Evan Low, California’s LGBTQ Champion, Took Money From Controversial ICE Prison Contractor

To most, he’s California’s LGBTQ rights champion. He’s pushing a bill to ban conversion therapy for adults. He authored another to declare June as Pride Month in California. He has voted the progressive line on every major issue.

So why did 28th District Assembly member Evan Low take a campaign contribution from the largest private prison ICE contractor?

That’s the head scratcher that his campaign office won’t explain.

Campaign finance records show that in 2016, Low accepted $4,200 from the GEO Group, the private correctional company with a history that includes a laundry list of human rights abuse allegations.

Low, who represents a portion of Silicon Valley, has boasted such a sterling progressive record that New York Magazine wondered if he wasn’t the “Next Obama.” At 26, Low became the youngest gay mayor in the country in 2009.

As an assembly member, Low voted for a bill that barred landlords from reporting undocumented tenants last year. He was among a group of California leaders to call for the release of an estimated 200 Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants detained by ICE last year.

That record stands in stark contrast to the activities of GEO Group, which The Associated Press reported lobbied Texas lawmakers on a bill to hold children in ICE detention with their parents, circumventing a federal judge’s ruling that children couldn’t be locked up for more than 20 days.

The GEO Group currently operates the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California, where gay Nigerian asylum-seeker Udoka Nweke has been incarcerated for more than 16 months. Nweke fled Nigeria after escaping a homophobic mob.

Advocates report that Nweke, who lives with mental illness, is suicidal and could die if not released. He has tried repeatedly to end his life in custody, according to LGBTQ advocates, a claim that ICE officials have denied.

Last year the Los Angeles Times documented a string of deaths and suicide attempts at Adelanto since it converted into an ICE detention center in 2011.

Three people died at Adelanto last year, according to ICE statements. Last March, Nicaraguan Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba, 32, hanged himself in his cell at Adelanto and died shortly after. Another Adelanto detainee, Vicente Caceres-Maradiaga from Honduras, collapsed while playing soccer and died en route to the hospital. Sergio Alonso Lopez, a Mexican immigrant, died after two months in ICE custody at Adelanto of internal bleeding, according to the agency.

GEO Group and its oversight of Adelanto have set off so many red flags that in 2015, more than two dozen members of congress sent a joint letter to federal officials asking for an investigation into the facility.

GEO Group has historically funneled money to local and national campaigns, including hundreds of thousands toward the election of President Donald Trump, Newsweek reported.

Pablo Paez, a spokesperson for GEO, disputed any wrongdoing in a statement to Newsweek.

“We have worked for 30 years with Democratic and Republican administrations to help meet the correctional, detention and rehabilitation needs at the federal level,” he said. “We’re proud of our longstanding record providing high quality, culturally responsive services in safe, secure, and humane environments.”

Why Low accepted money from GEO remains a mystery. His legislative office promised to relay messages to Gina Frisby, Low’s chief of staff, who also works on his campaign. Frisby did not respond to multiple messages or to an email sent to an address staffers said was associated with Low’s campaign.

Low, however, is not the only surprising beneficiary of GEO money. The California Democratic Party took a $40,000 contribution from the company in September 2016.

John Vigna, communications director for the Party, said in an email that because the money came in under a previous administration, he “can’t shed any light on how or why the contribution came to be made.”

“I can tell you we are following this issue very closely and are very supportive of our grassroots Democrats who are fighting for justice for those in ICE custody,” Vigna said.

Dear Fellow Cis People—Stop Making Decisions About Trans People Without Trans People

I need to open this essay with a moment of honesty: I wasn’t as mad at Scarlett Johansson for playing a trans man as I should have been—at least at first.

When news broke that the 33-year-old actress would be playing transmasculine crime boss Dante “Tex” Gill in the forthcoming biopic Rub & Tug, I was reminded of that oft-cited quote from Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Johansson’s breakout role was Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, a movie set in Japan where actual Japanese people barely factor into the story; they are portrayed as curious oddities and circus-like attractions, given so little agency that their lines aren’t actually subtitled. This choice amplifies their otherness and their remove from the white American characters—as well as from us, the audience.

Following her much-criticized casting in the Rupert Sanders-directed manga adaptation Ghost in the Shell, the film answered the problem of Johansson playing a Japanese woman by having her play a Japanese woman whose brain was inserted into a white woman’s body. A closing scene shows her character, referred to as “The Major,” standing over her own grave—while accompanied by the deceased’s mother. There’s no overemphasizing how appalling it is to literally murder the lead character of one’s film as a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for whitewashing.

But this is now par for the course with Ms. Johansson. This is the same woman who responded to the more than 80 sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein by wearing Marchesa—a fashion brand he helped build for his wife through bullying and intimidation—to the Met Ball. After Dylan Farrow testified to decades-old sexual abuse claims against Woody Allen in a raw open letter, Johansson went to dinner with him.

When Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost joked that transgender people are the reason Democrats lost the 2016 election, she began dating him.

So when it was announced that Johansson would be reteaming with her Ghost in the Shell director to play a trans character following controversy after controversy over other cis actors doing the same thing, I wasn’t angry exactly. I expected this from her. She had already showed me who she is. I believed her then—and I still do.

It was when Johansson used Jeffrey Tambor to silence the concerns of trans actors and activists that I was officially done.

When the feminist news website Bustle reached out to the actress for a statement, she responded directly through her media representative. This wasn’t a canned response from a trained PR flack whose job it is to deflect criticism but an attributable quote directly from Johansson reflecting her personal viewpoint on the matter, and that difference must be noted. “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” she said.

Each of these actors was a cisgender person who won a prestigious award for playing a transgender character on screen. Leto earned an Oscar for playing a sex worker with HIV in Dallas Buyers Club. Huffman took home a Golden Globe for her portrayal of a late-life transitioner who goes on a road trip with her hustler son in Transamerica. Tambor won an Emmy for starring in Transparent, in which he plays an aging matriarch who tests the bonds of family when she comes out to her ex-wife and children as a trans woman.

For an actress of arguable range who has never been nominated for an Academy Award but has earned a slew of conciliatory Golden Globe nominations, it’s an insidious response which places Johansson’s desire for acclaim over the humanity of transgender people. It says, “My need to win an Academy Award is more important than your opinions and experiences.”

That might seem like a harsh statement, but it’s well-earned. In the same breath that she dismissed the valid concerns of the trans community in favor of whether a group of old white men think she’s “fuckable” enough to take home a tiny gold statuette, Johansson cited an accused sexual predator in dismissing the voices of his victims. One of the leading critics blasting Johansson’s casting was Trace Lysette, who was among the three transgender women who alleged that Tambor sexually assaulted her during his time on Transparent. He was removed from the show following those allegations.

Defenses of Johansson’s casting argued that being transgender shouldn’t be a prerequisite for playing a trans person. Actors portray people different from themselves all the time—whether it’s Charlize Theron transforming her body to become a lesbian serial killer or Daniel Day-Lewis convincing himself he was Abraham Lincoln to portray the 16th president. All it takes, supporters say, is listening, learning, and a gift for metamorphosis.

But on these grounds, Johansson’s statement should immediately disqualify her from ever playing a transgender person—or any human being whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Farlett Bojansson.” If acting is an exercise in radical empathy, she has exhibited less than none. She must have practiced at the Corey Lewandowski School of Feelings.

But these defenses—including her own—show how little transgender people were consulted, asked for their input, or thought of at any level during these conversations.

When former Fox News host turned morning-show albatross Megyn Kelly assembled a panel of experts to discuss Johansson’s casting in Rub & Tug, each was a cisgender man and two—confusingly enough—were hosts of the reality competition program American Ninja Warrior. Kelly didn’t interview Her Story creator Jen Richards, who has eloquently argued that putting cis people in trans roles encourages real-world violence against transgender people. She didn’t invite on Sense8 breakout Jamie Clayton, who said Johansson’s casting forces trans folks out of the only roles for which they are ever considered.

Let’s assume that people like Megyn Kelly and Scarlett Johansson silence transgender people not because a) they’re rich white multi-millionaires who don’t give a shit, but b) because they believe deep down that films like Rub & Tug contribute to the greater good. Even in that case, willfully taking those stories from the trans community actually accomplishes the exact opposite task. As Richards and Clayton point out, it contributes to the discrimination transgender folks experience every day.

Although the rapid rate by which Hollywood cycles through trans casting controversies would indicate that these problems are unavoidable should Tinseltown continue to make movies about transgender people, they are not. These situations are emblematic of what happens when cis people—which includes myself—do not invite trans people to the table or into the room when we make decisions about them.

The director of Rub & Tug is a cisgender man whose previous credits include only the aforementioned Ghost in the Shell and Snow White and the Huntsman. His screenwriter, Gary Spinelli, likewise has just two feature films to his name. There’s a direct-to-video home invasion thriller starring Dolph Lundgren and American Made, a late-period Tom Cruise vehicle in which the Scientology second-in-command stretches his abilities by starring as a charming con man. Spinelli, by the way, is also cisgender. So is every single producer attached to that film—a list which includes Joel Silver and actor Tobey Maguire.

This pattern is not an accident. It is a direct result of blunt-force privilege—the entitlement to others’ lives without their consent—combined with access and power. For instance, when Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée was asked if he ever considered hiring a trans actor to play Rayon—the role that went to Leto—he promptly responded: “Never.” While that immediate dismissal is what garnered attention at the time, what he said after is much worse.

This pattern is not an accident. It is a direct result of blunt-force privilege—the entitlement to others’ lives without their consent—combined with access and power.

“Is there any transgender actor?” he asked. “To my knowledge, I don’t know.”

Consider the absurdity of this statement for a moment. Imagine you’re a historian writing a book about Sojourner Truth, and when asked if you consulted any black civil rights leaders for the book, you responded, “What black civil rights leaders?” Or let’s try this one: You are a filmmaker renowned for your documentaries about puzzle players, but you are offered a chance to instead make a nature film about dolphins. You have never encountered a dolphin before nor have you read a book about dolphins. In addition, you express a total disinterest in ever learning a single thing about dolphins. Would you still make a movie about dolphins?

No one would do this because it’s a preposterous thing to do. It would result in bad art with a clear misunderstanding of its subject matter. But when it comes to the topic of trans people, cisgender actors, writers, and directors make these decisions all the time without considering any alternative. Like the fake documentary about dolphins, it results in bad art with a clear misunderstanding of its subject matter.

A perfect case study in this phenomenon is Anything, a film by gay playwright Timothy McNeil starring cis actor Matt Bomer as a drug-addicted sex worker, the ludicrously named Freda Von Rhenburg. Freda develops a romance with the sad, balding widower next door (John Carroll Lynch), with the implication being that he’s the only one who will love her as she is, as if Freda is a Chernobyl victim or Anita Bryant or something. Her neighbor acts as Freda’s white male savior, convincing her to get off the streets and kick drugs in a single night. In a montage straight out of The Room, Freda goes through withdrawals, goes on a rampage looking for smack, trashes the house, and finds healing just in time for breakfast.

Anything manages to be both insulting and worthy of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sendup at the same time. It’s the kind of thing that could have been prevented had anyone involved listened to reason. After Bomer’s casting was announced, Richards claimed on Twitter that she auditioned for the role and told the producers they “shouldn’t have a cis man play a trans woman.” “They didn’t care,” she concluded. The end result of that decision is on the screen.

Compare this to shows like Pose, Her Story, and The T—each of which are written by transgender people and benefit from the perspectives that Johansson so readily shunned. There’s a great scene in the latter, which premiered last month on OTV, that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen on television. Two trans women—Emerie and Jo—are discussing the rejection they face from potential sexual partners after disclosing their identities. Emerie, a trans Latina played by actress Evilyn Riojas, sighs: “I’m just really tired of having to apologize for the best parts of me.”

Not only do you have two trans women having a conversation—which is itself revolutionary—but their exchange flips the switch on the stigma of dating while trans. These characters aren’t sorry for being themselves. They’re sorry that so much of the world still isn’t ready to see their beauty.

These moments ring true not just because they are honest and poignant but—more plainly put—the people who made them actually know what they’re talking about. There’s a reason that people don’t go to mechanics for medical advice: Experience breeds expertise. In the case of trans narratives, that expertise allows transgender writers and producers the chance to create these small, revelatory moments that would never occur to cis people. You won’t see scenes like those in Rub & Tug because no one will know to include them.

There’s a reason that people don’t go to mechanics for medical advice: Experience breeds expertise.

I wouldn’t know, and I talk to trans people in my job as a reporter almost every single day. That’s why it’s incumbent on us cisgender folks to do the work of bringing trans people to the table: It results in both authenticity and liberation.

There’s a fact about Danica Roem’s 2017 victory that’s stuck with me. In the six months since Virginia voters made her the first transgender person to hold statewide office, the state hasn’t advanced a single anti-LGBTQ bill—a sharp about-face from previous years. That’s because when someone is sitting right next to you, their humanity is hard to deny. Similarly, when we see Laverne Cox on the cover of Time magazine or the cast of Pose in Teen Vogue, it makes it more difficult to refuse them a say in their own stories. They become more than just characters; they are people.

In many ways, transgender men like Gill (the character Johansson plays in Rub & Tug) are still waiting for their moment to be seen as human. While society has just begun to catch up to the radiance of trans women with groundbreaking television shows like Star, Difficult People, and Doubt, transgender men are largely invisible in the media landscape. Of the 17 trans characters on television last year, just four were trans men. There were no trans male characters on streaming shows.

I wasn’t angry at Johansson because I was used to this, but so are trans people. This has been happening to transgender men since Hilary Swank won an Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry almost 20 years ago—one of the last mainstream films to even portray a trans man on screen. They are erased and then told they didn’t belong in the conversation to begin with.

Rub & Tug might be just another role for Johansson, one that earns her a debatably long-overdue Oscar nod. But for people who are still waiting to be seen, it’s more than that. It’s their lives.

Phantom Thread: Rediscovering Alexander McQueen’s London

There it is, back to front, not so much sitting on the mannequin as floating on a vibrational frisson of impeccable tailoring and deconstructing slashes: A Union Jack for the ages, a coat that’s been through the wars.

We have a hard time not reaching out to touch it, slack-jawed. Alexander McQueen’s Union Jack coat was commissioned by David Bowie in 1996. That is, if you can call Bowie ringing up McQueen—freshly sprung from Central Saint Martins design school—while the designer impersonated his own assistant, a commission. However casual the conversation, the coat wound up anchoring Bowie’s 1997 Earthling album and world tour. But McQueen—affecting a posh accent—wanted to get something out of the way first and enquired if his “boss” owed Mr. Bowie money. Hanging up the phone in his Hoxton Square studio, McQueen laughed to a friend, “Fucking David Bowie, innit.”

Over the next seven years, McQueen snagged four British Designer of the Year awards and a celebrity clientele that included not only Bowie, but Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Bjork. On the morning of February 11, 2010, McQueen’s housekeeper discovered the 40-year-old hanging in his wardrobe, leaving only a note that fretted for the well being of his dogs — an English bull terrier named Juice, a Rhodesian ridgeback called Callum, and Minter the mutt — even though they were well provided for in his will.

Six years later, a secret cancer claimed Bowie, but that Union Jack coat lived on, popping up the spring after Bowie’s death at the Met’s Anglomania show and returning the following year for their record-breaking McQueen survey Savage Beauty. That show transferred to London’s V&A in 2015, but the coat arrived two years early for the V&A’s Bowie Is… retrospective which transferred to the Brooklyn Museum this year, where we continue to stare at it, still unable to speak.

Two mornings before our visit, the American designer Kate Spade was also discovered by her housekeeper asphyxiated by a red scarf of her own design. That scarf was already experiencing an uptick in sales. When we finally do speak words, they are of her.

“Amateur hour,” my friend offers. “Did McQueen even design scarves?” I reply, thinking of the aluminum “Jaw Bone” mouthpiece I’m tracking in an online auction. Hooking behind the ears like aviator glasses, this facial adornment gives the wearer a spectral illusion that part of the skull is on the outside. Death was not an around-the-doorknob lark for McQueen, but rather a career-long driver that continues to compel the brand years after his passing.

To wit, there’s a new documentary, simply titled McQueen, opening this month, that pairs rare footage with a gorgeous score from McQueen’s frequent musical collaborator Michael Nyman. There is also a feature biopic called Lee slouching toward production that tracks the creation of McQueen’s legendary 2009 Parisian fashion show entitled The Horn of Plenty, which McQueen himself described as “a sackable offence.” And, of course, there’s that Union Jack coat, which continues to hop the pond with a frequency that’s quite ready for British Airways’ rollout of its already patented Concorde 2, which will make the transatlantic flight in an hour. Until then, we hopped the pond ourselves to compile an off-beat walking tour of some of McQueen’s London haunts not seen in the film.

There’s an unassuming, double-step up and into St. Paul’s Church, the 1843 Gothic Victorian brick pile located in the posh, West London enclave Knightsbridge. Known primarily for high-end retail, like the Harvey Nichols that’s a five minute walk west and continues to not only sell McQueen’s label, but also hosted the first taste of The Met’s Savage Beauty McQueen retrospective in its famous Sloane Street windows months before the show proper arrived at the V&A Museum, another 15 minutes west by foot from Harvey Nicks.

Even when in use, St. Paul’s won’t be crowded, but you can imagine the locals popping in for service to the black-clad Naomi, Kate and Stella—just a few of the one-named fashion phenoms who graced McQueen’s blustery, February 25, 2010, funeral—or the heiress Daphne Guinness, arriving like a paratrooping Angel of Death in a billowing cape from McQueen’s Fall 2002 Supercalifragilistic collection. McQueen’s relatives chose the family tartan showcased in his Fall 1995 Highland Rape collection and were said to be vastly more comfortable at this intimate service than the more showy memorial which took place after the summer, featuring the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Bjork turning in an unbearable birdlike rendition of the Billie Holiday staple “Gloomy Sunday.”

Don’t let the dolled-up lavender walls and bourgie chandeliers of this public house fool you, there are still plenty of Yelp entries that attest to a strong piss smell emanating from the gay fetish club in the basement and wafting through the new ground floor restaurant with a budget hotel above. Back in the day, Central Station’s basement was one of any number of McQueen haunts that put him somewhere between functioning genius and chaffed sex addict. Just a stone’s throw across the Regent’s Canal from his fashion formative years at Central St. Martins, Central Station was a bit of a home base for the hard-partying McQueen. And it’s hard to think of that legacy without considering its ephemeral nature.

For instance, it’s said that the only person to actually purchase a pair of his trademark bumster trousers—a pair of pants that prefigured an entire generation of gay men dressing like public school children — from the runway was Kylie Minogue. The rest were passed out like party favors to friends, although one cashed in a few years ago selling a low-slung pair at auction for £3,500. When the organizers of Savage Beauty rang up Alice Smith looking for a pheasant-feathered bustier she’d worn in a photo shoot, the model didn’t have the heart to tell them it basically fell apart in the back of a cab where McQueen suggested they abandon it.

But it’s the grotty basement of Central Station—hosting a night called Manstink on the eve of McQueen’s first show Taxi Driver—that we have to thank for no pieces remaining from that collection. Too poor to check the clothes, packed into black garbage bags, McQueen hid them under a dumpster outside the club. When it finally occurred to him the next morning, he rushed back, but the entire collection had vanished.

In September of 1996, London’s fashion press filed into this 1904 glass-topped Edwardian beauty that for a time served as an exhibition hall for the Royal Horticultural Society before attaching itself to London’s burgeoning 1990s fashion scene. The hall hosts all manner of events, from weddings to Robbie Williams shows, so it should be easy to get a peek inside. And when you do, try to imagine yourself as McQueen’s first model making her way down a treacherous flight of concrete stairs and stepping onto what heretofore seemed like a highly polished black mirror, but upon insertion of that first stiletto, revealed itself to be a runway comprised of about two inches of water. The audience gasped collectively. Big girls like Kate Moss, Stella Tennant, and Jodie Kidd continued to muddy the waters, but this collection, entitled La Poupée — French for doll—had special meaning for McQueen. He’d just lost his friend David Mason after the young man filled up his backpack with bricks and jumped into the Thames.

McQueen’s sentiments were conveyed by sending his last model, traditionally a bride, down the runway enclosed in a transparent dome filled with fluttering moths. This might have been a good collection for the makers of the documentary McQueen to focus on as it set the stage for his next decade. Brass from French luxury brand LVMH were in the house and would soon lure McQueen into the disastrous career move: taking over legendary French house Givenchy that year for a tumultuous five-year stretch. A black model, Debra Shaw, limped down the runway in shackles, resulting in charges of racism that would tank the career of his friend and fellow LVMH chess piece, John Galliano, the year after McQueen exited Givenchy. But the documentary treats McQueen as if he exists in a vacuum and Galliano is given zero screen time even though the two British designers tracked remarkably similar career paths. While in the neighborhood, you might take a ten-minute walk west to 33 Alderney Street and visit McQueen’s first London flat loaned out to him by his benefactress and muse, Isabella Blow. He shared the Victorian house with Reva Mivasagar until McQueen tried to stab the rival designer with a pair of dressmaker’s scissors.

McQueen’s actual grave is on the Isle of Skye in his ancestral Scotland, emblazoned with the same Shakespearean quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream that adorned his forearm: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” If your tour’s not going to include easyJet, the quarter mile of the Hammersmith Flyover is the next best mortality marker you’re going to get. This elevated roadway is where McQueen’s best friend Isabella Blow made one of six suicide attempts in the two-year run-up to her May 6, 2007 success, when, at her country estate, she paid odd homage to her father-in-law, Jonathan Blow, by ingesting the same weedkiller, Paraquat, that he used to end his life 30 years earlier. The party line, and one that the McQueen documentary retells faithfully, is that Blow was number one of a two-punch that completely destabilized McQueen when his mother passed away a week before his own suicide.

While the latter may certainly be true, McQueen’s relationship with Blow was a long and complicated one. Fashion journalist Suzy Menkes says it ended with Blow feeling “pushed aside.” Menkes continues, “In watching that relationship on screen, I started to feel the discomfort of having lived in a parallel universe to the film. When Detmar Blow, Issie’s husband, talks about his wife’s relationship with McQueen, I can think only of Issie’s anguished emails to me in the last few weeks before her suicide, and the betrayal she felt by the designer she had nurtured.” And while it’s impossible to watch McQueen’s Spring 2008 posthumous tribute to Blow, La Dame Bleue, and not feel the love they had for one another, it could be that final parting took place without reconciliation, making her passing all the more devastating for the impermanent survivor. Menkes suggests it might be “time to bring to a close the re-telling of this sad story,” but it seems impossible to cast aside the person and just appreciate the empty clothes.

One of McQueen’s most enduring legends sprung up when he was a teenager cutting his teeth on Saville Row bespoke suits. Notoriety was sewn into the lining of one of Prince Charles’ jackets, along with the message “I am a cunt.” How can you separate the man from his garments? McQueen is in too deep, down to the very bones of old Britannia.

McQueen hits theaters July 20.

Images via Getty, Brooklyn Museum, V&A Museum, Daphne Guinness, Central Station, RHS Enterprises Limited, and City of West London

Black, Gay, And Free in America

The house I grew up in, when I lived in Congo, stood like a castle at the end of an unpaved dirt road. All around the gates were overgrown weeds and muddy ditches.

But once you were inside, it was a world in itself.

We had two gardens that were separated by stone stairs. The first one had a huge lawn that I remember always having sprinklers on. It had a white swing and a small lake. The second garden had a much smaller lawn and was closer to the terrace at the front of the house — a terrace buttressed by giant marble beams. It was excessive. My parents had worked too hard to be modest. When you grow up in a house the length of both your arms and manage to get a college education and a decent job, you earn the right to be excessive.

My house in South Africa wasn’t quite the same. It wasn’t even a house at all. It was an apartment. The sink was full of cockroaches when we moved in. The walls were stained with…who knows what they were stained with. It always smelled like bleach coated with Febreze. My mother was obsessed with getting the stains out of the air but was embarrassed to have everyone who visited us know how much bleach she had to use. I never brought friends home, not because I was embarrassed but because I was recovering from having to flee my castle in a hurry after the men that wanted my father’s head broke the window. There was glass everywhere, on the floor inside the kitchen, on the stone stairs between the gardens. So we had to go, and I had to learn English in three months, and I couldn’t help but bite my tongue around kids who’d known it their whole lives.

In my fifth grade class at Loreto Convent School in Pretoria, South Africa, during my first year of school in a language other than French, I read Roald Dahl’s Matilda and had to write about it. My teacher, Mrs. Urquhart, was tall and she had light brown hair that she always wore in a messy ponytail. None of my classmates liked her at all; they all found her mean. But she always smiled at me so sweetly. She made me read out loud what I had written and when I was finished she said to the whole class how crazy it was that the person who had only been speaking English for three months wrote the best paper in the class. I didn’t dare look up to meet the stares and eye rolls. So I never brought friends home.

There’s a myth of perpetual tragedy and a lack of nuance that adulterates immigrant narratives. Up until recently, I struggled to call myself an immigrant because it felt so somber. W.E.B. DuBois’ double consciousness always comes to mind because the double edge of intersectionality is isolation. I grew up in a conservative African household, with my father being Catholic and my mother a Jehovah’s Witness. Like most households, it was filled with love and resentment. And like most households, it was a hostile environment for a young queer woman. Harrowing as it was, I managed to carefully handcraft my identity, which I now wear on my sleeve.

In 1984, Richard Goldstein interviewed James Baldwin about being black and gay in America. Baldwin talked about how the discovery of one’s sexual preference doesn’t have to be a trauma, but it is, because we live in an inherently traumatized society. Often people talk about how living at the intersection of multiple identities can be conflicting. But two things can’t both be true and also conflicting. It is true that I am a lesbian. It is true that I’m black and an immigrant and African. Try as the world might to make me believe otherwise, these are not conflicts. They are cohesive fabrics of my being and they only garner friction when they exit my body and interact with the world.

I don’t live in a castle anymore, but in Silver Lake, after a brief stint in Orlando, Florida for high school. Sometimes, when my friends and I go out to eat tacos, we stand on the street and I can see the Hollywood sign above their heads. I think then about all the times I stood at the highest point of my castle in Congo and looked out to see a dirt road and poor street vendors on the other side of the gates. I think of the books I stuffed into my wheelie backpack at the library at Loreto Convent School, so I could read them outside during recess, on a giant lawn, almost the size of the one in my old garden. I think of getting up in the morning to the smell of bleach and getting into the car that always played Dolly Parton or Kenny Rogers, driving to the school for close to an hour, past trees, past a prison, past a McDonalds. I remember all those stories, the stories of me and everyone I encountered.

The inclination by white liberals to believe that the systems of oppression present today are out of character for the United States is some revisionist history bullshit. We’re all trying so desperately hard to hear our own voices above the noise of the world that sometimes we forget that it’s when we’re quiet that we can best hear ourselves speak.

I don’t seek to change anyone’s mind about anything. I just want to remind people of the simple pleasure of a good story. We deserve to be written. We deserve to be sung. We deserved to be photographed and filmed and painted.

Because stories are our birthright. Whether or not we’re heroes. Stories are how we survive. And the moment we start telling them honestly and without fetishizing suffering, that’s when we start healing.

Image via Getty

I am Pansexual. Why Is Saying It So Damn Hard?

I’m pansexual. Saying that leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Saying that makes me feel like I’m prying open a can of worms with my bare teeth. And once the can of worms is open, it can never be sealed again. Calling myself “pansexual” leaves me vulnerable to numerous questions, all Googleable questions. However, our lazy generation requires everything to be spelled out for them, just so they could ask stupider questions.

For example, my best friend asked, “Does being pansexual mean that you have sex with pans?” I’m not sure that he was joking, either. He stared deeply into my eyes, genuine concern etched on his face. He thought that pansexuality was a strange fetish, and who doesn’t love to inquire about strange fetishes?

Though he was probably joking, many people are certain that pansexuality is an awkward fetish, one that does not discriminate against animals, inanimate objects, or even children and elders. A blog, which has over 1,000 reads, refers to pansexuality as an “organized, activist-driven perversion.” And while this particular blog was probably written by some white Republican who believes in cowboy hat-wearing aliens and masturbates to A Bug’s Life, this is a well-known stigma. And this stigma, like most, is harmful to pansexual people, especially pansexual men.

I can’t speak for all pansexual people, but I am not a pervert. I have not pledged allegiance to some kinky cult that has orgies with vacuum machines. I am not a pedophile. I am a pansexual human being who loves other human beings, regardless of their gender identity.

A day before my birthday, I came out to my aunt as pansexual. To her, anything that isn’t heteronormative is gay. And to her, anything gay is completely unacceptable, even though she was in a seven-year-long relationship with a woman named Cynthia, right before she “found Jesus.” However, Jesus didn’t lead her to the green pastures of our promised land. He led her to crack pipes and cheap wigs, but I digress.

Anyways, after telling her that I was pansexual, she demanded that I pray the “spirit of homosexuality” out of my body, then she called me a “faggot.” Then, I ended up reading her so bad that it made headlines. It’s what she deserved, but I digress again.

Ignorance directed at pansexual people is nothing new, nor is it exclusive to my aunt. People don’t care about us. We are the pennies of the LGBTQ community. It feels like people only care about us on the internet. Most of the time, I feel like I can only exist as a pansexual person on the internet because my existence is denied anywhere else I go. I blame stigma, ignorance, and the people who only pretend to care about pansexual people behind their computer and smartphone screens. I just want to find my flock. Is that too much to ask for?

Here’s another frequently asked question about my pansexual identity: “Why don’t you just call yourself bisexual?” If I had a nickel for each time someone asked me this question, I would be the one percent, sipping mimosas with Beyoncé on a yacht, gossiping about her cheating-ass husband and about how musty Kanye West’s clothing line looks.

I’m a person who can see and appreciate the beauty of gender fluidity and non-conformity. I’m someone who is more than willing to stay in a relationship with someone who chooses to transition 15 years into our relationship. I’m someone who is attracted to the complexity and profundity of gender. I’m someone who refuses to look past gender—like color blind white people do to my Blackness—because every gender is beautiful, even the ones I don’t know about yet. I’m pansexual.

I will not have my sexual identity altered to satisfy society’s laziness. Nor will I continue to lazily call myself “queer,” in order to avoid explaining my sexuality to people who don’t really care. I’m pansexual.

I admit, my sexual identity makes me feel like a zebra with no stripes, a horse with a camel’s lump, and Beyoncé with Tinashe’s neck. My sexuality may be seen as a perversion or a fetish for non-consenting entities. My sexuality may be similar to a simple math problem that some people just can’t seem to solve, but it’s my sexuality, and I’ll keep saying it aloud until it doesn’t leave a bitter taste in my mouth anymore.

Hi, my name is Arkee, and I’m pansexual.

Hannah Hart and LGBTQ Celebrities Join INTO and BuzzFeed for Pride Live To Benefit GLAAD On YouTube

Today, INTO is joining BuzzFeed and YouTube to re-up the telethon–only this time, it’s queer AF.

Hannah Hart is hosting Pride Live, and the star-studded three-hour special, airing for free on YouTube, will raise money for GLAAD and all the work the non-profit does to make sure LGBTQ people are not only visible but accurately represented in all areas of the media. Joining the My Drunk Kitchen star is a line-up of queer and trans influencers and icons who will perform and participate in the variety show featuring games and giveaways, all in an effort to give some much-needed attention and cash to GLAAD.

Here’s some of the talent you can expect to see pop by Pride Live: Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart, Shea Diamond, Sam Stryker, Stephen LaConte, Ryann Graham, Fernando Padron, Curly Velasquez, Kelsey Darragh, Wrabel, Laith Ashley, Amber’s Closet, Ava Pearl, Ryan Cassata, Brandon Stansell, Miles McKenna, Stephanie Rice, Jacob Tobia, Miles Jai, Trevor Moran, Kingsley, Alexandra Grey, Isis King, Trace Lysette, Sam Tsui, D’Lo, Dexter Mayfield, Jazzmyne Robbins, Flula Borg, Alyson Stoner, Raymond Braun, Brittani Nichols, Jake Shears, Betty Who, Asapscience, and Ashly Perez.

“There is something exhilarating about being a part of a live moment,” Hart says. “As an entertainer who got my start on YouTube, I want the next generation to get to know GLAAD as intimately as I do. I wanted to launch ‘Pride Live,’ to showcase creative queer forces – from both online and off – to deliver an unforgettable show for a cause dear to my heart. I am so thrilled to be partnered with Buzzfeed and INTO to bring this show to life.”

Join us as we stream Pride Live from GLAAD’s YouTube — today, Friday, June 29 from 12-3pm PST.

Calls For ‘Civility’ Won’t Keep the Supreme Court From Rolling Back LGBTQ Rights

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy picked a particularly bad time to retire. The Court’s long-established moderate—and known friend to LGBTQ rights—opted to step down when the United States is highly polarized and embroiled in a debate over “civility.” That debate is likely to spill over to the Supreme Court, with some on the left beating the drum to obstruct judicial hearings by any means possible, while the “civility” crowd will insist that Democrats should “follow procedure,” evoking Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” speech.


The insistence on civility in the current political climate is a mistake. With the Supreme Court, it is a mistake with tremendous costs. Whoever is appointed to fill Kennedy’s robes will have more power than almost anyone else in America—Kennedy held the swing vote on critical cases like Obergefell v. Hodges, United States v. Windsor, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.


If there was ever a time to engage in what Representative John Lewis calls “necessary trouble,” this is it. We have a duty to future generations to be uncivil.


Donald Trump’s election was a triumph of incivility. A man who proudly bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, made racist and Islamophobic comments a core part of his platform, and conducted himself with utter disregard for decorum throughout his campaign won by leveraging the “deplorable” vote. His followers didn’t care about his lack of civility; indeed, it was a selling point, reflecting the right’s stranglehold on the state of politics and discourse in America.


The right, which positions itself as filled with “values voters” and people who care about America, has defined both “values” and “America” in a way that leaves the left continually scrambling to catch up.


Trump’s first opportunity to change the shape of the court was a travesty, one tailored for him by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans, who successfully held Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat open for over a year after his death in 2016. McConnell infamously refused to hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s appointee, Merrick Garland, saying Americans should have a “voice” at the polls first because it was an election year, and one in which Republicans hoped they would retake the White House. Then they obliterated the judicial filibuster to force through approval of Neil Gorsuch.


Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) threw this back in McConnell’s face on Wednesday, saying: “Wait, so the thing about ‘the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice’ wasn’t really about a concern for the American people? It was just about Obama?? I am shocked! SHOCKED!!”


Trump appointed a staunch conservative in Gorsuch, and will no doubt do the same again. Though he positions himself as an iconoclast, he follows the bidding of groups like the Heritage Foundation.


The “civility” team will argue the rule of law should be followed, pointing to incidents like the recent denial of service to Sarah Sanders at the Red Hen in Virginia. “Let the Trump team eat in peace!” cried the Washington Post. Evidently being “civil” equates to never voicing disapproval in anything other than a soft murmur. Democrats should “rise above,” give Sarah Sanders her entree, and participate in fairly-conducted hearings for any nominee even as Republicans crow about racing confirmation hearings through to seat a new justice before November.


It is beyond bizarre and harmful that much of this rhetoric comes from people who consider themselves progressive, and apparently do not understand the current state of emergency in the United States—which Michelle Goldberg aptly noted in the New York Times is about democracy, not manners. There is no rule of law that’s functionally operable in a country where police routinely gun down youth of color and get away with it, while children are kept in cages for the crime of seeking asylum and political candidates harass trans women in restrooms and publish video of the encounter on Facebook.


The rule of law in America is dead and those who wish to restore it—or an era of civility—must be prepared to fight for it.


Fights for the future are not won by means of “civility” and asking nicely. While people may evoke the legacies of people like Martin Luther King in their quest for civility, they should take note of the fact that civil disobedience is, by its nature, actually uncivil: It is disruptive, aggressive, flagrant, and defiant. In “Mississippi Goddam,” Nina Simone sneered at the advice to “do it slow” when “me and my people just about due.”


Refusing to serve members of the Trump Administration is not uncivil, any more than confronting senators on aircraft or asking cabinet members questions at a restaurant is uncivil. Incivility is harassing and assaulting abortion providers and journaliststhrowing feces at establishments who take political stances you disagree with, driving cars into crowdscheering the prospect of civil warenabling the systemic bullying of trans students, and terrorizing people with differing political opinions.


Calling, in this climate, for Democrats to use the time-honored tactic of bureaucratic obstructionism to drag this nomination fight out for as long as possible is actually relatively mild. And in truth, it’s very in keeping with the letter of the law, as the ACLU noted.


In other words: It is time to play “constitutional hardball.”

Conservatives like Mitch McConnell—who has openly admitted he is stacking lower courts with unqualified, inexperienced conservative nominees to “[change] the courts”—have been treating the Supreme Court as a partisan game for a very long time. Democrats need to give as good as they get, not in a reaction that lowers them to the level of conservative extremists, but one that acknowledges the goalposts and rule of law have shifted in the United States, and so have the stakes.

This is true well beyond the court, though losing the moderate swing vote will likely result in the almost immediate repeal of Roe v. Wade as soon as Christianists can mount a lower court challenge—and that’s just the start of a litany of terrible decisions that could roll out over decades. Challenges to bathroom bills are likely to come up before the court, as are cases revolving around employment and housing discrimination, adoption rights, access to transition services, religious imposition laws, and the right to refuse service on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation — not who you work for or whether you support Nazis.

When a ship is sinking, you don’t politely move over to make room for the water. Adherence to the myth of “civility” got us here, and it is incivility that will get us out.

Dearly Beloved, I Want The Peen, But I Hate Weed

In this week’s Dearly Beloved, the advice column from Michael Arceneaux, is a reader who wants to go from Ciara’s “Goodies” to Ciara’s “Body Party” with the new man in his life.

Unfortunately, despite spending so much time solo dolo and finally having someone in his life,  he still cannot shake concerns over his boyfriend’s penchant for marijuana.

What do you do if you want to get laid but can’t take your man smoking to get lit? ‘Round these parts, you puff-puff pass and still penetrate, but different strokes I suppose. Michael offers sympathy, but also a dose of tough love.

If you want Michael’s advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start your letter with Dearly Beloved!

It’s a thing.


Dearly Beloved,

I moved out of my parents house because I got a job out of town. I am a 22 year old gay guy who had never even kissed anyone, not girl nor boy, so I was curious about the feeling of having someone who loves you right next to you.

I started using this gay dating app in which I met a beautiful Venezuelan guy. We met and we had a good conversation. I thought I could get alone with him and we could have things in common.

We kept connected during the day, and once a week I visited him and his mother cooked for us. He treated me very well.

Everything was OK ‘til I was at his home and he started smoking weed.

I don’t know what to do. If people find out I’m dating a guy it would be terrible and smoking weed here is illegal. If he gets caught up while I’m with him I would get in trouble, lose my job and let everyone know I was with him because he was my boy.

I don’t know how to break up with him because I don’t want to, but this weed stuff makes me feel anxious.

With Love,

Virgin Boyfriend

Dear Virgin Boyfriend,

I regret to inform you, but I took a hit of my vape pen before responding to this, and technically I don’t think it was legal. Are you judging me now? You better stop! It helps with my anxiety, love. Better than generic Celexa TBH.

Listen, as someone late to sex, I understand that you have met someone and really want to explore your sexuality with someone you fancy and feel comfortable with.. However, as someone also late to weed and living in Trump’s America, I refuse to condemn weed because weed has been vital in keeping me composed in this trash-ass country. I bet your boo thang can relate.

Having said that, I do not live in Venezuela and do not want communist problems so I want to respect your fears. Homosexuality may not be criminalized in Venezuela, but from my understanding, you aren’t exactly well protected either. Still, you want to choose your battles more wisely and I support it.

Ultimately, it sounds like you are not only uncomfortable with being openly gay, you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the job that has provided you financial independence. You can ask him to never have weed around you, but if that doesn’t work, you may not be able to be with him. I would not tolerate a partner telling me not to smoke weed. I’m no addict, but folks have a right to their vices and measures of self-care.

You sure you don’t want to be the living embodiment of “He like to roll the weed” on Beyoncé and Beyoncé’s husband’s “Apeshit?” If not you can turn on this old classic from TG4.

And then turn this on until you find a weed-less bae:

Good luck, love.



I’m a Married Queer Person. Here’s How ‘Religious Freedom’ Affects Me

Two years ago I got married because I watched my mother die in front of me.

One morning in July, I got a call from my grandmother saying my mother had a brain aneurysm, and she was in a coma. The next day I booked a plane ticket to Cincinnati. I sat with her in the hospital for a week, painting her toenails and taunting her in the hopes that she would wake up. I would tell her that all her favorite ghost hunting shows got cancelled and that Julia Roberts wasn’t that good of an actress.

But four days after she was checked into the same hospital I was born in, her doctor told me she wouldn’t be waking up. As her next of kin, I had to make a choice: to prolong her life by keeping her on oxygen or allow her to die a natural death. Six days after I first walked into her hospital room—not fully understanding the gravity of the situation until I saw her deceptively cherubic face hooked up to a snarl of translucent breathing tubes—I held her heavy hand as she gasped her last breath. She fought hard for it; she always was a fighter.

The situation was difficult, but the choice wasn’t. Twenty-five years earlier, my mother had given birth to two little boys who weren’t built to survive. Their bodies slowly swelled like fever balloons from a disease so rare no one else has ever had it. It’s as if they were being boiled from the inside.

She had to make the same decision—twice. One was two and a half years old when his tubes were disconnected, the other just six months.

I gave her the gift she had given them so many years before: a freedom from pain disguised as suspended animation. Her face may have looked peaceful lit up like silvery gossamer in the too-bright lights of the hospital room, but she knew there is no peace in purgatory.

I married my husband because I needed to know someone could make the same decision for me when the time came. The incidence of familial intracranial aneurysms is up to 20 percent: meaning that as many as one-fifth of people whose parents or immediate family members have a history of violent brain trauma will experience the same. It would be more than a year before I got test results back saying my brain map was perfectly ordinary—no abnormalities. But in the heat of funerals and answering condolence cards, we had to act quickly.

My husband and I got married at City Hall in October 2016, and the photos we took that day look more like the cover art for a somber indie band than a ceremony marking our eternal love and commitment. We knew we wanted to get married from our very first trip to Coney Island two years earlier, locking arms on the Electro Spin to keep from being hurled into space. It wasn’t, however, exactly how we pictured getting married.

I never expected to tell this story in public—or at all. It was something that only we and a few other people knew. It was private enough that nearly a year later, I proposed to him a second time—this time in front of close friends with a sand diamond my great aunt brought back from Saudi Arabia when I was no more than 10. Unpolished and the size of a pinky nail, the stone looked more like a perfectly round zit than a precious jewel, but I liked the object’s symbolism: Like every lasting relationship, it would take time and diligence to reveal its hidden radiance.

But the morning the Supreme Court sounded its verdict in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, everything changed—just as everything changed those many months before.

The ruling was neither the slam dunk conservatives in favor of so-called “religious freedom” had been hoping for nor the final blow LGBTQ people hoped would end the conversation. To mix sports metaphors, legal eagles claimed it was a punt. In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had treated Lakewood, CO baker Jack Phillips unfairly in weighing the 2012 case. They argued that the civil rights body’s verdict displayed unconstitutional bias against people of religious conviction.

Thus, the decision didn’t determine whether Phillips, who denied service to gay couple Jack Mullins and Charlie Craig on the basis of their sexual orientation, had the right to do so. That would be determined by future court rulings.

While the ruling was deemed “narrow” by advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, its interpretation has been divided. The Arizona Court of Appeals applied Masterpiece to uphold a nondiscrimination ordinance in Phoenix, but Liberty Counsel, the far-right law firm that defended Rowan County, KY clerk Kim Davis in court, viewed it as a mandate to begin chipping away at protections for LGBTQ people across the United States.

In truth, that work has already begun. Last December, the Supreme Court declined to take up Pidgeon v. Turner, in which plaintiffs argue that the same-sex spouses of Houston city employees are not entitled to partner benefits. That case, which was originally filed prior to Obergefell v. Hodges, has now been remanded to Texas lower courts for further consideration.

In the wake of the Masterpiece ruling, news outlets reported an East Tennessee hardware store—Amyx Hardware & Roofing Supplies in Grainger County—put back up a “no gays allowed” sign originally hung following the legalization of same-sex marriage. But in truth, that sign has been up all three years.

Meanwhile, a South Dakota lawmaker recently argued that businesses should have the right to deny service to other marginalized groups—like people of color.

When LGBTQ advocates won the right of all couples to be married in each of the 50 states following a decades-long struggle for equality, they successfully argued that all love is equal. The commitment between Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, whose 44-year relationship formed the legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, is no different than the devotion shared by heterosexual partners. The only thing that separates the two is stigma. When Windsor proposed in 1967, Spyer wore a diamond pin in fear an engagement ring would out them. Coworkers at IBM thought Windsor was dating “Willy Spyer,” a fictional brother the two invented to prevent from being fired.

Even today, LGBTQ people can be terminated from their jobs in 28 states if they are discovered to be queer or transgender. After first-grade teacher Jocelyn Morfii posted photos of she and her wife getting married on Facebook, the Miami Catholic school where she taught sacked her within the week. The school’s principal called Morfii’s termination a “difficult and necessary decision.”

While advocates have eloquently argued for the dignity of queer love, what society has yet to catch up to is that our rights as married people deserve the same consideration.

When I got married two years ago, I did it because I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else but the incredibly kind, patient man who put together an unnecessarily elaborate dresser from IKEA for me just days after we met. He was my first date when I moved to New York City from Chicago in 2014. I hadn’t planned on dating anyone, but one day, a dog I was fostering from a rescue shelter had a violent seizure, and I didn’t know who else to call to help take her to the animal hospital. He was there, he kept being there, and that constancy grew into love.

Just as much of a consideration in that decision, though, were the 1,138 benefits that flow from marriage—which include rights of inheritance, tax deductions, insurance coverage, and rights of visitation in hospitals and emergency waiting rooms.

The day that my mother had a brain aneurysm, her partner of eight years wasn’t allowed in the room when her doctors forced a feeding tube down her throat. Her brain was bleeding internally, so she fought the medical professionals who were trying to help her as she lashed out in pain—like a hunted animal thrashing violently to prevent its capture. Because she and her partner weren’t married, he couldn’t be there to help calm her. So the doctors on duty placed her into a medically induced coma in order to insert the tube. She would never wake up from that coma.

The burden of the choice he never got to make has weighed heavy on him since: What if he had been present to say “no?” Would she still be alive?

These are decisions no one should ever have to make, and yet too often, the friends and family who know us best will be forced to act on our behalf: as powers of attorney, caregivers, and voices when we cannot speak for ourselves in times of emergency. Having that person is especially important for LGBTQ people, who experience disproportionate discrimination in nearly all facets of public life. When Tyra Hunter, a transgender woman who lived in Washington, D.C., was injured in a car accident in 1995, the medics refused her care after they sliced open her pants and discovered her anatomy wasn’t what they expected. She died in the hospital.

The morning that the Masterpiece ruling came down, I knew we were in for a long fight 23 years after her death. I knew that even if my husband and I did everything we could to ensure I would have someone there to advocate for me, we could take nothing for granted.

That day, I called my husband, my grandmother, and other members of my family and told them that if something ever happens to me, don’t send me to a religious hospital. Earlier this year, the Trump administration reshuffled the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, an office devoted to allowing people of faith to refuse service to LGBTQ people. Considering that one in six hospital beds in the U.S. are housed at Catholic medical centers, that decision could mean the difference between life and death in far too many cases: cases like Tyra Hunter’s and, in the wrong circumstances, maybe even cases like mine.

No matter what the religious right has argued in court, this discussion is not about cakes or flowers. It’s not even about love, really. It’s about the right of all of us to be treated equally under the law. It’s about whether I have the right to live and whether my legally wedded husband has the right to make that choice.

My mother’s death was the worst moment of my life. When I got the call that morning she was in a coma, all I could think about was the things I never got to tell her. My mother was a career survivor—of sexual assault, domestic violence, and cheating husbands—who raised me in a one-bedroom trailer with a half-collapsed roof. In order to make separate rooms for us, she had to bisect what was originally intended to be a living room using particle board. She gave everything to raise me, and all I wanted was the chance to acknowledge her sacrifice. I wanted to say, “I see you.”

The only thing I can imagine that’s worse than that is not getting to be in the room at all when it happened. I got to be the one sitting next to her, tightly gripping her hand in an unspoken pact. That’s the same thing we all deserve.

Illustration by Bronwyn Lundberg

Dearly Beloved, Your Side Piece May Be Living On The Down Low

In the debut of Dearly Beloved, the advice column by author Michael Arceneaux, a reader writes in to share the plight of an older man dating a younger bae — a side piece who sounds like a better candidate for the main boo thang position — and, perhaps in honor of the “Watching Oprah” exhibition opening at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a tale of someone living on the down low.

Yes, this is all in one letter, and no, I can’t believe “down low” is still a thing for a few people either.

Anyway, our dear reader sounds like a nice dude who doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but sometimes you have to do what’s best for you. He needs advice on whether or not to pull the trigger, and Michael is here to help.

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

It’s a thing.


Dearly Beloved,

I have a question and I’m a little bit confused.

My boyfriend and I have been together for about five years now. He is quite young – he is 26 and I am 43.  When we first met I was deeply in love with him and was crazy about him. Somehow he misunderstood that, as though I was too possessive and the relationship was too intimate; the truth is, I was his first committed gay relationship. He’s been used to one night stands and getting involved with someone just for sex.

About two years into the relationship I was having this feeling that he is young and he will grow up into the person I want him to be. He is not too hot in sex, not romantic and sometimes he just wants to be alone. Also because of the societal challenges and inquisitive neighbors, he needs to have a girlfriend as cover so no one will get to think that he is gay. Whenever I hear about the girlfriend I feel jealous.

I was very committed to him and was doing so many things for him to make him comfortable. He doesn’t come to my house regularly because I’m living with my two children.

Two years into the relationship I met another guy who I fell in love with. He was more mature, romantic, good in bed and makes me feel special whenever I’m with him. I didn’t tell him about this previous guy that I’ve been with. I’ve been dating both of them. The first guy is easy going and doesn’t always have time for me so it makes it easy to date both of them.

My problem now is I don’t want to end the relationship with the first guy who is younger because the first time I attempted to, he was sad and asked his friends to talk to me so that we can settle every issue. He doesn’t want to lose me because he’s fallen in love with me and has gotten used to me. Now I’m not sure if he truly loves me or if it’s because I assist him sometimes so he doesn’t want to lose that. Also because he is young he has plans to have children and maybe marry at some point. I feel like I don’t have a future with him. With all of this in mind whenever he is out, and I’m not sure where he’s gone to or if he’s dating someone, I feel jealous and angry.

How do I break up with him even though I still love him? Also, I don’t want to lose the second guy. I love him more. I’m confused. What can you advise?

Confused Lover

Dear Confused Lover,

I appreciate you for giving me a lot to tackle on my very first advice column. And kudos to you for serving me a gumbo made out of an old E. Lynn Harris novel, a problematic episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show of yore, and about 17 R&B songs. I am as impressed by your peril as I am sympathetic to it.

Now, when dealing with an age difference like the one you have in your longest relationship… while it’s not impossible to make it work, it requires a very specific sort of 26-year-old. For starters, one that wants to be in the kind of relationship you envision for yourself. This isn’t Beyoncé and Jay-Z here; it’s more like Mariah Carey when she was in that alleged cash crunch while dating the billionaire. Like, if you have to worry that he doesn’t want to lose you because you provide financial assistance, that is a telling sentiment in itself.

Having said that, he mistakes your actions as “possessive” and “too intimate” because he’s inexperienced, and evidently, not totally secure with himself. It’s not that a 26-year-old who has never had a boyfriend before is incapable of maintaining a successful relationship with a more mature man, but he has proven to be incapable of putting in the effort that any healthy relationship deserves.

And let me just backtrack for a second: “He needs to have a girlfriend as a cover so no one will get to think that he is gay.” With all due respect, this alone is more than enough reason to break up with him. Do you need me to buy you some running shoes so you can go ahead and skedaddle already?

I know that coming out and living freely takes time and often still depends on the individual, but you are settled in your life and know what you want out of it. Let him figure out himself on his own time and stop allocating so much of yours to a situation that just isn’t going to work out in its current state. I understand that you love him and not wanting to hurt him in any way is a testament to that love. However, while it’s admirable to be concerned about his feelings, they should not come at the expense of yours. He may indeed be hurt by the breakup, but dealing with heartache is just another a thing time and experience will have to teach him about.

As for the second person, if you feel this strongly about him, you need to pour your energy into that. You’re saying all of these lovely things about the way he makes you feel yet you’ve been keeping something from him? Is that fair to either one of you? No, I’m not saying expose yourself to him, but I do encourage you to pour your energy into the situation that brings the best feelings out of you.

I think you know which one that is. Isn’t it time to give that one the best shot you can already?