Meet Rhys Fehrenbacher, Star of ‘They’

Rhys Fehrenbacher, the sixteen-year-old star of the new independent film Theymay have a calm, reserved demeanor, but there is something about his presence, the way he carries himself, the way he talks. It’s a quiet confidence, a boldness that whispers, I’m proud of who I am.

In They, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, Fehrenbacher plays fourteen-year-old J, a gender nonconforming teenager, assigned female at birth, who is taking hormone blockers to delay puberty and buy more time to consider their gender identity.

“I could not believe how much the camera liked Rhys,” says Simone Ling, producer. Ling had never worked with a young actor with so little experience. Fehrenbacher’s natural talent and poise blew her away. When asked about his greatest strength as an actor, she didn’t hesitate: “Stillness.” She praised Fehrenbacher for not shying away from being still and vulnerable. “That takes a lot more guts than anybody really realizes,” she says.

Fehrenbacher, who identifies as transgender, saw a lot of himself in J. “When we were filming we were both on hormone blockers,” he says, “So we were both kind of experiencing the in between.” They also both share a love of poetry. “The way that they would constantly recite poetry and whisper to themselves is something that I do,” Fehrenbacher explains, “And even the little characteristics that they have, like playing with their hair, stuff like that. I would see these things in the script and be like, I do that.”

Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, They writer and director, remembers seeing, “The manner, the spirit, the feel of the character,” in Fehrenbacher’s audition, during which he read a poem he’d written, himself. “He could get this idea of ambiguity and in betweenness and an indefinable character more than other people that I met with,” she says, “Or in a way that was more in line with the feel of the story.”

ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images

 

J and Fehrenbacher are not one in the same, though.

For one, J was born male and is wrestling with whether to transition to female, whereas Fehrenbacher identifies as female to male. When he first got the part, Fehrenbacher worried he wouldn’t be able to portray a biologically male character, but with practice he grew more comfortable. “I think [my process] was more just understanding J’s nature and not really associating them with being biologically male…When I was auditioning someone told me that something that stood out [about] me was that she couldn’t tell just by looking at me how I identified, and I think J is kind of the same way.”

J’s story is one that doesn’t seem to be told all too often. While trans stories are becoming more common in mainstream media, it does not seem as common to meet a character who hasn’t quite decided how they identify. With They, we see the confusion, loneliness, and pressure surrounding this area of uncertainty, and we also see an important message: It’s okay not to know right away.

Though Fehrenbacher is confidently male, it doesn’t bother him that people can’t always tell how he identifies by looking at him. “When I first came out I was very passionate about, like I want to pass as 100 percent male 100 percent of the time, I can’t wear anything androgynous, I’m gonna get misgendered and it’s gonna be awkward, but now I think I’m more relaxed about it and I think I’m more okay with kind of dressing the way that I want to as opposed to what I feel is traditionally masculine or will help me pass the best, and ya know people misgender me sometimes but I think most of the time they just kind of don’t know and I’m fine with telling them how I identify.”

Fehrenbacher knows he is not “traditionally masculine.” His brothers, he explains, love playing sports and showing off their strength, whereas those kinds of things don’t interest him. “I don’t really identify as that kind of guy, but I’m still a guy,” he says.

Unlike J, Fehrenbacher’s life is anything but paused. In addition to being an actor, he’s also a poet and an aspiring filmmaker. He’s written short stories, screenplays, loves graphic design, and he also plays guitar, ukulele, piano, and bass (Don’t forget he’s only 16).

“There are tons of things that I want to do,” he said, “If I had to narrow it down to one career it’d be really hard. I have a ton of interests. I want to be a graphic designer and a special effects makeup artist, all this crazy stuff, a musician, I think whatever I do end up doing, it’s probably gonna be creating something.”

He’s also been blessed with supportive parents. His mother, Candy, is the one who received an email about the casting call for They. She knew immediately that the film would be something her son would want to audition for.

“I hope that movies like They and other movies,” she explains, “Can help people see that your job [as the parent of a transgender child] is to stand alongside your child and be there for them and help them have the best path and course in their life they can have.” Parents who don’t see that, she says, are “Missing the gift that’s been placed in your family.”

When Fehrenbacher came out to his family, Candy and her husband, Eric, didn’t know anyone else who identified as transgender. “Me and his dad, right from the beginning were like, you know what, we love you and you know what we don’t understand what this is, but we’ll figure it out, we will help you.”

Fehrenbacher hopes the film will help normalize those who identify as transgender. “I think it’s important not just for trans people but also for cis people to kind of see that being trans is this normal thing,” he says, “And that it’s not this big spectacle, and that it’s just a part of our everyday experience.”

His advice to those struggling with gender identity: “Labels aren’t everything, and while it is helpful to have language to put to how you feel, trying to force yourself to conform to one label or another isn’t gonna help you. I think it’s more just understanding your identity and where you’re at and just being okay with not knowing necessarily, because you don’t have to have all the answers right now.”

Between Fehrenbacher’s incredible talents and his kind, self-assured disposition, he makes it clear there is a lot more to life than being able to fit clearly into an arbitrary box.

Photography courtesy of LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images

How Non-Binary Folks Navigate Creating Avatars In Video Games

One of the best parts of starting a new roleplaying game is creating a new character. In fact, my roommate often times just creates a character and doesn’t play the actual game. And what I’ve discovered over my years of gaming is that everyone has a different strategy when they go to create a character. Some people want to make a character that looks badass or interesting, and some people just want to make something that resembles them.

However, when you’re not white and you’re not cisgender, this process can become more complicated. All of a sudden these options become a lot more limited. I talked to a couple non-binary gamers about their experiences with character creation. I asked them how they decided which gender to play in a binary game.

Darya, an indigenous non-binary gamer, told me that they most often played as female characters because they present more femme than masc. Then Darya pointed out something that I hadn’t thought about.

“I feel that several games with alien races and fairly in-depth character creation, like Mass Effect and Star Wars: The Old Republic, missed the opportunity to explore gender in other species,” they told me. “No one escapes the gender binary in games, not even robots.”

“It’s maddening.” they continued.

And it is maddening. Even in stories that take place across multiple planets with multiple alien species, the one thing we can’t create is a system without gender.

The gender binary, as Darya explained, doesn’t just limit the option for gender. It also impacts the body types that are offered within customization because they will be aligned with gender norms.

“The binary encourages either extremely feminine and petite OR masculine and buff. There’s not much in between.” This was a sentiment shared by another non-binary gamer, Marisa who also happens to be my roommate.

They added that they’re still at odds with their gender identity because of how genderqueer people are portrayed.

“I am used to seeing lanky, light skin, flat chested people as androgynous, and not really much anything else,” they told me. “It would be really cool for games, which really like to adhere to a somewhat strict gender binary, to give players more options to express their gender and more through customizations.”

Marisa goes into each character customization with a different intention. If it’s a game like Fire Emblem with really limited character options and a linear story you follow, Marisa just makes whatever they think looks cool.

However, with games like Pokémon “I want my character to look like me. It makes it more immersive and like I’m truly living my best Ash Ketchum life [In Fire Emblem] I don’t really care about the lack of options, I mean I would love some brown skin, but I’m not hung up on it. It’s a game that feels very disconnected from me.”

The latest games in the franchise, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon were the first to add skin tone options to the character creator. One night on the bus home, I showed Marisa the trailer for the game, and at one point it showed all the skin tone and hair options. It was in the video that Marisa saw an avatar that had the same skin color and hairstyle as them. They started getting emotional and said simply, “that’s me.”

Another game that Marisa enjoys is Animal Crossing, which has an incredibly interesting way of handling gender. Animal Crossing is a social simulation game similar to The Sims and one element of the game is checking the local stores for new clothes or furniture. While the game still uses a gender binary, the clothing in the game can be worn by either gender male characters can wear dresses, etc. However, when a character attempts to buy something that was made for the other gender, the shop owner will always give a cautionary gender-policing message like: “That accessory is from our men’s collection, but I supposed women can wear it, too!”

Your character is allowed to wear the clothing and it doesn’t change any gameplay, but the message is there regardless. Marisa says that this doesn’t really bug them because they kind of stopped expecting anything. “As I get older I know that games are not likely to represent me specifically. I would prefer just like a chill gender neutral character option.”

Character creators have come so far in terms of detail and specificity. Even in terms of non-white skin tones and non-white hair, we’ve seen an improvement over the last couple years. There’s really no excuse now to exclude non-binary identities or even gender fluidity in games. In addition to supporting an underrepresented group of gamers, you’ll also be creating a more interesting system for all gamers.

Because this industry doesn’t advance unless we push it further.

Kathy Griffin? Andy Cohen Says ‘I Don’t Know Her’

If seeing Christmas decorations before Halloween stresses you out, you should probably stop reading this post.

Earlier this month, CNN announced that Bravo binch Andy Cohen would replace Kathy Griffin as Anderson Cooper’s co-host on the network’s annual New Year’s Eve special. CNN had fired Kathy from the gig following her whole decapitated Trump head photo scandal that you know about, I know about, we all know about it. Do I need to recap it? No? Cool. All you need to know for the purposes of the next 200 or so words is that Anderson distanced himself from Kathy and Kathy made fun of him for being kinda wack.

Well, things kept happening! On Friday, a TMZ paparazzo ran into Andy Cohen on his way out of an airport on Friday and asked him a bunch of questions, as a TMZ paparazzo is wont to do. Among those questions was “Have you, uh, talked to Kathy [Griffin] at all [about taking over as Anderson Cooper’s new co-host]? Did you run it by her first before accepting it?”

“Who? I don’t know her,” Andy said, an obvious reference to Mariah Carey’s gif’d to death though nevertheless iconic J.Lo snub.

Kathy saw this shit and got mad!

“Even when it’s on tape, there are doubters?” she tweeted in response on Friday morning. “He is NOT kidding w[ith] paps. Was my boss for 10 years. Treated me like a dog. Deeply misogynistic.”

I’d just like to remind everyone that it’s Oct. 27th, Halloween hasn’t even happened yet, why are we talking about New Year’s, and some people have war in their countries.

Photography: Michael Tran/Getty Images

Teddy Geiger, Songwriter for Shawn Mendes and One Direction, Is Transitioning

Teddy Geiger, the writing talent behind some of Shawn Mendes and One Direction’s hits, announced on Instagram that they are transitioning.

When a fan commented that Geiger’s appearance had changed, Geiger used the opportunity to talk about their gender identity.

In their response, Geiger said, “Okaybecause u asked nicely I am transitioning. I started talking about it with a couple of my close friends and family about a month ago and it’s given me the courage to start the process. I feel like the next step is to tell y’all. So here goes. Love it or hate this is who I have been for a looooong time. I love u guys. Talk sooooon byeeee.”

🙋🏻hi

A post shared by Teddy Geiger (@teddygeiger) on

Geiger then posted a selfie later saying, “Woke up to so much love. I have the best friends.”

Geiger announced their transition only a few days after singer Sam Smith told the Sunday Times that they feel “just as much woman as I am man.”

Congratulations!

Photography: Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The Director Of ‘195 Lewis’ Tells Us Why It’s ‘Paramount We Tell Our Own Stories’

Anne almost ruins brunch just by showing up.

Kris is new in town and hardly knows anyone, so Anne thought she’d take her to a regular brunch thing that some of the women in the community rotate around their apartments. The only problem is that the regular brunch thing is the Femme of Color Brunch, and Anne is anything but femme.

She also has a history with at least a couple of the femmes present and approximately zero shame. The hostess makes an exception on account of Kris, but Anne better not try anything funny, she tells her from behind the kitchen island. A couple of mimosas later, though, and Anne’s calling someone by the wrong name in one of the upstairs bedrooms while the women downstairs discuss sex positivity as a means of building community.

None of these dynamics should be foreign to anyone who’s spent time in the spaces depicted onscreen, but it’s not very often that we get to see this kind of praxis-shattering, intra-community messiness translated to the screen. That’s one of the many ways in which 195 Lewis excels.

The show captures these kinds of internecine struggles with a realism not often found in similar projects, the kind of ease that appears so effortless that it obscures just how much work actually went into the final product. Some of the characters are poly, and most of them smoke weed throughout the first five episodes I caught at its NewFest screening on Oct. 22. (Full disclosure: INTO was one of the NewFest sponsors this year.)

But whereas another show might make a “poly episode” or an episode where everyone gets really high, 195 Lewis weaves these elements into the greater world of its characters in a way that’s both refreshingly seamless and true to life.

Perhaps this is because 195 Lewis, an upcoming web series about four queer black women living together in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, is free of what Code Switch might call an “explanatory comma.”

It trusts that its audience is capable enough to figure out what they’re watching and why they should care, even if they’ve never been invited to a Femme of Color Brunch or ever would be. A better explanation might just be that the team behind the showcreators Yaani Supreme and Rae Leone Allen, director Chanelle Aponte Pearson, and co-writer/producer Terence Nanceare just really good at what they do.

“Anytime I watch something, I’m always like, ‘Why did this person want to tell this particular story?’” said Pearson, who considers storytelling to be an “important” arm of any liberation movement.

“That’s not to say that folks should not tell stories with characters they don’t personally identify with, but it is absolutely paramount that we tell our own stories,” Pearson continued.

“We have the skills and the talent and the tools to center our stories and help them come to light, so it’s just frustrating to see these stories being told over and over through another lens.”

INTO had the chance to speak with Pearson about 195 Lewis earlier this week. We also talked about how Pearson got the show to look so pretty, how they got involved in the project, and whether or not they know any Annes irl.

Check out some of our conversation below.

HARRON WALKER: How did you initially get involved with 195 Lewis?

CHANELLE APONTE PEARSON: So, I manage a production company with Terence Nance. The 195 Lewis team actually approached him to see if he would be interested in directing it. He looked at it, and then slid it to me and said, “I think you need to do this.” It was really scary. I didn’t think that my entry point to directing would be someone else’s creation.

I also had my own insecurities. I spoke with Yaani, one of the creators of 195 Lewis, and had a really great conversation. We connected over the phone just talking about our lives and our experiences living in Brooklyn. I told her that I felt this project was really specialso special that it needed a director with more experience. She did not accept that.

She was really supportive and believed in my vision and what I would be able to offer to the project. I’m glad she did, because it encouraged me to finally delve into what I love most.

I love how your involvement started with a very, very enthusiastic “You need to do this.” Has that usually been your entry point into film projects and other work in the industry?

I was just talking to a friend about this. We, and I say we as in queer folks of colour, are traditionally left out of opportunities and left out of institutions, and so we’re kind of forced to make shit happen on our own anyway that we can using the resources and the skills and the talents that already exist in our communities.

Just because we don’t have enough experience does not mean that we’re not talented, that we won’t make it work no matter what. That’s very much how 195 Lewis came to be. It’s a very community-based, community-driven project. The majority of the crew has little to no experience with TV or film before the project, but they wanted to see these stories and these characters come to life.

They might not have known what an assistant director or whatever does, but they figured it out and made it work.

Speaking of community, one episode that struck me in particular was the third one about the Femme of Color Brunch. It was an example of something the show does really well, where it like takes you into a very specific space with a very specific group of people meeting up in that space without every feeling explanatory.

It always felt like what I saw on screen was speaking to people who would feel seen by it. Anyone could totally access it, but what was on screen wasn’t made for their benefit. Do you think that’s fair to say, and was that something you were thinking about when you were directing the project?

So, the script was originally written by Yaani Supreme and Rae [Leone Allen], and then Terence Nance and I came to co-write and develop the script. I went on to direct.

So much of all of our lives are on the page and on the screen. We’re pulling from our lived experience, so we never thought about how this is going to connect with folks who may not know about it.

I was just really interested in telling a story: Who is this character? What’s her background? Do I know this person? Let me take you on her journey. I didn’t consciously think, “Oh, wait. Let me stop to explain and give you a little breakdown of what this means.” No. We’re just going to drop you right in, and you’re going to have to catch up.

Do you know lots of Annes?

[Laughs]

An Anne or many Annes with an “S” plural?

Let me think about this I don’t personally know any Annes. Maybe peripherally there are some in the community [laughs] but, no. That might be a question for Yaani.

That’s a good diplomatic answer.

[Laughs]

On a totally different note, I wanted to talk about how you shot the show. There’s such a stark difference between the daytime and the nighttime in a way that felt very true to New York and Brooklyn especially.

In the daytime, it really felt like everything was lit by natural light, which can be such a precious thing to have here in any space you spend a lot of time in. Then at night, it was all artificial colors, very bright and neon and stylized and beautiful. Do you want to talk about the lighting and the role you played in figuring out what it would look like?

In those daytime moments, I was trying to think of a way to really pull you into these intimate moments. These characters are trying to get themselves together after a party the night before and have these really vulnerable conversations with each other.

I also really wanted to just reflect the warmth and richness and the style of the community and just how gorgeous and like amazing we are. I was so happy I got to work with [Director of Photography] Jomo Fray, who is a really good friend of mine.

We’re both Virgos, so we definitely connected on that level, going over every episode, scene by scene, and really thinking intentionally about how we wanted to express what we were going for with the lighting.

Another thing I wanted to talk about were the surreal elements, like where you’re watching a character play out a scenario in their head a bunch of different ways before they finally do something.

Why did you decide to include those elements in the storytelling?

Yeah, that was my expression of anxiety.

I’m really interested in my personal experience with anxiety and with those internal conversations that I have, how I tend to catastrophize when I don’t have all the information. I wanted to explore that with the characters and really pull you into their heads. What is actually going through someone’s mind when they appear to have it all together on the surface?

I especially wanted to explore all that within a poly relationship. There’s a lot anxiety and jealousy between them, which is all really human. That’s what I wanted to get across, you know? This is not the definitive poly story. It’s really a human story. There’s jealousy, there’s anxiety. I didn’t want to paint it as perfect or more moral or more evolved than another kind of relationship.

Where will people be able to catch the show?

The online launch is happening Nov. 16 on 195lewis.com, and there are several other festival screenings and community screenings leading up to that. The biggest one is going to be on Nov. 9. It’s at the Brooklyn Museumwe’re bringing it back to Brooklyn!

You can go to the website to see where some of the other festival and community screenings will be. We made 195 Lewis with the intention that it would live on the web and be successful in the community and beyond.

But there’s always something really special about getting folks in the room for one of these screenings and experiencing the show as a collective audience.

This interview has been edited and condensed

Kentucky Judge Would Rather Retire Than Hear Cases Involving Gay People

A family court judge who requested to be recused from cases involving LGBTQ parents turned in a letter of resignation on Wednesday.

Mitchell Nance, a judge in Barren and Metcalfe County, issued an order in April which required that attorneys representing “homosexual parties” in custody cases alert him of their clients sexual orientation he can have himself removed from the proceedings. In his statement, Nance alleged that a child’s best interests could never “be promoted by the adoption by a practicing homosexual.”

The 43rd Circuit judge announced that he would be stepping down in a letter to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. His removal from the bench will take effect on Dec. 16.

Nance’s resignation follows a complaint filed to the Judicial Conduct Commission by the ACLU of Kentucky and the Fairness Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group based in Louisville, Ky. Their charge alleges that he violated the Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. These regulations require justices to remain unbiased in their legal rulings and apply the law ethically.

The judge’s attorneys have claimed Nance was attempting to comply with the law by stating his biases up front.

“His recusal would have facilitated the impartiality of the judicial system and ensured that all families had a fair opportunity for adoption,” claimed his legal counsel in a response to the April complaint.

Nance’s lawyers further argued that being forced to rule on same-sex adoptions or any other cases regarding LGBTQ parents would present for him a “unique crisis of conscience.” The statement adds that Nance harbors a “sincerely held religious belief” that “the divinely created order of nature is that each human being has a male parent and a female parent.”

LGBTQ advocates celebrated Nance’s resignation.

“Judges, more than anyone else, have a responsibility to follow the law,” Sam Marcosson, a University of Louisville law professor who signed onto the complaint, told the Glasgow Daily Times. “By making it clear that he could not, or would not do that, Judge Nance demonstrated that he simply had no place on the bench.”

“Judge Nance must have seen the writing on the wall,” said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, said in a press release. “He had proven he could not deliver the basic impartiality required by his office when it came to LGBTQ people and their families.”

Overhyped Horror Movies We Snuck Into as Teens

Another year means another batch of horror movies that comes and goes, and a lot of them are really bad. They can’t all be the next Get Out or It Follows, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Let’s be honest, how many of these films will we actually remember in a decade?

God knows we saw numerous horror movies over the past 10 years that left little lasting impression. But that’s what happens when big names are attached and studios spend a fortune on marketing. What would we know? We were just silly teenagers.

If these movies came out today, we’d wait for them to hit Netflix.

Cry Wolf

This one was about some private school kids who get bored and spread rumors about a serial killer. Before Supernatural took off and after Gilmore Girls ended, Jared Padalecki had a supporting role in this, which was the main draw. Were we really supposed to be impressed that Bon Jovi made a cameo as a pedophile high school teacher?

Hostel

This movie was just one big excuse for Eli Roth to live out his torture porn fantasies. It followed three backpackers in Europe who stay at the wrong hostel. It was more gore than actual plotline.

Pulse

When we still knew her as Veronica Mars, Kristen Bell made one of her first starring roles in this tragic horror film. It was about demons that lived in phones and computers or something like that. Bell even poked fun at it during a reference in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

See No Evil

Christina Vidal could have been great after Taina and Freaky Friday, but this did nothing to help her career. Although it might have slightly helped the WWE’s Kane. He plays a dude who starts killing off teenage delinquents.

Stay Alive

The same year she did John Tucker Must Die, Sophia Bush starred in this horror flop. It followed a group of gamers that start dying the same way their characters die in a mysterious video game. It was also the last time we saw Frankie Muniz.

Prom Night

The horror movie genre has been a little trigger-happy with remakes over the last couple of decades, so why should this classic be off limits? And what the hell? Let’s just randomly cast Brittany Snow in Jamie Lee Curtis’s character.

Obsessed

As much as we love Beyoncé, maybe it’s best that her acting career never really took off. But she was still the only reason to see this film, in which some crazy white woman stalks her and Idris Elba.

Sorority Row

This horror remake tried desperately to capture the camp and sexual promiscuity of ‘80s slasher flicks but desperately failed. It also made some interesting casting choices with Bruce Willis’s daughter, that girl from Step Up 2: The Streets, that girl from The Hills, and that girl from Even Stevens.

The Unborn

Another attempt at making horror sexy that just fell on its face, this one had something to do with Nazis and evil spirits that possessed babies. And since Michael Bay produced, it received the Cybertron of advertising budgets.

The Uninvited

When a young woman is released from a mental hospital, she starts suspecting her new stepmom is trying to kill her. Sounds like perfectly reasonable assumptions to run with.

She’s Asexual and Her Girlfriend Isn’t. They Tell Us What Makes Their Relationship Work

To celebrate Asexual Awareness Week, INTO spoke with Mary Palmer and Kat Kellermeyer, a same-sex couple who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. Mary, 23, identifies as a biromantic asexual, but Kat, 30, is queer. This is Kat’s first time dating someone along the asexual spectrum.

In a 45-minute phone conversation, they tell us what makes their relationship work.

How did the two of you meet?

Mary: She came to my house. There was a party and she showed up with a friend of hers and obviously I live here. The first thing I noticed about Kat was that she’s really, really loud. It’s very rare that someone can force me to listen to them talk for more than a few minutes at a time. Everything that Kat says is really interesting and it’s really impassioned.

Kat, were you always aware that Mary was asexual, or was that something that you found out later?

Kat: As we were starting to date, she was really up front about it. She was really honest that it had been a stumbling block in other relationships. But emotionally she is such an amazing companion and intellectually we get along so well.

I was like, “I’m not going to jeopardize all of that because there’s just one hiccup.”

Was she the first asexual person you dated?

Kat: She is, yes.

What was it like dating an asexual person for the first time?

Kat: It challenges your idea of what traditional roles in a relationship are, this idea that if you are not having sex somehow your relationship is broken or it’s not going to work out. We are in an open relationship. Even though we know that I’m allowed to see other peopleand the same for herright now we both have agreed to work on us first and really get a strong base so we feel supported, then we pursue that.

So we’re challenging those ideas of monogamy and challenging those ideas that sex has to be an integral part of our relationship.

Mary, what was it like to come out to Kat as asexual?

Mary: Kat mentioned that I was very up front about it. Kat is actually the first partner I’ve been up front about being asexual with because I fought the label for a long time. It’s something I would sneak into a relationship: “Oh, by the way, I have just this really low sex drive.” But it never worked. Women always figured out that something was wrong. I told Kat right away so that if it ever becomes a problem, I can move on right now. It was nerve-wracking because I really liked her and I didn’t want it to be a dealbreaker.

In what ways has it been a deal breaker for previous partners?

Mary: I don’t mind sex. I think of sex the same way other people would probably think of building a birdhouse. If you told me I could never build another bird house, I would say, “All right.” Generally it’s kind of a pleasant activity, but it’s not something I think about. So I will tell my partner, “Hey, if you want to have sex with me I probably won’t engage you sexually, but if you want to have sex, let me know and we can have sex.” It always sounded really reasonable to me.

Being in relationships with sexual people often brings out their insecurities. In previous relationships, it wasn’t that the sex that was the problem. It was the fact that I didn’t want itthat was the deal breaker. That would boil over into other things. I don’t think I’ve had anyone straight-up break up with me because I was asexual, but it was definitely an underlying factor.

In your current relationship with Kat, has being asexual presented any challenges?

Mary: Every relationship comes with its own unique set of problems. I think our biggest problem is that Kat has trouble telling me when she wants sex. I’ve told her several times, “Listen, you’ve got to talk to me. I can’t read your mind. It’s not something I’m thinking about, so you’ve got to tell me.”

We had a really good talk about it recently, and she’s going to try to be more open to telling me what she wants and what she needs.

Kat: It goes back to these ideas of breaking down toxic monogamy and expectations there. Sex is very much considered quid pro quo. If one person’s getting off, the other person had better be getting off. Mary is just staring at the ceiling because she’s just kind of indifferent to it. It felt wrong to approach her because I did have that established idea of quid pro quoshe’s not interested so it’s not fair necessarily for me to express interest.

We’ve had a lot of really open conversations about it. We’ve had to start tearing down those walls, get into that uncomfortable space, and figure out what her asexuality means for our relationship. It means being able to communicate my needs and being able to trust that she’s going to be able to communicate her needs.

What do you find to be the biggest misconceptions about either being asexual or being in a relationship with someone who is asexual?

Mary: I’ve heard it all: “You can fix yourself. Have you tried? You just haven’t met the right person.” Or a lot of people will ask: “Even if Scarlett Johansson was naked in your bed, you wouldn’t have sex with her? And I say, “If Scarlett Johansson wanted to have sex with me I’d probably say yes.”

Who wouldn’t?

Kat: If Scarlett Johansson was naked in her bed, all she would want to do is ask what it was like to work with Joss Whedon.

What do you find to be the biggest misconception about being in a relationship with an asexual person, Kat?

Kat: The biggest misconception is the idea that before a relationship can be rewarding, there has to be some sort of sexual element to it. I’ve been in relationships where you make eye contact across the room and then you immediately get it on. And that’s it. They never really last. You burn through it pretty quickly. There’s nothing here but that kind of animal magnetism.

I hate the term “old souls.” I hate it. But it feels like that with Mary. Our conversations are a lot more complex than relationships I’ve been in before because we’re both such pretentious up-our-ass intellectuals. I find that to be very rewarding and emotionally nourishing.

I have some friends who tell me they think it’s crazy or it’s not going to last. And I say, “I don’t know. I really fucking like this girl.”

Mary: Who is this? I’m going to go kill them.

Kat: (laughs) Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s not going to work.

It’s finding that emotional sustenance in your relationship. A lot of people who are in really great sexual relationships might never find that. So I’m really lucky to have found what I have. We’re just going to get a little creative with how I get sexual nourishment, and that’s not hard to find.

In terms of getting creative, can you just explain what you mean by that?

Kat: That means I’m taking care of me, or like I mentioned, we’re in an open relationship. So I’m allowed to go and seek elsewhere. The night that I asked her to officially be my girlfriend, I was expressed to her, “I don’t know if polyamory can work. I’ve never been in one of those relationships.”

But the way she described is that we’re like the coolest kids on the playground. We’ll go hang out with other kids that we find. They’ll be really cool and we’ll have a lot of fun with them, but at the end of the day, we’re going to go home and be with each other. Because we’re the coolest kids on the playground and we’re each other’s best friend. It’s her being able to trust methat I’m always going to come home to herand me being able to trust that she knows she’s the number-one person in my life.

I really feel like we’ve found that trust and emotional fidelity that I haven’t really felt in a relationship before.

Mary: Because I am asexual, I’m like, “If somebody else wants to have sex with you, you should do it because I don’t want to have sex with you.”

Kat: That’s one of the reasons I feel so safe in this relationship: We both recognize that we don’t have to be everything to each other. What we bring to the table is enough for each other, and any other sustenance we need we can go somewhere else and find. I feel like a lot of monogamous relationships fail because you break under the pressure that you have to be everything for your partner. You have to fix all their flaws, make them into the perfect person, and break yourself in half to become perfect for them.

That’s not fair for any of us to do to each other.

What do you think makes your relationship special?

Mary: I don’t that there’s anything inherently wrong with monogamy. But I think that there are certain attitudes that can arise from monogamy that can end up breaking a relationship. Like the idea of ownershipI’m Kat’s girlfriend, I’m not her jailer.

If you trust someone and you love someone, you don’t feel like you need to possess that person like you’re a demon. I don’t see why you can’t share that person with other people. I’m not saying that everyone has to. Some people just aren’t built that way, and that’s totally fine. I don’t think any less of them.

For me and Kat, I trust her. I don’t feel like I own her. I want her to be able to seek everything that she needs.

Kat: It fits. It’s so cliché and stupid and squishy, and I hate us. We’re so fluffy. It’s gross.

What do you think that other couples can learn from relationships between asexual and sexual people?

Mary: I would say that there’s this romanticization of a love that is all-consuming. But mine has never been like that. I don’t think that love has to be all fire and passion. Love can’t last on ignition alone. You have to put the work in and there has to be a strong foundation. Adult love doesn’t demand that you be anyone but yourself, and it doesn’t make you compromise who you are. There’s bending and then there’s breaking.

I’ve forced myself into a lot of relationships, and I’ve pretended that I’m not the way I am just to make it work. And it always falls apart. I can’t be anyone besides who I am.

Note: The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

I’m Campaigning for Marriage Equality in Australia. Being Forced to Beg for My Humanity Is Absurd

Good afternoon sir/madam, I’m just calling today to ask pretty please will you consider treating me equally? Thank you, bye!

This is the phone conversation I’ve had with dozens, maybe even hundreds, of complete strangers. I’m volunteering for the “Yes” campaign during a fraught time for LGBTQ people in Australia, as the country is embroiled in a painful plebiscite over same-sex marriage. In a fairly typical call, I dial a number and inquire sheepishly whether I can count on the vote of the stranger on the other end of the phone.

“For fuck’s sake,” a woman responded earlier this week. “Are you for real? First of all, where did you get my number from? And second, how is the way I’m going to vote any of your fucking business?”

This person feels like their privacy has been invaded. They feel the intrusion was unwarranted and they’re offended that mesomeone they’ve never even metwants to influence something so deeply personal to them. I squeeze my stress ball and wonder if they realise just how much we have in common right now.

•••

“I don’t like being a debatable citizen,” comedian Hannah Gadsby said in a recent interview, a rare departure from her sardonic humor. “It makes me feel sub-human.”

That perfectly sums up the current mood among LGBTQ people in Australia.

On Aug. 8, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull invited the entire country to have an open debate about the validity of my relationship and how equal I’m allowed to be. It’s demeaning and insulting to be singled out in a poll which is as expensive as it is unnecessary. Politicians have spent the past three months surveying the public about a question to which we already knew the answer.

The plebiscite is a cruel joke. And it’s one had at the expense of LGBTQ people who just want to be treated with the same humanity afforded every other Australian.

Being forced to beg for your rights on the phone every day is already a ludicrous proposition. But what’s perhaps most demeaning about scrolling through a list of people who are just waiting to hang up is that my phone call might not make the slightest bit of difference. The poll, whose results will be announced on Nov. 15, has been devised as a plebiscite rather than a referendum. A plebiscite is voluntary and non-binding, designed as a friendly suggestion to lawmakers on whether or not to introduce legislation.

Should the public vote “Yes” next month, that means the Australian Parliament can ignore or dismiss the result if they like. Some right-wing MPs, including Eric Abetz and Cory Bernadi, have refused to say whether they’ll abide by the public’s decision.

But we already know what the masses think. Nearly every single poll conducted over the last decade has demonstrated that the majority of Australians support marriage equality. A Galaxy Research survey conducted in May 2011 found that 65 percent of the public is in favor of legalizing same-sex unions. A poll published this August found that nearly every sector of Australian society is in favor of full recognition for LGBTQ relationships. This includes the heads of all three major political parties.

I can hear the strain of being forced to repeatedly have the same discussion with the voters I talk to on my volunteer shifts. Their annoyance with me isn’t just that I’m interrupting their dinner. It’s that the conversation feels like it was over 10 years ago.

And yet bringing it all up yet again has unleashed a Pandora’s Box of harm. Billboards and train carriages have been defaced with homophobic epithets ( “Vote No to Fags!”) and violent hate speech (“Bash a Gay Today!”). Gay Australians’ homes have been vandalized, swastikas spray-painted over Pride flags. Two lesbians in Redfern woke up in October to discover that dog excrement had been thrown on their doorstep.

Although Turnbull insisted that Australians would be able to debate my rights civilly, members of Parliament were repeatedly warned this would happen. That warning came from those who had the most to lose in this debate: LGBTQ families.

Same-sex couples travelled to Canberra with their children to show legislators the human faces behind this situation. A flier distributed in Melbourne portrayed same-sex parents as predators who are exploiting the institution of marriage to abuse children, but these are loving mothers and fathers with well-adjusted children, ones who have suddenly been thrown into the spotlight. With their kids cradled affectionately in their arms, these families sent a message to our MPs that should have been obvious by now: “Our families are no different from yours.”

Ashley Scott, who serves as co-chair of the Rainbow Families advocacy group, testified to the absurdity of our national nightmare in an emotional plea to Parliament. “Rainbow Families oppose a plebiscite because we know what the impacts will be, both for our families and for vulnerable people in our community,” Scott said. “A plebiscite is a political fix that will do harm and put lives at risk.”

Same-sex families challenged the ensuing plebiscite at the high court, which was pursued over their ardent cries. But the government pushed back. The bid failed.

It’s one thing to plead for your rights. It’s yet another to learn at such an early age how truly vulnerable your rights are, ones you weren’t aware were up for debate. These children, who should be worried about who they’re sitting next to at lunch and whether they did all their homework, have to ride trains that refer to their parents as “faggots,” “degenerates,” and “perverts.” Kids are switching on their televisions to see people like Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby refer to them as a “stolen generation,” a reference to Aboriginal children were were ripped from their homes decades ago as a matter of government policy.

Turnbull and the other members of Parliament may have forgotten their faces, but I haven’t.

Those children are firmly planted in the back of my mind as I dial my next number and get down on my kneesfor the umpteenth time this eveningand ask politely to be treated equally. I beg for their families, I beg for everyone who has experienced hate come knocking on their doorstep, and I beg for this misery to finally be over. The government has suggested that ballots be mailed in today, in order to be counted before the November cutoff.

The person on the other end of the phone heaves with an aggravated sigh. I can feel their weight through the phone. I grit my teeth, squeeze my stress ball, and hear the line go deadthat old familiar refrain.

I dial my next number. I take a deep breath. And I continue to beg.

Photography: Cassie Trotter / Getty Images

Taylor Swift’s ‘Ready for It’ Video = ‘Ghost In the Shell’ + 2000s Britney – Anything Interesting

If you’ve seen Blade Runner 2049 or Ghost in the Shell or the “Toxic” music video, congratulations, you’ve already seen Taylor Swift’s new video for “…Ready For It?” The song is the second single from her upcoming album Reputation.

In the video, Swift basically reenacts the evil Kermit meme and has a confrontation with her dark self, and then there’s some thunder or something.

When is this album cycle over?