Two Revivals: “No Promo Homo” and Shortbus

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S1: Hello and welcome to Outward Slate’s podcast that brings you all the peer culture and politics your heart could desire this Valentine’s month. I’m jus Gil Peterson, you’re a resident transsexual extraordinaire.

S2: I’m Kristina Cauterucci, a senior writer at Slate, and I’m thinking of getting my first adult pet. This will actually be a surprise to my wife when she hears this. She hasn’t consented to this, but I realize that it was time for a pet when I was out on the patio of a bar the other night and a gigantic rat just scattered by. And my first reaction was like, Oh hi, little guy. Oh no. I was like, I need another a better outlet for that impulse than

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S3: a rat at a restaurant. I’m Brian Lauder, editor of Outward. And you know, I’ve really been struggling with the seasonal depression this past month. It’s been it’s been bad this year for whatever reason. So I just wanted to say very, very earnestly that knowing that I get to talk with you to beautiful people today and with our lovely listeners has been like the only infusion of sunshine that I’ve had in a while. So thank you for that and spring cannot come soon enough. My God.

S2: Well, you’re the sunshine in our lives, too, Brian.

S1: Yes. Oh, thanks. Let’s get that vitamin D, and let’s see if we can have the serotonin pumps flowing today as well. This episode is kind of going to take the temperature of how sexuality is being represented and censored in two acts that we think are important to connect. First, we’ll talk about the return of a nasty little illegal Latin phrase no promo homo in the form of Florida’s recent don’t say gay bill, putting the new right wing emphasis on censorship book banning and the outline of teaching about racism, American history, queer people and gender in a broader context is all that’s old really new again. Didn’t we already do this whole banning any discussion of gay people in the 1990s? Why are we being forced to relive the worst parts of that decade anyways? Well, we’ll take a deep dive into what’s happening with these new kinds of laws and also what we know about organizing against them. And then speaking of a good revival for a change, we’re talking the rerelease of Shortbus John Cameron, Mitchell’s 2006 film that broke boundaries and titillated audiences with its frank depictions of real sex in the early aughts, a hipster in New York looking back after a decade and a half, we wonder what has changed in the way sex is represented on screen and in popular culture, especially queer sex. What do we owe to Shortbus? And what about it couldn’t be done today, either, because it no longer feels groundbreaking or because we would find it in bad taste? But first, as is our gay custom, it is time for pride and provocations. Brian, do you want to kick us off idea?

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S3: So this is a bit minor, but because it caused the three gay men in my house to groan and like, not in a fun way when it happened, I thought I should share it with the group. So the Gilded Age on HBO Max? Love it or hate it, it contains queers. This is good. Specifically, there is Christine Baranski son. The character name is Oscar van Ryan, played by the actor Blake Ritson. Oscar is a charming indeed wild type who flits and flops in and out of ornate drawing rooms like plucking roses from daisies and turning them into mutineers and that kind of stuff. He’s also naturally carrying on a relationship with a man in his own rooms somewhere across town. That’s all great. OK. But in a recent episode, we saw them knowing each other in the situation in bed and they were naked, and it’s HBO said they were like, very naked.

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S2: That’s nice. Yes. No. Waiting for the provocation.

S3: Yeah, we’re getting there. We’re getting it. I just wanted to set the scene for a show that is apparently pretty well researched. The muscles on these actors are like, not very inappropriate, and I’m going to explain why this is. This is provoking to me. So Oscar is Oscar is only slightly less jacked than his bow, but that guy looks like Henry Cavill in Superman. Like, it’s like that level of like gym body. So I looked into this a bit. There were absolutely some bodybuilders that existed during the 1880s when the show is set that they were more associated with the circus than with, like the upper classes that the show was mainly focused on. I mean, it just was like not super possible for people to have that kind of gem modern physique, right? Like at the moment. To be fair, Gilded Age is heard the first show or movie to sort of retcon modern gay male beauty standards into the past, but it’s frustrating to see it again all the same. This could be a whole segment on its own, so don’t want to get too deep into it. But like we did not feel gay, man. The pressure to look like this until the 90s, and it’s just very frustrating to see this very kind of oppressive idea of what gay men should look like. In a sexual context, anyway, projected back on to our history and our ancestors as well, so provoked by that, glad that there’s gay characters in the show, that’s fine, but I wish that they looked more like they would have looked in that period just to give us a break from that.

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S2: Oh, I love this provocation. And in fact, it makes me think of an episode of this podcast that I just listen to. It’s a very troubled and podcasts. Nice try about utopian experiments. And there’s an episode about weightlifting and the origins of weightlifting. And in fact, I don’t know if this is true of the period where this TV show is set, but there was a fear back when that being too muscular and lifting weights would make you muscle bound in a bad sense like such that you couldn’t move properly and your brain couldn’t function properly because your muscles were too tight, like an able, normal human existence.

S3: Still, it could be true.

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S2: One might argue. One might

S1: argue. Now I love it. I feel so validated as like the prickly historian that watches shows like. But here’s the thing because the thing to write is like, I think what’s so exciting about these shows set in past time periods is like when it comes to gender and sexuality in particular. Sometimes what people were doing in the past is so incredibly different from how we imagine today that I actually really wish people are being exposed to that. And it’s like we have other shows for muscles, right?

S2: Yeah.

S3: Yeah, it was. It was. It was not needed in this context.

S2: I would just love because you hear a lot about actors beefing up for roles, and I would have loved for the actors in the Gilded Age to be told like, don’t move a muscle, don’t go out in the sun, just become a way like, yeah, like hasty. And you know, I guess if you were an upper class like gay man at the time, you were probably eating lots of delicious foods and not starving yourself, right? Weren’t you just probably like nice and fun?

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S3: Yeah, I mean, you can look at photos of Lyle, you know, he was sort of look like a person who didn’t go to the gym a lot, you know, but like, right, we had a sort of easy life, probably, and a lot of ways to a point. Yeah, it just did not need to be Superman in that bad. But that’s fine. OK, I’m going to still watch it draws. Why don’t you go next?

S1: Sure. Well, I also have a provocation. I am provoked by what I am affectionately thinking of as the 100 percent made up entirely for tabulated, not real disinformation. Brown trademark fake media story about trans people being mad at Adele. And you know, one of the initial reasons I’m annoyed by it is like, We are mad at a dog. Nobody’s mad at Adele. That hasn’t happened, right? I mean, you know, other than like the horrific sexism in fatphobia that has circulated around her, like, yeah, now we the fans are not mad and trans people are not out of the deal. Of course, what happened ostensibly is that she said after receiving a word that she just really enjoyed being a woman. And as we know the United Kingdom and now increasingly the US media being absolutely obsessed with scapegoating trans people at every turn, making up literally fake stories about us in order to demonize us, pounced on this and said while trans people are hate Adele because you know, trans people’s number one agenda is for there not to be women in the world very dominated Yorick. Or that we don’t want people to say woman, right? And so there’s like literally, you know, these kinds of stories have been going on in the UK tabloids for years now, but we’re really starting to see an uptick in the US. And so that’s why I’m feeling provoked, you know, for our American listeners, right? I know we probably all in this country have like ongoing thoughts about the people in our lives who have been watching Fox News and who now watch 08 on RN and those kinds of things. It’s just really disturbing to see these kinds of actual propaganda pieces that are also about the stupidest shit ever like you really think trans people who, let’s be real, aren’t having a fun time right now. Care what adults as well. Yes, we do, because we love Adele, but you really think we would. That would be the focus of our politics. Like, there’s also this kind of like dehumanizing bent to it that suggests that we’re so out to lunch with our political demands that they’re as random or sort of superficial or linguistic. And it’s just like, how dare you? And how dare you besmirch our beloved Adele, who like credit to her, of course, was very happy to say that whoever identifies as a woman is a woman to her. And so that’s that. And as far as Adele is concerned, so thank you for showing up for your trans sisters. But I have just had enough of this. And so, you know, as we’re all keeping track of the slow disintegration of discourse in our media verse, I keep an eye out for these one hundred percent USDA Grade F fake news, trans misogyny, a trans phobia stories had enough. I love Adele. Someday I. I want to treat you both to my Adele and my treat you, I mean, scream sing at the bad British accent. Perfect.

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S2: Well, I’m going to wrap us up with a pride, this kind of a roundabout pride, so it’ll take me a moment to get there like Brian’s. So I was reading a piece in the New York Times magazine that entitled The Joys and Challenges of Sex After seven by Maggie Jones. So any kind of piece of research about aging and sex is of great interest to me, mainly as a way to stave off fears of my own mortality and blah blah blah all that boring stuff. So this is mostly talked about straight people. I think there was one mention of a gay male couple and all of their sexual woes were ones that you could probably think of you’ve probably heard before. You know, in addition to all the physical changes that can make it harder to have pleasurable sex as we age, there are a lot of social barriers, a lot of them having to do with the hang ups of straight cis men. So it was like so many couples in this piece told the same story about the man and the couple being reluctant to use a vibrator, being threatened by the use of a vibrator or by the use of lube feeling insulted that their partners needed lube. And this wasn’t explicitly noted, but it was the subtext. A lot of these stories that the working definition of sex as sort of penis in vagina penetration was a barrier to finding pleasure that these couples really had to work to move past that, to find a new way to enjoy their sex life. And the more I read it, the more I was like, Damn, we really have a head start here, because this simply is not a paradigm that queer people find themselves stuck in, because in part because as we’ll get to in our next segment, we have so little sex education about what queer and trans sex can be, that we invent it all ourselves and a lot of the things that these people are just now discovering we already have in our nations. And, you know, granted people who are in their eighties and nineties now are of a specific generation that had more rigid attitudes towards sex toward masculinity. But I would wager that there are more straight couples out there than you’d think that still find themselves hemmed in by that classic understanding of what sex is, how it’s supposed to be had, when it begins, when it ends, who’s having an orgasm and how. And hey, it just made me really proud that we, as queer people are in a position where, you know, we’re still going to face some of those same challenges as we age. But we are ideas of how we can achieve pleasure with a partner or by ourselves or with multiple partners has fewer of those boundaries that can make it difficult to just accept what feels good or explore what might feel good.

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S3: Yeah, or make it better.

S1: I love that. I mean, it makes me think about once again the straights. I mean, no hetero. But you know, there’s this great book by sociologist Jane Ward called The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, where she talks about basically how she thinks heterosexuals need to learn from. In her case, lesbian feminists, unlike men, need to learn how to desire women and how to understand the desire for women. It’s been about their flourishing in the world and their pleasure and things like that, and this just seems like an amazing additional example of that. And also like, Oh my gosh, Christina Bryan, can you imagine waiting until 70 to realize that, like the way you approach sex is maybe, like not leading to the enjoyment in your own body? Like, that’s so sad. Like, we don’t wait till 70 to ask these questions, we ask them when we’re young and becoming sexually active. And I just think that that makes us like objectively better. So you heard it here, folks.

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S3: OK. As I’m sure our listeners, especially our Floridian listeners, know, Florida has become a real laboratory for frightening right wing experimentation under the direction of the state’s current governor and likely GOP presidential hopeful, probably in 2024. Ron DeSantis On February 7th, DeSantis indicated his support for the most recent of these terrors. HB 15:57 or the parental rights and education bill, he said about the bill quote. In terms of the schools, we’ve seen instances of students being told by different folks in school or, you know, don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet, do all this other stuff. They won’t tell the parents about these discussions that are happening that is entirely inappropriate. End quote. Our own Christina Carter wrote she reported on this bill at the end of January. So I’m just going to read from the top of her very excellent piece to describe what it would do, quipped the so-called Parental Rights and Education Bill would forbid educators from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary school or an integrated level in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students. Kristina continues The wording is tactically vague, but the intent is clear. Part of a class of legislation colloquially known as don’t say gay bills, which have been introduced in several state legislatures in recent years. The Florida bill, if passed, could easily be construed as a directive to educators to erase all mention of marginalized people’s lives from the classroom. As Christina writes, This is not a new tactic from social conservatives, but in the current amendment, erasure and censorship of all manner of offensive, you know, scarecrows, their offensive ideas, theories, peoples and whole books, especially under the banner of parental control, seems to be their main obsession. So to start our discussion, Christina, since you wrote about this so well, I wonder if you wanted to give a little bit of background on the don’t say, gay or no promo homo laws and just what they’re all about?

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S2: Yes. So these don’t say gay bills do draw on the tradition of no promo Homo laws. So those are laws. A lot of them were passed in the 80s and 90s that forbid certain educational materials, usually the health education curriculum, from doing anything that promotes homosexuality. So some of them actually require materials to say homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle. Others just prohibit the mention of homosexuality. I just can’t stop saying that word is so antiquated and so delicious, so they would prohibit teachers from mentioning homosexuality or anything other than hetero. So states have actually been repealing those bills. Slowly but surely, over the past several years, even Alabama not known anywhere as a bastion of their rights. They repealed their law just last year, and a lot of times this was happening because LGBTQ advocacy groups sued and the states knew that the laws wouldn’t hold up in court. And sure enough, there was a challenge to the no promo Homo law in South Carolina. It made it to federal court in 2020, and the judge said this violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it’s discrimination based on sexual orientation because it was specifically about keeping homosexuality like that one particular sexual orientation out of the classroom. What makes these new don’t say gay bills different, is that they purport to be identity neutral. So they’re trying to get around these new protections that we have against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by saying discussion of any sexual orientation is banned in the classroom. Of course, that’s not how they’re meant to function because no ideological vigilante is going to bring a case against the school district that teaches about straight marriage. Right? Yeah. The insidious parts of these bills, and Florida is certainly the one that’s making the most news right now because activists say it’s being fast tracked through the Legislature. They make little exceptions that would seem to make them more reasonable. So the Florida one, as you mentioned, has a carve out for age appropriate material. Well, that’s extremely vague. It’s subjective. So what teacher is going to risk hanging their career on that carve out what teacher is going to go ahead and teach about act up, let’s say, and hope that a sympathetic judge would say yes, that was age appropriate. This lawsuit is frivolous. That’s the part that’s sneaky about these bills that they’re trying to make themselves seem judicious and unobjectionable. Another part of these bills that has less to do with the curriculum and more to do with what teachers can discuss with students is a part that basically would. And a school from having any sort of a plan for a student around their sexual orientation or gender identity, so it would basically prevent a school from using a child’s chosen pronoun without their parents knowledge. If the child is trans or experimenting with a new pronoun, you know, because kids do that.

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S3: Kids can end up outing these kids to their parents.

S2: Right? And so the Florida bill says, Well, you know, you don’t have to notify the parents if it would lead to the child being abused. So proponents of these bills are saying, Well, whoa, whoa, whoa. Don’t say that that we’re going to make children unsafe at home. Because look, there’s this carve out that says, if you believe the child will be abused like, of course, you don’t have to out them. Well, what teacher or school district is going to take the risk of financial ruin? Because the way these bills are enforced is through private action, private civil action to take the risk that a sympathetic judge is going to be able to prove that the child was at risk of abuse. And you know, the definition of abuse or mistreatment is the bar can be so high that if you really want to protect a child from homophobia or transphobia at home, it would be very hard to prove that the specific definition of abuse was met when it hasn’t even happened yet.

S3: I think we should definitely take a minute to point out that this is about lawsuits from parents like against schools and teachers, right? That is the mechanism of enforcement at sort of the citizen vigilante model that we saw in Texas with the abortion law there recently. But it’s being sort of propagated here in a new context. And I think as you point out in your piece, there are groups of parents kind of waiting to do this. It’s not radical. It’s like they are right wing activist parents who are sitting there ready to sue over the smallest little thing. So maybe talk a little bit more about how that works.

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S2: Yeah, I mean, this is definitely part of a trend of right wing actors trying to seize control over the classroom because of an idea and a myth that homosexuals and transsexuals are out there in schools trying to recruit unwilling students into their Agenda. So in Florida, the law would be enforced by the fear of financial ruin on the parts of school districts, so parents would be the ones to bring the lawsuit against the school district. This is how the chilling effect we get because school districts and teachers that are already strapped for cash don’t want to find themselves on the receiving end of even a frivolous lawsuit that has no basis. In fact, that would vindicate them because they still have to spend the time and energy and money fighting that lawsuit. This is what the abortion bill in Texas has done. Even a couple of Planned Parenthood outlets have stopped providing all abortions. They’re not even providing the abortions that are so legal because they don’t want this lawsuit happy, well-funded right wing groups to bring frivolous lawsuits against them that would still take a lot of resources to fight. The other thing that the private right of action provision does is make it so that a court can’t block it in advance. This is something the Supreme Court has allowed with the Texas bill, where usually if there’s an egregious bill that would infringe upon queer rights, abortion rights, whatever a reasonable court might say, I’m going to stop this law from going into effect until we can make a decision on it. And the challenge will be heard and it’s not going to happen until that happens. But because Florida has outsourced enforcement to private vigilantes, a court won’t be able to say that. So in Florida, the bill, if passed, would be able to go into effect even as it’s being challenged in court, which it certainly will be or would be.

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S1: Yeah, it’s really very disturbing. And I think that you know what I really appreciate about the way that you framed these distinctions in your article, Christina, is you help us understand like, I think for all of us that have been feeling, who knows when we want to date it too. But let’s say at least since, like Donald Trump came down that escalator in twenty fifteen, like, are we doing the 90s again? Like, why didn’t we already do all of this? Isn’t this already settled? Right? And I think unfortunately, one of the sort of consensus are sort of triumphalist narratives that came around. The legalisation of same sex marriage in this country is that it made it seem like things had sort of been settled like, Oh, we did the thing. Congratulations. Even though obviously many, many different kinds of activists had pointed out for a long time that securing marriage rights is actually the narrowest, most conservative way to try and protect gay and lesbian people under the law. The thing is the sort of, you know, new right Reagan era righteous campaign for a Christian ethno state in the United States has never stopped, right? I mean, this is like, you know, since Barry Goldwater, since you know, the Southern Strategy, these groups of people have been organizing and working relentlessly and. Basically using state legislators as legal laboratories to, you know, in concert with stacking the judiciary and, you know, sort of the mechanics of the Overton window to slowly and slowly push the envelope over time. And so I do really think that like although this sort of culture war echoes probably feel both exhausting in the way that they sound very similar to the 90s, right? Like just the repackaging of vicious homophobia and then the rebranding of some of that homophobia and transphobia. On the other hand, it’s like, Oh, well, it turns out we actually don’t have the civil rights and legal protections that we thought we had. And there’s also a kind of broader strategy here, right? We talk a lot about moral panic as the ostensible pretense, right? The actual fabrication, disinformation and propaganda machine churning out these tired old tropes, right? That there’s this tiny, perverse minority out to recruit and spoil the youth of America. And it’s like, OK, well, that’s the pretense. But when we also zoom out and ask, like, what do these bills accomplish, right? I think one of the things that’s so important to talk about is the utter destruction of the public and public institutions, public education being one of them, right? I mean, these bills, like there’s another one in Indiana that would also allow lawsuits against teachers for teaching any content that goes against religion or against religious belief without defining like. And you know, of course, everyone’s like, Oh, it’s real. But you know, it’s like, OK, hold on. The real provision that’s so vicious in that bill is that the $10000 penalties have to come from the teacher’s salary. They are not allowed to come from any other source that’s prohibited under the law. You can’t crowdfund. We’re talking about states where teachers with master’s degrees only make forty or fifty thousand dollars a year at the high end. And so it’s like, Oh, well, you know, sure, the goal might be to turn public education into an evangelical Christian white supremacist affair where you can’t learn about slavery, you can’t learn about Homo sexuality and other things. But it’s also merely to smash the remainder of public education in this country, which has been right since the 1950s, the most politicized place in which problems of segregation play out in this country and closing the racial wealth gap and closing the racial achievement gap and all of these other insidious forms of white supremacy come through education. And so there’s no surprise here, but I really think we’re sort of witnessing this kind of like a burn it all down moment. Try. And I guess maybe that feels very connected to so much going on in the country right now where it’s like people are sort of trying to attune themselves to what it means for there to be a very successful right wing movement in the country that actually is dedicated to destruction, right? Like not just like, you know, I guess it’s sort of the question I have for both of you is like on my reading, I’m not even so sure that the parent groups are ready to sue, even care if like the content, because like, you know, on one level, we might say, like one of the problems with this sly legal strategy here, of course, is that you can’t actually have no gender or sexuality taught in school. I mean, it would actually be so hard you really would need to develop like an Orwellian 1984 style prop. Like it is, it’s the most fascist idea of education I’ve ever heard. But it’s also not possible because homosexuality and heterosexuality aren’t treated equally in our culture to have a curriculum that doesn’t mention the fact of men or women. While that sounds suspiciously like the way these people paint trans. Exactly. And so I guess one of my questions right is as I’m looking at the landscape, right, there’s the content of the bills, and I do think it’s so important for us to educate ourselves on what’s changing. But then I kind of have this broader question is like, is the real goal here, not just to bring about the auto destruction of the public schooling system so that we move to a charter based model? And so then all of these families that basically would rather their kids be in private Christian white supremacist schools can get the state to pay for it. I mean, I don’t know if that’s, you know, am I reaching here? But that seems like part of what we’re facing.

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S3: I think that’s super astute. I mean, the thing that I keep thinking about with these is maybe more sort of more basic than that are simpler than that, which is that it’s not just the racing content from like lesson plans, it’s a racing sort of life possibilities for people, right, at least or delaying them, let’s say. You know, we were just getting LGBT inclusive history curricula in some states in the U.S., like California and New York. That was that’s only been happening for like the last. I don’t know if five six year or something like that that’s already new. And what they’re trying to do with this is just a race the potential for kids to encounter this stuff, right? Because if you’re. Ohm doesn’t. If your parents in the place that you live in community, maybe it doesn’t sort of offer you models, and I say this sort of as someone who grew up in a place where there weren’t many models right for what it meant to be gay. And I think it really delayed my I’ve talked about this before on the show, like my coming out and sort of self-recognition event and just sort of understanding of what my brain was like to live in. It is a racing just the potential for children to like, encounter visions of what their lives can be like because these parents don’t, and these activists don’t want even that possibility to be introduced. Right. That is just so sad to me. I think it also kind of brings up this larger issue that I might sound a bit, I don’t know, naive for even bringing up like this idea of like parental control over kids really freaks me out. And the way it shows up here just makes my stomach turn. Yeah, but it is a strange impulse that like I I’m not a parent, but I just, I don’t know. I don’t get it

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S2: to your point, Jules, about this right wing desire to decimate the public school system. You know, between all of these can’t talk about race bills or can’t talk about anything that makes white people feel uncomfortable bills, which Florida is considering one of those two. Mm hmm. I believe that it’s going to become so unpleasant and so frightening to be a public school teacher in any of these states that people won’t want to do it anymore, especially because teachers are already so underpaid. If you’re afraid that you’re going to say something that’s going to get you sued, or if the parts of your job that you find rewarding, like helping a child figure out who they are and what kind of person they want to be, and how to grapple with what’s happening in society. If you can’t even do that part anymore, why would you want to be a teacher? I mean, most of the teachers that I know the most rewarding part of their job is not teaching from the textbook. You know, it’s about helping students understand the world and themselves and how they fit into it. I think what these bills will end up doing, in addition to all of the sort of self-evidently terrible things we’ve already talked about, is encourage teachers to stop teaching to bankrupt public school systems, cause further staffing crises. I remember getting an email from one listener, one of the last times that we talked about something like this where I think we had only talked about the challenges of a student coming from an unsupportive home and going to a supportive school. I think we were talking about the pandemic and how school closures were particularly difficult for LGBTQ students, and a listener wrote in to say, Well, I think there are also a lot of students that find their schools to be unsupportive and their homes to be a sanctuary. And it got me thinking about the fact that most students really only have those two places to find their people and to be supportive. And if you’re taking one of those places away, it really narrows the possible worlds that a queer or trans student could live in another frightening element of this parental rights push. You know, in scare quotes, parental rights, whatever is, you know, there are a couple other bills in state legislatures right now that are being debated that would necessitate live streams of classrooms that parents can access at any point in time. I think the effect of a law like that would be dystopian and frightening. But even the impulse we talked about the the idea that sort of animating a lot of these bills, which is that there are nefarious queer and trans teachers or queer and trans supportive teachers that are trying to, you know, change this kids into trans kids simply by telling them that trans people exist. Right? So it’s easy to sort of brush off these far right legislators that are putting forward these bills. But I actually think that idea is argued by more mainstream thinkers than you might initially think. You see it in the sort of Barry Weiss school of thinking where these are people who say, Of course, I’ll use your correct pronoun, you know, of course, trans people exist and deserve rights. However, can’t we agree that there’s a trans contagion going on among today’s youth? And don’t you think children are too young to really explain who they are and how they’d like to be treated? I think we should be taking that kind of an argument a lot more seriously because it gives a little bit of veneer of respectability to this more openly frightening and discriminatory bill.

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S3: Well, I think that is all the time we have for this topic. There’s so much more that we could get into, but undoubtedly these laws and bills will continue to show up, so we’ll track that. But for now, if you want to learn more, please check out Christina is a really great piece and slate. It was called the new face of no promo Homo laws.

S2: Next topic is one of the most beloved films in the contemporary queer canon, a movie I personally would put in any welcome packet of artwork a new queer should absorb to acquaint themselves with our history and culture. Shortbus is a film about sex mostly and the role it plays in the lives of a group of weirdos living in post-9-11 in New York. It was written and directed by the Great John Cameron Mitchell in 2006, and it’s set out at the time, in part for the fact that all the sex in it solo partnered sex was unstimulated. So the penetration, the orgasms, the ejaculate. There was a lot of it, all of that, and it was all real. If you’ve never seen the film, maybe cause this podcast and go do that, but I’ll give you a quick primer on the storylines in case you don’t have time to do that right now. So the main character is Sophia, played by Sookie and Lee, who’s a straight sex therapist, or, as she would say, couples counselor. Mm-Hmm. He is married to a kind of lackluster dude, cis man, and she’s trying to figure out how to have her first orgasm ever. Then there’s Jamie and James sort of look alike gay couple who bring a younger guy into their relationship. He’s called Seth with a C, and they’re also being stalked by an admirer who lives across the street. There’s also Severin, who’s a dominatrix for pay. She’s kind of antisocial and is creating a real relationship with someone. All these people and much more end up mixing and mingling at a salon slash sex party run by Justin Vivian Bond, the inimitable trans performer. So I’m always down to process Shortbus, but there is a reason we’re talking about it now. It’s gotten a 4K restoration. I looked that up. It’s got something to do with the visual quality, which means you’re going to see all the dicks in higher power, and it’s being rereleased in theaters around the US and Canada. Unfortunately, it’s not coming to DC John Cameron Mitchell Y, but it’s already out in some places. So we wanted to revisit the film and what it meant then in two thousand six and look at how it reads in the sexual and artistic milia of twenty twenty two. So let’s just start off with that first question What was Shortbus in 2006 or on your first viewing, Jules and Brian?

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S1: Gosh, I feel like, you know, this was sort of a big deal film for queers, especially, you know, I mean, I didn’t get to it the moment it came out. It was, you know, a year or two later I was in college. But, you know, I kind of remember I was talking to my boyfriend about this last night after we watched it. And he’s a decade older and he was saying like, Yeah, he remembered, you know, being living in this small town in the south with all these other queer people and like one of the joys of going to watch it was that all these like cool queer artists and oh terrors were like in the film, but not his main characters. And so part of it was just sort of, I don’t know, just like this, like pre-internet pre-social media kind of like, had not my man. I’ve going to see like a cool film by you, by, you know, John Cameron Mitchell, a queer kind of culture making legend already at that point and kind of just like having this like experience of being like, Yeah, here we all are. And like we when we fuck onscreen, it’s real. I know how I remember it, and it’s certainly the impression that I’ve sort of health of all of these years later. Yeah. How about you, Brian?

S3: The film came out in 2006. I came to New York for college in 2006.

S1: So, so the movie’s about you.

S3: It’s definitely not about me.

S2: Yeah, that was Brian’s.

S3: I was decidedly not in that milieu. I was at Columbia, so I was like in a very different, very different, boring, conservative kind of New York, at least for the first couple of years of college experience. But when I met my now partner and one of my partners, Cam, which would have been in, I guess, 2009 very quickly, he this is one of those movies that I think happens in a lot of relationships where you’re sort of testing or not testing. But just like being sure that you’re compatible by watching something together and seeing like what the reaction is. He insisted on starting to me. I think he had it on DVD already and his and his booklet of DVDs they kept at the time and we watched it together. And I just remember thinking that it was, you know, in some ways challenging to me like I had, not because I was not yet in any kind of milieu like that, but also that the the salon itself Shortbus, which is what it’s what it’s called in the film also struck me as a kind of like, you know, this word is a little bit, I don’t know, difficult now, but like queer utopia, like it just looked like what I thought heaven might look like in some way, not just because of the sex, but because of all of the art and just like various kinds of expression happening there and including including sex. And so it’s always it’s, you know, in my mind, the movie is associated with that moment in time and also that relationship, of course, but also just being one of the early representations of what I thought queerness should create in the world if that’s not too grand. Yeah, so important. Like very important

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S2: what you mention, Jules, about your partner’s reaction, that was sort of the sense or the feeling that I got when I watched it, where I watched it pretty early on in my coming out and I was sort of grasping for all of these queer artistic signal. Fires and absorbing all of the culture that I didn’t know about, because why would you know about a lot of this queer art unless you were queer? And I remember watching it and feeling like, Oh my God, I know who that is and almost feeling like, Oh, like one of my friends made this even though I was not friends John Cameron Mitchell or JD Samson, or like any of the other people in it. But I was just like, I know these people. I’m part of this community that they’re representing. And also, again, like Brian, I absolutely was not. I would not know where to find a party like that with a gun to my head. But it gave me a feeling of This is a community that I want to belong to or this is a relationship to sex that I want to have at the same time. I won’t say that I found it particularly titillating in a sexual sense. Like, I love that all the sex seemed real and because it was real, but I wasn’t particularly turned on by it. Yeah. And I, as we talked about what it means to portray sex in film and how maybe the way we think about sex and art has changed since then. I want to be able to explain exactly what kind of relationship to sex this movie has, which is it’s unique in that it explores sex, not particularly in relation to sexual orientation and gender. Whereas a lot of movies about sex, I think, are about, you know, figuring out your gay or trying it out or, you know, figuring out who you’re having sex with, whereas this is really it’s more of a journey about pleasure and not about it almost doesn’t matter. And it’s besides the point you know you’re having sex with. And just to put this in temporal context, Shortbus came out one year after another movie about sex 40 year old Virgin, which is, Oh

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S1: wow, yes,

S2: one of the worst movies that’s ever been made. And, you know, a really like, shame forward depiction of human sexuality. And it’s that movie seems a lot more recent to me than Shortbus does. Maybe because like the way sex is treated in that, you know, that sort of bro comedy world hasn’t changed very much. Whereas as John Cameron Mitchell has been saying a lot upon the rerelease of this movie like Shortbus probably wouldn’t be made today, and I’m very excited to talk to you guys about why that is or is not true and why.

S1: Oh my gosh, okay, can I make a confession to you, but just to you? Two. So plug your ears. Listen, I sat down excited to watch it last night with the BMF, as I said, and we just did not like it on well. And I really like you. I know, I know, I know. But I think I think I’m understanding why now and I appreciate what you said, Cristina, because like, OK, two thousand six, right? To make this sort of film that doesn’t see the problem of sexuality in terms of like identity, right? And you know, so you’ve got people kind of just like relatively poorly amorphous leaks, which like literally sometimes like turn to the left, kiss a woman to the right, kiss I. Right. And like, I get why that is like a big deal in 2006. And so I don’t want to begrudge that at all. But as I was watching, especially the salon scenes for me and especially the kind of infamous orgy scenes all of these people having sex together in one room, I as like a person you know, who admittedly happily joyfully has had sex with men and women and non-binary people, people with all kinds of bodies, right, and has experienced sex in my body, you know, better than one gender identity and configuration of flesh. Like I was just like, No. And let me unpack that. And then I’m curious if you want to burn me at the stake for this or not. But like I felt two things. So like one, I was like, This isn’t sexy. And then two, I was like, This is queer utopia, and I don’t like it. And what I mean by that is this to me. I actually think it was like white hipster utopia. And in some ways, I think that what’s daring about that in twenty six has become actually so taken for granted today, albeit in a more sexualized manner. Like, you know, in terms of content that I just feel like it doesn’t like, it doesn’t make me a certified horny person feel horny. But it also like to me, it’s like the vision of the film is like everyone is free to just feel generalized pleasure kind of behind closed doors. I mean, it’s what may be like. I’m borrowing from a scholar here. Damon Young has a chapter about Shortbus in his book Making Sex Public, where he talks about it very much like. You know, as a form of sexuality that’s like just absolutely classical liberalism, like the free, private individual who like becomes free to the extent that they can pursue pleasures that, like, don’t really like, have nothing to do with anything but like their own gratification and like, that’s nice, too. But like when I’m watching the orgy scene to me, I’m like, Yeah, but you can’t do that. You wouldn’t have a bunch of straight men in a room with gay men, because that’s like immediately how you’re going to get, you know, physical violence and fights happening. It’s dangerous. Like, these sexual cultures actually can’t just mix, except in this sort of weird, like kind of like what I you know, I moved to New York a little bit later, so I would have put as more of like a Bushwick like weird like al train, you know, industrial loft fantasy where I’m like that to me, particularly as like a person of color to you or I just like have a lot of issues, I guess, with the trope of the like, sexually repressed straight Asian woman and like the way that people of color are actually like very few in the film and they don’t really do much, but probably certify that it’s like New York diverse, right? Which is like on screen, never white New York, you know? And anyway, every approximation of New York City itself. And so that all sounds really like vicious. And I don’t mean that like as a dig on the film per se, because in some ways, I think what I’m reacting to is that, to my mind, this kind of notion of sexual liberalism in America, the idea that the real measure of progress is just that everyone’s tastes and pleasures go on interrogated and we, you know, has become so normal and banal. I think what we’ve gotten even worse at doing is understanding that our power relations embedded in these things and that actually like the different experiences of like the different people in the film. Whether, you know, it’s like watching a white gay throuple up, like I’ll say, it’s just like the early 2000 haircuts are, like, devastating to me, but like, I was just like, I don’t know how to feel for these people because it just seems so blasé, even though one of them is like literally suicidal until he bottoms. I need something and that to me.

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S2: Yeah. So that’s the idea that sex can, like, magically cure all kinds of problems. Yeah, including like chronic depression is really something that I don’t think I fully grasp. When I first watched the film because I was just so taken by the the, you know, like cultural flamboyance of it and also all of the sex. But when you’re talking about the power relations, part of it is something that John Cameron Mitchell has been bringing up in a lot of the interviews that he’s done on the rerelease, where he’s talking a lot about know well since the MeToo movement happened, it would be hard to make this or I was in a film recently and there was an intimacy coordinator who had to ask my permission before someone even put their hand on my shoulder. And, you know, a straight man, I feel so intimidated they can’t even ask a woman out. And so a lot of what he was talking about seemed to be relations between straight men and women, which also occupy like kind of a weirdly prominent role in the in Shortbus. I think there’s a way in which I look past and forgive a lot of potentially troubling parts of this movie because I inherently trust the people who are making it in the because the people who are in it, a lot of them already were coupled or, you know, and they spent a month in a room like doing trust, building exercises together and stuff. And you know, I love John Cameron Mitchell so much and so many of the other people involved in the film where if I’m watching, I watch the movie Benedetta by Paul Verhoeven, which involves a lesbian nun, of course. Click, you know, immediate click. But the way in which this straight man depicted lesbian sexuality was like just they were there was so much boob grabbing and like fixation. You know, you see a woman’s boobs and then you immediately orgasm. And you know, like, I know, like two people with boobs like, sure, we like boobs, but it’s like just reaching out and grabbing each other’s boobs doesn’t play a huge role in the way most of us have sex with each other.

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S1: Speak for yourself, Cristina.

S2: Right, right. Don’t shame. I’m speaking for myself and all of the time I’ve ever slept with. I recognize that there is a diversity of experiences under our umbrella. But I go into a movie like that with like inherent skepticism. I go into a movie like Shortbus feeling like I can. I can give this movie a few passes, and I think that extends to my critical eye on power dynamics that I might feel weird about. So I find it hard to lose myself in a lot. Of movies about street romances, because I feel like they replicate a lot of really fucked up relationship tropes, a lot of the times this is a problem I have with whenever we talk about Christmas movies every year, I’m like, I can’t enjoy a straight Christmas movie because it’s all they’re all like super antifeminist. Yeah. Well, when John Cameron Mitchell talks about the intimacy coordinator stuff, I feel like when I watch a movie that’s that I don’t know has been made by somebody who thinks about consent or how sort of a queer understanding of sexuality. I’m immediately more concerned for the people who are in it and their working conditions. When I watch a movie like Shortbus again, this is this is a lot based on both my assumptions and on reporting that’s been done about the making of the film. Yeah, I feel a little bit less concerned about that or like the power dynamics that I might find troubling in other films don’t immediately become something that troubles me. And you know, that’s that’s like a thing that happens. That’s a way that a lot of queer people get a pass, I think, or a lot of queer creators get a pass because we’re so starved for content that gives us something different or something that in any small way reflects our lives, that it’s easier for me to look past stuff that would be disturbing in other contexts, or at least make me think a little bit more critically in other contexts.

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S3: Yeah, I mean, just to sort of speak to the things that we received more critically at this time, I definitely did not remember that. Like, as you put it, Jules bottoming cured like, you know, suicidal ideation that was like

S1: if only

S3: only and I and that. So that was that was definitely sort of I don’t know. I just I just maybe like Christina. I was a bit blinded by the the sort of sweeping beauty of the of the salon. But like, you know, on the other hand, I mean, I think if Justin Vivian Bond had led Jan. six, they might have gone like just to just be inclined to, like, do anything. And I would I would probably like be fine with that.

S1: So yeah, now they are above like above and beyond their performances

S3: so that, you know, their imprimatur over the whole thing. Kind of. I really

S2: want to take that quote out of context, Bryan, and follow you with it throughout your career

S1: guide. Cancel, cancel Bryan now.

S3: But you know what I mean, it’s just there. Just so the aura is just so intoxicating that you can’t not. But the white hipster ness of it also struck me like if if nothing else struck me as dating the the movie in a way that I had not expected it, just it really did feel of a moment in a way that I guess because I was living closer to that moment, like had not remembered it being connected to as strongly, but like, of course it is. And that you know that that sort of I guess the question of whether whether it’s something like that would be made today, I that you wouldn’t know. I mean, you could not make it quite you would not want to make it that way like and that is striking. I mean, it’s striking that that is that’s what this ends look like.

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S1: You mean the men would have to have Fayed’s instead of weird Justin Bieber haircuts and thank the gods for that?

S3: Yeah.

S2: Well, there’s obviously so much more we could talk about with regard to Shortbus and queer art today. Listeners, if you have thoughts that you want to share or if you find yourself prompted to rewatch or watch for the first time, we would love to hear your thoughts. You can always email us at Outward Podcast at Slate.com.

S3: That’s all the time we have for this month, but before we go, as always, we have some updates to your gay agenda. Christina, you want to start us off?

S2: Yes, I do. So Madonna started its human trials of an HIV vaccine late last month. Huge deal. It was developed using the mRNA technology that has been so successful in its COVID vaccine. I’m a mother and a gal myself, so this is like a really important moment for me to see Moderna succeed like this. And coincidentally, just a couple of weeks ago, the French doctor who discovered HIV the virus itself died. He was 89. His name was Luc Montagnier. He is French, so hopefully I pronounce that respectfully incorrectly. So I’m going to recommend The Washington Post’s obituary because the story of his life and what he did was a lot weirder and more convoluted than I know. There’s actually some controversy around who really discovered HIV. So the work that Montagnier did with people at the Pasteur Institute in Paris was obviously groundbreaking. It led to the blood test that could detect HIV and all of the treatments that now exist, but ended up being a fight between the US and France over who discovered the virus, which ended up in a legal battle over the HIV blood test because it would produce millions of dollars in earnings for whichever lab could get the patent for the blood test. So eventually, Ronald Reagan and Jacques Chirac of France agreed that the respective labs in the respective countries would split the profits. And it’s all just really slimy and, you know, just the idea of Ronald Reagan even being involved in that sort of negotiation about, like, aren’t we so glad that we have a blood test that can detect HIV now? Just a really good reminder of the profit motives that undergird basically every life saving development in modern medicine and then ultimately shape how and whether it’s deployed? Obviously, a lot of echoes of the COVID vaccine in there and and how it has not been distributed equitably around the world. And Montagnier himself, the French doctor who whose obituary I’m recommending, he ended up actually going off the deep end a bit with some pseudoscientific theories about autism and eventually COVID. So it’s just a really interesting and a little messed up story that is like the one little footnote, but it was a preoccupation of this man’s life for financial and probably personal reasons to make sure that he got the credit for discovering this virus because there’s like Nobel Prizes that come with that and stuff like that. And to read that as a little footnote in the story of HIV and how finally, there may be a vaccine because there’s profit in Derna, it seemed like a really appropriate coincidence that these two things the death of this doctor and for me, my first time learning about this story happened right alongside the the triumphant beginnings of this hopefully really successful trial for the HIV vaccine.

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S3: Yeah, that’s fascinating. I don’t know anything about that, either. I have to look it up. So for my get into it, it is a recommendation, but it’s one that like, it’s sort of somewhat halfhearted and I’ll explain why. So I don’t know if anyone else is watching Star Trek Discovery. This is the yeah, but me. OK, do you watch it, Jules?

S1: Oh yes, I mean, huge, huge Trek Person sighting.

S3: OK, well, so this is great because what I was going to ask for was that our listeners talk with me about it because I’m trying to trying to process my feelings about the third season, which just came back from a hiatus for the sort of second half of it. I wanted to call it sort of recommend it and call it out because it is probably one of the queerest shows on TV right now in terms of how much screen time and like story involvement the queer characters get. So specifically, we’re here. We’re talking about the gay couple, who’s Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz. Play them, and then there is a non-binary trans couple played by blood of our own Ian Alexander. And in this season, they honestly, truly like take up like 50 percent or more of the time of the show. And it’s sort of like, I’m shocked. Each episode that it continues, but they’re really centered. I mean, we use that, you know, that word can sound a little stilted, but it’s true. They’re like they’re centered in the show. In this way, that’s pretty surprising. That said, I don’t think I like the season very much, and I think a lot even there, even those characters plotlines, I think, are kind of not great. A lot of the time. So it’s this weird experience of seeing something where there represent the sort of fact of representation is very impressive. But the the sort of art of it maybe isn’t. So I’m watching it. I’m curious what others think about it. Jules, you and I will have to talk about it because it’s just so queer. It’s just like, they’re there. And that’s like really the main characters of the show, except for the Captain Bernard. So Star Trek Discovery, it’s on Paramount Plus, annoyingly. So I’m not going to recommend that you pay for that. But maybe still still someone else does log on and watch it.

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S1: Well, worth it. If at least you want to just see Wilson Cruises a hostile audience base, that gravity plating has nothing on him.

S2: But is that an ahistorical representation of bodies in space?

S3: Well, it’s in the 29th St., near 30. Where are we now? 30 second century?

S1: Jules, do you remember

S3: anything so the future? I don’t know. I don’t know what bodies of the future look like that,

S1: but at least some of them are trans and queer of color. I will say that.

S3: Yes, yes, exactly.

S2: Jules, let’s yes.

S1: So yes, my addition to the gay agenda is kind of a nice follow up to our discussion of Shortbus. Maybe it’s an article that the journalists P Moskowitz published in Curbed February 2nd, and it’s called Inside an Accidental Trans Enclave in East Williamsburg. And it’s this really lovely kind of longform piece about this building in East Williamsburg that it’s just like not intentionally populated by so many incredible genius trans journalists, artists, performers, academics, and it’s kind of like become known like, I haven’t lived in New York famously for a few years, but I feel like, you know, I now have the people in this building and and because of COVID, of course, I haven’t really yet had my moment, but I’ve literally like been waiting for years to like, visit someone in this building because it’s like this fascinating concentration of all of this like this kind of like trans brain trust of likeminded genders and races and, you know, like interests. But what I love about the piece is that, you know, first of all, we need more breaks from just the doom and gloom and kind of like trans media coverage. But what I love about this is like, you know, I guess a lot of the questions of Shortbus today, you know, it’s like, Well, is that kind of, you know, potentially bohemian, you know, version of New York for queers and trans people. Does that even exist anymore? What I love about this piece is it really digs into it, you know, not through a utopian lens, but asks about like sort of how trans people make our common precarity into the grounds for some of the most incredible creative striving and production that you could ever imagine. And I just love this idea that even in this year of our Goddess Twenty twenty two, there is this rich concentration of trans brilliance going on in Brooklyn, so I highly recommend. I just think it’s beautifully written. Moskowitz, it’s a fantastic writer, and you just meet this like incredible cast of characters. I’m so biased because some of them are my friends, but like, you’re going to fall in love with them. And I really think it’s just like I know now, you know, sometimes you need to read something that it makes you feel like there are like that. There’s this, you know, cast of characters in the world that are fascinating and cool and interesting. And it’s just like makes you feel good to know that you’re sharing time on Earth with them. I really feel like this is that piece for me, so I highly recommend checking it out on Curbed.

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S2: That’s very sweet what you say about characters. I feel like I’ve been craving even more of that of the reminder of like the beauty and excitement of people out in the world that I haven’t met yet in the pandemic when I met so few new people. Hmm. Mm hmm. So now I just need to get an invitation to that building.

S1: I’ll try and hook us up.

S2: Well, that’s about all the time we have for this month. Listeners, thanks for sticking with us. And you can always send us your feedback and topic ideas outward podcast at Slate.com or on Facebook and Twitter at Slate Outward. Myron is our producer and outwards intimacy coordinator. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate Podcasts and the flaming host stars of Our Underground Hair Salon. If you’d like outward, which you obviously do because you’ve stuck around for the credits, please subscribe and your podcast app. Tell your friends about it. Tell your family about it. Read and review it. Help other people find our show outward. We’ll be back in your feeds. March 23rd by Brian

S3: Kastina

S2: by Jules by Kristina by Van de Day. Everyone.