This Japanese Lesbian Couple Is Getting Married in 26 Countries to Prove a Good Point

A young Japanese couple, both students at Utsunomiya University, are crowdfunding their wedding online. But not just one wedding; the couple wants to travel around the world getting married in every single country where same-sex marriage is legal.

Misato Kawasaki, 21, and Mayu Otaki, 22,  cannot legally marry in their native country of Japan. So they’re hoping to challenge the Japanese government to change the law by getting married elsewhere — at least 26 times. For now, that’s the number of nations where same-sex marriage is legal. But the couple said on their fundraising page that they aim to marry everywhere they legally can.

“I want to show through our wedding photos that being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) is normal so that those who are troubled by their sexual status can harbor hope,” Kawasaki told the English-language Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun on Thursday.

The couple has been dating for a little over a year, and are collecting money for the trip on the Japanese crowdfunding platform Faavo. At press time, they had raised 334,000 Yen (about $3,000). According to Asahi Shimbun, they estimate it will take just over 4 million Yen (about $38,000) to cover the cost of the entire trip with transportation and lodging.

In exchange for funding, Kawasaki and Otaki are offering benefits ranging from attendance at some of the weddings and parties, to framed wedding photos and handwritten thank-you letters.

The couple plans to start the journey this March in Britain, with weddings in Europe, Africa, North America, and South America to follow into September. Kawasaki and Otaki will post about the weddings, and their travels, on an Instagram account they started for the project (@loveislove.japan).

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私たちは #同性婚 が認められた国で #ウェディングフォト を撮る #世界一周 の #旅 を計画しています。 . スーツののみさとです👔 . 2018年9月の始まりの日。 私とマユは別々の場所に。 9月は、お互いの時間を大切に、 それぞれ成長する月と決めました。 . 彼女はインドで、私は日本で🏃‍♂️ . ブログ等も書いていく予定なので是非読んでみてください! . ちなみに、 先日タイに行ってきました! 久々の海外、たくさんの刺激を受けて帰ってきました🇹🇭 とても楽しかった💁‍♂️ . てことで、 9月、走り抜けます🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️ . カメラマン: @d.i.k.m.s.a スーツ: @aoyama__official ドレス: @watabewedding . . Hello! We are planning to go on a round trip journey to take #weddingphotos within countries which are recognized #samesexmarriage #26timeswedding . . Before starting our trip, we decided to share our wedding photos from Japan. . #LGBT#lgbtrights#lgbtyouth#weddingphotography #samesexcouple#lgbt💛💙💙🏳️‍🌈🇨🇴💗 #lgbt🌈 #lgbtlove#loveislove

A post shared by 26回結婚式💐26TimesWedding (@loveislove.japan) on

The pair also plan to visit Taiwan, they said on the fundraising page. As INTO reported in-depth from Taiwan in November, Taiwanese citizens voted to ban same-sex marriage in a surprise upset. But because such policies can’t be decided by public referendum in Taiwan, it’s unclear what the future holds for marriage rights there. In the meantime, the Taiwanese government is allowing same-sex couples to register as domestic partners.

If the marriage eventually ends, it could present a serious problem for the young couple — who would likely need to return to all 26 nations to file for divorce in each one.

Why Isn’t ‘Nanette’ Showing Up on More Year-End Lists?

Is Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, the Netflix stand-up special literally everyone couldn’t stop talking about this past summer, being ignored by TV critics in their year-end lists?

The thought struck me Friday, when Slate writer Inkoo Kang tweeted out her list of top TV of 2018. Hers was the first list on which I saw Nanette. Surely this was just a case of me not reading enough lists — that such a phenomenon as Nanette had to have been noticed in plenty of year-end lists.

But in fact, according to the compilation site Year-End Lists, which cross-references every major end-of-2018 list, Nanette has appeared on exactly two official best-of-TV lists: Willa Paskin’s, also at Slate, and Erin Trahan’s, at WBUR’s The Artery. Additionally, though for some reason it’s not listed on the compilation site, The Daily Beast‘s list included Nanette. Compare this to, say, The End of the F***ing World, a British dark comedy that is the antithesis of buzzy. (I’ve heard the title maybe twice before today.) That show appeared on seven listsVida, the under-the-radar Starz drama about Mexican-American sisters, appeared on four.

My puzzlement is less a defense of Nanette‘s quality — I enjoyed it, but it wouldn’t have made my top 20 TV shows list — than confusion over how a hugely popular, universally critically beloved stand-up special somehow only merits mention on three year-end TV lists (four, if you count Kang’s tweet).

The first explanation is a simple one: Many outlets ranked Nanette only in lists of stand-up specials, not TV shows. Decider, MashableTimeVulture, and Paste all did that, and actually came in at number one on three of them. (Vulture ranked it 10th, and Decider 8th.) Considering the different classification, leaving Nanette off the TV lists seems understandable.

But think about that for a second or two longer. For one, not everyone has a top 10 stand-up specials list. And for the publications that do, and ranked Nanette number one, it’s even more puzzling that it didn’t make their equivalent TV lists. Imagine ranking every drama on TV, and then making a whole separate list of best TV shows that doesn’t include the best drama. Stand-up specials are still TV! And Nanette was, no doubt, one of the most discussed bits of TV this year.

You could argue that Nanette is not a TV show, but a stand-alone TV experience. That feels like splitting a hair, though. TV is changing, and the forms are changing, too. When we’ve got Facebook releasing shows and Netflix airing choose-your-own-adventure Black Mirror episodes, strict definitions of what is a “show” should really get thrown out the window.

Again, this isn’t me as a Nanette stan arguing that it was all-but-ignored — it didn’t make my list! Rather, it’s me as a consumer of culture expressing my confusion as to how one of the biggest, most critically acclaimed TV hits of 2018 isn’t making a splash as critics remember the best TV of 2018.

New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum infamously eschewed lists years ago, for one reason among many that they weren’t sufficient for properly recapping the cultural year. I love a list, but Nanette‘s near-universal exclusion kinda makes the argument for Nussbaum (who also didn’t include Nanette in her sprawling anti-list). If something as unique, celebrated, and beloved as Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up special isn’t being recognized in lists mere months after it practically broke the internet, maybe it’s the lists that are the problem.

Honeymooning With Wegan

Meet Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans, also known as “Wegan” of What Wegan Did Next. They are bloggers, YouTubers, LGBTQ+ activists, founders of the Find Femmes dating site, digital consultancy owners, the first lesbian couple to be featured on Say Yes to the Dress UK, as well as writers with bylines in Cosmopolitan, The Guardian, Huffpost, Lonely Planet, Marie Claire, and many others.

Outside of activism, culture, and visibility writing, they have become experts in LGBTQ+ travel, helping their over 140K+ combined followers with recommendations on trips, wedding planning, and honeymoons. INTO got the chance to catch up with the incredibly cordial newlyweds, get some advice on queer wedding traditions (hint: it’s a choose your own adventure), get tips on planning otherworldly destination weddings, and get their take on how the travel industry can adapt for queer honeymooners.

Lovers of Love Photography

INTO: When did you start getting into travel writing and what drew you to it?

Wegan: We have been writing about travel for years in our blog posts as we naturally started as long distance and met when Whitney studied abroad in London. Traveling has always been a part of our relationship; from traveling to each other’s countries or trekking to a new destination together like Paris, Portugal or Greece. Our followers loved getting to join us on our travels through our blog and YouTube channel, and we love documenting what we get up to and making recommendations. It’s important for us to highlight,  as a lesbian couple, where we feel is safe and also good for LGBTQ+ travellers to visit.

So many people are meeting online these days across the world. You call yourselves “long distance survivors.” How many years were you in a long-distance relationship? And what top three tips would you give to readers who are also in one?

Yes indeed, we did long distance for 4 years from Hawaii to the UK (2 oceans and a continent apart). It was incredibly hard, but of course, so worth it. Our top 3 tips to survive long distance are:

  1. You must equally be on the same page that you want this to work and the commitment needs to mutually be there.
  2. Communication is absolutely key. Taking advantage of all the free resources to keep you connected is so important. Make sure you use FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, and even good old fashioned hand written letters.
  3. Fix a date for the next time you will be able to see each other. We found that this helps a lot and keeps you going, knowing that there is a date when you’ll be in each other’s arms again. Even if it’s months down the line!
Lovers of Love Photography

Following your civil partnership in 2012 (with the U.K. getting same-sex marriage in 2013), what made you decide to do a destination wedding?

We just weren’t liking any venues in the UK for our wedding. We had been looking for months and nothing felt right. They were too stuffy and old, with often ugly coloured carpet or small rooms. It wasn’t until our first trip to Palm Springs, California where we saw a wedding getting set up at the hotel, The Avalon, that we were staying at that we started to get the idea.

Back in the UK we continued our search for venues and the woman showing us around the wedding venue asked what kind of wedding vibe/theme we were after and Whitney replied “umm… Palm Springs vibe?” So, the woman replied “Well… have you thought about getting married there?” Ha! We just thought it was out of the question, but we decided to contact the Avalon to see what the cost was and if it was even feasible. Lo and behold it wasn’t too much different from all of the UK costs, and as Whitney is American, and since we already had a beautiful civil partnership at Danesfield House in the UK, it felt right and fair to do something in America.

What were some of the biggest challenges of throwing a destination wedding? And what were the biggest rewards of it?

It was rather overwhelming to plan a wedding in a venue that you had only been at once and not even viewed as a possible wedding venue! Luckily, we were recommended COJ Events as wedding planners. We looked at their portfolio of weddings and loved them all, and then when we found out that the wedding planners are in fact a fabulous married lesbian couple, Cathy and Dorry, it was just the icing on the cake! As soon as we chatted with them on the phone, we were so excited to know that our wedding would be in their hands. Knowing another lesbian couple would be taking care of every detail of our big day really made us not worry.

The biggest reward was walking into our reception area on our wedding day, having fully trusted COJ and their recommended vendors. It looked absolutely spectacular, exactly as we had wanted it. Feminine, chic and classy. We still love it so much!

Lovers of Love Photography

Why do you think destination weddings have always been a popular option?

I think people are starting to realize that you don’t have to be confined to what’s around you. You can hop on a plane and fly to your favorite destination, or somewhere that has meaning to you and your fiancée or perhaps your family heritage. Also, I think it adds an extra layer of excitement, of everyone you love coming together in a new place and also giving some an excuse to travel to somewhere they may never had the chance or reason to go ordinarily.

You have a devoted and large following, what are some of the best tips you’ve given readers and followers about planning weddings?

The biggest lesson we learnt from planning our wedding is make your own wedding traditions. We tried to follow traditional straight traditions that just plain failed. When we started to look for our wedding dresses, we actually ended up being the first lesbian couple on Say Yes To The Dress UK. Megan’s mum was with us and she suggested that we should stick to tradition and keep the dresses a surprise from each other for the big day. We hadn’t decided what we wanted to do so we thought we’d give it a go.

However, the issue is that as a couple, we do everything together. We’re literally never apart. Megan particularly relies on Whitney to help make decisions, so she was finding it harder and harder, and after the 8th dress she tried on she still didn’t know what was right. Meanwhile, Whitney had already said yes to the first dress! But this ended up backfiring!  It made us realize that when it comes to a lesbian wedding with two dresses,  we preferred them to complement one another and so it didn’t look like we were going to to two different weddings!

Lovers of Love Photography

We also ended up breaking tradition by sharing a bed the night before the wedding, as being apart didn’t feel right. We also originally thought that we would get ready separately but in the end we all got ready together and it was so much fun. We then helped one another into our wedding gowns and instead revealed our dresses to our Bride Tribe and parents. All in all, we learned that you do not have to stick with tradition, and you can do what feels right for you!

What places did you consider for your honeymoon before you decided on Maui?

We considered popular honeymoon destinations, such as Maldives which is particularly popular in the UK. However, we found out that is it illegal to be gay in Maldives, and we didn’t want to head to a destination that criminalizes people for loving one another; especially when we’re celebrating our marriage! Instead we opted to head back to a place near and dear to our hearts, which is Hawaii. Whitney lived on Oahu for 6 years and we got engaged on our favorite beach there back in 2011.

One of the most controversial aspects of queer travel writing is the debate about traveling to non-queer friendly destinations, what are your thoughts on exploring these locales?

Ah, we find this such a tricky subject. So far we have stuck to visiting places where it is legal to be LGBTQ+. We personally don’t want to put ourselves at risk; lesbians tend to have lesser punishments than gay men, but we also don’t want to recommend places that would put any of our followers at risk. We wouldn’t feel right enjoying a 5-star luxury resort when outside of the gates, gay people are being punished to death.

That being said, there are many LGBTQ+ people that live in countries like this and we don’t want them to feel like we don’t acknowledge their existence. By completely avoiding these countries, a traveler may be missing out on wonderful experiences, culture and meeting people with incredible stories. We think we’ll assess traveling to places where it is illegal to be LGBTQ+ if and when the opportunity arises, and continue to focus on where is LGBTQ+ friendly for now.

Lovers of Love Photography

What was your experience like on honeymoon within the hotels, resorts, and beaches you visited in Hawaii?

As we were in America for 3 months around our wedding, we found that as couple about to be married, or as a recently married couple, that the majority of places just ignored that we were brides-to-be or on our honeymoon. We even stood their awkwardly in our big ‘Just Married’ straw hats checking in to a hotel and nothing would be said to us, hardly a congratulations, let alone a bottle of champagne to the room. The only reason it would bother us is because we knew undoubtedly that if we were a straight couple on our honeymoon, we would have been treated very differently.

For example, Megan’s sister and husband came out to California for a week before our wedding and pretended that it was their first wedding anniversary. They received complimentary room upgrades, bottles of champagne, macaroons etc. and we received nothing! Funnily enough Virgin came out with an advert that completely resonated with us, that depicted a world where straight tourists were treated the same as LGBTQ+ tourists.

Did anyone notice you were on honeymoon?

We had a wonderful time at Maui Four Seasons. We were greeted with a lovely congratulatory card, rose and champagne. All of the employees of the hotel were very welcoming and didn’t bat an eyelid that we were on honeymoon. We loved swimming up to the infinity pool with a frozen mai tai inside a pineapple and watching out the view of the ocean as wife and wife. It was also hilarious in that we got to be known as ‘The Bacons’ by the other guests at the hotel and the token lesbian couple at the resort. Lots of straight people were coming up to speak with us, even waving from afar.

Lovers of Love Photography

What can the travel industry do to adapt better to queer couples whether they are traveling for a honeymoon, or vacation?

We would suggest that they pay attention to the booking and if there’s same sex names on the booking and they mention it is their honeymoon, then make sure that they then don’t get questioned if they want a king bed, or would they prefer two beds! We’ve heard of couples having to push two beds together every day and the housekeepers would separate them every day. All in all, it’s just treating a same sex couple the exact same as any other couple.

Details such as robes in the room, i.e. if it’s two women then likelihood is that they may require two short robes. Maybe just supply more options so there is more choice. One of us always ends up looking comical in a long robe draping to the floor, waddling around!

What are a couple things the hotel/travel industry could do at large to be more accommodating?

Two things that the hotel industry could do is to look at their marketing and to make sure they’re including LGBTQ+ imagery. Please do not use stereotypical images or cheesy fake shots. Look into using actual wedding or honeymoon images from same sex couples. If they haven’t had any same sex weddings / honeymooners then they should look into why this is and how they can market themselves to be more appealing and inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community. This is where our second point comes in, and that’s using LGBTQ+ influencers.

We can supply great quality LGBTQ+ content for hotels to use and in turn promote them as a great place to stay. Within this, please do not think you have to create an LGBTQ+ specific influencer trip and find everything ‘gay’ that there is to do nearby. We often want to do the exact same thing as everyone else — enjoy a great sleep, a yummy cocktail at the pool and a great dinner in your restaurant. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ influencers often get overlooked or simply one token influencer is chosen to join on a trip. It’s important to note that the LGBTQ+ travel market is said to be worth over $200 billion. Not one to be overlooked, now is it!

Lastly, what is Wegan doing next?

We of course want to continue to be visible lesbians challenging stereotypes and always be a safe space for LGBTQ+ to confide in. In addition, we have some exciting travel plans coming up, from Scotland to Canada to Florida and many more fabulous destinations. We also will be expanding our businesses further in 2019 and focusing more on some ‘secret’ projects which we will reveal hopefully in 2019/20.

Everyone Queer Wants to Bang Tessa Thompson in a Suit

On Thursday morning, Sony Pictures Entertainment released the new trailer for Men in Black: International, a movie that purports to be about aliens but is really about Tessa Thompson wearing a suit and flirting with Emma Thompson (no relation, but feel free to go there in your fantasies if that’s what floats your boat).

We repeat. Men in Black: International is a movie about Tessa Thompson in a suit.

Immediately upon release, LGBTQ people of all genders and orientations began to fawn — nay, sweat — over the black-and-white suit worn by openly bisexual actress Tessa Thompson, who came out earlier this year and has since suggested she has a romantic relationship with Janelle Monae.

The Men in Black franchise dates back 20 years to the original 1997 blockbuster starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones that spawned two sequels. The films all center on the same premise: a highly top-secret police force tasked with battling interplanetary alien terrorists and generally keeping tabs on alien activity here on Earth, which takes the form of coffee-drinking worm guys, talking pugs, and alien dance parties in spin-off Will Smith music videos.

But who cares about the past? This movie stars Tessa Thompson in a suit.

The film is helmed by F. Gary Gray, whose incredible range spans from iconic queer classic Set it Off to the stoner comedy of Friday, historical narrative of Straight Outta Compton, and action-packed thrills of The Italian Job. The Hollywood powerhouse knows what the people want and what drives box office income, which is why he cast Tessa Thompson in a suit.

While Thompson was the primary target of queer lust on Thursday, some noted that the pairing of Thompson with Chris Hemsworth was a gift to bisexuals everywhere.

In the trailer for Men in Black: International, there are things that happen. Movie things. There are British accents, explosions, um…men talking, and different kinds of aliens. Stuff continues to happen in between shots of Tessa Thompson in a suit, and then there are also scenes where Tessa Thompson shoots giant guns into the air while wearing a suit, and scenes where Tessa Thompson talks while wearing a suit.

We are all gay for Tessa Thompson now, regardless of who we were before. Where once we had jobs, families, and goals for the future, now we care only about one thing: that suit. Things change when Tessa Thompson puts on a suit.

Men in Black: International hits theaters in the summer of 2019. Until then, it is clear that the people demand at least six more trailers — all of which shall be primarily comprised of Tessa Thompson doing things in a suit.

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

A Conservative Senator Could Keep The EEOC From Operating Because of One Lesbian’s Job

A Republican senator from Utah is about to halt the work of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, yanking workplace protections away from millions of Americans, all in the name of preventing a single queer woman from keeping her job.

Openly gay Chai Feldblum has served as a commissioner for the EEOC since 2010, when she was appointed by then-President Barack Obama and was re-nominated this year by Donald Trump, along with two other Republicans. Her current term is scheduled to end on December 31, 2018, and with two of the five seats on the commission already empty, if Feldblum is not confirmed by the end of the year, the commission will lack a quorum and will be unable to issue decisions.

Feldblum’s nomination should be relatively uncontroversial. Usually, the party that controls the White House gets to nominate three commissioners and the party out of power gets to name two. In the past, nominees have breezed through Congress. But because Feldblum supports equal rights for LGBTQ workers, right-wing activists have hounded elected officials to oppose her nomination.

Those activists found a sympathetic ally in Utah Senator Mike Lee. He’s vowed to hold up her nomination, which would essentially leave vulnerable workers like women, queer people, minorities, and people with disabilities without an agency that can protect them from unscrupulous and exploitative employers.

Lee’s justification is that Feldblum is “a threat to marriage,” a fabricated claim with no basis in fact.

In a statement released earlier this year, Lee imagined that Feldblum wants to “undermine our nation’s founding principles” by “curtailing the rights” of “you, your family, and your neighbors.” Lee didn’t specifically say how Feldblum might curtail any rights, simply that she wants to “stamp out traditional marriage supporters.”

It’s hard to say what exactly Lee thinks will happen if Feldblum is allowed to continue the job she has held for the better part of the last decade, but his vague ramblings echo the less veiled homophobia of groups like The Family Research Council, the Catholic League, and the National Organization for Marriage.

In one bulletin, the American Family Association called Feldblum “a menace to society,” “the dragon-queen,” and “a one-woman Spanish inquisition.”

To be clear, Feldblum’s qualifications for the job are extensive, even beyond the fact that she’s held it for the last eight years. She graduated from Harvard Law; clerked at the Supreme Court; helped draft the Americans with Disabilities Act; and founded various organizations at Georgetown University Law Center to improve access to employment for disadvantaged groups, among many other accomplishments.

Feldblum is also the daughter of a rabbi who survived the Holocaust and has expressed respect for religious freedom.

“The government should respect a statement by a religious person that complying with a non-discrimination law or some other law will place a burden on that person’s religious beliefs,” she wrote in a recent essay, adding that “respect for religion is a paramount and lifelong value for me.”

But Feldblum’s religious respect apparently isn’t sufficient to satisfy Mike Lee, a Mormon with a long history of attacking queer Americans.

Lee’s anti-equality agenda has permeated much of his political work. He opposed marriage equality and tried to pass a bill that would give religious individuals the right to deny equal treatment to same-sex couples. He supported Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the firing of openly queer service members.

And as far back as 2012, he sought to protect employers who fire workers for being queer.

For now, Lee may get his wish. By holding up Feldblum’s nomination, Lee can bring much of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s work to a halt — not just on behalf of LGBTQ people, but for anyone who needs help accessing workplace protections.

But his move could ultimately backfire.

Without a quorum in place, the EEOC will be unable to take certain actions against employers who discriminate against employees — including religious employees. If allegations were to arise that an employer was engaging in systemic discrimination against, just for example, Mormon job applicants, the EEOC would be unable to file suit against that employer. They would be unable to hire expert witnesses, file briefs, or issue guidance.

And beyond that, Lee’s stalling tactics have meant that the Senate has been unable to confirm two other Trump nominees, both Republicans. If Congressional Republicans had simply allowed Feldblum to continue serving, the Trump nominees could have sailed through with her and the EEOC would have been controlled by Republicans. But because Lee held up the process, Democrats currently on the commission have been able to continue serving.

And with the Senate remaining under Republican control in 2019, there will be little incentive for Senate leaders to call for a vote once the EEOC’s ability to function is curtailed. If Lee doesn’t back down, restoring the commission might have to wait until the 2020 election.

Image via Getty

10 Of The Best Queer Kisses This Year

It’s no exaggeration to say that a kiss can change the world. Just this one tiny act of affection can make a real lasting impact, whether it’s by cementing the love shared between two people or celebrating the strides made by the LGBTQ community as a whole.   

In the year of 20GayTeen, more queer people openly expressed their love for each other than ever before, so pucker up and join us as we take a look at 10 of the most unforgettable kisses shared on our screens and beyond.

We Are Not (Ken)Worthy

While competing at the Winter Olympics earlier this year, skier Gus Kenworthy warmed our hearts when a kiss he shared with his boyfriend, Matthew Wilkas, was unknowingly broadcast to the world on NBC. The openly gay athlete later joked about the incident with reporters, explaining that “I could’ve made out with him had I known.” Even so, “the tiniest kiss in the world” still created huge waves within the world of competitive sports, which is still struggling with homophobia in various forms.

Justice For Choni

Choni might not be faring particularly well in Season 3, but Riverdale’s most popular couple almost broke the internet when they first got together towards the end of Season 2. After Cheryl was subjected to conversion therapy by the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, Toni decided to break in and rescue her, complete with an all-consuming kiss right in front of the anti-queer PSAs shown in the projection room. Backlit by the movie projector, this beautiful moment inspired a new generation to explore their sexuality without restraint, not to mention some real hardcore fanfiction, too.

Love, Keiynan

The only thing more inspiring than seeing a gay lead character star in a Hollywood teen movie is hearing Keiynan Lonsdale talk about it while accepting the Best Kiss Award from MTV for his work in Love, Simon. During his speech, the sexually fluid actor told audiences that “You can live your dreams and kiss the one that you love, no matter what gender they are. You can live your dreams and believe in magic.” Excuse me while I go play his song “Kiss The Boy” on an infinite loop.

The First Of Many

No matter what advances technology might make, video game kisses are usually awkward at best, unless of course you’re talking about The Last Of Us II. Naughty Dog haven’t even released the sequel to their flagship game yet, but Ellie’s tender gay kiss in the game’s first trailer blew everything else out of the water when it premiered at E3 earlier this year. For perhaps the first time ever, a video game development team successfully created a kiss that felt real and beautifully human, something which becomes even more important when you realize that the two characters in question are both women.

Changing Lives

Things heated up at the coldest Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on record when the two lead actresses of a new Broadway musical called The Prom kissed on national TV during their live performance. Seeing the first LGBTQ kiss ever broadcast during the parade is certainly something we could all be thankful for this year.

More Than Friends

After Wanuri Kahiu finished directing Rafiki (Friend), she was immediately told that this story of two women falling in love was “against God” and the film was subsequently banned in its native Kenya. Because of this, the first kiss that Kena and Ziki share in the film isn’t just a beautiful artistic statement, but also a powerful act of defiance that reverberated across the world. As long as there are still countries that define homosexuality as a criminal act, scenes like this are still vital and could even help save lives.

Queers of Tomorrow

John Constantine’s own show only lasted for one season and we don’t want to say that it was canceled because NBC erased his bisexuality… but we’re gonna go ahead and say it anyway. Fortunately, everyone’s favorite chain-smoking occult user was brought back to our screens this year in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow with his sexuality intact.

This came to the fore recently in the midseason finale where Constantine’s kiss with the man he loves literally saved reality, creating a ripple effect which fixed everything that was broken. Sure, John might have been the one who broke reality in the first place, but still, his heart was in the right place and after years of erasure, so were his lips.

Not Everything Sucks

It’s tempting to include Kate and Emaline’s kiss from Everything Sucks!, simply because this show is such a beautiful underdog and deserves all of the attention it can get. However, the kiss that matters most in the first and only season of Everything Sucks! is the one that Kate witnesses from afar at the Tori Amos concert. As she watches these two strangers make out in public, the confused young girl suddenly realizes that she doesn’t have to deny who she is anymore. The future that Kate longs for can be a reality for her, too, one day and it all started with these nameless strangers.

Karolina & Nico: Endgame

It’s easy to forget now, given everything else that has happened since, but way back in the first week of 2018, history was made on the Runaways TV show when Karolina made out with Nico. The scene in question marked the first time that queer Marvel superheroes have ever kissed on screen, hopefully paving the way for some super LGBTQ representation on the big screen too.

What We All Need

It’s only fitting that the woman who first coined the phrase ‘20GayTeen’ would make such a big impact this year with her music video for “What I Need,” which also features fellow queer artist Kehlani. Through Hayley Kiyoko’s self-directed promo, the pair tell a powerful love story that includes a passionate kiss with some strong Thelma & Louise vibes. Seeing a relationship like this represented physically in a chart-friendly music video would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. That’s the power of 20GayTeen right there.

Jolene’s is San Francisco’s New Bar, Restaurant, and Event Space Dedicated to Queer Women and Trans People

San Francisco event promoter Jolene Linsangan needed a permanent space to throw Uhaul, her regular roving five-year-old party for girls who like girls and their friends. She searched for years, but her options proved to be limited. Among the challenges was finding a Friday night venue that understood her vision of a space that was oriented toward the social and safety concerns of queer women and trans people — and that was not in a highly trafficked area prone to passersby turned gawkers. Perhaps the lack of choices of appropriately located, queer-focused venues was to be expected in a town that, although known as an LGBTQ mecca, somehow has been without a lesbian bar for three years.

Linsangan decided to get proactive, and this month the City by the Bay can experience the results. She linked with local restaurant pro Shannon Amitin and financial controller Ashleigh Wilson to open Jolene’s, a queer woman and trans-centric bar, event space, and restaurant on the eastern edge of San Francisco’s Mission District. The team employed queers throughout the opening process, from its graphic designer to the friends who rushed in to help with last-minute build-out projects. Prominent SF residents, including drag queens; representatives from the Women’s March and National Center for Lesbian Rights; local queer politicians like SF’s District 8 supervisor Rafael Mandelman, Senator Scott Weiner, and City College of San Francisco trustee Tom Temprano, offered their support for the business as it navigated its way through city permitting procedures. These co-signs were essential, given the DIY nature of the Jolene’s project.

“They were instrumental in helping us get open without a contractor,” says Amitin.

The team is already working with queer-run food vendors Feral Heart Farms, Dandelion Chocolate, and Treecraft Distillery, and will continue to forge alliances within the community for the sourcing of Jolene’s Northern California-inspired food menu, which currently features quinoa-chard-pepita bowls, avocado egg rolls, and charcuterie boards featuring locally-sourced meats and cheeses. Chef Cory Armenta — a veteran of the Castro’s queer sports bar HiTops and philanthropic drag star Juanita More’s new downtown venture MORE!Jones — has been brought on to imagine Jolene’s edible offerings. Among the bar’s more offbeat food notions is an upcoming Sunday brunch, which will feature bottomless mimosas, go-go dancers, fried eggs on English muffins, challah bread pudding, and chicken ‘n’ waffles (vegan and vegetarian options abound.)

“Creating space for queer folks to feel safe enough to let go and really live, is something deeply personal and exciting for me,” says Amitin, a queer trans man who originally discovered the rare, affordable rental opportunity in a building that has housed local businesses like Dear Mom and Darger Bar. “I’ll never forget taking my shirt off for the first time on a dance floor, or my first make-out.”

In Jolene’s, he is working so that the next generation can have those same ecstatic community experiences. “Jolene’s refuses to be erased,” Amitin says. “We are the collective fist.”

San Francisco currently has one of the world’s least affordable real estate markets — a fact that has strongly impacted queer clubs. The city’s last fully dedicated lesbian bar, the Lexington Club, closed down three years ago, its infamous single bathroom now located in a renovated, tony cocktail bar.

Part of the issue is low budget queers being forced out of the city entirely. As the former owner of the Lex and present owner of mixed bar Virgil’s Sea Room Lila Thirkield once put it in a Facebook post announcing the close of the Lex, “When a business caters to about five percent of the population, it has tremendous impact when one percent of them leave.”

Wilson, who identifies as queer, has spent some time studying this phenomenon. “There’s the income gap, Uhaul-ing culture, the idea that women drink less than men,” she says. “Whether these theories are true, I am unsure.”

But for all its mourning over the Lex, San Francisco is not without its thriving, lesbian-run nightlife establishments, most of them located in San Francisco’s central and eastern neighborhoods where the same hyper-gentrification that contributed to the close of the Lex has made lasting footholds for small businesses tricky. Virgil’s, HiTops Sports Bar, El Rio, and Wild Side West are all small to medium sized venues where queer women are among the owners. In these spaces, the vibe is largely inclusive, the borders of community not delineated by gender. Locals can also find regular lesbian-oriented party nights such as SF’s VICE Tuesdays, El Rio’s Mango, and of course Uhaul, a special edition of which acted as Jolene’s coming out party tonight,  December 14.

Walk into Jolene’s and you are greeted by a huge neon sign — modeled on a similar display that Lingsangan hangs at Uhaul events — that declares “You are safe here.” Custom wallpaper displays an intricate design that only reveals itself to be made of genitals and breasts upon closer inspection. Around the party-ready dance floor in the back of the space, the femme-centric vibes get even sharper. Lingsangan took photos of hundreds of boobs — mainly from women, with trans and cis men’s breasts included as well. (“Fuck everyone who is offended by nipples,” the staff tells INTO via email).

Far beyond these touches of aesthetic flagging, Jolene’s founders know that it’s essential that their new undertaking draw a wider pool of friendly faces. This is not just about novelty — it will be a key goal if Jolene’s is not to fall into the same financial miasma that claimed its lesbian bar predecessors. “Making this project sustainable [means] creating an environment where conversations between strangers are encouraged,” says Lingsangan. Jolene’s will be facilitating social flow with a steady stream of programming, from art exhibitions to community fundraisers and parties, and a community message board to complement communal tables and the open floor plan.

But you’ll still find a spot that has been designed to abet your hook-up. “You can tell [your friends that] you liked our decor, you thought our drinks were good, or you thought the music was fun,” muses Lingsangan. “But all of those stories are not as exciting as the story when you tell them you met someone.”

In an email interview describing the sources of their business inspiration, the team sends an old snapshot of SF’s first lesbian nightspot Mona’s 440 Club, which opened its doors in 1936. Women in dapper tuxedos pose, regulars at a North Beach space owned by Mona Sargeant that welcomed guests for decades. But this is not to say that Jolene’s will be exactly like Mona’s or Peg’s Place, the Black Cat, Maud’s — classic Bay Area lesbian institutions.

One difference is that in 2018, our understanding of what it means to be queer and trans is expanding, and with it the requirements for venues that wish to act as the ever-elusive “safe space.” “Most gay bars are not welcoming or accommodating for trans and gender non-conforming individuals,” says Amitin. “Like, why is it so hard to provide bathroom stalls with locks? It is extremely frustrating to have to leave a venue because you don’t feel safe using the bathroom.”

“Currently, I think there is a need for more inclusive spaces,” Wilson says. “Having a ‘lesbian’ bar feels very exclusive and old school, which doesn’t and didn’t feel right for our team.” That means that many events will have an inclusive gender focus. On January 19, San Francisco’s queer hip-hop institution Swagger Like Us will come to party under the boob wall.

They’ve put in the effort to make a space that does feel good. “Jolene’s was built out of blood, sweat and queer tears,” says Amitin. He’s not kidding — the trio spent months building out the space themselves, laying tile, installing wainscoting, learning to use power tools; refining their butch skill set. During tough moments, they called in their community to help out. In Jolene’s, SF’s queer community has a new space designed for and by them.

“When you walk into our doors you will be safe with us,” says Linsangan. “We understand what you are going through and we accept you. Here, you will be at home.”

Images by Lucas Francisco & Shot in the City Photography

G Flip is Australia’s Latest Musical Export

If you look up G Flip on any music streaming app, you’ll only find two songs. Yet the 23-year-old Australian musician (née Georgia Flipo) has been performing for crowds of up to 5,000 people all over Australia, Europe, and now the United States, and the fans know words to even her yet-to-be-released tracks.

“I can’t lie when I write. I think it has to do with the fact that no one gives a fuck anymore,” G Flip told INTO. “We just say what we want to say how we would say it in normal conversation, it’s not overly poetic. And there’s so much truth in it.”

INTO met G Flip while she was in  L.A., kicking off the U.S. leg of her tour. She has a laid-back style that’s both evident in her lighthearted approach to love and relationships in her music, to her wardrobe (that day she was wearing beach shorts, sneakers, and a tie-dye shirt). She has multiple tattoos on her left arm including the title artwork of Michael Jackson’s album Bad, and others she calls random.

“This one here, I was drunk in Texas and I walked into a restaurant and the restaurant was like, ‘Get our logo tattooed and we’ll do it for free,’” she pointed out. “And I was like, ‘That’s a great idea.’”

She also has no qualms about using female pronouns in her music.

“I don’t hide the fact that I’m gay at all,” G Flip said. “It’s in my music because it’s in my life and I think it makes other queer people feel heard. Kind of like their feelings are valid and safe.”

In the past, queer artists weren’t able to be as forthcoming about their sexuality in their music. But G Flip exists in a time where openly LGBTQ artists such as Shamir, MUNA, and Hayley Kiyoko, among many more, are making queer-themed music and thriving. G Flip is a part of that new wave. And while there is no one “queer sound” that unites queer artists, the pop genre seems to be a mainstay for most of them. In that way, G Flip completely fits into the zeitgeist, even though she says she doesn’t frame her music in terms of strict genres.

“I always struggle to pinpoint what my genre is,” she said. “I kind of let the people decide that. I think it’s fair to say that it’s on the pop spectrum. I feel like the melodies are like catchy pop. The kind that gets stuck in your head and I like trying to do that. To me, it feels like a mixture of kind of indie rock and pop, definitely for the live shows. It’s very band-oriented because I’ve grown up playing drums.”

Both the songs she currently has out, “Killing My Time,” and “About You,” have catchy choruses and smooth bass lines. They’re about heartbreak and uncertainty in a relationship, which might have a lot to do with the fact that she claims to write her best songs when she feels the worst. This contrast of sad lyrics and catchy melodies layered on top of uptempo beats is a conventional formula of pop music, but she uses it to create a dreamlike vision of queer heartbreak.

“The way I write songs – it’s always different,” G Flip said. “Sometimes just to get in a better mood I just start playing piano or guitar or drum – just, like, zone out. I might just sit on a chord progression I like or melodies that I like on piano and then I’ll just start singing. Because I’m a drummer, that’s my whole background, I feel like my melodies are more rhythmic as opposed to like long-held notes.”

G Flip says her influences are pop stars and grunge garage bands. She’s big into pop stars and grunge garage bands.  “I love Michael Jackson, Prince, The Cure, The Rolling Stones, and, like, RnB Top 40. I love the Pussycat Dolls,” she said. “When I watched the ‘Don’t Cha’ music video that’s when I realized, ‘I think I’m gay?’”

At her first LA show at The Echo, G Flip’s energy was at a constant peak. She frequently took to the drums during her 15-song set for a solo, and spoke to the crowd as if she knew every single person individually. She told the crowd that her best songs come out of the worst situations; ardently thanking them for showing a new international artist like her such support. She leaned into the crowd, practically serenading the people in the front row during the slower songs. 

“It’s the same fans showing up for me every time,” G Flip said. “It’s crazy watching people in the audience sing songs I haven’t even released because they film it and then learn the songs by the next show.”

One fan even proposed to her partner on stage.

“One of the girls, Mary, told me how refreshing it was hearing female pronouns and know she could resonate with the music so much more,” G Flip said. “And it’s such a simple thing to just know this girl is talking about being in love with a girl.”

The queer community is nothing if not devoted. The debut album from Hayley Kiyoko, the artist dubbed “Lesbian Jesus,” Expectations entered the Billboard 200 chart at No. 12 with 24,000 equivalent-album units earned in its first week. King Princess’ global breakout single “1950,” a song inspired by the lesbian film Carol, is certified Platinum in Australia and Gold in New Zealand, Canada, and Norway. The myth that being an openly queer musician won’t sell records, that it’s a risk to invest in queer artists, is homophobic propaganda.

G Flip feels supported by her fanbase. She knows that their passion is fueled by a community that has long been underserved in media. She noticed this strong sense of community not only at her own shows but when she goes out to other queer artists’ shows as well.

“I was actually at the King Princess [show] in Australia and so many of my fans were at that show,” she said. “Which is, like, so cute. The queer community is supporting not only King Princess, who is huge and amazing, but they’re also supporting me. It just makes me so much more confident and feel like I actually have a home in the music industry.”

She’s found a home in her audience, and they’ve found a home in her music. Now they just have to wait for more to be released.

“I want to just drop an album next year. My team is like ‘Should we do an EP? Should we do an album?’ I’ve spent the last two months in my bedroom every day just trying to finish these songs,” she said. “And it’s basically finished, there are two or three that I just have to make a little bit more rough. Something about them are too smooth. I just love making everything sound a bit dirty. But I’m pushing for an album. I’m ready for an album and I think the people that support me are, too.”

“Having that much support so early on in my career and having so much love, seeing the same faces and the same people that reach out to me,” she continued, “it feels like my voice is valued.”

Images via G Flip and Facebook

Surprise: Lesbian Porn Tops the Pornhub Charts, and Women Are the Ones Watching

Just one week after Tumblr announced its new ban on adult content in a move that caused widespread queer despair, and a Facebook sex ban appeared to block everything from posting about being LGBTQ to discussing body parts like breasts and butts — here comes Pornhub, swooping in to remind us all that free (and subscription-based) online porn is alive and stronger than ever.

Pornhub’s 2018 Year in Review shows that adult content isn’t going anywhere, and that interest in queer sex is growing.

For the fourth year in a row, ‘lesbian’ was the most searched-for term on the world’s most popular porn tube site. Pornhub saw a staggering 33.5 billion visits to its website over the course of the year, and 92 million visits a day — which it points out is the equivalent to the populations of Canada, Australia, and Poland all combined.

Pornhub even created a handy map to show which parts of the world like to watch lesbian porn the most. The map also doubles as an illustrated fantasy world for those who want to pretend queer women have taken over most of the earth’s most powerful nations (it’s bound to happen).

Pornhub 2018 Year in Review map. Image via Pornhub Insights. maps-pornhub-insights-2018-year-review-most-viewed-categories
Pornhub 2018 Year in Review map. Image via Pornhub Insights. maps-pornhub-insights-2018-year-review-most-viewed-categories

Dr. Laurie Betito, sex therapist and director of the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center, explained in the post why ‘lesbian’ continues to reign as the most searched-for porn term — turns out, women are the ones driving its success.

“Women continue to favour lesbian porn. They get to see acts they enjoy on themselves – that’s why ‘pussy licking’ is popular,” Betito told Pornhub. “They also seem to enjoy simple eye candy (‘solo male’) performing just for her, perhaps in her ‘fantasy.’”

That might surprise a lot of queer women, many of whom find mainstream ‘lesbian’ porn neither realistic nor appealing. The tropes of lesbian porn created to entertain straight men strike many lesbians as too unrealistic to get off from; while some queer women do enjoy scissoring, it’s just rare enough to make its prominence in straight-helmed ‘lesbian’ porn feel a little bizarre. And while mainstream lesbian porn has improved to feature women who often genuinely seem to be into each other, the classic trope of two high-femme blond Barbies stabbing at each others’ vaginas with pointy acrylic nails is a little scary; while lots of queer femmes manage to have sex with acrylics, there’s usually a latex glove filled with cotton balls or something similar to lessen the chance of injury.

Queer women turn to alternative porn run by queer creators for a reason; sites like The Crash Pad Series, Queer Porn TV, and Pink Label were all founded by queer women committed to diversity of gender, race, bodies, abilities, and sexual kinks. Statistics on the kinds of porn preferred by queer women aren’t easy to come by, but the 2015 Ultimate Lesbian Sex Survey of over 8,500 queer women conducted by Autostraddle found that while only 30 percent of queer women watched straight ‘lesbian’ porn, 65 percent said they watched queer porn created by and for queer people.

But this year’s stats show that mainstream lesbian porn is indeed attracting more women viewers. ‘Lesbian’ was the top-searched term among female viewers, but only the sixth for male viewers, who preferred things like ‘Japanese’ and ‘milf.’ Searches went way up for ‘lesbian strap-on’ at an increase of nearly 400 percent, suggesting that either more queer women are turning to Pornhub, or more queer-curious women are using it to learn how to have sex with another woman.

Searches on Pornhub also went up for lesbian-adjacent categories like ‘tattooed women’ and ‘outdoors.’ Now we just need ‘flannel,’ ‘vegan,’ and ‘breakup sex after processing’ and the lesbian takeover of porn will be complete.

Lesbians weren’t the only winners on Pornhub this year. Searches for ‘trans’ went up in 2018 by 167 percent, Pornhub reports, with an even higher increase among people of all genders over the age of 45. Trans porn was also the fifth most-searched category among users aged 45-64. Which begs the question: What on earth was Victoria’s Secret CEO Ed Razek talking about when he suggested this fall that trans women aren’t “fantasy” material and thus aren’t included as models for the brand?

This year’s overview includes helpful stats on what gay users are searching for in the company’s Pornhub Gay portals, too. In 2018, the most searched terms on Pornhub Gay were ‘Korean’ and ‘Japanese,’ followed closely by ‘black,’ ‘daddy,’ and ‘straight.’ Some of the more specific search terms in the gay porn section were pretty amusing; the game ‘Fortnite’ reigned supreme, with phrases like ‘dick robber’ and ‘remote control’ not too far behind. In terms of overall categories, ‘straight guys’ was the section users flocked to the most.

Queer pornstars did well on Pornhub Gay, too, but with a twist: it was women visiting Pornhub to search for Chris Crocker, Diego Sans, and William Seed, even more than male users.

Hopefully, the FOSTA legislation that killed off Tumblr porn and entire websites like Backpage won’t touch Pornhub, which appears to be the last major bastion of sex positivity online. For now, the company’s year-end stats present a glimmer of hope in an increasingly anti-sex internet landscape.