Less Than Butterflies, No. 27
This is how the story went:
I met someone by accident.
He blew me away …
There are people who believe in something — God, karma, a grand design, the Fates … whatever. They tell tales of Noah and his ark, of messiahs born and unborn, gods and goddesses that hail from mountains and heavens and reign over rivers and underworlds. Whatever they believe, the fact is that they do believe in something; and those believers always say the same thing no matter what faith it is they belong to or identify with: Everything happens for a reason.
I, a person that doesn’t belong to any kind of religion, always have the same response to that statement:
Bull. Fucking. Shit.
I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I don’t believe children should get cancer; and I don’t believe that innocents should lose their lives to drunk drivers; I don’t believe that people should be raped by vile human garbage; and I don’t believe people who work their entire lives should barely be able to afford to put food in their mouths or roofs over their heads. And of all the senseless, inexplicable bullshit that happens, I certainly don’t believe that good-hearted, caring, loving people should have their hearts broken.
Some things in life just don’t happen for any reason at all. Some things in life just shouldn’t happen.
This is the story I’ve been leading to this entire season, even before I knew I was leading to it. It’s the story of no matter how much you can try to show someone how much you love them, they can for no reason still not love you back.
This is the story of a man named Peter, and the story of how I fell in love with him without even realizing what had happened until it was far too late. This is the story of how he broke my heart — even though it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t love me, and even though he didn’t mean to — in a way it had never been before.
He blew me away …
🦋 🦋 🦋
It was in the darkest of my days
when you took my sorrow
and you took my pain
and buried them away.
It was a Thursday evening in November of 2017 when I first met him, but only a few words had been exchanged. We were at a function and he was dressed to the nines while I was overweight and searching for the words to introduce myself to this dashing man as I sweated out Adderall and vodka. I was in a weird place in my life. Although I should’ve been rejoicing about all the good things that had been happening in my life at the time — I had just become the editor-in-chief of this magazine, I had amazing new friends as well as amazing old friends, and people were starting to get to know who I was as a writer and a member of the community. But not everything was going as great as I would have liked. I had just gotten out of a relationship with a man I thought I was going to someday marry (remember Parker?); I was slowly but surely falling for an asexual guy I knew didn’t love me back (remember Ezra?); my car had just been stolen from my mother’s driveway while I was out of town and I wasn’t sure how I’d ever afford a new one; plus my roommates in my gorgeous Heights townhouse were moving to Nashville in just a few short months and there was no way I could afford the place by myself.
Things were kind of a disaster; and I had no idea that in the months to come I’d go through yet another heartbreak and just shortly after that I would be drugged and raped. The year, on the whole, had been a nightmare with punctuated by patches of bedlam one after the next. Staying positive while also trying to keep my head above the water was proving difficult, but I wanted more than anything to maintain some air of charisma. After all, I was someone people were getting to know while working in the community; and I was known for my sense of humor at the time more than I was for my column or the magazine.
It wasn’t until one night while meeting up with my friend Gwen at Guava Lamp that I really first met Peter, though. I’d known him from the function before and had done my fair share of research (read: social media stalking), but it wasn’t until Gwen introduced us that we really had a conversation. In spite of my thorough stalking, I still knew very little about him then, but it seemed as though everyone in the world knew him. He was a bobbly-headed, lanky fellow out of that suit he’d worn to the function before that was more cute now than he was dapper. But what I found in just a short exchange of conversation was that Peter was quite charming and funny. My first true impression of his was as I sat at Guava and watched him take the stage with great hubris — albeit, drunk — and sing a strained rendition of Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” with a group of other boys I couldn’t name now if I tried while I giggled and sipped down a vodka cranberry at a table nearby.
When I later went to the parking lot to find a friend of mine, I found him laughing and hugging her as I approached. I can’t quite remember if I knew he’d been out there with her, and maybe that’s what I had approached him in the first place. But either way, when we did engage in conversation, he laughed at my dry jokes and complimented my work at the magazine before we spoke very briefly about trying to work together in our respective businesses to help the community thrive. But after only a single lunch meeting and some text conversations, I didn’t see Peter a lot. I’d heard he moved out of state, but I could hardly keep up with what he was doing with everything else that I had going on. Still, I thought about him, although not in any particular kind of way. After all, he was just a boy I had once fawned over as he sang karaoke. Nothing more, nothing less. He would, however, cross my mind as I scrolled through Facebook and saw photos of him out and about. It wasn’t until Gwen and I somehow pulled him in with the gravity of our own friendship after he’d gone that we began speaking on a regular basis. Group texts became a daily exchange between the three of us, and Marco Polos came shortly after when Gwen convinced us both to join the video walkie-talkie app. And on the side, Peter and I drew the map of a nice little friendship of our own. The tiny crush I’d had on him when we’d met didn’t seem to be an issue once Gwen informed me that Peter had had an on-again-off-again relationship. That being the case, that little crush evaporated into a wisp of smoke like a candle being put out after Mass.
What I couldn’t have known then, however, was just how much like a candle that feeling actually was — how soon it would be lit again and the wax would melt in slow, uneven form until is spilled over the plate it rested upon and hardened against the parts of my life trapped beneath it.
As it turned out, it was just that everyone seemed to know Peter — everyone did know Peter, even my straight friends that weren’t involved in the community. But more importantly, everyone seemed to love Peter, too. He was fun and handsome and had the most beautiful and trusting eyes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those eyes were the first things about him that I fell in love with. Looking at them made you feel surrounded in their color — like you’d suddenly fallen down a well and looked around as you hit the bottom to find you’d landed inside a painting. I still look into those eyes when I feel anxious or unsafe. Even just a picture can do the trick sometimes.
As we became better friends, our conversations were nothing if not a little harsh. Peter was a funny person, too; and what other people may have mistaken for hatefulness was just our back-and-forth banter. It kept us both laughing, even if it at times either of us could get a little carried away. It never ceased to amaze me, however, when Peter could almost read my thoughts and know exactly the right thing to say at the time. He knew when I needed to laugh and he knew when I was about to cry. Even if sometimes our mean-spirited jokes seemed awful to other people, it was evident that we both came from the same school of thought about laughing at things as a coping mechanism. Additionally, I was happy that it was something that I had with him that a lot of other people didn’t get. They got front-facing Peter, a mannequin in a display window. I got three-dimensional Peter — someone I could laugh with, someone I would go on to cry with, and someone I honestly had never expected to get to know all that well.
You buried them away …
🦋 🦋 🦋
I wish I could lay down beside you
when the day is done;
and wake up to your face
against the morning sun.
Something most people don’t know about me is that I was born ill. From the time I came into this world until I was a toddler, I would cry and cry, incapable of being soothed most of the time. In fact, there was only one thing that really did calm me down, as aberrant as it is: Shania Twain. That same woman I’d first heard Peter singing at Guava Lamp the night we’d officially met.
My family listened to a lot of country music and Shania was a big deal in the early 90s. For some inexplicable reason, her voice had a soothing effect on me it likely didn’t have on anyone else in the world. By the time I was of talking age, I could have recited to anyone most of her song lyrics. It’s fair to say that even from the beginning, I was absolute trash. Still, when I was invited to her concert this past year with Peter — our first true outing together save for that one business lunch — who had an extra ticket to the show, I was thrilled. We’d been chatting in that friendly way for months, but we’d never gotten the chance to do anything other than text or send Marco Polo messages to one another. A part of my excitement was just from that: that he’d thought of me as enough of a friend to invite me. The other part was that it was sort of like a childhood dream come true; and the genie in the bottle who had granted it was none other than Peter, a man with whom I’d had only a handful of conversations in-person in my entire life.
I’m not sure if I ever told him this, but that concert was special to me, because it was the first time that Peter for those reasons. Watching him dance like an old man and shout lyrics an octave below Shania at the top of his lungs left me laughing. And even that far into the disaster of my life, I’d needed those laughs. Things weren’t getting better for me, but the moments like that — and many of the others with Peter that came to fruition — made everything seem okay. And I think that might be the thing that I loved about being with him most: he made everything seem like it was going to be okay, even if I’d not shared my worries and woes with him.
Although it seemed to me at the time that Peter might be a difficult person to get to know. He wore a lot of things on his sleeve — what he did, what he loved, why he loved those things; but there were parts of him I could tell even from the beginning that were reserved for only a few people. Something that night told me that I might come to be one of those few people someday soon; and as the next few days during that week passed and we spent even more time together going out in Montrose, that process slowly began.
One thing that I always struggled with was Peter’s popularity. In the gay scene, he was someone people wanted to know, and it was understandable why people wanted to know him. Aside from his looks, his charm, and his zeal, Peter knew a lot of people and ran in circles that one had to work to get into. It was because of that fact that people often took advantage of Peter and his friendship kindness. Even the ones who barely knew him at all weren’t afraid to ask him for favors or to try to worm their way in without giving anything back in the relationship. And that’s always something I worried about when it came to Peter. I was not nearly as successful or financially well-off as he was; and it was my earnest hope that he’d never think I was taking advantage of him. He was someone I really cared about and if that didn’t show at any time when he was doing things for me, it wasn’t because I didn’t want it to. Every single chance I got, I tried to find ways to do things for him, too — even little things to show how much I was growing to care about him. The opposite side of that token was that, the more I realized how people were capable of taking advantage of him, the more defensive and protective of him I got around other people. And when it came to his popularity, it often put me at arm’s length from the people I could tell he genuinely cared about that seemed to only be there to take advantage of that fact.
That’s why going out with Peter got the better of me, and I didn’t quite understand why. I would often get so frustrated and mad at him without any sort of reason, but now I can say that it was just that. I was concerned. Peter — very much like myself — wanted to love people, and he wanted so badly to be loved that he would have done and still would do anything for anyone he cared about. But as I watched him traipse around Montrose with his friends that had come before me, I found that my irritation would spike and leave me unable to even speak to or make eye contact with him. At the time, I wouldn’t have thought of it as jealousy, but the more I dwell on it now — and believe me when I say that I dwell — the more I realize that jealousy was a big part of it. I’d met someone that I really cared about and had befriended him unexpectedly. Seeing him tell jokes with old friends that I didn’t understand was difficult, even for someone like myself that usually had no problem inserting themselves into a situation. But I never wanted to do that with Peter, because I didn’t want him to think I was imposing upon something that didn’t belong to me. So I sat back and watched from the sidelines many times, jealous that it would be a long time before I got to have those moments with him. But more so, I was genuinely afraid of the intentions others had for him. In the short time I’d known him, I’d watched him get hurt and used and had heard a few of the stories. I was letting my inner-mother come out on the defensive, and sometimes that wasn’t necessary. But in truth, I wouldn’t go back and change it. He was my friend, and I would have done it for any other friend the same that I did for him.
As would soon become a tradition of ours, I was staying with him a few days after the Shania Twain concert just because I was a little too fucked up from drinking and doing cocaine to actually drive myself anywhere. I was in the midst of getting over one boy and I wasn’t handling myself well in the months descending from that. On the last night I stayed there — I think it had only been two nights in a row — and when the others we’d been hanging out with had left, Peter shared a story with me about how he’d lost a friendship with my then-new friend, Chance, and how it had affected him, as well as how the loss of the other friends involved had affected him. Their separation would go on for several months to follow, and Chance would only ever just now begin to fully get over what happened. But as Peter — also drunk — told me the story as we sat in his bed, I remember having to do everything in my power now to wrap my arms around him and hold him. His vulnerability was like the liquid that cools into glass — penetrable, thin, and capable of either creating something beautiful or causing harm to someone who gets too close.
That’s the night our friendship really began, as far as I’m concerned; but I think it’s also the night I really started to care for him as something more than a friend. It was the first time I looked to his eyes, fell down the well, and landed in a painting that was — while equally beautiful — one that brought me great melancholy.
But like every man I’ve ever known,
you’ll disappear someday.
So I spend my whole life hiding
my heart away.
🦋 🦋 🦋
Dropped me off at the train station,
put a kiss on top of my head,
and watched me wave.
I started to spend more and more time with Peter as the months went on. Every day was filled with notes to and from him in my phone, three and four day-long visits would take place where we’d bunk up at night and talk and laugh and adventure during the day and well into the aforementioned nights. I trailed in his stride trying to keep up with whatever good time he was having whether I was visiting him out of state or whether we were here in Montrose with his other friends. I’d tag along with him to work functions and watch doe-eyed as he schmoozed with his betters and his lessers, a little turned on by just how sexy it was to see him do his job and to do it so well. He introduced me to people I probably otherwise would have never met, and he spun me into a baby socialite of sorts that I wasn’t sure I really wanted to be. I loved my community, don’t get me wrong; but the bar and club scenes weren’t quite my aesthetic anymore, and they would become even less so my scene after being raped in June. I was terrified of them for a while, to be honest. Sometimes that terror comes back up when I least expect it — I could be having a drink in the bar and laughing with friends and reach down for my glass only to remember that someone had once drugged and raped me in a bar just like that before my anxiety would spin out of control and I’d make some excuse to leave. But when I was with Peter in those nocturnal settings, I usually felt okay and could staive off the fear. He liked to take care of people, even if he wasn’t sure that he was doing it. He was a natural-born caretaker, even if the way in which he did it was sometimes adjacent to confusing, Still, he was a calculated person who liked to plan out what he would say and do, and that much was evident when we were together. I think a part of that safety net came from the fact that when we did go out and socialize and drink and dance, he sort of — if not metaphorically — took my by the hand and just led the way. Sure I was trotting along at his heels, but he was pulling me in stride.
On one particular night I’ve written about before just a short three months after being raped, Peter and I had an intimate moment while in bed at a hotel. He and I had been working on some business matters together, and I elected to stay with him there rather than going home so that we could spend more time together before he had to drive back out of town — like I said, this was becoming tradition. That night, we’d both done a little Molly and spent the night dancing at a club before going to an after party hosted by some stranger to me where we rolled our asses off on the couch and everyone else sipped wine out of Olivia Pope-style glasses like classy adults. As the rolls got stronger on the couch, Peter was in no shape to be around functioning adults, and I was already lying on his shoulder ready to pass out with my hand in resting on his thigh.
That was another one of those things I’m not sure had any real reason behind it. Sure, I was tired and my friend was sitting beside me. But I can’t remember exactly what led me to do that. I never really touched people, least of all not Peter. We were great friends who seemed more like frenemies to anyone didn’t really know us. But we weren’t the type to touch one another all that much. But that weekend, he’d been handling our business so well and I’d started to look at him not as Peter my friend, but as Peter this man who was taking care of shit without being asked to do so. Aside from the business, I’d been rather upset with a boy named Mason that night for going on a date with another man and Peter had just swooped in — albeit, with Molly — and took care of me. So we returned to the hotel room and he disrobed to get into bed, I curled up next to him and rested my head on his chest. I wanted to thank him, but I couldn’t find the words; and it seemed as though maybe that was the way to do it. He sat up and put his arm around me and traced circles on my shoulder with his fingers while I ran mine over his skin and listened to a medley of his heartbeat and gentle moans and hisses coming from his mouth. Even if I wasn’t entirely sure what had made me engage so much in touching him, but there’s one thing I did know for certain:
That night was the first time I had let a man put his hands on me in the three months since I’d been raped. I’d had no sexual encounters, no kisses from dates — mind you, I hadn’t had any dates, either — and I’d squirmed at friends who tried to hug me or show me affection. The one time I’d let a man put his hands on me was just a few nights after being raped, when Ezra had listened to me tell the story I’d only just started to piece together and hugged me afterward for what felt like an eternity. No one else.
Maybe that doesn’t sound all that remarkable, but it is for me; and I think it is for any rape survivor who has long-lost their trust in men. That yearning for physical affection doesn’t come back easily, and certainly for most it doesn’t come back after just three short months. But Peter — someone I’d only just shared my rape story with a few nights before he’d come into town — was there with me, and he was there for me; and I wanted that closeness with not just anyone, but with him, even if I’d only realized it just then. There was my new best friend that had slipped into my life by accident lying naked beside me and all I could think about was the fact that he was the only man that I ever wanted to touch me again. He’d swooped in and saved the day for work, cared for me and made me feel like he wanted to be around me, and now he was holding me in his arms as I ran my fingers over the skin of his chest and tummy and felt us both growing erections beneath the sheets. He was literally a prince who had ridden in on a white horse and lent his hand to me on the ground below where I’d fallen. I’d never wanted a prince before that moment; but, at least for that night, I’d gotten mine.
We didn’t make love; and in some ways I regret that, but in others I think it would only make what happened next and what is happening now all the more unbearable. Instead we touched one another, and I found out he was ticklish under his arms and blew a raspberry there to send him flying into the air. I kissed his chest and we intertwined our legs together and I tapped the bottom of one of my feet against the top of his twice: tap-tap. That’s was the calling card of a Molly roll. When it hit your system, and you tapped on someone’s shoulder to see whether or not they were feeling it. Tap-tap, went my foot against his, then the top of his went against the bottom of mine, Tap-tap. And Peter played music, and I think I rolled away from him, and we both fell asleep and woke the next morning far too late for check-out.
As hard as we were rolling, there were a number of factors that played into the fact that we shouldn’t sleep together; though I believe that had either of us pushed just a little bit harder, had my hand grazed over his pubis or had clawed his fingernails just a little bit deeper into my shoulder blades than he had been, we likely would have. And you know what? It probably would have been magical and unforgettable and, again, an event that would’ve made this all the more difficult for me. I wanted him to make love to me that night, though; I won’t lie. He’d had sex with pretty much everyone else that I knew; and while it was nice to be in a place where I was the only person he hadn’t slept with, it was a place that made me feel like a leper — like I wasn’t worthy. I was attractive, and witty, and smart, and funny, and I was driven. But later it would come to seem as though there was something undesirable about me; and to this day I have to stop myself from asking him what that is.
Even still, when we woke the next day, we ran errands together, visited his family together, had drinks together on a rooftop bar, watched a show together, sang karaoke together, and in summation shared one of my favorite days of the last twenty-four years together. It would have been the perfect day if I hadn’t had to have parted ways with him at the end of it. I’d begged him all day just to spend one extra day with me, and for a while I thought me might acquiesce; but his work needed tending to out of state, as did mine, frankly. When he went to leave, I almost didn’t hug him because I was so mad that he had to leave. But he called me back to him, gave me a hug, and planted a peck on my cheek as my eyes began to water. And as soon as I was out of his line of sight, I cried my eyes out and texted him over-and-over again. We even talked the majority of his drive back home.
Even then, I still wanted to be lying back in his arms.
You watched me wave …
Exposé: Untold Facts About Tatiana Mala-Niña’s Trial
On Friday, 15 March 2019, a story about a past child sex assault conviction surfaced about Houston drag queen Tatiana Mala-Niña. About Magazine and guest contributors dug into the details of the case to provide unreported information about the trial, the allegations, and an affidavit signed by the accuser asking for all charges to be dropped.
In the interest of maintaining journalistic integrity, I have made a conscious effort — along with contributors Jonny Lessard, Scott Lupton, and Wendy Taylor — to delve deeper into the happenings of the case recently brought back to light regarding Tatiana Mala-Nina, who was convicted of Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child in 2009. The story was presented following the already controversial coverage of local Drag Queen Story Time, which took place at the Freed-Montrose Library once a month in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood. Reviewing the stories published by fellow online and print publications, as well as numerous television news stations, it felt necessary to provide more facts about the case than what had been laid out before. This is not an opinion piece. This is not a defense of either party involved in the trial. This article is designed simply to lay out the facts that have and have not been reported, as well as to pose questions that may have not yet been heard.
It is also important to note here that most news outlets have been using the pronouns he/him/his when referring to Mala-Nina. Tatiana Mala-Nina is a transgender woman and should be referred to using the she/her/hers pronouns. The only context in which we will be using her dead name (a name by which a trans person is called pre-transition) is when quoting documentation from the court file.
(HOUSTON) — Just over one week ago, in the early evening of Friday, 15 March, Houston news station KHOU published a story in which it was revealed that popular Houston drag queen Tatiana Mala-Nina (who had been reading to children at the popular Drag Queen Story Time event at the Freed-Montrose Library) was a convicted sex offender. Initial reports were relatively vague, with journalists using their very limited information to break a story around a subject that has been at the center of heated discussion over the past few months. Since Drag Queen Story Time first began in Houston — previously put together once a month by Trent Lira and Devin Will, until their recent resignation as directors of the program — it has been met with its share of acclaim, but has also been subjected to backlash and criticism. On the inside, local drag queens put on their made-up faces and don their most fantastical dresses while reading an age-appropriate book to the children who are there not only to learn a lesson in literacy, but in acceptance.
But outside of the library’s walls, matters aren’t quite as calm. Anti-LGBTQIA protesters would gather along the sidewalk thrusting signs quoting biblical verse, hate speech, and condemnation. One group in particular was hoping to do away with Drag Queen Story Time; and they go by the name of MassResistance, a conservative values group based out of Massachusetts that is known for taking a stand against LGBTQIA-positive issues in the name of “traditional values”. It was MassResistance that brought Tatiana Mala-Nina’s criminal history under the press light; and spreading this news was only just the beginning of a much larger fallout.
The offense in question is a matter of public record: Mala-Nina was registered as a sex offender after being convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a minor under the age of 14 in June of 2008. Further details revealed that the accuser was the child of a family friend, and that Mala-Nina had been sentenced to five years of probation and community service, which ended in June of 2016 without incident. Within hours of the article stating her sex offender status hitting the internet and the story playing across the five o’clock news, it seemed as though everything in Houston’s queer community had changed. Community members assumed sides, some calling Mala-Nina guilty and disavowing her, others swearing their allegiance and believing that she could not be capable of such an atrocity, and many reserving commentary until more evidence surfaced. Only, it seemed there wasn’t time for that; over the weekend ahead, the news would go on to get picked up by national news stations, and later would become international news. Conservative and liberal-leaning news outlets alike took the story and ran with it — many of the articles referring to Tatiana Mala-Nina by her deadname (and the wrong one, at that) and just as many misgendering her. You see, Tatiana Mala-Nina is more than just a drag queen; she is also a trans woman. While she may have identified as male at the time her conviction took place, her pronouns today remain to be she/her/hers. The fallout got worse, however. People all throughout Houston’s queer community — especially performers, drag and non-drag alike — grew fearful of what might happen at their forthcoming shows, and Tatiana Mala-Nina effectively lost every booking she had around the city.
By Sunday, just when the community thought the worst was over, it became quickly evident that it had only really just begun. As news continued to circulate around the globe, the ins-and-outs of the news report began to get messier. The largest example of this could be when fellow Houston drag icon, Blackberri, became a target after conservative news site Breitbart wrongly used her image rather than Mala-Nina’s when reporting on the story on 16 March. While Blackberri had also read at the library’s story time, her likeness to that of Mala-Nina is considerably small. More importantly, it put Blackberri in a position of danger, as well, once her face had been plastered against the headline, “Nolte: Houston Library Allowed Sex Offender to Read to Kids During Drag Queen Storytime”. Still, after the weekend had passed, many had taken note that Tatiana’s social media pages had been removed from the internet, and most outside of her nearest friends and family had not heard from her, until that Sunday afternoon, when Mala-Nina released the following statement through a friend’s social media:
“By now, many of you have seen the news that is circulating from KHOU. I would like to make a statement, and then am asking you all to respect my need for privacy at this time. I am safe, and with my family, but please don’t contact me for now, I will need some time…
Many years ago, I had a family friend. I had been babysitting her son for many years, and was considered a member of their own family. I made the difficult decision to come out as gay, and my life changed forever.
The boys mother was scared that gay = predator. She concocted a story, and went to the police. Her son attempted to tell the same story, but his changed many times during multiple interviews. There was no physical evidence or witnesses to what she claimed, but as a gay person of color, my side didn’t matter.
They did not have witnesses or evidence. They did not have a case, just a made up story. In the end, it didn’t matter. I plead not guilty. The jury did not all say I was guilty, but the judge defied the jury and chose to convict me.
Did you know that there are over 60 thousand people registered in Texas as sex offenders? Many of these people are in situations like mine. I wish that we could catch anyone who would ever hurt a child, and throw them in the deepest pit we could find. I would never. The catholic church has more sex offenders than any other organization. I would never do anything to hurt anyone, let alone one of our most innocent and vulnerable.
You all know me. I am sorry that this happened. I am sorry that I made a decision that could hurt people. I wasn’t thinking, because I’ve done all I can to put this horrible thing behind me. I am sorry that these horrible people are doing anything they can to attack us. But, I cannot be sorry for something I did not do. I have broken no laws, and although I regret the hurt this is causing, I wanted you all to know what really happened.” (sic).
That status update was shared 57 times from the original post and reached masses all across the queer community of Houston. Still, Mala-Nina was not being seen in a positive light by people in the community. Many questioned what made her accept the volunteer gig to read to children knowing she was a registered sex offender, regardless of whether or not she was innocent. Others stood up to say that, in cases of sexual assault, one should always believe the accuser. But for some, there was something about Mala-Nina’s story that set them to forge a path to find the truth, to look for something that hadn’t been seen that might exonerate Mala-Nina and prove her innocence. After all, this was an 11-year-old case that had been closed since Mala-Nina completed her probation terms in the summer of 2016; and finding details that could help prove her innocence was not going to be easy. That being said, it didn’t stop a few of Mala-Nina’s friends from Houston’s LGBTQIA community.
One of the most instrumental in this research was Jonny Lessard, who stated in an interview that he’s known Tatiana Mala-Nina for upward of seven years. Upon seeing the controversy spark and watching Mala-Nina lose everything, he stated that he felt like he had to do something. “I think there was this part of me — like I’m sure there was for everyone — that just didn’t want to believe it was someone I knew.” That feeling didn’t come singularly to Lessard. Across social media, friends and fans shared similar sentiments, some expressing doubt in the accusations, others hoped that they were not true, and some disappointment. Lessard and his boyfriend, Scott Lupton — a stage performer and former paralegal — had taken the time this past week after the news broke to travel down to Harris County Constable Precinct 6 to review the file related to Mala-Nina’s 2008 case. While unsure of exactly what they might find, both Lessard and Lupton took to the documents hoping something there might be indicative of Mala-Nina’s innocence. “We looked at those documents for about an hour and a half,” Lessard said in our interview. “If I’d had more time, I might have been able to get more information; but with limited time, we were just there looking for facts.”
Facts, believe it or not, are exactly what they found. Reviewing the documents — which included witness statements, court appeals, and more details about the case and are available to the general public — Lessard and Lupton found (again) that the claimant was a child under the age of 14 who had been the child of a family friend. The child alleged that he had requested access to Mala-Nina’s bedroom to play a video game, and that Mala-Nina had obliged under the condition that the child remove his clothing. The child then claimed that the Mala-Nina performed oral sex on the child for a few seconds before requesting that he do the same to her. The child alleges that he did so, but stopped after an additional few seconds, feeling uncomfortable, and left the room. According to trial documents, “The Complainant did not tell anyone what had transpired because the Appellant [Mala-Nina] told him not to, and because he was afraid of the Appellant. However, he did not remember telling the police that the Appellant had never told him not to say anything […]” (sic). Documents go on to say that the child, “[…] stated he was “pretty sure” that the above incident happened to more times when he was around the same age, the only difference being that he was not asked to touch the Appellant.”
The latter detail — regarding the two other instances — came up at an awkward time during the trial. Mala-Nina and counsel were not informed of this until just before the trial, and when the Defense requested time to review these claims. A separate document filed 7 December 2010 outlines an appeal requested by the Appellant and speaks more to this. “The outcry was made in February 2008. From then until trial, the complainant only revealed to police a single incident of assault. The complainant testified that he felt safe talking with the prosecutor though, and mentioned that appellant had also assaulted him on two other occasions. The complainant testified that these occasions occurred in the same place and at some time before the event described during the summer of 2006. The only apparent variation on these occasions was that the complainant was not asked to perform oral sex on appellant.” (NO. 14-09-00828-CR, pg. 3).
Moreover, another point to be considered is that Mala-Nina maintained and continues to maintain her innocence with no explicit admission of guilt to the allegations brought about by the accuser. However, in court documents entitled “Motion In Limine”, it would appear as though (although this is not confirmed) that the court attempted to use a sworn statement by the Defendant (Mala-Nina) of a separate occasion in order to imply guilt. In United States law, a Motion of Limine takes place when an attempt to exclude a testimony is made away from the jury. In the case of Mala-Nina, it would appear as though the testimony in question came from an interview in which Mala-Nina made a statement that reads as such in the Motion In Limine:
“[…] Defendant (currently 21 years of age) and Complainant (currently 10 years of age) were in a public pool when Complainant was younger, Defendant noticed that the Complainant (NOT THE DEFENDANT) had an erection while playing in the pool. As described by Defendant, it was the Complainant who inadvertently came into contact with the Defendant in the pool while Complainant had an erection.” (“Motion In Limine, 3). The court document goes on to state (in paraphrase) that the State of Texas tried to use this as an admission of touching the child inappropriately, but argues, “[…] which is a complete misrepresentation of what Defendant said.]” The same document (and on the same page) goes on to state another instance in which the Mala-Nina was present in the bathroom while the child was showering, but that nothing of any sexual nature took place and that this information was not an admission of guilt. It goes forth to say, “Most importantly, Complainant has affirmatively stated to the Children’s Protective Services interviewers (two separate interviews were recorded with Complainant), and has always stated, to the knowledge and belief of undersigned Counsel based on what has been provided to Counsel through discovery, that Defendant had not engaged in any other alleged sexual molestation.”
As per Mala-Nina’s official statement following the reemergence of this story on Friday last, Mala-Nina was a babysitter of the child in question. If the child was aged 6, 7, or 8 as alleged by said child at the time of these allegations, it may not seem unreasonable that either of the aforementioned incidents happened without sexual foundations, and calls into question why the State would elect to have this testimony be considered — especially so if it were to be used as an admission of guilt. Of all of these facts however, there is one document that raises more questions than all the others, which can be found in a document in the file examined by Lessard and Lupton.
The document is titled “AFFIDAVIT OF NON-PROSECUTION” and is dated to have been filed on 14 September 2009. In the document, which has been transcribed below (a photo of this document has also been included), the child who accused Mala-Nina of the alleged sexual assault claims that he would like all charges against the Defendant dropped and that no further prosecution take place. Unfortunately, in a case such as this where the State is now in opposition of the Defendant, the law does not require that the State drop charges at the request of the Plaintiff (the child). The document reads as transcribed:
“BEFORE ME, the undersigned authority, appeared [accuser’s name redacted] who being duly sworn, stated:
I am a witness in criminal Case Number No. 1169980 in the State of Texas vs. ALBERT ALFONZO GARZA [Mala-Nina], wherein the defendant is charged with the offense of Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child Under 14.
It is my personal desire that the defendant not be further prosecuted for the offense and that the case presently pending against the defendant be dismissed. I do not wish to testify against the defendant as a witness, although I am aware that I can be compelled to do so if subpoenaed by the State.
I have not been compelled, threatened, or coerced to sign this affidavit in any manner. Nor have I been offered any bribe or improper inducement as a benefit or reward for signing this affidavit. My action in signing this affidavit is knowingly, voluntarily, and freely undertaken on my part.”
The above affidavit is not to be confused with a retraction of the original testimony of the Plaintiff. It does however, beg the question, “Why?” After the trial had gone on as long as it had, and before the jury had reached a decision on 18 September 2009, why would the child suddenly have a change of heart about the proceedings of the case? It may not be a blatant admission of Mala-Nina’s innocence, but certainly it is worth the consideration that the case — or rather, the handlings of the case — were not properly aligned with the events that took place.
Other details should be considered when reporting on this trial, as well. The first of which being that during an interview, Mala-Nina (who then identified as a gay man) was questioned about the nature of her sexual orientation, at which time she stated that she was a homosexual man. It is stated in page six of the Motion In Limine that, “The interviewer then elicited a great deal of details from the Defendant about the origins, history, and development of his sexual preference.” It was the belief of the Defense then (and remains to be so now) that after discovering Mala-Nina’s sexual identification, the State may have taken prejudice upon the Defendant and the case as a whole, which is why this issue is brought up in the Motion In Limine. The Defense — in order to leave no room for prejudices based on sexuality — wanted this testimony thrown out. In a case like Mala-Nina’s, which was presided over by Judge Mary Lou Keel — a registered Republican and member of the GOP — this Motion In Limine is especially important, as Republicans have a less than positive history with LGBTQIA issues and stand for “traditional family values”.
Another noteworthy piece of information goes back to the jury itself. While reviewing a document titled “General Orders of the Court” dated 18 September 2009, it is found that the jury was, “[…] deadlocked.” It further went on to state, “State requested an Allen Charge and the Defense objected. Court grants the State’s request.” In layman’s terms, an Allen Charge is an order set forth when a jury is deadlocked and cannot reach a verdict. The typical use of this is to have the minority of the jury reconsider their stance on the pending verdict as to prevent a hung jury. It is also worth noting that Allen Charges have been rejected and prohibited in twenty-two states across the U.S., Texas not being one of them (see the case of Early v. Packer, 537 US 3 that describes California’s rejection of Allen Charges). When the jury did return later, however, they had come to a unanimous decision that the Mala-Nina was guilty, although they suggested that a ten-year sentence be probated rather than served in prison. This final detail may be indicative that, although the decision finally became unanimous, there was still room for doubt as to whether or not Mala-Nina was truly guilty.
With all these facts in mind — albeit, possibly too many to absorb all at once — questions still loom as to the truth about what — if anything — happened between Mala-Nina and the accuser. While the Court found Mala-Nina guilty, she has since been meeting with an attorney to further evaluate her options and maintains her innocence in the case. We cannot predict what will come of these efforts, but we can state that the details outlined in the above article are a matter of public record and are able to be obtained and reviewed by any citizen and encourage anyone with more questions to do so. As it stands now (and as mentioned at the beginning of the article) former Drag Queen Story Time directors Trent Lira and Devin Will released a public statement in Houstonia Magazine where they announced that they would be stepping away from the program, and explained their decision to do so. This morning, the Houston Chronicle reported that in spite of this, the City of Houston had initiated plans to resume the program in the future, possibly as early as the summer of this year. The story of Tatiana Mala-Nina and of Drag Queen Story Time is ongoing. About Magazine will continue to provide all of the details as they come to light and unfold.
Both KHOU Channel 11 Houston and MassResistance were reached out to for comment. Neither responded to About Magazine’s outreach.
Las Caras Cósmicas
Nunca Pueden Quitar Esto, No. 2
Las Caras Cósmicas is a memory-turn-dialog poised to introduce many upcoming conversations that discuss multiraciality, intersectionality, white privilege, and systemic racism as they pertain to the Latinx (by the way that’s Lah-teen-ehs) community. The title of this article references one of the most important Mexican heros–often called Mexico’s cultural cuadillo— José Vasconcelos. Vasconcelos was responsible for distinguishing, maintaining, and creating permanence of identity and of culture for Mexican citizens. In addition to Mexican culture, in La Raza Cósmica, Vasconcelos amasses respect by presenting the idea that all Latinx people are the result of the ethnic convergence of each of the (previously diverged) races of human. He argued that essentially Latinx people are the result of African descendants (from slave trade), indigenous descendants (from Mayan/Aztec/etc who traveled from Asian), Arab descendants (from Medieval conquests of Spain), and of course Latin and Hispanic descendants. Moreso, he hypothesized that this was the first time that the modern world had witnessed a nation ruled by people derived from the assimilation of all these racial groups. Most importantly, Vasconcelos granted mixed ethnicities a sense of identity and of dignity to better uphold and respect the many colors and countless customs of their people.
Utilizing photos photographed in a series by Sadrach Terwogt, I was able to convey greater credit to the thoughts and concerns I experienced while applying for employment with a Houston ISD high school. Therefore, nestled between passages are samples of Terwogt’s breathtaking photos of which employ the students and high school I was eventually hired at. In addition to this piece, Terwogt will also be contributing more of his work to Nunca Pueden Quitar Esto. His biography appears below:
Sadrach Terwogt is an About Magazine photojournalist, born in Houston, Texas with deep-rooted Mexican and Honduran heritages. Often he can be found filming or capturing photos of friends and neighbors throughout the Houston area. Terwogt achieves originality by photographing subjects in daily life, producing natural and remarkably beautiful photographs. Sadrach’s work captures life in a way that sparks nostalgia amongst viewers that urges a dive into scenic depth, raw vulnerability, and saturated colors–a place where viewers are imprinted with a unique interpersonal experience. Undeniably, digital art and photography are Terwogt’s passion but it is his aptitude to catch emotion so well on film that reveals where the motivation needed to pursue a psychology degree originates.
Remember: it is here, where we can celebrate diverse beauty of mind and body,
where we discuss our past, our current as well as other societies we encounter,
a place where we can learn, build, and appreciate our Latinx history and identity.
Entonces DISFRUTA TODA con ojos abiertos y con lleno de asombro:
I was only able to call Houston home after I graduated from college and was hired as a chemistry teacher at a school within the Houston Independent School District. Despite the countless faces and identities that I have encountered since then, it is remarkable that I still remember a few of the questions of my interview. One of the questions that stands out a bit more than the others was the question I was entirely unprepared for:
“Do you think being white, while working at a school almost entirely [90%] Hispanic or Latino, will affect your teaching?”
Panic-stricken and embarrassed of my white appearance, I thought if I could train my tongue to say words like: desmesuradamente, equivocación, or Estadounidense then surely I could relax and respond sincerely.
“… Honestly, I’d feel as though I was teaching at home..” I answered.
I sensed a pervasive confusion building in the air; my mind began to race with doubt and the negative self-questioning began: Do they like me? Am I someone they can see in this role? Should I have dressed more formal? More casual? Am I an imposter? A teacher? Or something else? This brought up one last inescapable question within, WHY am I asking myself these questions? Of course, interview-anxiety was expected, but why was I questioning the appropriateness of my identity — of which I couldn’t change?
So once again, society mistakenly categorized my ethnicity solely within the caucasian race, which is sometimes referred to as white passing. Thus a loop in thought began to cycle around the irony of what we wish to convey, how to control what others perceive, and ultimately what they actually perceive. How should I navigate these thoughts of privilege, of wealth, and of power if I feel them bestowed undeservedly upon me from a mere assumption (or oversimplification) of my ethnicity? What could I do to change this?
The miscategorization of my Mexican lineage causes my identity, as a Mexican-American, to feel tossed aside and therefore deemed insignificant. More importantly, if I were to ignore, accept, or profit knowingly or unknowingly from this white passing, called incidental white privilege, then I would be no better than a common malinchista to other people of color. Malinchismo, or the preference for a foreign culture over one’s own, es una traición and may lead many to ask, “What secret prize could be given to only whites, white-included races, or at the very least white passing individuals?”
To those who can appear, act, or demonstrate any other similarity to white standards, may sadly even see white privilege as a Recompensa, or reward/prize. However, this ‘prize’ is not always apparent–especially to those who receive it. In fact, most times it is elusive, systemic, and includes much more than obvious denial of wealth, opportunity, or privilege.
These societal privileges are innumerable and we give them to each other. Bestowing them only after subconsciously ranking people based on physical appearances and stereotypes that may or may not be characteristic or identifiable to any one particular race. It should be understood that white privilege is systemic, meaning it is weaved within the government, social interactions, societal norms, customs and traditions. It exists and is apparent by most when white people are offered better education, better socio-economic standing, and better employment opportunities than those offered to people of color.
Understanding the benefits of white-passing requires acknowledgement and disapproval of systemic and incidental white privilege, the yielding of position or power to other races, the humility of one’s own success, and absolute respect for the feats and toils of other races–which is a tall order for many who accept it.
Many who deny white privilege misunderstand that it can not be returned, especially by attempting to prove innocence by referencing the generational gap between today’s generation and the generations involvement in the racist and violent global slave trade).
Peggy McIntosh, an important American feminist, describes in a 1987 essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack that white privilege is like “an invisible weightless knapsack of assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks”. By describing the numerous instances where people’s equitable perception, willingness-to-help, and gift of benefit-of-the-doubts are granted solely to white-passing individuals. This hidden denial of countless privileges repeated over generations and generations creates a scenario that may appear equal and fair but in reality is significantly skewed and can never be equitable. Which is why no amount of pleading, denying, nor attempting-to-return this white privilege can be done.
No racial or ethnic group completely makeup the Latinx people, we are diverse and mixed in blood and culture. It is this unique life experience that we as multiracial and multiethnic individuals must endure and have in common — whether it mean privilege or marginalization.
In contrast, my Latinx identity is not readily visible and because of this I have experienced numerous instances where its validity was outright questioned or where I had to offer proof of it. The misconception that members of an ethnic group are all similar in appearance, especially within the Latinx community, is an insult and does nothing but muddle numerous ancestral roots together in a ‘melting pot’ thus causing extreme confusion to our Latinx identity and the many unique cultural practices that help diversify and partially define it. To compound this issue further, you may consider the queer Latinx group who compete in yet another layer of marginalization but this time sometimes by members of our own families–thus resulting in us fleeing to ‘safe spaces’. However, and even within my own personal experience, these perceived ‘safe spaces’ often allow for further marginalization within and sometimes even exclusion from these places.
For me, being accepted and welcomed by my Latinx and queer cousins is more important than being accepted as white. But in that importance I demand that ALL of my identity be accepted and recognized, because I am both Anglo AND Latinx (marginalized); just as I am both queer AND non-masculine (marginalized). Therefore, I need to be fully accepted as ALL of these identities. We cannot and must not accept rejection or marginalization as the status quo anymore.
The rejection of people leads to our current state of rampant racism, explicit discrimination, and tangible insecurity. Yet, rejection is knowingly practiced in every society whether that society in particular is marginalized or not. Granting power that can only be legitimized by the denial of access to all others further places within that society a hierarchical system that suppresses people of color. What’s less fortunate is when power is contained and held unjustly. Here, competition amongst all others placed within this false hierarchy is encouraged, and because competition almost always produces a winner and a loser, this causes further stratification and marginalization within the groups of people already suffering. Compounding this further, is the isolation that is felt within biracial individuals who, like other queer individuals and I, are trapped between two groups, not fully accepted into any single caste or hierarchical level.
As multiracial individuals we are told that we’re bridges
to bridge the divide–and so we are walked upon.
We are told we are ladders
for others to climb up to opportunity–
and so we are stepped upon.
We are told that we’re the common bonds
between societies we are not fully a part of,
but it is the bonds that are first to break apart.
Anyone from Texas can confirm that the Rio Grande Valley, or El Valle, includes a culture quite unique from any other nearby. It encompasses both sides of a portion of the Texas-Mexican border where patrons are even greeted first in Spanish at most stores. Here it is commonplace to have one neighbor work as a Border Patrol Agent and the other neighbor be an undocumented individual. However nostalgic and different it may be, I admit I still carry a bit of resentment for that area. This pain is due in-part to the bullying and the harassment I received at the hands of mis compadres. I use compadres because I have self-identified all of my life as Latino, sometimes supported (and other times not supported) by the always-present and mostly-dominating Latino side of my family. Moreso, I felt neither accepted truly amongst any white friends nor amongst any Latino friends.
Again the irony that our inner thoughts and identity stand in stark contrast with how the world sees us and categorizes us becomes apparent. So is there a middle ground? And if so, where is the middle ground? Are multiracial individuals mean to be that compromise–to be used as that middle ground? At what point, and how much, do we concede portions of our individual identities (that differ from the social elite) to assimilate and be accepted?
Processing my thoughts — and realizing this as a long, unintentional pause (to say the least) — I continued with my response to the question I posed at the beginning of this column:
“I should explain that before, when I said ‘home’, I meant the Rio Grande Valley.”
“The high school I attended and completed student teaching at in Harlingen, TX has very similar demographics. So with that said, I know a lot of students here might see me as white, but that’s just a first-glance assessment, and it may not be until I surprise them a couple of times by responding in Spanish that they accept that first-glance judgement calls are often incorrect. And, yes, I would hope that skin color made no difference in how I educate them. But the reality of the situation is that I look white, and many of them are marginalized by this white-dominated society. So, I may have to build rapport and trust with them, teaching that Latinx people look and behave in various ways, and that racism affects all of us Latinos and thus shapes our prejudices and misconceptions of even each other. I believe I can show them also that science, the Spanish language, and myself are intertwined and have become a great source of pride — that it is our individual identities that make our ethnicity beautiful and diverse.”
Pausing first to ensure they soaked it all in, I continued, “Which is why I think teaching at this school would feel as though I was teaching at the high school I graduated from — like I was teaching in a place like home.”
REVIEW: Drag at Bar Boheme
Twice a month, Montrose’s very own Bar Boheme hosts a monthly drag brunch, which spans from noon to 4 PM starring Chloe T. Crawford, Angelina DM Trailz, Chloe Knox, and Cyn City.
(HOUSTON) — It’s no secret that Houston is at no shortage of drag shows throughout the city. With most Montrose bars hosting multiple during the week, the city has a variety of shows to choose from spanning from comedy shows, gentle cabarets, and even competitions spanning the course of several weeks. But the integration of drag shows into predominantly straight bars is still rather rare, even if those straight bars are located directly in the heart of Montrose. But for Bar Boheme, that hasn’t been the case for quite some time. Bi-weekly on Sunday afternoons, the upscale bar and restaurant located at 307 Fairview — just a hop, skip, and a jump from most of Montrose’s most popular gay bars — offers a drag show to its diverse audience of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Directed by Chloe T. Crawford, the show features drag queens Angelina DM Trailz, Chloe Knox, and Cyn City.
The show began a few years back when the idea for a drag brunch came about that soon led to Chloe T. Crawford, London Adour, and Raja performing for the Boheme patrons. From that point on, as Crawford points out, the bar would simply pick up the phone and call her when they wanted to have special events that featured drag queens; and she would put together a cast. The cast has grown to include Angelina, both Chloes, and Cyn in the time that’s passed, with Ondi making appearances when one of the cast members is out. And although Bar Boheme isn’t targeted toward the queer community, the cast had nothing but kind things to say about the bar staff, owners, and what they’ve done to aid and expand the community. Crawford says herself, “It’s funny because Boheme isn’t your typical neighborhood bar … but it is a neighborhood bar. But most of the people who come here are from the Midtown-Montrose area. So it’s a catch-all of people from all around.”
These queens aren’t newbies to what they’re doing, either. Cyn City recently just retired her Treasure Island USofA Newcomer pageant crown and took up the Austin Newcomer crown. Additionally, Chloe Knox was the first alternate to Miss Gay Texas America in 2018 and Crawford was Miss Gay Harris County America that same year. Each queen appears in multiple shows throughout the city, with Angelina DM Trailz hosting Houston’s Best Drag Show at Guava Lamp on Saturdays as well as the monthly show, Angelina & Friends, at the same venue once a month on Sundays (a new installment coming tomorrow). In addition, Cyn City is the host of F-Rated Fridays at Hamburger Mary’s.
What’s most intriguing about the show at Boheme — not to mention what makes it stand apart from the other shows each queen performs in — is that the queens aren’t performing for the type of audience they’re used to performing for (jaunty queer folks who are excited to see a drag performance). They’re performing for a mixed bag of individuals of all gender identities, sexual orientations, and expectations. But one thing stands true amongst the audience: they’re all excited to see the queens come out and perform a four-set show (something not often done in a drag show) while also spending time with the audience afterward, serving up champagne, taking photos with patrons, and remembering that they’re doing something to bridge the sometimes growing gap between the straight/cis-community and the queer community.
Tomorrow, on St. Patrick’s Day, the queens will be joined by guest star Violet S’Arbleu for a special holiday edition of their show. Join them beginning at noon and going until 4 PM to see something a bit out of queer element, but worthwhile to support our community and (again) help bring together two communities that often can be segregated by our current political climate.
Netflix Cancels Queer/Latinx Series One Day at a Time
It was announced on 14 March that several weeks after the season three premiere of Netflix Original Series One Day at a Time, Netflix had canceled the Latinx/queer series.
(LOS ANGELES) — The remake of the Norman Lear’s legendary 70s/80s sitcom, One Day at a Time, which premiered on Netflix more than three years ago was canceled today, with Netflix citing on Twitter that the viewership simply was not great enough. The news comes just weeks after the February premiere of the show’s third season, which was met with critical acclaim. The show’s most recent season garnered a 100% approval rating on film critique website, Rotten Tomatoes, and was hailed by many critics as one of the most important installments in the sitcom history as it was an accurate and authentic portrayal of Latinx people that did not pander to negative stereotypes for a laugh.
One Day at a Time followed the Alvarez family, led by mother Penelope Alvarez (played by Justina Machado), lesbian daughter Elena (played by Isabella Gomez), son Alex (played by Marcel Ruiz), apartment building owner and neighbor Schneider (played by Todd Grinnell), and matriarch Lydia (played by Broadway and movie legend Rita Moreno). Developed for Netflix by Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce, the ins-and-outs of the show were similar to Lear’s original CBS sitcom, following a single mother raising her kids. However, in the Netflix adaptation, the originally Anglo family was written as a Cuban-American family living in Los Angeles, with Lupe (Penelope) suffering severe PTSD, depression, and anxiety after her service in the military and the divorce of her drunk and abusive ex-husband. What critics and viewers adored most about the series as it grew was the way that Kellett and Royce introduced a Latinx family not built around stereotypes. For many, the show provided the most accurate portrayal of a Latin family on television — large family gatherings, countless tias y tios, shouting matches that ended in hugs and coming to one another’s defenses, and the fight to prove themselves just as successful and worthy as others.
But the comedy garnered attention for more than just its loving portrayal of Latinx people. In fact, the show gained an overwhelming queer following after the season one storyline that involved Elena coming out first as bisexual, and eventually a lesbian to her family. Critics noted that brother Alex’s reaction to finding out and helping Elena keep her secret until she was ready was one of the most heartwarming, while also complimenting the very natural way that Lupe coped with her daughter’s queerness. The show carried this storyline throughout all three seasons of the show, and was hailed as the first of its kind to keep a queer story arc at the forefront of a show revolving around Latinos. Throughout the series, we got to see Elena get rejected by her father at her fifteenth birthday — or, quinces — in front of all of her friends and her entire family, watched her meet a nonbinary partner, and turn into an activist for the queer community. The show didn’t just deal with queer and Latinx issues; it also tackled issues that appealed to viewers outside those communities, such as sobriety, mental health, poverty, and more in a way that didn’t write stand-alone episodes where these issues were brought up and resolved in thirty minutes. One of the strong points of the show’s writers was their ability to let these issues grow, progress, and show as parts of the characters’ lives throughout the life of the series.
The cancellation of the show has sparked outrage from fans, especially considering the fact that Netflix chalked up its decision to money vs. viewership after just dropping $100 million to keep white-led sitcom Friends in its repertoire for another year as it prepares to make the transition to Warner Brothers’ new streaming service in 2020. Many took to Twitter to reaction to Netflix’s decision to cancel the show:
Your Guide to Queerchella
A run-down of the queerest acts (and some major allies!) heading to the stages of Coachella in 2019. And if you can’t make it to Coachella, check out these music of some of these incredible queer artists.
Although the owner of Goldenvoice – Coachella’s parent company – has famously donated to anti-LGBT candidates and causes, Coachella still remains a place where queer people and artists can thrive. You can choose for yourself whether you’d like to support the festival, but the 2019 lineup of artists is stacked with queer and queer-friendly artists. Below are some of the artists that I’m most excited to see.
If this is your first visit to Coachella, I would urge you not to focus only on the main stages and headliners. Coachella has a brilliant way of booking artists right before they become your new favorite artist. This will be my fourth Coachella; and every year I look back at the lineup six months after the festival and regret not seeing someone. Don’t be afraid to go to the festival early and see some artists you may not know.
New Jersey rapper 070 Shake, who told Billboard, “I do not see myself as being gay or being straight. I just like to see myself as who I am,” is playing her first Coachella at just 20-years-old. I lovingly refer to her style as emo-rap, where she raps about emotions and feelings and her real-life issues. She’s an artist you’ll have to get to the festival early for, but she’s worth it.
I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest Ariana Grande fan. I think she’s pretty problematic but she’s also currently the #1 most-streamed artist on Spotify and the first artist since The Beatles to hold the top 3 spots on the Billboard Top 100. That alone should speak to the fact that she has to be doing something right. The last two years have seen superstars Lady Gaga and Beyonce headline Coachella and put on spectacular performances, which will make it interesting to see how Ariana holds down the pop headliner spot. I’m also interested to see if Ariana uses this platform to make a social statement like Beyonce did in 2018.
Bad Bunny – one of Latin trap’s biggest stars – turns gender norms on their head at every turn. He almost always has his nails painted (criticizing toxic masculinity on Twitter when a nail salon in Spain refused service to him) and his recent video for his track, “Caro”, is a study in gender fluidity and what gender means. Bad Bunny has also called out homophobia publicly on Twitter after the murder of openly gay Latin trap artist Kevin Fret in Puerto Rico. The inclusion of Bad Bunny and J Balvin so close to the top of the lineup this year is also a testament to Latin music’s importance in our culture.
K-Pop icons BLACKPINK will be coming to North America for the first time this year and their first show will be Weekend 1 of Coachella. They’ll be the first female K-Pop group to ever play the festival. BLACKPINK has a huge queer following, probably because K-Pop is inherently pretty gay.
Dev Hynes, who performs under the stage name Blood Orange, is one of the greatest R&B acts out there right now who just so happens to be queer. His 2018 release, Negro Swan, is an exploration in growing up black and queer and includes interludes by transgender rights activist Janet Mock. It’s a brilliant album that Dev performs effortlessly. If you want to see an artist completely immersed in his art and in his element, don’t miss his set.
Christine and the Queens
One of the acts I’m most looking forward to is French singer, songwriter, and producer, Christine and The Queens. The pansexual artist explores gender identity and fluidity in most of her looks and puts on spectacular live performances. Her 2018 album Chris is great, but she doesn’t do much touring stateside, making this one of those acts you may not have the opportunity to see for a while. She’s recorded both Chris and her 2014 debut Chaleur Humaine in both French and English, so you can listen in a foreign language if you want to seem sophisticated in front of your friends.
CHVRCHES frontwoman Lauren Mayberry is not here for your racism, sexism, or homophobia. She’s famously called out users across social media for making sexist remarks about her and stood up for artists like Beyonce and Taylor Swift when people accused them of “not being feminist enough.” The band embraces their LGBT following, and in 2017 performed at an Ally Coalition event that raised money for LGBT homeless youth in New York. Oh, and the band also puts on one hell of a live performance.
Diplo’s label, Mad Decent, is home to one of the only openly gay DJs in mainstream EDM, Kandy. He also curated a Pride playlist last year featuring queer and non-binary artists who have inspired him. He produced Madonna’s hit “Bitch I’m Madonna” with transgender producer SOPHIE and made out with Brazilian drag queen and artist Pabllo Vittar in one of her music videos. Between his projects with Jack U, Silk City, Major Lazer, and his own solo career, Diplo has made hits with just about every artist in the industry, so he’s sure to bring some special guests to the desert.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Featuring queer frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra and trans fiddler Yosi Perlstein, Hurray for the Riff Raff is pretty freaking queer. Make sure you catch them if you want to live your folk fantasy in the desert.
Jaden Smith, who has been challenging gender norms for most of his life, made his relationship with Tyler, The Creator public in 2018. He released a string of seemingly random singles in 2018 but hasn’t released a full-length album since 2017’s SYRE. It’ll be interesting to see what material he brings to Coachella this year.
Janelle Monae is going to shut down Coachella. Mark my words. If her “Make Me Feel” performance from the Grammys is anything like what she’s planning to bring to the Coachella stage, people will be talking about her performance for weeks after the festival ends. Monae has been super open about her pansexuality over the past few years – describing herself as a “free motherfucker.” Dirty Computer — which was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year – is sure to electrify the desert.
Javiera Mena is a Chilean indie artist who identifies as a lesbian. She’ll be making one her first trips to the United States for Coachella. Her music features a lot of synthesizer and piano and she’s the perfect artist to catch if you want to have a Spanish dance party at Coachella.
Kacey Musgraves should not be missed. She commands the stage and 2018’s Golden Hour is brilliant. Coming off of four Grammy wins and an iconic Selena cover at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Kacey is sure to have some surprises up her sleeve. She appeared as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars 4 and AS4 winners Monet X Change and Trinity the Tuck joined her on stage at her LA concert the night they were crowned. Kacey loves the gays and we love her back.
Openly gay producer KAYTRANADA is always a good time. He hasn’t released a full-length since 2016’s 99.9%, but with collaborations with everyone from Mobb Deep to Chance the Rapper to Alicia Keys, who knows what – or who – he’ll bring to his Coachella set.
Mikaela Straus – better known as King Princess – has been open about her identity as genderqueer and gay. She writes and performs songs for girls about girls. She recently teamed up with Fiona Apple to cover Fiona’s track “I Know” which you should definitely listen to if you haven’t heard it.
At the opening of every Lizzo show she introduces herself to the audience before letting them know that if they have any kind of hate in their heart, this isn’t the set for them. There will be no racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, or any other -phobia at a Lizzo show. She then proceeds to perform one of the best sets you’ll ever see. I’ve seen Lizzo play everything from tiny rooms to major festivals and she never fails to impress me. Her third studio album, Cuz I Love You will be released Weekend 2 of Coachella, so Weekend 1 attendees will likely get some sneak peaks of the new material.
Nicole Moudaber fell in love with dance music at the gay bars in New York City. She’s also been targeted by Lebanese police because her parties attracted a large LGBT audience. If you’re into electronic music, watching Moudaber control the decks during her sets is mesmerizing. You definitely don’t want to miss a Nicole Moudaber dance party!
Though you’ll have to get to the festival pretty early on Saturday to catch his set, serpentwithfeet is worth getting their early for. His experimental vibes, smooth R&B voice, and gospel upbringing mix perfectly to create great tracks. His live performances are also an entire experience where he’s been known to set up dolls and drape his equipment in various fabric.
Though not queer themselves, Sofi Tukker thinks that it’s “the coolest thing ever” that a large part of their fanbase identify as LGBT+. If you’ve never been to a Sofi Tukker show, make sure you wear your dancing shoes. You’re not likely to stop dancing at all once they play their first note.
Solange is a national treasure. Her live performances are nothing short of art with no detail being missed. Everything has multiple, carefully thought out meanings. With the release of Houston-centric When I Get Home last week, there’s so much new Solange material to look forward to seeing in the desert.
Even if you don’t think you know SOPHIE, you’ve heard SOPHIE. The transgender artist and producer is responsible for producing Madonna’s “Bitch I’m Madonna” and Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom EP. After releasing a string of singles throughout 2015, SOPHIE released her debut album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, in the summer of 2018. It’s the first time that she used her real voice and image in her music and accompanying videos and solidified SOPHIE as a force to be reckoned with. Her live performances have been few and far between, so her Coachella set shouldn’t be missed.
The 1975 – whose lead singer Matty Healy has openly admitted being attracted to men, though not sexually – are sure to bring a great set to Coachella. In addition to the tracks from their 2018 release, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, The 1975 are sure to perform other fan favorites like “Chocolate”, “Sex”, and “Somebody Else” — which I’m sure we have all cried to at some point.
Review: Kacey Musgraves at Rodeo Houston
Last night, Kacey Musgraves kicked off the 2019 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the six-time Grammy winner did not disappoint! Although she released her first full-length album, Same Trailer Different Park back in 2013, her 2018 album Golden Hour brought Kacey’s music into the ears and hearts of more than just country music fans. An amazing album coupled with appearances on RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 4 (and subsequent inclusion of AS4 winners Monet X Change and Trinity The Tuck at her concert the night they were crowned) helped expose the Gays to Kacey. Flashback to July 2018 when Musgraves announced her Oh, What a World tour and included stops in Dallas with multiple Austin dates, but no Houston performance. Houston fans were disappointed, but the dates in Texas fell suspiciously close to Rodeo Houston, thus causing the rumor mill to do what the rumor mill does. When the lineup leaked in December with Kacey as the opening act, it was decided: Monday, February 25 would be the unofficial “Gay Day” at the Rodeo. (I just made that up; nobody actually tried to organize anything other than Brenda Rich, who was not interested in organizing a rendezvous in the bathroom).
Kacey kicked off her tour just after the new year and hasn’t taken much time off except to play at the Grammys (where she took home four awards, including the Grammy for Album of the Year) and to present at the Oscars last Sunday. Reviews from every stop of her tour have raved, leaving the bar set pretty high going into Monday night’s show. And let me tell you: Kacey Musgraves did NOT come to play games!
Rodeo Houston did their thing, rolling the stage out and then killing the lights as the sides of the stage were lowered. This section featured a lot of pyrotechnics. Fireworks were strapped to every available surface making it dramatic! When the stage was lowered and the house lights were brought back up, Kacey was in the middle of the stage in a bell-bottomed, lace jumpsuit wearing virginal white while the band accompanied her wearing head-to-toe camel. It was all very much a look.
She played most of the tracks from Golden Hour, including “Butterflies” — winner of the Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance — and “Space Cowboy” — winner of Best Country Song. Even in the moments where the band accompaniment was quiet, Kacey’s voice filled every square foot of NRG Stadium. She was completely in her element. She commanded the stage throughout.
She also gave the, “I was a Kacey fan before all of you,” fans their moment by playing “Merry Go Round” and “High Time” off of her previous two albums. This was a rare moment to see Kacey truly in her country sweetheart element. She wrote these songs in her mid-twenties, which are perfect songs for that time of your life.
As brilliant as I think Golden Hour is, though, Kacey’s covers stole the show. Maybe because the songs from Golden Hour are what we came expecting to hear, but in the middle of her set Kacey did three covers that were excellent choices for Rodeo Houston. The first cover was Miranda Lambert’s hit “Mama’s Broken Heart”. Kacey’s choice to cover this song isn’t a huge surprise — she recorded and released her cover back in 2013 – but for the country fans in the room, this was a treat. The country girls in the building jumped out of their seat and danced as Kacey absolutely killed this performance.
The next cover was Brooks & Dunn’s (who play Rodeo Houston tonight) “Neon Moon”. Again, this wasn’t a huge surprise if you’re a Kacey Musgraves superfan and look at every setlist while she’s on tour like I do. She played it at most of the stops at the beginning of the tour, but has recently switched it out for *NSYNC’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart.” There’s something about “Neon Moon” that just resonates with people. Maybe you had to have been raised in Texas for it to affect you, but I talked to numerous people who cried during Kacey’s cover. Such a smart venue to play this cover in.
Finally, Kacey Musgraves covered the Queen of Tejano, Selena Quintanilla. Again, if you’re a superfan, the signs were all there in retrospect. Before the lineup officially dropped, Kacey shared a photo on her Instagram story of Selena playing Rodeo Houston. At the end of 2018, she also shared a video of herself singing a Selena number at some sort of karaoke house party. Her look was also a nod to Selena. “I love her just as much as you do!” yelled Kacey before going into the chorus of “Como La Flor.” All of the pieces of the puzzle suddenly seemed to make so much sense. I thought the roof of NRG was going to come off. Girls & Gays (the primary demographic last night) LOVE Selena, and on the eve of the anniversary of Selena’s last concert? Iconic. Another brilliant choice.
After blowing everyone’s collective minds, Kacey played three more Golden Hour tracks, finishing the concert accompanied by her guitarist draped in a gay pride flag. Something about seeing that open display of Pride at an event that is generally seen as pretty homophobic — or at the very least heterocentric — was such a breath of fresh air. Progress.
In true Texas fashion, Kacey exited the stadium on horseback instead of in the pickup truck usually used by the artists. A true Texan. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you kick off Rodeo Houston correctly.
Ashton P. Woods Running for Houston City Council
Houston-based activist and co-founder of the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter, Ashton P. Woods, announced on Wednesday, February 13th, that he is running for a seat on the Houston City Council At-Large 5.
(HOUSTON) — Ashton P. Woods is no stranger to the politisphere, and it doesn’t look as though he plans to become one any time soon. The co-founder of Black Lives Matter Houston and political advocate — who was most recently featured on the cover of Poz Magazine (shown below) — announced last Wednesday that he was running for a seat on the Houston City Council At-Large 5 in a Facebook Live video, which can be seen below this article. In the same video, Woods went on to better explain his platform, which includes focusing on infrastructure in various Houston neighborhoods that are poorly lit, decriminalizing homelessness and working to help Houston’s homeless population, as well as emphasizing healthcare on a local level rather than waiting for change on a national level.
Woods is a well-known voice in and out of both Houston’s Black and Queer communities, especially where those two intersect. His other work also includes such successes as the appointment of the City of Houston’s first LGBT advisory board. His advocacy against police brutality has in the past made him a target of violence, but in continuing to speak out, he has inspired others to take action, as well. Woods’ focuses in his advocacy also include support for the community of people living with HIV/AIDS, intersectionality, ending violence against people of color, and speaking out to end rape and sexual assault. Ashton has been speaking and fighting for the rights of people like him for years, and expresses his views publicly and unabashedly. Those views do not come without their share of criticisms from others, but Woods maintains his views and continues to fight for what is right.
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.
As Per the Usual, Pt. I
Less Than Butterflies, No. 29
And now we’ve arrived at the third act — the part of the story that’s supposed to carry us home by noble steed into the sunset.
Inevitably … it will not.
“So you wrote about me?” Ricky asked me as he struggled with great futility to get the tire lock off of his car.
My lies immediately kicked in and took over not only my words, but my facial expressions and my body language. I was good at that. When confronted with some truth I was not ready to acknowledge — at least not to another — I was fully capable of playing the fool and lying. After all, I’d grown accustomed to denying all my real feelings. And that’s just where this story had landed me. As per the usual, in my feelings.
“What are you talking about?” I asked him, eyes narrowed and nose a bit wrinkled.
He didn’t break his gaze — in his subtle yet undeniable determination, Ricky was going to get the truth out of me.
… or so he thought.
“I’m ‘Ricky’ in Less Than Butterflies. Right?”
Ha. Aha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
It wasn’t going to be that easy.
Act III, ladies and gentlemen.
As per the usual, gay culture was ruining my fucking life. Gay culture, at least in the macro, is supposed to be about tolerance and acceptance and the ability to feel like you belong somewhere when the world has turned you away over-and-over again because of who you are. But gay culture is also a pastiche of incongruities — lines that do not run parallel to one another and that intersect and continue on rather than running a course together. After all, if you aren’t fit, traditionally beautiful, and ready to pop a fan and dance after brunch at the Rosemont, you aren’t in the club. You have to look a certain way, you have to behave a certain way, and you have to think a certain way. The time when queer people were known for their taste and flair has gone. We’ve bitten so deep into the apple of our ability to make uncool things cool that we’ve accidentally eaten the core, chewed, and spit back out exclusivity in its place.
Gay culture is a lot of good things; it’s knowing how to make a family out of friends; it’s understanding that there is beauty in things that others might not at first notice; it’s doing things to spite social norms and cues. But it’s also a lot of bad things; it’s not getting noticed so long as there’s some cuter, younger, vapid twink standing beside you at the bar; it’s not being sure whether someone likes you, or whether you’re just a friend; it’s thinking that you’ve evolved past gay culture, only to more subtly perpetuate its bad behaviors.
Enter literally every single man I’ve written about in this column.
“This is my friend, Anthony,” drag queen extraordinaire Ondi introduced me to a stranger. “We both love white men who emotionally abuse us.”
I nodded to the white stranger and extended a hand to shake. “Especially circumcised ones, or Jews.” As most men do when I’m talking, the stranger only nodded his head and walked away. Ondi followed after him.
“You need to stop falling in love with your friends,” my friend Cooper told me.
“Who?!” I asked, honestly shocked. “Ondi?”
“No, not Ondi, you imbecile,” he snapped. “Ricky.” I looked around the patio to make sure Ricky wasn’t around. We were perched atop a picnic table outside of some dive bar where we’d gone to see Ondi in one of Beck’s performance art drag shows. Beck’s shows were always a breath of fresh air from normal drag shows in Houston, because they incorporated drag queens who strayed from the type of drag most of us got used to seeing on stage at Rich’s or Hamburger Mary’s. Ondi was known for being a bit aberrant in her drag because she was a bit more artistic than a lot of other drag queens, but nevertheless a hell of a queen to watch. Currently, she was standing in line for tacos between shows and taking a selfie like the true garbage fire that she was.
“I’M NOT FALLING IN LOVE WITH ANYONE!” I unnecessarily shouted over my shoulder as I snapped a photo of Ondi taking a picture of herself. “Oh, she’s gonna hate this picture,” I said as I uploaded the photo of Ondi to Snapchat. “It’s perfect.” Ondi and I had been in a longstanding feud ever since I stole her phone at a party and updated her Facebook status to say, “I’m in a feud with Anthony Ramirez,” because I was bored.
Ricky, whom Cooper was referring to, was another friend of ours that he’d once slept with and whom I’d been spending a great deal of my time with over the last several weeks. Therein laid the trickiness of it: Ricky and I had been hanging out … and we’d been hanging out a lot. To the point where other men were sending me text messages asking who this Ricky person was. Suffice it to say, they weren’t entirely sure I was being honest when I’d reply to them something dismissive and flippant like, “Lol. A friend of mine.”
And he was! That’s all he was! He was just a friend. But that was another issue with gay culture: two men couldn’t be friends and not be sleeping together. And as much as I’d have liked to have proven that stigma to be wrong … I had to be honest enough with myself to say that, in fact, I did have a bad habit of developing feelings for my friends. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t happening just a little bit with Ricky, too. It’s a stupid thing to let happen, you know. After all, time-and-time again I’ve fallen into this downward circle of getting close to someone and not being able to segregate friendly feelings from romantic ones. I could psychoanalyze this all right now, but what would be the point, really? After all, I’ve been doing that over the course of this entire series and clearly to no avail. But the fact of the matter was that I was not falling in love with Ricky. Having feelings was one thing — it was too early to even really tell what those feelings were. Falling in love with someone I couldn’t have … I’d been there, all to recently, even. I wasn’t ready to do that again. Besides, I was having fun, and Ricky was a nice enough guy to be friends with. I needed to let that be enough for right now.
I had to.
Let us harken back to Ezra, my wonderful, asexual friend whom I also fell in love with. That was awkward. Months and months had gone by with me pining over someone I realistically knew that I couldn’t ever have. And then there was Peter — the man-turned-emotional affair that I let turn my life upside down and inside out who had also started out as just my friend. To be honest, most of my relationships and my not-relationships started off that way. And I’m sorry, but that isn’t exactly my fault. It’s gay culture, dummies. Gay culture sets us up to not have any sort of social cues about dating and lays carpet over the line that separates it from friendships. It doesn’t help that most gay people sleep with their other gay people friends. It’s gross and highly unhealthy, I know. But that doesn’t make it any less true. So what do we do? We meet new people and we spend time with them; then we flirtatiously hold hands or steal cheek kisses or snuggle up next to one another watching movies and drinking cheap Trader Joe’s wine and inevitably we find ourselves sad and lonely over some other guy who’s broken our hearts until we fall into the arms (and assholes) of our friends.
I could see Ricky quite clearly — who he was he presented to people without hesitation, but also without apology. He was cute, and he was smart, and he came with a lot of passion, the likes of which I hadn’t met in a person in a very long time. He was insightful and observant, someone who watched others and picked out clumps of coal before dusting them off into diamonds. It was something remarkable, really. Few people had that kind of foresight. He was definitely someone I was eager to get to know upon meeting him, someone I could tell needed people who wanted to get to know him. He was friendly, he was kind, and he would break my heart if I wasn’t careful.
He would break my heart if I wasn’t careful.
I turned back to Cooper. “You’re so stupid. You don’t know anything.”
“Anthony,” Cooper said as he pulled a joint out of his backpack, lit it, took a hit, and then passed it to me. Apparently everyone was just smoking weed everywhere since the City of Houston had made it less illegal to be caught with small amounts. Burn away the evidence, why don’t we? So, I took a hit, too. After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, smoke their weed. “I love you, but you are way better than Peter,” he said. Peter, Peter, Peter. How the fuck was I supposed to really get closure and move on from that guy if my friends kept bringing him up? Cooper was right, though — I was so much better than that guy. “Just like when Justin and I broke up and you said that I was better than him.”
I exhaled and hacked up a lung due to the enormous hit I’d just taken off the joint. “Yeah, but …” I choked. “I didn’t mean it when I said it to you.” More coughing. “That’s just what you say to someone after a breakup.”
“Wow,” he said as he snatched his joint back away from me. “Why are you such a fucking pendeja?”
“Yo no se, bitch,” I told him as I downed the remainder of my mezcal margarita. “But I appreciate you saying that, and it’s very sweet. I just know that this thing with Ricky is not the same as the thing with Peter. First of all, I’m not in love with Ricky. I barely know him.”
“You’ve been together almost every single day since you met,” he added.
“Secondly,” I snapped, “I’m doing exactly the thing with Ricky that I said I was doing when we discussed this last week and that I didn’t do with Peter.”
“That was a really confusing sentence. What thing are you doing? … Or … not doing?”
I looked up and found Ondi prancing back from the taco line with a boat full of Mexican food in her beach ball-inspired, Katy Perry-esque outfit and blonde wig. She honestly gave all of us Latinas a bad name.
I turned back to Cooper as Ondi as the smell of Ondi or her food nauseated me. “I’m just riding it out to see where it goes.”
Ondi shoved a giant taco in her mouth and then said through a mouthful of food, “You’re always riding something.”
As per the usual — or at least as of late — I was stuck in my own head trying not to have a feeling, all while pretending not to be hungry because I didn’t want anyone to notice I’d gained like 6 pounds in the last two weeks. The latter really is a separate issue for later.
I looked over at Ricky as he talked and my own thoughts drowned out his words.
Do I have a crush on him?
I was trying my very hardest to listen to whatever story it was that Ricky was telling me about his day at work. He’d been a financial consultant — whatever the fuck that meant — since college and he literally never stopped talking about it.
In addition to the dulling of his voice thanks to my own inner-monologue, I also couldn’t get Cooper’s voice out of my head telling me not to be such a dumb bitch and to stop falling in love with every man that pranced in and out of my life. It felt mildly racist coming from a white man, to be honest; but I was willing to overlook that part. It wouldn’t be so bothersome if it were not for the fact that I actually wasn’t falling in love with anyone. But now the idea was stuck in my stupid fucking brain, and I was beginning to doubt all my certainties that I’d pre-established before Cooper had gone and opened his stupid fucking mouth.
God, I hate him.
He is very attractive. That actually may be the part that spoils all of this. I hated to think that way, but it was true. Even if it turned out that I was crushing on Ricky, he was waaaaay out of my league. Grown-up and outside of the gay scene more now, Ricky had seemed to evolved of twinkdom, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much of that superficiality or vapidness might still remain that hadn’t evaporated with the bulk of it. Even a little bit would be too much.
But do I like him? These were two separate questions. He was, after all, very smart as well. And driven. And passionate. These were things I wasn’t used to seeing in the men around me — specifically not the ones for which I developed feelings.
“What do you wanna do?” he asked as we drove around the city aimlessly. Maybe he’d finally caught onto the fact that I hadn’t been listening to him. I wish I’d been paying at least some attention so that I’d have some springboard from which to jump. But nooooo. I had to go harping on internally and psychotically about whether or not I might like him. Factor into that Cooper’s dumb voice ringing in the background telling me not to fall in love with Ricky, who I’d otherwise had no plans of falling in love with, and you’d find that I was beginning to suffer a migraine.
WHY ARE MY FRIENDS CONSTANTLY RUINING MY LIFE?!
“I don’t know,” I told him. “It’s 80-degrees outside in the middle of January,” I told him. “Think there are any water parks open?”
I think a part of why I was stressing about all of this had less to do with whether or not I was going to end up falling for Ricky and more to do with the fact that I wanted to know what he thought was going on between us. Truth be told, and if my track record had anything to show worth proving, he probably didn’t think anything of it other than the fact that we were two people hanging out and having a good time together. After all, that’s all I really ever was to anyone, wasn’t it? Friendship after friendship, relationship after relationship, I was constantly being pigeonholed to “friend” before things ever got to serious. It happened with Ezra — granted, he was an asexual, aromantic — and it happened with Peter. It even happened with my last truly serious boyfriend, Parker, when he told me he didn’t think I was marriage material — only for me to find out he was engaged to someone else a short six months later. These were just the more recent examples! It had happened with everyone else in between, before, and probably still would after.
It kind of sucked, y’all. I was smart and funny. I had lots of wisdom to impart and wit to interject. But I also had a taste for men who wanted to treat me like shit all of the time and who seemed incapable of reciprocating my feelings. Wasn’t that telling? Here I was at a huge crux in my life, a place where I had come out of something truly terrible; now was the time for me to decide how I was going to proceed with relationships for the rest of my life so that I didn’t have to put myself through what I’d gone through with Peter with anyone else ever again. And for fuck’s sake, I really was not up for an existential crisis that day while sitting next to someone I barely knew. So, yeah, I’d say it was pretty telling. The only thing that had ever been more telling about me than that was the time I’d accidentally spilled my messenger bag all over the floor of Starbucks and revealed to a Tinder date that I was actually 10lbs heavier than I was.
I don’t remember what we ended up doing that day. We probably got drunk or high or something. What I do remember were the little things that happened. I remember the stolen glances; the smiles and whats that followed. I remember how he’d kissed my cheek when he dropped me off at my car and I’d waited until he’d pulled out of the parking lot to go inside the bar where it’d been parked. I remember a few weekends before when we’d been sleeping on a pull-out on vacation and he’d farted in the middle of the night, woke up long enough to giggle, then rolled over to go back to sleep and how hard I’d laughed at that. I remember how stuck my mouth felt in a stupid, slight gape when he’d talked about other boys — how my face got splotchy and red and my mouth went dry because the pang of jealousy in my stomach had paralyzed me. I remember the feelings that I, in fact, was having. Moreover, I recognized them. I recognized them as the early stages of starting to really like someone. But what I remember most, is wishing I’d just said something; but letting my Hard Cocks School of Gay Culture tell me that I probably shouldn’t — that I should just ride it out.
I was growing so tired of riding things out.