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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Firsts’ by People with Disabilities

Firsts Disabilities LGBTQ+ Book Stories

Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People With Disabilities, edited by Belo Miguel Cipriani

About Rating: 5/5 Stars

Each and every story in this anthology is worth reading, for they each tell individual stories of different people living with different disabilities. I have reviewed two of my favorites from the book. But trust me, they’re all worth reading. A few of the pieces (including the two below) are written by LGBTQ+ authors, and the editor of the book is also an LGBTQ+ person. 

“Landmines” — Caitlin Hernandez

“I needed to know what page he was on so I could turn my own pages accordingly.”

“Landmines” by Caitlin Hernandez is the beautiful story of a blind, bisexual woman traversing through the romantic world around her that she cannot physically see. Her prose is elegant, beautiful, and easy to read all at the same time. I found myself wanting more from her even after the story had ended. The way she describes the world around her is wonderful. I wanted more stories like this, books like this, characters like this. Readers have so much to learn about the struggles of the blind — especially those who re queer — and can foray such a journey from reading non-fiction stories such as this one. As writers, we need to better learn how to incorporate characters that with disabilities into our writing. And I say this, not only as someone who reviews books for a LGBTQ magazine, but for an avid reader and writer, but “Landmines” is probably one of my new favorite short stories. That being said, I’m also not someone who normally spends a great deal of time reading non-fiction or memoirs all that much. But Hernandez has a way of taking her real-life experiences and spinning them into prose that is absolutely amazing to read.

“I needed him to appreciate how much it had cost me to let him in at all: to open up to and trust him, even though others — boys who were not so unlike him — had given me every reason to deadbolt my doors indefinitely.”

Everything Hernandez says is so real and bleeds with truth. While she is blind, she does a remarkable job of making the story relatable in a way that is able to temporarily erase our vision and replace it with a landscape we’re forced to feel. We all go through situations like these and we’ve all had people that we love with all-consuming pain that can’t love us back in the exact same way. Hernandez does an excellent job of writing in a way that evokes feeling and emotion while telling her own story at the same time.

“StarWords” — David-Elijah Nahmod

“If he could overcome his disability, then I could overcome mine.”

“StarWords” by David-Elijah Nahmod is a story of a gay man with PTSD rooted back into his childhood that sprung from the way he was treated then. The way that Nahmod describes his childhood trauma is truly amazing. The details he includes made me feel like I was right there beside him the entire time. I felt the pain and trauma that he surely went through, as his words were inescapably gripping and raw. Most of all, I felt for Nahmod a sense of empathy. Reading this story made me want to reach out to small Nahmod and offer him help; but the realization that is equal part heartbreaking and inspiring is that you can’t do that. Heartbreaking to know that this isn’t an option, inspiring to know that Nahmod overcame these struggles and is capable of sharing his story today. This, like the tale before, is an incredibly important story in the realm of what people will learn from it. Before this story, I didn’t know what LGBTQ+ children were going through back during the period in which Nahmod was growing up, and likely still go through today in some places.

“I wonder what they would have thought if I told them the truth — that I was in the midst of a severe anxiety attack and was too frightened to talk to them.”

Nahmod also goes on to discuss his disability. Post-traumatic stress disorder, like Nahmod, is never something that I viewed as a disability. Before reading this piece, I wasn’t informed as to what exactly PTSD meant and what people who had it could be feeling. Nahmod does a great job of informing the reader while also telling his story. I enjoyed watching Nahmod grow throughout the story. When he came to terms with his disability, it came with a sense of pride. I think that people reading this will also realize that not all disabilities are on the surface, and that’s great.  

All-About-It BOOK REVIEW: 'Firsts' by People with Disabilities

‘Anthony Project’ Adds Regina Blake-Dubois, Cody Ray Strimple, Liza Lott

Anthony Ramirez Regina Blake-Dubois Liza Lott Cody Ray Strimple Anthony Project

The Anthony Project — the new sitcom based on the life of About editor-in-chief Anthony Ramirez — has added drag queens Regina Blake-Dubois and Liza Lott, as well Cody Ray Strimple to the cast of its upfront table read.

HOUSTON — As its September 29th upfront date draws nearer — the upfront being the event in which the community and potential advertisers are invited out to see what the show is all about — About Magazine’s first scripted comedy, The Anthony Project, is stepping closer and closer to rounding out its full cast. Last week actors such as Teresa Zimmermann and Ty Frazier were announced to be joining the cast. This weekend has seen the additions of three new stars.

Trans advocate and drag queen Liza Lott will be joining the cast as the bartender Nikki, whose character will take on a story arc about transitioning in the second half of the first season of the show. Recently-crowned Miss Gay Texas America 2018, Regina Blake-Dubois, will be joining the cast as Jackie — the eccentric receptionist at the characters’ office — while actor and performer Cody Ray Strimple is up for the parts of either Kelsey of Matt — the former a bisexual newcomer who is struggling with his identity, the latter a potential partner of the protagonist, Anthony.

The 'Anthony Project' Adds Regina Blake-Dubois, Cody Ray Strimple, Liza LottThe show revolves around a fictionalized version of Ramirez and deals with real issues he’s dealt with in the his real life. Set half in the fall/winter of 2018 and half in the spring of 2019, The Anthony Project finds its titular character the night after he has been raped, flashing back to the events several months before after his grandmother has died and leading up to the events transpiring around the rape. While the story is a dark comedy, Ramirez states that the major, darker themes of the series — such as rape, death, homophobic work environments, and substance abuse — are all based on events that took place in his life. When we find the comedy’s protagonist, he is working as a writer at a fictionalized version of About Magazine as he tries to juggle the cartoonish antics of his friends and coworkers Sofia, Alex, Kelsey, Matt, Wendy, Nikki, Kara, Erin, and Jackie, while also struggling to cope with the death of his late grandmother and his recent sexual assault.

Teresa Zimmermann will be playing the role of Erin Duval, the show’s primary antagonist and Anthony’s arch nemesis. Erin’s character is summarized as “a white, heterosexual, conservative, Christian employee of the magazine who interjects her unwanted opinions and beliefs upon her coworkers.” Ty Frazier will be reading for the part of Alex Fields, Anthony’s potential love interest in the series as well as his marketing director friend of the fictional version of the magazine with whom he often partakes in reckless recreational activities. Wendy Taylor will reading for a character based on herself, Anthony’s best friend, aptly named Wendy Taylor. Should Morena Roas appear, she will land in the role of Sofia Garcia, Anthony’s best friend from high school and coworker at the magazine. Ramirez, who will also serve as the show’s director, will be playing the titular lead who tries to coat his anxieties with drugs, alcohol, and sex.

The Anthony Project was created by About Magazine editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez, and is executive produced by Ramirez and local Houston singer/About creative director, Wendy Taylor. Former 93Q morning show producer and New Country KSCS afternoon radio host, Al Farb, also serves as the supervising producer on the show. The comedy’s team of writers includes other notable Houstonians such as Pride SuperStar contestant Shaun GrayRebekah KnightChristian PeckLea Alonso, and Kimberly Dyan. Serving as story editor on the show is About Magazine book reviewer, Megan Prevost. But now that the series’ first season is nearly halfway written, the crew has announced a September 29th upfront for the community and potential advertisers. An upfront in Hollywood is a presentation by the network for its television shows in which advertisers are invited to preview the show, talk to the cast and crew, and begin their bids for where and with which shows they would like the ads placed. Ramirez’s comedy is only slightly different in nature, with a table read of the first half of The Anthony Project‘s scripts being table read by a collective of actors and the show’s writers for advertisers and the community to come out and get a taste of what the show is all about. The read will close with live musical performances from the actors in a special musical episode featuring two original songs (“The Good Guys” and “So Happy I Could Die”) and Broadway favorites such as “The Mad Hatter” from Wonderland, “On My Own” from Les Miserables, “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, and a medley of songs from The Last Five Years. 

The table read takes place September 29th — a time and location will be announced soon.

Remembering Jamel Myles, 9-Year-Old, Gay, Suicide Victim

Jamel Myles Suicide Gay Child Bullying

Jamel Myles was a 9-year-old child from Colorado who committed suicide four days into the 2018-19 school year as a result of bullying at school after coming out as gay to his family and classmates. This is his story.

Content Warning:

Suicide, bullying, death.

The following is a true story about the loss of an extremely young LGBTQ child that took place at the beginning of the current school year. About Magazine cautions readers who may have suffered from any of the above keywords in our content warning that this piece may be disturbing, unsettling, and triggering. Reader discretion is advised. 

DENVER — There is no nice way to begin this article. A nine-year-old boy named Jamel Myles committed suicide at the beginning of this school year, and homophobia is to blame.

Over the summer Jamel, a young child who liked Pokemon and YouTube videos, came out to his family as gay. His family members responded well, particularly his mother who immediately affirmed her unconditional support of her young son, reassuring him “I still love you.” In terms of coming out at home, Jamel was actually quite lucky. Though coming out can be frightening and dangerous for most, matters at home continued satisfactorily. With the encouragement of his family bolstering him up, Jamel began the new school year with a tender flame of excitement. He was ready to start the fourth grade, and he was ready to come out to his classmates, too.

588406581_750x422 Remembering Jamel Myles, 9-Year-Old, Gay, Suicide Victim
Jamel playing with his beloved Pokemon cards.

Four days.

Jamel Myles was relentlessly bullied for four days before he took his own life. Within that short span of time before his death, Jamel had confided in his older sister about what was happening at school. The other kids at his Colorado elementary school had been mocking and insulting him for his sexuality, he told her, with some of his classmates even telling him that he should kill himself. Jamel did not share his bullying with his mother, which she now deeply regrets. She didn’t know that the bullying was taking place until it was too late.

The death of any child is particularly tragic. Children, with their tiny bodies and missing teeth, have not yet developed the cognition to understand the permanence of their actions, nor that of death. Indeed, their brains haven’t yet developed enough to comprehend the finality of their behavior and that of another’s life. They do not realize that there is not another chance, that there is no way to go back. Young boys are particularly in danger, perhaps because of poor impulse control or increased risk-taking behavior. Jamel is one part of an increasing percentage of youth suicides that are plaguing America.

By the same token, it can seem chilling that children so young can bully another student literally to death. Could the prepubescent bullies have truly encouraged a little boy to end his own life? Did they understand the consequences of their words? Perhaps most importantly, do they realize now what they have done wrong?

Although my initial reaction to the news of Jamel’s death was shock and horror, another part of me is now just angry. I am angry that this happened to a child in the year 2018. I am angry that so many adults around me believe that the struggle for LGBT rights ended in 2015 with marriage equality. I am angry that adults are so blind to how their behavior perpetuates despicable prejudice for the next generation. Although, even as I felt the shock of it all when I first learned of Jamel’s death, that same part of me that was so furious understood exactly how this happened.

All it takes are a few intolerant parents. Maybe one of his classmates came from a family of hellfire-and-brimstone Baptists, and that classmate heard every Sunday about how homosexuality is a moral failure that comes directly from Satan. I know that I certainly heard that enough times growing up not all that long ago. Or maybe one of Jamel’s classmates came from a family where the classmate’s dad, upon seeing two men holding hands, would mutter under his breath about how being gay just ‘ain’t right.’ I heard that growing up, too. Or maybe this classmate didn’t have particularly political parents and just heard it on a Christian radio station, or on a Fox News debate, or on some kind of “family values” advertisement, or driving by a protest. Our world drops reminders, both subtle and overt, that gay people are still very much *not* accepted by a large percentage of this country. There are infinite ways that a child can learn to hate.

180828151937-01-jamel-myles-suicide-large-169 Remembering Jamel Myles, 9-Year-Old, Gay, Suicide Victim
Jamel lounging playfully inside a box of Cheerios.

So these children absorb tiny cues over and over again, about how to hold prejudice against LGBT individuals. Then these children actually meet a gay person. After nine or ten years of homophobic osmosis, they are ripe with insults and Bible verses and hate speech slogans. One or two children lead the charge, and the rest who don’t know any better but want to be popular and mean-spirited for a laugh join in, too. Four days later, a little boy dies.

People on the internet took to asking, “How could he even know he was gay? He was only 9.” Of course, they never ask that question of straight children, nor do they ask, “Who taught these children so much hate and prejudice?” exasperatedly followed by “They’re only 9.” The latter question is infinitely more pressing.

To address the death of Jamel Myles and to prevent future youth suicides, adults in America need to have a societal reckoning. This will come as no surprise to actual gay people — I’m preaching to the choir here. But the adults that are apolitical, the people who don’t necessarily agree or disagree with gay rights and don’t care enough to act either way: these are the adults that we need to be fighting. Apathy in the face of injustice is just another form of injustice.

jamel-myles-mom-leia-pierce-1-696x669-696x600 Remembering Jamel Myles, 9-Year-Old, Gay, Suicide Victim
Jamel and mother Leia Pierce.

It is not enough to feel indifferent about gay rights. It’s not enough to avoid voting because you believe that it doesn’t affect you. It is not enough to remain silent around homophobic people, even if you don’t agree with them. We each have a responsibility to stick up for LGBT people actively, every single day, every single time an injustice occurs, every single time we hear hate speech. We have a responsibility to teach that sort of love and support to the next generation, too.

If one or two students had stood up for Jamel, if just one of students had parents who had taught them to stick up LGBT people in the face of bullying … could things have ended differently? I think so. I really do think so.

Rest in peace, Jamel Myles.

Never Forget: A September 11th Appeal

9/11 United States America Never Forget terrorist attack

September 11th, 2001 – the day of the terrorist attack that changed the United States of America forever.

Where were you on 9/11? That’s the question everyone asks. Every person alive that day remembers where they were 8:26 AM Eastern Time when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north-facing side of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

We will never forget.

At this time on September 11th, I was in California. My then-husband was in tech school in Port Hueneme just outside of LA, and my mother had called me to tell me to turn on the television. When I did so, my heart sank; I flipped it on just in time to discover a plane had hit the North Tower, and then watched as United Flight 175 hit the South Tower. Everything changed at that point. Instantly, the situation went from a tragic accident to the realization that the United States of America was under attack.

I jumped in the car and drove immediately to the naval base, where it took 2 ½ hours to get through security and onto the base that day. They searched every car that came through with mirrors and bomb-sniffing dogs. I learned that every military base was on high alert once I’d arrived, while also hearing a lot of terrifying talk about sending out troops before they’d even finished tech school. Already, we were at war. The air on base was thick and adherent with anger, fear, and excitement.

But my point in writing this isn’t about where we were when the planes hit those towers. My point in writing this is not one that explicitly relates to the number of lives that were lost (although this cannot and should not ever be forgotten or undermined), nor which politics landed us in that position in the first place, nor all of the conspiracy theories. It’s about who we were as a country on that fateful day.

My point in writing this is that September 11, 2001 is the last time I remember our country being united. Today, that makes me twice as sad.

I’d like to impress upon you, readers, a disclaimer here: I am well cognizant of the fact that a part of that unity from that day forward, came from a large, unnecessary, and xenophobic place toward the many Americans who identify as Islamic and Middle Eastern, as well as those from other areas of South Asia, such as India. Even just seventeen years ago, this was a time in which many caucasian Americans were not being held accountable for their white privilege. And although we are slowly but surely getting better about making sure that white privilege is being more carefully monitored and examined, we still have a very long way to go before it meets a necessary extinction. In no way do I condone that behavior, nor will I ever insinuate that it was right or just. But that isn’t the unity I’m placing my specifics on. The unity of which I speak is that in which neighbors checked on one another, picked up each other’s children from school, made phone calls to their friends and loved ones, held strangers as they cried in the deafeningly silent streets of Manhattan. The unity of which I speak is the compassion we showed one another — not the response from bigots and a presidential administration that targeted innocent people in countries overseas while using xenophobia to try to further unite the country. That part will always remain to be wrong.

The very thing that makes me proud to be an American is the legendary American spirit, the audacity that we have always had as a people to stand together or alone against the greatest odds. Nothing showed that American spirit more than on September 11th or in the weeks that followed. The unity, support, and compassion that we displayed toward our fellow American citizens in need that day was nothing short of inspiring.

Somehow, in the throes of the current political climate — one that daily rips further apart the left from the right, the upper from the lower class, the young and the old, the cis and the trans, the gay and the straight — we as Americans have forgotten that part. We, the People of the United States of America, have forgotten that we all play on the same team. And in that loss of cognizance, we have forgotten our neighbors, forgotten how to listen, and forgotten our common goals.

Yet we remember the tragedy. We remember the lives that were lost (as we should always). We remember the brave first responders and volunteers who died or are still dying slowly from complications that came following their insurmountably brave heroism. We remember our politicians that spoke and acted eloquently and strongly during that time, as well as the ones who could have done better in this aspect.

But we, the People, have forgotten ourselves.

Now is the time to remember. It’s time to remember who we are as Americans; to put aside our egos and our pride and remember that, as with any team, success is hollow if not all those working toward it can attain it. It is time for we as Americans to get back to our common goals — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness equally and for all.

When you remember September 11th, mourn our losses, love those who have sacrificed, and celebrate our nation’s resilience to being torn apart by a few bad people. Though it is important to bear in mind that the religion a terrorist claims to align with and the color of a terrorist’s skin does not make every person of that skin pigment or faith a terrorist. In fact, the vast majority are nothing like those terrorists. But I implore of you now, on the anniversary of one of our nation’s most tragic days, to not forget our compassion, to not forget who we are.