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Artists, Please Don’t Give Up on North Carolina

Published April 9, 2016 by April Fox

Earlier this week, Bruce Springsteen announced that he was canceling an upcoming North Carolina concert because of his opposition to HB2. The law, also known as North Carolina’s “Bathroom bill,” removes state protections against discrimination, and demands that people use single-sex restrooms in public facilities such as schools and government offices in accordance with the sex listed on their birth certificates, not the gender with which they identify.

Springsteen’s voice is one of the most powerful in the music world, and the statement he made by boycotting North Carolina is a strong one. He’s letting fans and the state of North Carolina know in no uncertain terms that he does not support discrimination, and that’s a message that might have a positive effect on fans who were in agreement with the law.

Springsteen isn’t the only person to have cancelled appearances in North Carolina because of HB2, and it’s a trend that’s likely to continue for a while. And while I appreciate these celebrities joining our fight for equality, I’m seeing things from a different perspective, too.

Yesterday, the manager of Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe published a letter about how the boycott can hurt small businesses. Author Sherman Alexie was the first to cancel his appearance at Malaprop’s, not only costing the store business but also taking away an important cultural experience from the people who wanted to hear him speak. Again, I understand and appreciate the gesture; I don’t really want to be in this state either. But Malaprop’s has a decades-long history of supporting LGBT causes, and by boycotting the state, Alexie is [no doubt inadvertently] hurting the good guys.

North Carolina is a state in crisis, and we have been for a while. Our teachers are pitifully underpaid, we have too many children living in poverty, and our state lawmakers voted against the Medicaid expansion so that many families are still uninsured. Right now, I’m saving money to get an important test to determine whether or not a mass in my uterus is cancer, because I fall into that lower-middle class gap. And now there’s HB2, which was called the worst anti-LGBT piece of legislation in history when it was passed. I get it: We suck, many of our state legislators are a bunch of heartless power-mongers, and the only way to hit them where it hurts is to go straight for the wallet.

Problem is, the rest of us have wallets too, and they’re already painfully thin. My husband works in the music industry as a performer, studio owner, and sound engineer. The venues where he runs sound aren’t owned by mega-corporations, they’re owned by regular human beings, people who live in our communities with their families and are just trying to make a living, like the rest of us. My husband runs sound for bands from all over the country, and he loves his work. I work as a teacher and make a little money writing, but his music jobs are what keep our family afloat.

When you cancel a show in Asheville, or anywhere in North Carolina, you’re making a fantastic statement, but you’re also hurting local families who are just as much opposed to that bill as you are. If my husband misses one gig due to a boycott or any other reason, there goes our weekly grocery money. A night of work is a car payment, school clothes for the kids, car insurance, part of the rent… it’s a huge chunk of our life. It’s a huge chunk out of the life of anyone who depends on others’ performances to make a living, from the bartenders to the sound engineers to the business owners trying to figure out how they’re going to make payroll this week.

To those considering boycotting North Carolina in opposition to HB2, I say thank you. Thank you for standing behind our transgender friends and family. Thank you for having the balls to speak out against an absolutely deplorable piece of legislaion that hurts not only the LGBT community, but everyone. But please, consider keeping that date. Come read your stories to us; play some music and let us dance for you. Speak up while you’re here. Use your time in North Carolina to let local fans know that you stand with them, that you agree that Pat McCrory is a spineless, bigoted jerk and needs to be stopped. Use your time on our stages to speak out against HB2, while showing that you support the people our governor is trying to destroy.

 

Musician and sound engineer Anthony Dorion works in his Asheville, NC studio

That Was a Long Time Ago

Published April 6, 2016 by April Fox

We were all

disembodied

captured behind glass

eyes, red-rimmed and leaking

fluids

in our creased, cupped palms

sliding through our fingers

to the floor

where they bathed

in retribution.

We were all

glass-eyed, blinded, captured

by our wrists, bound

with the long and strangling

cords

of their self-loathing, we were

hunched over ovens, burning flesh

off our cheeks, exposing bone

the skull determined

to protect

what wasn’t there, we were

flowers

in cheap vases, we were

torn and stitched together

and together

and together until the fibers

meshed and the threads

locked tight together and the glass

behind us, now

reflected fire

and exploded.

Quit Complicating Your Kids’ Questions About Gender and Sexuality

Published April 6, 2016 by April Fox

Every time legislation is passed that has anything to do with civil rights, things like being allowed to marry or use the bathroom in peace or whatever, people start using children as proxies for their fear and lack of understanding. It spreads like a rash across social media, this epidemic of made-up conversations kids are having with the adults in their lives and the resulting deep and moving concern about what to tell the children. “What am I supposed to say when little Khloweei asks about the gay couple in the produce section? How am I supposed to explain transsexuals in the bathroom? My child is too young to be talking about sex!”

Spoiler alert, in case you don’t want to read this whole super-long thing: You don’t have to talk about sex. It isn’t about sex, even. Not at all. I know, it’s shocking, what with the gays and the trannies humping each other all over the bus stop and the amusement parks and shit like that. I know they look like normal people doing normal things with their normal lives, but underneath, totally humping, willy-nilly everywhere.

But really, I’m sorry if you’re confused about how to address your kids’ questions. I’m not belittling that, at all. My kids have asked some things that have made me wish for a time machine so that I could go back and hide in the bathroom five minutes before they decided to ask. Kids ask some intense questions, and some very serious questions, and those should without a doubt be answered. But. (You know me, there’s always a but.)

Here’s what’s really important to remember: children don’t think like adults.

To a small child, everything is new and different. They don’t have decades of experience and context to which they can relate their everyday lives and observations, like we do. Their points of reference are self-centered. I don’t mean that in the negative way it’s often used, but literally: their experience centers around themselves.

And so when you’re standing at a crosswalk beside two men holding hands, you’re taking in everything: They’re adults. They’re smiling at each other, leaning into each other, laughing quietly. One has a take-out box from that fancy candle-lit restaurant up the street; clearly, they’re on a date, and if they only got one box for leftovers, they must be going home together. One man has a bottle of wine tucked into his elbow. They’re going home to drink wine. It’s going to be romantic. They’ll probably end up having sex. That’s what’s running through your head when your child says, “Mommy, why are those boys holding hands?”

You know what’s going through your kid’s head, most likely? Why do those boys have to hold hands to cross the street? They’re grown-ups. Grown-ups can go by themselves. That’s weird.  So how do you answer that question? Try something like, “Sometimes people hold hands when they like each other. I guess they must like each other.” Chances are, your kid is going to give you a really insightful response, probably something along the lines of, “Oh. Look, there’s a squashed caterpillar on the sidewalk. Can I touch it?”

When your child asks why Auntie has a girlfriend, he’s probably not wondering why she prefers women to men. It’s probably just the same question kids ask roughly eleven million times a day: Why? Why are my socks blue? Why is that spaghetti? Why is that lady’s butt so big? Why can’t I touch that squashed caterpillar? Why does Auntie have a girlfriend?

And just like above, it’s a pretty simple answer: “They must like each other.”

If your child is old enough that he’s beginning to understand what kind of relationships are more common than others and to notice when things look a little different than what he’s used to, and his question really is about why Auntie likes girls and not boys, that’s an easy answer too: “Some girls like other girls.” If they ask for more, you can give that information without making everything about sex. I’m pretty sure when your kid asked you why you and Daddy got married, for example, you didn’t say, “Well, Snugglemuffin, we just wanted to make sure your daddy would be able to stick his pecker in me every night for the rest of his life.” You probably talked about love and happiness and friendship — and those are the same things you talk about when you’re talking about Auntie and her girlfriend. Easy peasy, man. You don’t even have to learn anything new.

Of course, the big thing now is transgender. Everybody’s freaking out about the transgenders in the bathrooms and Oh…my… Gawwwwwwd what if my precious little snowflake Mhaddisynne Claire goes in the bathroom and sees a person who looks like a man in a dress? WHAT DO I TELL HER?”

Well first off, tell her potty time is privacy time, which is what you should have been telling her since she was old enough to start having a decent grasp of receptive language.

If it does come up, if your little one sees someone with masculine-appearing features in traditionally feminine clothing and says (at the top of her lungs, at that piercing pitch children only hit when they’re saying something that makes you want to crawl into the toilet and die) “Why is that man wearing a dress?” what the heck do you say?

I’ll tell you. If that happens, then you go, like, “That’s a lady.”

And then if your kid is like, “That looks like a man,” then you go, “People look all different ways. She’s just trying to use the restroom, like you are. Go wash your hands. Go. Use soap. Not that much soap.” (Because that’s how bathroom conversations always end, I don’t care if there’s a band of Civil War reenacting drag queens in there, you’re going to say the soap thing. And also, you really don’t know, do you? Unless you’re the weirdo peeking up her skirt, you don’t know that that lady isn’t a biological woman with stronger features than most.)

I’m not saying not to have conversations about gender and sexuality with your kids. These are issues they’re going to face, if not personally, than as witnesses as their family and friends deal with them. But it’s ridiculous to think these conversations have to center around what people do in their private bedrooms or wardrobes. If you wouldn’t talk about the sex lives or genitalia of straight, cisgendered people, then it’s not appropriate conversation-period. As your child gets older, your conversations can become more comprehensive, but when your child is small, your answers about sexuality and gender should be as simple and gentle as conversations about love and death and anything else that you have a responsibility to explain. Don’t complicate it. Teach love, compassion, respect and inclusion, and your simple answers will grow into understanding soon enough.

 

 

Street Fair Slut

Published February 14, 2016 by April Fox

Let’s sell these things

on a street corner somewhere 

looking far too innocent, with raised eyebrows and lids

open wide, and the hint of a smile

hanging around the edges 

of our lips

Let’s open our coats and offer them,

hanging there from rusted hooks

ten for a penny, twelve for a dollar

buy one get one free

Fingers torn off with the tendons rough and bare,

tongues sliced away, dripping blood and insolence 

eyeballs carved out carefully

with the sharpened edge of a spoon-

if you peer inside, you might see the thing

that made you raise the blade. 

Let’s sell these things, pressed between the pages of a journal

long-since burnt

scribbled onto dirty palms

professionally bound

and sent out from a factory

like underwear, or paint. 

Let’s sell these things, perched up

on a barstool 

sneakers kicking air

face too far from the microphone 

whisper, shout, silence, sing

Let’s sell these things 

and count the coins

let them go without regret

let them land on someone else to hold,

and earn back what they stole. 

JD Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers, Asheville NC 02-10-16

Published February 13, 2016 by April Fox

Last week, I interviewed JD Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers. The Songfacts interview will be published shortly, along with a few of my favorite photos from the show at Asheville’s Grey Eagle on February 10, but until then, here are a few of the favorites that didn’t quite make the official article cut. (I’m a writer, not a photographer, so don’t expect too much. I was just fooling around trying to get a few photos to go with my interview.)

 

 

 

 

Bound

Published February 7, 2016 by April Fox

In their tiny cells

with the paper-thin walls

they ask their gods for favors

supplicant and pale, shivering in the heat,

painting pictures of the dollar signs

that fill their heroes’ heads

shackled to their plastic smiles

the ass chases the carrot.

In their tiny cells

with the paper-thin walls,

they write

poking holes in the barriers

with sharpened sticks and crayons

taping over them

praying to get out

They bite their tongues

and swallow them

they are washed in the blood of the christ.

In their tiny cells

with the paper-thin walls

they strip their clothes and wait

palms up face down,

tied up

in the corner

with candy floss and threads of spiderwebs

bound by the belief

that they cannot save themselves.

IMG_9087

Time Capsule

Published February 2, 2016 by April Fox

At the end,

you will gather your life

and if you’re lucky

it will fill the room,

hold your hand and speak to you in

furred voice,

calling in the breeze to brush away the sorrows

from your brow.

Everything else of significance will fit in your palm,

tarnished and worn

the colors faded and softened with time.

They will take these treasures home

and they will bury you instead.

baby apple

Skinny Bitch Barbie Meets Her Curvy Match

Published January 28, 2016 by April Fox

Move over, skinny bitch. There’s a new Barbie in town.

Before I go any further, let me say that I think it’s great that there are new dolls for little kids to play with, featuring different body types and skin tones. When my younger daughter was small, she tended to gravitate toward the “Hispanic” dolls, because they had dark hair and sort-of light skin, like she did. Baby girl was thrilled when I finally found her a doll with fair skin, brown hair, blue eyes, and freckles. It’s cool for kids to have dolls they can relate to, no doubt.

barbie

photo: USA Today

From what I’ve seen on social media, though, people are talking far more about the new “curvy” Barbie than they are about the others, and along with that come the inevitable snarky complaints about Old Barbie.

I’ve written about Barbie before, when there was a trend of parents refusing to let their daughters play with the dolls because apparently, they promote unrealistic ideas of beauty and are a bad influence on malleable little girls. Never mind that no child has yet died of shock upon discovering that real ponies don’t have sparkly pink manes and tattooed bottoms, and I have never heard of a little one growing up to have low self-esteem because they didn’t live on a street with giant yellow birds and trash can-dwelling monsters as neighbors. Kids know what toys are. I loved Barbie when I was a kid, and by the time I was old enough to worry about how big my boobs might eventually be, I was old enough to realize that I came from a long line of petite women. I looked at my mother and grandmother and I never once imagined that I would somehow grow up to be the snarky, gloomy, pink-haired counterpart of Dolly Parton, just because I had a doll with large breasts. Barbie was no different than Strawberry Shortcake or that weird baby doll I had that would walk into walls, teeter around, and walk back to me like some kind of tiny plastic drunkard.

But he were are with the new curvy Barbie, and all of a sudden Barbie isn’t bad because she’s too curvy (that word changes definition depending on who’s using it, it would appear); now she’s bad because she’s too skinny. She’s still “unrealistic.” The new Barbie shows a normal body type, right?

Let me tell you, today I more closely resemble NAMBLA Fantasy Ken* from the waist up than Malibu Barbie, but after my third child was born, I was under a hundred pounds, wearing a size 0 jeans (yes that is a real size, no I never starved myself to get there), and sporting a generous D cup. If you don’t think that’s some serious reality there, I’d be happy to let you have all the bruises I got from knocking those suckers (haha) into walls and door frames and such. That was a very real body type, and while for me it went away quickly, some women are just made like that.

And so while it may seem silly to be having this kind of conversation over a plastic doll, I think it’s important to keep things in perspective: what you say to your daughters is what matters. Talk to them about beauty and diversity and brains and challenges and strengths. Teach them to love who they are and to strive to keep their bodies and minds as healthy as they can. Buy them the big-boobie doll and the average-size doll and please please buy them the ones with the colored hair, because I love it when little kids see me out and shriek that I look just like their favorite doll. Buy them the brown ones and the white ones and the ones with wheelchairs and the ones that pee when you force water down them with a plastic squeezy bottle. Buy them cars and trucks and blocks and footballs and bubbles, lots and lots of bubbles, and more art supplies than you can really afford, and books and bicycles and sparkly shoes and cowboy hats and dinosaurs that roar when you press their scaly bellies. Get down on the floor and play with them. This Barbie is a doctor, this one is a teacher, this one is a mommy, this one is a magical fairy princess with an invisible unicorn sidekick, this one is the president.

You are the most important plaything that your child has. She looks to you to determine who she will be one day. Don’t teach her to be someone who believes that worth is determined by the mold you were poured into. Give poor Barbie a break and let’s help them all be friends. Those knockers are a tough burden to carry, after all.

*Please don’t take me to prison for typing that phrase.

https://aprilfox.net/2014/02/19/barbie-taking-our-daughters-to-the-dark-side-one-pink-stiletto-step-at-a-time/

Left for Dead

Published January 18, 2016 by April Fox

I tore off my face

I tore off

my face

and set a new one on, one without the scars, one with

real eyes 

where the maggot holes had been

one without the sounds of mad dogs barking in the ears,

relentlessly. 

I tore off my

face, and set a new one on

one with creases in the skin from laughing,

crooked teeth, and notes

drawn in the margins. 

I took the old one, laid it gently

in the warm, soft grass

like an infant in the rushes

left alone there,

left for dead

Drew a thread from flesh to animal,

leashed the dogs there

tied them up, tethered to the screaming

And I took the silence with me

I took the silence

like a gift. 

Mid January three something indecent deity

Published January 17, 2016 by April Fox

There are ghosts in every corner 

Tapping holes into their faces with their 

Broken fingernails 

This is a place where when the stars come down

They change their course and keep 

The sideways dark

Look out the light

Will make you blind

And the holes keep growing bigger

The skin around the edges chapped and raw 

The mouths below grotesque with screaming 

Never and regret

The hands of god are softly, sweetly

Masturbating to the sight. 

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