Iris Long: A Thank You Essay

If you haven’t seen the 2012 documentary about the AIDS crisis, aptly named How to Survive a Plague (dir. David French) you should do so right away.

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Your boss won’t mind. Just say it’s, like, research or something.

The documentary follows ACT UP (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) and later on TAG (Treatment Action Group), and their struggle to find effective treatment for millions of patients who were living — or, more accurately: dying — with AIDS related complications. At best the US government (Reagan – Bush admin.) was completely apathetic, as was the medical establishment. This meant that PWAs (People with AIDS) had to become their own doctors, lawyers and healthcare advocates… Seriously, you should watch this film.

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Seriously, it’s on Netflix.

You probably won’t be familiar with many of the documentary’s subjects; which is a real travesty, considering how many lives they have saved. It’s primary subjects are Bob Rafsky, Mark Harrington, David Barr, Larry Kramer and Mark Harrington. And like every good documentary it made me want to know more. While I appreciate the contribution gay men made, I really wanted to know more about the women. We hear Dr. Barbara Starrett talk about treating HIV patients, we see Garance Franke-Ruta the “teenager” who spends her after-school days ACTing UP, and then we see Dr. Iris Long talking to ACT UP members during a meeting. Long is a retired pharmaceutical chemist who saw what was happening and began to educate the activists. More recently, CBS gave her a brief spotlight, I found out which you can find on YouTube.

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Spoiler alert! her contributions saved 8 million people.

I find it frustrating that such a remarkable person doesn’t have more information published about her! Maybe she enjoys her privacy. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough. I don’t know. I really want to, though. For now I’m just going to have to rely on critical imagination. Afrofeminist scholar Jacqueline Royster writes that critical imagination is a method or tool we can use to inquire about women’s lives.

When we study women of the past, especially those whose voices have rarely been heard or studied by rhetoricians, how do we render their work and lives meaningfully? How do we honor their traditions? How do we transport ourselves back to the time and context in which they lived, knowing full well that is not possible to see things from their vantage point? How did they frame (rather than we frame) the questions by which they navigated their own lives? What more lingers in what we know about them that would suggest that we need to think again, to think more deeply, to think more broadly? How do we make what was going on in their context relevant or illuminating for the contemporary context? (20)

The documentary gives me some great context to jump off from (though I need to be cautious). Her contemporaries in the film describe her as a heterosexual female who has retired from pharmaceutical chemistry. If you met her, you might not expect her to be a part of ACT UP because she’s so disconnected from queer folks/ PWAs. I’m curious to know how she made her way to ACT UP — it never tells us how she did. We just know that she did. If I use some of the rhetoric surrounding the LGBTQIA+ folks and AIDS pandemic that was in public circulation at the time, it doesn’t exactly paint a positive picture. Take for instance this excerpt of Mark Doty’s poem Tiara. Doty wrote this heartbreakingly beautiful poem after attending his friend Peter’s wake, which sums up the attitude of PWA’s during the 80s and 90s:

“…At the wake, the tension broke
when someone guessed

the casket closed because
he was in there in a big wig
and heels, and someone said,

You know he’s always late,
he probably isn’t here yet—
he’s still fixing his makeup.

And someone said he asked for it.
Asked for it…”

This rhetoric is echoed by former senator Jesse Helms and former President George Bush (the first one): if you don’t want HIV/AIDS, then you shouldn’t have gay sex. In other words, if you have AIDS, then you asked for it. I’m assuming that before Long stepped into ACT UP’s scene, she was — at the very least — familiar with this rhetoric. Which makes me appreciate her contribution even more. It sparks my curiosity even more deeply: how did she find out about ACT UP? Did she have a family member who was friends with a friend who knew about the organization? Perhaps she saw a flyer while she was walking? And even after that, did she know the extent of the pandemic at that time? I don’t know. (BUT I WANT TO KNOW!)

And then, after she began working with ACT UP, what made her stay? How would she describe her sense of self-efficacy when so many young people were dying around her?

I imagine that’s hard for anyone to deal with. If I was tasked with solely educating PWA’s with their body chemistry I would be incredibly intimidated. Furthermore, how would she feel about her contributions? I don’t know.

All I can really do at this point is thank her and appreciate her contribution. And I can say, regardless of her personal attitudes — and I want to be cautious, because maybe she was totally woke

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Iris Long: Woke as fuck.

—  before she began working with ACT UP, it took a momentous amount of empathy to look past the shady rhetoric surrounding AIDS and PWAs. Without her, 8 million people’s lives would have been much shorter.

Thank you Iris Long. I hope to someday know more about you.

If anyone knows something, let me know in the comments!


References

France, David, T W. Richman, Derek Wiesehahn, Tyler H. Walk, Howard Gertler, Stuart Bogie, Luke O’Malley, Peter Staley, and Larry Kramer. How to Survive a Plague. New York, NY: Sundance Selects, 2013.

Jacqueline Royster and Gesa Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2012. Print.

Gif images were found on giphy.

(Essay)Taking the Plunge:

An Exercise in the Post-Confessional Mode

When you’re a gaymer, you tend to notice the creepy shit they put in videogames…


They are, for all intents and purposes, independent from her body. It’s unclear how they could exist on such a frame; they look so gaudy when she stands still. That’s not even considering when she walks with them. How to put this delicately? When she walks, they take a walk with her.  It’s as if there is some sort of isolated anti-gravity chamber that caters exclusively to them. They move without a breeze or other natural motivation. However, they have a clear sense of urgency in their movement.

Of course, she opts for the plunging neckline – but not just any p-neckline – she needs a torpedoed neckline that cannot, under any circumstance, contain those impossibly proportioned breasts (even if they were slightly detained by boob tape).

It doesn’t really help that this navy blue blouse makes them pop out even more. And, oh – yep! No bra. I guess, for a 3D fighting game, having no bra could . . . offer some sort of aerodynamic advantage? Or perhaps it’s to distract the audience from the fact that she has no pants. Or skirt. Like, why is she wearing a loincloth to go fight someone?

Still. She has good hair. No, not just good hair – the best hair. On the High Def screen, her hair is so blistering – so toxic –  my eyes burn just looking at the clusters of cherry-colored pixels that compose each strand. For some reason, her pearly white bow, binding her red hair, works well with that blue blouse – I mean, loincloth onsie.

They are really distracting – but, enough about her breasts, already!

Who am I kidding? It always comes back to them. They’re just hoisted up on their pedestal, mysteriously gyrating – judging me. I know what they are thinking. “Oh! We are so special. We don’t need a bra to resist gravity!” Ironically, they are a little cocky. And she – with these comically large breasts, tiny frame, and her Japanese anime eyes – all combine nicely with her sexually hostile outfit to create, what one might call, a USA flag-themed four-year-old-Lolita-clown-sex-worker. She’s a red, white and blue American Beauty, made in Japan, who looks a little Irish. So many cultures coming together to make everyone feel nauseated and uncomfortable.

And, when you think about it, isn’t that what video games are all about?

First Post: I Go Live on Monday

Hello! I’m not making an official post until Monday but!

For future reference:

I intend to blog about queer films, books, movies, tv shows, video games or themes therein. Sometimes posts will take the form of review, movie mashups (on Mondays) or editorials. My mission is to make you laugh, think and entertain. I hope you enjoy it!

Mashup Movies: The Allgood’s vs. The Little Mermaid

The Kids are All Right Deleted Scene: Flashback! Jules and Nic, signing their marriage papers. Don’t worry. Nic’s just excited, is all.


Cautionary Re-Tailing: A Lesbianormitive Disneyfication of the Kids are All Right

Last week I briefly touched on a vibe that Dr. Kennedy calls “White Homonormativity” in the movie Weekend… Oh, yeah. And I spent quite a while describing my frustration with the definition of sex. Forgot about that. Anywho, this week I am writing about the Kids are All Right (dir. Lisa Cholodenko). Fear not, beloved reader. I’m happy to report that I am biting my lip at how gay male porn performers are often straight, making the whole experience as inauthentic and unsatisfying to watch as “lesbian” porn – Jules didn’t do her research! Oops. JK, everyone – JK! I’m not here to talk about how unsatisfying mainstream gay male porn is. I’m here to conflate themes found in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid‘s with those of the Kids are All Right in hopes to entertain as well as invite discussion.tumblr_lqmb50iejw1qabfx1o1_500

So smoke ’em if ya got ’em, everyone. Cuz it just might be necessary, as this jumbled “introduction” seems to imply.


 Hans Christian Andersen’s Warning

When Danish author Hans Christian Andersen had the unhappy tale of the Little Mermaid published in 1837, it is likely he intended to alert young women of their role in marriage (as the wife). For instance, the Little Mermaid is made silent – but graceful of movement and body – by a Born Again, Watchtower-Reading Sea Witch, in order to become marriageable:

 

“But if you take away my voice,” said the little mermaid, “what is left for me?”

“Your beautiful form, your graceful walk, and your expressive eyes; surely with these you can enchain a man’s heart. Well, have you lost your courage? Put out your little tongue that I may cut it off as my payment; then you shall have the powerful draught.”

“It shall be,” said the little mermaid (153).

[Professor Voice]: Powerful stuff. The best part: the “draught” is the Sea Witch’s dense, black boob blood. Yeah. Where’s that scene Disney? Censoring another fairy tale, are we?

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I spoke too soon.

Back to business: For years the prince treats the little mermaid like a pet. At one point he even has her sleep at his feet, like a dog would. Little by little the prince takes away any sort of identity the little mermaid had. She becomes a mini-the-prince. He even dresses her in his clothes; and she gets to be “just one of the guys.” If you have a dark sense of humor, this last part will be hil-arious — after being his lapdog for 5 years or so the prince marries someone else. And the little mermaid dies. Turns to foam. No family, no friends. No King Triton to “know what’s best” for her. C’est la vie.

 

But this was just a cautionary tale for young women of the 18th Century. Isn’t it great we don’t have to worry about that kind of thing happening anymore? Women’s voices are always heard now.. nor are they mistreated. Especially within normative spheres like marriage.


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Sorry! Sometimes my sarcasm gets away from me.

Obviously, I wouldn’t be comparing The Little Mermaid if it was completely irrelevant to how marriage operates on the screen – and at times, in real life (with certain couples, I speculate). When I think of Jules and Nic, I think heternormative – or homonormative – gender roles. Their relationship is paralleled neatly with any straight, white, upper-middle class relationship that appear on the screen. Anywhere.

Homonormativity does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions — such as marriage, and its call for monogamy and reproduction — but upholds and sustains them while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption (Duggan 179).

You have Nic the breadwinner – total workaholic. She never really appreciates her wife.  To be fair, it’s a tough job to be married to Jules. Always controlling her business adventures. Making sure she never feels heard. But gosh darn it, isn’t she pretty?

Passive-aggressive tête–à–tête about all the daily minutia aside, they have okay communication skills. Nic is way better than the prince at expressing herself. Unless her daughter is on a motorcycle.

Things seem to be well-routinized in the Allgood (omg, gag me) household.  And then BAM! Sperm-donor Paul shows up and the wine comes out and the gloves come off. Time for Pa.. I mean Mama bear to defend her family from the Big Bad.

 Kids Are All Right deleted scene: Nic caught them the first time Paul and Jules kissed! But, she was on an acid trip, so it didn’t count. Also, she hates her father-in-law. So add that to the list of homonormativity.

And like a Disney flick everything is resolved after an eloquent speech delivered by Jules. You know the one; it’s marriage,  it’s hard… but, BOY! It’s worth it, kids. Your moms love each other.

Although it is frustrating to see a queer couple parallel gender roles and expectations in a “traditional” aka heterosexist relationship, I understand that there are probably some generational gaps between how I’m reading this movie and its… demographic? That’s not to say I’m not a section of its demographic but my understanding of this movie is much different from my parents or someone who grew up craving to see themselves represented this way. And I think that it was enjoyable to watch. This movie is making a statement. We (white, upper-middle class, queer folk) can have it all, too.

It wasn’t until I was alone with my thoughts before I became critical. It’s not intentionally being a butt about gender roles. Not to say that this is an excuse. But I think it’s time — after getting this movie out of the public’s system — to evolve expectations  for those who are “married” and also what it means to be a “family.” I don’t want to dismiss this movie. I think it’s important because it portrays them in this “traditional” way. Going forward, I think we can do better than Disney’s: the Kids are All Right.


References

Coming soon, after I finish my linguistic transcriptions for Wednesday…. TMI? I know.