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Discover Your City

By Terri Schlichenmeyer, April 2020 Issue.

It’s worth a try.

Under the Rainbow by Celia Laskey
c.2020, Riverhead Books $27.00 / higher in Canada 288 pages

You never know what’s going to happen when

a new endeavor begins. You only know what it’ll cost: time, money, effort, and

a lot of patience for a great unknown. This experiment could end well, or it

could end very badly but either way, as in the new novel Under the

Rainbow by Celia Laskey, it’s worth a try.

It was a scientific fact: Big Burr, Kansas,

was the most homophobic place in the U.S.

That was the determination made by

Acceptance Across America, an LGBTQ nonprofit that needed to know before

launching its grand experiment. For two years, AAA hoped to keep a task force

in Big Burr to live, work, integrate, and to see if it was possible to change

bigots into open-minded, rational people.

Much to her dismay, that’s why Avery was

taken from her very happy California home: one of her moms volunteered to head

the Acceptance Across America experiment. Karen was a lesbian and a feminist.

Avery was straight and she hoped that nobody in her new high school would ever

think otherwise. It was bad enough that Billy Cunningham’s hate-fueled gang

found out who her mother was.

Celia Laskey; photo by Leonora Anzaldua.

Bible-quoting, mom-blogging Christine

Petersen tried to have Acceptance Across America’s billboard removed from

downtown and when that didn’t happen, she took matters into her own hands.

Pastor Jim preached against homosexuality; the police ignored hate crimes; and

Arturo, having recently moved to Big Burr from New Mexico because of health

issues, struggled to accept his son’s husband.

But things weren’t all bad in Big Burr.

Linda, who recently lost her son in an accident, was delighted to find friends

who didn’t treat her like broken china. Lizzie finally seized the happiness

she’d been putting off. Elsie, who hadn’t seen her children in years, found

Harley, who was a good substitute and a good friend. And Gabe Cunningham

learned that the newcomers to Big Burr would open more than just a few minds.

Here’s a bit of advice: just before you

start reading Under the Rainbow, take a deep breath. It may be the last

one you get until you’re finished.

That’s because author Celia Laskey will

knock the wind out of you with the pearl-clutching folks in the fictitious town

of Big Burr, the authenticity of their thoughts and actions, and the real-life

things they do to deny this (almost implausible) social experiment. Better yet,

the haters are only half the story. Laskey’s tale is also told through a series

of first-person points-of-view of some of the activists who serve as glue to

hold everything together.

This all

amounts to a bunch of concentric circles that are tangled like a cheap necklace

in a small box. Everybody’s tale is tied to half the town through barely-kept

confidences and they all know it — although, like any good novel, secrets

ultimately become not-so-secret.

For lovers of novels with bite, just the

first page is this book will snare you and keep you rapt. Absolutely, Under

the Rainbow is worth a try.

Words can never

hurt you.

What’s Your Pronoun? Beyond He & She by Dennis Baron (He/Him/His)
c.2020, Liveright $25.95 / $34.95 Canada 304  pages

Even as a child, that last half of

the retort to playground taunts never made sense to you. Of course, sticks and stones broke bones but even then, you

knew that there’s no sharper weapon than a word said in anger or

misunderstanding. In the new book What’s Your Pronoun? by Dennis

Baron, you’ll see that some of those weapons go way back.

Language is a

funny thing. Words hurt, they sooth, and in today’s world, a “pronoun

without sex is ... sexy.” We ask ourselves, and others,

which ones to use as “an invitation to declare, to honor, or to

reject, not just a pronoun, but a gender identity.”

Dennis Baron; photo by Iryce Baron.

Generally, though, and until

relatively recently, “he” was the default pronoun used by many to

indicate both masculine and undeclared gender. As far back as

1792, neutral “he” was thought to be confusing, however;

one writer even suggested that “one” might work better than “he” to indicate

gender neutral.

“They” was brought up for

consideration in 1794.

A century

later, and with mostly men controlling law and business, “he” was firmly the

pronoun of choice, and it had become politicized; when women protested

that “he” clearly didn’t include them, lawmakers stated that

“he” also implied “she.” Women countered that if “he” could hold office, then

it was implied that “she” could, too, and, well, you can imagine the

arguments — not to mention the injustice of three masculine

pronouns (he, his, him) but just two for the

feminine (she, her). Oh, the scandal of it all!

Through the decades, other words have

been suggested (zie, hir, thon) to indicate gender neutral or unknown

but none have seemed to stick. Many felt that there simply was

no good way to signify neither male or female, or a

separation of gender-neutral and nonbinary, and some bemoaned the

lack of a “missing word” that was easily understandable. Says

Baron, though, in sifting through the possibilities, we’ve had the

word all along.

Sometimes, as

author Dennis Baron points out in his introduction,

people today offer their preferred pronoun without being asked, so

ubiquitous is the question. Still, we sometimes struggle with the right

word, but in What’s Your Pronoun? he offers a solution of which readers

may be skeptical.

First, though,

it’s true that this etymological history is a good read, especially for

word nerds. It’s not college-lecture level; Baron writes with a lighter hand

and doesn’t preach, and the occasional threads that spring from the stories

here are explored appropriately and in an inviting way that displays no

drudgery. It’s like sitting down at a workshop you’ve eagerly anticipated and

being more delighted than you hoped you’d be.


yet, there is such a thing as information overload, and the obvious

solution isn’t so obvious. Proof is at the end of the book, in which

we see more than two centuries of verbal wrangling.

So: em,

thon, zier, they? We haven’t heard the end of it, but maybe we’re close;

certainly, reading What’s Your Pronoun? couldn’t hurt.

Some people collect


Name Drop: The Really Good Celebrity Stories I Usually Only Tell at Happy Hour by Ross Mathews
c.2020, Atria Books $26.00 / $29.99 Canada 225 pages

Others collect books or sweaters or Santa

statues or fancy cars or any one of a million things there are more than two

of. Scientists say that, as a species, we’re hard-wired to do

it, even if you just collect friends. And in Name Drop

by Ross Mathews, some of them might even be famous.

From the time he was a little boy growing up

in a farm community in Washington state, Mathews wanted to have friends

that were celebrities. He imagined what it would be like to hang out with

them and gossip … and then it actually happened.

Now, he says he hates when people “name

drop,” but “honey,” he has stories.

His celebrity circle started when he

was an intern on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, which sent

him to report on the Olympics three times, which led him to start a blog,

and that’s how he became BFFs with Rosie O’Donnell. They’ve been fast

friends ever since, though it was she who “made” him “sleep with a


He worked with

Chelsea Handler on Chelsea Lately and because of where the show was

filmed, he met and became friends with the Kardashians, who were filming their

reality show in the same building. The Chelsea gig also gave Mathews the

opportunity to be on the sidelines when his beloved Seahawks won  the

Super Bowl in 2013.

That was the year he also got to play

celebrity matchmaker.

He had a chance to meet two of the Spice

Girls. He got a quick-click photo op with Celine Dion. He met Omorosa and

scooped every rabid reporter on TV; he met “Liza with an OMG” and spent all

night talking with Christina Aguilera.

But “not every celebrity story is going to

end like a fairy tale where the famous person and I end up bonding,” says


Especially when it’s Barbara Walters, Faye

Dunaway, or Elizabeth Taylor.

No doubt about it, Name Drop sure is


It’s got the feel of a Friday night at your

bestie’s house, where the snacks on the kitchen counter are

bottomless and so are the skinny ‘ritas, and you scream yourself hoarse in

mock horror and real laughter at the stories you’re told. It’s

got the kind of gossip you want about the stars you love (or love to hate),

spilled with a little snark and a charming amount of awe. It’s got an

absolute (and absolutely relieving) sense

that being famous sometimes doesn’t make a person act famous

— although sometimes, it does. And it’s got

“Rossipes” (Rossipes!) you can make to go along with your reading.

Like a red-carpet walk with a broken heel, though, Name Drop sometimes limps. Author Ross Mathews is funny and punny, but not both simultaneously: alas, the puns are too much, too overwhelming, so feel free to groan and ignore them. The dishy tales you get in this book are way more fun; in fact, if you love boy-meets-girl-celebrity tales, you’ll find that “Name Drop” is a great collection.

How to talk about transgender issues

So how do we talk about transgender issues (even if you're not transgender)? There are three main things to remember when discussing transgender issues today, so before getting into the meat and potatoes of it all, let's keep these things in mind:

  1. It is not a political discussion, it is a human rights discussion.
  2. There is a rich history rooted in transgender rights that must be considered when discussing these issues.
  3. Humanization should always be at the forefront of the conversation.

Before going into any conversation, no matter who it's with, try to keep these things in mind before you say something that may be inappropriate, misguided, or just plain wrong. Even those with the best intentions can mess up; remember that it is always ok to admit when you do not know something or when you are wrong. That being said, let's get into it.

sign with a 'friendly for all genders' image showing a person in a wheelchair, and a person with half a dress and pants on.

Transgender bathroom bills


So whether you choose to become a transgender activist or if you just want to be a better ally, this easy talking point will generally keep you in line and on the safe side of conversations while still putting forth the effort to encourage and better represent transgender rights.

Easy, all-around approach: This will work for almost all transgender issues and expand on the previous three rules; firstly, trans issues are not a debate. When discussing with someone, do not indulge in hypotheticals and always remember that transgender people are the exact same as anyone else, with the exact same feelings. Keeping this in mind, let's use the bathroom bill as an example. When discussing this issue, one should humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation. How does one employ this, though? Here is an example of how the conversation may go.

Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restroom, they will rape my daughters.

So this statement is clearly based on reactionary conversation perpetuated by anti-transgender ideals. This means that the person probably has a misconception of the history and oppression of transgender people. They also show concern for their family, which is a step towards humanization, despite the misconception. Here would be an appropriate response that helps to humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation.

Person 2: I don't want men in the women's restroom, either, which is why we need to make sure people who identify as women are using the women's restroom. There has never been a documented case where a transgender person has raped either a man or woman in a public restroom. And by forcing people to use a restroom that does not match their gender identity, it is promoting violence, as there is a strong history of physical violence against transgender people.

By only saying about three sentences, you are able to do the previous steps while discussing the issue in a civil manner without opening it up to debate. The key to this is to keep it short and sweet, stating both the truth and an ally's stance to support the transgender community. It's critical to make sure that what you say is backed with confidence, though, which is why this second approach is more encouraged as it gives the person speaking more confidence in their opinion.

gif of a man in a suit talking about number 1. Number 1 GIF by PragerU Giphy

The second approach: backed by facts and history, is the exact same as before, but this approach leaves the other person with more questions about their stance and gives them something to consider. Before going into this approach, however, it is important to keep in mind that you are not debating the existence of trans people, nor are you trying to change someone's mind. That is not the goal; the goal is simply to get your opinion across in a way that honors both the trans community and their ideas. Let's take the same example as before but add the new sentiments.

Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restrooms, they will rape my daughters.

Person 2: There has never been a documented case of a transgender person raping anyone in a public restroom, and the only published cases of such were proven to be false. Further, when people say things like this, they are perpetuating violence against transgender people, which has historically (and still does) oppressed and insight further physical violence against them. And honestly, the most common reason there is this stance is because the person typically does not know a trans person and may not even know a person who does know a trans person. But the truth is, they probably do. The probability is more likely that the transgender people around them are just not comfortable enough in the environment to come out and speak up about their gender identity. And yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is quite sad that some people's opinion does not invite civil discussion but instead incites violence.

This approach is more confrontational, which requires more confidence when using it in a conversation, but it still holds true to all of the previous rules and sentiments. It adds truth based on history, which is an important aspect of trans rights as it reminds people of where we were/ where we are currently with human rights. These ideas can be transferred to most all trans issues and will honor the transgender movement and your allyship. The last thing to keep in mind is the person or reason you are standing up for/with trans rights. The passion -the compassion will shine through in conversation if you keep your reasoning close to heart. Whether it is because of a transgender friend, family member, or just because of your moral values, if you put your emotions into your reasoning, it will create more compelling statements, especially if the statement is well versed with the facts.

Tips to Remember When Discussing Transgender Issues

  1. Transgender issues are not political, they are human rights issues
  2. There is a rich history behind transgender issues
  3. Humanize transgender people through our words and ideas and don't forget to include:
    • 3(b). The facts
    • 3(c).The confidence
    • 3(d). The inspiration behind the support for transgender rights

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