Stop Gendering Trends 2K17

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Note: I wrote this a couple weeks ago and then forgot about it. Probably got distracted by Atlanta or the new season of Top Model.

Dear Diary,

Chokers have been seriously en vogue over the past several months, and everybody from Rihanna to Kylie Jenner has been spotted rocking them all over fashion-related media. As the trend has trickled down to the masses, I’ve found myself increasingly amused by the perception of the choker as a novelty. Chokers have been a thing for a long, long time, and I’ve seen them for ages in queer, punk, and otherwise alternative scenes that I take part in. Plenty of currently famous queer people of color love to rock chokers, like Alok Vaid-Menon, Juliana Huxtable, and Cakes da Killa, and they tend to pull them off best, in my opinion. It’s awesome to see all kinds of people giving them a try on a wider scale, but with that comes the entitlement that folks in fashion feel in dictating which people can and cannot participate in style trends.

I’ve recently noticed particular online pushback against men wearing chokers, such as in this charming article from GQ. The author writes, “So just know this: Men’s choker necklaces will never be a thing. Stop it. Stop it now… while we understand that gender in fashion is more fluid than ever, this is one area that is best left to the ladies. Plus, us guys have had our version of a choker necklace forever, and it’s called a necktie.”

Interesting, GQ! Men’s choker necklaces are already a thing, and plenty of guys wear them, but now that you’ve written this I know it’s definitely not okay for me or any man to wear a choker at any time. It’s so helpful having such nuanced fashion advice spoon-fed to you! While I did think the author’s point about Matt Lauer not pulling off the choker quite as well as others I’ve seen was funny, I hardly think that one Hollywood man’s attempt should speak for all men everywhere. But really, I find that the most troubling aspect of the piece lies in its commentary on gender fluidity.

The author concedes that gender in fashion is more fluid than ever, but contradicts this very idea by doubling down on the gender binary in that same sentence. Yeah, yeah, gender-bending, we get it, but chokers are for chicks! Now let’s shotgun a Natty and watch the game, dude! If gender fluidity in fashion is on the rise, why are you putting effort into impeding that progress? Pushing archaic gender standards is bound to appeal to some of your readership, but with ‘genderqueer’ freshly added to the dictionary,  the first male CoverGirl making waves on national television, and National Geographic recently dropping its Gender Revolution spread, maybe it isn’t the best look to frame your fashion writing so rigidly around the gender binary. And besides, does a man wearing a choker really affect anybody else’s well-being?

So, a few important reminders.

  1. Men can wear whatever they want.
  2. Women can wear whatever they want.
  3. Not everyone considers themselves a man or a woman.
  4. And as a bonus, more specific rule: anybody can wear a choker if they want to. Maybe even three at once if that’s the look for the night!

Our bodies are already constantly policed enough without being told what we can and cannot wear based on our perceived gender, so putting out this kind of content doesn’t actually help anybody other than proponents of femmephobia (derived directly from misogyny) and heteropatriarchy. As someone who feels comfortable exploring both their masculine and feminine sides, maybe I want to wear a necktie one night and a choker the next. That’s my prerogative, and that kind of freedom is continually threatened by discourse that oversimplifies what people are allowed to put on the way this GQ article does. I’d like to see gender fluidity in fashion continue to challenge these prevailing binary narratives in 2017. I want to see butchy femmes in editorials spreads, gender non-conforming beauties stomping down runways, and queer folks of color wearing whatever they feel like just as they always have. Let’s keep problematizing gendered fashion by disrupting norms as much as possible, and let’s make 2017 a year of collective liberation via unapologetic self-expression.

Asé,

Kyle

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I Can Do Liberal Arts All By Myself

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To the Hollywood Foreign Press,

I came into college with the mentality that designing your own major only made sense if employment wasn’t something you were concerned with at all; maybe your parents have tons of Wall Street connections, or you have a trust fund because your dad invented clap-on lighting, or you have a foolproof method of alluring a rich, dying older spouse. Point is, it didn’t really make sense to me, so I didn’t really think about it until my junior year. By then, my understanding of the point of a liberal arts education had shifted to one significantly more open-minded, and I began to regret never having considered a self-designed major as an option for me. Truthfully, any B.A. is equally worthless if you don’t develop a skillset and learn how to market it. Your major is only one part of the game, and if you play the rest of it well, what you major in doesn’t really matter as long as it’s something you’re passionate about that helps you grow as a thinker. That’s how I ended up designing a second major to complement my primary major in Marginalized Community Studies, or MCS. Abbreviations are a fun and exciting way to alienate all of your friends and relatives. (note: I’ve since rebranded this major to the much less wordy “Social Exclusion!”)

I came up with my second major when I started thinking about all of the classes I’ve taken throughout college, and I noticed that many of them touch on ideas of Otherness (in regard to majority versus minority identities), erasure, and intersectionality (the interconnectedness of seemingly separate social categories like race, sexuality, class, and ability). So I found an advisor, wrote up a proposal, and voila! I’d like to add that I was told that getting a self-designed major approved in your second-to-last semester is challenging because the committee has to be confident you aren’t just coming up with something random comprised of a bunch of classes you happened to take, so I was pretty geeked it worked out. I’ve explored these aforementioned themes through courses in linguistics, gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, English literature, government, Africana studies, Arabic studies, and Italian studies. While doing so, I’ve studied films, novels, poetry, artwork, textbooks, academic papers, blog posts, personal essays, and probably other mediums that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. Throughout taking many courses completely separate in theme and style, I’ve found ways to draw connections between them that have contributed immensely to my understanding of marginalization in its many manifestations. 

For example, I learned a great deal about environmental racism in Environmental Politics, which I hadn’t been exposed to very much at all beforehand. The effects of environmental racism can be seen in how low-income, minority communities often bear the brunt of eco-unfriendly practices due to disproportionate distributions of nearby eco hazards like landfills and toxic waste sites. Neighborhood placement is also a factor: for example, the pre-existing racial segregation of neighborhoods in New Orleans made it so minority residents were more likely to inhabit low-lying areas, which left them in greater danger of Hurricane Katrina’s effects back in 2005. Add the fact that minority populations are less likely to own cars and consequently struggled to escape in comparison to majority white communities, and suddenly the city’s failure to provide sufficient transit for evacuation reads as racist, regardless of intentions. I’m fascinated by the less obvious ways that systems of oppression manifest themselves, like this one, and now I can’t think about the often neutrally-labeled, abstract issue of ‘the environment’ without considering how it relates to marginalized peoples.

So yeah, interconnectivity is my jam. I guess it makes sense since my own identity has never felt simple to me. I can’t just be black, or queer, or Latino on any given day. We discussed this a lot in Queers of Color Critique, which was a life-changing course for me in which all of the readings were by and about queer people of color. My identities interact with one another in affecting how people perceive and treat me, and when you try to see me as only one thing, you aren’t really acknowledging the complexity of who I am and how that’s been shaped by societally ingrained forms of hatred like racism, anti-Blackness, homophobia, and misogyny; and yes, misogyny affects us all, because hatred of women extends to hatred of all femininity.

What I’m saying feels simple and logical to me, but I’m also pretty aware that a lot of people both outside of and within academia don’t understand it, and that’s okay. I want to make it easier. That’s why I write poetry and posts like this. I think we learn about people best by hearing them out, observing their art, and engaging. So many people insist that issues like racism do not exist despite the fact that A. its existence is backed by data, and B. many people everywhere tell the exact same stories of racist encounters, as if that type of data isn’t as valuable as any other type. Or, they dismiss concepts like microaggressions as PC nonsense rather than actually damaging acts that add up over time. I don’t believe that. I believe people. I believe that a lot of social injustices are in place that make living life harder for some people than others by virtue of the body they’re born into. But I also think we can change these things if we fearlessly try to deconstruct systems of inequality, consider the interactivity of all things, and try harder to really understand those who endure oppression. Oh, and if someone tells you they’re being targeted unfairly, just listen. Chances are they aren’t making it up, and they probably also aren’t the first person to be targeted in that way.

Here’s what I’ve taken for the major so far if you’re curious (41 credits):

ARAB 150W: Understanding the Arab World Through Film

ANTH 202: Intro to Cultural Anthropology

GSWS 290: Intro to LGBTIQ Studies

GSWS 390: Queers of Color Critique

AFST 311: African-American History to Emancipation

AFST 321: Women in Africa & the Diaspora

ITAL 316: 20th Century Italian Women Writers

ENGL 416: Transgender Fictions

ENGL 417: Portuguese India: Lost Texts, Found Worlds

LING 308: Language and Culture

LING 406: Language and Society

GOV 391: Environmental Politics & Policy

GOV 391: Race & Politics

PHYS 481: Gender & Race in the Physical Sciences

CRWR 482: Independent Study in Poetry, with a Focus on Marginalized Poets

Buy A Seat at the Table on iTunes,

Kyle

Still alive & junk

Dear My WordPress,

I’m sorry I never update you. You probably think I hate you, but you have to know that just isn’t true. I’m totally going to update you in a substantial way sometime soon. Consider this an interim watering, as if you were a cactus that was just about to die until I provided you with this modicum of refreshing flavor.

Cha cha cha,

Kyle

 

 

 

 

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Orlando has taken a lot out of me, to the point that I feel like I have to take a rest from debating about or discussing it with people for a while. As a way of getting down a lot of what I’ve been feeling, I wrote a poem. I dedicate it to all of those lost to this hate crime. I’m posting it in a separate PDF so the formatting doesn’t accidentally get messed up:

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Love,

Kyle

 

Healing

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Yesterday, someone in a Facebook group I’m apart of came up with a writing prompt that caught my attention: come up with 15 synonyms for “heal.” My initial judgment was that the idea was a bit simple and wouldn’t yield exciting responses outside of what you might find if you Googled “heal synonyms.” I wondered why the person came up with this topic, and started thinking about how most people are always in the process of healing from something. I tripped and banged my knee while running up the stairs a few minutes ago, so I’m currently healing from that; more seriously, it seems like just about everybody is healing from some heartache or failure or trauma at any given time, whether they’re willing to talk about it or not. I decided to answer the prompt by repeating aloud, “to heal is to ___,” which led me to a bunch of different answers. The end result was:

acknowledge
confront
grieve
rest
reflect
understand
express
recover
progress
reconcile
affirm
transcend
strengthen
actualize
exist

It was a cool, low-hassle exercise that got my creative juices flowing. What other synonyms for heal are there? On another note, I recently found out that E.T. was modeled after poet Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein, and a pug… what?

Be good,

Kyle

 

Collage

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Oops! … I did it again. I vanished for months. Got lost in schoolwork. Oh baby, baby.

Actually, this post has nothing to do with Britney Spears at all. It’s to share an exciting project I’ve been working on with two friends all semester called Collage. Collage is a multimedia study of how LGBTQIA+ students of color at William & Mary use their style to convey aspects of their race, gender, sexuality, and the like. We drew from a lot of different places while coming up with this project, including Elixher Magazine, The Feminist Wire, and Afropunk, with our primary inspiration coming from the work of José Esteban Muñoz in DisidentificationsGender and sexual minorities occupy a liminal space in society that challenges the majority culture, often by blurring the lines between masculine and feminine. Add in racial minority status as a factor and you have a subsection of people whose very existence transforms dominant pedagogies of race, gender, and sexuality. With this in mind, we set out to explore how personal style functions as a tool of resistance and self-affirmation for our subjects by conducting interviews, holding photoshoots, recording videos, and framing all of our work with an easily-accessed website.

Our subjects were ten queer students of color diverse in gender, race, sexuality, and areas of study. Getting to know them all better under this context was extremely gratifying and enlightening, and I think anyone would benefit from checking it out. There’s lots of video footage, but the audio of our interviews can also be accessed via SoundCloud if you’re on the go.

Cowabunga,

Kyle

 

 

Cavity

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One of my frequent sources of inspiration is Félix González-Torres, a gay, Cuban-American sculptor and process artist. I feel a certain kinship with him as a gay Cuban man myself, and I’m also really fascinated by his interactive installation pieces like the one pictured below. Visitors to the installation were (and are, when it’s being recreated) encouraged to take a piece of candy with them from it, thereby contributing to its gradual disappearance over time. This particular one is meant to represent González-Torres’s lover, Ross Laycock, who died of AIDS. González-Torres eventually died of AIDS, as well.

I think a lot about the AIDS crisis and its impact on the LGBTQ community, and I get frustrated when queer folks my age dismiss it as something that happened in the past without really thinking about it. It just feels disrespectful to me. It’s so amazing that medical advances have made it possible for an HIV diagnosis not to be a death sentence, but sometimes I wonder if heightened indifference to those who came before us and even to our own health might be added costs of that progress. I wrote an ekphrastic poem based on this installation, in which I worked out some of these thoughts. I had to keep it in a separate document since I couldn’t get the formatting right on WordPress.

Click me to read the poem!

Uh huh honey,

Kyle

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“Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1991)

Slow & Steady

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Fast fashion. Also known as McFashion, which kills me. It’s one of those buzzwords that keeps coming up in popular discourse on clothing, but what does it really mean? Basically, fast fashion is what allows us to saunter over to the mall or to the interwebs and buy pants for $15, or a blouse for $10. Think H&M, Forever 21, Nasty Gal, Uniqlo, and Topshop. These are stores where people can enter with $50 and leave with a whole slew of new, cheap clothing, most of which will either be: A. ‘unfashionable’ after a short time, thereby needing to be replaced, or B. worn out after a few washes, which makes replacing it seem not-so-bad since the costs are so low. Some fast fashion does weather washing well, but a lot of it also doesn’t. It’s a consumerist cycle that turns our relationship with clothing into an unsustainable one. So, why does this matter?

A new pair of pants should never cost $20. That’s ridiculous. A high-quality, ethically-made pair of pants should cost quite a bit more than that, and is pretty much guaranteed to last for way longer. Let’s say that a reasonable price for a good pair of pants is between $50 and $70 (this is a conservative estimate for the sake of simple math). When you’re able to get pants for $20, where is that $30-$50 going? It doesn’t disappear with the wave of a wand; it has to be cut from somewhere. The people who suffer are the laborers making the clothing, many of whom are women and children.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite blogs, The Fashion Law, that encapsulates the ethical cost of fast fashion:

“In case you need more proof that your $20 top was made in less than desirable or ethical conditions, here you go. Garment manufacturers in far-flung locations, such as Bangladesh (the world’s second largest apparel manufacturer second only to China), Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam that serve as suppliers to H&M, Zara, Topshop, Nasty Gal, and even Nordstrom – just to name a few – are commonly cited [see: “List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor” U.S. Dept. of Labor (12/2014); “Fast Fashion Tied to Forced Child Labor” (12-2-2014)] as employers of child labor, and even forced child labor. And the conditions are egregious. Individuals working in these garment factories are constantly exposed to toxic chemicals, given limited access to soap, water and working toilets, go without proper medical supplies, and lack proper lighting and ventilation. Factory owners and operators often fail to adequately compensate workers and to observe overtime-working standards, and often abuse labors verbally, sexually and physically. That’s not fashion.”

Not only is fast fashion ethically unsound, but it’s also horrible for the environment. This article lays out all kinds of harmful effects that clothing production can have on our world, but to give a couple examples: it can take more than 5,000 gallons of water just to manufacture a pair of jeans and a t-shirt from cotton, and the manufacturing and dyeing of fabrics is chemically intensive across all textiles. Factor in the mass production demanded by fast fashion, and we have a seriously eco-unfriendly business (second only to big oil in pollution).

So are forced child labor, deplorable work conditions, multiple forms of laborer abuse, and the perpetuation of environmental destruction worth that $30-$50 (again, conservative estimate) you’re saving by going with fast fashion? If your answer is yes, that’s okay; everyone is entitled to make decisions for themselves, and I don’t look down on anyone who shops fast fashion. I used to do so myself, but as I’ve become more passionate about fashion and more informed on the topic, I’ve found myself increasingly unable to reconcile my clothing hobby with my interests in social and environmental activism. But I’m also a broke college student who can’t always afford to shop conscientiously. So, what can I do?

Part of the solution is rethinking how you approach clothing. Your clothes give you the opportunity to make an impression and impart facets of your personality and imagination to other people. Why squander that by dressing in cute but poorly-made clothes that don’t mean that much to you, since they can and will be replaced in a short period of time? When you shop to dress meaningfully, you find that you don’t necessarily need to buy a ton of clothing all the time. That kind of attitude helps to halt rampant consumerism, which is exactly what fast fashion thrives on.

Another part of the solution is simply refusing to support companies who produce fast fashion. This sounds simple, but if you’re someone who LOVES a sweet deal from H&M like I did, it can be really hard to make that shift. As I said before, it’s also difficult not to be tempted by $10 shirts when you’re young and don’t have a lot of money. But, there are alternatives! I thrift about 75-80% of my wardrobe from just about any thrift store I can find (Udelco, L Train Vintage, Goodwill, you name it. Except Salvation Army. They’re evil). Shopping this way is totally different than conventional shopping because you never know what you’ll find, but it’s also rewarding on several other levels. Reusing clothing has zero ethical or environmental implications, which is awesome, and scouting out great deals while thrifting fills the void left behind by finding $10 clothes at fast fashion stores. It’s a win/win!

I try to support ‘slow fashion’ brands when shopping for the other 20-25% of my wardrobe. These include clothing companies whose manufacturing is high-quality, fair trade, ethically-made, and eco-conscious. One example is American Apparel, whose manufacturing is based entirely in the US. Here are some more examples of slow fashion stores, brands, and designers. I also shop frequently on Etsy, since it’s home to many designers who make their clothes by themselves or operate their own vintage thrift stores (very ethical stuff). Some of the stuff costs a pretty penny, sure, but when you save up and buy one cool statement piece that’ll last you a while, it means so much more to you than taking that money and buying five new fast fashion pieces. Dig around for yourself and you’ll find stuff way more interesting than anything you’d see in a fast fashion store.

You don’t need to fake your death and collect life insurance just so you can afford to shop ethically. That seems really complicated and bizarre. There are so many ways to change your shopping habits, and in a time when concern for sustainability is becoming  more and more important, I just don’t think it’s right to shop blindly without considering the implications of what you support when you choose to spend your money. In a system like ours, everything comes at the cost of someone else. If you are informed on all of the downsides of fast fashion culture and still choose to shop at these stores, more power to you. What I can’t get behind is ignorance to how that awesome dress you bought was such a steal without being on sale. Stuff like that doesn’t just happen by accident.

For the record, I do have some fast fashion pieces in my wardrobe still. They’re mostly gifts, but hey, everyone has slip-ups. I’m planning to make ‘eliminate fast fashion from my closet’ the first New Year’s Resolution that I actually keep.

Ho ho ho,

Kyle

The Slump Before Finals

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Finally, a remedy for the guilt that’s been festering inside of me for AGES as I’ve neglected this blog. Hello. It’s me. The semester’s been very busy so far. I’m somehow busier than I’ve ever been in college even though I’m taking less credits than I’ve ever taken. I guess I can blame extracurricular activities for that, though I don’t regret any of the new duties I’ve taken on. I have been performing as a member of a spoken word poetry group, conceptualizing and putting together looks in conjunction with four other awesome people for an on-campus fashion & art magazine, completing the required training to host my own radio show (you can now listen to Phantasmagoria on Wednesdays from noon to 1 PM!), and keeping up with all of my other usual commitments. My social and extracurricular lives are booming, but I’ve reached that part of the semester where exhaustion hits and schoolwork becomes an impossible obstacle.

It’s the same every time: disaster strikes.  I glance at my agenda, see that I have 120 pages due for one class the next day, and feel so unmotivated to get it done that I sink into a cycle of checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit until it’s 2:00 AM and I have to go to sleep so I can wake up and scramble to make something happen. It happens more than I care to admit, and way more than I’m comfortable with as a student. This is the part of the semester when I most need to be on top of my game, but the vicious cycle of academic malaise is too real. So, the only option is to fight. Fight back against the feelings of ennui that would have you sit around for hours doing nothing when there’s so much you could and should be working on.

Clear your head by going for a walk outside. That’s productive, in a way, and you might even feel inspired and/or rejuvenated by nature. Wordsworth and Coleridge and all those other Romantics were all about that stuff.

Write down your future goals as a reminder of your trajectory. You’ll never get there if you don’t do the things you have to do now.

Meditate. Even if you don’t buy into it, just disconnect from social media and think for a bit. Maybe that’ll help extract passivity from your psyche, or something.

Give yourself time to rest! Everything is so much easier when you’ve had enough sleep, as simple as that sounds.

I’m not a self-help author and this isn’t The Secret, but my hope is that some of this resonates with you. Having reflected a bit in this entry and in my personal life, I already feel much more optimistic about my prospects as this semester wraps up. I’ve been doing well so far and I know I’m capable of a strong finish if I take my schoolwork and self care seriously.

I feel content with the fact that I’ve been writing in some form every day, but hopefully it won’t be three months before I next post an update here. Fingers crossed.

Buy Missy’s new single on iTunes,

Kyle

Casual Transphobia on The View

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I was on my laptop today scrolling through news articles and funny videos on the interwebz when I noticed that my TV was tuned in to The View. Sometimes I leave the TV on in my room to keep things from getting too quiet, and I’d just been watching Jeopardy! the night before, so the magic of ABC miraculously joined me with the *ever-charming* Raven and company. I don’t really like The View; I find most of its panelists annoying, and I basically only pay attention to it when some offensive thing either they or one of their guests has said trends on Twitter. I didn’t care enough to change the channel, though, so I stuck it out with my homegirls while they discussed whatever hot-button issues they chose to highlight (I wasn’t listening to them). Eventually they brought out special guest DL Hughley, who is apparently an actor and comedian.

I’m still laughing at bizarre GIFs when I suddenly hear Caitlyn Jenner’s name mentioned, at which point I start to pay attention. I figured I should listen up since everyone seems to have something to say about her these days. I wish I hadn’t. DL Hughley starts talking about a joke he made comparing Caitlyn to Mrs. Doubtfire, which people took offense to. He insists that he doesn’t regret making the joke, is not obligated to think Caitlyn is beautiful, and highlights Laverne Cox as an example of an attractive transwoman who has transitioned convincingly. I’m annoyed at this point, but he also said something about how it’s just his opinion and blah blah I’m not afraid of Twitter blah blah blah. He also conveniently avoids referring to her as she while talking about her, but whether or not that was intentional is open to interpretation. Here’s why it bothered me.

Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire. Rude, right?

Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire. Rude, right?

To quote Kelis: you don’t have to love Caitlyn. You don’t even have to like Caitlyn. But you will respect her.

Expressing that you don’t personally find Caitlyn beautiful? Not so nice, but not necessarily disrespectful. Mocking her for not passing as a cisgender woman as well as Laverne Cox does? That’s disrespectful AND transphobic. So many people are so obsessed with trans people passing as convincingly as possible that they shame those who cannot, which serves only to uphold gender norms and ostracize people for something they cannot control. Who cares if Laverne passes better than Caitlyn does? That doesn’t make her better or more worthy of praise. They’re both transwomen living their truths, and both merit dignity when mentioned in conversation. What irritated me most was Hughley acting like what he was saying was so radical, or original, or edgy. There is nothing edgy or funny about transphobia. I would venture to say that most people are at least somewhat transphobic, since most people don’t even really get what trans is. Most people also don’t seem to grasp that your views can still be bigoted even if you don’t express outright hate.

So everyone on The View had some laughs at Caitlyn’s expense, and no one seemed to take issue with anything that was said. Awesome. I’m hoping that some other people watching felt similarly about it, but the reality is that that’s probably not the case. Unfortunate. I guess I can take comfort in guessing what DL is supposed to stand for. I’ll keep it PG and go with Dingbat Loudmouth.

Besos,

Kyle