ACLU Sues Michigan For Allowing Adoption Agencies to Turn Away Same-Sex Couples

Two couples are suing the state of Michigan over a religious exemption law they say allows adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against same-sex families.

Kristy and Dana Dumont claim that they were turned away by Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services, two faith-based agencies located in the Lansing area. The couple says their application was denied because of their sexual orientation.

“We are ready to open our home and our hearts to a child, but were rejected because we’re a same-sex couple,” Kristy said in a statement. “So many children in Michigan need homes. The state should do all that it can to make sure children in the foster care system have access to all available, qualified families.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, who is filing suit on behalf of the Dumonts, claims that the state violated the couple’s rights by allowing this discrimination to take place.

“Allowing state-contracted agencies to screen out prospective families based on religious criteria not only harms the children most in need, it is also unconstitutional,” the civil liberties group said in a Wednesday press release. “It violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which bars the use of religious criteria in the provision of government services like foster care and adoption services for children in state custody.”

“And it violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating against same-sex couples,” the ACLU continued.

They will be joined in the lawsuit by Erin and Rebecca Busk-Sutton, a lesbian couple who lives in Detroit, and Jennifer Ludolph, who grew up in the foster care system. The ACLU states that Ludolph “objects to her taxpayer dollars funding child-placing agencies that make it even harder for foster children to find families by turning away loving and qualified families simply because of the agencies’ religious objections to those families.”

Currently, there are an estimated 13,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system, and 350 require immediate placement. Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney with the ACLU, says that permitting agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ couples diminishes “their chances of being placed in a suitable familyor any family at all.”

If advocates say that there already aren’t enough foster parents to meet demand, they argue the religious exemption issue only makes the problem worse.

Michigan is just one of several states that allows adoption agencies to determine eligibility for placement based on their religious beliefs. These laws have been on the books in Virginia, Mississippi, and North Dakota for a number of years. Meanwhile, South Dakota, Texas, and Alabama all passed their own religious exemption bills in 2017, a response to the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

Agencies claim that the Obergefell v. Hodges decision forces them to violate the core tenets of their faith. Following the 2015 ruling, agencies in California, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. voluntarily closed their doors to avoid this conflict.

Religious exemption laws, however, do not apply solely to same-sex couples; the only state whose laws are specific to LGBTQ people is Mississippi. These exemptions also permit adoption agencies to discriminate against interfaith couples, Muslims, Jews or unwed mothers, as well as a number of other groups.

So Glad That ‘Will & Grace’ Is On Hulu But What About ‘Carol’?

This is extremely rude!

Carol, a perfect Christmas movie about longing and not being ugly people Harge, finally arrived on Netflix today. Wednesday should have been a day when we all, gay and thought we were gay but were actually trans the whole time alike, should have been able to watch Carol in isolation. Perhaps we would even tweet with one another about the Oscar-nominated film, which stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara who are both great in it let me tell you. It would have been fine.

Just fine!

But then Will & Grace had to dothis! And my god, Rindy, I’m furious.

The same day that Carol hit Netflix, NBC Universal announced that all 194 episodes of their claaaaaassic Emmy-winning sitcom that made huuuuuuge strides for gaayyy representaaaaation on broadcast TV, Will & Grace, will be available to stream online for the first time ever on Thursday. Tomorrow. The day after today.

Carol’s day!

“As we gear up for the launch of the upcoming season premiere, I can’t think of a better way to reintroduce Will & Grace to the cultural zeitgeist than by giving audiences the opportunity to watch this historic and hilarious series wherever and whenever they want,” NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt said in a press release. “With its witty comebacks, pop-culture references and social commentary, Will & Grace is one of the most binge-able comedies in television history, and I am certain fans both old and new will jump on this opportunity to devour it.”

Oh, just spit in my face!

All eight seasons of Will & Grace will be available to stream on Hulu, the NBC app, and via various on-demand platforms.

I’m very happy for the people who are happy.

Lauren Jauregui Reveals That Queer Summer Jam ‘Strangers’ Was Almost Super Straight

Let me plop a napkin over my deeply unprocessed feelings about “Strangers” barely cracking the Billboard Hot 100 so I can pop open an ice cold can of SHOCK!! at this new bit of information about the song.

In an interview with Out, Lauren Jaureguirevealed that Halsey collaboration “Strangers”a song that’s explicitly about a sexual relationship between two womenwas originally super straight. The lyrics, Out reports, were originally “about a woman pining for a man.”

“Then I got a text from [Halsey, that said]: ‘Hey, babe, you can totally shut this down, but I was thinking we could switch the pronouns,’” the Fifth Harmony singer said. “I was like, ‘Bitch, I was thinking the same thing!’”

In case you don’t know, Jauregui and Halsey are both bisexual. It’s kind of hard to imagine two straight singers coming up with a twist like this while working together in the studioor at least a twist like this that wasn’t grossly exploitative or something.

“To me the song is culturally valuable because people are feeling so invalidated and distant from themselves, like they should be ashamed of who they are,” Jauregui told Out. “It’s good to be an anarchist and just love yourself. That’s the most rebellious thing you can do right now.”

Great. Now, speaking of loving yourself, if you love yourself you will support “Strangers” on all streaming and music purchasing platforms. Thank you.

‘Brown Girls’ Didn’t Win the Emmy—But the Queer Web Series Is Already Changing TV

Sunday’s Emmy ceremony celebrated a torrent of milestones.

Master of None’s Lena Waithe became the first black woman to be honored for comedy writing at the yearly award show. During her acceptance speech for co-writing “Thanksgiving,” Waithe thanked both her girlfriend and the LGBTQ community. Donald Glover, the creator and star of Atlanta, was the first black man to win Best Comedy Actor in 32 years. Before Riz Ahmed took home a statuette for The Night Of, no Asian actor had ever won an acting Emmy. Ahmed is of Pakistani descent.

But one show that wasn’t able to join in the revelry was one of the year’s buzziest breakouts. Brown Girls, a web series about the friendship between a black woman and her queer Muslim best friend, went home empty handed at the Creative Arts Emmys, which are held on a separate evening. The trophy went to Los Pollos Hermanos Employee Training, a Breaking Bad spinoff.

Brown Girls, though, didn’t need Emmy gold to change television.

After hitting the web in February, the show became a national trending topic despite almost no promotion and a very limited production budget. Even before landing a nomination, Brown Girls secured a development deal with HBO. The show, which was created by Fatimah Asghar and Samantha Bailey, hopes to follow in the path of Issa Rae, whose web series Awkward Black Girl would lead to the breakout hit Insecure. That show is now in its second season.

Part of Brown Girls’ success has to do with the innovative platform that helped give it life. Its distributor, Open TV, is the brainchild of Aymar Jean Christian, a Northwestern professor who has birthed a revolution in independent queer television. Christian first became involved with Brown Girls at a table read hosted by Asghar earlier this year.

After page three, Christian tells INTO that he was “hooked.”

“Fatimah’s writing is so real and engaging,” says Christian in a phone interview. “I had complete faith in their project from day one.”

Part of what appealed to him about the script is that it served as a long-overdue rejoinder to HBO’s own Girls. The Lena Dunham-created program is set an alternate-reality Brooklyn in which people of color are virtually non-existent, although that issue improved somewhat after the show became a lightning rod of cultural critique. In contrast, the entire cast of Brown Girls is non-whiteas are many of the members of its crew.

Christian says that the reason Brown Girls has resonated so profoundly with its audience is that the show offered women of color the “complex humanity” so often denied to them.

Asghar, the daughter of Pakistani parents, learned from a young age that TV provided limited choices for Muslim people. The South Asian characters she grew up seeing on the silver screen were damaging stereotypes, most often portrayed as terrorists. When you become used to “not being counted” in media, Asghar says, that erasure can have a profound impact on your feelings of worth.

“They can really cause a lot of self-hate,” Ashgar says. “If I had something that I watched as I grew up that made me feel less alone, it would have made me feel a lot more humanlike I wasn’t on this journey by myself.”

What made the partnership with Open TV special, she claims, is that Christian is extremely “hands off” with the programs he shepherds into existence. During the initial read, he gave some minor feedback on the script. M Shelly Conner, whose Quare Life series is set to debut on the platform in 2018, says that Christian had one note for her show: Make it shorter. The original pilot script was intended as a half-hour program. He advised that 10-minute episodes would be more digestible for a digital-first audience.

That level of creative freedom is practically unheard of, as Conner points out.

“I’m always being told that [my work] isn’t black enough or it’s too black,” Conner explains during a phone call. “It’s not queer enough or it’s too queer. With Open TV, I haven’t had that experience at all. They understand that people like us exist, and therefore, characters like us need to exist.”

Christian says that Open TV, which was developed as a program through Northwestern, was originally going to focus on developing pilots. His first was Nupita Obama Creates Vogua, which Christian wrote and directed. It starred many of his close friends. But while working on that show, Bailey approached him with a different project. She had just wrapped You’re So Talented, a show about a struggling actress navigating her 20s. The production team needed funds to get their footage edited, and Christian stepped in to help.

“Once I realized that I could be distributing entire series that were produced by intersectional creators, I knew I needed to do a network,” he claims. “That’s how Open TV was born.”

But Christian says that the demand for an internet-based platform like Open TV was born out of necessity. Despite the historic diversity showcased at this year’s Emmy ceremony, statistics from within the TV industry aren’t encouraging. A 2016 report from Variety found that 80 percent of all showrunners are white men. Despite the success of shows like Empire and How to Get Away with Murder, actors of color account for just 11.4 percent of all leads on broadcast television.

Christian says television is particularly limited when it comes to queer representation.

“We see so many cisgender gay and lesbian people and not nearly enough trans or gender nonconforming people,” he says. “We almost never see trans or gender nonconforming people play themselves. It’s always cis people who are cast. That’s such a disservice to the talent within those communities. I know so many people across gender spectrums who could get big audiences if they only had the investment, production, and marketing.”

That’s where Open TV comes in. The network hopes to address those issues by creating space for communities that are historically underrepresented. Every single one of its shows feature protagonists that are queer, transgender, or people of color.

Two Queens in a Kitchen is like Bell Hooks meets Martha Stewart: A rotating stable of hosts prepare a meal while they discuss topics relevant to the LGBTQ community, including intersectional feminism, race, and the role of self-care in activism. Christian is a frequent guest. The T explores the friendship between a white transgender woman and her black best friend. The yet-to-be-released Brujos is about four Latino academics who are in a coven.

Two Queens in a Kitchen

The T creator Bea Cordelia says that the show, which is based off her relationship with her best friend, features “full-bodied portrayals” of identities often reduced to stereotypes.

“In the first episode alone, you see a young trans woman on a hookup, with her parents, at work, and with her best friend,” Cordelia tells INTO in a phone interview. “You normally don’t even get more than one side to a trans character, that side is the butt of a joke. It’s sad that’s considered radical. It should be common sense.”

Perhaps the most unique and revolutionary thing about OpenTV is that its creators are free to take their shows elsewhere. The network signs a non-exclusive contract with talent. When HBO announced that it would be optioning Brown Girls in June, OpenTV didn’t make a dime off the deal. Should the show get picked up, the platform will not receive a cut of the profits. Christian describes his role as a “nonprofit incubator,” someone who can help “creators of that initial form of investment to get them to take it to the next level.”

That ascent is not without its challenges. The trans web series Her Story, which was passed over at the Emmys in 2016, has yet to land at a network. Angelica Ross, who co-stars in the acclaimed YouTube show, says there has been interest from execs. But it’s important for Her Story to find a studio “who will allow [the show] to tell the story the way that we want to.”

Asghar says that giving marginalized communities the space to tell their own stories makes business sense for networks who want to stand out in the age of Peak TV. But for LGBTQ viewers, the opportunity to reach a wider audience means so much more.

“Television gives us permission to be able to exist,” says Asghar, who claims that a show like Brown Girls would have been a “game changer” for her as an adolescent coming to terms with her queerness. “I really hope that when people watch the web series, especially if they’re younger, it can feel that way for them. I hope they don’t feel like they’re all by themselves.”

You can access Open TV on its website or on Vimeo.

Here’s What You Missed At London Fashion Week

As London Fashion Week draws to a close, we call out the key looks and themes coming off the catwalk. Menswear had slightly less visibility on the women’s runway compared with the New York shows, but the trend in mixed gender shows is growing in popularity.

DECONSTRUCTED TAILORING

With a minimal aesthetic, the shirt trend from previous seasons moves into all aspects of tailoring with a deconstructed twist.

From left to right: A.W.A.K.E., Lunyee, Margaret Howell, Emporio Armani, Versus, Sharon Wauchob

GOTH

Black, black, and more black was huge in the London shows. A gothic undertone brought a strong sense of glamour with satin, PVC, and lace being key fabrics.

From left to right: Lunyee, Joseph, Julien Macdonald, Ashish, Christopher Kane, Lunyee

METALLIC

Metallic tones are always a popular option (particularly for winter) but stronger levels of color are growing in momentum. Hot pink and bright orange inject newness into the metal inspired fabrics.

From left to right: Toga, Lunyee, Ashish, Sharon Wauchob, Julien Macdonald, Han Wen

SHEER

See through and peek-a-boo styling is one of the newest looks from the catwalk. Although sheer dressing is a stronger look from the women’s shows, Burberry displayed some strong inspiration for transparent layering for the men’s market.

From left to right: Burberry, Osman, Faustine Steinmetz, Sharon Wauchob, Toga, Burberry

SUGAR SWEET

Sweet and sickly hues remained a key influencer for color palettes. Icy pink, coral, and satsuma orange work in perfect harmony within tailoring, dresses, and minimalist sportswear.

From left to right: Huishan Zhang, Trina Turk, Han Wen, Nicopanda, Roksanda, Paul Costelloe

RELAXED BUT SMART

Double-breasted jackets and relaxed blazers take on a slightly longer length that give a nod to oversized dressing. A tasteful color palette of aqua, bottle green, and kingfisher blue work perfectly with dove gray and soft peach for a soft summer suit story.

From left to right: Rejina Pyo, Paul Costelloe, Joseph, Emporio Armani, Joseph, Osman

Trump Judicial Appointee Thinks Transgender Kids Are Proof of ‘Satan’s Plan’

Donald Trump’s latest judicial appointee described transgender children as proof of “Satan’s plan” in a 2015 speech uncovered by CNN.

Jeff Mateer, a former attorney for the extreme right-wing First Liberty Institute, gave a speech entitled “The Church and Homosexuality.” In the anti-LGBTQ tirade, he singles out Coy Mathis, a trans elementary schooler whose parents fought for her right to use the bathroom appropriate to her gender identity. The family won that case in 2013, the first legal victory of its kind.

Mateer, however, was none too pleased.

“In Colorado, a public school has been sued because a first grader and I forget the sex, she’s a girl who thinks she’s a boy or a boy who thinks she’s a girl, it’s probably that, a boy who thinks she’s a girl,” Mateer claimed in a video that has since been posted to Vimeo. “And the school said, ‘Well, she’s not using the girl’s restroom.’ And so she has now sued to have a right to go in.”

“Now, I submit to you, a parent of three children who are now young adults, a first grader really knows what their sexual identity?” he continued. “I mean, it just really shows you how Satan’s plan is working and the destruction that’s going on.”

Mateer, who was tapped by Trump in September, would sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas should he be confirmed by the Senate. His former employer, First Liberty Institute, has worked to erode LGBTQ rights across the country. It opposed an equal rights ordinance in Plano, Texas and defended a county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The LGBTQ rights organization Equality Texas once referred to Matter’s organization as a “hate group.”

But as CNN uncovered, advocates will find much to dislike about the nominee’s record. During that same speech, Mateer claimed that allowing same-sex couples to wed would lead to polygamy, bestality, self-marriages, and even people getting married to trees.

“I mean, it’s disgusting,” Mateer said. “I’ve learned words I didn’t know. Have you ever heard the word ‘throuple?’ That’s three people coming together of different sexes, maybe mixed sexes. Them coming together. There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets.”

He further claimed that these unions are reminiscent of the Old Testament: “We’re back to that time where debauchery rules.”

Mateer also came out in support of conversion therapy in the National Religious Liberties Conference, hosted by the notorious “Kill the Gays” pastor Kevin Swanson. The network posted audio from the event in which Swanson bemoans the national movement to outlaw the discredited practice. Often referred to as “anti-gay torture,” conversion therapy has been condemned by every reputable medical association.

“Biblical counselors and therapists, we’ve seen cases in New Jersey and in California where folks have gotten in trouble because they gave biblical counseling and, you know, the issue is always, it’s same sex,” Mateer said. “And if you’re giving conversion therapy, that’s been outlawed in at least two states and then in some local areas.”

He added that LGBTQ advocates were “invading” conversion therapists’ right to the free exercise of their religion.

Mateer is just the latest Trump appointee with a long anti-LGBTQ history. John K. Bush, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, supports sodomy laws targeting gay men. Neil Gorsuch, once described fawningly in a New York Times profile as having gay friends, opposed same-sex marriage in his 2005 dissertation at Oxford University.

As of press time, Mateer has not responded to the CNN report.

Lena Waithe’s Next Project? ‘A Show Where A Black Gay Woman Is The Lead’

The Secret might not be real, but that won’t stop me from envisioning the shit out of Lena Waithe’s idea for a new TV show.

Basking in the glow of her recent Emmy win, the star and co-writer of Master of None’s incredible “Thanksgiving” episode sat down with The Daily Beast to talk about being the first black woman to win Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and what’s next. Winning the award feels “like a dream come true,” she told the outlet, but there are still a bunch of dreams she’s yet to realize.

“We do still have a long way to go,” Waithe said. “I want to create a show where a black gay woman is the lead, where she is the protagonist, she is the person whom we are following.”

In case the importance of this kind of show isn’t immediately apparent, consider the fact that only 41 of the 278 (~15%) of the queer and trans characters counted in GLAAD’s most recent report on LGBTQ inclusion on TV are black. Even fewer of them are women, and even fewer than that are female protagonists.

Off the top of my head, the only queer black female protagonist I can think of who’s on TV right now is Queen Sugar’s Nova Bordelon (Rutina Wesley). The other characters that come to mind, like Waithe’s Denise on Master of None and Amanita Caplan (Freema Agyeman) from the recently canceled (but sorta not dead) Sense8, are all side players in another more major character’s story.

“I’m writing something. Yep, yep, yep, I’m working on it,” Waithe added. “I hope we can make it happen.”

Seems like a much better use of HBO’s money than Confederate!!

Our Lady J on Gender, Discrimination, & Hollywood Starting to “Get It Right”

In this week’s episode of LGBTQ, Jeffrey Masters sits down with Our Lady J to talk creating music and the joy of removing gender from the conversation.

Our Lady J is a writer and producer on the TV show, Transparent, as well as a classically-trained musician who’s collaborated with artists like Sia, Lady Gaga, and Cyndi Lauper.

You can listen to the full episode here or read the inspiring interview below.

Jeffrey Masters: Looking at your life, you grew up in an Amish community, moved to New York City, you’re now in Los Angeles, in between that you were a classical musician, you toured with Sia, and now you’re writing for television on a hit show. Gender aside, there’ve been many, many transitions in your life.

Our Lady J: When you put it that way, I guess so. Yeah, it’s exciting. I don’t like being bored.

Jeffrey Masters: You were on tour with one of the biggest superstars in the world. Was it hard to leave?

Our Lady J: It was hard because I love Sia and I love music, but I knew that with music, there’s a glass ceiling that’s so thick right now for trans people. One of the first things I heard when I gave my demo to music execs was that nobody wants to hear a tranny sing sad songs. That was from the mouth of a music professional. I was like, “Well, I’m not going to make dance music, I’m fucking depressed.”

My heroes were Tori Amos and Rufus Wainwright and Tom Waits and Nina Simone. They wanted me to do a Lady Gaga act. Yet, on television, shows like Transparent and Orange is the New Black were being made.

Maybe eventually I’ll go back to music, but for now good riddance to the music business.

Jeffrey Masters: Even when you weren’t the main act, just playing piano, was your transness an issue?

Our Lady J: Yeah, for sure. When I was in New York, I was really killing it, if I may say so. I was playing Carnegie Hall, American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey, Mark Morris Dance Group.

Jeffrey Masters: The biggest places.

Our Lady J: The biggest places. When I transitioned, I stopped getting the calls. It was very strange that my abilities didn’t change, actually I got better. I became a better musician. I felt like I became more expressive. I had more focus because I was starting to live my authentic life and I was less distracted with this inner turmoil. The business started drying up and I lost a lot of work.

It was never really talked about. Here’s the thing about discrimination and systemic oppression: it rarely manifests its head in a way that is so blunt. It’s mostly this sinister, underlying unspoken thing. Because there wasn’t this knowledge of transness. People couldn’t even hear my music when I would enter the room, they would just see this strangeness that they didn’t know about.

Jeffrey Masters: I’m sorry.

Our Lady J: Well, it turned out okay.

Jeffrey Masters: You famously wrote a short story based on your childhood to get the job on Transparent, since you hadn’t written for television before. What was the story based on?

Our Lady J: In my community there were 200 people in my village. There wasn’t even a post office or a gas station or anything around. It was a mix of Amish, Mennonite, and Evangelical Christians, and hillbillies. My family was a mix of all of that: we were ex-Mennonite, we were Evangelical, and we were hillbillies.

The only time I interacted with the Amish was at Walmart because everyone shopped at Walmart. You had to drive 30 miles to get there. I was in the electronics section when I was 15, maybe 14, and there was this Amish boy who was the same age as me. We met eyes and I felt seen by him in a way that I hadn’t felt seen by my family. It was young sexuality. There was this attraction where we met eyes.

As an LGBT youth, back in those days we didn’t date at 15. You waited until you left the house, until it was safe to be queer. At that age, kids want to go out to a movie or something sweet and innocent. I wrote about that moment where I felt seen, my femininity. That’s what it was, it was a moment.

Jeffrey Masters: It’s amazing that it was an unspoken moment that touched you so deeply.

Our Lady J: Yeah, it gave me hope. I always presented femme, whether I was conscious of it or not. Usually when I would see other boys my age it would be a reaction of, “What is that? Is that a boy or is that a girl?” Any moment that I had that wasn’t violent, sadly, meant so much to me. There was so much negativity growing up around puberty with my transness, and with my queerness, that those moments stuck with me for life.

Jeffrey Masters: Speaking of gender, you identify as agender. Is that correct?

Our Lady J: When did I say that?

Jeffrey Masters: You said that six months ago.

Our Lady J: Well, times have changed. It’s been a long six months. No, I identify as gender nonconforming and gender fluid. I reserve the right to explore all areas of the spectrum of gender.

Jeffrey Masters: I think you’re allowed to do that forever.

Our Lady J: Forever. Technically, if I were to say, “What would I put on my tombstone?” I am a trans woman.

Jeffrey Masters: So, you use she and her pronouns?

Our Lady J: Yes, please. The agenderI enjoy removing gender from the conversation at any moment that I can. Because being trans, you do talk about it so much and you do think about it so much. I have spent so much money in therapy that it’s just nice to have a conversation that doesn’t involve gender. Obviously, for LGBTQ awareness I love talking about it.

Jeffrey Masters: Tell me when you get tired of it and we’ll change the subject.

Our Lady J: Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk.

Jeffrey Masters: One of my favorite things that you’ve posted was on Instagram was a picture of yourself pre-transition. You wrote, “Is there a word for looking back at pre-transition pics and crushing on yourself?” I love that.

Our Lady J: I didn’t even realize how, if I may say, how beautiful I was as a human being. There was just so much pain and suffering going on I didn’t have anything to reflect on. It didn’t have a mirror in the media to say, “This is you, and this is okay, and this is beautiful.” There was so much self hatred going on. Now all these years later I look back and I think, “Look at the collagen in that skin, honey.”

Oh, my God. What I would do for that collagen again.

Jeffrey Masters: And yes, you’re allowed to love yourself at any age.

Our Lady J: Well, we’re going to live to be 115 they’re saying, so we might as well get to loving ourselves as soon as we can.

Jeffrey Masters: There is a single trans narrative that people think exists, right? When in reality, there’s not a single way to be trans. Part of that narrative is that you hate the old you, you hate old pictures of yourself.

Our Lady J: That’s because bad movies and bad TV shows have taught us that trans people hate themselves, but it’s very complicated just with any other identity. I didn’t hate every moment of my childhood. I had many beautiful moments. The piano was one of those things that I just loved. There was an excruciating amount of pain for sure. I think when we can move past the pain, and forgive, and do what we can to make sure that that pain doesn’t happen to other people, that’s when we really learn to love our past as well.

I can’t get inside most peoples heads, I don’t know what the fuck they’re thinking. I don’t think people have bad intentions in Hollywood, for the most part, and I know that’s controversial to say. I think people want to get it right and people are trying to get it right. We’re starting to get it right.

Jeffrey Masters: It kills me that you lost jobs in New York, because as a gay man, in a liberal city like New York, on Broadway, there’s not a more accepting place in the world for me.

Our Lady J: I think it was gay men who did a lot of the discriminating. They didn’t understand it. I think a lot of times when people live in a box of like, “I’m trans so, oh, I must understand everything about race,” or, “I’m gay so I must understand everything about transness.” That’s just not true. Even though you have faced discrimination you still have to stay woke to other peoples trials and tribulations, if I may say so.

Jeffrey Masters: Totally.

Our Lady J: Regarding femininity though, I hear this with a lot of gay men as well. It’s something that I think a lot of trans women share with gay men, even though we’re different in our identities, is that any sort of femininity in a masculine presenting body is shamed in our society. That’s getting a lot better, thank God.

Now that I’m doing what I do in Hollywood, I have the television academy card that says Our Lady J. My Writers Guild card says Our Lady J. I have all these IDs that say Our Lady J. That’s the ‘fuck the system’ for me, that I’m not a cis person entering your space. I am trans and I am proud.

Jeffrey Masters: And you’re leading with that.

Our Lady J: Yeah. Leading with a name. I love queering names. You don’t actually need a cisnormative name on your drivers license. Put whatever the fuck you want on your drivers license. I know a lot of trans people are keeping their birth name as well because they’re like, “Fuck you. This is who I was born. I don’t need to change my name just because you got my gender wrong.” I think that’s beautiful.

This interview has been edited and condensed. The full LGBTQ interview is available as a podcast on iTunes.

Dating as a Small Town Lesbian

I realized I was gay after a close friend of mine came out as bisexual. I was 19, and things in my life made sense for the first time because I recognized that I wasn’t straight either.

The way I used to sneak looks at girls, admiring their hair and smiles under the guise of comparing myself to them. The dozens of pictures I plastered on my walls of gorgeous actresses and singers. The way my Barbies used to date each other while Ken slept in the toy box before I even knew what a lesbian was. The clues had always been there, but my mind refused to put them together until someone close to me came out.
Dating girls in college wasn’t easy in the way dating is never easy, but it wasn’t that hard either. All I had to do was join my school’s LGBTQ+ club or go to a local bar’s gay night and I’d be able to meet lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, and queer (LBPQ) girls.

Armed with an OkCupid account, I was fortunate to have several flirtations, the occasional date, and a short-lived girlfriend or two before I graduated.

Then I moved home.

__

I come from a small town in Northwest Ohio that was hit hard when factories began to either close or relocate to places exploitive labor could manufacture cheaper goods. Welfare was common, my family was on it most my life, and so was unemployment. Decades later, buildings still sit empty, including a former knife company my great grandpa used to work in.

It took me a while to recover from a depressive episode after I moved back home, and even longer to feel up to dating again, but eventually, I logged back into OkCupid and changed my location settings.

Patiently, and then impatiently, I waited, expecting the same moderate dating success I had in college. It didn’t happen.

There were an overwhelming number of trolls, many of whom I’m pretty sure were straight guys pretending to be women, and people asking for threesomes. Someone I vaguely knew from when I played softball contacted me at one point. We talked for a few weeks before she revealed that she and her boyfriend were looking for a third. When I politely declined, stating I was a lesbian, she got angry and threatened to out me.

I also had to put up with a lot of ableism. Some of it wasn’t so bad, like getting ghosted after mentioning my chronic illness. Some of it, though, was downright cruel, like when a woman called me a few choice words, told me she could never date someone like me, and berated me for wasting her time.

Thankfully, not everyone was a creep or manipulative; I became good friends with a few people. Though, overall, it was a disheartening experience.

Distance was a big factor for me. I kept my search parameters set to only about 20 miles. Unable to have a license for medical reasons, I felt bad about forcing someone to have to do all the driving. Growing up poor and having to rely on others for so much left me with a guilt complex. A decade out of high school and I’m still working it.

I moved in with relatives after being home a few months, hoping that the larger town would give me more opportunities to meet people. It did. I dated a girl for a while and made friends with her friends, but lost them all when we broke up after a few months. I think losing that community hurt more than the breakup because I was back to the stagnant loneliness.

I found myself really missing school. There was no LGBTQ club to attend on Tuesday nights, and the closest gay bar was about 40 minutes away.

Reasonably close, but for someone unable to drive, it may as well have been in France. I missed hanging out with like-minded people, binging on crappy lesbian movies, and talking about femslash fan fiction.

The need to hide my sexuality all the time was very isolating. I assumed everyone I met and every old classmate I ran into would reject me. I couldn’t get past the memories of being called a dyke in middle school, long before I knew I liked women, and the way I vehemently denied it.

It wasn’t until I learned to relax, to lighten up and treat myself with kindness, that I began to enjoy my life. Though my health issues were a continued source of frustration, I had a job I enjoyed with great people. I started making friends and started to write again. I got a girlfriend and had a healthy, sincere relationship for the first time.

Small towns have a bad reputation among the LGBTQ community, often a deserving one, but I don’t think I would have been able to grow into the person I am today if I’d lived in a big city. No one should have to put up with homophobia and adversity in any capacity, but after publicly coming out, I’ve found people in my area to be more accepting and loving than I could have imagined.

Thanks to my girlfriend, I’m now involved in organizations focused on the betterment of our community. I’m following local politics closely and invested in the outcome. This area that I used to hate is where my girlfriend and I are building our lives together and for the first time, I couldn’t be happier about it.

Why Isn’t ‘American Horror Story: Cult’ Connecting the Dots?

Ally Mayfair-Richards is not the savviest lesbian west of the Allegheny. It’s easy to root for her because she’s played by Sarah Paulson, and who doesn’t want to root for Sarah Paulson? But to root for her, you’ve gotta make peace with the fact that she is missing every bit of the forest for the trees.

During the third episode of American Horror Story: Cult, Ally finds herself a social pariah after accidentally shooting and killing her employee, Pedro. Because of a Stand Your Ground law in Michigan, Ally is legally safe, but she finds herself branded “a lesbian George Zimmerman” by angry protesters and media.

No one is angrier, however, than the Wiltons, as played by Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman. Introduced mostly as comic relief in episode two, Harrison and Meadow become the episodic antagonists this time around, parodying outrage culture with their hatred of the “racist” Ally. They show up at the Mayfair-Richards’ front door wearing sombreros and throwing Taco Bell coupons, accusing Ally of appropriation as well. When you remember that just last episode, these people were complaining about President Obama taking their guns, their outrage seems even more hollow.

After Cult’s first two episodes portrayed Donald Trump supporters as villains, creator Ryan Murphy and episode writer James Wong seem to really target the left-wing in this episode. There’s the portrait of outrage as empty emotion, plus Ally attempting to quell protesters by saying “I am not the enemy, I am one of you” then, shortly after, calling them “motherfuckers” when they won’t listen to her. Then there’s this bit of dialogue, inspired when Ally and wife Ivy (Alison Pill) see son Ozy (Cooper Dodson) and nanny Winter (Billie Lourd) playing with a guinea pig an unwanted pet named Mr. Guinea.

“Sweetie, c’mon,” Ally tells Ozy. “You know we don’t like cis-normative pet names.”

“Why do you have rules about pet names if you never have pets?” Winter asks. Ally stammers that it’s “the principle.” The whole scene plays like a satire of über-sensitive Tumblr culture.

The same could be said for Ally’s laser-tight focus on the Wiltons. She blames them for everything going wrong, including posting a Craigslist ad that brings unwanted sex partners to Ally and Ivy’s door, as well as killing Mr. Guinea in a remarkably graphic microwave incident.

Cult’s problem is that Ally’s focus never rings true. You have to accept that she’s so angered by the neighbors’ outrage with her that she attributes every heinous thing to them. When they protest that much of what Ally accuses them of isn’t their fault, she doesn’t listen. She even goes so far as to attack Harrison, infuriating Ivy in the process and prompting her to leave with Ozy.

Of course, Ivy doesn’t get far, because another attack hits the neighborhood the third this season, all marked by blood-red smiley faces. This time, it’s Meadow who goes missing, and Harrison accuses Ally. Is this a real attack? Or are the Wiltons working with Kai (Evan Peters), who psychoanalyzes them both earlier in the episode?

Kai’s too removed from the main action of the show, appearing a couple times to help Ally with her protester problem, but seemingly advising the Wiltons in scenes set out of time. (There’s no indication as to exactly when they met with him, or why they did so separately.) During Kai’s session with Harrison, the gay husband admits he wants Meadow dead making both him and Kai prime suspects for Meadow’s disappearance.

Unfortunately, Ally’s too furious with Harrison to see the bigger picture. Some group is terrorizing this neighborhood, murdering residents and spraying chemicals on the ground. Once Ally gets out of her own neuroses and frustrations and looks at the signs, perhaps we’ll finally meet this season’s titular Cult and find out what they want with these people.