Love Wins in Malta: How a 98% Catholic Country Passed Marriage Equality

Malta has become the latest country to legalize same-sex unions on Wednesday when its Parliament voted—in a nearly unanimous decision—to extend marriage rights to all couples.

It’s a sign of how far the country, which banned divorce until 2011, has come that the lone dissenter was Edwin Vassallo, a representative for the right-wing National Party. Vassallo, calling the decision “immoral,” broke ranks with the rest of his nationalist cohort. Maria Sjödin, deputy director of the LGBT organization OutRight Action International, said that even the most staunch conservatives felt they were “on the right side of history.”

“Malta is lucky to have politicians that are ahead on the issue,” Sjödin told INTO. “Politicians have been brave and willing to lead in the way that politicians everywhere should be leading.”

The marriage equality victory in Malta is all the more impressive when compared to how other legislatures have voted on the issue, even countries viewed as international leaders on LGBTQ rights. Earlier this month, the German Bundestag passed marriage equality by a much smaller margin of 331 to 225. Even Prime Minister Angela Merkel voted against. When the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001, 59 Parliamentarians opposed it. Sweden’s legislature had 22 dissenters, while Belgium had 37.

Russell Sammut, a representative for Malta’s Allied Rainbow Communities ARC, claimed that the country’s sudden vote on marriage equality is proof that the tiny island nation is the most progressive on queer and trans issues in the world. Even prior to the win, Malta has topped Rainbow Europe, a ranking from ILGA-Europe on the continent’s most LGBT friendly countries for the past two years.

“Malta is number one when it comes to LGBT rights, and we all know that Europe is the leader on the issue,” Sammut said. “So that makes Malta number one in the world.”

This is a massive reversal of fortune from six years ago, when Malta legalized divorce for the first time. In 2011, it placed 33rd in ILGA’s yearly equality ranking. That put Malta behind countries like Georgia, Kosovo, and Bosnia, where LGBTQ people often face violence and discrimination. A recent report from Reuters found that many queer and trans Bosnians are still living in the closet.

On the front lines of equality

Despite recent gains, a culture of silence was the norm in Malta for many years.

The U.S. gay liberation movement is decades old, ignited by the Stonewall Riots of 1969, but Malta’s LGBTQ rights movement only began in the early 2000s—with advocacy groups like the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) and Drachma, a queer-inclusive religious group. MGRM, the country’s largest LGBTQ organization, was founded in 2001. That’s the same year the Netherlands passed marriage equality.

While homosexuality was decriminalized in 1973, ILGA executive director Renato Sabbatini said that it remained extremely difficult to be open about one’s sexuality in such a tiny country.

Numbering just 400,000 people, Malta’s entire population is roughly the size of Omaha, Nebraska. Many families have lived in the same town for generations. Walking to the store, you’re likely to be stopped by relatives, friends, and neighbors. Being out in such a close-knit culture means that when you’re gay, absolutely everyone knows who you are.

“The majority of LGBTQ people would stay in the closet,” Sabbatini said, “or they would enter a heterosexual marriage to keep up appearances.”

The sea of change on LGBTQ rights, according to Sabbatini, began with the election of a new government. After 25 years of conservative rule, the Labour Party won a majority of the vote in 2013, bringing Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to power. Sabattini said that the “overwhelming” referendum against the prior nationalist regime showed that the Maltese “were ready to turn the page.”

“Malta wanted to get rid of the image of a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean with very conservative values,” he told INTO. “LGBTQ activists worked to change that, and the population responded.”

Over the past four years, the Muscat government has moved quickly on LGBTQ issues.

In 2013, the country allowed same-sex couples to enter civil unions for the first time. Two years later, Malta passed the “Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act,” a groundbreaking law that remains the only legislation of its kind. Among other things, it prevents doctors from performing surgery to “correct” the genitalia of an intersex child. In 2016, Malta became the first country to ban conversion therapy.

“To me, this really shows that Malta is very willing to listen to the organizations that advocate for LGBTQ rights,” Sjödin said. “When it comes to intersex rights and conversion therapy, not everyone knows these are problems. Politicians clearly have listened to what the community members are saying.”

Not everyone, however, has been on board with the rapid progression in LGBTQ rights.

A 2016 poll from Malta Independent found 25 percent of the public does not support marriage equality, a sizable minority. The local Catholic Church in Malta—where 98 percent of the country claims to be members of the faith—has come out against same-sex marriage. In a June homily for the feast of St. Nicholas, Archbishop Charles Scicluna claimed that government leaders can “do what [they] like,” but the definition of marriage cannot be changed.

“I can decide that a carob and an orange should no longer be called by their name,” Scicluna said. “We call them trees. But a carob remains a carob and an orange remains an orange, whatever the law says. And marriage, whatever the law says, remains an eternal union exclusive to a man and a woman.”

A group calling themselves “Maltese Catholics United for the Faith” took out a full page ad in the May 2017 edition of the Malta Today newspaper under the headline: “It’s Gay. But Not Marriage.”

“[T]he sanctity of marriage, between husband and wife, doesn’t grant a right to everyone to marry anyone,” the ad reads. “Nor does it grant a right to cynical political leaders to incrementally beef up their standing at the ballot box by promising or enacting gay marriage laws for the 1%. Same-sex marriage is unnatural. It runs against natural law as designed by God and handed down to us through every generation in our Maltese history.”

To its credit, the Archdiocese condemned that statement—saying the group was not affiliated with the Catholic Church or endorsed by it in any way.

Marriage isn’t an ‘abstract concept’

The contrast in opinion around LGBTQ rights was stark on Wednesday, as advocates and opposition groups gathered in Valletta, the country’s capital city. While LGBTQ community members rallied under a banner reading “We’ve Made History,” conservative forces blasted the bill as a Marxist conspiracy.

“We are here to defend what centuries of history, tradition, ethics, morality, philosophy, and science, that the proper place for society to be healthy and for children to be born, is one where marriage is built on the relationship between a man a woman,” Paul Vincenti, a spokesman for the right-wing group Gift of Life, told Malta Today during a Wednesday rally. “Communism never made it until the 1930s, and was reintroduced back into society in a subtle way using the vehicle of democracy and so-called freedom of speech.”

Opponents of equality marched on Castille Square holding signs like “Keep Husband and Wife” and “Mother Is Not Equal to Father.”

The latter sign takes aim at the marriage equality bill’s unique approach to inclusion. Rather than a single piece of legislation, it is actually a series of bills designed to make the country’s marriage laws “gender neutral,” as Sammut explained. Instead of “husband and wife,” legal partners will now be listed as “spouses” on marriage documentation. On a child’s birth certificate, the word “mother” will instead say “the person who gave birth.”

“I have a friend who is 50 years old and transgender,” Sammut said. “He was married, and he gave birth to children. Then he came out as a trans guy. His children call him dad, but their birth certificates call him ‘mother.’”

Sabbatini believes what has made Malta’s LGBTQ movement so effective is that advocates have consistently shown that these reforms aren’t merely an “abstract concept,” a matter of doing what is right and just. Because the country is so tiny, a majority of the population knows someone who is queer or transgender. That closeness makes the issue of equality very personal, one that touches nearly everyone’s lives in some way.

“The question is not ‘Should gay people marry?’” Sabbatini said. “It’s ‘Should John be able to marry Mark?’”

Despite the nearly unbelievable amount of forward movement in the past four years, Malta has a great deal of work left to do in order to catch up with the 21st century. The country is the sole municipality in Europe where abortion is illegal for any reason. Although Ireland bans terminating a pregnancy in most cases, the government allows exemption in cases where the life of the mother would be saved.

But Sammut claimed that there’s a big sign that progress is on its way: He’s already been getting immigration inquiries from LGBTQ people in other countries, including the United States.

Sammut runs GayMalta.com, a tourism site for queer and trans visitors to the island. He said that he gets “three or four requests a month” about immigrating to Malta. There’s been a particular uptick in recent months from Americans who are “afraid of losing their rights” under the Trump administration.

Since taking office in January, the president has turned the country in the exact opposite direction of Malta—rolling back LGBTQ rights. Most recently, legislation was proposed to strip trans military members of medical benefits.

The 32-year-old, who came out when he was 16, welcomes to Malta anyone looking for a safe place where they can be themselves.

“You can live your life here,” Sammut said. “You don’t have to fear anything.”

Amber Mark Is Dealing With It….Song By Song

They say that there are five steps of grief, as if you can quantify the emotions that you’ll experience when a loved one dies. First comes denial, which is followed by anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Yet, when 23-year-old Amber Mark lost her mother in 2013, these steps weren’t what she went through.

“If you Google it, there are — I don’t know how many — five or six stages of grief. But, I didn’t deal with it the way that they are stated online,” she explains on the phone. Instead, New York-based Mark came up with her own list consisting of regret, anger, isolation, sadness, questioning, and overcoming. These are all themes and emotions that she explores on her debut EP, the sublime 3:33am, which was released earlier this year.

Having always wanted to work in music, whether as a performer or behind the scenes, Mark joined an after school band program (“It was kind of like School of Rock”) when she was at school and taught herself how to produce on GarageBand. Teaming up with producers, however, didn’t provide the sort of creative outlet that she was seeking, but it did leave her with more skills as a producer in her own right and with more developed software. With these skills in her arsenal, and with an insurmountable amount of grief, Mark locked herself away in her bedroom at her godparent’s house in New York after her mother died and began to work.

“I felt secure working in my bedroom because I was alone and didn’t have to be insecure about messing up a vocal line. I could just do a take, like, 50 times and not lose my confidence because there weren’t people around me listening to me sing a flat note,” she says, describing the process of writing the EP. “I think that was one of the reasons why I liked [to be alone] — I felt like I could really express myself creatively without having the feeling of needing it to sound good. Like, I was okay with messing up on my own. Whereas being in the studio with random people that I don’t really know [and] messing up then was more nerve-wracking. At the time, I had too much on my mind to even focus on being creative.”

The subsequent EP, comprised of seven intensely personal tracks, acts not only as a wrought meditation on grief but also as a dedication to a loved one. Yet, listening to some of the songs, such as the bouncy “Can You Hear Me?” and the house-y “Lose My Cool,” you wouldn’t assume these were songs that arose out of a devastating and life-altering event. “Initially, when I first started writing it, it was kind of accidental that I did this,” Mark says, almost surprised by her own achievement. “But then, at a certain point, it just became really important for me to make sure that the beats and the instrumental made you want to move and be kind of uplifting in that sense.”

More so than that, however, was the fact that, deep down, Mark knew that she was dealing with a fundamental and universal experience. “Everyone has dealt with grief or will deal with it eventually, in life, and I know that [for] some people it’s really hard for them to process it — like the stories I’ve heard from people are just kind of insane. So, it was really important for me to also send a message that you know, there is a light at the tunnel, things do get better, and to bring to those people up and to help them in that way, you know?”

Of course, music is about the listener, but it’s also about the artist, too, and Mark describes the experience of writing the EP as a therapeutic expulsion of her feelings. Even on tracks like “Lose Your Cool” and “Regret” — both written later on in the grieving process — she says that, while revisiting those moments was painful, it allowed her to move on.

Where 3:33am excels, though, is in the intimate portraiture of Amber Mark’s mother, Mia. Snuggled in the middle of the tracklisting are “Journey Into The Unknown” and the mystical and transcendental “Monsoon.” Both these tracks not only feature voice recordings from when Mia was alive — albeit at different times in her life — but also celebrate her love of India.

Mark, who has lived all over the world, explains that while her mother was German, it was India where she felt most at home. “It was where she would have lived the rest of her life out, for sure,” she says, before explaining how “Monsoon” came about: “I would leave India every summer during monsoon season, so I wanted to kind of write about that and how the current state that I was in felt kind of like my mom was just in India.” It was important for the song not only to be specifically about her mother, but it also had to contain a part of her, too. “I had this little snippet that was actually a video of my mother and me on a train in Berlin,” she says. “I thought what we were talking about was really cute, so I decided to add that at the end because I wanted the song to be about her; I want it to be for her.”

This manifested itself in the production, too, with Mark drawing in Indian references and instrumentation “just to show the personality of her.” “I just wanted it to be little accents of what India was to kind of just compliment the song and show my childhood and what she had given me,” Mark says of the production. The result is a song so rich in textures that it’s practically synesthetic, like a swaying quilt of memories arranged in different colored patches.

Such a focused and cohesive body of work might have initially come around serendipitously, but for the collection’s title, 3:33am, things took on a more structured but no less meaningful turn. “Three has always been a really strong number in my life — my mom was born in 1953, my brother was born in 1983, and I was born in 1993. It was the three of us, and my mother passed away on June 3rd at 10:23 pm, the year 2013, so it was kind of already prominent in that sense,” Mark explains. “But the reason why I chose 3:33am is because when I was writing the EP, I would tend to write at night because I felt that was when I was the most alone and had the most space to myself. But for, like, a week and a half straight, I would be in this intense zone of writing or making a beat, and then I’d jump out of it and check the time, and for a week and a half straight every time I would check the time when that happened it would be 3:33 am.”

Mark’s music might be specific to her experience, whether it’s in the title or the production, but as she said earlier that doesn’t make it exclusive. And, as you reach the end of the EP, the mood isn’t despondent either. Instead you feel like together, you as a listener and Mark as the artist, have traversed not only her own personal grief but your own traumas, too. Like all good art, it leaves you feeling less alone.

“I know I was really sad, and I felt there were points where I felt like I was going crazy, and I really wanted to talk about that,” Mark says, our time together coming to an end. “But I also wanted to make sure that people felt like, ‘Okay, if she got through this then we can get through this, too.’”

Pausing, she adds: “I just wanted to show that through the music.”

Why is HIV Stigma Still a Thing?

In comparison to the 1980s, queer life in modern America is a thriving social, political, and emotional triumph of love over hate. And while no one can deny the strides our community has taken towards equality, there is still a great amount of work to be done.

When one looks into our own community, there is still so much judgment, hierarchy, and prejudice. There is, to be frank, a lot of hate. Especially when it comes to our HIV+ brothers and sisters.

Yes, HIV stigma is still a thing—a fact that was highlighted perfectly in a viral video this week showing the “real” conversations people have when they find out a potential love interest is HIV positive.

But why, exactly? After all, the majority of gay men know exactly how it feels to secretly live in the presence of someone who is blindly afraid of you. Yet, after 35 years, many in the gay community still stigmatize HIV-positive men. And it still shocks me that most people haven’t realized that no matter who you are or where you hail from, if you are a man who loves other men, someone you know is HIV-positive.

Perpetuating the stigma only serves to continue hurting those close to you.

HIV stigma isn’t just a hindrance to the people in your life or on your Grindr screen who are HIV-positive—it’s also a risk to your own HIV-negative status. If you don’t acknowledge the reality that your friends may be living with HIV, you might also think that you’ve never slept with an HIV-positive person. And distancing yourself from something that is most definitely present in your life doesn’t allow you to be prepared, either for yourself or for those around you.

In the first six months after my own HIV diagnosis, I was petrified to tell my best friend about my status. As much as I knew he wouldn’t judge me or toss our friendship aside, something he previously said kept ringing in my ears.

“I would never date someone with HIV. I just don’t think I could get over it.”

A world where one of my closest friends would reject someone just like me was a world I could live without. And so I tucked it inside and hid something from my best friend to avoid any stigma from someone I loved.

When I eventually did tell him my status and the reason for my hesitation, he was immediately overcome with remorse and offered me his unquestioning support. And just like anyone who has made a judgment before getting to know someone, his HIV stigma has since become undetectable.

Although most days I do feel like a rainbow unicorn, my story and my status is nothing unique. If you are a gay man or know more than a handful of gays, then you know a person with HIV.

Instead of trying to figure out who it could be, think about how you would feel if one of your closest friends were judged, rejected, and ridiculed for status. Would you stick up for them if they were treated in the same way you treat a potential love interest who you brutally dismiss because of their status?

HIV isn’t exclusive to the LGBTQ community, but it’s inextricable from its legacy of tragedy and strength. Today, HIV doesn’t have to rob a person of anything in their life as long as they are surrounded by an educated and loving community that understands a disease is not a characteristic or a flaw. It’s just another thing to overcome—and the LGBTQ community overcomes our struggles together.

If you have had even one sexual experience where you put yourself at risk, it could easily be you who suffers the brunt of HIV stigma. Have compassion. Be a friend, a lover, and an ally to people with HIV.

But above all else, don’t be such jerks.

The LGBTQ Community Needs Net Neutrality. Here’s Why.

Queer people have a lot to lose with the loss of net neutrality.

On Wednesday, several internet giants — everyone from Amazon to Etsy, Netflix to Pornhub — will be joining in a day of action to protest the FCC’s plan to dismantle net neutrality, a set of regulations that ensures that internet service providers can’t slow down certain sites or determine what content users can access with ease.

And a partisan internet could spell trouble for queer people, especially queer youth who use the internet as a vital safe space to explore their sexuality and gender identity, or to form support networks.

In a 2013 report from GLSEN titled “Out Online,” the organization that seeks to stop LGBTQ harassment and discrimination in schools outlined just how essential the internet has become in helping queer youth explore their own identities and form community. Their results found that 2 in 3 LGBT survey respondents reported that they used the web to connect with other LGBT people, with 3 in 10 saying they were more out online than they were in real life. For those who were not out in real life, half said they used the internet to connect with other queer people in the United States.

Their landmark report also showed that the internet is one of the primary places queer youth can access resources about their own bodies.

Given that, in 2015, only about one in ten millennials said that their schools’ health education curricula covered same-sex relationships, it’s no surprise that about 81% of LGBTQ youth use the internet to find out more information about themselves. The number is even higher for trans youth, 95% of whom have used the net to find out about their health.

Earlier this year when a YouTube algorithm snafu restricted a wealth of LGBTQ-themed content from users, queer content creators spoke about the importance that YouTube, and the internet in general, in creating queer communities.

“Kids who want to know about different orientations and definitions and about the history of LGBT people, etc, they can’t access that when their videos are being restricted,” YouTube personality NeonFiona told Gizmodo. “Restricting these videos makes it harder for these kids to find information they need and the community that they’ve been missing.”

And transgender youth have used the internet to create a storehouse of information and personal narratives about trans health including medical transitioning and more. YouTubers like Jamie Raines and Ashton Colby spurred frank discussions about transgender bodies through their content —and helped others do the same.

Queer people have sought each other online since the very beginning of the internet. In 1994, according to the book Virtual Culture, Wired issued a list of the top ten AOL chat rooms on the internet: three were for gay men and one was a space for lesbians.

In a 2014 Huffington Post blog, Indiana University professor Mary L. Gray said LGBT people will be “collateral damage” if the destruction of net neutrality allows internet service providers to determine what content people can see.

“Without Net Neutrality protections, content providers generating critical information would likely have to pay more to get their content into (and from!) the hands of LGBT people,” she writes. “That means [internet service providers] become the de facto gatekeepers controlling what content survives and what content falls by the wayside in the wake of a market-driven content tsunami.”

The FCC voted to rollback regulations in May and then take three months of comments either in support or against the proposal. On Wednesday, when internet retailers stand for net neutrality, they will also — perhaps unknowingly — be standing with LGBTQ youth, who without the internet would and could very well soon be in the dark.

Kiss My Astro: Your July Horoscope

Don’t be scared of going a little deep right now. Admit that you’ve been hurt, and maybe you’re still hurting from some old betrayal. Trying to play it cool won’t work this month, so don’t waste your energy putting a brave face on things. Do some soul-searching, release any old grudges, and by the 21st you’ll be ready to welcome all kinds of sexy new trouble into your life.

You are allowed to take a leave of absence this month from your role as the confidant, witness, and mediator for all the drama folks are kicking up around you. People may be making a mess of things, but you don’t have to hold their hands and guide them to the light. You have a chance to focus on something extra sweet this month, a connection that lets you shine in your most dazzling ways. Don’t get too distracted by the nonsense to pay attention to what matters most.

Well, aren’t you the cutest kid at the club? With Venus moving into your sign this month, you won’t have to wear any body glitter—you’ll still be the sparkliest queer in any crowd. Play nice while your glamour is on point, and don’t make any promises you know you won’t keep. Enjoy the ride, and remember that what you have to offer is genuine. Don’t get too lost in seeking attention for what you’re not. Be real, and trust that you’ll be enough.

This is your time, sweetie! And, whoa, is it a lot! Good or bad, this month drops it all in heaps at your feet, like an entire closet of used clothes—there are some gems in there, but also some outdated, tattered things that it’s time to toss forever. Your main decision, this month, is simple: Who do you want to help you sort through all these gifts? (Hint: don’t do it in public!) And what are you ready to be through with? Whether this means saying goodbye to toxic friends or your own patterns of insecurity, be ready to walk away a little lighter.

Your month is all about new beginnings. The New Moon in your sign on the 23rd helps you refocus, let go of past rejection and grudges, and get back in touch with what makes you irresistible. You may be afraid of ego-tripping right now, because, honestly, part of you wants to — but remember that what you’re really looking for is the kind of attention that isn’t forced or fake. Align yourself with magic in all its forms, remember you’re a part of that energy, and have fun!

Don’t listen to any heteronormative (or homonormative) myths right now that tell you marriage is the only way to feel really secure. Whatever relationships you’re in or looking for, this month reminds you that you need a lot more people in your community than just one main squeeze. Reach out to your friends, chosen family, lovers, ex-lovers, and whoever else holds a piece of who you are. Celebrate the places where you get to belong, in a larger world than just a couple—and if you’re missing that feeling of belonging anywhere, remember most of us do from time to time. Let that longing guide you to your people.

This could be one of the most fun months you’ve had in a long time, and I’m tempted to just tell you to enjoy the ride! But remember that not everything that feels good is good for you. Choose the connections that nourish your senses and your soul, and know when it’s time to cut yourself off for the night. There will always be more tomorrow!

Treat this month like a day-spa. Some deep soaking, some vigorous salt scrubbing, some sweating it out in the company of good friends. There’s a lot of sweetness available to you right now, but you have to be willing to slow down and release. Don’t stay in crisis mode or work mode any longer than you really need to—this month is asking you to remember how to trust and relax.

Slow down and look around you this month. You may be missing something obvious that’s right in front of you, because of your enthusiasm for whatever’s coming next. Stop future-tripping and pay close attention to the people you’re with right now, and what they’re actually offering you. Chances are something incredible is much closer than you thought—don’t accidentally speed by it!

The ways in which you are already powerful will come in handy this month. Can you name them? Do you feel them? How do you play with power in sex? This can be a touchy topic, but you have a beautiful opportunity to release some old stories that keep you feeling ashamed or unworthy. Solo or partnered, kinky or vanilla, let your desires help you heal.

One question not a lot of people ask about their love lives, except for you, dear Aquarian: Is this weird enough? In an era when kink has become commonplace, you want to know what else might be possible. This month, look for experiences that satisfy your desire to be surprised by your own desires. Keep it consensual, and in the spirit of research, take a few notes.

You can be really good at playing along with someone else’s fantasies—but what about your own? What do you see when you get selfish and let your imagination run wild? This month rewards clarity about what you really want, and how you want it. Tell your lover, or your BFF, or a sympathetic stranger on the subway. You might just get what you ask for—but you won’t if you never ask.

Brooke Candy’s ‘Volcano’ Is About to Blow

The internet is a fickle mistress, but it’s never been wishy-washy about Brooke Candy. From her rise as a Tumblr darling to her reign as the freaky princess behind viral club-rap anthems like “Das Me” and “Opulence,” Brooke has had the web—and visionaries like Steven Klein and Grimes—completely in her thrall.

Today the love affair continues with the premiere of “Volcano,” which she co-wrote with Sia and producer Cory Enemy. Musically the track fuses the gritty attitude of her early work with the glossy pop sheen of recent singles like “Living out Loud”, but the video is pure old-school Brooke Candy: otherworldly looks, freaky deaky situations, and a cameo by Hustler founder Larry Flynt. In other words, it doesn’t disappoint.

With her first-ever tour underway and an EP due at the end of Summer, we caught up with Brooke to chat about the video, her evolution as an artist, and her undying love for the LGBTQ community.

Grindr: “Volcano” is pure fire. What was the inspiration behind the song and video, and how do you see it in the context of your stylistic evolution?

Brooke: The song is sexy and fun. It’s definitely propulsive and hooky, so the video sort of serves as a juxtaposition to the accessibility of the song. I thought it would be fun to create this polarizing visual that explores feminine sexuality in the way it’s perceived by the heteronormative male gaze vs. the way it’s expressed and experienced. It sort of feels like a return to the expression of my earlier work—it’s all part of the evolution.

Can you tell us a bit more about the making of the video and the team behind it?

The video was shot partially in Las Vegas and partially in LA with stylist Love Bailey and director Matt Boman, who I actually worked with on my first-ever video “Das Me,” so in that sense it was a true return to form. It definitely felt a lot closer in style to my early early YouTube videos—low-budget guerrilla-style, just pure expression, getting the shots we need without too much pre-planning. It’s all pre-meditated as far as the end-goal, but some of the best footage is completely spontaneous.

We spotted Larry Flynt in the clip. How did that cameo come about?

My dad is Larry’s business partner in Hustler. If I’m creating a visual about the way female sexuality is interpreted it only makes sense to feature an icon in the sex industry. He was incredibly gracious and looked so cool in the video!

“Volcano” feels new for you in the sense that it’s got a bit of romance to it—at least more so than previous tracks. Is it about anyone in particular? Is there a deeper meaning behind it?

It’s not necessarily a love song, but it definitely is sexy and maybe my first foray into lyrically referring to sexuality in a non-aggressive way. It was originally written during the process of collecting songs for a full-length project so it was intended to multi-demensionalize me. And then it ended up so strong and hooky and playful that we decided to make it a single.

Can you tell us more about your forthcoming EP and what to expect? Do politics or social issues factor in at all?

I think my political and social beliefs are really at the forefront of my aesthetic and my performance, so as an artist it will always factor into my work—sometimes more blatantly than others. The EP is extremely dope so far, we’re finalizing a lot of it now, but just like the “Volcano video” and my current team and process, it all feels a lot more like when I first started. A little more DIY, a little tougher. Part of growing is reflecting on your journey and realizing what satisfied and worked for you and what didn’t. I’m in the best place creatively that I’ve been in a really long time.

What lessons have you learned about the music industry up to this point, and how has that affected you as an artist?

I love music and I’m just grateful to get some out to people who have been waiting so patiently for so long. The industry is exactly that: an industry. You can’t blame anyone for being cautious or over-thinking things, but art is meant to be felt and interpreted, not always bought or easily digested. I’m at a point of gratitude now to be reclaiming my art.

You performed last night at iconic LA gay party TigerHeat. What does the queer community and its support mean to you?

The queer community’s love and respect towards me and my wacky, trashy, and highly unpredictable art has continuously propelled me forward. To be loved by a community so well-versed in what it truly means to be tolerant and loving is a gift that I’ll probably spend the rest of my waking life trying to repay. I’m accepted and celebrated for being a the freak that I am, and what’s better than being loved for being your 100% authentic self?

LCD Soundsystem’s Gavin Russom Comes Out

Gavin Russom and I weren’t supposed to actually meet.

I was set up to speak over the phone with the prolific musician, most famous as a member of the dance-punk outfit LCD Soundsystem, through Russom’s publicists. It was July 4, and as I sat on my messenger bag under a tree in Central Park, waiting for our interview, every journalist’s worst nightmare came true: My phone hit 16% battery life. It was going to die—and soon— but luckily fate intervened.

Russom was meeting a friend at 79th and 5th, just blocks away from the encampment I set up to beat the torrid New York heat—which pushed 90 degrees on a particularly humid day, even by the city’s already punishing standards. To talk about the weather is a cliché, but it’s the only appropriate way to preface our wide-ranging conversation, one that unfolded as we walked toward each other on our phones, racing against my battery. We agreed to meet at Belvedere Castle, where we would conclude the interview, and over the 45 minutes we spent finding each other, both of became drenched in sweat. Russom gave me a big, soggy hug when we finally locked eyes among the crowd of tourists, like wandering strangers in a Richard Linklater movie.

Here’s another cliché: I thought Russom would be taller. Old publicity photos show the musical polymath, who has played in a diverse line-up of projects including The Crystal Ark and Black Leotard Front, with a Gandalf beard and a faraway look. Today, Russom was clean-shaven, outfitted with dark sunglasses and an Audrey Hepburn headwrap. The 43-year-old was serving old Hollywood glamour meets Brooklyn street punk, a nod to the city Russom has called home since 1997. Petite and ebullient, Russom exudes the easy warmth of meeting an old friend.

And had we but world enough and time, it felt like I could have told her my entire life.

The pronoun is not a typo. A lot has changed for Russom in the past year. LCD Soundsystem, which disbanded with an ornate farewell concert in 2011, announced it would be getting back together last year. The New York-based group, one of the most widely acclaimed bands of its era, will be releasing a new album, American Dream, in September. But behind the scenes, Russom’s own evolution mirrored the rebirth of her famous band.

She began quietly coming out as trans earlier this year, after years of fits and starts.

“This is my fifth decade being alive,” she told me, “and in each of those decades, there’s been a time where I’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, I think I’m transgender!’ This was even before that word existed.”

Russom, who grew up in Providence in the 1970s and 80s, had the ideal childhood for a trans kid coming to terms with their gender identity. Her father was a professor at Brown University, teaching English poetry, and her mother was the daughter of a diplomat, raised in the Middle East. Russom’s musical upbringing reflected these diverse influences. On any given day you could hear jazz, blues, or folk music in her parents’ home, everything from Chuck Berry and Charlie Parker to Umm Kulthum. Her aunt was a piano teacher, and her cousins—who also found their way to electronica later in life—studied classical music. This philosophy of music would not only define her genre-busting creative output but also her gender expression.

Since a young age, Russom identified “along the feminine spectrum.” As a student at Martin Luther King Elementary School, she remembers going to school with black-and-white saddle shoes on, not thinking of them as un-masculine. They just felt right on her feet, like Cinderella’s foot sliding effortlessly into the glass slipper. The other students in her 2nd grade class, though, screamed that she was wearing “girl shoes.”

But despite the “mass amounts of cultural material” she was exposed to, Russom would struggle to bridge the binaries in her own identity for years—what she calls “or-like thinking.” “You have to be a classical musician or play in punk bands,” Russom said.

“You have to be a boy or a girl.”

The story of Russom’s musical trajectory is powerfully intertwined with her slow and still blossoming realization of her trans femininity. (She still prefers to go by “Gavin,” although Russom says that may change.) She joined her first music group as a preteen, playing punk in her friend’s basement. Russom was attracted to the “freedom and liberation” that the punk scene represented, one that made space for queer rock icons like Iggy Pop, Darby Crash, and most recently Laura Jane Grace, the Against Me! singer who came out in a 2012 Rolling Stone profile. But after discovering acid house, Russom and her cousin, the neo-disco musician Kelley Polar, formed “Acid Barons” in high school.

“His dad was a computer programmer, and he had a friend who had gotten excited about electronic music in the early 1980s and had a little studio,” Russom said. “I ran over there after hearing this music on late night radio shows and was like: We have to make acid house music.”

Russom would go onto enroll at Bard College in 1992, where she studied under feminist music theorist Benjamin Boretz. Academia, though, was her father’s calling, not hers. She moved to New York the same month that Daft Punk’s Homework was released, a moment when the Europop that dominated the music charts would give way to a house revival. What drew her to the city’s nightclub scene was a feeling of “boundarylessness.” Russom describes the dancefloor as a safe haven where queer clubgoers found shelter, escaping the brutality of the AIDS epidemic and the first Bush era. Here, queer people could express themselves—whether it was to experiment with identity or be someone they couldn’t be anywhere else.

If punk helped Russom first come into contact with out queer people, what made the dance scene so radiant was its kaleidoscope of gender expressions. Russom described being a DJ as an “liminal” experience, one where you “observe people on a really detailed level but don’t end up interacting with them.” But she said there’s a power in witnessing—seeing out trans women unapologetically live their lives, even if from inside a booth.

“It gives me hope for the future to see the courage and creativity of a much younger generation of trans women,” Russom said. “Clubs are where I’ve encountered a lot of that.”

Russom would spend five years in Berlin, which represented a kind of pilgrimage, even if she didn’t know it at the time. The German capital was home to the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, the sexologist who started what is widely considered to be the first advocacy group for LGBT rights. Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, founded in 1897, treated transgender people not as if they were an abomination before God but human beings, ones deserving of dignity and respect. Russom said that that the exploration of gender is an “important cultural rite” for Berliners.

That environment, one where she could connect with queer history, was critical in helping Russom come to terms with her gender identity. She moved to Berlin in 2004 and came back to the United States in 2009. Life, though, continued to interrupt the flourishing of her fully realized self.

When Russom returned to New York, she quickly joined LCD Soundsystem to help record This Is Happening, initially intended to be the band’s final LP. The indie group has a sprawling cast of contributors (including Nancy Whang of The Juan MacLean and Tyler Pope of !!!), but the 2010 album would mark Russom’s first as a full-fledged member of the group. She has been working with frontman James Murphy in the studio since the early 2000s. Russom helped to produce the band’s self-titled debut album, which featured LCD Soundsystem’s breakout hit, “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” and its magnum opus, Sound of Silver.

But as LCD Soundsystem was set to go on tour to promote its comeback record, Russom said that she “could not imagine” spending the next year continuing to pretend to be someone that she’s not. “My body rejected it in the same way that it now utterly rejects going into a men’s bathroom or when somebody calls me ‘sir,’” she told me.

Russom said that her bandmates have been “really supportive” about her transition: “The general feeling in the group is that will make the band better.” Calling Murphy the “creative director” of LCD Soundsystem, she claimed that his approach to music is bringing together a group of performers with unique musical skillsets and allowing them to be inspired by each other. Since coming out, Russom has felt more connected on stage—both to her colleagues and to the music. She’s able to own the space in a new way. Performing “Call the Police” on the May 6 episode of Saturday Night Live, Russom’s joyful exuberance shined through. Dressed in a gray t-shirt, it’s hard not to smile as she rocks out behind the synthesizer.

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” Russom said, “but I have my good days and my bad days. On my bad days, it really sucks and I wait until I get home to go to the bathroom—which is such a basic thing.”

One of the biggest struggles with coming out, she said, is the hypervisibility that entails being a transgender woman in a country that’s become increasingly hostile to the existence of girls like her. In the past two years, numerous states have debated the passage of discriminatory laws that prevent trans people from using public restrooms that most closely correspond with their gender identity. North Carolina passed House Bill 2 in 2016, a controversial law that would later be repealed and replaced following public backlash. The new version is nearly identical to the old one. Texas will head into a special session of its legislature this month to deliberate over Senate Bill 6, which would target trans students in public schools.

When I asked Russom how she felt about playing in states that are debating her right to exist, she said it was a “tough question.” It’s one that has been on her mind, however. Even living in New York, where trans women are protected in public accommodations under statewide nondiscrimination laws, using a public restroom can be “unpleasant” and “scary.”

One story that Russom told me perfectly encapsulates the trepidation and paranoia that accompanies with being visibly trans.

Earlier this year, she met a friend at a Macy’s in Midtown Manhattan. Russom got there early and had to use the bathroom. There was a long line for the women’s room; at the front of the line, a man was standing by the door—likely waiting for his wife or girlfriend. She thought about that man and what he could do to her, the violence and harassment that are a horrific reality in too many women’s lives. So Russom searched frantically for a gender-neutral bathroom in the department store, anywhere else she could go that wasn’t a men’s room. She didn’t find one.

Panicked, Russom texted her friend to ask what she should do. “Go for it,” the friend said. Russom went to the women’s room and waited in line. Nothing happened.

Confronting these fears is a process, and it’s one that will take time. When she’s walking home alone late at night, Russom often worries that the men she sees walking past are going to read her as a cisgender woman and catcall her or read her as transgender and beat her. These concerns are unfortunately all too real: At the time of writing, 15 transgender people have been murdered so far this year, all of whom were women.

But a major hurdle in her own transition has been confronting her own internalized transphobia. At the same time that she began coming out to friends and family, Russom started taking kung fu. It immediately felt right, as if it were something her body needed and wanted to do. During those first sessions, though, Russom couldn’t shake the nagging thought that she would have to give up martial arts because of her gender identity. She couldn’t be both transgender and a martial artist. If a female friend had expressed those same opinions, Russom would have immediately rejected them. But coming from a place of deep societal stigma, they were harder to purge.

“I am someone who has spoken out on both women’s rights and trans rights for a long time,” Russom said, “but when I started to transition myself, that was one of the most shocking things. I’m carrying so many of these things around with me. That’s been challenging to work through— having those preconditioned societal ideas of what transgender women can do.”

Just as seeing out trans women claim the dancefloor helped give her the strength to be who she is, Russom stressed the importance of possibility models in her life. These people showed her that she can be everything society told her she couldn’t. She cited the vibrant community of trans women in New York doing boundary-pushing work, including artist Juliana Huxtable, journalist Diana Tourjee, and musician Macy Rodman. This work, she said, connects to the legacy of women like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. These trans activists fought on the front lines for queer liberation at the Stonewall Riots in 1969, a fight that is more important than ever in the age of Donald Trump.

“All of these folks are people whose being out in the world were very helpful to me,” said Russom, who initially sought out support groups at the New York LGBT Center after coming out. “For people of transgender experience, walking out of the house in a way they feel comfortable is a revolutionary act. It’s resistance.”

Six months into the new administration, Russom couldn’t be going public about her identity at a more pivotal moment. Since taking office, Trump has consistently rolled back trans rights. In February, the Departments of Education and Justice repealed guidelines passed under the Obama administration that permitted transgender students to use the correct bathroom and pronouns at school. Questions on trans identity have been removed from federal surveys on homeless youth and services for seniors, and these have yet to be restored.

Although she hopes to create a platform for others to be heard, particularly trans women of color, Russom fully understands the responsibility that her public persona entails. Many LCD Soundsystem listeners might not know an out trans person in their daily lives. For example, seventy percent of Americans say they do not, according to recent statistics from the Pew Research Center, but many Americans have at least heard of LCD Soundsystem.

It’s easy to harbor prejudice, she said, “when you’ve never encountered a person who is part of the group that you’re prejudiced against.” They might never meet in real life, but fans on the other side of the issue now know Russom through her music.

But perhaps more than anything, Russom would like to give others what a community of bold, fearless trans women gave her: the space to be visible.

“For anybody who is struggling with their gender identity or who wants to come out and is afraid to,” Russom said, “what would be better than giving someone permission to do that through my performance? That’s the ultimate. It’s what other people gave to me, so I’d love to pass that along to other people, too.”

Russom and I would speak once more following our unintentional rendezvous. This time I was in my apartment and she was just walking in the door of hers, tired after a long day of preparing for what’s set to be the biggest week of her life. LCD Soundsystem is headlining this weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival, and Russom will performing at Femmes’ Room, a DJ set scheduled at Chicago’s Berlin nightclub. The event is for trans feminine folks. Before we spoke for the second time, she stayed up most of the night thinking of what to say. This is the first time, after all, that fans would get the chance to get to know her—the real her.

And having accidentally met Gavin Russom, I can say with authority: You’re going to fall in love with her, too.

So Hot Right Now: Top Trends from London, Paris, and Milan Fashion Weeks

With the European men’s fashion week shows done and dusted and New York just around the corner (July 10th to be exact), we’ve scoured the runways and pulled together a list of the hottest Spring 2018 trends. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

GRAPHIC SKATER STRIPES

The rise of the savvy Millennial shopper has given birth to a whole new market that craves street style looks and skater brands. They love limited editions, authenticity and collaborations—remember that Louis Vuitton/Palace collab? Love it or hate it, the gap between high-end and the skate park is quickly closing as more fashion houses jump on the youth market band wagon and create hard-to-get pieces that have shoppers lining up around the block.

Printed stripes are something that we see on the runway every season and Spring ’18 is no exception, except this time things seemed a little fresher. Head-to-toe stripes come through in Sunnei’s matching trucker jacket and combat short combos that boast bright tones of green and yellow with black and white, while MSGM gives a nod to ‘90’s grunge with checked skater shorts and sloppy sweaters that give a great clashing print feel while remaining easy to wear due to its tonal color palette. Think Kurt Cobain but more polished.

Meanwhile, Prada went for a more elevated look with high-waisted trousers and layered cardigan/knitted tee pairings that give a new take on the twin set.

’90s

Comfort dressing hits through the Spring ’18 season with a full swing. Slouched, relaxed tailored trousers suggest an end to the skinny pant with looks becoming much more laid back. Oversized jackets give an almost Miami Vice feel, but thankfully seem much cooler than the original version. The rise of skater styling creeps into tailored looks with slip-on sneakers, boxy shirts and polo tee’s helping to make “dad dressing” youthful.

The fast fashion market has been on the decline for a couple of seasons with many brands opting to focus on classic wardrobe staples that last season after season, and Julien David’s show harped back to those classic ‘90s looks that were eternalized by brands like Calvin Klein. Simple white tee’s with straight cut classic jeans give us the perfect nostalgic feeling.

REWORKED TAILORING

Tailoring plays a huge role in the shows, and as the boundaries of menswear get pushed further into more experimental realms we begin to see some long-anticipated innovation coming through. Casual tailoring at Sulvam mixes a skinhead theme and punk elements with references to Vivienne Westwood’s bondage trousers.

Dior Homme gave a much more modern offering that took classic tailoring and fused in some strong sports details. A more playful take from Marni gave an almost childlike quality to tailoring, with square-cut shirts and matching shorts in clashing striped cloths that looked like one of Grayson Perry’s sketchbooks.

DANDY

Thanks to brands like Palomo Spain and Charles Jeffrey we’ve started to see a more commercial and less extreme version of romanticism hit the menswear runway. This current trend harps back to all of those classic dandy references we know and love like Oscar Wilde and Quintin Crisp (minus the blushed cheeks and rouged lips), but with a modern twist.

The ‘NEW’ dandy favors a more street-wise mood with many styles just giving a subtle acknowledgment to its foundations—like shirts with integrated ties that give a pussy bow neck detail. Other looks coming through have a more elaborate aesthetic with decedent lace and frills peeking out from under masculine jackets and busy knitwear.

RESORT TROPIC

The fashion world has been obsessed with tropical bowling shirts ever since Leonardo DiCaprio graced our screens in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet all those years ago, and the trend has held a prominent position on menswear shelves for quite a few seasons. Spring ‘18 still has a toe dipped in the palm print pond but uses pattern blocking and galactic influences to update that 50’s vacay look, as shown at Paul Smith and Maison Kitsune. The season’s strong sport influence also plays a part in the Tropicana look, so if boxy silk shirts aren’t your bag then maybe a printed graphic tee is a little easier to pull off.

ELEVATED SPORT

Active wear takes on a much more clinical guise for Spring ‘18, with sports looks having a much smarter feel than previous seasons. The tracksuit is updated with a tailored appeal that displays wide-leg silhouettes and relaxed blazers that blur the line between smart and casual. The days of marled jersey and classic sweatshirt fabrics seem to be long gone as designers opt for high end fabrics to push for a sharper look. Color is key with optic white, soft grey and tobacco brown being worn from head to toe for maximum impact. It’s a little like being at the office and the gym at the same time.

THE PEACEFUL PUNK

As the state of the current political climate seems to have dragged us through the looking glass into a world of chaos and uncertainty, designers and brands are using their platform to air their views and document social attitudes. Millennials have become a huge influence on the fashion industry, and we’re seeing a new punk movement arise with ongoing displays of protest around the world.

This generation’s predisposition for empathy gives the new punk aesthetic a softer, more peaceful vision rather than the classic Sex Pistols-era aggression of icons like Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten and Malcolm McLaren. This time around bleached techniques are much more regimented than the ad hoc style of the past, as seen on the tartan suits shown by Sacai. And instead of ripped and distressed denim we see a prettier, even romantic side to punk from Alexander McQueen with denim suits that look part embroidered and part fringed.