Interview with author/artist Sam Kalda

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Sam Kalda is one of my favorite artists. I interviewed him here: Casting Pearls: an interview with artist/author Sam Kalda

I would like you all to go there forthwith and read about what he has to say and look at his art and hit the clap button.

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Libtard

This word’s been taken up and proliferated in conservative speech lately (I picture those mucous/germ droplets spraying from the mouth of a sneezer in slo-mo in one of those cautionary TLC documentaries on germs). So let’s talk about the meaning.

Because far be it from me, a left-wing ivory tower academic, to let language just happen without some navel-gazing and whining.

So here goes. It’s going to be a bumpy night.

“Libtard” is a portmanteau (a blended word) of “liberal” and, I assume, “retard,” which seems to be correctly pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable, like “fascist” or “racist” or “homophobe.” If you zoom in and look at the actual definitions of the words (liberal: adherent to a political/moral philosophy based on the ideals of equality and freedom; retard: to slow down or delay), it’s not quite clear what’s meant here. Someone who slows down or stops to think about the equality and freedom of others?

If, however, you look at the vernacular use of the word “reee-tard,” it’s very clearly meant as an offense, meant both to suggest that the person in question has slowed-down or delayed mental processing and/or development, and to suggest that the person is therefore not as worthy or important (or perceptive) as the speaker. Anyway, it’s gross.

I should also point out the obvious: that by calling someone a “reeetard,” I am assuring everyone (including myself) that I am NOT one. It’s the very transparent aim of creating an “in-group”–by doing so, you create an out-group (that was a large part of the fascination with freak shows). An “us” means a “not-us,” which means you have someone to demonize and fight against and probably bomb “back to the stone age.”

It’s like the “libtard” speakers (and implying the word counts just as much as saying it, so Donald Trump is included here) are little kids, desperately trying to cast attention elsewhere when someone asks who got suntan lotion all over the nice couch. (OK, God, that was me at three years old, but I was trying something.)

My mother used to say that whenever you point a finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at yourself. Mom, sit down, because I’m finally about to agree with you. It reminds me of the Trumphabit (now a word in my book) of accusing someone of the very thing of which he’s guilty (look at the timing and history of his accusations, friends, most notably the accusation that Clinton or the Democrats or some other such Evil Libtard Entity rigged the election… but certainly not with Russia, don’t look at Russia). I’m not ugly, you’re ugly!

(And may I just add that if anyone’s development has been slowed down, it’s the pampered white man who holds the highest office in the country bragging that he gets more ice cream than his guests.)

My point is that, other than producing quite a bit of irony and some suspicion about your motives when you call someone a “libtard,” you are showing yourself to be an ignorant, senseless twit who has no interest in affording anyone else their humanity.

Please, please, you conboobs, talk gooder.

 

REVIEW: The Navigator’s Touch by Julia Ember

REVIEW: The Navigator’s Touch by Julia Ember (September 13, 2018); Interlude Press/Duet Books, 256 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.

The Navigator’s Touch is the continuation of the story begun in The Seafarer’s Kiss; although you can read this one all on its own without reading the first book, why would you? I mean, more books, amIright? You can read my review of TSK here if you’d like—for brevity, I won’t sum that up now. Instead, I’ll tell you that while the first novel is told from the mermaid Ersel’s point of view, this novel is told from her human lover Ragna’s point of view. Ragna is a fierce warrior on a quest to find Ersel, the mermaid/Kracken (a punishment by Loki) who rescued Ragna when…

Let me back up. I’m going to be brief, because the novel itself contains enough of the backstory for you to understand what’s happening (and, even better, you can read the first book, The Seafarer’s Kiss, which is a new telling of the original Norse myth which Disney’s The Little Mermaid bastardized). Ragna is fierce. She’s also got a very special gift (she’s “gods-touched”): her arm contains a tattoo-like map that changes as she moves or as she wills it. In other words, she can find her own way from or to anywhere in the world, and she can even use the map to locate towns, people, things of value. She’s not the only one with this gift, and in an effort to kidnap the children who might possess it, a warlord burned her village and killed the adults (including Ragna’s family). Ragna’s own cousin is among the kidnapped, and part of Ragna’s quest in this novel is to find her.

Along the way, she falls in love with a mermaid, becomes captain of a sea vessel (and its disloyal crew) stolen from her captor, outsmarts the trickster god Loki, and does it all one-handed (she’s got a hook to replace a severed hand). It reminds me of that old saw about Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. Ragna does everything the other sea captains do, but as a woman and with one hand. I’m pretty sure she wears boots, though.

Before I address the story itself, let me quickly address how it’s told: it’s a page-turner. The narrative voice melts into the story, and Ragna is such a smart, powerful character, one can’t help but want to hear her speak more and more. Neither overly dry nor too flowery, the prose just whistles through the adventure.

This strikes me as a particularly feminist novel. Not simply because it stars a woman in charge (though that certainly helps), but because it’s the story of Ragna figuring out how to be in charge without being oppressive, how to wield power without dumbly blunt force.

The love story between Ragna and Ersel, too, seems feminist: they are each independent beings who love each other, but that love does not cancel out all other duties or desires. There is longing, and there is cleaving (both to and from), and there is desire and beauty, but this is not a story in which everything is put aside for the romance, in which romantic love conquers all. It’s a story in which love helps the heroine conquer all, but it’s not just romantic love. There’s self-love, familial love, loyalty, friendship, intelligence (that is a way of loving the world, you know)… all of it drives Ragna, and all of it helps her get where she winds up.

I’ve read numerous reviews of this book that exclaim over its violence and, yes, there’s some intense violence described, but really, how do you read a book about pillaging pirates and war and not see the violence coming? It would be disingenuous if there were none, I think. When I think back on some of the “classics” I had to read in junior high and high school, I have to laugh at the statement that young folks should not read anything violent because that’s not how we did it in the 1980s. I also remember lots of repression, lots of denial on the part of adults who told me that the violence I experienced in real life (as a daughter, as a young woman in the world) was not fit to be discussed, or did not happen, or was not a worthy social concern. Denying the violence is a big lie, and it sets young women (in particular) up to fail when they inevitably meet it. How much better, then, to give them the gripping story of strong heroes like Ragna who meet, survive, and even triumph over that violence?

On DisRESPECT

I have now seen three indignant online responses to articles about social protest (two about Kapernick kneeling—one from my own beloved niece—and one about a kid who refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance in school as a protest and whose teacher hit him in response), and I’ve gotten to the full-to-boiling point, which means I’m going to write something. (I was taught to use my words and not to hit people with whom I disagree).

Each of these indignant responses wails about a lack of RESPECT (every time in all caps like that, because type-shouting is certainly a clear sign of respect) on the part of the person kneeling or sitting. There’s something going around among a certain segment of Rumpers about disagreement equaling disrespect, a kind of “sit down and shut up” attitude that makes my skin crawl even as it makes me laugh.

First, I would like to respectfully ask these folks where their respect was during the previous presidency. Where is the respect in (falsely) accusing—publicly, in the press–a person of lying about where they were born and demanding to see their birth certificate as proof of citizenship? Where is the respect in interrupting a political candidate while she speaks (“Wrong!”), or in looming behind her like a ghoul during her time to speak in a debate?

Where is the respect, I ask respectfully taking a respectful tone as a result of the utmost respect, in accusing trans folks—children, even—of wanting to sexually molest people simply because they’d like to use an appropriate bathroom (especially when straight men—not queers or trans folk—are by far the most frequent sexual abusers, even of boys)? Where is the respect in denying large segments of our population their human rights? Where is the respect in bombing a women’s health clinic because they perform abortions? Where is the respect in violently separating children from their families, putting them in cages and allowing several of them to die or be severely wounded in custody? Where is the respect when you condone your own police force beating and killing men of color because… wait, why, again? I missed that part.

Respectfully submitted: where is the respect in allowing the frequent beating and murder of trans women? Where is the respect in the Resident of the United States accepting the support of white supremacist groups (and then pouting because he’s been asked to stay away from a famous Black singer’s memorial)? Where is the respect in voting into office a person of whom there is ample evidence (including his own bragging) of the sexual assault of and unbridled disdain for women? Where is the respect in supporting someone who publicly mocks a disabled reporter and then does his best to take away medical care for disabled folks like me? Where is the respect in paying people wages according to their gender, ethnicity, or sexuality, or refusing to hire them entirely, even when a law tells you that you can’t? Where is the respect in gleefully creating, backing or voting for policies which will deprive people of human rights or safety?

Oh, golly, I could go on, quite respectfully, but I won’t. I’ll simply respectfully ask: where is the respect for those of us—POC, women of all colors, disabled folks, LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants and non-citizens, the list is longer than I can probably properly reproduce—with whom you disagree, or who dare to disagree with you? For those of us whose humanity you feel so comfortable to deny, whose cakes you refuse to bake, whose children you refuse to care about, whose human rights you refuse to recognize?

I respectfully think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of “respect” and social protest. Social protest that is respectful in everyone’s eyes is not social protest. Please look at the history. Social protest is meant to disturb the social scene, to call attention and to resist. What is the point of showing respect for a system against which you are protesting because it denies your humanity? The point of social protest is to disrespect the dangerous inhumanity of a system.

Respectfully, I’d like to say that when people refuse to “show respect” during the national anthem, they are not only doing their civic duty (please RESPECT American history, since that kind of lack of RESPECT is what founded this country), but they are protesting in the most civil, RESPECTful, peaceful, quiet way possible. Sometimes fighting in other ways is certainly the right choice, especially when lives are on the line. But sometimes, one chooses to do what one can in the space one has been given: kneeling, sitting, refusing to participate, even symbolically.

That choice deserves your respect. No, wait, I’ll write it so it makes sense in online vernacular: that choice deserves your RESPECT.

REVIEW: Running with Lions by Julian Winters

REVIEW: Running with Lions by Julian Winters (June 7. 2018); 320 pages. Available from Duet Books, an imprint of Interlude Press, here.

When I was coming up, queer YA was not available. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when my adolescence was in bloom, I felt lucky to have access to Daniel Pinkwater’s quirky, witty novels and novels like Forever, Ahbra (by Mary Anderson) as an alternative to my mom’s old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries. I never dreamed books could be written about real kids—queer, of color, smart, struggling, complex reflections of me and the other kids I knew.

As an adult, I’m not one of those avid YA readers. I’ve moved on, and there’s so much not-good YA out there… I like complexity in a novel, darkness, a bit of grit and no melodrama, and that order seems in short supply in most YA. All this is to say I’m not a die-hard YA reader like some adults I know, but I can really appreciate a great YA story when I come across one.

Found one, friends!

Running with Lions by Julian Winters hits the spot for me. It’s many things that did not interest me as a kid: boy MCs, sports… well, I guess that’s the list. Nevertheless, it’s a beautifully-written, softly suspenseful queer young-person romance, by turns tender and stubbly and gently humorous. It’s not deliberately wallowing in ignorance of the world (which is what turns me off about many YA books—young folk know what’s going on, and they feel it intensely; no need to pander, authors).

Sebastian Hughes goes to training camp for his high school soccer team, the Bloomington Lions, and comes face-to-face with his former childhood bestie, Emir Shah, with whom Sebastian had fallen out of touch. Emir is sort of a social reject, both because he’s crusty and scowly, and because he’s not very good at soccer. (I marveled-cheered because the fact that he’s gay and brown and Muslim did not factor at all into his exile. I mean, finally.) At first Emir pushes everyone—including Sebastian—away. But Sebastian persists, offering to help Emir train and practice at night, alone, on the field. Sebastian has to fight through that prickly exterior to get to the soft, nougaty center that is the Emir he remembers, but it winds up worth it; slowly, Emir cracks open.

Sebastian, who identifies as bisexual, has never been in love with a boy before, but he falls for Emir (who has). The rest of the novel is a slow, careful unfolding of their relationship, little advances and retreats, skittish acceptance and unpredictably cold rejections. It’s rather like watching someone try to trap a feral cat, but in a good way.

What, perhaps, appeals to me most now, as an adult looking back, is that not only is the queer romance front and center, respected for its complexity and not just used for its queerness, but the major problem in the romance isn’t homophobia, it’s history and mistrust and other interpersonal complications. Queer people, in other words, get to be just as interesting as straight ones, and we get our full and difficult-human story here. The other players don’t care about the queerness, and even the coach is supportive and doesn’t pay mind to his players’ sexuality or masculinity. (How different from Mr. S–, the coach at my high school who giggled and eye-rolled his way through teaching sex ed like a frat boy and never once even mentioned queerness.)

It’s radical that a queer love story for young folk is not centered on homophobia. (In fact, much of the team is either gay or bisexual, and sexuality is hardly an issue.) I mean, it’s really, truly radical. Everyone—kids and adults—needs stories like this.

In some ways, this idea (that a teen’s queerness is not an issue, that there are these queer-majority sports team-havens for kids) seems like a fantasy. Yet all fiction is fantasy (that’s kind of the point). Every single novel contains a made-up world and made-up people. As long as we’re fantasizing, how about a new fantasy with better values, one that doesn’t depress or scare the boop out of young queer kids just coming into their own, one that gives them something to dream about and wish for?

School librarians, please grab this book for your stacks. Parents, slip this into your kid’s bookshelf. Request it at your local bookstore and library. Tell them an unathletic old queer lady sent you.

REVIEW: He Mele a Hilo by Ryka Aoki

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REVIEW: He Mele a Hilo: A Hilo Song by Ryka Aoki (May 5, 2014); Topside Signature; 342 pages.
As a U.S. mainlander and a non-dancer, I don’t know much about hula or Hawaii, so this novel, at first, felt kind of beautiful-mystical-foreign to me. It follows primarily the lives Noelani Choi and members of her halau (a troupe of hula dancers) in Hilo, Hawaii. But the aura of strangeness soon dissipated, and I was pulled in to the jostling constellation of relationships in which the novel’s webbed. Hula may be the presenting situation, but it’s not the point here; thinking about hula helps sharpen and guide the point, and the novel is certainly generous enough to allow the uninitiated to understand what’s what, but it isn’t the point itself; or it’s not, at least, the only point.

In fact, one of the loveliest things about this novel is that it’s generous. The reader is admitted into the secret lives and points-of-view of several very different characters, and it becomes almost a Babel of voices (in several variations of English and pidgin), perspectives and temperaments and motivations, yet the reader is always drawn near, made able to understand and empathize with the characters.

At heart, it feels like a folktale: specificity and detail vibrate on a larger, more universal scale. The novel pulls together a sensual celebration of food, dance, love and nature, mixes it with some magical strangeness and reality-rule-bending, and makes it all hum together as something larger, both pleasurable and meaningful.

Review: Mx. Bond’s House of Whimsy

REWVIEW: “Mx. Bond’s House of Whimsy” at Bard College

Yesterday my wife took a vacation day from being a therapist and I took a vacation day from… being… well, being, and she whisked me up through the pouring rain to the Bard College campus in Annandale-on-Hudson to watch “Mx. Bond’s House of Whimsy,” a queer cabaret hosted by Justin Vivian Bond.

The cabaret was held in what I assume was a permanent performance space at Bard, built to look like a giant tent (but with solid doors and walls), a space so lush and glittery and fairy-lit that our seatmates were debating whether it called to mind a circus tent or the set of I Dream of Genie. I kind of think it was the latter, just without the o-shaped velvet couch.

Mx. Bond hosted the evening, and so was less present on stage than I’d wished (I kept hoping for a song or something, but Bond graciously played empressarix to other queer acts). I’ve been a fan of Mx. Bond’s since seeing Shortbus, the heartbreaking film by John Cameron Mitchell in which Mx. Bond was featured, so I came ready for v. But the featured acts were so fun I hardly cared Bond wasn’t the star.

First, I was beside myself a little bit when I spied Leigh Crow (Elvis Herselvis, one of my longtime Drag King heroes) waiting in the wings, who came onstage twice to croon out some Presley hits. Herselvis/Crow is a dreamy butch king/King who can really belt and kind of sparkles an oozy, smarmy-but-magnetic sexuality on stage. I’m not sure if it’s the actually-beautiful-and-powerful singing or the wink-wink type of charm that gets me every time, but I’m got.  If I were thinner or more spry, my panties would have dropped. As it was, I just settled for a hot flash and a bit of starstruck fangirling. (I’m old enough now at 47 that perhaps it’s the wrong term… maybe “fanwomaning” is better?) (No. No, it is not.)

Davon, a dancer who lip-synched/danced to some iconic singers, moved Mx Bond (and me) to tears with a beautiful performance about having been hooked on Crystal Meth. Davon danced to music from Porgy and Bess and an aria sung (I think) by Jessye Norman, among other music, and all of It had resonance around Blackness and queerness, and I got good and shattered. One often gets into trouble trying to articulate what’s going on in art… and why would you, when it’s so rightly said by the art itself? I just nod: yes, yes.

As a disabled person who had a youth of able-bodiedness, I always get a bit choked up when I see beautiful dance—that a body can be and do what the body on stage is and does (the agility, the self-possession, the body-as-expression-and-creation) just gets me, it’s so perfectly queer and beautiful. So when the next act, Sadonna—which is a contraction of “Sad Madonna”—came onstage, it was an immense, throat-lump-melting relief. I mean, I was raised by a midwestern white American and an image-conscious Greek immigrant, so public crying is absolutely out of the question.

Sadonna does sad versions of classic Madonna songs—both musically right on and intelligently funny. The leader, Miguel Gutierrez, is funny, but he’s also a beautiful singer; the group (Gutierrez, plus the three Slutinos–Sad Latino boys backup singers) manages to pull to the surface the mournful potential of Madonna’s poppy bubblegum, but balances it with clever wit and the relief of pure camp.

Star Amerasu sang original dance music—confident, bouncy, hair-flipping fun. I think Amerasu might have a great career as a songwriter; there were some nice pop complexities and textures in there.

I flipped a little when Big Dipper was called to the stage—a former student introduced me to his work years ago, and I fell in love with the brainy sendup of that crotch-grabbing, girl-objectifying, hypermasculinist brand of hiphop he ironizes by unabashedly queering it. Apparently, he gets accused often of being “dirty” because his lyrics are explicit in their objectification of bearish men and a frank glorification of gay sex, but it strikes me as a kind of performance art he’s doing, getting folks to balk at the openly queer sexuality when a similar frank-but-hetero sexuality is accepted (perhaps even expected or required) in mainstream hiphop.

That was the roundup of folks, and it was rightly-paced and emotionally-balanced. And it was, as I said, a happy relief to be back in a queer space. Of course, as do many queer spaces nowadays, it held its share of straight folk, most of them white and older and coupled. What felt like a steep ticket price to a lesbian couple may have felt like nothing to middle class established straight couples, and may have been unimaginable to younger queers, but swinging it felt well worth the scrimping we’ll do in other expenses to balance it. And the mainstream folks who were there—the older, white married couples—seemed down and eager to support the performers.

Here’s the gyst: seek out these artists online or, when you can, in live performance. Follow Mx. Bond for new ideas and empressarix services. And more generally, when you find a queer artist whose work moves you, tell them.