9 Things to Do to Feel Less Helpless About the Kavanaugh Hearings

Earlier today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 to advance the Kavanaugh nomination to the Senate floor, with Sen. Jeff Flake calling for a one-week delay of the vote in order for the FBI to conduct a brief investigation into the accusations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh. The vote followed a grueling 24-hour news cycle, and a full day of hearings Thursday. After Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave her heartbreaking, shaky-voiced testimony recounting the time Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her in high school, the Supreme Court nominee gave his own belligerent statement denying such claims.

Thousands of women on Twitter expressed their devastation from the triggering events of the past 24 hours, with the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reporting a 201 percent increase in calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline yesterday. And with everything being so markedly shitty, it’s easy to feel utterly helpless about the state of the nation, which is currently controlled by old white men, who are somehow both reptilian and ghoulish all at once. But hope is not lost; here are nine things you can to do help block Kavanaugh from being voted on to the Supreme Court, and also to take care of yourself:

Buy This “Believe Women” Shirt

In order to stand in solidarity with Dr. Ford, Actress Piper Perabo made t-shirts that say “Believe Women,” and all the proceeds from the shirts go toward a series of organizations that are helping prevent sexual assault, like the #MeToo movement, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, RAINN, End Rape on Campus, and Be A Hero. Celebrities like queer fave Sarah Paulson and LGBTQ ally Chelsea Handler have already copped theirs. Plus, they look super comfy and are only $28. Buy the shirt here.

Bake a Rage Cake

Yesterday, while Dr. Ford gave her testimony, I got together with two of my friends and baked a cake. It was extremely soothing and gave us something to do with our hands so as to keep them from violently shaking or vibrating off the counter like an iPhone fueled by the reverberations of oppression. Plus, here’s the best part of baking a cake: At the end, you get to eat cake.

Look at Photos of Cate Blanchett in Suits

LOOK AT THEM! Research has proven that staring at photos of Cate Blanchett in various multicolored suits increases endorphins and boosts your immune system—so Blanchett’s suits are actually a natural cure for rage and anxiety (research has not proven this).

Donate to These Key Democratic Candidates

Comedian Rob Delaney created a page where you can donate to all of the key Democratic candidates challenging Republican Senatorial seats that are up for re-election in November. You can donate any amount, and each dollar will go toward flipping the Senate towards the Democrats in 2019, which, based on the last 24 hours alone, we desperately need.

Delaney has already raised over $100k in 24 hours. This is one of those things where it actually feels like we can help take back our power. Chelsea Handler, too, has posted an alternative link where you can donate to the cause of unseating Republican Senators, such as Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, and Thom Tillis.

Gaze at this Baby Animal

Apparently, there is an animal called a Dik Dik, which is a living, breathing Pokemon, and it’s making me feel hope again. Look at its body. Holy shit. I want to store it in my cheeks and call it my Gay Son.

Practice Witchcraft

The internet has been circulating this photo of Alyssa Milano glaring daggers at Brett Kavanaugh during yesterday’s hearings. Many social media users were quick to recall Milano’s beloved character Phoebe from Charmed, and hoped she was channeling the Halliwell sisters’ very own family magic. If you listen closely to the photo, you can hear Milano muttering vicious hexes like Professor Snape in the stands of Harry Potter’s first quidditch match. There is strength in numbers, so let’s band together and join other female celebrities who have already been performing dark magic on oppressive Republican lawmakers, like Lana del Rey did last July. *whispers* “Incendio.”

Watch the A Star is Born Trailer

If you can’t yet repeat the exact cadence of Lady Gaga’s “HAAAA AHHHs” from the A Star is Born trailer, now is the time to learn. We must remember to prioritize self-care in times of crisis or else we won’t be able to push forward, and watching this trailer until your eyes bleed will give you something completely useless to focus on between intermittent bouts of fury that lash out of your chest like gales of plasma bursts from the sun. Also watch the Captain Marvel trailer, because…Brie Larson.

Look at This Fucking Photo of Blake Lively, You Coward

Lately, Blake Lively has been playing Cate Blanchett’s favorite sport, X-Treme Suiting, and she’s gunning for gold. The actress has been furiously promoting her new movie A Simple Favor, and has decided to dress just like her character in the movie to do so. The results are jaw-dropping. Here, the grown-up queen of the Lower East Side challenges gender norms by gripping the skinny, inconsequential ankles of a naked man, which may be an apt metaphor for the patriarchy—unclear. Either way, I’m unwell.

Keep Calling Your Senators

As of right now, we have one week until the Senate will vote to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—and he will be confirmed, if Republicans have the votes. Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, North Dakota’s Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin are still undecided. If you live in any of those four states, call the switchboard now at 202-804-8191 and demand these senators vote “no” on Kavanaugh, who has been accused of three acts of sexual assault and misconduct—including watching a gang rape of a college student—so far.

We have one week to ensure Brett Kavanaugh—who many fear will attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade if confirmed—isn’t voted on to the Supreme Court. Rage, self-care, take action, repeat.

7 Baja California Experiences You Probably Didn’t Know About

With the current administration hell bent on dividing our country from our neighbors to the south, there’s no better time to drive across the Mexican border to explore the splendor of Baja California, where the beaches are inviting, the food is deliciously cheap and the people are friendly. Long gone are the days of a dangerous Tijuana, as the border town has jumped on the bandwagon of becoming a tourist attraction. Tijuana is just moments from San Diego and deserves more attention. And of course, just beyond TJ, Baja California is proving that the Mexico accessible by car (for border states) is just as worthy as the Mexico we all dream of flying to (Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, etc.). Check out these unique experiences you can drive to in Baja (or fly to via San Diego and then drive to).

Surf Camp in Rosarito

Just a 30-minute drive from Tijuana, Rosarito is home to some of the best surfing Mexico has to offer. Baja juts out into the Pacific and is exposed to storm-generated swells that can come from the North Pacific, creating some of the best surf on the west coast. When you stay at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, guests can surf the waves where the Mexican national championships were held! Don’t forget to re-fuel post-swells with the region’s standout delicacy – (cheap) lobster.

Craft Brewery Hopping in Tijuana

While Tijuana still evokes a vibrant nightlife scene, the city has also evolved into a hotspot for innovative craft beer that rivals its north-of-the-border neighbor, San Diego. The Plaza Fiesta craft beer district includes an open-air galleria with 15 craft breweries, many of which have opened in the past five years. Favorite breweries include Border Psycho, Fauna, Insurgente Brewery, and more.

Hike Through Giant Cactus in the Valley of the Giants in San Felipe

A short drive south of San Felipe, you will find the appropriately named park called Valle de los Gigantes. The valley is home to an impressive forest of cardón cacti, the tallest growing cactus in the world. The massive cardóns can only be found in Baja California and Sonora and are capable of growing to heights of well over 60 feet and can weigh up to 20 tons.

Visit a Secret Beach in San Quintin

 

Located 35 miles from the center of San Quintín, La Lobera is a special place—a huge sea cave, created by a natural ceiling collapse that has exposed a ‘secret beach,’ often enjoyed by sea lions. It is considered a natural sanctuary for resting and breeding sea lions and has become one of the most impressive and beautiful tourist attractions in the region.

Stargazing in a Bubble Between Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe

Campera Hotel Burbuja (translation: Bubble Hotel) is an eco-minded resort with 12 clear bubble-shaped tents that offer guests unobstructed views of the vineyards and starry night skies. Immersed in Valle de Guadalupe, the fast growing travel and wine region of Baja California, the hotel is located just minutes from dozens of nearby wineries and restaurants that showcase the same level of next-gen design and innovation.

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Bahia de Los Angeles

Bahía de Los Angeles, also known as the “Bay of Angels,” is a coastal village along the Gulf of California where people visit to experience the great outdoors through a variety of adventurous activities. One of the most unique offerings of the area is the chance to swim and snorkel with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez, where travelers can share the ocean with 20 to 30 of these magnificent creatures, which can grow up to 50 feet in length. For example, trained experts at Ricardo’s Diving Tours take groups of 6 on half-day diving or snorkeling boat excursions, after outfitting them with all of the necessary equipment to see the legendary “gentle giants” up close.

Visit Ancient Cave Paintings in Cataviña

Located in and around Cataviña are a number of cave paintings, mostly around 1,000 years old. The paintings hail from the Yumano and Cochimí Indians that inhabited the Baja peninsula for generations. The paintings are usually found in deep caves and in between large rock formations, where they are protected from extreme temperatures and wind.

Somehow There’s Even More News About Bert and Ernie Being a Gay Couple

Cheers to the 2018 news story taking more unnecessary twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan movie about bottoms. The long, tumultuous love story — covered in felt — of Bert and Ernie has a new chapter. After previously indicating that he didn’t see why puppets need to be gay, the legendary Puppeteer who actually played Bert, Frank Oz, has reversed course and supports people who see the couple as lovers.

“A last thought: If Jim and I had created [Bert] & [Ernie] as gay characters they would be inauthentic coming from two straight men,” Oz tweeted. “However, I have now learned that many view them as representative of a loving gay relationship. And that’s pretty wonderful. Thanks for helping me understand.”

Oz also wrote, “I feel there would be many subtleties and nuances that I would miss if I was to attempt it.”

Oz’s tweets come as a reversal after dismissing the question of whether puppets had sexuality on September 19, after Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman’s comments to Queerty left the internet celebrating at the reception of Bert and Ernie.

Saltzman told Queerty, “I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were [a couple]. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie & I as “Bert & Ernie.”

In a follow-up interview after Oz’s comments, Saltzman told Queerty, “Frank Oz, the director of In and Out has always been a gay ally.”

He added, “The fact that he stumbled in a tweet is no indication of homophobia. I hope he now joins with us in pushing for gay characters on Sesame Street and in the rest of children’s media. I’ve got my laptop open and ready to begin writing the scripts. For me, personally, and people close to me, this whole are-they-aren’t-they sugarstorm has really not been about outing Bert and Ernie, but remembering Mark and Arnie.”

Though they have since deleted the tweet, Sesame Street Workshop tweeted a response to Saltzman’s comments.

“As we have said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” the tweet read. “They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they identified as male and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets and do not have a sexual orientation.”

Anyone else have anything they want to add?

Sesame Street GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

‘House of Mamis’ Hopes to Expand What We All Know About Voguing

When I first saw the initial footage that has become Angela Jude and Lo Calsada’s House of Mamis, showing a group of queer folks voguing in the streets, I was overwhelmed.

Sure, I’d seen lots of footage of queer bodies dancing in the style that has lately become all the rage across television and media, but I’d never seen the story of the ball scene told with Latinx folks front-and-center. I’d never seen it depicted in the streets in Mexico City, a metropolis bursting with queer culture.

And I’d never seen a documentary on the ball scene look so beautiful in just a rough cut.

Since that moment, our teams here at INTO have been working alongside the two queer creators to help take the initial footage they shot during a trip to MXC and turn it into a full-length season of a show that we’ll release in October in partnership with Facebook Watch and others.

As we prepare for the launch of our first ever show, we thought it would be nice to give you some insight into what the project is — and where it’s hoping to go — from the creators themselves.

Zach Stafford: Who are the ‘House of Mamis’ and how did you meet them?

Angela Jude: I lived in Mexico City for a month shooting everything that inspired me, immersing myself in the queer scene there. While filming a small documentary about a trans woman opera singer with Lo, we ate lunch one evening and she spoke about houses in Mexico City.

After that I did some little digging on Instagram and found friends in common with a voguing family that was House of Mamis.

Lo Calsada: Who are a familia en la cuidad de Mexico. They are a group of queer folks, bois, femmes, chicxs, womxn and everything in between.

 

Vogue and ball culture have been having quite the year with the success of both Pose and My House. But both shows focused specifically on the epicenter of the culture, which is Harlem.  What drew you to the House of Mamis in Mexico City?

AJ: There is so much glam around voguing right now. Once upon a time voguing was not cool, not profitable, the culture wasn’t just about dance and outfits, but more about community and that is what drew me to the Mamis.

In a tiny 2 bedroom, you have 10 people living, existing in that space. They cook to feed all of them and they all help each other get ready for the night and the house mother Mendoza, a brilliant dancer in the scene, created this house not of the best dancers around but of folx that really needed a family.

LC: What drew me to the Mamis is their way of sustaining each other, loving each other and working together, whether it be voicing transphobia in a queer space or taking the midnight train. It is done together.

House is Mamis is a family that happens to vogue.

 

What was it like shooting a documentary there with that queer community?

LC: It was such a pleasure to be welcomed into their lives, to cook together, eat and talk with one another. There are precious moments that the camera simply cannot capture.

However, they were very open and wanted to voice their opinions. So it became very natural to just listen while documenting. By the end of it, La Mendoza, the house Mother, was inviting us to non vogue events, to hang out without the camera.

 

What are things that viewers will be surprised by after seeing the show? What do you hope people take away from it?

AJ: I think how inclusive the House is and how the goal is not to be the strongest voguing house, but to create spaces for young LGBTQ folx to have a place to escape to.

I hope that folx watch it and grow an appreciation for the artistry and dedication of these Mamis to each other. I hope it helps queer, flamboyant, you-name-it kids to know that even if they live in traditional spaces, such as Mexico, that there are places for them to be who they truly are.

 

How do you see ‘House of Mamis’ adding to the conversations going on about balls and house culture right now?

LC: Oh a lot. The house brings up issues that have been brought up in Vogue culture all over the U.S. and world. I’m curious to see the reaction. Topics like transphobia, inclusivity in balls and queerness in house culture.

AJ: And I think House of Mamis will reflect the days of old, but also speak on the queerness of today’s youth. It will show the grind of keeping this scene alive and fresh despite [lack of] resources and it will disrupt the idea that it is a space for competition.

 

Finally, do either of you vogue?

LC: Not quite, but I have a few teachers.

AJ: Depends who you ask. I’m going to say…a little.

 

‘House of Mamis’ will premiere on October 16th here at INTO and across all of our channels, and will run for seven episodes. Watch out for announcements around live events with the cast, screenings and other exciting announcements.

ICE Releases Udoka Nweke, Gay Nigerian Whose Incarceration Threatened His Life

It took a national advocacy campaign and more than a year and a half, but last Friday, Udoka Nweke walked out of ICE detention in the Mojave Desert and into the night.

“Oh my god, God is good,” he told advocates as he exited Adelanto ICE Processing Center, his paperwork and medications held in a plastic trash bag at his side.

In 2016, the gay 29-year-old escaped Nigeria, where a homophobic mob reportedly tried to kill him. Nigeria has banned same-sex relationships since 2014, with punishments carrying prison sentences of up to 14 years. LGBTQ people can executed in some parts of the country.

Nweke surrendered himself at San Ysidro port of entry in California, and was taken into custody. He lost his initial asylum claim, and has waited at Adelanto while his case drags on.

LGBTQ organizations have been demanding his release since May. Nweke experiences mental illness and survived two suicide attempts in Adelanto.

Advocates warned that ICE’s refusal to parole Nweke jeopardized his life.

“When Udoka presented himself at the border, he came with the trauma of being attacked with knives at home and witnessing the death of an intimate partner due to his sexuality,” said Ola Osaze, national organizer for the Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Project at the Transgender Law Center, in a statement. “These are the conditions that create queer and trans migration, and sending someone who’s experienced this violence to a detention center is inhumane.”

Adelanto has faced a string of human rights abuse allegations.  In 2015, more than two dozen members of Congress pressed federal officials to investigate private ICE contractor GEO Group’s oversight of Adelanto in a joint letter. Last year, ICE officials reported three deaths at the facility.

In a visit with INTO while still in detention, Nweke said he had experienced violence and verbal threats at Adelanto because he is gay.

In May, ICE officials pushed back against claims that detention was threatening Nweke’s life.

“In the ongoing evaluation of his health, medical professionals have determined that Mr. Nweke does suffer from mental illness, which is managed with medication and closely monitored by mental health professionals,” the agency said in an email to INTO. “Furthermore, Mr. Nweke has not attempted to end his life while in ICE custody; claims to the contrary are false.”

But the death of transgender ICE detainee Roxsana Hernandez in New Mexico this spring fueled concerns for Nweke’s safety in custody.

“It’s someone’s life,” said Luis Gómez, immigration resources specialist at the LGBT Center of Orange County. “I don’t know what he would have done if he would have been kept in confinement for much longer.”

Gómez, who spoke to Nweke weekly on the phone and helped coordinate support for him, is among those now trying to raise money to help Nweke meet his living expenses.

Nweke’s hearing at Adelanto has been delayed repeatedly since late summer. In August, a judge postponed his hearing because severe stress prevented Nweke from sleeping the night before. Later in the month, Nweke was reportedly quarantined due an illness outbreak at Adelanto. His new hearing date has yet to be scheduled, but he could still face deportation.

In months leading up to his release, Nweke told INTO he had stopped going outside at Adelanto because he was too depressed to leave the confines of the building. Last Friday, he left for what advocates hope will be the last time.

“You could just see it in his eyes when he walked out,” said Gómez. “There’s nothing in Adelanto. It’s just desert. But I can only imagine what it was like for him to feel fresh air and be able to look at the moon that night.”

Romania Court Affirms Rights of Same-Sex Couples Ahead of Referendum Vote

LGBTQ rights scored a rare victory in Romania on Thursday after a top court ruled in favor of the rights of same-sex couples.

In a surprise verdict, Romania’s Constitutional Court claimed the right to privacy and a family for LGBTQ couples is guaranteed both by the country’s 1991 constitution and human rights guidelines passed by the European Union.

These couples should “benefit from…. legal and juridical recognition of their rights and obligations,” the court claimed.

Judges with the nine-person bench cited Article 26 of the Romanian Constitution in their ruling, which mandates that “public authorities… respect and protect the intimate, family, and private life.” The document further claims that individuals are guaranteed privacy unless it “infringes on the rights and freedoms of others, on public order, or morals.”

Article 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU comes to a similar conclusion. The European Union bylaws state that “everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and communications.”

The ruling also alluded to similar guidelines passed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

This week’s decision is a major about face for the Constitutional Court after it allowed a national referendum on same-sex unions to move forward following a 7-2 ruling. In a two-day plebiscite held between Oct. 6 and 7, citizens will vote on whether to restrict Romania’s definition of marriage to “one man and one woman.

Currently, the Romanian Constitution defines marriage in gender-neutral terms, with Article 28 describing it as a union between “spouses.”

In 2016, more than three million Romanians signed a petition by the anti-LGBTQ Coalition for the Family to put the issue up for public vote. Orthodox and Catholic leaders have vocally supported the referendum, joined by the U.S.-based hate groups Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel.

LGBTQ advocates claimed this week’s court ruling is a sign the plebiscite is “totally useless.”

“Today’s decision again confirms that the gay family is equal to any other family,” said Accept Vice President Romaniţa Iordache in a statement. “The referendum is becoming totally useless in every respect since the Constitution of Romania already respects the equality of a married heterosexual family and couples of the same sex.”

Currently, Romania is one of just six European Union member countries that do not offer relationship recognition for same-sex couples. The others are Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia.

While the Constitutional Court ruling is critical because it cites the country’s own laws in affirming the right to marriage equality, it isn’t the first court victory for Romanian same-sex couples. The European Court of Justice ruled in July that LGBTQ couples in EU member countries are entitled to the same residency rights as their heterosexual counterparts.

That historic case originated in Romania. Adrian Coman, a Romanian national, wanted to be able to relocate to his home country with his American husband, Claibourn Robert Hamilton. The two were married in New York.

EU member nations “may not obstruct the freedom of residence” of same-sex couples, the European Court of Justice claimed.

Cher’s ‘Dancing Queen’: A Track-by-Track Review

Unless you’ve been living under a rock — in which case, can I please join you? — you know that we’re living in the age of ABBA once again. This summer, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again dominated our little gay hearts and brought us Cher as Meryl Streep’s mother. Never mind that Meryl Streep said her mother was dead in the first film or that they’re only three years apart in age.

Capitalizing off of that cameo, Cher released an album of ABBA covers, Dancing Queen, which is also her twenty-sixth studio album. It’s almost unfair to review Queen because, given that it is an album of Cher covering ABBA, you probably already know whether you want to listen to it or not. But, here’s a snapshot of the album anyway.

“Dancing Queen”

The members of ABBA are known for being pure pop powerhouses, but not exactly for their powerhouse vocals, which makes Cher’s set of pipes an odd one to bring to the table. Cher often finds it hard to sing at anything lower than a belt, which can make the album opener, its title track, somewhat of a rough listen the first time around. But once you get past the first verse and chorus, Cher’s big-hair-big-pipes take on ABBA feels about right. She’s taken the disco legends into the realm of arena rock, and you can’t help but want to dance.

“Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”

As both Cher and Miz Cracker know, Cher pioneered the use of autotune in music, especially as an aesthetic choice rather than a crutch for someone who couldn’t carry a tune. Cher’s distinct use of autotune really works on “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” which feels both more fun and more poignant when sung by a woman in her early 70s. Did anyone ask for their ABBA with layers? No! Does Cher deliver it anyway? Yes!

“The Name of the Game”

A cover album’s biggest danger remains that too many tracks will just sound like Cher enjoying a night out at some Koreatown karaoke. But there are genuine moments on Dancing Queen where Cher feels like she’s altered the song enough to make it her own. One of those moments is “The Name of the Game,” which sees Cher trade in some of the song’s groove rock leanings for a decidedly dancefloor sound. At this point, you might be wondering if Cher’s answer to ABBA is to turn every track into an uptempo power ballad, and the answer is “Yes!”

“SOS”

You’ve already heard “SOS,” a song that Cher had released in anticipation of the album some weeks ago. This is one of the album’s more genuine karaoke-like moments, but it’s also damn fun.

“Waterloo”

Of all the transformations on the album, “Waterloo” might be the most drastic. From its opening pulsing synth, it’s clear that we’re solidly in Cher territory and that ABBA is in the rearview. (The jazz sax during the song’s infectious chorus reminds us that this is still a cover.) “Waterloo” is also probably the track that best suits Cher’s tendency to go for the non-subtle power vocal, given the level of emotion inherent in the song’s lyrics.

“Mamma Mia”

OK, here’s the surprise of the century. “Mamma Mia” might be one of Dancing Queen’s most downplayed tracks. Rather than amping up the song to Thunderdome, Cher takes a smaller approach to “Mamma Mia,” practically whispering some of the lyrics. Though the vocals are smaller, the tempo doesn’t lag, making this one of the most listenable songs on the album.

“Chiquitita”

“Chiquitita” is queer rights, let me just say that. We’re lucky to live in a time where we get to hear Cher cover this song. I will say nothing negative about it — even if I do like the Christine Baranski/ Julie Walters version better.

“Fernando”

Cher’s “Fernando” is the new standard for the song. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

“The Winner Takes It All”

Who could forget Streep’s rendition of this song, which she performs while clad in an amazing flowing coral scarf, as the climactic number in the first Mamma Mia! Or, you know, who could forget the original? Though the song has jumped many musical eras — released by ABBA in the early 80s, brought to Broadway in the 1990s, covered by Streep in the 2000s and now again by Cher in the 2010s — Cher makes it feel like it could sit among her late-1980s discography, a la “I Found Someone.”

“One of Us”

A lot of people may find their goodwill toward the album falter with this last song. Or, you might be on such a high that you welcome the downtempo switch. But, while Cher spends most of the album turning ABBA into a good time, she chooses to end on a somber note. The final song probably wouldn’t jar as much if Cher chose to sandwich it with a final act dance number — just like the original music did by appending “Waterloo” to its tracklist without it fitting into the narrative. Come on, Cher! Give ABBA another take!

Final verdict:

So much in this world is terrible and in this near-apocalyptic trash hole we forlornly call 2018, Cher has offered us a lifeboat. Even if it is a lifeboat on the Titanic, get in it. And enjoy.

What Happened When I Entered My Big Queer Body In a Mainstream Modeling Competition

Earlier this year I participated in an online modeling contest because, well, I’ve got a big queer body and I had something to prove.

What initially intrigued me was that the brand claimed to be about redefining what kinds of bodies are considered sexy and that made sense to me. I was ready to redefine something for myself. I’m constantly seeking that redefinition. It’s like how coming out isn’t a one-time thing, but a process. I felt compelled to keep revealing more of my truth in new ways. I had spent so long trying to evaluate my feelings about my body and I wanted to use this opportunity as a launching pad for the new self-assured sexy confident me.  

Right off the bat, I want to say that as far as competitions go, it wasn’t altogether terrible, though it was strange. Going into it, I knew centering my queerness could leave me at a bit of a “disadvantage,” but it felt important to me to represent myself honestly. The brand’s “Boys Will Be Boys” aesthetic didn’t necessarily scream queer, but I thought, Shit, I might as well give it a try. I’m alive, right? I’ve got a body that you can put clothes on, right?

I submitted some “boudoir” photos that my photographer friend Erin Holsonback took of me in an empty luxury apartment in Austin, Texas. When we originally set up the photo shoot, it was with the same motive in mind. I was sexy and, dammit, I was proud of my body, all of my body. I love these types of photo shoots. They function like an allergy shot for my self-esteem. I take my clothes off, I put on the show of body confidence, and through fake-it-til-you-make-it magic — taa daa! — I suddenly I feel better about my body.  

We shot the series on Halloween morning, and I was alternating between drinking coffee and prosecco as I imagine all successful people do when they roll around in bed while internally chanting “smize smize smize smize” and “you’re a giraffe, reach for the highest leaf.”

In the photos, I’m lounging around on a bed in some-guy-I-don’t-know’s apartment. I’m wearing casual grey sweat shorts and nothing else. My nails are painted, but otherwise, visually my look is somewhere near lawful neutral. I’m tattooed and chubby. I look like a lot of guys in their early 30s.

The photos are professional and I felt sexy in them. My fat was mine and I owned every inch of it. I know how thirst works, and I know that a large portion of the people who buy this brand are queer, so I choose the photos with that in mind.

I filled out the entry paperwork and decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it Queer. I wouldn’t be hiding any of myself behind a bro persona. I wouldn’t be smashing a tallboy of Lone Star while riding an ATV between a woman’s breasts. I had to be real. Y’all know I leave lipstick marks on all of my cans of Lone Star.

In the application, I talked about my motivations for participating in the contest and my body positive approach to life. I detailed my queer community work and how I wanted to help others feel excited to show off their bodies. I talked about pushing queer voices and hoping to use the platform to minimize the divide between the straight world and the LGBTQ+ communities. I made sure to mention that I’d been in films and on television, being clear that I was already a working performer. I was trying to present myself as an easy sell; I had already modeled (for friends), I had personality, I fit the brand (I thought), and I was ready to hustle.

After submitting, I stayed active by sharing the voting link on social media platforms. I had a system of hitting Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with new photos and a new part of my story each day. I knew where to go to get the most views. I knew what kinds of photos to post. I knew I could drum up likes from queer men online but instead of centering my masculinity, I tried to be what I thought was sexy. I’m wearing makeup in several of my shots. I wore women’s floral tops. I positioned myself as confident in my body. I wanted to show that after years of struggling with it, my weight was not a problem.

It was honestly fun. I got to be thirsty but with a message. And for the most part, it was received well and I got a lot of votes. Many folks messaged me with support and encouragement. I got a lot of congratulations on just being visible and unafraid (although I definitely was afraid). My mom shared it on her social media. My sister shared it with her conservative friends and family.

Something weird had happened: I was visibly queer, I was talking about activism, and people were celebrating with me.

On the other hand, it’s often hard to unabashedly celebrate your body publicly. Gay men in particular often drag each other down for… fun? For power? Because of shame? It’s not cool to be excited about something like your body. You can be excited about Drag Race, you can lose your shit over brunch or drama, but when you start to tell a story about your weight issues and how you learned to love yourself, all of the sudden it’s all eye rolls. You can post thirst traps on Instagram but if it’s connected to a statement about why your fat makes you feel powerful, suddenly it’s less sexy.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous piece about my experience wearing makeup, no one has ever been as cruel to me as gay men I don’t know. I wanted to weaponize my joy. During the competition, I saw a post online that reminded me of why I needed to do this: “Can we be done with all of these chubby gays becoming motivational speakers?”  I couldn’t help but think Shit, can my ass live? Some of us are just trying to feel sexy and helpful. You are perfectly capable of not paying any attention to me.

At the end of a two week campaign, I had amassed what seemed like a large amount of votes on my profile. Some guys had more; most had far less. I knew that the brand’s staff would be choosing a top 20 and I felt confident that I had a chance. Despite the fact that I wasn’t bro-y and I wasn’t standing with a woman in a bikini in my profile picture. Despite the fact that unlike 90 percent of the guys competing I wasn’t wearing some sort of nationalist American flag propaganda gear. I went to bed on Thursday and thought Wouldn’t that be weird if I made it? I could do so much with this visibility. I knew it was unlikely but the experience had pushed me to a new echelon of excitement around what you can do with confidence and drive.

I woke up the next morning to an email saying I did not advance to the final round. I scrolled through the photos of the top 20 and it was as I thought — American flags. Hyper-masculine. Lots of guys with women in bikinis. One guy had his chest hair shaved into the shape of a bikini. Most of them weren’t larger bodied at all. Six-pack abs were everywhere. A brand that claimed to be about redefining what a model looks like chose a bunch of very fit predominantly white men to represent them.

One of the top 20 was gay, which was relieving. He certainly wasn’t “chubby,” though he had a bit of a “former marine turned gay club boy” vibe. And honestly, I was happy. I got dressed. Went to work. Received a lot of messages from folks telling me that I was “robbed,” which was kind but untrue.

My boyfriend bought me roses at work and told me I was beautiful. The folks who loved me had followed along and were sorry to see me lose, and I was shocked to see just how invested in my experience people had become. All I could think was that I had won. Not actually — no, no, I definitely lost the competition. But I had won over my insecurities. I had won against my self doubt. I had put myself out earnestly, non ironically, and fully queer. And I was better for it.

In the application for the contest, one of the questions asked us to write a short poem about why we were Model Material. When I try to imagine what the straight-American flag waving, bikini-clad-woman-holding, beer-chugging competitors wrote my mind sort of spins out. I honestly have no clue what the fuck they would have written. But this is what I wrote. A silly but honest haiku:

I love my body

It holds all of my mush in

Thanks, body, you rock

Images by Erin Holsonback 

Brett Kavanaugh One Step Closer to SCOTUS Following Senate Judiciary Committee Vote

Kavanaugh

Embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh moved one step closer to confirmation on Friday, following a 11-10 vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

After a series of delays, the vote fell along partisan lines.

The 11 Republicans on the committee voted to confirm Kavanaugh following a tense, emotional, eight-hour hearing on Thursday, in which Palo Alto professor Christine Blasey Ford detailed her allegations of sexual assault.

The “Yes” votes included Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), both of whom spoke out on Kavanaugh’s behalf. Cruz blasted the hearings as a “profoundly unfair process,” calling it “one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the United States Senate.”

Meanwhile, Graham claimed Democrats want to “destroy this guy’s life.”

“To my Republican colleagues, if you vote ‘no,’ you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing that I have seen in my time in politics,” the conservative said in an impassioned speech on Thursday, one many believe tipped the scales on Kavanaugh’s nomination after Ford’s gut-wrenching testimony.

In addition to Ford, two other women have come forward to accuse the SCOTUS nominee of misconduct: Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick.

Critics of Kavanaugh believed Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) could potentially serve as a crucial swing vote to block his confirmation from moving forward. But the self-described “traditionally conservative Republican” deflated those hopes Friday morning after releasing a statement saying he would back the 53-year-old’s nomination.

After Flake’s vote was announced, a sexual assault survivor reportedly confronted the Senator in an elevator. She claimed his vote told “all women in America that they don’t matter.”

Every Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee opposed Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. “No” votes included Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

As Republicans set the vote for 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Harris staged a walkout among liberals on the committee.

Kavanaugh, however, faces a number of key hurdles to cross before he is officially confirmed to fill retired Justice Anthony Kennedy’s spot on the Supreme Court bench. Senate leadership is expected to hold procedural votes over the weekend ahead of a likely vote in the full chamber on Tuesday.

Flake, however, called for a one-week delay on the Senate vote to give the FBI time to investigate the allegations.

As Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate by a 51-49 margin, at least two conservative Senators would need to flip in order to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The judge’s fate is likely to be decided by two moderate Republicans. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), both of whom are pro-choice, and have yet to state how they plan to vote on Kavanaugh. As INTO previously reported, a group of trans constituents met with Murkowski earlier this month urging her to vote “no.”

If Kavanaugh is confirmed to the court, as women’s rights and LGBTQ advocates have warned, his reliably conservative vote could jeopardize critical SCOTUS rulings like Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges.

Little is known about Kavanaugh’s views on LGBTQ rights, as he didn’t weigh in on the subject during his decade on the D.C. circuit court.

Advocacy groups have thus lobbied the White House to release records from the three years he spent as staff secretary under the George W. Bush administration, during which the Oval Office backed a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. Those requests have not been met.

The Curated Life

I was recently incredibly saddened and disturbed by the death of a man I followed on social media.

I don’t know or care to know all the details, as they’re really no one’s business, but the non-confirmed consensus from comments and posts across the various platforms that have become so ubiquitous in so many of our lives, is that he committed suicide.

Anytime someone dies unexpectedly, especially someone young, it sends shockwaves through the community. The suicide of a loved one may be the most shocking kind of death any of us can experience.

As it is, death is omnipresent in LGBTQ lives in a myriad of ways. Gone, but not as long gone as we’d like to pretend, are the mass deaths of the HIV/AIDS crisis, at least in the United States. Sickness and death were such a common narrative in mainstream LGBTQ media from the 1980s onward that at some point toward the end of the first decade of the 2000s, I decided I didn’t care to see any more queer stories that focused on our decimation. Pose was a recent reminder of just how much we still do need to see these stories, if only to illuminate the lives of so many of those left out of these narratives, namely the people of color whose suffering and deaths never elicited national outrage or feature films or documentaries or an Act from Congress.

Trans women — almost exclusively Black trans women — are murdered so frequently that when viral posts on social media feature them my first thought is that it’s yet another violent death that will fade into memory with no solace, no justice.

A recent article asserted that nearly half of all trans men have attempted suicide. Another told the story of a 9-year-old boy who bravely came out as gay at school, and hanged himself a year later when the cruelty and degradation from his peers became too much to bear.

Death is omnipresent as a person of color as well. So many of our histories involve genocide and violent oppression. So many of our current realities exist under the constant threat of State-sanctioned violence or murder. Death looms over LGBTQ lives, especially those of us of color, because our very existence makes us vulnerable to violence and pain, both physical and emotional, from a society that hates us. When we thrive, when we succeed, when we simply live, it’s almost as if we’re barely skating by at full speed on the edge of the precipice and the wind is gusting as hard as it can to blow us into the abyss.   

This man whose death shook me and so many others was exceedingly handsome, by all accounts very talented, had recently seen several big successes in his career and was in a serious long-term relationship with another beautiful man. I remember poring over their Instagram accounts, marveling at their beauty, their beautiful brown skin, their chiseled physiques, their incredible style. #RelationshipGoals. This, of course, is all gleaned from social media, the images and thoughts he and his partner shared with the world, filtered through whatever lens they chose. I have no way of knowing what his day to day life was actually like, or what private demons plagued him, what hidden emotions drove him to a dark place. But on the cursory surface of Facebook updates and Instagram photos taken in the bright, gleaming sunlight or at a fashion or media event among celebrities and other beautiful, smiling, successful people, his life looked exuberant, joyful, and most of all enviable. I wasn’t just impressed or lustful or entertained, I was envious.

Many have written about the illusory nature of social media, the curating of a life through words, images, filters, and hashtags. You can portray yourself to be whoever you want to be, and more importantly, you can portray yourself to be whoever other people want to be themselves. You can have it all, and other people will double-tap your perfect photo with its perfect caption and want to have it all as you do.

And simultaneously, as you create yourself and feel the dopamine flood your brain as your Friends and Followers validate your creation with Likes, Hearts, comments and DMs, you are witnessing others’ creations and wishing you too could have what they have. Locked in this unending cycle of desire. I wish my body looked like his. I wish my skin was that clear. I wish I was dripping in designer labels with a perfect trendy haircut and immaculately manicured facial hair. I wish I rubbed elbows with the rich and famous at exclusive events and fancy galas. I wish I lived in a modern, tastefully decorated luxury apartment by the beach and drove a brand new expensive car, or could go on lavish vacations to faraway islands and sip cocktails on beautiful white sand beaches surrounded by other beautiful men with bulging muscles and voluptuous asses and thick dick prints. #SquadGoals. I wish I had hundreds of thousands of followers or a blue check next to my Instagram handle or was sent free merchandise to advertise in a professionally photographed and edited “selfie” in my underwear.

None of it is real, or maybe some of it is, or maybe all of it is, the line between how we want to be perceived and how we perceive ourselves becoming more and more blurred with each filtered photograph or funny quip that goes viral or thirst comment on a shirtless mirror selfie.

I didn’t know this man whose life so abruptly and tragically ended. I’d never met him, or his partner. But I felt like I knew them. I followed his story, at least the public one he wanted me and everyone else who paid attention to see. I imagined what I believed to be them living their best lives, emotionally invested in that sort of passive way that you pay attention to other people’s business, partly out of admiration, or nosiness, or envy.

My heart dropped and my stomach knotted as I mundanely scrolled through Facebook and saw the news of his death breaking and the collective gasp of my social media community in response. I not only saw the pain of his closest friends spill out in photos and posts and comments but remembered other men like him whom I’ve known who suffered silently, unbeknownst to their closest friends and family until one day they decided they couldn’t go on. Men with perfect bodies, perfect jobs, perfect boyfriends, but who harbored such pain beneath it all, pain that no one else could see or touch or take away.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this sort of tragedy every time it unfolds, every time it’s blasted across our curated online social lives, it’s a lesson we’ve already been taught a thousand times. It’s that you may never truly know another person’s life, you may never truly know their soul or their pain even if you are close to them, much less a spectator of the public image they’ve chosen to display.

There’s an inherent pain in existing as an LGBTQ person in this world, and inherent pain in existing as a black or brown person. It’s woven into our DNA, it’s programmed into our existence in every space we inhabit, in the real world and in the expansive augmented, fantastical reality of cyberspace. The illusion of a perfect life, even an illusion we invest so much energy into creating that we might actually start to believe it ourselves, doesn’t erase that pain.

I hope that this beautiful man’s loved ones are able to find peace in all this pain, to hold on to love that was generated and shared in their moments with him, and I hope that somewhere in the abyss this beautiful man who I admired and envied all at once doesn’t feel any pain anymore.           

Image via Getty