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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LGBTQ

NOT TODAY, SATAN—CULTURAL APPROPRIATION AND QUEER ERASURE

It’s a weird moment in time when ‘90s sitcoms intersect with 2010s drag culture, but if anything can be said about 2017—it’s nothing but weird moments in time.

Candace Cameron Bure, who played DJ Tanner on Full House and used to be Elisabeth Hasslebeck 2.0 on The View, was recently seen on her Instagram wearing a shirt that says “Not Today, Satan.” Before we dive into the real deep drama, let’s just focus on the fact that Bure, a noted conservative and Christian, saw that shirt and thought, “Oh my god, I totally feel like that.” Wouldn’t you, as a Christian, wear a shirt that said, perhaps, “Never, Satan”? Should Satan come back tomorrow? I’m being mean and dumb, so let’s continue.

In fact, the phrase, “Not today, Satan” originates from Bianca del Rio, the winner of the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. In that moment, Bianca is responding to fellow contestant Courtney Act’s comment that Bianca always wore the same silhouette. The phrase went on to become the title of Bianca’s comedy tour, and was so well-known that it spawned those t-shirts—one which would eventually find its way onto the body of one former child star. I’m betting that Candace didn’t know that.

 

Bure is known for having conservative blonde views—particularly on The View. In 2015, she defended bakers who discriminated against LGBTQ customers.

“This is about freedom of association. It’s about constitutional rights,” said Bure. “It’s about First Amendment rights. It’s about having the right to still choose who we associate with.” Raven-Symoné, who was also on the show at that point, countered with, “I refuse to associate with you right now.”

 

It’s also worth noting that Bure’s brother, Kirk Cameron, is an Evangelical Christian and notoriously anti-gay. He called homosexuality “detrimental” and “ultimately destructive” to the foundation of civilization. Now, I don’t want to blame Bure for her brother’s opinions, but I think it’s important for context. She is associated with him and, to my knowledge, has not rejected her brother’s very public opinions on homosexuality.

So Bianca del Rio reposted the photo with the caption, “IF ONLY, THIS HOMOPHOBIC, REPUBLICAN KNEW…”. Her fans flooded Bure’s page with accusations of homophobia. Bure responded with a comment on Bianca’s photo, saying that “Loving Jesus doesn’t mean I hate gay people or anyone…I hope next time you’ll spread love and kindness, even when you disagree with people.”

First, I would like to state, unequivocally, that I do not condone flooding people with hateful comments. That accomplishes nothing and, in fact, only serves to reinforce negative stereotypes that these people might already be holding. However, I do think that Bianca and her fans were warranted in reacting to Bure.

Cultural appropriation, because that’s what this was, is never okay. Whether or not Bure knew the origin of that phrase, the fact that she—someone who has professed actively anti-gay sentiments—would wear a shirt with a phrase made popular by a drag queen is ludicrous. She does not get to be a part of that zeitgeist. Black women have been facing cultural appropriation forever. Like the Kardashians wearing cornrows, mainstream society is co-opting what they find “cute” about black femaleness without giving the actual people any respect or due.

Drag Race is an interesting case study because so much of it has become self-referential. Laganja Estranja’s “Okrrrr” and “I’m feeling very attacked” are referenced and replicated in queens of later seasons. Khloe Kardashian utilized “Okrrr” in her capsule collection of Kylie Cosmetics lip-kits. When things seep into the mainstream, it’s often without the knowledge of where they came from. And so as Drag Race becomes consumed by a wider audience, you run the risk that people will take that culture—they think that because they watch it, that warrants a piece of queer culture. It doesn’t. Because once people who have no right to this culture begin to use it, it spills over tiers and tiers of society until it ends up on the chest of someone notably anti-gay.

The queer—particularly gay white men—community has a complex history with appropriation because a lot of what we use as slang comes particularly from the vernacular of black women. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this—gay white men suck sometimes. But there are certain things that can be traced back to the beginnings of our culture—Paris is Burning—where phrases like “reading” and “shady” were used by queer people of color. “Why are you gagging so?” and “The library is open” pull from Paris is Burning and make regular appearances on Drag Race.

Particularly as RuPaul’s Drag Race has become more popular in the mainstream, I’ve noticed the adoption of queer phrases by straight people. Broad City did it with “Yas Queen!” However, they did it with the context that Ilana purports to be someone so woke and would still unintentionally appropriate a phrase. The people watching that show might not get that nuance and take “Yas Queen!” for themselves.

I’m not stupid, and I like that Drag Race is becoming more mainstream. I’m glad because it means that drag is becoming more widely appreciated. And drag queens can now make a career out of their passion. But with that comes with the need for acknowledgement. These words and snippets didn’t come from nowhere.

But beyond cultural appropriation, the t-shirt means something more.

Grindr ran an HRC-purchased ad as a banner in February. It applied to a specific radius of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering for conservatives and notably anti-queer.

The ad read: “Attention CPAC Attendees: You can’t be with us in the hotel room and against us in the CPAC ballroom.” There have been numerous incidents of lawmakers (particularly Republicans) who pursue anti-gay laws that are found seeking sex with men. The most recent is Oklahoma State Senator Ralph Shortey, who was arrested and charged with child prostitution because he was found with an underage boy. Shortey ran on a campaign of family values.

The CPAC ad speaks to an issue bigger than just one woman wearing a t-shirt. But the sentiment is the same. Queer people are struggling, sometimes literally, to survive. And people like Bure and Shortey, who have influence in pop culture and politics, have the choice to either help or hinder us. And too often they choose the latter.

For me, the t-shirt and the ad are inextricably tied. Both lead to an erasure of queer representation. Both diminish the roles of queer people. You don’t get to be with us when it’s convenient for you. If you’re not going to take steps to provide safety and equality for us, then you don’t get to be a part of our culture.

People like Bure, who are against us, don’t get to use our phrases for cute Instagrams. You don’t get to pick and choose what of the queer community you want to accept. So while she might not have meant any active harm—harm was caused nonetheless. Because when she takes phrases like “Not Today, Satan,” she says that gay culture is only acceptable when it’s valuable to her. When it can be commodified. But when it comes to our rights and our bodies and our equality, it’s not acceptable. You don’t get to take a slice out of this pie. You need to accept everything or get nothing.

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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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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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LGBTQ, Politics

THE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT OF AMERICAN RESISTANCE

According to an article on LGBTQ Nation, President Donald ‘The Don’ Trump could be signing an executive order opening up discrimination against LGBTQ people very soon, possibly this week, possibly this moment. Actually, maybe do a quick Google search to see if it’s already happened. The order would allow for discrimination in employment, social services, and adoption. Yay!

Trump already signed in several other executive orders, some of his Greatest Hits™ disbanding the refugee program for several months and putting a ban on nationals from several Muslim-dominated country entering the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

The country has, thankfully, responded appropriately towards what is aptly being called the Muslim Ban. Trump signed the executive order Friday afternoon, with it going hastily into effect. By Saturday, people were occupying airports, and on Sunday, a protest gathered in Boston’s Copley Square. People are rising up to the occasion and fighting back against discrimination. Because immigration makes us stronger, not weaker.

So if Trump does sign into effect an anti-LGBTQ executive order, I know that people will rise up similarly and fight alongside the queer community. Because signing in these orders that divide and discriminate weaken us, rather than protect us.

I think what I find so repugnant and odd is that Trump made a concentrated effort post-campaign to be all “I’m gonna create jobs” but all he’s done so far is just ostracize the press, alienate voters, destroy relations with other countries and, the latest, try to block immigration flow.

Maybe just focus on the jobs, and leave the rest of us alone?

And even though I don’t want Trump to sign anything against queer people (because I like having rights, ya know? I’m so random like that), I almost, in the darkest, most macabre parts of my soul, want to know how people will react. I want people to fire back, to get louder and angrier. But I also know that fire kills no matter what direction it leans, and so I hope that we can avoid the whole thing, but I know that’s exemplary of my privilege and that I’m allowed to hope that it doesn’t happen.

An NBC article tied together LGBTQ and the immigration ban by pointing out that many LGBTQ immigrants leaving the banned countries—Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya—are fleeing countries that have criminalized homosexuality. Sudan, Iran and Yemen punish homosexuality with death; Libya, Syria and Somalia punish homosexuality with up to ten years in prison; and Iraq has witnessed killing sprees of people perceived to be queer but have never held someone responsible. By locking the borders, Trump is essentially sentencing them to death.

And that intersectionality, that queer people across the entire globe, stand to be affected negatively by Donald Trump really puts me into perspective. I am from a liberal state, from a liberal family, from a liberal university. In the grand scheme of things, I am pretty much as privileged as you can get. So this executive order will affect me, but it could ruin other people’s lives. We could be going backwards, deeply backwards, where our identities become the biggest targets on our backs.

I refuse to be cowed. I refuse to be afraid. If Trump does sign an executive order, I will fight him. I won’t be quiet, I won’t be ignorant.

There is something uncrushable in the spirit of America, and we’ve been seeing it rise up in the past week-and-a-half (only a week and a half, omg). These marches and protests speak to the fact that at our core, we care about democracy, we care about each other. Trump may try to divide us, belittle us, demean us, hurt us. But he can’t dampen our spirits, because that is our soul. Our. Soul. United, one, together.

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