Saluting the General

I had just finished a med-check psych appointment when I heard the news about Carrie Fisher.

These appointments are mostly tedious–I have to go every few months since I need paper prescriptions for a controlled substance–but they’re also kind of a general mental-health check-in, and given how fucked up things have been lately–both in a global and personal sense–I did take the opportunity to vent.

In the course of doing so, I also told my doc about how I’ve been coping: trying not to give in to fear and shame and the pressure to ignore my own well-being because I’m supposedly not valuable enough to the world to take care of. I explained how I feel freer now that I’ve finally told some toxic people to shove off. I explained that even though it’s been hard in some ways, the holidays this year have been a good experience for me, because I’m shaping them around my own little family and my own life, instead of trying to cobble together something traditional and satisfying from carefully edited childhood memories.

My driving spirit of late has first been to try to let go of the things I have no control over, but also to finally accept the Mama Bear role that life has kept trying to nudge me toward for years. Not just an actual mother–though that role is one I’m enjoying, even as hard as it is with a four-year-old on the autism spectrum–but also the kind of cantankerous, take-no-shit battle axe that makes insecure sexists angry. A caretaker, but also a protector. A teacher, but also a fighter. A face and voice that says “fuck with me or my loved ones at the risk of being reduced to your component molecules.” While also, y’know, baking cookies and singing Mama Cass and Karen Carpenter to my son, and trying to admit when I need help myself.

One of the things that helped me accept this role, even if it may sound a little cheesy, was General Leia.

I saw her first when I was six, sitting in a crappy van at a crappy drive-in while my mom was downing smuggled-in rum and Coke and my dad was giving sarcastic, profanity-laden running commentary. Leia was mind-blowing for me at the time: sassy, assertive, fighting with the boys. A pretty princess, yes, but one that got dirty and told people to fuck off. She was me–the mouthy tomboy I was growing into, not the doll my mom wanted me to be. Though to be honest, Lucas wasn’t really all that great about the role or how he treated her, in the context of the era, she, along with a few of the other badass women heroes that cropped up then was an amazing breath of fresh air. I could, for the first time, see a life beyond the limited roles my sexism-poisoned mother was trying to prepare me for.

Almost 40 years later, Leia did it for me again. There are of course a fair number of older women in pop culture, but they tend to be limited to a few different types: matrons, kindly grandmothers, silver foxes, villains, shrews. The occasional queen, yes, but generally one-dimensional. We rarely see older women in pop culture in positions of heroic authority–positions that they undoubtedly earned through decades of experience. (One of the few I can recall in recent years was Judi Dench’s M in the early Craig Bond movies.) TFA’s General Leia, therefore, was remarkable, and even more so for the fact that she gave us a continuity that other roles often lack: an understanding that women don’t just exist in static forms and roles defined by whom and how they serve at a given moment, but age and grow and have their own long histories and complex lives.

We saw her at 19, leading the rebellion. We saw her again decades later, leading yet another fight. In both cases, she wasn’t a stern, emotionless icon or a cold-blooded warrior. In both cases, she was acknowledged as a person with desires for love and friendship as well as earned respect and leadership. She was clearly troubled by her son going astray. Clearly gutted by the loss of her beloved, even as estranged as they had been. Clearly still affected by the tragedy of her family of origin, and by the sudden, brutal loss of her family and other loved ones on Alderaan. Troubled even more recently by her brother’s disappearance. Her hard life was written on her face. And yet even with all of that, she was still a leader. She was still a decision maker. She was still an icon, looked up to by all who served: Idolized by the best pilot in the Resistance, who had grown up with her as a personal hero. Sought out as a mentor by a young woman who had herself been through hell and was bravely taking up the mantle of hero that had been dropped in her lap.

Sitting in the theater as a 44-year-old with my own scars—albeit somewhat less fantastical ones—that mattered to me. It really, really mattered. It mattered even more when I rediscovered Carrie herself in all her fearless, low-bullshit glory. Unfiltered in interviews. Unperturbed by speaking truth to a budding demagogue. Brave enough to show her weaknesses and talk about them. Brave enough to tell people to bring it the fuck on anyway.

This woman—this force of nature—should have been with us for so much longer. Like Molly Ivins, another hero of mine in the same vein, she is gone way, way too soon. But even in such horribly short years, she has proven that there is life and purpose and honor in persevering even when much of the world wants you to believe you’re too flawed to be allowed to go on. I can’t begin to express how much that resonates with me and how much I need it in my own life—especially now when I and millions more marginalized people are so at risk of brutal oppression.

I don’t mean to reduce Carrie to this one role—she was so much more than this, of course–but I also have to be honest about exactly how deeply she touched so many of us, at many different ages, because of her tenacity and courage. She may not be with us in this life now, but the voice she gave me and many others is still speaking, and will be for years and years to come.

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Good People Doing Nothing

Seeing too many people focusing on Trump, as if he’s the only problem. He’s terrifying, yes, but the scarier part is the already-existing framework that allowed him to win in the first place–and which will allow him to stay in office. Our only chance at saving the country requires dismantling that framework, and that means we have to do some unpleasant work on a personal level.

The GOP has spent decades cultivating a xenophobic, conspiracy-believing voter base that no longer sees reality and distrusts any legitimate source of fact. Upon winning those voters, they then quietly enacted voter-suppression laws, and gerrymandered districts to ensure that they’ll keep winning, even though their voters are well outnumbered by the rest of us. Almost all of the semi-reasonable Republican office-holders have been primaried out or retired at this point. All that’s left is Tea Party darlings who are willing to destroy the country if it means there’s a chance cishet white Christians, particularly men, will return to having virtually all political and economic power.

Even scarier: It’s not just older generations or the rural or working class doing this. Every single white demographic voted for Trump, including millennials and people with college degrees. The only white group that didn’t is registered Democrats. If you ask many of these people, they’ll claim they’re not racist or weren’t voting for racist reasons, but that’s effectively a dodge: That abject bigotry wasn’t a deal-breaker for them, or that they refuse to see that abject bigotry for what it is, IS bigotry in itself.

It may be too late for us to save things at this point, but we have one shot left: The mid-terms. Winning those, however, is going to require a lot of us to do things we’ve previously been too chicken shit or too “nice” to do: Confront the friends and relatives who either voted for Trump or didn’t bother voting at all. We can’t fix the system until we fix the voters, and that means all of us have a responsibility to light a fire under the people we personally know.

If you’d be in genuine danger by doing this, fair enough. Keep yourself safe. But otherwise? Have the guts to do this. Don’t let the peacemaking tendencies of being a soft-hearted liberal allow you to be a coward. Working for actual peace and justice requires engaging in some personal battles now and then. Change the minds you think can be changed. Ditch the people too stubborn, too unapologetically bigoted, or too brainwashed by propaganda to see reason. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that remaining in contact with these people will give you a chance to change them. If they haven’t changed with years of you already trying, they’re not going to. Continuing to personally support them means they feel increasingly confident that there will be no personal consequences for their awful beliefs and behavior. Remember that while diplomacy is always the first or even second or third step, you have to be willing to back it up with something more tangible, or there’s no incentive for people to change. As long as people think they’re going to get more benefits from an abjectly fascist regime, they’ll keep letting it happen. Your job is to make them feel the bite of that decision when they otherwise wouldn’t face one.

Remember the thing about evil flourishing when good people do nothing. Don’t do nothing. Yes, donate, call your reps, make a stink. But also stop sending Christmas cards to your racist uncle (and make sure he knows why), and stop letting your pothead high school friends argue that all politicians are inherently corrupt and therefore it’s OK to be lazy and not vote (or vote for some fringe third party.)

If you’re cishet and white, or happen to live in a blue bubble, you’re not on the front lines and therefore may not realize we’re already in the middle of a war. You can choose to pretend it’s not happening, but sooner or later, that war will end up on your own doorstep. Have the courage and honor to do something about it–to help the people already on those front lines–NOW, while you still can.

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Rogues Gallery

Among the other ridiculous and terrifying crap that’s happened since the election, this week’s preposterous attempt at boycotting the latest Star Wars story, Rogue One, probably takes the cake for both predictability and eyeroll worthiness.

The short version: Some rando decided that the combo of perfectly-normal pickup filming and the film’s writers reacting with perfectly-understandable horror to the election of the Mango Mussolini meant the film had been deliberately retooled to be anti-Trump. He posted a ginned-up story to this effect, it took root, and resulted in a Dump Star Wars hashtag on Twitter (which was subsequently soundly mocked by anyone with the common sense of a garden slug.)

Oh, where to start? Continue reading

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Beautiful Americans

atb4x6clearHm. Given his fussiness about flag integrity, I wonder if my design here is enough for the Mango Mussolini to want to strip me of citizenship or throw me in jail. I guess we’ll see!

What with the post-election surge of asshats deciding that the country now belongs only to cishet white Christians without disabilities, I felt a statement to the contrary was in order. I also wanted something less ambiguous than the safety pin, and something less likely to be co-opted by obnoxious trolls.

More to the point, I also wanted something that could be used by businesses, teachers, healthcare and emergency workers, and others who want to quickly express that they’re supportive and welcoming. My own community has used the rainbow flag for this purpose, with some great results, but of course it’s not just queer folks in the sights of the incoming administration (not that it ever has been.) Each group has its own specific issues that need attention, from Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock, but it’s also important, I feel, for marginalized people to come together, because we’re all under attack, now.

To that end, I made this. Stripes in 13 different skin colors and symbols of 50 different religious and cultural identities. It’s not exhaustive on either measure, though I did try to get as many things in as possible. This image is up on a bunch of stuff at Café Press, and Zazzle and there are currently six variants on the design: The “America the Beautiful” image above, one that says “All Are Welcome,” and one that’s just the flag on its own. All of these come with either a clear or brown background, like so:


As with the safety pin, this doesn’t exist in isolation. One can’t just wear this on a button or T-shirt and assume that’s the beginning and end of a commitment to supporting marginalized people. It’s still important to back up your statements with action whenever possible: We all have privilege in some area or other. Use what you have to stand up for the people who are disadvantaged that way: If you’re white, tell other white people that Black Lives Matter. If you’re straight, challenge your homophobic friends and relatives. It’s hard sometimes when you’re struggling to lend a hand to someone else, but that’s how we do this. This is how we all survive.

Lastly, while this isn’t a specific charity project, I am donating a portion of profits from this to various justice orgs. I’ve already dropped about $500 on 14 different groups, such as the ACLU, SPLC, Planned Parenthood, etc., and hope this helps me do more. I’m not looking to make bank on this in any case. I’ve set up a non-commercial Creative Commons license, so feel free to download the digital versions and paste them wherever you will, as long as it’s not for profit. Contact me for any other uses.

This flag represents the country I believe in. If that makes me unpatriotic according to Trump, so be it.

Creative Commons License
Diversity Flag by Shawna Walls is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Contested Popularity

In an effort to stave off what is most likely an inevitable slide into national chaos, Jill Stein, doing something useful for the first time all year, has raised funds to call for recounts in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. The combined total of votes that gave Trump these three states–all of which showed comfortable Clinton leads in the polls–was around 100,000. There are some rumors of monkeying around with tallying, too, but the recount, at least, seems like a solid idea with it being so close. May as well dot those i’s.

The recount is being driven in part by the fact that Clinton has a two million vote lead on Trump in the overall popular vote, which makes it seem hinky that he somehow managed something more than just a bare majority in the electoral college. That he has more than three hundred electoral votes is a quirk of population distribution and our weird 50-little-countries system, not the will of the people.

It’s the population distribution part of this I want to look at today, however. While I reserve a scintilla of hope that recounts and/or audits may flip the results, or that the members of the electoral college may decide to dump him anyway, chances are good that this is what we’re stuck with. Scary on its own, but what’s even scarier is that we’re looking at having the exact same problem in 2020. Continue reading

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Enemy Ours

As the parent of a very curious and physically rambunctious three year old, I’m looking at my favorite entertainment in a new way these days. It’s kind of disturbing how much of the stuff I like has a crapload of combat in it–including combat using realistic-looking or even actually real firearms. I keep the kid away from all of this, of course, but I am a giant nerd, and he knows who superheroes are and why I like Rey, Finn and Poe, and why I play video games and have decorative swords hanging on my wall. I don’t let him watch anything with “fighting” in it, but he’s peripherally aware.

As a grown up, of course I understand the fantasy/reality thing and can understand moral complexity. As an SFF writer, I have to think about violent things like war, murder, combat, deadly super powers, etc. But I also have lately found myself getting deeper into questions of how pop culture portrays good guys vs. bad guys, and it’s made some of the stuff I like a bit harder to watch.  Continue reading

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Corporate Responsibility 2.0

Was just noting some folks all happy about how a recent commercial for Secret deodorant features a Trans woman, and it got me to thinking.

This is probably a ridiculous thing for a damned-near-socialist progressive to say, but: In the current political climate, we just may have our asses saved by corporations.

I’m not kidding. It took them a long time to get around to it, but with leading examples from the tech industry, among others, a lot of big companies, especially those that do a lot of international business, are now actively supportive of diversity, both in hiring and in advertising/customer relations/etc. They’re finding it’s good for business or at least doesn’t do them any harm to have diverse casts in their commercials, openly support employees with same-gender spouses or who transition while on the job, etc. They get blowback, sure, but it never really affects the bottom line all that much. Continue reading

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