Leviathan

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Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is a half adventure, half coming-of-age novel set in an alternate steampunk past, in which the powers of the world are divided into “Clankers” who favour huge, steam-powered walking war-machines; and “Darwinists,” whose hybrid “beasties” can stand in for airships, steam-trains, war-ships, and subs (they even have a giant octopus called the kraken that can seize whole warships and drag them to their watery graves).

Set on the eve of WWI, the story’s two main characters are Aleks, the incognito orphan of the freshly assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand (fleeing his murderous uncle Emperor Franz Josef from Austria to the safe haven of Switzerland in a liberated battle-walker); and Deryn, a Scots girl who has dressed in boys’ clothes to muster into Britain’s Darwinist air-corps and finds herself a midshipsman on the Leviathan, a floating ecosystem a quarter-mile long, made up of whales, bats, bees, six-legged hydrogen-sniffing dogs, and all manner of beasties that make her the meanest thing in the sky.

Filled with gripping air and land-battles, political intrigue and danger, science and madness, Leviathanis part Island of Dr Moreau, part Patrick O’Brien. And to top it all off, the volume is lavishly illustrated with fabulous ink-drawings of the best scenes from the book, executed in high Victorian style by Keith Thompson (who also produced contrafactual propaganda maps of alternate Europe)

Westerfeld writes gripping, relentless coming-of-age novels that are equally enjoyable by adults and kids, and Leviathan is no exception. Leviathan is also available as an unabridged 8-hour audiobook on DRM-free CDs for a very reasonable price. The reading is by Alan Cummings, who absolutely nails it, and the production — bed music, editing — is just superb, bringing the whole swashbuckling tale to life.

19 Years Later

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It has been 19 years since Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, died as a result of being beaten and tortured by two classmates who targeted him because of his sexual identity. His injuries were so severe that the person who found his brutalised body tied to a fence initially thought he was a scarecrow—a lifeless, human form meant to scare.

Since Matthew’s horrific death and the subsequent murder trials of his attackers, the US has taken small, but important, steps to protect queer individuals through legislation—including the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which made assaulting an individual because of sexual orientation or gender identity a federal crime. In 2013, President Obama also signed into law a reauthorizing of the Violence Against Women’s Act, which included added protections for LGBT victims of violence.

Yet 2017 has been the worst year on record for hate-related homicides of LGBTQ people in the US. In August, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released a mid-year report that found that as of August 23, there had been 36 anti-LGBTQ homicides—the highest number NCAVP had recorded in its 20-year history of documenting this information. Three-quarters of these victims were people of colour; 19 were transgender or gender-nonconforming.

“This number represents a 29% increase in single incident reports from 2016,” the authors note. “So far in 2017, there has been nearly one homicide a week of an LGBTQ person in the US”

Cathy Renna is a longtime LGBTQ activist who spent more than a decade as GLAAD’s primary spokesperson, and actually travelled to Laramie in October 1998. She says how “extraordinary” it is to have a sense of “the change that has occurred because of the response to Matt’s murder and also how far we still have to go.”

On October 6, 1998—the morning Shepard was found, still alive but barely—Renna was living in Washington, DC. She’d just returned to her office after leaving a press conference announcing national advertising and advocacy against gay conversion therapy. Her phone, beeper, and email, which was still fairly new at the time, were lighting up with messages, she says. One of the people she spoke with was a friend of Shepard’s and the president of the LGBT student group at the University of Wyoming: They were feeling overwhelmed as media outlets began to converge on campus. The next morning, she jumped on an airplane and headed to Wyoming.

“The media and the community paid so much attention to this murder and was so motivated to action that it completely changed the way this issue was dealt with in American culture,” Renna says. “I spent a lot of time educating the media, both local and national, that were there about issues related to hate violence. The media were trying to portray this in a very sensational way … it was such a horrific case, and the reality was that this happens all the time. It had been happening for decades.” She clarified that gender nonconforming individuals and queer people of colour, especially, are often targets of violent crimes that go largely unreported in the media.

In the wake of Shepard’s murder and the subsequent coverage and activism, “there’s been an extraordinary amount of progress in terms of the education and awareness by so many,” she says. “However, with increased visibility can also come a backlash by those who are harboring anti-LGBTQ feelings. In a climate like the one we’re in now, not only do they feel emboldened, but they also feel they have permission to act on their hate and their homophobia and their transphobia. That is the reality of what the current administration has created.”

“It gives us an opportunity not to talk about Matt but to talk about all the other cases that did not get the attention that Matthew Shepard’s murder got.”

There’s evidence, she continues, not only in the political rhetoric used today but the actual policies and the actions that lawmakers are taking. For example, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley recently voted against a measure that condemned the use of the death penalty to punish people in same-sex relationships. And last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a guidance that would make it legal for any business to fire someone based on their sexual orientation.

“What happened to Matt is not unique. It happens all the time, and it mostly happens to those who are more marginalized,” Renna says. “That’s why I think it’s important we always go back and look at what happened to Matt—because it gives us an opportunity not to talk about Matt but to talk about all the other cases that did not get the attention that Matthew Shepard’s murder got.”

via Broadly

A Boy & his Cards

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There are two kinds of magic tricks. One kind makes the spectator think: “That magician must have a lot of skill to pull off such a difficult trick.” The other kind makes the spectator think: “That was impossible.” Enjoy this brief film about 19-year-old Franco Pascali, directed by Jacob Rosenberg.

“When I met Franco Pascali, I was struck by how much I felt like I was meeting and hanging out with a young street skater. However, instead of witnessing skate tricks he destroyed me by his usage of cards.

Much like the world of skateboarding that I was raised in, magic and cardistry are intensely personal and individually orientated in terms of the endless practice that is required to master them.

Tricks are performed with decks and each person embodies a style that is distinctly their own. That style is reflective of the influences they devoured when they were coming up and their intrinsic sensibility that they develop as they mature.

As I spent time with Franco I immediately wanted to point my camera at him to capture the way he dressed, the way he talked, the breathtaking way he moved cards and the feeling I had in encountering such raw talent. This is our first film.”

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The Mess He Made

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A man spends 15 minutes waiting for the results of a Rapid HIV test in a small-town strip mall.

“This is a film about getting tested for HIV in 2017 — two decades after President Clinton announced that finding an effective vaccine would be a top national priority. Five years after the FDA approved PrEP for reducing the risk of sexually acquired infection. One year after my first Grindr hookup.

This is a film about queer rituals. This is a film about grappling with gay shame. And this is a film about a man who is terrified of winding up alone, but on some level thinks he deserves to be.

I feel very lucky (and terrified) to have so many of my own demons on display in this work – it has been more personal, therapeutic and creatively fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. I’ll always be grateful to my remarkable cast and crew, who stomped into Scranton, PA with me the week after the election, when the world suddenly felt so unfamiliar, and carved out a space for this fierce little film.” – Matthew Puccini, Director

Big Mouth

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Netflix’ Big Mouth takes a sharp, surprisingly joyful look at the gross time that is puberty. Also, the comedy casts puberty as a literal hormone monster.

The most common way people describe going through puberty is “awkward.” But as Netflix’s new animated comedy Big Mouth would like to remind you, going through puberty is also downright disgusting.

The series spares no gross detail as it delves into the fraught world of adolescence and all the rages, bodily fluids, and knee-jerk masturbatory instincts it brings. Adding yet another layer of weirdness is that Big Mouthpersonifies puberty by way of opposing “hormone monsters,” with the lecherous Maury (series co-creator Nick Kroll) following meek Andrew (John Mulaney) as he frets his way through his new urges, while curvaceous Connie (Maya Rudolph) tags alongside Jessi (Jessi Klein) to prod her into indulging in vicious mood swings.

The show’s 10 episodes are overall very silly, and often ridiculous just for the sake of it. Maury in particular is a walking, talking id who takes gleeful advantage of Netflix’s lack of censors; there’s no other show I can think of that would cast the role one of its young protagonists’ closest confidants as the horny ghost of Duke Ellington living in his attic. At one point, there’s a bizarre sidebar about Jay, the resident hothead of Andrew and Jessi’s school who’s voiced appropriately by comedy’s resident hothead Jason Mantzoukas, accidentally impregnating a pillow.

But what makes Big Mouth more than the sum of its many, many dick jokes is the fact that beneath its raging hormones and truly gross humor lies an enormously sympathetic heart.

Andrew, for example, is growing almost despite himself, sporting a patchy mustache while furtively masturbating to fantasies of his father’s assistant. But his best friend Nick (also voiced by Kroll) is still firmly stuck in preadolescence, barely as tall as Andrew’s shoulders, lacking the sex drive that’s slowly but surely taking over Andrew’s brain, and confused as to why his own body is taking so long to catch up.

When Andrew’s not caught up in his lustful reveries (not to mention Maury’s encouragement to indulge every last deranged one of them), his friendship with Nick is genuinely touching, and a real portrayal of how hard it can for teens to navigate relationships when they’re growing up at different rates.

If Big Mouth were just a series of jokes about how weird and gross puberty is, it wouldn’t be much more than a decent way to kill some time during a slow weekend. But the show achieves a new, deeper level of comedy by remaining hyper aware of the fact that puberty isn’t just about bodies changing, but about what it means to grow up at all.

The ”Sissy” Boy Experiment

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In 1970, a five-year-old boy named Kirk Murphy was subjected to a government-funded ex-gay experiment. Under the care of Dr Ivor Lovaas and George Rekers, then a doctoral student, of UCLA, he underwent therapy to eliminate supposed effeminate behaviours. In 1974, Lovaas and Rekers jointly published a paper about the boy they renamed “Kraig,” heralding his treatment for “childhood cross-gender problems” a success and claiming he had been transformed from a gender-confused homosexual-in-waiting to a healthy, heterosexual young man.

On the back of this study, Rekers built a career as an anti-gay activist and a supposed expert in childhood sexual development. He co-founded the Family Research Council and championed reparative therapy to turn gay men straight. A few years ago the State of Florida spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring Dr. George Rekers as its star witness in the case against adoption by gays in Florida.

In 2003, Kirk, aged 38 years old and gay, committed suicide.