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Janet Mock's powerful directorial debut shows why representation matters.

Her episode of 'Pose' sidestepped the tired trans tropes we've come to expect.

If you're not watching FX's "Pose," you're missing out.

The show, an '80s-era drama centered on New York City's ballroom culture and the HIV/AIDs crisis, made a lot of news when it was first announced. To tell a story about transgender people, creator Ryan Murphy did something novel: He hired trans actors, writers, and directors. Trans actresses MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar, and Angelica Ross landed starring roles. Our Lady J and Janet Mock, who are also trans, serve as writers and producers on the series.

Ryan Murphy poses with Janet Mock, Dominique Jackson, and MJ Rodriguez during VH1 Trailblazer Honors 2018. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for VH1 Trailblazer Honors.


You might be asking yourself what's so remarkable about a collection of trans people telling trans stories. The answer is sadly simple: It's a rare thing to see, even as storylines about trans people seem to be on the rise.

With this week's episode, Janet Mock made history as the first trans woman of color to write and direct an episode of TV.

That's a pretty big accomplishment! Her episode, "Love is the Message," included a scene in which [very mild spoiler] one of the characters comes out as trans to another. It's a scene that's been done many, many times before, but never with as much nuance as Mock's direction and Moore's acting showed here. There's a fine line between sincerity and exploitation involved in this scene, but the combined lived experience involved in its creation steered the narrative back toward the sweet.

"Everything I can’t have in this world is because of what I have down there," says Moore's character, referring to her genitals. "If you really want to know who I am, that is the last place you should look."

The episode's gotten largely positive reviews, as has the show itself.

Janet Mock attends the 2017 Forbes Women's Summit. Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images.

Representation matters, especially for trans people.

Most Americans don't personally know a trans person — at least that they know of. When people don't know a member of a marginalized community, they're less likely to be supportive of that community. Part of what led to so many breakthroughs in gay rights over the past 25 years has to do with the fact that 65% of Americans currently have a close friend or family member who identifies as gay or lesbian. This is precisely what makes the fight for trans rights such a tough battle.

A 2017 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that just 21% of Americans had a close friend or family member who was transgender. To put that in context, that's roughly the same percentage of the population that knew a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person in 1993. The relative unfamiliarity with trans people makes it that much more important that people's exposure to trans people and issues — coming largely from news and entertainment media — is accurate.

Poor representation can reinforce inaccurate stereotypes.

There's a real aversion to letting trans people tell their own stories, such as the recent casting of Scarlett Johansson in the role of Dante "Tex" Gill, a trans man. While Johansson's gotten a lot of backlash for taking the role and for her flippant statement in defense of it ("Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment," read a message from her representative, citing other cisgender [non-trans] actors who've played trans roles), there's one aspect that's not often addressed. When cis men are cast as trans women (as Tambor, Leto, Eddie Redmayne, and Matt Bomer have all done in recent years) or cis women are cast as trans men (as Johansson is doing here or Hilary Swank did in 1999's "Boys Don't Cry"), it buttresses the inaccurate image people have of trans people as simply men pretending to be women and women pretending to be men.

How do we know this is the case? For one, because multiple trans actors have gone on record to say they were passed up for trans roles for not "looking trans enough." If a trans man doesn't "look trans enough" and the answer is to hire a woman to play him, it's because society falsely believes that trans men are women; the same goes for society's belief that trans women are men. When someone says a trans woman doesn't "look trans enough," they're saying that they expect her to be more masculine. When someone says a trans man doesn't "look trans enough," it's because they expect him to look more feminine. To be sure, there absolutely are trans women who err on the masculine side of things and trans men who embrace femininity, but this stereotype is inaccurate, narrow, and holds back progress.

[rebelmouse-image 19345891 dam="1" original_size="750x293" caption="GLAAD's Nick Adams is joined by Alexandra Billings, Laverne Cox, Shadi Petosky, Jill Soloway, and Rhys Ernst at the organization's "Transgender Trends on TV" panel in 2017. Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images." expand=1]GLAAD's Nick Adams is joined by Alexandra Billings, Laverne Cox, Shadi Petosky, Jill Soloway, and Rhys Ernst at the organization's "Transgender Trends on TV" panel in 2017. Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

Throughout history, a lot of movies and shows have been made about groups without their involvement. They haven't aged especially well.

Go back and watch 1961's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and you'll see what I'm talking about. Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi was little more than an offensive Asian caricature. Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones eating monkey brains is another moment that'll make you cringe. Even Greg Serano's portrayal of Enrique (actually, more the way Reese Witherspoon's Elle Woods interacts with him) in 2001's "Legally Blonde" isn't aging especially well less than two decades later. Adam Sandler and Kevin James's 2007 dud "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" came off as homophobic at the time — and has only gotten worse since.

[rebelmouse-image 19345892 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption="Daniela Vega starred in "A Fantastic Woman," and was the first trans actress to present an award at the Oscars. Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images." expand=1]Daniela Vega starred in "A Fantastic Woman," and was the first trans actress to present an award at the Oscars. Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images.

We already know that movies like "Ace Ventura," "Glen or Glenda," and "The Crying Game" don't stand the test of time. The question is whether creators want to make work they can be proud of 20 years from now. Trans people are everywhere, and there's really no reason not to include them in the creative process. If not for the sake of accuracy, creators should consider the lasting power of their art.

Daniela Vega played the lead in "A Fantastic Woman," the winner of the 2018 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Laverne Cox was twice nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series at the Emmys for her role on "Orange is the New Black." Shadi Petosky created the Emmy-winning Amazon series "Danger & Eggs." There's a lot of trans talent out there both in front of and behind the camera.

Janet Mock's powerful directorial debut is only the latest example of trans people kicking ass in the entertainment world.

Janet Mock attends the Brooklyn Artists Ball 2017. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Emily Vondy's mom fail.

Sometimes, we have to just laugh at our failures.

“Here’s a little story to allow all the moms of littles out there to maybe feel a little better about yourself,” Emily Vondy told her 1.3 million TikTok followers.

In a TikTok video that has now garnered more than 500,000 views, Vondy shared perhaps one of the most hilarious “mom fail” stories of all time: forgetting her son’s actual birthdate.
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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Images from Denver Animal Shelter's Facebook page.

Imagine rummaging through secondhand finds in your local thrift store, only to find that some items include a bonus feline at no extra charge.

Montequlla the orange tabby had somehow not gotten the memo that he and his family were moving. As they dropped off furniture, including a big recliner chair, to the Denver Arc Thrift Store on New Year’s Eve, they had no idea that poor little Montequlla was tucked away inside.

Luckily, the staff began to notice the chair meowing.

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This article originally appeared on November 11, 2015


Remember those beloved Richard Scarry books from when you were a kid?

Like a lot of people, I grew up reading them. And now, I read them to my kids.

The best!

If that doesn't ring a bell, perhaps this character from the "Busytown" series will. Classic!

Image via

Scarry was an incredibly prolific children's author and illustrator. He created over 250 books during his career. His books were loved across the world — over 100 million were sold in many languages.

But here's something you may not have known about these classics: They've been slowly changing over the years.

Don't panic! They've been changing in a good way.

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