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SPARK TV Week: No, Yes, Maybe

by Alice Wilder

Mulaney

Every single review of Fox’s Mulaney that I have read starts with the reviewer insisting that they really, really want to like the show. I say this because I want you to know that I know what I’m about to say is cliche: I want to like Mulaney. The main character (also named John Mulaney) is a struggling comic who is hired by a difficult late night host as a writer. He lives with two friends, Jane (Nasim Pedrad) and Motif (Seaton Smith).

John Mulaney is one of the most talented stand up comics working right now and is working with a very talented cast. Nasim Pedrad is the only woman on the show thus far, which isn’t uncommon for multi-camera shows and would be a minor issue if her character was well developed or showed any chance of developing in the future. But her first line is “I’m not crazy” and she spends the rest of the episode breaking into her ex-boyfriend’s email account and stealing his belongings.

True, in her first scene she talks about the way men call female partners “crazy” in order to discredit them while “crazy” men are considered “passionate.” So fine, this happens, and it’s good. But I’m still waiting for her to have any lines unrelated to ex-boyfriends or male roommates. Nasim Pedrad is an incredibly talented comedian and I just want to see her in a great show that uses her talents well. She’s so underutilized on SNL and I thought that this would finally be our chance to see her full talents. Come on TV world! Do right by Nasim!

But honestly, let’s not worry about this show. I’d bet my GPA that it will be cancelled very soon. Lots of comedians have bad first shows. My guess is that this show is the way it is because of notes from the network. Don’t watch this show, wait for John Mulaney’s next show which will surely be better.

How to Get Away with Murder

I’m just going to be honest with y’all- I really love How to Get Away with Murder. While rewatching the pilot for this review I realized that none of the women on this show are “the girlfriend” or “the wife.” What?! That almost never happens.

The show starts with the new of a missing college student, Lila Stangard, who (Spoiler alert? I guess?) is later found dead. She is the only woman on this show defined by her relationship to a man (her boyfriend is the school’s star quarterback). I’m sure that Lila will be fleshed out as the show goes on- she’s already represented as having secrets and I don’t expect her to be defined as “the dead girlfriend” for long.

This show has hella well developed female characters. The main cast of law students has Laurel and Michaela. They’re just as competitive as any of their male classmates but also deal with sexual harassment and other gender-based discrimination. And then there’s Bonnie Winterbottom (Paris Gellar from Gilmore Girls, ya’ll!) and of course, Professor Annalise Keating, played by Viola Davis.

Viola Davis is just the best, you don’t need me tell you that. We all know she’s the best.

It would be easy to paint her as a heartless “ballbuster” but instead the writers give her many moments of empathy and vulnerability. Though tough, she quietly supports Wes and the other students multiple times. On top of that, she’s an actress over forty whose character is allowed to be sexual! It seems like on TV once a woman hits forty she is officially the non-sexual mom or aunt. I have to stop now otherwise this will turn into a think piece about ageism in Hollywood. Just watch How to Get Away with Murder, y’all.

A to Z

A to Z is fine. I laughed multiple times while watching it but it honestly felt like (500) Days of Summer was condensed into a 26 minute sitcom. The creators know this too, and don’t shy away from the comparison. The first thing that hit me about this show? There’s a female narrator. Can you remember the last time you heard a woman do the voiceover for a movie trailer or ad for a tv show? That shit never happens! It seems like a small detail, but I take this as a good omen for the direction of the show.

Andrew and Zelda, the romantic leads defy gender norms in their flirtation. Andrew doesn’t scope her out and aggressively try to pick her up. When he first sees her he’s too nervous to talk to her and once he does he’s painfully awkward. He believes in destiny and is a total romantic. Zelda knows that she doesn’t want a relationship.

She’s a lawyer who isn’t interested in dating, but not in the vein of Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. She has a life outside of her job and the audience isn’t asked to hate her because she has a career and doesn’t want to date. She isn’t cold, she just doesn’t believe in destiny or love at first sight.

He romanticizes her wildly and asks his IT friends to find out if she was at the same concert as him. This is creepy. But the show quickly calls it out: Zelda doesn’t think it’s romantic and she tells him he invaded her privacy. He apologizes and it seems sincere. So I don’t know, it’s not a deal breaker, I’d just like less e-stalking in sitcoms from now on.

Zelda and her best friend only ever talk about relationships in the first episode, but Andrew and his best friend also only talk about relationships. It remains to be seen if this will be a problem. Pilots are notoriously difficult to write so I’m inclined to give them some room to expand the lives of the lead characters. This show has a lot of promise, I’m hoping that from now on it leans away from 500 Days of Summer and explores multiple parts of these character’s lives.

SPARK TV Week: 5 shows we’re still missing

by Maya Brown

If you’re getting fed up with all the new TV shows starting this month that are as sexist and stereotypical as ever (more on this tomorrow!), maybe it’s time to take it back to some classics. Here is a list to help you out with my top 5 shows to watch on Netflix or steal from your best friend. My personal story with all of these shows is that I didn’t really watch a lot of shows on the actual TV when I was in middle school and high school, so I hold a lot of these shows deep in my awkward 8th grade heart.

I want to throw a disclaimer in that when I sat down to list these shows, I found that while I could list shows with strong female characters fairly easily, I couldn’t list any with women of color in anything but best-friend typed roles. So I apologize that even though I love these shows, they are all extremely white. Clearly we need to keep pushing for more shows with amazing women of color in them, especially since even shows like these, that are often considered “Feminist Icons,” don’t accurately represent all women.

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I know we’ve written about this one before, but it’s been a while. Buffy is about your typical blonde 16 year old girl, except that she kills vampires and other demons on the daily. This show starts out in beautiful 90’s fashion, complete with belly shirts and miniskirts and terrible special effects, and just keeps getting better. Buffy adopts an amazing group of friends, nicknamed the Scooby Gang, who help her fight demons and generally support her all the time. She has really genuine friendships, and the demons have a weird habit of telling awesome feminist life lessons (one time an abusive boyfriend turns out to literally be an evil robot and it’s actually so satisfying). Without giving any spoilers, the whole series ends with a huge sisterhood, girl-power-centered last battle. Also, I’ve got to give a major shout out to Willow and Tara for helping many a young lesbian feel represented.

2. Veronica Mars: I watched this show right after Buffy, when I was mourning the loss of a high school girl who fought crime. Veronica helps with her dad’s private investigation firm, and by helps I mean she takes over the toughest cases and figures them out on her own. It’s been a little longer since I watched this one, but I remember loving her friendship with Wallace as an awesome platonic friendship where the guy doesn’t whine about being “friend-zoned.” Veronica Mars is a little less campy than Buffy, but she’s just as bad-ass. Would recommend if you love mystery/CSI dramas and also witty teenage girls.

3. Gilmore Girls: I love this show for a completely different reason than Buffy and Veronica Mars. For one, it has the best mother-daughter relationship of any show I’ve ever seen. It’s the only show that really depicts motherhood without relying on the tired trope of the stressed out working mother or the evil stepmother. Lorelai and Rory’s banter is hilarious, plus they each have really strong female friendships of their own. I love that Lorelei has dreams of starting her own inn, which shows that mothers can be more than just an overdramatic conflict for their teenage daughter. Everything in this show comes back to their relationship, plus Rory is a really great role model for anyone who doesn’t feel angsty enough for a lot of the teenage dramas now.

4. My So Called Life: This is the perfect show if you totally do feel angsty enough for teenage dramas, but want one with actual substance. Angela Chase is the main character and the main conflict comes from her trying to figure out her identity as a teenager. This was a show that I connected to really well when I was in freshman and sophomore year of high school. Angela’s narration of the episodes also includes some of the hands-down best lines in any show I’ve seen. They are dripping with sarcasm and I could have said every one of them in high school. Although she has a complicated relationship with her mom, the show always takes the time to include her mom and dad’s perspective as well. It’s also painfully 90’s in the best way, and is worth it if only for lines like “high school is a battlefield…. For your heart” and “my dad thinks every person in the world is having more fun than him. Which could be true.”

5. Bomb Girls: I illegally marathoned this show two summers ago and let me tell you, it is totally a hidden gem, and it’s finally on Netflix and everyone NEEDS to watch it. It’s different from any of the other ones I mentioned, and is relatively recent. It takes place in the 1940’s in Canada during World War II and is about the women who worked in the factories. It has an amazing female dominated cast and covers so many feminist issues of the time. To name a few, it handles women entering the workplace, the dangers of the jobs they worked at, and what it was like when the men started to come back. My favorite plotline is about one lesbian woman and what it means to her to finally be able to get a job and support herself without worrying about the societal assumption that she find a husband. If you’re at all interested in historical stuff, or just like women centered dramas, I would totally recommend this show.

Honorable Mention:

From what I’ve heard, Xena Warrior Princess should totally be on this list, but since it’s still on my personal “watch whenever you have time” list, I couldn’t do it justice here, but totally check it out if you have time!

What shows are you still missing?

SPARK TV Week: We tried to believe in ABC’s Selfie

by Cori Fulcher

I wanted to like Selfie. I liked the main actors and I like My Fair Lady. For a moment, I thought it was going to be a musical, and that made me very excited. The trailer made me cringe, but I brushed it off. Karen Gillan was playing a mean girl! John Cho was playing a curmudgeon! It appears ABC finally discovered what social media is!

I don’t really have a point of reference for any of this. I mean of course I do, I have the Internet of 2014 (or rather, what ABC executives think the Internet of 2014 seems like) but I don’t know what Selfie is trying to be. Every show on television is trying to be some other show or some other movie: The Big Bang Theory wants to be Community and every television show on AMC is probably trying to be The Sopranos. I don’t have any idea what the writers of Selfie imagine their show to be, so I have no idea of what it could be. I was really hoping to see a dissection of what My Fair Lady means in 2014, what it means for men to try to change women so women fit better into some arbitrary definition of proper femininity. I wanted the show to explore the weird new social dynamic that is being famous on the Internet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

In the show, Karen Gillan plays Eliza Dooley, who is female and likes fashion and is therefore an awful human. She’s vapid and narcissistic and the show revels in punishing her for it. She doesn’t seem to have any friends and almost all of her co-workers despise her. Selfie barely succeeded in eliciting any emotion out of me other than mild dislike, but by the end I wanted to wrap Eliza in a blanket and tell her everything would be okay.

At Selfie’s best moments I felt like I was watching a movie within a much better TV show. The celebrity casting and pop-culture referencing really play better within a two minute clip pretending to be TV show. Maybe it’s because the $20 million romantic comedy isn’t a genre that really exists anymore or maybe I haven’t watched a pilot in awhile, but something about Selfie doesn’t feel like network television as much as it feels like one of the fake TV shows on 30 Rock (I don’t think Selfie is clever enough to be that). At its worst (Ally Rachel playing Bryn, whose only discerning personality traits are that she likes DIY and Tumblr) I felt like I was watching a network meeting in real time filled with bewildered executives trying to understand Buzzfeed.

That said, Selfie was pretty, I liked the cinematography that wasn’t faked social media pages and I liked the lighting and I liked the costumes. Karen Gillan’s American accent wasn’t that annoying. I think I laughed at a joke about SoulCycle. This not the type of show that I could imagine growing past its bad pilot to become a smart one-camera observational comedy; this is the kind of show I see being canceled at mid-season with little fanfare. The premise of Selfie is bland and overdone, and I can’t say the show deserves better. I wish it deserved better because I want John Cho to have the stability to be in the tiny independent movies he seems to want to be in. I wish it could have been a smart satirical show with centered around the portrayal of a complicated young woman with some traditionally feminine interests. Oh well.

SPARK TV Week: Brittani Nichols’ Words With Girls

by Montgomery Jones

Issa Rae is something of a legend in the YouTube/webseries community.  Her successful show The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl has garnered positive feedback from The New York Times, Forbes, and viewers around the world.   With masterminds like Shonda Rhimes and Pharrell reaching out to Ms. Rae, it’s safe to say this “awkward black girl” has just begun her world domination.  A book deal, an HBO show in the works, and slew of other online shows–what’s left to do?  But even with people like Issa Rae and Shonda Rhimes creating amazing television shows, there’s still a gaping hole in terms of people of color, women, and LGBTQIA writers in TV.  Without a diverse group of writers, there’s a lack of diversity in the scripts themselves resulting in the same people on our television screens night after night.  Issa Rae has set to correct this with her new initiative, ColorCreative.TV.  ColorCreative developed three 30-minute pilots, which were then released on YouTube in pursuit of the studios checking them out and a loyal audience developing.  The shows–Bleach, Words with Girls, and So Jaded–are vastly different from one another, which makes this initiative even more courageous.  I was lucky enough to talk to Brittani Nichols about the show she writes and stars in, Words with Girls.

Congrats on Words with Girls!  It has fantastic reviews and is one of the three shows featured on Issa Rae’s Color Creative!  Did you apply for WWG to be showcased or did someone reach out to you?

Deniese Davis, the co-founder of Color Creative, reached out to an email list I’m on soliciting half-hour comedy scripts. No questions asked I just sent my script off into the void and weeks later I got an email from Issa and Deniese saying they liked my script and asking if I’d want to take a meeting with them. So I guess it was a mix of both, though it wasn’t them seeking me out personally. They’d never seen the webseries so it was all sort of by chance.

I noticed that there were cast changes from the initial season to the 25 minute pilot episode under Color Creative, is this in the same universe with different friends or just completely different people?

The world is the same but it’s a pretty different tone than the webseries, and I think the medium of television called for different characters. If this goes to series, I’d love to have those actors [from the webseries], Lauren Neal and Hannah Hart, involved though playing different roles since everyone just played a wacked out version of themselves in the web version. The most obvious pull from the webseries is each episode being themed around a word but other than that, it’s sort of a different beast altogether, though it’s obviously still about lesbians in LA.

WWG has an entire season of 3 minute episodeson YouTube. Is the intent of Color Creative to get this show on network television?

Our goal for the current incarnation of the show is for it to go to series on a cable network or streaming platform like Netflix, Amazon, etc. I think we proved that we can make something of quality on a low budget so it sort of blows my mind to think about what we’d be able to do with a lot more time and resources. Hopefully someone else will be blown away by this prospect and decide to pick-up the show.

Words with Girls in hilarious in that it captures those offhanded remarks people make to their best friends, one that any bystander may not understand.  How do you get the dialogue to hold such an important and almost sacred tone? Do you ever improvise?

For the most part everything I write starts with conversations I have by myself–let’s call it one woman improvising so I sound less crazy–and then figuring out who the characters are from that. I think writing the story based on the characters that come from that process rather than the other way around definitely positions the dialogue as the most important thing because to me, it is. I love how groups of friends talk and how their collective vocabulary shifts together.

I read you describe yourself as a triple minority in that you are black, queer, and a woman.  I can imagine you get this quite often but why is important that we talk about race, sexuality, gender, etc.?  Why is representation itself so crucial?

I think the more specific your point of view, the stronger your voice is and the more relatable you are. So being the the most female, the most black, and the most gay I can be is really the way to reach the most people because at the end of the day, all of those experiences are human, and though the details might be more applicable to certain groups, the underlying feelings that inform my point of view are universally relatable. There are so many other stories being ignored for the sake of white heterocentric narratives. We could stop making shows about straight white men right now and there would still be enough to last until the end of time. Television and movies are all about recreating the human experience, and when you’re blatantly excluding certain types of people, the underlying message is “you aren’t part of this experience” which is bullshit.

Admiration does not even remotely summarize how I feel about your ability to bring up and make light of some pretty heavy stuff, things that in my opinion other shows and movies would not dare touch.  From being the “token” black friend and being intimidated by another black person (which to verbally say or even type sounds kind of loony but is actually quite common) to the somewhat offensive offhanded remarks friends may say in casual conversations about being black.  I loved “she probably uses more slang than me” in one episode.  Why do we feel like we are almost in a competition to be “blacker” than another?

Well that is super kind so thank you. I’m super self-aware and so the show has no choice but to be the same way, which causes a lot of reflection on sensitive topics. And truth be told, it’s sort of hard to talk about certain subjects when the people that face them aren’t present, which is often the case in media and probably why it feels like that’s lacking on the whole. When you’re queer or trans or of color or a woman or some combination of those things, how you experience the world is not only informed by your own insecurities but also how other people’s insecurities are put onto you in pretty serious ways sometimes. I want to do that and take it one step further, as was the case with “Token,” and show what it looks like when these groups put these insecurities onto each other but still have it be super real and funny.

If the show is picked up what will the central theme be?  What is it about Los Angeles that attracts characters like Pace, Aspen, and Micky? The city itself almost acts as a fourth cast member.

The show will focus on the struggles they go through to keep their relationships intact depending on how their careers, what brought them all to Los Angeles, are progressing (or not progressing). LA is this place where people are rarely happy with where they are lifewise so there’s a lot of the “putting my career before a relationship” talk, which is all fine and good until people wake up one day and they’re like, “FUCK.” I think a lot of people find themselves wondering if they passed up on one type of happiness to achieve this other kind of happiness, when I think probably happiness is happiness and if there’s a way you can achieve it, you should just fucking go for it. But this is coming from someone who feels like they only understand what happiness is in theory so maybe don’t listen to me. So yeah, it’ll be a lot of grappling with that.

Watch the Words With Girls pilot here, then go here to tell networks that you want to see it on your TV!

SPARK TV Week: 5 returning shows to check out

by Maya Brown

Welcome to SPARK’s TV week! Fall means a whole new slew of TV shows and the return of some favorites. This week we’re going to do a roundup of what’s new, what’s bad, what’s coming back, and what we think is worth watching. Why? Because a lot of us have a lot of feelings about TV shows and because TV is important. More so than movies, TV both shapes our culture and reflects it back at us. TV also oftentimes tends to be more progressive than other kinds of media, and it’s fun to watch, especially when your attention span stops after the 45 minutes mark like mine does.  But there can also be a lot of bad TV out there, so our goal for this week is to point out the good stuff and the shows we want more of, as well as start some conversations about critiquing the not-so-good stuff.

To start the week off, I’m going to do a roundup of my top 5 returning shows for you to catch up on before they come back on air. Keep in mind that these only reflect my very narrowly chosen Hulu queue of family dramas and comedies, so I’m sorry if I missed any fabulous ones. Leave your own returning favorites in the comments!

1. Parks and Rec because of course it’s on this list. Leslie Knope is the bomb, and we’re written about her like at least 5 times already. She’s driven and spunky and also deals with a lot of the issues that women in government face. One of my favorite parts of the show is Leslie and Ann’s friendship. It’s one of the most positive, best female relationship out there. The female characters on this show are just amazing in general, and they actually get air time and well-written comedic moments. This is so important because it proves that shows like The Office can be just as successful when headed by women. Also, we have a lot of feelings about Leslie and Ben’s relationship.

2. The Fosters. We wrote about it last fall, and if you never watched it, I highly recommend starting. This show can feel a little bit “issue of the week”-y, but it makes my list because it tends to deal with all of those issues really well. Or maybe I’m just blinded by the beauty that is an interracial lesbian couple on TV. But actually, I love that no matter what drama the teenagers in the show get into, they’re coming home to really supportive and loving parents. However, the real reason I love this show is the youngest cast member, Jude. I have to admit that I’m not fully caught up, but I know that as the season was ending he was starting to see that he had a crush on a boy in his class. This is actually so important—to see a middle-school aged boy on TV come to terms with his sexuality without having to fit into the angsty after-school-special trope of having to come out to his religious parents. Also there was a scene near the beginning of the first season where Jude compliments Mariana on her fingernail polish, and she does his, and of course he gets picked on for it, and Stef and Lena just handle it all so well! It gave me a lot of feelings.

3. The Mindy Project. I know this one can be a little complicated, but I need to give it a shout out for starting to take up the massive 30 Rock sized hole left in my heart. Mindy Kahling is hilariously talented and is making her way in the severely white male dominated space that is comedy. I love that she writes her own show and stars in it, and sets a really body-positive example. It may not be a feminist wonderland at all times, but I think it’s really important to have a woman of color at the front of a show like this.

4. Bob’s Burgers. I have to admit that this is my guilty pleasure show, but I’m starting to see a lot of feminist undertones. It’s also the only adult cartoon that makes me laugh instead of want to vomit. All three women in the family are downright hilarious; Linda acts and looks like a real mother, Louise is always the one with the crazy plan, and Tina, who was originally a gawky teenage boy, was changed to a female character without removing any of her awkwardness. Tina is the unsung feminist hero of the show. She is quiet and weird and writes “erotic friend fiction” but has a supportive family who loves her for all of it. What’s more, the TV show pushes away the common tropes of the deadbeat dad and annoying mom who are dismissive of their daughters. Everyone in the Belcher family is weird, and they all embrace it. Also Kristen Schaal as Louise is like my favorite casting decision ever.

5. Grey’s Anatomy. This show. OMG. I have a lot of feelings about this one because I marathoned it this summer and am still not quite done, but it was my little feminist surprise. There are three major things I love about it (once I got past the gory bloody stuff). The first is the relationship between Christina and Meredith. They are the real soulmates of the show, and no matter what relationships come and go, they always return to each other. I love this because it is honest, and real and is an amazing example of a female friendship that really has substance to it. The second thing I love about Grey’s Anatomy is how dedicated it is to diversity: half the cast are people of color, and they’re sympathetic and developed characters, not tokens. And finally, I love that it actually deals with some amazing feminist issues. The story arch I always return to is Miranda Bailey’s in the second and third season. Bailey has a son and faces prejudice at her job for being a mother, and is forced to learn how to balance her job and her baby. The pain she goes through serves as such an important critique on how we treat mothers in the workplace, and it makes the whole season worth it.

These shows are what I want more of. I want shows with just as many female characters as male, but who face issues that aren’t always gendered. And when they are gendered, they’re real issues, like motherhood vs. a career, or the right to choose to have an abortion. I want more TV shows where the gay characters can have their moment, but are allowed to fall out of the spotlight and act like any other couple, like Callie and Arizona on Grey’s. I want diversity to be so well done that more than half of the cast are people of color, but they are treated and developed just as fully as the white characters. I want to see interracial relationships and bisexual characters and women in nontraditional careers. I want female characters who are allowed to be sexual without being sexualized. I want the minor characters in the show to be just as diverse and break just as many stereotypes as the major characters. I want TV to start working to change culture. I want it to reflect our culture and show the flaws that are there, but not to shy away from real ways to deal with it. I want shows that I would be happy to see little girls watching, because I know they will see themselves represented in them. Clearly I want a lot of things–or maybe I just want a TV show about Miranda Bailey; that could work too.

What I learned from a pair of strappy heels (that I didn’t even buy)

by Calliope Wong

I’m Calliope, pre-med English major at the University of Connecticut Honors Program.

I’m also 5’8” and the daughter of Chinese immigrants from very different backgrounds, my mother from mainland Nanjing, my father from the once-British-colony Hong Kong. Looking at me, most people’s reaction is probably that I’m an awkward-turtle Nerd™—true!—and I make no excuses, with my professed love of videogame design and my happy squeeking every time I get into a conversation about the metaliterary criticism and cultural ramifications of ‘90s anime. I am totally that girl…that Gold-level support on your League of Legends friends list, that fan of Apoptygma Berserk that arrived to the party 10 years too late, that girl on your newsfeed, posting about transgender activism at women’s colleges.  I’m the girl to call when you need living proof you’re not too weird.

But, like anyone, I sometimes get trapped by self-doubts and internal conflicts of the Weird Meter. Like on that late-June day, with the “Hot/Scorching/YOU ARE ON FIRE BUY OUR STUFF” Sales” already going up for July 4th—that Saturday when I went clothes-shopping for school with my mom.

The day didn’t start off with me thinking I was too weird—actually, it was very pleasant at first. Although shopping with Mom has historically been an exercise in body-shaming and contorting into clothes that didn’t fit, compounded by the fact that people used to misread me as a “militantly-queer man shopping in women’s aisles” earlier on in my transition, it’s changed over time into mom-daughter bonding time. (A prayer here: I am thankful, so thankful that I no longer feel threatened whenever I go clothes shopping. And I am grateful to Mom, for enduring with me through all the public shaming unto now. Let this be every queer kid’s brave mom.)

So here we were at the end of June, frizzy-haired and stalwart 5’5.5” Chinese lady with goofy, 5’8” daughter, entering the local secondhand shop called Savers.

I made a sleepy, pawing effort to look through some Things Mom Liked–and by logically fallible extension, she thought I would. Sequined sundresses wouldn’t keep me safe from the winds howling down on the UConn campus (my school lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere); I just did not do hot pink sweaters. We settled for a few dressy button-ups and a pair of red shorts.

I didn’t really need shoes—in an indulgent and perhaps guilty step, Mom had bought me a bunch of things when we first went shopping together as mother and daughter. I had 2 pairs of decorative Converse at home! There was no need. (And I really wanted to just go home and nap!) But this particular Saturday was my mom’s day off. I couldn’t fight a woman sacrificing for me; she got her way. We went shoe browsing.

I’ve always had an issue with shoes. My feet are larger than I think they have any right to be—they remind me of the things people say about transgender women in order to invalidate our lives and identities. They remind me that, in many peoples’ minds, my body and I have no place in this world. I also want to re-iterate that I identify as a girl who sees herself as—did I say it before?—a goofy nerd.

But sitting in the women’s size 9 aisle were these perfect shoes. Blue velvet at the bottom, with teal and red straps intertwining like fighting serpents: they were Jennifer Lopez-brand stilettos with what must have been 6-inch heels. They were $10.

I wanted them very, very badly. At the same time, fear ripped at me from all directions. It felt like being dragged many backward steps into places I outgrew a long time ago.

And I began to worry in overdrive:

About how capitalism has become this necessary part of my bonding with my mother, as if the only way in which we can share quality time is through the purchase of things we like but don’t need. I don’t want to be dependent on material goods for happiness—I can be happy without so many things, and money isn’t easy to come by anyway.

About how I felt so guilty for updating my wardrobe so many times in the past few years, in an effort to close the lagging gap between who I and what I looked like, functioned like, could be in the physical world. At the quiet heart of me I’d always wanted, in a desperate kind of way, to be found attractive—or to find what “attractive” meant to me. But it was at my parents’ monetary cost.

About who I was, if I wasn’t just the nerdy girl at the bottom of the “attractive” pile. I wasn’t meant to stand out in a crowd, right? I was a plain-at-best Chinese girl, boring in body but interesting when you got to talk with me…or something. I wasn’t supposed to attract anyone’s attention—because I’m transgender, and attracting the wrong kind of people could spell social or physical violence. Right?

I didn’t really know what to think—but that I was messed up and weird for this internal conflict. I liked these pretty shoes. I was so, so stressed. This wasn’t normal, right?

But the swarming worries seemed to swallow themselves, the moment I tried on those ridiculous shoes.

I’ll admit that life had been moving pretty fast up until that Saturday, when I went clothes-shopping with Mom and ended up essentially panicking about this pair of strappy heels. From my own brand of militant-queer granny aesthetic (combat boots and brown floral-print handmedowns) during high school, complete with overgrown mullet, to half a year later with the Invisigoth girl who refused to wear anything but black turtlenecks and skinny jeans, to the current, goofy nerd who sometimes threw in colored socks with Mary Janes for fun but refused to be looked at.

It might seem like I’m some sort of image-obsessed person. But it wasn’t about aesthetics—it was never just about how I looked. I just kept on looking for ways to fit comfortably, inside my skin.

And the moment I actually tried these strappy, impractical heels, I felt… powerful.

I felt that no one could push me down from where I stood—I was owning up to my body, my sexuality, the whole of me. Rather than fearing for my safety or trying to divert attention away from myself–rather than holding the weird and loud person in, I was wearing myself in a way other people could see me. In the moment, I didn’t care that Mom was telling me to “come down from there or else I’d break my ankles.” I didn’t care that I was over six feet tall and blatantly calling attention to myself. I loved that the women trying on shoes next to me gasped a little bit at me as I stood and walked to the dressing room with my head held high.

“Those look nice on you.”

“I could never wear those like you.”

I wore those shoes with a pride in myself I had never known.

In the end, I probably spent a good twenty minutes with those J-Lo heels before I put them back down in the bargain pile. Mom was pressed on time and wanted to go to the Goodwill down the street; she asked me several times that if I really wanted them, I could get them—“just hurry up and make a decision so we can go to the next store.”

It wasn’t her rushing me, though, that made me return the heels.  I’m still not sure what it was.

But I reasoned that if I could feel that good with the shoes on, then I didn’t need them.

I told myself I was and could be hot, just the way I was.

And here I am in September, looking back at summer days. I’m trying to remember how to feel the same way.