S1: Hello and welcome to the July edition of Outward. I’m Brian Lauter, editor of Outward, and I just need to give a shout out to the straight woman at Pride who in line to a dance party that used to be gay, turned around to me and apologized for, quote, colonizing my space. We love the self awareness straight woman, but we love it even more when it spurs actual action. So maybe next time don’t colonize the space with
S2: something to think about.
S3: Did you offer her absolution or did you just say like, thank you? You’re right. I said it’s
S1: cool. Happy pride. I don’t know. What am I going to say? Like, oh, come inside. Yeah. Oh, my God,
S3: I love that. I’m Christina Katya Ritchie, a senior writer at Slate. And I’ve got to say, it’s killing me that it has been so hot lately because I have been waiting to wear my post pandemic reemergence outfit. It’s a purple pleather strapless jumpsuit. And I think I would probably die of either dehydration or heat stroke, whichever came first if I tried to burn out. But it’s been sitting in my closet since May. And so I just need to, like, go to one of those Russian vodka bars where you like drinking an igloo or freeze ISIS.
S2: Yeah, a style before comfort.
S3: Christina, you’re right. I should
S2: like that. I’m rambling along and I am on vacation with my family right now and I’m firmly entrenched in hot everything. Summer hot line on the beach and reading summer. If it’s a rainy day, it’s hot. Let’s watch a movie all day, summer. If it’s any day of the week, it’s hot, hot dogs and no vegetables for dinner summer. This is my particular version of cutting loose post-box.
S3: I love just I’ve got to say, your kids are always living my best life. Like I really want to be reincarnated as VanDerWerffRumaan sons.
S2: Sometimes they say to me, like we’ll be at the beach and we’ll be playing and it’ll be hot. The car I’m really worn out and like worn out from like relaxing all day. Like it must be really tough to
S3: imagine being able to spend your summer at, like, Fire Island as a child. Maybe you just wouldn’t appreciate it as much, but it just seems so idyllic.
S2: So far, so good. It’s just no complaints, you know. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. All right. On this month’s episode, we’re going to be celebrating queer milestones and two different flavors. First, we’ll hear from a few of our fellow queers about the major life events that they marked during the past fifteen months of pandemic isolation. What was it like to get married or to transition largely apart from the community? And how are we all processing those changes now? Then we’ll be joined by the opera singer Lucia Lucas, who broke ground in twenty eighteen by being the first trans woman baritone to sing Don Giovanni in an American production and whose story is featured in the new documentary The Sound of Identity. Then we’ll close out with our regular updates to the gay agenda. But first, it’s time, as always, for pride and provocations. Christina, why don’t you start us off?
S3: I’m provoked this month by a D.C. gay bar called Nellie is. It’s definitely one of the longest standing gay bars in D.C., one of the most popular. It’s a sports bar. A lot of street people feel very comfortable there to
S2: colonising our space.
S3: Yeah, the woman that you met on Pride has certainly been there if she’s ever been to D.C. So in mid-June, it actually was during pride weekend in D.C. Security contractors at the bar dragged a 22 year old black woman and college student named Keisha Young down a flight of stairs in the bar by her hair and her arm headfirst on her back down the stairs. So there was an investigation because somebody filmed it. The video is absolutely shocking. Like Keisha was lucky she wasn’t paralyzed. The investigation found that there was some sort of fight after security had tried to remove people who had apparently brought in their own bottle of alcohol. Keisha says that she was mistaken for the person who did bring in the alcohol. Whatever happened, it’s one of those scenarios where it’s clear that if there wasn’t video, if somebody wasn’t there to take the video that went viral, who knows what they would be saying or doing right now. So what is happening right now is activists have organized a boycott of the bar. It’s been closed for a month. They fired the private security contractors, but they still haven’t apologized to Keisha. What they have done is right on Facebook. We offer a heartfelt apology to all who witnessed the horrific events of this past weekend. They’ve been pretty much silent since they posted that in June. And this is sort of the last straw for those of us who have been paying attention to what Nellie and the owner have been like over the past several years, a few years ago. I think it was twenty eighteen, they flew a thin blue line flag over the bar when people got mad at them, they said like, oh, we had no idea that it was used at white supremacist rallies. Well, that’s not the only reason why you should fly them. You know what amounts to a police gang right around the same time, a friend of mine and a couple other sort of professional trans activists tried to get the bar to make their bathroom signs more inclusive. They approached the owner and sort of a very respectful like meeting and the owner said no. So, you know, the barge tried to sort of quietly opened last week. Activists barricaded the entrance with a human chain until it shut down. And that’s actually my pride in this moment, is that it feels like it’s become a real reckoning with people who have profited off of the implication that they’re a safe space but have failed to do the actual work that it takes to make it a safe space. You know, obviously, I’ve been thinking about this in conjunction with the conversation we had last month about police officers at Pride. Every decision that you make when you run a business like this is a decision about exactly who are you making feel welcome in your place and who is it actually safe for? Because some people there certainly do feel safe. Straight people feel safe enough to hang out there if they’re white. But, you know, in this moment, a lot of other people, black people who have worked at Nellie is some people who’ve worked security there have also started speaking up about their own issues at the bar. And so for the first time in all of my time in the gay community in DC, it feels like people aren’t taking these spaces for granted as safe spaces to party or thinking, oh, it’s it’s good to patronise this bar because it’s queer owned or whatever and realizing that there are a lot of different shades they are in about how you might run an ethical business that actually does feel safe for everybody who goes there. So it’s a provocation with a pride in the middle of it. And I hope that, you know, activists continue to demand at the very least, a public apology as they’re also asking for reparations of some sort and for Nellie to release the full security footage. But, yeah, that’s pretty much like the biggest topic in Gadis right now.
S2: That’s really disappointing and also frightening. You know, I mean, there’s one level of disrespect about the bathroom signage, which frankly just seems sort of silly, like that doesn’t really require a particular kind of effort or it would be very easy gesture to make that probably wouldn’t cost them anything. But, you know, when you’re talking about actual physical danger, that’s a whole other thing.
S1: And that’s simple. A very simple thing. Yes.
S2: For telling us that story. I’m provoked now to choose.
S1: Yeah, I’m Perfecta. Yeah. I mean, we love our we love our you know, we always talk about loving our gay spaces and wanting to preserve our get in our bars in particular. But you’re right, not all of them are created equal and some of them don’t deserve that direction. And so a good thing to keep in mind.
S3: Yeah. How are you guys doing this month?
S2: Well, I, I’m also feeling provoked, although admittedly over something considerably more stupid and ridiculous. Richard Branson. Who is he? A billionaire? I don’t even know. Does it matter? It’s ridiculous. Rich person Richard Branson went to space. I’m making air quotes. You know, he flew in a plane that touched the border between the heavens and the earth. First of all, who cares? Like the paucity of imagination. If I had that kind of money, I can assure you that I would not go up to space. I would do something with that money, even if it wasn’t for good. Even if you weren’t going to devote yourself to philanthropy, do something more exciting, like rent a private island, like give Kate Moss ten million dollars to give you a lap dance. I don’t know. Think of something more interesting.
S1: You know what?
S3: Hey, I’m sure he’s I’m sure doing your thing.
S2: He’s got to know that
S3: Kate Moss’s feelings. But yeah,
S2: at any rate, he decided to have this adventure in space again with air quotes and he wore a pride ribbon on his flight. And the fact that I know this suggests that somewhere in the Richard Branson Inc. machinery, there is a publicist who hatched this idea and talk to the press about it. It is such a stupid, meaningless gesture. Like, I don’t know what any gay person or queer person or anyone is supposed to feel about this particular gesture could not be more hollow to me. He wasn’t even there during Pride Month. Like, I don’t even I don’t understand at all. I find it very provocative. I don’t even want to know anymore. I’m sorry that I talked about it.
S3: Do you think that was his way of coming out a little bit?
S2: I hope not, because I don’t.
S3: Maybe he wants Mark Wahlberg to give him a lap.
S2: Yeah, yeah, maybe, maybe
S3: we’re using, like, icons of that era.
S2: I like your interpretation of this particular. It’s that
S1: or it’s another example of straight people colonizing our who colonize space
S2: with our floorspace, like colonize, you know, do something else. Just go live in a castle somewhere and collect rare books or something. I don’t know.
S1: I mean, he probably does all of those things. So I think it’s, you know, there’s just nothing left.
S3: Yeah. The problem is he’s already. Yeah. And the only thing left is to like kind of technically go into space. I can just imagine all the actual astronauts out there, just like I said, this idea that these people have gotten to space
S2: and I’m sure somewhere out there there is a queer astronaut who’s like, listen, I’ve already done this like that, you know. Yeah.
S2: Brian. Are you feeling this?
S1: I am feeling provoked, but I’m not perfect like people per say. I’m sort of more provoked at a situation where I should say first, this is not a medical show. I am not a doctor. I’m not a public health professional. So what I’m about to say is anecdotal. But I’ve been hearing a lot of reports about these breakthrough cases of Covid coming out of sort of queer enclaves like Fire Island and Provincetown and Massachusetts in particular in the past few weeks. And this is not like super surprising to me, given that everyone I know seems to be in these places except for me. So maybe I’m provoked by not being at the gay resort. But it is also disconcerting, worrying to hear of so many of these cases. And these are people who are vaccinated. Right. So that’s the breakthrough means. So we’re talking about people who got their vaccine and still contracted covid in these places. So unfortunately, their symptoms aren’t bad. I’ve not heard of anybody having to be hospitalized or anything like that, but it’s happening. And so this is just, I think, a little bit of a provocation PSA that the Delta variant is a thing. There are at least some people who are presumably not vaccinated in these areas. And so we need to be, you know, just keeping our guard up and thinking really carefully about how we socialize. And I think that’s especially true. And these spaces that we think of as being our free places in the world and places of safety, you know, we’re not terribly safe there right now. And so I think it’s just a good reminder that the pandemic. She is not over.
S3: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think it’s important to note that the vaccine does protect you against the virus. Like, it’s very, very rare for anybody who’s been vaccinated to have to be right. But like, every hospital that is talking on the record is saying it’s almost all unvaccinated people. But yeah, obviously it’s not 100 percent effective and you can still contract the virus even if it’s asymptomatic or has very mild symptoms.
S1: Yeah, the vaccine is working as sold, but like, it is still just intense to see, you know, 19 people like this in a larger social circle come back with that. So something to think about.
S2: It’s a good reminder as well for those who have been hesitant about the vaccine, for whatever reason, to sort of get over that hesitancy, because until we sort of reach that point, statistically, these things are going to happen. And I do think I know people who are eligible for the vaccine and kind of nonchalant about it. And I wish that that weren’t the case.
S1: Yeah, absolutely. Sorry to be a bummer. Everybody in there somewhere. But that’s just it’s the truth. OK, PSA done.
S3: All right, so this past week, as I have been sweating through this spell of 80 percent humidity in D.C., I’ve been having flashbacks to this time last year. I don’t know if you guys remember, but many of us were spending the summer in isolation or close to it. Plans got rescheduled, parties and trips got canceled. But as disruptive as the pandemic and its many ripple effects have been, life went on. People started new jobs and met new lovers. They had babies. They got in fights, got divorced, they transitioned. They came out are more ambitious brethren, did all of that. There’s a reason why people hold weddings and funerals and other sort of ritual observations of major life events, birthday parties, house mornings, you know, the road trip you might take after a bad breakup. One of my friends had a very memorable manuevers three party several years ago to celebrate his coming out as trans and the through line here. You know, whether it’s a good milestone or a regrettable one, we need a way for us to note that they matter and mark them in time and also to do it in community to remember that we didn’t get there alone and that we’re not moving past it alone. So the past year has been devoid of so many of these communal moments of joy and transformation and grief. And it’s tempting to believe that life is just back to normal now, even if the reality is more complicated in a lot of places and maybe before things can really feel normal again, we need to take a minute to celebrate or mourn or just affirm the year that was. So we had a few friends of outward and listeners leave us voicemails and share stories of the queer milestones they had over the covid year. Let’s listen.
S4: During the pandemic, I got what I would consider sort of unofficially divorced from three different people, including my two housemates who I owned a house with and my girlfriend of eight years. And I moved twice and bought a house of my own and started dating someone who I wasn’t able to see in person while I was living in the pandemic pod. And throughout most of that time, I wasn’t really able to meet up with, like local queer community my friends, and ended up leaning on some support from my 20 plus year old high school and college career communities, including ex-girlfriends and queer beasties. And I wasn’t the only one who went through some shit during the pandemic. So it was really good to have that enduring community. And now I live alone and it is so excellent and I’m really looking forward to life happening again in the pandemic. I got top surgery. Against all odds of covid, I had been waiting for about a decade for my life and my work to line up to be possible. And in December twenty nineteen, I got it all lined up and my date for surgical consult was a day after lockdown. Crestfallen, I kept attempting to move forward with it. A surgical consult cancelled a surgical consult virtually finally got a date set in November. And I had the top surgery I’ve been waiting for. And it was all of the things that top surgery is joyful, liberating and a painful recovery, which I wasn’t able to lean into my career community for the way I might have in pre covid times, my mule train was contactless drop off on the porch and my celebrations of my new body were on face time. But ultimately I’ve emerged as we are opening back up with a new body and it’s amazing. It’s tank top weather and beach weather. And I have the body I have wanted for over a decade. I wouldn’t go back, but I certainly would have loved a different non covid experience of this amazing transition.
S5: My wife and I got married Twitch last year on the Fourth of July, streamed by a veteran of online gaming, a really good friend of ours called Mickey. And then another witness, my dear friend Justin, who sadly isn’t with us any longer. As we just passed our first anniversary and I mentioned those people because having our wedding online meant that it was really, really intimate, really, really very special and. I think special in a way that an in-person wedding could never have been, at least for me, because I think I would have gotten extremely self-conscious, extremely stressed about all the money we were spending, extremely stressed about all the relatives who’d had to fly wherever they would have had to fly. And during our wedding online, you know, it took away the need for any of those worries. It meant that everybody was attending in an equal capacity. And it meant that we got to spend the day at home hanging out with our friends and just spending time with each other. For us, it was really perfect solution. I mean, not an ideal context, a global pandemic, but in some ways an ideal outcome.
S6: My husband Jacob and I became parents through adoption in June 20 20. We had started the process of preparing to become adoptive parents long before Covid, and we just assumed when quarantine started that nothing would happen on that front until society returned to normal. On a Saturday morning in June last year, we got word from our agency that we had one day before we needed to cross state lines and look at Airbnb to live in for a week with a brand new baby. Overall, since that time becoming apparent during Covid has been challenging. In ways that you’d expect, but it’s also been kind of in a funny way, perfect timing for a long time there, it didn’t really feel as though there even was a world outside that we had been missing out on while nesting all three of us. And this summer, it’s been great to bring our daughter out of the world as it wakes up.
S3: Wow, so much has happened in the past year. We also heard from somebody who laid off from Broadway, had the time and energy to write a play for the first time, came in wanting to do forever. Another person began dating somebody abroad and they hadn’t been able to see each other at all during the pandemic. They had never met each other in person. I want to follow up with them to see if they’ve met. Now, another person came out as genderqueer, trans masculine to their friends and family and said, I almost felt stupid when I put it all together, but I felt more like myself than I have since I was a kid. What are you guys feeling as we listen to those stories? You know,
S2: it’s so moving to hear the tension between the joy in the voice of the caller who talks about their top surgery and the pain of thinking about like a period of time where they felt like alone. I mean, I don’t know what it would be like to have to recover from major surgery alone. You know, the physical pain of that, like not being able to have your friends bring you Thai food and like, come inside and make sure that your laundry is done and just like, say, oh, you look great. Or like, is there something they can do for you? Like pick up the container of dog food that, like, you haven’t even thought about and planned on how you’re going to get that done. Like, that’s tough. That’s really tough. And I think that the last year it’s been so difficult for anyone to complain about the small stuff. Right. Because people were dying. People were without jobs. There was a lot of fear. I’m not saying that this is the small stuff, but I think that even I could sense it in the caller’s own words that I that they didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. But it was a big deal. And I think that’s what we wanted to have this conversation. Just say, like, well, you went through something, but then you hear the joy in their voice now talking about like it’s been a tough season and I survived this shitty year and we all survive the shitty year. And like, that color really does deserve to go to the beach and, like, take off their shirt and run around and just be like themselves. And I hope that is there for them. And I hope that they get to hang out with all the friends who did bring them Thai food while they were recovering and they couldn’t give them a hug, you know.
S1: Yeah. I also picked up on this interesting thing of folks and noting what was good about these things happening during the pandemic, even even as that tension, as you pointed out, Rumaan of like this was a bad thing like in the world, of course. But the person who got married talking about how that twitch wedding was actually ideal in some ways, in ways that they probably couldn’t have expected or would have planned. And also this this notion of nesting with your new adopted baby like that, that seems actually kind of great. You know, no one’s expecting you to go anywhere. You can’t go anywhere. And so there is like a a surprising benefit, I guess you could say, from from those things happening during this time, even as they were made more difficult in other ways. So it’s it’s a real mixed bag.
S3: I also know that, you know, like, for instance, the person who went through a breakup and also divorced, as they put it, from their house, made it feels like the pandemic stressed out a lot of relationships and also solidified a lot of relationships. I think it had the effect of emphasizing whatever relationship dynamic might have already been there. For instance, I know somebody else who went on a blind date to meet somebody through a friend, started dating, moved in together, got engaged and bought a house together all during this this year. You know, part of that has to do with the fact that they’re 40 and, you know, at a time in their life where they feel like they know what they want and they’re ready to make commitments to each other. But I think part of it was also that the pandemic accelerated the timeline of a relationship because they didn’t have other obligations that were taking them away from like starting this new romance together. We also had a lot of other people write in to say that the same thing had happened to them, that they went from sort of zero to moving in together all during the pandemic. And it was also the kind of major global event that put things in perspective for a lot of people in ways that affected their lives. You know, it was like the ultimate YOLO, like literally life can change at any moment. Yeah. Do what you want. Now, for people who experience a gender transition during the pandemic, I think it offered a lot of people time alone to do that sort of self-examination that is hard to do around other people and for other people. It probably was the opposite. Like even for me, I’m not trans, but. I sort of realized that my gender identity is best experienced in relation to other people, and I felt extra depressed during the pandemic when I couldn’t go out and, like, perform my particular brand of femininity in a queer space.
S1: Right. Well, that’s something that I feel that came up in a number of the callers that we heard. And I think you’ve talked about this before, Christine, on this idea of like sort of to put it broadly, like queerness and eating queer people, queer community, for it to be sort of as meaningful as it can be. Not that, you know, I think you can be queer alone. It’s possible. But like, does it mean as much as is it as fulfilling or as as important in the world? And I think what we heard there and what you just said also suggests that, no, I mean, it’s tough. You need that context and that understanding and that that sort of support. And we you know, a lot of us didn’t we’re deprived. But I think that’s that’s true.
S2: Yeah. If a queer tree falls in the forest. Right. Like, is it still queer? Like, you know, it’s like something is derived from one’s identity to a group. And if you are removed from that group by circumstance, how do you find your footing? And we didn’t hear from anyone in this particular situation. But I do think about people who are deeply closeted in many parts of their lives, but have one particular kind of outlet or, you know, young people who might be sort of burgeoning queer at school, but not at home. Right. And like, I can’t even really understand what that might have been like to have to be deprived of that particular outlet. And that’s very difficult. And I think that, again, like I understand we’re talking about a period of time in which there was significant loss of life and a lot of other very serious ramifications. But I think that it’s OK to acknowledge that these are also serious ramifications and that’s difficult for somebody psychically.
S1: Yeah, one of my partners is a as a professor. And what you were just talking about, having kids, students coming out at school, especially in college, and then having to go where he teaches, having to go home again and be closeted again because they can’t they could not express themselves. And he heard from a number of his students about exactly this problem. On top of all the other ones that, you know, in addition to like doing family care, in addition to like almost any and it absolutely happened to a lot of people.
S3: And I don’t know about you guys, but in my sort of self awareness, self development process, when I was even like the first five or six years after coming out to myself, there was still a lot of discovery I had to do, like I had to go to a lot of dyke bars before I figured out, like, all right. I think, like, this is me. That’s who I’m attracted to. Right. I think I’m starting to understand this now. And, you know, you’ve got to go through a lot of hair that’s before you find one. People weren’t able to get those, like, honestly pouring one out for all of the bushes who couldn’t go to the barber, like, once and had to look in the mirror and just like
S1: hair is so to your people. Yeah.
S3: And, you know, I mean, everyone I think in the age group that y’all were just talking about had this sort of lost year or maybe like Arrested Development in some kind of way, but with queer and trans people, those kinds of transformations, I think, are even more likely to happen later in life than they are for straight people. Like our our progress is a lot less linear and for a lot less front loaded, I think, than straights and people. And so I think it’s you know, those kinds of milestones can happen at any point in life for anybody. But like, there’s even more of a discovery process that you can do somewhat online, but I think is really best experienced in person. And yeah, I mean, I just thinking about moving forward, like, I’m so excited for anybody who has come out in any way in the past year to themselves to finally be able to see what that means when they go out and share it with other people. Yeah.
S2: Take it out on the road.
S3: And have you guys experience any milestones during the pandemic that that you’re now just finally able to celebrate in person?
S1: I think when I was thinking about this question before and I didn’t I did not have any of the sort of I lost a grandmother. I had things like that. But they weren’t queer things, I guess I should say. I had the sort of, you know, human things that happened to so many of us. One thing that did happen that is a little bit, I don’t know, a little different that but it strikes me as being part of this conversation is that I think we mentioned on the show before, I’ve been working on a book about queer. At this point, it’s kind of become about queer enclaves and queer community spaces. And so. I have thought going into the pandemic that I would have all this time to like work on this book and it would be great and very productive. And what I actually found was being separated from the community in the ways that I was actually made it very hard to work on this. And I know this is true because as soon as things started opening up again and I was able to get back into my bars, into, you know, all the various spaces and sort of sociality is that I’m thinking about, suddenly I was able to write again. And so just being separated from that material in the real world was sort of I think I said the first milestone deferred like I am now, only sort of getting to where I’d like to be with this project when I am able to connect with the community again,
S3: how it’s like what they say about sex drive. You know, all these people were like, oh, everyone’s going to be having so much sex with their partners during the day. But actually, studies show that, like, people weren’t because they didn’t feel like people were like they were trapped.
S1: Right. Right.
S3: Rumaan, what about you? I know you published a book.
S2: Yeah. I mean, I had a great year, strangely, professionally. I really had a great year. It’s really a weird thing to say that in a context, when no one else is having a great year, you know, a very difficult time for a lot of people. And so it kind of just renewed my understanding of my own good fortune. And, you know, I wouldn’t say that there was any milestone necessarily, but I do think that, like, there’s a lot of intensity to that kind of familial together at home. And I imagine there’s going to be a lot of divorce coming down the pike. And I don’t feel like that’s where my husband and I are. I feel like actually like things are better than they’ve ever been. If we could have weathered that thing together and managed not to kill our children or more accurately, to have our children kill us than really we could get through anything. And so that’s sort of a good it was a good test of our marriage. And I think like so many of the people we heard from in this context, what can you do? But look on the bright side, you know? And so I think that’s me looking on the bright side. What about you, Christina? We’ve talked so much about, like, your connection to community. Like, do you feel like that was difficult for you psychically over the course of the year?
S3: Yeah, totally. I mean, it was hard to hang out with people. And so a lot of the time, especially during the winter, I just didn’t see people very often outside of my, you know, small pandemic pod. I guess the biggest milestone that I had during the year was my wife and I bought a house and moved into it together, which I guess to look on the bright side, you know, we did have several months during that pandemic winter when I was barely going anywhere where I just got into interior decorating the first time. And it was really fun to have that time to spend in our new place, work on getting it to a place that we feel comfortable and happy in. And, you know, we did have, like I said, a couple of members of our pod who helped us paint and get settled. But we really only had what I would consider a housewarming gathering for the first time over July 4th weekend. And I really had a moment where we’re sitting on our deck with everybody watching the fireworks go off. You know, a couple of friends were on the grill and I just felt like this is my dream come true. And we had spent so many months waiting for that opportunity. Our old place was so small, we never had people over, but we always felt like we wanted to be hosts and to create that like a place where people could feel at home and get together and celebrate. And to finally have a place like that that we worked really hard to make look nice has been so rewarding and energizing. Like I feel like I have so much more energy now that I’ve been going out. Weirdly, paradoxically, I just feel like I have even more energy for socializing than I thought I would because it for me it builds on it. Yeah. Yeah. It just feels so good to be being myself in public again and embracing people, you know, physically and emotionally.
S2: Well, I mean, we made it through and I think that that’s exciting. And, you know, I think it’s OK to acknowledge what we didn’t get to do, but it’s nice to hear the optimism and everybody’s voices about what lies ahead, you know?
S3: Yeah. Yeah. And thank you to everyone who shared their stories with us was really, really great to hear.
S2: In twenty eighteen, Lucia Lucas made history as the first female baritone to perform a principal role on the American stage. That role was Don Giovanni in Mozart’s immortal opera of the same name in a production at the Tulsa Opera. James Kicklighter, his new documentary, The Sound of Identity, takes us behind the scenes of that production. It’s about Lucas’s life, but isn’t really a biographical portrait. It’s a movie about art, principally what art can demand of those who make it, what art can tell us about life itself. I personally think it’s well worth watching. Even if you think you’re someone who doesn’t care about opera, you might be surprised. We’re so thrilled that Lucia Lucas joins us this month from her home in Germany. Lucia, welcome to Outward.
S7: Hi, thanks for having me.
S2: I’m going to start us off by talking about the movie. The movie kind of upended my own expectations of what the movie was going to do by declining to offer a coming out story. You know, it’s really interested in who you are as a person, but withholding somehow the coming out story underscores something that you say in the film, which is that being trans is just one aspect of who you are. So even as I say that, I’m going to confess that I’m really curious to hear more. And maybe that’s just because I’ve watched too many of these documentaries and maybe too many narratives of queer life pivot on that hinge of coming out. But I wonder if you could tell us your story of coming out or whether I’m wrong to even ask you that.
S7: I mean, my coming out story is interesting. And I think anybody who is trying to come out, it’s important to have sort of that that knowledge of how somebody came out because it could help somebody else, if you know what I’m saying. I think that it’s really important, of course, that people know how I came out. But outside of the queer community, it’s important that they know that I am just like them. This is actually a very, very small sliver of my identity. There are so many other things that go into making me a person. So it’s important for the people who need it, for the people who don’t need it. Sometimes it’s the special, the shiny little trophy that they get to play with it, especially journalists. It happens a lot. And I and I have to say, you know, don’t don’t focus on this. Please look at my art. So is the story important? Sure, I’ll tell you.
S3: But I think you should also say you really don’t have to. If you’d rather not, then that’s true.
S2: Absolutely done that. Yeah.
S7: No, it’s it’s not a secret. And that’s on purpose because when when trans people came out a long time ago, part of the requirement is that they would have to leave their old life behind. You had to be hetero cis looking to the rest of the world. You just had to move somewhere else. So for trans women, they had to be attracted to men. And there was like this long laundry list of things that you had to do that we don’t talk about anymore. But essentially it was giving up your old life. So I’m very proud that I didn’t have to give up my old life. I’m very proud that I was able to continue to do opera at something that I fought really hard for. Anyway, when I came out, I had already been doing my opera career for, I don’t know, four and a half years full time. And that’s after over a decade of schooling, too, before it even came to Germany. And so I did I did my undergrad, I did a masters, I did an artist diploma. I did many, many different young artist programs. So I was heavily trained in opera. And then I came to Germany in two thousand nine. And then it was the spring of 2014 that I came out. They had the celebration called Opera Ball, and my wife was sort of in this tuxedo, Marlene Dietrich sort of ensemble. And I went in an evening gown and, you know, I didn’t do super drag makeup and wild hair and everything like that just, you know, really formal. So I went there and it was a chance for me to see my my peers, my my colleagues. And they recognized my wife first. And then it took them it took them a couple of seconds and then they recognized me. And the initial response wasn’t laughter. You know, it wasn’t like, this is a joke. It’s like, oh, wow, this is you look good. What’s, uh, what is this? And then the next week, I came out to my employer. And so there’s this restaurant inside of the Opera House. And I sat in that restaurant for, I don’t know, like a month. And I would just hang out there and my colleagues would come on their breaks and we would talk and I would tell them about, you know, how I felt before and what my plans are for my life in the future. And it was just really relaxed conversations with everybody. I wanted to show them that I am a person. This isn’t something that just happened. This isn’t some sort of artistic choice or whatever. This is me. This has always been me. And I am sharing this with you.
S3: I was particularly interested in this film because I know, you know, the voice is something that a lot of trans people and cis gender queer people think of as an important part of their identity and oftentimes gendered in some ways. I know several trans people who have gone through vocal training to train their voices to sound more like the quote unquote average male voice or female voice. And you say in the film, the average male voice and the average female voice don’t even differ by a full octave. It’s really a fifth, I think you say. And for you, you know, your vocal range will determine what sort of roles you get cast in. So I wonder how you thought about that and thought about your voice as you transitioned in terms of both your identity and your career.
S7: Yeah, I came out eventually in 2014, but when I was thinking about coming out, when I turned 18, every sort of big milestone, I thought, like, is this the right time to come out? And one of the things about opera is that, of course, people’s voice change, you know, like between 12 and 18, that’s primarily where people’s voices start to get shaped. But that’s not the entire story. Also beyond 18 up to, you know, for some people. Twenty five, like lighter voices tend to be done, but other voices can take as long as forty or forty five to finish, like maturing to what the voice is going to be like for the rest of their life. So for me, my voice still probably isn’t done much like it’s probably going to be pretty much like how it is now. But that’s sort of a question is like, OK, well if you wait until your voice is done and then you have a career and then you come out later, like, how much life is there left to live after that? And for me, it just sort of was like, all right, well, I can’t live the poor artist’s life forever and not be myself. So that’s what I came out. I was very fortunate to have read about the blacksmith. And when she came out, she said, OK, I’m not going to do blacksmithing anymore because that’s men’s work. And it took her like three or four years to come back to it and go, you know what? That doesn’t have to do with my identity. And when I had to come out, it was like the next week. I have four different roles to do on stage. So I had a full performance schedule. I couldn’t I mean, maybe I could take some time off, but that would definitely put into question whether I would be able to continue doing my job. So I said, you know what? I’ll just do it and I’ll see if it bothers me later. And I said, well, you know, I performed it last week and I performed it this week. And it wasn’t that much different, just the clothes that I wore to and from the Opera House.
S2: But I wonder if over time that has continued to feel that way, that to stand up on stage for four hours and perform as a man, whether your relationship to that feels different now than it did earlier in your career.
S7: Yeah, it does. I don’t worry about it anymore. I know what I do. I know that it’s my my profession, you know, but like in any profession, there are various jobs and my job just happens to be singing baritone. But I want to be in the opera profession. So if I change my voice and I sing in a different register, if I sing with a different voice, maybe that’s possible. But is it possible to do at international level? Maybe not. So do do I really want to risk my entire career by trying to do something that’s gender conforming? No, not really. Like I can do that in my lifetime. Right.
S1: Lucia it’s clear in the film and also talking to you now that you’re very focused on the work. And that makes a lot of sense. But one of my favorite aspects of the movie is that you spend so much time playing video games and I think it was magic, the gathering and other other games. And there’s this lovely scene of you and your artistic director actually playing, I think it’s Mario Kart together. You know, when I think about opera and the artists who work in that field, that sort of popular culture maybe isn’t what I first think of, like the association I have. So I’d love for you to just tell our listeners a little bit about why gaming is so important to you and to your art.
S7: Yeah, um, gaming has always been important and will always be important to me and to nurture my mind and stay sharp. Right. I’ve seen people, you know, just sort of settle in to their day jobs and just sort of sleepwalk. And then I’ve got. I’ve seen people get older and older people when they play chess or when they do different sort of brain activity, things are also eating blueberries or whatever. Yes, but I do think about the brain as a muscle and in exercising it. And so one of the things that Jim’s Kicklighter, the director of the documentary, what we talked about and what he found interesting, and I think the reason why I put it in there was because I study my music while I play video games, because I’ve played these games for a long time, whether it’s Magic or World of Warcraft or whatever it is I’m playing at the moment, it’s just enough sort of brain activity playing the video game that any sort of anxiety is about what I need to do, errands I need to run or emails I need to send off or whatever. That sort of fades away just enough for me to focus on memorizing music or whatever it is.
S2: Question reveals like a perception that a lot of people have of up and the film even sort of talks about that like what is the state of the opera today? Are the audiences to white? Are they too old or are they too rich? Like what can the institutions do? You even ask in the film to Canberra, does opera deserve to survive? And I’m really curious to hear what your answer is to that.
S7: Well, I like opera. I, I personally hope it survives. Yeah. I think opera deserves to survive. If it keeps being a popular enough art form. Does it have to be a pop art form. No. Was it at one point? Yes. I just think it needs to to remain relevant in some way. I think it’s wonderful that there are these pieces that are, you know, two, three or four hundred years old. And I don’t think they necessarily should go away. Some people really love them, and that’s how some people got into opera. But I think it’s also wonderful when new works are composed and works that are, you know, less misogynistic, less white, less traditional. So right now we’re looking at this fall and we’re we’re hopeful about this fall that we will start coming out of of this and to live performing. And we’ve seen companies take this opportunity to rebuild their seasons. We’ve seen them adjust their season. Fire shut up in my bones. I’m excited about that. We have Carmen at Chicago Opera Theater with Jimmy Barton and Stephanie Blythe doing Don José. So you looking at sort of queering the canon a little bit, doing an opera that people love and doing it with people who we love in the opera, an art form, but just sort of shifting the lens a little bit. Mm hmm. And I mean, I don’t know how the traditional opera public will take it, but if opera Twitter, which is generally a younger audience, they’re super excited about it and I’m super excited about it. If I had time, I would love to go see it. And so it’s not just those two. Those are just two examples. I think that there’s a lot of adjustment being made in opera seasons to be more inclusive of less traditionally cast people, not just LGBTQ.
S3: I want to talk about the character of Don Giovanni for a second. So obviously, you know, for those who haven’t seen it and I haven’t, but now I need to. But even just watching the film, it’s it’s so clear from the way that you all talk about the character that he is the embodiment of toxic masculinity. He’s a sexual harasser. He’s a manipulator.
S7: And, you know, did I say that
S3: it feels to me that, you know, part of being queer and being trans is being a lot more perceptive about gender as a performance and how we are conditioned to behave in certain ways because of our gender. And I wonder if you think that being trans made you a more astute inhabitant of Don Giovanni because of all of the thinking that you’ve probably had to do about gender just by being trans and being queer?
S7: Yeah, of course. Basically, once I was, I don’t know, six, seven years old, something like that. My behaviour was corrected constantly, like little things like, oh, you shouldn’t look like that. Oh, you don’t talk so much. Like, really think about what you’re going to say and you know, don’t speak so much, you know, women. We talk all the time and you should choose your words or whatever, it’s just like all these, like little corrections on how to do that or that’s girly or whatever.
S1: I just wanted to say that that was one of the most relatable moments for me as a gay man. The same thing, the same kind of those little corrections. It was. I so identified with that.
S7: Yeah. Or my mom saying, you know, I think she thought I was I think she thought I was gay growing up. And so she would say, you know, I’ll always love you, but it’s a really hard life. Mm hmm. Oh, so, you know, yeah. We’re very good friends now. And she’s wonderful, a huge supporter. But that sort of conditioning of your child, they really need to not be scared of who they are, if that is who they are. Anyway, growing up, I had all these like small little corrections and that sort of became my tool box because the older I got, the less I was picked on because the better I learned how to do this sort of exoskeleton of masculinity. And yeah, by the time I got to college, like, nobody suspected that I might be gay or whatever. And also professionally, by the time I went to professional stuff, when I actually came out, people were like, I had no idea. I never would have suspected whatever. And that’s because you train yourself to be this great actor, because when your literal life is on the line, it’s dangerous to be femme and a misogynistic world. Yeah. So that was my way of protecting myself for so long. So now people are like, oh, well, can you still play a man on stage? It’s like, come on. Like I really learned how to play a man in real life.
S1: So that aid we’re good.
S7: Right? But playing Geovanni specifically now, it’s like I don’t have I don’t have a dog in the fight. So so I’ll play him. Nasier. I’ve seen opera singers go. I don’t know if my character would do that. And it’s like, well, maybe you personally don’t want to do that, but that doesn’t have to be you. It doesn’t have to reflect on you. And that’s the whole that’s the whole point. You know, if I play Mephisto well, I. I’m not the devil. Yeah, I don’t know. But there are plenty of characters that I play that I never, ever will have the life experience of and plenty of other people that they will never, ever have that life experience. So little footnote. I do believe that when you cast people with a certain life experience, you get a very special result. So I do I do think that sensitive casting should happen. But at the same time, like, you cannot have all of the traits and all of the everything of your character. It just doesn’t it doesn’t work like that. Yeah.
S2: I want to ask if I can. One of the things that we hear in the film is that Tobias Picker, who is the artistic director at the Tulsa Opera, is working on an operatic adaptation of David Apostolis novel The Danish Girl. And that you are working on that with him, are you? Is that something you guys are still working on? And where is that?
S7: Yeah. So yeah, we albar we’re we’re working on the project right now. Tobias is I think he’s through act one or something or at least half the halfway through act one. I have seen the first scene. It’s beautiful. I think that there’s an aria in there that will be sung on concerts forever and I hope that the entire opera is it is as well received as I know that at least the first scene will be. I’m super, super excited about it. And, you know, I wouldn’t say that most of the time that I spent with Tobias was on film, but I spent a lot of time getting to know him in Tulsa. And so we talk about at least once every two weeks or something like that and check in how everything’s going and if there’s any sort of concerns or what do you think about this? What do you think about that? From the beginning, when I was in Tulsa, I asked if I could be a dramaturg when building peace because I wanted to have a little bit of urgency in my character because, yeah, despite trying to have extra meetings either through the Internet remotely or physically, like going on a plane to go meet up with a director with. I’ve also done, especially when it’s a project that includes my identity and in some form, I feel a lot more comfortable being able to talk with the creative team before we’re in the same room and everybody’s looking at how the show should unfold because it’s a very typical thing. And operas that everybody shows up, day one and the director and the costume designer and the set designer and maybe some of the other team, they’ve got all these pictures along the wall and you get to see the costumes, you see how stuff is going to be. And I’ve shown up to some of them. I’m like, oh, I’m in a dress. Great. What are we doing with this?
S3: Because you assumed it would be a more traditional production.
S7: Yeah, I’ve definitely had that experience where I was I was hoping for a traditional production because it’s actually easier for my career if they just glue a beard on me and throw me on stage
S3: instead of having the main focus being on your trans identity. Exactly.
S7: And I wouldn’t have thought that initially because the first time that I got to do something like that on a sort of a larger scale, I did Hofman and I did three of the four villans presenting a female. And it was fun and it was great. And it was I thought it was a really cool take on that entire piece. But then afterwards I heard people say, oh, well, that’s know I guess that was good for her because of the what you did with the concept. And it’s like I still sang all the notes in the piece, like, come on.
S7: So I hate people discounting my art because of my identity. And that is a problem. Yeah, it’s a problem. So I always have to say, hey, stop looking at this. This is not important. Look at the art. And then sometimes, you know, you show up in a room and you know, there’s a bunch of pictures, concept drawings of you in a dress and a character that probably shouldn’t be in a dress. And everyone’s looking to you to give, like, a thumbs up. And I’m like, yeah, so. Mm hmm. But, you know, I’ve I’ve went out of my way to make sure that those things don’t happen and sometimes they still do. And so that’s hard because when you’re in a rehearsal room and somebody is like, you’re going to do this and they’re like, that’s offensive. Yeah.
S2: You know, and you know, to the point I think of so much of what you’re saying, like, I watched the film and afterwards it was interesting to think about, like what it means for you as an individual artist to perform in this capacity or whatever. But at the end of the movie, I was just like, oh, I really want to go to the opera. I really want to listen to some Mozart. Like, that’s why I said at the top of this when we started talking, that it really feels like it’s really a film about art and it’s a film about the relationship of an individual artist to her art.
S1: Yeah, you’re
S2: trans. So that’s an aspect of the artists we meet, but it’s really just about art and really made me want to go to the opera. So you sold you sold the opera there really well.
S7: Well, I do my best to be an advocate for opera.
S2: You know, Lucia Lucas is an opera singer. She is the subject of James Kicklighter new documentary, The Sound of Identity. It’s streaming now. Lucia. It was really great to talk to you today. Thank you.
S7: Yeah, it was wonderful to talk to you.
S2: Well, that’s about it for us for the month. But before we go, we’ve got your summer updates to the gay agenda. Who wants to get us started?
S1: So mine is a bit of a preemptive one as I am going to actually watch this thing tonight. But I’m so excited about it that I wanted to share it while we were recording today. I just learned and maybe everybody else knew this already, but I just learned that there is a director’s cut of the studio of fifty four movie, the one starring Mike Myers and Steve Rebelle and Ryan Phillippe as a new busboy. Have we heard of this director said, OK, so I
S3: hadn’t heard of the haven’t heard of the original. Haven’t heard of the director’s cut.
S1: So I’m not alone. So this director’s cut, which I think is actually from a few years ago, now restored like forty minutes of largely career stuff that was cut from the original. It’s nineteen ninety eight was was the original release here. Forty minutes set that was cut by Harvey Weinstein of all people, because it was Miramax that’s been restored is now. I think when it ran originally it was like right under a feature length whatever. That’s 90 minutes now. It’s like a bit longer and like the story is apparently completely different with these things added back and a lot more attention to the sexual triangle relationship that is going on. And just it sounds like there’s a much better movie. So I loved it. Made a big impression on me for various reasons when I was younger, one of them being Ryan, being shirtless all the time, but. But I’m very excited to revisit it, and it seems to be Streeterville on a number of platforms, including HBO, if you like, Studio 54 as much as I did, I think it could be fun.
S3: I got to say, Brian, you just made me think you don’t look unlike Ryan Phillipi. Maybe the you know, but there is definitely a little bit of resemblance there.
S1: Man just left the chat. But now I just said to me that you said that I have gotten that multiple times in my life, especially when I was younger, when I was younger. Like guys in bars would say, oh, like like Ryan. And I would just like, you know, vomit from the hilarity of that comparison. But perhaps they were right.
S3: I don’t know. I mean, I would take it as a compliment.
S1: Oh, I do now. I just I was like I was like, please don’t you know about it? But yeah. Thank you.
S3: I mean, I’m not even trying to help you right now, so, you know, it’s real.
S2: Yeah. But it’s like a good hot summer movie.
S1: I’m going to have a hot summer night tonight.
S3: I’m going to recommend something a little more serious. So this is an article that ran in Vox called How Twitter Can Ruin a Life by Emily Vandergriff. Did you guys read the story?
S2: I did read this story, and it is a shocker.
S3: Yeah. So is the story of Isabel Fall, a writer that’s a pseudonym and under that pseudonym published a short story called I Sexually Identify as an attack helicopter in an online sci fi magazine in the beginning of twenty twenty. So the story in part because the title took from a transphobia meme got a lot of outrage or incited a lot of outrage from people who were speculating, you know, maybe this is a right wing transphobia writer trying to discredit trans identity. They’re saying there’s no way an actual woman or trans person could have written this. Then when it came out that the writer of the story was trans, a lot of these readers were like, well, it was irresponsible for the magazine to publish this piece without specifying that in her bio. So we would know, you know, the intentions from which it sprung. The whole backlash was so troubling to the writer who was just figuring out her trans identity that she she’s basically reconsidered her claim to womanhood or trans femininity. And Emily, who’s a trans woman herself, explores all of the really nasty implications there in in a very beautiful piece, she writes about the complexities of being in that moment of self discovery, where the anonymity of the Internet can be a great space for experimentation. But the piece for me, I mean, it’s a really profound reminder of the human effects of what happens on the Internet and what happens when people jump to the worst possible assumptions and feel so protective of a community that they’re willing to possibly take down one of their own for some small sense of victory over these, like real an intractable seeming threats that trans people face. You know, when the real enemy that we’re all facing doesn’t listen, doesn’t experience shame or consequence, it’s a lot easier to criticize the well-intentioned people who do and who might seem to be like stepping out of line. The piece is called How Twitter Can Ruin a Life, really wonderfully written by Emily VanDerWerffRumaan. Highly recommend it.
S2: Yeah, I also have some reading to suggest, although it’s a different sort. In the last pandemic year I’ve become really into the audio book. I put one of my earbuds in and I listen to something and I wander around the house and I can still hear my kids if they’re trying to kill one another. But I can sort of ignore them at the same time. And I can also I can read a lot of short fiction this way. You can read a short story this way and sort of 40 minutes of washing the dishes or whatever, and you get through a short story. The New Yorker, which publishes some of the best short fiction of any contemporary magazine, has a podcast called The Writer’s Voice, where the authors of fiction that’s appeared in the magazine read their stories. And there are two stories by the Scottish writer Douglas Stuart that I think will interest our listeners. He’s a beautiful writer. He’s really adept at writing about queer sex. These two stories, one is called The Englishman, one is called Found Wanting. They’re both very sexy and very, very moving and upsetting. And Douglas, who is from Scotland, has the most beautiful accent. So it’s really like, just put your earplugs in. It’s been forty five minutes listening to a man with, like, a beautiful, honeyed accent, reading you a wistful story about sex. Like, just trust me, it’s worth it. Yeah.
S3: Yeah. I appreciate that. Because also I’ve tried audio books and I have successfully listened to maybe one of. But I’m always, you know, stopping to do other things and then it’s hard to get back into it.
S2: Yes, the short story is really perfect. It’s like thirty five, forty minutes. It’s what you need when you’re, like, doing some annoying tasks that you don’t need your brain for. Well, my agenda is full of now. It’s all. Ryan Phillipi, thank you so much for being with us this month. As always, you can send us your feedback or ideas for show topics to our podcast at Slate Dotcom or via Facebook or Twitter at Slate Word.
S1: Before we go, we wanted to tell you about the new Slate show One Year. It’s all about the year 1977. And it launched earlier this month with an episode about a pivotal gay civil rights fight in Dade County, Florida. Maybe you already know something about the anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, but even if you do, you should listen to the episode for the really interesting history of the political awakening of queer people all over the country and response to her and to the rise of the American religious right. In addition to the historical narrative, there’s a Slate plus episode featuring a cross generational conversation between our very own Jim Thomas and assistant producer Madeline to charm, reflecting on the legacy of this history. One year is out now, so make sure to check it out and to listen to that Slate plus episode, sign up for Slate. Plus now at Slate Dotcom outward plus that slate dotcom outward. Plus it’s only a dollar and you’ll be able to support the show as well.
S2: This month’s episode was produced by Katya Konkona June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts and our own Don Giovanni. If you like outward, please subscribe and your podcast up. Tell your friends about it and write and review the shows that others can find it out. We’ll be back in your feeds on August 18. Have a great summer. Take, everyone.