Read and Resist: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Welcome to Read and Resist, a blog series where I review books that amplify marginalized voices and address social justice issues. This includes fiction and non-fiction books (especially #OwnVoices), so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

d26e905d489c5bd124dd8b02b34c47d1

Warning: this review contains spoilers. 

Young adult fiction has always been my favorite. Not only does the genre speak to teens who often feel desperately alone and misunderstood, but YA inspires and empowers readers in a way that we rarely see. As a woman in my twenties, I immediately think of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games when it comes to YA literature about resistance–but it doesn’t look like this trend is stopping anytime soon. This is the third young adult novel in my Read and Resist series, all of which have been published within the past year. I’m open to other genres, of course–it’s just that YA has been on point lately.

My most recent YA read is Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed. The book’s summary cited two writers I love, and introduced classic YA romance and resistance:

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

Love, Hate & Other Filters is told from Maya’s perspective, and I immediately fell in love with her. She is intelligent and creative; yet, the author does not make her into a heroine who claims she “isn’t like other girls.” She is unapologetically her teenage girl self–full of dreams and pining after a popular boy and texting with emojis–and it is so refreshing to read. We need to remember that there is no shame in acting like a teenage girl when you are, in fact, a teenage girl.

shepard-faireys-islam

Maya also feels torn between following her dream or pleasing her parents. She wants to attend college in New York to study film, but her parents want her to stay in Chicago and eventually marry a nice Muslim Indian boy. While Maya isn’t particularly devout, her parents are, and she often finds herself playing two different roles–especially as she starts gets closer to her crush, Phil, who is not Indian or Muslim.

However, these conflicts are merely backdrops to the book’s poignant commentary on terrorism and Islamophobia. After her city experiences a terror attack, her instinctive reaction is to hope that that the attacker isn’t Muslim. She fears another Muslim ban, and she recalls her parents’s stories of 9/11. Her thoughts are honest, and made me consider how many Muslim Americans live on a daily basis.

“It’s selfish and horrible, but in this terrible moment, all I want is to be a plain old American teenager. Who can simply mourn without fear. Who doesn’t share last names with a suicide bomber. Who goes to dances and can talk to her parents about anything and can walk around without always being anxious. And who isn’t a presumed terrorist first and an American second.”

-Love, Hate & Other Filters

When it is revealed that the alleged terrorist shares the same last name as Maya’s family–Aziz–they endure sudden hatred from the place they have always called home. Maya is physically harmed on a school field trip; her parents are threatened and their dental practice is attacked, even though they are not related to the terrorist.

Later on, we learn that the terrorist is not Mr. Aziz, but a white, American man. It’s a clear message to all of us that we cannot make judgements for an entire community and religion we only pretend to know. I often hear people claim that the Qur’an includes violent passages, which proves that Islam is a violent religion. But the Bible has its fair share of disturbing passages, too, and yet the American government is determined to uphold “Christian values.” As Maya’s parents explain, “These terrorists are the antithesis of Islam. They’re not Muslim. Violence has no place in religion, and the terrorists are responsible for their own crimes, not the religion and not us.” 

0c792ceb316674c9bb44f777ec071457

While I loved how this book confronted such a timely issue, much of Maya’s personal story felt incomplete. For instance, I understand why Maya and Phil did not end up together, but I wish that the book hadn’t jumped from their prom night to New York. Phil and Maya were absolutely adorable, and I was yearning for some sort of closure.  I felt the same way about her parents–they have an extremely painful argument about college, and I was expecting to see an equally dramatic reconciliation. In the end, I gave the book 3/5 stars.

This world desperately need voices like Samira Ahmed’s and characters like Maya–but we need to be open to receive them. May we always remember that love overcomes hate. ❤

Advertisements

Book Review: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

36576151

Note: As a member of the Launch Team, I received an advance reader copy from the publisher. 

Inspired: Slaying Giants Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

One Woman’s Journey Back to Loving the Bible

If the Bible isn’t a science book or an instruction manual, then what is it? What do people mean when they say the Bible is inspired? When Rachel Held Evans found herself asking these questions, she began a quest to better understand what the Bible is and how it is meant to be read. What she discovered changed her—and it will change you too.

Drawing on the best in recent scholarship and using her well-honed literary expertise, Evans examines some of our favorite Bible stories and possible interpretations, retelling them through memoir, original poetry, short stories, soliloquies, and even a short screenplay. Undaunted by the Bible’s most difficult passages, Evans wrestles through the process of doubting, imagining, and debating Scripture’s mysteries. The Bible, she discovers, is not a static work but is a living, breathing, captivating, and confounding book that is able to equip us to join God’s loving and redemptive work in the world.

The first Bible story I ever doubted can be found in the Book of Jonah.

I was a wide-eyed seven-year-old, fiercely in love with Jesus and not yet jaded by religion. I devoured the tales in my children’s Bible as though they would disappear: from Eden to Moses to Esther, I read and was fascinated and accepted each account as truth.

And then, I turned the page. Like every other page, this one had a brightly-colored picture. But this picture made me frown. A man was swimming in the depths of the ocean, cowering from a gigantic fish.

Not a whale or a manatee, which I knew were huge aquatic mammals. A huge, scaly, fish.

This fish, I read, swallowed Jonah. The reluctant prophet stayed in the fish’s belly for three days.

Perhaps it was because I had never heard this story before, but everything about Jonah sounded like nonsense. A fish couldn’t swallow a man whole. He couldn’t live there for three days. What kind of fool did these Bible people take me for?! I wasn’t an IDIOT. I was SEVEN.

photo-1508369233466-42c2fade18db

I’ve been wrestling with the Bible ever since. I started going to church, and believed my Sunday school teachers when they said that everything in it was historically true. There was a time in my life when I doubted God and everything to do with religion, but I still wasn’t sure what to do with the Bible. Then, I fell in love with Jesus again. The Bible became real once more.

Now, I feel caught in the in-between: I think the Bible is not always literal, but that doesn’t make it untrue. I still struggle with certain stories, especially those that involve miracles or floods or plagues.

But I know I’m not alone in this. Rachel Held Evans has had similar struggles with faith, and I’m a huge fan of her work. When she announced she was writing a book about the Bible, I could hardly contain my excitement–and then jumped at the chance to join the launch team.

In many ways, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again is classic Rachel Held Evans. The book is divided by literary genre; it reminded me of her book Searching for Sunday, which is divided into chapters based on church sacraments. In each chapter of Inspired, she uses elements of memoir and draws on scholarship to explore these genres within the Bible, never abandoning the vulnerability I so admire.

“We’ve been instructed to reject any trace of poetry, myth, hyperbole, or symbolism even when those literary forms are virtually shouting at us from the page via talking snakes and enchanted trees. That’s because there’s a curious but popular notion circulating around the church these days that says God would never stoop to using ancient genre categories to communicate. Speaking to ancient people using their own language, literary structures, and cosmological assumptions would be beneath God, it is said, for only our modern categories of science and history can convey the truth in any meaningful way.”

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

What’s different about Inspired, though, is that Rachel explores different genres and writing styles. Some chapters open with a short story (my favorites were the stories told from Hagar’s perspective, and the story about the woman that met Jesus at the well). One opens with a poem; another, a screenplay. While these works of fiction and poetry aren’t exactly necessaryI think the chapters stand well on their own, and I can see how this structure would feel a little confusing–they’re so much fun to read. They offer you a different perspective about the stories we think we know. Even if a story wasn’t my favorite, I always felt like I was implementing Ignatian prayer or midrash (Rachel also explains midrash in more detail) into my reading.

“The good news is as epic as it gets, with universal theological implications, and yet the Bible tells it from the perspective of fishermen and farmers, pregnant ladies and squirmy kids. This story about the nature of God and God’s relationship to humanity smells like mud and manger hay, and tastes like salt and wine. It is concerned, not simply with questions of eternity, but with paying taxes and filling bellies and addressing a woman’s chronic menstrual complications. It is the biggest story and the smallest story all at once—the great quest for the One Ring and the quiet friendship of Frodo and Sam.”

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

Throughout the book, there is an emphasis on the importance of story. As a writer, this idea resonated with me powerfully. Christians often say that God is a great storyteller; yet, we act as though it is heresy to imply the Bible is made of stories we struggle to believe. Rachel also points out that we will get much more out of the Bible if we accept it for what it is, instead of making it into something it isn’t. Her insights on war stories, miracle stories, and the epistles were especially comforting to me.

While I sometimes found myself wanting to read more history about the Bible, or wondering what genre her fictional retellings were leading into, I couldn’t put the book down. I often read paragraphs out loud to my husband and finished by exclaiming, “JESUS IS SO COOL! I LOVE THIS BOOK! I LOVE RACHEL HELD EVANS!” before melting in a puddle of my emotions.

Overall, I gave Inspired 4/5 stars on Goodreads. My sincerest hope and prayer is that, like Rachel, we all learn to wrestle with this ancient book. At the very least, we’ll hear a great story.

 

Pre-order Inspired here, or buy it from your favorite bookseller on June 12, 2018. 

The Paris of the South

I’m lucky enough to have more than one best friend, and I’m even luckier to count my mom among them.

I know it sounds cliché (especially on Mother’s Day) but it’s true. We do all the typical mother-daughter things: I call her when I’m angry and need to vent, and I call her just to say hello. I ask her for advice. And, of course, I always want to talk to her when I’ve had a bad day–because even though I’m technically a grown-ass woman, I still believe my mom can fix everything.

I also just love spending time with her. We’ve watched a lot of trashy television and visited a lot of wineries. And it’s always a blast.

10924827_2823324704294_775960411529377440_o

Go on, look at how cute we are! Please ignore the freakish reflection of my arm.

A few weeks ago, Mom and I took our first-ever trip together. We decided to visit Asheville, North Carolina–neither of us had ever been, and it was only a four-hour drive from Atlanta. We had no itinerary other than spending time with one another. And drinking wine. Obviously.

We left on a Friday morning, enjoyed a breakfast at Waffle House (“I’m in the South, after all,” Mom reasoned), and arrived in Asheville that afternoon. While our journey was relatively short, it was a beautiful drive. We made a quick stop near Tallulah Gorge, and the mountains in North Carolina were breathtaking.

Our hotel was located in Biltmore Village, so we took some time that evening to explore. There was plenty of shopping–including huge retailers like Chico’s and lululemon–but we preferred browsing places like The Olde World Christmas Shop, which has two stories full of holly jolly Christmas glee. And yes, it was just as incredible as it sounds. I was also a huge fan of Nest Botique & DIY Studio and the Village Wayside Bar & Grille.

 

Vanderbilt vibes. 💰🌷⛰#wanderlust #asheville #ashevillenc #biltmoreestate #biltmore

A post shared by Katie (@katielilybeth) on

 

The next day was dedicated to Biltmore Estate. Since our hotel was so close to the ticket office, we made the mistake of thinking we could walk to the actual estate…only to find out it was about three miles away, and you could only access everything by driving! So, we walked back, grabbed our car, and made the drive to the famous Vanderbilt house.

While I wish that our self-guided tour was a little less streamlined (you have to follow a line, and the path is blocked off with red rope), it’s an absolutely gorgeous place to visit. My favorite room, of course, was the library. Apparently, George Vanderbilt loved travel and books–so I think we would have had a lot to talk about. You know, except for the fact that he was super rich and lived over a hundred years ago.

Downtown Asheville was probably my favorite place to explore. There are so many wonderful shops and restaurants and breweries–you can’t go wrong!

On Sunday, we headed back downtown for the most important meal of the day: brunch. When searching for places to eat on Google Maps, we thought the Tupelo Honey Cafe sounded decent enough–and then IT BLEW OUR FREAKIN’ MINDS. We ordered coffee and mimosas, and had one of the best meals I have ever had in my life. I mean, goat cheese grits?! Sweet potato pancakes?! Is this what heaven is like?!!

(I was under the impression that the Tupelo Honey Cafe was only in Asheville, but on their website, I discovered they have several locations. There is one in the suburbs of Atlanta and I AM FREAKING OUT. Mom, I know what we are doing next time you are in town.) 

5e0e4e230d0a5d52e1e5718197d75b4c

Asheville is a beautiful town, and it made the perfect mother-daughter weekend trip. I’m already looking forward to my next visit: Mom and I have already talked about returning sometime next year, and my best friend will be staying in Asheville this summer. If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments or on Twitter. I love hearing from you all!

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I can’t wait for our next adventure together. 

To all the mamas out there: Happy Mother’s Day. I’m so grateful for all of you, and I hope you get to celebrate in the very best of ways today. I also know this is a painful day for many–so to all the women, mothers, and children who are hurting today, you are seen and loved. You’re heroes, too. ❤️

Read and Resist: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Welcome to Read and Resist, a blog series where I review books that amplify marginalized voices and address social justice issues. This includes fiction and non-fiction books (especially #OwnVoices), so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

hateugive_10-10snapI did not know much about The Hate U Give when it was released, but I remember having two immediate reactions. First, I thought, Everyone seems to love it. I must read it. Then I asked myself why the author used ‘U’ instead of the word ‘you.’ Like the grammar snob I am, I was annoyed at the title…but not annoyed enough to refuse to read it. It was, after all, a book. Hermione and Belle can never resist a new book, and neither can I.

beauty-and-the-beast-emma-watson-books

Please take a moment to appreciate the fact I used this GIF because Emma Watson plays Hermione and Belle.

Fortunately, my co-worker and fellow book lover loaned me her copy of The Hate U Give.  She had told me that the book was about racism, but I had no idea how absolutely relevant and poignant the plot would be–especially in our current political climate. As soon as I read the description, I was heartbroken:

 “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”

The plot is clearly inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and so I thought I would be reading a book about things I already knew. I told myself that I was white, but I wasn’t like those white people.

How wrong I was.

My thinking still reeked of white privilege–and I’m so glad that The Hate U Give was there to knock it down.

 

blm-response-header-01-01-01

Khalil is shot within the first few chapters of the book. He is driving, and Starr is in the front seat. When a cop pulls them over, Khalil is obviously agitated. He talks back to the officer a few times; still, he does not exhibit any threatening behaviors. He is unarmed.  It’s obvious the cop is wrong, and still, I found myself wondering if there is anything that Khalil could have done differently. But like so many his real-life counterparts, Khalil was innocent of any crime.

Khalil did not deserve to die. Period. 

Starr’s life is seemingly full of contradictions. As one of the few black students at her school, Starr has a lot of white friends; her boyfriend is also white, and they are often blissfully unaware of what Starr endures on a regular basis. As she explains: “It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black.” While she often finds herself unable to express her pain–especially after Khalil’s death–it’s clear that her enemy is not white people. Her enemy is racism and white supremacy, and these are evils that creep into all of our lives. These evils should be my enemy, too.

Similarly, Starr’s uncle is a police officer. Uncle Carlos is like Starr’s second father, and again, the book is made clear that you can hate a system without hating its people. More specifically, you can support Black Lives Matter and police officers. In an interview, author Angie Thomas explains:

“A lot of people are quick to say that saying “black lives matter” makes you anti-cop. All lives should indeed matter but we have a systemic problem in this country in which black lives do not matter enough. This not an anti-cop book. I intentionally made Starr’s uncle a cop because I have law enforcement in my family and I understand the struggle that black cops deal with particularly. One [relative] told me, “Well, in the uniform, I’m a sellout to some of my own people, but outside of the uniform, I’m seen as a suspect.” That’s a constant struggle for some of them and I wanted to show someone in law enforcement who holds other officers accountable. At one point in the book, Carlos [Starr’s uncle] says, ‘You shouldn’t be a cop if your first instinct is to shoot someone.’ I think the more we see more officers holding each other accountable, the more we will see people trust cops in this country.”

And the ‘U’ in the title? There is a reason for that, too. Khalil and Starr are listening to 2Pac songs when Khalil explains how truly revolutionary the artist was:

“Man, get outta here! Tupac was the truth.”
“Yeah, twenty years ago.”
“Nah, even now. Like, check this.” He points at me, which means he’s about to go into one of his Khalil philosophical moments. “‘Pac said Thug Life stood for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.”
I raise my eyebrows. “What?”
“Listen! The Hate U – the letter U – Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?”
“Damn. Yeah.”

As the story develops,  the meaning of ‘THUG LIFE” becomes even more important. So, yeah. I can stop being such an asshole about grammar.

The Hate U Give is a difficult and honest book; yet, I found myself reading for hours at a time. Starr feels more like a friend than a narrator, and the book is unexpectedly hilarious at times (the constant High School Musical and Harry Potter references had me especially giddy). While The Hate U Give  was written for the young adult market, its message is not limited to teens. It is for all of us.

i heart new york

tom-ritson-388066-unsplash

Photo by Tom Ritson on Unsplash

No other place has quite pulled at my heart like New York. My love for the sprawling, impossible city started with a key chain. 

Dad had just returned from a business trip; it was lucky, really, because I was still at that age where I selfishly expected gifts from my parents when they traveled without us. When we arrived at the airport, Dad handed me a keychain shaped like the Manhattan skyline. It was just for me, and I proudly clipped the tiny golden city to my backpack. Like so many other dreamers, I made myself a promise: one day, I would see New York City.

The keychain is long gone, but I kept my promise. I visited New York for the first time when I was fifteen, and have been fortunate enough to see it again. In 2017, I was in New York twice for work; last week, though, I took a trip just for fun.

Our good friend R.T. invited Drew and I to come to New York with him and his wife, Holly. Drew had never been to New York, and I’m never going to turn down a travel opportunity–so we accepted the invite and booked our flights a few weeks later.

tenor

We stayed in an Airbnb in Bushwick, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is famous for its community of artists. On every corner, we saw beautiful and delightfully quirky street art.

#newyork #newyorkcity #brooklyn #bushwick #bushwickstreetart #wanderlust

A post shared by Katie (@katielilybeth) on

We made ourselves at home in Brooklyn, but our first order of business was Broadway.

We all attended the matinee showing of Mean Girls–and it was a dream come true. As a die-hard fan of the film (I mean, who isn’t?), I had extremely high expectations. The musical captured the original story’s hilarity as well as its heart, and the audience cheered during some of the most iconic lines.

Drew also ordered us cocktails: “Burn Book” and “Is Butter A Carb?” We even got to keep the cups!

And yes, we wore pink. I mean, come on. It was a Wednesday, and we had to look fetch.

After dinner (and, let’s be honest, a few beers), it was time for our second musical: Avenue Q! The show is off-Broadway now, but that shouldn’t stop you. It’s freakin’ hilarious and probably one of the best commentaries on adulthood that I have ever seen. Don’t bring your kids, though. It will be really, really awkward. Trust me.

The next day, we had one goal: food. R.T. was determined to get some Joe’s Pizza.

While we were eating, a local New Yorker overheard us discussing pizza. You know. Like you do in New York. He recommended several places, including one down the street, and as soon as we finished Joe’s, we headed down Bleecker St. to Fiore’s. This was my favorite of the pizzas, but Drew and R.T. remain loyal to Joe’s.

But it was all delicious. So much pizza. So much happiness.

anigif_sub-buzz-2459-1486678128-6

Then, something truly magical happened. “Don’t freak out,” R.T. said, “But there’s a cookie dough place across the street.”

Well, we freaked out, and had to grab some cookie dough soon as we finished our pizza. World’s Best Cookie Dough offers freshly baked cookies, raw cookie dough, and milkshakes. We became BFFs with one of the employees and Drew discovered his new favorite cookie. The only downside is now every kind of cookie dough is slightly disappointing. And I’ll never have a milkshake that good ever again.

Even though we decided to skip a few classic tourist spots, like the Empire State Building, we had fun exploring Times Square (The Disney Store is top-notch!) and Central Park. We also made a day trip to see Statue of Liberty! I had never seen it up close, and the trip was definitely worth it. If you decide to visit Liberty Island, beware of scammers–there is only one official ticket vendor.

statueofliberty

Later that night, we decided to have dinner at Lips. This was by far one of my favorite parts of the whole trip: drag queens put on a show while you eat and enjoy cocktails. We probably enjoyed too many cocktails–if there is such a thing at a drag show.

rings

Our bank accounts say there is such a thing. WHATEVER, BANKS. We got these cool rings with our drinks. So who’s laughing now?!

We were there for diva night, which meant the queens performed as Cher, Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Joan Rivers, Lady Gaga, and Madonna. They were all incredible. If you’re jealous, don’t worry–there are several locations throughout the US. Just don’t forget to make reservations, and bring cash so you can give the queens tips. Performing is still work!

lady gaga

On our last day, we headed for Coney Island. Holly and I had both been dying to go, and we weren’t disappointed. It’s so delightfully weird, with just enough circus creepiness to make the whole park an adventure.

IMG_1088.JPG

IMG_1091

IMG_1103

The subway ride to Coney Island is no joke, so we were starving by the time we arrived. Drew and I ate more pizza, and then we stood in line at the famous Nathan’s Hot Dogs. As the sole vegetarian of the group, I skipped the hot dog and got a beer instead. I know. Poor me (#sarcasm). We also rode the legendary Wheel of Wonder and their roller coaster, the Cyclone. If you love theme park rides, they’re both worth the cost ($8 and $10, respectively). Drew and Holly weren’t fans of the Wheel of Wonder, but we all agreed the Cyclone was a blast.

Coney Island is definitely one of my new favorite places, and I hope that one day I get to go for the Mermaid Parade!

drewfaceny

He was helping me with the picture. Apparently. 

As always, New York was absolutely wonderful. No trip is ever the same, and I’m already looking forward to seeing it again. There are still a lot of pizza places and cookie dough flavors to try. ❤️

Read and Resist: Tranny by Laura Jane Grace

Welcome to Read and Resist, a blog series where I review books that amplify marginalized voices and address social justice issues. This includes fiction and non-fiction books (especially #OwnVoices), so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

9780316387958_p0_v3_s1200x630

 

If you find the title “Tranny” a little shocking, you aren’t alone. Like any good LGBTQIA+ ally, I balked when the cover popped up on my Goodreads feed. Tranny? Really? I mean, come on. It’s 2018.

Eventually, I succumbed to my curiosity and clicked on the title. After reading the description, I realized that Laura Jane Grace is, in fact, trans. Well. That certainly changed things. My self-righteousness was knocked down a few pegs, and I purchased the audiobook a few weeks later.

cc3f9a1e487ac3e0f68fd9168559891d

Laura Jane Grace (previously known as Tom Gabel) is the lead singer of the punk band Against Me!. I had heard about Against Me! as a teenager–back when I had wistfully lusted after Warped Tour tickets–but I didn’t know much about their music, let alone that the lead singer was trans. Although she came out publicly in 2012 during a Rolling Stone interview, her book was released in 2016.

In true punk rock fashion, Laura Jane Grace holds nothing back in her memoir. In the first chapter, she recalls watching MTV and wearing her mother’s stockings in order to look and feel like Madonna. Of course, this was all hidden from her parents; even as a four-year-old, she knew her fantasy had to be kept secret. As a teen, she turned to drugs and alcohol to keep the gender dysphoria at bay. When she discovered anarchy and punk rock, she was inspired to start Against Me!.

At this point of Laura’s story, many chapters are taken from her journals. She recounts her first tours with Against Me!, her first marriage, and her struggle with addiction. Even as a punk musician on the road, she took every opportunity to express her femininity and research gender confirmation surgery. Laura’s second marriage and the birth of her daughter drove her to stop completely. It worked for a little while–but Laura soon realized that she couldn’t continue living as a man.

While Tranny focuses on Laura’s entire journey, rather than her current life as a trans woman, it is an incredibly important story that we all need to hear. She is brutally honest about everything–not just the struggles that come with being trans–and there were several passages that made me uncomfortable. I mean, how could I not be? Laura was a punk rock anarchist who has been arrested. She yelled at her pharmacist the first time she picked up her hormones (in Laura’s defense, the pharmacist was being an asshole). She had her first drink and first high before I had even thought about consuming alcohol. She prayed to God to turn her into a woman, and when that didn’t work, she prayed to Satan. Much of her story is heartbreaking, and that heartbreak only confirms what I’ve believed for a while now: trans and gender non-conforming people need safe spaces to express their identities. 

Listening to Tranny made my commutes much less rage-inducing, and I felt like I had a friend with me during those long morning drives.  My only complaint is that much of the book revolves around the music business–which I didn’t necessarily dislike, but it isn’t what kept me interested in Laura’s story. I gave Tranny four out of five stars, and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for diverse books.

I also recommend listening to “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” and “True Trans Soul Rebel”. Both songs can be found on the album Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me!, and both are total bangers.

If punk isn’t exactly your thing (hi, Dad!), I’ve included the lyrics at the end of this post (content warning: both songs contain strong language, as well references to self-harm and gender dysphoria.). I also loved watching Laura’s web series, True Trans. As a cisgender woman, I will never completely understand Laura’s experience–but her work has opened my heart and mind in so many ways. I can only hope we continue to follow the light she shines in the darkness.

“Transgender Dysphoria Blues”

Your tells are so obvious,
Shoulders too broad for a girl.
It keeps you reminded,
Helps you remember where you come from.
You want them to notice,The ragged ends of your summer dress.
You want them to see you
Like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot.
They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick.

Rough surf on the coast,
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast,
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast,
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
With you.
With you.

You’ve got no cunt in your strut.
You’ve got no hips to shake.
And you know it’s obvious,
But we can’t choose how we’re made.

You want them to notice,
The ragged ends of your summer dress.
You want them to see you
Like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot.
They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick.

Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
With you.
With you.

You want them to notice,
The ragged ends of your summer dress.
You want them to see you
Like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot.
They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick.

Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
With you.
With you.

With you.

“True Trans Soul Rebel”

All dressed up and nowhere to go
Walking the streets all alone
Another night to wish you could forget
Making yourself up as you go along

Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Does god bless your transsexual heart?
True Trans Soul Rebel

Yet to be born, you’re already dead
You sleep with a gun beside you in bed
You follow it through to the obvious end
Slit your veins wide open
You bleed it out

Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Does god bless your transsexual heart?
True Trans Soul Rebel

You should’ve been a mother
You should’ve been a wife
You should’ve been gone from here years ago
You should be living a different life

Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Does god bless your transsexual heart?
True Trans Soul Rebel
True Trans Soul Rebel!

 

Thoughts and Prayers

27858651_1644153752342396_207629616003888568_n

I was a freshman in high school when I first considered the possibility of a school shooting.

Someone had made an off-handed remark about shooting his classmates. Regardless of his intention–a failed attempt at dark humor, or maybe deeply-rooted cynicism– it was received as it should have been: seriously, and as a threat to our safety. That week, rumors spread throughout the school like wildfire: it would happen on Friday. He had a list. A few people were on his ‘safe list.’ We analyzed his personality and behavior. We asked ourselves if we were surprised.

Our principal composed a letter that we, in turn, gave to our parents. It stated the nature of the threat, the rumors, and how the faculty members were responding. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember what it boiled down to: we would be safe.

Even so, many of us debated if we would come to school that Friday. That Thursday night, I pored over my Bible and texted my friends about how scared I was. I didn’t know what to do.

I’m not sure how or why I decided to attend school the next day, but I did. I wrote a Bible verse on my hand, because it gave me courage. My friend Lindsey wore a Superman shirt, simultaneously a cheeky response to the rumors and a middle finger to danger. Many of my classmates did not come to school. I didn’t blame them. There was fear and tension in the air that did not disappear until the last bell rang.

And thankfully, we were safe.

thoughts-and-prayers-into-policy-and-change

I was twenty-three when I was told one of my cousins had been injured in a shooting. It was the sort of moment where everything stops. Nothing felt real–because we spend years watching the news and hearing these stories over and over again and it’s a distant problem, one defined by distant sadness and stilted sympathy, and then it happens to someone you love.

I stayed home from work. At the time, I was living with my friends Rose and Christina, as well as my older cousin, Chris. Our cousin Alyssa lived nearby. She came over. None of us wanted to be alone. We ordered pizza, because pizza fixes everything. Or at least, it used to.

There were many mass shootings before these horrible days in my life. And there have been many mass shootings after.

Columbine.

Sandy Hook.

Orlando.

Las Vegas.

Parkland.

So many, in fact, that I know this does not even begin to cover it. I cannot name or remember them all, and that horrifies me. Is this what we consider normal? Massacres that we cannot recall? Yet another news story that states that a shooting was the deadliest in our nation’s history?

To put it simply: I’m tired.

We should not have to live like this. High school students especially should not have to live like this. They should be shopping for prom dresses and dreaming about college–not organizing marches and calling our leaders out on their bullshit. And the victims deserve a hell of a lot more than our government’s thoughts and prayers.

You may not agree with me about gun reform. I can accept that. I’ll accept that begrudgingly, but that’s a rant for another day–and quite frankly, you can Google all the data that has led me to my current convictions. At the end of the day, violence is a multi-faceted problem and it requires a multi-faceted solution.

I only have ideas about what gun reform should entail, but I do know that thoughts and prayers are not enough. I don’t think they are meaningless–I pray every single day because I a) I am a Christian, and prayer is an integral part of my faith, and b) I believe it changes my heart, which in turn changes the world around me.

But faith without works is dead. And until we actively respond to this violence, we are worshiping an abstract, absent god instead of the God we claim to serve: the God of divine Love who is made manifest in Her people.  

Jesus prayed. He prayed a lot, actually.

And then he did something.

What are we going to do?

gun-control-protest-white-house-03-gty-mt-180219_3x2_992

First and foremost, we need to speak out.

Everytown has started a campaign called Throw Them Out, encouraging constituents to tell Congress that they support common sense gun laws. Remember: our government represents us–not the NRA. My personal hero Glennon Doyle explains more in this video:

 

Consider attending a protest in your area. The Women’s March is organizing a walkout on March 14; another is scheduled for April 20, the nineteenth anniversary of the Columbine shooting. On March 24, there’s March For Our Lives, a protest in Washington DC (and other cities across the US) to demand gun reform legislation.

We also need to respond with an outpouring of love. Support the people who have been affected by this most recent shooting; they have a long road ahead of them. Write a letter to students. Donate to the victims and their families. Give your loved ones an extra hug.

Have open conversations. Destigmatize therapy and mental illness. Hold our government accountable.

This issue is not a gun issue OR a mental health issue. It is AND/ BOTH. Which is why I am a mental health advocate AND a gun reform advocate. It’s also about toxic masculinity. It’s also about media glorification of killers. It’s ALSO about guns. Instead of arguing- Pick one and get to work. It’s gonna take all of us.

Glennon Doyle 

It will not be easy.

But we can do this.

Let’s make history.