Watch This Top HIV Researcher Break Down How Medical Racism and Bias Hurt Black Gay Men

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Do white supremacy and colonialism influence how well a Black person can live with HIV? The answer is yes, according to David Malebranche, a top HIV doctor, researcher and professor who tackled racism and HIV treatment in an emotional and applause-provoking speech at the 2018 International AIDS Conference.

As a member of the medical community, and someone living with HIV since 2007, Malebranche spoke frankly with doctors in the room about how their own behaviors might be hurting health outcomes for black gay and bi men in America.

“Most research on black [gay and bi men] ponders what’s wrong with the vulnerable community first and looks at the medical community later,” he said. “Blaming the victim never gets us far in public health, but that’s exactly what we seem to be doing.”

The focus of Malebranche’s talk, aside from racism and bias, was the HIV treatment cascade. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically a visual of what percentage of a population has successfully been diagnosed, referred to a doctor, made it onto HIV medication and then become virally suppressed. Thirty-four percent of gay and bi white men in America are currently undetectable, meaning they’re healthier and can’t transmit the virus. But for their black counterparts, the number is at 16 percent.

Malebranche pointed out that there are several studies that attempt to ask why marginalized patients are unable to become virally suppressed. But, all these studies have the same fault: they only ask what patients are doing wrong and often fail to examine how racism and implicit bias might deter queer men of color from seeking them out.

Rather than focus on individual-level problems, Malebranche suggested alternate inquiries.

“What about the scourge of white supremacy and colonialism that has been a global epidemic for centuries? What about anti blackness? Does the trauma of racism, implicit bias and associated microaggression influence how black [gay and bi men] navigate the treatment cascade?” he asked. “Do the power dynamics of white supremacy get in the way of optimal patient care?”

While there aren’t many studies that look exactly at what Malebranche described, he pointed to a few that unearth the ways racism impede facilities from delivering the best care. There are studies that prove that HIV stigma exists among workers in medical clinics, that some gay and bi men cite sexual stigma and discrimination as deterrents to going to the doctor, that doctors often fail to engender trust in patients of color and even a study proving that racial differences in how doctors and patients discuss adherence can affect health outcomes.

Malebranche called on future studies to examine how clinics lose patients and not why patients might have trouble being retained. Malebranche added that, too often, black patients are called “hard to reach,” untrusting of doctors or “uneducated,” which he said “[absolves] medical systems from holding themselves accountable for not just access but the quality of health services we provide.”

Malebranche drew an analogy to a restaurant inquiring why customers might not return for a second meal by studying and blaming customers’ palates rather than improving the food and service.

“Maybe as medical and research communities, we’re afraid to conduct assessments,” he said. “Maybe we’re scared of what we’re going to see when we look into the mirror.”

He added, throwing a little shade and spilling a little tea, “Maybe it’s easier to just congratulate ourselves on our efforts while we sip expensive wine in hotels at international conferences. Maybe we are so invested in our savior complexes, that we refuse to consider the power differential between medical systems and vulnerable communities may be partly responsible for why viral suppression rates are so low right now.”

Several times throughout his talk, Malebranche discussed what it means to be “vulnerable,” which in the public health world applies to populations who are often put at risk for HIV by societal drivers like racism and poverty. That includes, Malebranche listed, black and brown queer men, other sexual minorities, cis and trans women, those living in poverty, the homeless and incarcerated people.

“Often times vulnerability equals blackness,” Malebranche said of the US HIV epidemic, which disproportionately affects Black Americans. Malebranche also pointed out that gay black and bi men comprise 1/3 of new HIV infections in the US though they only account for about 0.5% of the population. Currently, most estimates show that 1 in 2 black gay and bi men will contract HIV in their lifetime.

“The global community frequently assumes that because we spearheaded PEPFAR, the United States is doing an admirable job of handling our domestic HIV epidemic,” Malebranche said. “I can assure that you we have much work to do at home.”

Part of what makes people vulnerable is criminalization and stigmatization of their sexuality, Malebranche added.

“People will choose to live in a trance-like denial of HIV, whether positive or negative, when so many of the social messages around them about HIV are negative or judgemental,” he said. Malebranche drew parallels between the high rates of HIV infection in the US South and the high number of HIV criminalization laws and convictions in those states. He also mentioned that many states in the South still have anti-sodomy laws on the books. In other countries that criminalized same-sex behavior, he said, the rate of infection is twice as high as countries where there are no laws criminalizing queer sex.

“Imagine a world where you are being criminalized because of who you naturally love,” Malebranche said. “Imagine your country saying it’s a crime for you to naturally love who you love.”

Malebranche ended his talk with several examples of how medical facilities and public health professionals can reach black gay and bisexual men without stigmatizing them. He said not to treat Black men as “hard to reach just because you don’t know how to reach us.”

He said:

“It means acknowledging that communities may know more about saving themselves than you do. It means that if you are truly committed to eradicating HIV stigma, you will stop using the phrase ‘HIV-infected’ when describing human beings in your speeches, presentations, abstracts and journal articles. Try embracing terms like ‘living with HIV’ and ‘HIV positive’ when referring to your research subjects. It means changing the stigmatizing phrase ‘retained in care’ to ‘engaged in care.’ ‘Retained’ implies possession, as if you are retaining prisoners in custody. The treatment cascade is not a correctional facility.”

To illustrate his point, Malebranche invoked an “old Wakandan proverb” courtesy of Black Panther.

“Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.”

Malebranche ended, tearfully, by showing love to all the black same gender-loving men who have influenced him and calling for black men to celebrate intimacy with each other.

“We are much more than a hard to reach population, walking risk factors for HIV or vectors of disease transmission,” he said. “We are proud black men.”

“Let’s love on ourselves and each other.”

Queer Abby: Am I Bi Or Pansexual?

Dear Queer Abby, 

I’m just starting to come to terms with my sexuality. At first, I thought I was bi; now I’m starting to think I’m pansexual, but I don’t know how to tell. Am I really open to everyone? 

Plus I wish my family knew. I just don’t know how they’ll take it. People say they’ll love you no matter what until that “what” happens. Then they change. I want to come out and taste rainbows in peace, but those surrounding me won’t let me. 

I’d appreciate a little wisdom.

With queer love, 

Jumbled in Judsonia

Dear Jumbled, 

Congratulations on your exciting sexual orientation!

First thing’s first: Are you pan?

I am a dog person. As such, I am going to give you a dog metaphor that I like to bark out when people are questioning their sexuality or considering a breakup. 

A lot of times, when you have a dog who has aged or become sick, one starts to consider euthanasia. But it’s a hard, scary question whether it is the right time to say goodbye to your best friend or not. 

What I tell my friends is this: You do not call the veterinarian with questions about euthanasia on a healthy puppy. If the thought has even crossed your mind, it probably means you are close to the actual time, and there is your answer. 

I don’t mean to equate your sexuality with dog death (heaven forbid), but this is my standard advice also for breakups: You don’t think about whether or not to break up when you are in a healthy, happy relationship. The same will apply here. 

Most happily straight-as-an-arrow people do not write into an advice column wondering if they are pansexual. 

If you think you’re pansexual, you’re probably pansexual. If you get crushes on all sorts of people, across the wide wide world of gender/non-gender, then it is very likely. Straight people historically do not have to “test it” or have sex the first time to decide they are straight, so let’s give your own intrinsic knowing the same respect. 

If it makes you feel better to embrace the all-encompassing term “queer” as you explore this new terrain, that also seems like an appropriate term. 

And of course, just because you are open to every type of person doesn’t mean you are open to every single person within that type. If you have a rotten or unsatisfying experience with one type of person on the gender spectrum, perhaps the experience was specific to them and how often they brush their teeth, not indicative of how you’ll react/respond to everyone in that gender type. 

On to the idea of coming out. 

Do you have to come out to your family? If you’re in a safe space, and if coming out would help you feel more honest in your life, certainly. 

I would not present the questioning part, because I wouldn’t want to give them any hope that one day you will solve the question by leaping into heteronormativity, but that’s based on my experience coming out to a Catholic Kansas mother. Perhaps you have a supportive family who would support you on your explorations. 

I would recommend keeping it as simple as possible (because already it’s possible you are blowing their minds), so if you need to say you are pan until further notice, or queer, that seems to serve the purpose of honesty in this situation. 

Just know that, no matter what their initial reaction, the fullest part of you is still lovable. 

Even if you’re not meeting your parents’ expectations, or it takes them a second to come around.

Ultimately, they will or they won’t, and it’s nothing personal. It has no correlation to your worth or value as a human being.

Before coming out, please be sure you have a support system around you. 

Your family can act however they’re gonna act, but you deserve to be supported and feel like you have a community and some light-hearted fun.  

You deserve to take up space as a pansexual person on the planet and there are a lot of people who are available to value you for your true, whole self. 

Got a question for Queer Abby? Write to [email protected]. All questioners will remain anonymous! 

Learning How to Ho and Date and Failing at Both

Today is a joyous day for all of us who love Houston, Beyoncé and good writing: Michael Arceneaux’s debut book “I Can’t Date Jesus” is finally out, and we have an exclusive sneak peek exclusively just for you.

Arceneaux, who also writes a weekly column here at INTO called Dearly Beloved, shares a chapter entitled “Learning How to Ho and Date and Failing at Both” that takes us through some of his most, um, hoeish moments as he navigates the world trying to find love.

And it will resonate with the hoe that resides in all of us.

His debut book is now available. Buy it. Immediately after reading this. Trust us.

~~~

We met outside the Abbey. It was 2:00 a.m., so Los Angeles had effectively shut down because the city’s nightlife was useless without alcohol unless you had weed and access to an after-hours spot worth your time.

That night I was in possession of neither, so it was time to drive my ass to Jack in the Box, devour a Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger value meal with curly fries and a Coke (each jumbo sized), shower, and take my ass to sleep.

As I was walking out, I locked eyes with a guy whom, a few hours prior, I had seen while in the midst of complaining to my friends for the umpteenth time that I missed the gay bars in the South because techno music made me question the existence of God. He was incredibly attractive. If I were an A&R exec, I would sell him as a man who had the appearance of a heartthrob R&B singer but lacked the talent to be one: we could sell him to audiences as a semi competent rapper who could get girls and gays to monetarily support his musical career for a few years.

A light-skinned version of Chingy, if you will.

His name was An’toine. (I’m not for sure why the name needed to be separated with that apostrophe, but I don’t want to disrespect the man’s mama, so I’ll leave it alone.) He went by that name, his middle name, and a hyphenated last name that consisted of both his parents’ last names. I applaud the progressiveness there, but one of his parents had a last name as long as the space between New York and Los Angeles. I bet he took all day to sign shit.

He was waiting outside with his friends when we made eye contact for a second time, but as always, it was up to me to do the approaching. So I did, and although he was warm to me, you got the sense that he could be cold to those he didn’t want in his periphery. My concerns were heightened once we started to communicate via text. There was a strong whiff of jackass emanating from his messages. The same could be said of the clear signs of stupid. I am no grammar nazi.

I don’t anticipate anyone writing in complete sentences. I accept people using “u” for “you” or “ur” for “your,” and whatever instances of shorthand folks like to use sans the following: “HBU,” “WYD,” and “HBD.” With him, it wasn’t so much how he typed but what he said, or was trying to say. You could tell he was more into the superficial than the substantive. It was all too apparent he was more invested in optics than anything else. No wonder he would wriT3 lYk3 tHis. God, a simple “How are you?” from me invited a bowl of alphabet soup in my BlackBerry Bold. It was as if his texts were trying to reach through the screen to warn me, “Don’t do this, Arceneaux.” And yet I asked him out anyway. Because he was incredibly attractive, and I wanted some ass.

So I went despite having it on good ground that this probably wouldn’t work the way I thought it would. Where we chose to eat was a bit of a one-sided negotiation. He was adamant about picking the restaurant, and every single one of his options was ultra expensive. I didn’t mind paying for an expensive meal, nor did I object to paying for the company of someone I had invited out. Did I have it like that? Hell no, but you weren’t going to have me looking like I was a cheap-ass. Still, the way he broached the issue was a turnoff.

He discussed it with this sense of entitlement coupled with a bitchiness that I found frustrating. Like, I don’t mind taking you where you want to go, but you’re acting like an escort, and if that’s the case, how much are you? We can get to the point, because, after all, food would get in your way, no?

Having said that, despite getting the sense that he wasn’t the sharpest person in the Southern California region from his texts, most of those texts were flirtatious on both ends, so once again, I brushed the signs away. An’toine ended up picking none of the options he had previously mentioned. Maybe he merely wanted to see if I would be willing to go wherever he wanted. Whatever the case, we ended up at Yard House, some saddity sports bar.

I went with an open mind and hoped for the best. That feeling didn’t last long.

Once we sat in front of each other, the sense I had that he had the capability to be cold was promptly confirmed. He greeted me like I was the uncle who falsely claimed one of his mama’s children to cheat on his taxes. During the get-to-know-each-other portion of the evening, he said, “Wait, you said you’re a writer, right? What do you write about?”

After giving him the topics and some of the outlets I was writing for, he looked me up and down and snarled, “I don’t like to read.” My response should have been, You don’t like to read, but you write lengthy-ass Facebook posts as if you’re Iyanla Vanzant with a learning disability or a keyboard that barely functions because you spilled a liter of Dr. Pepper on it.

Who doesn’t like to read? This beautiful, empty-headed jackass who liked to dispense passionate, grossly uninformed “life tips” on the Mark Zuckerberg-made platform, apparently.

Yes, it was a pretty shitty thing to respond to a writer by saying “I don’t like to read,” but at the same time, I didn’t give that great of a fuck. If you wanted to be stupid, such was your right. What insulted me was what happened a few minutes later. My back was turned to the person when he said it, but An’toine declared, “You look just like that dude at the bar.”

I turned around and looked. It’s impolite to call someone ugly, but it’s equally rude to tell a person that they resemble someone you would call a bugawolf in your head. “I don’t look like him.” “Yeah you do.” “I do not look like him, An’toine.” “C’mon, you’ve got to see it.” “I don’t see shit over there but someone’s child who doesn’t at all look like the one in front of you.”

But he kept pressing it.

It’s one thing to say you think my profession is a waste of time because the consumption of words is too taxing an ordeal for you and your unimaginative mind, but I’ll be damned if you say I mirror a man who appears to be well over a decade older, at least twenty pounds smaller, and looks like the light inside of him got stomped out by three cases of bourbon consumed five years prior. You got me fucked up.

In just under an hour, I had learned An’toine was blind and dumb. Thankfully, he spared me from discovering that he might also be slightly deaf, because he said he had somewhere to be in the morning. He meant his job, but I personally wished that he would drive into the fourth circle of hell. We didn’t hug good-bye, and that was perfectly fine.

While in the parking lot, I started to entertain the thought of finding a hypnotist to fulfill my mom’s desires for me to like vagina, marry one, and make grandchildren with it in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, because that motherfucker annoyed the everlasting shit out of me.

By the time I got inside of my car, I called my friend Kim in Houston. I asked her if it would be okay to run him over. She told me no. “I know violence is wrong, and I already look like Chris Brown’s second cousin to some people, but doesn’t he deserve to be hit?” “Yes, but you can’t do that. I don’t got no bail money.”

Considering how often God behaved like a troll, it was no surprise that I ran into An’toine repeatedly for a few months, and then finally he fizzled away. Two years later, I got a message from him on Facebook Messenger.

It was 6:00 a.m. in New York, where I now lived, which meant it was the middle of the night for him back in LA. “HUB?” The fuck is that? Oh, you want to know how I’ve been? This is why you need to join a book club, damn fool. After that, he randomly inserted that he was horny. It was the fringes of the day, so I was too.

We took the conversation back to text after he sent a picture revealing just how horny he was. I responded by saying I wish I had gotten a chance to get at that when I was in LA. Me 2 but u was trippin. By my love of literacy? Supposedly, I was too eager and rushing him to get serious. Serious how? I had no idea what he was talking about and could bet he was confusing me with some other sucker whose time he had also wasted.

After masturbating to his videos and pictures, I was finished and told him that if he was ever in New York, he could hit me up and we could finally make something happen. He said “cool” while casually mentioning that I could also fly him to New York. Hardy har, bitch.

My mistake was that I should have never bothered trying to get to know him on any deeper level. That wasn’t how you were supposed to ho. You made your intentions clear and acted accordingly. I knew this fool was a fool only good for fornication, and I gave far too much energy to someone I only could deal with in scenarios centered on ejaculation. He was a terrible person.

Having said that, I know terrible people can be tempting, and despite his being an insulting, rude simpleton who needs to have his eyes examined, I would still fuck. Obviously, it would be a hate fuck.

And for my own comfort, I would bring a book and pull a condom out of it.

~~~

From I CAN’T DATE JESUS: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux. Copyright © 2018 by MichaelArceneaux. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Photo Credit: Steven Duarte

Talking Queer Sex With the Gloriously NSFW Juno Roche

It’s 5:30pm on a rainy Tuesday evening. The familiar Skype dial tone buzzes through my ears as a pause takes place; within just a few seconds, the smiling face of author Juno Roche flickers across my laptop screen. A few years ago, Roche abandoned a life in London to move to a remote Spanish mountainside with nothing but her dogs, some cherry-picked possessions and a desire to dedicate herself to writing with no distractions. She’s written before of her newfound happiness, but today she’s particularly ecstatic: she recently inked a hard-earned new book deal.

“The working title is Cock and Ball(s)”, Roche says with a mischievous glint in her eye. It’s a controversial title – a play on an English slang term for male genitalia – but one that she explains with relish.

“It’s a play on the notion that genitals are a load of old crap, but also a play on the fact that every trans woman still has their cock and balls – but they’ve been refashioned, turned upside down and made into something beautiful. I feel really good about it; I can be as rude as I like with this one!”

The idea might sound incendiary – numerous journalists have been rightly rebuffed for asking intrusive questions about trans bodies – but Roche reclaims the narrative, consistently putting control in the hands of trans and non-binary people. Over the last few years, she’s penned a series of beautiful, lyrical odes to her own ‘neo-pussy‘ and explored her experiences with gender confirmation surgery. It’s partially a reclamation – a way of taking back control from prying, potentially exploitative eyes – but it’s also a way to open up new conversations around sexual pleasure, and how it differs for anyone whose body or gender expression deviates from the ‘norm’.

Earlier this year, these musings drove Roche to write her first book, Queer Sex. It was a title she had to fight for, but her struggles paid off; the illuminating result is a book comprised of interviews with various trans and non-binary people from a series of backgrounds. The root of a single idea blossomed into a comprehensive exploration of sex lives normally left untold. Partly in celebration of the book – but mainly in celebration of Roche’s refreshingly radical take on all things pleasure-related – we reached out to gauge her thoughts on trans representation in porn, cynicism and the self-proclaimed “trans revolution” Roche is so keen to galvanize. Naturally, the results were gloriously NSFW.

 

Let’s start by talking about your book, Queer Sex – tell me a little about the reaction to that, and whether or not it surprised you.

Juno: The reaction has been phenomenal and, in a way, not what I expected at all. We didn’t expect it to sell because people said it was too niche, and also as a writer, you never really know that you can write! You get the nice tweets and the online praise, but for people to say they loved it from start to finish blew my mind, especially because I’m working class, I’m trans, middle-aged, HIV+ – so to have bright, intelligent people telling me they love the book is something I never imagined. It’s even charted, and I got another book deal – I’m having a fucking blast!

 

What I love is that you take back the narrative. Discussions of gender confirmation surgery have become so stigmatized, but you speak so beautifully about your own experiences; did you approach that topic with trepidation, or did it feel natural?

Juno: I think I rejected the accepted narrative as soon as I had surgery, because that narrative is placed within a misogynistic framework. It was like someone stamped me and told me that now I had surgery, I was fine – that my dysphoria would disappear. But I still had my cock and balls! They were still there, just reconfigured and refashioned into something beautiful. I don’t have a vagina, I have something else. When I first started to say that it was difficult, and I’m sure there’s an awful lot of people that would like me to be quiet, because the prevailing narrative is that trans people are saved by the world, by cis people. There’s a notion now that people should be allies, and I get that, but ask yourself: how many of you would really fuck us, or let us fuck you? That’s what we need to be asking.

 

Trans people are also so often discussed within a binary framework, which seems to just make things more difficult.

Juno: Completely, things are harder if you’re trans and you reject that narrative. It’s strange, because I walk down the street and I ‘pass’, and that’s a privilege, but at the same time I try and give that away. You could look at me and call me privileged, and I would weather that; I would wear that. But, at the same time, I try to give it away by telling people on Tinder that I don’t have a vagina – I have my refashioned cock and balls. Are you down with that? Obviously they’re not! They either want a chick with a dick or someone that will play the cis game. If anything, I feel like my privilege comes with my age – it’s up to the older generation to take the risks we wouldn’t want younger trans people to have to take. We have a responsibility to create safety, and we can only achieve that through honesty.

 

The one thing that seems obvious is that the trans community is having really complex conversations, but do you think a cis audience is really willing to talk about queer sex, and trans sexuality?

Juno: Well, I live in the middle of Spain, and I have elderly neighbors that ask about my book. We’ll have these conversations, and I’ll ask: well, since you asked me, how do you view your vagina, you know? My friend had private gender confirmation surgery in Bangkok, and she was given three options. Did she want appearance, sensitivity, or depth? Obviously in the old days, we were told to we had to ‘pass’, to disappear, so we would have to prioritize appearance for our own safety. But I think, in 2018, we should be prioritizing pleasure, because what’s important to me is that trans people can have big, squirty orgasms. I’m not saying that surgery means you can’t have that, but I am saying that surgery should be more creative. Give us the choice to ‘look trans’ and accept that we really want to able to masturbate, enjoy it and cum. That’s important. That’s my next book!

Let’s talk about porn for a second – how do you feel about the argument that porn fetishizes trans people?

Juno: Actually, when I started to write about queer sex I was told I was adding to that problem. Bitch Media did a really great interview, and the writer [Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore] said that I was asking people really intrusive questions which kind of opened us up sexually again. But I think it’s on our terms now, and a lot of trans porn is on our terms too. There’s the old notion of the ‘shemale’ or the ‘ladyboy’, but those representations have nothing to do with what trans porn is now. When I watch it, I enjoy it. I don’t just see a trans woman walking in, getting her dick out and fucking somebody rotten, because that was always the narrative. Now, I see empowerment in trans bodies; they let me know that I can move around; I can be graceful; I can cum with this body.

 

So the most important thing is representation across the board – it’s about making sure that trans people are represented every step of the way for you?

Juno: Well, that’s the thing. If there were more trans editors I feel like I’d be able to write more in-depth stuff and go beyond just trans dating, or being trans and middle-age. I think I’d commission some really cracking stuff. Really, I feel like we don’t change structures unless we get into them, no matter how much we rally against them. I don’t want trans people to be constantly fighting for space. Fuck it. Most trans people I know have space already, they just need to be given the tools to decorate the room.

 

For sure – there’s been a lot of talk about trans visibility, but it can still feel extremely narrow.

Juno: Well, the whole thing is really silly – there’s so much truism around the ‘trans experience’. All that really means is that you’re saying, “this is my body, and I have one life so I’m going to make it work for me.” I’m HIV+, so I’ve seen far too many people die. For me, I know that I have one life and that I want to spend it feeling comfortable, empowered and like I have some sense of autonomy, because society shames us – it shames those of us who aren’t perfect, and it shames the perfect ones when that perfection slips. But I think it’s possible to push past that, and I think there are incredible writers, artists, even Instagram accounts that are doing that.

 

When we were talking, you said that now is the most exciting time you’ve been alive. That’s interesting to me as a 25-year-old, because I feel like so many young people really romanticize that punk era that you lived through.

Juno: A lot of punk became about consumerism, and fashion. People got caught up in it; even Leigh Bowery went out and was commodified the next morning by fashion kids who queued outside clubs. I think we’ve moved past that now, we’ve realized that our bodies are the real battlefield – not the clothes, not the streets. Until you fucking respect that fact, things won’t change. There’s a lot of bullshit – rainbow flags and pinkwashing in particular can fuck off – but I do think people are starting to see that.

 

But do you feel like people are reluctant to be critical? There’s sometimes a sense that being overly critical means that you’re ungrateful, or you’re cynical.

Juno: Living with HIV for more than 20 years means that I was never liked. I would read headlines that said, ‘ship them off to an island’, or ‘kill them all’, so I don’t care about being liked. I’m not being disruptive for my own sake – nobody realistically runs to fuck me when I talk about my recycled cock and balls! But I feel like it’s all just about creating more space.

 

Do you feel like your history of working as a teacher and engaging in activism helps you create that space with the work you’re doing now?

Juno: Well, I’ve always been pragmatic. As a teacher I gained a reputation, because I was good at teaching the boys that were excluded for being in gangs. They’d come into my classroom, I’d shut the door and tell them they weren’t to fuck about in my class because it was the last chance they would have – the other alternative was prison. I remember taking these students to an art gallery, and one started pulling rose petals from an installation because he was never taught how to be in those spaces, you know what I mean? As a working class kid, I relate to that – I don’t see myself represented in theory or academia, because there are no people in those texts. I just thought it was inaccessible.

 

Do you want to change that? There’s a really wonderful thread of accessibility running through your work that feels vital, especially as queer theory is so complex.

I do want to change that, and I really do want to make trans people feel like they have the power and the resources to take over; I want to empower people to feel like they don’t have to look or behave a certain way to be accepted. I suppose in a way I want to start a kind of trans revolution – and that will have a knock-on effect because it will let everyone know that it’s okay to deviate from that box society tells us to fit into. It’s really fucking narrow, so it’s time to redistribute the power in order to broaden things out – in that sense, I feel like trans people are here to save us all from those expectations.

Ivanka Is Not ‘Complicit’ in Trump’s Attacks on LGBTQ Rights. She’s an Active Participant

The biggest lie about Ivanka Trump just so happens to be the myth she’s most closely associated with.

“Complicit” landed at the very top of Dictionary.com‘s “word of the year” list in 2017 following a Saturday Night Live skit parodying the First Daughter’s silence at the center of the Trump administration. In the style of a fake perfume commercial, SNL claims that the term is synonymous with “the woman who can stop all this but won’t.”

Ivanka certainly hasn’t done much in the first 18 months of her father’s presidency to change the perception that she’s a bystander as America is engulfed by fascism. The self-avowed advocate for women, climate change, and LGBTQ rights failed to speak out after Education Department Betsy DeVos reversed Obama-era policies on campus sexual assault in order to strengthen protections for the accused. When President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement and attempted to ban trans people from serving openly in the military, she couldn’t even muster a tweet of condemnation.

The trouble with labeling Ivanka as someone guilty by association is that her culpability is not indirect at all. “Complicity” suggests that she’s an inactive participant in Trump’s ceaseless dismantling of civil rights — that despite all her intended efforts to do good, she is helpless and facile.

But Ivanka is much, much worse than all that.

Even though the media has deemed her a “moderating influence” in Trump’s White House, the First Daughter has played a calculated role in his presidency from the moment of his inauguration — especially on the issue of LGBTQ equality. The Commander-in-Chief once vowed to be a “friend” to queer and trans people during his 2016 presidential run, and her supposed sway with her father allows him to pretend that was ever the case.

The idea that her role as an unofficial advisor to Trump keeps her father from acting on his worst tendencies dates all the way back to a February 2017 religious freedom order. Just weeks after taking office, the president reportedly flirted with signing a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people in nearly every aspect of public life. Originally leaked by The Nation, the four-page document promised sweeping religious exemptions in housing, employment, education, health care, social services, government contracts, and federal services.

That order, however, was reportedly tabled at the urging of Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner — himself an on-again, off-again advisor to the president. Although the White House denied the report, Politico favorably cited the Kushners’ “record of supporting gay rights.” Ivanka — supposed savior of the gays — took her victory lap with a tweet supporting LGBTQ Pride Month in June. (Hint: It didn’t go well.)

But favorable coverage of Ivanka’s powers of daughterly persuasion disguises the fact that Trump rarely listens to her. His administration is responsible for over 70 attacks against the LGBTQ community since January 2017. Seventy to one is a bad record.

Even the one attack on queer and trans equality she was allegedly able to prevent was far from a success. Rather than issuing a carte blanche in favor of so-called “religious liberty” through a single executive order, his administration has opted for the “death by a thousand cuts” model — by pursuing the same policy in a series of smaller, more subtle decisions.

Months after the president removed compliance standards ensuring federal agencies don’t discriminate against LGBTQ employees, the Department of Justice claimed that queer workers aren’t protected under national civil rights laws. After restructuring the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a division devoted to allowing health care workers to discriminate in the name of faith, he signed a “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative” which threatens to do the same at other governmental agencies.

The Trump administration has also rolled back protections preventing discrimination against queer and trans people in multiple areas: housing, education, prison, and even homeless shelters. And on top of all that, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued his own version of the “religious freedom” order Ivanka supposedly squashed.

So if Ivanka views her job as moving her father to the left on social issues, she’s very bad at it. To paraphrase Lindy West, she doesn’t make her father more moderate on LGBTQ rights — she is selling him as a moderate on LGBTQ rights ahead of a probable reelection campaign. His daughter helps him appeal to the kind of voter who supports same-sex marriage, just as long as the gays don’t ask for too much.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

What’s most galling, however, about Ivanka continuing to pretend she’s the Tom Hagen of the Trump administration is that she’s been an extremely effective and oft-deployed tool in the president’s assault on basic civil liberties.

Earlier this month, it came to light that Ivanka donated $50,000 of her personal fortune to an anti-LGBTQ megachurch in Plano, Texas, one that represents the evangelical base Trump hopes will turn out to the polls in 2020. The Prestonwood Baptist Church believes same-sex marriage “violates God’s standard” and refers to queerness as “sexual identity confusion.” After the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in 2015, Pastor Jack Graham pleaded with the Creator to “deliver us from evil.”

In 2015, Graham’s church served as home base for the campaign to repeal Plano’s nondiscrimination ordinance. Calling the ordinance part of the “militant agenda of the radical left,” fliers distributed by petitioners claimed these protections would “criminalize businesses who desire to live their lives and run their businesses according to their conscience.”

Ivanka’s donation was allegedly intended to aid Prestonwood Baptist Church’s work in caring for migrant children detained at the border — amid criticism of Trump’s family separation policy. But when the congregation’s anti-LGBTQ history was exposed, she failed to apologize.

More pressingly, the First Daughter played an active part in goading Justice Anthony Kennedy into stepping down from the Supreme Court. As the New York Times reported, Trump engaged in a months-long campaign urging Kennedy to retire by focusing on the links between their families. Kennedy’s eldest son, Justin, worked as an executive for Deutsche Bank for over a decade, and the president was one of his key clients — taking out more than $1 billion in loans. The younger Kennedy, Gregory, worked as a senior financial adviser for NASA amid the early days of Trump’s nascent administration.

The connection between the Kennedy clan and the Trumps was apparent as early as March 2017, when Trump addressed Congress for the first time. Following the speech, he greeted members of the Supreme Court bench and shared a brief exchange with Justice Kennedy. “Say hello to your boy — special guy,” Trump said. “Your kids have been very nice to him,” the judge responded.

Trump’s children have, indeed, been very nice to the Kennedys — making repeated appearances in order to curry favor with the 81-year-old justice. Ivanka and her daughter, Arabella Kushner, attended the Supreme Court as special guests of Justice Kennedy’s in February 2017 — and Ivanka wore a $325 coat from her own collection. While it’s not extraordinary for members of the First Family to be present for SCOTUS deliberations, NBC News noted it was “rare to see presidential children in the audience.” Artist renderings of the appearance show the two sitting in the VIP section, with Arabella’s head leaning over the seats.

Kennedy reportedly extended the invitation to the mother-daughter duo after sharing lunch following the 2017 inauguration.

If the Times report is true, Ivanka is not complicit in Trump’s attacks on the LGBTQ community — she’s explicit. Kennedy’s retirement has thrown the future of queer and trans rights into upheaval by allowing Trump to stack SCOTUS with a second conservative following Neil Gorsuch. He has nominated D.C. Circuit Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who a Judicial Common Space analysis determined would fall to the right of every member of the Supreme Court except Clarence Thomas.

Although some have predicted that a SCOTUS which includes Kavanaugh would fulfill Trump’s presidential wish of overturning Obergefell v. Hodges, undoing marriage equality in one fell swoop is improbable. Instead the bench would be likely to do just as the current administration has done — allow such victories to be eroded through a series of rollbacks that effectively place same-sex marriages into a lower tier.

This year both Kansas and Oklahoma have passed laws allowing foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ couples, both of which are poised for legal challenges from local advocacy groups. Texas courts are currently debating whether the married same-sex partners of state employees have the right to benefits.

Both issues may eventually find their way to SCOTUS. Despite his scant record on LGBTQ rights, a justice further to the right than Gorsuch — who argued against same-sex marriage in his dissertation — will scarcely be more favorable on equality.

Ivanka once characterized herself as a good person who now finds herself in a “unique and unprecedented situation.” In conversation with Gayle King on CBS This Morning, the First Daughter — who never expected this role to be thrust upon her — challenged her critics to ask themselves if they “would do any differently than [what she is] doing.” She claimed her hope was merely to “make a positive impact.”

An old saying goes that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But if Ivanka is honest with herself, she helped clear the path to Kavanaugh with her own two perfectly manicured hands.

Yosimar Reyes Ponders Being Too Mexican, Too American, and Too Queer in ‘Prieto’

It’s a hot summer night in Los Angeles. It is the final showing in the three-day preview of Prieto, and the show is sold out. The air is thick and, despite portable AC units placed around the stage, it’s difficult to ignore the overwhelming mugginess the current heatwave has left the room in towards the late evening. The last of the crowd find their seats, and shortly thereafter, Yosimar Reyes takes the stage. The first sentence comes out of his mouth to the beat of ’90s hip-hop, images of an Eastside San Pedro neighborhood serve as the backdrop, and suddenly the heat is just a minor inconvenience as the crowd becomes instantly enthralled.

From Define American comes an unapologetic take on the Latinx immigrant experience. In Prieto, Yosimar Reyes has managed to create a narrative that is true to the queer millennial immigrant and the ever-conflicting feeling of being too Mexican to be American, and too American to be Mexican.

With lots of humor and touches of nostalgia, laced with strands of his other works, Reyes presents a first-person tale that is bound to resonate with a large number of Americans, more specifically, those who came to this country as children, such as the DACA recipients known as DREAMers.

Prieto (Spanish for dark) is the story of Yosimar, a young feminine boy growing up between two cultures. One that preemptively disowns him for what he is becoming; a “high maintenance” boy who envisions himself as the female protagonist of Mexican telenovelas, and the other, a culture that has labeled him illegal before he even has the capacity to understand what the word means. To many of us walking the same fine line growing up, Prieto is as relatable as it gets.

With charm and wit and that has the room laughing out loud from the first few lines, Reyes reflects on a less-than-ideal childhood, which includes but is not limited to a game of cops and robbers that culminates in an encounter with a local gangster, as well as the experience being raised by his working-class Mexican grandparents, who collected cans and did manual labor to make ends meet.

While Prieto is an autobiographical account, it is the story of many who are of the 1.5 generation. We grow up in neighborhoods that are less than safe, our parents work jobs that don’t quite pay minimum wage, and we live in homes that are just barely big enough to house us, let alone the roaches and other critters that come along with low-income housing. Despite all this, when looking back, stories of growing up poor are surprisingly more humorous than tragic.

“It started out as a bunch of short stories,” says Reyes of the one-man show. “I don’t know, I just always thought stories of growing up like that were really funny.”

For a workshop preview that is still being polished, it has very few sharp edges to smooth out. It is a compelling tale that does not pause to explain the idiosyncrasies of Latinx culture to outsiders, instead embracing its audience by trusting their investment in the story. No subtopic is off limits; immigration, sexuality, love. It’s all tackled with gusto. Hence, it becomes a unified experience of reminiscing about family, identity, economic struggle, and the fortitude of the migrant community.

To label it just a show would be severely underselling it. It is a rollercoaster of emotions. It starts off with an eruption of laughter, with the sensation you’re sitting right next to young Yosimar while he is being lectured by his grandfather about the importance of being a real man, hearing the warning that he better not turn out to be a joto, experiencing eating spaghetti for the first time, yearning for more American meals like the other kids at school, and before you know it, you’re crying, mourning his losses, and the losses of his family, leaving the theater with the emotional lightness that follows a good therapy session.

Among many things, Yosimar Reyes is a nationally acclaimed poet and performance artist whose work covers various subjects. In “Acts of Resistance,” he talks about love and sexuality, and the radical act of queer sex.

This is not fucking

Not to be confused with lovemaking,

this is resistance

Your hand pressed against my chest,

the way your lips feel on mine,

this could never be anything but that.

The Guerrero-born writer who migrated to The U.S. from Mexico at the age of three writes in a fearless punch-per-word style that does not let up until it is finished. Every verse, every sentence aims to cut straight to the core and he succeeds.

His first publication, For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly was self-published with the support of Carlos Santana, and went on to garner positive reviews internationally. When asked about his hopes for Prieto and its future, Reyes says he’d like to take it as far it can go. Regarding the possibility of a TV series based on the show, he smiles and says, “Yeah! Why not? It’s time people see a femme brown boy on TV.”

Considering the buzz around the show already, a series might not be far off.

Magical Realism in the Mojave

A curious land.

Roadrunner leaves its prints on the sand.

This is a desert so out of the ordinary a hunk of it was designated the Queer Mountain Wilderness Study Area by the U.S. government in 1992—the same year I was born.

This is a queer land.

I identify with land that has been othered.

Here in Mojave National Preserve, we are in the thickest thicket of joshua trees in the world.

Here in Mojave National Preserve, we are in a very different type of forest.

My friend Anna is among their many whimsical arms lifting up her own to the late afternoon sun in an appreciative salutation. Her hair is up and brushes the sweat on the back of her neck.

This grove of trees lie in the crotch between the rotund 70-acre Cima Dome and lofty Kessler Peak.

Cima Dome is so massive, that if you were plopped on to its summit, you wouldn’t even know you were on the top of a mountain.

It would just look flat.

It is the result of a work-shy volcano.

We had pulled off I-15, the highway that darts through the Mojave Desert and passes right by the sparkler of Las Vegas.

We are south of the City of Sin, off a pavement road, off a dirt road, off a dirt road, off a dirt road near a place called Cima and we have decided to get a better look at our surroundings.

We set up camp. We are on a road trip that will eventually dribble us into Los Angeles.

We follow the roadrunner’s signature that loops like cursive across the sand.

I wonder what kind of things the ground bird chases.

There are prickly pear by our ankles, some of them are generous and offer us their blooms.

A few ladybugs explore the cup of the blossom in hope of aphids.

Most don’t know that the combined weight of all the insects in the world is many many many many times more than the mass of humanity.

We could be squashed by their weight, like an anvil falling off of a butte onto Wile E. Coyote as the Road Runner meeps by.

Right now, in the goldening hours of the day, the desert is giving us curtains of color. I’m not sure what the curtains are made of.

Dust? Distance? Trickery?

The curtains help break apart the space that seems too big for comprehension.

The colors we are seeing are gold like the ore once dynamited, ransacked and left as abandoned mines across the preserve, purple like the underbelly of pillowing storm clouds, and billows of pleasant powder blue.

Anna tells me magical realism doesn’t solely exist within the pages of an Isabel Allende or Gabriel García Márquez novel.

She knows.

She writes award winning stories about girls that are actually manatees that get hit by boats.

She writes stories about hearts like cuckoo clocks.

I always remember that image.

We’ve all had a lover with a heart like a cuckoo clock.

Anna says magical realism isn’t just alive within the beloved films of Hayao Miyazaki.

It exists elsewhere and everywhere.

She has taught me to see the world more fantastically.

It has made me see some mountains as handsome. It has helped me make a blue spruce a boyfriend.

It has helped me feel the arousal of the river’s caress and the sensuality of the breeze when I was alone and ran across the sand dunes of the preserve without my shorts.

It has made me see two hills like the breasts of a woman or, depending on their distance and globularity, like the buttocks of a man.

It has helped me understand what Georgia O’Keefe was really painting when she painted flowers.

Before, I was none the wiser.

But now I know what O’Keefe was really up to when she painted mountains whose spurs spread like legs with wild juniper bushes in their crotches.

All of this has helped me anthropomorphize the land.

If we all saw the land as a person worth loving, we might not have bombed the Southwest with nukes in the 1950s and departed so many downwinders.

If we all saw the land as a person worth loving, we might not have a current administration so giddy to continue the poisoning of land. Trump and Zinke have already gifted 1.3 million acres of the Mojave to miners ready to abuse the desert.

If we all saw the land as a person worth loving,  we would have never had any of these damn pipelines or oceans with plastic islands the size of Texas.

Starbucks has just banned straws.

We like this, but the containers are still plastic.

Literary critic Matthew Strecher once defined “magical realism” as “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.”

 

For some stories, it’s the appearance of an ancestor returning to guide a main character on their journey, perhaps a grandmother returning with wisdom on how to fight fascism and greed. For others, it’s the emergence of a talking animal—like the enormous and godly golden carp of Rudolfo Antoya’s Bless Me, Ultima.

Many other things can happen in the realm of magical realism.

You see, I’ve always believed in the magic of our surroundings, but I had never seen anything truly out of the ordinary.

Yes, polychromatic sunsets and rises, galloping horses on black sand beaches, platypuses darting through the waters of a billabong— but it wasn’t until Anna and I found ourselves on the summit of Kessler Peak, in the middle of the Mojave that I was persuaded.

The Mojave National Preserve is the third biggest wilderness area in the lower 48.  It’s not easy to imagine 1,600,000 acres.

But that doesn’t mean they should make it smaller.

The preserve was designated by Congress in 1996 under the California Desert Protection Act. And under the Obama administration, new land was protected around it—Mojave Trails National Monument with the dazzling Cadiz Dunes and the stately pinnacles of Castle Mountains National Monument.

These preserves have official borders but the land doesn’t recognize them and nor should it.

They blend together as one like watercolors on the page.

The California Desert Protection Act was the grandchild of a woman named Minerva Hoyt who loved the desert so much, she made herself a part of its bloodline.

You would need a million lives to see everything in the preserve and all of these monuments.

You have to camp in the middle of it and take off your clothes and yell a big yippe-ki-yay just to understand the importance of immensity and the possiblitity of space.

The danger of exposure.

There is freedom in space.

In the preserve, there are sand dunes called Kelso that at night, act as a ladder to the moon.

Did I mention that these dunes sing?

Sand dune tunes.

The dryer they are, the sweeter their chorus.

There are mountains called the Old Woman Mountains and a peak called Old Dad Mountain that I’ve renamed Yes Daddy Peak.

There are cliffs with holes like Swiss cheese that birds nest in.

There is a cross that is a memorial to WWI soldiers that was the feature of a Supreme Court Decision that was later stolen and then found 500 miles away in Half Moon Bay, California.

There is physical abandonment in the form of mine shafts and ghost towns with rich tales of death.

There are lava beds and canyons and cougars and even bighorn sheep.

There is a beach without an ocean called the Devil’s Playground that stretches into salt flats of ancient lakes.

As Anna and I climb higher to 6,000 feet on Kessler we can begin to believe all of this. We know that there is not enough time to see it all but that we are many people in this world and maybe we can see it all together and hear about the places we’ll never make it to.

We can begin to imagine all the bugs and insects that are out there as soon as the dusk birds and bats start fattening their bellies.

When we finally reach the top of Kessler, we look for the summit log. We are curious who was before us and where we fit on this mountain’s narrative.

Shadows are casting themselves elegantly and are dressing other mountains and valleys with a sultry black velvet robe that is quite sexy if you ask me.

We continue our search for the summit log among rocks and yuccas in all of that sexiness.

We are writers and are enthusiastic to put our black ink onto  parchment weathered by the Mojave.

We need to tell the next readers who we are and what we saw and log our admiration.

There is a rusty can underneath a rock and the breeze is blowing hard at the top but it isn’t cold, it is like the breath of a dragon.

When we grab the can and open it, the small notebook falls out and so do hundreds of lady bugs.

Some are red and spotted. Others are missing their sports—perhaps they were blown off by the wind, perhaps they had been rubbed off onto other ladybugs.

Some are almost pink and others are the colors tomatoes turn after being in the sun too long. Some are so washed out they are yellow. Whatever their color or spot count they keep spilling from the ground below the can and I am persuaded by the weight of insects.

We are paralyzed by awe and only able to capture the moment by story.

They continue to erupt from the mountain as if we have sliced a laceration across the crown of the mountain. It is as if the mountain is bleeding. It is as if the mountain is a volcano erupting lava like the tectonic plates have passed over a hotspot of spotted insects.

The mountain erupts ladybugs into the sky and they rush to explore the preserve as if it were going somewhere.

Half of the California LGBT Caucus Took Money From ICE Prison Contractors

It turns out Evan Low has company. The openly gay California Assemblymember who took $4,200 from the private prison ICE contractor GEO Group in 2016 wasn’t alone.

Half of California’s California’s Legislative LGBT Caucus has taken money from ICE private prison contractors.

Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (39th District) took $4,200 from GEO Group last year and another $4,000 from Northrop Grumman, whose ICE contracts since 2006 have totaled more than $88 million.

Assemblymember Todd Gloria’s (78th District) coffers included $1,500 from GEO Group and Northrop Grumman respectively.

Assemblymember Susan Eggman (13th District) took $1,000 from CoreCivic, which was the subject of a jaw-dropping undercover investigation by Mother Jones two years ago. On Thursday, ICE officials announced that Efrain De La Rosa, a Mexican man facing deportation in a CoreCivic detention center in Georgia, died of an apparent suicide. In California, the ACLU settled a lawsuit with ICE and CoreCivic (under its former name Corrections Corporation of America) in 2010 over the company’s alleged failure to provide adequate healthcare to 11 detainees.

GEO Group’s checkered history includes a laundry list of human rights abuse allegations.  It currently operates California’s Adelanto ICE Processing Center, where Gay Nigerian asylum-seeker Udoka Nweke remains incarcerated despite reports that he is suicidal.

Three people died at Adelanto last year, according to statements released by ICE. One of them, Nicaraguan Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba, hanged himself in his cell in last March.

In 2015, more than two dozen members of Congress pressed federal officials to investigate GEO’s oversight of Adelanto in a joint letter. The letter cited two inmate deaths reportedly caused by lack of medical care, and it pointed to the hospitalization of a paralyzed 19-year-old whose catheters were recycled, causing him an infection.

GEO Group has cut checks to candidates in state and national elections for years, including hundreds of thousands put toward the presidency of Donald Trump, Newsweek reported.

GEO Group did not respond to a request to comment.

Northrop Grumman is one of the world’s largest defense and aerospace companies. Its tens of millions in ICE contracts are largely for IT and information services.

Both Gloria and Atkins donated money to immigrant rights organizations recently because of the private prison money, their campaigns say.

Atkins’ campaign released a statement acknowledging the contribution.  Last week, she donated $12,000 to organizations involved in immigration justice issues to offset her take from GEO Group.

“The Senate Leader Atkins never personally solicited these contributions nor have those contributions ever in any way affected her votes or her values,” the statement reads.

Atkins donated $3,000 each to the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Alliance San Diego, the Casa Cornelia Law Center and the ABA Immigration Justice Project of San Diego. INTO has confirmed the donations with each organization.

Alliance San Diego, which organizes around immigration rights, noted that Atkins is in fact a longtime supporter and has donated to the organization for years.

Doug Case, political affairs director for Atkins, said the senator made the most recent donations after a Change.org petition took San Diego Democrats to task for taking money from CoreCivic and protests sprung up in response to the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border last month.

“That’s when the issue first came to our attention,” he said.

Gloria dumped the GEO contribution into immigration nonprofits, according to campaign manager Nick Serrano. Serrano says Gloria donated $750 each to Pillars of the Community and The Partnership Advancement for New Americans. He did not respond to a follow-up inquiry on the Northrop contribution.

“There’s a number of ways that people can contribute to political campaigns,” said Serrano. “Assemblymember Gloria has been focused on his work in the legislature. Campaigning is certainly a part of that, but it’s certainly not what his day-to-day focus is.”  

Serrano said Gloria would not be accepting further funds from private prison groups.

Pressed on when Gloria ditched the funds, Serrano told INTO that Gloria made the donation in response to the Families Belong Together March on June 30.

“After that march, the direction to his campaign team was to look into any of those donations that came in because he does not want that money in his coffers,” Serrano said.

Documentation provided by Serrano shows that the campaign cut checks on July 9.

Assemblymember Eggman’s campaign, contacted via two different phone numbers and by email, did not respond to a request to comment.

Low’s team also remains mum on the issue despite multiple requests to comment. INTO again reached out to campaign staffer Gina Frisby via an email his legislative office provided, but received no response.

On Wednesday, seven members of the white ally organization Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) confronted Low’s field representative Cassie Mancini during a pre-arranged meeting, according to organizer Lauren Renaud.

“She said she didn’t know about the story,” said Renaud. “That is what she told us.”

Renaud said another SURJ member pressed Mancini on the issue, stating that Low should be conscientious of his campaign contributions. Renaud said the conversation was left unresolved, as Mancini vowed to get back to them with more information.

Low’s legislative office did not respond to a request to comment on the meeting.

Together, the four legislators make up half of the eight who sit on the California Legislative  LGBT Caucus.

Totally Non-Sexual Things Women Find Hot In Other Women

Certain things become true about your life when you’re a lesbian. You’ve probably dated or hooked up with some of your closest friends and it’s weird and complicated but you wouldn’t have it any other way. You’ve likely moved in with someone you really shouldn’t have moved in with that quickly. You’ve definitely thought introspectively about which L Word character you really are as opposed to the one you tell people you are. It’s also true that no matter how much you love that scene in Jennifer’s Body, you know the one, you’re aware that your very existence is consistently exploited for the male gaze. That’s exhausting both because it’s dehumanizing and because most of the things that attract us to women aren’t sexual at all. Attraction transcends physicality, period. After talking to my fellow queer women, I’ve compiled a list of non-sexual things that women find attractive in other women, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Looking gay

We’re all evolved enough to know that there isn’t any one way to look gay. I personally think that straight women are appropriating undercuts from gay women, but I digress. Visibility is a complicated topic because it means more than the clothes you wear and your haircut but I’m not going to lie, I love a woman in a flannel. I have never understood the pushback against that specific stereotype. I mean…I dare you to find one lesbian that doesn’t own a flannel or a leather jacket. Queer women wearing vintage vests and T-shirts, dress pants and loafers, or gold chains and mechanic’s jumpsuits really just overwhelm me. I love all these clothes that we’ve monikered as queer for no real reason other than that men don’t get to be the only ones that look like lumberjacks and newsies. It somehow feels more powerful than just clothes; it feels like taking up space at a table we aren’t supposed to be sitting at. The only thing more attractive than a woman with a good sense of style is a woman whose sense of style is a subtle jab at the patriarchy.

Rolling joints

I don’t know if it’s because I consider rolling a joint a daunting task, but I once saw a girl roll a joint while standing up with a drink in one hand and I’m still in love with her. As much as we try to talk ourselves out of it, I think that for some reason smoking is just fundamentally attractive. I knew a girl who rolled her own cigarettes and at the time I distinctly remember thinking that I would let her ruin my life. Hanging out with her felt like being in a weird Go Fish meets Rebel Without A Cause movie where at any point she would pull out her copy of Albert Camus’ The Stranger and tell me about how cynicism is an inherent byproduct of existence. Or maybe I was projecting. Either way, I was obsessed with her but I was still straight at the time so all I got out of that was a cigarette addiction.

Bartending

By far my favorite part of going to lesbian parties is the anticipation of a hot bartender. As a matter of fact, that’s true about going to bars in general. I can’t make a good mixed drink to save my life and I frankly have no interest in learning how to get better at it. I have, however, spent countless hours watching every video available on the internet of Rachel Maddow making cocktails. She taught me how to properly pop a champagne bottle because I don’t even really enjoy drinking that much, and I don’t plan on ordering any of the drinks she makes. She doesn’t even do any crazy tricks with the shakers. I just enjoy the simple pleasure of watching a lesbian make a drink. 

Being mean to men

When I heard King Princess’ “1950” for the first time, the opening line spoke to me on such an intense spiritual level. For one, being hit on by men while you’re on a date with a woman is exhausting. Every time it happens nothing warms my heart more than my date looking him straight in the eyes and psychoanalyzing him into a puddle on the floor. Being in straight spaces, also known as the world in general, we have to constantly justify our existence as women and as lesbians. When women are mean to men, it gives me butterflies for no reason other than someone has to do it. Straight white men often need to be put in their place and honestly, lesbians do it best. It’s also about chivalry and the comfort of knowing someone is looking out for you at such a basic human level.

Driving

I frankly can’t really explain this one. Every time I try it always comes down to the fact that I just love when someone else has control over my life and I do not want to go down the rabbit hole of figuring out the rationale behind that conclusion. Being picked up for dates also feels extremely chivalrous. I know a lot of queer people whose point of view on traditional relationship paradigms is to completely reject them but for me, it’s more about kicking down the door and saying yeah we get to do it too. I get to be a woman and have a wife and we’ll both wear tuxes if we want to.

Being really gay

Being gay is honestly a full-time job. The most attractive thing about women is when their gayness is almost all-consuming. I love women so much and I want to be with someone who loves women as much as I do. Someone who has queer friends, supports queer artists, consumes insane amounts of queer content and whose life is just deeply immersed in the queer community.

Women are so infinitely complex and getting to love them feels like such a privilege, for all these reasons and so much more. My only hope for the pit fire of a world we live in is that people finally start listening to us.

Courtney Act On RuPaul, Racism, and Living Her Dream Post-‘Celebrity Big Brother’

Courtney Act is having quite a year.

In February, the RuPaul’s Drag Race star won Celebrity Big Brother in the United Kingdom, and not long after made the decision to move permanently to London. “I didn’t quite understand the magic of London until recently. I don’t know how I never saw it before,” she says, when we meet in Soho. “There’s so much culture, depth, richness, diversity. I love it here.”

The relocation already appears to be paying off; just last week, Act confirmed that she will be hosting her very own late night “dragazine” show on Channel 4.

“I had two childhood dreams; one was to write a pop album and the other was to have a variety show, which I honestly never thought would happen,” she says. The first, she achieved with 2015’s Kaleidoscope. “After Celebrity Big Brother, I had a meeting with a production company to talk about what I wanted to do. And after I’d given what I thought were all the right answers, I said ‘Well, I love the Sonny and Cher era of television,’ thinking they’d never go for it, and now it’s happening!”

The programme, which has the working title The Courtney Act Show, will air later in the year. Until then, Act will be busy with Under The Covers, a new live show that she will be performing from August 4th through 18th at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Consisting entirely of songs which are famous for being covered by different artists, Under The Covers is both a showcase for Courtney’s singing voice and an exploration of how a song can change meaning depending on who is performing it.

“‘I Will Always Love You’ is a perfect example,” she says. “Dolly wrote that song in 15 minutes, it’s a breakup song and a love song, a Dolly classic. And then obviously Whitney covered it; when Dolly heard that version for the first time, she was in her car and it was on the radio and she didn’t even recognise it because Whitney had added so much of herself.”

Despite a packed schedule, Act still makes time for Drag Race, and like the rest of us, watched with great interest as the show’s complicated, at times messy racial dynamics played out on Season 10 of Untucked, with The Vixen making viewers (and her fellow queens) aware of just how differently black contestants are perceived.

“I was watching like, ‘Wow, look at that, they’re including this conversation on race,'” Act says. “But then we got to the reunion, and I started to wonder– did they include it because they realised how insightful and important it was, or was something really tone-deaf going on here? It revealed something about Ru’s privilege in that situation. Obviously, he’s a gay black man, and he’s worked hard, and I don’t want to take away any of that, but he is certainly someone who has a lot of privilege now. I almost felt like that whole situation began the way I would expect a white host to handle it, coming for The Vixen first before Eureka. And The Vixen called it out, and then we went to Eureka. That could all be coincidence, but I think it’s representative of the bigger issue that The Vixen, Asia, Monique, and Monet were trying to talk about and bring light to in the first few episodes.”

When it comes to the Asia vs. RuPaul confrontation that formed the most memorable part of the reunion episode, Courtney is keen to note just how much it means that a Drag Race queen would risk a backlash by so vehemently disagreeing with the show’s host.

“RuPaul, for all of us queens who grew up admiring him, it’s very intimidating just being in the same room,” Act says. “I’ve bumped into him three times in public, and my little heart races. It’s like it literally affects my physiology.”

She smiles somewhat impishly, and adds: “Turns out I didn’t have to worry, because he didn’t acknowledge me or recognise me in public, so I didn’t have to engage him in conversation or have my wits about me! But for Asia to stand up against Ru on the show, not just once, but in a real back-and-forth, it took a lot to do that. And I think Asia was right. When Ru said ‘Some people just have to help themselves,’ we’re not talking about someone who is a drug user who we’ve given all our love and support to, and we’re at our wits’ end. We’re talking about The Vixen, who’s in our family, on the show, part of our community. When Ru told the Vixen that she could have just been quiet, I thought that was the biggest misstep.”

Act also points out that Ru’s advice to The Vixen to “just say nothing” is odd, considering he retweeted a recent speech by the famously outspoken Maxine Waters, not to mention his own history as an activist and provocateur.

“Let’s go back to the MTV Awards with Milton Berle, where he bit back,” she says. “Maybe that’s where he was speaking from, because he was blacklisted after that encounter. Maybe he sees himself in The Vixen and was trying to help, I don’t know.”

Courtney is quick to add that she remains a huge admirer of RuPaul, and is very proud to have been on Drag Race. “I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me; I grew up inspired by RuPaul, and I wouldn’t have the opportunities I do now without him and the show,” she says. “But it’s important to acknowledge that criticising something isn’t the same as attacking it. If you can see that something can be improved, why not try?”

“Look, I’m not saying I’d be any better at handling that situation than Ru,” she continues. “I would do my best, which I know Ru is also doing, but if you’re going to bring up those subjects then you have a responsibility to see them through and to be respectful and understanding and compassionate. I think that’s how we learn. I’ve seen some really interesting, thought-provoking articles about this because of the show, so it’s good that we’re having these conversations. The nice thing is, for the most part, people are handling it with respect.”

The ability to approach these kinds of difficult conversations with kindness and grace was at least partly what made Courtney such a fan favourite (and ultimately the winner) on Celebrity Big Brother UK earlier this year. “I didn’t go into the house with the intention to educate anyone,” she says, “but if I’m talking to somebody, and there’s a point of clarification, I say something. In social justice issues, it sometimes feels easier to say nothing, but when you say something in a compassionate way, I’ve always been shocked by how well it’s been received.”

“During Celebrity Big Brother,” she continues, “a housemate asked me if I was going to live as a woman and have gender reassignment surgery; I wasn’t offended by that question. After all, we’re in a house closed off from the world, so there’s no Google. Although that’s not to say if you’re talking to a minority that it’s up to them to answer questions and explain themselves, because we do have Google, and you can learn all this stuff yourself. If you’re genuinely interested, it’s incumbent upon you to educate yourself. But in the house, having those conversations, and talking with India Willoughby about trans and queer identities; I’m so glad that those bits got shown on television.”

Does she think that seeing a drag queen win one of the most widely-watched reality shows in the UK will have a positive impact on how people perceive the LGBTQ community? “I think it’s major,” she says. “The greater public is seeing the queer experience be accepted at all these levels; corporately, governmentally, personally, and it sinks into the psyche and changes opinions. When we see queer stories being told on TV, it just increases people’s knowledge, and instead of stereotypes, instead of many stories becoming one story, we get to hear many stories and we understand that it’s not just about white gay men’s experience, it’s really intersectional.”

When I ask Act if there is an openly queer person in the world of entertainment who she admires, she immediately starts to sing the praises of British television presenter Rylan Clark-Neal. “He is just so gay!” she says. “Coming from Australia and having lived in America for years, I just find watching him be so bloody gay on television an absolute joy. And then there’s someone like Munroe Bergdorf, who is such an amazing activist. I love the way she speaks about things, even just the memes she’ll share that stop you in your tracks and really make you think.”

Act takes moments of silence, as she ruminates on how to best express herself.  While this considered, careful presentation of herself drew criticisms of her as “cold” and “fake” during her season of Drag Race, I think it actually indicates the opposite. Throughout our conversation, Act pauses to ensure she is using the most sensitive and appropriate language, and to check her own relative privilege within the queer community.

“It’s not the oppressed’s job to educate the oppressor, and sometimes you’re not able to,” she says. “But my privilege is that I am able to. I feel comfortable talking about these things, and I have a platform, and I’m going to use it.”