Was #20GAYTEEN a Victory For Queer Representation?

When Hayley Kiyoko nicknamed this year “#20GAYTEEN” last New Year’s Eve, she truly captured a mood. Social media hashtags can be as temporary as the trends they represent, but nearly 12 months later, #20GAYTEEN is definitely still a thing – Kiyoko even has it in her Twitter bio. At the same time, #20GAYTEEN has been embraced by the media as a snappy way of aggregating the new generation of LGBTQ artists putting out great music this year. Kiyoko, Janelle Monáe, Troye Sivan, MNEK, SOPHIE, Christine and the Queens, Anne-Marie, Years & Years, and Brockhampton are among the queer or queer-fronted acts to have released acclaimed albums in 2018.

But when I interviewed Years & Years’ Olly Alexander for UK music magazine NME in late-November, the frontman said he had somewhat mixed feelings about #20GAYTEEN. “Part of me is really thrilled and wants to shout #20GAYTEEN from the rooftops,” he explained. “There’s a lot behind it, because it feels like there’s quite a groundbreaking wave of new queer artists enjoying more success now.”

“But at the same time,” Alexander continued, “something that gains traction on the internet doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s happening in real life. In that sense I think there’s been a bit of disparity between #20GAYTEEN being a moment online and… you know, I still want to see more queer artists starring in their own big-budget music videos, selling loads of albums, making it into the charts. Not every artist wants those things, of course, but I think mainstream music is still pretty heterosexual despite there being so many queer artists out there making amazing music.”

Certainly, social media excitement around #20GAYTEEN hasn’t always translated to the sort of sales figures many of us feel these artists deserve. Monáe is enough of a live draw to be headlining a 12,500-capacity venue in London next summer, but her only mainstream hit remains “We Are Young,” a 2011 collaboration with rock band fun. “Make Me Feel,” the incendiary lead single from this year’s Dirty Computer album, stalled at #99 on the Billboard Hot 100. Just one track from Sivan’s Bloom album, “My My My!”, has cracked the Hot 100, peaking at #80. And in a string of tweets that he later deleted, MNEK admitted he was disappointed by the performance of debut album Language in his native UK. “It hurts but it’s the truth of my career and being black and gay in this game,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, general enthusiasm for everything #20GAYTEEN also produced a conspicuous mis-step in the form of Rita Ora’s would-be bisexual bop “Girls,” whose chorus hook goes: “Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls.” Soon after it dropped in May, Ora’s song (which features Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha, and Cardi B) was denounced by several prominent queer female artists. “A song like this just fuels the male gaze while marginalizing the idea of women loving women,” Kiyoko wrote on Twitter. Kehlani said “Girls” has “many awkward slurs, quotes, and moments.” DJ-producer Kittens tweeted: “This song is literally about wanting to hehe kiss girls when you’re drinking and smoking weed. That’s all we got. It’s harmful when LGBT women are fetishized and no relationships are ever taken seriously.”

Ora was so shaken by the blowback that she quickly apologized and essentially came out at the same time. “[The song] was written to represent my truth and is an accurate account of a very real and honest experience in my life. I have had romantic relationships with women and men throughout my life and this is my personal journey,” she wrote on Twitter. “I am sorry how I expressed myself in my song has hurt anyone. I would never intentionally cause harm to other LBGTQ+ people or anyone.” Perhaps well-intentioned but definitely tone-deaf, “Girls” showed us that #20GAYTEEN was an ongoing process, not a flawless victory lap. The same can arguably be said of unsavory speculation around Shawn Mendes’s sexuality: when there are so many queer artists to celebrate, why are portions of the community trying to out one who’s repeatedly told us he’s straight?

But at the same time, it’s arguable that pop culture has never looked more queer – check out actor-singer Ezra Miller’s gender norm-eschewing shoot for Playboy magazine. Equally, there’s no denying that artists generally mentioned under the #20GAYTEEN umbrella are telling stories we’ve rarely (or sometimes never) heard in pop songs before. Sivan’s cleverly suggestive “Bloom” is widely presumed to be about bottoming. Monáe’s “Pynk” is a glorious celebration of queer female sexuality whose video features an array of vagina-centric imagery. Kiyoko’s “He’ll Never Love You” has the artist hailed by fans as “Lesbian Jesus” telling a girl who can’t decide between her and a guy: “He’ll never love you like me.” For young, queer pop fans, it’s a super-exciting time.

So, disappointing sales figures for some LGBTQ artists notwithstanding, our enthusiasm for #20GAYTEEN shouldn’t be dampened. Queer artists have made so much authentically queer music this year that when a wannabe queer song struck a false note, its chart momentum was halted by the furor: in the UK, Rita Ora’s biggest market, “Girls” never climbed higher than its opening chart position of #22.

And earlier this month, Kiyoko told Billboard that one of her 2018 highlights has been “seeing different artists stand up for LGBTQ [rights].” She also said that “#20GAYTEEN never ends. It’s the spirit within.” Perhaps that’s the main takeaway from the mood she captured at the start of the year – that everything achieved by queer artists this year could have a potentially huge snowball effect. The more queer artists share their authentically queer stories, the more other queer folks, from all walks of life, will be inspired to do the same.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’ Recap: The Redemption of Valentina

Get out your roses and red M&Ms, girls. After a quiet performance in the RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 premiere, Valentina properly explodes onto the scene in episode 2. She wins the challenge, wins the lip sync, and gets some primo confessionals, to boot. Though the episode is framed as being about season 3 legend Stacy Layne Matthews, in reality, this week is All About Val.

Of course, considering what a divisive figure the season 9 Miss Congeniality-cum-Fan Favorite can be, this episode will likely inspire heated disagreements. For example: Her talking heads are plentiful, yes, but also quite extra. (The editors literally stitch in a round of applause for her in one confessional.) An impromptu monologue during deliberations about how difficult choosing someone to go home is mostly makes her fellow queens roll their eyes.

That said, the quality of her performance in the challenge — a girl group music battle that sees the girls writing and recording their own verses, executing group choreography, and incorporating Stacy into their routines — is nearly indisputable. She comes up with a killer verse that is perfectly Valentina, all fire and spice, and sings the hell out of it. Her runway presentation, a gorgeous gown, is also 10s across the board.

Valentina definitely deserves to win this week. The biggest point of dispute, I imagine, will be about her winning the lip sync.

Season 4 Premiere GIF by RuPaul's Drag Race - Find & Share on GIPHY

Watching the Lip Sync for Your Legacy, I knew immediately Ru’s choice of winner would be controversial. Season 10 veteran and fellow challenge winner Monét X Change certainly serves big stunts and moments in her lip sync, which is more immediately impressive. In rewatching it, though, I get why Valentina wins. Monét doesn’t really stitch those big moments together, whereas Val’s is a cohesive performance. Her peaks aren’t just sudden spikes; she builds energy throughout the song, and explodes at the climax. It is a battle reminiscent of the similarly disputed Peppermint-vs.-Trinity Taylor lip sync to “Stronger” in the season 9 finale. I don’t begrudge anyone who thinks Monét deserved the win, but I’d personally also likely go with Valentina.

That said, I’m also certain Valentina wins because it makes for the best story. Redemption on an Ariana Grande lip sync? A year and a half after the Great “Greedy” Massacre? Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to resist that either were I a Drag Race story producer.

Still, any whiff of impropriety is enough to get the fanbase roiled up these days. After Farrah Moan fell in last week’s challenge, some viewers (including season 9 and All Stars 3 veteran Aja) were upset that the show used the take of her All-Star Variety Show Performance in which she fell, as opposed to an alternate take. Trinity the Tuck herself started some drama when she alleged Latrice Royale’s alternate take was worse than the performance we saw (which, in our minds, could have easily been in the top). There was even anger over the shot of season 6 alumna Gia Gunn that the show used after Farrah’s fall. Some eagle-eyed viewers caught that, due to Manila’s unrevealed outfit behind Gia, that shot couldn’t have possibly been Gia’s real reaction to Farrah.

To that last bit of detective work, season 8 queen Kim Chi had the best response imaginable: “Who cares?” Because really, that’s the heart of it. RuPaul’s Drag Race is crafted and curated entertainment. It is not a docuseries, or a live news report. It is reality television, which, despite the name, is under no obligation to present reality exactly as it happened. Producers are telling us a story. Using a hilarious shot of Gia smiling — one that is quite rightfully going viral — to underscore their feud is not malicious. It’s good story editing.

So yeah, Valentina probably wins the lip sync for a combination of her performance, her redemption, and the dramatic narrative potential of her sending former season 9 frenemy Farrah home. That’s not shady or deceptive; to quote Angela Bassett in Mission: Impossible — Fallout, “That’s the job.”

Season 4 Premiere GIF by RuPaul's Drag Race - Find & Share on GIPHY

Speaking of Gia, though, she really leans into that villain edit this week! I’m not sure if Gia purposefully settled on being the bitch when she walked into the workroom to maximize her screen time — as Farrah accuses her of doing in the workroom — or if she’s just this unaware. But she’s unrepentantly unpleasant this week, stirring up drama with Farrah over some nebulous non-story. (Farrah tried to make Gia and another girl make up … while drunk? While Gia was working? And Gia exploded at her? That’s all I got.) She’s blatantly trying to distract Farrah in the workroom, and ignores Farrah’s multiple requests to table the discussion. Even when Monique and Naomi are yelling at Gia to cool it, she still doesn’t listen.

Gia didn’t stop there, though. During deliberations, when Farrah is pleading for her life in the competition with Monét, Gia decides to go over and interrupt the conversation to deliver an insincere apology for any drama she caused. It struck me watching Gia interrupt this one-on-one conversation while wearing opulent eveningwear that Gia is a Bachelor villain in a Drag Race world. She’s all about shady comments behind girls’ backs and inconveniencing them, but that’s not fun to watch. She’s a distraction, in every sense. I deeply empathize with Farrah when she lets out a frustrated, “GOD, I can’t stand her.”

As for Gia’s performance in the challenge, it’s fine. Her verse is unmemorable but enjoyable enough. Honestly, that’s the case across the board this week. Trinity’s verse is fine. Latrice’s is fine too, energetic but lyrically a bit shallow. Season 8 queen Naomi Smalls is actually quite a bit better than fine (guest judge Kacey Musgraves calls her a “great songwriter”), and she looks fantastic to boot. It’s enough to land Naomi in the top three for the second week in a row; one imagines she’ll break through with a win imminently.

Season 3 veteran Manila Luzon, on the other hand, is much worse than fine. Her verse is underwhelming, and nothing she does on the main stage can salvage it. I enjoyed Manila’s painting gag immensely last week, but watching her perform this episode brought back a lot of the problems I have with her. She’s a stunning queen — her runway look this week is nothing short of breathtaking — but she never feels emphatic enough in performance, “MacArthur Park” excepted. Hell, she basically whispers through her verse. For such a big character, Manila’s performances often end with periods, not exclamation points.

The heart of season 10 and winner of last week’s challenge, Monique Heart, is also mostly fine while attempting to pay tribute to Aaliyah in her performance. Unfortunately, she screws up a costume transition in her verse, and worse, she makes excuses for it on the runway. This is truly the most maddening thing about Monique: She has an excuse for everything. And she did the same thing in season 10! I desperately want her to stop, because it so clearly annoys the judges. I can’t watch such a talented queen go out too early again because she won’t just accept critiques on the main stage. If she’d had better humor about the judges’ notes, she may well have swapped placements with Manila.

Season 4 Premiere GIF by RuPaul's Drag Race - Find & Share on GIPHY

Neither Monique nor Manila have much to worry about this week, though. Farrah Moan is just so clearly out of her depth in this group. Her verse isn’t demonstrably worse than Manila’s, but her hesitance in both the vocal performance and dance is obvious. She really does lack the nerve to perform with confidence in this arena. Farrah’s a sweetheart, but her departure this week is entirely fair and deserved.

Valentina and Farrah have a fascinating conversation during deliberations. Val makes no bones about it: She is very much considering sending Farrah home, and wants to know if their friendship will survive it. Farrah says it would be difficult to recover from, considering their relationship is fragile. I’ll give Farrah credit: Whether or not she’s being sincere, that’s pretty good social game. Valentina clearly demonstrates she’s worried about upsetting Farrah, and Farrah doesn’t let her off easy. Even though Valentina ultimately decides to send Farrah home, I’d bet Farrah made the choice a harder one for Val than she expected.

It’s almost certain that Monét would’ve sent Farrah home, too, considering her tight friendship with Monique. Unfortunately, her sending Farrah home is much less compelling narratively — which is kind of the Monét problem all episode. Yeah, she gets her first challenge win, and after absolutely slaying her verse! But she’s not Valentina getting her redemption. Yeah, her runway is a major step up! But it still pales in comparison to everyone else’s gown.

Monét absolutely gets second-fiddle treatment this week — and is even getting it in this recap. I’m hopeful this is only the first win for her, and I’ll get plenty more chances to rant and rave about my fave.

A henny for your thoughts:

• I adore Stacy Layne Matthews, known best simply as “Henny,” and I’m a little bummed to see her backgrounded in a challenge that was designed to feature her. I think the failing here is that she isn’t included in helping the girls develop their verses, so the songs themselves are deeply disconnected from Henny herself. Even during dance rehearsal, she takes a backseat to the group drama. Still, it’s always nice to see Stacy, and to see the show acknowledge its pre-VH1 roots.

• No mini-challenge this week, which is worrying. If these episodes are going to be 90 minutes long, we need weekly mini-challenges. There was a whole lot of time spent in the workroom this episode.

• Sometimes I think Valentina skeptics are off the mark, and then sometimes Valentina shows off her bare ass in the first five minutes of the episode. So, like, I get it.

• Monét drops a reference to The Vixen in her verse. Color me not just shocked, but floored, that Drag Race allowed it.

• I shrieked when “Into You” came on as the lip sync song. One more Ariana song in season 11, and she’ll tie the record held for most non-RuPaul lip sync songs by a single artist! (Current record holders: Paula Abdul, Britney Spears, and Madonna.)

• Though Manila’s output this episode is decidedly underwhelming, I do appreciate her commentary on the Gia-Farrah fight. She sees a lot of herself in Gia, and wisely notes that going for the weakest link in the room is only going to look like bullying. As she says, she knows from experience. Heathers vs. Boogers, anyone?

• Kacey Musgraves and Ciara are good-not-great guest judges, though Ciara does get a couple of good notes in during judging. Knocking Monique for making excuses instead of taking responsibility as a performer is the kind of note only another performer can give. And Kacey calling Trinity “Tanya Tuck-er” during the runway is fun.

• God bless Ciara for not just screaming at Naomi when she says she listened to “One, Two Step” in sixth grade. Monét screaming that she loves Ciara is much more respectful.

• Once Gia inevitably goes next week — Snatch Game doesn’t really seem like her forte — we’ll be down to an absurdly tight final seven. I truly think anyone could win this thing, though if I were a betting man, I’d say Valentina, Trinity, Latrice, and Monét will be our final four.

• I will never be over Valentina saying that Monique’s pant fit “is so disrespectful to Aaliyah.”

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars returns next Friday, December 28, at 8 p.m. Eastern on VH1. (Merry Christmas until then!)

15 Last-Minute Queer Gifts You Can Buy At CVS This Weekend Because Wow, Really, You Waited This Long?

Sure, you still have a few days before Christmas, but do you really want to go to the mall or pray Amazon will come through with that express shipping? Why don’t you just go to CVS where you can find a parking spot and a get a gift for a good deal? 

You may be thinking, “IDK, seems trashy–not chic,” but you’d be mistaken. There are plenty of Santa-approved options for all of those you are obligated to buy gifts for, and why should you have to go out of your way when it’s your Christmas too?! This is physical and emotional labor, tbh, and they will get what they get and they will LIKE IT.

Hanukkah Observant Blue Balls

These socks are a perfect pick for anyone you are giving a belated gift to under the guise of being a pagan who celebrates all holidays this season so is it really *that* belated?

High Femme Reindeer

Behind every Rudolph is a Clarice, encouraging her man to STFU and get it together and sleigh. An inspirational gift for the new year.

Lesbian Snow Birds

Kiss it, kiss it better, baby. (Note: You’d have to purchase both or else she’s flying solo.) Also available in all-blue for the gay mens, or switch it up with blue and pink for bisexual visibility.

Bisexual Barbies 

Speaking of, Babs and her boo are ready to hit the town in their blue and pink lewks, but you can also keep them at home to pose in the images you can no longer find by searching “lesbian” on Tumblr.

Snow Top Minnie

Mickey’s a bottom and you know it. Friends and lovers who hit Disney for Gay Days and the slopes for the Gram will at least say “Wow, thank you so much!” for this, even when they don’t mean it because really, what are you supposed to do with stuffed animals as a grown adult? Not your problem!

Chocolate Balls

A true classic. Stuff that stocking.

Genitals in a Box

An all gender-inclusive take on the Justin Timberlake original. Genitals not included!

Stress Unicorn 

For when you need to brush someone’s hair at length and your S.O. keeps telling you to stop now because OW THAT HURTS.

Stankface McGee AKA Grumpy Cat

Ideal for white elephant gift exchanges because whoever ends up with this one will surely look just like this if everyone else gets vodka and gift cards.

Blackhearted Bah Humbag Hat

Goth greetings and to all, eternal night. Pairs well with coal.

Lavender Luxury

Who doesn’t love a gift basket of what-the-fuck-brand-is-this-but-I-love-a-hand-cream-so-that’s-cool-I-guess? Don’t forget to remove the price tag.

The Glow Up

For the mommish figure in your life who has fully transitioned to holiday turtlenecks and brooches, or anyone going to a holiday rave, or both.

Wise Guys

Pair this with a cheeky card that says: “Heard you were into threesomes.”

Pink Shit

This mug is for anyone who overuses emojis and regrets it becoming their thing now.

A Subtle Mint Hint

Best for giving right before the mistletoe, ya hoe.

Images by Bronwyn Lundberg; Santa by Alex Schmider

A Goodbye Letter From the Editor-in-Chief of INTO

When I received the phone call nearly two years ago asking me to become Grindr’s first editor-in-chief, I immediately said “No.”

At the time, I had a boyfriend in Chicago that I had met on the app, I was piloting a podcast for NPR, shooting a documentary with Eaterand a thousand other things. Things that made me feel quite comfortable about staying in Chicago forever, tbh.

Plus, I thought, what did they want me to edit? Dick pics? And if so, how do I tell my mother?

However, even with a “no” in hand, that one executive persisted and begged me to come out to “talk.” And a few days later, I found myself in West Hollywood with Grindr, hearing their pitch —  and a thought began to form that eventually turned my “no” into a “yes.”

The thought was this: If Grindr is the largest network of queer people to ever exist in the world, then any content built on top of that network shouldn’t be about what Grindr is infamously known for, but rather what happens off that app.

This Grindr magazine, then, should be about the politics and culture that define the users who log on from places like Tennessee or South Africa. It should seek to explore the lives of the queer people it seeks to communicate with.

But most important of all: It should find the queer angle on every single thing that happens in the world around it. And INTO has done just that.

In just over a year, the platform has not only won many awards and been called the “best magazine on the internet,” but the brilliant staff here has fought each and every day to prove to the world that we as LGBTQ people are literally in every story.

We proved it, whether through our in-depth reporting in Mexico, where we embedded journalists to bring you on-the-ground stories about the queer people fighting for their lives as President Trump used the caravan as his political weapon, or through our look at the infamous mail-bomber who, prior to targeting famous Democrats, was a well-known homophobe and openly attacked LGBTQ folks.  

And beyond accomplishing what I always secretly thought would be impossible (highlighting the queer in everything), this team took it further and fought to generate the bigger conversations — the ones people even within our own community seemed to shy away from — on a daily basis. One of the most vivid examples is when managing editor Trish Bendix showed how Hollywood ignores LGBTQ media and is actually hurting them; you wouldn’t believe THE EMAILS from publicists that arrived in response.

But guess who was invited to all the Hollywood stuff afterward? Queer media.

We also tried to never take ourselves too seriously —  and our video team here may have expressed this best. I could go on and on about the brilliance of our YouTube channel that has grown to 90K subscribers in a few short months under the leadership of Rocco Kayiatos, but let me just say this: Old gays and lesbians are the future of media.  

As I leave to join The Advocate, a magazine that literally paved the way for INTO and so many others, I am a bit overwhelmed as I look back at all that we’ve accomplished, but look forward to what’s in store next for Grindr and INTO.

And most of all: I can now say I’ve never been so happy I said “yes” to something in my entire life.

All of my love,

Zach Stafford

Editor-in-Chief

Grindr Users Judge 2018’s Best (and Worst)

We surveyed 10,000 Grindr users about the year’s top (and bottom) pop culture moments. Check out their take on 2018 below, and here’s to a vers 2019!

Bop of the year

Besides being catchy as the clap, Ariana’s ode to boos past was endearingly candid and arrived with a star-studded video shouting out iconic gay faves like Mean Girls and Legally Blonde. And while it easily bid “thank u, next” to the competition, all of these are serious bops worth checking out!

 
WTF moment of the year
 

With American democracy basically imploding in real time, 2018 may go down as the year of WTF White House moments. But some stood out more than others—cue Kanye’s bizarro Oval Office kiki with Trump.

LGBTQ win of the year

Colorado governor Jared Polis

It was another epic year of wins for LGBTQ rights, and while every victory is important and it’s silly to pit them against each other in a year-end deathmatch format, we did it anyway. Cheers to all of this year’s progress.

Ally of the year

Shawn Mendes Blow Kiss GIF by 2017 MTV EMA - Find & Share on GIPHY

The queer community had some solid allies this year, but Shawn Mendes was among the more vocal of the pack, speaking openly and thoughtfully about all those gay rumors and expressing total support for his longtime songwriting partner Teddy Geiger as she transitioned. Sorry, Ally from A Star Is Born!

Hero of the year

I Swear Christine Blasey Ford GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

#MeToo’s time is definitely not up. Brave women like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford continued to speak out in 2018, achieving hero status among Grindr users for the second year running. Shout outs to all these other heroes, including problematic fave Ma Anand Sheela.

Gay gasp of the year

Noah Centineo Peter Kavinsky GIF by Vulture.com - Find & Share on GIPHY

Shocker—a celeb nude leak made Grindr users gasp the loudest this year. At least BenDeLa gave Noah a run for his money ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Word/phrase of the year

Pete Davidson Wink GIF by Saturday Night Live - Find & Share on GIPHY

While many of us were secretly rooting for Melania’s head-scratching “Be Best” to take the crown, Big Dick Energy was the term on everyone’s, um, lips this year.  Thank you, Pete Davidson. 

Must-see movie of the year

In 2018, the gay coming-of-age experience finally got what it deserved—a mainstream movie with a happy ending. And while Love, Simon may indeed be worthy, The Favourite should not have this few votes. Go see it!

Best TV series of the year

Sashay Away GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

10 of TV’s most beloved shows lip synced for their lives and guess who snatched the wig? Oh honeyyyy, you already know.

Troll of the year

Donald Trump GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Hats off to the Troll in Chief, y’all.

 

Ellen DeGeneres’ ‘Relatable’ Proves She’s Still the Apex Lesbian

Ellen DeGeneres’ Netflix comedy special Relatable was released this week on the streaming giant. Co-directed by lesbian comedian Tig Notaro, the special serves as Ellen’s return to stand-up comedy after 15 years, and while, thematically, the show is about how unrelatable her life has become in the last 15 years, it seems one thing has remained true and consistent for the comedian: Ellen DeGeneres is still the Apex Lesbian.

The talk show host has dominated her field for nearly two decades. She is not only one of the most successful women in show business, but she’s also the most successful out lesbian in Hollywood. In the late ’90s when Ellen came out, it was a major feat, and it remains one in today’s fraught political climate. That Ellen can be out, stay out, and reap money, power, success, and be universally lionized, shows that the culture has changed—because she’s the one who changed it.

In 1997, Time published a cover with Ellen’s photograph, emblazoned with the words “Yep, I’m Gay.” The moment was groundbreaking, not only because she paved the way for more LGBTQ roles on TV, like her character in the ABC sitcom Ellen, but because out lesbians in Hollywood were essentially nonexistent at the time. In Relatable, the seasoned comedian jokes about coming out in a time when being gay wasn’t widely accepted, and how other LGBTQ actors didn’t necessarily burst through the gates and follow suit, but rather peered out of the closet like meerkats, then returned to their holes when they saw how hard it was for her.

By being Hollywood’s lesbian guinea pig, Ellen DeGeneres proved she has unyielding strength and endurance. She fielded backlash from both the public and the industry. It takes a certain type of moxie, and a massive pain threshold, to be able to withstand such heat, and had Ellen not boldly stepped into the sunlight first, who knows where we would be? She blazed the trail for comedians like Rosie O’Donnell, Tig Notaro, Kate McKinnon, and Hannah Gadsby. But it’s not just Ellen’s stamina that makes her an icon—it’s also the sheer vastness of her success.

Many of the jokes Ellen cracks in Relatable are about how much her life has changed in the 15 years since The Ellen DeGeneres Show first aired. She jests about a fictional butler named Batu, a housemaid who draws baths for her, her expansive bathroom, her rose garden, her outdoor fountain flanked by a circular driveway, and many more riches. And while it’s all meant to be funny and in good spirits, for me, the whole bit really just reads as “lesbian goals.”

LGBTQ people are still severely discriminated against in the workplace—in 2017, one in four LGBTQ people reported facing employment discrimination within the last five years. Many states don’t protect queer people in the workplace, and in 28 states, a person can legally be fired for being gay, bisexual, or a lesbian. Getting a job can be hard, and keeping it can be even harder—especially if a person is steeped in a homophobic work culture. So, to see an out lesbian with as much money, power and success as Ellen is inspirational. Everything she has, including her successful marriage to Portia de Rossi, is on my vision board. The message Ellen sends as an out queer woman, who’s not only unafraid of being out, but actively talks about it in a public forum, and isn’t punished for doing so, proves that other queer people can do it too.

Ellen has always stuck her neck out for underprivileged people, which is probably why she’s so universally adored. As far as being “relatable” goes, her new special ensures that she’s as relevant as ever and can still make timely, thoughtful, smart lesbian jokes. 

I have to admit, I was worried that Ellen might not have her finger on the pulse of what constitutes a “good” lesbian joke anymore, given her 15-year absence from stand-up. I was so pleasantly surprised by her quips on lesbianism—and that she didn’t shirk the topic, but rather hit on it early on, and returned to it numerous times. One joke that really killed me was when she described an interaction she had with a woman who found out that Ellen owned three cats and chimed, “You really are a lesbian,” to which the comedian replied, “I got news for you, that’s not what makes you a lesbian. It’s other stuff.” Simple! Clean! Funny!

The one-hour special was timely and smart, but Ellen also took a note from Hannah Gadsby’s playbook, and interlaced her routine with honest, moving anecdotes about her past. She opened up about coming out, staying out, and learning compassion through her own struggles, while encouraging messages of acceptance, love, and empathy.

At the end of the special, DeGeneres said, “The time after I came out was really one of the hardest periods of my life, but it was the best part of my journey, because it’s when I realized how strong I was.” With this, she signed off: “We are all the same. And we are all relatable.”

Header image via Netflix

Records of Wrongfully Convicted Latinx Lesbians Are Finally Expunged

Now that they have their signed expunction orders in hand, the heartbreaking saga of the San Antonio Four is finally over.

It all began when the four Latinx lesbian women in San Antonio, Texas, were falsely accused of child rape in the ‘90s. In the summer of 1994, Elizabeth Ramirez babysat her two young nieces for a week, and her three close friends, Kristie Mayhugh, and couple Cassandra Rivera Hurtado and Anna Vasquez, helped out with the kids. They had all recently graduated high school.

Several months later, due to a combination of homophobia and a family member’s personal vendetta, the women were falsely accused of sexually assaulting the two girls as part of a Satanic ritual. The nation was in the midst of unfounded hysteria about Satanism, and despite vehement denials of such heinous crimes, the four women were prosecuted.

Ramirez was tried first, in 1997, and she was convicted and sentenced to 37 and a half years. The remaining three women were tried together in 1998, and they were convicted and sentenced to 15 years each. Appeals failed, and they went to prison a few years later. They fought tirelessly for the freedom, with significant help from the Innocence Project from Texas, but it would take over a decade for any relief.

Vasquez was shocked to be released on parole in 2012, after serving 12 years. Then, one of their accusers recanted, and some “forensic science” that helped convict the women was discovered to be junk science. Based on this, the following year, Innocence Project of Texas secured the release of the remaining three women; Ramirez had been in prison for 17 years, and Hurtado and Mayhugh for around 14 years each. They were now in their early forties.

In 2016, the state’s highest court deemed the women “actually innocent” and officially exonerated, and they were compensated generously by the state, receiving amounts based on their time served as well as an annuity for life that is around several thousand dollars a month. Most people following their story thought the injustice ended there, but the women had one final step left to be fully cleared of the crime. Just over two years after being exonerated, their records were finally expunged by a judge in San Antonio on December 3, 2018 — 24 years after the start of their tragic ordeal.

Exoneration vs. expunction     

While the San Antonio Four were technically no longer convicted felons following their exoneration, no expunction meant their records were still in the system, says lawyer Mike Ware, executive director of The Innocence Project of Texas, who secured the women’s exoneration and expunction. This meant that any background checks run during the two-year period between exoneration and expunction, such as those from potential employers and landlords, revealed they had been arrested and convicted of sexual assault of a child.

Before her exoneration, Mayhugh struggled to find an employer that would hire her, but even afterward, it was difficult since her criminal record still had those marks. She now lives in Houston and plans to return to school, but she delayed her enrollment due to concerns that her record would create complications.

Before the expunction, Hurtado entered paralegal school, and when her criminal records came up in the application process, she had to explain the situation. Fortunately, they let her in.

Vasquez, who lives in San Antonio and works full-time for The Innocence Project of Texas, frequently speaks about her experience at high schools. “I had been exonerated, yet every time I went into a high school for a speaking engagement, I was being escorted in and out, because I was red-flagged,” Vasquez told INTO. She says it continued to impact our lives since they were still essentially treated like convicted felons. When a documentary made about her and the other women, Southwest of Salem, had screenings in Canada, the four couldn’t attend because they weren’t allowed to cross the border.

The women’s records showed that their convictions had been vacated, but that doesn’t always matter. “In many cases, an arrest record is enough for the employer, or the person at customs who’s deciding whether to let you into the country or not, or the high school where you’re speaking,” Ware says. “Sometimes an arrest record is all that matters — that’s as far as they look — so the fact that they don’t have convictions is not sufficient.” Ware adds that having an arrest record for sexual assault of a child can also result in different treatment by police, even if you’re just pulled over for a minor traffic violation.

Now that the expunction is complete, the women no longer have to fear background checks or border crossings.

“For me, the expunction is like the icing on the cake,” Mayhugh says. “It’s a completion of everything, because that’s basically what we were fighting for — to have our names cleared. It’s a big deal because now I feel like I can finally move forward with my life and do the things that I want to do.”

Why expunction took so long

An expunction is typically always a slow process due to the complex statutes involved, Ware says. But there are a few reasons why the expunction of the San Antonio Four took this long.

When a case is expunged in Texas, it’s usually wiped off the books completely; it’s as though it never happened, Ware explains. This means it can’t be referenced in future cases.

“We wanted our case to be able to be used in court by others who were going through something similar, because there are so many other people wrongly convicted of the same offense,” Hurtado says. “We were even more than willing to keep it on our record so that it could be used.”

Ramirez echoed that sentiment: “To us, why fight such a big fight and then not be able to reference it? What good would that be for people who need hope?”

Additionally, some in the legal world believe expunction removes your right to discuss the case publicly. “There are actually people out there who’d say now that their records have been expunged, they can’t even talk about this case anymore — that they can’t go to the high school and talk about the case, that they can’t go to the legislature and advocate for reform and talk about the case,” Ware says.

Vasquez says sharing their story, raising awareness about wrongful convictions, and advocating for criminal justice reform is crucial. Ware also wanted to keep the “beautiful published opinion exonerating the women” on the books. So expunction was off the table unless the four could keep their case and opinion on record and speak freely about their experiences.

Because of these unique conditions, Ware had to work closely with the district attorneys and carefully word the expunction orders. Fortunately, they came to an agreement, and on December 3, 2018, State District Judge Catherine Torres-Stahl signed the expunction orders.

“We have always wanted our names to be cleared and the truth to be known, and finally, we are out of the system,” Vasquez says. “That takes precedence over any amount of money the State of Texas could have paid us.”

Mixed emotions and flashbacks

Since the summer of 2017, Hurtado has worked as a legal assistant for San Antonio lawyer Rosie Gonzalez, who was an advocate for the women’s freedom when they were imprisoned. As part of her job, Hurtado has had to go to the courthouse where she was convicted in order to file and pick up documents. She’s run into the prosecutors who put both her and Ramirez behind bars. It was extremely difficult and emotional at first, though she’s gotten accustomed to it. But nothing could prepare her for the day of the expunction hearing, which took place the 175th State District Court — the very same courtroom where all four women were convicted.

Despite the positive development in the case, returning to the same courtroom where they were convicted brought back difficult memories for the San Antonio Four. Before the hearing, Mayhugh wasn’t too worried, but as she approached the courthouse — and especially once she realized there was a lot of press there — she began feeling nervous and uneasy.

Vasquez felt mixed emotions. “I think a lot of people expect you to have this joyous day, and it was, but at the same time, it was also like all these memories just came rushing back,” she says. “For example, when Cassie and I turned ourselves in, we had family and friends in tow to walk us in there, and we were placed under arrest. Then this time our family members were there again, but it was more of a celebration than a sad ending.”

Re-entering the courtroom also brought Ramirez painful flashbacks. She remembered the gut-wrenching feeling of learning she was sentenced to 37 and a half years for a crime she didn’t commit. She remembered getting only five minutes to say goodbye to her mother, then “freaking out” and fainting onto the ground at the prospect of spending most of her life behind bars, and then being ridiculed by guards.

When Hurtado stepped in the courtroom, she began crying and shaking. She says seeing her family in the pews and watching Ware get up and speak again made her feel like she’d gone back in time to the original trial.

“[The expunction hearing] was so emotional; I didn’t stop crying and shaking until well after we left the courthouse,” Hurtado says. “And it was good to hear what the judge had to say; she was very nice about it. That meant a lot to us, because the last time we were in that court we were treated horribly.”

Moving forward

The expunction is hugely meaningful to all four women, and Hurtado says it feels amazing to no longer have anything hanging over their heads. But that doesn’t mean they’ll go away quietly. “Even though it’s done, we’re not going to stop fighting for what we believe in,” she says.

Ramirez, who lives in San Antonio and runs a printing business with her wife, says while they’ve been fully cleared on paper, it still doesn’t change what they went through. She’s often recognized around town as one of the San Antonio Four, and she views the lingering title as bittersweet.

While sometimes she’d prefer everyone to forget about it, she says, she appreciates that people know they didn’t just sit down and take it, but instead never gave up and kept fighting. She also knows her story raises awareness about wrongful convictions, which is especially important given that she and the others think their situation could easily happen today. “There are still people who think that being gay means you’d do something criminal,” Ramirez says. “Putting this story out for people to understand and know it happened will bring other people to come forward and share and help.”

In November, Hurtado’s boss, Rosie Gonzalez, won the election to become the judge of Bexar County Court at Law No. 13 this January. Hurtado is planning to be a clerk for Gonzalez, and in an ironic twist of fate, she’ll be spending her days at the same courthouse where so much of her fate has been decided.

But she’s not scared to work in the same place that wrongly put her behind bars for almost 15 years. “I’m proud of myself because I’m able to walk into that courthouse and know they did not break us,” Hurtado says. “They know that we fought and we won, and the world knows that they were wrong.”

Images via Getty

10 Extraordinary Queer Performances By Out Movie Actors In 2018

Hollywood has made billions by marginalizing the LGBTQ community through tragic storylines and stereotypical characters. Even when things began to improve with films like Carol and Call Me By Your Name, concerns were still raised by queer audiences who felt that their stories weren’t being told with authenticity.

In a perfect world, anyone should be able to play the part that’s right for them, but we’re not in a perfect world just yet. Queer actors are still sidelined in favor of their straight counterparts and it’s more vital than ever that the LGBTQ community plays a role in telling our own stories.

Amidst the controversy faced by Scarlett Johansson and Jack Whitehall this year, progress is slowly being made by a number of films that have started to cast queer actors in queer roles. As #20GayTeen draws to a close, INTO is celebrating 10 of the very best LGBTQ performances by out movie actors in 2018. Let’s just hope that next year’s list will be twice as long.

Cory Michael Smith in 1985

Best known for playing the Riddler on Gotham, Cory Michael Smith dials down his supervillain persona here to tell the story of a young man hit hard by the AIDS epidemic, conveying the pain of an entire generation through his quiet but no less haunting performance.  

Gina Rodriguez in Annihilation

With the character of Anya Thorensen, Rodriguez hones the funny bone she developed on Jane The Virgin to create a swaggering action star who provides dark moments of comic relief. Unrecognizable from her role as Jane, the sexually fluid star annihilates competition from other worthy performers like Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson.

Zachary Booth in The Revival

Zachary Booth is perhaps best known to queer audiences for his turn in Keep The Lights On, but here he transforms what could have been a rather one-dimensional role into something with genuine substance, forcing us to care about his meth-using drifter and what lies in store for the doomed relationship he shares with a repressed gay preacher.

Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman

Although A Fantastic Woman first became prominent on the festival circuit last year, it was officially released in 2018, which means that we can still sing the praises of this truly fantastic lady once again. Daniela Vega’s star-making turn in the lead proves exactly why it’s so important to cast trans actors in trans roles and honestly, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else inhabit Marina’s skin in the way she does.

Matt Bomer in Papi Chulo

Although it’s easy to dismiss Matt Bomer as just a set of perfect teeth and abs, the Magic Mike star has quietly given us impressive performance after performance in the last few years, culminating with this heartbreaking turn in Papi Chulo. Both awkward and sweet in equal measure, Bomer puts his heart on his sleeve here in a role that will disarm even the most cynical of critics.

Rupert Everett in The Happy Prince

Talented, misunderstood, just a tad unbalanced… Oscar Wilde and Rupert Everett share plenty in common, so it’s no wonder that Everett plays the controversial writer so well in his directorial debut. Whatever you think of the film itself, it’s impossible to deny how committed Everett is to the role, elevating what could have been a rather average biopic into something worthy of Wilde himself.

Alia Shawkat in Duck Butter

The basic premise of Duck Butter revolves around a 24-hour sex experiment that could have just been a messy tangle of limbs and not much else. Fortunately, Shawkat channels the star charisma she developed on Arrested Development to create a fully rounded character in Naima, a role she helped create as a co-writer on the script too.

Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased

While the name of the film might suggest otherwise, it’s almost impossible to erase Lucas Hedges and his performance from your mind. His face fills up the screen throughout, barely containing the rage and self-contempt that torment those who are forced to hate the very thing that defines them. Although director Joel Edgerton is straight, Hedges channels his own sexual fluidity to bring some much-needed authenticity to the story of Jared Eamons as he learns to accept himself for who he is.

Ellen Page in My Days of Mercy

Criminally overlooked by distributors, My Days of Mercy includes a career-best performance from Ellen Page that deserves to be seen by wider audiences and no, not just because of the salacious sex scenes either. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Oscar-nominated actress commit so fully to a role, and she’s never felt more natural on screen.

Janne Puustinen and Boodi Kabbani in A Moment In The Reeds

Sure, we‘re cheating a bit here, but the relationship shared by Puustinen and Kabbani in this Weekend-inspired gem is absolutely key to the film’s success and it’s impossible to imagine one without the other. Both performers worked alongside queer director Mikko Makela to create their characters together, developing powerful back stories that draw upon their own personal experiences. While Puustinen imbues his part with a quiet yet endearing intensity, Kabbani officially made history by becoming the first out Syrian actor to play a queer Syrian character in cinema. After the credits have rolled, you’ll find that just a moment in the reeds with these two still isn’t enough.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’ Premiere Recap: Herstory Never Repeats

RuPaul’s Drag Race has owned 2018. After airing for almost the entire first half of the year, between All Stars 3 (not the best!) and season 10 (incredibly strong first half!), RuPaul decided he could not let his foot off our neck. First, we got the entertaining-if-misguided Holi-slay Spectacular. Now, it’s All Stars season again. Ten veteran girls, one spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame up for grabs.

I’ll admit, I walked into this week’s premiere with some reticence. All Stars 3 was a pretty stressful experience, what with RuPaul saying transitioning queens shouldn’t compete in an interview, pockets of racist fans repeatedly attacking Bebe Zahara Benet (a personal favorite queen), and a finale that absolutely no one was happy with, even the winner. Suffice it to say I want the jury twist blasted into the next dimension.

All in all, though, this was a good reintroduction to the world of All Stars. This cast is excellent, far more impressive on the whole than All Stars 3’s crop. There are a couple of more dubious inclusions, considering their runs on the show, but the show goes out of its way to explain why they’re there.

For example: Season 9’s Farrah Moan is one of the most beautiful alumni. And season 7’s Jasmine Masters is a meme queen! But even those justifications ultimately don’t mean much, as those are the two queens who wind up in the bottom this week. Excellence outside the show only sometimes translates into improving your performance on the show, after all.

But we’ll get back to them later. We’ve got some other queens to re-meet first.

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The first challenges are, once again, Reading Is Fundamental and the All-Star Variety Show. Which: I get tradition, but can we vary this up a little next season? At this point the All Stars format is getting stale, including the return of Lip Sync for Your Legacy. (I guess that suspension from the supertrailer is coming later in the season, then.) All Stars 2 was so thrilling because it changed up the format; doing the same challenges over and over again is not the way to replicate that season’s success.

Season 4 and All Stars 1 veteran Latrice Royale wins the mini-challenge, marking her second reading challenge win (tying Alaska, who won in season 5 and All Stars 2). She and Manila Luzon, season 3 runner-up, both return from All Stars 1, where a terrible team twist doomed them to a joint 7th/8th-place finish. I adore Latrice, so I’m super excited to see how she’ll do in modern Drag Race. I am of more mixed emotions about Manila, a stunning queen whose challenge wins in season 3 nonetheless feel a bit … shall we say, suspect in retrospect. Let’s just say her QNN correspondent performance would probably not win the challenge today, nor the internet’s favor.

Both Latrice and Manila do just fine in the All-Star Variety Show, though surprising myself, I might have put Manila in my personal top three. She does an odd painting routine with a hell of a twist — she painted a picture upside down! — and adds a costume reveal to boot. It probably didn’t play as well onstage as it did on camera, but I like when these queens don’t just lip-sync for their talent. This is Drag Race. Everyone should have that particular talent.

While Latrice does include color guard moves in her routine, they’re mostly an excuse for her to do a high-energy lip-sync number. Infamous season 9 fan favorite Valentina also lip syncs, but considering she likely just wants to prove she can do it, it’s understandable. Season 8 alumna Naomi Smalls mostly poses through her lip sync, although a good bald head reveal at the end grants her a top three placement from the judges.

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Season 10 sisters Monique Heart and Monét X Change both opt for live vocals in their performances, singing songs tied to their catchphrases from their season. Despite Monét championing herself as a singer in season 10, however, Monique is the winner of this particular battle. “Brown Cow Stunning” is a good Drag Race alumni track, and her outfit — actual brown cow, no giraffe this time! — is just corny enough to work. More to the point, Monique sounds good, and keeps her vocals up while she dances. She’s the clear winner in the main challenge, finally taking home a win after being passed up repeatedly during season 10.

Monét, on the other hand, really whiffs on this one. Her voice is a disaster at the start of the performance, and “Soak It Up” feels like a rehash of all the sponge jokes Monét told during season 10. The key difference between Mo’ and Mo’ is that while Monique did say “Brown cow! Stunning!” in season 10, she said it once. Monét made the sponges a season-long gag. We get it. We need something more. Combined with her technical imperfection, it’s enough to land Monét in the bottom, sitting on the opposite side of the stage as Monique. That said, Monique should probably retire the brown cow jokes for a while after this win.

This being All Stars, Monique cannot win alone, and so she is joined by season 9’s Trinity Taylor — now preferring to go by Trinity the Tuck. Similar to Monét, Trinity relies on a gag from her season, her tucking skills, but puts together a whole new comedy routine to go with it. It’s a lip sync, but to a tucking tutorial, complete with a country-fried teacher character. It’s a smart idea, particularly because the judges have always preferred Trinity’s comedy to her more pageant-friendly skills. (Two of her three wins in season 9 were for comedic performances.)

Trinity’s performance is fun, but more importantly, it’s different. Tatianna won the All Stars 2 talent show because she did spoken word, and she killed it. You’d think more girls would look to her as an example — which is what season 6’s Gia Gunn does, actually. Her kabuki routine isn’t the flashiest, but it’s unique. I finished watching the episode thinking of the talents that took me by surprise, like hers, Trinity’s, and Manila’s, much more than the more expected routines.

Now, that’s Gia in the challenge. Gia out of the challenge is a whole other story. While I appreciate the journey she’s been on in her transition, and am pleasantly surprised to see her here, Gia in both the workroom and confessionals this week is absolutely unbearable. She’s constantly negative, putting down Trinity and Farrah ad nauseam. She even trash-talks the beloved Valentina after the latter’s routine bores her! Gia’s not even trying to avoid being the villain this season! Milk and Phi Phi O’Hara’s villain edits took far more work to put together than this.

Purposeful antagonism isn’t enjoyable to watch, frankly. The best reality TV villains don’t come in to start shit, they think they’re right. Moreover, they don’t let their snark get in the way of their success. As Trinity says in one confessional, maybe she’s got a strategy in mind, but with this attitude, she’s not going to survive long in the Lip Sync for Your Legacy format.

Speaking of, Trinity is the queen whose growth most impresses me in this episode — not as a queen, because she’s always been skilled, but as a person. Trinity was known for being a stone-cold, cutthroat competitor in season 9. She wins the lip sync against Monique, a barnburner set to Mariah Carey’s “Emotions,” and has to send either Farrah or Jasmine home this week. Trinity gets really emotional and reflective about the decision, and even tears up on stage. She’s showing her heart early, which will nicely compliment her challenge and lip sync superiority. Even in the reading mini-challenge, though she didn’t win it, she artfully lobbed failed reads from other queens back at them.

If I had to bet on one queen to be the BenDeLaCreme or Alaska of this season — excelling in nearly every part of the show — Trinity would be my bet.

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And so we return to Farrah and Jasmine, who both make pretty strong cases for sending them home this week. Farrah’s burlesque routine is a literal flop, thus ending the trend of the one burlesque performer each season (Roxxxy Andrews and Ben before this) winning the variety show. It’s interesting that the judges don’t mention Farrah’s fall in their critiques, though I know the show shoots every variety show act twice. That’s why we didn’t see Chi Chi DeVayne drop her baton during All Stars 3. Maybe they weren’t sure if the show would use the take where Farrah falls, and wanted to avoid mentioning it as a result. Still, even if Farrah didn’t fall in both takes, she’s visibly nervous throughout her routine. Winning Drag Race takes Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent, and I could really only make an argument for Farrah’s Charisma at this point.

Jasmine is the opposite of nervous. She’s all Nerve, with very little to back it up. Jasmine’s stand-up routine is completely devoid of good jokes, but even during deliberations, she refuses to admit she wasn’t funny. (Which: She really wasn’t.) That said, between the two choices, I’m much more interested in seeing what Jasmine would bring to All Stars. She’s a different kind of queen, one who could surprise in this more performance-heavy format with more preparation. Farrah, bless her heart, is never going to make a big impression in All Stars.

Trinity ultimately chooses to cut Jasmine, which is defensible, if disappointing. Farrah is likely next out the door unless she can surprise. But there’s not much chaff left after that. That’s when the true battle between the best of the best can begin.

Some final thoughts:

• The bitch is back! I’m happy to be joining you all again as the primary recapper for All Stars 4. Mathew Rodriguez, who so wonderfully covered season 10, will be writing about the season in a broader capacity. All Stars 3 nearly broke me, but some time off plus a dynamite first half of season 10 helped rekindle my love of Drag Race. I’m excited to see what these girls can do this season.

• I personally believe in declaring biases, so for the record: I’m heavily rooting for Monét X Change to win this season. I think she’s entertaining as hell, with the intelligence to back it up. That said, this was the worst possible note to start on — literally. Her singing made Phi Phi in All Stars 2 sound on-key. Also? Save the sponges, her look for the variety show was basically Bob the Drag Queen’s final Book Ball look in season 8. Considering she always gets compared to Bob anyway, this misstep is particularly egregious. Get it together, Monét, and fast!

• We’re supposed to believe that Valentina and Farrah are good now, after their iconic reunion fight in season 9. I maybe don’t buy it? Their tone when talking about making up is tense. We’ll see how the rest of this season goes, but I don’t think this is going to be an Alyssa Edwards/Coco Montrese “we have buried the hatch” moment.

• Speaking of Val, I know I didn’t mention her much, but she was surprisingly backgrounded this episode for such a controversial character. Saving the best for later, maybe? Regardless, I appreciate that Valentina is embracing being a more complex character. I gave a cheer when she said she can be both nice and a telenovela villainess. Tea!

• The best read in the mini-challenge is Latrice’s “Valentina! Take that thing off your face. Oh, it is your face. Your other one.” It’s a layered read: first reference, then read, then the full wig-snatch. Runner-up: Naomi’s “Farrah Moan is so dumb, she thought Valentina was her best friend.”

• Naomi says the word “fashion” multiple times in her track, which gave me PTSD flashbacks to Milk’s “Touch the Fashion” last season. (Also, a light conspiracy theory: I think Naomi only got her top three placement because the judges wanted to give her the note that her comedy played better than just posing. It’s a critique that could really benefit her moving forward.)

• There’s a superhero/comic aesthetic to the intro this season, replacing the Handmaid’s Tale theme from last season. Hope this one doesn’t become an overly long gag that never satisfyingly pays off.

• Monique loses her wig during the lip sync, which is irritating, but it becomes a full gag when the wig gets stuck in the stage rafters. Trinity was going to win this lip sync anyway — seriously, she really kills it — but Monique should count herself lucky something fun came from her mistake.

• Jenifer Lewis is a great guest judge, energetic during the performances and giving good notes during critiques. I especially appreciated her rebuke to Farrah’s tears — that crying is boring. Because it is, frankly! I appreciate Farrah’s feelings, but this is All Stars. In the words of Aja, level your pussy up.

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars returns next Friday, December 21, at 8pm Eastern on VH1.

If You Believe It Is More Difficult To Be Conservative Than To Be Gay, You’re An Idiot

Earlier this week, Gothamist reported that a 20-year-old Queens woman was sucker punched by a man believed to be more than twice her age on a Manhattan-bound E train. The suspect, who police are still searching for, saw another woman give the victim a kiss on the cheek. Incensed, he allegedly called her a “dyke,” as he proceeded to verbally berate her before ultimately following the woman and punching her in the back of the head and shoving her to the ground — causing her to strike her head on the train’s floor. The coward then fled the scene and left his victim with a fractured spine.

It is still very dangerous to be queer (or even just perceived to be queer) in America. Indeed, at the beginning of the year, the New York City Anti-Violence Project’s annual Crisis of Hate report revealed that 2017 saw a significant surge in anti-LGBTQ violence in America. In fact, 2017 proved to be the deadliest year yet for our community. This does not even include the self-inflicted harm members of the queer community have engaged in as a means to escape the bullying they have to endure.

In August, I had to write about Jamel Myles, a 10-year-old boy who took his own life not long after casually telling his mother that he was gay. She took no issue with her son for embracing the person he was born as, but the little bigots in training around him tortured him — to the point that he felt it was better to leave this world than continue to suffer in it. I’ve had to write about many boys like Jamel taking their lives through the years. I’ve had to write about many victims like the unidentified woman on the New York subway. When I don’t write about homophobia, I have to endure it myself.

A lot of discussions have taken place this week about homophobia, in reference to old homophobic tweets from the likes of comedian Kevin Hart and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray or more recent antics from MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski. Many of these discussions have been asinine in scope because the people who should be listening — straight people — have been opting to lead discussions about a matter that doesn’t directly impact them.

Unfortunately, that is often to be expected, but I take issue with other gay people who go out of their way to sound as astonishingly stupid as their straight counterparts.

Enter Chad Felix Greene, who wrote the piece “The Stigma Against My Conservative Politics Is Worse Than The Stigma Of Being Gay” for The Federalist. If you have never heard of The Federalist, consider yourself #blessed, but imagine a troll farm led by right-wingers who have no idea they are trolls. Then add a martyr complex because conservatives love to play victim.

Lacking self-awareness, Greene writes: “Today I look out across the turbulent sea of political discourse and ask, ‘Why would anyone choose to be a conservative?’ To be a conservative means to openly invite others’ hatred into your life and to lose your humanity in the eyes of strangers who view you exclusively through stereotypes and prejudices.”

Last time I checked, conservatives have an entire media industrial complex that encompasses cable television, local television, and way too much space on the internet that has somehow led to the likes of Tomi Lahren and Diamond and Silk becoming paid political commentators. Progressives have about three hours of primetime on MSNBC.

And yet, Greene asserts, “To be a conservative means to be a marginalized voice, suppressed and dehumanized; bullied into hesitating to speak out.”

Greene continues to talk out of his ass throughout the diatribe, but the following statement is a doozy with respect to its duplicity: “The truth is, I have never faced abuse on Twitter for being gay, but I certainly have for being conservative. I am confident my expression as a gay man would be free and celebrated there and elsewhere, but my unique point of view as a conservative is viewed with suspicion and hostility.”

Perhaps Greene doesn’t have to deal with attacks rooted in his sexuality on Twitter, but there are plenty of queer people online who can’t make a similar claim. I’ve been called a faggot quite a few times online, and though I would be offended if I were called a conservative, conflicting political leanings does not trounce the sting of homophobia.

A more thoughtful person might have considered why he’s “attacked” more for leaning right than liking dick, but because Greene is a white man before he is a gay one, one presumes he is clueless about his privilege, which paved the way for such a patronizing, despicable take. I considered being eloquent about this, but why bother giving Greene a level of consideration he clearly did not provide queer people who are not white, cis, and male.

Was it ever illegal for conservatives to marry? Is it still legal to fire conservatives for their political ideology in multiple states across the nation? Is there conservative conversation therapy? Is it legal for me to refuse to bake a cake for a conservative? Do conservatives have to remember that the FDA requires them to refrain from intercourse with other conservatives 12 months before donating blood?

I’m pretty sure if a male conservative kissed me on the cheek around a violent homophobe, we wouldn’t end up fighting because the other dude was a conservative.

Being conservative in 2018 is many things, but a martyr is not one of them. This level of ignorance would be comical if not for the constant reminders of just how dangerous it remains to be queer in this country. Anyone who identifies as gay should know better.

Chad Felix Greene does not, and while he may once again find himself “attacked” by my saying this, I want to say it like I mean it all the same: fuck him today, fuck him tomorrow, and fuck him next week for that goofy ass essay.

Image via Getty