How The National Women’s Soccer League Inspired LGBTQ Inclusion In Professional Sports

There are always several flags draped over the fan section railing at Houston Dash games. They often change from season to season: an Irish tri-color one is switched for a South African flag, an English banner added in between as players are traded and shuffle between teams. Various colors and designs represent different groups, communities, or countries, reminding players and fans alike that all are welcome inside the stadium. But one flag, perhaps the brightest of them all, stays put: the rainbow flag for LGBTQ pride.

This year, Dash players brought the flag onto the field, donning those rainbow stripes on the backs of their jerseys.

National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) teams across the country are recognizing their LGBTQ fanbases through hosting Pride Nights and donating proceeds to related charities. This kind of LGBTQ visibility largely emerged in 2015, when most teams celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. While the community has always had a large presence at games, official support by team management advocates for the inclusivity of the league. Every NWSL team but one had an official Pride Night this year in June, and various teams increased efforts to demonstrate their support for the LGBTQ community.

In comparison to other professional sports leagues, the NWSL ranks among the top for acknowledging the community, with teams hosting Pride Nights as early as the league’s first year in 2013. The WNBA followed, launching the first-ever national Pride campaign in 2014, marketing specifically towards LGBTQ fans. While certain MLB teams have hosted Pride games for over a decade now, and NBA teams are now joining the push, the NWSL’s unique combination of visible campaigns as well as player advocacy sets it apart from other leagues.

The Houston Dash debuted jerseys with rainbow numbers on the back this year to auction off to benefit PrideHouston, which hosts LGBT charity events as well as the annual parade in the city. The game-signed jerseys raised more than $12,000.

“For me, when I was in high school and younger, not as out or not as comfortable with myself, seeing rainbow things meant the world to me,” Dash fan Cat Taylor said. “I also liked that the Dash chose a local organization because the biggest impact you can have is donating to some of the small organizations that deal directly with the LGBT [community].”

The Dash partnered with PrideHouston as an official event for the first time, kicking off Pride Weekend with a themed soccer game. Tickets purchased through a special package also included a donation to the organization.

“We had the game on Friday night, and we actually had girls out in the parade and the festival on Saturday,” Houston Dash spokeswoman Valerie Holland said. “It was really showing how we could have a partnered relationship where it’s not just one-sided. It’s building a partnership with them which is something that can last now for years to come.”

The Utah Royals, a newly established team, hosted a Pride Night in their first year of operation. While the Real Salt Lake franchise was founded in 2004, it wasn’t until they brought in a women’s side this year that the other teams, Real Salt Lake of the MLS and Real Monarchs of the USL, began hosting Pride Nights. The three teams created history by hosting the first Pride-themed events of any major sports team in Utah.

“I think that says a lot about who we are,” Utah Royals spokeswoman Carla Haslam said. “I like to think that since we were the first, that it inspired or encouraged other teams to do the same.”

The Royals also debuted rainbow jerseys, some of which were auctioned off to support a scholarship fund at the University of Utah for LGBTQ students. In August, Royals forward Katie Stengel, who identifies as an ally, wrote about how soccer taught her to be compassionate toward a community she’s not a part of.

“[The rainbow jerseys] actually came from the players,” Haslam said. “A lot of members of the team are very outspoken about gay pride, those that are both members of the LGBTQ community and those that are not.”

In Florida, the Orlando Pride first wore rainbow jerseys in 2017. This year, they added a franchise-wide campaign called Pride in Our City, which honored the victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Tickets purchased through the campaign included a donation to one of five Orlando-area LGBTQ nonprofits, most of which were established following the shooting at Pulse.

Similarly, on the West Coast, the Portland Thorns partnered with Basic Rights Oregon and LGBTQ community hub the Q Center, while Seattle Reign donated to the Greater Seattle Business Association Scholarship for LGBTQ students. Both the North Carolina Courage and Sky Blue FC extended their celebrations, with the Courage hosting a Pride Week and Sky Blue hosting two themed games in partnership with the Pride Center of New Jersey. The rainbow trend also popped up on the Chicago Red Stars’ warm-up tops, which feature colored numbers that were auctioned to benefit You Can Play. The project aims to ensure the inclusion of all athletes in sports.

“We want every fan there to feel that representation,” Chicago Red Stars Strategic Insights Manager Bryn Raschke said. “We want to go out there and visibly show it and make sure everyone feels welcome the same way.”

In 2018, where teams haven’t gotten involved, fans have stepped up. The Washington Spirit were the only team without a designated Pride Night. So the Spirit Squadron, the supporters’ group, hosted their own celebration as they have for the past couple of years. Out players on the team such as Joanna Lohman pushed for support for the community, finally getting the front office to acknowledge the theme by painting rainbows along the field.

“For us, it was kind of an automatic thing: we have to have a Pride Night,” Squadron member Courtney Buchanan said. “We have a huge population of queer folk in the Spirit Squadron. We joke that the straights are the minority, because it’s one of the few places where we can be and we’re the norm so it was really important for us and also some of our players to be able to celebrate that. [The organization] painting the rainbow symbols on the field, it truly makes us feel welcome, and it makes us feel like they want us there.”

Players are also pushing for the inclusive environment. This year, 25 NWSL players teamed up with Playing for Pride, a fundraising campaign in which donations were broken down per game played, assist and goal. The Royals led the campaign with the most player-ambassadors, which included Stengel and US national team co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn. By the end of Pride Month, the player-ambassadors had raised more than $20,000 for Athlete Ally, a nonprofit aiming to end homophobia in sports. Professional athletes who openly identify with the LGBTQ community add to the acceptance fans feel when they walk into the stadium.

“It’s about using my career as something bigger than scoring goals,” said Spirit midfielder Lohman, who came out publicly in 2011. “I want to use my platform as a voice for people around the world who are forced into violence because they don’t have the same privileges I do and they don’t feel safe to be their own authentic self.”

For many fans, out players, in particular, serve as role models. Athletes including Lohman and Seattle Reign and US national team forward Megan Rapinoe, who came out publicly in 2012, inspire others by normalizing their vocal presence.

“[There are] so many people that we can look and say, ‘Oh yeah they’re the same as me’,” Buchanan said. “They fit in and it’s OK, it’s not this terrible awful thing because for some of us that’s all we’ve heard most of our lives.”

The NWSL also is uniquely open; fans and players interact in ways not found in other leagues. Players are known to stay after matches to talk to fans, some even learning each other’s names.

“The connection between fans and player and what that represents, there’s no other league or sport that does it quite as well,” said a Houston Dash fan named Cara, who did not want her last name published. “The accessibility between the fans and the players is unparalleled across any other sport, and the dedication the players have to it means you can make a connection with them.”

The constant presence of rainbow banners and flags even outside Pride Month, along with the close relationships between fans and players foster the loud and proud atmosphere at games. For some, the stands represent one of the few safe spaces where they can be open about their sexuality.

“I had just come out to my family [when I] started to get involved with Dash games,” Cara said. “Having an environment that’s loving and supporting was a really important thing to have just starting to come to terms with everything. Now I’m more comfortable with myself than I ever was or than I ever thought I could be and more confident, and getting to see that with the players and their support of it, there’s no words for it.”

Some fans attribute that strong connection between athletes and fans to the bold empowerment of female athletes.

“Any time you see women being strong in various roles, it definitely resonates with a lot of people who are not necessarily recognized in most of mainstream society,” Dash fan Taylor said. “One of the things I’ve noticed is that any time there’s large groups of women who are willing to be themselves, you’re going to gather more LGBT people.”

While promotion and support has grown since the founding of the league, fans see room for improvement by making the themed events consistent across teams. The rainbow numbers are a popular way of creating visibility on the field, though only three teams have adopted it thus far. Other fans wish to see backing for the community outside the colorful marketing, such as gender-neutral bathrooms.

A recent controversy involving Jaelene Hinkle of the North Carolina Courage seemed to fall contrary to the inclusive mindset the NWSL has embraced, according to Thorns fan Jo Thomson. Hinkle spoke to Christian news outlet 700 Club at the Courage stadium on her decision to withdraw from US women’s national team consideration because she did not want to wear a rainbow jersey for Pride Month.

“I find it distressing when the Courage invite 700 Club to their stadium to come do a feature on [Hinkle]. You don’t have to be a member of the LGBTQ community to know that it’s a homophobic program that espouses a homophobic agenda,” Thomson said. “As a governing body I think the NWSL could step in more often and say ‘You know what, I don’t think that’s an appropriate news outlet to be covering our team.’”

However, the trend upward of support by large sports teams is creating optimism not just for LGBTQ fans, but the community as a whole. Though the 2018 season has wrapped up, fans hope the goodwill between the NWSL and the community will catch on with other sports leagues.

“Every year it’s getting easier to be who you are,” Sky Blue FC fan Brittany Reggiero said. “It feels great to be a fan of a team who accepts you and loves you no matter who you love. I think it’s gaining a lot of ground and the future looks bright.”

Images via Getty

Out Chef Lior Hillel Wants To Make You Comfortable

Becoming a successful chef in the City of Angels is no small feat. There are consistently restaurants, bars, and cafes popping up all over town, giving cooks throughout Southern California some healthy competition, whether they want it or not. As the executive chef and co-owner of four restaurants across SoCal, Chef Lior Hillel is his own competition, and his long list of successes in the kitchen is more than just luck; instead, a mastered skill he developed early on when he would cook alongside his mother in his childhood kitchen.  

“I think I started playing around in the kitchen when I was around 13,” Hillel tells INTO. “My dad was the sheriff where we grew up and he also had a metal shop and olive orchards. None of those besides policing was interesting to me so I stayed in the kitchen with my mom as much as I could because I did not want to be in the field all day or around metal all day. So that’s when I started playing around with cooking.”

With Bacaro L.A., Bacari PDR, Bacari GDL, and a café often frequented by USC students, Nature’s Brew, Chef Hillel has brought his heritage and culture into the kitchen by putting a Mediterranean spin on seasonal dishes. Now he’s doing the same with his newest West Hollywood location, Bacari W. 3rd.

Born and raised in Israel, Chef Hillel attended culinary school Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee before enrolling in the pastry and baking program at Tadmor. It was after his time there that Hillel made the decision to leave Israel to attend Le Cordon Bleu, Pasadena, where he could perfect what he had learned in his training back home.

“The main reason I came to the states was to get further education working with different ingredients that you don’t get to work with in a Kosher culinary school,” Hillel says. “More techniques, more skills.”

For Hillel, cooking is a necessary comfort, especially when he makes food that reminds him of home and his roots back in Israel. 

“It’s the force that drives me to wake up in the morning and go into the kitchen,” he says. “People work hard to make money and when they spend it at your restaurant and enjoy the food while they are there, just to be a part of that is magical. The primal part of feeding somebody — when you provide someone with good, nutritious, thought-through food so they can experience it, and you see people smile after that — I think the core of that and the energy of that gives me the power to want to do it more and more.”

In addition to serving delicious food and creating a comforting atmosphere in his restaurants, Hillel has also been instrumental in creating a safe and welcoming space for the LGBTQ community. As an openly gay man, it is important for Hillel to not only have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind in his kitchens — he also recognizes that he can use the opportunity to educate his colleagues.

“I was the person in our company who decided to put the gender-neutral bathrooms in our restaurants,” Hillel says. “I also included a transgender non-discrimination form in our employee handbook. I have zero tolerance for discrimination or racism and if I hear something or notice something I will take care of it immediately. I know what it takes and how much courage it takes to be out, especially in kitchens where people are kind of falling into this profession and it’s not from choice. You will find a lot of people with rough edges, people that don’t necessarily accept or perhaps aren’t educated enough and they will make jokes that can be hurtful.”

Although there will only be one Chef Lior Hillel, his experience in the kitchen is something aspiring cooks can learn from. 

“My advice for aspiring cooks would be if you are a go-getter, accelerate in kitchens that already exist and that have enough of a base,” said Hillel. “And then find your way from there out. Understand what you like and don’t like and if you are a good cook any place in the world right now, people will come after you.”

If you want to eat a meal where you feel comforted, welcomed and satisfied, Chef Lior Hillel’s restaurants are what you are looking for.

“It is our mission that when you come into our restaurant,” he says, “you are part of the family.”

2nd Annual LGBTQ Outdoor Summit Hits the Bay Area

This past weekend (10/19-21), the second annual LGBTQ Outdoor Summit took place on Ohlone and Coastal Miwok Ancestral Land, on the NatureBridge Campus just north of San Francisco. The event relocated from last year’s inaugural basecamp in Seattle, Washington.

“Last year was really exciting because it was the first time the event happened,” co-summit organizer (and founder of Out There Adventures) Elyse Rylander said, “but this year it looks much more like how I envisioned it would come together. It’s so exciting to see the growth and all these new connections forming. It’s clearly something folks have been wanting for a very long time.”

Alongside Rylander, the three-day Summit was co-organized by Hannah Malvin of Pride Outside. Their mission was to “come together with representatives of the outdoor industry, the conservation community, environmental education, and more to discuss the state of the LGBTQ community and the outdoors and look for opportunities to work together to support equity and social justice outside.”

Over 160 attendees from across the country made their way to the Summit. While a large majority identified as a part of the LGBTQ or queer community, a handful of allies also attended. Representatives from other diverse outdoor recreation groups like The Venture Out Project, Latino Outdoors, Outdoor Afro, Unlikely Hikers, and many others were also in attendance.

The Summit began with a land acknowledgment by Tongva-Ajachmen artist, tribal scholar, and indigenous language activist L. Frank and was followed by an opening by Miho Aida, an award-winning filmmaker and adventure athlete best known for her environmental media project “If She Can Do It, You Can Too: Empowering Women Through Outdoor Role Models.”

Aida’s opening speech pointed out that nature is one of the most queer-friendly places, noting that a variety of species (some 500 are documented) exhibit homosexual behaviors and that teaching these scientific observations to students is one way to bring up the topic of queerness as natural. She also joked of her rock climbing adventures that “nature doesn’t care who you are, the rocks don’t care who you make-out with on them.”

After an hour of structured networking, the Summit was split into caucuses of self-identified queer/ally and then again as POC/non-POC. The caucuses were said by the organizers to provide safe spaces for discussions pertinent to the specific demographic.

During the queer caucus, one self-identified queer woman voiced the concern of many of the discussions: “Nature is a place of healing and self-expression, though a homophobic/racist culture in the outdoor industry and within park service [creates] violent barriers to access outdoors.”

Another self-identified gay male speaker seconded the assertion, saying that he lives in a deep pocket of the conservative intermountain west, and often feels unsafe as he shares trails and campsites with many homophobic people. “Accessing the places in nature that heal me… that are an escape from a constricting society, where I feel most myself, can be difficult and stressful. I’m not scared of the bears or the weather, I’m scared of the people I might run into when I’m outdoors.”

Afterward, a self-identified non-binary person who once led a trip with a group of other queer people, shared a story of having to deal with a group of “neo-nazis” camping near them. They described making decisions for the group’s well-being and staying up all night in order to ensure the group’s safety.

During the queer non-POC caucus that followed, i.e. the white caucus, the group wrestled with discussions of privilege: “How do we address our privilege as white people and help, without overstepping, in helping the outdoors be more inclusive?” as well as “Are we issuing our queerness as a shield to our whiteness?”

The summit, which was majority white, many times over the course of the weekend tackled conversations about the low representation of POC in the outdoors, citing a 2011 national park survey which found only 22% of U.S. national park visitors were a racial minority.

At the end of the discussion, one assertion received a high praise of claps and snaps: “Don’t confuse queerness for other types of oppression. It is one type of oppression, but it doesn’t mean you understand all of the types of oppression.”

The first day concluded with a speech from keynote speaker Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, founder of the nonprofit Courageous Girls and the first openly gay woman to climb the seven summits (the tallest mountain on each continent). Vasquez-Lavado addressed the conference about the importance of adventure in healing and empowering victims of sexual violence.

Saturday morning consisted of workshops including LGBTQ Conservation Crews, Cultivating Gender Inclusion in the Outdoors, and Blue Discharges: How the US Army Accidentally Helped Create Queer Identity and Community in America.

The day continued with a panel discussion on Land Management Agencies, with representatives from the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Many representatives on the panel admitted not enough is being done to make public lands more inclusive for LGBTQ visitors. The audience asked questions about gender-neutral restrooms at visitor centers and trailheads, representation of queer people and POC in media and social media of the government agencies. Some representatives on the panels even voiced “frustrations with the current administration,” indirectly pointing to Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

Within the past two years, the current administration has shrunk national monuments and opened up wildlife refuges for resource extraction, discounted climate change, ignored native voices on their own land, and withdrew its sponsorship of the first permanent Pride Flag at Stonewall National Monument.

Panels continued into the afternoon and focused specifically on the outdoor industry, with representatives from large clothing and outdoor sports brands Patagonia, The North Face, REI, and Merrell, alongside the Airbnb of campsites, Hipcamp.

During a Q&A, many of the brands were critiqued and asked questions about gendering their clothing, with women’s styles always being more feminine and men’s more masculine. Negative experiences were also brought up by a self-identified non-binary person who shared “bad” and “weird” treatment from employees while they were shopping in the men’s and women’s sections of REI.  

A self-identified transwoman also expressed frustration with Merrell for not making women’s shoes large enough to fit her after her transition. The representative replied that it was purely a business decision, that there wasn’t enough demand for it to make sense for the company. Another audience member addressed all of the representatives on the panel in saying that to her it sounded like, “(they) are choosing to not be inclusive of someone who wants a size 13 women’s shoe.”

All of the brands, however, acknowledged that they were not doing enough to be more inclusive to LGBTQ and POC buyers, best said by the Patagonia representative: “Patagonia gets a big ‘L’ for loser in including diversity.” All representatives expressed that they were “willing to listen” and provided their emails to Summit attendees to reach out to them directly with ideas.

Besides queer, trans, and POC representation in the brands’ advertisements, the next big question came from an audience member who questioned the functionality of female outdoor clothing, saying that compared to men’s they were often shorter, pocketless, and less durable. She finished by saying, “We want to give young women the tools to get outside, otherwise, they aren’t going to like being there.”

Rylander said to INTO after the panel: “It’s been interesting watching the conversation with brands flow over the past few years. There were a lot of unanswered emails and a lot of proverbial doors being shut about five years ago, but now brands are coming to me and asking how they can be involved,” she said.

“I think that’s a great indication of where we are. But within that, with all partners and organizations and institutions that are started by non-queer folks and by non-marginalized identities, the level of authentic engagement can certainly vary.”

Followed by the panel was another series of afternoon workshops including Queering Survival Skills, Queer History of Land Champions, and Using Coalition Building to Promote Safe Spaces.

During Queering Survival skills, led by Queer Nature founders Pınar and So Sinopoulos-Lloyd broke down the stereotypes and myths of over the top Bear-Grylls-style survival skills into the small acts queer people do to survive. “It’s a survival skill to love oneself and affirm one’s own resilience in a dominant culture that sees you as less than. It is a survival skill to evade public bathrooms, or to choose to walk into one with your heart pounding.”

The workshop leaders also brought up the notion of “wilderness (being) deeply rooted in colonialism. The idea of wilderness perpetuates the mindset of white supremacy and colonialism and continues both regional and intergenerational trauma.”

This sentiment was echoed many times during the Summit; an audience member in the queer caucus on the first day said, “Let’s not forget all of our national parks and public lands were stolen from Native Americans through genocide and displacement and swindling long ago and acknowledge that the all of our recreations and ‘healing’ take place on these lands.”

While interacting with the audience, the leaders of Queer Nature asked for other survival tactics.  The group shared many of their own, from growing plants, cooking, crying, knitting, to carving wooden spoons. The workshop also put a high importance on paying attention to place and abiding by consent with our natural living surroundings for better mental health, for one’s own queer survival.

The Summit’s second day finished with outdoor adventures of hiking and geocaching led by different members of outdoor retailers as the sunset and the marine layer began to form.

Day 3 presented more workshops like LGBTQ Backcountry Medicine, Navigating Toxic Masculinity, How To Create a National Park, Outward Bound California First LGBTQ Wilderness to Urban Course. The workshops were followed by a final third panel: Youth and the Next Generation, before a final farewell closing by the organizers of the Summit.

“Nature itself is an inherently inclusive space,” Rylander said to INTO. “So when people (not in the LGBTQ community) question the need for queer outdoors groups, I think they are coming from a place of remarkable privilege— they are erasing the very real and very traumatic experiences that many people have because of the other people that are out there.”

She continued, “When I’m out there leading trips with the kiddos, I’m never worried about what mother nature is going to throw at us, because I know how to navigate those spaces. It’s the people element that makes the difference.”

What Locktober, A Month of Locking Up Your Cock, Can Teach All Queer Men About Sexuality

October is perhaps fall’s most unadulterated autumnal month. There’s a crisp wind, leaves wear earth tones, and the pumpkin spice lattes flow freely from baristas’ hands into white girls’ mouths. But there’s another October tradition that gets a little less attention than Hocus Pocus rewatches, and that’s the custom of people locking their genitals in cages and denying themselves access to their own genitals for 31 spooky days of chastity.

For an entire month, people interested in a subset of BDSM called chastity play can participate in a ritual called Locktober. Those wishing to take part have a few options: they can get locked up by a dom/me, a man or woman who administers the punishment as a form of pleasure or orgasm denial. The dom/me will often hold the physical key that will unlock a sub’s genitals, meaning their pleasure is 100 percent dependent on someone else.

Talk about Locktober online — even if you’re, let’s say, looking to interview people for this story — and the mention of it will elicit a range of reactions from curiosity to laughter to befuddlement. What would spur a person to put their penis behind a padlock for a whole calendar month? For participants, Locktober holds lessons about their own sexuality and how they must get creative to feel pleasure when their primary sexual organ is shoved into a plastic tube.

“Locktober is the kinky version of Lent,” says Pup Taz, a member of the leather community and holder of the title Mr. SoCal Leather 2018, referring to the Christian season of atonement and reflection. This is Taz’s first year participating in Locktober, though he’s done chastity play before.

Chastity play and Locktober have almost nothing to do with what the average person might think of when they hear “chastity device.” Usually, people default to the (misbegotten) myth that medieval women wore chastity belts to prevent intercourse while their knights were off fighting the Crusades.

More likely, female chastity belts were 19th-century anti-masturbation devices. Similarly, male chastity devices — called everything from “self protectors” to “sexual armor” — have anti-masturbatory origins. In a Western context, masturbation was often considered a vice — a moral and physical evil, a problem to be solved. To deter jacking off, inventors constructed chastity devices. (Fun fact, Kellogg’s cereals — yes, really — were also created as a masturbation panacea.) Not until 2004 did a male chastity device patent mention that it could be a device for erotic play.

Danny Cruz’s device is called a CB6000. Cruz is a sex worker who also co-hosts a sex work and education-themed podcast, On the Dresser. His all-plastic device has three pieces, interlocking like a 3-D puzzle, and a lock keeps the disparate parts in place. The plastic tube sports a hole allowing Cruz to pee and side holes for ventilation. He has to take the tube off pretty frequently to clean it: a dick encased in a plastic tube all day can be a breeding ground for bacteria and must. He self-locks, so when it’s off, it’s up to him not to use the time to jerk off.

“Half of chastity play is in your head,” Cruz said. “Cold shower, work out, get your mind off the intense feelings of horniness.”

In the confines of a chastity device, erections are often problems to be solved. Erections begin in the brain. An outside stimulus — a sight, a smell, a noise — prompts the brain to release a chemical called nitric oxide to produce cyclic guanine monophosphate, which ushers blood into the penis and constricts blood vessels, causing stiffness. Time in a chastity device means time spent trying to dispel the semi-undesirable effects of feeling horny.

“If I had a key holder, I’d probably be thinking about them and how to get that key,” he said.“I don’t have one, so now it’s like a self-discipline, like ‘OK, you feel this, you’re frustrated, you have to tough it out.’”

Taz switched devices halfway through the month. He began October with a cheap plastic interim device ordered online. Then, his custom device arrived. It featured specific measurements for the width and length of his dick and the gauge of his Prince Albert piercing dictated the device’s shape.

With their dicks sidelined for the month, both Taz and Cruz said they resorted to new avenues to find ways to orgasm.

“I’ve tried to vibrator it out,” he said. “Ass orgasms — I’ve given them before, but I haven’t been able to achieve it. When I talk to other people they recommend riding your own dildo, plugging yourself and other things, but none of it has worked on me yet! I’ve had a couple tops try to help me also nothing. It’s frustrating, but it’s also pleasure.”

Taz said his horniness oscillates: sometimes he feels nothing. Sometimes it’s like he’s going through puberty again and his horniness is all he feels. He’s also tried to stimulate his rectum with toys and even though he achieved orgasm, he called it a “ruined orgasm,” one that was more mechanical than ecstatic. He’s also spent hours lubing his hands and stroking his cage to no avail. He put his Hitachi Magic Wand vibrator up to his cage to feel the vibrations, and though he achieved ejaculation, he didn’t find satisfaction.

“It was like a Bellagio fountain of cum,” he said. “Afterward, I felt amazing because I came but I still felt unsatisfied because I didn’t get any of the sensation associated with sex and ejaculation.”

It might sound like chastity play works purely on an economy of restriction with few upsides. And yes, much of it sucks — both participants talked about chafing and pinching and nightmare nighttime erections. It’s too easy to see chastity play and emphasize its restrictions, a view that only captures half the reality. On the other end, both Taz and Cruz said Locktober allowed them (like a good dom/me!) an opportunity to reimagine their sexuality and to begin a new relationship with their bodies and their sexual partners’ bodies.

“I thought I knew all my erogenous zones,” Taz said. “Then I went to my friend’s house, we were fucking around and some of the areas he was touching me — who would’ve known getting touched on the side of my chest, between my armpit and nipple would turn me on this much?”

Some other surprises Taz has encountered? He’s learned that his ass can fit more inside it than he previously conjectured and that he spends a lot of the day mindlessly touching his own dick in some way, often out of sheer boredom.

Maybe the mindless grabbing of one’s own penis works as a metaphor for the casual and unexamined way that penises dominate queer male sexuality — and the way that Locktober forces its participants to envision a queer sexuality in which penises must give up center stage.

“You have all the same urges of wanting to fuck and do all of this activity but you have to place that energy elsewhere, because your dick, until that lock is removed and that cage comes off, you won’t have the satisfaction you want,” Taz said. “You have to play with your ass or your nipples or have your throat fucked to channel that energy.”

Taz believes that part of chastity play’s power lies in its challenge to the cultural power of the penis.

“There’s a power in denying someone that’s read as masculine access to their dick,” he said.

Can you fight the cultural primacy of the penis by putting your own behind a lock? Yes, in some ways, this is a micro-level response to a pervasive cultural problem, a problem that seems to have become only more prevalent in recent years with the rise of Donald Trump, whose penis has grabbed headlines since before his ascendance to the presidency. Trump used national television to defend this size of his penis during a presidential debate in March 2016. In August of 2016, naked statues of Trump with a tiny penis popped up across the US. And, faster than you can say Mario Kart, Stormy Daniels brought Trump’s Toad-shaped penis back into the news cycle.

It’s clear: we’ve reached peak penis. We have no breathing room. And so, maybe a few people locking up their dicks have pushed back against the too-oppressive pervasiveness of dick.

While dick takes up a lot of space in our cultural conversation, Cruz said a similar phenomenon is at work within the queer community: gay men don’t seem to be able to envision a sexuality that isn’t penis-centered.

The most surprising part of the month for Cruz has been dealing with the way other men react to the device. Cruz advertises the device on Grindr, cruises while wearing it in the bathhouse, and has had hookups while it’s on.

“A lot of the reaction I get is like, ‘Ew, if I can’t touch your dick, what’s the point?’ It left a weird taste in my mouth,” he said. “I didn’t like that approach to sex.”

Cruz added, “If you think of how gay men interact, there’s a whole lot of grabbing each other or grabbing your own dick.”  But, he said, “Now that I can’t pleasure myself how can I focus on my partner? That’s been cool because my hands can go elsewhere. I can keep them totally free. I can stimulate a couple of places at once.”

Panicked reactions to his cage have also led Cruz to think about the ways — subtle and overt — in which cisgender gay men often exclude transgender gay men from designated queer male spaces. A simple plastic tube, it seems, challenges their penis-centric sexual worldview.

“I worry about the panic I see from guys sometimes,” he said. “The word of the month for me has been phallocentrism and trying to get guys not to be phallocentric.”

Cruz said that the negative reactions to his lock have forced him to think about what that might mean for trans men and other people without penises who try to engage in queer male-dominant spaces.

“I’ve definitely had that thought of like, ‘Shit, if I’ve had that reaction!’” Cruz said.

One positive development Cruz does point to, though, is that the people’s he’s encountered sexually in the past month have been better lovers.

“They know what they’re doing outside of themselves,” Cruz said. “They know how to be open to a partner and just be dick-in-the-butt kind of people.”

So how do you finish off a month of denial? A wild orgy? A day-long marathon edging session? Can 31 days without your own dick translate into year-long lessons about sexuality?

According to Cruz and Taz, being vocal about their experiences online with Locktober has led other people to seek them out on social media and inquire about how to involve themselves next year. #Locktober 2019 looks like it’s about to be lit. There will be fewer dicks free roaming the streets and more people learning about pleasure beyond the penis.

But before we get to October 2019, what about November 1 — let’s call it Cumvember?

Cruz confessed that his time in a cage will end before November 1, as a client of his is paying him to break his lock early, which means his plans for November 1 are simple.

“I plan to spend it with money,” he said.

Taz’s plans are a bit more elaborate. He’s always jokingly thought of penetrating a pumpkin, which has become an internet meme in recent years. But, at least for now, Taz plans to usher out Locktober by masturbating with the big orange gourd.

“I will just throw [the] pumpkin away afterward,” he said. “There will be pumpkin guts on my dick, but in the moment I think it’ll be plenty fun.”

The Upcoming Spider-Man DLC Needs to Fix The Game’s Women Problem

Can the new Spider-Man game be a little more “spider” and a little less “man”?

When the newest Spider-Man game came out September 7th, it garnered generally positive reviews. Fans were excited to web sling around (a very gay-friendly!) New York City in a new adventure-style game that featured tons of early 2000s Spider-Man nostalgia. Fans are about to get even more content when three downloadable content expansions will make their way to gamers’ hands on October 23rd, the first of which will focus on Black Cat, a villain who is only liminally involved in the base game.

In the comics, Black Cat is a classic character who, throughout her existence, has played both enemy and ally to Parker and other Marvel superheroes. In the base game, Black Cat makes a half-cameo in a form of small Where’s Waldo? style puzzles that force Spidey to decipher her schemes. Given that this series of missions ends pretty abruptly with Peter (Spider-Man) picking up a new outfit and Black Cat never makes an appearance herself, it makes sense that this thread will probably be tied back up in the DLC.

The Black Cat’s addition and appearance in the DLC could be pretty significant given that the female characters in the game so far are not super important.

Spoiler warning, by the way.

Throughout the story, we meet Yuki, Spider-Man’s police contact, Silver Sable, a mercenary that’s not the biggest fan of Spider-Man, Aunt May and Mary Jane, who is Spider-Man’s love interest and was probably best known when she was played by Kirsten Dunst in the original 2000s Spider-Man movies. Out of those characters, only MJ is playable — the other female characters only exist in dialogue or cut scenes, no gameplay. This isn’t an enormous problem: the game only makes three characters playable and it’s definitely a step up from being relegated to damsel-in-distress.

That being said, MJ’s actual gameplay leaves the player little to do. It’s one thing to make her playable, but would it be too much to ask to make that gameplay interesting or unique? In her first mission, MJ sneaks around an art gallery for her job as an investigative reporter. It’s basically a Marvel-sponsored episode of Dora the Explorer. Throughout the game she gets little additions to her sneaking — Spider-Man gives her lures to throw so she can distract enemy guards — but nothing too exciting or unique to her character. Near the end of the game she picks up a taser and can knock out enemies with sneak attacks, but that skill lasts for exactly one level.

The third playable character is Miles Morales, who you might know if you follow the comics because Miles becomes Spider-Man in the future. Miles has similar sneaking missions to MJ except with the addition of a hacking mechanic that he uses to distract his enemies. Although these scenes aren’t perfect and are perhaps a little monotonous, at least Miles is given something unique to his character.

In an interview with SYFY, one of the writers of the game, Ben Arfmann, noted that they made an intentional decision to give MJ a more active role in the story.

“We were working with the theme of partnership between her and Peter,” Arfmann said. “What’s a way that she can be really contributing to Pete’s work on an equal footing? Making her into an investigative reporter, somebody who is trying to air out dirty laundry and show the truth to the world made a lot of sense to us.”

The fiction and gameplay feel dissonant with each other because although the story portrays MJ in a positive light, the gameplay feels lazy and thus brings down the whole experience of her character.

If the game was entirely combat focused, it would be understandable why MJ didn’t have a bigger role — it might feel a little unrealistic to have her fighting the same bad guys that Spider-Man is except without the super strength. However Peter’s segments of the game include a couple different puzzle mini-games, why not create something like that for MJ’s missions too?

With the Black Cat joining officially, it would be nice to make her a fun and dynamic playable character. Although she’ll be initially joining as a villain, with her character history in the comics,  it’s possible that she’ll shift to a hero in the end. Her gameplay could be stealth or robbery missions and because she’s in a comparable superhuman level to Spider-Man, the levels could be more intricate that Miles or MJ’s missions. Regardless, it’ll at least be exciting to see a badass female antagonist — anything’s better than what we’ve got now.

Subtle Homophobia Is The New Blatant Homophobia

A few weeks ago, I went to the library to return a dreadfully boring book. That’s when I encountered a group of the biggest, most ignorant jackasses in the world. No matter how hard I try to forget about those losers, their willful ignorance topped with their heavy New York accents is seared into my cerebellum, just like that awkward Pokémon Go porno.

There were four guys and two girls. They were talking about homophobia, only none of them appeared to be members of the LGBTQ community based on how ignorantly they spoke about the LGBTQ community. They spoke about homophobia as though they were victims of it — as if they understood it better than LGBTQ people. I was absolutely stunned when one of them, with a hideous green shirt on, said, “Homophobia isn’t real. Faggots just want free sympathy and free shit.”

While fags like me are guilty of enjoying free things — not because of my queer identity, but because I enjoy free things, homophobia remains a dark cloud that looms over my head. I wish I could cancel homophobia just as I cancel great singers when they’re exposed for being blatantly homophobic, but I can’t. I experience homophobia every day. So, what gives a cis-heterosexual person a right to cancel homophobia and deny my experiences?

Treating homophobia like a Wookie or the Loch Ness Monster is not helping; it is, however, a clear demonstration of how easily cishet people erase the struggles of queer lives. Either that or cishet people have a very unclear definition of what homophobia is. Homophobia is not always obvious hate crimes, ugly slurs, and blatant discrimination — more often than not, homophobia is subtle, microaggressive and promotes ugly stereotypes about our community.

Just a few years ago, I barely understood what homophobia was. I believed that it was similar to my fear of spiders; I am deathly afraid of spiders. I once threw out an entire bag of clothing because a spider crawled into it. Homophobia is nothing like that.

No one is afraid of queer people, not even the 36-year-old woman who admitted to me that she is “afraid of the LGBT community” because lesbians “always call her beautiful” and “try to grab her butt.”

The term “homophobia” has evolved since it was coined by Dr. George Weinberg, a cis-heterosexual man, in the 1960s. Weinberg coined the term after observing his colleagues’ behavior after he invited his lesbian friend to a party. “I coined the word homophobia to mean it was a phobia about homosexuals,” he said. “It was a fear of homosexuals which seemed to be associated with a fear of contagion, a fear of reducing the things one fought for — home and family. It was a religious fear, and it had led to great brutality, as fear always does.”

However, decades later, the LGBTQ community’s fight for visibility ultimately shaped — and continues to shape — what “homophobia” means now.

Homophobia isn’t always being called well-known slurs like “sissy” or “faggot.” It isn’t always being chased out of neighborhoods when we’re holding hands with our lovers. Homophobia isn’t always direct. Homophobia can be as microaggressive as a small, cancerous lump on someone’s breast. If we leave the small lump untreated, it can develop into something altogether deadly. We should apply this analogy to homophobia — ignoring those microaggressive forms of homophobia can transform it into something deadly or traumatic.

Homophobia can be harmful implications about our sexual morality. For example, I observe how my family members watch me around my younger male cousins as if I’m going to sexually assault them because of my queer identity.

Homophobia can be a harmful implication that I want to have sex with every male that I encounter.

I’ve observed how quickly my father sexualizes my friendships with women (so that he can make me uncomfortable). This is a form of homophobia.

I’ve observed how my aunt’s demeanor changes when she speaks to me (bending her wrist and talking in an overly dramatic feminine voice when speaking to me). This is a form of homophobia.

Whenever I catch a cold, people say I could be HIV positive. This is a form of homophobia. There are too many ways for someone to be homophobic without bringing up my sexuality or dropping the F-bomb.

This Queer Video Project Believes Coming Out Stories Can Save Lives

A coming out story can save a life. Jordan Reeves knows because a coming out story saved his.

Growing up in Alabama, Reeves didn’t know any other LGBTQ people. He felt trapped and alone in Hueytown, a conservative suburb on the outskirts of Birmingham whose major attraction is a outdoor water park. He didn’t admit to himself that he was gay until he was 18. It was another five years before he decided to share that information with anyone else.

Before coming out, Reeves lived a double life. He considered becoming a missionary, but knew deep down he was just playing the role of a good Christian — the person he thought everyone wanted him to be.

But that’s when he heard Cliff Simon, his professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, discuss his experiences coming out during the post-Stonewall era of the 1970s. In a later retelling of the story, Simon remembered his mother asking him as a child, “Why can’t you be normal like all the other boys?”

“I sort of wanted to know that, too: Why couldn’t I?” he recalled.

But after spending years dating women and unsuccessfully trying to “change” through therapy, Simon came out to his mother in his early 20s. He said he was ready to “finally feel some sense of being OK.”

“I’ve learned so much about life and about myself, and it all started when I came out — and not just because of the gay stuff,” Simon explained. “It was a waterfall of everything, of me starting to see that life could be what I wanted it to be. … Normal is different for all people.”

By providing a model of how to begin his own journey, Reeves claimed Simon’s story showed him for the first time that he could be authentically himself.

“I really did not think that I was going to make it,” he said in a half hour phone conversation. “Coming out is the first step in sort of publicly announcing who you are, and for me, it literally meant life.”

Simon’s story is just one of about 250 stories featured on VideoOut, a digital platform Reeves founded two years ago. Since 2016, he has traveled the United States collecting diverse stories of LGBTQ people reflecting on their own experiences of coming out, whether it was about their sexual orientation, gender identity, or even their HIV status.

“We were the warriors,” said Sean McKenna, a long-term HIV survivor and advocate who lives in New York City, in a VideoOut interview. “We were on the front lines of medication.”

When he was first diagnosed, McKenna recalled that medical professionals weren’t allowed to disclose that information over the phone. If the results came back negative, that was OK to share, but everyone else had to come into the office. It was intended to prevent newly diagnosed individuals from taking their own lives.

The day his doctor told him they would need to meet in person to discuss his diagnosis, McKenna was at work. He described that phone call as a “whirl of emotions.”

“You hang up the phone and you have to wait a week to talk to the doctor,” he said.

“I turned to my coworker and I said, ‘I think I just tested positive for AIDS,'” McKenna continued. “And she started to cry. So the first thing I did when I tested positive was console one of my best friends who I worked with.”

All McKenna remembers from that day is the “black and white subway tile” from the work bathroom, where he went to cry as he processed the news.

He spent a few weeks washing down his grief before turning a corner.

“I just partied it up,” McKenna recalled. “I drank, I went to happy hours, and I thought, ‘What the heck—what do I have to lose at this point? But after about two weeks, I thought, ‘No, I could actually be helping people.’ So I went back to support groups and that sort of thing and became a little bit of an activist.”

McKenna was among the first HIV survivors to take experimental drugs intended to halt the virus’ spread. The side effects of early medications were harsh, including headaches, diarrhea, kidney problems, and soft bones.

These experiences illustrated to McKenna the power of support among long-term survivors of HIV. Years later, he lobbied the New York-based Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GHMC) to resurrect its defunct Buddy Program, which pairs up dedicated volunteers with survivors in order to address the isolation and loneliness that people living with the virus may feel.

Many stories featured by VideoOut follow a similar pattern to McKenna’s: of LGBTQ people coming into their own after announcing themselves to the world.

“It’s really important to not just come out to the people around you, but to come out to yourself,” said Dana Kaye, who appears in a video with her mother, Susan Litoff. “You want to be true to who you are and your authentic self. It’s no fun living a lie and living in the closet.”

Litoff, a psychotherapist, said she came out later in life than her daughter did.

“I shared with a lot of my good friends and it felt really comfortable,” said Litoff, who was 41 when she came out. “I felt really comfortable about what was happening with me. It was more a sharing than a difficult process.”

When Litoff told her mother she was in love with another woman, her mother cautioned against telling her father, claiming he wouldn’t understand. She didn’t listen. When she did finally tell him, he clutched his chest in mock offense: “What’s the problem? I understand loving women!”

“That was the end of that story,” Litoff concluded.

These anecdotes — which range in tone from jubilant to mournful — have taken on added weight since Reeves first began collecting them. Shortly after the project commenced, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency and immediately began rolling back equality. Subsequently, 2017 was the deadliest year on record for LGBTQ Americans.

Reeves described the people he’s spoken with over the past two years as “nervous.” They’re scared “about what’s going to happen to them, their families, and the people that they love the most,” he claimed.

But a perhaps unintended side effect of the Trump presidency it has also instilled in LGBTQ people the importance of visibility.

“People are exceptionally proud of who they are in an unprecedented way — in a way that I don’t know has ever existed before,” Reeves claimed. “What I’ve seen in our community is that in the face of this administration and not knowing whether or not you’ll be able to get married next year, people are stepping up to the plate. They’re saying, ‘I am proud of who I am and I’m not apologizing.’”

His goal is to collect 1,000 more stories of people living their truths, whether they’re submitted online or in person. VideoOut frequently organizes what they call “Story Collection Day” in cities like New York, Chicago, or Birmingham. At these public events, people with a story to tell can sign up for a 30-minute slot on camera.

After winning a $50,000 grant from Marriott’s #LoveTravels Beyond Barriers Social Innovation Investment, Reeves hopes to use the funding to hold a Story Collection Day every month of next year.

To better reach out to local communities, VideoOut plans to partner with advocacy organizations in each location.

VideoOut is also in the process of building a new platform where people can record their stories themselves. The website will give users the option to edit their videos, tag them for searchability, and then submit them with one click of a button. By lowering the barrier to entry, it allows a much wider pool of voices to be reflected in the series.

“One thing that we say is one story is important, several stories are powerful, but all of our stories together are an unstoppable collective that demands equality,” Reeves said.

These stories can “change minds, break barriers, and eradicate hatred,” he added.

While VideoOut hopes their platform has the ability to reach individuals who may not know someone who is LGBTQ, these transformations often begin in our own communities.

Although Reeves’ parents have long struggled with his sexuality, VideoOut helped start important conversations in his own family. Reeves’ father called him after he started the project and said, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that if anybody tries to take your rights away, I’ll be the first person to stand up for you.”

At one of VideoOut’s public events, an elderly gentleman approached Reeves and said it inspired him to finally come out of the closet.

Reeves said moments like these are why VideoOut exists.

“I just feel like these stories have the ability to embolden people, to encourage people, to inspire people,” he said. “Even people that think that it’s too late.”

“So no matter where you are in your journey, no matter how old you are or young you are, no matter what position you have, where you work, if you work, it doesn’t matter,” Reeves continued. “Your story deserves to be heard.”

There’s No Question Fran Lebowitz Won’t Answer

There is no cultural icon like Fran Lebowitz.

After a successful writing career in the 1970s (first as a columnist for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and then as the author of two humorous essay collections, Metropolitan Life and Social Studies), the now 67-year-old New Yorker has made a name for herself just by, well, being herself. From her time spent alongside other culture creators and tastemakers at the famed Max’s Kansas City, to becoming a permanent fixture at New York Fashion Week and on Best Dressed Lists for her suits and masculine-of-center style, Lebowitz is hailed for knowing everyone and everything — and having an opinion about it all.

Lebowitz was the focus of Martin Scorsese’s HBO documentary Public Speaking in 2010, which helped to establish her continued relevance despite American society’s general eschewing and discarding of older women — especially those with opinions. The openly gay cultural critic now spends most of her career being asked questions in a public forum. Generally, she’s asked about modern politics and society, and her witty quips never disappoint, but, as she asserts in our interview below, there’s nothing she’s not up for answering. L.A.-based readers can test this theory at her next appearance at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 30. In an event presented by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA),  Lebowitz will be in conversation with Matt Holzman of KCRW and then take questions from the audience.

Before these public conversation events, do you ever feel pressure to be funny? Do you ever have any worries about giving people what they’re paying for?

Not at all. Zero. I mean, and I love to talk first of all. It’s something that I just love doing. Luckily for me, otherwise I wouldn’t do it; it takes no effort on my part, unlike writing, which obviously takes too much effort for me. And so to me, it’s really like having a trick thumb. I never think about it, I don’t think about it before, I don’t think about it after. While I’m doing it, I’m really enjoying myself as if it was a recreational activity. I have zero nervousness about it. Zero. I know this annoys people but it’s true. I mean, there are things, of course, I’m nervous about but talking is not one of them.

Are there any specific things you will tell people you will not talk about on stage? Any sort of third rail topic?

No. I mean, the people that interview me onstage, I very rarely know them. So, I meet them, you know, before I go on. I wouldn’t say always but frequently, they want to talk to me before because usually, they’re journalists. They’re not always, but they’re usually journalists, so they have this habit of being prepared. So they sometimes want to go to questions. I do not allow them to tell me the questions before. I do not want to know. I do not want to know the questions, I refuse to know the questions. Sometimes they start to tell me the questions. I prevent them from doing so. If someone asked me something that I will not answer, I’m just saying, I’m not answering that. But that doesn’t happen that frequently, you know. The reason I don’t want to know the questions is because it’s not fun to answer questions you know.

It is really fun for me not to know what they’re going to ask me. This is why the part I enjoy the most is the questions from the audience because the audience really has no idea. Because the audience is not made up largely of journalists, you know. No. I mean, a lot of places where I do this, theaters and places like that, where other people come during the course of a year, they have, I don’t know what the word is, but it’s set up so people pass up questions on index cards, for instance. That’s the way they run. I never allow that. I don’t want to see the questions. I don’t want to know the questions.

Some places have mics in the audience. This is something that I do not allow. I mean, sometimes I have no choice about this because sometimes they’re live streaming, which may not be the correct word. Now because of the internet, lots of times, the people running the thing care more about what’s going to be on the internet than what’s happening in the theater. This is something I don’t like at all because I love the live audience. 

What do people most frequently want to know from you — outside of if you’re writing anything new or publishing in the near future?

You know, I have to say that since the campaign for the presidency, 90 percent of the questions are about Trump. It’s always, and I’ve been doing this since you know, since 1978. And always during presidential election years, you got a lot of political questions. During this campaign, before the election, it was like 90 percent of the questions. Once Trump got elected, it was like 180 percent of the questions and sometimes when I leave the country… I was in Australia where I thought at least in Australia, they’re not going to be interested in Trump. No. Of course they’re interested in Trump. In Madrid, they’re interested in Trump.

But also, out of the country, there’s an accusatory tone to this. Like it’s my fault. You elected him. No, I did not. I feel that’s incredibly unfair. And I myself, of course, am also consumed with rage about this, so I understand why people do that. Sometimes someone — I was somewhere in Pennsylvania where a guy said, ‘Can we talk about something else?’ And I said “Fine, ask something else. It’s up to you.” So sometimes, I get funny questions. And I don’t remember where I was but somewhere where I was, I would say within the year there was a kid, and she must have been something like 13. She must have been with some adult. That’s not generally the age of the audience and she waved her hand so I called her and she said, have you ever met Beyoncé? I’ve never been asked that before.

What was the answer?

I said, “Yes, I met Beyoncé when she was a child.” She was in a group called Destiny’s Child, which was I think maybe Beyoncé and her sisters. I’m not a scholar on Beyoncé, and there used to be a big AIDS benefit in New York every year and they had a huge number of celebrities and famous athletes and it was an event for the children of rich people. The tickets to get in there were in the hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Raising a lot of money. In order to appease these rich people, the entertainment at this thing was incredibly good and they always had, at the end of the day, they had them a couple years in a row, this group. They were little girls, really. I would hear people say “You should come hear these kids!” No, no, let’s go get something to eat. And so that’s when I first met Beyoncé. I mean, that’s the only time I met Beyoncé. I’m sure she will not remember this, but this little kid didn’t even know about this so I was able to educate her.

Is there anything you don’t get a chance to talk about or get out that you would really love to?

I don’t know. I never thought about it. There’s a question I never had. I don’t really care what people ask me. You know, I mean, it doesn’t matter to me. Sometimes people ask me things I don’t know the answers to. Like, I was in Toronto. I try to read all the newspapers before I go because I don’t know the names of the politicians there, you know. When I was in Australia, I really didn’t know. I had to ask people who’s the prime minister and who’s the — because sometimes they do ask you questions about their local politics. I wouldn’t know that. I prefer to know the answer. But I don’t feel it’s a stain on my reputation that I don’t know the politicians in Melbourne.

In other interviews, with you, I heard you mention that you’d sometimes go to gay bars or spaces, but never lesbian bars, and  I was curious if you ever try to go to lesbian bars and if you like or dislike them?

You mean when I was young? You can’t mean now. When I was young, it was another world. It’s different for everyone from the time they’re 20 to the time they’re 67 obviously. In this particular instance it’s because being gay was really the same from like the 15th century until like 20 minutes ago. So I didn’t. Also New York was a very particular moment then. So the place that I went to all the time when I was young was Max’s Kansas City. Max’s Kansas City was a place that there had never been a place like that before or since.

So it was literally a moment in time, but of course, like all young people, I mistook this for New York. When you go to a place for the first time, and I lived in New York, this is New York to me, OK? I don’t remember before because I wasn’t there before but it never happened again. So, it was very easy to pick girls up at Max’s Kansas City even though it was not a gay bar, you know? It was, so I did go in my lifetime probably I would say, I don’t know exactly, I would say tops six times in my life did I ever go to lesbian bars. I didn’t like them. They were — first of all, all the gay bars in New York, the word gay when I was young meant lesbians and gay men — now it’s a separate thing. They were all run by the mafia. Every single gay bar was run by the mafia. So they were horrible in the sense that they were incredibly expensive compared to other places, they were rough, I know some people liked them, I did not like them. I didn’t like the atmosphere, I didn’t like the feeling of being ripped off. It was so extreme to me. I just hated it. I hated that atmosphere.

Mostly, though, I just didn’t have to go. I mean, people went to gay bars to pick people up. I didn’t have to. So I hardly ever did. Now, gay bars — you would think of, I guess, men’s gay bars. There were more of them, of course. I might have gone to them a little more frequently but not really because maybe I would go with a friend, a guy who was a friend.

I don’t think I spent a lot of time at gay bars, either gay men or gay women bars. But there was a whole world, you know, where it didn’t matter. And that was the only world that I would show anywhere in the country.

What do you feel about when people of all gender and sexualities call you a sex symbol? How do you feel about that?

People call me a sex symbol now?

Yeah.

I was unaware of it but of course, it’s flattering.

You’ve never heard that before? 

No. I mean now? You know, I’m not on the internet. This must be on the internet. So, who would not like that? The kind of people who say they don’t like that, they’re usually like young movie stars and they want to be taken seriously. I have no trouble being taken seriously. I’m happy to be a sex symbol.

I was curious about what your relationship is like with Susan Sontag. I was reading something where you were defending her for not being really fully open about her sexual identity while she was alive.

That must be the only thing I ever defended Susan about. Susan was older than me, but as I just said, it didn’t make any difference for how it felt to be gay in the world, no matter where you were from. No one was born in Max’s Kansas City, so people came from other places, right? I had even sympathy for — I’m not going to say his name, but there is a Republican senator who strikes me as gay and I have no sympathy for him, for his politics which are despicable. I have sympathy for him for that, because I’ve been through that and it’s awful, OK? And it doesn’t matter. The world changes — it doesn’t mean you change because inside, how you feel, you don’t change how you feel. Whatever they put in you when you’re little, it stays in you. You know? I hear myself saying stuff my mother said that used to drive me crazy. I mean, I’m not talking about anything very profound.

So I have sympathy for Susan for that, absolutely. It was really hard, period, just to be a woman in those circles. Really hard. And by the way, women who were straight were accused of being gay because it was an accusation and that was simply because they were too smart to be women. What kind of woman would be so smart? She must be a lesbian. It was very difficult. And everyone around my age, older mostly, the people are dead who are older than me, or even people who are younger. There are people now who are really young, 20 years old, and they have trouble with it. I mean, it is a zillion times better than it was. Nothing has improved so much. Nothing. And it’s like literally the difference between chattel slavery and you know, being black now. I’m not comparing being black to being gay. I’ve always been very offended by that comparison because they are not alike. But I had to have sympathy for people like that. I think for Susan in regards to that, [I have] a lot of sympathy for her not because it was Susan, who was a particularly unsympathetic character I might say. I have sympathy for people in general. I always argue with people about this. Always. I think that the thing that I always wanted most in my life is just freedom and that also means freedom of not hearing what to do from either side.

Interview magazine has gone through such an interesting trajectory. Do you have any thoughts about what’s happened with it?

No. I haven’t seen it for hundreds of years. I believe it went out of business, but maybe it was resurrected. You know, I think one thing that people don’t realize is I left Interview in 1981. So I mean, the Interview that most people know at all I have nothing to do with.

No nostalgia? Are you nostalgic in general?

I’m not. I mean, I’m nostalgic in a personal way. You know, I have a friend that we’ve been friends since we’re 4 years old. This is to me a really unusual thing because we grew up on the same street, OK? So we have been friends for 63 years. So when I see her, we talk about our childhood. And I have that kind of nostalgia and that is the kind of nostalgia I think people should have. The nostalgia people have now that has poisoned the culture I think is horrible. I think personal nostalgia is one thing: “Oh, remember that restaurant that used to be here?” Everyone does that. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But I’m telling you that I am on the street all the time. I’m on the subway all the time and I never leave my apartment without having at least one, sometimes 10 kids coming up to me and saying things like “Oh, I wish I lived in New York in the ’70s.” Now I think that is awful. I think it’s awful to be that age and be looking backward. When I was that age, I didn’t think “If only I lived in New York in the ’40s.” I never thought that. People who are young, they’re supposed to do new things. That’s their job.

That’s a thing you do when you’re old. I think that it is, and it’s mostly pretty lighthearted. I would get generally, “I’d wished I’d been to Max’s,” “I wish I knew this person or that person.” “I wish New York was more like that,” and that is something, of course, I wish myself. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out was this really better or was it better because I was 20. Was New York more fun in 1971 than it is now or is it just more fun to be 21? It is more fun to be 21, so if you’re 21 and you don’t know how to have fun, I have bad news for you. It’s not going to get any more fun. You know? “If you were young now, would you do this?” I found this to be a ridiculous expression, by the way, because if I was young now, I’d be a different person.

So I think that that kind of nostalgia for a way of life or what people perceived it as a certain kind of bohemianism which certainly doesn’t exist anymore, that is true. It’s not a great thing for the culture but a really, really dangerous thing for society is this kind of nostalgia that Trump retails because this is nostalgia for things that were despicable. Despicable. I mean, truthfully despicable. “Didn’t it used to be better?” Didn’t it used to be better to be a straight, white, gentile man? Yes it did. I have news for you guys — it’s not bad enough for you yet. And that’s what that Trump thing is. Giuliani did the same thing. When Giuliani ran for mayor the first time, you know, people didn’t know who he was. He was a prosecutor but he was running these TV ads, I don’t remember what year this is but I’m sure you can look it up on your modern devices, he started running these ads on TV and I kept saying to people, do you see these ads for Giuliani? Do you understand what he’s saying? He’s saying vote for me and it’ll be 1952 again, OK? And he’s the thing: who was 1952 really good for? OK? So let’s look at that. And those people who want it to be 1952 again are the people that I want most life to be really bad for.

I would love to know if you think there are any misconceptions about you?

Um. I don’t know, like what?

Something that you find is frequently either written about you or said about you that you think is an erroneous take on Fran Lebowitz.

People think I’m very confrontational, which I am not at all. You know, people think that I have a lot of like public arguments with people or fights or that I’m aggressive, which I’m not. I mean, I am not confrontational. I hate to fight with people. I will not do it in public. In other words, I always turn down any type of engagement where they find someone who is the opposite of me and want me to fight with them. I won’t do that.

And so that is a pretty big misconception about me. I am never like that, even with people that I really dislike. I don’t like to do that. I always say I would rather talk behind people’s backs. That way, they hear it more than once. But I’m not like that at all. And the culture of that, that we have now of people fighting into each other on television or fighting with each other in public forums is something I won’t do and I think it is incredibly non-productive. You’re never going to change somebody’s mind. I think people also have the idea that I’m trying to change people’s minds. That is of course my desire, but long ago I gave up the idea it would happen. So very often, people would say “You’re a bad role model because you smoke cigarettes.” People have been telling me this my whole life. “You shouldn’t smoke cigarettes” when you could still smoke cigarettes on television for instance, you used to be able to like on the Letterman show or something. Lots of people–the women who was the editor of Vogue at the time — Grace Mirabella — would tell me, “You have to stop smoking on television. You’re a terrible role model.” And I said “Grace, no one does what I say. I try to get people to do what I tell them, no one ever does it. I’m the opposite of a role model.”

UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) presents author, journalist and social observer Fran Lebowitz in conversation with KCRW’s Matt Holzman before she goes one-on-one with the audience on Sunday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. at The Theatre at Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles. Tickets for $29.50–$59.50 are available now at cap.ucla.edu and theatre.acehotel.com, 310-825-2101 and at The Theatre at Ace Hotel box office.

Images via Getty

It Turns Out Lesbians Don’t Actually U-Haul Much Quicker Than Anyone Else

There’s an old joke credited to Lea DeLaria that has since become a cliche in LGBTQ circles:

“What does a lesbian bring to a second date?”

“A U-Haul!”

Even Issa Rae knows the joke — on a recent episode of Insecure, she found out her gay brother just moved in with his new boyfriend. “Y’all some lesbians!” she says.

I laughed — and most lesbians would say it’s funny because it’s true. The long-held stereotype has been that female/female couples move quickly, cohabitating early in a new relationship, whether it’s after a handful of dates or just a couple of months. But while there are surely those who prove the theory, new research finds that queer women actually don’t U-Haul any faster than their gay male or heterosexual counterparts. 

“The long-running assumption has been that men and women are presumed to have different desires and preferences in regard to commitment and relationships, and as a result, we might expect men and women in same-sex relationships to reflect these differences,” says Taylor Orth, a Sociology Ph.D. Candidate at Stanford University. “Qualitative research on different-sex relationships in the United States has demonstrated that male partners tend to play a dominant role in initiating whether couples become sexually or romantically involved, while female partners are typically the ones to first suggest that the couple move in together or raise the issue of marriage.”

In “Commitment Timing in Same-Sex and Different Sex Relationships,” Orth and co-author Michael Rosenfeld utilized Rosenfeld’s 2009-2015 study called How Couples Meet and Stay Together to look at the progression of courtship, relationship formation, and cohabitation, specifically whether the rates of romantic relationship initiation and commitment are higher based on gender and sexuality.

“In the past, researchers have spent a significant amount of time focusing on commitment timing in different-sex relationships. Until recently, we’ve lacked large-scale, representative, and longitudinal data on same-sex couples,” Orth tells INTO. “[This is] the first dataset that allows us the opportunity to do so. “

Orth and Rosenfeld found that the long-running assumption that female same-sex couples move quicker than others is false, at least when it came to the 471 same-sex couples (221 FF couples and 235 MM couples) out of 3,009 couples total surveyed over the six-year study period.  

Most of the couples surveyed were made up of two white partners — 77 percent of FF and 79 percent of both MF and MM pairings. Only 14 percent of FF couples had one white partner, and 8 percent were both non-white. In MF couples, 10 percent had one non-white partner, and 11 percent were both non-white. For MM, the numbers were slightly different — 15 percent of them had one white partner, six percent with both partners non-white.

“In the couples we tracked, female same-sex couples either moved in together or married after an average of roughly 1.3 years, relative to different-sex couples who took roughly two years and male same-sex couples who took roughly 1.5 years,” Orth says.

That isn’t much of a difference — especially considering some other variables.

“When interpreting these raw differences, it’s important to consider and control for other demographic differences between couple types,” Orth says. “Once taking into account the fact that same-sex couples tend to meet and begin relationships at older ages, the gap in long-term commitment timing virtually disappears.”

Because heteronormative culture allows for straight men and women to start earlier courtships (even from childhood), meeting through family, church, or school, while same-sex couples tend to meet and establish long-term relationships at an older age, the latter therefore progress their relationship more quickly than a straight couple who met before they turned 18. The average age for female/female couples to meet is 33.9 with a relationship beginning at an average of 35.2, meaning the number of years between meeting and relationship formation is just over a year (1.35). Male/male couples first meet at an average age of 37.2 and begin a relationship at 37.7. So while gay men move in at a slightly slower pace than queer women, they tend to get into relationships quicker. (Heterosexual couples, by comparison, meet by 25.8 and begin a relationship at 27.4.)

Obviously, with marriage not available to American same-sex couples until 2015, FF and MM pairings didn’t always have an option to commit in the traditional way. The study considers all forms of unions — civil, domestic partnership, and cohabitation — as “increased commitment” and the transition that a couple makes toward intended longevity. Couples are defined by two individuals “openly acknowledging that their relationship is romantic and sexual nature and consider themselves to be in a relationship.” 

Gender roles also play a factor. When considering that courtship has long been established as requiring a male pursuer and heavily indoctrination by the woman’s parents with marriage being the ultimate goal, the idea that two women move faster to cohabitate has to do with stereotypes not of lesbians, but women in general.

“More specifically the view that women tend to be more commitment-oriented than men,” Orth says. “The fact that we find little differences between couple types doesn’t necessarily dispel this, but leads us to question the extent to which commitment-orientation is an individual attribute of women rather than a result of their social positioning and historical lack of bargaining power relative to their male partners.”

She notes that a 2013 Pew Research Center study backs this idea — researchers there found that unmarried gay male and lesbian individuals express a similar desire to someday marry (56 percent vs. 58 percent).

Based on Orth’s findings, MM couples have shorter periods of acquaintance before entering into a relationship, meaning they actually move faster to get into a partnership. And FF couples have the fastest rate of transition from couplehood to cohabitation — just not significantly more than MM or MF couples. So why does this U-Haul stereotype pervade?

“There is a long history of pathologizing both female desire as well as same-sex relationships. This perspective is still evident in some of the terminology applied to women in same-sex relationships. The U-Haul myth is one instance of this,” Orth says.

Orth says other versions of this pathologizing are the ideas of Lesbian Fusion (“which has been used to refer to the presumed extreme emotional yet non-sexual closeness of lesbian relationships”) and Lesbian Bed Death (when long-term cohabitation “results in low sexual desire and infrequent sexual activity”). As Orth writes in the study: “Despite the fact that same-sex couples face different interactional opportunities and constraints, their patterns of relationship progression appear quite similar to different-sex couples, suggesting that gender and sexuality are perhaps less important to relationship transitions than has been previously suggested.”

So, truthfully, the idea of lesbians U-Hauling is based on misogyny — internal or otherwise.

“Women who stray too far from the baseline of what is perceived to be male desire can at times be viewed as deficient,” Orth says, “and have historically been seen as in need of clinical attention to correct for such unnatural deviations.”

Orth says she went into this project with an open mind and a familiarity with the notion of U-hauling, but wanted to study it scientifically.

“Given how widespread the U-Haul stereotype is, as well as other stereotypes about same-sex couples,” she says, “I’ve been somewhat surprised by how small such differences are when you actually start analyzing patterns of data.”

Image via Getty

Amelio Robles Ávila, Trans Legend of the Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution was a seemingly endless battle that lasted roughly 10 years in the early 1900s. After decades of economic struggle, while the upper class flourished under the Porfirio Díaz presidency, lower and middle-class citizens organized to overthrow the corrupt regime.

It was an all-hands-on-deck situation, and while the battlefield was strictly viewed as a man’s place, the time came when they had no choice but to accept women’s assistance. While soldaderas, or female soldiers, were “permitted” to tend to the wounded and provide comfort and nourishment, some knew they’d be of better use elsewhere and they fought right alongside the men, mostly under male identities.

Some achieved notable ranking and were held in high regard. However, the Mexican army, operating at peak machismo, did not officially recognize women’s titles. After the war was over, their part in it was dissolved along with whatever rank they held during the fight, and they were expected to return to subservient roles. Some did. Others, like Amelio Robles Ávilalived the rest of their lives under the male identities they had adopted during the war.

Ávila was born November 3rd, 1889 to a well-off family, and, as was the custom for wealthy young ladies of the time, he was sent to an all-girls Catholic school, where he was taught to sew, and cook, and clean a man’s clothes. Ávila was understandably not amused by these customs, and he was quickly labeled stubborn and defiant, as he demonstrated the opposite of the behavior that was expected of him.

At the age of 22, just before he was to be married off, Ávila joined the revolution. While there is no official record of just how this came to be, it’s believed he had been handed off by his mother to a soldier for protection, and then somehow worked his way into battle. He chopped his hair off and had his name legally changed to Amelio Robles Ávila, the name by which he would be known henceforth.

Ávila led and won multiple battles throughout his military career, in addition to fighting right alongside historical figures like Emiliano Zapata, who considered Ávila a great man and a valued soldier. Ávila thrived in this environment and reached the admirable rank of Colonel, a title which he rightfully retained the rest of his life.

Ávila’s life off the battlefield was the same as any other traditional Mexican man, and this was itself a radical act considering Amelio’s upbringing. However, despite strictly traditional and religious views, he was accepted by both family and community. Though he was known to have had many romantic affairs, Ávila would eventually meet and marry Angela Torres, with whom he would later adopt a daughter they would name Regula Robles Torres.

In 1970, the Mexican Secretary of National Defense officially recognized and listed Amelio Robles specifically as a veterano (male veteran) and not veterana (female veteran) of the Mexican Revolution, hence making Amelio the first trans soldier in Mexican military history.

Today, legal documents tracing his life refer to him as Amelio, and an extension of his legacy as an exceptional soldier, and hero of the revolution, there is a museum in Xochipala, Guerrero named after him, as well as a special award given annually at the Festival of Gender & Sexual Diversity in Morelos.

While Amelio’s life can partially be attributed to his wealth, his tenacity must not be downplayed. Wealthy or not, to lead battle after battle, and earn the respect of small-town traditional Mexican men of the revolution era must have required some serious strength, and according to the legend of the great Amelio Robles Ávila, he had plenty of it.

There are many stories that tell of Ávila’s personality and no-nonsense attitude, but one that resonates the most is of the poor unsuspecting fools who dared refer to Amelio with a female pronoun, and who were quickly faced with the business-end of Amelio’s pistol as he demanded an immediate apology and correction; few made the mistake twice.

It’s rumored that before he died in 1984, Amelio requested to be dressed in women’s clothing, intending to leave this world the way he entered it, but there is no real documented proof of the claim, and it seems unlikely, considering how hard he fought to be recognized as a man.

Those who knew him knew him as Coronel or Don Amelio; the crazy-tough man who earned his reputation. That is his legacy, and that is how he will be remembered.

Images via Enciclopediagro.org,  La Cultura Revolucionaria en los revolucinaria En Los Cuerpos, and Actitudfem.com