Thank You, Naya Rivera

Celebrities pass away. They are just like us, after all, despite their fame and wealth. There are some celebrities whose deaths feel tragic to almost all of us, usually because they were famous for so many years that multiple generations of people were adoring fans. There are some celebrities with more niche fan bases, and their deaths are obviously sad to those outside of that fan group, but not a shell-shock of a moment.

Today, Naya Rivera’s body was pulled from a lake where she had rented a boat with her son, who is thankfully, incredibly, uninjured.

The name Naya Rivera may sound familiar, it may not. Maybe you recognize it from her biggest acting title, “Glee”. She was, as I’ve heard countless people refer to her, “that cheerleader on Glee”. To me, she was so much more.

I think the first time I saw a picture of Naya Rivera (as Santana Lopez, that cheerleader) was on an AfterEllen.com article. If you know AfterEllen, it was THE website for everything Sapphic in media back in the day (today sadly it’s a shell of it’s former self, spouting “terf” nonsense, but that’s a separate article for a separate day). The article in question at the time was covering a scene in the first season of Glee, where on a group call Brittany and Santana (walking next to each other while on their own phones in the group call) have this exchange with the group:

Santana: “Sex is not dating.”

Brittany: “If it was Santana and I would be dating”

The group takes a moment for that to land, and then the scene continues. A throwaway line, a joke, a quick moment to suggest that two cheerleaders in high school were having sex meant to illicit a laugh from the audience, primarily at the group’s response.

But not to the Sapphic savvy. To myself, a young college kid still grappling with my sexuality and looking for any bite of queer media to consume, I was now interested in this show I had scoffed at when commercials first aired. A musical comedy about a high school glee club? I was going to have to watch that for a fix of two female characters who were having sex, but nothing else about their relationship had come up before this? I was grasping at straws, but I was in it now.

I’ll try to spare you all the literal essay I could write about the fictional couple, but Brittana (Brittany + Santana, duh!) became my obsession. Sure, I watched the episodes of Glee in full, but I lived for any moments where the two characters interacted with each other, or even talked about the other. When people asked me if I watched Glee, I would give a clipped “yeah” and bite my tongue before going on a rant about the latest episode. I joined Tumblr after scouring the internet for other queers to discuss the show with, and found what I realize now was my first real queer community. It’s not uncommon for members of the LGBTQ community to find their first, well, community in online forums and/or social media sites, and yes, I found mine in the Glee and specifically Brittana fandom.

The show did not treat my girls well, to say the least. I won’t get into that now. But the aches and pains of Brittany and Santana were my aches and pains. Santana had many beautiful songs and scenes dealing with her feelings for Brittany and her coming out process (Brittany was more “free-spirited”, but Santana was the one who struggled, and got more focus).

Naya Rivera had fun with her character, for as many serious scenes she had, she had twice as many hilarious quips and devious plots. She also treated Santana with such respect, and understood the weight the character had in the queer community. I remember being in awe of her voice, her beauty, and her talent.

I try not to think about Glee these days. I have a lot of negative associations with it, because online fandom can be pretty nasty at its worst. But five days ago, when Naya Rivera was first reported missing, and presumably had died in the lake her rental boat was on, a large knot settled in my stomach and the floodgates of memories burst open. It is alarming to think of how greatly this actor impacted me, but it is true. Naya Rivera played a big part in my life for several years. She inspired me, she made me cry, she made me laugh, and she connected me with many people literally across the world who I still consider friends today.

It always feels strange to mourn the passing of a celebrity. I didn’t know Naya Rivera personally. It feels selfish to think about myself in regards to her death, when I know her family and friends are mourning, and struggling to come to terms with their new reality. Yet I too feel I have lost someone. I guess I can’t truly put to words what that time of my life meant to me. I had felt alone in my newly discovered sexuality, but found comfort, joy, and visibility in Naya’s portrayal of Santana. I found community with others who felt like me.

I never got the chance to thank Naya Rivera for the joy she brought me on that silly little TV show, and I never will. But I will say it anyway. I know you were and still are so much more than the character you played, but thank you for giving me and the LGBTQ community more than I realized. I will always hold you in my heart, and I hope your family and friends can find a way to begin to heal. Thank you, Naya Rivera.

Vikings Pride?

I am a huge Vikings fan. I’m such a fan that it is critical information in the bio of this blog. If you’ve ever spoken with me for more than ten minutes, I’ve probably been able to drop in a reference about them at least once. Since I’m not from Minnesota, I’ve gotten my explanation of why I’m a Vikings fan down to a clean 3 minutes after years of explaining to confused folks why someone from Connecticut is a diehard fan of a Midwest team (one without a Super Bowl win to their name, no less).

So, being a fan, and being a user of the internet, I follow the Vikings on multiple social media platforms. And yes, they post the same content across all those platforms, but I need to follow them everywhere so I never miss a thing! On June 22nd, 2020, the Vikings Twitter account tweeted the following:

A “pride” tweet from the Vikings Twitter account

A tweet so subtle, you might miss it. Especially if you’re not sure what to look for. I can barely see the rainbow colors on the “Skol Pride” banner, but the rainbow heart emojis (they even went with the Philly Pride flag colors!) and the pride hashtag made things a bit clearer. A bit. No link to a post, no other explanation for the tweet. If you wanted, you could easily just say “Cool, skol pride!” as in, you’re proud of being part of the Vikings fan base.

To me, a queer football fan (a rare and possibly dying breed, I think, but that may be a separate post), this tweet has been racing around my mind for the past two days, and produced many questions.

The Vikings’ Facebook header and icon

Besides for the tweet, the icon changes, and more recently a shirt for sale on their website, there is no mention of ANYTHING about Pride Month, or even explicitly what the Vikings are taking pride in. Are the Vikings doing the absolute bare minimum to show their support for the LGBTQ community? Maybe it’s even generous to call this the bare minimum. Are they just expressing pride in their team, coincidentally in the last week of Pride Month? Personally, these tiny, tiny changes to their social media accounts feel like an organization that wants to show support (or at least make some Gay Dollars off a t-shirt) but is afraid of the homophobic backlash they may face.

I remember quite clearly in 2013 when the Vikings punter Chris Kluwe was fired for advocating for same-sex marriage. I remember both the article Kluwe wrote that got him into trouble with the then coaches of the team, and I remember the article (linked above) he wrote describing the whole thing. I still have his jersey hanging in my closet (bought after he was fired, maybe a foolish move since it was money to the Vikings at the time, but it still felt like support I could give Kluwe (come on, who EVER buys punters jerseys?)).

Even if one wants to argue that Kluwe was not fired due to his comments, he clearly states the treatment he received from then coach Leslie Frazier and then special teams coach Mike Priefer was markedly different and homophobic.

I also vividly remember in June of 2018, in a very under the radar fashion similar to the tweet from two days ago, the Vikings tweeted about an LGBTQ summit they were holding. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I had seen correctly. An NFL team, and MY team, hosting a summit about LGBTQ athletes? Representatives from 13 other NFL teams and other leagues attended, and queer athletes from multiple sports (Chris Mosier, Joanna Lohman, and Greg Louganis to name a few) spoke, and oh yeah – Chris Kluwe was there as well. It was the first LGBTQ summit (and only? I haven’t heard of another one since) hosted by an NFL team.

What has come of that summit? I’m not quite sure. Maybe the people there learned something. Maybe they took information and ideas back to their organizations and were shut down. Maybe it was just to pick up some good PR. To my knowledge, the culture surrounding the NFL and most other men’s sports leagues remains one where homophobia is not addressed.

What I want to believe, especially as a stubbornly loyal fan, is that the Vikings organization is one that wants to do the right thing. I’ve seen that in these recent weeks after George Floyd’s murder, just blocks away from the Vikings home field. Many of the Vikings players are speaking up about racial issues across the country and within the NFL, and are openly discussing what the team can do internally as an organization and externally for the people of Minneapolis.

So maybe, the Vikings are trying to show their support of the LGBTQ community. With the hateful comments I’ve seen on their subtle posts across social media accounts, you would think the team said it’s donating all the revenue of the 2020-2021 season to LGBTQ organizations (can you imagine!?). The homophobia is real within the sports world – just ask all the closeted male athletes.

I generally don’t expect much from the NFL, and I am wary of anything and everything that comes out of Roger Goodell’s mouth. The league itself is a juggernaut that will not stop in its quest to make gross amounts of money no matter what (COVID-19 may have stopped the NBA, but the NFL stops for no pandemic). Every October when they participate in Breast Cancer Awareness month, I think of all the domestic violence cases that crop up year after year from NFL athletes. I think of the protests of taking a knee during the national anthem, and how the pressure from the military (with the ridiculous dollars the military pays the NFL) to reprimand those athletes must of been IMMENSE. All this to say, I’m not looking to the NFL as my number one source of genuine activism.

Come back to me when Ragnar’s flying a pride flag at a game

While I don’t hold my breath for teams or players to speak up on important issues in our culture, I do think they should if they’re able to. They have a large platform and could use it for good. So while I think I see glimpses of the Vikings organization actually doing some good, I wonder why they are holding back. A rainbow tee shirt with the word “pride” on it does not an ally make. Yet, they are the only NFL team who has even changed their icon and header images on social media. They are the only team who has hosted an LGBTQ summit.

And yet, you can’t just dip your toe in the water of being an ally and see how it feels. You either have to commit to it, or get out of the pool. If the Vikings want to make a splash and genuinely do the right thing, they have to do more than change their icon in the last week of Pride Month. While their comments sections are filled with homophobia, there are also those who welcome a drop of support like an oasis in a desert of deafening silence. Progressive sports fans are out there (haha, out there), and would embrace concrete action from their favorite billion dollar sports team. Until the Vikings step it up, I won’t be buying their “Pride” shirt, but I will still keep rooting for them on and off the field.

Honest Cops Don’t Exist

I know, because I tried to be one and the Chicago Police Department wouldn’t let me.

In 2013 I applied to be a police officer with the Chicago Police Department. After sitting for the written exam and passing it, I waited two years before my name was called to move ahead with the process. I thought things would pick up the pace after that point, and while they did (relatively speaking), the road to being a cop only got bumpier.

I have started to write a thorough account about my experience with the CPD application process several times, but have never completed one. Partly because it’s frustrating to rehash the winding, rollercoaster experience I had and partly just because it is so long, and started years ago.

The short version is that I applied to be a police officer, got very deep into the process (passing the physical exam, which I thought might actually be the end of my application!), only to be disqualified for being honest about smoking marijuana ONE TIME in the state of Washington where it was legal (which is why I smoked there, because I’m that square). I challenged my disqualification, got it overturned in front of the Board of Human Resources of the City of Chicago (by myself, without a lawyer, yes I shook like a leaf the whole time), only to have the police department APPEAL MY APPEAL. This whole process had already gone on for years, and when the CPD appealed my appeal, over one joint, I called it quits.

All this to say, police departments don’t want honest people to be cops. Why? Well, because they are honest. And honesty doesn’t work well when you’re covering up any of the number of terrible acts police commit daily.

I want to finally write a post about this, mainly for other white folks. I am white and grew up in an upper middle class suburb in Connecticut. I was raised admiring police officers. My neighbor across the street always had a cop car parked in front because they had a friend or relative who was a cop. I felt safe when that car was across the street. I was taught they were the good guys, they protected people, they were who you called when there was trouble or danger. In my adult years, I have learned that that is far from the truth for people of color.

This isn’t groundbreaking news. I’m writing this to contribute my voice to try and get other white people to open their eyes if they still have them squeezed shut. How many black men have to die by police hands, knees, and guns, while white militias occupy government buildings, before you realize that the institution is rigged? How many black people have to still be arrested at disproportionate rates over white people for marijuana possession, even though usage is about even between both races?

When I applied to be a police officer, I thought I could make a great one. I thought I would be one of the “actually good” cops, who cares about justice and protecting people. Equally, regardless of any race or class or identity. I was going to “infiltrate” the system and work within it. I had the best intentions, and knew I would be an honest cop. And yes, I know I had a glamorized idea of the job. Who doesn’t when they’re pursuing a “dream” position of theirs (and have been raised to believe cops are heroes, and seen them glorified on TV shows and in movies)?

Looking back, I think I might not have made it through the police academy. Police culture, even within their own ranks, is one of brutality towards anyone who’s not a white cis man. Looking back, I am grateful that CPD did not want me.

The current institution of policing is not one that has good cops and bad cops. The system originated from slave patrols, and is not something that can be “reformed”. Not when policing and the (in)justice system are so clearly racially biased and focused on imprisoning black people or just flat out eradicating them. Wearing a uniform, even if you think you are a good person and doing the right thing, means you are complicit with the actions of every police officer and the larger institution that protects and even encourages racism.

So I am begging my fellow white folks, do not look away from the riots in Minneapolis right now. Do not say “well not all cops are bad, I even know a good cop!”. Do not tell black folks how to react when another one of their siblings was murdered in cold blood by someone who claims to “serve and protect”. Instead, ask who the police are serving and protecting. Look at your white privilege and see how you benefit from it. It’s not going to feel good! Even if you are the most anti-racist white person, you are benefiting from your skin color. But you can also use it to help people of color.

Donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund to help bail out black folks leading the protests over George Floyd’s murder. Speak up when your white friends or family say something racist or ignorant. I don’t know that we can overcome the juggernaut that is institutionalized racism. It feels overwhelming when I think about it. But I know it can’t be done alone. It starts with white people using our privilege and coming together to support people of color.

And if you feel the urge to post a Martin Luther King Jr. quote at any time, make sure it’s this one:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;

Martin Luther King Jr

Two Years on T

Two years ago, I started putting testosterone into my body. Well, first I started with a gel that I rubbed onto my stomach and shoulders, but that got annoying quickly, so I faced my fear of needles and starting giving myself a shot once a week. So far, I have not passed out or given myself an embolism, so things are going smoothly.

I am on what is considered a low dose of the hormone, and physical changes have been slow and subtle. And that’s what I was going for. I started off unsure if I wanted to be on the hormone, so the low dose was a perfect way to test it out. Two years later, and I’m mostly content with how it’s going which is all an indecisive person can really hope for.

el's hand holding a vial of testosterone and syringe

Some people who take hormones are very public about their experiences. They document their “shot day” frequently, they post pictures of physical changes, maybe even videos of their voices deepening (if they’re on testosterone, as estrogen won’t change a person’s vocal cords). But I felt very private about my decision to start taking hormones, and only told a handful of people.

Though I have been openly non-binary for years, I worried about what people would think about me if I started taking hormones. To be fair, I worried about what people were thinking about my non-binary identity. Hell, I’m worrying about what people will think of me after publishing this post.

“Am I a trans man if I start taking testosterone?” Does this mean I want to be a man? Why do I want this hormone if I’m non-binary? What will people think about my voice? My potential facial hair and definite increase in body hair? My potential mood swings and anger? My body after fat redistribution? Do I even want all of this stuff?”

These were some of the many questions I had and still think about sometimes. The reality is, I have been taking testosterone for two years and have been enjoying it for the most part. There are some days when I wonder if this is what I want for my body, but I think everyone wonders if what they’re doing for their body is what’s best, regardless of gender identity. And the bottom line is, any problem someone has with what I am doing for myself, causing no harm to anyone else, is their problem and not mine.

I have been on testosterone for two years now. This fact doesn’t make me a man, it doesn’t make me any less non-binary – it doesn’t make me anything except a person who is taking hormones. I am “coming out” about this because (at the time of writing this) it’s an anniversary which is always a nice neat time to talk about something important, and also to be visible for anyone else who might need to read something like this.

My desire to be open and proud of my ever-evolving identity is often in conflict with my desire for privacy, as well as my feelings of shame for being so “different”. So, I have spent more than ten years since coming out as gay worrying about what other people will think of me based on how I look and sound and present myself on a daily basis. I have worried about how people at work will react, from bosses to co-workers to customers. I have worried about family members and friends and strangers. But I cannot control other people. I cannot make myself “perfect” for everyone else. I have carried around people’s discomfort for way, way, way too long. And that discomfort has been heavy and exhausting and I am throwing all of it back at anyone who has a problem with me and my body and identity.

Welcome!

I love starting blogs. What I don’t love, apparently, is maintaining a blog for more than a year or so. That changes with this one. I’m paying money for this domain, and damn it I’m going to post decent content somewhat consistently! This blog’s theme will be my unsolicited opinions and musings. It’s a theme I’ve tried before (real fans will remember ‘The Ever Expanding List Of Things I Don’t Like’).

I feel like I have a lot of thoughts that I want to share, but don’t necessarily want to “force” them upon people on Facebook or at parties (both of which I barely partake in to begin with, but that’s another post in itself). So I keep coming back to blogs, the best way to quietly put my thoughts out into to world – you can read them and engage with them, you can read them and not engage with them, or you can not read them at all. It’s all very low pressure, which I love. I also love writing and plan to use this space to keep my writing skills sharp-ish.

Thanks for reading this if you did, and stay tuned for future posts. Or don’t! It’s chill.