I Am Cait Might Just Change How We See Reality TV.

This article originally appeared on Spook Magazine.

Yesterday marked the long-awaited premiere of Catilyn Jenner’s reality show I Am Cait, the latest addition to the Kardashian ckonglomerate.

Some might say that the last thing we need is another reality show, and from the Kardashian-Jenners, no less. But this isn’t just any reality show: this is the first time we’re seeing Caitlyn Jenner on television as her true self.

Serious news headlines and tabloid magazine covers alike have traded in the transition of Caitlyn Jenner since she told Diane Sawyer in a late April interview seen around the world that she identified as a woman and her early June Vanity Fair cover in which she asked to be called Caitlyn and to be addressed using female pronouns. Reality TV is the next frontier that Caitlyn Jenner and, by extension, transgender awareness will attempt to tackle.

Reality TV is no stranger to dabbling in issues network and/or scripted TV won’t touch. Laverne Cox is best known as prison inmate Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black, but one of her first television roles was as herself on the VH1 reality competition series I Want to Work for Diddy, a far cry from the transgender sex worker roles she was relegated to on Law & Order. Closer to home, The Voice and My Kitchen Rules have featured contestants with disabilities, while reality TV as a whole has been more accepting of (or at least providing a platform for) this demographic. The same could be said for people of colour (The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop), people of sexual orientations and genders other than straight and cis (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Prancing Elite Project, Brave New Girls, America’s Next Top Model), the plight of refugees (the returning Go Back to Where You Came From, airing tonight on SBS) and people living below the poverty line (the ill-fated Struggle Street). Not all of these portrayals are positive, to be sure, but Margaret Cho once said, “something is better than nothing,” right?

To many people’s minds, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and its myriad spinoffs are the scourge of culture today. But it is one of the only reality series—and certainly the one with the most reach—to look in depth at gender transition. On a two-part episode of KUWTK entitled “About Bruce” that aired in May when she was going by her birth name and male pronouns, the Kardashian-Jenners’ were challenged by Caitlyn’s coming out. The episodes were prefixed with a statement from Caitlyn:

“Families of trans people often feel like they need to grieve the loss of the person that they thought they knew. My family’s feelings are included here in the hope that other families will know that they are not alone…”

Caitlyn’s transition and her family’s reactions were dealt with sensitively and honestly. In a revelation that will irritate Kardashian haters, two of the most reviled cast members Kim and Kourtney’s partner Scott Disick responded with acceptance and in a well adjusted way when they have more right than the naysayers on social media and around the water cooler to struggle with Caitlyn’s truth.

That acceptance extends to I Am Cait. The first episode focuses on Caitlyn’s mother and sisters meeting her for the first time. Mum Esther continues to use male pronouns and her birth name to address Caitlyn, which can be grating, but seeing Caitlyn’s family’s conflict normalises her transition. Even the gender expert they brought in to counsel the family slipped up: “I meant he then. Pronouns are very important.”

After the first twenty minutes I was hard pressed to see the bumbling and disrespected patriarch of the Kardashian cklan I’ve watched for eight years. Caitlyn draws comparisons to this as well, saying “Bruce was never this much fun” and marvelling over the enjoyment of getting her hair done with her sisters and Kylie versus talking about sports. The more we watch, the more understanding Caitlyn as a woman—and thus, other trans people—becomes the norm. And that’s why I Am Cait isn’t just your stock standard E! fare. Despite Kim, Kylie and even Kanye’s appearances on the inaugural episode, Caitlyn takes pains to highlight the plight of trans people who don’t have the privilege and support she does, visiting the family of a trans teen who committed suicide. “I feel a responsibility here because I have a voice and there are so many trans people out there who do not have a voice,” she says. It’s part “exploitat[ion]”—as all reality shows are to some extent—of Caitlyn’s position as a bastion of American heroism and part “PSA”.

In her interview with Diane Sawyer and, more recently, accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY’s, Caitlyn further drew attention to the high rates of discrimination and crime trans women—particularly trans women of colour—experience. Just last week the eleventh trans woman, not including those who are misgendered or go unreported, was murdered this year in the United States.

In “About Bruce”, Caitlyn says she “can’t die and not experience her,” and in the opening scenes of I Am Cait, its star films a message on her webcam after a sleepless night. “We don’t want people dying over this, murdered. What a responsibility I have toward this community…” As I Am Cait heads into its eight-episode first season, all eyes will be on whether it continues to uphold this duty.

Elsewhere: [The Conversation] The Voice, & the Body: Contesting with Disability on Reality TV.

[Daily Life] My Kitchen Rules: Does Reality TV Do a Better Job of Depicting People with Disability?

[This Ain’t Livin’] The Only Place to See Disabled People on TV: Reality Shows.

[Kill Your Darlings] Shame & Stigma on Struggle Street.

[Margaret Cho] Harajuku Girls.

[Time] Caitlyn Jenner’s I Am Cait Uses Top Transgender Consultants. 

[Frontiers Media] Janet Mock Co-Anchors MSNBC Show & Talks Trans Murders & #BlackLivesMatter.

California Love: Straight Outta Compton, Tupac Shakur & Misogynoir.

This article originally appeared on Spook Magazine.

The surprise smash of the year, Straight Outta Compton, which follows the formation and subsequent breakup of gangsta rap supergroup N.W.A., hit Australian screens last week.

The film, produced by its subjects Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, along with Eazy-E’s widow, Tomika Woods-Wright, comes at a time when race relations between police and African Americans in the U.S. are fraught, much as they were around the time N.W.A. (N*ggaz Wit Attitudes) was coming up in Compton in the ’80s and the 1992 Los Angeles riots that punctuate the biopic.

There is no doubt that these are important issues and it’s refreshing to see them being dealt with by Hollywood however, as The New York Times claimed of unarmed black teen Michael Brown gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, Dre, Cube and E are “no angels”.

Much has been written about the misogynist lyrics in N.W.A.’s music, with songs such as “A Bitch Iz a Bitch”, and its members’ abusive history. Dre’s ex-fiance and the mother of one of his children, R’n’B artist Michel’le, claims he physically abused her during their relationship, while his assault on music journalist Dee Barnes in a nightclub in 1991 is widely known. Female rapper Tairrie B has also alleged that Dre punched her twice in the head and face at an afterparty for the 1990 Grammy Awards.

Much has also been written about these women’s absence from the film in an effort to make its subjects and their plights more palatable to a mainstream audience. Is the inclusion of Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, and infamous music producer Suge Knight’s unhinged violence towards randoms who park in his spot and dog fights at Death Row Records really pertinent to the trajectory of N.W.A.? Knight’s reprehensibility aside, why take pains to paint Knight in such a bad light while glossing over Eazy-E’s drug dealing beginnings and Dre’s violence towards women? Surely movie-goers are savvy enough to feel empathy towards characters portrayed with nuance, truth and humanity.

Speaking of Tupac Shakur, his brief cameo in Straight Outta Compton (where he is played by Marcc Rose) betrays his prolific rap career that extends to this day despite his death in 1996 at the age of twenty-five. Though his music is at risk of slipping away according to the new generation of Spotify users, he remains my favourite rapper despite the dichotomy between his progressive lyrics and significantly less so actions. (My fave is problematic.)

His portrayal in the film also comes at a time when Dre and Knight took him under their Death Row wing upon his release from prison (the company posted his $1.4 million bail) for the sexual assault of a young black woman in a hotel room in 1993. During Shakur’s incarceration he became the first artist to simultaneously have a number one album on the Billboard charts and be in prison. And we wonder where our reluctance to vilify violent and criminal men who happen to create stuff we like comes from.

Unlike much of N.W.A.’s music, Shakur wrote many pro-women lyrics that can be heard in “Keep Ya Head Up”, “Baby Don’t Cry” and “Dear Mama”. So how do we reconcile his apparent entitlement to women’s bodies with said lyrics?

“Keep Ya Head Up”, for example, could be held up as a feminist anthem that extols reproductive freedom, safety from sexual assault and gender equality in general:

“And since we all came from a woman

Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman

I wonder why we take from our women

Why we rape our women, do we hate our women

I think it’s time to kill for our women

Time to heal our women, be real to our women

And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies

That will hate the ladies that make the babies

And since a man can’t make one

He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one”

On the other hand, Shakur’s missive could be seen as a precursor to songs such as John Mayer’s “Daughters”; a Nice Guy™ who wants a cookie for demonstrating basic human decency towards people of the opposite sex and other minorities.

But I’m not sure that’s the case with Shakur; released posthumously and featuring Shakur’s side band the Outlawz, “Baby Don’t Cry” explores similar themes to “Keep Ya Head Up” and is actually dually billed as “Keep Ya Head Up Part II”. With shared narration by Shakur, Edi Amin and Young Noble, the song empathises with the molestation, rape, teen parenthood, drug addiction and poverty of a young black woman.

Furthermore, one of Shakur’s best-known singles and Mother’s Day staple “Dear Mama” sifts through the rapper’s mummy issues. Shakur’s mother Afeni was a member of the Black Panther political party, a drug addict, and pregnant with Shakur whilst serving jail time for domestic terrorism charges. The single mother–helmed family moved around the U.S. often and lacked stability. Much of this is rapped about in “Dear Mama”:

“And I could see you coming home after work late

You’re in the kitchen trying to fix us a hot plate

You just working with the scraps you was given

And mama made miracles every Thanksgivin’”

And:

“And even as a crack fiend, mama

You always was a black queen, mama

I finally understand

For a woman it ain’t easy trying to raise a man

You always was committed

A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how you did it”

As illustrated above, Shakur muses often about “black queens” and makes explicit reference to them in both “Baby Don’t Cry” and “Dear Mama”. The strong black woman trope, as explained by Trudy from the black womanist blog Gradient Lair, portrays black women as “unfeeling objects to project pain on based on compliments of us being ‘strong,’ a word often used as permission to dehumanise [us]”. In “Keep Ya Head Up”, Shakur challenges this notion, acknowledging that “Because there’s too many things for you to deal with/Dyin’ inside, but outside you’re looking fearless.”

This empathy for beaten down women extends all the way back through Shakur’s discography to his debut single, “Brenda’s Got a Baby”. Inspired by a newspaper article, Shakur raps about a pre-teen who was raped by a cousin, fell pregnant, briefly abandoned her baby in the garbage but had a change of heart and decided to raise the child on her own. She turns to drug dealing and sex work, and eventually ends up as the headline, “Prostitute found slain and Brenda’s her name”.

And in “Wonder Why They Call U Bitch”, Shakur makes it clear he feels a woman should be able to do whatever she wants with her body, whether that be “Giv[ing] it up free/or make your money on the corner,” but not everyone in his ’hood feels that way. Harkening back to “Keep Ya Head Up” again: “I was given this world, I didn’t make it.”

To be sure, the misogynoir (the intersection between blackness and femaleness) of gangsta rap, and wider culture in general, is rife in Shakur’s music. In “All About U”, Shakur, Snoop and Nate Dogg et al. rap about the “tricks”, “bitches”, “hoochies” and “sluts”—groupies, essentially—who are only after rap stars’ fame and money. Juxtaposed with Shakur’s other music mentioned above, he implies that there are different kinds of women, those worthy of respect and those who aren’t.

Echoes of this notion can be heard in Ice Cube’s recent defence of his misogynist lyrics:

“If you’re a bitch, you’re probably not going to like us… If you’re a ho, you probably don’t like us. If you’re not a ho or a bitch, don’t be jumping to the defence of these despicable females. Just like I shouldn’t be jumping to the defence of no punks or no cowards or no slimy son of a bitches that’s men. I never understood why an upstanding lady would even think we’re talking about her.”

One  would assume drug dealers and wife beaters would fall under the category of punks, cowards and slimy sons of bitches yet Cube continues to keep company with Dre…

*

In Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A.’s manager, Jerry Heller (played by Paul Giammati), defends the group when they’re roughhoused by police outside of the studio. “They’re artists. They’re rappers.”

“Rap is not an art,” a white police officer replies.

A lot has changed since the mid ’80s, with performers such as Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, Kanye, Kendrick and Nicki helping to redefine the rap game into something explicitly resembling art.

Which leads us to ask, can we separate the men from their art? Straight Outta Compton attempts it by denying us any real insight into its subjects. Surely audiences are smart enough to feel empathy for victims of racial profiling, police brutality and human rights abuses who also happen to victimise people themselves. But in such a racially fraught time, maybe Straight Outta Compton’s producers (who are also, without question, protecting themselves) couldn’t risk providing White Audiences with any ammunition against this plight.

Elsewhere: [NYTimes] Michael Brown Spent Last Weeks Grappling with Problems & Promise.

[NYTimes] Dr. Dre Apologises to the “Women I’ve Hurt.”

[The Daily Beast] Suge Knight’s Shocking Rap Sheet.

[Yahoo!] 50 Cent’s Sales Slide.

[Pudding] The Most Timeless Songs of All Time.

[Your Fave is Problematic] Homepage.

[Gradient Lair] What the 20-Year-Old Tupac Song “Keep Ya Head Up” Means to Me as a Womanist.

[Gradient Lair] Explanation of Misogynoir.

[Rolling Stone] N.W.A. Tell All: Inside the Original Gangstas’ Rolling Stone Cover Story.

[Jezebel] Was Banning Tyler, the Creator the Victory International Feminism Needed?

[Reappropriate] When White Audiences Have Problems with TV Diversity.

Australian TV & the Lack of Racial Diversity.

This article originally appeared on Spook Magazine.

America has experienced a racial revolution in the past twelve months both in their communities as unarmed black people are shot and killed by police and on their TV screens. The apparent “big trend” of “ethnic casting”, as Nellie Andreeva called it in a controversial March article for Deadline, can be seen all over some of the U.S.’s biggest hits, including Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat and Jane the Virgin, but is bounds away from holding a mirror to the actual racial makeup of the country, which is much more diverse.

Still, Hollywood is doing a hell of a lot better in making their TV screens reflect their population than Australia. It seems the bulk of our local content is reality, and the majority of that is home renovation shows: the equivalent to watching paint dry, literally. Or watching other people watch paint dry, as with Gogglebox. There are some diamonds in the rough, like Love Child (featuring Most Popular New Talent and Most Outstanding Newcomer Logie winner Miranda Tapsell), House Husbands (with the Lebanese-Australian Firass Dirani) and Winners & Losers (which tackles taboo subjects such as domestic violence and euthanasia), but on the whole Australian TV is a wasteland of haphazard time slots and shows getting pulled off the air all together.

Take, for example, the abovementioned How to Get Away with Murder and Empire. Both enjoyed unprecedented success in the U.S. upon their debuts in September 2014 and January this year, respectively. Being a product of Shondaland, the popularity of the Viola Davis-helmed HTGAWM was a no brainer, even outdoing crown jewel Scandal in its debut. (The current season of Scandal, which just finished in the U.S., is yet to air here.) Empire seemingly came out of nowhere, proving audiences want quality melodrama regardless of who happens to be performing it.

However, in Australia both shows have been given the run around. HTGAWM was performing strongly at the start of the year, however has been replaced by Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and pushed back later and later upon each scheduled return, the most recent of which was Monday 1st June, a move from Tuesday nights. And who knows what happened to Empire? (A quick look at Ten’s website indicates the finale aired in early May.) This is why I don’t own a TV.

So what am I doing writing a piece about TV, you may ask? Then again, you may not. According to a 2009 study, less than 5 million Australians are watching TV regularly. In the six years since, we’ve seen a rise in multi-screen viewing: streaming on computers, tablets and phones; next-day catch up on that network’s website or via DVR; and waiting for the whole series to be released on DVD, Netflix or iTunes so we can binge watch. It’s no wonder Australia is a nation of pirates: when we can’t even get the shows of our American comrades until months (or even years, as with The Mindy Project on Seven, which is now airing episodes that first screened two years ago. Come on!) later, we’re left with slim options of obtaining them.

And where are the other runaway, diverse successes I mentioned at the top of this piece on Aussie TV? Airing on cable, of course. Which does nothing to debunk our pirate status. That quality TV is so hard to get in this country on a reliable, accessible, cheap and/or free platform is one of the failings of modern Australia. That and, you know, our stance on refugees.

On the other hand, the reason why such generic fodder as Married at First Sight has succeeded here may be because we’re a nation of lackadaisical, she’ll-be-right-mates. How many of Married’s viewers tuned in after a long day’s work or school for a geezer and a laugh at these pathetic guinea pigs than were actually passionate about they were consuming? We’re so used to the unbearable sameness on TV served up by a select few apparent “tastemakers” that it’s easy to forget there’s myriad other cultures out there that we’re missing out on in our pop culture. Why should Indian culture, for example, be relegated to Bollywood stereotypes instead of in prime time with something like, again, The Mindy Project? And even then, Mindy is hardly a paragon of progression.

There’s no argument to be made for the over the top soapiness of HTGAWM, Empire and the like being a factor in our reluctance to give them a go: the recently axed Revenge performed much better in Australia than on ABC in the U.S. A lot like Australia’s soaps of choice, Neighbours and Home & Away, it also seldom featured a person of colour.

It’s an embarrassment when people from other countries visit here and realise people who look like them are living their Australian lives, but rarely see representations of themselves in our media. American writer Roxane Gay was in Oz for a series of talks in March and made some astute observations about our lack of diversity, especially in advertisements.

Diversity is not a trend; it’s life. It’s about time Australian TV took a page out of U.S. networks’ books and make it one in an effort to show and normalise diversity.

Related: Domestic Violence, Sex Work, Abortion, Women Proposing to Men, Marriage Equality, Euthanasia… Who Knew Winners & Losers Would Be So Progressive?!

Three Problems With Married at First Sight.

Elsewhere: [Deadline] Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings.

[Mumbrella] Viewers Turn Away from TV in 2009.

[Techly] Aussies Watching Less TV Live But Embracing the Multi-Screen Lounge Room.

[Junkee] The U.S. Ambassador to Australia is Embarrassed by Your Pirating of Game of Thrones.

[Bitch] I Love The Mindy Project—But the Show Has Diversity Problems.

[Junkee] A Collection of Roxane Gay’s Delightfully Bemused Tweets About Australia.

[HuffPost] Shonda Rhimes Says She Isn’t “Diversifying” Television, She’s “Normalising” It—There’s a Difference. 

Amy Schumer Feels Pretty Because She Is*.

amy schumer i feel pretty

*The following contains mild spoilers for the film I Feel Pretty.

Amy Schumer is known for her scathing comedy sketches about campus rape, gendered violence in video games and ageing in Hollywood. Two sketches from her comedy show Inside Amy Schumer, one about the sexism of the One Direction anthem “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful”, the other castigating women who put themselves down, are particularly inextricable from Schumer’s public persona and the scathing cultural criticism that made her famous.

Amy Schumer is also known in Hollywood for two major movies that fly in the face of the expectations of women she skewered as a sketch comedian. Her big screen breakout, 2015’s Trainwreck, followed the natural rom-com story arc of the love of an honest man putting an end to the hard-partying, commitment-phobic ways of Schumer’s protagonist. Her most recent feature film, I Feel Pretty, premiering this week, focuses on the apparent ugliness of Schumer’s character, Renee, and the brain injury that results in self-confidence. In the stereotypical grand gesture scene, Renee goes to her boyfriend Ethan’s apartment for the first time since awaking from her confidence coma and dumping him, because how could a schlubby guy love someone as conventionally attractive as Schumer. When Renee realises Ethan can see her picking her nose through the video intercom at his apartment building, he reassures her, saying “I’ve always seen you.” And voila, she’s cured of of her bad body image and low self-worth, just as One Direction prophecised!

Women who look like Amy Schumer suffer from low self-esteem and body dysmorphia in droves, and those are completely valid concerns that are worth exploring. What I would have liked to see even more is someone with physical attributes that society doesn’t deem attractive navigating the world.

Where’s the heavily marketed blockbuster about fatness, or colourism, or disability, or transness by people who experience these things? I would love to see an adaptation of Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger, about her struggles with her body stemming from sexual assault, on the big screen, as I would Gabourey Sidebe’s memoir This is Just My Face. Why has Lupita Nyong’o seldom been in anything other than Black Panther since her Oscar-winning role in 12 Years a Slave? I’m sure she and other dark skinned actresses would have a wealth of knowledge to bring to roles about “normal” women, but apparently only slightly chubby white women who can still rock a miniskirt like Schumer fit into that rigid category. Why not a movie starring Liz Carr, a disability rights activist and wheelchair user who acts on the British crime series Silent Witness? Or a big screen adaptation of the SBS On Demand series Homecoming Queens, created by Michelle Law and Chloe Reeson, about their alopecia and cancer diagnoses, respectively. How about a movie by and about Lizzie Velasquez, whose congenital disease preventing her from gaining weight would be quite the spin on Schumer’s schtick.

Transgender author and media personality Janet Mock wrote last year about the pretty privilege that comes with “passing” as a cisgender woman. “People who are considered pretty are more likely to be hired, have higher salaries, and are less likely to be found guilty and are sentenced less harshly.” As Renee takes a demotion from the web team for makeup company Lily LeClaire to work in a lower-paying role as an administration assistant because she suddenly feels presentable enough to work in a front-of-house position, it would seem, as a white, blonde, able-bodied, cisgender woman, she’s already benefiting from the pretty privilege Mock writes about. “Pretty privilege is also conditional and is not often extended to women who are trans, black and brown, disabled, older, and/or fat,” she continues. Transparent actress Trace Lysette also spoke about her previous preoccupation with heteronormative beauty standards on a recent podcast, and how not being “clocked” as trans protected her from becoming one of the disproportionate trans women murdered in her country. Now those are stories far more valuable than watching Amy Schumer realise she was pretty all along.

Given Schumer’s history of cultural appropriation and racism, it’s not surprising that she thinks her experience is paramount to all of the people whose experiences she’s used as a joke and to further her agenda. Schumer has come under fire multiple times for her racist stand up jokes and tweets. Even when she doesn’t explicitly intend to “play with race”, as she called it in her defence, she still manages to chafe, as with her interpretation of Beyonce’s black women empowerment anthem “Formation” with Goldie Hawn for their movie Mother/Daughter. Schumer’s retort to that came in the form of a near-nude Instagram photo, further evidence that I Feel Pretty is disingenuous.

“It’s unbecoming to acknowledge your attractiveness, so it creates a silence around pretty privilege that only elevates the competitiveness and divisiveness between women who are told we must compare, compete, and measure up in a lookist culture,” writes Mock, in a far more eloquent and considered examination of this phenomenon than I Feel Pretty is and, indeed, hearkens back to Schumer’s earlier work, the Inside Amy Schumer sketch “Compliments”.

The creative license Schumer was given in a Hollywood blockbuster such as I Feel Pretty obviously differs drastically from her cable sketch show with far lower stakes, allowing her to explore body image with more nuance. Unfortunately, this results in a short-sighted message of empowerment for women who look like Schumer: she can “feel pretty” because she is pretty by traditional metrics.

Related: Thanks for Telling Me What Makes Me Beautiful, ‘Cause I Just Wasn’t Sure.

Elsewhere: [Facebook] Inside Amy Schumer: Football Town Nights.

[Critical Commons] Inside Amy Schumer: Military Video Game & Victim Blaming.

[YouTube] Comedy Central UK: Last Fuckable Day.

[Comedy Central] Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup.

[Vimeo] Compliments.

[Allure] Being Pretty is a Privilege, But We Refuse to Acknowledge It.

[The Cut] Transparent Actress Trace Lysette on Her Online Presence.

[WaPo] Don’t Believe Her Defenders. Amy Schumer’s Jokes Are Racist.

[Digital Spy] Amy Schumer Slammed After Offensive & Racist Joke Tweet About Asians From Years Ago Resurfaces.

[The Washington Times] Amy Schumer Called Racist, Accused of Cultural Appropriation in Parody of Beyonce’s “Formation”.

[Instagram] Amy Schumer.

Image via Cinefilos Anonimos.

The Guilt That Comes With Putting Down Your Pet.

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The first time my dog, Mia, presented with symptoms of a UTI or bladder infection that actually stemmed from the kidney problem that would kill her was right before I went to Sydney for the weekend. She was put on antibiotics, incontinence medication and given a topical cream for the irritation caused by incessantly licking her lady parts. My sister looked after her while I was away.

The second time was while I was right before I became homeless and I was so stressed out I cried—I rarely cry—to the very lovely and maternal veterinarian when she couldn’t offer me any answers as to Mia’s prognosis.

Though there’s never a good time for an animal to get sick, Mia’s recurring UTIs and subsequent vet appointments over the ten months prior to her death always presented themselves at inopportune times, such as housesitting obligations or an overseas trip. The most recent visit, which turned out to be her last, was right before my mum came from out of town to stay with me and we went to see Paul McCartney. Though I wasn’t all that interested in seeing him perform personally, it was a $350 60th birthday present that I didn’t really want to throw down the drain, especially when staring down the barrel of a $4000 kidney surgery.

She would never have that surgery.

I got the news the morning of the concert that Mia was too weak, took old and had too many other health problems to be a viable candidate for surgery. Though teary throughout the day, I pushed my feelings down in order to keep the date. Should I have spent that time with Mia instead and put her down a day sooner so as not to prolong her pain?

Though the medical records showing her frequent vet visits over the past 18 months (because the symptoms of what I now know was kidney failure were present long before the frequent and painful UTIs) and reassurance from multiple vets in the last days of her life  will attest that I did all I could for Mia, it doesn’t stop the what ifs. What if I had’ve sought out a specialist sooner? What if I realised her loss of appetite and heavy breathing in her last week wasn’t just her usual shunning of food for a few days and dislike of hot weather but symptomatic of something larger? What if I had more of a disposable income to pay for the surgery that would have likely killed her in the off chance that it didn’t? What if she was still the good dog she was before she got sick?

I not only miss her, but I miss the dog she used to be. I miss taking her on long walks and the joy we both got from her frolicking off leash. I miss watching her suckle her soft toys like they were pacifiers. I miss her sitting on the bed or couch next to me and not leaving a puddle of urine in her wake. I’ve since gotten a new dog, Lola, who has behavioural issues from being abused, which makes me miss Mia’s well-trained and easy going demeanor.

Though it’s shameful, I resented Mia in her last month or so. On her worst days, I thought it would be easier if she was dead, not so much to put her out of her misery but because she was becoming an inconvenience to me. She was such a good dog for so long, and on the days I’d get glimpses of that dog, I’d feel so bad for ever wishing that upon her. Now that she’s actually gone I’m wracked with guilt. Did I talk about it too much and will her death into existence? Admitting that I thought those things might make me the worst (former) dog-mum in the world but maybe there are other people dealing with sick animals who also have those uncomfortable reflections. If so, I want them to know that their feelings are valid.

2017 toppled 2016 as the worst year. I became homeless, in large part because I wanted to stop hiding Mia which is increasingly hard when you can only afford to lease an apartment in a major city, finally moving into a pet-friendly rental only six weeks before her death. Though I’m a big believer in everything happening for a reason, I have to wonder what the upheaval of my and Mia’s lives in the last year was even for.

Observing a chart on the wall of the veterinarian’s surgery, it’s estimated the average cost of dog ownership—assuming everything went smoothly and the extent of vet visits was a yearly checkup—was $750 dollars. The friend who was by my side throughout this whole ordeal and whose own pets have had major health complications in the past year, too, balked at that estimate. But Mia had always been pretty low maintenance and, in the first few years after I adopted her during which she had no health issues and subsisted on homebrand dog biscuits mixed with a slightly more expensive wet food, gave me little emotional or financial grief. She was a no-fuss dog: as long as she was by my side and I took her for a walk every day, she was happy. Even on the few occasions she would escape the backyard, she’d wait patiently on the other side of the fence, which backed directly onto the street, until my housemate or I would get home!

There was a thunderstorm the day after she died. I looked to make sure she was all tucked up in her bed by the window and I realised I enjoyed the responsibilities that became so burdensome lately. I want to get up at 5:30am to take her for a walk. I want to rush home after work to feed her. I want to brush her teeth and give her her vitamins for her joints every night because I enjoyed looking after her. I would gladly take these slight inconveniences for the heart-filling presence of Mia yelping with excitement before a walk, following me into the toilet and looking around to make sure I was still there when she woke from a nap. Rationally, I’m very self-assured, but for a moment, watching the rain fall, I pondered, who am I if I’m not Mia’s mum?

Elsewhere: [SBS Life] I Can’t Get a Rental Because I Own a Dog. So Now I’m Homeless.

Why Chyna Should Be Inducted Into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame.

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This article was originally published on Harlot.

For World Wrestling Entertainment fans, the end of March/beginning of April is perhaps the most exciting time. WrestleMania is around the corner (this year’s event at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas is set to be one of the biggest ever, with an estimated 100,000 in attendance) and with it comes the annual Hall of Fame Ceremony honouring those who’ve made outstanding contributions to the world of professional wrestling. Some past inductees include Hulk Hogan (whose name has been removed since last year’s racism scandal), Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka (whose name has also been removed since he was charged last year with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter for the death of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino in 1983) and, in the celebrity wing, Donald Trump (whose name should certainly be removed for being a reprehensible human being).

One name you won’t see in the Hall of Fame any time soon is that of Joanie Laurer, better known as late ’90s/early ’00s women’s wrestling pioneer Chyna.

Laurer, with her androgynous look, debuted in World Wrestling Entertainment in 1997 as a bodyguard for her then-partner, Triple H. Using her imposing stature, she proved she could go head to head with any male wrestler and did, winning the Intercontinental Championship, the first and only woman to ever do so, in 1999. Laurer’s other milestones include being the first-ever female entrant into the Royal Rumble and the King of the Ring tournament.

Laurer’s rise to fame coincided with the most hyper-sexualised time in professional wrestling, the Attitude Era. Women such as Sable paraded ringside in hand print pasties, a character named The Godfather (a Hall of Fame inductee this year) made his way to the ring in a pimp suit and followed by his “ho train”, and the WWE’s partnership with Playboy magazine began with Sable posing for the magazine in April and September, 1999.

Two covers from Laurer proceeded in 2000 and 2001, resulting in one of the highest-selling Playboys of all time. Laurer departed WWE soon after amidst contract disputes and personal issues while a WWE Diva (the company’s outdated term for a female wrestler) didn’t grace the pages of Playboy again until Torrie Wilson in 2003 followed by no less than six Divas getting their kit off for the publication up until 2008.

Though she never posed for Playboy during her time in WWE (but has done nude modelling elsewhere), Sunny was perhaps one of the most beloved Divas (and the one who arguably spawned the term) and was acknowledged as such when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

Sunny made headlines recently when she auctioned off her Hall of Fame ring on eBay. The successful buyer, Vivid Entertainment boss Steve Hirsch, offered Sunny $100,000 and a starring role in one of Vivid’s videos for the ring. Sunny made her adult film debut in Sunny Side Up: In Through the Backdoor in January this year.

Now perhaps better known to non-wrestling fans as an adult performer like Sunny, in 2004 Laurer and her then-partner, fellow wrestler X-Pac (real name Sean Waltman), made an explicit home video that was sold through Red Light District Video entitled One Night in China, which Laurer then parlayed into a 2009 sequel, Another Night in China, as well as several other adult films.

Triple H, who is poised to one day run WWE with his now-wife Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of WWE’s owner Vince McMahon, discussed the incompatibilities between Laurer’s past and a possible Hall of Fame induction on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast early last year:

“I’ve got an eight-year-old kid and my eight-year-old kid sees the Hall of Fame and my eight-year-old kid goes on the internet to look at, you know, ‘there’s Chyna, I’ve never heard of her. I’m eight years old, I’ve never heard of her, so I go put that in, and I punch it up,’ and what comes up? And I’m not criticising anybody, I’m not criticising lifestyle choices. Everybody has their reasons and I don’t know what they were and I don’t care to know. It’s not a morality thing or anything else. It’s just the fact of what it is. And that’s a difficult choice. The Hall of Fame is a funny thing in that it is not as simple as, this guy had a really good career, a legendary career, he should go in the Hall of Fame. Yeah… but we can’t because of this reason. We can’t because of this legal instance.”

So, in a largely performative ceremony with arbitrary guidelines for induction (see Trump and, inexplicably, Drew Carey in the celebrity wing), Laurer’s name will not grace the Hall of Fame any time soon despite doing more for women’s wrestling than arguably anyone.

The groundswell surrounding Laurer’s omission has been brewing for a few years now which coincides with a renaissance of sorts for women’s wrestling (co opted by WWE with its #DivasRevolution marketing campaign). With women like Asuka (formerly Kana) bringing moves from Japan to a mainstream American audience in WWE’s NXT brand and Sasha Banks and Bayley putting on matches of the year, women’s wrestling has seldom been more talked about.

Now that WWE has entered the “PG-Era” in which it’s beholden to corporate sponsors and advertisers having a porn star in its Hall of Fame just won’t do. This is a far cry from the bra and panties matches (where the loser is the first woman to get stripped down to her lingerie) and bikini contests heyday of the Attitude Era. The noughties brought Diva Searches, trading on female performers’ looks over their athletic attributes, and the abovementioned Playboy covers. Total Divas, the current E! reality show focussing on the lives of eight WWE employees, could also be seen to be using its stars’ femininity to sell a product, albeit in a more PG fashion.

Laurer and Sunny may be some of the more notable wrestlers who’ve crossed over into adult entertainment but they’re not the only ones. Beulah McGillicutty, Candice Michelle and Ashley Massaro (who was allegedly implicated in the Bella Models escort ring in 2008) have all experienced varying degrees of success in sex work. Male wrestler and Attitude Era staple Gangrel enjoyed a stint as a porn director, World Championship Wrestling’s Buff Bagwell is working as a gigolo and Joey Ryan is being sponsored by YouPorn for his sexual in ring antics. Despite all having appeared in WWE at one time or another these wrestlers no longer have direct associations with the company at the time of writing.

WWE may think it’s above its majority female former stars who’ve made their own way in sex work but it wasn’t too long ago that WWE traded on the very sexuality it’s now trying to suppress. Laurer’s high-profile blackballing from the industry shows that when these women attempt to find pleasure in their sexualities and use it for their own gain, they’re shamed for it.

Laurer made reference to this in a series of tweets that have since been deleted in which she allegedly said, “me doing porn only affects me. It was my choice to do it. Other wrestlers have done far worse and Vince welcomes them back with open arms and a friendly smile.” (I attempted to reach out to Laurer to elaborate but she didn’t return my request for comment.)

Laurer could perhaps be referring to incidences such as the 2007 double murder-suicide committed by Chris Benoit against his wife and son, Jimmy Snuka, or the myriad men who’ve behaved far worse than Laurer but are still deemed what HOF-worthy. Interestingly, WWE is yet to comment on Sunny’s selling of her ring and subsequent foray into porn and as of this writing, she still remains in the Hall of Fame. Considering Hogan’s erasure from WWE history was likely more to do with his racist comments than the fact that they were said during an illegally filmed and obtained sex tape, if Sunny is to be taken out of the Hall of Fame it might be more closely aligned with a recent Twitter tirade in which she used the word “nigg*” and hashtagged #AllLivesMatter. Then again, Confederate-flag waving group The Freebirds will be inducted this year, while Trump’s name remains despite reprehensible things he’s said about communities of colour.

To be clear, I don’t think Sunny nor any other woman with a sex work past should be removed from or prevented from being inducted into the Hall of Fame but I do wonder where the accountability and consistency from WWE is. If Sunny, Hogan et al. are any indication, Laurer’s exclusion could come down to the top brass’ proclivities on any given day.

More likely, though, is that Laurer has become more infamous for what she’s done outside of WWE than her achievements during her short time inside it and that isn’t acceptable. WWE made her therefore it will be responsible for breaking her. Throw sex into the mix, and you’ve got one of the most threatening things a woman can be: in charge of a sexuality that doesn’t necessarily jibe with one WWE deems acceptable.

Related: Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance? 

World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasAChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

Elsewhere: [WWE] WWE.com’s Top 25 Matches of 2015.

[Wrestling News World] Chyna Explains the “Personal Reasons” That Caused Her to Leave WWE in 2001.

Image source unknown.

Does the Legends Football League Have a Place in the Women’s Sport Revolution?

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This article was originally published on Harlot.

2015 saw a revolution in women’s sports.

Serena Williams has been kicking ass and taking names as the best tennis player in the world. The U.S. women’s soccer team decimated the competition at this year’s world cup and were called up on stage with Taylor Swift as part of her “squad” to boot. Ronda Rousey is one of the hottest commodities in both the sporting and entertainment worlds, recently saying she “wants to be the best at everything”. And, while not technically a “sport”, women’s wrestling in World Wrestling Entertainment has been experiencing its own insurgency, entitled somewhat counterintuitively “The Divas Revolution”.

So what place does Legends Football League—formerly Lingerie Football League, in which its players competed in just that—have in this revolution?

On the one hand, LFL is provides an opportunity for women interested in playing the sport to actually play it. There’s a good amount of exposure (pardon the pun) for its players, with games televised on Fuse and a reality show about the Chicago Bliss called Pretty. Strong. airing on Oxygen. Wide receiver Alli Alberts said on Pretty. Strong. that she “like[s] to be able to turn on my crazy switch and there’s [sic] not a lot of sports that you can do that in and it be socially acceptable.” Plenty of scenes show the women in practice and in the gym, perfecting their bodies for the sport while juggling their personal lives. Centre player, pharmaceutical representative and single mother Jamie Barwick says, “I spread myself extremely thin but it’s worth it because I love the game.” On the other, visibility is but one of many variables in the women’s sport revolution: fair pay, health insurance and adequately protective gear all come into play, all of which LFL denies its players. (The other two major women’s football leagues in the U.S., the Independent Women’s Football League and Women’s Football Alliance, allow their players to compete in helmets, shoulder pads and pants.)

For example, in the league’s first season, players were paid a percentage of the gate which equated to a couple hundred dollars each. Come LFL’s second season in 2010, it was apparently not feasible to continue paying them, however as a private company LFL’s earnings aren’t made available to the public so it’s unclear whether this was truly the case. Also in 2010, games were edited down to fit a 30–minute timeslot on MTV2 on Friday nights, the death knell of television programming.

In a piece published earlier this year on the now-defunct Grantland, Professor Charlene Weaving of St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada, is quoted as saying that “women athletes are accustomed to playing for less than men or for nothing at all.”

The lingerie aspect of LFL has caused controversy and while I acknowledge that booty shorts, bare midriffs and boosted cleavage sexualises women in sport detrimentally and they certainly wouldn’t be my first choice for outfitting female football players what concerns me more is the un-protective nature of the gear. In a sport as aggressive as football it should be a crime to be so exposed. While the competitors in women’s beach volleyball and women’s wrestling, for example, wear similarly skimpy uniforms or gear, they are not as contact-heavy nor the stakes as high as football, respectively. The comparison to LFL’s male counterparts’ regalia in the National Football League is stark: they are almost completely covered (yet injuries still abound, so maybe its problems are more to do with the nature of the sport than the gender playing it).

Perhaps this is a strategic move on the part of LFL and why, for example, sports like professional wrestling are classified as entertainment: if the focus is on players’ sex appeal, it’s justifiable that LFL is not a “real” sport, therefore competitors don’t need adequate gear, uniforms and health insurance.

There’s also the assumption that men won’t watch women’s sports unless the players are nice to look at. From the Grantland piece:

The LFL requires its athletes to fit a certain aesthetic… players should be thin. The shoulder pads are positioned so fans can see cleavage, and the players wear hockey helmets—not football helmets—which allow fans a better view of the women’s faces.”  

The LFL’s obsession with showing off their player’s bodies is what led to former Green Bay Chill player Amber Mane’s broken nose, caused by a helmet to the face, attributable to LFL founder and chairman Mitchell Mortaza telling players to adjust the chin straps on their helmets to better rip them off when celebrating plays, she says.

Emphasis on head trauma has been at the forefront of contact sports in recent years, with organisations such as the Concussion Legacy Foundation, the Boston School of Medicine Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and the forthcoming documentary Concussion studying the effects of head trauma. It’ll be interesting to see whether LFL’s operations will be affected or if changes are only implemented in “real”, oftentimes men’s sports.

As reality TV is wont to do, this issue of the LFL’s controversial uniforms were explained away in one Pretty.Strong. voiceover. “When I first wore the uniforms I was a little nervous,” says Bliss defensive lineman Yashi Rice. “I thought we could wear a little bit more coverage but once I put it on I didn’t feel bad at all because I work hard at what I look like. I’m not gonna lie, I personally like the uniforms!” Rice’s comments also further the LFL’s—and wider society’s—agenda that conforming to a narrowly defined prescription of sexiness is empowering.

But it’s inherently sexist to assume the women who play in LFL don’t realise they’re being exploited. Bliss Quarterback and Pretty.Strong. star Heather Furr, who is also profiled in the Grantland piece, says she was hesitant to continue in LFL due to the impact it took on her paying jobs and personal life. However, when Nikki Johnson, formerly of Las Vegas Sin, approached her in 2011 about forming a players union, Furr says she wasn’t “going to put my name on anything. I don’t know how this is going to go.” It’s also worth noting that other sports where women are marginalised, such as college sports and mixed martial arts, are severely lacking in unionisation.  Being the only choice for women who want to play gridiron affords the LFLa reluctance of its players to rock the boat. This leaves a lot of room for unaccountability.

Not only this, but keeping LFL’s players marginalised might also serve the purposes of the women’s sport revolution at large: pigeonholing LFL as somehow not a “real” sport, despite its extreme physicality, allows continued focus on real, palatable women’s sports. To this way of thinking, it’s better to allow the public to digest tennis or soccer than a sport with controversial beginnings in the male consumption industrial complex.

LFL may be going strong in the U.S. but it’s seen less success elsewhere. In Australia, after a 2013 season, LFL’s 2014/2015 season was cancelled after it failed to secure television coverage. A Google search for “women’s gridiron Australia” suggests that the sport is still popular in the country, however in leagues where its players wear proper protective gear. Women’s Australian Rules Football is also experiencing a surge in popularity, with a televised league rumoured to launch in 2017 after the success of a televised match in August which drew three times as many viewers as minor league men’s matches.

It is worth noting that women in AFL wear uniforms similar to its male players, including mouth guards.

With the increased interest in not only women in sport but in different kinds of women’s sports, would the LFL, in its original incarnation of a SuperBowl halftime attraction in which barely dressed models rolled around chasing a ball on pay-per-view, be dreamed into existence today? Or would a completely new women’s football league with adequate pay, uniforms and health insurance rectify LFL’s wrongs?

I would wager no; it’s much easier to shoot down new offerings that pander to the patriarchy than it is to dismantle entrenched sexism in sport. When women in sport have to contend with the inequalities that are plain to see in LFL, we’ve still got a long way to go, baby, than just recognising that women can, too, play sportsball good.

Elsewhere: [Fox News] Ronda Rousey Wants to Be the Best At Everything.

[The Star] Lingerie Football: Touchdown or Fumble?

[Grantland] The Lingerie Football Trap.

[NYTimes] Amid Cheers, Union Bid Stirs Concern for Women.

[Bloody Elbow] Why Isn’t There a Union in MMA?

[The Daily Telegraph] Legends Football League Cancelled, Lingerie-Clad Players Left Searching for New Competition.

[SMH] AFL to Launch Women’s League in 2017 in Push to Put Female Football on Professional Basis.

[Girls Play Footy] Women’s Footy Not Included in New AFL Broadcast Rights Deal.

Image via New York Daily News.