This Inauguration Day

Smiles, tears and protest,

On this inauguration day. 

Some feeling joy,

Many filled with sorrow.

 

Side by side, passion meets passion.

With lack of understanding, 

Forever remains a clear barrier.

The ignorance of the few will never outweigh the rights of many.  

Wicked ideas will be met with vigor and blight.

Even the darkest hearts can be illuminated with light. 

 

The rays of freedom will shine from our very constitution.

Protecting every race, gender, orientation and religion.

To exercise our rights is the essence of patriotism. 

Today be proud, today be heard.

Today be an American. 

 

Gerda and Lili: An Artistic Revolution

Throughout the centuries, many famous artists have challenged norms and helped us to visualize the complexity of human nature, but rarely are we taught that a considerable number of them were queer. It was the masterful skill of their art that kept them alive through time, which is all well and good, but we have left out essential parts of who they were by omitting their sexual orientation and gender identity. Today we still struggle to publicly call ourselves queer or trans, so how did artists of the past do it? They created works that launched movements, social trends and awareness. Two notable artists that shook society with their need for expression were Gerda Wegener and Lili Elbe.

If you’ve seen the film The Danish Girl based on the book by David Edershoff, you are already familiar with them, but if you haven’t, worry not, for I will tell you the story and fill in some of the gaps it left in its path. Gerda Wegener was the wife of painter Einar Wegener, also an artist, and lived with him in Denmark where the two worked on their art together during the early decades of the 1900s. Einar was a notable landscape painter and Gerda was a famous fashion artist, painting beautiful, stylish women, often in erotic poses—often in erotic poses with each other. Although she was well-known in Paris, it was taking her more time and effort to catch-on in Denmark, due to the deemed inappropriateness of her art: sexual and immoral. The Danish society did not appreciate her seemingly corruptive art in their galleries. Still, she continued to paint in her style, not giving up and not giving in.

Because of the nature of her paintings, many have suggested that Gerda herself was a lesbian, or at least, bisexual. However, these aspects of her artwork and her life are not portrayed in the film which does her a huge disservice because it at least deserved some commentary for social and biographical purposes. Ideally, a film is a platform for important messages and perspectives. If this one had even proposed the idea that she was queer (evidence exists that in Paris she was openly queer), it would’ve fulfilled its purpose instead of choosing to omit it altogether, focusing narrowly on Einar’s change. Moreover, it lessens the power of her work, diminishes her spirit, and limits her unique, far-reaching voice.    

Einar changed the world when he decided to express himself, not only through his art, but through his body. Realizing that he could no longer hide who he was, he began his transformation into Lili Elbe, which he at first said was his sister. In 1908, at a time when transgender and transsexual weren’t even words to define what he was feeling, Einar bravely became the woman he always knew he was, wearing dresses, makeup, and letting his hair grow. Lili was his soul, she was the true form. Naturally, people did not understand her, often calling her mentally insane, diseased, and corrupt. Lili went from doctor to doctor to try and find a way to be herself fully, meaning surgery to correct her body’s misunderstandings. She finally found a  doctor that understood and wanted to help. They performed a series of surgeries to remove the masculine body parts and added breasts. On her last surgery where they transplanted a womb into her body (her greatest desire was to be a mother), she died from organ rejection. Gerda went on to marry a French man, divorcing soon after and dying alone.  

Although they met tragic ends, their lives live on in their legacy of courage, self-expression, and evolving visions. Gerda changed the way women were seen, pushing the boundaries of gender and how women were expected to be. Her depictions showed beautiful, strong women freely expressing themselves—giving them depth and character rather than just being an object as men had for so long depicted them. She gave the independent woman a voice in society. What is more amazing is the fact that she continued to paint this way even in the face of much disapproval and condemnation, defying traditional views of men and women. Lili demonstrated how all people can be who they are, that they are not alone, and that nothing was wrong with them for suffering body dysphoria. Having the first sex reassignment surgery was an incredibly brave testament to the strength of her convictions— no therapy was ever going to change what was in her heart. Gerda and Lili’s passion changed the way the world understood gender and sexuality. They paved the way for people to feel validated in their differences from others, giving them the fuel for change. Several artists have since leant their voices to this cause. Even those of generations past remain relevant as many of us struggle in the same way to be heard, to be seen, to be validated. We would be wise to heed and echo them, lest they fade into obscurity at the hands of those who seek to stifle and oppress.  

To be or not to be . . . ?

Do you believe black people in poverty stay in poverty because of their environment or is it self-inflicted?

I feel so strongly about this topic. This question was presented to me in Cleveland Ohio by my brother Shaquille Anderson and Tosha (I do not know her last name). In response, I stated that it is those people in poverty’s fault. Have I no heart? I do but it does not pity, but that is beside the point. The reason why I believe it is self-inflicted is because people of all races have come from the poorest and darkest places of this Earth and have birthed the most groundbreaking things, invented new ways of thinking, constructed corporations that have shaped the Universe despite their environment. I was befuddled that when it came to blacks, we blamed our environment and our circumstance playing the victim yet again.

One point my brother and Tosha made was, “If you don’t see success or a positive person, how would you know what success is or how to achieve?” Now at that point, we were at a restaurant (Tony Blays, Food Networks Super Star Chef’s establishment) and I damn near raised my voice. I was astonished to hear this; despite black heritage, what if our ancestors thought in this way?

“Well, all I see is whips, chains, and my masta’s rage let me just lay down and die. Where and when did this way of thinking infect our minds? I responded, “So you are doubting our minds, you are saying we do not have the mental capacity to think of a brighter future to think of a positive way out besides, drugs, robberies, and killings. Monkey see, Monkey do huh, we only do what we see.” *Silence* I then stated, “So I should just give up now huh, there is no hope for our race. Most blacks are in poverty, generations of poverty so we will never get out of it. We should all just stop trying right!? Well, I won’t because I still believe in our minds; I still believe we have the intellect and the desire and fight to succeed despite our environment.

As I sat there disgusted I thought, is this the way the world thinks? Am I crazy to think that we are still capable? Are they right? Then I thought, "I do not care, black minds are as powerful as ever, we just have to be proud enough to stand as an individual, withstand the jokes and ridicule that we receive from our own race for being different and fulfill the purpose that God placed us on this beautiful earth for. We have to go back to what brought us this far as blacks; education.

“Want to Keep Something From A N****, Write A Book.” Right?

-With LOVE

A Time To Give

It happened where I live, on the first of November. The coffee shop which I frequented had their Christmas drinks ‘go live’, which is something that I can get behind as they are very delicious. But unfortunately, along with that with that came the Christmas jumpers, antler boppers and the music…oh, the music. The children in the school in which I teach, know me as a Scrooge; when asked if I enjoy Christmas, I always say ‘no’ and they always presume that I hate its entirety. I usually don’t take the time to explain my thoughts about this time of year, but I suppose that this year, with my new-found Veganism, compassion has been my buzzword, and with this new sense of love and compassion, I finally feel the need to explain my distaste for the season.

I guess the coffee shop scenario kind of explains it; the fact that the season starts in November, and that is purely for profit. Suddenly, we are propelled into a flurry of ‘sales’ and ‘bargains’ and for some bizarre reason in Great Britain, we’ve adopted the insanity of Black Friday. It’s the sense that one extra helping of mass-produced, often inhumane processed food ‘won’t hurt’, it’s buying an extra £50 of presents just in case the kids aren’t satisfied with what you’ve bought them, it’s squeezing people around the confines of a table and being on our best behaviour, it’s wish lists and pressure, it’s the obsessive mantra of ‘treat yourself, it’s Christmas’ – like that waiver covers a multitude of sins. It makes me feel claustrophobic and tight-chested.

This year, I changed my life. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still have a wish list and I still end up inevitably buying myself some treats as I buy presents for others – I fall short of my own expectations frequently. However, this does not mean that my ideals are not important or something that I should give up on aspiring to follow. Part of my lifestyle change has resulted in me and my husband committing to ‘tithe’ a proportion of our income to charity every month. This is not a religious observance and it is not in the hope that karma is going to be kind to us. It is not some kind of attention seeking act so all of our friends see how pious we are. It is not something that we are smug about. It is a community act, designed to help us spend the money that we obtain more responsibly with the outcome of helping as many charities that we can in the process.

Our charities have been chosen by friends, friends of friends, inspired by Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and our own life experiences. Sometimes they tie in with awareness days. There are no rules or reason to our choices; there is an abundance of charities just waiting for donations. This year, we have raised money for The UK Sepsis Trust, Brainwave, Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, Coram Voic,e and many more. We have invited our friends to join us in supporting these charities simply by setting up a Facebook page and linking it to the Just Giving website.

Doing this has made us think about causes that we want to help, and in some cases have introduced us to new causes that we knew little about. For me, it has stirred up passion about causes that I have never really cared about, let alone actively helped. I want to instill this feeling in others and at times this has worked. Sometimes, however it has not. Perhaps it looks too ‘preachy’, perhaps too ‘holier than thou’. Perhaps it is a sincere lack of money, but the beauty of tithing is that you can set it to fall in line with what you can actually afford to give, no matter how small it is. This inspired the name of our charity collective: Little Change.

At this time of year, when there is so much waste, in food and in money, I urge you to do what you can to help alleviate this greed. Please choose presents which are made with care and compassion from companies that respect animals and humans. Buy charity Christmas cards, instead of regular ones. Try to buy only the food that you really need and please do the same when buying presents. Small changes like this are ways that you can do your part in being responsible partiers this year. Most of all, please pledge to do something responsible with your money this Christmas, and beyond. This could be buy joining us in our endeavour, or making your own community tithing group. Christmas is of course a time to be merry and to give. Please do so responsibly, with love.

 

Little Change: https://www.facebook.com/littlechangeuk/?fref=ts

The story of how I overcame crippling depression and mental instability

I’ve had depression ever since elementary school. I’ve had my break downs, the moments of helplessness, the not wanting to do anything, no light at the end of the tunnel, and I've felt so down that the light wasn’t even visible during some moments. It intensified for months in the middle of 2013.

I was spending time with a friend for the day on July 13th, 2013, having a good time--but something felt off. When I came home I was trying to shake that feeling of impending doom, but I still wasn't satisfied with the day’s activities. I had gotten home around 5pm and was home not even 30 minutes when my daughter arrived home from visiting her dad. While he and I were talking, the phone rang. It was my step-mom…I stepped outside to talk to her and that’s when she told me the news. My dad was in an accident at the amusement park. He had gotten on the new roller coaster they unveiled that summer, but when the ride had ended, he was unresponsive. My step-mom and my aunt had performed CPR on him for 15 minutes before EMS got there. They then worked on him for 45 minutes trying to bring him back on the way to the hospital.

Now not too many people know this, but the human brain can only go 12 minutes without oxygen before brain damage starts to settle in. My father was was dead for an hour before they got his heart beating again but it was too late. The damage was already done. He spent a week in the hospital on life support and I finally had enough. Enough of the drama and pressure that my family was putting on me, seeing him in that bed just a lifeless empty shell with tubes coming and going every where. My dad and (to preserve the identity of others) we’ll call her Jenny, weren’t married. So the decision fell onto me to pull the perverbial cord. He officially passed away July 17th 2016. Little did I know how much his death would affect me.

See, my dad and I didn’t exactly have the best relationship. He was missing for most of my life, popped in and out every now and then, but we were working on it. I had seen him the day before his accident happened. He was so excited about going to the amusement park! Before I was leaving there was a nasty storm rolling in, and he begged me to stay until the storm passed and I couldn’t be bothered to grant him that last request. Had I known that was the last time I was going to see him alive, I would have stayed. I still hate myself to this day for not staying.

After we laid him to rest I went into a deep crippling depression, one worse than I have ever been. I only got up in the mornings to take care of my daughter. I didn’t go anywhere, I didn’t do anything, I barely slept, ate, showered (gross, I know but when you got to the point I was at, you just don’t care). It was bad.

About a month later, I was getting to the point where I was getting back on the computer and the game console I owned. Little did I know, that day I was going to find my 5 angels, my saviors. I was on YouTube going through random videos trying to find something to distract myself. I stumbled upon a video called “Youtubers React: Kpop edition” by the Fine Brothers. I clicked on it, being somewhat interested because I had seen a couple K-Dramas.

There were three groups featured in this video, Big Bang’s Fantastic Baby, 2NE1’s I am the best, and SHINee’s Lucifer. The first two I felt kind of "eh" about, but in the last one, one of the members had caught my eye because he reminded me of my best friend at the time. I wanted to share what I had found with him, so I took to Google. I spent about 20 minutes looking up who this kid with the long hair in the video was. When I found his name, I went back to YouTube and looked up some of their other music videos. I found a couple and struggled with identifying him because at the time, I didn’t know in the Kpop world with each “comeback” they have, their appearance changes. I found him and realized “Hey, I really like this music, this group has awesome harmony and their voices are amazing.” That was the day I became a Kpop fan but that’s another article.

I found that as the holidays grew near, my depression seemed to get worse. I was having break downs more frequently, mainly when everyone was asleep. I felt like I was drowning and no one was there to pull me out of the pool of break downs. The only people I had was in this new group that I had found. I discovered that when I was having break downs watching old clips of SHINee on youtube from variety shows seemed to calm me down and distract me long enough to stop crying. They have a song from one of their Japanese albums that I listened to a lot called “I’m With You” that really clung to me. Whenever I would feel sad or overwhelmed I’d put that song on and I’d feel better. It would remind me that my dad, while physically not here, was with me in spirit, and that brought me a sense of peace. Especially on the night I was ready to end the pain. I was sitting in my kitchen on the floor crying, with a knife in my hand. I had kissed my daughter on the head goodbye, and was ready to be with my dad. As I had the cool blade on my skin, the music on my laptop kicked on by it's self and "I'm with you" started to play. I sat there for a minute listening to music. I had dropped the knife to my side, pulled my knees up to my chest and just sobbed.

Eventually, over time with the help of this Korean music group, my mental state improved. I started to feel normal again, I was able to do what I needed to do in my daily life with a new energy that I hadn’t felt in months. Just recently after 3 years, I got a little reminder of just how much they helped me. How they saved my life. They don't know me, and they don't know I exist, but I owe them my life. I got a tattoo of the band name on my left wrist.

Music really does have the ability to help heal you. As does time. I was one of the fortunate ones who was able to overcome the grips of depression, even when I was on death’s door. Because I was able to overcome this, I got to see my daughter start her first day of kindergarten, experience so many wonderful things, and meet so many new people. All because of music. If that's not power, I don't know what is.

School of Hard Cocks: The Johnny Cockstrong Story

From elderly women slinging pennies to adventurous 20-somethings looking to hit the jackpot, the vibrant surge of liquor and cash allures quite a motley crew to Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA. Among them, on occasion, a clean-cut 32-year-old can be found sipping a Shock Top beer, orange garnish and all, in the center bar.

Despite his slender, lanky six-three, 180-pound frame, this man seamlessly meshes among those enjoying a combination of mid-afternoon boozing and NFL football, sporting Van Heusen jeans, ASICS sneakers, and a Super Mario Bros. t-shirt. He pays no mind to the game, as neither team are the New York Giants. 

Just a few weeks ago he, himself, was suiting up in a locker room. Muffled murmurs, too, bounced about like intoxicated conversation.

He sat upon a steel chair that had seen better days, sifting through the well-traveled duffel bag beside him. A uniform would surface, one article at a time.

First, two all-black boots were plopped upon the floor. A pair of knee, elbow pads and a roll of wrist tape followed, all neutral jet black. Bright green tights with two orange stripes and yellow trim emerged, folded with care, before a jock strap came crashing down like an emphatic statement. It featured an image of the owner's crazed face – teeth-baring, wide-eyed expression – laminated onto the crotch. A foot-long cape was sutured onto the back strap, which flowed atop his buttocks, whipping about as he ran.

This was the garb of a superhero. However, not of the run-of-the-mill comic book variety. This hero was seemingly the only one boasting indestructible, weaponized genitalia. This hero was Johnny Cockstrong.

And, much like “The Man of Steel” lays low as Clark Kent, “The Cock of Steel” is better known as Chris Frank. He is a wrestler. A professional wrestler. The kind with the spandex, suplexes, and larger-than-life showmanship. 
                       
As a character, Cockstrong is recognized as one of wrestling’s most obscure attractions, which has allowed Frank to stumble into many career-heightening opportunities. Most notably, Beyond Wrestling.

Beyond is currently recognized as Rhode Island’s top independent wrestling promotion, possessing a fan base that spans the globe. Drew Cordeiro, the owner and operator, began running this federation as a series of private shows in 2009 under an underground fight club aesthetic, selling footage of individual and packaged exhibition match-ups via the World Wide Web.

Many ridiculed the product, as it wasn’t understood how a wrestling organization could function efficiently without a live crowd or direct income from ticket sales. Yet, where critics saw flaws, many fans and competitors saw a ground-breaking concept that slowly gained traction via viral exposure. Cockstrong, as a Beyond original, grew alongside the project. 

Upon searching “Johnny Cockstrong” on YouTube, it became apparent that this character was truly a click magnet. On the first page of results alone, 18 of his matches added up to over 150,000 total views. His most popular match, a contest against Jarek 1:20 at the Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) Academy, has accumulated over 55,000 views and counting, which, statistically speaking, surpasses the online traffic that even some performers with current or former national television exposure can garner.         

Behind the viral sensation lies Chris Frank, the gent that wishes poker wasn’t so expensive. When he isn’t occupied by the occasional session of twenty-one or three card, Frank fancies hitting the taps.

He is no stranger to barhopping, even meeting his wife, Leticia, when she was bartending in New York’s Bowery Poetry Club. She, much like her husband, is a fun-lover that dabbles in improv comedy and satirical musical performance. They currently reside in the quaint town of Bethlehem, PA, merely five minutes from Sands Casino. Their son, Jace, just turned four years old on September 6.
 
Frank's in-ring alter ego was born in 2006, spawned from a desire to perform under a persona that had a little more pop, pizzazz. While throwing around outlandish ideas with a friend, they just so happened to strike gold with Johnny Cockstrong. The name was quite fitting, as Frank has had his genitals pierced on four separate occasions.

Step by step, the character took shape. Should Johnny be superhuman? Why not! Should he wear a cape and eye-catching attire? Most certainly! Should he use his dick as a weapon? Abso-fucking-lutely!
 
Cockstrong debuted on the independent scene that very same year at a promotion known as the Bodyslam Wrestling Organization (BWO). The crowd ate Johnny up, prompting the official adoption of this newfound, highly obscure alias.
 
 Unlike his creation, Frank has a rather average origin story.
 
He was born and raised in Inwood, NY, under the tutelage of his parents, Rich and Linda. Academically, Frank was able to flourish, enrolling in The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) as an Information Systems major in 2001.

A member of TCNJ’s 2005 graduating class, he is a proud recipient of a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration. Frank currently finds himself stuck within the grind of a 9-to-5 as an IT technician, work that encompasses a demanding travel schedule.

Such a career acts as a built-in excuse to crack open a fresh Belgium or, occasionally, light summer ale. Summer Sam is named as a choice selection, despite the fact it's a difficult beer to find during its prime season.

“If it’s current, make it the current season,” said Frank. “[Summer Sam] is a great beer, but it's only available in the first two weeks of December.”

Frank, along with his vast experience in alcohol sampling and IT work, has spent over 13 years as an entertainer, wrestling for a variety of promoters. Counting off his fingers, Frank guesstimates that he has competed for about 12 organizations, traveling as far as Ohio to perform his craft.
 
Once considering himself to be a “Weekend Warrior,” Frank’s in-ring career is slowing down, as he, by choice, now only performs for Beyond actively, retirement possibly looming sooner rather than later.

“With my shoot job, I have to travel sometimes. I don’t make the effort to get books,” said Frank. “If I don’t wrestle for a month, that’s fine with me. I’m also 32, so…”
 
His journey began at the 2001 “Tough Enough” tryout held by Jersey All Pro Wrestling (JAPW). Despite ripping the “Tough Enough” moniker straight from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), this competition certainly was no joke, as JAPW was, and still is, one of the most prestigious promotions in the Northeast.

“Two people won training for life with JAPW,” said Frank. “I was not one of them.”

The two recipients were Jay Lethal and Rain Man. Lethal utilized this opportunity to embark upon an illustrious career, which included performing on national television for Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling and capturing the Ring of Honor (ROH) World Heavyweight Championship. Rain Man also found some success on the independent circuit, before eventually fizzling out into obscurity.
 
Frank and his friends were approached post-tryout by Homicide, a well-known TNA and ROH talent, who personally invited the group to come better their craft at JAPW’s training academy. Frank took him up on the offer, frequenting the facility until it closed in 2002.
 
BWO would be his next stop, transferring alongside a few former JAPW students. The Bodyslam Wrestling Organization would also book Frank in his first professional wrestling match in late 2002. He competed under the ring name Chris Soloff, teaming up with Michael Adams to take on “Explosive” Eddie Thomas and “Chiller” Miles Thomas: The Rhode Island Elite versus Team Thomas.
 
Many wrestlers have horrendous experiences in regard to their first match, Frank being no exception. About a week before his debut, a swarm of sores developed within his mouth, which limited him to only ingesting water leading up to the contest.

“I took the first bump and nearly vomited,” said Frank. “I think I caught it in my throat.” 

Amid the barroom hustle and bustle, Frank elbowed his glass, spilling a healthy portion of its contents onto the hardwood counter.
“He did it,” said Frank, thumbing the man to his left.
                                   
Shenanigans and wrestling go together like peanut butter and jelly. The behind-the-scenes insanity these wrestlers encounter is truly unmatched. From a promoter that built a shrine dedicated to one of their under-aged performers to an agoraphobic booker that would send their mother to run shows, Frank has seen some shit.

At a random BWO show, a JAPW representative just so happened to be casually milling around backstage. He began offering, out of the blue, JAPW bookings to anybody that had the balls to be tased.

A few workers stepped up, a few workers were zapped.
 
Then along came Frank’s friend, a performer by the name of Rush Margera. He, too, stepped up, and he, too, was zapped. However, unlike the others, Margera collapsed on contact.     He had been tased in the worst spot of all: his penis.
 
Needless to say, Rush Margera was added to the JAPW roster shortly after.

“He had a PA, a Prince Albert,” said Frank. “I remember that.”

A sudden vibration shook the counter, drawing Frank’s gaze. The disturbance could be attributed to a text message from Leticia, a reminder that they were expecting guests. An orange garnish now straddled an empty glass, as an urgent hand extended. It was time for him to head home, to return to normalcy.

The clean-cut 32-year-old would leave many stories untold and many questions unanswered; yet, through scattered bookings and Youtube clips, the legend of Johnny Cockstrong lives on, as Chris Frank blends into a crowd of miniskirts and Hawaiian print.