Sweat and Sorrow in the Summer

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S1: Hello and welcome to the July edition of Outward.

S2: I’m Brian Loutre, editor of Outward. And there is a heat wave and it’s too damn hot out there to be funny. So let’s just keep moving.

S3: I’m Christina Cutter. She and thanks for that great intro, Brian. I would like to take a moment to praise the D.C. heat and humidity. We’ve just wrapped up a 20 day streak of 90 degree days. So something is clearly terribly wrong with the planet. But I’m glowing. Actually, I’m sweating. It’s just that I’m sweating.

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S4: I mean, these are I’m Vermont alone, and these are definitely the dog days. And the only silver lining in my own household is that the end of summer is birthday month forever for three quarters of my family. So I get to deal with the incredible heat by baking three cakes.

S3: Could be worse, though. It could be weeks. Why are you responsible for baking all of them? Is it the other three people? Whose birthday is it?

S4: Is it so it’s my it’s my birthday. And then both of my sons have a birthday and I am the baker in the household. And so it always falls onto my shoulders.

S1: But, you know, honestly, you know, over lining in the heat, you know, I feel like I feel like you need to look until, like, no bake cheesecake. So that is that is it’s too hot for for. Well, listen, you need to talk to my kids because they’re very discerning. They always want lemon poppy seed cake. Well. OK. I love you.

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S3: Bake your own birthday cake too. That’s very clear. You got to got to look out for number one.

S2: Christina. Yeah. No one else is gonna do it for sure. Exactly. All right.

S5: So this month’s show is gonna be a real emotional rollercoaster. So we’re thrilled first to be speaking with David France, director of the harrowing new HBO film. Welcome to Chechnya, which follows the efforts of a Russian activist group to rescue queer refugees from an anti LGBT CQ program in that region. Then we will discuss the beautiful radio feature titled Caring for Lesbian Icon Phyllis Lyon with Love and Deceit by journalist Evan Roberts. And consider what it has to say about queer aging and end of life care. Lastly, we’ll have our usual updates. The gay agenda. But first, it is time for pride and provocations. Reman. What do you have this month?

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S4: This month I’m feeling proud in the New York suburbs. There is a congressional race in which a candidate named Monder Jones will has been named the Democratic candidates. The election will be held in November, but it is likely that he will win that seat. It’s sort of a safely Democratic seat. He’s a progressive candidate. And so I agree with most of his positions politically. But even though it is frustrating to constantly have to talk about firsts and celebrate firsts and barrier breakers, I do think it is worth celebrating that Monday Jones will be the first black gay man to enter the United States House of Representatives. And I think that will make the body look slightly more representative. And I think that’s worth celebrating.

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S2: Yeah. That’s really huge. Excited. Excited about that, too.

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S3: Casina, I’m provoked this month. I am provoked by LGBTQ organizations and media outlets in general that have been centering straight and CIS people when it comes to covering LGBTQ events. So the main offender here was a virtual Stonewall Day event hosted by Pride Live and every or I should say almost every news outlet that covered it. Put the two big headliners in the headline and the two big headliners at this queer event where Barack Obama and Taylor Swift. Now, I don’t know if you guys know who they are, but they’re both straight and cis gender yet. These posts all kind of read like the, you know, reporters just copied directly from the press release, which means my provocation comes both from those reporters that covered it in the event organizers who decided to not only have a bunch of straight answers, people highlighted in the event, but also promoted the event commemorating Stonewall with those two people, not to mention I mean, not to get too critical, but like our former president, Barack Obama spent a nice long while saying that queer people didn’t deserve equal rights and protections. And now he gets pride of place at our Stonewall events like you’re going to celebrate him and Taylor Swift, who made, you know, one Pride Song last year, which I thought was terrible over queer and trans people. And then not to get too picky, but there was also a headline in The Advocate about another GLADD, another LGBTQ event, the GLADD awards. And again, it was two straight CIS allies, Dolly Parton and Dwayne Wade and one gay person, lonas X who deserves everything leg up. Yeah, Dolly Parton is a femme icon. Yes, Dwayne Wade is a wonderful role model for parents with trans kids. But I happen to believe that congratulating allies should not be our priority when we have the opportunity to honor some people for their contributions to LGBTQ life. We kind of talked about this in our Icons episode. I think in the first year that we did this podcast where, you know, there always I think it’s very telling of a community that falls all over itself to highlight allies over people from within our own community. I think we need to have better faith in ourselves and more pride in people in our own community instead of, you know, applauding ourselves for attracting the approval of people who are already famous outside the community.

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S4: It’s also really a symptom of celebrity culture gone. Oh, my God. Kotal, you know, just completely run amuck. Where I mean, Taylor Swift. I’m surprised that they don’t honor Taylor Swift, unlike MLK Day. You know, to me and like, that’s just the way this culture functions. So. But you’re right. You’re right to be provoked.

S2: Yeah. Yeah. And sort of. And what are non-profits and organizations think is necessary to attract attention, Muthoni and monetarily synthetical that it’s it’s. Yeah. You would you would hope that they would have more faith that the community would turn out for members of that community rather than need it.

S3: And there are a lot of just like, yes, really famous people are queer. And perhaps if you highlighted them more, they would be even more famous. So let. Yeah, I mean, I just struggle to think of any other community that at, you know, an event celebrating their own decides to make the headliners to people not from that community. Yeah. Right. So that’s what I’m provoked by this month. Brian, how are you feeling?

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S2: That’s really provoking. I am feeling proud. So as of this week, as of as of the week, they were recording. Outward contributor Miss Crocker is in the top four of season. Five of all star struck repels Drag Race All Stars, which is really exciting, you know, for her and for us as or as as sort of supporters and friends. You know, the girls that she’s with on this show are all really excellent. It’s a great top four, but it’s just so cool to see to see this person who who has worked with us a lot. Make it. I did want to append to that just a little PSA about drag performers and how they are suffering right now. You know, quarantine coronavirus has meant that bars closed, venues closed. Many people, including Ms. Cracker, had like world tours cancelled there. Even when they’re on television, they’re not necessarily making any income, which is a sort of a weird thing to think about. But like that that is the case. So just just a little note for folks out there. If if drag queens have helped you, you know, whether through your drag race or through live streams or through Instagram or like any of the other platforms that they are sort of having to work on now instead of the venues that they would normally be on. If those folks have helped you get through this this quarantine, think about sending a tip their way because it’s tough out there. And we want our queer artists to come through the strong and and, you know, I’m only only the community can help help make that happen. So. So think about it. But, yes, you know, as as Drag Race Allstars wraps up, excited to see what happens. And congrats to Miss Cocker for making it this far.

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S3: Yeah. On that note, I want to call out one drag king whose videos have been helping me get through quarantine. And that’s Black Dynamite. B, L.A. que underscore d i n a NYT underscore. It’s I feel like I’ve been doom scrolling a lot. I absolutely love that term that describes so much of my online behavior. And it’s just so nice when I’m like trapped in a spiral of news about not only corona virus, but all other manner of terrible decisions that I mean, take your right to just see like, oh, here’s a new video that a drag performer has come up with in their own home because drag performers are famously resourceful and can make a fabulous luck out of anything.

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S4: We need to look for those little moments of joy and escape wherever we can find them right now. I think yeah, absolutely. Welcome to Chechnya documents the efforts of an activist organization called the Russian LGBT Network to liberate queer people from the Chechen Republic, which is a state within the larger Russian Federation. Just to orient us, it’s north of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Georgia. It borders the Caspian Sea. The Chechen Republic is run by Ramzan Kadyrov, a strong man and Putin ally whose government has tacitly endorsed the persecution of gay citizens. Welcome to Chechnya. Documents that the world cannot say, as we sometimes hear of Europe in the 1940s, that we had no idea what was happening. David, I’m really curious about how this story first came to your attention.

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S6: When I first heard about the the crimes that were being perpetrated by Kadyrov and his people in Chechnya in early twenty, seventeen, I think we all learned about it when the headlines flew around the globe that that this this terrible thing was happening there. Literally a campaign had been conceived up at the highest levels to round up torture and liquidate the entire LGBTQ community in Chechnya, something that the idea of calls a blood cleansing. And when those headlines brought this to our attention, there was some political outrage expressed by some some political leaders around the world. And then the story fell away. I was under the impression of wrongly that that meant that that everything worked as it should and that this had stopped and that the machinery and mechanism of justice had begun. And it wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that I learned that, in fact, it was still ongoing and that in the absence of any real effective political outrage, it was left to ordinary LGBTQ Russians to find ways to respond to it themselves without the help of their own governments, certainly not without the help of any of the security forces in Russia. And really, without our help, you know, I wasn’t doing anything and I felt a real sense of obligation and urgency to go and learn what they were doing, to find out what really was happening there, and to try to tell this story in a way that would make it no longer possible for Russia to say this is not going on. So I I began my filming in August of twenty seventeen and stayed embedded in this really remarkable underground network of activists and safe houses and pipelines and associations and partnerships that circles the globe itself to try and find safety for survivors of this campaign.

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S4: Is the nature of the persecution or the nature of the campaign, religious or cultural, or is it purely a political device that has been unleash on its population?

S6: It is exclusively venal. And, you know, it’s not about religion. It’s about a perverse idea that that LGBTQ rights somehow detract from the power structures of Russia, their autonomy from the liberalizing west. And it really is the person I hold responsible for it is Putin himself. He began targeting and scapegoating queer Russians in 2011 2012 as he was beginning his first return to power. And he created a kind of a national opening for a really broad base of anti queer hatred in the country that we first saw come to a head with the existence of vigilante groups that were in 2013 14 15, who were entrapping people there and beating them up and humiliating them and making videos of these attacks. And then as the Kremlin became more severe in its in its culture war, it encouraged the more extreme political aspects in the country, like runs on Chechnya to take it to their own level. And that’s what we saw happening the end of 2016 and early 2017 when this thing, which the press called the anti-gay purge in Chechnya was was first conceived.

S3: You’ve said that some of these. People, these refugees who do attain safety in other countries, that they’ll still be hunted wherever they go because what Kadyrov wants is what he’s called a cleansing. Is that true that that Russian security forces will trace these people around the world? I mean, if if Kadeer OP says, as he says, you know, in a clip that you include in the documentary that he is, that, sure, if there indeed are gay people here, let them leave. What does he care if if a gay Chechen moves to Canada?

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S6: He has this perverse idea that it would be possible to eliminate the stain on the Chechen people of the existence of clear Chechens that they can be eliminated. And although he does say in the film, just take them, then take him to Canada, get them out of here. He doesn’t mean that in practice. And we’ve seen it happen. It’s happening today. There are members of the Chechen diaspora all around the globe who have now been charged with carrying out this campaign. If it’s discovered that any people have found safety in Toronto, for example, or. Paris or Berlin? Other cities that have been openly receptive to to try and give safe passage to clear Chechens who are fleeing. And in addition and this is this is the part that is so hard to to reconcile that he has Kadyrov and his people have turned family members into their actors, their agents and all of this. If it’s determined that someone has found refuge in the west someplace and everything is security, folks bring in family members on a regular basis and put intense pressure on them to do something about this, to reveal the locations of these people, to get them back, to lure them back through trickery, if necessary, to make sure that that that that there’s no safe haven really anywhere for folks. And within those families, remarkably, it is not improbable that they find people who are willing to carry out those criminal acts themselves. What the Chechen leader calls honor killings. And he has promised that there are no criminal ramifications for people who carry them out.

S3: I want to ask you about the way gender played in to how people found their way to activism and also how people were targeted by the Chechen regime. I noticed that most of the activists were I think queer women are trans men. And it seems that people explain in the film that lesbians and gay men were face different sorts of threats under the Kadir of regime. Can you talk a little bit about that?

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S6: Well, I’ll talk about the activists initially first, because you know what I was reminded of? You’re right there that this really is a story about lesbian activism, standing up for and protecting, for the most part, young gay men. And it really reminded me of the early days of the AIDS epidemic where there was this tragedy, as we know from the early 80s, where the game male community was was really stumbling, trying to find a way to respond to it. And women came to the movement and transformed it in powerful ways and brought with them lessons from the feminist movement, from the women’s health movements. In some cases, from the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement and the way that they had this kind of institutional experience, that and generosity to share that, but also kind of a fearlessness that I think that that’s so much of our movement has been lifted up by. And I wasn’t expecting to see that when I traveled to Moscow on my first trip. And yet there was this. The shelter system was set up by lesbians in a way that has been described as almost maternal, although the women that I spoke to suggested that you said, you know, I don’t have a maternal bone in my body. It’s all politics. And that’s been really interesting to watch. And while at the same time the media coverage had suggested that it was a campaign against gay men and in some way the media was missing that. The other part of the way people, queer people were being victimized inside Chechnya. And it takes different forms for women than it does for men. But the victimhood is is justice fatal? And it took a while and I watched this over the 18 months that I was embedded with the activists. It took a while for the activists to find a way to respond directly to the lesbian community’s needs in the region because they are so much more hard to reach. It’s it’s a very conservative part of the world. Very close part of the world. Women across the board in Chechnya lack certain right for free travel, for example. It’s very uncommon for a woman to travel alone to do anything. The women that I met who are Chechen were not even allowed to travel to work on their own. They were accompanied by their brothers or fathers or male relatives and picked up and carried home by those same people. And yes, there was a feeling of imprisonment that existed even before their queerness was discovered and their worlds became smaller. And that means that for activists, they literally have to go in by hand and find ways to create the possibility to bring those young women out to safety. And how did they do that? Well, they do it through kind of these kind of cover stories. So in this case, it made sense. She was needing to be at a wedding. It made sense that she would need to get new clothing. The the the ruse that was concocted was that older women, family, friends would accompany her to. A popular store that sold Muslim style clothing and so that that was the cover stories. That’s why these three women were traveling together, because it was a group of three. She was not held in suspicion in any way. And a parallel to that, David and Veronica and myself were in close proximity with them, but we were not speaking with them was sad. Several tables over at the restaurant where everyone first met. We traveled in a separate car, although we constantly kept them in our sights and we had G.P.S. tracking devices with them and they with us so that we could find one another and keep track of one another. We never spoke to one another. So we in in our narrative was that I was this kind of rich American, a thrill seeker who wanted to go to Chechnya and see the mountains of the North Caucasus. And I had hired these two Russians to be my translators. And toward the end and their narrative was suppose that they bumped into me. I offered them a ton of money and they went, take money from this guy. We had we had our stories, and that’s what I mean by that, like staging these things like military operations and knowing exactly what to do at any contingency. So we were prepared and and it worked to our advantage.

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S4: It makes for extremely harrowing watching, too.

S2: Yeah. Speaking of ruses, I think we’d be remiss, Talas, if we didn’t have you discussed the really interesting facial alteration technology that you all deploy to disguise the identities of your subjects? It’s used that way, and it’s also used sort of narratively in a really beautiful way that I don’t want to spoil that with what the main character, Maxim. So you just describe this is really interesting. I’ve never seen it before anywhere.

S6: It hasn’t been used before, actually. I like sort of talking with the survivors of this torture. I realized that I wanted to. I wanted to understand their journeys through their faces. You know, I wanted to see what it’s like. I was looking at at people who’ve been through something that was indescribable. And you could they could tell the story up as often as they was possible without you really feeling it until you saw how it weighed on their faces. So I asked them if I could film their faces. No one had been able to do that before. And I promised them that I would find some way that would disguise them while still capturing their journey, their humanity, their traumas, their joys, their expectations, their uncertainties. And when I brought the footage back to New York, we had to find the way to do that. And we began working with a small VFX outfit in Los Angeles to find ways through this kind of a forward edge of artificial intelligence to alter their faces. And what we settled on ultimately was a technique where we asked other people, mostly New Yorkers, mostly LGBTQ activists themselves, who to lend their faces as an act of activism to the people who were in the film. So that to give them back the power of narrating their own stories, to give them back their humanity in a way, whilst safely disguising them as these these really fierce activists who who who were already engaged, many of them, in trying to bring attention to what was happening in Chechnya and elsewhere, trying to bring attention to this kind of rightward movement against queer liberties around the globe.

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S7: So those are actually the faces of other people there. Twenty three people in the film whose faces are changed. And they are digitally wearing the faces of these activists. Now, that doesn’t mean that the activists acted out the role in any way. What we did was to bring their images of their face into an algorithm that we mapped pixel by pixel over the faces of the people in the film. So it’s still the same face movements. It’s still the same. When people cried, when I saw them cry, we put a new face on them.

S6: They still did exactly the same thing. It’s an interesting new use of this technology, but it’s also a really interesting use of activism. I think that the people who stood up to do that were willing to take whatever risk that that entailed and draw upon themselves to the people whose lives need protecting.

S4: David, your film includes some really graphic footage that seems to have been captured by the activists you were working with. I wonder what you how you made the decision to incorporate this footage into your project.

S7: The footage you’re talking about was actually shot by the perpetrators. You know, this is shot by the security.

S4: It’s like a celebratory trophy.

S7: You know, they they wanted. They were so proud of the work that they were doing in fulfillment of this directive from the government that they that they created these pieces of evidence is forensic evidence. And while for the past three years the officials have denied that there is any evidence, in fact, they’re holding on to the evidence. And when the activists were able to find that most of it found through like a telegram chat groups or WhatsApp chat groups, you know, places where they weren’t closely holding this information. They were it was was openly accessible. I knew that I wanted to turn that against them. And that that what what what’s depicted in this this footage is exactly the reality that the people whose stories are. Folding in the film. Experienced. You know, I think that the entire time I was with them, I felt the hot breath. Khidir off and his security people on our on our necks. And that’s what this footage shows you, is what why people are so afraid, why people need to have their faces protected and why it’s so brave of them to allow me to carry their stories forward in this film.

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S2: David, I wonder if by way of wrapping up, you have anything you’d like to say to American listeners or otherwise who queer American queer people, especially about what we should be doing to help with the situation? Are there you know what? Where should our energies be going? Those of us who have so much more privilege and safety relative to these folks.

S7: You know, it’s you know, it’s just reading about the poor woman from Egypt who rose her rainbow flag at a rock concert and committed suicide a couple of weeks ago. And I was thinking it’s almost overwhelming to think about how much work we have to keep doing. Even to slow down our retreat from from the rights that we had, we had won and cemented. We just have to keep vigilant. We have to learn from these activists what it’s what it’s like to to take on power and how you find enough power collectively that you begin to win. You know, the AIDS crisis, it seems like everybody is just going to die. And and we we saw the development of this this brand new form of activists and these new techniques, new strategies. And I think maybe we just need to do that again is made much more difficult now by the fact that we’re all still mostly locked in because of the pandemic. And it makes it really hard for for global activism to be effective because so many borders are closed right now. But I think maybe what we do until those borders are open is, is whatever we can do to help increase capacity from for the people on the ground doing the work. And we have a page on our welcome to Chechnya and dot com website where you can support the work of the Russian LGBT network in the Moscow Community Center for LGBT Plus Initiatives. I guess the first thing I ask people is to you know, I I went to Russia and to Chechnya and I witnessed these things and I felt the obligation as a witness to talk about it. And so we’re asking everybody else to kind of be a witness. Make it known that this is happening. Keep this thing from being flattened by the Trumpy and news cycle. Make sure that the world keeps talking about it. And I think that if the documentary has any power, it’ll do just that.

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S4: Welcome to Chechnya is available on HBO. Now, David, France is the filmmaker. David, thank you so much for coming on and talking to us today is really, really lovely to have this conversation.

S7: Well, thank you for having me. Thanks for being a witness.

S3: We lost a lesbian elder, Phyllis Lyon, in April of this year at the age of ninety five. Phyllis, if you don’t know of her, was an activist and organizer and a cultural icon. She founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian civil rights organization, with her partner, Doug Martin, in 1955. But in the last seven or so years of her life after dels death, Phyllis could no longer live independently. She had dementia and she needed at home care, but was too proud to accept it. So her family and friends developed a system of what you might call loving deceit. They hired young lesbians and queer and trans people to come by Phyllis’s house, say they were interested in lesbian history and wanted to spend time with her, which in most cases they genuinely did, and they secretly cared for her without ever saying they’d been hired to do so. The San Francisco public radio station K.A. LW ran a lovely radio piece by Evan Roberts about Phyllis and her secret community of caregivers. The piece ran in late June. Let’s listen to a clip.

S8: She would say, get the hell out of my house. I don’t need help and I don’t need care. And whoever sent you can tell them to get the hell out, too. Now, the goal was to find the kind of people who could get in the door and pass the Phyllis test. And part of passing that test meant being queer because from the very beginning, the whole story has been that we’re all friends hanging out with her. The lie has been easy because it’s not always a total lie. We are queer people who want to hang out with her. That’s not untrue.

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S3: So one of the things I loved about this piece is the way it talks about the connections that Phyllis was able to have with these young people, even as her memory failed, because there are some elements of queer life that just transcend generational divides. Some of these caregivers talk in the piece about the shared language that they were still able to draw upon with Phyllis. And, well, I thought it was a beautiful example of the kind of kinship that LGBTQ people can share and why the need for solidarity and community extends beyond just political organizing. And it made me think of these assisted living communities or retirement villages that have popped up in recent years that are catering specifically to LGBTQ people who want to grow old together. The selling point for those are the sort of rizzle Detlor has been that LGBTQ elders face discrimination in nursing homes and retirement communities, and they need a safe space free from transphobia and homophobia. But I also think you could make a similar argument for hiring LGBTQ. Caregivers for places like that, not just to make it feel safe, but to make it feel more like home and more like a family. You know, Phyllis would only let queer people into her home, they say. And I felt like the same way that I love having a lesbian doctor when I need somebody to wipe my butt at age 103, like I want that person to be queer. I can’t entirely articulate why, but you guys know what I mean.

S2: Yeah, I think that’s such a smart if it’s a distinction, but a smart point you just made. And pointing out that not only do queer people as we age maybe need protection from, you know, so often having to be reclose it or things like that, like you mentioned, with these assisted living communities, but also like it’s possible that being having queer specific care. I guess we might say could help you thrive more. Yeah. Not just keep you safe, but actually help you, like, have a better. Old age, precisely because there are all of these these cultural references and sort of just just ways of being that we really do a lot of us really do share and that do seem to be even intergenerational. I love the example in the in the piece that we listen to that I think it was the word office drive or should the office like the idea that you’re know you’re going to your job as a queer person. So you have to dress a certain way to fit in there. But we all know that’s not really like what you like. Right. And Phyllis apparently, you know, knew that intimately from. From her from her youth and adulthood working. And so did these young, younger, queer people. And having that around as her memory, you know, short term memories. It certainly was was going, I think, probably made her life so much better. Right.

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S4: I mean, all three of us are out and but we all probably know intimately, even without applying a language to what it is to walk around with defense right where you are not you were not out. You’re out fully in your life. You inhabit that space. But maybe you don’t when you have to go to Home Depot or when you’re on the city bus or, you know, whatever. And certainly me may picking out succulence at home.

S1: Do you think real meat comes out? I forgot who I was talking. Sorry, continue.

S4: You know that the notion that you still have a sort of tortoise shell in which in which to retreat when you when necessary. And the idea that you shouldn’t have to have that at home. And this is what we’re talking we’re talking about this lesbian icon in her home at the end of her life. She shouldn’t have to retreat. She didn’t have to dawn office drag, so to speak, or any of the other adjustments that you make. And we all know, I think all queer people know what it is like to feel that drop off of your shoulders when you’re in a genuinely queer space. And it is just it’s hard to articulate. It’s hard to define what that means. It doesn’t mean that you, you know, are suddenly like when I feel that it’s not that I want to put on a dress and, like, dance around, although I know that I could. It’s just this feeling of like I don’t have to hold that tension in my shoulders anymore. I can I can understand that I am truly safe. And that is what people deserve. And so people deserve throughout their lives. But certainly that is what our elders to serve at the end of their lives. And I think that this documentary, which was so lovely and so thoughtful, really did make me think about what end of life care looks like and the ways in which end of life care ought to address this specifically.

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S3: There’s also I’m adding a queer elder care to the list of things that could possibly be better for queer people than straight people. I thought about this in terms of making friends in a new town or city, in terms of, you know, making friends as adults even. But but just finding community wherever we go. We have somewhere to start from, sort of a built in sense of mutual responsibility, shared touchstones, community, even for all our diversity. Like there is a baseline of comfort that you can feel with other LGBTQ people when you first meet. You know, there’s a reason why we say that someone’s family, if they’re LGBTQ and straight and says people don’t necessarily have that. We also have tradition.

S1: They have everything else in the world, though. They have all the power of the world.

S3: So but they don’t know, like, if they can, you know, maybe they have the ability to feel 50 percent or like 75 percent comfortable wherever they go. And we have. The ability to feel like 10 percent comfortable in some spaces and 100 percent comfortable in other spaces, so the ability for us to reach that upper level of safety, comfort and joy is something that I’d like us to lean into. You know, I think there’s so much opportunity here that that this radio piece illustrates for really meaningful elder care arrangements for queer people. I mean, me and my friends always fantasize about, ah, you know, a homestead on the Oregon coast after that earthquake that Kathryn Schulz wrote about. That’s supposed to happen. Like after that, we’re gonna go build our homestead and hire a bunch of hot young queers to, like, work the land US meals like repair things with a tool belt on, like that’s maybe sexualized in a problematic way. But I also think it could be really worthwhile for everyone involved.

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S2: It’s so funny to hear you say that, because I think I fantasize about a very similar a similar what’s the word dotage. Is that the word?

S1: Yes. Yes. Did I fantasize about doing this? So did upon just like I don’t know what it comes from to Romandie. I think it just means like when you are beyond the point at which you would describe yourself in your 60s or 70s, you know, he’s she’s in her dotage, like she said. No, I’m not. Yeah, well, she’s in her debt.

S2: Well, you know, I want this, too, and I really do. I really do love the idea of having some kind of you not maybe not a full-blown commun, but like a sort of a neighborhood, you know, a town where a lot of people have moved to a cul de sac called a cul de sac. Sure. Or, you know, some some land in the mountains where I have good news for you guys.

S1: It’s called Palm Springs, California, right? Yeah. I’ll see you guys there.

S2: Indeed. These places sort of exist. I think minds maybe a little more real than that. But it’s funny that we I feel like that we still have that desire. Because I think a lot of people worry, myself included, that in marriage equality, my like a race. Some of that because the idea would then be a very straight one, which is like where you’re getting married and your partner will take care of you in your old age. Try it. And so you’re just repair it off into into that institution and that and your children know your kids. I take care after that. And and it seems like that could have very easily, you know, erased some of some of the vision for for communal care models. But but maybe not. Maybe. Maybe where maybe we’re evidence that that’s not true. Because I certainly even you know, I hope my my partner is there with me for decades to come. But like, you know, chances are some someone will outlive someone and like, I would want me or either of them to be held in like a community, much like Phyllis was able to, you know, without her effort necessarily, but was able to to find herself found because it’s so much better.

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S3: I think one part that I thought it was kind of surprising that the radio piece played this off so lightheartedly, the part where they talk about, you know, Phyllis loved to flirt with her caregivers. She would like, spank them occasionally. You know, I, I, I feel a couple of ways about this one. This makes me even more confident that my dream of living on a homestead with hot young queers who dote on me and who I can occasionally consensually harass me, become a reality. But I was like, I don’t know, I. Is that something you talk about with the person you’re hiring like. Well, you have to know Phyllis will probably come on to you a little bit or. I can’t imagine that conversation happening in a comfortable or respectful way. You know, if if the person being cared for was a straight person, especially like a straight CIS man, you know, in that case, it would be a workplace sexual harassment. You.

S2: Right. Right. Well, like so many things about this arrangement, I mean, I feel like even if you could say that, even not, which I’m sure they discussed, I’m sure that conversation you described happen just like that you could describe it is as queer. Right. Like, it’s it’s an understanding that this person that you’re caring for may not have, you know, either all of her faculties about her or just have, you know, an older understanding of what’s appropriate. Of course, she also doesn’t know that they’re caregivers. Right. So that that kind of adult strains that a little bit. And so the whole thing is just it’s just really queer. Right. And, you know, you get the sense from Elli’s from the from the tape that all the people involved were fine with that and found it sort of amusing. But but, yeah, that that allows you the specificity of this situation and the care that went into it allows for that. Flexibility, and that’s what’s so special about it.

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S4: I think another thing that’s special about a I mean, it’s hard to articulate why this would be the case. But, you know, I’m I’m on vacation now in Cherry Grove Fire Island, which is like a very queer place full of a lot of older people. And it’s hard to articulate why I would be okay with being at the grocery store in my bathing suit and having, like an old man, an older man be like, oh, hey, baby. And how that’s different from being around. I mean, I guess I wouldn’t really care if it was somebody in their 30s either. But, like, it’s hard to explain why that feels so sweet. And so, like, that particular kind of interaction is about me acknowledging that, like, that person still exists and still has a libido and still like and that that’s something we share and not and that is it’s not an exercise of his power over me in the way that it would be if you if you if you as a woman are running down the street and as this guy is like, oh, hey, baby, that’s a whole other transaction. This is sort of a shared transaction or it’s a shared the power is shared between us and it’s sort of different and sweet. And I think you hear those caregivers, those caregivers in this documentary being really sort of bemused and flattered by Phyllis’s.

S3: Yeah. Attention. And I think that’s that’s great. If, you know, if if that kind of relationship can exist where you know it, it feels more like a friendship, which is what I think they wanted from this girl on your hands. Reman. I’m actually curious if you want to talk about this. You have kids. Yeah. Do you anticipate being cared for by your kids or do you anticipate being cared for by a hot young queer?

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S4: Oh, well, maybe my kids will hire. I mean, you don’t want your kids. My kids are still so young and the focus of family life tends to be down the generations. Right. Like our family’s financial resources are invested in caring for our children. And so there is a way in which the very structures of American family life, by definition, neglect, thinking about getting older. Right. Like we are simultaneously saving for our retirement, which is such a joke. And our children’s future. College education. Knock on wood. But yeah, I mean, certainly us being older isn’t a one hopes, an inevitability. And many, many people do require some level of care. And that is expensive. And the truth is that my family is not engaged in really thinking about that right now. And maybe that is shortsighted. But I hope I guess this of the experiment of parenthood is hoping that you do a good enough job, that your kids want to care for you. They want that. They want to return that favor. And it’s all a roll of the dice. But it’s unfortunate that we live in a system that is sort of takes that on faith, that it just sort of is that there are no givens. There are no safeties built into the way American society functions as we get older. It’s one of the more immoral things. I mean, there’s you can sort of take your pick at this point in this country. But the idea that the government just doesn’t really care to tend to its older citizens beyond providing them political lip service every four years since they are the ones who vote. It’s disturbing and it’s unsettling. And I don’t really know what my financial planners, although my younger son is often promising that he will buy us a mansion and there is.

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S1: So maybe that’s our plan for elder care. My younger son by the National Guard.

S3: Is he going into finance or, you know, what does he want?

S4: His plan is to be a famous fashion designer and artist.

S2: Oh, perfect. You shouldn’t go. You should encourage him to do that and then say that the mansion must be then a queer elder care. Yes.

S1: And staffed by casinos. Quadri of hot young queers. Hi, I’m Chris. Yeah, that’s that’s the agreement you’ll get there. But Christina’s Cordray is actually the name of the nonprofit five. I want to see three. Five.

S3: All right. That’s about all the time we have for this incredible radio piece. Caring for lesbian icon Phyllis Lyon with Love and Deceit by Evan Roberts. Listeners, we’d love to hear your thoughts about elder care. Yours or others. Send us your thoughts at Outward podcast at Slate ICOM. So before we wrap up the show with our gay agenda. We wanted to acknowledge the death of Niah Rivera, who recently passed away at age 33. Niah played Santana Lopez on Glee. Here’s June Thomas to talk more about what that character. And what Nyos performance meant to queer people.

S9: Thank you, Christina, for giving me a chance to share my love for Naya Rivera and her Glee character, Santana Lopez. I think in this very strange year of 2020, it’s very hard to remember how different things were for queer people just a few years ago. This podcast discussed just a couple of episodes ago how nationwide marriage equality was only secured in 2015 and the five or so years before the Supreme Court made that momentous declaration in Oberg felt the Hodges saw a revolution in attitudes to queer people. I’m exaggerating only very slightly when I say that I think the TV show Glee, which came to an end just three months before the obligor fell decision and specifically the character of Santana Lopez, played so beautifully by Naya Rivera, was the single biggest factor in that attitudinal change. Allow me to explain. So over the course of six seasons, 121 episodes, teenagers and their families and surely a few decidedly non teenagers like me got together to watch the musical stylings of the William McKinley High School Glee Club. I don’t know every week, but a lot of time, like people, families sat there and saw at least some of the characters being gay and good. And I really think that that made a difference. You know, Glee was a very flawed show. It’s often true with Ryan Murphy shows the internal logic was a mess. Characters would undergo like these incredible personality shifts at the drop of a hat. A lot of the story arcs really didn’t make much sense. And there was just a lot of meanness and downright nastiness in the dialogue. Santana could be. Well, I have to say it, a bitch. But she was also the character the show’s writers were most careful with. As a Latina, a woman of color and a lesbian, Santana had a lot of representational weight on her slender shoulders. She could be harsh. I’m sure there are clip reels of some of her meanest insults on the Internet. But we also saw why she had such a hard shell. She was poorer than a lot of her classmates. And the story of her coming out and her loving relationship with Brittany Spears, played by Heather Morris, was one of the only storylines on Glee that didn’t ever become ridiculous. Santana and Brittany loved each other. They really did. And they were attracted to each other. They even kissed on television. And while that kind of relationship is pretty common these days on television, it really was groundbreaking in its time, especially like as a family mainstream network show on Fox, Naya Rivera never wavered in her support of her character’s storyline. She stood up for Santana and all the other queer kids in America. And she deserves to be remembered and looked for that. All right.

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S2: Back to the show that is about it for this month. But before we go, as always, we have some updates to your gay agenda. So, Rahman, why don’t you start us off?

S4: I always talk about books and I’m going to talk about a book again, but I am very excited to talk about a book that June Thomas recommended. It’s a book called The Deviance War by Erik Salvini. And it is a biography of Frank Kameny. Frank Kameny was a very, very early gay activist who was involved in the Washington, D.C. Matter Society. The book really traces his life and his struggle for fair treatment under federal law. Kameny was a an astronomer and was barred from working for the federal government at a time when people with his sort of scientific training were badly needed because it was during the space race and during the Cold War. And he declined to accept that homosexuality was immoral on the face of it. And Eric Slovenes biography is a really in-depth look at his life and about how his activism worked and made its way through the court system and through all of the other lovers levels of the federal government. It’s a really interesting book. It’s called The Deviant Swartz by Eric Salvini.

S2: That sounds so Sarah. Fantastic. I’m really looking forward to reading that. It’s it’s a it’s a he’s an important person in our history that I don’t think enough people know about.

S4: So including including myself. You know, I mean, it’s really it has been an education. But what’s nice about the book is that it’s very readable and very enjoyable. I’m actually on vacation as we record doesn’t. I’ve been reading this big fat scholarly book on the beach and has been a completely enjoyable experience. Yeah. Brian, what do you have on your agenda this month?

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S2: Well, just so that I’m not, you know, outshone by your book tour. So I have a book as well. I read to Roman. So I’ve been reading Wayne Kerson Bombs new essay collection, which is called Figure It Out, that came out in May of this year. But I just got around to it. If you don’t know, I don’t know if I’ve talked about I might’ve talked about Wayne on the podcast before, but he is he is a poet, a painter, a piano pianist, a professor at CUNY here in New York, and sort of one of the big founding figures in like queer theory. But his writing that that shouldn’t sort of scare you away from has his has his books. If if you haven’t looked at them before, he is just an incredibly intelligent, very, very queer, very playful writer. And I especially love his essays. You know, they touch on everything from celebrity to sex to composers to art just all over the place. And this collection, this new collection is no different. And, you know, as I am working on my own book that contains essays. He’s just been a real touchstone of of seeing what queer thinking and writing can look like when you really commit yourself to it. So if you’re looking looking for something interesting to read this summer, I would really suggest picking up. Figure it out. It’s wonderful.

S4: He’s an amazing writer and he’s so, so funny. Look, I love the blend of humor and horniness. It’s just a really he’s a very unusual mind, a real one of a kind. We sort of overused that particular compliment. But he truly is a I struggle to think of another writer who is quite like Wayne.

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S3: Yeah. Yeah. That’s. Wow. You guys are really sold it. That’s a great teaser for your book, too, Brian.

S1: Yeah. One day. One day.

S3: One day where he hasn’t. I want to read it. Yes. Yes. I don’t read. So I’m recommending TV now. So I’m recommending to queer plotlines in recent TV shows that show gay and bisexual lives in ways that to me felt really fresh and unexpected. The first is I May Destroy You, an incredible series on HBO. Written and starred in by and produced by McKayla Cole. There’s a character in her show, Quami, played by Poppa Seydou, who’s a gay man. I don’t want to spoil too much about this, but the whole series is very much about this is gonna sound like such a downer. I know in a way it is, but it’s about sexual assaults that aren’t necessarily always readily identified as sexual assaults. And the show is full of sex scenes that take surprising turns and unnerving turns. And it’s one of the most real feeling depictions of sexual assault that I’ve ever seen. And the scene involving Quami is particularly. I’ve never seen anything like it on TV. And I again, I don’t want to spoil too much, but it involves a grinder meetup that goes awry in a very specific way. The other show is dead to me. I’m obsessed with Linda Cardellini, who plays one of the main characters on this show, Judy. In season two, we meet Natalie Morales or we meet Michelle, played by Natalie Morales, who’s queer in real life and definitely has a sort of like leather jacket, like swaggering kind of vibe on the show. Understated, though, more of a soft butch, I would say, if that. And so when I first saw these two characters interact on this show, I was like, oh, they’re gonna fuck which.

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S1: But I say that every time two women on a show and they never did.

S3: Well, finally, like in in so many other shows, I’m like, oh, you’re you’re showing a best friendship. But really, this is like a romantic relationship. If you had the imagination to make it that and in this show, they did. It’s a very adorable relationship. Also super hot. And it’s there’s no moment where they’re like, but wait, you were married to a man before her like you are? Well, as far as we know, you only slept with men. What’s happening now? They’re just like, oh, yeah, she’s dating this person now. And aren’t they so cute together? So it was just so refreshing. And it brought me so much joy to have my prediction finally come to.

S2: Oh, what a joy. I’m going to have to check that out. That sounds that sounds lovely.

S4: Yeah, that’s about it for us for this month. As always, please send us feedback on topic ideas at Outward podcast, at Slate dot com or via Facebook or Twitter at Slate Outward. Our producer is Daniel Shrader. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. Or at least that’s what we tell her, to keep her happy. If you like outward, please subscribe. And your podcast up. Tell your friends about it. Write and review the show so others can find it out. We’ll be back in your feeds August 19. Bye, guys. See you every month. Bye by.