Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

April 18 2014 3:57 PM

Gay Nightlife Goes On—But for Whom? 

In 1978, at a time when gay men were still widely stigmatized as deviant perverts, Andrew Holleran published an extraordinary novel called Dancer from the DanceHolleran managed to balance sorrow with celebration, producing something that seems to both foreshadow the AIDS crisis and find nobility in an orgiastic lifestyle that was being lived in society’s shadows. The book is giddy and doleful, earnest and arch—a drag queen of a novel. (Sutherland, a central character, argues at one point that a person can only depend on concrete things in life, “like cock.” Then he ashes a cigar in a bowl of faded marigolds.)

Sitting at the thematic heart of Dancer from the Dance is, unsurprisingly, dance. The book weaves in and out of extinct New York clubs (with multiple forays to Fire Island), and dance assumes a powerful symbolism in the process. “The friend you danced with, when you had no lover, was the most important person in your life,” claims the narrator. “For people who went without lovers for years, that was all they had.” Dance is a communion with like-minded people, an act of solidarity, intimacy, and defiance. Sutherland calls it “the only antidote to death we have.” This is the most compelling and persuasive rationale for the importance of dance in gay culture—for gay nightlife in general—that I have ever read.

I offer this literary aside in response to two pieces of news this week: The first, an op-ed by nightlight impresarios Justin Luke and John Blair entitled “Gay Nightlife Is Dead – Long Live Gay Nightlife,”published in The Advocate; and the second in the New York neighborhood of Washington Heights, where a gay bar named No Parking announced it will close to make way for a Planet Fitness. Taken together, the stories show that the ills of gay nightlife depend on who’s doing the diagnosing. 

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April 17 2014 2:25 PM

Why Are There No Butch Lesbians on Television?

Thank goodness for The L Word and Portia de Rossi. Before the mid-aughts, when the former premiered and the latter came out of the closet, the pernicious stereotype of the mannish, poorly dressed lesbian dominated the public perception. But, thanks to the hyperfeminine “new lesbian” of the 2000s, at long last feminine lesbians began to be represented in the media, helping them in their long, ongoing struggle against the dreaded femme invisibility. In this exciting new era, lesbian women grow up knowing that rather than being largely immune to society’s punitive and unrealistic standards of female beauty, they, too, can spend their lives in pursuit of them. Hoo. Ray.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s great that we’re being represented at all. The very existence of a show like The Fosters (with a fully realized lesbian couple at the heart of things) is wonderful. I grew up in the 1990s, and if someone had tried to make a list of the top 25 lesbian characters on television in 1991, when Sandra Bernhardt first appeared on Roseanne, or in 1997, when Ellen came out, they’d have come up 23 or 24 lesbians short. But, even back in the day, the gay women who showed up on screens tended to be feminine ones. As the ranks of TV femmes grow ever larger, it’s starting to get just a little bit annoying for a proud butch lesbian like me.

April 16 2014 5:22 PM

Homophobia in the Bathroom

For many men, taking a piss at the office is apparently a “nightmarish” experience. That’s one of the many fascinating things we learn in Julie Beck’s engrossing essay on the psychological minefield that is the public bathroom, published today in the Atlantic. We all know people who do their best to avoid defecating outside the privacy of home, but the fears and fantasies that Beck explores in her piece are almost Sadeian in detail—paranoia about seeing and being seen, elaborate attempts to construct sonic shields, and most of all, a deep sense that the perils of humiliation and social opprobrium waiting on the other side of the restroom door may very well outweigh the relief of relieving oneself.

April 15 2014 3:59 PM

How Should Gay People Engage With Bigots? A Straight Man Explains.

Pluralism fetishist Conor Friedersdorf has been on a tear over at the Atlantic in recent days, inveighing his heart out about why we shouldn’t “punish” people like Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla, who have actively hurt other people through their at this point ridiculous opposition to same-sex marriage and full civil equality for gay folks more generally. Instead, he and similarly minded members of the high-school debate team suggest, we should “try [our] best to criticize [our] interlocutor's position, not their person” in order to “preserve the possibility of dialogue, and change hearts rather than shutting mouths.” Since I recently suggested that folks like Eich “simply shut up” in recognition of the fact that, while they are constitutionally entitled to their unique and special anti-gay feelings, they are no longer welcome to express them in the public sphere with the expectation of being taken seriously (or allowed high-profile jobs), it goes without saying that Friedersdorf and I don’t quite see eye-to-eye on this issue.

However, since I know that he is a gay ally (he is sure to assert his ally-ship at least once in each paragraph he writes), I do not want Friedersdorf to shut up. I do, though, wish he would think a bit more about whether his idealistic “hearts and minds” model of social change makes sense beyond the scale of personal relationships—and more important, for whom.

April 15 2014 8:00 AM

Brittney Griner Loves Baylor University, But Its Anti-Gay Policies Hurt Her and the School

Brittney Griner was a high-school basketball player who'd already been out for two years when she first told her soon-to-be college coach she was gay. She wondered if Kim Mulkey, head coach of the Lady Bears of Baptist-affiliated Baylor University, would mind she was lesbian.

“Big Girl, I don't care what you are,” Griner recalled Mulkey saying in her new memoir, In My Skin. “You can be black, white, blue, purple, whatever. As long as you come here and do what you need to do and hoop, I don't care."

For the most part, Griner did what she needed to do in her four years at Baylor. The Houston native left as the all-time NCAA leader in blocked shots, a three-time AP All-American, and two-time national player of the year. She and fellow Texan Odyssey Sims led Baylor to the 2012 national title after a 40-and-0 season. This record is all the more astounding because it comes during a century when Connecticut has won eight of 14 national titles.

Griner was simply the most dominant force the women's college game has ever seen. Now she’s on the cusp of breaking out in her second year of WNBA play, too. Most colleges would naturally tout their ties to Griner, but Baylor is not most colleges. The Waco, Texas-based university has one of the few powerhouse Division I athletic departments that officially discourages homosexuality. Baylor’s student handbook denounces all forms of sexuality outside of heterosexual marriage—including pre-marital straight sex and homosexuality of any kind. Now the fact that Baylor produced one of America’s most famous (and now outspoken) LGBTQ athletes imperils its future as a women’s basketball juggernaut.

April 14 2014 11:04 AM

ENDA’s Religious Exemption Is Far Too Broad

As advocates continue the fight to pass explicit sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination protections in Congress, we should take a moment to celebrate the growing understanding that discrimination against LGBT people is a form of sex discrimination. Why is that worthy of celebration? Because sex discrimination is already prohibited under federal law.

This month marks the second anniversary of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s landmark ruling in Macy v. Holder that discrimination against transgender people violates the existing federal ban on sex discrimination in employment found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC’s ruling in Macy built on earlier wins in court, including a lawsuit brought by the ACLU against the Library of Congress on behalf of Diane Schroer. In that case, a federal district judge ruled that discriminating against someone for changing genders violated Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination.

April 14 2014 8:00 AM

Check Out Finland’s New Graphic Gay Bondage Stamps

The United States has some pretty cool stamps and, once the Harvey Milk stamp is released next month, at least one commemorating an openly LGBTQ American. But it’s difficult to imagine a future where America’s stamps are as amazingly, graphically gay as Finland’s. This fall, the country will begin selling stamps that feature the “confident and proud homoeroticism” of Tom of Finland, an artist renowned as “beyond question the most influential creator of gay pornographic illustration.”

Itella Posti Oy, the Finnish equivalent of U.S.P.S., boasts that Tom of Finland—also known as Touko Laaksonen—is “considered one of the most well-known Finnish artists around the world”:

His emphatically masculine homoerotic drawings have attained iconic status in their genre and had an influence on, for instance, pop culture and fashion. In his works, Tom of Finland utilized the self-irony and humor typical of subcultures. … The drawings on the stamp sheet represent strong and confident male figures typical of their designer.

April 11 2014 4:13 PM

Sex-Segregated Public Restrooms Are an Outdated Relic of Victorian Paternalism

It's easy to think of the push for gender-neutral public restrooms as an issue that matters only to transgender people—after all, they're the ones left holding their bladders when the stress of constantly using the "wrong" bathroom gets to be too much. But as a straight man, gender-neutral bathrooms matter a lot to me, too—in part because I want the trans community to enjoy the same privileges I do, but also because nothing irks me more than seeing a long line snake out from the women's room while the men's room sits vacant, or vice versa. This affront to queuing theory and common sense is never more irksome than when the bathrooms in question serve just one person at a time. In such spaces, the concepts of a "men's room" and a "women's room" are completely imaginary; the room belongs to whoever is in it, although that philosophy didn't impress the two older women waiting for me when I exited "their" one-toilet restroom at a McDonald's last summer, nor did it stay the manager they'd convinced to escort me Big Mac-lessly to the parking lot.

The world is full of people who agree with my elderly antagonists; most recently they've challenged "potty parity" movements at Wesleyan University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and also in cities like Washington, D.C., which mandated in 2006 that all single-occupancy public bathrooms be labeled as unisex and recently stepped up its enforcement efforts with a Twitter campaign to report violators. Opponents often complain that unisex toilets take facilities away from men and women and hand them over to the transgender minority, when in fact they are available to everyone. Yet the law often takes the narrower view: Many states follow the guidelines laid out in the Uniform Plumbing Code, which stipulates that “separate toilet facilities shall be provided for each sex,” with exceptions for very small businesses as measured in square footage and/or customer traffic. In the eyes of the law in these places, a business with two unisex toilets can be considered to have no toilets at all, since neither facility explicitly serves men or women.

April 11 2014 8:00 AM

Fear and Loathing in Public Bathrooms, or How I Learned to Hold My Pee

This essay is excerpted from the book Gender Failure by Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon, out now from Arsenal Pulp Press. In their first collaborative book, Coyote and Spoon explore and expose their failed attempts at fitting into the gender binary, and how our expectations and assumptions around traditional gender roles ultimately fail us all.

I can hold my pee for hours. Nearly all day. It’s a skill I developed out of necessity, after years of navigating public washrooms. I hold it for as long as I can, until I can get myself to the theatre or the green room or my hotel room, or home. Using a public washroom is a very last resort for me. I try to use the wheelchair-accessible, gender-neutral facilities whenever possible, always after a thorough search of the area to make sure no one in an actual wheelchair or with mobility issues is en route. I always hold my breath a little on the way out though, hoping there isn’t an angry person leaning on crutches waiting there when I exit. This has never happened yet, but I still worry. Sometimes I rehearse a little speech as I pee quickly and wash my hands, just to be prepared. I would say something like, I apologize for inconveniencing you by using the washroom that is accessible to disabled people, but we live in a world that is not able to make room enough for trans people to pee in safety, and after many years of tribulation in women’s washrooms, I have taken to using the only place provided for people of all genders.

April 10 2014 4:22 PM

The “Boyfriend Twin” and Our Tendency to Date People Who Look Like Us

They have matching puffed-out chests, green plaid shirts, and endearing bedhead. Their facial hair was carved by the same blade. When they kiss, they look like they’re doing an especially salacious rendition of the Marx Brothers mirror routine. Forget the homonymous gay couples, with their quaint troubles of shared first names and confused friends. Behold the boyfriend twin.

As the Tumblr that appeared recently asks, “What's sexier than dating yourself?” Boyfriend Twin’s ever-growing scroll of photos seems to have charmed and terrified its devoted audience in equal measure, scratching at unconscious fears about how we choose our mates. In one portrait after another, two men with similar expressions pose for the camera with complementary profiles that match all the way down to the chest hair. Straight couples who are confused for siblings have been ticklish fodder for lifestyle stories for years, but the boyfriend twins take that a step further, suggesting that what we’re really searching for is our own romantic clone.