A Finale, But Not the Final Word

As an avid viewer of Sense8, my excitement for the finale kept me up last night until I realized I had to work in the morning. So, I was forced to wait until this evening to watch the conclusion of the psychedelic, confusing, groundbreaking, condensed final chapter of the beloved Netflix original series. It’s probably a good thing I waited though considering the amount of screaming and clapping I did while watching…

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SO, obviously, if you haven’t had a chance to watch the finale yet and you plan to, be warned that there are spoilers ahead!

First things first: I’m upset the finale had to be pared down to a 151 minute feature-length film style piece. One of the best things about the series is the carefully constructed plots in the short term episodes and their eventual piecing together to create a seasonal story arc. While attention was still given in this manner, the shorter story arcs were forced to develop and resolve themselves in a much more condensed time frame. I’m certain many avenues would have been developed over the standard hour long episodes if that were an option.

gimme more

That being said, “Amor Vincit Omnia” managed to include the staples of the first 2 seasons: Sun’s daybreak tai chi sessions on the roof, flashbacks through the cluster’s pasts, international jumps, and the manifestation of remarkable shared skills and the accompanying body swapping. Oh, and how could I forget the ORGY???? Girl, buckle up, the finale sexy-time scene rivals season one’s “Demons.” And by rivals, I mean takes to a whole new level of taking standard Hollywood taboos and doing literally the opposite. It is. SO. GOOD.

More in the realm of what watchers expect to see: BPO attacks, double crossing, rooftop chases, plots and counter plots, and random video game style new skill acquisition. That sounds bad, like all they did was reuse old scenes from the past seasons (coughStarWarscough), but Lana Wachowski and her co-writers kept the action fresh and the characters grew throughout the….episode? Still not sure what to call it besides finale.

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The queer-friendly scenes and boundary pushing logic (for standard Hollywood at least) did not disappoint either. That’s really what Sense8 is all about, how people relate to each other. And relationships abound in the latest installment; heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and polyamorous partners all make an appearance within the cluster. Some of them we already know, like Hernando and Lito or Amanita and Nomi, but others are new, like the (not-so) surprise twist in Kala’s love interests Wolfgang and Rajan. It’s so important to see non-heterosexual couples represented in mainstream media, and trans people too!

To the Sense8 team’s credit, they represent the queer community in a way that doesn’t add to the litany of ‘inclusive’ pieces that use the bury your gays trope over and over again. Remember the episode in season two, where Lito comes out in a big way at Sao Paulo Pride? Between the near death experiences with BPO, the show continues to impress with conversations like the ones in that episode among the cluster and their friends and family. They focus on accepting yourself as you are, and not being ashamed of what you want. Sense8’s quiet acceptance and inclusion of ‘alternative lifestyles’ juxtaposed to and folded into its radical (sexual) scenes is a step in the right direction and a model that other mainstream media outlets would do well to follow.

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The aural, visual and thematic plaudits given to the first two seasons of Sense8 remain applicable to the finale, perhaps even more so due to the shortened length. Best of all, “Amor Vincit Omnia” was released in Pride month and celebrates what it is all about: Love.

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Supporting Actors

9 p.m. August 2015, Omaha, Nebraska, the Old Market. I was home for the summer, out with old friends catching up on college adventures. They offered to walk me to my car, I said it was only two blocks away. They got in their car and drove away. I started walking while I dug in my purse for my keys. He came up behind me and pinned me to a wall. The streetlights weren’t on yet. I thought he wanted my wallet. Told him to take it out of my purse, whatever he wanted. I felt him pull his zipper down, panicked. I used my nails to tear at exposed skin. He collapsed. I ran.

I was 19 years old.

Women younger than me have recently come forward and shared their stories. They and all the women who have made allegations against powerful public figures recently have started conversations between people who have experienced sexual assault and the rest of the country. Questions raised because of these conversations deal with who should lead the narrative, and which voices on the topic should be the loudest. If the people involved strive to change the culture and right the wrongs done, supporters need to let survivors take leading roles in this publicly staged discussion.

Don’t mistake this rhetoric for denying anyone their voice. Without the support of white men, who generally have little direct experience with sexual assault, there would likely be nothing done. This is the sad reality of U.S. culture. But the problem lies in men or other unaffected people trying to dictate the narrative of conversations without the proper context to do so. They are defining their roles as leading ones, when they should playing supporting parts.

The most logical parallel to be drawn here leads to allies in the LGBT+ community. Their role is to support friends, family and others that identify as anything other than cisgender heterosexual. They do this by defending the community when they aren’t there, and taking responsibility for educating friends while listening and staying in the back seat while queer people lead the conversation.

If this mindset and role can be accepted by sexual assault survivor allies, more productive conversations could happen and eventually lead to more action. Instead of always starting with the “I believe the women” narrative, the conversation could start with what action could be taken to prevent further harm, emotionally and physically. This is the biggest flaw with unaffected people trying to lead the conversations about sexual assault. Though their hearts are clearly in the right place, there is no possible way for people who have not experienced the trauma of sexual assault to understand what exactly needs to be rectified.

If you find yourself arguing with this idea, or even saying, “Wait a minute, don’t I get a say?” consider this: You don’t. Your voice is important in the fight against sexual assault; you are a part of the group that sees this as a problem. But what can you claim that justifies your demands to be included in writing the framework for laws and workplace policies? Do you have a frame of reference for how it feels to jump through hoops to retrieve your dignity? Unless you’ve experienced sexual assault, odds are you don’t. So, even with the best intentions, things will be overlooked or made unnecessarily traumatizing for survivors if left in the hands of people with no comprehension of the issue.

Acknowledging the need to take a supporting role is especially important for men in positions of power. Only 104 members of the 2017 Congress are women, about 20 percent of the 535-member legislative body. Meanwhile, over 50 percent of the U.S. population is female. With these numbers, support from more than only those affected, or even just women, is necessary to effectively change legislation against sexual assault.

However, men do not need to be the ones drafting the legislation presented to Congress. Four female senators spoke out publicly on Meet the Press to share their own #MeToo stories. These women, and any other female member of Congress, would be perfectly capable of developing these bills.

This week the Senate is wrestling similar questions as, among others, Senator Al Franken faces sexual assault charges. What makes Franken’s case particularly poignant is his sponsorship of a bill designed to help sexual assault survivors. Though not every man in Congress is a perpetrator of sexual assault, Franken’s case highlights the need for survivors to take the lead in writing and sponsoring legislation. Thankfully, Senator Amy Klobuchar has stepped up to sponsor the bill formerly adopted by Franken.

Though forced by external events, this is an example of meaningful change in the approach legislators take to conversations about sexual assault. Hopefully the recent influx of allegations will have one good side effect: male legislators recognizing a need to step back and let others lead on this topic.

Since Franken is far from alone on the stage of men in power accused of sexual assault, advocating for change in how we talk about assault and survivors is more important than ever. This is a multi-industry problem, and in the wake of so many allegations against powerful men, people are more willing to listen than before. This bully pulpit of sorts ought to be used to amplify the calls for change in culture, and in conversation.

With the ingrained fear of reprisal slowly draining away, more women feel safe enough to name their attackers. They are also taking a stronger stand against the systematic silencing of assault survivors. What makes changing the conversation difficult is where the support for speaking out ends. Most of the time, supporters applaud a woman sharing her story of survival, but as soon as she finishes telling her story the attitude turns to, “I’ll take it from here, honey.” This becomes the verbal equivalent of putting a hand over the survivor’s mouth mid-sentence.

From Hollywood to Congress, no one can argue that sexual assault is not a problem in the US. This issue will take years to address. The approach to conversations surrounding assault are a contributing factor, and changing this is a stride towards fixing the problem. If people can swallow their pride enough to let those affected most take the lead on conversations and action surrounding sexual assault, at least part of the broken system will be improved.

Being Queer at Thanksgiving

We always go to my uncle’s house for Thanksgiving. My mom is one of the middle children in a group of eight, and he has a large house. It just makes sense. This year was a new experience for me though, considering I only recently came out to my parents and a few of my trusted aunts.

I didn’t know what to expect. My mom made it quite clear she doesn’t understand my “choice” to be queer, and that she didn’t support it. I actually wrestled with the idea of not going back to Omaha at all. Eventually I decided to drive the three hours on Thursday, and come back Friday morning. It ended up being relatively uneventful, but the awkwardness and discomfort still make me squirm three days later.

Though it’s profoundly more acceptable to be queer in 2017 than it was even a decade ago, my family is a little slow to catch up. With strong Catholic roots, and a politically and morally conservative mindset, I was prepared for my mother to be a bit thrown by my coming out. I wasn’t prepared for her to say, “I feel like there are things I can’t talk to you about anymore,” and “I feel like you aren’t who I raised you to be. You don’t hold any of my values.” I realized later, when I had stopped shock-crying, my mom had a very specific path she wanted me to take, and had no idea why I would choose anything else.

When I asked her to give me the space I needed to find myself and figure out my own way, she didn’t understand. When I came out to my aunt while explaining the whole situation, she clued me in. My mom never had a self-discovery period. She decided what she wanted to think, what she wanted to be, and how she wanted her life to be and never wavered. In some ways, I envy her for that. But mostly, I pity her closed minded approach to life and inability to appreciate things that don’t align with her narrow world view.

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A couple members of the Augie family thanksgiving.

So, with this in mind, Thanksgiving was hard for me. Most of the family doesn’t know I’m queer. My mother doesn’t accept that I am. The support I have can’t be used because I’m not ready to deal with the disapproval of the majority I’d face at the dinner table. I spent the night talking about anything but politics and avoiding confrontation. I knew any memories the people there had of me would instantly change should they discover I don’t just like men.

This mindset doesn’t make sense to me, but that won’t change the minds of those who hold it. So my goal becomes establishing myself as an adult in the minds of everyone present, and doing this solidly enough that it can’t be shaken. So when I come out to all of them, they understand I know myself and simply being queer doesn’t change my competency as a journalist, or even as a person. Being animated, happy, and a “good” person are things that don’t depend on my sexual orientation. I needed them to understand that I am all these things, so when they know I’m queer, they accept me.

Can you feel the panic and stress through these words? I spent the day meant for giving thanks terrified. I needed to be accepted, to be acceptable to these people who I knew would likely not understand me. I spent the day awkwardly pretending things were fine between my mother and I, keeping up appearances. When I returned to Sioux Falls, I was exhausted. And soon, I’ll have to do it again for Christmas. I’m still debating how long to spend in a place I’m not sure I can call home.