Monthly Archives: February 2020

Reading my teenage blog: Part I – “Heartbreak, You Got The Best Of Me……….”

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen that I recently discovered my online blog from high school. Earlier this month I answered the same questions at 34 I answered at 17. That got such a fun response from people (mostly those who know me personally, but some who follow my professional writing) that I decided to go ahead and make this a series.

I’m going to do a paragraph-by-paragraph response to my blog, seeing how my views have changed over the past two decades and laughing at myself (or cringing at myself) where needed. Some entries may be edited to take out personal information or information I think others would not want revealed, and I will indicate where that happens.

We start with this entry from April 2002, in which apparently I have had my heart broken. In April 2002 I was 16-years-old, a sophomore in high school, and living in southeastern Kentucky. On the date this was written – 24 April 2002 – “Foolish” by Ashanti was the number one song in the US while “Girlfriend” by *NSync topped the British charts. The Scorpion King, starring The Rock, was the number one film in the United States. 9/11 had happened only seven months prior, George W Bush was in his first term, the iPod had only just been released the previous autumn, and I had never had a mobile phone and didn’t see the point of one. 

How things have changed. Or have they? Let’s take a look at what 16-year-old Skylar thought.

Heartbreak, You Got The Best Of Me………. 4/24/2002
If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. How true is that line? OMG its just…..read about my day.

I always had a flare for the dramatic. But I still agree that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

First hour my hair was all fucked up, so I ran all around school fixing it. I used lotion to get the hairspray out, then I had to run to Sherri’s locker (down the MATH WING!) to get the fucking hairspray and I used spit to fix it. Then my spit fell on the desk. We watched some movie over Jews so it was easy.

NOT THE MATH WING! There’s so much happening in this paragraph. First of all, Sherri, I’m sorry but I don’t remember you. Thanks for letting me use your hairspray… and spit? Maybe I used my own spit. God I hope I used my own spit. If I used Sherri’s spit I really should remember her. Anyway, I’m not sure why I used lotion to get hairpsray out of my hair. Is that a trick I’ve forgotten over the years? Does anybody know?

I’m really fucking disappointed in how blase I was about “some movie over Jews.” That just reads as incredibly offensive to me as a 34-year-old man. I’m sure I didn’t mean it offensively, but fucking hell boy, word choice matters.

Second hour we rehearsed and I joked around with Amanda Jo. I have to go get a costume really soon. I’m so nervous about being in front of the whole school. I’ve been acting my entire life, but not in front of people who know me and my entire life story. AND NOT IN FRONT OF [RYAN – a psuedonym to be used here on out]!

I changed the name of the boy because I want to respect his privacy. Some of my high school friends will probably figure out from context who it is. Just leave it, I ask. It’s been 18 years – let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

Amanda Jo! We had such fun together. I miss her. (If you’re reading this, hi Amanda Jo!) What were we rehearsing? 2002… must have been Alice in Wonderland. I plaid the White Rabbit. I had a line during a croquet match that went “my ball, my ball, I can’t play without my ball!” but slipped up in a performance and said “I can’t play without my balls!” It was humiliating, but also hilarious. 

Third hour I hung out with Sally, Samantha, Teddy Bear, and some other seniors in the library. We talked about Prom and looking for Prom parties. SO far no luck.

Sally I remember. Teddy Bear I remember his face, though not his name (Josh, maybe?). Samantha… sorry, love, no idea. Why is “Prom” capitalised. It’s not a proper noun you fool. We found a prom party in the end and it is one of the most memorable nights of my life. It was a big night in my life, as prom nights often are. Yes, I’m being coy. I’m much less brazen at 34 than I was at 16.

Fourth hour I forgot my work for Koog and so I get a 0 on that. It sucks because I had it all finished, too! I feel like such the dumbass! And so yah. The major thing of fourth period was when Sally told me that [Ryan] had had a girlfriend way back in sixth grade [name redacted]! OMG one of my best friends dated him and failed to tell me this! And he does have a crush on [name redacted] (so he says-we’re not sure if we believe this). That scares me, because I’m starting to think [he] may be straight. If he is straight I’d be happy for him, but I know that I’ll die inside. I swear I need him. I wrote him a letter about being an ass to me fourth hour, too.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. You deserved that 0. As it stands I still end up going out of the house and forgetting half of what I meant to bring. I guess that’s less a youthful folly than it is a character flaw.

I really hate how goddamn needy and frankly obsessive I am in this paragraph. It’s bad. It was also the start of a pattern in my life, one in which I routinely fall for men who don’t seem interested in me or are unwilling to commit and who say they’re straight but actually aren’t straight at all. Ryan was the prototype for so many heartbreaks through my twenties. I didn’t die inside, though. That happened about 9 years later.

 I wonder if I ever gave Ryan that letter? I don’t think I did, because I remember “Ryan” well and I think I’d remember something like that (it was a weird time in my life). I hope to God I didn’t, anyway, not just because it would be mortifying to me but because Ryan clearly set boundaries that I was ignoring. This is not romantic, baby Skylar, it’s abusive. Stop it. (I did stop it – and I was 16, so, you know, I’m cutting myself a little slack here.

[REDACTED PARAGRAPH – Personal information about another individual]

This was my fear when I decided to do this, and one entry in I’m already redacting quite a bit. This person would not want this information revealed though, I am 100% certain about that. Rather than risk anyone finding out, I’m just going to redact it. The point of this is to have fun, but it’s also to look at how much our world and I have changed since the early 2000s. I don’t think this really adds anything of interest in that context, so I’m okay leaving it out.

Fifth hour we watched “To Kill A Mockingbird” and that was that. Me, Lee, and Bridget started the “Broken Hearts Club,” which now has Sally as a member too. Lee says we should get the rest of the cheerleaders in it. I’m thinking about getting Becka in it too.

I’m still a member of this club. Also – does every American high school student read “To Kill a Mockingbird?” I think they do.

Snacks. Oh lord Sally told me [RYAN] said no to the picture (okay, I didn’t really care-HONESTLY LoL shocked me too). SHe told him he needs to start saying “hi” to me or something and he just sadly shook his head no. She said when he said he didn’t want to take that picture (I’m guessing thats what she meant) his eyes said he was lying. She said she thinks the boy is 100% gay [redacted few words]. I dunno…..I hope she’s right.

Take the fucking hint and leave the lad alone, baby Skylar. Honestly Ryan had the patience of Job and I am not liking how relentless I was here. Again, 16, so… cutting myself some slack. But yikes. Anyway, I do remember this actually. I wanted a picture of us together, and he said no. We did eventually take some pictures together, but I burnt them a year later after watching “The Craft” and thinking that maybe sorcery could work. It didn’t, but I still have hope it might.

Sixth hour I worked and thought of [RYAN]. Thats about it. We took Sara home today and then rode around ’till about 4:00 when Sal brought me home and I got online!

Imagine a time where “getting online” was a cause for excitement. In 2002 we made a point of being online, but in 2020 we make a point of disconnecting. A Twitter friend of mine just went offline until June as part of her Lenten sacrifice and social media detox – something that would have baffled people in the early 00s, when the internet was not a ubiquitous part of our lives. Did we know how it would come to take over our world? I don’t think I did. I never could have imagined smart phones or social media, though of course neither was a big step from Palm Pilots or AOL Chat Rooms/websites like LiveJournal. In hindsight it was all quite a logical progression, but at the time it would have seemed impossible if I had thought it.

GOSSIP TIME! LoL well lets see…..Peter Pan and Whitney are happy together. How, I don’t know, but hey, good for them-even though Bridgets heart is breaking. Lee’s crush is still acting like a fucker to her. Becka and Will may be broken up-Becka doesn’t know. She said something to me like “he needs to see what hes got.” I agree-Becka’s a great catch. [NAME REDACTED] wants to go back out with [NAME REDACTED] (they dated from 4-7 grade), but shes afraid all he wants is sex. And he won’t make the first move.

This was one paragraph (together with the next section), but I’m splitting it into two. I have no idea who Peter Pan was, and only a vague idea who Whitney was. OH WAIT – Bridget liked him. Yes, I do remebmer who Peter Pan is. He was a dick to me. (Bridget, I hope you found a better man.) I don’t remember Becka dating a Will, but I guess she did. She is a great catch though, that much is still true.

THEY DATED FROM 4 – 7 GRADE. I read that and howled. Imagine thinking that mattered. That’s like ages 10 – 13. What do you even do when you “date” someone that young? Hold hands and pretend to argue over money and how much “juice” he drinks because that’s what your parents do so that must be how marriage works? Silly kids. Silly, silly kids.

[Me] and [RYAN] may not hook up like everybody thought, because [RYAN] is being a prick (we also found out that [RYAN] and [REDACTED] dated in sixth grade). People are pulling for [me] though. Angela found out about [my] crush on [RYAN] by Stephanie, who decided to open her big mouth-but [I am] not to be mad at Stephanie (oh, God forbid!).

Get the fuck over yourself, baby Skylar. This boy is not worth it, and he clearly isn’t interested in you. Look at your life, look at your choices. Also, Stephanie and I recently followed one another on Twitter so there’s every chance she reads this and I just want to say that I forgive you for telling Angela about my crush our sophomore year of high school which was apparently a big deal at the time but honestly I don’t even remember. Thank you for still having me in your wedding despite this snarky post. Hope you’re well.

Tim and Amanda are back together, which breaks Sally’s heart. One of her old boyfriends (I don’t know his name) wants back together with her.

No idea who Tim and Amanda are, unless they’re the couple that Sally and I went to see 8 Mile with. Don’t feel too bad for Sally, though; she’s been married since 2003 and has a beautiful family, so it all worked out.

[REDACTED TWO SENTENCES – PERSONAL INFORMATION ABOUT ANOTHER PERSON]

[I] cried over [Ryan] today in the library at lunch, and chased Sammie Jo off. [I’m] becoming a cruel, heartless bitch.

You’re becoming an annoying little prick, but I don’t know about a cruel, heartless bitch. I think you just need to chill out, leave the “straight” boys alone, and wait until college when you can really let your hair down. (Spoilers: you won’t, and the next two years will be even more dramatic than this – a long-lost mother, a love triangle, a murder. Huh, my high school career kind of sounds like an episode of Riverdale.

Peace out.

Deuces

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Scott Bixby was right to report on Ben Mora’s tweets

We need to talk about Ben Mora.

Mora was a regional field director for the Bernie Sanders campaign until last night, when he was sacked over offensive and derogatory tweets about other candidates, including disparaging remarks about Amy Klobuchar’s and Elizabeth Warren’s physical appearance and Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality. Since then, the journalist who broke the story—Scott Bixby of the Daily Beast, has received a torrent of harassment on social media, including being doxxed by Sanders supporters.

Abusive “Bernie Bros” have become a bit of a cliché, one many supporters of the Vermont Senator reject as a fabrication. Yet they keep giving us cause to write about their odious online behavior. Earlier this month I warned that the toxic online culture of the “Bernie Bros” (or, to avoid accusations of sexism, the “Bernie Brigade” from here on out) will cost Sanders in the general election should he secure the nomination. Countless other journalists and political analysts have written similar articles. I’m not sure there’s much use in wringing my hands over them on this humble blog—they’re not going to listen to vague chastisements from a writer who has endorsed Pete Buttigieg and just yesterday wrote a blog critical of their candidate.

That being said, I do think it’s worth addressing some specific tweets about the Mora/Bixby brouhaha. The Bernie Brigade is losing its shit, and their defense of these odious tweets strains credulity. So, I want to discuss some of the more outlandish claims and arguments against Bixby and in favour of Mora.

First, though, let’s take a look at what Mora actually tweeted, while bearing in mind that he was a regional field director for the Sanders campaign—meaning a paid up staffer of moderate rank within the campaign apparatus, not some hapless intern:

  • Mora tweeted that Elizabeth Warren is “an adult diaper fetishist” who, in another tweet, Mora said “looks like shit”
  • Mora said Amy Klobuchar “looks like her name: pained, chunky, [and] confused origin/purpose”- definitely misogynistic, and the ‘confused origin/purpose’ line reeks of ethnocentrism
  • Pete Buttigieg, Mora tweeted, “is what happens when the therapist botches the conversion” – a homophobic comment implying Pete went through conversion therapy, which is of course junk science and torture (note: Mora himself is gay according to many on Twitter)
  • “Hillary Clinton should be literally catapulted off the planet,” Mora tweeted of the former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic nominee (and Bernie Sanders’ archnemesis)

There’s more, but you get the idea. Mora’s comments about women’s appearance are misogynistic, and his comments about Pete and Chasten Buttigieg are homophobic. That Mora is gay (again, according to Twitter) matters not; being gay doesn’t give you a pass to say offensive things.

Now, let’s look at some of the arguments in Mora’s defense.

It is true that Mora tweeted from a locked account that didn’t look to be his “official” Twitter, and that many people have such “alternative” Twitter accounts. That doesn’t matter, though. The fact remains that Mora was a representative of the Sanders campaign. As a regional field director he was a public figure, and his tweets—even if not in an official campaign capacity—reflected on the campaign.

I would also point out that it was the Sanders campaign who sacked Mora. Any gripe about his termination should be directed at them.

Ben Mora was not a private citizen. He was a campaign staffer. His tweets are of public interest because he was a representative of a presidential campaign.

To begin with, comparing the sacking of a campaign staffer to the massacre of magazine writers is just beyond absurd and incredibly callous, at best. Leaving that aside, though, “shitposting” as satire is a take, I guess, but homophobic and misogynistic comments are beyond the pale. When comedians overstep, we call them out for it. We should certainly hold campaign staffers to the same, if not a higher, standard. Which brings me to the next point – Mora wasn’t a comedian, but a Bernie Sanders staffer. His comments reflect on the campaign for which he worked. The Sanders campaign decided they reflected poorly and on it and severed ties with Mora.

Bixby didn’t dox Mora. I’m not sure how Bixby got access to Mora’s locked Twitter account, but it doesn’t really matter. Bixby didn’t reveal Mora’s home address or phone number (both of which Bixby himself had publicly revealed). What he did was report on things a paid regional field director for the Bernie Sanders campaign said on Twitter, which is a public platform. Even if you lock your Twitter account, your tweets are still publicly available to anyone who follows you. It is no guarantee of privacy. If Mora didn’t know this before he certainly knows it now.

Bixby is a journalist, and a respected one at that. The Daily Beast is not a website that I always agree with, but it produces a lot of excellent reporting, especially on global events. Mora might well be working class (I don’t know him), and Bixby apparently does have a trust fund (good on him, I guess). The Bernie Brigade is trying to paint this as some great battle in the class war, but that argument doesn’t pass muster.

Bixby is a reporter covering the 2020 election, and Mora was a campaign staffer—and, as I pointed out earlier, not just any old intern or flunky but a regional field director—posting misogynistic and homophobic comments about other candidates. That’s newsworthy. Mora didn’t lose his job because Bixby did his, he lost his job because he tweeted inflammatory comments which the Sanders campaign (rightly) decided crossed a line. Bixby didn’t fire Mora, the Sanders campaign did.

I’m always here for conversations about classism in American media, because I’m a working-class guy from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky who has been trying to make it in media for years now. This isn’t that conversation, though.

I’m not sure that it matters—it probably does to some people—but Bixby is gay. That’s an easily verifiable fact. I just found this tweet interesting because it shows how little the Bernie Brigade seems to know about Bixby. Again, though, I don’t think it really matters any more than Mora’s sexuality matters in this story, because this isn’t really a story about gay men or class—it’s a story about a campaign staffer and a journalist.

I feel very bad for Bixby, who doesn’t deserve the doxxing and harassment he’s receiving. Someone tweeted his address at me earlier which is public information so doesn’t strike me as doxxing per se, but still seems inappropriate. (I hesitate to say this, lest I embolden those will ill-intent, but the address of nearly every homeowner in America is publicly available.)

For what it’s worth, I also feel a little bad for Mora. No one likes to lose their job. That, and the attention he’s getting, must be stressful. It’s a shame it came to this, but Mora has no one to blame but himself. It’s 2020, for Christ’s sake. By now everyone ought to know that tweets can get you fired, even from a locked account. Mora ought to have known better.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

It’s time to sling some mud at Bernie Sanders

It’s no secret that Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist. He wears the red rosette proudly. I like that about him—in fact, his policies might be the only thing I like about him. We are, broadly, in agreement on taxing the wealthy, healthcare that is free at the point of access, and universal Pre-K and free tuition at public universities. The problem, as I’ve pointed out before, is that most Americans are not. A Bernie Sanders nomination would be disastrous for Democrats in November.

We got a taste of what’s to come last night. In a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper, Sanders was unable to answer how he would pay for his expensive programs. As if that wasn’t bad enough, after Cooper showed a clip from the 1980s of Sanders speaking glowingly of the Soviet Union, the Sandinistas, and the Cuban Revolution. In explaining the clip, Sanders did—to his credit—say he condemns the authoritarian nature of the Cuban regime, only to then praise Fidel Castro for the literacy program the deceased Cuban dictator implemented “when he took office”—totally ignoring the fact that Castro didn’t “take office,” but violently stormed his way to power.

Not having fully costed your policy proposals is not going to fly with the electorate. Praising Fidel Castro will go down like a lead balloon, especially in Florida. This is just one clip, too. Sanders has been a public figure for nearly 40 years.

What else is out there? Democratic candidates ought to be looking to find out. If I were the Buttigieg or the Warren campaign, I would have staffers trawling through everything Bernie Sanders has ever said. Pour over his back catalogue and play the greatest hits on repeat. Show Democratic voters exactly who he is.

If this sounds like mudslinging, that’s because it is. I don’t deny it. It’s absolutely politics at its lowest. But have we forgotten who we’re going up against in November? Donald Trump is the most unscrupulous man to hold the White House in living memory—tenfold dirtier than Tricky Dick Nixon ever dared to be. Anyone who doesn’t think that these clips won’t be found and packaged into brutally effective attack ads playing at least once an hour in living rooms across the country is kidding themselves.

The Sanders campaign itself ought to be combing through Bernie’s record and every public utterance in anticipation of these attacks—possibly in the primary, but certainly in the general. And Bernie Sanders needs to get better at answering them. I don’t care if Fidel Castro had a great literacy program or not, you don’t stay that he did. Some things are third rails in American politics, and praise for a Cuban dictator is one of them.

The problem is that Bernie doesn’t want to play the game. He doesn’t know how, nor does he care to learn. I hate to keep bleating on about Jeremy Corbyn, but he was much the same. He blamed the media for taking his crystal clear words out of context and seemed annoyed at being asked about previous comments, as though a journalist doing her or his job was a nuisance. It didn’t work, but Corbyn didn’t care. A disdain for the system was a feature, not a bug, to him and his supporters.

When you’re as self-righteous as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, your correctness is self-evident and so being asked to explain it is a nuisance. That was on full display last night. It’s further complicating the problem; it’s bad enough these clips exist, but the inability to understand why they’re a problem and unwillingness to attempt to control the damage only serves to maximize the inevitable damage they will do.

Part of a rigorous primary contest is to vet the eventual nominee. So far, this hasn’t happened—at least not to Bernie Sanders. Most of the candidates have kept personal attacks to a minimum, but as last week’s debate in Nevada showed, the gloves are coming off. The problem is that while Buttigieg and Klobuchar and Warren are no longer pulling any punches, they’re all punching one another and not Bernie Sanders. Going after Mike Bloomberg, like Warren did, is all well and good, but Bernie is the most likely nominee at this point and so it’s time to start seriously looking at not only what he’s done (or hasn’t done), but what he’s said.

Obviously no Democrat wants to damage the eventual nominee, whoever she or he may turn out to be. That’s why we haven’t seen a more heated and contentious primary. It’s a double-edged sword, I admit. On the one hand, you don’t want to give the Republicans ammunition in the general election. On the other hand, you want to make sure Democratic voters know what ammunition there is so that they can decide whether the man who is most likely to be our party’s nominee is able to withstand it.

As the chances of a Sanders nomination continue to grow—and make no mistake, he’s the frontrunner right now—we will have to continue to square this circle. How much do we show our own hand in hopes of stopping a man who, right now, at least feels unstoppable? How much do we damage our own nominee in trying to stop him from becoming our nominee?

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Week of 17 – 21 February 2020

Over the past decade, EastEnders anniversaries have come to be known for their epic nature. For the 25th anniversary in 2010 we had the first live episodes as Bradley Branning fell to his death and Stacey Slater admitted to killing Archie Mitchell. In 2015, the 30th anniversary saw Kim Fox gave birth, Kathy Beale returned from the dead, and after ten months of wondering, fans finally learned that Bobby Beale killed his sister, Lucy. Oh, and the episodes were live again.

Both the 25th and 30th anniversaries were widely praised by critics and fans alike, so expectations were high going into the 35th anniversary episodes, which aired last week. Eschewing the live format of the previous two milestones, Kate Oates and Jon Sen – the creative bosses currently at the helm of EastEnders – opted instead for a major stunt, sending many of our favourite characters on a party cruise and one of them to a watery grave.

Spoilers lurk below, so if you haven’t seen EastEnders recently read ahead at your own peril.

We’ll get to that death later, because it is a gamechanger. Sen and Oates deserve credit for being brave enough to kill off Dennis Rickman, Jr, because it took guts. But what they also deserve credit for is changing up the entire format of EastEnders. Traditionally married to linear storytelling with few sound effects and nearly no incidental music, Sen and Oates have not shied away from tinkering with the format that viewers have come to know. This was evident during the festive season, which saw an episode told entirely from drunk Linda Carter’s view and the New Year’s Day episode a flashback to Christmas Day, showing events we hadn’t seen before and filling in several plot holes.

At the time, many fans were unimpressed with the changes, particularly the flashback episode and the cheesy drumbeats used throughout the Christmas Day episode (such as when Louise “feels” Keanu get shot). I was and remain one of them. The sound effects are utterly unnecessary and distracting, not just because they’re tacky but because they are not something EastEnders viewers are accustomed to, making them even more jarring and taking us out of the story. They were, mercifully, forsaken during boat week. As for the flashback episode—I’m not opposed to a flashback episode in principle, but the New Year’s episode felt utterly unnecessary, as every bit of it could have been told in a linear Christmas Day episode.

Not so with boat week. Seeing the day’s events from different characters’ perspectives was fascinating. Sticking with one family—whether the Carters, the Beales, or the Mitchells—allowed us to more fully invest in their storyline, devoting our attention entirely to those characters in that moment. In a way, it felt as though the stakes were raised because our minds weren’t constantly casting back to what was happening elsewhere on the boat. Being left entirely in the moment—such as when Mick tried in futility to rescue Linda on Monday—led to some edge-of-the-seat viewing, and the anguish of having to wait days to find out why the boat crashed and whether certain characters survived made the show unmissable. It was a brilliant choice by the production team.

Still, I wouldn’t want this sort of storytelling to become the norm. Like cumin, a little goes a long way. The same can be said for incidental music. The scene at the end of the Christmas episode, where Martin burns Keanu’s belongings as “Stay Another Day” swells to a climax, was incredibly gripping. Similarly, the montage at the end of Friday’s episode—showing the denizens of Walford coming to terms with Denny’s death—was particularly haunting. I would have used Julia’s Theme or some other version of the iconic theme tune (maybe not Pat’s Theme—the dark, melancholy version used when Pat Butcher died, but something like it), as it’s more familiar to fans and has a long legacy of being used at particularly poignant moments in the show’s history.

Even with an unfamiliar tune, though, the poignancy of those moments following the tragedy on the Thames was only increased by the music. Now, I don’t want to see EastEnders go full on American soap opera and have every scene scored, but music definitely added to the atmosphere of two of the finest moments of boat week, both in Friday’s episode—the aforementioned closing montage and the montage of the characters following their rescue from the river.

Well, almost all the characters. Poor Denny Rickman, aged only 13, did not make it off the boat alive. The decision to kill off Sharon’s only oldest son was, regardless of whether you agree with it or not, a bold one. Denny is the epitome of a legacy character, the only biological descendant of one of the show’s original and most iconic characters who was, until Friday, still on the canvas. Some fans have complained that he wasn’t a “major” character (as the producers had promised), but it’s hard to get more “major” than the son of Sharon Watts and the grandson of Den Watts.

Was it the right decision? I don’t know. On the one hand, it isn’t an obvious colossal mistake the way killing Roxy and Ronnie was in 2017. While Denny certainly rises to the level of “major” character, those fans who feel cheated are right in that he hasn’t driven any storyline or been front-and-centre, well, ever. Most of that is down to age; for a number of reasons it is hard to give child actors major storylines. I, for one, find myself mourning the Denny storylines we’ll never get. He had the makings of a proper little villain, a chip off grandpa Dirty Den’s old block. That we won’t get to see Denny (as well as actor Bleu Landau, who is one of the most compelling young actors working in British television today) grow up is a real loss for the show. There is a lot of squandered potential there.

The show seems to think it’s worth it. Scriptwriter Pete Lawson tweeted that even six years after Lucy Beale’s death, we’re still feeling the repercussions. In some ways this is true—there’s still conflict between Bobby and Ian over Lucy’s murder, and in many ways that moment in 2014 defines Bobby Beale as a character. And then, of course, there’s Peter, who only just returned and will have to deal with his own anger towards Bobby. It drove storyline for other characters, too—Max’s revenge plot, Lauren’s eventual relationship with Steven—so, I can see where the production staff would think it was a rousing success.

https://twitter.com/petelawson68/status/1231156226219745280?s=20

There is one major difference between Lucy Beale and Denny Rickman, though: Lucy wasn’t an only child. Now, I know technically Denny isn’t an only child either—he has a little brother now, born the same day he died in what must be the most soapy twist of all time—but he was the only biological grandchild of Den Watts. That made him a unicorn. Killing a unicorn is a risky move. As a writer, I don’t think I would have done it. Kate Oates herself has said that having those iconic families represented on the canvas is important, making it even more puzzling why she and Sen would greenlight the death of a character with such deep and rare connections to the show’s past. As of the time I’m writing this, I do not agree creatively with the decision to kill Denny.

That might change. Lawson is right that this has the potential to drive story for years. Phil and Ben caused the boat accident that killed Sharon’s son. Ian tried to rescue him, but Denny was only in need of rescue because Ian locked him below deck. This puts three of the longest-serving and most iconic characters right at the forefront of the show, which is exactly where they should be. There’s so much potential for compelling story. How does Sharon react to her best friend’s role in her son’s death? How does she react to her estranged husband’s role? How does Phil react when he finds out Ian locked Denny up? How does Callum react to Ben’s involvement in a boy’s death? (That is, assuming Callum survives being trapped in a skip.) And how does Ian look at Bobby now that Ian himself is wracked with guilt over his role in another’s death?

The answers to these questions will determine whether the Denny’s death was “worth it.” The one thing I’ll say is, for me, if Sharon and Phil reconcile then it absolutely was not. Nothing short of all-out war between Sharon and Phil, with Phil eventually getting his comeuppance (however that looks) will satisfy me as a viewer. Phil and Sharon have had a destructive relationship for going on 30 years, and it ultimately lead to this unspeakable tragedy. To have them reconcile now would be to not only insult Denny’s memory but to insult the viewers. It should not happen.

There’s so much more to talk about, including Sharon’s funeral home birth (who saw that coming?), Mick and Linda’s reconciliation (as of now that storyline has been tied up too easily, but I suspect it won’t be smooth sailing—no pun intended—going forward), Halfway in a skip (escaping your kidnapper only to end up in a skip is such a Halfway thing to do), Bex’s drugs (I’m glad she wasn’t the boat death for so many reasons), Bobby’s brain bleed (I hope they explore the Islamophobia storyline further, but with the attention and care it deserves), Peter’s return (blimey, he is quite the dish), and just where exactly is Patrick Trueman. For now, though, we’ll leave it here. I have a feeling we’ll be able to discuss all this next week.

Scene of the week: The aftermath of the boat crash, including the attempts to resuscitate poor Denny

Line of the week: “I played my trumpt, what do you think?” – Sonia, sarcastically explaining to Martin how she got rid of the police

Performance of the week: Kellie Bright as Linda broke my heart when she was pleading with Mick to save himself so their children would still have a parent alive

Character of the week: RIP Denny Rickman – you deserved better, even if you were a dick

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

The 35 most compelling characters in EastEnders history

As EastEnders celebrates its 35th anniversary, I thought it would be fun to look back at 35 of its most compelling characters. These characters helped shape the course of the show’s history, providing some of the most interesting, timely, and memorable storylines. Some of them were on our screens for years, others for a very short time. Regardless, they made a mark, telling stories that riveted us, moved us, or even made us think.

These are the 35 most compelling characters in EastEnders history.

35. Bobby Beale (2003 – 2016; 2019 – present)
Best known for killing his sister, Lucy, when he was only 11-years-old, Bobby Beale returned to Walford after being locked up for the crime. Since then, Clay Milner Russell has brilliantly portrayed the pathos and conflict of a still-young boy grappling to come to terms with what he did. Rather than going the easy route and making Bobby a cartoon villain, the writers and Milner Russell have created a character who is sensitive, kind, yet tortured by what he did and still wrestling with the temper which drove him to do it. Throw in his conversion to Islam—a brilliant storyline and character development—and Bobby has easily been the most fascinating character of the past year.

34. Debbie Wilkins (1985 – 1987)
Debbie Wilkins was Walford’s first snob. Upwardly mobile, she and her boyfriend, fellow Yuppie Andy O’Brien, moved to Albert Square in March 1985. “Debs” and Andy set the standard for class conflict in Walford and blazed a trail for later characters, right on up to Gray and Chantelle Atkins today. It’s Debbie’s character growth, though, that really sets her apart—beneath that cold exterior was a warm, compassionate heart. Her friendship with Naima Jeffery was a highlight of her time on the Square, but it’s the episode where she finds out Andy has been killed that actress Shirley Cheriton really shines.

33. Mary “The Punk” Smith (1985 – 1988; 2019)
Like Debs, Mary is one of the original characters created by Julia Smith and Tony Holland. Walford’s original rebel, Mary arrived in March 1985 as an unwed, illiterate teenage mum. Her time in Albert Square was marked with trouble, including being bedded by Mehmet Osman on a dare only to be later pimped out by him when she was on the game with Pat Wicks. Mary’s friendship with pensioner Dot Cotton was a highlight of her time on the show, but it was Linda Davidson’s portrayal of Mary—as a scared, struggling young woman trying to make a life for her and her daughter—that makes her stand out. Mary returned in 2019 for the funeral of fellow original EastEnder Dr Legg. The punk was gone, but the spunk was not.

32. Joe Wicks (1996 – 1997)
It’s a shame Paul Nicholls didn’t stick around EastEnders for more than 18 months, because Joe Wicks had the potential to become one of the all-time great characters. The show handled his schizophrenia with compassion and aplomb, setting the standard for an even deeper look at mental illness with Stacey Slater. Joe’s relationship with Sarah kept fans interested—that is, until he slept with his cousin—but it’s how deftly Nicholls and the writers and producers handled mental illness which makes Joe memorable all these years later.

31. Martin Fowler (1985 – 2007; 2014 – present)
The first baby born on EastEnders, viewers have literally watched Martin grow up. An arrogant, stubborn boy as a teenager (wonder where he got that from, Pauline?), Martin started out as someone you just wanted to slap. Becoming a father with fellow teen Sonia Jackson helped grow him up a little, and as time progressed Martin (then played by James Alexandrou) became less a caricature of your typical teenage jackass and more like his father—a decent, ordinary man just trying to make ends meet for his family. Since his return in 2014 (now played by James Bye), Martin’s friendship with ex-wife Sonia and devotion to current wife Stacey have made him one of my personal favourites. Even his recent turn as a mobster for the Mitchells has been an interesting development that, nonetheless, is still very much in character for someone who tries to do the right thing but, deep down, is a bit of an arsehole—just like his mum.

30. Aidan Brosnan (1993)
Before there was Joe Wicks, there was Aidan Brosnan. Mandy Salter’s Irish boyfriend, Aidan spent less than a year in Walford yet had one of the most interesting journeys any character has taken. Originally a talented footballer with Walford FC, an injury ended his dreams. Getting involved in drugs and drink with Mandy, Aidan’s mental health slowly deteriorated as he found himself sleeping rough and grappling with the pressures his parents put upon him. It all culminated with Aidan preparing to take his own life on Christmas Day, only to be literally talked down from a ledge by Mandy. Aidan went back to Ireland, but the layered, moving performance of Sean Maguire stands out as one of the show’s greatest.

29. Keegan Butcher-Baker (2017 – present)
From his initial introduction as one of Bex’s bullies (who can forget Louise Mitchell calling him a “total toenail” or Denise Fox slapping him silly?), Keegan has grown into a fascinating and complex character. Indeed, Keegan Butcher-Baker might be the most interesting character in Walford right now. Watching him deal with the murder of his best friend Shakil—a storyline in which EastEnders deftly took on knife crime and forced Keegan to reckon with his own role in Shakil’s death—was gripping. Even his love story with Tiffany Butcher is infinitely watchable. I can’t wait to see how Keegan develops over the coming years. If his latest storyline—about the racism of stop-and-search and only just beginning—is any indication, he will continue to be one of the most enthralling characters on the show.

28. Shirley Carter (2006 – present)
Shirley should be higher on this list and the only reason she isn’t is because producers woefully underuse the talented Linda Henry. Still, tough-as-nails Shirley steals every scene she’s in. Equally adept at comedy (pretty much any scene with her and dearly departed best friend Heather) and drama (she’s knocked it out of the park with Linda’s alcoholism storyline), Henry sinks her teeth into whatever she is given. Shirley has come a long way since we first met her, when she was but the deadbeat mum of Dean and Carly, and it’s hard to imagine Walford without her.

27. Billy Mitchell (1998 – present)
When first introduced, Billy Mitchell was the guardian of his nephew, Jamie Mitchell. Since then, we’ve seen Billy transform from child abuser (he was beating Jamie) to dopey everyman. Indeed, that journey from villain to well, not hero, exactly, but at least a lovable oaf has been fascinating to watch. Whether falling in love with Little Mo Slater, struggling as a single father when Honey left him (the first time), or dealing with the guilt of cheating on Honey with Tina Carter, Perry Fenwick has created one of the most complex—or at least, certainly one of the most tenured—characters in EastEnders history. It’s no surprise, then, that Billy was chosen to run the Olympic torch through Walford in 2012.

26. Michelle Fowler (1985 – 1995; 2016 – 2018)
It’s hard to think of a character who has had more of a journey than Michelle Fowler. Starting out as a teenager pregnant with her best friend’s father’s baby, Michelle refused to be defined by it. She worked her way through university, becoming a teacher and moving to America. In the meantime, she fell in love (memorably with Grant Mitchell) and stood by her brother Mark through his HIV diagnoses. The character of Michelle stands out as an example of why soap opera is such a great medium—the longevity of the show means that you can really tell a complex, character-driven narrative. She epitomises everything that is good about soap. Her return to Walford (with another actress in the role) was not well-received by fans, but personally I found her relationship with Preston Cooper—the American high school student she’d seduced—as compelling as it was repulsive.

25. Whitney Dean (2008 – present)
Has there every been a character with worse luck than Whitney Dean? I’m trying to think of a time when Whitney got a happy ending and I can’t. Shona McGarty shines as the eternally put-upon ward of Bianca Jackson, and her potential was immediately apparent in her first big storyline—in which Whitney was groomed and molested by Bianca’s fiancé, Tony King—which still ranks as one of the best in EastEnders history. From her relationship with Lee Carter to discovering Callum Highway was gay right before she was to marry him on up to her terrifying scenes with stalker Leo King (son of the man who molested her), for twelve years we’ve watched Whitney battle against the odds in a quest to just be happy. I hope we get to watch her for another twelve.

24. Zainab Masood (2008 – 2013)
I love Nina Wadia. I love Zainab Masood. I really love Nina Wadia as Zainab Masood. To me, Zainab is one of the great matriarchs in Walford history—a Pauline Fowler for our times. Watching her marriage to Masood disintegrate and then watching with horror as she was abused by evil Yusef was heartbreaking. Wadia always brought a humanity to Zainab so that even when you weren’t rooting for her—such as when she reacted horribly to her son Syed coming out—you could sympathise with her. Watching Zainab reconcile her belief in the way her life and family should be with how both turned out was endlessly fascinating, and Wadia really brought to life a complex, nuanced, modern Muslim British woman.

23. Sonia Jackson (1993 – 2007; 2010 – 2011; 2014 – present)
Like her ex-husband/current paramour Martin Fowler, Sonia is a character we’ve watched grow up. Unlike Martin, Sonia has been played by the same actress (Natalie Cassidy) since her inception. Watching Sonia grow from insecure little girl to independent woman has been a real treat, and Cassidy has given us plenty of memorable scenes along the way, from busking with her trumpet to giving birth to Bex to pushing Sharon in a pool. Watching Sonia balance her nursing career with the demands of family has been endlessly interesting, especially early on when it caused tensions with her and Pauline. One of only a handful of bisexual characters on British soap, Sonia’s relationships with Tina Carter and Naomi Julien were fun to watch. It is her teenage romance with Jamie Mitchell, though, that remains one of the sweetest and most tragic couplings in the show’s history.

22. Ronnie Mitchell (2007 – 2011; 2013 – 2017)
You could write an entire essay on why Ronnie Mitchell is one of the greatest characters in EastEnders history. Her push-and-pull romance with Jack Branning was popular, but it is her relationships with the other women on the square that makes Ronnie so compelling. With sister Roxy—the fire to Ronnie’s ice—Ronnie formed half of one of the show’s most iconic duos. The scene where she discovers Danielle is her daughter, only for Danielle to die moments later, will never not make me cry. Watching her grief and guilt after giving Tommy back to Kat at the end of the baby-swap storyline is heartbreaking. What makes Ronnie truly iconic, though, is that even though we root for her she is, in the end, a Mitchell. Whether killing Carl White or sending Fatboy to be crushed to death, Ronnie proved she was every bit as stone cold as cousins Phil and Grant.

21. Ricky Butcher (1988 – 2000; 2002 – 2004; 2008 – 2012)
I’m not sure there has ever been a more decent man in Walford than Ricky Butcher. From eloping with Sam Mitchell to his unexpected friendship with her brother Phil—who was in many ways as much a father figure to Ricky as his own dad Frank—Ricky grew from awkwardly charming teenage boy to a good man who always tried his best. His relationships with father Frank and sister Janine were complicated and fascinating to watch, but his romance with Bianca Jackson is the stuff of legend, forming half of one of the most iconic couples in the show’s history. Fans spent years rooting for those two crazy kids, only to be left heartbroken when in the end they just couldn’t make it work.

20. Denise Fox (2006 – present)
I love Denise. I love her because she’s level-headed (a rarity in Walford). I love her because she’s loyal and protective of her loved ones. I love her because she’s always on a mission to do better, to be better. Sure, she’s sometimes a stick in the mud, and yes, she moans a lot. But if you lived in Albert Square you’d moan a lot too; the neighbours are bonkers. Denise has grown so much from her early days as Chelsea’s fussy mum. Whether her heartbreaking goodbye to dead husband Kevin Wicks, or being kidnapped by her next husband Lucas Johnson, or grappling with whether to give her late-in-life son up for adoption or struggling with homelessness and completing her GCSE at 50, Denise has held our attention for 14 years. This is in no small part thanks to the tender and thoughtful performance of Diane Parish, who along with Linda Henry remains one of the most sorely underutilised actors on the show today.

19. Angie Watts (1985 – 1988)
Angie was a hot mess and we loved her for it. Walford’s original drunken landlady, Angie was a spitfire. With Den Watts she formed one-half of Walford’s most popular 1980s couple, and the sparring between Anita Dobson and Leslie Grantham was impossible not to watch. Watching as poor ole’ Ange tried to reconcile her life as it was with the life she thought she deserved was riveting, and we were always left wondering just what she would do next. Faking cancer to keep Den around is still one of the most conniving things we’ve seen in Walford—and their confrontation on Christmas Day 1986 remains one of the show’s most iconic moments.

18. Max Branning (2006 – present)
The frustrating thing about Max Branning is that you know that deep down he’s a decent man. You see it in the way he forgives and supports Bobby—despite Max being framed for Bobby’s crime—and the way he tries to support the people around him. The problem with Max is that, too often, he listens to the devil on his shoulder. His affair with daughter-in-law Stacey remains one of the most memorable in the show’s history and watching his complicated relationship with daughters Lauren and Abi evolve over the years made for some great television. What makes Max truly compelling is the constant internal struggle between good and evil which is happening just below the surface, a pathos brilliantly portrayed by Jake Wood.

17. Frank Butcher (1987 – 2000; 2002; 2005)
Mike Reid is one of the greatest actors to ever appear in EastEnders, and Frank Butcher is one of the most iconic characters in soap opera history. Walford’s original wide boy, viewers couldn’t wait to see what kind of scheme Frank cooked up next. His love triangle with Pat and Peggy was endlessly fun to watch play out (who can forget Frank’s bowtie!), but Reid was just as adept at drama as he was comedy. His performance following the fire at the car lot, which unintentionally killed a man, is still one of the most moving I have ever seen as Reid adeptly conveyed the anguish and guilt Frank felt.

16. Bianca Jackson (1993 – 1999; 2008 – 2014; 2019)
One of my favourite moments in EastEnders history is when David tries to teach Bianca to drive. It’s such a simple, everyday thing—but Patsy Palmer is hilarious. It’s down to her that Bianca is one of the all-time Walford greats. Whether making us laugh with witty one-liners or breaking our hearts with moving performances, Palmer created a fully-realised character. Bianca’s heart is usually in the right place, even if more often than not she makes the obviously wrong choice. Her heart is always in the right place, though, and because of that you can’t help but love her.

15. Grant Mitchell (1990 – 1999; 2005 – 2006; 2016)
Is Grant a hero or a villain? I’d say the latter, but many would argue the former. Either way, watching his growth over nine years on the show—and two short stints in subsequent years—makes him one of the most fascinating figures in Walford history. Originally hot-tempered and bull-headed, Grant mellowed as time progressed, no doubt in part because of his heartbreak over wife Sharon sleeping with his brother Phil. Still, you can’t watch Ross Kemp’s performance and not feel just a little bad for Grant, as it’s clear underneath the gruff machismo that he’s a sensitive, wounded man. It’s this complexity that makes Grant such a great character.

14. Stacey Slater (2004 – 2010; 2014 – present)
Few could have expected that Stacey would become one of the most iconic characters in EastEnders history when Lacey Turner arrived on screens in 2004. A plucky teenager turning to her great uncle, Charlie Slater, for help, Stacey immediately made her presence known, mixing it up with cousin Zoe and befriending Ruby Allen. Watching Stacey care for bipolar mother Jean, and then deal with her own mental illness (both bipolar disorder and postpartum psychosis) made for some of the best scenes the show has ever done, and Turner has rightly won boatloads of awards for her tender, nuanced portrayal. Stacey’s growth over the years—from bubbly teenager to budding matriarch—has been a joy to watch, and I look forward to Turner returning from maternity leave later this year.

13. Janine Butcher (1989 – 1993; 1993 – 1996; 1999 – 2004; 2008 – 2014)
Janine is the greatest villain in EastEnders history. At current count, she’s directly responsible for at least two deaths (Barry Evans and Michael Moon) and, one could argue, somewhat responsible for Laura Beale’s death, too. Charlie Brooks is brilliant the cold-hearted, self-centered, Janine as just evil enough to be despicable but not so evil that she isn’t redeemable. Indeed, it’s that Janine isn’t entirely evil that makes her such a compelling character. You always hope Janine will do the right thing and if you know you’re likely to be disappointed. It doesn’t hurt that Brooks doesn’t take herself too seriously, which adds a zany, almost camp element to Janine’s villainy.

12. Ian Beale (1985 – present)
The only original character with a continuous run, Ian is a Walford stalwart. A sniveling weasel of a man, thanks to Adam Woodyatt’s performance Ian is still someone you can’t help but to root for. Ian has always thought himself better than the rest of Walford, a smug conviction that has only gotten worse with age. But watching him build a business empire, then lose it, then build it again has been fascinating, and Ian himself serves as an extended commentary on class—and upward mobility—in modern Britain. It’s hard to pick a “greatest moment” for a character who has been on our screens for 35 years, but Woodyatt’s moving performance when Ian finds out Lucy was murdered is unforgettable.

11. Linda Carter (2013 – present)
For reasons I can’t understand, Mick seems to be the more popular of the Carter couple. Linda, though, is by far the more interesting of the pair. It was clear early on that Kellie Bright was going to be a wonderful addition to the cast, but the way she’s portrayed Linda—a woman who struggles to reconcile her high expectations with reality—has been remarkable. Bright’s performance as Linda struggled to accept Johnny’s sexuality was at turns moving and infuriating. That’s what makes Linda such a great character, though. She is so many things at once—spiteful, vindictive, cruel; sensitive, vulnerable; compassionate. Linda Carter truly is one of the most complex women in Walford history.

10. Pauline Fowler (1985 – 2006)
A working mother who was endlessly put upon by her children and her husband, Pauline Fowler is the original Walford everywoman. Uptight and judgmental, Pauline had an opinion on everyone and everything and never shied away from letting people know. Yet she was also kind—such as when she comforted Pat after the latter accidentally ran over and killed a little girl—and a pillar of the community. Yes, it took Pauline a while to come to terms with things (such as Mark’s HIV status), but you knew that she always would. Her final row with daughter-in-law Sonia over the role of a wife and mother summed up the character most succinctly and beautifully. Pauline was, like so many people, a decent, salt-of-the-earth woman who, though struggling with the pace of change in her community, truly meant well.

9. Kathy Beale (1985 – 2000; 2015 – present)
I fear Kathy will be most remembered for coming back from the dead. That’s a shame, because Kathy is one of the most interesting characters to ever come through Walford. Originally defined by her role as a wife and mother, it soon became clear that Kathy wanted to be more than Mrs. Pete Beale. Watching her as she slowly began to assert her independence was refreshing in the 1980s. Gillian Taylforth’s performance following Kathy’s rape by James Wilmott-Brown remains one of the most haunting in the show’s history, and her chemistry with Steve McFadden made Phil and Kathy’s relationship riveting to watch. (I’ll never forget Kathy throwing her wedding ring in the Seine when Phil confessed to again cheating.) Now sadly relegated to the role of exasperated mother of dickheads Ian and Ben, Kathy remains one of the greatest female characters in the show’s history.

8. Den Watts (1985 – 1989; 2003 – 2005)
Another back-from-the-dead character, Den was the show’s original gangster. There would be no Phil or Grant Mitchell without him. Den was a villain, to be sure, but he was also an endlessly decent man. Den often did the wrong thing for the right reasons, which made him endlessly watchable. Let’s not forget that he ended up “dead” the first time only because of a chain of events which started with him getting revenge on Wilmott-Brown for raping Kathy. Beyond that, he was genuinely good to Michelle Fowler (well, as good as Den could be) and no daughter has ever been as loved by her father as Sharon Watts.

7. Patrick Trueman (2001 – present)
One of the things I noticed when I sat down to write this list and the 35 most iconic scenes list is that, truly, there is a dearth of BME characters on EastEnders. That’s a shame, because East London is one of the most diverse places in the world. While the show has not always done characters of colour the justice they deserve, Rudolph Walker’s Patrick Trueman might be an exception. When he first stepped onto the Square in 2001, Patrick was a bit of a lothario—a father who hadn’t seen his sons in years and an unrepentant ladies’ man. Over the course of two decades, though, Patrick would grow to become a pillar of the community. Walker’s performance as a grieving Patrick following Paul Trueman’s death was heartbreaking, and the father-daughter relationship between him and Denise has been one of the highlights of the show in recent years. I’m so glad to see Patrick being put front-and-centre again as we learn more about his secret son, Isaac in the weeks to come. It’s only right that he plays a central role in the 35th anniversary episodes, as Patrick Trueman is the most iconic Black character in the show’s history.

6. Kat Slater (2000 – 2006; 2010 – 2016; 2018 – present)
When the Slater family first arrived in Walford way back in 2000, it was impossible to know the impact they would have. Loud and disruptive, it’s now impossible to imagine Albert Square without a Slater on it. Of all that unruly brood—and there have been many throughout the years—none is more iconic than Kat. Jessie Wallace solidified her place in the pantheon of EastEnders stars with her gripping performance opposite Michelle Ryan as Kat tearfully admits she is Zoe’s mum, the result of Kat’s rape by her uncle years before. Since then, Wallace has gone from strength to strength, giving us both heartbreaking dramatic performances and hilariously comic moments. Whether tearfully realising her son is alive or walking into her own wake, there is never a dull moment when Kat Slater is around. It’s no surprise that the BBC gave her and on-again, off-again husband Alfie their own spinoff (which is, I have to say, incredibly underrated).

5. Peggy Mitchell (1991; 1994 – 2010; 2013; 2014; 2015; 2016)
The quintessential Walford matriarch, Peggy Mitchell is legendary, and Barbara Windsor is a national treasure. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine another actress playing Peggy—yet Windsor was the second performer to step into her kitten heels. Watching her try to corral her unruly brood of children—whether brokering peace between Phil and Grant or trying to sort out Sam’s latest mess—was tv at its finest, and her friendship/rivalry with Pat Butcher is unlikely to ever be surpassed. Right up until the very end, when Windsor movingly portrayed Peggy’s decision to end her own life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Peggy kept us riveted, giving us consistently moving performances and one of tv’s all-time greatest catchphrases in “Get outta my pub!”

4. Sharon Watts (1985 – 1995; 2001 – 2006; 2012 – present)
“We must all bow down to Sharon of House Watts, First of Her Name, Bringer of Justice, Puller of Pints, The Countess of Clapbacks, The Thick-Lashed, The Undefeatable, the rightful Lady of the Vic and one true Queen of Walford,” I tweeted last month—and it’s true. There is no contest—Sharon is the undisputed queen of Walford. Played brilliantly by original cast member Letitia Dean on and off since 1985, Sharon has grown from naïve teenage girl to a strong, independent woman. Whether having an affair with her husband’s brother or falling in love with her father’s son (long story), Sharon has given us some of the most memorable moments in the show’s history. Indeed, who but Sharon would have an entire Twitter account dedicated with keeping up with how she’s doing? She is truly the Queen in the East(End).

3. Pat Butcher (1986 – 2012)
Pat is my favourite character of all time, the original tart-with-a-heart. A prototype for characters to come, from Mandy Salter to Bianca Jackson to Kat Slater and even Kim Fox, Pat was brash, bold, and unbothered. Beginning her time on the Square as a troublemaker and prostitute, Pat grew to become one of the greatest matriarchs and most iconic characters in soap opera history. Her earrings are the stuff of legend, rivalled in size only by her heart. Sweet and gentle sometimes, piss and vinegar others, Pam St Clement’s performance was layered and sublime. Her friendship and rivalry with Peggy Mitchell is the best the soap has ever portrayed, and her romance with Frank is one of the greatest in soap history. Pat was vital to the continued success of EastEnders through the 1990s and 2000s, anchoring the show in its past while always helping to move it forward. I feel I would be remiss not to mention the amazing chemistry between St Clement and Charlie Brooks, and the two of them made Pat and Janine possibly the most compelling mother-daughter duo in the show’s history, which is no small feat considering Pat wasn’t Janine’s actual mother!

2. Phil Mitchell (1990 – present)
It’s difficult to overstate just how important Steve McFadden’s Phil Mitchell has been to the history and success of EastEnders. His arrival in 1990 revitalised the show, but I don’t think anyone at the time could have realised just how iconic Phil Mitchell would become. A gangster with a heart, Phil has committed some unspeakable acts in his time—most recently organising a failed hit on Keanu Taylor—yet can’t be described as an outright villain because under that gruff exterior beats a giant heart. Indeed, in his own way, Phil is a man who believes in justice and fairness, even if he doesn’t always act just or fair. His relationship with godson Jamie, his guilt over Vincent’s murder and subsequent support for Kim, his support for Sonia when she was accused of killing Pauline all point to a man who knows what is right, even if he doesn’t always listen to himself. Phil’s struggles with alcohol and drug addiction have become something of a joke among fans, but they are relevant and timely stories which McFadden has repeatedly sank his teeth into. Imagining Walford without Phil Mitchell is just impossible, and after three decades Phil is possibly the most iconic male character in British soap opera history.

1. Dot Branning (1985 – 1993; 1997 – present)
It had to be Dot. Walford’s original busybody, June Brown has played the devout Christian since 1985, debuting only months after the show itself premiered. Since then, Dot has become a pillar of the community, the one person Walford residents know they can turn to for a bit of advice or even just to listen. Her development over the course of 35 years—from a sort of caricature of the meddling, gossipy pensioner to a woman of remarkable compassion who struggles to reconcile her deep faith with her love of those it condemns—has been the most compelling journey of any character. Her relationship with her evil son Nick was always gripping, but Dot is so much more than a distraught and dismayed mother. There’s no better example than Dot’s evolution on gay rights from her early homophobia to eventually attending her dear friend Collin’s gay wedding nearly 30 years later. Whether wrestling with her conscience over whether to help best friend Ethel end her life, or supporting Dr. Legg as he both faces antisemitism and faces his impending death, Dot has provided us with some of the finest moments in British tv history. June Brown was nominated for a BAFTA for her one-hander—the only in the show’s history—and has solidified Dot’s place as the most iconic character in EastEnders history.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

The 35 most iconic scenes in “EastEnders” history

Next week, EastEnders celebrates its 35th anniversary. While producers have promised some amazing and gripping scenes as the citizens of Walford take to the Thames for a death cruise, there are plenty of great moments to look back on.

As a lifelong EastEnders fan—I began watching from America on PBS when I was about 8-years-old—I decided to look back at 35 years of action in Walford, ranking the 35 greatest scenes in EastEnders history.

35. Linda and Martin “kill” Keanu (2020)

It’s not even been two months since Martin Fowler, on the orders of Ben Mitchell, was meant to kill Keanu Taylor. A drunk Linda Carter stopped that from happening, instead orchestrating a coverup. The convergence of two of EastEnders’ major storylines—Sharon and Keanu’s affair and Linda’s alcoholism—this was a return to form for the show and will be remembered for years to come.

34. Reg Cox’s body is found (1985)

Keanu might have survived, but the same can’t be said for poor ole Reg. EastEnders debuted on 19 February 1985 with the murder of pensioner Reg Cox. Arthur Fowler, Den Cox, and Ali Osman find him murdered in his flat (by Nick Cotton, as we later find out). Putting us right in the middle of the action from the very first scene, EastEnders showed from the very beginning it was unlike anything British tv had seen before.

33. Mark tells everyone his is HIV+ (1996)

When Peggy Mitchell found out Mark Fowler was HIV+, she orchestrated a hate campaign against him. In these scenes, Mark confronts her prejudice—and the prejudice of the community—by giving them the facts and insisting that he be served in his local. The are moving scenes proving that throughout its run EastEnders has never shied away from tackling controversial and topical issues, always with compassion and care.

32. Sonia has a surprise baby (2000)

“Well if your school had a sex education teacher they should sack him!” is still one of my favourite lines in EastEnders history. After a brief liaison with Martin Fowler, teenaged Sonia Jackson—who had no idea she was pregnant—went into labour. With the help of Mo Harris, Sonia gave birth to daughter Bex in this dark but comical scene that served to both continue the Fowler/Jackson families and establish Laila Morse (who plays Mo) as one of the greatest comic actors the show has ever seen.

31. Lou Beale’s home truths (1988)

Lou Beale knew she was dying, but she wasn’t going to go quietly into that gentle night. Rather, she gathered her family around to give them a piece of her mind (and a few heirlooms). It’s a classic scene in which Anna Wing shines as Lou, and reminds us that EastEnders is always at its best when it centres strong, smart women.

30. Pat and Peggy get drunk in an ice cream van (2009)

The friendship between Pat (Pam St Clement) and Peggy (Barbara Windsor), two of the most iconic characters in EastEnders history, is enough to make this scene stand out. Throw in a bottle of vodka, a bunch of sweets, and a peeved Shirley Carter and Phil Mitchell and you’ve got one of the funniest scenes the show ever did.

29. Nick Cotton kills Eddie Royle (1991)

It’s hard to pick out Nick Cotton’s most evil deed, but murdering Eddie Royle has to be near the top. The greatest villain in the soap’s history murdered poor Eddie and then framed Clyde Tavernier for the crime. It was the start of one of EastEnders’ most compelling stories to date, exploring racism in the criminal justice system and the perceptions of Black boys in modern Britain.

28. Syed admits he’s gay (and in love with Christian) (2011)

EastEnders has never shied away from telling compelling stories about LGBT people, and the journey of Syed Masood is one of the best in the show’s history. Syed didn’t expect to fall in love with Christian, but their connection proved too much for him to ignore. It’s hard to pick just one scene from this story of faith, family, and acceptance – but this, when Syed finally admits the affair to his family and friends, stands out.

27. Jim Branning proposes to Dot Cotton (2001)

I love a good romance, and it’s hard to beat the love story between pensioners Jim Branning and Dot Cotton. Neither one of them expected to find love again at their age, but find it they did, beginning one of the greatest partnerships in EastEnders history. Jim’s proposal to Dot on the London Eye is the most romantic scene the show has ever aired.

26. Johnny Carter comes out to his father, Mick (2014)

EastEnders has had many gay characters over the years, but never has a parent’s response to their child’s coming out been as pitch perfect as Mick Carter’s was when his son Johnny came out to him. Letting Johnny know that Mick loved him unconditionally, he gently coaxed his son into finally opening up. It’s still hard to watch this with dry eyes, and that’s down in no small part to the brilliant, compassionate performances of Sam Strike and Danny Dyer.

25. Phil sets fire to Frank’s car lot (1994)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Phil Mitchell is a bit of a pyromaniac. He famously set fire to the Queen Vic in 2010, but before that, he set fire to Frank Butcher’s car lot in 1994. Frank wanted to burn down the car lot for the insurance money, but what neither expected was that there would be a man there sleeping rough. That man died, and the guilt of his death has haunted Phil ever since.

24. “Hello, princess” (2003)

We all thought we’d seen the last of Den Watts when he died in 1989. No so! Despite having identified his body years before, Sharon was stunned when her father showed up in Walford very much alive. He’d be dead again soon enough (thanks to wife Chrissy and Pauline Fowler’s doorstop), and years later Kathy Beale would pull her own Lazarus stunt. But few things have surprised us more than the resurrection of Dirty Den.

23. The fire at the bed and breakfast (2011)

There’s so much going on here it’s hard to know where to begin, but what makes this scene truly iconic is the stellar performances by Nina Wadia and Ace Bhatti. Evil Yusef had been abusing Zainab for months, even threatening to kill her son. Plotting her escape with ex-husband Masood, Yusef caught them and set fire to the B&B in an attempt to kill him. Turning the tables on her abusive husband, Zainab convinced him his daughter Afia was in the burning building. The look on Yusef’s face when he finally realizes Afia is outside—right before he dies—is one of the most haunting yet satisfying moments in the show’s history.

22. Ronnie and Roxy drown in a pool (2017)

I hesitated to include this moment at all because I know how much people hate it. To be fair, I understand why. Killing off Ronnie and Roxy (and on the night of poor Ronnie’s wedding, at that!) is one of the greatest mistakes in the show’s history, and this scene is certainly one of the most controversial, at least among diehard fans. But it’s specifically because of that controversy that this scene belongs on this list. It was the end of an era as the Mitchell sisters bowed out and a lesson to future producers in thinking twice before you kill off one (let alone two) fan favourites.

21. Cindy Beale flees with Peter and Steven (1996)

Dastardly Cindy never took to married life or motherhood, cheating on Ian not once but twice—including with his half-brother, David. When Ian found out, he threatened to sue for custody of their children. Not having that, Cindy hired a hitman to take Ian out. She had a chance of heart at the last minute, but it was too late, and Ian was shot. Panicking—and realizing the police were hot on her tail—Cindy kidnapped her two sons but was unable to get her daughter, Lucy, instead leaving with her ragdoll. Cindy would later die giving birth to Cindy Jr, and both Lucy and Steven would meet grizzly fates of their own.

20. Whitney confesses that Tony has been grooming her (2008)

One of the most distressing but relevant storylines of the 2000s, Whitney’s confession that Tony has been sexually molesting her from the time she was 12 was difficult viewing in 2008. Shona McGarty and Patsy Palmer have a real chemistry that really sells the stepmother/stepdaughter relationship between Whitney and Bianca, and Shona especially gives a moving performance as Whitney comes to the realization that Tony didn’t love her, he abused her.

19. Jane admits that Bobby killed Lucy (2015)

The culmination of a nearly year-long mystery, on the 30th anniversary we finally learned who killed Lucy Beale. In one of the most shocking twists in EastEnders history, Lucy’s murderer turned out to be none other than her 11-year-old brother Bobby. Laurie Brett gives a heartbreaking performance as Bobby’s mum Jane—who kept his involvement a secret for months—and Adam Woodyatt really conveys Ian’s shock as he realises the truth. All this is made even more remarkable by the fact that it went out live.

18. The first gay kisses (1987/1989)

EastEnders—and Sir Michael Cashman–made history with the character of Colin Russell, the show’s first gay character and one of its most popular in the late 1980s. In 1987, the show broke new ground when it showed Colin kissing his boyfriend Barry on the forehead—the first gay kiss in soap history. They went a step further in January 1989, airing a kiss on the mouth between Colin and his new boyfriend Guido. Looking back, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about—but it was one of the riskiest and most controversial moments in the show’s 35-year history.

17. Ronnie realizes Danielle is her daughter (2009)

Ronnie Mitchell never could catch a break. Having given birth to a daughter just a teenager, Ronnie’s evil father Archie told her that the baby had died. Instead, Archie gave the girl up for adoption. Years later, Ronnie’s daughter, Danielle, turns up in Albert Square looking for her mother. Ronnie finally learns the truth and accepts Danielle—only for Danielle to be mowed down by Janine Butcher moments later. Samantha Womack’s piercing cries of “she’s dead!” still give us chills after all these years.

16. Trevor attacks Little Mo on Christmas Day (2001)

Warning: these scenes are very distressing. One of the most harrowing storylines EastEnders ever attempted was the abuse of Little Mo Slater by her husband, Trevor Morgan. For a year we watched as Trevor abused and tortured his poor wife in some of the most difficult viewing in the show’s history. This scene—which transmitted on Christmas Day 2001—is among the most memorable ever because of its sheer brutality. Viewers watched in agonizing horror as Trevor humiliated Little Mo, violently shoving her face into her Christmas dinner. He got his comeuppance the next year, I’m happy to report.

15. Mel leaves Ian after their wedding (1999)

If there is one consistent truth that runs through all 35 years of EastEnders, it is that Ian Beale is a wanker. He lied about daughter Lucy having cancer in order to get Mel to marry him. She found out mere minutes after their wedding on New Year’s Eve 1999, and in one of the greatest lines ever “Well guess what, Ian? I don’t love you, and I never have done,” Mel told Ian to bugger off as Walford rang in the new millennium.

14. Frank’s bowtie (2000)

Pat and Peggy spent a lot of time fighting over Frank, but you can hardly blame them once you see this scene. Charming wide boy Frank Butcher showed up on Pat’s doorstep wearing nothing but his birthday suit and a spinning bowtie. Of course, his wife Peggy didn’t know where he was, but that didn’t matter. This scene is instantly iconic and provided the internet with one of the greatest gifs ever – nothing screams “I quite fancy that” like Frank’s spinning bowtie.

13. Tiffany Mitchell dies (1999)

It’s hard to explain just how popular Martine McCutcheon’s Tiffany was in the late 1990s. When McCutcheon decided to leave to pursue her music career, producers killed her character off—a real shame, because who only knows what could have happened with Tiffany had she ever decided to return. Her death on New Year’s Eve 1998—run over by Frank Butcher (father of Janine, who herself enjoys a bit of automotive homicide) at the stroke of midnight following a fight with husband Grant Mitchell over their daughter Courtney—is one of the most tear-jerking in the show’s history.

12. Hassan Osman’s cot death (1985)

In the show’s first hard-hitting, topical storyline, Sue and Ali Osman’s infant son Hassan dies unexpectedly. Sue’s struggles to come to terms with her son’s death would be a central focus of early episodes, and baby Hassan’s death was itself a shocking moment. It set the standard for EastEnders storytelling—focusing on real issues real people face, but doing so with such compassion and humanity.

11. Phil and Grant crash into the Thames (1999)

No two Walford siblings have a more complicated relationship than Phil and Grant Mitchell. When Grant slept with Phil’s wife Kathy to get revenge for Phil having, years before, slept with Grant’s wife Sharon (who is now Phil’s wife, though he’s probably going to divorce her—like I said, complicated), Phil confronted him. It resulted in a car chase through East London, Phil trying to shoot Grant, and a crash into the Thames. Both brothers survived, though, and eventually made up—well, sort of.

10. Bradley falls off the roof of the Queen Vic (2010)

EastEnders doesn’t shy away from big, flashy stunts, but few can compare to the 25th anniversary episode. The culmination of the “Who killed Archie?” storyline, chief suspect Bradley Branning fell to his death from the roof of the Queen Vic while on the run from police. As it turns out, Bradley didn’t kill Archie—his wife, Stacey did. It remains the gold standard in live episodes and murder mystery reveals, and Lacey Turner and Jake Wood deserve special praise for their performances as Stacey Slater and her father-in-law Max Branning.

9. Phil is shot (2001)

In March 2001 the nation was asking itself one question: “who shot Phil Mitchell?” It was a gripping storyline precisely because most of Walford had a motive to shoot the hardman. The storyline dominated tabloids and was even covered by the evening news. In the end, it was revealed that Phil’s estranged partner Lisa was the culprit, though Phil eventually forgave her and, in 2019, they were even able to laugh about it. Good times.

8. Den Watts “dies” (1989)

The Mitchell brothers weren’t the first gangsters on Albert Square. In the late 1980s “The Firm” reigned supreme. Den Watts, the archetypical Walford bad boy, incurred their wrath when he used one of their cronies to burn down the Dagmar (in revenge for James Willmott-Brown raping Kathy Beale). Den was sent to prison for arson, but The Firm still thought he was a liability so orchestrated his “murder” in early 1989. Fourteen years later, of course, we’d learn that he had faked his death—but at the time, we all thought we’d seen the last of Dirty Den, the undoubtable breakout character from the original cast.

7. Dot helps Ethel die (2000)

Few soap characters are as beloved as Ethel Skinner. A cantankerous pensioner who lost her family to a doodlebug in the war, Ethel and Willy (a dog, not a penis) were two of the most delightful creatures to ever trot across Albert Square. With her health failing, though, Ethel decided to go out on her own terms. What transpired was some of the most touching scenes and most compelling story in EastEnders history as Ethel’s best friend, devout Christian Dot Cotton, wrestled with whether to help her friend end her own life. Dot eventually does agree to help Ethel, and it is perhaps the most moving scene in the show’s history.

6. Max’s and Stacey’s affair is revealed (2007)

Max and Stacey have such an exhausting history now that they’re a bit of a punchline, but back in 2007 their affair had viewers gripped. Stacey married Bradley Branning while carrying on an affair with his father, Max. It all came to a head on Christmas Day 2007 when Max’s daughter, Lauren, put on a DVD that ostensibly showed Bradley’s and Stacey’s wedding but which had also caught Max and Stacey doing the dirty. The look of horror on Jo Joyner’s (Tanya’s) face as she realizes what she is watching is both heartbreaking and riveting. Watching this unfold was a bit like watching a trainwreck—cringey and uncomfortable but impossible to look away.

5. “You bitch!” “You cow!” (1998)

Pat and Peggy might have wound up great friends, but they weren’t always so chummy. In 1998 they were fighting over—who else?—Frank Butcher, and in the process gave us one of the greatest rows in television history. Pat taunts Peggy about how Frank loves her more, Peggy taunts Pat about how she can’t arouse her own husband, and then they physically attack one another. If you say “you bitch!” in the right tone of voice, chances are someone around you will respond with “you cow!” – proving just how iconic this scene is.

4. Janine pushes Barry off a cliff (2004)

Look, I could an entire list of 35 of Janine Butcher’s finest moments. Stabbing herself to frame Stacey? Killing Michael and then blaming Alice? Her row with Laura right before Laura took a tumble down the stairs? All great moments. But Queen Janine’s finest—read: worst—moment is undoubtedly her first kill. Janine married poor Barry Evans for his money, thinking he was dying. When it turned out that Barry wasn’t dying, Janine took matters into her own hands and shoved him off a cliff on their honeymoon. While I always maintain that Janine didn’t mean to kill Barry, she certainly sat by and watched him die.

ICE. COLD.

3. Den serves Angie with divorce papers (1986)

“This, my sweet, is a letter from my solicitor telling you your husband has filed a petition for divorce.” Those words still give me chills. Feeling that her marriage was about to fall apart, Angie Watts faked cancer to keep husband Den around. Of course, he found out because that’s a dumb plan, and he was not at all happy when he did. On Christmas Day 1986 Den served Angie with divorce papers – and more than 30 million people tuned in to watch.

2. Sharongate (1994)

There will never be another soap opera storyline quite like Sharongate. Certainly there will never be one as popular and gripping. Playing out over the course of not months, but years, Sharongate centered on the love triangle between brothers Phil and Grant Mitchell and the woman they’d both end up marrying, Sharon Watts. Sharon initially fell in love with Grant and went on to marry him, but in 1992 she had an affair with Phil. This continued to play out for another two years, coming to a head in 1994 when Grant discovered a recording of Phil and Sharon together—playing it at the Queen Vic for all of Walford to hear. It’s a legendary moment, one that still gets mentioned in casual conversation and even on the show.

1. “You ain’t my muvva!” (2001)

It’s hard to think of a more shocking moment in soap history than when Kat Slater revealed that sister Zoe was actually her daughter. Conceived when Kat’s uncle raped her as a young girl, Zoe grew up thinking her grandfather was her father. The truth came out when Zoe decided to move to Spain with her mother’s rapist uncle—and with that “You can’t tell me what to do, you ain’t my muvva!” became an iconic phrase. Michelle Ryan (as Zoe) and Jessie Wallace (Kat) convey the depth of pain, shock, and urgency these characters are experiencing. Nearly 20 years later, it remains the single greatest scene in EastEnders history.

 

Do you agree with my choices? Or do you think there are some glaring omissions? Leave your favourite scenes in the comments below!

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

Responding to #QueersAgainstPete and their baseless attacks on Pete Buttigieg

A new group, “Queers Against Pete,” has popped up in the Twittersphere. They have a website (which you can check out at www.queersagainstpete.com) and an open letter which you can sign, if you wish. However, before you do that, I’d like to offer my line by line rebuttal. There are some serious errors, omissions, and misrepresentations here which are worth considering. Please note that for the purposes of this blog I have used the letterwriter’s own acronym “LGBTQIA” to refer to our community.

Open Letter

Dear fellow members of the LGBTQIA community,

Hello, letter writer!

This election cycle we will be presented with plenty of options. Up and down the ballot, candidate’s stances will impact us, our families and communities. If we’ve learned anything from our ancestors and transcestors, it’s that we must speak out…and act up. This primary election is one such example.

Transcestors? Never heard that. Clever word play.

There has been much talk about identity and diversity in the race to win the Democratic party nomination for president. Some have touted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s openly gay identity as proof of progress in our politics. However, being gay is not enough to earn the support of LGBTQIA communities.

I agree that being gay is not enough to earn the support of the LGBTQIA community. I wouldn’t vote for a gay Republican because their politics do not match mine. There is no reason why anyone in the LGBTQIA community or any community should feel compelled to support Pete Buttigieg just because he is gay.

However, Mayor Pete is proof of progress in our politics – or at least in our society. His candidacy was unimaginable even 10 years ago. Keep in mind it was only 12 years ago that America elected its first Black president. Keep in mind it was only 5 years ago that marriage equality – which I’m sure you have radical arguments against, but stay with me – was legalized across the nation. I came out in 2001 (you can read about that here), and the world was very different. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and that is worth acknowledging at the very least.

We cannot in good conscience allow Mayor Pete to become the nominee without demanding that he address the needs and concerns of the broader Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA) communities. While many see different issues in silos, we are clear that LGBTQIA people are directly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, incarceration, unaffordable healthcare, homelessness, deportation, and economic inequality among other things.

This is where it would be nice if you offered evidence that LGBTQIA people “are directly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, incarceration, unaffordable healthcare, homelessness, deportation, and economic inequality.” Maybe we are. But citing statistics and sources is important when making a claim. Because, for example, if a Black gay man is shot dead by the police in an extrajudicial execution—as happens far too frequently in our nation—I would argue that more often than not it’s because he is Black and not gay.

I will, however, concede the point that LGBTQIA people care about more than what we often refer to as “LGBT rights.” I respect the desire to point this out, because too often the media portrays “identity voters” as only caring about a narrow set of issues when that is simply not the case.

Mayor Pete is leaning on the support and actively courting the LGBTQIA community, but has shown time and time again that he is out of touch, not fit to be President of the United States, and simply falls short.

I actually haven’t seen Mayor Pete “leaning on the support and actively courting the LGBTQIA community” anymore than any other candidate (and less so than Elizabeth Warren), though I’m not sure why you present that as a bad thing. Candidates should be trying to win over LGBTQIA voters.

  • Mayor Pete opposes free universal free public college and does not support cancelling student loan debt;

    This is true, and when I endorsed Mayor Pete, I noted it as one of the principle policies on which we disagree. But here’s what Mayor Pete’s plan does do: it makes public universities free to families making up to $100,000 a year and adds $120 billion to the Pell Grants funds (which is an excellent fund and put me through college). 80% of American families will be eligible for free tuition.

    Pete’s logic is that the richest among us should be expected to pay their fair share. Pete’s plan is not, as you imply, a plan which is built out of selfishness or callousness, but a radical reshaping of American higher education. It opens a door for millions of Americans to get a degree who previously would have been prevented because of the skyrocketing cost of college tuition.

    As for student loans, Pete has pledged to cancel student loan debt for students who attend predatory for-profit schools. He has laid out an income-based repayment plan for people struggling with student loan debt – and the loans will be cancelled after 20 years in the plan. He will end wage garnishments for low-income workers, and offer student loan forgiveness to public servants after 10 years of employment in the public sector.

    These progressive plans do more than we’ve ever done to help students and those with student loan debt. They’re also more palatable to American voters, the majority of whom oppose free college and paying for loan forgiveness with a new tax. It’s important to move the country forward, but we must also meet voters where they are.

  • Mayor Pete has no plan to restore the right to vote for all formerly and currently incarcerated people, create an alternative to police, or end cash bail;

    Let’s take a look at Pete’s plan. “Pete will abolish private federal prisons and reduce the use of private contractors, eliminate the for-profit bail industry, and work with states to cap the amount of revenue cities and counties receive from fines and fees.”  He also wants to eliminate mandatory sentencing and look at sentencing caps, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions. He wants to equalize funding between federal prosecutors and federal public defenders – ensuring a robust and top-notch defense for the accused. He supports a constitutional amendment to ban the death penalty. Pete does support restoring voting rights to felons released from prison, but he does not support allowing those currently incarcerated to vote – an uncontroversial opinion with which 69% of Americans agree.

  • Mayor Pete has not addressed the concerns related to Eric Logan, a Black South Bend resident who was shot and killed by a white police officer. Furthermore, while in office, Mayor Pete refused to release the police tapes relating to the demotion of Darryl Boykins, the first Black person to serve as police chief. We echo the demands of Black Lives Matter – South Bend to create a Citizens Review Board and for the release of the tapes;

    It would be helpful here if you explained what specific concerns related to the police killing of Eric Logan you want Mayor Pete to address. Your vague wording strikes me as intentional – you want to score political points using a dead Black man but you do not actually have any grievances specific to this case. “The disconnect between the Black community and the municipality under several administrations has been a festering problem in the greater South Bend area for more than 50 years,” KaRon Kirkland, a 62-year-old lifelong South Bend resident told NBC last year. “It didn’t start with Pete.” For more on what Mayor Pete did for Black South Benders, Buzzfeed produced this detailed and thoughtful reporting in December.

    As for Darryl Boykins, I’m going to let Pete tell you what happened in his own words, as he goes into the details of the Boykins case in his memoir Shortest Way Home. I’ve quoted at length here, but I encourage you to stick with it, as it is one of the most misunderstood and misreported aspects of his mayoralty.

    “…after interviewing [Boykins] and two competitors for the job, I decided during the transition phase that I would reappoint him,” Pete writes. Boykins—who apparently was paranoid that “some other officers” were gunning for his job (despite the fact that Mayor Pete had decided to keep him on)—

    “allegedly confronted them with tape recordings that could embarrass them if disclosed. He had access to these tapes because some phone lines in the department were connected to recording equipment used for interviews and investigations, and the officers had been recorded on that equipment without their knowledge. As court filings would later document, the chief threatened to take action against at least one officer he had come to consider disloyal. Perhaps the chief didn’t realize that I was already leaning toward reappointing him; or perhaps it just seemed like an insurance policy.

    Enter the Federal Wiretap Act—a set of very strict federal laws about recording other people without their knowledge. In fact, making such recordings or disclosing their content can be a felony, punishable by prison time as well as fines. There are state laws, too, against recording a conversation without the knowledge of either party, absent a warrant or other legal clearance. The recorded officers knew it, and complained to federal authorities, who took the issue seriously. So that’s how it came to be that, a few weeks into the job of mayor, I learned that my newly reappointed police chief was being investigated by the FBI. Eventually a message came through, thinly veiled but quite clear, from federal prosecutors: the people responsible for the covert recordings needed to go, or charges might be filed……I sat at the end of the conference table in my office and contemplated which scenario was more likely to tear the community apart—a  well-liked African-American police chief potentially being indicted over compliance with a very technical federal law, or me removing him for allowing things to reach this point? There was no good option: the community would erupt either way.”

    Buttigieg then called Boykins, asking him to voluntarily step down. (Pete admits this was a mistake—he should have done it in person, and he learned that lesson.) Boykins agreed, and the community was predictably outraged. The next day, Boykins changed his mind and withdrew his resignation. Pete, however, felt he had no choice. “Even leaving aside that I believed removing him was the best way to avoid him facing potential legal action, I had lost confidence in the leadership of a chief who had not come to me the moment he realized he was the target of an FBI investigation.” Pete didn’t fire him—only the Board of Public Safety can fire an officer—he demoted him.It was only after this that local press began reporting that the officers who had been recorded had allegedly used racist language to insult Boykins. “The content of the tapes had not come up when I was talking with staff or with the chief about the issue,” Pete writes, adding that he was immediately concerned about the “credibility and legitimacy” of the South Bend Police Department. “…[S]ince so many of the worst race-based abuses in modern American history happened at the hands of law enforcement, policing was the most sensitive part of the entire administration when it came to demonstrating that we acted without bias.”

    The crux of the issue is that Mayor Pete had and has no way of knowing what is on those tapes. The recordings were made illegally. “Under the Federal Wiretap Act,” he explains, “this meant that it could be a felony not just to make the recordings, but to reproduce or disclose them. Like everyone else in the community I wanted to know what was on those recordings. But it was potentially illegal for me to find out, and it was not clear I could even ask, without fear of legal repercussions.” Mayor Pete still has not heard the recordings and doesn’t know if he or the public ever will—not because of some coverup, but because of federal law.

    Mayor Pete learned a lot from the Boykins incident. “The most important lessons of this painful episode were… about the deeply fraught relationship between law enforcement and communities of color,” he writes. “Ferguson and everything that followed in the Black Lives Matter movement came after the tapes controversy exploded locally, but their urgency grew from the same root: the fact that many of the worst historical injustices visited upon [B]lack citizens of our country came at the hands of local law enforcement.”

  • Mayor Pete has not said if he would support a moratorium to end deportations or that he would decriminalize border crossing;

    Mayor Pete has committed to supporting a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including a push for legislation on the issue within his first 100 days in office. He wants to reduce barriers to healthcare and education for undocumented immigrants and protect undocumented workers from retaliation when reporting labor violations. He plans to increase the number of visas issued for family reunification will fight for reforms to reclassify spouses and children as immediate relatives and recognizing same-sex partners from countries lacking marriage equality in order to allow an immigrant to sponsor their same-sex partner.

    While it is true that he has not said if he would support a moratorium to end deportations or if he would decriminalize border crossings, what you are talking about is essentially an open border. I support open borders (not just in America, but globally). Most Americans do not, and it is a cudgel with which Trump will bludgeon any candidate who does support open borders. That doesn’t mean Pete’s immigration plan isn’t progressive.

  • Mayor Pete opposes complete Medicare for All and universal childcare;

    It’s telling that you had to add the word “complete” before “Medicare for All,” because you know to do otherwise would misrepresent Pete’s policy. “Medicare for All Who Want It” would automatically enroll the uninsured and be the greatest expansion of American healthcare in history. Only 13% of Americans support “Medicare for All” as proposed by Bernie Sanders – while a majority of Americans support universal healthcare without abolishing private insurance. “Medicare for All Who Want It” insures the uninsured, provides an affordable option to low income people and will prompt private insurers to either compete with lower prices and better products or fail. I am someone who believes healthcare should be free at the point of access, but I do not believe Medicare for All is a winning electoral policy, and I certainly don’t believe anyone—not even Bernie Sanders—could get it through Congress, even if both Houses are controlled by Democrats. Barack Obama couldn’t even get a public option through because of the conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats. This goes back to meeting voters where they are and choosing practicality and incremental improvements over ideological purity at the expense of power.

    From his website: “Pete will make a historic $700 billion investment in affordable, universal, high-quality, and full-day early learning, as well as outside-of-school learning opportunities in K-12 education. He will make early learning and care from birth through age five free for lower-income families and affordable for all, and invest in the child care workforce.”

  • During his tenure, Mayor Pete demolished homes of many South Bend residents who were unable to afford repairs and drastically ramped up unfair fines;

    This is not entirely accurate or fair. It is referring to Mayor Pete’s “1000 homes in 1000 days” initiative which, as the name implies, demolished 1000 abandoned or vacant homes in 1000 days. The media has really gotten this story wrong. The project tried to track down owners where they could and provide time and support for renovations to be made to bring the properties up to standards. Indeed, South Bend’s lack of enforcement on property codes in the past exasperated issues. This was met with the “South Bend Repair” initiative which poured $1 million into helping homeowners repair dilapidated homes. Another grant would give homeowners $25,000 to repair their homes.

    Part of the success of the “1000 homes in 1000 days” is, of course, demolishing unlivable homes (as we know abandoned buildings are hotbeds from crime), but also of refurbishing and rebuilding affordable housing for South Benders. Indeed, Mayor Pete met with residents and took 40% of homes off the demolition list after hearing their concerns (a hallmark of Mayor Pete’s mayoralty by the way – he listens to constituents)

    Mayor Pete has committed to building or restoring at least 2 million homes for the lowest-income Americans as well as investing in initiatives making homeownership a reality for millions of lower-income Americans, especially lower-income Black Americans who have experienced racial discrimination in housing.

  • Mayor Pete does not support boycotting for political reasons;

    I cannot find any evidence that supports this claim. He has allowed protestors at his events and has engaged with them when they are willing. I do not know how to respond to this claim other than to say I believe it is a flat-out lie.

  • Mayor Pete has no plan to cap credit card interest rates or guarantee a job to everyone who needs one; and

    From his website: “When your credit card company rips you off, you should have the right to a day in court with a good lawyer, full rights, and public transparency. In most cases, though, the company probably forced you to sign away that right. As consumers, we should always have the right to a fair process and strong protections that keep companies honest in the first place.”

    I suppose I must concede that it is true that Pete Buttigieg does not have a plan to guarantee a job for everyone who wants or needs one. To the seven Americans to whom a promise of a job for everyone is a make-or-break issue, Pete Buttigieg isn’t your candidate, and fair dos.

    For everyone else, Pete plans to ensure workers in the gig economy are guaranteed their labor rights, strengthen unions by fining companies who interfere in union elections, institute gender pay transparency, enshrine multi-employer bargaining rights into law, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and end “right to work” laws, among other bold, progressive initiatives. His record in South Bend, where he revived a Rust Belt city on life support, shows that he knows how to grow the economy and attract 21st century businesses and create 21st century jobs. Unemployment in South Bend fell nearly 10% during his time as mayor.

  • Mayor Pete supports the increase of defense spending which is already 50% of the federal budget.

    “America’s security challenges demand a military budget that provides both the overall capacity and specific capabilities to deter conflict across the globe and fight and win if necessary. I’ve been clear that we need to maintain absolute military superiority. The question of how much we should spend should be defined by where and how we need to spend it to best protect our citizens and our interests,” Buttigieg told Military Times last November. He does not mention increasing spending, but rather maintaining our military superiority and modernizing our military. I’m not sure where you’re getting this figure from, making this another instance where it would be helpful if you actually cited your sources. The fact that you don’t should make anyone reading your latter deeply skeptical of your motives and accuracy in presenting Pete Buttigieg as an enemy to the LGBTQIA community.

These gaps in Mayor Pete’s platform will fall particularly hard on LGBTQIA communities. Take housing as an example: 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQIA. Nearly one-third of trans people have experienced homelessness, and one in ten have been evicted from their home for being trans. This is only exacerbated by the fact that there is no federal law that consistently protects LGBTQIA individuals from housing discrimination. And while Mayor Pete, like the rest of the field, supports the Equality Act, this isn’t enough. Public housing remains in disrepair in the U.S., with billions in backlogged repairs due to decades of underinvestment, and the changes Pete proposes are grossly inadequate relative to the scale of the problem, and will not solve our housing crisis. We need only look to Pete’s track record of tearing down hundreds of homes in Black and Latino neighborhoods in South Bend to show us that he is not committed to protecting our communities.

Here you actually cite your sources, which makes it all the more frustrating—and suspect—that you did not cite sources in your critiques of Mayor Pete. That being said, yes, homelessness is a pernicious problem for the LGBTQIA community, and the Equality Act (which you correctly note Mayor Pete supports) would go a long way in addressing the discrimination the LGBTQIA community faces in housing and public accommodations. As previously mentioned, Mayor Pete has committed to improve public housing and repair or rebuild two million homes for low-income Americans. I’m not sure how that is “grossly inadequate” as it is one of the biggest public works projects in modern American history. The Buzzfeed article you cite with regards to his “track record of tearing down homes” is rightly critiqued in an article from Washington Monthly I cited earlier in this blog and paints a one-sided, slanted, biased view of what happened with “1000 homes in 1000 days” – an initiative which helped many POC and/or low-income South Benders repair their homes and addressed the urban blight of abandoned and decaying houses.

As LGBTQIA people our lives are layered and must have an intersectional framework in our analysis, organizing, and movement building. We know that: Education justice is LGBTQIA justice. Racial and economic justice are LGBTQIA justice. Decarceration is LGBTQIA justice. Immigrant and refugee justice is LGBTQIA justice. Health justice is LGBTQIA justice. Housing justice is LGBTQIA justice. Demanding corporate accountability and for wealthy people to pay an equitable share of taxes is LGBTQIA justice.

Yes, education, racial and economic justice, immigrant and refugee justice, health justice, etc etc etc are “LGBTQIA issues” (or matters of justice as you say) because 1) they effect LGBTQIA people just as the effect the rest of society 2) LGBTQIA people care about these issues just like other communities care about them. So while I think this paragraph comes off as sort of smug, it’s not entirely wrong. What is wrong is suggesting Pete Buttigieg doesn’t care about these issues.

During this critical election, it’s important that LGBTQIA people demand more from our leaders and from a candidate claiming to be in community with us. Leaders within our communities — especially Black trans women —  have worked tirelessly over the past two decades to push LGBTQIA movements to value and fight for our full identities and experiences. We cannot afford to go backwards or accept the status quo.

Pete Buttigieg isn’t “claiming to be in community with us,” he is in community with us. Stop trying to tell me otherwise. He is gay, whether you like it or not. Voting for Mayor Pete is voting to move American forward and bridge the divides within our nation. It is not accepting the status quo, and it is not going backwards.

It is for these reasons and more that a group of us have come together under the banner of #QueersAgainstPete. If you agree, we invite you to add your name to this letter and join our collective voice against Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy for president. We believe the LGBTQIA community deserves better than Pete.

I have to question why you hate Pete Buttigieg so much. Writing this letter about one of the most progressive candidates for president in American history instead of any other candidate reeks of homophobia in that it’s clearly written from a perspective that Pete isn’t a “proper gay” or isn’t “gay enough” because whoever wrote this disagrees with his policy positions. I believe the LGBTQIA deserves better than a deliberately misleading open letter and smear campaign against the first openly gay candidate for president. So no, I won’t be signing.

I would encourage anyone who has read this far to check out www.peteforamerica.com to find out what Pete Buttigieg really plans to do for Americans (LGBTQIA or not).

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

River Phoenix, my best actor

Joaquin Phoenix made me cry last night while accepting the Oscar for Best Actor. “Run to the rescue with love—and peace will follow,” he said, quoting lyrics written by his late brother, the actor

River Phoenix. A lot of people don’t know that River was a talented musician as well as an Oscar-nominated actor. He fronted the band Aleka’s Attic, and in many ways, music was his greatest passion.

I have never been one to idolize celebrities, with one massive exception, and that is River Phoenix. Since I was young, the story of River—his childhood in Venezuela, his meteoric rise as an actor, his passion for music, his empathy and sensitivity and kindness and vulnerability, and yes, his tragic end—has both haunted and inspired me. I’m staying with family now, but when I lived alone my apartment was decorated with his photos. My phone case has his face on it—intentional, as he serves as a constant reminder to both do good in this world and create art. His films are the ones I watch over and over. His songs are my lullabies.

He was a phenomenally talented actor. His breakout role as a sensitive and troubled young boy in Stand By Me earned him legions of teenage fans and a place in the pantheon of 1980s Hollywood. Yet he was a pinup boy who loathed celebrity and its attendant vices, choosing instead to live peacefully in the swampy quiet of Gainesville, Florida.  His tender, heartbreaking portrayal of a teenage rent boy in My Own Private Idaho remains the single best film performance not nominated for an Academy Award. He did receive an Oscar nomination for Running on Empty—though he eschewed awards in general, not putting much stock in the politics of Oscar campaigning or the inherent silliness of judging art against art.

Last night I tweeted that River would be proud of Joaquin. I don’t doubt he would. I also suspect, though, that River would have said something along the lines of “remember this doesn’t mean anything” to him—that it’s about the art and the stories and the message more than a golden statue or box office revenue. (Joaquin knows that, too, I reckon; I see a lot of River in him.)

In this way, as in so many ways, River was a remarkable human being—defying the stereotype of your vapid matinee idol. He was defined by decency and compassion. Most people know of how River Phoenix died, but it’s how he lived that is truly remarkable. He was a vegan before it was cool and before the media even knew what that word was (a magazine once called him an “ultravegetarian.”) He was an environmentalist before environmentalism went mainstream, buying up large swathes of rain forest in order to protect them. He was an early champion of gay rights at a time when that was an issue most in Hollywood didn’t want to touch.

It’s this, I think, that has always drawn me to River. When he died in 1993, I was only seven years old—too young to really understand who he was or appreciate the legacy he left behind. It was only as I became a teenager that I began to feel a connection with him. Watching old clips of him, reading old interviews, and listening to his songs made me feel as though we were kindred spirits. He was funny, at times even goofy, but below the surface was a visceral pain—deep and abiding and torturous. It was a pain I understood.

River Phoenix felt. I don’t mean he felt in the sentimental, manufactured way that, say, Sarah McLachlan singing about homeless dogs makes you feel for a moment and then move on with whatever it was you are doing. I mean he felt the pain he experienced, and the pain others experienced—whether humans or animals—in his bones. In the seminal biography of River, Last Night at the Viper Room, Gavin Edwards relays a story about how upon his girlfriend ordering meat, River ran out of the restaurant in tears. It’s a level of empathy and love—in this case for the earth, for the animals—that few of us can ever hope to understand, let alone feel.

I always feel a little weird talking about River, because when I talk about him I do it as though I knew him, though of course I never even met him. But over the past 20 or so years, as I’ve grown up, I feel like I have gotten to know River—or at least, the parts of himself he shared with the public. I don’t feel that way about any other celebrity or historical figure. River is singular in that regard—the only icon to breech the steel fortress of cynicism I have built against the cult of fame. He doesn’t feel like a movie star to me—though he undeniably was—but more like an old friend whom I miss dearly.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

On Phillip Schofield and remembering my own coming out

 

In a very moving statement released on Twitter this morning, and in an equally moving segment on This Morning, Phillip Schofield came out as gay. Married for 27 years to his wife Stephanie, they have two daughters. By Schofield’s own account his wife and children have been nothing but supportive. This can’t have been easy for the 57-year-old ITV presenter, who has worked in British media for over 30 years, but he has handled it with grace, humility, aplomb.

I am always curious about gay men’s journeys to self-acceptance and, in many cases, self-awareness. I think I always knew I was gay. One of my earliest memories is, aged five or six, getting butterflies when the boy next door grabbed my hand. Of course I didn’t know what that meant or have a name for it, but I knew I felt differently about him than about my other friends.

Later in childhood, I had what I can only retroactively identify as a major crush on my best friend Kyle. He spent summers with his dad, who lived down the street, and I would count down the days until he arrived from Arkansas. My other friends would get jealous and angry as, all summer long, I neglected them for Kyle (an unfortunate pattern that would, shamefully, continue into early adulthood). He and I would spend hours playing with other children, but often alone as well. It was all very chaste and innocent—we couldn’t have been older than ten—but when he would “rescue” me as we played Power Rangers I always felt a tingling, sinking feeling in my chest and stomach which (again, only later in life) could I identify as “puppy love.”

I came out to myself around 14, and to the rest of the world—including my family—at 15. This was in 2001, when teenagers coming out was still a rarity and depictions of LGBT people in popular culture even rarer. Yet there was very little angst around my decision. Once I realized I was gay there was no self-torture, no self-hate. It was almost as though realizing, for the first time and to some mild surprise but no great consequence, that I had a freckle on my leg. “Oh, never noticed that before. Wonder when that happened. Oh shit, it’s almost time for Dawson’s Creek, don’t want to miss that!”

Coming out to my family was not easy—I don’t think it’s every an easy process—but as I would learn from LGBT people in later years much easier than most comings out, especially as a teen and especially in the early 00s. I was out at school, which meant my brother (who was in the same year as I) was the first to know. He shrugged it off and, actually, never brought it up until I finally did about a year after he found out.

The decision to tell my parents was a weighty one. We had gone to an amusement park the Saturday before. My mom and my little sister commented on the attractive boys they saw, while my dad and my brother talked about girls. Realizing I could never have a conversation like that with either, and feeling like I was missing out, I decided to tell them. I went to school that Monday, discussed it with my friends and, plucking up the courage from them, told my parents that evening. They took it well—as well as two working-class Midwestern parents could take such news in 2001—and that, save for a few further conversations over the next few weeks—really was that. (As a bit of trivia, it was Monday, 10 September 2001 – the day before 9/11. There’s a personal narrative to be written about that week in my life, I’m sure.)

At the time, it took a lot of courage. I was trembling as I sat them down. No matter who you are, coming out is never easy. In the back of your mind is always a fear of rejection and hate. Looking back on it now, though, after nearly two decades and hundreds of conversations with other LGBT people who have come out, I see that it was a relatively painless process for me. Over the years, I have wondered why my coming out was so easy compared to so many others. There were no other gay people in my family, at least not that we knew of. My family wasn’t particularly leftwing. My parents didn’t have gay friends—though they liked Ellen DeGeneres, and I always suspect she helped a lot. So what made the difference here? I have a few ideas:

  1. I was raised to be self-assured and independent: my parents and grandparents instilled a confidence in me that has served me well through life. They always encouraged me to do what I want, to take risks, to not be afraid of the consequences (within reason), and to make my own way.
  2. I was deeply introspective, even as a child: I’ve always lived in my head, even as a kid. I had friends, but the bulk of my time was spent playing alone. When you spend so much time with yourself, you can’t help but to get to know yourself on a deep and intimate level. I once knew a man who, at 23, only just realized he was gay. He saw a sex therapist because he couldn’t perform in the bedroom with women and even entertained that he might be asexual. That he was attracted to other guys never crossed his mind. I couldn’t imagine not knowing such a basic truth about yourself, but for many gay men same-sex attraction is so buried in their subconscious they don’t recognize it until years later. (It’s important to note that I’m not saying this is Phillip Schofield’s story. I don’t know what his story is, though I’d love to one day hear it.)
  3. I knew other LGBT kids: The autumn of 2001 was a tumultuous time in my life – among other things, I came out, 9/11 happened, and I moved from Ohio to Kentucky – but when I came out I was still living with my parents in Dayton. I was not the first student to come out at Walter E. Stebbins High School. My freshman year there was some drama when, if I remember correctly, a bisexual senior girl left her girlfriend for a football player. There was a sophomore who wore nail polish and lipstick and was openly gay. There were others, too, who blazed the trail for me. And then of course, there was the internet. AOL chat rooms, TeenOpenDiary, message boards—they all helped me find community with other gay people, some of whom were just coming out like me and others who had been out for years. I knew that coming out wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of living authentically, because I had others who lived that truth.
  4. We weren’t a religious family: We believed in God, I think, but we were not devout Christians. The one time I remember my parents talking about God was when, one December, my mom got mad at me and my siblings for not wanting to watch a program about God. It was about God promising to come for Christmas, then never showing up, except that He did three times in the form of three different needy people. I didn’t want to watch not because it was about God but because the thought of God showing up on my doorstep terrified me. We never went to church as a family, though my sister and I did go to church with friends, but being raised outside a faith tradition meant that I had little fear that my parents were going to beat me with a Bible or send me to a conversion camp or throw me out. I didn’t have the anxiety of grappling with my “mortal sin” because I was never taught that being gay was a mortal sin.
  5. My family believes in fairness and kindness: I think this might be the most important. Despite all the teenage “ugh I hate my parents” temper tantrums, I knew they were ultimately kind and decent people. I mentioned Ellen earlier. My mom and I used to watch her sitcom together. When she came out, I was upset because the character had never been gay before. Later I made a homophobic joke about her name, calling her “Ellen Degenerate” – a word I didn’t know what it meant but must have learned from some bigot on the television or radio (I don’t know who, but I’ve always blamed Rush Limbaugh), because I knew it wasn’t good and had to do with her sexuality. My mom snapped at me “don’t call her that,” the message being “gay people aren’t degenerates.” That stuck.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I was relentlessly bullied in my Kentucky high school. My father worried I would get AIDS. My mother said “obviously we are disappointed” when I came out (though she has since apologized profusely for the hurt those words caused and doesn’t herself remember saying them). There were stumbling blocks and learning curves for all of us. But we got there quicker than most.

Every LGBT person’s journey is different. Mine is but one of millions, and this short essay is far from the entire story. Some people had a much harder time of things than I did. Some probably had it easier. Certainly, the cultural circumstances in which we come out matter a great deal, and I benefited from coming out at the beginning of what was to be a rapid shift in public opinion on gay rights which began with Ellen and Matthew Shepherd and continues right up to today with Pete Buttigieg and now Phillip Schofield.

Ultimately, the only point of this is to share a little of my own story, which I’ve been thinking about since Schofield’s announcement. My life got a lot better after I came out. I hope Phillip Schofield’s does too.

Answering the same questions at 34 I answered at 17

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I recently rediscovered the online diary I kept as a teen. While I don’t have access to all the entries I wrote (the Internet Archive didn’t archive most of them), some of them I do.

One of those old diary entries – this was before the term “blog” was popularised – included this “survey” that I took in the summer of 2003. I was 17, had just finished my junior year of high school, and was living seven miles outside the small town of Hyden, Kentucky. Suffice to say, my life has changed a lot since then. As I stare down the barrell of 34 (my birthday is later this month), I thought it would be fun to answer the same questions I did as a teenager. Let’s see if 17 years has changed anything.

1.How many times have you had pizza delivered to your house?
2003: That’s like asking me to count a google.
2020: That’s like asking me to count a google.

2. How do you like your toast?
2003: Toasted.
2020: Pretty crispy.

3. What kind of milk, if any, do you drink?
2003: I’m not a big milk fan, unless it’s chocolate!
2020: I will not drink milk, even if it’s chocolate.

4. What do your dishes look like?
2003: Aww hell, I dunno. Flowers and white and stuff methinks.
2020: So my dishes are black and red, but they’re in storage. Those “flowers and white and stuff” dishes? My grandmother still has them.

5. What utensil do you eat mac ‘n cheese with?
2003: A fork.
2020: A fork.

6. Do you know what anti-aliasing is?
2003: No, but the girl I stole this survey from sure did. It has something to do with taking away the jagged edges of circles on a video game.
2020: Not a fucking clue

7. Have you ever been in an airplane?
2003: Yes.
2020: Oh God, more times than I can count. For a while it felt like I lived in the air.

8. Have you ever played a full game of golf?
2003: Uh, no.
2020: Still no.

9. Describe your feelings toward Microsoft Windows:
2003: I’m impartial. Don’t like the monopoly bit, but…yeah.
2020: At this point I wouldn’t want to use anything else. It’s the only OS I’ve used for 25 years. But that monopoly bit still bothers me

10. Do you usually remember your dreams?
2003: Yeah, I do.
2020: I’ve noticed that as I get older I remember them less frequently and in less detail, and that when I do remember them it isn’t for as long.

2003

The author in the summer of 2003, aged 17. Photo: Kathy Jordan

 

11. How big is your bed?
2003: Twin size, because I like it small and cozy.
2020: You lying bastard, it was not because you liked it small and cozy, it was because that’s the bed your grandparents gave you and it was sleep in that or on the floor. The bed I have now is a full sized bed. Largest I’ve ever had was queen sized. One day I’ll get that California king

12. What’s the coolest thing on the surface of your workspace?
2003: My fiberoptic lamp and pictures.
2020: My workspace is wherever I want it to be. Right now it’s my bed, and the coolest thing on my bed is probably my John Lewis duvet cover

13. Describe your current hair style:
2003: The Federico! lmao
2020: Long, shaggy, pushed back

Federico_Martone

Federico Martone, a contestant on Big Brother 4 (UK). Apparently I once had his haircut.

14. Where is your computer?
2003: The living room.
2020: This is one of the biggest changes over the past 17 years. Laptops weren’t unheard of in 2003, but at least where I lived, they weren’t the norm. I got my first laptop in 2004, when I began university. Right now my computer is in my bedroom, but it can be literally anywhere I want it to be. And if you count my phone, I always have a computer on me.

15. Are you an avid gambler?
2003: To an extent. A few bucks every now and then.
2020: I never gamble, save the occassional lottery ticket.

16. Quick! Say a fantasy of yours!
2003: To be in [Ryan’s] arms tonight…more than you’ll ever know. ::sigh::
2020: To publish my debut novel. Of course, I wouldn’t kick Leonardo DiCaprio out of bed.

17. What web site(s) do you visit on a normal basis?
2003: TOD, channel4.com/bigbrother, yahoo.com, beliefnet.com, jimverraros.us, FOD, Google (I love to play with the image search!)
2020: Wow, remember when Google image search was a novelty? Anyway, now it’s Twitter (hands down the biggest waste of time I’ve ever found), the Independent (natch), Washington Post, Digital Spy (I read their EastEnders coverage obsessively), and Instagram

esq060119cover004-1558471471

Daddy. (Photo: Alexi Lumbomirski/Esquire)


18. Who’s your daddy?

2003: Steve?
2020: I’m actually kind of relieved that I didn’t understand this question at 17. It shows I still had some innocence left. Anyway, I wouldn’t kick Leonardo DiCaprio out of bed.

19. What’s your favorite Jackass segment?
2003: I still crack up about the part in the movie where the guy shoved the car up his ass.
2020: I haven’t thought of this show in years, and I’m mortified that I once admitted to enjoying it. I don’t actually remember watching Jackass very often. The only thing I remember is that Johnny Knoxville got papercuts on the webs of his toes once. I’ll go with that.

20. Do you watch sports on TV?
2003: The horse races, but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll order a Chelsea or Manchester United game on Pay-Per-View, too.
2020: No. I did watch the Super Bowl, and I like the Olympics. So I guess sometimes.

21. When was the last time you were sick?
2003: During the Louisville trip with FBLA last month.
2020: Last winter. I didn’t get a sinus infection this fall, which I usually do. Touch wood, I’ll stay well.

22. Describe the jewelry you are currently wearing:
2003: Class ring, shell neclace, watch, St. Sebastian neclace.
2020: No jewelry. I haven’t worn jewelry in years. I lost my class ring in 2004 (somewhere in my Dad’s house, but we never did find it). I lost that St. Sebastian necklace the night of my senior prom. Dustin Sizemore and I were in a car accident after prom, and I had to go to the hospital. I lost it somewhere between the accident seen and the emergency room. I’ve always assumed St. Sebastian stayed with me just as long as I need him and then went to help someone else. (As an aside, Dustin himself passed away in 2011.)

23. Do you like 80s music?
2003: OMG Yes!
2020: OMG Yes! Except now I have a deeper appreciation of it and how pivotal an era it was in the development of modern music and popular culture.

24. If you drive, how often do you speed?
2003: I don’t drive; that’s part of my problem.
2020: I drive, but I don’t speed. Two speeding tickets in college cured me of that.

25. Are holiday lights seasonal?
2003: Oh my gosh you’ve hit on the biggest pet peeve I have! I can’t stand it when people leave their Christmas lights up past 1 January! I mean, it bugs me so much! I flip out on them and I don’t know why! It’s just so tacky. I love Christmas, but to leave lights up all year is just WRONG. I mean, if they’re white lights inside, that’s okay. Cute, even. But outside or in a living room or something? Nope, it’s tacky. And it kills me. It absolutly kills me.
2020: I have remained remarkably consistent on this. I’ll allow your holiday lights to stay up maybe until Epiphany, but after that, you need to take them down. It’s tacky.

26. How often do you floss?
2003: Floss? I do that sometimes…I guess.
2020: Floss? I do that sometimes… I guess… okay not really. I don’t floss. There. I’ve said it. Don’t @ me.

27. Do you spill often?
2003: Not nearly often enough. 😉
2020: Gross, teenage Skylar. Fucking gross. God, teenage boys are awful. But no, I am not a toddler, I don’t spill things very often.

28. How many windows are in your bedroom?
2003: One
2020: One

29. What’s the most disgusting food you have ever eaten?
2003: escargo or however you spell it. Screw it…snails.
2003: Still escargot. #NeverAgain

30. Does you breath smell?
2003: Yeah, I just drank a Pepsi.
2020: Yes, I just smoked a cigarette

31. In a perfect world, we would have no:
2003: religion. I know that sounds horrible, but religion has caused more problems for humanity than anything else. In a perfect world, we’d all worship the diety (for I feel the diety is the same for all religions) in an unoranized fasion, in our own way, on our own accords. No organized religion.
2020: …racism or misogyny. This one has actually changed a lot. I still think religion has caused a lot of problems for humanity, but I also think it’s one of our greatest gifts. At university I found the Episcopal Church – and thank God I did – and, through it, religion. I find peace in reading the Bible and comfort in prayer. I think religion, even organised religion, can be a force for good. It can also be a force for bad, but I wouldn’t want to eliminate it from the world.

32. What’s your favorite shoe color/material?
2003: I like brown leather sandals.
2020: I still like brown leather sandals. Also Sperrys.

33. When do you usually eat lunch?
2003: Depends on when I wake up…
2020: I frequently skip lunch.

34. Do you have a cellular telephone?
2003: Nope, and I don’t care for one either (who in the hell would call me?)
2020: WOW. No answer could more represent just how different our world is now than this one. In 2003 I didn’t have a mobile phone and it didn’t bother me. In 2020 I can’t imagine 1) not having a mobile and 2) someone calling me on it. I just bought a new iPhone 11, and it is always on my person. Wow.

That’s it. What memories do you have of 2003, or of being 17? Do you think you would answer these questions the same, or has your perspective shifted as an adult? Let me know in the comments below!

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.