These Little Town Blues

New-York-Skyline-mit-Freiheitsstatue I’ve felt a quiet void ever sense I’ve left New York, and I’m not quite sure what shape it’s in and what could possibly fill it. I’ve been asked several times from friends and family and acquaintances how New York was, and all I can say is “it was great.” Then their expectant eyes look at me for more, and I start spewing things I’ve done and things I’ve learned in this weirdly condensed form because I can’t fathom a way to articulate what this summer was for me. “I learned about the necessity of feminism. I learned how the system is broken and how people knowingly and unknowingly walk over the glass and do not see a problem with it. I toured an abortion clinic, and though I learned the necessity in choice, it took days for the tension in my chest to finally unclench itself. I saw Cabaret on Broadway, and while it was sexual and speculator and grand, it showed me that we popularize the things that can destroy us. I used to feel guilty when I passed by people asking for change without acknowledging their existence, and by the end, I stopped feeling one sort of guilty and completely felt another. I worked for a nonprofit that dealt with street harassment and learned how the lewd policing of bodies has been so normalized in our culture that we’ve trivialized the same fear that a mouse senses when it sees a cat jusgrammys-beyoncet because of gender and orientation. Oh, and I got to see the Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert for free.”


But this isn’t what they want to hear.


They want to hear a watered down version of how rewarding the summer was for me with a sprinkle of internship rhetoric and a dash of the New York-y tasks I’ve completed. They want to hear about my struggles on the subway system because the prison industrial complex doesn’t contain adorable anecdotes of my taking the wrong train. They want to hear about how expensive every thing is without acknowledging the people who work for over forty hours a week in the city and who can’t afford the luxury of a daily bagel. They want to hear if I saw the Statue of Liberty but don’t want to hear about the immigrants in the city who hide in fear and wait and wait for the promises of freedom the Statue of Liberty represents to save them from deportation.

They want to hear a pluck of a string and called it Beethoven.

And with enough repetitions, I’ll have a neat answer that appeases the curiosity of those who ask, while feeling a frustration of not expressing myself in the capacity I want because timing and etiquette triumph over rocking the boat. And with enough time and repetitions, I won’t feel this frustration at all. But that’s okay, because what I’ve learned this summer will manifest itself in more natural ways than being shoe horned in a response about how much I liked The Moxie Project. It’ll manifest itself in ways that I can and cannot pinpoint. I can already see it in the ways that I hold conversations with people, in the ways that I’ve become critical and sometimes pleasantly surprised by the television shows I marathon on Netflix, and I can see it in the diva like way I say “Bye” whenever I’m fed up with a person.


While I might forget the details of some the group discussions we’ve had (like what are the complexities in the relationship among neoliberalism, capitalism, and sexual violence?) and the events we went to (like what exactly happened during the Private Violence screening reception?), the experiences I’ve had this summer will always be with me in some shape or fashion.

Sometimes, New York seems like faraway dream, and I go about my day with the residue of it clinging to my skin, telling me that it’s a sin to have learned what I have learned and not do anything profound with it. Asking me constantly what I’m going to do to contribute to the movement in both action and solidarity. That something grand happened while I was in New York, and I’ll never experience that same spark again.

I’m back at the Duke, and it feels jarring being back in the Gothic Wonderland. The students haven’t moved back in yet, and I’m sure it’ll feel even stranger when they do. However, when I saw the familiar buildings of East Campus yesterday, I felt a challenge in the air. That now that I’m back, how can I help change Duke for the better in however small or grand a way? I’m not sure how yet, but I know I have developed enough moxie this summer to find out.

Super Heroes 09

It’s Censorship, Annie

cameronThis past month, a school board in Delaware decided to ban the book, ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post,’ from it’s Blue Hen reading list for it’s ‘deplorable’ use of the f-word.However, out of all the books on the list including John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ which also uses the f-word and Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Eleanor and Park’ which also uses many a f-word, ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ is the only one to be banned, and not so coincidentally, also the only book whose protagonist is a lesbian.

Well fuck.

The banning of books is nothing new. However, this is the era where laws and actions promote oppression through the rhetoric that it’s protecting the public when in actuality it’s sinisterly keeping those that are disfranchised even more disfranchised. So, a book that deals with homosexuality can be banned under the guise that it contains too crude language to expose to high school students, and when called out, those in charge can say it’s not homophobic to ban the book since the homosexual nature of it was ‘never discussed.’ That of course they can’t be homophobic since one of their favorite books is gay! (My guess is The Great Gatsby) This sort of rhetoric, this sort of internalized homophobia is hard to argue with people who deeply believe this sort of thing because they can linguistically create and manipulate mazes of rhetoric that have no inkling of sane logic.      giphy-1

Obviously, these school board members have frankly never walked the halls of any high school or have never been exposed to the same crude language laced media students are constantly expose to today or perhaps they have yet to met an actual high school student. Who knows? These kids have heard and said worst than the f-word, and it wasn’t from exposure to a lesbian novel I can assure you. While these school board members are supposedly protecting the minds of the youth from such obscene language, in the long run, they’re doing more harm than they could ever do good.

You would think that with nineteen states allowing same-sex marriage and over half of the population in favor of it that it’s becoming out of style to be homophobic, but terrifyingly, homophobia is taking on a different guise that’s hidden in supposed tolerance and distorted by practicality. We don’t burn books because of their homosexual content; we ban them for their crude language.What’s even more troublesome is that even with the success of the Trevor Project in which the nation gained exposure to the horrors and trauma that LGBT youth experience while existing as LGBT, the school board can still find it in themselves to take away this precious boon of gayness in a sea of heterosexual literature to a student who’s dealing with these new and scary feelings in a society that tells them those new, exhilarating feelings are a sin.

Stories matter. Representation matters. It’s difficult to understand this when the media is crafted to tell the stories of certain relationships, of certain races, of certain classes, and of giphycertain genders in order to appease the upper class, white heterosexual males in power that want to see themselves reflected in media. However, when there are amazing portrayals of minorities in the media it does wonders for those it reflects. When Nichelle Nichols portrayed Uhura in the Star Trek series not only did she inspire Whoopi Goldberg to go into acting (who then in turned inspired Lupita Nyong’o to pursue acting as well), but she also inspired Mae Jemison, the first African American astronaut, to go into the sciences and the exploration of space, who then in turn is inspiring thousands of young girls to pursue the sciences. When you see someone that looks like you doing the impossible, you start to believe that you can do the impossible too.

And for most of the LGBT community that meant seeing someone like you not only living a happy life with someone of the same gender but also having your sexuality be normalized and NancyGarden_AnnieOnMyMindnot considered taboo. When the recently deceased Nancy Garden wrote ‘Annie on My Mind’  in 1982, it was revolutionary. With the famed introduction of “It’s raining, Annie” to the loving, beautiful portrayal of Annie and Liza’s relationship, sometimes hard, sometimes wonderful, always young, it was the first time that lesbian teens were shown in a positive light in any sort of media. For every closeted youth, for every closeted adult, for those who ached to see themselves reflected in a positive manner, for those who wept for their younger selves who needed that sort of validation and never received it, for my fourteen year old self who agonized over my feelings for a girl with pretty green eyes, to my twenty-one year old self who wants to see my parents at my wedding, ‘Annie on My Mind’ and books like it were a godsend in the most desperate fashion. It’s not a stretch to say that not only did it give LGBT people hope, but it also helped save people’s lives.

Now, this hoity-toity school board wants to deny the same students they’re serving, they’re protecting that sort of validation, that subtle and necessary acceptance to push whatever homophobic agenda they want? To tell them that diversity matters as long as you don’t want to fraternize with people of the same gender in a sexual manner? There’s more harm in denying these students that sort of validation than them reading a few f-words here and there. What possible logic can they give?

The scary thing, the most hurtful thing about all of this is that the school board members aren’t evil. It’s easy to peg them as bigoted monsters, but most school board members genuinely want to help and protect children. But the fact they want to save children from the queers, from the lavender menace, from the oh so scary gay agenda, is disheartening becausetumblr_m43cvkiiM11qmhhd0o1_500 it means that we’re still seen as monsters in the nooks and crannies of society despite all the progress we’ve made. These school board members passed judgment on ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ without ever reading it, and it seems that they could have benefited themselves by reading a narrative different from what they’ve ever experienced. Had they, then, maybe then, could this scary thing called homosexuality not be seen as so scary, and instead, be viewed as a normal part of life and treated as such. Then maybe we, the LGBT community, wouldn’t be scared to live in a world with people who’ve been taught to fear us as well.

Scout Finch once said “There’s only one type of folks. Folks.” And folks, for the most part, aren’t monsters.

Is Watching the World Cup Anti-feminist?


This was the main question an article I read the other day asked, and while the article itself was all right, the writer did bring up the interesting (though oblivious) point that the Women’s World Cup next year would not get as much attention as this year’s tournament has.

Take a gander why.

It’s weird. Articles are coming out of the wood works that Americans are more invested in this world cup than in years past. While there was a rise in the popularity of soccer after the women’s victory in the 1999 World Cup, it hasn’t been as crazy as this. But why? The women’s team is constantly great, while the men have usually played on a scale from lack luster to average, but immediately when the men start playing well -great even- is the moment Americans start to root passionately for the American team?


But this disparity always seems to be the case. As part of the Duke University Pep Band, I have to attend an equal number of men’s and women’s basketball games throughout the year, and the difference between them is astounding. While students wait in line for hours on end to enter Cameron for a men’s game through rain and snow and midterms, the women are lucky if they have twenty students in the stands supporting them.

In my three years at Duke, the women have been constantly better. The men have this sort of cockiness ingrained to them from Duke basketball history they didn’t create and expect they’ll win games because of it along with talent that’s wasted if used for showboating or without follow through. Sometimes they won the games they were suppose to win, sometimes they didn’t. The women however, would always show up to the court, confident, ready to go and play a consistently good game as a team.

Now, there is a litany of reasons as to why this is, but those are just semantics right? We can argue all day about the biology and athleticism that favors men over women and makes for more exhilarating games, but the proof is that there is a huge potential for support for women’s sports that we ignore/don’t care because it’s women who are playing these games and therefor it’s inferior/sub-par to men’s games. There’s the World Cup, and then there’s the Women’s World Cup. We have to make a clear distinction to what it is because the default thought when it comes to sports is men.


There are few sports where women are give more visibility then men, and the most predominate one in my mind is gymnastics. Gymnastics is perhaps my favorite sport to watch, but the more I watch it, the more I think it’s a perfect metaphor for the experience of women in this society. Unlike most other games, in gymnastics you start off with a perfect score and then get deducted points as you perform your routine. So, you strive for perfection and you have a bunch of people critiquing you from very angle -posture, technique, abilities, the wow factor- and the judging itself is so arbitrary at times, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t quite reach perfection can you? You’ll have commentators, spectators, the world discussing your faults and strengths, examine every contortion your body makes to tell you through different mediums that you could have done better, that if you had focused, you should have done better.

Despite all this you still train seven, eight hours a day to make the most death defying routines with almost impossible flips and jumps look easy, graceful. Through all this, you can’t forget your appearance either; you’ll get deducted points-censured- if your ponytail isn’t in the right position or your leotard rides a tad bit too high, if you’re not the pristine image of what a gymnast should be. You do this for most of your life, and then once you hit twenty you’re pretty much past your prime because extreme youth always triumphs in this sport.


Even in other sports that aren’t set up like gymnastics, appearances often take precedence over these women’s actual talents and abilities. Serena William’s outfits make more headlines then her domination in the women’s tennis field. Britteny Griner, the biggest player in the WNBA, is said to have ‘mannish’ features. Danica Patrick is known more her sex appeal then her success out on the racetrack.

Why are we more obsessed with the appearance of female athletes than their actual skills in competition?


Sports are great for both genders. They foster sportsmanship, teamwork, perseverance, hard work, and teach children to not only win but also to lose. But when we as society tell young girls that their abilities and talents aren’t as important as their male counter parts out in the field and that the most important thing about them is their looks, we’re doing more harm than good.

While I don’t think watching the World Cup is anti-feminist, I do believe it’s time to start a revolution to give female athletes the credit, support, and attention they deserve. So, if you’re cheering loudly for the men’s soccer team this year like I am, make sure to cheer just as loudly if not louder for the women’s soccer team next year and the next and the next.

Pro-Life is a Cabaret!

Pro-Life is a Cabaret!

This past week I saw Cabaret on Broadway and participated in a Reproductive Justice Walk through lower Manhattan. Through the entire walk, I kept imagining Sally Bowles, one of the main characters of Cabaret, and how she encapsulated the fears of many pro-lifers. That if abortions were easily accessible, all these promiscuous women would come out of the woodwork to have abortions left and right as if were as simple as ordering a latte. Sally did have multiple abortions and she was a promiscuous person, but she also embodied the sensational.

She used flash! She used glitz! She used her body and her sexuality to get what she fancied, and she gave no apologies for her actions if it meant getting what she wanted. She shut her eyes to the truths presented to her and very much wanted to live in her world where the most important things were a stage, an audience, and most importantly, a party. The world was changing, and she stubbornly shut her eyes and stomped her feet against such change

Now, while pro-lifers would detest Sally Bowls’ reproductive choices, they’re practically bosom buddies when it comes to methodology in such sensationalism. I’m from Texas, and right now, our candidates for governor are campaigning, and while our pro-choice candidate, Wendy Davis, visited California for a fundraiser, she was greeted with this image.

Abortion Barbie. ABORTION-BARBIE-570

Wendy Davis’ head photo shopped onto a Barbie with a plastic baby coming out of her stomach splashed against a background of juvenile polka dots and pink. Like how did anyone think this was okay?! While I understand that this happened in the middle of a campaign and that mudslinging is proven to be one of the best ways to influence voters, how is it possible to engage in a serious dialogue about abortion if it boils down to which side had the most shocking photo?

Since the time Anthony Comstock and his desire to curtail all things immoral to Abortion Barbie, the censoring and exploitation of the subject of abortion has rendered us unable to have a national dialogue that isn’t in one way, shape, or form sensationalized from either side of the debate. It’s about flash; it’s about glitz. It’s about using legislation to curtail a woman’s autonomy over her own body and to regulate her sexuality without even asking her for her opinion. It’s about ignoring statistics of women who die from alleyway abortions and the financial burden an unwanted pregnancy puts on families, and instead, using a woman’s body as a platform to push a patriarchal party agenda onto a national audience. The world is changing, and they’re refusing to listen to such change.

But let’s not have a serious discussion about the why women choose to get abortions and why men find it necessary to regulate women’s bodies, old chum! Pro-life is a Cabaret!

“Museum of Forgetting”

Jessica is a rising senior interning with Hollaback! this summer.

I was born in the era in which some of the greatest jazz singers passed away. This isn’t some grand coincidence since each generation is birthed in the ashes of another. However, New York is fast approaching and with off rhythm beats of excitement and trepidation, this thought hasn’t left my mind. The legacies of these women are embedded in the very essence of New York City because under the bright lights of the famed city that never sleeps, these women found their fame and most importantly, their voices in these hideaway, smoke-filled little bars and clubs. I thought about going to these places, to see where Ella Fitzgerald learned her scatting ways or where Billie Holiday first sang to a hushed crowd the haunting lyrics of “Strange Fruit”, but the overwhelming thought that plagued my mind was that these places didn’t exist anymore. They had been converted into restaurants and shops, and that the history that was made there existed only in somebody else’s memory.

During one of my history classes, a fellow student said that our environment is a “museum of forgetting,” that we pass by buildings and streets not knowing their historical significance while at the same time passing by memorials and statues of commemoration, celebrating a legacy that we don’t always know the whole history behind. I’m from Texas, and after the much-lauded slogan of ‘Everything is Bigger in Texas,’ the slogan we’ve embraced in much Texas spirited pride is ‘Remember the Alamo,’ but what exactly are we remembering with this expression? That Mexico invited American settlers to colonize Texas, and when Mexico in turn told them that they couldn’t own slaves, they went to war against Mexico in order to maintain this supposed right? Yet, this fact is usually brushed aside, and we tend to focus on the bravery of the men who fought so valiantly against the Mexican Army, knowing full well that they were going to lose. But what does a romanticized version of the past say about our present, and more importantly, how does it mold our future?

Dr. Maya Angelou passed away a few days ago, and while most people are celebrating her life as a writer, a professor, an activist, most people are ignoring the fact that she was also a prostitute and a young mother trying to claw her way out of poverty. While I understand that in death the dead are always perceived in a pristine light, it’s in this remembrance that we tend to romanticized the legacy of the dead, without taking a close inspection at the hardships that made the person who they were to the world. They’re no longer just humans but idols, and for most of them, I don’t think that’s what they wanted.

As I prepare to go to New York, I still want to try to find these clubs where Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan, and others made a name for themselves singing jazz, but I also want to scratch beneath the surface, to understand what the fame they found did for them and for women, and how they helped shape the trajectory of American music. But this little project is focusing on just a slice of the legacy of New York City, and while I’ll experience the more idealized version of New York of Broadway signs and a proud Statue of Liberty, I want to be conscious of the workers who clean up after shows and what the structures that represent New York actually represent. I want to see underneath the legacy of New York and see the everydayness of it, the things people don’t usually see because like Holliday once sang, “New York, why does it seem so inviting?”