A Letter to Naya Rivera

Dear Naya,

Four days ago, my mom discovered a clip of Glee on YouTube and told me I should start watching the show because it had good musical performances. I binge-watched the entire first season in two days and fell in love with every character, including Santana. Your passion, talent, and charisma stood out from the beginning. You brought so much energy to every performance, held your own in a cast filled with equally incredible leading actors, and added a little sparkle to every episode.

I had heard that an actress from Glee had gone missing a few days before, and I recognized you from the pictures I had seen trending on social media. I didn’t know much about what had happened, but I watched each episode hoping that you were all right.

My heart fell when I saw the news yesterday. It’s such an eerie feeling to realize that this person you’ve just started to care about is suddenly gone. Last week, I didn’t even know who you were, and now I’m crying because you died. I never knew you personally, and I didn’t grow up watching Glee for years like some of my friends did. I didn’t know you at all. The person I knew was Santana, the fierce and beautiful cheerleader. But while you, Naya Rivera, was so much more than a character on Glee, Santana Lopez would have been nothing without your dedication to the role. It may seem strange, but after watching you on Glee and hearing the stories the other cast members have told about you, I feel like I’ve known you my whole life. You had such an infectious personality and spark, you were kind to everyone, and you always stood up for inclusion in the entertainment industry.

Your body may be gone from this world, but your spirit lives on in so many ways. You are an inspiration to millions of people, and you will continue to touch hearts for many years to come. You gave a whole generation of queer women a heroine they could identify with and cheer for. You were a Latina role model who defied the stereotypes placed upon women of color in the world of film and TV. In 50 years from now, someone will ask, “Who was willing to stick their neck out to fight for lesbian representation on TV before gay marriage was even legal?” and people will say, “Naya Rivera”. At the beginning of Glee, Rachel says, “Being part of something special makes you special.” You were part of something special every day because you were always brave enough to put your own interest aside to help someone else. That stubborn courage is why your beautiful son will grow up and have a life of his own. Your legacy will last forever.

I wish I had known about you sooner. I wish I could have fangirled over you for many happy years instead of just four days. But you have brought more light to this world in 33 years than most people do in 90. I feel so blessed to have known even a small part of the amazing person you were. I am overwhelmed with emotions right now, but I don’t want to be sad that you’ve passed on. I hope you are up in a beautiful place, singing your heart out with the angels. I hope you can be reunited with Corey. I hope you know how much we love you. I hope you can rest easy.

Tonight, I’m going to watch Glee. I know it will hurt when I see you on the screen and I remember that you’re not really here anymore, but I know that you created these episodes to bring laughter, love, and understanding into our homes. I want to see Santana’s story unfold for the first time. I want to celebrate a beautiful star who put so much of her soul into her work. I want to thank God for letting your brilliance touch my world.

Rest in peace and power, Naya.

With love,

A baby Gleek

From Out to Proud: What It Really Means to be “Openly LGBTQ+”

When I came out as bi on National Coming Out Day in 2018, I thought I was openly gay. I had the talk with my mom, told all my friends on social media, and put a pride flag in my Twitter bio. It was such a relief to share my story with the world, and I was proud of myself. My friends sent such supportive messages, and there was nothing more satisfying than knowing my mom was (for the most part) cool with it. Now I was like one of those amazing openly gay people I had looked up to. Heck, maybe I’d end up with my own TV show, like Ellen.

It’s been almost three years since that fateful October day, and I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be an openly LGBTQ+ person. I want to share the most surprising discovery I made because I think it could be very helpful for young LGBTQ+ people trying to embrace their identity in various areas of their lives.

Last June, I celebrated my first Pride Month. For me, that was the most exciting thing I had ever been included in. It was like the gay equivalent of a senior prom. I didn’t even get to attend any parades and I had no girlfriend to celebrate with, but I didn’t care. For the next month, I could post all my “gay tweets”, dress like a stereotypical queer woman in flannel, and have a good excuse to cry while reading dozens of coming out stories every night.

But when July 1 came around and Target took down its rainbow-themed displays, I felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness. For the past 30 days, I had lived so freely and expressed myself without inhibitions. I had basked in the rich culture of Pride Month and screamed my truth at the top of my lungs. Yet as soon as the celebrations were over, I found myself ducking back into the comfortable shelter of the closet. I stuffed my flannels in the bottom drawer of my dresser, wiped off my bi pride eyeshadow, and stopped tweeting about my experiences as a queer woman. It felt like January had come and it was time to take down the Christmas decorations and put away the Santa hats. Pride Month was my one-month parole from heteronormativity, but now I needed to go back to pretending I was “normal”. Because even though I was confident enough to scream about my gayness all June long, I still didn’t feel like being gay was normal for the rest of the year. I needed an excuse to be myself.

I’ve talked about the end of my friendship with a rather homophobic girl in a previous post, but I want to share a conversation we had because it was a huge part of my journey to self-awareness. Shortly before our friendship started to deteriorate, she’d told me that a girl on Tumblr had shut her out of a fangirl group that consisted mostly of gays. My friend called it a “lesbian clique” and complained that LGBTQ+ people on social media “don’t talk about anything except their sexuality”. I was already out by then, and after trying to explain to her that social media is often a safe place for LGBTQ+ people who face discrimination in real life, I asked her a question that had been nagging me for a while.

“Well, you know that I’m bi,” I said. “Do you think I’m annoying?”

“Oh, you’re fine!” she said. “You don’t bother me because you aren’t loud about it. You’re not one of those annoying gays who feel like they need to scream about it all the time. I would never even know you were gay if you hadn’t told me.”

She said it like it was a compliment. In her mind, my underlying embarrassment surrounding my identity was a good thing. And she truly believed she was not homophobic. In her mind, it was fine to be gay, as long as she didn’t have to know about it. But I got tired of hiding part of myself just so I could keep her as a friend. My true friends wouldn’t mind if I talked about gay rights every day. My true friends wouldn’t mind that I was being myself.

After that conversation, I started scrolling through my tweets and wincing at how apprehensive I sounded every time my gayness came up. First of all, I had always called myself “half gay, half straight” because I thought it made me more socially acceptable. I would retweet pictures of gorgeous female celebrities on social media and caption it “not trying to be gay or anything, but she’s so pretty!”. And if I posted anything that sounded remotely queer, I’d follow it up with an explanatory tweet: “Sorry for the gay spam on main. I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled programming in a few hours!”.

Reading those tweets, I realized how much I was still hiding. Metaphorically, I had taken my identity out of the closet, but now it was stashed under a rainbow flag and stuffed in the corner of the room where no one would see it. I only felt safe to be out when I could blend in with the thousands of people celebrating Pride Month who would be louder than me. And that was not pride at all.

After my little epiphany, I made an effort to come out in every area of my life. I had always thought of myself as an open person, but now that I was paying attention to my own behavior, I saw that I was fibbing several times each week just to keep my gayness a secret or simply shying away from situations that would bring it to light. But no matter how much I tried to run from it, it came up everywhere. It came up when people asked who was the hottest superhero and my brain was screaming “Wonder Woman!”. It came up when pretty girls walked past and I forgot what I had been saying. It came up when some homophobe on Twitter would make bigoted comments about gays and I couldn’t stop myself from speaking out.

To me, the scariest part of being openly bi was dealing with the “promiscuous bisexual” stereotype. I was only 15 when I came out, and I (like many other teens) was embarrassed to admit that I felt attracted to people at all. I had seen how society judged young women for dating a lot of people, and I knew the judgment would be doubled if some of those people were female. I didn’t want my parents to tease me about boys and girls, and I didn’t want to be labeled as a “floozy”. Saying “I’m bi!” felt like an abstract, harmless concept, but saying “I want to kiss a girl” was terrifying. A huge part of accepting my gayness came from accepting the side effects of adolescence as a whole and allowing myself to feel attracted to people without judging myself. I surrounded myself with supportive friends who didn’t squirm when I gushed over my female crushes, and I’ve slowly grown more comfortable with being a normal teenage girl who checks out cute people.

This Pride Month, I am striving to become more of an active member of the LGBTQ+ community rather than sitting on the sidelines. I want to share the stories of queer people who have done remarkable things to earn us the freedoms we enjoy today. I want to call attention to the problems this community faces so we can fight injustice. I want to rally my allies to rise up against discrimination and effect change. A few days ago, I wrote a blog post addressing the hidden homophobia in figure skating, and it felt good to shed light on the struggles LGBTQ+ people face in a sport I love. I’m not going to sugarcoat things to appease people who don’t approve of me or my community. I love people of all genders. I might marry a man, I might marry a woman, and neither one is less valid. Pride Month lasts 30 days, but being LGBTQ+ lasts forever. And I will not be silent until love truly wins.

The Culture of Heteronormativity in Figure Skating

Growing up, I was always told that figure skating was a pretty gay sport. We had Adam Rippon and Eric Radford bringing glory to the rainbow flag in PyeongChang, Johnny Weir chatting away in the commentary booth, and the two great Brians – Orser and Boitano – out and proud. I got lulled into believing that the figure skating community was a safe place for openly LGBTQ+ athletes, but a few days ago, I learned that this was not true and never has been so.

It all started when the aforementioned Adam Rippon recently donated $1,000 to a charity for black transgender people and posted about it on social media. Alexei Yagudin, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist in men’s skating, brutally denounced Rippon’s decision to support the cause and proclaimed that trans people and people of color didn’t need charities. He also verbally attacked Rippon himself, although he later issued a perfunctory apology for his choice of words. Many people in the skating community pulled together to support Rippon, but this incident shattered the illusion of an LGBTQ+ haven inside the world of figure skating. It also sparked a discussion about the underlying homophobia, transphobia, and enforcement of traditional gender roles in skating. I saw so many interesting perspectives on the topic, so I wanted to write a blog post to offer an honest, open conversation about what’s going on and what we can to do make this sport a safer place for people of all identities.

First of all, most of the issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community in the skating world are not as obvious as Yagudin’s obscene comments. Rather, subtle homophobia is woven into the sport through the concept of heteronormativity. Despite the many LGBTQ+ skaters who have graced the ice over the decades, figure skating has always been tailored to heterosexuals, and the success of queer athletes has been in spite of the sport’s foundations rather than because of them.

“But how can that be?” you ask. “We have men in feathery costumes and sequins! We have a dozen openly gay skaters!”

I’m going to break this article into four parts. I want to address how heteronormativity affects each discipline – men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pair skating, and ice dancing – in a different way. Also, I don’t follow synchronized skating closely enough to comment on its attitudes towards gender roles, so I would really appreciate if some insiders from the synchro world could share their stories and help us start a conversation if necessary.

MEN:

It seems the belief that “figure skating is gay” started in men’s singles because the first out skaters hailed from this discipline. Rudy Galindo got the ball rolling in 1996 when he came out, then won the U.S. national title. In addition, a lot of recently retired male skaters came out in the years to come, and the tragic deaths of several skaters due to AIDS drew awareness to the prevalence of gay male athletes in figure skating. However, the quantity of LGBTQ+ skaters in the men’s discipline has not necessarily translated to a universal acceptance of gay athletes in the figure skating community.

A prominent Twitter user named Lauren (follow her at @tyrannolaur) brilliantly covered the situation in men’s skating in a long thread. You can read the whole thread here, but I’m going to highlight the main idea by quoting a few of her tweets:

There are extremely powerful people in this sport that are homophobic. There are institutional punishments for being gay: that’s what being underscored for seeming “too feminine” as a man is.

Basically every narrative in general society about men in figure skating is based on the assumption that male skaters must be gay because the sport has been coded as “feminine” since the explosion of Sonja Henie’s popularity in the 20s and 30s.

This association — that if a woman becomes known for excelling in something, it becomes known as women’s work, which is inherently feminine — is dripping with misogyny.

When men do something with this association, we get an intersection of misogyny (femininity is “bad” in men, and partaking in a feminizing act detracts from manhood) and homophobia (society codes a man partaking in what is considered a feminine act as inherently gay).

Because femininity in men is coded as gay, and because figure skating is coded as feminine, there is an automatic assumption by society at large and even fans of this sport that basically all the men in FS are gay.

This isn’t true. Read basically any interview with an out retired skater, and they’ll talk about how the vast, vast majority of the men in this sport are straight.

Furthermore, perceived femininity and homosexuality are punished from an early age — not just outside of the sport, but within it. Coaches. Judges. Officials. Fellow skaters. There’s an overwhelming amount of pressure to be “manly”/“athletic” rather than delicate/“artistic.”

Look at the different narratives surrounding top skaters (even ones whose sexuality we don’t even know), and you’ll see a clear difference in how skaters perceived as “feminine” (or gay) are talked about. The man with the highest quality of technical ability — someone with clear technical prowess — is not seen as nearly as “athletic” as others with lower technical scores because of his perceived femininity.

It comes down to this: the reason people assume skating must be devoid of homophobia is because they assume the men in skating are all or mostly gay. That is itself a homophobic assumption.

Of course, not everyone in FS talks like Yagudin or those Québécois announcers who tore into Johnny Weir. However, just because the majority of punishing of perceived femininity and homosexuality is less blatant and crass does NOT mean it does not exist, or that it isn’t harmful.

[The sport is] not even safe for men who are perceived as feminine and potentially not straight who have said NOTHING about their sexuality. The fact that men are coded as feminine is enough for them to experience discrimination and punishment. They don’t have to be out.

And, to address the elephant in the room — yes, some of the men reinforcing the institutional homophobia in this sport are, in fact, not straight themselves. They were raised in this mess, and they are still upholding norms that punish any men perceived as feminine or gay.

Now, let me make one last thing clear: this whole discussion is not reason for you to label anyone who thinks your favorite skater with unannounced sexuality might not be straight as an ~anti~. That is homophobia, too; it’s predicated on the assumption that homosexuality is bad.

I have little more to say on this topic because Lauren has covered it so eloquently, so I will simply add a few notes of my own before moving on to the other disciplines.

I’ve witnessed this quiet homophobia firsthand, long before I even knew what it was called. I grew up watching Olympic figure skating on TV with my parents, and I have some memories of my dad making shady comments about male skaters based on their level of perceived femininity or masculinity. He thought Lysacek was cool and Weir was an oddball. He called Yuzuru Hanyu’s 2014 Olympic free skate costume a “dress”. He said he liked Javier Fernandez because he was one of the few skaters in the event who looked “manly”. And he didn’t believe me when I told him Eric Radford was gay because “he doesn’t dress like a gay guy”. I don’t think my dad has any true hatred for gay people in his heart – he was very supportive when I came out to him, and I can talk freely with him about my experiences as a young queer woman. Recently, I’ve started talking with my dad about how these old stereotypes are harmful to LGBTQ+ people, and he’s been open to hearing it. But for a 40-something straight man raised on a farm in the American Midwest, seeing a man in sequins and ruffles was like seeing a green-skinned Martian. This doesn’t excuse his insensitive comments, but it gives us some perspective on how the culture of homophobia in figure skating has been built. If you look at the judges at a skating competition, there’s a good chance there’s someone like my dad on the panel. Nine times out of ten, they’re not maliciously underscoring gay skaters because they don’t want gay skaters to win. But they’ve been conditioned to think that the guy in the feathered top and velvet pants is “odd”, and their unconscious bias affects how they award scores. Much of the homophobia we see in society is driven not by targeted hatred, but by sheer ignorance and internal micro-judgments we’ve picked up throughout our lives. It’s time to rethink how we approach the concept of masculinity as a whole.

LADIES:

While the fight for gay inclusion and acceptance in men’s skating took place under the public eye, the struggles of queer women in the sport occurred just beneath the surface. In general, the ratio between openly LGBTQ+ male skaters and openly LGBTQ+ female skaters is startling. Today, there are only a few ladies representing the rainbow flag in comparison to the dozens of out-and-proud men.

It’s a sad truth that the patriarchal structure of many countries has created a system where men typically achieve “firsts” before women – for example, the first man in space came before the first woman in space. But on the topic of gays in Olympic winter sports, girls rule. In both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, every openly LGBTQ+ athlete was female. However, figure skating has not yet experienced this boom, and there’s several reasons why.

I must say that the conservative attitudes of the figure skating community are not completely to blame for this statistic. First of all, most of the dominant ladies’ skaters are teenagers whereas many male skaters are in their 20s, and the careers of recent female skaters have been generally shorter than men’s. This means that a girl’s main days in the spotlight tend to occur between the ages of 15 and 18. It’s hard enough to be a celebrity while you’re still in high school, let alone an openly gay one. Not to mention, many top female skaters come from countries where LGBTQ+ rights are not protected, and coming out could jeopardize their careers.

However, I strongly believe that the lack of LGBTQ+ skaters in ladies’ singles is due to the culture of hyper-feminization in figure skating. When you picture a female figure skater, what do you see? Pink tutus covered in thousands of glittering rhinestones? Delicate white skates with the laces tied in perfect bows? Silky hair swept into a flawless bun? Although we’re starting to see some women push the boundaries of this stereotype, ladies’ figure skating was designed around traditional images of grace and beauty. How many times have you heard people throw around the terms “ice princess” and “America’s sweetheart” when they’re talking about skating?

This brings up a problem that affects women not only in sports but in everyday life: intense scrutiny. Women in skating are expected to look perfect, act perfect, and be perfect. It’s all about portraying this classic image, and for the old-school judging panels, being gay is an automatic deduction. In many ways, the world of ladies’ figure skating is still stuck in the Regency era, and judges often prefer skaters who appear “modest” on the ice. (I will state that ice dancing allows much more sensuality in comparison, but we’ll discuss that later). In short, the judges want to see Grace Kelly, not Miley Cyrus. But it’s 2020, and if you ask me, it wouldn’t hurt to have some Miley.

The bottom line is, the figure skating community shows little support for openly gay women because female skaters are largely judged based on image, and the desired image for a female skater is a beautiful, angelic doll. For decades, queer women have been seen as “less” than straight women – less feminine, less beautiful, and less worthy of admiration. This is especially true for the many queer women who don’t conform to the standard conventions of femininity. I could write about the stigma and stereotypes around LGBTQ+ women for the next hour, but for the sake of this article, I will simply say that in the eyes of the judging panels, being queer is somehow seen as crass and unsophisticated. But there is nothing trashy about being LGBTQ+. Look at Amber Glenn’s stunning short program to “Scars” by Madilyn Bailey. She’s a talented skater, a beautiful performer, and an openly bi/pan woman.

During this discussion, my amazing friend @tessaandscott97 pointed out the unreasonable expectations placed on female skaters as a whole in one accurate tweet:

Also would like to add in how all females (regardless of their gender) have to portray a feminine “look” (which includes being skinny, petite, and no visible muscle) and girls that put on more muscle are regarded as masculine, gross, fat, and lazy. THIS SPORT NEEDS TO CHANGE.

This level of judgment has unfortunately fallen on nearly every female skater in the sport. A few years ago, a prominent pair of skating bloggers criticized Elizaveta Tuktamysheva by saying she needed to lose weight. Tuktamysheva competes mostly against teenage girls who are still going through puberty and therefore have naturally slimmer bodies, but she is capable of landing consistent triple axels in competition and even quad toe loops in practice. Clearly, her weight is not hindering her jumps, so the criticism was because she did not fit the stereotype of the balletic, stick-thin female skater. Meagan Duhamel – a tiny powerhouse in pair skating – shared on her blog that she was frequently body-shamed for being muscular. 2019 U.S. champion pair skater Ashley Cain-Gribble got backlash simply because she’s taller than the average pair girl. Kaetlyn Osmond and Ashley Wagner also backed up these experiences with their own stories. If an athlete is performing well, it shouldn’t matter what body shape they have. The only reason why people care is because they believe female skaters need to fit a specific image of beauty. The world cares more about how a female skater looks than how well she can skate.

In a sport that judges women so harshly on their appearance and a society that associates queerness with being unattractive, it’s impossible to create a safe place for LGBTQ+ women in figure skating until we dismantle the systemic misogyny this sport was built upon. If a girl in a pink sequined tutu can land triple jumps, that’s awesome. But if a lesbian in a flannel shirt, ripped jeans, and a pixie cut can also land triple jumps, there shouldn’t be anything stopping her.

Although much of this segment has addressed the absence of openly LGBTQ+ women in figure skating, I want to acknowledge the trailblazers who have defied the limits and paved the way for a brighter future in the face of opposition. The first openly LGBTQ+ female figure skater was Fumie Suguri, who came out as bisexual in 2014. Unfortunately, since she had stopped competing at the elite level a few years before coming out, the media paid little attention to her story. In 2018, American ice dancer Karina Manta also came out as bisexual, becoming the first female skater to be openly queer while still competing. Since then, Amber Glenn, Rachel Parsons, and Fleur Maxwell have also come out, and it is my hope that more will follow.

PAIRS:

Pair skating and ice dancing are both built upon a partnership between a man and a woman. Of the four main disciplines of figure skating, I think pairs is the least heteronormative. I find it to be a refreshing change from the strict gender roles of singles’ skating because in recent years, we’ve seen a wave of fabulous boss women sporting short haircuts and unitards rather than the classic ballerinas in rhinestones. Seriously, there’s nothing I like better than seeing fierce girls dragging huge men around the ice. But while pair skating doesn’t face the same level of scrutiny as ice dancing, it’s still centered around some form of chemistry between male and female partners, and pairs that don’t display this tend to receive lower scores.

I’m pleased to say that several pairs in recent years have broken the mold. For example, Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot’s breathtaking free skate at the 2018 Olympics to La terre vue du ciel was an abstract masterpiece that featured a series of insane physical feats arranged to create a dramatic crescendo instead of a romantic storyline. However, we still haven’t managed to erase the age-old narrative that all pair skaters must fall in love. Look, I adore a love story on ice along the lines of Gordeeva/Grinkov, Pang/Tong, and Volosozhar/Trankov, but that isn’t possible for every pair – especially when one or both of the partners is LGBTQ+. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the case of 2-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Despite their excellent technical skills, they were constantly criticized for their lack of romantic chemistry, even after Radford publicly came out as gay. Critics often said that they moved “like two single skaters” instead of a pair, ultimately ignoring the unique dynamic they formed in place of a love story. Duhamel/Radford’s chemistry was one of opposites; the tiny, scrappy Duhamel providing the spark of the team while the tall, elegant Radford provided balance and steadiness. Few fans recognize that connection between partners doesn’t have to be inherently romantic or sexual to be beautiful. This mindset is a direct result of heteronormativity.

In fact, this belief affects not only LGBTQ+ pair skaters, but teams where romantic chemistry simply doesn’t come naturally to them. Cheng Peng/Hao Zhang of China were both talented skaters with strong elements and good packaging, but many fans shied away from them because of the large age gap between them. As long as two skaters are equally capable of performing a program, their ages shouldn’t matter. Yet when people saw Peng/Zhang, they said it looked “wrong” because they were a young girl and an older man. It’s only “wrong” because fans automatically filter pair skating through the heteronormative lens, which establishes that a man and a woman on the ice must be compatible for dating. Also, this perspective creates an expectation that all partners must be inseparable soulmates who can’t stop gazing into each other’s eyes. Pairs that have very separate lives off the ice or get frustrated at each other immediately get labeled as “couples headed for divorce any minute”, as if they’re in some legally binding contract where adoring your partner with all your heart is a requirement. Even Wenjing Sui and Cong Han get badgered by the press about their relationship status, although they’ve repeatedly stated that they are only close friends. This is all because the viewers have been conditioned to expect romance. To paraphrase the great Jane Austen, people are taught to believe that a single man in possession of good skating skills must be in want of a wife.

ICE DANCE:

Of all the disciplines affected by heteronormativity, I think ice dance wins the grand prize. It was essentially born from the phrase, “Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire”. First of all, the ISU requires all couples to perform a predetermined rhythm dance pattern (formerly called the “short dance”). Sometimes that dance is an elegant waltz or a lively polka, but more often than not, it’s a dance steeped in romance, like a tango or a samba. As in pair skating, ice dancers are judged on their chemistry, and the hotter the better. Just take a look at Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir’s steamy program to Carmen from 2013 Worlds and you’ll see what I mean.

In fact, Virtue/Moir are perhaps the best example of heteronormativity gone wild. Fans became so obsessed with their on-ice chemistry that they literally had to go on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to inform the public once and for all that no, they were not dating. Even after Scott announced his engagement and Tessa went public with her new boyfriend, the fandom was still convinced that the duo were star-crossed lovers who would somehow end up together in another life. To a point, it’s natural to fall in love with the idea of two partners who’ve developed a special bond from skating together for so long. I certainly did. The required pattern dances have forced nearly all ice dance teams to project chemistry, even if they aren’t together. (Remember Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin’s iconic kiss at the end of their Moulin Rouge rhythm dance?). It’s as if every couple is Katniss and Peeta from The Hunger Games, trying to convince the nation that they’re in love so the evil President Snow won’t kill them. And naturally, the fans buy it, because how can you possibly be “platonic partners” when you’re making out in the middle of the ice in front of 12,000 people?

However, I am pleased to note that the culture of this sport is slowly changing. 4-time World champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron pioneered a lyrical, abstract style of ice dancing that breaks the traditional heteronormative template. Thanks to their success, we’ve seen a rise in programs that push the boundaries of “a story of a man and a woman”. The sibling duo of Maia and Alex Shibutani – better known as the “ShibSibs” – worked their way around the romantic themes of the required programs through innovation. The Shibutanis created an iconic short dance to a hip-hop remix of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” in place of the sexy blues programs most couples were doing, and they were best known for their trio of emotional free dances to Coldplay songs that express the love between siblings rather than the attraction between lovers. Finally, Karina Manta and Joseph Johnson, the first elite-level ice dance team comprised of two openly LGBTQ+ skaters, took the audience at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships to the gay club with their edgy, sassy free dance to “Sweet Dreams”.

I’ve already mentioned my queen Karina several times in this article, but I have to quote her once more, because she posted a fabulous tweet that addresses the hyper-feminization of women in ice dancing:

I’m including this tweet because it leads to a social experiment. The International Skating Union actually made an exception to the aforementioned rule in the 2016-17 season, when they allowed women to wear pants or jumpsuits in the short dance. This gave us some stunning outfits – just look at these photos of ice dance goddesses serving looks. Let’s start with Tessa Virtue:

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Maia Shibutani:

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Madison Chock:

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Alexandra Stepanova:

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Clearly, wearing pants doesn’t make them any less gorgeous – and more importantly, capable of skating. But the sport is still stuck in some 1800s mentality of misogyny where girls wearing pants are somehow committing a cardinal sin. It’s because skirts are considered a symbol of old-fashioned femininity, and figure skating isn’t ready for women who don’t conform to these traditional images. And you can imagine how a sport that gets scandalized by women in pants would react to queer women skating in suits or anything that breaks the heteronormative mold. (Shoutout to Piper Gilles for wearing a dress modeled after a tuxedo for last year’s rhythm dance!).

I am aware that there may always be some underlying heteronormativity in skating. It’s a simple fact that straight, cisgender people form the majority in society, and that’s okay. I personally love seeing cute married couples who skate together and deliver beautiful, romantic performances. But I also love seeing openly LGBTQ+ athletes being free to express themselves beyond the traditional themes of male/female relationships and gender stereotypes. Figure skating is an art as well as a sport, and art must be open to a variety of styles and techniques.

Although figure skating has been historically portrayed as a gay-friendly sport, there is still a lot of underlying homophobia beneath the surface.

This is why we need to applaud all the skaters who have come out over the past few decades. No matter how many skaters are out, coming out is still a brave choice because homophobia still exists. Until there is true equality – until we build a world where no one needs to come out because LGBTQ+ is considered normal, we need to keep having these conversations.

Please consider donating to the Okra Project in support of black trans people or the Trevor Project for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. Also, let’s not forget that the LGBTQ+ rights movement was started by black trans women who bravely marched out at the Stonewall riots, and the relative freedom LGBTQ+ people enjoy in the United States is because of them. Happy Pride Month.

Useless Trivia About Me

Nobody asked, but here’s a list of fun facts about me if any of you are curious about the crazy girl who runs this blog.

BASIC INFO:

1. I’m 17 years old

2. I am female and use she/her pronouns

3. I live in a small town in the Midwest of the United States

4. I am biracial (Vietnamese and white)

5. I’ve been openly bisexual since October 2018

6. I am a progressive Democrat

7. I am a passionate feminist

8. I stand with the LGBTQ+ community and #BlackLivesMatter

FIGURE SKATING:

9. I started watching figure skating at the age of 7 during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The first skater I ever loved was Mao Asada.

10. I began following the sport closely when I was 11 after watching the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

11. In 2015, I attended Skate America and it was one of the best days of my life.

12. I joined the skating fandom on Twitter in 2016 and started blogging about figure skating in 2017 on my Tumblr.

13. I started my YouTube channel, Fairy on Ice, at the beginning of 2020. I named it after Mao Asada because when I first saw her in Vancouver, I thought she was a fairy.

SCHOOL:

14. I was homeschooled until 10th grade. I am now a student at Connections Academy, an online school.

15. I got a perfect score of 36 on the English portion of the ACT test (can’t say the same for the rest, but I’ll take what I can get!)

16. I plan to attend college in the fall of 2021 and major in English and Russian.

17. I am a member of the National Honor Society.

HOBBIES:

18. I am a huge book nerd. I really like reading classic novels.

19. A friend once told me that I needed to read War and Peace, so I spent the whole summer of 2019 trying to get it done before I turned 16. I finished it the day before my birthday.

20. I have been knitting since I was little.

21. When I was 7 years old, I saw Jackie Evancho audition on America’s Got Talent and decided I wanted to be an opera singer. I’ve chosen to keep singing as a hobby instead of a career, but I still post some clips.

RANDOM FUN FACTS:

22. I am obsessed with peanut butter

23. My favorite colors are red and black

24. I love superhero movies

25. If I was a literary character, I would definitely be Jo March from Little Women.

My Favorite Figure Skating Costumes from the 2019-20 Season

The 2019-20 figure skating season has been a whirlwind of surprises, excitement, and drama. The cancellation of Worlds made the year feel a bit incomplete to me, and I’m not sure how long it will be until the skating world as we know it is back in full swing. However, this season gave us many great moments, and I want to focus on the good parts. For me, one of the highlights of figure skating competitions is the variety of costumes. Skating is one of the few sports that allows for artistic expression in this way (you don’t see Olympic downhill skiers wearing rhinestones and feathers as they’re clearing the slalom), and I want to give a round of applause to all the costume designers who created some true masterpieces this season. In no particular order, here are my favorite costumes from the 2019-20 season.

Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, “Rain in Your Black Eyes”.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Look…I know that these costumes Do. Not. Match. I still imagine they had a fight about what color to wear and Coach Hongbo Zhao said “fine, go out in whatever you want!” But separately, the costumes are gorgeous. Wenjing’s dress looks fit for the Oscars – I would love to see it turned into a glorious full-length evening gown. The deep green is mystical and looks great with the jeweled accents. Cong’s costume is simple but doesn’t just look like the dreaded plain black shirt of most pair guys.

Evgenia Medvedeva, “Exogenesis Symphony 3”.

Photo credit: Danielle Earl

This costume is such a unique, artistic masterpiece. It’s always a bit tricky to design a unitard that’s not too flashy but doesn’t look like a boring black training outfit, and this one checks off both boxes. The black background provides a solid base that’s not too distracting from her skating while the blue decorations add eye-catching focal points. The sleeves look like wings, so now I really want her to skate to “Arrival of the Birds” by Coldplay. It reminds me a lot of Yuzuru Hanyu’s costumes. I would remove the flaps of fabric on her legs, but overall it made a memorable impression and worked well for the program.

Jason Brown, “I Can’t Go On Without You”.

Photo credit: US Figure Skating Fan Zone

It’s hard to make a black costume for men that doesn’t put the audience to sleep, but Jason Brown absolutely killed it with this outfit. From a distance, it just looks like a regular t-shirt and pants, but it’s the little details that completely transform it into a stylish ensemble. The faux leather and silver zipper add a sleek, modern vibe, and the slim fit of the shirt accentuates his strong lines and excellent posture. It’s cool, it’s sexy, and it doesn’t get in the way of his skating. He really looks like a rock star out there, and I hope other male skaters take tips from him about making black costumes that work.

Kaori Sakamoto, “The Matrix”.

Photo credit: Jung Yeon-je
Photo credit: Kyodo News

As a big Matrix fangirl, I was very excited to see Kaori’s costume for this program. I was expecting a unitard because that’s what Trinity wears in the movie, but I think the dress was the right choice for her. It’s not easy to design a costume that would fit into a computerized dystopia full of martial arts and gunfights and can also survive a four-minute performance on skates. Instead of copying the costumes straight from the movie, the designers incorporated the theme into the final product in a way that suits Kaori. The leathery material and slits in the skirt are a nod to the Matrix’s trench coats, and I’m in love with the green sparkles, which imitate the computer codes in the movie. I think this costume captures the essence of Trinity while playing to Kaori’s strengths.

When working with faux leather, it’s easy for the dress to turn out looking a bit cheap, but this one is cool, striking, and edgy. Overall, it gives her a very strong presence on the ice.

Alina Zagitova, “Me Voy”:

Photo credit: @azagitova on Instagram
Photo credit: sportsdaily.ru

When I first saw this dress at the summer ice shows, I gasped out loud. Alina generally has good taste in costumes, but this one is by far my favorite. It’s such an elegant, classy silhouette and the black lace looks vintage and expensive. This program was more mature and emotional than Alina’s previous programs, and the dress rose to the occasion. I would love to wear this to a cocktail party – it’s subtle, yet it accentuates her natural beauty. The red accents give it a touch of color on the ice, and while I’m not usually a fan of skaters wearing gloves, these ones look nice. Can do you tell I’m a sucker for black lace dresses?

Yuzuru Hanyu, “Origin”:

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Photo credit: Sponichi Tokyo Photo

I already gushed over this costume in my Grand Prix Final review, but I want to talk about it again here because it’s so stunning. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of beads or frills on skating costumes, but I had to make a big exception for this one. The deep purple gives it a quiet, almost understated luxury, providing a background for the gorgeous details. The gloves accentuate his gracefulness and the top blends perfectly into the black pants. It gives off a vibe of dark magic – I’d love to see him use this costume for a program to Dracula. (Did anyone else notice that it’s the same shade as Alena Kostornaia’s dress from her Twilight program?). It’s truly fit for a king.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, “Oblivion”:

Photo credit: Elena Vasileva
Photo credit: Elena Vasileva

As a proud Slytherin, I fully approve of this dress’s stunning color. I think green is a criminally underrepresented color in the skating world, and it looks incredible against Liza’s hair and skin tone. It’s simple, sheer, and sexy, like a luxurious negligee. The sparkling decorations around the neckline and side are beautiful but unobtrusive. I can’t say I love the gloves with this particular dress, but overall, this dress was a job well done!

Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro, “Love on the Brain”:

Photo credit: AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

Every time I see this dress, I want to burst out singing “Dancing Queen”. She looks like a retro disco goddess. This jeweltone shade of blue is simply flawless. The rhinestones along the neckline create such a flattering silhouette, and everything about this costume totally exudes Kirsten Moore-Towers magic. Mike’s shirt is basic but I like how the cutouts mimic the beading on Kirsten’s dress.

Lubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau, “Je Voudrais Voir la Mer”:

Photo credit: Getty Images

This is really just a review of Lubov’s costume because Charlie fell prey to the Pair Man’s Plight of basic black shirt and pants. But I’m still going to include these costumes in my review because her dress is so pretty. The pale blue is so serene, classy, and beautiful, like Lubov herself. The long sleeves and high neckline give it a vintage elegance, and the dark blue streaks remind me of the sky just before sunrise. It’s light, dreamy, and lovely. Also, this color always reminds me of Fleur Delacour from Harry Potter.

Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud, “Someone You Loved”:

Photo credit: @inthelopodcast on Instagram

Evelyn and Trennt caught my eye last year with their good taste in costumes, and they continued to impress this season. Evelyn’s dress looks like a gorgeous flower. I like the subtle ombré around the waist; it’s beautiful without being distracting. Like Wenjing Sui’s costume from earlier in this blog post, I think this dress would make a breathtaking evening gown. Also, can we talk about Evelyn’s flawless makeup? Trennt’s costume is simple and I would’ve liked to see some color on him, but the rhinestones and belt add some little focal points.

Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov, “Te Amo”:

Photo credit: Sergei Bobilev/TASS

I included this one on the list because of her dress – I absolutely love it! It’s simple, romantic, and suits her perfectly. The halter-neck style is chic and flattering, and the cutout in the front makes it flirty without being tacky. My motto for skating costumes is “black lace makes everything prettier”, and that is especially true here. It’s really amazing how Tarasova/Morozov’s costumes have improved so much in the past few seasons, and I think this is the best dress she’s ever had. I would’ve liked his shirt to be solid burgundy, but it works all right.

Rika Kihira, “International Angel of Peace”:

Photo credit: Kyodo News

The first time I saw this dress, I fell in love. The brilliant color reminds me of the ocean, and the gold decorations are extravagant without looking cheap. She looks like the young queen of some wealthy empire. It fits her well and looks vibrant against the ice. I’m so bummed that she didn’t keep it for more competitions – I think it’s more eye-catching than the pale green/gray version she wore later. Rika has quickly become one of the best-dressed ladies in the sport, and I look forward to seeing her costumes next year.

Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson, “Light of the Seven”:

Photo credit: US Figure Skating Fan Zone

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer: I’m not sure how her dress has anything to do with Game of Thrones. But it’s so beautiful that I don’t really care. I appreciate the simplicity of the silhouette, and the hazy purple looks perfect against her hair and complexion. I could see this dress in a program to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s strong, but not overbearing. Brian’s costume is fairly basic (pair guys continue to be a walking poster for the Men in Black franchise), but I like the placket on the front of his shirt. It hints at the medieval fashions from Game of Thrones without being cumbersome. In general, Calalang/Johnson tend to be a well-dressed pair and I really admire their costume choices!

Cheng Peng/Yang Jin, “Allegria”.

Photo credit: VCG Photo

Once again, Cheng Peng came up with a stunning dress for the short program. The pale pink is light and dainty, and it moves beautifully on the ice. I’m usually not a fan of girly colors, but this dress works. The black lace forms a little corset, creating a flirty, vintage dress fit for a queen. I also have to give a round of applause for Yang’s jacket. Although it’s still another case of Pair Men in Black, this outfit is equally worthy of praise as Cheng’s dress. The cut of the collar is bold and striking, and the silver details remind me of Black Panther. These costumes are excellent designs on their own, but together, they form a strong aesthetic on the ice.

Madison Chock/Evan Bates, “Egyptian Snake Dance”.

Photo credit: Getty Images

To be fair, Madison Chock is a queen who could look good even if she was dressed in an old pillowcase like a house-elf from Harry Potter. But she has generally good taste in fashion, and of all the stunning dresses she’s worn, I think this is my favorite. It’s as if she’s draped in a glistening net of jewels and gold. Usually, I don’t like gold dresses because they tend to look flashy and cheap, but this one is a masterpiece. It’s glamorous, sexy, and totally unique – she looks like a true Egyptian goddess. I also want to mention her cool braid; it reminds me of Angelina Jolie’s hairstyle in Tomb Raider. I can’t look at Evan’s shirt without thinking of the U.S. Army, but at least he’s not wearing black, and the green actually compliments her dress nicely.

And the award for Most Fun Costume goes to…

Photo credit: Golden Skate

I couldn’t do a blog post without mentioning Papadakis/Cizeron’s wild costumes for their rhythm dance to “Fame”. They tweaked them a few times throughout the season but my favorite is still the bright set from the Grand Prix in France. Guillaume is the only man hot enough to wear that headband and not look like a total dork. It looked like they had walked out of a Jane Fonda workout video. The costumes were low key ridiculous but they suited the program, and Gabriella and Guillaume brought the swagger to pull them off.

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This concludes my review of the best costumes from the 2019-20 season. Feel free to comment below with your favorite costumes of the year. Until next time, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Belle’s Rambling #7: Coronavirus is a Fact, Not a Debate

Hey everyone, it’s Belle. I really hope you are reading this from home, because right now, home is the safest place to be. I know everyone is saying this, but it’s really necessary.

I don’t need to give you all a recap about the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s been all over the news lately, and most places in the world are literally on lockdown. The Summer Olympics got postponed, malls and restaurants are closed, and even celebrities are getting quarantined. Graduations and proms are cancelled, movie release dates are getting pushed back, and basically the whole world’s been turned on its head.

But the thing that’s most puzzling to me is how some people actually think the coronavirus is an issue for political debate.

It would probably help if President Trump and his friends in Congress weren’t using it as an opportunity to start a catfight with China while people are dying.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a classmate who comes from a conservative background. She was complaining that everyone was overreacting and it wasn’t fair that everything was getting shut down. When I brought up that people were dying, she dropped the line I’ve heard way too many times: “It’s just like a regular flu. People die from the flu too and no one shuts everything down. Everyone’s just freaking out because it’s some weird strand from China.”

Thankfully, another of my classmates quickly diffused the situation by bringing up video games, but it was a very uncomfortable experience for me. People can argue about opinions, but you can’t deny facts. The coronavirus is killing thousands of people worldwide, yet some folk still want to sit there and say it’s not a big deal.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that majority of Democrats supported an immediate response when the outbreak started while majority of Republicans took minimal action. The coronavirus has revealed the flaws in the Republican-built healthcare system. And the Republicans in government knew about it. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be trying to sweep a whole pandemic under the rug.

It’s bad enough that they’re trying to cover up their inadequate healthcare program, but it’s even worse to see the distraction they’ve devised: blaming the Chinese.

Look, I know the virus started in China. I know that their government didn’t contain it as quickly as they could have, which allowed it to spread faster. But fueling the notion that the Chinese are strictly to blame for the coronavirus brings out some blatant racism, and the US government isn’t helping. Even if China had the greatest government in the world, they would not have been able to shut down the virus before anyone died. They could not have contained it within their borders because not all infected people are aware they are carrying the virus, and the US government would’ve had a fit if China started detaining American citizens who seemed perfectly healthy and wanted to fly back to the States.

That’s why it is never okay to call COVID-19 the “Chinese virus”. At first glance, it doesn’t sound that offensive – after all, it originated in China. However, “Chinese virus” places the blame on Chinese people as a whole, not the Chinese government. It reinforces the concept that all Chinese people are carriers and enables racism. Let’s face it: not all Americans are smart. If some bumpkin who’s never seen an Asian person before hears that the Chinese are bringing a virus to America, he’s going to be scared for his life when he sees anyone who looks even remotely close to Chinese. And since that bumpkin probably can’t tell the difference between a Chinese person and a Thai or Korean person, that breeds prejudice against all Asians and Asian Americans. I’ve heard quite awful stories about Asians facing an increase in discrimination since the coronavirus outbreak began. Being half Asian, it makes me very uncomfortable to know that some people might perceive me as a threat simply because my mother was born in a country that shares a border with China.

While we’re at it, if we’re naming the virus after a country that had an incompetent response to the outbreak, we could easily call it the American virus. Judging from the death tolls, Trump isn’t doing any better at containing COVID-19 than the Chinese government.

That said, I am trying to have patience with people, because I understand this is a frightening time for all of us. In times of crisis, it’s natural to panic. But it’s not natural for your panic to include racism.

And yes, there are some people who are overreacting, but 9 times out of 10, it’s out of fear rather than malice towards others. Stockpiling pallets of hand sanitizer isn’t going to protect you from the coronavirus. But once again, it’s a national emergency – we need to address this situation with compassion and a willingness to help. Right now, our president isn’t exactly inspiring confidence in his ability to handle the situation…which is basically his job.

We can’t fix the President. He’s on his own. But we can each do our part to keep the nation on track. Stay home. Support Asian businesses. Don’t hoard supplies. And consider voting blue in November.

Yours truly,

Belle

Belle’s Rambling #6: “Ladylike” is Overrated

Warning: NSFW

I’m writing this blog post because I am fed up. A few days ago, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube encouraging women to “dress modestly so you can attract good men and avoid the wrong kind of attention”, and I couldn’t even make myself watch the whole thing because it was the most dehumanizing, misogynistic trash I had seen. This isn’t meant to be a callout, so I won’t mention the name of the YouTuber who’s got me so ticked off, but I am going to address the views she expressed in the video because I’ve heard them way too often, and I’m sick of it.

I’m not judging this YouTuber as a person. She was probably raised to believe that this was the right way for a woman to behave. But hearing this coming from another woman made me literally shake with anger. It’s these kind of beliefs that have shackled women in society for hundreds of years, and it’s our job as women to help each other shatter the glass ceiling, not to seal up the cracks in it.

Disclaimer: this post addresses traditional gender roles in a predominantly cisgender, heterosexual society. I’m discussing misogyny and sexuality in male/female relationships, and I understand that a lot of this won’t apply to the LGBTQ+ community. I will probably write a piece on gender roles as an LGBTQ+ person at a later time, but today’s post focuses on the dynamics between straight women and straight men. Also, there’s some talk about the birds and the bees, so proceed with caution.

First of all, the YouTuber’s statement comes from the viewpoint that a woman’s only purpose in life is to attract men. She presumes that when a woman dresses in skimpy clothes, she’s trying to catch a boyfriend. Of course, this is true in some cases, but not all. The way a woman presents herself is a form of self-expression, and her sexuality is part of that expression. Sometimes, women want to look sexy because it makes them feel good about their own bodies. There’s nothing wrong with putting on a crop top because you’re proud of your toned abs – or you’re embracing your tummy rolls. If you feel good about your body, you have the right to show as much or as little of it as you like (as long as you’re not literally running down the street butt naked). It’s okay if a woman prefers to dress modestly because it makes her feel more comfortable, but she doesn’t have the right to attack women who prefer not to. The pressure to be conventionally beautiful has been shoved down women’s throats for centuries, and it’s totally okay to be proud of how you look. Personally, I rarely get dressed with the intention to look attractive to other people; I put on whatever makes me feel beautiful. Women are not merely objects for male appreciation – we are people, and we need to satisfy ourselves before we can satisfy anyone else. A woman’s sexuality belongs to her, not to the men around her.

Second, the YouTuber’s position implies that it’s not okay for women to crave casual male attention. She immediately assumes that a provocatively dressed woman is looking for a bed partner. However, there’s a lot more to sexuality than rolling in the sheets. Sometimes, people just like to flirt. It’s a playful, innocent way of satisfying human nature, and we all do it – sometimes even subconsciously. It’s like trying on an expensive pair of shoes without actually buying them and going broke. There’s a big difference between showing a bit of cleavage to a cute guy at the library and stripping naked in his bedroom and saying, “Let’s sleep together”. The YouTuber’s view actually reinforces the dangerous concept that wearing revealing clothing equals consent. It doesn’t matter how much skin you’re showing: if you don’t explicitly state that you want to have sex with this person, you have not given them an invitation to touch you. And if you’ve already started and you want to stop because you don’t feel comfortable with it, you have the right to say no.

Next, the YouTuber underestimates the ability of men to be decent human beings. I know, I know, some men are pigs. But if we don’t give men the opportunity to respect women, they’ll never learn how. On that note, the YouTuber is right: we do need to teach men how to respect us. But you can’t teach a man to drive if you never let him get in the car – you have to show him the proper way to drive without running anyone over. The truth is, straight men are hardwired to feel attracted to women. Rather than covering up because we don’t want to “tempt” men into disregarding us, we need to expect decency and equality regardless of what we are wearing. We need to teach our sons that a girl’s beauty is meant to be admired, not used as a justification to ignore her opinions and downplay her abilities. If we continue “sheltering” boys by telling girls to cover up, we are teaching boys that there’s something wrong with a girl who chooses to dress more provocatively, and when one crosses his path, he will believe that it’s perfectly fine to mistreat her. No boy comes out of the womb thinking he is superior to girls – he learns misogyny from the society around him. Ignorance and inexperience with women is not the same as respect.

It’s human nature to notice sexy people, but it’s human responsibility to treat sexy people with decency. The idea that a man can discredit a woman because he thinks she’s beautiful is absolute bull and actually has nothing to do with physical attraction. If a man won’t respect you in a bikini, he won’t respect you no matter what you’re wearing because he’s the kind of guy who probably won’t listen to any woman in the world. Your worth and intelligence don’t change just because you take off a sweater or unbutton the collar of your blouse. He’s not ignoring your opinion because he’s checking out your legs – he’s ignoring your opinion because he thinks women are inferior. Trust me, he doesn’t respect the frumpy old lady who works next to you, either; the only difference between you and her is that he wouldn’t mind sleeping with you.

A good man can appreciate a beautiful woman AND listen to her plans, views, and needs. If we try to attract husbands who are only nice to us because we cover our bodies, they don’t truly respect us. They believe that they own the rights to our sexuality – they want us to act like nuns in public, then take off all our clothes the minute they decide they’re in the mood. They expect us to sacrifice our own confidence and independence and believe we only have the right to feel beautiful and sexy when they say it’s okay. Why? Because they’re jealous. They don’t want other men to look at their wives, so they want to wrap us up like the abominable snowman until no guy can even see how gorgeous we are. Rather than taking issue with the men who think it’s okay to mess around with other men’s wives, these kind of husbands place the blame on their wives. Remember, there’s nothing inherently sexual about a naked woman. We’re all born naked; we clearly aren’t trying to seduce anyone as we come out of the womb. It’s the man’s mind that turns her into something desired, and it’s the man’s responsibility to maintain respect for her regardless of how she is dressed.

I don’t want a husband who doesn’t let me wear Daisy Duke shorts because he’s afraid another man will check me out. I want a husband who treats me so well that I would never even think of cheating on him – and one who thinks I look dang hot in those shorts.

Finally, the concepts in the YouTube video contributes to the culture of “slut-shaming”. I don’t even like using that term because, to quote the great Taylor Swift, “There is no such thing as a slut.” The idea that a woman must be chaste is merely a device men use to control women and enforce the idea that men should be in charge of women’s bodies. Men are rarely judged for posting dozens of shirtless selfies on Instagram, but a woman puts on a short skirt and the whole world burns. Women are constantly judged for having too many relationships or even just feeling physical attraction to another person because we teach girls that sexuality isn’t natural. A lot of girls are told not to even think about sex until they’re getting married, which is an unrealistic expectation given that there’s usually at least ten years between the onset of puberty and a woman’s wedding day. We need to teach girls that sexuality is part of normal life so they can learn to manage these feelings rather than being confused and ashamed of them. Studies have shown that comprehensive sex education is linked to lower teen pregnancy rates. Instead of shaming girls for being human and turning sex into something taboo, we need to inform them in an open, judgment-free manner.

A great example of the double standard surrounding promiscuity is Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina. Anna, a young Russian noblewoman stuck in a dull marriage to a much older man, has an affair with the rogue pleasure-seeker Count Vronsky. Society disowns Anna, but Vronsky takes little of the blame. This illustrates a mentality that prevails to this day: If a man sleeps around, he’s a Casanova. If a woman sleeps around, she’s a whore. A promiscuous man is seen as comical; a promiscuous woman is seen as dishonorable. The problem isn’t about women showing their bodies. The problem is how men react to it.

In conclusion: Women shouldn’t have to “earn” respect from men by dressing modestly. Women deserve to be respected regardless of what they are wearing because they are human beings.

This has been a long, somewhat awkward piece to write. However, I think it’s necessary to educate all genders about how to treat each other and how they deserve to be treated. We can’t turn a blind eye to the miseducation around us. We need to teach this generation of girls to know their rights, take ownership of their own bodies, and never apologize for who they were born to be. We need to teach this generation of boys that women are humans just like them and their opinions aren’t any less valid just because they’re beautiful. One person at a time, we must tear down this toxic culture of misogyny. The revolution begins today.

Yours truly,

Belle

Memories of Sochi

I am excited to announce that this blog post is part of a collaboration with Claudia from the amazing blog Frozen in Time. She’s looking back on some amazing performances in the skater’s home country, and she’s asked me to contribute a piece on two great home ice performances. I’ve chosen to tell two stories from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi: the breathtaking rise of Julia Lipnitskaya and the dark horse victory of Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov.

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And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did

I was a bit of a reluctant figure skating fan. It’s always been my mom’s favorite Olympic sport, but growing up, I rarely had the attention span to watch it with her. When I begrudgingly sat down to watch the 2014 Olympics in Sochi with her, I honestly thought I would be bored. But then I saw Julia Lipnitskaya.

She was a petite, delicate girl, only a few years older than I was. She was fifteen, the commentators said, but she had the small face of ten and the quiet seriousness of forty. Her hair was woven into tiny braids, and she wore a deep blue dress with tiny sequins that sparkled like stars in a midnight sky. She stared through the screen with these beautiful hazel eyes that seemed to capture a deep longing, a secret ache. Watching this performance now, I can’t help thinking she looks like the young Cosette from Les Miserables – a beautiful angel child with a powerful, resilient heart. The music? A Russian song called “You Don’t Give Up on Love”.

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She knelt on the ice and drew a heart with her tiny, graceful hands, then stood and began to skate. She floated across the arena like a fairy, swinging into a triple lutz-triple toe loop combo, then a double axel. Her flying camel spin was fast and nimble, and sitting there in my living room, I gasped out loud. She flitted through the step sequence and landed the triple flip, but the highlight of the program was yet to come. I had seen many skaters do spins before, but never like Julia. Rather than catching her blade for the Biellmann spin, as most skaters do, she grabbed her calf, bending herself so her head was touching her back. The flexibility required for such a position is insane, even in a sport where flexibility is essential. She then pulled herself into a combination spin, gaining speed as she rose with one leg parallel to her head, forming a perfect “I” with her body. Everyone in the audience gasped, twelve thousand pairs of eyes watching one girl spinning like the beaters of a mixer.

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That was the moment I fell in love with figure skating. I know people talk more about her iconic free skate to “Schindler’s List”, but for me, that team event short program to “You Don’t Give Up on Love” was the performance that stayed closest to my heart. Even today, I remember nothing but indescribable awe as she left her soul on the ice.

The next night, I was actually excited to sit down and watch skating because they said Julia would be performing again. That was the night “the girl in the red coat” carved her place into the heart of the figure skating world forever. Twelve thousand pairs of eyes, with millions more watching on TV all over the world. Seven jumps, three spins, a step sequence, and a series of breathtaking spirals and Ina Bauers.

Every moment was perfect.

Schindler’s List is a story of hope and strength amidst the horrors of the Holocaust. The girl in the red coat is a symbol of innocence, a child thrown to the wolves of hatred and cruelty. Watching these performances today is bittersweet. The whole world saw a beautiful doll, a brave little hummingbird fluttering around the ice. They didn’t see the harsh conditions she suffered under from her strict coach. They didn’t see the endless lines of reporters and paparazzi that tried to steal every moment of her life after that night for their own tabloids. They didn’t see her battle with anorexia that eventually forced her to retire at the age of 19. They saw the rainbow, but not the brutal rainstorm that created it.

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Julia never returned to the Olympics – like the stunning Titanic, her maiden voyage was to be her last. But she left a greater impact on the skating world in Sochi than most skaters can create in an entire career. Although she suffered at the hands of pressure and fame, she emerged from the darkness and now coaches a new generation alongside fellow 2014 Olympic medalist Elena Ilinykh. I am thankful not only to that little girl in the red coat, but to the strong, compassionate woman she became. She gifted me a lifelong love for figure skating. I would not have a figure skating blog or all the friends I made through the skating fandom if I hadn’t watched her performance that night. The Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi saw many brilliant stars during the Olympics, but Julia Lipnitskaya left behind a courageous heart and an unbreakable spirit.

—-

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away,
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov came into the 2014 Olympics as underdogs for a medal of any color. When they stepped on the ice in Sochi, they had never even qualified for a World Championship or a Grand Prix Final, but a series of consistent performances throughout the 2013-14 season put them on the cusp of a breakthrough. Although they had performed brilliantly in the Olympic team event to help Russia earn the gold medal, all eyes were on the battle for gold in the individual event between two world-class pairs: Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov and Germany’s Aljona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy.

In the short program, Stolbova/Klimov delivered a clean, strong performance to “Surrender” by Jesse Cook. Quick, sharp, and intense, they filled the home arena with fierce, fresh energy and stayed on their feet while other teams faltered. At the end of the night, they found themselves into third place, and hope for an individual Olympic medal was born.

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Stolbova/Klimov’s free skate was set to the soundtrack of “The Addams Family”. This program almost didn’t make it to Olympic ice – at the beginning of the season, they had actually planned to get a new free skate, but eventually chose not to change it. It seamlessly combined the quirky, charmingly macabre tone of the film with the precision and athleticism of classic Russian pair skating. The performance starts with the ominous creak of a door opening, and suddenly Morticia and Gomez Addams come to life in the Iceberg Skating Palace. They cover the ice with swift, powerful crossovers, and Fedor launches Ksenia into an effortless triple twist, a new element they’ve finally perfected. They turn the corner into a silk-smooth throw triple flip with an incredible running edge on the exit, then sweep into a set of side-by-side triple toe loop-double toe loop-double toe loops. They move fearlessly through the first lift, death spiral, and expertly synchronized side-by-side spins, and the crowd starts to follow them. Fedor emphatically kisses Ksenia’s hands as she locks her legs around his waist and throws her body back until the top of her head is nearly parallel to the ice. He dramatically flings his arms wide, moving forward on his skates while she balances unsupported. Neither breaks character as they enter a catch-foot spiral, forming a spider with their exquisitely graceful limbs.

The audience bursts into cheers as the iconic Addams Family theme rings out across the arena. Ksenia and Fedor run across the ice in a cheeky, energetic dance, then spring into a pair of flawless side-by-side double axels. The crowd’s euphoria builds as Fedor swings Ksenia high above his head in a reverse lasso lift. The music eases into a slower breathing point, stretching a moment into a memory. Ksenia reclines over Fedor’s knee, and he bends down to gently kiss her and pull her into a pair spin, right in front of the Olympic rings on the boards behind them.

The music climbs again as they finish the spin, climbing to the crescendo on the wings of the cheering fans. Fedor flips Ksenia into the final lift, effortless and smooth. They’ve been skating for nearly four and a half minutes now, but they show no signs of slowing down. This is their night, and they refuse to give a single moment of this opportunity away.

But there’s still one element to go: the throw triple salchow, set in the last few seconds of this performance. One landing will make the difference between success and defeat, glory and setback. They turn as one, winding up for the final hurdle between them and the Olympic podium. Fedor throws Ksenia into the air. She snaps into a tight, quick rotation, making three turns before bringing her foot down on the ice. Her free leg swings back, her blade carves a wide arc as she rides backwards on a remarkable running edge, and her hands fly up in victory.

The landing is perfect.

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The crowd roars with pride and leaps into a standing ovation as Ksenia and Fedor hit their closing poses. Ksenia is swinging her fist through the air, her mouth open in a cry of triumph. They turn to face each other and bring their hands together in a high-five before melting into an embrace. The camera finds Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, Russia’s Olympic pair skating champions of 1964 and 1968, clapping along with every other soul in the arena. The audience is a sea of tricolor Russian flags and chants of “Ros-si-ya, Ros-si-ya!” as Ksenia and Fedor make their way off the ice to the kiss-and-cry. Even as the scores come in – a personal best of 143.47 for a total of 218.68 – they don’t know they will be Olympic medalists. There are three excellent teams yet to skate, teams with impressive collections of Olympic and World medals. But in this moment, Ksenia and Fedor are celebrating, because they’ve done everything they are capable of.

Three performances later, Stolbova/Klimov are crowned Olympic silver medalists. They share the podium with their compatriots and training mates Volosozhar/Trankov, who claim the gold for Russia on home ice. Savchenko/Szolkowy, who attempted an extremely difficult routine but botched two elements, finish third behind the two Russians. To the rest of the world, Stolbova/Klimov’s sudden rise is an upset, even a fluke. But Ksenia and Fedor look perfectly at home on the Olympic podium. They believed in their ability to win before most of the skating world knew their names. Perhaps their silver medal was unprecedented, but it was certainly not undeserved.

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At the time, it seemed to be only the beginning for this promising young pair. However, their career was hampered by injuries, and Sochi would be their first and final Olympics. Yet for me, this is one of the most memorable Olympic performances I have witnessed. Their charisma, enthusiasm, and power on the ice was second to none, and they gave the performance of their lives on the night they needed it most. In fact, Ksenia and Fedor were the first pair skaters I ever truly loved, and although I’ve discovered many other couples I enjoy, they are still my favorite pair to this day.

—-

Happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Belle’s Rambling #5: How the Truman Doctrine and the Cold War Destroyed Bernie Sanders’ Presidential Bid

Last week, Bernie Sanders announced the end to his presidential campaign. Joe Biden has continued winning states in the Democratic primaries, and it seems very likely that the 2020 election will be between Biden and the incumbent Trump. As a progressive whose ideal ballot consisted of Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, I’m disappointed by this turn of events, especially since Sanders was leading the polls when the race began. So what went wrong? Why wouldn’t the American people like a nice old man who supported people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and the poor? What was so radical about that?

There’s one surprising answer to that: the Cold War.

Bernie Sanders identified as a socialist. While socialism has gained recent popularity amongst millennials, the previous generation of American people have been taught to associate it with some great evil because of Cold War doctrines. I firmly believe that the misconceptions around the definition of socialism were one of the main causes for Sanders’ loss of votes, so I want to debunk some of the common myths around this political policy.

First of all, let’s take it back to the roots. In the 1840s, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote a series of works that formed the basis of modern socialism. At the time, many countries still had an appalling economic gap between the nobility and the working class. Between them lay the bourgeoisie, or middle class, that had no noble titles but lived comfortably off the labor of the working class. Laborers were forced to work unreasonably long hours in unsafe conditions. Marx and Engels wanted to overthrow the monarchy and abolish the middle class that was exploiting the poor. They planned to set up a system where there was no such thing as social class, the laborers controlled the government and economy, and wealth was evenly distributed so no one went hungry. At their core, Marx and Engels’ theories actually weren’t too far from the founding principles of democracy in the United States.

However, many of the socialist governments that rose from these doctrines had little in common with the Marxist utopia. As socialism gained popularity, it branched off to form a feisty little sister: communism. Communism was built on socialist principles, but it was more extreme. It called for revolution and pushed the working class to rise up against their oppressors, and it was communism (not socialism) that took hold in many countries in the early 1900s.

There’s no nice way to put it: Joseph Stalin created the American fear of communism. When the Soviet Union was established as a communist state atop the remains of imperial Russia, Stalin took control as its leader. Since there weren’t many large communist countries at the time, he became the face of communism worldwide, but he managed to violate nearly every Marxist principle in the process. I will even go as far to say that Stalin was not a true communist. Let’s compare Stalin’s policies to the basic cornerstones of Marxist communism.

Marx: We must put an end to the privileged upper classes.

Stalin: Let’s set up a bureaucracy of elites to hold all the power.

Marx: No one should go hungry.

Stalin: Come on, surely you can get through this widespread famine while I figure out my five-year plans.

Marx: Nationalism is a disease that divides the human race.

Stalin: Okay, Soviet republics, we’re going to cram Russian culture down your throats and make you all swear allegiance to our flag.

Marx: End the oppression and set people free!

Stalin: If anyone opposes me, send them to the gulags in Siberia.

Thanks a lot, Stalin. Now everyone thinks this is what communism is supposed to look like. And this is the form of communism that has cropped up in the rest of the world. When people say “communism”, people don’t picture a happy little country where everyone has enough to eat. They picture the Berlin Wall, political prisoners, and strict censorship. This is not the world Marx and Engels imagined.

The problem with any doctrine, philosophy, or religion is that it is open to interpretation, and no two humans interpret the world the same way. A tyrant can adopt the façade of a belief to justify the horrors of his regime. We see “Christian” leaders who advocate for gay conversion therapy, “Muslim” leaders who push back against women’s rights, and “Jewish” leaders who fully support the Israeli occupation of Palestine by any means. We see pro-life politicians claim they’re just here to “save the innocent children” while ignoring the innocent children who now won’t have access to abortions. We see a lot of wolves in sheep’s clothing, and it can damage the perception of entire groups in society. I don’t need to even mention how the 9/11 attacks brought on a wave of Islamophobia or how the coronavirus outbreak has led to racism against Asians.

The United States had good reason to fear Stalin. He was a ruthless dictator who caused a lot of destruction in his brutal reign. Although his successors took a less aggressive approach, Stalin had established a corrupt form of government that exploited the people of the Soviet Union, and that became the model for communist countries worldwide. This system created intense dissatisfaction, which led to the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the general decline of communist influence in the world.

However, several countries in Europe have adopted a new policy: democratic socialism. Citizens pay high taxes, but the government provides free or nearly free healthcare, childcare, and education. According to the Gini scale of wealth inequality, the gap between rich and poor in these countries is significantly lower than in the United States. There aren’t armed soldiers on every street corner or a wall holding these people in; in fact, these countries often rank highest on the “happiest countries in the world” lists.

So what’s the secret? How have they not become a totalitarian regime with prison camps and crippling poverty?

The problem with failed communist countries isn’t Marx’s ideas, it’s how far the leaders of these countries have strayed from Marx’s ideas. I think any time there are people fleeing a country, it means that something is probably wrong with how that country is run. The countries that come up in conversations about human rights abuses in communist countries – the Soviet Union, North Korea, China, Romania – have all been victims of a form of pseudo-communism. If you break down their economies, you’ll find that they aren’t really socialist at all. China is a tycoon in private enterprise. North Korea has been run by a single rich, powerful family since it was established in 1948. And we already talked about Stalin. None of these countries are centered around the Marxist model.

Communism and socialism are very broad terms. There’s a huge difference between a democratic country with healthcare for all and an autocracy where the government spies on its citizens. As Marx and Engels explicitly stated in the Communist Manifesto, the main goal of their doctrine was to create a nation that served the common folk, not the elite. But since Stalin and his cohorts spread the idea that these leftist governments created terror and poverty, there’s a stigma attached to the very concept of socialism.

It’s only been 30 years since the end of the Cold War, which means many Americans still remember the strong anticommunist movements in the West. The United States positioned itself as the perfect foil to the Soviet Union and established the idea that a “good government” was one that stayed as far from Marxism as possible. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s fiery speeches against the Warsaw Pact rallied the whole nation behind the concept that a right-wing, conservative, capitalist government was the strong good guy against the communist bad guy. This is the era my parents grew up in, and some of these beliefs continue even today. Why? Because he was, to a point, correct. The Soviet government was violating human rights. The people were suffering. But that was because of the corrupt Soviet bureaucracy, not because Marx and Engels had a flawed ideology.

And while Reagan was busy pointing the finger at all the terrible things about the Soviet government, no one was talking about how his far-right policies were denying healthcare to the poor, opposing civil rights bills, or allowing thousands of people to die of AIDS. A country on the far right is equally dangerous as one on the far left. Let’s not forget the names of some of the biggest anticommunists before Reagan: Francisco Franco. Benito Mussolini. Adolf Hitler.

No matter how many countries are making democratic socialism work, many Americans still cling to their conservative capitalist government because they are afraid of a Stalinist regime. They lean to the right because they think blocking leftist policies is the only way to preserve the democracy. They fear oppression so much that they create it. They would rather suffer without healthcare, abortions, or a living minimum wage than run the risk of letting socialist policies slip into the Senate.

And that’s when we bring up Donald Trump. If you asked me to sum up capitalism in two words, I’d say “Donald Trump” – a wealthy businessman-turned-president who values low taxes over welfare programs. It’s as if he read the whole manual on Republican economic strategies, then rewrote the whole thing on the wall in capital letters with a permanent marker. Our economy is under an extreme form of Republicanism, where services for the poor are sacrificed for tax cuts for the rich. He is the epitome of far-right conservative capitalism. And look where it’s gotten us.

Most modern democracies were built on the social contract theory, but we rarely adhere to it. The social contract is an arrangement between the government and the citizens – the citizens surrender some of their freedom to the government so the government will protect them. Successful democratic socialist countries stand by this principle far more than the United States currently does. The citizens entrust the government with their tax money so the government can ensure services to them; the government is their caretaker. As long as the nation is still a true democracy with fair elections, a socialist nation can thrive. The government becomes an ally of the people, not the enemy, and when people trust the integrity of their government, society finds peace.

This is the world Bernie Sanders offered us. But people refused to vote for him because they feared the word socialism. They went with Biden because they’re scared of change. He won’t implement major reforms to shake up the capitalist economy. He won’t raise taxes for the rich to provide free college for everyone. His policies may be more liberal than Trump’s, but he’s not going to transform the nation. He won’t rock the boat.

But sometimes you need to rock the boat when the boat is going under.

I am a socialist. I’m not afraid to say that. It shouldn’t be a “bad” word or a “controversial” word. Many socialist Democrats in the United States use the term “progressive” because it doesn’t carry the same stigma, and I use the label of progressive with great pride. But the fact that supporting universal healthcare or low-cost education is considered a radical idea in this country says a lot about the United States as a whole.

I wasn’t very politically aware until I was 14, and I still haven’t formed opinions about certain topics because there are pros and cons to everything. I didn’t choose to be a Democrat because it was the “cool” thing to do; I simply noticed that many of the people representing the Republican Party at the time were violating human rights while many of the people representing the Democratic Party were advocating for better human rights. Of course, that’s not to say that I believe all Democrats are good and all Republicans are bad. But if believing in equality is considered radical, then call me a radical. I’ve had trolls call me a “commie” and conservative Republicans call me “one of those dumb liberals”. And I have compassion for them. They’re the ignorant ones. They’re making stupid decisions out of fear. They’re sacrificing their God-given rights because they don’t understand the brighter future they could have. And they deserve better. We all deserve better.

I urge you all to share this article and help fight the misconceptions surrounding the progressive movement. Look around you. Look at the immigrant children in cages. Look at the transgender people who have been denied the right to serve in the military. Look at the rising coronavirus death toll because President Trump insisted it was just a little “Chinese virus”. In the words of Disney’s Pocahontas, this is where the path of hatred has brought us. This happened because we were afraid of change. And it will keep happening until we learn to bend.

 

Belle’s Rambling #4: Why “Christians for Trump” is an Oxymoron

Trigger warning: mentions of homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexual assault

I grew up in a Christian Republican household. My parents were Bush supporters, and the three things my dad ever complained about were work, weather, and Obamacare. It was a bit of a running joke in our family that if something was going wrong in the government, it must be because of “those wildin’ Democrats.”

But in 2016, they voted for Hillary Clinton.

To this day, my parents consider themselves Republicans, but now it comes with an exception: “Well, Republicans, but not for Trump. We don’t believe in all that nonsense. That’s not God-like.”

Over the past three years, I’ve developed my own set of political views. As a child, I naturally followed my parents’ Republican opinions, but I now identify as a progressive Democrat. While I still respect my parents’ views, I’ve also established my own value system. For example, as a bisexual woman of color, I only support politicians with good records on the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, women, and minorities. However, I am open to different opinions, and I have many friends with various political beliefs. At the same time, I’ve also had to establish a point where I draw the line.

Around the time of the election, I met a very nice girl, and we became friends. She didn’t talk much about politics back then, but she and her family were devout Christians. She was a modest, respectful, God-fearing woman. She didn’t drink, went to church every Sunday, and never used a more vulgar word than “crap”. She seemed practically perfect, and I envied her composure and commitment to God.

Until I found out she was a passionate Trump supporter.

Look, I can roll with other people’s opinions. I try to see both sides of the coin, even if I personally think one side is the correct side. But when the president thinks it’s okay to block equal pay laws, say all Muslims are terrorists, and put Mexican immigrant children in cages away from their parents, I can’t just respect that as a “different point of view”. He’s almost like a caricature, a supervillain, a shameless bigot who seems to actually enjoy hurting these people. This is the kind of stuff you read about in those YA dystopian books like Divergent or The Giver. This is President Snow in the flesh. This is evil. This is wrong. And this is the exact opposite of the Christianity I know.

That’s why it amazes me to see so many people who identify as Christians out here supporting Trump. “Christians for Trump” is like “Jedi for Darth Vader”. “Avengers for Thanos”. “Dumbledore’s Army for Voldemort”. It’s an oxymoron, and I don’t think people really understand it.

I’m not going to give you a long sermon here, but I want to list a few basic pillars of Christianity. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ spent His life teaching love and compassion to the world. He spread peace and kindness wherever He went, and He gave his own life to offer salvation to the people on Earth. Would Jesus rip children from their parents and lock them in cages? Would Jesus cast out a Muslim woman because he feared that she was different? Would Jesus look upon a transgender man and say he doesn’t have the right to serve his country like every other person in the nation? Or would he love them all and show them the compassion all human beings deserve?

These questions plagued me as I tried to figure out what to do about my friend. I really tried to see her side of things, and I genuinely think she believed she was doing the right thing. For example, her heart broke whenever she heard stories about abortions because she mourned the baby who would never experience life. And a piece of my heart broke with hers. But at the same time, I can’t justify a world with no abortions. I firmly believe that a rape victim should not be forced to carry and give birth to her rapist’s baby, especially if she’s still a minor. You can’t say you’re here to protect innocent, defenseless children if you think forcing a 12-year-old girl to go through that kind of trauma is okay. But my friend never looked at it that way, because she couldn’t see the forest through the trees.

I talked to her so many times, trying to gently explain my side. She never yelled at me for my opinions, never told me I was a horrible person, never tried to force me to believe what she did. I would like to believe that she respected me, even though she didn’t agree with me. But there was always a sheet of glass between us, and it grew thicker as she became more politically vocal on social media. It was so jarring to see this sweet, loving young woman preaching the word of God and Trump at the same time. She got furious at the idea of a “bad boy” catcalling a girl (and rightfully so), but she could support a man who admitted to grabbing women “by the p*ssy”.

There were so many great things about her – we could talk for hours about books, music, and everyday life like we were best friends. But on social media, she became a completely different person. She would laugh with me about my gay crushes, then post things like “Marriage is an indescribable bond between a man and a woman”. In her Twitter likes, I found tweets referring to the LGBTQ+ community as the “alphabet soup community”, which is frequently used by anti-LGBTQ+ groups as a derogatory term. It really hurt me to see these things from someone who claimed to love me like a sister. I tried to message her a few times about it, but she would never understand just how offensive she was being. She was a white, straight, cisgender U.S. citizen in a small neighborhood, and she would never be personally affected by Trump’s terrible decisions. Deep down inside, I knew she could never accept me for who I was – a bisexual Asian-American Democrat. No matter how much fun we had together, she would always believe there was something wrong with me. And to be honest, I would always believe there was something wrong with her, because I could never understand how a God-fearing woman could justify such bigotry.

It broke my heart to cut ties with her. She was one of my closest friends in a lonely time of my life, and I still miss her friendship. I hope that someday, she will realize that her beliefs are hurting people and God wouldn’t approve of that. I even hope that in 5, 10, or 15 years, we might be able to be friends again. But right now, I can’t wake up every day and hear her say that there’s nothing wrong with calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus”, that transgender people are “confused”, and that Captain Marvel is a bad movie because it teaches girls that they don’t need men to be powerful. It goes against my faith. I believe that God made all races, genders, and orientations equal – beautiful, flawed, and capable of great achievements and great mistakes.

Maybe these “Christians for Trump” really do think they’re doing the right thing. Maybe they don’t see how Trump’s politics are violating almost every rule of Christianity. Maybe they actually think every piece of information against him is “fake news”. But when I look at Donald Trump, I don’t see a shred of the goodness I see in Jesus Christ. I see a power-hungry tyrant who will stop at nothing to stay on top. And all we can do is pray that the people of the United States make the right decision in November.

Yours truly,

Belle