Less Than Butterflies, No. 2
It’s no secret that Halloween is gay Christmas. It’s not as though we’ve ever needed an excuse to dress up in costume or drag and attend some hedonistic party in Montrose where someone will certainly be distributing ecstasy in the bathroom while remixes of every song by every pop icon are blared in the dark, trembling background. But Halloween poses a different sort of spectacle than every other party in Montrose. Inhibitions are lost; time seems to slow; and there’s an affection for our friends that provides a kind of high not brought on by bathroom ecstasy or specialty shots.
Plus, we get a little bit sluttier. At least I do. I being the person who puts the ‘trick’ in ‘trick or treat.’
There’s no logic or rule that dictates why Halloween puts us in such good spirits. Maybe it’s something psychological. Maybe it’s all hype. Or maybe, just maybe, there is something truly magical about Halloween.
Even in my exhaustion after two long weeks with work-related affairs, I couldn’t move myself to peel away from the idea of attending my friend Stephen’s boyfriend’s Halloween party. It was an annual event—or it was at least becoming one—that had the year before proven to be like any other gay Halloween party: a genus of twinks in brightly colored underwear donning body glitter and angel wings. This, mind you, was at an American Horror Story-themed party. Stephen’s apartment was small and the air conditioning was hardly working. An hour in, everyone was sweating and trying to escape into the 90-degree outdoors just to catch a breath.
This year, however, Leo (Stephen’s boyfriend) had relocated the party to a friend and co-host’s townhome off Washington. The theme? Netflix’s GLOW—appropriately retitled as the Gays and Lesbians of Wrestling.
As per the usual, I was dateless. I’d invited Ezra to accompany me, but he was to visit friends in San Antonio for the weekend. Luckily, my friend Carter tagged along with me. Carter and I hadn’t been friends for long. Like most of my friends at the time, we’d met through Pride. Carter was 30, single, and sweet, and not at all my type. Still, he was a good friend and an intent listener and the kind of person who would do anything for anyone.
We drank a bottle of wine at Barnaby’s before heading toward Washington for the party. Upon arrival, it was clear that Stephen had already been drinking well before our arrival. My friend Courtney and her girlfriend, Jennifer were also there, dressed from neck-to-ankles in incandescent Lycra. Just as the year before, a large portion of the attendees had taken it upon themselves to ignore the theme of the party—myself included, as I was not sure I had the body type to be wearing fabrics with such elasticity.
That’s not true. I was sure. I was certain that I did not. I did, however, dress nice enough and put on some black lipstick just for the hell of it.
Stephen grabbed me by the wrist just after I’d made a drink and dragged me to a wet bar in the living room of the townhome. “Let’s do a shot!” he suggested with all the charisma of a Beyonce drag impersonator. But like with all things when it came to Stephen—shots, bottles of wine, valid points in a heated debate—one shot turned into several shots.
My background with Stephen was relatively short, but fast-paced in some rights. He was one of the very first people I’d met at Pride Houston when I was a first-year volunteer. To be completely honest, when we first met, I thought Stephen was cute. True, he was gross and sweaty from working all evening in the sun and was about 15-pounds underweight. But in his glasses and seemingly-nerdy disposition, I was initially attracted to him. For a while, my friend Alice and I couldn’t figure out his last name and took to referring to him as just Hot Stephen.
But much like books, a boy should never be judged by his cover. As I transitioned into my role as the volunteer chair for Pride, Stephen and I encountered each other more frequently. Real Stephen was vastly different from first-impression Stephen. He wasn’t as tightly wound and I don’t think I ever saw those glasses again. True, Stephen was a pretty boy, but he was also a boy who was spoken for and whose personality—regardless of whether or not he’d ever admit it—was too much like mine. Opinionated, mildly neurotic, a little slutty, and often drunk.
As my first year as a chair dragged on, Stephen and I saw a lot more of each other. Pride events and workdays eventually turned into drinks at the Eagle or numerous bottles of wine at Barnaby’s or birthday and dinner parties. The conversations that had once just revolved around our work with Pride grew inclusive of similar interests. Soon we’d become friends.
After a few more shots, I found myself standing outside on the balcony smoking a cigarette with some strangers from Mexico. One of the two was in medical school and in Houston for her internship. The other was presumably her boyfriend. A moment later, Stephen found his way outside to the patio.
“I knew you’d be out here smoking. I’m gonna lock you out,” Stephen said before engaging with the medical student and her boyfriend. When their own cigarettes were finished, they made a quick exit and Stephen and I had changed the topic to the busy week we’d had with Pride work, the party, and our friends inside. It wasn’t until the tail-end of the conversation that Stephen asked, “So, how’s Ezra?”
“I think he’s fine. He’s in San Antonio right now, if I’m not mistaken.”
He took a sip from his straw while gulping down some vodka as he goes, “Mhm. Mhm.” Once he’d swallowed and removed the straw from his mouth, he asked, “And what’s the deal with that?”
I paused just long enough to roll my eyes. “Nothing . . . ? We’re just friends.”
More, “Mhm. Mhm,” until he was slurping what remained of his vodka out of bottom of his Solo cup. “I’m gonna go get another drink. Have fun, though!” he told me as he slipped back inside. However, before he’d closed the door, Stephen poked his head back through the threshold and said, “You know, I’m really glad we became friends.”
I couldn’t help but smile a bit. Formerly Hot Stephen I knew nothing about had graduated into Close Friend Stephen, which turned out to be a good fit for him.
“God. You’re so gay,” I told him as I rolled my eyes, relatively unable to ever reciprocate kindness. He stepped back onto the balcony for a second and pointed to his cheek. I laughed, then gave him a kiss there, leaving a large, black lipstick stain under his cheekbone.
“You’re my favorite person in Pride,” he told me as he slid through the door and closed it behind him.
That was gay Halloween magic at its finest—bringing two very unlikely people together to be friends . . . even if both were extremely drunk.
Oddly enough, however, Stephen’s momentary mention of Ezra made me wonder what he was up to. I nearly pulled my phone from my pocket to text him, but realized it was late and that I shouldn’t bug him while he was out of town with his friends. I could gather, however, that Ezra probably wasn’t at some rager in San Antonio like I was in Houston. A part of me missed him.
Regardless, I resolved to wander back inside and drink through it like a grown-up.
Although, as I turned to open the door back into the townhome, I made an attempt to turn the knob, rattling and shaking it until it became increasingly clear that Stephen had, in fact, locked me out on the balcony.
Dile a Trump, ‘Gracias’
Nunca Pueden Quitar Esto, No. 1
What more could possibly be said of the now-infamous 45th President of the United States? What could we possibly have from him to be thankful for? When I think about the current state of the nation, I remember the feeling we all had right after the results of the election were announced. I remember wandering the city searching for an answer or reassurance that all this was happening for a reason. Then, as time passed, I and numerous others witnessed the nation’s slow relapse into bigotry and paranoia; and we began to ponder, ¿Qué está pasando aquí?
Leading up to the election, we fought hard — I fought hard — to not only influence others, but to educate them on the values of each candidate and the importance of voting. In one corner: a sure winner, a dedicated, passionate, and inspirational woman, who had been painted by the opposition as a ‘criminal’, as a ‘cheater’, and a ‘murderer’. It appeared to some that she was doomed from the beginning — presumably ‘tainted’ by more than a decade of public spotlight. But to us, she was cooperation; she was opportunity; and she understood. We eventually all sat and watched as she admitted defeat and gave her final concessions, We watched again as her voice shook the air and ricocheted angrily towards that glass ceiling — como pegandole a una piñata con un palo débil. And as much as we all wanted progress, she did not break that glass; that piñata still hangs from a rope tied to the roof. And that piñata is still manipulated by the hands of un Tio Sam. But now we see its cracks; we see that it is slashed to pieces; and we can see the candy spewing from its crevices. That piñata will eventually succumb to the crowd — a crowd con bolsas listas — ready to reach and grab from the air, or to pick modestly from the ground, but always to pass and to share amongst each other the dulces that we were promised when our family came to this land.
“When our family came to this land …” — those words never really sat comfortably with me. In fact I often catch myself wincing at phrases such as, “When they came over the border …” or, “When they came here …” The reason behind my reactions lies in the emotional response felt behind each of those words and the implications of them. These phrases imply that the speaker and the subject had existed in two locations, but also reek of isolationism. Words like “us” and “them” also create this familiar sentiment of non-connection. How can we allow for people to continue to alienate us on our own land? Culturally, Latinos rarely owned land; but as the New and Old World met, our hardships helped grow strong opposition to the state-owned agricultural system employed by the Spanish. Many Mexican revolutionary figures fought and died in insurgencies against issues such as these; and it saddens me that, still to this day, many indigenous people are still exploited, still displaced, and, most horribly, turned away.
Emiliano Zapata is one such leader. Zapata was a revolutionary leader who rose from an agrarian background in Northern Mexico and inspired the indigenous campesinos of Morelos to fight along the Northern border. Zapata experienced first hand the sting of inequity and exploitation. This eventually led to his fight against the agricultural system known as haciendas. In the New World, the Spanish crown first granted haciendas to the Spanish. Paving the way for the exploitation of thousands of indigenous people into forced labor and out of the possibility of any land ownership. His fight eventually led to Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which states that all land, water, and mineral rights in Mexico at first belong to the Nation, and are therefore transferable to private citizens of Mexico. This, in turn, establishes private property as a means of keeping Mexican property in the hands of Mexico’s people so that it is subject to public interest. If Zapata spoke any truth by saying, “La tierra es para quien la trabaja,” then it should be known that it was our ancestors who worked the seasonality and bounty of the Americas.
Yet, here we stand in complete awe as tables turn and focus shifts to us. Now we are the accused — the “rapists”, the “criminals”, and the “terrorists”. They ignore our people’s plight, our hard work, our potential, and our dedication to nature and family. They turn their backs, deny entry, and create complications for residency within imaginary lines; and they do so in contempt of scientific knowledge gained through the study of ideal genetics and immunology: the more a population is isolated, the more vulnerable it is to new threats — the more susceptible it is to disease. This plays out no differently in humans.
Yet, it was our parents and grandparents that moved our families from farm to farm — and with children working alongside — earning just a fraction of minimum wage so that they may afford our people’s frutos year-long.
Yet, it was our ancestors who eventually harvested corn and beans from the grasses, bore cocoa and coffee from small beans, and sustained hardship with potatoes and cassava roots pulled from the earth. It was our minds and our perseverance that unlocked tomatoes, chiles, peppers, squash, legumes, and quinoa to feed our children.
Yet, it was we who came here with knowledge of our land but still learned “their” land, it was we who learned “their” language and kept ours in the hopes of preserving our people’s story; and it was we who learned “their” history and culture — all while maintaining our own customs and beliefs.
Unsurprisingly, this issue is further complicated for those who identify as queer Latinx struggling to fit the mold of an Anglo, heteronormative society. Of what do they have to be so afraid? Who truly is at the disadvantage: us or them? Don’t they know that Cesar Chavez said, “La preservación de la propia cultura no requiere desprecio o falta de respeto hacia otras culturas,” or, “The preservation of one’s own culture does not require hate or disrespect for the other culture.” Our queer culture recognizes the perspectives of not just one people — neither just one sexuality nor gender — but all people. How do you teach both heteronormative Anglo and Latino societies that there is importance in variability and diversity?
Growing up queer — growing up queer in a foreign place — we adapt by learning the behaviors and languages unique to each place. In doing so, we not only lose ourselves, but we also evolve to become entirely new beings. Because we are both Latinx and Americans. We are both Spanish- and English-speaking. We navigate and blend within the Queer and the “normative”. We know the codes for understanding the cis and trans world. We may know how to order Starbucks pero nosotros tambien sabemos cómo hacer un Nescafé. We become both, but still, we are also neither.
This sentiment is best described in Gabriel Ojeda-Sague’s “Jazzercise is a Language”, when he describes the pervasive biracial sentiment felt by not only queer communities, but also by first and second generation Latin Americans:
“[…] the pivot of an argument: I am much less latino when I am with latinos and I am much less white when I am with white people: I am much less a man when I am around men and I am much less a woman when I am around women […]”
This sentiment is a contradictory dichotomy of both isolation and belonging within our home society, as well as that of another. Whether it be a separate country, gender, or sexuality, feelings of isolation are often magnified by a painful realization that we’ve ended up here yet again: being not only both, but also neither.
At first, our stark differences from society seem debilitating, especially when immersed in monocultured environments. History has shown us countless times before that survival is often granted by accepting and following diversity; and though demonizing and ostracizing can appear to hinder us temporarily, it will make us stronger in the long run. To live through hardship is to conquer it. We may be diverted from our full-potential for a period of time, like storm clouds diffuse and hide our gaze of the moon. Yet we always recover and with us: a beautiful sunrise breaking through clouds with unmeasurable beauty and differentiation. We too benefit from every hardship endured and nosotros siempre emergemos mas marviosos y fuertes. A newly hatched butterfly, una mariposa maravillosa, must nonetheless struggle with its prison, its cocoon, and practice to gain the strength by using the prison as a tool and assuring flexibility and circulation in its wings.
This is what I see, what the “woke” see, what I hope we all see: that beneath your feet … the ground is moving … it’s shaking — calling you to rise, calling us all to create and to inspire. A Chinese-American feminist, Grace Lee Boggs, once stated, “A revolution that is based on the people exercising their creativity in the midst of devastation is one of the great historical contributions of humankind.” Like Lee Boggs’ time, Queer Latinx people facing adversity from the Trump Regime are living amidst devastation; yet here we boldly resist and create beauty and art that sometimes only we understand. We, as Queer Latinx-Americans, have our own codes, culture, and customs, and so I offer this column to illuminate our beauty, our art, our voices and our fight for equality, representation and, above all else, our dignity.
Por que le corres cobarde trayendo tan buen punal.
My people, my sisters,
mi gente, mi raza —
we are not cowards.
We emulate both beauty and art.
This column is for us and it is for all to see.
Thank U, Next
Less Than Butterflies, No. 28
“So are you gonna write about me?” Ricky asked as he pulled the sheet off of me just a little bit more and ran his toes up my calf beneath it.
Sheepishly I turned my face toward the window and pulled the bedsheet back a bit. “What do you mean?”
Ricky laughed — loudly, incriminatingly — as if he were in on some secret I wasn’t. Only … I was. “In your column,” he went on. “Don’t think I didn’t do my homework before bringing you home.” He slid himself upright and reached over me for a bottle of wine on the floor next to me before taking a sip and handing it to me. “I know who you are.”
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
“What’s it called again?” he asked. “Butterflies?”
“Less Than Butterflies,” I corrected him.
To my knowledge, I’d never slept with a man who’d read Less Than Butterflies before that night. Or, at the very least, I’d never slept with one who’d read it and had the nerve to bring it up. I tried to wash the terror from my face and distract him with a laugh; only he wouldn’t take his eyes off of me until I answered. So I reached into the pocket of my jeans on the hardwood floor beside me and grabbed a pack of Marlboros and a lighter, placing one between my lips and rolling my eyes.
I pulled the sheet back toward me to cover my mid-section, embarrassed about how I could have lost so much weight and still have felt fat. “I don’t know if the sex was that good.”
I blew a puff of smoke in his face and laughed.
🦋 A Week Before 🦋
I sat in the Starbucks at Montrose and Hawthorne filling out paperwork and editing articles while also making eyes with a 30-something-year-old man sitting at a table adjacent to me that kept looking up from his pretentious copy of the New York Times so that his jawline could poke out over the scarf he unnecessarily wore inside — Lemme see that neck, daddy. I’d heard him order a tea at the counter while I sipped a peppermint mocha and I swear to Satan he would have been less conspicuous if he’d just cut two eye holes in the goddamn paper. After suggestively nodding my head toward the bathroom when our eyes met and watching him dash off that way, I packed my personal effects into my messenger bag and swiftly exited the building without any intention of meeting him in the restroom. I’d find myself down the street at the Half-Price Books where I’d avert my gaze from the collected works of Jane Austen — have you ever read Jane Austen, guys? Where men were at least kind of chivalrous even when they were breaking hearts — and a cute young man squatted down on the ground looking at a book at the bottom of the same shelf. Feigning clumsiness, I let the book slip out of my hands and down beside him, then dropped to the ground at his eye level to pick it up. He turned and caught my eye as I slid the book back into my hands and smiled at him. “Hi,” I muttered, to which he smiled back and introduced himself to me.
That’s right, y’all. 2019 had officially begun, Peter was a distant memory of my past and I was officially back on my bullshit. I wasn’t making resolutions, I wasn’t trying to lose more weight, I wasn’t promising to go back to the gym, I wasn’t even going to work hard at giving up bad habits like smoking or falling in love. 2019 brought with it only one new rule, which was more a rule for the men in my life than it was for me:
Don’t fuck with me.
“I’m moving on from sadness and being in love so that I can go back to my old ways,” I told Jackie on speaker phone later that night as I struggled to try and sync my work email to my iPhone.
“Exactly,” I went on. “I do not need a man to — damn it!” The email server, once again, failed to connect to my phone. “I don’t need a man in my life to be successful or to get anything done.” I tried syncing it once more. “I am completely independ— motherfucker!” Yet again, it failed to connect.
“What are you swearing at?” Jackie asked.
“I’m trying to get my phone to sync to my work email, but I can’t figure this shit out. Peter was supposed to do it for me the last 80 times I saw him, and then we both kept forgetting, and then he treated me like shit, and then he left me at a bar, and then he left at a club, and then we fought, and then I never heard from him again because he disappeared from my life without ever taking the fucking time to set my email up on my phone.” I sighed. “Fucking bastard.”
Jackie hesitated. “What was that you were just saying about not needing a man to help you do anything?”
I dropped my phone on the counter. “Fuck off, Jackie.”
It was the best of times … it was the worst of times. I was pleasantly surprised with just how well I’d been dealing with the loss of what was probably one of the greatest loves and romances of my life; but a constant disappointment in men will help one cope with these things quicker as time goes by. After all, it started off at a young age when my father left me alone with drug-addicted mother to develop some deep-seated daddy issues, and it landed here with me falling in love with and having my heart broken by a man I called ‘daddy’.
Jesus I am one fucked up individual.
Nevertheless, she persisted; and she was me, in this particular instance.
Of all the resolutions I wasn’t making in 2019, I had compiled a list of rules I was laying down like infants for a nap that would from this point on be applicable to all the men I dated in the future:
I am the Whore thy Gay, which have graced thee with my presence, and who will hopefully get thee to participate in bondage.
- Thou shalt have no other guys before me.
- Thou shalt not make any graven image (i.e. making less money than me or being in the closet)
- Thou shalt not have better looks, talents, or wisdom than the Whore thy Gay who is vain.
- Remember my birthday and keep it holy.
- Dishonor my father and mother.
- Thou shalt not kill my roll when I do Molly.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery or even suggest the idea of an open relationship, because if thou wishes to date more than one person, I’ll go off my meds and you’ll get to meet all sorts of new people.
- Thou shalt not get mad when I steal thy credit card.
- Thou shalt not bear adult ADD.
- Thou shalt do cocaine, but not to the point of addiction.
I mean it — I’d given up on men. And why shouldn’t I have? If this stupid column indicates any sort of track record, signs would point to it being time for me to stop trying. I mean between Parker who could commit and Dylan who voted for Trump and Ezra the asexual and Peter who was just an all-around raging douchebag from his own circle of hell, it seemed as though the Universe of the Fates or the Gods or the Dark Lord Satan was telling me to give the fuck up. And did it even really matter anymore? At this point it was fuck off or get fucked over, and most encounters seemed to end in the former, at least in my experience thus far.
But then I met Ricky. And from the time I’d dropped that book in front of him at Half Price Books to the first time we’d hung out one-on-one — as per the usual — all that internal training on how I should be interacting with men in the new year seemed as impossible to reach as a baseball thrown over the neighbor’s fence.
I walked into his Montrose-adjacent apartment expecting what I usually did with my one-time hook-ups: traipsing dog hair, a lack of furniture, and not a book in sight. But what I found was quite the converse — it was like an island oasis in a sea of gay sharks who couldn’t get their shit together. It was like walking into a den of spirituality, a Mecca of literature, and a congress of apropos, grown-upisms.
“So how was the date with Ricky?” Gwen asked the next afternoon in the hammock chairs on her porch.
“It wasn’t a date,” I told her with a roll of my eyes. I grabbed the Bic sitting on the table between us and lit the cigarette between my lips.
“Hoookay,” she replied as she rolled her own eyes and chuckled a bit to herself.
“The not-date was lovely. We hung out, drank a little vodka, smoked a little weed,” I laughed and took a hit off the joint she’d rolled. “And then he played a song on his guitar he’d been writing and my heart melted a little and that was enough to make my pants dematerialize altogether,” I confessed. “God, the sex was good.”
Gwen could have exploded with all the laughter she’d been holding in, weed smoke spewing everywhere. “Praise Satan!” she exclaimed.
“Praise Satan, indeed,” I agreed as I took another hit. “He did ask me something that made me a little uncomfortable, though,” I told her.
“I’ve told you that you’ve just got to learn to be more forthcoming about you STDs.”
“I don’t have any STDs! Shut up!” I shook my head. “No, he asked me whether or not I was going to write about him in my column. Apparently he did his homework.”
“And he still invited you over?”
“So this wasn’t a date. Huh?”
I grinned a little. “Fuck off, Gwen.”
“Play another,” I requested as I laid against the hardwood and sipped the Pinot Grigio from my stemless glass. His apartment looked like the type of place I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life, which is a largely important factor for me when vetting potential suitors. Solid wood floors, bookshelves lining every wall, artwork hung that seemed to be glaring at me as I passed. “I’m high. I could do this all day.” Ricky was strumming his guitar — in the nude, nonetheless — and I was lying on the ground in a sheet like Carrie Bradshaw between her Mr. Big punctuations.
It was a weird thing — fucking on someone’s hardwood, living room floor and sipping iced vodkas from stemless wine glasses while he played me music on his guitar. It was the kind of not-date I’d never had with a man … and I’d had a lot. Something that started as a casual book drop — okaaayyy; not so casual considering I’d basically just created my own meet-cute —had turned into hours of fucking against the cold, January floors and me not accidentally shouting out Peter’s name. But more than that, it was nice to be around someone and not have to give a shit about whether or not we were on a date. It was a breath of fresh air to not have to fish for topics to discuss with a man; it was a relief to not feel self-conscious as a man stripped me of my clothing; and then to just be done — and to not feel the obligation to stay or leave — as the smell of candles wafted in and out of my nose and fingers traced the small of my back between songs … it was nice.
“So are you gonna write about me?”
And after the what do you mean? and the I know who you ares and the poking fun at him, telling him the sex wasn’t good enough, and the tugging of the sheet back to cover my midsection, I finally giggled out, “Yeah … I’m gonna write about this.”
As I sat at the bar later with Hope and some friends I didn’t get to see often enough, I thought of Ricky and the fun I’d had with him. I thought of his question and his music and I thought about whether or not it would turn out to be anything. Even if it didn’t, the reprieve and reminder that I was a desirable human being had been nice. I wasn’t feeling as if I should push my luck, because I kind of just wanted to see where things went. But a moment later, all of that was interrupted, when a push notification came to my phone and I found myself staring at a Facebook comment in which Peter had tagged me. It was a joke, an olive branch extended after weeks and weeks of not speaking to one another and after an uncertain lack of closure. And it made me mad — the whole thing made me mad. The fact that he had the nerve to think that I’d just be so willing to jump back to the way things were — snide comments and funny banter — after what he’d done, after he’d neglected to apologize because he didn’t see anything wrong with the way he’d behaved — it was fucking insulting.
So as I debated on whether or not to even dignify his comment with a response, I was at that very moment greeted by first an email from my now-synced work account and a text message from Ricky.
And I smiled, double-tapping the home button on my iPhone to close my Facebook app, and whispered to myself, “Thank you.” I opened Ricky’s text message. “Next.”
Giving a ‘Heartbeat’ to Lesbians
Queer Guy in the Public Eye, No. 3
One of the most bizarre things to me is the way that straight men fetishize lesbians. Maybe not necessarily ‘lesbians’, but most definitely girl-on-girl action. Website Pornhub released the most searched terms on their site organized by state in January of 2018, and “lesbian” was the most searched term in all but eight states in the United States. As much as lesbians are fetishized or interesting on a sexual level, we rarely get to see them do the things that we all do – interact on a platonic level, go grocery shopping with their partner, fight over what to watch on television, etc. Even as we move further-and-further into seeing queer people in the spotlight and more queer characters in film and television, there seem to be a disproportionate amount of gay men as compared to lesbian characters. If you’ve been following this column, you’ll remember that All in the Family brought us our first gay character in 1971 and The Jeffersons had the first transgender character in 1977. There were a few lesbian moments on television in the 70’s and 80’s, but the biggest break came with the short-lived television series Heartbeat, which ran for two seasons from 1988 to 1989 and was the first television series to feature a leading lesbian character.
Heartbeat was a medical drama that centered around a medical center, Women’s Medical Arts, which was founded by three women who weren’t pleased with how women’s health concerns were treated in a field that was dominated by men. It was featured on ABC for only 18 episodes; but even with a limited run on television, it received a great deal of attention for the inclusion of a lesbian couple, Nurse Practitioner Marilyn McGrath and her partner, Patty. The sexuality of Marilyn and Patty was revealed in the fifth episode of the show, when Marilyn’s daughter informed her that Patty would not be invited to her wedding. It was the first time that a primetime television show featured a lesbian character.
People ran an article prior to the debut of the show titled “Is Prime Time Ready for Its First Lesbian? Gail Strickland Hopes So – And She’s About to Find Out” in which they interviewed the show’s creator, Sara Davidson and Gail Strickland, the actress who played Marilyn McGrath. In the interview, Davidson explains her decision to wait until the fifth episode to disclose Marilyn’s sexuality, saying “We wanted people to see her as a terrific person first […] then find out she has a private life that at its core is no different from anyone else’s.” The general public was so afraid of gay women that the creator of the show felt like she had to spend four episodes painting a picture of how good of a person the character was before she could reveal her sexuality.
As far as Gail Strickland’s decision to take the role, shock value wasn’t one of the deciding factors in her decision. “It’s not often actors get to play parts that might make a difference,” she told People, “the fact that somewhere, somehow, someone’s perspective might be softened is important to me.” She went on to say that Marilyn was a loving mother who had been in a solid relationship for four years and that is the kind of character she wanted to play, regardless of their sexuality. Strickland’s only fear was that the network would pull back when they started to see retaliation from viewers. This was, after all, not a singular episode of a television show like I’ve written about before, but instead an entire series in which we would see a lesbian on screen week-after-week. Her reservations proved to be legitimate, as the network did scale back the lesbian moments slowly as the series went on with her partner, Gina, only appearing on screen in five total episodes of the series.
While overall the series was important in showing lesbians in a positive light and helped to change attitudes toward lesbians, there were a couple of major downfalls that ultimately hurt the impact of the series. The biggest downfall was that other than eye contact and an occasional hug, there was no contact between the two characters. I’m not arguing that a full-on sexual encounter should have been broadcast on primetime television, but even the small interactions that couples have – hand holding, cuddling on the couch while watching TV, crying in the arms of your partner when you’re going through a particularly hard time – are all absent from any scene in the series. The two characters live together and talk about being lesbians, but it all but stops there. It would have been unsurprising if the series had featured the women sleeping in parallel twin beds, a la Lucy and Ricky in I Love Lucy. Ultimately, I think that this hurt the attempt to “normalize” lesbians. The other characters in the show have intimate moments with their partners, but the lesbians just look at each other and hug sometimes which ended up leaving more questions than answers.
The wardrobe was also a poor choice for the lesbian characters. While the characters dressed feminine and didn’t dress like along the lines of the stereotypical, lumberjack lesbian, they were never dressed in anything sexy. Obviously there was a huge part of the show that was filmed with the characters in scrubs and lab coats, which aren’t particularly “sexy” pieces of clothing, but all of the clothes that the characters wore while being shown outside of work were very conservative. This isn’t my way of saying that women have to wear clothing that accentuates their sex appeal. But if the straight characters in the show were allowed to dress themselves up a bit, why weren’t the lesbians? Showing the lesbian characters as nearly asexual while the straight characters were allowed to be sexual on screen created a weird image of lesbians..
The personalities of the two lesbian characters were also a little troubling. They were both stereotypes of what gender binary, females – super emotional, always troubled by something, never assertive, and almost always submissive. It’s troubling for any female character to be portrayed this way, but especially when showing a lesbian couple. There were no dynamics to the relationship because they were both based on the same stereotype of what a woman should be rather than exploring the idea that any two women could possibly have different personalities. I imagine if there were to be a scene written where they were deciding what to have for dinner we would just watch 45 minutes of each of them saying “I don’t know, you decide!” to the other. It would have been nice to see a little more depth to the characters here.
Ultimately, poor viewership caused ABC to pull the plug on Heartbeat in the middle of the second season of the series even after a nomination in 1989 for the People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama and a tie with L.A. Law (which coincidentally would go on to also feature a lesbian character) for the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Drama. Though it had it’s faults, Heartbeat was definitely a turning point in normalizing lesbians and bringing their stories to the homes of millions of Americans. It was certainly a risk for the creator Sara Davidson to include a lesbian in a storyline that wouldn’t have been affected much if she’d written the character Marilyn as a straight woman and Heartbeat really set television up to continue to feature prominent queer storylines in the 90s.
Trump Admin Fights Against HIV Research
Politics Is Personal, No. 2
The Trump Administration has ordered the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to thwart progress on HIV-related experiments due to the use of human tissue. This move is an affront both to modern medicine and to the millions of people who have suffered from HIV and AIDs at the hands of Republican administrations.
Scientists at the Gladstone Center for HIV Cure Research in San Francisco have been working on lessening HIV’s ability to stay in reservoirs of the body. If their research were to continue, society could eventually see a drug that would make PrEP — the current treatment of prevention for people at risk of contracting HIV — a short-term drug instead of a lifelong medication. This sort of change would be a massive step forward in both the convenience and cost of HIV treatment, bringing us one step closer to a true cure for the disease. In their experimentation, the scientists have been combining the genes of lab mice with human fetal tissue to have a more accurate representation of the human immune system.
Now, in a sweeping move affecting medical research across the country, Trump’s administration has banned NIH facilities from obtaining any more fetal tissue for their experimentation. The move was led not by medical researchers but by anti-abortion activists who claim that the use of consensually-given aborted human fetal tissue is immoral. This news comes only a few years after the uproar over a heavily edited video claiming that Planned Parenthood illegally sold aborted fetal tissue parts. Although this new “pro-life” regulation does nothing to limit abortions themselves, it does prohibit life-saving medical research from advancing the cure for HIV. It could be seen as ironic if it weren’t so terrifyingly cruel to those suffering from the disease.
Although the NIH was ordered to cease the acquisition of tissue in September of 2018, the news about the HIV experimentation is just now reaching national headlines. It’s the latest in a long string of similar actions by the current White House. While the President will often tweet long streams-of-consciousness about the Mueller investigation, many policies are changing in a quiet and sinister way. Other recent examples include the resumption of family separation at the border, loosening of radiation regulations, and the removal of LGBT+ people from the U.S. census. LGBT+ people in particular stand to lose decades of progress if research on HIV/AIDS treatment continues to wither.
The Trump Administration is not the first US Presidency that has halted progress on a cure for AIDS. Most notably, Ronald Reagan and the recently-deceased George H. W. Bush both stalled progress on AIDS research at the height of the AIDS crisis in the late twentieth century. At the time, the disease was highly stigmatized and viewed as a condition that only affected gay men, often called the “gay plague”, while HIV/AIDS itself was for years referred to in the medical field as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. Homophobic policies and ignorance stunted research on the disease for decades, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States alone. The LGBT+ community lost nearly an entire generation of gay activists, leaders, performers, and family members. Only now are activists such as Javier Muñoz of Hamilton beginning to undo the harmful prejudices against people with HIV/AIDS.
History seems doomed to repeat itself if work on the cure for HIV doesn’t resume soon. A postdoctoral student involved in the Gladstone center research, Thomas Packed called the cessation “a travesty for the outlook for HIV research… Blocking this significantly hurts our chances of finding an HIV cure.”
There is no word yet on how or when work on the cure for HIV will be able to resume.
Politics Is Personal is a weekly column written by staff writer Rachel Abbott. New entries appear Monday nights at 7.
Everyone I’ve Ever Voted for Has Lost
Politics Is Personal, No. 1
Politics Is Personal is a new column by Rachel Abbott, covering local and national news as it affects LGBTQ+ people. This column abides by one principle: that politics is never just a difference of opinion but a system of moral beliefs that influence our lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness. Marginalized populations are particularly endangered when politics go awry.
I was driving home from my mom’s neighborhood in Spring, Texas the night that I heard Beto O’Rourke lost the race for US Senate against Ted Cruz. We had been out celebrating my birthday, and I vowed not to check my phone all evening as the results began to roll in. I’m both a person who loves politics as well as a person with an anxiety disorder; and the two go together like ammonia and bleach. I wanted to stay away from both the politics and the anxiety so that I could enjoy my birthday celebration with my mom. Therefore, I’d put my phone on silent and shoved it into the bottom of my bag. All night while we were out shopping and getting sushi at a local dive, I had felt the weight of my phone pulling my phone nearer to the ground like bricks in the proverbial sack. . The vibration of every single notification threatened to pull me out of the moment I was fighting my own anxiety to enjoy.
I had avoided my phone for about five hours in an effort to be present and practice some birthday mindfulness. But when our night out came to a close and I needed to drive back downtown, I was forced to pull out my phone to put on some music and to get directions. Even as I tried to avoid the news updates, my eyes canned the headline at the top of the screen — “Beto Concedes Race to Ted Cruz”. That was that. As disappointed as I was, I mostly felt exhausted. Beto was the latest in a long string of candidates that I supported and rooted for only to watch be defeated.
I remembered the first time I felt that sense of loss and frustration. I had been just a few days too young to vote for Barack Obama’s re-election, but I registered as quickly as I could. Soon I voted for Wendy Davis in the primary elections. Then I voted for her again in the gubernatorial election of 2014. At the time, there was no doubt in my mind that Wendy Davis would win. She had filibustered magnificently — hell, she’d filibustered at all. She ran on a platform all about empowering bold, Texan women. She was young, she was charming, and she cared about education and minority populations. Yet she lost to Greg Abbott.
Then there was Bernie Sanders, whom I’d voted for in the primary elections in the 2016 presidential race. He ran on a platform of promoting economic equality, of affordable college tuition and free healthcare. His tax plan read as European and elegant, and he had decades of experience. He had marched with Martin Luther Fucking King Jr., for chrissakes. These bricks that build the Great Wall of Bernie all sound amazing, I thought. And Hillary already lost a primary once before. Surely Bernie is our candidate. Yet he lost to Hillary Clinton.
So I brushed off the dust, and I threw my support in for Hillary. Was she perfect? No. But God she was so much better than the alternative that it seemed laughable. Even when I wasn’t on fire for her policies, it was easy for me to support her. She was professional. She was poised. She had years of political experience and the education to match it. I was ready for the first female United States president. Beyond that, I felt like she had the bare minimum of human decency. She neither made fun of disabled reporters, nor boasted about sexually assaulting people. She didn’t call immigrants rapists and criminals. The bar set by her opponent seemed impossibly low. The bar was literally buried five feet under ground; you would have to dig your own grave to miss that bar.
Well, we all know how that turned out.
All of this is to say: I am used to my candidates losing, but I’m still sick of it. In a country where we tout a representative democracy, I have yet to vote and see my views represented. It feels, on a fundamental level, unfair. And it sounds whiny when I say it like that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. If the point of an elected official is to represent the views of their governed body, and your views are eked out year-after-year … what’s left to do?
It would definitely be easier for me to sit with the disappointment if this were a matter of mere opinions. For instance, if the greatest thing at stake in any election were how much tax funding went to road repair versus the city bus system, I probably would not care all that much about the results. However, that’s not how our elections work. One representative supports my right to marry my partner; one thinks our union should be illegal. One representative will allow transgender people to receive the healthcare and support they need; one wants to define them out of existence. One representative would end border camps for children; one supports the destruction of families. When the stakes are this high, everyone should care. Everyone should care about these policies on a visceral, emotional level.
The baffling truth is that many people don’t feel that way. I’ve tried to figure out what’s going on in the minds of my close relatives and family friends who vote red time-and-again. Their beliefs are now reflected in our governor, both of our senators, our president, and the majority of the Supreme Court. But what, exactly, are those beliefs that they hold so dear? These are the same people who will assure me that they love me, love my partner, can’t wait for our wedding. Then, in the same day, they’ll post on Facebook that they’re voting for Ted Cruz or that they’re trying to “Make America Great Again”. It gives me emotional whiplash. And for what? What belief is it that my own family could hold more dear that my right, as their sister or niece or cousin, to feel happy and safe? I want to shake them — physically shake them — and ask, Why don’t I matter enough to you?
Beto O’Rourke lost by just a little over 2% of the vote. That means that nearly half of all Texans support liberal policies, yet both of our senators are conservative. I believe — and hope — that Beto will run for another political office one day, maybe not the presidency yet but something. His campaign invigorated the Texas Democrats in a way that I’d never seen before. I would be really proud to be represented by a candidate like Beto O’Rouke. But it’s too soon for me to think about all that — too soon to excite myself again.
Wendy Davis. Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton. Lupe Valdez. Beto O’Rourke. My political mind holds something of a memorial to these people who ran on good, decent platforms but lost. There will be more candidates. I have no doubt in my mind that in a few months we’ll begin to ready our battle paint for yet another round of primaries and yet another round of general elections. There will be shiny and wonderful new democratic candidates who will reignite the spark of hope that us voters in the South carry in our hearts. After all, Senator Cornyn’s seat will be up for reelection soon, and then there’s that thing about the President. I hope these new candidates will win. I really, really need one of these new candidate to win. For the first time, I need someone that I voted for to win.
In the words of Wendy Davis: “I fucking hate to lose.”
Putting the ‘Family’ in ‘All in the Family’
Queer Guy in the Public Eye, No. 1
In queer culture, there’s a lot of fun and often campy terminology that gets thrown around, even if many of us don’t know where it comes from. Today, it’s not as shocking to hear a gay person use the word ‘queer’ or ‘homo’ amongst one another, but these weren’t always terms of endearment — and often they still are not when coming from people who are not LGBTQ+. One term many of us are familiar with is ‘family’. You know … like when you and your friends see that attractive person sitting across the straight bar you’re visiting and you try to assess whether or not that person is “family”, meaning whether or not they, too, are LGBTQ+. Because that word carries so much meaning within the community, I thought looking at another family to begin a conversation about how queer people have been presented in the media — for better or for worse — might be a good place to start by looking back at an episode of CBS’s 1970’s sitcom, All in the Family.
Some might find it to be an interesting choice to begin chronicling queer presence in pop culture with a show that was – at least through the lens of where we are societally in 2018 – extremely problematic. However, for the sake of at least beginning this journey throughout our pop culture history, as well as in an attempt to assess the amount of progress – or lack thereof – that has been made, I believe that the perfect place to dive into an introspective account of how queer people were viewed in and represented by the media is with the 1970’s sitcom, All in the Family.
All in the Family premiered on January 12, 1971 and ran over the course of eight seasons until April 8, 1979. In true 1970’s television fashion, it spawned five spin-offs, including, but not limited to, Maude, The Jeffersons, and Archie Bunker’s Place. The show broke a number of records and was one of the first shows to blend the sitcom format with topical issues, many of which had never been discussed on television. In a time of “fireplace television” — when families had one television set in the house and only three channels to choose from — All in the Family was consistently one of television’s most watched shows.
The show centered around a bigot longing for the “good old days” names Archie Bunker, his airhead wife, Edith, and Gloria and Michael Stivic, the Bunker’s more progressive daughter and son-in-law. The fifth episode of the first season – entitled “Judging Books by Covers” — tackled an issue that wasn’t present on American television at the time: homosexuality.
Now, just because the show addressed homosexuality does not mean that they celebrated it. In the episode, a friend of the Stivic’s – Roger – comes to visit them at the home that the Stivic’s share with the Bunker’s. Archie is immediately upset by the news that Roger will come to visit them and Michael gets into an argument with Archie which ends with the following exchange:
“Just because a guy is sensitive, and he’s an intellectual, and he wears glasses, you make him out [to be] a queer.”
“I never said a guy who wears glasses is a queer. A guy who wears glasses is a four-eyes. A guy who’s a fag is a queer.”
Throughout the entire episode, the word ‘fag’ is used three times along with other slurs, including ‘pansy’, ‘fairy’, and “queer as a four dollar bill.” Interestingly, the words ‘gay’ and “homosexual” are completely omitted from the episode. In a time when “family-friendly” television was at the forefront, it’s interesting that ‘fag’ could be included into a script multiple times but that the writers wouldn’t dare include the word ‘gay.’ The punchline to every joke that Archie made throughout the episode was about how feminine Roger was and the studio audience couldn’t get enough. Initially, it seemed like the writers of the show broke down a barrier and introduced homosexuality simply to use queer people as a punchline or to make them out to be a joke.
Frustrated with Roger’s presence, Archie goes to the local bar to meet up with “the guys” and have a beer. One of Archie’s friends is Steve, a former professional football player and a “real man”, according to Archie. Michael and Roger come into the bar where the bartender pulls Michael aside and asks whether Roger is “you know”, which in the language of 1971 television translates to ‘gay’. Michael replies that as far as he knows Roger is straight, and the bartender tells him that he’s fine with Steve because he doesn’t come by very often, doesn’t invite his “friends” with him, and doesn’t “camp it up” with his sexuality. It takes a second for Michael to realize that the bartender is telling him that Steve is an out and proud homosexual.
When they get back to the house, another argument ensues between Michael and Archie and Michael ultimately tells Archie what he’s learned about Steve. Archie doesn’t believe Michael, because Steve is the textbook definition of what a “man” is to Archie – tall, muscular, and athletic. Eventually Archie confronts Steve; and after the dialogue skates in circles around the question of “are you gay?”, Steve reveals that, in fact, he is. Of course, Archie is dumbfounded as he heads home. The episode ends at the house with Gloria and Michael accompanied by a friend who isn’t facing the camera, but is masculine-presenting from the back. Archie walks in and addresses the third person, who Gloria introduces as Gerry, who turns around and is actually a female with a short haircut, which prompts an eye roll from Archie as the episode ends.
Let me give you a bit of a retrospective so that we can make more sense of what the landscape of America looked like for LGBTQ people in 1971: In preparation to write their book “The Nixon Tapes”, Douglas Brinkley and Luke A Nichter re-visited and created transcripts of all 3,700 hours of tapes recorded in the Oval Office during Richard Nixon’s presidency. In the tapes — many of which weren’t decipherable until modern technology helped clean them up — Richard Nixon bashes All in the Family in a conversation with his chief domestic aide, John Ehrlichman. In the conversation with Ehrlichman, Nixon says:
“The point I make is that, goddamn it, I do not think you glorify, on public television, homosexuality! You don’t glorify it, John, anymore than you glorify … uh … whores. I don’t want to see this country go that way. You know what happened to the Greeks. Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo, we all know that. So was Socrates.”
Richard Nixon believed that an episode of a television show that consisted of using homophobic slurs rather than simply the words ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ even once was a show glorifying being gay. Interestingly enough, in a separate conversation recorded a few months after the episode aired, Nixon in heard saying that he is the “[…] most tolerant person […]” and that gay people are “[…] born that way […]” but that he doesn’t think that they should be allowed to be “[…] Boy Scout leaders, YMCA leaders [… or] teachers.” Despite all of this, he still wouldn’t “[…] shake hands with anybody from San Francisco.”
1971 — the year this episode first aired on television across millions of American homes — was just two years after the historic Stonewall Riots. States were just beginning to decriminalize homosexual activity between two consenting adults and perceived sexual orientation was still a valid reason for discrimination across the country, regardless of whether or not someone was truly gay or not. In a nutshell: 1971 was far from a gay-friendly time. The slurs and jokes that appeared in this episode wouldn’t make it past the FCC and onto broadcast television today (although cable and streaming networks wouldn’t bat an eye); but the writers of the show did something that was unprecedented 47 years ago. No, they weren’t “glorifying” homosexuality; but for the first time on extremely popular and well-watched (as well as well-received) TV show on a major broadcast network, a character came out as gay. And that wasn’t all; in fact, the flamboyant, feminine character was straight, while the masculine, ex-football player was the character who turned out to be gay. The show didn’t stop at just introducing a homosexual character, they also began to break down the stereotypes of what gay looked like. At a time when All in the Family was the highest-ranking television show in the United States, this was a huge first step in the fight to show the world that not only do gay people exist, but that our stories deserve to be told. Sure, no one in the Bunker-Stivic clan may have been a part of our family; but certainly there’s something to be said about what the household of All in the Family did for the future of our queer family in such a seemingly small, while actually quite bold, way.
Sexual Harassment Has No Place in My Career
About Feminism, No. 3
It has become evident to me that the world I’m entering is not the one I expected it to be. Or maybe it’s just that one asshole has ruined everything and now I’m entering the entertainment industry with a hand over my eyes, expecting the worst.
From a young age, I have wanted to be a writer. A novelist, a comic book writer, and now a television writer. I have bounced around between the ideas of them all, just trying to find a place where I settle perfectly. And recently, I have found that place. Or, at least, the place where my talents, skills, and self fit best right now. The trouble is that in that place I wish most to be and am working my ass off to get to, there are a few scumbags. Before even truly entering the world of entertainment writing, while still acquiring new knowledge and preparing to escape into that world, there has been one particular scumbag that has tainted this new adventure for me. He has started my path out on something bitter and terrible rather than what it should be: new, hopeful, and exciting.
It is because of this one person that I have been doubting myself. I have been told things like, “Oh, that’s just the entertainment industry,” and “If you want to go into television, you have to thicken your skin.” And to the people saying these things I would just like to say that all of that is complete and utter bullshit.
Sure, the entertainment industry has been known for its terrible past— one that has historically reduced women, queer people, and people of color to nothing more than stereotypes, extras, and people to take advantage of sexually. More so now than ever before in the past, we’re seeing the entertainment industry begin to do at least something about this issue. But it isn’t just applicable to the entertainment industry, nor should this issue be treated as though that’s all it’s applicable to, because there are bad people everywhere. There is sexual harassment in every field, in every state, in every nation all across the entire world; and for someone to sit down and tell me that just because I want to go into this particular field that I want to work in to create entertaining content for the masses and to discuss issues that often get swept under the rug, I have to what? Get used to it? I have to smile and nod when a man suggests inappropriate things?
I would also like to say that I am not someone that can be easily silenced. I will not go into this industry with a small voice that could easily be shut down by the people above me, nor will I acquiesce to the perversions of men who refuse to control themselves around women. I will not be stepped on or closed off by anyone because I make the choice to say ‘no’ to something that has nothing to do with my career and that makes me feel unsafe. And maybe I’m just saying this because I need to hear it be said. I need to hear myself think of myself as someone who is strong, if that makes any sense. Because, when you go through something like this, all the people around you, all the people who care about you, they all come in and tell you that you’re amazing. They tell you that you’re strong. They tell you that everything you’re doing is great and wonderful. And I appreciate that. I really do. But it’s time that I have to learn for myself.
In fact, it’s time that we all, as a society, learn that for ourselves. We need to start thinking of ourselves as tough, as women who won’t take any shit, as human beings who deserve to be treated like human beings and not sex objects. Because, honestly, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of letting men in powerful positions walk all over me. And while this has been the worst instance of a situation like this, it hasn’t been the first. And while it’s awful to say, I’m sure it won’t be the last. Because, friends, this is the universe we live in; and, I say that as a fact, but I do not say that as an excuse. Just because this world is terrible and corrupt and full of deplorable men who abuse their power does not mean that it’s okay.
To brief you just a bit on the situation, I was offered an opportunity. A good one. A really, really fucking good one. It was offered to me by someone who is well-known in the entertainment industry, someone who has clout and connections; and it was an opportunity that realistically could have done a great deal for me as a television writer. But here’s where the problems began: this man hadn’t ever read my writing. He didn’t know if I was even good at writing, or if I was just another kid with a pipe dream I wasn’t working toward. But you know what he did think? He thought I was hot — and he told me that part, that he was attracted to me — so why not give me a chance?
I’ve had teachers tell me, “Use what you’ve got to your advantage”; but that was more specifically devoted toward filling a diversity quota. Production companies, especially writers rooms, are looking for diverse people. At a 2016 talk-back and book signing at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, The Mindy Project creator and star (as well as former The Office producer), Mindy Kaling, offered advice to a young woman who asked what she could do to break into television writing, and Kaling told her just that. She let her know very clearly that writers rooms were looking for young people who were different — especially women, as statistically writers rooms have a large gap in the margin of male-to-female writers. But, with that being said, I will not sacrifice any part of myself, nor should you sacrifice any part of yourself just to fit into a box previously checked by someone else.
We are stronger than this. We know better than this. And if we keep sitting down, if we keep crying behind closed doors and letting things happen, then we are never going to make any progress in this industry. Because sure, the entertainment industry — while slowly but surely making small improvements — sucks. It’s all about power. The power our superiors hold over us, the power that we want to have, the power to make decisions to bring content that will exist forever thanks to the Internet and that will live in the hearts of millions for years to come. Look at the television shows that aired years — some decades ago that are still in syndication: Friends, Cheers, Bewitched. Look at the ones that aired all that time ago that are being remade or rebooted: Charmed, Will & Grace, and even the Roseanne reboot-turned-spin-off The Conners. And this world is on the cusp of major change, but the change we want to see in ourselves is reflected our own actions. We can’t move forward as a society if we’re not personally making our own changes in ourselves
This has been something that has been going on for a long time, and that will likely continue for a long time, as well, while Hollywood slowly weeds out and turns away the bad people. The entertainment industry has always been a problem since even the time that it began. In the recent years — months even — people have been standing up and saying what has happened to them, which has inspired others to do the same which is exactly why men like Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein and Jeremy Piven are beginning to be held accountable. People who have been abused have stood up, spoken their truth, and paved the way for those ahead of them to not have to suffer the same trials and tribulations, even if that isn’t quite the case just yet.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: don’t let people walk all over you. Be the strong human being you’re capable of being; and when shit gets hard, don’t let people tell you to remain calm. Get angry. Speak up. Don’t accept this as normal, no matter how many people tell you it is.
Welcome to Dumb Bitchery, Pt. II
Less Than Butterflies, No. 26
Though the evening — at least for Bertha and me — only lasted a few hours, the three of us became quick friends and managed to cover an array of topics that would have given the women of The View a run for their shitty, daytime television money. As if we were college (dropout) roommates catching up after having settled down with Plain Janes and having three kids we couldn’t afford a good Christmas for due to our drinking problems, we covered every topic imaginable. We discussed important topics like the issues of the infighting that plagued our community, and even more important topics like the comfortability of a beard when having your ass eaten. In this beautiful reprieve from my own previously-unquelled anxieties (which were some kind of cocktail made up of not being loved by the man I loved and missing my best friend and whether or not I’d ever get caught up on all the work I was so frighteningly behind on), I was for the first time in weeks able to just … exhale.
With Matt eventually switching to water and Bertha claiming time-after-time that she was on her last drink, we schlepped our way from the Eagle back to JR’s where the flighty, overly-Adderall-ed, sort-of-still-new-to-town bartender bought our first round of drinks. Between the three of us, we each ran into a handful of people we knew — some in common, others not — and still managed to find something to discuss at every turn. More than once the topic of Peter was brought up; although I quickly changed the subject each time. I wasn’t going to bog my newfound friends down with my drunken emotions, nor was I going to divulge a personal situation that was still fresh. And for the time being, the only persons it involved were Peter and I and that’s how it needed to remain. I’d even begun purposely neglecting to share details about our bad and good times with Gwen simply because — in a rather rare moment of maturity on my part — I’d come to realize that putting any of our close friends in the middle of our chaotic friendship hiccup wasn’t fair. If I needed to bitch about something Peter had said or done, what good would it have done me to tell the people we were both close to? They’d been his friends first. And, sure, I had the luxury of spending more time with them than he; but it would be childish to try to momentarily encourage anyone to my side of an argument when we were both in the wrong on nearly each and every account — both too stubborn and emotional to acquiesce to the other’s needs, no matter how similar they may have been.
As it got closer to nine o’clock (mind you, I’d only started drinking just after six), I had already had upwards of half a dozen vodka cranberries, two Fireball concoction shots at the Eagle, and a Rumplemintz shot that some man who was “courting” — and I do use that word in a sense just as loose as the hungry butthole seeking penetration — had bought rounds of for us. Bertha had Ubered herself home because, as she put it, “Talk to me once you’re over thirty-years-old”; and I was well on my way to needing some cocaine to be able to drive later that night. The stranger who had bought the shots of Rumple asked me questions a bit aggressively about the magazine, my column, and my relationship to Matthew. I wasn’t sure whether or not he was under the impression that I was trying to sleep with the pocket gay — which, to be clear, I was not. However, I took note of the change in the intonation of his voice once I’d made that clear, after which he immediately began to share with me some oddities I wasn’t completely clear as to why he felt he needed to share with a complete stranger.
“You know,” he said as we stood next to the bar while Matt was in the restroom for what began to feel like an eternity the longer this man spoke to me. “I kind of have a love-hate relationship with Matt,” he explained.
“Uh-huh?” I said with a cluck of my tongue.
“Like … it’s weird. I love him to death … but I also really want to hate-fuck him.”
If the blowback of my head wasn’t enough to give me whiplash, the speed at which I craned down to the bar to slurp up the rest of my drink might have.
“Well …” I muttered when I came back up for air. “That is … that is an interesting little fact to share with a complete and total stranger.” The man then laughed, proceeded to apologize and explain that he was drunk, and then gave me an all-too-comfortable hug for someone I’d just met.
Soon enough, my recently-lovelorn friend Chance texted me to let me know he’d be hosting a show at another bar that night with our other BFF and drag queen royal, Ava. Drunk and not quite ready to go home yet, I coerced my last-standing companion and his new boy-toy to Lyft to the other bar with me for a bit. They insisted on driving — likely so one could blow the other in the car before arriving — but I opted to make the best of all the free Lyft rides I’d been collecting for no apparent reason. I wasn’t really in a place in my life where I was ready to mark off the DWI box on my Gay Bingo card; plus the time to the next bar, the time spent there, and the time Lyfting back would hopefully prove long enough to sober myself so that I could drive home later.
I did not sober, in fact.
Who could’ve predicted that?
At the next bar I drank three cosmos and someone bought me a shot of tequila after I gave him a cigarette on the patio and let him put his hand down the back of my pants for what I’m sure could have only been research. Or … I don’t know … reach-around-search. [shrugging emoji]. I’d lost Matt somewhere along the way, although he finally found me (likely by standing on someone else’s shoulders) and alerted me to the fact that he and the JR’s stranger we’re going home to fuck. I applauded this as I drank more and finally found Chance and Ava in the DJ booth. I chatted drunkenly with Ava for a moment, but soon I couldn’t contain my sentiment anymore.
Between Gwen, Peter, Ava, Chance, and myself, we had over the last year become our very own version of the Plastics from Mean Girls. Each of us was — to varying degrees, and myself being the least of which — relatively known in our community and had jobs that weren’t the type just anyone has, as we all worked in some sort of intersection of media and entertainment. We had affectionately dubbed ourselves The Tap-Taps, an inside, Molly joke that sort of just stuck when we’d changed our group chat name to it in our iMessage thread. Rarely were all five of us ever in the same room — and luckily so, as I’ve heard that to be the Seventh Seal of the Apocalypse. Still, this Fucked-Up Fab Five was sort of the perfect bunch. Chance and Peter had been inseparable friends for years only to be torn apart over a boy, and finally to come back together; Chance and Ava worked together several times a week; Ava and Peter had known each other for a while, but had really only gotten close after hosting a show together a little over a year ago; Ava and Gwen had been good pals for years that also worked together semi-regularly; and Gwen and Peter had run in the same circles for years, but were only just now approaching the one year anniversary of their first real hang-out.
I’d admired Gwen from afar for a while, only for her to sort of demand we become best friends; Gwen introduced me to Peter one night while he was fucked up at Guava, where we began to establish a professional relationship that later turned into friendship; I’d gotten to know Ava through mutual encounters with her alongside both Peter and Gwen, truly only hanging out for the first time the night that I’d met Chance, the same night I’d learned of his then-defunct friendship with Peter. I was the baby of the family — and I mean that near literally. All of these people were upwards of 28; I, however, rung in at a mere 24. They had histories with one another, no matter how sparse or convoluted, that I probably would never have with them. Yet, for the first time in my life, I felt as though I’d found my people. I loved them. Regardless of the task, in that year they’d all proven to be the people who showed up and showed out and helped to make dreams come true, which is the very thing I wanted to do for them, too. And by my third cosmo, I was missing Peter, again. But I was also missing Gwen — who I knew I’d see the next morning. And even with them standing right there, I missed Ava and Chance, too.
It was such a strange feeling. The idea that my friendship with Peter was only being held together by a thread that could at any moment be pulled away frightened me, because it might have meant that I would lose the rest of my family, too.
But with that fear, with that potential for a heartbreak even greater than the sort a man could ever do to me, I was also elated. I mean, for fuck’s sake … how lucky of a fag was I? Not only did I belong to a grown-up clique of cool kids, but on the very night when I stood upon a precipice that could catapult me into losing these deep, magical, meaningful friendships, two people who were nearly strangers to me had been kind and thoughtful enough to sweep down from the sky, scoop me up, and give me the one thing I’d been needing most — and not just since Peter and I had taken a break. It had been the thing I needed since the moment I realized I was in love with him months ago:
A reminder that no matter what happened, there were always going to be people in my life that cared about me.
I kissed Ava on the cheek and hugged Chance goodbye, Lyfting to a Starbucks near the car where I could sit and sober for a while as I flipped through my mental Rolodex of alcohol-induced sentimentalities. Even in my own anxiety-fueled paranoia, I was grateful for Bertha and Matt for being so kind to someone they’d only really just met. And that gratitude served as a reminder that, yeah, sure, things may not have been great for Peter and I right at that moment … but that this too would come to pass. I may not ever fully get over the feelings I was having for him, but I knew — as history showed me with Ezra, and Parker, and every other man before them — that I’d learn to live with it. Was the situation with Peter different? Yeah. Vastly so. But the bottom line was that we were two friends who cared enough about each other and about ourselves to take a breather.
I knew after that moment at the bar — and after seeing that he’d peeped at my Snapchat and realizing he was sending messages in our Tap-Taps group thread — that we would eventually be okay; and my fear that I’d lose my other friends over this, too, finally began to subside. It would take time before we could ever be the people we were to one another, and likely it would never be quite the same. But that’s the great thing about having friends who are just as queer as you are:
They’re all we have.
And no matter how many there might be — a Bertha, an Ava, a Gwen, a Chance, a Matthew, a Peter, and all the others — each relationship is individualistic and unique. Each is — like all other things in life — energized and alive, capable of being damaged when its dropped, but mendable with the proper care. And if it had been anyone else — Parker, Ezra, Taylor, Adam, [insert every other ex or love interest here] — I probably would have something to fear. But the core of my relationship with Peter — as well as with the other three — is the kind of love that only comes from two friends who truly want to be in one another’s lives because of how good the friendship is.
These friends of mine, new and old, they’ve made me who I am today, even in such a short amount of time. They truly are all I have, because I wouldn’t be me if not for the handprints they’ve left on my heart.
🦋 🦋 🦋
Having made it home and in bed before midnight, I woke from a peaceful dream at five AM. It was a dream that had been recurring since September, and maybe one day I’ll share it, too. As of late, however, I’d not had it in several weeks; and I welcomed it back with a smile on my face as I woke.
That smile faded, however, the moment I realized it was still dark outside.
I reached for my phone and found a few messages from Bertha and Matt in a group chat. As it happened, everyone was craving Chicken Minis from Chick-Fil-Hate, Bertha wanted her hungry butthole hate-fucked like Matt, and Matt had been sourly disappointed with the stranger from JR’s, leaving him to go back out and then to the home of another man … and then another. (more…)
Welcome to Dumb Bitchery, Pt. I
Less Than Butterflies, No. 26
Gay men understand what’s important: clothes, compliments, and cocks.”
— Samantha Jones
🦋 🦋 🦋
Ladies and … gaydies …?
I know I make a lot of statements in this column, many of which you may agree with, many of which you may not. My turn-ons are not necessarily the same as or even similar to your own, my bad sex experiences might be so humiliating that you could never imagine sharing them with someone else if they’d happened to you, and maybe you actually know one of my exes personally and think he’s a good guy. You’re … you know … wrong. But … whatever. It’s fine. Anyway! It’s fine to have differing opinions; it’s what makes the world colorful and beautiful and interesting. But I do think that if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s this:
Men. Are fucking. Insane.
But there is some respite from the eternal woes of men — do they love you? Do they not? Are they going to text you? Should you text them? Will they compliment the outfit you spent hours picking out just because you knew you’d be seeing them later? Why didn’t he invite you out with him and his other friends? What does their last text mean? Is he just your friend? Or did that one night you almost slept together and all that other sexual awkwardness mean something else is going on?
Don’t fucking look at me like that.
The fact remains that men are insane and unpredictable and sometimes a little selfish and act without thinking about how their actions are going to affect other people. I should know, and not just because I’ve slept with most of the world’s population of men, but because I too — even if debatably so, at times — am one. And as much as I like to point it out in others, there is not a doubt in my mind that I am just as bad as (if not worse than) all the others.
Surprisingly enough — as it would seem that the majority of my friends that get mentioned in these stories are women — many of my friends are this way, too, as they as well are men. Mind you, 98% of them, like me, are flaming homosexuals. If you lined 9 of us during the winter, one could easily confuse us for a menorah lit for the last night of Hanukkah. But it’s that brazen disregard for what is culturally seen as what it means to be male — from the flapping of fans to the beat of some trashy, pop remix on the dance floor right on down to the ass-eating — that makes gay men special. Now, don’t take that to be a gloss over everyone else in our community; it’s not. People on every end of the LGBTQIA spectrum are just as special. It is our perceived aberrance — our sparkle that stands out to straight, cis-gender people that they’re too irritatingly blinded by to see its beauty — that attracts us all to one another.
Because — at least, in a sense — we’re all that we have. That’s not to say that our straight and cis allies aren’t good to us, that they aren’t advocating for us. But no matter how hard a person advocates for the rights of people who have been culturally and socially stigmatized all throughout history in a way they have not — that is to say, if they don’t share that history or if they haven’t suffered their own plight — being an ally is only nominal. This is not me detracting from the importance of our allies. We’d be nowhere as queer people if there hadn’t been straight and cis people listening to what we need, then going to battle for those things, swords wielded and shields tossed into our arms to protect ourselves. Still, the celebration and commiseration that can only be shared by people who have been through it as well can only be found in our community.
And that, friends, is why there isn’t anything more exciting — at least, not in my opinion — than the ardor that comes from befriending people like you.
🦋 🦋 🦋
Peter and I were on a break from our ever-complicating friendship because, as I mentioned before, men are insane. And as a surprise plot twist I may regret ever admitting, I must confess that the insanity I’m speaking of here is my own.
Yeah. I’m fucking crazy. If you’ve been reading along this far into the series, you’ve probably picked up on that by now. I can’t pin this one on the dude, but more on that another day.
Peter, for those of you who have been following along, was up until this point referred to as Pistachio at my friend Gwen’s insistence. I could only take myself seriously for so long by naming a man after a nut — although, as aforementioned, men are fucking nuts. So now, nineteen columns into this season of Less Than Butterflies, I’ve elected to change his name for the second time. And for those of you who have not been following along, Peter makes a great segue from my former point about friendships into the story to come. He was someone I’d grown incredibly close to over the course of only a short year, but someone whom I’d fallen in love with by accident after a series of intimacies and resultant misfortunes (not to mention tantrums on my part). Our friendship had been struggling in the small span of time since, and eventually I will get around to telling our full story from beginning to end. But not today; not while I’m still trying to understand it completely myself coupled with trying to not be a lunatic.
That said, as our once-wonderful (albeit delightfully hateful) friendship had hit a rocky road — feelings tight, tensions high — we’d found ourselves in a place where we were taking a bit of break from one another. It sucked, considering the holidays were quickly approaching and many of the plans we’d made not only with one another, but with all our other friends, were intersectional. But even just a few days apart had already done us some good. Or, maybe I should say that it had done me some good. I can’t speak for him, but I can only assume it had also served him some much-needed space to clear his head and to get a little freedom from my affections and psychotic reactions he’d never signed up for. But as much good as it was doing me, even just a few days in … I really missed my best friend.
When I felt that melancholy at first — maybe it came when I found a meme I’d wanted to share with him or when I saw his texts in our group chat that involved many of our closest friends — I noticed that the root of missing him didn’t stem from the romantic feelings that I had. Sure, those were still there; but what I was feeling was a seemingly-perennial void that came from not having my friend to annoy and talk to about stupid shit all throughout the day. I tried everything to shake it off. Over the course of three short days, I’d made myself zero in on my work — not a difficult thing to do when that’s all I ever do anyway — begin meditating first thing in the morning and before I went to bed, brushed-up on my long-since-used Italian, and even get back into the habit of exercising every day (kill me; JK — the exercise is going to do that for you). Still, as much as I was happy with the these little additions to my daily schedule, a chunk of the day didn’t pass that I had to remind myself as I was picking up my phone to text him a joke that we were on a break from one another.
So, in an effort to fill some of that empty space, I had resolved to embark upon the only proven method of treatment that had ever worked for me in these situations in the past:
I was going to spend time with some of my other friends. Even better, I was going to have a girls’ night with all of my queer friends that weekend before he and I would check in the following Monday to see where we were at and at which time I would likely apologize for being a psychopath in the hopes that we could at least cordially spend the holidays together with all our friends.
Immediately I put out the call for anyone who wanted to partake in a girls’ night with me, accompanied by my ever-handy “Find Our Sisters” American Horror Story GIF. It was going to be a day for any and everyone who equally needed a day of doing anything we could to relax, enjoy ourselves, and (most importantly) talk about anything that we wanted to so long as the conversation did not revolve around our most recent love interests — good or bad. I had no clear idea of what this would look like, mind you. Maybe we’d start with brunch at Baba Yega, move on to mani-pedis, spend a few hours in the living room of someone’s shitty, Montrose-adjacent apartment watching some mildly-misogynistic romantic comedy, go out drinking as the bars and clubs began to populate, flirt with people we truly had no interest in, and then round it all off by dancing at Rich’s. Or, conversely, maybe the plan would flop and we’d all just end up crying and eating our feelings. I hoped the latter wouldn’t present itself as the more likely option, but knew that after a few glasses of Cabernet on the back patio of Barnaby’s, I’d end up crying and rushing to the bathroom to fix my face before dodging questions about what was wrong with me and smiling stupidly to placate my worried, drunken friends.
Immediately after sending out an open invitation on Facebook, requests to partake came flooding in. The excitement of making this come to life was thrilling me. I wasn’t the only sad, heartbroken queer in Houston; though one could argue that I was the most pathetic of the bunch. Why shouldn’t I stand myself at the helm of a fun, senseless day that could end up making us all feel fantastic or at least alleviate our woes for a few hours? And what more effective method was there? Historically, each and every time I’d had my heart broken, this was the only method that worked.
When I’d made a conscious decision to put a little space between Ezra and I after he’d broken my heart (albeit unintentionally), the only thing that ever made me feel better was the kinship I shared with my friends like Gwen and Chance and, yes, even Peter! Maybe even especially Peter. Definitely so especially Gwen. I’d have died without her by my side those hard months. When I’d cut myself out of the canvas of the world after being raped, I was only resurrected from my internal purgatory because I had those same people surrounding me. When my ex-boyfriend, Parker, and I had broken up — and even when I recently found out he’d just wed only a year after telling me he wasn’t the marrying type — my friends were the only thing that carried me through the shitstorm that ensued within my mind.
So, why shouldn’t I call on the #girlsquad to come and distract me for a while? And why shouldn’t I be there to do the same for them if they were struggling, too? Before I’d even finished rationalizing the logic to myself, friends from grade school expressed their interest in such an event; closer friends like Gwen and Alice came ushering in to show their support; members of my clique from high school popped up offering to bring edible treats — likely cooked in marijuana butter; even a few folks I hardly knew at all began springing up and wishing to join in on the festivities. It appeared as though the weekend was going to prove to be successful for my little heartbroken and/or supportive coven. Only, when I woke on Wednesday from a short nap after staying up all night working, it appeared that #girlsquad time would be happening sooner than I’d expected.
In Houston’s LGBTQIA community, everyone who is someone — and really, even those who aren’t — seems to sort of know everyone after a while. There’s the indoctrination phase, which usually happens after befriending one social gay and being invited into one friend circle before being dragged by the hand into another, creating some big, gay Venn Diagram. Then come the seemingly-vapid rites of passage, like staying up until the sun wakes doing cocaine at some after-party in Midtown or Eado, or shoving ones down a stripper’s jockstrap at Tony’s Corner Pocket, or maybe even witnessing your first patio blowjob at Ripcord. Finally comes the ‘I-met-one-person-at-an-event-and-now-have-a-hundred-friend-requests’ phase. Maybe you’ve just befriended a drag queen with a great deal of clout like the reigning Miss Gay Texas America, Regina Blake-DuBois, after watching her lip sync a number from Wicked at her show, The Broad’s Way. Maybe you bumped rompers with one of the Pride Houston chairpeople while sipping Bellini pitchers at Rosemont. Maybe you’ve attended your first Pride Portraits photoshoot or Montrose Center fundraiser. Or maybe you’ve just spent three-and-a-half minutes arguing with Brenda Rich as to why you had to pay the seven dollar cover at front counter of Rich’s [insert obligatory: “That’ll be seven dollars” here].
The point is that everyone seems to know everyone else. And if one person overhears a rumor about another person that they don’t know, the chances are that they’re separated from one another by only a few degrees; and the person on the receiving end of the rumor will go out of their way to get to know that person. After all … the gays are a nosy people.
So when I awoke from my nap to find a work-related text message from a relatively new acquaintance whom we’ll call Matthew inviting me to meet up with him at JR’s, I jumped on the opportunity. Because, as he put it, “Bertha and I are gonna be on our dumb bitch behavior today if you’re not busy and want to be mildly entertained/driven to drink.”
Naturally, I replied, “Yesgodwhen.”
By the time I’d had time to shower, find an outfit, and fight inner-loop traffic, an hour had passed and the dynamic duo had moved on from JR’s to the Eagle, where I stood on the patio finishing a Marlboro before joining them inside. Before I’d even had time to extinguish the cigarette, a voice from behind me chirped, “Oh, heeeey.” I turned to see Matt poking his head out the old French doors and waving before weaving back inside. When I joined them, Matt and Bertha sat perched at the bar discussing how, just the night before, Matt had been traipsing around the bar flashing a photo of his penis to all the patrons around last call. Bertha — or Bertha Bored — was Matt’s drag queen best friend who was notorious amongst the gays for being one of the most outrageous caricatures I’m sure most any person would ever encounter in their lives. Today, she was out of drag and hanging out as one of the gay boys. Although, in spite of her cis-ness, Bertha still answered to Bertha full-time and seemed to take no issue with feminine pronouns.
Truth be told, I barely knew either of these people. What I did know of them was based solely upon what I’d heard from other people — truly all good things — and the interactions I’d seen them partake in on social media. Patrick was a local bartender and pocket gay that, in spite of his butch presentation, epitomized a few too many gay stereotypes. Bertha, on the other hand, was equally outrageous, although far less so in more quaint settings than she portrayed herself to be while working or on Facebook. That last part, as it happened, seemed to be something we all had in common. While not a single one of us now sipping from tall bar glasses could get away with saying that we weren’t boisterous or over-the-top, it could be easily read from spending time with the three of us that we weren’t actually as slutty or as drunk or as loud as we led other people to believe.
Don’t get me wrong, the three of us were all of those things; but the public personification was far more exasperating than the gay men behind the curtains.
“So what’ve y’all been up to?” I asked as I sipped from a vodka cranberry that Matt had taken the liberty of putting on his tab.
“Well,” Matt began, “I texted this one earlier …” he motioned toward Bertha, “… and told her that I was bored and wanted to do something. But I told her I really didn’t want to be a dumb bitch today, but that it’s really the only thing I’m good at.”
“Right, right,” I agreed with a single nod.
“And then when I was messaging you, I sort of was like, ‘You know, Anthony said that he was wanting to do a girls’ night thing. Why don’t we invite him to hang with us?’.”
“And here we are,” I added.
“Being dumb bitches,” Bertha concluded as we all raised our glasses in cheers to Dumb Bitchery, new and old.