If Justin Timberlake Doesn’t Invite Janet Jackson to His Super Bowl Halftime Show

If you haven’t heard the news yet, and the headline of this article hasn’t given it away, then let me be the first to tell you that former NSync-er and maker of entirely-too-long albums Justin Timberlake will headline the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show.

Which brings me to the one and only thing that needs to be said: if Janet Jackson does not appear on stage, there’s gonna be a problem.

Since the announcement, plenty of people have taken to Twitter to remind the internet that, 14 years after their appearance together at the Super Bowl, Timberlake and Jackson had opposite career trajectories. Timberlake went on to be one of the biggest pop stars in the country, and attempt to be in some films, while Jackson was blackballed because she gaps! has breasts.

As of Monday Morning, TMZ reports that an NFL spokesperson confirmed that Jackson is, contrary to popular belief, not banned from the most watched televised concert of the year. Therefore, it’s official: there’s no reason for Timberlake’s 15 minutes on national television, approximately the same amount of time as two of his long-ass songs, to not include Janet Jackson.

Your move, Timberlake.

#UsToo: We Must Expand the Conversation on Sexual Violence

The re-emergence of the #MeToo campaign and the reclamation of its inception by Just Be, Inc. founder and activist Tarana Burke speaks to a larger problem with the conversation on sexual harassment and violence. Some experiences are constantly prioritized while others are invisibilized due to identity. It’s no surprise that famous cisgender, heterosexual white women like Rose McGowan and Alyssa Milano have been able to spark a collective discussion on these issues in ways that a Black woman like Burke possibly never would have been able to.

Our society often doesn’t believe that the sexual violence that happens to folks who fall outside of the McGowan-Milano script is as important or worthy of discussion. There’s a continued obsession with cisgender white women’s purity that places their safety as the crux of these conversations.

I’ve often felt like I couldn’t discuss my experiences with sexual harassment and assault because I’ve witnessed the difficulty that even cisgender women face when they disclose. My transness, queerness, and Blackness render my claims even less believable in a society that views me as inherently deviant.

The dismissal of trans women and femmes who speak up about harassment often comes in the form of comments like “Welcome to womanhood!” or “Well, you got the attention you wanted.” These mindsets demean our experiences through victim blaming while also reinforcing womanhood and femininity as reasons of stripping people of their agency.

Transgender and gender nonconforming people are rarely given the space to discuss the sexual violence that we face partly due to damaging notions of us as being predators ourselves or the idea that we’re not desirable enough for anyone to commit an act like that against us. Both of these ideas are far from the truth. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 47 percent of trans folks report having been sexually harassed at some point in their lives. Our transness and gender nonconformity often makes us even more of a target to others.

We are lacking nuance when we paint sexual harassment and violence as only happening to a certain kind of woman at the hands of a certain kind of man. These issues go much deeper than the “a woman versus a man” formula. We must grapple with the patriarchy as a system and how it negatively impacts everyone.

Where trans women and femmes have been able to insert a sliver of awareness into the public discourse on our experiences, trans men and transmasculine are discussed even less. The idea that masculinity automatically makes you a perpetrator of sexual violence ignores the fact that many men and masculine folks have stories of their own. (It also ignores that women and femmes can be capable of committing sexual violence as well.) Nonbinary folks are altogether ignored as always. That’s the problem with the binary, it ignores that gender-based issues are always more complex. We can center the discussion on women, femmes, and nonbinary folks while still allowing space for other conversations.

Beyond gender, we rarely discuss how the State does little to prevent sexual violence and protect survivors. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 75 percent of sexual assaults go unreported for many reasons including fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, not seeing the instance as important enough, and largely out of the belief that police wouldn’t actually help.

For instance, Ky Peterson, a Black trans man in Georgia, was incarcerated after being attacked and raped while walking home in October 2011. While defending himself, his rapist was killed. Peterson already had negative experiences with the police in prior instances of sexual violence, so he had no reason to believe they would heed his cry for help this time. Peterson is currently serving a 20-year sentence for self-defense. There’s currently a petition circulating for his pardon and release.

Once on the inside, harassment and rape are regularly seen as par for the course for trans folks in prisons and detention centers. In July, Eyricka King, a Black transgender woman, garnered attention online after a video of her mother, Kelly Harrison, went viral. In it, she discussed King’s treatment, including sexual violence, by inmates and guards. Her important story isn’t considered when we have a limited scope of these issues.

It is up to the people to take our consciousness on sexual violence to another level. It’s clear that a President who loves “pussy grabbing” and an administration committing to moving justice further out of reach for survivors won’t do it for us.

Personally, the #MeToo campaign has affected me deeply. Some folks have called the campaign ineffective and that it doesn’t do enough to combat rape culture. Others have voiced how problematic it is that people are called to relive some of their darkest moments publicly with little to no guarantee of how they will be supported. These critiques are valid, however, storytelling and story sharing is one of the greatest tools with have to transform culture and ourselves.

Tel Aviv Nights

For the third installment of his Nights series profiling LGBTQ nightlife around the world, director Samuel Douek serves up an intimate portrait of Tel Aviv’s queer underground.

The short film gives a taste of the dance floor hedonism seen in LA Nights and London Nights, but Douek also goes deeper, exploring the Israeli city’s unique mix of cultures and even the commercial exploitation of queer communities:

“The queer scene in this Middle Eastern city is the one of the few landscapes where Arabs and Israelis mix harmoniously. But was it always this way? Confronting Tel Aviv’s reputation for being one of the most welcoming gay cities in the world, I talked to veteran gay clubber Doron about growing up gay and queer exploitation.”

Russia’s Most Notorious Homophobe Wants to Out Transgender People Who Visit His Country

The architect of Russia’s anti-LGBTQ propaganda law has a new mission: to keep transgender people out of his country.

Vitaly Milonov, a legislator in the Russian Duma, told the political newspaper Parlamentskaya Gazeta that trans people whose passports have been updated to match their gender identity should not be allowed to visit Russia. Milonov claimed that if a transgender man, for instance, has an “M” listed on his travel documents, that does not “correspond to reality.”

Milonov, who would rather just ban transgender people altogether, has a solution: Trans travelers to Russia should be outed.

“You can stamp their passport to state that this person is transgender or has completely changed their sex,” said Milonov, who is currently drafting legislation to prevent trans individuals from changing the gender identity listed on their official documentation. “What is more, it will say their real name and surname, so it is clear that this is not a woman but a man.”

“Any pupil in any class knows that you should not change what nature has given you. It is necessary to strip the license from doctors who carry out such operations,” he added.

The lawmaker has previously moved to ban transgender people from marrying their same-sex partners, which is technically legal under Russian law. The notoriously homophobic country prohibits two people of the same sex from marrying, but if a transgender woman is listed as “male” on her birth certificate, she would be allowed to marry another woman. Irina Shumilova and Alyona Fursova wed in 2015 under this loophole.

The 43-year-old is one of the loudest and most influential voices against LGBTQ rights in Russia.

Prior to serving in the Russian legislature, he pushed a law banning the spread of information about “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors as a member of the St. Petersburg City Council. That law, passed in 2012, led to the enactment of a nearly identical bill at the federal level the following year.

The passage of Russia’s anti-LGBTQ propaganda law has led to a total crackdown on queer life, as well as a surge in hate crimes. Milonov has responded to reports detailing the increasing violence against LGBTQ people as “foolish” and “fake.”

“I think that much violence goes from gay people to straight people,” he said in 2013. “Much more violence.”

Milonov has spent the years since fighting LGBTQ equality at every turn. He accused musicians Lady Gaga and Madonna of illegally promoting equal rights during their concerts in the Orthodox country. The lawmaker claimed that he threw out his iPhone after openly gay Tim Cook was appointed CEO of Apple, saying that his device was “smelling with gay stuff.” He even threatened to shut down gay clubs in Russia after a lesbian couple photobombed him last year.

The legislator’s most recent comments were made in response to recommendations from the British Foreign Office that suggested the U.N. adopt gender-neutral and trans-inclusive language in regards to foreign travelers. The United Kingdom suggested the phrase “pregnant people” instead of “women” to describe expectant mothers.

“Only women can be pregnant,” Milonov said in response. “There should not be pregnant men.”

Sam Smith Doesn’t Feel Like a Cisgender Man

Oscar-winning singer and songwriter Sam Smith has come out about their gender identity. In an interview with The Sunday Times, and reported by Attitude, Smith responded “No” when asked whether they felt like a cisgender man.

The singer also told the Times, “I feel just as much woman as I am man.”

“People don’t know this, but when I was 17, I remember becoming obsessed with Boy George and Marilyn,” they said. “There was one moment in my life when I didn’t own a piece of male clothing, really.”

Smith said they also wore makeup to school every day, including eyelashes and leggings.

Earlier in October, Smith was seen on a totally casual, not-staged date with new beau Brandon Flynn of 13 Reasons Why. Their second album is due November 3.

Is ‘Call Me By Your Name’s’ Lack of Explicit Sex a Problem?

Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino’s critically adored adaptation of André Aciman’s 2007 novel, is hot as hell. It’s also incredibly funny, gorgeously shot and emotionally devastating. But how sexual it is and, by extension, how gay it is has come under some scrutiny in the weeks leading up to its release, thanks to a particular cut away from an explicit scene.

After weeks of dancing around each other and their feelings, Italian-American teen Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and visiting scholar Oliver (Armie Hammer) finally consummate their passion. They kiss, touch, and eventually hop into bed. Then, the camera pans to a window, away from its core couple’s carnal connection.

Guadagnino’s choice has some critics calling the film timid about the sex and sexuality of Aciman’s story, as well as calling the project “cold” charges similar to the ones lobbed against other queer movies like Carol, Moonlight and more. In other words, Call Me By Your Name has reignited an oft-fiery debate: How important is explicit sex in a romantic film about same-sex partners?

The argument for more sex in gay films is a simple one: We’re not having this conversation about romantic movies with straight protagonists. There’s no question about what is too much, no debate over pans to windows just as sex is going to happen. That’s not because there aren’t movies that are sex-bashful far from it. But there are movies with explicit straight sex in addition to those that are more chaste. Meanwhile, almost all widely released films about same-sex lovers follow the same pattern.

Take, for example, BPM. The French film with explicit gay sex scenes just played the New York Film Festival, the same fest that welcomed Call Me By Your Name with open arms and standing ovations. Call Me By Your Name has a slowly expanding release scheduled starting in November. BPM has only a very limited American release plan. You can chalk that up to other differences: one’s entirely in French without stars, while the other is mostly in English and stars Armie Hammer. But the fact is the more sex-frank film is the one left without a big distributor.

Including explicit sex scenes would also help curb the perceived mainstreaming of films like Call Me By Your Name, which has already started receiving the “universal” label. Guadagnino used the word himself when defending casting straight actors. Moonlight received the same moniker; in all instances, it’s a troubling hetwashing of what is an explicitly queer story. Sex scenes aren’t the only way to avoid that, of course, but it’s easier to scrub the sexuality out of the story in one’s mind if the film is never explicit in its sex scenes.

Unfortunately, it seems there may have been extenuating circumstances in Call Me By Your Name’s case. Writer James Ivory, who authored the film’s original script and was originally attached to direct, has brought this point up as well. His version apparently called for more nudity, and that filtered out as Guadagnino’s vision took over.

“According to Luca, both actors had it in their contract that there would be no frontal nudity, and there isn’t, which I think is kind of a pity,” Ivory wrote. “Again, it’s just this American attitude. Nobody seems to care that much, or be shocked, about a totally naked woman. It’s the men. This is something that must be so deeply cultural that one should ask: ‘Why?’”

Of course, there are ways to shoot around a nudity clause in a sex scene, and the movie is plenty sexy elsewhere. Take, for instance, the infamous scene of Elio masturbating with a peach from Aciman’s book, which is kept intact in the adaptation despite Guadagnino initially thinking it was unfilmable. The pair’s first kiss is exploratory and marvelous. The sexual tension is there: it’s just the climactic act in this one scene missing. Which, of course, makes the fact that it’s missing at all stand out all the more.

Quite frankly, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. But there is an easy explanation for why critics, particularly LGBTQ critics, get so heated when it comes to these movies: They’re few and far between. Each one matters, and everyone wants something like Call Me By Your Name to be exactly what they want it to be. There’s a sense of preciousness, of ownership that increases one’s sense of scrutiny.

Call Me By Your Name, like Moonlight and Carol before it, won’t be exactly right for everyone. That’s an impossible standard. But as we get more and more queer films every year look at Beach Rats and God’s Own Country, also out this year the expectation for each to be perfect for everyone will lessen. With that relaxed standard, hopefully, will come the understanding of all the wonderful scenes, performances and moments that these films have to offer.

This Asian Drag Show Gets An A+ In Representation

Countless spaces and shows are billed as “diverse” and “inclusive,” but not all of them actually live up to these descriptors. If you ask Burmese drag performer Emi Grate, this culture is reminiscent of “vanilla ice cream,” where whiteness prevails and other identities are tossed in occasionally, if they are convenient or commercially appealing. In an effort to subvert this supremacy, she began A+, a pan-Asian drag revue produced monthly at Brooklyn bar Bizarre Bushwick that’s “of the Asians, by the Asians, for the Asians.”

The seeds for the show were planted in a conversation she had with longtime drag queen Mocha Lite, who is mixed race with Japanese heritage. They spoke of queer Asian drag performers they knew, how they often perform but rarely all in the same place. Though Emi Grate had never formally produced a show before, she felt the time was right to start, recruiting Taiwanese-American drag king Wang Newton to provide hosting duties.

“A show like this, I would say, has always been necessary,” she tells me. “In American culture, there is always talk of embracing and celebrating diversity, but people of color are very often mere tokens or the butt of some cruel jokes, even within queer circles.”

While there are few shows exactly like A+, Emi points to several queer shows and collectives she considers predecessors to the show, including Chicago-based shows Black Girl Magic and Bad Beti, showcasing Black and Asian-American drag performers respectively. She also mentions Bubble_T, an “Asian/Pacific/Queer collective” that throws a recurring dance party in Brooklyn.

Another show that provided inspiration was Sasha Velour’s Nightgowns, which formerly happened in the very same venue A+ now takes place in. At Nightgowns, Velour would introduce performers by having them answer a question about drag.

Performers at A+ typically perform two numbers each. For the first act, they are introduced with their bio, but for the second act, they answer a different question each month related to queerness and identity, such as speaking about the first queer person of color they met. At October’s show, an excerpt of a documentary by the show’s videographer Patrick G. Lee about queer and trans Asian people coming out to their parents screened, and the entire documentary will be shown at the show in December.

Emi explains this focus on identity was motivated by her own experience growing up. “When I first came out in college, I got no help communicating about my queerness with my family because there were no resources available for cross-cultural conversation on queerness. And when I first moved to New York, I had immense fear approaching the Burmese immigrant community because I am queer, and I still have some fears to this day,” she says.

In additional to showcasing exclusively performers of Asian descent, Emi tells me she makes it a priority to book a diverse lineup of performers across the Asian diaspora. She notes she had “no queer Asians to look up to growing up,” which only strengthened her commitment to the representation and visibility of individuals from all over the continent. Even in 2017, a survey done by scholars indicated that people of all races were far more likely to categorize East Asian ethnicities as “Asian” than South Asian groups like Indian and Pakistani communities. By consistently booking lineups that aren’t entirely East Asian, A+ inherently works to counteract this.

“I seek to turn the audience’s attention to the unknown by showing them something familiar,” Emi says. At A+, this includes DJ Accident Report playing familiar anime tunes, and having the friendly firecracker of a host (drag king Wang Newton) teach the audience expressions such as the Mandarin cheer “Jiayou!” And of course, the drag numbers themselves consistently provide entertainment for all, from acts dealing more explicitly with Asian cultural identity to more out-there numbers involving video art or lip-synching to bird calls.

This push for diversity has given the producer herself a wider knowledge of other Asian cultures and new performers in her community. “It also helps me keep track of which Asian communities have more support and resources for queer folks,” she says, noting as an example, she’s booked multiple Filipino performers each month, but remains the only Burmese person to be involved in the show in any capacity, even as an audience member.

“When I started out, I was almost sure I wouldn’t be able to do more than 3 shows without opening up the stage for non-Asians or non-drag performers. So far, it seems like it could stay exclusively Asian and exclusively drag for a while,” she remarks, but says she’s interested in opening up the show to queer Asian artists and performers working in mediums outside of drag, including raffling off visual art by Asian artists.

“The Asian diaspora is huge, but there are some common struggles and similar soul-searching that we have to do as Asian queers,” she adds. “I try to highlight that in each show.”

 

Being a Drag Queen Doesn’t Give Men the Right to Sexually Harass Me

Nothing beats the feeling you get when you walk into a nightclub dressed in drag. Hitting the door with your entourage in tow, all eyes immediately lock onto you. It is intoxicatingthe strangers stopping to say how amazing you are or to compliment the dress you spent hours making look effortless. For many of us, being a drag queen is like a small piece of celebrity, especially for the non-famous, local gals among us.

However, that rush quickly disappears when a pair of greedy hands find their way up your dress.

I was playing emcee at a popular gay night spot on Halloween, which is like Christmas for the Los Angeles gay community. The bar was packed with scantily-dressed zombies and vampires who had tuned in for the costume contest portion of our show. While serving my best Morticia Addams, I began to notice something cold and wet on my ankle as I called out the names of our contestants. I was startled at first, but when I looked down at my legs, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. I went on with the show, thinking I had made it up.

I wasn’t imagining it, though. A sinking feeling pierced my stomach as a stranger’s arm again traveled up my leg, finding its way to my crotch. Staring up at me was a very drunk twink covered in glittera Cheshire grin plastered from ear to ear. I said into the mic for everyone to hear, “I am not into getting to know you biblically, so let’s stop with the foreplay.”

The laughter from the crowd only emboldened him. This time he grabbed my ankle, forcefully groped my leg, and patted my privates with his hand as I stood onstagein front of a sea of people who were there to have a good time.

Activist Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement in 2007 after speaking with a young woman at a youth camp and learning she was being abused by her mother’s boyfriend. A decade later, our culture has finally reached a tipping point in calling out harassment and sexual assault. At the time of writing, more than 40 womenincluding actresses Mira Sorvino, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Joliehave come forward to accuse Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of exploiting his power to coerce them into sex. Director and actress Asia Argento claimed Weinstein forced himself on her in a hotel room. The producer invited her to a party on the French Riviera, but they were the only two people invited. She was 22.

Weinstein is just one of a number of powerful men accused of rampant abuse in the past year, including Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and our own Commander-in-Chief. By sharing their experiences with sexual assault on social media, survivors are standing up to say: “Enough is enough.” The conversation is long overdue.

As a cisgender man, the stories shared by female friends on social media weren’t my own. But as a drag performer, they hit home.

Drag queens are life-size dolls. We are sparkly and we wear pretty things. It’s our job to take you out of your reality, to make you laugh, and to make you feel special. Because we’re gift-wrapped for the audience’s enjoyment, people want to be able to take the doll out of the box. They want to be able to touch, but even more than that, they want to know you and to share your space. The lines often get blurry, and it can be hard to remember where the character ends and the person behind the shiny exterior begins.

It shouldn’t need to be said that choosing a career in drag does not end your personhood, but unfortunately, it does.

My drag aesthetic is Real Housewives: new money glamour, big hair, animal print, and flashy nail art. I like to be a happy mascot, but keeping up that cheery disposition can be just as much work as walking in heels when you’re nearly 7 feet tall. One year, while taking part in Chicago’s Pride parade, I remember getting my boobs fondled over 4o times in a one-block radius. Whenever I perform in public as my eponymous persona, men and women constantly come up behind me and simulate sex, finishing with a slap on the ass.

Once when a gentleman came up and pressed his crotch on my knee while I was sitting at a bar, I confronted him: He had no business going up anyone’s skirt, no matter who was wearing it. But because I’m not a “real woman,” the stranger laughed in my face. “You love it,” he said. The man responded by licking my face.

There are so many ways in which women, men, and people of all gender expressions experience sexual assault and coercion every single day. This cannot continue to be the norm.

One out of six women in America report that they have been victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes. A sexual assault happens every 73 seconds in this country. Younger people face higher risk, and men are not immune to the growing epidemic. But what is equally disturbing is that just six out of 1000 predators will end up in prison. More than 59 percent of assaults go unreported.

Many of these victims don’t come forward about their assaults in fear they won’t be believed. Argento, the daughter of famed horror director Dario Argento, has been shamed in the Italian press, where critics claimed that what she experienced was “prostitution, not rape.” Others might believe that the crime wasn’t “serious enough” to report, and for some of us, it could take years before we recognize what happened to us for what it was. Just so all of us are clear: Sexual assault is any sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent. That includes attempted rape, fondling, or forcing someone to perform oral sex.

Drag is not consent. If you want to avoid violating someone’s boundaries, ask them before you touch themeven if they’re lip-synching for their life in two layers of Spanx. Many of us do want to meet you and hug you, but anything more intimate than that needs our permission.

One night at a show I host in Los Angeles, I approached a group of people to thank them for attending. This group had been especially enthusiastic during the event, so I wanted to let them know that I appreciated their good cheer. As some of the ladies at the table reached out to shake my hand, a male attendee put his arm around my neck. He went directly for my boobs, a gesture I’ve become far too accustomed to over the years. I could feel my wig begin to slip as I was mauled by this man who saw me as a thing and not a person.

Without missing a beat, the girl next to himwho I would later learn was his sisterslapped him in the head and said, “Try minding your manners, asshole.” The man was noticeably embarrassed by her callout, and he apologized by saying he meant no disrespect.

We cannot be afraid to stand up for our own safety and the safety of others. We must work to create a world in which none of us have to speak out and say, “Me, too.”

Meet The South Korean Artist Creating Space for Queer People

When I meet Korean artist and activist Heezy Yang at the bar he manages atop Seoul’s famous ‘Homo Hill,’ he is hard at work setting up the sound-system, unloading crates of beer, and preparing bar equipment. This is to be expected from a creative who embraces multiple mediums; not only does Yang make politically-charged illustrations, he also writes, stages public performance pieces, and occasionally performs in drag, all in the name of creating visibility for queer communities across the country.

A post shared by Heezy Yang (@heezyyang) on

This fascination with art in all its various incarnations is one which he credits to his parents: “I always liked drawing, and I’ve always been interested in seeing art. I think it’s partially because my dad was a film critic, so he would take me to see movies and his artist friends’ houses and studios. My mom was a typical Korean mom,” he chuckles. “She sent me to different schools and academies to learn – some of it was useless, but some of it was pretty cool!”

It was in these extracurricular classes that Yang learned some of the basic skills required to create art, and later went on to experiment and develop a skill-set of his own. It wasn’t until he started to feel frustrated and eventually dropped out of college, where he was studying for a business major, that he started to think seriously about channeling his artistic passions into an actual career.

“I was thinking about where I should go with art, what I should make,” he recalls. “Obviously I make and draw whatever I feel like, and that’s what a lot of artists do because it’s fun to do, but I guess because I had quit school I thought I should be more serious about it.”

Coincidentally, this was also around the same time that Yang was “gradually coming out” to his friends and family; the two threads quickly became intertwined, imbuing his work with a sense of his own queer identity by default. “I had heard and seen a lot of things happening around me regarding LGBTQ issues in Korea, and obviously what you see and what you hear affects you,” he says, unintentionally echoing a sentiment which will doubtless resonate with marginalized people worldwide. “I was starting to get involved in things like Pride here in Seoul, which is also called the Queer Culture Festival, and making friends with more LGBTQ and human rights activists. I wanted to somehow get involved in that fight; I wanted it to be my fight, too.”

Yang describes even the most progressive pockets of Korea as still being relatively conservative, but also highlights that people are mostly physically safe: “People here aren’t very violent, so it’s quite safe not only for queer people but for people in general.” This doesn’t mean that discrimination in the workplace, bullying, and a lack of access to jobs and education aren’t still commonplace – despite being physically safe, LGBTQ people are still heavily marginalized within society. I mention the North/South divide which Western media is quick to focus on, but he glosses over the question, arguing that there are still attitudes in South Korea in dire need of attention.

“We still have a long way to go, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to take a long time,” he enthuses, pointing out that the audience for Seoul’s annual Queer Culture Festival has expanded from 2000 to 85,000 in the space of just a few years. “The awareness level and the visibility is increasing really quickly, I think. Maybe the politics and the systems that will actually protect our rights aren’t shifting yet, but the exposure is also really important and marks the first few steps.”

Although Seoul is undeniably progressive in comparison to the rest of South Korea, Yang optimistically points out that Daegu – “the most conservative city” – has had its own Pride parade for a number of years, highlighting that attitudes of intolerance are increasingly being met with resistance. Elsewhere, Busan had its first event this year, and Jeju Island will stage its first ever Pride on October 28, with Yang performing as part of the celebration.

LGBTQ nightlife is another core focus of Yang’s – especially in countries which don’t openly accept queerness, these havens of acceptance are sorely needed. “I mean, first of all, I think it’s really fun,” he smiles when I ask about the importance of Seoul’s LGBTQ club scene. “Because you’re oppressed within society, it is harder to be publicly affectionate. Nightclubs and bars, for some people, are the only places that they can be openly gay, meet people, and actually express themselves. For that reason, I guess it’s maybe more important here in Korea than it is in other less conservative countries.”

Later that night, I get the chance to experience the fun Yang describes first-hand – Seoul is teeming with bars and clubs that should be high on the priority list of any LGBTQ traveler. Newly-opened QBar stages regular drag nights (they also have cheap drinks and a playlist brimming with pop hits), whereas the handful of queer and queer-friendly bars and clubs in Itaewon offer something for everyone. Yang himself performs at these events sometimes, although he’s quick to point out that he doesn’t necessarily see himself as a drag queen: “It’s just another medium for me,” he explains, before name-checking local talents like Vita Mikju, Kuciia Diamant and Charlotte Goodenough as his own personal favorites.

By putting themselves out there, these various creatives are actively seeking to build queer communities – and, if Yang’s words are any indication, their efforts are paying off. I ask if he ever gets nervous about his public performances, but he says the reactions are largely positive – “people will just take pictures and be like, ‘Hey, you’re really cool!’” Even the negative reactions are rarely extreme – there are no counter-protests or examples of hardcore verbal abuse, just disapproving comments and the occasional stare.

As for his own plans, Yang wants to keep learning and create artwork around other issues, like the environment and the body-shaming, which is still prevalent in queer communities in particular. He is also candid about his struggles with his mental health: “I want to do two things, the first of which is make art about my own experiences, the depression that I go through, me as a person. That’s one thing. The other is to express my political views – I want to create art about injustice to fight what is wrong.”

The bar begins to fill up, and the conversation starts to wind down. To finish, I ask how he feels to have developed a public profile of sorts; after all, creating work and putting your name to it can be mentally and creatively draining, especially when your artistic output is intrinsically linked to your own personal identity. “It depends. There are times I would rather stay home alone, work on projects and just generally be a bit depressed, but there are definitely times I want to go out there and do something, whatever that might be, so when I’m in the right mood and have the right motivation, I don’t really get nervous. I’m an introvert but, at the same time, I am an occasional exhibitionist,” he concludes, with a chuckle. With that, he’s back behind the bar laughing, joking, and working hard to strengthen the queer scene in a country which, despite considerable progress, still desperately needs it.

When Mainstream Indian Films Celebrated Queerness

Written by Anusha Narain

The landscape was monochromatic, heteronormative with nary a defiant image in sight. Then came along the decade of action movies, with a splattering of homoerotica, and colored the screen with a rainbow of possibilities.

The decade in question is the 1970s, a defining period in the history of Hindi cinema that saw the rise of buddy movies. Feature films from the 50s and the 60s explored the leading man’s relationships with women, but the 1970s gave him a chance to indulge in more varied forms of liaisons. The shift held magnificent implications for gays in India; the leading man became the one persona that legitimized homosexual urges of men through his own escapades. Let’s see how.

The highest-grossing movies of the 70s, such as Dostana, Yaarana, and Zanjeer, were from the buddy movie genre and illustrated the powers of male bonding.The films followed, more or less, the same narrative arc: An angry young man in a violent conflict with the powerful antagonists, he needs and finds a trusty friend to take on the bad guys. This friendship becomes the pivot of the protagonist’s experience, secondary only to their combined mission.Together the two solve mysteries, fight crime, and get passionate revenge.

These stories of retribution, afforded the hero little time for women. There is a token female lover, but her presence is perfunctory to the story, while the best friend is imperative to the narrative. The hero was always found to be looking for a way to get away from mushy displays of love. Back where he belonged, in a man’s world with that one special mate.Sex between the two men is never overtly mentioned but their special bond, verging on romantic love, is demonstrated through various song lyrics and gestures.

For example: In Silsila, a love story that spans across generations, the leading man grieves the death of his friend by breaking a TV set. The heroine tells him, “Now you will have to make do with me.”

In Zanjeer (Chains), the friend sings to the hero, “My friend is my better nature, he is my life.”In Qurbani (Sacrifice), the two friends dance and sing, “I will sacrifice my life and my heart for my friend.”

In the 70s blockbuster Sholay (Embers), a remake of The Magnificent Seven, the two men sing “even death can’t tear us apart.”Later in the movie, one of them takes a bullet to save the other.

A review of the 1973 film Namak Haram in the film magazine Filmfare, described it as having “A touch of Homo.” In a song from the movie, the hero films the friend with a camcorder while he sings adoringly, “If one parts with one’s friend, one suffers immeasurable heartache.”

The 60s love triangle movie Sangam finds the hero in a Hamlet-esque angst. The hero is apparently sadder over the loss of the friend than the lover. Leading one to believe, he held the friendship in higher regard than his love.

In Dostana(male friendship), they walk together into the sunset after competing for the same girl, swearing to always put their friendship before any female love interests. In Dosti, a story of two orphaned handicapped boys, they lean on each other to survive in a hostile world.

The leading ladies in these movies received very little screen time or lines. The marginalization of the heroine in the movies also pushed women away from the theatres. In previous decades, women came to watch the soft romantic comedies, but the action-packed revenge sagas of the 70s held little appeal for them. Moreover, because of overwhelming patriarchal attitudes, Indian movie theatres have always been, to a great extent, all-male domains; and now they became even more so.

So, now theatres turned into men-only territories. In the dark environs of the theatres, men watched men singing songs of everlasting friendships, proclaiming undying devotion for their comrades, enveloping each other in fond embraces. And in those intense moments, they felt emancipated from centuries of regressive attitudes and free to look at other men as lovers.

As R. Raj Rao aptly explains in his paper Memories Pierce the Heart, “Coming back to our audience within the context of the movies they are watching, their ‘‘deviant’’ behavior, even if some part of their mind is prompted to call it that, is sort of validated by the actions of the matinee idol. If Amitabh Bachchan can express undying love for other men on the screen, all in the name of yaari (friendship), why can’t they too indulge in a little mischief?”

Notably, these movies remained the highest grossers for many years to come. Moreover, a great number of movies, right until the late 80s, dabbled with the themes of male bonding because their predecessors achieved massive success at the box office.

They say a smart movie maker always gives the people what they want and is aware of the orientation and preferences of his audience. Could it be that movie makers were faintly aware of the orientation of a sizable majority of moviegoers and tried to legitimize homosexuality through hidden references?

So, chance passionate glances exchanged between friends and love ballads masquerading as songs of friendship were peppered into seemingly innocuous heteronormative movies all to prompt that gay audience member to indulge in some experimental love; and perhaps return for more action to the comfort and promise of the movie theatre? One will never know.

Queer readings aim at destabilizing the assumption that relations between the binaries of masculine and feminine genders are a constant and advocating fluidity of identities and sexuality. It’s refreshing to look at these classics through a queer lens. In any event, the 70s remain a golden period of Indian cinema, one that glorified the struggles of the proletariat and pure, unbridled male bonding.


References:
Rao, R.R., 2000. Memories pierce the heart: homoeroticism, Bollywood-style.Journal of homosexuality,39(3-4), pp.299-306.

Gopinath, G., 2000. Queering Bollywood: Alternative sexualities in popular Indian cinema.Journal of Homosexuality,39(3-4), pp.283-297.

Kavi, A.R., 2000. The changing image of the hero in Hindi films.Journal of homosexuality,39(3-4), pp.307-312.