S1: Hi there and welcome to Outward for the month of January. Happy New Year, I guess.
S2: I’m Brian Lauter, editor of Outward, and we’re recording a little less than a week out from the inauguration. And like a child anticipating a trip to Disney World, all I can focus on right now is how many sleeps I have left. It’s just five.
S3: You all five sleep. What a great sleep. I’m Christina Cutter Ruchi, a staff writer at Slate. And I had a disturbing experience on New Year’s Eve that I’d like to share. My spouse and I were getting ready to have a little dinner with our pod and she wanted to wear a bow tie. And we realized we have both been so starved of occasions for formalwear that both of us had forgotten how to tie a bow tie. Oh, no. It was like our gay muscles have completely atrophied and we need a training regimen to work them back up to normal.
S4: Well, apparently, how to tie a tie is the number one Google search of all time. So, Christina, I don’t know if that makes me feel like you’re you’re you’re you’re not. And you’re in plenty of company here.
S2: Yeah, I think all of our fashion skills have atrophied. Probably. At least.
S4: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m wearing my inner monologue and I am wearing my shorts right now as we do this conversation and just to prove how atrophied our social and fashion presentation skills are. But, Brian, to your earlier point about having five sleeps left until we have a new leadership in this country, I don’t want to be that person who’s really smug about New Year’s resolutions. But thus far, I have really kept my New Year’s resolution, which is to invest more care into the quality of my sleep. And I cannot recommend this more highly. The principle step that I took toward that goal was to take social media off of my cell phone so that when I am going to bed at night, I don’t feel like looking at my cell phone. It’s really worked and I’ve really noticed a difference in the quality of my sleep. So highly recommend to both of you guys.
S3: When you’re like getting ready to go to bed and you’re in bed, are you ever like, oh, I have a really good tweet and then, like, pop up and run to your laptop and like this I haven’t.
S4: And I am operating under the assumption that someone will tell me if, like the president has died or a war has broken out, that the world will endure. Even if I’m not looking directly at it and you know what I do. Instead, I do The New York Times crossword puzzle up and so called my self care over that pandemic. I feel smarter even though I’m not.
S3: You really know what an app. Exactly.
S2: Exactly. You got to get that Sleepytime tea with a little bear on it as well. That’s the that’s the game. Yes.
S4: Especially for a dry January, right?
S2: Yes. Yes, indeed.
S4: Well this is our first episode of the New Year, and our first order of business will be to look back at a pretty old battle. Just covid-19 represent a new front in the gay civil war, the riotous party versus the respectable citizen. Should queers with our very recent legacy of reckoning with disease be more thoughtful about how our community negotiates the moment? Or are we only human? Then later, we’ll be joined by Tory Peters, author of the brand new novel Transition Baby, a rollicking, sexy, funny and thought-Provoking Look at the Making of Modern Family. After that, we’ll wrap up with our usual updates to the gay agenda. But first, it’s time for pride and provocations. Brian, how are you feeling this month?
S2: Well, I’m feeling perfect. It’s hard not to these days, but I’m feeling provoked and particular about the fact that one of our gay siblings has already gone and made an only fans porn parody of the Q and on. If you don’t know who the current anchorman is, he is one of the figures in the riots at the Capitol who was wearing a sort of like Valkyries like horned helmet with fur and like face paint. And he was shirtless running. Oh, they know who he is. Yeah, yeah.
S3: I’m not just a case just in case his proper name, he literally has tattoos of Trump’s border wall.
S2: That’s right. Yeah. So he but his proper name is the Kuhnen Shaman, just in case you didn’t know. And so anyway, this this you know, he’s he’s awful and a terrorist and has been, I think, charged with like six indicted with six counts of bad things. But as he should be. But this this only fans porn performer who I, I learned about this through the Instagram account, neoliberal gay friend has already sort of impersonated him and done a scene. I want to say that, you know, parody porn parody is a wonderful art form. That’s fine. I don’t judge anyone even for finding the actual Kuhnen Shoman hot and like an abstract physical way. I think we should interrogate that. But it’s we are human. People feel feelings. That’s fine. But I really don’t think that we need to be making Quin’s off of this particular event, especially so soon afterward. So I’m going to have to have to be a little provoked by by our only fans performer for doing for doing this thing quite so soon, I think.
S4: I mean, I just can’t even imagine staying hot and bothered while simultaneously being reminded of civil war. Right. Like, just they really don’t they don’t occupy the same territory to me. So but you know what? Some people it takes all kinds.
S3: It takes all kinds brahem. You know, I’ll get to this a little bit more on my gay agenda item, actually. But I have read in recent days some criticism of the you know, there’s a little bit of shock value to that sort of Arabisation of the of this kuhnen Nazi guy. And that shock value can have the effect of ignoring people to the what should be like a shock that makes you want to ostracize people. And so it brings that sort of imagery closer into the norm. But, you know, glad people are still able to have a proud of you. Proud of that. We’re proud of proud of that. I’m to I’m provoked on every possible axis of life right now. But I’m choosing to elevate a moment of pride right now. I am proud of Helena Dook or Helena. I’m not sure whether she pronounces her name like the L word or not, but she’s an 18 year old lesbian from Massachusetts who over the past week has become something of a poster child for confronting racist family members. So for those of you who didn’t see the news story, Helena’s cousin sent her a video that was going around of two white women and one white man who turned out to be Helena’s mom and uncle, harassing, berating and shoving around a black woman, a security guard at the Trump protest in DC. That security guard punched Helena’s mom in the video after what appeared to be Helena’s mom trying to grab the security guards phone. Meanwhile, Helena, this teenager didn’t even know that her family members were in DC if she kind of suspected it because they supported Trump. But when she saw that the FBI was looking for names of people who could have been involved in the capital siege, she put their names on Twitter. And apparently her mom had told her earlier this year, don’t go to Black Lives Matter protests. They’re violent. You’re going to get hurt. Meanwhile, then she goes to DC and yells at someone until she gets punched in the nose. So I’m I’m. Proud of Helena for thinking for herself and for the guts that it took to make sure her family members were identified, but I am also generally proud of what Helena has said have been a lot of people reaching out to her and saying that they’re going through similar versions of the same thing. For some people, it’s happened over the past four years, some people before that. And you know where our relationship reaches a breaking point or a family member crosses a line that you can’t accept. And you know the calling out part, which is what Helena did and how a lot of media outlets have been forming this story is really where the story starts. Or I guess we’re one part of the story ends and another begins because there’s a lot of pain in realizing that someone who has played a big part of your life would go to D.C. to try to overturn an election or harass a black woman in a racist mob. There’s pain and suffering, a family bond, no matter how disturbed you feel by that family member’s behavior. Helena’s living with her father now. But I want to commend all of the people who are grappling with that struggle right now and who are, you know, finding ways to move forward without compromising their values. I know Helena has said that a lot of people, queer people, have been reaching out to offer her meals to say if you’re ever in such and such a city, you have a place to stay tweeting at her to make sure she’s OK. A lot of other people have been asking her for advice because they also have family members who may or may not have been part of that racist mob or other racist mobs or country. What a time that we could have multiple racism. Oh, yeah. It was a moment where I saw a lot of queer people reaching out to this member of the Queer Family to say, I hope you’re OK. What you’re doing is fine. And, you know, you’ll get through this.
S4: That made me proud, you know, and she’s so very young. That’s so very young to be able to. I know many adults who are unable to negotiate complicated political difference with, you know, extended family. But to have the clarity, you know, 18 to say like, oh, no, I’m not interested in you know, I’m I’m going to I’m going to say what this is and I’m going to say it out loud that that, you know, ironically, her parents should be pleased with how they raised her. Right. But good for her. And I hope that, you know, I join all those people and hoping that, like, she is taken care of and that she is able to, like, crash on someone’s sofa if she needs, you know. Yeah, Remon, what’s going on with you this month? Oh, what is going on with me is that I’m extremely provoked by a documentary series streaming on Netflix right now called Pretend It’s a City, which was directed by Martin Scorsese and is I don’t even really have a noun for it, but it’s basically just sort of several hours of Fran Lebowitz, who is a sort of a writer, maybe a public commentator, a public intellectual, whatever you want to call her, opining before the camera. I need to just quickly credit Daniel Schrader are superb and very funny producer who referred to this documentary, Pretend it’s a city as pretend that she’s witty. There seems to be a lot of wishful thinking here about Fran, that she’s funny, that she’s profound or not, that she’s funny. There seems to be a way in which people want to see what Fran has to say as really profound. Mm hmm. And I found it very shallow and very irritating and. The reason I’m provoked by this so much this month is that watching this, it occurred to me that Fran Liebovitz is sort of a straight person’s ideal of gay humor and conversation and philosophy. But it’s extremely shallow. It’s it’s all sort of party chatter, complaints about New York City being full of tourists or the subway not working. And as I said to all of you before we started recording this session, I feel like we have funnier bitchier, more thought provoking exchanges in the ten minutes before we all start recording this podcast. So this is not what like gay wit and gay conversation are. And I am provoked by the notion that people may think that it is.
S3: Do you think it’s particularly attractive to straight people to see this, to see those, like arguments or opinions or whatever you want to call them filtered through that specific kind of.
S4: I do. I do. And I think it’s I think it’s very appealing to people who have not ever had the pleasure of running into a crabby old dyke at a party and listening to her talk and opine and entertain like it’s yes, I do. I think that a lot of the power of what Fran has to say comes from the context of her body and her physiognomy and like this sort of presentation. And it’s just not that interesting. It’s not that interesting. I know much more interesting people whose names no one will know. Right. And I think that all of us do. And I mean, honestly, I’ve had the more hilarious conversations waiting to get on the ferry to Fire Island with, like, little like a like just a hilarious old gay guys. And, you know, it’s not that Fran is not funny or not capable of being funny. I just think that she really has been phoning it in for decades. And I’m provoked by the notion that she represents a straight world ideal of like the pinnacle of gay sort of conversation, because I just don’t think that that’s true.
S2: Yeah, that’s I think it is a lot of well, but I have to say, I watched the first episode of this when we considered covering it, and I was just shocked by how numb I was to like you. So so. Yes.
S3: To the point where you sent an emergency. Yeah. This isn’t worth it. We can’t do a whole I guess.
S2: Yeah. Six more episodes. I was like, no. Yeah you could, you could have.
S4: We need to get we need to introduce Martin Scorsese to Dino Schrader. I would love to see a seven part series about Daniel. Are producer like that.
S2: I would watch your movement like a provocation with an action item attach. Yeah. There you go. Someone get Mr. Scorsese on the phone. OK, so most of us had a pretty quiet New Year’s celebrations this year because there was a pandemic. But not everyone, as you may have heard, the gay or really a gay male Internet is in the midst of a so-called civil war over the fact that some of my dear brothers decided to attend crowded circuit parties and destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and Rio de Janeiro over the holiday, despite covid guidelines and regulations. In response to this, a cadre of social media vigilantes, most notably the Instagram account Gays Over covid, began a campaign of naming and shaming, surfacing the partiers own posts and sleuthing out names, workplaces and other personal information in an attempt to demand what they see as community accountability. This initial clash and subsequent backlashes, multiple backlashes spun off a swirl of Twitter threads, think pieces, influencer apologies, mainstream media coverage and even a full on bounty for the identity of the gays ever covered covid ad men. On the meta level, it’s generated a heated discussion about public health strategy, personal responsibility, privilege and pleasure, all under the banner of the notion that gay men, because of our unique experience with the ongoing HIV AIDS pandemic, should know better. So there is a lot in this hole for us to discuss, including a boat that capsized with sixty years on it. They’re all OK.
S3: But you know that one meme you I feel between that and the Trump raid, this is like the year where like, say it’s about the bad year for boaters.
S2: For sure. For sure. So there’s so many details in our. Our listeners have probably seen, you know, the MEEMS or the articles or whatever, but I thought for us we would just start at the beginning. I’m sure none of the three of us are going to defend circuit parties during covid. But I am curious how we sort of personally feel about the the gays over covid or the vigilante strategy of outing these guys. What’s your what’s your sort of initial response to that?
S3: So I’m honestly getting a little tired of the comparison to HIV. And I know harm reduction conversations are really important. And obviously I believe in harm reduction as like an important framework for public health. But I think covid is different from HIV in enough ways that the same the strategies that didn’t work to curb HIV transmissions could possibly work to help curb the transmission of covid, for example, with HIV. It’s it’s possible for everyone involved in a sexual situation to issue informed consent to the risk. So if everyone at a sex party says, OK, no condoms, we’re fine with that, that’s obviously not great for public health. But they’re the only ones who will be affected by that particular party, assuming that their next partners and next partners also consented. BARBELLA With covid, you know, all these party are consenting to the risk, but what about the cancer survivors or the like workers with autoimmune disease who are staffing the hotels and restaurants where they’re going and wherever they are like? I also think that the the gays over coedited Instagram account, you know, they’re posting videos from enormous parties and also photos from smaller like those. Yeah, yeah. Those aren’t really the same things. So I think like the the the 15 person dinner party, again, not great for public health, but the bigger parties you need the cooperation of large venues to make that happen. And, you know, there are ways to make sure that doesn’t happen. And that’s something that isn’t applicable to the transmission of HIV at all, because that’s largely transmitted through drug use and sex, which are the things that happen on an individual basis without the cooperation of business owners and vendors. I feel like the things that we are assuming won’t work because they’ll drive parties further underground actually could work because they’re you know, maybe we do want these things to exist underground in that they’re not able to have access to large party spaces or they’re not being posted on social media, which makes other people who see those things on social media think that it’s OK.
S4: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. If if we as a society were genuinely invested in preserving the public health, then the partners for the government in the in that preservation would be institutions like airlines as opposed to individuals. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s completely preposterous. Right. At the same time, there is something deeply irritating to me about a scold, a public social media scold. If you were genuinely committed as an individual to identifying ways to help society deal with the fallout of what is happening right now than what you would be doing is making sure that public school children in your neighborhood were able to get access to free meals. You wouldn’t be shaming a doctor in Minneapolis for flying to a party like it’s ridiculous. It’s a ridiculous waste of time. It’s extremely sanctimonious and tiring. And it’s kind of like a weird, like battle of smugness where it’s sort of like the smug, the smug, unapologetic partygoer versus the sort of smug, anonymous scold of the Internet. Naming these individuals accomplishes absolutely nothing. Nothing naming. You know, it does it because because, first of all, the risk has already been the risk has already taken place. Right. So you’re trying to shame somebody for a decision they would have made earlier in time. It’s too late to put that back in the bottle and say, OK, go back in time and mitigate the exposure of the theoretical woman who works in the hotel where you stayed. Right. That’s not possible to do so. What is it you’re trying to accomplish? Are you trying to accomplish a sense of atonement on that in. A dual conscience who’s going to say, look, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have gone to a party, I just don’t think that’s likely to happen.
S3: I think it’s supposed to work as a deterrent so that people will say, oh, like, my community thinks this is a bad thing to do, so maybe I won’t do it.
S2: That raises an interesting point that sort of at the center of this, which is the question of community. Right. Like, do I think you’re right, Christine, that from from the perspective of a they call them a shamer or call them an accountability scold, that they are imagining that we that there is a shared community such that one would feel the opprobrium of that community as a deterrent, like, oh, the other my other gays hate me so or disappointed in me for this things. So maybe I shouldn’t do it. And I wonder I’ve been thinking throughout all of this, like maybe we just have different ideas of community. Right? Like I, I feel that way. I imagine myself part of a a sort of, you know, sweeping queer family such that that kind of thing would have power over me. But maybe these I wonder if these people feel that way or if and this is bringing another element by dint of their sort of class and race privilege, because it’s mostly white people and certainly wealthier people who are able to afford to to travel to Mexico in the first place, to go to a party. Maybe they don’t have that. They they actually are not part of our community or don’t or don’t feel a part of the community.
S3: And they’re part of their own community that is insular enough that they’re all approving of what each other is doing. Yeah, I think another reason why these particular gates have been such easy or attractive targets is because usually in normal life, some people might see those videos and experience a little bit of famo or jealousy or like, damn, all those people are hot, but now they get to feel superiority. And I think the frivolity and the decadence of these parties is makes it different and more attractive to a potential. Skold to use your word, Remon then like a college kid going on spring break or something like that. Right.
S4: I mean these are not people who are going home to have Thanksgiving with their. And Judy, these are people who are going to whatever exotic place, a warm, beautiful place to dance with people who look exactly like them, as you said, Christina. But like and so I just think that there’s something, the schadenfreude that you’re describing of like this sort of revenge of the Nerds scenario in which the person who would normally not see themselves reflected there gets to occupy the moral high ground and say, like, those people are bad. Yeah, he’s also kind of bad. It’s also kind of irritating and it’s very easy to dismiss. I think it’s easy for the targets of that ire to dismiss it as like, oh, you’re jealous or you don’t get it or you’re a geek. You know, like you don’t, you know, and which.
S3: Yes. And that’s irresponsible.
S2: Yeah. I mean, they literally have it’s funny you put it that way, because the first backlash from the partiers, they, among other things, accuse the critics for being properly. And, you know, so that that’s not sort of elevating the conversation. But I do think it’s important. It’s important, as you both have done, to bring in kind of the circuit ness of it. I mean, maybe it’s worth for our listeners just to back up for a second and be like and note that, rather, that these parties are a long standing source like sore spot in the community. Right. And the sort of the community around them is a sore spot because. Yes, they are indeed, you know, as I said before, sort of white, wealthy, for the most part, muscled.
S3: They like check your BMI at the door, basically.
S2: Yeah. So, I mean, maybe we should fact check that, but could be. And so, you know, I think that there is a little bit of of perhaps jealousy. I don’t know if I would extend that to everyone, but maybe that but also respectability politics. I think there is an element of and you see it sort of in the comment threads under these posts and on these articles where people just clearly like hate or disapprove in some way of the idea of dancing all night, of doing the drugs that are associated with these events, of having the kind of sex that is associated with these events. And that’s you know, that’s fine to have that opinion, but it actually is sort of separate. From the question of doing it now, covid all of that, so I think it is useful to tease those two things apart and acknowledge that indeed there’s a little bit of I think you said at the top, normal, like a long standing kind of animosity there that that’s being activated. I wanted to take it back a little bit. Christina, you brought up the HIV comparison and all of that. We had a really great article in Slate that we’ll link to on the show page from Alexander Borsa, who is a student at Columbia University in Sociomedical Sciences, and he works in public health activism and that kind of thing. And he wrote a lot about how the research on HIV AIDS and drug use around shaming really does show that it doesn’t work, that that it does indeed drive people underground, and that if you do that, it might be very satisfying to disapprove of these people, but that if you actually care about impacting behaviors, shame just really isn’t the way to go. And and the other thing that the piece was smart about was saying, you know, people do need pleasure, right? People seek pleasure. It’s a part of human experience and in some register a way of looking at what these guys are doing. And it’s not to excuse it, but it’s just to sort of cast it in a different light is is something that we all want we all want pleasure in one way or another. And we’ve been deprived of it, deprived of it during this this time. And so his his sort of argument is like, how do we find our way to a more balanced place where we’re acknowledging that people are going to do things, whether it’s a crazy circuit party or something smaller, like maybe Christina’s Thanksgiving plan that we might disapprove of. But how do we how do we sort of come to a conversation where we can be intelligent about accommodating those things in ways that might reduce harm, that might be the sort of strategic rather than outright condemning. So I wonder if you guys have like a response to that, this idea of pleasure in particular during this time?
S3: I guess I think we all want that. And many people are capable of taking extreme measures to deny themselves that throughout this pandemic. I know I’m not saying anything new here, but it does feel like another thing I’ve been thinking about is when you talked about the difference between the circuit party community and the broader queer community, something that might have been effective would be to find the leaders or hosts of circuit messages and try to get them on board, because I also think there’s a lot of intra-community pressure. And if all of your friends and social circles are going to Rio for an enormous party, you’re going to have Fumo. If you don’t go, maybe you’re feeling pressure to go. Maybe the information you’re getting is from all people saying it’s really not a big deal to go on a plane. We’re going to be safe about this, whatever. So if you’re able to sort of convince the thought leaders of the circuit party community, I think that could have an impact. The piece that you’re talking about, Brian, I I definitely felt it was an interesting perspective. But the suggestions that Alex raised like, oh, maybe trying to get some of these people, you know, the circuit party community to commit to a week long quarantine period afterwards or something like that, I don’t know. I kind of feel like if if they were already committed to harm reduction, they wouldn’t be having the parties in the first place. And I I also think a person who hosts a circuit party in a vulnerable country during the worst part of the pandemic, while there’s a vaccine in sight, you know, I have a hard time imagining how those suggestions would be implemented. And I actually think if you know the shaming part about, oh, you’re going to force it all underground and we’re not going to see it happening, so we won’t know how to mitigate it. Well, I think if we didn’t see it happening on social media, there might be less pressure or desire to make it happen in the first place, because some of the reason why people go to these things is so that they’re able to Instagram themselves having a great time with their friends. I liked Alex’s piece, but like, if you look at the comments on it, you like the comments.
S4: Well, what it does for me is reveal the extent to which people, especially under the circumstances of quarantine, find pleasure in this act of shaming. Right. That’s. Social media is not just a place to broadcast, but it’s a place to feel, a part of another of society. And so one way to, like, claim membership in that is to project your ire onto, in some ways a very obvious target for your ire, which is these like pneumatically muscled white guys. Right. Like, it’s very it’s very tempting and very simple. And you also get to sort of pretend that you’re doing it under the guise of morality. But I don’t think any of that is true. I think it’s all ridiculous. I don’t think it’s born necessarily of being, like, ugly and feeling like you aren’t invited to the cool party. But I do think it is an ugly impulse that is in some ways not that far removed from the impulse of those circuit, you know, followers to go to a party and be with their people. It’s the it’s like the same M.O., just like reaching out either by community, basically, just to be part of the group, to be like we’re part of the group and we’re the group that has the moral high ground. Yeah. You know, and it’s very it’s very silly and very shallow to me because just to simply name people, it’s very different from our hero lesbian teen naming people who actually broke the law and deserve to deserve the wrath of the federal government. It’s just naming like people you don’t know who did something that you don’t really understand the context of. You know, as you said, Christina, lexigrams their dinner parties. You just you may not understand what the larger context is, but that’s not the point. The point is to get to say I am part of this group, the group that is making the correct moral judgments and gets to hide behind the Internet’s anonymity and say, like you who posted this picture, are a bad person. And I just don’t think I just don’t think it’s getting anyone anywhere. I really do.
S3: For me, it also I it would have a little more sympathy for some of the shamers, because I think one reason why people are shaming in this moment is to make themselves feel OK about their decisions and their lack of social life, because it does feel really bad to see. I mean, the times when I have felt most like, fuck it, I’m going to go to Puerto Vallarta has been when I see other people on social media traveling and having Christina as a secret surrogate queen, only woman at that party. You guys didn’t see me. Me, I was like down there. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. That’s my ultimate dream party, actually. But like seeing other people traveling, hanging out in groups makes me feel like, oh, none of them got sick and maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe I’m going to do it or like and and not that I’ve been part of this covid shaming or whatever, but I can see how people might do that to make themselves feel like it’s OK. I made the right choice. I’m doing something good. I’m making these sacrifices for a reason. And the way the reason why my life sucks now is for some sort of higher good. And it’s not, you know, and I’m going to continue doing that. This is like the way I’m pumping myself up to keep making sacrifices.
S4: I think the unfortunate thing is that, like, there’s no consequence, no tangible consequence on either end of the equation. You don’t get sent to detention if you break these rules and you don’t get a sticker if you follow them.
S2: Yeah, well, I think that is a good place to leave it. I would love to hear from listeners about your thoughts about this, especially if you were at any of those parties or if you’ve been.
S3: Yeah, I’d love to hear that perspective.
S2: Christina is dying to hear from a circuit queen and her fellow, a fellow, a fellow circus queen. Right. About about the experience from the inside. So we’d certainly if someone writes us a thought, we will read it, because I would love to read it on the show because I would love to hear it. And I just wanted to plug again, Alex Alex Borsos piece in Slate. It’s called Gay Circuit Party is during covid sparked a civil war. Can anyone when you go check that out if you want to learn more and we’ll have it on the show.
S3: Page D Transition Baby is the debut novel from Tori Peters. It came out earlier this month. The book follows Reese, a trans woman in her 30s who desperately wants to be a mother and aims Reeses former lover and former trans woman who now has transitioned and lives as a man amess girlfriend. Katrina assist woman has an unplanned pregnancy and AIMS suggests that the three of them co parent the child together drama ensues. We’re so happy to welcome Tori to the show. Tori, thank you for joining us on outward.
S5: Thank you for having me. I was a pretty good like. It’s actually I still have a hard time being like, here’s the plot and worse, and so I had a weirdly hard time.
S3: You. It’s so much more than that. So there’s a story here, but obviously there’s a story in your novel. But it’s also full of general observations about trans culture and tangents, about the way gender operates. I’m wondering how many of these moments in your book are recounting debates that you’ve had with friends or wanted to have or just slivers of trans life that you’ve sort of been waiting to document and explore?
S5: I mean, I would say an overwhelming majority of them, you know, like there was like for like halfway through. But I was writing in where I was like instead of saying like these things like Twitter or something, I’m just going to put them in the book. And and that was actually good also because some of them I would like to publish it two years later. You’re like, oh, that actually is irrelevant and I don’t care to have that conversation. And I was like it was like a filter for the thoughts that to have that much time on what would normally be a sort of topical conversations for me, it was a lot of it was fun because I talk in the book, the way I talk with my friends, you know, and it’s just a little gossipy, a little like slightly bitchy. And I just, you know, it was. It was fun to have a place to put not with that is that wasn’t. Loaded with so much the expectations that I think one has a plan to having these conversations in real time in the public.
S3: Yeah, and I mean, D transitioning obviously is a topic that has not only been weaponized against trans people, but is also just an incredibly difficult conversation to have within queer communities. And I imagine especially in trans communities. And in your book, you the the different trans characters in your book have different perspectives on transitioning. I mean, Reese doesn’t actually believe that Ames is truly a man. I’m wondering how you tackled that and what made you want to explore transitioning specifically?
S5: I mean, there is a piece of it that I think was responding to, like the general culture. But I think more of it is like I know people who do transitions. And the way that it gets talked about in the media is not how I talk about it with my friends who have gone through periods of transition.
S2: You actually write at one point that it’s that it’s largely boring, which was such a striking like the reasons for it are sort of understandable and boring. And that was sort of surprising to me.
S5: Yeah, I mean, that’s the thing. Like, you have these conversations and if you actually are like the like a lot of the reasons that people do things, those are sort of like sexy version. I’m talking about trying to numbers like, you know, why did I transition or why do people do transition? It’s like, well, I just kind of want to make my life marginally better in one way or another. And I’m like compromising and negotiating in whatever way. So, like, you know, when when the character transitions, it’s it’s not because like, oh, you have some, like, huge revelation about his gender. It was like, actually my life is really hard on a day to day basis as a trans woman and my feelings are hurt a lot. And like maybe I can sort of.
S6: Emphasize advantages and sort of like my outer way, that I navigate the world and settle my inner identity and that negotiation, which is like a kind of negotiation that everybody does, it doesn’t matter if you’re like trans, like what are you going to wear in the morning is like a negotiation of your presentation versus what how you want the world to see you, how you see yourself and like, you know, putting on office clothes, putting on like a uniform to go to a job that you’re like, I hate wearing this uniform.
S2: That’s it’s like sometimes things about trans life are that banal, you know, the sort of issue of of readership and what the reader should do or can do was really in my mind the whole time I was reading this, because, you know, one of the pleasures of the book is that it is maybe I can’t really think of another work of fiction that where the scaffolding of the story is just so deeply queer, like in the sense of the concepts that are sort of invoked, the politics, the debates, the humor, like all of that is, is just so just like unapologetically queer and not even always explained. And I was wondering, like when you were writing, were you at all? Because when one publishes a book like you do, you have to think about not just your ideal reader, but like all the readers that you would like to sort of or at least your press would like to pick it up. I mean, were you ever concerned or. Yeah, just like thinking about CIS readers or non queer readers and how they would react to just this world that is so deeply queer.
S6: I mean, I think that this is it has to do with this particular moment. And I think it has to do with the fact that this the press was willing to go with it, which is that I think there were periods of my time where my life I felt, you know, adversarial assist readers. But I’ve come to a place where I basically like think the CIS readers can keep up. And I think it’s like for me, that’s something that that I think a lot about. I mean, where sort of trans writing is, I like to sort of get to like other minority editors that came before it. So I think a lot about like what was able to be said by, like, Ralph Ellison or Toni Morrison or now what’s being said. And and I sort of think about like Toni Morrison saying that I write explicitly for black women. And the fact is, like, you know, once you publish like Sulong or something, The New York Times, couldn’t you read the review? They couldn’t quite get it. But in the subsequent years, it turns out that like all sorts of readers, all sorts of white readers, readers. Well, all sorts.
S3: Toni Morrison did slow down to explain, but we can all keep up and it’s I felt like it was a privilege as a reader to be sort of welcomed into this world in a non didactic way and just be trusted to understand the story and come to my own conclusions about it. And in fact, you dedicate the book to this woman. You seem to have a lot of empathy for this woman, you know, in a way that I don’t even have the empathy for a sister as much as it seems you do. You know, where does that come from?
S6: I mean, I didn’t always have it, but as I was writing this book, I was reading a lot of books by a divorced woman. So like Rachel Kossak, I was of like really deep in Toronto. I got and what I saw was the sort of trajectory of like a divorce story, say, is is like it’s a thing where you have an idea about yourself and what your life is going to be like until a certain point. And then there’s a break from that. And you have to reinvent yourself. You have to like maybe move, make new friends, change your name. You have to, like, not get better to not get resentful. And you also can’t, like, just reinvest those same illusions that got you there. Otherwise you’re going to have a second failure. And that story, that trajectory, that arc is exactly the same as a transition arc. You know, it was like when I was when I was. At the point where the divorce was, how the divorce I transitioned and I needed to, like, figure my figure myself out, figure out how to live, and I took a lot of comfort from those books. Like it wasn’t just like, oh, I have empathy. It was like I learned I learned like ways of like, here’s what it means to make a hard choice. Here’s what I mean. Like not just like live in your messy emotions. Like all of those things that those books were doing, I needed to learn. And then as I was writing, I was like, you know what? I actually think I have something to say back to these books. Like, I think my experience as a trans woman will be useful in a way that I have. I’m thinking about gender that I learn from from other trans women and thinking about what I want. I think there’s a lot of like straight cis women that could that could find comfort in thinking about their attraction or their gender in ways that, like trans women have come to think about their their genders and attractions in order to, like, negotiate the fact like none of us get to have this fits perfectly.
S3: You know, this is something that I have is like a little pet peeve of mine. And that I’ve talked about on the show is that so many fictional representations of queer life are about coming out homophobia or transphobia, dying or, you know, starting out as as queer and then ending up not queer. And I thought maybe it’s because I am starting to enter the, like, middle period of my life. But I feel like I just want so many more depictions of what queer life is like when you’re already out, you’re not going back in and you’re just living your life and making decisions within a queer context, but not necessarily, you know, where like homophobia or I guess transphobia is like the only challenge in your life. And that’s one thing that I appreciated so much about your book, is that it talked about these desires that these women have that don’t have to do with, you know, am I trans or not or something like that. Is that were you trying to fill a gap in a trans literature or fictional depictions of trans life?
S6: I mean, I think in some ways I was frustrated with what I was finding, that I wanted to write like a sincerely adult novel.
S3: And I’m not like the uncool sense of adults, like although there is a lot of adult content in it, which I also appreciated.
S6: But like I just made I yes, there is. And of that flag and things like sex, but also like, you know, there’s whole like things about like a dining room table set like what kind of dining room table said are you going to get if you’re going to keep this for the rest of your life? And that’s actually like I think for a long time, like those kind of questions being really boring to me. And but there’s a way in which, like the concerns that you just talked about, that you see in a lot of queer literature, are also concerns that you largely find in Y.A. books like Who’s Going to Love Me? Who am I? What if my parents reject me? Is the world scary? Like that kind of stuff? Is is actually those are Y.A. concerns. And I don’t mean that in a derisive way. I just mean that, like, that’s a particular set of concerns that have been conflated with what it means to write queer queer books. And and when I was looking again at these divorce novels, but I was like, these are adult books. These are books about like, what if my kids don’t like me? What what does it mean to like when I’m sort of locked into the choices I’ve already made in my life? You know, I can’t go. The whole world is my oyster anymore. I’ve made choices. I’ve got to live with regrets and my past is always going to define me. Those are those are adult concerns. And and I wanted to see what those adult concerns looked like if I applied them to sort of my life. And again, I don’t I don’t mean that in sort of privileging, like, adult stuff is more mature. It’s just it’s a separate set of.
S2: Worries and yeah, one of the things that I thought you wrote most beautifully about is queer, intergenerational or so the differences between queer generations. And you have this passage that’s coming from EAMS about juvenile elephants, which I know he’s talking about it from a trans perspective, but I related to it as a gay man, too, because part of it is about having lost a whole generation of elders that would have, you know, taught us how to be like in the world. Right. And I think that HIV is an overlapping point between those two groups. But but they’re different in other ways, too. I wondered if you could just explain that sort of model, I guess, to to our listeners, because I just found it so smart and insightful.
S6: So I’ll try and do this quickly because it’s a complicated metaphor. But basically, elephants have a culture like elephants. The animal have a culture. It’s a matriarchal culture. So elephants are huge. They have a lot of power. They have a lot of like, you know, emotions essentially. And it’s the mothers who teach the young elephants how to behave, how to, like, not lash out, because if an elephant lashes out, it creates a lot of destruction, like one swing of that trunk. And so the elephants spend a lot of time learning from elders how to control themselves. And then poachers came along and they killed an entire generation of mother, elephants who would have taught young elephants how to control themselves. So you have all the guns in front of these young elephants that are traumatized. So what ended up happening is you have these groups of traumatized young elephants running across the game parks in various countries like wreaking havoc, just having no social codes, not understanding how to control their trauma and rage. And for me, when I thought about what it looks like to be trans, especially like on the Internet or sometimes just like in basic sociology, like there are ways that we interact with each other and end up ostracizing each other, hurting each other. You know, this metaphor about really resonant in that the the mother figures who would have been like, hey, girls like chill out, that we lost them to HIV. We lost some substance. We lost them to suicide. We lost them to going stealth, you know, because they couldn’t be openly trans. So they just disappeared into sort of cis hetero world. And so we ended up being a kind of orphan generation who are now teaching ourselves how to be and making a lot of mistakes and sometimes creating a lot of damage along the way.
S3: And this question comes from and I’ll give him credit for it. Do you see yourself and this book as a mother elephant, I guess? Do you do you see yourself sort of taking that role?
S6: Yeah, I mean, I hope so. I think, you know, for me, the book at the end is sort of like us posing the question, like, how are you going to live? And it’s not going to have, like, a lot of emotions. I mean, there’s a lot of emotions and stuff in the book. But but ultimately, the way you feel isn’t going to solve it. Like you can’t stay stuck. You can’t stay angry. Like, well, it’s hard for you to be to be a translator. It’s hard for us to be transwoman. It’s sort of like, what are you going to do? How are you going to live? Like, you know, your life’s going to keep going on. Are you going to live in your fifties the way you did in your twenties? Like, what kind of choices are you going to make? And those questions were were posed to me. I was lucky enough to have some other figures and I have some sort of trans daughters who I know pose those questions to. And sometimes I get resentment and posing them. And sometimes I definitely felt resentment from people being like, well, what what next? Like, your feelings aren’t good enough. You have to choose to do something. So I, I actually have those those relationships in my life and I think. My favorite reading, I want the book to do a lot of things for a lot of different audiences, but my favorite reading from kind of trans audience. Or transwoman would be people who are willing to treat it that way, because there’s a lot of humility to be told what to do by a book, especially a book that is obviously messy and that has mistakes, life mistakes baked into it. You know, it’s so easy to say something and see somebody else’s mistakes. What? You don’t know what you’re doing. And I’m hoping that the book can can be both. A mother figure, not just a mother figure as a positive role model, but a mother figure that a lot of mother figures are negative role models, we don’t necessarily want to do what our mothers have done. And I do hope that the book can do that for people.
S3: This was so wonderful. Again, reading your book was such a pleasure. It’s still burrowed inside of my head and I can’t wait to recommend it to everybody. Tory, thank you so much for joining us again today. Peter’s book is Transition Baby. It’s out now. Thank you, Terry.
S6: Thank you so much for having me.
S4: That’s about it for this month, but before we go, as usual, we’re going to talk about our own updates to the gay agenda. Brian, would you like to get us started?
S2: Yes. So my gay agenda item for this month is actually a response to the new season of Rupal Drag Race, which started on New Year’s and so far is incredibly boring. I don’t know about our listeners who are watching, but the way that they’ve split the twins up, I think for covid reasons into two teams and no one is losing and it’s very strange is kind of ruining the show. So as an antidote to that, my partners and I decided to finally try the Boulay brothers Dracula. Now, I’ve known about this for for a long time. I think three seasons out already, but I just hadn’t turned it on. And man, that was a mistake. This show is one of the most amazing queer productions I’ve ever encountered. It’s available on Netflix. I’m only still in the middle of season one, but it is just so much more fun than drag race. The the artistry on display is is just, you know, I don’t want to say it’s like better than the Queens on drag drag race because the that show doesn’t really give them the opportunity to show it off. But the Queens on and Kings’ I should say, on Dracula are just doing amazing craftwork, seamstress work, making their own clothes, the cabaret, the burlesque. It’s just it’s just wild. And I should say, if you’re not familiar, I gather from the title, it’s very goth, very punk. Dracula is sort of that style. So is that side of things that can be a little grotesque sometimes, but it is just so refreshing to see to see this kind of drag really prized and held up as the kind of stuff that I that I most enjoyed when we used to be able to go to bars. So it’s really fun to see that on television. So if you’re looking for a refreshment after the boredom of the new season of Drag Race, definitely go over and check out the Bhullar brothers Dracula. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
S3: So my gay agenda item is related to your provocation, Brian. The eroticized version of the Q and on Shoman and the news that Ashley Babbette, the insurrectionist who was killed by Capitol Police at the riot, was queer in a triad with her husband and a girlfriend. Actually, like the day or two after she was killed, there was a photo going around of her with what looked to me like a buche queer. And I kind of tweeted like, Does anybody know this person like this much queer wearing a kuhnen shirt? Turns out Ashley Babbette was queer. And it prompted me to do a little reading on the history of gays and fascism. The connection there has a little light reading, you know. All right. Coming down after a long day of writing about the siege. And I wonder why my mental health is suffering in the pandemic. So the connection between gays and fascists has been really overstated. I think in some cases, like I don’t subscribe to the idea that fascism is inherently queer. Some do. There are claims that there was a large gay faction in the Nazis. Those have been largely disproven, although one top Nazi, Ernst Room, was gay. But one piece I really appreciated that I found while simply Googling Gays and fascism was twenty eighteen article by James Kirchick in the New York Review of Books titled A Thing for Men in Uniforms. Kirchick does really comprehensive work of explaining the different major players, if you want to call them that, in gay fascism throughout modern history and what scholars have said about some gays attraction to fascism, including Susan Sontag, who also wrote her own piece for the New York Review of Books in the seventies called Fascinating Fascism, where she talks about the sort of sexual fantasy that is inherent to fascist aesthetics. She called it a master senario available to everyone, you know, between the uniforms, the leather, the fantasies of domination. And one nugget that I found particularly fascinating was this idea raised by some gay fascists in Japan and Germany that their identity is really the most manly embodiment of human. Sexuality, because it’s an appreciation for manhood that holds the male form as this perfect ideal, and if you take Fascism’s glorification of strength and domination, force traditional masculinity to its ultimate ends, plus its devaluation of femininity and women, you get for these men homosexuality. If you’re ready for like a little bit of the dense and depressing dive into gay Nazis, white supremacists and authoritarians, I highly recommend this piece. And, you know, I think it’s it it’s not irrelevant today to interrogate why some people find, uh, authoritarianism attractive. I’m not saying that for all all of the gay people involved in the capital siege or other neo fascist movements, that their sexuality is intertwined at all with that ideology. But for some people, it is. And, yeah, just, you know, a fun way to see yourself reflected or not reflected in these terrifying movements that are on the rise.
S4: Wow. That sounds really, really heady. And I really feel like I have a window into Cristina’s sound so that when I’m not in Puerto Vallarta partying my ass off.
S3: Yeah, a little. A little Sontag before bed. Right. Ramon, what are you going to recommend for us. Something something happy or maybe.
S4: Well, I’m going to recommend something that I think is that I found very touching. I so Tommy Lasorda, who was the manager of a baseball team, I don’t even know which one because I don’t care about baseball, died a couple of weeks ago, quite old in his 90s. And the news reminded me that when I was 15, I had read a piece in GQ magazine about the death of Tommy Lasorda son, Tommy Lasorda Jr. from AIDS. And as I said, I was a kid. I was 15 years old. And I think we probably all queer adults have a half memory of reading something that really seemed to communicate something deeper just to them. And that was exactly how I felt reading this piece in GQ magazine at 15. It seemed to be it seemed to contain a message for me and I am forty three. So this was twenty years ago. And I remember that piece and I remember the photographs really, really clearly. And hearing the Tommy Lasorda had died, I began I was like, oh, I should Google that article. I vaguely remember reading and I found that it is archived at Deadspin right now and I read it again. And it was just the most overwhelming and powerful feeling of recognition of my own youth. And it’s also a pretty startling document about changing attitudes towards HIV and AIDS towards the way towards queerness. Generally, it’s hard to imagine a contemporary sports figure rejecting the queerness in their own family in quite the same way that Lasorda did with respect to his son. It’s a really lovely story. And it’s also the kind of magazine story. I mean, all three of us are sort of, you know, people who were drawn into this field for a certain reason. And it’s the kind of magazines where you don’t often read anymore because Tommy Lasorda Jr. was not a famous person. It was simply a really good writer trying to find something who found something really interesting in this particular story. So the writer’s name was Peter Richmond. It’s archived at Deadspin as the brief life and complicated death of Tommy Lasorda is Gayson. It’s from the October nineteen ninety two issue of GQ magazine and I highly recommend it.
S2: OK, that is our show for this first month of twenty twenty one, which we were promised would get better. So let’s hope that that is true next month. Please send us feedback and topic ideas at Outward podcast, at Slate, Dotcom or via Facebook and Twitter. We’re at Slate outward on both of those. Our producer is Daniel Shrader. June Thomas is the managing producer of Slate podcasts and Non Pandemic Times, the circuit queen supreme, if you like our resubscribe and your podcast rate and review us so others can find it, tell your friends about it.
S1: Let everyone know that you’re on the our team will be back on your feet next month on the 17th. Bye, everybody. Bye, guys. Matthew Steg.