Lesbians in Paris … and in Period Dramas

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S1: Hello and welcome to the April 20 21 edition of Outward. I’m Brian Lauter, editor of Outward, and I have a ruling from the Career Council to deliver. Yes, very important, which is that while regular daffodils are exempt from identity politics, those ones with the insane, gaudy orange centers are officially gay. It’s honestly far, far too much. And we love you for it. Thank you. Orange daffodils.

S2: I always wondered why I was attracted to those daffodils. I’m you know, I’m Christina Carducci, a senior writer at Slate. And because I preach the gospel of little Nars X, I’ll be spending the last few weeks of my post vaccination life, practicing the lapdance that I’ll use to seduce and murder Satan himself. I don’t know about you guys.

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S3: I’m Vermont alum, a co-host of this show and of Slate’s working. And I have very little to say right now because I feel like I am on some kind of drug related to seasonal allergy. I’m actually not taking I’m not taking the drug, which might mitigate these particular symptoms. But it feels like I’m looking at everything through a glass wall at the moment. I feel absolutely crazy, but this too will pass. I am looking forward to getting outside and like Christina said, post-box, life is on its way. And I’m I don’t know. I feel it’s like it’s almost precipitated like a break, psychotic break with the way I feel gratitude and just sort of like the overwhelming feeling of what lies ahead for all of us. I’m so excited.

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S1: Same my gas might have teared up a little bit when I was in line to get mine the other day. Oh.

S3: So I think that’s yeah. I think that’s a really natural response that, you know, Brian, you and I both live in New York City. So, of course, when you go do anything in New York City, you’re part of such an astonishing cross-section of people. You know, my husband and I, like our asses, went out to this vaccine site close to the airport, which is sort of like a Working-Class part of Brooklyn, all different kinds of people, including us, you know, I mean, it was really just one of those things that’s like when you go to vote and you just see, like, the kinds of people you actually live among and you think like, oh, my God, what a great experiment in New York City. It’s like what a great experiment American urban life is. But maybe that’s the side effect of the vaccine delivery.

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S1: Underreported. True. All right. On this month’s program, we are taking a safak turn and spending the entire hour on lesbian’s. Why? Because women. I don’t know. If not, why not? Is the correct. Yeah, why not. But also because women identified women are obviously the best of us and they don’t get enough attention or credit for it. So to correct that today, we’ll first talk with the author Diana Tsugumi about her fantastic new book, No Modernism Without Lesbian’s, which argues that the new ways of seeing and saying that emerge in the arts and letters in the early 20th century would not have been possible without the women who variously invented, advanced and supported them. Then, while tightly Lazaar corsets and gaze longingly upon the lesbian period drama recently mocked by Saturday Night Live, why do so many recent movie depictions of lesbian life take place in a windswept, sparsely furnished past, where glance choreography is the only form of communication? We’re going to try to find out. And as always, we’ll wrap up with updates to the gay agenda. But first, it’s time for pride and provocations. The moment in the show where we look at the queer news and share which kind of way it is making us feel, reminded Christina. I’m sensing a little bit of tension on the zoom, so why don’t you guys start us off?

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S3: Oh, well, I dispute your characterization of our of Christina’s and my differing perspectives on this particular news. But I was going to say that I feel or I felt the day that it happened. Proud of The Bachelor or Colton Underwood coming out on Good Morning America. I think I simultaneously felt provoked by the easy and generous responses to a young man coming out in a really public fashion. I don’t know anything about reality television. I don’t know anything about who this young guy is. But I do think that if you can watch this saga unfold and not feel a sadness for this person and what he has had to do to himself to this point in his life and then the happiness that he is sort of leaving that behind him, then I think maybe you should look inside and ask yourself why my friend in D’Addario wrote a review for Viri. City where he talked about the interview between Colton Underwood and Robin Roberts, Dan wrote, quote, True transparency across our culture means learning that people one might never have expected to be gay are up to and including former bachelors. Maybe that will make young people see how much support is out there. If they come out and make their peers see that no one knows exactly what is in the heart of another person. Christina.

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S2: Fair enough. I guess I would dispute the idea that he had to do anything that he’s done up to this point. You know, I I obviously firmly believe that no one should be forced to come out. However, the way that he enacted his heterosexual charade provokes me, for instance, going on The Bachelor twice or being The Bachelor and then going on The Bachelorette, then stalking and harassing the girlfriend he met on The Bachelor, going so far as to put a tracker on her car, presumably because he was so freaked out at the possibility of losing his beard or having to confront who he was that he resorted to abusive measures to keep up that charade. You know, she didn’t ask for any of this. And it strikes me that he didn’t have to use all these women as sort of pawns in his career arc and now monetize a bull story arc. He’s getting a Netflix show. You know, he basically came out to promote this new Netflix show about starting his life as a gay man. Apparently, another gay guy will co-star as his guide to gay life.

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S3: Is it is it Brian Loder?

S2: If only I will answer that at this point. You know, it feels in the same vein to me as Jonathan Van Ness coming out as non binary to promote their line of gender neutral nail polish, as if not a binary. People were being held back from wearing nail polish because it was too gendered. See, also Janelle Monae waiting to come out until the promo tour for her album. It called No. What is in another category? You know, I feel a little more kindly toward those two other celebrities I mentioned. But any time somebody uses their coming out as a way to promote a product and specifically Colton Underwood having used other people and women in abusive ways in order to get to where he is and now getting rewarded for it with a Netflix show really provokes me. The other provocation I want to share is a response to that coming out. I’m just going to spend the whole episode on this. I hope that’s OK. So Dan Levy, star of Schitt’s Creek, you know, gay about town, tweeted so happy for Colton Underwood, his courage will undoubtedly save lives today. Now, this is really en vogue right now to say that such and such a thing will cost people their lives or save people’s lives. And sometimes it really will, especially when we’re talking about, you know, politics and policy. I think that that’s a fair way to talk about a lot of the things going on, especially when there are all these bills targeting trans kids in state legislatures. I think sometimes people coming out will save lives. For example, seeing visible, successful trans people living happy lives could contribute to an environment in which the lives of trans kids are saved. But I think it really does a disservice to the concept of saving lives when we bandy it about so freely this idea that, you know, one more white cis gender gay man coming out on TV could really change the landscape for LGBT life so dramatically that, you know, somebody who might have died by suicide actually does not. I can pretty confidently say that Colton Underwood coming out will not save lives. And I think Colton is the one who benefits from his coming out. And that’s great. He has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of hotties. I’m happy for him and I’m glad that he is, you know, finding his truth and certainly putting an end to the way that he used other people to hide who he was, which he didn’t have to do. But to pretend that he is somehow uniquely courageous or that him getting this gay Netflix show and coming out so that he could date people is going to save people’s lives feels a little disingenuous to me. And untrue.

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S3: That’s fair. I think I think actually we’re like weirdly in agreement, even though Brian is trying to make us get into it, because I actually I didn’t really know any like I said, I don’t know anything about him. And I didn’t know that particular context, that this was sort of like all a sort of television promotion. But my fundamental feeling remains the same, that, like, the experience of existing inside of the closet was so is so damaging that it. Made him do these things that are so indefensible, it’s just so sad, you just I just look at him and it is sad. It is sad, you know, and so, you know, good for him for doing it on television. Dan Levy is obviously ridiculous and it’s not going to really save anyone’s life. But I also think that that shouldn’t like and this is not what you’re saying, Christina, but that’s what the benchmark we can either. You know, it’s like it’s good. It’s good. Like people need to see it. And unfortunately, it matters more when it’s done by a telegenic meathead with perfect teeth.

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S2: And if this does anything to sort of destabilize the hetero supremacist ideology of The Bachelor, that will save lives. Yeah. Or that will be a good thing. Yeah. You know, it just it pleases me to see that franchise. You have to deal with this unexpected twist. But, you know, I guess I’m truly if I really get down to it, I’m truly provoked by, you know, Netflix for rewarding this man, for coming out in such a way when so many other people have been out under much more

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S1: dangerous,

S2: yet dangerous and strenuous circumstances. And don’t get to forget Netflix, show about it. But, you know, good for Colton. Welcome to the family.

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S1: I don’t want to get in the middle of

S3: this

S2: knockdown, drag out fight

S1: and dad, mom and dad are fighting back. But I did want to shout out our producer, Daniel Schrader’s piece about this, which was very clarifying as a non. But I know nothing about The Bachelor, this person either. We’ll put it on the show page. But he wrote a really wonderful sort of explanation of what it was like to go back and watch this guy season again and really see how, as put it, like the closet just distorts and fucks people up. Yeah, I really do think that that is that is the generous sort of way to look at what happened. And it’s sort of it’s just harrowing, it sounds like, just to sort of just sort of see it through that lens. So, yeah, welcome Caulton. But come on

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S3: Alward. Anytime you want.

S1: Sure, sure. Not, not at all. A hostile interview. All right. So Christina mentioned the sort of horrific legislative assault that we are seeing on on trans folks and our country right now. And my pride has to do with that. We talked about this last month on the show. Many, many conservative state legislatures right now are attacking trans children in particular through these laws that are bills. And and some of them are now law, in fact, barring them from youth sports, trying to keep them from receiving appropriate medical care. And even in Texas, they have one that is making it essentially child abuse for parents of trans kids to help them with their gender identity and transition, which is just insane. So that’s happening. So to keep you know, we all have got to keep fighting this. And in addition to lobbying legislators and challenging these laws in the courts, which which we will do, the court of public opinion really does matter, too. And so my pride this month is really all the trans folks who, despite the fear and rage and grief that they must be feeling about this, are still finding the energy to try to educate and persuade people about the evil of these laws and especially sort of the ideas and ideologies that underlie them. I wanted to highlight just a particular piece in The New York Times from earlier this month by Professor Jules Jim’ll Peterson. And it was titled Transgender Childhood is Not a Trend. And I really want everyone to go read this because I think I think it was just excellent. Peterson works in trans history and queer theory. And I’m just going to read this from the top of this piece so you get a sense of what she’s doing in it. There’s a story I know of a young transgender girl from rural Wisconsin who before the age of five, made it clear enough to her parents that she was a girl, not a boy, and they changed her name and dressed her in girls clothes. When the time came for her to go to school, her parents arranged for school administrators for her to attend. As a girl, she used the girls bathroom and participated in the girls club. All in all, she was treated with respect, not bullied or shunned. Maybe you can picture a girl like that today, but can you picture her in the 1930s? This girl, whom I call Val in the book I wrote on the history of transgender children, socially transitioned, went to school and participated in extracurricular activities over 80 years ago. And she was hardly alone. And my research, I found stories of other transgender children like Val who are able to transition and go to school despite living in times when their identities weren’t commonly acknowledged, they were not forced into transitioning by adults. They were certainly not transitioning because it was trendy or socially popular. So I’ll stop there. But Professor Gill Peterson goes on to sort of dismantle this really pernicious and popular notion that transgenes, especially among kids, is trendy or the result of some sort of social. TaeJa and that’s really behind a lot of these laws, that’s sort of the thinking that that kids are being tricked into doing this. Right. And so we really need to resist that. And this piece does a great job of sort of articulating why and showing how historically trans kids have sort of always existed as well. It is not new. And so I just want to suggest to our readers that they haven’t seen it or read it. And if you’ve got anyone in your life that is sort of on the fence about this issue or struggling with with the kid ness of it all, that childhood aspect that you pass it along to them to, it’s called transgender childhood is not a trend. And it’s in the op ed section of The New York Times.

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S2: Thank you, Brian. That sounds really good.

S3: The title of Diana Swamis new book sort of gives you all you need to know, it’s called No Modernism Without Lesbian’s. Here’s what Tsugumi writes early in the book. They gravitated to Paris and each other turned their backs on patriarchy and created their own society rather than staying where they were born and struggling against censorship and outrageous denials and inequalities enforced by male legislators. They took their own power and authority and defied the stigma that conservative society tried to impose on them individually. Each made a contribution. Collectively, they were a revolutionary force in the breakaway movement of modernism, the shock of the new, the innovations in art, writing, film and lifestyle, and the fracture from 19th century orthodoxies. Dana Tsugumi has written a group biography of sorts, looking at a handful of influential women. Sylvia Beach, the founder of the legendary Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris. Brierre, the one named philanthropist and patron and sometime lover of the modernist poet HD and the writers selling fabulous rich Parisian ladies Natalie Barney and Gertrude Stein. The argument is that it was these women, true renegades, who created the conditions for a whole new way of depicting seeing and thinking about the world. We’re all so excited that Diana Slummy was able to join us today. Diana, welcome to Outward.

S4: Oh, thank you for inviting me.

S3: So it was really fun to tackle a serious work of nonfiction, although I should also point out that I found this to be a sort of rollicking entertaining. Absolutely. Sort of intellectually nutritious, but very, very readable. I think we’re sort of accustomed to the notion that history is unkind to at best or oblivious altogether of the roles of women in the shaping of reality. Do you feel like that’s an especially keen condition when we’re talking about women who happen to be queer?

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S4: Well, absolutely. I think although male homosexuality was illegal, the weapon used against women was silence. And it’s an incredibly effective weapon, of course, because if you don’t even acknowledge the existence of lesbians, then then in a sense, they’re not there to anyone but themselves. When when Radclyffe Hall published The Well of Loneliness, a dreadful book, really, you know, it was burned as obscene and in the King’s Furnace because of its subject matter. And the only the only sort of sexy thing that happens in it is that she writes. And that night they were not divided. Well, I think she also writes she kissed her full on the lips, you know, but that’s six years ago. So there was censorship and denial and family expectations of a woman’s place when they got away. It was wonderful for them. They became who they were, you know, and they needed to get away. I think Gertrude Stein said it wasn’t just what Paris gave you. It was all it didn’t take away, which is very significant, really, because so much was taken away from genderqueer people.

S2: One thing that I loved about this book is that it wasn’t just about what these women gave to the world, you know, their patronage of James Joyce and also the work that they created, you know, the the sort of familiar beats of history that you hit. But the way they spoke to each other about each other, you know, their love letters to each other, the sort of fights that they had within their community that they often put down on paper for the benefit of us generations later. Was there any bit of papers or letters that you found that felt particularly that gave you a particular insight into sort of the personal lives of these women that that we so rarely get to see, especially for lesbians?

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S4: Well, I’ve written quite a lot of biographies of lesbians because I’m old. And I first started this about 35 years ago. You know, I mean, I included Natalie Bernard because she’s so candid about her love life. You know, she said that that living was the first of all, the arts she said about being lesbian. People call it unnatural. All I can say is it’s always come naturally to me because they formed a community. They could be out. So they were destined, if you like, to break it. That’s how I define break from old ways of old ways of writing, old ways of seeing, an old ways of being and of course, to being lesbian or to be gay. You have to break.

S2: Away and in fact, even though Natalie Barney didn’t necessarily contribute as much to what we think of as the historically important art literature of modernism. You write that she made Paris the sapphic center of the Western world. It seemed like maybe people moved there because there were people to sleep with there. You know, she performed a service for Paris and for the movement by making it a place where lesbians, especially well-to-do lesbians who were ready to fund this artistic movement or create work in this movement. You know, they wanted to be there because there were lovers to be had. Is that is that right?

S4: I think it’s absolutely true. I mean, not only had a had a Friday salon, I think somebody called them the hazardous trade. And people went there to discuss their artistic contribution. But to fight. Yes, it was to pick somebody up, you know, to make friends and find lovers. How to meet people is always a question, isn’t it, for people who aren’t conforming. And she did provide that. I mean, I think it also sort of strawberry tarts and alcohol and little sandwiches. And she had this temple of friendship and Sapphic dances in the garden, you know, which which the neighbors complained about it. But Sapho figured quite large throughout the whole culture. You know, the idea of a community of women who would make their own rules and their own choices and and follow their own desires. So there was a great quite consciously that up to gracian times, ancient ancient Greece,

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S2: Eva Parmer, you know, she sort of, like Koz, played ancient Greek life. It felt like this was maybe the only historical model they had for what they wanted to create. And of course, the generation that came after them probably looked to them and said, well, I want what Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas had or something suffered.

S4: It was their reference, I mean, over Pomerol heritage, rather extreme degree, and went to Greece and lived with her own clothes and things and really learned Greek and followed in the footsteps of Sapho in so far as her footsteps were known. But I think this fact of not having historical models, not having role models is pretty punishing. I mean, for me, growing up, I wasn’t a literature, you know. So who who could they turn to? I mean, when I read the well of loneliness, I thought, well, if that’s what being lesbian is, I will kill myself. Now, you know, this going back that far to find role models was was in when an indictment of society’s intolerance and suppression censorship. Sylvia Beach published Ulisses. That was Joyce couldn’t find a publisher. DH Lawrence was banned. It was it was very intense censorship in the States and in Britain. And there was prohibition, of course, in the US as well. I mean, Sylvia Beach said the reason why or self-respect igniters went to Paris was because they couldn’t buy Ulysses and they couldn’t get a drink. It was patriarchal and pretty repressive. Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, if you’re a woman and you’re a lesbian and you you’re in love with another woman, then you’ve got this great pressure to marry a man you don’t care about. It’s pretty damaging.

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S3: At the same time, I was really it’s sort of galvanizing to see a book document the many clever workarounds. Right? The marriage between lesbians and gay men or these sort of chaste marriages between lesbians and straight men that were sort of had to do with money. First of all, just sort of underscores how marriage is sort of always historically been about money. And second of all, it kind of challenged the idea that precisely what you’re saying, Dana, that like the well of loneliness was shocking and transgressive, but really depicted this lesbian experience as kind of sad and agonized. But the women you’re writing about, there’s a lot of sadness for sure, but there’s also a lot of like joy. And as Christina pointed out, there’s a lot of sex, like not only Barney, the chapter on Natalie Barney. I felt like I was busy. I was like, wait a minute. She’s she’s slept with this woman and this woman is up with this woman. And then Natalie slept with her also. And then the three of them got into a fight and they all slept with this fourth woman. And it’s really sort of like this incredible litany of a very real life. And it’s so different to me than the way. That I think the president always thinks about the past, which is a little condescending and a little chaste and a little like that, it was all sort of suffering and there was never any sort of color to it.

S4: I think that’s right. I mean, if only I didn’t I couldn’t totally approve naturally. But I mean, she said she once had 18 assignations in one night. Yeah, that’s you. And I mean that that for you. Well, how long was the night so short. But but nonetheless, she does turn these expectations on the head. And then she she she had her last love affair when she was eight. And she met this woman on a park bench in Niese where I’ve just turned 80. So I tried sitting on a chair, sitting on park bench. So she was a go and only and she did confound all these all these preconceptions of how women should behave. Which is always refreshing, wasn’t it?

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S2: You also write that when Breyer died, this incredibly important figure in the scene and also a person with a very active in our life sense of herself. You write that the obituary that ran red as if a kindly grandmother had died, you know, it gave no sense of how important she was, how, you know, cultured she was, all that she accomplished in her life. Do you see your book as a corrective to these sorts of incomplete memories?

S4: If it does that, then good. You know, I was I felt so cross when I said that obituary in The New York Times. It was that they called her Mrs. Bryar. It was it was insulting and said that she was she was the friend of Hilda Doolittle and had adopted her daughter. I mean, it faced nothing of what Barbara had done, you know, and in some ways, this this use of it’s like putting a pencil through someone’s life. It’s awful. But it happens, doesn’t it, from from people who don’t want to accept what they don’t want to hear, who won’t accept what they did

S2: or who just don’t have the knowledge. I mean, I wonder who wrote that obituary and what they actually knew of her life and what was possible to know at the time.

S4: Yes, it was stupid because there’s been no research, but there was also imposing an idea of what constitutes a decent life. And if it had her life, had it been had it been revealed that she made to love and to cover up marriages in order to secure her inheritance, Hilda Doolittle said of her, She loves me so madly. It’s terrible. No man has ever loved me like that. I mean, they’re not going to print that.

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S3: They know. Speaking of Breyer, first of all, I will admit that I had never heard of her. I do know this history and it was such an extraordinary thing to read about. But one of the things that really caught my attention or made me think was that you’re arguing essentially that this woman who just was born into profound wealth and again, I’m saying woman. And as Christina sort of points out, that’s not necessarily the way the prior spoke of herself, but I’ll just use the language of that time. So Breyer was just the daughter of an extraordinarily wealthy person who directed that money into subsidizing small magazines, into producing films, and to paying James Joyce a stipend so that he could go off and be the precious genius that he was. You know, she wasn’t engaged in the making of anything that we now understand as seminal or significant. But I’m curious to hear you sort of talk about why she was important nonetheless, like why the role of the patron is worth thinking about and worth remembering. And when you think about sort of what that New York Times obituary ought to have said and ought to have credited her with having done in her life.

S4: Yes, I started off wanting to write a biography. But, you know, it’s this thing about publishers. If they don’t want biographies of people, they haven’t heard of them. So how to people they haven’t heard of ever get heard? Well, they’ll they’ll have another one of the Duke of Edinburgh and Winston Churchill. And, you know, I mean, how many or Diana, Princess of Wales aside. But if they haven’t heard of them, they don’t want them. And that it was at that point that I decided to do it this way, you know? But she was an amazing philanthropist and. You know, with that, she did 11 to cover up marriage with Robert McCallum. She found a contact auditions for the public for the first time. Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein was extraordinary input and and her contribution, because if things are published and of course, they may very they made no money. But if things aren’t published, how do you ever hear of anyone? You know, she’s totally supported Hilda Doolittle. You know, she was an analysis of Freud. She she helped Freud get out of Austria, you know, and and a whole lot of Jewish psychoanalysts to get them to freedom. She was very tuned in to what was happening everywhere. And she did this without fuss. So without with tremendous grace. I mean, she was a true philanthropist. And sometimes the name the name of the person who’s written something is is what I remember, but not how it is that they come to be published and known. And his brother who was behind it. I mean, she financed Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company when it was when it wasn’t functioning. You know,

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S5: I’ve read a lot of your biographies of lesbians. I hope everyone is aware of it, which is magnificent. But this is the first time that you have had the word lesbian in a title. And I’m wondering, what is it about the time we’re living in? Is it about you? Is it about something that’s happened in publishing? Does that feel significant to you as it does to me?

S4: Oh, absolutely. It’s really interesting that you do that because I mean, you mentioned like my first biography, which was 35 years ago. And I was very if I said the word lesbian, you know, you didn’t use the word unless you wanted your mother to have a nervous breakdown. You know, you certainly didn’t expect the mainstream publisher to publish you. Then you put

S5: that picture on the cover and everybody knew.

S4: But then you put the picture and people think, why is she where did you get that hat and why is she wearing a tie? But the publisher this time, they jumped. They wanted it there. It sort of amused me how much they wanted it there and, you know, how much is it for. And that’s how much things have changed in the in the past 30 years. I mean, so many things have got worse, but at least transparency and acknowledgement and gay rights have got better in some countries. But it’s never arrived, you know, but the fact that the publisher wanted it, I thought that was hugely significant and they wanted that title. I mean, I began sort of with a kind of rather oddly titled Modernism wouldn’t have happened without lesbians. You know, they did they kind of mull it over and have meetings and come up with no modernism. And then I was all right with it. It’s not, you know, but that’s but you can actually say the word without apology. And another thing that I really liked about that I hope came over in the in this book is, you know, this thing of pleading for acceptance, which has gone on for so long in my lifetime, you know, please give us our rights. Please acknowledge me. Please accept who I am. They weren’t doing that. They were saying, look who I am. Look what I’ve achieved through catch up with me. So I hoped that it was turning things on their head a bit. You know, this idea that you don’t have to ask for acceptance. It’s a kindergarten. You know, the kindergarten. I’m talking about your community or, you know, I mean, it’s turn it round and talk about the achievement and and and what’s deserved and and the understanding of people, you know. Yes. I mean, yes. Use of the word. How overdue is it?

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S1: So later in the show, we’re actually going to be talking about the recent spate of lesbian period dramas, some of which you may have seen or not. But the thing one of the things we’re talking about was sort of and and total is that desire there is shown to be sort of furtive and halting and just sort of generally sort of terrifying and so watching. There’s this week, while also reading your book, you see that these women had, once they found love, had very little trepidation about sort of embracing it and getting on with their lives. I wondered if you had any thoughts about where this notion of lesbian timidity that we see in all of these are so many of these films is coming from. And if that’s something. Maybe we’re working against and telling these particular stories.

S4: Well, I was totally working against it and I think it comes from I mean, very few of us want to say things that people don’t want to hear. It’s always difficult to say something that people don’t want to hear, you know, so people talk about coming out and what their parents’ reaction was. And so often is negative so often and this is who you are, is met with condemnation, then I think it leads. It feeds into that. At best, you’re apologetic or worse, you’re. Or worse, you’re in denial or, you know, um, you know, the words are out and proud, they’re the words, but the living of it, it takes some courage and liberation doesn’t really. And and and I think another another thing that has changed in my lifetime is that not just that you can have lesbian on the title, but there’s acceptance. You know, there’s a much wider acceptance, a much greater freedom. So it does work two ways. You know, it’s not just it’s other people accepting and benefiting and liking and embracing diversity, which is the challenge, the challenge of our society.

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S3: Diana Tsugumi is the author of several works of non-fiction. Among them, biographies of Gertrude Stein, Radclyffe Hall and Greta Garbo. Her most recent book, which we’ve been discussing today, is called No Modernism Without Lesbians. It’s available now. Diana, thank you so much. It was such a great pleasure to talk to you.

S4: Well, thank you for inviting me. I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you.

S2: As Brian mentioned on the top of the show, it’s all lesbians all the time here on our this month, it’s my time to shine. And joining us for this segment is the inimitable June Thomas. Thank you for joining us. June, thank

S5: you for having me.

S2: So for our second topic, we are asking, what’s the deal with all these lesbian period dramas? Why does it seem like every movie featuring two women in lust takes place before the advent of the telephone? We had already planned on doing this segment when just a couple of weeks ago, Saturday Night Live ran a sketch about this exact phenomenon,

S1: Try to scoop us,

S3: starring two straight actresses who dared not to wear makeup, 12 lines of dialogue, two and a half hour run time on the rocks in the basket. Everyone’s obsessed. I’m scared.

S4: Of course, this is why I pick books

S3: featuring Academy Award winning Glenns

S2: choreography and best supporting actress nominee in the Wind. So this sketch was pretty much a direct hit on Ammonite, which came out in November. It’s about an ornery lesbian who makes her living unearthing fossils. I think she’s played by Kate Winslet. She then becomes acquainted with a married visitor, married to a man who has a weak constitution. That woman is thrown in. She’s prescribed Sierre for her melancholy. But there’s an even more recent film in this subgenre, The World to Come, which takes place in rural New York in the mid eighteen hundreds. There are two couples who are farming and raising livestock and generally trying to eke out a life on the frontier. The women fall in love. Drama ensues. There’s also the last movie I saw in theaters before the pandemic. Celine Seumas Critical Darling Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which is a French film set in. It’s not exactly clear, but probably the late seventeen hundreds that film stars Adele Hornell and Noaimi Merlotte. The former plays a strong willed society lady engaged to a man she’s never met. The latter plays a woman hired to paint her portrait to send to the man so he can see who he’s marrying. So for the purposes of this podcast, we can’t get into all the lesbian period dramas out there. I can think of at least two or three more just in the past couple of years, but we will throw in 20 fifteens, Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara just because it is an enduring favorite among a lot of lesbians myself, not really included, but it’s also very artfully embedded in its specific time period, which is the early 1950s. So although Carell and Terez had running water, it made the cut. For the purposes of this segment, we should clarify. Not all these characters are lesbians, Persay. Some of them seem like they could be bi. Obviously, lesbian was not really an accepted identity marker during all of these time periods, but we will be using it as shorthand here just because it’s easier to say over and over again than women loving women. The first question I have for you guys, why can’t lesbians get a little electricity up in here? A.K.A., why are all these lesbian films, many of which have been critically acclaimed in the past couple of years, why are they all set so far in the past?

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S1: I have sort of two answers to this. I think I think are two thoughts about it. I think we have an answer. But the the generous one is that, you know, queer people do have a desire to sort of situate ourselves in history. I think there’s been this a little bit of a misreading of queer theory which says that queer people didn’t exist until the turn of the 20th century, which was not quite accurate. But I think that’s an idea that’s out there. There’s a little bit of a push back and a desire to be like, no, we’ve always been here. And there’s maybe some some value to sort of asserting that that presence. My other feeling, though, is that that I sort of can’t help but get the sense that there’s something infantilizing about it to. All of these films have are sort of defined by like an uncertainty and a furtiveness and a stumbling. And nobody really knows what’s going on. And they’re within these within these sort of historical constraints as well, of course. And I wonder if that version of lesbianism or a female woman woman desire is more palatable than a more modern lesbianism, which would be self-possessed, certain. We know what we are. Here’s what we’re doing right now. I wonder if producers or directors or whoever sort of see that that more furtive space is somehow more appealing when they think about what woman on woman what they think of. Yeah, right. When they think about what same sex desire among women looks like. Right. So those are my two thoughts. I don’t know if those resonate.

S5: Brian, I agree with you completely about those two points, but I want to take that a little bit further. Let’s not be cynical about this. You’re right. The desire for movies that make people cry. And there’s a lot of tragedy in those old timey women falling in love. And there aren’t many documented stories of lesbians in history. That’s why we keep going on about Sapho. You know, twenty six hundred years ago, before there was written language, you know,

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S1: and from and from whom we only have like three sex exactly like this, like nothing, which is

S5: what people remember. So they’re probably wrong anyway. But anyway, another good faith reason, I know that some very righton actresses want to make different kinds of movies that have different kinds of roles for women. So like. Rachel Weiss, who effectively made disobedience happen, she wants to make movies that have really good roles for women and that aren’t, you know, that follow the Bechtel test or pass the test effectively. And so they often are lesbian movies, even though she’s not a lesbian. But here’s the thing that the place that I keep stumbling is why aren’t we making movies about contemporary lesbians? And could it be that filmmakers cannot sell a story with with actual lesbians who look like lesbians, some of whom look like Rachel Weiss and some of whom I can’t even give an example because there aren’t any example of Deloria.

S3: Lejla.

S5: Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, it was every day that passes. I can’t believe what a service orange is. The New Black did, because it did show all kinds of women. Mm hmm. And I think that’s that’s really, you know, for all of the good faith explanations, there’s that pretty fucking depressing one that I think is is really accurate.

S2: The first thing makes me think about filmmakers wanting to make a period piece, a period drama, but are confronting either higher standards for sexual politics that we have now for films, especially post. Me, too. And or the feeling that, well, we don’t know a lot about what women’s lives were like back then or what we do know is really heavily confined to the domestic sphere, which, by the way, is not confronted or departed from in these films, but is a lot more complicated when it’s well, you know, the man has his life and the woman has her, like, barely a life because we don’t know that much, or it’s all about child rearing and making food or, you know, laying on a fainting couch for the rich. And here’s this love story between them. It just feels boring, whereas these films can feel a little bit more boundary pushing even when they don’t really depart at all from the narratives that we already know.

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S3: I think that part of the complication is actually less to do with depictions of queerness and more to do with a cultural overreliance on fictions of history. If you if you think about a movie like Green Book, that kind of depiction of a period of history feels prestigious to us in the cultural context of today. It also flatters the contemporary audience by showing you a warped reality and allowing you to condescend to it so we can watch Green Book and feel great about how comparatively enlightened we are as a society now. And that’s I think that’s always been part of the pleasure of the historical text and the people who control what movies do have a sense that if you put an actress like Kate Winslet, who’s stunningly beautiful, stuff her into a period costume, don’t do her eyebrows to suggest that she’s somehow that makes her butch and set her off with, like a beautiful young hottie like Sharana, then you’ll just sort of like waltz to the Oscars. You know, it’s like that’s that’s like all you need. And in some ways, I don’t think that’s wrong. I do think there is a way that a lot of texts are hollow in precisely that way.

S2: That speaks to why I feel like it’s a little bit unfair to fully lump portrait of a lady on fire in with the other ones because it was written and directed by a queer woman who, by the way, has made other films with Adele Hudnall and used to be romantically involved with her. But I almost feel like if you watch that movie and ammonite next to each other, as clearly the SNL writers, did you see so many similarities that you aren’t able to appreciate the subtle differences that portrait of a lady on fire brings to the form? One thing a lot of these films share in common that Porcelli on Fire doesn’t is it’s got a different lens on the function of reproduction, which in the past, you know, even more so than today, this was the woman’s sphere, having children and taking care of children in care all the world to come and ammonite. The women are all either pining after a child that they might lose because they’re gay, they’ve had a miscarriage, or they have a child who died in portrait of a lady on fire. Reproduction is still broached, but it’s in the context of abortion and not even related to the two main characters. Other than that, they helped facilitate the abortion. It also that film had a lot to say about the gaze of the artist, which seemed to me like a kind of critique of some of these other films directed by men who, you know, the entire film is sexual tension until you get to an incredibly intense sex scene that doesn’t feel true to lesbian life. How do you do that stuff like where people sitting on each other’s faces in like 18, 30

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S5: and knew that you should lean on the. All because it truly is next level, like it’s like

S2: they magically don’t have any body hair, that’s kind of another thing that I loved about Celine Seumas film is they had body hair and there was the only real sex scene, which usually I would critique queer film for not having a good sex scene. But in this one, they just sort of wink to it with a close up of, you know, one of them putting an ointment under the other one’s armpit, which kind of looks like she is a sex act, which and it can be a sex act. But when you then you realize that she’s actually just touching her armpit.

S5: Christina, can I draw you?

S3: I think there’s a lot to say about costuming and about our perception of women from the past as sort of swarthout and fabric and sort of floating about these places. It’s funny because in in Portugal, they didn’t fire. They’re floating about a kind of grand home. But in the world to come, it’s kind of a mean domestic experience, like a log cabin. Yet they’re still wearing these sort of Collum dresses. You can barely see their feet and they look really like they’re about to pose for John Singer Sargent. I find it hard to believe that this is accurate. I just have trouble accepting like a pioneer wife dress, like she was going to sit for a society portrait. Again, I think it’s like this is what historical fiction can do is represent the past in this condescending way and at the same time captures something that’s so fundamental to a contemporary attitude that we wish had been true of the past. We wish that women were always beautiful and beautifully dressed and precious and lovely. I don’t know if that reality really holds up.

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S2: And to John’s point about the lack of masculine of center lesbians in any of these pieces. I mean, in Swami’s book, we read that monocles were sort of like the way that lesbians communicated to each other, like who they were and what their desires were. Where are all the films about lesbians and monocles? I mean, Gentleman Jack, which is another recent entry, it was actually a TV show, had a masculine of center lesbian at the center of it. And that’s one thing I loved about it. They also had a sex scene where she literally, like, wiped her fingers on the bed sheet after they had sex. And I was like, wow, that was like more like evocative to me than, you know, watching Sharon and climb on Kate Winslet space.

S5: I think that, you know, this set this question of realism. And what we take as real is really interesting. We’re very prepared to engage with the tragedy of it, because let’s be you know, it was tragic. There was there was a complete lack of role models. It was a complete lack of options. No, I mean, silly to talk about role models. It’s about options in ammonite. You know, Kate Winslet character is, you know, very much somebody who is is is breaking away and doing things that are beyond what really is the realm of women. At the same time, there are still so few options. There’s still so much she can’t do. And I think that’s one of the great things about Portrait of a Lady on fire is that they know what’s possible and what’s not possible. I know exactly what you mean about that flattering woman. There’s both that flattering of of things are better now. There’s so many more options now. But it’s also there was something about Portrait of a Lady. And I like the most flattering part about it was that they didn’t make us sit through that. I would love to go with you and I would love to make a life with you. But that’s not possible. Like, they look at each other and they know they know what’s possible and what’s not possible. And maybe, you know, to give Amini a little bit more credit than I really want to, even though I want to acknowledge it was directed by a gay man, is not like some straight person who’s, you know, just coming from the north. So obviously, you’ve got to give him some points for that. You know, the Sharona’s character who maybe has that yearning for a woman she doesn’t understand anything about. You know, you can’t put her in a cage. There just isn’t an option. There’s no way that could work out. It’s just something that I’m willing to believe because historically it feels right.

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S1: Yeah. And you just explain to me why I had written down something to the effect of like the that the sad ending of portrait of a lady on fire felt more earned to me than any of the rest of these these films. And I think it’s because it was so frank exactly about what was going to be possible anyway. There’s pain in that and sort of the running up against it, but it has no sort of imported idea of like, well, what we could go like. No, that was not that they knew that wasn’t a possibility. And so it didn’t you didn’t feel faked out sort of by it at all. So I think I think you actually just sort of articulated why that movie makes a lot more sense to me than the other ones.

S2: The fact that that movie didn’t have any men really in it, that, you know, the the man who was sort of responsible ostensibly for them not being able to. Together because he was engaged to be married to one of them, never appears where as the sort of tragedy that is like the current running through a lot of these films in a in a lot of ways it has to do with a man. You know, these films make life with men look terrible and life with women look idyllic by comparison. You know, and in a condescending way, a little bit like, you know, I’m a homo supremacist, definitely. But it feels very patronising and flattening to me to see like a relationship between two women depicted as just like an alternative to an abusive man. Yeah. And in the same way, you know, we romanticize these sort of eras of, you know, there were no screens. You know, we wrote letters to each other. We had to take a boat to get to each other. You know, subsistence farming, although a world to come, does not make that look fun.

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S5: And it strikes me that the world that these movies present, I think actually accurately is of a temporary world. It’s not the real world. It’s a temporary moment where these women get to live out their true selves. And it might just be, you know, in a night of passion. It might be in a kind of a what did you call early a glance choreography, you know, just kind of making eye contact across a crowded room. And, you know, the fact is that there wasn’t an opportunity to, you know, go even to the big city and, you know, have a lesbian life or to have lesbian politics or to even know what that word was. That’s just fact. That wasn’t a real thing at that time. Like, it’s pleasant to see that at least we’re seeing portrayals of these people in honor of this particular connection. But it’s always temporary. And yet you’re so right about the problem with the world to come. Like when I when the credits rolled at the end and I saw so many men involved, I thought, oh, yeah, they think that women choose to love other women because men are so awful. It’s got nothing to do with men. Men are the last thing that has anything to do. Is that completely irrelevant? Yeah, there is that feeling of like why did you bring that in for.

S2: Yeah. And so this is one of my problems with Carol, because one thing I like about it is that it does take place seemingly within a society where lesbians exist and where people are able to identify that way. They know other people who are that way. They’re not just sort of like two isolated women who happen to fall into each other’s arms. There’s a little more self-knowledge involved and also self questioning. But the homophobia in large part enacted by Carol’s terrible husband, who is abusive and wants to take her child away from her. That’s basically the whole plot of the movie.

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S5: But, you know, it’s it’s also real power right now. You know, and it Carol was based on I mean, obviously, Patricia Highsmith for all for being a hideous person like was part of that culture. And it’s based on two women, you know, two relationships that she had and feel like it’s too bad that that’s what we see. But it is also real. Yeah.

S2: And I think I want it both ways. You know, I want the film to not have, like, men and homophobia be at the center of it. But I also don’t want to have this like imaginary idyllic world where, like, two women just get to be together, divorced from whatever’s happening in the rest of society.

S3: Yeah, yeah. And also, like, as much as we can look at, like the language or the notion of identity as a contemporary invention, desire is not a contemporary invention. So it’s still more condescending to think that a woman living in the 19th century would have had no way of understanding what it was she was feeling. Because I think that you do have a way of comprehending, even when you’re young and closeted, there is a way in which, oh, yeah, this all makes sense to me. It all computes you simply can’t articulate it. And I think that is maybe maybe that’s very difficult to dramatize on the screen. But when you see in the world to come these to housewives kind of like it’s so it’s I’m laughing, which is not generous of me, but it is truly ridiculous the way that they’re sort of courtship plays out at the same time. I think I remember and I think we probably all remember the language of desire that was we were unable to articulate. And I don’t know how you capture that on screen, but like I remember, like the 15 year old self, like one of the characters in this movie in one of these movies actually says, like all lovers feel like they’ve invented something. I think that’s in push of a lady on fire. I don’t think it’s true. But I also don’t think it’s a surprise

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S1: or I desire desire, a deep and abiding friendship. Right. And there’s a there’s a word that includes hotness to add to your condescension point, which I think is so smart. There’s a condescension in imagining that our current. Model of identity, LGBTQ is is sort of the teleological, like the ideal right there, like we look back on these moments and say, oh, but if only they could have had that word or had this context when in fact, maybe they were maybe there were people who were happy, find moderately happy, I don’t know, like living in that that sort of system and structure that is that was more not sort of less vocabulary, but perhaps richer in certain ways in the language of friendship. I don’t know. But it’s making it’s making me sort of feel that there’s. Yeah. That there’s a condescension and and being like, again, like that, that our our movement is is the sort of ideal moment for this. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t you know, we don’t know actually. Yeah.

S5: One of the things too that strikes me that I’ve come to realize as we’re speaking is we are not among them, I suspect, but there are people who find it really sexy to see people like finding a way to act out desire in a forbidden kind of setting. It’s absolutely not the case for me. But I think there are people who, for example, find the closet really sexy. There are people who find that hidden world, that notion of a hidden world. Yeah, I think there are. I think there are gay people. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. There I mean, there’s a whole thing of like gay guys wanting to go back to cruising in the 70s or earlier, where it’s where it’s all secret and sort of furtive. Yeah, no, you’re right, dude. That’s a really good point.

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S2: All right. This is almost all the time we have for this topic. I could talk for another three hours about it, which is about as long as a world to come, felt our listeners. I would absolutely love to hear what you thought of any of these films or what period drama or what period of time you’d like to see a lesbian drama about. You can email us that outward podcast at Slate Dotcom. All right, that’s about it for this month, but before we go, let’s hear updates to the gay agenda. Brian, what are you recommending this month?

S1: So I am recommending a really incredible four part documentary on Miramax, because where else? There is no other television anymore called The Lady and the Deal. Now, this came out back in January, I think the very end of January. So I’m a little got finishing at a little late. But I also think it kind of went under the radar. I don’t think I’ve read a lot about it. Full disclosure, I’m friendly with one of the directors, but I would recommend this absolutely. Anyway, it’s the story of Elizabeth Carmichael, who, as a vulture review helpfully put it, was an auto industry pioneer and a criminal, a loving mother and a deadbeat parent, a savvy entrepreneur and a con artist. She was also a trans woman living in the 70s. And that fact, because she’s outed eventually by a very creepy journalist who, if you watch this show, you will learn, has a very interesting tie to a current creepy journalist that I don’t want to spoil, became a huge part of her downfall. So the trans thing became very splashy and was part of what happened to her. The show is centered around the dayle, which is this three will like highly fuel efficient prototype car that she claimed she could manufacture and produce and it would upset the auto industry in the US. She spoiler alert fails to do this, but it’s also a portrait of a really unique family and also this document of queer history that I just don’t think we know. I had never heard of this person before. And it’s also just beautifully done. It’s got a lot of animation in it due to a lack of archival video footage. So it’s it’s just gorgeous. But I highly recommend it. If you’re looking for a little documentary moment, The Lady and the Dayle on HBO.

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S2: Max, that sounds fascinating.

S3: Sounds amazing.

S2: WOMAN What have you brought us?

S3: Well you know I had lesbian’s on the brain this month and especially lesbians and the relationship to art, so I wouldn’t recommend there is a retrospective at the Whitney Museum currently of the painter Julie Merita. Julie is a 50 year old American painter. She’s an extraordinary, extraordinary artist. Her work is really hard to explain. It’s these beautiful, large scale, painterly architectural abstractions. And she showed up in an issue of TIME magazine that’s about friendships. And there’s a very short interview between Julie and her former partner, Jessica Ranka. And they talk about their that though they are no longer romantically together, they have this sort of deep and profound working friendship. And she says this thing in this interview. She says, being queer, you’re constantly inventing everything, which really made me think of Dana Swami’s book. And it really made me think of the attraction of artistic life for queer people and queer sensibility. I know that people are still feeling really cautious about going out to museums and other places, but I will say that most museums feel like they’re big and grand enough that they’re somewhat safer to be in with crowds that are tightly controlled. And you keep your mask on, your mask doesn’t cover your eyes so you can still go and have an experience of art. And I think Julie is a really fascinating painter. And so she has a show. It’s at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It’s up there until August, I think highly recommend June. Thomas is going to give us what her addition to the gay agenda. June, what do you have for us this month?

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S5: I must say that after Brian mentioned the lady in the deal, I have to just give a quick shout out to a really weirdly interesting audio book that I listened to last week is called Who’s Your Daddy? That’s who’s your as in Indiana h o e r. And it’s like a basic lesbian romance. But there are these kind of pro union speeches, put it from time to time because it’s set in a in an auto plant. And the romance is between a lesbian who works on the line and a UAW organizer that’s so hot. It’s really interesting and strange and and I loved it. It’s by and McMann and Salem West. And I love to imagine if maybe one of them wrote because it’s not very well integrated. So if one of them wrote the romance and one of them wrote the union propaganda. But I if I can squeeze in since I’ve squeezed myself and I’m going to squeeze in a second book, I’m just so happy that the writer, Barbara Wilson, she was, I think the first one of the very first writers of lesbian mysteries, which were a popular genre in the 80s into the 90s, and then kind of disappeared, you know, not just with lesbian characters, but set in lesbian milia. She herself is a translator and she has two series. But one is with this translator, Cassandra Riley, who travels the world translating, and she’s back after more than a decade away. There’s a new book called Not the Real Jupiter. And it’s just so nice to have them back, but also to have. These considerations of translation and getting old and, you know, lesbian, the way that lesbians move through the world and also kind of deal with authority, it’s a it’s a good mystery. But it’s also just a really it’s just lovely to be back in that setting in the Pacific Northwest as well as some other parts of the world. And it’s I really recommend it.

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S2: Thank you, Jane. I’m recommending a book to there’s a photo book that was first published in nineteen seventy nine called Eye to Eye Portraits of Lesbians by the legendary photographer Joan Environ, known often as GEB. The book was out of print for a long time and was just reissued. It was, if I’m not mistaken, the first book of photos of lesbians that was labeled as such. And it’s a just really triumphant but also banal look at Queer Life at the time. It portrays lesbians, I think pretty revolutionarily for the time as happy, loving, working, living in a way that’s not sexualized through a male lens or threatening on the other hand. So I’d seen her photos before. I’d seen jibs, photos. It felt for a while, like every time I would see a black and white portrait of lesbians in their element from that era. It was her photo. And I’m so happy to be able to purchase the book now. And while I was looking through it, I listen to a podcast that I’m also going to recommend in this segment. June Thomas, the one and only interviewed Jeb on the Slate podcast Working, which Remon also co-hosts. So it’s not an explicitly gay podcast, but it is very, very it’s pretty. And it was just such a treat to be able to listen to her explain the struggles that she endured to get this book to print at the time while reading the book she like held out to get her photos printed on good paper. She didn’t want it on newsprint, which was the only way that she had seen her photos before. She camped out outside the printer because she couldn’t afford to stop the press while she waited to have the proofs mailed to her. She’s seventy six now, and she spoke about how much it meant to her to be alive, to see her work and her contributions to queer culture being appreciated and rediscovered. At this moment, it’s just such a wonderful interview. Again, that’s on working. And the book is called Eye to Eye.

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S1: All right. That is about all the time we have for the show and for what we have more time for lesbians all the time for the show. For the show today. We are out of time. Please send us feedback and topic ideas to our podcast at Slate Dotcom or via Facebook and Twitter. We’re at Slate Outward. Our producer is Margaret Kelly. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts and the ever benevolent prior to our messy drunk and kind of awful, but I guess somewhat brilliant choice. If you like outward, please subscribe in your podcast, tell your friends about it, get under it and review the show so others can join in on the fun. Howard, we’ll have you back in your feeds on May 19. Goodbye, my friend.

S3: Bye, guys.

S5: Steak.