Liveblog: Here’s Your LGBTQ Guide to The 2018 Midterm Election

The 2018 midterm elections are looking to be particularly historic —  so we at INTO are stepping in to be your queer guide.

Starting Tuesday midday, we are giving you live coverage of all the major races the only way we know how: through a queer lens. We are doing this not only because the elected candidates impact the lives of LGBTQ people in a direct way, but also due to the fact that this cycle has more openly LGBTQ folks running for offices on every level.

Follow along below and check back frequently for live results, breakout stories about certain candidates from the ground and even a fun meme or two when appropriate.

Also, make sure to follow INTO on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for queer news and culture 24/7.

Zach Stafford,
Editor-in-Chief

Angie Craig, Lesbian Mom of Four, Defeated a Total Homophobe for Congress

Minnesota has a new representative in congress: a lesbian mom with four kids who grew up in a trailer park with a single mom, put herself through college, and found success in the business world. As if Angie Craig weren’t enough of a badass, she also just defeated her Republican opponent — a guy who compared gay people to rapists and drug addicts on his former radio show, and also complained about how it’s no longer acceptable to call women “sluts.” We stan Angie Craig, and can’t wait to see what she’ll do in federal office. 

— Mary Emily O’Hara (9:09 PST)

Oregon Governor Kate Brown Defeats Goatee-Bearing Republican Challenger

Incumbent Oregon governor Kate Brown became the first openly LGBTQ person (bisexual, to be exact) elected governor of a U.S. state in 2016, which is cool. The heavily-funded Republican who challenged her seat this year, Knute Buehler, has what can only be described as a “soul patch” on his chin, which is not cool. Thus, we celebrate.

— Mary Emily O’Hara (8:50 PST)

It’s Not All Bad News In Texas

Out lesbian Julie Johnson will speak for District 115 in the Texas House of Representatives after unseating Republican rep. Matt Rinaldi tonight. Johnson is a Dallas-based attorney who owns her own firm and has two children with her wife, Dr. Susan Moster.

 

California’s New Governor Was a Trailblazer For Same-Sex Marriage

ABC News projects Gavin Newsom will become the next governor of California. The lieutenant governor is likely to continue its record as one of the most progressive states on LGBTQ rights. The 51-year-old served as mayor of San Francisco when the city briefly allowed same-sex couples to marry in 2004.

Those unions were voided by the California Supreme Court the same year but eventually led to the bench’s 2008 decision legalizing marriage equality in the state.

— Nico Lang (8:26 PST)

Kansas Adds Two LGBTQs to Congress, First Native American Woman and Lesbian To Congress

Openly gay candidates Susan Ruiz (House District 23) and Brandon Woodard (30th District) won tonight, taking seats in the Kansas House of Representatives, while openly lesbian Native American Sharice Davids nabbed a spot in the U.S. Congress, marking the first time Kansas elected an openly LGBTQ state senator. Ruiz upset incumbent Republican Linda Gallagher 50-47, while Woodard defeated Republican Wendy Bingesser 54-45. As of press time, Davids had 53 percent of the vote to four-term incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder’s 45 percent.

–Trish Bendix (8:15 PST)

JD Ford Becomes Indiana’s First Openly Gay State Lawmaker

Democrat J.D. Ford defeated State Senator Mike Delph, a Republican who has been in office since 2005. Ford’s victory at the state level comes at the same time that Indiana elected Greg Pence, vice president Mike Pence’s brother, to represent the state in US Congress.

— Mathew Rodriguez (7:56 PST)

Looks Like North Carolina Will Now Require Voter ID – SAD!

While a few precincts have yet to report results in North Carolina, the majority of votes have been cast in favor of passing a statewide voter ID requirement. This means that even more transgender voters could be disenfranchised in future elections; according to a Williams Institute study released this August, voter ID laws impact tens of thousands of trans voters who already face obstacles when it comes to updating identity documents. 

— Mary Emily O’Hara (7:51 PST)

Nebraska Elects First Openly LGBTQ Person To State Legislature With New Bisexual Senator

Small business owner Megan Hunt made history tonight as voters chose her over opponent Mina Davis for a seat in the Nebraska State Senate, District 8. Before tonight, the state was one of seven that had never elected an openly LGBTQ state legislator; currently only four openly LGBTQ elected officials serve in the state.

Hunt is the founder and Vice President of Safe Space Nebraska, a non-profit working to end harassment and assault in nightlife clubs and establishments, and is a trustee of the Business Ethics Alliance and has served on the boards of Friends of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Friends of the Nebraska AIDS Project, and Omaha Area Youth Orchestras. Earlier this month, she wrote on Instagram, “Representation matters in leadership, and there can never be a second until there is a first. I’m proud to have the support of Dr. Jay Irwin, Nebraska’s first openly transgender elected official on the Ralston Public School Board. I hope to become the first openly bisexual person elected to the Nebraska Legislature. It’s not about who we love or how we identify, it’s about that path of possibility we are able to blaze for those who come next.  Thank you Dr. Irwin for your endorsement and support, and most importantly, for your example.”

— Trish Bendix (7:10 PST)

Massachusetts Upholds Trans Rights In Historic Win

Massachusetts voters have soundly rejected a measure to strip away non-discrimination protections from transgender people in the state Tuesday.

The vote marked the first time in history that trans rights were on a statewide ballot. It was seen a bellwether for the country on trans rights.

With 26 percent of the vote counted, 68 percent voted “Yes” on 3 to uphold trans protections.

— Kate Sosin (7:01 PST)

Betsy Driver Is The First Intersex Mayor of a U.S. City

After becoming the first intersex person elected to public office in 2017 when she won a race for the Flemington, New Jersey Borough Council, Betsy Driver has taken her political career to the next level — beating Republican incumbent Phil Greiner to become the city’s new mayor on Tuesday night. Driver, who uses she/her pronouns and identifies as a lesbian as well as being intersex, was one of the founders of Intersex Awareness Day.

— Mary Emily O’Hara (6:52pm PST)

Gay Favorite Brian Sims Is Returning to Office in Pennsylvania

Self-described Little Mermaid enthusiast, RuPaul’s Drag Race Fanatic and College Football Captain Brian Sims can also call himself a state Rep. again after Tuesday.

Brian Sims of the 182nd district of Pennsylvania has been re-elected, besting independent James McDevitt.

Sims first act? He called his parents to share the good news.

Kate Sosin (6:34 PST)

Gay Destination Key West Gets First-Ever Lesbian Mayor

Former city commissioner Teri Johnston defeated opponent Margaret Romero with 66 percent of the vote. A contractor originally from Iowa, Johnson replaces Craig Cates, who has served as Mayor of Key West since 2009. Besides being the first lesbian, Johnson is only the second woman to hold the position — the first was Sheila Mullins in the late 1990s. 

Johnson and her partner of 34 years have two daughters and four granddaughters.

Elsewhere in Florida, Jennifer Webb will become the first LGBTQ woman to serve in the state legislature, Carlos Guillermo Smith was re-elected to the Florida house in Florida House District 49, and Sarah Fortney has been elected the first openly lesbian school board member in Polk County (District 3).

— Trish Bendix (6:30 PST)

Florida Won’t Send a Lesbian Mom To Congress After All

Florida congressional candidate Lauren Baer, who would have been the state’s first LGBTQ representative in Congress and the first mother in a same-sex marriage elected to the legislative branch, lost her bid on Tuesday. Baer conceded to her Republican opponent, Brian Mast, but not without first firing a warning shot: “We will hold you accountable, we will fight for our rights, and we will demand the change that we all need, and that we all deserve.”

— Mary Emily O’Hara (6:15 PST)

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AP Projects Defeat for LGBTQ Texas Gubernatorial Hopeful

With just three percent of the vote counted, the AP has projected that lesbian Lupe Valdez has lost to Republican Greg Abbott (53.6 percent for Abbott vs 44.8 for Valdez)

Valdez would have been the first LGBTQ governor of Texas and the state’s first Democratic governor in 23 years.

Kate Sosin (6:14 PST) 

Update: Voters Officially Say “Girl, BYE” To Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis

According to everyone from Kentucky Herald Leader to the Associated Press, famous homophobe Kim Davis is officially out of office. She’s been replaced by Democrat Elwood Caudill, a Rowan County local who also faced her (and lost) back in 2014. Sadly, she was not defeated by one of the gay men whose marriage license she had refused — despite internet rumors to the contrary. Read the whole story.

— Mary Emily O’Hara (6:05 PST)

So Far, It Looks Like Famous Homophobe Kim Davis Is Losing The Election

Kentucky Herald Leader reporter Will Wright tweeted just moments ago that Kim Davis is trailing her opponent by about 600 votes in her bid for reelection. Davis is looking to keep her seat as Rowan County Clerk, the job where she famously refused to follow the law when she denied a gay couple a marriage license in 2015. Her opponent, Elwood Caudill Jr., says on his campaign website that he wants to see LGBTQ couples treated equally in the clerk’s office, adding “frankly, it’s none of my business (and definitely not the government’s business) what legal activities go on in anyone’s home.”

— Mary Emily O’Hara (4:40 PST)

Campaign in Massachusetts Is Suddenly Worried About Question 3

Multiple sources close to the critical vote to uphold trans rights in Massachusetts tell INTO they are very worried about the fate of the measure.

A WBUR poll in September showed 71 percent of voters would vote yes on Question 3 to keep non-discrimination protections for trans people in public accommodations.

But on Tuesday, three sources close to the measure described the vote as close and uncertain.

“There’s been an incredible turnout from allies and the queer community here,” said Dee Rogers, a leading voice on the measure in Boston. “That said, things are definitely up and down. The stakes are very real right now.”

Katherine O’Connor, a volunteer youth leader with the campaign, likewise described the situation on 3 as very “close,” citing low campaign polling over the past week.

The vote is considered a bellwether for trans rights across the nation.

Kate Sosin (3:58 PST)

You Can Join This Lesbian Candidate in Texas For An Election Party

Congressional candidate Gina Ortiz Jones, who will be the first openly LGBTQ House representative from the state of Texas if she wins tonight, is inviting voters to watch the election results with her in San Antonio tonight. The party starts at 6:30, Texas time.

— Mary Emily O’Hara (4:26pm PST)

People Are Voting Like Crazy…Like Record-Breaking Crazy

Officials in numerous states are reporting high turnout at polls across the country today. But in states like Michigan and Washington, votes are expected to shatter previous records of civic participation. In other states, like Arizona, early ballots alone surpassed all votes cast in the last midterm election.

— Mary Emily O’Hara (3:45pm PST)

Guam Elects First Openly LGBTQ Person To Statewide Office

Joshua Tenorio, an openly gay man, was elected lieutenant governor of Guam, alongside Lou Leon Guerrero, who will be Guam’s first female governor. Tenorio received the endorsement of the Victory Fund.

— Mathew Rodriguez (3:10 PST)

Gov. Kate Brown Won Her First Election by Just 7 votes

Oregon’s incumbent governor Kate Brown, who in 2016 became the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected governor of a U.S. state, urges voters to head to the polls with some stunning math: Brown won her first race by just seven votes.

— Mary Emily O’Hara (2:20 PST)

The Gods Have Spoken: The Rainbow Wave Is Here

Happy Election Day. The rainbow Wave is literally here. Over Washington D.C.; over the Republican National Committee Headquarters in Washington, in fact.

There are at least 399 LGBTQ candidates up for election tonight. Call it a sign.

— Kate Sosin (2:18 PST)

15 LGBTQ Candidates to Watch

This year, there’s at least one LGBTQ candidate running in every single state during this midterm cycle. So we’ve created a guide to help you track the 15 must-watch candidates who are on the ballot this year.

Highlights include the first transgender person to be nominated for governor, Vermont’s Christine Hallquist, to the first bisexual governor, Kate Brown, who must fight for her current seat in Oregon.

Read here for more.

—  Zach Stafford (1:58 PST)

INTO Weekly: Polyamory, Reclaiming Fat and Why Are These Queer Celebs Still Talking?

Hey y’all,

It can be exhausting to keep up with who is in hot water, who’s cancelled and who is persona non grata when it comes to queer celebs.

The reasons someone might be cancelled can vary: they might have said something un-Woke on Twitter. They may have voted for Trump. They may have spoken ill of Beyonce — Beyonce forbid! But there’s a simple solution as to how we can deal with this. Maybe not every queer celebrity should automatically be given icon status. I know the number of queer celebs we have is small, but there are also infinitely more marginalized voices we should be listening to than the Fab Five on Queer Eye.

This week, INTO also ran deeply personal essays about reclaiming the word “fat” and what one trans woman learned about relationships from polyamory.

Yours,

Mathew Rodriguez
INTO Staff Writer

 

Maybe Not Every Queer Celeb Should Be a Community Spokesperson

“There’s no reason that Van Ness or Del Rio or Brown or any person who signed their name to a contract should be given a special place in our politics,” Mathew Rodriguez writes. “The age of Trump offers several lessons, but perhaps highest among them is that celebrity worship is a danger. (Funnily enough, the phantasm of an Oprah Winfrey presidential run was the Very American Response to this Very American Problem.)”

 

I’m Reclaiming Fat

“I didn’t think fat bodies were ugly or disgusting. I always preferred someone with a larger body, even now. I simply stared at fat people and rewrote the story of their body in my own head,” Arkee E. writes about internalized fatphobia. “I assumed that many fat people are uncomfortable in their bodies. I assumed that many fat people are only fat because they sit around all day and eat ravenously. I assumed that many fat people are too lazy ‘fix’ themselves. However, I was the lazy one. I was lazy for assuming fat people needed to fix themselves.

 

What Polyamory Taught Me About Myself

“Polyamory was instrumental in my self-actualization. Little in my life feels as natural as the fact that I can love and be loved by more than one devoted long-term partner, and that having the occasional outside tryst doesn’t diminish that love,” says Alyssa Gonzalez.

 

MORE LINKS:

The Hottest New Tea We’ve Learned From Alaska and Willam’s ‘Race Chaser’ Podcast

Trans BYU Student Must Choose Between School and Top Surgery

Activist Targeted in Malaysia’s Anti-LGBTQ Crackdown Speaks Out: ‘I Want to Be Heard’

 

7 Queer Beaches to Skinnydip Before Fall

Whether you’re into it or not, another northern hemisphere summer is booking its flights, packing up its caftans, swimsuits, and culottes, and soon will be waiting on the autumnal curbside, anxious for its Uber to the airport.

Yes, summer will leave us on a jet plane for the southern hemisphere but there is still time to part with the season sunkissed. So strip down, lather up, and welcome a healthy dosage of September vitamin D as you tan on the soft sands and wade into cool salty waters on one of our favorite international nude beaches.

Some of the beaches are almost entirely queer, some contain queer sections, and others have informal queer contingents mixing with other naturists. Either way, be sure to lather up, bring plenty of water and snacks, and feel the freedom of al fresco swimming.

Log on beach at low tide in Wreck beach.

1. Wreck Beach, Vancouver, Canada

Located on the sand between the terminus of trails #6 and #7 near the University of British Columbia is the queer section of Wreck Beach, the largest and longest nude beach in North America at 4.84 miles. Besides the ample skinny dipping opportunities the beach provides in the chilly Pacific, beachgoers can hike along the shoreline, look for wildlife like whales, kingfishers, bald eagles, or visit the incredible vendors of the main beach for food. Plan for an adventure — Wreck Beach is remote! The beach is a is a 30-minute hike from the trailhead.

Greece. Cyclades Islands. Mykonos Island. Elia beach. (Photo by: Valletta Vittorio/AGF/UIG via Getty Images)

2. Elia Beach, Mykonos, Greece

What would a skinny dipping list be without one of the most popular nude beaches in Greece? Originally a gay mecca of a beach, Elia now caters to both a queer and straight clientele, but the queerest section is on the West end, the nude portion of the beach. Here, you can rent a daybed for around 15 Euro a day and order drinks and food from beachside servers, or, set up on the sand and BYOB.

Film image of Sitges, Spain

3. Platja dels Balmins, Sitges, Spain

Another Mediterranean classic, the remarkably queer-friendly beachside party town of Sitges, Spain (48 minutes from Barcelona by train) boasts three gay beaches, but only two of them allow nudity. Platja dels Balmins is the largest of the two nudist beaches. Like Elia Beach, Platja dels Balmins is well attended with servers if you’d like to pay for seating and service, has lifeguards on duty, and a nice cafe restaurant to grab dinner at after a long day in the sun. The body surfing can be a blast in the warm Mediterranean waters. Not your scene? Try Sitges’ other gay nude beach, Playa Del Muerto, a pebbly, naughtier alternative.

Florida, Haulover Beach Park, High Rise Residential Condominiums Of The City Of Sunny Isles Beach

4. Haulover Beach, Miami, USA

On the northern end of the nude section on Haulover Beach, winter birds from Canada, Europe, and the Northern US mix with the adventurous Fort Lauderdale and Miami locals on the wide white sands. Unlike some other beaches on this list, Haulover has lifeguards, concession stands and is a short, easy walk from the parking lot — making it easy to bring your own chairs, coolers, and beach gear.  Haulover Naturist Beach is a part of Miami-Dade County’s beautiful and well kept Haulover Park, 20 minutes north of Miami Beach, and 40 minutes south of Fort Lauderdale.

Sandy Bay is situated along the road between Cape Town to Cape Point and adjacent to Llandudno, Cape Town. Sandy Bay lies on one of the last remaining stretches of untouched natural coastline on the Cape coast. It is one of the Cape Peninsula’s most inaccessible beaches and as such is well known as an unofficial nudist beach.

5. Sandy Bay, Cape Town, South Africa

Did the northern hemisphere summer escape you? Don’t worry, the last few beaches on our list are all in the southern, giving you ample time to plan your winter escape. Located about 30 minutes from downtown Cape Town, Sandy Bay is one of the few clothing-optional beaches in all of Africa. Like Wreck Beach in Vancouver, Sandy Bay requires a rocky 20-minute hike from the Llandudno Beach parking lot to Sandy Bay. Once you arrive, you’ll notice the gorgeous egg-shell white sands, aqua ocean and famous bluffs of Table Mountain National Park towering overhead.

Grumari beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Phil Clarke Hill/In Pictures via Getty Images)

6. Praia do Abricó, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

While I’m sure you’ve seen photos of the famous gay section of the Ipanema Beach in Rio, where bikinis and speedos rein supreme, you may not have heard of the only beach in the city that allows naturism, Praia do Abricó. Located an hour west in the protected municipal park of Grumari, the beach draws a large number of queer beachgoers. The beach has a section for nudism and was visited by the badass Brazilian feminist and performer, Luz Del Fuego, who became famous in the 1940s for wrapping pythons around her naked body and later founded the first naturist club in Brazil.

Lady Bay Beach, Watson’s Bay, Sydney, Australia.

7. Lady Bay Beach, Sydney, Australia

It is no secret that New South Wales’s capital is blessed with miles and miles of stunning beaches. While there are a few smaller unofficial nude beaches, like Little Congwong Beach in Botany Bay National Park, Lady Bay Beach is a popular official nude beach, as well as the oldest. About 25 minutes from downtown Sydney, the beach draws a large number of queer and straight sunbathers and offers them a stunning view of the Sydney Harbor as they bake in the warm Aussie sun.

Feeling Acadia’s Pink Moment Fantasy

It’s no secret that I’ve always been an enthusiast of the American West. I was born and raised in the region, and am currently in a never-ending love affair with it. But that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I fled to eastern possibilities, when I abandoned my glorious Rocky Mountains (and parents) for the sloping hills in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.  I flew across the country to attend high school for three years at a boarding school called Deerfield Academy.

When I arrived, I noticed the forests on the East Coast were leafier, the mountains more rounded, docile, and fluent and the confinements of the boarding school’s grueling academics, competitive student body, and brutal toxic masculinities made leaving campus on holiday breaks incredibly freeing.

One of my favorite trips happened on a long fall weekend and took me up to the coast of Maine. But my first weekend in the Pine Tree State was far too short and the weather spat a cold October drizzle the entire time. I knew I would have to come back down the road to explore Maine’s ruggedly handsome coast in better weather, specifically its famous Acadia National Park.

This past June, I was finally afforded the opportunity to return to “Vacationland”, as it is so affectionately nicknamed on its state license plates. Since I began the trek in New York City, I invited my friend Charlie Wilson, an actor in New York, to join me for the journey.

Charlie and I went to Deerfield together, though we didn’t know each other well as students. I do remember us once sharing a sit-down dinner table during my second year at the school. I was one year his senior but he already towered over me, tall, skinny, and daddy-long-legged at some outrageous height like 6’4’’. We made easy small talk in our preppy coat and ties for that month-long rotation but otherwise didn’t overlap. Also worth mentioning, neither of us was out in high school.

It wasn’t until about five years later that our paths crossed again. He was screaming “YAS” and tossing one dollar bills as Shangela (the robbed, All-Stars 3 winner) performed an energetic medley on stage at the mountaintop party at Aspen Gay Ski Week 2017. I approached him just after Shangela had snatched a five dollar bill from his long outreached arm, “Charlie Wilson?!” I yelled tapping him on the shoulder, “What?! You’re gay?!”

We kept in touch after skiing together that weekend but hadn’t seen each other until I arrived this summer in New York City. We took a train to Bedford Hills where Charlie grew up, picked up his SUV, and headed North the following morning.  On our way to Acadia, we climbed Katahdin, lost our wigs, and then two days later, made our way East, to the famous Mt. Desert Island, the host of the 102-year-old Acadia National Park.

It was early summer and as soon as we crossed the bridge that took us from the Maine mainland to the paw-shaped island the national park resides on, we were greeted by hairy beardtongue, dame rockets, and of course, one of the many icons of the park—fields of thick purple lupine. Fat, fuzzy bumblebees went from flower to flower in their own version of a drunken pub crawl, sloppy on nectar. Charming roads wound us to Acadia Cottages, a queer-friendly ma-and-pa accommodation on the sleepier southwest side of the island. The little cabin came complete with a deck and campy, lobster printed curtains.

That night we read guidebooks of the area to best plan the following day and put together our must-dos. On our list was the popular (for all the right reasons) Beehive hike, a swim at Sand Beach, lunch (and ice cream) in Bar Harbor, a glance at the crassly named Thunder Hole, a walk along the carriage paths, and a sunset in Wonderland, a beach on the south side of the westernmost finger of the island where the region’s famous pink rocks supposedly light up and glow even pinker than the imagery of Janelle Monae’s latest single. The whole beach is a lovely hue as the sun sinks below the island dappled horizon.

The phenomenon is one of the island’s treasures, something I had read about in the writings of Terry Tempest Williams and that had been described to me by a friend who graduated from the island’s tiny liberal arts school, College of the Atlantic.

The following morning we drove straight to the park’s famous Beehive Loop Trail and parked behind the long line of cars. This would be a good time to point out that although one of America’s smaller national parks at (49,052 acres, compared to Yosemite’s 761,747 acres) the park received 3.5 million visitors in 2017 (Yosemite was just above, at 4.3 million.) Since Acadia is quite small and compact, its massive attendance is much more noticeable as there is less space for visitors to spread.

The Beehive trail buzzes itself over the granite boulders of Champlain Mountain with the help of ladder rungs and platforms added by the park service. While the hike isn’t for the faintest of heart, it isn’t necessarily scary—but its few airy scrambles certainly excite. At the 1,070-foot summit, only a small portion of the park can be seen but the vastness of the sea is felt. In summer, the lime green of the island’s thick forests contrasts brilliantly against the big blue of the Atlantic.

The park was once the home of Wabanaki people before it was taken over by French Missionary colonists who eventually conceded the land to England in 1713 during the French Indian wars. The land was then controlled by Massachusetts, became American after the revolution, and by the 1850s, was already a popular vacation destination. It wasn’t until a man named Charles Eliot (later with the help of his father and George B. Dorr) pushed for its conservation into a National Monument in 1916 before it was upgraded to National Park status in 1918.

The area is also well known for being the vacation land of the Rockefellers, and their presence has literally been cut into the landscape in the form of 50 miles of carriage trails commissioned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1915-1933. Now, cyclists take the winding trails past lakes, rocky shoreline, and historic mansions.

The point of all of this backstory is to show that Acadia, unlike many western national parks, weaves in and out of the man-made. It is among the borderlands of a place where people “summer” and where woods and shorelines are wild, but where just offshore human presence exists in the form of, bright, fluorescent, bobbing lobster buoys.

The boundaries of the national park wind and weave as you drive, hike, or cycle and it becomes clear its entrance and exits are far more complex than the few in-and-out roads of many western parks. In many ways with its big crowds and idyll eastern setting, the entire island feels like a giant summer camp for families, tourists, and outdoor enthusiasts.

After our hike up Champlain, we were sweaty, and so, we decided to swim. At the very originally named Sand Beach, we set up some towels among the other tourists and we might have also taken a glance or two at the brawny lifeguard who observed the beachgoers from a high, white chair.

We ate snacks, watched the sandpipers and ruddy turnstones feeding in and out, in and out, as the waves crashed and receded, but most memorably, we continued one of our many in-depth talks about the confusion of our separate queernesses within the unforgiving old-boy cultures of our boarding school. The talks, beyond our bonding, turned out to be some of the most cathartic experiences of the trip, where we were able to unwind and reel in the tangled anchors of the past.

Since we were both closeted in high school, we had kept a lot bottled up. For one, our crushes. We roared as we exchanged their names— Charlie’s was a strong, curly-haired Vermonter in my year. We laughed the loudest when he told me that he once brought his crush his laundry, hoping subconsciously that the act would make the boy swoon for him. Charlie at least got a “thanks” from his crush.

My lacrosse-playing, wildman crush once said there wasn’t enough room at a table to sit next to him.

We both agreed that one of the most confusing things about our school was its rampant homophobia combined with an overt homoeroticism that seemed to linger into the new millennium from a time before co-education when the school was all boys.

The best instance Charlie had to illustrate our observation happened one night after study hall when his dorm gathered in the common area for snacks prepared by the dorm’s resident faculty. One shirtless boy, a lax (lacrosse) bro sat in another shirtless boy’s lap and called another, quieter, more feminine boy in the dorm a faggot.

My nearest example was from the school’s communal showers, where everyone pretended not to be looking at each other’s dicks but were certainly looking at each other’s dicks. I remember one boy, screamed at me “shave that bush, Colorado!” Which got a big round of laughter, as well as about 20 other boys to check out my dick.  There was also a hell of a lot of towel snapping at butts, which I remembered being surprised to learn happened in real life and not just puerile jock movies.

We concluded that the boundary between homosociality and eroticism was thin and wove in and out, like the borders of Acadia National Park with the land of Mount Desert Island. We concluded that that line, as young queer boys, was not helped by malicious homophobias, internal or otherwise. That the bromances we had witnessed (and perhaps even longed for) at our school by our heterosexual counterparts were just an unnamed and poorly documented form of an incredibly intimate male/male relationship. We knew the tortuous years at the school had resulted in our thick, thick skin. Skin we would need for our swim in the Atlantic.

We scurried to the shore, much like the sandpipers, but ran back just as fast as the shorebirds when the waves hit our ankles. The water couldn’t have been warmer than 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It was ice. In fact, I’m sure it once was ice. I imagined the frigid currents cruising down from the North Pole by way of the Labrador Sea before it curled around Nova Scotia. We clutched our pearls, gasped loudly, and finally dunked ourselves in its frostiness.

The rest of our afternoon consisted of recovering from minor hypothermia in the hot summer sun, eating cleverly named ice cream (the Bay of Figs) from the busy tourist town of Bar Harbor, a walk on the Rockefeller’s carriage paths around Jordan’s Lake, and finally a drive back to our side of the island to finally catch the pink moment in a little area of the National Park called Wonderland.

A short five-minute walk took us from the parking lot through the salty shore conifers—black spruce, jack pines, balsam fir—to the pink, rocky coast of granite slabs and grussy beaches. As the sun began ducking the horizon, Wonderland began to turn rosier and rosier, though, not as magical as I had built it up to be. But as a romantic, I lead myself to believe that it was as pink as the inner shell of a queen conch shell. In Wonderland, we were watching the day put on its lacy nightgown before a long cosmos-drenched evening.

We tidepooled the shore for starfish in their little granite bowl galaxies and basked in the sun’s final coral hoorah. Looking out to the sea, on one of the shelves of the North American continent, it was cliched but true to feel at the edge of the big world, reeling in the heavy anchors of our prep school past, raising our proud pink sails, tacking eastward to unheralded deliverance.

Dragging My Gay Ass To The Top of Kilimanjaro

When I originally came up with the brilliant idea of hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, it was more of a joke. I didn’t actually think it would pan out…but it did. Once my flights were booked and I had more than 6 months to train, I knew deep inside that I wasn’t going to do anything to prepare for this adventure, except spend a lot of money on really great name brand gear. I lied to myself and kept pushing back on practice hikes. The gym and me never really got along so I wasn’t going to start now. As a master procrastinator (any of my editors can confirm), I wasn’t going to give in, and I would worry about it later. When later arrived, I was scared shitless of what I had signed up for.

After landing in Africa, I had a little over a week before the hike would begin. During this waiting period, the tour I was with involved us visiting parts of Kenya and Tanzania, including the Serengeti. We were also camping, so in my mind, this was great training for the camping I would be doing as I hiked a mountain — the tallest mountain in Africa. It was also during this time that I met a few of the others who would be taking the challenge with me. One of the first people I met, a lovely woman named Lucy, began to talk about the high altitude training that she went through at her gym back in Sydney. It was at this point that I began to panic internally. I nodded my head when I was asked about my training, in an effort to deflect without truly answering.

After our week of camping and spotting wildlife came to an end, it was time to make our way to the entrance of Mt Kilimanjaro National Park, where we would meet the remainder of our small group — ten in total. It was that night, at dinner, that I learned that four out of our group of ten identified within the queer spectrum. Two gays, a lesbian and a bisexual, oh my! I had my suspicions but it was the other gay man on the trip that quickly brought it up at dinner and got everyone to divulge their sexual preferences – I was glad he did because I immediately felt safe. I somehow knew that there was an understanding between the queers that we would be there for one another during this difficult hike to the top, which spanned over 5 days. Thankfully, the other six members of our group were all unfazed by our mini-queer takeover, and just like that, our family of 10 was bonded and we would conquer this mountain together. This was the same night that I also learned that most of the others had also not done much to train, so I was a bit relieved as I finished my third pint of beer.

The days that followed were miserable but memorable, mainly because of the amazing people that I was with. We were all suffering throughout, in one way or another, so it was easy to bond over our pain. I was doing it, though, and each day, as we got closer and closer to the base of the mountain, while gaining altitude, I was priming myself for what ultimately would be one of the most difficult experiences of my life. On summit night, we departed base camp at around 11pm with a goal of reaching Uhuru Peak (the very top of Kilimanjaro) by sunrise, which we did.

The way up was thankfully in the darkness because I didn’t have time to freak out over the steep grade of the climb, or notice how easy it would have been to fall off the side of the mountain. It wasn’t easy; nothing about this entire trip was easy. I was a solo traveler, climbing a mountain with strangers turned friends whom I had just met. The saint-like porters and guides that accompanied us were our lifelines. They watched every movement we made and at any sign of hesitation, they were there to reassure us and or carry our packs for us. These guys, along with my fellow hikers, are the reason I made it to the top, plain and simple. And that sunrise was magical. Not being able to tell the difference between the snow on the ground and the clouds surrounding the peak was something I will dream of for the rest of my life. The sense of accomplishment I felt was enough to start my waterworks. I cried because it was that damn beautiful. I had never cried over natural beauty so I was really taken aback when I did.

But now it was time for the climb down, and with the intense heat burning our skin and lighting the path we took to get up, I took a few moments to gasp at what I had just done because it was seriously terrifying. Going down was just as difficult because of the severity of the steepness. And for those who have trouble with their knees, it can be harder. A few years back, I had seriously injured my knee while trying to play it cool with my attractive surf instructor in Australia. It was raining, and I slipped off the board in 2 inches of water after successfully riding a wave into shore. Looking back, I always wished my surfing accident that led to months of a knee brace would have been a bit sexier, but it wasn’t, and I was forever reminded of my embarrassing slip with a right knee that often pained me, especially when walking or hiking down hills.

It wasn’t until I was about 25% completed with the tiresome downhill that I felt my knee twist and lost my balance before falling onto a porter and we both tumbled a few times over before he grabbed me by my jacket and stopped us both from continuing to slide. At this point, I knew my knee was done for the day, as I thought I felt the same sensations I did after slipping off that surfboard. We gathered our things and I stood up, only to realize that it was going to be a very painful way down. I put my arm around the porter and he helped me as best as he could as I hobbled down the mountain. My only option for getting down was to hike down, as services are limited. Once we reached a more comfortable portion of the mountain, where it wasn’t as steep, more men came to my rescue. They would take turns as I continued to place my arms around their shoulders and make my way down. I was holding back my tears and was doing everything I could to just make it to base camp.

A few hours into my pained journey down, a man from base camp (whom was not affiliated with my tour company whatsoever) met up with us, and he insisted on asking me about what had happened. I explained, and he didn’t seem convinced that my injury was as severe as I felt it was. It was then that he placed his hands on my leg and pulled it in one jerk force. He was under the impression that I had dislocated my knee and was attempting to reset it, without asking. I screamed in agony and the tears shot out from my eyes without hesitation. He looked at me and said, “Men don’t cry, stop crying, you will be fine.” I was gutted. All of the confidence I had built up over the last couple of weeks, the sense of accomplishment I had just felt while looking at the sunrise on top of Kilimanjaro, my sense of safety as a gay man in Africa, all of it, gone in an instant.

I couldn’t blame him. He wasn’t making that comment maliciously, but it ripped right through me and left me emotionless. I stood up, pointed to two of the porters and asked to continue the hike down. I was silent for the rest of the way down, ignoring the pain I felt in my knee and in my heart. As I walked into the hut where the 9 others were waiting for me, as I was the last to arrive back down, I looked at them and immediately burst into tears. My safety net was back and I once again felt supported. Our guides later came to me and showed concern, but it wasn’t the same. I could see they were worried that I was upset, but I wasn’t. I was just uncomfortable with the situation, and being shamed for crying didn’t help the situation whatsoever.

At the end of the day, I summited Mount Kilimanjaro, something I will always be proud of, and something I’ll most likely talk about for years to come. It was something I never thought I could do, but I did, with the help of my diverse new group of friends. Tears were shed, my masculinity was questioned, ligaments were abused…but none of that can ever replace those memories of the epic views from the top of Uhuru Peak.

The Best Way to Travel While There

My entire 17-day experience throughout Kenya and Tanzania was experienced through Intrepid. This was my first solo traveler group trip and although I was a bit hesitant at first, after completing this one, I’m ready to book my next. Intrepid Travel sends more than 100,000 travelers across the globe with their more than 1,000 itineraries. The Best of Tanzania itinerary offers adventure seekers the opportunity to experience Tanzania’s most famous natural wonders like the vast Serengeti plains, Ngorongoro Crater, Mt Kilimanjaro and the shore of the Zanzibar coast.

20 Queer Q’s with Fran Tirado

The 20 Queer Qs series seeks to capture LGBTQ+ individuals (and allies) in a moment of authenticity. We get to know the subjects, what makes them who they are, and what they value.

These intimate conversations aim to leave you, the reader, feeling like you just gained a new friend or a new perspective.

Get to know Fran Tirado, a writer, editor of all things queer and co-host of the Food4Thot podcast. Learn about who he believes is a queer icon, his thoughts on love, what he feels insecure about, his advice for LGBTQ+ youth and more.

Name: Fran Tirado
Age: 27
Preferred Pronouns: He/Him
Sexually Identifies As: Queer

1. What do you love about the LGBTQ+ community?

I love that by just being queer, you’ve been given permission to be extraordinary. Not extraordinary in the sense that you have a superior ability or are fundamentally better than anyone, but extraordinary in that you are different than the rest of the population and by definition, you are extraordinary. I think there’s something about that that is really beautiful and that every queer person or anyone on the spectrum should lean into.

2. Do you think it’s hard to make gay friends?

Yeah, it’s really hard, it took me a really long time believe it or not. Part of my job is meeting up with other queer people and you would think that would make it a lot easier to make friends, but it’s still really difficult. Figuring out how to make a professional relationship into one that should be more intimate or friendly is hard to do and I feel like I have just come into my own friend group in New York in the last year. Before, it was just a huge array of people that I met socially and were just acquaintances and not necessarily friends. I think navigating intimacy and friendship can be just as hard as romantic ones.

3. Who is someone you consider to be an LGBTQ+ icon?

Miss Piggy. She has such a good sense of self, she truly understands who she is in this world, she knows how to maneuver her way around. She is a body and a personality that has been pushed aside and marginalized. She is a woman who is not conventionally attractive, she’s body positive, she’s loud, opinionated, obnoxious, and a woman and all those things are not championed in the mainstream. I think the way she’s able to break the glass ceiling of being accepted in the mainstream and own it to no end, makes her a fantastic queer icon.

4. What’s a song you consider to be an LGBTQ+ anthem?

“Dancing Queen” by ABBA.

5. What’s advice you have for LGBTQ+ youth?

You are not broken and you never were.

6. Do you believe in love?

No, unfortunately. I believe in infatuation, I believe in beautiful companionship, but I don’t believe in it for me. The really cliche answer is that love can encapsulate all of the different ways that you can love someone. I think when we think about love and how we define it, that all of my pre constructed ideas of what love is and everyone else’s pre constructed ideas of what love is, are a fallacy and if I give into believing that, it’s just gonna hurt me, so it’s better for me to believe in really amazing companions.

7. What values would you like in an ideal partner?

I would hope that whatever they believe in and are passionate about, that they believe in and are passionate about it, fiercely. I’ve dated pastry chefs, historians, musicians, and people who are fiercely passionate about things I had nothing to do with, and I had no idea how to take interest in it. But as long as they’re passionate and believe in it fiercely, there’s no in between about it, that’s important to me.

8. Fill in the blank: drag queens are _______

The most life giving cultural forms I have had in the last five years.

9. Fill in the blank: Love is _______

Best given to yourself.

10. What hopes do you have for the LGBTQ+ community in the future?

I hope that we can just understand each other across differences. Especially in times of crisis, sometimes for matters of safety, we homogenize ourselves and all of the gays will conglomerate together, the lesbians will conglomerate together and trans/non binary people hold spaces together and we all kind of sequester ourselves and that sequestering creates a lack of understanding or more an unwillingness to understand different queer identities.

I know a lot of gay people in my life who don’t have trans friends and nonbinary friends, and it doesn’t allow yourself much insight into what your community actually is. I’m not asking everyone to be best friends, but I do think when you don’t go out of your way to find friends across differences, you will have no means of understanding how they work and what their needs and priorities are and how you can help them. I think in the truest sense of the words if i want to believe in a version of the queer community, it’s reaching out to people across difference, because I don’t think we’re doing that enough.

11. What do you feel most insecure about?

I wish I had a greater body of work. I feel like all the people I admire have an immense body of work and I feel like I don’t have that. I also wish I had a bigger butt.

12. What’s your relationship with your family like?

It’s very different now, it used to be terrible. I was a fighter, I was the quintessential, rebellious teenager and I hated it, and I hated my family and now they’re some of the most restorative people I know. When I’m with them, it’s really comforting. We fight a lot, we’re all opinionated, we butt heads, we love confrontation and fighting but that aside, we all get each other and we all have a lot of fun.

13. Have you found your chosen family?

Not the chosen family because there’s no quintessential chosen family that is your ride or die and you have them forever, but I have found a chosen family that means a lot to me right now and I hope that they stay with me forever. But if they don’t, I will know that they have helped me through a very difficult part of my life. They make me feel held. I’m not an intimate person, I don’t have a lot of feelings or needs, but the ones that I do have are built by my friends. They know when I need something and they come to my group chats, digitally hold me, and it’s beautiful.

14. What is the title of the current chapter of your life?

Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

15. What song makes you feel the most confident, makes you feel better about yourself?

“Everywhere” by Michelle Branch.

16. Did you ever / still feel uncomfortable holding another guys hand?

Never. I go out of my way to be gay in public. I’m uncomfortable when I have to suppress it. I was in Qatar recently and it’s illegal to be queer there and I felt uncomfortable the whole time because I couldn’t be myself. I feel most comfortable when I’m most myself.

17. What are deal breakers for you when dating someone?

I only have one deal breaker, and that’s if they’re boring. I can date someone who’s vain, who’s a poor communicator, someone who thinks Lady Gaga is the greatest living artist that queerdom has ever seen, but I can’t date someone who’s boring.

18. How much does your LGBTQ+ identity play into your overall identity?

It plays into every facet of my life. My identity is my queer identity. I wake up in the morning and what I have for breakfast is influenced by my gay identity and that’s how I feel. Being queer enriches my life, my decision making, and my identity. When I hear queer people say “I don’t wanna be queer, I want to be normal, I want to be a queer person that gets along with normal people.” I find that when people say that, that they could potentially be missing out on a greater landscape of what their identity can be.

19. Fill in the blank: In 5 Years I Want To _________

I want to wake queers up. I hope that I will have woken queers up. I feel like the last five years of my work has been about creating representation, and about reaching out to a version of me that was 15 years old, stuck in the Midwest, didn’t know a single queer person, had never seen a single queer cultural form, had no idea with no means of seeing any reflection of themselves, and the last five years have been about creating reflections for kids like that. I’ll continue to do that, but I feel like my work has transitioned into reaching out to people who are closer to me and waking them up to a greater nuance or understanding of what it means to be queer and a greater social consciousness of what it means to take part in this community. There’s nothing wrong with the gay community, but I’m constantly seeing us fall short. I want more from us and I hope that within five years, I will have woken some people up.

20. What value/quality have you gained since being a gay man? What has being a gay man given you?

It gives me confidence. There’s a kind of supremacy that comes from my queer identity that makes me feel like I’m floating above a lot of people sometimes and that sounds really arrogant because it is. I carry myself with the confidence that I have because I’m just excited to be queer. I feel like when I enter rooms and when I enter straight spaces, I have command over those spaces because I’m different.

Stay up to date with Fran and his work over on Twitter and Instagram, and be sure to check out the Food4Thot podcast wherever you listen to podcasts!

Swimming the Heath

In the middle of the night in late July 2006, a few paparazzi stalked the late queer icon George Michael from the bushes of Hampstead Heath, London’s largest park. He ridiculed the photographers for invading his privacy as they snapped photos of him exiting the hedgerows with a burly 58-year-old.

In an interview shortly after the tabloids were published, Michael said, “The fact that I choose to do that on a warm night in the best cruising ground in London – which happens to be about half a mile from my home – I don’t think would be that shocking to that many gay people.”

To this day, 12 years later, the Heath still remains one of London’s cruisiest places, but there is far more to the park than a clandestine parade through thickets of lurking eyes, butt grabs, and crotch pats below the razzle-dazzle of a North London moon.

At 790 acres, the park is the green lung of London, and on warm spring, summer, and fall days, Londoners come out in gaggles. There are loving picnickers on fleece blankets discreetly complementing their brie with pinot grigio, university students with their shirts off reading Kafka, rambunctious birthday parties of freeze tag-playing children, barefooted football players juggling with their mates, jazzercisers beside the lush woodlands, and birders on the lookout for blue tits, coal tits, and ring-necked parakeets.

But most sensationally, there are some 25 ponds freckling the green landscape, some of which are swimmable (year round!) and looked after by lifeguards. Among the most popular are the ponds on the eastern shoulder, just off Millfield Lane. There is the Mixed Bathing Pond for all genders, as well as a separate Highgate Men’s Bathing Pond and the Kenwood Women’s Bathing Pond, which as of December 2017 officially welcomed trans women.

At the recommendation of a daredevilishly handsome local, who I met while riding bikes the day before on the canals of London’s Eastside, I made my way to the Highgate Pond, because I will forever be a sucker for a swim.

I had grown tired of perusing museums, pretending to gawk at the famous architectural sites, palaces, and towers all fat with tourists. I was no longer impressed by the beefeaters and their silly red dresses and even sillier black hats. I did not want to hear another word about the Royal Wedding, I wanted to see Londoners letting loose in the good ol’ out of doors—I was ready for cold water and a frolicsome afternoon.

I grabbed a towel from the hotel, my book, my journal, and descended to the tube from Shoreditch’s Old Street and sweated ridiculously as the stuffy London Underground zipped me 30 minutes across town.

As I made my way to the ponds, I strolled over the rambling clay hills of the park punctuated by great willows.  And as I did, I felt two things simultaneously. The first was that since I was among such vast, well-kept English lawns (and had read a great deal about England in high school and college), I felt like what I imagined Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice once felt like as she rebelled against the patriarchy of her time, running on the wide-open meadows of Netherfield as the heroine of her own narrative.

The second feeling was cheekier, most likely because I was at the Heath. I felt the chutzpah of a young, hairy-chested, mullet-flaunting sex pot—like George Michael in the Wham! days of yesteryear.

Isn’t it wild that simply by being in a new place, full of sunshine and possibility, we can acquire wildly delusional confidence?

By 3pm, I had strolled half a mile from the Camden Underground and arrived at the Highgate Pond in brilliant sunshine as speckled wood butts and red admirals flopped happily from yarrow to purple harebells. It was a Sunday and one of the first sunny days of the season. It was the kind of Sunday everyone had been pining for, to darken their winter hues and flirt like floozies with the shining sun. The type of day that made one say, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah!” and “zip-a-dee-ay” but also: “my, oh, my, what a wonderful day!”

On the outskirts of the men’s ponds, hundreds were squeezed into a sliver of grass beside the tall trees—here was excitement for warmth, for heat, for sun on bodies, for the possibilities of summer, perhaps, even for horniness, for leisure and for checking out the sun spilling itself generously onto other bodies.

And how were the bodies, you might ask?

Well, to begin, I no longer felt quite as sex-potty as I walked the commons of nuclear heterosexual families—there were cliques of men proudly displaying six packs that were cut so deeply they could hold an entire quart of lemonade in their chasms and butts so rotund I was becoming quite suspicious that they had snuck a soccer ball or two in the lycra swimsuits covering their hindquarters.

But never compare yourself to others, old chap, I told myself— everyone was wonderful and I was a part of their afternoon contingent. Some were paler than others, some had the littlest darn nipples I’ve ever seen, while some had nips as enormous as a £2 coin. There were bruin bellies and hairy backs as thick as carpets, freckled shoulders, as well as smooth, completely shaven legs beside wild Hobbit feet, and all of them were canoodling in the sun.

I read on the grass, alone, for half an hour after arriving, before a man around my age in glasses and a messy bird’s nest of hair,  sat nearby and read his own book—Blood Wedding (Bodas de Sangre) by Federico García Lorca—and soon we chatted and I found out that he was a playwright himself, recently single, and a grad school student who resented his ex-boyfriend who he claimed had become much funnier since they had broken up.

“I’m not mad about the breakup,” he said, which meant, of course, he was very mad about the breakup considering he was telling a random and delusional American stranger in the park about it. “I just wish he wouldn’t have been so dull while we dated. You know?”

I did know, man.  I mean, what’s worse than dating a bore, only to find out they’ve become hilarious after parting ways? And worse, apparently, this ex-boyfriend was now writing plays too—and apparently they were good.

“I come here every Sunday,” he told me. He never had to worry about seeing the ex-boyfriend because he was a “vampire” who hated the sun—and swimming.

“It’s the only place I feel like I can relax, have a spliff, cool down, and I always make a mate,” he said with a wink.

And like that, I had been upgraded from the ‘stranger by the pond’ to ‘mate’ in the matter of a casual conversation. What wasn’t to like about the Brits?

But soon, the humidity and heat persuaded me it to swim even though I was enjoying talking spitefully about someone else’s ex I didn’t know (but was honestly curious to meet to see how funny he really was).

I left my new mate who wasn’t yet ready for a dip and made my way to the busy gate of the Highgate Pond where men of all ages whizzed in and out, every single one ignoring the £2 entry fee on a self-service payment machine. Through the doorway marked “Men Only” a large concrete courtyard opened where men dried off, changed, and loitered.

On the left, in a small section were the nudists. The classic nudists you can already imagine without me even describing them—but I will anyway.

Mostly baby boomers unafraid of their bodies, unlike those modest changing-under-the-towel millennials. Some were bald, some were alone, and others were in groups with such casual rapport it appeared they were weekend regulars. They must be here every Sunday, I thought. They gathered and talked and there seemed to be a general consensus that like the invisible boundaries at a nude beach, this walled off area was the place for al fresco butt nakedness and who would complain about that?

The other section was much larger, like an outdoor locker room where brief moments of nudity were common. Pedestrian clothes were shucked and exchanged for board shorts, rugby shorts, booty shorts, or athletic cut briefs. Boyfriends changed next to each other beside straight fathers and their sons. Straights beside gays, bros between queers and none of them with fears for they were bonded in a comradery of mirthful summerness because beyond the changing area was the dock, and at the end of the dock, there was a diving board that launched you into a pond that persuaded even the most mature man into a brief cannonball of puerility.

I dropped trou and changed into short, leggy swimmers and felt quite European for the first time, maybe ever, as I made my way down the dock toward the diving board where there was a queue.

As I waited, I observed the pond that was sunk into the ground, dug in the 17th or 18th century and filled by the underground waters of the River Fleet and guarded by large three-story tall trees that hid the pond coyly from onlookers. It was a private sanctuary of freshwater dunking.

“That’s bloody cold!” one rugby-built man yelled to his friends after attempting a dive that became more of a belly flop in his clumsiness. I was, however, happy to hear the word “bloody” again as the synonym for “very.” It’s how I knew I was again in the Commonwealth and reminded me of my Australian days, years ago.

“That is bloody cold!” One of his mates yelled soon after a strange leap off the board that was somewhere between cannonball and a nerdy nose plug jump. But there was laughter as all of them pulled themselves from the dock for another go.

And then, it was my turn.

I stepped onto the diving board and looked out onto the water of the pond where wild lap swimmers went from buoy to buoy, where two Egyptian geese nestled in the reeds and yapped up an angry duet at a nearby squirrel.

I had not dived in a while, but with this group of well fit mates nearby, I knew the pressure was on, even though the stakes were incredibly low after their pitiful diving performances despite their clear athletic prowess.  

As I walked to the end of the board, again, I was again hoping for the repose of an Elizabeth Bennet, but also, again, the nonchalance of a George Michael fresh from the cruising hedgerow.  So I leaped, brought my hands together, bent my body in a nice arc, pointed my toes, and plunged into the cold waters still lingering from winter, slowly being persuaded by summer.

If I were to rate the dive, it would have been an 8— except for the fact that my shorts weren’t tied tightly enough and the men on the dock had let me know as soon as I surfaced that they had been yanked over my bum.

“That’s a bloody white arse!” They cackled, they laughed, and I loved the cheekiness of it all—here in London, we could be teenage boys again and tease strangers for lunar buttocks.  

The water was fresh, the men and boys were swimming all around in jocundity as the cicadas buzzed on the shore plants, and the trees dazzled their lime green leaves like eccentric jazz hands in the gentle afternoon breeze.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pity the tourists in humid, concrete traps of the city center—Big Who? The Tower of Where? Buckingham What?

I put my hands behind my head, puffed my chest to the sky, floated, and looked at the clearest bluebird sky I’m sure London’s ever seen humming George Michael’s “Outside”—

 

Let’s go outside (let’s go outside)
In the sunshine…

Back to nature, it’s human nature.

Kiss My Astro: Your August Horoscope

This August is serving us YAFGO* in abundance. Mars, planet of “let me get some of that right now” is moving retrograde till the end of the month. Mars retrograde is a time when everyone’s drive (sex drive, drive to get out of bed in the morning, etc.) has been slowed way down—or if you try to plunge ahead into something new, there may be all kinds of unforeseen obstacles. There’s also a good chance past lovers and friends you’ve fallen out with will be popping up again to see if there’s sparks to be kindled or amends to be made. There’s also another eclipse on the 11th, offering a chance to see your life through new eyes, and finally a lovely aspect between Jupiter (planet of abundance, joy, and excess) and Neptune (planet of false eyelashes, sequins, and romantic quests). Let that sweet and sparkly energy give you the patience to handle whatever frustrations arise. Good luck out there!
 
*Yet Another F’ing Growth Opportunity
Aries
The slow energy of this month will be especially hard for you, as there’s something you really want right now that you’re having a hard time either getting or totally walking away from. What are your other options? Take a little extra time to think about what’s most important to you in this scenario, and other ways you could get your needs met. Above all, don’t give in to impatience or competitive behavior—you don’t need to prove yourself or put anyone else down to get the kind of attention that’s worth having.
 
Taurus
Slow is beautiful for you, and the energy of this month is perfectly paced for the last month of summer when you want to savor all the sweetness that’s still lingering in the air. This is a gorgeous time to reinvest in all the connections that help you feel seen, understood, and appreciated. You’re in a new phase of maturity that’s making you think about partnership differently, and you may discover that you’re ready for something you didn’t think you would be so soon. Ask for what you need, and trust that good things are on the way.
 
Gemini
This month brings you an eagle-eye perspective on all the twisty and knotted paths you’ve been taking in your relationships. Miscommunications, crossed signals, and cycles of heartbreak all become clear from this distance. This is a beautiful vantage point from which to catch your breath and plot your course forward. Remember that where you are now felt out of reach a year ago—imagine where you can be a year from now if you keep a clear view of your goals.
 
Cancer
Repeat after me: “Honey, that’s your problem, not mine.” You’ve got 99 problems right now, but really 98 of those aren’t yours and you have permission from the stars to give them back to their rightful owners. This is a month for you to get some well-deserved R & R. If you’re inviting anyone back to the sanctuary of your home, make sure they leave the drama at the door.
 
Leo
What a wild year it’s been! Since last August, you’ve lived a few lifetimes. This month brings the second-to-last eclipse in your sign (the last will be in January), so you’re nearing the end of a major cycle of transformation. What have you outgrown? Where have you had to cut ties? What’s come into your life that you never expected? Take some time to marvel at what you’ve been through, and have faith that the next six months will help you get where you’re trying to go.
 
Virgo
Last month was a non-stop carnival of adventure; this month will slow your merry-go-round down. The good news is you’ll appreciate the rest, the bad news is there’s nothing in particular to work on or solve right now. Self-improvement or making lists of ideal traits in your ideal partner are fine activities, but it’s too early to start something new and you’ve still got to catch your breath from the last few months. Let things be slow, unsettled, and easy right now. Let yourself be curious about what comes next without giving in to impatience or anxiety. You get to be specific about what you want; it’s fine to wait for what feels right.
 
Libra
Dolce far niente—how sweet it is to do nothing! This month asks you to ditch the stress and savor the sweetness, wherever and whenever you can. With Venus moving into your sign on the 6th, this is a time to bring a little more light, joy, and even decadence into your daily life. Soothe the parts of your heart that feel frazzled or unloved, and find those connections that can help you stabilize into this slower, sweeter pace of life.
 
Scorpio
How close to the surface is your inner diva? This is your month there’s a part of you that’s ready to strut, but the rest of you is suspicious of that part. Scorpio energy is always tracking what could go wrong, and making yourself publicly vulnerable isn’t something you do carelessly. Luckily, this month the goddesses of glamour are on your side—trust that if you step into the spotlight, you’ll get the applause you deserve.
 
Sagittarius
There’s something changing for you right now, but you won’t see the full effects just yet. Meanwhile, beware of the grass-is-always-gayer somewhere else attitude that can keep you from noticing what’s amazing right where you are. Risk opening up to what’s right in front of you, even if it doesn’t match your fantasies of the ideal situation (or ideal partner, or ideal lover). This month rewards paying attention to what is working, what you do have, what you shouldn’t take for granted—and helps you dream into a future that can build on what you have instead of abandoning it.
 
Capricorn
As retrograde Mars moves into your sign this month you may feel like a revving engine. All the energy you’re building up is best released after the 27th, but meanwhile it’s a great time to patiently examine what you’re really after when you’re feeling riled up. Get in touch with your deepest desires and figure out how to express them in ways that are still caring and considerate of others. It’s a balancing act, but you’ve got the skills and the wisdom to pull it off.
 
Aquarius
This month brings the end of a year-long cycle of change and growth—particularly around your relationships. You’ve learned a lot about what kinds of commitment you want—and how free you need to feel in those commitments.Take some time to marvel at how much you have learned, and if there are any lingering things to resolve with an ex, or with any relationships that have changed since last August, take this time to do so cleanly so you can fully move forward.
 
Pisces
This month is like a cosmic reset button for you, giving you a great chance to start new habits. Something that was previously hard for you in relationships is starting to feel effortless—that may be holding your own instead of giving in, taking space when you need it, or letting go of anxieties that aren’t serving you. All you need to do right now is practice these newfound skills and notice how good it feels to be able to connect to someone without losing yourself. And it’s okay if you slip up sometimes, you’ll be able to get back to center if you try!

Howard Brown Health Released Song And Video For “Let’s Talk about PrEP”

Howard Brown Health, an LGBTQ health organization based in Chicago, released a cover of Salt-N-Pepa’s iconic song with a spin on the title, “Let’s Talk About PrEP.” Through the catchy song, the organization is hoping to raise awareness for PrEP in the fight against HIV.

“Howard Brown Health is thrilled to present this exciting music video as an advocacy and awareness platform for HIV prevention,” Erik Roldan, Director of Communications for Howard Brown Health, said in a release. “‘Let’s Talk about PrEP’ is both a celebration and a call to action – we are on the precipice of an HIV-free generation, and PrEP is one of the tools we need to get us there.” Roldan also mentions that we must continue PrEP access specifically in communities of color, like the south side of Chicago, who are often underserved.

Howard Brown is the largest LGBTQ organization in the Midwest and provides primary healthcare, social services and screenings to more than 32,000 people each year. They have 10 clinics across the city of Chicago.

Keeping in the Chicago theme, the song is performed by a trans Chicago-based rapper KC Ortiz and features gay rapper Big Dipper.

“This song is about conversation – we need to talk about PrEP and HIV in our community,” said KC Ortiz. “When we talk to our partners and our loved ones about sexual health, we are eliminating stigma. Let’s talk about sex. Let’s talk about HIV. Let’s talk about PrEP.”

This song and music video came at the perfect time — right in the middle of the Break The Patent movement, which is a group of activists who are urging the FDA to break the Truvada patent in order to make the prevention drug more accessible.

Check out the video for “Let’s Talk about PrEP” below: