Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Dec. 18 2014 3:40 PM

The Uses of “Trans” in Art

“Trans visibility on TV is at an all-time high.” At the end of 2014, the truth of this sentence, clipped from coverage of ABC Family’s announcement that it will present a trans-focused reality series next year, is unassailable.

In years past, the existence of a critical hit like Amazon’s gorgeous, funny, and deeply humane Transparent would have felt like a massive step forward—but now we find ourselves in the fantastic (in both senses of the word) position of hardly needing to cling to a single sign of progress. For one thing, the queer brilliance of Orange Is the New Black continued, despite Laverne Cox’s character having a relatively minor part of the season’s storyline. (You could, of course, easily find her at America’s newsstands on the cover of Time.) MTV took a break from catfishing in October to broadcast The T Word, a powerful documentary hosted by Cox, and this fall AOL brought musician Laura Jane Grace’s great profile series True Trans to the world. This short list can’t begin to account for all the smaller inclusions of trans characters, actors or themes in other programs, like The Fosters’ ColeAmerican Horror Story: Freak Show’s Amazon Eve, or South Park’s excellent episode on gender-neutral bathrooms. And the television influx isn’t over; as the Advocate recently noted, we could see as many as seven trans-oriented shows on the air at once in 2015.   

Away from the glow of the screen, the trans experience has become an important subject in the other arts as well. Laura Jane Grace’s punk band Against Me! released the album Transgender Dysphoria Bluesin January, kicking off a spate of gender exploration in music, and trans visual artists Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst (also associate producers on Transparent) had their autobiographical photography featured in the prestigious Whitney Biennial. In September, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and American Opera Projects presented the world premiere of As One, an elegantly realized chamber opera that was entirely devoted to one trans woman’s coming out process.

Add all these fictional and documentary portrayals to the sudden emergence of public trans icons like Cox, Janet Mock, and Carmen Carrera in mainstream discourse, and it can be hard to remember a time when “trans visibility” was a commodity in short supply. Of course, that time was not long ago at all, and daily life for the majority of trans people—especially trans women of color—remains precarious: We shouldn’t underestimate the work still necessary to secure civil protections and combat widespread transphobia. That said, I do think it’s worth taking a step back at a moment when “trans” is such a large part of the cultural conversation to consider how this happened and what it might mean. Why has this particular minority experience proved so rich with creative possibility? Why do artists working in a range of mediums find it so appealing? Why “trans art,” and why now?  

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Dec. 17 2014 2:19 PM

Want to Silence Transphobes in Your School District? Be Nice to Transgender Kids.

Some educators fear angry mobs more than the law.

Let me explain. I’ve been executive director of Garden State Equality—New Jersey’s civil rights advocacy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community—for about five months now. One of my main takeaways is that too many school officials would rather break the law than get a lot of phone calls from upset parents.

The thing I’m talking about here is civil treatment—in both the humane and legal senses—of transgender students. I’ve traveled the Garden State plenty, talking with teachers and school staff about LGBT sensitivity. I give a lot of lessons in how to treat transgender kids with respect, and I’m sure to mention two things in my trainings: 1) if you want to treat transgender kids decently, let them use whatever gender-segregated things they identify with; and 2) the law requires that you do so.

Dec. 17 2014 11:57 AM

Ask a Homo: Gays vs. Girls

Welcome back to Ask a Homo, a judgment-free zone where the gays of Outward answer questions about LGBTQ politics, culture, etiquette, language, and other queer conundrums. In this week's ripped-from-the-headlines episode, we confront the unsettling notion that gay men might be more sexist or misogynistic than straight men. 

If there are questions you’ve been dying to ask a member of the real rainbow coalition, this is your chance. Send your queries—for publication—to slateoutward@gmail.com, and please put “ASK A HOMO” in the subject line. Note that questions may be edited.


Other Questioins Asked of Homos: 

Dec. 16 2014 3:19 PM

Hate on Trial: What the Case Against Scott Lively Really Means

Anti-gay pastor Scott Lively will stand trial in federal court for crimes against humanity. He has tried for months to have the case dismissed on First Amendment grounds, but the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston has denied his last petition for dismissal. He’s going to court.  

Lively, who lives in Springfield, Massachusetts, is a 57-year-old author, attorney, pastor, and anti-gay activist. (He would call himself a “pro-family” activist.) In 1992, he helped pass America’s first anti-gay legislation, a short-lived ordinance banning any support of homosexuality in Springfield, Oregon. He then co-wrote The Pink Swastika, a book that posits homosexuals “as the true inventors of Nazism.” In 1997, he founded Abiding Truth Ministries, apparently “the first Christian organization devoted exclusively to opposing homosexuality.” For more than 20 years, he has been fighting what he perceives to be a gay agenda trying to destroy society.


Dec. 16 2014 2:01 PM

Forcing Porn Stars to Wear Condoms Violates the First Amendment 

On Monday, the 9th Circuit ruled that a Los Angeles ordinance requiring adult film actors to wear condoms during shoots does not violate the First Amendment. Although the court acknowledged that filming sex qualifies as constitutionally protected expression, the judges unanimously decided that the condom mandate imposed “only a de minimis effect on expression” and could be justified on health and safety grounds.

This is the wrong ruling for the right reasons. The 9th Circuit faithfully applied two relevant (if muddled) Supreme Court precedents, Erie v. Pap’s A.M. andLos Angeles v. Alameda Books, in dismissing the free speech rights of pornographers. In Erie, a fractured court held that Indiana could ban nude dancing entirely because it believed (with little evidence) that the activity caused “negative secondary effects.” In Alameda, the justices found that Los Angeles could forbid adult bookstores from operating within 1,000 feet of another adult establishment. Again the court relied on the “secondary effects” theory, accepting Los Angeles’ dubious assertion that a concentration of adult bookstores somehow spurs crime.

Dec. 15 2014 2:06 PM

Latest “Religious Liberty” Fraud: Gay Rights in the Military as a “Threat” to Christianity

Last November, Travis Weber of the Family Research Council—a certified hate group and brainchild of Tony Perkinstestified before Congress about “hostility towards religious belief and its expression in the military.” Weber’s testimony drew largely from “Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military,” a report authorized by the FRC. “Clear and Present Danger” is essentially a Gish Gallop through a dizzying compilation of overblown or inaccurate claims, each of which attempts to paint Christians in the military as a persecuted minority. Any marginally intelligent person could guess that the report is puerile piffle. But debunking all 61 claims seemed too exhausting to fall within the realm of human possibility.

I’m pleased to report, however, that somebody has gone and done it—and the results are both amusing and infuriating. In a 41-page response to the FRC, which will be released widely later this week, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State meticulously deflates or disproves each claim in “Clear and Present Danger.” The result gives us a glimpse into the mindset of far-right religious extremists today, and a deeper understanding of how the rallying cry of “religious liberty” can be used to quash free speech, equal protection, and actual free exercise of religion.

Dec. 15 2014 8:30 AM

A Lesbian Dilemma: All My Heroes Are Men Who Hated Women

When I was a young girl, my heroes were all men who hated women. This was before I was a butch (a bookish nerd, my style back then could best be described as slovenly androgynous), and before I knew I was gay, though not before I realized I was different. I never felt I was a boy—I’m not transgender—but, for whatever reason, the personalities I modeled my young self after were male ones. Intellectual man’s man types, to be specific. Larger-than-life dudebros, like Ernest Hemingway or Christopher Hitchens. I imagined myself growing up to be an overbearing, ruthless lawyer like Jack McCoy, aka Sam Waterston’s character on Law & Order, or an angry writer denouncing idiocy wherever I found it (and finding it everywhere) like Kurt Vonnegut. Because the superiority of male people over female ones was all but unquestioned in Western culture through the mid-20th century, this meant they also tended to be the men who considered femininity to be roughly synonymous with weakness and stupidity.

To some extent, this would be true for anyone who took famous men as role models. But my fondness for sexists went far beyond mere coincidence. The sorts of guys I idolized were those least likely to be sensitive to their own sexist impulses, because what I liked best about them was that they weren’t “sensitive” to anything. Competitive, casually self-assured men. Men who were certain they were superior to everyone else and held to the superiority of men over women as an unconsidered corollary. Men who considered their loudmouthed obnoxiousness to be an asset or, at worst, a minor character flaw. That’s the sort of person my young self imagined growing into, until I realized I was actually a woman—which meant assuming that kind of personality would present a problem.

Dec. 12 2014 12:39 PM

Cure Homophobia With This One Weird Trick!

On Friday, the journal Science published a buzzy new study suggesting that homophobia is more of a minor, curable malady than a chronic illness. For the study, researchers sent gay and straight canvassers into strongly anti-gay neighborhoods and directed them to converse with residents for about 20 minutes about why marriage equality mattered to them. The result: Residents’ support for gay equality increased considerably—and those residents who spoke with gay canvassers retained their pro-equality beliefs nine months after the conversation.

This “transmission of support for gay equality” endured only when residents spoke with gay canvassers, however—straight canvassers yielded an initial pro-equality boost but failed to produce long-lasting effects. The study, then, essentially reinforces an intuition that the LGBTQ community has held for decades: When homophobes experience compassionate, individualized interaction with a gay person, they tend to shed their homophobia.


It’s nice to have a scientific study confirm what so many gay people already suspected. But the Science piece comes at a tricky moment for what my colleague J. Bryan Lowder calls the “ ‘hearts and minds’ model of social change.” Ever since gay marriage started winning at the ballot box, our more faint-hearted allies have encouraged gay people to be “tolerant” of those who hate us and vote against our rights. We should, these (usually straight) people scold, let our opponents denigrate and humiliate us all they want, without ever raising our voices or asserting our dignity. Then, once we’ve been thoroughly debased and degraded, we should gingerly plead with those who despise us to please, please despise us just a little bit less.

Like Lowder, I think this advice—especially coming from self-described “allies” who’ve never experienced real prejudice in their lives—is profoundly condescending and exasperating. And yet, looking at the Science study, I also wonder whether it might contain a kernel of truth. Gay people having nonconfrontational, nonjudgmental confabulations with homophobes really does appear to be the single most effective way to further the cause of equality. It would seem, then, that gays have something of a duty to engage with people who, deep in their hearts, believe we deserve second-class citizenship.

Look, I don’t like it either. But after the Science study, I don’t see a way around it. Gay people have to keep engaging, passionately and sympathetically, with the obdurate holdouts who think we are perverted, or diseased, or undeserving of rights. It’ll be a long, unpleasant slog—but I’ve devised a plan to incentivize the process. Below, I’ve gathered a few of the most goofily anti-gay articles I have encountered. Think of these articles as the opposition. And then remember: If a gay person had spoken to the author for 20 minutes, this train wreck could have been avoided!

The Rise of the Same-Sex Marriage Dissidents,” by Mollie Hemingway.

In this absurd article, Hemingway compares gay marriage to “totalitarianism” and brands gay marriage opponents (like herself) as “dissidents” engaged in the “fight for freedom.” She also analogizes gay-friendly America to communist Czechoslovakia, implying the Vaclav Havel would be horrified by our current pro-equality climate. (Havel, by the way, strongly supported gay rights.) Just think: This bumptious piece of self-glorification could’ve been avoided if Hemingway had spoken to a gay person on the Metro ride to work!

Dred Scott and Same-Sex Marriage,” by Matthew J. Franck

Franck gives six very silly reasons why “the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage” is similar to the Supreme Court’s catastrophic Dred Scott decisions, holding that slaves were property and not citizens. “Like Dred Scott,” Franck writes, “same-sex marriage rulings are a harbinger of further depredations, by courts and others, on human freedom in other dimensions. In 1857, it was the freedom to live in a country where slavery was minimized and at least arguably on its way to extinction. Today, it is the freedom to live, work, and learn in communities, schools, universities, and other organizations in which people can live the truth about marriage, for religious or other moral reasons.”

Presumably, Franck believes that “the freedom to live, work, and learn in communities” that recognize “the truth about marriage” means the freedom to never interact with gay people. Or maybe he believes that “freedom” means the freedom to actively deprive gay people of civil rights. Who knows? This garbled claptrap never should’ve made it past a copyeditor. And if only Franck had had a gay nephew who spoke to him about the importance of marriage over Thanksgiving dinner, this gibberish never would’ve seen the light of day.

Gay Marriage and the Right to Be Wrong,” by Robert Tracinski

Of LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances, Trancinski writes: “This is a barbaric concept of victory. [Gay activists have] won the battle, and now the defeated enemy must be paraded in chains through the streets and forced to kneel before the emperor.” Quite a statement! If only Tracinski’s college buddy had gently come out to him at their most recent reunion. All those great times he had—with a gay person! Surely gay rights wouldn’t have seemed so “barbaric” to Trancinski then.

The Terms of Our Surrender,” by Ross Douthat

Douthat paints homophobes as principled, noble victims of a vicious, unfair system and rebrands anti-gay animus as virtuous “dissent.” He also suggests that, since the Bible’s hostility toward gays is more pronounced than its hostility toward blacks, anti-gay discrimination is much more justifiable than racism.

In 10 years, the New York Times will regret printing this article. The paper will be even more embarrassed when it realizes that, had it simply sent an openly gay editorial intern into Douthat’s office to chat for 20 minutes, “The Terms of Our Surrender” would never have made it to press. 

Dec. 11 2014 3:12 PM

An Ode to Abercrombie

On Tuesday, news broke that Mike Jeffries, CEO of cool-kids fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, was stepping down after more than 20 years leading the company. A gay man, Jeffries was credited with reinvigorating the brand, after he took over the company in the 1990s, by foregrounding a vision of effortless (and yet extremely gym-facilitated) masculinity—think images of shirtless, well-muscled (usually white) frat bros horsing around with the garden hose. The youthful marketing worked, at least for a while—A&F boasted profits well into the aughts—but in recent years, sales have flagged due to changing tastes that now disdain logos on garments and favor more affordable “fast fashion” purveyors like H&M.

Much of the coverage of Jeffries’ departure has focused on his eccentricities, and for good reason. The man was widely considered creepy for the strict dress and grooming practices he required of his handsome male employees, and, as Benoit Denizet-Lewis reported in a 2006 Salon profile, Jeffries was thought to exhibit OCD-like tendencies by many who knew him. It’s no secret that Jeffries had very specific ideas about beauty, which did not seem to offer much space to people of color or to a range of body shapes and gender expressions. Denizet-Lewis described the aesthetic thusly:

Much more than just a brand, Abercrombie & Fitch successfully resuscitated a 1990s version of a 1950s ideal—the white, masculine “beefcake”—during a time of political correctness and rejection of ’50s orthodoxy. But it did so with profound and significant differences. A&F aged the masculine ideal downward, celebrating young men in their teens and early 20s with smooth, gym-toned bodies and perfectly coifed hair. While feigning casualness (many of its clothes look like they’ve spent years in the washing machine, then a hamper), Abercrombie actually celebrates the vain, highly constructed male.

Shifts in the company’s strategy seem designed to correct some of this exclusiveness, particularly in the inclusion of larger sizes. Additionally, customers will apparently no longer be greeted by shirtless models at store entrances, and I would not be surprised if the famously homoerotic bag designs became more muted in 2015.

Dec. 10 2014 12:30 PM

What’s It Like to Be Gay in Romania?

“Back in the 1990s, it was dangerous to even go to the pub,” Andreea Nastasa said, of queer life in Bucharest, Romania. While one or two venues were known to be gay-friendly, or at least places where queer people congregated, the authorities posed a problem. “We were all afraid of the police. If we saw them in their uniforms, we would just disappear.”

That’s because before 2001, queer Romanians’ public and private life was shaped by Article 200 of the country’s penal code. One of a number of socially conservative reforms introduced by Nicolae Ceaușescu in the late 1960s, Article 200 made “sexual relations between persons of the same sex” punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. In 1996, the section was revised to prohibit only acts “committed in public or producing a public scandal.”