Last night, I went to a drag show. In Gillette, Wyoming, of all places. It was both the worst and best possible time for the event to take place.
The past two weeks have been ugly ones here. Two weeks ago, a band of local conservatives went to a county commissioner meeting to give them a piece of their minds because the public library had dared to have, and then advertise the fact that it has, a display of books relevant to Pride Month. The conservatives, without a trace of irony, suggested that the library censor its books, and said with straight faces that the books to which they were opposed endeavored to “teach” kids to be gay. The idiocy of this shouldn’t require much more comment.
This week saw an uglier outpouring of anti-LGBTQ sentiments from many of the same actors. Undoubtedly prompted by the previous week’s interaction with the county commissioners, some members of the conservative contingency ran through the library’s upcoming schedule and found a new controversy that even the library couldn’t have seen coming.
There was a magic show scheduled. The magician performed for mostly kids and teens. The conservatives found out that the magician was a trans woman. Quickly thereafter there were calls to protest the library and the magician. The online comments were filled with filth and hate and falsehoods.
The comments fomented a mob, and the mob did what many mobs do. They called and emailed the magician with threats, telling her that if she went ahead with the show, there would be issues. They told her she wasn’t fucking welcome in this town. One went to the library and told them they ought to close, because it wasn’t safe there.
The magician canceled her show. She was incredibly gracious in the face of hate. The library was embarrassed on behalf of its city.
But the protests happened anyway. They stood on the lawn of the library, on a main roadway in the town, and held up signs with ignorant and nonsensical messages like “Don’t trans our kids!”
A local mother had no idea any of this was going on, not the magic show, not the cancellation, not the protest. She was dropping off her kid at the library because it’s a place where the kid feels safe.
The kid, all of 16 years old, is trans and loves the library. He spends a lot of his free time there.
The mother chose to get out and confront those protesters, to tell them how offensive their actions were. The protesters accused her of filling her kid with hate by forcing him to be trans. The depth of their ignorance was staggering.
A drag show, in so many ways, seemed like the last event the community needed at that moment. But, in reality, it was exactly what the community needed.
It was held inside a local art center, and it was jam-packed with people. The space didn’t allow for huge numbers, but it was encouraging to see the outpouring of love and support instead of hate and bigotry.
The queens came from all over. The most touching moment of the night came from a local who’d grown up in Gillette but had never performed there. Her brother was in attendance, and that was the most support she’d ever had from her family.
After she finished her number, she walked to the back of the room and embraced her brother in a long hug. He was crying, and so was the queen. The queen that emcee’d pointed out what was happening, and the siblings’ tears became contagious as it became clear what a moving moment we were all lucky enough to see.
The emcee said, “I couldn’t go back to my hometown and do what she just did. I’m out and proud and ready to stick it to those protesters if they showed up, but I couldn’t do what she just did.”
In the calmest and gentlest of times, the siblings’ moment would have been enough to make you cry. But on the heels of such an ugly two weeks, the tears that were cried in that room were as much for the siblings as for what the siblings represented about the intolerance that’s all too common in Gillette.
It was restorative. It was uplifting. And I’m so thankful I was there to see it. I felt something akin to burnout over the week from a reporting point of view. It’s a lot to be in close proximity to that much hate and to talk to those so affected by the hate.
But in reality, I’m a tourist to that kind of exhaustion. I don’t truly know that of which I speak. LGBTQ friends and colleagues and neighbors live that reality more fully than I ever could, with shocking regularity and frequency.
As one of the event organizers said before it started: “Love wins.”
Those of us there witnessed one small instance of love winning. Of love healing. Of love restoring. It’s just a shame more of the community wasn't there to see it as well.
Ten Worth Your Time
My time is Springfield, Missouri, wasn’t particularly long, but reading about its rapid descent into the clutches of a pandemic that never truly left us is disheartening. The Delta variant is running rampant, and the vast majority of the population there is not vaccinated. This piece from The Atlantic’s Ed Yong is just one of many that are cropping up, making Springfield the face of the perils of avoiding easily accessible vaccines. I think of the long walks downtown and the stops in some of my favorite establishments — restaurants on the square with nice patio setups, the arthouse movie theater, the surprising number of gourmet coffee shops — and all the people that I felt some kingship with because they clearly appreciated the same things I did, and I’m just sad for them.
As I mentioned, Springfield had lots of great coffee shops. One of my favorites took great pains to source their coffee beans from all over the world, and it would give you little info cards when you ordered and were going to stay in the shop for a while. The cards told you all about where the beans came from, gave profiles of the bean’s taste and acidity and more, and it was just a neat way to feel more informed about your coffee. But I’m sure the founders of Black Rifle Coffee would find that to be the type of hipster bullshit that makes the world a terrible place. The company has built its name on being an anti-Starbucks and embracing social issues from a reliably conservative side of the culture wars. Most notoriously, they made a lot waves when they used Kyle Rittenhouse, the man who shot two BLM protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020, to promote their brand. The most infuriating part of this New York Times Magazine story is listening to them pretend that they didn’t.
People my age often make the mistake of forgetting just how long ago the ‘90s were. It’s a mix of that decade being our formative years and our own nostalgia for them as good years. But then we’re reminded of some sobering fact, like the 1996 Olympics were 25 years ago, and we realize the ‘90s were so long ago that it’s not a very helpful reference point when we’re telling stories or making arguments. I felt the same way when reading about IBM’s Watson, the supercomputing A.I. tech that beat Jeopardy whiz Ken Jennings. I’ve not paid attention to what Watson’s done lately, but it remains crystallized in my mind as the forefront of A.I. tech. But it really isn’t even close anymore.
Speaking of A.I., the cross-section of my Twitter feed that is journalism Twitter and film/TV Twitter couldn’t stop talking about a surprising, shocking detail from Morgan Neville, the director of the new Anthony Bourdain documentary Roadrunner, when he said that he’d not actually found audio of Bourdain reading an email, but rather he’d fed tons of Bourdain’s speech into a computer and an A.I. program generated the speech. Three different lines in the film were made that way. He only identified one, so readers of the interview would wonder “Which were the other two?” The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner had one of those early interviews where Neville admitted the tactic. She quipped on Twitter afterwards that she wished she hadn’t written the story so she could have a take on the outrage and backlash of the A.I. revelation. Then she went ahead and had a “take” of her own, in the form of another thoroughly researched and nuanced examination of the ethical underpinnings of the use of technology.
Instagram is making a very splashy attempt to keep, or more accurately grow, its content creators on the app. BuzzFeed News looks into those efforts in this article. For a long time, Instagram and Facebook have been neutral on whether to entice creators onto their platforms, likely due to large number of users. Creators wanted to be there for the sake of exposure. But now other platforms are cutting into the content creator pool, and the company is pulling out its fat pocketbook to throw its weight around.
I used the term “creator” above, but did I mean “influencer”? After all, that’s what the headline said. But the debate about which term is accurate (or desirable) is something The New Yorker’s Kyle Chayka probes in his new column for the magazine.
The name of this article, The “Anxiety of Influencers,” from Harper’s is mostly sarcasm, as revealed by the end of this short little dispatch. It does, however, demonstrate the randomness of such Internet fame, literally happening overnight as one of the boys slept. It shows the excesses of these now-numerous stories of youngsters “trying to make it,” but doing so in 7,000-square foot mansions that cost $35,000 a month. It’s obnoxious and infuriating, but for the time being, it’s here to stay.
When talking about exorbitant expenses, one would be remiss if he didn’t point to the Olympics as one of the most costly and invasive events a city could hold. But this year’s make-up for last year’s canceled contests is even more complicated, because within the past few weeks, Japan has declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. People love the Olympics, and the togetherness it inspires, but the simple and obvious question this year is: Should we be doing this at all? This article in The New Republic extends that question to every year, every city, global health crisis not required.
An interesting mystery story in itself, but it gets the WIRED treatment by the addition of a forensic oceanographer and his efforts to reconstruct the ocean’s conditions that would have allowed a young man lost at sea to end up where he did. The results made his recovery seem improbable. Add in the fact that he’d been one of the leading suspects in the shooting death of his grandfather, who was worth tens of millions of dollars, and that his mother, who was to inherit a decent amount of that fortune, disappeared and is presumed dead from the same boating accident makes this a compelling read for numerous reasons.
What is there to say about the new Space Jam movie? Not much, but then so much. Just a terrible movie on about 15 different fronts. I cannot in good conscience encourage you to even watch it so you have a good idea of the terribleness of which I speak. But David Sims from The Atlantic sums up why the film exists, and it’s not because “it’s for kids.”
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