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Monday, November 19, 2018

Talking about God, the air force, and Britney Spears with Chicago rapper KC Ortiz

Posted By on 11.19.18 at 12:23 PM

KC Ortiz - PHOTO BY JULIA HALE
  • Photo by Julia Hale
  • KC Ortiz

On Friday, November 23, Chicago-based rapper KC Ortiz performs at Subterranean as part of a showcase organized by Chicago label Futurehood, which supports gay and transgender musicians of color. She's no longer actively working with the label, founded in 2015 by rapper Mister Wallace and producer Aceb00mbap, but their parting was amicable—there's a reason the concert is called "Futurehood & Friends." 

Ortiz is originally from Mobile, Alabama, and moved to Chicago in 2006.  She's been writing and recording music for years, but she didn't release any of it until last year, when she put out two albums, Beach Street and Church Tapes. Her rapping is playful and upbeat, with lots of attitude and swagger and a distinct southern flavor—on "Shut Up," a track from Church Tapes, she complains about being underrated in the rap game, but that shouldn't be a problem for long. I had a chance to talk with her about her albums, her dream of writing for Britney Spears, her relationship with God, and what it means to be a trans woman in rap.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Activists protest pro-life event at Holy Trinity Church

Posted By on 11.06.18 at 11:00 AM

Protesters targeted the closing celebration of the 40 Days of Life campaign - MARISSA DE LA CERDA
  • Marissa De La Cerda
  • Protesters targeted the closing celebration of the 40 Days of Life campaign

Despite the rainy conditions on Sunday night, members of activist groups including Refuse Fascism and Chicago Feminist Action gathered outside Holy Trinity Catholic Church to protest the closing celebration of 40 Days for Life, an annual campaign that mobilizes against reproductive rights for women.

Attendees circled the entrance of the church holding signs and yelling chants, including "Pro-life, your name's a lie, you don't care if women die" and "Abortion is health care. Health care is a right!"


Protester Tina Perona says she saw the event on Facebook and wanted to support the rights of the LGBTQ community. "I'm a queer black woman, and we need reproductive rights more than ever.”


As people entered the church, protesters let their rage be known, with one woman yelling into a bullhorn, "What a woman does with her body is none of their goddamn business."


Others then passed around the bullhorn and discussed issues being attacked by the Trump administration and the 40 Days of Life supporters, such as abortion rights, and the oppression of communities of color and trans and gender-nonconforming people.


"There is unity between the white supremacy and the patriarchy that we are seeing forced upon us," said a member of Refuse Fascism. "That's why Refuse Fascism is saying this regime between Trump and them has to go."


Activist Marge Parsons said more protests are planned for after the midterm elections. "We're calling on people to come out on Wednesday and Saturday after the midterms—whether you voted or not, and regardless of who wins—to hit the streets," she says. "There needs to be a sustained and determined movement in the streets to drive these fascists out."

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Friday, October 26, 2018

Why should the government interfere with the very personal process of gender identity?

Posted By on 10.26.18 at 06:00 AM

At an Intersex Awareness Day protest last year outside Lurie Children's Hospital - SARAH JI
  • Sarah Ji
  • At an Intersex Awareness Day protest last year outside Lurie Children's Hospital

Transgender historian Susan Stryker wrote in her 2017 book Transgender History that the contemporary meaning of the word "transgender" is still under construction. It has been redefined often since the word was first created in the mid-20th century, but even then the very concept of moving from one gender was already very old. While Roger Severino, appointed by President Trump as the director of the office for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would call this concept "radical gender ideology," the history books and Chicago activist groups call it reality.

Severino's memo, leaked earlier this week by the New York Times, argues that gender should be rigidly defined under Title IX "on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science," as a male/female binary that is unchangeable and determined by genitalia perceived at birth. HHS is encouraging the other government departments that also enforce Title IX—including Education, Justice, and Labor—to follow suit. Under this rule, genetic testing is the only option to determine a person's gender. The memo doesn't just define a gender binary as a rule, it also invalidates gender confirmation surgeries, ignoring any possibility of a person transitioning from the gender assigned at birth. The memo all but explicitly states that all people must identify as either male or female, whichever they were registered at birth. Many trans people feel this strict binary erases their identities.

The crux of Severino's argument is that X and Y chromosomes determine gender, a theory that has been disproven. And even before genetics were discovered, no one talked about regulating a person's gender expression based on anatomy. Before the 20th century, there was no standardized system of birth certificates that assigned gender. Our contemporary understanding of gender is relatively new, only dating back to physician Magnus Hirschfeld's work in early 20th-century Germany. In his studies of gender and sexuality, Hirschfeld coined the terms "transsexual" and "transvestite," both of which have changed in definition and connotation over the past century. As time passes, the terms we use to define gender change along with the way we perceive gender roles. Past cultures have used systems that have organized people into social genders through a variety of methods different from our contemporary binary, often by the work people did rather than by the bodies that did the work. Some gender systems were determined by social, legal, or religious obligations. Some people changed gender roles based on dreams or visions. Many indigenous American communities have three or more genders. Ancient rabbinical texts explain seven distinct genders once recognized in Judaism.

Gender varies by time, place, and culture, not just science. Yet another factor influencing gender identity for many people is genitalia deemed "ambiguous" at birth. With so many contingent factors, gender is difficult to explain, making it an easy target for bigotry. The memo's leak coincidentally occurred during the week of Intersex Awareness Day and protests in Chicago and New York, which aim to educate people about the often overlooked group of intersex people in the queer community.

The existence of intersex people is stark proof that bodies exist outside a gender binary. One in 100 people is intersex, possessing some combination of male and female genitalia, internal sex organs, and chromosomes. Oftentimes intersex people have combinations of chromosomes that aren't male or female, such as XXY or XO. When intersex babies are born and doctors are unable to determine a male or female gender, they often assign one to the infant. Surgeries that are considered "cosmetic," such as clitoral reductions, vaginoplasties, and the removal of functional testes are forced upon the child, and may not match their identity. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago is still performing these operations, which the United Nations has deemed a form of torture.

The Intersex Justice Project protested last Intersex Awareness Day, October 26, 2017, outside Lurie Children's Hospital, which continues to perform cosmetic surgeries on intersex babies and children. - SARAH JI
  • Sarah Ji
  • The Intersex Justice Project protested last Intersex Awareness Day, October 26, 2017, outside Lurie Children's Hospital, which continues to perform cosmetic surgeries on intersex babies and children.

The Chicago-based Intersex Justice Project launched a campaign outside Lurie last year on Intersex Awareness Day to end intersex surgery, and will be leading another protest on this year's Awareness Day on Friday, October 26, this time organizing a train occupation. Pidgeon Pagonis, cofounder of the project, summarizes their demands: "We want a public apology for the irreversible harmful surgeries that have been done on intersex people without their consent." The group also wants sensitivity training for Lurie staff and clinicians who handle intersex children, taught by intersex individuals. They demand reparations, Pagonis says, "including free medical care that doesn't position intersex variations as problems to be fixed." This would include hormones and psychological support for intersex people and their parents.

Friday's protest, which begins at 1:15 PM at a location that is only disclosed privately on Intersex Justice Project's Instagram account, is inspired by the first (and last known) intersex protest in 1996 outside the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual convention. The idea for the train action, Pagonis says, was inspired by the Black Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Collective and #NoCopAcademy who crowded CTA Red Line cars to commemorate Rekia Boyd and chant against Mayor Emanuel's proposed cop academy, respectively. IJP's protesting arguments against "corrective" surgeries will conflict with the administration's historically and scientifically inaccurate definition of gender.

Sex defined by a male/female binary is too rigid to accurately label the many ways we express gender socially. Bodies are too varied in their chromosomal makeup and genital formation to accurately conform to the social categories a person lives in. They can't be defined on such a narrow binary. Many people—myself included—have taken years to come to an awareness of their own gender identities. Why does the government need to intercede in that already complicated, and very personal, process?

So why does the Trump administration insist on defining gender as a binary? Comments in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and even from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow speculate that it's a simple tactic to score political points before the upcoming midterm elections. Maddow framed her coverage of the story by recalling President's Bush's homophobic remarks before the 2004 election to encourage conservative voters to come out and vote against marriage equality. This is not a scientific debate on whether or not 1.4 million transgender people exist in the U.S.; this is political, using real people as pawns to gain power.

Should other government departments follow HHS, the results would be bigger than the ongoing bathroom debate. On Wednesday, the Justice Department told the Supreme Court that businesses can discriminate against their own workers based on their gender identity, suddenly reversing the position of 2008's Schroer v. Billington. People may begin to face discrimination at work and while jobs-hunting. Social services and health care (including gender-affirming surgeries, hormone replacements, and other necessary care for transgender patients) could be denied. Military bans lifted during the Obama era could go back into effect. Identification documents such as drivers licenses, birth certificates, and passports might be impossible to change. Medical records would be inaccurate. The memo's broad support from the government, says Pagonis, "will only serve to give surgeons who ignore the United Nations more fuel for the already existing intersex-phobic fire. A parent of an intersex kid who (rightfully) decides they don't want to allow surgeons to 'fix' their child could be met with, 'Sorry, sex reassignment surgery is the law now.'"

Pagonis cites the colonialists who attempted to decimate the two-spirit people of indigenous communities, the medical-sanctioned genital mutilation of infants since the 1950s, and the U.S. government's refusal to acknowledge the existence of AIDS in the early 80s, even as it plagued and ravaged the queer community. "Yet we fought back," Pagonis says. That might be where the Trump administration's political trick for votes goes wrong: transgender and gender-nonconforming people have historically turned out to fight and vote more so than their cisgender counterparts, and in disproportionately high numbers for Democrats.

Following the memo's leak, activist group Voices4 and Lambda Legal gathered hundreds of people in Washington Square Park in New York City, the same park where activists Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970. They shouted "Hell no to the memo!" Hundreds more protesters gathered outside the White House.

The Trump administration's definition of gender becoming policy would undo legal work to protect trans people dating back to the Minnesota state legislature's ban on discrimination against transgender people in 1993, all the way through President Obama's protection of trans identities on a variety of federal fronts. But this unprecedented setback on one vulnerable community's civil rights might not take shape should the election favor a democratic senate. With 33 Senate seats on the upcoming ballot, a shift in power might see HHS's Roger Severino out of a job.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

‘Tackling Taboos’: A conversation on redefining our own truths

Posted By on 10.22.18 at 03:38 PM

Yvonne Orji and Luvvie Ajayi - VANESSA BUENGER
  • Vanessa Buenger
  • Yvonne Orji and Luvvie Ajayi


"I honestly feel like telling the truth has become taboo," said author and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi to an audience at the Chicago Ideas Week event "Tackling Taboos." The night was broken up into three conversations, a performance, and a talk and addressed conventionally taboo subjects including porn, sex, and religion. This allowed audience members—specifically, the high school students who are part of the Chicago Ideas Youth Ambassadors program—to walk away with a new understanding of why it's important to talk about difficult issues transparently.

The first conversation was between Ajayi and Yvonne Orji, a Nigerian-American comedian and actress who currently stars as Molly on HBO's Insecure. She talked about the shift in career plans that occurred when she put her faith in God, or "Daddy," as she calls him. "I don't have daddy issues, don't worry," she joked. When she devoted herself to religion, she dropped her plans of becoming a doctor and took up comedy. This led her down a path of success she didn't know she could have because of the confined lifestyle she'd had growing up in an African household.

When living with African parents, "dreaming is a luxury," Orji said. "Living with Mexican parents too," said one of the teenage girls sitting in front of me. Though Orji had followed her parents' plans up until graduate school, she was able to tackle the taboo of pursuing her own dreams and following her own plans.

Orji also talked about therapy and mental health stigmas within black communities. She and Ajayi joked that their parents would be so much happier if they went to therapy and let go of all the pain and grudges they've held on to for the last 40 years. "Our generation is making it more healthy to seek help," said Orji.

Journalist Emily Witt took the stage next and gave a talk about the contemporary pursuit of sexual pleasure and connection, including topics like porn, orgasmic meditation, webcam sex, and polyamorous couples who schedule sex.

"Our own taboo limits us," she said in regard to how we restrict ourselves from exploring different sexual experiences." What a wonderful thing for teenage girls to learn so early on in their lives, I thought.

Following Witt's talk, comedian Becca Brown sang a song about the lies women tell to get rid of the unwanted attention of certain men, specifically tackling the taboo of periods. "Your fake period got rid of that jerk," she sang. "'Cause you're disgusting and useless when your pussy don't work."

The second conversation of the night was with Michael Arceneaux, author of I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyonce. He spoke about the taboo of being gay in a southern, black, Christian family.

"I think religion is very beautiful and very helpful in people's lives, but at the same time, religion tortured me," he said. He thinks the transparency in his book helped tell other people's stories and solidified him as "the Cardi B of lit."

The final conversation featured fashion designer Norma Kamali, whose recent work raises awareness about the unique experiences women face regarding objectification. She said because of how widely accepted harassment and assault were in the fashion industry, she never realized how bad the things she and other models or designers had experienced were. She encouraged everyone to keep talking about assault so it doesn't continue being normalized.

Overall, the event was fun. It opened my eyes to the way my different identities have caused me to view certain truths as taboo and to hope for a future where these truths can be commonplace.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Humboldt Park kids' store Peach Fuzz gives hugs

Posted By on 09.11.18 at 09:15 AM

Shop assistant Devyn Mañibo - ISA GIALLORENZO
  • Isa Giallorenzo
  • Shop assistant Devyn Mañibo

"Peach Fuzz is an inclusive kids' shop," says Claire Tibbs of her new business, which opened in Humboldt Park in mid-July. She named the store accordingly: "We all have [peach fuzz], no matter our age. It is tactile, textured, body positive, inclusive, and undeniably human. The space and our goods I hope evoke the same. . . . We want all people to enter and feel hugged by the space."

And that's exactly how I felt after arriving at the store, which is painted in various soothing pastel tones with vibrant neon accents. The walls are covered in unexpected color combinations that surprisingly work beautifully together. One of them opens into a cozy nook designed for more introspective activities: decked with beanbag chairs and minimalist wooden blocks, it's the perfect hideaway for the little ones.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Gone too soon: five films by directors who died young

Posted By on 09.04.18 at 06:00 AM

Jean Vigo's L'Atalante
  • Jean Vigo's L'Atalante
The Music Box Theatre and the Chicago Film Society present the 1930 film City Girl this Saturday at 11:30 AM as part of their monthly silent film series. The film's director, F.W. Murnau, died the year after its release in an automobile accident, cutting short his life and remarkable career. He left behind a substantial body of work, though. The five filmmakers below also died much too young but had only made a handful of movies each, and in one case just a single film. We're spotlighting their work.

L'Atalante
Jean Vigo's only full-length feature (1934), one of the supreme masterpieces of French cinema, was edited and then brutally re-edited while Vigo was dying, so a “definitive” restoration is impossible. (The reassembled version released in France in 1990 is almost certainly the best and most complete we'll ever be able to see—it's wondrous to behold.) The simple love-story plot involves the marriage of a provincial woman (Dita Parlo) to the skipper of a barge (Jean Daste), and the only other characters of consequence are the barge's skeletal crew (Michel Simon and Louis Lefebvre) and a peddler (Gilles Margaritis) who flirts with the wife at a cabaret and describes the wonders of Paris to her. The sensuality of the characters and the settings, indelibly caught in Boris Kaufman's glistening cinematography, are only part of the film's remarkable poetry, the conviction of which goes beyond such categories as realism or surrealism, just as the powerful sexuality in the film ultimately transcends such categories as heterosexuality, homosexuality, and even bisexuality. Shot by shot and moment by moment, the film is so fully alive to the world's possibilities that magic and reality seem to function as opposite sides of the same coin, with neither fully adequate to Vigo's vision. The characters are at once extremely simple and extremely complex (richest of all is Simon's Pere Jules, as beautiful a piece of character acting as one can find anywhere), and while the continuity is choppy in spots—a factor skillfully cloaked by Maurice Jaubert's superb score—the film's aliveness and potency are so constant that this hardly seems to matter. A major inspiration to subsequent generations of filmmakers, yet no one has ever succeeded in matching it. In French with subtitles. 89 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

The House Is Black
Forugh Farrokhzad's black-and-white documentary (1962, 19 min.) about a leper colony in northern Iran is the most powerful Iranian film I've seen. Farrokhzad (1935-'67) is widely regarded as the greatest Persian poet of the 20th century; her only film seamlessly adapts the techniques of poetry to its framing, editing, sound, and narration. At once lyrical and extremely matter-of-fact, devoid of sentimentality or voyeurism yet profoundly humanist, the film offers a view of everyday life in the colony—people eating, various medical treatments, children at school and at play—that's spiritual, unflinching, and beautiful in ways that have no apparent Western counterparts; to my eyes and ears, it registers like a prayer. 19 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

The Conqueror Worm / The Witchfinder General
An unusually restrained Vincent Price stars as Matthew Hopkins, a 17th-century magistrate who took advantage of the English civil war to conduct a massive witch hunt across East Anglia. This sinister 1968 feature was adapted from a historical tome by Ronald Bassett, though director Michael Reeves (whose life was cut short by a drug overdose the next year) seems equally inspired by the stark visuals in Carl Dreyer's Day of Wrath. Tigon Films, a pretender to the Hammer throne in the late 60s and early 70s, released the movie as The Witchfinder General in Britain; American distributor Roger Corman, hoping to capitalize on his earlier Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, retitled it The Conqueror Worm and slapped on some voice-over of Price reading from Poe's poem. 86 min. —J.R. Jones

Wanda
Perhaps the most depressing film ever made, this 1971 feature by director-actress Barbara Loden tells of a young, ignorant, emotionally deadened, and hopelessly dreary woman from the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania whose life is a succession of dead ends. Doomed from the start to a life of ignorance and boredom, she's victimized by her surroundings, by men hardly less dreary than she, and by her sex. A brilliantly atmospheric film with a superb performance by Loden. 105 min. —Don Druker

Savage Nights
Highly controversial and troubling but undeniably powerful and impossible to dismiss, this French feature cowritten (with critic Jacques Fieschi) directed by and starring the late Cyril Collard follows the last reckless days and nights of a 30-year-old cinematographer and musician who discovers he is HIV-positive but continues to have sex with strangers as well as with his two more regular lovers. Based on Collard's autobiographical novel Les nuits fauves, Savage Nights won Cesars for best picture, best first picture, most promising actress (Romane Bohringer), and best editing a few days after the 35-year-old director himself died of AIDS in March 1993. These honors can't simply be written off as sentimental: stylistically and dramatically, this is an accomplished piece of work. If Collard's driven hero often seems far from admirable—unconsciously misogynistic beneath his apparent bisexual "tolerance," and, as his masochistic behavior often implies, full of self-loathing—the film seems admirably unpropagandistic in permitting spectators to make up their own minds about him. It also gives full voice to the agony of unrequited adolescent love (Bohringer's volcanic performance), and, for better and for worse, offers a treatment of AIDS that's the other side of the moon from Philadelphia—politically incorrect with a vengeance. Whether you like this or not, you'll have a hard time shaking it loose. With Carlos Lopez. 126 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Meet Kidd Kenn, Chicago’s hottest openly gay 15-year-old rapper

Posted By on 08.07.18 at 06:00 AM

"It's a faggot party baby, you cannot get in." - MATT HARVEY
  • Matt Harvey
  • "It's a faggot party baby, you cannot get in."

When 15-year-old Dontrell showed up at the Reader's offices for an interview, he was fresh off a delayed return flight after his first trip to New York. He's better known as Kidd Kenn, Chicago's most popular openly gay male rapper, and he was exhausted—his whirlwind trip east had included a meeting with Def Jam and a music-video shoot. 

"We were there for one day," said his manager and family friend, Sharron Beverly of Family First Music Group. (She asked that we not use Kidd's real last name.) "We had the meeting with Def Jam, and then we had to shoot a video for Kidd's new song."

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Trans woman Strawberry Hampton reports continued assaults while detained at men’s prisons

Posted By on 07.30.18 at 06:00 AM

Strawberry Hampton - THE BLACK LOOP
  • The Black Loop
  • Strawberry Hampton

Strawberry Hampton, a transgender woman currently serving a ten-year sentence for residential burglary at Dixon Correctional Center, the fourth male prison she's been transferred to within the year, filed new claims against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) on July 17 stating that she's been sexually and physically assaulted by inmates and prison guards, and requesting she be transferred to Logan Correctional Center, a women's prison.

But her harassment at Dixon is only one episode in the ongoing abuse she claims to have suffered while in IDOC custody, according to her complaints. Hampton's lawsuit, filed on her behalf by the MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People's Law Center, argues that the IDOC has inappropriately assigned her to a men's prison, stating that  Hampton's "physical and emotional well-being are in jeopardy at Dixon, and will be in any men's facility."

"The IDOC has never articulated any reasons" for why they won't transfer Hampton, said Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People's Law Center, on Thursday. "The most they've said is that women sometimes get harassed in prison, so there's no guarantee she'd be protected."

Hampton has lived as a woman since she was five and has continued to do so through her incarceration. She is chemically castrated, and her testosterone levels are a fraction of the average male's.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Nerds unite at Challengers for Women’s Comics Night

Posted By on 07.09.18 at 06:00 AM

The June edition of Women's Comics Night - ANDREA THOMPSON
  • Andrea Thompson
  • The June edition of Women's Comics Night

When the owners of Challengers Comics decided they wanted to put on more events, they knew they wanted some of them to focus on women, but they had no idea what that would look like. But when they asked for organizers, Samantha LaFountain volunteered. She knew what she wanted to see.

"I wanted it to be like a party, that was the main idea," LaFountain said. "And to build friendships between women, nonbinary individuals, however you identify. Between people who aren't normally seen."

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Pride double standard? Bars upset after police forced some to close early after parade

Posted By on 06.29.18 at 03:53 PM

Police watch over a Pride celebration in Lakeview. - SUN-TIMES
  • Sun-Times
  • Police watch over a Pride celebration in Lakeview.

If you were celebrating Pride last Sunday night, you may have been forced to cancel your plans and head home early. For the past 48 years, queer people and their allies have commemorated the 1969 Stonewall riots every June with marches, parades, and bar crawls through gay neighborhoods. The riots themselves were a reaction of transgender and gay people to the constant police raids on their bars and are considered the landmark event that sparked the LGBTQ radical liberation movement and its subsequent parades. But this year, police successfully shut down postparade celebrations at many bars beginning around 10:30 PM, according to several witnesses and bar employees.

The police targeted a specific section of Boystown: Halsted between Addison and Belmont between Halsted and Sheffield, ending at the gay dance club Berlin. According to interviews with ten managers and bartenders, some of these bars agreed with the early shutdowns and even closed their own doors before the police asked. Other bar owners, especially those of bars that close at 4 AM, said the shutdown resulted in hours of profits lost.

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