North Morgan Creates His Own Reality

North Morgan does not want to be anyone’s role model, nor does he endorse having one in the first place. He says as much — multiple times — to the crowd of fans that has gathered at the NYU bookstore in Manhattan to hear him talk about and read from Into?, his third novel since he went from blogger to published author with 2011’s Exit Through the Wound. It’s a question brought up by both the event moderator and one of his fans, both seeming to search for answers as to how his success has changed the way he sees himself in relation to his readers.

The idea of putting another person on a pedestal is a phenomenon Morgan describes as both culturally American and a recipe for disappointment. “I like inspiring people or helping them understand something,” he explains when talking about the effect of his work on others. “I just can’t think of a single person as a perfect role model.”

Idolized or not, Morgan’s acerbic, forthright style depicting life as a gay man has earned fans and praise, offering an alternately hopeless and touching look into cycles of self-destructive behavior and internalized longing. His physical appearance — muscular, square-jawed, blue-eyed — has garnered a fair amount of attention, too, and Morgan’s social media presence is something of a companion piece to his work dating back to his earliest writing, which came out of emails he sent to his straight friends documenting his journey through the gay culture of London. Those emails would eventually become London Preppy, the daily blog chronicling and then sensationalizing a world of parties, drugs, and casual sex. London Preppy would also be the incubator for his work as a novelist.

Photos of Morgan — often shirtless or in attire that suggests he knows his way around a Ralph Lauren store — come paired with ironic commentary or self-deprecating humor. In one post, Morgan stands in front of a mirror with his shirt unbuttoned and parted to reveal a chiseled torso with the caption, “Exhibiting my generation’s psychopathic tendencies and the degradation of the human race by taking another selfie. Previous generations of humans were perfectly fine, of course, keeping slaves, going on world wars, not allowing women to vote, etc.” Where countless other social media personalities would lean in with some combination of a toothy smile, product placement, or reference to Phillippians 4:13, Morgan turns mercilessly on his own hunky, bro’d out physicality.

The end result, on social media and in Morgan’s writing, is a juxtaposition of biting self-awareness and shallow, empty fulfillment: the sensitive soul who loves unconventional music and existentialist literature, but can’t be bothered to go on an art walk and instead settles for a trip to the gay beach. Soho House and Coachella are name-dropped next to Ernesto Sabato and Jean-Paul Sartre.

The details of the protagonists Morgan writes about are often informed by his real life, also a holdover from the London Preppy days. Morgan has developed his fictional characters beyond his own personality, however, and is careful to put some distance between himself and his creations. It’s a lesson learned from blogging in character every day for two years; eventually, the character and his moods bled over into reality, and the mental energy required of Morgan was too damaging. That distance hasn’t kept him from some very good (and very bad) interactions with fans and followers, who can identify so strongly with the character of North Morgan that they feel they know the real man behind it.

At the event and in our conversation, Morgan makes references to the cultural philosophy of metamodernism, a means of interpreting culture in which “basically you oscillate wildly between being very, very honest and upfront and also having a character that’s very cynical.”

As examples, he offers the performance art of Shia LaBeouf, as well as the manufactured persona of Lana Del Rey.

“She produces music through a character; Lana Del Rey is a construct,” he explains. “But at the same time there’s a lot of truth, and vulnerability, and openness to what she does.”

Metamodernism as an aesthetic can also be applied to social media at large, and the ambiguity about where the line exists between performance and reality — if it even exists at all. That Morgan embodies this publicly is perhaps what draws people to him, but his private life is another thing entirely.

The child of Greek parents, Morgan grew up in Athens and later London, moving to Los Angeles to be with a former boyfriend. Coming out fully was a process that took time; his father didn’t find out until 10 years after friends and other family members did. It was during this early years writing London Preppy that Morgan’s distinctive style would take shape: dry retellings of excess, prescription drugs namedropped with specific dosages, and a soundtrack of songs plucked from wide-ranging genres and a selection of books that accented, dulled, or mocked the moments they co-occupied:

“On the tube on the way home, I’m reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath conscious that maybe somebody (a guy, a girl, I’m not fussy) might see this, fall in love with me, walk up to me and kiss me suddenly, hard, before getting off at the next stop without having said a word. This doesn’t happen in the five stops between work and home, so I give up and get off.”

The blog would bring Morgan his first lucky break: the opportunity to make his work into one novel, and then another. Exit Through the Wound and its sequel would follow Maine Hudson and his son Parke, both beautiful men with an eye for satire and contempt for the world around them.

Into? exists apart from the storyline established in Morgan’s first two novels, but the style is a return to the form that brought him success. The book is a loose collection of episodic chapters that are authentic in their irregularity. Sometimes, there’s a series of events or a dramatic encounter; sometimes a day is summed up by one missed connection or small disappointment. Konrad Platt is a freshly-minted Angeleno, arriving in the States after the destruction of his relationship with now-ex-boyfriend Brett and navigating his way through the gay scene in LA. If the premise sounds similar, it should; while the individual decisions Konrad Platt makes may differ, the scenarios are often informed Morgan’s own experiences. This is also why, Morgan explains, his protagonists fit a particular mold.

“I can only write what I know,” he says. “It’s not my place to represent anyone else.” He says his process for writing starts at the end; the concept will exist, and the last sentence or paragraph will already be written. The rest of the text is designed to get to that final moment.

At the end of Into? Morgan offers neither resolution nor optimism. The novel finishes without the character having grown much as a person, and without the last-minute appearance of some grand romance or wonderful opportunity. It’s just a heartbreaking realization about his life, made weightier with the knowledge that the whole story was written around it.

Morgan doesn’t expect to get rich or famous from his writing. “I don’t think I’m ever going to make a living out of this,” he says, “and that’s fine, because the very large majority of writers don’t.” In some ways, he deliberately eschews the spotlight, uninterested in changing his art or losing control of it in favor of huge commercial success. He also goes through cycles when writing, oscillating between wanting to write a new book and — after the fact — vowing to never do it again.

“My relationship with writing is very complicated,” he admits. “It’s the thing that makes me happiest, and I feel most successful doing it, but it’s also the most taxing thing that I do.”

In spite of all this, he sees himself continuing to write as long as he can.

“Genuinely, it is the thing that makes me happiest in the world,” he says. “I don’t really get the same contentment from my day to day job.”

In front of the crowd at NYU, Morgan is gracious and personable, fielding questions and speaking about his journey as a writer and a gay man to the gathered crowd. While he’s candid and kind with his answers, there’s still some ambiguity to where North Morgan the person ends and the character begins.

At the end of the event, the organizer invited those in attendance to come up and have their books signed. Just inside the cover of my copy, scrawled in block letters, Morgan writes: “THINK OF ME WHEN YOU’RE LONELY“ and the line between author and character blurs even more.

Chani Nicholas Offers An Intersectional Queer Feminist Reading of Astrology

Astrology is having a moment. Whether it’s wearing one’s sun sign on a sweatshirt or sharing memes related to astrological attributes, people are invested in what their birth time, place, and date dictate. For so long, mainstream astrologers have delivered heteronormative versions of horoscopes, with women’s magazines offering readers hints on when they might Mr. Right or daily newspapers delivering vague one-sentence sentiments that echo the most unimaginative of fortune cookies.

Enter Chani Nicholas.

Nicholas has become the go-to guide for queer, trans, feminist, and other marginalized people looking for a more inclusive and radical astrologer to read the stars and signs. Her approach is less providing a foreboding fate and more of an exploration on what opportunities individuals have to embrace certain aspects of themselves and the world they are a part of; a chance to consider themselves as part of a larger solar system.

“I’m somebody who is really interested in the process that we’re in as people,” Nicholas tells INTO. “And so I’m always trying to absorb — or I’m always in a process of absorbing what’s coming at us and then where that’s landing for us, and what it might be speaking to psychologically, spiritually, individually, collectively in terms of our justice movements; in terms of what is a response that is needed from us.”

Nicholas’s reach on social media and her own website (which gives fans an opportunity to engage with Nicholas in workshops, classes, and personal readings) has given her a platform to not only help individuals with their own questions, but provide helpful and healing thoughts and projections to the general public. 

Nicholas has been interested in astrology since she was 12, saying it’s “just part of [her] makeup”; that the way she thinks about what’s going in on the world comes through not just her own queer, feminist lens, but through an astrological one.

“There’s something that happens in the sky and then I’m looking to see what’s happening on earth and with ourselves,” she says. “So I’m always looking to see what’s the correlation, what meaning might we make at this moment and given the pain or the difficulty of it, how might we give it context, if that’s what’s called for, or just give our experience of it some compassion and some space and some room to exist.”

Because astrology has long been adopted by others as mostly straight, white, and many times, inaccessible, Nicholas’s highly-specific approach has brought disenfranchised people either back to astrology, or to astrology for the first time. 

“I think what astrology understands, and what queers have been fighting for for so long is that there is an individual expression of each of us,” she says. “And gender is a many varied thing, and there are as many expressions of gender as there are stars in the sky, as there are moments in time, and astrology knows that we are all an amulet of a moment of time. We are the constellation of the crystallization of a specific moment in the solar system, in the galaxy, in the cosmos. And so we are imbued with the property that that moment and each of us is incredibly unique because of that.”

Because of that, Nicholas says astrology is unequivocally queer.

“As queers, we’ve always been saying…there are so many ways to love and there are so many ways to express one’s gender that we needn’t be hung up on any two ways because the universe is infinite and human beings are literally made up of stardust and we are infinite in our expressions and our creative capacity and each moment has its own specific astrological template and each human also has that, and so there’s just so many ways to be yourself and the universe is infinitely creative and so are we.”

Tonight, Nicholas will be honored alongside Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, the late writer/activist Jeanne Cordova, and Malkia Cyril by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice at their 2018 Fueling the Frontlines Gala. Astraea supports LGBTQ human rights organizations around the world, focusing on racial, economic, social, and gender justice, especially as it pertains to LGBTQ people, and Nicholas’s work is right in line. Outside of uplifting LGBTQs and related issues in her work, she also uses her reach to promote these same organizations, ideals, and work. That work is what makes her feel successful in having cultivated this career path for herself, one that is both very personal and political.

“It feels like a responsibility that I am incredibly grateful that I have, and also I’m always looking toward how I’m using what I’m using and if it’s being the greatest service that it can be,” Nicholas says. “I feel a really deep relationship with my work and I feel a really deep relationship with a lot of the people I work with.”

Nicholas has a book coming out next month and while she doesn’t want to say exactly what it is about, You Were Born For This will likely continue her work to help uncover and develop an individual’s approach to finding one’s self, and finding a way in an evolving (or, some would argue, devolving) world. Nicholas provides hope and cautious optimism through her contextualizations; a challenge to a reader instead of a validation or forecast. She works with those who follow her work, engaging in constant conversation with those who have become faithful followers, whether they simply read her posts or choose to participate further.

“I’m in a really beautiful conversation with thousands of people every year,” she says. “I am the recipient of these extraordinary stories of how people have been using and working with the astrology for self-discovery and healing. I feel like it’s an incredible blessing to be in communication with so many people in so many diverse professions through my one profession. It feels like relationship building in a really resonant way.”

Image via Getty

The Queer Guide to Getting Paid

Hello, my queens. It’s me, Fran, writer, editor, and full-time homosexual. I don’t know what it is about the vibe I give, but let’s just say queers always come to me with money questions.

I’ve been a freelancer on and off for about six years, and let me tell you the hustle is real. But what’s even more real is that when it comes to queer folk getting coin, more often than not we are taken advantage of because bigger Companies/Corporations/Old Straight People in Burlington Coat Factory Sale Rack Blazers think that because queer people, queer content, queer labor is a “niche market,” that they don’t have to pay you as much.

This, my sisters, is a falsehood. You are worth every penny of the straight man’s dollar and we are gonna get 👏🏽 you 👏🏽 paid 👏🏽. Behold, the toughest love and best advice I have to give in getting paid as a queer person and freelancer.

Assume They Have Money

Especially when it comes to writing, speaking gigs, or consultation, freelancers like to assume that the potential client doesn’t have money, and categorically, that their work doesn’t have value. This is insane.

Your work has value. Let’s say you go into a nice pottery store and pull a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind fruit bowl off the shelf, walk up to the cashier, and the cashier tells you how much it costs. Do you say to the cashier: “Hmm, how about free?” No! You go find yourself a cheap ass pottery store, or you go back to your piggy bank and save up.

When responding to an inquiry, it’s fair for you to establish that they have a budget in as few emails as possible. Sometimes, even the first email. Provide your rate, even when you were never asked. If it’s a smaller project that has a too-small-to-negotiate flat rate or hourly rate, a question I like to ask in the very first email is: “What is the budget for this project/my service?” even when money was not discussed.

If the client came to you and is chasing you for this job, it’s important you keep the email brief. Like, Miranda Priestly “that’s all” brief. I am partial to the email being literally three sentences, as in: “Hi, _____. [Insert kind, quippy nicety about the fact that the project seems cool and you’d love to work on it.] My rate for a project like this is _____. Let me know if you have questions, and thanks. Xx Fran”

As far as how to reach that rate, there are a few steps to it.

Field Research

All right, you have piqued the interest of a potential client. Before you do anything, it’s time to do a little investigative reporter-level digging. Channel your inner Harriet The Spy and think about who you know works in a similar field or has quoted a similar project. I implore you to go to real people before you consult the interwebs, poorly-designed WordPress blogs, and Quora question landing pages — primarily because there is a lot of misinformation out there and it’s difficult to know where to start, and what makes a viable source.

Text, email, DM as many folks as you can asking them if you can ask a finance-related question, then ask it! It’s embarrassing, it feels overly personal, it feels slimy, but you have to ask: What do they quote for a project like this? Provide the details and be transparent. If they have worked for the exact company/client before, ask them what they quoted. Just ask! The worst that can happen is they say they can’t say, and that’s okay! But you’ll be surprised how open people will be about their projects so long as you are not in direct competition with each other, and are kind when you ask. Don’t forget to thank them! Use the consensus you’ve found to build a potential price point.

If you do not have much of a network yet and do not know a single person who can help you price this job, start with the public sources. Check Glassdoor and pay for the free trial of their premium membership. Check sources like Who Pays Writers and other sites that work to create financial transparency. These sites are truly are last resort, though – I strongly recommend a personal connection first, or even DMing someone you don’t know who might be kind enough to respond!

Pricing Yourself

Okay, let’s say you’ve arrived at the number. The big, scary number. It is so big and so scary, you don’t really know what to do with it. Is it right, is it not? Oh, the fretting. Sure, you have been skirting by getting paid less per-hour for your work than someone who works at a Dairy Queen, but hey, you’re a freelancer! This is your dream! You can just make below-minimum wage work for you! No one in the right mind would ever pay you this number anyway.

The fretting, dear reader, is part of the oppression. You wanna know who doesn’t fret over quoting their freelance numbers? Straight white men. You wanna know who does? Queer and marginalized people. Remind yourself that you are worth so much more than a straight white man.

More importantly, you are worth more than this job. It doesn’t matter if this feels like your absolute dream job and you have been waiting for *Kelly Clarkson voice* a moment like this. This client — they are lucky to have you. They are so damn lucky. Remind yourself that you are doing them a service, not vice versa. Remind yourself that you have the upper hand even when it feels like you don’t. Remind yourself that you are a queen, that you are gorgeous, that you are a high-femme raspy Jonathan Van Ness aphorism.

Okay, remember that feeling of confidence I just gave you? Hold onto that. Keep holding. Okay:

Increase that number by 50 percent.

That’s right — increase it by half. That’s your new number now. That’s right, that’s how much you’re worth.

Why? Because you’re worth it, babe.

Why else? Because if they’re gonna negotiate down, you need to start high, and if they don’t negotiate and just take the number, then hey that is a big juicy paycheck that you deserve anyway, mama.

Okay but really why? The government (which you don’t even like, by the way!) is gonna take 40 percent + of your paycheck after the tax year. So keep that in mind.

Email Disposition

This is my definitive rule as a queer emailer: Carry your email presence with the confidence of a mediocre straight white man. What does that look like?

Strong language instead of weak language. That means we never use the phrases, “I think,” “Maybe,” “I might,” “Should,” “Could,” “If,” and “Kind of.” One of the worst offenders is: “If it’s okay…” It’s always okay. Live in the world of a straight white man where literally everything you do is okay. Here’s another big one: “Unfortunately.” Unfortunate for whomst? Their problems are not your problems. Don’t remind them of things you did not promise nor can provide and be your biggest self.

Never apologize. Nope, never. Not when your response is delayed, not when you sent an email by mistake, not when you didn’t come through or had to backtrack on a promise. Nu-uh, under no circumstances. Rethink your language around what you owe to anyone who emails. This will set you free. We as an email culture apologize too much. Queer people, especially, apologize two-fold because we’ve been conditioned to think less of ourselves. Instead of apologizing, consider some alternatives: “Thanks for flagging!” “Good catch! I’ll make updates/changes.” “Thanks for your patience!” “Thanks for the follow-up/bringing this to my attention!” Think of every apology as a tick mark against your worth. With every apology, you become less competent in the client’s subconscious, and as queer folk, we can’t afford that.

Don’t overjustify. It’s important you know your case as to why your service costs this much: this is the industry standard, or this is how many hours it costs, etc. But you do not need to provide these reasons until asked, over email or phone. To overjustify is to make them nervous, or put into question things they may not have even been thinking about.

After you’ve done all this — I like to sprinkle just a touch of gay onto my emails. Remind the client that you are awesome, personable, and witty. Keep your emails upbeat (but firm!), don’t be afraid to crack a joke, or to be kind.

Negotiation

The first thing is to know your limitations before going in. Are you going to accept lower? Perhaps. Know how low you are willing to go before going in. Though every negotiation is different, I find that anything less than 70 percent of what you asked for is out of bounds, but it varies depending on the service/project. Know your absolute rock bottom.

Okay, now ask for the amount point blank with that Miranda Priestly brevity.

Clients like to do this quirky thing when responding to your rate, which is to make you feel bad. Responses like “Oh wow, we did not have that much budgeted,” or “This rate is a little high for a teeny tiny humble little operation like us,” or an actual email I received which is “Your rate would put us out of business.” Do not let this sink into you. Again, this is not your problem. If you let it sink in, you will resort to accepting a lower negotiation, and we’re gonna undo all this hard work I just did trying to boost your confidence.

If they say good day, then send a Guh-Bye-Thanks-For-Your-Time-Shortest-Email-Ever. You owe them nothing, end of story, Rihanna closing her car window gif.

If they are still up for negotiation, or if they throw out a number that nears your rock-bottom number, I suggest throwing one more negotiation their way, somewhere halfway between their number and your initial price. Again, be brief and firm.

If you are thinking of taking a project for an insanely low number or doing it for free, consider weighing the consequences. Will this client be returning to work for you at the same low rate? Will continually working for a low rate for a client take time, energy, and resources away from clients that might actually meet your full rate? Will the member of this industry share around your rate or make it known to other potential clients that you are a cheap deal, therefore getting you even more I-Could-Be-Making-More-Working-Shifts-At-Forever-21 rates?

The only cases in which I work for cheap/free are: 1. The client is literally one of my best friends. That’s right, I said best friend. I don’t even give my cheapo rates to good friends, friends-of-friends, or acquaintances. Nope! 2. The client is a very, very cool client to add to my website/client list and that adds to my client list ensuring better rates next time because future potential clients will trust you because you worked for a hot sexy brand, and pay you your full rate this time. 3. The project is too good to pass up and truly is a once-in-a-lifetime project.

It’s Hard Because It’s Hard.

No one said this was easy. The system of paying freelancers, dear readers, is broken. Freelancers are treated like shit because this behavior has been normalized. Remind yourself that if they are trying to weasel you into cheap labor, that they are part of the problem in this systemic undervaluing of freelancers. When it comes to getting paid, it takes a lot of trial and error before you get it right, so keep telling yourself that. If they walk, or if you have to walk, remind yourself this is not a failure. The only failure would be taking less than you deserve.

Header image via Getty

Jill Soloway Is Speaking, But Not Everyone Wants To Hear It

The public discussion about transgender representation on television has largely been a conversation about Transparent.

In 2014, when the show first debuted on Amazon, creator Jill Soloway (then a cisgender heterosexual-identified woman) came out about their own parent’s transition (exclusive to the New York Times), which was said to have inspired the show. The casting of Jeffrey Tambor in the lead role of Maura was controversial for those both inside and supportive of the trans community, who have been protesting the casting of cis men in the roles of trans women for as long as cis men have been playing them. Soloway’s hiring and mentoring of trans actors cast and crew satisfied some, but not all. The same 2014 Times profile mentioned a heated exchange where Soloway was first publicly taken to task by a trans person unhappy about Tambor’s casting. Despite the contention, Soloway, Tambor, and Transparent won awards and critical accolades over the first four seasons and helped to foster more cultural conversations around trans identity and people.

Four years later, a lot has changed. 

Soloway now identifies as non-binary, preferring they/them pronouns, and has been dating women after divorcing their husband. These changes were followed by Tambor’s termination for the alleged sexual harassment of two trans women on set (Tambor’s former assistant Van Barnes and Transparent co-star Trace Lysette) and gave way to harsher criticisms of the person behind the show, especially after early statements and reports purported Soloway’s support not of Barnes and Lysette, but of Tambor. Amazon eventually fired Tambor from the show, leaving Soloway to work around Maura’s exit for the fifth and final season.

Their latest work, She Wants It, is a memoir — their second. The first one, from 2005, seems like it was from an entirely different person, and not the same individual who was then a parent to two young sons and a television writer looking to Make It in Hollywood. Musings in that memoir, Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants: Based on a True Story, were less evolved.

“Much like transgender people who felt their whole lives like something was just off, my soul had actually slipped into the wrong body,” Soloway wrote 10 years before Transparent. “Here it was, finally, the truth: I was a gay man trapped in a woman’s body.” In another section, they write: “How was I supposed to know lesbians had feelings, too?” believing their lesbian professor wouldn’t “take me seriously until the hair on my head was shorter than the hair under my arms.”

She Wants It is Soloway’s update on their own personal evolution, peppered with tidbits of interest to the Hollywood set, LGBTQs paying attention to pop culture’s sudden interest in trans people, and feminists — but mostly to those who are an intersection of the three. The publicity tour included morning talk shows and typical mainstream press, as well as highly-publicized events in major cities boasting guests like Lindy West, Roxane Gay, and Morgan Parker. In a handful of events, Soloway’s sister, Faith, performed songs from the Transparent musical she’s been readying, and in others, feminist debates were staged between the likes of Eileen Myles and Masha Gessen. 

“You know, it was a slow process,” Soloway told INTO. “It wasn’t like a big day of like ‘Hey, I’m queer and non-binary.’ It’s over the course of many years in the book where it’s like I think I might be gay. I think I might be, and then moving to the space that was non-binary identity.”

It’s not difficult to see why some still find Soloway’s whole thing to be a circus act borrowing from marginalized people whose identities have long been co-opted for capital gain. The book is the first account of their parent’s coming out as trans, Soloway’s initial reaction, and the speed at which they spun it into fodder for a TV series. The book is not entirely navel-gazing — there are some thought-provoking ideas regarding the somewhat homoerotic way powerful men regard one another and their use and disposal of women in the process, as well as regarding gendered parenting — but there is certainly a huge focus on Soloway’s late-in-life sex and gender awakening, as well as some details on Tambor’s exit from Transparent

“Well, I’m attempting to take some sort of radical liberation, radical feminist, radical trans liberation and hide them in a kind of more popular culture voice,” Soloway said of the book. “I like to simplify certain aspects of politics, and I also like to do my best to remain vulnerable and likable.”

Perhaps what people want most from Soloway is, well, transparency — to feel like they aren’t being duped into falling for a show, a series, a thought-process that will inevitably disappoint them by being something else entirely. Soloway’s defense of Tambor from when he was first cast up until he was let go from the show had some seeing Soloway as a co-conspirator of sorts; an apologist on the side of the cis straight man accused of harassing members of the community he is not a part of but is honored by Hollywood for portraying. 

Still, as conversations about Woody Allen move toward the culpability of the women who have worked and continue to work with him, so do those about holding women and marginalized people accountable for the actions of the offending men.

I think that anybody who’s not a white male of a certain class is going to be [wrestling with this] because the moment you open your mouth and you put yourself out there and say ‘This is me,’ you’re vulnerable,” Soloway said. 

“We have so much to do and sometimes I feel way too powerful and way too loud,” they continued. “And then, a few days ago I was in New York and I was doing an interview from the floor of the stock exchange for a website called Cheddar. I looked around at the stock exchange and went: ‘Nothing that’s going on here, even for an instant, takes into account the power of queerness or feminism.'”

Soloway straddles two worlds — one in which queerness and feminism reign, and the other is dominated by big business and binaries. Transparent, She Wants It, and subsequent queer, trans, feminist-themed projects (including their book imprint with Amazon) are attempts at marrying the two — which is a difficult task and not one that either side is much interested in. This is especially true when considering that many trans people aren’t thrilled with Soloway — despite now identifying on the trans spectrum — being the mouthpiece for the community. 

“I think it’s kind of scary to interact with people who are more educated than I am in the trans community who are calling me out for speaking from a place of privilege without having experienced certain kinds of oppression,” Soloway said. “I think my privilege around accessing audience and my voice is always going to get in my way. I’m always going to be offending people because I’m always going to be speaking from a place of…I’m always going to be fighting PC around my privilege. That’s, I think, a hard thing to do, to say I don’t know everything yet. I’m going to come out and speak for this movement because I’ve found myself in this place from having made Transparent and that’s scary.”

Soloway is well aware of their critics, specifically from within their own LGBTQ community. 

“People have learned to bully and humiliate others as a way to feel powerful, and so when I see people doing it to me from inside the movement, I just look at them and I think they feel powerless in the exact same way,” Soloway said. “I ask myself if there was somebody I didn’t agree with, how loudly and how angrily would I attack them if they were from my community. Would I want to hang somebody out to dry publicly if they were from within my community? And I don’t do that, you know. I email somebody privately. I have a private conversation with them.”

In She Wants It, Soloway writes about having one of those conversations with Lysette after finding out Lysette went to the press with her allegations against Tambor. 

“We could handle this, I wanted to tell her, but let us do it internally, inside the family,” Soloway writes. “If Trace released a statement, it would be over for Jeffrey. And that meant Maura. The show. Our TV family. Everything.” The emotional conversation, as recalled by Soloway, supports the idea that Soloway would prefer to have some conversations in private — though others, it appears, are totally fine to have in public, or fictionalized on a television show. The week of this conversation, it first became public that Soloway was dating Hannah Gadsby, something else Soloway declines to comment on for now, despite having a very public relationship (and breakup) with poet Eileen Myles (also detailed in the book).

You know, nobody out here really likes the question: ‘What do your kids think?'” Soloway said. “I don’t really like that question. I get asked that. It has absolutely nothing to do with my work. Nobody is asking politicians ‘What your kids think of your work?’ and I’m doing political work. I’m attempting to use the power of story and narrative to create motions of centering. How to center, how to move yourself from the feeling of being other to the feeling of being centered. And so it seems like I’m kind of the creative confessional housewife who’s telling her story because it’s juicy and it’s not that, you know?”

During their first Los Angeles appearance for She Wants It, Soloway took the stage to talk hot topics with Roxane Gay. Gay, a prolific and highly lauded writer and academic, shared that she has recently been trying to be less harsh on people who she finds things in common with, but has fundamental disagreements with — “Like Bernie supporters,” she suggested. Soloway seems to agree with this approach, or at least, finds the position to be more appealing than wasting time listening to detractors and self-doubt.

Sometimes I go ‘Jill, you’re too loud — shut up. Don’t publish the book, don’t speak, people are going to come after you, don’t, don’t,'” Soloway said. “And sometimes I go, ‘Actually, you haven’t even begun to have a real dent.’ I mean, women and queer people haven’t even begun to have a real dent in this political world. So you know, sacrifice the discomfort, sacrifice the potential arrows and just go for it.”

Despite winning highly-coveted awards and million dollar budgets, Soloway believes that the privilege and power they have are still so small compared to the larger, cisgender, male-driven heterosexual world that LGBTQs, women, and minorities exist in. She Wants It deploys some sports metaphors in order to help illustrate some points, and the same is true in conversation. 

“We simply aren’t even really beginning to affect the world in any real way,” Soloway said. “When I think about this budget of Transparent for four years, we’re still not even adding up to a small part of one baseball player’s salary. Four years of production, everybody’s job would be the leg of Giancarlo Stanton. One person — one baseball player and not even his whole body would be all of our capacity at Transparent.

What Soloway wants is for men to read She Wants It. Specifically, they want “cis men to engage in some of the concepts” in the book — like that their toxic homosociality and shame keep them from being able to see women as anything but objects or pawns.

They have been asked by alpha men, ‘Hey, let’s humiliate this woman together just by talking about her, by calling her a slut, by calling her a whore behind her back.’ Straight men need to say ‘I hate that when it happens to me,'” Soloway suggested. “They have been the object of this kind of bullying by being told they’re a pussy or they’re a sissy by men just like this. So I really hope that’s the one thing that would be really cool is if this book was able to move out of LGBTQ biographies, feminist rabble-rousing, and move into — I’m interested in the kind of thought leadership that people like Malcolm Gladwell get to do, and they bring ideas into the culture and the culture discusses them.”

Soloway is looking for more feminist intellectuals — they offer Gay and Jessica Valenti — and their work to break into the cis male mainstream. 

“I’m reading some of the most amazing scholarship about consent and desire and you never see men talking about it, tweeting it, promoting it,” Soloway said. “For years all of us have been — I have been promoting and forwarding and admiring the works of men, whether it’s David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs or Jon Stewart or David Letterman. Every single man who has defined my culture since the age of 21. So women, queer women, we’ve all been promoting the works of men. Why aren’t men promoting our work? Why aren’t men talking about and promoting and engaging with our ideas and work?”

A valid question, to be sure, but it makes one wonder if Soloway’s latest identity is a manifestation of needing to look more butch in order to feel deserving of that kind of seriousness. In several instances — both pre-She Wants It, in She Wants It, and on the book tour — Soloway insists that part of their new more masculine-of-center appearance is one in which they felt more powerful, “free to be a thinker.” There is a distinct difference between eschewing femininity for its personal aesthetic vs. its public appeal, and at times, it can feel like Soloway’s butchness is an orchestrated look — nonbinary, but make it fashion. Perhaps that’s because the dramatics of the “before” and “after” accompanied by commentary on the change are sometimes off-putting, which is why commentary from some Transparent fans who went to see Soloway’s book tour share a tortured, not-quite-sure sentiment.

Sometimes I’m just inspired by the way somebody like Trump thought he could be president,” Soloway said, “and the way that white men of a certain class believe they have the right to power. And the dream is — you know, for a queer trans person in my lifetime –the dream is for nonbinary vision of God.”

The struggle for Soloway, and other public figures who identify as and ultimately represent marginalized communities such as trans and queer folk, is that their public platform affords them a voice and visibility that has long been denied. Soloway understands that, but doesn’t see it as a reason to ignore the soapbox built for them to step upon, even if others would prefer they give the mic to someone else they deem more qualified. 

“The book feels like it’s really the right thing at the right time for me right now,” they said. “It couldn’t actually be more newsworthy to last week, to be in public — last month in a public, political conversation around confronting Kavanaugh, and this week being in a public political conversation around trans bodies. It actually feels very much the right time and the right book and the right conversation.”

Images via Getty

Isaac Flores and the Queer Muses of Barcelona

I met the Spanish photographer Isaac Flores at a cafe called La Principal, where we sat outside amidst the cars and the people and talked about his work, under the Barcelona sun. Sitting between a coca cola and a coffee, we discussed the thriving underground LGBTQ scene of Barcelona’s nightlife and Flores’s medium of choice. His work — his name — is known within the intimate group of Spanish queens and performers.

When I ask what parties in the city I should attend, he suggests Believe Club, where there is a drag show every night, but admits that most events are word of mouth. If I’m not intertwined with the community (which I’m not as a tourist in Barcelona), it can be difficult to traverse the whereabouts of the gritty underground scene. But if anyone knows, it’s him.

“Color can be a distracting thing,” Flores says of his black-and-white images. “The first thing you may see is a hat, or a lipstick color, or a dress. But in black and white, the first thing you see is the face or the eyes.” Still, he says, “I like to combine. I’m very versatile.”

The images in the dark, among the club walls, display people in contrast. The whites of their eyes and the blacks of their outfits eliminate unnecessary detail. The viewer is forced to look into the face of the model, their confident faces, their sensual poses. In his Belladonna series, figures in lingerie and strings of pearl necklaces are lumped over one another, looking directly in the camera, their identities both revealed and hidden. BDSM and body modifications are captured in these works alongside performances, freedom of sexuality, and the gritty underground of the city.

The black and white works examine the “present” state of the party, while Flores’s photographs in color are more polished, refined. They act as the “before” to the party. They are before the ripped tights, before the kissing on the dancefloor, before the sun rises the next morning.

It’s interesting to note when he chooses to decide to utilize color as opposed to black and white. Joy, and glamour are rich in Flores’s images, especially in the portrait of Gilda. The 90-year-old woman fled from a town outside of Barcelona where her brothers were trying to murder her. Gilda found safety in Barcelona. 

“I can’t portray her soul in black and white,” Flores says. “I wanted to portray her in color, because I think she was living a life in darkness.”

Flores shoots on polaroids, film, and digital, documenting the hearts beating in Barcelona. Through his lens, his models are glorified and, more importantly, archived.

He grew up a little bit outside of the center of the city of Barcelona in Hospitalet de Llobregat, where his mother is a housekeeper and his father was a handyman. He explains that while growing up, he relied on small references to outside culture — like music videos (Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” from director David LaChapelle) — that pertained to his gay sexuality and exploration with more feminine qualities. He didn’t have any references within his community. He was reserved, and never enjoyed school. In order to fit in and stay out of trouble, he reshaped his identity. Because of this, he says, “I feel like I’ve lost an important amount of time from my childhood and teenage years.”

When Flores was 18, his mother bought him his first camera. “My mother has always been supportive,” he says. “I owe her everything.”

In 2017, he bought an analog camera.

I didn’t have any artistic intention, I just wanted to shoot,” he says. At 24, he is shooting what he knows—his friends, muses, and community. He was able to create a style for himself which includes the themes of his immediate surroundings.

When Flores finished secondary school, he became more intertwined in the Barcelona gay community, going to discotheques, falling in love for the first time.

“When you break with your environment you have to start again,” he says, adding that he feels blessed to now live in Barcelona. “I can dress like a monster and no one will want to punch me in the face. They aren’t going to treat you like a freak.”

In this city, he found a space to fit in, where he could thrive as an individual and be his true self.

“When it’s a party, I go to the club. It’s normal for me,” Flores says.

He usually knows everyone at the party; he isn’t a stranger.

“When you are giving something to the community, the community normally responds,” he says. By celebrating the queer community through photography, the scene welcomes him. Everyone loves a good photo of themselves, supporting a friend practicing their skills. He’s treated well in the clubs — he’s given drinks, admired by his friends, and, in the process, has built his portfolio.

Flores explains that word-of-mouth discos are preferred to the gay nightspots, as the city is attempting to crack down on clubs and their hours of operation. The non-profit social clubs that exist in Barcelona ( “cannabis clubs”)  are being regulated by authorities as the Barcelona City Hall plans to place restrictions on clubs which includes limited hours of operation.

“There are only 10 [LGBTQ] clubs in Barcelona. But when they don’t let you grow, it’s a little difficult,” he says.  “When you start, you think you will go big. But then you see a wall.”

Flores sometimes goes into the club without his camera; without the intent to work.

“The camera is an extra,” he says, “When I was a fashion photographer, I was a fashion photographer. Now, I decide. If I want to go to a party and not take the camera, I don’t take the camera. I take the camera when I know it’s going to work. I want people to see me as a person, not as a photographer.”

As an artist, Flores’s process is always intentional. He’s always choosing to shoot, or not to shoot. To create with color, or work with black and white. While the images are chaotic, wild with sex and parties, his practice is serious and thoughtful.

Flores’s work will always be changing, growing, and celebratory. In the queer utopian community of Barcelona, the parties continue and the shots are taken. At only 24, he is finding his ground documenting his queer underground, the images detailing the blur of the night and freshness of day. He is illustrating a timeline of queer figures in Spain, his work a historical mapping of the artists, performers, dancers, and identities that make up queer and trans Spanish people in this metropolitan city.

Isaac Flores’ book, “Barcelona Se Muere,” is now available.  

Header image of The Woolman Family

To All The Men I Thought I Loved Before

I have been attracted to women for as long as I can remember.

My attraction to men, however, was always something up for debate in the very back of my mind. I identify as bisexual but have always flirted with the idea that I might just be gay. Some men are beautiful, sure, but was I attracted to them? Did I want to be with them or was I subconsciously clinging onto the concept of heterosexuality because it had been drilled into my brain from the moment I was cognizant?

My last boyfriend—who I broke up with because I mistook our incompatibility for me not being capable of romantic attraction to men—asked me a question after I broke up with him that forced me to analyze the decisions I was making in my romantic life: “Why did you date me if you knew you had liked women more?”

At the time, I didn’t have the answer. I still didn’t know the answer until I began the process of writing this article. It’s not that I had never had a crush on a guy, and, on paper, Will* is exactly the kind of guy I should like. But in reality, I just didn’t feel that tingle in my gut when we held hands. Throughout my life, I’ve had crushes on and relationships with both men and women, but none of my experiences with the former lived up to the ones I’ve had with the latter. Still, I don’t rule out the possibility of being attracted to a man in the same way I am to a woman.

It took a while for me to come to terms with the fact that my sexuality doesn’t require a label and that I don’t owe anyone an explanation for what I feel. From growing up thinking I was an alien in my own skin because of my attraction to women to reconciling that I still have a capacity for an attraction to men, becoming comfortable with how I identify has been a long and arduous process, and I haven’t done it alone. I want to take you through my life of crushes and flings and relationships, both from my perspective and theirs. I want to tell you how I became comfortable just being myself through my eyes and the eyes of friends and family who watched me grow. I want to give you the whole story.

Let’s travel back in time.

I’m 11 years old. I like to watch Spongebob when I get home from school while I eat a Little Debbie snack cake. I also have a crush on a boy named Ryan, who I’ve liked since the fourth grade. He’s blond, sweet and has circular wire-rimmed glasses—an accessory I still find attractive to this day. Tonight, I’m spending the night at my friend Kate’s* house. Kate has news: she has new a boyfriend who goes to a different school. I’m mad at him. I hate him. I also haven’t met him before.

“Do you guys kiss?” I ask Kate while holding up the pixelated picture of him she printed from her computer and hung up in her room. I feel sick to my stomach.

“Yeah,” she says, annoyed that I won’t stop prying for details about her romance with this mysterious boy.

“I don’t like him,” I respond. He’s not half bad looking. I pinpoint the feeling that holding his photo makes bubble inside of me: jealousy. I attribute it to me being jealous of her for dating a cute, out-of-town guy. That night at our sleepover, I want to touch her. Not in a sexual way; I just want to feel her skin. I imagine her new boyfriend holding her hand. I never want to see her again.

Randi, my hometown neighbor and good friend who I consider a second mom, remembers having a feeling that I was repressing my sexuality, “I felt [you were queer] when you were growing up. I don’t want to say I had a suspicion because that sounds like I’m accusing you of something. I just had a feeling.”

Let’s fast-forward another two years.

It’s the summer of 2008. I’m about to go into my last year of middle school. Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” is at its peak popularity. The first time I hear it, I enter crisis mode. Can girls kiss other girls? The thought hadn’t crossed my mind. I sneak onto the desktop in my house’s designated computer room and frantically Google. I learn that girls who kiss other girls are called lesbians.

“Is it a sin to be a lesbian?” I ask the Internet. I get a mixed bag of answers, but I grew up in the church and need to know for sure: is wanting to kiss girls a ticket to eternal damnation?

The election is coming up in November, and I admire Sarah Palin because she’s a woman and my parents like her.

“What does Sarah Palin say about lesbians?” I search, desperately needing some sort of comfort. The results are less than ideal. I decide to shove my feelings as far down as I possibly can. I promise myself I will never speak of this to anyone. Most importantly, I do not want to kiss girls.

My parents, who love me very much, are old school conservatives and were most concerned with economics; at the time, LGBTQ rights just weren’t on their radar. I don’t blame them for not knowing that a negative stance on same-sex marriage from a politician they endorsed might impact me. My dad explained to me that my sexuality never even crossed his mind, “I didn’t really contemplate one way or the other. It wasn’t something that was a particular concern of mine.”

Randi notes that it was around this time that I became more reclusive, “I thought you were just growing up and going through teenagehood. I just thought you had the stresses of a normal teen. Really, behind that, you were suppressing who you thought you were.”

I traded in my otherwise goofy personality for a reserved one, fearing that if I inched out of my shell even the slightest bit that I would accidentally reveal more than I wanted to, eventually ostracizing myself from my friends and family.

Let’s go forward a little bit further to 2009.

I don’t care what Sarah Palin has to say anymore, but I still don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. Who does at 15? Still, high school is hard enough without concealing your attraction to your new best friend.

Everything I feel for Greta* is too strong to deny. I spend every day with her. She calls me every night. She tells me she wants to kiss me, but she won’t. She’s as scared as I am. I more than like her—I love her.

We spend three years as best friends, only breaching the line of friendship a handful of times towards the very end. We have a falling out after I tell one of our mutual friends about what we’d been doing together, who in turn shares it with Greta.

Greta denies ever partaking in anything remotely homosexual with me; it was all in my head, she says. I start to wonder if maybe she was right—maybe it was all in my head. I’m afraid I won’t ever love anyone like this again. I’m afraid I’ve ruined my life. I know that a good bit of my fear is irrational and stems from lack of perspective, but at the same time, mine is the only perspective I have.

A good chunk of time has passed between our falling out and the time of me writing this—about six years, to be exact. We have since reconciled and there is no bad blood between us. I wanted to talk to her for this piece. I wanted to ask her how my being so openly attracted to her made her feel and if it had influenced the way she behaved towards me. At first she obliged to be interviewed but became elusive when it came to actually setting a time to talk. It’s disappointing, but I understand. Maybe she truly doesn’t care anymore and it just isn’t a priority. Maybe I was a blip in her timeline and talking about it would remind her of a piece of herself she’s not ready to revisit. This is a feeling I can empathize with.

Now let’s go forward to college.

I’m depressed. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. Boys like me. I don’t really care. I hook up with a few of them, but nothing is permanent. I don’t care to date. Sophomore year, I form a crush on a girl in my Social Sciences class. I have yet to feel anything remotely close to what I felt for Greta for anyone else, but this girl may be a good candidate. We have a group project together and get along great. We have the same sense of humor. I’m incredibly attracted to her.

I take a leap and send her a risky text, “Hey, hopefully this isn’t weird or anything because I’m a girl. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable. But would you maybe want to go out sometime? No pressure.”

My palms are more sweaty than usual when I see three dots emerge on the screen. Her reply pops up rather quickly. She’s straight, unfortunately. But she tells me something that’s stuck with me, “Don’t ever apologize for asking a girl out. It’s not weird. Screw any girl who thinks it’s weird.”

Damn, I think. I’m disheartened, sure, but I’m also completely reinvigorated. It’s not weird. I keep playing the words on a loop in my head. I decide to stop hiding myself from the world. I write a note in my phone to remind myself, “People will think you are who you behave to be, so be yourself.”

Let’s travel into the much nearer past: March of 2018.

At this point in time, I’ve dated a couple of women but mostly men, purely because the ratio of boys I consider dateable to girls I’m attracted to who are also attracted to me is about 50:1.

I meet Hanna.* I can already tell she’s going to break my heart, but that doesn’t stop me because I’m a little bit stupid. She tells me she’s never felt this way for a girl before. We’re inseparable for about a week, and then she starts to trickle away. She’s busy. She’s not in a place to be in a relationship. I take the hint. She doesn’t want to be in a relationship with me. I move on. I meet a Will. We start dating in July.

I love her.

Now it’s September.

Will is beautiful and I had faith that we’d be good together. In the beginning, it was normal; now, he’s extremely possessive. I can’t breathe without him worrying I’ll leave. He’s terrified that I still like Hanna. Every single one of my actions, however minute and meaningless, is analyzed to no end and I have to reassure him daily that I still want to be with him. I don’t know how to tell him I don’t.

It’s late. I post a screenshot of the song I’m listening to—Phoebe Bridgers’ “Motion Sickness”—onto my Instagram story, not for any reason in particular other than I just like the song. Within a couple of minutes, somebody replies to my story: “!!! Phoebe Bridgers is the love of my life.” I recognize the username.

Familiar goosebumps rise and I know I’m about to jump down a rabbit hole I won’t be able to climb back out of. We don’t know each other aside from following one another on Instagram. She’s stunning. She’s brilliant. She’s just my type. I have a boyfriend. I’m not going to flirt.

We message back and forth, mostly about nothing, and I start to form a crush. I feel safe and divulge my secrets to her. I tell her I felt guilty for not feeling what I have felt for girls for Will and that I feel trapped by his insecurity. She tells me what I need to hear: “You can make the really hard choices now and maybe fuck up or you can wake up 20 years from now with a whole lot of regret about not doing what your gut was screaming at you to do the whole time.”

The next day, I come out to my parents. I also tell them I plan to break up with Will.

About a half hour after I come out to them, I drive to Will’s house to tell him I’m gay. As expected, he was devastated. I knew to prepare for the worst when I rescinded my verbal agreement to be with him. The version of me he had in his head was not the me who lives in reality, and I am partially responsible for that.

For a lot of my life, I was acting. I was performing because I feared I would hurt someone if they knew the truth. I feared for his well-being and prioritized it over my own—an unfortunate commonality in women who stay with men they know aren’t right for them. It is expected that we sacrifice ourselves for the happiness of others. This is not fair. The space that should have been reserved for my emotions was overshadowed by his insecurities, and any ounce of doubt on my end—real or perceived—was not handled well.

Will texted me a couple days after the breakup, “I know it happened and it was good but everything I thought I had was a lie? Sounds corny but I’m for real.” He is not entirely wrong. He is also not blameless in the creation of this lie. Idealization is not love. Backing someone into a corner by making them feel like it will destroy you if you don’t reciprocate their feelings is not love. He is not a bad person for not loving me right just as I am not a bad person for not being able to love him.

Michael,* one of my exes who shared the same fears as Will when he dated me, has a valuable perspective to offer. He had an inkling that I wasn’t offering myself to him in the same capacity I had previously offered myself to women. “I wouldn’t say I was worried because you identified as bisexual, but I definitely had thoughts like, ‘What if an ex comes back who’s a girl?’ I was worried in the same way that any couple might worry about the other person’s ex. But there is definitely a different dynamic there because I knew you were able to have a different understanding with a woman.”

Hanna came back into my life briefly a week after Will and I broke up. We hung out one night as friends, which we quickly realized neither of us is very good at. When we said goodnight, she kissed me, told me she’d missed me and would see me soon. The next morning, she told me that she had feelings for me but had been seeing someone else. A few weeks later, she posted a picture of her and her new boyfriend on Instagram. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt, but just as I’m entitled to be who I am, she’s entitled to be who she is.

Will found out about the kiss and sent me a less than pleasant text: “You used me, Darby. You led me on. You used me to lie to yourself.”

Part of me wants to be apologetic for dating Michael and Will when at my core I knew that I had felt more for women in the past. An overwhelming part of me is sympathetic to myself. I still don’t rule out the possibility of feeling for a man what I have felt for women, and I will continue to date who I want to date. Gender is a factor, but not a determining one. There are no rules for which two souls can have a connection. It just so happens that I’ve only had those connections with a handful of people—all women—up to this point in my life.

Randi explains my transformation better than I could, “I think when you were younger you were very quiet. You kept a lot of things in. I think you’re more expressive now. You’re not editing what you say anymore. You don’t care about judgment and you feel freer in your speech. I have always adored you as a person and your sexual preference doesn’t define you. It’s just one small part of who you are.”

We all deserve to be ourselves. We all deserve happiness. Be with whoever makes you feel good. If you aren’t sure if someone will make you feel good, it’s okay to test the waters. If you end up not liking them, that’s fine. If you end up loving them, that’s fine, too. Live your life without pretense. There’s no use for it. The people who love you will stick around; just be you.

*Pseudonym

Image via Getty

Voice Therapy Helps Trans People Sing At Different Frequencies

One of the most defining gender characteristics, voice, often gets overlooked in technology and medicine, but new advances in voice therapy may help transgender people feel more like their true gender.

While hormones may help some people change their voice, they don’t work for everyone. But new research shows promising options in coaching and speech therapy for transgender people whose voices don’t change after hormones. The research sessions used biofeedback from voice frequencies shown on computer screens to help participants modulate their voices.

Actress and advocate Delia Kropp, 61, tried all the traditional hormones for transitioning male-to-female, including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone blockers.

“As with all trans women, these made no noticeable changes or feel to my voice,” she said.

But Kropp, who lives in Chicago, wanted her voice to match her gender, not only to experience less misgendering, but also to help with her career. She self-trained her voice to sound more feminine using YouTube and books, and she took lessons with theatre voice coach Kate DeVore.

“To some [my voice] reads female, to others it doesn’t,” she said. “It’s largely a challenge on the phone, where I am repeatedly misgendered. Professionally, my voice can be a challenge for acting female roles. I have yet to develop a convincingly female voice for the stage because the size, dynamic range, and power required to hold an audience’s attention for two hours does not brook feminization well [for me]. When auditioning for cisgender female roles, this sometimes holds me back.”

Kropp transitioned her voice with the help of a vocal coach and self-teaching, after hormones failed to help. She has since contributed to a professional vocal coach manual. 

Many transgender people have similar experiences due to their voices being different than what’s considered traditional for their gender. But voice and speech therapy often go uncovered by medical insurance. However, research at New York University shows the success of new vocal training options.

The study, published in the Journal of Voice, documents how NYU speech pathologists Deanna Kawitzky and Tara McAllister helped transgender women raise their voices to a more feminine tone.

The study used visual-acoustic biofeedback, which relies on microphones and computers to help people see the frequency of their voices on computer screens. Frequency refers to how often the sound wave vibrates. The more it vibrates, the higher and more feminine the sound. Frequency can be changed by reshaping mouth motions, but this can be difficult.

The study compared the voices of 12 transgender women and 19 cisgender men. Initially, the transgender women produced a slightly higher voice than the men, but the difference was small. Both groups naturally produced a more masculine voice range.  But seeing voice targets on screens and sessions to practice reaching those targets helped produce change.

Participants spoke vowels in the contexts of short words, such as “bat,” into a microphone, and their pitch formant frequency, or resonance, was shown as a wave on a screen. The participants were given a target that approximated the average vowel frequency of a cisgender female. They were asked to try to match that target by manipulating their resonance. The biofeedback would show how close they came to reaching the target. Finally, after attempting to reach the higher frequency multiple times, the participants were asked to say the vowel with their eyes closed in order to try to get the words to sound less stretched out and more natural.

The study measured formants, which are frequencies controlled by the movement and position of the vocal tract. Changing the movement of the mouth can make the voice sound higher or lower. 

In the end, the trans women were able to significantly shift their frequency formants to better match the biofeedback targets, and blinded listeners rated the words produced with higher frequencies as “more feminine” sounding. Frequencies are controlled by different vocal trace movements positions.

Biofeedback is traditionally used to monitor vitals like heart rate, but this study shows it has the potential to change how transgender people modify their voices.

“Research on transgender voice therapy has been limited but is expanding, and we’re excited to have identified a new direction with biofeedback,” study author Kawitzky said.

Transgender voice training is a relatively new branch of voice therapy, but it can help transgender people feel more confident in their gender presentation.

“I came [into NYU] knowing I wanted to learn more about the intersection of voice and gender and methods for transgender voice therapy as a way to help trans people find a voice that matches their presentation of their gender identity,” Kawitzky said. “When I became a research assistant at Tara’s Biofeedback Intervention Technology for Speech lab, which studies the use of biofeedback to change speech patterns, we decided to collaborate on this study as my master’s thesis.”

Though the field is just beginning, it’s also growing. Adrienne Hancock, a speech pathology associate professor at George Washington University, has dedicated her research to transgender voice and communication, and has watched the field grow throughout her career.

“When I came to work at GW, I started teaching voice and working with voice disorders, and I realized that the clinic at GW had a lot of trans people working on their voice,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of research on that at the time in 2005. It’s growing a lot. 2011 was the first time that voice and communication was included in the factor in the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People Care Guidelines.”

Before biofeedback, transgender voice training relied on tactile perception, or how it feels when the person speaks, and also on auditory perception. This study shows that biofeedback can add another dimension to voice training by helping the patient visually see how their voice works, and what they can do to change it. It also gives people the opportunity to train their voice from home, or practice between sessions.

Despite this progress, work still needs to be done to help all transgender people access this kind of care.

“I think utilizing technology would be helpful to provide the services more through telehealth, long-distance ways, and improve overall access to this care,” Hancock said. “This is a problem right now particularly for trans people, and particularly marginalized trans people, like trans people of color or trans people with socioeconomic challenges who may want and benefit from voice and speech modification, but they can’t access it for any number of reasons.”

Those who can’t access a professional voice therapist can also turn to vocal coaches. In Chicago, a music instructor works with transgender singers to both modify their voice and become confident with the voice they have.

Hodges, an LGBTQ advocate, started offering this service after he was invited to workshop with ResonatE, Chicago’s transgender choir.  He said he sees trans people wanting their voices to change instantly, but for most, it doesn’t work like that. Instead, it’s a slow, personal process.

“I’ve worked with trans men whose voices dropped quickly, and some take a long time,” he said. “I love using the second puberty illustration because just as in puberty, everyone did it at different times. When you’re transitioning, there is no timeline. Everyone’s body absorbs hormones differently and adapts to them differently.”

Actor Donnie Cianciotto of Staten Island had a very high voice before he started taking hormones in 2012. Hormones quickly made changes in his voice, but it took him six years to gain control of the changes.

“The doctor I had at the time put me on what is considered twice the average dose of hormones because my estrogen count was particularly high,” Cianciotto, 38, said. “The first thing that it did was it affected my range where I could only speak two or three notes. I couldn’t speak very high or very low.”

With the more limited vocal range, Cianciotto felt like he had lost control of his voice and could no longer engage in one of his passions: singing.

“For the first two and half, maybe three years, I couldn’t sing at all,” Cianciotto said. “There was no ability. I would go to sing a song I had been singing all my life, and I couldn’t do it. You could definitely tell there was a difference there as it was adjusting. It lasted a really long time.”

That’s where vocal coaching comes in. Hodges helps transitioning vocalists find the center of their voice, or a natural, comfortable place to sing, and warns them that singing in the wrong vocal range could cause vocal injury.

Cianciotto said that after taking vocal lessons, he finally feels comfortable with his singing voice, but the process of getting to that point was not easy.

“It was hard emotionally for a hot minute because even though I hated my [pre-transition] speaking voice, I loved my singing voice,” he said. “When it went away, I was afraid it was never going to come back. I had to stop performing because I couldn’t sing. It was traumatic to lose this thing that I’ve had my whole life.” Now he’s training to sing with the new voice he has.

Because the vocalist’s natural voice may not be the voice desired, Hodges reminds his clients that their voice is beautiful no matter how feminine or masculine it sounds.

“Yes, I’m a vocal instructor, but I’m also a confidence booster,” he said. “When you have a trans man whose voice isn’t transitioning the way they want it to, it can be very emotional because they want the whole package. They want society to see them as a man. If I’m working with a trans man and the voice is high, I let them know that that’s their voice. Your voice doesn’t have to be anything but yours.”

When A Joke About Queer People Becomes A Metaphor For Respectability Politics

There’s a funny story my family likes to tell about being gay.

In the mid-1980s, my late Aunt Sharon came out as a lesbian. She had just finished law school, a setting that embraced her “lifestyle,” and was deposited into a world where queerness and family aren’t easily bridged. Unprompted and unsolicited, she blurted out her identity to my grandfather, as my grandmother and Aunt Colleen stood watch.

My grandfather stared at her, confused but not angry, at the head of the kitchen table wearing boxer shorts and a dirty tee. He was silent and stony for some time while she pouted, awaiting his analysis.

“That doesn’t explain why you don’t have a job.”

His tone was sharp, flat, with a tilt at the end. A job. The two words were little barbs he poked into her, telling her that he could give a shit about her sexuality: he just wanted to know why she’s unemployed despite both an undergraduate and law degree. Why does a job matter? Aunt Sharon must have thought through fat sobs. Do I not matter?

We still laugh at this story. My family gets together and we laugh and laugh and laugh about how Aunt Sharon’s coming out to grandpa was overshadowed by her unemployment.

I learned the lesson from this story quickly. As Aunt Sharon’s queer nephew, I came out as gay in 2007 and I wanted to avoid the laughs. It took me two years and perhaps a lifetime of thinking to prepare myself. I moved to Los Angeles after college and, two years after select friends and family knowing about “it,” it was time to let my parents know. There were hurdles: I needed a stable job, stable transportation, stable housing, and stable control of student loan debt. With young life’s landmarks wrangled, I was well equipped to tell my parents that, yes, I am a functional adult – and I’m a big fucking queer.

My coming out was ultimately underwhelming: I had made myself too presentable successful, even in the eyes of my Catholic, Georgia based parents, to my military father and my Puerto Rican mother. A near decade after my coming out, the searing laughter at Aunt Sharon lingers still as my younger sister, Mickey Fitzpatrick, must confront this adorable family issue with her own coming out.

“Do you think telling mom and dad at Thanksgiving is a bad idea?” she asked me by text a few months ago.

“I don’t think it’s an awful idea,” I texted back, hesitant only because of potential familial confrontations. A job rang through intergenerational lifelines, nuzzled between words.

She’s in a liminal albeit secure phase of her life. She recently began a sociology doctoral program at a southern research institute after completing undergraduate studies. She’s an overeager, overachieving student who lives a queer life away from our parents. Still, like me, she doesn’t know how to approach sharing her identity: she doesn’t want the instability of young adulthood to cloud her queerness.

“If this goes south, I have to make sure I’m already financially stable and not dependent,” she tells me, emphasizing that she can’t depend on someone whose view of you can easily shift. Her negotiation is tangled at the intersection of familial understandings of the world: she is the only daughter in our family of six, one framed by Hispanic, Catholic, southern, and military cultures. It’s complicated.

“I feel a sense of internalized homophobia for myself because of the way that mom attempted to really femme me up,” Mickey says. “There are a lot of checkpoints that she wants me to hit that I know I’m not going to. With dad, it’s a whole different ball game…His reaction makes me nervous because of his ties to the military and the Republican party.”

The blocks that Mickey and I (and even Aunt Sharon) face aren’t new, and they affect the greater queer community: these are matters of respectability, that you can live a queer life but you can only do so within society’s understanding of life at large. Socioeconomics and ethnocultural understandings of behavior are to blame, as are gendered roles and “traditional” life benchmarks. This problem occasionally trends in queer media, as Queer Eye’s Tan France’s family were only proud of him after watching the show while drag queen Monét X Change’s mother’s acceptance of their lifestyle was tied to Drag Race’s popularity. As Eileen Myles wrote in “An American Poem,” “I’ll be a poet.” They then reveal what lies beneath such a thought: “What could be more foolish and obscure. I became a lesbian.”

Yuvraj Joshi, human rights lawyer and doctoral scholar at Yale Law School, has been interested in this phenomena for years. “I think of respectability in contrast to respect,” Joshi explains, noting respect as an “acceptance of difference” while respectability “suggests acceptance of the norm.” The matter places the pressure on others ceasing their “unacceptable difference” instead of blanketing acceptance toward another approach to life, to alternative ways of living and thriving.

The trickle down of respectability is much more than Aunt Sharon getting a job, but alters human rights and recognition of queer persons. “Even where legal recognition has been afforded to same-sex relationships, it has tended to center on their normalcy rather than their diversity and inherent worth,” Joshi says. The 2015 marriage equality ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges is a great example of this: instead of changing or adapting what marriage means, same-sex couples were instead slid into a heterosexual norm to illustrate that they, too, are worthy. “Put another way,” Joshi explains, “Respectability — not respect — underpinned the legal right to marriage equality.”

As my family is evidence of, the weight of respect comes with an assortment of internalized problems: Joshi points to shame, conspicuous consumption, and conformity as a few byproducts of being respectable. Yet, as Mickey and I discussed, the fact that we’re able to have such a conversation represents luxuries and privileges we have been afforded. “Benefiting from respectability entails drawing on existing economic, social, and cultural capital that is accessible to relatively few queers,” Joshi says. “Respectability is measured by proximity to white, male, middle-class heterosexuality, and not everyone is able or willing to fit the mold.”

Whether intentional or not, I have put myself up to a mold that was given to Aunt Sharon by my grandfather as the marker of my own queer acceptance. This, in some ways, has been a driver to leap over common benchmarks, to be as successful as possible in order to still be seen as part of the family or worthy. My sister – who is pursuing a doctorate in sociology – and my Aunt – who had a law degree – participate in bowing to the pressure too. You could call it an accidental form of queer excellence.

D’Lane Compton, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of New Orleans, sees this behavior as a queer norm. Compton suggests queer persons’ over-education – 46 percent of lesbian and gay individuals and 33 percent of bisexuals have college degrees – as proof of our inclination to overcompensate. “That’s a huge statistical difference,” Compton says. “It’s actually a remarkable difference.” Similarly, gay people typically make more money than their straight peers. While an explanation for this remains elusive (Higher education? Lack of children? Whiteness?), the fact persists.

This may relate to a queer intelligence at play, of juggling different, intertwined identities in order to be deemed worthy. “At every turn, we’re going to be ostracized or have to deal with microaggressions,” Compton says. This all informs very complicated queer self-concepts which are the manifestations of our own mental intersections. “We have these ideas of who we are but we have this single self-concept of who we are and they all affect one another,” Compton explains. “Our different identities intertwine.”

While Millennials wrestle with prioritizing selves to be respectable, this issue may minimize under the heels of our increasingly queer next wave of adults, Gen Z. “They’re working within the system to change the system,” Compton explains, reflecting on their experience with queer students, which stands in contrast to Millennial queers looking for loopholes or working around respectability problems.

Compton theorizes that younger queer persons are dismantling respectability by reconstructing the map to success, a quality that many queers at large participate in. We seek peers and public figures who have thrived despite adversity in order to thrive ourselves. It’s the “power of the role model and visibility,” of queer and non-queer minority figures overcoming barriers, that is yielding change. “That’s where we’ve taken our map from,” Compton says. “We’re piecemealing this together depending on our resources.

For now – for my family, for my sister, Mickey – this future may appear far away, as if the workload of acceptance only gets heavier with each reveal of the self, given the initial jab at Aunt Sharon. Are we all jokes to them or will they eventually see us completely?It’s not the duty of the marginalized to educate the oppressor,” Mickey says. “But, in instances like this, you can’t kind of just do whatever you want or be whoever you want to be…What experiences can I share with someone who is holding me to their standards so they can understand my humanity instead of my merit?”

“Regardless of what I accomplish in my life, I am still a person – and still deserve respect regardless of my job, ability to pay my bills, my sexuality,” Mickey says. “I’m still a person and I deserve respect.”

Perhaps this is the part of the story that we’ve forgotten to tell in my family: maybe Aunt Sharon spat back at her father – my grandfather, the Fitzpatrick patriarch – to say that her worth isn’t predicated on a paycheck. Yes, that may help a man like my grandfather and people like my parents understand a queer person better – but our lives and our paths and our ways of living are not the same. This needs to be recognized.

Perhaps this was why Aunt Sharon sobbed at the barb that we still laugh at. Perhaps she knew that, one day, people like her would redefine the definitions that sought to steal her power. She happened to be too early for respect.

How The National Women’s Soccer League Inspired LGBTQ Inclusion In Professional Sports

There are always several flags draped over the fan section railing at Houston Dash games. They often change from season to season: an Irish tri-color one is switched for a South African flag, an English banner added in between as players are traded and shuffle between teams. Various colors and designs represent different groups, communities, or countries, reminding players and fans alike that all are welcome inside the stadium. But one flag, perhaps the brightest of them all, stays put: the rainbow flag for LGBTQ pride.

This year, Dash players brought the flag onto the field, donning those rainbow stripes on the backs of their jerseys.

National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) teams across the country are recognizing their LGBTQ fanbases through hosting Pride Nights and donating proceeds to related charities. This kind of LGBTQ visibility largely emerged in 2015, when most teams celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. While the community has always had a large presence at games, official support by team management advocates for the inclusivity of the league. Every NWSL team but one had an official Pride Night this year in June, and various teams increased efforts to demonstrate their support for the LGBTQ community.

In comparison to other professional sports leagues, the NWSL ranks among the top for acknowledging the community, with teams hosting Pride Nights as early as the league’s first year in 2013. The WNBA followed, launching the first-ever national Pride campaign in 2014, marketing specifically towards LGBTQ fans. While certain MLB teams have hosted Pride games for over a decade now, and NBA teams are now joining the push, the NWSL’s unique combination of visible campaigns as well as player advocacy sets it apart from other leagues.

The Houston Dash debuted jerseys with rainbow numbers on the back this year to auction off to benefit PrideHouston, which hosts LGBT charity events as well as the annual parade in the city. The game-signed jerseys raised more than $12,000.

“For me, when I was in high school and younger, not as out or not as comfortable with myself, seeing rainbow things meant the world to me,” Dash fan Cat Taylor said. “I also liked that the Dash chose a local organization because the biggest impact you can have is donating to some of the small organizations that deal directly with the LGBT [community].”

The Dash partnered with PrideHouston as an official event for the first time, kicking off Pride Weekend with a themed soccer game. Tickets purchased through a special package also included a donation to the organization.

“We had the game on Friday night, and we actually had girls out in the parade and the festival on Saturday,” Houston Dash spokeswoman Valerie Holland said. “It was really showing how we could have a partnered relationship where it’s not just one-sided. It’s building a partnership with them which is something that can last now for years to come.”

The Utah Royals, a newly established team, hosted a Pride Night in their first year of operation. While the Real Salt Lake franchise was founded in 2004, it wasn’t until they brought in a women’s side this year that the other teams, Real Salt Lake of the MLS and Real Monarchs of the USL, began hosting Pride Nights. The three teams created history by hosting the first Pride-themed events of any major sports team in Utah.

“I think that says a lot about who we are,” Utah Royals spokeswoman Carla Haslam said. “I like to think that since we were the first, that it inspired or encouraged other teams to do the same.”

The Royals also debuted rainbow jerseys, some of which were auctioned off to support a scholarship fund at the University of Utah for LGBTQ students. In August, Royals forward Katie Stengel, who identifies as an ally, wrote about how soccer taught her to be compassionate toward a community she’s not a part of.

“[The rainbow jerseys] actually came from the players,” Haslam said. “A lot of members of the team are very outspoken about gay pride, those that are both members of the LGBTQ community and those that are not.”

In Florida, the Orlando Pride first wore rainbow jerseys in 2017. This year, they added a franchise-wide campaign called Pride in Our City, which honored the victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Tickets purchased through the campaign included a donation to one of five Orlando-area LGBTQ nonprofits, most of which were established following the shooting at Pulse.

Similarly, on the West Coast, the Portland Thorns partnered with Basic Rights Oregon and LGBTQ community hub the Q Center, while Seattle Reign donated to the Greater Seattle Business Association Scholarship for LGBTQ students. Both the North Carolina Courage and Sky Blue FC extended their celebrations, with the Courage hosting a Pride Week and Sky Blue hosting two themed games in partnership with the Pride Center of New Jersey. The rainbow trend also popped up on the Chicago Red Stars’ warm-up tops, which feature colored numbers that were auctioned to benefit You Can Play. The project aims to ensure the inclusion of all athletes in sports.

“We want every fan there to feel that representation,” Chicago Red Stars Strategic Insights Manager Bryn Raschke said. “We want to go out there and visibly show it and make sure everyone feels welcome the same way.”

In 2018, where teams haven’t gotten involved, fans have stepped up. The Washington Spirit were the only team without a designated Pride Night. So the Spirit Squadron, the supporters’ group, hosted their own celebration as they have for the past couple of years. Out players on the team such as Joanna Lohman pushed for support for the community, finally getting the front office to acknowledge the theme by painting rainbows along the field.

“For us, it was kind of an automatic thing: we have to have a Pride Night,” Squadron member Courtney Buchanan said. “We have a huge population of queer folk in the Spirit Squadron. We joke that the straights are the minority, because it’s one of the few places where we can be and we’re the norm so it was really important for us and also some of our players to be able to celebrate that. [The organization] painting the rainbow symbols on the field, it truly makes us feel welcome, and it makes us feel like they want us there.”

Players are also pushing for the inclusive environment. This year, 25 NWSL players teamed up with Playing for Pride, a fundraising campaign in which donations were broken down per game played, assist and goal. The Royals led the campaign with the most player-ambassadors, which included Stengel and US national team co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn. By the end of Pride Month, the player-ambassadors had raised more than $20,000 for Athlete Ally, a nonprofit aiming to end homophobia in sports. Professional athletes who openly identify with the LGBTQ community add to the acceptance fans feel when they walk into the stadium.

“It’s about using my career as something bigger than scoring goals,” said Spirit midfielder Lohman, who came out publicly in 2011. “I want to use my platform as a voice for people around the world who are forced into violence because they don’t have the same privileges I do and they don’t feel safe to be their own authentic self.”

For many fans, out players, in particular, serve as role models. Athletes including Lohman and Seattle Reign and US national team forward Megan Rapinoe, who came out publicly in 2012, inspire others by normalizing their vocal presence.

“[There are] so many people that we can look and say, ‘Oh yeah they’re the same as me’,” Buchanan said. “They fit in and it’s OK, it’s not this terrible awful thing because for some of us that’s all we’ve heard most of our lives.”

The NWSL also is uniquely open; fans and players interact in ways not found in other leagues. Players are known to stay after matches to talk to fans, some even learning each other’s names.

“The connection between fans and player and what that represents, there’s no other league or sport that does it quite as well,” said a Houston Dash fan named Cara, who did not want her last name published. “The accessibility between the fans and the players is unparalleled across any other sport, and the dedication the players have to it means you can make a connection with them.”

The constant presence of rainbow banners and flags even outside Pride Month, along with the close relationships between fans and players foster the loud and proud atmosphere at games. For some, the stands represent one of the few safe spaces where they can be open about their sexuality.

“I had just come out to my family [when I] started to get involved with Dash games,” Cara said. “Having an environment that’s loving and supporting was a really important thing to have just starting to come to terms with everything. Now I’m more comfortable with myself than I ever was or than I ever thought I could be and more confident, and getting to see that with the players and their support of it, there’s no words for it.”

Some fans attribute that strong connection between athletes and fans to the bold empowerment of female athletes.

“Any time you see women being strong in various roles, it definitely resonates with a lot of people who are not necessarily recognized in most of mainstream society,” Dash fan Taylor said. “One of the things I’ve noticed is that any time there’s large groups of women who are willing to be themselves, you’re going to gather more LGBT people.”

While promotion and support has grown since the founding of the league, fans see room for improvement by making the themed events consistent across teams. The rainbow numbers are a popular way of creating visibility on the field, though only three teams have adopted it thus far. Other fans wish to see backing for the community outside the colorful marketing, such as gender-neutral bathrooms.

A recent controversy involving Jaelene Hinkle of the North Carolina Courage seemed to fall contrary to the inclusive mindset the NWSL has embraced, according to Thorns fan Jo Thomson. Hinkle spoke to Christian news outlet 700 Club at the Courage stadium on her decision to withdraw from US women’s national team consideration because she did not want to wear a rainbow jersey for Pride Month.

“I find it distressing when the Courage invite 700 Club to their stadium to come do a feature on [Hinkle]. You don’t have to be a member of the LGBTQ community to know that it’s a homophobic program that espouses a homophobic agenda,” Thomson said. “As a governing body I think the NWSL could step in more often and say ‘You know what, I don’t think that’s an appropriate news outlet to be covering our team.’”

However, the trend upward of support by large sports teams is creating optimism not just for LGBTQ fans, but the community as a whole. Though the 2018 season has wrapped up, fans hope the goodwill between the NWSL and the community will catch on with other sports leagues.

“Every year it’s getting easier to be who you are,” Sky Blue FC fan Brittany Reggiero said. “It feels great to be a fan of a team who accepts you and loves you no matter who you love. I think it’s gaining a lot of ground and the future looks bright.”

Images via Getty

Bringing My Family Public

I’d chosen the salon solely based on its proximity to our apartment and the fact it opened at 8 a.m..  I was the only customer there and I felt exposed sitting on the raised chair, cape around my neck. The stylist approached in the mirror, tall and slim, in a form-fitting black dress and reddish-orange lipstick.  

“What are we doing today?” she asked in a slightly raspy voice, with the echo of an accent.  

“To my hair?” I asked. “I’m not sure.”

This wasn’t just because I’m generally clueless with my hair. What I wanted wasn’t tangible. I was there for a blowout but what I wanted was strength.

I met Mitch when I was 35. Over the course of our first three dates, we discussed marriage, having kids, and the fact that Mitch was seriously considering transitioning from female to male. Five months after we’d shared our first kiss, he began hormone replacement therapy and we traveled across the country for his top surgery. We bought my engagement ring on that trip, as he was still bandaged and woozy from pain meds – it’s a nice ring.

In a typical non-typical pattern, marriage and kids followed. I got pregnant using a known donor, a dear friend of mine, who lived across the country and was thrilled to be a part of creating our family. Then for our second child, we used his husband.

In our new parent world, we found ourselves somewhat buried in the closet. We didn’t start off with that intention, but as new friends became closer, it seemed so hard to change course, as if it had jumped from too soon to tell to too late to. At times, it felt like we were living two separate lives, one where we happily consorted at queer parent events, or hung out with our old friends, talking freely about everything, and the one where we bonded with straight parents, while side-stepping questions about who the kids really looked like. Every time, I shrugged and said “I guess they look like a lot of people,” a little part of my stomach curled into itself.

Then, through a contact at our LGBTQ Center, we were contacted by a national magazine, wanting to interview us as part of a segment on transgender identity.

We considered the implications for our children and ourselves. This wasn’t just coming out, it was coming out on the internet, the modern-day equivalent of etching something in stone, and a stone that people can not only harshly comment on but can throw back at you. On top of that, Mitch wasn’t out at work, nor did he think they would be particularly supportive. His job provided our entire income and health insurance; losing it would have been devastating.

But not only did this feel like an important personal step, but we believed that sharing our story was important, that putting our life out there could make things easier for others. We both came of age in the early ‘90s, having never seen a representation of queer family, and we believe representation does matter. And as a white, middle-class couple, living in a liberal center with a supportive family, we certainly had enough of a “privilege cushion” to make the risks less terrifying. So we said yes.

If I was going to come out on a national forum, the least I could do was look pretty, so I booked a blowout — which is how I’d ended up in the salon on the morning of the shoot, being asked a question I didn’t know how to answer.

I looked closer at the woman behind me with a glimmer of wonder, and felt like the world was hugging me. I told her I just wanted to look natural, but prettier. I wanted something that would look good on camera.  

“What’s it about?” she asked as she began to do my hair.  

There’s something intimate about having your hair done; the physical contact as a brush moves through your hair, fingers brushing skin next to your face. So in between the roar of the hairdryer, I told her.

“I’m transgender, too,” she said, softly. I nodded. And then I started to cry, just a few quiet tears tracing my cheek. I couldn’t think of anything more perfect than being made beautiful by this transgender woman. It seemed too much of a coincidence to be taken lightly. As her fingers and hands grazed my scalp or cheeks, it felt like she was imbuing my waves with power.

I went home, did my make-up in the bathroom mirror, and then sat down for the camera. Mitch and I were each interviewed alone, then together. We sat at our breakfast table, my hand snaked across to meet his, and we talked.

When it was over, I expected to feel a surge of panic, but I didn’t. It felt like something had cracked open. Somehow saying to the camera and to the world that I was proud of my family gave me permission to be.  

After the interview, it was like a gate opened. We told friend after friend, some of whom were surprised, others who weren’t. I started to share more on Facebook and write essays about our family, which eventually led to another video interview, for which I got another blowout. But that time, I didn’t need the blowout to protect me. The second video was of our whole family, including the kids and our two donors. Seeing the flow of our lives together felt like a gift, this full holler that this was us, and we were lucky and loved.

That didn’t mean it wasn’t still hard and scary. The internet trolls still posted vomit emojis, called us child abusers and offered to pray for our souls. But friends from far and wide also posted messages of support, as did strangers who thanked us for sharing and tried to educate the ignorant. But I stopped reading the comments, because I didn’t want the negativity to grab hold again.

I’ve spent too much of my life worrying about what others think of me. As a parent and partner, that didn’t change, and focusing that worry on what other people thought of me, my husband and our family, had a nasty side effect of making my gaze hyper-critical and defensive. When you focus on looking for flaws and chinks in your armor, that’s all you can do.  I don’t want armor anymore. It’s so heavy and exhausting. I don’t want my kids to ever know what it feels like. The world might still try to weigh us down, but I’m going to try my damnedest not to add to that weight.

Images by Michael Pries