Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Oct. 9 2015 12:50 PM

Ask a Homo: Dad, Pop, or Just Parents? 

Welcome back to Ask a Homo, a judgment-free zone where the queers of Outward answer questions about LGBTQ politics, culture, etiquette, language, and other conundrums. In this episode, a queer-friendly pediatrician wants to know how to refer respectfully to same-sex parents during their first visit.

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 Questions Asked of Homos:

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Oct. 8 2015 1:40 PM

Michigan’s Defense of Its Same-Sex Marriage Ban Cost Taxpayers $1.9 Million

On Wednseday, Michigan agreed to pay a jaw-dropping $1.9 million of taxpayer money to attorneys who represented the gay plaintiffs who sued the state—successfully—to secure their right to marry and adopt. Under federal law, plaintiffs who sue the government to vindicate their civil rights and win in court are entitled to attorneys’ fees. The lead lawyer in the case, Carole Stanyar, spent four years fighting to bring down the state’s anti-gay laws—without pay. She was awarded $763,875, praising the compensation law as an effective way to “empower and encourage the vindication of civil rights.”

Every state that chose to defend its discriminatory marriage laws wound up paying out a pretty serious sum. As Al Jazeera America reported, Kentucky paid gay rights attorneys $2.1 million; Pennsylvania, $1.5 million; Wisconsin, $1.05 million; Virginia, $580,000. Several states, including Florida ($700,000), are still fighting these fees in court. And for the most part, these figures don’t factor in the money states spent on their own attorneys, who were tasked with defending blatantly unconstitutional laws. 


Many of these states have, one hopes, learned their lesson from these payouts, and will no longer fight to deprive gay people of their constitutional rights. Mississippi, however, is not so chastened. Somehow, the state still has an anti-gay adoption ban on the books, and has decided, against the odds, to defend it in court. Looks like Mississippi taxpayers aren’t quite done compensating gay rights attorneys.

Oct. 8 2015 1:28 PM

Reader, He Married Him: LGBTQ Romance’s Search for Happily-Ever-After

Mitch Tedsoe got down on one knee. “Sunshine, will you marry me?” he said, looking up at his beloved. Sam Keller couldn’t say yes fast enough. And thus began Mitch and Sam’s happily-ever-after—or “HEA” in genre shorthand.

Only a year earlier, Sam’s answer would have had no legal meaning in Iowa, the setting of romance author Heidi Cullinan’s Special Delivery. By the time Cullinan first published the novel in 2010, however, Iowa had legalized gay marriage. And so, when it came time to compose her final sentences, Cullinan could write a marriage proposal between two men. An ending that would have been purely fictional in the recent past suddenly attained the glow of real possibility.

The Supreme Court’s federal marriage equality ruling in June isn’t just changing reality for LGBTQ people across the country. It’s also changing how their experiences are reflected in romance, the billion-dollar genre that depends on a HEA. Increasing transgender visibility and a growing awareness of nonbinary gender identities and sexual orientations are also shaping what stories are told—and how they end, whether or not that includes a marriage. There’s nothing more deflating than reading—one of the most intimate, solitary of acts—and seeing nothing of yourself on the page. Losing yourself in a book requires finding at least a shred of yourself in the story. These days, more and more queer folks are doing just that.

Oct. 8 2015 8:00 AM

The Grace Jones Theory of Gender and Sexuality

It’s a well-known fact that artists often create their work in response to their life experiences—especially their upbringings. This is particularly true of Grace Jones, the iconic singer, model, muse, actress, and performance artist. Though she’s long been known for her fierce style and love of gender play, Jones grew up in an intensely repressive Pentecostal family in Jamaica. It was only when she moved to the United States that she began to test the limits—a path that would eventually lead to her breaking them down entirely. In this passage from her recently published memoir, Jones recalls her first encounter with gay culture via her brother Chris, and she offers her own view of how our categories of sexuality and gender can be as hindering as they are helpful.

Excerpted from I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones, out now from Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster.

I started to go out to the gay clubs with Chris. My dad was very uncomfortable at the time with Chris being gay. It was one of the worst things for a pastor to cope with in quiet, very repressed suburbia when you wanted your children to set an example for the religious community you were building, to appear pristine and deadly straight within the church family. Pentacostal Christianity is the kind of religion where you command no respect if your own family is seen as being different, or somehow stained.

Oct. 7 2015 12:43 PM

Conservative Christianity’s Discovery of Transgender Issues Worries Trans Christians

On Monday, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors held a gathering at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, which was billed as the “first ever” evangelical conference on the subject of something they’re calling “transgender confusion.” According to someone who attended the event, the result was a one-sided succession of rants against modernity and cultural change that made little or no attempt to address how religious congregations could go about welcoming individuals who are transgender and/or struggling with gender dysphoria.

None of the presenters at the conference was themselves a transgender Christian—they were all cisgender men. There are transgender Christians out there, though, and they reconcile their faith with their gender identity in a variety of ways. Some are living as the sex assigned to them at birth, according to the requirements of their faith, others are members of liberal churches that accept and affirm transgender congregants, and still others fall somewhere in between the two. One thing all the transgender Christians I spoke with shared, however, was a feeling of trepidation at the prospect of traditional religious circles paying increasing attention to trans issues.

Oct. 7 2015 11:53 AM

The Queen Diva Is Back

While prestige shows like Transparent, Orange Is the New Black, and Looking get all the glory, one could argue that these days, some of the best LGBTQ programming on TV—particularly for gender-variant folks and people of color—is happening in the often-mocked genre of reality shows. There’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, of course, which regularly offers up a tucked and painted menagerie of queer gender expressions under the banner of a drag competition. And then there’s Oxygen’s The Prancing Elites Project, a scrappy little series that follows an equally scrappy gay and trans black dance team from the deep South as they try to practice their art amid intense prejudice and personal challenges. Last, but definitely not least, is the Fuse network, which is offering two explicitly LGBTQ-themed reality shows this fall: Transcendent, a portrait of a group of trans cabaret performers, and Season 4 of an Outward favoriteBig Freedia: Queen of Bounce.

Freedia is one of the icons of a genre of raucous New Orleans-based music and dance called “bounce,” and his show is ostensibly about the struggles of turning his small dance company and personal brand into a successful business. But just beneath that narrative framework, Queen of Bounce addresses a range of LGBTQ themes. Chosen family is the most prominent, since Freedia functions as something of a matriarch for his dancers, attempting to provide for them and keep them focused on the work despite difficult personal circumstances. Gender expression is also key: In the season premiere last week, Freedia visited an LGBTQ youth group in New York and was asked to share his “preferred gender pronouns.” (Freedia, who identifies as a gay man, obviously styles himself toward the feminine end of the spectrum and goes by the nickname Queen Diva, so it’s not a bad question.) “Whatever you choose,” is Freedia’s nonchalant answer—while she’s perfectly comfortable with the many fans who use feminine pronouns, he’ll also respond to a hey bro! when necessary.


This season, we’ll presumably learn more of Freedia’s life story; the artist is working with a co-author on his memoirs (and, this being a reality show, under an impossibly tight deadline for maximum drama). And with those revelations will come more insight into a unique queer life—a story that’s all the more important to hear because it’s real.

Catch Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce on Fuse Wednesdays at 11 p.m. ET/10 p.m. CT

Oct. 6 2015 1:51 PM

Campbell Claims Gay Families Eat Canned Soup in New Ad

With a cute (sigh, I guess) new ad from Campbell—makers of the weak gesture toward chicken noodle soup that’s only passable when you’re deathly sick—the rebranding of gay people as “wholesome” continues apace. The 30-second version of the spot features a couple of gay dads feeding their son a new Star Wars-themed broth while fighting over who gets to say Darth Vader’s “I am your father” line. Part of Campbell’s current “Made for Real, Real Life” campaign, the juxtaposition of mass-produced canned soup and safely apolitical pop cultural references with a gay family successfully incorporates the latter into the context of “real” America. Or something like that.

An interesting note about the actors: Out observed that the real, real life couple, David Monahan and Larry Sullivan, are making something of a career out of affording corporations the gay-friendly cred they crave—the pair recently did a similar turn in a commercial for Sabra hummus. You could look at this as yet another example of a cynical market coopting gay life for financial gain, but I think there’s actually a little joke going on. We all know that no real, real life gay man would ever allow canned condensed soup or prepared hummus anywhere near his home.

Oct. 6 2015 11:35 AM

Why Did British Embassies Stop Flying the Rainbow Flag? An Interview With Baroness Anelay.

Last Monday, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has a long history of homophobic statements, made a strange declaration while addressing the United Nations General Assembly: “We … reject attempts to prescribe ‘new rights,’ that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions, and beliefs. We are not gays!” he declared, apparently ad-libbing the second sentence. According to Vox’s Max Fisher, Mugabe’s remarks elicited “audible laughter” from attendees.

At another U.N. event the next day, Mugabe’s utterance was vociferously denounced. At an animated meeting of the Core LGBT Group, the speakers—who included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, former prime minister of Botswana Festus Mogae, and Pakistani human rights activist Hina Jilani—made impassioned pleas for the rights of LGBTI—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex—people to be recognized by all U.N. members.

Ban spoke of his pride in receiving the Harvey Milk Award for fighting homophobia and transphobia. “Looking at me, you would think I didn’t have much in common with Harvey Milk. I would never claim to be as courageous as he was,” he said. The secretary-general said that thanks to Milk and other activists, he had learned that speaking out about injustices was “a matter of life and death.” He also revealed that a private appeal to the president of Malawi had led to the release of a gay couple who had been imprisoned and sentenced to hard labor.

After the meeting I spoke with attendee Baroness Joyce Anelay, Britain’s minister of state for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, about how the United Nations can be more effective in fighting for the rights of LGBTI individuals around the world, why British embassies stopped flying the rainbow flag, and the evolution of Britain’s Conservative Party on gay rights.

Oct. 5 2015 5:48 PM

Larry Kramer Talks Gay History, PrEP, and more at the New Yorker Festival

Larry Kramer, the noted gay advocate and writer, is infamous for his indignant, often furious style of activism, especially on issues related to HIV/AIDS. So the rather subdued Kramer who joined Calvin Trillin in a discussion as part of this past weekend’s New Yorker Festival offered an uncharacteristic change in tone. Indeed, much of the hour-and-a-half-long conversation was relatively boring—an outcome likely encouraged by Kramer’s long friendship with Trillin and the latter’s seeming contentment in facilitating something of a “Kramer’s greatest hits” survey rather than truly pushing the icon on any of his more controversial positions or claims. (According to Kramer, the U.S. government has never done much of anything to fight HIV/AIDS, and the NIH is willfully stalling a cure.) In any case, the “American gadfly”—dressed in his signature overalls and jade jewelry—did offer a few observations of note, particularly on the subjects of gay history and PrEP/Truvada, the pill-a-day HIV prevention treatment.

Kramer is currently at work on the second volume of his epic gay take on American history, The American People, in which he sweeps up a slew of figures from Alexander Hamilton to Abraham Lincoln in a sort of alluring but ultimately ahistorical identity net. (Even if Hamilton liked to get it on with other dudes, calling him “gay” many decades before the concept of “the homosexual” was even invented is a clear category error.) Though the book, the first volume of which was released to cool reviews back in April, is classified as a novel, Kramer revealed that he thinks of almost everything in it as being accurate, particularly the ascriptions of gay identity to historical celebrities. The “novel” thing was due to publisher pressure, he claimed.


Of course, Kramer is not alone in wanting modern gayness to be a transhistorical phenomenon—not least because a “gays since the beginning” interpretation of history has the potential to enhance our sense of community lineage. But that desire seems in conflict with Kramer’s contention, early in the program, that there “really isn’t a gay community … we should be called the gay population.” One wonders how gays can have as precise and rich a history as Kramer imagines without being a community in the present—or, perhaps better, to whom that history should matter if there’s no real community to claim it? But then, Kramer didn’t seem overly concerned with conceptual rigor. “How do you know [Hamilton and George Washington] were in love?” Trillin gently probed at one point. “How do you know they weren’t?” Kramer replied with a self-satisfied sigh.

Regarding gay life today, Kramer was his dissatisfied self. Asked to comment on the rapidly growing embrace of Truvada-as-PrEP—an HIV prevention strategy he has decried on moral grounds in the past—he initially seemed to conflate it with Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), an often physically stressful emergency treatment generally reserved for medical professionals or those with known accidental exposures. While Kramer did not dismiss Truvada out-of-hand, and rightly pointed out that it does not protect against other STIs, he did note that it “seems most used by people who are still partying … and don’t want to use condoms.” Of course, since the 1978 publication of Faggots, his scathing critique of gay sexual culture in the 1970s, Kramer has been on record as being judgmental of those who “party”—often to the sober nods of sexually conservative (straight) people. If the room at Saturday’s event was any indication, he’s still reaching that audience loud and clear. The gay community (or “population”) he says he loves so much? That’s another question. 

Oct. 5 2015 3:05 PM

Bernie Sanders Claims He’s a Longtime Champion of Marriage Equality. It’s Just Not True.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders likes to describe himself as a longtime supporter of marriage equality—in sharp contrast to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who’s still striving to convince her base that she’s on board with LGBT rights. In May, Sanders famously told New York Times columnist Gail Collins that “I’m not evolving when it comes to gay rights. I was there!” Liberal outlets consistently describe Sanders as a pioneer for marriage equality. As proof of his pro-LGBT credentials, Sanders frequently touts his opposition in 1996 to the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

But Sanders is not quite the gay rights visionary his defenders would like us to believe. Sanders did oppose DOMA—but purely on states’ rights grounds. And as recently as 2006, Sanders opposed marriage equality for his adopted home state of Vermont. The senator may have evolved earlier than his primary opponents. But the fact remains that, in the critical early days of the modern marriage equality movement, Sanders was neutral at best and hostile at worst.