The Bedroom Series: Henry Giardina

I’ve always loved the idea of creating space — whether via collaborative projects you can hold in your hands, or through written words in story form, or by carving out a digital alley then bombarding the internet with photos of people who are doing rad things. For INTO‘s Bedroom Series, I’ll focus on one trans guy per post who will invite me into the most private of created spaces: the bedroom. 

We’ll lay around, stare at the ceiling and I’ll ask questions and maybe they’ll even answer. Either way, I’ll get some photos out of it, and you’ll get to meet someone new. 

First up is Henry, a writer I first met in Brooklyn, who now lives in Los Angeles.

The human: Henry Giardina

The bedroom: Glassell Park, Los Angeles. 

The current job: Writer, editor. 

The passion project: My novel. 

Your bedroom is a stand-alone situation with a shower and everything! Does it remind you of a cabin in the woods, or like a retreat?

It does. It reminds me of a tiny writer’s studio/fancy prison room. I like how contained it is, and I love being able to always have the toilet in full view.

How long have you been here?

Since I moved to L.A. in June of 2016.

Describe your personal bedroom decor.

Lots of skincare bullshit, lots of books, and a few random postcards people have sent me. Lots of wires and Charlie (the dog) belongings. There’s almost always a chewed up squirrel toy next to me when I’m working. 

Does your bedroom have a secret?

It’s very old, so probably. But none of mine. 

Favorite aspect of your bedroom?

The ceiling is great. It’s made from reclaimed wood from the 1920s. 

Least favorite aspect of your bedroom?

My dog can stare me in the eye while I’m peeing. 

If your bedroom had a name (and gender), what would it be?

It’s been compared to Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

What’s the most productive thing you’ve been able to conquer in your bedroom?

There was a random moment a year or so ago where I was waking up at 6 am due to anxiety and I ended up writing a ton of weird fairy tales in the hour or so before going to work. It lasted for maybe a month. 

How many people could you fit in here?

Two would be pushing it. 

What’s a typical evening look like?

Me trying to watch a competitive baking show naked while Charlie harasses me with his squirrel toy. 

For more on Henry: Check out henrygiardina.com and follow him on Twitter @punkgroucho.

 

All images by Amos Mac

Clarkisha Explains: An Ode To Zigmund Ortega (and Other Video Game Characters Who Stay With Us)

You ever play a game and have a character — main protagonist or not  leave an incredibly long lasting impression on you?

I have, a handful of times. Some of my faves include Link from Zelda (still mad he’s not Zelda), Kratos from the God of War franchise, Master Chief from the Halo Franchise, Ellie from The Last of Us, Ezio/Desmond from The Assassin’s Creed franchise, and Hannah from Until Dawn.

And there’s more where those come from. But besides Ellie (who is also queer), none of these characters have left quite the impression that a certain Zigmund Ortega has.

I know what you’re thinking: Who the FUCK is that?

Well, he’s a character in a series of games titled The Freshman, The Sophomore, and The Junior, and all of these games come from an app called Choices (which itself is an interactive narrative hosting/storybook app that was created by Pixelberry Studios, a successful offshoot of EA) and every time a new game comes out, he continues to surprise the shit out of me.

This is the case for several reasons and I’m gonna start with the most important one (SPOILERS AHEAD):

1. Believe it or not, the man is probably one of the first and finest instances I have seen of positive bisexual representation. Especially for cis men.

I talk about representation for bisexual folx all the time. Until I am blue in the face really. And I’ve talked about how different that representation (and struggle) can be for cis men and cis women.

But I’ve never seen a character that nails it quite like Zigmund “Zig” Ortega.

Or as I like to say, the rich man’s Beck (from Victorious).


Why, yes you can Z — I mean, Beck.

You meet his character between The Freshman Book 3 and Book 4 and if your character is single, the two of you hit it off very quickly, and if your money (read: diamonds) is right, you can date him right away.

And you also find out right away, albeit very casually, that he is bisexual.

I’ll be honest: I was left shocked. Flabbergasted. Discombobulated.

Mind you, I know now that being queer doesn’t have a “look” and that anyone can be as queer and as fluid with that shit as they want, but when I was first coming to terms with my sexuality like two or three years ago (when I started playing the game), I’ma be honest:

I did not expect something like that to come out of Ortega’s mouth.

I say this because Ortega looks like your standard bad boy (complete with tattoos, a leather jacket, and everything) who has a “troubled past,” but this time around, he is of color (Brown/Latinx, which I will get to) and that affects how his story and character is perceived.

I naturally expected his character to be with the bullshit when he met my stand-in, so imagine my surprise when several chapters later, he’s explaining his anxiety to me about being a bisexual man (of color) and how he used to think he was confused or it was bad to be such a thing, but how he now recognizes it’s not, because all people are hot and he’s not gonna shit on himself for recognizing that. And since my character’s choices thus far had led her down a more queer path herself (she had been so-so dating Kaitlyn, another female character of Asian descent, but that fizzled out — in my mind — due to complexities of what it means to be queer AND out in both the Asian and African diasporas [the former of which Pixelberry actually does a dope job at addressing]), they bonded over that and, well, fell in *deep like* lol.

 

What a babe.

This is super important for a variety of reasons. Mostly because it highlights how different bisexuality is perceived based on gender (Ortega was not surprised when he learned my character was bisexual, but I was gobsmacked when I learned he was — and that’s because it is “accepted” more in women/femmes) and his character and proud ownership of his sexuality starts to get into a concept that is inextricably tied to the discussion of men/male-presenting individuals and their emotional, physical, and sexual expression.

Which is, you guessed it, toxic masculinity.

And also brings me to my last point:

2. His character is one that intentionally recognizes toxic masculinity and does his damnedest to fight against it.

While The Sophomore gets into this a bit more, this is something that is pretty intrinsic to Ortega’s arc and his existence as a character and that is made clear upon his arrival.

NPCs (non-playable characters) in the game can rarely get away with saying something virulently misogynistic in his presence without him threatening to beat the shit out of them.

In addition to this, it is revealed that his “dark and troubled past” actually amounts to him having beat the shit out of his sister’s abuser after he had been caught beating her. And because the system sucks ass (yes, Pixelberry goes there), it is Ortega who is disproportionately punished and has to serve time and carry that stigma of being an ex-con (who is of color, so double yikes). But you know what? Ortega makes it clear that he would do it again, because it was the right thing to do and tbh, I haven’t been this attracted to a fictional character since Trunks of DBZ and Inuyasha…of Inuyasha.


I regret nothing!

But his commitment to fighting toxic masculinity doesn’t stop there. There’s another storyline where Ortega charges himself with addressing another male character (this time Black) who is incredibly toxic about boundaries and who is also struggling with their sexuality, because they’ve been led to perceive bisexuality as being “full gay” and thus “weak” and BOY, I don’t think you realize how invaluable it was to see this unfolding on these virtual pages between Black and Brown (specifically Latinx and/or Hispanic) men.

A MAN.

I say this because both groups have to deal with their own versions of toxic masculinity (the latter as Black hypermasculinity and being hypersexed and the former as a concept known as machismo — which is just as toxic, suffocating, and dangerous) and it was honestly refreshing to have Ortega address all that even though he doesn’t name it.

And you know what? He didn’t have to. Because I got what he was saying right away, with none of the big, clunky jargon you usually get when discussing a social justice issue like this, but with all of the empathy.

It’s so…stunning to me because that empathy is rarely extended to men of color. That space for expression is rarely given.

And that’s pretty much why Zigmund Ortega is a helluva character. And while I don’t know where Pixelberry Studios will be taking his character next, if that path is as amazing and eclectic and inclusive and critical of toxic masculinity (patriarchy) as he is now?

Shiiiiiit. His character will be one who goes down as one of the bisexual greats.

And it will be well-deserved.

George is Tired…of Queer Loneliness

It was about two weeks ago when it happened. It was the first time in a long time that I was going to have a weekend to myself and I planned on doing nothing but resting, eating terrible food, and catching up on TV.

That Saturday went exactly as I planned it — or so I thought. As the daylight that shined through my windows turned into moonlight, I realized something that I don’t think had ever happened to me before…

I went an entire day without a single text message or DM.

I’m not going to lie. It bothered me — and not just for the obvious reasons. My first thought was Has everyone I know gone an entire day without once ever thinking about me? It was scary and depressing to even think like that. As I sat in my bed that evening, I took a chance to reflect on the life I had created for myself that could allow me an entire day with no intentional interactions. I thought about how often I chose isolation, pushed folks away and placed band-aids on old wounds that required stitches.

Things in our childhood often manifest themselves in interesting ways when we reach adulthood. As a kid, I would say that I was known but not necessarily “popular.” I got along with most people, and my normal group of friends were girls — because of my effeminate behavior. My days of having real social interaction and friendships primarily existed because I had to be around people. When I came home, I would play basketball with the guys in my neighborhood but even then, the relationship was based on my athletic ability — no one wanted to be friends with a boy like me.

Before I had the words understand that I was queer, I had the words and understanding of myself to know that I was different, so I kept away from people. I didn’t make a lot of what one would call “friends” in high school.  Even in college I struggled with that. There, it got better, but I still was very private, very closeted, and very much in fear of rejection. Isolation became better than rejection.

Year after year, I worked on being more of the person I knew I was. I came out thinking that would change things. I opened myself up to having real friends and becoming the truest version of myself around family. And yet, there are still times when I’m in a room with all the people I love and those who love me and feel alone. That feeling of how temporary the company of others is weighed against relationships that are encompassing of so much more — a “more” that I didn’t feel I needed to do the work for.

I felt I was entitled to friendship, family, or a relationship that I didn’t have to work for.

Instead of healing, I built a world that gave me the false impression that I was never alone. On Twitter, I have about 22k followers and average over 100 million impressions a month. One would think that loneliness may be an impossibility with so much social media interaction, but it’s not. It’s all a form of avoiding the work I’m unwilling to do on myself that would address the issues I have with rejection and vulnerability.  

The hookup culture I have subscribed to for so long is a mask. Not in the sense that I don’t enjoy sexual interactions, but that I used it to fill the void of the loneliness if only for a minute or night. Hanging with guys I had no real intentions of wanting something long term with. Entertaining situations with folks with no real interest. The good morning and good night texts to and from folks are all ways to feel like someone gives a fuck about me. Convos on apps that last weeks with no date to meet up ever scheduled.

Drinking also became a part of the loneliness. I drink to be social when I’m with friends, of course, but for the most part, I don’t drink when it’s just me at home. But every now and then I pour it — usually when I’m feeling really alone. The alcohol makes it all seem to just fade away. Makes whatever is on the TV more enjoyable. Makes the mask I’m wearing more acceptable and digestible when I’m looking in the mirror.

Even in a room of our peers, we all are so different. We all have layered oppressions, many shared and some not. Many of us hiding them with cocktails, meth, and pills as a coping mechanism for the pains we are hiding. Shared pains that we are often too afraid to tell one another — fearful of being seen as weak. Subscribing to the culture that tells us that “big boys don’t cry” and to “woman up.” So, we die together in isolation.

Having an entire day where I had no intentional interaction bothers me. Most importantly because I had the power to fix it. I had the power to text, or call, or walk outside and I didn’t. I let isolation beat me that day. I let loneliness beat me that day. But like Molly says on Insecure, when you know better you do better. Hopefully, unlike Molly, my better isn’t going back to the same habits that render me helpless in a problem I have the power to fix.

20 Queer Q’s with Leland

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

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

On this 20 Queer Q’s, get to know singer & songwriter Leland. He’s written for a slew of artists like Selena Gomez, Rachel Platten, Daya, Betty Who, and others! Leland frequently works with Troye Sivan and collaborated on his new album Bloom. Learn about how he feels holding another guy’s hand in public, his advice for LGBTQ+ youth, what he believes allyship to be, and more.

Name: Brett Leland McLaughlin

Age: 31

Preferred Pronouns: He/Him/His

Sexually Identifies As: Gay

 

What do you love about the LGBTQ+ community? I think the LGBTQ+Q community has some of the funniest people, the wittiest people, and the most talented people that I’ve ever encountered.

What are your thoughts on dating in the LGBTQ+ community? I can only speak to my experience. I have dated some wonderful people and I’m dating someone amazing right now and just like the straight community, whether or not it’s harder or easier to date depends on what’s going on in your life. It’s harder to date if you’re financially struggling, it’s harder if you’re driven and focused on your career, so I think it depends on your situation. I’m not a trans woman of color so I can’t speak from that perspective, but as a gay man, I can say that I’ve dated some wonderful people and it has been harder. I wasn’t trying to date someone in Mississippi so that might be harder.

What does pride mean to you? Not just accepting your sexuality, but being confident and open about and acknowledging that being queer isn’t easy for everyone depending on where you live. So it’s being grateful for the situation that I can be a queer man while acknowledging that there’s a lot of work to be done.

Who is someone you consider to be an LGBTQ+ icon? Just because I’m so close to this person and the ins and outs and the things that he does that he doesn’t speak about to help the LGBTQ+ community, I would say in my opinion, Tyler Oakley is an LGBTQ+ icon just because I’ve seen where his content has shifted over the years. It’s always been amazing, but it’s turned into something so important and educational to where new queer kids who are coming up may not know to appreciate their elders and what their elders have done for them so they can have this confidence of being who they are while being queer and open. So someone like Tyler who is bringing awareness and importance to different queer experiences, someone like that to me, makes an LGBTQ+ icon.

What’s a song you consider to be an LGBTQ+ anthem? “Born This Way” is unapologetically queer, it still makes me feel the same every time i hear it.

What’s advice you have for LGBTQ+ youth? Find a mentor. I have an unspoken queer mentor when I was growing up in college. I would take these songwriting workshops in Nashville and I wasn’t really out, didn’t have an out group of friends at the time, and I wasn’t out to my family. But the instructor of one class was Darrell Brown who has written some iconic country and pop songs, he was openly gay and married to his husband at the time so to have someone like that to look up to, to have a mentor, though we didn’t talk about it, once I was out, then for he and I to talk about it, hear his experience, and get his advice for career and personal stuff. So the best advice is to find a mentor whether through email or in person.

Who is the most important ally in your life? I would say my best friend who is straight and my next door neighbor. It’s been an interesting journey as a friend with to watch him evolve into that. To educate himself as I became more open about my queerness and understanding what my queerness meant. He also sought to understand what being an ally meant. Being an ally is more than just going to pride with your LGBTQ+ friend. It’s being beside them in a protest and understanding what they’re going through and doing what you can to help.

Do you believe in love? Yes.

What values would you like in an ideal partner? Loyalty, Drive, Wit.

Use 3-5 words to describe your coming out experience? Christmas, Emotional, Funny

Fill in the Blank: Love is _______. Hard

What hopes do you have for the LGBTQ+ community in the future? To come closer together and tackle issues that might not even be facing you and your queer experience, but to come together as a queer community and attack issues that everyone is up against or different sections of the community is up against. You have to fight for your whole LGBTQ+ family. I’d love to see more collective passion for more activism.

What is something you want to change about yourself in the next 6 months? I want to balance my life more from focusing just on myself to focusing on myself and how I can help others. Maybe helping new queer writers who don’t know how to get a foot in the door or queer kids who are going through what I went through growing up in Mississippi who don’t have an outlet or someone to talk to, just focusing on things beyond myself.

I was talking to someone about this the other day and he said when you move to LA or New York, any place where it’s going to be hard where you have to buckle down and work, it’s very easy, because you’re only focused on surviving. It’s very hard to come out of that mode because for so many years, you’re programmed to think, “I need to pay rent, I gotta survive.” So then you reach a point where you’re financially stable and can take some time to shift some energy somewhere besides myself, which is scary because you wonder how it all worked out and now how do I make the most of my time to help others?

What’s your earliest memory that you felt you were different? I remember in middle school, walking up to a circle where guys were talking about things they’d done with girls and I just remember not being interested in the conversation whatsoever. I also remember when they talked about kissing girls, I remember thinking I want to kiss a boy. I didn’t even contemplate that sticking out as a weird thought, it was just natural for me.

What do you feel most insecure about? My body.

Have you found your chosen family? Yes. They make me feel supported, funny, they make me feel like whether I’m killing it as a writer or will not have songs come out for the next 10-15 years, I still feel like I have a support system and they make me feel confident and make me feel attractive whether I gain or lose 30 pounds.

What is the title of the current chapter of your life? Planting Roots

Did you ever / still feel uncomfortable holding another guys hand? It depends where I am. In LA, New York, London, or Berlin, yes I feel comfortable. In Mississippi, no. There’s some insecurities and fears that are so deeply embedded in you that it’s gonna take your entire life to get rid of those and one of those is holding my boyfriend’s hand in public in a place where I know we might get weird looks.

It’s also fear based, do I want to hold my boyfriend’s hand and potentially get in a fight with someone? Or is that a real fear? You still hear things all the time, even at Prides people get attacked. I grew up in a different place than my boyfriend so we have different fears but it depends where it is, but it is a thought that enters my head.

Fill in the Blank: In 5 years I want to _________ . Keep making music and keep having great friends.

What value or quality has being a gay man given you? It’s given me a determination and a motivation to work harder than anyone else knowing that I can potentially not be given opportunities because I am queer or be looked over for opportunities or be taken less serious. Once I fully accepted who I was with my sexuality and felt liberated by it, it gave me this freedom to express myself when it comes to the music I want to make, how I move my body, my fashion. It gave me this sense of freedom that I don’t think I could’ve had otherwise.

Keep up to date with Leland’s work over on his Twitter and Instagram, stream his music on Spotify, and be sure to check him out in select cities as he opens for Troye Sivan on The Bloom Tour.

Queer Abby: Where Have All the Butches Gone?

Dear Queer Abby,

I am a confident, strong, mindful, in-my-body type of butch who grew up in the early ’90s in SF where butch-femme dynamics were the norm. As a 40-plus-year-old, I have noticed a shift in the queer narrative, which I appreciate and expect, because at the heart of my queerness lies my love of deviance and self-expression. 

However, I have become more of a novelty in the last 15 years than I am used to being. My pack of bad-ass, feral butches has grown up, as have I, and moved onto adulting and settling into their truths. Many of these friends have transitioned and are living very full, sweet lives and are super happy. 

The part I struggle with and could use some help with is feeling isolated again like I felt before I came out. I feel like I stand out at dinner parties because I am the only visibly queer person at a table of 12. In my group of friends, most are trans or in a relationship with someone who is trans, therefore appearing straight to the rest of the world. It feels like my back up gang is gone, even though I logically know they are sitting right next to me, eating a delicious Caesar salad. 

Being visibly queer has always been so much fun to me. 

I’m super gay looking and make others look gay just by standing next to them — femmes, in particular. I also make straight women look gay. It’s like a fun superpower.

I used to loathe the straight community because of how boring they were. The way I looked was like a big fuck you to the norm. I see it in myself and a handful of others, but alas, I’m feeling like a third wheel to this current queer revolution. 

Also, to be clear, just because I’m feeling uncomfortable does not mean I am attacking the trans community. This is my discomfort and at the end of the day, my responsibility to take care of…

I also don’t expect my community to entertain me so I’m not bored. I don’t expect my community to heal me as if I’m a tiny unseen being. I just want to know some spiritual/practical tools you might know of that I haven’t thought of yet, that would help me or others feel more connected to the community I adore.

Signed,

Disconnected, but I Don’t Want to Make a Butch Calendar Either

Dear Disconnected, 

Bringing this question up to a butch friend over 40, her answer was to start singing “Where Have All the Butches Gone?” to the tune of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” That was her answer. 

1. I never think of butch lesbians as a novelty act in 2018. I think of them as a rarefied magic. 

2. Queer identity has expanded over the past 20 years, and with that expansion, it can feel like butches have disappeared. But gender has just opened itself to encompass and give a name to more varieties of people. They may not all be within your exact demographic or friend group, but queer is a larger term now than (in my estimation) ever before, so your backup gang has actually grown over time, not shrunk. 

I think you have to let your identity evolve. 

In reading this question, I was reminded of an interview I did with Michelle Tea a few years ago, about her book How to Grow Up. She said, Don’t be afraid to let go of the subcultural uniform of your youth. You’re not betraying anyone. You’re not betraying your younger self because your younger self doesn’t actually exist. People have allegiance to the person they were in their past as if that’s a real person. But that person is you. It’s a long time ago. It’s OK to not want to wear that flag you were flying. It’s OK to actually just want to wear clothes because they’re beautiful or they’re fashionable and not because they’re signaling to the world that you are part of a black block or something.” 

I think as we get older, some things get more mellow, which includes aesthetics. Your trans friends still have a dangerous gender, it just may be quieter (in public) than your own. Hopefully, as you age, you are defined by what you contribute to the world, not by (and/or above and beyond) how much you are queering the room. 

The reason you are at these dinner parties is because of your heart and your brain and the way you make other people feel when they’re around you. 

Being visibly counter-culturally in-your-face queer might be the way you identified & solidified allegiance with like-minded people in your 20s, but you are not there anymore. That tool that served you doesn’t need to be your bonding point anymore. 

When you were an isolated young queer person, you didn’t have a rich community of queers who understood you on a deep level and had the same short-hand for experience. Now, over the age of 40, you do have that, even if they look different (or heteronormative), or have more expansive genders or sexualities than it appeared when you first met. They are also magical, rare beings, and at the end of the day, you are on the same side. 

3. And where *have* all the butches gone? Esther Godoy of Butch Is Not A Dirty Word weighed in on this for us, and she thinks they’re still there, just like you: 

“… [I]t might feel like everyone you could connect with in that way is gone, but they’re there, in hiding, probably for the same reason that ‘Disconnected’ is feeling that way.  I started Butch Is Not A Dirty Word  on the back of a similar notion (of being the only butch in the room), and it always fucking pissed me off that if I had to be the one driving some kind of mass social movement just to get some basic comradery and visibility needs met. But alas, this is a massive part of deviating from the norm, having to be a self-starter, through creating a safe space for butches to express themselves I ended up developing a community of more butches around me than I know what to do with. And it turns out they were all there the whole time. They were just in hiding.”

In short:

Ask not what the queer community can do for you, but what you can do for the queer community!

It is the best way to feel connected. 

Good luck out there and thank you for your magical service to the world, butch person. 

Queer Abby

P.S.  Question: If you were partnered, would you feel this same outsider status? 

Being a singleton amongst the marrieds or coupled is a lonely feeling, but in all of these experiences you are talking about, there is space for gratitude. For the freedom and ability to move through the world as you please, to watch and order what you want, and to have the silence and space for reflection and growth that can sometimes be harder to come by when you are tending to another person or fulfilling a fixed identity in a long-term relationship. 

Got a question for Queer Abby? Write to [email protected]. All questioners will remain anonymous! 

Dearly Beloved, I’m Fed Up

In this week’s Dearly Beloved, the advice column from author Michael Arceneaux, a reader keeps it short and sweet: he’s over it. Although our frustrated reader kept his grievances nice and tight (we do prefer specifics here, but sometimes folks give all they have so we’re letting it slide today), he is going to get more than just a pat on the head and a paragraph. They need at least two and a half, right?

If you want Michael’s advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start your letter with Dearly Beloved!

It’s a thing.

 

Dearly Beloved,

I’m so done with this world. I don’t wanna leave bed. I’m so sick of giving and not receiving. Everyone just seems to take take and take. I’ve had it.

Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

I am usually a fan of brevity, but in this case, it did give me pause given your use of the phrase “I’m so done with this world.” Then I remembered that if matters were that severe, you would probably be calling someone instead. Pardon me, I’ve been around my mom and aunties lately so that extra lather of concern that only a well seasoned relative can offer rubbed off on me a little. Now if things are that bad, please call someone professional.

Okay, I just wanted to get that disclaimer out of the way. I assume that you’re really just tired of bitches and that is understandable because a lot of people suck. I know we are not supposed to say that, but nah, a lot of people are trash and have souls due for a fade delivered by the universe.

Let’s try to figure this out, though.

First and foremost, if you can afford to stay in bed a little and just be in your feelings, proceed. Turn on some sad bops and allow yourself a good wallow and body roll if the spirit moves you. I am a firm believer in letting folks feel how they feel (I hope you heard that in Quavo’s voice), but my only note is  to ask that you don’t sink into that feeling. This is the part where you cue Amel Larrieux’s “Get Up.” Again, I been hanging with my aunties so flip to the song, get inspired and let me have it.

Now, as far as giving and giving and not receiving: stop giving to those who don’t reciprocate. Unclear if you mean give in the romantic sense, but if so, if this person doesn’t fill your love tank (shout out to Vickie Gunvalson), get rid of them. If this is a friend, do the same thing only without the last round of hate sex.

Many of us have had these moments in which we feel used and that our goodwill isn’t returned. Sometimes it is real, in other cases it may be imagined. Regardless of where you land, the point is if that sentiment rings true to you in the moment, take a step back to reassess the people in your life — and make changes accordingly if need be.

I judge people by the following metric: do they make me happy like Beyoncé or piss me off like that punk ass president Sweet Potato Saddam? You are free to now use that model as you evaluate those around you. If you don’t like Beyoncé, well, I don’t know what to tell a Beytheist to make them happier because a life without loving Beyoncé is a recipe for eternal misery.

Buck up and good luck!

Signed,

Beloved!

The Existential Unraveling Of Attempting To Write My PERSONALS Post

Am I a bottom or a top?

Butch or femme?

Soft butch? Hard femme? Stone butch? High femme? Futch?

How do you pronounce “futch” and why does it sound painful? (Does that mean I’m futch?)

Can I lay claim to soft butch culture if I’ve never worn a tie?

Do I say “like” too much to authentically pass as a tomboy? Or do I only do that when I’m with straight girls?

Dom or sub?

No, but like, actually, dom or sub?

Should I just write “sub pillow princess looking for butch dom top to absolutely pulverize me” and see what happens?

Wait, am I actually a sub pillow princess looking for a butch dom top to absolutely pulverize me?

Can I say “kink positive” if I’m 90% sure at least one of my family members will see this post?

Is admitting I’m “looking for someone” to 41,000 strangers the most emotionally vulnerable I’ve ever been in my life?

How do I say “My type is ‘girls’ and I’m physically incapable of discernment beyond that” — but like, in a cute, digest-able, queer-friendly way?

Would dropping an X-Files reference pave the way for greater emotional and/or spiritual fulfillment down the line?

If I admit I’m a Scorpio, will girls assume I’m an emotionally manipulative sociopath who will hoard their secrets, move to a mountain with them and never return?

Is it even possible for me, as a Midwesterner, to lay claim to mountain culture?

Is a string of buzzwords + expressing a desire to sleep in and hold hands actually any more authentic than just a photo of my big dumb face?

If a photo of my big dumb face is word 1,000 words, does that explain why Tinder is such a hellscape?

Would a self-deprecating dig make me sound more approachable or actually self-loathing?

Would referencing my own self-loathing make me sound more approachable?

Why does wanting to sound more approachable make me hate myself more?

Does only ever having sex with women actually make me a lesbian?

Is there a BuzzFeed quiz that tells me if I’m queer enough to post a @_personals ad?

Would anyone notice if I just lifted a few lines from the JonBenet Ramsey ransom note?

Should I plant a few months worth of thirst traps on my Instagram before submitting my @_personals post for optimal cute girl DMs?

What if I only reel in Rainbow Suspenders Dykes?

Were the real dykes the rainbow suspenders we wore along the way?

Is it even remotely possible to encapsulate something as vast and malleable and adaptable as human sexuality in a 100-word post?

How do I say “I only want to meet people with dogs” without sounding like I want to fuck a dog?

Can I make eight different @_PERSONALS_ posts for: me on first dates, me in long-term relationships, me as a camp counselor, me when I’m at home in bed watching 30 Rock in silent solitude, me at my absolute best (.1% of the time), me in five years if my five-year career plan works out, me according to my ex, and me according to my current crush? Just to see what sticks?

Am I allowed to submit “horny” + my Instagram handle and call it a day?

Unlearning Homo/Transphobic Behavior and the Fear of Labels

People are afraid of labels, even when the labels fit them perfectly. What happens when you call a racist person racist? They’ll probably start crying, after calling you the n-word. What happens when you call a homophobic person a homophobe? They’ll probably start crying, after calling you a faggot.

Donald Trump, who accused Mexicans of being rapists and drug-pushers, claims that he is the “least racist person there is.”

Roseanne Barr, who called Valerie Jarrett the baby of “Muslim brotherhood” and “Planet of the Apes,” claims that she is hurt that people think that she’s a racist — even though she apologized for being racist, then blamed Ambien, then… Well, you know.

The fear of labels often distracts us from our harmful behavior. We are conditioned to fear labels more than the impact of our thoughts or actions. This is what often prevents people from acknowledging their behavior and working towards fixing the problem. This is the reason that homo/transphobia is difficult to unlearn.

I had a friend — let’s call her Samantha — who has a homophobic boyfriend. She often laughs at his homophobic Facebook posts, then she defends him whenever someone calls him “homophobic.” While Samantha does not directly participate in her boyfriend’s homophobia, she allows his behavior to go unchecked.

Is Samantha homophobic? Absolutely.

Will Samantha be offended if someone called her homophobic? Abso-fucking-lutely.

I’m not proud to say this, but I am still working to unlearn transphobia and years of internalized anti-queerness. Yes, I am a self-proclaimed transgender ally. Yes, I am a proud queer person. However, I’m human. Therefore, I’m flawed. Learning not to see labels as an attack helps me to genuinely acknowledge my mistakes and attempt to rectify them.

In 2012, I was an openly transphobic piece of shit. I called people transphobic slurs and purposefully misgendered them. Whenever someone called my behavior what it was, transphobic, I felt attacked. When I felt attacked, I was not receptive to listening to what the person I offended was saying.

Years later, I realized that I was no different from the racist people I argue with over the internet. I, too, defended my harmful behavior by claiming that I have the freedom of speech. I, too, defended my harmful behavior by calling people sensitive. I, too, defended my harmful behavior by calling myself a free-thinker. Nothing set me apart from the type of people I write think pieces about today.

Today, I’m receptive to listening to how my behavior impacts people, but I’m still unlearning transphobia and internalized anti-queerness. No, I don’t go out of my way to harass transgender people or feminine gay men, but I still have to check myself.

For example, last week, I impulsively tweeted “My mangina is shaking,” in response to someone tweeting good news about their career. I didn’t think anything of it, not until that person replied, “Arkee…” After that, I realized how my impulsive, fool-hardy tweet could offend many transgender people. Genitals are not specific to gender; therefore, using the term “mangina” ignores many transgender people. This is transphobic.

I would hate to call myself transphobic, but I would also hate to use behavior that reinforces harmfulness to transgender people.

I say all that to say this: people can grow up. When we grow up, we’re able to see things in ways we weren’t able to before. However, when we get caught up in labels, we distract ourselves from personal growth.

I would hate to consider my behavior transphobic, but if I think like a transphobic person, that’s exactly what I am. Unlearning problematic behavior starts with reflection, not a fear of labels.

Image via Getty

My Gay Black Hair

My identity as an African immigrant has always been tied to my hair.

In Congo, a country that was almost entirely black, natural hair was considered unruly. Relaxed or exquisitely braided hair signified class, which was in turn dictated by western popular culture. So much so that my father, growing up in the 70s in a rural Congolese city, had a Malcolm X belt buckle. Nonetheless, the time spent getting my hair done was where I learned about emotional intimacy and trust. Largely because it was a rite of passage — a mother passing down her skills to her daughter.

The memory of getting my hair done gives me a visceral reaction. I can feel the metal comb tooth on my scalp and smell all the hair product and feel hot steam on my neck.

Then in South Africa, protective styles were everything. There was an abundance of braid textures, sizes, colors and length; it felt like a never ending fashion show. American culture felt surprisingly less evident, with South Africa being so insular when it comes to their popular culture. Still, natural hair was unruly in a country nearly 80% black — where little black children are chastised for speaking their tribal language and made to learn Afrikaans, the white language, in school.

The ritualistic experience every three months felt bittersweet and tiresome. Looking forward to a new style but dreading the sleep the first two nights. Picking out the jewelry you could put in your braids during the weekend and hoping it wouldn’t take more than eight hours this time.

The concept of natural hair only began to make sense to me when I was learning about the civil rights movement in high school onced I moved to Orlando. I remember white boys making fun of my braids while I simultaneously learned about the myriad of options black girls had. And boy did I try them all. I was a different person every semester. I got really into my natural hair journey, wore head scarves for god knows how long, used African threading to blowout my afro only to walk into the Florida humidity and have it shrink.

That felt like the peak of my black womanhood. I felt myself almost physically growing with my hair.

I had shaved my head twice before I knew I was gay, but the third time felt different. It started with an undercut and vaguely identifying with not being completely straight. It changed into shaved around the sides with dreads on top. Then it became the kind of hair cut boys in primary school would proudly wear after a long weekend. That felt like reaching the last level in a video game.

That’s where the word dyke began to feel more than comfortable and I was no longer concerned about the roughness of the word lesbian.

My to-do list when I realized I was gay began and ended with cutting my hair; it felt so deeply tied into my queerness. It was a liberation from something I didn’t know was somewhat oppressing me. It was letting go of nostalgia. I was throwing away so many of the stories and the traditions and that bond that black hair inherently creates between black women. So there was the conflict, the multitudes of my identity stopped feeling like layers and became mismatched puzzle pieces.

Recently, my love for Lena Waithe only grows exponentially. When I saw her interview about why she cut her hair, I had a visceral reaction. I could smell the hair product and feel the metal comb-tooth on my scalp. It reminded me of the freedom of not basing your identity on how you assume the world is going to interact with it. To exist from within yourself out as opposed to the other way around. It also made me mourn the history of the rituals.

I’ve always believed my black womanhood and my queerness informed each other. Even when the women that felt like real family would say something homophobic at the hair salon. Even when being in queer spaces felt like being the fly in Alanis Morissette’s chardonnay. Still, I’ve never known if the two could be reconciled. Or even if they needed to be.

What I know for sure is that hair continues to be at the hinge of both my queerness and my blackness.

The depths through which my hair grows out of my scalp weighs all of this history, and every hand that has touched it has only added more stories, some of which I’m sure I’ve forgotten. All of this makes me think of all the things we could ask of each other as human beings, things so much more interesting and meaningful than who do we think we’re always going to be. We would save so much time wasted on chasing versions of ourselves that don’t exist. Not constantly feeling like we have to choose one part of ourselves over another.

We could, just like Lena Waithe, exist from within.

20 Queer Q’s with Fran Tirado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dancing Queen” by ABBA.

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

You are not broken and you never were.

6. Do you believe in love?

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

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

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

8. Fill in the blank: drag queens are _______

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

9. Fill in the blank: Love is _______

Best given to yourself.

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

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

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

11. What do you feel most insecure about?

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

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

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

13. Have you found your chosen family?

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

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

Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

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

“Everywhere” by Michelle Branch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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