Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

April 23 2014 4:58 PM

Shredding the Superhero Body Myth

It’s well-understood in this media-saturated age that Hollywood beauty ideals can wreak havoc on the self-image of normal human beings, resulting in negative outcomes ranging from eating disorders to addictions to extreme plastic surgery. That this is true for men—especially gay men—as well as women is still sinking in culturally, but we’re getting there. Still, even when our brains know better, it can be hard to internalize the ridiculousness of the bodies we see every day in such a way as to resist their influence on our perception of others and ourselves.

Though it’s not his primary intention, Logan Hill’s article on the superhuman training regimens actors now follow just to stay employable serves as a great prophylactic against the damaging power of these images. Titled “Building a Better Action Hero,” Hill’s Men’s Journal story goes long on the sought-after trainers and dubious man-building methods of the movie and TV industries, showing that while yesterday’s leading man just needed to be handsome, today’s must be an Adonis as well:

Male actors' bare asses are more likely to be shot in sex scenes; their vacation guts and poolside man boobs are as likely to command a sneering full-page photo in a celebrity weekly's worst-bodies feature, or go viral as a source of Web ridicule. A sharply defined inguinal crease – the twin ligaments hovering above the hips that point toward a man's junk – is as coveted as double-D cleavage. Muscle matters more than ever, as comic-book franchises swallow up the box office, in the increasingly critical global market. (Hot bodies and explosions don't need subtitles.) Thor-like biceps and Captain America pecs are simply a job requirement; even "serious" actors who never aspired to mega-stardom are being told they need a global franchise to prove their bankability and land Oscar-caliber parts.

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April 23 2014 2:33 PM

Southern Baptists Held a Conference on Sexuality. Every Speaker Was Straight.

This week, the Southern Baptist Convention held its first conference on human sexuality, signaling a growing concern over the cultural shift on gay rights in America. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Leadership Summit focused on a range of topics, including pornography, marriage, and religious liberty, but the centerpiece of the discussion seemed to be homosexuality. Since the summit was intended to empower church leaders to broach these topics with their own congregations, the conference had a dramatic potential impact on LGBTQ churchgoers and their families. Unfortunately, however, gay voices were conspicuously absent from an event weighing their very future within the church.

This should come as no surprise from a summit where organizers contend that homosexuality—lumped under the condescending category of “sexual confusion and sexual brokenness”—“has ravaged our culture and can deteriorate the integrity of our churches.” It should also come as no surprise that all 25 speakers identify as heterosexual. Is it futile to suggest that a frank discussion of homosexuality should include sexual minorities? This doesn’t necessarily require a dissenting viewpoint—many LGBTQ believers are active in the church, including some who choose to fall in line with the denomination’s repressive theology.

April 23 2014 10:58 AM

Ask a Homo: Gay Bar Etiquette

Welcome to Outward’s new video feature, Ask a Homo. As we queers have sashayed our way in to the cultural mainstream over the last couple of decades, our presence has no doubt inspired a great deal of curiosity and confusion in straight folk. But fear not: Ask a Homo is here to help. If you have questions about LGBTQ politics, culture, etiquette, language, or other queer conundrums, send them our way, and a real-life homosexual will respond. And don’t worry—as long as your question is reasonably respectful, this is a safe space. A willingness to experiment a little—intellectually!—is all that’s required.

This week, June Thomas fields queries about how straight people should behave in and around gay bars.

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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.

April 22 2014 5:28 PM

Alison Bechdel on a Very Special Performance of the Fun Home Musical

Alison Bechdel was pulling into Princeton, N.J., when I spoke to her Tuesday morning. She’d risen at 4 a.m. to get to a previously scheduled speaking engagement from Charleston, S.C., where the cast and creators of the musical Fun Home had put on two very special performances the night before.

“It was an amazing logistical feat,” she told me. “I don’t know how, but they got all the actors, [the show’s creators] Lisa [Kron] and Jeanine [Tesori], the musical director, everyone was there—and in a couple of hours they put together this performance.” Since the Public Theater’s production of Fun Home closed in January, that meant the participants traveled from all over the country, some fresh from auditions, to be there.

April 22 2014 3:44 PM

RuPaul's Drag Race Proves Once Again That It's the Queerest Show on TV

It's easy—and really, perfectly acceptable—to watch RuPaul's Drag Race, Logo's drag competition reality show, as a slight bit of light-hearted fun. Indeed, with its (at this point calculated) low-budget aesthetic, absurd editing, and love of wah-wah wordplay, the show makes taking it seriously rather difficult. But last night's episode should serve as a reminder that RuPaul can also escort his queens on some strikingly queer adventures, moments that playfully critique or even directly undermine the heterosexism of mainstream culture.

That's a fancy (though accurate) way of describing last night's main challenge, which consisted of the contestants being paired with a straight couple over who's wedding Ru would be officiating. It was the queen's responsibility to get the lovebirds dressed for the event—but instead of glamming up the girls as they had expected, Ru revealed that they would be painting the faces of the boys. Boys who in some cases sported a great deal of facial hair.

April 22 2014 1:09 PM

The Gay Marriage Story Jo Becker Needs to Hear

One fall day in 1990, Ninia Baehr found herself with an ear infection and no health insurance. When the pain became unbearable, she and her partner, Genora Dancel, called Bill Woods, a lawyer at a Honolulu gay and lesbian community center, to see if there were any options for domestic-partner insurance benefits. Woods said no, but as it happened he’d been looking for couples to challenge the Hawaii law barring gay couples from getting married. He asked Baehr and Dancel if they’d join. Dancel, who wasn’t out to her family, was hesitant, and thought hard about it. “I said to myself, ‘This is what my life has led up to,’ ” she recalled. “I’m tired of being treated differently, and I have as much right as anyone else to get married.” The next morning, Baehr and Dancel, along with two other couples, applied for a marriage license from the Hawaii Health Department. They were denied. So they decided to sue. A revolution had begun.

If you get hold of Forcing the Spring, a much-touted new book out today, you could be forgiven for thinking that revolution began 15 years later, in 2008. And that the success of gay marriage—it is now allowed in 17 states and the District of Columbia, supported by a solid majority of Americans, and poised to be legal nationwide in a matter of years—was not the product of intrepid gay activists who bravely came out, demanded dignity, and slowly but indefatigably brought the world along with them. Rather, it came about due to a tiny group of gay and straight strategists and lawyers who started the movement nearly from scratch six short years ago—against the wishes of hapless gay leaders who had run their movement into the ground.

April 22 2014 10:08 AM

In Faking It, Lying About a Lesbian Relationship Is the Secret to Social Success

When I came out, back in the last century, one of the trickiest parts of being gay was remembering the precise distinctions between the various terms of art we used in public to identify lovers, exes, friends who were gay or lesbian, acquaintances who were probably gay or lesbian, strangers we thought might be gay or lesbian, and that insistently heterosexual co-worker who must surely be a closet case. Years later, all I can summon of that coded language is the vague recollection that I once told a housemate’s mother, “No, I’m her friend, not her roommate. Her roommate lives in Ohio.”

I’m not quite sure why this came into my head while watching Faking It, which premieres on MTV tonight, but I daresay it was the shock of realizing that a couple of decades after that ridiculous conversation, a mainstream television show could precede from the notion that two high-school girls might lie about being a lesbian couple … in order to boost their popularity.

April 21 2014 5:33 PM

This Is What Can Happen When Your New Boss Is Homophobic

The tiny town of Latta, S.C., found itself embroiled in scandal last week after Mayor Earl Bullard fired police chief Crystal Moore. Moore alleges that her firing was nothing more than a vindictive display of homophobia by Bullard, who became mayor in December 2013. After loyally serving Latta for more than two decades without incident, the openly gay employee suddenly found herself at odds with a new boss who opposes gay rights. Seven reprimands later—the only reprimands she had received during her time on the force, all issued on the same day—Moore was out of a job. This is what can happen when your new boss is anti-gay.

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. 

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.

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