How Androgynous Women of Science Fiction Helped Me Realize I’m Queer And Non-Binary

As a child, I’d stare up at the glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars above in my bedroom at night and dream of becoming an astronaut. My parents bought me a telescope one Christmas, and I sat on my porch every night thereafter mapping constellations. I have always been drawn to science and science fiction and fantasizing about the impossible made possible. But it was the strong androgynous women leads of science fiction that have truly allowed me to believe I can be anything – even queer and non-binary.

In elementary school, I would run home excitedly after class to watch the latest episode of Star Trek: Voyager on the Space channel, eyes fixated on Captain Kathryn Janeway in her gender neutral uniform as she commanded a starship lost in the Delta Quadrant. As the first woman captain of the Star Trek franchise, Janeway demonstrated to young girls that they could pursue careers in S.T.E.M. and even take on major authority roles.

In one particular episode, a struggling crew member fumbles with calling Janeway both “Sir” and “Ma’am” to which she responds with “Captain” as her desired title. This – coupled with her uniform – broke down normative depictions of gender, enabling me to view my role model as a Captain first and foremost. Throughout the series, Janeway is a nuanced, capable leader who, despite making mistakes, puts her money where her mouth is and makes strong decisions.

At no point during the series does Janeway take on the ruthless, hardened and stoic “Iron Lady” trope. While many women characters in leadership roles in film and television appeal to stereotypical masculine qualities to garner respect and support, Janeway is an accessible, approachable leader who is directly involved with her crew and not just her senior officers. Yes, Janeway can be cold and direct but this is a no-nonsense attitude in times of need as opposed to a perpetual state of being.

Watching Janeway command Voyager was a revelation. She was a leader above everything else and subverted traditional notions of authoritative women. It wasn’t simply that she was a woman that was so inspiring to me but rather that I never had to think twice about her being a woman at all. For me, she transcended gender, and I found myself in this future world where I could be anything and even the concept of questioning that would be alien altogether.

Later, I became obsessed with Milla Jovovich, the androgynous supermodel and actress who played the role of “Alice” in the Resident Evil franchise and fought mutated creatures in a post-apocalyptic world. A high-ranking security operative of the biowarfare Umbrella Corporation, Alice joins a counter-initiative to expose their illegal viral research to the world. Her partner in this initiative betrays her, accidentally leaking a zombie virus that leads to the near extinction of the human race and the capture of Alice by Umbrella who infect her, cure her then re-infect her with superhuman capabilities. She wakes up not knowing who she is and has to find out by facing unimaginable odds and resisting recapture by Umbrella.

The narrative of Alice across six Resident Evil films resonated with me deeply and my ongoing struggle to know myself better and find my own place in the universe. She persists despite everything and gets closer to the truth after every major obstacle – similar to my journey towards identifying as queer. Throughout the films, Alice never becomes entangled in a romantic subplot nor does she exude many of the distracting film tropes that eclipse women’s roles. Milla Jovovich was my Sigourney Weaver.

Milla Jovovich has shot several boyish photo shoots and her androgyny has carried through to her roles in Zoolander, The Fifth Element, and The Messenger: The Story of Joan Of Arc. The Resident Evil franchise has cast other androgynous actresses and models to play badass women alongside Jovovich including Michelle Rodriguez and Ruby Rose. Seeing Milla in these different roles and other androgynous women beside her in Resident Evil has been important in the development of my own sense of self.

As a teenager, I created a Facebook album entitled “If I were a lesbian…” filled with photos of Captain Kathryn Janeway and Alice and others I had unknowingly come to identify with and crush on simultaneously. At first, it was a joke, but when I began to revisit Star Trek: Voyager and the Resident Evil films, I began to feel as though there was another reason these science fiction classics resonated with me so much.

One day, in my senior year of high school, a girl’s arm brushed mine in yearbook class, leaving goosebumps behind and sending shivers of electricity up my spine. While I didn’t feel any attraction to the girl in particular, I micro-analyzed this physical response to direct contact with her over and over again. It took a year or two, but, eventually, I had the crushing realization that I was attracted to women. I went from bisexual to pansexual to full-on gay, and, looking back, finally had the perspective to fully understand my attraction to Janeway and Alice.

It wasn’t just my sexual orientation that the androgynous women of science fiction lead me to a better understanding of – it was also my gender identity. Nine months ago, I came out as non-binary. My outward appearance hasn’t changed since then, and I am still commonly read as a cisgender, heterosexual woman. Despite this, I have never fully identified with womanhood and feel that my femme gender expression is more of an ornament than anything else. The way I feel inside and how I carry myself are what matter.

Captain Kathryn Janeway and Alice were incredible human beings capable of extraordinary feats and gender was not a defining characteristic in their success. While gender did matter in terms of representation, it was the way they undermined women tropes to become the rounded characters that moved me. As a child, I could imagine future worlds where not only could women succeed, but also where gender discrimination was a thing of the long-forgotten past.

Today, discrimination based on gender and sexuality does exist and is something I am still forced to navigate. Role models are critical for children and teenagers as they learn more about themselves and develop their own identities. Without Captain Kathryn Janeway and Alice, the road to the queer, non-binary person working in the tech industry that I am today would have been far more treacherous, and I hope that the androgynous women of science fiction continue to impact the lives of others searching to better know themselves.

Superhero Fetish Is A Real Thing, And It’s Time To Suit Up

Have you ever found yourself watching a superhero blockbuster movie at the megaplex and wondered if you were the only one in the theater who got more than a little aroused by all the muscles in spandex? Or maybe you even thought to yourself: Damn, the things I’d like to do with that sexy man (or woman) in that skintight costume?

I am sure you have comic fan or not but for a few of us, the appeal of superheroes runs much deeper. Because for some of us, we want to really get into it with a hero, and for him to get sexual with while we both wear the capes and tights. And this desire even has a name: superhero fetish, and it’s very real.

I’ve had one ever since I got my hands on issues of the Superman and Spider-man comics as a boy. In my teens, I knew that I liked Green Lantern, Wolverine, and Batman beyond the point of mere entertainment. In particular, I loved the covers where the hero was dominated or bound by a brutish villain. But throughout my twenties, I kept these desires to myself and hidden from my sexual partners, even though I was fully out of the closet and proud to be gay in my public life. I had a lot of acceptance in my life, but I still had a second closet that was suffocating a part of me.

Let me be clear about this: My desires have never been vanilla. Even as I was suppressing my fantasies about superheroes in bondage in my twenties, I was still willing to explore my attraction to leather, rubber, and the culture around BDSM. I was drawn to kink, and I educated myself on what leather communities were all about. I read a lot of books on BDSM culture, and eventually, I took a deep breath and walked into the Eagle in Chicago in 2002. That was my first leather bar. And yet, inside these fetish and BDSM spaces, I didn’t see my superhero and spandex fetish reflected.

There was no such thing as a superhero themed party, or much less a spandex night at these bars. To me, the superhero gear was just as powerful and seductive as a full leather uniform, but I didn’t dare speak up about my desires at some of these bars.

During this era in the aughts, however, an interesting phenomenon started to happen online. Some fetish websites, like the now defunct Gearfetish, did encourage superhero fetish, even if it was only online or in a chat room. I joined these sites, and I discovered that there were a good handful of guys who were into the same kink for superheroes, but when I attended leather events in the physical world, I was always left wondering: why doesn’t someone take this fetish more seriously? At that time, no one was doing so.

Back around 2005, I met a guy about my age on Gearfetish, who shared my superhero fantasies, and who wanted to meet up with me on his next trip into town. I couldn’t believe that he understood my fetish so well, and at the same time, I couldn’t believe how muscular and handsome he was. I mean, he really wanted to dress up and role-play, and wrestle, and have sex with me? He had the chiseled shape of a superhero, and his dark hair and brown eyes gave him a quality that reminded me of a younger Warren Beatty. My stomach curled into knots as I pulled up to his hotel, and what happened next simply changed me forever. We played, we dressed up, we got sensual, we got rough, and we had the encounter of our dreams.

That meet-up validated both of our fetishes about superheroes, but for me, it was like a star going supernova. That hotel encounter validated my imagination, my heart, and my soul. It was at that moment in which I understood that there was nothing wrong with me or my superhero fetish. In fact, I started to understand then that my superhero fetish (and also its opposite energy of supervillain) could help me learn more about who I am.

In 2012, I was living in New York City, working long hours as an editor, and like a lot of journalists, I wrote lots of fiction on the side. I had already published a book of my short stories in 2010, and I had written three sci-fi and fantasy novels that had not yet been published at that time. That year, I began writing a new series of interconnected short stories about Roland, an unusually feisty but introspective nurse in Kansas City. When I was done with 12 short stories about him, I understood that what I was really writing was a novel about Roland, and not just erotic stories about superhero fetish.

At that point, I decided to publish it as a book titled How to Kill a Superhero: A Gay Bondage Manual. I went on to publish two sequels after that first volume, and the fourth book in the series will publish later this year. I chose a pen name of Pablo Greene to publish the How to Kill a Superhero serieswhile I also published thrillers under my real name Cesar Torres. Nowadays, I publish with pride using both names.

How to Kill a Superhero is like Harry Potter for kinky gay and queer men, and over time, it’s become a cult favorite. It’s not for the faint of heart — my books depict graphic sex, rough sex, and costumed sex. Kinksters and leather communities have become particularly fond of the books, and some of my biggest book signings are at leather events. I am grateful to have met so many sexy and warm-hearted kinksters in all the years I have been writing and publishing the books. And that’s why I am more like Tony Stark than Clark Kent: I don’t mind if you know my alter ego. In fact, revealing my dual identity only helps you to understand me better.

I, with leather community member Brian Bolt Donner, organized POW! The Superhero Fetish Meetup at International Mister Leather, a newly added event on the official schedule, which welcomes newbies and longtime superhero fetish enthusiasts and enables them to meet each other and connect. But there are many other key players and organizers in the scene who are also focused on welcoming people with a sense of openness, sexiness, and a sense of humor.

Jon Maunz from Baltimore is an articulate member of superhero fetish community. He has organized meetups at events like Mid-Atlantic Leather in Washington, D.C.

“I entered the world of superhero fetish probably the same way a lot of people do, being a gay comic book reader,” Maunz says. “Superheroes left quite an impression on me from a very early age. Comics like the X-Men, who were portrayed as outsiders, always interested me. Especially when all the male characters wore skintight spandex and had chiseled proportions. There is always a bit of fetishism in superhero comics. Big muscular guys put on their skin tight leather suits and punch each other. I mean….it’s not subtle.”

Being attracted to the colorful and impossibly skin-tight costumes of superheroes is not all that different from being attracted to the homoerotic art of Tom of Finland or other iconic images of leathermen. Both display heightened versions of the male physique, and they push the envelope of reality into the fantasy realm. The big difference is that the aesthetic of leathermen is informed by uniforms and technology from world wars I and II, as well as photography.

The comic book, on the other hand, was a new printed medium of the early 20th century that was marketed to children. The comic book was considered to be silly entertainment, never serious or with depth. It’s only in the past thirty years or so that it’s been elevated to a new literary status, and I think it makes sense that now, writers and filmmakers, as well as readers and viewers, are able to celebrate exactly how much eroticism comic books have generated, from their very early days. Just picture it — big muscled men in tights, often bound and gagged; Comics created images that are more powerful than most people realize.

Just this past February, the leather contest Leather Pride Belgium launched the first ever title of Mr. Superhero Fetish Europe. The winner was Captain Europe (who prefers not to share his real name). By my count, this makes it the first time in the world that a superhero fetish category has appeared in a leather contest.

“Truth be told, superhero fetish is something I got into by accident,” says Captain Europe.” I got into wrestling a year or so after I came out as gay, so you have the spandex there; I grew up with the 1960s Batman and Robin TV series with all of its homoerotic subtexts; and I guess exploring the two led me to the superhero fetish scene, such as it is. Superhero fetish is a way to let your imagination and creativity run wild, beyond the usual dom/sub role play.”

Adam Fairris, a UK native who recently moved to San Francisco and married an American, has been part of the superhero fetish communities in both countries, and he notes some major differences in the superhero fetish scenes across the ocean.

“The superhero scene in the U.S. is very much separated from the generic spandex scene,” Fairris says. “In the UK the two are inextricably linked. Which paradoxically means [that in the UK] you’ll have the [somewhat socially accepted] cosplay of dressing up as your club’s star player next to the unusual dressing up as Superman in the same [fetish] club night. In the USA, they’re still very much separated. And the acts of getting into character and roleplaying in the public settings are significantly more important in the U.S.”

Right now there isn’t a single place for superhero fetishists to meet, and dating apps don’t have a superhero category to indicate this kinky interest. I run a Facebook group for POW! and though the group is mostly geared toward the event in May, it’s a good place to meet other superhero loving people.

Instagram and Tumblr tend to attract a lot of superhero fetishists, and they can also help people find each other. Even though we are hard to find, you’ll find that superhero fetish community tends to be friendly and open to newcomers. And when it comes to hookups, the same guidelines from the kink and BDSM world apply: communicate your interests and limits often and upfront, and use consent as the basis for safety in the encounters you get into.

If you’re looking for events this year where your superhero fetish and cosplay will be welcome, I recommend Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco and Dragon Con in Atlanta, both of which will take place in September. Folsom a perfect place for you to gear up and meet other superhero fetishists in the street and Dragon Con is a great place to try out your most daring cosplay, thanks to the con’s geeky element and history of safe spaces for LGBTQattendees.

According to Maunz, the small size of the community shouldn’t stop anyone from finding others who get off on superheroes and villains. “My advice to first-time superhero fetishists is to have fun! Wear a skintight spandex suit out to a leather/fetish night at your local bar. Do DIY cosplay at home or wear it out. Find some like-minded individuals for some fun play sessions to find out what it is you like the most out of this particular fetish.”

Superhero fetish has helped me explore who I am through direct access to powerful archetypes of human psychology. Superhero stories contain power exchange, betrayal, love, death, and rebirth, all of the elements of the erotic. And superheroes are in no way just kid’s stuff. Their erotic potential is infinite, and one which very few writers have ever actually explored.

Yes, superhero fetish is real, and if you believe in love and imagination, you too can suit up and find new dimensions of your own soul.

Photo credit: CesarTorres

___

Cesar Torresis a book author, journalist and filmmaker. His novels include the thrillers 9 Lords of Night, 13 Secret Cities, and the cult book series How to Kill a Superhero, which he writes under the pen name Pablo Greene. His new documentary film Beyond Built, launched this month on his YouTube channel.

People Taking HIV Meds Outed by Aetna Envelopes With Peep Hole

These unopened envelopes are causing quite a stir.

According to STAT, insurance carrier Aetna sent letters to approximately 12,000 people that was meant to tell them that their pharmacy benefits would be changing. However, visible through a window the envelopes was the fact that the letter was about medication for HIV treatment.

INTO spoke to one HIV-positive person, Fernando, who asked to go only by his first name, who received the letter. Fernando also sent INTO a copy of the letter.

The following text is visible through the window:

“The purpose of this letter is to advise you of the options Aetna health plan when filling prescriptions for HIV”

“My partner and I were kinda shocked,” Fernando told INTO. Fernando’s partner, who is HIV negative and on PrEP, received a similar envelope. “Even to have a letter that has the letters HIV on it is really bad.”

Fernando said that not many people saw his letter, as it was delivered to he and his partner’s shared PO box. However, that was not the case for all people.

Sally Friedman, legal director at the Legal Action Center, told STAT, that people who recieved the letter “have been devastated.”

“We’ve had a number of people tell us they had chosen not to disclose their HIV status to family members but this is how their family members found out,” Friedman told STAT.

INTO contacted Aetna for a statement and will update when it responds.

According to STAT, Aetna has already notified state and federal authorities about the breach. Federal law requires that a person’s HIV status be kept private, according to the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.

“We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members,” a company spokesman told STAT. “This type of mistake is unacceptable, and we are undertaking a full review of our processes to ensure something like this never happens again.”
However, for some, that is not enough.

“I don’t think them issuing an apology is enough,” Fernando told INTO.

In a letter obtained by STAT, Aetna said that customers’ personal information was only visible “in some cases.” Friedman countered by saying that, in every case advocates had seen, the information was “very visible.”

Photo credit: Flickr/ Montgomery County Planning Commission

Gay GOP Group Says Hosting Event At Trump Hotel Is Not Endorsement

The Log Cabin Republicans are hosting an event at the Trump Hotel next month, but according to the gay GOP group’s president, that’s not an endorsement of the Commander-in-Chief.

LCR president Gregory T. Angelo gave an interview with The Wrap last week in which he explained that the hotel chain’s Washington D.C. location was selected as the site for its 40th anniversary gala back in March. This was prior to Trump’s proposed ban on transgender people serving openly in the military.

Angelo said that the choice in location should not be viewed as a comment on the president.

“We are not making a point of showcasing the venue, and we were never going to,” Angelo told journalist Itay Hod. “If this event was promoted as ‘A Celebration of Trump’ or featured him as a speaker, criticism of Log Cabin Republicans would be more than warranted, but that’s not the reality.”

Furthermore, Angelo claimed that the hotel gave them a “competitive rate” and that it would be “impractical” to cancel with the gala set to take place in a matter of weeks.

INTO questioned the group’s president in a series of emails about the assertions made in The Wrap interview, an exchange during which Angelo continually referred back to those same statements. He claimed the questions around the appropriateness of the event “were answered at length” in his original comments, which INTO pushed back on.

“How is an event held at a hotel that Trump owns not an endorsement of the man who owns it?” INTO asked, stating that it doesn’t “add up.”

Angelo failed to comment.

This isn’t the first time that the Log Cabin Republicans have struggled to explain their continued defense of the president, who Angelo once referred to as the “most pro-LGBT Republican nominee in history.” Hours before Trump called for a ban on trans troops in a series of tweets, the LCR president called the POTUS a “quiet ally” in a Washington Examiner story.

The GOP group would take a different tack following that proposal, saying it “smacks of politics, pure and simple.”

“The United States military already includes transgender individuals who protect our freedom day in and day out,” Angelo said in a press release. “Excommunicating transgender soldiers only weakens our readiness; it doesn’t strengthen it. The president’s statement this morning does a disservice to transgender military personnel.”

Trump’s claim that allowing trans troops to serve openly would entail “medical costs and disruption” has since been widely debunked. The Oval Office is expected to announce how his tweets will be enacted as on-the-ground policy later this week.

Although Angelo claimed he was “stunned” by Trump’s statement, he continued to defend the president’s LGBTQ allyship just days after the tweets were posted. When questioned about his prior claim that Trump is “pro-LGBT,” Angelo told Salon that “nothing has changed in that regard.”

“Trump brings a cultural awareness of the LGBT community to the White House in a way that past Republican presidents have not,” he said.

Man Drives Car Into Vigil for Kiwi Herring, Slain Black Trans Woman

On Wednesday night in St. Louis, friends and family gathered to mourn Kiwi Herring, a black transgender woman who was shot to death by police on Tuesday. However, their vigil was violently interrupted when a careening car drove through the vigil-goers, injuring several people, according to local affiliate KTVI.

A witness, Keith Rose, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the driver, who police identified to INTO as 59-year-old Mark Colao, raised his middle fingers in the air and accelerated into the mourning crowd, who were in the street outside St. Louis’s Transgender Memorial Garden, run by the Metro Trans Umbrella Group.

St. Louis police, according to the Riverfront Times, blamed the protesters, saying they were blocking traffic and that they surrounded and hit his car when the driver attempted to get around them.

“The protesters surrounded the vehicle and began striking it with their hands and a flag pole,” Schron Jackson, a police spokeswoman, told the Times. “Several protesters also kicked and jumped on top of the vehicle.”

SLMPD also released video of the incident.

A Facebook post from attendee Keith Rose contradicted the police spokeswoman’s account.

According to a public Facebook status shared over 600 times from Keith Rose, a vigil attendee, the car drove towards protesters and, after throwing up his middle finger, drove into the car slowly hitting people who were blocking traffic. People began to hit his car, Rose asserted, after he had already begun to accelerate into those at the vigil.

Footage of the incident circulated on social media.

Post-Dispatch reporter David Carson captured the moment on camera, as well.

After initially refusing to stop for police, the man driving the car stopped and police took him into custody. SLMPD told INTO that Colao has been charged with resisting arrest, leaving the scene of an accident and operating a motor vehicle in a careless and imprudent manner.

INTO has contacted people at Metro Trans Umbrella Group for more information about the vigil.

The driver’s assault echoes the modus operandi of James Alex Fields, the 20-year-old man whocareened into anti-fascist protestersin Charlottesville, Virginia. Fields killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Police entered Herring’s home on Tuesday morning and saw the 30-year-old Herring holding a knife. She had “severely cut” a neighbor, according to the Huffington Post. Friends who spoke to the Post said that Herring had been the target of ongoing harassment from the neighbor and that there had been several calls to her address for “domestic issues.”

“The neighbor was homophobic and made fun of her,” Crevonda Nance, Herring’s sister-in-law said. “We couldn’t understand why he was so angry and why he cared about Kiwi’s sexual orientation.”

According to police accounts, Herring allegedly slashed at an officer and left them with a wound the Post described as “not that serious.” Unknown is whether police officers tried non-lethal methods, like a stun gun or mace, prior to shooting Herring to death.

According to the Post, police took Herring’s 28-year-old spouse into custody because of “involvement in the assault.” Police have filed charges of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon.

Herring was employed as a caregiver and was a mother to three young boys ages 4, 7 and 8.

Margaret Cho: Arizona GOP “Deserve a Dodgeball to the Face”

Margaret Cho has some tough words for the Arizona GOP.

The comedian is clapping back at Arizona Republicans after using a cast photograph from her 1990s sitcom All-American Girl on their campaign site as a representation of Asian Americans. VICE first reported the snafu on Tuesday.

In a statement to INTO, Cho said: “I find this similar to when I was a kid someone told me that [Duran Duran lead singer] Simon Le Bon’s name was ‘Mike Hunt’ and so I went around school saying ‘I love Mike Hunt’ and even wrote it on my locker. I didn’t bother to research and paid the price of a dodgeball to the face. They got some bad information and ran with it. They deserve a dodgeball to the face.”

All-American Girl featured a crop of recognizable Asian-American actors including Cho, B.D. Wong and 50 First Dates’ Amy Hill all of whom are front and center in the photo. The show ran for 19 episodes in 1994 and 1995.

During its initial run, Girl was controversial and garnered intense criticism for misrepresenting Asian Americans, especially Korean Americans.

“To most, the show was a disappointment–yet another example of Hollywood’s ignorance and indifference when it comes to depicting an ethnic group about which it knows so little,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1995.

The image has been taken down, and Arizona Republicans apologized in a statement to VICE.

“As soon as this was brought to our attention, the page was taken down,” Torunn Sinclair, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Republican Party, said. “This was obviously a mistake, and we apologize.”

Meet the ‘Hero’ Drag Queens Who Saved Gay Man From Homophobic Beating

A group of homophobic attackers in Australia messed with the wrong drag queens.

Ivy Leaguee, Coco Jumbo, and Vybewho frequently perform on Oxford St. in Sydney’s gay districtwere leaving a gig earlier this month when they encountered a group of men making a ruckus in a nearby kebab shop. After the group was booted out of the establishment by the owner for yelling words like “queer” and “faggot,” the queens tell INTO that the men took it to the street.

A good Samaritan by the name of Ivan Flinn quickly got involved. The 34-year-old IT manager confronted them, saying the gayborhood is no place for that kind of language.

“You can’t disrespect the gay community,” Vybe remembers him saying. “This is a safe space.”

That’s when Vybewhose real name is Angus Robertssays that the hooligans lashed out. The group of men began to pummel Flinn, grabbing his shirt and ripping off his buttons. He was struck in the jaw, which was immediately dislocated by the blow. Flinn would subsequently be sent to the emergency room as a result of his injuries.

Ivy Leaguee, which is the stage name of 26-year-old Luke Karakia, risked her life to intervene. Ivy Leaguee says during a Wednesday interview that she called out the attackers, telling them to come after her instead.

“You’re a tough man for picking on the little guy,” Ivy Leaguee claims she interjected at the time. “Why don’t you try fighting someone your own size?”

The queens argue that the deck was stacked against the attackers all along. Although onlookers might think that a group of club performers in high heels wouldn’t be able to defend themselves, Coco Jumbo (neé Luke Waqa) used to play rugby. She grew up with older brothers. Before becoming a drag queen, Vybe trained as a dancera tradition noted for its athleticism.

According to Ivy Leaguee, the hooligans looked tough but were barely able to defend themselves when challenged. Her wig, however, was ruined when the group of men ripped it from her head.

The trio held off Flinn’s attackers until the police came to break up the fight.

Vybe tells INTO that she was shocked by the violence. Despite a string of 88 murders between the years of 1976 and 2000 that many believe were motivated by anti-LGBTQ animus, she says that Sydney has since become a haven for queer and trans people. The city is the kind of place where people “have each other’s back.”

“This was one of the first attacks in a long time that we have seen or heard about,” Vybe claims.

The timing of the incident couldn’t be more germane. Leading up to a nationwide straw poll on marriage equality, posters urging Australians to “stop the fags” have begun appearing in several major cities. The fliers depict two men holding rainbow belts, alleging that same-sex relationships lead to child abuse.

“Ninety-two percent of children raised by gay parents are abused,” reads the poster, which was distributed by an anonymous group. “Fifty-one percent have depression. Seventy-two percent are obese.”

Australia’s PM Malcolm Turnbull condemned the fliers as “abusive” and “disrespectful,” and numerous studies have shown these allegations to be false.

Children raised by same-sex parents are just as likely as their peers to be happy and healthy.
In fact, an in-depth study from the Pediatrics journalwhich was conducted over a 25-year spanshowed that kids reared in lesbian households outperformed other students in school.

LGBTQ advocates in Australia have long warned that putting civil rights up to a public referendum could lead to backlash. Despite the fact that a majority of Australians have supported marriage equality since 2005, Turnbull won’t allow a free vote in the Parliament until a plebiscite is conducteda nonbinding vote of the people.

Shelley Argent, the national spokesperson for PFLAG, warned in a July email sent prior to the plebiscite announcement that it would have a “negative impact” on LGBTQ Australians.

“It is insulting to have your rights put to a popular vote,” Argent said at the time.

The survey has been set for later this monthwith a final count expected on August 24. With tensions escalating on both sides, Vybe claims that it’s a “stressful” time to be LGBTQ: “It feels like in the past year, the world has taken a few steps back.”

But she hopes that the public support the queens have received after the incident inspires the country to come together. Flinn set up a GoFundMe fundraiser to replace the wigs and nails damaged while saving his life. At the time of writing, the campaign has raised over $9,000. The original goal was $1,000.

Ivy Leaguee says that the response has been “incredible.”

“The incident has generated so much love and positivity for the LGBTQ community that people have reached out to tell us we have changed their views,” she claims. “They will be voting ‘yes’ on equality.”

The performers have become a sensation in local media, hailed as “heroes” and “knights in shining sequins.” Flinn has called them his “angels.” But since sharing this experience together, the queens say Flinn has become a friend. Vybe tells INTO that her sisters, longtime pals who live together in a “drag house,” just did what anyone would do in the situation.

“It’s 2017,” Vybe says. “There’s no place for homophobia. Everyone should respect everyone else for being human.”

Trump Set to Announce How He Will Discriminate Against Trans Troops

The White House is expected to unveil its ban on transgender troops “in coming days,” according to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal.

Multiple anonymous sources close to the Oval Office told the Journal that President Donald Trump will be issuing a two-and-a-half page memo outlining the removal of trans service members from the military. It advises Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis to block transgender people from enlisting, reversing the Obama administration’s 2016 decision to lift the historical ban on trans military service.

The document, as sources claim, also advises the armed forces to stop payment for trans health care.

The question over coverage for gender-affirming surgeries and other related care was a bone of contention that led to Trump’s July 26 tweets banning trans military members. The president claimed in his tweets that the cost trans health would be “tremendous.” A 2016 study from the RAND corporation, however, found that the price tag would be negligibleentailing a yearly expenditure of $8.4 million, at the absolute maximum.

In contrast, the Palm Center think tank estimated that removing trans people from service would cost the military $960 million.

Trump’s memo reportedly calls for Mattis to judge whether active duty trans troops will be removed on a case-by-case basis. The standard will be “deployability,” a phrase Reuters has interpreted to mean as “the ability to serve in a war zone, participate in exercises or live for months on a ship.”

Given the president’s stated concerns about the “disruption” trans service entails, it’s difficult to know how that standard will be applied.

Mattis has six months to implement the policy, sources say.

The Journal report echoes comments that Mattis himself made to members of the media in a briefing at the Pentagon last Wednesday, which were later reported by CNN.

“The policy is going to address whether or not transgenders can serve under what conditions, what medical support they require, how much time would they be perhaps non-deployable, leaving others to pick up their share of everything,” Secretary Mattis said.

This is not the first report about what Trump’s memo, which has been shrouded in secrecy for the past month, will actually entail. The Washington Blade claimed in an August 4 story that the policy would “encourage early retirement, usher out any enlisted personnel after their contract is up, and would fire trans officers up for promotion.”

“The administration wants to get rid of transgender service members as fast as they can,” a source told the Blade.

LGBTQ advocates have repeatedly criticized the president’s military policies since they were originally announced. After news of the memo leaked Wednesday, those concerns intensified. The National Center for Lesbian Rights said in a press release that the policy “poses a serious threat to our nation’s longstanding commitment to honor those who serve.”

Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Trans Equality, claimed that the Trump administration is “doubling down on discrimination.”

“This is an insult to, and an attack on, thousands of trained, capable service members and veterans; and it is blatantly unconstitutional,” Kiesling said in a statement. “Transgender service members do their jobs, serving the country they love, and are no less able to serve and deploy than anyone else.”

Multiple LGBTQ advocacy groups stated that they plan to challenge the policy through legal action. In addition, five trans military members already filed suit against the White House, naming Trump as a defendant.

Lilly Wachowski’s ‘Say Our Names:’ Recovering the Most Vulnerable Among Us

Many faces and many stories are among them. Take, for instance, Dee Whigham, who had recently begun her medical career as a nurse at a medical center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

A definition of the word “diva,” was kept on her Facebook page: “A lady who does NOT allow any other passengers on her plane.” Rae’Lynne Thomas from Columbus, Ohio was a performer and “fashionista” and wanted to look her best at all times, “dressed to the nines to clean the kitchen.” On India Monroe’s Facebook page, titled “India thedarkvixen,” she declared about herself that “it is just the beginning, don’t count me out yet, I am a work in progress.” She lived in Newport News, Virginia.

All of them are transgender women from around the country, 27 in all, and all of them brutally murdered throughout 2016. It wasn’t the end, wouldn’t be the end for any of them, however.

Instead, all of these hopeful, bright, shining human beings now hang along the walls at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, rendered in dozens of lovingly painted portraits. “This list is from recorded homicides,” says Wachowski, “though I’ve taken the liberty of some additions due to suspicious circumstances. It is partial and by no means considered complete.”

The Wachowskis have long made work that famously functions at the intersections of philosophy, artistic representation, ideology and self, sex and gender identity, with technology and a healthy dose of reflections on the necessities of jouissance thrown in.

At times, art-making as a social and cultural discourse can reflect positive shifting political realities. Many ardent fans of their Netflix series Sense8, for instance, saw themselves in the multivalence of character consciousnesses and understood it as an explicit attempt to represent users of newly emergent plural, gender-neutral personal pronouns in our culture.

But while they were celebrating alterity and difference onscreen, there was simultaneously a creeping, undeniably persistent, grim march forward of violence against transgender people taking place across the country. Ferocious and bloody, the violence has seemingly taken place unchecked.

Unlike other frontiers of the civil rights movement, such as with the enshrinement of gay marriage and other rights into law, there remains a lack of proper juridical and legislative protections to sufficiently safeguard the rights of transgender people and a widespread, pervasive establishment of bigoted cultural norms that push back against that from happening. In fact, these lack of protections emboldens violence against them.

After coming out as transgender herself in March 2016, Lilly Wachowski took a break from working on the popular series, so wrenched by the violence that she began to explore her reactions to it in paint, producing a series of portraits shown collectively in June 2017 at Chicago’s Center on Halsted in an exhibit titled Say Our Names.

“This series of portraits began toward the end of July 2016,” says Wachowski, “an outlet for the overwhelming emotion I was feeling in the relentless waves of mortal acts of violence against trans people over the course of the year. With each headline, each murder, I felt wanting to connect, to remember, to honor.“ It was in the Center that she found a safe haven for sharing her series of portraits, works that painstakingly memorialize those whom so many continue to regard as less than human.

It’s inarguable that sex and gender fanaticism has enjoyed a generalized resurgence in 2017 America, with evidence of its hateful revanchism everywhere. It’s also unsurprising, in a nation founded on a roll-call of atrocities, whether slavery, the Indian genocides that preceded the Westward Expansion or the refusal to accept the citizenship of those Chinese who helped build the railroads afterward, that America today continues to persist in its long history of supremacist leanings. Those leanings are influential and wide-reaching.

Indeed, it’s clear that Nazi lawmakers planning the drafts of their own Blood Laws determined that American juridical stances on racial purity in anti-miscegenation laws were too severe, even for them (we claimed a “single drop” of racially-tainted blood was enough to invalidate superior identity; for them, you needed to have a few grandparents worth of tainted blood in the lineage).

So, whether it’s Anglo-Saxons over black, brown and yellow people; or straight, cis-gendered sexual relationships over LGBTQ people, there’s been no shortage of demonstrable nationalist argument for these hierarchies of nature in which some people are deemed superior to a wide range of inferior others. It’s truly sickening.

And, whether in President Trump’s specious arguments about transgender service in the military, or the overturning of the “bathroom bills,” and on and on, transgender people are today more and more often at the center of that nationalist backlash.

In fact, Trump’s willingness to stoke the fires of that supremacist fanaticism was a major motivation for the portrait series, and an inspiration for the defiant footing that necessitated it.

“I write this the day after a Trump presidency was confirmed,” Wachowski notes, seething with indictment of the President’s divisive rhetoric. “We LGBTQ collective must fight for and protect our own against the tide of ignorance and hate. Fight for and protect first, then educate.”

In the very same month when Lilly Wachowski announced her transgender identity, 16-year old dancer Kedarie/Kandicee Johnson (who identified both as transgender and genderfluid, and who went by both names), was found shot to death in an alley with multiple entry wounds. They had only just moved to Burlington, Iowa, where they were killed, in an attempt to escape the gun violence in their hometown Chicago. Among the 27 portraits painted by Wachowski, Johnson’s was among the first deaths to occur after the filmmaker had become a publicly-recognized transgender figure.

That her portrait, like that of the others, is rendered in the art-historical vocabulary of naive figuration lends to its earnest, heartfelt quality in a way that syncs with the abject and assigned “inferior” status by populist narratives of its subjects. This embrace and alignment of the perspective with the abjection of form, technique, and subject is itself an act of defiance. Colors are at times blocky, chiseled, then explode against one another, flaring up in raw purples, oranges, reds; what matters most is the person revealed in their movement through time.

“I utilized a color palette with the hope the portraits could offer a vibration of the subject’s life and humanity so that the viewer would also be able to connect, to remember, and to honor.”

Wachowski’s portraits evince a desire to reconnect them with the world beyond the populist social and cultural elements that rejected them, past the hatred and bigotry, to reconnect them with the world they’ve left behind. It’s a choice reflected even in the surface of the materials Wachowski chose to work with: “Acrylic on wood panels. The organic fibers of the wood felt apropos of the organic nature of these lives and our interconnectedness.”

And that interconnectedness is crucial not only for understanding the project but for understanding the importance of equality in society: without it, those supremacist delusions can grow and spread like a malignant virus, tearing society apart from within the belief systems of its members.

Ultimately, each individual attempt to restore each of these 27 slain women to our cultural memory through portraiture is an act of subversion against those in the culture whom would see them erased, wiped out and forgotten.

“We must recognize these murders for what they are; a genocidal project,” Wachowski explains. “Trans people are under attack and trans women of color specifically are being singularly and systematically wiped out.” There’s only one antidote, she writes, summing up the need to build a more salutary, inclusive culture in one short, poetic refrain:

We, the dead and
We, the living
Will not be erased; Say Our Names!
Say
Our
Fucking
Names.

Katy Perry Needs to Pivot From Video

Katy Perry dropped her “Swish Swish” video today and with the amount of ~stuff~ happening, I thought it was American Horror Story: Basketball.

The video takes the song’s central metaphor, stretches it into a painful 6 minutes and crams it full of celebrity cameos. A quick list from memory everyone who’s in “Swish Swish”: Molly Shannon, Terry Crews, the “Shooketh” viral video girl, the kid from Stranger Things, Gronk and the backpack kid from Perry’s dragtastic Saturday Night Live performance.

Like several of Katy Perry’s other videos, the video is a big budget ode to wasted potential and wasted money. Perry spends the equivalent of some developing countries annual GDPs on an overstuffed video that only quits being laborious when Nicki Minaj shows up for her windswept half-time performance.

When it comes to videos, Perry needs to take a cue from Coco Chanel and edit. Take off one gimmick. Cut a cameo. Minus a ~look~. Take away a costume. Subtract the cheese. Why did she need to dress up in half a dozen different outfits and crash people’s birthdays for “Birthday?” Why did she need to be prepared, boiled and consumed for “Bon Appetit”? Why did she unleash myriad racist tropes for “This Is How We Do”?

One of the video’s most cringe-worthy moments comes when Perry turns a failed attempt to shoot hoops and turns it into the #NickiMinajChallenge shooting star meme that gave her video co-star a truly viral moment. Cramming her video with viral stars like Christine “Shooketh” Sydelko shows that Perry followers meme culture, but the video’s overall forced feel bets on that virality being replicated. But, if Twitter is any indication, the effort was more cringe-y than shareworthy.

Sure, plenty of her pop peers are guilty of the “more is more” aesthetic Lady Gaga, mostly but at least with them, all the ideas seem to be herded in the same general direction. Perry seems like she can’t seem to shepherd her ideas together into a unit, making her videos come off sloppy and aimless, which is sad given that she can command so much time and talent behind them.