Couple Kiana and Jasmin Share Their Love Story in ‘Queer Love’ Episode 3

Love and poetry have long gone hand in hand in history, with the latter being a superior way to express the former. For Kiana, one of the subjects of this week’s episode of Queer Love, poetry is part of her art. But it’s also deeply present in the way they talks about their partner.

The full-time teacher and part-time drag king speaks about their event planner girlfriend, Jasmin, reads some of their poetry in the episode, but even the couple’s conversations have a poetic rhythm to them. They’re honest about the difficulty of love, but so visibly deeply in the throes of it, too.

Kiana and Jasmin

Anything we could say would feel insufficient next to Kiana and Jasmin’s words, to be frank. Their description of each other is rooted in such emotion, and such power, that we can do nothing but urge you to watch the full new episode below.

Missed the first two installments of Queer Love? Catch up on the series below.

Barbara Sanchez-Kane Is Bringing the Macho Sentimental to Menswear

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

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

Barbara Sanchez-Kane
Barbara Sanchez-Kane

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

MA·CHO SEN·TI·MEN·TAL

Noun

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

emotional feelings and in contact with male and female forces.

synonymous: human being, human, person, mortal,

individual, personage, soul.

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

Barbara Sanchez-Kane

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

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

Barbara Sanchez-Kane

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

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

Barbara Sanchez-Kane

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

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

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

Barbara Sanchez-Kane

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

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

Barbara Sanchez-Kane

All photos by Navi.

Party Dyke, Interrupted

Trigger. That was the name of the Castro bar where I attended my first ever lesbian party. I was 18 and the only two gay people that I knew in the world were closeted. I was in love with one of them, but they were in love with each other. Naturally.

As a freshman, I would overhear the seniors in my upper division queer theory class talk about the queer bars they were going to on the weekends. I sat anxiously in my seat, eavesdropping and hoping that one day they would ask me to join.

I wanted so badly for these older queers to accept me as one of them. The invitation I was waiting for finally came on the third week of class. I convinced my only friend with a fake ID to join. It wasn’t hard to convince my friend to come along — even straight people knew that the Castro was the best place to get drunk on a weekday.

My friend with the fake ID, like everyone else, thought I was straight. My tumblr page filled with vintage photos of Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie and the fact that I was in a Queer Theory class wasn’t a dead giveaway for them, nor for me, at the time.

Before that night, my forays into the Castro were by accident.  I used to wait on the corner of Market and Castro in front of the old Diesel store three times a week to transfer onto a bus that would take me to work after school.

Bored out of my mind at the stop, I would read the informational billboards offering drug counseling and free HIV tests featuring images of people with hairless, glistening chests. The artfully curated ads were everywhere, but I doubted that the group that I so badly wanted to be a part of had “real” drug problems. They probably just like to have a good time, I told myself.

My first real night out in the Castro took off quickly. After pounding dollar drinks at The Edge, a corner street dive that played classic ’90s movies to its mostly burly, bearded clientele, and then two-for-one wells at Q Bara strobe-heavy bar that is barely wider than a hallway, we walked over to Trigger.

Girl parties aren’t known for drink specials, but the rest of Castro is full of heavy pours. So by the time we reached our final destination, the fake ID I gripped in my hand, like everything else, blurred in front of me. I didn’t need to worry because the bouncer didn’t closely examine to check if it was fake. He was too distracted by a group of snapback-clad girls pulling at his shoulder sleeve, reminding him that he has to let them in because he let them in last time. They don’t have IDs, and Trigger would eventually shut down for letting in too many underage queers like the snapback lesbians and me.

Once I made it past the doorman, a bitter butch in a too-tight flannel stamped the inside of my wrist, and I zoomed in without waiting for my friend to make it inside. Everything was exactly how I dreamed it would be — bartenders with asymmetrical haircuts and lip piercings, go-go dancers gyrating on top of the bar, neon colored shots in lab-inspired tube glasses, and dykes everywhere.  

“It’s just like The L Word,” I muttered to myself. My straight friend asks me to repeat what I just said, but I couldn’t give away that I was an avid watcher of the most lesbian TV show in history. Plus, I was already at the bar ordering a Dos Equis because that’s what Shane drinks. The rest of the night was a blur.

Gay culture is deeply interconnected with drugs and alcohol. Blame it on the fact that most of us are reliving our adolescent years in our twenties, or that we need more sedation than your average hetero to put up with the daily attack on our human rights — either way, there’s always a good reason to order another round of shots.

Historically, the only places that queer people could be out were undisclosed bars, clubs, and parties. Queer people couldn’t fly their flags high back then, so underground venues and exclusive parties served as the primary place to meet other queers. Although we have more freedom now as queer people than our elders did, the desire to escape into a safe space still exists. Queer bars are spaces where we can embrace every part of ourselves without fear being perceived as “different.”

If we want to be around other queer people it often feels like the only option is to go to a bar, where we tell ourselves we will only have one drink. But, it’s hardly ever one. In my experience, gay bars are fueled by alcohol in a way that their straight counterparts aren’t. The drinks are cheaper, stronger, and you can find a party on any night of the week.

As a baby dyke, I drank to calm my anxieties before entering these unknown spaces without realizing that most of my peers were doing the same. Cheap drinks in the Castro, five dollar AMF pitchers in Boystown, double margarita pints in WeHo that make the extra $1 charge for an additional shot worth it.

Gays are taught how to party. It’s not a secret. Straights know it and we own it. It’s part of our Brand™. Bachelorette parties flock to WeHo in search of a Vegas-style good time, and by the time I moved out of San Francisco, the straight-to-gay ratio on Monday night at Q Bar was pretty much even. Cishets venture into our spaces for a “wild night out” away from their norm, but for us, it’s just another Thursday.

The reason there is such a disdain for straight people with an affinity for partying at gay bars is that these spaces are sometimes the only ones queer people have. Straight people already have everything else. For queer women and non-binary folks, the battle is even steeper. Unlike gay men, we don’t have Grindr to scratch that mid-week midnight itch. Dykes have to wait for the weekly or monthly girl parties. If not, then you can hit up Tinder, but that usually entails spending money to meet up with someone for a drink. Meeting other gays sans alcohol has been not an easy task for me.

I still remember the morning after my Tuesday night at Trigger, when I stumbled into class with a swollen jaw, burns on my fingers and very little recollection of what had happened the night before. I wasn’t a stranger to blackouts, but this night was different. My older classmates laughed and told me that I had probably been roofied at Q Bar.

“Everyone gets roofied at Q Bar,” they told me. I’d repeat that line every time I told the story with a smile or a laugh. It felt like a rite of passage. I finally belonged.

Gay adventures in San Francisco continued for me throughout college and those nights consisted of pouring half bottles of tequila into half emptied sprite bottles, hopping on the back of the train and downing the drink before the operator announced “Castro.” On those nights, I never saw the billboards that lined the MUNI station walls warning against addiction, inviting gays to focus groups that might help them. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Those billboards were talking about meth and ketamine binges. It wasn’t for me. I was a fun gay.

In the past eight years, I spent only two handfuls of weekends sober — eight, to be exact. I wish I could tell you that I had a moment of enlightenment that led me to sobriety, but the reality is that my body just gave out — twice in two years. Last year, I spent two weeks in a hospital being pumped full of blood and was released with instructions to stop drinking for eight weeks and “drink moderately” after then, if at all. It was easy at first. But those eight weeks ended up being more like six weeks and before long, I was back at it. I avoided doctor visits, ignored symptoms until it was too much to ignore.

I rolled my eyes at the nurse who said I had a drinking problem. “I drink the least out of all the people I know. I’m just cursed with a weak stomach lining. Faulty genes.” It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, that while talking to some friends, I realized that I had drank despite all the warnings my body gave me. Just because I didn’t drink as much as I did before, didn’t make my problem any less severe. At first, I pretended to be stoked about my sobriety: “I wanted to quit anyway.” But, on a Saturday night, the only thing standing between me and a well whiskey on the rocks is the stack of hospital bracelets sitting in a box in my room. 

Seven years later and three hundred miles south, I’m now living in Los Angeles. I have been sober for a month. The queer bars with their shiny disco balls and sweaty, gyrating bodies aren’t as fun as I remembered. Sobriety is dulling at times, and the stark realization that so many of the things you enjoyed, you only did under the influence is lonely.

But the incessant hangover state is gone, and my days are longer. I get more stuff done. I look for experiences instead of drink specials.  Most of my queer peers still drink. Some of them don’t have the same issues with self-control that I do, none of them have a stupid stomach lining with a propensity for bleeding.

I’m starting to see a shift. More and more, young queers are opting for sobriety, taking breaks from drinking, tiring of the monotonous weekend festivities. Maybe we’re getting older, maybe the hangovers are getting too gnarly or I don’t know — maybe this is growing up.

LGBTQ Women Are More Nominated Than Ever At This Year’s Grammys

The 61st annual Grammy Award nominees were announced today, and several trans and queer-identified women are up for awards in categories ranging from Album of the Year to Best Music Video to Producer of the Year. In most categories, they are the only women against a handful of cis and largely straight men. 

Openly gay Americana artist Brandi Carlile finally gets her due this year with six nominations for work from her album, By The Way, I Forgive You. Carlile’s sixth studio LP is up for Album of the Year and Best Americana Album, and her single “The Joke” is up for Record of the Year, Best American Roots Performance, and Best American Roots song. Although she’s been nominated before (2016’s Best Grammy Award for Best Americana Album, for her fifth LP, The Firewatcher’s Daughter), this could be her year for at least one win. It likely doesn’t hurt that she appeared in a fictional Grammy performance depicted in A Star is Born, alongside Bradley Cooper.

Speaking of A Star is Born, bisexual pop star Lady Gaga is up for Best Pop Solo Performance (“Joanne”), Record and Song of the Year and Best Song Written For Visual Media for “Shallow.”

Pansexual R&B-turned-pop star Janelle Monae’s visual accompaniment to her vaginal ode “Pynk” is nominated for Best Music Video, and her album, Dirty Computer, is up against not only Carlile, but multiple nominee Cardi B for Album of the Year. Monae has also been nominated previously (Best Album, Record, Pop/Duo Group Performance, Contemporary R&B Album, and Urban/Alternative Performance from 2009-2013), but has yet to nab a win.

Speaking of Cardi, the bisexual sensation also went home empty-handed after two nominations last year (Rap Song and Rap Performance for “Bodak Yellow”), but could win for Album and Record of the Year (Invasion of Privacy and “I Like It,” respectively), Best Rap Performance (also “I Like It”), and  Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with Maroon 5 for “Girl Like You.” 

Trans songwriter/producer Teddy Geiger’s “In My Blood” is up for Song of the Year (along with co-songwriter and performer Shawn Mendes) and trans artist SOPHIE is nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album (Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides), both their first nominations.

In Best Folk Album, longtime lesbian singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier is nominated for Rifles & Rosary Beads, and soul legend Meshell Ndegeocello’s Ventriloquism could win Best Urban Contemporary Album. Whitney Houston is being honored posthumously for music from the film Whitney (Best Music Film), St. Vincent is up for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Rock Song (for Masseduction and title track, respectively), Linda Perry is competing for Producer of the Near, Non-Classical for her work on Willa Amai’s Hardest Better Faster Stronger, Served Like a Girl: Music From and Inspired By The Documentary Film, and Dorothy’s 28 Days in the Family, and out songwriter Tiffany Gouche wrote several tracks for Lalah Hathaway’s Best R&B Album-nominated Honestly and Hathaway’s Best R&B Performance song “Y O Y.” Demi Lovato also got a nod for “Fall In Line,” her track with Christina Aguilera (Best Pop Duo/Group Performance).

This is already a record year for LGBTQ women visibility at the Grammys, but should these nominees also win, it would be an incredibly strong showing in all areas of music recording and production. As the music industry continues to reconcile with LGBTQ inclusion and gender parity, 2019’s Grammys are an opportunity to celebrate just how powerful LGBTQ musicians and women are, and how valuable their experiences are as a part of their voice and their art.

The 2019 Grammys will air live on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019.

Images via Getty

This Texas Student is Raising Money to Move Out of the Dorm That Banned Her Girlfriend

A Texas college freshman is trying to raise enough money to move out of her dorm after administrators told her that her girlfriend was not allowed to visit.

Kaj Baker, a freshman at University of Texas in Austin, says she no longer feels safe in the privately-operated Scottish Rite Dormitory (SRD). That’s because SRD Director Mary Mazurek told her that her sexual orientation made the other 314 residents uncomfortable, and she was no longer allowed to have guests.

Baker’s story made national headlines last week after she recorded the November 14 meeting with Mazurek and other administrators. On the recording, published by The Daily Texan, Mazurek told her that “sometimes it takes compromise on both sides” to make sure all residents are comfortable.

When Baker asks why people are uncomfortable, the dorm director makes clear that the issue is Baker’s LGBTQ status.

“Because some people are not comfortable with your sexual orientation,” Mazurek responds.

The all-women dorm does not allow male guests to stay overnight, but female guests are welcome under the policy. SRD is owned by the Scottish Rite Freemasons, an extension of the secret fraternal organization that has a complicated anti-LGBTQ history.

“I think that if more girls in the dorm got a chance to really get to talk to me and my girlfriend, they would realize that we are good students who follow the rules and are just like anyone else living at the dorm,” Baker said in an interview with LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD. “At the end of the day, we are more than what is happening at my dorm.”

In a series of emails to INTO, Mazurek admitted that SRD had failed “to treat all students fairly,” and is “working to make the situation right.”

“We are investigating fully what happened, and also contacting Kaj to address her situation directly, which we regret not doing as soon as we learned of her broader concerns,” Mazurek said in a statement. “Pending the outcome of our investigation, we are committed to taking the steps needed to ensure our residents are safe, welcomed and supported — including sensitivity training for all staff and resident assistants, and clarifying SRD’s visitor policies.”

Pressed on what exactly was being investigated given that Mazurek herself was the administrator to block Baker’s girlfriend from visiting, Mazurek repeated that the dorm failed to ensure all students were treated fairly.

“We are addressing this now in a number of ways and are committed to making it right,” she wrote.

Mazurek told INTO that the Scottish Rite Dormitory doesn’t have a policy regarding LGBTQ residents or guests.

The fallout has forced Baker to move out of the dorm. In the meantime, she is temporarily staying with her girlfriend Carlee (whose last name has not been reported), returning only to get personal belongings, she said. In the meantime, Carlee has launched a GoFundMe to help Baker move out of the dorm.

“She doesn’t deserve to feel ridiculed or isolated for simply existing and being who she is,” wrote Carlee on the fundraiser page.

My Dad Watches Lesbian Films On Netflix

The premise of this article was unfortunately inspired by my dad.

A little over a year ago he was streaming Netflix on the living room television. Lo and behold under the “Continue Watching for Jim” tab, right next to a World War II documentary about the Third Reich, was a movie cover featuring two presumably naked women leaning in for a sensual embrace. The film was called A Perfect Ending, a tale of a “repressed wife” who explores her sexual desires with a call girl.

Surely my dad wasn’t interested in the movie because he is of a marginalized group with limited media options representative of his identity. I eventually called him out for watching the movie and tried to forget about the whole situation.

As time went on, this became a sort of pattern in my dad’s Netflix viewing history. Scattered between war documentaries and episodes of House of Cards were the stories of femme, thin, conventionally attractive, white women with a high sex drive whose husbands happened to be out of town.

My frustration grew with each predictably plotted lesbian flick. For as long as I can recall, this man has preached on behalf of cisheteronormative traditions and denounced anything besides as being “against the family nucleus,” whatever that means. Not only was the hypocrisy a stab to my sexuality (and a major reason I waited years to come out to him) but my dad was both fetishizing and condemning a significant part of my being.

Unfortunately, the fetishization of same-sex relationships between women far extends past my living room and beyond the interest of just my dad.

When two women are in a relationship — even platonic — straight men have the tendency to turn it into an overtly sexual spectacle in order to fulfill their male-directed Pornhub fantasies. They offer us drinks at the bar in exchange to watch us make out, they catcall us as we walk down the street holding hands, they invite themselves into our beds for threesomes, and as quick as we can turn them away they defend their primitive behavior by questioning the validity of our sexuality.

A false sense of acceptance masked by the fetishization of lesbianism is not uncommon by straight men. Like my dad, many heterosexual individuals can look past or even partake in lesbian culture when it assimilates to their objectified version of what lesbianism looks like (this includes you too, straight women). Rather than accepting and respecting the sexual identity of queer women, fetishization is all about entertainment, power, and self-pleasure at the expense of another’s identity and culture.

Possibly most damning is that fetishization reduces women/women relationships to being about nothing but sex. Not only does this thinking limit the depth of same-sex female relationships, but it further perpetuates the stereotype that LGBTQ individuals are perverse by nature and lack the ability to grow loving relationships. There is nothing innately sexual or taboo about queer women. Nothing.

Lack of authentic representation in pop culture further propels stereotyped and fetishized portrayals of queer women, their relationships, and the lives they live. Television and film often depict lesbian and bisexual characters as white, femme, hyper-sexual, or killed off in an untimely manner (R.I.P. Poussey). These characters are generally not representative of lesbians or queer culture and are created with heterosexual comfort in mind.

Pornography has largely contributed to a fabricated idea of what sex between two women looks like. I know it may be hard to believe, but most lesbians don’t scissor, have long acrylic nails, or are secretly sleeping with the MILF next door. The vast majority of mainstream lesbian pornography is made by men, for men, leaving out an essential component — queer women. Yes, most pornography is dramatized to play into the viewer’s wildest fantasy, but when that fantasy rewrites the narrative for reality (and capitalizes on it), there is a major problem.

Of course there is an undeniable difference in the attitudes toward queer women who present as femme verses those who are more androgynous or masculine. Femme lesbians and bisexual women are seen as a challenge, as if there is no possible way a feminine queer woman would actually “choose” a female partner over a male partner. Maybe they just haven’t found “the right guy yet,” or they are just going through an “experimental phase,” that could be it, right? These blind stereotypes projected onto femme queer women, delegitimize their sexuality and contribute to the notion that their relationships are fleeting.  

As a queer woman moves further away from the culturally favorable high femme/“lipstick lesbian” trope toward futch, and then to most masculine, butch, the questioning and fetishization of her sexuality dissipates. The fantasy of being with two women for a night is no longer appealing when those women are not filtered through the lens of the male gaze. Lust can turn to confusion, disgust, or intimidation. All of the sudden the high femme lesbian of their Girls Gone Wild-induced dreams is now the eager to please stone butch of their nightmares. Not only does she pose a fierce threat to fragile masculinity, but can also change a tire faster than any straight guy in the room.

Joking aside, the hypocrisy, objectification, and stereotyping of queer women is harmful and stunts progress for LGBTQ equality (emphasis on the “L,” in this case). Unfortunately, this is very much a non-issue for a lot of heterosexual people. There is a good chance my dad wasn’t even thinking about the implications of streaming soft porn-esque lesbian films, nor did he think I would find out about his little movie marathon. Men like him are ignorant to the natural privilege that allows them to live a life without the fetishization of their bodies, sexual orientation, or relationships. What heterosexual men need to realize is that being a lesbian has never been, and will never be, about what pleases a man.

And until they get the memo, we will just have to keep working on dismantling the patriarchal society that forces women to be the subject of male fascination and pleasure…or change their Netflix passwords.

Image via Getty

Three Queer Women of Color On Coming Up and Letting Go

If being gay were easy, everyone would do it.

But it’s not. It comes with a long list of caveats, including how much pride you’re allowed to feel. We have to fashion ourselves in ways we don’t really want to sometimes in order to feel safe. We have to simplify the breadth of our existence in order to feel understood. And even when we do, we’re still sexualized and demonized. So there’s a point at which we stop bending over backward out of fear of causing discomfort with something as harmless as our humanity.

This is what our come up looks like.

Ali

I used to be super cautious around straight people, especially straight men, because they’d hypersexualize anything I’d say or do. But now I’m honestly like “Fuck it!” and ditch whoever makes me feel weird.

Any time I’m around older straight people or any STEM event filled with stiff white dudes it feels like a space I’m not really welcomed in. 

Keeping up small talk so people don’t ask intrusive questions or dressing like a normy is my version of trying to be less visible. It’s so performative and slimy, but made me feel safe because I could slip through the cracks.

As I’ve gotten older, I love the realization that I’m in control of whatever I say, do, or spend my energy on. Nothing is worth my time if I’m uncomfortable or stifled. Not caring is hella beautiful.

Salina

There is no experience quite like asserting your queerness. I walk around in my skin and I am seen as brown. I am seen as a woman. From my hair to my feet I am seen and perceived as a million things, and rarely is queer one of them. Despite this, or possibly because of this, it has become the most valued part of my identity.

I feel stuck between constantly wanting to protect this part of my identity because it is precious and not for anyone else. Yet at the same time, I have this urge to scream it from a mountain. To step up to every little heteronormative thing that exists and resist it with force, with power. It wasn’t until the rapid change in our social and political climate that this pull has been heavily one-sided.

I respect the fact that everyone has their very own unique coming out experience and that family acceptance is the most important part of that process. I am also fully aware and incredibly thankful to have a loving and supporting family. However, if we’re talking about muffling our queerness I think that a lot of us can relate to that experience around family. I constantly find myself censoring my language; my opinions are silenced.

When I feel the urge coming on to protect myself, to say “You have it pretty good, be grateful,” I remind myself of how precious my queerness is and why I place so much value on it. My queerness is my power. And I scream from this metaphorical mountain that things can be so much better than they are.

Alexis

My queerness is a huge part of my life and how I interact with the world. When I have I have to constantly come out, I feel unseen. It’s sort of painful that I have to come out at all or be assumed straight and often after coming out, I’m still assumed straight anyway.

Work is definitely a place where I feel like I have to muffle my queerness. It often feels dangerous and humiliating when my queerness or queerness at all is brought up. Within my own family, I am one of the only queer people I know of and I have to pick and choose what parts of myself I want to be open about and it often comes down to hiding that part of myself or being forced to be the voice for my entire community by answering invasive questions.

I feel like I hold on to labels and stereotypes that don’t fit me. In straight spaces I’m more inclined to identify with very binary terms and very basic tropes because the idea of describing myself outside of those things and being met with someone not understanding or even pushing back is so horrifying that I would rather just keep those conversations for myself and loved ones.

I am very privileged to have friends and some family that I feel safe confiding in. Being my whole self, not worrying about being too gay or not fitting the expectations put upon me. I’m privileged to live in a city with so many diverse pockets of queer people, putting on events and holding space for people like me where I can truly let go. It’s a huge weight off your shoulders to be able to shed that kind of fear for even just a moment.

The way people characterize coming out, you would think it’s a one-off experience like chicken pox. Once you live through it that first time, you’re free to be gay all over the place without ever having to explain yourself again. In reality, the first time is the hardest but not even remotely close to the only time you’ll have to contextualize your existence for people. It’ll happen when you’re at the bank and when you’re checking into a hotel and every time you enter the world without a badge that says I’m with gay. It’s a perpetual ritual that makes you almost numb to the whole thing. It also makes you hyper-aware of yourself.

The side effects of internalized homophobia manifest themselves in a million ways, one of them being respectability. Appearing as non-threatening as possible is how you survive the unfortunate reality that every space you enter won’t be queer or even queer friendly. But there’s a feeling of deep catharsis that comes with letting go of the fight to simply survive the world. It comes with letting go of all those safety locks you put on your identity. Letting go of all the other ways you could exist. Finding yourself, your most authentic self, under the rubble of this external pushback is what culminates in the queer experience of letting go. That come up? It’s glorious.

‘League of Legends’ Has Added Its First Openly Gay Hero

After nearly 150 heterosexual characters, League of Legends has finally added a lesbian to the game. Back in the spring of 2018, it teased the introduction of an openly gay character. Greg Street, the Lead Game Designer at Riot Games which develops League of Legends, responded to a question on his personal Tumblr to say that they wanted to make a game that reflected the world we live in.

Neeko, who is the first openly gay character, is a chameleon who can transform into other people — a pretty queer ability.

On Twitter this week, Matt Dunn, a Senior Narrative Writer, clarified that Neeko “does like female champions more than male champions” because she “identifies as a lesbian.”

Compared to other media, video games always feel about 10 years behind in terms of representation. The popular shooter game Overwatch, for example, was recently criticized after the announcement of its newest hero being yet another white woman while the game still does not have a black female character, something that feels almost unthinkable with a roster of almost 30.

Conversely, Overwatch was given praise for announcing that Tracer, the game’s main character for all intents and purposes, was a lesbian in the Christmas comic released in 2016 — in which she gets a present for her girlfriend Emily.

Because of the repetitive nature of online team games like Overwatch and League of Legends, having diverse characters is important because they’re games that will be played over and over again for years. It’s almost the equivalent of having meaningful diversity in television; people will be with these characters for years.

It’s also important when story games are inclusive because players will be better able to delve into the characters’ individual storylines. The character of Ellie in The Last of Us II is a lesbian, and is also the only playable character. Depending on what the developers make of her story and if they take the opportunity to explore her backstory and sexuality, players could get the opportunity to witness a well-told queer story in video games, which does not happen often.

Unfortunately, there is substantially less representation of gay men in games. Most of the ones that come to mind are relegated to romance options in Bioware games. One of those games, Mass Effect: Andromeda, was criticized for the bad gay romance storylines that felt like an afterthought.

This is likely because straight male nerds, the main audience such games are marketed to, are more comfortable with the idea of lesbians than the idea of gay men. It’s too generous to assume they’re thinking about queer women as fully realized people and not just sex objects. Furthermore, it’s also probably easier to convince these straight audiences that masculine women can be more powerful than feminine men, because femininity is seen as weakness — even the gay male characters are extremely straight acting.

Some LGBTQ diversity isn’t inherently a visual diversity. To have racial diversity, developers can give a character a different skin color, hair or facial features, but for queerness, it’s not as obvious. Especially in fantasy genres, it’s hard to portray a character as distinctly gay through visual cues without just covering them in rainbows.

It doesn’t stop with a tweet that announces Neeko’s sexuality. Instead, it might be cool to see a comic that focuses on Neeko and does more than just hint at her being a lesbian. One cool example of something they’ve already done is have unique voice lines that get triggered when Neeko transforms into other characters. When she transforms into the character Ahri, she comments on her beautiful she is; when she transforms into Ezreal, she says, “Pretty! For a boy.”

These little details are a nice addition to the building of characters’ personalities and are a good start toward making a character feel three dimensional. If this is any indication of what video games continue to do in the future, I think we’ll be seeing some nice queer representation soon.

Torres Gets The Last Word

By this time last year, Mackenzie Scott had just put out her third and most adventurous album.

A well-tooled, urgent, and provocative record, Three Futures seemed a year ago to be a critical and artistic success. Then, this past April, Scott received some unexpected news: Her label, 4AD, had decided to drop her from a three-album contract, citing inadequate sales of her new record. “I wish them all the best,” she wrote on Twitter at the time. “Also, fuck the music industry.”

As Torres, she had already established a guitar-based vernacular across two records, 2013’s folky Torres and the heavier 2015 release Sprinter, which integrated moments of playful art rock and blistering neo-grunge. Three Futures changed her palette. Mixed in with her wiry, bright guitar lines were drum machine patterns and queasy turns of synthesizer—elements inspired by electronic music and krautrock that buoyed the knotty questions of desire she floated in her lyrics: What is it to have a body, and what does it mean to engage with the physicality of others?

A series of music videos accompanied the album, making visual the themes of queer love and desire that subtly inflected Torres’s former work. Carefully parse the lyrics to “A Proper Polish Welcome,” off of Sprinter, and a lesbian encounter emerges delicately couched in imagery borrowed from the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark: “Rocking and holy, we came two by two.”

In the video for Three Futures’ “Skim,” Scott wears a suit, brandishes an electric guitar, and toys with other women’s bodies, her gaze fixed defiantly on the camera. The video for the album’s title track casts her as three distinctly costumed characters; tripled, she has sex with herself. The cover of Three Futures, set in the same ochre-tinged house as the videos, shows Scott (wo)manspreading in Chelsea boots on a horrible couch while a woman, seen reflected in a mirror, dances before her wearing nothing but pantyhose.

A complex power dynamic plays through these images. Scott is the more masculine of the two figures in “Skim” and on the album’s cover, but she hasn’t entirely shed all her feminine signifiers. Her hair is long, and she’s topless underneath her blazer. She stands in two places at once as both the desirer and the desired, glitching the heterosexual erotics that traditionally accompany rock music. The camp and the sleaze of this visual universe, created with help from director Ashley Connor, let Torres complicate the well-worn role of the rock star draped in naked women, putting a sapphic twist on a misogynistic trope.

Regarding her personal identity, Scott tells INTO, “I’ve never been compelled to self-identify as any particular gender or sexual orientation. I have nothing to hide. You can look at what I choose to share with the public and see how I live. I just don’t care about gender or sexuality and I don’t think they’re interesting conversations, so I prefer to do more showing and less telling.”

For two weeks after the announcement, Scott withdrew from her songwriting process.

“I literally did not pick up a pen or open my computer for two weeks,” she tells me now over the phone from her home in Brooklyn. “It was kind of crushing. I had a come-to-Jesus moment. ‘Is this the industry that I was actually meant to put myself through while I’m here on this earth?’ I did question that for a bit.”

But, after what she calls “a solid pity party,” she found herself drawn back to her music. “I had a total change of heart. I was like, ‘Actually, I’m fucking fine.’ I really switched gears, which is how I am. That comes naturally to me, that pivot,” she says. “When I’m in a position of powerlessness or at least one that feels like powerlessness, my superpower is the songs that I write. It is a very neat way to give myself the feeling of having the last word on anything.”

Torres

Torres had self-released her debut album back in 2013; working without a label was not new to her. She still had a Bandcamp account, and by July, she had offered a new song, “Gracious Day,” for sale. Sparse and slicked over with tape hiss, it’s an acoustic track that calls back to the love songs on Torres. While she plumbed the lower edge of her range throughout Three Futures, toying with the way certain voicings can connote different gender positions (the way she pronounces “I’m more of an ass man” on “Righteous Woman” is a treat), she arcs up into her falsetto on “Gracious Day.” She recorded the track at home, “just myself and my guitar on my laptop.” It begins with a surprisingly intimate voicemail—”I left my coat at your house. I’m wearing your perfume,” says a woman’s voice—and as Scott sings you can hear the space of her apartment folding around her. She sounds perfectly at home as she beckons, “I don’t want you going home anymore/I want you coming home.”

“I’m highly attuned to the fact that what I really need right now, what everyone needs right now, is connection,” Scott tells INTO. “It’s not something that I’ve ever really allowed myself too much of. I mean, I’m not a recluse. I have friends, I go out. But I’m a very private person, and I spend a whole lot of time alone. I think in the moment that I decided to record that song that way, I was desperate for some immediacy.”

In September, Scott put up another new song on Patreon, unlockable by way of a one-dollar donation. More upbeat and thornier than “Gracious Day,” “Two of Everything” sees Scott gritting her teeth over a love triangle. “What was it that made her think she could have two of everything?/One of you and one of me/Forever in the in-between,” she sings against the anxious patter of a drum machine.

Torres’s Patreon supporters have access to exclusive content such as the original demo version of “Skim,” the first single from her record Three Futures; a photo of a personal handwritten diary entry; a cover of “Wandering Star” by Porthishead, one of her favorite bands; and more personal work, such as a thank you video made for her Patrons.

Patreon, a subscription service that acts like a monthly recurring Kickstarter donation, has emerged in recent years as one of the more popular options for self-employed artists subsisting by selling their wares online. Freelance journalists use it alongside podcast producers, painters, and musicians. In the United States, where arts grants are few and far between and making a living selling music is one of the most precarious professions among the precariat, crowdfunding services like Patreon can act as a much-needed stopgap.

It’s not a replacement for a record company’s more comprehensive infrastructure, but it can help carry musicians across periods of financial uncertainty. Scott doesn’t love the idea of crowdfunding, but she’s content to use Patreon to share demos and covers with fans who offer a margin of financial support.

Scott doesn’t love the idea of crowdfunding, but she’s content to use Patreon to share demos and covers with fans who offer a margin of financial support.

As a musician in 2018, “you’re not just selling records,” she says. “You’re selling a persona. You’re selling visual art, photographs, videos, you’re selling it all. It’s very hard to know, especially right now, what the best way to do that is.” She’d love to play more shows — she just played a rooftop in New York and a campground in Texas — but the market for touring musicians is oversaturated, given that it’s often easier to make a living selling concert tickets than records. She’d love to make more music videos, but the process is resource-intensive. She says she’s interested in doing a little acting sometime, “off-Broadway, or in a cool movie.”

Mostly, what Scott wants right now is the freedom to make music alongside the freedom to survive. “I would love to just do the basics right now,” she says. “Make a living and keep a home and try and be well while we sit through this major hell of a presidency. Bite our nails hoping that climate change is not really as nigh as it seems. Ideally, I would like to be well. I have big dreams, but right now the big dream is to have my needs met.”

2018 has been a creatively fruitful year for Scott, but it has also been a personally taxing one — an uneasy pairing. The songs are there; the infrastructure for distributing them is hazier. She feels free to make the music she wants to make, but she’s making it in an increasingly precarious environment. The music industry does not favor musicians. Late capitalism continues its steady march to the limits of exploitation, and artists like Torres keep writing songs.

She has written her next album, is about to take it to the studio, and plans to release it in the first half of 2019. The record, she says, furthers the lyrical themes that abounded on Three Futures — music about bodies and desire and pleasure never runs dry — but she expects it to sound warmer, rawer, and less clinical.

“I’ll be going for the jugular more with the new record,” she says. Though the hellish presidency tends to seep into just about everyone’s psychological state, her fourth record won’t in any way respond to contemporary politics.

“I only write music when I feel like I’m about to explode with whatever truth-bomb I need to unleash, and usually it only ever has to do with what’s going on in my interior world,” she says. “This new album will be a love album. Our current administration doesn’t deserve music, even combative music. It deserves eternal condemnation where there is no music and no light.”

If Three Futures was a yellow house in rural America, then Torres’s fourth album will be “a botanical garden,” she says. “It’s going to be lush.”

It’s easy to imagine Torres forging an oasis from scarcity. That’s her alchemy: A vacancy becomes a window, and once she sees it she doesn’t hesitate to climb through. Parting ways with her label didn’t alter her path.

“My world did not end. A record label is just a record label,” she says. “I’m so ready to move forward.”

‘FIST’ Is The Leatherdyke Zine You’ll Want To Hold In Your Hot Little Hands

Unsurprisingly, FIST is the kind of reading material that makes me worry someone could see over my shoulder, even though I’m alone in my apartment. It’s not a bad feeling — FIST, a zine by and for leatherdykes, or, queer women who get off on sadomasochism, is overflowing with photography, illustrations, poems, interviews, and essays exploring leatherdyke identity and culture. Each page cracks with the anticipation and energy that comes from speaking one’s desires aloud.

Although this might sound like a specific kink, the term “leatherdyke” refers to a vast range of activities and dynamics between consenting adults — whipping, wax play, restraints, spanking, verbal humiliation, bootlicking, and mummification, just to name a few.

FIST was founded in 2017 by Cristine, a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and BDSM educator who saw a need for modern, diverse perspectives on leatherdyke culture and identity. After the runaway success of FIST: Issue 01, Cristine released Issue 02 in May. Both issues open with an intention to be “inclusive of and prioritize the voices of trans dykes and dykes of color.”

FIST celebrates a range of experiences — from “A Poem for the Whip Enthusiast” by Mistress Couple to “I Know Why the Serpent Devours Her Own Tail” by June Amelia Rose — without claiming there’s one way to be a leatherdyke. Cristine’s own essay “Ode to Fingernails/How Do You Fuck With Those?” is a soaring testament to the erotic potential of long, acrylic nails.

Cristine spoke to INTO about creating FIST, Catherine Opie and BDSM in the ’90s, feminist sex wars, and rude Instagram DMs.

FIST
Art by @MarleyKinkead

I spent an evening reading FIST issues one and two. You put so much care into amplifying diverse leatherdyke voices and it really, really shows. What has the response to the zines has been like?

It has been really incredible! It’s still wild to think about all the feedback I’ve gotten from people who say it’s helped them discover their own inner pervert. When I was starting out, I sought out queer-owned printers to take on this project, and the first one I reached out to told me “We don’t print stuff like this.” Luckily I found a really great queer-owned local printer (Publicide) who was happy to print FIST. After issue one sold hundreds of copies, I decided it was worth having a release party for issue two. Here I was also faced with venues who had respectability issues with the zine content. I ended up having the party in a friend’s backyard and 75 people showed up to hang out and hear a bunch of queer perverts read smut out loud. It was amazing and the energy was so loving. I couldn’t have predicted a dyke SM zine would resonate with so many people!

In the introduction to FIST Issue 01, you write “leatherdyke subculture was documented and immortalized in the early ‘90s through zines and documentaries, almost frozen in time. We aim to pick up that tradition and achieve a new moment in time, sharing fresh perspectives through art and writing that encapsulate life as a modern leatherdyke in 2017.” I’ve seen the documentary Blood Sisters (1995), but I know very little about leatherdyke history. Why was there so much leatherdyke art and media in the ‘90s, and why did it stop?

My leatherdyke root was definitely going to a Catherine Opie exhibit at the Guggenheim in 2008. I saw her portraits of queer leather folk and specifically her photo called “Self-Portrait/Pervert” where she is hooded with play piercings down each arm, and the word “Pervert” carved into her chest. This photo was taken in 1994 and I think fits in to the timeline that I have of when the most leatherdyke art was being produced. After the Sex Wars of the late ‘70s and into the ‘80s (did they ever really end?), SM was coming more to light. I was born in ‘86 so I was just a kid in the ‘90s, but I still remember pop culture and that the entire decade was all about sex. At this time we also know there was a huge overlap between the punk and leatherdyke subcultures, and zines were a huge part of the DIY punk scene. A few things happened in the late ‘90s that I think contributed to less leatherdyke art and media after this time — the internet became popular and communities could exist online, and there was not as much resistance from mainstream culture. Mainstream feminism began to adopt sex-positive feminism so lesbians generally became less uptight and eased up on the “all sex is coercive and SM is violence” stance. This is not to say leatherdyke art and culture disappeared, or the fight was won, there just wasn’t as much being documented.

When you were envisioning FIST, were there any particular ‘90s zines or documentaries you looked to for inspiration or guidance?

Because these zines were printed so long ago, they are really hard to find. I have read a lot of books that mention the zines I wanted to emulate, and seen/read excerpts, but when I first printed FIST I had never actually read one. I think in a way that’s good because I got to be creative in making a new zine from scratch. I’ve since been able to purchase a bunch of copies of On Our Backs from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but they weren’t cheap. This magazine had financial backing, which means the production quality and advertising are not as DIY as I wanted FIST to be. There was a more working-class punk zine out of San Francisco called Brat Attack (a zine for leatherdykes and other bad girls) that put out a handful of issues from 91-94. There is now an archived page up online with select articles to read here. They talk about real issues like class, gear, fat acceptance, race, and SM tourism; there’s more of an authentic feel to this zine.

FIST
Art by @KDDiamond

I’m curious about how you, as a young leatherdyke, access your history. Are there archives, digital or physical? Are there older leatherdykes in your life?

My only real access to leather history is through books and media. There aren’t many out there still in circulation, but they are so important and I wish that all the young people coming into the scene could read them. From what I’ve read, the way it used to be is that elders lead the community and there was more formal training for novices. In New York, where I live, there isn’t much of a close-knit scene. It feels like everyone is casually involved in SM, but not many view it as a lifestyle. There are various leather archives around the country (the most notable one in Chicago), but I haven’t been able to make it out there yet. This past September I went to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco for the first time where I got to attend a documentary screening on the Catacombs (a fisting club active in the ‘70s in San Francisco) starring Gayle Rubin. The screening was obviously in a leather bar, it was honestly just perfect. I knew that Gayle Rubin had gotten a copy of FIST and I got to introduce myself and to thank her for what she’s done for all of us. Meeting one of the trailblazers was life-changing.

FIST
Art by @Luna.Emuna

Are you doing a third issue?

Yes, and hopefully many more! I have submissions open for issue three until November 15 and I hope to have it up for sale along with reprints of one and two by mid-December.

This next question switches directions a little bit. Your Instagram is spectacular. I noticed you field a lot of presumptuous and misinformed comments from randos who are clearly turned on by BDSM, but aren’t navigating their interests with respect or a clear understanding of what it means to be part of a kink community. I’m wondering: how do you protect your time and psychic energy when you’re viewed as a free resource, or an authority on all things leatherdyke?  I know this a huge question, so I understand if you can only stab at it.

Oh, what a question! There was a time when I didn’t post my kinky stuff on social media (I have a vanilla career), but then I realized this was such a huge part of my life that I’d rather risk whatever consequences came about than hide who I am. One of those consequences is, unfortunately, there are always people who think my account (which is just me — Hi! A real person who has a life outside of Instagram) is here for their education. The majority of questions I receive are around BDSM books to read, so I put together a recommendation spreadsheet I share with people that takes just a few seconds. I don’t usually answer DMs asking for advice, but once in a while I do use the Q&A feature on stories and answer people’s questions where I always have one rule: Don’t ask me questions you can easily Google.