd representative). Laverne Cox became somewhat of a household name. Recently, Elliot Page announced his trans identity. Sam Smith announced they are non-binary. Trans culture has exploded in a big way, but despite that, there are still misunderstandings and prejudices about who we are.
As more people came out, it encouraged other to do the same. And slowly, really just within the last 10 years, we’ve begun to see more depictions of trans people in our movies and on television. Movies like Tangerine, The Danish Girl, and Dallas Buyers Club received varying degrees of critical acclaim. Each of those movies has their own set of issues in regards to trans representation, but the presence of trans people in our media has allowed trans existence to become normalized. We’re no longer a quiet secret, lurking in the shadows, ready to trick you into falling in love with us, and people have generally begun to accept that trans people exist as a part of the vast tapestry that makes up humanity. Each problematic depiction of a trans person has allowed for another project featuring trans people to be greenlit, and with each subsequent project, the degree to which trans voices are taken into consideration has slightly increased, allowing our representation to slowly reach accuracy.
Trans creators have finally been given the freedom to create projects on their own, which wouldn’t have been possible without those early (and issue-riddled) depictions. Shows like Pose, Transparent, Sense8, Orange is the New Black, and Euphoria finally depict trans people as human, and often make sure to include trans writers and/or directors to ensure ignorant but well-meaning cis- people don’t accidentally fumble our realities.
That said, I don’t think we’re “there” yet. We’re still stuck on the idea that trans people must “pass” in order to be taken seriously. We still have far too many cis actors playing trans people, ignoring the thousands of trans actors who exist and see their identities as more than a costume one can put on. The implication behind the casting choice is still the belief that it is the genitals that define our identities. “A trans woman has a penis, so a cis- man should play her.” Why not a cis- woman? Better yet, why not an actual trans woman? Do the creators believe the character won’t be taken seriously if the character’s birth sex doesn’t match the character’s?
Representation as Stepping Stone
Here’s where I think my opinion differs from a lot of people: I’d rather have a poorly done, negative portrayal of a trans person in media than no portrayal at all. Without the negative portrayal, millions of average people who don’t know a trans person in real life would continue to live in a fantasy world where trans people don’t exist, don’t take up space, and don’t have lives or personalities of their own. Without The Crying Game, we might still be years ago from a Tangerine or Euphoria existing.
I also see the opposite argument: Without The Crying Game, we might have had those depictions a lot sooner. Personally, I don’t see it. It took decades of gay people being “the quirky best friend with the one-liners” before they were allowed to have storylines of their own. People need time to warm up to new ideas, and even a negative stereotype of a gay person forces viewers to live in a world where gay people exist, a world that they may not ever encounter if it weren’t for their media.
I think those early, negative portrayals of trans men and women are what made it possible for more accurate depictions to exist today. Not only did it open up the minds of the viewers, but content creators as well. Trans people watched The Crying Game and thought, “I can do this better, I need to speak my truth.” Negative inspiration is still inspiration, and the desire to fight against negative ideas can be a powerful motivator. If it weren’t for negative depictions of trans people in the media, I’d be writing about something else. I might not have been inspired to start this blog at all, and the currently dozens of people who read it may not be exposed to the ideas that I’ve been exposed to over the past 5 years of my own personal gender exploration.
When it comes to video games, which haven’t existed nearly as long as film or television, and whose industry has largely been defined by toxic “bro” culture (anyone remember Gamergate?), the inclusion of trans characters is a win. Allowing trans people to merely exist, even if the portrayals aren’t accurate or positive, forces people who likely don’t know a trans person in real life to share space with us. Sure, they’re only being exposed to a single idea of trans identity (chicks with dicks! Dudes with a vag!), and many of the trans characters in the game seem to be over-the-top sexualized versions of trans people, but the people who play the game and fetishize our existence were likely already doing so, probably through pornography. At least here the trans characters are doing a little more than just getting fucked:
See? She’s smoking! And being used an an advertisement! Get it? It’s… meta, or something.
Video games have a long way to go in terms of trans representation, but they also have a long way to go in terms of female representation in general. It’s not like creators are going to go from “no trans characters ever” to “a wholly accurate and multi-layered depiction of the vast tapestry of trans lives” overnight. It’s going to take a lot more blunders like Cyberpunk 2077 before we get anywhere near the level of quality we’re getting with trans lives on television. But then, it took almost 50 years of failures before the film industry started to get it right. I’m willing to forgive, so long as the creators of future video games featuring trans characters are willing to listen to the complaints of trans people who feel betrayed by Cyberpunk 2077.
The company that made the game doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the one that gets it right. Everything I’ve seen from them just seems to double down on their insistence that, no, the game does do a good job, and we are so woke for making it, despite an overwhelming majority of trans gamers saying, “no it does not.”
If I’m wrong, and there are games out there that actually feature multilayered, complex trans characters, please let me know. I am truly out of the loop when it comes to video games. I got a Dreamcast a few years after they stopped making games for it, and then a PS2 shortly before the PS3 was released. It wasn’t until the end of 2016 that a friend convinced me to buy a refurbished PS3, and the only other gaming system I own is the Nintendo Switch, on which I pretty much only play Pokemon games (and Super Smash Bros, I love that game). I’ve tangentially heard of some of the big, popular games of the last few years, but I haven’t played any of them. It’s possible I’m off the mark, and Cyberpunk 2077 is the shitty version of something everyone else is doing well… but somehow I seriously doubt it.
Thanks for reading! If you want to hear more of my thoughts about trans representation (and how things change over time), check out my podcast Modern Eyes w/ Skye & Stone, where Jupiter Stone and I look at movies from 10 or more years ago and discuss how they’ve aged with time. Our biggest episode so far is about Harry Potter, which looks a lot different now that we know how JK feels about trans people. Some of the issues really feel like I should have noticed them sooner…
That’s all for me today. Share this blog with your Cyberpunk 2077-loving friend and watch his mind melt in anger at my “SJW bullshit.”
—Chloe Skye, December 12, 2020
PS! I’m going to be writing a few more blogs today and scheduling them for release over the next few weeks so that I have a more consistent output on here. There should be more Star Trek: TNG reviews (including one about the first episode I didn’t hate!), as well as a blog about being polyamorous and one about how sexualizing trans identities prevented me from acknowledging my own truth. See? It isn’t just cis- bros who do it, sometimes we do it to ourselves!
Before I begin, I want to talk about something that happened that I feel is relevant to the discussion of this particular episode of Star Trek TNG. I’ve been rewatching Community for the past few weeks, and I made it halfway through episode 2 when I realized—the “Dungeons and Dragons” episode of the show is missing. I did a quick search and found out why: Chang plays a “dark-elf” character and is essentially in blackface throughout the episode, so Sony & Netflix agreed to take the episode down.
I think it’s a testament to how racist I was when the episode originally aired (or how common it was, as a White person, to disregard things as “just jokes” that are now more widely known to be harmfully racist) that I don’t even remember that being part of the episode. I’m at the point now where I understand why blackface is particularly problematic and shouldn’t be perpetuated in any form. I’m even mostly on board with taking down the episode instead of doing that “explain the historical context” thing HBO Max is doing with Gone With the Wind. So my question is this: if we’re taking down episodes of old tv shows that we now know are incredibly racist, why the hell is Code of Honor still on Netflix?
Racismception: Racism Inside of Racism
The episode isn’t guilty of blackface (and it was the 80s!) so, credit where it’s due. But “not doing blackface” is just about the minimum requirement in avoiding racism. Almost every way the writers could have been racist, they checked the box.
I have a question about the conception of this episode. Did the writers decide, “let’s do an episode about a planet with humans that are slightly less evolved than 1980s humanity, because they’re very prideful and follow a strict code of honor” and then decide, “let’s have them all be Black!”, or was it, “Let’s do an episode about a planet where everyone is Black,” followed by, “they should be slightly less evolved, and far too prideful—if only they could behave more like us!” Honestly, it doesn’t matter which came first, either way it happened is extremely racist.
And I haven’t even described the plot of the episode yet.
The episode opens with Captain Picard describing the inhabitants of the planet Ligon II before we’ve seen them: they are “closely humanoid” and are “exceedingly proud.” From that description, I was expecting intelligent neanderthals, or some sort of mild cheesy 80s Star Trek prosthetic on actors. Representatives from the planet beam onto the Enterprise, and we learn the truth: everyone on Ligon II is Black. Not only that, but they aren’t wearing any prosthetics; there is nothing about them that would suggest they are “closely” humanoid apart from this fact.
Once the Ligonians have arrived, they learn that Yar (a woman!) is the ship’s Chief of Security. They are shocked—shocked, I tell you—to discover this fact. They are so disbelieving that one of the Ligonian security men immediately attempts to subdue Yar. She easily puts him to the ground (although the choreography is impressively bad), and Lutan, the leader of the Ligonians, decides that he must kidnap this woman.
After she’s gone, as the crew attempts to discover why this happened, they consider that they may have taken her for sexual purposes. Troi, who can sense other beings’ emotions whenever its convenient to the plot, explains that all of the men from Ligon II were sexually attracted to Yar, but that Lutan wanted something even more—power.
I can see how, in the 80s, creators might have patted themselves on the back for including Black actors at all. And maybe, at the time, this episode was seen as incredibly progressive. But by today’s standards, this episode leans on every negative stereotype of Black people that exists of Black people. They’re “less evolved,” “misogynists,” “savage,” “proud”… and they’re willing to risk their lives and civilization to steal White women!
The premise alone has to be at least as offensive as Ken Jeong in blackface.
That Whole Code of Honor Thing
After the crew researches the history of Ligon II, they inform Picard what’s going on and come up with a strategy to deal with it. Data explains that the Ligonian policy that caused Yar’s capture is similar to the Native American concept of “Counting Coup,” where harming a (usually more advanced) enemy without being injured yourself is seen as a high honor, and earns you respect amongst your peers. Knowing this, Yar’s kidnapping should be seen as a sign of respect.
The correct diplomatic move is for Picard to go to Lutan and politely ask for Yar’s return, as a way of showing that humans respect Ligonian customs without being insulting. They unanimously agree that these customs are ridiculous, but because of the Prime Directive, they must follow them.
And that’s really what the whole episode is—the crew of the Enterprise, again and again, attempting to “follow the rules” of this confusing society, all while Lutan repeatedly changes them. For instance, when Picard jumps through all the hoops to ask for Yar’s return, Lutan announces that he will not be returning her, because she is too sexy, and he would like to make her his “First One,” or the “most important” of his many wives. Immediately after he makes this announcement, his current First One Yareena stands up and challenges Yar to a fight to the death.
Picard and the crew agree that Yar should go through with this. The Ligonians, you see, have a vaccine that can cure a disease on a nearby planet. For the sake of the plot (and continued misogyny), Dr. Crusher is unable to replicate the sample of the vaccine they were already gifted. The Enterprise must retrieve enough vaccine for an entire planet directly from the Ligonians—and the Ligonians aren’t willing to give up this vaccine unless the Enterprise follows all of their rules and customs to the letter. Their pride is just that important.
At this point, Picard goes off on a rant about the Prime Directive, essentially expressing the old racist White guy point of view: If only the damned rules weren’t in the way, we could teach these savages to be more civilized—like us! You can feel the sense of superiority dripping from every word.
The Misogyny is Strong
It’s notable that not a single crewmember seems at all worried about Yar. Even Yar herself doesn’t seem at all concerned that due to her superior training she will likely end up murdering this woman. Troi tricks her into revealing that, actually, Lutan is quite attractive, and as a woman, it felt good to hear that he wanted to marry her.
No, no, NO! What is this disgusting trope? Why do men feel like we want to be owned by them? That even when our lives are threatened, even if we are taken hostage, all it takes is knowing he “loves” us to make us feel good about ourselves.
Picard goes to speak with Lutan to see if he can learn more about why he wants to keep Yar so badly. He learns that Lutan is not as rich as he lets on, and in acquiring Yar, will be acquiring much wealth and respect.
“So you understand the proper value of women,” Picard says.
“They are highly pleasant things, but unimportant, except for their land,” replies Lutan.
(This show was considered progressive?)
Picard deduces that this fight to the death is a perfect ruse for Lutan: no matter who wins, Lutan comes out ahead. He either ends up with a highly respectable bride he kidnapped from a more powerful force (and the newfound respect of the other Ligonians), or with Yareena and all of her property (and the newfound respect of the other Ligonians).
Lutan smiles mischievously. “The Code of Honor protects me like a magic cloak.”
On the one hand, kudos to you for pointing out exactly how the patriarchy works: men using women as property to gain status in our society. On the other hand, fuck you for creating a “less evolved” planet of Black men even more misogynistic than the real world.
And this episode doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test. Yar and Yareena have a conversation alone together, but its all about how great Lutan is and the fight they’re going to have over who gets to be his bride. Data and La Forge get a random scene where Data tries to tell a joke, but the female characters don’t get any development or time outside of their relationships to the men.
So the savages get their way, and the women fight to the death. They get to choose their weapons (“they’re light, as if made for women to use,” says Data), which look like pointy seashells or cacti. The weapons contain a deadly poison that will kill you instantly. This is is displayed to us when one of the weapons accidentally winds up lodged in one of the men watching the fight, and he dies, which doesn’t seem to upset anyone.
Yar and Yareena fight. The choreography is terrible.
Yar wins, and Yareena dies. Then the Enterprise crew brings her back to life, and this plot point isn’t explained at all, other than to say that they could explain it if they wanted to. When Yareena comes to, she realizes Lutan only wanted her for her land. Lutan’s second-hand man, Hagon, however, seemed like he might have actually been a little upset if Yareena had died in the fight. So she decides to make Hagon her First One instead of Lutan, and Hagon becomes the owner of all Yareena’s land. It’s a… happy ending?
Lutan, even after losing everything, still attempts to get Yar to stay on the planet as his wife, and she STRUGGLES to turn him down!!
This is the episode that made me stop watching the series the first time around, and now that I’ve watched it a second time, I remember why. This is one of the most offensive episodes of television I’ve ever watched, full stop. I saw that someone else wrote a blog calling it “the most cringeworthy episode of Star Trek,” so I’m feeling confident that it at least won’t get any worse than this.
Please don’t prove me wrong, Star Trek.
—Chloe Skye, November 22, 2020
P.S. If you liked this, you’ll love Modern Eyes with Skye and Stone, the podcast where JupiterFStone (follow her on TikTok, you won’t be disappointed) and I review movies from 10 or more years ago through modern eyes. So far, we’ve done Hocus Pocus, Clue, and The Town, with an episode on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows coming out this Friday.
I want to start out by saying that I reject the notion that sports are inherently masculine. I’ve known just as many women and girls over the years who were interested in playing sports as I’ve known men and boys, although most of the time, those girls were described as “tomboys.” It’s always been okay, if not encouraged, for girls to display traits and interests seen as more “masculine.” Flip it the other way around, however, and you find boys who show feminine traits are scolded, derided, or otherwise put down as “pussies,” “weak,” or “girly” (as if that’s somehow a bad thing). As recently as this week, we have Republican stereotype Candace Owens complaining that Harry Styles wearing a dress is the beginning of the end of our civilization, as if men wearing wigs and playing dress-up wasn’t the very foundation of The United States.
I was raised in a family that strongly believed these absurd, gendered ideals. Because I have a penis, I was seen as male, and it was expected of me to play sports. Failure to live up to the masculine expectations of my parents would result in mockery, insults, or grounding, if not physical abuse. So I tried my very best to do what was expected of me.
I was never very interested in playing sports. Every year, the time would come to sign up for some form of extra-curricular activity, and I would say I wanted to do something artistic, and would then be told that I had to pick a sport. I don’t remember ever actually choosing a sport, but would find out after I was already signed up what my fate was to be.
The first, I believe, was t-ball, which I found dreadfully boring. I’m told that the coach was forced to keep me in the outfield, if I was played at all, on the side where balls were least likely to end up (I’m still not sure which is “right” and which is “left” field). He tried me out in the infield, but I simply sat down at first base and set about building sand castles while the opposing players made their way to second base. In the outfield, I picked dandelions and chased butterflies, but at least there I couldn’t have a negative impact on the game.
I wanted to stop playing after the first game, but my father loved to remind me that he didn’t raise a “quitter.” I tried to say that I couldn’t quit something I never agreed to start in the first place, but he called me a smartass and said I had to finish the season.
The other players on the team didn’t like me very much, and it’s not hard to understand why. I had no talent, and no interest in developing any. I didn’t care if we won or lost, I just wanted the whole thing to be over. They’d bully me sometimes, calling me names or just rolling their eyes when it was my turn to play. Luckily, I was physically larger than most of them, so no one ever tried to beat me up. I spent my time on that team daydreaming about being at home with a book, or creating imaginary lands in my head filled with fantastical characters. All I wanted was to create.
Even as a child, I was a prolific writer. If I didn’t like the ending of a book, I would write my own ending so that I could read that instead. When my parents took away my Goosebumps books for fear that they were giving me nightmares, I simply created my own stories based on the titles, imagining what the contents might have been. I’m fairly certain my own versions of the stories were more terrifying than the books’ actual contents.
After t-ball came soccer. As you can imagine, I was terrible at that, too, but did my best to make my parents happy long enough to get to do what I actually wanted to. I rarely spoke my mind anymore, knowing it was futile to say I wanted off the team, so I just shut up and dealt with it. It was especially frustrating because I was the only one of my siblings who felt this way. My brother and sisters both seemed to enjoy playing sports a lot (but I suppose it’s possible they were also just trying to make my parents happy). Eventually, I found that I didn’t hate playing the goalie, mostly because my team was decent and the ball didn’t get to me very often. When it did, we were playing with those small “kid-sized” goals, so my size made up for what I lacked in agility.
After soccer, I was put into baseball. I tried to say that I knew I hated baseball because I’d already played t-ball, but I was told baseball is “different,” and I hadn’t actually tried it yet, so I had to play. When I was up to bat, my ideal scenario was that the pitcher made a mistake and I was able to walk to first base. Swinging the bat meant making a fool of myself, which usually ended with my teammates calling me names and ostracizing me. They didn’t want me to swing the bat, either.
I played touch football, which I hated. Golf felt tedious. I joined a volleyball team because some of my friends had joined a league, but I was the worst player and didn’t last long. During a kickball game, I broke one of my fingers tying to catch the ball.
Say what you want, I tried. I did my best to live up to the ideals of “being a man,” and never failed to come up short. Everything I did was to make someone else happy, which meant there wasn’t much time to spend developing myself into the person I wanted to be. Most of the time, I was discouraged from even thinking about who I wanted to be.
Now, I’d also like to point out that I don’t think my lack of interest in sports is what makes me a woman. Again, my sisters were active in sports. One of my podcasting co-hosts does Crossfit. My girlfriend trained with MMA fighters in Hawaii for years. Athleticism isn’t a “male” trait any more than cooking is a “female” trait, and anyone who’s watched a cooking show on Netflix knows men can love cooking, too. Competition, team building, improving your skills—these are human traits more than they are gendered ones. The continued fight for gender equality means acknowledging that every possible interest is available to people at any point on the gender spectrum.
Hating sports doesn’t make me a woman, but it was definitely an early sign that I didn’t align with society’s definition of “male.” Would I still identify as female if my interests in the arts weren’t put down and unavailable to me? If I hadn’t grown up in a home with strict guidelines for how people with certain genitalia are “expected” to act, would I identify so strongly with the female gender?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I will never live that theoretical life. I only know what I’ve experienced, and what I feel, which is that “woman” is the best currently-existing term to describe my gender. It is how I feel about myself when I am alone, and it’s how I want people to see and experience me. It’s what makes me smile when I imagine people thinking of me, and for the first time in my life, I feel free to pursue my actual, genuine interests.
I still have a lot of unlearning to do. I was told so frequently and for so long that things I liked weren’t “for” me that sometimes I still auto-respond to things I like with thoughts of, “no, you aren’t allowed.” I saw a dress I liked at Target the other day, and felt an internal pressure not to picture myself in it. There are walls up inside my mind, and so many of them can be traced back to my experience with sports.
That’s all for me today. Thanks for reading about my continued self exploration as I come to terms with who I am. I hope it’s been as enlightening for you as it has been for me.
Chloe Skye, November 20, 2020
P.S. This week’s episode of Modern Eyes (now available!) is about the 1985 classic Clue. Jupiter and I talk a what holds up, what feels out of date, and how we’d modernize the film if it were remade today 🙂
ALSO! The third episode of my Star Trek: The Next Generation watch-through should be out this weekend. Check the blog Monday or so and you’ll definitely see it. I have a LOT to say about “Code of Honor,” because my god, the racism and misogyny are STRONG with this one.
On its surface, the premise of “The Naked Now” is a good one: the entire crew is affected by something that makes them behave as though they are drunk—and the last time this happened, no one survived… The stakes are high! There’s a sci-fi mystery to be solved! This episode should be a blast!
Well… it isn’t.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
The Set Up
The episode opens with the Enterprise heading to check out a vessel that was due to observe a star collapse into a White Dwarf, but has been sending bizarre transmissions. Captain Picard and the rest of the crew on the bridge make contact with the ship, but the woman they are speaking with is more interested in whether or not there are any “pretty boys” who will be joining them. In the background, it sounds as though a party is going on, and then, someone has the idea to open the airlock, and the Enterprise crew are forced to listen as everyone is blown into space.
When they arrive and beam over to the now-devoid-of-life ship, they find a number of anomalies that no one can quite figure out—including a crew member who took a shower with their clothes on, and the frozen remains of some sort of sexless orgy.
What happened to the crew is the mystery of the episode, although it is solved relatively quickly (more or less with a Google search), because apparently this virus was also the premise of an episode of The Original Series.
When the (living) crew returns to the Enterprise, Picard asks Dr. Crusher if she has any theories as to what happened to them. She literally just shrugs and says, “I don’t know, insanity?”
And here begins my diatribe on how this show treats women. For some reason, D.C. Fontana (notably the first female writer for Star Trek) has crafted a script that divides its characters down a perfect gender line: the women are stupid, incapable, horny, and largely serve no plot function, and the male characters resist their urges and solve literally everything. When the virus begins affecting the crew, the gender divide widens even further. Every woman who ends up affected has the same reaction—she becomes uncontrollably horny. The men, on the other hand, chase after their innermost desires. Geordi longs to be able to see a rainbow or a sunrise. Wesley sets out on a mission to become Captain of the Enterprise. Even Data is affected, and what he wants is to be human, so he participates in human activities at the whims of those around him.
Tasha Yar is a character we still don’t know very much about. We know she’s in charge of security, but in terms of what she likes, and what she wants, we haven’t been clued in. In this episode, while under the influence of the drunk virus, she suddenly wishes she could be more feminine, and asks Troi for help in choosing pretty clothes to dress up in. When Troi (pre-infection) says this may not be the best time, Yar finds a random guy on the ship and starts making out with him. The next time we see her, she’s in bedtime lingerie and asking Data to fuck (who notably wouldn’t mind if she were wearing a garbage bag, so why she went to all this trouble is beyond me).
She’s even given a tragic backstory. Abandoned by her parents when she was 5, she spent the next decade of her life “hiding from rape gangs” in what we witnessed as the “Post Apocalyptic Horror” that Q showed us in the first episode this season. That this would have hardened her emotions and taught her to fight is no surprise, but I’m not tracking how “feeling drunk” would cause her to suddenly drop all of her defenses, go around the ship making out with random dudes, and seduce a cyborg.
While we’re talking about this… why is Data programmed to pleasure humans? His job is on the bridge, but for some reason, he’s been programmed with sexual abilities? How many members of the crew are using Data for sexual pleasure? Is it only women, or are the male characters fucking him, too? What happens if two characters want to use Data for sex at the same time? Is there a process for this? Is there a sign up sheet? If he’s subject to pleasure anyone at any time, does this make him a prostitute? If he is a prostitute, does he care that he has to work when everyone else is off duty?
I have QUESTIONS!
Then we have Troi, who when she is infected with the virus, tracks down her old boo Riker and explains that her superpower of feeling the emotions of those around her has kicked up to hyperdrive, and she’s feeling things that she’s never felt before. Riker picks her up and carries her off to… I’m not sure where. Did they fuck? Unclear.
When Dr. Crusher is infected, she suddenly wants to fuck Captain Picard. She laments how long she has been “without the comfort of a husband,” because in this magical idealistic future, women—even women in positions of power—simply cannot survive without a man’s love. Even though Picard is also under the influence of the virus, he is able to resist her advances for the sake of saving the crew.
All of the men, you see, are capable of fighting off the effects of the virus. The women, however, are reduced to uncontrollably horny stereotypes. I’m not sure what level of projection is occurring in the writing of this episode, but there’s no way this was accidental. It’s peak male fantasy, and is the subject of a rather large percentage of porn: “all these women are trying to fuck me, I must resist!” It allows the male viewer to simultaneously desire these women and feel superior to them.
The men who aren’t able to fight the virus, such as Shimoda in engineering, doesn’t seem interested in having sex with anybody—he’s resolute to play with the ship’s control chips as if they were Pogs or dominoes. He is reduced to childlike wonder, taking orders from Wesley and enjoying the amazing repulsor beam he’s invented.
Some people may read this and say, “well, what do you want? It was made in the 80s. Just shut up and enjoy it.”
I just can’t not see it. I can’t watch the show without acknowledging that there are still people who watch it and don’t see any problems. People who watch this and think, “well, yeah, women do turn into sluts when they get drunk, HAR HAR HAR.” It’s reductionist, and people are still today making shows set in the Star Trek universe. The fact that the follow-up to this show is “Picard” tells me that we haven’t come very far in our views on gender, that men are still the only characters worth investing time and storytelling into, and women, if they aren’t going to give men some amount of pleasure, should just remain in the background and further the narrative.
The Wrap Up
I had notes on other aspects of this episode, like the general breakdown of the plot and how things ultimately progress, but none of it inspired anything in me. It’s a mediocre episode of a TV show that has yet to do anything impressive, and the contrivances of false danger and solutions to those problems are eye-roll inducing.
Wesley Crusher, the child, along with Riker and Data, end up being the real heroes of the episode. Credit where it’s due: the female Dr. Crusher eventually finds an antidote to the virus, but only by copying the work of someone from The Original Series. I know the doctor on that show was a man, so Star Trek continues to find ways to make sure that even when a woman saves the day, it’s only by standing on the shoulders of men.
That’s all I have for this episode! I’ll be back with another one in a week or so, depending on what else I’m doing and my mental health. Pandemics make it hard to be creative, even if that creativity is just writing critiques of other media.
—Chloe Skye, November 14, 2020
My Other Stuff
I launched a new podcast with my partner Jupiter Stone a few weeks ago called “Modern Eyes” where we look at movies from 10 or more years ago and discuss what holds up, what didn’t age well, and how we would modernize the film if it were remade today. So… it’s a lot like this Star Trek project, but it’s about movies! If you enjoy these blogs at all, check it out. So far we’ve covered Hocus Pocus and The Town, with an episode on Clue to be released this Friday.
I also have a podcast about amazing and noteworthy women from history called Broads You Should Know. We have a database of everyone we’ve covered at http://www.BroadsYouShouldKnow.com, so if listening to podcasts isn’t your thing, you can check out our research and resources to learn about women who helped change the world into the one we’re currently living in. No matter how Star Trek treats women and our accomplishments, there’s no question that there have been a lot of badasses who stood up and rose to the challenge.
When I sat down to write this blog, I wanted to talk about childhood PTSD, its causes, and how it often affects people for the rest of their lives.
I decided to write this particular blog a month ago, when I started reading The Body Keeps the Score, a New York Times bestseller written by Bessel Van Der Kolk, who spent nearly his entire life studying PTSD. I think the book is incredible; it explores how common disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression are often just symptoms of the larger issue of unresolved trauma, which permanently changes the brain. It isn’t all doom and gloom, because Bessel also explains how to treat the symptoms of PTSD by reprogramming the traumatic memories so that you are generally less affected by them and can begin to return to normal life.
It may be controversial to some people to suggest that disorders, especially those as serious as PTSD, can be healed and resolved in therapy. It’s important to note that it can’t cure everything—some disorders are, in fact, genetic. Bessel, however, learned through decades of research that many disorders previously believed to be “incurable” can be treated and healed.
I’ve had first-hand experience with some of the methods of treatment written about in the book, and despite my initial misgivings (I’m a skeptic by nature), some of them worked.
I received my PTSD diagnosis in 2018. Three years earlier, I’d been in a cult, where I was raped a number of times by the leader. After that, I thought I was losing my mind. Innocuous everyday occurrences triggered traumatic flashbacks. Minor inconveniences plunged me into shame spirals that left me feeling out of control and overwhelmed. Everyday interactions grew more difficult, and social settings left me paralyzed with fear.
For a long time I denied it. I didn’t want to be suffering from PTSD. Part of me still believed it made me weak. But by 2018, I was finding it difficult to get through the day, or even find reasons to continue living, and I realized if I didn’t do something about it, I wasn’t going to be able to live much longer. I researched therapists who specialize in PTSD treatment and started seeing one.
We began treatment with a process called EMDR, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. After a few months, the flashbacks involving my rapist subsided. I was able to disconnect myself from the memories so that when I remembered what happened, I wasn’t consumed by the emotions of what happened. Rather than triggering a panic attack, the memories remained just that: memories.
In resolving what happened, I was able to uncover how it happened. When I met the cult leader, I was already masking a much deeper and prolonged trauma from my childhood. In the moments before he would rape me, rather than entering “fight or flight, ” my body would shut down. I retreated inward, telling myself repeatedly, “it’ll all be over eventually, think about something else.” Closing out all of my feelings and hiding inside myself was something I’d learned decades earlier, and when I returned to that place during the rape, I unlocked feelings I’ve been running away from my entire life.
Although I was no longer plagued with flashbacks to the cult, I was now experiencing flashbacks to traumatic memories from my childhood. Cowering upstairs while my parents screamed at one another and broke things. Being beaten with belts or shoes, often with no explanation as to why. The feeling of being completely out of control.
So when I first conceived of this blog, I intended for it to be a chronicle of the memories that made me feel unsafe in my home. I wanted to list out each and every thing that happened to me that I’m still processing, that’s still affecting the way I live my life (and preventing me from living it to the fullest). I thought doing so would be helpful in resolving some of the issues.
But the more of The Body Keeps the Score that I read, the more I realized that listing out my trauma was the wrong approach. Firstly, it wouldn’t be fair to my parents, who for all intents and purposes, did the very best that they could. They loved me the only way they knew how, and honestly gave me a childhood that was better than the one either of them experienced.
One of the other things Bessel realized in his research is that people who inflict trauma on others are almost always running from an unresolved trauma of their own. Trauma acts differently than other memories—it doesn’t slip in to the background. It paralyzes you emotionally as the person you were when you experienced it.
I feel sorry for my parents. Even though I’m still affected by what was done to me, I know that they are affected even more deeply by what happened to them. So instead of vilifying them, I’ve decided to empathize with them.
I don’t know everything about their stories, I only know the parts they were comfortable sharing with me. From my own experience with trauma, I know how impossible the worst memories can be to even think about, let alone speak about. Considering the memories they were comfortable sharing, I can’t even imagine the ones they must have kept private.
So I’m going to write about them. Not about what they did, but about their feelings, and what happened to them that made them into the people they are.
My mother was born and raised in Joliet, Illinois to deeply Catholic parents. Her father was Italian, and her mother had been sent to the US from Slovenia as a child, I believe to keep her safe from communism. I never knew either of them, as he died before I was born, and she died not long after my birth.
My mother was convinced that her father never actually wanted her, and that her mother had become pregnant with her to prevent him from leaving her for another woman. This claim wasn’t unfounded—he had had a number of affairs, including at least one that resulted in a pregnancy and a child being born to another family in Canada. My mother’s siblings were 10-16 years older than her, and their names had been chosen so that the first three letter of each name spelled out “Dollar Bil”. This was then written onto the bottom of a wakeboard, along with a painting of a dollar bill. When my mother was born, they tacked “gin” onto the bottom, and added a bottle of gin to the painting as a loud and constant reminder to her that she was, if not unwanted, at least unplanned.
I know her father was a drinker. He’d served during WWII, and I’m sure was suffering from his own PTSD. Maybe he had childhood trauma as well. I don’t know how often he hit his children, or under what circumstances, but I know that he did it. I know it was more violent than when my mother beat me with a shoe, because while she was hitting me, she made sure to remind me that I should be grateful, because her father hit her with far more painful objects. I have to imagine this did not make her feel loved or wanted.
She found out at far too young an age that her father was cheating on her mother, possibly (and probably) with lots of women. Although he remained married to my grandmother, he had a daughter with a woman who lived outside the country, which my mother found out about the same time she discovered he was a cheater.
There are a lot of stories about young Virginia around this time. She told me that she refused to pay attention in school. She would tell the nuns (she went to a Catholic school, back when the teachers were allowed to “discipline” the children by beating them with rulers) to call her a different name every day and refused to respond unless they got the name right, and sometimes not even then. Her mother let the nuns know why she was acting out, that her father was a cheater and had another daughter, partly because she needed someone to talk to, and partly because she wanted the nuns to give my mother a break.
From this experience, my mother learned that she could get away with things by playing on the sympathy of others. She had also learned a profound distrust of men, especially husbands. This would prove to be a problem, as her strict Catholic upbringing meant that she couldn’t have children unless she was married, and the only thing she ever really wanted out of life was to be a mother. So her task would be to somehow find a man who wouldn’t cheat on her.
Virginia has a lot of stories of the types of boys she dated when she was a teenager: boys who wouldn’t call back, who lied to her, who did drugs… part of her thought a good man didn’t even exist. After a long line of these types, she ended up picking the man who would become my father. Much like her father, he was away on business a lot. I don’t believe he ever cheated on her, but the mere fact that these trips were so frequent meant that the possibility was always on her mind.
Knowing how trauma works, I’m sure every one of those trips triggered feelings of fear and jealousy. If my father cheated, in her mind, it would prove that he never actually loved her and that she’d become her mother. She was volatile and angry whenever he wasn’t at home, especially on overseas business trips that could last a month at a time. Nothing satisfied her except being constantly reminded that no cheating was happening, including phone calls and photographs that proved no other women were on the trip, or late at night, that no one else was in his hotel room.
Because she couldn’t control the actions of the men in her life, she made it her mission to make sure she raised a son who would treat women with respect. That, of course, was me. As long as I followed all the rules of being the perfect man, I could make my mother happy. Anything that strayed from what she deemed acceptable would trigger emotional breakdowns where she would lament that she must have failed as a mother.
When it became clear to me that I wasn’t a man at all, that I’m a woman, all I could think was, “even if she can’t say it, this is going to destroy my mother.”
My father was one of eight children born to an extraordinarily Catholic family in Indiana. His father, also named Joseph, had been a coal miner in Kentucky, and then served during WWII. He almost certainly suffered from PTSD.
My father had an impossible standard to live up to. Having been given the all-important family name, he had to be the masculine ideal. This was a problem, as he was always smaller than the rest of the boys his age. Unable to play football, he took up wrestling, which he excelled at—even winning the State Championship. Anything less than that would have been considered failure. He hated that he was called “Little Joe” to his father’s “Big Joe,” which I’m sure had to do partly with his father’s expectations for him.
I don’t have a lot of memories of Big Joe, but every memory I do have is of the most stubborn, selfish, abusive person I’ve met in my life. We once were playing a card game, and he accused me of cheating (I hadn’t). Until I “confessed,” no one was allowed to leave the table, and the game was not allowed to continue. He was in his 80s, and I was around 9. Later, my father and all his siblings remarked how much their father had calmed down in his old age.
I know how Big Joe made me feel in that moment—impossibly small & terrified, knowing that only giving in to his delusion would allow anyone else’s lives to move forward. The truth didn’t matter, what mattered was what he believed.
Considering the stories my father was comfortable sharing, I truly can’t imagine the stories that were kept quiet. For instance, there is a well-known family story (told at family reunions as a joke) where my grandfather forced my father and one of my uncles to join the swim team. My uncle didn’t enjoy the swim team, and began skipping practice. Because my grandfather believed there was nothing worse than a “quitter,” he hid in the janitor’s closet and waited for my uncle to walk by. Then he dragged my uncle into the closet and beat him mercilessly.
Another time, his family told him that he snored very loudly at night (I can attest to the fact that he definitely did). He yelled at them that he’d never snored in his life, and they were all liars. Then his children and wife bought a tape recorder to prove him wrong. When they played the tape for him, he refused to speak to his family for a full week, but still expected them to make his food, do their chores, and obey his rules. He finally opened his mouth Sunday at church, saying that now, God had forgiven him, so no one was allowed to be angry with him for his emotional abuse. It was resolved.
There are a lot of stories of physical abuse. Most of the stories make it abundantly clear that my grandfather ran his home like it was the military, and his orders were not to be questioned. The difference is, no one had volunteered to be in his family.
My father needed to be the man his father wanted him to be. He needed to succeed in business, he needed to have a happy family with a happy wife, and he set out to achieve the ultimate American dream. As long as he could provide, and his family had their basic needs met, he was a success. It didn’t matter how anyone felt—feelings were for pussies.
I wasn’t told a lot of stories about my grandmother. I know a lot of her siblings died during the Great Depression, and I believe the only thing that mattered to her was that her family was healthy and had enough food on the table. She could handle her emotionally distant husband who abused their kids (and possibly her, but I have no evidence for that) as long as he continued to bring home enough money for everyone to live mostly happy lives.
My father was very excited when I was born. He’d always wanted a son, someone he could talk about sports with who could carry on the Smith legacy. He did me a huge service by not naming me Joseph, but he couldn’t shake the “impossible expectations” thing, which he passed on to me.
I hated sports. Being neurodivergent meant I was also extremely sensitive. He never understood me, and I think he was intimidated by my intelligence. I believe that I made him feel inferior, which reminded him of how his father made him feel. Because he’d never been able to speak back to his father, he took out his rage on me. Even though I’m sure on some level he’s proud of me, I only ever felt like I was an utter disappointment to him, especially when I realized I was never his son at all.
I can only imagine that he has to cling to the areas where he succeeded in life, because the idea that he might have done anything wrong is paralyzing and makes him feel like a child all over again.
I haven’t been able to speak to my parents in years. I’ve forgiven them for what they did, but they remain the same people they were when they raised me. They haven’t been able to heal from their own traumas, and that keeps them paralyzed.
There was never a phone call where they didn’t point out all of the ways in which I was failing at my life. They treated me like a disappointment, but always made sure to talk about how great their lives were. If I expressed how their words made me feel, I triggered all of their childhood traumas. My father, unable to accept anything less than being perfect, would resort to anger, throwing tantrums and calling me “ungrateful” for all of the things that he had done well. There was no point in calling him out for bad behavior if he hadn’t been praised at least a dozen times first. My mother, on the other hand, had different sets of trauma. She would meet these conversations by breaking down emotionally. Talking about my hurt feelings hurt her feelings, and it became my job to apologize for mentioning them, and then do the emotional labor of making her feel better. She would effectively get out of trouble by playing on my sympathy.
I got tired of them invalidating my experiences and making me feel guilty for having feelings, so I had to stop speaking with them. It’s painful every day, but it’s a lot less painful than having to speak to them—emotional support just isn’t their strong suit. It isn’t their fault. I know that. They did the best that they could—the best that they were emotionally capable of doing.
Seeing them as people helped me to forgive them, but it didn’t heal my trauma. As much as I’d love to say, “everything worked out, the therapy cured me, and I’m back to living a normal life!”, it would be disingenuous to do so. I have a long road of healing ahead of me before I can begin living a normal life.
2020 has been an incredibly trying year. My business was forced to close down at the start of the COVID pandemic, and I haven’t been able to find full-time work since, despite sending hundreds of applications since March. The uncertainty of the future and lack of income means that I had to stop going to therapy, so I’m more or less in a limbo state, hoping that I can find something that will pay the bills and also afford me enough extra money to continue healing.
I’m not giving up. I want to be able to appreciate my life, and I’m more capable of doing so now than I ever was before. For that, I’m grateful. I appreciate that I have the privilege of receiving any therapy—a lot of people are never able to afford it. A generation ago, the research didn’t even exist. But as long as we can do the work of healing today, the next generation will have less healing to do. I will continue to fight for my happiness so that people in the future don’t have to experience what I did.
My trauma is my responsibility. No one else can heal me—I have to do it. It’s difficult, it’s painful, and it forces me to look into dark corners of the past that I’d rather pretend don’t exist.
But it’s worth it.
If I hadn’t begun to heal, I never would have been able to acknowledge that I’m a woman. I never would have come out. I would have continued to live in my disguise, trying my absolute hardest to be the man I was always expected to be.
If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading!
If anything I said in this blog resonated with you, check out The Body Keeps the Score. It has been tremendously helpful in recognizing my own symptoms and patterns, which has made it easier for me to forgive myself when I’m unable to live up to my own impossible expectations for myself—expectations that are surely not as strict as the expectations that were placed upon my parents, which were not as strict as the expectations placed on their parents, and so on, and so on… It’s helped me find empathy for people I never imagined I would have empathy for, and best of all, it allowed me to finally explore who I truly am.
I’ll be back in the future with another blog, and I promise (for the 3 of you who care) that I’m not done with my Star Trek series.
Coming out as trans was a huge moment in my life. I’d been stuck inside for months (thanks, COVID) exploring myself and my identity and was very excited to start living as my true, authentic self. Looking back, I may have come out without thinking through all of the ramifications that it would have on my ability to survive. I really took for granted a lot of the privileges that passing for a White Man in America afforded me.
For one thing, it was extraordinarily easy for me to get a job. Not necessarily a great, high-paying job, but an above-minimum-wage job with decent hours? Simple! Just show up, put on a good show, be a little charismatic, and boom! Job acquired.
When COVID hit, I lost the last job I’d been holding onto. The business I started with my girlfriend went under, and the industries I’d had part-time work in all went on hiatus. I’ve been existing almost entirely on unemployment, along with the occasional odd-job like paid blog posts that I can do from home. That work has largely dried up, with one lasting long-term gig where I write an article every week for a math tutoring center.
This has made my continued growth extremely difficult.
Because I’ve been trying to stretch the money as far as I can, I haven’t felt comfortable buying things like clothes or makeup that feel like “luxury” expenses. So I came out as trans, and then… I’ve just been wearing all the same clothes that I did before. I haven’t been able to explore with makeup as often as I’d like (but I do get to play around with nail polish fairly often, which has been nice). When I go outside, for all intents and purposes, I am still a “man.” Or at least, I am perceived as such by everyone around me.
My voice still sounds masculine, because I haven’t begun the process of medically transitioning (maybe there’s a longer blog about this, because I’m fairly certain I’d like to, but I don’t have health insurance and paying even a small amount of money for hormones feels like taking money away from rent and food and slowly killing myself). When I go through a drive-through and place my order, people refer to me as “sir” without having seen me. It startled me when, about a month ago, the woman at Starbucks asked me for my name (I don’t go there often). I said “Chloe” and there was a long pause. Finally, she said, “Did you say… Chloe?” like I might have been mistaken about my own name.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I did, in fact, come out, and it wasn’t just some wish-fulfillment dream that I imagined happened three months ago.
In general, I’ve been feeling stuck—completely frozen in place, unable to move forward, and unwilling to go back. Coming out to myself was such a huge step, and then coming out to everyone in my social circle was a transformative and powerful moment for me. Since then, though, I’ve felt hampered by the judgments of strangers and friends alike. I don’t look “trans enough,” so is it really real?
There’s also the fact that I’ve been paralyzed with fear. I do have a couple dresses. I have a pair of heels, a few sets of stockings, and a fair amount of makeup that my girlfriend gifted to me as a “starter kit.” But I haven’t felt safe going outside wearing any of it. Typically, I dress up late at night, when everyone else is asleep, take a few photos, feel too scared to post any of them, and then take everything off before anyone finds out.
Part of it is that I don’t find myself attractive. Then I have to go through the whole “it doesn’t matter if you’re attractive, there’s more to being a woman than being attractive,” and “you’re attractive if you find yourself attractive, that’s how it works!” But then I’m stopped by another thought: What if someone dangerous finds me attractive? Or worse… What if someone dangerous finds me repulsive?
I didn’t realize the extent of it, but walking through life as a man provided me safety. I’m 6 feet tall, fairly built, and, as a man, look like someone you don’t want to mess with. The moment I put on a dress and heels, I no longer feel that sense of safety. The few times I have worked up the courage to go outside presenting as a woman, the off-kilter glances people throw my way feel threatening and dangerous. It’s possible I’m projecting, but it truly feels like people are less comfortable with my existence than they were before, when I was mostly met with indifference or, at worst, fear. Now, I am instead the target of internalized rage and prejudice.
Part of my fear comes from having been raped before. I was diagnosed with PTSD from that experience, and I know it holds me back in a lot of areas in my life, but I didn’t have any idea how deeply the fear of being raped again would hold me back from expressing my true self. When I was passing as a man, it took months’ worth of brainwashing and mental manipulation before rape was attempted. The man felt like he needed me to trust him completely before he could try anything. As a woman, I don’t feel like someone who wanted to rape me would hold themselves back because I didn’t trust them, or because of my size. If anything, I feel like I pose a unique challenge with which someone could prove his “true” masculinity. If I put up any resistance, I fear that they may just kill me instead.
All of this has stopped me from moving forward in my journey. I haven’t been able to grow beyond where I’ve already gotten to. I’m petrified of what might happen to me if I show myself to anyone outside of my already-existing social circle. At the same time, I can’t go back to living life how I was before. I’ve come far enough to realize that I’ve made the correct choice for myself, and that living as my authentic self involves my identity as female.
Which brings me back to my job search. Up until this point, I have made very little money as a freelance writer, and haven’t had a mentor (at least one who hasn’t tried to take advantage of me) or anyone to teach me the ropes in terms of monetizing my presence online. My survival has depended on the “day job,” so to speak, of which I have had many, and my entire professional career, up until three months ago, was under my deadname.
This week, I had my first-ever job interview as Chloe. I was excited. Possibly too excited, but it’s the first time since coming out that I’ve had any real hope that I might have a future. Not only was it an interview with my new name, but it was an interview for a job on staff at an up-and-coming film studio as a screenwriter, which is the very thing I moved to Los Angeles to be (it’s also one of the only industries that I know of, at this point, that will hire non-passing trans women).
I won’t find out for two weeks whether I will be invited to a follow-up interview (wish me luck), but I’m not feeling confident. The interview got off to a weak start when I realized I had forgotten to change my Zoom name from “TheJustinXavier” to Chloe, and the woman interviewing me seemed rather confused. When I explained that it was my old name and quickly changed it, the energy changed. The interview ended 15 minutes before it was scheduled to and without my being asked any difficult questions.
The fact is, I can’t survive in this world without a job. But I also feel completely lost and hopeless in terms of what types of job I could realistically be hired to do with everything else going on. I’ve literally never worked a job that hired transgender employees. I’ve never had a trans coworker. I don’t actually personally know any trans people who can help guide me, or avoid the pitfalls of this life.
My options seem to be, “pretend I’m still the mask I was wearing before; the husk of a person with a comforting male face and name,” or “continue attempting to find work with your new name, despite having only partially transitioned.”
And I don’t know what to do. I feel paralyzed. I feel completely stuck, like I can’t move forward without living in even more fear than I already am, and I can’t move backwards without living with more depression. If fear and depression are my only options in either direction, how can I possibly make that choice?
I’m honestly asking. If there are any trans people out there who can offer advice, please do! I’m willing to work. I’m tired of living this “barely on the edge of survival” existence. I’m tired of existing in this in-between space, where I haven’t fully blossomed into the person I’m becoming, but I’m so far beyond the person I was before.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your responses ❤
-Chloe Jade Skye
October 30, 2020
P.S. The next Star Trek post is coming soon! And Friday, November 6th marks the launch of a new podcast I’m doing, called “Modern Eyes with Skye and Stone,” where I (Skye) and Jupiter Stone review films from 10 or more years ago through modern eyes (aka, we talk about how problematic they are in regards to race, gender, queer representation, etc., and how they could be modernized if they were remade today). You can subscribe now, the “Intro” episode is already up. Our first episode will be covering 1993’s Hocus Pocus.
I’ve now watched the 2-part series debut “Encounter at Farpoint” three times in the last month. With each subsequent viewing, I grew more irritated at how hypocritical the show was—lecturing moral values and absolutes while betraying all of those morals with nearly every creative decision that went into crafting this pilot episode.
Before I get into it, I should do a little table setting. If you didn’t read my “announcement” post (which is likely most of the people reading this, as that post is thus far one of my least viewed blog entries), I should say that I’ve never been a Star Trek fan. Not because I watched it and didn’t like it, but because I was never exposed to it. The first time I ever heard the term “Star Trek” was in a trailer for the film, “Star Trek: Nemesis,” which seemed like it would be right up my alley (I was 11 at the time I saw the trailer), but my parents refused to take me to see it. Based on reviews that I’ve seen for the film since then, this was probably for my own good. Not to mention how strange it would have been for my first-ever Star Trek experience to be, essentially, the series finale.
What I came to know of Star Trek came about because of the JJ Abrams reboot in 2009 and the two subsequent sequels to that film, which, prior to starting this blog, was pretty much the extent of my Star Trek knowledge.
Cut to present day!
It’s clear that one of the main purposes of this episode is to establish the timeline of when, exactly, The Next Generation falls in what I’ve discovered is a vast and unknowable amount of Star Trek lore. This is, after all, the second Star Trek series (unless you count the short-lived “The Animated Series”) and must at least in part be responsible for the concept of a “sequel / reboot”. We are clued into the timeline by a mysterious character known only as “Q”, who appears onboard the Enterprise and tells the ship to turn around, as they “have infiltrated our galaxy too far already!”
Q, appearing as a White human male, is initially dressed as a 17th-century (using the modern dating system) ship captain and explorer. He goes on to explain that “humanity is a savage child race,” and will not be welcomed into this section of the universe. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart, the one bright spot in this entire episode) says, “that nonsense is centuries behind us!” Q then instantly changes his clothes to appear as a WWII army captain, prompting Picard to explain that WWII was “over 400 years ago,” and that even by that time, humanity had already begun to make “rapid progress.”
When Q laments that humans are just reenacting the same old story over and over again, Picard says, “The same old story is you! Self-righteous life forms who are eager not to learn, but to prosecute, to judge anything they don’t understand or can’t tolerate.”
I am here to say that Picard is projecting like a motherfucker.
In this series, as I’ve seen thus far, humans are the self-righteous ones. Humans are the ones who are showing up, unannounced and uninvited, onto other species’ planets. Humans are the ones who instinctively respond to every challenge with violence first. Humans are the ones who don’t seem to understand that their mission to “explore” is just an evolution of colonialism, which carries all the baggage and ramifications of the colonialism that, even today, is destroying entire cultures and populations on Earth.
Q is presented by Star Trek: The Next Generation as a mischievous, untrustworthy villain—a barrier to the great glory of Starfleet’s mission: To boldly go where no man (or no one in the updated gender-neutral version) has gone before. But already we have a problem: how can you claim that no one has explored these areas, if every time you arrive on a new planet, you discover a new civilization? That certainly seems like someone has explored this place. Inherent in your assertion that “no one” has explored this place is your own self-righteousness. The fact that you believe your own species, or at least your own culture, is single-handedly responsible for exploration. If you haven’t been there, well, no one has. Behind that belief is a deep-rooted sense of superiority. “Yes, you may have explored your own planet, but you haven’t done it as well as we could. We’ll take it from here.”
Throughout human history, explorers arrived at new locations to be greeted largely with kindness by the natives, and it was the colonizers who instigated and perpetuated the violence. When White men arrived in North America, they weren’t greeted with Native Americans telling them “turn around or be killed.” The Native Americans, instead, taught these White people how to survive. They taught them which crops to grow, which animals to hunt (and how to do so), and how to survive the winter. Presenting Q as a cartoonish villain is a creative choice, but it is only realistic if you’re viewing history through the lens of the colonizers.
I can already hear some of you typing up rebuttal emails, detailing exactly how cruel and violent the Native Americans could be. I know. But if you’re looking at history from their point of view, instead of the point of view of “the winner” (as so many White people I know love to state), can you blame them? Shiploads of White people arrived, unannounced and uninvited, and started to claim the resources of the land—and the land itself—as their own. If you were a race who lived in harmony with nature and believed that land cannot be “owned”, you would see these White people as invaders who would, if left unchecked, destroy the entire world. All you need to do is look to 2020 and the effects of rampant, unchecked climate change to see that the Native Americans who fought White people were right to do so. Today, there isn’t a single piece of land on this continent that isn’t “owned” by someone. That level of colonization has, over the last few centuries, destroyed millions of lives and left entire ways of life starving in the dust.
I am firmly on Q’s side.
At this point, Worf and Yar both suggest the same course of action: ATTACK! Which, of course, just goes to prove Q’s larger point. The humans in charge of the Enterprise claim to be a peaceful race, but the moment they encounter even the slightest difficulty, even if it’s just an alien telling them to please go away, they fall back on their instincts and decide to kill the alien. It doesn’t matter if the alien is making a valid point. It doesn’t matter if the alien thinks you might cause more harm than good by being here. He challenged us—he must deserve to die.
When Picard decides it might not be the best idea to attack, the Enterprise crew attempts to flee, but Q’s ship easily catches them. Command is transferred to the Battle Bridge, and Q’s ship is fired upon. When they realize their weapons are useless against Q, Yar still suggests they try to fight. Picard questions her judgment, and she immediately backs down, saying, “I spoke before I thought.”
This, to me, is more an issue of The Next Generation’s inherent misogyny. This is one of many instances of female characters being portrayed as overly emotional, irrational, or just plain stupid. Yar, in this moment, is demonstrating all three. I don’t blame the actor, I blame the writing. Considering that Tasha Yar is the Chief of Security onboard the ship, I have to conclude that only a misogynist could have written this exchange. That, or Starfleet has a truly terrible screening process for promoting people.
Here is where things go crazy. Q teleports the crew to a separate location—a courtroom that is, as we are told, modeled after the “Post-Atomic Horror” section of human history, specifically in 2079. All around the room are racist caricatures and stereotypes from the late 20th century (circa-1987, let’s say), including a prominently-featured White little person in yellowface makeup who rings a tiny bell to signal that court is in session.
One of the first things that happens in this courtroom is Yar attacks and subdues one of the guards, again displaying an absurd level of testosterone-fueled poor decision making, for which she is frozen solid as punishment. After this, the guard she subdued is killed by another guard, apparently for displaying weakness. It’s also possible that he is killed for having been defeated by a woman. With a show as misogynist as this, it’s hard to tell.
Q comes out on a hoverchair, playing the “judge” of the trial that is about to take place: Captain Picard and his crew are going to be tried for the crimes of the human race—for being, essentially, too violent and arrogant. At this point, Data (the ship’s android) stands up to object to the trial, on the grounds that, “in 2036, the New United Nations declared that no Earth citizen could be made to answer for the crimes of his race or forbears.”
Maybe this sounded “woke” in the 1980s, but today, it rings as nothing less than horrifying. We live in a world where Colonization has killed millions (if not more). Where people have intentionally targeted Black and Indigenous populations to bear the brunt of their brutality. And as the concept of reparations continues to grow in popularity (and necessity), the idea that a bunch of White people would sit together in a room and declare that none of them would ever have to answer for the crimes of their fathers and grandfathers is disgusting and nightmarish. It completely removes any sense of culpability, instead blaming the victims of the colonizer’s atrocities for their own inability to survive in a system that was designed against them. And in a world where no one ever has to answer for those crimes, nothing will ever change.
Then again, maybe this was a deeply prescient prediction. We’re living in a racist world, and no one wants to take responsibility for their actions. Of course the very-near-future United Nations would do something like this. Perhaps setting this “post-atomic horror” world after the UN decision in 2036 was a way of saying, “if we don’t get our shit together and amend the wrongs of our past, we’re headed for a nightmarish hellscape where people are guilty until proven innocent!”
Somehow I doubt it.
I can also hear some people arguing, “come on, this show was made in the 80s. Trying to hold them to the standards of today is unfair.” And you’d be right—if my purpose in writing this was to hold the creators accountable. It isn’t. Instead, I want longtime fans of the series to interrogate where their own beliefs about the world might have stemmed from. I firmly believe that if you watched this show as a child, the concept of “no one can be made to answer for the crimes of their race or forbears” sounded pretty… futuristic. If you watched the show often enough, it might also have subliminally made its way into your psyche, and how you see the world.
So when you hear the Black Lives Matter movement say that reparations are necessary to make up for White people’s crimes against Black people, including the Tulsa Massacre, Chattel Slavery, lynchings, redlining, and so, so much more, you might instinctively think, “but how can we be judged for the crimes of other White people?” Presenting this argument from the POV of our heroes makes it so much harder for people to bother listening to any viewpoint on the opposite side. “Those ideas can’t be right… Captain Picard was on this side!” If that’s where people’s heads are at, it makes it more difficult to pass progressive legislation, because the people voting for it may be affected by the Star Trek content they absorbed as children. Considering the fact that Star Trek, as a franchise, is still today launching new series, these old episodes might still be affecting the minds of young people, and turning them against a future that is already more progressive than anything this show has to offer. As such, it’s important to call out the things that are deeply wrong with it, especially when their ramifications are currently being publicly debated.
Okay. I’ll climb off my soapbox.
Eventually, it is decided that maybe it is unfair to try Picard and his crew for the crimes of previous humans (even though they are still, by the very nature of their mission, continuing to commit those crimes). Instead, Q will oversee how the humans handle Farpoint Station, which was their original intended destination.
The mission? Determine whether Farpoint Station, which was built by another species, will be a suitable location for humanity to use for their own purposes.
And you’re trying to tell me that humanity is no longer savage? Once again, the show is overlooking the inherent savagery of colonialism. This storyline is, more or less, the story of Hawai’i: A small, “less advanced” race lives on a small island (or planet) that happens to be a perfect intermediary location for continued colonization.
What happened in Hawai’i sets a perfect precedent for what is likely to happen at Farpoint Station. First, White people arrived. They claimed to be peaceful and willing to work with the inhabitants of the island—but already they were planning their sinister follow-up move. Instead, the White people began to slowly claim ownership over the island. Eventually, the son of some American settlers, Sanford Dole, violently overthrew the Hawaiian government and crowned himself President. Now, today, there are very few Native Hawaiians left. They do their best to cling to their culture and holy lands, while every year, more White people arrive with bulldozers and permits that allow them to take over just a little bit more.
You may not see this as violence, but it is. New technology makes old ways of life “obsolete,” even if those ways of life were healthier and happier. So White people get to walk away feeling like the “Good Guys”, despite having slowly destroyed an entire civilization.
Farpoint Station is likely to be the same story. It starts out as a mutual agreement to use the base, and slowly, over time, the humans will want more.
Once we arrive at Farpoint Station, we’re introduced to the characters who will fill out the rest of the Enterprise crew on The Next Generation, including Riker, La Forge, and the Crushers. We’re also introduced to more racism, ableism, and misogyny.
First, I want to talk about ableism. I’ll start with Geordi La Forge. Geordi is blind, and has always been blind. In order to “see,” he wears a visor that allows him to see more of the electromagnetic spectrum than he would be able to see even with regular vision—but in order for them to work, he experiences constant extreme pain.
I’m sure at the time, the inclusion of a disabled lead character of color was a massive step forward. Now, looking back (as is the entire purpose of this blog), there are a number of areas this choice fails.
Firstly, there’s the implication that without this visor, Geordi would essentially be useless. This episode features a conversation between him and a doctor, who says that perhaps he should undergo experimental surgery or take painkillers so that he won’t have to be in pain in order to see. This would also cause the visor to function slightly differently, and perhaps remove a portion of Geordi’s vision. He refuses, implying that he would rather be in constant, excruciating pain than be a blind man. If that isn’t an ableist idea, I don’t know what is. Stack on top of this the fact that this is (as far as I can tell) the only Black person on the show who isn’t completely covered with alien prosthetics, and BAM! You’ve got your “self-hating Black man” stereotype and your “disabled person who thinks they’re broken because they aren’t like ‘normal’ people” stereotype on lock with one character!
I also just want to mention that in the year of our lord 2020, we are very aware of the fact that blind people can see. They use sound instead of light, but with some training, their ability to navigate the world is more or less unencumbered. Look up Daniel Kish and the foundation he started for more information, but he’s been teaching blind children to climb trees and ride bikes since 2000. If we’re 400 years in the future and we still haven’t begun to deal with our discomfort around disabled people being different, that’s not a future I want to live in.
There’s also a brief scene where Data, the ship’s android, states that although he is superior to humans in many ways, he “would give it all up to be human.” I fundamentally reject the premise than any android would wish to be human. Unless, of course, we programmed that desire into them, which would be a deeply fucked up thing to do. Why would an android want to be human? Only a human could have written this character in this way.
And then there’s THIS scene:
I assume this is a character from the previous Star Trek series, because otherwise this scene serves zero purpose, apart from squeezing in just a bit more racism and misogyny into the series. This is (according to a Google search) Admiral Leonard McCoy, who shows up to spew some hatred about both androids and Vulcans before telling Data to treat the ship “like a lady.” McCoy is 137 years old in this scene, so maybe there’s a greater point being made about how older generations are just going to be more problematic and offensive and there’s nothing we can do about it, but every word that came out of his mouth in this scene made me want to gag.
“Treat this ship like a lady” is just another way of saying “treat women like property and they’ll take care of you!” I’m truly sick and tired of all of the men in our media who go around treating women like their personal caretakers, or comparing them to machinery, and never getting called on it.
Wait. Quick question. Do LGBT people exist in the future, or have the normies killed us all off? For as many characters as there are on the show, it’s baffling that literally none of them identify as anything other than cis- and straight. Is this because it was still taboo to have LGBT people in the military in the 80s, and Starfleet is, more or less, the future military? These are just questions. You know. Because a lot of people worship this fucking show and I am having a difficult time understanding why.
The story continues, I’m not going to write about all of it, because it really doesn’t matter. Troi is essentially only here to do emotional labor for everyone else, I can’t really figure out what her role is outside of falling down a lot, saying things like “I sense a strong presence! It is… SAD!!!!!!”, and being a romantic foil for Riker, because, as you know, a woman cannot exist on a TV show if she isn’t fuckable. After a surprise ship shows up and starts firing lasers at the planet Farpoint Station is on (but notably not at Farpoint Station itself), she says, “Protecting the Bandi doesn’t violate the Prime Directive.”
I did some research on this, because I had no idea what the Prime Directive is. I found out it’s essentially the guiding principle of Starfleet: Don’t interfere with the development of alien civilizations. Except… if you’re going to destroy an alien ship and you have no idea whose ship it is, who is onboard, or where it might have come from… how are you not interfering? What loose logic is this show using to justify its decisions? This is akin to saying “building a space research station at the top of Hawaii’s sacred mountain is not interfering with Hawaiian culture.” How do you know? You know literally nothing of this culture, but you’re already certain that you know whether your actions are going to affect them?
While this chaos is going on, Picard has a great idea: Let’s kidnap the leader of the planet. He even uses the word “kidnap” when he gives the order. And he knows that this entire mission is a test to see whether or not humanity is still a savage race. If the events of this episode are to be the basis for argument, humanity is indeed a deeply savage race who care not for the plight of anyone or anything outside of their own personal goals.
I’m so sick of White people (read: the creators of Star Trek) and their bogus justifications for their clearly evil actions. I can’t even handle it.
Then comes the revelation that the ship is not a ship, but a giant alien space-jellyfish, and it is angry because its lover was taken hostage by the Bandi (the race that built Farpoint Station in the first place) and used for spare parts. Meaning, they’re using the space-jellyfish as Farpoint Station. Oh, I forgot to mention—the space-jellyfish race has the ability to create matter out of energy, and can create literally anything they want whenever they want. But somehow, the space-jellyfish can’t think of any way to escape, and its lover can’t think of anything apart from “spaceship with lasers” to help its partner get free.
The episode ends with the Enterprise crew feeding the space-jellyfish-space-station enough energy to get off the planet and go home (?) with its lover, and Q deciding that because no one murdered the space jellyfish, humans must not be savage after all. He also gives warning that he may come back at any point, so I’m guessing Q will show up again in future episodes, hopefully to rescind his decision and lock these humans up so they stop fucking up the galaxy.
Credit Where It’s Due
The show seemed to casually mention that religion is nonsense, which was nice.
Patrick Stewart can make even the worst dialogue seem respectable.
There are women in positions of power, even if they’re all written to be incompetent.
The inclusion of a Klingon on the crew is progressive (I’ve heard they’re usually the villains), even if Worf, at this point, feels like little more than a prop. To be fair, most of the characters feel like props at this point, apart from the White men, who always have the most to do and say.
Nice try with the “humans aren’t actually evolved / or are they” storyline. Too bad you have no idea what it would actually take for humanity to evolve.
Goodbye for now
If you made it here, holy shit! Thank you so much. I’m putting a lot of time and energy into writing this series with literally no idea who might end up actually reading the whole thing, especially since I’m one of those “annoying liberals” who is “too PC” and “judges everything by how ‘woke’ it is instead of how ‘good’ it is.” Trust me, I know who I am. I know what I’m doing. I know how many people are going to be infuriated by my opinions. But I’m going to do it anyway, because it’s important.
That’s all for me for now! Check back next week for another recap 🙂
Growing up, I was never a viewer of anything Star Trek. The first Trek content I saw was JJ Abrams’s 2009 reboot, which gave me a skewed perception of what Star Trek really was (seeing as all JJ did was slap a Star Wars filter over the Star Trek universe).
When COVID hit, and we all began to hunker down and do our best not to focus on the utter shitstorm of everything going on outside, I wanted to avoid dystopian sci-fi futures where the world has ended and there’s no hope left for humanity. I was tired of seeing the same old “well, it’s too late for us” story packaged in a new way and sold me as something new. And most of all, I wanted to imagine that there could be something good in our future. I wanted to believe that we might be able to pull through this.
I put out a call on my Facebook page. What’s the best uplifting sci-fi? What’s the series or movie that features humans using their emotions instead of running from them, helping one another instead of killing each other, and building a better world for everyone?
I received a few suggestions that I had already seen (and didn’t think were all that positive or hopeful), but over and over again, the same series kept coming up: Star Trek.
“A positive future where people use their emotions as superpowers? Sounds like you’re describing Starfleet!” said one of my friends.
“If you want hope, Gene Roddenberry made the liberal utopia you’re looking for on Star Trek,” said another.
It seemed like it was about time for me to dive into the show that, if my friends were to be believed, was exactly what I was looking for.
So I watched the original unaired Pilot for the original series. And it was one of the most misogynistic pieces of entertainment I’ve watched in years. It didn’t inspire hope in me that this utopian future was a place where a woman would be left alone with her alien captors because she was too ugly to join the rest of humanity.
“Okay,” I thought. “This was made in the 60s. Let’s jump forward to The Next Generation and see if that’s any better.”
I watched the first four episodes, which were racist, misogynist, regressive, and depressingly colonialist. I decided Star Trek was not the positive sci-fi future I’ve been looking for, and stopped watching the series for a couple months.
But I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
Why do people think this show is a positive depiction of our future? It’s a world where the colonialist, imperialist mindset has reached its utmost extreme: Insert ourselves into every society that has ever existed, not just everywhere on our planet, but everywhere on every planet, in every galaxy throughout the entire universe.
It’s a future that screams, “If you just keep doing things exactly how you’re doing them, everything will work out! As if by magic!” It’s a show that encourages all the people who watch it to stay exactly how they are—don’t do any self work, don’t learn to respect each other’s differences, just keep on keeping on, and eventually the future will figure itself out.
The show, at least as far as I’ve seen, provides absolutely no explanation as to how everyone learned to get along, we’re just supposed to believe that… we figured it out. But the show betrays its own premise by featuring characters whose sole mission is to treat other cultures and species (depicted here in the same way we today view “races”) as “less than,” which is the very thing that causes most of the conflict in our society today.
“But the Prime Directive!” I can hear some of you shouting at me. Well… get mad at me if you want to, but the Prime Directive is a load of bullshit. Don’t interfere? How can you claim you aren’t interfering when the plot of every episode (thus far) is, “Starfleet, your very presence in this part of the galaxy has caused problems for us.”
Which is basically the story of history. Just because the characters are no longer murdering the natives and raping their women doesn’t mean they aren’t altering history or claiming that their way of life is the better way of life. In fact, it’s so much worse than that. The citizens of Starfleet believe that humanity, along with the few species they’ve been able to create peace with, have created the best society, and look down at nearly every civilization they come across as either primitive or savage.
Holy White Supremacy!
I’m about as leftist as they come these days, but this show is a perfect example of why I think non-liberals hate liberals. It’s preachy and superior, but exhibits exactly zero of the qualities that it claims to stand for.
So I’ve decided that I’m going to watch the entirety of Star Trek: The Next Generation to see if I can discover what exactly it is that people love about this show. Or perhaps I’ll just discover that even the most hopeful creators in the past weren’t able to envision a future free of humanity’s judgment of the “other.”
“Come on, Chloe. It’s a product of its time! What’s the point in nitpicking something that was created over 30 years ago?”
Trust me. I’ve asked myself the same question. Perhaps this entire exercise is just a representation of my own bull-headedness and stupidity. Perhaps it’s considered torturing myself to force myself to watch—*checks and does the math*—Jesus fucking Christ, over 133 hours of a television show that I’m already certain I’m going to hate.
But I do believe there is value in watching things from the past and reevaluating with a new worldview. My entire life thus far has been a constant series of learning new information and then writing over my understanding of everything else I ever learned or thought I knew. It’s often deeply frustrating to look back at moments from my own life and realize exactly how wrong I was, or how badly I fucked up, or how much I hurt someone.
I think it’s a lot easier to look back at and reevaluate content. It allows us to challenge our understanding of the world without triggering the fight-or-flight response that comes along with have our own thoughts or actions called into question. It gives us the opportunity to grow into new worldviews without feeling like the way we’ve been living our life has been wrong.
So if you’re interested, feel free to follow along as I write posts about Star Trek episodes. I’m going to cover them all.
When I was a kid, I believed the world was a certain way. Because nearly all of the people in my life shared that worldview, it seemed likely that it was probably correct. Even as my family moved, over and over again, from state to state, we always settled in areas where, once again, everyone we interacted with agreed with our perspective on the world.
Because it happened so many times and in so many places, I started to believe that people everywhere were exactly the same: White, Catholic, and Conformist.
It never occurred to me that the reason these people were in my life, and they reason they all agreed with one another, was more to do with the decisions my parents had made in setting up our lives than it was undeniable proof that everyone was right about everything.
I heard hushed whispers and rumors from both of my parents about “other” types of people: Baptists. Jews. Muslims. These words were all spoken with an air of disdain, despite being followed up with phrases like, “but God taught us to love everyone equally, so we love them.” We just weren’t allowed to associate with them, speak to them, or spend any time with them. In my mind, they were mythical figures who would corrupt my soul and prevent me from taking my rightful place in heaven.
It also never occurred to me that choosing to intentionally isolate ourselves in bubbles of Catholics was causing my entire family to be intensely fearful and judgmental of everyone else in the world, to such a degree that we couldn’t even speak about those “other” people amongst ourselves without lowering our voices (presumably so God wouldn’t be able to hear us judging).
Religion was our primary basis for exclusion, but race was a factor as well. “Don’t ever let me catch you bringing one of them people home,” my mother said to me in a private conversation after a Black girl had called our house to talk to me. When I lamented that that was extremely racist, she said, “Not because they’re Black! Because no one would love your babies!” As if that would excuse the racism.
And yet, this was my family. These were the people who “knew best.” They were there to protect me (as they were so keen to remind me whenever they were hitting me). So I came to associate these feelings, the feelings of judgment, fear, racism, hatred, and abuse… with love. With safety. With home.
When the decision was made to take me out of Catholic school and put me into a Public school, I overheard a few conversations about who I should be allowed to associate with. Because I got good grades, my parents made concessions and allowed me to spend time with other kids who got good grades, even if they weren’t our religion, but drew a hard line in the sand whenever they felt someone wasn’t worthy. Typically, these were people who were poor. If someone lived in an apartment instead of a house, that was a strict NO. If their parents were divorced, NO. If they were allowed to watch R rated movies, NO.
I say all this just to say, there wasn’t a lot of diversity in my life. I wasn’t exposed to a wide variety of people, so I never learned how to assess people upon meeting them to determine whether they were someone I would get along with. I never really understood the “getting to know someone” process in building a relationship. I didn’t understand that people were allowed to choose who they spent their time with, because I had never been allowed to make that decision for myself.
So when I moved to Los Angeles in 2015, I didn’t have a very good skill set for judging people’s intentions or determining whether we were compatible.
In the intervening years, I had grown and changed a lot. I rejected Catholicism (sure to be its own blog post one day), and then the concept of religion as a whole. I did my own research and explored the world enough to declare myself an atheist. I continued to grow and change. I explored my gender and discovered that I was trans, something that I had been ignoring for years (and was looked down upon by literally everyone in my family as a mental illness).
But there was something that didn’t change. Something that still holds me back and hampers my ability to find confidence in myself. I spent so many years surrounded only by people who were one specific way. People who believed the same things. People who never questioned the beliefs their parents instilled in them. And I had grown accustomed to them. Even if I didn’t like most of them, I felt safe around them. They were my community, and thus, whenever I meet someone in LA who is like all of those people, my internal sensors start going off and saying, “Someone like you! Someone you can get along with! Become their friend, and invest emotional energy!”
And I allow myself to do this. I allow myself to see only the good in these people. In fact, sometimes I think I’m actually blind to the red flags, because I see them as signals of home.
And then after a few weeks, or months, or sometimes years, they say something so deeply racist or hateful that I cannot believe how I missed all the warning signs. They say something that is so exclusionary, so small-minded, that it calls into question my own ability to assess people. It makes me think I may never find people who are truly like me, because I keep being blinded and led astray by people who remind me of who I used to be. People who remind me of my family, of my old small-town community. People who were friendly (but only to each other). People who would give you the clothes off their back (but only because it would get them into the good graces of their God). People who claimed they loved and respected everyone (but as soon as the doors closed, would tell the most offensive racist jokes you’ve heard in your life).
These are the people who I cannot stop myself from being drawn to, and then repulsed by. My ability to become excited by new relationships is slowly dying, as time and time again, I find myself being so wholly and completely wrong about the people I think I want to know.
Take, for instance, a girl I met while I was out for Halloween in 2019. I was experimenting with my gender and dressed up as my favorite character from HBO’s Euphoria: Jules, the show’s transgender lead whose mere existence causes strife and violence in the small town she moves to. This girl was drunk when we met (which isn’t a judgment, because I was also on a thing or two), and treated me with kindness. At one point, I can’t remember what I said, but I expressed a genuine feeling I was experiencing. She looked at me and said, “you’re really committed to this character you’re playing, huh? I love the commitment!”
The only thing is, I wasn’t playing a character. I was being my genuine authentic self for what felt like the first time in my life. And it felt like she really saw me in that moment, and I got excited about the possibility of a friendship with her. She wasn’t the only “new” person I met that night, but was the only one who rang that little bell inside me that said, “home!”
And then two weeks ago she started sharing some of the most insensitive content about Black Lives Matter, stating that Black people have an “agenda” that goes against God, and that God wouldn’t want us to support a terrorist organization that hates White people. When I reached out to simply let her know that those things aren’t true, she said I was an “elitist” whose sole motivation was to make her feel stupid. I was horrified to discover that someone who had made me feel so safe and secure in one moment could use her religion to attack a movement that I am heavily invested in, and my own motivations. I was shocked at how wrong I was about her. More than that, I was incredibly hurt.
Looking back at that initial Halloween interaction now, I can see the red flag as clear as day. She denied my own internal reality. She saw my expression of self as “commitment to a character,” rather than an authentic feeling I could possibly be having. At the time, I hadn’t come out to anyone apart from myself, and I think my own fear of being rejected twisted her comment into a positive. Into the validation that I needed to hear, even if she wasn’t actually giving it to me. It felt like she was saying, “you’re trans enough,” when she was actually saying, “it’s so hilarious that you’re playing this woman character, LOL!”
How is it possible that I’ve unlearned so much of the hatred and judgment that religion instilled in me, but I haven’t unlearned the feeling of “closeness” that goes along with meeting someone who still lives by those old rules? Why haven’t I re-calibrated my emotional sensors to be more excited about people who align with my current self? How would I even go about doing that?
Will I ever be able to tell, upon first meeting someone, whether their kindness is based in love or fear? Will I be able to sense a red flag as a red flag, instead of warping it into a compliment that was never given?
These are some of the questions that keep me up at night. And, unfortunately, because I’ve been wrong so many times about so many people, I continue to have my heart broken time and time again. When I realize that these people who claim to love me actually, deep down, are afraid of me, and think that there’s something wrong with my brain, or that I’m a mean-spirited person who only wants to make them feel stupid, I feel so small. I feel like I can’t trust myself. It causes me to retreat even farther away from people, deeper into myself, where I can care for my wounded soul in a place where I can’t be hurt again.
But that’s no way to live. So, inevitably, I manage to build up the courage to go outside again. To interact with people again. And, as tends to be the case, the people who make me feel the most safe are the people who remind me of my parents. The people who navigate life in the way that my parents did, leading with the blind confidence of someone who knows nothing but is absolutely certain that they understand everything about the world.
Those people are attractive, because certainty and confidence are attractive. It’s only when they peel back the layer of false confidence that they reveal the fear, judgment, and doubt that actually rule their every motivation.
I don’t have an answer here. Maybe that’s why I’m blogging about it, trying to parse through it and see if I come out on the other side with a solution, or at least a hypothesis. Maybe some of you, out there reading this, have some ideas?
How do I find people who ignite my excitement for friendship but aren’t just carbon-copies of all the people I grew up around who made me feel like there’s something wrong with me for being different?