Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

March 2 2015 5:39 PM

Russell Tovey Flexes His Way Into Femmephobia

It’s generally a good idea to refrain from making diagnoses without personally examining the patient, but in Russell Tovey’s case, I think we can safely say it: The guy is suffering from a particularly tragic case of femmephobia. For the unfamiliar, Tovey is a British actor most famous on this side of the Atlantic for his work in Looking, HBO’s controversial “gay show,” in which he plays the tech boss and illicit lover (Tovey’s character, Kevin, is in a not-open relationship) of Jonathan Groff’s Patrick. His extensive work in British projects means he’s a bigger deal in his homeland, a fact that earned him a feature interview in the Observer on Sunday—an interview in which he readily revealed the symptoms of his affliction.

After a stimulating meditation on the actor’s newly fleshed-out physique, reporter Tom Lamont gets Tovey talking about his journey as a gay man, especially as it developed after a homophobic attack (triggered, Tovey reasons, by his wearing a cardigan) 10 years ago, which left him with a scar. Tovey’s story is harrowing, and the trauma he experienced must be taken seriously. That said, his processing of that trauma through damaging femmephobic rhetoric—the kind that values traditionally masculine-performing gay men above their more effeminate brothers—is a problem.

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March 2 2015 4:35 PM

The Case Against Marriage

When my grandmother died, her downstairs tenant was forced to leave the home she’d lived in for decades. This was despite her having run countless errands, shared meals and leftovers, and provided company as well as a gentle, informal monitoring of my aging grandmother’s physical and mental condition for much of the time she’d lived there. Although special arrangements could have been made for this tenant in her will, my grandmother neglected to do so—her only bequests were to family members, such as her children and grandchildren. But, couldn’t this woman have been considered at least as much a part of my grandmother’s family as I was, a granddaughter who saw her two or three times a year, on holidays and her birthday?

Lindsey and Sarah are a celibate LGBT couple whose blog I follow. They live together and depend on each other in times of sickness and crisis, and they see their commitment to one another as lifelong, not temporary. However, their relationship is not a romantic one, and theydo not consider marriage to be applicable to their partnership. But, even if they’re not married, couldn’t they still be thought of as a kind of family?

Feb. 27 2015 1:03 PM

Why Facebook’s Quest for Gender Sensitivity Is Doomed

On Thursday, Facebook announced a new policy designed to resolve the perpetually vexed issue of online gender identification: Starting soon, users will be permitted to write in their own gender identity, unconstrained by a prepopulated list. This change arrives about a year after Facebook added more than 50 custom gender options for users to choose from. Under the new policy, users can maintain the identity they chose from that list—but they’ll also be permitted to get creative.

Facebook’s quest to permanently solve the gender problem is admirable. It is also doomed. By creating a slew of choices and adding a fill-in-the-blank option, the company wants users to know that it’s OK with gender nonconformity and sensitive to the struggles of those who don’t fit into the gender binary. But it has done nothing to fix the problem that launched all these attempted solutions. That problem, of course, is that Facebook still demands to know your gender. And until the company lets go of the desire to sort users this way, they’ll continue to be tortured by the gender question.

Feb. 26 2015 1:31 PM

What We Talk About When We Talk About Aaron Schock 

Aaron Schock, Illinois Republican congressman and self-proclaimed fitness guru, is in the news again, this time for flying on donors’ private planes in possible contravention of ethics rules. The charge is serious, but the reaction is anything but. Cue the snickers and dog whistles: Have you heard that Schock decorated his office with Downton Abbey themed décor, then tried to hide it? What about the time he went shopping in London’s “posh clothing stores” with Shea Ledford, his “longtime friend”? Have you met his personal photographer, Jonathon?Have you seen his teal belt, which he later burned? What about those Instagram photos of him working out with his buff gym pals?

If you missed these stories—all heavily covered by popular gay blogs—you surely saw New York magazine’s wink at the New York Times’ wink that Schock “said that he is not gay,” despite an Instagram page filled with preening shirtless shots. Or CNN’s interview with Schockabout his abs. Or Schock’s Men’s Health cover photo and photo spread, titled “The Ripped Representative,” which featured Schock’s pearls of fitness wisdom interspersed with shots of Schock posing to display his bulging brawn. And if you somehow missed Schock peeping out at you from the newsstands, you surely caught the reaction, summed up by Mario Cantone on ABC’s The View: “He’s in the closet. Come on, look at him!”

Feb. 25 2015 11:57 AM

Arkansas Passed Rabidly Anti-Gay Legislation. So What!

It’s terrible! The Arkansas Senate has passed a bill that would prohibit towns and municipalities from making laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. If this law is allowed to stand, it will have consequences far beyond the protections, or lack thereof, for queers in certain towns and cities that seek to shield them from being fired from their jobs or otherwise discriminated against—it would strike a blow at their very ability to organize and to participate in the democratic process.

That’s why the Supreme Court made such laws unconstitutional nearly 20 years ago, in Romer v. Evans, which ruled that Colorado couldn’t prevent municipalities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances to protect gays in their borders. There is no reasonable reading of the current legal climate that suggests the Romer decision will be revisited, much less that it could possibly be overturned. While it’s true that the Arkansas legislature drafted its law in a way that differs superficially from the law the court struck down in Romer (by banning municipalities from protecting classes that state law has not protected), the results are identical (because gays are the only class this would apply to). That means the overwhelming likelihood is that the law would not withstand a legal challenge. The Arkansas law is functionally DOA. The only question is how much time will pass before it’s found to be unconstitutional, and how many gay Arkansans, if any, it will negatively impact before that happens. While this may be a temporary worry for that community, the fact is that this law’s ability to harm gays is severely limited by both time and geography.

Feb. 24 2015 3:06 PM

The Queen Diva Reigns Supreme in Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce

As the third season of Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce begins, Freedia’s New Orleans-based dance crew is about to embark on a national tour. It’s a big opportunity for the group, a chance to take their unique style of “bounce” hip-hop music and dancing—defined by fast, percussive hooks and highly athletic, twerk-centric choreography—to cities and audiences far beyond the form’s Southern roots. But they are also on a mission of reclamation: As the tour designer points out early in the first episode, a number of more famous artists (many of them Miley Cyrus-white) have begun to appropriate bounce’s signature elements without giving credit to the primarily black, hard-scrabble milieu from which it emerged. For Freedia and her team, the series of concerts that this season of the Fuse reality show will follow is about more than just performing or getting paid—it’s about getting the respect they deserve.

Freedia—who identifies as a gay man, revels in a wonderfully gender-fluid sense of style, and accepts the pronouns he, she, or diva—is one of the apostles of bounce, and watching the show, you can’t help but join with her in beaming at the recognition from crowds at large events in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. But the stunning performances are really only a small part of Queen of Bounce’s appeal. I’m someone who believes that even the trashiest of reality shows can have a certain creepy charm, but this show is genuinely charming, truly the sweetest 22 minutes on television.

Feb. 23 2015 6:25 PM

Is It “Weird” to Be Gay? What Graham Moore’s Speech Really Means.

When Graham Moore won the Oscar last night for Best Adapted Screenplay for his writing work on The Imitation Game, he tried—to his credit—to make a socially conscious and heartfelt acceptance speech. My Outward colleague June Thomas parsed Moore’s words quickly thereafter, praising his attempt to use the platform to say something meaningful about difference and acceptance, but raising a note of concern about the writer’s conflation of Alan Turing’s experience as a homosexual man in the mid-20th century with the more generalized plight of people society deems “weird.” During his speech, Moore—who confirmed to BuzzFeed early Monday morning that despite widespread assumption to the contrary, he does not identify as gay—revealed that his own vague adolescent weirdness and concomitant difficulties led him to the precipice of suicide when he was 16, and he offered his success as a sort of “It Gets Better” case study for teens who might feel like outsiders themselves.

Obviously, Moore’s general sentiment is a fine one—nobody is debating that—and any criticism of his delivery must of course be tempered by an allowance for the craziness of speaking from the Oscar stage. But those who are expressing discomfort with the speech are not wrong to find fault with Graham’s implied comparison between the experience of being gay in a still largely homophobic society (liberal Hollywood award shows notwithstanding) and standard teenage disaffection. Moreover, the number and intensity of incredulous dismissals of that response (see the comments on June’s post for a bracing sample) suggest that a lot of people don’t understand or reject the difference entirely. And so, without harping on Moore’s flustered speech too much, it’s worth taking a moment to explain the trouble with that equivalence more generally and to think about why gay people might be so sensitive to it—especially coming as it did from the straight writer of a film that desperately marketed itself to audiences and Academy voters as a gay political statement.

Feb. 23 2015 1:23 AM

Graham Moore’s Oscars Acceptance Speech Was Stirring but Confusing

In a night of Oscar speeches that were both personal and political, Graham Moore’s Best Adapted Screenplay acceptance was one of the most emotional and blurty—in other words, the kind that is remembered longest. After awkwardly thanking the Academy and Oprah, who announced his win, and showering “love and kisses” on the cast and crew of The Imitation Game, Moore pivoted to a hard-to-parse observation about the film’s subject, mathematician Alan Turing. Turing, Moore said, “never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces, and I do, and that’s the most unfair thing, I think, I’ve ever heard.” Sorry, why would a mathematician be at the Oscars? Eh, given the excitement Moore was clearly feeling, we can allow for a certain amount of imprecision. That said, the rest of his speech was more problematic.

Moore went on to share with the millions of telecast viewers that at the age of 16, he tried to kill himself “because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt that I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. … Stay different, and then when it’s your turn, and you’re standing on this stage, please pass the message to the next person that comes along.”


I wish that Moore had drawn a clearer line between his comments about Turing—a man who was persecuted and prosecuted for his homosexuality—and his “it gets better” message to teens who are merely weird and different. For one thing, overemphasizing the connection between queer teens and suicide can be dangerous. But it’s also important to note that being gay simply isn’t the same as being a “geek.” Moore may see them as comparable (and, though he has identified himself as straight, his affect may have opened him up to homophobic bullying), but the truth of the matter is that the social force behind anti-gay prejudice is far stronger and more pernicious than the animus against social outcasts. Moore’s heart was surely in the right place, but I wish he hadn't conflated these identities.

Feb. 19 2015 2:50 PM

Hey, Gay Men! Try the Sexy New Celibacy Challenge.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently revising its policies to end the unscientific and discriminatory ban on gay blood donation. This is good news. Under the new rules, however, gay men will only be permitted to donate blood if they have been celibate for a full year. This is bad news. But in a new PSA for GLAAD, Alan Cumming of The Good Wife fame encourages the gay community to make the best of it by taking the fun, sexy celibacy challenge.

Despite the cheekiness of Cumming’s PSA, the message here is an important one. The American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, the American Association of Blood Banks, and the American Medical Association all oppose identity-based donor discrimination in favor of individualized risk assessment. And, as the celibacy challenge illustrates, asking gay men to abstain from all sexual behavior for a year just to donate blood is silly, unrealistic, and more than a little insulting. By imposing unique and absurd standards on certain men based on their identity, the FDA is effectively telling gay men that they are little more than diseased liars

Feb. 19 2015 1:04 PM

Anti-Gay Doctor Refuses to Treat Lesbian Parents’ 6-Day-Old Baby

Last September, Krista and Jami Contreras of Detroit met with Dr. Vesna Roi for a prenatal checkup. Believing they had developed a strong rapport with the pediatrician, the couple returned shortly after the birth of their child for the newborn’s routine wellness appointment. When they arrived, another doctor informed them that, after praying on it, Roi had decided to refuse to treat the 6-day-old baby girl. The reason? Her mothers are lesbians.

Roi’s willingness to inflict collateral damage on an infant just to express her anti-gay animus obviously makes her a monstrously immoral person, as well as a terrible doctor. And her refusal to treat a gay couple’s child has already earned her a significant amount of warranted ire from the community. (Ire, by the way, is the sole remedy here: Under state and federal law, Roi’s actions were perfectly legal.) Even those conservatives who generally support legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people seem shocked by Roi’s decision. Who, after all, could have enough hate in their hearts to disadvantage a child just because of her parents’ identity?