Tag Archives: bullying

3 Movies I Wanted in 1984 But Didn’t Get Till Middle Age

(Originally published on March 10, 2021, at the sunsetted GlitterCollective blog.)

The 1980s were the heyday of wildly successful woman-led movies, though no one seems to acknowledge it and today’s moviemakers have apparently all forgotten it. This happened with both mainstream movies like 9 to 5 (Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton living a feminist corporate fantasy that’s still applicable 40 years later), The Color Purple, and Steel Magnolias, and iconic genre movies like Terminator 2, Aliens, and Labyrinth.

While I enjoyed T2 (and didn’t see Labyrinth until much later), my choice for Woman-led Genre Pic was Aliens, to such an extent that I cannot count how many times I saw it in the theater (the only movie that I saw in the theater more was Rocky Horror Picture Show). I loved Ripley, had a huge crush on Vasquez, and oddly did not find Newt annoying. (Actually, the actress, Carrie Henn, was bloody brilliant.)

The real power-up moment in Aliens.

Of course, the 1980s also sported a number of iconic and formative genre movies and series: Star Wars, Star Trek, the Indiana Jones movies, Superman, Mad Max, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Bill and Ted’s, Robocop, and The Princess Bride. I enjoyed a lot of them. My first birthday party with friends rather than family was going to see Superman II. I cried like a fool when Spock died at the end of Wrath of Khan and adored the soundtrack for The Voyage Home (still have the vinyl). I had to have friends tell me when it was okay to look again in the scene that punched all my horrible phobia buttons in Temple of Doom. A college friend and I bonded over quotations from The Princess Bride, as was required for all good geeks of the era.

But I wasn’t seeing anything like me in most of these movies. Vasquez was the closest thing to a butch that this baby butch saw in any movie of the time, and I was just starting to edge sideways into my butchness. Every non-woman-led genre movie had one (1) straight femme to exist in the male gaze and act as a love interest for the hero. There might be an accidental nerdy girl or a female villain in mainstream movies, but usually in genre, they kept the budget for hiring women short. (Also, sexual assault was normalized and romanticized, as in Blade Runner, and made things extra creepy.)

“Hey, Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?”
“No, have you?”

The 2015-2016 movie season suddenly served up 3 movies that punched straight through my middle-aged cynicism to the sad little teenager in the back of my head. It was an incandescent Utena experience all over again, only I was older and crustier and more cynical than I was in 1997. Why didn’t I have these in 1984?

The answer, of course, is Patriarchy.

Who Killed the World?

Speaking of Patriarchy, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Mad Max series. I watched the first 2 movies on VHS with my parents on a giant toploading VCR that Dad borrowed from work. And TBH I don’t remember them at all. They were kind of… brown and full of toxic masculinity and cars and desert? Oh, and that asshole, what’s-his-nuts. The only thing I got out of the third movie was that Tina Turner looked good in chain mail and sang a pretty good song about not needing another hero, though I wanted that movie to be better (and more about her character) than it was. But you know, what’s-his-nuts poisons everything he touches, so it’s not surprising.

I was more than a bit cynical when I heard about Mad Max: Fury Road. It was going to be another wet dream for the man-fans, I was sure. And I prepared to ignore it.

But then media I half-respected started to talk about it, and then my friends started to go see it and rave about it. Despite the enormous inertia I usually have to overcome (in myself mostly) to arrange outings to see movies, I did so.

Butch AND not just there for a joke?
Yes, please.

I spent the entire movie expecting the other shoe to drop. I waited for Max to become the star of the movie, the savior for all the poor li’l womenfolk. I waited for some sickening romantic BS between Max and Furiosa, some feminization of Furiosa. I watched for Nux to turn into the shithead I was sure he was. I anticipated the deaths of all the wives (Angharad’s death was a red herring down this road, but at least she died doing something instead of just getting fridged), or graphic flashbacks for their “origin” stories, or for one of them to betray everyone in order to get back to Joe.

I really wasn’t sure what to do at the end of the movie when… none of those things had happened. I joked that Eve Ensler, the “feminist consultant” on the movie, must have stood over the writer/director with a rolled-up newspaper and thwacked him every time he did something stupid or toxic.

Hit him again, Furiosa.

Additionally, the movie was the most cinematographically beautiful endless car chase I’d ever seen, with human interactions that felt raw and real, and a storyline that was actually heartwrenching. The loss of the Green Place. The Vuvalini so diminished. The devastation of all hope. Who killed the world, indeed. And Max’s best moment of the movie, cutting through the grief with a suicidal plan that might work, but if it didn’t, they’d be just as dead as they would if they tried to traverse the dry ocean.

I will probably never watch this movie again, though I own it, because the unrelenting violence is too much for me in my tender and soft middle age. I wish I didn’t think that it was a wild fluke on the part of the makers, one of those ideas that Pratchett talked about sleeting through the universe until it found the right place and time to get made. I wish I believed that any further movies in the series would be as amazing as this one was. But I don’t. Toxic masculinity ruins the party again and again and again.

Thanks, F-word Murdergirls!
(If you aren’t familiar, My Favorite Murder is a great comedy podcast about true crime and why everyone should be in therapy.)

We’re All Fine Here, How Are You?

I didn’t see the original Star Wars movie until it was rereleased a year after it first came out. I was very out of touch with pop culture as a small child, and it took my cousin getting an array of toys to convince me that I needed to see the movie. The Empire Strikes Back was the last movie my grandmother ever took me to (after that, I was going on my own), and she complained about not being able to nap through it because of the loudness of the shooting. I remember waiting in a line that wrapped around the mall for the opening day of Return of the Jedi. I listened to my double album of the Star Wars soundtrack on repeat throughout my childhood and tween years. I collected a number of the action figures, though my family couldn’t afford the playsets. I made my own Millennium Falcon out of a boot-sized shoebox, roughly laser-cannon-shaped pieces of plastic left over from a model I built, and a lot of scotch tape.

You bet your booties I still have Princess Leia. AND her little plastic cape AND her laser pistol. Because I am a GEEK.

I was skeptical of Princess Leia as a character, and certainly couldn’t be Leia in my imaginative play with my friends. I preferred Han or Chewbacca, letting the “real boys” play Luke. (And therein lies a whole analysis of Han Solo as feminized character or at least as acceptably detoxified Mary Sue Fanfiction Blues bait.) As I got older, I came to a deep appreciation for Leia’s presence and ferocity, as well as Carrie Fisher’s determination to make the character memorable when stuck in a film that should have ignored her. (We can thank George Lucas’ wife Marcia for her script and film editing as well as Fisher for making her performances unforgettable.)

While I enjoyed the callbacks to the Star Wars universe, I was disappointed in the depiction of Luke and Leia’s mother in Phantom Menace, and so I didn’t bother to watch the second or third prequels.

Cue being extremely skeptical about The Force Awakens.

But the advance hype sold me. Another woman, and this one a focus character? A Black character as a focus character? Leia returning? Han and Chewie returning? At the last minute, I convinced the gaming group to go see it on opening night.

The opening credits did their usual goosebumps thing (damn you, John Williams, damn you). But I didn’t expect to cry. I cried at multiple points in the movie, but my first breaking point was Leia’s appearance. Because, whether we knew it or not as kids, Princess Goddamn Leia was the fiercest, most memorable character in SF&F film at the time. And here she was, older and wiser and with far fewer fucks to give: precisely the model I needed in my middle age.

Antiope was the best thing about the Wonder Woman movie. I would’ve watched an entire movie set just in Themyscira, with zero men. But no, they had to ruin Wonder Woman by fridging Antiope and heteronormalizing WW.
At least General Organa didn’t get fridged.

This was the movie I came out of saying, “My inner 16-year-old wants to know why we didn’t get this movie the first time.”

It would have been trivially simple to make the twins both girls. (If Lucas had even had the idea of having Luke and Leia be twins originally, which I disbelieve.) It would have been even easier to give Leia a lightsaber and Force training. But no. It was a boys’ club and Leia was the Smurfette of the universe… until Rey came along. Rey was fantastic. Rey interacting with Leia was downright flooring.

Of course, none of my sniffling during Force Awakens could compare to my ugly sobbing at the end of Last Jedi when the dedication to Carrie Fisher rolled. Losing her was worse than losing Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy was sad. Fisher was heartbreaking.

Here. I can’t say it well enough. Watch this fanvid by Eruthros instead. Have Kleenex in hand.

Who You Gonna Call?

Was the original Ghostbusters amusing? Yes. Was it quotable? Yes. Did I quote it? Of course. Did I watch the heck out of it and its sequel? Yes. Did I mostly watch it for Sigourney Weaver? Yes. Was the humor chock-full of sexist bullshit? Yes. When I tried watching it again 10 years ago, was I able to watch it without spiking my blood pressure? Nope.

Not only was the original movie a pit of seething toxic masculinity “humor” but it was racist af (see all the information about what was done to Ernie Hudson and the character of Winston in case you missed that discussion). I think the movie had pretty decent bones, honestly, or it wouldn’t have been so enduring despite the shitty body it was given. I still feel pretty fond of the concept of the thing.


But but but.

Then the “reboot” (which I read as “alternate universe” or AU) of 2016 happened.

Not only did we get an all-women team of Ghostbusters, but I got one who rang queer, geeky, and butch to boot. The writing and comedy was solid, the characters were engaging, and I enjoyed the hell out of defenestrating Bill Murray’s character.

Yes, please, give me more.

My main issue was with Patty, who they treated at least as badly as Winston had been treated, and I wish to hell they’d fixed that problem. There’s no reason she had to be the “add-on” Ghostbuster. Leslie Jones would’ve rocked the hell out of a role like Abby or Erin. Patty could have been a disaffected PhD who was working for MTA because the benefits were better than in academia. (I’ve written some fic that postulates this too, because that’s one thing fic is for: fixit.) There were literally hundreds of less racist (and misogynist) possibilities other than what they chose.

I can still appreciate the Ghostbusters that Inner 16 wanted so much: the fat, competent scientist; the big, loud woman taking up space; the high-strung, serious scientist; and the geek butch geeking out and flirting madly with the nervy straight-wannabe who is attracted to both the project and the butch.


I think we saw the movie 3 or 4 times in the theaters and then I preordered the Blu-ray with the extended cut (I enjoyed the new content, particularly between Holtzmann and Gorin, but I think the released film is mostly better). I even started planning Holtzmann cosplay — I don’t do cosplay, you understand.

By the time Ghostbusters appeared onscreen, I hadn’t really spontaneously written fic for anything for something like 15 years. I don’t really count the little dribs and drabs that spooted out here and there (one very short piece for Fury Road, some cranky things about The X-Files and Doctor Who). For me, really being inspired to fic is the kind of thing I did with Utena: a few short pieces, a few longer pieces, maybe a novel-length monster that takes 10 years to finish. Ghostbusters was striking in that I not only had a several pieces appear in relatively short order, but I also wrote some Mature Content, which is very unusual for me.

Ghostbusters 2016 has actually gotten me more harassment than any of my other fandoms combined. I put a bumper sticker on my car that read, “Safety lights are for dudes,” with Holtzmann’s heart-radiation symbol, and I started getting dudes blowing their horns, flashing their headlights, and even following me as I drove through city streets (way too closely with brights on). (This behavior stopped as soon as I took the sticker off. It had never occurred with the pride sticker I had there before.) I have a “We Can Bust It” t-shirt with Holtzmann in the iconic Rosie the Riveter post and at a store in my town, the man (of course) behind the counter pointed at the picture on my chest (his finger halting less than six inches from my actual frontispieces) and opined that the movie wasn’t as good as the original. (I haven’t been back to said store, opting to go to a similar store at the other end of town instead.)

I cannot convey how much I wanted THIS Ghostbusters in 1984 and couldn’t even imagine it to want it.


Representation in media matters, y’all. (I say, preaching to the choir.) Women — and love between women — saving the world means so goddamn much to me. The way Black Panther means so much to so many Black people. The way having actual Native people playing Native characters matters. Inclusion matters. Having us not be goddamn tokens or placeholders to enable some dull interchangeable white dude matters.

What would these movies have done for me in 1984?

They would have given me joy. So much joy that it makes Inner 16 tear up.

And Patriarchy — as embodied in the white cis het men who whine and kick and throw whole screaming tantrums about these movies — is thoroughly invested in keeping that representation away from us. We — the queers, the women, the enbies, the BIPOC folks, anyone who isn’t a rich white cisgendered heterosexual man — are Not Meant to Have Joy in Western heteronormative capitalist neoliberal society.

If we have Joy, we might get Ideas, you know.

Carpe gaudium, my friends. Seize the joy.

Videogames and Pain

Allie Brosh’s more medically useful pain scale.
From Hyperbole and a Half.

(Originally published on March 1, 2021, at the sunsetted GlitterCollective blog.)

I didn’t think very hard about how I used videogames as analgesia for all sorts of pain until I was literally using them for analgesia for a diagnosed acute physical pain issue. Recently, I started thinking about how I’ve used videogames to help handle emotional pain as well, because I have been longing for a videogame I could fall into for the entirety of the pandemic.

Content warnings for: brief discussion of broken bone (with medical illustration), nongraphic mentions of animal deaths (very general), and discussions of grief, workplace bullying, abuse, gaslighting, and mental illness.

The Busted Arm Chronicles

Physical pain first.

One day, about 10 years ago, I left work feeling pretty good. It was a chilly rainy day in early November, but even that didn’t deflate my mood. At the time, I felt I was doing well in a relatively new job and I was heading home for the day. However, as I walked down the stairs into the subway, my boot hit a patch of what was either leaked rainwater or spilled soda, or possibly both, and my feet went out from under me. I managed to catch myself on my elbow, but something popped and was very wrong.

Long story short, I had broken my upper arm in a way that is most frequently seen in equestrians who catch themselves on their elbows when they fall off their horses. Something something lateral shear on a point at which five muscles meet the bone.

Fractures of the greater tuberosity of the humerus. Busted shoulder. Mine was undisplaced. (From shoulderdoc.co.uk)

Despite starting physical therapy early and making sure that I didn’t keep the arm in a sling or otherwise immobilized, by Christmas, my shoulder was “freezing” (ie, locking up due to inflammation, with much reduced range of motion). If you’ve never experienced a frozen shoulder, it can be excruciating, with inflammation and swelling enclosing nerves and giving white-hot electric jolts of pain through the entire arm and hand at any movement.

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive synovitis. (From shoulderdoc.co.uk)

I drove to visit family for the holidays with my wife and brought my reusable ice packs. This was… barely enough. I had already spent 2 months sleeping exclusively on my left side. Now I was having trouble doing that, because I had to balance precariously or risk jostling my arm in the wrong way — somehow it was even more painful to move my arm than it had been in the days immediately after the break. Fortunately, in the second house we stayed in, they had game consoles, and the person who owned the game consoles was, contrary to most of their behavior, amenable to my using them.

I was introduced to Halo Wars there, and a few other strategy games I don’t remember as well. I found myself roaming their house in the middle of the night, unable to sleep for the pain. An ice pack, a handful of ibuprofen, and an hour of Halo Wars, however, usually allowed me to go back to bed for a couple hours. When we left to go home, I was loaned the game, and I played it some at home as the pain accelerated.

The game that really saved me at home, though, was Plants Vs. Zombies.

Gardening was never really my thing before.

Through January and February of that year, I developed a ritual: I would take a handful of ibuprofen and go to sleep at the same time as my wife. After about 4 hours of sleep, the ibuprofen would wear off. I would take more ibuprofen, but it would take 30-60 minutes to kick in, so instead of tossing and turning, I would sneak out of the room and go downstairs, where I’d lay on the couch in the dark, ice my shoulder, and play PvZ on the TV until I fell asleep again. My wife would wake me in the morning.

I developed a fondness for the bowling minigames and for watering my plant collection. I maxxed out our gold. I played through the whole game again from scratch.

This was my ritual until I realized how much ibuprofen I was taking and got both some short-term non-NSAID pain meds and a steroid shot in my shoulder. The first time I slept through the night after getting both of those, I cried in the morning at how much better I felt. But I honestly wouldn’t have made it through without PvZ.

Grief Counseling By Dungeoncrawl

Screenshot from Moria videogame (from Mobygames).

My wife and I have been extremely lucky in our cats. When we first got together, we sustained the extended loss of her cat, which was terrible. But then we acquired, over a bit of time, a trio of cats around the same age, and they were quite healthy and happy through our time in our first New England apartment and then moving into our house. Around age 9 or so, though, the youngest cat of the 3 developed diabetes so brittle we never actually got her stable, just kept her comfortable. And after 2 or 3 years of giving twice-daily insulin to a semi-feral cat, she suddenly decompensated in a way that made our decision clear and very fast.

We were left in freefall by the surprising emptiness of our house. Our other two much more human-focused cats were still there, loving on us and grieving in their own ways. Our other, much younger cat who had insisted we take her in from the outdoor life foisted upon her by being dumped by her previous owners was also very comforting. But what would help provide analgesia (or, as we referred to it, “brain-smoothing”) for this particular pain?

Turned out we had Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance for the Playstation 2 on the shelf. Most of our previous gaming together had been sharing a controller for JRPGs, so I went out and got a second controller. And then we curled up on the couch together under heated blankets (we had just experienced Snowtober 2011, and our power had been out for >40 hours), our cats gathered on or around us, and played through it. Not for the look of the game, which, compared to JRPGs, was fugly. Not for the plot, which was absolutely pastede on yay. But just for the working together and pixel-smashing and ridiculous chatter and talking back to the wooden NPCs. We didn’t want something we cared about. We just wanted distraction. We got it in the form of the ranger and the dwarf who periodically hopped around the dungeon waiting for their hit points to regenerate.

Baldur’s Gate 2: Dark Alliance: Browns on browns with some brown grays.
(From Mobygames)

It worked really well. When we finished the game, we were still processing, but we had been able to work our way through the worst of the pain together.

When we lost a second cat, our beautiful little neurotic gayboy, a little more than a year later, I braved the holiday crowds to pick up Champions of Norrath from the bargain bin at Gamestop. This game was even less visually appealing and somehow possessed even less plot, but it fit the holes in our minds and emotions pretty much perfectly. Given the cat involved, in seemed appropriate that we won that game with my cleric chasing the Big Bad around a pole and spanking him with a magic hammer spell until he fell over. (Yes, that cat loved to be spanked. Gently.)

Four years later, we lost the third cat of our first cohort, even more devastating than the previous two. She had been the first cat who was ours and had been with us for 20 years. She was full of personality and intelligence and loved us as fiercely as we loved her. We knew it was coming — the other two had gone much more quickly — and before her last vet appointment, I went to Gamestop and asked for a local co-op dungeon game. The only decent thing on the market right then was Diablo 3, so I bought a used copy and a second controller for our Xbox. After the vet left that day, we walked downtown to have mediocre comfort food at a local restaurant, then came back and booted up the Xbox. The plot was awful, but the graphics were tolerable (if still US-fugly) and the gameplay was exactly what we needed. And it was marginally longer than the other 2 games, which was also needed. I think when we finished we might have even immediately started another game with new characters, though we let that game drop after a few sessions.

Diablo 3: Flatter story, slightly less brown. (from Diablowiki)

Our current Elder Statescat also has a long-term terminal condition, and I honestly don’t know what we’ll do when we lose her. I haven’t heard of any other couch co-op dungeon games coming out recently, and we’re a bit behind on consoles right now (we have an Xbox 360 and a PS3, as well as a PS2). Recommendations are welcome.

Trauma and Association

I have been through a few toxic workplaces in my career, often tied to a singular poisonous bully who contaminates the entire environment. My usual resort has been sheer resigned bullheadedness at work and videogames at home.

The most recent (and, arguably, most intense) round of workplace bullying in 2017 had the fastest onset I’d ever seen — the whole workplace was blighted in under 2 weeks. It was heavily targeted at me and one other person as I was shifted into a new role to replace someone who had been let go. The targeting snowballed from pressure to perform according to the bully’s expectations (rather than my manager’s, who was fine with my performance) to full-on aggressive attempts to get me fired as well as shit-talking me behind my back to pull others to the bully’s side in pure junior high school tactics.

I wasn’t good at dealing with this in junior high. I’m no better at it now. I have a very well-established Inner Doggo who reacts to getting kicked with, “bUt WhY dO? aM gOoD bOi. MuSt Be BeTtEr BoI.” And so I keep working through it and getting more and more anxious and neurotic, getting less and less sleep, because of course abusers constantly move the goalposts. You can bend over backwards and meet their demands, only to have them gaslight you and tell you they never made those demands, they made these demands that you absolutely have not met.

I have a very well-established Inner Doggo who reacts to getting kicked with, bUt WhY dO? aM gOoD bOi. MuSt Be BeTtEr BoI.

While I was undergoing abuse that intensified daily, I coped at night by playing games on my phone to try to quiet both the latest whirlwind of trying to figure out a strategy to survive the next day and the anxious whining Inner Doggo chewing on itself in a corner. I fell into a trio of games:

  • Candy Crush Soda Saga
  • Two Dots
  • Dots & Co

Because of the limited lives, of course, I got to be masterful about rotating through them to catch lives as they refilled. This was a bit of a problem when I was trying to get to sleep, which could take 2-3 hours, but they’d usually refilled by the time I woke up at 4 am in a panic and needed to soothe myself back to sleep in time for a meaningful nap before my 6:30 am alarm. I would also sometimes hide in the bathroom at work for 15-20 minutes, playing quietly and trying to pull myself together after a particularly brutal meeting (because the primary bully was a woman, I made use of bathrooms on different floors of the building outside the office; the basement bathroom was my favorite because no one used it).

It was difficult enough when the job was endless meetings in butt-hating chairs. I didn’t mind it when it was interesting.
But it really didn’t need the bully.
Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

The nightmare kept on escalating, and I kept spending more and more time sunk into phone games, until one day in August everything exploded and I was free. I had new problems to deal with — ramping up my consulting business fast and hard and then somehow being productive as everything fell to pieces inside, but I had family and friends around me for support.

One thing I discovered quickly was that I no longer needed the phone games nearly as much because wonder of wonders I was sleeping through the night, so all 3 games were semi-retired. (Well, Dots & Co was pretty much permanently retired because I’d maxxed out the levels and the company hasn’t put out any new expansions.) I was swamped with trying to pull my life together and job hunting, so it ended up being months before I tried any of them again.

When I did, I discovered I could no longer play Candy Crush: when I did, I could feel everything rush back: all the fear and dread and anxiety, draped over with black-and-white memories. It was a burning-cold time machine burrowed into the base of my skull. I closed the game mid-level. I haven’t reopened it, and should probably just delete it from my phone, because I’m not inclined to walk back into that time again.

This didn’t happen as intensely with Two Dots or Dots & Co, but both games have a weird sort of emotional flatness for me. I can play them, but there’s no dopamine hits from the levels. Possibly they’re more associated with dissociative states. What I can play are features/game types in Two Dots that weren’t present in 2017. Still, the interface feels oppressive now and I can’t play it for very long.

I love how my brain works most of the time, and I love learning to understand more about how it works. State-dependent memory has been one of the best things I’ve learned about lately, and I think it absolutely applies in this case. It refers to the fact that the state one is in at a given time — whether that’s depressed or anxious or something else — determines which memories are easiest to recall. It’s why when one is depressed, it’s hard to remember times when one wasn’t depressed, but easy to remember other times one was depressed. In this case, games — the colors and actions and sounds and muscle memories — are portals into other times that I played them. Just the same way that I get nostalgic goosebump-raising ecstatic joy from playing old games with happy like Final Fantasy 7, certain phone games are now permanently associated with traumatic times in my life.

I have moved on to other phone games, such as for managing anxiety in the global pandemic. I expect that once we have reached the After Times, I’ll have to reexamine how I feel playing those games. Will I ever get Candy Crush back? I might try, if I cared enough, but there are so many other match-3 games out there with less horrific (or differently-horrific) imagery buried in their backgrounds. Sometimes a tool that one uses really hard will break. It’s fine to get a new one.