The Dystopian Present

Posted: May 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

If you’re anything like me you’ve been riding the pendulum of emotions that accompany watching Hulu’s newest original series The Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel of the same name. Also, if you’re anything like me, your viewing begins with feelings of horror at the way the women in the story are treated like sexual slaves reduced to nothing more than their ability to bear children. Following that, you experience shock at the reminder that the women’s treatment is rooted in biblical verse and that it doesn’t differ all too much from the way many societies have treated women for the majority of history. Then your heart is gutted with anxiety at the way the current conversations surrounding women’s rights, in addition to LGBTQ rights, viciously mirror the way the story’s government polices women’s bodies, bars choice, and denigrates women and the LGBTQ community. Then, if you’re the optimistic type, you may swing wildly to the opposite side of the pendulum and feel inspired to stand up, open a dialogue, and take action to bolster resistance against the treatment we see reflected in today’s politics.

Cut to today. Beverly Hills, a ritzy, glitzy neighborhood built on the conservative ideals of elitism and placing the market economy above all else. I mean this is the place where a sign hangs on the wall of a parking garage to convince passersby to NOT give money to the homeless. Not because they want them to do better, but because they want to discourage homeless people from spending time on their clean streets.

I digress. I’m walking around with my charge, a ten year old girl, when we pass the Paley Center, which currently displays some of the costumes from The Handmaid’s Tale. The shapeless robes that cover the women’s bodies in shame and the outdated, patronizing, and ultimately oppressive notion that their bodies are morally reserved for them and their husbands, when used in only *approved* sexual situations of course.

When my charge, let’s call her A, asked me about the show I debated the negative effects of revealing the actual plot. How women are pitted against each other and forced into sexual servitude and systematically raped into giving birth only to have those babies kidnapped. No I can’t do that. Leave the emotional scarring to her parents, that’s their right. I settled on simply telling her that it’s about a future world where women aren’t allowed to work, are forced to stay home and have babies, and aren’t allowed to have outside interests.

At that I hear a voice next to us,

“That’s what’s important.”

I turn to see a man in his early thirties looking at me with a smirk across his face.

“Isn’t it more important to have a family?” he continues.

“Excuse me?” I ask.

There’s no way this man is actually insinuating that women shouldn’t work, right? I mean, with his tweed pants and suspenders, he looks like he just moved here from the shtetl, but he can’t be serious, can he?

He leers at us.

“Wouldn’t you say family is more important than money?”

Holy shit. This guy is serious. He’s not wearing those suspenders ironically. This man actually recalls fondly a time in history when suspenders were used to hold up pants and women were kept in the kitchen.

A looked at me quizzically. As a true-LA kid, A’s progressive ideals are ingrained to the point of not even being able to comprehend the antiquated falsehoods spewing out of this man’s mouth. By the time I restrained myself from strangling this man with his own un-ironic suspenders, he was halfway down the block and I reminded myself that I couldn’t very well tell this man to go fuck himself in front of a ten year old.

Now I want to point out what this man did, because in addition to it being disgustingly sexist, it’s also deviously subtle. This man took a statement based in truth—family is more important than money—and attempted to turn it into a proof of the detrimental repercussions of women’s liberation.

Let’s put aside the fact that this man’s masculinity is so fragile that he felt he not only had the right to, but also had the need to insert himself into a conversation between two strangers and to try to convince a child that her duty is to devote herself to her family. While we’re at it, let’s ignore the fact that she is ten and doesn’t have children and has not made the decision if she will even want children.

What this man did was play a sneaky trick in order to influence a belief. He took a statement most people would not disagree with. It’s pretty reasonable to agree that family is more important than money. I mean imagine if I had responded to his statement with

“No, I think money is actually more important than family.”

So he made his point, a point I couldn’t and wouldn’t refute, and twisted the argument to imply that:

BECAUSE family is more important than money,

AND a woman’s desire to work is rooted in the pursuit of money and money alone (i.e. no emotional satisfaction, pride, or happiness),

FURTHERMORE the entrance of women into the workforce has proven to be a detriment to the family (FACT: it hasn’t, and isn’t),

THEREFORE women should be barred from working and forced to stay home and reproduce.

Pretty shifty leap in logic there, huh? That’s what we call a false equivalency.

But it’s actually a very common strategy. Cults have employed the same tactic for centuries. If you’re not a critical thinker or you’re blinded by emotion, you may not pick up on what they’ve done. That they’ve manipulated the truth to fit their paradigm. And that’s a tactic the Republican party has rolled to the front lines of their policies. They make a statement that is rooted in truth and stirs up a strong emotional reaction and then spin it to “prove” their point.

YES, Radical Muslim terrorism IS a problem. But NO, that doesn’t mean the answer is to ban Muslims from entering the US.

YES, the job market is terrible. NO, that doesn’t mean we should build a wall to keep Mexicans from immigrating.

YES, men rape women. NO, barring transgender people from using the restrooms of their choice will not solve that problem.

I could go on and on but the point is that Conservative Right-Wingers have employed false logic in an attempt to trick the American people into jumping on board with policies that don’t just harm our nation, but insult it as well.

Yes, family is important.

Yes, family is more important than money.

No, family is not more important than choice.

And how dare you insinuate that it is.

How dare you insinuate that working mothers don’t care about their children. The rise in working mothers isn’t a symptom of the liberal agenda, it’s a natural progression. Look around, women of all different political affiliations work. It’s called being responsible and making sure that you can feed your self, and your children, and, maybe if you’re lucky, bring joy to your life.

If a mother chooses to work, that’s great.

If a women chooses not to work, that’s also great.

If a woman chooses to not have children, that’s still great.

Because all involve CHOICE.

Let’s also not forget for a second that a mother choosing not to work is a privilege afforded to wealthy women. Never forget that conservatives who tout that women should stay home and take care of their children have also waged a war on so-called Welfare Moms who do exactly the same thing without the luxury of independent wealth.

So what did I do after the asshat who looked like he fell out of the cast of Newsies smugly walked away? I turned his offensive outburst into a teaching moment—people will always try to tell you how to live your life, especially if you’re a woman, but you have the right to choose for yourself what makes you happy.

The whole incident reminded me of the Latin quotation the main character in The Handmaid’s Tale finds scrawled on the wall of the bedroom she is confined to—Nolite te bastardes carborundorum—Don’t let the bastards grind you down. See this guy truly believes in his heart that he’s right. And that’s his business, he can believe whatever he wants. But when he tries to grind me down, when he tries to push his beliefs onto me, when he tries to dissuade a child I am responsible for from following her dreams, there’s no doubt in my mind that I am going to teach that child that her voice matters, that her choice is valid, and that her rights will not be dictated by a strange man in the street.

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My Heart Broke on Valentine’s Day

Posted: February 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

Yesterday was February 14, the sacred holiday that desperately clings to love like a chocolate-covered caramel to your teeth.

So there I was yesterday with the two kids I manny in a public park. For the record, Los Angeles has some sick public parks. Like ziplines-level cool. Two to be exact.

So like I said, I’m there at the ziplines with my two charges and we’re having fun.

Then a woman and her child come over and get in line behind us to use the zipline. No problem, we’re all about sharing. But then I notice that the other zipline isn’t being used. Maybe she just didn’t see it? So I point it out to her.

“There’s actually another zipline there that no one is using.”

“Oh I saw, I just don’t want him (her child) getting into that mess.”

I look over to the other zipline to see what “mess” she was referring to. I assumed the smell in the air was from new mulch or something, but maybe not. But after a few confused milliseconds I realized there was no mess there at all. It was clean, unobstructed, nothing to worry about.

But there was a young man sitting in the sand that stretches underneath the ziplines. He was innocently digging a hole, methodically using a cup to shovel sand out and into a pile next to him. He also happened to have Down Syndrome.

This was the “mess” this woman was referring to.

I felt my heart break like the tea cup one of my charges would later drop to the floor. Something so beautiful irreparably shattered against the cold hard bleakness of our lowest common denominator.

Without a word, I suggested to the twins that we check out the other zipline. They scooted over there as fast as their legs could carry them and we resumed our play.

As his sister zipped away, the boy I manny stood staring at the young man, perhaps wondering what made him different. Toddlers and little kids often stare, they haven’t been taught all the ways that human beings differ–whether it is race, sexuality, ableness, etc. The kids I manny are at the age when they are just starting to notice those differences. When they inevitably turn to the closest parent or, in my case, manny, and ask, I have the opportunity to tell them that people come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, but that we’re all equal and deserve to be treated as such, knowing full well that this ignores the society we live in. We do all deserve to be treated equally but we almost never are. Who we are and what we look like carry inherent biases and prejudices against us. Will we ever reach a point in time where these things are irrelevant? I hope so, but my fear is that we won’t and–

He looked up at me and said so matter-of-factly, “he has a dinosaur on his shirt.”

Yes, yes he does.

And just like that, my heart was mended ever so slightly.

 

 

Compassion Ain’t Easy

Posted: November 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

compassion

Well, we’ve done it. We’ve elected an autocrat and now we have to deal with the hatred of millions of people whose prejudices have been legitimized by our new President Elect. It’s a tough pill to swallow; I’ve been walking around like a zombie since Wednesday, devastated that we let this happen, ashamed that we so overestimated ourselves, and unsure of what our America will look like in four years. I’ve had friends accosted, assaulted, harassed, and threatened for being women, immigrants, and LGBT. I’ve gathered my marriage documents, just in case. I’ve been so bold as to purposefully wear a shirt emblazoned with Love Is Love, daring someone to look at me the wrong way. I’ve cried for my brothers and sisters. I’ve graciously acted as a sounding board for friends even more distraught and in even a more vulnerable position than I.

I’ve tried to fight fire with water, knowing that fighting fire with fire will only create a fire we won’t be able to contain. I’ve met their hate with compassion.

As a child—a gay kid growing up within the confines of Orthodox Judaism—compassion always seemed to get me in trouble. At 12, I was called a sissy for hosting a funeral for a bird who flew into the window of my yeshiva. At 13, I was branded a troublemaker for insisting that laws proscribed in the Torah were prejudicial and therefore couldn’t be interpreted literally in the 21st century. I was actually pushed out of that yeshiva by the rabbis because I spoke my mind too often and fought back against the sexism, racism, and homophobia that I encountered in the hallway of that institution. I couldn’t reconcile a religion whose tenets include charity and helping the needy, with the prejudices I witnessed firsthand from religious leaders. My compassion singled me out as a wildcard because it meant I thought for myself and viewed all people as inherently equal, regardless of sex, gender, sexuality, race, religion, ethnicity, or class.

I happen to live in a neighborhood very much in need of compassion. Not a day goes by where I don’t see homeless men and women sleeping outside my building or survival sex-workers grabbing a doughnut before the sun goes down. Most people call my neighborhood gritty or flavorful or transitional. I call it home. I believe in my neighborhood. I don’t pretend the homeless man standing on the corner doesn’t exist, I ask him how his day is. I work at a community center whose proceeds fund the homeless youth center two blocks from my apartment. I donate food to the same center. I regularly collect clothes from my neighbors to leave on the sidewalk for those who have aged out of the youth shelter but haven’t aged out of their poverty. My husband and I frequently find ourselves walking out of Trader Joe’s only to drop our bags next to a homeless woman sitting outside the store. I don’t share this to toot my own horn or pat myself on the back. I share it because I see my neighborhood as a community, whether you’re a legal resident or not. I know enough about the cycle of poverty in our country to know that poverty does not equate immorality.

But last night I felt something in me shift and I realized something I am ashamed to admit: my compassion comes with strings attached. We came home to find someone had slipped into the garage of our building and stripped our bike. Maybe it was because of the election and the unrest we’ve seen since Tuesday, maybe it was the months of shit that 2016 has rained upon us, but I was gutted. How did someone from my neighborhood steal from me? Don’t they know we’re on the same team? Don’t they know I go to bat for them and stick up for them? Don’t they know I’m compassionate?

Well that’s privileged.

This act of theft left me deeply conflicted. As a social justice activist, how do I continue lending compassion to those who have wronged me?

What a fucking lesson for this whole election.

Do I reserve my compassion for those who act a certain way? Or do I acknowledge that I have absolutely no right to demand a certain behavior from someone just because I also happen to fight for their rights?

I’m confused.

Do I only give compassion as a quid pro quo?

Doesn’t that cheapen it?

Aren’t I better than that?

What I’ve learned is that compassion is really difficult. I don’t live in a world of sunshine and rainbows, and I am far from an optimist. Compassion is a daily practice. Compassion brings up our privileges because of the implied sense of justice. In the horror that has been this election, something has become clear to me: when you’re accustomed to privilege, having that privilege taken away seems like an injustice. I’m grappling with that. And I’m okay with not having a clear answer on this. The privileges I grew up with can sometimes make it really difficult to show compassion for those I believe have wronged me, but those same privileges make it that much more imperative that we find the compassion within ourselves. A huge portion of the country voted for a man because he filled the void that was left in the wake of compassion. We don’t need to agree with each other, and we can’t equivocate on matters of sexism and racism, but we need to be able to see what is driving their motives. Is it fear? Misunderstanding? Scapegoating? My father shared with me that he saw a man today ranting about how Trump would push the gays back in the closet and our country would regain its morality. This man also happened to be black. The Right Wing has won by separating us from our humanity, from each other. They want to separate all others to take away our collective power. But if we stay compassionate, if we open ourselves up to each other, we can’t be separated. Compassion doesn’t have to start as a two-way street. Compassion doesn’t come with strings attached. It’s time to cut the strings.

Ms. Clinton If Ya Nasty

Posted: October 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

nasty-woman

Last night’s third and final debate was another shining example of how the Republican party’s views on women, People of Color, the LGBT community, and even modern medicine are beyond antiquated. They are aware that it’s 2016 and not 1956, right?

Between inciting hatred against “bad hombres” and proving that he has absolutely no idea how an abortion works, Trump spent the debate doing what he does best—attempting to tear down his opponent in a fit of prepubescent rage and hostility.

Some of his attacks were underhanded; comments like “your husband disagrees” intended to call Hillary’s competency into question. This may seem like a dig at her marriage, but it’s actually a pretty serious dig at her gender. See, the idea that a woman and her husband shouldn’t disagree on something isn’t just old-fashioned, it’s misogynist. There was a time when a woman’s opinions were dictated by her husband’s and any deviation from that signaled a rift in the relationship that was probably rooted in her being hysterical and an unfit mother. Seriously, that was considered logical at the time.

Throughout the campaign season, and, let’s face it, for years beforehand, Hillary Clinton has been attacked for her husband. She has been called a bad wife, a ball buster, a boner killer, and she’s been blamed for his policies and behavior. It’s despicable.

If one wants to claim that Trump didn’t mean all that by his comment, fine, you can be wrong, but look at what he called her: a nasty woman. Nasty is a gendered term, one that can trace its roots to colonial times,reserved for women who defied gender roles and acted too masculine, i.e. had their own opinions. Think of it as a less popular bitch or freak, and I say less popular, not less incendiary. Nasty grew out of favor as an attack against women, because, let’s face it, we have SO many words to attack women. When you can call a woman a cunt, a bitch, a whore, a slut, or a freak, who needs to call her nasty?

Nasty moved on to a term connotative of sex, but not just sex, morally risky sex. Sex where something abnormal was happening. Sex where maybe the woman had too much power. Sex where the woman focused on her pleasure. Sex where the woman didn’t behave in ways proper of a lady. While terms like bitch and freak have been reclaimed by women, especially women of color, nasty has slipped under the radar. Sure, Janet Jackson famously reclaimed the term in her song, Nasty, and Britney Spears followed it up on her track, Boys, but for the most part it has yet to be reclaimed by the masses.

Until now. When the words slipped out of Trump’s mouth, it was over. All over. By now there are multiple hashtags that have gone viral, Nasty Women t-shirts are being sold with half of the proceeds going to Planned Parenthood, even the makeup company Nasty Gal is coming out with a line of “Nasty Woman” bags. In a brilliant move, Clinton supporters have bought the domains www.nastywomengetshitdone.com and www.badhombresgetshitdonetoo.com and redirected them to Clinton’s official campaign website. Like a true Nasty Woman, Hillary has refused to back down after being attacked by a man who called her morality into question because she dared imply that she knew more about politics than he. News flash: she does.hillary-clinton2

PussyGate

Posted: October 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

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Not sure if you’re aware of it but something really important just happened in current events. Some people will try to say that it doesn’t affect all of us, that it’s just relevant to a certain part of the population and it’s a private matter that is being blown completely out of proportion by the liberal media. FOLKS, I hate to break it to you, but it affects all of us. Man, woman, child, poor, rich…

Brad and Angelina are getting divorced.

There. I said it. Now we can all brace ourselves for impact and speculate on how this will affect our lives.

No, an actual major thing happened, and that is that a tape leaked in which Donald Trump is heard bragging to entertainment reporter Billy Bush about sexually harassing and assaulting women. It’s vile, and sinister, and completely to be expected from a man like Trump. I mean this is the guy who routinely calls women ugly, disgusting, pigs, and tries to fire them for getting pregnant. Seriously, the dude is scum. Just listen to the tape, it’s chilling to think that close to half our population sees him as fit to lead this country.

But one of the best parts of this whole ordeal is seeing the Republican party fucking implode while trying to distance themselves from the monster they created. Watching them try backpedal his comments and show that they disapprove of this man is satisfying enough, but it’s the way they do it that makes it into Grade A Entertainment. I mean they just don’t get it, do they? You can’t go around criminalizing womanhood and expect the leader of your party not to be a misogynist asshole. They say that Trump’s comments are disgusting, but is it any more disgusting than the vehemently anti-abortion vice presidential candidate Michael Pence signing a law that requires funerary services for miscarried and aborted fetuses? I mean, this is also the guy who claimed that Mulan was liberal propaganda trying to convince children that women can be equal to a man in the military, so maybe we just need to expect less from him.

In the wake of what I will refer to as PUSSYGATE, Republican leaders have stepped up and flogged Trump. Mitt Romney tweeted that Trump’s statements “demean our wives and daughters,” while Jeb Bush references his granddaughters as the reason he can’t “excuse away Donald Trump’s reprehensible comments.” While these two men who embody the ideals of white, straight, male privilege have done a noble thing in telling their followers that Trump’s ideas of women are medieval and misogynistic, their tweets are much less enlightened than we may have hoped. In fact, they’re covered in a veil of accepted misogyny all their own. See, both statements attempt to reframe the problem from the point of view of the man. And that’s not surprising considering that Romney, Bush, and the rest of the Republican Party has proven themselves to be absolutely devoid of empathy. They literally can’t see anything from the perspective of anyone other than themselves.

Their implication is that a woman’s worth is dictated by her position as a wife or daughter, i.e. her connection to a man. It takes us back in time to when women were considered chattel, the property of her father until she could be married off and become the property of her husband. I know there is a lot of nuance in this critique, and it’s one that is rooted in a history that many may not be aware of, but it’s an important one. Words matter. The words we use to describe people matter. When you say that it’s wrong to treat a woman like a sex object because she is a wife or daughter, you still relegate her to the position of an object. They want to protect women because they are a reflection of the men they are married to, much like “defending a woman’s honor.” Well I call bullshit on that. Protect women because they’re people. Protect women because they deserve to be able to say “NO” and know that a man will actually stop trying to pursue her. Protect women because all people deserve to be able to walk to their car after work without being harassed. Protect women because misogyny is wrong, period. Protect women because they’re not objects, sexual, domestic, or otherwise.

On Saving Safe Space

Posted: October 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

One of my many side jobs as an actor is working front-of-house for the cultural arts department of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. And I love it. Absolutely fucking love it. Like seriously, I love everything they do there and I think that The Center is a treasure that should be given cultural landmark status. But I’m biased. See, I benefit so much from working at a place like the LGBT Center. It’s like when straight people don’t understand how easy they have it living in a straight world where they don’t feel the need to downplay their personalities, where they don’t have to think through their body language so as not to appear too gay and turn away a potential buyer. I’ve worked in sales jobs, I’ve worked in business offices, in schools, in restaurants where I felt like I had to “act” a certain way to be more professional. Well, there’s nothing unprofessional about being part of the LGBT community! And that’s where the LGBT Center comes in. When you’re within the walls of The Center—well there’s actually a bunch of locations because our need keeps growing and growing—you don’t have to worry about being judged for looking a certain way, talking a certain way, waving your hands a certain way. You just have to be you.

The Los Angeles LGBT Center is located in the center of Hollywood, a place where it can do the most good, because it is where the LGBT community has always flocked. It also happens to be my neighborhood. Recently The Center purchased a building that they would then turn into a beautiful building that would be used for low-cost housing for seniors and homeless youth. It’s called the McCadden Project, and, trust me, when you hear people talking about this endeavor, it’s hard not to tear up. It will serve our community, and our neighborhood, in a way that only the Los Angeles LGBT Center can. Unfortunately, at the City Planning Hearing, objections were raised by community members who quite simply don’t want to see homeless people helped. Or, I should say, who don’t want them helped at the expense of their property value. Those community members are trying to stall the building because they don’t like the fact that there are (predominantly non-white) homeless people around the center. Yes it’s true, there are a lot of homeless and disadvantaged people who hang around The Center. Why? Because it’s a safe space. LGBT Youth are disproportionately likely to become homeless—40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. That’s why The Center is so important. Those are the people we serve, the very people that society neglects. So yeah, there are homeless people in the neighborhood, there are sex-workers, there are drug addicts. We’re in the center of HOLLYWOOD! But those people aren’t just homeless people, sex-workers, and drug addicts, they’re our neighbors. They live here too, and they’re not going anywhere unless we give them a place to go. They’re not eyesores, they’re people. They don’t devalue your property, they’re symptoms of an over-inflated rental market.

I don’t know if this is an issue of race, class, or sexuality and gender, but it’s pretty clear that there’s a dangerous combination of that at work. The people who object to the McCadden Project don’t seem to care that the building will serve to get more people off the streets, gain job skills, and live healthy lives. The Center isn’t devaluing our neighborhood, it’s making it better.

I urge you all, every single one of you, to PLEASE sign this mccadden-neighbor-support-letter and send it to christina.toy-lee@lacity.org. But do it fast! We need these letters in by the end of the week! Please help the Los Angeles LGBT Center continue our mission. I know that a lot of the people who read my blog aren’t LGBT and don’t live in Los Angeles, but send this around, because we can make a difference. We’ve been doing it for a while now.

#MasculinitySoFragile

Posted: September 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

Boys will be boys.

No, boys will actually be whatever they’re told boys are: aggressive, tough, protectors, dominant… The list goes on and on.

This notion of toxic masculinity is something I have always grappled with. When I was younger, it was a reminder that I wasn’t normal. Even though I was one of the “cool kids,” I liked to read, and draw, and dance, and imagine things. And I was singled out as a troublemaker in my oppressive all-boys middle school for thinking too much, asking too many questions, and poking too many holes in the fabric of fragile masculinity that wove itself through the hallways.

I’ve seen two movies in the past week that resonated with me for the exact same reason. They focused on privileged members of the white-male elite, but rather than holding them up as paragons of success and virility, they swiped the legs of the Patriarchy right out from under them. And the best part is that I bet the most entrenched members of the patriarchy didn’t even realize it.

Directed by Andrew Neel, “The Goat” takes a hard look into the world of fraternities. And I say hard because, at times, this film was hard to watch. Being forced to drink until they puke, covert and overt anti-gay language hurled at pledges and friends as demeaning insults, and misogyny so blatant that only perpetrators of the same rhetoric could deny it. The film explores the rabbit hole that is toxic masculinity. A world where people are reduced to objects to demean and deride. A world where “brotherhood” is bandied about to serve as a justification for violence, humiliation, and assault. A world where boys act like thugs because they think it makes them men. Neel doesn’t hold the boys in the film up as heroes, but as participants in a flawed system. Products of the patriarchy that are ultimately fucked because of their own privilege. It’s fantastic. And I say that only partially out of my desire to see the privileged-jock-hero-trope put to bed.

The second film, “American Male,” directed by Michael Rohrbaugh for the MTV Look Different competition, concisely points out the flaws in “Bro Culture” in five minutes. While at times it seemed shallow, filled with platitudes of “a dare is all it takes to become a man” and a man is “not a person, but a path of least resistance,” the beauty of it is in the shallowness of the delivery. These are exactly the shallow ideas of masculinity the film refutes. Taking that into consideration, the film doesn’t just unpack the patriarchy, it delivers it in a tight little package that mirrors the patriarchy itself.

I’ve seen men yell at women in movie theaters and walk around a film festival with their hands on their dates’ asses as if they would try to escape if given the chance (though I can’t blame them). I’ve seen men hold Hillary Rodham Clinton accountable for her husband’s affair, use it as proof of her duplicity and weak leadership, while glossing over the fact that Donald Trump has literally cheated on his first wife with his second wife, and second wife with his third wife. Let that sink in.

In the last week we’ve seen yet another consequence of unbridled masculinity. A man shoots five people at a mall in Washington. Four of the victims are women. Now the media is claiming terrorism and I’m obviously not going to claim that it’s not–I don’t know nearly enough about the suspected shooter to get into it. But what I can say is that when I heard about what happened, I immediately thought back to the 2014 shooting in Santa Barbara, when 22 year old Elliot Rodger went on a murderous rampage of vengeance because women had the audacity to not want to have sex with him. By the time he was done bolstering his masculinity, six people were dead, thirteen were injured, and women all over the world were reminded that they can’t be safe in a world where men are taught that anger is the only acceptable male emotion.

Malcolm Gladwell asserted in Outliers that western men differ from eastern men in that western cultures are based on shepherding, as opposed to farming. Farming is a collective endeavor that centers on a community and hard work yielding more produce. Shepherding is about guiding and protecting. Any threat to your strength shows weakness and instigates theft of your property. Defending your honor is literally life and death.

Now obviously there are farms in the west. I mean some of the most heavily entrenched pockets of male privilege are in rural communities. What Gladwell was positing is that these fundamental worldviews impact the way we operate on an extremely subconscious level. Look at Judeo-Christian values: the scriptures talk on and on about shepherds and literally now refer to followers as “a flock” of people that the (almost always male) leader is tasked with keeping in line and protecting from others.

So what do we do? First of all, we talk about it. News flash, you can be part of the problem and part of the solution at the same time. I am a white male, and I have definitely lived a more privileged (in some ways) life than many others. Therefore I am seemingly part of the patriarchy that I am in fact trying to topple. But I’m aware of that, and I’m using that privilege of mine to try to make a difference. To get my peers to think about their own lives and the way they operate. To work from within the system to change it. Because in this sense I don’t have the opportunity to leave the system behind. I can’t change the fact that I’m a white male and I wouldn’t even if I could. This isn’t about self-hatred, it’s about self-awareness. So start with that. Acknowledge your privilege (and believe me, you do have some) and think about what that gives you access to, and how it impacts your behavior. It may not be easy, it may hurt to look inwards, you may have to push hard to unpack some of it. But keep pushing. Your masculinity won’t break but you just may topple the patriarchy.

 

 

Press Play

Posted: September 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

Guess who’s back.

Back again.

Joshy’s back.

Tell a friend.

 

What is it about hitting the pause button that is so utterly justifying? I don’t know about you, but I have always loved pressing Pause.

Watching a great movie but feeling hungry? Press Pause and go make some mac&cheese.

Having a deep conversation with your friend that gets a little too real? Press Pause and aimlessly scroll through your Instagram.

Thanksgiving dinner with your family getting a little too judgmental about why you’re still broke and not putting your college degree to use. Press Pause and go cry in peace in the bathroom.

Even as kids we’re taught that when you’re not at your best, you can always press Pause. How many times did you trip playing tag and quickly call a timeout?

Pressing Pause has become a crutch–a way to disengage and protect ourselves when life gets too rough.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying taking a break isn’t a good thing. I totally believe in Pausing to smell the roses/coffee/pizza/whatever. Self-care is wildly underappreciated and underutilized in our culture and taking time to breathe and practice mindfulness is important.

But pausing becomes a problem when it’s used to stop what you’re feeling and disconnect from what’s going on around you.

We can’t always control what happens to us and pressing Pause may give us the temporary illusion of control but life comes at us in waves and we have to shift and adapt to it as it happens.

I’ve pressed Pause on this blog for a while because so many things were happening in my life–falling in love, getting married, traveling, dealing with family issues, dealing with my own emotions… And I am pretty private about that stuff so I stopped writing blog posts and focused on writing screenplays. And that’s cool and all, but sometimes you realize you stopped doing something you love because it was bringing up too much stuff you hate (like emotions) and that’s a pretty dumb reason to stop doing what you love.

Life happens,  we just have to press Play.

 

Y’all know I’m an LA guy, through and through. There’s no other place I feel as supported and creative than here.  That being said, there is nothing like escaping for a weekend and exploring somewhere else. Plus you get some fresh inspiration that you can bring back home with you.

Y’all also know that, as a chronically dissatisfied millennial, I have a serious shopping problem. I am constantly in search of the next kitchen accessory, catch-all dish, or coffee table book that will fill the gaping void in my soul traditionally walled up by the freedom of job security. One of my favorite traveling hobbies is checking out the thrift stores, flea markets, and yard sales; seeing what the actual history of the place is, what people really use (or used to use), and what they then discard of. It really is a cultural study, so I don’t quite understand why you’re shaking your head at me. This is useful stuff I’m doing here.

Here in LA I have two thrift chains where I do the majority of my research. Again, not sure why you’re shaking you head at me, this does qualify as research. The first of these stores is Crossroads, an upscale “recycled fashion” boutique that boasts high quality/low cost clothing. The second is Out of the Closet, a charity shop that carries clothes, books, furniture, etc. and which runs its own no-cost HIV testing clinic. Both are great in their own right, but I have noticed that each store has its own flavor. As with all thrift stores, they’re truly a reflection of their neighborhoods. Crossroads tends to set up shop in wealthy neighborhoods–Silver Lake, West Hollywood, Studio City–while Out of the Closet sticks to the neighborhoods that benefit the most from their services–Hollywood, West Hollywood, and North Hollywood. Comparing the goods sold in-store, a few things become clear. Crossroads is undeniably best for clothes (go ahead, try to argue with me) and, while OOTC has less in the clothing department, they more than make up for it with their unmatched deals on books and their enchanting miscellany.

I have hypothesized (now you’re not only shaking your head at me, you’re laughing as well?!) three main points as to their variety in goods. ONE; Their client base obviously greatly affects the types of goods found in-store. TWO; the fact that Crossroads purchases their clothing from sellers, while OOTC sells donated items, allows for more discretion on behalf of the former. THREE; Crossroads’ upscale criteria for resale (they only purchase like-new, trendy, and easy to resell items) filters out many “undesirables”.

But back to traveling. This past weekend P and I were in San Francisco for a wedding and we (really, just I) wanted to check out the offerings of the SF outposts of both of these great stores. And what we found was shocking. Okay, stop with the head shaking, it’s just plain rude. In San Francisco, Crossroads (the one we checked out was in the Castro) seems to have less desirable finds (note: completely subjective, I know) while Out of the Closet has loads of great finds! I mean seriously, P found a John Varvatos and a DKNY suit for only $25 each.

But more importantly, WHY?  Why is it that a donation store that doesn’t offer anything to the donator (other than a tax form) has better goods than a resaler that offers cash? The pessimist in me says that San Franciscans don’t have the time to wait in line to sell their goods or sell them on ebay. But the optimist wonders if San Franciscans care more about the charity the goods will support than their own wallets. Is that a leap in causal reasoning? Surely. But I hope it’s true. Maybe Angelenos will grow to acknowledge that supporting a cause takes effort, and sometimes a personal “loss”. Sometimes the lack of compensation is outweighed by being a part of something greater than yourself and your ever-expanding closet. And sometimes it takes more to fight for justice than clicking “Like” on facebook.

"Follow Your Dreams"

I have a confession to make:  I am not what you would call a “mainstream look” in the industry.  And by that I mean that I am not a 6’1 jock.  I know, I know, you can close your mouth.  I love the way I look, but it can be hard to break into the industry when you don’t fit the majority of roles being cast.  It’s not to say anything about ability or attractiveness either–I know I have talent, I know I’m good-looking, and, most importantly, I know I will make it.  It’s simply a numbers game.  The more auditions you get, the more likely you are to book, the more likely you are to rise in the ranks.

My amazing manager and I talk about this constantly; how I have a hard time getting auditions, but once I do get an audition, I am pretty much perfect for the role.

So when I got the call from her on Thursday morning to let me know I had an audition that night for a short film, I didn’t freak out one bit.  Ok, I lie.  I totally freaked out, but not because I was nervous.  Cut to me jumping up and down in my bedroom, and then running to the bathroom to throw up.  Ok, I was a little nervous.  Until I read the script, saw that I would be pretty much naked and making out with a guy in the shower for the entire film.  Right.  You heard me.  Then I got a lot nervous.  Cut to me throwing up in the bathroom again.

How was I going to do this?  First of all, I don’t do making out in front of people.  Second of all, I definitely don’t do making out with guys I just met, on camera.  Literally, two of my biggest fears ever.  The only thing that could make this worse is if he turned into a spider halfway through the shoot, or if the nightmarish Captain Crunch barged in on us in the shower and chased us through a pharmacy.  Cut to my recurring childhood nightmare of that exact thing happening.  Well, remembering just how fortunate I was to have gotten an audition for a role I was perfect for, I decided to suck it up, and just go for it.  No nerves.  No hang-ups.  No fear.

When I got to the audition, the director paired me up with a guy auditioning for my costar, and told us that, while we would have to kiss during the film, we didn’t have to kiss during the audition if we didn’t want to.  Remembering everything I’ve been learning at my acting class, I decided to just live in the moment and go where my gut took me.  I checked in with the guy to make sure he was onboard, and when he told me yes, I took off my training wheels, grabbed him by the jaw, and planted one on him to rival that of any CW show.  I turned to look at the directors to find them stunned and silent.  I had either just blown them out of the water, or made a horrible mistake.  Hoping for the former, I smiled politely, told them I would love to do the project, and that I would be willing to shave my facial hair if need be.  Done and done.

Cut to the next morning.  Josh is exiting the gym when his iphone beeps, signaling an arriving email.  He opens the mail app and sees “Congratulations” in the headline of the email. 

His fingers moving quickly, he scans the email, his eyes alight as he has just booked his first LA gig. 

Back when I was in elementary school, when I first admitted my desire to become an actor, the rabbis told me that acting was not a career for a good Jewish boy.  I could be placed between a moral rock and an ethical hard place.  What if I were asked to break the laws of shomer negiah (modesty) by holding hands with or kissing a woman–at the time, I don’t think the Orthodox community was even aware of how commonplace homosexual roles would become in the industry–on screen?  What if they didn’t offer kosher food on set?  Or worse, what if I was hired to work on the holy Sabbath?

With the shrill cries of children singing “Ain’t gonna work on Saturday, ain’t gonna work on Saturday, ain’t gonna work on Saturday… Why?  It’s shabbos kodesh…”  I stored these reasons to defer my dreams in the back of my mind.  I believed that breaking those rules would be the worst thing I could do.  And I believed that following my dreams would be the path towards those transgressions.

As I grew up and entered middle and high school, the same thought process followed me.  But now it was taught at a more “academic” level.  What if I were cast alongside a beautiful Hollywood starlet–on-screen romances turn real all the time, and I could easily fall in love with a shiksa goddess and find myself in a sinful, and inevitably doomed, interfaith relationship.  And still, actors are always asked to work on Saturdays!  How could I transgress the commandments of my people and follow a path that would make a mockery of my ancestors who were forced to remain poor outsiders because they refused to work in the factories on Saturdays?  Those thoughts stayed with me for a long time; even though I was thinking for myself long before I decided to follow my dreams, on a subconscious level, I still viewed the industry as a beacon of temptation.  A temptation of which I so desperately wanted a taste.

Which is how I found myself driving into the desert on a Saturday morning to hook up with my costar–a former chassid-turned-actor–and play the part of a gay teenager in a love story.  If the rabbis could see me now…

This shoot was surprisingly easy for something that forced me to face so many of my fears, which I will take as proof that I am in the right profession.  I had about fifteen minutes to meet my costar, form a connection, and portray a relationship with him.  As someone who plays it pretty close to the chest when it comes to meeting new people, this was a challenge I have faced in acting class and spoken about numerous times with my teachers, friends, and manager.  But when it came down to it, I didn’t even occur to me.  I just went with it and allowed the relationship to bloom in an organic way.  I didn’t care that I barely knew this guy–how often do we actually know the person we are in a relationship with anyway?  And I just allowed the moments to happen as they would in real life, because that’s all acting is–the portrayal of real life.  It’s spontaneous, it’s not always glamorous, and it’s authentic.  I spent the next two days in a tiny bathing suit (another fear conquered), jumping in and out of the shower, locking lips with the ex-lubavitcher, and having an amazing time.  Sure, my old rabbis may tell me that what I’m doing is wrong, but if this is how wrong feels–if being wrong can help me face my fears, become more comfortable in my self, and allow me to tell stories that change the way people think–then I don’t want to be right.