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Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Dec. 22 2017 7:59 PM

A Christmas Connection With Gay Culture Thanks to a Gay Men’s Chorus

Hey, Daddy! is a monthly column exploring the joys and struggles of parenting from a gay father’s perspective. Got a topic idea or question for Daddy? Send your letter along to johnculhane19104@gmail.com.

Within just a few minutes, the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus almost managed to redeem 2017.

Looking back over my columns since the 2016 election, I’ve been struck by how relentlessly despairing, or at least solemn, many of them are: concern about the sexual mistreatment of women and how to discuss the issue with teenaged daughters; the efforts at clawing back of LGBTQ rights we’d thought secured by marriage equality; the challenges faced by parents raising disabled kids; and, for good measure, the searing reminder of how we’d been forced to give up our beloved family dog.

Then, during our annual visit to that monolith of warm and fuzzy holiday cheer, Philly’s Comcast Center for the hologram-heavy Christmas show, our wait for the next performance was relieved by the sudden swell of male voices from a few yards to the west. David and I shepherded the kids toward the sound, and almost immediately figured out who was providing the stout, melodic cheer. About forty strong, the choristers tore through a bunch of holiday favorites, and closed with the feel-good chestnut, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” At some point, I found myself fighting back tears.

Dec. 21 2017 11:24 AM

The Problem With Calling 2017 “the Deadliest Year for Transgender Americans”

At least 28 trans people were killed in 2017, according to a list compiled by the Human Rights Campaign. But, does that mean 2017 has been the deadliest year for transgender Americans to date? Publications including Mother Jones and Huffington Post as well as many smaller LGBTQ media outlets have cited HRC’s report on trans deaths as evidence for that claim. There’s just one problem: It has no clear basis in evidence. While it’s laudable to raise awareness about the very real violence that trans people (particularly trans women of color) face, the number itself does nothing to elucidate the prevalence or longer-term trends in violent transgender deaths. To understand either prevalence or trends, it would be necessary to have either a complete count of all trans people who died in America in 2017, or some sort of statistical sampling that allowed an accurate estimate to be made. We don’t have that, so we don’t know how many trans people died violently in 2017, or if that number is higher or lower than the number who died in 2016 or any other given year. We just don’t know.

Of course, the Human Rights Campaign’s list is much more than a single number that goes up or down from year to year. The organization does an excellent job of humanizing trans people who have been victims of violence, speaking to friends or family members of each victim they record, including a photograph of them and a small blurb that gives a window into the lives of those lost. It’s important advocacy work, and by all accounts the risk of violence against trans people is very real. However, the actual number of victims HRC finds each year is evidence of little more than HRC’s ability to compile a list of violent trans deaths. It makes perfect sense for it to have gone up year after year as the list gained publicity and those compiling the list grew better at the job. Whether the real number of deaths has increased, decreased, or remained the same is unconnected to the list.

That’s because the list is undoubtedly incomplete, as HRC itself acknowledges. With such small numbers, even a small undercounting could make the difference between an increase or a decrease in the trend in overall deaths. But there’s reason to think the undercounting is not that small. Transgender people are estimated to be about .6% of the population. In 2016 the FBI reported 17,250 Americans were victims of homicide. If trans people were as likely as any other American to be victims of homicide, then we’d expect to find about 103 trans people murdered that year. The Human Rights Campaign reported 23 murders.

Dec. 21 2017 10:44 AM

I’m a Gay Pediatrician. How Should I Deal With My Patients’ Homophobic Parents?

When I got my first job after completing my training as a pediatrician, I stopped wearing earrings.

In my late teens, I got one piercing and then another in my left ear. I wore earrings all through medical school with nobody seeming to mind, and I did my residency and fellowship in New York City, where I presumed people scarcely noticed that kind of personal detail, much less cared anything about it.

But when it came time to leave New York for my first “real” job, I found one at a practice in a much smaller city in Maine. I presumed that people there might be much more likely to notice if their kid’s doctor was wearing earrings, and be more inclined to care. Out they went.

As I had been all through medical school and thereafter, I was totally open as a gay man with all my coworkers in Maine. When it came to how I presented myself to my patients’ parents, however, that part of myself was something I simply never brought up. I wanted it to be a non-issue. I don’t recall any frank homophobia, and if any parents took issue with the idea of taking their children to a gay pediatrician, it was never brought to my attention. (The father who showed up wearing a t-shirt that read “Titties and Beer, Thank God I’m Not Queer” to the hospital where I was caring for his baby was the sole exception.)

When I reached out recently for other perspectives from LGBTQ medical providers, they uniformly shared a similar attitude. It’s not something they said they typically share with straight or cis patients, though a few said they were apt to be more open with those who were themselves gender or sexual minorities. But, in general, a non-issue.

Dec. 19 2017 12:23 PM

Discussing Consent in Gay Spaces Requires Nuance, Not Sex Panic

On Nov. 14, just 4 days after Louis C.K. admitted to sexual harassment and 2 days before Al Franken was accused, Masha Gessen posed a provocative question on the New Yorker website: When Does a Watershed Become a Sex Panic?” When I first read Gessen’s article, it seemed too soon in this moment of reckoning with sexual assault and harassment to cast doubt, too early to entertain fears of a “panic” in which all sorts of sexual acts are viewed with suspicion. The momentum with which these abuses of power were coming to light had created a vital movement; handwringing over anti-sex hysteria was not yet warranted.

But now I’m not so sure. Three days after Gessen’s article, Phillip Henry posted a piece in them, Conde Nast’s new LGBTQ platform, about how gay bar culture promotes and normalizes sexual assault, particularly in the form of touch and groping. It’s a concern that had been voiced two months earlier by Marc Ambinder in USA Today, arriving right on the heels of the Weinstein revelations. Reading Henry’s and Ambinder’s pieces over recently, I wondered again about Gessen’s point. “I’m also queer,” Gessen writes, after noting that she too has experienced harassment, “and I panic when I sniff sex panic.”

Dec. 18 2017 1:22 PM

Trump Is Forcing the Military to Lie in Court About the Transgender Troops Ban

It’s not news that Donald Trump lies with impunity or that his dissembling infects those around him with the same depravity. Some falsities are easy to spot and comparatively benign. But others are disguised as earnest policy positions and are quietly wreaking havoc with the lives of countless people. The latest example of such insidious mendacity is the administration’s policy on transgender military service. And whatever one’s feelings about trans equality, alarm bells should ring about the harms wrought to the integrity of military policy when a reckless commander-in-chief bases the rules for our fighting force on deceptive and discredited assertions, careening military personnel policy from one pole to the other by the month.

That’s what has happening with Trump’s attempt to outwit court orders that have rightly blocked his impetuous ban on service by transgender Americans, a rule that even senior military officials clearly oppose. Last week, the Justice Department asked a federal court in Washington, D.C. for an emergency stay of its order to let transgender people enter the military starting January 1. And in an obligatory effort to support the administration’s motion, the Pentagon told the court that 23,000 medical examiners and recruiters would have to undergo onerous training, something it claimed would “place extraordinary burdens on our armed forces and may harm military readiness.”

But according to a policy analysis released today by a panel of former military Surgeons General, this assertion is totally false. The Pentagon told the court that implementing trans-inclusive policy “necessitates preparation, training, and communication to ensure those responsible for application of the accession standards are thoroughly versed in the policy.” The court filing claims that thousands of recruiters and medical evaluators “dispersed across the United States” require “a working knowledge or in-depth medical understanding of the standards and identity validation requirements associated with processing an applicant under new requirements.”

The Surgeons General, however, write that “the administration’s claims are suspicious because training recruiters and medical evaluators to process applications from transgender candidates is neither complicated nor time-consuming.” Their report makes clear that the Pentagon is engaged in an act of deception by wildly exaggerating what’s necessary to implement inclusive service and that what’s actually necessary has either already been done or would take, at most, a day to complete—far less time, in other words, than what’s been wasted fighting with the courts seeking more time to stave off trans service. 

Dec. 15 2017 2:02 PM

In the Age of Instagram Queens, Drag Artists Debate If Performance Is Necessary

There’s no question that social media platforms like Instagram are changing drag: If a queen can adorn herself beautifully and snap a breathtaking photo, she can win fame without even leaving the house. But is the rising popularity of social media queens—who often emphasize garments and makeup in their work—causing trouble for the larger drag community?

On one level, social media has created a new point of entry to the global drag scene, opening doors for a broad spectrum of talented visual artists who might otherwise be excluded—queens isolated in small towns, barred from clubs because of their age, or too shy or unwilling to navigate the jungle of nightlife.

But for some, the growing presence of Instagram queens seems to be skewing public expectations for drag toward looks and fashion, and away from rich traditions of performance (including lip-synching, stand-up comedy, and dance), activism, community building, and so on. And in an industry where low-pay and high-expenses renders money rarely the object, any threat to long-held tradition is deeply felt.

Dec. 14 2017 2:33 PM

The Hawaii Supreme Court Must Affirm the Equality of Same-Sex Parents

On Thursday, the Hawaii Supreme Court will hear arguments in a significant LGBTQ rights case—a first of its kind—that applies marriage equality to legal parenthood. At the heart of the litigation is a question of what makes a parent. The Hawaii justices will have to decide whether a married lesbian can escape parental responsibilities toward the child to whom her then-wife gave birth. To uphold LGBTQ equality, the justices should rule that parental obligations attach equally to same-sex and opposite-sex spouses.

The couple, C.C. and D.D., married in Washington, D.C., in 2013. Shortly thereafter, the two women moved to Hawaii, where C.C. had been called on military orders. During the course of their marriage, they considered having a child together. While C.C. was deployed between January and September 2015, D.D. sought out a sperm donor and became pregnant. A month after C.C.’s return from deployment, she filed for divorce. The child was born before the divorce’s finalization.

As a general principle in family law, when a married woman gives birth to a child, the birthmother and her spouse are presumed to be the child’s parents. The biological relationship of her spouse to the child is irrelevant. This is true of a same-sex couple or a married heterosexual couple. If a birthmother is married to a man at either the time the child was conceived or between conception and birth, her husband’s name is placed on the child’s birth certificate. The presumption of parentage does not necessarily mean he is the biological father. Indeed, presumptive paternity requires no evidence that her husband is the biological father.

The theory behind this presumption is that it advances children’s best interests, keeps children off public assistance, and promotes stronger families. The presumption, however, is rebuttable if the nonbirth parent shows clear and convincing evidence that parental rights should not be imputed on them. In the context of opposite-sex couples, the presumption can be overcome with proof that the husband was away from the wife during the time of conception; that the husband is infertile, sterile, or impotent; or that the couple did not have sexual relations.

Dec. 13 2017 9:53 AM

Masterpiece Cakeshop’s Defenders Are Reviving Arguments Used to Justify Racial Apartheid

Even if the United States Supreme Court does the right thing in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and comes to the doctrinally easy conclusion that it is not a violation of the First Amendment for government to require places of public accommodation to provide services without discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, it will remain unfortunate that by agreeing to hear the case in the first place, the court provided a prominent public platform to arguments that have as much moral foundation as racial apartheid and less intellectual depth than phrenology.

From the earliest days of marriage equality litigation, opponents argued in court that equal marriage rights for same-sex couples would harm three constituencies: society at large, the individuals involved in same-sex unions, and children raised in these households. The argument that same-sex marriage posed a threat to social order rested on the notion that same-sex married couples would weaken one of the most important social tools for transmitting community values and promoting public good, thereby deinstitutionalizing marriage and stripping it of all intrinsic worth. The claim that same-sex relationships were damaging to the individuals depended on the commonly held belief that same-sex relationships are by their very nature purely sexual, and consecrating them with marriage rights would give individuals free reign to indulge in their base instincts and worst appetites. The proposition that same-sex unions were harmful to children raised the specter that these children would be ostracized by the outside world for belonging to a homosexual household and would be pressured inside the home to develop putatively homosexual interests and behaviors, resulting in all manner of calamities, including, among other things, mental illness, criminal behavior, substance abuse, promiscuity, depression, and suicide.

If these arguments seemed tiresome in their repetitiveness, it was in part because in court after court the same cadre of lawyers and organizations filed the very same briefs. But their appalling familiarity was also due to their ancient provenance: They had first been rehearsed at the end of the Civil War, when the taboo of sex between black men and white women could no longer be effectively policed by the institution of slavery, and had been rehashed over generations until the United States Supreme Court finally put an end to them in Loving v. Virginia. So, beginning with one of the early marriage cases in California Supreme Court, through the Iowa litigation, and subsequent federal cases, a number of amicus briefs—most prominently from the Civil Rights Clinic at Howard University School of law—showed in exhausting detail that the very same arguments that were raised against interracial sex, marriage, and parenting, had been dug up, dusted off, and were now being revived against same-sex marriage.

Indeed, so clear were the parallels that in many instances, anti-marriage equality briefs relied on the very same biblical verses, the very same sexualized images, and virtually the very same eugenics theories as had first been used in anti-miscegenation cases. But perhaps no brief made the point more succinctly than the one the California NAACP filed in 2007, in which they simply cut and pasted virtually verbatim the words of the majority and dissenting opinions in Perez v. Sharp, the 1948 California case that preceded Loving by nearly two decades in outlawing a ban against interracial marriage. The only change the brief made was to replace words and phrases such as “race,” “different races,” “ancestry,” and “intermarriage” with “same-sex,” “gender,” and “sexual orientation.”

Dec. 13 2017 8:35 AM

How the Places We Live Can Shape Our Queer Identities

Adapted from How Places Make Us: Novel LBQ Identities in Four Small Cities by Japonica Brown-Saracino, out now from the University of Chicago Press.

When Sam—a petite, tattooed woman in her early thirties with a degree from an Ivy League university—decided to move from Boston, to Portland, Maine, for graduate school, she knew her new daily life would be significantly different than the bustle of her twenty-something world in Boston; but what she didn’t anticipate was how her very sense of self would change. On moving, she found that the cities share a number of traits: a cityscape marked by antique homes and proximity to water, and pockets of both gentrification and poverty. However, something unexpected occurred after her move. After years of thinking of herself as lesbian, as a woman who loved other women but who did not devote much thought to what kind of a lesbian she might be, she came to think about and speak of herself as “stone butch.” Not only did the way she thought about herself change, but her ties—and the basis on which she forged them—changed, too. She cofounded an online and off-line meet-up group for butch individuals, which, via bowling nights, dance parties, and conversation over coffee, celebrated the diverse forms butch identity can take—spanning the gamut from the “tea-drinking-fairy-butch” to the “preggers butch” to the “survivor butch”—and immersed herself in a network of individuals committed to polyamory.

Sam could not put her finger on the source of her personal transformation, but she was certain that it had occurred. She also noted that those around her in Portland approached identity and difference in a manner distinct from that which she had found in other small, Northeastern cities. In Portland, like Sam many celebrated very specific lesbian, bisexual, and/or queer (LBQ) identities, like stone butch, high femme, or queer punk. Sitting on the back patio of her rental in Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood she said, “[In Boston] there’s like a different kind of queer . . . I couldn’t really escape being around, like, student groups and there’s always kind of like an ‘outy’ feeling . . . that feels different than, like, queer here.” In Portland, she said, “there’s more opportunity for people to feel welcome even if they have sort of a particularized identity.”

I met Sam when I was collecting the stories and charting the experiences of LBQ residents of four small, politically progressive U.S. cities: Ithaca, N.Y., San Luis Obispo, Cali., Portland, Maine, and Greenfield, Mass. Like Sam, most of the 170 individuals I interviewed and many of the others whom I observed while collecting field notes are highly educated, white, and mobile individuals, who moved to these cities sometime in the decade before I met them. Moreover, like Sam, nearly all have found that in these new places, they felt a shift both in how they relate to those around them (gay and straight alike) and in how they understood themselves and the group to which they belonged.

Dec. 12 2017 2:53 PM

How Saving the Stud Put Queer Politics Into Practice

Just after midnight, a drag queen in a blue gingham dress named Miss J grabs me on the shoulder. The air in San Francisco smells like smoke; today, a Wednesday in early October, is the fourth day of some of the largest and most destructive fires north of the Bay anyone can remember. Around us, people dance; Luz, a DJ visiting from Berlin, is cuing up wailing divas that have a mix of San Franciscans—bears in red lycra bodysuits, lesbians in fedoras, people of all races and genders and classes—spinning in plumes of artificial fog outlined in lavender light. There is a feeling of freshness, of freedom, of something slightly undiscovered, that can be rare in more homogenous gay scenes. “I want to kick the DJ off the stage and sing sad songs about the fires,” Miss J says. “A friend of mine is fighting them, and it’s awful. But the music is so fucking good I can’t stop dancing.” She spins away.

We’re in the Stud, a gay club located in San Francisco’s South of Market area that’s been open since 1966. Last year, the bar was in danger of closing, its longtime owners preparing to sell and facing an almost-tripling of the monthly rent. Across San Francisco—across urban centers worldwide—gay bars, and especially bars catering to class- and race-diverse crowds, are shutting down due to reasons ranging from economic to cultural, as rents in urban areas rise and dating apps make some queer people (mostly men) feel the need for in-person connection less acutely. Marke Bieschke, a nightlife writer and alt-weekly veteran, called the bar “one of those spaces where I had a death watch. It was a place where I was thinking, ‘okay, when this goes it’s time to leave San Francisco.’” But instead of just watching, Bieschke joined a class-, gender-, and race-diverse group of 18 San Franciscans—people with varying levels of experience in nightlife, business, and community organizing—and formed a collective that bought the bar, negotiated a two-year continuation of its lease, and created one of the first worker-owned nightclubs in the world. They began operations on Jan. 1, 2017.