Dearly Beloved, I Have Three Options and None of them Are Good

In this week’s Dearly Beloved, the advice column from author Michael Arceneaux, our dear reader writes a whole lot about three different men who have one thing in common: none of them sound right for our dear reader. Yes, it’s another round of tough love. ‘Tis the season for it, apparently.

If you want Michael’s advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start your letter with Dearly Beloved!

It’s a thing.

 

Dearly Beloved,

Okay, so about five years ago I met someone on a dating app. We hit it off quite well, but then I had to go to a different country for work — which made it quite difficult for us to meet again. Over time, he was genuine enough to tell me that he had met someone. I  was happy for him ‘cause we had developed such a strong bond so I cared for his happiness.

So, after three years of online chatting, I came back to the country and met someone else. He was closeted and shy and always referred to me as a friend even though I’d spend an entire week at his house. I didn’t really take him seriously.

I then decided to call the first guy I met for a catch up over coffee. He postponed and then started ignoring me and doing stuff I wasn’t used to him doing. He just turned cold basically, which hurt me a lot because I really cared for him. I decided to get over it.

I wrote about it in a journal, but it took me a while to recover.

I met someone else and we hit it off well. But at the last minute, he told me that he is moving to the Maldives for work and that I must come and visit. Now, that’s very far away and this was a three month relationship. I haven’t visited him and it’s been a year and it kills me inside.

More recently, the first guy I met who “changed” his ways reached out to me and all those feelings came back. However, when we finally met again, it wasn’t the same. I love him, but I’m more cautious. I don’t want to get back to that dark space so I’m not letting him in fully.

This all brings me back to the the second closeted guy I met. We still see each other, but he has never opened up his heart. He is all about “let’s have a good time and that’s that.” He is not mean or pushy or anything bad. He is just very closeted and shy and I’ve developed feelings for him, too.

I don’t know what to do. I got the love of my life who broke my heart that I am afraid might do it again. Then I got a guy who I hit it off with who is hundreds of kilometers away. Then I’ve got a closeted man who just won’t open up that I’m not sure would want a relationship anyway.

This is all confusing and stressful. What must I do? Please help.

Triple Play

Dear Triple Play,

Pardon me, beloved, but the hawk is out today so my response may come across as cold as the temperature outside. Even so, it sounds like you need bluntness right now. Consider this rebuttal your Seamless order of a different sort of nourishment.

You have three options, but none of them are going to yield you the result you appear to be aiming for: a relationship.

The first dude does not want you. Yes, he liked you, but then your job took you to a different country and he met someone else while you were away. Sometimes breaks are not the end; they are simply a “see you later.” This is not a “see you later” because as you have noted, he’s gotten cold towards you. Sure, he hit you up to profess a shift, but you’re admittedly guarded about him so why are you even wasting so many words on a man who has already displayed a tendency to flip on you at random?

That spark is gone so move it along.

The person that lives in another country and that you had a three month relationship with: why are we talking about this? You haven’t visited him, so it can’t kill you that much. Perhaps it’s an issue of means. Like, you want to go but cannot swing it financially. I totally understand that, but bottom line, if you can’t get to him, it’s not a thing.

As for the closeted person, he told you what it was so either you get with that or you check out. You developing feelings for him does not negate that he has been honest with you about his intentions. It’s not going to be what you want it to be, and despite what some people like to tell themselves, you cannot change people — especially if they don’t want to change.

A part of me feels you are making the mistake many of us have made or continue to make: we’re so determined to have a relationship, or at least something in proximity to that, that we entertain people who are the romantic equivalent of an album filler. It helps us evade feelings of loneliness and makes us feel that we’re still trying. However, there comes a point in which you have to learn when to stop entertaining everyone because you’re waiting for someone.

None of these men are for you, and while it sucks, it’s okay. I suggest you put “thank u, next” on loop, have your moment lamenting the dearly departed, and then stop pretending any of these scenarios were going to lead you to the taken status you’re clamoring for. After that, let them all go and go off and find someone who can actually give you what you need.

Signed,

Beloved!

10 Of The Best Queer Kisses This Year

It’s no exaggeration to say that a kiss can change the world. Just this one tiny act of affection can make a real lasting impact, whether it’s by cementing the love shared between two people or celebrating the strides made by the LGBTQ community as a whole.   

In the year of 20GayTeen, more queer people openly expressed their love for each other than ever before, so pucker up and join us as we take a look at 10 of the most unforgettable kisses shared on our screens and beyond.

We Are Not (Ken)Worthy

While competing at the Winter Olympics earlier this year, skier Gus Kenworthy warmed our hearts when a kiss he shared with his boyfriend, Matthew Wilkas, was unknowingly broadcast to the world on NBC. The openly gay athlete later joked about the incident with reporters, explaining that “I could’ve made out with him had I known.” Even so, “the tiniest kiss in the world” still created huge waves within the world of competitive sports, which is still struggling with homophobia in various forms.

Justice For Choni

Choni might not be faring particularly well in Season 3, but Riverdale’s most popular couple almost broke the internet when they first got together towards the end of Season 2. After Cheryl was subjected to conversion therapy by the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, Toni decided to break in and rescue her, complete with an all-consuming kiss right in front of the anti-queer PSAs shown in the projection room. Backlit by the movie projector, this beautiful moment inspired a new generation to explore their sexuality without restraint, not to mention some real hardcore fanfiction, too.

Love, Keiynan

The only thing more inspiring than seeing a gay lead character star in a Hollywood teen movie is hearing Keiynan Lonsdale talk about it while accepting the Best Kiss Award from MTV for his work in Love, Simon. During his speech, the sexually fluid actor told audiences that “You can live your dreams and kiss the one that you love, no matter what gender they are. You can live your dreams and believe in magic.” Excuse me while I go play his song “Kiss The Boy” on an infinite loop.

The First Of Many

No matter what advances technology might make, video game kisses are usually awkward at best, unless of course you’re talking about The Last Of Us II. Naughty Dog haven’t even released the sequel to their flagship game yet, but Ellie’s tender gay kiss in the game’s first trailer blew everything else out of the water when it premiered at E3 earlier this year. For perhaps the first time ever, a video game development team successfully created a kiss that felt real and beautifully human, something which becomes even more important when you realize that the two characters in question are both women.

Changing Lives

Things heated up at the coldest Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on record when the two lead actresses of a new Broadway musical called The Prom kissed on national TV during their live performance. Seeing the first LGBTQ kiss ever broadcast during the parade is certainly something we could all be thankful for this year.

More Than Friends

After Wanuri Kahiu finished directing Rafiki (Friend), she was immediately told that this story of two women falling in love was “against God” and the film was subsequently banned in its native Kenya. Because of this, the first kiss that Kena and Ziki share in the film isn’t just a beautiful artistic statement, but also a powerful act of defiance that reverberated across the world. As long as there are still countries that define homosexuality as a criminal act, scenes like this are still vital and could even help save lives.

Queers of Tomorrow

John Constantine’s own show only lasted for one season and we don’t want to say that it was canceled because NBC erased his bisexuality… but we’re gonna go ahead and say it anyway. Fortunately, everyone’s favorite chain-smoking occult user was brought back to our screens this year in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow with his sexuality intact.

This came to the fore recently in the midseason finale where Constantine’s kiss with the man he loves literally saved reality, creating a ripple effect which fixed everything that was broken. Sure, John might have been the one who broke reality in the first place, but still, his heart was in the right place and after years of erasure, so were his lips.

Not Everything Sucks

It’s tempting to include Kate and Emaline’s kiss from Everything Sucks!, simply because this show is such a beautiful underdog and deserves all of the attention it can get. However, the kiss that matters most in the first and only season of Everything Sucks! is the one that Kate witnesses from afar at the Tori Amos concert. As she watches these two strangers make out in public, the confused young girl suddenly realizes that she doesn’t have to deny who she is anymore. The future that Kate longs for can be a reality for her, too, one day and it all started with these nameless strangers.

Karolina & Nico: Endgame

It’s easy to forget now, given everything else that has happened since, but way back in the first week of 2018, history was made on the Runaways TV show when Karolina made out with Nico. The scene in question marked the first time that queer Marvel superheroes have ever kissed on screen, hopefully paving the way for some super LGBTQ representation on the big screen too.

What We All Need

It’s only fitting that the woman who first coined the phrase ‘20GayTeen’ would make such a big impact this year with her music video for “What I Need,” which also features fellow queer artist Kehlani. Through Hayley Kiyoko’s self-directed promo, the pair tell a powerful love story that includes a passionate kiss with some strong Thelma & Louise vibes. Seeing a relationship like this represented physically in a chart-friendly music video would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. That’s the power of 20GayTeen right there.

BREAKING: Trump Administration Asks to Go Back to Court Over Obamacare’s Transgender Protections

The Trump administration on Monday asked a Texas judge to hear a case that could determine the fate of the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination rule protecting transgender people as well as access to abortion and birth control.

In a new brief filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, the Justice Department asked conservative judge Reed O’Connor to lift a stay that has prevented Franciscan Alliance v. Azar, formerly known as Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell, from moving forward for 17 months. The Trump administration also proposed a schedule that would allow the case to continue until May 24, at which point O’Connor would make a final ruling on whether to take trans protections out of the ACA.

Judge O’Connor is the same judge who ruled Friday that Obamacare’s individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the ACA “fails” without it.

While the Trump administration first announced in April that it planned to overturn ‘section 1557,’ the part of the ACA that bans sex discrimination on the basis of gender identity or pregnancy status, it hasn’t moved to do so outside of the court.

Section 1557’s specific nondiscrimination guidelines were added to the ACA in 2016, after a six-year period of study that included 25,000 public comments. While the ACA itself bans discrimination in healthcare on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability, section 1557 clarified the meaning of ‘sex discrimination’ to include gender identity and pregnancy status, spurring pushback from conservative groups that don’t want health insurance to cover transgender health care or birth control and abortion.

O’Connor, described by the New York Times as a conservative favorite in “weaponized courts,” has been employed by anti-LGBTQ activists to strike down transgender rights and other progressive causes.

In December 2016, O’Connor issued an injunction blocking the portions of the ACA that protected against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or pregnancy.  He then issued a stay in the case, leaving the plaintiffs — and insurers — with nearly two years of questions about how to interpret the ACA’s sex discrimination rule.

“The regulations really play a critical role in making sure that both patients and the healthcare industry understand the law and help make real its guarantees that people will be able to access healthcare,” Harper Jean Tobin, director of Policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, told INTO on Monday. “It’s very much part of what the Trump admin is trying to do overall, which is trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act.”

LGBTQ advocates, however, have stressed that the ACA continues to protect transgender people, who can still file private lawsuits outside of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which enforced 1557.

“This case is an outlier,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney and healthcare strategist at Lambda Legal. “And what they’re suggesting flies in the face of a legal consensus that has been around this question.”

Jocelyn Samuels helmed the HHS Office of Civil Rights and oversaw the implementation of the 1557 protections under President Obama in 2016.

“There have been those cases filed in other courts, and the vast majority of judges have found that the law does cover gender identity discrimination,” Samuels, currently the director of the UCLA’s LGBTQ think tank Williams Institute, told INTO.

But even though several court rulings have found that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is the same thing as sex discrimination, the concept is still being battled out in the courts. Without the HHS rule that makes it clear gender identity is protected under sex, there is no other federal law that clearly and overtly bars anti-trans discrimination.

“What the Trump administration is trying to do here is to send the message that it’s okay to send transgender people away, to refuse transgender people healthcare,” Tobin says.

The battle over section 1557 has already resulted in a trickle-down effect nationwide; the state of Wisconsin cited O’Connor’s injunction in a case brought by two trans state employees seeking insurance coverage (the state lost), and a July report by Human Rights Watch found that anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care rose sharply after the Trump administration’s policy changes.

One in three trans people say they have experienced mistreatment from a medical provider and the same number report discrimination by an insurer, said Tobin.

There’s currently no party in the case advocating for trans people, Tobin explained, which right now is between the plaintiffs and the Trump administration — and they are on the same side. But in the Justice Department’s Monday filing, the Trump administration suggests that the ACLU of Texas and other intervening parties be allowed to join the case. If O’Connor allows it, those groups would argue on behalf of trans access to healthcare and on behalf of abortion and birth control rights.

“This is a case about taking rights away from transgender people, and there are no transgender people actually in the case arguing for why that shouldn’t happen. No one is speaking up on behalf of transgender people in this case right now,” Tobin told INTO.

The ACLU of Texas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The civil rights groups asking to join the case would only be intervening in O’Connor’s original December 2016 injunction. If the Trump administration creates a new HHS rule, that would likely result in a new court case altogether.

At the start of the year, the White House announced a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division under HHS, tasked with protecting health care workers who refuse care on the basis of “moral objections.” LGBTQ advocates say that move weaponizes the office against LGBTQ people instead of protecting them against discrimination.

HHS did not respond to a request to comment by press time.

“The reason they can’t just make a new rule is the majority of courts have decided that sex discrimination covers gender identity discrimination,” Gonzalez-Pagan told INTO. “And several courts have decided that section 1557 does protect trans people.”

‘Skateboarding is Super Queer’: An Interview with Vanessa Torres

Vanessa Torres was born in 1986 and became a professional skateboarder at age 14. An immensely talented, stylish athlete, she was one of the first women to make a dent in the male-dominated world of street skating, alongside Elissa Steamer and, later, Alexis Sablone. She is also a universal inspiration to a growing generation of younger women skateboarders. Initially sponsored by the renowned company Element, Torres eventually moved to Meow Skateboards, a smaller, all-women outfit that allows her greater creative control.

Torres is also one of the most outspoken gay skateboarders active in the sport today. At one contest, she showed up wearing a “gay rights” T-shirt a friend designed–a bold move in a sport that still clings to its heteronormative side. When I showed a picture of Torres sliding down a large downhill ledge in pajama bottoms and a hot-pink sports bra to a girlfriend of mine, my friend echoed the apocryphal line about James Bond: “I don’t want to be with her, I want to be her.”

INTO reached Torres by phone on her patio in Long Beach, California. 

Is there a large lesbian community in women’s skateboarding?

I feel like the majority of my inner circle are lesbians, or identify as non-binary or queer. I know a lot of straight people too. [laughs] Skateboarding always brings people together, no matter your preferences. I’ve been really fortunate to grow a crew.

Growing up, I skated with a lot of dudes, until I got sponsored [by Element] and started traveling and was able to meet other women who skated. When I was young being queer wasn’t talked about as much. Now it’s like, queer is trending, you know what I mean? Which can be annoying, but in skateboarding it’s rad. Right now skateboarding is super queer, and I love it.

Has that changed in the course of your career?

Yeah, it’s gotten more inclusive. Obviously there are many hardships that still lie within skateboarding. I’ve been dating my partner for over a year now, and it’s wild the way she sees the world. I see it in the same way, but I never thought about so many things, especially in skateboarding.

Traveling with dudes, I got so accustomed to a certain energy. There’s this constant banter that everyone has to uphold that can be misogynistic and objectifying. I’m not saying I contributed to the conversation, but I was outside it looking in, really close to it, and they were obviously comfortable with that. Now, being 32 and looking back, I’m like, “Holy shit.” I don’t want to be like, all cis men, I don’t want to point the finger, but in my own experience, more often than not, those are the people that are having these conversations without any regard for how damaging and harmful they can be.

Anyway, there are so many things going on right now in queer skateboarding, so many events and gatherings. Queer people are doing so much for skateboarding, reinforcing safe spaces, community, support and inclusivity. I’ve been getting more involved with that as well, because the energy feels right for me in those spaces, with my people.

In many skate videos, especially older ones, there’s the trope of the security-guard altercation. There’s a lot less of that in the all-women skate video Quit Your Day Jobwhere you have a part.

Right, it’s like [the guys] are upholding something: “Fuck the system.” I was obviously on all the sessions for Quit Your Day Job. I think honestly we just got lucky. Also, when you get older, you want to avoid citations, so if a cop tells you to go, you probably go. I can’t afford that shit. [laughs]

I think we’re all still rebellious, we’re just trying to be a little smarter about it these days. I’m not a minor anymore. I remember getting cited when I was a teenager for skating a school, and I was so scared and freaked out. There was such a crazy strong stigma around the presence of a cop. I just started crying.

Tom of Finland has a skateboarding collection, and while it’s a small thing, skateboarding gear that’s pretty sexual and geared toward gay men is definitely out there. Does the same thing exist for women?

Do you mean the same concept but by women, for women?

Yeah, exactly.

That would be fucking rad. I don’t think it’s going to be long before something like that does come out, to be honest. Everything is constantly evolving, and people are expressing themselves a lot more within skateboarding.

Maybe I’ll do it. Or maybe I know somebody who could carry the torch, and I could play some role.

I was watching Nyjah Houston’s Nike SB part the other day. But Quit Your Day Job gets me so much more excited to go skate, because it’s not just an endless succession of huge stairs and handrails.

Yeah. It offers a variety of different styles of skating. Everyone’s having fun. I think you feel that what we filmed is authentic. Grab your crew, go skate, make friends.

The more creative and authentic something presents itself to be, the more pumped I’m going to get off of it, because I relate more to it. Watching Nyja is like, Mmmmh. He’s really fucking good. But that just doesn’t get me off.

In an interview with Transworld, Lacey Baker said that while men often have the option of not skating contests, because they can survive from money from their sponsors, women never had that choice. Would you skate contests if you didn’t have to financially?

From, say, age 14 to 17, contests were really fun for me. I was experiencing that atmosphere for the first time. I was a kid who just wanted to skate. It was good meeting people and being able to go to new places. Also, I skated Street League in 2015, and had a lot of fun. Even more so because I was recently sober, and I had all this energy and was experiencing things really clearly.

But at the end of my twenties, I started having a lot more emotion toward skating contests. Like: “God, I fucking hate this.” I literally felt like I was going to fucking throw up. I’ve been skating contests for so long, but the feeling that I get has never changed. I drop in, I black out, and it’s over, and hopefully I did well. I know I’m not just speaking for myself: a lot is riding on it. There were a lot of contests in the last couple years I skated for financial reasons. I did enjoy myself a little bit, but it was more stress than actually having a good time. Associating that with skating didn’t feel right to me. I don’t want to dislike something that brings me pure happiness. I’ll occasionally skate a contest if it’s some independent thing where the skateboarding is genuine. And where you don’t have huge-ass cameras in your face.

I mean, it’s really great if you have sponsors that offer you a travel budget, and a lot more of that is happening now. I’m just going to say it: I think it’s Olympic related. They’re picking up really amazing women who fucking rip and deserve it, but it’s a little bittersweet in my opinion that because the Olympics are happening now, they’re “woke.”

I’m also just not a competitive person. I know what it takes to podium, which is where you want to be because that’s where the money is, and I’m like, “I don’t want to do that shit to my body anymore.” Mariah [Duran], Lacey [Baker], Jenn Soto—y’all have fun.

You mentioned getting sober. Why do you think alcoholism and drug addiction are so prevalent in skateboarding?

My own personal experience is that it was very normalized. I’m sure it’s like being a punk rocker—the bad kids club, you know? But being around Mariah and Jenn and the younger girls, they’re approaching life and health so differently. They do physical therapy and go to the gym. You get up early and go for a run? That’s really fucking rad.

I feel like I played a part by fucking up and being a pile of shit for so long, and then getting my shit together. Also, it’s rough to party for a really long time at a certain level. After 25 it’s just not cute. “You’re an adult hot fucking mess”—that was me.

Obviously, past age 30, a lot of things in skateboarding get harder. Has anything gotten easier for you?

I’ve brought down the level of pressure that I put on myself. I moved to Long Beach from LA, and I love it here. Cherry Park is nearby, and there’s a ditch spot super close to the water, which is rad to skate at sunset. I’ve actually learned a couple tricks in the last year. Apparently, learning new tricks is still a thing in your thirties? And that’s the shit that motivates me—that excitement of what it felt like to land your first kickflip.

You can extend the lifespan of your skating by taking care of yourself. I need to start doing yoga, but I do go to physical therapy, because I had surgery on my knee a couple years ago, and it still hurts every day. As a skateboarder, you think you have this amazing balance, but try going to a physical therapist and doing balancing exercises. You’re like, “I’m a hot mess, I can’t even.” It’s crazy. I skate better than I can walk.

This interview has been condensed and edited

Images via Getty, Facebook, YouTube

Decriminalizing Sex Work Will Save Lives

Today, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, we stand with sex workers, their advocates, and allies to renew our call to end the criminalization of sex work, which breeds violence and perpetuates stigma based on outdated social mores.

The benefits of decriminalizing sex work are clear. Not doing so only pushes already marginalized people – many of whom are LGBTQ – further from the social safety nets and services that protect everyone else, increasing their exposure to violence.

Whether a personal choice or a necessity, sex work is work. But systemic discrimination can lead LGBTQ people in particular to sex work. LGBTQ people, especially those who are Black, trans, and women or femmes, are more likely to live in poverty and be unemployed and homeless than non-LGBTQ people. Because of these realities, transgender people engage in sex work at a rate ten times that of cisgender women. Among trans respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, those who faced family rejection, poverty, or unequal opportunities in employment, housing, and education were more likely to engage in sex work.

Because their work is criminalized and stigmatized, sex workers often face violence in the workplace, in public, and at the hands of unscrupulous law enforcement officers whose job it is to serve and protect. One study of New York sex workers reported that 80 percent had been victims of violence, including 27 percent at the hands of police. Twenty-three percent of LGBTQ murder victims on the 2012 Anti-Violence Project report were killed while engaging in sex work.

recent study reviewed data from 33 countries and found that sex workers in countries which criminalized their work – even if only criminalizing clients – were more likely to engage in risky encounters. Fear of the police also prevented sex workers from taking the time to talk to a client or negotiate terms in advance, leading them into more dangerous encounters.

Furthermore, reports indicate that the passage of federal anti-trafficking legislation FOSTA/SESTA earlier this year appears to have resulted in increased violence and risk of violence for sex workers, just as advocates predicted it would.

And over the course of 11 days in September, a Border Patrol agent attacked five sex workers, killing Janelle Ortiz (a trans woman), Melissa Ramirez, Claudine Luera, and Guiselda Alicia Cantu, and nearly killing Erika Pena. He recently told prosecutors that he killed the women to “clean up the streets,” illustrating the real threat of daily and deadly violence that continuing stigma causes sex workers.

As we have argued in court, the criminalization of sex work is counter to public policy goals because it reduces access to health care and increases violence against sex workers and victims of trafficking.

We will continue to stand with sex workers, their advocates, and allies to fight for sex workers’ right to be free from violence and unwarranted criminalization, and for their right to self-determination and autonomy.

Header image via Getty

City To Teach Kids Boys Can Have Periods, Too

Boys can have periods, too. That’s the message a city in Britain is promoting in schools, in an effort to embrace transgender and non-binary students.

Brighton and Hove, a city of around 280,000 in East Sussex, England, has adopted a landmark report that mandates learning about periods should be “inclusive of all genders.”

The directive is part of an effort to combat “period poverty,” or lack of access to menstrual products in the towns 50 miles south of London. The document advises that all school bathrooms in the be equipped with bins for disposal of sanitary products.

“Trans boys and men and non-binary people may have periods,” it states. “Pupils with very early onset puberty and trans pupils and students are provided with additional support perhaps from a school nurse, if needed.”

The report cites national statistics including that 10 percent of girls, specifically, in the UK cannot afford menstrual products and 49 percent have missed a day of school because of their periods.

But it has also stirred substantial backlash, as the UK remains deeply divided over transgender rights. The government is weighing amending the Gender Recognition Act to allow trans people to more easily change their legal gender, and a backlash of transphobia has made international headlines.

The Guardian has published a series of pieces criticized as shockingly transphobic. In October, the outlet faced intense backlash for an editorial about the debate around the GRA, which claimed that gender identity does not cancel out sex.

“Women’s oppression by men has a physical basis, and to deny the relevance of biology when considering sexual inequality is a mistake,” it states. “The struggle for women’s empowerment is ongoing.”

Guardian staffers in the U.S. condemned the piece as the “essence of bigotry,” in a scathing response.

“The editorial’s unsubstantiated argument only serves to dehumanize and stigmatize trans people,” they argued. “Numerous academic studies have confirmed that trans-inclusive policies do not endanger cis people.”

The Brighton and Hove report has also been the subject of praise and denigration in the UK.

Header image via Getty

Will Pete Buttigieg Be America’s First Gay President?

In 2016, the New York Times asked whether Pete Buttigieg might just be “the first gay president,” saying the mayor of South Bend, Indiana was such a perfect Democratic candidate he may as well have been concocted in a laboratory.

On Monday, that moniker appeared to enter the realm of possibility, as 2020 speculation fueled headlines after Buttigieg announced on Twitter that he would not seek another term as mayor.

At a press conference Monday, Buttigieg admitted the 2020 rumors might be accurate: “I don’t think it’s a secret,” he said.

“I won’t be making any news about any other political activity on my end before the end of this year,” Buttigieg also said at the press conference, noting that he plans to see his mayoral duties through until the end of his term in late 2019.

But while he didn’t refer to a specific run for a specific office, Buttigieg did hint repeatedly towards something, at one point saying with a smile, “sometimes you are a candidate and an office holder.”

Buttigieg’s political press coordinator Lis Smith told INTO there are no announcements regarding 2020 at this time: “Today was just about the mayoral race,” said Smith. The fact that Smith is working with Buttigieg is notable in itself; Smith is a campaign veteran who worked as Obama’s director of rapid response, as deputy campaign manager for Martin O’Malley’s presidential bid, and as New York mayor Bill DeBlasio’s campaign spokesperson.

In an email to INTO on Monday, the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s Senior Political Director Sean Meloy sung Buttigieg’s praises and his “national profile.”

“President Obama was right to call Pete Buttigieg one of the most ‘gifted’ politicians in the Democratic Party,” Meloy told INTO. “South Bend was once regarded as a dying city; thanks to Mayor Pete’s leadership, South Bend’s population has increased and downtown South Bend has been revitalized. When he came out in 2015, Mayor Pete became one of the most visible openly LGBTQ leaders in the Midwest and quickly established a national profile because of his record of accomplishment. We’re excited to see what the future has in store.”

Buttigieg was already in office as mayor when he came out as gay in a June 2015 op-ed for the South Bend Tribune.

“I was well into adulthood before I was prepared to acknowledge the simple fact that I am gay,” wrote Buttigieg in the op-ed. “It took years of struggle and growth for me to recognize that it’s just a fact of life, like having brown hair, and part of who I am.”

At the time, Buttigieg wrote, “We Midwesterners are instinctively private,” but continued that he thought it was important to come out in order to make the world a little easier for LGBTQ youth. He also said coming out as gay seemed important given the historic same-sex marriage case (Obergefell) that was poised to transform equal rights for gay Americans that same month.

If legalizing same-sex marriage transformed LGBTQ equality, the 2018 midterm elections transformed LGBTQ political prospects. More openly LGBTQ candidates ran than ever before in history — and more won than ever before, too, with groundbreaking midterm election victories at every level of government, from Jared Polis becoming the first gay man elected governor of a U.S. state to transgender women like Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker winning statehouse representation.

It may just mean America is ready for its first gay president. And in 2020, that could be Pete Buttigieg.

Drag Queen Story Hour is Different Down South

In Alabama, a tourist can visit many Civil Rights-era landmarks. Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where a Klan bomb killed four little girls preparing for Sunday School, still hosts a regular 11am Sunday service. Ninety miles south, tourists can still walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, a site that kicked off Civil Rights marches and a brutal confrontation with police dubbed “Bloody Sunday.”

But Civil Rights tourists who travel further down to Alabama’s southwest pocket would find themselves a bit out of luck in Mobile. Two grassroots leagues exerted pressure on local politics during the Civil Rights era and insured that Mobile’s struggles played out in the courtroom and not the streets. Until now. Last August, Mobile’s Government Plaza played host to a packed out county commission meeting where concerned locals spoke out against Mobile’s first Drag Queen Story Hour.

“This event represents opening the door to many other abhorrent behavioral lifestyles,” Woodridge Baptist Church Pastor Matt Morris said, “which threatens to undermine the moral fiber of this country.”

When writer and new mom Michelle Tea launched Drag Queen Story Hour at the San Francisco Library in December of 2015, she was more focused on her raucous toddler than the country’s moral fiber. By the summer of 2016, the Brooklyn Public Library was on board and the event took root up and down blue states on the east and west coasts with very little fanfare or community agitation.

When there was a protestor, such as the one at a reading pegged to Staten Island Gay Pride, it was usually a lone wolf who snuck into the event. Now that the franchise is replicating in the Deep South, religious conservatives posit it as the latest skirmish in the ongoing culture wars. It’s here that drag queen Khloe Kash read from children’s books to an audience of avid 3 to 8-year-olds at Mobile’s first Drag Queen Story Hour, giving rise to angry shouts about protecting our children. These were not lone wolf protestors, though, and they’ve grown large enough to be contained by metal police gates outside the event. Their ire spreads seismically.

Six hours west of Mobile, in Lafayette, Louisiana, the president of the local public library board, Joseph Gordon-Wiltz, resigned over plans to implement a Drag Queen Story Hour in his library. Congressman Clay Higgins jumped into the fray, releasing a statement ending with the battle cry, “the very purpose of this incredibly inappropriate event should be questioned. The intrusion of the LGBQT Drag Queen realm into the Lafayette community, targeting our youngest children within a publicly funded venue, can only reflect the leftist agenda to deconstruct gender across America.”

A bit further west, Houston’s mayor Sylvester Turner and library director Rhea Lawson were named in a lawsuit brought by religious conservatives who don’t want Drag Queen Story Hour in their library system, let alone their tax dollars funding this assault on their religious freedom. The motley crew of plaintiffs included a man who uses library books to homeschool his children, a mother whose husband left her for a transgender woman and a man whose previous suit was predicated on his right to marry his computer.

“Drag Queen Story Hour is just what it sounds like,” reads Michelle Tea’s original mission statement. “Drag queens reading stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores. Drag Queen Story Hour captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real.”

Jonathan Hamilt came on board in San Francisco by their second or third event and in the fall of 2015, he was huddling with a like-minded Rachel Aimee at Feminist Press, working together to bring Drag Queen Story Hour to New York.

“We brought it to a bookstore first,” he says, “and people kept asking more about it.” Soon the Brooklyn Public Library was recruiting them.

“It kept going and going,” he says. “Now it’s international.”

By November of this year, it got real. Mobile’s West Regional Library main entrance was cordoned off, dividing more than 100 protesters and counter-protesters by about 50 feet, enough room to prevent fisticuffs, but also ensure that each group would be trying to out-scream the other. One side chanted “God loves gays,” while the other riffed on kids having their childhood perverted.

It’s the return of Drag Queen Story Hour to Mobile, and one religious protester inside his pen wrestled with a bright red cross, twice as tall as he is, replete with foot and hand pegs along with a crown of thorns. The prop is indicative of this protest’s raison d’être: go big or go home. Inside, children twerked on silver platforms raised about six inches off the floor. They were warming up for Zamareyah Dawn, who would read to them from two works: Sara O’Leary’s book A Family Is a Family Is a Family and Maya Angelou’s poem Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.

A Family features a foster child who gets up her nerve to share that fact with her class after a round-robin reveals kids raised by grandparents and through joint-custody. The child raised by a gay couple is certainly not central to the story. It’s hard to see how any parent could object to anyone reading Maya Angelou to their kids, and her poem here was more about nocturnal wild animals than any type of overt homosexuality. By the time the children moved onto crafting, the protesters holding up their sad, home laser-printed bible verses and the ten police officers maintaining order could be a million miles away. They had all fallen into that familiar, glazed-over cadence of children gluing shit onto construction paper.

“We recently had a Story Hour at the Brooklyn Central branch at the Grand Army Plaza,” Hamilt explains, “and there was a protester straight out of central casting: cowboy hat and overalls with the word ‘repent’ stitched across the back. It was too funny. So he came in and did this whole rigamarole. No one turned around or looked at him during the disruption. Luckily, the drag queen was already on her guitar and playing so people just started clapping and singing louder until security escorted him out.”

For Hamilt, and those whose safety he is responsible for, it all comes down to training.

“We did a bunch of storytelling trainings on how to read books to kids and how to facilitate a reading time,” he says of an early meeting in Brooklyn. “And then it was me and Lil Miss Hot Mess, we were one of the first to do the library in Park Slope and it turned out to be huge.”

Those trainings include “[making] sure that people focus on the positive and don’t react to the negative, even on social media and online.” On Mobile’s Drag Queen Story event page on Facebook, one troll asked a mother why she just doesn’t take her kids to Bourbon Street. The mother went in, telling the troll he’s being more dramatic than any drag queen.

“You’re going to get hate,” Hamilt says. “There are going to be some people who say some really hateful things. You’re going to get trolls. But don’t react. Don’t engage, just be the higher person.”

But if a mama bear can’t resist a good smackdown, what chance does a drag queen, who has cut her teeth on hecklers in the club, have? “Well, yeah,” he agrees, “but we’re constantly being scrutinized and filmed. And we’re working with kids. If we were in a nightclub or at Pride, it would be a different story. We’d have the community to back us up. But with kids, if you ignore it, they will ignore it. So we have a zero engagement tolerance. We’re like, don’t even address us. But don’t find us in the club, either. It’ll be a different story.”

The roster of participating queens is extensive and impressive, both in their personas and their reading choices.

“Harmonica Sunbeam is always in a crazy outfit that’s very colorful. And Lil Miss Hot Mess is like Ms. Frizzle,” he says. Miss Hot Mess has also been known to freestyle her own version of the children’s classic “The Wheels on the Bus” that includes lyrics like “The hips on the drag queen go swish, swish, swish…”

Freestyling, it should be noted, is encouraged by Drag Queen Story Hour, which has a very free-form design. It’s why Michelle Tea’s original mission statement counters gender restrictions with role models, but Mobile’s chapter head Bryan Fuenmayor describes his event as a way to show the world that the city of Mobile itself is tolerant and diverse. This make-it-up-as-you-go quality is also one that weighs on Hamilt.

“Every time I do it,” he says, “I’m always thinking, OK, which works better with kids? When I do drag, I need to not wear a short dress because the kids are sitting at my knee level. So you learn stuff every time you do it.”

Hamilt says the queens are always on the lookout for new material.

“As classic as Heather Has Two Mommies is,” he explains, “it’s a really bad book to read to a four-year-old because it’s so intense. All of that goes over their head, but we worked really close with the NYPL and the Brooklyn Public Library to create two different book lists, one for early childhood and one for a little bit older.”

“Then we comb through and pull the ones that are good just for story hour purposes alone,” he continues. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a great book. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Pete The Cat are all just great books and then we have our books that talk about gender and about being different and acceptance and tolerance. We read Neither by Airlie Anderson, which is one of our favorites. And then there’s Worm Loves Worm. And Sparkle Boy, 10,000 Dresses and I Am Jazz for older kids. So we all have our favorites, our classics.”

The felines on Hamilt’s reading list outnumber humans, but it’s Heather Has Two Mommies alum Lesléa Newman’s 2017 book Sparkle Boy, with its three-year-old protagonist harboring an affection for his older sister’s sparkly shirts, that tees up this year’s Drag Queen Story Hour lightning rod. 

Parents, it seems, are learning too. “At one of the first story hours I did in New York,” Hamilt remembers, “I was pretty new as a drag queen, too, and this woman came straight up to me. She didn’t say hi or introduce herself. She just goes, ‘How long were you on hormones?’ So I was like, ‘Whoa! Hello, hi.’ But actually, we don’t get a lot of questions from parents.”

At the Staten Island event, a mother of two, who asked not to be named, admitted she likes the event, and has attended before in Park Slope, where she lives.

“That’s actually a tough room,” she confides, drawing a parallel between the Stepford-like rigidity around being “cool” with gender fluidity that she observes in Park Slope and the implacability of the religious right. Her youngest child wears his hair past his shoulders and is definitely rocking what Michelle Tea refers to in Drag Queen Story Hour’s mission statement as “the gender fluidity of childhood.” His mom says she will sometimes gently course correct when they are at home, but wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so around the other Park Slope moms.

“They’re on it,” she says. “Like I said, it can be a tough room.”

For Hamilt, the Park Slope parenting prerogative is much different from “the buckle of the Bible Belt” in rural Georgia where he grew up.

“A lot of that idea comes from an access of privilege,” he adds. “They’re in a safe enough space that there’s no backlash, but some people struggle with it and are facing adversity every day. We’ll see what happens. We all grow up.”

It’s the protesting parents in places like Mobile that Hamilt finds to be scared of what drag queens reading gender-expansive books to children means.

“It’s all fear, but the sad thing is the fear comes out in anger,” Hamilt says. “ Anytime there’s an intellectual radical shift in culture, especially one that challenges gender and puts femininity on the same level as males, people get really nervous and scared. It all goes back to patriarchy and misogyny and having men feel like they aren’t in power. When you challenge that, it trickles down into Drag Queen Story Hour.”

The point, Hamilt says, is simply to share stories that make people “feel comfortable at any age.”

“The younger you feel comfortable and accept yourself and others visually, then that’s just an extra step,” he says. “I would love to live in a world where people can present as who they are 24/7 and not get harassed. I just want everyone to be accepted for who they are.”

For more on upcoming Drag Queen Story Hour events, visit its website or Facebook page.

Images via Drag Queen Story Hour

LGBTQ Films Worth Getting Into On Netflix: ‘Carol’

In our new “Get INTO” series, we rummage through Netflix each week to find the very best movies that LGBTQ cinema has to offer. However you identify, these tales of love, sex and the everyday experience of queer life all deserve a special place in your Netflix queue. Also, some of these films are super hot, so whether you’re alone or with a special “friend,” rev up everyone’s favorite streaming service and get ready to chill with some of the best queer movies on Netflix.

What is Carol? If you’re not already acquainted with the story of Carol and her forbidden love for Therese, do yourself a favor this holiday season and journey back to the 1950s with Cate Blanchett’s most alluring character yet.

In this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s classic novel The Price of Salt, Carol Aird meets an aspiring photographer called Therese Belivet while shopping for her daughter during the Christmas season of 1952. Upon discovering that Carol ‘accidentally’ left her gloves behind in the department store, Therese returns them to her and also hands over her heart in the process — all at a time when the love they shared dared not speak its name.

Who’s in it? Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara both give career-best performances in the two lead roles, but rather than pit them against each other, it was decided that Mara would be put forth for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars while Blanchett competed for lead. In what would soon become a real-life American Horror Story, this gambit didn’t pay off and both stars walked away with nothing, but on the plus side, AHS alumni Sarah Paulson brought even more queerness to the table alongside Gotham’s Cory Michael Smith.

What does Rotten Tomatoes say? “Shaped by Todd Haynes’ deft direction and powered by a strong cast led by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol lives up to its groundbreaking source material.”

What do we say? Director Todd Haynes has built a career out of exploring female repression, providing a voice to women throughout history who have been denied agency by an unforgiving patriarchy. Safe, Far from Heaven, Mildred Pierce… each represents a powerful artistic statement in its own right, but even work as strong as this can’t compare to what could very well turn out to be the greatest film of his career.

So why didn’t Carol win any Oscars? Not only did six Academy Award nominations for Carol lead to zero Academy wins, but the film didn’t even get nominated for Best Picture or Best Director, despite universal praise from critics worldwide. Naysayers tried to defend this decision by claiming that Carol’s behavior was too predatory or that Blanchett was too theatrical, but the truth is that female-centered films that sideline men to this degree still trouble male voters, particularly if the relationships involved are queer. While things are slowly improving, LGBTQ movies that don’t punish characters in the final act are still shut out of the Oscar race, more often than not.

I’ve already seen Carol. Why should I see it again? Evoking the very best of classic Hollywood, Carol is a genuine work of art, drawing audiences in with a combination of exquisite visuals and two stars working at the top of their game. It’s also a queer movie directed by a queer filmmaker, something which is still even rarer than an out lesbian ever was in 1950s America. There are so many details to absorb here that one viewing simply isn’t enough, and the universal themes of love and desire explored in Carol remain as timely now as they were back when Highsmith had to use a pseudonym to write the novel that this film is based on.

Carol is available to stream on Netflix now.

When Straight Black Comics Keep Homo and Transphobia As Part of Their Sets

In his 2017 Netflix special Equanimity, Dave Chappelle wanted us to know a few things.

First and foremost, he wanted us to know that he’s hilarious. I never questioned his talent. At least not until his opening bit in Equanimity, in which the “and then I kicked her in the pussy” punchline turned him into a weird parody of himself.

The second thing he wanted us to know is that he has nothing against trans or gay people, he just really enjoys making fun of them.

Since his highly publicized comeback, Chappelle made numerous jokes about transgender people where the punchline was that he doesn’t really understand what being transgender means. He deadnames and misgenders Caitlyn Jenner, uses slurs and claims that trans people haven’t faced the same kind of violence as Black people, completely erasing the very visible existence of Black trans folks. Equanimity is no different, and it’s an urgent reminder that we must stop laughing at ignorance.

Even after admitting to feeling guilty about making his trans and gay fans feel bad about themselves, Chappelle refused to do himself the favor of getting educated about what transgender people actually experience. I’m unsure about whether it’s the fetishism of controversy or just flaccid sincerity that makes him content in his own ignorance, but he specifically prefaces jokes with things like: “I have no problem with transgender people,” before saying something transphobic; “not to victim blame,” before saying that the 14-year-old actor assaulted by Kevin Spacey turned out to be gay anyway, as if that at all lessens the trauma.

When Kevin Hart’s response to being held accountable for his past homophobia was to say he “is in a different place” since making those jokes, without actually apologizing for remarks about taking violent preventative methods to ensure his son doesn’t become gay, he didn’t only miss the point of the criticism he was facing, he showed a deep lack of understanding of the contextual experience of queer people. When he was tweeting about threatening violence if his son was gay in 2011, it was still illegal for gay people to get married in this country.

Comedy that concerns itself with punching down is a mode of cultural commentary. Not only does it target people with already limited rights, but it also contributes to their oppression. Just because Hart feels he’s grown as a person and he’s focused on positivity or whatever other nonsense he tricked himself into believing to be true doesn’t mean the actual tangible effects of the homophobia he perpetuates cease to exist. You don’t get to decide what I need or deserve after you’ve actively contributed to my pain.

Michael Che’s subsequent defense of Hart on SNL, where he claimed that if Hart isn’t clean enough to host the Oscars then no Black comic is, brought back my long discarded disappointment in Dave Chappelle and Black comics who separate queerness and Blackness in order to more ardently use the former as a punchline. If you’re going to turn people’s lives into trivial jokes, the least you could do is stop willfully misunderstanding them. The distillation of people’s identities shows a level of privilege straight Black comics aren’t even remotely willing to acknowledge.

But it can’t work like that. You can’t bluntly accuse white people of being privileged and refuse to assess your own cisgender and heterosexual privilege. It’s not enough to say “I understand what you’re going through because of 400 years of oppression but also just wait your turn,” as if queer bodies don’t also bear those wounds.

Black lesbian comics are not an especially large demographic. Wanda Sykes, who I consider to be one of the funniest people alive, is the only person I’ve seen find a way to synthesize my experience so cohesively.

In its 43-year history, SNL only just recently hired its first Black lesbian writer, Sam Jay. That Che, as a head writer on SNL, couldn’t be bothered to check in with someone who experiences the duality of these identities before dismissing Hart’s homophobia is the same level of self-righteousness that made Hart refuse to apologize in the first place.

The biggest dilemma in criticizing a marginalized community that you’re a part of is the fear of giving oppressors ammunition with which to further vilify you. It’s true that I experience racism in the queer community as well as homophobia in the Black community, and the burden of pretending I don’t is one I refuse to bear. Black comics aren’t inherently more homophobic than white comics, but watching Black men actively fighting for their right to be homophobic or transphobic because white comics get to do it without accountability makes all their pleas for racial equality moot. It makes their concern about the vilification of Black men (while dismissing that of queer people) hypocritical.

As a Black lesbian and a comedian, it’s hard for me to outright dismiss certain straight Black comics who have a history of homophobia, because they make me feel seen. They vocalize the internal criticism of my own Blackness so poignantly, yet they’re also a reminder that I have to constantly choose which part of myself I’m willing to sacrifice to feel like a whole person. If I choose to be Black, I can enjoy their comedy without a second thought and brush my feelings as a queer woman aside. But frankly, I’m just not sure compartmentalizing myself is worth feeling seen by an hour-long Netflix special from someone who views violent threats to my queer existence as nothing more than a punchline.