The big trend in popular culture is the multiverse, as seen in films like “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” In much of these, you see the unusual interactions when radically different realities collide.
Perhaps the current popularity of this particular story trope is because, in a way, it seems as if we are in multiple realities.
On my desk as I write this is a new toy for the household feline. Shaped vaguely to resemble a bee, this catnip infused plaything is banded not in yellow and black, but in the pink, blue, and white of the pride flag.
This toy, sold with companions in lesbian flag and bi flag colors, is sold of the rack at Target stores nationwide, alongside all sorts of pride themed merchandise. Genderqueer pride flags are stocked alongside intersex socks, while even binders and packer-friendly undershorts can be snapped up at one of the nation’s largest retailers.
Likewise, at Disney, their carefully-titled Rainbow collection is renamed as the pride collection, perhaps in sort recognition of their battle against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
As an aside, I can’t help but note that Disney was initially playing coy, making donations to DeSantis and other anti-LGBTQ politicians in Florida, while providing only the weakest of responses to the bill. It has been interesting to watch the mouse try to pick a lane.
Even with the new name, this still feels cautious, attempting to show that they will be donating to LGBTQ groups as a way to, perhaps, absolve themselves of the past — but I digress.
My local city is gearing up for their big annual pride event, returning to the streets in defiance of the rise in the current coronavirus variant. People are, seemingly, tired of being cautious, and want to go out and party. I honestly do not blame them, even as I remain far more cautious about my and my partner’s health and well-being.
I want to think of this place, with its trans pride flag cat toys and massive pride events as, oh, Universe-A. It’s where we can merrily wear our blinders, forgetting if, but for a moment, that 1,000,000 people died thanks to COVID-19. It’s a place where it’s as if the Donald Trump presidency never happened, and we went straight from the declarations of “hope” of the Obama era into the Biden presidency.
Happy days are here again, and we have nothing to fear.
Yet we are also concurrently existing in Universe-B. The universe where a anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-transgender gunman went to a Buffalo, New York supermarket and killed ten people. The world where his rhetoric of the “great replacement” and “transing the youth” are shared by all too many people and, of course, all too many conservative politicians and mouthpieces.
Even with some recent victories, we are still seeing laws put in the books in many states that bar transgender people — mostly young trans kids — from participating in school sports and using the proper restroom. We’re seeing our care labeled as abuse and our medical needs turned into felonies.
We’re also seeing violent rhetoric against transgender people grow hotter and hotter, with a dozen or so known anti-transgender murders already in the United States this year. Our world, this “Universe-B,” is not a safe place.
It’s certainly not the sort of place where one expects to see catnip toys in trans flag colors at the local big box store.
I’m honestly no stranger to liminal spaces, but it feels damned strange to walk in two worlds like this. I can’t mentally shore up this dichotomy. Happy corporate gaff and big community parties in a world that makes it clearer every day that they don’t just want us quiet — they want us dead.
I don’t have a real answer to it all, either. I know that living in fear doesn’t solve anything, and we do need some joy. We surely cannot keep going without being able to celebrate ourselves. Our joy is a part of our resilience, and vital to our very existence.
I’m not saying it’s bad to see binders and trans pride cat toys at Target. Indeed, I think it says a lot about how far we have come in this capitalist hellscape we live in. Our needs and our symbols are now palatable enough in popular culture that a major company will exploit them for a dollar. It’s a victory, if a fairly odd and twisted one.
Yet at the same time, we cannot walk around with blinders, pretending that we are not living under a very dark shadow. We need space for our anger, our sorrow, and yes, our fears. We are one maladapted bigot away from another major tragedy as we step out into pride month; I don’t feel like we’ve done enough to really address that in any real way.
I want to say that, in the midst of all the anti-trans rhetoric, in the morass of bills and laws, and in this time where the specter of violence and murder is in sharper focus than ever, that maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance of a better world: the one where we can celebrate like Universe-A, but where the celebration is thanks to the end of the nightmares of this Universe-B we’re all standing in.
I want to fight for Universe-C.
Gwen Smith wants to rest under her own vine and fig tree. You’ll find her at www.gwensmith.com/.