New York City and California Start Issuing Non-Binary Identity Documents This Week

California has begun issuing state IDs and driver’s licenses that allow for a third gender option, the same week that New York City began allowing gender-neutral birth certificates. Both mark major triumphs for residents who identify as non-binary, as well as for the transgender community at large.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) added the option of an “X” gender marker for those who do not identify on the traditional gender binary as male (“M”) or female (“F”). The policy went into effect Wednesday in accordance with SB 179, also known as the Gender Recognition Act, which sanctions residents to self-identify their gender. The law was officially signed by exiting Governor Jerry Brown on October 15, 2017.

In a similar fashion, both NYC-based parents, and non-binary or genderqueer adults born in the city, can also choose an “X” gender marker when updating or issuing birth certificates. These changes come only months after Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bill into law in October, all in an effort to “[further] the city’s commitment to defending the rights of our LGBTQ community,” as he said at the time. New York City’s new policy replaces a previous one that required transgender people to supply a doctor’s letter in order to change the sex on a birth certificate.

While California might be the latest state to offer a non-binary marker on IDs and driver’s licenses, it isn’t the first. Colorado officially began rolling out “X” gender markers last November, while Arkansas started issuing them without fanfare in 2010. Maine, Oregon, and Minnesota also offer third gender options, as does Washington, D.C.

In addition to New York City, California, Oregon and Washington also allow for a non-binary gender option on birth certificates, with New Jersey slated to join them with similar legislation that goes into effect on February 1.

“Transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers deserve the right to choose how they identify and to live with respect and dignity,” de Blasio asserted this week in a statement to the press. “This bold new policy advances the fight for equality and makes our city fairer for all people.”

Even though the U.S. government does not recognize the existence of genderqueer people on a federal level, legislation like California’s SB 179 and New York City’s latest gender-neutral provision has shed a light on non-binary visibility and representation to some in a way that never before seemed possible.

“Having a vital document like a driver’s license that correctly reflects your gender is such a basic, yet crucial component to living your everyday life,” Daniel Ramos, Executive Director for LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado, told INTO in November. “Yet, non-binary Coloradans would have to choose between a ‘M’ or ‘F’ designation that may not match their gender identity. This has opened up non-binary individuals to being forced to explain their gender identity when it’s nobody’s business but their own.”

More importantly, California’s SB 179 bases gender on self-attestation, as opposed to verification by a medical professional––meaning that the accuracy of each individual’s gender identity is determined by that individual. The law also makes it easier for trans and non-binary people to change their gender markers on other legal documents, such as––you guessed it––birth certificates.

Legal precedents set by laws like SB 179 serve for some as a beacon in the midst of the current White House administration, which has made notable, concerted efforts to limit the definitions of gender to a traditional, non-inclusive binary. In October, a New York Times article reported an alleged attempt by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue a memo relegating gender to be determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable”––i.e., limited to genitalia.

The issuance of a third gender option for California state IDs and NYC birth certificates also coincides with a federal appeals court ruling to uphold President Donald Trump’s 2017 ban on transgender personnel from serving in the military, despite three preliminary injunctions still in effect from courts in California, Maryland, and Washington.

Despite the Trump administration’s push-backs against the trans community, many are still celebrating what they consider an important step in non-binary visibility, even if they view it on a smaller, more personal scale.

“[Having an ‘X’ gender marker on my ID will] be a big step for me because I’ll be proud and happy to have an ID that reflects my identity,” said Dominique Dickey, a 19-year-old Los Angeles-based student who identifies as genderqueer, in an interview with INTO. Dickey, who uses they/them pronouns, said that gender markers might not carry as much weight as their ID photo, age, or name, but to them, that’s not the point.

“The ‘X’ gender marker means that I can do something tangible to honor the identity that I’m growing into,” said Dickey.

A Trans Flag Has Come to Capitol Hill In A Rebuke Of Trump’s Erasure Memo

In one of the most visceral signs that change has come to Capitol Hill, a new member of the House is making national headlines by rebuking President Trump’s anti-transgender agenda and hanging the trans pride flag outside her office.

Virginia Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D) told the Washingtonian that she hung the flag because the transgender community, which includes her niece, has been under attack.

“I wanted to show my solidarity because we are talking about my friends and family,” Wexton said.

The flag arrives at a time when the Trump administration is swiftly moving to dismantle transgender protections in the U.S. In October, The New York Times reported that the administration was moving to legally define transgender people out of existence. The report spurred a nationwide campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) launched a #WontBeErased hashtag in response.

Human Rights Campaign regional field organizer Narissa Rahaman shared a photo of the flag on Facebook Thursday.

“The congresswoman said to me, ‘Did you see the flag?! I think we’re the only office on the Hill with one,’” Rahaman wrote.

In 2016, Rep. Mike Honda propped the transgender pride flag outside his office in Washington D.C. for Transgender Day of Visibility.

“We face new challenges across our country, as right-wing groups try to scapegoat transgender people to pass mean spirited anti-LGBT legislation,” Honda wrote on his Facebook at the time.

According to MSNBC, Honda displayed the flag in honor of his transgender granddaughter.

Monica Helms, the U.S. Navy veteran who created the trans pride flag, said she was honored by Wexton’s choice to display the flag, and Helms said it illustrates a change in Washington as Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.

“Just the fact that you put a trans flag outside of your office shows a bit of resistance to the current administration’s policies,” said Helms.

Wexton’s flag is already drawing visitors. On Friday, NCTE Media Relations Manager Gillian Branstetter tweeted a photo of herself in front of the flag.

Helms said she wants a photo in front of the flag, too. But she prefers it to be in a selfie with Wexton.

“It amazes me that people will do stuff like this,” Helms said of Wexton displaying the flag. “The more that we have Congresspeople who have family members who are trans, the more we’ll see this.”

Kiss My Astro: Your January 2019 Horoscope

As we say goodbye to 2018, we’re also bidding a fond farewell to a whole mountain of drama. Some years try the patience of saints, and last year was one that tested every relationship at just about every level. Eclipses in Leo and Aquarius brought into question where we belong and if we’re fundamentally lovable (most acutely for people with planets in Leo, Aquarius, Taurus, and Scorpio). Meanwhile Jupiter in Scorpio had us all digging up our buried psychological wounds, and to top it off Venus retrograde tossed six weeks of relationship review into the mix. Luckily, we’re all coming into 2019 with more information and a clearer sense of what we’ll no longer put up with. Let’s raise a glass to finding the kind of connections that improve our lives. Let’s create the experiences that help make the world a little kinder, a little sparklier, a lot kinkier—whatever energy you want to call into the new year. For extra insight, you can find me for readings and custom astrological portraits at flaxandgold.com. Happy new year! 

Aries

After a year of slowness and inner work, it’s time to dust off your dancing shoes. Welcome a new sense of vitality, curiosity, and energy. You may need a little more freedom in your relationships this year—you’re being called to follow what inspires you, what helps you come alive. Don’t get trapped into thinking you’ve seen it all and done it all. Now is the time to be the badass you know you can be, and begin a new adventure.  

Taurus 

In many ways this year will be kinder and gentler than last year, but there is one major hitch: you don’t get to stay in your rut. In March, Uranus—planet of queer liberation, sudden changes, and everything out-of-bounds—is moving into your sign and will settle in for the next seven years. Now is the time to consider what changes you’ve been resisting that will really improve your life—don’t confuse being comfortable with being happy. Let your routines transform, and welcome something strange and wonderful into your world. 

Gemini

You definitely don’t have time anymore for some of the people you used to find entertaining. You don’t have to be mean, but you can step away from any scene that’s making you feel more worn down than lit up inside with some inner flame. This is a year of choosing the people who are good for you, not just the ones who make you feel good for an hour or two. Get serious about what matters to you most, and who shares your values. This year is inviting you to focus, prioritize, and even commit to the relationships that help you live your best life.  

Cancer

This year will bring you some pain but a lot of gains with it. You can always choose to avoid pain—and miss some of the rewards that may come with it—or choose the path of growth. Like emotional weight-lifting, you’re learning to endure a certain level of discomfort so that you can get much, much stronger. Particularly, pay attention to how you act when you feel vulnerable. Becoming more open, calmer in the face of criticism or rejection, steadier as you don’t internalize other people’s projections—these are the goals you’re moving toward this year, and it begins with prioritizing self-love. You are much stronger than you think, and this year gives you plenty of opportunities for stepping into a kind of power few people have. 

Leo

Of course you look fabulous when you’re dressed to impress, but remember that you get to be adored for your full self. You’re at your most charming when you’re suffused with some kind of inner joy, not when you’re giving everyone what you think they want to hear. This year invites you to remember what fills you up, what makes your eyes sparkle, what helps you claim your full body—and work it. This is a time when your magnetism is extra high, but remember that the goal is to connect from the heart or you may feel unseen and empty in the end—whether you’re looking for a long term love or a super casual hookup. Don’t chase meaningless experiences—casual doesn’t have to mean empty. Make every connection something real, something to remember. 

Virgo

The families we choose are often just as messy as the ones we were born into, so when I say this is a year to focus on your family I know this won’t feel hella cozy to all of you. But family is what’s up for you this year. You’re in sore need of a place—or a group of friends, a collective, a poly network—that will help you know that you belong, that you are loved, that you are necessary. Partnership can help with this, but you need more than just one person to build a home. This year, spend some time addressing whatever blocks you from opening up to this experience—to choosing and being chosen as family. There is deep love available for you, if you learn how to show up for it. 

Libra

Last year reset the clock for you, and this year finds you ready to make decisions about the path forward. Even the most introverted among you will find yourselves more sociable this year. In all the bustle of friendship and activity, keep saying yes to what helps you feel most alive and no to everything that feels like empty distraction. Find the words that have been waiting for you to name the things you haven’t yet named.    

Scorpio

You can’t always get what you want, but this year you may be in the difficult position of getting just that—so be sure you know exactly what it is you want! Many Scorpios have a healthy suspicion of anything that appears too easy, too “boring.” Really, you find it easier to trust the evils you know than guess what could go wrong in a situation that looks on the level. But 2019 is asking you to expand your perception and open up to new ways of sharing joy, pleasure, and sensuality. Remember that pain isn’t your only teacher, and that happiness doesn’t have to be boring.

Sagittarius

That extra-special glow you’ve got right now will last most of this year, and is a little like a lucky lottery ticket—you can spend it well, waste it foolishly, or forget you have it and never reap its rewards. As Jupiter moves through your sign this year, you’re being carried along by a gust of enthusiasm, optimism, and exciting new opportunities. Now is the time to act on whatever you’ve been dreaming about and too shy to make happen. Reinvention, renewal, and new connections are in store for you as you follow this thread of energy. Keep choosing love that gives you the freedom to change and grow. 

Capricorn

Some years test our grit; others offer us opportunities to soften. 2019 is such a year for you. You’re deep in a learning process, but your regular tactics (rolling up your sleeves, making a plan, tackling the hard work till it’s done) won’t help you here. Instead, this is a year of letting yourself be surprised—especially by experiences of tenderness, comfort, and caring. Don’t push something away just because it’s unfamiliar. Let yourself soften, open, and risk a little more. Sensitivity and true resilience go hand-in-hand.  

Aquarius

At last, you’re ready to turn around and walk away from all the questions that plagued you for the last few years. Your relationships have been full of surprises, revelations, and revisioning for some time now, and you’re finally ready to stabilize again. Take what you’ve learned and trust that the decisions you make now are better than the ones you could have made two years ago. Dare to reach out and take a chance on someone, but remember that where you’ll really shine this year is in your relationship with groups. What do you want to transform? Who do you want to do it with? 

Pisces

Little fish, this is a year for you to shine like some majestic sea creature bouncing rainbow prisms off your scales in an perfect arc of sunlight. Hope you’re up for that. What you’re aiming for is bigger and grander than anything you’ve done yet, but don’t worry—this is one of those years when you get to reap the rewards of what you’ve been working on for many years. Relationship-wise, this means you’ll have more eyes on you than you’re used to, which can bring all kinds of opportunities. Just remember that if you keep showing up honestly and with a clear sense of your strengths it doesn’t matter if you don’t feel ready. No one ever does. 

INTO’s 2019 Travel Guide

INTO’s travel writers have collaborated to amass an adventurous, luxurious, and metamorphic top ten list of trending (and non-trending) destinations as readers consider travel plans for 2019. As always, we’ve combed for some of the most queer-friendly locales while making sure to include destinations outside of the typical LGBTQ+ travel circuit, so that seasoned travelers can push themselves out of their comfort zones. Happy trails, traveler.

1.  Celebrate EuroPride in Vienna, Austria

via Getty

On January 1, 2019 Austria will officially recognize same-sex marriage after a ruling from the country’s Constitutional Court, upgrading from legal partnerships. Wasting no time, its capital city, Vienna, will be the host of EuroPride 2019 (June 1-16th). But no matter when you visit, the city famous for its permanently gay-themed street crossing signals is a true epicenter for both the visual and performing arts. “The City of Music” is world renowned for its orchestras, operas, choirs, and chamber music—but also excites visitors with progressive house and electronic music at its over-the-top queer warehouse parties. 

2. Tour the Volta Region of Ghana

via Uprise Travel

As in many other African countries, homosexual acts are illegal in Ghana and discrimination against the LGBTQ community is rampant. Yet, queer-friendly tour company Uprise Travel safely guides visitors through Ghana, training their guides in inclusivity and LGBTQ+ issues. Their Southern Ghana Road Trip is the perfect introduction to the country and explores the off-the-beaten-path (and gorgeous) Volta Region, two and a half hours north of Accra. The trip takes visitors to Amedzofe, the highest village in Ghana, to a sanctuary full of adorable mona monkeys, and to the dazzling Wli Falls (the highest waterfall in West Africa). The trip then ventures to the nation’s western coast to see sobering UNESCO World Heritage slave castles and stunning beaches, like the secluded, palm-lined Busua Beach.

3. Camp and Dance at the GAYTIMES Music Festival in Victoria, Australia

While there are more prides, circuits, gay ski weeks, and queer film festivals than one can shake a stick at, there are still only a handful of queer music festivals. While GAYTIMES (February 15-17th, 2019) isn’t as big as Amsterdam’s Milkshake Festival, this intimate Australian festival, hosted high in the Central Victorian Highlands, may be one of the most unique. Hop down under to Melbourne, road trip up two hours to Lake Mountain Alpine Resort, and pitch your tent for a weekend of camping below the Southern Hemisphere stars at the height of Southern Hemisphere summer. Besides a lineup with over 36 acts, there are performance artists, art installments, and many workshops, classes, and activities. This is the queer summer camp you’ve always dreamed of.

4. Stargaze at the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico

via Getty

This UNESCO World Heritage site is said to be “as close as the US gets to Egypt’s pyramids and Peru’s Machu Picchu” and the largest concentration of ruins north of Mexico. Chaco Canyon contains artifacts and campsites dating back to 7000-1500 BC, though its monumental public and ceremonial pueblos date to around 850-1250 AD. Besides the incredibly well-preserved ruins, history, and archeoastronomy petroglyphs, the site is an International Dark Sky Park. But why visit now? Well, the Bureau of Land Management, overseen by the Interior and the Trump Administration, has leased 90% of the greater Chaco area to oil and gas development , endangering outlying artifacts, ruins, ancient roads, and sacred sites, as well as the serenity of the dark sky reserve. When you make the 3 hour drive from Santa Fe to visit, sleep under the stars at the Gallo Campground, and see the night sky just as the Chacoans saw it thousands of years ago, at least for right now.

5. Wander Argentina’s Remarkable Salta Province

via Getty

Tucked in the Northwest corner of Argentina — tickling Chile and Bolivia — is the larger-than-life Salta Province. Start your road trip in the province’s capital, Salta City, for delicious empanadas, folkloric music, and the chance to see 500 year-old-child-sacrifice-mummies at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology before venturing south through the polychromatic Valles Calchaquíes to Cafayate, a legendary wine town full of delicious Torrontés and Malbecs. Dive deeper into the province by exploring its three remote national parks: the tropical Baritú National Park (home to jaguars, ocelots and speckled bears), El Rey National Park (home to giant anteaters and tapirs), and the arid Los Cardones National Park (home to vicuñas, dinosaur tracks, and 25-foot tall Argentine saguaros—all below the towering 20,000 foot Nevado de Cachi).

6. Explore The Kingdom of Jordan on a Gay Tour

via Outstanding Travel

Visit Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world, with Outstanding Travel, a leader in gay travel within Israel and the surrounding region. Travel to Petra via Wadi Yatam and drive through gorgeous landscapes that lead you to the far end of Wadi Musa. The road there winds through the narrow, deep and stunning Siq (the shaft), at which the splendor of the burial shrine Al Khazneh (the treasury) is revealed. The tour then continues to the desert of Wadi Rum, filled with shades of red and orange sandstones. Here you can overnight in a luxury camp inside a bubble star tent so that you can enjoy the night sky from the comfort of your warm bed. It’s important to note that LGBTQ+ rights in Jordan are considered to be relatively advanced when compared to other countries within the Middle East. Homosexual conduct remains legal in Jordan, after the country adopted its own penal code that did not criminalize homosexuality as it previously was under the British Mandate Criminal Code Ordinance that lasted until 1951. That being said, LGBTQ+ people displaying public affection can be prosecuted for “disrupting public morality.”

7. Catch a Queer Film in India

via Sridhar Rangayan @sridharrangayan

In a historic decision, India’s Supreme Court ruled in September of 2018 that gay sex is no longer a criminal offense, overturning a 2013 judgment that upheld a colonial-era law categorizing gay sex as an “unnatural offense.” The court ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of rights. And if you still don’t know about India’s famous gay prince, you should, because he is doing so many good things for the LGBTQ community in India. LGBTQ tourism in India is rising and now is the time to go (but please, just avoid North Sentinel Island…). As long as you are respectful of the local culture and understand that things may not run as smoothly as they would back home, you’ll find that India can be not only fascinating but also safe. Plan your trip around some amazing LGBTQ events like Mumbai Pride, which takes place in January/February, or some of the other prides in cities like Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore or Kolkata. Or, if queer cinema is more your vibe, check out the annual Kashish Mumbai Queer Film Festival, typically held in May.

8. Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall at World Pride in NYC

via Getty

News Alert: Did you catch the news of Madonna mysteriously showing up at the Stonewall Inn for a surprise New Year’s Eve performance? She gave a powerful speech before performing a couple of her hit songs and exiting. Many are speculating that she will somehow be involved in the 30 days of celebration that span June 1 – 30, 2019 in New York City. NYC Pride will be welcoming WorldPride as they mark the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and a half-century of LGBTQIA + activism. There will be over 50 events throughout the month with more than 3 million people expected to gather for the experiences. If you’ve been thinking about NYC pride, this would be the year to go!

9. Get Your Rocky Mountain High on in Colorado

via Miles W. Griffis

Quick shout-out to Colorado residents for electing the first gay man to serve as Governor of a U.S. State. Jared Polis made history this past November by winning the state’s gubernatorial race with 51.7% of the vote. Now, that alone doesn’t necessarily qualify Colorado as a top queer destination, but it does add to the long list of reasons why Colorado is extremely open-minded and welcoming. Colorado was also one of the first two states to legalize marijuana back in 2012 and the weed culture there is booming. Consider taking a marijuana tour while visiting the state to get a sense of how big the industry is (and because, well, it really is just a fun way to spend an afternoon). While on your tour (which mostly operate out of Denver), pick up some essentials and head out to seek adventure in some of the state’s most beautiful destinations. Ski towns like Breckenridge, Telluride, and Aspen are surrounded by the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains— the inspiration for John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” (1972). Best of all, each town also hosts their own gay ski week.

10. Become a Member of the 7 Continents Club in Antarctica

via David Duran

If you haven’t been to Antarctica yet, don’t worry, most of the world hasn’t either. It’s estimated that a very tiny fraction of the of the world’s population has made it to the 7th continent. Why go? Well, if you are an adventurer at heart and want to see things that most people will never see in their lifetime, a trip way down south might be just right. The icebergs alone make the trip worth it. But beyond the massive floating ice, the wildlife sightings are infinite and being up close and personal with whales, penguins and seals will melt your heart, but hopefully not the polar ice caps. Consider traveling with National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions for a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only visit the untouched region but to learn so much while doing so. Traveling with you on your expedition will be a team of experts and naturalists who use a range of exploration tools to help you experience wildlife and wild places up close. During your trip you can kayak amid the icebergs, stroll through crowds of penguins and step foot (many, many times) on the spectacularly remote continent.

Lady Gaga Shows Her True Gamer Nerd Colors in ‘Enigma’

Esteemed A Star is Born actress, Stefani Germanotta — some know her as Lady Gaga — had a pretty epic ending to 2018. On December 28th, Gaga debuted the first show of her new Las Vegas residency “Enigma,” which focuses on pop music. When the first footage of “Enigma” was uploaded online, fans were immediately curious about the sci-fi and anime themes that Gaga had in her set and costumes. In her Instagram teaser for the show, Gaga also showed some of the clips that ended up being used in her actual show, most interestingly the virtual version of Gaga.

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ENIGMA

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While we’ve seen her embrace some pretty out-there aesthetics, none of them have screamed anime or video games in the same way this virtual character does. We know that Lady Gaga has recently been playing some games, specifically Bayonetta, which does feel appropriate given that the titular character is a witch who fights with her magical hair.

The inspiration for this virtual look didn’t come out of thin air, not for pop culture and not for Lady Gaga. The most famous virtual pop star is Hatsune Miku from Japan. Miku, a foundational figure in tech culture, is basically always the first name to come up when artists work with digital avatars.

Hatsune Miku performs all over the world and has many dedicated fans. The main difference is, unlike Gaga, she has no physical form. Miku’s voice comes from a real singer who spent time in a studio recording different phrases and syllables.

Those sounds were then entered into a program called Vocaloid that is now used to produce music without a traditional singer. Through the program you can type lyrics and musical notes and the Vocaloid sings them. There are other Vocaloid avatars with different voices, but Miku is by far the most famous. We also know that Lady Gaga is very aware of Miku because the Vocaloid actually opened for her during some ARTPOP era concerts. It makes sense then that Gaga would bring back similar imagery to a show that focuses on her pop discography.

Another reference in those teaser clips seems to be the magical girl genre of anime, like Sailor Moon, and specifically the transformation sequence. In the beginning of the show, after she performs a few of her early songs, we see a clip of Gaga’s virtual self being created. The scene takes place in open space and resembles a lot of what you’ll find in Sailor Moon transformations.

The result of her transformation, though, doesn’t look as cute as the magical girl anime characters who usually appear in bright colors and nice shoes. Lady Gaga’s transformation is more mechanical and resembles some looks from Ghost in the Shell — the animated original, not the racist Scarlett Johansson garbage. Many posters for the movie showed the lead character’s android body which feels like what Gaga is going for.

Outside of the virtual pop star stuff, there is one additional reference to video games, and it’s a huge one.

During her performance of “Scheiße,” Gaga appeared in a massive mech suit. A mech is a machine used in Japanese anime and video games that is basically a large robot with a human on the inside — think Power Rangers or D.Va from Overwatch. This particular mech though, as many pointed out, is clearly inspired by Gaga’s time playing Bayonetta 2, in which a similar looking machine is used to fight.

Many fans, myself included, are just happy to see Gaga embracing her pop music roots, let alone producing a new era of weirdness for her Vegas show. And the fact that she’s including some nerd shit makes it even better. It’s hard to know if video games or virtual avatars will continue to be a part of Gaga’s art after her residency is over, but Jesus, how amazing would it be if it was a major part of her next album? Give us a Samus cosplay, Gaga, please.

Netflix Pushes ‘Girl’ to Spring Following Backlash

This Girl has been interrupted.

Girl, the Belgian film put up for consideration for the best foreign language film at the Academy Awards, will not come to Netflix on January 18 as previously announced, according to a story released in the New York Times that details the criticism the film has faced following its time on the festival circuit.

According to the Times, the film does not have a definite release date, but will come out in the spring of 2019.

In a previous post, INTO called the film “trans trauma porn” and wrote, “the film is bloody and obsessed with trans bodies in a way that reminds us that a cisgender person wrote and directed it.” The review continued, “I’m warning trans people not to watch it and cis people not to fall for it.”

Several other critics followed suit. In December, critic Oliver Whitney wrote in The Hollywood Reporter that the film “succeeds at one thing: showcasing the cruel ways trans people are continually reduced to and defined by their bodies, though without a stitch of self-awareness.”

Quickly after, Danielle Solzman called the film “dangerous” in SlashFilm, adding:“[Director Lukas] Dhont’s obsession with genitalia reveals, whether intentional or not, a transphobic streak in the film.” Out’s Tre’vell Anderson said, “What’s wrong with Girl is what’s wrong with most projects that claim to represent the experiences of trans people with no substantive participation of trans voices. It’s a missed opportunity to properly contextualize the experiences of trans folks coming into ourselves as more than purely physical and medical.”

The Times also noted that that Netflix has reached out to Trans Lifeline, a trans-led organization that also runs a suicide prevention hotline, for suggestions about advisory language to run before the film. According to the Times, several trans people urged Netflix “to be specific about what they said were medical inaccuracies in Girl.”

A Furry Convention Offers Lessons in Safe Sex

Last month Midwest FurFest attracted over 10,000 folks, in and out of fursuits, for one of the world’s largest furry conventions. They came for a mix of attractions both familiar (gaming sessions, writing workshops, dance parties) and surprising (appearances by Insane Clown Posse’s Violent J and his furry-famous daughter Ruby).

But one feature of the con drew some consternation: Chicago-based public health nonprofit Sinai Health offered free confidential HIV tests to all attendees. And while access to health care and related information is a definite asset to any gathering, the testing also drew a bit of a backlash, exposing widespread ignorance and stigma around HIV.

Responding to tweets from con organizers and attendees, various people claimed on Twitter that HIV tests are a sign of irresponsible behavior, that HIV testing is too depressing a topic for a con, and that people in other fandoms don’t need to know their status. One person claimed that HIV transmission was caused by dirty fursuits.

To their credit, health providers, con organizers, and attendees did their best to dispel the myths around HIV, turning the weekend into an impromptu — and clearly much-needed — lesson in safe sex for all.

With roots in mid-’90s sci-fi conventions, Midwest FurFest draws thousands to a convention center just outside Chicago each year. Charitable giving and community service have always been a component of the event, which raised $94,000 for a literacy program in 2018. And for the third year in a row, counselors and testers with Sinai Health were on hand for anyone interested in checking their HIV status.

The timing was apt, coming just a few days after World AIDS Day and the release of a roadmap for ending the epidemic, signed by hundreds of HIV/AIDS organizations. Among the many recommendations in the roadmap was a call for all adults to be tested for HIV at least once in their lives.

But the frank, open discussion of sexual health troubled some observers on Twitter. “It’s supposed to be a fun weekend but HIV testing makes everything iffy,” wrote one person. “It’s just a little worrisome is all.”

“NEEDING it at a con is a sign that’s there’s way too much unprotected sex going on,” wrote another. “Most cons don’t need it.”

Many of the online responses were laden with undisguised homophobia and ignorance about what HIV is: “Your con is filled with sexual deviants who think it’s ok to spread diseases around like candy, some deadly like HIV;” “The spread of HIV is perpetuated by irresponsibility;” “People should get tested multiple times a year? What, so everyone’s a prostitute now?”

And then came the most forehead-slapping tweet of the con: “I just think that maybe if SOME furries WASHED their fursuits, the spread of HIV would be a little less severe.”

To be clear: HIV testing is a normal part of a healthy lifestyle and isn’t “worrisome,” any more than visiting a doctor for a cholesterol test or a flu shot. When treated, HIV isn’t by itself deadly, and as with diabetes or measles, treatment generally leads to a long healthy life. Even otherwise-responsible people can transmit HIV if they don’t know their status; and sex workers aren’t the only ones who should be aware of their status.

And in case it needs to be said, fursuits are an unlikely vector for transmission, since the virus can’t survive for long outside the body. (But it’s still good manners to wash your suit after yiffing.)

Tweets like these inadvertently illustrated the need for counseling and testing at fandom events — not just Midwest FurFest, but any gathering of people who might be ill-informed or carrying emotional hangups around sexual health that put them at risk. And having health care professionals on-hand is vastly preferable to previous solutions, such as the ‘90s-era handout “The Yiffy Guide to Safer Sex.”

“At the end of the day, anyone that’s engaging in unprotected sex should get tested,” said Kimberly Ramirez-Mercado, Program Manager with the Sinai Infectious Disease Center. She oversaw the testing at the con and noted that many of the people they saw had never had a rapid test before.

Now in its third year, the testing area at FurFest recently expanded to three rooms. Ramirez-Mercado estimates that they tested 225 people, and reached at least 600 with educational material. That’s up from 70 people tested in 2016, and 126 in 2017, according to FurFest. It’s been a helpful experience for both con attendees and health providers.

“This has really opened our eyes to engaging communities,” said Ramirez-Mercado. “We’ve had conversations with the lead organizer at FurFest about doing it at anime conventions. We do see that there’s a big LGBT population that goes to those conventions, but also people who aren’t being reached out to with information about HIV.”

That sentiment was echoed by FurFest’s board of directors. “This testing service was not intended as a statement, or out of any specific health concern,” wrote spokesperson Corey Strom, “but simply as a way to provide valuable information to those who may not otherwise have access to such services.”

Those services include testing, but also providing supplies like condom and lube, as well as information about preventative measures like PrEP. Expanding awareness and access to PrEP is seen as a key step in ending the epidemic.

“We want to give people the right information and possibly risk reduction suggestions so they can lower their risk for HIV,” said Ramirez-Mercado.

For all the fun, sharing of art, and sex that happens at a con, education remains a priority for organizers. “Since 2000, Midwest FurFest has existed primarily for the purpose of facilitating education in anthropomorphic literature and art,” Strom wrote.

Far from being “worrisome,” reaching out to convention-goers “empowers them to take control of their own health,” said Dan Regan, Director of Communications and Public Relations for Sinai Health.

And just to dispel one more myth, when asked if the furry fandom is at heightened risk of transmitting HIV, Ramirez-Mercado answered instantly and confidently, “Absolutely not.”

In other words, all people, no matter what community they’re a part of, should know their status and talk to a counselor about safe sex.

Furries who actually visited the testing area, rather than simply venting about it online, generally seemed appreciative.

“The experience was nice, quiet, confidential,” an attendee who goes by Ambient told INTO. “Would totally recommend it.”

She added, “Furry cons are pretty much the only place I go to where it’d even come up!”

Another onlooker offered sound advice about taking advantage of testing in any setting it’s offered: “Midwest FurFest is in the fucking US,” they wrote. “Take free health care WHENEVER IT’S AVAILABLE.”

Image via Facebook

Queer Abby: Monogamy or Distance?

Dear Queer Abby,
I have gone on a few great dates with someone who lives overseas, so it’s not a realistic dating option. How do I stay open to them while also staying open to local dating? I am a monogamous person at heart.
 
Signed,
Puzzled in P-Town
 
Dear Puzzled,
 

My first question for you is – are they an option or aren’t they? What do you want in a relationship? If you are a workaholic or frequent traveler with a love of screen time, then perhaps distance is for you; but from your letter it sounds like you would like a monogamous date.

Monogamy and in-town are the best of friends.

Monogamy and distance are a tougher match, in particular if you do not have an end-game.

The beginning of a relationship, the sexed-out oxytocin-fueled mania called limerence, is a fever dream of potential.
Your body and brain want the love drug chemicals to keep pumping, so they will tell you: LOCK THIS DOWN.

However! They will also glaze over the sharp edges and reality of a person, leaving you an unreliable narrator in your own life. The only cure is time. Time will let the high wear off and reveal smells, ticks, and a person’s bad qualities. This is WONDERFUL, because you get to decide, unencumbered by limerence, whether those qualities work for you.

If no person is 100% perfect, and we are rounding up, I would like you, dear reader, to be clear-eyed when you determine if they are worth rounding for (i.e. if this is an appropriate person with whom to pledge monogamy).

I repeat: THIS WILL TAKE TIME.

Distance will give you intensive, time-crunched experiences in each other‘s worlds, but I promise you, it will not magically gift you the time-served you need any faster.

If I had to be prescriptive, I’d say visit each other regularly for four months before you betroth.

In the meantime, mix it up. Flirt in town. Go on some dates and remember that you can give and get romantic attention close to home. If your monogamous heart cannot stomach first dates as you wait for your beau, keep yourself as busy and nourished as possible. 

So much of distance is living in the past or present. I want you to keep a firm joyful foot in the now of your town. 
Move your body. See your friends. Fill up your tank with things you love nearby so you do not cloud your vision and narrowly focus on abstracted love. 

There is love nearby, platonic or environmental though it may be. I want you to hold it.

Love,

Queer Abby

Right-Wing Website Says Transgender James Bond Would Be ‘Affront to Masculinity’

One conservative website rang in the new year with a bang—if by “a bang,” you mean rampant, virulent transphobia.

On Monday, the politics and policy website Washington Examiner ran an op-ed warning that casting a transgender actor as James Bond would be the end of masculinity as we know it. In a column which feels as if it were crafted by a sentient content robot, contributor Nicole Russell claims the idea is “outlandish, absurd, and truly a bad omen for the role of masculinity in entertainment and even real life.”

“Transgender people represent half a percentage point or less of the United States population,” Russell claimed. “It isn’t a mainstream trend in real life and thus, has no need to earn representation in film.”

The pearl-clutching screed (which will not be linked to here) was penned in response to Colette actor Dominic West’s call for a trans actor to replace Daniel Craig. The actor has said the next Bond film will be his last. West suggested Hannah Winterbourne, the wife of U.K.-based trans actor Jake Graf, to fill Bond’s shoes.

West remarked that having someone like Winterbourne, the “highest-ranking transgender soldier” in the British armed forces, play the part would be “brilliant.”

“She’s a beautiful blonde girl who could be Bond, yes,” he told the Sunday Times. “That’s actually a brilliant idea. They should have a transgender Bond because there are a lot of transgender people in the army. They’d be ideal because they can do everything.”

“That’s a great idea!” he added. “A transgender Bond.”

Trans actors, activists, and advocates applauded his comments on Twitter. Comedian Ian Harvie claimed that having a transgender man play Bond would be a “major triumph.” Harvie, a stand-up comic who appeared on Transparent, said it would allow trans men to be “seen as men, legitimate and worthy of casting in this role.”

In an interview with The Daily Beast, actor Scott Turner Schofield added that “the impact it would have on culture… cannot be underestimated.”

A recent GLAAD survey showed that transgender people remain extremely underrepresented in media—from television to film. In 2017, there were just 26 trans characters across all TV platforms (i.e., streaming, cable, and broadcast). That number was actually a record high, and many of the characters were regulars on FX’s Pose.

Russell, though, insists a trans James Bond would be an “affront to masculinity.”

“To allow a person who has eschewed manhood so much she chooses to live as a woman to embody the role of this archetypal character is an affront to masculinity, both the good and bad,” she claims. “Society has enough of that, in real life, with the onslaught of transgender norms in schools, now bombarding the court system with their tales of marginalized woe.”

“It certainly doesn’t need that in James Bond,” Russell concludes.

Elsewhere, Russell swings all over the place. She also sets her sights on “cranky feminists” who take issue with 007’s “womanizing ways.”

The next part is a real doozy. The writer compares the long-running character to toasting with champagne during a celebration: “an over-the-top representation of something good.”

“Bond embodies the best in alpha males and also some of the worst,” she states. “He is a renaissance man who wants, ultimately, to protect the things he loves: his woman and his country. With equal parts brain and brawn, Bond epitomizes what men can be, even though he also falters in his weaknesses.”

If you think she writes with the turgid grace of a Republican political operative, you’re right. Her byline contains the none-too-surprising revelation that she’s a wonk from Michele Bachmann’s home state of Minnesota.

An on-brand take published the same day as the Bond piece bemoans the “failure” of progressive feminism in the year of #MeToo and the “Blue Wave.”

Not shy about cribbing from her own work, Russell sneaks in one last jab about a trans 007.

“The summer of feminism’s discontent brought nothing more than aimless drivel,” she writes, “grasping for any anecdote to keep a narrative that’s always listless from gaining any steady speed: They complained about a wage gap among Uber drivers and even an idea of a female or transgender James Bond.”

All that throwing trans people under the bus got her exactly one retweet on her timeline.

Lest she take any solace in that lone pity tweet, it was from a Channing Tatum bot account.

It’s Time for Sandra Bullock to Play Gay

Since Netflix’s release of the thriller Bird Box in mid-December, the internet has been abuzz with Sandra Bullock content. It seems that people are either just finding out about America’s Sweetheart, or are rediscovering their love for the Academy Award-winning actress. Regardless, now seems like as good a time as any to praise Sandy for her prolific career. And with #20GayTeen in our back pocket, and the Sapphic and suggestive Ocean’s 8 in our rearview, I just have one thing to say: The world is ready for Sandra Bullock to play gay.

Many of Sandy’s movies and characters have been adopted by the lesbian community in the past. Of course, there’s Miss Congeniality (2000), in which Bullock plays the crass and traditionally masculine FBI agent Gracie Hart. In May of 2018, the actress appeared on Ellen and revealed that the movie’s screenwriter, Marc Lawrence, actually wrote the movie about Ellen. So, if the open-mouth-masticating, baggy pants-sporting, brawny cop character felt queer to you, then you’re right—Gracie was actually based off a soft-butch! But I digress, the character wasn’t actually queer.

Tons of Sandy’s roles have a similar vibe and aesthetic to her Miss Congeniality character, one which can only be described as BDE (Big Dyke Energy). Look at her action movies alone: in the fast-paced thriller Speed (1994), the Bullock stars opposite Keanu Reeves as Annie. Annie bravely grabs hold of the wheel on a speeding bus, which has been rigged to detonate a bomb if it drops below 50 mph. At one point, Bullock drops her floral blouse and dons a tight turquoise tank-top, a la Sarah Connor in The Terminator; my gay ass swooned.

The following year, Bullock starred in The Net, another edge of your seat thriller, which features one of her gayest—and thus hottest—aesthetics ever. As Angela, a computer programmer turned badass action star, Sandy wears denim jackets, fondles floppy disks, and conquers cyberterrorists, all while dressing like a fluffy-haired 90s lesbo. The Net is actually a great movie, if you’re looking for more Sandy content to quench your gay thirst.

Obviously, there’s Practical Magic, the 1998 witch movie in which Bullock plays one of the Owens sisters, a line of witches who were cursed by their ancestor. The curse will kill any man who falls in love with an Owens sister, so wherever Owens women go, dead men follow. How these women don’t start dating other women is beyond me. If there’s ever a gay Practical Magic reboot, it’d have zero conflict and be utterly boring, because the Owens sisters could just date women and ignore the curse (I’m still super down though). But gay plots aside, Sandy wears choker necklaces in Practical Magic—choker necklaces!! The number one signifier of female queerness!! She also dons some high-waisted denim and does the Gay Lean—you know the one, where a woman leans against furniture like a mechanic wiping down his wrench. It’s the optimal position from which to exert pheromones. I love a woman who leans against furniture. Anyway, all witches are canonically queer, and therefore, so is this movie.

In The Proposal (2009), Sandy plays Margaret Tate, who was, in my eyes, a Power Lesbian trapped by the vise grip of internalized homophobia-induced heterosexuality. Margaret is a high-profile executive editor-in-chief of a publishing company in New York, and is the bitchiest, nastiest Jeri Hogarth-esque boss in the biz (all of those words are compliments, by the way). That any man, even Ryan Reynolds, was able to handle all that power-suited, sharp-tongued BDE, is a major feat. Then there’s The Heat (2013), where Bullock plays an FBI agent once again (it’s basically a Miss Congeniality sequel), and Gravity (2013), where she returns to her action roots as a rugged survivalist astronaut butch.

So, over the decades, Sandy has played numerous characters that have teetered on the edge of queerness. That brings us back to 2018’s Ocean’s 8. The lesbian community was set aflame at the sexual tension between Bullock and Cate Blanchett’s characters in the con movie; they read more like a long-term lesbian couple than a pair of friends or “partners” in crime. Actually, the biggest crime committed in Ocean’s 8 was the lack of consummation or confirmation of lesbianism between Debbie (Bullock) and Lou (Blanchett). One Vulture critic even ranked all eight stars by lesbian energy, and Bullock and Blanchett unsurprisingly snagged the top two spots, followed closely by Rihanna and Sarah Paulson.

And not for nothing, but Bullock pairs up with queer fave Sarah Paulson for the second time in Bird Box, which would’ve been a lot more exciting if the women had played girlfriends instead of sisters. Nonetheless, Sandy starred in yet another action thriller, saving the day with her Herculean muscles and panic voice. She flexed her rafting and survival skills, wore ugly hiking boots, owned a fucking bird, and yet somehow still ended up straight!

For male actors, there’s a long-standing joke (or realistic trend) that playing gay will win you an Oscar. The same cannot be said for female actors, because lesbian movies are historically snubbed at the Oscars (see: Cate Blanchett, Carol). However, Sandy has already won an Oscar for her role in The Blind Side (2010), and once you win an Oscar, you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you want. Most Oscar winners either keep winning Oscars, or start chillin’ in big budget thrillers and get memed out the wazoo by their gay fans (what’s up Nicole Kidman?). No offense to Sandra Bullock, who could easily swing another win at the Academy Awards, but she’s seemingly gone the latter route.

So, Sandy, here’s my advice: America is gay now, and if you want to remain America’s Sweetheart, you need to dig deep and get gayer. Strap on your ugly ass Land’s End hiking boots and an L.L. Bean vest—or bulletproof vest—and team up with Cate Blanchett or Sarah Paulson again. Give the people what they want. Actually, here’s my advice to all Academy Award-winning actresses over 40: If you’re not going to keep winning Oscars like Meryl Streep, then just lean hard into lesbianism and getting memed, and I promise, you’ll never ever lose an ounce of relevance. Just look at Rachel Weisz. Rachel Weisz starred in two lesbian movies in 2018, and has set herself up for a bountiful life devoid of Oscar wins. And really, isn’t that a utopian future for Hollywood actresses?