Back to the Cutting Table: Journaling Through Genital Reassignment Surgery

As I write this paragraph, I have been back home since yesterday evening. I am sitting by my computer, perhaps a little less comfortable than usual. Still, you probably wouldn’t think that just a week ago I went under the knife for what came to be the most radical surgery I have had so far. The first time I had surgery, it was for facial feminization surgery. A week after deliberately having my skull broken, I was back to giving conferences. This time, I am much more constrained in energy and movements.

During the week following my surgery, I took detailed notes of my impressions and thoughts relating to surgery and the recovery process. The notes ended yesterday night, which is when I headed back to my parents’ place from the recovery centre. I will be here for the next few months, recuperating. Note-taking was a therapeutic exercise, as writing often is for me, of course. However, my primary intent in taking them was to lay out the humanity and messiness of the process. Prior to surgery, I gained insight into the ups and downs of surgery by seeing friends go through the experience. Few written sources were available and those that existed put their vaginoplasty on a pedestal. As someone who romanticises the messiness of everyday life more so than the divine, I hope to provide an alternative narrative. Never have I felt more human.

On the first day, there was surgery

The medication they gave me prior to surgery made me quite relaxed and prompted me to write many a silly Facebook post.

When you think about it, chop chop—as vaginoplasties are to be called from now on—is like a mini version of me transitioning. I transitioned and now it’s my penis’ turn to transition! I grew boobs so it’ll grow… lips? I can imagine a comic based on that, like Lady Penis goes into the doctor for a nip n’ tuck.

Although epidurals are uncomfortable, being awake during surgery is really not all bad since you’re relaxed and dozing in and out of consciousness. I had to ask to be sedated to sleep after the wonderful surgeon Bélanger asked the chatty anaesthesiologist and me to keep a bit more quiet. I’m sure others were also thinking “Oh my God, shut up.” It’s not scary at all, though, since sedatives leave you feeling relaxed, comfortable, and fully confident that everything is and will be fine.

People who speak of chop chop as though it’s the most life-changing event, as though your life will never be the same, as though you’ll be a new person annoy me. Yes, it’s chill, I know. That’s why I jumped through the dehumanizing hoops and accepted the pain. But we remain the same people. It does us a disservice to place too high an expectation on surgery. Perhaps I think this way because I see gendered bodily modifications as a form of creative transfiguration whereby I make my body mine rather than as a fundamental shift to my existence as an embodied mind.

The morning of, I had a “no-mo-penis” happy dance in front of the mirror at home. A dozen minutes before surgery, the last time I peed with a penis, I bade farewell to my floppy stick: “Goodbye friend, see you on the other side.”

My first thought when I woke up was that the sedation leaves me feeling rather well and mentally present compared to general anesthesia which I underwent for facial feminisation surgery a year ago.

The pain is rather intense—seven out of 10—but once painkillers kicked in it stabilised around three or four. The worst part was having to stand up—just once for today. Nonetheless, it is quite manageable. The best advice I was given is not to hesitate to ask for painkillers well before the pain gets too intense. Ironically, opiate injections—which are used for the first day before switching to pill form—hurt and leave a burning sensation behind for a few minutes. Perhaps the goal is to discourage asking for injections too often? Or it’s because many people are prone to vomiting which, despite eating without any problem, I did. Some purple liquid came out, dyed by the cranberry juice I had ingested earlier. Came suddenly and was gone just as quickly.

Being my usual self as soon as I got a bit warm I bared my right breast and told everyone it was to emulate classical paintings. In reality, I couldn’t bare the other because of the IV. The staff seems to appreciate my bad jokes.

My parents and partner Rowan visited. Them progenitors brought me flowers, which I’m so fucking gay for.

My Roboo brought me a little pink plushie dragon. I love them so much. I named it Liv. They use they and she pronouns, of a gender best described as “I’m a goddess I want nothing to do with your puny notions of gender.” In other words, just like me. They watch over me, protecting me with their dragon magic.

Since I’m awake and not hurting I like the company, but painkillers are making me drowsy. I need to rest.

Despite the pain, happiness is what has brought me the closest to tears today. I fell asleep thinking of that.

I was woken up around 10 p.m. for medication. The pain was at a manageable four—spiking only when I raise my torso—but my butthole itches. I feel like I need to pee but the catheter and bag are taking care of that. A numb sensation has begun to spread in my taint, almost like I need to poop. When I fall asleep, my mouth starts twitching as though I’m trying to suckle on something while my mouth is closed. Perhaps it’s my body’s way of saying I miss penises… but just in my mouth? My heels hurt from always being in the same position so I asked the staff for help and they brought me some padding to elevate my feet.

No, seriously, my butthole itches. I need a scratching stick. It was a great idea to bring earplugs, an eye-mask, and plushies.

Phantom penis, stop thinking you need to pee. You don’t. You have a catheter in. You don’t even exist anymore. Sheesh. Bodies aren’t the brightest bulbs in the bunch eh?

I’m sort of hungry now, as I write more inane posts on Facebook and Twitter at three in the morning. A penis-turned-vagina ought clearly be named a “pecunt,” pronounced like “pecan” with a “t,” with a forced, fake British accent.

On the second day, there was toplessness

I was woken up by the care team a little before 6 a.m. to have my bandages changed. Only one of them wasn’t immaculate and even then there was barely a tinge of yellow on an otherwise pristine bandage. Very little blood, with the drain having seen a drop over 5 mL for the whole night. We’ll see how things go, but I seem to be healing exceptionally well thus far.

I took to thinking about how fascinating it is to be on the patient side after having read countless studies on genital reassignment surgery and having worked on policy arguments as a jurist and bioethicist.

It feels a bit surreal that it’s done. When I woke up it took a second to remember and then another to believe it. It feels good. A heavy weight is off my shoulders after weeks of freaking out, amplified by my anxiety disorder. I didn’t expect to be so unambiguously happy. I really expected I’d have some mixed feelings. But nope. Then again, I’m known to have a certain fondness for pain…

Both doctors Bélanger and Brassard came to check in on me, asking me how I was and confirming that the surgery had gone flawlessly and without complication. Some bruises hurt if I touch my lower abdomen, though it doesn’t hurt much.

I can’t take stronger meds before breakfast without risking nausea so I’m trying to wait but it’s getting hard. A bit over half an hour to go and the pain is steadily increasing.

Breakfast was good—a iögo, some oatmeal, and some cranberry juice. We get to pick from a decent selection!

I did have to wait even longer to get my painkillers but it’s not so bad. I’m really not as funny now that I’m off of painkillers. Let’s hope those new ones kick in soon. 

Want to know what my favourite hospital song is? “No Scrubs.”

I did a walk around the nurses’ post and it really pulled on one of my stitches and made me feel like I had a weight inside of my vagina that was pulling down. I compared it to a steel ball. Others said cobalt. I don’t think it really matters which metal the metaphorical ball is composed of. Afterward, we re-did my bandages and the nurse confided that in her seven years working at the surgical centre, she never saw this little bleeding.

There’s a bit of blood in the urine making my urine bag look like it’s filled with tasty, tasty old fashioned apple juice. Miam!

The food was surprisingly good for lunch. You can tell it’s not your average hospital food. My roommate and her family are really nice and funny. Very nerdy and very punny, just how I like them.

Pain is back and oxycodone isn’t working long enough so I’m going back on Dilaudid. Sitting up for lunch is what brought back the pain. Still manageable at around six out of ten. I have to wait another 20 minutes for the Dilaudid since I took oxycodone too recently. In the meantime, I’m cuddling Liv and Cuddles, my plushies.

You’ll be glad to learn that the dilaudid took effect. I’m well enough to take topless pics and trade nudes with a lovely cutie over Facebook. I’ve been topless all day due to my moral qualm with clothes. Nurses probably find me weird especially as I’ve proclaimed out loud that I dislike clothes and made them pass my IV through the arm hole to go fully topless, even though they have to pass it back in and out for walks.

Walking a second time in a day was quite a bit of hurties but I managed to walk twice around the nursing station. I powered through like a big girl.

I’m a bit sad because I don’t have a penis any more, putting me in the normal competitive market instead of being a hot, rare commodity to sugar daddies.

I can’t believe I just got my dick chopped off! This is so amazing, beautiful, and surreal. It is sublime in the full romantic sense of the term: it transcends our mere mortal affairs and makes them feel meaningless as though we are looking down from a high cliff at the murderous spikes straddled by water below. Yet at the same time it feels too messy to be sublime, too… human. Yet isn’t messiness sublime? Doesn’t humanity transcend itself?

I feel like my urethra is pulsating at the tip of my penis. It’s a peculiar sensation. I didn’t know I could fart on the painkillers but I farted twice in the last half hour, huh. My genitals are somewhat hurting and it’s quite unpleasant. Manageable though.

I just heard someone go “that’s what she said” in a valley girl accent through the door. Hah. I also keep farting.

I did three turns around the nurse post and it’s rapidly hurting less and less. The IV came out after dinner, which was rather tasty—chicken wrap with couscous. I’m regaining flexibility and am able to partly flex my legs in bed which is a nice change from being a plank. God knows I’m bad at being that straight.

On the third day, there was disbelief

I slept through the night, so I don’t have much to report. Can you believe I have a vulva and vagina? I still find it hard to believe, especially since I haven’t seen it. The most I saw was the bandage that’s stitched to my skin. It’s small enough to confirm that I no longer have a penis—because clearly, I can’t trust the doctors who said so. Just imagine if they had colluded to lie about having done surgery on me… It really would’ve been the biggest dick move.

I wonder if once I’m healed I’ll start having sex with cis men without telling them I’m trans. On one hand, it’s hard for me to hide I’m trans given that it’s all I talk about. On the other hand, it’s definitely easier that way for a quick fuck.

It took a bit longer than usual to get painkillers because the earlier nurse forgot I had asked for some. Drs Bélanger and Brassard came to say hi again. In a few hours, I’ll be heading to L’Asclépiade, where I’ll stay a week to recover. I’ll be more mobile there and slowly regain function. I can’t wait: my legs and back are killing me from being bedridden. I try to rest slightly more on my side to ease the discomfort but the position hurts and is only comfortable for so long.

I’m thinking about surgery and what it means. I feel like a statistic. I feel like I’m less trans. Maybe even a normie. But then I remember that article I saw published last week, Wonderfully Monstrous Bodies. This surgery makes me the messy human that I am and being human is all there is. Remember how you felt the first time you heard The Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas? That’s how human I feel.

Oh my god I have a vulva that’s so wholesome I want to cry. I can’t wait to see it!

Walking to the healing centre next door was intense and I’m proud of myself for walking up the stairs. I have my own room now which is lovely. It’s huge!

Yikes. After a bit of time in my room, a stinging sensation took over my crotch. I think the feeling of my urethra hurting is actually my clitoris hurting from being cut and shaped.

Just before leaving the hospital my roommate said she wanted to shave. I knowingly didn’t bring my razor. They’ll have to deal with my “fuck the cis” beard. When I moved to L’Asclepiade, the nurse called me “madame” so I corrected them. I don’t want to erase my non-binariness. Not today. Not here. Not where we have such a hard time being accepted, in this trans medical world. I don’t want to pretend I’m a woman. I’m not. I’m a gorgeous cyborg witch with flowers in her hair. I’m a glimpse at the essence of the sublime. Gender shall not constrain me… for I am Shehulk! Which explains why I couldn’t put on my socks without the nurse’s help. I’m clearly too ripped.

Holy moly removing the drain hurt. It wasn’t long but the first centimetre they take out is extremely painful. My right leg had a cramp which of course made me wonder if there’s something that went wrong with removing the drain. Maybe I’m bleeding internally… Or maybe it’s a leg cramp due to, you know, barely moving in the last few days.

I’m wearing a pad which is oddly validating though I’d probably find it more validating if the painkillers would kick in. I still have The Mountain Goats stuck in my head.

I went to pee all on my own, using the valve in the catheter, and it felt good. Since the catheter bag came out, I feel like a robot when I pee. “Evacuating waste material. Beep boop,” as the pee comes out of the tube as soon as I release the latch. Hot damn I just went and I already feel like peeing again.

I’m mostly back to normal psychological functioning give or take painkiller dizziness. I can’t wait to see my vulva. Chop chopped, away went the penis!

Lunch was good—big juicy wiener in my mouth—but sitting is ouch.

I wonder how my brain will remap my junk. Will the tip of my clit feel like the tip of my penis and the brain will just update the position or will it create a whole new location-feel for my clit? I bet my vagina looks like a really gross gaping hole right now.

My farts have turned into cramps, though I doubt I’ll poop right away given the medication I’ve been on… nevermind I did manage to poop. It felt so weird, too! My butthole is sore. The other patients will resent me for pooping so early.

On the fourth day, there was my sister

One of the new people at the recovery centre is really cute and I have a mini crush. I saw her on Tinder and super-liked her but she didn’t like me back. Oh well.

I’m eating nerds, which my partner brought me yesterday night. Cuddling was fun. I like cuddling.

Today was boring.

I’m sad I can’t shower until tomorrow—I counted the date wrong. The cast-slash-bandages are getting quite hard and it’s pulling on the stitching on my pubis. I can’t get a second dilaudid for another hour because they only let you complete your dose for one hour after you take the initial one if you only ask for one… So next time I’ll know to ask for two even if I don’t need them.

My sister visited and asked me about my vagina so that was a thing that happened. She drew butterflies on a sheet of paper. Later, my parents visited and my mother and I told off my father for not knowing the difference between vulva and vagina—is that what sisterhood and validation feels like?

The more the cast hardens the more I feel as though my penis is still there, barely just being grazed by the cast’s inside. Of course, I know it’s not, but it’s still a rather freaky feeling.

On the fifth day, there was a fanny (ice) pack

Didn’t sleep very well last night. The stitches are really starting to pull, causing a distracting pain. At least we’re taking a lot of it the sewn bandages off today. My vulva will probably look gross. It’ll be awesome.

“Good morning ladies,” at breakfast. Nah. Don’t. But they always call me Florence instead of Miss last name when giving my medication, which I appreciate. The message was received and registered the first time we had a conversation about me disliking “madam.”

It felt so weird having the bandages removed especially when they cut the stitches and it releases the skin but it’s really more fear than hurt. Now I have to ice my fanny for a quarter hour before I shower and finally see my monstrous vulva.

It was quite cool seeing the skin detach from the bandages and return to its natural position. I have, however, been called out for calling things like that cool and fun… Apparently, I have an unusually morbid fascination with messy bodies.

I just took a picture and sadly my coochie doesn’t look as gruesome as I’d hoped. My vulva is swollen—almost swole—but definitely not as disgusting as my morbid fascination hoped. The little hanging end of a condom poking through is hilarious, as though I had sex and forgot to take it out.

Finally showering was liberating. It weirdly didn’t hurt to touch down there. Now I get to really be myself: naked. Doctor’s orders!

I no longer have a penis, though I do have a peepee—the catheter. It’s like a robot penis! I had a small moment of sadness looking in the mirror after peeing. That little dick was cute as hell. RIP. This whole surgery thing is a lot of work, all because my penis wanted to hang out inside instead.

I can’t wait to have sex with a cishet guy and ask him: “Oh, babe, how does it feel fucking a penis with your penis?”

I napped and woke up to my heels hurting so I’m grumpy. Plus bathing was not as nice as showering. It hurt a bit from stretching the genitals and all.

I’m glad my parents didn’t visit long. After all their visits we don’t have much left to tell each other.

The stent is hurting me, pushing to get out and making the skin distended, ready to rupture. I can’t wait to have it out today but in the meantime, it is making it hard to sleep.

On the sixth day, there were no pogo sticks

Oh dear lord removing the stent felt so weird. It didn’t hurt but it was the most awkward feeling of pulling in my crotch, followed by an amazing sensation of freedom! That pogo was so big, holy moly. Can’t wait to get rammed by a dick—plastic or skin—of that size.

My happiness from the removal of the stent was tainted by this online trans group overtly defending islamophobia and threatening members with a ban for calling it out. Fuck that hypocritical noise. You can’t ask for equality for trans people while tolerating discrimination and hostility towards muslims. That’s not how it works. All humans deserve respect as a baseline and Muslim people have done nothing to deserve your hostility.

As for my vagina, it looks like a gaping hole so I don’t have much to report. Having the stent out gives me mixed feelings. Yay, I don’t hurt any more. Boo, now I have to dilate four times a day and wash my coochie every single time afterwards, eating up half my day. Dilating feels a lot like taking it up the ass, minus the fear of pooping everywhere. I don’t dislike it.

Yeah, just did my second run of dilating and I’m already annoyed.

I just want someone to lock me up in a closet while they make themselves food before coming back to use me. But no, I have to dilate 24/7 for the next three months.

After my fourth dilation, I took a sitting bath and a picture split into two, with each a different filter. There’s something I find really cool and human about those two pictures. One dark, one light, showing two sides of the same situation which, despite the pain, is rife with promise.

On the seventh day, the gold flowed freely

I just had my catheter removed. It was a short, mild burning sensation, really not so bad.

They gave me a plastic thingamabob to pee in so I can record how much I pee each time. My bruises are still what hurts me the most but they’re turning from green to yellow so it’ll be over soon.

I peed about an hour later. It was hard at first—my shy bladder reflex was kicking in somehow—but I eventually peed a lot. Most of it went on my leg and trickled down into the peething, with a tiny bit going in the toilet. I’m surprised at how much liquid that was!

Yikes that first dilation of the day is noooooot pleasant. One thing you don’t think about is how dilating rearranges muscles. Muscles inside are like: “Um what’s this? This doesn’t belong here. It’s in the way.” Gotta get them over that xenophobia. There was almost no blood on the dilators afterwards, which is a notable improvement. Chunks of dead skin and blood came out during the vaginal douche but that’s normal and honestly feels good—makes me feel cleaner, a bit like popping blackheads. CLEANSE THE CORRUPTION!

The little pale red hairs poking through the dark red bruise on my pelvis are quite adorable. I was struck with sorrow just now, seeing myself in the mirror. Not because of any regret or dissatisfaction—fear not. But because I suddenly feel less trans. I know that makes no sense but it makes me sad because being trans is such a huge part of me and I feel less so now. I can’t wait to have my tattoo of Venus from the Birth of Venus with a penis, and my t4t tattoo. That’ll help me feel peak trans again.

It’s nice to resume sitting comfortably without any pain. I showed my sister a picture of my vagina and she said it reminded her of Deadpool. It feels weird saying “my vagina”!

I spoke of phantom penis, but it’s less phantom sensation than confused sensations. I know which part of the penis the sensation corresponds to, but now what does that correspond to on my rearranged and stitched-up body? If it feels like my foreskin, is that my clit? My small lips? Is it itching inside my vagina? The excessive swelling of my vulva makes it feel like I have testicles at times.

I lost a bit of boob from stopping hormones. Roboo peed in the measuring cup thingamabob out of curiosity. I myself pee anywhere from 450 to 700 millilitres per pee, which comes roughly every two hours. They peed 350 millilitres. I also made them cum twice which felt a bit naughty.

Dilating again, I realized that just being slightly propped up makes it much more painful so tonight it went more smoothly than earlier.

I’m currently relaxing in the bath, feeling really comfortable—compared to yesterday’s bath for one. My lover’s gone but they’re still with me, here in spirit. I feel fuzzy inside. Everything is going well. Life is good. I am happy. I haven’t felt this good, this relaxed in nigh a month. So far today I’ve peed 4.275 litres over seven instances, and will probably go for another 0.6 litres before sleep or early during the night.

On the eighth day, there was home

One of the girls here had to get her catheter re-inserted for a week because she wasn’t able to pee due to the swelling.

My vagina has an unpleasant smell when I douche, which makes me feel rather self-conscious. I think I have chafing from the largest dilator. The nurse said it was probably from other causes but I have my doubts for a number of reasons that are hard to put into words.

I’ll get to go back to my parents’ place tonight instead of tomorrow morning. Going back home really irritated my crotch and made it swell so I had to ice it a lot. I punctured the top of my vaginal douche with a drill to make sure it spouts all the way to the end of my vagina to better clean it.

I saw myself in just panties which was lovely, though I want to cry from the dysphoria at my lack of hips. You win some, you lose some. Time for bed. This is where my notes end, for I am home. Although the following weeks involved bleeding and pain, the first week remained the hardest. Being able to stay at my parents’ place has also helped a lot. I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I’ll enjoy mine in three months!

On Religious Trauma and How ‘Queer Eye’ Handles the Christian/Queer Divide

The first time I came out I was sitting amongst friends on the beach in San Diego my first summer after starting college. This was not a vacation, and this community was by no means a standard group. This coming out was certainly not a story of self-acceptance. Rather, confessing my “struggle with homosexuality” for the first time to a group of only cis men while on a mission trip organized with evangelical intentions, coming out for me was less the removing of a burden and more the reapplication of chains.

A “struggle with homosexuality” was how my religious community, Campus Crusade for Christ, referred to my sexuality at the time, and because my identity was tightly interwoven with my religious upbringing and my varied, but always evangelical, religious communities, this was how I began to identify myself. As one would expect, when you see your sexuality not as something beautiful or interesting or commonplace about yourself, but instead see it as something you struggle against, you construct an enormous amount of self-hatred because you are unable to stop the gay desires that have plagued your otherwise contented religious life.

But my summer in San Diego wasn’t the beginning of the self-hatred and despair that came to be a commonplace emotion for me. Growing up in the deeply conservative Assemblies of God Christian denomination – a sect colored by individuals speaking in tongues, casting out demons, and hosting church nights four to five days a week – I had internalized a language regarding my queer desires that has left deep marks, scars, on me even to this day. The traumas caused by years of being raised in religious communities labeled “mainstream” don’t disappear overnight and can have lasting impacts on the ability of a queer person to build relationships, fall in love, and feel comfortable in their own skin.

As well, the traumas caused to queer people by religious upbringings is, unfortunately, far more common than we often think. Even in the first episode of this season’s Queer Eye, interior designer Bobby Berk describes his refusal to enter the church building he is meant to redecorate, recounting his experiences growing up attending a conservative Christian church, and, in particular mentioning the ostracism from his religious community he experienced upon coming out. Bobby details how the church was his life – how more days than not each week he spent at the church and how he spent hours on his knees at the altar pleading to whoever would listen to alter his sexuality. When he came out, this foundational aspect of his life simply dematerialized.

In the end, Bobby left his church, his small community, and his love for singing behind as he came out, as he learned to embrace his sexuality. But as anyone who has come out in the midst of a conservative religious community can attest, accepting your sexuality in spite of these conditions is no small task, and these struggles don’t end once you’ve come out.

This explains, then, why there exists a strain as Bobby recounts his experiences to Tammeye in the first episode of this season of Queer Eye. In what has become traditional Queer Eye style, the producers give us a scene in which the seemingly irreconcilable differences between Tammeye’s religious convictions and Bobby’s personal convictions are synthesized through active listening, acknowledgment of misunderstandings on both parts, and a shared agreement to move forward with open minds.

For its part, the show does take important steps in acknowledging the ways in which some religious folk has done harm to queer people. Tammeye, in recounting her own initial rejection of her son after his coming out, acknowledges that there are many Christians who don’t “live like Jesus” and who instead judge and mistreat queer people. Tammeye follows the story of learning to accept her son with a line given by many queer-affirming Christians, announcing that these individuals don’t represent her religion. Bobby responds amicably to these admittances of wrongdoing and acknowledges that he has been guilty of writing off Christians-at-large on the basis of his past experiences.

The show concludes with a large embrace between Tammeye and Bobby after Bobby has completed his redesign of the church’s community center. After the hug, Tammeye reminds Bobby that most Christians do not believe the things the members of his church believed nor do they want to treat queer people in a negative manner.

Such a statement is, first and foremost, statistically inaccurate – a point that ought to be made clear by the show’s producers. Pew reports that only 35 percent of evangelical Christians in 2017 believed homosexuality should be accepted by society, up just 1 percent since 2016. And while young people, generally, are much more supportive of the acceptance of queers in society, only 47% of white millennial evangelicals believe queers should be accepted by society. Put more bluntly, less than half of evangelicals under the age of 30 believe we should accept queer people. Not accept marriage equality. Not accept other policy positions. Less than half believe queers should simply be accepted.

But Tammeye’s statement about Christians, more importantly, belies the fact that the traumas caused to queer individuals raised in evangelical communities do not disappear if queers and evangelicals lay down their arms, “give a little” in terms of their respective positions and listen to each other.

The assimilation often and subtly advocated for by the cast of Queer Eye, which often asks members of the queer community to consider the roles stereotyping can play in preventing them from building bridges with other non-queers, fails to understand that this assimilation does nothing but paint over the decades of trauma caused by Evangelical Christianity’s treatment of queer people.

Growing up queer in evangelical, Christian communities often means telling yourself day-after-day that you wish you could be someone you aren’t. It means learning to hate an element of yourself – your sexuality – because you can’t stop being queer, and, more importantly, because you can’t stop this thing you very well might be condemned to a life of romantic solitude and, worse, an eternity in a spiritual hell. These concepts are not mere abstractions for many queers living in evangelical communities; when the avoidance of hell is the moral benchmark to which you aspire, being presented with a queer sexuality can you leave you frustrated, scared, and in fear of even remotely acknowledging your own desires.

The internalized self-hate that comes from this is a direct consequence of the homophobic actions advocated by many people in Christian, evangelical communities. And this internalized self-hatred does not go away for queer people who reach self-acceptance and leave these communities just because we meet a nice Christian who tries to convince us that not all Christians intend to harm queer people. Nor do sayings such as “hate the sin, love the sinner” do anything other than cause even deeper self-hatred by queers in these environments.

In order to address the harms caused to queer people by anti-queer religious communities, these two communities cannot merely sit down and listen to one another. Such an assimilative stance ignores, first, the social and political power religion currently holds, especially within the small, rural communities similar to the those the Fab Five often enter and, further, the reality that this trauma requires years of therapeutic and self-reflective work to overcome. The fact that Bobby wouldn’t enter Tammeye’s church was not an example of someone having a stubborn, immature stance rooted in misunderstandings of Christianity (an inherently victim-blaming view). Bobby’s refusal to enter a church had much more to do with the trauma caused to him by being rejected, as a young queer person, by himself and by the only community he knew at the time.

The storyline surrounding the intersections of religion and queerness cannot be presented as a simple narrative of misunderstanding resolved through active listening. Rather, Christians, and specifically those belonging to denominations with especially homophobic stances, bear the burden of fixing those mistakes – not the queer people who, rightfully so, have formed stereotypes out of a need for self-preservation. Apologies for problematic doctrine and inhumane actions are a good start, but material resources for the victims of these traumas and social resources oriented towards demanding evangelical leaders stop preaching hate and the removal of these voices from political actions must be the end goal. And the burden cannot be bore, in any way, by the queer victims of evangelicalism actions.

Until evangelicals confront themselves first and address their actions and associated consequences that continue to traumatize queer people, there will continue to be queer people who are unable to engage with religious people and institutions in meaningful ways. For many queer people stereotypes about religion and Christians and Christian beliefs exist in order to protect us from the same institutions that spent years beating us down and traumatizing us. Kudos to Bobby for addressing his traumas head-on and for designing a community center for a woman, and a community, that greatly needed it. But kudos, also, to those queers who, after years of self-hatred rooted in an inability to alter their sexuality, finally learn that the best way to love themselves is to leave their past behind.

Czech Republic Could Be the Next Country to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

The Czech Republic took a significant step this week toward becoming the first post-Communist country to legalize same-sex unions.

The administration of recently elected Prime Minister Andrej Babiš signaled its intention on Friday to back legislation which would extend the full legal rights of marriage to same-sex couples in the European nation. The Czech Republic has allowed LGBTQ partners to enter into domestic unions since 2006.

Forty-six legislators have signed on to co-sponsor the same-sex marriage bill, which needs to earn a simple majority in the 200-seat Czech Parliament before it can become law.

Opponents pledged to push their own bill preventing same-sex couples from tying the knot, with 37 legislators vowing to back the proposal. The legislation, though, faces a much steeper battle than the pro-LGBTQ option: Because the motion would amend the constitution to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman, the constitutional change must garner support from three-fifths of the legislature before passage.

Although marriage equality is already the law of the land in 16 European countries, each of those is in Western Europe. Not a single post-Soviet nation allows LGBTQ couples to wed. Former Communist countries like Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Ukraine have outlawed same-sex unions.

Meanwhile, Romania is currently considering its own constitutional marriage ban.

But the Czech Republic is unique in Eastern Europe for its moderate support of LGBTQ rights. Twelve years after first joining the European Union, the government moved to allow same-sex couples to adopt in 2016. After Petr Laně and his partner, John Rous, fought the prohibition on gay adoption, the pair were finally cleared to adopt a child last year—the first LGBTQ couple in the country to do so.

As the government further paves the way for equality for same-sex partners, polls show support for marriage equality is increasing.

While surveys cited by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch in 2017 showed that a slim majority of Czech citizens (52 percent) supported full marriage rights for LGBTQ couples, an April poll from the Prague Daily Monitor found that percentage increased considerably in a short period of time. Three-quarters of residents now say that all couples should be allowed to marry.

Just 19 percent of respondents in the three-month-old survey claimed they opposed same-sex marriages.

While some outlets reported that the Czech government’s declaration of support amounted to the passage of marriage equality, the bill must be debated by the full legislature before it can become the law of the land. Lawmakers have not stated when that discussion will take place.

If passed, the bill would also grant pension and guardianship rights to same-sex partners, while guaranteeing equal access to family care.

Image via Getty

Ohio Republicans Push Bill Allowing Parents to Block Trans Children From Transitioning

Conservatives in Ohio are pushing legislation that would allow parents to block transgender children from transitioning.

Sponsored by Republican House Reps. Tom Brinkman and Paul Zeltwanger, House Bill 658 grants parents sweeping rights to “withhold consent for gender dysphoria treatment or activities that are designed and intended to form a child’s conception of sex and gender.”

HB 658 also prevents schools from affirming a child’s trans identity without the consent of the young person’s parents. Violating that portion of the legislation would result in a 4th-degree felony.

“Our legislation makes clear that all government entities—including schools, courts, hospitals, and child placement agencies—must inform all parents or guardians when a child expresses symptoms of gender dysphoria and obtain permission before engaging in any gender dysphoria treatment, program, or therapy,” said Rep. Brinkman during a Wednesday hearing.

“We have also included penalties for government agents who violate these requirements to emphasize the importance of parental involvement in life-altering gender dysphoria treatment,” the conservative lawmaker added.

Among the many provisions of HB 658, the proposal also prevents Ohio courts from denying custody to parents in the event they block their transgender child from transitioning. The legislation was proposed following a February court ruling by the Ohio First District Court of Appeals in which the grandparents of a 17-year-old trans boy were awarded custody after his family attempted to force him into conversion therapy.

In that case, the child’s parents also refused to refer to him by male pronouns.

Aaron Baer, president of the Ohio conservative group Citizens for Community Values, said HB 658 would prevent other families from being forced by schools and local government agencies to affirm their child’s gender.

“It’s absolutely horrifying that the state would remove a child from parents’ custody to put the child on untested and dangerous drugs,” Baer claimed in a press release. “Hamilton County Job and Family Services crossed the line in this case. HB 658 ensures this can’t happen to other Ohio families.”

But Equality Ohio, the state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group, said this legislation exposes youth to myriad harms—while further calling the bill “ridiculous and unenforceable.”

“This unnecessary and discriminatory bill does nothing to support youth and families,” Equality Ohio said in a statement. “In fact, it puts the livelihoods of some of our most vulnerable youth—transgender youth—further at risk with bullying and discrimination by potentially forcing teachers to out them.”

The organization pointed to language in HB 658 requiring teachers to inform parents if a student requests treatment “in a manner opposite” to their “biological sex.” It called this language a “can of worms,” both legally and ethically speaking.

“Who is the judge of which gender is allowed to do what?” Equality Ohio asked. “If Jane signs up for shop class, will her parents receive a government letter? If Jordan doesn’t want to play football, do his parents get a letter? What if Alex wants to attend a meeting of the student LGBTQ group, does the school email that to Alex’s parents?”

“Just what stereotypes are they expected to enforce?” the group added.

Although conservatives referred to hormone therapy and gender-affirming care as “dangerous,” Equality Ohio noted that leading medical groups like the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association “agree that transition-related care is medically necessary.”

Meanwhile, research has shown that access to transition-related care and family acceptance are both instrumental in giving transgender youth the resources to thrive.

While four in 10 transgender people overall say they have attempted to take their own lives, trans individuals with strong social supports are 82 percent less likely to experience suicidal ideation. Transgender youth are 13 times more likely to consider ending their lives when they face rejection from their families than those whose loved ones accept and support their gender transition.

The 2014 death of Leelah Alcorn—a trans teenager in Lebanon, Ohio—shined a light on the need to accept transgender youth. She took her life after being forced into conversion therapy by her parents, intending to “cure” the 17-year-old of her gender identity.

Although HB 658 received a hearing from the Community and Family Advancement committee earlier this week, it remains to be seen whether it can find support in the Ohio General Assembly.

If passed, it’s likely to face an immediate challenge from progressive legal groups.

Restart Pride Month: Lizzo Just Dropped ‘Boys’

I think I could watch this new Lizzo music video on repeat until I die. Appropriately called “Boys,” Lizzo sings about all the different kinds of boys that she likes. Which, in short, is all kinds of boys!

“I like big boys, itty bitty boys. Mississippi boys, inner-city boys. I like the pretty boys with the bow tie. Get your nails did, let it blow dry. I like a big beard, I like a clean face. I don’t discriminate, come and get a taste,” sings Lizzo. (Very relatable.)

If you aren’t already convinced that this needs to be played at every gay bar around the world, the next lyric is literally “From the playboys to the gay boys. Go and slay boys, you my fave boys.” What an icon.

Somehow, the video makes it even better — the entire time Lizzo really is serving looks on looks. It starts with her looking sexy in a sheer robe with jaguar print lingerie and cuts to her in a varsity jacket and full fro. It’s really the best of both worlds. Later, when she’s listing the aforementioned genre of boys, she does so with a beehive hairdo.

As an added bonus, right after she sings the lyric about gay boys, a furry butt appears on screen. Even before we saw an interview, I think we all knew Lizzo was a queen — and this year has proven it beyond a doubt.

If You Couldn’t Get Miss Vanjie Out Of Your Head Before, Wait Until You Hear Vanessa Vanjie Mateo’s New Song

These queens know what they’re doing. On the same day as the Drag Race Season 10 reunion, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo decided to drop her new single, “I’m Vanjie.”

The quote queen said herself during the reunion that she has been trying to milk, what she assumed would be, her solid 15 minutes of fame. “Originally I was like, ‘I need to get all my bookings quick,’” Vanjie said in the reunion, reflecting on her elimination. “Take your 15 and act like you was there the whole time.”

Well, this track is definitely that. “They sent me home first, but it’s really fine. Yeah, remember my ass? After just one line,” Vanjie raps in her first verse of the song. The song itself is very house and camp inspired — a classic drag song.

Also in the reunion, Vanjie talked about the moment she realized she went viral. She was performing in Denver with Dusty and fans started screaming “Miss Vanjie” while throwing cookies at her. It’s looking like Vanjie’s 15 minutes are far from over. Perhaps we’ll see her on All Stars 4 or she can pull a Shangela in Season 11!

Kylie Minogue Reveals the Moment She Realized She was a Gay Icon

Kylie Minogue has been a luminary in the LGBTQ community for decades. As part of Pride month, Minogue will take the stage at Manhattan Pride this weekend to cap off the infamous Pride Island party. Formerly known as Dance on the Pier, Pride Island is a 32-year old celebration, and on Sunday, June 24th, Minogue will ring in the festivities right.

The Australian performer has long been heralded by the community as a gay icon. In an interview with Billboard, the artist shared the first time she realized she had reached such a venerable status, one that’s reserved for only the top echelon of pop stars.

“It happened without me knowing it,” she recalled. Describing her rise to fame in the late ’80s, the singer added, “I was in Sydney and there’s a famous bar on Oxford Street called the Albury, and at the time it was the gay bar in the gay area in Sydney.” Sydney, like most major cities, has a stretch of gay bars, dubbed the “Gay Golden Mile.”

“I was in the car, my manager was in the car with me along with a couple other people, and someone said ‘there’s Kylie Night at the Albury tonight.’ And I was like ‘What?!’ I’d never heard of a Kylie Night, but I said ‘We should go! We should go!’ At the time, I’d done an ad for Coca-Cola, and someone said, ‘Ohhh, I think someone has gone as a Coke can,'” she laughed, remembering the scant “versions” of herself that existed in that era. “There weren’t that many versions of me then, I’m talking 1989 or ’90. Now there’s tons of them – choose a look. But I’m the least Kylie person when I’m at any of those nights. I looked like they should not have let me in.”

The Aussie fondly revealed, “That’s the first moment I can remember where it was a thing, and it’s been a thing ever since – which is incredible.” Kylie recently released Golden, her jaw-dropping fourteenth studio album.

Minogue will perform at Pride Island on Sunday, June 24, followed by an intimate performance at the Bowery Ballroom Monday, June 25.

Cameron Esposito On Queering The Conversation About Sexual Assault

Cameron Esposito is the kind of stand-up comic who isn’t just looking for laughs. Instead, she’s hoping to engage and challenge her audience.

And she’s not just speaking to an echo chamber, either. Too many times, comics who come from marginalized communities (Esposito is both a woman and a queer person), are assumed to be preaching to a limited choir, as if the rest of the world couldn’t possibly get her jokes.

So when she titled her latest special Rape Jokes, she was hoping for as many different types of reactions and questions a broad audience could have. An hour-long set dedicated to sexual assault, Esposito’s Rape Jokes is a sendup of both comedy and sexual assault, and the flippant way society at large has treated conversations about sexual assault. Having seen her peers use rape as a punchline far too often,  Esposito is already uniquely qualified to speak on such a stage. But in Rape Jokes she also reveals she, too, is a survivor, and how that, sadly, isn’t quite a distinctive position.

“What I saw was an opportunity,” Esposito tells INTO, “where nothing has ever been called Rape Jokes. I was like ‘If I just titled it that’–which by the way I was super nervous about because it’s an inflammatory title–then maybe that will be like the number one result if you googled ‘rape joke.’ That would mean the number one result would be a well-structured, personal set from somebody who’s trying to invite you into their experience, and even if you know it’s just one small thing that you can do, you’re just trying to get in the way any way you can.”

“Getting in the way” of harassers and assaulters is part of Esposito’s messaging in her at times hilarious, other times quite harrowing set about her own assault. The set also contains well-crafted (and expertly delivered) points on modern rape culture and patriarchal power dynamics. And she doesn’t just want women to get in the way–she’s calling on the men in her audience to do the same.  

“I think we talk about sexual assault like men feel one way about it and women feel one way about it,” she says. “If you are an alien and you landed on this planet and you read our newspapers, it would almost seem like [men] don’t give a shit about this. I will say you know, in my life and the people I know, comics that are my friends and the men that are my friends, that’s not true. They aren’t just like dudes running around being like ‘I don’t give a shit about this.’ That’s not true.”

Still, opening up your own trauma on stage can be difficult in front of any audience, even if it’s in the name of activism or educational comedy, or both. For that reason, Esposito has released Rape Jokes for free on her website for a limited time, accompanied by a request for donations to the sexual abuse and assault non-profit RAINN. So far, they’ve received more than $30,000 from those who have watched and enjoyed Rape Jokes. 

“I mean, it sucked to talk about it,” Esposito says of her assault. “It did. 100 percent. It sucked. It sucked to not get laughs for a couple minutes because I don’t think it’s funny. It shouldn’t get laughs but…as a comic, you’re so used to getting laughs. I wasn’t comfortable with that.”

Outside of a few live dates this summer, Esposito doesn’t plan to tour with the material from Rape Jokes. Instead, it’s a singular project that she hopes made a mark in a way that she needn’t return to, save for perhaps a few jokes that might continue to resonate without her having to go into her personal history with assault.

“I went out to lunch with a good friend who saw it in LA, and she was like ‘It’s incredible, it’s amazing.’  And then she was like ‘Please stop doing this. Please don’t do this forever. Please put a time limit on this because I just think this seems too much for anybody to be doing as their main artistic outlet,'” Esposito says. “And I agree. I think that’s right on the money. So I did it for six months, you know. And I did it really hard. I probably did the set 50 times or something like that and then now it’s out there and that’s good. I’m happy to be doing press. I’m happy to be talking to you. And then I’m going to be happy not to be doing that and to be going back into what is my daily life.”

Which isn’t to say Esposito is backing away from difficult or trying topics. She’s often talking about her identity as a queer person, which is another reason Rape Jokes is so important in the cultural conversation around sexual assault and harassment. Too often, LGBTQ people are left out of these discussions, as if they are heterosexual-specific. Esposito’s story will resonate with many others in the community, as has her continued willingness to own her lesbianism even when others try to use it to discredit her. She’s already dealt with that in her life–she grew up in the Catholic church.

“I really think that the queerness is so baked into my story, and I mean it’s set up that way on purpose,” she says. “That’s really what I believe. My growing up in a state that didn’t allow me at all to connect with myself absolutely created the conditions for my assault to happen. “

So part of what she’s hoping to do now, as an established voice in both comedy and the LGBTQ community, is to help empower those who might be in similar situations to the isolating ones she herself grew up in.

“I’m kind of at a place in my life where I feel almost parental in our community,” she says. “I’m not like old enough to even feel parental to folks I feel parental toward, but because we are a family that goes generationally. What I’d hope is that is a young queer person would see this special. We haven’t been able to be out, queer, and speak to our own communities; or be out, queer, and speak to straight people and be like ‘We have a lot of knowledge on equity in relationships. Would you like to know something about that?'”

The shared experience of queer people, of women, and of an American society now finally having a conversation about sexual assault and harassment and coercion is something Esposito finds especially relevant to speak about on the public platform she’s created. 

“I really think especially queer folks that are cultured female in our youth, this is something that we should start talking about because this experience of being available to not just a [man] but to society; we were taught that and shamed when you weren’t available,” she says. “That’s a huge part of our identity. I don’t really know what to do with all that pain. I don’t know what we’re going to do with all that, but it is a communal experience and something that a lot of us share. I know that this is something that we’ve  been told to keep quiet about. We ’re cultured to be available to men and then realized that we didn’t want to be available. That’s a huge thing that we can’t even acknowledge without being angry lesbians. I guess I’m just here to say like you’re not a weirdo, little gay kid. You’re not a weirdo, queer adult.”

As for those who aren’t queer kids or adults, she hopes that Rape Jokes reaches them, too.

“I also hope that young men would see this special because I think that there are so many young men right now that I see being like, ‘Well, I don’t know what to do,'” Esposito says. “And I would love to speak with that guy. Because I have information.”

St. Vincent Raves with a Bunch of Sweaty Gay Men in New ‘Fast Slow Disco’ Music Video

Out singer St. Vincent just released new visuals for a reworked and more upbeat version of her song “Fast Slow Disco,” off her 2017 album Masseduction. The music video is extremely gay—but maybe not in the way you’d expect.

In “Fast Slow Disco,” the artist dances up against rowdy men in a gay nightclub. In another scene, she writhes around in a seemingly endless pile of gay men, donning a sports bra and shimmery eyeshadow.

Directed by Zev Deans, the homoerotic video’s timing is apt, as we near the end of Pride month. St. Vincent, also known as Annie Clark, wrote on Twitter, “Happy Pride. It was sweet of these boys to let me crash their party…”

The singer-songwriter said in a statement, “I always felt this song could wear many different outfits and live many different lives. Here she is in disco pants, sweating on a New York dance floor.”

Charli XCX Praises LGBTQ Community: ‘Without You I’d Be Nothing’

Charli XCX has long advocated for the LGBTQ community, speaking out time and time again in support of her queer fans. This week, the singer-songwriter made it official by penning a love letter to the LGBTQ community as a part of Billboard’s Pride Month.

“The LGBTQ community is a community which I have been constantly inspired by from a young age,” she writes. The British pop star admits that she didn’t know many out people in her youth, but that changed when she started releasing music online as a teenager and hitting up warehouse parties in London.

“My eyes were opened up to so many new things and experiences and cultures — many of which were linked, influenced or led by the LGBTQ community,” she recalls, adding, “I was introduced to club kid fashion, drag queens, gay clubs, inspirational members of the LGBTQ community, the idea that being totally yourself was cool, the idea of mass acceptance and embracing exactly who you are… I felt very special and honored to be experiencing what I was experiencing. Everything was so fun and exciting to me. And everything was extremely inspiring and influential.”

Last month, the singer-songwriter came under fire for her Sapphic collaboration with Rita Ora, Cardi B, and Bebe Rexha, called “Girls.” The song sparked controversy in the community, as many queer female artists, like Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani, lambasted the song, calling it exploitative or tone-deaf, while others welcomed it as a bisexual bop. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Charli defended her long-time friend, insisting, “I know that Rita’s had extremely meaningful relationships with both men and women. I don’t understand why her story is less valid than anybody else’s.”

Currently, Charli XCX is on tour with Taylor Swift and Camila Cabello on Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour.

“The LGBTQ community has shaped who I am as an artist today,” she told Billboard. “I will continue to be inspired by LGBTQ people and culture until the day I die. This community is a beautiful, fun, exciting, and safe place, which will always be strong, powerful and loving in the face of any danger or negativity. I am thankful every day for my friends, fans, and collaborators, who belong to this very special community. Without you, I’d be nothing.”

Images via Getty