Are Lesbians Finally Getting The Holiday Film They Asked For?

Every year, studios and networks try to cash in on the annual holiday film craze. Americans love nothing more than Thanksgiving and Christmas-themed movies, many of them feel-good familial tearjerkers or romantic comedies rife with meet-cutes, misunderstandings, and kisses under the mistletoe. Lifetime, Hallmark, and Freeform (formerly ABC Family) all create original programming for this time of year, playing the movies over and over during November and December. 

Yet despite the hundreds of new holiday-themed projects made every single year, there are few that center on or prominently feature same-sex couples. This year, Freeform has only three new original films in its 25 Days of Christmas; Hallmark has made 232 holiday films total, 37 new for 2018; and Lifetime’s 14 new films have only one with a gay character. It doesn’t appear that any of the major films hitting theaters or streaming sites — The Grinch, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, The Holiday Calendar — have LGBTQ themes or storylines, either. 

So despite a rise in LGBTQ characters in television and film over the last few years, it appears queer and trans people are still, by and large, left out of the holiday film genre; one that is ostensibly looking to serve comforting happy endings that, if they’re worthy, are returned to year after year. The star-studded Love, Actually is one such example — one that originally had an elderly lesbian couple that was left out of the final cut, only appearing as part of the DVD extras. Instead, they kept in the homophobic jokes between Billy Mack and his assistant, Joe (“Ten minutes at Elton John’s, you’re as gay as a maypole!”)

There are some queer-themed holiday films — see: the adaptation of RentThe Family Stone‘s interracial gay couple, the Christmas-set Carol, and What’s Cooking, with Kyra Sedgwick and Julianna Margulies as a partnered pair — but they are few and far between. LGBTQ viewers are continually frustrated by the lack of quality content created for and about them, or at least attempting to reflect their lives on screen at a time of year they, too, experience. 

Pop culture critic Dana Piccoli has been campaigning for networks like Hallmark and Lifetime to be inclusive for several years. More recently, she’s been leveraging Twitter and her following of queer women who eagerly consume queer content to ask why LGBTQs aren’t considered when it comes to holiday films.

“It’s part of popular culture that our community is pretty much excluded from,” Piccoli tells INTO. “Each year when these networks roll out their long list of holiday romances, queer people aren’t included. We’re talking dozens of movies, with no queer characters or storylines. I love holiday movies and I’m not alone — lots of LGBTQ people do. Who doesn’t like quaint, snowy towns and meet-cutes? We are just missing from the narrative.”

Despite her efforts, Piccoli says she doesn’t get responses from the networks. A representative for Hallmark did not respond to INTO‘s request for comment, but Lifetime provided a statement from Michael Murray, whose film Christmas Around the Corner premieres on the network this December. The movie stars Hilarie Burton, Robert Buckley, Danneel Ackles, Tyler Hilton, and Antwon Tanner, and a gay couple have small roles as part of the lead character Claire’s storyline.

“I’ve done a lot of rom-coms and holiday movies, but I’ve never been able to include a gay character or gay family in any of them until now,” Murray told INTO via email. “I was delighted that Lifetime backed me up when I delivered the first draft of the script and it included a gay couple, Fr. Luke, an Episcopal priest, his husband, Aaron, and their newborn, Mabel. It may seem like a small thing, but it was a huge thing for me. “

There was also a small role for a gay brother in the Freeform (then ABC Family) film Holiday in Handcuffs, Robert Downey Jr.’s gay brother character in 1995’s Home for the Holidays, and the 2009 indie Make the Yuletide Gay followed Degrassi star Adamo Ruggiero’s character coming out during Christmas, but there has yet to be a holiday film that centers on an openly lesbian protagonist.  

“I think these networks are afraid that they will receive backlash,” Piccoli says. “It would normalize our experience  — falling in love, drinking eggnog, etc. — and that’s something that people who don’t like us are afraid of. “

Filmmaker Jenna Laurenzo wants to change that. With her new film Lez Bomb coming to theaters and VOD Nov. 9, Laurenzo stars as a fictional version of herself — a gay woman who wants to come out to her family. Only this story takes place during Thanksgiving. It’s an ensemble comedy co-starring Cloris Leachman, Steve Guttenberg, Bruce Dern, Kevin Pollak, and Deirdre O’Connell as members of the New Jersey-based crew, all of whom are clueless about Lauren’s (Laurenzo) “friend” being much, much more. It’s Meet the Parents meets National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

“I really wanted to make a movie that I wanted to see but couldn’t find,” Laurenzo tells INTO. “I really loved those dysfunctional family comedies that I always wanted to watch on the holidays. I was always a sucker for those movies I can watch over and over and over again, every holiday with the family, and I just felt like lesbians didn’t really have that. And so I wanted to make this a movie that I felt like families would enjoy pressing play around Thanksgiving and watching it in their living room comfortably and laughing together.”

Bobby Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber) served as executive producer on Lez Bomb; his daughter, comic A.B. Cassidy, appears in a bit part opposite Guttenberg and delivers some hilarious moments outside Laurenzo’s mother’s real-life motel. The film was also shot inside of Laurenzo’s family home, but that’s where any elements of autobiography end — she didn’t really come out to her family during Thanksgiving. Instead, she used the idea as a catalyst for the film she wanted to see and ultimately had to make.

“I feel like coming home for the holidays, it’s this universal understanding that people get anxious when they come home, and they’re around their families and there’s all this pressure to be a certain version of yourself that your parents expect from you,” Laurenzo says. “And I think that coming home and coming out with any news, even sexuality aside, there’s this certain pressure.  I loved the idea of having to come out of the closet with the anxieties of the holiday set up against it as a backdrop.”

Laurenzo worked on Lez Bomb for six years before she was able to find funding, which she credits to releasing her short film Girl Night Stand online and being able to show potential investors the kind of engagement lesbian-themed films can receive.

“When that went viral, conversations with investors was a bit easier because I could demonstrate audience numbers and be like ‘This is an audience and an audience that wants a comedy and a happy ending,'” she said.

Piccoli says she loved Lez Bomb and has been encouraging other queer women to see and support the film.

“It has all the elements you want in a holiday movie: quirky family, ladies in love, turkey troubles. It’s well written and wonderfully acted,” Piccoli said. “Thanksgiving is the quintessential holiday for those of us in the states, and it represents family, love, and acceptance. I think setting Lez Bomb at Thanksgiving rather than another holiday really emphasizes that.”

“I kept saying, ‘I can’t think of a lesbian holiday comedy. I would just like love to do this. I would love to make this. This is the movie that I so crave and I would love to give it to others,'” Laurenzo says. “Hopefully people will come back for more every year and be able to enjoy it in a perennial way.”

The star power should help. With recognizable actors playing roles, as in Hallmark and Lifetime films, Laurenzo is also hoping to find more viewers to prove that LGBTQ-themed films don’t mean small audiences. (For the record, Carol  made $43 million at the box office, and The Family Stone made $92,283,851 worldwide.)

“With Lez Bomb, what I really wanted to do was create a story that felt close to home,” she said. “And by leaning into that nostalgia, the family film, I want it to feel familiar and accessible and hopefully the comedy is an active point for those who might not embrace the storyline. Hopefully it’s an active point in, get them laughing and then hopefully that expands their compassion and empathy and understanding as well.”

Fine, I’ll Defend Cate Blanchett, Twist My Arm

I’ve finally found my hill to die on.

While speaking on a panel Friday, suitlord Cate Blanchett defended straight actors’ right to play queer roles, which is a bold statement from a straight, but as we’ve come to find, The Nerve of Hets knows no bounds. Blanchett, who notoriously fronted the Oscar-nominated lesbian film Carol in 2015, told the crowd that she’s often asked by the media if she needs to be queer to play gay.

The actress said, “It also speaks to something that I’m quite passionate about in storytelling generally, but in film, specifically, is that film can be quite a literal medium. And I will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience. I think reality television and all that that entails had an extraordinary impact, a profound impact on the way we view the creation of character.”

First of all, I think it’s beyond non-LGBTQ people’s reach to make any sort of broad statements about what LGBTQ should and shouldn’t be OK with — even if they’re allies, even if they stay ruling the Land of Lady Suits from an Iron Throne. No matter what, a straight person saying “I should be able to play queer” is going to come off as condescending and cavalier, because it is. It’s not your place to decide, period. However, it maybe is my place, as an out lesbian entertainment writer, to decide, so hear me out.

Let Cate Blanchett play gay. I’m not saying “Let straight people play queer characters.” I’m saying let specifically Cate Blanchett play gay. I think, just like everything LGBTQ, a spectrum exists as to who should be allowed to play what roles within the community. I’d place cisgender actors playing transgender roles at the staunch “no fucking way” end of the spectrum. Hollywood has a major issue with representation for trans people, and they remain significantly less represented in film and TV than lesbian, gay and bisexual people. According to GLAAD, there were zero transgender characters in mainstream studio films in 2017.

The trans experience is a delicate, nuanced and specific one that needs to be told by trans voices — no excuses. We need more trans actors at the forefront of Hollywood, telling and fronting their own stories. For that reason, I totally supported the public shaming of Scarlett Johansson, who accepted a role as a transgender lead in Rub & Tug, and was subsequently bullied out of it. Good job, Twitter. Never change.

So, if one side of the spectrum is “No cissies in trans roles,” I’d place “Cate Blanchett can play gay” on the polar opposite side. I think Blanchett plays a very convincing queer woman, and fuck it, I’ll say it: she’s not hard to watch. Please don’t take Cate Blanchett in gay roles away from me! This is all I have. I want to watch her give Rooney Mara sweet lady kisses in mad sus hotels. I want to watch her openly hit on Sandra Bullock in Ocean’s 8. I need more glove lunches, more scamming, more three-piece suits tailored delicately to her angular frame, more photos of Kristen Stewart lusting after her at Cannes, more photos of her in pastel suits on red carpets that I screenshot faster than the speed of lightning to co-opt as a phone background — I need MORE, MORE, MORE!

Cate Blanchett is a rare straight stone who is cherished by the queer female community. If you take Cate Blanchett away from gay women, we will have nothing. NOTHING! Taking Cate Blanchett away from queer women would be like robbing straight women of Chris Hemsworth, and yes, this isn’t the same thing at all because Chris Hemsworth has nothing to do with the marginalization of queer women, but can you picture a straight world without Chris Hemsworth? Marvel executives would drop dead. Straight women would take to the streets. It would be violent. It would be like the second coming of the plague. Similarly, if Cate stops playing queer, there will be gay riots. I don’t want to imagine a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world in which we don’t allow Cate Blanchett to play gay.

With all that being said, queer representation in Hollywood is predominantly an issue of marginalization — queer female stories are consistently buried and silenced, even when gay male stories find the mainstream limelight, like Love, Simon or Call Me By Your Name recently have. I think, specifically in regards to straight people playing queer characters, it’s less of an issue of experience — because if the actor plays it empathetically, compassionately, and realistically, like Blanchett certainly did in Carol — it can work. The real issue with straight actors who aren’t Cate Blanchett playing gay is simply representation.

The harsh reality is that there still just aren’t many leading queer roles for women, and when there are, the roles are given to movie stars like Suit Blanchett. In order to inspire real change and actually flip Hollywood on its back, we need to look at the whole picture: Why aren’t there more queer female “movie stars,” as in, women like Kristen Stewart who can pull big numbers at the box office? How do we elevate out queer women into superstardom, so that when a role like Carol comes along, she can snag it? We need to elevate more out queer actresses, and we need to give them more opportunities to anchor queer narratives.

And at this point, giving straight actors the chance to play queer roles before queer actors just feels unfair. Gay male actors have been shamed into silence since the dawn of Hollywood. So, in August, when straight actor James Whitehall was cast in a monumental gay role in a Disney movie, Twitter tore him to shreds — and rightfully so. For gay male actors who have suffered in silence over the last couple decades, it probably felt like a slap in the face that some straight dude was given the chance to play a trailblazing, mainstream gay role. So, on the spectrum of “no cissies in trans roles” to “Cate Blanchett,” Jack Whitehall falls somewhere toward the former, for me.

I realize this may sound hypocritical — unfortunately, things just aren’t as black and white as we might hope. I think some of these instances of straight actors playing queer are case specific, like Cate Suitborn of the House Blanchett. Rachel Weisz, who played queer in both Disobedience and The Favourite this year, infused both roles with the vast amount of empathy and compassion that each one called for. Emma Stone, who also played queer in The Favourite, played lesbian icon Billie Jean King in last year’s Battle of the Sexes. Personally, I don’t think she captured the queer experience as well as actresses like Rachel Weisz or Cate Blanchett have, nor do I think Weisz’s Disobedience co-star, Rachel McAdams did. Maybe that’s my personal preference or bias, but those are my own experiences with these films.

So, I’m totally fine dying on the hill of “Let Cate Blanchett pretend to be gay.” If that makes me problematic, then that’s my cross to bear. I will use my lesbian body as a human shield to protect Cate Blanchett for as long as I possibly can. Here’s to praying she doesn’t say anything else problematic, as my gay body is actually very weak and fragile, and its only fuel is professional photographs of Cate Blanchett looking gayer than a Los Angeles Prius dealership.

‘Soul Survivors,’ The Worst-Best Queer Horror Film Ever

Do you remember the Great Eliza Dushku Thirst of the Early Oughts? I was barely into my adolescence, just figuring out that I was queer, and “internet fandom” was only a thing if you knew exactly where to look for it, which I didn’t. Nonetheless, I know I’m not alone in remembering those years as The Eliza Years. Between Faith Lehane on season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Missy Pantone in Bring It On, Eliza left a trail of Sapphic subtext everywhere she went, apparently without even meaning to. She’s not just my root, she is the rhizome that connects all Xennial queer chicks in one glorious, back-flipping, Fuffy-shipping organism.

But the writers of Buffy and Bring It On refused to acknowledge the seething sexual tension between Eliza and her co-stars, and for some ineffable reason she kept not coming out in real life (though I will keep saving her a seat next to me at the bisexual meetings until one of us dies).

And so – this is the only explanation I can come up with – one day a young queer woman was offered a wish, and she used that wish the way any one of us would have: I want a movie where Eliza Dushku has sex with a woman.

Wishes never turn out exactly the way you hope, do they? That poor woman. She got the movie she asked for… but far from the one she deserved.

Soul Survivors (2001) is an astonishingly bad movie. It has a 4% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is so bad that, while I know I saw it on DVD shortly after it was released, my memory retained almost nothing about it. And I mean, I was 14 years old. I didn’t even know where to find smutty fanfic that didn’t come from my own imagination and I still didn’t give the only gay sex scene of Eliza Dushku’s career a second viewing. For context, please understand that I own a copy of The New Guy (2002), and all she does in that one is try on bathing suits.

There are A LOT of bad movies that are still beloved by queer chicks because of a few flirty lines or a tortured look, but I haven’t yet found a single defender for Soul Survivors. Was it really that bad? In honor of the season, I decided to watch it again (my library system doesn’t have it, so I had to spend six human dollars to purchase it from Amazon) and see if I could scientifically determine what it took to make this into a movie no lesbian could love.

Herewith, the greatest but by no means only sins of Soul Survivors:

Making no goddamn sense. The film starts strong: a girl is walking home from a party when, with no buildup of any kind, some dudes drag her off the sidewalk and just totally murder her. It’s weird! It’s creepy! It… will never be referenced again in any significant way? The rest of the movie is about a college student named Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller) being haunted by her boyfriend Sean (Casey Affleck, ugh) after he dies in a car accident.

You could rearrange the movie in pretty much any order and it would not get any more or less coherent. Cassie has visions of the murderers from the opening scene following her around, and possibly trying to kill her, but it never adds up to anything. In one scene she fights with a friend, but in the next they’re cool. There’s a priest played by Luke Wilson, who may or may not be a ghost, but the storyline doesn’t make much use of Catholic mythology or, um, logic. At one point my notes say “Annabel is dead in the sadness gazebo. She says Cassie killed her. Cassie gets hit by a car. It’s Luke Wilson! Now Cassie’s in the hospital again. The surgeon is her professor who didn’t grade her midterm. The hospital is the goth club. Whatever.”

Soul Survivors seems to be going for a nightmarish vibe, as in surreal and scary, but it ends up being the kind of nightmare where as soon as you wake up you have no idea why it ever struck you as frightening.

Another drawback – and I find this is a stumbling block for many movies that otherwise stood a chance of being lesbian classics – is that for some reason they put a bunch of dudes in it. There are fully three men in this movie whose names we are supposed to remember, even though two of them are named “Matt” and “Sean,” which is the same name. Matt (Wes Bentley) is in love with Cassie, but he’s dating Annabel (Eliza), because Cassie dumped him for Sean. This causes Strife and Conflict, but because straight men aren’t allowed to have facial expressions, all of those things are primarily expressed through staring while having a jawline.

Following her near-death in the accident that killed Sean, Cassie is still on the brink between life and death, being pulled in both directions by the people she loves – which would possibly be compelling if those two concepts weren’t personified by Matt and Sean, neither of whom have any imaginable appeal. It’s like she’s having an existential crisis over whether to order the soggy white rice or the room-temperature lasagna with congealing cheese. Isn’t there anything else on the menu?

As if all the heterosexuality wasn’t aggressive enough, this movie also leans heavily into victim-blaming, rape-culture bullshit. Cassie crashes the car, injuring herself and killing Sean, because she’s driving while upset and distracted. She’s upset and distracted because Sean saw her “kissing” Matt, and is angry. Except what actually happened is that Matt cornered her in the car and aggressively demanded a kiss, ignoring her refusals and stepping up the emotional manipulation until he finally just grabs her face and goes for it.

Despite this fuckery, Cassie blames herself for both the kiss and the accident, and continues to be friends with Matt throughout the movie while his abusive behavior only escalates. He makes a copy of her room key and insinuates himself into every aspect of her life under the guise of “helping” her through her grief. None of this is intended to be read as coercive, even when he has sex with Cassie while she’s asleep and dreaming that he is Sean. There are whole sections of the movie where my notes are just “ew ew EW I hate men.”

Annabel, who is still Matt’s girlfriend throughout his increasingly disturbing Cassie obsession, walks in on them in bed together, so she becomes the second person to get angry and blame Cassie for being assaulted. Annabel also continues to be friends with Matt, who is a cheater and a rapist. This is a cool movie to watch if you love to see white men be horrible without facing consequences, but are tired of the news.

The actual queer stuff. Listen, I am not proud. I will watch absolutely terrible movies for a chance to glimpse a hot second of girl-on-girl action, but the key word there is hot. An early scene of Cassie and Annabel dancing together is a clear attempt to recapture the Fuffy energy, but all it does is definitively disprove the theory that you can put Eliza Dushku onscreen with any wholesome blonde girl and sparks will fly. They have no chemistry. None. This continues to be the case when they have a paint fight and then shower together fully clothed. It’s obviously supposed to be queerbaiting but it’s not even good queerbaiting, and I don’t know which to be more offended by.

But the Sapphic sex appeal plummets even further when Annabel’s new girlfriend Raven (Angela Featherstone) shows up. Raven is a soft-butch goth who says she can sense Sean’s presence, and even when I first saw this movie at age 14, I knew she took herself way too seriously. You can smell the clove cigarettes and mediocre poetry through the screen. Anyway, after Annabel catches Matt and Cassie in the non-consensual act, she goes out and hooks up with Raven in the library. Here it is, folks, the moment we’re all here to see: the only gay sex scene in Eliza Dushku’s career!

Except that it’s awful. Oh my God, it’s the least sexy thing I’ve ever seen in my life. This is why I blocked this whole movie from my memory. They’re, like, angrily licking each other’s tongues and grabbing each other’s tits in a way that screams, “This is the R-rated director’s cut and we’re allowed to show tits!” It is anti-erotic. It’s homophobic. It’s a hate crime.

It’s also clearly intended to show Cassie how depraved her best friend has become, which is why when she accidentally sees them she runs screaming into the night, instead of being like, “Hi, your goth boobs are blocking the book I need, can you take this elsewhere?” Lesbian sex, in this movie, falls into the same category as being followed down the sidewalk by dudes in masks, or waking up in a priest’s bedroom with a calendar showing the wrong year. It’s yet another sign that the world is askew and Cassie is in danger.

Maybe it’s actually a good thing the sex scene is so unforgivably awful. It’s saved queer women from seventeen years of trying to find any redeeming value in this misbegotten disaster of a movie. Toward the end, Soul Survivor swerves into a series of fake-outs where it’s hard to tell who really escaped the car accident, and who was killed. How did any of our crushes on Eliza Dushku survive this monstrosity? Maybe the same way Sean comforts Cassie at the end of the movie: by reassuring ourselves that it was all just a bad dream.

Kehlani’s Pregnancy Brought Up Some Real Biphobia and Misunderstanding Around Queerness

Kehlani announced that she was pregnant last week and the world is a brighter place because of it. 2019 is really about to see the most magical, astrologically perfect, musically gifted, woke lil’ brown baby ever. And between the words of praise and celebration, some of the world went a little crazy because isn’t Kehlani supposed to be queer?

She publicly came out as queer earlier this year in now-deleted tweets. And after the dust settled and she defined herself for who she was, queer people all over celebrated and rejoiced and felt that sweet, sweet confirmation that “Honey” was really about me—uh, us—all along. A little less than six months later, some of us, and non-queer folk, were taken aback by her absolutely stunningly beautiful pregnancy announcement.

Personally, I felt a little cheated on because Kehlani is my girlfriend in my head, so what’s she doing having a baby with someone else? What’s she doing having a baby in the first place?

My initial reaction was similar to some other folks’, honestly. I was kind of shocked that a queer woman was having a baby because my first reaction was “being pregnant=heterosexuality.” It was a mental shortcut that my brain and the brains of others made because this understanding of what it is to be queer is so new for us and not as ingrained in us as straightness has been for millennia. So, it is confusing to our tiny, dumb, baby brains and feels like rejection (for me, as my wife-in-my-head continues to not be my wife-in-real-life) and deception for others; a term offensively and opportunistically long associated with bisexual people, pansexual people, and people who identify as queer and are sexually attracted to those of another gender.

People feel slighted or confused because we are accustomed to queerness looking like one thing when it specifically, purposefully, historically does not. Queerness is multifaceted, multilayered and ever-changing; there’s a reason they call it an umbrella term—it encapsulates a wide scope of identities and doesn’t fit neatly into a box. It doesn’t always look like two girls in love or boys wearing nail polish. It encompasses so much more and envelops so many different existences that express the million trillion ways we are human. It doesn’t look like one specific thing, and it wasn’t meant to.

And I know this. I have been trying to relearn this as truth and untrain my brain from making these base assumptions because of the real world damage it can do and does to bisexual people. I’m staunchly aware of my own inherent biphobia and have been actively working to unlearn that ideology. I’ve been lucky enough to have friends that help keep me in check and access to resources that help me do better, because sometimes my own biases crop up in ways I don’t expect. It forces me to examine that thinking and course correct for next time. 

When I come out to people, their reaction is usually “I know” or “I figured” or something similar. It’s always made me feel some kind of way, but I never really knew why. Some of my best friends say they knew before we even met, from when they first saw me, before we became friends. I don’t wear makeup or dresses and I like wearing plaid shirts and men’s clothes and baseball hats, so people assume they know such an intimate part of my identity before even speaking to me, and it’s something that ignites a silent rage within me whenever I think about it or am confronted with it. It’s made me uncomfortable for so long, for so many years, but I’ve never really been able to pinpoint exactly why until now.

I should be grateful, right? Most people see me and take the onus of outing myself off of me, remove me of that extra step of having to come out to them in some way, mentioning my ex, talking about someone I have a crush on, or just saying “I’m gay.” It’s usually nice because outing myself generally makes me uncomfortable, which is another blog post for another day. But when I don’t, they see my clothes or my hair and they assume and it remains known and unspoken between the two of us and I don’t have to fumble through an awkward conversation or interaction.

me, in most situations

Sometimes I think assumptions based on my presentation are a good thing for the opposite reason: because people see me and assume I’m a lesbian and act accordingly based on their own ethics. If they’re a homophobe, I usually know right away because they have assumed that they hate something intrinsic to myself and behave on those morals. Of course, being Black can sometimes make this confusing; are they being mean to me because I’m Black or gay? Are they racist AND homophobic? (Usually, yes.) Sometimes it’s both, sometimes it’s one or the other. It’s a subtle line to toe, but the answer is usually in the details and not always difficult to suss out.

I am not trying to hide who I am; I tried for so long and am now done with that part of my life. I just don’t want people labeling me for how I look and going on to think that that’s OK.

I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to face biphobia. My intention is not to boil these two issues down to the same thing, but to say this: my discomfort with people thinking they know my sexuality and labeling me before my express confirmation of how I identify comes from the same ignorance people have been displaying in the wake of Kehlani’s pregnancy; we limit queerness.

The underlying connection between people’s (my own included) initial confusion and bewilderment at Kehlani being pregnant and strangers’ assumptions that I’m a gay woman before even talking to me is that people have a rigid idea of what queerness is and adhere to it. We have such a strict understanding of queerness and anything that looks like it fits automatically must, anything that looks like it doesn’t is automatically dismissed. Our idea of what queerness is is sometimes so narrowed that we cannot see anything else, and we can hardly accept anything else. Our brains make these simplistic assumptions and determinations about queer people as if humanity itself is not complex.

We boil peoples identities down to “is or isn’t” based on our own understanding of what it means to be queer, be it due to the media’s instructions on what it looks like, or our own teachings in our communities about what it is, or our personal experiences with it and the biases we draw there. Or so many other factors that make us turn a vibrant and rich, all-encompassing term into an all or nothing situation, a game of yes or no. It can’t be both. It must be one. There is no in between.

And it’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I do the same.


don’t @ me pls

I can’t tell you what exactly has given me such a narrowed ideology of queerness. It could be a variety of things: television, my own experiences (or lack of) with other queer folks, my overexposure of heterosexuality over the years and deep-seated understanding of what that means. This idea of mainstream queerness is still new to popular consciousness. Despite being a part of the queer community, I don’t understand all aspects of it; I still grew up in a heteronormative and cisnormative society, so I give myself space to not be perfect, and learn and unlearn and grow.

Queer acceptance is so new in modern society, and it’s sometimes hard to break out of assumptions from a lifetime of society dominated by heterosexual culture. It is understandable that we do not fully comprehend queerness for all that it is because as accepting and woke as everyone likes to feel, this express freedom for queer people to exist is new to nearly all of us, even the community itself.

Positive queer representation is still new and evolving. Our voices and presence in spaces we’ve been historically shut out of are growing. Hell, even the right for same-sex couples to marry isn’t even a decade old in this country. Hundreds of thousands of years of humankind leaves an impression. We have all been conditioned to understand queerness as something “different,” and in our short time as a collective society of beginning to understand it, to accept it, to fold it in to the rest of everything else we’ve excluded it from, we have shortened it to something more manageable, compacted it into a bite-sized, easily remembered bullet point that’s simple to understand and file away into our idiot human brains that thrive on labeling.

Whether someone is in a same-sex relationship, an opposite-sex one, or another arrangement, and no matter what their gender identity might be, their identity is their identity. It’s not for anyone else to decide whether someone is “queer enough.’ – Marissa Higgins

I am not saying that this is the right stance to have; in fact, it is definitely not. Limited understanding of queerness should not be used as ammunition against queer people who have every right to exist in their own truth. Just because your idea of what queerness is and is not doesn’t give you the right to negate the identity that someone claims or assign an identity to someone who has yet to claim it.

Let me be explicitly clear:

  • It is disingenuous and incorrect to operate on the assumption that cis straight women are the only ones capable of having babies.
  • You cannot apply or remove a label from someone, period. Not based on how they look, their pregnancy status, their partner; nothing.
  • Unlearning these assumptions is hard work that you must put in in order for you to understand.
  • Inability and/or refusal to unlearn these assumptions does not absolve you of bad behavior; you must do better.
  • In other words, mind your damn business.

Stereotypes give us a rudimentary outlook on something that is so very complicated and convoluted that it doesn’t do it justice. That reasoning is unacceptable for something that, by its very nature, does not fit into one singular box.

Queerness is not one size fits all. We can’t use kindergarten logic and assume all girls with hairy legs and boys wearing skirts are gay, or girls that are pregnant can’t be queer while girls in plaid shirts must be, and wash our hands of the matter, patting ourselves on the back because we “get it.” It’s not that simple; human beings rarely are.

The definition of queerness is owned by no one, it is what we make it. It is not something we can assign to or strip from anyone else. Educate yourself. Unlearn toxic ideology that serves only to divide and oppress us and get ready for the most magical baby with the most over-analyzed astrology chart in the history of humankind.

ONE Archives Foundation’s Queer Noise Event Honors Jewel’s Catch One

For one night only, the marquee found at the historic site of LA’s premiere queer black disco will once again read the words, “Catch One.”

The permanent rebrand of UNION nightclub to Catch One is a part of ONE Archives Foundation’s event Queer Noise, featuring a queer ensemble of live music and djs.

This Sunday, ONE Archives Foundation will honor Jewel Thais-Williams at Catch One, the same space where she made history.

For many in the queer community, nightlife has served and still serves as a point of liberation and catharsis from a world that skews white and heterosexual. The legendary Catch One and Jewel Thais-Williams are a testament to that.

In 1973, when being LGBTQ also meant staying in the closet, and when many queer nightlife spaces were reserved for white folk, the only diverse spaces for QPOC to coexist in Los Angeles were a few dive bars.

After being denied entry to many queer underground spaces based on being black or lesbian, Jewel Thais-Williams decided to create their own space. Enter: Jewel’s Catch One.

For over 40 years, Jewel’s Catch One provided a safe space for black queer people in the face of systemic racism, the AID’s epidemic of the 1980s and a 1985 arson attack that almost left the venue in ashes.

Referred to by many as the unofficial Studio 54 of the West Coast, Catch One played host to such legends as Janet Jackson, Madonna, Chaka Khan, Rick James, Thelma Houston and more.

In addition to honoring Jewel Thais-Williams, Queer Noise will also host R&B afro-futurist Kelela. Last week, Kelela released a remixed edition of her highly successful album Take Me Apart featuring a stable of cutting-edge queer talents in music and nightlife. This Sunday will be Kelela’s first LA appearance since the release of Take Me Apart: The Remixes and the setting could not be more perfect.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Queer Noise will also feature a number of other QPOC artists in Los Angeles including SAN CHA, BAE BAE, Rush Davis, Solomon Georgio, Thurmon Green, Liza Dye and more and an immersive presentation by Los Angeles’s iconoclastic party Mustache.

These days it sometimes feels like QPOC are under fire from every angle. The significance of a Queer Ethiopian woman like Kelela and additionally Queer Chicanx woman like SAN CHA, among many more others, coming together to honor a legend who created space for herself and others marginalized, is all the makings for a very beautiful and historical evening. 

To purchase your tickets for Queer Noise, visit the ONE Archives Foundation Website. Anyone purchasing a ticket for the event will also receive a membership to the ONE Archives Foundation’s new membership program.

How I Learned To Love My Lesbian Identity

As cliche as it is, the first lesbian I ever saw was Ellen DeGeneres.

But as a kid in South Africa, I didn’t have the language for what she was — I only knew the word “gay.” I knew so little about what it meant that she dressed as she did, and she had short hair, and that those things had little to do with who she chose to love. I just understood that she wasn’t the norm.

I don’t remember learning the word lesbian, but because of how ugly I found it for so many years, I know it was probably in a bigoted context. There are so many layers as to why it took me a long time to make that word fit my body and why I jumped through so many loopholes to try to avoid it. I think a lot of lesbians do, because a world that intrinsically values male prowess over most things is bound to demonize an identity that by definition excludes men.

The word “lesbian” originated from the name of the Greek Island Lesbos, where poet Sappho lived amongst mostly women. It doesn’t take reading a lot of her work to know she’s writing about romantic and sexual relationships with women. Even when there are no clear pronouns to the lovers she writes for, the sheer drama of Sappho screams dyke.

Although our history goes all the way back to ancient Greece, records of lesbians existing in the world are almost nonexistent. Our relationships were never considered legitimate enough to be salvaged. Thousands of years worth of letters, art, even Sappho’s poetry, have been completely erased. Our identities are relegated to trends and undermined and fetishized. It still happens today with lesbian characters in film and television routinely dying. When they stay alive they are overly sexualized, ending up with men or suffering other unspeakable tragedies.

As a young lesbian, seeing all of this doesn’t make you readily accept that that’s who you are. You instead become the antagonist of your own life, vilified by every aspect of your own being. If the thing you are is the reason you hate yourself, you create a prison inside yourself that ultimately becomes a paradoxical nightmare of a labyrinth to escape.

The solution to this internal conundrum for my baby dyke self was to exist in ambiguity. While it is true that for some people sexuality is fluid, and identifying as queer is completely valid, I hid behind that word for a long time to prevent myself from falling down the lesbian spiral of self-hatred that the world sold to me as tolerance. I hid behind the ambiguity in the hopes that it would become true that I could potentially fall in love with a man. That way I wouldn’t even have to come out to my friends and my family and my queerness would be a secret I wouldn’t mind keeping to myself. And as I met more lesbians I started moving away from that thought process but not entirely.

Being outed wasn’t exactly helpful in all of this internal chaos. I felt completely robbed of my agency and defeated in my own journey to self-understanding and acceptance. When it happened I was still not completely okay with the word lesbian. It sounded so uncomfortable in my voice. It’s not the prettiest word. It’s not a word you get accustomed to easily.

But it grows on you. It wasn’t organic for me, and certainly not without relentless internal contention, but now when I call myself a lesbian, it sounds more than right. It sounds whole and all-encompassing. It sounds like I’ve had to shed so many preconceived notions of who I was and who a lesbian was. It sounds like I had to bridge a seemingly impossible gap between those two things. And that reconciliation was holy. I felt reborn into the version of myself I was so sure existed somewhere. I’m so thankful that I didn’t give up looking for that version of myself. I’m thankful that I didn’t settle for someone I wasn’t okay being.

Telling lesbians that they might end up with a man because sexuality is fluid is akin to homophobic parents hoping for the same outcome. It doesn’t really hear what it means to be a lesbian. It’s dismissive and it invalidates this journey. It robs us of our stories and how we go through this impossible feat of self-love.

Coming out is extremely hard no matter what the people closest to you think. The society we live in so consistently force feeds us this cis heteronormative version of happiness and family and forever, it’s impossible to escape. It’s impossible not to internalize that consistent homophobia. As a lesbian, that internalization is twofold because of the misogyny both in the world and the queer community.

The journey to lesbian to dyke to sapphic, the journey to wearing a concrete and unwavering identity, is hard. No one can help you through it or accurately warn you about how arduous it is, but once you reach the end it feels like a unique kind of liberation. The kind that rushes through every part of your body, that makes you leap out of bed in the morning and walk on air, with every dissent about your being just bouncing off your skin because you know something they don’t. You know who you are and the rest of the world has nothing to do with it.

Image via Getty

The Gnar Gnar Honeys Bring In QWOC Dance Duo Cocoa Queers For New Collab

All-womxn creative collective The Gnar Gnar Honeys actively work to give marginalized people the opportunity to take up space where they are often left out. In their newest work, they’ve collaborated with dancers and artists Cocoa Queers (Sasha Mallory and Aahkilah Cornelius) in a new video with a mission to represent queer women of color in skateboarding.

“We started The Gnar Gnar Honeys to help represent more diverse people in action sports,” says Monica Medellin of The Gnar Gnar Honeys. “Our whole team comes from a production background and we shoot everything in-house. Since it’s only three of us right now we created a roster of creatives/collaborators who we hire on per project along with a dope, diverse talent pool.”

Along with director/photographer Hannah Wang and filmmaker/editor Karen Masumoto, Medellin works to create something “vibrant and badass — something that grabs your attention and claims space.” 

“As non-QWOC, we need to listen. We started The Gnar Gnar Honeys to create a platform that not only highlights stories like the Cocoa Queers, but allows people to have agency over telling their own,” Medellin says. “The entire process was a collaborative effort between myself and other womxn of color in front of the camera and behind the scenes and I think it really shows in the final product. “

“Our work and mission as Cocoa Queers is to inspire and share our experience from the perspective of our marginalized demographic,” Mallory and  Cornelius tell INTO. “We hope people will feel supported in their journey by seeing the varying ways to love on this earth.”

Mallory, who has performed on So You Think You Can Dance and on stage with Madonna and Pink, among other artists, and Cornelius, who appeared behind Beyoncé at the 2016 VMAs and more recently with Dua Lipa on The Ellen Show, said they loved collaborating with the Gnar Gnar Honeys.

“They are all dope individual artists and it was exciting to work with an all-female production company,” they said. “Women supported women is the most powerful force and we can’t wait to do more projects with them. As more QWOC become more vocal of their lifestyle and collaborate with any like-minded force, visibility will increase.”

Images and video courtesy Gnar Gnar Honeys

Queer Abby: How To Find Love

Dear Queer Abby, 

I have terrible luck with women. Why?

Signed, 

Unlucky in Utah

Dear Queer Abby, 

How do I stop dating train wrecks?

Signed, 

Wrecked in Wyoming

Dear Unlucky & Wrecked, 

You kind of have the same question. The common denominator in each of these equations is you. 

That’s good news, because it’s something (the only thing) you have control over: Your own behavior. 

A few tips:

1. Work on yourself.  

Before you start hunting for an opportunity to romantically fixate on another person, make sure your own life is full, balanced and joyful. 

This isn’t new romantic advice. My ancient advice ancestors have been saying to fill up your own life for years, but it bears repeating: Give from your excess, not your essence. 

If you have a full life, with friends and habits that make you feel happy and productive, you can attract someone who also has those things. If you’re the only thing good in someone’s life, or vice versa, that’s a giant red flag and too much of a burden and pressure for one relationship to have. 

Create a lot of good things in your life so that romance is extra. It’s bonus and light and fun and it can gain depth as time goes on, not because you are wedded to the potential of another person filling some vacancy in your soul. 

2. Figure out what you want. 

Once you are feeling groovy, happy and whole, make a list of qualities you want in a partner today. What you’re up for, what style of relationship(s) you seek. Not just physical characteristics, but qualities. 

3. Get a good haircut.

Your head is a pretty important part of the equation. It’s where your brain is. 

4. Question your impulses. 

If you were raised in dysfunction, do not go toward people/behaviors that your animal brain tells you to. 

Take a step back, take a breath (there is no scarcity or rush, if they’re meant to be there then they will), and ask yourself if this attraction is coming from an older place inside of you, or if it is based on your standards for dating today. 

Go towards something brighter, with more health. 

(P.S. People are not projects. Do not date someone because you think you can help them. That’s not dating. Get a hobby.)

5. Meditate.

Meditation is useful because it helps you learn the practice of observing your thoughts without *being* them. You get to watch your thoughts float by and choose whether or not to engage. They are just thoughts, they are not necessarily truth. You gain the ability to choose whether or not to dive headfirst into believing the things your mind is telling you.

Try Headspace, a meditation app with a free introductory program that can teach you the basics of thought-observation.

6. Listen to their responses. 

Anything that’s not a “yes” is a “no.” 

If someone rebuffs your advances, don’t take it personally. It wasn’t a match. If they were meant to be your soul mate, they would’ve said yes. 

7. Choose wisely, treat kindly.

This is the best advice I ever got while listening to conservative right-wing talk radio. A gay listener gave this as marriage advice during a call to Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Hate her talk show as you will, IT’S GREAT ADVICE. 

8. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

When I worked as Assistant Goddess at the feminist bookstore in Portland, Oregon (yes, that feminist bookstore), I had a lot of downtime. One day, I picked up a book on lesbian relationships. It said to be wary of people who moved too fast with romantic proclamations of love because it meant they had bad boundaries. I furrowed my brow at the book.  

I was, at that time, living with a partner who had decided on our second date that I was The One, and who moved into my house (with her hoard of small dogs) within a year of our first date. I was flattered and felt deserving of instant, television-style love, so I reshelved the book with a sour expression, pretending that the statement didn’t leave a small nagging feeling that would grow to a full-fledged haunting, and, by the end of the year, bear out as correct.

My girlfriend loved me at first sight and resented the idea of slowness or prudence as an affront to Love itself. Well, friends, you lose someone the way you get them, and my girlfriend then fell *instantly* in love with a couple other people over the course of our cohabitation and moved her dog-hoard into another girl’s house (and another after that) in what, I see decades later, was not “true love,” but an impulse much older and deeper, something that needed fixing from the past that had nothing to do with any of us lesbians in the present. 

Boundaries are a nice way to take care of yourself. Impulse control is a joy because it doesn’t get you into sticky situations that are a depressing pain to get out of.

The feeling you get when you’re first with someone is a mental state called limerence, and it’s a special special place. A rarified air that only, generally, happens once in a relationship. The honeymoon phase is a flood of oxytocin, it is a bundle of honeysuckles and the best chocolate in the world, the best music you’ve ever heard, and it should be appreciated! 

HOWEVER! It isn’t actual love. It’s infatuation. There is no shame in an infatuation game! 

I’m not trying to kill Cupid here, I’m just saying take a breath and appreciate it. Remember it. Don’t blow your whole load at once. (Sorry to be gross.) Save the L-word — the big one — for when you actually know and admire the person. It will mean more and give you a new buzz. Do I sound like I’m a billion years old right now? WELL I AM. 

Astrologer and psychic medium Jessica Lanyadoo has a rubric for dating called “You don’t know a bitch, until…” To paraphrase, she means: you don’t know someone until you’ve been sick, until they’ve been sick, until you’ve been in a fight where you were wrong, until you’ve been in a fight where they were wrong, until you’ve traveled together, until you’ve been through the holidays together (whether or not you believe in/celebrate them). Just to name a few! Get stoked to see how your partner acts in these situations, so you can say “I know you AND I love you,” not “I was high on sex and made a mistake.” 

Express yourself, be truthful, but hold your cards close enough to the vest that when you do choose to lay them down, you’re doing so in a place and with a person who has proven they can take good care and hold them. 

30 Years After Coming Out, Lori Lightfoot Could Be Chicago’s First Black Lesbian Mayor

To say that Chicago’s mayoral race has been unpredictable would be something of an understatement.

When incumbent Rahm Emanuel announced he would not seek reelection in August, it opened the door to Chicago’s first truly competitive race for the mayor’s office in three decades. To date, 19 candidates have entered the fray — including former Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy, businessman and McDonald’s franchisee Willie Wilson, and onetime Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas.

But the last time the mayoral race was this wide open, voters in Chicago made history by electing Harold Washington, its first (and only) black mayor.

A handful of candidates are hoping 2019 will also favor change at the top. An unprecedented number of women of color have thrown their hats in the ring — a list that includes Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy A. Brown, community organizer Amara Enyia, and Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle.

The best positioned of these candidates to capitalize on Emanuel’s unexpected exit from the race is Lori Lightfoot. The 56-year-old announced in May she would be stepping down as president of the Chicago Police Board to pursue public office.

In a kickoff ceremony where she was joined by wife Amy Eshleman and their 10-year-old daughter, Vivian, Lightfoot joked that she represents a “triple threat” in the race. In addition to being an African-American woman in one of the country’s most racially divided cities, she came out as a lesbian more than 30 years ago.

At the time, Lightfoot didn’t have role models to look up to. There were precious few examples of LGBTQ people living happy, healthy, and successful lives.

“I spent a lot of time agonizing over whether I was going to lose my family,” she told INTO in a wide-ranging phone conversation which lasted for nearly an hour. “It was really hard. I had to prepare myself for what I thought was a life of loss and, frankly, potential loneliness.”

“When I was coming out, I didn’t envision the possibility I would be able to marry or be able to have a child,” she added. “That just was not in the realm of possibility for me.”

Although Lightfoot has spent the majority of her life in Chicago, she was raised in Massillon, a blue-collar town on the outskirts of Canton in northern Ohio. With a population of just over 30,000, Massillon is renowned as the birthplace of a surfeit of local sports heroes. Mike and Paul Brown, the father-and-son duo who have managed the Cincinnati Bengals for five decades, hail from the area.

Massillon’s other claim to fame, though, is its stark racial disparities. Despite being the 44th largest city in Ohio, it ranks just outside the top 100 of most-segregated cities in the United States. Gary, Ind., home to another famous family, topped the list.

When Lightfoot began elementary school in the 1960s, she was the sole black student. In a city that’s 90-percent white, the majority of her classmates didn’t have lives that looked like hers. Lightfoot’s mother worked a housekeeper. Her father, who was left partially deaf after a case of pneumonia put him in a yearlong coma, was forced to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

It’s a certain kind of kismet then that someone raised in the shadow of Brown v. Board of Education built her career in Chicago, where Lightfoot would become a federal prosecutor after graduating from the University of Chicago Law School.

According to the 2000 Census, the Windy City is America’s fifth-most segregated metropolitan area.

Lightfoot’s campaign has largely positioned her as a progressive antidote to the racial tensions that have long plagued Chicago. Yesterday the candidate unveiled a plan to tackle “gang violence” as a public health problem. The proposal includes revamping the database of known gang members and establishing a civilian public safety board which oversees the Chicago Police Department.

If there’s anyone with the mettle to overhaul the city’s troubled culture of law enforcement, Lightfoot believes its her. As head of the Police Accountability Task Force, the board released a searing 2016 report indicting the police’s disregard for “the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”

The task force cited CPD’s own internal data to make its case. Despite making up just 32.9 percent of Chicago’s population, nearly three out of four individuals (74 percent) beaten or killed by law enforcement officials between the years of 2008 and 2015 were black. This same demographic also accounted for 76 percent of suspects tasered by the police from 2012 to 2015.

When asked what she feels are her biggest accomplishments over the many years she has spent working for police reform, Lightfoot pointed to her record of getting results.

“While I was the president of the Chicago police team, we fired or gave lengthy suspension to over 90 percent of the officers who came in front of us,” she claimed. “I was determined to make sure that we set a very clear standard. […] I’m certainly not going to back away from that as mayor.” 

Many officers resigned rather than face the Chicago Police Board, Lightfoot claimed.

The police issue is likely to decide the mayoral race following the October 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, which shined a national spotlight on racial injustice in Chicago. Garry McCarthy, who served as superintendent of the Chicago Police Department during the controversy, has frequently been positioned as Lightfoot’s biggest competition.

According to a recent survey of 1,128 voters, McCarthy leads all challengers with 16.8 percent of the vote. Lightfoot places in fourth with 9.6 percent.

But as befitting a historically volatile election, early polling has been all over the place. A separate survey from Public Policy Polling showed Preckwinkle pulling in 25 percent of the vote shortly before she officially announced her candidacy in September. Yet another poll showed U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who represents Illinois’ 4th district, leading all challengers by three points.

The race is only going to get more chaotic as we approach November, when the filing deadline to declare a mayoral bid ends. Phil Kadner, a left-leaning columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, claimed in an op-ed that 99 candidates may wind up competing against each other for the mayor’s office.

If Kadner’s estimate was intended as a joke, it’s not far from the reality. Nearly a dozen other potential aspirants have flirted with a 2019 mayoral run, according to the Sun-Times.

What will make her candidacy stand out in an extremely crowded field, Lightfoot said, is her years of committed advocacy for those living on the margins, as someone who came of age in similar circumstances. Whereas many mayoral candidates declared after Emanuel claimed he was hanging up his hat, she had already been in the race for months at the time of his announcement.

There’s lots of folks who are circling around this race now, but I think it’s a fair question to ask them where they’ve been,” she claimed.

Getting an early start has given Lightfoot the opportunity to connect with voters in the Chicago area, particularly its sizable LGBTQ voting bloc. According to a March report from the Chicago Department of Public Health, 7.5 percent of adults in America’s third-largest city identify as queer or transgender. That’s 146,000 people.

Lightfoot’s campaign is counting on this powerful demographic to recognize the landmark significance of her run. If elected, she would be Chicago’s first black lesbian mayor, as well as just one of two in U.S. history. E. Denise Simmons first shattered the glass ceiling for queer women of color in 2008, when she was elected mayor of Cambridge, Mass.

No matter the result when votes are cast on February 26, Lightfoot has already claimed a piece of history. She is the first LGBTQ candidate to ever run for mayor of Chicago.

Early signs show Lightfoot’s message is resonating with Chicagoans, both those in and outside of the community. She claimed her campaign regularly gets photos of young boys and girls pictured with handwritten signs cheering her on. Almost 35 years after the total absence of possibility models made coming out a terrifying leap into the unknown, Lightfoot described the experience as “humbling.

“I know there are going to be kids out there and people that I will never have the opportunity to meet in person for whom me being an out married lesbian will mean a lot to them,” she claimed. “It’s a measuring stick of the progress in my city.”

The prospect of having an out lesbian mayor in Chicago would have been “unthinkable until very recently,” Lightfoot added.

Lightfoot has gotten to see this progress up close. In August, she canvassed at Northalsted Market Days, an annual street festival held in Chicago’s Boystown gayborhood. While it allowed her the opportunity to shake hands with constituents, Lightfoot also met people who traveled from states like Texas and Oklahoma to have the chance to walk “hand-in-hand with [their] loved ones without fear.”

The candidate recognized her own story in their journeys. Enrolling at the University of Chicago three decades ago gave her the “strength and courage to continue on [her] path,” according to Lightfoot.

She hopes to give some of that back if elected mayor in four months’ time.

“Chicago has opened up the possibilities of a life for LGBTQ people that wouldn’t exist in places that they’re from,” she claimed. “I feel this tremendous opportunity to push the reality of our city as a place that is welcoming in a completely different and in a pretty bold new way.”

Here’s Everything We Know About the New ‘Spider-Man’ Based on These Photos of Zendaya

Earlier today, new paparazzi photos were leaked from the set of Spider-Man: Far From Home, revealing Zendaya and Tom Holland carrying luggage in Venice, Italy. Obviously, as Uncle Ben once told his fledgling superhero nephew, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Well, considering Zendaya looks like the face of a unisex “Gay and Tired” Gap clothing line in these new photos, it seems responsibility is certainly weighing on her. While we don’t know much about the upcoming Spider-Man sequel, we do have a new series of paparazzi photos to cull hints from. So, here’s everything we can infer about Far From Home based on these photos.

The 22-year old actress played Michelle “MJ” Jones in the first installment of the new Spider-Man movies, so we know Zendaya is set to return as this classic character. However, we don’t know much about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s new version of MJ, which was previously played by Kirsten Dunst in the early aughts.

Here’s what we do know: MJ is a student at Peter Parker’s school, Midtown School of Science and Technology, and she seems pretty queer, at least aesthetically. Sure, the MCU hasn’t given us any real reason to believe that MJ has a broader sexuality than she did in the 2000s—but I’m only gay and human, which means theorizing about female characters being gay is my cross to bear. So, while MJ’s queerness isn’t overt, it’s surely implicit.

For example, in the first movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jones was an introvert and a bit of a social outcast—which are, like, top ranking traits of queer girls in high school, next to snark and the willingness to mock everyone around her, which MJ also does. Plus, Zendaya’s character is the captain of the Academic Decathlon team. In 2004, that title may have led MJ to commit “social suicide,” but times have changed. Being smart rocks, and the one trait that all queer women universally share is “being right.” All we want is to date girls and be right all the time—and in order to be right all the time, we need to acquire knowledge. MJ is obviously priming herself to be the smartest girl in school so she can drop knowledge on her oppressors and patriarchal upholders by sucking up facts like a gay vacuum—which brings me to the pictures.

Today, Zendaya was photographed in Venice wearing a Lesbian Utility Jacket, which means her character is likely a Storage Lesbian. There are tons of factions of lesbianism, and none of us can really be stuffed into any one box (haha, box). But there are caucuses—one of which is the Storage Lesbians. A Storage Lesbian is the pragmatic kind of gay—she’s a gender-bending, masc-leaning woman who loves a fixer-upper and can be found any Sunday afternoon policing the aisles of The Container Store. There’s nary a table she can’t fix, a frame she can’t hang, or a chair she can’t build from scratch. She enjoys light carpentry as a hobby, which means she’s good with her hands in more than one way (wink wink). She’s practical, so a bitch needs pockets.

MJ’s utility jacket is dripping with pockets—and what’s in them? Screwdrivers, just in case? A tape measure? A miniature level? A Swiss Army knife? Either way, MJ is going to be ready for any hurdle that comes her way, and while it may be Peter Parker’s job to be the Great Protector, it’s certainly MJ’s job to be the Great Protractor. Look at this bitch! You know she’s got a protractor somewhere on her person. Storage Lesbians, especially ones with dozens of nebulous pockets, don’t just leave the house without a travel protractor—especially on a summer vacation across Europe, which is really the only plot point that’s been confirmed about Far From Home. Grow up.

Then there’s the backpack, for larger storage. People only use backpacks like this for a few reasons: One: Backpacking across Europe because “I’m an artist, DAD!” Two: Backpacking across Europe because “I don’t know who I am, and you’re not my real mom, STEPHANIE!” And finally: Secrets. This tactical military backpack is clearly spilling over with MJ’s secrets—maybe about her sexuality, maybe about her real purpose in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Is she carrying a sleeping bag? Does she have tools? Is she going to save Peter’s life by MacGyvering a Carabiner, a bungee cord, and Just A Strong Feeling into a homing device? She’s on to something.

From another angle, we can see that Zendaya’s actually carrying a second smaller backpack, as well as a camera, which I can only assume means she’s the designated Instagrammer for the group’s voyage. Also pictured are Peter (Holland), Flash (Tony Revolori), and Ned (Jacob Batalon)—and men can’t be trusted to take group photos.

If you’ve ever asked a man to take a photo of your group, then you know they’re guilty of committing the 8th deadly sin: taking ONE photo, and saying “have a good night.” Motherfucker, we need angles, we need options, we need “do a goofy one!” Just another reason men are rapidly losing relevance in 2018. So, we know Zendaya is good with her hands, probably going to build something to save the day, and is going to have a fucking fire Instagram story.

Also pictured are MJ’s lace-up combat boots and 2000s European-style capris, which are devoid of coolness, which means they are 100 percent cool in the eyes of queer women. MJ looks like she’s ready for literally anything: rowing a gondola; parachuting to certain death but surviving for months against all odds on a stormy island; climbing Everest and falling hopelessly in love with a Sherpa woman and subsequently staying behind to start a life in the Nepalese mountainscape with her new lover. You know, vacation stuff.

Sticking to the theme of “Gay and Tired,” here’s MJ severely rolling her eyes at Peter—or more broadly, at the arduous labor of interacting with men. She seems prepared, over-prepared even, and then this guy shows up with an impractically chic suitcase, and what, a breezy button-up shirt? MJ is looking at Peter like, “Where are all your pockets? Where will you put your emergency mini-drone if you don’t have pockets?” Peter Parker seems more like a guy sending you a Facebook invite for his improv show this weekend than a superhero, and MJ is having none of it. Dress for the job you want, Peter, you fucking hetero-disaster.

Over the weekend, Zendaya was also photographed on the movie’s set covered in pigeons—which aren’t necessarily gay, but fuck it, pigeons are gay now. Sure, queer women can be petty know-it-alls, but deep down, we have a well of empathy greater than any other human can scratch the surface of, which is why we’re often either empaths, psychics, mediums, activists, or all of the above. Here, Zendaya is photographed wearing Chuck Taylors, belted floods, and a women’s suffrage shirt—an ideal look for a weekend Tax March. She cares about people, but she also cares about animals—which is sweet, and gay.

This leads me to believe that MJ will carry the emotional weight of the entire cast, including every emotion that Peter Parker and his male cohorts were misled by the patriarchy into believing they should bury. So, as always, queer women and women of color are unfairly afflicted with steering their peers away from danger and toward a pragmatic and morally sound path. See, Peter? This is why you died in Avengers: Infinity War. Well, that and the work of a depraved intergalactic war lord.

Spider-Man: Far From Home swings into theaters July 5, 2019, and probably none of this will happen in it.