Category "Journalism"

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The Twenty-Something Cliff is Much Worse When You’re Autistic

Isaac Law spends most of his time on his computer, watching movies on Netflix, poring through Facebook posts, or working on his latest project, a web comic called “Aimless” about two friends named Ike and Lexis who leave Earth to join a band of space pirates.

Law is 24, but he neither has a job nor attends classes. He briefly worked as a volunteer, stocking shelves in a comic-book store, but that didn’t work out. “It was a very disorganized place,” he says. He also tried attending art classes. That didn’t pan out either. “I have massive authority problems,” he says.

In many ways, Law sounds like a stereotypical millennial—unwilling to work a dull job to pay the bills and preferring to spend time on his creative interests. But Law’s path to an adult role and responsibilities is complicated by the fact that he has autism and bipolar disorder.

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Trans on the spectrum

20160419-DeepDive-844-2When I was researching The Riddle of Gender more than a decade ago, one of my sources mentioned the large number of trans women who were computer geeks. That was long before people started casually referring to themselves or others being “on the spectrum” so I thought nothing of it. But then I started hearing from friends in PFLAG and elsewhere that they were seeing an increasing number of gender non-conforming kids on the autism spectrum. So when my former colleagues at the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) asked me to look into the overlap between autism and transgender identity, I was interested. My story about kids, teens and adults with autism who identify as trans, genderqueer or non-binary was published by Spectrum in mid-April and reprinted in Curve Magazine later that month. While I was reporting the story, the state of North Carolina passed the infamous “bathroom bill” which puts all trans people, but especially those on the spectrum, at much higher risk of harassment and assault. As Jes Grobman points out, “We need to create an understanding of the validity of trans experience and autistic experience,” Grobman says. “You are fighting for your own existence.”

Photo credit. J.M. Giordano


Baltimore Blues

Stein in Baltimore

In later years, when she had become a celebrity in Europe and America— and a self-professed genius— Gertrude Stein downplayed the four years she spent in Baltimore as a medical student at Johns Hopkins. But during those decisive years here, the notorious avant-garde writer fell in love for the first time (and was rejected by the object of her affections), formed several key friendships (later brushing off her most ardent supporter, Etta Cone) and adopted a profession (only to abandon it). Without her Baltimore failures, Stein would have missed out on the experiences that fueled her early fiction— “Q.E.D.,” “Fernhurst” and “Three Lives”— and might never have become an expatriate and an artist. But in the spring of 1901, few could have predicted that the depressed 27-year-old in the photo, who had failed four of her nine final-year classes, would become a literary lion and a friend and mentor to two generations of ground-breaking artists and writers.


F. Scott Fitzgerald in Baltimore

F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the dark, a man paces. He gazes out over the city, but a gray mist obscures all landmarks. Suddenly, a specter appears. “Like a broken-stringed bow upon a throbbing fiddle— I see the real horror develop over the roof-tops, and in the strident horns of night-owl taxis and the shrill monody of revelers’ arrival over the way. Horror and waste. Waste and horror— what I might have been and done that is lost, spent and gone, dissipated, unrecapturable.” Asked which writer penned these despairing words in Baltimore, most would probably guess Edgar Allan Poe. But the ghostly echoes of pleasure-seeking gone sour point to the true author: F. Scott Fitzgerald. The laureate of the Jazz Age was only 36 when he came to Baltimore in 1932. But like the country, he had crashed.


“People’s Photographer” Martha Cooper


I first met photographer Martha Cooper in 2008 when I wrote about her project to document daily life in Southwest Baltimore for Urbanite. Since then I’ve come to know her well and was thrilled when Baltimore STYLE magazine asked me to a profile her for the magazine’s September arts issue. Marty is revered within the graf/street art community for good reason. But her Soweto/Sowebo project may bring her more recognition and acclaim outside that world.


Holy Renegades

ordain women

The six women gathered in Denise O’Connor’s living room on a bright Sunday morning two weeks after Easter don’t look like insurrectionists. They are middle-aged ladies dressed in casual khakis and flowery spring shirts and they come bearing gifts of fruit salad, breakfast casserole, and muffins. Despite appearances, however, they are about to participate in a revolutionary act, one that violates Roman Catholic law and centuries of Church practice: a Catholic mass celebrated by a female priest.

My CityPaper piece on Roman Catholic women priests. Though the Vatican considers them excommunicated,”we are still part of the Catholic Church,” they say.”You cannot excommunicate someone from her relationship with God.”

Open Walls Baltimore



What’s in a name? Baltimore is becoming a street art mecca but there’s still a uneasy relationship between graffiti artists and their street artist peers. What is the relationship between graffiti and street art and why does the latter get more respect?


Growing Up Jewish in A Gentile Neighborhood


Last year The Jewish Museum of Maryland published my two-part piece “Growing Up Jewish in a Gentile Neighborhood” on their website. Talking to folks that had grown up in predominantly Catholic working-class neighborhoods in the 1930s to 1960s when their parents owned corner stores was really fascinating. Plus, I got to talk to one of my childhood heroes, Rhea Feikin. Of her Hampden childhood, Ms. Feiken said: “It was not unpleasant. I did feel like an outsider but I learned how to be a good outsider, how to get along and fit in without losing my own identity.” (more…)