This Proposed Michigan Law Would Force Trans People in Prison to Pay For Their Own Medical Care

In the last few years, incarcerated trans people have gained significantly more access to gender-affirming medical care. In January 2017, a California woman named Shiloh Quine made history by becoming the first trans person to receive gender confirmation surgery (GCS) in a U.S. prison. Since then, courts in Oregon, Missouri, and Idaho have struck down policies that prevented trans people from accessing hormones or GCS while on the inside.

But not everyone is happy with the development. In November, Michigan state legislator Beau LaFave introduced a bill that would force incarcerated people to pay for the full cost of any transition-related surgery. The proposed legislation, HB 6524, also called for prisoners to pay for any medical care related to acts of self-harm.

HB 6524 wasn’t even passed into committee during the 2018 legislative session and it stands little chance of becoming law in 2019. But the introduction of the bill is still important, because it indicates the continuing reluctance of some Republican legislators to accept that the legal landscape is changing – that in the eyes of the medical establishment, and increasingly in the eyes of the courts, GCS is not elective and therefore must be treated as a medically necessary procedure akin to any other.

Shawn Meerkamper is a staff attorney with the Transgender Law Center, the largest trans-led civil liberties organization in the country. HB 6524 is “pretty clearly an attempt to find a loophole” to the growing legal consensus that blanket-bans on GCS are unconstitutional, Meerkamper told INTO. “This level of really singling out and targeting transgender people, and the kinds of medical care they need, I don’t think would hold up in light of day.”

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The road to HB 6524 began in 2016, when a transgender woman named Jami Naturalite wrote to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to say she was being denied hormone therapy by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). The SPLC had just finished litigating a similar case in Georgia, securing a settlement that ensured trans people locked up in the state could access hormones even if they hadn’t been prescribed them before entering prison. The Georgia settlement marked an important shift in policy on the state and national level. In a statement of interest filed in the case, the Department of Justice reminded state officials that “prison officials have the obligation to assess and treat gender dysphoria just as they would any other medical or mental health condition.”

After Naturalite reached out to the SPLC, the organization contacted Michigan prison officials to explain why blanket prohibitions on transition-related care were unconstitutional. Their entreaties were successful. In June 2017, the MDOC released a new policy for the care of transgender prisoners, which facilitated access to hormone treatment and allowed for the provision of GCS on a case-by-case basis.

Naturalite was thrilled with the news, but Republican Representative Beau LaFave, who represents a district on the northern shore of Lake Michigan, was not. With the release of the new transgender care policy, LaFave grew concerned that transition-related care, like all other medical care provided to prisoners, would be paid for by state residents. “When I found out that taxpayers could be on the hook for [GCS] procedures I had the bill drafted and introduced,” he told INTO in an email.

Michigan Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain). Photo via www.beaulafave.com.
Michigan Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain). Photo via www.beaulafave.com.

“I have nothing but respect for all individuals regardless of their particular life choices or personal feelings,” Representative LaFave added. “That being said, I do not believe the taxpayers of the State of Michigan should pay for felons to get free gender reassignment surgery while in prison. Law abiding citizens do not get free gender reassignment surgeries. Why should felons at the taxpayers’ expense?”

Asked to respond to LaFave’s comment, Meerkamper explained that there’s now a broad consensus among medical professionals that GCS constitutes a medically necessary treatment for some transgender people. “You cannot ‘respect’ someone while writing legislation to deny them live-saving health care,” said Meerkamper.

Jay Kaplan, the staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s LGBT Project, stressed the constitutional concerns raised by LaFave’s bill. “Singling out a group of people to say, you’re not entitled to health care to the same extent as other inmates might be entitled to medically necessary healthcare, raises equal protection concerns,” he said. As drafted, HB 6524 would arguably also violate protections against cruel and unusual punishment, said Kaplan, since it would amount to a denial of life-saving medical care to prisoners who cannot afford to pay for surgery out of pocket.

It’s unlikely that HB 6524 will ever become law. There appeared to be little support for the legislation in last year’s legislative session, and when asked by INTO, LaFave said he had no plans to introduce the bill again. Even if it somehow did pass through both legislative chambers, HB 6524 would likely to vetoed by the newly sworn-in Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, according to advocates. LaFave first won his seat in 2016 at the age of 24 and was re-elected last year. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, one of LaFave’s top donors is the DeVos family, who have previously come under criticism for making contributions to anti-LGBT groups.

While it might not pose an immediate threat to the well-being of Michigan’s trans prisoners, HB 6524 does reflect how some Republicans in the socially conservative state think about trans rights.

“This is such a flawed [bill], and obviously it’s an attack on trans people,” said the ACLU’s Kaplan. “What it’s saying is you’re not entitled to healthcare the way everybody else is.”  

Michigan has lagged behind many other states when it comes to protecting transgender residents. The ACLU of MI had to sue the state to make it easier for transgender people to change their gender marker. Many residents still struggle to access transition-related care under Medicaid, said Kaplan. In Michigan and 18 other states across the country, there are no statutes in place that specifically protect people who are discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity.

“[We] have a long way to go in making things more supportive and better for trans people in the state,” said Kaplan.

For now, the question may be how to ensure that the MDOC lives up to the policy it put in place in 2017. Kaplan said he was not aware of any prisoner in Michigan who has received GCS – which may indicate that while the transgender care policy looks good on paper, it isn’t actually enabling trans prisoners to receive comprehensive care.

Before Shiloh Quine received her surgery, when she thought the California state prison administration would never approve the procedure, she tried to kill herself. For her and many other trans prisoners across the country, GCS can be lifesaving. “Whenever the state incarcerates someone, the state is taking that person’s life into their hands,” Shawn Meerkamper told INTO. “And then to take care of their needs, and their medical care is chief among them.”

‘Sex Education’ is Queer, But the Gayest Part is My Crush on Gillian Anderson

Since her days as Dana Scully on The X-Files, Gillian Anderson has amassed a widespread and, um, vibrant queer fanbase. Basically, we all want her to tear us limb from limb and eat our faces. The British actress, who is queer herself, has riled up her lady-loving fans for years with her austere performances, killer power-suits, and willingness to openly flirt with Kate McKinnon.

Her latest endeavor, a teenage-centric Netflix dramedy called Sex Education, is queer as can be, with lesbian sex scenes and numerous LGBTQ leads. But the gayest part of Sex Education is actually the velocity at which my heart throbs for Gillian Anderson.

One boy in the show refers to Anderson’s character as a “sexy witch,” which would normally be the ultimate compliment, but in this case, barely scratches the surface of her sex appeal. Gillian plays Jean, an acclaimed sex therapist and promiscuous mother to 16-year-old Otis, who is sexually repressed as a result of his unconventional upbringing, being surrounded by phallic statues and jarring conversations about sex. Anderson wears motherhood well, despite usually playing less maternal characters. But she maintains her ever-severe disposition. Throughout the show, Gillian does a lot of staring in a British accent. There’s also some glaring in a British accent, judging in a British accent, and lots of intimidating in a British accent—all of which confirmed that I want Gillian Anderson to step on me.

I’ve written about the queer community’s desire for Brie Larson to punch them in the face—a craving I definitely share. But underneath Brie Larson’s superhero exterior as Captain Marvel, there’s something sweet and endearing about her. The same cannot be said for Gillian Anderson. I am scared of her, she makes my bones quiver, and I want her to stomp on my face and leave an oily black shoeprint on my forehead. What I’m trying to say is: I’m so gay for Gillian Anderson that my desires for her have surpassed normalcy. She has radicalized my lesbianism and I would let her do ghastly things to me, especially as the perpetually lustful Jean from Sex Education.

While I initially watched the Netflix show so I could pretend Gillian Anderson was yelling at me, Sex Education actually turned out to be one of the best shows I’ve seen in the last year. I expected to be bored during the evergreen virginal teenager content, but was pleasantly surprised by how gay it was. Long story short, I ended up unhinging my jaw and swallowing the show whole in less than 24 hours, leaving a tear in the space-time continuum where my TV used to be.

Queerness is ubiquitous in Sex Education, and does what every show or movie should do with sexuality: the show finds the delicate balance between normalizing queerness and removing its shock factor, and illustrating how sexuality can still be a big deal for certain people. For example, there’s Eric, a flamboyant gay guy and best friend to Otis, who is cursed with heterosexuality. What I love about Otis and Eric is that they’re lifelong besties who visibly diverge in personalities, sexualities, and interests: Eric is theatrical in his exuberant temperament and garish outfits while Otis is mild, both behaviorally and in his lackluster wardrobe which says “I’ve been wearing these clothes since I was 11.”

I hate having to say this, but it’s nice to see an unlikely and intimate straight-gay male friendship. It shouldn’t be rare, and I don’t want to call them an “unlikely” pairing, but they are. Otis and Eric are the perfect example of how life should be—straight white males like Otis, when freed from the prisons of toxic masculinity and homophobia, can form close bonds with gay men without feeling like others will think they’re gay by association (which, newsflash, isn’t a bad thing—it’s a compliment).

I’ve seen other straight-gay male friendships attempted on-screen before, like in Set It Up (2018), when Pete Davidson and Glen Powell were paired as besties—but their entire relationship felt forced, like Powell’s straight character was constantly calling out his friend’s queerness, as if to say “Look how chill I am with this dude being gay! I can talk about it without even being weird!”

In Sex Education, there’s no leftover bro detritus or defensiveness. Otis and Eric openly talk about their romantic endeavors and give each other advice on both girls and boys. They dress up in drag to attend a showing of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Eric playfully grinds on Otis and slow-dances with him at the school dance, just like a pair of girls would do without being judged, labeled, or experiencing gay panic. We, as the audience, can see how special and unique Otis and Eric’s bond is, and how Eric’s queerness is NBD to his best friend. However, Eric’s sexuality is a big deal to other people in his life.

Eric’s father, who teeters on the edge of being openly homophobic, reprimands his son multiple times throughout the series—not necessarily for being gay, but for dressing up and standing out, because he worries about his son’s safety (which is heartbreakingly compromised when Eric is attacked by vicious straight men on the street).

Queerness is also a big to-do for Adam, the repressed school bully who (surprise surprise) targets Eric because he’s got a secret crush on him. We’ve seen this storyline tons of times before—looking at you, Karofsky from Glee. However, when the trope is contrasted with the low stakes queerness of the other characters, it works, as it demonstrates the spectrum of homophobia that unfortunately exists today. For example, it’s worth mentioning that there’s an out lesbian couple in Otis’ high school and no one ever targets them and they’re never the butt of the joke. The couple has a few cringey sex scenes, and later seek Otis’ expertise for sex and relationship advice—which, again, is NBD to him.

Unfortunately, Gillian Anderson’s character isn’t queer (that we know of—the show’s only in its first season and she’s clearly very sexually open). And even though I was totally sated by the range of queerness and LGBTQ storylines that Sex Education had to offer, I was markedly distracted by Anderson’s angular bone structure and Miranda Priestly hair. I would recommend this show to anyone who’s starved for queer content—so, everyone—but I would assign it to any queer Gillian fan. Jean offers the gravity of Stella Gibson in The Fall, the intimidating, lengthy pauses of her character in The Spy Who Dumped Me, and the fiery sex appeal of 1,000 mean lesbian suns.

But be forewarned: Watching Sex Education while crushing on Gillian Anderson will likely create a big gay black hole where your TV used to be—binge at your own risk.

Idaho Appealing Ruling It Must Provide Gender Confirmation Surgery to Inmate

The state of Idaho is arguing that gender confirmation surgery is not medically necessary. The Gem State is appealing a court order that it must provide surgery to a transgender inmate who is self-harming.

Governor Brad Little announced last week that the state will fight a U.S. District Court ruling that found it cruel and unusual to deny inmate Adree Edmo’s gender-affirming surgery.

“The hardworking taxpayers of Idaho should not be forced to pay for a prisoner’s gender reassignment surgery when individual insurance plans won’t even cover it,” Little said in the announcement. “We cannot divert critical public dollars away from our focus on keeping the public safe and rehabilitating offenders.”

Many insurers, however, do cover transition-related care, and Medicaid covers gender affirming care.

If anything Edmo’s case may test public opinion over whether gender-affirming healthcare is medically necessary. Courts across the nation have already largely found that prisons are required to provide transgender inmates healthcare, which includes hormones and gender-affirming surgery.

“When a person urgently needs medical care because they’re seriously in danger of health consequences and they don’t get it, then courts have made clear that that care must be provided,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Attorney Amy Whelan, who is representing Edmo.

In Florida, a federal judge ruled that the state’s Department of Corrections must provide hormones to a transgender inmate and recognize her as female. The state is now appealing that ruling, a move that a dozen LGBTQ advocacy organizations are fighting.

In Edmo’s case, Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said that the Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC) had ignored medical standards in refusing Edmo treatment for gender dysphoria.

“This constitutes deliberate indifference to Ms. Edmo’s serious medical needs and violates her rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Winmill wrote. He gave the state six months to provide Edmo with surgery.

Edmo, who had been self-harming behind bars, said the ruling was a relief.

“Not having the care I need is like being in a prison within a prison,” she said in a statement. “Even though I am still living, it has felt like I have been dying inside.”

But many in Idaho have taken issue with the ruling, conflating Edmo’s past crimes with her being transgender. The governor’s office notes that Edmo is serving a 10-year sentence for sexual abuse of a minor.

An article on Edmo by ABC Local 8 News also parallels Edmo’s gender with allegations of sexual abuse. The article repeatedly deadnames and misgenders Edmo (this piece has not been linked as INTO does not condone either practice).

The article quotes Edmo’s ex, Brady Summers, who says he survived an abusive relationship with Edmo. But the station allows Summers to question if Edmo is even transgender.

“Never once indicated anything of gender dysphoria or sexual indifference,” Summers is quoted saying. “He was a predator. He, on several occasions, had his way with me. It was brutal.”

Asked to comment on the decisions to run the piece and its violations of the AP Stylebook and GLAAD Media Guide, News Director Curtis Jackson stood by the story.

“In our research the story is correct,” Jackson said in an email. “The reason we aired the story is because of the high interest in the prison case.”

Other articles note that Edmo would be only the second person in the nation to receive a bottom surgery behind bars. Advocates argue, however, that that hardly matters as many others have won the right to transition-related healthcare.

IDOC officials argue in Edmo’s case that gender-confirmation surgery is not medically necessary.

“If Ms. Edmo had a broken arm, we’d all agree it should be treated,” the state’s Chairman of the Board of Correction, Dr. David McClusky, said in a statement. “But disagreement among medical professionals in this case does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.”

McClusky’s reasoning that gender affirming care is elective, however, flies in the face of consensus among major medical associations.

Richard Saenz, Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist at Lambda Legal, said the law is clear when it comes to providing medically necessary care for all behind bars.  

“As a queer person who does this type of work, it’s difficult when we lose the idea of dignity and humanity of people who are incarcerated,” Saenz said. “I can understand, but I disagree with people who say they don’t deserve this healthcare. I believe that’s coming from a place of bias against transgender people in general, and it’s not where doctors are.”

Image via Getty

This Kristen Stewart and Stella Maxwell Split Ruined My Holiday

My holiday season was less-than-happy because my favorite celesbian couple broke up just as my gay ass was attempting to start feeling jolly. Kristen Stewart and her (wipes tear) now ex-girlfriend Stella Maxwell are no longer together — and neither is my life.

Yes, it was inevitable. Yes, some have referred to the Twilight star as a “serial dater.” Yes, celebrity couples typically split after two years of dating, but I had such high hopes for this power couple. I thought it would end in wedding bliss at a star-studded, royal style, Chanel custom-designed double dress, celesbian wedding in Paris.

But after two years of high fashion runway shows, exclusive film premieres, A-list Hollywood parties, sharing clothes, cold-pressed juices, and passionate PDA, the hot celesbian heart-throb couple have ended their relationship.

There was a very brief red flag in October, when Stella was suddenly no longer following Kristen’s (private) IG account (someone slid into my DMs and told me — I do, outside of loving celesbians, have a life.) But the error was corrected not long after, and our celesbian queens were once again following each other.

The couple started their relationship in 2016 and I guess 2016 would also be the last great year America saw — it was President Obama’s final year in office and it was the year “Kristella” began.

I am so grateful that I get to exist within the same lifetime as these people. Especially given the mass adoption of social media (not to brag, but Obama follows me on Twitter). In this social media obsessed culture (where if you don’t post a pic of bae does bae even exists?) one thing that stood out about their relationship was that Stella never posted a single photo of Kristen to her 4.2 million Instagram followers — if you were lucky, you maybe could barely catch a glimpse of Kristen’s arm or leg in one of Stella’s stories, but that’s about as much as we ever got.

As you know, the Instagram “follow back” is the re-branded version of the “Facebook relationship status.” For those in your early thirties, you may remember how serious it was if your Facebook relationship status changed. If the other person was actually tagged, it announced your partnership with a photo of the two of you together on everyone’s timelines. It was basically a millennial marriage.

And now with Instagram taking Facebook cyberstalking to heroin-like levels, we can see who followed whom, when they followed them, and how many of their photos they liked. This is an INCREDIBLE amount of information for someone like me who loves to keep up with the latest Hollywood celesbian gossip — but when it led me to finding out that my own ex had finally moved on and had a new girlfriend, I became not-so-fond of these intimate features.

Anyway, time heals all wounds, right? Well, this Kristella breakup has left a gaping puncture wound in my hopeful, celesbian power couple-dream heart. For fans of celesbian culture, Kristen and Stella had picked up where Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson left off in 2008 — simpler times (sans the broken bottles being thrown in nightclubs and the ever so common restraining order) — but Sam and LiLo gave us young queer women a feeling of hope and excitement. At that time and for our generation, Lindsay Lohan was the most recognizable household television and film actress dating another woman. Her openness about dating a woman was monumental; it gave queer women worldwide visibility and validity, even if the press did often attempt to minimize their full-fledged “women who love women” relationship to “gal pals.”

I remember seeing Lindsay Lohan on The Ellen Show in 2009, the year after her breakup with Samantha. Ellen casually talked about how Sam and Lindsay had come to her birthday party together where Sam had DJ’d — ooh, to be a gay fly on that celesbian wall! Kristella gave me that exact same excitement and feeling of being seen. Sam and LiLo existed in a pre-social media world —  but now, I could look at new photos of Kristen and Stella virtually as they were being taken.

One of the highest paid and most well-known actresses Hollywood, the face of a worldwide terrifyingly popular film franchise (I never got the whole vampire thing, tbh), dating one of the most in-demand models — a Victoria Secret model at that — beautifully stunning women that are specifically cast to make men drool over them and make women aspire to be them were dating each other! Kristen was on the FROW (front-row of a fashion show) in Paris watching her girlfriend Stella walk the runway debuting the first look for the new Chanel collection, both of them mingling with Karl Lagerfeld (who seems to be quite fond of lesbian models himself) after the show. It was something straight out of my own fantasies and dreams.

When Stella attended Kristen’s directorial film debut screening in Beverly Hills (which I also attended…with the aforementioned ex…deep sigh), I thought, “maybe Stella and I share some sort of deep universal connection right now —  newly single and quickly moving on with new women.” (And if I may speak for us both, downgrades at that!) No shade to this new girl, Sam or Sarah Stylist Somebody, who looks like an intellectual. Intellectual stimulation from a partner seems to be something Kristen longs for, but she clearly has a weakness for beauty — not that I blame her.  It even happened to me earlier this year, when I attempted to take a long-time Instagram model crush out for a Valentine’s Day date, which crashed and burned after I discovered her black-out alcoholism. The prettiest people do the ugliest things.

The two archetypes Kristen always seems to oscillate between are the silent glamorous beauty or the articulate creative intellectual. Another reason I believe Kristen longs for an intellectual partner comes from a major hint I picked up from a December 2017 interview Stella did with the Italian women’s magazine GRAZIA.  Here is an excerpt from that interview:

I think that excerpt speaks for itself.

Let me be clear: This is not to drag Kristen, nor Stella. I adore them both. I don’t know who broke up with whom, (although my money would be on Kristen calling it quits) or even if it was mutual, but what I do know is that most “high fashion” models are simply not intellectuals and are usually low-key homeless. Not to be shady, but if you travel as much as they do, why would you want to pay rent for a place that you’re barely going to have time to actually live in?

Recent paparazzi photos of Kristen and her new gal, seem to suggest that Kristen has been staying at her new girl’s place—my guess is to give Stella time and space to figure out where her and her little gay dog are going to go. Maybe she can crash with her fellow model BFF Barbara Palvin, or maybe she can be an erotic third with her Russian hottie pal Irina Shayk and Bradley Cooper.

Bella Hadid might even be a good option, SEVERAL Tumblr Lesbians™ believe that Stella and Bella Hadid low-key dated and slept together casually a few years back and that Bella Hadid has ALLEGEDLY taken many a dip in the lady pond. Her close friendship with Kendall Jenner only validates this in my mind. Kendall Jenner’s queerness is an entirely different article. (Catch one of my live stand-up shows to possibly hear my Kendall Jenner Gay theory. It’s deep.)

Maybe Stella could be petty and messy and crash with Kristen’s ex’s ex Cara Delevingne— I’m pretty sure Cara has a home. Although it does seem like she crashes on friends’ couches a lot, like that week she was continuously photographed outside of Gaylor Swift’s New York City apartment every morning? And who could forget how close Cara and Kendall were? R.I.P. “CaKe.”

Remember not too long ago, but also low-key forever ago, when Cara Delevingne dated (and was madly in love with and proposed to) Annie “St. Vincent” Clark, but then St. Vincent broke up with Cara for Kristen and then Kristen broke up with St Vincent for Stella? *Alice Pieszecki voice* Maybe Stella should date St. Vincent! That would be weird and confusing, but also everything.

Or maybe she could Airbnb at  O.G. Silver Lake celesbian Amber Heard’s place while Amber travels the world trying to be the new Meghan Markle. (Jk, love you Amber let’s grab tea at Covell next Saturday). 

Stella could even get back with Miley Cyrus! And yes, Miley Cyrus and Stella Maxwell dated! It was in 2015 and it was very hot and cute.

Possible plans for Stella’s romantic future aside, I honestly feel just as heartbroken over this breakup as Stella and Tripp the dog must. Meanwhile, Kristen is seemingly feeling no pain. If I had her bank account and was the hottest celesbian in the world, I probably wouldn’t be feeling too much pain from a breakup either.

However, this breakup was undoubtedly the WORST part of 2018 for me. After a few days of silently grieving their split, or maybe being in denial about it all, I’m still not quite sure. I was reminded of the way life always seems to restore the balance, how when something bad happens, that usually means something good is to follow. Yin-yang; night, day; happy, sad. We need that balance; we have to have shitty moments so that we can know when to appreciate the good times. Just like this current era the world is experiencing, after this awful phase, we will see more love, more peace, and more unity as a result of all the turmoil we are enduring right now. Once again, the balance of life.

So cheer up, Stella—I’m sure there is some hot, up-and-coming young actress/model/singer looking for a high profile relationship to boost their TMZ ratings. You and your gay dog will have a home again in no time! As for us, the celesbian royal watchers, well, when one door closes, another one opens. And God has blessed us with more hot, young lesbian models. And he even put a cherry on top—they are WOMEN OF COLOR. I wish I were lying when I say I’m crying while typing this, but I’m not.

Allow me to introduce you to the new celesbian power couple of 2019 and 2020—Aqua Parios and Selena Forrest. I can hear you say “Who?” I had never even heard of them until a faithful follower on my @BettePorterGallery IG account DMed me and told me to check them out. (Shout out to @cleopatranising.)

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👭🏽❤ lez be happy😚

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Selena and Aqua are both up-and-coming New York-based models of color that are currently dating each other and recently got engaged. They’re both incredibly stunning and are both extremely out. Just one scroll through Aqua’s instagram (@aqua) and see for yourself— their relationship is on display bold and clear for the world to see *cries*. May I please just say, THANK YOU AQUA. THANK YOU SELENA. GODDESS BLESS YOU BOTH.

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❤️

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I have been dreaming of this day for so long — a young, relevant, hot black or brown celesbian couple and here they are. The best Christmas present of all. Aqua is Blasian (Black and Japanese) from Arizona and Selena seems to be biracial as well, from Cali. I’m not sure how they met, (assuming through work) but they seem to have been dating since sometime in 2014. Congrats on your engagement, ladies. I look forward to you both becoming household names on your rise to the top and seriously THANK YOU for your VISIBILITY and for being OUT and PROUD with your LOVE. We need more of it. I’ll see you both at the wedding.

And goodbye, Kristella! I will always love you. (*Whitney Houston voice* Sidenote: please watch the Whitney documentary if you didn’t. It has ALL the TRUE Robin Crawford Whitney Houston lesbian relationship tea, as well as confirmation that Cissy Houston — Whitney’s mother, did not want her daughter to be gay and did not like her girlfriend Robin.)

2020 Presidential Hopeful Apologizes For Past Support of Anti-Gay Conversion Therapy

A 2020 presidential hopeful has recently come under fire following allegations she worked for an anti-LGBTQ organization which promoted conversion therapy.

U.S. House Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) issued an apology on Monday after CNN reported she worked for the Alliance for Traditional Marriage at the age of 17. Gabbard’s father, Mike, founded the pro-family group, which was originally called Stop Promoting Homosexuality America. It was effectively disbanded in 2004.

In 1998, Mr. Gabbard posted a message to the organization’s website expressing support for discredited treatments seeking to “cure” homosexuality.

“[W]e must… renew our efforts to reach out with love and compassion to those who are addicted to homosexual behavior,” he claimed, “and encourage them to seek help through the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), ‘ex-gay’ ministries such as Exodus International, Courage, Homosexuals Anonymous and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (P-FOX).”

At the time, Tulsi Gabbard dismissed criticism of her family’s anti-LGBTQ activism as the work of extremists.

When her mother, Carol Porter Gabbard, ran for the Hawaii Board of Education in 2000, Tulsi Gabbard claimed “homosexual activists” were engaging in a “war of deception and hatred” to stop her campaign.

“They know, that if elected, [my mother] will not allow them to force their values down the throats of the children in our schools,” the younger Gabbard said.

As the youngest-ever elected lawmaker in the Hawaii State Legislature, Tulsi Gabbard doubled down on her parents’ opposition to equality. When Hawaii voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, her father’s organization spent more than $93,000 in support of the ban.

Then 21, Tulsi Gabbard claimed her father was merely trying “to protect traditional marriage.”

“I learned that real leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good,” Gabbard told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in an interview. “I will bring that attitude of public service to the legislature.”

During her single term in Hawaii’s legislature, the Democratic lawmaker opposed bills legalizing civil unions and protecting bullied LGBTQ youth.

In a speech to fellow House representatives, Gabbard warned the anti-bullying legislation would lead to children being taught that homosexuality is “normal and natural.” She also expressed concern that “homosexual advocacy organizations” would infiltrate K-12 schools to “promote their agenda to our vulnerable youth.”

But days after announcing her intention to take on President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, Tulsi Gabbard expressed “regret” for her anti-equality stances.

“I’m grateful for those in the LGBTQ community who have shared their aloha with me throughout my personal journey,” she said in a statement to CNN. “Much work remains to ensure equality and civil rights protections for LGBTQ Americans and if elected president, I will continue to fight for equal rights for all.”

INTO reached out to Gabbard’s office to inquire about how her opinions on conversion therapy have changed over the past decade. This publication did not receive a statement prior to press time but will update should one be provided.

LGBTQ groups said Gabbard must expound on her LGBTQ rights platform—including her views on conversion therapy—if she intends to campaign in 2020.

“This will be a robust primary with many champions of equality in the race,” said

Stephen Peters, Human Rights Campaign’s Senior National Press Secretary, said in an email to INTO: “Anyone running for president and trying to win the support of the 10 million LGBTQ voters and our allies will have to not only explain past positions but articulate a vision and agenda for the future.”

Orientation change efforts, which entail a range of practices from shock treatment to talk therapy, remain legal in 36 states. These states include Arizona, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

Gabbard’s home state, however, passed a law banning conversion therapy in 2018.

But as states like Colorado, Maine, and New York move to join the growing list of states banning conversion therapy, others say Gabbard’s “personal journey” on the issue mirrors the public’s own evolution on reparative treatments.

“Every day more Americans like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard are coming to understand the dangers of conversion therapy, which too often contributes to depression and increased risk of suicidal behavior,” said Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, in a statement shared with INTO.

Gabbard is one of four candidates to officially declare their intention to run for president in 2020. Others include former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass).

Warren also recently apologized for missteps in her record on LGBTQ rights.

During her 2012 campaign against Republican Scott Brown for governor of Massachusetts, the progressive standard-bearer claimed gender-affirming surgeries for transgender prisoners are not “a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

A spokesperson for Warren claimed those were no longer the candidate’s views.

“Senator Warren supports access to medically necessary services, including transition-related surgeries,” the spokesperson for her exploratory campaign told ThinkProgress. “This includes procedures taking place at the VA, in the military, or at correctional facilities.”

Both Warren and Gabbard earned perfect ratings of 100 on the most recent HRC Congressional Scorecard, indicating universal support for LGBTQ equality.

Image via Getty

The Sole Small Town Gay Bar Still Open In West Virginia

Morgantown, West Virginia – home of the Mountaineers, the Monongahela River, and the state’s premier gay club, Vice Versa. Situated alongside the numerous straight bars of the bustling college town with a population of approximately 30,500, it’s kind of hard to miss Vice Versa. Drag queens and club patrons can be seen taking a smoke break against a rainbow mural in the alleyway; the phrase “18 to cum, 21 to swallow” is prominently displayed on signage outside the door.

A $5 cover fee (insider tip: no cover on Thursdays for open stage night, where you can watch up-and-coming burlesque dancers, drag kings, drag queens, and femme fatale performers) shakes up the monotony of West Virginia’s hetero-bar hell. The vivacious greeter, easily twice my age and rocking the hell out of a leather catsuit, is quick to pay compliments as she eyes the ID cards of patrons coming through Vice Versa’s door. Neon wristbands with the phrase “THE BUTT HUTT,” a term coined for the bar inside Vice Versa, printed in all caps, are given to those of legal drinking age. Posters of local drag queens and upcoming guest performers (usually shirtless beefcakes whose work can be found on Pornhub) line the hallway to the dance floor and bar. The only thing that could make this place gayer is the Village People.

Club goers are an eclectic mix of senior gays and baby gays, regulars and newcomers, straight, queer, transgender, and everything in between. Many travel over state lines from southwestern Pennsylvania or drive for miles outside their small, rural West Virginian communities where there are no options for nightlife (especially gay nightlife) other than the local dive bar that reeks of cigarette smoke and “build the wall” rhetoric. All genders, races, sexualities, bodies, religions, and ethnicities are welcomed at Vice Versa; it’s a sentiment often reiterated by club owners and husbands, Montaz Morgan and James “Papabear” Yost. “We are here to be us. And if that is not respected we will see you to the door,” said Morgan.

For the past 18 years, Vice Versa has served as an inclusive space for LGBTQ members of the Appalachian community and their allies. Morgan and Yost make it a point to know those who come into the club on a personal level. It’s not uncommon to see Morgan on the dance floor with patrons, or Yost mingling with those having a drink at the bar. Their hands-on approach to running the nightclub allows Vice Versa to keep up its reputation as a safe haven for many who have felt scrutinized outside of the club’s walls. There is very much a “When you’re here, you’re family” vibe, minus the free breadsticks.

Unfortunately, the welcoming environment Morgan and Yost strive to maintain faces its share of battles. Concerns of safety, homophobia, and discrimination within and outside of the LGBTQ community are legitimate in a town where it‘s not uncommon to see a Confederate flag decal on the back of a pickup truck. Milton Sibanda, a 24-year old black man from Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, said he’s had subtle and not-so-subtle experiences of racism from members of the LGBTQ community while at Vice Versa. While there two years ago, he was insulted for denying another patron a dance. According to Sibanda, the rejected club goer’s response was, “Whatever, black guys aren’t cute anyways.” After hearing the vile remark, Sibanda, like many others, has taken his business an hour and a half north to metropolitan Pittsburgh, where he feels embraced by patrons even at straight bars and clubs.

The owners and staff of Vice Versa are well aware that not everyone who comes into the nightclub has an open mind, and because of that they must remain vigilant to protect patrons. “Morgantown, West Virginia is very liberal and open due to [being a] small city and college town. Yet only 15 miles out of Morgantown it’s a different question… We need to always be cautious,” said Morgan.

Morgan, who not only serves as a co-owner of the nightclub but also as the unofficial voice of the establishment, will commonly preach to his queer congregation about inclusivity and cultural issues that affect the LGBTQ community. Anything from voting and politics to patron safety could be mentioned in the moments before Morgan introduces the first act of the night. In one of his more recent weekly speeches, Morgan stood in the middle of the packed club and told a harsh truth: only five gay nightclubs remain in the state of West Virginia, a steep decline from the 15 gay clubs and bars that existed when Vice Versa first opened in 2000.

Such a jarring statement prompts the image of an America where gay bars and clubs are nearly all but extinct (even fewer lesbian bars remain in the U.S.). This downward trend is not exclusive to the small town, local-yokel, hole-in-the-wall LGBTQ establishments like Vice Versa. The dwindling number of gay clubs and bars in West Virginia mirrors the overall national decline. To put into perspective just how limited West Virginian queer nightlife is, the top result on Google for “gay bars in West Virginia” is a laughably-outdated web page containing a list of over dozen gay clubs. Of the 13 nightclubs on the list circa 2002, all but three are marked as CLOSED on Yelp, with most lacking any documentation of their final nights as former queer hotspots. Today Vice Versa is the only remaining LGBTQ space in Morgantown (besides the LGBTQ+ Center at West Virginia University) and, according to the nightclub’s Facebook page, it is “the longest running Gay/Alternative Dance Club in the [sic] West Virginia.”

Because Vice Versa is Morgantown’s lone gay bar, the stakes are that much higher. With only 3.4 percent of the state’s adult population identifying as LGBTQ—although it’s likely this percentage is higher, as many live closeted lives and remain unaccounted for—it is easy to assume it’s only a matter of time before the final last calls are made for the few remaining gay bars in West Virginia. When a town or city loses a queer-centric club or bar, the LGBTQ community loses a hub that was theirs— a place to build and foster queer culture. Too often walls that could once tell stories of triumph and empowerment are abandoned, demolished, or replaced by a new venture in the blink of an eye. A quick Google Maps search of addresses previously registered to gay bars like The Club in Martinsburg (closed 2015) and the Grand Palace in Charleston (closed in the early 2000s and met with a wrecking ball in 2006) all show a stark reality. While the closing date of Charleston’s Trax nightclub is unknown, its former location is now—ironically and unfortunately—an anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy center.” With so many gay clubs shuttering, future queer generations may never get to experience that “a-ha” moment that occurs when you first walk into an LGBTQ space and, perhaps for the first time, feel your identity is valid.

But many, including Morgan, are well aware that validity and acceptance can be found just as easily through social media. There is no longer an absolute need to get dressed up, pay a cover fee, and buy drinks when meeting another queer person is as simple as creating a username and password. Despite social media being a helpful tool for finding like-minded people, a hookup, or exploring your identity, it does not replace the community found within these bars and clubs. Sure, casual sex can be fun and an Internet friend is good to have when you need to vent to someone besides your therapist, but have you ever been in a packed gay bar where every single person sings along to the lyrics of Cher’s 1998 anthem “Believe”?

Not only do gay bars and nightclubs have to compete with social media, but traditional bars have also become far more welcoming of queer patrons as progress continues to be made politically and socially. Despite Vice Versa being the only gay club in a 50-plus mile radius, it still has to vie for the business of queer patrons who now have the option of over three dozen traditional clubs and bars in town. It also has to compete with neighboring Pittsburgh, PA, which has a young, vibrant nightlife scene with over a dozen gay bars like 5801 Video Lounge and Cafe, Element, and Cruze Bar. Although this is great for furthering equality and acceptance, it begins to unwind the past necessity of queer-centric spaces, taking a bite out of LGBTQ nightlife and culture.

With that being said, traditional bars and clubs typically do not cater to queer culture or the subcultures that lie within the community. When was the last time you heard of a small town straight bar hosting a bear night? Vice Versa regularly hosts themed nights (like furry night, cabaret night, fetish night, or bear night), allowing those who participate in subsets of the LGBTQ and kink communities to have a safe place to express themselves. On top of themed nights, Vice Versa is home to queer-positive benefits for causes like Planned Parenthood and World AIDS Day, further educating the public about topics crucial to queer people.

Luckily, these themed nights, in-house drag queens known as the Vice Versa Vixens, and regularly booked outside entertainment (adult film stars, RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants, drag kings, drag queens, and strippers) keep regular and new club goers engaged. And it’s not just the queer patrons coming out for these events. Lifelong West Virginian and LGBTQ ally Danielle Gasparro remembers hearing about the happenings at Vice Versa even while growing up on the opposite side of the state. “I was so mesmerized and proud that there was a space in West Virginia [where] he [a local gay man who made his drag debut at Vice Versa] could do that,” said Gasparro. Fast forward nearly a decade later and Gasparro can be found, with her boyfriend in tow, on the Vice Versa dance floor. Like Gasparro and her boyfriend, many straight men and women will trade a night at their usual vanilla, go-to traditional bar and venture to Vice Versa instead. Plus, overpriced IPAs and The Office Trivia Night could never compete with half-priced shots and drag queens lip-syncing to Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits.

Dolled-up drag queens, a DJ spinning throwback pop songs, and leather daddies and mountain cowboys dancing together harmoniously may not sound like your ideal night out—I’m more of a homebody myself—but for the queer people of Morgantown who visit Vice Versa, for just one night West Virginia feels more like West Hollywood, and the homosexuals have a home. Even with the odds stacked against it, Vice Versa remains a vibrant hub of queerness and a staple of Morgantown nightlife. For many, clubs like Vice Versa hold a sentimental value. Many lose their “gay club virginity” to their small town gay bar or nightclub. Whether it’s the newly legal 18-year-old celebrating adulthood, a college student who no longer has to answer to their parents, or just an everyday local looking for an escape, the walls of these clubs serve as a catalyst for self-discovery, fostering a much-needed community.

Agender People Debunk Myths About Their Identities

Agender people often do not feel a desire to perform within gender roles, as they often feel they exist outside of them.

“A person who is agender sees themselves as neither man nor woman, has no gender identity, or no gender to express,” Dr. Meredith Chapman, a psychiatrist at the Children’s Health Genecis Program told Teen Vogue.

In order to continue the ongoing conversation and growing knowledge of the various ways in which gender exists, it’s important that we shed more light on agender people’s experiences — so that the cisgender and the LGBTQ community alike can better understand how this community exists. It’s especially important for others who may be questioning if they are agender to find any resources that can to help them navigate their identities.

INTO interviewed eight agender people about the myths they would like to debunk about their identities, and what society should know about what it means to be agender.

Tab, 29, They/Them

When I was in sixth grade, my head was shaved for medical reasons — and I had a lot of identity crisis issues. I hadn’t hit puberty or anything like that and a lot of kids called me a boy, as if it was sort of an insult. They knew I was one thing and they called me another and it was just sort of a teasing torment. And I remember not wanting to have to dress overtly feminine just avoid getting labeled as a little boy by all of my classmates, like I shouldn’t have to wear pink to not get called a boy. I don’t want to get called a girl, but I don’t want to be called a boy.

In high school, my mother gave me a science fiction book called Commitment Hour. It’s Sci-Fi but [in a] more fantasy setting. It follows the characters in a village where they can basically change their sex every year until their 18th birthday and then they get to choose what they want to be. And if they choose, they’re called “neuts” and so I was like That is me! I don’t want to be one or the other, I don’t want to be anything. From that point — it was around 2004— I was calling myself “neut” and then as I got older I sort of went into hiding.

I guess I’m considered closeted by most standards of identity stuff because it’s kind of hard. My mother’s the only person who’s really supportive of this—the rest of my family is religious. I’m married. My spouse is supportive, but my spouse’s family probably wouldn’t be. So it’s just a weird struggle to self-identify and be proud of who I am, and at the same time, I don’t want to have to get into arguments.

And now there’s words for it — non-binary, gender nonconforming, agender. There are so many names and I’ve been calling it neut for the last 20 years.

Being agender is really hard because even in circles and communities that you think will be supportive, especially LGBT circles or supposedly sex-positive and open communities, you still receive a lot of questioning. I can’t wear anything that shows off my female sex characteristics or whatever because people are like “Oh, how very agender of you” and it’s like what do they expect me to be? Some sort of lifeless blob you can’t identify? Am I supposed to look like an alien with no human features whatsoever?

Even places where you think there’s spaces for you to identify this way, it’s still kind of difficult.

The biggest misconception of being agender is that you have to be completely androgynous.  A lot of people go for androgyny because it’s the closest they can get to sort of registering on both scales, it’s kind of like a compliment for somebody to go “Are you a boy or a girl?” because that legitimately means they cannot identify your sex based off of your looks, which a lot of genderless people try to seek. But by no means do you have be completely androgynous to be agender.

Gender expression is a personal thing — it’s our personal identity. And, yes, we want to be validated and have people accept us when we say “Yeah, I don’t have a gender” — but you can have a full beard and be agender. You can have massive breasts and be agender. Some people feel more comfortable to remove their breasts or shave their beards or grow their hair out long to achieve a balance of whatever their sex traits are, but we shouldn’t have to.

Older people have felt this way for years. The concept of being genderless has existed but we are just now only getting terminology for it. So just understand we do exist, we’re not a bunch of crazy people, we’re not a bunch of young kids just wanting to stand out — most of us are just trying to fit in and be accepted without leaving our comfort zones or going beyond ourselves. You want to be yourself — you don’t want to be somebody else just to be valid.

Dee (Daniel), 33, Any Pronouns

I have been in feminist and in LGBT circles for a long time, and my roommate came out as non-binary years ago. My husband started using they/them and identifying as non-binary about a year ago.

Talking about gender and such with them, I debated a long time whether I counted as cis anymore, because I have never really had a problem with people IDing me as a woman (usually online because I have a beard IRL). I still usually say cis-adjacent for the simple fact that because of my beard, I’ll get IDd as a cis man regardless of if I wear makeup or not. This means I benefit from cis male privilege, even if I don’t think any gender expression feels particularly right to me.

There is a lot to think about and discuss around agender, non-binary, and presentation versus identification. I paint my nails and wear some light makeup, but I still present mostly masculine.

I think one of the misconceptions is that agender folks are trying to force everyone else to be agender — that it’s somehow invalidating trans folks’ or non-binary folks’ lived experience — which couldn’t be farther from the truth. We are all trying to figure out what we are doing with these meat sacks we call a body and live our best lives, as short as they are.

My biggest personal struggle is finding ways to express my lack-of-gender since I don’t like how I look without a beard, but it’s seen as a huge masc identifier. Most of the androgynous tips online are for thin white folks like David Bowie. I’ve started wearing my hair asymmetrical and more gender-neutral in an attempt to get some semblance of androgyny.

Society should stop focusing on others’ gender expressions, and if someone asks you to use certain pronouns/name, use them! Everyone’s gender/expression will be different. Even among cis folks, there are huge variants on how people present their gender.

Talk, think, and try things out. Try on different gender expression, try out different pronouns. You’ll probably know when something suddenly feels right, though not always! I’ve been trying out going by Dee instead of Daniel (it was a childhood nickname and more androgynous) and I’m not sure if I like it better or not. And that is OK!

Nicky, 20, He/They

I discovered I was agender when I was in tenth grade. I never felt correct identifying as a woman, nor did I feel like I was a binary trans man. I made a failed attempt to force myself into the binary when I was first exploring what it meant to be trans, and proceeded to bring more misery upon myself. I couldn’t figure it out. If I wasn’t a woman, and I wasn’t a man, what was I?

When I discovered the agender identity, it felt like a breath of fresh air. There were people with similar stories to mine, and what they saw themselves as aligned with what I could see in myself. I first came out as agender when I was 15, and I will be 21 this June.

There’s no correct way to be agender. Being agender doesn’t require androgyny, and androgyny isn’t inherently masculine, as mass media tends to show us. There’s truly no concept of passing when it comes to identifying with no gender at all. You can be agender and present how you want, no matter the gender you were assigned at birth, as agender people’s identities are all incredibly unique.

My experiences as an agender person have been met with confusion. There’s still a long way to go in education about gender identity, as many people I’ve come out to along the way have questioned me endlessly about my gender, often assuming I’m a confused woman, or equating gender exploration with puberty. Sometimes, this is the case, and I’m all about allowing gender to be explored, and no limits or boxes for what it means to identify. But, this is who I am, and who I am proud to be. I’m not a man, I’m not a woman, I’m extraordinarily Nicky James Ballard.

It’s not always difficult, though, and I’m thankful for the people who take the time to understand where I’m coming from, the ones who have met me with open arms and continue to support me.

I can only hope that as we continue to spread the word of gender identity, the concept of identifying with genders other than male or female becomes more normal. I wish that being taught about gender identity, expression, and gender dysphoria was more accepted in the sexual education curriculum in high schools. I want people to know that there is nothing wrong with questioning gender, learning about gender, and exploring their own, and what gender, or lack thereof, means to them.

On, 31, They/Them

There was never one pivotal moment for me in knowing myself as agender. It started four or five years ago when I revisited some of the feelings in my youth, because back then there wasn’t really any equivalent terminology around gender. In hindsight, I would say I was experimenting with gender expression by putting on makeup or more traditional feminine clothing.

I guess it came from a different place but gender definitely played a central part in it. After a while, the pendulum swung in the other direction. I was performing masculinity, and then over time I grew more uneasy with fitting either masculine or feminine identities.

It wasn’t really this one moment where I really realized I was agender. I knew I didn’t know how to really navigate any of those binary genders, and I realized nothing really fits and that it may just be neither. It’s not that I’m in between or somewhere outside, but none of those identities are applicable for me. I wouldn’t know how to position myself in either way.

I definitely pass as a cis male and most of the time I’m just read as a cis male, but it depends on the space and how comfortable I feel in expressing more of my ambiguity. It’s been a difficult experience, but my partner is really supportive and she’s helped me a lot to be more affirmed in who I am, and feel more at ease, and that kind of led to me opening up to my friends a bit more.

It’s still difficult because it’s already hard to even explain what binary trans means to people, and so to explain what an absence of gender means is challenging. It’s been the same with my family as well, they are always assuming that I’m in between two genders.

The most important thing is not to pressure yourself; a lot of the narratives that are circulating about agender people are focusing on this journey that ends at some point and the person feels at home with themselves or they feel more complete and affirmed. And that could put a lot of pressure on people because from my experience that journey slows down and you have a little pause here and there when you think of your gender identity — I believe if you identify as agender today and you realize “Oh, I actually might be cis” the next day, or whatever, that’s completely fine. These different labels can put on a pressure to choose and settle on one identity.

But it’s okay for your identity to be temporal as you begin to know yourself and allow yourself the agency to move around within your own fluidity.

Winter (or Winston), 20, They/Them

It’s funny: I discovered my agender identity in a similar way to how I realized I was asexual about two years prior. I was having trouble understanding who I was and how I wanted to express myself, and how the two connected. I felt like I was missing something that other people seemed to be in touch with. I knew of the term agender for some time in high school but never thought much of it until my senior year, when I suddenly realized that it was actually the perfect word to describe myself.

There are so many misconceptions about agender people, and many of them probably apply to other non-binary genders as well, but here are some that I’ve come across in my day to day life:

People (mostly bigots) tend to have this idea in their minds that agender people just don’t understand nature, biology, psychology, or science in general. I actually excel in biology and psychology. I’m currently working towards a bachelor of science in psychology and started doing undergraduate research in my college’s neurochem lab at the start of my sophomore year. And I identify as agender. So I’m basically living proof that this myth isn’t founded in fact, but prejudice.

People seem to believe that because we are genderless, agender people’s experiences of our genders, how our internal experiences affect how we interact with the world, and how the world treats us, are basically the same as men and women, because how can a gender that’s not there affect a person’s experiences? Our perspectives tend to be ignored in favor of a more gendered, binary world view. However, I think agender people can have very special perspectives that should be taken into consideration when discussing gender-related topics, especially topics like gender discrimination and the patriarchy. I think there is something unique about seeing a world so heavily influenced by gender through a genderless eye. People living in a society that uses gender so heavily to control people, and being still strongly affected by this system even while being genderless, are worth listening to.

When people imagine agender people, they usually picture someone who is AFAB and dresses sort of masculinely. I think this is usually somewhat rooted in two types of sexist thinking. The first being the idea that all AFAB people are weak-minded and easily-influenced girls who can’t be trusted to understand their own experience of gender and must be protected, lest they are tricked into no longer wanting to be girls. The second is that masculinity is seen as a sort of default, while femininity is seen as other, so something that is genderless must be masculine, because if it were feminine then it would be “girly.” However, AMAB agender people exist and feminine agender people exist, and quite frankly I believe they’re too important to be forgotten about.

Agender people are often seen as touchy, angry, confused people who are obsessed with gender. People believe that because we identify in a way they are not familiar with, agender people must spend too much time thinking about gender and must be confused or distressed by it. In reality, I’m very comfortable with my identity and I don’t spend much time at all thinking about anyone’s gender. I feel much more comfortable with myself since coming to realize my agender identity than I did before I knew I wasn’t cis. Really the only time I am reminded of my gender is when I am misgendered, either by a person who uses the wrong pronoun or something, or by a place, like a bathroom or clothing section that is labeled either for men or for women.

As an agender person, all I ask is for people to show me basic human respect. Using the pronouns a person asks you to use for them is basic respect. Calling a person their name is basic respect. Not saying things that would be inappropriate to say to anyone (like questions about a person’s genitals) is basic respect. That is all I want. I don’t ask people to be experts. Allowing yourself to respect people, even if you don’t understand them, is probably the best way to come to understand them in the long run.

Khalypso, 19, They/Them

I knew I didn’t identify with womanhood though it was assigned to me and I certainly don’t feel connected to masculinity. I did some googling and discovered an article about being agender and the descriptions and definition are almost exactly how I feel.

I think with identifying as anything non-binary, especially agender — people see it as some sort of political stance and not an identity. We’re treated like we’re rebelling against the whole world just for existing, and things simply do not work that way. My identity does inform my politics but I shouldn’t be made to feel like a walking protest just for existing as I am.

I’ve experienced a lot of misgendering and harassment since coming out, especially because I made the choice not to seek any hormonal or surgical gender-affirming treatment. It sucks to say that most people are not only ignorant, but hateful towards me for simply wanting to exist and be validated. People take it as a personal affront that you don’t subscribe to a binary so it’s kind of rough just expressing myself.

Society must understand we’re regular people and we do everything people with binary genders do. Stop being afraid of us and stop endangering us. Stop misgendering us and take the time to learn more about the history of gender especially as it pertains to violent Western colonial politics — we’re human beings and we really do just wanna live like everyone else.

James, 28, They/Them

I transitioned to male when I was 19, mostly because I knew I wasn’t female and male seemed like the only other option. I have never been especially uncomfortable with my body or being perceived as either binary gender, but somehow, even at the age of 19, I knew that I would be more comfortable in a body that is as nonbinary as my gender. I discovered nonbinary genders when I was 23, and it was that classic ‘aha’ moment. I have used a lot of different labels to try and define my agender identity, and these days I tend to use gender-null, which is the closest I have gotten to describing how, where most people feel male or female — I just have a void. For me, being agender is not a gender identity defined by the lack of gender, but the lack of any gender identity at all. It’s also possible that I won’t always identify this way! But I am not a time traveler, so I can’t be sure.

Being agender doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to do with gender or gendered constructs. There are a lot of different ways to feel and be agender. Like any identity category, people who identify as agender have different ideas of what that means (even if the term seems straightforward). They may prefer gendered pronouns, or not. An agender person may present solely femininity or masculinity, or may move between the two, or may blend them to create a sort of nonbinary style. They may pursue transition (and that will look different for everyone) as I have, or they may love their body as it is. Their gender identity may be a significant part of an agender person’s life, or the lack of gender may mean that they don’t think about it at all. Everyone is different, obviously.  

Even though it makes me uncomfortable, I know that providing a space for everyone to name their preferred pronouns is actually really affirming for most people, and I think it is an important practice. Otherwise, what can society do? I honestly think that is just a matter of understanding that there are gender identities and experiences that go beyond male/female. There seems to be some movement toward making nonbinary identities visible, but even then I think there needs to be more emphasis on the fact that there are so many different ways to be nonbinary that the experiences we see in the media don’t even scratch the surface.

There are about various ways to experience gender (or not). They are all valid. Not identifying with any gender at all is valid. Experimenting with gender is the best part about gender, and if you end up at “My gender is agender,” that is cool and you are cool.

Ruth, 39, Any Pronouns (as long as you’re respectful)

I’ve known I was different than my peers since I was four years old. I didn’t know that not being male or female was an option, so at first I thought I was just “weird” or different. I felt like I never quite fit in with my peers. The other girls in school often seemed like a different species from me, but I didn’t feel like I was a boy either.

Then I learned that I’m queer, and I thought that was the answer to how I felt differently than my peers. (I’m open to a romantic relationship with any gender.) I’ve always been interested in “gender-bending” at times, like wearing masculine clothes and having a gender-neutral hairstyle.

It was when I learned about younger people identifying as non-binary that I felt like I found a term that matched how I felt.

A big misconception with being agender is that we’re asking for anything special by trying to get non-binary birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and passports. We just want to be legally acknowledged as who we are, the same as anyone else. (I got my California birth certificate corrected last year and now I’m trying to get my current state – Arizona – to change its laws and issue non-binary driver’s licenses so this topic is on my brain.)

Being non-binary or agender is not a fad and it’s not new. Non-binary people have always existed, but it’s been more recent that we’re being acknowledged.

It’s challenging and draining to be non-binary in a binary-centric society. There are everyday occurrences that people who are cisgender probably don’t even think about but that tell me that I’m excluded as non-binary:

  • Locker rooms (only male and female options).
  • Public bathrooms that have more than one stall (labeled male or female general).
  • Referring to someone as “Sir” or “Ma’am.” There is no gender-neutral option.
  • Ditto for other situations like what am I to my sibling’s baby. I’m not their aunt or uncle. I adopted my own term: “Oggy” (rhymes with “doggy”).
  • When I sign up to run a race, I have to specify if I’m male or female. In my head, I’ve renamed them the testosterone and estrogen divisions.
  • When you buy a plane ticket, you have to specify if you’re male or female. There are no other options and you must pick one.
  • Buying clothes, especially a business suit, can be a nightmare because nothing seems to fit right. I want a masculine style suit, but items in the men’s section aren’t made for someone with my proportions and the women’s section doesn’t have masculine style suits. And my feet are too small to get men’s dress socks in most stores and that’s where the patterns I want are.
  • The TSA – I seem to always set off the spinny-go-round scanner. They’re supposed to give a patdown by someone of the same gender. Every time I’ve asked, they haven’t had a non-binary person there to touch me.

Here’s what happened when I tried to get my travel ID, which everyone in AZ is required to get by January 2020. I brought the required documents, including my non-binary birth certificate, and they couldn’t process the application because the computer can only process a person as male or female.

The risk of being physically attacked or killed is much higher for transgender people, including non-binary people. I’m definitely more aware of my surroundings now.

I find this video by BBC Three titled Things Not To Say To A Non-Binary Person validating when I need it.

There is no one way to be non-binary, so what works for one person may not work for you, and you both may be non-binary people. It’s OK to be confused and questioning. There are websites, online forums, and books you can read as well as LGBTQ groups where you can meet people who are similar to you.

Justice For ‘Soda Pop’: Remembering One Of Britney’s Weirdest Songs

Not only did the 20th anniversary of …Baby One More Time fix climate change and end world hunger, but it also led to newfound appreciation of Britney’s debut album. There’s a whole generation of young people out there who weren’t even alive when Godney brought us this precious, precious gift, so it’s gratifying to see her first record receive some love from the Spotify generation as well.

A number of articles and social media rants posted over the weekend prove that hits from the album like “…Baby One More Time” and “(You Drive Me) Crazy” will continue slaying us till the world ends, but there’s one track, in particular, that’s still not getting the love it deserves and that’s “Soda Pop.”

You’d assume that a song that also appeared on the first Pokémon movie soundtrack would be universally loved by all, but to do so would make you even more wrong than the Ash/Pikachu porn that circulates online.

Despite appearing early on the original tracklist between classic singles like “Sometimes” and “Born To Make You Happy,” “Soda Pop” is often dismissed as an unfortunate byproduct of the time in which it was made, much like Napster or The Phantom Menace.

In a brand new ranking of the album’s track listing, Billboard placed “Soda Pop” in tenth place, besting only “The Beat Goes On,” and EW was even harsher when they argued that it’s one of the four worst songs Britney’s ever recorded. We were more generous when we ranked it in seventh place, but on an album full of classic material, “Soda Pop” still deserves to be celebrated and not just because it’s catchy AF either.

Although super-producer Max Martin was the one who elevated Britney to stardom with her debut single, the lion’s share of …Baby One More Time was actually written and produced by Eric Foster White, who basically worked on every song that wasn’t a single and eventually won a Nobel Prize for his work on “E-Mail My Heart.”

Along with reggae star Mikey Bassie, White co-wrote and produced “Soda Pop,” drawing on influences from the seemingly incongruous worlds of dancehall and bubblegum pop. While the song seems to have left a bad taste in the collective mouth of critics everywhere, fans at the time fizzed with joy at Britney’s soaring vocals and her infectious love of soda popping, even if it did sound like nothing else on the album.

Although it’s easy to see now why the song’s reggae vibes might have sounded out of place back in 1999, it’s also clear that the experimental nature of “Soda Pop” would go on to inform the genre-bending that defined later albums like Femme Fatale and In The Zone. Part of Britney’s appeal has always been her weirdness, and it doesn’t get much stranger than singing about opening a “soda pop, bop, shu-bop, shu-bop” to dancehall rhythms.

Scratch that. It does get weirder, but only when you stop dancing around to this carefree bop and take a closer look at the lyrics. On the surface, Britney’s obsession with soda seems to harken back to more innocent times when dates would meet up at their local diner over a chocolate malt. In reality, though, “Soda Pop” might be more interested in the taste of something else altogether.

When Bassie’s guest vocals first kick in, younger me assumed that he and Britney were just enjoying a casual soda together as all good friends do. However, talk of “monster riding to the music tonight” and leveling the vibes “for a wicked time to the end” took on a whole new meaning for older me.

That’s right. It’s not just soda that Britney’s watching “fizz and pop” in the chorus.

Many are quick to claim that “E-Mail My Heart” is the weirdest song that the Princess of Pop has ever recorded, but “Soda Pop” could easily give it a run for its money, which is why this naughty little ditty will remain a fan favorite “on and on until the break of dawn” and beyond.

“Soda Pop” is many things to many people; A cheesy nostalgia trip, a hyper-sexual ode to ejaculaton, a “vibical expedition” that rivals even the work of the “great poet Homer”… it’s tough to fully encapsulate the song’s strange, strange appeal, which is why we’ll leave it up to Weirdney herself to explain:

“’Soda Pop’ is such a fun song, when you hear it you’re just like ‘oh, I wanna go outside and just, y’know, party’ it’s like a really fun summer song everyone, y’know, just, in your car, listening to, y’know, it’s a great song, it’s a lot of fun.“

Truer words have never been spoken.

Image via Getty

Clarkisha Explains: On Happiness, Survival, and The Rejection of Self-Destruction

I am…happy.

I know what you’re thinking.

That’s great, Clarkisha, but how is that relevant? And what does that have to do with me?

As always, that is an excellent question and maybe to you, I am just spouting straight nonsense and uttering unintelligible musings. But if you are any kind of survivor who has encountered the mental fuckery that ensues when you no longer have to just “survive” anymore….this is relevant to you and you know what I’m talking about.

The TRAUMA!

So, where to begin? Ah, well, if I were to give you the equivalent of a roundabout ESPN highlight, I’d say that I spent the first couple of days this year dashing all my petty fears and it paid off in a *major* way. A surprising way. And a fairly romantic way. All ways that are foreign to me and usually elude me.

I slid into someone’s DMs. And it…worked? I was NOT roasted. And now I cannot believe that my Chicken Run ass took this long to say something, mostly because saying that we have good chemistry and that good times await would be such an understatement.

Now fast forward to some weeks later and a bitch. just. can’t. stop. smiling.

It’s…odd! I should be relishing this newfound giddiness, right? And the stomach flips should be fun, right? And what of the butterflies?

Shouldn’t I be leaning into that too?

I should. Normal people would. In fact, normal people wouldn’t question such happiness. Or elation. Or straight-up JOY! But my depression and my PTSD have equipped me with an [un]healthy suspicion when it comes to good things happening in my life. In whatever part of my life. Some, like Teen Wolf, call it regression to the mean. Except in the case of Teen Wolf (and you know, psychology), the phenomenon has more with extreme things happening in a singular place or time in your life and eventually swinging back to a place that’s more neutral, so to speak. This means things won’t always be terrible but also won’t be great 24/7. For me, the negative side of this phenomenon is usually what I experience and it manifests itself when life is either going great or okay, but I can’t help but think that shittier times are ahead and that I would be naive to not prepare for them. That I would be remiss to just throw myself fully into my happiness because I don’t want to get caught off guard by something catastrophic because I was too busy being a sap.

I CAN’T STOP.

I call it the “When Will The Shoe Drop?” Syndrome. And because I’m me, I take it further. There’s always a question of how long my happy situation will last. If I’m projecting. Whether this is truly a reality or just an illusion. And if there’s a person who is one of the focal points of said happy situation (be they a friend or whatever), there’s always the additional question of how long it will take before they grow tired or annoyed with me. Or if someone put them up to this. Or if, quite frankly, they took a wrong turn and simply ended up here. With me.

This string of unhealthy hypotheticals always threatens to rip me from the happy situation I’m currently in and put me in some of the darkest corners of my mind. I know this because it’s a pattern of mine (and perhaps yours, too) that I’m fairly aware of and that I have been trying to break and not succumb to, for a very, very long time.

I remember when I first discovered this was a thing (college). At first, I thought it was a normal thing and that it was just my way of looking out for myself and not being so quick to fall for the okie doke. You know, because I was being wise! Emotionally cognizant. Wiser beyond my years.

Basically, all ways to tell me that my trauma had effectively changed my life but, you know, make it fashion!

Still. I thought I was so smart. I thought I had life all figured out. And then someone on Twitter succinctly stated that there was no way for us to thrive (but mainly me) with the coping mechanisms we had developed and refined for survival. And that doing so was a recipe for ultimate failure, and most importantly, self-destruction.

It left me shaken for a really long time.

I say this because normally I would have ignored such a fairly topical and pointed tweet (because I’m so fucking headass), but because I had briefly dabbled in therapy before I couldn’t afford it anymore, my therapist had made it clear fairly quickly that some of the coping mechanisms that I had used to draw lines of demarcation between me and my family or to emotionally shield myself would bring me nothing but misfortune in the future.

“You have a tendency to be self-destructive, [redacted],” she once said. And this is before she dragged my life by pointing out how weird I get about happiness. And how I eventually isolate myself from the person or thing who is bringing it to me. Compare this realization to that oddly-specific and well-timed tweet and I found myself asking myself why the fuck I was like this and how the fuck I could possibly fix it.

If you’re anything like me, maybe that’s something you have been asking yourself too. And the truth is…I don’t have an easy answer for you. I’m lucky because my person in question has known me for a minute and is semi-aware (semi because I’m not so sloppy that I’d reveal all my good and bad quirks all at once LOL) of how…neurotic…I can be sometimes. And they’ve also made it safe enough for me to talk about this shit with them so they that they have the chance to reassure me when I’m doing the absolute most. I realize everyone doesn’t have that and I don’t really take that lightly.

#Blessed

But still. What are we, recovering survivors, to do in the interim as we attempt to return to “normal” and untraumatized lives? With or without help in tow? Again, that’s a good-ass question. Part of me is sometimes self-defeatist and wants to accept that this is just my reality and that I have to come to terms with the fact that happiness, if it doesn’t elude me, will never sit well with me. But the other part of me knows what a crock of unhealthy bullshit that is and how it is ultimately imperative for me to unlearn all this shit.

And that’s the thing, too. Unlearning unhealthy survival coping mechanisms is a tall order and it doesn’t happen overnight. But it must be done. Because one (unless you’re a bigot) deserves nice things and one can either
develop new ways to truly handle said nice things (like happiness, contentment, and joy) or they could face the possibility that the various ways in which they “survived” in the last couple of years will surely destroy them if left unchecked.

It’s your move.

Republican Governor in Ohio Signs LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Order For Second Time in a Month

For the second time in less than a month, a Republican governor in Ohio has signed a nondiscrimination order protecting LGBTQ state employees.

The executive order was one of six signed by incoming Gov. Mike DeWine during an inauguration ceremony held shortly after midnight on Monday. It upholds an order signed by former Gov. John Kasich in December, one which extended state-level employment protections to Ohio’s LGBTQ community for the first time.

The order signed Monday expanded on the earlier measure by adding three protected classes: pregnant people, foster parents, and parents of young children.

“We said we were going to hit the ground running,” DeWine said during the swearing in.

LGBTQ groups hailed the governor’s decision to keep the Kasich order, as many feared it may be in jeopardy under the new administration. As the state’s attorney general, DeWine defended Ohio’s marriage ban in court, facing off against SCOTUS marriage equality plaintiff Jim Obergefell.

The advocacy group TransOhio called the nondiscrimination order a “victory for all of Ohio.”

“By issuing this executive order protecting state employees, including LGBTQ state employees, from discrimination, Gov. DeWine made a strong statement on his first day that he will be a governor for all Ohioans,” added Equality Ohio Executive Director Alana Jochum said in a press release.

However, Jochum noted the Buckeye State “is still playing catch up when it comes to welcoming LGBTQ people.”

Currently, Ohio is one of 30 states which lacks fully inclusive nondiscrimination protections at the statewide level. The Ohio Fairness Act, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s list of protected classes, stalled in the state legislature last year.

Supporters claim the proposal is gaining momentum, despite conservative opposition in the lawmaking body. HB 160 reportedly received the support of hundreds of local businesses during the 2018 legislative session.

LGBTQ advocates hope DeWine’s support leads to further bipartisan action on the issue.

“Republicans, Democrats, and Independents are coming together to affirm what we all know to be true: Our nation is at strongest when everyone is able to live their lives without the fear of discrimination,” claimed Freedom for All Americans CEO Masen Davis in a statement.  

“Governor DeWine’s executive order is an important step toward comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for all LGBTQ people in Ohio and nationwide,” he added.

DeWine is one of a handful of first-term governors to sign an executive order forbidding bias against LGBTQ employees already this year. He is joined by Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and Wisconsin’s Tony Evers, both of whom are Democrats.

Republican Rick Snyder, the former governor of Michigan, signed a nondiscrimination order shortly before leaving office in 2018.