Literally What Do Straight Nerds Spend Their Money On?

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, the guy that I’m dating sent me a video from Twitter about a new clothing brand, Cloak, that was marketed especially “for gamers.” I was instantly confused yet amused. Cloak was created by Mark Fischbach and Seán McLoughlin, two gaming personalities who are known as Markiplier and Jacksepticeye online. What a nonsensical idea — why do gamers need their own clothing brand?

“There has never really been a brand out there for people like us, who game all day,” McLoughlin said in the announcement video. “There’s companies out there like Nike, who cater towards athletes. There’s companies like Patagonia who are more for people who want to go outdoors. There’s people like Lululemon who cater towards people who do yoga and things like that, but I don’t really do any of those things.”

McLoughlin goes on to say that he never felt like there was a brand out there that fit him in the same way. I thought this was just hilarious until I clicked the site and saw that every single item was sold out in literally three days.

Okay, now you’ve really lost me. Why do people who play games need their own clothing? Athletic wear exists because there are specific fabrics and designs that make it easier for people to work out or keep warm in nature. You don’t need anything specific to sit at your computer or on your couch — I would know because that’s literally all I do. You can wear whatever you want when you’re gaming or you can be like me and wear nothing even though you are playing in the common area of your apartment and your roommates hate you — hey, Marisa and Aaron! Literally half the reason no one wants to go outside is because you have to wear clothes.

Look I get it —I buy some dumb shit, too. My weakness as a gay man is buying cute shit that I’ll never use. Two weeks ago I spent like 40 bucks on a big plushy of Umbreon, a queer legend, sleeping. It’s adorable, I love my child, but I know it’s still dumb. That being said, at least my dumb Pokémon plushy serves a purpose that I can’t get anywhere else. These clothes are just black, grey, reportedly comfortable and have the word “Cloak” on them. I guarantee that you can find equally comfortable clothes at any number of retailers.

OK, straight men. I usually tune you out when you talk, but I’m all ears. I’m trying to understand what would compel someone to spend money on something like this. Cloak isn’t even the only clothing brand targeting gamers. Another company, Ateyo, has the tagline “Look good. Game better,” and frequently uses professional gamers and streamers in their advertising.

Ateyo as a brand has slightly more personality, so I get the appeal of that, I’m just confused by the concept of branded basics. Why not just get sweatpants? I feel like my mom trying to understand Snapchat.

The only explanation I can make sense of is that people just want to feel included or cool and no matter how dumb something is, the proper advertising will get you on board. So maybe that is the disconnect. It’s not that I don’t understand the product (which I don’t) but it’s about being the appropriate audience for the advertising (which I’m not).

One of the most blatant examples of this is when Ateyo did a parody cover of Lil Pump’s “ESSKEETIT” with a professional Overwatch player. I don’t watch that video and want to be associated with that brand; I look at that video and want to throw my computer out the window.

This content feels like it was made for fans of Logan Paul, and perhaps it was, so I am not the one. Which is fine; I don’t need to be the demographic for every advertisement — God knows queer folks are not the demographic for gaming anyway. Straight men, you’re allowed to buy whatever you want, just try to keep it off my timeline.

Every Opportunity for Queerness in the New ‘Clueless’ Reboot

I want to be clear: I am very anti-Clueless reboot. As a former ’90s kid, I can feel myself turning into a curmudgeon. There’s a recurring, inter-generational phenomenon that, until now, I’ve only bore witness to, and that’s when old people become prickly about reboots of their favorite childhood movies and TV shows. Now, it’s happening to me. My favorite show in the ’90s was Charmed, which was recently chewed up and spit out by the Reboot Monster in terribly gauche and tacky ways. I’ve enjoyed some of the ’80s and ’90s remakes, like the all-female Ghostbusters and Paramount Network’s Heathers, but after I was personally attacked by the new Charmed, I’ve started to fear for the future of ’90s reboots.

Earlier today, the second iteration of the Amy Heckerling classic ’90s movie Clueless was announced. The movie will be penned by the writers of GLOW and Girls Trip, which sounds good, in theory. But just like Charmed, Clueless was one of my most cherished pieces of ’90s pop culture. If the movie has any chance of upgrading what I consider to be a blazing 10, then there’s only one thing they can do to improve it: make it gay. Making Clueless gay is the only chance this movie has at surviving — The CW’s updated Charmed made one of the Halliwell sisters queer, so it’s not out of the question. And between the collared shirts, plaid blazers, bandanas, and mention of The Cranberries, Clueless is the perfect storm of untapped queerness that’s ready to come bursting out of Cher’s electronic closet.

First and foremost, I think we should get the obvious choice out of the way: Tai. Played by the late, great Brittany Murphy, Tai seems like the natural heir to the lesbian throne. She’s a supporting character, which Hollywood loves to dump queerness on so the protagonists can keep their boring hetero garbage intact. Tai shows up to the snobbish Beverly Hills High School with a flannel and a trashy accent, seeking “herbal refreshments.” She’s basically me everywhere I go. Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Dionne (the embattled Stacey Dash) decide to make her over from a frizzy-haired dyke into a curlicued, headband-wearing, plaid-obsessed … bisexual?

When Tai first eats lunch with Cher and Dionne, she actually quips, “Shit, you guys. I’ve never had straight friends before,” which is like, textbook gay people, who naturally gravitate toward others of our ilk before we even realize we’re queer. Plus, Tai is totally crushing on Travis, a charitable Nine Inch Nails stan who skateboards, smokes weed, wears tattered flannels, and has Hanson hair — he’s basically already a lesbian. So, it’d make total sense if the token queer character in the Clueless reboot was Tai, and her love interest was lesbian Travis. But there are other options that are actually significantly more enticing.

Now, any ’90s queer with their head on straight — and by that I mean not straight — would ship Cher and Dionne. Lesbian culture is shipping the two female leads in any given ’90s or 2000s movie. See: Jess and Jules in Bend it Like Beckham, Kelly and Jennifer in Cadet Kelly, Torrance and Missy in Bring It On, Torrance and Isis in Bring It On, Courtney and Whitney in Bring It On… But for me, Cher and Dionne have strictly platonic energy between them. Dionne is a supporting character who can rock an extremely extra hat or plaid blazer and pick a fight or hold a grudge like it’s her job, but… Oh shit, wait. Is Dionne queer?

Think about it: She has a tennis instructor, as is evidenced by the “note” she brings to PE with strict instructions to keep her from training with other instructors — and tennis is the most lesbian sport of them all. (Am I right, Billie Jean King?) Further proof of tennis lesbianism: the PE teacher in Clueless is an angry out lesbian and tennis queen. Cher even describes her as “same-sex oriented.”

But back to Dionne. Her boyfriend Murray, played by the vibrant Donald Faison, could be subtly, metaphorically a queer woman. At one point, after being called out by his girlfriend for his degrading use of the word “woman,” he delves into a tirade about the appropriation of misogyny is street slang. He apologizes and says, “Street slang is an increasingly valid form of expression. Most of the feminine pronouns do have mocking, but not necessarily misogynistic undertones.” That quote sounds ripped from a queer woman’s manifesto on street slang and why she should be allowed to reclaim it.

So, sure, Tai, Travis, Dionne, and Murray could all technically be gender-swapped or hetero-flipped for a modern reboot, but there’s one person who I believe the queerness should be bequeathed to, and that’s… Cher Horowitz. Call me a dreamer for thinking a reboot could actually star a queer female protagonist — because queer women are always shafted in mainstream film and TV— but Cher is genuinely the most inherently lesbian character in Clueless. And the more I think about it, the more I realize Cher has been canonically queer the whole time. Hear me out.

Headbands, pleated plaid skirts, and fashion choices aside, Cher’s mom died during a “routine liposuction” when she was young, and mommy issues are the hallmark of queerness. She’s a generous, woke queen who gives an impassioned speech in debate class about why “Haiti-ans” should be allowed to seek refuge in the US, because “It does not say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty.” Um, hello — give this activist a Twitter account!

Cher also likes queer girl stuff. She loves Beavis and Butthead, as well as other cartoon characters she can project her traumas on to, like Ren & Stimpy, who she calls “way existential.” She cares about wellness and being well-read, and makes a point to elevate her vocabulary so she can sound smarter than men. She also wears clogs.

Cher is a bad driver, which could be gay. Gay Twitter has churned out a meme about how gay men can’t drive, but are queer women bad drivers, too? Come to think of it, every time I’m driving with a gay girl, I’m thoroughly scared for my life. I feel like queer women drive with the fury of 1,000 scorned exes surging through their toes. Cher has a lead foot and an overall lack of awareness for other cars on the road, and that’s pretty gay.

But then there’s the real, hard-hitting evidence of Cher’s lady-loving side. She falls for a gay guy, Christian, which is like, High School Lesbianism 101. She also hates high school boys, says they dress badly and complains about how they “slobber all over you.” She also tells Dionne she hates men with muscles. And finally, she’s a virgin! I was a virgin in high school because I couldn’t find any men who lit my fire, and I didn’t know it was because I was repressing something much deeper. Not all high school virgins are repressed lesbian losers like I was, but when Cher’s virginity is stacked against all her other queer qualities, it’s hard to deny her sweltering lesbianism: Cher is a virgin who can’t drive, and that’s fucking GAY.

Cher ends up falling for Josh (Paul Rudd), who’s technically her stepbrother. She typically goes for more feminine men, both physically and energy-wise, and Josh is extremely lesbian. He’s from Seattle, and as we know, the entire Pacific Northwest is gay. He wears flannels, has “granola breath,” and he wants to practice environmental law. He tries to stay woke by watching CNN. He even tells Cher it’s “cool to know what’s going on in the world.” They’re a perfect woke couple! And not for nothing, but crushing on someone you know you can’t be with — like a guy who was briefly your stepbrother — is inherently queer.

When Cher finally realizes she loves Josh, the whole scene looks like a metaphor for coming out. First, she gets grumpy and jealous over the possibility of Tai and Josh going out, but she can’t understand why. Then, she has a transformative and enlightening moment in front of a fountain that literally illuminates with lurid color, where she realizes why she feels the way she feels: because she loves him! Newsflash: that’s exactly what it’s like to come out — purple fountains and all.

So, while I’m extremely anti-Clueless reboot, I have to say, I’d be intrigued by a movie that gives Cher Horowitz an opportunity to be as lesbian as was written in the stars. And while I could see myself shipping Cher and Tai for natural reasons, I think a gender-swapped lesbian Josh is who I, and gay Cher, would be totally crushing on. But as far as a straight Clueless reboot goes? As if.

Valentina to Play Angel in Fox’s ‘Rent: Live’ in January

Miss Fan Favorite is coming to network TV.

Fox announced Monday that RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 queen Valentina will star in their January 2019 production of Rent: Live. Valentina will take on the role of Angel, the free-spirited drummer who fellow main ensemble member Tom Collins falls for in the course of Jonathan Larson’s 1994 musical.

Valentina joins a cast that includes singer Tinashe as Mimi, Vanessa Hudgens as Maureen, and The Greatest Showman star Keala Settle as the “Seasons of Love” vocalist. The production follows Fox’s other live musicals, 2016’s Grease: Live and 2017’s A Christmas Story Live! It will broadcast from the Fox lot in Los Angeles on Sunday, January 27 of next year. 

Incidentally, Fox’s press release confirmed that Valentina will “return to RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.” She has been heavily rumored on Reddit to be part of the cast of All Stars season 4.

Image via Getty

Bringing My Family Public

I’d chosen the salon solely based on its proximity to our apartment and the fact it opened at 8 a.m..  I was the only customer there and I felt exposed sitting on the raised chair, cape around my neck. The stylist approached in the mirror, tall and slim, in a form-fitting black dress and reddish-orange lipstick.  

“What are we doing today?” she asked in a slightly raspy voice, with the echo of an accent.  

“To my hair?” I asked. “I’m not sure.”

This wasn’t just because I’m generally clueless with my hair. What I wanted wasn’t tangible. I was there for a blowout but what I wanted was strength.

I met Mitch when I was 35. Over the course of our first three dates, we discussed marriage, having kids, and the fact that Mitch was seriously considering transitioning from female to male. Five months after we’d shared our first kiss, he began hormone replacement therapy and we traveled across the country for his top surgery. We bought my engagement ring on that trip, as he was still bandaged and woozy from pain meds – it’s a nice ring.

In a typical non-typical pattern, marriage and kids followed. I got pregnant using a known donor, a dear friend of mine, who lived across the country and was thrilled to be a part of creating our family. Then for our second child, we used his husband.

In our new parent world, we found ourselves somewhat buried in the closet. We didn’t start off with that intention, but as new friends became closer, it seemed so hard to change course, as if it had jumped from too soon to tell to too late to. At times, it felt like we were living two separate lives, one where we happily consorted at queer parent events, or hung out with our old friends, talking freely about everything, and the one where we bonded with straight parents, while side-stepping questions about who the kids really looked like. Every time, I shrugged and said “I guess they look like a lot of people,” a little part of my stomach curled into itself.

Then, through a contact at our LGBTQ Center, we were contacted by a national magazine, wanting to interview us as part of a segment on transgender identity.

We considered the implications for our children and ourselves. This wasn’t just coming out, it was coming out on the internet, the modern-day equivalent of etching something in stone, and a stone that people can not only harshly comment on but can throw back at you. On top of that, Mitch wasn’t out at work, nor did he think they would be particularly supportive. His job provided our entire income and health insurance; losing it would have been devastating.

But not only did this feel like an important personal step, but we believed that sharing our story was important, that putting our life out there could make things easier for others. We both came of age in the early ‘90s, having never seen a representation of queer family, and we believe representation does matter. And as a white, middle-class couple, living in a liberal center with a supportive family, we certainly had enough of a “privilege cushion” to make the risks less terrifying. So we said yes.

If I was going to come out on a national forum, the least I could do was look pretty, so I booked a blowout — which is how I’d ended up in the salon on the morning of the shoot, being asked a question I didn’t know how to answer.

I looked closer at the woman behind me with a glimmer of wonder, and felt like the world was hugging me. I told her I just wanted to look natural, but prettier. I wanted something that would look good on camera.  

“What’s it about?” she asked as she began to do my hair.  

There’s something intimate about having your hair done; the physical contact as a brush moves through your hair, fingers brushing skin next to your face. So in between the roar of the hairdryer, I told her.

“I’m transgender, too,” she said, softly. I nodded. And then I started to cry, just a few quiet tears tracing my cheek. I couldn’t think of anything more perfect than being made beautiful by this transgender woman. It seemed too much of a coincidence to be taken lightly. As her fingers and hands grazed my scalp or cheeks, it felt like she was imbuing my waves with power.

I went home, did my make-up in the bathroom mirror, and then sat down for the camera. Mitch and I were each interviewed alone, then together. We sat at our breakfast table, my hand snaked across to meet his, and we talked.

When it was over, I expected to feel a surge of panic, but I didn’t. It felt like something had cracked open. Somehow saying to the camera and to the world that I was proud of my family gave me permission to be.  

After the interview, it was like a gate opened. We told friend after friend, some of whom were surprised, others who weren’t. I started to share more on Facebook and write essays about our family, which eventually led to another video interview, for which I got another blowout. But that time, I didn’t need the blowout to protect me. The second video was of our whole family, including the kids and our two donors. Seeing the flow of our lives together felt like a gift, this full holler that this was us, and we were lucky and loved.

That didn’t mean it wasn’t still hard and scary. The internet trolls still posted vomit emojis, called us child abusers and offered to pray for our souls. But friends from far and wide also posted messages of support, as did strangers who thanked us for sharing and tried to educate the ignorant. But I stopped reading the comments, because I didn’t want the negativity to grab hold again.

I’ve spent too much of my life worrying about what others think of me. As a parent and partner, that didn’t change, and focusing that worry on what other people thought of me, my husband and our family, had a nasty side effect of making my gaze hyper-critical and defensive. When you focus on looking for flaws and chinks in your armor, that’s all you can do.  I don’t want armor anymore. It’s so heavy and exhausting. I don’t want my kids to ever know what it feels like. The world might still try to weigh us down, but I’m going to try my damnedest not to add to that weight.

Images by Michael Pries

Clarkisha Explains: ‘The Haunting of Hill House,’ ‘This Is Us,’ and the Unique Burden of Elder Siblings

I have a confession.

I have been obsessed with the Netflix smash hit The Haunting of Hill House for over a week now. And to be honest, though my bar for what constitutes “scary” is pretty low (I literally watch these moves with my blanket wound so tightly around my head that sometimes the blanket ends up scaring me), the show was less scary than traumatic for me. And it was traumatic particularly because of its preoccupation not with horror, but with tragedy.

When I finally finished it, I tried to figure out why I was so deeply affected by the series. Of course, tales of grief and loss always tend to get my sappy ass and I have always been very empathetic towards stories that do not shy away from the complexities of mental illness or suicide. So it was a given that I was gonna feel a way (read: sad) about the tragic deaths of Olivia and Nell and Hugh’s sacrifice. But that still wasn’t it. I found that I was most affected by how the rest of the Crain family handled the trauma that was dealt to them, particularly as it concerned elder sibling Steven Crain.

There honestly are not enough cuss words in the English language to describe how I felt about Steven while watching the show. As previously stated, he is the eldest sibling when all of the shit with Hill House goes down during that fateful summer that ends with his mother’s death. And while everyone is deeply affected by what happens in that house, Steven pretends that he’s not. He also pretends that his entire family is crazy and is deeply affected by ~mental illness~ (yes, he says it in this condescending manner) and claims that their belief in the haunting that happened to them as children is proof, as is their resistance to getting any treatment. He gaslights each and every one of them about their experiences, then turns around and profits off of them by retelling their stories in his novel, in ways that of course make them look “crazy” or “unhinged”.

Until he experiences things for himself, of course.

He is a shitty character, period, but hearing over and over again about how he was the eldest and didn’t really act like it…upset me, to put it nicely. And Shirley (another of the Crain siblings who I wasn’t too fond of because she was just too judgmental for my tastes) calls him on it, particularly because you discover it is not him but her who gave tons of money to help their youngest brother Luke and get him through rehab, and she is currently housing their middle sister, Theo, in her guest house. She rips him a new one about how he shirked his responsibilities as the eldest sibling to go live his best life in Los Angeles and leave them all behind and, whew, what a gut punch. Especially because I had JUST caught up on This Is Us’ Vietnam episode and was feeling peculiarly raw when it came to siblings.

“Vietnam” focuses specifically on future family patriarch and current elder brother Jack Pearson and his experiences right before Vietnam. You find out that he had actually avoided getting drafted because of his irregular heartbeat and he only ends up going because his younger brother Nicky is drafted and he wants to keep an eye on him. He was prepared to sneak him across the US/Canadian border, but when Nicky refuses, they both find themselves in Vietnam. All of this is big brother shit. It is totally elder sibling energy. Jack has his own needs, sure, but he becomes uniquely selfless when the needs of his younger brother arise. Jack takes his role as the elder sibling to heart, and while it tends to get him in some rather sticky situations, it is what makes him such a good dad, friend, and husband (who of course is not without his flaws and is never above admitting them)–and a stark departure from his own abusive father.

These attributes are also visible in his son, Randall Pearson. Now while Randall is ironically the youngest kid, he inherits Jack’s sacrificial nature and takes on that “elder sibling” role when it is plainly clear that elder sibling Kevin is neither up for it or prepared for it through most of their teen and adult years, and would rather drink through it all. A prime example is when Randall turns down the opportunity of a lifetime to attend Howard University (and, you know, be around other Black people for a change) to take care of his discombobulated family in the aftermath of Jack’s sudden death. It was a total elder sibling power move. And one that made me think about my own life.

Longtime readers know that my birth position in my messy jumble of a family is dicey. At first glance, I’m a middle child. By definition. With additional glances, you’d discover that I’m the “baby” girl and when it comes to birth order, I was the first kid born in about a decade. So it was like my parents didn’t like how kid one and two came out and decided to do a half-assed reboot with me (no [overt] offense to kid number one or two).

For all intents and purposes, I was seen as the eldest sibling—since kids 1 and 2 were so much older that they couldn’t be bothered. And while it is something I still very much resent to this day (like I feel all elder siblings do), it’s something I took seriously, up until a point. And it included advocating for me and my siblings. Protecting them. Sometimes putting myself in physical and emotional harm’s way for them. Being the family mediator (when eldest child duties and middle child duties collided). Getting a lot of firsts out of the way for them (particularly with college) so they didn’t have to go through that. And sometimes telling them half-truths because they weren’t yet old enough to grasp the full severity or fucked-up nature of what was going on.

I didn’t put off going to my dream school like Randall did (because I’m just not that good a person), nor do I think I would have been prepared to go to Vietnam for one of my siblings if it came down to it (because I’m REALLY not that good a person), but I did come home nearly every break. Call my younger siblings often. Help them with homework over the phone from a bajillion miles away. Call the authorities from bajillion miles away too when word got to me about something my abusive father had done or fly back just to confront him. And fall right back into that peacekeeper role when I was home on breaks and fights in my family (and versus my father) got uniquely violent.

And still. None of that ever included me gaslighting the shit out of my siblings for things I may not even have been around to see or experience (even when I was gaslighted by our even older siblings). Or exploiting their trauma for my own gain. Which is why Steven in particular stumps me so much. There’s something particularly nasty about that being Steven’s go-to method of dealing with his siblings. There’s something particularly despicable about him pretending he is the only sane one in his traumatized family and blaming any out-of-place blemish or characteristic that he displays on his family’s gross history of ~mental illness~.

But, you know, I get it.

I get that, while problematic, that was probably his way of coping with said traumatic events and putting them behind him. Perhaps that was even his way of dealing with the fact that all of his other siblings being this fucked up (especially when it came to how Nell died) means that he failed as an older brother and failed to properly be there for them and protect them. And perhaps that says something about the heavy burden placed on elder siblings if and when our parents don’t properly handle their own roles. That we’re the “break in case of emergency” parents, so to speak, even though we never asked to be. Jack’s faced with this choice when his brother is called to Vietnam and he rises to the occasion. Kevin is confronted with this decision when Jack dies and he crumbles. Randall doesn’t even hesitate to answer the call instead. Steven shimmies around this responsibility when the Crain family is left without a mom and with a father who refuses to provide adequate answers. Shirley begrudgingly picks up his slack. And I eventually threw my hands up in regards to my own family, packed up, and moved to California because a bitch was tired.

If I stick with my whole “no child asks to be here” thing that I say like once a week, I could say the same about elder siblings. None of us ask for this burden. No one in their right mind would ask for such a burden. And a lot of times, I do ask if it’s fair for younger siblings or even society to ask so much of us when we didn’t have a say in what fucking order someone spat us out in.

But then the question becomes, if not us, then who?

‘Trans People Deserve To Live’ Banner Displayed At Final World Series Game

For many baseball fans, Sunday will be remembered as a Red Sox victory against the Dodgers. However, the final World Series was also a win for the trans community after activists unfurled a banner reading “Trans People Deserve To Live” from a left field balcony.

The banner was brought by members of the [email protected] Coalition, a nationwide organization that fights for the rights of transgender Latinx people and is based in Los Angeles. While it was only displayed for a short time and didn’t make it on the Fox broadcast, its presence is already spreading quickly across social media as the LGBTQ community continues to reel from recent anti-trans attacks by the Trump administration. 

“I felt my heart was dropping along with it,” said Bamby Salcedo,  the president of the advocacy organization who led the action in an interview with INTO. “I was kind of exploding because of the adrenaline. You don’t know what’s going to happen with the police and security and all of that.”

The group’s action comes a week after a memo was reported by the New York Times that outlined how the Trump administration is hoping to make gender and sex binary within the eyes of US policy, which in turn could potentially “erase” transgender and intersex people from government records. The memo even stated that genetic testing could be used to uphold these policy initiatives. INTO spoke with experts who stated that any genetic testing to make sex or gender a binary is “not science.”

Salcedo is now calling on other trans people and their allies to replicate the action and take up space in mainstream spaces as a way to continue resistance. 

“I hope that this action will motivate members of the trans community, our allies and our comrades to really activate and to really understand that we have power,” she said. “We can demonstrate our power anywhere and everywhere.”

Salcedo was joined by [email protected] Coalition Board Chair Maria Roman and other activists who snuck the 20 by 15-foot banner prior to the game starting.  In a video posted to the organization’s Facebook page, the group is seen affixing the banner to the balcony while others fans stare in confusion. The banner remains for just a few minutes before it is pulled down by security.

The group was escorted out of the park without incident or arrest. Salcedo said they went to the park specifically for the purpose of dropping the banner.

“I don’t even like baseball,” she said. “I think it’s boring.”

Sunday’s game wasn’t the only time a massive transgender pride flag made its way into the nation’s view. On Monday in Washington, DC, the National Center for Trans Equality unfurled a series of 150-foot-long strips of fabric in the colors of the trans flag on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, tweeting, “We #WontBeErased, and we won’t be forgotten, and we won’t be ignored.”

Rallies and protests in support of trans rights took place across the United States on Sunday, with around 100 people gathering in Chico, California; around 50 people in Decatur, Illinois; an estimated 500 people in San Diego, California; a rally led by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in Massachusetts; and a 40-block-long protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota all making headlines.

The protests don’t appear to be slowing down. On Monday, students at the University of Vermont in Burlington planned to walk out of class in protest of the leaked HHS memo.

In Los Angeles, activists dropped flags outside of Dodgers Stadium as well. Salcedo posted several photos on Facebook of banner drops on multiple highway overpass bridges; the banners read “We Will Not Be Erased.”

Images by Getty. 

An Anti-LGBTQ Politician Compared to Trump Is Brazil’s Next President

Former army captain and congressman Jair Bolsonaro was voted Brazil’s next president on Sunday, tilting another major democracy into the far right.

The divisive populist figure won over 55 percent of the total vote after a violent election cycle that held the world’s attention. Bolsonaro not only echoed much of the rhetoric of United States president Donald Trump, but even exceeded him on many fronts.

The candidate experienced a sudden surge in popularity after surviving an assassination attempt in September, when he was stabbed in the abdomen during a campaign rally. He won the first round with roughly 46 percent of votes.

Recent episodes of politically motivated violence against minorities including LGBTQ people ― have caused valid concern in many parts of the population. As was the case following Trump’s 2016 election, the politician’s name was cited by the offenders in some of these attacks or used as an excuse to commit the crimes.

Queer and trans Brazilians, in particular, experienced a historic increase in reported anti-LGBTQ violence in just the past year.

Fear took center stage during this year’s election. That keyword helps explain why so many people decided to vote for a candidate who routinely targeted vulnerable minorities and also hints at what’s at stake once he takes office.

The Trump of the Tropics

Bolsonaro has been compared to Donald Trump by the media, often referred to by the nickname “Trump of the Tropics” for his populist similarities to the U.S. president.

Buoyed by an ultra-conservative agenda, the candidate has made crime a focus of his campaign amid a national security crisis. Brazil broke its own homicide record in 2017, according to a report from the nonprofit Brazilian Public Security Forum (Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública). Approximately 63,880 homicides were recorded last year, a rate of 30.8 per 100,000 individuals.

His tough-on-crime rhetoric appeals to many voters throughout the country. One of his proposals consists of lowering the age in which criminal defendants can legally be tried as an adult from 18 to 16 years old. Bolsonaro believes in less restrictions on gun control and argues that there’s no direct relation between the increase of homicides and a greater presence of weapons in society.

With an apparent disregard for human rights, the candidate made statements praising torture and extrajudicial executions and openly defended Brazil’s military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985. In an interview with GloboNews, his running mate, Hamilton Mourão, speculated about using military force to maintain control of the country in the case of a “hypothetical situation of anarchy.”

Bolsonaro also has a long history of racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments. He once remarked that “nobody likes homosexuals, we put up with them.”

On the Câmara TV program Participação Popular in 2010, the congressman appeared to advocate that parents use violence against LGBTQ children. Bolsonaro remarked that when a young man starts “to ‘get a little gay,’ he gets smacked so it changes his behavior.”

He has also claimed he would rather his son be dead than gay.

Bolsonaro opposes any education on sexual orientation or gender identity in schools, arguing that children are subjected to “indoctrination” and “precocious sexualization” in Brazil’s public school system.

In an interview with Jornal de Barretos Radio this month, the candidate denied being homophobic: “I have nothing to do with other people’s lives. I want everything to happen within normalcy. […] I say it’s daddy and mommy who teach sex to children.”

In terms of racial equality, his plans don’t promote positive change in a country where black people represent over 50 percent of the population but only 12.8 percent of blacks between 18 and 24 years old attended college in 2015. Bolsonaro promised to scale back affirmative-action policies in public universities and declared that black Brazilians aren’t owed anything because of slavery.

“What debt of slavery? I never enslaved anyone in my life,” he argued during an interview on the Brazilian talk show Roda Viva. “If you really look at history, the Portuguese didn’t even step foot in Africa. The blacks themselves turned over the slaves.”

The use of social media was a great part of Bolsonaro’s success to connect with his supporters, a method also used by Trump during the 2016 campaign. The U.S. president’s crusade against news media outlets has been replicated as well and poses a risk to freedom of the press.

On Twitter, Bolsonaro posted a threat to national newspaper Folha de S.Paulo after an article revealing that businessmen who support him financed mass-mailing services with fake news against his rival’s party, sent via WhatsApp, which may indicate the existence of election fraud.

“The public money [Folha gets] to make political activism will dry up, and more, with their credibility in the drain with their biased information are less serious than a joke magazine!” he said.

After the WhatsApp scheme was revealed, Bolsonaro filed a lawsuit against Folha and Fernando Haddad requesting verification of alleged abuse of economic power and misuse of a social media platform. The Federal Police and the Superior Electoral Court have yet to make a public statement about the request.

The attacks on reporters, however, are not merely in the courts and on social media. In 2018, 137 journalists and media industry professionals were victims of some form of verbal or physical harassment in Brazil.

Bolsonaro’s previous statements have been legitimizing increasing violence and harassment against LGBTQ people, vulnerable minorities, or anyone who speaks out against him. It’s one of the reasons why the LGBTQ community and so many others in the country are now afraid of their future.

In the meantime, supporters maintain Bolsonaro’s victory symbolizes hope for the future. They call him a “myth” and a “legend.”

Crowds gathered outside Bolsonaro’s home in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro on Sunday evening to celebrate his victory with fireworks. “Today is the start of a new democracy,” a supporter partying outside the president-elect’s residence told Bloomberg.

Many are now anxious about what that word—democracy—will actually mean under his presidency. 

How Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias Inspired Me to Embrace My ‘Girly’ Voice

I always knew there was something different about my voice.

When I hummed, it was in a “feminine” falsetto that didn’t go away when I started to grow pubes. Relentlessly bullied as I was in middle school for my voice — and for taking my shirt off in the locker room “like a stripper” — my parents were surprisingly on my side. They drove me into the city once a week to sing with the Singing Boys of Sioux Falls as an alto. I suppose that, when it came down to it, singing like a girl was less concerning for them than the gay porn I was printing out from KaZaA and squirreling away in my nightstand. (“It’s a muscle study for a figure drawing, Mom!”)

My family moved to the evangelical suburbs of Houston right before I started high school, a milieu less forgiving of my gender-confused voice. My countertenor became a party trick that took a back seat to my (pretty mediocre) baritone, which didn’t do so hot at auditions. I really wanted to be straight, I really wanted to be a boy, and I really wanted to be liked, so I worked hard to be heard the way people wanted to hear me.

It wasn’t until college, in Oklahoma, that a punk-rock barista at a coffee shop near campus overheard me humming and told me to check out Klaus Nomi. That changed everything.

Nomi, known for his performances with David Bowie, was a German, classically-trained countertenor who popped into the New Wave scene in 1978 singing Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” (“My heart opens itself to your voice,” from Samson and Delilah) at Irving Plaza. His repertoire wasn’t only classical, though; his “Simple Man” is very New Wave. Klaus died from complications related to AIDS only five years after his debut.

His stage persona was intense, mechanical, and alien, but also deeply affecting. He wore a plastic tuxedo similar to the one in Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” performance on SNL, which, taken with his trademark kabuki makeup and severe widow’s peak, created an unforgettable, iconic look that underscored the “outsider” persona he worked to cultivate.

I went on to emulate his performance of Henry Purcell’s Cold Genius aria from King Arthur (a.k.a., “The Cold Song,” or “What power art thou who from below”), in my college’s Concerto-Aria Competition as a countertenor. The song, in which Purcell’s Cold Genius is awakened from frozen slumber by Cupid, is bone-chilling performed by Klaus — it was his final performance, mere months before his death, and the word, “Let me freeze again to death,” seem eerily autobiographical coming out of his sick body. As for me, I won the competition.

By that point, though I’d come out of the closet to my friends, I was contending with the ontology of my queerness, both as a matter of personal uncertainty and as a professional necessity. I went on to serve as a music director for a conservative Presbyterian church in Oklahoma, where I was asked to frame my homosexuality as a spiritual struggle to be overcome and sign an employment contract to that effect.

I didn’t come back to my countertenor until after grad school, when I checked “bass” and “alto” on an audition form to double my chances of getting a spot in a choir. I got in, and after singing with them for a few seasons, I was told to audition for the Grammy Award-winning men’s choir, Chanticleer. I went on to be a finalist for Chanticleer in 2017.

Countertenor culture is weird. For one, there’s the cultural conflation of countertenors and castrati, men who were castrated before puberty to maintain their high vocal range. For another, the range is mostly limited to classical music, and classical music culture is aggressively gendered (just take a look at Chanticleer’s costumes).

David M. Halperin’s “Homosexuality’s Closet,” a chapter in his 2012 How to Be Gay, refers to a profile on countertenor David Daniels by Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times to dissect the two men’s collaboration to divorce Daniels’s countertenor from queer or feminine stereotypes: “There is something representative about the way the Times article insistently constructs a connection between Daniels’s gender-blurring, on the one hand, and his homosexuality, on the other, while following Daniels’s lead in refusing to acknowledge any substantive relation between the two,” he writes. Countertenors, even the gay ones, are reluctant to explore why they want to sing “like women” in any depth. I wasn’t any different.

I was worried that, if I began to investigate the parts of my subjectivity that were “feminine,” I’d find out I was trans. Then, I’d have to become active in a community I only sort of understood, I’d have to relearn the lexicon of my body, and I’d have to teach myself a new way to be in the world. I’d need to speak intelligibly about my gender with my cis friends, and I’d need to hold my passing privilege in hand when commiserating with my trans friends.

This was nothing new. I’d had moments of considering my gender identity throughout my childhood and early adulthood — I told my best friend in elementary school I wanted to turn into a girl so we could get married, and I asked all my friends in college if they’d support me if I medically transitioned. The oldest of my songs I still perform is about feeling like an understudy to both men and women.

And, anyway, look at Klaus Nomi — my career idol had built a persona and a career that made sense of his body and sexuality, and it seemed as if society had punished him for it (when he died, it was still being called GRID, “gay-related immunodeficiency”).

Fortunately for me, Nomi is survived by his heir apparent, Joey Arias, whose off-the-wall, gender-bent, Billie-Holiday-plus-dolphin-squeaks act has advanced Nomi’s alien outsider aesthetic into the 21st century through celebrated gay-culture properties like Wigstock: The Movie and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (Arias also performed side-by-side with Nomi for Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging” on SNL).

I had the opportunity to see Arias perform at Joe’s Pub last month. Though I haven’t (yet) performed in drag, and jazz standards aren’t in my vocal repertoire, I felt like I was coming home, like I was at the feet of a master. I feel sad for the generation of artists, like Nomi, who are lost forever; but I’m more grateful that those who survived the genocide, like Arias, continue to do exactly what they’ve always done.

With regard to my own subjectivity, sexuality, and gender, I have more questions now than ever. I certainly don’t relate to cis gay men who enjoy being seen and referred to as “men” or use the word “masculine” to describe themselves on dating apps. I struggle with gender dysphoria when I shop for “men’s” clothes, but I’m still scared to experiment with “women’s” clothes. I “pass” as male and am aware that I enjoy a huge level of access and privilege, relatively speaking, because of it.

How does all this change the way I take up space? How I show up in conversations? What does it mean for someone like me to navigate the classical music world authentically and responsibly?

For all my questions, I’m inspired by the long view I get from looking to someone like Joey Arias, whose commitment to his aesthetic and performance style is fierce and unquestionable. If, when I’m pushing 70, I’m anywhere near as vibrant, self-possessed, and zany as he is now, I’ll have been forever indebted to him and Klaus Nomi for opening my heart to my own voice.

Header image via Getty

The Burn Out That Saved My Life

Six months before coming out, I had a burn out that forced me to spend a week at the hospital.

This scary event saved my life; the three months I had to take off to mentally recover and build a better work-life balance taught me to focus on my own needs and priorities. That space allowed me to think about myself and my desires, instead of trying to please everyone.

At 35, I pretty much had checked all the boxes: a successful international designer career, a husband, a kid, a big apartment. I forgot one thing in this plan: myself.

I was assigned female at birth, and I lived all my life seen by others as a woman. That day in March 2017, when I reached rock bottom, was the scariest and most hopeful day of my life. Coming out as a transgender person at 35 was a huge leap; a life or death kind of leap. That was the moment I finally gave myself a rebirth.

We talk a lot, in the queer community at least, about gaslighting. When someone makes you believe that what you witnessed and/or felt was not true, even though you are pretty sure you are right, until they insist so much that you start doubting what you really saw or felt. We rarely talk about our own gaslighting: I became a master in gaslighting myself, losing confidence and being less and less sure of anything.

In the misogynistic, binary society of France where I grew up, masculine-presenting people are praised and encouraged which builds their confidence. It is very common for feminine-presenting persons to talk themselves down, as they are used to not being seen as valuable. I knew I was uncomfortable with my body since age seven, but I never had the language to express what those feelings were. I felt a constant clumsiness in my own body; I avoided mirrors.

I remember watching La Cage aux Folles (literally “the cage of crazy women”), a farce by Jean Poiret. It was one of the first mainstream movies that featured drag queens. At the time, and even now, gay feminine people were identified by the slang “folles” — “crazy.” Transsexual and transgender persons were always pictured as a joke in movies, not empowered at all. This taught me that feeling different was something I should bury deep down, otherwise people would mock me.

On top of that, France has a very gendered culture and language. Every word is either masculine or feminine, and every adjective is conjugated according to the word’s gender: “the girl is short” — “la fille est petite”; “the boy is short” –“le garçon est petit.” There is no escape from the binary in France. Everyone in stores uses Madam or Sir to greet you. You are always expected to be on one side of that binary: woman, who learned how to receive unsolicited comments, or man, who felt entitled to invade someone else’s space. I’ve witnessed first hand how masculinity can be toxic, and make a space feel suddenly unsafe.

We teach women to not walk alone at night, wear “appropriate” clothes to not attract looks and comments. We are living in a world where being female-presenting means that you use half of your daily focus to make sure nobody is following you in the street, to check that your cleavage is not too revealing when you enter a meeting room, to close your legs tight when you sit on a subway car, to smile to the catcallers in case they get aggressive if you ignore them.

Living in this constant fear was exhausting and, in my case, even harder because the female presentation that was attracting those unsolicited disturbing sexual comments was already causing me so much distress. Late at night, I used to walk closer to women-presenting people to feel safe.

Going from victim to perpetrator

Even though I now identify as nonbinary and use they/them pronouns, I initially went through a hyper-masculine phase where I was using a very gendered vocabulary (like “bro,” “dude”…) and he/him pronouns. I think I felt the need to go into the “bro” culture to counterbalance the femininity I had to experience against my will for 35 years. However, I was playing a dangerous role by being part of the “boys club”: it feels great, and safe, to be at the top of the food chain but it also hurts, not only women but everyone in our society who is not a cisgender white man. By perpetuating the fact that male-presenting persons are the most important individuals, and putting masculine terms as the neutral like “dude” and “hey guys!” even when the group is not only “guys,” we continue to feed the binary gender war. The male privilege means higher salaries, more speaking time in meetings, or overall more credibility to the point that we can literally get away with murder. This won’t be challenged enough until we actually make the neutral a real neutral between women and men.

I’ve been aware that exploring my gender made me cross the line of toxic masculinity. It was time to stop being a jerk and actually turn my newly earned privilege into a positive by assessing my contribution to the unfair society of which I was once a victim.

I understand how cisgender men have a hard time believing that it’s real and how it affects someone’s mental health and growth. I sometimes even forget that it exists, and I lived for 35 years as a woman.

By being seen as a white masculine person, I gain some privileges. What I say is ten times more potent than when I was read as a woman. I bring up the same feminist and inclusive conversations with the difference that now people listen to me. I receive way less noise that tries to shut me down, which allows me to believe in my own thoughts and feelings. I need less effort to convince others of my ideas and plans, because I seem more trustworthy as a man.

Why do I feel more confident now? It’s a mix of finally being my true self and also because men are overall more encouraged. Being supported fuels my self-esteem which then allows myself to take more risks — the secret to growing more confidence. Being seen, heard, and believed was an incredible boost to my growth.  

Finding my purpose in life

I still had to fight trans issues like legally changing my name to Max. I had to update it both in France and in the US, so I lived for a very long time with my very feminine birth name on my credit card. One day, I paid for an order at a coffee shop using that card. When my tea was ready, the barista shouted out my birth name which does not match my masculine presentation at all. In this profoundly traumatic experience, I was not only crushed by a sense of gender dysphoria but actually put at a real risk of danger as everyone in the cafe became aware that I am transgender. I wanted to crawl inside my skin; everything instantly seemed too hard and not worth the fight. Nobody will ever see me as I see myself. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to die.

I picked up my tea, grumbled that my name was actually Max, and I went to sit. I stayed there, staring at my tea, and ultimately the cashier came to me to apologize for not asking for my name when she took the order. Her name was Destiny. You can’t make that up.

I realized the fault was not really hers. Maybe yes, the coffee place should have had a process where they ask everyone’s name instead of using the name on the credit card, but also, my brain started to function again. I got out of my panic moment: the app the cafe used to collect payment could have a separate field to input a name distinct from the name written on the credit card. This is a simple fix that could have saved me this traumatic experience as well as the fear of direct violence for being outed as transgender in a public space.

I realized I could be the change and improve gender inclusion issues using my unique perspective in the society and the Design Thinking Workshops methodology I was practicing for years as a designer in startups. I saw how I could leverage the user research sessions and ideation workshops to focus on inclusion problems instead of business problems. This call was impossible not to listen to: I felt this urge to use my superpowers and my unique perspective to open people’s minds on how risky a gendered society can be.

I embraced that new power by using my voice to reach even more people as well as learning when to stop talking to leave space for underrepresented voices. I decided to put my successful design company on hold and partner with Jay Bendett, a nonbinary person with experience in early childhood education and a Master’s degree in Gender Politics & Education. Together we became Argo, a collective with an inventive way to create approachable inclusivity programs that solve real problems and drive actual outcomes for companies that want to open their market to a more diverse crowd — or just want to do the right thing. For many years I craved a project like this, where I could use all my skills and passion.

I train teams to be more gender-inclusive by figuring out solutions in the products and services they release. I also designed our Inclusion Action Cards with Jay: these are 18 actionable tips for teams to foster belonging in their products and workplace. This side project has been a huge success. Someone shared that using some of Argo’s tips made a university interested in placing a transgender student on their staff.  We know how hard it is to find a first job, especially as an underrepresented person. Even just one transgender person having an easier life means Argo is a success for me.

The excitement of this new adventure brings me back to the infinite energy I had in high school for the arts, when I was creating projects all the time, day and night. I remember this goofy little guy I used to draw with short hair, jeans, and sneakers. His name was Max. I keep wondering how my life would have unfolded if a transgender person was actively helping me figuring out my own gender at the time. I want to be that person for a young Max.

Illustration by Bronwyn Lundberg

Scary Stories for Queer Women Prove Life Is Scarier Than Fiction

Happy (almost) Halloween! ‘Tis the season for spooky stories — which, depending on your experience, might be a bit different. For the queer women we gathered for this campfire session, the things they summon up in their stories are particularly scary for queer women.

One story features bisexual erasure. Another sees a woman deal with a partner with particularly long nails. And one tells the tale of a lesbian couple whose greatest fear comes in the form of a man — one who thinks, despite their public displays of affection, that they’re related.

But when it comes time for the token guy of the group to tell his own scary story, the women around him find it all pretty familiar: being stalked down the street, threat of being killed, unhelpful police. The familiar experience doesn’t exactly spook them, to say the least.

“So your whole lives are like a horror movie?” he asks, dumbfounded. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”

Watch the full video below.