This Star-Studded Cast Is Making Your Queer ‘Casablanca’ Dreams Come True

Have you ever wanted to see a version of the classic Humphrey Bogart film Casablanca, but starring some of Hollywood’s most radical queer and trans women, but also performed live, but also with every ticket raising money for the world’s only philanthropic foundation dedicated solely to advancing LGBTQ human rights, but also with a last-minute L Word star joining the cast?

Of course you have, obviously. And you are in luck, because this elaborate fantasy that seems like it’s pulled straight from online lesbian fanfic site Archive Of Our Own is absolutely happening in real life this week.

This Thursday, a cast of notable celesbians and friends will perform an all-women live reading of Casablanca at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. Ellen Page, Kiersey Clemons, Hannah Gadsby, Emily Hampshire, Indya Moore, and Olivia Wilde take to the stage with the help of writer/director Jason Reitman (Juno, Tully, The Front Runner). On Tuesday, Page announced on social media that L Word star Kate Moennig would also be joining the cast.

The one-time production will donate proceeds to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, which distributes grants and funding to local and global LGBTQ human rights projects.

“We’re so honored Ellen has rallied the power of her community to shift resources and attention to grassroots LGBTQI activism with Astraea,” said Astraea executive director J. Bob Alotta. “Donating to Astraea supports the most badass groundbreaking LGBTQI activists on the globe.”

An Astraea spokesperson requested that the full acronym ‘LGBTQI’ be used to reflect the foundation’s commitment to funding projects for the global intersex community.

Over the past 40 years, the Astraea Foundation has given away over $40 million to grassroots LGBTQ groups all over the world, according to a spokesperson.

“Combining all of our resources, reach and talent is precisely how we create the change the world so badly needs today. This is how we build and secure movements. This is how we free ourselves from violence and discrimination. Queer Casablanca is an act of resistance,” Alotta told INTO.

Queering a classic film is a radical move, but Pose star Indya Moore — who plays the waiter Carl in the live reading — said the story itself is also an allegory for queer experience, because it is “a love story about two people who cannot be.”

“There are many intersectional conversations that Casablanca brings up for me, and that is a reason why I think it is so cool,” Moore told INTO.

While Casablanca is typically thought of first as a love story, the film’s romance occurs on a backdrop of anti-fascist resistance activists trying to escape the Nazis by sneaking through France and Morocco to migrate to the United States.

Moore said the film’s subject matter is reflective of the current migrant crisis at the U.S. border as well as the one in Europe.

“During a time where anti-refugee rhetoric has become normalized and popularized in the wake of black and brown people seeking asylum, human rights and bodies are more so now than ever sanctioned as political territory,” Moore told INTO.

In an interview with the LGBTQ newswire service Q Syndicate, Ellen Page said she plays the iconic role of Rick Blaine that was performed by Humphrey Bogart in the film.

“It’s one of the most iconic love stories with some of the most memorable lines of any film ever,” Page told Q Syndicate. “It just seems perfect to sort of recreate it in the way that we are.”

Page’s Rick will share intense love scenes with Clemons’ Ilsa, as the characters tussle over whether Rick should help Ilsa and her Czech resistance fighter lover escape the German military and corrupt Vichy police. Rick’s position as a nightclub owner in neutral territory forces him to make a choice based on love — whether to stay out of politics or to help save lives by joining the resistance himself.

The film explores “How anti-refugee rhetoric is carried out in vehicles of fear to people who are citizens of the cities refugees are in pursuit of for safety,” Moore told INTO.

During a time when LGBTQ migrants from Honduras and other violence-ridden nations are pleading for help at the U.S. border and facing increasingly anti-immigrant hostility in America, nothing could be more apt that a queer retelling of one of Hollywood’s most politically radical films.

‘Casablanca Live Read’ takes place on Thursday, Dec 13 at 8pm at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. Tickets are available through the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.

The 40-Year-Old (Lesbian) Virgin

In the 2005 movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the plight of Steve Carell’s title character was played for laughs. But in a society where coming out is becoming more common, and “gray divorce” is on the rise, there’s a new class of virgins — late in life lesbians who have yet to seal the Sapphic deal.

But what is virginity, really? A medical definition for cis women that involves the hymen seems irrelevant to Dr. Kelly Wise, an AASECT certified sex therapist and sex therapy supervisor in Brooklyn, NY.

“Everything that we know is that hymens can be not intact for many reasons that have nothing to do with intercourse,” Wise tells INTO. “So how relevant of a definition is that? Maybe in certain cultures where purity is discussed, but in our day and age, it just doesn’t feel relevant.”

What is relevant, says Wise, is that virginity is something a person offers. He points to similarities between sexual fluidity and the transgender experience. When those who have felt disconnected from their bodies take steps to align their internal sense of gender with their physical bodies, Wise says: “In the reclaiming of one’s self, there’s something powerful there. That reclamation is a new beginning.”

“I consider myself a lesbian virgin because I’ve never been intimate with a woman one-on-one,” 43-year-old JaTonna Kirkwood says. She’s been with a woman before, she says, but only in threesomes. With a man present, she thought it made her desires more socially acceptable.

Kirkwood describes her first eight-year marriage to a man as “all give and no receive.” Seven years after they divorced, he became terminally ill. “I was encouraged to get remarried because the ‘kids needed a father,’” Kirkwood tells INTO. This missive from friends and family led to a second round of hetero-marriage that was worse than the first — and that ended in divorce.

Post-marriage, looking for a person with the “internal beauty she seeks,” Kirkwood met a woman on a dating app. They developed an emotionally intimate relationship and explored Kirkwood’s past in phone conversations.

“I could see that I had picked abusive men because I didn’t feel worthy,” Kirkwood tells INTO. “I didn’t think being a lesbian made me worthy of a good relationship.”

Wise works with these populations and says that while past experiences are relevant and can’t be undone, they don’t have to define or have power over an individual. Each of us has the power to reclaim our virginity.

“This idea that virginity only happens once — and it’s said and done and you can’t have that back — is something that I challenge,” he tells INTO.

Since Kirkwood accepted herself as a lesbian, she says, “Everything makes sense.” She’s coming out to friends, she loves going to drag shows, and her belly-dancing “dance sister” is introducing her to the Kansas LGBTQ community. When she liked a lesbian event on Facebook recently, she says, a friend commented, “I knew it!”

Kate Ross from New South Wales, Australia is “58-years-young” and can’t remember hearing anything about lesbians as a Catholic teen ( “I would have been in my 20s before I had any idea about gay culture”). She had two brief hetero relationships at that time but nothing in the over three decades since. Sometimes she wonders if she might be asexual.

Ross has never kissed a girl, but she’s got her eye on a close lesbian friend who doesn’t know of Ross’s feelings. When she and her counselor discuss these issues, Ross uses the term “theoretical lesbian” instead of “virgin.”

“I have a whole bagful of anxieties about anything to do with lesbian sex,” Ross tells INTO. “It’s why I am not dating. I am scared stiff to let someone know I have had no experience. It’s eating away at me and I feel shameful about it. Crazy, I know. But that’s where I am at.”

These anxieties ring of adolescence and all of the fumbling and urgency that goes along with it. Wise says, “Any time we are trying something new, all of that anxiety comes up. Especially with the idea of ‘By this age, I should know all this stuff.’ But who’s to say that? I think it’s more important that people put themselves out there and try and be vulnerable.”

Ross’s counselor suggested a vibrator as a way for Ross to explore her sexuality. Once she figured out how it worked, she put it away for almost a month before she found the courage to use it again.  

“I try to help my clients see that everything is a learning experience,” Wise tells INTO. “It’s not about having a successful experience. It’s more about, ‘What did I learn from this? What was good? What was not good? How do we move forward with what we learned?’ [It’s about] trying to lower the stakes from ‘Everything has to be A-plus perfect’ to ‘Let’s just put ourselves out there, try it, and see what we learn.’”

Manon Williams, a 40-year-old out lesbian in the San Francisco Bay Area, used to dream of a husband, a picket fence, and 2.5 children. She had two serious heterosexual relationships in her late 20s and 30s, but neither of them led to engagements. After she fell deeply in love with a straight female friend, she started questioning — and came out as a lesbian in July of this year.

“I’m still honing my gaydar,” Williams tells INTO. “I feel teenage awkward. Everything is new, scary, different and it feels like adolescence all over again.”

Adolescence is a time of self-discovery and vulnerability, and some older women are experiencing their new virginity with all the giddy excitement of a teen rom-com. Some, however, are struggling with internalized homophobia and self-acceptance while grieving the loss of a heterosexual-dream family. Some are healing from past scars. Still, others find themselves in a cycle of repetitive sexuality questioning.  

“There’s this myth that everybody knows their own sexuality or this myth that we know exactly what the other person wants and we should be able to do it,” says Wise. “Regardless of who we’re attracted to, getting to know somebody is always two new people meeting, with two new sets of experiences, and two new erotic templates. It’s just having curiosity and an openness to hearing and understanding and taking it from there.”

If you’re one of the 3.4 million people who viewed Brene Brown’s TED Talk, you know that true happiness through deep connection between human beings often begins by being vulnerable. Our ability to love comes from our ability to accept love. But openness, and therefore vulnerability, can be difficult to access when we don’t feel worthy of love.

“Sometimes, in my fear, ” Williams says, “I wonder if I just haven’t met the right guy yet. But that comes from my inner homophobia and wanting to be ‘normal.’ I know I’ll have to kiss a lot of frogs before I find my princess. There will be pitfalls along the way.”

Trina Gable, 53, liked girls from the time she was six years old but didn’t understand the concept of the word lesbian until high school. “I shoved it aside and ignored it,” she says.

Married to a man for 16 years, Gable divorced in 2007. It was in 2017 — after she binge-watched The L Word, she says — that she reluctantly identified as a lesbian. “I couldn’t deny how I reacted to [the show] but I still wasn’t comfortable with [the label],” Gable tells INTO. She had been active in the United Pentecostal Church to keep her family’s approval and have a community.

Even though church elders told her it wouldn’t work, Gable says, “I basically tried to pray the gay away. I ignored it as much as possible and acted like it didn’t exist.”   

The elders were right. A change in behavior will not alter or remove someone’s same-sex attraction. According to the Human Rights Campaign, not only is “conversion” or “reparative” therapy ineffective, but also, young people who are subjected to the practice are especially harmed. They can become depressed, turn to drug and substance abuse, or attempt to end their own lives. It’s a practice that sixteen states have banned and major medical, psychological, and professional organizations have denounced.

A year ago last October, Gable accepted herself as a lesbian — and this past summer, she came out to her family.

While Gable’s first woman love interest “drove her batty,” they never made it past the crush stage. Her first lesbian relationship lasted five months and included sexting and video sex, but they never met in person.

The fact that it takes some women longer to get to a point of being vulnerable is actually more normal than what is portrayed in movies and in porn. “People will come in and talk about watching this or that movie and feeling like a failure because they aren’t able to portray or live that — being able to please their partner quickly, understanding the other person’s body, frustrated that their own body isn’t responding as quickly as they’d like or as these things are portrayed,” says Dr. Wise. “Honestly that’s the exact thing that blocks and takes away your body’s chance to respond in the way you want.”

In her second long-distance relationship, Gable couldn’t stay away. “I had to meet her,” she says. “So, on the spur of the moment, I asked if I could see her.” They ended up spending the night together. “I knew neither of us had had sex with a woman, so I wasn’t worried if it didn’t go perfect.”

Sex after divorce can be scary independent of sexual orientation. A newly divorced person might feel a sense of guilt engaging intimately because they were bound by vows of monogamy; they might have middle-age body issues, or be a data point in the general drop in American sex rates. A 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showed that sexual frequency decreased most for those in their 50s and for those who were unpartnered. On the other end of the age spectrum, the 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) showed that from 1991 to 2015, the percentage of teens who had ever engaged in sex fell 12.9 points.

Candi Tomlinson, age 70, who identifies as a demisexual lesbian, is waiting for an emotional connection before she has sex with a woman for the first time.

“I don’t have to have sex with a woman in order to know I want to,” Tomlinson tells INTO. “How do I know? I know by how my stomach jumps up to my throat when I see her. Or how my heart quickens when I see an email from her, or a phone call coming in. Or how I cry at night to lie next to her. That’s how I know, and why I wait.”

Image via Getty

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.