BBC and Netflix’s ‘Wanderlust’ Features a Surprising Queer Storyline

What do you do when you no longer want to have sex with your spouse of many years, but you haven’t stopped loving them? You open up the relationship and sleep with other people, of course. Toni Collette’s new BBC series, Wanderlust, soon to come to Netflix, is an exploration of sex and commitment, and how monogamy doesn’t necessarily work for all marriages.

Therapist Joy Richards (Toni Collette) and her husband, Alan (Steven Mackintosh), are trying to get back into sexy times after a cycling accident left Joy injured. Now, however, the problem isn’t her injury that’s keeping them from having sex; they’ve just lost interest in each other. The solution then becomes to explore casual sex outside their marriage, whilst keeping all other aspects of their lives intact — except they’re realizing that emotionless sex sounded great in theory. Now they have to deal with the messier part of sex: feelings.

Joy and Alan have three children, Tom (Joe Hurst), who is 16, Naomi (Emma D’Arcy), 18, and 25 year-old Laura (Celeste Dring). While they’re all navigating the joys and pains of sex and relationships, it’s Naomi’s storyline that’s stood out thus far.

Naomi’s been on a trip with her girlfriend, but comes home sooner than expected after the relationship suddenly ends. At the same time, Rita (Anastasia Hille), Joy and Alan’s neighbor, is dealing with the breakdown of her marriage and also, the realization that she may be attracted to women. Rita has adopted peculiar ways of coping with these big changes in her life; buying things she doesn’t need from the shopping network, and lots of baking.

Naomi seems to find Rita’s coping mechanisms very charming and she happily test tastes all of Rita’s baking attempts, a hobby she’s turning out to be very good at, and while their interactions are brief, they seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Naomi seems to be particularly taken by Rita, and seeks out any opportunity to spend time with her, even if it’s just to bring over deliveries.

On one such occasion, in the latest episode, Naomi brings over box after box left for Rita at the Richards residence and soon discovers it’s a trampoline. After spending the evening trampoline-jumping together and talking, the two women share a sweet kiss.

Currently airing on BBC, Wanderlust has been stirring up some viewers’ feelings about all the sex in this show about, well, sex. Before the first episode had even aired, it was making waves, as it was rumored that the honor of the first orgasm to ever air on BBC would go to Toni Collette. While early reviews and people’s reaction to the pilot made the show sound like one long, gratuitous romp, it has a lot more depth than that, and people’s discomfort with sex might have more to do with people’s discomfort with women’s sexuality, because for all the sex, there’s next to zero nudity.

Wanderlust is a wonderfully acted, well written show about the complexities of love, sex and intimacy, and about testing the boundaries of what we are raised to believe makes a relationship work.

New episodes of Wanderlust air on BBC Tuesday nights, and will be available in its entirety on Netflix beginning October 19.

Queer Rapper Ivy Sole Is Telling You The Truth, You Just Have To Listen

We have a delicate relationship with this earth. If our various infrastructures are not maintained and managed constantly, nature in all of its power, will eventually take over and reclaim all of our buildings, roads, and plans. But is that really such a bad thing?

We see it with Olympic Villages, built in so many countries as massive glittering monuments to humanity’s achievements (or ego), only to be left behind after all the medals and fireworks, and then years later reborn as a new ecosystem despite us. Nature has a way of coming back to take what belongs to the land. We refer to this wild reclamation as nature becoming ‘overgrown’ or untamed. It’s impolite and honest. Some people fear that kind of truth while others embrace it.  

On her debut LP Overgrown, 25-year-old queer rapper Ivy Sole is laying out her process of learning and unlearning how to be a part of this world.

I first heard Sole rap thanks to the great and powerful Spotify algorithm. Cue the green fog and flames. I was listening to a playlist that I had put together featuring my favorite modern queens of hip-hop, soul, R&B, and pop music. We’re talking Jamila Woods, noname, Lizzo, Kelani, SZA, Solange, Janelle Monae, Bey — only the best. When the playlist wrapped up and the streaming service clipped over to “Radio Inspired By Playlist” mode, I was treated to a new track that I hadn’t heard before and a new voice, confident and unpressed, telling me that the future was all hers. The song was “All Mine” from Ivy Sole’s 2016 mixtape Eden, released when she was just 22, and now two years and two EPs later, Sole is back.

Much of Overgrown feels like a return and a reintroduction to where we come from. Ivy Sole was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina in a Southern Baptist family and her first experiences singing were in the church. Now living in Philadelphia, this album finds Sole looking back and unpacking how she got to where she is now.

“I grew up in the Baptist church and my family is relatively conservative,” she tells INTO. “I just turned 25 and this album is me reconciling some of the things that I outgrew and the shame of being queer is one of those things. I don’t think I was ever closeted — my sexuality was always just been something I didn’t normally talk about. I feel like a lot of people can relate to that feeling that their families sometimes make it difficult for them to live as their whole selves.”

Sole’s spirituality and her queerness are central to her music and that’s clearly on display with this debut. Sole is able to contain all of the elements of her identity, history, and education without diminishing one to make room for another but that’s not without a struggle. So much of this album approaches issues that often go unaddressed and every track approaches a different permutation of love and growth. Sole is trying to live the truth.

“I don’t consider myself Christian, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for the church because growing up I spent so much time there,” Sole says. “That’s where a lot of my identity was based, my music, my friends growing up, all super connected to the church and it was in direct conflict with a truth that I had. And now I feel like I’m in a space where my relationship with my spirituality and the idea of a higher power not only exist but is supported by my queerness.”

The album opens in warmth and waves. In “Lovely Fiction,” we’re experiencing a dream. Sole is parsing out her biological and emotional potential as a black queer woman. Her verses touch on the possibility of motherhood, the lingering of past relationships, and lessons learned from the works of Audre Lorde, the church, and her family. Sole sees herself as work in progress, undone and evolving beautifully. You can look, maybe you can touch, but you can’t have. Not yet. She’s still creating herself.

“Coming into this album I had just gone through a breakup. The end of ‘Lovely Fiction’ is damn near an apology. I’m in my head, I’m in my heart right now,” Sole says. “That relationship taught me that timing matters more than people want to give it credit for. I think that a lot of times I have a really weird guilt complex around putting a lot of energy into my career and making something of myself. I think it’s partially because I feel guilty for wanting to be a successful musician and partly because after getting my degree I took a path that was different from what my family probably wanted me to do.”

The album moves between moments showcasing Sole’s rapping on tracks like “Backwoods,” a hazy coming of age narrative set in her native Charlotte, and songs that focus on her strong singing abilities like single “Rollercoaster,” a ’90s-tinged exploration of a sexual relationship with a female ex with a nod to the club jams of Usher and Ciara.

“On the single, I wanted to disorient people a bit. I don’t think anyone expected me to tap into that ethos. I’m just as inspired by Aaliyah, Eve, and Missy Elliot because they’re all fucking amazing,” Sole says. “’Rollercoaster’ is one of the most lowkey gay songs that I’ve ever written and it’s amazing to hear a whole bunch of these men singing it and I’m like ‘I’m talking about a woman’ — and folks just assume otherwise because we live in a heteronormative society. So when I hear men singing, it’s amazing to know that they’re singing along to a song about a quiet lesbian relationship.”

Overgrown is the maturation of a sound that Sole has delivered on her previous releases, one that’s been developing since she was in high school, scribbling poetry in journals. You can hear her love of writing as a form of expression in all of her verses.

“At the end of the day, I would rather be writing than doing anything else in the world,” Sole says. “It’s genuine care and complete adoration for the art form. I was bad from the time I was 16 till the time I was 22.. It’s so nice to finally be good at writing raps finally. I just think it took time. When I was young, I was seeing folks like Mac Miller and Def Poetry with Mos Def and thinking I can do this, I know I can do this. And for a minute I was doing something [laughs] but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing. But that shit just takes time.”

You can hear nature and life flowing throughout Overgrown. Seeds, weeds, and blooms burst up from the soil in these songs. Waves lap at the edges of the dreams, fish, and birds pass through Sole’s verses carrying with them blessings and clarity. Ivy Sole is trying to find her “way back home” and as listeners, we are invited to make this return trip with her. We’re asked to let down our walls be reclaimed and to allow our connection with the earth to thrive.

“I think of nature as an extension of myself,” she says. “I belong to the earth. I’m supposed to be a steward of the earth, I’m supposed to protect it. I’m supposed to reconcile with it. After my ancestors were made to work the land, and after the land was stolen from my indigenous ancestors. Our relationship is something beautiful and it doesn’t have to be just marred with pain.”

Overgrown is a beautiful, raw, and nourishing release from an artist who has so much more to show us. On the album closer “Les Fleurs,” Ivy Sole, a queer black woman ready for what’s to come, makes a prayer and a proclamation of love to all of us: “I hope you get the flowers that you deserve, I hope you tend your garden, and I hope you love the work.”

Images by Araba Ankuma

Things You Should Never Say To a Fat Person

Three years ago, I could fit into a medium-sized shirt. Now, I struggle to fit into a large.

I wasn’t always fat. I didn’t always look like a busted can of biscuits when trying on tight jeans. I didn’t always have to hold my breath when tying my shoelaces.  

I admit I miss my skinny days sometimes, especially when broken elevators force me into climbing up several flights of stairs. Those days remind me that I need to work on my bod — for strength to conquer unholy steps; for strength to bend down and tie my shoes; for strength to run more than three steps without coughing up a lung. However, when I reach that point, chocolate cake somehow always chops my resolve in half.

So, here I am… Fat. And, clearly, not ready to do anything about it. Instead, I have to come up with new ways to accept my body. And to do that, I have to acknowledge how people treat us fat people, and how I may have treated fat people at one point. I have to pick up on and correct those sneaky insults, fetishizing compliments, and the flat-out body-shaming. And should I ever lose weight, I will remember the important lesson my new body taught me: the cost of shutting the fuck up is free.

This is a list of some of the most ignorant comments someone has said about my weight. 

“Go to the gym and turn your fat into muscle.”

First of all, you can’t turn fat into muscle because they’re two different types of tissue. You can’t shit in a can and call it chili; it’d only be a can loaded with shit, much like your brain since its filled with pseudo-scientific bullshit that can harm desperate fat people.

When I first noticed my weight gain, I tried desperately to transform my extra body fat into muscle. I believed that working out will magically sprout muscle to replace my tiny bingo-wings. That said, I pulled muscles, dislocated my shoulder and ended up crying in the hospital.

If you’re not a scientist, professional bodybuilder or nutritionist, stop giving health advice that you don’t know shit about. You’re literally harming us.

“You would be so attractive if you lost some weight.”

“Attractiveness should come from within,” my mother always says. Therefore, I never understood why I needed to shed 20 pounds to become somebody’s definition of attractive.

All bullshit aside, if someone says this to you, run. But don’t run too fast — you’ll burn calories. And that’s what they want. That person is toxic, manipulative and they will never find you attractive. They simply want to see how desperate you are for their approval.

It’s not that serious.

“You should diet.”

My friend recommended dietting to me the other day. He told me that if I cut off sugary drinks and junk food, I’d lose weight quickly. I turned to him with a dramatic expression etched on my face and said, “REALLY?”

In retrospect, he did not detect any sarcasm. I know that cutting off junk food and sugary beverages will help me lose weight fast, which is why I do not eat junk food and drink sugary snacks. My body is not going to transform in one day. And while his intentions were probably pure, it was harmful. It reminded me that people will see my body and rewrite my story in their head, no matter how hard I work. It’s discouraging.


“You’re fat.”

I had no idea. I didn’t look down at my feet and notice that my belly sticks out. What other surprises do you want to tell me?

Personally, this doesn’t offend me. However, there are some fat people in the world who still view “fat” as an insult and less of a descriptor. That’s OK. It has always been used negatively. So, how about you just stop commenting on other people’s bodies?

“Your weight is unhealthy.”

I know that my weight puts me at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. However, telling me that my weight is unhealthy will not help me lose weight. It will only increase my anxiety. It will make me feel like there is a giant clock looming over my head, counting down every second until my fat kills me.

Unless you’re a paid professional, please shut the fuck up about my weight being unhealthy.

“Fat guys are nicer to cuddle with in the winter.”

Honestly, this is like hearing nails scratching down on a chalkboard. It’s grotesque. You don’t see me as a human, you see me as a stuffed animal or a space heater. This is a great example of objectifying someone’s humanity. I’m not a fucking blanket. Pay your goddamn heat bill.

If I’m too fat and greasy to be cuddled with during the summertime, I sure as shit am still too fat and greasy to be cuddled up with in the winter.

Image via Getty

Are Trans Men Ready to Laugh About Their Binders?

You’ve probably seen the kind of video that INTO’s new video, “Trans Men Talk About Their First Binder,” parodies. There’s sad music and trans people are asked to talk about their bodies for a cisgender audience.

That’s not this video.

This video features trans men talking about their binders, while allowing them to laugh about the situation. I sat down with INTO’s Head of Video, Rocco Kayiatos, and the site’s talent manager, Alex Schmider, to talk about what it meant to create content by trans men and for trans men and how this is an intervention into a media landscape that treats trans bodies as tragic.

We’ve been talking about wanting to make this video for a while. Do you remember what the genesis of the idea was?

Rocco Kayiatos (RK): Yeah, well, I think after seeing another replica of the video that is so commonplace at this point, of transmasculine people talking about their relationship to their chest binders, I just felt like, “At what point do we get to move beyond talking about the physical experience of being trapped in a body as a trans person?”

Right, and I remember we spoke about moving beyond the physical but also moving beyond media about trans people that is sullen and morose.

RK: Yeah, trans people have whole lives and they have senses of humor. And a lot of trans people are really funny and I think that that’s not showcased frequently because media is being made by an outside lens to depict the experience of what it must feel like to be trans instead of what it actually feels like to be trans, which is — just like everyone else, we have a multifaceted life, multifaceted identities and we’re not sitting around musing on the physicality of how tragic it is. I think, in 2018, we can finally move beyond the narrative of the tragic transgender person and the experience of being “trapped” in a body.

Alex Schmider (AS): The reason why we’re able to do that is because the people producing this video are trans themselves. And so we’re in on the joke that everyone who is creating content that isn’t trans is doing it from an outside perspective. Whereas we know the community, we’ve had this experience. If we’re given the opportunity and the space to actually talk about these issues, there is going to be humor because a lot of our experience, we’ve had to make it funny to survive.

RK: Right, and just like there’s no shortage of trans people who will lend their voice to a video talking about their chest binder, I think that we’re now at the point historically and in terms of media representation that wehn trans people are being put in the space to create media about their own lives, the last thing they’re going to do is create something for the outside lens. LIke especially creating digital content, it gives us the freedom to not have to preface. People can join in the conversation exactly where it’s at.

Working for an outlet like INTO, which is queer media made for and by us, we don’t have to talk about what the joke is. We don’t have to explain the joke that we’re making for trans men or transmasculine people. We’re already in on the joke because we’ve already seen this content of like watching this tragic narrative of how oppressive it is to have to wrap you torse up like a mummy everyday to just be able to go out into the world.

Well, there’s something to be said about how a lot of great comedy is turning your trauma into something, like Richard Pryor joking about his own traumas or Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. So I think then, for you, you don’t have to translate your trauma for other people to understand. It’s an intra-community kind of humor.

RK: Yeah, the whole video is an inside joke.

At the end, you do have a disclaimer saying that it’s a joke but it’s also not a funny issue, so how do you respond to people who might say, “I don’t think that this is something to joke about.”

RK: Yeah, I think that the joke is not about the experience of wearing a binder or of being uncomfortable in your body. The joke is about the outside gaze on trans people being so hyper focused on the physical experience. So the joke is not at our expense; it’s for us to be able to laugh at the constant curiosity and portrayal of our bodies being these tragic and uncomfortable or unreasonable things we have to wrap and hide and disguise or however the outside lens would turn that. So the joke is for us.

I also think that you can find things humorous or not humorous at different points in your life. Because i’m not trans, I can’t relate to this but I can say perhaps for some gay men when they’re younger, they’re not ready to joke about coming out, but there’s a point where you can joke about being in the closet or some trauma that happened to you. But maybe someone who objects to it may not be ready to joke about that.

RK: Absolutely.

AS: But the availability of something like this or the access to content like this is pretty much nonexistent. Up until this point we weren’t able to talk about this experience from an inside perspective and comment on the stereotypes of trans people being only about their bodies. Now, when that trans person is ready, there will be something out there for them, because now it’s here.  

RK: And sometimes I feel like you need to open a vent for people because it’s like a pressure cooker for trans bodies, lives, rights, etc. When the bathroom bills were a hot topic a couple of years ago, I got to work on creating a video for a different outlet about what trans people actually do in the bathroom and it’s this spoof on a true crime kind of narrated … it’s an investigation into what trans people do in the bathroom and it turns out we’re doing the same thing that everyone is doing. They’re taking a piss, they’re washing their hands, they’re checking to make sure they don’t have boogers hanging out of their nose, they’re brushing their teeth like regular bathroom things. But that’s the gag, right?

And it might not be funny to someone who has experienced violence or trauma in a bathroom, but it was a vent and a moment of reprieve from having the focus be on the danger or the discomfort of being trans it was just for the community to be able to laugh. It was so great to have this moment to laugh about how crazy it is that the outside gaze is so constantly fixated on how dangerous we are and how disturbing our bodies are. So this ideally is another kind of extension of that where it just allows people to hit pause on the trauma and tragedy assigned to our bodies and get to see the humor in the obsession of overdramatizing and obsessing over how sad it is for trans people.

AS: And how rare do we get to relieve that tension. How often do we get to relieve that constant tension?

RK: In media, very rarely.

It’s like that saying, that comedy is tragedy plus time.

RK: Who said that? I love that.

I don’t know, it’s just a saying. Specifically, this is also a video about transmasculine people. I think this video is also an intervention into a landscape of trans-focused media made by non-trans people that is focused only on transfeminine people. What is it like as the producers to be able to assemble a cast of trans men to be in a video together?

RK: I mean, it’s a mix of things for me. Having been a person who is focused on trying to create media representations for transmasculine people and trans men, I always feel a little bit afraid of taking up that space, but I also feel like it’s really important. Being put into a position where I’m the head of the video department here, I haven’t stepped into that space of making as much tran scontent as I’d like to and w’ere slowly getting to the point of where we can make more trans-specific content and more transmasculine and trans male content. It feels powerful and exciting and also scary.

AS: As someone coming from not the creative side of representation, but the consulting and media watchdogging, it’s nice to create something for us, by us and with us. And in the same way Rocco was talking about, it’s a little scary to step into this space, but it’s also really necessary. There’s so little representation for us, so I think you know the more we can take up that space and speak up and share experiences in ways and on media outlets like INTO, the more we can connect with each other over our trauma and the humor of life and the experiences we have.

It always does kinda go back to those really deep issues, but when you’re talking about non-queer outlets that do stories about queer people that always focus on the trauma, that then sends the message to young queer and trans babies that there’s still only trauma ahead. Like, “You’re going to be in your 20s and 30s and still mourning and being sad!” and it’s like what is more important ot show young queer and trans people than laughter?

AS: Yeah, we’re fucking resilient! That’s the whole point. We can laugh and make something out of this.

RK: At something that did occupy a great amount of mental space for each one of us at one point, most likely. The biggest impetus to make this — we’ve been joking about making this video for months now, internally. What pushed me was over the weekend, a friend told me had to have surgery and after surgery, he was unravelling mentally and having this mental breakdown around the relationship to his body and surgery aftercare. He was looking everywhere for anything: an article, a YouTube video. Just desperate to find any kind of connecting point of what to do for his mental health after surgery and couldn’t find a single thing.

I’m not saying this is mental health care, but it is kind of a commentary and hopefully a stepping stone into that next phase of thinking about gender, thinking about the trans experience as less than just a physical experience. Because it hnk more often than not we tend to quote statistics or pathologize but not really think about how to take care of ourselves. And something as simple as making a joke is the first step to having a conversation about a missing piece in the trans narrative in the media landscape, which is how to take care of yourself mentally.

If you are currently struggling with issues surrounding binding or are in need of a binder, visit Point of Pride, FTM Essentials, and The Transitional Male for information about chest binder donations and giveaways. Additionally, read here about how to bind yourself safely.

6 Reasons To Visit New Orleans Beyond Bourbon Street

New Orleans has always been a city that championed the arts and celebrated culture. This has led to a healthy gay social scene, drawing many LGBTQ artists and performers to the French Quarter. But the real reason folks flock to New Orleans, and in particular Bourbon Street, is for the parties. What started as a small house party in the Treme has grown to an infamous happening – Southern Decadence. The event draws more than 180,000 mostly LGBT partiers to New Orleans. Decadence is one of the city’s top five tourist events, right up there with Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.  But it’s not all just about Bourbon Street. New Orleans has so much to offer. Next time you’re in the Big Easy, take some time to enjoy the other offerings beyond Bourbon Street.

1. Area Plantations Back in the day when New Orleans was home to more millionaires than any other city in the country, back when cotton was king, the Antebellum plantations along River Road dominated. Today, they are now tourist attractions and they offer a glimpse into the city’s past.

Each plantation offers its own snapshot into the region’s agrarian history and most are within easy driving distance from New Orleans. Some of the plantations have restaurants and even overnight accommodations (for those who want the full historical experience, sans the actual manual labor).

2. Cemeteries The city of New Orleans is built below sea level, so you can only imagine that burying the dead became a problem for the earliest residents of the city. To overcome this topographical obstacle, residents began to entomb the departed in elaborate marble chambers above ground, which are now one of the city’s most lingering attractions. Wander the purported resting places of voodoo queen Marie Laveau, musician Al Hirt and Civil War general P.G.T. Beauregard, all residents of what is known in New Orleans as the Cities of the Dead. Many offer guided tours, others you can explore on your own…if you dare.

3. Museums Museums aren’t for everyone, but in a city filled with such a rich history and diverse culture, the museums offer an opportunity to learn the stories behind Mardi Gras, Indian costumes and culture, and immersion in the largest collection of Southern Art. Walk in the footsteps of America’s Greatest Generation at the world famous World War II Museum – in New Orleans, you’ll find endless places to explore and learn. Art, History, Family/Children’s, Historic Homes, Mardi Gras, Nature, Multicultural, Religious…there’s a bit of everything.

4. Historic Buildings & Homes Discover a portal into New Orleans history by touring the homes, drawing rooms, gardens and courtyards of some of the nation’s oldest original French, Spanish and American architecture. Whether you’re visiting a Creole cottage in the Treme or a grand plantation home, these homes are living memories of lives lived and lessons left behind.

5. Parks City parks in New Orleans are essentially extended backyards that offer entertaining places to picnic and barbeque, or just enjoy a lazy afternoon. All the parks are easily accessible by walking, streetcar or bike. The Spanish Plaza, dedicated by Spain in 1976 to the city in remembrance of their common historical past and as a pledge of fraternity in the future has a fountain surrounded by the seals of the provinces of Spain as its focal point, which also makes for a great meeting spot. Tucked behind Audubon Zoo across the Mississippi River levee, (known by locals as) “The Fly”, a waterfront portion of Audubon Park is a great spot to relax and take a breath from the hustle and bustle of New Orleans. Folks come out here to hang out, toss a Frisbee, have a crawfish boil, barbecue, or watch the sun go down over the river.

Palmer Park is a 5.6-acre park full of greenery located Uptown at the intersection of Claiborne Ave. & Carrollton Ave. The park is family friendly with a playground and monthly art fairs. It also is the home to many festivals, concerts and tours. Fulton Street is home to the 25,000-square-foot Fulton Square, an outdoor event space that plays host to block parties, concerts and special events. Woldenberg Park is great for biking, walking, jogging or just to sit back and relax next to the mighty Mississippi River.

6. Churches of Historical and Architectural Interest Historic places of worship, whatever their persuasion, tell stories of neighborhoods and the diverse population that has shaped the New Orleans we see today. Settled as a Catholic city, New Orleans is home to Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France, the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States as well as St. Augustine Church in Treme, celebrating freedom from oppression. There are also Jewish synagogues, Islamic Mosques, Hindu shrines and small voodoo temples.

Where To Stay: NOPSI Hotel

Located in the heart of the Crescent City’s vibrant and convenient Central Business District, NOPSI is just two blocks from Canal Street and the bustling French Quarter. The guest room design presents refined furnishings and décor at the highest levels of luxury, all uniquely inspired by the building’s industrial history. Their restaurant, appropriately named “Public Service,” features a menu that honors the Gulf Coast’s hard-working fishermen and farmers. NOPSI Hotel also features a shimmering rooftop pool and bar, with an incredible city view.

DID YOU KNOW? LGBT rights were recognized by New Orleans City Council in 1991, with the passing of a gay non-discrimination ordinance. In 1997, Louisiana earned the distinction of being the first state in the Deep South to pass a hate crimes law that covered sexual orientation, and New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial extended domestic partner benefits to city employees. And, in 1998, New Orleans became one of the earliest cities to add gender identity to its list of groups protected from discrimination.

Image via Getty

George is Tired…of the Savior Complex

No one person is going to lead us to liberation.

This is something that I’ve had to come to terms with, in my unlearning of all the things I’ve been taught in this anti-Black society. I used to buy into the idea that a person would save me from my existence. In a lot of ways, my family and friends still think this — and it isn’t their fault. They’ve been conditioned to think that the answer lies within one person. I’ve finally grown to the point to know that this isn’t true. The sooner I get others to realize it, the sooner we will get to liberation.

We were all conditioned to see symbolism in figureheads as our messiahs. When you look at how we discuss Martin Luther King, or other civil rights icons, it’s as if we’re waiting for the second coming of them to potentially be saved. I bought into that hype my whole life. I voted for Barack Obama twice, thinking that a Black man as president would “fix” this hell we have been living in since we were enslaved here. But, after seeing 8 years of leadership, I now know that putting a Black face on a white imperialist nation ain’t gonna fix shit.

In God We Trust

I believe that there is a higher power. I don’t know what that is, or what it looks like. But I know we didn’t just show up here one day. I also know what it means to have to believe that there is a God who can just fix anything and everything whenever they wanted.

And I’ve seen the jokes. We have all seen the jokes. “Did God sleep during slavery?” To be clear, this is a valid-ass question. My people have been through so much in this world, yet and still we put our faith in a higher power that seemingly blinks anytime we get closer to “progress.”

As we roll towards these midterm elections, I am seeing more and more of us start to get wrapped up in the savior complex. It’s similar to the Superman complex, in the thought that someone — one person — will save us and relieve us of our oppression. We have time and time again seen the caping for white folks who, when they need our vote, say the right things, only to get in a position of power and do all the wrong things.

I know for a fact that I will never find liberation through the eyes or work of a white person. They can, at best, advocate on my behalf to a point. But the thought that a white person is going to give up their privilege and power has left my mind as ever being a serious thought. I realized that particularly when I saw the white gays for Trump. I had already known the terrible threat that white gays posed in queer community, but that endorsement rang new bells. I realized anew how I felt about white male privilege, and the spaces in which it is used. I was reminded that these folks ain’t gonna save me from shit — but will fetishize the fuck out of me.

When Beyoncé put forth the words “God is God, I am not” during her 2016 MTV VMAs performance, I felt that shit on a spiritual level. When you get to a place where you have some power or platform to make decisions that benefit the people that you are fighting for, it is easy that you can be heralded as their leader — or even worse, their savior.

I am no one’s savior

As I continue to build my platform around activism, I see and understand how people can look to you as their savior. You’re the person who has the words when they don’t know what to say. You’re the person who is in the streets, representing all those who wish they could be there. I now know how dangerous that is — to have people’s hopes, especially queer people’s hopes, resting on the fact that I will always get it right. Or that I will be able to make the changes they need to survive.

We must do much better. We can’t continue to put all of our eggs in one basket and think that liberation is going to be formed. This message is so true, especially for queer people. This system of saviors has never reached us. We must begin to take an approach to the “work” that involves a multitude of voices — a multitude of experiences — that will shape and govern the progress we need to make in liberation. Putting that work on the shoulders of one person has never worked.

I am no one’s savior. No one should be. Not a white person. Not a Black person. Not a Black woman. And certainly not a Black queer person. We all have a responsibility to do our part in the work. We can’t place the burden of our liberation on the shoulders of folks who we know can never please everyone.  

Tammy Baldwin’s Opponent in U.S. Senate Race Backed By Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups

Tammy Baldwin’s opponent in the U.S. Senate race is under fire after an anti-LGBTQ hate group helped fundraise on her behalf this week.

Republican candidate Leah Vukmir was the honored guest at a Wednesday morning fundraiser hosted by the Susan B. Anthony List, a lobby group that supports anti-choice politicians for public office. Vukmir, who has called Roe v. Wade “disastrous,” certainly fits that bill. She received an 100 percent rating from Pro-Life Wisconsin.

The Washington, D.C. fundraising breakfast was co-hosted by a litany of conservative groups opposed to LGBTQ rights.

Host committee members included Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at FRC; Rebecca Hagelin, vice president of communications at the Heritage Foundation; and Penny Young Nance, the CEO and president of Concerned Women for America.

The most concerning of these organizations is likely to be the most instantly recognizable. Designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the FRC promotes conversion therapy, claims trans people are pedophiles, supports criminalizing homosexulity, and thinks letting LGBTQ people serve openly in the military causes sexual assault.

Perkins, a close advisor to President Trump, is believed to have strongly influenced the White House’s attempt to ban trans people from military service.

The Heritage Foundation claims LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections are “unjustified,” referring to them as “gender ideology” that violates the First Amendment rights of citizens. The conservative group opposes gender confirmation surgeries for trans people. It claimed a California bill banning the discredited practice of conversion therapy “censors speech and infringes upon religious freedom.”

Furthermore, its senior fellow, Ryan T. Anderson claims the “sex-change revolution” is unscientific, based solely on ideology, and harms children.

Lastly, the Concerned Women for America believes “homosexual activists” make up hate crime attacks to build support for pro-LGBTQ legislation. They have also claimed same-sex couples are more likely to engage in domestic violence, compared same-sex marriage to sons marrying their mothers, and believe anti-bullying campaigns promote a “pansexual agenda.”

Vukmir benefitted handsomely from these groups’ support. The cost to attend the breakfast was $250 for individual ticket holders and $1,000 for Political Action Committees (PAC). The maximum contribution allowance was $2,700 for individuals and $5,400 for couples.

Attendees were instructed to make checks payable directly to “Leah for Senate.”

This isn’t the first time that Vukmir has been tied to anti-LGBTQ organizations. In February, the 60-year-old was endorsed by the Wisconsin Family Action PAC, a state partner of the FRC. The pro-family organization described Vukmir as “solid on our issues.”

Those issues include marriage equality and conversion therapy. In 2003 and 2004, Vukmir co-authored a pair of proposals banning relationship recognition for same-sex couples. As chair of the Wisconsin’s Senate Health and Human Services Committee, she refused to allow a vote on this year’s Senate Bill 261, which would have banned orientation change efforts on individuals under the age of 18.

Reports indicate that Vukmir has worked closely with anti-LGBTQ groups to determine her stance on these measures. According to the Wisconsin Gazette, she came out against an anti-bullying bill after WFA President Julaine Appling told her to oppose it.

It’s for these reasons that Vukmir has been strongly condemned by LGBTQ groups. The Human Rights Campaign has claimed she has “no place in the U.S. Senate.”

“She has consistently worked to undermine LGBTQ equality, and built a disturbing record that demonstrates a long-standing hostility to some of Wisconsin’s most marginalized and vulnerable communities,” said HRC Wisconsin State Manager Wendy Strout in a statement.

In a phone call with INTO, Democratic National Committee Secretary Jason Rae added that “the people you surround yourself with are a reflection of who you are.”

“The people of Wisconsin deserve someone who will fight for everyone in the state, who welcomes everyone, and who believes in diversity and inclusion,” Rae said. “Those are the values Tammy Baldwin stands for. It’s would be problematic to have a Senator who doesn’t support those efforts.”

As INTO has previously reported, Republicans have amassed an unprecedented $10 million sum seeking to unseat Baldwin — America’s only openly LGBTQ Senator — in favor of someone who would oppose equality in Congress. That’s more money than the total spent against the 25 other Democratic candidates in the Senate combined.

Early polls do not offer a clear answer as to whether the conservative war chest has boosted Vukmir’s chances. In July, a NBC News/Marist poll showed Baldwin trouncing her opponent by a 17 point margin, yet a Marquette Law School poll released last month claimed Vukmir was within two points of the incumbent.

The Pride of Being a Side

If you identify as male, non-straight, and are over 20, the odds are pretty high that you have had anal sex at least once. The odds are also pretty high that you enjoyed it at least once, and have identified which role — or roles — feel good for you: top, bottom, and/or versatile.

But what if you don’t really like anal sex, or you’re just extremely particular about when and how you have it? What is that called? How about “a side”? As in, “I don’t like being on the top or the bottom. I prefer to be on the side.” Hi. I’m Ben, and I’m a side.  In practice, that means finding partners, both sexual and romantic, becomes tricky.

In a survey I conducted via Reddit asking sides about their experiences and soliciting the opinions of non-sides about sides, my own experience as a side was validated. Typical reactions to telling a guy that they weren’t into anal sex (a side) included: being ignored or blocked, being told that “they’re missing out,” and simply being treated as if they were somehow defective. This perception is supported by the responses of non-sides I surveyed, about half of whom wouldn’t date, let alone hook up with, a side, because they enjoy anal sex too much.

So why the stigma against sides? For starters, we’re a minority within a minority. According to Dr. David Moskowitz, a sexuality researcher at Northwestern University who I corresponded with via email, “somewhere between 3-6% of gay/bi men are not really that interested in anal sex for one reason or another.” That’s about the same as the percentage in the general population of men that identify as gay, bi, queer, etc. And we all know how well received gays were for far too many years.

Obviously, comparing the current situation of sides to the historical (or present in many countries) situation of gay men isn’t a one to one comparison, but there are definitely elements that are at the heart of why gay men were/are stigmatized, and why sides are also stigmatized. The biggest is every woke queer’s thing they just love to hate: heteronormativity.

Embedded in, and at the core of, heteronormativity is the idea that men and women are fundamentally different, with men expected to be masculine and women expected to be feminine.  When you get into the world of gay/queer men, these expectations are frequently transposed onto how we present ourselves to the world and how we define ourselves, and because we don’t (usually) have such clear external markers as male and female, we might not notice our adherence to gender norms.

The work of Moskowitz, the Northwestern researcher mentioned above, deals with how we internalize gender norms in terms of identification as tops and bottoms directly. His work shows a strong relationship between masculinity and identifying as a top, and femininity and identifying as a bottom. Not only that, but in one of Moskowitz’s not-yet-published papers, he found that even most teenage virgins identify themselves in terms of top and bottom labeling, with an association between increased masculinity (among teen tops) and increased femininity (among teen bottoms).”

Teenage virgins have already identified themselves as tops and bottoms. Despite having no experience with anal sex. The only possible explanation for this self-identification, besides possible self-experimentation on the part of bottoms, is internalized heteronormativity, itself largely the result of cultural products like porn and what feels like every gay TV show/film/podcast/song ever.  Porn and other mass culture both influences and are influenced by our more immediate social interactions, which in turn are governed by both spoken and unspoken rules and norms. In other words, it’s a feedback loop of multimedia, socialization, and expectation, all reinforcing one another, with heteronormativity regulating the whole thing.

This analysis does leave out an important reason why anal sex is so popular though: quite simply,  for a lot of guys, anal sex feels good. (Like, really good. Or so I’ve heard.) It’s the interplay of it feeling good to many, and the restrictive labels created by heteronormative processes operating under the conscious level, which creates the predicament for sides. Without an “official” designation for those that don’t enjoy anal sex or only enjoy it under very limited circumstances, us sides, when we are seen by other guys, are too often treated like freaks for not fitting into the heteronormative standard of being enthusiastic participants of “real sex”, which gets narrowly defined, in an unconscious process, as the thing closest to procreative sex two men can do together.

The thing about the term “side” is that, unlike top, bottom, or versatile, it doesn’t indicate what it is a side likes. The term side indicates what we don’t like, not what we do like. Top and bottom also have that aspect of negation, as tops don’t like to bottom and bottoms don’t like to top, but they are also affirmations of what one enjoys. The fact that being a side is the absence of desire, and not its presence, like with top, bottom, and versatile, is, I think, the main reason that I was only able to find four other articles about this topic, only one of which uses the term side: the one in which the term was coined. Sexual orientations/preferences are rarely applied to pure negations, with the exception of asexuality.

Asexuality actually provides a good, if not completely one-to-one, example, as asexuals have shown that having a label to construct an identity around negation from helps in terms of reducing stigma (through normalization), creating a voice for advocacy, and finding like-minded people to hookup with and date. Something similar could happen with the term “side,” although, unlike aces, sides are into other kinds of sex. My own experience, which was shared by many who took my Reddit survey, shows that favored alternatives for sides to anal include oral sex, mutual masturbation, frot/body contact, and kissing.

As to why sides don’t enjoy anal sex, based on the survey and my own experience, there seem to be three main reasons: concerns over hygiene and safety, pain from bottoming, and physical/psychological difficulty with topping. About half of the sides surveyed indicated hygiene and safety concerns, with the other half indicating difficulty topping and bottoming.

It is impossible to recognize the pervasiveness of heteronormativity without realizing that solutions to problems involving heteronormativity include reforms to it, not a total rejection of it. In terms of sides, that reform would be to have more visibility of what a side is and who they are. The most efficient and effective way to do this would be for the location-based apps (such as Grindr) to include “Side” as an option for “Position.”

It may confuse people at first, but if it’s on there, people will figure it out/look it up, there will be more articles/videos/podcasts talking about sides, and before you know it, it’ll be a “thing,” like the menagerie of queer woodland creatures (otters, cubs, wolves, etc.) that even the straights have some knowledge of. Having side as a selectable option will allow us to find one another more easily and allow us to stop wasting the time of uninterested non-sides (and ourselves). Grindr is the lingua franca for men who have sex with men worldwide and including sides on there would provide us with a visibility that we otherwise couldn’t have.

If you are a side, or are curious about sides, and want to talk more and build a community, check out this new subreddit.

Rob Roth Enlists Rebecca Hall for ‘Soundstage’

Award-winning Rebecca Hall is Rob Roth‘s co-star in Soundstage, but she only appears on screen.

The show, currently running at HERE Arts Center in New York, is a striking visual catalogue of beautiful classic film and mixed-media live performance effects, exploring melancholia, nostalgia, and decrepitude through what seems to be a drug-fueled magic ritual. Created and directed by Roth, who wrote the show with Jason Napoli Brooks, and featuring the work of a host of composers, directors of photography, musicians, and Butoh dancers (choreographed by Vangeline), the effort — while gorgeous, contrapuntal, and virtuosic in the realization of its gestures — may not amount to more than the sum of its parts.

Roth’s haunting, hour-long piece pulls from Kenneth Anger, Michelangelo Antonioni, David Lynch, Billy Wilder, Darren Aronofsky, and Tony Oursler, to construct a deeply beautiful hellscape that is vast in its claustrophobia. Its Butoh dancers perform stage magic and operate the dolly-mounted camera even as they serve as black holes in the shape of faceless human beings. The piece’s cavernous sense of space is owed to its eclectic, environmental, electronic score — by Yair Evnine, Rachelle Garniez, and Kamala Sankaram, with lyrics by Roth — supplemented beautifully by voice and a trio of cellists who are unseen through the duration of the evening.

Rebecca Hall’s “On-Screen Muse” character begins as a projected face on Roth’s vanity wig head (à la David Bowie’s “Where Are We Now?” video), but we see her variously on his vintage television and one of the screens far upstage — sometimes in her own scene, other times in conversation with Roth’s “Man” — as the Man dreams his way through her long and storied career in a cocaine-crash haze. Hall and Roth deal together with the anxieties, disappointments, and exigencies of the roles they’re forced to play.

Or perhaps the two meditate on their crossed frustrations of embodiment: she is condemned to be gorgeous, feminine, neurotic, a ghost engraved in celluloid, a phantasmal performance on VHS that wears out as it is played over and over again; he is constrained to a body that ages, that can’t be rewound, inscribed with the features and expectations of masculinity, whose only reprieve from the imperious linearity of time is the heretical liturgies of mimesis and repetition.

And when the applause effect at the end of the piece devolves into the heavy rainstorm effect that begins the night, and Roth assumes again the cross-legged, dejected crouch, gazing into the static snow of the television, gesticulating with his sparkly long nails at the electric, noisy void, we understand that his dance with his demon is expected to go on ad infinitum.

For all its art film gestures, beautiful imagery, and expert manipulation of time and space, Soundstage seems mired in its influences. Or maybe it intends to force a reckoning with time itself by resurrecting an aesthetic we might otherwise consider lost to the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Either way, Roth’s encounter with the archetypal tragic, proto-psycho-biddy film star, and her companion, the archetypal hopelessly adoring queer man, eschews the camp usually associated with that endlessly star-crossed relationship and instead goes full Satan with its full complement of impenetrable signs and symbols, searingly void emotional landscapes, and trance-like temporality. (The piece itself is structured around four colors associated with alchemy, obvious only to those who read the program.) If you weren’t into Eraserhead or Lucifer Rising, Soundstage probably isn’t for you.

Which isn’t to say that it is without its pleasures for those who are into that kind of thing. Its spectral take on queerness and femininity paints an arresting, (ironically) more realistic portrait of those in thrall to loneliness, alienation, and despair than gay-culture tropes allow; and it’s not every day that we get to consider these stereotypes in such capable hands. Even those pleasures may remain aesthetic and intellectual, however, and the piece teeters on the edge of becoming an arty “Ghost of Christmas Future” story without a perspective on how its entangled characters might free themselves or each other.

How far does Soundscape toe the line? That’s for you to decide.

Soundstage plays at HERE Arts Center through Saturday, September 29. Tickets range in price from $15-$45. See here.org for more information and to buy tickets.

Photos by Paula Court

Four in Five People Say Trans Women Should ‘Have Same Rights As Other Women’

A new poll released Thursday showed overwhelming and unprecedented support for transgender women.

Nearly four out of five people (or 79.8 percent) say transgender women “should have the same rights as other women” in a survey of five countries from the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Exactly 1,000 women were polled in Cairo, London, Mexico City, New York City, and Tokyo.

Opposition to trans equality was very low in the poll. Just 3.7 percent of respondents claimed transgender women should not have equal rights, while 16.5 percent of the women polled declined to answer.

Support for equality was highest in Mexico City, where nearly nine in 10 people (or 89 percent) claimed trans women should be treated equally. London and New York followed close behind with 87 percent of respondents supporting equality for transgender people. Tokyo and Cairo rounded out the list with 75 percent and 62 percent support, respectively.

Many LGBTQ advocates claimed they were “happily surprised” by the results. In not a single one of the surveys did a majority of respondents oppose trans rights.

“I’m very surprised by the poll… as there is a lot of ignorance around transgender issues,” claimed Lobna Darwish, who serves as the women’s rights officer for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, in an interview with Reuters.

In many of the countries surveyed, the reality for LGBTQ individuals — particularly trans people — is very different than the numbers might suggest.

More than 100 queer and trans people were arrested in Egypt last year after the government began cracking down on the country’s already marginalized LGBTQ community. The violence began when fans of the queer-fronted band Mashrou Leila hoisted a Pride flag in support of equality at its September 2017 concert in Cairo.

In Japan, transgender people are forced to undergo sterilization before their birth certificates can be updated to reflect their lived gender identities.

While the United States has made tremendous progress in recent years, those gains have been rolled back by the current administration. Since taking office in 2017, President Trump has attempted to block trans people from joining the military and rescinded protections in areas like education and health care.

Advocates told Reuters that the recent survey results are “absolutely encouraging,” however. They claim the poll is a sign that, even despite numerous setbacks, the arc of the moral universe continues to bend toward justice.

“We’ve seen a real cultural shift over the last few decades,” said Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager at the National Center for Trans Equality.