feminism, LGBTQ, Life, Politics

THEN & NOW — the 1970s (ish)

This morning, I was walking my dog when I found a Polaroid on the edge on my lawn. A few months ago, my neighbor passed away. She was amazing, super fiery and funny; we were actually quite close. We would go to Home Depot together and pick out plants for me to plant in pots around her house, and I would help her if she needed it. She was in her mid-eighties, and a total badass, and I was sadly at school in Boston when she passed away. But in the following months, and the last few weeks especially, her children have been cleaning out her house.

This morning, the last remaining furniture and garbage (which had been piled at the end of her driveway) was cleared away, leaving behind a few scraps and this grimy, grubby Polaroid, picture-down on my lawn. I flipped it around and it was a picture, taken from the stoop of my neighbor’s house of our street—A silver-blue Volkswagen Beetle parked on the curb, framed by lush green leaves. I took it inside, cleaned the grime off the back and the edges, and really looked at it. There’s no date on the Polaroid, but judging from the make of the car, and the amount of time my neighbor lived in her house, I would guess it was taken in the ‘60s or ‘70s.

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Source: Danny McCarthy

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Humor, LGBTQ, Pride 2017

THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF EVERY ICE CREAM BRAND’S SEXUALITY

~Quality Content~

If you’ve ever wondered if anyone else ranks the various sexualities of ice creams (and/or gelatos, frozen yogurts), then you’re in luck. Because I’m here now. And no, I’m not doing this because I couldn’t think of anything else to write and it’s 4:24. 4:25.

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Essay, LGBTQ, Life, pop culture, Pride 2017

COMING OUT IN THE AGE OF YOUTUBE

My first laptop was a thick black Dell that required a near-constant source of power and hummed louder than a barbershop quartet.

It took minutes to load up and froze frequently, which I’m sure is entirely unrelated to the buckets of shady porn websites I was searching. Also unrelated to my search history was the Dell’s untimely and unseemly demise at the hands of a Trojan virus.

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Essay, LGBTQ

MY VOICE IS MY VOICE

A few weeks ago I was hosting my sister and her friends at my apartment. Cram five queens into a three-by-three-foot box, and it’s pretty hectic. But whatever, it was fun and they bought me Patron (the toilet Patron from “ONE-TWO-THREE”!) as a thank-you present. On Saturday, when they were heading out to da club and I was heading to a house party, one of my sister’s friends brought over a friend from the area.

He walked in and my high-school-heart beat a little bit faster. He was just like every frat boy-wannabe I went to high school with (an all-boys Catholic prep school)—non-psycho American Psycho hot face, slicked back long hair, Oxford shirt buttoned tightly over lacrosse muscles, canoe-like leather shoes and blue jeans. Yung Wall Street.

And when I introduced myself to him, it wasn’t me. It was a strong, firm handshake and a voice that was like mine, but several octaves lower and controlled. “Hey, I’m Danny,” he/me said.

It’s a voice I pulled out a lot that weekend as I met my sister and her friends’ straight guy friends. That afternoon, I was downtown and I got out of my car. “What’s on your sweatshirt?” said-shouted a straight guy on line outside the bar I was going to. I looked down. I had pulled on a cross country hoodie from my sophomore year of high school, underneath an olive-green bomber jacket.

I shifted my jacket and showed him. “Fuckboy Prep,” he said (name has been changed, because duh). “Yeah, do you know it?” I asked, my voice hitched in the bottom of my throat, my vowels pitching backward into my esophagus.

It’s difficult to describe the “straight” voice, but it’s like that: instead of projecting forward, the words make a boomerang: out from the bottom of my throat, below my Adam’s apple, jut forward and then careen back into my collarbone.

“No, but I went to Yung Money Prep in Maine,” he said. We nodded at each other. End of conversation.

It’s a voice that I unearthed from the deepest recesses of my early tweenhood. Monotone, soft, deep. A voice I had discarded when I came out at fifteen and, shaky in my gayness, hurtled towards the opposite end of the scale and went full “Agaytha Christie.” What a gay joke. Neither were my actual voice, which is decidedly average and can veer equally into deep monotone and higher-pitched modulation.

It’s something I do when I’m meeting straight guys for the first time. I drag my voice back into low-pitched “sups” and “yo.”

I do it for a few reasons: I want to be taken seriously by another man, and I want to survive.

“Survive” sounds so extra, but let me remind you—I went to an all-boys Catholic high school where I was already harassed enough. Lowering my voice into a monotone was at least one attempt on my end to make myself seem like less of a target.

I have one vivid memory of sitting at a lunch table at fourteen. I was saying something when across the table, a mean hot redhead said to me, in brusque masculine tones,

“Talk like a boy.”

This was before I came out, so I was vibrating with anxiety about being “found out.” I couldn’t respond to him, so I picked up my tray, shakily threw out my trash and hid in the library. In the moment, I was doused in ice-water dread. Later, I would feel a coiled mixture of revulsion and attraction to him. Revulsion that he could embarrass me with four words, and attraction to him and his masculinity.

Because that’s what it comes down. We as queer boys are taught to hate our femininity and strive towards masculine attributes. It might be why gay guys work out so hard at the gym, sculpting Adonis bodies and artfully manicured scruff. Why we put “masc for masc” on our Grindr profiles. We eschew femmes and shame bottoms because we never, ever want to be put in that vulnerable position again.

So instead of living our truth, we shut it off and hate it. We fight against it. We slit the throat of our femininity and let it drop to the floor, a sick survivalist instinct to protect ourselves in a masculine, heteronormative world.

But in that “passing” is a hidden desire uncomfortable to admit: that part of passing for straight is not just out of a survivalist instinct, but undeniable envy.

I would imagine that queer people have thought about it; some of us have the ability to pass as straight in a heteronormative society. To not appear different or othered. It’s a dangerous thing because it’s a temptation to step outside of your marginalized group.

In a day-to-day scenario, it’s easier being straight than it is gay. When I’m walking late at night, with a female friend and we come across a group of straight guys, I put my arm around her, or I move closer. We both tacitly understand that those guys won’t respect a woman not wanting to talk to them, but they will respect a boyfriend because there is the notion of women as property.

And as much as it is a protection against catcalling for her, it provides me with a dangerous taste of heteronormativity. It provides me a glimpse of the luxury, respect and authority that being a straight white male awards you. The ability to express physical affection without wondering if it could get you gay-bashed. The respect given to you by straight men who don’t see you as Othered or predatory or sissy.

In a lot of ways, when I lower my voice, I’m still that skinny little kid who wants to impress straight boys. Look how manly I can be! Hear how low my voice can go!

It’s a muscle-memory reaction, a hit of fight-or-flight adrenaline, and it’s something that complicates me even now. It complicates my relationship to my sexuality because for so long, I have been taught to hate it. And when that didn’t do anything, I moved on to hating myself. And others. And everyone.

It’s easy to forget, six years on, that I have been irreparably damaged by the strain, stress and assault of living in the closet for fifteen years. And it’s easy to forget that that strain and stress does not disappear when you come out. That the reason I dress more plainly and simply now is a way to avoid being labeled as flamboyant. That I keep my hair messy to not seem prissy. That the reason I like mean guys is because in the hidden depths of me, meanness is associated with masculinity, and thus, idolization.

There is damage in having been Othered. There is damage in hating a part of you because society has deemed that part to be malignant.

But there is power in reclaiming that damage. I started wearing nail polish recently. And even that small bit of femininity has eased me a little. Because I am a feminine person in some ways. And in just as many ways, I am also masculine. Everyone is masculine and feminine; labeling or coding one as negative only serves to incur further damage.

My voice rings up high when I’m excited. I talk fast. I use my hands a lot. I’m expressive. These are just descriptors. They’re not bad or good, they just exist. My voice is my voice.

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Essay, LGBTQ, Life

“WHAT KIND OF GAY ARE YOU? CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT!”

I took a “What Kind of Gay Are You?” quiz because, in a world that is rapidly changing and mutating, I needed at least one answer in my life.

That sounds dramatic, but that’s only because it is. So you’re astute. Congrats, hon.

It was a slushy snow day. We were huddled around a tall Starbucks table, damply drying off and cradling inappropriate iced coffees in between our hands. It might be winter outside, but my sweat glands knew no season.

I was taking a “What Kind of Gay Are You” quiz on my phone, because—frankly—I needed to know. After selecting one that seemed thorough—I didn’t want your run-of-the-mill quiz; I wanted a deep dive—I started checking boxes.

The problem, if it’s a problem even, and the reason for this erudite season is that my body exceeds gay boundaries. I’m tall and rangy—thirty pounds and three inches ago I might’ve been a twink. But as I stretched upward, the hours at the gym making me dense with muscle and bone, it became a lot more difficult.

I couldn’t find a physical category that seemed to fit. I’m not stocky enough to be a bear; not hairy enough to be an otter; neither hairy nor muscular enough to be a wolf; not effete enough to be a twink; too big to be a twunk; not geeky enough to be a gaymer. I could go on; I won’t.

Jock. Pup. Gym Bunny. Cub. Silver fox. (Just kidding; I went on).

Nope. Nope. No. Nope. No.

You might think that with as many categories as that, finding a niche would be easy—or at least possible. But instead my long, lean body—toned but not muscular, solid but not stocky—spills over any box, muddying the distinctions. I wanted some answer that might offer me a semblance of geace™ (gay peace).

So this outside, impartial source took in my body weight, my height, my musculature, my style, my activities, the timbre of my voice—average but deceptive because the pitch wildly vacillates based on whatever mood I’m in. But before I could get my answer, it produced the dreaded text:

Register an account to find out your answer!

“Fuck that,” I said, finding a small button at the bottom:

Proceed without account

I clicked it and the small circle at the top of the screen spun. The same screen popped up again. Clicked again. But every attempt to click the button led to a Sisyphean cycle of reloading that same page.

Eventually, I had to give up. I’m not made of steel—I rarely put energy into anything that isn’t writing, Real Housewives, or grilled cheese—and my phone battery can only withstand so much blunt trauma.

But I was disappointed—much more disappointed than I realized I would be, and more disappointed than I think anyone should be about any Internet quiz.

Would this one Internet quiz have changed my life? No. Would I be able to order a custom license plate with my assigned tribe and be inundated with romantic pursuits? Likely no but one can dream. It’s not like each category requires you to pay dues, or offers you any networking possibilities. There’s no “Bears In Media” except for Smokey. The only thing that’s likely is that I would’ve been disappointed with any answer.

But still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would’ve been nice to have at least one answer in a life that seems to hold very little for me right now. Days later, I was having a conversation with classmates about baby names. I really like the name Betty, spelled Bettie. One classmate offered up “Bette” as also being cute.

“But then people will always wonder what kind of gay I am,” I argued. “Am I a Bette Davis gay or a Bette Midler gay? ‘Cause that’ll affect how people try to pronounce her name.”

As I’ve been applying to more jobs, I’ve been in stasis, uncomfortably but evenly pulled between my Imposter Syndrome and my inescapable anxiety about being jobless.

The former tries to stop me from submitting my application, and the latter reminds me that if I don’t do this, my future remains as cloudy and voided as it currently is. So I remain largely in the middle, occasionally jolted into movement by a particularly strong wave from either end. My limbs—those rangy long limbs—are pulled to their full extension, tendons popping and bones straining at the joints.

I’m in a drawn-and-quartered life crisis.

Too tall to be a twink, too slim to be a jock. Too lively to be the reporter I’m training to be. Too timid to be an opinion writer. Too dumb to be a genius, too smart to be an idiot. Too cocky for my own good, too self-conscious for my own health. Too good in too many things, not good enough in one thing. Perfectly at the center of so many identities, sticky strands of confliction pulling at so many different parts of me.

Everything is up in the air. On social media, all I see are these static pictures of people in their things. The red-carpet one. The photographer one. The writer one. The engineer one. Steel. Silk. Definitive things. Not some thing, but this thing. Do I go for this or for that? Do I put all my energy into one path, or do I spread my eggs like it’s Easter Sunday?

I want answers to questions that haven’t even fully formed yet. For the first time in 21 years, my life is opaque. And the more people I talk to, the more common I realize that feeling is. So I might not be a thing one, but I’m not the only one.

I closed the tab of the “What Kind of Gay Are You?” quiz, quick darkness swallowing the cartoon drawing of a jock intertwined with a twink. I didn’t really feel like a twink or a jock. Or a bear or an otter or a silver fox or an otter.

I really only felt like myself.

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LGBTQ, television

THE GAY-FOR-PAY PROBLEM ON CW’S RIVERDALE

Adapted from a column written for class. 

If you watch bad television enough, you begin to realize that hot people are all hot in the same way. And if you watch bad young-adult television enough, you begin to realize that all hot gay guys on television tend to look exactly the same. They just cloning the same beautiful people over and over again—Brave New World-style.

CW’s Riverdale is a dark, sultry teen-thriller interpretation of the Archie comics. The show mixes the idealistic setting of the comic, which began issue in 1942, with weird, neon sex appeal. The show carried onto screen Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in the comic. It was a breakthrough in the comic and it was a breakthrough on screen—in pre-premiere interviews, the cast prized the character Kevin as “more than” a gay best friend, sassy sidekick or comic relief. He would have a storyline, nuance and depth. Great.

On screen, Kevin Keller is played by Casey Cott. When I first saw him, I thought Cott looked familiar: gorgeous in the Ken Doll, teen drama kind of way. Full lips, chiseled jaw, dark hair parted severely. But then I realized that he just looked like every hot twentysomething playing a fourteen-year-old on TV, and I assumed that the actor was gay. I assumed Cott was gay because…I just did. I had no reason to not to.

I followed him on Instagram because I’m a masochist and love to torture myself with photos of more attractive, more successful gays. I saw that he had posted a ton of photos with his cast members. That’s how they’re marketing themselves: best buddies—two straws, one milkshake kind of buddies.

Side bar: I’m not close enough with anyone to split a milkshake with them. And I’m not friends with anyone stupid enough to try.

One blonde girl kept popping up in every photo who wasn’t a cast member. It would be him in a close-fitting fedora (very LA), leading man KJ Apa (Archie Andrews), and Blonde Girl. Him, co-star Madelaine Petsch (Cheryl Blossom), and Blonde Girl. Blonde Girl everywhere. I thought she was a close friend, a far-distant E-list celebrity/YouTube star/model who was hitching her wagon to his. I accepted that explanation because I know when I become famous, I’m going to drag some of my friends into stardom with me. Everyone needs personal assistants, amiright?

Curious after seeing her multiple times, I clicked on her tag and went to her profile. Her curation of photos was much more deliberately of him and sans the Riverdale cast. Her and Casey Cott on set. Her and Casey getting coffee. Casey and her dog, playing together. The pieces began to fall together and the truth was confirmed with her caption under the photo of Casey and the dog.

“PSA: Your dog will steal your man.”

They were dating; this groundbreaking historic gay character was being played by another straight guy.

It shouldn’t matter—but it does.

On the show, Casey toed the line of playing to the stereotype and then subverting it when playing Kevin. I mean, they ended the first episode with Kevin going to hook up with a closeted football player on the riverbank and finding Jason Blossom’s dead body. So when Kevin was overplaying the flamboyance and I thought the actor was gay, I accepted it.

Part of Riverdale’s charm is indulging stereotypes only to discard them. The classic trope of Archie as a jock torn between music and sports is dragged up tiredly, only to be tossed aside when Veronica Lodge asked, “Can’t we, in this post-James Franco world, just be all things at once?” And so I assumed that’s what they were doing with Kevin—trying to by cheeky. They were saying, “Hey, you know we don’t actually think gay people act like this—we’re chiller than that.”

I took it as ironically challenging the stereotype; of toying with expectations until he was given a deeper storyline. But even if Kevin Keller gets a great storyline later on, a part of me will forever be salty.

It was revolutionary to have a gay character introduced into the canon of a comic series that began in 1942. It’s not revolutionary to have a straight guy playing gay on screen, no matter how much winking accompanies the bitchy rapport. It invokes the very damaging idea of “gay for pay” (an entire OTHER article that I need time to unpack), that the most attractive thing for a gay guy to aspire towards is actually heterosexuality. 

Riverdale marketed itself as sexy, bold and risk-taking. It made the conscious effort to be “woke.” The character of Josie—of the Pussycats—is played by Ashleigh Murray, a woman of color. Cole Sprouse made the comment that he hopes his character, Jughead Jones, is portrayed as asexual. (Thank you?)

But the fact that the only gay character, in a line-up of actors so bland you could bag them as Wonder Bread and sell them for sandwiches, is played by a straight person undercuts any progress they think they’ve made. Because the acting choices Cott made when I thought he was gay turn from satirical to patronizing.

There’s the argument that the actor was simply the best person for the role. And maybe that’s true, but there were definitely gay, bisexual and queer actors who auditioned for the part. Actors who were probably handsome in the exact same way as Casey Cott, with the same full lips and dark, severely parted hair. Actors who do not have the advantage, unlike Cott, of oftentimes playing the reverse. Straight actors can play gay roles, and are often congratulated for them, but the opposite is hardly ever the case.

The easiest question is “Why not?”

Why not go the extra mile and find someone who is actually representative of the progress you are so proudly claiming? If it was a priority to honor the character of Kevin by bringing him to the screen, why was it not a priority to honor the character by finding him a gay actor? Because it’s 2017 and if you’re going to be resting on the laurels of progressiveness, you should be progressive in every aspect.

It shouldn’t matter, and maybe it won’t eventually, but it does right now. We as a community have fought for too long for half as much. And it might be childish to invoke the struggles of the community when discussing a CW show. But it’s what that CW show stands for. Honor our stories and our identities by giving work to someone who can tell that story. The problem is not that Casey Cott isn’t a great actor, or that he portrays the character well. It’s that there was a queer actor who probably could’ve done the role just as well. We shouldn’t accept whatever portrayals we can get. We shouldn’t accept the minimum. That’s not fair. And that’s not right.

Will I still watch the show? Yes—I’m hooked. Will I still recap it? Yes. But this was also bugging me, and I needed to figure out why.

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