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Us versus Them: How We Perpetuate Conflict

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As the discrimination that is still so rampant in our world is being brought to light, we must remember that we are all one, regardless of our individual beliefs. Being inquisitive and open may be the only way to bring neutrality to the “us versus them” mentality to which we’ve all contributed. Even with a pure intention, “fighting” for our rights can oftentimes inadvertently perpetuate the problem. Of course, it’s important to know our differences and also focus on the fundamental interests that will allow us to collaborate and peacefully coexist.

We are seeing many different groups take to the streets to give their perspectives a voice. I admire the unity that these groups bring within their organization and the awareness brought to people from different walks of life. And, as much as I don’t like to admit it, even the groups that I disagree with wholeheartedly have the same rights that I have. I agree that it’s important to express what you believe is right, but there is a fine line between standing up for oneself and being aggressive and intolerant. At what point does a peaceful protest turn into a riot?

Who instigates the abuse? Who is an innocent bystander? Who is full of love and who is full of hate? Who wants the best for the world and the greater good? The answer: all of us. I’ve had a very hard time swallowing this reality – the reality that sometimes I have beliefs and behave in ways that make me both the victim and the perpetrator.

This viewpoint was spurred by the speech that President Trump delivered after the horrific events in Charlottesville. The statement that infuriated millions across the country included me. How on earth could he say there was “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides”? Many sides…is he serious?! Through my lens, there was hate on one side and one side only; however, upon further contemplation, I reluctantly admitted that perhaps Trump had a point.

Sometimes, even when a group shows up in defense of their rights and to give their side a voice, behaviors can shift and people with the purest of intentions can react in the same way as the opposing group. Calling people names, screaming profanities, throwing judgements, and pushing personal beliefs on others ensues. We can fight hate with more hate – that is, if we want to fuel the fire and perpetuate the conflict. Or we can defuse hate by choosing to actually embody what we’re “fighting” for. As Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” I thought we didn’t want to fight anymore, so why are we out engaging in fights? We as individuals have to evolve.

You may be thinking that when we bring awareness, we aren’t looking for a fight; we’re trying to promote love and acceptance of all. I’m suggesting that we look at conflict through a different lens. Whomever opposes your/my viewpoint believes that they are simply defending their rights, as well. Even those who display blatant racism and intolerance are loving fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. They actually believe that they’re doing the right thing. It’s hard for me to understand their viewpoint, but throwing more hurtful things at people who are so obviously in very deep pain will not help matters. It only justifies their belief that they were right about us; all the people with a different religion, different sexual orientation, a different color skin, etc.

It’s hard to reprogram our belief systems, but we must if we want to evolve and truly be the change we want to see. Love all the perspectives and sides, even if you don’t agree. After all, each of us embody the light and the dark, the love and the hate, the courage and the fear. When we accept all of this in ourselves, we can accept it in others and collectively begin to shift the culture.

How can we remind the world and each other that we are all one and come from the exact same place? How can we remember that we are just individual expressions of a diverse and wonderful existence? How can we finally accept that we are all humans created in love? How can we coexist without hurting each other and/or trying to change each other?

I believe the answer lies within ourselves; when we become aligned in love as individuals, we are directly affecting the collective, but it takes all of us. We’ve made great strides over the decades in regard to civil rights, thanks to the trailblazers who have come before us – the brave souls who stood up for their rights and the rights of all who have followed. The actions and perseverance of those people have allowed me to be who I am today, and I am forever grateful. It’s now our turn to bring a different approach to the table.

I would love to hear thoughts and recommendations, dear readers.  It’s important to have a safe space to express ourselves, brainstorm, and have an open discussion without attack, hate speech, name-calling, or threats. TravelPRIDE is a place where we can do just that. Be innovative. Be kind. Be loving. How can we all set an example of what being open, tolerant, and respectful of everyone’s beliefs actually looks like?

Originally posted 2017-10-01 17:12:16.


Also published on Medium.

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The Assassin Chronicles – Chapter Two: Switzerland

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Content Advisory:  Contains Violence, and Brief Sexuality and Language.

Previously on The Assassin Chronicles

     “Is it feasible?”  This was his handler, Mr. Wolf.

     With a sigh, The Assassin nodded once. He was a man of no words.

###

     Inside that tent, Fred Robertson and Graham Phelps discussed what to do with the charitable donations.  Both men were shrewd in business, but only Fred could be called unscrupulous.  He was an overweight smoker battling inoperable lung cancer.

     “My company could always use more cancer funding.  Although, you’re screwing over your own community.”

     “I don’t have HIV.”

###

     Wolf snatched Fred’s collar, nearly dragging him out of the tent.

     Smith was waiting.  He grabbed Fred’s head and snapped it backwards.

     Briefly stunned, Wolf watched Fred’s lifeless body fall to the floor.  Smith disappeared into the crowd.

###

     “Enjoy your trip to Switzerland, Mr. Kowalczyk,” the stewardess called out.

###

     “What made you think I’d sign off on this?”

     “There’s something you need to see.”  Wolf pulled a photo out of his pocket and handed it to the figure.

     The mystery man sucked his teeth.  “Have everyone waiting for us on the dock.  Dear God, how did I not see this?!”

Now…

     The massive freighter made port near a little coastal village in Japan.  Mystery man, now known by his assumed name of Hans Maligno, sat in a wicker chair.  He was fanned by undercover Taiwanese immigrants.  Everything about him was cruel; his gray eyes, his wrinkled chin… his arm fat!

     Wolf stood guard nearby and handled business on a SAT phone.  “The plane’s heading for –”

     “I know where he’s going.  Move to intercept.”

     Still in the air and on his way to Switzerland, Smith enjoyed a glass of expensive scotch in what appeared to be first class.

     A very attractive male steward approached him.  “Another two fingers, Monsieur Kowalczyk?”  He smiled a gentle smile.

     Smith returned the school-boy grin and shook his head “No.”  However, when the steward departed for his other duties, Smith turned his head slightly and watched him walk away.  Being such a single and lonely man, the fact that he was thinking about nothing but the steward’s perfect ass hardly fazed him.  I need to get a life, his thought continued as he focused his attention on the clouds outside the aircraft.

     Another 747 flew dangerously close to his. How odd.  Suddenly, it was struck with a ground-to-air Stinger missile and plummeted to the Alps below!  If not for the carnage, one might enjoy such scenic views of perfectly pointed snow capped peaks combined with lush and fertile valleys.  On the outskirts, ski lodges lived up to the mental picture of danger for talented thrill seekers.  

     Shockwaves from the explosion shook Smith’s cabin.  It was the cabin of a private Gulfstream V.  Thank God he had one of his hunches and got off the 747 at the last minute.  His hunches always saved him.  Even those he felt as a child.

     Feeling a sense of safety, Smith found the steward and threw him onto the lavish leather sofa off to the side.  Their eyes met first.  Then their lips.  With animal-like strength, he tore open the twenty-three year old’s dress shirt and pressed his face into the large rose tattoo on his chest.  Smith followed his new friend’s happy trail to paradise and they joined the mile high club together.

     The Gulfstream landed safely in Geneva, at the international airport.  Geneva is one of those gorgeous, massive, and modern cities that still manages to look like something from the Gothic Middle Ages.  While it can be unsettling, it’s quite picturesque too.

     From there, Smith took a cab (how pedestrian of him) to one of the biggest five star hotels in the heart of the city.  The Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues may have looked plain on the outside, but it was anything short of spectacular within.  In fact, it was so bourgeois the porter almost refused to carry in Smith’s luggage from the common taxi – until he spotted the Bric’s Milano label.

     Smith was escorted by management passed rooms of some stature up to his room.  He had booked the Geneve Presidential suite; It was a tranquil mix of golden fabrics and modern dark wood furnishings.  

     “Will this do, Monsieur?” the manager enquired whilst Smith checked out the balcony.

     The Assassin nodded, peering down on the harbor.  The sun was setting and the scene made Smith happy – well, almost.  This was the type of place he would like to vacation in.  Unfortunately, this was no vacation.  He had come here for a reason, and she was about to show up on his doorstep.

     Some time later, Smith tossed his luggage on the bed before disrobing.  He started the bath and examined his body in a mirror.  It was heavily scarred – a knife wound here, bullet hole there – but it still held its beauty.  This was true despite the fact that the corners of his bottom had begun to sag and no matter how many sit-ups he did, he’d never be rid of the “love-handle” like folds around his waist.  He could brag about other features to make up for it, but he was in one of his modest moods.

     The balcony door had been left open by design.  Martha Kowalczyk tip-toed into the room and approached Smith from behind.

      From the depths of the tub, The Assassin produced an underwater pistol, pointing it at her without turning around.

     “ Nice to see you too, son.”  Martha croaked in a heavy Irish accent.  She circled the tub till she met his eyes.

     Her son’s mouth fell open.  “She” was in the process of transitioning into a more masculine pronoun and currently went by the name Edward.

     “Yuh like the new me?” she continued.  Smith had to admit her beauty hadn’t been lost.  Her soft and bright facial features were still there, despite the peach fuzz.  Kind, emerald eyes peered at him through spectacles so thick they appeared fogged.  Actually, the eyes were more kind than he remembered.

     Smith smiled at her.

     “That’s my boy,” Edward grinned back.

     The tranquility lasted just a few seconds before a few vehicles screeched to a halt outside.  Edward ran back onto the balcony to observe.

     Down below, Wolf stepped out of an SUV, another half-dozen armed men with him all brandishing a variety of Kel-Tec weapons and gear.  He was on the phone with Maligno.  “Yes, sir.  I’ll take them alive.”

     After placing his cell phone back in a hip holster, Wolf turned to his troops.  “Take them down.”

     A couple of his men looked at one another, then back at him.

     “Now, dammit, now!”

     The mercenaries charged inside without a single degree of subtlety.  Wolf held back, feeling a strange sensation.  He looked skyward and spotting Edward almost immediately.  With a glare, he moved his new Italian handgun into his hand.  (Unbeknownst to just about everyone, he was an avid gamer and this handgun was styled almost identically to one in a popular Japanese zombie survival-horror.)

     Back in the suite, Edward rushed Smith into the tactical gear The Assassin carried in case things ever went really bad.  After dressing, Smith handed his mother an assortment of weapons before converting his M45 handgun into a full-auto PDW.

     In the lobby, Wolf held the manager at gunpoint and forced him to call up to Smith’s room for a little pre-fight banter.

      “Hello, Smith,” Wolf began.  “I know you won’t surrender.  That’s fine.  I don’t want you to.”

     Smith gripped the phone tighter, his leather gloves creaking on the faded porcelain.  Outside, he heard a couple mercenaries stack up beside the door next to him.

     “Congratulations.  I’m writing your epitaphe right now.”

     The room door splintered.  Smith plugged one merc with a few rounds from his gun before it was ripped from his hand.  He was thrown backwards against the wall, but still managed to kick out the second mercenaries knee.  It wasn’t long before he used the phone in a most grotesque manner.  First, broke the man’s nose with it, then used it to string him up and choke him to death!  As a final measure, The Assassin chucked a grenade over the railing to the stairwell just outside the suite.  Edward plugged his ears.

     Wolf watched fire and wood shards rain down on his remaining men from his position of some safety.  He was unnaturally calm.  “Go get the shit-stain,” he barked at the mercenaries.

     They did their best.  It wasn’t their fault Smith also did his best.  One by one, they all fell in a short gun-fight that resulted only in staining the stairwell walls.

     At the end, Smith and Edward stared Wolf down.  Wolf, ever the dramatic, turned the manager’s head into Swiss cheese.

     “And it’s going to read, ‘Here lies Smith:  the biggest pain in my ass.’”  Wolf grinned.

     Both of them took a step back to brace for the recoil of their weapons.  They stared each other down.  The lobby became the old West.  But who, both wondered, would flinch first this time?

FADE OUT.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

Stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion to this scene next week and, be sure to support our site if you would like to continue to see more top quality content from all of our writers!

Thanks for Reading,

Ryan MariK

Originally posted 2017-10-08 14:25:16.

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Trans History Part 1: From the Stone Age to Stonewall

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When the topic of trans history comes up, most folks start with Marsha P. Johnson and her role in the Stonewall riots in 1969. The truth is, trans folks have been around since at least the Iron Age. When discussing history, the majority of topics and stories told in the United States are Eurocentric. Given that limitation, trans history appears not only to be less diverse, but also shorter – like we’re a trend that started in the 1970s and hasn’t gone out of style. In honor of LGBTQ History month, here is a condensed timeline of moments in trans history worldwide, before Stonewall.


900 BC

In 1995, archaeologist Timothy Taylor discovered evidence of men who cross-dressed during the Iron Age, in graves in southern Russia.  


700 BC

King Ashurbanipal of Assyria spent a great deal of time in women’s clothing. This was later used as justification to overthrow him, proving that transphobia is nothing new.


1503 BC

Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut ascended to the throne for 21 years until she resigned in 1482 BC. Possibly learning from the disfavor shown to her predecessor, Queen Sobekneferu, she donned male clothing and a false beard signifying kingship. She had one daughter, Neferure, whom she groomed as successor to also present as male, but Neferure did not live into adulthood. After Queen Hatshepsut’s death, her second husband attempted to erase all record of her.


1576 AD

The explorer Pedro de Magalhaes recorded that some women in the Tupinamba tribe in Brazil lived as men, hunted and went to war. Referencing the Greek legend of the Amazons, he named the Amazon River after these individuals.


1577

King Henry III of France frequently crossdressed. When he was dressed in women’s clothes, he was referred to as “her majesty” by his courtiers. Even his everyday kingly clothes were considered outrageous despite the flamboyant standards of 16th-century France.


1624

Assigned female at birth, Nzinga ruled as King of Angola for 29 years. They cross-dressed and led several successful military battles against the Portuguese.


1654

The wonderful, bisexual Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated the throne. They dressed in men’s clothing and renamed themselves Count Dohna.


1676

Abbe Francois Timoleon de Choisy attended the Papal inaugural ball in women’s clothes. Their memoirs, published postmortem, offer the first written testimony of MTF gender expression.


1700s

“Molly houses” started popping up around England. They provided a space for the gay community to meet, carouse and relate to one another. “Mollies” were men who often crossdressed and developed their own queer culture.


1728

Chevalier D’Eon, assigned male at birth, was a famous French spy/ambassador. They lived a significant part of their life as a woman. Chevalier’s birth sex was a hotly debated question, even though their birth name was Charles d’Eon.


1907

Chui Chin, a cross-dressing Chinese revolutionary and feminist was beheaded for organizing an uprising against the Manchu dynasty.


As you can see, trans folks have ALWAYS been here. While it may seem like there has been an increase of members of the trans community within the past 5 years, the only thing that has changed is more diversity and inclusivity in vocabulary. When I first heard someone say that their pronouns are they/them, and explain to me what genderqueer means to them, I felt comfort and excitement and validation all rolled into one. There’s a word for what I feel! Other people also identify this way! I’m not making anything up, this is a valid identity!

When folks say that they’ve never met a trans person, they don’t know it, but that’s more than likely not true. According to a study run by the Williams Institute published June 2016, 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender. This number does not include the trans folks that did not participate in the the surveys used to procure this study, nor the folks that were comfortable enough to identify as trans. Given this information, 1.4 million is a bit on the low side. Chances are, you HAVE met a trans person, they just didn’t out themselves.

Be sure to check in next week for Trans History Part 2: Stonewall and Beyond!


Most resources were found at http://out.ucr.edu/docs/trans_timeline.pdf and http://bilerico.lgbtqnation.com/2008/02/transgender_history_trans_expression_in.php.

Originally posted 2017-10-08 12:41:59.


Also published on Medium.

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Film Review: Battle of the Sexes

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With women and the LGBTQ community in hopeful anticipation of seeing ourselves and our history played out on the big screen, last weekend Twentieth Century Fox released “Battle of the Sexes” in theaters. I went last Saturday afternoon to see mainstream Hollywood’s take on the infamous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, and looked forward to connecting with the human stories behind one of the most infamous events in modern feminist history. While the artful production design and crackling performances from the actors give us a lot to be proud of, this is not a film I can recommend, and the mis-steps found in the well-intentioned script lie at the heart of the problem.

On September 5, 1995 First Lady Hillary Clinton stood at the podium at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and declared “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.” Last week, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley voted against a resolution condemning the discriminatory use of the death penalty for LGBTQ people. Despite the Trump administration’s weak clarifications in an attempt at damage control, the fact remains: the United States failed to stand up for LGBTQ people around the world. We were, and are, still fighting this battle of the sexes. Secretly, King fought a personal battle to guard the secret of her sexuality from almost everyone who knew her including her husband, family, and certainly the professional and public world of tennis.

Over 3 decades after Billie Jean King, a married world-famous female tennis champion, was outed as a lesbian in a lawsuit brought by her former girlfriend and 42 years after her ground-breaking leadership on the issue of equal pay for women in the world of sports, women and LGBTQ people are still fighting for justice in the workplace and equal rights. The importance of knowing our stories, of telling them, and making sure they are remembered cannot be understated.

This film reminded me that the world knew King as a straight woman in 1973. We didn’t have “gay stars” back then. We had male stars and female stars. To come out was to risk everything. We know Billie Jean King as she is today, a lesbian icon of rights for women and LGBTQ people who did “something or other” back in the 70s, but most of us know the story in basic terms at best. The basic plot points are easily accessible with a few clicks these days. What a film, or any good storytelling, should do is to connect us to the human beings who lived out these plot points. What are their moments of personal challenge, failure, or triumph? We can go back and watch the old clips if we want to know exactly, in perfect historical terms, what happened. A great film explores these questions but goes beyond that to connect audiences to their imaginations, to evoke empathy and inspiration.

“Battle of the Sexes” is somewhat successful as a historical account, but it falls far short of that mission at times giving us stereotypes and filler instead of character, conflict, and substance. First, who are the other women, including one woman of color, who joined Billie Jean in the walk out to form the Women’s Tennis Association, the first league of its kind? In this film, with the exception of Margaret Court the homophobic Australian player who beat King to win the first WTA tournament, the other athletes are cardboard cut-outs “Woman 1, 2, & 3,” their dialogue strung together with tired feminist slogans and lines that are fraught with stereotypical language. In “Battle of the Sexes,” they are exactly the empty-headed pretty faces that men at the time expected them to be. Depictions of women like this make it easier for men to discount us as second class citizens. In one particularly embarrassing scene, the women squeal and jump up and down when they find out they’ll have a hairdresser on the tour. If the women were fleshed out in the screenplay as individuals with depth and varied personalities, goals, and interests, scenes like this one are less hard to watch. These heroes of feminism in their own right, the sisters who stood with King and risked their careers for the cause of female equality, deserve a lot better. (Read more about 1996 inductee to the International Tennis Hall of Fame  Rosie “Rosebud” Casals portrayed memorably by Natalie Morales.)

My next question is; are we supposed to be grateful? Are we supposed to be grateful to see the Hollywood mainstream pull off a tender and believable same sex love scene? The script by Simon Beaufoy does not explore or even hint at the core of who these two people are and the possible consequences of what was happening between them, so how could I? We see two women locking eyes for the first time, their growing attraction to one another. We see their first kiss. And the actors are giving it their all. The direction shows sensitivity and injects romance as well as intimacy, but it’s the sum of what we have to go on to understand the characters and the risks being taken, so the potential impact misses the mark. Though admirably and warmly portrayed by Andrea Riseborough, the character of King’s girlfriend Marilyn Barrett is poorly developed, similar to the way female love interests are often portrayed in a film with a male lead. Having failed to set up the dangerous personal stakes Billie Jean was facing to risk having a same sex relationship at this time in history, the scenes about her relationship with hairdresser Marilyn Barrett fall short.

Understanding the risks and consequences experienced by real people at that time would have injected suspense and drama into the subplot. You have to watch very closely to catch onto the point that Billie Jean is actually married to a man at this time. It’s glossed over. We don’t know the character of Billie Jean at all beyond her star athlete persona when the movie starts, and we only know slightly more by the end credits.

Beyond the extremely well done costumes and production design, there’s no context given that pulls us into the sexually repressed, misogynist world of the early 1970s. And if, as a filmmaker, you don’t take us to the oppressive place where this story happens, you’ve lost us. Why? Because, in an “overcoming obstacles” story like this one, context is everything. We have to know where these characters are and exactly what they are up against before we can care about cheering them on.

The pivotal moment when an adolescent King first caught a passion to change things for women and minorities in tennis is only hinted at in passing. I realize this is not a miniseries, but give us more than that, please. She’s spoken about it in several interviews over the years when, at the age of 12, she looked around and thought “Where is everybody else? Where are the people of color?” She wanted to shine a light on the elitism in the world of tennis. She “made herself a promise,” she said, “to do something about it.” That’s dynamite, dramatic substance, and it really happened. It gives us insight into the heart of this iconic leader. This point along with so much more, Billie Jean’s straight life, her relationship with her parents and husband, is merely a footnote in this film.

Emma Stone uses everything she’s given to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on this one, and I can see her struggling as an actor against the the script, to bring us into Billie Jean’s inner life and heart. Without her strong performance of this sub-par screenplay, along with a few others like Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, and Alan Cumming who give nuanced and emotional portrayals, the film is completely unwatchable. Cumming’s final scene in the film is particularly moving, and Beaufoy gives Carell much more to work with. We see Riggs interacting with others in his personal life in a variety of well-written and artfully directed scenes. We’re told nothing about Billie Jean’s husband Larry King. Like Marilyn, Rosie, and the other women athletes, he’s presented as a flat stereotype. Carell’s scenes with his wife (played by Oscar Winner Elisabeth Shue) portray the struggling, strained relationship in the aging tennis player’s marriage. In many ways, the film makes us care more about his struggles and triumphs than Billie Jean’s. Ironic, right?

Women and the LGBTQ community still need allies. Many people do not understand our cause; some are apathetic, or are outright enemies of our equality. So more than anything, this film misses the chance to have a huge impact on our culture to affect changes we would all love to see in our lifetimes.

Overall, I felt delightfully hopeful about seeing this movie. I wanted to marvel at its ground-breaking courage and applaud its relevance in giving us historical context to understand the heroes who laid so many foundations for the rest of us. We’re winning the battle, but we still have a lot of people in this country who could become vocal allies if they can be somehow swayed by emotional and personal connection, which is what we’re supposed to have as audience members. Hampered by writing, directing or both; “Battle of the Sexes” is a stellar film they didn’t make.

We highly recommend you read more about the fascinating personalities surrounding this historic time in women’s sports. To find out more about Billie Jean King and her work as an activist, look for the 2006 Peabody Award winning HBO documentary “Billie Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer.” What did you think of “Battle of the Sexes?” Let us know in the comments below!

Originally posted 2017-10-07 18:33:21.

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