This week saw the passing of the author, activist, and revolutionary communist Leslie Feinberg. In addition to authoring the life-changingly incredible novel Stone Butch Blues (and many other texts on queer and trans life), ze was a managing editor of Workers World newspaper, in which ze maintained a longstanding column about queer history. Feinberg also worked tirelessly as a human rights advocate from the 1970s onward, educating and organizing against oppression and human rights violations in hir community and beyond. Hir tireless pursuit of a free and just world will continue to inspire millions in the years to come.
November 20 was the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day set aside to honor those who have lost their lives as a result of transphobic violence and to acknowledge and consider how those losses affect queer and trans communities around the globe. are at a far greater risk of murder and suicide than the general population, but when considering what it means to lose one’s life to transphobia, one must also take into account the disproportionate rate of homelessness among trans youths, the very real consequences of losing jobs or housing situations, targeting by law enforcement and the prison-industrial complex, and being unable to get access to (or being denied) adequate medical care.
In the last year, there have been 226 reported deaths in over 20 countries, with an overwhelming majority being trans women of color. This is an incredibly important truth that often gets glossed over, even in the trans community, which is a harmful form of erasure that can only be stopped by active unlearning on an individual level. It’s imperative even in times of reflection and remembrance to consider what we can do going forward to repudiate the systems that have already taken so many lives in order to prevent them from claiming more.
Fun fact: My father was a TV news reporter for most of my childhood. He had a closet of tailored suits, ironed dress shirts, and every color tie under the sun. It was his uniform, day in and day out, and aside from the ironing, it was effortless. The women at his station weren’t so lucky. They were often subjected to phone calls and emails critiquing their hairstyles and message board threads about outfits, and it was common knowledge that female broadcast journalists were constantly having their appearance monitored by the viewing public.
Karl Stefanovic, a male newscaster in Australia, took notice of this cruel dichotomy. Stefanonic quietly decided to wear the same suit every day for a year, so as to draw attention to the constant, unfair criticism his female co-anchor received about her appearance. And, SURPRISE… not! Nobody gave a damn about his suit, or even noticed. Cool, and sort of gross, of him to point it out that way.
Drake’s the type of dude who seems like he genuinely appreciates and loves mother-like figures, so the writer Jia Tolentino’s interview with Drizzy’s vocal coach, Dionne Osborne, comes off especially cute. Osborne details the loving and honest work relationship between her and one Mr. Aubrey Graham. Osborne imparts little tidbits of Drake trivia, discussing his love of sweet tea, his kind disposition, and his willingness to take direction. The conversation is hella interesting and Osborne makes some super important points on how rappers should engage with vocal training in the same way pop singers do. My absolute favorite part is when she answers the question on the coolest tour stop she’s visited:
One time we started a tour in Düsseldorf, Germany—I can’t remember the name of the facility right now, but it’s where Hitler used to hold his youth rallies. The original balconies are still there, and the second balcony on the right was literally where Hitler stood, and the Allies dropped the bomb straight through the roof, and the bomb did not explode.
I looked at Drake and was like, “You, as a black Jewish man, are standing on this stage right now.” I was like, how cool is this—it’s the ultimate finger to everything Hitler stood for. And Drake gets it. He’s somebody that wants to make his mark.
Can I hire her as my life coach?!
Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s creator and original star John Cameron Mitchell is going to reprise his role in the Broadway revival AND I AM FLIPPING OUT ABOUT IT. Neil Patrick Harris opened the new run and was followed up by Andrew Rannells and now Michael C. Hall. For superfans of the off-Broadway show turned cult favorite movie musical, this is news to be totally stoked on and a run to not be missed!
On Monday AM, I spied a photo of Solange Knowles and Alan Ferguson’s wedding, where the couple was dressed in cream and white and riding all-white bicycles, in my Twitter timeline and I had to drop everything! Theirs must be the most gorgeous and original wedding I have ever seen. Solange made a striking bride in her minimalist, caped cream pantsuit AND dress. Tumblr and Twitter were graced with photo after flawless photo of Solange (and her majestic afro) in the company of her husband, her sister King Bey, and their mama Tina Knowles looking regal. This wedding made my week!
Willow and Jaden Smith are so cool! What I love about them: their fierce spirits, and how committed they are to learning about the world and interpreting life according to their own unique perspectives. The fact that they’re in the spotlight means that they get called “weird” a lot, and it’s great to see that they don’t want to conform to be deemed more acceptable. I found myself nodding along as I read this New York Times interview with the Smith siblings, like, I get it, I get it! I think they’re both so smart.
Like many of my fellow Rooks, I love the ocean and think deep sea creatures are literally the best thing ever, so for the past year I’ve been following the story of the large die-off of sea stars (or starfish, as I’ve always called them) along the West Coast of the US and Canada with deep sadness. This week, researchers identified what’s plaguing the starfish as “sea star-associated densovirus.”
This National Geographic article breaks “densovirus” down for science/ecology laypeople like me, explaining that this type of parvovirus—meaning a kind of virus that mostly affects animals, a word I recognized as something the vet ruled out when my cat was having stomach problems—melts the starfish into white slime over the course of a few weeks. The scientists don’t know what triggered the outbreak that is killing millions of sea stars, but they hope that, with continued research, they can prevent it from spreading to sea stars in other parts of the world.
On Wednesday, the 2014 National Book Awards were celebrated in New York City. Here’s a full breakdown of the NBA winners, but the one I am most excited about is Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, which won in the “Young People’s Literature” category. It’s a beautiful memoir told in verse about Woodson’s coming of age in South Carolina and New York during the ’60s and ’70s as the Jim Crow era came to an end and the Civil Rights movement gained momentum.
However, Woodson’s moment was tarnished by the host, Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, making racist jokes straight afterward. Handler has apologized, and with that apology made a major donation to the We Need Diverse Books campaign, but it’s still disgusting that it happened. Again, Woodson’s book is brilliant—so that it isn’t overshadowed by the controversy, I encourage you all to read it!
Another moment from the NBAs that should not be overlooked: The speech that the legendary fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin made after being awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She had much to say about art versus commerce and profit versus freedom. It’s worth listening to and thinking about.
When members of a drug cartel confessed to the murder of 43 student activists from the rural Ayotzinapa Normal school in Mexico, it wasn’t enough to stop the tide of civilian protest that was unleashed when the 43 went missing on September 26. On November 20, the anniversary of the start of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, the country went on a nationwide strike, staging massive protests that were echoed in smaller versions around the world.
The vast majority of people taking to the streets over the Ayotzinapa 43 are regular old civilians who are sick of business as usual—similar to those who were activated in the United States during Occupy. The reporter Daniel Hernandez released two and a half hours of raw, live footage from the big rally in Mexico City. In the video, he goes into the crowds and interviews the protesters. Watching this video, I got a sense of the increasing awareness that is sweeping the country.
You’ll get a case of real-life shivers after reading this piece on a man who was found with a self-inflicted stab wound in a haunted house in Iowa. Remind me again why people pay money to sleep in ghost-infected historic sites?
The only thing sadder than the gruesome campus rape story that opens this piece on predatory college campus culture in Rolling Stone is the fact that few women who have attended a sloshy party at a frat house will find it shocking. This piece is a damning indictment not only of University of Virginia, where the attack took place and was summarily swept under the rug, but of college administrations everywhere that accept sexual violence as part of the four-year experience. Proceed with caution: trigger warnings for sexual assault.
It’s been a big week for One Direction, and of course the stans are hella out right now. So why not read this amazing and “sobering” roundtable about 1D? The conversation touches on the guys’ current relationship with their fans, their public image, and their past, present and future.
The death of Elvis Presley is just short of legendary. Salon posted an excerpt of the writer Joel Williamson’s new book, Elvis Presley: A Southern Life, which uncovers the events surrounding the King’s last breath. Was his heart really to blame? Read this enticing passage to find out!!
AHHH, RIDE HAS REUNITED! The ’90s-era shoegaze greats are playing a string of shows in Europe and North America. Ride hugely influenced lots of rock bands beyond just the shoegaze scene with their soaring melodies and deeply expressive lyrics. For a musical genre that wasn’t very popular in its heyday, it’s really incredible that the past few years has produced such interest in the nostalgic scene, and that these old shoegaze bands (like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive) can reunite to critical and commercial success. Ride’s debut album Nowhere is one of my absolute favorite records and it is an essential piece of music history—I am SO EXCITED to finally hear it played live.
The profoundly personal stories from all of the interviewees in StyleLikeU’s “What’s Underneath” project are proof that our insecurities and fears and hopes are singular lived experiences, but also form a common thread that ties us all together. The project has been so successful that StyleLikeU has launched a Kickstarter in order to raise funds for a feature-length documentary film. The team will travel around the world, filming stories told by people of all races, genders, body types, and ages. StyleLikeU has unwaveringly supported the notion that all bodies are valid and worthy of love, and I hope the Kickstarter is funded, so they can bring that critically important message to an even wider audience.
This week, President Obama announced several executive actions relating to undocumented immigrants. The order, which will positively impact an estimated 5 million Americans, will prevent families from being split up due to detention or deportation. Immigration policy in the United States has led to nuclear and extended families being torn apart, and going forward many families will no longer have to live with such an unconscionable fear. The President’s plan also includes a path to citizenship for undocumented Americans and expansion of the work-visa program. ♦
I started taking pictures when I was six years old. My photos from that time were mostly of the sea, because that’s what really moved me. I wasn’t looking for any kind of attention or reaction for my pictures—they were just for me, like a private journal in photographic form.
When I was 19, I had gotten good enough to start getting paid for my photography. I still based my subject matter on my emotions, only now, in addition to the sea (always the sea!), I was interested in people. I like taking an experience or emotion—sadness, friendship, breakups, death, love, etc.—and trying to capture it in a photo. These are the things that make me feel, and I think they’re what make us all human, so it’s important to be constantly noticing and thinking about them.
One thing had changed, though, since my early days as a photographer: Now that my photos were officially WORK, I had to show them to people—a lot of people, all the time—and open myself up to the possibility of criticism. Mostly, that’s been OK. Better than OK—well-meaning constructive criticism is just that: constructive. Sometimes a higher-up will tell me that my latest set of photos is flat, and I take that into account the next time I go out to shoot. Fellow photographers sometimes suggest different lenses or lighting, and I always welcome technical tips like that! Occasionally, friends of mine have told me that they don’t like to look at my photos because they’re “too personal”; that’s also fine with me, because I know my work isn’t for everyone. No one’s is! Even when I’m being paid, my first priority with my work is to make something I’m happy with and that helps people appreciate their friends more, or understand their pain better, or get in touch with their love for their dog or their cat, or just to connect better to everyone around them. That’s a tall order, I know, but if I can come close to accomplishing any of it, I don’t really care if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
I think it’s important to get all of that out of the way, so you don’t think my reaction to the incident I’m about to tell you about was in any way a result of my being unable to take any sort of criticism, or thinking that anyone who doesn’t like my work is wrong!
Last spring, Vice asked me to go to Festival NRMAL in Mexico City and document “a girl’s” experience at a music festival: waiting in line for hours to use the bathroom, lugging all our shit around in our backpacks and handbags, dealing with annoying guys, maybe kissing someone new. I thought this was a pretty cute idea, and I decided to make my friend Carmiña the star of my photo set.
Carmiña and I selected the photos and wrote the captions together, and I was happy with the whole thing. My editor at Vice was happy too. “Awesome, I love it,” he wrote.
When Vice posted the pictures the next day, I was excited. The first couple of comments were neutral to positive (“first thing I’ve liked on Vice”), which I was psyched to see. I shared the link with my friends and went to bed feeling proud of myself.
The next morning, I checked in on the site again. This time there were a TON of new comments about my post, most of them really negative. “You can tell that all these worthless Vice reviews about NRMAL are by girls who are there to have fun and get fucked up […] but they can’t post a good, quality description of the event […] which basically brings up the whole worthless situation of Mexico, culturally speaking,” said someone called David Davidson. “This person doesn’t know how to write,” Luisa Luisa opined, “and it’s not even a story that should have been published.” Ilda Nagasaki added, “And how is this relevant? […] This writing is a piece of shit btw #viceusedtobecool.”
I’m not sure what I expected, but these comments (and about a hundred more like them) really stung. I’m not a writer, and the piece was mostly my photos, with short captions I added per Vice’s request. What was worse was that some of the commenters were attacking Carmiña, saying she was “stupid,” a “bitch,” and “not beautiful” enough to be featured on Vice.
I didn’t understand why people were being so vicious. I’m aware that Vice is known for racier material, so maybe people were expecting pictures of Carmiña dancing naked on a speaker, but I thought they would appreciate that I was giving them something realer: the regular day of a regular girl at a music festival. I thought some people would be able to understand that I was trying to show how concerts are different for girls, because sometimes you get your period and you have to carry your own tampons and toilet paper around; and sometimes you want to look pretty in pictures but you’ve been sweating, dancing, and possibly drinking or taking drugs; and you have to choose your clothes carefully so you don’t get cold but also so you won’t have to carry a big jacket around in your purse; and on and on. I thought I had expressed this well in my photo set, but apparently I had not, because everyone was like, “It’s not cool to say you take drugs to get attention,” or “What the fuck with Carmiña—you should be writing about the FESTIVAL.” Some of theme even made MEMES of Carmiña, mocking her for being a “stupid hipster.”
It wasn’t like I expected everyone to love me. I know what the internet is like, and I knew I’d get some haters. But this overwhelming deluge of people telling me that Carmiña and I were “idiotic” “hipsters” really hurt. I guess they wanted a fantasy, and were disappointed that I served them the truth instead. I felt misunderstood, and I started getting really insecure about my work. I also started hating people in general! Especially people my age, who are most of Vice’s demographic. I couldn’t understand why people felt the need to make fun of everything, to judge everything negatively, without ever taking a moment to say anything positive or even just understanding or constructive. I think I cried for most of that week.
(I feel I need to take a moment to single out Rookie as an exception to all this! Every time I read the comments by you Rookies, including the ones that aren’t 100 percent positive, I feel so proud and happy to belong to this community.)
Now, seven months later, I still hate what happened, but it did make me stronger. It made me remind myself that everything I do is for me—not for a magazine or fame or a commission—and that I take pictures because it makes me happy. It reminded me how lucky I am to get to do what I love, and that I have chosen this path—no one forced me to do this. It also made me appreciate anew the people who support my creativity, even when that means telling me they didn’t like something about a particular set of photos.
What it didn’t do was make me stop putting my work out there. I take photos to help me and others feel more connected to everyone else, and I share them for the same reason—not for praise or money (though needing the money is another reason I can’t not share them!).
If you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s my advice:
- DON’T READ THE COMMENTS.
- But if you absolutely have to read the comments, remember that there will always be haters, and that they hate like it’s their job. They hate everything, no matter how moving/cool/original it is.
- See if there’s anything in the negative comments that’s actually legit, that can help you improve your work.
- If you get your feelings hurt, remember point #2, and talk about what’s going on with supportive friends or family members.
I don’t feel sad about this incident at all anymore. I even kept working for Vice, and the comments on my later shoots, while still not exactly glowing, didn’t totally misconstrue the photos themselves (“I hate her style” and “All the pictures were taken with flash—she’s an idiot” were typical). I used my feelings about that first shoot to motivate me to work more and work even harder, because that’s more important than sitting in front of a computer and complaining. I will keep on showing the world my work, because it’s an expression of my love for the world. I’m proud of what I do, and I’m not ashamed of who I am. (Besides, that Vice piece was their most-seen post that whole week, with 1,200 Facebook likes and 90 comments, so bow down, bitches.) And, finally, that incident led to this piece, and I feel good that you guys let me share it with you. Thank you! ♦
And further thanks, from the editors, to Caitlin D. for translating the comments on Vice Mexico.
Lykke Li—singer-songwriter, Fleetwood Mac interpreter, master of the art of bedroom dancing—has a new record called I Never Learn coming out in May. A third of the song titles reference sleep-states, including the echo-y anthem “No Rest for the Wicked.” What happens when you’re not awake is one of the things that has been fascinating her as of late, more of which she’ll tell you about right here!
1. Dreams. I have such psychedelic dreams. It’s like living a parallel life. I was swimming with dolphins all night last night, and it was so nice! I’m super into Carl Jung and dream analysis. I think [dolphins] mean freedom and playfulness. Sleep is where I let go of everything.
2. Chia pudding. My chia pudding is the one thing I miss when I’m touring. It’s unbelievable. I mix chia seeds with almond milk and goji berries and walnuts and blueberries and bananas and a bit of vanilla. It’s my own recipe—I’ve been experimenting with it. I love healing foods and herbs, and I’m really interested in how what you eat affects your body. If I could choose another career, I think I’d get into homeopathy.
3. Quotes. There are a few quotes I live by, but this one, which is often attributed to Anaïs Nin, is really powerful: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” It hurts to grow. Do I hold on tight, or do I let go? I thought about that a lot with I Never Learn, and I think about it in my day-to-day life.
4. Mexico City. It’s the most interesting city in the world right now. I was living in L.A. when I was making the new record, and when I’d hit a wall I would go to Mexico City to get lost. There’s all this tradition and history, like the nearby ruins—it’s crazy. It’s clearly proud of its heritage, but it’s also so progressive. It’s wild and crazy, and it embraces the chaos of the modern world. It’s the complete opposite of Stockholm, where I’m from.
5. Spring. In Sweden, it was such a cold winter, and we only got a couple hours of sunlight a day. But it’s the best place to be when spring finally comes, because people have been suffering for six months. Seeing that first sunlight is greater than anything. You get hope again. ♦
(As told to Lena.)