Couple Kiana and Jasmin Share Their Love Story in ‘Queer Love’ Episode 3

Love and poetry have long gone hand in hand in history, with the latter being a superior way to express the former. For Kiana, one of the subjects of this week’s episode of Queer Love, poetry is part of her art. But it’s also deeply present in the way they talks about their partner.

The full-time teacher and part-time drag king speaks about their event planner girlfriend, Jasmin, reads some of their poetry in the episode, but even the couple’s conversations have a poetic rhythm to them. They’re honest about the difficulty of love, but so visibly deeply in the throes of it, too.

Kiana and Jasmin

Anything we could say would feel insufficient next to Kiana and Jasmin’s words, to be frank. Their description of each other is rooted in such emotion, and such power, that we can do nothing but urge you to watch the full new episode below.

Missed the first two installments of Queer Love? Catch up on the series below.

Party Dyke, Interrupted

Trigger. That was the name of the Castro bar where I attended my first ever lesbian party. I was 18 and the only two gay people that I knew in the world were closeted. I was in love with one of them, but they were in love with each other. Naturally.

As a freshman, I would overhear the seniors in my upper division queer theory class talk about the queer bars they were going to on the weekends. I sat anxiously in my seat, eavesdropping and hoping that one day they would ask me to join.

I wanted so badly for these older queers to accept me as one of them. The invitation I was waiting for finally came on the third week of class. I convinced my only friend with a fake ID to join. It wasn’t hard to convince my friend to come along — even straight people knew that the Castro was the best place to get drunk on a weekday.

My friend with the fake ID, like everyone else, thought I was straight. My tumblr page filled with vintage photos of Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie and the fact that I was in a Queer Theory class wasn’t a dead giveaway for them, nor for me, at the time.

Before that night, my forays into the Castro were by accident.  I used to wait on the corner of Market and Castro in front of the old Diesel store three times a week to transfer onto a bus that would take me to work after school.

Bored out of my mind at the stop, I would read the informational billboards offering drug counseling and free HIV tests featuring images of people with hairless, glistening chests. The artfully curated ads were everywhere, but I doubted that the group that I so badly wanted to be a part of had “real” drug problems. They probably just like to have a good time, I told myself.

My first real night out in the Castro took off quickly. After pounding dollar drinks at The Edge, a corner street dive that played classic ’90s movies to its mostly burly, bearded clientele, and then two-for-one wells at Q Bara strobe-heavy bar that is barely wider than a hallway, we walked over to Trigger.

Girl parties aren’t known for drink specials, but the rest of Castro is full of heavy pours. So by the time we reached our final destination, the fake ID I gripped in my hand, like everything else, blurred in front of me. I didn’t need to worry because the bouncer didn’t closely examine to check if it was fake. He was too distracted by a group of snapback-clad girls pulling at his shoulder sleeve, reminding him that he has to let them in because he let them in last time. They don’t have IDs, and Trigger would eventually shut down for letting in too many underage queers like the snapback lesbians and me.

Once I made it past the doorman, a bitter butch in a too-tight flannel stamped the inside of my wrist, and I zoomed in without waiting for my friend to make it inside. Everything was exactly how I dreamed it would be — bartenders with asymmetrical haircuts and lip piercings, go-go dancers gyrating on top of the bar, neon colored shots in lab-inspired tube glasses, and dykes everywhere.  

“It’s just like The L Word,” I muttered to myself. My straight friend asks me to repeat what I just said, but I couldn’t give away that I was an avid watcher of the most lesbian TV show in history. Plus, I was already at the bar ordering a Dos Equis because that’s what Shane drinks. The rest of the night was a blur.

Gay culture is deeply interconnected with drugs and alcohol. Blame it on the fact that most of us are reliving our adolescent years in our twenties, or that we need more sedation than your average hetero to put up with the daily attack on our human rights — either way, there’s always a good reason to order another round of shots.

Historically, the only places that queer people could be out were undisclosed bars, clubs, and parties. Queer people couldn’t fly their flags high back then, so underground venues and exclusive parties served as the primary place to meet other queers. Although we have more freedom now as queer people than our elders did, the desire to escape into a safe space still exists. Queer bars are spaces where we can embrace every part of ourselves without fear being perceived as “different.”

If we want to be around other queer people it often feels like the only option is to go to a bar, where we tell ourselves we will only have one drink. But, it’s hardly ever one. In my experience, gay bars are fueled by alcohol in a way that their straight counterparts aren’t. The drinks are cheaper, stronger, and you can find a party on any night of the week.

As a baby dyke, I drank to calm my anxieties before entering these unknown spaces without realizing that most of my peers were doing the same. Cheap drinks in the Castro, five dollar AMF pitchers in Boystown, double margarita pints in WeHo that make the extra $1 charge for an additional shot worth it.

Gays are taught how to party. It’s not a secret. Straights know it and we own it. It’s part of our Brand™. Bachelorette parties flock to WeHo in search of a Vegas-style good time, and by the time I moved out of San Francisco, the straight-to-gay ratio on Monday night at Q Bar was pretty much even. Cishets venture into our spaces for a “wild night out” away from their norm, but for us, it’s just another Thursday.

The reason there is such a disdain for straight people with an affinity for partying at gay bars is that these spaces are sometimes the only ones queer people have. Straight people already have everything else. For queer women and non-binary folks, the battle is even steeper. Unlike gay men, we don’t have Grindr to scratch that mid-week midnight itch. Dykes have to wait for the weekly or monthly girl parties. If not, then you can hit up Tinder, but that usually entails spending money to meet up with someone for a drink. Meeting other gays sans alcohol has been not an easy task for me.

I still remember the morning after my Tuesday night at Trigger, when I stumbled into class with a swollen jaw, burns on my fingers and very little recollection of what had happened the night before. I wasn’t a stranger to blackouts, but this night was different. My older classmates laughed and told me that I had probably been roofied at Q Bar.

“Everyone gets roofied at Q Bar,” they told me. I’d repeat that line every time I told the story with a smile or a laugh. It felt like a rite of passage. I finally belonged.

Gay adventures in San Francisco continued for me throughout college and those nights consisted of pouring half bottles of tequila into half emptied sprite bottles, hopping on the back of the train and downing the drink before the operator announced “Castro.” On those nights, I never saw the billboards that lined the MUNI station walls warning against addiction, inviting gays to focus groups that might help them. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Those billboards were talking about meth and ketamine binges. It wasn’t for me. I was a fun gay.

In the past eight years, I spent only two handfuls of weekends sober — eight, to be exact. I wish I could tell you that I had a moment of enlightenment that led me to sobriety, but the reality is that my body just gave out — twice in two years. Last year, I spent two weeks in a hospital being pumped full of blood and was released with instructions to stop drinking for eight weeks and “drink moderately” after then, if at all. It was easy at first. But those eight weeks ended up being more like six weeks and before long, I was back at it. I avoided doctor visits, ignored symptoms until it was too much to ignore.

I rolled my eyes at the nurse who said I had a drinking problem. “I drink the least out of all the people I know. I’m just cursed with a weak stomach lining. Faulty genes.” It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, that while talking to some friends, I realized that I had drank despite all the warnings my body gave me. Just because I didn’t drink as much as I did before, didn’t make my problem any less severe. At first, I pretended to be stoked about my sobriety: “I wanted to quit anyway.” But, on a Saturday night, the only thing standing between me and a well whiskey on the rocks is the stack of hospital bracelets sitting in a box in my room. 

Seven years later and three hundred miles south, I’m now living in Los Angeles. I have been sober for a month. The queer bars with their shiny disco balls and sweaty, gyrating bodies aren’t as fun as I remembered. Sobriety is dulling at times, and the stark realization that so many of the things you enjoyed, you only did under the influence is lonely.

But the incessant hangover state is gone, and my days are longer. I get more stuff done. I look for experiences instead of drink specials.  Most of my queer peers still drink. Some of them don’t have the same issues with self-control that I do, none of them have a stupid stomach lining with a propensity for bleeding.

I’m starting to see a shift. More and more, young queers are opting for sobriety, taking breaks from drinking, tiring of the monotonous weekend festivities. Maybe we’re getting older, maybe the hangovers are getting too gnarly or I don’t know — maybe this is growing up.

Queer Abby: How To Handle Closed-Minded Family During the Holidays

Dear Queer Abby,

I’m getting anxious about Xmas. Being around (closed-minded) family. Any tips or mantras I should be working with?

Sincerely, 

Queer in Queensland

Dear Q in Q,

The best thing that ever happened to holidays was realizing I didn’t have to be around my family to celebrate them. 

I had about two hours of intense guilt the first time I chose not to attend biological Christmas, but after that, I felt free! The clouds parted, the steady drumbeat of “Rebel Girl” kicked in, and warm chunks of vegan gingerbread rained down from the heavens. 

What was once forced attendance at the lighting of a shopping plaza in the 20-degree Kansas City cold (with people who communicate almost exclusively via passive-aggressive jokes) became a warm, glittering group of talkative gender-queers and homosexuals gathered near a tofurkey and cider, laughing over bad first dates and Apples to Apples. This is the alchemy of holiday boundaries!  

I DIGRESS. 

If you must be around your family or other closed-minded individuals, I wish you my very best and I send you the astral-projected spirit of Ponyo, a soft, nine-pound chihuahua mix, who wants to sit on your lap eating scraps off your plate while offering a listening ear and unrelenting support.

Please take that visualization with you. 

(P.S. Ponyo is still alive, just very skilled at astral projection and spiritual face-licking.)

On a practical level, here is my very best holiday advice for queers who have to spend time with their families-of-origin this holiday season:

1. Take Breaks. 

Think about it ahead of time. How long can you hang out with any of these people without a blowup or meltdown of some kind?

I would personally say a 30-minute nap/phone break once every two hours, but that’s me. 

2. Stay in your own space if you can.

If you can afford a hotel, a hostel, any place that is private where you can stare at a wall and rock after hanging out with your family, I recommend it. At the very least, find a space where you can shut the door and lock it. 

3. Try to have your own transportation and escape plan.

You might break the bank calling an Uber after hopping out of a moving vehicle full of homophobes on the side of the road, but it will be WORTH IT. This is your mental health, comfort, and safety. It is not a time to be stingy. 

4. Keep the focus on yourself. 

Especially if you trip out on family members who drive you up the wall. 

If you find yourself spiraling, thinking of the ways they are imperfect and are living their lives wrong or have the wrong opinions or ways of acting, just say the mantra:  “I will focus on myself.”

What do YOU need in this moment? Is there a way you could support yourself in this situation? Are you focusing in on them because you’re uncomfortable or trapped? How can you amplify your own comfort in this particular moment? 

A walk? A nap? A snack? 

Let them be as freaky as they want to be, but if you are becoming irritable and grabbing for your gavel, make the choice to remove yourself and go look at astrological memes until you feel calm again. 

5. Front-load your food needs.

A metaphor. Here’s some real talk: I’m vegan AND food is one of my love languages. I give and receive snacks as an act of deep nourishment and affection. 

Thus, when I am at a giant joyful dinner with one dry lettuce leaf on my plate as everyone else is going ballistic on a highly-anticipated and carefully prepared smorgasbord, I’m going to enter a grim place, emotionally-speaking. 

But that is my problem, not their problem. 

I’m the weird eater when I’m in Kansas. I get that. So, I try to have expectation management. I assess whether the host understands what vegan is, whether they have access to that kind of food, and the likelihood that the information will stick and there won’t be bacon crumbles hidden in the brussels sprouts. 

I front-load when I need to (pre-eating so that my basic needs are already met and I can show up graciously to the meal without a feeling of scarcity), or I bring my own stuff. If my favorite thing is vegan gravy and my distant relatives are in no way equipped to prepare that item, I am *happy* to bring my own.

If you show up and the only thing you can eat is rolls, please remember this isn’t your last meal. This isn’t even your only meal option That Day. You can throw yourself into a Chipotle guacamole vat on the way back to the suburban hotel, or recreate Christmas dinner with your very best gluten-intolerant friends as soon as you get back to your home planet of Queerius. 

There is abundance for all of us! Of love and understanding and of food we can digest. Even if it’s not at this particular table, it is just around the corner. 

6. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, and you don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to talk about. (Even if people really really want you to.)

This is it. This is your life. You have autonomy. 

Even in family structures. Even if you didn’t grow up believing that, it is true.

You can say “I don’t really want to talk about that” or “I don’t want to do that” and just leave it there. 

People might give you pushback or start to guffaw, but you get to have your boundaries. No need to justify; no need to explain. Just shrug and keep your mouth shut. If they keep pushing, that’s on them. 

7. THINK ABOUT YOUR BOUNDARIES AHEAD OF TIME. 

Are you okay talking about politics? Your gender identity? Your (as my parents call it) “lifestyle”? 

Decide what feels okay to talk about (dogs, the weather, changes in the neighborhood) and what does not.

What do you like about any of these family members? Is there a way you can engage with them in that way? 

Make a list for yourself of what you will and will not talk about. Read this list to a friend (or your dog) before you go, so you can hear yourself saying it out loud and remember. 

Keep it in your pocket if you need to, and read this in the guest-room during one of your state-mandated 30-minute nap breaks. 

Back in the mix, before you jump in on a relative’s problematic conversation-starter, ask yourself: Is it worth it? Will getting riled up at the dinner table help you in the long run? If you’re going to want to tear off your skin regardless of the conversation, then I say keep it light. Smile and nod. If you are feeling robust around different subjects, go for it. 

But I’m here to support you, reader, not to change the minds and hearts of your ding-dong relatives. The onus of education doesn’t always need to be on the person who is Other. 

If you *want* to send them an article or have a heart-to-heart phone call about their behavior when you are not a sitting duck in a room full of hunters, great. But it gets to be on your own timeline, not in response to confrontation, and at the end of the day, you don’t even have to. 

You just get to live your life in a way that brings you joy and peace, and if they decide to use the resource known as The Internet to educate themselves on how to be a decent human being, they can figure it out without you having depleted your reserves.   

Tip: A nice way to stop arguing is to say “You might be right” and leave it there. In therapeutic environments, “You might be right” is code for “I’m done arguing with you, it’s not worth my time.”

8. Shift your perspective. 

Maybe you have a relative who is old and batty. They cannot get on the same political or identity page with you to save their life. Are they doing this out of malice, or their own mental limitations? What tools for living were they given by their parents? They may not have the thing you want because they never received it themselves. 

You might have an incredible set of skills for listening, empathy and reflection based on years of therapy or lesbian processing, but some relatives just aren’t there. It doesn’t mean they’re better or worse, it just means that you may be wishing for water from a dry well. 

If the intention of your relatives is sweet and kind, and your intention in seeing them is that you are doing an act of service to yourself (for your own conscience, making time for a geriatric family member before they’re gone) and to them, remember that. 

You’re not there because you have so much in common and you’re trying to be best buddies — you’re there to show up and give warmth to a person who is trying their best. It may not be perfect, they may never Get It, but you also don’t have to take that on. 

Good luck with your family, please feed astral-projected Ponyo anything you’d like that is not onions, mushrooms or raisins, and have a very very happy holiday. I have your back. 

Sincerely, 

Queer Abby

Dearly Beloved, I’m 40 and Have Never Had A Relationship. Is It Too Late?

In this week’s Dearly Beloved, the advice column from author Michael Arceneaux, our dear reader says despite coming out some 20 years ago, he has yet to experience a long-term relationship and fears that he may never find one.  

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.

And yes, the holiday season is upon us, so please send us your holiday-related questions!

 

Dearly Beloved,

I am 40 and have never had a long-term relationship before even though I have been out since I have been 20 years old.

I’ve hooked up on Grindr on numerous occasions, but have never really found the right person for me. Whenever I have managed to grow close to someone they have either backed away or I have ended it.

Nearly all my friends are in long-term relationships and I am the last one. I am in awe of how people do it as I have never been able to.

I worry that I will never ever find someone, and now that I am 40 I am over the hill and will never have the relationship I have longed for.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Anon

Dear 40 and Baeless,

You sound like my biggest fear. I say that with no sense of joy or any intent to mock or belittle. But yes, this letter is my biggest fear, and frankly, it is probably one of the greatest fears for many of the people reading our exchange in this very moment.  It’s one thing to be comfortable being alone, another to feel lonely. It’s even more painful to feel as though you will stay lonely. It’s a certain kind of hope that you should never really let go of.

Mere hours before writing a response to you, a dear friend of mine, a straight woman, mentioned not feeling her best. When I asked why, she said it was because she was dying alone.  I failed her a bit in that moment, but I don’t want to fail you now.

As gay men, the reality is we are the first among us to truly have the opportunity to even form the sort of relationships you’re longing for. I could go on and on about the perils of living up to heteronormativity, but you don’t want to hear that right now and I don’t blame you because I don’t want to be alone forever either, bitch.

Still, it must be said: give yourself a break.

You are one of the first of your kind to live out loud and it’s not as if you were given an instruction guide on how to find love and keep it. You are becoming the instructional guide. As am I. It sucks, but what can we do but live in the world as it is not how we wished it to be.

You may have made some mistakes in the past, but forgive yourself of that and move on. I know that sounds easier said than done, but you’re carrying baggage with you and that load isn’t going to get you to where you want to be any sooner. 

I’m sorry that you are the sole member of your friend group without a long term relationship. You don’t have to stay that way, though. How proactive are you being about it? Where do you go to meet men? Are you asking for help? Are you broadening the pool of men you are open to dating?

Are you dating younger? Older? Have you tried online dating outside of Grindr? The answer to all of these questions can be yes, but my answer would be the same: keep trying anyway. I know how exhausting and overwhelming it can all feel, but we have to keep trying. And if you tell yourself that you will not die alone, you will not. Because you will keep trying. Because it is all you can do. I’m going to go back and tell my friend the same thing.

You are not over the hill. You are not doomed to a lonely life. It’s just been harder for you than it has been for others, but later is not the same as never. Hold on to that.

Signed,

Beloved!

20 Queer Q’s with Benito Skinner

The 20 Queer Q’s 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.

The goal is to leave you, the reader, like you just gained a new friend, a new perspective, and that you learned something new about or saw a different side of someone, maybe one that you don’t see online, but one that’s maybe like you.

This week get to know comedian Benito Skinner. Learn about the moment he first felt different, what pride means to him, what his queerness has given him, and more.

Name: Benito Skinner

Age: 24

Preferred Pronouns: He/Him/His

Sexually Identifies As: Gay

1. What do you love about the LGBT community? I love how vast it is. I think growing up in Idaho I saw a very one-note representation of the community on TV like Will & Grace, but I think as I’ve gotten older, went to college, and moved to New York, I’ve seen how vast and diverse the community is and how amazing it is. I’m not saying we’re all perfect, amazing people but so far that’s all I’ve met and I think it’s a really supportive, beautiful community of people who have fought really hard to get where they are and because of that have made beautiful things in whatever they’re a part of.

2. What does pride mean to you? Part of pride for me is knowing the history and knowing the people who have fought for us to be where we’re at, being proud of them, proud of who we are now, all the things we’ve done and all the things we have yet to do and feeling fully confident and whole as a community.

3. Who is someone you consider to be an LGBT icon? SpongeBob for me was a queer icon because I identified with him when I was in second grade and there was something about him that wasn’t obsessed with being masculine or feminine, he just existed.

4. What song do you consider to be an LGBTQ+ anthem? “Hair” by Lady Gaga, which is incredibly slept on.

5. What advice do you have for LGBTQ+ youth? Be a little easier on yourself and explore the things that make you happy a little bit more.

6. Who is the most important ally in your life? Growing up, I had this amazing godmother who passed when I was in college so I never came out to her and that was a huge regret of mine. But as a kid, she always let me wear dresses and wigs so I think she’s my greatest ally because I think about her all the time when I’m making a video or performing, so probably her. Throughout my life, I have great siblings and parents as well.

7. Do you believe in love? Yes, for sure.

8. What are values that you look for in an ideal partner? Everyone always says kindness, but I really do love someone who is soft, can appreciate a romantic moment, and not be afraid to say something sweet. I like someone with a little sweetener. I look for somebody who really supports and helps people get to where they want to go. Somebody who is fun and a lively, energy filled person.

9. Describe what being queer is like in 3-5 words. A privilege. Empowering. Colorful. Complicated.

10. Who is the last person that made you smile? My brother. He makes me laugh all the time.

11. What’s your earliest memory where you felt you were different? I used to dance to “Oops, I Did it Again” publicly, and I just remember one person saying that it was weird for a boy to do that. But even before that, at one point, I was coloring in a Barbie coloring book. My mom was a P.E. teacher at the time, I went to school with her one day, and I remember coloring in that book and one of her students asking, “Why is he coloring in a Barbie coloring book?” And that was the first time of me asking myself, “Am i not allowed?” My mom was not having it.

12. What do you feel most insecure about? If  I’m not fit, I get really insecure about my body, and I think social media elevates  lot of those insecurities.

13. What is the title of the current chapter of your life? Unemployment & Amazon Wigs.

14. On a grading scale from F-A, how is life for you right now? I’d say A, I feel really lucky everyday and I love the people I spend time with, I’m lucky to be in New York and lucky to be making videos that are hopefully making people’s days better.

15. What’s a quality you find sexy? I love when people are being wholly themselves.

16. What song makes you feel the most confident, makes you feel better about yourself? Britney Spears’ “Work Bitch.”

17. How much does your LGBTQ+ identity play into your overall identity? It’s a huge part of who I am. I think a huge part of what my Instagram and YouTube channel are is someone exploring their queer identity after years of not doing so and fully letting it out. To me, it’s almost like the whole thing.

18. Fill in the Blank: In 5 years I want to _________. Have my own show, be in some projects I’m proud of, maybe move. Still be making things that I’m proud of and that makes people happy.

17. Who is someone in your life who gets you? My boyfriend. There’s also something about brotherly love. My brother just gets me so wholly.

20. What value/quality has being queer given you? What have you gained? It’s definitely given me more empathy and compassion for people. It’s given me so much confidence in seeing what we’re capable of and learning about it more and seeing more of it in media is so exciting. I feel honored to be gay.

Keep up with Benito and check out his hilarious videos over on his Instagram and his YouTube for a pick me up.

Top 10 Reasons to Do AIDS/LifeCycle 2019

Be zero feet away from fun.

Costumes, Red Dress Day, and the spandex. 7 days of fun while riding your bike from SF to LA, seeing California from a whole new perspective…on your BIKE! You won’t need to look very far for whatever you consider to be  FUN!

Commit to being into more.

Find a purpose and be part of something big! Raise money that will impact thousands of lives, ensuring continued healthcare coverage for people living with HIV. You may not realize it, but you would be saving a life….actually thousands!

Your bike won’t ghost you.

It’ll be there when you go to bed and when you wake up. Riding it will help you get your summer body ready.

The Ride is the BEST friend zone you’ll ever be in.

Over 3,000 people participate in AIDS/LifeCycle every year from all over California, the U.S., and even abroad. For a whole week, you’ll be surrounded by loving people from all different communities. You’re guaranteed to make a few new friends!

Summer camp for seven days

Growing up did you secretly wish for a gay summer camp? Well, make that wish came true! Not only do you get to travel through our beautiful state, you’ll be entertained every day with fun things like our Root Beer Bust and Movie night in Camp. Or check out one of Rest Stop 4’s Drag Shows!

Disconnect and Unplug

The world can be a bit overwhelming at times. The Ride is a great way to disconnect and get involved with a community of people who care.

 

Ride to Pride

End your epic, seven-day journey by riding into LA during Pride weekend! Ride past the festivities while spectators cheer you on. Trust us, it’s an amazing rush.

It’s the way the world should be.

You may not understand this right now, but you will once you join the Ride community.  We’re made up of people who believe in helping others. We believe our community should stand together and provide support for those who do not have any. We hold each other up in times of need. The Ride really IS the way the world should be.

Make a difference in the fight against HIV and help end stigma.

Discrimination against HIV is still a reality for the millions around the world living with HIV. By participating in AIDS/LifeCycle, you can help start conversations about the virus in your communities, which will help sort out what is myth and what is reality when it comes to HIV.

Accept the challenge.

Who doesn’t want bragging rights? Be that person who gets to say, “I just rode my bike from SF to LA and I helped raise millions of dollars in the fight against AIDS!” Challenge yourself mentally, physically and spiritually!

Images via Getty & Courtesy of ALC

Sign up for the ride here.

The Beauty in the In-Between: Reclaiming My Multi-Dimensional Identities

I am a nonbinary queer transracial Honduran adoptee with a physical disability. Try saying that 10 times fast.

No, don’t. You did, didn’t you?  

I am a nonbinary queer transracial Honduran adoptee with a physical disability. My intersecting identities make me who I am. They don’t exist without the other. I don’t exist without them.

At times, my identities are privileged and at times they are oppressed. Benefiting off of white privilege as a transracial adoptee is confusing and often imposed upon us. There is the “privilege” of not having to disclose having a disability because you pass as able-bodied. Living as a nonbinary person who passes as their sex assigned at birth could also be seen as a privilege. But is it a privilege to never have to speak up or be asked to share your opinion about being Latinx or disabled or queer in America because no one suspects you are?

Part of me felt safe hiding with my closeted identities. It’s only recently that I’ve started to reclaim my identities, and learn how to navigate discussions based around the intersections of race, disability, and queerness. My identities are dynamic and sometimes feel very evolutionary as I learn more about myself and how I relate to the world. But the truth is I still search for belonging. I still search for myself.

For the longest time, I saw my identities as in-between. It was neither this or that. Rather, my identities were the “or” –I felt caught between worlds, unsure if I belonged; -unsure of how to enter;  unsure if I had the right to enter.

I grew up as a visual minority in Portland, Maine in the ‘90s. I didn’t really identify as any race. Many adoptees document not growing up talking about race or having the opportunity to talk about race and how it relates to them. My curiosity about my race never really lingered. Within the white community I grew up in, I was perceived as being “tan all year round.” Imagine your racial identity being taken away from you before you understand what it is to be a racial being. Each time I made an effort to connect with someone who shared my ethnic background, I felt like I got dismissed very quickly. I was an outsider. I did not belong to my own race. I was not sure how to negotiate my existence, to live in a world where my identities were multidimensional.

I am often asked to justify my disability; asked to provide evidence or proof to the able-bodied world. Within the disabled community, I held a sense of privilege since I could “pass” as able-bodied. “You don’t look like you’re disabled,” able-bodied and disabled people would say to me. I frequently felt uncomfortable disclosing that I had Cerebral Palsy because my CP was so mild. Who was I to talk about disability or take up space?

Again, I felt very stuck in-between two worlds. Even though there was a sharp longing, a sense of curiosity, an intense feeling of wanting to belong, there was a backdrop of an emotion that said, “Hey, dude, it’s cool, just sit back, get comfortable. Be part of this in-between town. I mean, you could be mayor of  Mayor of In-Between Town if you wanted.” And so I stayed and appointed myself Mayor of In-Between Town, population: me. The only problem was, I wasn’t sure how to leave.

In addition to having CP and being a transracial adoptee, I knew that another part of my identity was different. Within the heteronormative community I grew up in, it was assumed everyone was straight and cisgender. But for me, I had fallen in second-grade love with my soon to be third-grade teacher’s daughter. I wasn’t sure how I felt about my gender but I knew that I wasn’t a girl. I didn’t exactly feel like a boy, either. My mom embraced it. And I embraced my very limited understanding of what it meant to be this identity that I had no language for.

I decided to stay in the closet. Looking back, I wish I had treated myself with more tenderness and had the courage to embrace who I was. But I also wish that I lived in a society that embraced identity rather than pushed people to conceal their authentic selves for fear of ostracization or worse.

Because of my “passable,” in-between, invisible disability, nonbinary identity, I was able to exist in-between worlds. But existing was not living. I was able to successfully suppress my ever-churning questions of my own gender identity. I was able to suppress my feelings of inadequacy in an able-bodied world by using humor as a crutch. I was able to ignore the fact that I was, indeed, a racial being. But here’s the thing: suppressing something is never a success. It’s a double-edged placeholder. It’s a bandaid that gives us just a little more time before we implode.

As I grew up being perceived as able-bodied, I hid my weaknesses behind my strengths. I was too scared to be honest. I was already being bullied for being adopted, having a single mother, my physical features (the physical features that made me Honduran), and much more. I didn’t really want to add more to their laundry list of insults. So I kept it to myself. I kept everything to myself.

In my early twenties, I met a girl in Thailand. As our friendship grew, her trust in me grew and I began to meet her family, one by one. One day she invited me to sit with her family in the back room of the bar they owned. She introduced them as her siblings. I immediately saw something in them that I saw in me.

I pulled my friend to the side and asked if they had Cerebral Palsy. She said yes in a soft voice. Without looking too excited, I told her I had CP, too. She smiled.

Soon, I shared with her siblings that I had CP. Their eyes lit up. I saw myself in them and they saw themselves in me. Maybe this is what I was looking for all along. If I had grown up with representation, perhaps my early beginnings would have been different. Maybe I could make it different for them.

I don’t know if there is a place called In-Between Town, but I know that I felt that I was a citizen of it before I realized that all of my identities have a place in the world and I am part of this world. I want to honor and make space for my identities. I want to reclaim my identities and be the author of my own narrative. There is power in that; there is beauty in that.

Kiss My Astro: Your December Horoscopes

The best piece of wisdom to remember from 2018? There are no guarantees in love.

This year brought us deep into the places in our hearts, minds, and bodies that need to get shaken up and refreshed. For some of us, that means major changes in what seemed like stable relationships — for others, it means powerful new connections that spring up out of nowhere. Maybe you’ve experienced both? In this last month of a year that’s been astrologically focused on transforming our relationships, you get cosmic permission to full release the pain of the past year and start building toward future pleasures. Nothing new can grow without something ending first. With Venus in Scorpio, still, just be aware relationships can take a sudden turn toward deeper issues without much warning. Draw on that optimistic energy of Jupiter in Sagittarius to get you through with your sense of humor intact.

If you’re in need of extra insights or holiday gifts for the astrology fans on your list, hit me up for readings and astrology presents! 

Aries

This year has been extra in so many ways, but you’ve really been feeling it at the deepest levels. The good news is 2019 won’t be nearly as grueling for your heart and body. The bad news is you’ve still get December to deal with. This month, recognize that you know how to survive a lot. You know how to get your needs met, however you can. What do you want, now, to thrive in the new year? You’re moving from a year of limping and slow recovery to a year where you’ll be soaring like a goddamn bird. Don’t expect too much progress all at once, but know you’re on your way out of whatever mess you feel stuck in.

Taurus

This year has introduced you to a theme that will be much more present for you in the coming years: You are learning to appreciate the pleasures of unpredictability. You’ve been letting go of old stories about what partnership means, particularly fixation on a kind of stability that can be stifling and smothering for your own spirit. You’re learning now how to ask for (and keep getting) what you need as life continues to churn and twist and leave us in unexpected situations. Part of how you’re coming back to life right now is through your erotic imagination. Let new desires help you become your next best self.

Gemini

This is a beautiful month for releasing stress from your body, especially stress about your body. Learn to trust your internal sense of joy more than you trust a mirror. The kind of love that is looking for you this month knows that our bodies are the expression of the energy that moves them. What is that energy like for you right now? Are you letting yourself choose the people that light you up when you’re with them? Anyone you feel ugly, small, or invisible with when you’re with them is no longer someone you need to make time for.

Cancer

Let’s talk about desire, darling. You’re someone who can feel it intensely, and this year has been really running you through the gauntlet. Whether you’ve gotten those desires satisfied or remain in a state of frustrated longing, desire itself can be a distraction that prevents you from noticing everything else in your life. Maybe there’s a lot you don’t want to notice? Nevertheless, something is calling you to tend a little more to your core wellbeing. Turn your energy inward, start getting curious about what (else) you need. Desire will still be there when you’re done — and you’ll be much better equipped to handle both satisfaction and disappointment.

Leo

The holidays are generally stressful, but there’s something about family that’s particularly tender for you this year. If you have the energy to explore that, this could be a time for some deep healing. Luckily, you’ve also got a little extra sparkle right now and you’ll find plenty of opportunities for sharing those sparks. Risk being a little more vulnerable and you’ll find it easier to share both grief and celebration. 2019 will be a year of reconnecting with joy — you can get an early start on that right now.

Virgo

As you move toward a year in which your sacred mission is to call in the kind of loving that will make your world feel right, your first assignment is to silence your internal chatter — particularly the part of you that likes to game out what you should say to the difficult people you love, and what they might say back to you, and what you can say next to help explain or solve the problem, etc., as you lay awake at night instead of drifting into mindless oblivion. The love you need right now is the kind that will knock you out and let you rest. What can you do to release your need to explain, justify, persuade, or negotiate with anyone? Who can you reach out to for some soporific tenderness?

Libra

Honey, don’t get too hung up on any one man right now. Even if it’s your life partner, or your kid, or the love of your life that you’re just now getting to notice you. It’s really not about them right now, it’s about all the friends that keep you sane when that man isn’t around or hasn’t done right by you. This month is kindly reminding you that there is a lot of love in your life, and that you can start to hold it in different ways when you start with self-love. Adore yourself first; everyone else can wait in line.

Scorpio

Oh, the things you’ve learned about love this year. It could lead you to cynicism, but you don’t have to get stuck there. Your relationships may have been tough this year, but your response gets to be magical. You get to be the phoenix rising from the flames of 2018. And as you’re reborn into 2019, it’s time welcome yourself back to life with decadent pleasures. Let yourself remember why it’s good to be in a body.

Sagittarius

You are so damn hot right now, no matter what you look like. Maybe you’re in ratty sweatpants and feeling bloated, maybe there’s spinach in your teeth — honestly, it doesn’t matter. You’re radiating a renewed sense of purpose and direction. You’re coming into your own. Do you feel it? Can you trust it? Is it a little scary to imagine growing into a more expansive version of yourself? Remember that you won’t be on this journey alone. You get to be your own hero this year, and there’s something magnetic about that kind of energy.

Capricorn

Dearest stoic Capricorn, repeat after me: Isolation isn’t the answer right now. We all know how tough and capable you are, but that’s not the issue. Everybody needs to know they’re not alone while facing anything they can’t control. What kind of support do you actually want? Let your imagination run wild. Notice where you start to shut down and tell yourself “It’s fine, I can handle this alone.” I’m sure you can. But what if you didn’t have to? Look a little more closely at who’s offering you some sweetness right now, and take a chance by accepting.

Aquarius

Sometimes it’s hard not to get caught between your idealism and your realism: hoping but not wanting to hope, dreaming but not believing in your dreams. This is a month for dreaming big. Believe in the possibilities you’ve talked yourself out of. Start looking for the collaborators you need to make things happen. Remember that you’re part of larger communities, and your voice is needed. What happens when you remember all the ways you’re already connected?

Pisces

Let’s talk about what it means to be sensitive. Toxic rules about masculinity teach us what men can and can’t feel, what they’re allowed to express and what they’re encouraged to repress. You’re one of the special ones who feels more than others usually do — like being an artist who sees a range of subtle differences in color. This sensitivity is a kind of intelligence, and this month asks you to claim it, learn more about it, and learn how to use it. Don’t let anyone shame you out of claiming what’s yours, sweetie. The ones who are worth your time will be grateful to have some of those healing powers directed their way.

Thirty Years of World AIDS Day And Combating HIV Stigma

The first World AIDS Day was observed on December 1, 1988. That year, more than 28,000 people died from AIDS-related causes. I was 12, probably somewhere in Philadelphia dancing and lip-synching to Paula Abdul, blissfully unaware that the epidemic would later alter my life in significant ways. The only HIV prevention that seemed to exist back then for young gay boys like me, were vocal demands to not get AIDS. As we mark the 30th Anniversary of World AIDS Day, the number of annual HIV-related deaths has dropped tremendously to around 6,500. While science has made strides in expanding HIV prevention, systematic stigma and shame continue to prohibit folks from leading safe and healthy lives, especially youth of color.

In many ways, the crack epidemic was the equalizer in our neighborhood. My mother had friends who were lawyers, blue collar workers, and business executives – all of whom were addicts. I watched them come and go as our one-room apartment became a revolving door. I never paid them much attention, choosing to retreat to the sounds of Paula Abdul, Janet, or Donna Summers. That all changed when Miss Tina walked in.

Miss Tina was Black, tall, muscular, and unapologetic about her sometimes revealing five o’clock shadow. Instead of studying for school tests, I studied Miss Tina. I’d ask her questions about her nail color and shoes, but what I desperately wanted to know was how to beat up the boys who called me “faggot” at school.

One night, I woke up to urgent whispers and cries from Miss Tina. “I think you need to go to the hospital,” I heard my mother say. I peeked through the sheet dividing our one-room apartment and saw Miss Tina’s bloodied and swollen face. I wanted to ask what happened, but even then, I knew. She got beat up for being herself, just like I got beat up at school.

As I grew older, Miss Tina and I developed our own friendship. We talked about the night that she showed up bloody in our apartment. She told me about the many times she showed up bloody somewhere. We talked about how she endured. She told me to never do drugs or get AIDS. She made me promise. I promised.

In 1996, Miss Tina died of AIDS complications. There was no wailing, no explicit mourning. People spoke about her death as matter of fact. I can’t say I blame them. By that time, there were an estimated 23 million people living with HIV worldwide. Trauma and shame meant many of us didn’t talk with our families about AIDS or death. Back then, demands to never get AIDS was the only HIV prevention there was to give young gay boys like myself.

It has been more than 20 years since Miss Tina’s passing, and I’ve been living with HIV for more than 10 of those years. Looking back, I now know that I didn’t break Miss Tina’s promise. She wasn’t really asking me to promise to abstain: She was telling me to live. Tina knew, even before I had officially “come out” to her, that I was in need of direction and helpful hints that could, and would, eventually save my life.

Now I have the privilege of providing LGBTQ youth the same direction and guidance that she once gifted me. I’m launching the first-ever National council of youth activists living with HIV, called Engaging Communities around HIV Organizing (ECHO), focused on combating rampant HIV stigma. We must end laws and policies which criminalize people living with HIV, and make sure every young person living with HIV is cared for and valued.

Today, I am older than Tina was when she died. Effective treatment and care have helped to make HIV a survivable diagnosis. We now even have PrEP, the daily pill that helps to prevent HIV infection. It all would seem like science fiction to Miss Tina and the little boy she unknowingly saved.

George is Tired…Of ‘This Is Not America’

Yes, the fuck this is America. And I’m not talking about that Donald Glover video (whew chil-ay). But you have got to be kidding me if you can ever part your lips at the clusterfuck that has been two years under the Trump administration and continuously say “This is not the America I know” or “This is not how America operates.” Cause for people with a higher melanin complexion, this country has always been a dumpster fire of oppression to protect whiteness at all costs.

The most recent uprising of people who have been living with “blinders” is the attacks on the migrant caravan at the Mexican-United States border. These people who have walked more than 2000 miles looking for asylum and a chance at the “American Dream” were instead met with an American nightmare. Over 50 people arrested, including mothers and children and horrifying images of people being tear gassed. These photos tell the story of an America that many of us have always known. Yet, the rally cries of “America is better than this” continued to be spouted and the truth is we are tired of lies y’all tell.

‘Cause it was just 60 years ago the photos were of dogs biting my ancestors in the streets as they fought against Jim Crow laws wanting to gain civil rights. The photos of my people being hosed and beat with batons for simply wanting equity and equality. The pictures of white men pouring acid in a pool because it integrated, or the photo of angry white women yelling at Elizabeth Eckford as she walked into class once schools desegregated. Or how about the photos of my people hanging from trees, backs full of lashes and open wounds?

Hell, I’ll do you one better — let’s bring it to TODAY! It wasn’t just 60 minutes ago that Ferguson and Baltimore mirrored images of the fight in Palestine. It wasn’t just 60 minutes ago that neo-Nazis stormed Charlottesville with tiki torches (I still cackle. The fuck was y’all going? A barbeque?) fighting to take their country back — a country that they have never lost and has ALWAYS had white people in a place of power.

What has America been? A lie from the pit of hell. But seriously, this country literally teaches children that America was “discovered” with people already living here. And got everyone to believe the lie and make a holiday in honor of it. How did you find a new land with indigenous people living on it who weren’t lost? To add insult to that injury, the diseases y’all carried over here decimated their tribes. Those who didn’t die from that, were killed by you, as you conquered and claimed this land as your own. Then made another holiday called Thanksgiving like y’all and the indigenous people peaced it up. I think TF not.

But that wasn’t enough for your terrible ancestors. They had to find a way to have a “hold my beer” moment and double down on the heinous people that they were. They then traveled to the land of Africa and enslaved millions of people, shipping them to 19 different lands including the good ole US of A. These enslaved people were beaten, chained, killed, raped, and separated destroying years of legacy — ending the hopes of families ever finding each other again.

And I haven’t even gotten to this country’s treatment of LGBTQ people. Electroshock therapy, conversion therapy, being listed as a mental illness until the ’70s. The HIV epidemic and ignoring of us for all those years while hundreds of thousands died. The denial of the right to marry until recently, but still not offering workplace protections. And most recently, the trans military ban and attempt to make a person’s sex and gender at birth permanent.

So, keeping it all the way real, what you are seeing happening in this country IS America and has always been America and will continue to be America until the “good white people” push back against their hateful kinfolk. So many people see these separations at the border and are stating “we have never been a country like this,” like this country wasn’t literally built on the separation of Black families across the diaspora.

A bunch of folks saying “Trump is the worst president in history” leaving me to wonder if y’all was okay with the other presidents who raped and had folks enslaved? Like people, come on already. I know the K-12 education system got y’all fooled into thinking that American History made sense because it was “just the times they were in” except it didn’t exist UNTIL it was created by y’all. Only for y’all to then be pedestaled for fixing problems that your ancestors started.

So, in closing, I want to reiterate that “This is America” (does weird Donald Glover dance). And the sooner y’all realize that, the sooner we can have a conversation on what needs to be done to fix the problem it has ALWAYS been.