Latest Entries »

My grandfather told my mother we were Jewish on his deathbed.

That was the observation I fixated on as I watched Dekalog: Eight. My maternal grandfather’s family name is Swartz. “Swartz” was the Anglicization of the very German and very Jewish “Schwarz”, and it was the name that my forebears were given when they immigrated to America in the early 20th century. My narrow line of the Swartz tree settled in West Virginia, and at some point between the 1910s and the 2000s, our Jewish identity had become such a point of shame and was covered in such secrecy that my mother — a devout Evangelical Christian — was in her 40s before she found out she was Ashkenazim.

I don’t know if my initial German Jewish ancestors came to America out of fears of the rising antisemitism in Germany or because of imagined economic opportunities or both, but they wound up in the heart of Scotch-Irish Appalachia, and either by choice or necessity (or both), their Jewish heritage disappeared and was eventually colonized by Protestantism, 20th century capitalism and militant American imperialism (many of the men in my mother’s family being proud participators  in the latter).

American antisemitism and white supremacist cultural hegemony devoured millennia of tradition from my family’s identity until they co-opted the identity of their oppressors to survive and eventually later generations had no idea what had been given up.

That fate — to be devoured entirely by another culture until you are thoroughly digested and incorporated into its systems — marked my family as one of the more fortunate group of Jews of the 20th century. At least for the line that had come to America, they were safe from the horrors of the Shoah.

Dekalog: Eight is Krzysztof Kieslowski’s parable of the necessary push and pull of deontology and utilitarianism in the face of the extinguishing evil of the Holocaust. Zofia (Maria Koscialkowska) is an elderly ethics professor in Warsaw. During the war, Zofia and her husband helped to smuggle Jewish children into Catholic homes. However, of the many children they were unable to save during the war, one stood out because they had been so close to saving her as well. Zofia and her late husband, a resistance fighter, were helping with paperwork for fake baptisms for Jewish children. There were rumors that the family the little girl, Elzbieta, was being sent to was actually Gestapo agents, and so Zofia claimed that she and her husband couldn’t lie about the girl’s faith because of their own Catholic beliefs, and Elzbieta and the adult helping to smuggle her had to leave and try to find someone else to take Elzbieta in.

Elzbieta was hidden away with a family of farmers and survived the war. The reports about the family that had wished to take her in were false but the resistance had already harassed them before their innocence was discovered. Elzbieta left for America and learned of all of the good Zofia had done for other Jewish children during the war. But she hadn’t been able to save her. Elzbieta only knew that for some reason she wasn’t worth saving. She didn’t know the rumors about the secret police (or that they weren’t true to begin with) until she finally confronted Zofia who had no reason to believe that little girl from the war had survived the Holocaust. She was just a little girl that didn’t want to die and the adults who were supposed to protect her turned her away.

If you wanted to be reductive, you could look at Dekalog: Eight as a maximally horrific embodiment of the trolley problem, but Kieslowski is not the filmmaker for those searching for neat moral decrees. Zofia has come to terms with the decision she made. She knowingly chose to keep saving other children even if it meant almost certain death for this one girl. The truth of that choice — the girl’s death and the death of millions of girls like her — weighed on Zofia her entire life.

Zofia became an ethics professor. She dedicated her life to teaching young adults about the necessity of moral thinking and personal responsibility. Her resemblance to Hannah Arendt would be uncanny if it weren’t for the fact that Arendt was a German Jew who escaped Europe through France as a child instead of a younger woman saving Polish Jewish children in Warsaw. What was the ultimate point of Arendt’s work if it wasn’t to instill in her readers a concern that the power structures of modernity (which to Arendt was 1950s/60s capitalism/Soviet Communism) were robbing the individual of any agency to resist injustice because it removed the need a person would have to even ponder if these injustices exist or if they are complicit in these injustices.Those questions are the foundations of ethical philosophy and you’re lucky to have ever had a formal class in it, even if you have a bachelor’s degree (and I haven’t and I do).

Capitalism discourages the necessity for any moral thinking outside of the accumulation of capital, and Stalinism discouraged the necessity for any moral thinking outside of the narrow-frame of Marxism-Leninism (and I say this as a Marxist-Leninist). Arendt had seen fascism nearly destroy the world, and she saw both political hegemons of the mid-20th century fostering populations that thought about the state and power in the cold, cruel ways that had driven fascism. I’m a socialist. I would never compare the Soviet Union to fascism (or to capitalist empire). However, Arendt believed in a philosophy that centered the self and holding the self accountable for your actions and holding your self accountable for your moral philosophy and holding your self accountable for cultivating a moral philosophy that the bureaucratic inhumanity of both the birth of finance capitalism and also Stalinist socialism actively repressed.

Elzbieta confronts Zofia because she believes Zofia has answers.

Zofia has reasons. She has explanations. But she knows and owns the fate she thought she had consigned Elzbieta to and has to live the horror and guilt of that choice all over again when Elzbieta resurfaces in her classroom even as she knows this means Elzbieta lived. Zofia knows nothing can justify what she did. It was a choice and one she had to live with and carry til she was an old woman, who tries to keep in shape but is getting to be so old, willpower isn’t going to keep her going. Elzbieta, the lost little girl of Zofia’s memory, has turned into an ambitious, resilient woman and it was able to occur despite the choices Zofia had to make, not because of them.

At a summer camp I went to in high school, I got to listen to a talk given by a woman, Nesse Godin, who had survived the Holocaust and internment in a death camp. She had dedicated her life to making sure no one ever forgot how real and recent its horrors were. I didn’t know I was Jewish when I saw Nesse talk. That revelation was a couple years down the road. But I had remembered so acutely watching Schindler’s List in high school the semester before the camp and the kids laughing at inappropriate moments in the film and realizing that what they were watching just wasn’t real for them or if it was real, they found it comical. Any time someone asked “how could this happen” in class, I knew what one of those root symptoms looked like. People dissasociating to a place of comfort in the face of injustice and suffering because they had a way to other those suffering. And here was Nesse Godin, a woman who knew she couldn’t sleep at night unless she was doing everything she possibly could to ensuring another Shoah never occurred.

I tend to piss off other Jews because I don’t feel comfortable talking about my heritage without addressing that I’m a Jew who actively denounces the state of Israel. One of my closet friends (as well as a former romantic partner) stopped speaking to me because I criticized Gal Gadot’s support of the Israeli military (and her own unapologetic service in that military). It did not help that I said that supporting Israel was equivalent to supporting South African apartheid and that I support a single Palestinian state. An intense and meaningful (and complicated) friendship ended because I said Zionism was imperialism. I was told I was an anti-semite and I haven’t heard from this person since. They aren’t the first Jew (or Christian) that has stopped speaking to me because I think Israel should be held accountable for the suffering and oppression it has wrought.

And when I think about the Holocaust and all of its evils, all I can think about anymore is how the people who should know better than almost anyone what the price of colonialism and racial and religious violence is are the people who are inflicting some of the most cruel injustices of the contemporary world. I think about how a history of western imperialism, capitalist exploitation, and historical Zionism “solved” European and American anti-semitism by committing to the genocide and subjugation of the Palestinian people.

If you’re Jewish and you’re okay with the state of Israel, you’re a bigot. If you’re Israeli, you’re an occupier. If you’re a Gentile American, you’re a collaborator with apartheid. In Dekalog: Eight, Elzbieta’s outburst in Zofia’s classroom is caused when Elzbieta gives a lesson that places the welfare of a child above the concerns of any adult. Elzbieta knows when Zofia sacrificed the welfare of a child and wanted to know why she was the child that had to suffer?

Zofia could at least provide an answer to that question even if couldn’t assauge Zofia’s guilt or Elzbieta’s existential rejection as a child. There is no answer that explains the suffering of the Palestinian people. Why Palestinian children are the ones that have to live without their homeland and without autonomy or rights or welfare. There is no answer that explains the cruelty of the Israeli state, the apathy of its occupying citizens, and the convenient blindness of so many Jews across the world.

You can not choose an innocent’s suffering as an antidote to your own. And you have to hold folks accountable that support and embody that violence. If you don’t, you are a collaborator.


I was on the edge of oblivion the first weekend I saw Jason Isbell perform.

The 400 Unit was playing at Bonnaroo 2016, and I was barely a month removed from quitting my job as the Managing Editor of Baeble Music in New York City. I had moved back home to West Virginia to finish college (and because I couldn’t afford to live in Brooklyn anymore without my salaried job), and Bonnaroo was the final obligation I had to Baeble. It was the epilogue to my career as a music journalist.

I spent the weekend in the most desperate drug binge of my life.

View full article »

“Too Often On My Own”

I’m going to Tina’s tomorrow night.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, but I’d be at Tina’s apartment tomorrow even if that holiday didn’t exist. Wednesday has become one of our regular date nights. Also Mondays… and also Fridays. We’re spending as much time together as not anymore. Tina gave me a key to their place last week. We’re both non-binary so we can’t really be lesbians, but I joked to them that we were probably U-Haul lesbians anyways. We’re trying to come up with a genderqueer version of that expression so we don’t misgender each other, but Avis Enbies doesn’t have the same ring to it.

View full article »

“Potage:” Bambi’s Mom

“Potage” begins with Abigail Hobbs killing a deer.

Abigail’s father — Garret Jacob Hobbs, trophy hunter and infamous serial killer — has taken his teenage daughter hunting for the first time. Abigail bags her prey, and when she and her father take the deer back to her father’s cabin to be cleaned, Abigail is already regretting her actions. She discusses the emotional complexity and intelligence of deer with her father. She compares their capacity for personality to that of a four year old and appreciates the tender care they show for their environments.

Garret Jacob Hobbs, the Minnesota Shrike, proclaims his almost religious reverence for the sentience of these animals he hunts. He rationalizes their slaughter by telling Abigail that the ways they will use these animals in death honors their “sacrifice.” They will eat the meat. They will turn the bones into knives. The pelts can be used for clothes and pillows. Garret Jacob Hobbs knows that these beings have feelings, that they have an element of self-awareness, and that they can feel pain. He tells Abigail that hunting them would be murder if every element of the deer weren’t utilized after their deaths.

View full article »

“For Today I Am A Child”

Tina painted my nails Monday night.

I came out as nonbinary trans a year ago, and I talk about my “transition” a lot. However, in almost all of the ways that matter, that transition was internal. I had to unlearn (and am still unlearning) so many misogynistic and transmisogynistic and otherwise transphobic beliefs. I had to find (and am still finding) a livable praxis for a total re-orientation of my political beliefs that included intersectional trans representation. I had to figure out who I was in almost every facet of my life after realizing that if there was one thing I wasn’t, it was a man.

View full article »


“Amuse-Bouche” features one of Hannibal‘s less memorable one-shot villains while also crafting one of the series’ most concise arguments for its own existence.

Eldon Stammets is a pharmacist with a penchant for inducing diabetic comas in his customers/victims. Stammets uses his victims’ still living bodies as fertilizer for a mushroom garden, deep in a Maryland forest. Like the Minnesota Shrike, Eldon sees a grand design in his crimes.

View full article »

What Remains of Lewis Finch

Of the many broken lives and abandoned rooms in What Remains of Edith Finch, the loss that haunted me the most was Lewis Finch.

The Finch family believed it was cursed. It wasn’t an entirely irrational belief. From the moment the Finch family crashed against America’s shores, Finches died young. Babies drowned in tubs. Children went missing. Parents were pushed from cliffs. Child stars were murdered as teenagers. Death was around every corner of the towering and haphazard Finch home and the island where the Finches lived.

View full article »


“This is my design.”

Will Graham is overwhelmed by intention. In Hannibal‘s pilot, Will tells his boss, Jack Crawford, that evidence can explain Will’s capacity to solve crimes and catch criminals. Evidence can explain Will’s inductive observations. Will doesn’t have magic powers. He isn’t seeing into the past when he reconstructs a crime scene. However, Will is not Gil Grissom. He is not a forensic crime scene investigator. Will uses the carnage of brutal crimes as a canvas for exploring purpose and intent. The crimes he investigates were committed by someone who made a choice; Will’s gift is opening himself up to the feelings that allow someone to make those choices.

Of course, Hannibal would be a lesser show if Will’s talents were so simple. One of the most horrifying symptoms of the identity disorder that haunts Will and makes him such a potent profiler is the way in which the lines between Will and the murderers whose psyches he inhabits can fade away.

View full article »

Letters and Long Car Rides

It was around this time last year that I came out to my parents.

It hasn’t quite been a full year. I sent my parents my sprawling coming out letter closer to Inauguration Day. I had an essay scheduled to run at Vice about resistance. I didn’t know how to write about resistance without discussing what Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s election meant to me as a queer and trans person. I couldn’t have that discussion if I didn’t make it clear that I was queer and trans.

So, I finally came out.

View full article »

“Tramps Like Us”

I spent my Christmas binging Lost.

I thought I had lost my capacity to binge. I’m lucky when I can give my full attention to a single episode of television, let alone three or four in one sitting. I can’t keep it together that long for anything except my day job, and it’s a minor miracle that I can handle its endless and traumatic emotional labor.

Yet, somehow, I’m a month and a half into the first sustained period in which I’ve felt functional as a writer in six months and the first sustained period ever that I’ve felt comfortable talking honestly about trans stuff and depression stuff (and how addiction stuff intersects with the trans stuff and the depression stuff), and I’ve decided to spend Christmas and Christmas Eve binge-watching the first season of Lost. I can’t tell if the mere fact that I’m capable of watching this much television in such a short time-frame means that I’m getting better or regressing. My decision to return to Lost only muddles the matter further.

View full article »