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Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the Imaginary

Blue is the Warmest Color Pariah Queer Black Woman Film

Perspectives on Blue Is the Warmest Color and Pariah and how it molded my stages of queerness from a queer, Black woman.

Have you ever sat in a room with Shame? Listened to her suck her teeth and watch her shake her head? Felt the growing fear that she’ll whisper your deepest secrets and fears into the ears of those around you?

I often sat with Shame, coming from a Black Southern Baptist background; but it was one particular night that she felt strongest. She slammed my laptop shut as the loud moans, heavy breathing, and slapping blasted through my headphones. She giggled as I glanced around the pitch black room for something or someone. She convinced me to open my door, creep into my living room, and hold my breath, listening for the voices or breathing of someone in the suite, although I knew that my suitemate had gone for the night and that I was totally alone. She convinced me someone could hear the sounds from my headphones–that they would point and yell, “She looking at that gay shit, y’all!” But I didn’t let Shame have her way. Once I was confident that the suite was empty, I quieted her down, opened my screen, and continued watching with her looking over my shoulder.

Blue-Warmest-Color Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the ImaginaryI had been watching the film Blue Is the Warmest Color, which stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos and is directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Three hours of an intense love between two young french girls, Adele and Emma, unfolding. Blue Is the Warmest Color–originally a graphic novel I read and loved while working at a bookstore–was adapted into a film by a problematic director. Think-pieces and critiques journaled the violence,inappropriate behaviors, and methods that Kechiche employed throughout the film, specifically the sex scenes. Viewers watch as Adéle, characterized by her messiness and insatiable hunger, struggles to find fulfillment in her desires until the moment she meets Emma, a blue-haired artist. The two fall in love, live together, and ultimately break up after Adéle cheats on Emma. The film ends with the two reconnecting and parting at Emma’s art show as adults.

The film is filled with scenes where viewers are forced to come face to face with Kechiche’s misguided image of womanhood and women’s sexuality in Blue Is the Warmest Color. One moment, in particular, is a scene where a queer male character talks over lesbian characters about female sexuality and expressions of desire. This character speculates about women’s desires and bodies while simultaneously assuming authority over the subject. This moment, not included in the graphic novel and constructed by Kechiche, could have been a space where the women’s politics of desire were addressed, especially in a lesbian space, instead their voices are hidden. It is not until I watch again that I am able to listen to the words of the women, enjoy and understand the looks they share, and the intimate ways desire manifests as they “listen” to the words of the queer male character. This scene, although problematic, proves to be important because it attempts to use desire in dialogue. How is desire constructed and manifested in the lives of these characters. Adéle, who struggles and explores her politics of desire throughout the film also happens to be absent from the conversation. Nevertheless, this scene manages to connect, for me, a construction of desire and experiences of shame.  

2893947-women-adele-exarchopoulos-blue-is-the-warmest-color-water___people-wallpapers Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the Imaginary

Moments that I find myself drawn to, both the first time I watched and during my most recent experience watching the film, include scenes such as a queer male character talking over some of the lesbian characters about female orgasms. Here we can get a glimpse of the thoughts and opinions of Kechiche. The scene, at first confusing and intriguing, becomes annoying and unnecessary. Why? Because it presents a male character speculating women’s desires and bodies while simultaneously assuming authority over the subject. It’s easy for me to skip the scene altogether.

Later in the film, there’s a pivotal moment when Adéle’s friends confront her about her sexuality when they watch as she walks off with Emma, who they believe to be queer. There is a violent desire and demand for Adéle to explain herself and her relationship with the mysterious woman. We see Adéle react aggressively to the accusations of her lesbian identity. I was, once again, forced to come to face-to-face with shame in all of its manifestations. What during my first viewing seemed to be a shame solely resting on my shoulders as the viewer, erased the shame that manifested for the characters in the film, specifically Adele. The shame Adele feels having her friends confront aggressively and publicly shaming her, as well as the shame she feels for having these feelings of desire and curiosity that Emma brings to life in her.

Nevertheless, Blue Is the Warmest Color offers viewers a chance to watch young lesbian love in seemingly pure and honest ways. There are moments of tenderness and warmth, such as when the two share their first kiss in a park and Adéle leans back to smile. Then there’s a scene when they are at a Pride event, dancing and kissing and loving one another. The most notable is when the two are seated on a bench in the park kissing, touching, and giggling with each other. These are the moments where they just exist in young love. There is no shame.

After my first time watching it, I was eager to share it with my friends. I watched Blue twice more with my straight friends who had read the articles and think-pieces about the film. Our feminist studies background urged us to dissect the male gaze and the violent need for men to insert themselves in queer relationships. But I didn’t really want that to dissect the film or approach it academically. I would have rather spoken about how it sat in and on my body; how it followed me for weeks and tugged at the politics of desire I had long ago buried — or so I had thought. So the conversation, for me, felt unfulfilling. Only one of my friends, my closest friend since high school, allowed me the space to talk about how important the moment of watching the film was for me. No critiques, no dissections, just my reflections and emotions as I finally had access to something else: for me to share my feelings of curiosity and discomfort. This friend was the only person who also managed to see a small moment of freedom for me–a freedom she commended while she sat with it with me. . That moment managed to disrupt the shame that had haunted me.

maxresdefault-1 Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the ImaginaryFor months afterwards I poured into lesbian films and television shows on Netflix, albeit annoyed by all of the white women.There is undoubtedly an erasure of queer and lesbian black women and women of color in television and film. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see Pariah as a recommendation. Pariah follows a young, black, “closeted” lesbian, Alike, who lives in the Bronx with her parents and her younger sister. We watch Alike attend school, write poetry, and attend church with her family during the day. During her off time–those moments when she is not forced to present as straight and can explore her lesbian identity–she travels and explores the city’s lesbian scene with her best friend who dresses her up in masculine clothing and pushes her to talk with other girls. Pariah looks and feels different. There are friendships, homophobic parents, creativity, and heartbreak. There is blackness and confusion.

Notable moments and scenes from this film include a moment where Alike’s best friend, a masculine lesbian, purchases her a strap-on for her “image”. Alike is uncomfortable and angry at the small white dildo attached to her body and begs her friend to return it.  Her friend urges her to wear it out that night and we see Alike awkwardly move in it and fumble with it moments before ignoring the girl her friend attempts to set her up with. I love the scenes where Alike seems her most vulnerable — standing in the mirror with her closest friend, tugging and shifting a symbol of masculinity, highlighting how foreign it is to her. It also highlighted the intimacy between the two friends. Other scenes include an unnamed masculine lesbian buying beer only to be harassed by a black man who seems to be disgusted, but also threatened, by the woman’s masculinity and sexuality. Pariah felt like a different film because it did not follow the love and relationship of two lesbian women, but rather chronicled the experiences of a black teenager exploring her lesbian identity and masculinity alongside the relationships around her. Balancing life where her sexuality is hidden or suppressed alongside a life full of moments where she feels celebrated and nurtured, which seem rare throughout the film. There is shame and discomfort. Unlike Blue, I did not share this film with others. Pariah was a film just for me.

pariah Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the ImaginaryYears later, I rewatch it and realize there are moments and habits from Alike–early moments of queerness–that I understand and to which I can relate. Her excitement for the possibility of love and intimacy alongside the fear of actually having love and intimacy. Her feelings of not being masculine enough or queer enough are made visible throughout the film’s entirety. Shame stalks Alike in similar fashion to the ways Shame stalked me. Pulling away from the kiss her friend shares with her and the feeling of being rejected. I understand why, years ago, the film sat with me and why–unlike Blue–it still sits with me to this day. I can still identify the shame, although now it does not haunt me. Because for me, queerness felt like something I was near but could not quite touch. It was with me but it was not in me. Today, I recognize that feeling as a part of the shame I felt and its many faces. Out and at another phase in my life and queerness, the films look and feel different to me. Blue is no longer important to me.; instead, watching it feels exhausting and drawn out, but I see moments, such as Emma’s fight with her friends, as a moment of gasping for breath and holding on to “normalcy”. While watching I can make phone calls, send e-mails, and watch videos as it plays in the background; but that fight brings me back. The moans, and breathing and slapping mean nothing anymore, and I don’t turn it down or search nervously around the room.

I watch both Blue Is the Warmest Color and Pariah as though I’m watching through new eyes. I’m also noticing the difference between watching something in shame and watching something with shame in it. Watching something in shame feels alienating and lonely. Watching something with shame in it feels like looking in a mirror. I am not isolated, rather I am forced to contend with a familiar feeling. I notice that watching something with shame in it (Pariah) sits with me because it feels so close to home.

I imagine my life consists of several phases in queerness; and queer films influenced these phases. There are the early days, your Before Queer (BQ) days. These were the days before I recognized my queerness, much less claimed that queerness. It was hard to imagine queerness or feel what it was like. But queer films provided the space for freedom and creativity that weren’t allowed in the BQ days, and allow you to imagine a queer future. Queerness was there and it was in me, but I did not see it nor did I live it. Then there were my Lost Queer (LQ) days–those days where I saw the queerness and recognized it, but was unable to claim it. It was where I could slowly imagine a queer future and a queer sense of being. Lastly came the Hella Queer (HQ) phase. It is where I am now. Where I have claimed queerness, where I can only imagine queerness, feel that queerness, and share it with those around me.  

That happened because, before watching those films, I had worked hard to suppress my queer imaginary as an act of protection. But watching those films allowed me to give my suppression a rest and exist in a queer world. As a young queer woman coming into queerness and coming out to those around me–as well as to myself–these films were monumental. I watched both films for the first time in my earliest days as a young queer, Black woman, attending my college campus queer organization as an “ally”. These films allowed me to step from behind the façade and sit in the in-between–the in between of my identity, and the in-between of fear and freedom, a vast space where confusion rests. My own in-between.

This is a hello to the queer imaginary as it forms, grows, and struggles to manifest in my day-to-day life and experiences of fighting it, loving it, hiding it, and letting it in. I jokingly refer to both of the films as The Films That Made Me Gay. What they really are, however, are the films that helped me come into queerness on my own terms. This is my first written piece as an out queer writer, creating content that brings to life those worlds and spaces that manifest in my queer imaginary. 

Editor’s Note: Volunteering for Pride Houston, Inc.

Pride Houston diversity LGBTQ POC REPRESENTATION

Dear Readers,

I harp on about a lot of things in this magazine. From boys to social justice issues to inclusion to representation to the importance of community, I have a lot of opinions. Mind you, those opinions aren’t always terribly popular. Earlier this year, I wrote an opinion piece about my distaste for Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus endorsing Andrew White over Lupe Valdez for Governor of Texas. It was a tough pill for me to swallow watching a qualified, lesbian Latina get passed up for the endorsement over the white, straight, cis man, Andrew White, who — while very much accomplished and well-meaning — was a born and bred politician that didn’t have the experiences of people of color and LGBTQIA folks. While Valdez later went on to win the primary elections and is now running up against incumbent Greg Abbott, my opinions about my disappointment were not well-received by Houston’s LGBTQ community.

But here’s an opinion that I think many of can agree upon: Houston’s LGBTQ community is incredibly diverse. It is made up of people of all skin colors, all religious affiliations, all gender identifications, all sexual orientations, all body types, all nationalities, all hand-capabilities, and all political affiliations. We’re Black, Latinx, Jewish, Christian, lesbian, gay, asexual, Native American, transgender, nonbinary, Asian, Islamic, and everything in between. Unfortunately, what many of us fail to realize is that not all of those marginalized peoples are equally represented in several facets of the community. Whether it in the media, in our entertainment, in politics, or just out in the bars and at brunches, people of color and the trans/nonbinary people have not always ever been represented the way that cis, white, gay men have in this community. Hell, even About Magazine — which will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year — was not always historically diverse. When I took over, we had a very small staff that consisted mostly of males. And as a queer Latino, the responsibility of making sure my staff reflected the beautiful spectrum of people in our community was important to me. I took to the task of seeking out talent from all marginalized people, even working with Ian Syder-Blake to bring about the first strictly-trans content section of any Houston magazine last winter.

About-Staff Editor's Note: Volunteering for Pride Houston, Inc.
The About Magazine staff. Madyson Crawford, Anthony Ramirez, David Guerra, Adam Kuta, Megan Prevost, Jessica Olsen, Morena Roas, Gin Martini, Cade Michals, Wendy Taylor, Ian Townsley, Stoo Gogo, Al Farb, Shelby Jeffcoat, Raunda Ashton, Ravin Bones.

And for the last forty years, Pride Houston, Inc. has not has always been inclusive of all people. While everyone of every kind showed up to the volunteer during Pride Week each year, the Board of Directors and Production Team were historically white-washed and cis-managed. But then around this time last year, something wonderful happened at Pride Houston. For the first time in forty years, a Black, queer woman took the reigns of the organization.

Her name is Lo Roberts, and she is the sitting president and CEO of Pride Houston. I know her personally, having worked with her personally for two straight years as Pride Houston’s volunteer committee chair before stepping down to devote my time strictly to About. And if there is one thing that I’ve known about Lo since the first time we met closer to three years ago, it’s this: she cares about the needs of community — the entire community. As a woman, Lo has faced her fair share of adversity, but as a queer, Black woman, Lo has broken more than just the glass ceiling by rising to what is arguably the highest-ranking LGBTQ office of any queer Houston organization. And it didn’t come without cost. Last year, I bore witness first hand and suffered through alongside the Board of Directors to have Frankie Quijano — Lo’s predecessor — expelled from Pride Houston when he refused to step down as president and CEO after Roberts was elected and sworn-in as president of the organization. It was a lengthy legal battle that garnered the attention of Houstonian’s and queer people internationally. Many of us working with Pride at the time — which included current sitting board members such as Jeremy Fain and Dan Cato — didn’t sleep much, were constantly bombarded with emails notifications, and walked around on eggshells for several months. I mean, at one point Quijano and his husband (who was also elected to the Board of Directors and later removed) put out a cease and desist order against About Magazine to stop writing any articles relating to Pride Houston in spite of the fact that we hadn’t written anything about Pride Houston at all. We were tired; we were exasperated; but we were never defeated. And that’s simply because there was a communal knowledge that in order for this community to be best served in all its many and various facets, we needed the representation of a a queer Black woman at the organization’s helm.

And while my time with Pride Houston was not without its ups-and-downs — that’s something any committed volunteer will eventually have to learn to handle when working with a group of other strong-minded and passionate individuals — it was overall one of the most rewarding experience of my life. And it wasn’t because the role was glitzy and glamorous. It most certainly was not. Working as a volunteer year-round and running a committee is a thankless job and one that is met with refute no matter what decisions you make. Rather, the job was overwhelmingly positive — even at the worst of times — because of the volunteers from the community — as many as 600 at a time — with whom I had the privilege to work.

31404200_2172616306302314_7926198944600686592_o Editor's Note: Volunteering for Pride Houston, Inc.
Pride Houston president & CEO, Lo Roberts (photo by Eric Edward Schell of Pride Portraits).

These volunteers give up their time and their energy to make Pride happen because they believe in it. They do it — just like I did when I got involved almost three years ago — because they want to make a difference and they want to see themselves and people like them represented. This Pride isn’t a white, gay, male Pride. At least, it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a Pride for everyone in one of the most diverse cities in our nation — in the world. It’s the fourth largest Pride in the United States and it’s one that has a responsibility to represent and listen to the needs of all its community members — Black, trans, nonbinary, lesbian, Asian, or otherwise. It’s not what the community can do to serve Pride Houston, but what Pride Houston can do to serve the community. And I — as cognizant as I am about the lack in years past — am certain that this is a matter that is of great importance to President Lo Roberts.

The reason I bring this up to you, Houstonians, is because I would like to present you with a challenge. Right now, Pride Houston, Inc. is taking applications for their Board of Directors — the folks who call the shots and who make the decisions as to how to best serve the community. And I challenge you — all of you and mostly those of you who feel like you aren’t being represented in the community and that want to make a change — to follow this link and throw your hat into the ring to be a part of the change to Houston’s LGBTQIA community, as well as to the newly envisioned Pride Houston that Roberts and her team are blueprinting for the years to come. It may be a thankless job, it may be one that seems hopeless, but here’s the thing: nothing in the world ever changes until we make the effort to change it. Nothing in the world is bigger than us if we are a part of it. Nothing is impossible if we sweep the dirt off the path just a little bit further. But most importantly, nothing serves our community better than when the community is represented by people who have suffered the similar unique adversities that the community has. And that starts with representation. And Pride Houston not only needs but wants to be representative right now.

So, please. I implore of you that you take this step. Whatever issues any of us may have had with Pride Houston in the past may still be sore spots. Pride Houston needs trans, nonbinary, women, and POC representatives right now in order to be the Pride it should be. But this is the opportunity for us to rejuvenate Pride Houston and to make it the thing that everyone wants it to be. And with a president and CEO like Lo Roberts steering the ship, that dream is nothing short of possible.

Love to all of you,

Anthony Ramirez,

Editor-in-Chief

Charmed Again, Again: The POC & LGBTQ Dichotomy

The internal conflict of an LGBTQ Latino stemming from the original Charmed‘s importance to queer people and representation of POC in the new.

On 7 October 1998, the world was introduced to a trio of sisters. Prudence, Piper, and Phoebe Halliwell graced the screen (respectively portrayed by Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, and Alyssa Milano) on the then-WB Network’s Wednesday night line-up. For the twenty-something years that the Halliwell sisters had existed prior to our introduction to them, they were just like any other adult siblings. Prue, the eldest, was a hard-working museum auction expert with unwavering focus, set and achieved goals, sharp leadership skills, and a belief in only what could be seen and held. Piper, the middle child, played the mediator between her other two sisters, a chef-turned-club owner longing to succeed and show her skills (and later the fierce, sharp-tongued eldest sister after Prue’s death in 2001). Phoebe, the youngest Halliwell (or so we thought for three years), was the directionless little sister whose spats with Prue often put Piper in awkward situations. Her curiosity and imagination led her not only to be a renowned magazine columnist, but also led to the discovery of the sisters’ centuries-old heritage as witches, descended from their great-great-great-great-great-great-something grandmother straight out of Salem, Melinda Warren. Of course, then there was Paige Matthews, the true youngest Halliwell sister given up at birth for fear the girls may not inherit their Charmed powers (more on this below), and reunited with Phoebe and Piper after Prue’s death.

Charmed was a modern take on the novel idea of witchcraft, but was truly the first of its class to incorporate not only mythological magic and creatures from all spectrums of folklore — from Romanian gypsy magic to Greek gods and titans — but also modern day Wicca with an emphasized magical v. magickal twist. The story followed the three sisters (in both groupings) as they discovered their supernatural powers (Prue’s telekinesis and astral projection, Piper’s ability to freeze time and blow things up, Paige’s ability to teleport herself and objects, and Phoebe’s foresight and seven hundred other powers she gained and lost over the eight years Charmed ran). But they, of course, were not just any witches. No, no. The trio of sisters congregated to become the Charmed Ones — the most powerful witches to ever exist destined to rid the world of evil.

charmedspell Charmed Again, Again: The POC & LGBTQ Dichotomy
Doherty, Combs, and Milano in the original Charmed.

That’s right. This feminist powerhouse of a show led by three women at a time portrayed a world in which demons from literally Hell (or, the Underworld) got their asses kicked every week for roughly twenty weeks out of the year and banished to oblivion. But that was one part of the beauty of Charmed, it’s feminism. The other part that seemed so genuine was just how involved their magic was in their real lives. Because, as show producer E. Duke Vincent once put it, this was not a show that was about three witches who happened to be sisters. This was a show about three sisters who just so happened to be witches. Charmed succeeded because — while fantastical, and in later seasons even a little cartoonish with the monsters — the loglines of each episode were rooted in the lives of the sisters, not in the battles of the witches. For eight years, four leading ladies and countless writers, producers, directors, and crew members challenged the status quo of super-heroism all the while making sure not to lose sight of the core value: a group of sisters who meant more to one another than anything. Women who fight for women. Bad ass women, to boot.

The show, which ran from 1998 until 2006, went on to become one of the most successful female-led series in television history, at one time even earning the trophy for longest-running hour-long TV series led by a female ensemble cast over its 178 episode run, not beat out until six years later in 2012 when Marc Cherry’s Desperate Housewives ended with 180 episodes over its own eight seasons. Although, over the course of its history, Charmed, its cast, and its crew were nominated for Saturn Awards, TV Guide Awards, and more — albeit never an Emmy, which many believe was due in part to the networks (first the WB before it became the CW) lack of promotional advertising. But Charmed did so much more than just break the glass ceiling — which there is no doubt that it did. It also inspired a sort of renaissance of witch-centric shows that came for years after, each following Charmed‘s structure that sort of became the formula for many witch shows, novels, and movies to follow. While Charmed, Practical Magic, and The Craft of the 90s were all very different in formula — their ideas and runs were novel even for the time — witch media that followed were not quite as original. The Secret Circle (although written originally as a series of novels by Vampire Diaries author L. J. Smith in 1992) followed the same formula, straying from its basis book of the same name; Witches of East End (also first a book before a Lifetime television series) bore striking similarities is the sister-witch formula and also strayed from its source material greatly; and even American Horror Story: Coven (though a fan favorite) struggled to present anything that hadn’t already been done by boy wizard Harry Potter or the Charmed Ones first. All these shows began to incorporate mythology, or books of shadows and other Wiccan traditions, and the storylines soon followed suit. But that’s what has kept Charmed so popular, even as newer generations who did not grow up with it the way that many of us in our 20s and 30s did: it as the OG. (OW?)

charmed-reboot-e1533583719173 Charmed Again, Again: The POC & LGBTQ Dichotomy
Diaz, Jeffrey, and Mantock in the Charmed reboot.

Fast-forward to the present day when Hollywood is constantly running out ideas for television series that are original (witch-related or not) and is rebooting literally everything. From the still-hilarious and successful Will & Grace to the less successful and canceled X-Files reboot, no old favorites are sacred any longer. And in this age of reboots, Charmed was not going to get away without at least a try. Sure enough in 2013, CBS Television Studios (the company which owns the Charmed franchise) tried to reboot the show as a retelling of the original featuring four sisters (sound familiar?) who discover their witchcraft and have to kick demon ass and … well … you know the rest. But that version never came to fruition on film; and in 2017, it was announced that Jane the Virgin creator Jennie Snyder Urman had been tapped to pen yet another reboot script — this version following a trio of sister witches in 1970s New England for the CW. The network passed on this version of the script, as well, but kept Snyder Urman on board to executive produce and retool the show in the present day.

And in January of 2018, that version got the greenlight for a pilot — eventually becoming a story about three sister witches of color (two having grown up together and one long-lost) who discover their magic after their mother dies and use it to fight not only demons, but the injustices and evils of the #MeToo era (which stars newcomers Madeleine Mantock, Melonie Diaz, and Sarah Jeffrey as sisters Macy, Mel, and Maggie). And at just that, it sounds like a truly amazing show. What more could we ask for in 2018 when the President of the United States is still holding office after admitting on tape to grabbing women “by the pussy” and when men in all fields of work are slowly but surely being brought to justice for rape and other sexual misconduct in the workplace?

The answer? The only thing more that Charmed fans new and old could ask for is the one thing the show will not feature: its original cast.

Here lies the dichotomy of the situation, at least as it pertains to me and some friends I’ve discussed this with more in-depth. On the one hand, Charmed was and remains to be the success that it is today because it has always had such a loyal fan base. To this day, stars Holly Marie Combs, Shannen Doherty, and Brian Krause make rounds at Comic-Con conventions around the world talking about the show they created and starred in for nearly a decade. And Charmed fans are nothing if not loyal. They came to the aid of Doherty when the media smeared her as “hard to work with” and a drug addict after her departure from the show in 2001, but still stuck around to watch Rose McGowan step into to fill her shoes. They have kept up-to-date with the ventures of Alyssa Milano (from the sometimes unpleasant ABC drama Mistresses to her newest work Insatiable), not to mention even tuning into the then-ABC Family drama Pretty Little Liars just to catch glimpses of the never-aging Combs throughout the series’ run. And let’s not forget standing up beside both Milano and McGowan as they’ve fought tirelessly in the #MeToo movement to free women everywhere from the shackles of sexual assault and rape.

But on the opposite side of that token, and in a time where the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, and POC have never been more important or closer to the precipice of being lost, isn’t it time that we see a show about ass-kicking women of color? One of them even a lesbian! I don’t think any of the original fans would disagree. But still, therein lies a hesitancy. And there certainly has been a similar reaction from the cast of the original series, as well. While Shannen Doherty has done her best to be supportive, she couldn’t help but point out that part of what makes the reboot so problematic lay within its marketing. The original show, which was nothing if not a feminist manifesto and call-to-action, has been unintentionally smeared by the new version in its PR moves, as the new production earlier touted itself as a “feminist reboot” of the original.

Ouch. 

Doherty, however, did carry out a constructive conversation with followers of herself. She pointed out how important it was to create more jobs for women, asked fans their thoughts about the reboot, and postulated how everyone would feel if the show had similar elements under a different name. She even said:

Screen-Shot-2018-08-08-at-8.35.00-PM Charmed Again, Again: The POC & LGBTQ DichotomyBut Combs was not so taken with this description, at first. Upon reading a headline on Twitter about the not-so-newfound feminism of the production, Combs took to Twitter to say:

Screen-Shot-2018-08-08-at-8.36.31-PM Charmed Again, Again: The POC & LGBTQ DichotomyScreen-Shot-2018-08-08-at-8.38.27-PM Charmed Again, Again: The POC & LGBTQ Dichotomy

And finally offered this nugget of information regarding her opinions of the reboot:

“Let me say first that I appreciate the jobs and opportunities the Charmed reboot has created. But I will never understand what is fierce, funny, or feminist in creating a show that basically says the original actresses are too old to do a job they did 12 years ago. I hope the new show is far better than the marketing so the true legacy does remain.”

So, the question remains: are Combs’ frustrations founded?

… Yeah. I think so.

For me, as a Latino, gay man, I began watching Charmed when I was four-years-old in 1998. I’d always been fascinated with the idea of magic, specifically that of witches, and Charmed was one of the few shows that presented it in a brand new, modern, real life sort of way. And for a very long time, it was unclear to even me why I’d been so obsessed with the show — even hoping I’d inherit my own magical powers after my mother gave birth to her third child. Although, as I grew up, it began to make a helluva lot more sense to me.

I identified with the Halliwell sisters. Weird, right? A child, then teenager, than adult male understanding the Halliwells and relating my life to theirs? It sounds silly, but when you take into account that I grew up Latino and knew that I was gay from a very young age, it’s not that hard to wrap your head around. And, if I’m not being presumptuous, I think it may be similar to many queer people’s connection to the show, even those who don’t realize it. You see, one of the center struggles of the Charmed Ones was that which pertained to their sense of identity. It started out the way it does for a lot of LGBTQIA people when they’re young (and if you think about it, the Charmed girls had to start their lives over when they realized they were witches, like children who have to learn everything for the first time). It was the question of: why am I this way? Why am the one who has to be different? And in the throes of trying to understand all of that came the fact that the sisters were made to feel by society that they had to hide their witchiness from the world — a stark parallel to the expectations set up in the real lives of queer people, both those raised liberally and conservatively. And as the years progressed, and the witches were able to reconcile this within themselves and accept who they were (another queer parallel), they finally became capable of sharing their secret with the people they loved. But even still, there was a hesitancy for them to be completely … well … out. 

The Halliwells, though accepting of themselves, still struggled to exist in a world that wasn’t entirely accepting of them. And look at where queer people are today. Pride parades across the country are plagued with protestors, trans murder rates are at an all-time high, and the sitting Vice President and many Washington big-wigs are staunchly against queerness and the rights of LGBTQ people. Is that not a clear parallel? Then let’s discuss how the sisters had to struggle with their identity even further — trying not to be defined by the fact that they were witches. Yes, they knew it was a part of them and that it always would be, but Piper was not just a witch, but a chef and business owner! Phoebe became a famous magazine columnist; Paige juggled being a healer and a teacher. These weren’t just witches — they were women and sisters, at that. They had lives, children, spouses, families, jobs, and purposes outside of saving the world. And haven’t we all felt that way to some extent as queer people? Yeah, we might be gay or trans or nonbinary or asexual … but haven’t we always wanted to escape the label? To be known as writers and soldiers and activists and doctors and chefs as an aside of the labels of our sexual orientations or gender identities? That’s how these characters felt. Even after trying — and failing — to give up their witchhood (as I’m sure many LGBTQ people have tried to do with their identities) and then finally accepting it, they still wanted to be remembered not as Witches #1, 2, 3, and 4, but as just Piper, Prue, Phoebe, and Paige. And isn’t that something we’ve all struggled with at Thanksgiving dinner when our obnoxious aunt has made some gay joke in poor taste, even if just trying to relate to you? Or what children thrown from their homes have been through because their parents could no longer believe that they were still their children, simply because of who they fell in love with or which gender they identified with?

And sure, for a lot of us (as well as for the Halliwells) we get to a place of acceptance. Certainly not all of us, mind you, but a some of us. Still, there’s an outrageous number of queer people who take their own lives, who are murdered by bigots, and who hide in closets their entire lives because acceptances in this world are few and far between. Queer people have historically been (and continue to be all around the world) the subject of witch hunts. And that was the struggle of the Halliwells, too, albeit a bit more literally. But the Halliwells were a beacon of hope for us over those eight years. Because, by the end of it all, the sisters hadn’t just accepted being witches and fought against being witches and struggled through being witches, they’d learned to have pride in being witches. Certainly it was not their only identifier. But at least at the end of it all, as they learned and as they taught their children to do after them, the witches of the Halliwell line reveled in who they were so as to be able to begin to normalize something the world didn’t understand.

That, my friends, was the true magic of Charmed.

And for those of us who are true and loyal fans of the original, seeing that legacy replicated without those women who felt like our very own sisters is difficult. Charmed — at least for me — got me through my coming out, through my identity crisis, and through a lot of nights of feeling like no one understood me, that no one accepted me, that no one would ever love me, and that no one cared. And we have Doherty, Combs, Milano, McGowan, and the entire talented team behind Charmed to thank for that. Sure, it was a sometimes silly show about witches and magic; but at its core it was a show about family — and family, especially chosen family, is what we queer folk call our fellow queer friends. Isn’t it?

But with all of that in mind, I do think that we have to extend that opportunity to the new batch of witches, as well. Do we have to watch it? No. Will we? Maybe yes, maybe no. But herein lies the opportunity for a new generation to get to tell that story all over again for people younger than many of us that need to hear it. And, sure, they could just as easily hear it by rewatching the show on Netflix. But if there’s a chance to extend that message to we people of color by representing us on screen, as well as we queer people by representing us on screen, I think it might just be worth the try. Do I wish they weren’t using the Charmed brand to do this? Yeah. I seriously do. And I seriously hurt for the show’s original stars and crew who put so much into a show and to not be given the option to return for a second go-round, especially when it seems like every other show in the world of its time is being resurrected with its original casts. But more so it hurts because I think that the original leading ladies could really tackle these issues of the #MeToo era in a really beautiful way — especially when two of the former stars commit so much time to fighting such injustices — while also incorporating into the program people of color and who identify as LGBTQ. But if nothing else, and I think that all the original Charmed Ones would agree, we should at least hope for the successes of the new, some queer and some POC Charmed Ones and hope that they spread the same kind of message to their incoming fans that Doherty, Combs, Milano, and McGowan spread to us from 1998 to 2006 and well beyond.

Nevertheless, I am grateful for the Charmed that was, as I’m sure many queer people are. And though I want to see both the new and old continue to succeed, this is my love letter to the original Charmed — specifically to Holly Marie Combs, whose Piper I identified and continue to identify with daily. I’ve watched the series a dozen times through, own all eight seasons on DVD, and have on my list on Netflix forever. The show even inspired my second novel, Witches of the Deep South (which you can preorder by following this link). It’s my love letter for all of those reasons and one more: because those sisters of the Halliwell coven made queer people feel not only less alone, but magical in our very own way.

Opinion: Michelle Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

The seemingly harmless 32-year-old comic tore the Trump administration and the media to shreds with her White House Correspondents’ Dinner stand-up gig … and it was beautiful.

The White House Correspondents’ Association (you know, those people who sit in the press room of the White House shouting questions that typically go unanswered or answered falsely by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders) is treated annually with a nice dinner at the White House. The dinner is typically attended by the bulk of the administration, the president and vice president, members of the association intertwined with celebrities and other Washington big-wigs. However, in both 2017 and now 2018, Donald J. Trump has made the choice to not attend the festivities for one reason or another. In his place in 2018, Trump sent Huckabee Sanders.

The evening always boasts at least one entertainer, who in the past have included Jay Leno, Bob Hope, Wanda Sykes, Aretha Franklin, and many others. Last year, Daily Show senior correspondent, Hasan Minhaj, entertained the room, making one-liners about Trump, his staff, the turn-over rate (which even in late April of 2017 was alarmingly high), Russia, and, of course, the press. Minhaj committed himself to performing at the expense of the administration, and was widely regarded for doing so tastefully. This year, (also) Daily Show contributor/writer, Michelle Wolf, was tasked with the honor of performing … and she took no prisoners.

It was mesmerizing.

Throughout the bulk of her performance, Michelle Wolf took jabs at Donald Trump (“Trump is racist, though. He loves white nationalists, which is a weird term for a Nazi. Calling a Nazi a ‘white nationalist’ is like calling a pedophile a ‘kid friend,’ or Harvey Weinstein a ‘ladies man,’ which isn’t really fair — he also likes plants.”), Mike Pence (“Mike Pence is what happens when Anderson Cooper isn’t gay.”), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (“I loved you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale. Mike Pence, if you haven’t seen it, you would love it.”), the press corps (about CNN:“You guys love breaking news, and you did it, you broke it! Good work!”) and so many others. When she took the stage, it was probably a general assumption that this tiny, 32-year-old, not-that-famous comedienne from Pennsylvania was going to perform some quick burns, but that she would do so apologetically and with respect to the administration.

What’s the old saying about assuming?

Michelle took the stage and held her own. She had no problem roasting individuals who were seated before her, and even those just a few chairs from her (read: Sanders). She delivered jokes with impeccable comedic timing and proved to the entire world that she’s just as pissed about the state of our nation’s government as many of us are. And by the time the dust had settled, Michelle Wolf became a name that everyone in America would soon know.

However, much like the 2016 election, reactions to the event were … well … divided. While many liberals and anti-Trump advocates rallied around Wolf and lamented their praises, the right, the administration, as well as a great deal of the media, felt differently. Just this morning, even the White House Correspondents’ Association president, Margaret Talev, even released a statement via Twitter responding to Saturday’s monologue. In the statement, Talev outlines that the spirit of the WHCD was “not to divide people”, and went so far as to state that Wolf’s set was not in the spirit of that mission.

Screen-Shot-2018-04-30-at-4.00.13-PM Opinion: Michelle Wolf in Sheep's ClothingEven the president felt the need to take to Twitter to comment on the performance he had not even the courage to attend, stating that Wolf “bombed.” Conversely, many big-names from the left have stepped up and sworn their allegiance to Wolf, supporting her and defending her in social media battles.

Screen-Shot-2018-04-30-at-3.50.41-PM Opinion: Michelle Wolf in Sheep's ClothingScreen-Shot-2018-04-30-at-3.51.52-PM Opinion: Michelle Wolf in Sheep's ClothingScreen-Shot-2018-04-30-at-3.53.28-PM Opinion: Michelle Wolf in Sheep's ClothingScreen-Shot-2018-04-30-at-3.54.06-PM Opinion: Michelle Wolf in Sheep's ClothingScreen-Shot-2018-04-30-at-3.54.46-PM Opinion: Michelle Wolf in Sheep's ClothingYes, Michelle Wolf put on a performance that is going to be long-remembered, as well as one that will be go down in history as controversial. But why was it so controversial? It didn’t seem controversial when a scathing performance was given by the aforementioned Minhaj the year before. And while he too was met with criticism for some of his remarks by the right, the amount of blowback didn’t include a personal letter from the WHCA.

And why is it that America is so angry? (Let’s be honest, it’s mostly because she’s a liberal woman, and liberal women apparently shouldn’t have opinions … least of all express them). Wolf did her job. Not just as a comic (and it was really freaking funny), but as an American. She used the opportunity to point out through satire and rhetoric the issues that a great deal of Americans have with the administration, as well as the press (and even added to the end of her set that Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water.). And while you may not often hear the words ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ being shouted throughout the halls of the White House as they were last night (then again, how can I really know that?), Wolf’s commentary was tasteful and rewarding.

Trump is racist, though. He loves white nationalists, which is a weird term for a Nazi. Calling a Nazi a ‘white nationalist’ is like calling a pedophile a ‘kid friend,’ or Harvey Weinstein a ‘ladies man,’ which isn’t really fair — he also likes plants.

—Michelle Wolf

Everyone is concerned for Sarah Huckabee Sanders and President Trump for what Wolf had to say about them; but what about what those two say to all of us on a daily basis? It’s no secret that Donald Trump is a compulsive liar. He usually gets caught in his lies, denies them, is presented with evidence, denies that, and then comes around and says, “Oh, sure. Yeah. I think that did happen. But it’s okay, because it was just me.” Huckabee Sanders does nothing to help that situation, as she conveniently holds a title that requires her to relay a great deal of those lies to the press. And the problem with the both of them? As they’re spewing bullshit to America, they’re doing so with faces that read clearly: I believe what I’m saying is true. To add insult to injury, Trump doesn’t just tell lies, he’s also a self-proclaimed sexual assailant (refer to the Billy Bush recording travesty), and talks about people—often his constituents, mind you—as if they’re not people, but pawns in his real-life game of Monopoly.

Have we so quickly forgotten how he accused Megyn Kelly of having “blood coming out of her wherever” when she chastised him for his behavior during a debate? Are we ignoring how he mocked a disabled news reporter on live TV at a rally held in South Carolina? Are we forgetting how his temper tantrums have brought us to the brink of nuclear war more times than a few? What about his proposed ban on transgender military members? What about the time he claimed that sexual assault in the military is just what happens when men and women work together? Oh, and there was that time he joked about dating his own daughter (that one still makes me cringe).

Wolf did what Wolf was there to do and she did a damn fine job doing so. The backlash she’s receiving is basically to say that we are now supposed to hold the comics in this country to a higher standard than we are the leader of the free world. And that sort of assertion is, quite frankly, ridiculous. She tackled issues that people don’t want to talk about, including the press pandering to the president for ratings and money.

Wolf wasn’t what the crowd was expecting that night at the WHCD … and thankfully so. Whether you like what she had to say about the president, his administration, or the press, Wolf showed up and did her job the way that a comedian is supposed to (and much unlike the president’s record has proven, she did so without insulting the image or body of a single woman). When is the Trump administration going to show up to do their jobs the way they’re supposed to?

You can watch Michelle’s full remarks here.