The Latest

Chicago is a crossroads, a second city, a chance at a new life. Some people think that the Second City moniker is about being second in size to New York or Los Angeles, but it refers to the city being the second iteration of itself because a large portion of the city burned down in 1871 and was subsequently rebuilt. In reference to size, Chicago is 3rd after New York and Los Angeles; however, Chicago has a character all its own. Indigenous people, colonizers, descendants of slaves, and people looking for a fresh start, live here. Running errands in the city, I travel through communities of peoples who identify as Latinx, Hasidic, South Asian, and European. Riding the bus or the “El” train, I regularly hear, Spanish, French, English, and Amharic spoke. While the city is plagued by racial segregation, economic inequality, and political corruption, there are cultural interactions that I never imagined. There are gestures towards justice happening in this town, the questions around movements are more – how and when — then – if – we can do it.

Though 59% of residents of the city were born in the state of Illinois, there is a transient nature to the city.  40% of residents that are transplants, demographers estimate that about half were born in the US and half in other countries. And for those of us transplants who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allies, many of us came here because there was something else that we had to be, something that was not possible in the towns we used to inhabit. For my partner and I, both black lesbians, living in a small town in the Midwest, was suffocating. Upon meeting us, people did a double-take, for them we were an impossibility. We eventually became a part of a small queer circle that valued us, but on the edges of that community, danger stalked ever closer. When I moved there, I was followed by the police about 4 times on my way to work. A few weeks later, my partner, was stopped early one morning by a State Trooper, who told her that “she touched the white line” while driving. As a masculine of center (read: butch) lesbian who has a decidedly unfeminine silhouette, we both knew that these kinds of incidents could result in death. Black lives are on the line everywhere, and Chicago is on the front lines of the debate over police brutality, income inequality, and racial segregation, but here we are possible. We regularly see other queer people of color living their lives and getting on with the mundane. We hold hands in public freely. Our subjectivities are possible. Like the recent immigrants from Bosnia, Puerto Rico, and African Americans who came to this city during the Great Migration, Chicago is a place of possibility. For Chicago queers, this is a place where we can live, fight for inclusion, and, on occasion, win. Similar to the sentiment expressed in Graham Nash’s “Chicago”, here we believe that we can change the world. More… “These Queer Streets”

I see the shirt from afar, like the midway full of people parted just for my sightline. BLEED THE FREAK, it says in big, blocky, bright red letters. I’m not sure what it means, but it doesn’t feel right. Something about the violence of the phrase, the awkward but hypnotic syntax. The words worm their way into my brain like a song, bleed the freak, bleed the freak, bleed the freak.

I’m 16 years old, at the Puyallup Fair with my church youth group. It is 1994. It’s before the deep-fried fair food explosion — before deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried Snickers, deep-fried Oreos, and before it occurred to food vendors at fairs large and small to experiment with dipping anything they can think of into batter and then deep-frying it. It’s before the Puyallup Fair becomes the Washington State Fair, before I grow up and move away from Washington, before going to state fairs becomes one of my favorite Midwest summer activities, and before I’ll care at all about seeing the animals, much less them becoming one of my favorite parts of a fair. Largely because seeing the animals — the horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, roosters, and rabbits — is one of my wife’s favorite parts of a fair and one of the side effects of marriage is often your partner’s favorite things become your favorite things. There are, however, plenty of the deep-fried staples, between corndogs, elephant ears, and funnel cake — but also the Puyallup Fair staple, fresh scones with raspberry jelly. Then there was a fair’s worth of girls for a 16-year-old to ogle and teasingly push your friends into. And lastly, a selection of rides like the carousel, Classic Coaster, Kamikaze, Scrambler, and the small, two-person squirrel wheels in which my best friend Brad would spin and rock us back-and-forth so fast and jerky it would make me feel like I just might throw-up, though I’d never say that to Brad, not wanting to give him the ammunition to make fun of me nor the encouragement to keep doing it. More… “Name Your God”

In graduate school, a female classmate told me I read like a girl. We were at a house party. Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Prep had recently been released in paperback, and I mentioned that I’d read it over the summer and enjoyed it. “Really?” my classmate said. Her face began at surprise and then traveled toward disapproval. “I don’t know any other men who liked that book.”

Or maybe I was only imagining disapproval. She was one of those people who likes to amuse themselves at parties by playing armchair psychologist. On another night, drinking canned beer in someone’s patchy backyard, she referred to me as “one of our program’s alpha males,” a claim so absurd I did an actual spit take. A couple of months later, at a post-workshop dinner, apropos of seemingly nothing, she turned to me and said, “I bet you were popular in high school.” That time, at least, I knew I was being insulted.

It’s funny, the comments that stay with you and bury themselves deep in your pockets — small, smooth stones you can worry over in idle moments. I can still hear the voice of the boy who called me a sissy on a school-sponsored weekend trip to the North Carolina mountains when I was in the fifth grade. I can see his face too, ruddy in the cold, chubby with baby fat. I no longer remember the point of that trip, except that it was sponsored by the gifted and talented program and brought together kids from three or four different schools. But I remember walking through the woods with a girl I’d just met, a girl I was quickly developing a crush on, though at that age I didn’t know what to do with my crushes except stand near them, like a wood stove in a drafty cabin. I remember that she had an unusual name, hippie parents, and the kind of chunky, plastic jewelry I associated with much older women. I think we were supposed to be identifying trees. More… “My Trouble With Men”

I just came from a performance of Giselle, the classic ballet in which the heroine, a peasant girl, falls in love with a prince and then dies when she discovers that he is betrothed to a noblewoman. I love this ballet and watched it with rapt attention, but I was struck, in the context of our #MeToo moment, of its problematic appeal and that of other ballets that I love like Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, and Swan Lake.

Not for the first time, but more strongly, I was brought up short by the contradictions inherent in what I was seeing. One cannot separate a classical ballet of this kind from its reliance on extreme, stereotypical gender representation. The tutu is a frilly exaggeration of a woman’s hips and the longer skirt is its more romanticized extension, not to mention the diaphanous nightgowns that figure in sleep-walking scenes and bedroom encounters. The male dancer is the support, the prop and pander, to this gauzy female caricature. Often the ballerina dies — in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet there is a duet, if it can be called that, with Juliet’s lifeless body. Ballet also demands rigorous physical conformity from the female dancer. She must be of a certain height and weight, must have a certain leg length, and must possess good turn-out and feet. (My teacher informed me that I had none of these at age 12.) The male dancer, by contrast, is mostly defined by his bulging codpiece and delineated buttocks. So long as male dancers can jump and support their partners, they can be more variable in their physique. More… “The Paradox of Pointe”

I am not a religious man, by neither temperament nor upbringing, but I did, once, come close to experiencing the sort of transcendence of the self that the world’s great spiritual traditions speak to. In my case though, it was not in a church, a synagogue or a mosque, nor was it retracing the steps of ancient pilgrimage or flying through the stars on a proscribed substance. Rather, my encounter with the essential interconnectedness of our selves and the universe came on a nipping cold March evening on the far outskirts of Ottawa. In one of the cheaper corners of the then-Scotiabank Place, now-Canadian Tire Centre, along with the rest of that sold out stadium, I would be moved by a three hour a set of stories and experiences that spanned the highs and lows of humanity. From rollicking, juvenile triumph to sober, resigned reflection and back again, with some stops for muscular calls for social healing and jokey, upbeat romances along the way. It was the first and thus far only time I saw Bruce Springsteen, complete with as many surviving members of the E Street Band as he could marshal, in concert. More… ““Walk Like a Man””

It’s really the Bosphorus that’s the true founder of Istanbul. As a strait, it controls the main crossing point between Asia and Europe. It’s where Jason took his Argonauts and it’s where Darius’s army crossed on a bridge of boats for, like Oxford, Bosphorus means the “shallowest point where an ox can cross.”

The Bosphorus also acts as the passageway between the “Propontis” (Sea of Marmara) and the “Euxinos” (Black Sea). Big oil tankers and small boats mesmerically share the shipping lanes: some chugging along, others seemingly serene.

I boarded a boat from my “iskelesi” (historic passenger ferryboat pier) at Besiktas that took me to Emirgan, Kucuksu to Beylerbeyi and back again. I passed the real and the fantastic in equal measure with loveless dilapidation beside stunning palaces symbolising both the city’s modern economic struggles and her glorious bygone eras. More… “Strait to Istanbul”

There’s nothing the comics industry likes so much as licensed material. Why go to the trouble of coming up with your own ideas when there are so many established ones just begging to be displayed in some sort of visual sequence? The very first comic books, after all, were just a collection of repackaged newspaper comic strips.

The love for licensing is even stronger now that pop culture nostalgia has proven to be a ginormous money maker (see just about anything playing at your local cinema). Take a trip to the comics store and you’ll find scores of titles based off such properties as Jem and the Holograms, My Little Pony, Ghostbusters, Voltron, Power Rangers, Fraggle Rock, Robocop, and so much, much more.

Sometimes these comics are straight up garbage. Sometimes they are solid if uninspired adaptations that serve their purpose in evoking ever so slightly that je ne sais quoi that made fans cherish the source material. Occasionally (emphasis on “occasionally”) you get a cartoonist who offers a really interesting, delightful or spirited take on a familiar property (e.g. Carl Barks’ Donald Duck and John Stanley’s Little Lulu). More… “Bots that Go Boom”

And so the torch has been passed to a new generation, or so the story goes. This year, the last of the millennials and the first of Generation Z (or post-millennials or iGen or whatever name the culture decides on) are entering the workforce, and analysts, commentators, and critics are using this transition to reflect upon the changing landscape of work at the end of the second decade of the 21st-century. Many of these articles have made a large splash in the cultural conversation — Anne Helen Petersen’s “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” comes to mind — but the discussion has also made clear a certain cultural amnesia exists about these attitudes. Case in point: CBS News ran a story on Petersen’s piece accompanied by a graphic that completely omitted Generation X from its list of generations since 1928.

Such a gaffe from a major news organization may appear surprising; however, it becomes less of a shock when one considers that, for many, Gen-X is defined not by work but rather by its aversion to it. The culture even resurrected the word “slacker,” a term used in World War I to refer to draft dodgers, to characterize the so-called aimless, apathetic youth of the 1980s. However, one thing these recent examinations of work in America make clear is that the culture is paying a price for ignoring the work ethic of Generation X. Turns out Gen-Xers were not avoiding work at all but were attempting to change America’s conception of labor altogether. More… “Slacker’s Labor Day”

The old joke has it that reading Playboy for the articles is a dodge — a way to deflect clucking tongues of disapproval for the shy reader’s appreciation of nubile females. That old joke became a cruel one in the late winter of 2016 when the magazine published its first ever non-nude issue. Cooper Hefner, the 27-year-old owner and editor of Playboy, initially told readers that the legendary publication would cease publishing buxom models in their birthday suits for good. That promise did not last. The sadistic joke was over.

Back when Playboy was actually groundbreaking, daring, and (dare I say it) titillating, the magazine not only featured some of the world’s most beautiful women, but also some of the world’s best writers. Much of this literary greatness came courtesy of one editor — Ray Russell. Ironically, Russell, who managed the magazine’s fiction department during the early 1950s to early 1970s, was a Victorian thorough and thorough. Or at least he wrote like a Victorian English gentleman with a deep taste for the weird. More… “Conte Cruel”

Before Yellowstone, I never thought about the murderous qualities of buffalo. After Yellowstone, it was all I could think about.

In the fall of 2007, my then-girlfriend Katelyn and I were on an epic cross-country road trip. Passing through Wyoming, we made a detour to visit America’s oldest national park for a few days. As we drove up to the main gate, we were stopped at a booth by a park ranger in a wide-brimmed hat. “Is this your first visit to Yellowstone?” she asked.

“It sure is!” I answered. She nodded and handed over a small packet of papers that Katelyn flipped through as we drove into the park. It contained all of the expected materials: a detailed map, a large spread on various wildlife, a leaflet on camping regulations.

Then Katelyn pulled out a bright yellow flier that made us glance at each other, horrified. It was an illustration of a hapless park visitor, arms and legs outstretched, mouth in a round “O,” being launched into the air by a hulking buffalo. The beast’s sharp horns were inches from the man’s rump. “WARNING! MANY VISITORS HAVE BEEN GORED BY BUFFALO,” the page screamed in bold, capital type, “These animals may appear tame but are wild, unpredictable, and dangerous. DO NOT APPROACH BUFFALO.” More… “When Bison Attack”