S1: Hello and welcome to the September 20 20 edition of Outward, I’m Christina Ruchi, a staff writer at Slate, and I’d like to thank the covid-19 pandemic for my third ever gray hair. She debuted, I don’t know, a couple of weeks ago. At least that’s what I noticed her. She’s about an inch long and she’s taking up space in the very center of my forehead, sticking out like a unicorn horn. So put me on your pride cuzzi.
S2: Oh, my God. Welcome gray hair.
S3: Yeah, Christine, I feel like I could give you some Susan Sontag vibes if you play this right from your mouth to God’s ears. I’m Ramona Lum. I am also one of the co-hosts of Slate’s working podcast. And I am having a slightly prolonged panic attack, realizing that the presidential election I don’t even want to count the days because the presidential election is coming up very soon. And I’m trying my best not to think about it too much.
S4: Yeah, for sure. I’m Brian Lauter, editor of Outward, and my Virgo powers are crazy strong right now. So don’t be surprised if after this podcast you find all of your phone apps neatly grouped by a type as they should have been all along.
S3: So it’s back to school time. And right now that means Zoome meetings and lots of worksheets. But the truth is that personally, after a lifetime of being a student, Sep always finds me ready to sharpen my pencils to get a new notebook, to sit up straight and take notes, you know, and I actually took so many notes, I was underlining furiously when I read Angela Chen’s ace what asexuality reveals about desire, society and the meaning of sex. It’s a really interesting book. And Angela will join us today for a conversation about a book that documents her own process of discovery. She identifies as ASW and argues for an expanded understanding of sexual identity. But if Chen shows us that our understanding of sex is ever evolving, you don’t have to look any further than our politics to see just how slow that evolution can be. Later, we’re going to talk about the particular pitfalls faced by candidates seeking office when it comes to reconciling a queer identity with the standards. We’re constantly told that all elected officials must meet, even if so many of them straight workwear fail to. Then, of course, we’ll have our usual updates to the gay agenda, the queer stuff for most excited about this month, but we begin, as we always do, with our pride and provocations. Christina, would you like to go first this month?
S1: Sure. So mine is a little nontraditional for pride and provocation because a queer person didn’t do this, to my knowledge, although it’s certainly possible. And in some ways this is an easy target. But I have been consumed with rage, extraordinarily provoked by the wildfire in California, started by a gender reveal party. So far, the Eldorado fire has burned more than 12000 acres of land. And you know what? This isn’t even the first time that a gender reveal explosion, because that’s what we’re doing now. To reveal the sex, not the gender of our fetuses has caused a wildfire. There was also in Arizona in April. Twenty seventeen, an off duty Border Patrol agent, which I’d like to speak to the author of that satire because her signifiers are a little on the nose, burned up almost forty seven thousand acres of land, resulting in eight million dollars in damages, burned up some national forest. So gender reveals or sex reveals, as our producer Daniel Shrader kindly reminded me, are already suspect. I don’t need to tell you guys why, you know, but in the gender reveal parties that start a wildfire at a time when people are being constantly told in places like California and Arizona to watch themselves because it’s wildfire season. This is like the nay plus ultra of masculine ising domesticity, raping an infant announcement in amateur explosive devices. And it’s done with such reckless disregard for human life or even just basic consequences of one’s actions that to me it feels like a deliberate fuck you to humanity and engaging in this ritual of predetermined gendered expectations in the most destructive and dangerous way. Dry brush be damned, you know, just emphasizes to me how much certain people don’t care about the way their actions affect the people around them. So. And this just by saying that, you know, for anyone living in California right now, you know, I really hope that that these wildfires draw to a close and that, you know, everyone’s staying safe. But all I can do right now is just be provoked inside my home.
S3: I mean, that’s a very righteous provocation. And as you say, like you hear this joke a lot, but it’s really true. Like whoever’s writing this script is like a very lazy writer. You know, the notion that these two particular that one like noisome social ill, which is the gender reveal party, could actually lead to disaster. It’s just I mean, what are what is going on in this country?
S1: You know, like if you’re about to do a gender reveal party with an explosive device, maybe Google to see if one has ever started a wildfire before.
S3: If you’re about to do one in a place where wildfires are common during wildfire season, I mean, nothing says I’m excited about the birth of a new child, like an explosive device.
S4: Yeah, the gender binary really destroys the world. Yeah, that’s all. I get more evidence. Oh, my God.
S1: How are you guys feeling this month? Somebody give me a pride.
S3: Well, I personally am feeling very proud. We were on vacation for a very long time, which you guys know, my family just sort of like headed for the hills and spent four weeks away. Absolutely no regrets. And I was mostly ignoring the News of the World while it was away to whatever to the extent that such a thing was even possible. When you have a cell phone in your pocket, one piece of news that did make it inside of my bubble was the news that the actor Niecy Nash had married a woman named Jessica Betts. I don’t know. It’s hard for me to explain to you guys why you see why I’m fond of Niecy Nash. First of all, she just she has incredible charisma. She’s an extremely charismatic person and she’s actually a very gifted performer. She was in a show called Getting On that I really loved, and she played a nurse. And her performance is very understated and very different from her presentation as a reality TV show host. But that’s really how I knew her. There was a kind of a golden period that I remember very fondly before my husband and I had kids when we were first cohabiting. And we would we had such a like a schedule, like we would get up on Sundays, like a little bit early. We would go to the gym, we would go get a bagel and then come home and watch, like, turn on the TV and watch this ridiculous show that Niecy Nash hosted called Clean House. And really and truly, the show was about going a team of people who go to dirty houses and clean them. It’s deeply satisfying. And part of what makes it a reality, it’s a reality show.
S5: I mean, I love this show.
S3: Now you don’t Brian. You’re Virgo power. You don’t need this show. It is for people who are like Niecy Nash would clean. She wouldn’t clean it. She was the host. And it’s like a team of a team of organizers and decorators would come in and sort of like clean out your cluttered kitchen and clean out your messy living room or whatever. Just there’s something deeply satisfying about watching it. And part of the reason it’s so satisfying is that Niecy Nash really sold it. Like she’s just vivacious. She’s funny. She has a she’s she’s got a lot of charisma. And so she’s someone who I’ve always felt extremely fond of because she reminds me of this sort of golden period in our married life before we you know, before before we became a family and before, you know, these days I would never sit and watch a reality show in the middle of the afternoon. So it reminds me of this period of time when I would so I’m very fond of her. Niecy Nash had previously been married to a man. I don’t actually know how she identifies her sexuality. Now, what she said in a quote for People magazine was, My marriage has absolutely nothing to do with gender and has everything to do with her soul. She’s the most beautiful soul I’ve ever met in my life. And while I am normally provoked by celebrity equivocation around identity, I find this just utterly charming because I really love Niecy Nash and I wish her and Jessica gets a lifetime of happiness.
S1: Yeah, there is something so gratifying of loving a celebrity, which I too love Niecy Nash. I know Joan Thomas does too. We both loved her and Claw’s like loving somebody and not even suspecting necessarily that their family just feeling a connection to them and then finding later on that they’re queer. It’s just such a wonderful feeling. Like almost like serendipity.
S3: Yes. It’s like, oh, she’s one of ours. We get to know not only do I love her, I get to claim her as like a sister. And it’s it’s there’s something very lovable about her. And you know what? The news is so bad these days that I will take any moment. Like joy to hold on to, you know.
S2: Yeah, yeah, it’s beautiful. I’m sorry, guys, I’m going to let you finish the episode because I have to go watch all of clean house highly recommended.
S3: It’s like you could host a reboot during hurricane season.
S4: I could. OK, so for I’m also proud this month and I’m proud specifically of an email that I’m just going to read to you that was shared with us by June Thomas. And I think it’s maybe the most important email I’ve ever gotten. OK, ready.
S5: There’s new research that shows LGBTQ Americans are turning to birthdays as an alternative to toilet paper costs and concerns. That’s important with more home schooling and or working from a new study from I’m not going to say their name. A new study from someone reports that forty four point two percent of LGBTQ Americans have used a bidet that would seem to enjoy them, as a whopping 80 percent of LGBTQ respondents find normal toilets unsatisfactory after using a bad day and 70 percent feel that water cleans better than toilet paper, notably. Sixty five percent of LGBTQ Americans are concerned about the impact of a paper on the environment, and thirty one point seven are concerned about the roughness of toilet paper, and more than 50 percent are concerned about it containing bleach or artificial suns. Additionally, 88 percent of all respondents said they would rather wait to use their own bidet as opposed to a regular toilet.
S4: And almost forty five percent said they. They’ll definitely have a day on their holiday gifts or personal shopping list this year.
S5: New information. What’s the sample size here? I don’t dare open the study. I would never look. But it is just it is it makes me very proud to know that our community is so committed to cleanliness and the badday.
S1: So we’re really at the forefront of the daily lifestyle.
S4: We’re always there first. We’re always there. Just. Yeah.
S1: So they’re concerned about the roughness of toilet paper.
S2: I mean, no one can say we don’t have our priorities in order for our community and such and such concerns. Yeah.
S1: Angela Chen is a science journalist who realized she was asexual in her early 20s. She’s just published a new book called ASW What Asexuality Reveals About Jizya Society and the Meaning of Sex. And the book is many different things. It’s a primer on sexuality and all its related sub identities. It’s a piece of reporting that chronicles the experiences of dozens of people around the world on the sexual spectrum. And it’s a bit of social commentary on how a sexual lives can offer new insight into how we’ve constructed our own popular narratives of attraction, sex, drive and human relationships. Angela, we are so happy to have you here today. Welcome to Outward.
S6: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to chat with everyone.
S1: So I know we have several ASW listeners. We had quite a few people write in with questions about their own sexuality when we asked for listener questions a few episodes back. But I’m sure a lot of our sexual listeners, that is people who do experience desire for sex with other people might not know much about all the ways that a sexuality can manifest. So can you just give us a quick intro into what a sexuality is and what it’s not? Can ases enjoy sex? Can they be kinky, that kind of thing?
S6: Absolutely. So the definition is someone who is asexual is someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction, which sounds kind of intuitive, but then it gets complicated because it doesn’t mean what you might think it might mean. So the key thing I think is that it is possible to not experience sexual attraction without being repulsed by sex. I think many people intuitively are like, oh, if you asexual, then you just don’t want to have sex at all. It’s not interesting to you, but that wasn’t the case for me, which is partly why it took until I was in my 20s, until I had to, you know, sexual romantic relationships to realize I was. So definitely there are people who are asexual in their sex repulsed. There are people who are what we call sex indifferent. And to them, it’s just not something that they don’t feel sexual attraction toward others. But they might want to have sex for emotional reasons, you know, the same way everyone has sex for emotional reasons to feel close or because they’re bored or because they want to feel attractive. Definitely their asses who are kinkead, their asses who enjoy sex, their aces, who want to be in relationships, they’re aces who don’t experience romantic attraction.
S7: So there’s really this huge umbrella of what sexuality can mean. And so much of it is around this question of what is attraction, which is when you get into it so much more complicated than I think any of us realized.
S1: Were you aware of all that complexity when you went into writing this book? I mean, one thing that’s so interesting is as you write, I mean, the idea of asexuality as an identity with a community only really came about in the 20s. So the people you call elders are only in their 30s right now. So there must have been so much to learn.
S6: Absolutely. So I knew this when I was writing the book, but I didn’t know this when I was first realizing my sexuality. I’d come across the word in my teens and I just never really thought about it again because I too thought that being asexual meant, Oh, you don’t like sex. And as a teen, I was interested in sex. It was interesting to me, how could I be asexual? And it was only if they were digging deeper than what I saw in the quote unquote, mainstream media. That was I was able to realize all of these nuances. You’re definitely right.
S7: You know, people who are asexual have been around since before the community, since before there was this specific term for it. But it really was the Internet that facilitated the modern asexual movement, bringing people together to actually talk about the definition and what it means and all of these discussions that I hope we had and will continue to have.
S3: One of the subjects of your book is an artist named Blueseed Browne, who describes coming across a letter to Dear Abby from an asexual reader. And they describe seeing this letter in the newspaper at age 13 and then stealing the newspaper from the dining room table. This felt really, really familiar to me as someone who was once a gay teen kind of reading the tea leaves of the culture for some validation of the self. And you write about this a little bit, but I’d love to hear you talk about the tension or the complication around understanding its identity as queer by virtue of its difference from what you also call in the book Compulsory Heterosexuality, which I’d love to talk about.
S6: Also, just to make sure I understand your question, is this about kind of where sexuality fits in the queer umbrella? Yeah, yeah. You know, I think that’s kind of a delicate question. I have kind of a line in the book that’s a little bit of a throwaway line, and maybe I should have elaborated on it more when I say that today overall is sexuality is accepted as part of the queer umbrella of the broader LGBTQ plus umbrella.
S7: But it feels conditional in many ways. And I think there’s a discussion among people, whether people who are s and had a romantic, you know, romantically attracted to the opposite gender should be considered queer. I believe cases are queer. But I wanted to point out that in some ways this is not a sub question. And I think that there’s this understanding, this idea that because a sexuality in many ways is invisible and invisibility gives you this form of protection, you know, sexuality, it feels like you don’t need to come out. It feels like if you’re on the street with your partner many times, you’re not going to be a target in the same way that in many ways, being a asexual doesn’t require feeling like you need to hide yourself in the way that has been the case for many other identities in queer Abdullah. And so I think that there is that discussion about where does sexuality fit? What what connects people in the community? What does that mean? It’s also I think there’s this question of resources and there’s this feeling of scarcity. So every AIDS activist I’ve said has always said we don’t want to take resources away from people who are trans people who are homeless. There’s it doesn’t seem like this competitive thing to us. We’re not saying we’re the most oppressed, but we feel like we are in many ways outside of, you know, hetero normative street culture. And we want to build coalitions and we want to be part of that. And but despite that, like I think many ases especially hydromatic race is a struggle. The feeling of feeling queer enough, almost every hetero is I’ve spoken to has said, oh, I completely support all other races, identifying as queer if they want, but I feel afraid because I feel like am I taking away from the struggle. So I think these discussions around gatekeeping, what actually connects the community, are very, very much alive here. And also I want to mention, of course, there are people who are asen by romantic there people who are is a non-binding and trans. So, you know, the base itself is very diverse and there’s a lot of crosscutting identities.
S4: Remon earlier brought up the term compulsory sexuality. We know that the term compulsory heterosexuality comes from Adrienne Rich. But can you explain how you sort of built on that and the book with this other term of yours?
S7: Absolutely. And the term compulsory sexuality definitely builds up the age in which idea. So that’s, you know, in a marriage. And I think it’s just the idea that everyone who is normal wants sex and desires it. Well, the desire in er society approved way, you know, and of course kink and so on is, is still marginalised. And the example that I always think of is another person I interviewed, someone named Hunter who grew up in this religious environment, and he is hetero. He is only attracted romantically to. Did women so he fulfills a compulsory hetero part of your heterosexuality, but it was sexuality itself, even though he’s attracted to women, he wasn’t super into sex and that made him feel like there was something wrong with him, that everything you’ve been taught about how good sex was and how you were only an adult, if you love sex and if you’re only a real man if you love sex, that really made him feel like he was broken. And I think that is an easy way to kind of understand that. And there’s so many other examples like low sexual desires medicalized. You know, the FDA is trying to sell and approve drugs for low sexual desire. And of course, it’s telling you that there’s something wrong with you. It’s in the DSM or for women. Again, if you say that you’re not that intersex, oftentimes very well, many people will say, oh, you just you need to free yourself from shame. You need to be in touch with your true self and throw off the chains of patriarchy, which is definitely true sometimes. But sometimes you just not that into sex. And it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or that your life is going to be worse if that’s not a source of pleasure for you.
S3: You mentioned the particular nebulous line between a sexual identity and a sort of medical disordering by the establishment. Can you talk a little bit about what hypoactive sexual desire disorder is and where the community sits in relation to that particular approach to curing or your medicalising sexual identity?
S7: Absolutely. So hypoactive sexual desire disorder is is well, first it’s been splinted. Different name, but it is in entry in the DSM, which is basically the Bible of psychiatric diagnosis. And it basically sounds like your sexuality is considered disorder. And the symptoms are things like persistent lack of sexual interest, lack of sexual imagery, and it essentially medicalize and makes a sexuality a psychiatric problem. And so, of course, when there’s something like that in the DSM, it’s very easy to say, oh, you’re not asexual. That’s not a orientation. It’s not an identity. It this is just some kind of medical problem, some psychiatric problem you have. And you should get that fixed and try some drugs or try therapy. And of course, as I think you all know, homosexuality was also in the DSM for a very long time. So I think that’s a pretty clear parallel. So there have been these efforts to try to find what is the line between identity and disorder when it comes to sexuality. And one criteria is distress. You know, if you feel bad about it, then you have a disorder. If you don’t feel bad about it, then it’s identity, which makes no sense because I think it’s totally possible to be asexual and think there’s nothing wrong with being asexual. But you still you can feel bad about it, right? Because there’s prejudices and some parts of your life are harder. And the other part is that there actually is an exception in the DSM called the asexual exception. And it’s saying if this person identifies as asexual, then they’re asexual. They don’t have this disorder, which sounds good. And I suppose it’s better than nothing, but it’s just kind of philosophically weird to me. It’s like I feel like maybe you don’t have this disorder no matter what, even if you don’t identify, you know, like, is this a problem or not? You can’t make identity the answer to whether this is the problem.
S1: Yeah. And I mean, if I think about what might happen if we stopped saying there was a normal level of sexual desire or that a low sex drive is something to fix, like it would completely explode our understanding of sexuality. And there’s other parts of your book and other parts of the way asexuals or the asexual community has thought about relationships that I think have the potential to explode. Other ways that we think about relationships. For instance, when I think about a sexuality as part of the LGBTQ umbrella, I think asexuality is very like embodied in a way that other sexualities aren’t. So when you say, you know, a woman’s a lesbian, you’re usually talking about her physical desires and her emotional mental desires to have romantic connections with a woman. But when you say someone’s asexual, you’re really only talking about the physical part and they may be romantically attracted to men, women or any other gender of person. And how do you think that that separating the physical desire from any other types of relationships you might want to have with people could possibly change the way we organize ourselves as as human beings?
S6: I think it really makes us question what is the difference between romantic and sexual attraction, which was a chapter in the book, and probably my favorite chapter, because I think it’s so fascinating to think about, you know, because most people are like, oh, I know that’s romantic because I want to have sex with them regardless of whether I’m actually having sex with them. You know, that is like the dividing line.
S7: And of course, there are ases who experience romantic attraction, but they are different to. Or they just are actively repulsed by sex, and that just calls into question like, what is the difference? And once you start questioning that, you’re like, oh, we structure so much of our society specifically around romantic sexual relationships. You know, you can marry someone romantic who you feel romantically toward and give them health insurance, but you can’t marry your mom and give her health insurance, even though you might care about her a lot more than, you know, someone, some other person. And so I think that brings up all these questions about the way in which society is is set up.
S6: And one thing you said, I completely agree, that is sexuality’s in many ways more embodied. And I think that’s one of the challenges when it comes to the invisibility part of sexuality, because I think there’s this sense that when you’re coming out, it really does feel like you’re talking about your sex life. You know, like you can say, it’s not a it’s not necessarily about who you romantically attracted to, which feels like you’re out of luck. Yes. Not love is love. Like I say. The funny thing is I am out in the sense that we’re having this conversation. The book is coming out. I’m not out to my parents and I just do not want to talk to them about it.
S7: And that’s another struggle with coming out for a lot of people who are is there really is a kind of keep that to yourself. Like, what is what does that matter? That doesn’t affect me kind of thing.
S3: Well, it’s very personal. Did you find it difficult to write about this material because you were writing sort of like as a sociologist or as a journalist, taking a broad view of of a community, but you’re also writing about your own personal experience with her. Was that difficult for you?
S6: That was really difficult. I am primarily a science and tech reporter, and I think that’s partly because I like to hide behind the ideas and science and tech. I always knew that I was going to write from a personal perspective first because I think it was important that people know that in person was writing a book about faces, but also because I think there is things that I can convey there, like I think talking about my struggles with accepting your sexuality or sometimes I judgmental thoughts about sexuality that I didn’t intellectually endorse. But I still felt I felt that honesty that was helpful for the book, but it felt very uncomfortable for me. It’s not professionally what I’m necessarily used to doing. And it yeah, in a way, I was always like, I am I am I oversharing or is this helpful? So yeah, it is difficult.
S3: Well, I find it very helpful and I thought it was very brave. And I think I think it’s really it is it is different to understand the that as a reporter, as as the author, that you have a particular investment or insight into the subjects that you’re writing about. And I have to confess that, you know, I’m so I want to believe in my own impulse toward exclusivity. Right. I want to and I would always have thought, like, of course, a sexuality belongs in the larger sort of queer umbrella, that sort of string of initials that we use. Right. And I would never have argued with that. But but what your book presented is you have to reconcile this challenge to something that is so foundational intellectually, which is this tension that it is possible to exist inside of a romantic relationship that does not prioritize sex. And it’s just the book shows the extent to which society has intertwined those two things and then use them as the foundations for a host of things like whether you’re talking about tax law or like the person who’s going to come collect you from the hospital if you’re in an accident. Right. We just assume that that is going to be the person with whom you are sexually intimate and that’s the person with whom you’re romantically intimate. And your book challenges that understanding and in a way that I think is really wonderful. And it made me feel like I had really learned something about the thing that I tell myself I believe in, which is that sexuality is a very broad spectrum and it’s impossible to just understand it as a matter of like a couple of categories.
S6: Absolutely. And I think that’s what I was trying to do, is because I think anyone who will meet anyone, I think most people would say, I believe that sexuality is part of the LGBT umbrella, but then want to get into the specifics. And this is true for anything. This can be any topic. Once you get into the specifics, you think about it much more and you start to see the ways in which maybe you’re resisting an idea or that you pay lip service to it. And this goes from me to you know, there are parts of sexuality that I felt confused by or I felt like I didn’t understand. But, you know, one of the most common misconceptions about sexuality is that it means you don’t want romantic relationships. Right. Even though the word is asexual. And just the fact that that is a misconception shows that we just completely couple sex and romance in our society on the level of language, too.
S1: I think that’s all the time we have. Thank you so much. Angela Angelou’s book is called Ace What Asexuality Reveals About Jizya Society and the Meaning of Sex. Thank you so much for joining us.
S6: Thank you so much for having me on.
S2: Until relatively recently, being queer meant a career in American politics was out of the question. Thankfully, that’s no longer true. But the slow opening up of political opportunity to LGBTQ people doesn’t mean our campaigns for office are treated. The same as our straighteners, says counterparts, just ask Alex Morris, the progressive thirty one year old openly gay mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, just lost a bid in that state’s Democratic primary for a seat in the House of Representatives. And it’s clear that malicious scrutiny and misrepresentation of his dating life, the most damaging of which emerged from his own party, is at least partially responsible for the loss. Today, we’ll use Morses experience as a launch pad into a discussion about the public’s expectations of career politicians, what homophobia and politics looks like today. And because this is our if the boot is judged as a Mangus are the only ones who have a shot at power.
S3: Brian, before we just start, I wonder if you could just give me a crash course in who Alex Morris is and exactly what happened during his campaign?
S2: Absolutely. So this is this is a really convoluted story for those who haven’t been following it. But I will do my best. So like I said, Morse was a is the mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, and he was running for the House of Representatives in the Democratic primary there to unseat a very powerful incumbent. And so he was well into that campaign. And then in early August, the UMass Amherst student paper reported that the College Dems had disinvited Morris from future events, claiming, quote, numerous incidents of unwanted and inappropriate advances towards students. And we should note that Morse was a adjunct professor there in the past. So when this this accusation came out in the paper, he acknowledged having had consensual relationships with students who were all of age, but none with anyone that he had taught at the school, which is the policy there. And he also apologized for anyone that he had made feel uncomfortable, but overall denied that anything improper had happened. Right. The university opened an investigation. Some of the progressive groups that had endorsed him dropped their support or said that they were reconsidering it. Then a little bit later, subsequent reporting by The Intercept revealed that members of the College Dems group had actually plotted ways to damage MORSES campaign in private and that and that they also had expressed that they wanted some of them had expressed that they wanted to support the incumbent, Richard Neal. So that part is very complicated. There are a lot of details. We will post links on the show page where you can get into it. But what basically appears to have happened is that the students understood that stirring up a sexual scandal around this gay man, however vague and unsubstantiated that scandal is, would be enough to undermine him. And we should say there continues to be no strong evidence that any of the things happened, that this had happened. And the students who were involved in these accusations have gone largely silent. So anyway, all of that said he he did lose. And it seems like this was at least part of why he lost his primary so that we could just start with the question of why do we think this maneuver or whatever, however worked out was so appealing to the people who who started it?
S3: I mean, I find it wholly unsurprising. So when when people were seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, I remember feeling like, oh, he could be undone by a sex scandal in a way that you couldn’t imagine Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren or any of the heterosexual candidates being undone by a sex scandal. Not not as a matter of my own sort of discomfort with queer sexuality, but just this idea that, like the American public will only go so far. Right. Like we have a sexual offender sitting in the White House right now. But that transgression just doesn’t it pales somehow in comparison to the notion of homosexual transgression, even though what you describe more having done in these vague ways is like a little icky, but not like it’s not really a transgression. I mean, it’s not as though he were a high school teacher.
S1: Well, yeah. So I have to say, even I and I don’t profess to be any sort of prude. I felt a little bit like, why did he have to have relationships with students, you know, like pick anyone else or like you’re older than them. And that seems like a power dynamic that I would not accept if it was a heterosexual CIS man having relationships with an undergrad who was a woman. But I mean, I don’t think it’s inappropriate enough. It wasn’t against school policy. I don’t think it should have been enough to warrant his resignation from the primary or anything. At the same time, there was a part of me that was like, well, maybe I should have different standards because there are different standards in the gay community. And, you know, they’re there long have been in especially in communities of gay men where, like age differences, power imbalances are a little bit more accepted. Maybe that’s wrong.
S2: Yeah, I’m very torn about it, too, but I’m torn about being torn. Right. I feel like, you know, there was part of me that was like, yeah, why would you if you if you knew that you were had political aspirations like this and especially beyond the sort of local political level.
S4: And you knew that people always you know, there’s people always digging for dirt. There’s always search. Right. And when we know that this happens to gay people much more, maybe more so than other people, then why would you even put yourself at risk? But by doing that. Right. But then by saying that I am basically asking all gay politicians to have the kind of wholesome, like blank personal life that, like Mayor Pete had. Right. And that we all that we all sort of chuckled about a little bit like Amber and sort of found a bit distasteful or suspect or something. Right.
S3: Although, I mean, I guess I’d say I guess my counterargument to you is that maybe it’s testament to Morses actual humanity that he’s not approaching his life through the calculus of like political advancement, like the damning part of this is his homosexuality. I think because I think that the public definitely accepts this kind of age and power imbalance in heterosexual relationships, at least when it’s the man who is the older, more authoritative one marrying the younger woman. We are so accustomed to this particular type of coupling that it barely even registers.
S1: I just don’t think that’s true anymore. I mean, and maybe I’m just so far gone into, like, the Metoo movement and the like woke America that my response is not typical, but I feel like I would be way more incensed if this were a straight man and a younger woman undergrad than I am at the gay version of that. Well, I can’t I can’t remember him wrong.
S3: I don’t know. To me, it just feels like it’s just comforting because it feels dirty because he is gay. And that feels very different to me than like the sort of me to power dynamics, which, you know, I don’t know, maybe I’m just maybe this is an unanswerable.
S1: I do want to unpack something you said, Bryan, in light of the conversation we just had with Angela, which, you know, you as we were mulling this over as a possible topic, you were like, you know, you put him on a spectrum, you put more on a spectrum with people to judge, like the tale of two mayors. There’s, you know, people to judge whose romantic history with Chaston could not be more acceptable unless maybe they had met in church or something. You know, they like met on a dating app that was not Grinder’s Nordgren, I believe Hinche, you know, and now they have this reputedly monogamous marriage. And and then there’s Alex Morse, who, like, was on a dating app dating students and just having casual sex, like, I think everything we should put into it.
S5: Has he said that? Yeah. Yeah. Oh, they we’re having rehook having sex.
S1: And yet you look at his Tinder profile and it’s him in an office, in a suit, there’s a photo of him with Hillary Clinton in the foreground. The messages he sent that were screenshot it were so innocuous that actually they’re not that far apart. I would say Budha, Jigen Morse are not that far apart. And yet you made the point that a lot of us looked at people to judges, you know, public sexual history, if you want to call it that, and felt a little bit like that’s. I don’t recognize that in a way that I wouldn’t feel, you know, judging about a straight politician’s sex life because it’s not like mine at all. So, like, I kind of don’t care about it. But because Peets was close enough to mine that I felt like I should identify with it, my inability to identify with it felt wrong to me. And then what we were just talking about with Angela, the idea of compulsory sexuality and the sense that transgressive sexuality somehow makes you more progressive. I feel guilty of that in terms of how we looked at people to judge.
S3: I happen to have just read Chaston, but a judge’s memoir. I have something to tell you and do you with something to tell us. Tell us and. We have all been critical of the judge, but I do think that there’s a lot of power in what he and his spouse Chaston were able to accomplish simply by existing. Right. And this book is an argument for their significance, right. That they existed, that it mattered. And it’s clearly also there. They’re both so no longer holds elective office. Chaston doesn’t have a sort of formal role in American society. And like the political memoir, is always a way to reposition yourself. And this book very much feels like a tool, establishing a way of thinking about Chaston as a public figure for whatever their future holds. I read this book very closely and very attentively, thinking about the depiction or the presentation, I should say, of their own homosexuality and chaston. You know, he is there is something likeable about him, like he is very charming, but his insistence on presenting himself as a kind of salt of the earth Midwestern type, who’s interested in fishing, who’s interested in hunting, who grew up in a household full of boys, like his insistence on underlining that stuff feels to me like it reifies that that is somehow apart from a public perception of what it is to be gay. And that feels to me very political and very calculated. And it’s almost like the book is just a reminder that like, yeah, I’m gay, but I’m also just like your cousin in Michigan. And I’m not saying that’s not authentically who he is or what, but it did leave me feeling like, oh, is this sort of the telegenic, accepted way to be gay that on your, you know, a few dates into their relationship, like they have a kind of a special date where they go to church together with Pete’s family, you know, like, wow, things like that. Like they feel and they are political people. Right. There is an he was at the time an elected official like. So what they are doing is approaching life in the way that Brian was sort of frustrated that Alex Moore hadn’t, which is to think about how things looked. Right. And I don’t mean to put you on blast, but I don’t think that’s I don’t think that’s wrong. Like, I think, yes, politicians need to take care. But in the process of taking care, are they then kind of like sweeping their homosexual identity or making or burnishing it and making it more palatable to or desexualized in some fashion?
S4: That does feel like the thing that is the style of self narration that is sort of allowed for career politicians right now versus what Morris had sort of revealed about how much, you know, I don’t think he was talking a lot about his his hook ups or whatever before. But certainly once this happened, he has been and he said, you know, I’m a man with a sex life. I’m a gay man with a sex life. Right. And like, that’s that has been true. And I’m not ashamed of it. And he had this great quote that he gave to New York Times, which is that, quote, The expectation shouldn’t be that we have to be a monogamous, hetero normative relationships before we enter public life. I feel like that is a wall that that that gay people are running up against right now. Right. That like if you have not constructed or lived by you know, by in reality, that’s the sort of storybook marriage equality kind of framed romantic life. Then there’s something just a touch sordid about you, like forget it. Forget even the sort of, you know, in his specific case, the stuff about about the college relationships or the power of having to do with college. Like even if I think even if there hadn’t been that if somebody had found his Grindr profile. Right. I don’t know that he had a profile. But like, if he had one, if you’d found it would be like, oh, he’s like he’s like sexual, he’s dirt. And that that that does.
S3: I’m background to thinking that does frustrate you a lot, even though, yeah, well, I mean, part of so part of what has gotten so muddy is that obviously sexual behavior doesn’t really inform a candidate’s ability to be a just and moral leader with a conscience. Right. Like it has no bearing on their intellect, on their ability to legislate. It has nothing to do with anything. Right. We’ve simply allowed morality, generally speaking, to become a part of how we weigh candidates. And that’s not to say that morality has no place in the politics, but it just there’s no objective set of moral standards by which we are judging these candidates. Right. Because, again, when you look at who occupies the Oval Office versus like what happened to Senator Al Franken and his decision to resign from office or Representative Katie Hill and her decision to resign from office, like these are all complicated cases that have to do with sex, but also have to do with things like power and decorum and corruption, like there’s a whole lot there. But the simple fact is that I think there are political forces in this country who have weaponized an understanding of sexual morality as like monogamous heterosexuality. Right. And that is like the model for it. And anything that exists outside of that, including divorce right before Ronald Reagan became president, was just a political no go. And I’m not sure if that reflects, like the voting public or just reflects like the desire of the GOP specifically to say that these are the standards by which candidates should be judged.
S1: Just on a closing note, our friends in the street community are also dealing with their own sex scandals. We’ve got Jerry Falwell Jr., who has resigned his position at Liberty University because he allegedly loved watching his wife hook up with a young man who wasn’t him. Do we consider that queer? Is that going to help open the door for future, you know, transgressive sex, having politicians and public figures to be themselves in public life?
S3: So I don’t care. Obviously, it bears no, it has no effect on my life if a man and a woman like a husband and wife enjoy this kind of sexual activity. But I can’t help but feel like, yeah, you hypocrite. Like I’m mad at you and I laugh at you and it’s ridiculous. And you should feel disgraced, even though I don’t want anyone to feel disgraced over such an innocuous thing that’s happening among consenting adults in private.
S4: The disgrace is not about their king. The disgrace is about his just rank hypocrisy. Yeah. I mean, I think I think that’s I feel very capable of separating things that I had. And to answer your question, Christine, I know I don’t know that that that moves the cause of sexual violence forward anymore.
S5: But who knows, maybe maybe Jerry will come out of this, you know, a changed have a have a road to Damascus moment and change and become the great advocate for for sexual freedom.
S3: Well, yeah. And, you know, Christina, you’ve isolated the sort of queerness of that particular transgression, which I feel like I haven’t heard anyone really talk about in specifics. Right. Like the idea of like a man middle age watching like a kind of beautiful young man, kind of beautiful, you know, beautiful younger man, like have sex with his wife. Like, it’s like, you know, we I wonder where on the Kinsey scale we could place Mr. Falwell.
S1: I have to say, I had a moment before, like, fully washing my body out with holy water where I kind of made me like him more. I’m like, good for you. You found this person. Yeah. You, you know, had a dream for what you wanted and you made it happen like, yeah, I’m kind of happy for him. But then he threw his wife under the bus in his explanation of it so I can go back to hating him. That’s all the time we have for this topic.
S4: Well, listeners, why don’t you write in and let us know if you think Jerry Falwell Jr. is the future of queer sexual expression or help decide. And otherwise, I think we will leave this topic there for now. All right. That’s about it for the show today. But before we go, we will do our usual updates to the gay agenda. Christina, why don’t you kick us off?
S1: So I am recommending a documentary called Ahead of the Curve. It’s not out on streaming just yet, but I suspect it will be. It’s out at. Doing a film festival tour right now, the documentary is about Franco Stephens, who founded Deneuve magazine, the first major lesbian magazine that then turned into curve after Catherine Deneuve sued them for everything they were worth, which forms the sort of climax of the film. But it’s a really beautiful documentary about lesbian history, about queer media and about the struggles of people who are trying to keep those things alive in the year 2020. For me, part of the pleasure of watching it was just seeing so many beautiful queer people from so many phases of history. I’ll say it also gave me a lot to think about in terms of the word lesbian and what it means to try to create spaces and publications for and about lesbian women and and how to try to make that inclusive, but also specific. So it gave me a lot to think about. It was beautiful to watch. Again, it’s called Ahead of the Curve. And if you find yourself drawn to lesbian history for for whatever reason, whether you identify as a lesbian or not, I highly recommend it sounds fantastic.
S8: That makes me want to put on the gay agenda your peers from a few years ago. That sorted through the question of the word lesbian and gay and queer women and sort of that whole debate.
S4: I wonder, would you would you update it now based on this, do you think?
S1: Well, actually, so I guess this maybe I should technically disclose this. The filmmakers actually called me after I wrote that piece to talk to me about it. And then I didn’t hear from them for two years. And now here’s their documentary. But they were sort of, I guess, in the beginning stages of conceptualizing what this film would be and how to talk about that kind of stuff. And the film, you know, Franco struggles during the film about what you queer people need now and what do the lesbians of today need. And maybe it’s not a print magazine, maybe it’s not one that’s exclusively for lesbians, although the magazine was always very inclusive of, you know, many other identities. But but yeah, I mean, that’s definitely a question. The the idea of language and and how to define a community that feels inclusive, but also specific is a challenge that, you know, a question I still think about and a challenge that I still face when I’m trying to, you know, make a party or a Facebook event or something.
S4: Mm hmm. Yeah. Remon, what you got?
S3: The poet and performance artist John Jordano was one of those great New York types, like the kind of person who was just floating around New York and sort of hard to define. He died last year, but he has left behind a memoir. You may know John Grono, because he was immortalized in Andy Warhol films Sleep. It’s sort of a five hour shot of a nude man asleep in bed. And Great Demon Kings, which is his memoir, is definitely not a sleepy affair. It is a really gossipy, really namedrop, really sexy book. He slept with a lot of very well-known people, including Robert Rauschenberg, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol. I’m going to read you a little snippet from an excerpt that ran in New York magazine about Andy Warhol. Quote, He had a secret reputation as a shoe fetishist for years. He designed shoe ads for Bergdorf Goodman I and Bonwit Teller. There was Andy Warhol on his hands and knees licking my Abercrombie and Fitch loafers. It only gets better from there. So you know what, love? If you’re in need of like a light hearted romp through recent gay history, John Journo’s, great demon kings. Sounds like he was like the Forrest Gump of game. Exactly. Exactly, exactly. That’s a great look. A very filthy for Gump. Brian, what are you thinking about this?
S8: Yeah, well, speaking of romps through gay history, that’s a perfect segue way into to my recommendation. So there is a project that recently came online called Mapping the Gay Guides. And it’s this a digital humanities project from this year, historians Eric and and Amanda Regan. And what they’ve done is they’ve taken these really fascinating travel guides that were written for gay people and they focus primarily on gay men at this point during the 60s and 70s. And they what they did was they were sort of like green books for the African-American community and and the previous decades to that, whereas they listed gay spaces all around the country that you could go visit. So if you were on a road trip. Cross country or whatever it would tell you if there was a bathhouse or a bar or a restaurant that was skewed gay in whatever town you happened to be passing through, these were called the Bob Damron address books, I should say. And anyway, these two historians have taken those books and put them on a historical map so you can sort of toggle through the various eras and see the gay community and various cities grow and shrink over time. And then you can also go in and learn about some of the spaces that that were there. It’s the project itself is really fun to play with. And I also wanted to recommend a Q&A that Madeleine to charm our colleague did for Outward with with one of the historians, Amanda, where you can dig into more about the process and the research that they’ve done and what they hope it can do for queer historians and queer people as well.
S4: So we’ll put that link up on the show page. But it’s called mapping the gay guides. And you can just Google it and find it and check out or have your own romp through history.
S3: That sounds amazing. And it sounds especially great in a moment where we can’t we can’t actually get out of the house and travel. To be reminded of how travel worked in a previous moment seems really interesting.
S1: I know. I wish those existed now for contemporary and gay spaces, especially as they’re like vanishing in cities right there.
S2: Our spaces are vanishing.
S4: So that’s one thing that’s nice that this help is helpful to maybe, I don’t know, make you feel a little bit better about that. It’s changed over time always.
S3: But also, yeah, I feel like you go and Google for like gay bars in whatever town and everything is to look at your city’s website.
S5: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Once maybe we should get on. Maybe there’s a market niche for let’s create like a good solid like Lonely Planet book.
S1: Yeah. Maybe that’s our spin off project.
S5: Yeah I like that.
S3: Well, that’s about it for this month. Please send us your feedback and topic ideas that our podcast at Slate Dotcom or via Facebook or Twitter, that’s Slate elford. Our producers, Daniel Shrader. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. And while she’s not in peace, she’s Shirley ASES with us. If you like out word, please subscribe in your podcast app, tell your friends about it and review the show so others can find it out. We’ll be back in your feeds October 21st. See you guys I.