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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.

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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?)

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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:

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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.

We Need a Larger Table

Dylan Wilde Forbis trans texas community

In order to succeed as the trans community, we must find a space where all of us fit in.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” C.G. Jung

 

It was early February of 2017 when I attended a training in Dallas called the Transgender Leadership Institute, or TLI. Those in attendance made the training quite unique. It was an even mix of transgender and gender non-binary adults, with almost even numbers of parents of transgender kids. My partner and I had just attended the 2017 Creating Change Conference and I was excited to keep the flow going with this new training. It was a fast-paced and intense workshop. There were about eight hours of education and tasks spanning over almost two days. In the end, I didn’t get anything from the workshop itself that I didn’t already know, yet I experienced more in those eight hours than I was prepared for. There were things in my life that I had not yet begun to process, which I was going to have to confront all weekend. I’m going to give you a rundown so that you can have a clearer picture of what I was struggling with while this training was taking place.

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Photo by Eric Edward Schell at Pride Portraits.

The first thing that I had not yet sorted out in my mind was that I was a finalist for a top surgery scholarship granted to trans people by an organization called Point of Pride. At this point in my life, I had been in my physical transition for 5 years. I was very familiar with mourning the idea of my inability to have top surgery, but this was a rejuvenating possibility. I felt hopeful; and with help, I did some research about the previous year in trans excellence (people winning awards, attending the DNC, and other wonder advancements), made my submission video, and waited with bated breath. In the end, although I was a finalist, I did not win. I was devastated, it tore my heart into a million pieces.

Not now Dylan, there’s work to do, I told myself.

As if that wasn’t enough to nearly break me, I had gone to a job interview the week before the training workshop began. It was for a non-profit community outreach role for an organization that had recently begun this campaign of going into middle schools and reigniting students’ dreams in an effort to reduce teen pregnancy, expulsions, and other problematic behaviors.  During the interview, I was asked if I would be able to relate to non-transgender kids, or kids whose skin was darker than mine. My response to them was, “All kids are assumed cisgender and straight, as was I.” My theory of education is rooted in diversity inclusion; they didn’t have to worry about singling out or excluding children. Goals that are focused on values of self acceptance, self awareness, and the tools to communicate with each other also give youths the tools to communicate with themselves. In reference to my race, growing up a biracial Texan who looks white in the winter and Mexican in the summer, I am painfully aware of my skin tone. I grew up in the neighborhoods and schools this campaign was visiting. My earliest memories were of living in an apartment complex on Spice Ln. and going through the hole in the old wood fence with my dad to pick up food for our family. These, along with many other similar experiences from my childhood are the ones that connect to youth, not just the color of your skin.

And yet, I didn’t get the job.

My mind was covered by a wet blanket, but, I told myself, Not now Dylan, there’s work to do.

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Dylan and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

Then of course, there was the fact that the 2017 Texas Legislative Session was in full force. SB4 and SB6 were causing a lot of concern from intersected communities. ICE was doing raids all over the USA and Texas. Trans people were harassed at climbing rates, all while debates with my family over new laws being considered were common, and civil discussions were not. No one had finished processing the 2016 election. Most of us were still having withdrawals from the elation and success of the Women’s March. It felt like HERO (the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) all over again. With HERO, I volunteered for an advertisement in support of the bill that aired every morning for two months. There was also a billboard and ads in local newspapers. So much was at stake and it was the first video of its kind, a trans person education campaign during a city wide election. I was out to the world, no turning back. I received some push-back from our community, and I understood. I looked white—passing privilege. I looked male—passing privilege. Even though I can’t get jobs, I passed. Even though my family doesn’t accept me, I passed. Even though I couldn’t afford to progress my transition, I passed. Why don’t I feel that passing is enough?

Again, my mind spun in circles.

Not now Dylan, there’s work to do.

During one meal break in the middle of our training, we were asked to sit with people we didn’t know to extend our circle. I chose the furthest table away, because it felt right. It was mostly transgender and non-binary adults, with one mother of a trans woman. We were all talking about our experiences, and she was speaking about her daughters’ experiences, as if she’d lived them herself, like many proud mothers tend to do. The topic shifted to something I don’t think either of us was prepared for. While dealing with the impending death of a family member, this woman had asked her daughter to not visit before they passed away. The family member was elderly, and it might upset them to see the daughter and her transition. She listened, as an obedient daughter would. A fire ignited in my chest due to the parallels in my own life. In 2013, my grandmother was in a hospice. I was over one year on hormones and eight months post-name change. My car was repossessed exactly 10 months prior, after I lost my job in the Union for discrimination, and my parents were refusing to give me a ride. Despite this, I took two buses and a light rail to get to the hospice. One of my aunts greeted me at the door and let me see my grandmother, Ernestina Solis Camarillo. The strong, beautiful woman I knew had become frail from her treatments, but she was still there. It was a short visit. I told her I loved her, and she lovingly replied, “Yo también te amo, mi hijo”.

Hijo. Male. I am Dylan.

This was the last interaction I had with my Grandma Tina. She passed away not long after. I explained my experience to this mother, and that I could not imagine listening to my parents. Staying home. Not venturing out to visit my grandmother. Unlike me, her daughter never had the chance to obtain that kind of closure. But who knows if she would have received it at all? I didn’t; but at the moment I didn’t care. The floodgates of my emotion had engulfed my mind.  I was shut down.

Not now, Dylan, there’s work to do.

During the day, many of us that were keeping tabs on SB4 were seeing live streams of ICE raids all over Texas. The ones that hit home were around the Southwest Alief area where I grew up. I was guilty with my privilege of being able to attend this training while so many were living in fear of losing their freedom, actively being harassed by police officers, or spending endless nights in detention centers. This was two weeks after I attended the Creating Change Conference, and the first time I sat through a racial justice institute as a biracial person, in the People of Color Workshop. While at CC, I heard testimonies of people with lives just like mine. trans men, half-white and half-Mexican, and I wanted to learn more about the struggles of equity through my genes. It’s very easy to know how to relate to being trans as myself, but I didn’t know how to relate to being a trans person of color. Meeting these people gave me a new perspective.  

DSC_0006-X3-300x245 We Need a Larger TableI spent the night in my room with my weekend roommate and another activist, both Latinx community members. Back in my hotel room, I hung my Texas Rainbow flag over the painting above my bed and we talked about organizing all night. We began deconstructing fear by discussing the fact that injustice towards trans people anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, because we are everywhere. Our trans siblings are in those camps, in those raids, being harrassed. So, why are we here and not talking about that? We made a space to have the discussion, but I slept uneasy because while I was in a hotel bed, there were people—my people, our people—sleeping on concrete floors and in what can only be described as dog kennels. I felt powerless.

Not now, Dylan, there’s work to do.

The next morning, the final day, I was a different person. Everything that had gone unchecked was taking over. I was resentful. This place was filled with something I was familiar with, and it hurt. I was cold, short-tempered, and fed up. I swear I knew these people and they did not want to change. Over the course of the last workshop, I was working out my problems in real time, in a room full of dozens of people—strangers. When it became apparent that I was visibly upset, one of the mothers of a transgender child came up to give me a hug from behind. The gesture was meant out of love, but I was not in the place for any physical contact. I asked to not be touched and took the “call in” (a private way to discuss issues without hurting feelings) outside. I explained that touch is consensual even when coming from a nurturing place, and we had a beautiful, respectful conversation. That ended with a big hug and lots of tears. I was experiencing healing. When the workshop was over, I asked the woman who had spoken of her daughter over dinner if she had a moment. We unpacked our conversation, and I thanked her for being present. I apologized for my outburst and we found another healing moment together.

It was obvious that I had come to so many realizations with no time to log them. I have had time to process since, and would like to share this with you.

First, I am grateful for exclusive trans, GNC/non-binary, and queer spaces. We fight our whole lives for the right to exist, and there is something powerful, surreal, and earth-shaking about being in a room full of those who have had a similar struggle. I appreciate it as the revolutionary act it is. We need to continue to challenge ourselves to grow not only in these spaces, but out of them, as well. If we are to be truly successful we need to structure a balance. It is sure to fail, so goes life, but we will succeed if we are patient, if we listen, and if we try.

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Photo by Eric Edward Schell at Pride Portraits

Second, learning how much I can take and what a burnout feels like makes it easier to feel one coming, but doesn’t accomplish anything at the time it’s happening. It’s not easy, and it’s not talked about enough within our activist communities. There are no resources or places to go that offer support because we all need it in different ways, and when you’re experiencing a burnout it tends to come with a burn out of funds, as well. After all, most counseling opportunities cost a shining coin. I needed a place to cry and not perform my life or be “on”. I think self-love/care is the brand that has given us a place to begin the conversation, but we need to acknowledge it is also dismissing of the larger issue. Self-care is something you give yourself. So, I can just say, “Remember self care!” and that fulfills my requirement as a friend. We need more involvement; and we need less judgement. Seeking help, time, space, love, or even blowing up in an activist space is a healthy display of emotion but we need to learn what happens next.

We’re a family and we all need to learn more. Do more.

Third, it is not easy or comfortable to talk about issues that we have no control over. One of the largest parts of organizing is isolating issues before we can acknowledge and accept to begin finding solutions. I personally have been working very hard to have these difficult conversations, but reached a roadblock I didn’t expect. Four days after the conference I was arrested on “day without an immigrant”, for a warrant I had from two years prior for not having insurance on my vehicle. That’s a story for another day, but it changed my entire year. I no longer had the ability to advance myself, these concerns, this conversation, or accomplish anything other than keeping myself afloat, which friends and family kept reminding me I needed to do. I am sorry now that I didn’t take their advice. I feel that in 2017, I let my community down and I stayed lost. After preparing for a year to attend the open session, my own fear and paranoia of being arrested while traveling kept me home. I never felt someone reach out to me, but I think it had to do with being buried by my fear. As surely as I felt lost for months I found laser sight at the Unity Banquet http://www.unitybanquet.com/ . Clarity in the words of Judge Phyllis Frye, “Why aren’t you running?” and Former Mayor Annise Parker, “Allies are great, but we have to make sure we use our own voices, too.”

26116047_10155873156095833_7610033871413737293_o-300x200 We Need a Larger TableLastly, to reiterate the Jung quote from before, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”. I was turned off by everything because I saw what my mind had been experiencing over the past five years. A lack of acceptance, stubbornness, selfishness, all wrapped up in unsupportive parents. I could not see past it, but just as clearly as I saw these things, I was able to let them go and destroy that projection of dysfunction onto strangers. I am so grateful for the experience of such a unique type of workshop. I was unprepared, though; life had a different plan. I came in at the bottom of my life at that moment, and I left at the bottom, too. I left with a new experience of uncharted territory, and it was going to take months to process.

So, here we are today.

Every single parent who accepts their child is a radical revolutionary. When I think about problems that come up in my life, sometimes I imagine one of those mothers as my own. Calling me her son. Telling me she’s proud of meDylan. I am so happy for the children that have parents willing to challenge themselves and grow. It can’t be easy. I only see the pushback they choose to share, but I know it must be scary for them. The Transgender Day of Remembrance https://www.glaad.org/tdor , lawmakers attacking their children, schools not creating a safe space for all students, and the common concerns of a growing child. One of the largest rewards for me is seeing these amazing kids organizing in their schools. Sharing their lives on social media because they are loved for who they are.

I love our community and the challenges we face in making new seats at the table. Although, sometimes it feels like standing room only. Maybe it’s time we got a bigger house.

Are you registered to vote?


Dylan Wilde Forbis is a native Texan who grew up in Houston’s diverse South West side, commonly known as Alief. He has been active in the Houston LGBTQI community for 12 years. In 2012 he began his physical transition from female to male, and today is active in the fight for Transgender equality. After publicly coming out in 2015 during a commercial for the city wide HERO campaign, Dylan began a more open position in the movement. In January of 2017 he moved to Pearland, TX with his partner and is currently running a campaign for candidacy as Texas State House District 29.

Monkey See, Monkey Rape?

rape porn culture sexual assault gay porn

Is it possible that pornography is actually contributing to sexual assault and rape?

(Houston) – One of the leading headlines currently in the news is the number of sexual assaults committed by men wielding power. Victims have come out in masses, detailing their personal stories. The forms of assault accounted for vary from inappropriate groping to blatant rape.

Though the majority of our society demonizes these violations, these acts are also common scenarios that play out in pornographic films. While it could be damaging to state that pornography is to blame for sexual assault – as the actors do consent to sexual activity – it doesn’t take away from the fact that some people who watch porn have begun to fetishize sexual assault. In fact when the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence wrote an article investigating the correlation between pornography and rape, the conclusion was that porn did not contribute to rape. The ways in which porn shapes the values of human sexuality is something important to note in how it incorporates into our lives. Pornography has the ability to give viewers sexual representation of the desires and fetishes they may not be able to obtain. Unfortunately, those fantasies can be inclusive of sexual assault.

During this recent revolution of bringing sex abuse in Hollywood to light, one of the first high-powered celebrity men to be held accountable by victims was Bill Cosby (though there were many before him). At that time, many were under the impression that sexual assault was a rare incident, and Bill Cosby left many of his fans shocked and in disbelief. Few people suspected this comedian and supposed-family man of such atrocities. Even when Donald Trump was recorded talking about sexual assault with Billy Bush, this subject matter was referred to as “locker room talk” by many. Though Trump attempted to brush off the scandal, many were then and remain outraged. In October of this year, the story broke that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein – who assaulted more than 50 women – opening the flood doors for victims of other assaults to come forward, many of which going back decades. There had been many speculations of Harvey Weinstein being a sexual assailant, with even Courtney Love and Rose McGowan speaking out against him in the past. However, most were afraid to speak out due to fear of losing out on career opportunities. Still, it took time for these accusations to be reported on by the media, which brought public intrigue into this aerated secret.

It appears the number of incidents being reported increases with each passing day with new perpetrators named almost as frequently. With the accusations, of course, come the PR statements. Kevin Spacey took his allegation as a time to reveal his sexual identity in the most inappropriate fashion. Louis CK, a once-beloved comedian by many, had been well known for his actions, but was only held accountable as of late. The list goes on from Roy Moore, to Al Franken, to Jeremy Piven, to Charlie Rose, and far beyond.

The sexual assault scandal has affected many outside the entertainment industry, with people on Facebook sparking the #MeToo movement. This movement, though new to many, was revived with the help of celebrities such as Alyssa Milano nearly a decade after being initiated by Tarana Burke to raise awareness of sexual abuse and to give victims from all walks of life a voice. Though some are facing this much worse than others – specifically women and people of color – no demographic has been spared this hardship, including the LGBTQIA community. 

While sexual assault has been vilified by most, it remains a sexual fantasy many have fetishized, including in gay porn. Sexual assault in gay pornography can include scenes simulating coercion of “twinks” and men who identify as straight, as well as college hazing rituals that often involved forced acts of oral and penetrative anal sex. It is a genre that is often viewed and enjoyed by people from all parts of the sexual orientation spectrum, not just gay men. Despite coming out as gay following allegations of sexual assault against Anthony Rapp,  Kevin Spacey’s true sexuality identity is up for question. Spacey’s coming out is viewed by many as an opportunistic approach to draw attention away from the fact that he not only sexually assaulted someone, but that the person in question was, at the time, a minor. Moreover, there should be made a distinction between being gay and having sexual desires towards men without emotional attachment. Men are open to being objectified just as women are, even if the frequency is less. An example of this being the aforementioned incident of Anthony Rapp being victimized. So, the question arises: how does gay porn that depicts forms of sexual assault differentiate from reality? Is this really an outlet for gay culture? Or could this form of fantasy be simulating existing thoughts of sexual abuse to potential assailants that may serve as a springboard for action?

Gay adult film star, Flip [surname eliminated for privacy], shed some light on this topic. When asked about sexual assault portrayed in gay porn, Flip said, “You have to realize everything that you’re seeing is not real. No matter how graphic or crazy these adult films get, it’s all consensual. You need to separate reality and fantasy.” With the argument that pornography does provide a safe outlet for living taboo fantasies, Flip added that the benefits of porn can have in society. “[Porn] is a good outlet to see the fantasies play out. Just like with movies, there are people who enjoy violent movies, but they are just everyday people. I think the same thing goes with porn. Some people enjoy violent, graphic porn, but [the actors] are very normal people.” Flip’s opinion has actually been backed by data that shows porn has decreased the statistics on sexual misconduct. Michael Castleman, a sexuality journalist had noted that the cases of sexual misbehaviors has dropped since the 1990s with the introduction of internet pornography. While both points are certainly valid, it does not eliminate the correlation of rape porn to real life sexual assault and rape. In fact, it seemed so evident that, following the case of Brock Turner (the Stanford University student who was convicted on two counts of sexual assault and one count of intent to rape), porn site xHamster established the Brock Turner Rule. Under this rule, xHamster began a ban on all porn videos depicting rape or sexual assault from their website. It certainly begs the real question: why are there people fantasizing about sexual assault? What about it is sexy?

The content of pornography has long been seen as sexually violent toward women, and has been proven to be so statistically. Interviews with sexual assault victims and survivors have reported that the simulation of most pornography (whether simulating rape or not) is congruent with real world sexual assault, including the language used in the pornography. Similar language associated with men against women (“slut,” “bitch,” “whore,” cunt”) in non-homosexual porn pervades gay porn, as well (“cum dumpster,” “cum slut,” “bitch,” “cocksucker”). Therefore, it perpetuates a similar belief about sexually submissive men or “bottoms.” Ana Bridges, an Arkansas psychologist, believes that men try to incorporate what they are observing in porn into their own sexual practices. A study she conducted with 487 college-age males (their sexual orientations were not disclosed) revealed that, “… the more men used pornography, the more likely they were to try to act out the same scenes and rely on pornography-inspired fantasies to engage in sex,” according to the Washington Times. Though merely conjecture at this point, it isn’t improbable to conclude that of those men who incorporate what they see in porn into their own sexual escapades, some of them have probably viewed porn depicting rape and sexual assault.

A common theme in sexual assaults, regardless of the industry it involves, is the advantage taken of an individual by someone who feels they are free to assault. In fact, in the study Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, fraternity college students were questioned about their sexual habits, as well as potential rape. The study found that 83% had viewed mainstream porn within the last 12 months. That same study found that 51% of those men would likely rape a person if they could be assured that they would neither be caught nor punished. Finally, the report showed that those who watched sadomasochist porn reported a higher score of committing sexual assault.

Even if gay porn were to stop producing scenes depicting sexual assault and rape, sexual assault and rape would still exist. It should be noted that pornography does not define human sexuality, but rather is a mirror of the desires and fantasies of the individual. Still, sexual assaults carried out by persons of power are a result of their own will, whether or not they have been influenced by pornographic material or a sexual addiction. The problem of sexual misconduct is an issue that rests solely on society, and porn can act as a red herring to the real issue of what constitutes proper sexual conduct and objectification of men and women. The fact that these issues are hitting the national spotlight is an indicator that society no longer brushes off these violations as “boys being boys.” The evolution of how we perceive human sexuality, and what is appropriate conduct continue to change as society evolves its moral compass. What were once expected norms in the Hollywood industry have now impacted society as a giant problem, as well as bringing to light sexual assault that happens in every facet of society. Perhaps the fetishization of sexual assault in pornography will change as the tastes and morals of viewers change with the times. That in mind, if society wishes to put an end to sexual assault in the real world, it may be time to begin regulating the content of pornography to eliminate the predilection of porn depicting rape and sexual assault. After all, isn’t the old saying, “monkey see, monkey do”? It is possible that this could be applied to the idea of pornography and rape culture.


Anthony Ramirez contributed to this article. 

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.