Girl with a Badge

So, I’m totally late to the game as always.  The third season of the Showtime original series Homeland starts airing in late September, and I’m just now watching Season 1. Don’t worry; at the rate I’m going, I’ll be completely caught up well before the third season premiere.

It’s a great, addicting show.  And it’s great for all of the reasons that great shows are great – writing that sounds like real people actually talking, characters who are flawed enough and interesting enough to make the idea of spending another hour with them enticing, actors who aren't afraid to embrace the flaws but still seem appealing, economical direction, and plot twists that keep piquing one’s interest. It’s a pretty good recipe. And yet there’s something a tad revolutionary about this show.

The basic rundown is this (no spoilers here, if you've seen even the first episode): A US Marine, long thought dead, is rescued from the Middle East after many years as a prisoner of war and is widely hailed upon his return as a war hero. A CIA operative has learned that an American POW has been “turned” and is convinced that the returning “hero” is actually plotting to do America harm. And so, without much support from the rest of the CIA, she goes rogue and begins a private investigation, hoping to bring him to justice before his nefarious plans are realized.

Did you catch the revolutionary word? I’ll give you a hint. It’s a pronoun.

It actually took me four or five episodes of this show to catch it myself. This is a spy thriller/pot-boiler/blood-pumper of a show, and our protagonist is a woman. And she’s not a woman in relation to a man. She’s a woman in relation to her job, and her job is “kick-ass spy.”

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in "Homeland"
(Okay, some spoilers are about to show up for those who've never watched the show, but I've only seen the first eight episodes of a total of twenty-four, so I couldn't give away too much, even if I wanted to.)

I’d love to have heard the pitch meetings for Homeland, because I’m 99.9% sure that someone, at some point, asked if the audience wouldn't be more interested in a conspiracy theory has by a CIA operative with a penis. And really, so far in the show, there’s no reason why our spy couldn't have been male. Yes, there’s a situation where she uses her feminine wiles to get a little ahead in her investigation, but that’s a tactic. And, it’s worth noting, this is a tactic that a woman in her line of work might use; it’s not like they took a male protagonist template, put a woman in the role, and then just ignored the fact that she’s female.

I've heard a lot of people tell me that Homeland is a brilliant show. But I've heard very little discourse about the gender of its lead character, which is surprising. And I think it’s worth discussing. In an age when women make up 51% of society but only about 37% of prime-time TV characters, male TV characters (41%) were more likely to be shown “on the job” than female characters (28%), men were more likely to talk about work than women were (52% vs. 40%) and less likely to talk about romantic relationships (49% vs. 63%), it’s an important thing to take note of.

Our conventional wisdom states that only women want to see shows about women. And statistically there’s a lot to back that up; as most shows that feature women prominently have inordinately female audiences. But there’s a difference between a show about a woman and a show about being a woman. The latter will probably not appeal to men, but a show about an interesting individual – so interesting, that her vagina is one of the least interesting things about her – can have the kind of broad appeal usually reserved for programs where both the protagonist and the antagonist are vagina-free. And that’s kind of awesome.


Bending Over Backwards in No Time Flat

"The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

These words are often attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr., who was paraphrasing 19th-century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker when he spoke them.  Whoever first came up with the concept, it has given comfort to many activists and freedom fighters over the years.  Be patient, it says. This will be a long fight, but we will win; not just because we're right and they're wrong, but because this is the way the world works.

The good news is that the arc of the moral universe still seems to be bending in the right direction, and the better news is is that it doesn't seem to take as long as it used to.  Or at least that's what everyone's saying about the most recent battle for equal treatment under the law: the gay rights movement.

Specifically, when it comes to attitudes about the right of same-sex couples to marry, the change seems to be fairly rapid, especially when you compare this right to the right of women to vote, or the right of people of color to learn and work and live alongside their more traditionally privileged -- white -- fellow citizens.

It's happened so fast, in fact, that many wonder if the shift is reversible -- more of a whim than an actual sea change. Of course, none of us can predict the future, but I'll put my money on the table with Theodore Parker.  Things will go our way, mostly because we have the truth on our side.  But even I've been surprised - albeit pleasantly - at how quickly this is all happening.

While there have been a number of social movements for equal treatment under the law on behalf of disenfranchised groups of people, the three that stand out the most in my mind are the suffrage movement which aimed to get women the vote, the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 60's, which led to such victories as the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (among others), and the LGBT rights movement of today, which has yet to result in a nationwide ENDA or full marriage equality for all Americans - but it will, I'm confident.

And sooner than we thought. And I think there might be a couple of reasons for that.

1) Civil Rights for White Guys

The most obvious difference between the three movements is, of course, visual.  When we think of the most prominent leaders in the quest for equality under the law for LGBT persons, the images that most of us conjure up are of white gay men like Harvey Milk, Larry Kramer, or Dan Savage.  Sure, there were others - Bayard Rustin was a gay rights activist before anyone knew what that meant, and I dare say that Ellen DeGeneres has done as much for the LGBT community as anyone in our history.

And yet, the picture that most people have in their minds when they think of the "gay community" is a group of well-groomed, manicured, athletic white men with perfect hair and shiny teeth.  And whoever is responsible for that image is certainly up for debate; many within the LGBT activist community point the finger squarely at each other for sidelining the contributions of women and people of color in our struggle, while others blame the media, and still others say that society at large still allows white men to be more visible than anyone else.  And there's probably some truth in all three of those scenarios; they're not mutually exclusive, and in fact, probably symbiotic.

But it helps when those who are being treated differently look the same as those who have traditionally held all of the power.  The "look, we're just like you" tactic goes a long way when we do actually look just like you, and you just happens to be the group with the most power.  Also, having a lot of white guys in our movement allows us to be angrier.  One need only look so far as how Rosie O'Donnell was perceived once she came out as a lesbian and dropped the "Queen of Nice" persona to see how difficult it is to be a) pissed off, b) anything other than white or male, and c) listened to and taken seriously.  And we need to be angry if we're going to get anything done.  White guys can get angry and still be listened to. Shouldn't be that way, but there it is.

2) Will Portman

If you don't know who Will Portman is, it's okay; he's not exactly a household name.  He is the son of Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who recently became the first sitting US Senator from the Republican Party to endorse the right of gay people to marry each other.  And he did it, he said, largely in part because his beloved son, Will, is gay.

Will Portman (l), Sen. Rob Portman (r)
A lot of my lesbian, gay, bi, and trans friends were actually rather put off by this, noting (correctly) that he has and has had many, many constituents who are LGBT, or parents, siblings, children, and friends of LGBT citizens, and therefore plenty of reason to adopt a pro-gay stance in the past.  Why now, they wondered, should I treat Sen. Portman like a hero when he seems to be only interested in the well-being of his own family?

And I get it, I really do.  But I also believe that this is how change happens.  Harvey Milk once urged all LGBT people to come out of the closet, to their parents, to their friends, and co-workers, and neighbors.  He stopped short of asking people to come out to total strangers (it was the 1970's, after all), but he knew intrinsically that it was much more difficult to hate gay people if you know gay people.  And that everyone knows gay people; sometimes, they just don't know they know them.

So is Senator Portman a hero?  Maybe, maybe not. But Will Portman is a superhero in my book. It was tough enough for me to come out to my father, and my father was not a Republican Senator who had publicly opposed gay marriage in the past. Will is the personification of Harvey Milk's words, and one of the reasons why we'll eventually win this thing. Because not only does everyone know us, everyone's related to at least one of us.  And it's hard to hate your flesh and blood. It's not impossible (I'm looking at you, Newt & Phyllis), but a little more difficult than hating someone you'd never met and would cross the street to avoid.

But, I hear you say, what about women's rights? All men have mothers, and many have daughters and sisters. And it took a freakishly long time for women to secure the vote, and they still make 78 cents to the dollar. And you're right.  And even though I've singled out Will Portman to make my point about all of us in our (mostly) straight families, I did so on purpose.  Because until Will came out to his dad, he was a young, white man, raised in economic privilege and headed to Yale University, of all places.  It's likely that our friend the Senator had a very clear picture of who Will was and what he was going to become, and was therefore shocked to learn that, in the eyes of the law, he is not an equal citizen of this country he serves. Will wasn't minimized from birth the way so many women have been (and yes, continue to be), and the injustice was therefore a little more galling. Shouldn't be that way, but there it is.

3) The Twitter Machine

And this, I think, is the biggest differentiator yet. Imagine what might have happened if Susan B. Anthony had a Twitter account.  Or if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a blog.

Dr. King spoke some of the most inspirational words we Americans have been lucky enough to hear from one of our fellow citizens, and yet - unless you were lucky enough to attend one of his speeches in person - every word we heard was filtered through our media.  A white man somewhere - or, more likely, a room full of white men - decided that his words were newsworthy, or decided that we didn't need to hear them.  In contrast, the struggle for LGBT civil rights is being fought in the age of the internet, and the differences are startling.

If you want information these days, you can get it yourself. There are 31 billion searches on Google every month. In the age of radio, it took 38 years for a single piece of information to reach a market of 50 million people. The invention of the television reduced that time frame to 13 years. The internet allowed this to happen in 4 years, and the introduction of Facebook reduced time to market to 2 years.

Facebook is totally gay.
Like I said, our team has the truth on its side, and the truth just travels faster than it used to.  Admittedly, lies also travel quickly, as evidenced by Tony Perkins' Twitter account, but so does the repudiation of those lies. When hate groups like the National Organization for Marriage peddle junk science purporting that children are highly advantaged by heterosexual parents, we can hammer that down like a Whack-a-Mole in no time flat.

And that, I believe - more than any other reason - is why the LGBT rights movement has moved faster than anyone ever thought it would. It's not a whim, and it's not entirely because we're still a bunch of racists and sexists (except that we kinda are, still).  It's mostly because the whole world just moves a lot faster than it used to, and the struggle for equality under the law, regardless of sexual orientation, just happens to be a beneficiary of that.  And funny cat videos.  But that's another topic for another day.


A Dash of Bitter with the Sweet

I always thought of myself as a romantic person.  And by that I meant that I was a sucker for love, and love being in love, and would always put love first if given the chance.  And I guess that's still true.

But it also meant that I was waiting around for love to "strike."  I was raised on a diet of American pop culture, and so I've ingested more than a few romantic comedies, which all have the same basic formula: two attractive people meet, and they can't stand each other; their dislike grows the more they get to know each other until they are the chief antagonists in each other's lives; then, suddenly, they realize that they're, in fact, perfect for each other and have been madly in love from the very beginning; they didn't choose this love; love chose them.

And I just don't think it works that way. Outside of the movies, I mean. I still consider myself a pretty romantic guy.  I'm dating, and I guess I'm doing so in the hopes that I'll find love again. But I'm not expecting it to find me. I went on a few dates recently with a guy I was really starting to like. He was a bit on the shy side, and cute in a nerdy sort of way.  We went on three dates, and there was a lot of kissing and hand-holding going on, particularly on dates #2 and #3. And it was nice. But when I called him up for date #4, he needed to tell me something. Uh-oh.

He wanted me to know that while he thought I was a really nice guy and he found me attractive, he just wasn't feeling a "spark." He suspected that I wasn't really feeling a "spark" either, and - partly to avoid an even more awkward conversation, and partly because it was true - I confessed that no, I hadn't. There was no "spark" on my end, either.  The thing was, I wasn't really expecting a "spark" to occur.

I'm coming to the conclusion that you make your own "sparks" if you want them.  People feel "sparks" because they want to.  Those wanting to live in a romantic comedy often feel "sparks" around someone who's completely inappropriate for them, and they believe that they've been struck by Cupid's arrow because they want to believe that. But at some level, they made a choice.  This is why people who cheat describe themselves as victims, because clearly, love is something you can't control. And I'm about to call bullshit on that one, too.

I was sad when my shy, cute, nerdy guy basically told me that he wasn't interested in a fourth date, despite my being really good for him on paper (my words, not his). Not sad because the love of my life was casting me aside, just a little wistful because I thought he was a nice guy, not unattractive, and a good kisser to boot. The fact that I wasn't mentally picking out china patterns after only three dates was, to my mind, a sign of progress - not an indication that a "spark" would never occur just because it wasn't there after three evenings out. I was perfectly willing to feel a "spark" - when and if I was ready for it. And now, I won't get that chance.

I'm going out with someone tomorrow night.  It's something of a blind date; we found each other online.  But I liked the way he described himself, and his photos display a handsome man with a devilish smirk. And dimples.  Dimples are a plus.  I hope we find something to talk about. I hope he's as cute as his picture. I hope he likes me, too.  But I'm not hoping for a "spark." I simply trust that it will be there if I want it to be. I guess I'm not as romantic as I used to be. And that's okay, too.


Hi Ho, Alas and also Lackaday

So, it's Valentine's Day. And I'm single.

 And you know what? That's totally fine.

 I've been single on most of the Valentine's Days of my life, and it was always (I thought) a painful reminder of my singlehood, my inability to be loved by anyone I found remotely attractive, and the bleak, perpetually single life that lay before me. I may be overstating things a little. But only a little. I really hated the day. I understood that it was a holiday manufactured by the greeting card, candy, floral, and diamond industries to basically make money by persuading dating and/or married people to spend a shit-ton of money or else be perceived by their spouse or significant other as uncaring and aloof. But it seemed to me that all of the dating and/or married people in my life were having a hell of a time playing along, and, well ... it made me sad. 

Which is okay, too. Nothing wrong with wanting what you want, and perhaps a little sadness now makes the sweet even sweeter later on.

I was not single on this date last year. It was the third Valentine's Day of that courtship. And I'm not going to put all the details of my prior relationship all over the internet machine, but it will suffice to say that I wasn't very happy. I likely believed myself to be happier than I really was, but I wasn't in a good place. It will suffice to say that I was not making him happy, and his unhappiness was not making me happy. Nonetheless, gifts were exchanged and a romantic dinner out was planned. And I went through the motions and felt really happy - mostly I was grateful that I was no longer single and alone on the day that used to make me feel more single and alone than ever.

I was probably happy - truly happy, I mean - on the first and second Valentine's Days I spent as someone's boyfriend, but really, I wasn't much happier on February 14th than I was on February 13th or 15th. Or March 27th or October 4th or April 22nd or August the 17th or any other random day on the calendar. What made me happy about that relationship made me happy, no matter what the greeting card companies said. And what eventually made me sad about that relationship still made me sad. The calendar, as it turns out, was ultimately irrelevant. It's a simple thing, but not as obvious as you might think, and really nice to know.

And now I find myself single again, but not really alone. I have a wonderful group of friends who keep me from being lonely, and I have every confidence that love will find me again - only next time I'll be smarter. I could spend this Valentine's Day evening with my dog in front of the television (I have last night's episode of "The Americans" on the DVR - have you seen it? Great show! Ssh. We'll talk about it later, maybe.), and that would be perfectly okay.

As it happens, one of the last things I did in an attempt to save my prior relationship as it began to inevitably sink was buy a mini-subscription to one of my favorite Washington theatres. I picked Thursday nights because they were cheaper than the weekend but close enough to the weekend to warrant a post-show cocktail if the mood struck. By the time the tickets arrived in the mail, my ex had already moved out of the house, and so I had these theatre tickets - a pair of them - for four different Thursdays throughout the following year. One of those Thursdays just happened to be Valentine's Day. And so, I'm going to the theatre tonight with a single friend who likewise has no romantic dinners planned for Valentine's Day. We actually couldn't get a reservation in any decent restaurant ANYWHERE tonight, so we're eating takeout in my kitchen before heading over to watch talented actors bring a script to life in front of our eyes. So, don't cry for me, Argentina; I have something to do on Valentine's Day.

But again - even if I didn't, I'd be fine. Looking at the Facebook machine today, I'm seeing lots of references to Valentine's Day today - either public declarations of love from one half of a couple to another, or grumbling references to "Single's Awareness Day" from the single folks in my life. But for the first time in my life, I'm reveling in my single status on February 14th. I put on my sassy red tie covered in hearts (the girls in the office are getting a kick out of it), I've accepted a flower from someone who decided that everyone on my floor needed a flower, I plan on accepting chocolate from anyone who offers it, and I've got a great big smile on my face. Because I think it finally hit me: I don't need anyone's permission to be happy except my own.

Happy Valentine's Day. No, seriously, I mean it.