a chat with nico lang.

"I'll tell you in another life, when we are both cats."

40 Reasons I Love Being a Chicagoan in 2013

(Read it at WBEZ.)

Last year I wrote an article for The Huffington Post on reasons I love being a Chicagoan. But why should 2012 have all the fun? Here’s 40 reasons I’m looking forward to another year in the city of wind and LeBron hatred.

1. The endless opportunities to bash Rahm. His recent decisions suggest that he’s running for re-election as the mayor of Hell. At this point, I think more Chicagoans approve of herpes than his job in office.

2. Getting to ride the lakefront trail in the summer. After the longest winter in recorded history (which may not ever end), there’s no better way to celebrate than a long ride down Lake Michigan at night.

3. The Morse Stop. Rogers Park, where have you been all my life? The Morse stop is my newest obsession because of its proximity to the ever delicious Heartland Cafe, Mayne Stage, Sidecar and Devon Avenue. It’s so tucked away that on those days you want to get away, it’s like you’re not even in Chicago.

4. Our obscene amount of beaches. Insider knowledge: Check out the cafe at Berger Park. The service is so bad it’s out of a Kafka novel, but it’s right by Ratigan Beach and sits on the lake. On a hot day, the wind from the shore makes you forget you haven’t seen your server in 10 years.

5. Lectures at the University of Chicago. Their guest speaker department needs a raise. Between Angela Davis and Jeffrey Eugenides, there’s always someone interesting to meet at U of C. Now if they could just fix Hyde Park’s public transportation issues, I could actually get there.

6. Playing arcade games…in a bar. I’m not usually into the vintage fad, but Emporium in Wicker Park and Replay in Lakeview are getting it right. I will go to any bar with a pinball machine, stat.

7. The drive thru at Big Star. Can’t get a spot on those crowded weekends? Grab a taco and go to the park. It’s gorgeous outside. Who needs a table?

8. Printer’s Row Lit Fest. For book nerds of all ages, this is by far the best of the city’s summer street festivals, offering a great mix of your favorite bestsellers and hidden gems. Pro-tip: Take a limited amount of cash. If not, you may end up selling your house for that first edition Proust. Know your limits and your bank balance before you go to there.

9. The ongoing North Side v. South Side v. West Side debate. Neighborhood pride is something to behold in Chicago, even if that neighborhood happens to be Lincoln Park. Whatever. Someone has to like it. I personally want to hear people arguing for the East Side. Those lake creatures are so underrepresented.

10. Getting to pretend I know about local sports. There are so many sports teams around that statistically I’m going to know something that’s happening. Fact: The first time I saw Fukudome’s name on the back of a fan’s jersey, I thought the shirt was instructing me to have sex with it. The vulgarity of those Cubs!

11. Gossiping about local celebrities. Almost everyone has a Cusack, Rick Bayless or a Steadman story, and sometimes I gaze out the window of my coffee shop, hoping that Ira Glass will come back to me. One day he will hear my heartsong.

12. Acting like I’ve been to The Girl and the Goat. For all I know, those are the only two things they serve. It’s four star cannibalism…with a side of kale.

13. Never going on the Yellow Line. I still don’t understand what I’m supposed to do in Skokie. Just because you build it doesn’t mean I’ll come.

14. Tim Curry. Tim Curry isn’t just a beloved actor anymore. He also now shares a name with one of Wormhole’s recent weekly drinks, which blended Indian spices with iced espresso to create heaven. I never thought about putting curry in my coffee, but now I can’t get enough of it. My life has been changed.

15. The refurbished Logan and New 400 Theatres. Along with midnight shows, Chicago’s hottest cinema trend is the movie theatre bar, which rejuvenated these crumbling theatres. For just $6, you can get a nice Long Island at the New 400 while you check out the latest Hollywood has to offer. If it’s After Earth, you will need every drop.

16. Having an opportunity to wear everything in your closet. Chicago is one of the few cities that actually offers all four seasons. You might even get them on the same day. Don’t like the weather? Fret not. It will change in a couple hours.

17. Forgetting to go see The Book of MormonBy now, everyone and their grandma has seen it. This proves that 99 percent of grandmothers are cooler than I am. They do love NCIS. What’s more badass than Mark Harmon?

18. Collectively cringing every time a Vince Vaughn movie comes out. We all want him to make good and show us again the guy who make Swingers. We have hope, because we stick by our own. But like fetch, it’s never going to happen. Never forget Fred Claus.

19. Having an excuse to call a cab when it rains for no reason. Oh, darn, I guess I’ll have to have this magic chariot take me right to my door instead of sitting next to the Phil Spector look-a-like on the bus. But if you live in Andersonville and you’re coming all the way from Pilsen or Bronzeville, it’s another story entirely. That story costs you $30.

20. Not getting a Real Housewives spinoff. Every day that a certain Bravo series doesn’t desecrate our city is another day we all breathe easier. Besides, we already have Mob Wives to make us look bad.

21. The cafe gems of the South Side. Although the Northside gets most of the credit (because who doesn’t love Metropolis?), the South Side has a wealth of pleasures for coffee lovers, including Bridgeport Coffee Company, Overflow Coffee Bar, Little Branch, Istria and Robust Coffee Lounge. If you happen all the way down to Beverly, the neighborhood’s Beverly Bakery is an absolute must.

22. Not having to deal with the Olympics. Because did you really want to hear about it for the next 10 years?

23. The amount of crap to go to. I often hear people complain that there’s nothing to do in this city. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I need about seven clones to go to all the things going on, or a helicopter that makes getting to Logan Square easier. Fullerton bus, you need to get your act together.

24. The Western bus. Now here’s a great bus line—in my opinion, the best in the city. You rarely wait more than 10 minutes for a bus, and sometimes a nice bus stack means you get a bus all to yourself. You’ll never be able to say that about the Lincoln bus.

25. Never having to go to Clarke’s. The city has an astounding amount of great diners, from the Pick Me Up Cafe to Lou Mitchell’s, Stella’s and Glenn’s. I’m also partial to Nookie’s, but not for the eating. No one goes there for the food, even though it’s perfectly decent. You go because the waiters are insanely hot. I’m there for the service.

26. The flowering of gay bars and queer nights outside of Boystown. Don’t want to brave the B-Town crowd? The city is your oyster, young queer. Check out FKA at Big Chicks, SloMo at The Whistler, Northern Lights and Heavy Rotation at Parlour, Salonathon at Beauty Bar, Chances at The Hideout and Subject to Change at The Burlington. For our leather daddies in the audience, there’s always Touche. Swords not included.

27. The best/worst drag show of all time. Have you ever been to the drag show at Jackhammer at midnight on Monday nights? Did you even know it existed? Get ready to have your life changed. Spoiler: Some of the queens don’t even dress in drag.

28. Pride month. Gay Pride gets the press, but the great thing about pride is that it’s everywhere, not just in Lakeview. The city’s Black Prides, United Latino Pride, Disability Pride and TGIF prove why pride is a whole month long. There’s room to celebrate everyone.

29. Knowing that no one else gets what Kristin Cavallari sees in Jay Cutler either. Does she have a rare “No Chin” fetish? Is she attracted to interceptions? It defies logic.

30. A great summer for indie films. This year, we’ve got Sofia Coppola’s The Bling RingThe Spectacular NowAin’t Them Bodies SaintsFruitvale Station, Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and The Way, Way Back, which really wants to be this year’s Little Miss Sunshine. Add that to the already released Frances Ha and Before Midnight, which I plan on seeing twenty times, and you might not leave the movie theatre this summer. If you do, there’s always Movies in the Park, the summer’s best excuse to get secretly drunk in public.

31. Pitchbjork. I know Lolla has New Order, The Postal Service, The Cure and Kendrick Lamar. Riot Fest has Dinosaur Jr., Surfer Blood and Against Me! (which I’m dying for already), but there’s no show I’m more intrigued by than Bjork’s set at Pitchfork. I hope she eats her sweater on stage.

32. Enjoying the last year of my U-Pass. I’m finished with grad school after December, and after that, it’s Ventra city. I will cherish every glorious day until that time.

33. Making fun of John Barleycorn. Does anyone you know actually go there? If so, you should stop knowing them.

34. The yearly Tracy Letts film adaptation. Last year it was Killer Joe, which was so violent it made me regret having eyes. This time around Julia Roberts tries to make Meryl Streep eat her fish in August: Osage County. As long as Matthew McConaughey doesn’t make a surprise appearance with a chicken leg, I’m fine.

35. The Old Navy preacher. Sure, he’s old, deluded and filled with hate, but he’s a Chicago staple, like the Red Line guy who hands out his resumes and the Greenpeace canvassers we all avoid. What would Chicago be without them? It’s good to have things you can count on.

36. Knowing that the Marilyn Monroe statue is gone, never to have her undercarriage oogled again. Whose bright idea was that thing anyway?

37. The Edgewater Trader Joe’s. I know it’s not real and was the meanest April Fools’ prank of all time, but I can pretend. I want to believe that my love for Trader Joe’s transcends reality.

38. Making up excuses not to go to the Taste of Chicago. “I’m sorry. I seem to have developed an allergic reaction to sunshine…and tourists.”

39. Getting to use the website crash as an excuse not to sign up for the marathon.Clearly Jesus didn’t want me to run 26.2 miles. And by Jesus, I mean me. I didn’t want to run 26.2 miles.

40. Chicagoans fight back. In the wake of our historic school closings, I’m always inspired to see the number of people standing together, those who refuse to take our city’s culture of systemic segregation lying down. When I see a sea of people in red shirts holding our city accountable to its messes, I’m proud to see neighbors, friends and the guy I stood next to on the train. When I see people huddled in the rain protesting our state’s inability to pass marriage equality, it reminds me why I’m here: because our city is worth fighting for.

Write With Me

I’m now an editor at Thought Catalog. My first official day having real powers is next Monday. Until then, I’m looking for writers to join me. I want to make the internet a better place — with thoughtful dialogues that incite conversation. I want people who can balance the personal and the cultural with an ability to reach people and speak to a diverse audience. I’m personally looking for folks who want to write about queer issues, feminist critiques, pop culture and dating (because those are my jams), but I want to hear your voice. I want to know what’s in your brain.

Let’s write together. Hit me up at gidget.lang2@gmail.com.

<3 Nico

Free Amanda Bynes: Social media and the consumption of mental illness

(Read it at WBEZ.)

Have you seen Network? If not, let’s fill you in. Directed by Sidney Lumet, Network was a film about the changing boundaries of entertainment in a modern media era. In it, the Division President of a major broadcast network tells their lead news anchor he’s going to be let go in two weeks—because of his age and declining popularity. He just isn’t relevant anymore.

The anchor then announces the following broadcast that he’s going to kill himself live on air next Tuesday.

Although the network quickly fires him, the President decides to give him one last broadcast—to go out with dignity and save face with his audience. Instead of going quietly, the anchor, Howard Beale, launches an impassioned, hysterical diatribe about how “life is bullsh*t.”

However, instead of firing him, the other network executives decide keep him on and even give him his own show, called The Howard Beale Show.

Why would they give a spin-off program to someone they were so desperate to part with? It’s simple: ratings. Viewership soared during Howard Beale’s meltdown, and they decide to exploit him for every ad dollar he’s worth. It’s clear he needs psychiatric treatment, but he’s worth more to them on camera.

Critics have drawn clear parallels between Beale’s “mad prophet of the airwaves” and our radio and cable news demagogues, as Lumet and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky eerily predicted therise of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. They aren’t anchors or journalists in the traditional sense, and most of what they say isn’t factually accurate. It’s not about news. It’s entertainment, based on their ability to inflame and arouse passions. They know how to get people to watch. We’re the Howard Beale generation.

To me, Beale’s legacy is just as relevant for our culture of celebrity meltdowns, where personal tragedy and mental illness have become fodder for tabloid sales and ironic appropriation. It’s the business of misery, where exploiting a broken Britney or manic Charlie Sheen means big money for industry profiteers. Sheen became an industry phenomenon during his breakdown, in which we turned a drug addict and an abuser into a national hero. During that time, ratings for Two and a Half Men soared. It was the number one show in the country.

If you remember, Charlie Sheen wasn’t fired for being unstable or a perpetrator of domestic violence. He got fired for feuding with his boss. Sheen then got another show that debuted to record numbers on FX.

This weekend I watched Liz and Dick, the Lifetime channel movie starring Lindsay Lohan, a film so terrible that I couldn’t believe that no one stopped it. Liz and Dick features the worst use of green screen I’ve ever seen in a big budget production, and the film is riddled with errors that appear to be intentional. For those paying close attention, a newspaper clipping in the film features an article on how to lose weight by eating mayonnaise. The word “lose” is spelled with two “o’s.”

At that point it hit me: Lifetime knew Liz and Dick would be a train wreck and that trash-diggers like me would tune in to watch it crash. Like Snakes on a Plane, they purposefully made a movie the audience would laugh at, but this time, they didn’t let us know they were in on it. America responded by having Liz and Dick viewing parties and playing into the profit margin. BuzzFeed even made a Liz and Dick drinking game.

Amanda Bynes is the latest example of this trend, a celebrity whose increasing irrelevance made her perfect fodder for a commentary on the costs of celebrity. In 2010, Bynes announced her retirement from acting. Bynes had been working consistently since she was a fetus— from being the star cast member of Nickelodeon’s All That to headlining her own show at 13 and co-starring in a long-running show on the WB.

According to her former co-stars, Amanda Bynes was easy to work with—smart, punctual and organically hilarious. According to Bynes, she quit because she just “didn’t love it anymore.” This was likely because as she got older, her roles got increasingly smaller while castmates Channing Tatum and Emma Stone became huge stars. When she quit acting, her last role as a lead was in 2007. That film, Sydney White, made a total of $11 million dollars at the box office.

Like Joaquin Phoenix before her, the retirement was just a prelude. Amanda Bynes had always been a little unhinged on social media (she really likes exclamation points), but in 2012, the door completely swung off its bolts. Bynes committed a DUI in early April, refusing a breathalyzer test, and then four days later, hit a car on the San Fernando Valley freeway. She fled the scene.

Since that time, she’s been in so many auto accidents that you’d think she was one of the fetishists from David Cronenberg’s Crash. However, what got the public’s attention wasn’t her driving habits(or her strange pleas to Barack Obama for clemency). Bynes’ meltdown came to prominence earlier this year when she asked Drake to “murder [her] vagina” on Twitter. That tweet was shared over 52,000 times.

Today Bynes is a Twitter phenomenon. Over 1.3 million followers are tuned in constant feed of updates on her ongoing soap opera. Bynes is a Greatest Hits of past meltdowns. She’s got Sheen’s bon mots, Bret Ellis’ Twitter trolling, Lohan’s family drama and Britney’s hair issues. Bynes recently threw her bong out a window and has filmed numerous videos of herself while she appears to be under the influence of something. I think it’s celebrity.

Joaquin Phoenix’s example is telling. Phoenix faked a breakdown (in which he quit acting for a rap career) in order to make a mockumentary about our obsession with celebrity meltdowns, the little-seen I’m Still Here. Phoenix’s con was poorly received because we were always somewhat aware that we were being played. Because the method breakdown was for a film, the placement of the camera on Phoenix comforted and repulsed us with its artifice.

But with Bynes, the gaze has been taken away. The documentary is no longer being filmed. We are the camera tracking her every move and feeding into the meltdown. Americans love to see femininity unmasked and debased, whether that’s women tearing each other apart on the Real Housewives and Revenge or the fervor over Anna Nicole Smith and Courtney Love.

Love has battled drug addiction, substance abuse and depression for decades, but her following jokes that she’s their “spirit animal.” A fan posted a drag video in which he impersonates the former Mrs. Cobain titled, “Courtney Love Will Never Change XOX.”

Like Bynes, Courtney Love has quite the following on Twitter. They say you vote with your dollar. Now we’re voting with our click.

Bynes’ tragedy can be endlessly shared and commented on, a sad commentary on our ironic consumption of mental illness. Like Spears during her bipolar breakdown (for which she’s now onmedication), people have started betting on Amanda Bynes death. She placed third in Crossing Guard’s poll. She was beat out by Lohan, considered the “Susan Lucci of death poolseverywhere.

But how in on the joke is Bynes? Does she realize what her celebrity represents?

According to some, Bynes is trolling us—or is the “greatest artist of our time.” The “performance art” conspiracy theorists have cited her influences from previous celebrity meltdowns and from Petra Cortright, who takes selfie videos as a way to comment on our culture of narcissism.

Cortright and Bynes’ short films are eerily similar, but I think this theory gives Bynes too much credit. Amanda Bynes simply isn’t the actor Phoenix is, and her breakdown is too raw not to come from somewhere real.

For Bynes, it’s not about art. It’s about publicity.

Whether or not Amanda Bynes sees it as such, there’s an undeniably performative aspect to her publicizing her behavior—from the recent Rihanna feud to her decision to hire a best friend for the day. Bynes met her rent-a-friend on the street, where they pretended to catch up and commiserate for the paparazzi. Bynes then took her to an ATM where she paid her friend for an hour’s worth of imaginary companionship.

Like a child who throws a tantrum to get their parents’ attention, Bynes knows that the weirder she acts, the more people tune in. Her breakdown is a PR goldmine. Instead of live tweeting an acid trip like Shia LeBeouf, she’s tweeting her surreal life, fit for our 24/7 news cycle. After posting something bizarre, Bynes often reminds us to follow her account. For $18, you can even buy a “Free Amanda Bynes” t-shirt.

In a perfect world, Amanda Bynes is controlling the reins and is off somewhere right now laughing about what fools and enablers we all are. I hope she gets the help she clearly needs, but if not, she’s already accomplished something. By quitting acting to act out, she’s finally getting noticed. Her ratings have never been higher.

"Ghettotainment": Charles Ramsey and the Rise of Ghetto Tourism

(Read it on WBEZ.)

Have you heard of Angel Cordero? Neither have most Americans. A few weeks ago, video footage of Charles Ramsey went viral after Ramsey rescued three girls from captivity in Cleveland. Ramsey’s down-to-earth, offbeat version of the events made him an instant celebrity in a culture where our 15 minutes of fame are instantly accessible. They are just a Reddit upvote away.

However, Charles Ramsey didn’t act alone. In the original interview, you can closely note a subject shift when he recounts what happened; Ramsey, a born storyteller, subtly moves from “I open the door” to “we can’t get in that way.” It’s because Ramsey was part of a team that rescued Amanda Berry and her fellow captives, one that includes Wintel Tejeda. Berry’s 911 call came from Tejeda’s house.

In a segment with Cleveland’s WEWS TV, Cordero clarified the misrepresentation.

"The truth—who arrived here, who crossed the street, who broke the door," Cordero said. "It was me…I did what had to be done.”

After setting the record straight, the media hasn’t been that interested in Cordero or Tejeda’s stories. Journalists gravitate toward those with the most quotable version of the events. What’s packageable for the viral market gets you hits, and Charles Ramsey is hardly the first person to gain internet notoriety for having a flamboyant personality. Cordero primarily speaks Spanish, and his interviews had to be translated. Angel Cordero just isn’t catchy.

However, it’s the issue of race that’s most troubling here. According to Slate’s Aisha Harris, the real reason that we don’t care about Angel Cordero is because his identity doesn’t fufill our desire for racial performance. For Harris, Ramsey’s viral phenomenon speaks to the trend of the “hilarious black neighbor,” where working-class heroes are made into Internet punchlines and recognizing bravery is “overshadowed by the public’s desire to laugh at and autotune his story.”

Ramsey is part of an industry of folks like Sweet Brown and Antoine Dodson, who found their tragedies fodder for mockery. But what purpose does re-mixing tragedy serve? When you hear Dodson’s track, does it remind you that Antoine Dodson, who fought off an intruder in his home and likely saved his sister’s life, is a hero, just like Charles Ramsey? Just because we’re dancing doesn’t mean we’re celebrating.

Although we like to think of the industry of “ghettotainment" as a new trend, it’s hardly novel. From minstrel shows to Amos and Andy, black identities have been ghettoized for decades, bought and sold for public consumption.

We’re a culture of racial tourists, and a recently launched New York City venture takes the Ramsey trend to another level—ghettotainment as its most crass and heartless. According to the New York Post, the “Real Bronx Tours takes riders — mainly white Europeans and Australians — on a trip that includes stops at food-pantry lines and a ‘pickpocket’ park.”

If you need convincing about the tour’s dubious intent, guide Lynn Battaglia will happily clear that up for you. When passing the Grand Concourse, which was “modeled after a Parisian boulevard,” Battaglia asked “Do you feel like we’re on the Champs-Elysées?”

Later near St. Ann’s Episcopalian church, the tour approached a line of folks waiting for access to the food pantry. Battaglia commented, “I don’t know what that line’s about, but every Wednesday we see it. We see them go in with empty carts, and we see them come out with carts full.”

Battaglia, who is from Pittsburgh, shows a clear lack of engagement from the subject of urban poverty and almost no knowledge of the social conditions that have led to such structural issues. The Post reported that St. Ann’s guests were “visibly agitated by the commentary,” but Battaglia didn’t care. She saw them simply as specks of urban decay, no more notable than the trash that lines the streets. I hope her bus catches on fire.

But highlighting the experiences of those who witness urban poverty doesn’t have to be dehumanizing, and these experiences best function as a participatory economy, one that involves us in the struggle of folks of color. Films like Boyz ‘n the Hood and Do the Right Thing were vehicles of empowerment for those whose voices were rarely heard, told their lives were too “dangerous” for public consumption. For others, these experiences offer a glimpse into a world we’re rarely allowed to see.

When I was a kid, we would roll up the windows and check the locks when we drove through neighborhoods like the one Spike Lee grew up in. The goal was to keep them out and us in, and when I looked outside, I didn’t see black folks living their lives, pushing strollers or hanging out on the street with their friends. I saw physical embodiments of danger.

However, the creators of L.A. Gang Tours are trying to unlock the doors that divide us.

"We can either address the issue head-on, create awareness and discuss the positive things that go on in these communities, or we can try to sweep it under the carpet," said one-time member of L.A.’s Florencia 13 gang, and tour co-founder Alfred Lomas.

Their hope was to use our cultural “fascination with gangs” as a way to “bring to life the class divisions in America.” The goal is to create something that isn’t “voyeuristic or sensational,” a tour that benefits the community by showing its history is of value. In addition, Lomas claimed the tour would create 10 part-time jobs for former gang members, as a way to give them other job opportunities.

Lomas isn’t alone. In 2007, Beauty Turner started taking local Chicagoans on a ride through parts of the city they likely had never seen before, the whole new worlds next door to our own. Although she was criticized for “glorifying” the projects, Turner said she wanted to “tell a different story about Chicago’s notorious housing projects,” one different from what they’d heard in the media about “bad” black neighborhoods. Her goal is education, and all income from the tour is donated to a non-profit.

"This was a community just like yours," Turner told tour riders back in 2007. "People stayed here, played here, lived here and died here."

The underbelly of what Tuner and Lomas are doing troubles me. I don’t like that they are using the lives of people of color (without their consent) to create lessons for white folks. I don’t like that they are turning poverty into a neoliberal safari—where everybody gets to go home to their “nice” houses in “nice” neighborhoods at the end of the day.

But I do believe that we need to change our perspectives on how we view those different from us and that begins with engagement, awareness and visibility.

We need to exist in each others’ spaces as a way to challenge what we think about the “other” and unlearn what we have been taught. Instead of taking the tour, we need to end the system that separates us in the first place, the mentality that labels some neighborhoods as safe and others as dangerous zoos. We need to do more than unlock the door. We need to break it down.

In an article for The Guardian, David Dennis shows the costs of our continued segregation. Dennis asks why the Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans, the largest such attack on American soil, wasn’t labeled a tragedy along with Boston and Newtown. It’s because New Orleans is predominantly black, and black tragedies don’t count in the same way others do.

"I’ve learned to redefine what constitutes an American tragedy," Dennis writes. “American tragedies occur where middle America frequents every day: airplanes, business offices, marathons. The story here is where American tragedies don’t occur. American tragedies don’t occur on the southside of Chicago or the New Orleans 9th Ward…These are where the forgotten tragedies happen and the cities are left to persevere on their own.”

In the original interview, Charles Ramsey himself warned us of this. Ramsey told onlookers he “knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.”

"Dead giveaway!" Ramsey exclaimed with over-the-top gusto, and the crowd laughed. But at what? They were listening, but did they really hear his message?

This speaks for itself.
Advertising fail of the week. What ad copy writer fell asleep on this one?

A trip to the Pleasure Palace: Why Chicago needs bathhouses for women

(Read it at WBEZ)

If you are a gay man looking to go out in Chicago on a Saturday night, a spider web of events spin out from Boystown. Lakeview has Sidetrack and Spin. Rogers Park offers Mayne Stage and Jackhammer. Edgewater boasts Big Chicks and the Granville Anvil. If you’re downtown, check out Second Story and the aptly named Downtown Bar. The South Side offers Jeffery Pub, Club Escape and InnExile.
But where are the lesbian spaces? In recent years, many queer and lesbi-friendly bars have closed up shop in Chicago, including T’s, which abruptly announced closure in March. Many Andersonville residents were shocked, as the bar was one of the last remnants of “Girls’ Town,” the neighborhood carved out during the late ’80s and ’90s.
Chicago’s last full-time lesbian bar went under in 2009. Last month, West Hollywood’s The Palms shut down after 50 years of business and the West Village’s Rubyfruit Bar and Grille closed in 2008. When Michigan’s The Chrome Cat settled its tabs one last time, it was one of the last lesbian bars in the whole state. The site Lost Womyn’s Space tracks the disappearance of lesbian spaces across the country, a graveyard of empty buildings and lost histories.
T’s closure forced AfterEllen editor Trish Bendix to ask what many were thinking, “Is this the end of an era?”
There is certainly a “gaping hole” where the scene used to be. Like many formerly lesbian-centric neighborhoods, Andersonville is increasingly gay male and yuppie-dominated.
Formerly lady friendly bars The Closet and Big Chicks have seen an influx of male clientele crowd out the womenfolk, although Big Chicks offers nights to give feminine and queer-identified folks an inclusive space to dance and feel safe.
Doll House and Joie de Vine offer lady-centric events for queer Chicagoans, and inclusive events like Slo Mo and Chances Dances create programming for folks across gender expressions and sexualities.
Rogers Park’s Parlour may go the furthest, The queer bar offers events ranging from hip-hop nights to events for lipstick femmes.
In an interview with The L Stop, Parlour co-owner Jennifer Murphy stated that her goal is to “impact [not just] the lesbian community but the GLBT community as a whole.”
As a response to the transphobia and marginalization reported in spaces like the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, Murphy hopes to rethink female space.
“It has been our intention not to create boundaries within genders and sexuality,” Murphy said. “Parlour is here to explore and open minds to new and exciting experiences.”
Slo Mo’s Kristen Kaza argued that roller derby leagues, meetup events and concerts have taken the place of the traditional bar scene.  Kaza told Time Out Chicago that bars aren’t as “relevant” for modern women as they were their queer predecessors or the same way they are men.
“Gay male bars receive significantly higher traffic because the men are usually there for the main purpose of meeting and possibly hooking up, and gay women often need an additional, or just alternative, motivation,” she said.
Cassandra Avenatti, an influential organizer cited as one of The L Stop’s “lesbians to watch out for,” argued that changing views on LGBT folks might be a factor in lesbian bars’ relevance too.
“With the increased acceptance of queerness in mainstream culture, some queer folks might feel less compelled to frequent gay social spaces,” Avenatti said. “There may be less of a feeling of necessity or urgency around queer bars.”
In a piece published last month on The L Stop, Avenatti argued that while queer women have been more active in the public sphere as organizers and activists, the lack of community spaces for women has moved female sex into the margins.
Avenatti said, “I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked […], “What do women do in bed?’”
Avenatti said terms like “lesbian bed death” give folks the mistaken impression that women “hold hands and talk about puppies.”
She worries that even health providers have a profound lack of knowledge when it comes to lesbian intercourse, often feeling they don’t have to address safer sex practices with queer female patients.
“If health care providers have little to no knowledge about the ways in which queer women have sex, they cannot appropriately counsel women on risk reduction,” she said.
Women who have sex with women (WSW) are at risk of STDs, and although some resources exist, there isn’t the same community solidarity around sexual health issues there is for gay men. According to Avenatti, questions on “women’s sexual health practices have remained largely unaddressed.”
Avenatti argues more sex websites or bathhouses in the community could improve the conversation on female sex.
For gay men, websites like Grindr and Scruff allow users to connect with each other in a space that allows them to express their sexuality. But among queer women, Avenatti said  “the pervading idea [is] that if you are interested in casual or anonymous sex, you are that kind of girl.”
“Many women are socialized to view their sexual desire (and bodies) as negative or dangerous, and are instructed to keep their longing private, suppressed,” Avenatti said. “We are not allowed space to unapologetically explore our needs and claim sexual liberty, and many of us have internalized a degree of shame about our sexuality and our bodies.”
A first step to change that? Avenatti believes women need a bathhouse for public sex.
For the past two decades, a bathhouse for queer women and transfolks has operated in Toronto’s gayborhood, known as the “bathhouse capital of the world.” Called the Pleasure Palace (or “Pussy Palace”), organizers saw the event as a way to address the dearth of opportunities for “women to develop a sexual imagination, literature, techniques, art or knowledge.”
In a study of the Pleasure Palace, Catherine Nash and Alison Bain argue it’s about more than sex.
“The bathhouse is more than just a building, a space or an ‘event’. It can be interpreted as a sexual sanctuary, a safe-haven, a second-home to some, a hiding place to others,” they wrote.
Similar events in Halifax, like She Dogs, offer female attendees workshops on sex practices including how-to demonstrations.
Gay male bathhouses often act as spaces of exclusion, throwing out trans visitors if patrons complain. Pleasure Palace has a zero tolerance policy for transphobia, and Avenatti feels that is crucial to its success.
“Many of the ‘women only’ spaces that exist have organizers that define what they feel a woman is and allow attendance only by those who fit their definition,” Avenatti said. “A queer women’s bathhouse event [should] be open to anyone who [identifies] as a woman, period.”
Although many in the queer community feel that female-centric spaces affirm the binary, dismissing those who don’t fit the ricategories, Avenatti “wholeheartedly” disagrees.
“Women-positive, women-centric spaces can be incredibly powerful and healing,” she said. “Spaces in which women, all women, can finally exhale, not worry about street harassment and other gender-based violence and exist in a space that affirms their experiences are essential.”
As female spaces rapidly disappear, Avenatti believes that these kinds of experiences for women are as “important and relevant” as ever. She said she would love to see a Pleasure Palace event spring up in Chicago as a way to celebrate a new era of sex-positive community building by giving folks a safe space to explore and challenge sexuality.
“I have had incredibly positive experiences with public spaces where nudity was required, like saunas,” Avenatti said. “Being in spaces where people did not react to nakedness or the thousand different, beautifully strange bodies was so life and body-affirming. I want everyone to have the opportunity to feel this way.”


Today I was unfortunately reminded how terribly precious and fragile life is. I got to meet a man in the last six hours of his life, who (shortly after meeting me) fell out from an apartment window a few stories above, while admiring the sunrise. I’ve spent the rest of the day sleeping and trying to take it in, mourning someone whose name I can’t remember off the top of my head. Through it, I can’t stop thinking of a man I met on the train a few weeks ago. He was coming from Panama to visit his mother for Mother’s Day. He’s traveled the world and found one constant. “They always say the world is a terrible place and people are out to get you,” he told me. “But the one thing I’ve learned is the world is good. The world is good. The world is good.” Even as I can’t help but be sad for the six-hour man and his family’s loss, I have to remember this. The world is good.

The beauty bias: How views on female bodies shape us

(Read it at WBEZ)

As a rule, I try not to think about Kim Kardashian much—especially her pregnancy, because I’m concerned her child might be the anti-Christ. However, a friend recently made me consider Kardashian in a different light.

Kiki Kirk wrote an article last week forIn Our Words about an experience she had riding the Metra. Kirk shared it with four women who were having an open dialogue on Kim Kardashian’s body. One of them inquired about the state of Kim Kardashian’s weight gain, asking if she was “getting big,” and the others quickly chimed in: “She’s huge!” “You could seriously fit two Kate Middletons inside of her at this point.” “And her boobs are the size of my head, but not in a good way.”

This is hardly the first time that formerly thin celebrities have been shamed for putting on pregnancy weight, and holding women like Jessica Simpson to a higher standard of beauty says a lot about what we expect of women. They aren’t allowed to be real or “own their own [bodies].” Kirk says those women talked about Kardashian “like she wasn’t even a person.”

Such gossip is indicative of the internalized body shame many women feel and a culture that tells us to tear down women when they don’t fit our expectations of womanhood. Body shame is the 21st century corset, binding us to one acceptable shape.

Looking at the women on the train, Kirk thought about their children, who would receive many of these same messages about their bodies.

Kirk writes, “I wanted to tell them that no matter how many times you tell your daughter she’s ‘beautiful no matter what,’ when she hears you gossiping with your friends about how fat and ugly so-and-so is, she will look in a mirror and see fat and ugly. She will begin to hate herself because of the hate she heard spewing from your mouth.”

Girls are receiving these messages at increasingly younger ages—so much so that One Direction songs now include lyrics like, “You still have to squeeze into your jeans / but you’re perfect to me.”

After the band’s clunkily written “Little Things” debuted, Entertainment Weekly’s Grady Smith asked if young girls need those messages directed at them.

"Last I checked, One Direction’s fans aren’t composed mainly of aging obesity victims — they’re little girls who range in age from about 8-14," Smith argued. "The carefree 9-year-olds who nibble on fruit roll-ups on the way to gymnastics class. The ones who watch Good Luck Charlie before bed, getting one last year out of their Sleeping Beauty nightgowns.”

Although I agree that the song feels strange and disingenuous coming from One Direction’s line of Abercrombie models, Kirk’s example shows exactly why better messages of body positivity are needed. This ideal version of a girlhood free from shame doesn’t exist.

In high school, I worked with a Teen Counseling program that provided classroom resources for local elementary and middle schools on issues facing their students. In the fifth grade class I facilitated, most of the girls were already on diets, and others were graduates of fat camp. One girl had already battled an eating disorder. She was 11. None of these girls looked like there was anything wrong with them to me, but I’m not a preteen girl.

These girls aren’t alone. Research has shown that girls as young as three  internalize messages of body shame from the culture. In a study conducted on pre-schoolers, 3-5 year-olds were presented with “fat and thin” dolls, and those the children identified as “fat” were universally rejected.

They were then shown images of big-bodied and skinny women, and “children consistently labeled the ‘chubby’ figure as ‘mean’ and the thin figure as ‘nice.’” Children were more likely to identify the skinny girl as the one they would most like to be friends with or “be like,” and this was true for respondents in every body type bracket.

According to another 2003 study, when “presented with pictures of children who were in a wheelchair, missing a limb, on crutches, disfigured, or obese, most young children voiced that they would least prefer to play with the child who was considered ‘fat.’”

Such sentiments can have incredibly harmful effects on female self-perception, and studies indicate that “the mental well-being of [big bodied] women to be worse than that of the chronically ill or even severely disabled.”

As the Wall Street Journal’s Jeffrey Zaslow argued, this shame will last them the rest of their life, and it’s especially crucial we fight negative self-perception at a young age.

In 2009, Zaslow followed up with fourth-grade girls he profiled back in 1986, when 80 percent of their peers were dieting. Instead of getting better, their body perception was “even worse.”

"They and their peers have never escaped society’s obsession with body image," Zaslow explained. "Some told stories of damaging diets and serious self-esteem issues regarding their weight."

By the time girls reach college, around 8 in 10 report a negative body perception, and one in 10 will suffer a “clinical or nearly clinical eating disorder.” In 2012, a survey from Glamour magazine “found that 41 percent of 18 to 24-year-old women retouch their own photos before posting them to social media sites.” Photoshopped images of models tell women how they look doesn’t measure up. “Perfect” isn’t good enough, and even Kim Kardashian doesn’t fit the mold.

Much focus is placed on the media’s agenda-setting function in setting standards of female beauty, as the average girl receives around three hours of media exposure each day. Most of the images they receive of women will be directed toward their appearance, as 37 percent of articles for young women and 50 percent of ads targeting them focus on beauty. In film, research tells usthat “58% of female characters had comments made about their looks,” a rate twice as high as their male counterparts.

However, Kirk shows that the problem isn’t just the media. It’s all of us, as our culture affords a privilege to those considered beautiful. UK’s Social Issues Research Center argues that attractive children are more likely to be favored as job applicants and co-workers, where they are more likely to be promoted or earn higher salaries. They are less likely to be found guilty of a crime by a jury of their peers and if convicted, they face shorter sentences.

Throughout their school years, it’s not just other students that shower affection on attractive kids. The SIRC found that “teachers give higher evaluations to the work of attractive children and have higher expectations of them, which has been shown to improve performance.” Although adults should be setting an example for children, they are contributing to our “beauty bias.”

Do you think my fifth grade girls were enrolling themselves in fat camps? They had to be put there.

In an article for PBS, Catherine Steiner-Adair argued that the pressures we place on young women starts when they are born, when parents instill “gender-based expectations on how girls should behave and what should interest them.”

"Adults respond so much to what a girl looks like that by age five or six, young girls are getting the notion that their body is their selling point," Adair wrote. "When body image, clothes, marketing for girls is so sexual, it is that much harder for girls to develop a healthy, non-sexualized relationship with their bodies."

We learn so much about the world from our parents and raising a body positive generation of kids means de-emphasizing the premium we place on looks. The One Direction model of body positivity means telling girls they are secretly beautiful—but only you can see it, as their mate or parents. It’s what Alexandra of Feministing argues is the problem with Dove’s “Real Beauty" campaign: "The message—that you’re thinner than you think you are—reinforces the assumption that thinness is valuable."

Instead, Adair argues parents should compliment girls on their intelligence, stamina, perseverance, courage or ability to be a good friend—the same way they do for boys. Rather than continuing to oversexualize young girls, adults need to change the conversation and tell girls life is more than about how you look. It’s what you’re made of.

I’ll never meet the women who rode the train with Kiki Kirk, who expressed concern and sorrow for Kim Kardashian’s unborn baby. “Sh*t. I feel so sorry for that child,” one woman said. I might dislike Kim Kardashian, but it’s not her kid I’m worried about. I feel sorry for theirs.

20 Things Single People Shouldn’t Have To Justify To Anyone

(Read it on Thought Catalog.)

1. How long you’ve been single. Three months is okay. Three years is okay. I’m currently coming up on five years of singledom — having completely redacted one relationship from the record. (I was feeling desperate.) If it keeps up, I’m just looking forward to my ten year reunion of singledom, where I can get drunk, wear a nametag with a fake name on it (Stinky Weaselteats, at your service), find out everyone I dated has ugly babies or got ugly and throw someone in a pool. I will be king of the singles.

2. The number of bad dates that you’ve had. Being bad at dating doesn’t make you a bad person, and sometimes it’s genuinely not your fault. Recently on OKCupid, my “Match” referred to the website’s dating algorithm as the “OKCupid fag hag” and an old beau told me that bisexuality was a “hippie new age affectation.” My ex-girlfriends will be so pleased. It’s not you. It’s them.

3. Why you don’t want to have kids. I do — and I’ve already got them named — but I know a lot of people that don’t. That doesn’t make them devil-worshippers, and I think I’m the weird one for wanting kids. You’ve got three years of no sleeping and then two years of wild toddler years. Then you will be forced to drive them everywhere for the next decade, until they use their license as an excuse to do a bunch of shit you’d never approve of — like going to a Nickelback concert. You’ll finally have your life back, but  those baby-free folks are 18 years ahead, out partying and getting to read books uninterrupted. Tell me: Who has got the right idea here?

4. How often you date. You don’t need to “start putting yourself out there” more. Unless you live in a bunker or the Fortress of Solitude, you have tons of chances to meet people every day, and sometimes, you don’t have to take them. Just being open to the possibility of newness is enough.

5. Whether or not you’ve had sex recently. I haven’t had sex in almost a year, and I’m fine with that. The last time I had sex was with my sort-of ex (long, complicated story), and I haven’t felt like dipping my toes back into those waters recently. Dating is like Jaws. Once you’ve seen what’s in there, you can’t help but proceed with caution. Do I feel ashamed of not being friskier? No. I only have sex with people I’m dating — because I’m terrified of STDs. Besides, I’m picky about my shoes, and they only go on my feet.

6. Having sex a lot. Is it your body? Then you can do with it what you want, as long as “what you want” doesn’t involve things that are crimes in all of the 48 continental states.

7. Not being as far along as you thought you would be. When I was younger, I always pictured 25 as my “settle down” year — when I would be partnered up and shit with like babies and whatever. (Clearly all of this was very well planned out.) Now? I can’t imagine having a kid at 25. What do you 25 year old parents do with them? Do you have some magic parent powers I don’t possess? Either way, kudos. I couldn’t do it. I like my life as is.

8. Being the only single friend. Just because all of your friends are in relationships doesn’t mean you have to be. If we only did everyone around us was doing, we would all (by extension) be listening to dubstep and have the Skrillex haircut.

9. Whether you or not you dress ‘sexy’ enough. Never ask your friends why they think you are single, because you will get stupid answers like this. There’s no reason you are single, and whether you are wearing a two-inch or a six-inch makes zero difference. If you are a lady and reading this, trust me: Women think about this stuff way more than men do. Men find very weird things sexy (things you shouldn’t even bother trying to understand, because it’s useless), so don’t worry about impressing them. Feel sexy for yourself.

10. Staying home on a Friday night. Listen: You’re not in an Evelyn Waugh novel. You don’t have to be out all the time, and your relationship with yourself is just as important as the one you have with everyone else.

11. How your body is shaped. It’s not just our big bodied folks that get it. It’s the skinnies, too. Last year I was followed down the street by two guys who had an open dialogue about my body, referring to my arms as “chicken wings.” We all have our preferences, but that doesn’t give you the right to be a dick about yours. Skinny or curvy, every body is equally real and equally worthy of love.

12. Needing time to move on from your ex. Sometimes it’s not as simple as “Girl, move on!” You need to take time to foster emotional wellness, and blatantly diving before you are ready helps no one. Do you really want to be the person who cries on a date?

13. Stalking your ex’s Facebook. Even if they say they don’t, everyone does it. I’m doing it right now. I’m not, but I could be. It’s just a click away. I have such power.

14. How many times you’ve watched the same sappy movie. I know this is Dirty Dancing or The Notebook for most people, but for me, this will always be Once. That scene where she tells him she loves him but it’s in Czech and he doesn’t understand?? DEAD. Every fucking time.

15. Being on a dating website. It’s 2013. It’s not that weird anymore, and you meet some genuinely interesting people. You also connect with some creepers who message to ask whether you have “short or long toes.” OKCupid is like the rest of the dating world: It’s beautiful and terrible, but mostly just hilarious.

16. Not wanting to see them again. Sometimes it just doesn’t click. That’s why God invented Nutella. I just hope my soulmate isn’t made out of Nutella, because that would be a conflict of interest. “I know we’re supposed to grow old together, but I may have to eat you.” The eternal conundrum.

17. Never wanting to get married. I’ve seen The War of the Roses. Marriage clearly isn’t for everyone. Choose the relationship that’s right for you.

18. How many cats you have. You’re not a cat lady, you just have a lot of love to give. Cats are awesome, unless they are Siamese. I don’t trust those little fuckers. They always look like they’re up to no good.

19. Wanting to look frumpy every once in awhile and not try — at all. Sometimes you just need to let yourself go a little, have a night without making or shaving and give absolutely no fucks. Hello, sweatpants. I want to be inside you.

20. Needing to take time off from dating.Maybe you need to date yourself or hang out with your boyfriends, binge eating and Fringe, for a while. We’re often told that time is ticking and if we don’t act now, all the good ones will be taken by the time we get back. We survived the Mayan apocalypse, The New Normal and Whitney. We can survive anything. The dating world will be here waiting when you’re ready.