‘The House of Flowers’ Is Netflix’s New Family Dramedy With Multiple Queer and Trans Storylines

If Pedro Almodovar ever decided he wanted to make a Mexican telenovela, chances are, something very close to The House of Flowers would be the end result. Not to downplay writer-director and show creator Manolo Caro’s originality, because his work is wildly original and lush, but much like Almodovar, Caro’s style is provocative and unapologetic.

Much like his films and plays, the Caro Netflix original holds a mirror up to the cultural idiosyncrasies and bad habits of the Mexican people, and with sharp, smart comedic dialogue points out just how outdated and unnecessary some of these frames of mind are. The subjects of casual racism and homophobia within Mexican families are rarely addressed as a problem, but in The House of Flowers, the De La Mora family is forced to do so when they’re bombarded with damaging family secrets and learn — some more reluctantly than others — that public perception isn’t the most important thing in life.

Nothing will kill a party quicker than a dead body. Except a Virginia De La Mora party, because she’s got a reputation to uphold, so after finding the body of a former employee hanging from the roof of the family flower shop, it is decided the party will go on as planned and the body will be dealt with later, but as it turns out, that can only go on for so long because the secrets start rolling out faster than the family can process them.

Upon learning of the long-running affair between Roberta, the deceased, and Ernesto, the family’s beloved patriarch, secret after secret comes to light, starting with the existence of Ernesto and Roberta’s young daughter, who is soon moved into the household upon her mother’s death. It is also revealed that Paulina, the eldest of the De La Mora children, has been privy to their father’s indiscretions for years and is more than familiar with the new member of the family, in addition to her father’s other business venture with Roberta, a drag cabaret which, like their famous flower shop, is also called The House of Flowers.

Naturally, Virginia is incensed. Not only is her picture-perfect marriage tainted, but now her most trusted daughter has betrayed her and her only son, who won’t commit to marrying his longtime girlfriend, is coming to terms with being bisexual and is thinking maybe he should disclose his five-year secret relationship with Diego, the family financial advisor.

These are only a few of the many ridiculous problems the De La Mora’s face in the 13 episode series, so it’s safe to say The House of Flowers can be a little soapy, but that’s the magic in the dramedy, as it embraces its campy telenovela flair and pairs it with the sharp wit of its writing to make it not just believable, but relatable. However, it must be said that beyond its obvious soapy inspirations, perhaps its most candid reminder of the genre is the casting of legendary Mexican singer and telenovela actress Verónica Castro as Virginia, who serves as the lingering influence of Mexico’s traditional views on the controversial topics the series rolls out with every episode.

Dealing with her husband’s infidelity, her daughter’s ex-husband who has just come out as trans, her newly out bisexual son’s explicit threesome sex tape going public, and the family’s frozen assets due to Roberta’s financial revenge upon Ernesto, all during preparations for the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the flower shop, is all too much and Virginia would be unraveling — were it not for the occasional toke of pot in the backyard.

While Verónica Castro is a definite highlight of the series, Cecilia Suarez truly shines as Paulina, the fixer of the family who is dealing with a few serious revelations of her own on top of handling both family businesses and raising a teenage son. Her performance is a nuanced transformation that deserves recognition, if only for her solemn rendition of the 2003 banger, “Muevelo Muevelo,” during Roberta’s funeral service.

In addition to exploring the matriarchal themes of the show, the exploration of sexuality is handled beautifully. While the character of Maria Jose could have been improved by casting a trans actress, it was handled with grace and it was paid the respect it deserves, by both the filmmaker and the actor portraying Maria Jose, Paco León, who expressed the necessity of a performance that steered clear of stereotypes.

“What we wanted to do and what was important for us to do was, take this character out of the stereotypical perception, in a sense that would create a healthy dialogue about LGBTQ issues by providing a positive portrayal of a trans woman, and we hope Maria Jose did that.”

Clearly, Mexican cinema has a long way to go when it comes to telling LGBTQ stories, but considering the country’s traditional views, every step is a significant one and The House of Flowers is a big one.

The House of Flowers is now streaming on Netflix.

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.

Bonnie Milligan Leads Lesbian and Plus-Sized Representation on Broadway as Pamela in ‘Head Over Heels’

Bonnie Milligan, a self-proclaimed “Midwest gal,” made her Broadway debut last month as the beautiful Pamela in Head Over Heels, featuring the songs of The Go-Gos. Spoiler alert: Pamela eventually realizes she’s a lesbian, in love with her best friend, Mopsa. She’s also a plus-sized woman whose size receives no fatphobic jibes in the script. The musical is notable, also, for being the first Broadway musical in which a trans actor, Peppermint, has created a leading role.

INTO spoke to Bonnie about her breakthrough role, lesbian love on Broadway, and her personal experience with fatphobia.

More spoilers follow. This interview has been condensed.

How does it feel to be making your Broadway debut in Head Over Heels?

I feel very lucky. It’s something I’ve wanted for so long, and so it’s not lost on me, the amazingness of it all. So I feel very grateful, is really the word for this kind of opportunity, and to be doing a show that has such a beautiful message and with this character, which I’m obsessed with.

What is the message of the show?

Love and acceptance, and that can apply to yourself and to others — that finding your true authenticity, and embracing it, can lead to such joy.

What’s different about your role in Head Over Heels from previous roles you played?

Well, that she gets to, first of all, have a whole, real part. [chuckles] What I love about playing her is being the vain, beautiful girl who has to go on a journey of finding out what’s really going on inside of her.

I feel like so many roles I get, especially as a plus-sized girl, usually will reference my weight, and usually, the journey is finding her own self-love, and how does she overcome all these obstacles of being overweight, and will someone love her? And [in Head Over Heels], that’s not an obstacle. [Pamela] loves herself from the beginning, and it’s actually finding out, What else is there? and what does she really want out of life? and embracing it.

Do you feel like playing this role has taught you about yourself in any particular way?

It’s amazing to go on the stage and, eight times a week, sit out there and go, “No, I really feel beautiful,” and sing my opening number, “Beautiful,” about my own beauty, and just appreciate that a little bit more, invite the beautiful things that I find about myself, which sometimes can be hard to do. I think it’s taught me to be kinder to myself, and to embrace what I love about myself.

What is it about Mopsa that causes Pamela to fall in love with her?

Mopsa is her best friend. Mopsa’s the one who always puts Pamela in her place, because [Pamela’s] not mean-spirited at all. She sings, “You might think I’m crazy — so what if I am? My head is full of good things, enough for everyone.” So she honestly thinks she’s doing what’s right when she’s calling her sister plain. So it’s Mopsa who is there saying, “You lose sight of gentleness.” “You’re going too far.” [Mopsa’s] the one who always keeps [Pamela] in check. And we have this playful tête-à-tête, back and forth, that I love because it’s just fun. It’s this person who is always there, who believes in the best in Pamela and feeds the best in Pamela. So it’s this beautiful, complicated, deep relationship that has always been there.

You recently tweeted, “I dream of a world filled with love and respect and inclusion…with Correct pronouns and ‘provocatively cast’ women ‘trampling’ stereotypes.”

It was definitely after the Ben Brantley New York Times review,* where he was so flippantly addressing nonbinary [people], and he called “binary” the “most overused word of the decade,” and it was so rude, so transphobic. He incorrectly addressed the character Pythio’s pronouns with a joke, misused Peppermint’s pronouns, and it was mean-spirited.

He also addressed me as “provocatively cast,” which to me felt like a mean side-eye of fat-shaming, because he called me “provocatively cast” [as] the beautiful princess. And in the script, it was always Jeff [Whitty’s] intention to have me, and have a plus-sized actress, but have nothing in the dialogue discussing that. But that was to be on stage — a beautiful ingenue being the plain girl, and the beautiful, plus-sized girl playing the beautiful girl, and that’s part of the lesson. I have a line saying, “For Beauty’s standard through all time defines inconstancy,” meaning the standards change all the time. You can’t keep up with them.

Back in the day, I would have been the picture of beauty, because you look at all these paintings and sculptures, and they were round! They were chubby! Because that meant wealth, that meant status. So I just found [Ben Brantley’s] whole… it was heartbreaking to me. It had been such a joyful opening, and our audiences had been so receptive and beautiful and amazing, and to have to see that was just… it broke my heart.

And so I really do dream of a place where people are respected, where you don’t have to comment on what someone’s pronouns are, or what someone’s size is, or who someone loves. How does that affect your life? It doesn’t. And I just wish that we could move to a place where it isn’t a thing, that we don’t have to defend ourselves for existing. It’s frustrating to me.

One of the things I loved so much about Head Over Heels is that it’s a queer story that’s just a lot of fun, which feels revolutionary, in a way.

That’s just been so much of this, too: The reception of, especially Mopsa and Pamela’s storyline, that the obstacle is Pamela figuring out what that piece of the puzzle is. It’s not her not wanting to be gay. It’s not her not wanting to accept that part of herself. She just doesn’t understand it yet. She knows something feels different, and it’s a little scary, and it’s very different, because she’s known [Mopsa] forever, and it never felt weird around her [before]. There’s no toil, there’s no, “Well, should we come out?” It’s actually just joy for us. And when we do come out, we are accepted.

Joy is, sadly, revolutionary on a Broadway stage. [In Head Over Heels, we] have a lesbian love story that just exists. I am so glad to be able to provide that.

In many ways, fatphobia is an enduring struggle within the LGBTQ movement, even as we’ve made so much progress in so many other areas. What’s your relationship with fatphobia today?

I mean, it’s definitely something I still work at. There are days that I feel so gorgeous, [chuckles] and I’m like, “Yes, nailing it.” I leave and I feel amazing and sexy. And there’s a lot in the show, that I do feel sexy, and I can go out there and be like, “Absolutely, yeah,” singing “Beautiful” and meaning every word of it.

It was so hard for me to find an opening night dress that I felt beautiful in. And I was trying to work with stylists, and people were turning me down because I wasn’t an easy size to work with, and that was soul-crushing. Everyone in my cast is so gorgeous. Like, literally everyone. And looking at all the girls, [they were] pulling their dresses during previews, and they all looked stunning, and I would sit there, and that voice kicks in, where you’re like, “Well, you’re not going to look that good.” I got to a point where I was like, “I just don’t even want to go to this opening party. I’m so discouraged.” And I had to make the choice to not listen to that, and that’s very hard.

I had a friend help me, and we did a Rent the Runway, and again, many things didn’t fit, and it was really frustrating. But I found one that did. And then, making the choice to be like, “No. Remember those times when I felt gorgeous and beautiful?” and embrace that. And, as I got ready, just really being like, “No, you look amazing,” just kind of retraining [myself], because it’s so hard.

We’re constantly told, in this world, by magazines, by TV, by everything, especially like… I get scripts where everything is so [laughs] offensive if you’re a plus-sized actor. What they want you to constantly do in these scripts, and say about yourself, is just heartbreaking, and you have to rebuild yourself up every time.

You’ve said recently that therapy was a big part of your journey to self-acceptance.

Oh yeah, for sure. I had been in the city for a while, and I didn’t really start “going for it” for five years. I had left school, and I’d had all these self-doubts placed in me, and words from others, people that had said, “It’s just going to be really hard for you,” and I took it in as fact that I wouldn’t work. And I came to the city and I thought, “Oh, I can figure this out.”

But I didn’t really tackle what those words had done to me, and all the hurt inside that I was already dealing with. And I was taking a voice class in the city, and we were doing a tongue tension release day. And all of a sudden, I just started sobbing, and I started talking out things that had been said to me before, that I didn’t realize, that I thought I had moved on from, that had really stayed in my head and my heart. And I then kind of stopped and looked back at myself, and I thought, “I’m so unhappy.”

I hadn’t done anything in a year, which was longest since I’d started acting that I hadn’t done something, and I’d just been nose-to-the-ground working, and paying my rent. I realized I was dealing with a little bit of a depression, and I wasn’t doing anything, and I had a friend help me, honestly, fill out the paperwork for a therapist, because I was just in a rough spot, and then I started on therapy, and dealing with things I had never, ever dealt with in my childhood.

So yeah, finding a therapist was integral to me finding healing, in so many ways, to realize maybe that the girl that was so gung-ho and believed in herself before the world kind of broke her down, maybe she wouldn’t come back, but that I could find a way to find some of that self-love again and come back a stronger person because of those things that had happened to me.

If success had happened before I had dealt with all these other things… gosh, I don’t even know. I would have been such a mess. So it was from that, honestly, a little bit after that is when I finally started to take off in my career.

What would you say to other plus-sized actors, either on the verge of entering the industry or in training programs where they may be given toxic messages about their size?

I think that it’s most important to really find your self-worth and know what you bring to the table. This business, in general, is really hard for everybody, but especially as a plus-sized human, because people like to really put things in boxes, and when they find out what your “other” is, that’s your box. And the “fat” box is not always the kindest box, and again, you’ll get scripts that just make you want to go, “Oh my god.” And you’ll get that all the time!

And it’s really hard, and you have to really have a strong sense of self, and the feeling of, well, maybe you can go into rooms and change people’s opinions, and bring what you bring to the table. Surround yourself with the right people, and know that you’re special, and you are beautiful and that things are changing, and things are shifting and that change takes time, which is frustrating. And we have more to come up against, but you’ve got to stay positive, hang in it, and just ground yourself in true self-love because it’s very important.

Bonnie can be seen eight times a week in Head Over Heels at the Hudson Theatre at 141 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036. See headoverheelsthemusical.com for more information. She will additionally appear in a Showtime mini-series, Escape at Dannemora, directed by Ben Stiller, this fall. Follow Bonnie on Twitter at @BeltingBonnie or Instagram at @beltingbons.

*NB: The New York Times has since redacted Mr. Brantley’s most queer- transphobic remarks in his original review of Head Over Heels. The publication’s statement on the subject can be found here.

Images via Getty

‘We The Animals’ Explores A Queer Child’s Rejection of Toxic Masculinity And Subsequent Self-Discovery

In his 2011 debut novel We the Animals, Justin Torres weaved a fictional narrative about his upbringing as one of three sons born to a Puerto Rican father and Irish-Italian mother struggling to make a life for themselves in upstate New York in the early 1980s. Part of that story was lead character Jonah’s young curiosity about his sexual identity, one he’d later discover was not the same as his father or brothers. It would ultimately set him apart from his family who otherwise shared the same struggles and secrets.

A new film adaptation of We the Animals opens this weekend, and somehow director Jeremiah Zagar has managed to translate the powerful prose from Torres’s pages into a cinematic showpiece — a live action version of an already quite visual book that plays just as well on the screen. It’s perhaps because Torres was so involved that the movie could be a near-equal in quality; whereas with other pieces of fiction-turned-film the original writer is often kept out of the screenwriting process, Zagar acknowledges that the only way to be true to Torres’s original was to have Torres on hand.

“I just wanted Justin there every minute of every day we could have him,” Zagar tells INTO. “It was such a personal book, that it was like if we didn’t have the author intimately involved with the screen adaptation, then it wasn’t going to work. So instead of thinking it as an adaptation, I wanted to think of it as a translation — like we’re just translating this book to the screen and we’re going to do what it takes to get it right for the screen, and that was how we approached it.”

Zagar says Torres was involved both through the screenwriting process and on set, as well as in the editing room. He acknowledges how rare that is in Hollywood, but says the success of the film so far, having premiered earlier this year at Sundance to positive reviews, has validated his decision.

“I felt an added pressure just to make sure that we honor the book,” Zagar says. “Common wisdom is that when you option a book, you try to keep the author at arm’s length so that you can translate it or so you can adapt it for the screen. And so we just took the opposite approach. We made sure there was nothing in the movie that the author wasn’t going to be happy with.”

Zagar’s rendition follows the book quite closely, which means highlighting the physical abuse Jonah’s mother, referred to as Ma, endures from his father, Pops, as well as the confusing tenderness they also share. 

“That’s how children see violence,” Zagar says. “Sometimes you see your parents argue — like you do in the big truck scene — but when it’s deep, disturbing violence, it’s usually hidden from the kids. They’re then processing that. What happened? How did that happen?

While Pops (Raul Castillo) is less physically violent with his sons, Jonah is the most affected by the emotional effects. His relationship with Ma is a special one — he is the youngest and also the most vulnerable to his mother’s feelings. Still, Ma (played by Sheila Vand) can lash out at her children at times, her inability to fully process or improve her circumstances reaching a boiling point that often spills out onto the young boys. 

“The movie is very much interested in not quantifying or prescribing what is good or bad,” Zagar says. “This is the way people interpret love. It’s sometimes the way people interpret love is brutal. And sometimes the way people interpret love is joyous and beautiful and so what we’re trying to show, what Justin shows in his book is, and why we’re so moved by the book, is that depiction of love had something so nuanced and that was the most important thing to me.”

Raul Castillo says it was Torres’s writing that had him “falling in love” with the polarizing role of Pops. Initially courted by Zagar before having read the novel, Castillo recalls picking up a copy in Brooklyn and reading it in one sitting.

“I love being introduced to new Latino writers and especially people who are going it in a really fresh and exciting way for me,” Castillo says of Torres. “He’s telling a story about this mixed-race family in a way that you don’t get to see often and he’s talking about family life and sexuality in ways that are, not such a black and white, not such a concrete, cut and dry kind of way. He’s telling stories that are complex and they don’t tie it up in a neat, little bow.”

Castillo says Torres’s availability on set was hugely beneficial, especially considering the script (and likewise, the character of Pops) was so faithful to Torres’s fictionalized life story.

“He was able to tell the stories about his family that weren’t in the book,” Castillo says. “We got photos of his family. I got to see photos of his father and just tell us — I mean, the book is incredibly nuanced, but he was able to give us more anecdotal nuance.”

Jonah (played by Evan Rosado) is not yet 10 when We Are the Animals begins, but his world is only just beginning to expand beyond his brothers and his parents. He’s quiet but playful, and spends his time sketching in his secret notebook, making drawings that are homo-erotic and based on a neighbor boy he longingly stares at and eventually attempts to kiss later in the film. His older brothers (Isaiah Kristian and Josiah Gabriel) are more rough and tumble, taking after Pops in their want to wrestle and swear and watch pornography when they can get away with it.  It’s at this point in Jonah’s life that these differences in the way they each move through the world begins to weigh on him, especially as it relates to his feelings for and about masculinity and other men.

“Well, sexuality is confusing, you know. I think especially for young people,” Zagar says. “The way you watch pornography and discover sexuality in my generation is very different from the way kids watch it and discover it now.  … I think a lot of it has to do with information that they receive and these young boys are receiving all the kind of conflicting sexual cues, strange sexual cues from their parents — they’re receiving you know sexual cues from the TV, they’re receiving sexual cues from people out in the world, and how they are processing those things is interesting. And we weren’t trying to say this is how they’re processing them, we were just trying to say they are processing. They’re kids and they’re dealing with it, so if they’re dealing with it, than you can imagine how they might interpret it.”

Jonah’s self-discovery is private until his notebook is uncovered. It’s one of the most tense moments in the film, one that is emotional in a somewhat unexpected way.

“I think that when Ma finds out that Jonah is gay, it is less of a betrayal of her because of some ethical, moral ideology or something; it’s more that she can’t believe he’s been keeping a secret from her because they have such a strong alliance,” says Sheila Vand. “He is the only one that she feels understands her in this man’s world she’s in that it just all Pops and boys becoming Pops.  I don’t think she puts together where his sensitivity comes from or this is why they connect so deeply, but I think for her, she just felt like she knew him completely and entirely and when she finds out that there are these parts of him that he hasn’t shared with her, I don’t feel like she’s supportive or non-supportive — she’s just surprised that he’s been withholding.”

Castillo says this scene, in particular, proved difficult for young Rosado, as he and his two on-screen brothers were not actors before signing onto the film. Instead, they learned through coaching on the job and familial bonding sessions off-camera.

“By the time we got to that scene, I think we had reached these levels of intimacy and we communed in a way that by that point, we just had this natural rapport,” Castillo says. “And Evan is — he’s such a special, young boy. He’s so sensitive — he’s incredibly sensitive and Jeremiah had to really work with him to push him. It was hard for him to be angry — to sit in that space of anger. It was handled with sort of reverence, thankfully, and I know that for Evan, that was a really challenging scene, and I think we were all there to support him to go on that journey.”

We the Animals is never a condemnation of a young boy’s homosexuality — instead, it’s an exploration of a family through the eyes of a child who is feeling out the rights and wrongs from within a world where there are too many inconsistencies to be completely sure. The lack of vilification extends from Torres’s original text, and Zagar thankfully extends it into the dialogue and camera shots of what is a gorgeously rendered rural landscape of lower class coping mechanisms for a mixed-race family at the height of the yuppie infiltration of nearby New York City.

“I do think that the movie touches on more of a human space of confusion,” Vand says. “And I also think because of [Ma’s] background and the socioeconomic thing, she just doesn’t have the tools to even know how to help [Jonah] or guide him. But I do believe she’s supportive and eventually, she gets to that place — and I like that the movie doesn’t have a scene where when the family does find out that it’s just about condemning and scolding and pain.”

We the Animals is a portrait of toxic masculinity tempered by the alternative. In a world where men like Pops are conditioned to act violent and physical instead of expressing vulnerability or emotions, boys like Jonah question their innate abilities and proclivities to process feelings otherwise. With life being so defined by social status and the gender binary, among other rules instituted by self-appointed officials now challenged more than ever in 2018, We the Animals is a timely tale of what it means to think and to feel differently, and how lonely that calling can be.

“He’s a baby who’s seen things and feels things that are beyond what the parents are ready to understand,” Zagar says of Jonah and his journal being discovered. “I think about the other thing that the book does and that scene is really about is self-loathing. It’s really Jonah’s perspective. It’s really about him wanting to tear himself up into pieces. The family can only do so much harm to you. It’s you ultimately that has to do the deep harm to yourself. It’s like that break, that moment is about whether or not he’s going to continue to harm himself or overcome or find freedom afterward.”

We the Animals is in theaters now.

‘We the Animals’ Author Justin Torres Talks Taking Story from Book to Film

Justin Torres didn’t want to have a huge voice in the film adaptation of his acclaimed novel We the Animals. He had never been on a movie set and didn’t exactly know what adapting his book might look like. But after meeting the film’s eventual director Jeremiah Zagar, Torres became a part of the film’s creative force, joining the crew during the casting process and even returning to his childhood stomping grounds to see the scenes acted out.

“If the book was gonna be adapted, it was so much more important to me that it be a work of art,” Torres says of the filming process in a featurette about the adaptation premiering exclusively on INTO. “It’s been such a long experience, but it’s been quite a profound experience.”

He added, “I couldn’t imagine a better adaptation than the way it comes out in the film.”

Fox News Claims Vermont’s Trans Governor Nominee Has ‘Transgender Privilege’

Chadwick Moore is at it again.

After complaining about getting banned from Grindr last month for having a transphobic profile, the gay conservative writer claimed Vermont gubernatorial nominee Christine Hallquist won this week’s Democratic primary because she’s trans. In an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Moore claimed the victory was an example of “transgender privilege.”

On Tucker Carlson Tonight, the oft-incendiary conservative interviewed Democratic strategist Robin Biro about Hallquist’s history-making win, as well as comments she made about the religious right on Twitter.

Responding to an LGBTQ Nation story about an eight-year-old who was not allowed to play girls’ soccer because she “looks like a boy,” the nation’s first trans governor candidate claimed in a June 2017 tweet: “Radicalized Christians are a part of the American landscape, and we tolerate it.”

“And we worry about sharia law!!” Hallquist added.

“I don’t want to besmirch her free right to speech,” Biro claimed when Carlson brought up the year-old social media post, adding: “As a transgender woman, she’s come under a lot of criticism.”

Carlson, though, suggested she had gotten a free pass to criticize Christians because of her gender identity.

“Oh well, I don’t know if she has or not,” he responded, with his trademark air of condescension. “I think she’s celebrated for it, actually. Let’s stop pretending — of course, she is celebrated for it.”

Moore agreed, claiming her status as a trans woman affords Hallquist a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.

“You’re absolutely right to acknowledge [Christine] Hallquist’s transgender privilege,” he said. “She can get away with many, many things simply by being transgender. I mean, who knows if that’s even how she won this primary.”

“But while the entire country is fixated on the fact that she’s transgender, nobody knows anything about her policies,” Moore added.

Biro jumped in to say that he does know what Hallquist stands for.

“Yeah, you know that she’s for Medicaid for all,” Moore claimed, deflecting his response. “She’s a climate alarmist, she believes in $15 minimum wage, and that’s kind of it.”

“Not correct,” Biro interjected.

That’s when Moore began criticizing Hallquist’s appearance. The former Out editor, who was fired following universal condemnation of a flattering profile of alt-right enfant terrible Milo Yiannopoulos, claimed she appeared “half dead” during a cable news appearance the same day.

“She was on CNN this morning, looking half dead, very low energy,” he said.

Moore’s attack on Hallquist — which included two instances of misgendering her — wasn’t even the first transphobic incident of the day on Fox News. Earlier in the day, Fox & Friends anchor Ainsley Earhardt referred to the Democrat as “that transgender.”

Earhardt further suggested that Hallquist only won the race because she had little competition, despite facing three challengers in the primary.

“That transgender beat a 14-year-old!” the anchor said, referencing high school student Ethan Sonneberg. “They didn’t have an age limit, so the 14-year-old said, ‘I’m going to run!’ Ran in the primary, didn’t win.”

Earhardt apologized for the remark, saying that she “never, ever meant anything derogatory,” but not before her comments went viral on Twitter. “Her name is Christine Halquist,” responded former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton, while Dictionary.com corrected the broadcaster.

“Transgender is an adjective, not a noun,” the website claimed, in a tweet which has been liked more than 4,300 times.

But if the disproportionate violence faced by trans people or Hallquist’s own treatment on Fox News wasn’t an indication she does not enjoy so-called “transgender privilege,” a glance at her Twitter timeline may further disabuse critics of that notion. Trolls called Hallquist a “psycho woman,” “mentally insane,” and an “atypical nutcase psychopathic politician” following the Carlson segment.

“Can you really look at your face in the mirror every morning when you shave?” claimed Twitter user @Libeccio42 on Wednesday. “I doubt it!!!”

“We also tolerate radical mental Illness, the fact you’re not institutionalized is testiment [sic] to that fact,” added @LibertyRanger. “Embrace our tolerance as it far exceeds anything you are capable of.”

“All we need, a pedo freak trying to tell everyone normal how we should live,” said @Psycotic70.

After her historic 26-point win on Tuesday, Hallquist will face off against Republican Gov. Phil Scott in the November general election. Real Clear Politics counts Scott a heavy favorite in the progressive state, but as INTO previously noted, the once-popular incumbent’s poll numbers have eroded in recent months.

Toni Braxton Misspelled Every Single Name in Her Aretha Franklin Memorial Post

Grief hits everyone in different ways. For some people, it gets you right in the spell check.

While trying to memorialize Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin on Thursday, iconic singer Toni Braxton inadvertently found herself the subject of a Twitter roasting. She posted a photo of herself with Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Clive Davis, but accidentally forgot to crop out her Google search, which revealed that Braxton was unable to spell anyone’s name in her frantic scramble to honor the queen.

Braxton’s search reads, “Arthrea Franklin, Toni Bracton, Whitney Hoiston, Clivrs Drvis.”

Twitter got to roasting right away.

Thank you, Toni, for that lovely laugh on what has been a heavy day for many.

Toni Braxton Weed GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

Gay Pride In Russian Village Of Seven People Is Shut Down By Officials

Nikolay Alexeyev, a gay Russian activist and founder of Gay Russia, recently received a letter from the government that said that gay pride events would be permitted by the government only if they moved their route away from the major city of Novoulyanovsk.

According to a social media post, with translation from Newsweek, Alexeyev was told that they needed to move because their current route “[passed] through the central part of the city of Novoulyanovsk… which is visited by a large number of citizens, including minors.”

In the same post, Alexeyev also mentioned that the head of Novoulyanovsk’s city administration had allowed them to conduct the parade in a small village populated by seven people. “In this way, the first ever approved gay parade in Russia should go ahead on 26 of August 2018 between 12 AM and 14 PM in the village of Yabloneviy,” Alexeyev posted. “The main thing is not to exceed the stated number of participants. We declared 300 people. We will begin assembling a list of participants. It will be the coolest event in Russia’s history.”

According to Newsweek, less than a day after Alexeyev announced the alternative route proposal, Novoulyanovsk authorities started pulling back on their decision. An anonymous city official told a Russian radio station that “the head of the city here was not in the loop about this event and that is why he has banned it.”

According to Newsweek, Alexeyev has decided to stand by the the original permission that was granted. If the female official who granted the original permission was to be reprimanded, Alexeyev offered to defend her personally. Alexeyev first gained a public platform from his work as a lawyer — in 2010, Alexeyev won the first LGBT human rights case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Since 2013, Russian officials have been cracking further down on LGBT folks due to the visibility law that now lists LGBT displays or symbols as “adult content,” which makes Alexeyev’s goal to host a Pride event all the more complicated.

Michelle Tea Gets The Tea From…Brontez Purnell

Brontez Purnell is one of my most favorite artists, and lucky for me he creates in so many mediums, so there is a lot of his work to be dazzled by. His book Johnny Would You Love Me grew out of his cult zine, Fag School; his illustrated The Cruising Diaries is confessional comedic pornography.

In his recent novel, Since I Lay My Burden Down, Brontez tempers his outrageousness with a sober reckoning with the past, bringing a new depth to his voice and winning him a Whiting Award, the prestigious prize for emerging writers. We in the queer underground have had Brontez for a while now, beginning back when he was a go-go dancer for party band !!!Gravy Train!!!, through his punk outfit The Young Lovers, his dance and performance project Brontez Purnell Dance Company, acting in indie films like I Want Your Love and creating his own films, the semi-autobiographical 100 Boyfriends Mixtape, and the documentary Unstoppable Feat: The Dances of Ed Mock. Brontez himself is an unstoppable force but he slowed down long enough to answer my 15 questions.

AND ONCE IN COLOR (photo by @beowulfsheehan )

A post shared by Brontez Purnell (@brontezpurnell) on

 What is the most uncanny thing that you have ever experienced?

That no matter how much older or “wiser” I become I still make the same five or six mistakes over and over and over again. I used to hate it; now I’m simply in awe of myself.

 

What is in your bag right now?

A W-2 form I filled out, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson, fake eyelashes from Kryolan, eyelash glue (also from Kryolan), and a hoop earring with a key on it like Janet Jackson circa Rhythm Nation. If you had asked me this the day before this would have also included Sylvia Plath: The Collected Poems.

 

Please share the 15th picture on your cell phone.

  

How are you like or not like your sun sign?

Well, I’m Cancer Sun, but Sagittarius Moon and rising. I’m all deep conflict. I am basically boiling water. A boiling crab? I like the trappings of home, stability, and comfort but will throw all of it away at the drop of a dime for an adventure far from home. I also hate conflict with people, at heart, but when I do choose to go to war I’m a pretty staunch ruthless bitch – but, unlike most Cancers who hold grudges, I will literally call up an enemy (usually while high) and say “Girl, I’m sorry – can we squash it?”

 

What is the last book you read? Song you listened to? Show or movie you watched?

Jane: A Murder by Maggie Nelson. “Moving on Up” by Azealia Banks. And Pose on FX.

 

What was the last meal you cooked?

It wasn’t technically cooked: It was raw oatmeal and avocado toast.

 

Where would you like to go on vacation right now?

Somewhere in South America or Haiti. 

 

Tell me about getting to meet someone you idolize or admire.

I’m one of those super lucky people who is actually friends with all the people I idolize and admire. John Waters asked me to sign my book for him once tho — that was cool!

 

What are you like when you’re sick?

Literal fucking man baby — I call everyone and demand help. It’s gross. 

 

What are you obsessed with or inspired by right now?

The idea of rediscovering your friends. Does that make sense? Like, I turned 36 and now there are all these people I know who have been in my life a decade plus, and now we all seem like really different people and it’s like learning and loving a whole new animal who you’ve known all along — it’s like getting to fall in love again.

 

What are you upset about right now?

Same thing everyone else is upset about I’m sure. 

 

What is the most recent dream you remember?

I’ve been doing a lot of ancestor work lately — like with spirits and such, and it’s hitting me hard. My last dream was me sitting in the last room my great-grandmother lived in before she passed away (the back room at my grandmother’s house) and it was just an empty bed and, like, photos with cobwebs on the wall, and I kneeled by the bed and started crying, which is freaky to me because I don’t ever remember crying in a dream before or crying for my great-grandmother’s death. On the other side of the room was a huge amount of gun ammo and fishing reels – I knew this was an altar to my dead dad cause fishing and hunting were his main joys in life. It made sense that they were in the same room because they were friends in life and used to drink whiskey together. The dream left me shook. I’m actually tearing up thinking about it, tbh.

 

Who are your queer ancestors?

Ed Mock (I did a documentary about his life called Unstoppable Feat: The Dances of Ed Mock), Andy Warhol, Essex Hemphill, Eartha Kitt, James Dean, Marlon Brando, all the unnamed family who passed without family in the AIDS epidemic, homophobic violence or general societal neglect, Valerie Solanas, Sylvia Ray Rivera (we have the same birthday: July 2nd), Billy Tipton, Sylvester, this one trans person who ran the cash register at the bar-b-que restaurant my family ate at growing up, basically every queer soul floating around in the fifth dimension who carved a path, lit a torch, or laid a secret treasure map for my gay ass to exist and GODDAMN THERE ARE MANY. 

 

What is your dream project?

A fully-funded retrospective of every piece of art I’ve ever done showing at the MoMA in every city simultaneously — though I would settle for a lead role in an HBO comedy/drama.

 

What are you doing this weekend?

Ballet, gym, and typing my new book, 100 Boyfriends.

‘Queer as Folk’ Rewatch: The Big 3-Ho

Queer as Folk premiered almost two decades ago on Showtime. Its depiction of gay life among a group of Pittsburgh friends is intriguing, problematic, heartwarming, cringe-inducing and often corny. But the stories it wants to tell often have a lot to say about gay life in 2018. INTO is embarking on a rewatch of the entire series, all five seasons and 83 episodes. In this week’s “Rewatch,” staff writer Mathew Rodriguez revisits episodes nine through twelve of Season One. You are invited to follow along on Netflix, where all five seasons are currently streaming.

Turning 30 really isn’t a big deal. Maybe it’s because we live in the age of “zaddy,” but I haven’t dreaded 30 as much as Queer as Folk wants me to. To the characters on Folk, however, 30 is a wildebeest gnawing at your ankles, looking to hobble you Annie Wilkes-style.

Of course, I’m no idiot. Yes, I know that our beloved queer community still idolizes youth way too much and throws away people over 50 for the most part. Queer spaces are full of ageism and loneliness among our LGBTQ elders is sky high. But I just don’t hate the prospect of 30.

Folk finds itself in quite a pickle. The characters perform the queer reality of “dead at 30” by having the characters tease each other about their age. But the underlying argument of the show is that this bunch of late 20-somethings and early 30-somethings have lives that are worth investigating. So the show undermines its thesis just by existing!

Anxiety around turning 30 is mostly experienced by resident geek Michael this episode. When he talks to his gay uncle about turning 30 and wanting to go out to bars, his uncle snaps, “Get out before they kick you out!” echoing just how much older gay men feel tossed away by their youthful counterparts. The show is making an argument for the worth of all gay men, and yet it just can’t help but shower attention upon its youngest character, Justin.

Even though the season opened by seeming to be about the central four characters a la Sex and the City, Justin comes through and dominates the show in a way that you didn’t know a 17-year-old twink could dominate. Even the 20- and 30-something characters on the show can’t seem to help but all coalesce around Justin. In just a few short episodes, the character goes from Brian’s one-night stand to a hangaround to a central part of the main group’s frustrations.

The group coalesces around Justin and gives him unending jockstrap-like support. When he loses his house, Brian takes him in — after only having had a few casual hookups with him! When he runs away to New York City, the group chases him down the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I talk often about the fantasies the show gave me about my own maturation. I thought maybe I’d find some group of older gays who’d nurture me from crawling baby gay to stumbling toddler gay. But, alas, that didn’t happen!

Watching it when I was younger, I could only see the show from Justin’s point of view. Now, I can parse out most characters’ motivations. Justin wants desperately to seem like an adult. Brian desperately wants to cling to Justin’s youth. The group believes they’re helping a homeless queer youth find his way. Seen through one lens, everyone in the show is acting pretty charitably. They’re all looking out for each other.

But through another, each one is using the other to get some kind of social status. Justin gets homo street cred, Brian gets his Cum Fountain of Youth and, well, I don’t really know what the rest of the group gets, I have to admit.

In a show obsessed with queer mythology, turning 30 was bound to be a plot point. As Michael deals with this age milestone and Justin deals with running away from his parents, Emmett deals with another central part of queer television: the HIV test. Surprisingly, the show is earnest and good when it comes to presenting an HIV test. Emmett misses a phone call from the clinic and spends his weekend going through the Rolodex of guys he’s slept with, fixating on the silliest acts that probably wouldn’t lend itself to HIV transmission. That guy had a cut on his lip! He sucked on someone’s fingers!

Increasingly, Queer as Folk seems to be a show centered on queer anxieties — being too young, receiving an HIV+ diagnosis or growing older. But if there’s one thing that’s made me anxious, I’m gonna say it’s being gay, so good job!