Amtrak Says Injured Gay Man Tried to Commit Suicide But Family Says It Was Likely A Hate Crime

According to Amtrak, out gay Portland State University student Aaron Salazar expressed a number of “life concerns and challenges” with other riders before he turned up in critical condition on May 15.

Salazar, 22, was traveling back to Portland from Denver after visiting family. He texted his grandmother to let her know he had a layover, said his cousin Sonia Trujillo. The text said he had made a friend on the train.

Shortly after, at 11:26 am on May 15, police in a California town between Portland and Denver responded to reports of an unconscious person laying near the railroad tracks. The Truckee Police Department determined that the passenger had been traveling on an Amtrak train.

Salazar suffered a brain stem injury, a neck injury, a broken pelvis, multiple burns on his legs and bruising on his ribs. He was rushed to the hospital.

“This kind soul who has never hurt anyone, and has only spread positivity and love was beaten and left by the railroad for dead,” Salazar’s cousin Austin Sailas wrote on a GoFundMe Appeal to raise money for his care.

But Amtrak has been giving the media a different version of events.

“A fall from a moving train would cause significant injury,” the company wrote in a statement released to INTO.

The statement goes on to say that the company interviewed more than 300 customers, crew and friends and that they “encourage everyone to avoid speculation.”

“There is no evidence of a physical altercation occurring while Mr. Salazar was travelling on Amtrak,” Amtrak said in the statement.

Amtrak’s insinuation that Salazar tried to take his own life doesn’t sit well with his family. They think the gay college student was likely the victim of a hate crime.

“This kid did not jump out of a train like Amtrak was saying,” said Trujillo. “Somebody did this to him.”

Despite his bodily injuries, his clothing was not damaged, Trujillo said.

“I saw his injuries firsthand,” Trujillo said. “To me it looked like he had been beaten up, not somebody that was wanting to jump off the train. It looks like he was beaten and somebody burned him. At this point we don’t think Amtrak is capable of handling a case of this magnitude.”

Media reports spell out a history of suspicious Amtrak passenger deaths.

In 2012, 26-year-old Robin Putnam went missing on a Colorado-bound train from California. Three years later, his remains were found in Elko County, Nev.

According to the news site and other media reports, his family is still seeking answers from Amtrak six years later.

“They tried to blame it on suicide, just like with Aaron,” Robin Putnam’s mom Cindy said. “We originally thought it might be a hate crime. He’s not gay but he is a very classy guy, he looks like he’s from a wealthy family.”

According to a Truckee Police Department statement, the investigation has been turned over to Amtrak Police. Trujillo says her family wants the FBI to step in.

Oregon’s Congressional delegation is pushing Amtrak to investigate the matter as a possible hate crime. In joint letter to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader, and Suzanne Bonamici and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, urged the company to use all of their available resources to investigate.

“The timing of this incident happens just one year after a white supremacist began harassing two women of color on Portland transit,” the letter states. “We expect a full report on the investigation of this crime, to our federal delegation and to Aaron’s family.”

Salazar remains hospitalized and in a coma. He is breathing on his own.

“We’re praying and hoping that he comes out,” Trujillo said.

Images via GoFundMe

Peach Fuzz To Be Chicago’s First LGBTQ-Inclusive, Progressive Kid-Friendly Shop

Claire Tibbs loves connecting with her community. Ten years ago, she moved to Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood and five years ago, she opened her vintage modern home store, Humboldt House, on aquiet block lined with other locally-owned small businesses.


Now Tibbs, who identifies as queer, is readying her second shop down the street: Peach Fuzz, a kid-friendly space focused on selling progressive, inclusive products and designed to bring kids and adults together.


Peach Fuzz, Tibbs says, will sell “lots of playful goods, curiosity objects, and things that engage your brain and keep you active. Beautiful things. Sustainably made things.”


There will also be children’s books containing narratives of kids who are often not represented in stories, such as those with two moms or divorced parents. Tibbs says she wants books that represent “all the ways to be different in the world.”


Sweet lil deets 🍑🌸💓

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Peach Fuzz will also be a place where families can come to learn and connect with one another. Tibbs plans to host a myriad of community events, from art classes to alternative insemination classes to workshops for parents raising transgender or gender nonconforming kids.


“We’ll make it a safe space for kids with questions, parents with questions, and try to bring in as many resources that can make everyone feel seen and valuable,” Tibbs tells INTO.


As a child, Tibbs loved visiting stores. It wasn’t so much the shopping, but rather the adventure and wonder they evoked for her. She loved going to the rock shop with her dad and grandpa and feeling excited to be entrusted with such special items to take care of. She also loved going to a shoe store that had holes in the wall she could climb through.


“I thought it was the most magical place,” she says.


With Peach Fuzz, Tibbs hopes to provide that same sense of magic, and she also hopes to sell products that help kids feel empowered. She hated being given “dumbed down items” as a kid, and she plans to provide toys that don’t feel disposable.


The idea for Peach Fuzz came after a trip to Paris, where Tibbs found herself lost for hours inside bookstores with amazing children’s sections. On her plane ride home, she started making a list of possible store names, and, as with Humboldt House, she picked the name first and developed the concept of the store around it.


“I liked how body positive it is, how tactile it is, how juicy, and you can see the fruit colors,” she tells INTO. “I like that it’s not vulgar necessarily but it’s very bodily, and also kind of pre-pubescent, there are lots of things I found appropriate for itand it’s just kind of funny.”



It’s lit! 🔥

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Tibbs believes there is too much separation between adults and kids.


“I think we’re often taught to keep it really separate, that there’s a kids table, or your friends have kids and they’re held at arm’s distance, or that bars shouldn’t have kids in them, and I think we should all hang out,” she says. Which is why she wants Peach Fuzz to be a place for people of all ages, and she calls the shop “kid-friendly” rather than specifically for kids. The shop is for everyone and will have products for all-ages.


“Kids are really fascinating and special and really fun to be around,” she says, “and I think the sense of wonder you have as a child and the sense of honesty and inclusion and curiosity that kids inherently haveand then a we somehow lose it along the waydeserves to be celebrated and given a safe space to let kids be kids and let adults enjoy kids.”


Stripes ➰ Lights

A post shared by Peach Fuzz (@little.peach.fuzz) on

Peach Fuzz will be located at 1005 California Ave. and will likely open sometime in July. Whimsically painted with blue, yellow, and pink pastels, the shop certainly evokes that fruity, youthful vibe. Tibbs hopes the store will attract “anyone that’s curious, playful, has a sense of humor, and wants to see a radical and love-filled world.”


If it’s anything like Humboldt House, Peach Fuzz will be a warm, inviting space that feels more like walking into your best friend’s living room than a store. Tibbs is kind and open and most importantly, makes it clear how much she loves doing what she does. She greets customers coming and going from Humboldt House with honest enthusiasm and engages them in meaningful conversation during their visit. Many who come in already seem to know her. She has clearly made a name for herself in the neighborhood, where she has also lived for the past 10 years.


It’s why she is so excited that Peach Fuzz is opening in the same area.


“All the businesses are owner run and operated,” she says, “which gives a lot of heart to the block. People don’t just open up a business because it’ll be a moneymaker. They open it up because they want to be there every day and engage with their customers and be in the space and take care of it.” That sense of community is exactly what she’s hoping Peach Fuzz will foster.


“I hope that people appreciate the weird and the different and the funny and that it feels inclusive and the genius and honesty of kids is just as valued as the wisdom of adults,” she says. “After Parkland and all these moments where kids are really claiming their voice. I’m hoping it will be a space where the perspective and interest of kids is celebrated and highlighted and something adults can learn from, too.”

We Cannot Give Queer Women a Pass For Misogynistic Behavior

You may know Lea DeLaria as the standout MoC lesbian who found fame as Big Boo in Orange is the New Black. She’s an important figurehead to emerge from the show, as masculine-leaning queer women in pop culture are few and far between, and visibility is vital in normalizing queerness. But last week, the actress made some off-color comments about dating women that made my stomach churn.

In a candid interview with Australia’s Sunday Life magazine, she joked about her appetite for younger women. “I think of myself as the lesbian Jack Nicholson, in that I am going to go out with a lot of young girls,” she explained. “Jack is my idol. When he was 60 he got two women in their 20s pregnant, so that’s my goal.”

In a time when our culture is finally reckoning with the passes we’ve given men in sexual misconduct, abuse, and general misogyny, it’s disappointing to see a woman choosing to emulate that. Women have long been silenced and stifled by patriarchal norms and systemic chauvinism, and just because DeLaria is female doesn’t mean we should excuse her behavior.

The 60-year old actress clearly idolizes Nicholson, a famed Lothario, as she repeated a similar joke about wanting to imitate his getting two women pregnant on Conan back in 2017. Additionally, she quipped, “[My doctor] told me I had diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol all at the same time, so basically all I can eat is pussy.”

It should go without saying, but these types of comments perpetuate misogyny in gruesome and outdated ways, as they objectify women and paint them as prizes, or conquests that must be won and collected, and that’s unacceptable.

But DeLaria is far from the first and only butch queer woman to use her sexuality and gender as an excuse to preserve misogyny.

In 2016, out lesbian rapper Young M.A. came under fire for her chauvinistic lyrics, referring to women as “hoes” in an attempt to bond with her heterosexual male peers. “That’s the bro code,” she quips. With her hit single “Ooouuu,” the 26-year old rapper emerged as a celebrated trailblazer, because similar to DeLaria, masculine-presenting, out queer women of color in hip-hop are rarities. And while the visibility she brought to hip-hop was noteworthy, we still must hold queer women accountable for toxic behavior.

Samantha Master of The Root wrote, “Young M.A., in some ways, has used the cultural space largely created by black women to promote the re-enactment of elements of toxic masculinity,” asking, “Is visibility alone ever really radical?”

The question in itself sparks a complicated and much-needed conversation on toxic masculinity, and the ways in which it bleeds into queer culture, especially amongst MoC women who idolize masculinity even its downfalls. As LGBTQ people, we must ask ourselves: does true feminist equality mean being able to mimic bad behavior that, historically, only men have been allowed to participate in? Or do we need to do better? I think we need to do better and it’s not a blurry line, either.

As a feminist, I do wholeheartedly believe that equality means being able to flood male-dominated spaces and flip norms that have been typically gendered as such. However, I will never support the further marginalization or oppression of any community that has already been irrevocably damaged by harmful patriarchal systems. For those reasons, I see what public-facing butch women like Lea DeLaria and Young M.A. want to do, versus what they’re actually accomplishing. There are ways to alleviate heteronormative sexism while maintaining brash declarations of sexuality, and some artists are paving that way.

Out lesbian singer Hayley Kiyoko has expressed that she grew up wanting to mimic the men in boy bands like *NSYNC, so she made a career out of chasing girls in videos, dancing with a group of male backup dancers, and speaking openly about having sex with women things that only her male counterparts have been afforded the opportunity to do in the past. The of-the-moment rapper Cardi B has flipped the narrative in her genre, too. While Cardi has been guilty of perpetuating misogyny in hip-hop, using monikers like “hoes” and “bitches,” it’s important to also consider intention. For artists like Kiyoko and Cardi, they’re often able to circumvent misogyny by embracing the female gaze without punching down.

The Bronx native often raps about money, sex, power, and men in the same way that male rappers do, and expresses herself just as brazenly, with lyrics like, “Pussy so good, I say my own name during sex,” or, “Pop that pussy while you work, pop that pussy up at church, pop that pussy on the pole, pop that pussy on the stove.” In context, her lyrics are about encouraging women to embrace their sexuality and power, using appellations like “hoes” to reclaim the word from men, whereas Young M.A. uses it to participate in heterosexist culture.

When Cardi raps about women, like on “I Do,” when she boldly reveals her craving for a threesome with Rihanna and Chrissy Teigen, she doesn’t objectify them (“I need Chrissy Teigen / Know a bad bitch when I see one / Tell Rih-Rih I need a threesome”). Instead, there is power in her lyrics, just as there is power in banding together with other women, rather than treating them as less-than.

Cardi B and Hayley Kiyoko are two examples of women in entertainment who use their status to embolden women and LGBTQ people, rather than further oppress them. It’s extremely unhelpful and regressive for a person like Lea DeLaria, who could be a shining beacon for MoC women in pop culture, to use language that’s detrimental to feminist and pro-LGBTQ causes. And while I understand the urge to seek equality by participating in male behavioral patterns that we’ve become accustomed to and indignantly want to overturn, we must weed out those behaviors that are toxic, and nourish and encourage those that are positive.

The Cis White Gay Man at a Crossroads

Sometime over the past several years, my perception of myself and my place in the world changed.


I’d grown up a viciously bullied kid in 1980s Massachusetts. I was called a faggot on a daily basis years before I even knew I was gay. In high school, where I was just barely closeted, a typical day might involve being thrown in the trunk of a football player’s car, driven out to the edge of town while “Born in the USA” blared from the radio, then left there to walk home five miles in bitter cold.


After a certain point, I didn’t even question this kind of treatment. Massachusetts may be progressive now by national standards, but in the Reagan era, homophobia and bullying were not articulated social epidemics. Even certain school administrators and teachers told me to grow up and butch up.


I thought that withstanding such treatment and moving on to college, then New York, made me tough, a survivor. In fact, it did. It also fucked me up. I was in the throes of depression and addiction by my late twenties. I was HIV-positive by 30. In both recovery and therapy by 32.


Believe it or not, I also had fun in those New York years. Like many gay men, I’d typically dance the night away to the sound of black women wailing over a house track in a club, lyrics about being set free or taken higher or getting lifted up from the pressure. And this always felt like a very obvious match, this idea that gay men and black women were both oppressed and hence it made sense that gay men danced to the tracks of, and also fetishistically worshipped, black divas who sang us our pain and our desire for freedom. We were on par. As gay white men, we were one of many persecuted groups.


This was the ’90s, mind you ― only 20 years ago. The idea of gay marriage, that we might wed and have kids and blend into mainstream society, still seemed absurd. Gay bashings, some fatal, were a daily reality nationwide. We had been decimated by AIDS for nearly two decades. The disease hung like a suffocating shadow of fear, stigma and decay over all of us, even those who weren’t infected. We had no legal rights except for some anemic laws in a handful of cities and states. We had a president who sold us out at every turn for political capital, welshing on his military promise and, in the shameful dead of night, signing a law barring federal recognition of our civil unions.


All of which is to say, it wasn’t folly that we felt like society’s punching bags.


But, of course — due in large part to our own activism, public anger and shrewd, well-resourced organizing — things changed in the new millennium. Will and Grace. Same-sex marriage. While other members of the LGBTQ universe remained invisible, the adorable, stylish, witty professional urban gay white man became America’s darling. Every straight girl wanted one of us for her very own. Even their boyfriends wanted us for fashion and interior advice, were jealous of the relative ease with which we could procure NSA sex. We rose to iconic public status in the image of Ian McKellen, Adam Lambert, Alan Cumming, Lance Bass, Clay Aiken, Neil Patrick Harris, Andy Cohen ― eventually even Anderson Cooper.


Somewhere in these years, I started to see myself differently. It wasn’t just that I was no longer bullied, depressed and drug-addicted ― the very embodiment of the trauma-addled gay male statistic. And it wasn’t just that I no longer felt as marginalized or unsafe as an urban gay man as I had in the ’80s and ’90s. Even though both of these things were very much true.


It was that, from about the murder of Trayvon Martin onward, and particularly when Eric Garner was choked to death by a cop in 2014 here in New York, I was shaken into a new consciousness about the fragility of black lives. I remembered walking alone in the wee hours in the ’90s past groups of young black men, terrified that I would be gay-bashed, one of them stepping out abruptly toward me and yelling “Boo!” while the others cracked up laughing, as though they could smell my fear.


To suddenly think of such young men as not threats, but threatened ― mostly at the hands of cops ― to think of them as anxious and fearful, the worried voices of their parents in their heads, was mind-blowing.


I had also, like many, had little understanding in the ’90s and early 2000s of what being transgender was. My best understanding of it was certain drag queens who had apparently chosen to live their whole lives in drag. But in the 2010s ― and particularly after the stunningly brutal death of Islan Nettles, again here in New York ― data emerged showing that black transgender women were being beaten and sometimes killed at rates that looked like what gay men were subjected to here in the city in the earliest, most phobic years of the AIDS epidemic.


All these things contributed to my own dramatic reinterpretation of my own societal status. Without discounting the genuine pain I had suffered because of homophobia, I was also now able to see clearly how my own privileges of race and class had ― often in subtle ways, such as via my social networks or even my own concepts of hope and possibility ― afforded me the resources to climb out of trauma and move forward.


And to that I would also add my privilege of maleness. Which is a difficult thing to add for any gay boy who was systematically bullied for being gay, because, often, we grew up feeling, not without warrant at the time, that we had less power and safety than the girls and women around us.





But my own story is not just my story. It is the story of many gay white cisgender men in America now ― particularly those my age (48) and older who have lived through seismic changes in our status, even in our literal survival rates, thanks to the advent of effective HIV treatment and prevention pills.


Now, in the age of Trump, we find ourselves with a curious mixed status, particularly if we are blue-state, urban, well educated and well employed. (I have reported beforethat the situation can be markedly different for red-state, rural and working-class gay white men.)


“We’re like the centaurs of the oppressed,” says Peter Staley, the veteran HIV activist who, while secretly gay and HIV-positive in the 1980s, worked as a high-paying stockbroker until he finally left and came out to help found the pioneering activist group ACT UP. (He will publish a memoir.) “We’re like half white men, with all the privileges thereof, and half an animal that many people worldwide would have no compunctions about shooting dead. We get into a problem when we point only to our unique horse part and ignore the white man part.”


And he acknowledges that, for those of us of a certain age, that can be easy to do. “Look at the grief we’ve gone through, especially in the ’80s and ’90s with AIDS. Therefore, we feel that we’re as oppressed as anyone and want to tell people not to wave their fingers at us and tell us to check our privilege. But that would be a mistake.”


Pointing to himself, he notes that even the rage that fueled AIDS activism in the 1980s and ’90s was driven by white male entitlement. “Many of us at the time were using some portion of the closet to protect ourselves and keep many of the privileges that straight white men had. Then we realized those privileges meant shit once the virus hit us and the government was just going to let us die. That was a shock to our privileged selves. We said, ‘How dare you?’ And traditionally oppressed groups may not have leapt immediately to ‘How dare you?’, some sense of shock that rocks their foundation.”




I don’t feel alone in my reassessment of my place in the world in recent years. There are many middle-aged cis gay white men out there who see where they fit in a matrix of privilege and safety and are willing to not only ally with, but step aside for, less traditionally privileged quarters of the LGBTQ population.


For me, this has been, and continues to be, a truly mind- and heart-expanding exercise in listening and empathy, a chance to start with the premise that I don’t know what lived experience is like for other LGBTQ people and to take them at their word when they tell me that the best role I can play in their struggles is to show up as a supporting ally, to continue confronting other cis gay white men on their prejudices or limitations, or often simply to keep listening.


Yet at the crossroads, some of us also find ourselves being enthusiastically asked to join forces with a sector of the population that historically has denied us rights, vilified us, used us as a political scapegoat: The Right.


As various groups around the country coalesce against Trumpism ― specifically its attacks on vulnerable populations including transgender people, Muslims, both documented and undocumented immigrants and the disabled ― many conservatives have realized they have new foot soldiers in the form of cisgender gay white men who share their hostility toward what they see as rampant illegal immigration, cultural pluralism and political correctness.


They’ve adopted as their gay free-speech darling the race-baiting provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, particularly after he was ostracized by much of the LGBTQ community for sparking racist digital mass attacks, complete with pictures of apes and death threats, against the black comic actress Leslie Jones and the biracial social-justice activist Shaun King.


How do cisgender gay white male Trump supporters, whose very existence baffles so many, form their identity? I’ve often wondered as much, so for this story I reached out to several via social networks. I’ve chosen to obscure their identities because my goal was not to spark a social media war against them, but to truly try to understand their thinking.


In our talks, there were common themes. One, shared with the broader world of Trumpers, was a conviction that the left’s political correctness was killing free speech. Another was the idea that gay people and transgender people had nothing inherently in common ― “homosexuality is an attraction, transgender is an identity,” is how one put it to me ― and shouldn’t be in the same rights movement.


But the thing I heard the most from these men was that they weren’t “victims” and they weren’t “vulnerable.” They said that the tendency of groups on the left, including LGBTQ people, to label themselves as such sickened them, and that they found Trump’s willingness to “hurt the feelings” of such groups to be refreshing. (One said he thought Trump’s much-reviled mocking of a disabled reporter during the campaign was “funny. It humanized him for me. He’s the perfect antidote to this squeaky-clean, speech-obsessed culture.”)





Yet what interested me most was how, in almost a split-screen image, these men situated themselves, uncomfortably, on both sides of victimhood and vulnerability. On the one hand, many of them nearly preened as they said that they in no way felt unsafe. “Not for one second,” said one, a financially comfortable Manhattan lawyer, the one who enjoyed Trump’s mocking of the reporter.


I asked if that was because he passed as a white man. (He has an ethnic background that could be called racially ambiguous, but he looks to me like what I call a white ethnic, which is what I consider myself, with my half-Irish, half-Arab ancestry.) “Of course that’s going to be your response,” he said. “And the answer is no. It’s a consequence of my having balls and not caring what people think of me.”


Had he, to his knowledge, ever experienced discrimination for being gay? “Not that I know of,” he replied. “If anything, it’s probably been social cachet.”


Empirically, discrimination against gay people is not over. It is still technically legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in most states, and some states are challenging the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality. In a 2015 story I wrote, I was shocked by just how much anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination there seemed to be in just one state, Indiana. Polls still find that a majority of LGBTQ people have experienced violence, threats or harassment.


But it was important for the men I talked to to feel that homophobia was largely a thing of the past. “We’re finally there today,” said a 47-year-old white gay man in Atlanta who’s had a successful, and somewhat public, career. He loves Trump mostly because “he’s not talking bullshit like every other politician” and believes that “deep down, he’s a good guy.”


He continued: “We have gay marriage. I myself have had no issues [with discrimination] ever. The majority of corporations are highly concerned about diversity. So I don’t believe it’s an issue.”


So, I asked, does he feel safe? “Don’t get me started on safe,” he replied. “It’s a different day. I’m not a snowflake. I don’t need a safe space. I’m not a victim. That’s why I’m a conservative.”


That was another theme that came up again and again, particularly from white gay men my age (48) and older. We had suffered, been kicked around, bullied, gone through the AIDS crisis, toughened up ― and had come out of it stronger. Why shouldn’t other groups ― younger LGBTQ people of color, transgender people ― be subjected to the same test of character?


“I was an openly gay man in the ’80s and I took a ton of shit from chefs in restaurants I worked in who called me a faggot and threw shit at me.” I was told this by a successful Manhattan real estate agent, 51, who actually told me that voted for Bernie in the Democratic primaries and is pro-immigration and pro-choice but still considers himself highly conservative, mainly because he distrusts government and thinks that political correctness is “just shoving discrimination and hatred behind closed doors.”


He says he went to a Milo Yiannopoulos “coming out conservative” party in New York over Pride Weekend 2018 and enjoyed himself despite not sharing the sentiment when the almost entirely white crowd began chanting “Build the wall!” (He has recently posted pictures of himself with Yiannopoulos at New York-area Republican events.)


He continued: “I had to put up with [bullying at work in the 1980s] because I needed the job. But now I have to deal with people getting upset because I used the wrong pronoun? I’m a tough person. For a lot of people, I was the first gay person they ever met, and I didn’t judge them if they had a hard time with homosexuality at first.”


His voice rose and quickened. “I’m certainly not going to be judged by some 24-year-old after what I’ve had to do to survive and the skills I’ve gotten. The fact that young people are now in a world where they’re not forced to talk to someone in a MAGA hat doesn’t make them right and me wrong.”


The successful Atlanta man told me that only in his late thirties, after more than a decade of clubbing and partying and finally giving up alcohol and drugs, did he fully come into his identity as a pro-life Christian conservative. At one point, I asked his reaction to Trump’s tweet, in July 2018, announcing that he would ban transgender people from the military.


“I started laughing,” he replied. “It’s hilarious that the gay community has to find a new issue [to be upset about] when they laughed at trans people when I was in my twenties. Now they add in the ‘T’ because it’s the new victim.”


Did he support transgender people serving openly in the military?


“You’re not gonna put me in a gotcha game,” he replied. “If this hurts feelings, well, I’ve been through a lot of pain. We all have.” His voice then broke and he sounded as though he’d started to cry.




At the heart of the new crossroads for the cisgender gay white man is the question of masculinity. The core of homophobia toward gay men in particular is misogyny, the idea that loving and desiring other men makes one less than a man, soft and vulnerable in the traditional cast of a woman. Historically, in the eyes of society, you are a bitch. Not hard and protuberant, but pliant, breachable. A pussy.


Certain cisgender gay white men, often those possessing or at least adjacent to some degree of money and power, have finally been invited into the circle of full manhood, recently identified as potential allies amid an urban, plural sector of the population seething against Trump and all that he represents. A sector, in fact, in full resistance mode against the shadow of unfettered, unashamed patriarchy and nativism embodied in Trump’s ascent.


I remember, in high school, when, for some inexplicable reason, perhaps as the culture shifted slightly toward things that were more “indie,” I suddenly became the darling of my longtime oppressors ― the very boys who for years had called me faggot near-daily and threw me in the trunk of the car. I completely embraced the invitation. It was irresistible, erotic even, this opportunity to be the pet of boys I had both feared and desired.


It’s not surprising to me that fratty white MAGA boys, barking “Build the wall!” or “Lock her up!” in great, roving packs, have become the stuff of gay porn.


To ally oneself with power and privilege after historically having one’s own inherent gender and racial privilege compromised because of one’s sexuality is extremely seductive. It’s also uncomfortable, to say the least, to know that your new bros are perpetuating cruelties that you know in your gut to be real because, especially if you are an older gay man, you remember such cruelties to the point that your voice rises and breaks when you allude to them.


It can be so uncomfortable that, in the next breath, you deny their authenticity. People who feel vulnerable and unsafe, you say, enjoy playing the victim. Your new status in the world depends on not connecting your own former, or fleeting, suffering to theirs.


Yet deep down, you have a cellular memory of being society’s bitch. In the eighties, many of us loved Morrissey because he modeled how to openly desire other men while still being clever, resilient, funny ― that particular brand of gay “toughness” we cherish so much ― perhaps overcherish.


But Morrissey also sang: “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate. It takes guts to be gentle and kind.”


It takes guts, as well, to cede some of your own hard-won power in the service of others’. Society’s bitches, even those who currently enjoy an illusion of safety, find their real power when they identify not away from, but in alliance with, all the other bitches.


Image via Getty


Ghana Pushes Anti-LGBTQ Bill After Theresa May Urges Decriminalization of Homosexuality

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plea for Commonwealth nations to decriminalize homosexuality has been met with major backlash in Ghana.

Lawmakers in the conservative African republic are pushing a law imprisoning LGBTQ people after May called upon the 53 member countries that make up the Commonwealth of Nations to overturn laws targeting the queer and trans community. The U.K. leader said she “deeply regrets” Britain’s historic role in pushing anti-LGBTQ criminal codes in many of the countries it colonized.

The majority of Commonwealth nations are former British colonies, and currently 37 have laws criminalizing those accused of homosexuality.

But those calls have not been met warmly in Ghana. Earlier this month, Apostle Professor Opoku Onyinah referred to May’s offer to aid any Commonwealth country which strikes down its laws targeting LGBTQ people as “neo-colonialism” and claimed he would lead a nationwide protest should Ghana legalize homosexuality.

Onyinah added that her comments should be “condemned at the highest level.”

The Parliament of Ghana has responded by drafting the “Comprehensive Solution Based Legislative Framework for Dealing with the Lesbianism Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Phenomenon.” The legislation would strengthen pre-existing laws imprisoning LGBTQ people by providing “solutions on how to best to help homosexuals and at the same time prosecute them,” as the Ghana News Agency reports.

According to local news sources, the bill would criminalize queer people based on two classifications: 1) those who are allegedly forced into homosexuality by “peer pressure” and “economic reasons” and 2) individuals who experience a “hormonal imbalance” leading them to be LGBTQ.

Moses Foh-Amoaning, who serves as spokesperson for the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values, claimed the latter group would be offered help “through the Ghana Health Service, by setting up a comprehensive unit that has a psychiatric, psychologist, medical personnel, surgical team, guidance and counsellors then Gospel Ministers to help them.”

“But for those who think it is a lifestyle and they want others to get involved, the law will deal with them because we will clearly define what homosexuality is, what LGBTQ entails, and if they are caught, they will be prosecuted,” he added.

Homosexuality is already illegal in Ghana. Chapter Six of the 1960 Criminal Code outlaws “unnatural carnal knowledge” as a misdemeanor charge of three years in prison, but if the sexual act is deemed non consensual, individuals may serve up to 25 years behind bars. It’s regarded as a “first-degree felony.”

Unlike countries which don’t enforce their centuries-old colonial laws, Ghana frequently singles out LGBTQ people under its criminal code.

Although Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo told Al-Jazeera in November that he felt the decriminalization of homosexuality is “bound to happen,” the leader has clarified that these changes will not happen under his rule. He clarified in a statement last month that he doesn’t believe there is a “strong current of opinion that is saying that this is something that we need to even deal with.”

Other officials, meanwhile, have affirmed they will do anything it takes to prevent pro-LGBTQ progress.

Speaker of Parliament Aaron Mike Oquaye said he would resign from the legislature should Ghana embrace queer and trans rights. “If anybody should bring such a thing to parliament and I have to preside over that I will rather resign than subscribe to this delusion,” he said earlier this month, referring to May’s speech.

The Parliamentary Christian Fellowship further expressed its “total disapproval or attempts to promote and pressurise the government of Ghana to accept lesbianism, Gayism, Bisexual and Transgender practices (LGBT) as human rights.”

“It is common knowledge that such abominable practices have no place in our cultural norms as Africans,” the religious organization claimed in a May statement. “It is also true that quite apart from Christianity none of the known Religions in Ghana accepts these practices as normal human behavior.”

“The forbearers and founding fathers of our dear nation have great respect for the country’s value systems and under no circumstance should we betray their legacy, toil, and trust by allowing a rather backward practice using the legislative arm of government,” it continued. “The dynamism of any culture should positively impact on its existence and not to lead to its destruction.”

May has yet to make a public comment on the anti-LGBTQ legislation. It is set to be introduced in Ghana’s parliament this September.

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Mr. Gay Denmark Crowns First Trans Winner in 17 Years

The Mr. Gay Denmark contest found its winner this last weekend — in a Copenhagen gay club. After some close competition, Niels Jansen was crowned and became the first trans winner of the Mr. Gay Denmark title, and the first trans winner in any Mr. Gay Europe competition.

Prior to the competition, Jansen wrote a blog post about why he wanted to compete.

“I’m 44 years old, and I’m post-everything. I had my last surgery, metoidioplasty in 2014, and I documented the whole process on YouTube,” he wrote. “I’ve been involved with transgender activism here in Denmark, and we’ve had some succes[s]. For instance, castration is no longer a requirement for legal gender change and we have also managed to get ourselves reclassified in the medical diagnostic journals, so we are no longer classified as having a mental disorder.”

He continued: “I’ve stepped away from activism for a while, but now I am ready to throw myself back in. Being a gay man is not easy for me. I find myself at the bottom of a hierarchy that often makes me feel like I have no place in the gay community. I often feel invisible and excluded. A gay man is desirable if he is young, muscular and cisgender, and I am neither of these things. I would very much like to talk about this topic, because I don’t think I am the only one who is suffering in this system. What I really hope is that by standing up and speaking my truth, I will be able to reach others who really need to hear it.”

There were several portions of the competition that culminated in this win. Jansen won the exam section where finalists were tested on LGBTQ history. He also won the fan vote from readers of Out & About, a Danish LGBTQ magazine. Finally, he won Mr. Congeniality.

This year is also unique for the fact that the Mr. Gay Denmark competition got rid of the swimwear category. They wanted to make an effort to focus on the values of the participants over their physical appearance.

According to Out and About, Jansen had a lot of doubts about entering this competition because of the treatment that trans gay people receive in the community. Beyond just entering the competition, during the presentation portion, Jansen presented a nude picture of himself, which resulted in a standing ovation.

The first ever trans winner of Mr. Gay was awarded in Philadelphia in 2014 to Lou Cutler. Now Jansen will represent Denmark when he competes in Mr. Gay Europe, which takes place in Poland from August 4th to the 12th.

Trans Student Fighting High School’s Decision to Deadname Him at Graduation Ceremony

A trans high school student in Allen, Texas is currently fighting his high school’s decision to deadname him at his graduation.

Jay Alfie, a senior at Alfie High School, started transitioning and stopped going by his birth name at the beginning of his high school career. With graduation around the corner, Alfie wanted to confirm with his school that they would be calling him “Jay,” the name he’s gone by his entire time there, at the ceremony.

The school replied to Jay and said that they wouldn’t be able to accommodate his request because the school ceremony will read the legal name of the student, which appears on the diploma.

“Everybody knows me as Jay, and I don’t want to go to my last day of high school, my ceremony to be called down by the wrong thing,” Alfie told CBS Local News. “I’m not getting recognized for all the success that I’ve made, all the grades that I’ve made and all these things that I’ve accomplished.”

“It makes me feel sad that they’re not going to allow him to enjoy that last moment,” Jorge Alfie, Jay’s father, said to CBS. “What are we talking about here, 10 seconds? But it’s probably one of the 10 most important seconds of his life.”

In response, Alfie’s sister Isabella has started a petition on MoveOn to try and persuade the school to call Jay’s name at graduation. Currently it has over 5,000 signatures with the goal being 7,500.

What to Do with Gay Shame in Contemporary Art

Gay shame is a bit loud– deafening, perhaps. And if it has been a long time since you’ve seen the film adaptation of The Boys in the Band, directed by William Friedkin and based on the play by Mart Crowley – or you’re seeing the Broadway production produced by Ryan Murphy, directed by Joe Mantello, and starring a cluster of conventionally attractive gay thespians in black turtleneck sweaters (just kidding!) – you may have forgotten just how loud it is.

Characters scream at one another, arms flailing, their libations almost lost to the wind. That the landmark play, first staged off-Broadway in 1968, just before the Stonewall Riots (the film adaptation arrived in 1970), could have once been described as “explosive” is not without reason: the dramaconcerning eight (maybe nine?) gay men ensconced in a nice apartment followed the grand theatrical tradition of getting a bunch bourgeois (mostly) white people in a room (in this case, for the sake of a birthday party), only to have the airs of respectability and functionality fall apart, fueled by booze and — certainly a focal point for this gay play, and maybe gay and queer art in general — self-loathing.

The characters, imbibing liberally, pay little mind to the short fuse they’ve lit, and as lasagnas fall victim to the events, each of the characters is left unresolved, still negotiating their relationships to gay shame.

In this journalism economy, the factthat Crowley’s play is being restaged for its fiftieth anniversary requires “hot takes” and personal essays about what The Boys in the Band has to say about gay shame in 2018, and how The Boys in the Band is insular or problematic or dated or a time capsule. And all those critiques are probably valid. But what of gay shame in art more broadly?

Divorced from its incendiary debut and historical context, its pointedly mechanical qualities and dramaturgical derivativeness look more obvious, the style owing a great deal to playwrights like Edward Albeeand Tennessee Williams. The play is laced with homophobic (and misogynistic) language, both part of the gay lexicon as well as indicative of the characters’ psychological and emotional turmoil: “Believe it or not, there was a time when I didn’t go announcing I was a faggot.”

There are, by characters’ own accounts, screaming fairies and Marys and a melange of mimeograph terms for queers that operated in triplicate: a middle finger to Stanley Kauffmann’s 1966 essay “Homosexual Drama and Its Disguises,” which suggested that gay playwrights like Albee and Williams stick to writing about their own people; an ironic yet accurate way of watching gay men linguistically navigate personal/sexual/romantic relationships; and a stinging reminder of what subtext exists within language in itself. These are men mostly in their 30s, who thus grew up in the ‘40s and ‘50s and ‘60s, whose relationship to shame and self-loathing would almost be congenital, not least of all for the one nonwhite character.

Undoubtedly, a staging of The Boys in the Band in a post-marriage equality and post-Trump sociopolitical climate places it in somewhat of a bind: it will reflexively exist as a testament to How Far “We’ve” Come (the “We” being select) and How Far We Need to Go. But that latter part still is prone to being written off as a thing, a feeling of the past. What do you do with it now?

It’s taken far too long to get serviceable and hyper mass marketed fare like Love, Simon, and for every Call Me By Your Name that’s supposed to break through to the mainstream, there’s a highly acclaimed, still fairly accessible queer film which is either praised or written off as dealing with shame and self-loathing. Neither of the aforementioned films even explicitly avoid the subject, but rather tuck it into their plot machinations in different ways.

The promise of a queer (or gay) Utopia seems out of reach, post-marriage equality ruling in the United States, which did a little and a lot to treat a kind of “gay loneliness.”

Does that mean that Utopia should exist in our art? Ty Mitchell addresses the Utopic inferences of Call Me By Your Name, writing, “It calls upon the tragic youthful yearning that is essential to ‘the queer experience’ and offers a comforting revision of events, one in which we get the love we wanted, even if just for a few paradisal weeks. It offers us a kind of utopia a utopia of love. It is, however, an unimaginative utopia, because it can only conceptualize fulfillment of same-sex desire by situating it in a social and historical vacuum, a world without identities, without rejection, and without disease. It is a world in which culture, history, or community could not possibly salvage queer desire as worthwhile, only love and its complete reciprocation. It is a love-utopia wherein not only are sexual identities irrelevant, but even personal identities are interchangeable.”

There is also the arguably more radical Shortbus by John Cameron Mitchell, but he, too, knows well enough the ways in which queer shame shapes identities. The two have radically different approaches though: Call Me By Your Name, though it takes place in the 1980s, is content, like Love, Simon, with a tacitly assimilatory aesthetic; it’s palatable and disinclined to shake the boat. Simon’s desire is explicitly to be “normal.” Shortbus is is happy to be radical and sexy and queer. Does striving for a queer art without shame, in any context or approach, mean looking for an impossible normality, an assimilation into normativity?

Books have been written about the queerness of shame and of queer shame, from Wayne Koestenbaum’s Humiliation to J. Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure. There’s Alan Downs’ widely read The Velvet Rage, and Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality by Patrick Moore, and a collection of essays called Gay Shame, edited by David Halperin and Valerie Traub.

Gay shame’s insidiousness can be found in things as innocuous as various definitions and conceptualizations of camp and camp aesthetics, as tender as readings of Frankenstein’s Monster(Charlie Fox writes in the Times, “When you’re gay and grow up feeling like a hideous misfit, fully conscious that some believe your desires to be wicked and want to kill you for them, identifying with the Monster is hardly a stretch”), other monstrous allegories like Closet Monster Cruising, in the painful strains of Rufus Wainwright’s music (in “Going to a Town,” he sings, “I’m gonna make it up for all of the nursery rhymes”), and as the primary target in New Queer Cinema offerings from the 1990s, like Todd Haynes’ aptly titled Poison and Gregg Araki’s The Living End.

Gay shame is not just garden-variety self-hatred, but the knowledge that one belongs to a group, a “collective of outcasts.” “The power of insult and stigmatization is so great that it brings an individual to the point of doing almost anything to avoid being included in the group being designated an constituted by insult,” writes Didier Eribon in Insult and the Making of the Gay Self. Gay shame is slicker than oil, and it sticks to you no matter how desperately you try to wipe it away. What else could fuel a desperation for “masc-ness,” for homonormativity other than to not be tainted with the same oil? What of a vow that may predicate its eradication of shame on assimilation?

If even lauded films like MoonlightandBrokeback Mountain can catch flack for confronting gay shame, there will always films on the margins like BPM (Beats Per Minute), The Wound, and Thelma that not only confront and reconcile with gay shame, but interrogate what its implications and consequences are. The backhanded answer to why a lot of LGBTQ people would rather see something like Love, Simon over BPM, or even Paris 05:59: Theo and Hugo (I mean, besides the subtitles) is that they’re “depressing,” that a movie like Beach Rats is homophobic in miring itself in its protagonist’s yearnings and shame. That they want to see “positive representations.” What’s a positive representation?

This isn’t an attack on films of Simon’s ilk, but a genuine question. In a society that not only still others queerness, but politicizes it, what does “positive” mean? Sexless? (Philadelphia.) Sunny? (Alex Strangelove.) When writers, critics, and audiences plead for honest and authentic queer representation, what does that mean? And what does that mean when shame isn’t at least acknowledged? Certainly, people may be fortunate enough to grow up and live in communities that encourage and support them.

Shame is by no means merely the province of cis white gay men, nor is it only their territory in film: films and plays as early as The Children’s Hour (play 1933, film 1961) and The Killing of Sister George (play 1965, film 1968) confronted lesbian shame and alcoholism, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1978 film In a Year of 13 Moons dealt with the ambivalences of a trans woman, Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine (1993) studied the effects of gay shame within the context of Peking Opera and the changing political landscape of China, and Dee Rees’ breakout 2011 film Pariah examined black lesbian shame.

It would not necessarily be inaccurate to say that the austere, the melodramatic, and the emotional tends to have a particular effect on the history of an art form, not least of all with film, and not least of all with queer film. And, though some may protest at depictions of gay and queer shame in art and film, maybe some audiences must confront our a sadomasochistic relationship with seeing it represented at all.

For every studio head that lets us down with a pact broken that someone queer will actually be in a Star Wars or comic book movie, there are other things. The ironic thing about trauma is that the fact that it shapes you and your identity gives it an almost comfortable familiarity. Is the mundanely ideal(Looking,Love is Strange,Paris 05:59:Théo and Hugo) watchable anyways? Why does the audience that allegedly clamors for those stories rarely show up to them? The suffering of women and queers garners accolades; it becomes a self-perpetuating myth.

For gay shame, a Chinese finger trap: if you continue to depict it in art, jagged or sleek, you are perpetuating that shame. If you ignore it, discard it, dust it beneath a kitschy rug, then you erase the experience. There’s no good answer, and no right one either.

Can you remember when you first felt it? As slight as a sliver or as consuming as a spider’s web? I procrastinated on coming out as queer because i didn’t want to give my adolescent peers the satisfaction of being right. Even though I had the privilege of a liberal upbringing, shame still clasped at my senses. But I’d never want to pretend what I felt never existed.

In The Boys in the Band, Harold, looking at the ruins of his friends, particularly the self-destructive party hoster Michael, says with a mix of sympathy, disgust, and genuine curiosity, “Who is she? Who was she? Who does she hope to be?” Asking about past and present trauma and identity, and how that’s skewed and contorted our conceptions of our own futures, he gazes over the din, and over us.

The question hovers over recent theatre works like Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other, whose protagonist has not yet figured out how to situate his gay self in a modern gay world that, too, wants to distance itself from that historical baggage. And it’s in revivals of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. And Jesse Green’s essay “A Brief History of Gay Theater, in Three Acts” suggests, more room is being made for other people in the LGBTQ community to tell their stories, to “hijack a canon” as he says it. What will they do with shame? (Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance, running in London, and Taylor Mac’s performances like A 24-Decade History of Popular Music ruefully deconstruct the intersection of gay shame, memory, temporality, and popular culture.) But you know what else is in almost all of these works? Strength. Resilience. A bit of power, too.

Shame is pervasive, arguably culturally inherited. It is persistent. It crawls beneath the skin, parasitic. But however nasty gay shame might be, even destructive, I don’t think the answer is to suggest it doesn’t exist at all. It’s shaped our history, and our bodies. Instead, maybe ask the art to challenge the society that breeds it and perpetuates it in the first place.

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‘Vida’ recap (1.4): Emma Finally Let’s Loose (But Not For Long)

Both Emma and Lyn have compelling, forward-pushing storylines this week as Vida nears the end. After briefly convening with Eddy to discuss the bar’s racist name (“La Chinita”) and imagery, the sisters disagree on what to rename it. Lyn suggests “Vida’s” and though it’s a good idea, Emma shoots her downand then they go their separate ways for the rest of the episode.

Lyn is frustrated by her childhood bedroom, by her sister refusing to take her ideas seriously, and by her unanswered texts to Johnny so she decides to hop on a bus and take Vidalia’s credit cards out for a spin. After a little shopping spree, she winds up in a hipster shop (complete with a wall designed to take Insta selfies for) and catches the eye of, well, exactly the sort of guy you’d imagine hanging at a shop like thisridiculous hat and all. He invites her back to party with some more truly obnoxious twenty-somethings. But it’s not the boozin’ or the drugs that stands out; it’s Aurora, the Latinx maid who cleans up everyone’s drunken messes as Lyn watches from the sidelines.

It’s a fascinating plot reminiscent of an indie movie (the ending especially), and one that could fill the whole half-hour (or longer) by itself. But Vida deploys it quickly and succinctly while still hitting us hard. There’s a lot happening: We’re introduced to who Lyn is when she’s in San Francisco: picking up a guy, politely smiling when he says something dumb just to appease him, running up bills in someone else’s name, and allowing herself to be carefree.

But through Aurora, we see how she’s changed in the days since her mother’s death: she’s realizing more and more where she stands as a Latina, she’s understanding more of what Vidalia and Eddy did to put food on the table, she’s watching Aurora clean up her new friends’ puke and, deep down, knowing that could be her fate as well. Lyn has separated herself from Aurora but she’ll never outrun her own brownness; “Nothing sexier to me than when you guys roll your R’s,” a guy tells her while a white girl later compliments Lyn’s “Frida brows.”

The final shot of Lyn and Aurora both on the bus back home, after wildly different days, is heavy but Vida doesn’t verbalize or dissect this. It just lets them sit quietly, lets us sit with the episode as a whole.

Meanwhile, Emma has also left the her neighborhood’s comfort zonethough sure, neither sister is particularly comfortable thereto do “market research” on local bars. She runs into Cruz and Cruz’s crew (which includes a number of queer and trans folks, but who aren’t introduced as such which feels remarkable in itself) and is convinced to stay and drink. Though reluctant at first, Emma gets drunker and happier and lets go. Similar to seeing San Francisco Lyn, maybe here we’re seeing Chicago Emma: a lighter more carefree person who isn’t overwhelmed by her mother’s financial hardships or trying to take over a business but just wants to dance with her friends.

I haven’t talked much about the directing in Vida but it’s been stellarfrom the pilot’s overhead shots to last week’s sex sceneand “Episode 4” is another example. The bar scenes feel so alive, capturing the frenetic energy of a night out: yelling over each other at a table, sweatily dancing between friends, and (my favorite moment) when she smiles at herself in the mirror, a sign that she’s allowing herself to feel happyand feeling a little anticipation for the rest of the night with Cruz. The directing also captures the claustrophobia of bars, and the emotional flip-flops of a long night out. Emma is so close to Cruz that the tension is palpable, but when Cruz casually comments that Emma doesn’t like her own neighborhood, the mood temporarily switches.

It’s here, in this drunk moment of openness, where Emma reveals, “I never wanted to leave. Vidalia sent me away.”

As it turns out, Emma was caught kissing another girl in the building when she was 11 and Vidalia sent her away to live with family in Texas. Later, she was sent away a second time when Vidalia found poems and journal entries that Emma had written about Cruz. The reveal puts Emma’s anger toward Vidalia more into context, giving us a deeper reason why Emma believes Vidalia is a hypocrite. It’s not just that Vidalia didn’t accept her daughter’s queerness when she, herself, was queer. It’s that she literally sent her daughter away. It also explains part of Emma’s hesitance with Cruz: she associates her feelings for Cruz with being rejected, sent away, and wrong.

In true Vida style, this moment isn’t lingered on or picked apart. Emma simply states what happened and moves on, shoving the memories back under the rug, only to become overwhelmed and have a panic attack later in the evening when she’s hooking up with Cruz. Emma bails and heads back home where she encounters that mysterious little girl againand when she sees that someone has graffitied the bar.

That someone, of course, was Mari who became concerned once she saw Eddy taking down the sign. Even while acknowledging that it’s racist, Mari isn’t cool with the change. And even though Eddy agrees that she’ll never have it become, as Mari says, “one of those places,” Mari still brings up the “two sellout daughters” at her next meeting.

But Mari, too, isn’t having a good week. As expected, the video Tialoc took of her has begun making the rounds even though he swears up and down that it was just for him (which is also fucked up because he never got her permission) and that he never sent it to anyone, vaguely blaming the “cloud” or whatever. Mari is angry, humiliated, and beaten downa trifecta of emotions that Emma and Lyn are likely feeling, too.

With just two episodes left this season, Vida is really putting the women through the ringer.

Fifty Years of Queer Icon Kylie Minogue

As Kylie Minogue toasts her 50th birthday, her bond with gay fans worldwide feels stronger than ever. Next month, she’ll headline New York City’s Pride Island festival. In April, she gave a free show at London’s huge G-A-Y club night to celebrate its 25th birthday. And just weeks earlier, she’d promoted latest album Golden with a gig at anything-goes Berlin queer club Berghain. It’s widely and rightly accepted that Kylie is one of her generation’s great gay icons, but understanding why requires some careful unpacking.

In the US, Kylie’s appeal has grown pretty slowly over the years. Oddly, she’s only ever scored two Billboard Hot 100 top ten hits (1988’s “The Loco-Motion” and 2001’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”), and didn’t tour North America until 2009. The roots of her gay icon status really lie in the UK, her adopted home, and Australia, where she was born and raised then shot to fame on daytime soap opera Neighbours. Internationally, her career has enjoyed glittering peaks and survived the odd trough, but she’s had a massive gay fanbase for as long as anyone can remember.

I can still recall, as a closeted 17-year-old, feeling nervous about buying her Fever album from a London record store because I thought the sales associate might realize I was gay. (After circling the store a few times, I finally summoned the courage to take the CD to the cash register; the associate didn’t bat an eyelidshe’d probably been selling Kylie records to queers all day).

Kylie’s early international singles and videos from the late ’80s presented her as a winsome and not very hip girl-next-doorshe frolicked in a bath tub filled with bubbles in the “I Should Be So Lucky” video, and racked up hits with relatively chaste dance-pop tunes like “Got to Be Certain” and “Hand on My Heart.” But as Kylie grew up and reached her early twenties, she wanted more control of her music and image. Now dating hot rock star Michael Hutchence from INXS, Kylie was beginning to feel herself.

So, her look got sexier and her music started to slap harder. It’s a happy coincidence that when she sings, “I was rocked to my very foundations” on 1991 single “Shocked,” it kind of sounds like she’s singing, “I was fucked to my very foundations.” For young gay boys at the time, Kylie’s butterfly moment struck a chord, at least on a subconscious level. Here was someone outgrowing the way she’d been told to present herself and taking ownership of who she was. It’s what so many of us do when we exit the closet and begin to think of ourselves as sexual beings.

Though never as visionary as Madonna, a performer she’s always looked up to, Kylie continued to evolve and push forward through the ’90s. When 1998’s introspective electro album Impossible Princess became her least successful to date, she hit reset and re-emerged as a knowingly campy disco queen for 2000’s Light Years. “Threw away my old clothes, got myself a better wardrobe,” she sings on lead single “Spinning Around. “I got something to say!” Honestly, can you think of a better lyric for a drag queen to lip-sync to?

By this point, Kylie had established a close working relationship with stylist William Baker, a gay man, who famously suggested she wear a pair of super-snug gold hot pants in her “Spinning Around” video. Tellingly, Kylie later recalled a time when she and Baker didn’t agree on her gown for an awards show performance. “I had William and a choreographer, two gays, in the dressing room with me. They rugby tackled me out the door shouting: ‘You have to wear that!'” Kylie told MTV. “They were right, it looked fantastic – but what it feels like to be in something, and how someone sees you wearing it, are two very different things.”

Over the years, this queer eye for Kylie’s styling has resulted in some iconic looks. Who can forget the hooded white jumpsuit she wore in the “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” video? Baker described it as “pure but kind of slutty at the same time.”

Light Years remains Kylie’s gayest album, but in her videos she’s continued to give us gloriously pro-LGBTQ and homoerotic imagery. “Slow” shows her reclining on a beach towel surrounded by a gaggle of absolute snacks. “All the Lovers” features a human pyramid of loving couples lifting her towards the LA skyline; director Joseph Kahn later revealed that she was asked to cut its same-sex kisses but refused. “Timebomb” shows her strutting down Old Compton Street in the heart of London’s gay village, just like so many of her fans will have done.

She’s never been an especially political pop star, probably because she knows her appeal pivots on glittery escapism, not socially conscious sloganeering in the Rhythm Nation or American Life mold. But in 2016 Kylie and then-fiancé Joshua Sasse vowed not to wed until Australia had achieved marriage equality. After Australians voted in favor of extending marriage to same-sex couples last year, she shared celebratory posts on social media and was duly flooded with gays asking her to sing at their wedding. (If Ms. Minogue happened to be available, I’d ask for “Love at First Sight” as my first dance song, FYI.)

But much as we can discuss and dissect Kylie’s “gayest moments,” there’s something about her that’s just innately gay. She’s said she can remember seeing Sydney drag queens performing to her music way back in 1988, when, in the nicest possible way, she didn’t look like much of a gay icon. “My gay audience has been with me from the beginning … they kind of adopted me,” Kylie has said. Perhaps Rufus Wainwright came close to capturing her queer appeal when she called her “the gay shorthand for joy.”

So, happy birthday Kylie Minogue, and here’s to the next however-many-decades of soundtracking our lives.

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