Charlotte Clymer is a writer and LGBTQ advocate. You've probably seen her on Twitter (@cmclymer). This is the podcast version of her blog "Charlotte's Web Thoughts", which you can subscribe to here: charlotteclymer.substack.com
What You Saw Was What You Got
It is 5am on a Monday morning in Washington, D.C.
I have no shortage of work that needs to be done. I have emails to send, meetings for which to prep and schedule, calls to make, just a lot of things to do that really cannot be put off. And yet, here I am, at an ungodly hour, watching dignitaries slowly file in for the funeral of a woman I never met and who never did anything for me.
How does a kid raised in trailer parks in Central Texas come to be obsessed with the British Monarchy and admire Queen Elizabeth II?
Nowadays, TLC is a channel where you’ll find programming as illuminating and varied as “90 Day Fiancé” and “90 Day Fiancé: Pillow Talk” and “90 Day Fiancé: Just Landed” and “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days” (I’m not kidding; these are all real titles, and I’ve intentionally kept the list short).
But in the early ‘90s, it was literally known as The Learning Channel, and in the only real bonding moments I can remember having with my maternal grandmother, we would sit beside each other in her bed in my grandparents’ trailer and watch episodes of “Great Castles of Europe”, a series that ran for two seasons on the network.
The show would take viewers on tours of these castles and the royalty that lived in them and the culture and social structure of the time in which they lived.
My grandmother would smoke a cig that she had asked me to spark on the kitchen stove and have me grab her a coke and we’d sit there for half an hour marveling at the gorgeous scenery on the tube while she told me the bits and pieces she knew about the British Royals.
I was hooked. I knew what “divine right” meant long before 4th grade social studies, to say nothing of the increasing controversy surrounding Charles & Diana, earning a fluency in House of Windsor scandals, via my grandmother, that would later shock my elementary school teachers.
The typical American view in the ‘90s was this: we didn’t think much of Charles, but we loved both Diana and the Queen—for different reasons.
More on that in a second.
Some of our British friends have openly wondered why Americans are obsessed with the Windsors, especially given our supposed aversion to elitism and complicated class politics and living thousands of miles away and the not-so-small fact that our nation was borne out of rebellion against the British Crown.
Honestly, I wish it were complicated, but it’s not. The simple answer is that it’s free and glorious entertainment. It costs us nothing. Americans don’t have to pay for the show, but we still get to watch it. There’s the soap opera drama, sure, but even were it not for the salaciousness, there’s still the over-the-top pageantry.
We love a big wedding.
Nor has it ever really cost us having an opinion on the existence of the Monarchy. We have never been truly obligated to any degree of partisanship on the question.
Vehemently oppose the Monarchy? Okay. Weirdo American royalist? Okay, too. Who cares — let’s all watch the shenanigans together and comprise a ridiculous peanut gallery from across the pond. Nothing lost and nothing gained.
There’s a sort of unspoken inside joke to observing the Monarchy as an American, something which we historically don’t even acknowledge to each other because, until recently (with the ludicrous, racist treatment of Meghan), there’s been no need. It would be stating the obvious.
That is: does any American really believe the British Monarchy represents the best of humanity, the embodiment of morality? Hell no. It’s a silly question, one so obviously answered that there’s no need to discuss it.
The 19th-century British writer Walter Bagehot is most frequently cited when explaining the justification for the existence of the Crown. Bagehot wrote that Parliament is the “efficient” part of the State and the Crown is the “dignified” part of it.
The Crown is meant to be above the fray, never sullied with day-to-da
Yes, Life Isn't Fair
Today, President Biden announced student loan debt relief that will include up to $20,000 erased for Pell Grant recipients, $10,000 for everyone else making under $125k annually ($250k for married couples who file taxes jointly), and extending the moratorium on payments through December 31st.
There’s going to be a lot of discussion on whether this is enough, but one argument I keep seeing against student loan debt relief comes from people who have already paid off their student loans or taxpayers who never had to take out any loans but whose taxes would go to pay off others’ loans and believe it’s unfair to them that those who are still in crushing debt will see some relief.
I acknowledge that resentment, and while we’re on the subject of unfairness, I have some thoughts to offer for your consideration.
I think it’s unfair that most children in poverty in this country will never receive the benefits of a quality early childhood education, either because they can’t afford it or don’t have access to it, leaving them with a development disadvantage compared to their peers. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that that most children in this country don’t have access to tutoring outside of school, meaning that, with each passing year, they fall further behind their peers whose families can afford tutoring. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that there are millions of families who have to move constantly because of unsteady employment, and their children don’t receive the advantages of living in communities longterm and building a support system with teachers and peers that support their development. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that there are children living in abusive homes and children who lack living essentials and children who can’t afford school supplies but are expected to compete with their peers who don’t have these problems, year after year. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that the quality of a child’s public school education is significantly based on the zip code in which they live, and that children from poorly funded public schools are expected to compete with children from wealthy zip codes. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that many children stop asking their parents for help with homework because by third grade, they’ve learned, on their own, that their parents are unequipped to help them and they’ve realized, by that age, that asking their parents for help makes their parents feel bad. So, they stop asking for help. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that there are millions of young people who are told to study for college admission standardized tests like the SAT and ACT but must do so without benefit of a prep program and must compete with young people who have access to all types of prep programs and tutoring because their parents can afford it. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that a young person is expected to compete for admission to an elite university against a young person who is likelier to be admitted solely because their parent attended that university, too.
I think it’s unfair that even if a young person has done everything right—good grades, good behavior, plenty of extracurriculars, etc.—she may still be denied admission because a lesser deserving young person has a parent who can buy a building on campus and claims that spot.
I think it’s unfair that extracurricular items that set apart young people on college applications are far more accessible to young people whose parents can afford their participation.
I think it’s unfair that, from their very first day of school, children with disabilities are at a distinct disadvantage across the board when it comes to competing for college admission because their schools and communities don’t want to invest in disability access, putting up nearly insurmountable hurdles for the vast majority of young people with disabilities.
I think it’s unfair th
Hopelessly Devoted to You
It was the Summer of 1996, and I was 9 years-old.
My mother, her third husband, my sister, and me were living in a trailer park many miles outside Fort Hood, Texas. I don’t know how far out we were, but it was far enough that there was nothing else around.
It was remote. It was hot. It was bleak.
The trailer park was a small one, about ten boxes total arranged in a crooked semicircle, and there were six kids in the neighborhood, all of us around the same age range, more or less, and the Texas sun was almost as unforgiving as the stickers that didn’t need more than a few times to teach us to wear our shoes outside.
The sunsets were almost always gorgeous—as Texas sunsets tend to be—but you had to work for them. You had to get through the heat.
Our mother worked nights and most days, and her husband was often training with his Army tank unit, which mercifully kept him away most of that summer.
It was just us kids. We would chance the heat for an hour or two during the day and finally retreat indoors. There was no A/C. There were no computers. There were few books. There were no adults. And there was no cable.
Here’s what we had: a television, about a dozen VHS tapes, our imaginations, and each other.
That summer was, I hope, the closest I’ll ever come to being stranded on an island.
Because our trailer had the only working TV in the group—which, even as I type that, seems improbable but it’s quite true—the six of us would gather in our living room and watch one of the tapes together.
By far, by a mile, the tape we watched the most was “Grease” — often multiple times a day because what the hell else were we gonna do? Over those few months, we probably watched that movie at least a hundred times. Even now, I could probably do most of the script from memory.
I fell in love with Olivia Newton-John. I really wanted to be her. I wanted to sing like her. I wanted to dress like her. Being the nerd I was, I wanted good grades like her. I wanted a cute poodle skirt and long hair and a ribbon to secure it. And that was all quite scary to think about, and I didn’t know what to do with it.
There were four girls and two boys, but given that it was Central Texas and the mid-90s and a conservative environment in those parts and I was firmly in the closet, the group saw itself as three girls and three boys.
The oldest girl was three years older than the rest of us, and she lived across from our trailer in the semicircle. Her name was Samantha. She had a younger brother about a year younger than me.
I was in awe of her, but also: she was a bit annoying because whenever we’d reenact the scenes from “Grease”, she’d play Sandy and insist that I—being the oldest “boy”—play Danny, which pissed me off, and I certainly had no way of explaining this to anyone, so I didn’t say anything.
After a few times of our doing “You’re the One That I Want” together, she said, in quite a serious tone: “You have a really good voice”. And from then, confirmed and smitten, I pledged to sing with her whenever she asked, despite my annoyance that I couldn’t play Sandy.
But at night, as the heat melted into something bearable and the crickets sang their own songs, I would lay in bed and softly hum “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, trying to see if I could do what she did. That soon turned into daytime walks I would take by myself near the trailer park—not exactly a safe activity for a 9 year-old in those days—and away from other human ears, I would sing the song out loud, over and over, sensing the places that needed a bit of sanding, shaping my voice to what I heard on the television.
I would do this in 20 min. spurts, braving as much heat as I could, and arriving back at the trailer, sweaty and pink and numbed from the vibrations of my voice, my sister and our friends, with eyebrows raised, would ask: “Where were you? Why do you keep disappearing?”
“Just exploring,” I’d say, as th
If Only Dorothy Had a Choice
Dorothy Gale is an empathetic young girl who finds herself—and her little dog, too—targeted by the wealthy and harassed by law enforcement. Accused of murder, she goes on the lam and wounds up caring for men who have no heart, brains, or nerve. She is thrust into navigating dangerous circumstances beyond her control and only finds resolution when finally offered the choice to click her heels and go back to how things used to be.
She’s also 11. Did you know that? It doesn’t seem quite right, but it’s true. She carries the expectations of an adult, looks around 16 or 17 in the movie, seems intended to be perceived as 13 or 14, but she’s literally 11.
One of the most famous teenagers in American pop culture is actually a younger child being treated like an adult, and a story that revolves around enduring forced circumstances celebrates choice as the payoff.
About 30 months ago, some middled-aged men in Kansas, none of whom have ever had a uterus, introduced a state constitutional amendment in the legislature establishing there is no right to an abortion. What followed was a rollercoaster of protesting and rejections and court jousting and procedural jockeying and, eventually, much later, passage of that resolution with a clear two-thirds majority, then to be put forward before the voters for ratification.
Last night, ratification was on the ballot and the voters finally got to have a direct say on the question, and there’s really no spinning their clear wish: abortion access should be protected.
As of this morning, with 95 percent of precincts reporting, the anti-choice position was losing by more than 17 points.
Did I mention this is Kansas?
Kansas, where Trump won by 15% in 2020 and 20% in 2016?
Kansas, where the only Democratic presidential candidate who has won in the past 80 years needed southern bona fides and the greatest political television ad of all-time to do it?
Kansas, where the Republican Party holds supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature?
It’s the same state that became a focal point of political commentary in 2004 and something of an avatar for the conservative movement, when Thomas Frank published his NYT-bestselling “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”, an exasperating exercise that essentially said Democrats should focus less on things like abortion and LGBTQ rights and more on kitchen table issues, as though neither of those things aren’t at the very heart of what families talk about around the kitchen table.
Because perception is what drives narrative and Kansas is so easily situated in Americana, absolutely bursting with amber waves of grain, blood red in the nation’s mind, it came as a shock last night when Kansas voters said: actually, we really care about having access to abortion care.
The margin-of-victory is so overwhelming—and the ballot question so clear in language—that it easily hurdles any feeble attempts at spin. There is no way to reasonably argue the result.
Kansas, a solidly Republican state, supports abortion access. That is now simply a hardcore truth any GOP strategist worth their salt is seriously reconciling this morning as the country enters the home stretch of the midterms.
If access to abortion care is a winning issue in Kansas, it’s a winning issue for the country. Democratic leaders—I pray, I hope, I beg—are witnessing this result and making the common sense decision to heavily campaign on abortion access.
Because last night didn’t happen by accident. It’s easy for some to forget that the state has now had TWO strong Democratic women for governors in the past 20 years, including incumbent Laura Kelly, who won in 2018 on the strength of Republican voters disillusioned with party-nominee-slash-certified-clown Kris Kobach and young progressive field organizers who ferociously mobilized.
Kelly won in 2018 because the outreach got done and she had a clear and compelling message to voters. Abortion
Yes, It's True, I Cannot Get Pregnant
[As always, this little blog/newsletter is how I pay my bills, and I would be so grateful if you support my writing with a paid subscription.]
My working theory—and I’m being generous by calling it a mere “working theory”—is that a sizable chunk of cisgender people (that is, people who are not transgender) truly do not understand the controversy over trans-inclusion in pregnancy discussions.
Several years ago, pre-pandemic, I gave a talk to a law firm in D.C. about trans visibility, clarifying much of the understandable—but easily preventable—confusion over trans identities and rights. The talk went well! It was collaborative and informative, but afterward, someone in attendance walked up to me and, with the slightest tinge of annoyance or aggravation in their voice, asked if they could pose a “potentially insensitive question” to me.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve had those three words put to me since coming out.
The person’s question: “Can you get pregnant?”
Now, personally, I have no desire to be pregnant, and as much as I love playing Auntie Charlotte to my friends’ children and generally find kids adorable, I don’t want any of my own. So, this question wasn’t insensitive on that count, but the directness and tone of this person’s voice when they asked that question has stayed with me, even years later.
I still remember the look on their face, shades of subtle anger, and I couldn’t tell if they were asking this question to make a point (as though it couldn’t be made in a more polite way and also: why) or if they were trying to hurt my feelings. Maybe both.
I think most trans and nonbinary people are forced to make a quick decision when confronted with this kind of unnecessary hostility. We are forced to pick our battles—because there are simply far too many to negotiate daily—and decide if this is a moment worth engaging with our authentic feelings and to what level, be that anger or dismay or frustration or exhaustion.
If there is a large spectrum of possible responses bookended on one side by “be nice and diplomatic” and “let this a*****e know where they can stick their unnecessary question” on the other, I try my very best to yield to a polite median.
Of course, I had just given a productive talk, which required a lot of vulnerability, and I realized that my nerves were, perhaps, too raw to hew a dignified anger that illustrates as much as it admonishes. And I made a choice to swallow my own anger and be diplomatic, a choice I have made countless times in the past and will make countless times in the future.
“No, I cannot pregnant,” I told them. “I don’t have a uterus. I also don’t menstruate. Like all trans woman and some cis women, I have no idea what it’s like to experience these things. I try my best to be an effective ally to women who can and do experience pregnancy and menstruation.”
I don’t know if my tone had its own tinge of anger, but I would like to believe I kept a soft restraint.
They looked taken aback and didn’t know what to say in response. Their shoulders seemed to relax, their posture softened, their eyes dimmed from the alert status with which they had approached. They had come looking to have their own anger and annoyance validated, maybe to debate me, I guess, and suddenly, much to their surprise, they had nothing to be angry about.
“Okay,” they said, softly. “That makes sense. I appreciate your time. Thank you for answering.”
I had a question of my own for them and asked if I could pose it. They had almost seemed a tad apologetic, and I got the sense they wanted to make up for it by being amenable.
“Yes, of course, happy to answer.”
I asked: “How often do you point out the importance of ensuring that trans men and nonbinary people have access to the reproductive health care they need?”
They stared back in confusion, and a few moments passed without either of us saying anything. And t
God Bless the Disarming Gabby Giffords
[As always, this little blog/newsletter is how I pay my bills, and I would be so grateful if you support my writing with a paid subscription.]
Four months is a long time these days.
At least for me, it used to be that four months was a bit of a jog but easily contextualized in the brain’s aerial view. I could look backwards and easily spot that marker. Now, it seems, the space-time continuum has been cruelly mocked and warped by current events in such a way that a month in 2022 honestly feels legitimately equal to a quarter in 2011 and looking backward that far, even that much, is a fool’s errand, only bound to disappoint.
Whatever you were doing four months ago, the world continues to indifferently spin into spun-up difference from what it once was. Four months ago was before 19 children and two teachers were murdered in Uvalde, TX. Four months ago was before a white supremacist murdered ten innocents, targeting the Black community in Buffalo, NY. Four months ago was before—wait, be honest with me: without looking it up, how easily can you recall the details of that horrific mass shooting on the New York City Subway in April?
That wasn’t even four months ago.
Exactly four months ago yesterday, I was at SXSW watching the world premiere of “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down”, a documentary about the former Arizona congresswoman who survived a brutal assassination attempt in 2011 that left six others murdered and has since been on a journey of remarkable advocacy, both in her medical rehabilitation after being shot in the head at point-blank range and the widely-praised leadership role she has undertaken in the gun reform movement.
The documentary is superb, and we’ll get to that in a second. I want to further underline that four months ago was a completely different world, especially for the families in Highland Park and Tulsa and Uvalde and Buffalo and Pittsburgh and Sacramento and I wouldn’t blame you at all for missing details on a few of these.
In America in 2022, it’s hard for even the most news-centric among us to keep up with the mass shootings that make national news, let alone the unending cascade of underreported mass shootings that tear through communities across the country.
Since March 12th, 2022—the date of the world premiere at SXSW—there have been 250 mass shootings, according to The Gun Violence Archive.
In other words, there has been an average of more than two mass shootings per day since Gabby Giffords premiered her deeply moving and galvanizing documentary in Austin. More than twice daily has there been a mass shooting in the United States over the past four months.
More than twice daily. Think about that.
This past Monday, July 11th, was a good day for America but particularly meaningful for Gabby Giffords and every other survivor and advocate in the gun reform movement.
Just before noon, President Biden presided over a ceremony on the White House South Lawn to celebrate the signing of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first gun reform legislation signed into law in three decades.
Brilliantly shepherded through the notoriously inept upper chamber by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), the law does a hell of a lot more than we’ve seen in recent memory and yet has also drawn criticism for falling well short of what our lawmakers should be doing to curb gun violence in America.
That’s an observation which, forgive me, seems pretty goddamn redundant. Of course it doesn’t do enough. No bill short of taking every single common sense measure would be enough in this crisis. Universal background checks are common sense. Registration of every firearm is common sense. Proper licensing for every gun owner is common sense. Banning civilian ownership of assault weapons is common sense.
The absence of any of these in a bill would make the legislation inherently flawed, even if they were the sole absence. That must be the good faith reading of any rational adult in gover
When I heard this was going to be a podcast it was a no brainer. Yea I read the newsletter, yes I subscribe to the substack and yes I still listen to this in her voice. Because that’s the way it is meant to be.