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.

5 Facts You Need to Know about Young M.A

Buried among the big names lined up for this year’s Video Music Awards Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Pink there’s one smaller name who has nevertheless been making a major splash in the rap game: Young M.A.

The 25-year-old rapper scored a hit with 2016’s “OOOUUU,” which includes lyrics about a queer relationship and lesbian desire. Here’s what you need to know.

1. She reps Brooklyn.

Young M.A was born in Brooklyn, New York, and began rapping at age 9. moved around a lot and then eventually landed back in the borough when she was 16.

Brooklyn was also the subject of her first viral hit. According to aVogueprofile of the rapper, her song “Brooklyn (Chiraq Freestyle),” caused an online sensation after Dr. Boyce Watkins, an author and commentator criticized the song’s “violent, negative, genocidal energy.” In an interview withVladTV, Young M.A eventually thanked Watkins for the critical post, which actually garnered her more publicity.

2. Her most popular track is “Ooouuu.”

“Ooouuu” came to life because, as Young M.A toldGenius, she needed a “feel good” record.

“This is a record where I just wanted to be cool on the track,” the rapper said. “I’m chill, I’m humble a lot, I needed one of those records.”

The strategy paid off as the song racked up several accolades.Rolling Stoneranked it #11 on its list of the best songs of 2016, andBillboardnamed it the 16th best pop song of 2016. It also landed on year-end best lists atPitchforkand theVillage Voice.

Earlier in her career, M.A told Vogue, she was told to rap in a “more feminine” way, but eventually left that behind and decided to rap openly about her sexuality on her tracks, as she does on “Ooouuu.”

“The nerves was actually then,” she remembers. “I held in being sexually attracted to women for so long that once I got that out of me, the music became easy.”

3. Actually, a lot of her lyrics discuss her sexuality.

The lyrics on “Ooouuu” are not a one-time phenomenon. On “Hot Sauce,” off her EPHerstory, Young M.A raps:

“My girl getting on my nerves, I ain’t going home
Ain’t got time for this shit (I don’t got time for this shit)
I ain’t got time for this bitch (I don’t got time for this bitch)
Big brown bone, she look like Babe Ruth
She let me hit it out the park like I’m Babe Ruth
Then I hit my dougie, ooh I’m pretty though
Bring that Hilfiger back and I’m jiggy though”

4. Young M.A has also been criticized for her misogyny.

In an essay inThe Root, writer Samantha Master took Young M.A to task for recreating some of the worst parts of toxic masculinity culture.

“Her success, and the success of her gender-fluid counterparts, including Young Thug, are partly rooted in an affirmation of and nod to the old guard of gangsta rap: heterosexism and misogyny,” Master wrote. “ Young M.A, in some ways, has used the cultural space largely created by black women to promote the re-enactment of elements of toxic masculinity.”

Several outlets have since discussed whether Young M.A’sdecidedly queerlyrics would be considered misogynist if they were being rapped by a man. Most people have concluded yes.

Young M.A responded to these accusations in an interview withFader, saying: “At the end of the day, men can be described the same way as men describe women,” she says. “A man can be a ho, just as much as a woman can be a ho. And I’m a woman myself! I respect women. I respect my mother.”

5. Her mother tried to help her come out.

Young M.A toldHigh Snobietythat she tried to dress more femininely to please her mother.

“Man, my mama already knew,” the rapper said. In “Quiet Storm,” Young M.A raps: “Mama wondered why I never liked to wear a skirt / Or wear a purse, I tried to be girly once / But fortunately it didn’t work.”

But, little did she know, her mom was trying to help her come out the whole time.
“I used to throw little clues for her to just say it,” her mother toldFader, “because I knew once she would have said it to me, she would feel comfortable and she would be able to live her life the way she wanted to.”

On a freestyle track, “Ether,” Young M.A encouraged other LGBTQ people to come out, too.

“To all my gays struggling, still stuck in the closet / Just come out, be you, never try to disguise it.”

Zero Feet Away From Scott Turner Schofield

“I’ll do anything if it makes a good story.”

Scott Turner Schofield means what he says. His talent in front of the camera and on the stage has translated into huge career wins for himself and the trans community, including the badass title of being the first openly trans actor on daytime television. Grindr’s own Kayla Ward gets the tea from Scott on gender expression in entertainment, getting married, and duking it out with Will Ferrell.

Janelle Monae’s Undiscussed Queer Legacy

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since Janelle Monáe blessed us with Metropolis Suite I: The Chase, the first in a series of concept albums which went on to score Grammy awards and critical acclaim. Based on the 1927 sci-fi epic of the same name, Monáe’s “Metropolis” hones in on the character of Cindi Mayweather, an android dangerously in love with a human named Anthony Greendown.

Although the EP was the first official chapter of the saga, Monáe hinted at what was to come on the 2003 album, The Audition. On a track entitled “Metropolis,” she sings of a world which would later go on to become fully-realized – one where “a cyborg can love and a cyber girl is still a queen.” These references led many to dub the album as Suite 0 of the series.

While the Metropolis albums have their inspirations clearly rooted in the works of sci-fi legends like Fritz Lang and Octavia Butler, the character of Cindi Mayweather is used by Monáe as a vehicle, through which she articulates a distinctly queer narrative. “When I speak about the android, it’s the ‘other,’” she explained in a 2013 interview.

“You can parallel that to the gay community, to the black community, to women – we have so many things in common, and we sometimes don’t know it when we allow small things to get in the way,” Monáe continues. “So this music is meant to inspire and bring wings to those who are weak and grace to those when they are strong.”

Mayweather’s own fight begins on the opening track of The Chase, entitled “March of the Wolfmasters.” “Good morning, cy-boys and cyber girls,” announces a disturbingly chirpy voice over a radio. “Android 57821, otherwise known as Cindi Mayweather, has fallen desperately in love with a human named Anthony Greendown. You know the rules – she is now scheduled for immediate disassembly!”

This interlude opens a story of forbidden love which, to queer people in the 72 countries worldwide which still persecute homosexuality, will doubtless sound extremely familiar. Mayweather may be hiding in the Neon Valley District from bounty hunters with chainsaws and electro-daggers, but her story represents the real plights of queer people worldwide forced into exile or deported from Western countries back to oppressive governments determined to snatch their freedom.

These elements of humanity are alluded to later in the EP, specifically in a spoken-word breakdown at the end of “Many Moons.” Lyrically, the track itself explores the complexities of living under surveillance and the illusion of freedom: “You’re free but, in your mind, your freedom’s in a bind,” she sings. Again, this relates to queerness – none of us are free from the world around us, which can condition us to think or believe things we may not otherwise.

Queer theory as a movement came about to destabilize these ideas, encouraging us all to think outside limits and create our own subjective realities – something which Monáe facilitates within her fantasy world by encouraging escapism and exploration.

Elsewhere, the star articulates this message in bleaker terms during the song’s closing minutes, name-checking ailments like breast cancer and HIV alongside racialized stereotypes and likening them to Mayweather’s own problems in her fictionalized world. Still, she ends with a beautiful closing lullaby which references the importance of community, role models, and self-created queer families: “When the world just treats you wrong, just come with me and I’ll take you home, no need to pack a bag,” she sings.

The “Many Moons” video adds a visual companion to these lyrical explorations, depicting an android auction soundtracked by Cindi Mayweather. Themes of gender, beauty, sexuality, race, and class all permeate the short film: we see androids having their hair groomed and primped to more accurately fit the standards of femininity desired by buyers, whereas Mayweather herself drags up in a tuxedo and a pompadour.

This is queer in itself; these are non-humans conforming to “human” beauty standards, therefore highlighting that anybody can artificially assimilate with beauty. We all understand this as “dragging up,” a term which, thanks to pioneers like RuPaul, is slowly bleeding into mainstream consciousness.

The fact that Monáe places these themes in the context of an android auction – which, for obvious reasons, can be likened heavily to American slave auctions – sparks an interesting conversation around wealth, hierarchy, and the hoops through which marginalized people must jump to assimilate.

Other small but subversive nods to queerness in the video are also worth exploring. In one segment, Mayweather rips off her jacket and throws it into the crowd to be caught by a delirious, screaming woman. Here, she mimics the frenzied reaction to rock stars like Bowie, Elvis, and Prince and hints at traditionally “masculine” traits within Mayweather.

In a sense, it’s feasible to argue the alter-ego as a drag personality of sorts: in “Cindi,” a track which appears on The Audition, Monáe sings about feeling like an outsider and finding purpose through constructed identity.

“As I search for a home and a place to belong, I find it hard to fit in,” she sings. “I meet lots of pretty girls in this fantasy world waiting for their time to shine / So I try to be Cindi in hopes that they’d notice that I wasn’t their cup of tea It’s so lonely when I’m only being me.” In a moment of unusually personal introspection, the star here seems to reference her own experiences of isolation while also aligning herself with the queer community; while some turn to drag to explore and subvert their outsider status, Monáe created Cindi.

Naturally, these continued themes have led to press speculation around the star’s own sexuality. Various publications have read into her tweets, lyrics, and interviews, feeding into swirling rumors which the star addressed most eloquently on Sway In The Morning.

Instead of creating clickbait, Monáe revealed the queerness of her own mentality by saying that love has no religion or sexual orientation before explaining that she makes a point of not discussing her personal life.
“Categorize me / I defy every label,” she later sang on “Q.U.E.E.N.,” seemingly reinforcing her point. By declining to talk about her own sex life, the star presents herself as label-less; she essentially queers media perceptions of her by choosing to remain anomalous, toying with identity politics and, most importantly, turning the focus on her personal life into an opportunity to highlight the actual struggles of queer people.

As the Metropolis saga developed, various other references to queerness were made more explicitly. She sings about “undercover love” in “Givin’ Em What They Love,” about Blueberry Mary (a girl who is crazy for Mayweather, who “comes in her dreams”) on “Mushrooms and Roses,” and about queer astronaut Sally Ride, to whom she dedicates an entire song. Maybe the best moment, though, comes in the form of a radio station skit hosted by DJ Crash Crash. He takes callers, all of whom are disgusted conservatives designed as almost exact replicas of those who still balk at queer people: “I think they should just do Whatever they do to people like that,” says Peggy Lakeshore of Neon Valley.

The last caller, however, issues one final explicit statement: “Robot love is queer!” Only here, towards the tail-end of the fifth suite does Monáe deliberately underline the shared discrimination faced by Mayweather and the queer community, adding a late new dimension to an already comprehensive story.

These countless coded references are refreshing in the context of a corporate world – one which is increasingly dominated by lukewarm ally-ship and transparent messages of disingenuous support for the LGBTQ community.

By steering clear of weak, literal statements of solidarity, Monáe has created a masterpiece which humanizes queer identities through the story of an alienated android. She also spotlights the ways in which sci-fi often does the same thing – throughout the albums, she makes references to pioneers of Afrofuturism like Octavia Butler, whose works featured bisexual characters and alien races with three sexes.
It may seem avant-garde, but, despite the futuristic setting of Metropolis, Monáe has consistently used her individual voice to highlight the human story of those who still face real persecution in 2017, as well as offering up Mayweather as their musical messiah.

Hooking Up In Antarctica

When people ask me what it’s like to travel to Antarctica, I tell them “It’s as if time stopped and I went to Narnia.” Even words like “vast” come up short when detailing the epic size, the icy endlessness, and extraordinary wildlife.

The only way to come close to conveying how special Antarctica is, one needs to describe it in terms relative to IMAX 3D or Virtual Reality. In this case, virtual being the operative word. Regardless of natural beauty, previous experience led me to believe that it was a place where gays simply didn’t go. But that was before the age of expensive satellite wifi.

“Who are you chatting with?” I asked my travel buddy David as we pitched and waned in heavy seas, on the way past Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of Argentina, headed for the Antarctic Peninsula. Turns out, the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions are just as disparate in sexual identity as they are in biodiversity.

“You’d be amazed,” David said, flashing his phone at me. “There are gays on this ship.”

Like many, I go through app cleanses and have to delete all social media in order to have peace of mind. I did not want to voyage all the way to Narnia only to bury my face in my phone. But with the advice of David, I re-downloaded Grindr and some other apps. Sure enough, there were LGBTQs all over the place: on our ship, on other ships, and on international research stations.

Opening up apps like Grindr in strange places is nothing new, especially where queer culture is so DL. “Oh the first thing I did when I went to the Vatican” one friend tells me or “You’d be amazed at how many closeted Mormons chat me up in Salt Lake,” says another. It’s almost as if it’s the first thing we do when we hit the tarmac (or in this case ice flow).

However, as I started chatting with all the men below 65 degrees latitude, the reasons for being on apps like Grindr became increasingly not what I expected.

“I use it predominantly NOT for hookups but travel tips.” Mark, fellow polar enthusiast explains. Mark’s been to Antarctica numerous times and is even slated to work for The National Science Foundation at their various research facilities, most likely McMurdo, the largest research facility on Ross Island (New Zealand side). “It’s a great way to meet the locals and explore a region like a local. Get off the beaten track and go where the real people go.”

What’s cool about going to Antarctica is that it falls under two genres of travel: expedition tourism or scientific research. In my particular case, I was aboard a Lindblad/National Geographic collaboration, which is not a typical cruise. It’s more like a floating classroom. Armed with guides and lecturers who are off duty scientists at the top of their field, and a strange continent teeming with biodiversity, guests are there to learn, phones off and stowed away. But when you’re alone in your cabin, with the phone onthe learning doesn’t stop.

“It’s like a gigantic nerd-gasm on here,” I told David one midnight, the sun was still up. “No one is hooking up, as much as they are blabbing about their experiences.” At that very moment, I was literally chatting about seals with a Ukrainian researcher at Vernadsky Station. But it wasn’t like we were going to dock there.

By the very nature of traveling to a continent that’s double the size of Australia and covered in glaciers is that, although dudes are on Grindr it doesn’t mean they are accessible in person. “I landed at Esperanza, an Argentine base and they had an open wifi network,” Mark tells me of his last trip, where he circumnavigated the continent. “And when I turned on Grindr the closest person was 740 miles from me.” So we are all closeyet so far away from each other.

And it’s all about the wifi, which can be spotty at bestif it’s even available. Obviously, there’s no cell service in Antarctica so you either pay for pricey satellite (which can require a line of sight) or, like Mark, pray for open networks when you go ashore.

When it comes to McMurdo, or other NSF stations, which are staffed by Raytheon; you might not get anything at all. Due to the sensitivity of some science equipment (like say, a Neutrino Observatory or something) and loads of top secret NDAs the internet is locked down. In which case, gays might have to meet each other the old-old fashioned way.

“I hear down near the power plant at McMurdo is super old-school cruisy,” Mark lets me know. And don’t forget the time of year. Austral summer is warm enough for the ships to come through and for the research stations to have their “summer camps.” Otherwise, it’s about eight months worth of darkness and subzero isolation for the brave scientists and support staff.

“Christmas Holidays are always the best time,” says Andy, who works on my ship. Andy has been coming to Antarctica for nine seasons and spends the off time in Oregon with his husband. “It’s when all the families with college kids who can take time off come, and the snow is still white and not covered in Penguin guano.”

“Ten years ago, my friends would ask me why I go to Antarctica,” says Mark. “But now, they ask me how I go to Antarctica.” As the wifi situation slowly changes as it has over the years, perhaps more gays will come.

To steal Mark’s line, maybe we can lure them by telling them: “It’s the ultimate White Party.”

Are Relationship Deadlines Real?

In this week’s Hola Papi!, theadvice column by writer, Twitterer, and prolific Grindr user John Paul Brammer, a reader writes in with ALLthe ~feelings~ due to being single.
Whilein his prime at the ripe age of 22, hehas yetto bag a boyfriend and now worries that time is running out for him. But should he beworried? Or should he take this time aloneto focus on himself instead?

Hola Papi has some thoughts.

If you want his advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start out your letter with Hola Papi!

Hola Papi!

For quite a while now I’ve been plagued with anxiety about not being in a relationship with another man. I’m 22-years-old, and so far I’ve only gone on one (1) date and, out of a fit of desperation, had a sh*tty hookup.

I feel like my anxiety stems from seeing everyone else going out and finding themselves in a relationship and just feeling like I’m running out of time to “date” and experience the joys of having a boyfriend. Is there such a thing as a Relationship Deadline or am I just being dumb?

Anxious Gay

Oh, Anxious. After I ignored the fact that you dared to mention you are 22-years-old (Can you even vote yet? I’m not sure), I realized that this is an important question that raises an issue many gay men struggle with every day. Including me, the star of this weekly column and the person I’m going to talk about now.

Right after I came out, Anxious, I was desperate to be in a relationship. I thought that was the whole point of being gay back then: to find a mate. After a few tragedies I won’t even name, I stumbled upon a tall-ish, nice-ish, handsome-ish man I’ll call Jose.

I had an immediate spark with Jose. Not because I actually liked him that much, but because I was such a dry, thirsty bundle of sticks that I was basically going to catch fire upon first contact with anything warm enough to have a pulse. And so I did. And, Anxious, it was awful.

This was a man who would order for me at restaurants and then not pick up the tab. A man who would go on long tirades about how he wasn’t “part of the scene,” whatever that means. Sweet Gay Jesús, the man wore cargo shorts! Such was the sad state of my life.

To make a long, obnoxious story short, Anxious, I eventually discovered that I really only liked the idea of Jose. Actually, it was worse than that. I didn’t even like the idea of Jose. Jose was a terrible idea that should have been scrapped at the drawing board. The idea of Jose would not have made it past the first round of Shark Tank, hosted by Kevin O’Leary. The Kickstarter would have flopped.

No, it was the idea of having a boyfriend that I liked. I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted someone to do stuff with: the cute, exciting little things I saw other gay couples do on social media. And so I projected the relationship I wanted onto Jose, even if deep down I knew that he wasn’t the one for me, and that his breath didn’t smell too great either.

I know what my heart wants to tell you, Anxious. It’s the thing I tell my garbage friends when we’re drunk at the bar and we talk about whether we’re going to be single for the rest of our lives. I want to tell you that you’re definitely going to find someone.

I want to tell you that you’ll for sure get to experience the joy of having a boyfriend one day. That you’re absolutely going to find someone who is nuts for you, someone who won’t leave you for having the correct opinion on cargo shorts.

But the thing is, I can’t guarantee that. Even if I do think it’s a likely scenario. Anxious, I can’t even guarantee that the earth’s atmosphere will be able to sustain boyfriends for much longer at the rate climate change is going. And boyfriends? In this economy? It may not be tenable.

On the other hand, consider this: Simply being in a relationship doesn’t guarantee the joy you mentioned. And while it’s easy to get jealous over those cute gay couple pics that litter your timeline, remember you’re only seeing the parts of the relationship they’re putting out into the world. May I serve you some tea, Anxious? I don’t know any Instagay couples whose relationships are exactly like the #content they post.

So I guess what I’ll say instead is something that doesn’t exactly come on a Hallmark card. Because it’s kind of boring, much like vegetables, which is how you know it’s good for you: There is no love on this earth more reliable than the love you can give yourself. Because, Anxious, here’s the thing about other people. You can’t control them.

So, invest in yourself, and invest in your friends. Be super good to your friends. Like, really good to them. And be kind to yourself. Do things you enjoy, and start clapping back at that voice in your head that occasionally tells you that you’re not good enough and that nobody will ever love you, and that there’s some sort of cartoon ACME bomb strapped to your heart with a ticking clock on it that’s going to explode if you haven’t met Jose or Kyle or Jamal whomever the fuck by age 30.

That’s all a roundabout way of saying, no, Anxious. There is no relationship deadline. As long as you’re putting yourself out there, I have no doubt that you’re going to kiss a lot of boys, and wake up to a lot of stressful texts, and go on a lot of pleasant dates, and, yes, have the occasional shitty hookup. Some good ones too, if you’re lucky!

But along the way, what’s more important is that you figure out how to like and love yourself. Because that self-love is going to be the thing that sees you through it all. And hey, Anxious, if you ever find yourself in New York City, why don’t we grab a drink?

Just kidding. That is not what this column is for. (send pics tho)

Feeling the Femasculine Fantasy in Hawaii

Most fail to realize that Hawai’i is much more than just a tourist trap and weekend get away.

Our islands are inhabited by a diverse, cultural melting pot of people who are often portrayed poorly in the media and entertainment industry. The true voices of locals and the stories of our people are rarely heard of. Many know nothing about our stolen kingdom, our history and our rich, beautiful culture that goes beyond the stereotypes we’re associated with.

Within this beautiful culture is a lost history of our drag queen community.

In the 60’s and 70’s, many drag performers worked for the formerly world-renowned Chinatown club, The Glades, which was notorious for their elaborate showgirl-esque drag performances. During this era, performers were required to wear “I’m a Boy” buttons on the streets by law. The buttons originally served as a way to prevent arrests but resulted in rampant violence and death. Around 30 girls were said to be murdered at this time. Things were much different during the days of the Ancient Hawaiians.

When one was māhū– an individual who embodied both feminine and masculine spirits– they were looked up to. Embodying both of these traits were thought to empower them as caregivers, teachers, and healers. All of these things heavily influenced Hawai’i’s drag culture and the style of drag in Hawai’i for generations. Recently, these norms of drag have shifted as the younger millennial generation has come about.

During my research and time spent with O’ahu’s current drag queen community, I’ve learned that there is little to no trace– both visual and written– of this beautiful subculture.

Many of their stories have gone unheard and many queens of the past have become only memories. I decided to document the different aspects of O’ahu’s current drag queen community in hopes of changing that. I aim to inspire others with their boldness, bravery, artistry and unapologetic individuality.

Since then, I’ve been working on several different projects with them, with one of them being Femasculine. The main goal of Femasculine is to unveil what lies beneath the painted faces and how they embody the Ancient Hawaiian concept of māhū.

This project both explores the depth of their onstage persona, as well as who they are as Hawai’i locals. I interviewed and photographed 14 different queens for this portrait series to help provide a range of insight.

Sarina Sena Daniels

How does your drag persona differ from who you are outside of drag?

Sarina is different than my real identity. Sarina is the hero I always knew when I was young.

Nobody stood up for me when I was getting the shit kicked out of me, so I created Sarina. She’svastly different than me. She’s a protector.

How does it feel to be a part of Hawai’i’s drag community in comparison to the mainland?

I feel like Hawai’i has a lot more history as far as showgirl­ism and stuff. I feel like it can be alittle more picky and the art itself is more refined and detailed, whereas on the mainland I feellike it’s more open and just purely a celebration. Over here, it’s a little bit more critical, but also
welcoming.

Janna Del Rey

What does drag mean to you and how has it shaped you as a person?

Drag, to me, means that you can be who you want and never have to ask for forgiveness.

How would you describe the type of drag that you do?

I look like the girl you’ve seen leaving the club at 5am [laughs]. I would say crazy, fun anddefinitely in your face.

Does the drag community here reflect the values of Hawai’i’s local culture?

I think the drag community here does reflect local culture because we’re all about accepting youfor who you are, doing what you want and eating that good food, honey. It’s not Hawai’i’slocal culture without food.

Candi Shell

How does your drag persona differ from who you are outside of drag?

In most every way. I’m like a hairy dude who’s kind of quiet and draws in my man life. As CandiShell, I’m super bubbly, and if I wasn’t so sweet, I would just be kind of obnoxious. I’m also not singing a whole lot these days in my man life, but Candi’s constantly singing. I literally feel like when Candi takes hold­you know, once I’ve got the wig on and her voice starts coming outI feel like I’m riding in the backseat and someone else is driving the car. I feel like doingdrag is probably an ancient impulse. Especially in this patriarchal society that we find ourselvesin that’s sort of gone so far in one direction that it’s shutting down and breaking apart. We’re missing all ofthisgoddessenergy. We have the god energy, but we don’t have the goddessenergy and that’s what drag queens do: we summon the goddess.

Marina Del Rey

What does drag mean to you and how has it shaped you as a person?

Everybody will say drag is their alter ego, their super hero, their inner strength, their dreamprincess form. And yeah, that’s true. But for the most part, drag remains fantasy. I think for people in general, drag is the avatar of the millennium. You don’t have to commit to it because you can put it away when you want to and it’s ever-evolving. I like the chameleon bit about it, but it’s nurtured by how people kind of respond or don’t respond. I mean, drag isn’t drag if you don’t have someone looking at you. Because that’s not fun. The whole reason you put the shit on is because you want people to be like “Oh.” That’s the whole point. You are nothing without a crowd.

Witch of Waikiki (Victoria Li)

What does drag mean to you and how has it shaped you as a person?

Drag is artistic expression and it’s fucking with gender because it’s bullshit and made up. It’sshaped my life because I can wear pieces like this either as a boy or as a girl. And I like theattention. It’s a creative outlet.

How does it feel to be a part of Hawai’i’s drag community in comparison to the mainland?

Oh my god, so awesome. My family’s from here and I started drag in DC. I could never get anybookings anywhere in DC, and not for lack of trying. The community is so open and welcominghere. Mind you, the audience knows what they like, but they’ll still watch you if you do somethingdifferent. There’s more respect here for what we do.

G Dolce & Jason Victorino (Married)

How do you think Hawai’i’s drag scene has evolved over the years?

Jason: It has changed dramatically. I look at drag history in Hawai’i and it was more abouttranssexual dragthe women wanted to be passable. And now I think we’re celebrating all types of drag. The club kids are coming out again and I’m liking that. I just want to see more diverse things, and it is starting to change slowly. Hawai’i will always continue to evolve. There’s room for all, there really is.

G: That’s actually a hot topic right now on social media. People talk about how dragin Hawai’i is dying as an art form. They say you don’t see the queens that you saw before andthey criticize a lot of the Tropical Fish [Drag competition held at Scarlet] queens. It’s hardbecausewe’re in the middle generation and the older queens think the younger queens don’tput in enough work. They think they just try to get here without the steps because ofsocial media and try to jump from one thing all the way to the other.

Lolita

How does it feel to be a part of Hawai’i’s drag community in comparison to the mainland?

Hawai’is drag scene is very reflective of the culture here in Hawai’i. We have a very strongsense of family here, one that runs deeper than blood. I’m sure they have somethinglike that on the mainland as well, but I think the thing that really separates our drag from thedrag in the rest of the world is that here in Hawai’i, there truly is the spirit of Aloha. And Aloha isso many things. It’s not just hello and goodbye. It’s this concept of love and of­I don’twanna say givingbut Aloha is so unique that I almost can’t really put it in anEnglish waybecause there’s no English way for Aloha. That sounds really cheesy, but I feel like every dragqueen coming from Hawai’i embodies a little bit of Aloha in her.

Lala Benét

What does drag mean to you and how has it shaped you as a person?

To me drag means expression. It means going down a path that’s your very own path. I started drag late because I had other goals and things I wanted to accomplish. I also have aspirations of going to law school and making achange, making a difference. I loved drag performances, but I didn’t think the two worlds could meet. I just had a revelation that, you know, who cares? It doesn’t matter. It’s my life. It’s my path. Though it may not seem to be a clear path to do the two different things that I want, I can be that explorer that goes down that path and clears it for other people to do the same. So for me, drag is path clearing.

Water Melone

How does your drag persona differ from who you are outside of drag?

I’m really shy outside of drag, but in drag, I’m very outgoing and I’m a lot morefriendly. I’m more reserved outside of drag and I tend to keep to myself. In drag,I’m more in your face. I’ll be everyone’s best friend in drag, but outside of drag I’m like, “Whoare you?”

How does it feel to be a part of Hawai’i’s drag community in comparison to the mainland?

I think the drag community here is a lot closer than the mainland. Obviously, there arefriendships on the mainland like there are here, but here it’s an island so it’s so small. You builda connection­your connections, your networkand you make so many more friends. Everyonebecomes like your sister or your aunt or grandma or something. It’s more friendship and lessrivalry and who’s better than the other person.

Everyone’s growing together and learning together.

Aria Del Rey

How would you describe the type of drag that you do?

I’m an emotional queen. I don’t dance, I do more ballads. I’m very effeminate and I just wantemotion to be shown on stage. I want people to feel how I’m feeling in that moment.

How does your drag persona differ from who you are outside of drag?

Cunty. I’m a cunty drag queen. Outside of drag, I’m super friendly, and insideof drag, I’m friendly as well, but I’m definitely a bit more cunty.

Apple Aday

How does your drag persona differ from who you are outside of drag?

Tim is very different from Apple. Apple gets to do whatever she wants, be whatever she wants,and Tim is very just boring and likes to relax and watch whatever and play video games and be a dude. Apple definitely pushes the boundaries more and isn’t afraid of what people think as much. She’s just unapologetically herself.

Does the drag community here reflect the values of Hawai’i’s local culture?

Yes, the community definitely represents the local culture. That feeling of Ohana isreally strong in the drag community. We all help each other out, we’re all there for each other.There’s always that pettiness in the gay community and people being superficial overthis and over that, and the drag community is a little bit more together. We are those misfits andthose weirdos, those artists that didn’t fit in into any of those tribes.

VV Vixen

How does it feel to be a part of Hawai’i’s drag community in comparison to the mainland?

I was in the scene in California for a bit, and there’s just not a sense of Ohana and Alohabetween all the girls. It was all about competition and cattiness. I swear to God, my Hawai’i sisters­, it’s just love and being excited for each other and you know, supportive. That’s the kindof sisterhood that I always wanted to experience and I’m so happy to have it here in Hawai’i.

How do you think Hawai’i’s drag scene has evolved over the years?

I think we’ve just been seeing more queens come out of the woodworks. Before, it used to be asmaller group of queens and now, there’s a lot more to choose from and a lot more to seearound the island so that’s awesome.

Lilith Satana

How would you describe the type of drag that you do?

I’m that one girl where she looks great, but you know she’s a little problematic. I mean, straightto the point, I’m problematic. I’ve done things like fist people on stage and vomit blood, but I also do a lot of high energy numbers too. So I’m that girl with a little extra problems.

How do you think Hawai’i’s drag scene has evolved over the years?

I think the kids are getting wilder. Hawai’i has an image where if you’re getting into drag, you become transsexual. Because back then, it was a lot easier to pass as a real woman versus being in drag. So now that drag has become much more acceptable, you start to see the lines kind of blurred. We have our trans girls and trans is who they are, drag is what they do. And we have all the other butch queens/drag queens, and they’re starting to express themselves even more. I think it’s evolving even more so because ofRuPaul’s Drag Race now being a thing. Kids are starting to recognize drag characters from television, so it’s all aesthetics, creativity­. Drag in Hawai’i is getting louder and more colorful and I think it’s a great thing.

___

Retouching: Jessica Gallagher

Check out more about the project here:https://marieerielhobro.com/femasculine/

St. Petersburg Revokes ‘Free Speech Zones’ After Attack On Pride

After a wave of attacks on LGBTQ activists in Russia, St. Petersburg has shut down one of the few spaces where it’s permissible for the city’s queer community to organize.

Field of Mars (or Marsovo Polye) is a large public park located along the Neva River in the city center. Named for the Roman god of war, the space is designated as a “free speech zone,” meaning that groups don’t have to obtain a permit to hold events there. Since the local government began allowing Pride events in these designated areas in 2014, Field of Mars has become a popular site for the festival.

The Moscow Times reports that following a devastating attack on this year’s Pride event, the city is revoking the park’s status as a site for free speech.

Field of Mars erupted in chaos on August 12 when a group of white nationalists targeted festival attendees with pepper spraya number of which included journalists covering the event. Fifteen people were injured. An estimated 100 people gathered at this year’s Pride, making it the largest turnout in seven years.

Police have since investigated the incident as an assault, arresting at least one person.

Svetlana Zakharova, communications manager for Russian LGBT Network, confirms in an email to INTO that organizers would no longer be able to hold events at Field of Mars, effectively leaving the Pride festival without a home.

“Field of Mars was the only space in the city center available for the public actions without the permission of the authorities for all kinds of activists,” Zakharova says.

Zakharova tells INTO that it is “very difficult” for the local LGBTQ community to get permission to hold events outside of the allotted free speech zones. Organizers must apply for a permit through the city government, and officials cite the 2013 propaganda laws as justification for denying space to LGBTQ events.

Passed by a unanimous vote 436-0 in the Russian parliament, the legislation prohibits spreading “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. Those find in violation of the law can be fined up to 500,000 rubles (or $8,000).

If St. Petersburg officials don’t use the propaganda laws to block LGBTQ people from organizing, Zakharova says that authorities will falsely claim that another rally is already taking place at the same time. For local officials to approve a group’s application, there must be no other competing event that day.

The Times points to this year’s Pride event, whose application was rejected because a conflicting WWII memorial event. Reports claim that only five people showed up. Many believe that the remembrance was scheduled in order to prevent the festival from taking place.

Even despite opposition, that event could go on because of the presence of free speech zones like Field of Mars.

Zakharova laments the loss of these spaces, which she says provide a sense of “protection and safety” that, if imaginary, makes people feel more secure to be themselves. But as she notes, LGBTQ people have been arrested even while organizing at zones that are supposed to be safe for them.

Russian LGBT Network reports that following the August attack on Pride, LGBTQ activist Anna Grabetskaya was detained by police for two days. Grabetskaya was accosted for picketing with a rainbow flag and a sign reading: “I Love My Wife.”

Authorities claim that she was apprehended for disobeying police orders after law enforcement officials asked her to “cease her unlawful actions.”

The revocation of Field of Mars from the official list of free speech zones follows an uptick on attacks against LGBTQ organizers in the Russian city, which was once known as a shade more tolerant than its ultra-conservative neighbors.

In May, LGBTQ activists protesting the murder of at least 100 gay men in Chechnyaa predominantly Muslim territory of Russiawere accosted by police. Ten activists marching along the Anichkov Bridge were arrested, dragged away by cops clad in riot gear. At least one person was taken away in an ambulance after fainting.

A group of anti-LGBTQ protesters targeted QueerFest three years prior by “cleansing” the crowd with “colored antiseptic from syringes.” The St. Petersburg festival also received numerous bomb threats.

Zakharova claims that these setbacks, while undoubtedly disappointing, will not shove Russia’s LGBTQ community back into the closet.

“I don’t think that it will stop all public activities,” Zakharova says. “However, this particular act shows that the space for free expression is shrinking rapidly, and that the authorities are not willing to leave any space for public protests.”

A Summer in Elderland

It’s a sunny summer day and my girlfriend Courtney and I are hanging at the community pool with half a dozen septuagenarians. “I forgot to take my ears out!” one of them yells as she climbs out of the shallows and plucks hearing aids from beneath her bathing cap. We lay back on the edge and soak in the sun.

A few days later, we learn we’ve been banned from the pool. Or, rather, we learn that a neighbor named Bonnie, the local busybody, has dug up an arcane regulation; No one under 55 may visit the pool unless accompanied by a resident. We are incensed there’s a major kink in our summer plans.

Courtney and I are still a collective 36 years away from AARP eligibility, and normally spend our time in our San Francisco Mission district, where you can’t throw a $5 latte without striking a 20-something burner or a 30-something techie (and if I’m lucky, a few artists of indeterminate age). Suffice to say, this is not our normal social set. But that all changed when we rented our place for June, July, and August with plans to road trip the U.S. But when work called me back to California, we needed a place to stay.

My dad offered us his house in Healdsburg, a cute tourist town nestled in Northern California’s wine country. It’s set on a quiet street near the river, a half-hour’s walk from downtown. The catch? You have to be 55-years-old to own property in the neighborhood, so pretty much everyone is a senior.

Was it against the rules for us to be here? We were afraid to ask.

It has been hard to get used to the quiet. I’m accustomed to loud arguments, sirens, the sound of glass smashing as my car gets broken into. None of those sounds ever terrified me as much as the scuttle of a salamander in the rose bushes outside my bedroom window at 11p.m. In the first weeks, the crinkling of a plastic bag unwinding itself became a burglar. The sudden whoosh when the air conditioner activating becomes an air strike.

Then, there’s the older people, and by that I mean, everyone here. If we to stay around the neighborhood, we rarely see a soul under 60, and most people are 70+. It means we get stopped by Jerry in the house by the corner, who’s often outside by late morning, watering in his suspenders and hat.

“My father’s father hated my father’s music. My father hated my music. And I hate your music!” he says with a grin. “When I die, it’ll take the mortuary two weeks to rub the smile off my face.” He shouts as we part ways.

We get stopped often, especially on walks around the neighborhood. Sometimes, they want to pet my 5-lb Yorkie, Ruby. Sometimes, they have recommendations for parenting said Yorkie.

“I have a Yorkie, too, a woman named Cathy tells us, looking at my canine. “You know what you should tell her?” she asks, getting riled. “You should say, ‘Did it hurt? Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?!’” She waits for the punchline to land, as Ruby stares at a distant squirrel. With these animal parenting tips, I may be able to scrap the dog trainer.

Other times, people just want to gab about the neighborhood. It’s quiet here, and gossip travels fast.

Peter, who lives on our block and has been banned from washing his hair at the pool shower an indignity he suffers bravely is outraged when he hears of our underage pool ban.

“You give some people a little power, and they go crazy with it,” he tells us. Later, I encourage Ruby to do her business on the periphery of Bonnie’s front yard.

At times, our busybody neighbors really come in handy.

One morning, Courtney and I are deep in our work when there’s a knock at the door. An apple-shaped lady with white hair is holding my dog, who’s covered in leaves and debris, a tiny criminal fresh from her prison break. “Is this yours?” She asks. “She was running around my garage.” I grab my errant child, say, “thank you so much” and retreat into the house.

Sometimes, when the days get too hot, we bring the world’s least-capable $30 raft to the river and float down it, our paddle sending us in capricious, sleepy zig-zags. The rush of snowmelt has long since warmed, and sometimes the only way to be sure we’re making any progress at all is to watch the grass creep past us on the shoreline, the blobs of electric-green algae drift by.

On another occasion, Courtney and I are walking down the street just past the neon green sign that’s shaped like a life-size human child. It holds an orange flag, with the word SLOW written across its body, as if going fast were an option.

A hybrid SUV pulls up beside us. In the city, this kind of unsolicited car stop would be the precursor to a drug deal, abduction attempt, a drive by, a person lost with a stalling engine on the wildly sloping streets. But in this neighborhood where there are no hills or drug dealers, the man in the car says his name is Mike. He hands us a flier. He’s showing slides from a recent trip to Cuba in the clubhouse on Saturday. “We’re trying to get people here to actually hang out,” he says. I imagine shuffleboard games by the community center, potlucks with casseroles in white ceramic dishes, the clink of glassware.

Coming home from an evening walk one night, a police cruiser speeds past us and turns down our street. We follow it to see what happened. I hypothesize aloud about possible explanations. “Most likely they’re here for domestic violence, elder abuse, or a break in,” I say. “But it could also be a 5150 call,” Courtney mentions, referring to the police code for psychiatric emergencies. “Did you turn the stove off before we left?” A fire truck speeds by.

But as we pass the house, an ambulance pulls up, and paramedics haul a gurney out of the back. Red lights splash across the front of the house and inside, I see a woman in sweats with disheveled hair speaking to the firemen, as they both look at someone in a corner of the room I can’t see. The emergency feels like it doesn’t belong here, but, of course, it is here.

Somehow, over the summer days, amidst the silent streets and slow moving denizens, I’d been lulled out of my city vigilance. I’d begun to think that nothing bad could ever really happen here. I’d gratefully bowed out of the rat race, the 24-hour news cycle, the gut-wrenching reality TV show that has become American society.

The next morning, I wake up and see that Trump has been up taunting North Korea on Twitter. A few days later, Neonazi hatemongers march in Charlottesville, and a young woman is killed while protesting for civil rights.

Soon, I know, the leaves will turn to yellow and the days will grow shorter, colder. I’ll go back to San Francisco and fight the fog, the rent hikes, the political assaults on People of Color and queers. I’ll reenter the stream of life. And, I’ll be grateful to the place that gave me a break from it, that reminded me of a simpler time, when the greatest assault I faced was age discrimination against the under 55.