Juniper Leaves: Upcoming YA Fantasy Book featuring QPoC

Please Support JazzSoandSo’s “Juniper Leaves” Kickstarter Campaign!

Book cover by Aspen Aten

 

What is Juniper Leaves?

Juniper Leaves is a YA sci fi fantasy novel about Juniper Bray, kinky-haired queer nerd, who embarks on a magical adventure in Scotland after losing her grandmother. 

WHY I WROTE JUNIPER LEAVES

“A survey of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013—out of a total of 5,000—found that only 67 were by African-American authors, and only 93 titles centered on black characters. That’s the lowest number of black protagonists since 1994, when the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison began tracking that data. ” Nina Terrero of Entertainment Weekly.

Times, they are-a-changin’ and it is extremely important that our media reflect that. Growing up, I struggled to see or read about many people that looked like me, and I definitely didn’t see many queer characters anywhere. Visibility is a powerful thing and without it, so many kids and teens will go through their formative years developing the thought that they possibly don’t matter as much as the visible do. Juniper Leaves can be just a tiny part of the movement towards positive representations of PoC and queer youth simply because reading it will show how relatable an awkward teen girl can be, no matter her race or sexual orientation.

Read the first 10 pages of Juniper Leaves.

About JUNIPER LEAVES

If you asked Juniper Bray (14) why she ever believed in magic, she’d quickly blame her best friend, who just so happened to be her grandmother. But no more of that; these days magic equals fiction to the kinky-haired dreamer and astronomy geek. That’s because just six weeks ago, Juniper’s best friend died. Now she has to go on a long trip to Freeshire, Scotland with her scientist dad and mourning mom, minus the one person that means the most to her in the whole wide world.

And what’s worse, Juniper’s Scottish host family, the McKinney’s, have an evil fifteen year old daughter named Blair that seems to live to torture her. Don’t worry, their arguments come to a halt when they mistakenly fall into a cave that turns into a porthole to a whole other planet. There, Juniper learns of a sort of magic she inherited from her grandmother giving her the power to teleport. But this power comes with paramount responsibility, making Juniper a protector of the Earth overnight. Juniper’s definitely caught off guard, but she’s intrigued by the task until she learns Blair has been appointed as her secret keeper. Now they have to stick together. Just when it seems Juniper and Blair finally don’t hate each other, they are ambushed by a life threatening mission to save their scientist dads’ research, themselves, and ultimately the world. All the while, Juniper has to deal with the awkwardness of being a teenager, from socializing with the locals to experiencing her first kiss. Juniper Leaves is a magical coming of age story of a girl that learns to let go, live a little, and best of all, believe in herself, all before her fifteenth birthday.

KICKSTARTER GOAL

The money raised with Kickstarter will pay for the editing, the cover art by the brilliant Aspen Aten, e-book distribution, marketing, and the first 150 print copies of my book Juniper Leaves. It’s most important to me that Juniper Leaves be edited grammatically and developmentally at a professional level so that the final product is at its absolute best quality possible. My hope is that anyone interested in reading Juniper Leaves will have the opportunity.

If I meet my Kickstarter goal or happen to exceed my initial goal, I will use any leftover money to purchase additional books, further promote the book, and sell in other venues.

RISKS AND CHALLENGES

There is a risk of not reaching the deadline to release this book before the end of 2014. However, JUNIPER LEAVES is completely written and ready to be edited. Also, I have scheduled how long each part of the publishing process will take. I am confident that if this project is funded it will release before January 2015.

Similarly, there is the challenge of making sure the best product possible comes from this campaign. The reason this Kickstarter is taking place is to make sure the most professional quality work is released so I am hopeful that supporters will be happy with the outcome.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Join the Juniper Leaves team by donating, telling your friends, or sharing this post! Any donation, big or small is appreciated. Tell two people closest to about the campaign and hopefully they’ll donate as well. If you have a blog, please repost and share info with your followers. Tweet it, Facebook it, talk about it! If we all work together, Juniper Leaves can one day be available to teens and young adults everywhere! So far the campaign has been featured on Afropunk and named a Kickstarter Staff Pick!

The campaign ends October 3, 2014. Let’s make “Juniper Leaves” a reality!

Boihood: The Little Known World of Brown, Queer Masculinity, and the Book that Can Change that

bklyn boihood photo bw

Masculine of center, queer people of color; now is your time.  bklyn boihood  will be curating “Outside the XY: Queer, Brown Masculinity, “  an anthology highlighting the voices of masculine-of-center and/or trans* men of color, to be released by Magnus Books in print and as an e-book by mid 2015.  bklyn boihood is currently accepting submissions of essays, interviews, fiction/non fiction, and literary work of all kinds. No need to be a writer. Simply submit your work before July 31st, 2014, and remember, YOU MATTER.

 

We are teachers, students, doctors, scientists, writers and so much more. Bois of color are everywhere, and we always have been but in mainstream media, we’re no where to be found. And for the 90 percent of people that don’t directly know someone who identifies as transgender or gender queer, it’s almost like we don’t exist. Now with Outside the XY: Queer, Brown Masculinity open for submissions, masculine of center queer people and trans* guys of color have the chance to show ourselves the most authentic way possible–because our stories to the world will be our own.

bklyn boihood phot 2

It’s important that every marginalized community have an established array of stories readily available to the public. For example, thanks to Janet Mock’s best seller Redefining Realness, we’re able to add to the public understanding of the complexity of women that are transgender. When the public doesn’t have a story to connect to when confronted with an unfamiliar image or event, we have the tendency to link it the closest story we can. It’s our humanistic need to categorize; our natural urge to simplify. Right now, there is no go-to-narrative for MoC queer and transgender men of color, so what’s the next best thing to the mainstream?

“I would say that right now there’s this one image of us; this masculine woman that’s essentially getting boiled down to a woman in boy’s clothes. Masculinity gets oversimplified into human beings that are getting misgendered and basically thought of as grown-up tomboys. ” Mo of the bklyn boihood collective stated in a recent interview.

Of course our lives are so much deeper than that. Of course our truths are so much fuller. But until the media knows that, most of the public will be in the dark.

From the growing popularity of the beautiful model Carmen Carrera, to the complex character, Sophia, portrayed by real-life transgender advocate, Laverne Cox on the ever-so-queer Netflix hit Orange is the New Black, it’s wonderful to see the growing support of transgender people of color in our society. Never have we experience so much positive visibility and productive discussion in the media as we are now.

But it must be recognized that in spite of the transgender community growing so strong today, far too many issues persist in the transgender and queer community for us to claim success. We’re not there yet, folks; not by a long shot.

boihood photo

Outside the XY: Queer Brown Masculinity will be a historic continuation of the queer movement, and such a powerful push for queer people of color.

It doesn’t matter if you’re old, young, a professional writer, or someone who feels your story should be told, this is our time to be the facilitator of our own narratives.

 

 

 

Black Resilience: The Acceptable, Emotional Wall in the Black Community

This article explicitly discusses Christianity. I’m not religious nor do I strongly believe in any sort singular higher power- It is important that you note my obvious bias because of this. I won’t go into the specifics of my beliefs here, so as to stay on topic, but am happy to elaborate in separate discussions.

When is a person really, truly healthy? I am a physically fit, twenty-something with an abnormal fondness of dark green vegetables and exercising, but in spite of all this, I still don’t feel healthy. My blood pressure is far higher than it should be and I experience anxiety so strong that sometimes it makes me physically sick. As I delve deeper into the world that is my blackness, I’m finding truths connected to my stress I can never unlearn.

The tragic death of Brown Girls creator, Karyn Washington has raised the long suppressed and painful discussion of black stress and how we have learned to cope, or in many ways avoid, the roots of our stress and anxiety. It’s time we discuss new and better ways of coping with stress, because right now, black people, stress is killing us- literally.

The Root writer, Lottie L. Joiner, revealed a 2010 study with the devastating fact that black people, mainly black women, suffer from higher blood pressure, more strokes, and heart disease, all due to the higher levels of stress experienced; a lot of which stem from simply being black.

“US blacks are more likely to experience stressful situations, such as material hardship, interpersonal discrimination, structural discrimination in housing and employment, and multiple care giving roles than whites,” wrote Dr. Michelle Gourdine, author of Reclaiming Our Health: A Guide to African American Wellness.

Historically, the church has been the place to relieve stress and find community for black people. We have found power through religion, from the liberating civil rights moment of the 1960s, led by peace leader and Christian pastor, Martin Luther King Jr. to Christianity as a catalyst of strength for black slaves during a time where no other hope could be found.

Christianity has become so closely intertwined with blackness, that even the fast-growing community of non religious black people cannot help but be influenced by it. For many black people, our church is our therapy, God is our mantra and pray is our meditation, but with the building proof that stress impacts the health of black people more than other ethnic groups, perhaps religion alone is no longer enough.

It is important to note my upbringing is far from typical of not just black culture, but American culture as a whole. In the middle of the day in our homeschooling courses, my mother would have my siblings and me sit in a circle and focus on our breaths in what I later learned was a form of meditation. We attended a ‘new thought’ church that was so progressive, it was actually called ‘a spiritual center.’ For the first eight years of my life, I understood meditation and spiritualism through humanity as normal.

Then, as a preteen my family left our spiritual center to attend a more traditional church. I remember asking my father why we left a place in which I’d grown to love and find such comfort;

“You need to get the black experience,” he expressed; a response I will never forget.

At our new church we were given sermons by a self-appointed Apostle who preached the gospel of prosperity and fear of our powerful Lord and Savior. The apostle told us to ‘do good’ for our God, to be strong in the presence of  evil and to not let  the devil bring us down.

In some ways, it was comforting to know that no matter what, I was protected by God. But on the other hand, in spite of the strength in community that was apparent at my new church, there was an overbearing sense of loneliness in accepting God as my only protector from the countless obstacles I would undoubtedly face. Not that all black people interpret Christian teachings as I did, but as an impressionable ten year old, this was my honest evaluation.

My background is unique in that I was given two separate philosophies in the most influential times of my upbringing. I have the unique perspective of a non affiliated mentality and later- a deeply religious, Christian mind; and I’m privileged to be able to analyze the implications of such a shift.

I learned from my time as a devout Christian that in particular, black Christians are taught to hold our own. We are taught to fight like hell so that we don’t go to hell, and God will reward us with prosperity; a goal for many black people because of the fact that we are an over represented group in the working class or under the poverty line.

Due to the major influence Christianity has had on the black American community, I believe that this is true even for non-religious black people- that we either turn to God, or go within to solve our mental issues. Encroaching our issues on anyone else is a sign of weakness and instability. Often times, the furthest we move towards seeking help from our community is asking for pray, usually a request so vague as asking to be blessed in your ‘time of struggle.’

Rarely do we actually speak about our issue.

I understand that discussing religion is frequently a lost cause. People have their beliefs that are usually static, and so it goes. I am not here to challenge Christianity.  In fact, I believe that no path, spiritual or religious is better or worse a path than the other- so long as that path does not harm yourself or others ( as, unfortunately, many religions do).

I am writing to propose a discussion that involves finding new ways of building mental peace and healthy mentalities for black people, that may go beyond our modern understanding of  black culture so intertwined with conservative forms of Christianity: in forms of counseling, discussing our lives with trusted peers, meditation, mantras, yoga, ect..

The real issue now is that we, black people,  have a detrimental communal understanding of what it means to be in control of your mind. To be really in control of ones mind is to understand that, just like the rest of our bodies, our brain needs constant maintenance. A mind in control is always present, not absent (absent in this case, meaning on default). Striving for mental health takes the sort of deliberate thinking that very few people recognize is even necessary. That is why we, as black Americans, understand the community that meditates to be a very small, elite group. I mean really, how often do you stop to think to breath?

Russell Simmons released a book recently advocating meditation for people from all walks of life. While a pioneer effort for a black man to advocate for meditation, I fear his millionaire status and lavish lifestyle may overshadow his efforts in persuading the black community that such a practice makes sense for the average person.

I used to believe that a strong mind meant I could handle anything on my own. I thought that never needing to talk to anyone about my problems meant I was resilient, a warrior of my circumstances. Holding in my emotions gave me a sense of pride. Black culture suggests a hard shell equals a sound mind, when really, a strong disposition may just be a coping mechanism for pain or stress.

So many in my community shared this belief to the point that it felt normal, expected even, to stay silent, even when I felt I might fall a part. I recognize that there is great privilege in being able to talk out your problems with a professional, but for those of us that cannot afford counseling, we must acknowledge that expressing our feelings to our peers is not a sign of weakness. Taking time out of our day to collect our thoughts does not mean we are retreating. It merely means we have made our mental health a priority- and I do hope that day comes soon for us all.

 

 

For black people, walls can kill, and so we have no choice but to break them down. An no, more silence is not the answer.

Fortunately, this difficult discussion of black stress is showing up more in our media than ever before. This piece was written simply as an additional perspective to a fresh forum that already exists, and I really hope it continues.

Bi Matters: Female Bisexuality Misconceptions in the Queer Community

accepting all sexuality via VeralynMedia

NOTE: This essay is of the personal opinion of JasSoandSo. Because the author is a female-bodied queer attracted to cis women, this article will focus on female bisexuality.

When I initially met my best friend, she identified as specifically queer and avoided the dreaded “bisexual”  term like a cat avoids water. It wasn’t until recently that she confidently accepts bisexuality as a part of her identity. Why, you ask? Because bi-haters. The worst part is, I didn’t realize, for the longest time,  my own prejudice against bisexuality was no better than the bi-haters I’d actively accused.

In mainstream consciousness, the queer community is seen as a close-knit bunch. However, like any other social group, we have our own inequality issues. With the growing trans* visibility in our media,  we are (very) slowly growing in support and inclusion of transgender people within our community. But sadly, with all the progression we’ve seen with trans* issues, I find we (the queer community) are equally as stagnant, or even weakening, in the understanding of bisexual people.Seeing that the bisexuality spectrum represents the majority of the  LGBT community, it’s time we respect that fact.

MYTH- Bi people are just gay people that haven’t come out yet.

Today many of the people that once identified as bisexual now associate more with “queer,”  due to the growing understanding and redefining of gender.  Unfortunately, mainstream society hasn’t caught up with queer culture, and as of now we’re still known as LGBT and sometimes Q. Furthermore, the term “bisexuality” holds the weight of dozens of types of attraction that are far more queer, or genderqueer, than the term implies. The B in LGBT could mean anything from a person that is equally attracted, romantically and sexually, to both extremes of the gender spectrum (cis men or cis women), to a person that enjoys sex with both men and women, but is only romantically attracted to men.

MYTH- Bisexuals are indecisive or confused.

According to Buzzfeed’s quiz, ” How Gay are You,” I am “very gay.” Why thank you Buzzfeed, for confirming that for me. But in all seriousness, there is some validity in the phrase “very gay;” just refer to the Kinsey scale of sexual attraction.  I’m a Kinsey scale 6, meaning I have no attraction to the “opposite sex” ( in terms of the gender binary). I’ve found over my time, as an out Kinsey 6, that I’ve felt I had some sort of right to condemn those on different parts of the sexuality spectrum than myself. I’ve been, dare I say, elitist, about something as natural and innate as sexuality.

Full Disclosure:

When I learned the news that actress, Michelle Rodriguez, and stunning model, Cara Delevingne,  were dating, the most ridiculous thought came into my mind; That relationship’s not going to last- they’re probably just experimenting.  Umm…WHAT?

First of all, who am I to put a marker on the demise of anyone’s relationship? Second of all, their sexuality is not up for questioning by anyone but themselves. It sounds crazy, but there is a such thing called gay privilege.  I find myself deciding which bisexuality is okay and which is “unacceptable”, as if I have any say in the matter. My privilege as a gay person is that my defined sexuality leaves little to no room for question from possible naysayers. Bisexuality, on the other hand, is by definition, far more fluid. The fluid nature of bisexuality makes people feel the right to question anyone that identifies as such, as if their attractions are less valid, simply because it is not as black and white.

I believe other “very gay” people like myself, when met with bisexuality, find it difficult to know where on the bisexuality spectrum our romantic interest stands, in order to protect ourselves from getting too emotionally involved, in case that person is not interested or capable of romantic attraction to us.

  • Are they “experimenting?”
  • Am I their guinea pig?
  • Are they “confused”, or do they really know that they want me?

All thoughts that have crossed my mind when met with the possibility of dating a bisexual woman #notproudofthis.  From that discrimination, I, and many others like me, have grown unreasonably prejudice against all bisexuality.  Now my critique is coming from very personal experiences with self- identified bisexual women. I do not think i’m speaking for all lesbians or female bodied queers, but I do believe many can relate to this issue.

The issue with cherry picking which bisexuality is “okay” is that we should not be discriminating at all. You see, these discriminatory thoughts encompassed me, as if the question as to whether someone is actually interested doesn’t come up regardless of that person’s sexuality. Any relationship begins with insecurity of newness and the unknown. Just because I’ve had a few bad relationships with bisexual women doesn’t mean I should discount all people that identify as bisexual.

MYTH: Bisexual women only do it to turn straight guys on. 

A lot of how we understand sexuality is fueled through porn. Bisexual women in porn are almost always portrayed as hyper feminine women that hook up with other women, specifically for a male audience. Jezebel wrote an article denying the widely agreed upon belief that all women are, at least,  “a little bi.” But consider this article, because this is exactly the angle porn and most other media portrayals of female bisexuality reinforce; bisexual women are best compatible with straight, cis men. The queer community faces the negative repercussions of constantly seeing this trope perpetuated, because whether consciously or not, we may learn to understand female bisexuality as hetero-centric, a.k.a- not queer. Though a very dangerous perception sexuality, I fear that’s kind of what’s happened.

Undoubtedly, popular culture understands female bisexuality as a form of a cis-male arouser. I know many self-identified “straight” women that have made out with other women “for the fun of it,” while in front of cis male comrades. Consider Katy Perry’s song ” I Kissed a Girl,” in which Katy explains that while she just found out she loves kissing girls, she also hopes her boyfriend doesn’t mind. Then there are the countless female celebrities, often “straight-identified,” that make out with each other for the wildly exaggerated publicity that follows such a stunt.

Bisexual-haters be like…

Glee, Judging You via PhotoBucket

Glee, Judging You via PhotoBucket

 

My prejudice is driven by fear. I fear bisexuality because of the complexity of the term; the idiosyncrasies that cannot be assumed simply based on someone identifying as “bi.”   Fear is always the culprit behind prejudice, and my discrimination against bisexuality is no exception. So what if some bisexuality is a Kinsey scale 2 and others are 4? Is it not best we make each romantic decision on an individual basis rather than rely on faulty stereotypes to explain an entire group? Bisexuality is no less valid than gay, queer,  pansexual or otherwise. To make overarching assumptions of bisexuality is to devalue the person that identifies as such, and that’s just not cool.

Love is love is love… Love you, bi family.  – Jaz

UPDATED- March 16th, 2014- Jaz added note before article and also a title change.

Served ‘Lookin’ Ass': Nicki Minaj serves Feminism to Rap Culture

Disclaimer: JasSoandSo is in no way a fan of Nicki Minaj.

Nicki Minaj, ‘Lookin Ass…’, via WhatNickiWears Tumblr

Nicki Minaj’s new single, “Lookin’ Ass Nigga” from her new album The Pink Print is total rapey, waste of time; or so Jezebel’s recent article argues. But is it really, though? As mentioned by a few music critics,  Nicki Minaj’s new song” Looking Ass Nigga,” is simply the NC-17 version of TLC’s ” No Scrub.” However, “Looking Ass Nigga,”does more to challenge the normalization of the danger in the male gaze then it’s feminist predecessor.

Let us start with “nigga.” A lot of you cringe a the sight of that word. Others of you will never, ever be allowed to say this word out loud, and please tell me you understand why. Regardless of it’s disgusting past, or the complete disregard for it’s power by using it in everyday conversation, “nigga” is a staple in regards to hip hop and rap language, and you can find it in just about any major rap song.  While I personally believe that no one, not even black people, should use the “n word”, it is possible that Nicki Minaj’s use of the “N” word was necessary in making her point. Stay with me. Would “Looking Ass Nigga” be as powerful a message were it called ” Looking Ass Boy,” or “Looking Ass Man,” or even “Looking Ass Dude?” Would there be such a fuss about the song or publicity regarding the song had it been named differently? I mentioned in an earlier piece that sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. There is a place for softer progressive feminism and a place for radical responses to misogyny and oppression through patriarchy. For Minaj, this was a play for radical.

In case you need to be reminded of the sorts of misogynist lyrics you can find in rap songs today,  EliteDaily.com posted just a few of the lovely words to help you recall;

“My little sister’s birthday / She’ll remember me / For a gift I had ten of my boys take her virginity.”-  Amityville by Bizzare verse, Eminem

“Bitches ain’t sh*t but hoes and tricks / Lick on these nuts and suck the d*ck.” “Bitches Aint Shit- Snoop Dogg’s verse to Dr. Dre song

“Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore / Til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?!” – Eminem

Nicki Minaj’s style, language and number of insults in her new single parallel male-led rap songs in its aggression, so much so, it’s like listening to a literal response to misogynist rap music. For those of you familiar with black culture, you’ll recognize the phrase “lookin ass…” as the end of a “check,” which is slang for an insult or to “put someone in their place.” You can find someone using an insult like this in response to someone insulting them first, but please note, it is almost always in response to an insult that you can find this phrase used. Not only does it hold the title, but Minaj uses the phrase, “lookin ass…” throughout her entire song (ex. “diggin in ya booty den smell it” lookin ass nigga”… and so on). By doing so, she asserts herself as the winner of an argument, as the champion that gets the last word. It’s a position of power, talking down to the aggressor and making them seem weak in the process. The  desert imagery and mainly just Minaj, herself, shown on screen,  definitely reinforces the fact that Minaj got the last word on this one.

Branden Soderberg of Spin Magazine wrote a poignant article in support of Minaj’s new single in which he identified the rap diva’s use of two machine guns was to “murder the male gaze.” One could even argue that Minaj’s use of the image of Malcolm X holding a gun was actually Minaj’s attempt in appropriating herself as the Malcolm X of feminism.Though if that was her goal, she most certainly did not succeed in making that come across.

The problem with Minaj’s use of Malcolm X’s profound photo is that she attempted to appropriate an image clearly illustrating the oppressive and all-too-recent history of African Americans as an illustration of black masculinity as oppressive to the female body and femininity. By doing so, she completely ignores if not denies all that Malcolm X did for the black community, which is in itself, is ignorant and disrespectful. It’s a shame that Minaj’s ignorance is, so far, overpowering the strong message within her music video and lyrics themselves.

Regardless, only a certain kind of feminist can create a song so aggressive and deeply rooted in modern rap culture while still speaking pro-feminism and actually be heard. Thanks to Nicki Minaj’s major respect from fellow, male rap artist, along with her pop star appeal, she’s able to use the same language of those she’s accusing, to fight. This allows for a whole new audience to experience feminism in a way they may never have imagined. The power in the imagery of a solo strong black woman, dressed exactly how she pleases ( in a black, crocheted, see-through, mini-dress), holding machine guns, paired with lyrics that call out a number of wack traits- from men that think they can have sex with a woman just because they’ve got a little money (…”Even if that nigga flew me and all my bitches to Dubai…”) to men that lack culture (“Art on the wall, Basqui, fuck who see…”)- Ok, the last one is a stretch, but the point still stands.  Miley Cyrus can’t call out men  in the same fashion with the same respect, Lady Gaga can’t either; not even Macklemore- the-Great can do that. Please, note the sarcasm.

Of course there are many issues with “Lookin Ass Nigga,” from the normalization of guns, to the perpetual use of the N word (which is an issue within all of rap culture), but this piece is specifically to play a devil’s advocate of sorts. Feminism isn’t always wrapped in a cutesy little bow, and it’s important that we recognize when this is the case. 

F This: The Regressive Perception Of Modern Feminism

Feminist dirty word, via SoulsandSandwhiches wordpress

Feminism has adopted a negative connotation almost as obscene as four letter words your teacher wouldn’t let you say in middle school. Only instead of a class room, the term feminism is often silenced in our media, even by progressives that advocate for gender equity.  What’s so powerful about Americans’ perception of feminism today is that many people who dislike the term don’t even really know what it stands for.

On a recent episode of Barnard College‘s rightfully titled “Dare to Use the F Word,”  Barnard president and recent author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection,” Debora Spar,  shared her thoughts on what she believes to be the shift in young feminist perspectives in 2014. When prompted on whether Spar felt young women want to be feminist, she responded;

 It’s a complicated question, without an easy answer.  Because young women, of course, don’t speak with a single voice or share a common attitude.  Some are quick to embrace the term feminist.  Others despise it. And many – sadly, for the mothers and grandmothers who opened doors for them – no longer really have a sense of what the word implies.

In a poignant piece by Sam Killerman,  the progressive mind behind “It’s Pronounced Metrosexual” broke down some of the main reasons feminism is viewed so negatively today, including the fact that,  yes, there are men-hating feminist out there that give feminist a bad name. Case in point- I will reluctantly list a few quotes made popular by self-identified feminists:

  • “To call a man an animal is to flatter him; he’s a machine, a walking dildo.”  -– Valerie Solanas
  • “The more famous and powerful I get the more power I have to hurt men.” — Sharon Stone
  • “All men are rapists and that’s all they are” — Marilyn French
  • “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honourable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”  – Robin Morgan, Ms. Magazine Editor

Ok, you get it. Some feminist hate men. Some women in general hate men, and vice versa. But these women in no way represent the majority of feminists in modern day. I definitely do not support male-hate. Though it must be recognized that feminist-driven male-hate is a disgusting symptom of hundreds of years of patriarchal oppression. The same way society has adopted the “angry black man/woman” stereotype, stemming from black liberation after hundreds of years of slavery and equally dehumanizing Jim Crow laws, feminism has taken on an unsettling ‘mad woman’ stereotype . When regarding revolution from oppression, anger seems to come with the territory.   Liberation isn’t always peaceful; sometimes you have fight.

Unfortunately, this bad rap on feminism has taken a toll on on the the fight for gender equality. Jezebel wrote an article not too long ago, highlighting the many strong women in our media, and while definitely expressing empowerment for women, steer clear of the dirty “f word.”

Bjork said identifying as feminist would “isolate” her, claiming her mother was a feminist and isolated herself from men, and “therefore society” as well. Lady Gaga denied the label, stating she ” loves and celebrates men and American male culture,”- again equating feminism ( a position of equity regardless of gender) to hating men.

In spite of their strong female personas in the media, Sandra Day O’Connor, to Kelly Clarkson and many more progressive-leaning celebrities, all avoided the term “feminist,” recognizing it as too harsh a label to identify with. I find these women to be a very accurate representation of the young women and progressive young men they influence on a daily basis.

The term feminist has been through a lot, and it’s got the scars to show for it. In American history alone, feminism has led to the right for women to vote, a movement for better respected in the work place ( mainly a reserved right for white women a the time),  sexual liberation and better sex protection, and in much more recent history,  inclusion of women of color and the queer community in advocating for social education and equality for all.

Even with all the things feminism has done, we still need it today. Body shaming, , in our internet-driven culture is still damaging mentally and physically mainly among young women and girls,and people are still adamantly asking women if they really can have it all, a question never asked of men. The trans* community is still arguably the most discriminated group in the U.S., with the young, transgender homeless epidemic, transgender discrimination in the work place and transgender suicide rates rising due to discrimination. And those are only some of the thing. Feminism is in no way obsolete. Right now, there are a few great feminist fighting the good fight, but as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expressed in her TED talk, later featured in Beyonce’s “flawless,” feminism isn’t an elitist stance; it’s a stance for all.

So how do we even begin to make feminism seem less harsh for everyone?

In a 2011 Pew poll, “progressive” was deemed the most positively viewed  political stance. According to ThinkProgress, progressives believe in promoting equality and freedom against discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious faith or non-faith, or disability. They believe that every person has a responsibility to contribute to the common good for all human beings, and that we all must cooperate to achieve a greater good. Modern progressives, whether they realize or not, are fighting for the same rights feminists have been for hundreds of years. Regrettably, the majority of Americans, though overwhelmingly progressive, disregard the many similarities of their beliefs to feminism, and in turn, leave the few, strong but tired feminist to continue the fight on their own. Instead of looking like a few passionate advocates, it’s time feminism looked more like progressivism, in that anyone can identify with the term without feeling “isolated,” or exclusionary. It’s time we recognize that feminism simply strives for gender-based justice the same way progressive strives for justice overall, and you cannot think progressively without also being a feminist.

According to Killerman, “the goal of feminism is to create a society in which individuals’ genders don’t restrict them from an equitable shot at success and happiness.” If you believe this, you are a feminist. So, let’s take it from there.

Everybody’s Genius: Genius as a Separate Entity

 “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein

Einstein via Tumblr

According to the Webster dictionary, a genius is…

: a very smart or talented person : a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable

: a person who is very good at doing something

: great natural ability : remarkable talent or intelligence

So in other words, a genius is just about any significantly intelligent human. Talk about vague. Keep in mind that the term “intelligence,” used twice in Webster’s definition,  is debatable  in it’s complexity, as well.

Kanye West infamously called himself a creative genius on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” But not without a huge backlash from critics and viewers everywhere, offended by his “arrogance.”

Why do we dislike when creative minds like Kanye call themselves geniuses? If Kanye believes that he is remarkably talented at what he does, isn’t he by definition a “genius,” and therefore simply describing a fact about himself by using the word? Or is it that a term like genius is to be reserved as a compliment only? Since the definition of “genius” is so vague, has it become a term society uses to recognize individuals whose accomplishments rise above their peers? It is possible that the only difference between a highly intelligent person and a genius is an individuals desire to share their knowledge with the world? If that is the case, it’s possible that some level of community recognition is necessary for any person to be allowed to be called genius.

In other words,  if a tree falls in the forest when no one is around, does it make a sound? Is the late scientist, Heinrich Friedrich Weber, Einstein’s academic adviser (who was arguably one of Einsteins great influences) as much of a genius as Einstein, though very few people are aware he ever existed? We as human beings often answer yes to this question, incapable of recognizing our absence is an equation that in no way involves us. We cannot separate our consciousness from our perception. And therefore, there will always (always) be bias.

So to have a word in the English language so reliant on our perception of the world, as a collective and as individuals, is to ignore the complexity of human beings. If our consciousness as human beings is synthetic and simply based on perception, wouldn’t that make a term like “genius” utterly undefinable and therefore a fundamentally flawed term in the English language? And so when it comes to words like “genius,” we are definitely incapable of agreeing completely on who is a genius and who is not.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the wildly successful ” Eat, Pray, Love,” gave a TED talk in which she argued that we should do away the term “genius” all together, in terms of using the word to describe an individual. Gilbert expressed the ongoing understanding in society, often universally, that creative minds are expected to struggle. The pressure of artistry that led Vincent Can Gogh to cut his own ear off is the same pressure that creatives of all genres face, on some level or another. The pressure to make art so great that the world recognizes it’s greatness. But is not all art from the heart of it’s creator worthy of being deemed relevant in our culture? Is not all art, as individual work as well as in relation to other creative work, what builds culture in the first place? What makes us so beautifully human is that we’re able to create art. To single out one individual as a genius because we greatly enjoyed some or all of their work is to miss the point of human creativity. Many writers, singers, musicians ect. will tell you that some of their best work just “came to them.” Gilbert mentioned this idea of working like a mule at the creative work until magically “struck” by genius. As if genius is separate from the person. It seems that human intelligence and creativity is different from genius. When there is high human intelligence, there is a mule at work, when there is human creativity there is a desire to share the artistically intelligent idea with the world, and at the rare change that there is genius in the work, there is an overpowering desire by those experiencing the work to share it with others.

Genius is the community’s response to works that go above and beyond. That is why no one cared for Kanye calling himself a genius. Genius is not an individual, and it’s not about ego. “Genius” is in itself it’s own entity.  To reserve genius for the work and not the creator is to understand that any human with the ambition, creativity and intelligence necessary, is capable of creating genius work.  I am definitely on team Gilbert to redefine our concept of genius and I hope that one day we can appreciate great creativity not by idolizing it’s maker, but sharing it’s brilliance.

What do you think it means to be a genius, mainly a creative genius? Am I missing the point? Overthinking it? Let me know your thoughts below. Please join the discussion!

But I’m a Feminist: On Lena Dunham’s “Girls”

This essay is featured on SheWired.comGirls Renewed

Millennials, hipsters, young, white feminist rejoice! Lena Dunham’s wildly successful series, “Girls,” is returning for it’s third season so soon you can almost smell the twenty-something angst rolling off your screen. You know you’re excited.

When “Girls” premiered on HBO, Metacritic.com named it the highest rated fictional series premier of 2012. Then “Girls” continued it’s awesomeness by winning an Emmy in 2012 for Outstanding Casting in a Comedy Series, to it’s notable Golden Globe wins for Best Television Series (Comedy or Musical), as well as Dunham’s Globe for Best Actress in a TV series. No doubt, since it’s start, “Girls” has been a force to be reckoned with. And no wonder just about every one of my friends tunes in to watch “Girls,” without fail.

But it’s not all awesome possum for “Girls.”  After loving fans and loyal critics got over the brilliantly crafted writing style, fresh perspective, and edgy subject matter, they looked to the lack of minority representation.  Seriously, the social lens of “Girls” is so small, you rarely even see minorities in the background (be that Asian, Black, Hispanic, gay. lesbian, queer, or anything other than heterosexual,white, cis men and women). Sidenote; I’ll give “Girls” the one representation of a gay man, though extremely flat and stereotypical, does technically count. But I digress; On NPR, Dunham woefully responded to the criticism, saying,

“I take that criticism very seriously… As much as I can say [writing four white main characters] was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, ‘I hear this and I want to respond to it.”

Dunham’s NPR interview was in May of 2012, in the middle of the first season. So that must mean her response was the weak sauce premiere of the second season, in which Donald Glover a.k.a Childish Gambino made a quick cameo as her black boyfriend. That’s right, Glover played Lena’s boyfriend who broke up with her by the end of the episode, and was never spoke of again for the rest of the season. To that, I say fail.

But why were people so pissed? I mean, “Sex and the City,” a show “Girls” is often compared to, had very few people of color. Well, they’re pissed because the creator of “Girls” is a self-proclaimed feminist who is supposed to be all for progressive thinking and equality. Because rather we should or not, we see “Girls” as a show representing a huge chunk of Generation Y. It is supposed to be a narrative all us Millennials can relate to, or so the media feels. And that is why Dunham has been accused of such passive artistry. Allow me to explain. A passive artist is a one-trick pony, a creative thinker that knows what of theirs sells, and sticks to those things and those things only. Lena Dunham, thus far, has been a passive artist, and while there is nothing wrong with having a niche career, it’s not alright for Dunham. This is because no one sees Lena Dunham as a passive artist. She has been called the voice of our generation, a strong female writer that represents young women and other Millennials. But to say she represents our generation is to assume a white, privileged female, hipster narrative on every Generation Y’er around- because that is, in fact, the narrative Dunham has stuck to in the whole of her television and film career; see “Tiny Furniture” here. The issue is, during the creation of “Girls,” Dunham never even realized the impact she had on media with her show, “Girls.” Here’s what she said about critics calling her “the voice of our generation,” when prompted on her character, Hannah, being high on opium;

“I don’t think I ever imagined that it would haunt me the way it is,” Dunham said in a recent interview. “The character was on opium! I think the ‘voice of a generation’ concept was lost with beatnik literature. Because of globalization and increasing populations, my generation kind of consists of so many different voices that need so many different kinds of attention. But if my writing can show what it’s like to be young, I’m happy.”

Lena Dunham was never trying to be a voice of a generation. Her goal was not to speak for us all, but to share her own, limited, yet interesting,  perspective. We, the media, and critics bestoed a responsibility on Dunham she didn’t even know she carried. I understand that. But as a strong, feminist voice in our media, I believe it is a responsibility Ms.Dunham must take on. I  hate to add to the pressure, but have you noticed the progressive shift in our society over the past few years? In 2008, our first Black president was nominated into office, gay marriage is now legal in 18 states, and the gender disparity equal pay have gone from 77% on the dollar to 93%. Get with the times, Dunham. Be a part of that progression. Use your voice for positive change, not just personal gain.

Not to say that one little tv show can change the world, but one little tv show can change how we see the world. Take “Star Trek,” for instance. On the surface, ” Star Trek” may seem like some nerdy. inter-gallactic, super-show with no real impact on society. But the show’s inclusion of a number of strong female leads, and characters of color, coupled with it’s undeniable success and popularity as a series, helped to shift how society saw minorities in media. It changed how we cast, and opened doors for future minorities to not have to be so trapped in limited, stereotypical roles.

So much of what we see in the media are mindless fillers for overworked people that really just want let their brains rest by not having to think about what the Kardashians will do next or which Beverly Hills house wife will fight whom. It’s not often we come across a television show that is not just extremely popular, but also intelligent. I’m not asking for Dunham to completely change her style or even change the show all that much. I simply ask that when creating one of her brilliant episodes, to recognize her voice as a powerful reflection of modern feminism, and make of that what she will.

 Here’s what I hope to see in “Girls,” season three;

 Rather than being a white-washed world, unaware of real issues dealt with by people less privileged, the show would recognize it’s privilege and add a tone of self awareness, similar to it’s often compared, tv relative, “Louie.”Whether “Girls” likes it or not, it is influencing our society with it’s representations, and a mis/lack of representation of minorities in relation to whiteness is troublesome to our culture. Visibility is a powerful thing. Just think, for an old, white-man, executive of some big entertainment company to turn on the tv and see a bunch of people of color on a show that rivals his own, he will notice. In modern culture, tv shows have the power to make real differences in the move to social change. And with the news that a the first black, female main character will be joining the cast,( Danielle Brooks from “Orange is the New Black”!) things are already looking up.

  As you can probably tell, I’ve been known to get my hate on when it comes “Girls,” but I stand by the belief that a well-written show, no matter it’s subject matter, is worth watching. Intelligent shows boost discussion, and promote critical thinking, and I’m all for that. So you go, Ms.Dunham. I’ll definitely be tuning in on January 11th along with millions of others, to watch Hannah and her friends act a fool. 

Cats and Queers Cats and Queers! : Cats and Queer Culture

Dogs are a man’s best friend, or so they say. But while men are throwing frisbees to their best buds in some park field, you’ll find a queer ( insert gay/lesbian stereotype here ) with their best friend,  the odd yet, loveable house cat.

Psychology Today enacted a study recently on the differences between self identified “cat people,” versus “dog people,” and they came up with some pretty stark polarities.

One thing I found interesting about this was that dog people tended not to differ much from those who identified as both a dog and a cat person and from those who were neither. Cat people on the other tended to differ noticeably from all the other groups, suggesting that cat people stand out from the crowd more.

Queer folks have a history of “standing out,” from drag queens to the world-wide, annual Pride Parade, where you’ll find millions of queers, queer’ing it up down a street near you. Because of the othering, or alienation of queer people throughout history, queer culture has rebelled against discrimination by adopting a practice of overt visibility, meaning to stand out against the norm on purpose. That is why today, many people assume they can spot a gay person in crowd. However, it is not their sexuality you’re seeing, but their expression of  “otherness,”  which in this case is their queer-mindedness.

Since the domestication of cats thousands of year ago, our furry, feline friends have been linked to strange or mystical counterparts. Due to their own mysterious nature, cats were associated with equally mysterious symbolism such as being the faces for many gods in ancient Egyptian religions to being considered the partners in crime for so-called witches of the witch trial era.Meanwhile, dogs have gone from good friends to best friends for just about everyone. They are known to be quite social, lovable and friendly. Similarly, they are featured far more often with “normal” humans as their pals than any cats have. Just check out this list of the top 30 (yes, 30!) dog movies.  Pairing their history along with a usual independent disposition, cats have developed quite a name for themselves.  Let’s just say dogs are definitely the better-liked of household pets…

The Difference Between Dogs And Cats, via Buzzfeed

Cats have been squared-off into the realm of other, along with weirdos, oddballs, and of course queers. It is only natural that they now be linked to queer people as our companions.

It must be understood that queer does not necessarily mean gay, as a self identified straight person can be queer-minded. It’s important that you know exactly what I mean when I say “queer,” so here’s a definition of queer in terms of our society according to Michigan International Spectrum -

Queer: Used as an umbrella identity term encompassing lesbian, questioning people, gay men, bisexuals, non-labeling people, transgender folks, and anyone else who does not strictly identify as heterosexual. “Queer” originated as a derogatory word. Currently, it is being reclaimed by some people and used as a statement of empowerment. Some people identify as “queer” to distance themselves from the rigid categorization of “straight” and “gay”. Some transgender, lesbian, gay, questioning, non-labeling, and bisexual people, however, reject the use of this term due to its connotations of deviance and its tendency to gloss over and sometimes deny the differences between these groups.

It’s safe to say that queer culture has adopted the cat, and dare I say- made cat’s our mascot. We queers are all about otherness, and even those of us that don’t like cats, recognize their special place in our community. Here are some of the common reasons cats are associated with queer people, along with my commentary on each assumption:

  •  “Pet your (actual) kitty the wrong way and you’ll get clawed.  Same goes for your partner’s (figurative) cat.”-  via Comediva. Yes, lesbians are known to compare their kitty to other “kitties.” The phrase, “Women are like cats, men are like dogs,” relates very closely to this assumption. Following this belief- Cats are like women, lesbians like women, so lesbians like cats. – syllogism of the day.
  • If you’re a man with a cat, you’re super gay. – FALSE. However, many gay men do own cats. And straight men that have cats are most definitely challenging the gender binary, by having a pet that is considered more feminine.
  • All gay people prefer cats to dogs. Lower-case-false. No need to stereotype the gay community. While many gay people own cats, there are also many gay, dog lovers out there. There are also gay people that despise cats. Yes, they do exist.

So sure, dogs can stay a man’s best friend.  For or all intense and purposes though,cat’s are a queer’s best friend.

This essay is in response to a question I get quite often- “Why do gay people like cats so much? …Feel free to ask me equally bizarre questions below or in my messages, or on my Facebook page and I just might respond to you with an entire article!

Please enjoy these cat things below, courtesy of your resident queerdo, Jas.

Thirteen Things You Didn’t Know About Cats

Ellen Degeneres’ Cat Week Wish Comes True!

Jas in no way supports perpetuating stereotypes. This essay is meant to parallel the many similarities between how cats are understood in society and how they relate to queer culture. Jas is also hoping to make cats the official mascot for the queer community… =) 

Just Hire Me Already: Underemployment for Recent College Graduates

You are a recent graduate from an upstanding university and you’ve  got the student loans to prove it. Now what? You’re a barista at Starbucks. Nothing against the popular coffee chain; they’ve got some great lattes. However, in situation like this, the question raises itself as to whether the frequency of college grads in jobs like these represent a fault in our society? Or is it simply the way our society works now; college grads having to take jobs at Starbucks as they wait to take on the career they planned for after graduation? Whatever the reason this sort of job placement in this day and age, it’s leading to the frequent use of the term “underemployed,” a word that I’m not yet convinced society considers to be a phenomenon for us loan-ridden graduates.

 Investopedia defines underemployment as “those workers that are highly skilled but working in low paying jobs, workers that are highly skilled but work in low skill jobs and part-time workers that would prefer to be full-time. This is different from unemployment in that the individual is working but isn’t working at their full capability.”

There is a reason of highlighting the lovely Starbucks. Ashton Kutcher, or Chris Ashton Kutcher as he pointed out,  in his acceptance speech for the Teen Choice Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, argued the idea that underemployment shouldn’t actually be a thing. When asked about his speech in a later interview, he clarified his opinion, doubling down with the belief that no job should be beneath anyone, citing Starbucks jobs, specifically.

The “That ’70s Show” alum also derided his friends who refused to take jobs at Starbucks or anything they deemed to be “below them. I think that the only thing that could be below you is to not have a job,” he said, with the audience erupting in cheers.

Not to place Ashton Kutcher in any state of authority on the matter of “underemployment,” but let us think for a second about his statement. Is a job a job, in spite of how well you think it fits you standards? The fact is, while 80 percent of prospective college students say they go to college to better their job,  only half of all college graduates are in jobs today that require a college degree. 

US News recently posted a “top college majors” list in which all of the majors they listed were based in at least one of the STEM industries; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The majors included more complex fields from Robotics to Petroleum Engineering to the obvious fields like Public Health. This may come as no surprise to most as we live in a technologically driven society. And while yes, it is quite important to have a strong science and mathematical foundation, liberal arts and creative degrees should not be discounted. In a recent article by Forbes, contributor Vivek Ranadivé argued the importance of actively practicing creativity. 

The people who will succeed in more expensive labor markets like the U.S. will be those that can think creatively and generate IDEAS that will propel economic growth.

He emphasized that while understanding technology beyond a proficient level is necessary, it means nothing without strong right brain skills to compliment it. An Adecco survey revealed that many tech savvy, recent graduates of today lack the “soft skills” necessary to work in teams and function in corporate environments. These soft skills, including interpersonal communication, time management, and adaptability are all skills that get more focus in humanities as well as more creative majors.

survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

So, unless the major is job specific, like Petroleum Engineering or Robotics,  is not necessarily a student’s major that determines their job. With this knowledge it’s clear that companies are really just looking for well-rounded applicants that have the critical thinking skills to handle what tasks that may come their way, which actually seems to be the problem. The Times  emphasized the issue of finding well-rounded grads has led to a job shortage problem. 

The annual global Talent Shortage Survey from ManpowerGroup finds that nearly 1 in 5 employers worldwide can’t fill positions because they can’t find people with soft skills.

There’s a lot to be said about our faulty economy for Generation Y graduates.For example, with many greedy employers aware of the state of our economy, grads are facing the consequences by being paid far less than they should be in entry level positions.

“Employers are taking college grads over high-school grads, but paying them high-school grad wages,” Carl Van Horn, founding director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.  said.

But because of the shift in our economy students can’t just learn trades, but they must take advantage of their higher education to build all of their skills. It may be time for that 80% of college students that admitted they go to college to get better jobs to shift their focus to not just looking good on paper, but also learning and growing as much as they possibly can. Why not aim to heighten all your skills so that reluctant employers can’t help but stop and take notice?

 “College is what you make of it,” so the saying goes. It is arguably the best time in a young person’s life to better yourself- so why not take advantage of that? It’s tough to go into college without the nagging thought of your unknown future sneaking up on you and making you want to jump on that internship that would totally soup up your resume. definitely didn’t take advantage of my college years as much as I could. I skimmed through a lot of classes and remember a fraction of what I “learned,” as I’m sure many recent grads can attest to. But from my research I’m convinced to really win against this struggling economy, it takes more than just going through the motions.

I feel for you, recent-grad-Starbucks-barista. It’s hard out there. And you’re probably thinking your degree is useless.With so many grads earning minimum wages, the supposed benefit of attending college are so difficult to appreciate. However, truly, it still is.It just takes a little longer these days to reap the benefits. It is still the case that college grads earn more than 80 percent more than none college graduates over one life time. The beginning struggle to find a job is consistent with the state of our economy, but does not mean college is not worth it long term. Agreed, the state of our society when it comes to wretched student loans is ridiculous, but the long term benefits of scientifically proven better health to  upward mobility economically are all reasons to continue to give it a good ole’ college try.

 Check out this video and join the debate! Is underemployment really a thing? Or is a job-a job-a job?