Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: October 2020

Tuesday

27

October 2020

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COMMENTS

No Ordinary Man captures the complexities of transgender history

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There are a lot of public misconceptions about transgender history, even its very existence. The mainstream media often portrays the transgender identity as some kind of new concept, neglecting centuries of record evidence of gender variance among countless countries. This willful ignorance has come at a great cost to the trans community as a whole, breeding unnecessary isolation and unawareness of our broader surroundings.

The documentary No Ordinary Man centers its narrative on one of the most fascinating figures in trans history. Billy Tipton was a jazz musician and talent agent who had a successful career for decades in the South throughout the fifties and sixties. Billy was a transgender man, a fact unbeknownst to his world until his death, when a heart attack revealed his secret to paramedics and his adoptive son. A national media firestorm ensued, with tabloid coverage shining an ugly spotlight on Billy’s body and details of his life that most of us, cisgender or otherwise, would prefer to keep private.

Co-directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt do a fabulous job presenting the complexities of Tipton’s life on screen. Billy Tipton essentially exists as two separate entities, the real-life father, husband, and musician, but also as a figure of inspiration for the broader LGBTQ community. We know very little about the specifics of Billy’s gender identity, but Chin-Yee and Joynt understand the importance of showcasing the impact that his life has had on our community.

Interviews with Billy Tipton Jr. serve as a grounding force for the film, crafting a portrait of an icon’s quieter life before he was posthumously outed without his consent. For too long, LGBTQ people have often been forced to live two separate lives, one for their blood families and one for their found families. Advances in LGBTQ equality have helped create a world where that kind of double life isn’t necessary for many, but the film eloquently explains the world that Billy lived in.

Chin-Yee, Joynt, and co-writer Amos Mac spend a great deal of focus on the media landscape that sensationalized Billy’s life after his death, identifying the broader systemic issues that plague our community to this day. The media often, if not usually, treats transgender issues as tantalizing, fantastical scenarios, ignoring the real-life trans people affecting by these methods of framing.

The biggest challenge for a film like No Ordinary Man is the elusive life of its subject. There’s no footage of Billy and only a few photographs, the kind of visual obscurity that hardly lends itself well to feature-length documentaries. To make up for Tipton’s visual absence, Chin-Yee and Joynt deploy an unusual strategy, holding auditions for a film about Tipton’s life. Using trans actors as stand-ins for Tipton works quite well, an effective indicator of the progress society has made since Billy’s time. The world is still a very imperfect place for trans people, but there still remains great power in the sheer nature of visibility.

No Ordinary Man is a beautiful tribute to an icon of trans lore and a damning indictment on the shameful media coverage after his death. Billy Tipton deserved better from this world, both in life and in memory. As transgender people reach new levels of visibility, it’s important not to forget the ways in which we’ve lacked agency over our own stories. History must be told for true change to take hold.

No Ordinary Man was recently featured at AFI Fest and will be part of DOC NYC’s lineup. DOC NYC will take place from November 11th-19th. Tickets can be purchased here.

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Monday

19

October 2020

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COMMENTS

Vote Joe Biden & 2020 Senate Analysis

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Looking at you, unenthusiastic voters. Joe Biden is not a great candidate. This “decent” man has decades worth of indecent votes to his name, a shameful legacy that we shouldn’t have to revisit in 2020. Alas, here we are.

Trump is infinitely worse. It’s not even close. LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, healthcare, and the very future of our nation is at stake. Voting doesn’t need to be fun, but you need to vote. Trump may never end if we don’t put a stop to this American Carnage. 

Ian also dives into the state of the 2020 Senate race and why it’s way closer than the mainstream media thinks. Please, please, please vote. We can’t pack the courts without senators who will do the packing. 

Fuck Trump. Vote Biden. 

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Wednesday

14

October 2020

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COMMENTS

The Vow peels back the murky, deeply unsettling world of NXIVM

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

Everything about NXIVM and its “vanguard” Keith Raniere screams “cult.” From the bizarre sashes, to the late-night volleyball games, to the endless money-suck of classes for their “Executive Success Programs,” the red flags seem pretty damn obvious to any reasonable outsider. Over the course of nine episodes, HBO’s docuseries The Vow peels back the layers to explain how this con took hold of so many lives over the course of nearly twenty years.

NXIVM (pronounced “nex-e-um”) is a complex organization, a notion perhaps best represented by its confusing name. Its surface level operations focus on courses in the vein of “awareness training,” the kind of stuff that appeals to those who fuel the billion-dollar self-help industry. For those seeking community, NXIVM functioned in essentially the same role as a church. Deep beneath NXIVM’s surface are its subgroups, including DOS, which blackmailed and branded women, the primary driver that led to Raniere’s 2017 arrest.

The Vow succinctly explains the “how” and the “why” behind NXIVM’s success, an organization largely bankrolled by Seagram’s heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman. Dissenters were frequently met with various legal threats, providing extensive cover for Raniere’s various cons. As loathsome as Raniere appears, a scraggly looking figure whose sense of style doesn’t appear to evolved past his freshman year of college, it is easy to see the appeal of his snake oil strategy to unsuspecting souls.

Directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujam do an excellent job balancing the many pieces of NXIVM. The “sex cult” allegations are by far the most salacious and interesting to see on screen, but the saga of this Albany clique with outposts in Mexico and Canada goes far deeper than that. It is perhaps impossible to calculate the damage caused by NXIVM, from the financial ruin to the emotional turmoil. The series paints with a broad brush, translating the complex theories in an easily digestible manner.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Vow draws its protagonists from the crop of people involved in the film industry who were lured into NXIVM’s orbit. Former members Mark Vicente, a filmmaker, and Sarah Edmondson, an actress, provide invaluable first-person perspectives. Amer and Noujam center much of their narrative on Catherine Oxenberg of Dynasty fame, whose daughter India was deeply involved in DOS right up to Raniere’s arrest.

Part of what makes The Vow so compelling is its use of extensive archival footage from NXIVM’s history, much of it shot by Vicente before he turned on the group. Raniere’s obsession with recording his entire existence backfired in this regard, allowing him to be featured extensively without the agency of his own intentions. One gets the impression that the mere existence of the series must be driving Raniere insane as he currently awaits sentencing after guilty verdicts on multiple charges.

The participation of Vicente and Edmondson, the latter of whom ran the Vancouver branch and describes herself as a former top “earner” within NXIVM, creates an interesting moral quandary that the filmmakers approach with delicate hands. Occupying leadership positions for so long within the company produces a natural sense of responsibility. It is fair to wonder just how guilty either are, an issue that The Vow nuzzles up toward without ever really confronting head on.

Maybe it didn’t need to. Largely shot before Raniere’s arrest in 2017, it is fair to acknowledge the lack of distance between the subjects and their traumatizing events. The series takes a hands-off approach as Vicente grapples with his own guilt, a moving display of emotion that communicates the sense that this is something he’ll never truly recover from.

The same holds true for Edmondson, branded for life with this initials of Raniere and Smallville actress Allison Mack. How much of her victimhood is negated by her leadership role, which encouraged countless people to spend their life-savings on junk courses taught by sexual predators? The Vow has no idea how to gauge this question, perhaps only faltering a bit in choosing to celebrate its leads as heroes. There are no easy answers here. It’s tempting to write off chunks as PR reclamation projects, but perhaps that action isn’t wholly unwarranted either.

Nobody sets out to join a cult, a notion presented many times over the course of the series. The Vow provides an illuminating front row seat to the unimaginable, navigating the murky waters of a cult with dignity toward its subjects. Maybe there aren’t any real heroes here besides Oxenberg, who’s quest to save her daughter provides The Vow’s most emotionally rewarding journey.

Several subjects point out that there was good in NXIVM, even in its monster of a founder. One should not be faulted for not wishing to bother thinking about whether or not Raniere did any good in his life. The sum of his existence will always lie in the red. For the rest, redemption is a long road, one started by the actions displayed in the series. It is important to believe in redemption, the kind of saving grace that affords good people an opportunity for another chapter.

There is tremendous value in hearing Vicente and Edmondson’s story, even if you remain a bit unsure what to think of them after the dust starts to settle. The recent nature of the whole NXIVM saga suggests the story is far from over. For now, The Vow encourages its audience to see the complexity in the humanity presented on screen.

The entire nine-episode series was screened for review.

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Monday

5

October 2020

0

COMMENTS

Statement on FOX LA’s Anti-Transgender Conduct

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Over the past weekend, I broke the story that a Trump campaign flag was flying at the Long Beach City Police headquarters. The news was picked up by practically every major local outlet, including affiliates for NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox, as well as the LA Times and the LAist. I appeared on camera for the NBC4 Nightly News and FOX 11 LA.

FOX LA reporter Rick Lozano filmed me and my partner outside the Long Beach Police Department for about half hour for the news clip, repeatedly violating basic social distance guidelines as he pressured me to AirDrop photos that I’d already agreed to text from a safe distance.

More egregiously, Rick repeatedly misgendered me on air, even after identifying me as a transgender woman. Rick also repeatedly referred to me as “Thomas Malone,” even as a news chyron listed me correctly.

As a post-operative transsexual with two male names, I know the unique challenges that my situation presents. Whenever I do press, I repeatedly make this clarification known to prevent such cringey scenarios. Rick Lozano knew my pronouns. He deliberately chose to ignore them.

The news desk for FOX LA promptly hung up when I called to speak to a producer about this situation. I am calling for an apology from FOX LA and for disciplinary action to be taken against Rick Lozano.

Ian Thomas Malone (she/her)

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