Sunday, 21 June 2015

It’s a Privilege to be Rachel Dolezal

The recent firestorm over Rachel Dolezal’s identification as black has been a hot topic for one reason only; when you wade through it all, the discussion ultimately serves racism, homophobia, sexism and transphobia.
Witness Margaret Wente’s recent carefully worded column in The Globe and Mail. When she weighs in on Rachel Dolezal it takes Wente awhile to get to her honest and quite vicious opinion: “Not everything is socially constructed, and feelings are sometimes different from reality, and we shouldn’t be afraid of being labelled bigots if we say so.”
In case you didn’t get that (because Margaret isn’t sure she wants you to) this is what Wente is saying:  “Come on guys — cut the bullshit. What is all this crap about the ‘social construction’ of race and gender? Caitlin Jenner is a guy, and he always will be a guy because of his chromosome count and the fact that he was born with a penis — and no amount of friggin’ plastic surgery is going to change that. Rachel Dolezal is white because her skin is white. I’m not dumb. I can see it with my own eyes!  And don’t call me racist, or transphobic for saying that. You’re just a left wing intellectual nerd and you are full of crap.”
This point of view is incredibly persuasive and unfortunately carries much weight with stupid people everywhere.
Trans theory has embraced the concept of ‘self-identification’ and this is precisely what Margaret Wente and other right wing commentators are so gleefully making fun of. On the contrary, I believe in self-identification. I believe that race, gender, and sexuality sometimes work culturally in different ways, but they all — like every other category which we use to define ourselves — are social constructs. (There is no biological justification for classification by race except for skin colour; and the fact is that that you can have white skin and black parents — and visa versa.) Gender, race, sexuality and ethnicity are all fictions that have everything to do with what we earnestly believe about ourselves, what we deeply feel, and how we are treated by others. This is all the more reason to encourage everyone to take special care to think about ‘who they are’ and ‘who they wish to be’ and to respect those choices, even if we don’t understand them or even agree with them. 
But if you believe that race, gender and sexuality are social constructs, then you must simultaneously, and with the same vociferous voice, speak of the notion of privilege.
Though Caitlyn Jenner identifies as a woman and Rachel Dolezal identifies as black, each of them has enormous privilege. I don’t know many trans people who have the money and power that Caitlin Jenner has, and I don’t know many black women who have the choices Rachel Dolezal does.
Similarly, President Barack Obama is somewhat of an Oreo cookie. Yes, he is black, because that is how he identifies himself. But he also has a certain amount of privilege, being raised by his middle-class parents, one of whom was white, and both of whom were university graduates (his father was a Harvard graduate). And, similarly, trans people who are able to pass and get married — and who look like every other straight couple — have enormous privilege. They have every right to identify whatever gender they want, but they also have to recognize that with that right, for some, comes enormous privilege.
The conclusion is — quite disrespectfully — screw you Margaret Wente! And screw you all the bigots who don’t want to be called on their bigotry! Trying to figure out who is ‘really’ trans, ‘really’ black, or ‘really’ male or female, really ‘gay’ or ‘really’ straight is the way of the haters. It is racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic to challenge anyone’s right to self-identify. However, supporting people who self-identify will only work as long as we don’t forget about privilege.
I appreciate that you identify as black, Rachel Dolezal. But you cannot compare yourself with an ordinary black woman because of the overwhelming privilege you accrue from being brought up by middle-class white parents.

Is that really too terribly complicated to understand?

Monday, 8 June 2015

ENTOURAGE: One. Damn. Fine. Flic.

A new movie opened last weekend. 
Here are some key moments.
A young man woos a woman who is a professional boxer/trainer. She deems him worthy of attention only when she can knock him out in the ring. 
(She does.) 
One of the movie’s most significant story lines concerns a man who has decided to help his ex-girlfriend through her pregnancy (she is pregnant with their child) even though they are no longer a couple. Just before his ex-girlfriend has her baby, the man has promiscuous sex with two strange women in a day. The women he has sex with ridicule him. He decides to reject promiscuity and — in the romantic climax of the film — re-unites with his ex-girlfriend to raise their newborn baby girl. 
The film finishes off with a gay marriage between an Asian man and his white boyfriend, presided over by a rabbi in a traditional Jewish ceremony. The Asian man is ‘given away’ by his ex-employer, a man who was once homophobic but now has come to see the error of his ways.
What might this be? An avant-garde feminist experimental film? A gala opening at Toronto’s Inside Out Festival?
Nope. These are some of the major plot points in the movie version of HBO TV show Entourage.
So what the heck is going on? 
I was a big fan of the HBO series, eagerly awaiting the release of the film. I tried to find a review in the Toronto newspapers last Friday. No luck. Then I went to Rotten Tomatoes. The film received got a rating of 40%. I  went to Now magazine, and  Radheyan Simonpilllai wrote: “Writer/director/creator Doug Ellin has filled the feature-length film’s vacuous space with misogyny, dated satire and as many cameos as a Muppets movie.” 
First: the cameos. Doug Ellin can certainly be forgiven for the Mark Wahlberg cameo, since Wahlberg is the producer of Entourage, and the series is based on his life story. As for the other — yes, numerous — cameos, well I guess I’m a bit too old to be really up on my pop culture, because frankly, I didn’t even know who most of these youngsters were. In some so-called cameos — like the Billy Bob Thornton appearance — the stars were invisible and very well-integrated into the film as fictional characters. In other instances, sure, the stars played themselves — because the boys of Entourage are in Hollywood, after all. 
What about misogyny? Excuse me, but what misogyny? Where? Oh yes, in one brief  scene a model is performing cunnilingus on another for the amusement of a scumbag movie producer. In another scene — during ‘E’’s brief flirtation with promiscuity — ‘E’ enjoys an explicit sex scene with a young naked woman. And finally, yes, there are several moments where ‘the boys’ comment about how much they would like to ‘do’ certain women.
Call me crazy. But don’t we get a bit more misogyny than this in the nightly rapes on Game of Thrones
Honestly, are straight men not allowed to enjoy looking at straight women anymore? Are they not allowed to voice their appreciation amongst themselves? Are they not allowed to want to have sex with women they consider beautiful? Since when did lust become a crime? And anyway, who can look inside their own heart, and say they have been without lust? Men lust. So do women (and plenty of women lust in this movie too!). These are the facts. Is there any reason we should ignore these truths?
But I think it’s Simonpillai’s second (and most ridiculous) criticism that really gets to the heart of why the entertainment establishment has it in for this movie. Entourage is not what movies are supposed to be anymore. Movies are not supposed to be smart, contemporary, challenging, moving, and filled with detailed, relatable characters. Most importantly, they are not supposed to have a point. The major satirical point made in this film is not dated at all, but in fact fiercely relevant — Entourage is about a star who wants to make a movie that he is passionate about, instead of Hollywood superhero trash. Entourage is critical of the Hollywood establishment, and that is the problem.
Is it a co-incidence that Entourage is competing against a bunch of extraordinarily tedious, mind-numbing masterpieces of movie crapola, i.e.: San Andreas, Tomorrowland, Mad Max, and The Avengers (and don’t forget!!!! ANTMAN opens soon!!!!)
Unfortunately audiences only seem to want unchallenging pap these days — stupid, boring, violent, non-intellectually-threatening garbage. And apparently people don’t go to see X-rated films anymore — because you can’t bring the kids. The only movies people seem to care about are the bland techno-orgies that make big bucks.
Keep in mind you won’t hear this anywhere else. Because there is nothing but idiocy being spewed about this movie.
So let me say it here, once and for all.
Entourage is: One. Damn. Fine. Flic.


Saturday, 6 June 2015

Yes, Caitlyn — But What About Me?

Dear Caitlyn,
I feel a little bit shy about sending you this letter as you are a big Hollywood celebrity and I am just a Canadian writer (no bestseller yet!) and Associate Professor at a small Canadian university (I haven’t even made  it to full ‘Professor’ status).  But it just seems — if you’ll pardon me for saying — pardon me, in fact, for speaking at all — that the media these days is all about you, and everyone is talking about you and thinking about you (and arguing about you) and I just wanted people to talk, think, and argue about me for a minute.
I know that’s presumptuous. I mean, not only are you a Hollywood celebrity — but you are rich and you have the money to get a complete make-over. You had your face reshaped so that you don’t have to grow old. I’m 63 and I have to make do with the same old face which is sagging more every day. Yes, I have some appeal as a ‘Daddy’ but basically when ‘Daddy’ becomes ‘Grandaddy’ there goes my love life. Whereas you will remain glamorous and youthful forever. So I know it’s easy to ignore me, because I’m not only not rich, I’m just old.
Then there’s the fact that I’m gay.
Being gay isn’t the kind of fabulous, scandalous thing it used to be. One of the reasons I can’t seem to reach full ‘Professor’ status is that nobody wants to give me a SSHRC grant to write about gay men anymore. Gay is so yesterday.
The other thing is that you can ‘pass,’ whereas I can’t. When you breeze into the local store to buy some makeup they are all, like: “Oh look at that beautiful young and glamorous woman! I want to serve her!” When I go to the cosmetics counter they treat me like dirt. I remember once I went to buy some eyelashes at a store in Banff (don’t ask, I was at a boring arts conference and wanted to liven things up) and the clerk in the drugstore said “Why do you want to buy eyelashes? It’s not Halloween!” Believe it or not I did buy the eyelashes, but I slunk out of that store like the proverbial cat who’s accidentally crashed a dogs’ card game.
No, I’m not a glamorous female. I’m an effeminate male, and every time I open my mouth or move my hands it makes people think about anal sex. It’s not my fault. I don’t mean to get people thinking about anal sex. But something about the way I flutter about is just a big reminder that some men really enjoy rear entry.
And finally — I know my troubles are minuscule next to yours. I mean, I don’t have to worry about pronouns — and you do. People just take one look at me and go: “There’s an effeminate old fag and we have to call him ‘he’ even though he ’s not much of a man.” 
And I know it’s hell when people call you ‘he’ or ‘Bruce’ by mistake. I’m don’t mean to underestimate your pain.
Really, I’m don’t.
But you have to admit — I hope you don’t mind me saying this — that it's kind of nice for you that you have your own reality TV show. Whereas me, I stopped trying to be an actor years ago because every time I did an audition people said: “You’re very talented and funny! Would you like to play the effeminate hairdresser who has one line and can only be glimpsed in the background in the party scene?” 
But honestly, Caitlyn, I don’t mean to play victim politics, or suggest my suffering is anywhere near what yours so obviously is.
I just wanted to talk about myself for like — a minute — or so.
I know it’s selfish of me.