LGBTQ, Life, Politics, Pride 2017

ONE YEAR LATER: THE PULSE NIGHTCLUB SHOOTING

One year ago today, June 12, 2016, the world woke up to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history when a gunman entered Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 and injuring 53.

This was not only the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history and the deadliest terror attack since 9/11, it was also a hate crime of epic proportions. The gunman went into Pulse, a gay nightclub, and killed 49 people, queer men and women and those outside of the gender binary, as well as their friends, family and allies. It was also Latin Night, so most of the victims were Latinx and people of color.

The attack was at a nightclub during Pride month, both are deliberate and significant. June is Pride Month, where queer people join together to not just celebrate their queerness, but to express their political activism and energy. The fact that Pulse was a nightclub is also significant: clubs have long been safe havens for queer people. When we could not be accepted in “society” or by our families and friends, we went to the clubs to find community. The Stonewall Riots began in a club, when police officers led a raid into Stonewall Inn. That moment is widely considered to be the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights fight.

One year after the Pulse massacre, we have a president who has yet to acknowledge June as Pride month and wanted praise for being “right on radical Islamic terrorism,” a vice president who legalized discrimination against LGBTQ+ in Indiana and was a proponent for conversion therapy, a First Daughter who only thanked queer people for their “economic” contributions to America, and an Attorney General who advocated for the rescinding of federal protection to transgender students.

The massacre was another example that queer people are not safe in America, especially queer people of color. Do not be fooled into believing that because we have marriage equality that we have equality. We don’t.

Not when there are trans women of color being murdered for existing, or kids being denied access to bathrooms. Not when a man can walk into a gay nightclub and murder 49 people and there are politicians who would refuse to call it a hate crime but send their “thoughts and prayers” to people who minutes earlier they were debasing as pedophiles and mentally ill.

Being queer in itself is a both political act and a danger in this America. Our bodies, and the people we love, and our genders are being argued and picked over by politicians like vultures. We are an inherently political minority because our identities have been placed in the political conversation without our consent. So fight on, and fight harder because we don’t have the option to be neutral.

Fight on for women and for people of color and immigrants and those with disabilities (both visible and invisible). Because there cannot be equality for one minority if there is not equality for all minorities. The way the government treats women directly affects queer people. The way the police treat people of color directly affects queer people. Our fight is everyone’s fight, and everyone’s fight is our fight.

To the people who died that night in Pulse, who were primarily Latinx and black, on Latin Night; I’m sorry that we could not do enough. I’m sorry that you didn’t get a chance to be a part of the fight today. You would have all done amazing things in a world that was always, always against you. But we take on your memory and your love and your identity as we march forward and against. We will not forget you. I did not know you, but I love you, and I grieve for you.

The fight for equality is the fight for love, for choice, for freedom. It’s about our right to exist in public spaces, as Laverne Cox said in the aftermath of Trump’s administration revoking federal protection for transgender students.

I’d like to end with two quotes from James Baldwin, a gay black writer who was born in 1924 and whose work pushed the boundaries of queerness and blackness in a time that was particularly lethal to both.

“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”

And,

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” 

These things that cause us such deep pain are the things that unite us, the things that make us stronger. They break our bones and they make us bleed over and over, endlessly. But we fight onward and upward and together because that pain is nothing compared to the joy of being together, and fighting together and loving together.

People will try always to tear us apart; whether it be through violence or legislation or words. But we are stronger than that and wilder than that and more beautiful than that.

Be strong in the face of adversity, loving in the face of hate, and kind in the face of unkindness.

Happy Pride.

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Politics, Thinkpiece

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Header Image Source: CNN


Public figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Ivanka Trump are shying away from disclosing their political activities.

While promoting her new book, Secrets of My Life, Caitlyn Jenner sat down with Andy Cohen at Sirius XM Radio for a town hall-style meeting Wednesday, April 26. Jenner made headlines when she came out as transgender in 2015. In their discussion, Cohen steered the conversation towards politics—Jenner is famously a conservative Republican. Jenner said that she had been making trips to Washington, D.C. but that her influence in politics would be private and unseen.

It was a reiteration of the point she made the night before on CNN with Don Lemon. She said that she would not take up President Trump’s offer to go golfing after he revoked the former administration’s protection for transgender students. However, Jenner said she would go golfing with President Trump in private, because if she did it in public, her community would “go nuts” and ostracize her.

Besides the puzzling contradiction of going on public television to say that you will golf with President Trump in private, Jenner’s statement that much of her involvement in politics would be behind closed doors is troubling at best and dangerous at worst.

Jenner is markedly tone-deaf when it comes to issues of LGBTQ equality. On The Ellen Show, she did not express complete support for same-sex marriage, and that it was an issue that she used to be completely against as a self-identified “traditionalist.” Instead, she said that if “the word marriage is so important to you, then I can support that.” She claimed that the hardest part of being a woman was picking out “what to wear.”

These can be dismissed as tragically unfortunate choices of words, but the root of the issue is that Caitlyn Jenner is a person of immense privilege who wants to speak for, represent and negotiate on behalf of arguably the most disenfranchised and least privileged subsection of the U.S. population.

According to a 2016 Reuters article, “almost 60 percent of transgender Americans have avoided using public restrooms for fear of confrontation, saying they have been harassed and assaulted.” According to the Office for Victims of Crime, one in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime. 13 percent of African-American transgender people surveyed were sexually assaulted in the workplace, and 22 percent of transgender homeless individuals reported assault whilst staying in shelters.

And while Jenner is transgender, it cannot be denied that for 65 years she presented as a white, privileged man. And after she transitioned, she had unfettered access to the best surgeons and doctors, a private Malibu estate for recovery and no monetary restrictions. Some transgender people choose to not go through surgery, but for those that would like to the costs are usually prohibitive.

Jenner has also been largely isolated from the daily discomfort that many queer people experience every day—catcalling, harassment and discrimination. All of these things, combined with her inexperience with politics and her position as a conservative Republican who voted for Trump, make me uncomfortable that she might be the touchstone for Republicans and the representative of the LGBTQ community. That she would do it with no cameras, at private dinners and meetings behind closed doors is even more concerning.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Ivanka Trump in her interview with Gayle King for CBS News. “I don’t think that it will make me a more effective advocate to constantly articulate every issue publicly where I disagree,” she said. “And that’s okay. That means that I’ll take hits from some critics who say that I should take to the street. And then other people will in the long-term respect where I get to. But I think most of the impact I have, over time most people will not actually know about.”

This idea of silent impact does a few things. Firstly, it absolves people like Trump and Jenner from any responsibility. If you don’t know what they’ve done, you can’t blame them. Secondly, it’s impossible to hold them accountable for anything. If they never pledge any sort of action, it’s impossible to keep them in line. Lastly, it’s difficult expect them to operate within a rational, ethical framework because you have no idea what they’re doing.

And lastly, as a person with unparalleled influence and platform, you don’t get to be private. If Ivanka wanted to operate as a private citizen, she shouldn’t have moved to Washington, D.C. and taken a position in her father’s administration. When she made that deal with the devil, she gave up the right to be private. When you’re operating from the most powerful building in the world, the American public deserve to know what you’re up to. If Caitlyn Jenner wanted to remain private, she shouldn’t have dropped the tantalizing tidbits that she was taking meetings in Washington.

You can’t have it both ways. If you want public power, then you don’t get to wield it privately.

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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, Politics

ACCORDING TO SOURCES, TRUMP TO RESCIND FEDERAL GUIDANCE ON TRANSGENDER STUDENTS USING BATHROOMS OF THEIR GENDER IDENTITIES

According to reporting done by the New York Times, the Trump administration is drawing up paperwork to rescind former President Obama’s order that transgender students can use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was in opposition to Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the issue of leaving the choice up to the states. However, the Department of Education ruled in 2014 that protecting transgender students falls under Title IX, a federal law that prevents discrimination on the basis of sex.

DeVos, despite her family’s prominent donations to anti-gay organizations, apparently opposed the order. However, President Donald Trump sided with Sessions, who has a history of opposing the expansion of LGBTQ rights, and wanted DeVos to drop her objections.

Apparently there is pressure to move the paperwork along so as to avoid confusion with upcoming cases. The issue comes right before the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia boy who is transgender, will be brought to the Supreme Court. Grimm sued his school county when they refused to let him use the boys’ restroom and instead offered him a separate one converted from a janitor’s closet. The Obama White House rejected accommodation like that as unconstitutional and discriminatory.

According to insider Republicans, DeVos was uncomfortable with the idea of revoking protections for transgender students. This is in direct opposition to what Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a White House news conference that DeVos was “100 percent” on board. And apparently privately, according to several sources, DeVos is quietly pro-gay-rights.

This directive needs the joint support of the Education and Justice Department, meaning that Sessions needed DeVos on board to move forward.

According to the website, OnTheIssues.org, Sessions has a history of voting against LGBTQ rights expansion. In 2006, he voted yes on a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, limiting the definition for marriage to between one man and one woman. In 2000 and 2002, he voted against adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes. He was rated 20% by the ACLU, indicating an anti-civil rights voting record, and 0% by the HRC, indicating an anti-gay-rights stance.

On the campaign, Trump was tentatively pro-LGBTQ rights. He said that the issue of same-sex marriage was settled when it was legalized and that he would not go back on that. He famously invited Caitlyn Jenner, transgender former Olympic athlete, to Trump Tower and that she could use whichever bathroom she wanted. In April of 2016, Trump spoke against North Carolina’s bathroom ban, saying that people should use “the bathroom they feel is appropriate.” However, when the Obama administration issued guidance that all transgender students should use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identities, Trump said that it should be left up to the states.

Vice President Pence, when he was the governor of Indiana, signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protected business owners who discriminated against LGBTQ people on the basis of religion. Pence was also critical of Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” saying without it, the military would be a “backdrop for social experimentation.”

Even if Trump himself doesn’t personally hold any opposition to the expansion of LGBTQ rights, by dropping down the impetus to the states to decide what protections to offer transgender students is deeply troubling. These are children who are just trying to go to school. When transgender students are barred from using the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities, suicide rates increase and health issues arise—dehydration, kidney infections and urinary tract infections. The health problems alone can lead to missed days of school and increased levels of stress.

That Trump himself doesn’t bear any ill will against the queer community does not translate to protection of LGBTQ rights. He totes himself as “the least anti-Semitic person you’ll ever meet” and “the least racist person you’ll ever meet” but if you’re not taking active steps towards the protections of these marginalized groups, you are in effect leaving them to be crushed under administrative oppression and discrimination.

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