Christina Aguilera Graces Sold Out LA Pride With Surprise Performance

The LA Pride music festival tore through West Hollywood this weekend, and with headlining performances by Kehlani and Tove Lo, no wig was left unturned. Taking things to another level, on Sunday night fans were treated to a special surprise performance by the “Genie in a Bottle” herself, Christina Aguilera.

 

The “What a Girl Wants” singer took the stage before Eve’s set and performed a special Pride remix of her single “Accelerate.” Wearing a caped leather jacket, knee-high leather boots and jet-black lipstick, the pop star sauntered on stage with a slew of drag queens for a good old-fashioned drag-off.

 

Released in early May, “Accelerate” was the first release off Christina’s upcoming album. Soon after, the singer dropped “Fall in Line,” a vocal run-heavy collaboration with Demi Lovato.

 

Christina’s eighth studio album, Liberation drops June 15—her first official music release since 2012.

Is Research Into Gender Identity a Necessary Evil?

Are transgender people “born that way”?  At one level this is a simple question, namely: are there biological reasons for gender identity, and can people have a gender identity that doesn’t match their sex assigned at birth?

At this point, the general scientific consensus is that yes, humans have an innate gender identity even if the potential myriad of mechanisms (both social and biological) and interactions that create gender identity and expression are poorly understood.

The ethics of pursuing this question, along with the exact reasons why such an incongruence would develop, are far more complicated.  One the one hand, exploring the biological origins of gender identity is vital to solidifying and preserving the legal rights of transgender people. It is also an important piece of building social acceptance. On the other hand, the potential for abuse of such research is rife. It also begs the question of why such a high burden of proof is placed on transgender people for them to have the basic human rights afforded to others who clearly cannot establish a biological reason for their identity.

In the American legal system, proving that a group of people has an “immutable characteristic” is vital to establishing that group’s basic civil rights. Jillian Weiss, civil rights lawyer, law professor, and former Executive Director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, described how the requirement of immutability was born out of America’s past injustices.

“Because American legal history is so tied up with the original sins of slavery and racism, the courts have used the ‘immutable’ characteristic of race to rule that African-American and Hispanic people are entitled under our Constitution to be free from harassment and discrimination based on race and ethnicity,” Weiss said. “The Courts knew it was wrong, but there was no other way to express that legally”

Tony Varona, Vice-Dean of American University Law School and former Chief Legal Counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, told INTO how vital biological origins and immutability have been to the legal fight for lesbian and gay rights in the past.  

“Immutability – the idea that an aspect of one’s existence is innate and not the product of whim or fashion – has been a powerful legal tool in achieving progress across many American civil rights movements,” Varona said. “We achieved marriage equality and other legal protections for LGBs, in fact, by insisting that our same-sex attraction was not something we could readily change. The same argument can benefit the cause of justice and fairness for transgender Americans.”

The Christian Right is keenly aware of the legal need to establish a biological origin for gender identity, and are working hard to pre-emptively present a false counter narrative. “Biology is not bigotry” has become the catchphrase of anti-transgender groups like The Heritage Foundation and Family Research Council, which pointedly ignore the body of evidence surrounding the origins of gender identity as it relates to transgender people. The point of this is to argue that being transgender is like any other socially unacceptable “lifestyle choice”; it should be legal to discriminate against this behavior and people should be encouraged to do so for the good of society.

Thus, if the Christian Right’s efforts to obfuscate the evidence regarding biological origins were to succeed, the results could be devastating. Conservatives have been arguing that society cannot afford to even tolerate transgender people, and that it is a moral imperative to discriminate against them until they disappear back into the closet. They see “tolerance” as a slippery slope that led to the loss in the case against same sex marriage, and regard a right to discriminate as the lynchpin of the strategy to stomp out transgender people before they take root in American law and culture.

Weiss also described why failure to establish biological origins (and therefore immutability) in court would be dangerous in light of the goals of social conservatives.

“If courts decided that there was insufficient proof of a biological basis for gender identity, and we staked our protection from sex discrimination on that, then we are unprotected from sex discrimination,” Weiss said. “We could hope that Congress and state legislatures would enact statutes protecting gender identity from discrimination, and about 20 states have done so. That would take a long time.”

There is also a case to be made that establishing biological origins of gender identity is a key component of building cultural acceptance of transgender people. Both sociological research and polling data have shown a strong longitudinal correlation between the belief that LGB people are “born this way” and acceptance of them. Conversely, individuals who believe that people choose to be LGBT tend to be much more hostile towards them. Over time, building a cultural consensus that transgender people are “born this way” based on the body of scientific evidence is likely to increase cultural acceptance of transgender people themselves.

Dr. Jo Olson-Kennedy, who works with transgender youth and conducts research at UCLA, notes that “The benefit of understanding the biological underpinnings of gender identity is the theoretical ‘legitimization’ of trans identity.” Such legitimization is ethically fraught, however.

All of the experts interviewed expressed discomfort with many of the directions that the biological origins arguments could take, even if the courts do accept the consensus on biological origins and immutability.

One of the common themes in their discomfort was the potential establishment of a litmus test for a person’s gender identity. Dr. Kennedy observed, “There is real concern that the quest for the origin of ‘trans experience’ rather than gender identity (broadly) sets up an expectation that some kind of a litmus test will be identified that authenticates trans individuals.” Such litmus tests would likely be highly fallible given the myriad of ways in which gender diversity presents itself both in terms of social context, and in terms of evolving scientific understand of transgender identities. This would create the risk of “false negatives” which would deny transgender people legal protections and access to medical care.

There is also the issue of creating a double standard which places legal and medical tests on transgender people that other groups do not have to meet in order to have legal protections. Tony Varona noted, “Religion is not an immutable trait, and Americans can transition from religion to religion or between theism and atheism regularly without losing our constitutional right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of religious belief (or non-belief).”

Similarly, Dr. Kennedy observed, “We don’t require scientific evidence to establish the legitimacy of cisgender identities.” Dr. Dan Karasic, a board member at the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, adds that in other contexts, “An immutable characteristic can be determined by speaking to a person.”

Additionally, people’s understanding of their own gender identity can change over time. This does not mean that the rights of either the individual or the group as a whole should suffer. Relying on some sort of “test” would infringe on an individual’s inherent right of self-identification. Dr. Karasic points out, “Human rights should not be reserved only for people who consistently report their gender identity without change. For example, some people report their gender identity in a more binary or less binary way over time. And the fact that a few people report detransition with a change in identification should not impact people’s civil rights.”

The ethics of this would be even more complicated if someone actually did develop a prenatal test for being transgender. Eli Erlick pointed out in an INTO article that, “… fetuses designated as transgender could be aborted… Is being transgender inherently suffering? Is it undesirable?” Susan Stryker, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona, states in her interview, “Arguing for a biological basis for trans identities is a double-edged swordbiological qualities associated with statuses considered deviant or undesirable have a history of being targeted by eugenic practices.”

There is also the danger of tests only detecting particular types of causes of transgender identity, when the body of evidence suggests there are many contributing factors and causes for a transgender identity, such as genetics, epigenetics, endocrine disrupting chemicals, hormones, hormone timing, gene expression at puberty, etc… The question then becomes, what about transgender people who can’t “prove” their identity because the test isn’t looking for the right thing? How will they get medical care? How will they establish that they are also deserving of civil rights protections? Stryker observes that such a test, “wouldn’t imply that all forms of trans identity are caused by that same thing, and it sets up the possibility of some trans being more trans than others, which is not just.”

Erlick noted that such an outcome is not far-fetched, given that the most recent research on brain scans of transgender youth were grossly misrepresented in popular media, given that the scope of these studies was so small. “The presentation does not actually show an inherent connection between cisgender and transgender brains of the same gender,” she wrote. Erlick also notes that the breathless headlines that over generalize the findings of the small-scale study, and lead to narratives that are only slightly more “truthy” than the right-wing narrative that there is “no evidence” of biological origins.

Unfortunately, arguments for inherent rights, dignity, and protections hold little sway with either the courts (which generally require meeting the legal test for immutability for a group to be considered for protection), or the groups attempting to create a legal and cultural environment too toxic for transgender people to survive in. It does not practically matter either if the requirement of immutability has roots in America’s history of racism.

As a result, research into the biological origins of gender identity may represent a necessary evil. Jillian Weiss summarized this in her conclusion.  “When I have clients now suffering the severe and pervasive effects of transphobia on their lives, unable to get and keep a job, being without healthcare and relegated to the margins of life, I cannot deny them shelter from the storm, though it may turn out to be leaky tomorrow.”

The Guy From ‘Call Me Maybe’ Is Back

Holden Nowell, known to the world for his role as Carly Rae Jepsen’s crush in her iconic “Call Me Maybe” music video, doesn’t like being known to the world for that role. In an interview with iHeartRadio.ca, Nowell said he doesn’t like being known for his part in the video, especially because he played gay.

 

“The fact that they had to make me gay at the end of the video… it was all very… I didn’t like being known as the gay guy in the ‘Call Me Maybe’ video,” Nowell said.

 

The memorable twist of the video is that Nowell’s character turns out to be interested in Carly’s guitar player. According to Nowell, the original storyline included him kissing a guy at the end, but he didn’t want to do it. Instead, he convinced the production team to change the ending so that he only gave the guitarist his phone number.

 

Nowell says that the industry has a lot of “gay for pay” predatory behavior that he disagrees with.

 

“They pimp you out. You’re basically a Geisha girl,” He said. “I think people should be allowed to love who they want to love, but I love women. There’s no amount of money, no amount of fame that could ever make me… I couldn’t do something that didn’t feel right in my soul.”

 

Holden Nowell’s Instagram is… a thing. According to the iHeartRadio article, Nowel “has quoted Adolf Hitler, shared conspiracy theories about mass shootings, and used ‘gay’ as a pejorative.” I also found him making fun of a fat man at his gym who he clearly photographed without consent, and there’s a caption hashtag where he uses the n-word.

 

Nowell is now trying to start his rap career under the name “SixXx’Tre” and he just released his album Fade 2 Black on Spotify and iTunes.

Parkland and Pulse Survivors Call Out Politicians For Ignoring Orlando Shooting

A day before the second anniversary of the Pulse shooting, survivors of the deadly attack are gathering with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

 

On Monday night, the two groups will convene at the Orlando City Hall for a rally calling attention to the lack of meaningful gun reform since 49 people were gunned down and 53 more wounded at Pulse nightclub in June 2016. It took 635 days for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, to enact legislation raising the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21. The bill also imposed a three-day waiting period on purchasing long guns.

 

Signed into law on March 9, the legislation does not, however, include stricter background checks or any restriction on buying or selling assault weapons. At the urging of the NRA, it also includes a provision arming teachers—which advocacy groups warned would serve to actually increase gun violence in schools.

 

That’s why instead of a memorial, the two groups will honor the Pulse victims, survivors, and their families with action.

 

“This is an opportunity for communities that have been impacted by gun violence across the state of Florida to come together in solidarity and say: ‘Enough is enough, we really need to get something done on this,” says Pulse survivor and event organizer Brandon Wolf in a phone interview with INTO.

 

In partnership with organizations like Equality Florida and March for Our Lives, Monday’s event will include a dozen speakers from different communities impacted by gun violence in the United States, an issue that Wolf argues touches just about every city, county, and neighborhood in the entire country. Estimates claim more than 15,000 Americans lost their lives to gun violence in 2017.

 

The organizers will display photos of the 49 people lost at Pulse two years ago, as well as the 17 students, teachers, and staff gunned down during the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

 

For Wolf, these names include Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and Juan Guerrero, his two best friends. As a survivor of the Orlando massacre, he says that building relationships with others who have been directly impacted by gun violence has helped him cope with the aftermath, including feelings of grief and loss.

 

“The emotional and mental trauma sticks with you forever,” Wolf says. “I can’t remember the last time that I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night crying from a nightmare. It happens every day.”

 

The Parkland and Pulse survivors met for the first time in March during an event held at the memorial site for the nightclub, placing a white rose on the on the gate for each of the LGBTQ people gunned down. At the time, a former manager at the gay bar, Neema Bahrami, said the gathering recognized that the two groups are “family.”

 

But in addition to building community solidarity and support, the groups hope to use this week’s event to call attention to an unfortunate double standard in how Florida politicians responded to the two tragedies.

 

After Pulse, activists with Gays Against Guns stormed Sen. Marco Rubio’s office to gain an audience with the Republican lawmaker. Ten were arrested during the action, but Rubio continued to ignore their requests. Following the Parkland shooting, the conservative held a town hall event with students like Emma Gonzalez and Cameron Kasky, who became leaders at the forefront of a national movement for gun reform.

 

The 49 deaths at Pulse were not enough to encourage the Florida legislature to pass even an inadequate, compromised piece of gun control legislation. That bill, though, was passed just three weeks after the Parkland shooting.

 

Carlos Smith, a representative in the Florida House, says the difference in how politicians responded to the two tragedies is “offensive.”

 

“[Gov. Scott] promised to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community by signing an executive order protecting LGBTQ workers from discrimination,” the Democratic lawmaker claims in a phone interview with INTO. “He broke that promise. He slashed mental health funding the first budget year after Pulse, which was a punch in the gut to a community that needed resources.”

 

“The governor dedicated a million dollars to a Parkland memorial,” he continues. “Pulse got zero.”

 

Advocates say the discrepancies between the two are a reflection of the populations affected by each attack. The victims of Pulse nightclub were largely LGBTQ people of color, while the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Students are “mostly affluent, white young people from rich neighborhoods,” Smith says.

 

“A lot of politicians in Tallahassee responded to that,” he adds.

 

Since the Parkland survivors became household names four months ago, the students have used their voices to call attention to the privilege afforded to some activists, but not others. Some are invited onto a national stage to tell their stories, while the voices of others have been marginalized. The African-American students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, for instance, have been largely ignored by mainstream media publications.

 

“My school is about 25 percent black, but the way we’re covered doesn’t reflect that,” said Parkland student David Hogg at a March rally.

 

Meanwhile, as reports of the Pulse nightclub attack rolled in on the morning of June 12, many Republican lawmakers—including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryanrefused to recognize that the victims were queer and transgender. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) called Pulse a “young person’s nightclub.”

 

Nearly all of these remembrances also ignored that 47 percent of those murdered during the shooting—or 23 people—were Puerto Rican.

 

But David Moran, an organizer with the Orlando chapter of Gays Against Guns, says that bringing together the voices of Pulse and Parkland survivors is a way to ensure that no one’s stories get erased in these conversations.

 

“There’s always a struggle with communities that don’t have as much systemic support to be listened to,” Moran tells INTO over the phone. “But so many students in [the Parkland] movement seem to have Pulse at the forefront of their mind, even if other institutions and the media do not. There’s an opportunity for both survivor communities to support each other and lift each other up.”

 

By bringing these two groups together, it recognizes that as much as the two communities are divided, Pulse is personal for many of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas as well. Gonzalez, the president of her school’s Gay Straight Alliance, is bisexual. Kasky is gay.

 

All of them, however, have grown up in the shadow of tragedies like Pulse—in which unfathomable violence becomes an commonplace facet of everyday life.

 

“It’s terrifying to be a Floridian today,” Wolf claims.

 

“People all over the state of Florida are afraid,” he continues. “Every single day they’re afraid to go to the movie theater, they’re afraid to go to church, they’re afraid to go to nightclubs, and they’re afraid to go to school because they never know when a person that we’ve allowed legally purchase an assault weapon will walk in and end their life.”

 

But two years after Pulse, Wolf believes the tide on gun reform is finally shifting.

More than two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) support tighter restrictions on the purchase of firearms, and those numbers are only increasing with each passing month.

 

Meanwhile, dozens of brands have cut ties with the NRA in recent months.

 

Advocates have much more work ahead of them. Currently, Florida ranks dead last in the nation in terms of mental health funding—even despite the overwhelming needs of an LGBTQ community still grappling with the impact of violent hate. At Monday’s event, speakers will be renewing the call for Gov. Scott and the state’s majority Republican legislature to pass universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

 

As more communities continue to join together to end the gun violence epidemic in the U.S., Wolf believes these changes are possible.

 

“The reason the NRA and the gun lobby are so vehemently opposed to these students and the reason that anything David Hogg says gets a rebuttal on Fox News is because they’re absolutely terrified,” Wolf says. “I don’t think it’s hard for people to look around and see that the tide is truly turning on the conversation around gun violence in this country.”

 

‘Vida’ recap (1.6): The End, For Now

“It’s the only place in the neighborhood where mujeres like me, girls like us, can go.”

Throughout this terrific and groundbreaking first season of Vida, the show has been dancing around the actual importance of the bar. Most of what we learn about “La Chinita” is related to its struggles (and especially its financial problems) but we rarely learn about the good parts of it. It’s obvious that the bar means everything to Eddy, especially because it ties her to her late wife, but Vida has waited until the finale to explicitly discuss its importance to the neighborhood—and to Emma—which makes the impact even stronger.

But first, Lyn. Lyn has been a fun, compelling character throughout—”Episode 4” immediately jumps to mind—but her most prominent characteristic is that she’s an “agent of chaos,” and prone to “drama.” Most of her plots have revolved around her on-again/off-again relationship with Johnny (and how it’s spilled into conflicts with Carla, Mari, Emma, etc.) which is unfortunate because their “relationship” has been the low point of the series for me. It’s not bad, it just feels comparably less than the rest of the show: less engaging, less explored, and so on.

“Episode 6,” however, plumbs the depths of Lyn’s characters through a limpia, or a Mexican spiritual cleansing, which is believed to remove everything from negative emotions to curses. Lyn immediately feels lighter and more optimistic. She wraps her older sister in a giant hug, excitedly talking about how it was the “best freakin’ limpia of my life, better than any ayahuasca” (which is such a Lyn thing to say; I love it). But this good mood doesn’t last long: it makes Lyn realize that she’s her own porquería. It causes her to look within herself and realize that her actions have true ripple effects on the people around her.

I’m sure Lyn was expecting to feel free from the drama surrounding her and Johnny but instead she’s made acutely aware of how this relationship can—and has—destroy others. She spots Carla, crying and overwhelmed, facing single motherhood. She learns that people won’t go to Johnny’s shop anymore, that he’s thinking of bailing on the neighborhood even though his sister and sick father depend on his money. Melissa Barrera is remarkable in this scene, displaying a number of conflicting emotions on her face as Lyn’s gears turn and processes the role that she plays in other people’s lives. They break up—for real—off-screen; we only see Lyn taking her anger out on Doña Lupe for the limpia, still uncomfortable with confronting herself.

Meanwhile, Emma is still conflicted about her role in the bar, in the neighborhood. She doesn’t want to be there, but it’s also her home. She doesn’t want to keep the bar, but she doesn’t want to let it go without a fight, either. Post-sex conversation with Cruz (yes! They reunited!) seems to only further exacerbate Emma’s inner turmoil. She still can’t reconcile her mother, the person who sent her away for being queer, with Vidalia, the woman with a wife and a bar that’s immensely important to queer women.

Nelson’s reappearance—skulking around the bar, still trying to buy the property—results in yet another argument between Emma and Eddy. It’s a bad one, with Emma lashing out more than we’ve seen before by attacking Eddy’s drinking, implying her friends are freeloaders, and saying there’s a “direct correlation between when Eddy came into Vidalia’s life and the bar started failing.” Pissed off, Eddy and her queer crew leave to drink in another bar. And that’s when things go further south.

At the other bar, Eddy and her friends are harassed by a shitty, homophobic man resulting in a brief shoving match. It later culminates with him breaking a bottle over her head as she stands in the bathroom. It’s a horrifying scene, and it’s a bit jarring—Vida has touched on a lot of internalized homophobia but hasn’t introduced this level of outside violence—but it’s also unsurprising in our world. Eddy is a masculine-of-center butch. She’s so visibly queer.

As the sisters race to the hospital and Emma finds herself frustrated with the cop’s lack of urgency, Vida emphasizes the importance of Vidalia’s bar and the need for safe spaces. Eddy and her friends felt safe at Vidalia’s. They could present however they want, live however they want, dance and touch and kiss whoever they want. Vidalia’s bar became something of a haven when her relationship with Eddy started—something that it takes Emma the whole season to understand. But now, Emma realizes how brave Vidalia and Eddy were—and she recalls her own loving memories of the bar.

It’s here, at the beautiful tail end of the episode, that Vida arrives where we all figured it would: Emma and Lyn agree to keep the bar, to really “do it right” this time. They drink on the roof, imagining the bar’s future—imagining their own future. It’s a perfect ending that simultaneously shows the power of telling a complete story within just six episodes while also setting up—hopefully—a second season.

Transitioning Further: Gender Queered Experiences with Testosterone and Multiple Transitions

I spent my late teens running away from home, meeting trans youth and discovering the work of queer artists like Kate Bornstein and Leslie Feinberg, who gave language to the transgressive gender feelings I’d hidden all my life. Eventually, I claimed the identity of genderqueer (a term the Merriam-Webster Dictionary included alongside cisgender and the non-binary honorific Mx in 2016 ). For me gender has always been a fluid journey including many identities and forms of presentation. As part of that journey I began injecting the hormone Testosterone to alter my physical body: it deepened my voice, shifted my silhouette, and gave me facial hair. Over the next couple of years I would go on and off of Testosterone a few times before quitting permanently in my early-mid 20s.

 

Despite the increase of non-binary representations in the media, living in a non-binary body altered by hormone usage can be very isolating. There are very few representations of temporary hormone usage beyond very occasional sensationalized, generally transphobic articles talking about someone who “detransitioned.” The subject can make people uncomfortable. I wrote my first novel Roving Pack about the experience of being abandoned by trans friends when I quit Testosterone. Cisgender people and binary transgender people alike often shame genderqueer/non-binary people for using hormones temporarily and identifying outside of the gender binary. To break down some of the misconceptions and stigma, I spoke with other queerly gendered people about what brought them to using Testosterone (or “T” as many of us call it) to alter our bodies, and what they hope the larger queer community will understand about our lives/bodies/identities:

 

Michel Fitos, a queer femme in Somerville, Massachusetts, explaining why they had gone on and then off of hormones, said: “I wanted to experience the body changes that go along with hormones, and see if that made me feel more or less like my idea of myself” Similarly, Evan Smith, a genderqueer Niizh-Manidoowag Two-Spirit person in Toronto, said: “I started using testosterone because I felt unhappy in my body.” Danno, a genderqueer/genderfluid individual from Southern/Central Oregon explained that they “started hormones because I was experiencing dysphoria and knew hormones could help alleviate that. What I wanted most was top surgery, but it didn’t feel accessible financially and as someone who didn’t identify as 100% male.” Aeryne James in Oakland, CA commented: “I started getting into trans studies and then questioning my own gender near the end of college (2000-2001). I was genderqueer at this time but I didn’t know the word for it then. After college, I moved to Maine and started working. I had a really hard time there, and I felt so much anxiety living as a dyke who was queerly gendered in a pretty normative and conservative environment.”

Evan Smith

As part of my gender journey, I went on and off of Testosterone twice as I transitioned through different gender presentations including butch, and trans man, in my late teens and early twenties, ultimately landing on a queer femme as a presentation that has most consistently worked for me, and through all of these presentations I utilized T on and off. James, who was on Testosterone for twelve years, made the decision to quit using Testosterone as the nation’s political climate shifted:  “After the 2016 election, I really thought a lot about my values and realized that the most important thing to me was my visible queer identity and being a genderqueer dyke in a hugely fucked up patriarchy where a rapist can be elected president of the US.” 

 

Although the decision to physically transition using hormones is extremely personal,  many of us felt a pressure to protect the community, and to not do anything that would reflect poorly on other trans people, including not talking about our fluid/non-binary identities. “The majority of the trans community turned their backs on me. I lost almost my entire community overnight.”  Smith remembered. About their community’s response, Fitos said: “They were supportive of my decision to start hormones, very uncomfortable when I did not go all the way to binary manhood, and have been largely uncomfortable as I have swung back toward the femme direction. Many people now do not believe that I have a had any experience as any gender other than the one that I appear to have.”

 

When I was on and off of Testosterone, other trans people were very concerned/threatened by my decision to stop hormone usage and about how they perceived it could reflect on them and how their identities were understood. “It’s incredibly difficult and scary to talk about with people in the world because we’re just barely at a point where some people are ok with recognizing the validity of transgender experiences in the first place. I have a real fear of confirming cis people’s suspicions about the illegitimacy of trans people, and about coming across as wishy washy or mentally unstable and not taken seriously” James observed.

 

Doctors and other medical providers remain the legal gatekeepers to legally accessing hormones. Although many providers are shifting towards a “informed consent” model where anyone who requests Testosterone and understands the potential side effects can get a prescription, historically access to Testosterone has been restricted to individuals who claim a binary male identity. “The first time around, my therapist had advised we lie about my being non-binary and present myself as a trans man. The second round, I was open with both my therapist and my endocrinologist about being non-binary, specifically genderqueer, and they supported me in my decision to continue T. I think things had begun to open up in that gap of time – especially with the recognition in adding the new gender marker option “X” on DMV cards in our state [Oregon],” Danno remembered.

Danno

In the not too distant past (and still in some areas) not conforming to the medical community’s idea of the appropriate transgender narrative could have dire consequences around access to hormones. “I had settled into a space where I became very comfortable with my gender being more fluid,” said Smith. “However, on one occasion, I went in to see my doctor and get a refill on my Testosterone. She told me to hold on for a second and left the room to go speak to someone. When she came back, she informed me that I was ‘too feminine presenting’ and that she wasn’t going to refill my prescription because ‘it could start a lawsuit’ if I regretted hormones and ‘that would jeopardize everyone else who [was] receiving hormone therapy.’ I only had one shot left at home. I took it and then was forced to quit hormones cold turkey. Within a couple of weeks I got my period and bled for three months non-stop. It was exhausting and the whole time I felt like I had no control over my body.”

 

While there aren’t serious health concerns about going on and off of Testosterone, we need medical providers to take our identities, and our bodies seriously. Transitioned bodies are not the same as a cisgender man or a cisgender woman’s body. “Hormones or not, I still live in a transitioned body which makes my existence in the world not always feel safe. Trans-only space allows me a place where my body will not be gawked at and where I can talk to other people about what physical transitions do to our bodies.” Smith continued.  Queer and Trans people are mistreated and misdiagnosed everyday by homophobic/transphobic medical providers, but even well meaning providers are often undereducated with the realities of transitioned bodies that don’t conform to a binary narrative of hormone usage. For example, even ten years after quitting injecting Testosterone, I shave my face daily and could grow a full beard. For the last decade, even at an LGBTQ community health clinic I was repeatedly misdiagnosed by healthcare providers as having PCOS because of my facial hair. It wasn’t until last year that I found a healthcare provider who would actually listen and take into account the possible long-term impacts of my history of hormone usage when looking at my body.

 

As we continue to push for a broader and more expansive understanding of gender, we must embrace a wider understanding of gendered journeys. “It was also over the last few years that I have learned more from my Indigenous Elders about what it means to be a Two-Spirit person,” Smith said. “I embody a range of genders and carry traditional teachings from all genders which enables me to do healing work in my communities. Letting go of the colonial gender binary has allowed me to settle comfortably into a space where my gender is more fluid than it ever has been. Though I present more on the male/butch end of the spectrum now, I am read as both male and female and use many pronouns interchangeably.”

 

While not all genderqueer or non-binary people use hormones to alter their bodies, those of us who I’ve spoken with are very clear that our lived experiences are part of a broader expansive conversation of gender embodiment, and not a “de-transition.” Similarly, our experiences of fluid hormone use shouldn’t ever be utilized to limit access to hormones for other people. “Everyone should be entitled to physically alter their bodies to match their gender, and access to hormones and surgeries should be readily available. There are always going to be people who regret that decision-just like people who regret non-gender related plastic surgery, tattoos, or the color they dyed their hair. That shouldn’t restrict other people’s access.” Smith explained.

 

Smith continued: “For a long time I believed that I had ‘detransitioned,’ but what had actually happened was I had ‘transitioned further.’ We need to continue to challenge the Western colonial version of the gender binary and make sure that there is space for folks whose gender transition is not as clear as was once expected of trans people. I know for myself, I don’t regret hormones or surgery. They were some of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Parents Angry Over Drag Queen Story Hour at a Philadelphia Museum During Pride Weekend

There’s so much to be angry about in the world — Donald Trump is president, there are video games out there perpetuating HIV stigma and Ariana Grande’s “Into You” never reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But some Philadelphia parents have chosen to have all types of feelings about a couple of drag queens reading to children.

 

Philadelphia Magazine reports that parents are complaining that two local queens — Britney Lynn and Miss Aurora —   will read books to children as part of the increasingly popular Drag Queen Story Hour nationwide phenomenon.

 

Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum scheduled the storytime as part of its Pride Family Festival, meant to coincide with Philadelphia’s citywide pride celebration during the first weekend in June. Announcements on the museum’s Facebook page about the event have become a breeding ground for some homophobic comments.

“Definitely very inappropriate to subject children of these ages to things like this,” one Facebook user wrote.

 

However, to combat the anti-drag queen hysteria, several parents have chimed in thanking the museum for its programming.

 

One of the queens, Miss Aurora, spoke to INTO about the controversy and said she believed the problems stems from an old school “narrow” view of what drag is.

“It used to be something that was reserved for dive bars, nightclubs and the Maury Povich Show,” Miss Aurora told INTO. “If you think that drag queens are reserved only for nightlife I could see how you’d think it’s inappropriate for children. But drag queens are people, we had childhoods too.”

 

She also thanked parents for stepping in and combating the hate so she wouldn’t have to.

 

“It’s nice I didn’t have to personally go in and defend my right to be at this event,” Aurora said. “It’s not that surprising that people were upset. Any time that people can get upset, they will get upset.”

 

Britney Lynn told Philadelphia that the books they plan to read to the children include anti-bullying books like The Pout-Pout Fish and the Bully-Bully Shark and the award-winning LGBTQ book This Day in June, which is an age-appropriate book about pride celebrations.

 

Please Touch Museum CEO Trish Wellenbach said the story hour is just like other cultural celebrations, including St. Patrick’s Day and or Eid al-Fitr.

 

“It’s a parent’s decision whether to expose their children to this,” Wellenbach said. “But we spend a lot of time thinking about our responsibility to the community and to creating purposeful and important experiences. There is no wavering on that. This is our new normal.”

First Queer Armenian Art Exhibit is Opening in Los Angeles

A new exhibit focusing on queer Armenian art is opening this weekend in Glendale, CA. The exhibit, “The Many Faces of Armenians,” will show work that brings attention to the exclusion felt by both the LGBTQ and Armenian communities.

The exhibit is a collaboration between the Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society (GALAS), Abril Bookstore and Roslin Art Gallery, where the exhibit and its events will be held. In addition to the art work, the exhibit will also include a series of film viewings, panel discussions and a performance. To celebrate Pride month, the exhibit and events will run from June 8th to June 28th.

For those who don’t know, Glendale has a large Armenian population. Armenian-Americans make up more than 30 percent of the city’s population, and as of March 2018, four out of five of the city council members in Glendale are Armenian. The exhibit features both local Glendale artists as well as artists from abroad.

After years of persecution and genocide, Armenia was officially declared an independent state in 1991, so its nation is very new. Inside Armenia and within Armenian culture, LGBTQ people still have a difficult time navigating their own lives. But within the greater Los Angeles area, those LGBTQ Armenians have found an acceptance. This exhibit aims to discuss that relationship as well as other experiences common for queer Armenians.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Queens Asia O’Hara, Kameron Michaels to Headline San Diego Pride

RuPaul’s Drag Race queens Kameron Michaels and Asia O’Hara are about to make Southern California even brighter.

The top 5 season 10 queens are set to headline San Diego Pride. Not only will the queens appear together, they’ll be the first Drag Race contestants to ever headline the city’s Pride festival.

Asia O’Hara has rocked Drag Race’s tenth season with her iconic runway looks and her acting chops, winning two acting challenges throughout the season. Kameron Michaels, AKA the Bodybuilding Barbie, has surprised many by going from quiet and conservative to a queen who can serve looks and work a lip sync like no one else.

Both queens commented on their upcoming Pride gigs, as well.

“As the ultimate chameleon queen, I’m proud of every queer contour on my Bodybuilding Barbie Body,” Tennessee queen Kameron Michaels said in a statement to INTO. “ This Pride, I encourage everyone to fight for your right to be exactly who you are.  Persist with Pride.”

“I have learned that in order to command attention, one must be bold, exude power, and be prepared to transcend adversity,” Texas queen Asia O’Hara said. “Pride is our time to rise and shine likes the glamorous Gods and Goddesses we are.”

San Diego’s Pride celebration is one of the largest in the nation, attracting over 200,000 attendees ever year. This year’s parade will take place on Saturday, July 14, and is free and open to the public.

For more information and to purchase tickets for Pride Festival events, check out San Diego Pride’s official site.

 

Amnesty International Escalates Pressure on ICE to Release Transgender Detainees

Pressure is mounting for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to free queer detainees, as Amnesty International has demanded the release of a transgender woman at the same facility where another trans woman died last month.

 

The international human rights group says that Alejandra, whose last name has been withheld because she is a target of a transnational criminal gang, is not receiving proper medical care.

 

When ICE announced that transgender woman Roxana Hernández died after being housed at Cibola County Correctional Center last month, it sent shockwaves through the transgender pod there where Alejandra is also housed.

 

“They were really rattled and shaken, justifiably, seeing another woman in their circumstances dying apparently due to inadequate detention conditions and care and her first two weeks following a request for asylum at the U.S. border,” said Brian Griffey, regional researcher and advisor for Amnesty International.

 

Cibola is home to ICE’s transgender ICE unit, where Hernández died after showing symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and HIV complications. LGBTQ organizations speculate that Hernández was held in a freezing hold cell referred to as a “hielera.”  

 

Gaffey reports that Amnesty has interviewed a dozen trans woman at Cibola. Six have reported that they are not receiving appropriate medical care. Some say their HIV medications have been delayed. Others have reported that their hormones have been administered at too high a dose and too close together. Some have reported that their requests for medical care have gone unanswered for several days.

 

Cibola can house up to 60 trans women. It does not house transgender men or non-binary people. Trans women are housed there by request.

 

Amnesty says it doesn’t want the nation’s only trans ICE unit shuttered completely, but it’s calling for improvements at the facility.

 

Alejandra is among those who have reported inadequate care, according to Amnesty.

 

Gaffey said Amnesty previously met with ICE officials about the delay in medical treatment at Cibola, but that the facility had failed to address them.

 

ICE did not respond to a request to comment by press time. A spokesperson for the agency said ICE would release a statement to INTO but not indicate when.

 

According to Amnesty, Alejandra’s case is particularly pressing and also emblematic of other trans women who are detained at Cibola.

 

Alejandra worked as a trans activist for a decade in El Salvador before fleeing extortion and attacks by a criminal gang and abuses by the military. She was sexually assaulted by both because she is trans, says Amnesty.  

 

“We’re profiling Alejandra’s case because it’s so clear,” said Griffey. “But we’re also calling on them to parole all asylum seekers who there’s no necessity to detain, but especially trans women and those living with HIV and other acute medical needs.”

 

Amnesty’s pressure campaign comes just days after advocates demanded the release of a gay Nigerian man who they say is suicidal. Udoka Nweke has been held for 15 months after fleeing anti-gay persecution and mob violence in Nigeria. Advocacy organizations say his continued detainment at Adelanto Detention Center puts his life on the line. He has already tried to commit suicide in custody, according to the LGBT Center OC.

 

ICE has denied that Nweke’s detention is harmful.

 

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