watching ‘moxie’ as a childless, 30something queer punk elder

Also: ‘The Real World: Homecoming,’ Kelly Marie Tran, real-life ‘Candyman,’ St. Vincent, #SuperStraight, fighting anti-AAPI hate

Queering the Burbs is a weekly-ish distillation of pop culture, politics and queerness. If you like what you see, please consider subscribing, liking or sharing this essay.

Have I ever mentioned in this space that I’m a through-and-through sucker for the coming-of-age genre? Well, it’s true. Maybe it’s a holdover from my high school days when I was racing to the video rental store to check out every coming-out film (But I’m a Cheerleader, Beautiful Thing, Latter Days, etc. etc. etc.) I could get my baby gay hands on, but almost 20 years later I still find myself being drawn to the genre.

Something’s different these days, though: Now I find myself relating more to the parents than the teen protagonists despite the fact that I have no children, nor any plans to have children in the future. In the pop culture depictions of cool moms and uptight dads, I catch glimpses of an alternative timeline where my life might have taken a more traditional turn, where I’d be legally responsible for the life trajectory of a mini version of me. It makes me nostalgic for a life I’ve never had and never will have. And it also makes me feel more than a little bit old.

These were some of the thoughts passing through my mind as I watched Amy Poehler’s Moxie, which just premiered on Netflix last week. The film, an adaptation of a YA novel, follows the experience of 16-year-old Vivian (Hadley Robinson) as she draws inspiration from her mother Lisa (Poehler)’s past as a riot grrrl activist to address the toxic masculinity playing out at her own high school.

The film isn’t perfect — plenty of reviews like Polygon’s rightfully point out that its narrative mostly gives its white, straight, able-bodied, cisgender main character a pass when it comes to examining her own privilege and being held accountable for her own behavior. But seeing Poehler return to her “cool mom” form by passing on her pin-covered leather jacket, Bikini Kill mixtapes and hand-designed zines to her teen daughter still resonated deeply with me. 

As I watched, I thought of my friends whose journeys do include parenthood. Specifically I thought of Rachel, whose oldest has taken her own interest in social activism and who I passed a couple of my own, old studded punk jackets and vests along to recently. I had to wonder if her daughter has listened to the track “Rebel Girl” yet, and if so, how that searing 1992 feminist anthem would sound to a budding Gen Z activist today. I had to wonder what this generation’s “Rebel Girl” will sound like, and what activism it will inspire.

The film also brought me back to the spring of 2019, when I walked over to Batavia’s own Kiss the Sky where a high school punk band was playing an afternoon gig. There, in front of a mixed crowd of their classmates, parents and a handful of other community oddballs like myself, The Disaffections raced through an hour-long set of loud, unapologetic songs including “Block the Doors,” a response to the surge of gun violence playing out in schools across the nation. Just the year before, students at Batavia High School took part in a nationwide walkout in response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. 

The movie also made me think of the work of Isabella Irish, the BHS senior who, last summer, was instrumental in organizing the town’s own racial justice demonstration in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Without the nudge from Irish over social media, I’m not sure if Batavia would have had a demonstration last summer. There were many powerful forces in town last summer that clearly would have preferred for no demonstration to take place, but Irish refused to back down even as she faced a bevy of threats and harassment. 

Had I been in her position last summer, I’m not sure I would have been able to press on. Growing up in a sheltered, rural, conservative environment, my introduction to activism didn’t come until I left home and went to college. My town, to my knowledge, didn’t have a record store hosting kids’ punk shows or any visibly queer elders to look up to. My exposure to counter culture came only via whatever movies I was renting from the video store or what I was googling on the home PC before carefully erasing my browser history. I was uneducated, sheltered and surrounded in a bubble of comfort and compulsory compliance.

But this next generation is different. They are confident, informed and unbothered. They know how to build a movement with a hashtag and how to harness TikTok to uplift the marginalized and decentered. Their revolution will likely sound, look and feel very different than that of my own generation or the generation before. And it should. Even without kids of my own, as a “mom’s friend,” guncle and queer elder, I hope to be in community with these kids to help support and amplify their push for a better community and world. (And I’m always happy to throw together a riot grrrl 101 Spotify mix if you’re curious, ya youths.) 

***

Read: Ahead of her star turn as the voice of warrior princess in Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+, Kelly Marie Tran was featured on the (stunning!!!) cover of The Hollywood Reporter last week. In the accompanying profile, Tran discusses the brutal racist and sexist attacks she faced in response to her appearance as the first woman of color to be featured in a lead role of a Star Wars film. From the experience, Tran says she learned that:

“If someone doesn't understand me or my experience, it shouldn't be my place to have to internalize their misogyny or racism or all of the above. Maybe they just don't have the imagination to understand that there are different types of people living in the world.”

Speaking of anti-Asian racism, you might be aware that Asian Americans are currently experiencing a surge in racist and xenophobic violence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. PBS NewsHour outlines what has been happening in some detail here. Stop AAPI Hate is a registered nonprofit organization that is working to track and respond to this violence, and it has compiled a list of ways you can help address the problem. 

Listen: Singer-songwriter Annie Clark (better known as St. Vincent) just dropped the first single off Daddy’s Home, her forthcoming seventh album, and it’s a kicker. “Pay Your Way In Pain” is described as “Clark’s blues song for 2021” in The Guardian. And other songs reportedly draw inspiration from some of Clark’s “heroes” like Nina Simone, Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell. A 20-song Spotify mix of album influences that Clark compiled, indeed, includes tracks from two of those three names, plus The Pointer Sisters, David Bowie, Marianne Faithfull and others. The album is out May 14 and that date can’t come soon enough. 

Watch: Two of my favorite things I watched this past week couldn’t be more different. First, there is the NYC renter, Samantha Hartsoe, who shared one of the most terrifying TikTok videos I’ve ever seen: While investigating a draft in her bathroom, she discovered that once she lifted her bathroom mirror off its hanger, it revealed a hole in the wall leading to an entirely different, abandoned and unlocked apartment.

You’ll want to watch all four parts of this journey (and then read the Chicago Reader’s 1987 reporting on the real-life violence in the Cabrini-Green housing project that later inspired the incredible 1992 horror movie Candyman, which Hartsoe clearly never saw before she made the decision to climb through her apartment wall).

On the other end of the spectrum, the full seven-stranger cast of the original, 1992 season of The Real World has reunited for a new series, The Real World Homecoming: New York, on Paramount+. The full first episode is now available for free on YouTube and I have to admit it’s incredibly moving seeing this group of people be thrown in an apartment together almost 30 years later. Over FaceTime, they meet each others’ children; over pizza, they catch up on where the time went, which dreams went unfulfilled and which twists turned and turns twisted. (Maybe this is worth signing up for yet another streaming service after all…)

Give: The hashtag #SuperStraight is trending on Twitter, and the meaning behind it is pretty gross and simple: According to TikTok user @kyleroyce, it means that you would publicly identify as refusing to ever date a transgender person. TikTok has removed the original video and banned the user, but this is still wildly transphobic, offensive and spreading (even as trans and allied social media users are co-opting the hashtag to spread pro-trans messages).

If you’d like to help offset the stupid, go ahead and take over that hashtag. Alternatively, here are a few orgs that are providing resources and opportunities for trans people to read up on, follow and (if you have the means) donate to:

Share