outRAGEd

I’m trying really hard right now to make sense of today. I don’t see myself as overly naïve, or overly optimistic, but apparently I am. Because I thought that there would be consequences. I thought that when survivors spoke, it mattered. Today showed me that in the highest court in our country, I was wrong.

I spent a good deal of my day today choking on bile. Today, after the verdict in the Jian Ghomeshi trial was announced, I sat at my desk in my office, flexing my hands, trying to grab hold of this intangible rage that somehow culminated at the back of my throat. My gut impulse, after hearing that Ghomeshi was acquitted of not one, but all of his four charges of sexual assault was to call my mother. I wanted to hear, from an adult (i.e. someone older than twenty four) that this was not acceptable. I wanted to hear shock and dismay from an authority figure. I wanted someone who was tasting bile.

My mother, god love her, was not tasting bile. She was not shocked, in the way that I was. She told me in a resigned voice that she was very sad, but that she was not surprised. Which is a sentiment I’ve heard a lot of today, from many different corners: that we shouldn’t be surprised. That this was always going to happen- how could you expect anything different from our legal system?

And on some level, this makes sense to me- It would be so easy right now, to retreat into apathy. Everyone today was talking about how the judge was practicing “good law” and so we shouldn’t blame the judge or the court who are merely products of the broken system. Don’t blame the lawyers, don’t blame the court- this is all bigger than them. A lot of people are arguing that this was a matter of evidence, and about due process. That it is ridiculous and short-sighted to be outraged- counterproductive even.

I reject this. Outrage is the only sensible recourse. How else, in this situation, can we fuel change? Today we were told unequivocally, that there is such thing as a “good” victim and a bad one. Today we learned that even upper class white cis women (surely the most palatable and photo-ready of all possible survivors) can’t get justice. Today we learned that it is more important to be famous than it is to be honest. Today, in the midst of so much outrage and anger, it is not the anger that scares me. It’s the complacency. That this is the way the system is, so you might as well resign yourself to it.

As I read the words this morning, my mind automatically flashed back to three months ago, when a teenager confided in me that she’d been raped. This was a kid from a low income neighbourhood who was terrified to tell her mom because she knew her mom would blame her. From there I remembered the first time a friend ever asked me to come over, because she didn’t feel comfortable around her male friends. From there it was a cacophony of voices featuring every tear-filled phone call that I’ve ever had where I had to soothe a terrified person, telling them it wasn’t their fault.

So as I sit here, typing and retyping, struggling to make sense of today, this is what I’m left with: We, as Canadians, no longer have the benefit of ignorance. We cannot take pride in having a superior judicial system, when we just left three women out to dry, after dragging them through the mud. They tried to tell the truth, at great personal cost, and we betrayed them. We cannot say we did not know, or that this type of thing does not happen in Canada. If this trial has taught Canada anything, let it be that we now know exactly what a survivor is put through when we ask them to testify against their accuser. This trial has warned all survivors everywhere not to come forward because you won’t be believed anyway. The fact is that no one has to wonder if they know a survivor- we all do. The statistic is one and four. We are all culpable in a system that allows this to go on with no recourse.
So yes, outrage is the only option, as long as we don’t let it burn out. I would urge you, if you’re reading this, and feel the way I do, to let this anger in. Don’t block it out- feel it. Because the only way that change can happen is if we really feel it today. If we are appalled. If we remind those around us that speaking out against sexual assault (no matter WHO the perpetrator) is the most courageous of all actions. We created the system, the system did not create us. I stand with the survivors of all backgrounds and bodies who share their stories. We are here with you. We hear you. And we believe you.

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“She’s Got It In Her” AKA My Love Letter To Jessica Jones

**Fair warning for all ye that enter here this post contains spoilers for the Netflix series Jessica Jones.**
Last week on the way to a movie, my friend and I were approached at a bus stop. Two drunk men ambled up to us and tried to chat us up. Eight o’clock at night on a main street of a major city but (of course) no one else was around. It was just two twenty something women and these two big drunk guys, who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

That is the moment that I kept referring back to in my head this week as I binge-watched the new Netflix series Jessica Jones. That moment of panic that every woman has experienced at least once around a strange man (or men)  where you don’t know what is going to happen next.

For those of you who aren’t already  hopelessly addicted to it, let me fill you in on the backstory of Miss Jessica Jones (played by Krysten Ritter). Previously a superhero named Jewel, the  Netflix series picks up when she has given up on the hero life. Haunted by her demons (PTSD, alcoholism and rape) for most of the season she is locked in an escalating war with Killgrave (David Tennant) a megavillain who’s superpower is mind control.

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This show is by no means the perfect television show (only white feminism is the focus) but goddamn is it refreshing. It’s not so much that it shows complex gay and lesbian relationships (check) or that it shows a woman with a sexual libido (check) or even that it prizes female friendship above all else (triple check). What I, and so many others out there love, is the way in which this show deals with violence against women.

Because let’s face it, TV does not like to delve into battery. Most shows handle domestic abuse the same way they handle sex; you might get a hint of it, but then it’s a tasteful pan to the curtains so you have to imagine what happens next. Some big strong man always comes into save the woman at the end.  Which is maybe why, in situations like at the bus stop, my friend and I defaulted to smiling prettily and saying very loudly that we had boyfriends (we don’t). It has been ingrained for us to wait for someone else to intervene. We wince when a man hits a woman but not another man.

Jessica Jones spends half the show getting her ass handed to her. We see her bleed and electrocuted and bruised and broken. Even the man she trusts most eventually turns on her and beats the ever living shit out of her while she begs him to stop. No one intervenes. No one helps her. We watch in the rafters as our hero crumbles below us.

But she also triumphs. She makes her male attackers feel pain. And in this way she becomes an outlet of rage for all assaulted women. Each of us who has been taught to smile through gritted teeth. Somehow, Netflix has made it feel like a revolutionary idea for a woman to hit back.
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And the assault isn’t confined to physical aggression- There’s an ongoing argument between Jones and Killgrave as to whether or not he raped her while he had her under mind control- Consent is an actual issue that this show takes up. Jessica is forced not once but multiple times over more than one episode to call Killgrave out for raping her. This is not Law and Order where once a sad pitiful victim points her finger at someone, everyone believes her. Jessica has to fight for her story to be heard and believed. Which is a refreshing change when half of the women in our country have been sexually assaulted since the age of sixteen and only one in three know what consent means.

Despite all this, Jessica is sassy and bitter and sexual. She is funny and loving and powerful. She’s damaged, violent and broken, sure, but she’s a fleshed out human being. She is not reduced to being a victim because of her experiences, nor does she deny them.  She is a strong, flawed, person who is continually attacked and survives.  She is proof that violence (sexual or otherwise) can happen to any kind of woman.

Unfortunately, last week was not the first time that I have been approached at a bus stop, and unless rape culture immediately vanishes, I’m pretty sure it will happen again. I have been followed into bathrooms. I have been followed home.  I have chased men out of bedrooms where they were trying to take advantage of drunk, sleeping friends. And as fucked up as this is, I am lucky. Because so many others have it so much worse. So many women have been raped and assaulted and battered by people they trusted, only to wake up in the morning and live it all over again. I have friends suffering from PTSD and I have friends who can’t be alone in a room without other women there. I see echoes all of them in this character of Jessica Jones. I also see the woman we all secretly really want to be.

As a kid I was always a superhero fan. Even as a little girl, I loved the idea of them. But I never wanted to be one. Embarrassing as it is to admit, it is only now, at twenty four years old that I am longing to be a superhero. Because Jessica Jones doesn’t have to smile. Jessica Jones can be angry. Jessica Jones can say no.

Changing of the Tide : A Review of Towers and Trees, “The West Coast”

A few years ago, I spent some time in Europe. The trip home to Victoria BC was arduous- it took about seventeen hours of straight travel. I was bleary eyed and exhausted, but I will always remember what it felt like to return to the coast for the first time. Getting on the ferry and feeling the sea wind hit my face. Seeing the mountains in the distance- friendly and protective. Tasting the salt and realizing how green the ocean was.  I cried with the beauty of this place I had once taken for granted. This place that I loved with a new rapture. I had not known that I was drowning until I came home and could breathe again.

That is what listening to the new Towers and Trees album is like. Aptly named The West Coast, this album is the next best thing you can get to actually being in British Columbia. From the moment I listened to the first track West Coast Man my first thought was “I need to get my headphones” . Because I selfishly did not want any of the music to reach anyone else. I wanted to scoop it up into my belly so that it could feed my soul. Band leader and front man Adrian Chalifour’s husky alto is inviting as always, but this time it’s accompanied by the beautiful accent of vocalist Andrea Lubberts. Where once there was a monologue, now there is an exchange and their chemistry is clear.

For those fans of the bands EP Broken Record you will not be disappointed. Much like the song they redid for this album We’re Not Islands this has all of the best elements of the first album (Chalifour’s songwriting as one example, the stellar harmonizing of the band as another) but  improves upon them. The diversity of sound in this album is impressive without being overwhelming or distracting. West Coast has more dynamics, more nuance and more to offer. In short- it’s just bigger. If Broken Record was an aperatif for fans, then West Coast is the meal we’ve been salivating for. And you had better be hungry. The whole album reads like a love letter to the setting where it was created and that love is palpable to the listener. West Coast Man is a rejoicing opening anthem, about reveling in the place where you belong while also functioning as an invitation for that which will follow. In short- it’s as welcoming as the place itself.

Free is a song that I saw the band perform a few years ago when it was still being conceived and it’s remarkable how much it has evolved. It’s the anthem of renegades everywhere, the song you listen to when you want to escape your life. “We ain’t free but we could act just like we are.” The lyrics have always been great but now they’re accompanied by soaring crescendos and rhythms that make your heart race. Free is a song that demands movement- you can’t sit still and listen to it.

However the album is not exclusively devoted to the place it describes. Certain songs like Last Breath and Wayward Love are downright heartbreaking. They are tortured lamentations built for walking Ogden Point in stormy weather after you’ve had your heart broken. “What if it’s my job to love you?” Chalifour wonders.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Love Song for No Girl In Particular laps at you like a warm bath. It plays with you with deceptively simple melodies and harmonies. This is a song for Tofino sunsets and Stanley Park afternoons- this is the song where you feel as if you’re in love just by listening to it. It’s fun and sexy and flirtatious without being saccharine.

All I can say about their new single “Bad Heart” is that it will get you pregnant. You were warned.

If you haven’t heard their music before, or if you’ve been to every single concert, you’re in for a treat. Don’t trust me, trust them. Towers and Trees are going to make you love them, for all the right reasons. These guys are all about music that makes you care, and heal and feel. This is the music that makes you realize why you love music. Because it’s deliberate and thoughtful. These are the musicians and artists we have a responsibility to cultivate.

As I write this, I’m thousands of miles from the West Coast. I am sitting at a desk in a landlocked city. I haven’t seen the ocean in months. West Coast, the title track of the album is a song that stings my heart, it’s so bittersweet. “Come away” Chalifour begs. “I WISH I COULD!” I always yell back in my head. So to the band, I have to step out of my critical voice now and just say thank you. Thank you for making an album with so much heart it overflows. Thank you for making music that matters. And as one of many West Coast lovers who isn’t lucky enough to live there, thank you for giving me a little piece of home. Your album helps me breathe.

***Towers and Trees’ newest album The West Coast will be released on October 2nd 2015

Order it  on itunes https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/the-west-coast/id1038944005

The (Danish) Girl Everyone’s Talking About

Oh me, oh my! Oh good heavens! Is it possible- could there- might there be- TWO big budget trans films at TIFF this year?

My heart leaped at the prospect. I was like a fresh faced singer in the twenties- I’d believe whatever you told me. In retrospect it was naive for me to think that a progressive depiction of a trans character could come out of a major Hollywood studio. All of my activist friends warned me I was in for disappointment. But I threw myself back into the arms of those sweet Beverly Hills executives, my heart all aflutter. They won’t hurt me this time! I told everyone. They wouldn’t let me down. This is a world where Laverne and Caitlin reign supreme. They wouldn’t dare upset Laverne- she’s a goddess. 

I’m a Tom Hooper fan, so even though I knew upfront there were some obvious problems (like casting a cisgendered actor as a transgender character) I had faith. I was ready to believe. Take me Tom. Take me now.

The Danish girl is based on the real life story of Lili Elbe, the first trans woman to survive sex reassignment surgery and her wife Gerda. Redmayne clearly has his huge doe eyes set on two Oscars in as many years, and he just might get them. Mostly because the academy is clearly no match for his  trembly lips.

Here’s the thing about the Danish girl- it’s not as clear cut and easy to hate as About Ray or even the new Swedish film Girls Lost. There are some things that TDG does right that the other ones don’t like treating the trans character as a person. So let’s look at some things that I liked

  • The chemistry between Vikander and Redmayne is electric. And they portray the relationship with a certain nuance that excited me. I loved the way that Hooper made it clear that this decision to transition was something that Lili struggled with- you see her try and comport herself as a man for Gerda and it just doesn’t work. This is who she is and she can’t fight against it. Showing transition as a series of small choices rather than just one big one is a significant step for trans cinema, and I’m glad that big budget studios are beginning to take note. I think it shows complexity that the film shows this part of Lili’s experience rather than streamlining the process.
  • If you liked The King’s Speech, you will like this film. It is truly beautiful. Every single frame looks like a Vermeer painting.

But let’s look at some of the major problems with the film OTHER than the casting choices:

  • First of all, it’s told from the perspective of Gerda, Lili’s wife. People have argued that this is an appeal to a cisgendered audience to increase sympathy for the trans character. Which is bullshit because people are people no matter how gendered, and a cisgender person loving a transgender person should be neither news nor rewarded.
  • There are some major deviations from what actually happened (Gerda abandoned Lili in life but not in the film)
  • They were polyamorous in life. And because mainstream, monogamous, love-the-one-you’re-with-until-you’re-dead-or-bored society can’t fathom it, that gets eliminated.
  • Lili is a victim.

My last point is the most controversial so let me deal with it directly. While she isn’t victimized in the same way as say, Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry, Lili lacks agency. From the film’s perspective, it is Gerda that makes her a woman, and Gerda that has to carry her through the whole transition. It is Gerda who teaches Lili how to be a woman, coaching her through the appropriate behavior and teaching her how to dress. She takes her to the doctors and holds her hand through both surgeries. It is Gerda who is the most hurt by this transition and yet still she stands stoically by her woman. It is Gerda who is all but forced into the arms of another, and it is Gerda who constantly puts her beloved Lili above all others even at the expense of herself.

…NOPE.

In reality Gerda ditched the bitch and Lili had to go through THREE of the surgeries by herself. Gerda divorced her and married somebody else. According to Lili’s diaries, neither of them harbored any ill will, but Gerda was by no means the devoted, Dolly-Parton-slinging wife that she’s made out to be in the film. Critics might read this as nit-picking on my part but think about it- Lili gave up her ENTIRE life in order to transition and she went through all that surgery by herself. The way Redmayne plays her, she is this fragile, delicate, waifish flower who would get toppled by a light breeze and that is NOT who her diaries show her to be. It’s additionally disappointing because is that really the only option? That someone who wants to be a woman can only be this frivolous, shopping crazy fool? Gerda is made out to be an emotionally strong powerhouse, while Lili is a damsel in distress which is a discredit not only to trans women, but self-identifying women everywhere.

My last and final point is WHY THE HELL IS AMBER HEARD IN THIS MOVIE?! Genuinely this both baffles and upsets me. She gets third billing and says maybe four words in the entire film. And for the record- the words she says aren’t that great. I’m betting she really wanted to be invited to the Oscars or something. Or maybe Johnny really wanted to go and was hedging his bets before Black Mass came out so he talked her into it.