This Masc ‘Overwatch’ Hero Was Announced As Gay and I Don’t Care

Even before it had any officially out gay characters, Overwatch has been, like, the gayest game.

Pretty much from the beginning, fans of the game have been shipping the characters. In the Overwatch comic published December 2016, it was announced that Tracer is a lesbian — a pretty big deal at the time considering Tracer is literally the face of the game.

Now, through a new short story, Jack “Soldier 76” Morrison, arguably the other main character of the game, was also announced as gay. In the context of the story, Soldier is talking about a previous relationship with a man named Vincent.

“Vincent deserved a happier life than the one I could give him, Jack sighed. ‘We both knew that I could never put anything above my duty. Everything I fought for was to protect people like him… that’s the sacrifice I made.’”

The reaction to Soldier’s sexuality has been overwhelmingly positive — Soldier has been regarded as the daddy of Overwatch forever so this is a big win for representation, that’s for sure! But while I really don’t want to be a buzzkill, I just can’t bring myself to care about this. My immediate response was a thought of “Oh, cool” and not much more — “What’s for dinner?” I feel so distant from this piece of lore because the character doesn’t feel gay, he feels like a straight man who happens to like men.

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but sometimes I think this is why pieces of fiction add gay characters — because it’s not required to do anything beyond that. Overwatch has been recently criticized for not having a single Black female character in its roster. While the developers can’t just decide one day that an existing character is Black, they can do that for queer characters. It’s an attempt at getting the acknowledgment of diversity without really doing any work toward it. I don’t just want a label, I want an identity with dimension.

What I mean is that beyond this short story (and a follow-up tweet from head writer Michael Chu) that says he is in a relationship, nothing about the character of Soldier 76 reads as queer and I’m tired of that. If we’re getting a gay male character, I want one who says “Sashay away” when they get a kill or has a voice line of a Madonna lyric. Things that my friends would actually do or say.

Obviously not all gay men watch Drag Race or listen to pop stars, but it’s a good place to start. When I first came out, Blaine and Kurt were starting to become a couple on Glee and even then, I remember being annoyed with this trope. Blaine never felt like a gay character to me, he just felt like a straight man they flipped in order to be a romantic interest for their gay character.

A part of this frustration stems from the fact that we either get super masculine straight men or caricatures of effeminate gay men, no in-between. Instead of trying to figure out an empowering way to portray feminine men, creators default to making vague male characters that are gay in name only.

The details of someone’s queer interests aren’t just superfluous, they’re what make a character. I’m not friends with people because they’re gay, I’m friends with them because of the gay culture we both engage with. How am I supposed to relate to a character if I don’t know how he exists within that culture also?

Even if this representation doesn’t give me joy, the anger that it gives straight gamer nerds will definitely give me joy. What’s interesting about Soldier 76, and a positive point in all of this, is that he was designed to be the most traditional hero in Overwatch, in that he most resembles a regular shooter game both in terms of gameplay and appearance. If you’ve played Call of Duty, you can understand the basics of how to play Soldier in Overwatch. So, it feels kind of gratifying that the roughest and toughest masculine hero in the game is now gay as heck. The straight nerds are not pleased.

Obviously I would like gay characters that felt like they were more thought out and well-written — characters that feel like they were gay from the start, but if simply announcing a character is enough to upset these dorks, then I’m all for it.

The Queerest Characters In Overwatch, Ranked

Overwatch has always stood apart from other gaming titles for embracing racial and sexual diversity in its roster of characters. “As in real life, having variety in our characters and their identities and backgrounds helps create a richer and deeper overall fictional universe,” a representative for Blizzard, the game’s developer, told EW. “From the beginning, we’ve wanted the universe of Overwatch to feel welcoming and inclusive, and to reflect the diversity of our players around the world.”

It’s a simple concept, but it’s still rare to see it applied in media. While not all characters in Overwatch identify as queer (it’s been said “several” are), the aforementioned diversity and storied backgrounds of each Overwatch character makes some more appealing to queer audiences than others. Below, we’ve ranked the 10 queerest characters in Overwatch.

1. Tracer

Tracer is the only confirmed queer character in the title to date. She also happens to be the game’s visual representation and one of the most popular characters. In the Overwatch comic, Reflections, the time-jumping Overwatch agent locks lips with a redheaded woman named Emily, whom she appears to be living with. The two later visit a lonely Winston and share a holiday meal together. Because of the polarizing fanfare that followed the comic’s release, the game’s lead writer, Michael Chu, took to Twitter to confirm that Tracer indeed identifies as a lesbian. Not much else has been addressed regarding Tracer’s sexuality since the inaugural comic, which is likely intentional, as the game maker wanted to dictate that one’s sexual identity doesn’t define who they are in any way, shape, or form.

2. Moira

A favorite in the LGBTQ community, Moira, a geneticist whose controversial work is discounted by Overwatch and society at large due to a lack of ethical integrity, is rumored by the gaming community to identify as either non-binary or trans due primarily to her androgynous appearance. While none of this speculation has been confirmed or denied by the game’s developer, Moira’s lore is a tale of rejection, making her an outcast that queer individuals immediately identify and empathize with. Not to mention, we love a calculated villainess. Just ask Gia Gunn.

3. McCree

The reason McCree makes the list isn’t because he is gay but because Overwatch’s gay male audience wants him to be. It makes sense: he’s a hypermasculine cowboy with great hair, a gruff voice, and rough, calloused skin. He’s a Tom of Finland fantasy. He’s daddy. There are numerous Tumblr accounts rife with fan art and fiction depicting some lewd and detailed sexual exploits of McCree with other male characters (especially Hanzo) which I regret to say is 100 percent fantasy.

4. D.Va

At 19 years old, D.Va has established herself as a formidable mech pilot, mechanic, actress, and pro-gamer. Her adorable mech, Tokki, aversion to gender norms (again, she is a pilot, gamer and mechanic, all of which are male-dominated professions) paired with her cheeky and cute demeanor makes Hana Song, the woman behind the machine, a clear contender for queer favorite (not to mention, her name is D.Va, for crying out loud). D.Va visibly stands out for her electric vibrancy, similar to the Pink Ranger, another queer icon, and her avian zord. D.Va makes the list not because she is queer, but because of her queer appeal.

5. Sombra

Sombra is a badass hacker with an incredibly trendy haircut and fingernails that retract at her leisure. How very queer. While there has been fanfic written about Sombra being gay or bisexual, there is little evidence to support the assertion. If nothing else, Sombra, who Overwatch fans have pointed out has a skin boasting the colors of the bisexual flag, is likely not one of the queer characters that will be announced in the future, but she definitely carries a cachet – the speed, agility, vibrant skins, and invisibility – that queer individuals find appealing enough to select her as their main.

6. Lucio

Like Sombra, Lucio also has a skin boasting the colors of the bisexual flag. But such a position is not a strong enough indicator of Lucio’s sexuality. However, many in the Overwatch community predict Lucio will be the game’s first homosexual male character due to a suggestive line of dialogue the DJ utters when in the Numbani map, being, “Now this is my kind of city, everyone free to live as they choose.” Queer or not, we stan a progressive musician.  

7. Hanzo

Romantically linked to McCree in erotic Overwatch fanfic, Hanzo is another hopeful candidate for gay male players due to his inherent sexiness. People have expressed hope that the mercenary is queer so that he’d offset Tracer’s jaunty personality. Hanzo is more stoic, which would better showcase diversity in the community. One particular Overwatch fan believes Hanzo may be gay because “homosexuality was sometimes made a part of samurai culture for the master/student relationship.”

8. Symmetra

Another popular character among gaymers, Symmetra is a strategy-based player dressed in elegant garb. She has long raven hair flowing behind a decorative headpiece that wouldn’t look out of place on Beyonce during her Mrs. Carter era. Everything from the way Symmetra walks, talks and attacks exudes the effortless sophistication of a well-traveled socialite, which (almost) every queer aspires to.  

9. Widowmaker

The form-fitting catsuit. The hair that flows past her hips. The impractical decision to wear heels into battle. Widowmaker exudes that seductive brand of queer appeal that other villainesses like Catwoman, Mystique, Sindel and Cruella DeVille also share. Her bewitching French accent is the cherry on top. Widowmaker is the quintessential femme fatale, and the first female villain introduced in the game. Got to love an OG.

10. Mercy

Queer people love a support medic. It doesn’t hurt that Mercy also happens to be beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed and resembles an angel. People tend to be complete dicks to those who main as Mercy (“heal me, heal me!”) which is something every queer individual can relate to, especially in gaming.

The Russian Queer Zine Connecting The Country’s LGBTQ Community

The biggest misconception about queer culture in Russia is that it doesnt exist,said Sasha Kazantseva, who recently co-founded O-Zine with fellow activist Dima Kozachenko. Together theyre determined to prove that the countrys infamous gay propaganda law cant stamp out queer culture. Their zine spotlights the stories of queer youth, documents thriving nightlife scenes, and celebrates artists whose work might otherwise slip under the radar.

Speaking openly about queerness is still risky, but neither Dima nor Sasha seems afraid. Both are activists in their own right: Dima describes himself as a media activistand writes frequently about queerness and fashion for Afisha Daily, whereas Sasha is a writer, lecturer, and creator of Washed Hands, a sex education blog for queer women distributed on encrypted messaging platform Telegram.

Unfortunately, we didnt have this kind of information,she told INTO of her work. Russian-speaking queer women were getting their knowledge either from articles for cis-heterosexual people or from conversation with one another. Even doctors are surprised when I tell them that two people with vulvas need protection.

Life may be tough for Russias queer community, but O-Zine is a celebration of resilience and creativity. To find out more about its mission, we reached out to the co-founders to talk nightlife, censorship and the pressure to automatically become queer activists.

What sparked the creation of O-Zine?

Dima Kozachenko: I just wanted to create an LGBTQ publication that would unite activists, artists and anyone passionate about queer culture. I didnt have a clear intention, I just wanted to do something that felt right.

Sasha Kazantseva: In Russia, little is said about LGBTQ people—its all about human rights and hate crimes, which are of course important. But I also believe we should have an opportunity to read something positive, to get useful information and to feel less lonely. I dreamed of creating a magazine that didnt deny difficulty, but that also showed theres more to life here than hardship.

Can you tell us about some of the recent features and some that you hope to write in the future?

SK: I want to tell the experiences of different queer people, their projects and their inspirations, but I also want to write about LGBTQ-friendly artists and spaces. In Saint Petersburg, theres an amazing project called Human Library which creates an extremely supportive space, and in Moscow, there are great parties for queer women by LVBZR.

DK: Next year I want to focus on queer people all over Russia. The situation is relatively calm in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but in other Russian cities gay clubs are ravaged and people get beaten regularly. Even people with brightly-colored hair get mistreated, so we wanted voices outside the capitals to be heard, too.

How would you describe queer nightlife in these big cities?

SK: In Moscow and Saint Petersburg its easier to get lost in the crowd and feel free, but we cant kiss in the streets or hold hands because we might be insulted or assaulted. There are LGBTQ spaces, but some dont announce it because theyre scared of losing clients or facing legal problems. But some do—some even post rainbow flags on social media. We cant be really open, but there are places in big cities for queer people to feel like they belong.

DK: Berlin-inspired parties are gradually appearing in Moscow. The main night is probably Popoff Kitchen—the music is techno and the guests wear sportswear. They had a 15-hour for their one-year anniversary; Herrensauna and Gosha Rubchinskiy played. Theres also Cherti Party, created by journalist Miloslav Chemodonav. They play Russian hits and international hitslots of Zemfira, t.A.T.u., and Madonna.

Is it true that lots of queer people are using encrypted channels like Telegram to share media, and if so what do you think the benefits are?

SK: My blog, Washed Hands, is on Telegram, and its currently the largest LGBTQ channel in Russia. A year ago when I started it, there were more blogs, so we contacted and supported each other. Dozens more have appeared since; it looks like they all find it convenient. The advantage is that we can stay anonymous and be very open, because there are no comments allowed. On other social networks, you get loads of homophobic comments if you post on a queer subject, so Telegram really is safer.

As queer people, do you feel like you automatically have to become activists?

SK: If were talking about queer people generally then of course, but its different for everyone. Some fight for their rights, but others might just prefer a peaceful life; they might not have the energy to be activists. Still, I believe that being openly LGBTQ in Russiaviewing yourself in that way, self-identifying as that, reading about itis already an act of resistance.

DK: I would call myself a media activist. I might never join a public rally, but I can try to change things online. I think that also makes a significant impact.

We all hear frequently about the gay propaganda law. Do you think its here to stay?

SK: On the one hand, we can see from opinion polls that homophobic attitudes are on the rise. But more and more young people believe LGBTQ discrimination shouldnt be tolerated, so its a paradox: its getting worse and its getting better. Its hard to predict the future. Some analysts say well mimic China by becoming a very closed country; therell be more repression, and the government might introduce exit permits. I want to hope for the best, so right now I prefer to believe this absurd law will disappear sooner or later and that we will head for civilization.

Finally, what do you hope readers will gain from O-Zine?

DK: I want to make our readers more open. I want them to be brave enough to come out, to talk about their sexuality more openly. Life for queer people in Russia is definitely challenging, but this horrible time can be positive; it can drive us to create new, inspiring things.

Images via O-Zine

11 Games Gays Might Want For Christmas 2018

It’s the holiday season and you might not know what to get the gaymers in your life—or maybe what to ask for to please your own inner gaymer! Or maybe you do know and you just want to double check that you’re on top of all the fun games this year.

Given the variety of gamers’ experiences, and the fact that often queer gamers feel marginalized from the gaming community, I wanted to make a list that included games for people with a variety of backgrounds. Whether you play games every week, have never picked up a game, want to spend $60, or want a cheaper indie game, there’s something for everyone.

Celeste

Celeste was one of the most rewarding game experiences of 2018 for me. I’m not usually into platforming games, especially difficult ones, but this is different. Unlike other technically challenging games, Celeste encourages you the entire time. The story is about a young girl who makes an effort to conquer her fears by climbing up a mountain.

Often people—myself included—feel anxious when they play tense platforming games because obviously it doesn’t feel good to mess up constantly. But Celeste recognizes that frustration is just part of the process. If you or someone you’re buying a gift for is usually frustrated by games, this might be a good choice.

Spider-Man

If you played any of the old Spider-Man games from PS2 and PS3, this game will be the most pleasant nostalgia to help you escape for the godforsaken year of 2018. It incorporates much of the adventurous open world stuff that anyone would want from a Spider-Man title.

The story itself is pretty good and fits in well to a video game format. Plus, as you level up you can unlock different costumes and abilities for Spidey—including one that’s just him in his undies. Overall the game isn’t too difficult and gives players a lot of flexibility; there’s a lot to do outside of the story.

Pokémon Let’s Go

Obviously the Pokémon franchise, as with most Nintendo games, has a lot of queer fans. I think this game, in particular, will satisfy a lot of the gamers who are into the adorable aspect of Pokémon, because you can customize not only your clothes, but the clothes of your Eevee or Pikachu (depending on which game you get).

A lot of the conversation around Pokémon Let’s Go has been of the opinion that it’s a great game for people who might not be familiar with the series and may have been too intimidated to jump in. Although Let’s Go follows a similar structure to a traditional Pokémon title, it’s much less difficult and overwhelming.

Into the Breach

Ode to the gay nerds who love puzzles! Into the Breach is a turn-based strategy game that plays somewhat similar to Fire Emblem or other grid strategy offerings. It had quite a large learning curve when I was learning, but became addictive once I l figured out what was happening.

In each run of the game, you start with three robot units that have different abilities and you use them to defend different towns from alien invasions. But instead of just shooting them, you can throw them, trap them, or make them attack each other. The longer you play the game, the more you realize how creative you can be. Plus you’ll earn the ability to purchase new types of robots with different abilities.

If you’re a fan of creative problem-solving and puzzles, this game might be perfect for you.

Dead Cells

If you don’t get the opportunity to play a lot of games, Dead Cells might be a pretty unique choice. It’s in the “roguelike” genre, which basically means that the levels are procedurally generated and it’s intended that you die a lot. Every time you die, you’ll get to keep certain perks in the game, sometimes weapons, sometimes health potions, etc.

Most of the complex parts of the game will be in the first half hour of play; beyond that, it’s relatively easy to understand. What makes the game so exciting is that because each campaign is procedurally generated, every time you play will be different. Sometimes I used a powerful bow to fight, sometimes I’d only use a magic ice wand — the possibilities are endless.

God of War

One of the coolest parts of God of War is that the game has no loading screens after it starts up. Even when the game has a cutscene, it’s seamlessly transitioned from the regular gameplay, so it creates an extremely cinematic experience. It’s a pretty standard action-adventure, but there are many details to explore that the game doesn’t immediately tell you about.

I’ve found that many queer gamers care about story a lot and I think this title will fill that void for you. Plus, Kratos is a hunk so he might fill some voids for you, too.

Florence

Given that mobile video games are the most common way for people to play, I figured it was a good time to talk about an awesome mobile game: Florence. In fact, Florence won the Best Mobile Game award at The Game Awards this year.

Pegged as an interactive love story, it’s filled with small mini-games and basic puzzles that tell a story in multiple acts mostly through the titular character’s thoughts. The entire game takes approximately 30 minutes to finish and is just a lovely little experience.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Look, I’m sure you’ve heard about the new Smash. If you’re on the fence, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has something for everyone. It has every character that’s been in previous games plus some fun additions, including a new story mode if you’re into that kind of thing.

Without a doubt, Super Smash is one of the best games for parties, so if you need a way to sedate your younger relatives, get it for just that reason.

Gris

If you’re looking for a game with good visuals, look no further. Gris has to be one of the most stunning games I’ve seen in a long time. It was described by The Verge as “a stunning animated movie that you can play,” and that becomes clear upon watching the trailer.

Gris is a side-scrolling platformer game, but it’s seemingly impossible to die. The game wants you to explore its beautiful environments and solving puzzles. Not super challenging, it’s all about enjoying the ride!

Lethal League Blaze

Speaking of highly aesthetic games, Lethal League Blaze has very stylized visuals with one-of-a-kind gameplay to match. It’s described as a “competitive projectile” because although it’s a fighting game, it feels like high-speed dodgeball with distinct characters and abilities.

The game feels similar to others like Jet Set Radio or Splatoon in terms of aesthetic and music, so if you are into those art styles, that might be a big selling point. Lethal League Blaze has a novel take on fighting games and it’s worth it just for that.

Donut Country

In Donut Country, you are literally just a hole (pause for laughs). This unorthodox physics game has you find solutions to its puzzles by sucking things into the ground. And as you swallow more objects, the hole’s size increases.

It’s pretty simple in terms of gameplay and the colors are really vibrant. It’s a nice game to pick up when you’ve spent all day editing and you don’t feel like thinking anymore. So, if you have any journalist friends, maybe this is the one for them.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

Do you want to a play a Miyazaki film? Well, this is the closest you’re going to get to that. The story is very cinematic and involves a little boy who builds a new kingdom that just wants to be allied with everyone. Ni no Kuni II actually incorporates a lot of elements from different genres: light Japanese roleplaying games or kingdom building games. There’s a lot going on, but it doesn’t force you to engage with anything you don’t want to.

If you’ve taken a break from gaming and are unsure what games you might enjoy, Ni no Kuni II is a great sampler.

Drag Genius Machine Dazzle Dresses Taylor Mac for ‘Holiday Sauce’

If you’ve ever seen pictures of Taylor Mac, you may have asked yourself, “Who in the world thought up that costume?” But if you’ve ever been to a Taylor Mac show, you know that the answer is Machine Dazzle, the legendary New York performer and designer who is responsible for the zaniest wardrobe in all of drag.

Over the last several years, Dazzle and Mac collaborated on a queer army of staggering looks for Mac’s 24-hour magnum opus A 24-Decade History Of Popular Music, which has been touring main stages around the world. (The show played to huge acclaim in LA earlier this year at the Ace Hotel.) Mac, Dazzle, and the gang are returning to LA this weekend for two presentations of their seasonal piece Holiday Sauce at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

INTO chatted with Dazzle about the inspiration for the show, working with Taylor Mac, and the true meaning of Christmas.

INTO: Machine Dazzle, how are you?

Machine Dazzle: I’m good. I’m crazy, actually. I’m in the middle of making costumes. Tuesday is the New York show, and I’m making Taylor two new costumes because New York saw the other two costumes last year! I’m in the thick of it, if you know what I mean.

Will those costumes make their way to Los Angeles?

They will not. Maybe the next time we go to L.A.! Shipping costumes and taking them on airplanes is very expensive, so it’s almost as cheap to just come up with new costumes for this show. Some of the things I make are just too big to take on airplanes.

How many hours does it take from start to finish?

There’s no answer to that. It depends on the costume. It’s hours. I spend a lot of time. I’m making Taylor two new costumes, and it’s hours of accumulating materials. I’m hunting and gathering materials.

Do materials come to you? Or do you seek them out once you have an idea?

Every costume is different. If I have a solid idea of what I want to do, I go out and scour for materials, but sometimes I go out looking for inspiration. Sometimes I have an idea, but I’m not sure, but it can take days. It took me three days to get everything for this and it’s very exciting.

Can you give me an idea of what you’re making?

No! Not yet. You’ll have to wait and see.

What were the initial inspirations for the Holiday Sauce costumes? What’s the goal this time?

Dazzle: I know a little bit about the show, so that helps. But I knew I would need two costumes, and so of course I want them to be two very, very different costumes. So I decided, well, one is going to be naughty and the other one is going to be nice. And I had sketches and elements I want to put in there. I get all of my ideas down and I get all of these materials together and I design very organically. Some of it is planned and some of it is not planned.

That sounds a lot like a Taylor Mac show. You’ve been working together a long time.

We’ve been working together for years. The first time he asked me to make something for him was probably 15 years ago.

Your collaboration is honed at this point.

Oh, yeah. He’ll say, “Machine, we’re doing a show. This is what it’s about.” And I say, “Great,” and that’s it. I come up with a costume and he wears it. “I don’t tell Machine how to do his job,” he says, “and he doesn’t tell me how to do mine.”

I attended all 24 hours of the show at the Ace Hotel earlier this year.

What did you think? Was it worth your time?

Honestly, it was one of the best things I ever did. In my whole life. Transformative is the word, I would say. But that’s probably how people who know you in Los Angeles know your work. That was at least 24 costumes, right?

Taylor had 24 [and] I had 24. There were other groups of people. The Temperance Choir, for example. They had bonnets and shawls, and there were a lot of them. The Dandy Minions costumed themselves, and that’s very much part of the whole idea. We have other artists coming in who costume themselves so it isn’t just one vision. But it was a lot.

Do you have a favorite, or are they like your children?

I get this all the time. It changes. It kind of depends on my mood. One of my favorites, though, is Crazy Jane. I just mentioned the temperance choir. That’s from the third hour, when it’s religious songs from the temperance choir and Crazy Jane sings songs that were popular in the pub during the temperance movement. There were some great, fun drinking songs from that time, and some of the choral songs are beautiful, and it’s fun and dynamic to go back and forth between those two opposites. By the end of the decade, they had come together and come to terms with each other and it was quite emotional, I thought.

Taylor’s costume for Crazy Jane is great, because she’s crazy! She lives in this big barrel that she wears, and she has everything she needs in there, you know? Dildos and toothbrushes and other toiletries, everything she needs. And her wig is made out of corks and wire. It was a great concept.

And the way you describe it, it tells a complete story of a woman.

…Of a person! Or whatever!

What kind of stories are you going to tell with Holiday Sauce?

We’re not going to tell the original Christmas story. We’re going to tell another story. The queer version. I mentioned “naughty and nice,” so the costumes you’ll see are just that. The naughty one is very sassy. It has little elf hands on it that are reaching for something. Maybe they should have it or maybe they shouldn’t. Lots of them have severed fingers. Maybe they shouldn’t have been reaching! Maybe that’s the consequence. It’s kind of a pussy-grabbing situation, and when I designed the costume, that was very much in the news and all over social media. There’s an element of that. And it has antlers, which are a little defensive, and knee-high nutcracker socks and high heels. So it’s all very naughty. And the other costume is just… it’s nice. But I’m not going to tell you about it! You can imagine.

Christmas is a complicated time for queer people. Fifth-grade essay question: What does Christmas mean to you?

I would have a different answer in the fifth grade, but… I don’t really celebrate Christmas. I’m not a Christian. I do not believe in God. I think Jesus was a gay hippie. He was a Jewish gay hippie. I don’t believe in it. I don’t like organized religion. I think it’s creepy. And I don’t want anyone to tell me how to feel about myself. To me, God is my highest form of self. Spirituality is very personal. So I don’t like the church. But I do like the solstice. If there’s anything I like, it’s the pagan idea of Christmas. I like the changing of the seasons, and the season of giving. It’s winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s cold, and we need to get together to stay warm. It seems like the natural time to come together and celebrate the end of the year before the beginning of the new calendar year. It’s about endings and thankfulness and real family, and reflection of the year that has passed, and wishes for the year coming forward.

Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce is at Royce Hall this weekend in Los Angeles.

This Star-Studded Cast Is Making Your Queer ‘Casablanca’ Dreams Come True

Have you ever wanted to see a version of the classic Humphrey Bogart film Casablanca, but starring some of Hollywood’s most radical queer and trans women, but also performed live, but also with every ticket raising money for the world’s only philanthropic foundation dedicated solely to advancing LGBTQ human rights, but also with a last-minute L Word star joining the cast?

Of course you have, obviously. And you are in luck, because this elaborate fantasy that seems like it’s pulled straight from online lesbian fanfic site Archive Of Our Own is absolutely happening in real life this week.

This Thursday, a cast of notable celesbians and friends will perform an all-women live reading of Casablanca at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. Ellen Page, Kiersey Clemons, Hannah Gadsby, Emily Hampshire, Indya Moore, and Olivia Wilde take to the stage with the help of writer/director Jason Reitman (Juno, Tully, The Front Runner). On Tuesday, Page announced on social media that L Word star Kate Moennig would also be joining the cast.

The one-time production will donate proceeds to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, which distributes grants and funding to local and global LGBTQ human rights projects.

“We’re so honored Ellen has rallied the power of her community to shift resources and attention to grassroots LGBTQI activism with Astraea,” said Astraea executive director J. Bob Alotta. “Donating to Astraea supports the most badass groundbreaking LGBTQI activists on the globe.”

An Astraea spokesperson requested that the full acronym ‘LGBTQI’ be used to reflect the foundation’s commitment to funding projects for the global intersex community.

Over the past 40 years, the Astraea Foundation has given away over $40 million to grassroots LGBTQ groups all over the world, according to a spokesperson.

“Combining all of our resources, reach and talent is precisely how we create the change the world so badly needs today. This is how we build and secure movements. This is how we free ourselves from violence and discrimination. Queer Casablanca is an act of resistance,” Alotta told INTO.

Queering a classic film is a radical move, but Pose star Indya Moore — who plays the waiter Carl in the live reading — said the story itself is also an allegory for queer experience, because it is “a love story about two people who cannot be.”

“There are many intersectional conversations that Casablanca brings up for me, and that is a reason why I think it is so cool,” Moore told INTO.

While Casablanca is typically thought of first as a love story, the film’s romance occurs on a backdrop of anti-fascist resistance activists trying to escape the Nazis by sneaking through France and Morocco to migrate to the United States.

Moore said the film’s subject matter is reflective of the current migrant crisis at the U.S. border as well as the one in Europe.

“During a time where anti-refugee rhetoric has become normalized and popularized in the wake of black and brown people seeking asylum, human rights and bodies are more so now than ever sanctioned as political territory,” Moore told INTO.

In an interview with the LGBTQ newswire service Q Syndicate, Ellen Page said she plays the iconic role of Rick Blaine that was performed by Humphrey Bogart in the film.

“It’s one of the most iconic love stories with some of the most memorable lines of any film ever,” Page told Q Syndicate. “It just seems perfect to sort of recreate it in the way that we are.”

Page’s Rick will share intense love scenes with Clemons’ Ilsa, as the characters tussle over whether Rick should help Ilsa and her Czech resistance fighter lover escape the German military and corrupt Vichy police. Rick’s position as a nightclub owner in neutral territory forces him to make a choice based on love — whether to stay out of politics or to help save lives by joining the resistance himself.

The film explores “How anti-refugee rhetoric is carried out in vehicles of fear to people who are citizens of the cities refugees are in pursuit of for safety,” Moore told INTO.

During a time when LGBTQ migrants from Honduras and other violence-ridden nations are pleading for help at the U.S. border and facing increasingly anti-immigrant hostility in America, nothing could be more apt that a queer retelling of one of Hollywood’s most politically radical films.

‘Casablanca Live Read’ takes place on Thursday, Dec 13 at 8pm at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. Tickets are available through the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.

‘Do You Hear What We Hear?’: The Sacred Profanity of Kiki & Herb

When I first heard the sleigh bells and screaming that initiate you into Kiki & Herb’s Do You Hear What We Hear? the psychic landscape of my holiday season was changed forever.

I have been a fan of Kiki & Herb – the iconoclastic alter egos of Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman – since my days as a Midwestern teenage theater weirdo. I emptied my bank account to fly to see their reunion show at Joe’s Pub in 2016, because their explosive charisma and wry take on contemporary culture make for a theatrical experience without parallel. You can imagine my sheer delight when their long out-of-print Christmas album began making the rounds on social media a few years back.

The album is still streaming free from Mellman’s Soundcloud account, and I believe, if you feel troubled by the state of the world but still want to wish Joy to it, it is the only Christmas record that can capture the true essence of this season.

“Christmas is fraught. For the most part, I only get sad when I think about Christmas. I don’t like religion and I’m disgusted by capitalism at this point,” Mx. Bond told INTO. “I’m also aware of the fact that I’m a complete hypocrite because I love sparkly things and gifts and toys.”

As we muse on the meaning of Christmas, the other “C” word keeps creeping in – Capitalism. “Christmas has become a bludgeon for Capitalism. Just another excuse for us to pretend that we’re not who we are,” Do You Hear What We Hear? producer Julian Fleisher said.

And he’s right. We can’t help but douse ourselves in the sickly perfume of this saccharine season, struggling to cover the rotting stench of a social system in decay.

Yet, despite Christmas (and Chanukah) being the high holy day of Consumerism, there is something undeniably potent underlying this time of year. During the darkest of days, we light up the night: we ease the cold with conviviality, we radiate love for humankind. But this spiritual essence can be hard to locate underneath the gloss.

The brilliance of Kiki & Herb, and this album in particular, is that instead of sanctimoniously pooh-poohing the artifice, they barrel right through it. On the surface, they’re doing a sort of lounge act parody; the boozy chanteuse and her doting accompanist. This modality allows them to tackle the schmaltziest of Christmas music and lay it bare.

Mellman told INTO that he and Mx. Bond started performing as Kiki & Herb at the height of the AIDS crisis.

“It was a direct response to what we were seeing and living through,” Mellman said. From their early days performing in San Francisco, they channeled the community’s anger in the fight for gay rights through a lens of humor. Hidden beneath the louche banter and gleeful song of their Christmas shows lay a bedrock of political excoriation.

“There’s something almost unexplainable about how right their version of Christmas was at a time when people were dying,” Fleisher told INTO. The album was released in 2000, with a songlist honed from years of live performance.  

The paradox of the holiday season can be challenging for many of us, with its incessant prescription to be merry and bright at a time when it can feel like the sky is falling.

“Kiki & Herb were always able to strip back that icky veneer and reveal the truth underneath it, which is both painful and holy,” Fleisher observes. “There’s a lot of people out there for whom Christmas is a lie. Christmas feels like a promise that’s not kept. And this record is for them. It contains instructions for how to make Christmas real.”

Do You Hear What We Hear? kicks off with a manic opening medley of Christmas songs that puts the absurd pageantry of these traditional tunes on full display. In “Whose Child is This?” the hauntingly serious carol about the birth of Christ gives way to Mary J. Blige’s “Deep Inside.” With its refrain of “I’m just Mary, just Mary, just Mary,” suddenly the Nativity feels like a party you’d actually want to attend.

They sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to the tune of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and follow it up with “Suicide is Painless” in a medley called “People Die.” They boozily skate through “Frosty the Snowman” and dig into the viscera of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” in equal measure.

There’s also a “Jazz Improv” that makes me cackle every time I hear it. It’s a pure cartoonish moment, lampooning indulgent performance art while being indulgent performance art, and it’s simply sublime. Fleisher attests that this was the outcome of leaving the tape rolling during between-take silliness, because with Kiki & Herb, “There are no mistakes. There are only opportunities.”

Bond and Mellman eventually relocated to New York from San Francisco in the mid-’90s, where their performance stylings as Kiki & Herb struck a vein in the downtown scene. “Because Kiki and Herb were fictional characters, we could tackle subjects and songs that might seem strident or indulgent if we were doing them as ourselves,” Mellman said.

Mx. Bond added, “We knew what we had to say, and we found the audience who needed to hear it.”

Fleisher remembers their New York shows as “absolutely singularly shattering – but in the most pleasurable way. [They] were always that combination of total joy, total delight, and you know, the expression of horror that we all were living with on the daily.” It’s this irreverent and penetrating tone of their live act that made their Christmas shows such essential viewing.

Fleisher recalls having been so moved by their live Christmas shows that he approached them about producing a Christmas-inspired album. “They were strictly creatures of live performance – just invading the audience’s space in every conceivable way. It just seemed like – how will you ever capture that?” So, when they agreed to record the album, Fleisher decided to produce it as though you were hearing what Kiki & Herb sound like inside their own heads.

He kept the studio filled with lit candles and aimed for a soundspace that was “weird, crystalline and dreamlike.” When you listen to the album, you can imagine Kiki & Herb alone on a soundstage with glowing starlights, recording a Time Life commercial of Christmas classics that warp and mutate as they get lost in reverie – a counterpoint to their raucous live shows that highlight their clever song choices.

Through the course of the album, Kiki careens from speaking in tongues to braying like a donkey to sweetly singing Melanie Safka’s “Tonight’s the Kind of Night” with a sincerity that still makes my hair bristle even after dozens of listens. Herb merrily plunks along, tossing out sycophantic interjections, and delivering a rousing solo cover of Suede’s “The Big Time.”

Their musical references glide seamlessly in and out of culture high and low, their tone reeling from devilishly arch to downright heartfelt. Kiki & Herb are masterful at fusing the gorgeous and the grotesque (“gorgesque”), and within this confluence, you catch a glimpse of something truthful about the way we live now.

With each primal howl punctuating the tidings of comfort and joy, you realize: We are sacred in our profanity. There are real feelings – of hurt and fear, of love, of ecstasy – trapped under the enamel of popular culture. This is what it is to be a human living in Late Capitalism.

This album is a ball of spit and blood and bile rolled in glitter, placed atop a conifer, and called Christmas. Eighteen years after its release, it shows us that we can acknowledge, critique, and even celebrate Christmas as the exoteric winter celebration of the West, while still deriving our own esoteric meaning from it.

“I find the artifice of it all very comforting this year. With how awful the world is, I find solace in advent calendars, Hallmark movies, and tinsel,” Mellman said.

“Personally, I prefer to celebrate the Solstice and to focus on how, from that day forward, each day will be a bit brighter until spring arrives,” said Mx. Bond. “I hate the winter, it depresses the fuck out of me.”

 

Images via Getty, header illustration by Bronwyn Lundberg

See Snaps From L.A.’s Dirtiest Holiday Tradition

It’s beginning to look a lot like a Dirty Looks Christmas. 

Los Angeles’ premier queerdo film org hosted their third annual Holiday Bazaar last Friday night at East Hollywood’s indoor-outdoor gay leather bar, Faultline, and it one-upped last year’s fete at every turn. 

Tammie Brown

Inside, queer vendors filled the walls and barstools with soaps, ceramics, tees and sex toys—all the stocking stuffers you could possibly pine for. Wacky Wacko was on hand with their new Divine collaboration, along with stained glass by Harpal Sodhi, ceramics by Aimee Goguen, handmade soaps by Sven Soapright, vintage queer literature from Everlasting Family Secret, “wreoths” by Peppré Ann, and wares by Lambe Culo, which held down the political fort with FUCK ICE tees, prints, and handmade dog collars.

Lauren White, Mikki Yamashiro, and Machine

The cheeky sampling was rounded out by additional goods supplied by Machine, L.A.G. Vintage, Semiotext(e), Oak NYC, Homo AF, and the Pleasure Chest. And just in case you still didn’t find what you were looking for, a harnessed Santa Claus from theTom of Finland Foundation was on hand lending his lap to all your naughtiest wish list items.

Bradford Nordeen and Santa

Outside, the crowd lapped up an appearance by RuPaul’s Drag Race oddball Tammie Brown, who decked the halls with gonzo holiday numbers like “Coal In Your Stocking” and “Candy Cane Kisses.” Up next was iconic Chloe Sevigny impersonator Drew Droege, who read from a “ChrEEStmaSS LEEst” scrawled on the back of a SAG/AFTRA residuals check and asked dear Saint Nick for “an agitated arctic fox wearing festive nipple adornments by Carolina Herrera, the dismissal and dissolution of Lena Dunham, and a new year filled with legendary children, women in command, the president in prison, and dirty dirty looks.”

Drew Droege

Closing out the performances was LA-based trans punk outfit Trap Girl, whose lead singer Drew Arriola-Sands wields serious star power that’s equal parts Ronnie Spector, Jayne County, and Tally Brown. A DJ set by Neon Music followed, putting the icing on a seriously lurid Christmas season.

Neon Music

The event capped off a wild year for Dirty Looks, which pulled off a 24-hour porn theatre, a 31-day city-spanning arts festival, retrospectives for artists Chris E. Vargas, Zackary Drucker, and The Cockettes, and a 16mm screening of New York telenovela Latin Boys Go To Hell, starring photographer Mike Ruiz.

Reve Douglas, Ron Athey, and Karen Lofgren

The collective is hitting the road this winter for an epic university tour in celebration of its eighth anniversary and the launch of founder Bradford Nordeen’s forthcoming podcast Memorabilia, so it looks like Christmas will keep on giving well into 2019!

Navi
Slava Mogutin and Hedi El Kholti
Drew Arriola Sands / Trap Girl
PJ Raval and Jonesy
Rudy Bleu and Eli Shaffer
Pony Lee Musgrave and Elliot Musgrave

Barbara Sanchez-Kane Is Bringing the Macho Sentimental to Menswear

Inspired by sentimentality and love, Mexican fashion designer Barbara Sanchez-Kane is on a mission to create clothes for a muse she has dubbed the “Macho Sentimental.” The Macho Sentimental can be someone of any gender; any individual who is in touch with their emotions. It is out of that space that Sanchez-Kane creates her innovative, unique designs that take inspiration from both high fashion couture and Mexican streetwear.

Sanchez-Kane recently collaborated with Nike on their The Force is Female project and hosted a pop-up in Los Angeles in late November. INTO caught up with the queer designer to talk about the philosophy guiding her inspired menswear line.

Barbara Sanchez-Kane
Barbara Sanchez-Kane

What does “Macho Sentimental” mean to Barbara Sanchez-Kane? Is there a safe way for queer women to be masculine without embracing the toxic parts of masculinity?

MA·CHO SEN·TI·MEN·TAL

Noun

  1. A human being of either sex; a person. Strongly influenced by

emotional feelings and in contact with male and female forces.

synonymous: human being, human, person, mortal,

individual, personage, soul.

I think we need more education – that is the main problem with the toxic part of masculinity. That is derived in aggressiveness and violent response as we have been taught that masculinity is associated with these terms that need to be broken.

Barbara Sanchez-Kane

You are a lesbian fashion designer who makes menswear. Do you think the phrase “menswear” is outdated now since people of all genders wear what is considered “men’s” or “women’s” clothes?

Sanchez-Kane started as a menswear brand. I use the term menswear just as a marketing strategy in sizing purpose, but as I say, we dress the Macho Sentimental.

Barbara Sanchez-Kane

You used to live in Los Angeles where you interned for German designer Bernhard Willhelm. Do you see his influence on your work or the experience of having lived in Los Angeles in your clothes?

Well, my first collection Citizen Sanchez-Kane was designed based on an old love relationship I had during my time in LA.  So yes all experiences and places influence my work.

Barbara Sanchez-Kane

You’ve created pieces in your fashion line that were inspired/for your mother and in your pop-up in Los Angeles, your mother was there to assist you with the event. You also have an alter-ego called “SOLRAC,” which your father’s name spelled backward. How does your relationship with your parents inform your work?

I couldn’t have built SANCHEZ-KANE without the support of my parents.

Family is the main pillar of my education and will continue to be a presence in the brand. I am so blessed to share all the growth of the brand with them.

Barbara Sanchez-Kane

You publish love poems and journal entries on your Instagram signed with the name “SOLRAC.” The graphics on your clothes feature phrases such as “Mexikanemicorazon” and “Freelance Lover,” along with “Macho Sentimental.” Is Sanchez-Kane a brand for queer romantics?

I am a sentimental romantic 100 percent guided by my inner feelings. I found in clothing the best way to deal with my problems good and bad ones. Is therapeutic and a way of living. Women have always been the starting point to create a world where all the misfits are welcome to join.

Barbara Sanchez-Kane

All photos by Navi.