S1: Hi there and welcome to the November 20 20 edition of Outward. I’m Brian Lauter, editor of Outward, and I’m honestly grateful this Thanksgiving month for not having to cook so freaking much of it. Tiny covid safe tables are in.
S2: I’m Christina Carucci, a staff writer at Slate. And I don’t know if you guys knew this, but it’s my birthday month. I’m not usually a birthday month person, but I feel like if there’s any time to claim an entire month for a celebration, it’s this November. And I don’t want much for my birthday besides a cake from ramen because he apparently is an excellent baker. But what I do want is just for the pandemic to be over, for Mitch McConnell to lose his job, for Trump to be out of office starting tomorrow, and for a private audience with Tracy Chapman on my birthday night. But other than that, you know nothing. Just your presence is my present.
S3: I think we can work on those things. I’m Remon alum and it is gratitude season. So I will note that I am grateful for my colleague Christina Carucci and her birthday month. But mostly just hearing you, Christina, enumerate all of the things that you truly want for your birthday. Makes me remember that. Actually, I feel really grateful. Right now, Lockdown’s are beginning again across the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a sense of sort of increasing stress on our hospital systems domestically. It’s tough, the days are shorter, they’re colder, things feel a little grim, but I’m trying to remember that we are just so goddamn lucky. We really are so goddamn looking. At least in my family, we have a place to be. We have our health. And I’m trying to really hold onto that, even as I feel stressed about the question of whether or not my kids will continue going to school and whether or not my husband will continue working. So I’m trying to hold on to that gratitude. I mean, Thanksgiving is kind of an arbitrary and invented holiday, but I do think it has an important thing to teach us, which is this, that we should feel grateful. Yeah, it’s lovely.
S1: All right. Well, this month finds us all living in the strange, exhausting, scary and maybe even hopeful time between the presidential election that just sort of passed and the holiday season that’s sort of coming, I say sort of in both of those cases, because the implications of Joe Biden’s victory and Trump’s refusal so far to concede are very much still unclear. Just as a surge in covid pandemic has placed a traditional Thanksgiving plans with family and friends under a fog of risk and uncertainty and likely even cancellation. So to get a better perspective on the political question, we’ll be speaking with the ACLU’s RIA Tabaco MA about what she sees as the major legal priorities for women and career people after the Trump administration is finally out of the White House, even as his freshly stocked Supreme Court remains in place, then will consider a new take on the classic Quere story of returning to your family home and all the complications that trip can involve. And the film Uncle Frank, which Amazon is dropping conveniently just in time for Thanksgiving after that, will wrap up with our usual updates of the gay agenda. But first, it’s time for pride and provocations. Christina, why don’t you kick us off?
S2: First of all, I love the way you talk about Trump’s Supreme Court s freshly stocked. Looks like he just went to Whole Foods and like, filled his to prepare for his Thanksgiving.
S4: Yeah, he’s gotten all of his pecans and heavy cream. He’s ready.
S2: So I’m provoked this month by a drag queen known as Lady Muga. US a I learned about Lady Muga. That’s Magga, as in Make America Great again in a really good piece by Kate Snow in for the nineteenth. The piece is titled These Gay Voters Are Backing Trump. Here’s why. So I know it’s not particularly novel to be provoked by Trump’s supporters. It is far too easy to criticize Lady Marga’s politics. So I’m not even going to talk about how absurd it is for her to be giving individual conservatives credit for not gay bashing her at Trump rallies. I’m not going to talk about her misunderstanding of the First Amendment, whereby she says the left is infringing on conservatives free speech rights by calling them trans phobic. And I’m not going to take her to task for the mismatch between her message, which is that the left is too angry and spreading negativity and the trappings of the very Trump events where she performs with all of their thin blue line flags and their lock her up chants.
S4: So instead, I am just going to talk about how shitty her song is exactly.
S2: Let me play this for you and see if you can hear it through my computer. I’ll be happy to say, wow, you have shown us the way. Like Washington and Jefferson on stage, that’s Lady Marga’s hit song, I’m not sure if it has the title, but I’m going to call it here in these United States. First of all, it’s monotonous. Try a falsetto. Second of all, if you’re going to bring up George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Honest Abe, sexualize them a little bit. If you’re doing a drag performance in a big, fluffy white dress that looks like you could be the sexual partner of any of those previous leaders of the United States, you’re missing out on an opportunity. It sounds like she sampled Kidz BOP for this song, which I understand that she’s trying to make her.
S4: I was like, what? Yeah.
S2: What PBS show is this the right song for this? I feel like, you know, there’s plenty of room for family friendly drag. We can all appreciate a drag story hour or whatever. But in this case, you know, I don’t think she’s bringing the full spectrum of musical possibility to her drag performance. She’s forcing a lot of syllables into lines that are too short specifically. And patriots are standing for what’s right. And I would just like to echo I know this is an audio medium, so you can’t really see the video here. You can find it on her Instagram page. But I would just like to echo the comment of one critic in the comments of our Instagram page who said, why is your drag so crusty like you set your foundation with cream of wheat? I can’t say it any better than that.
S4: Oh, my God. Vicious, but sounds like deserved. Wow, that’s that’s trash. Politics aside, it’s just the aesthetics, are that right?
S2: It’s terrible. And I think she could stand to watch a few more contouring YouTube videos before she makes her next appearance at the stop the steel rallies where she’s been frequenting. And, uh, uh, Brian, how are you feeling this month?
S4: I’m like doubly perfect now, but I do not know about Lady Gaga. So I’m still I’m still sort of my apotheosis as a composer processing those feelings.
S2: The face the look on your face was like you had to drink like half and half in your coffee that had gone bad, curdled like her foundation.
S1: So I’m also provoked I’m provoked by an article that was in The New York Times at the end of October titled Everyone is Gay on Tick Tock. And what this article in the Style section explored was this phenomenon which I had seen sort of previously on Not on Tech Talk. I’m too old, but on Instagram, where tech talks like come to meet 30 somethings who are not on tech, talk of straight boys, teenage boys, in most cases doing these little performances of homo eroticism, often doing sort of things like, well, they’re like passing each other in the hallway and then a little cut to like this sort of fantasy where it looks like they’re about to, like, make out and then it’ll cut back to them, like being, you know, straight writers. Like what you just bumped into each other, whatever. And there’s there’s a whole series of these. And this is what made by multiple tick talkers, which is what the article is about. And, you know, it sort of explores what does it mean that this is happening? Does it mean that, you know, the younger generations are sexually fluid and so they’re actually not being homophobic by doing this because know everybody’s fluid? Or is it in fact just a repackaging of sort of gay jokes that have existed forever where comedians are sort of making money and laughs off of the Frieza of of like, you know, potential homosexuality. And I maybe I’m too old, but I really think it’s the latter. I just I think it’s so annoying. And we are not nearly as post sort of post gay as these people seem to think that we are. So, you know, not that my saying anything will stop it, but I am very provoked by these gay, quote unquote, tech talkers and the content that they are producing.
S2: What is the audience for these videos like? Are they they’re baiting like it’s a really good question.
S1: So it seems like and they they seem to think the talkers themselves, that they say that their audiences are like 90 percent women, presumably straight, I guess. And, you know, there is a long history of straight women in particular being sort of into gay romance, gay sex, gay male romance and sex and porn for that matter. So, you know, that may be true, but I don’t think that erases the history of of homophobia that these these guys are like. Calling upon they do this kind of thing, so, you know. Yeah, I mean, viewership and reception is complicated, but I still don’t think this is revolutionary of of an art form.
S3: And as you’re saying, Brian, like we maybe all three of us are too old for tech talk. So it’s impossible to really know what is being communicated to a huge swath of the population, like what they’re internalizing, what they’re watching, what they’re seeing. And tick tock. I mean, I, I find that it can be very charming and silly when things go viral. But I also find that it can reify some of the more disturbing aspects of what’s in the culture anyway. Right. So I’m not sure I feel like you see a lot of like teen boys dancing half undressed and it just sort of reaffirms kind of the same things that were toxic and noxious in the culture when we were younger. So I’m not sure that it is the sort of great progress that it is sometimes discussed as being, you know.
S2: Yeah, yeah. I guess there is still a small kernel deep inside me that feels like this is a little bit of a flip. This is taking some of those noxious cultural norms and flipping them a little bit because Tic-Tac has also been a home for a lot of really earnest lesbian content. And there’s like I think lesbians were early adopters of Tic Tacs, especially young lesbians. And there’s a lot of really like affirming lesbian to lesbian Tic Tacs. And then on, you know, you have like men pretending to be gay for the benefit of straight women. Whereas in a lot of other forms of media, you’d see like straight women pretending to be gay for the benefit of totally. And so and a lot of earnest like gay male to gay male content. But yeah, I mean, that’s one kernel on the cob of my annoyance in response to this particular trend.
S3: I like that metaphor because I do I’m a little distracted because I’m looking at Lady Megas Instagram page right now. But, you know, in contrast to both of you, I think I’m still riding high from the election. And so I felt this sort of momentary couple days period of just like, oh, everything is great. Everything looks great to me because it was the relief of having the bad tooth. That is Donald Trump yanked out of my head and not having to think about the destructive politics that have, you know, governed this country for the last four years. Obviously, that’s just pretend that’s just my own sort of optimism, he is the president until January and Joe Biden, God bless him, is not necessarily the president that I wanted to be taking the reins next. But I will take the victory wherever we can find it. And so I will luxuriate in my pride. Good. And tell you about. So a couple of days ago, I was folding the laundry. I’m always folding laundry. It’s like the only thing I’m ever doing. And my little one was sitting on the bed reading. They have to read for half an hour before bed. And he was reading and he looked up and he said, Oh, Dad, in this book, this kid has two dads just like me. And that was it. Like that’s all he wanted to tell me about this particular book. I was asking him about it this morning on the way to school. And he was like, what book was that? Like he couldn’t even remember. But it doesn’t matter. This is a book. It’s called The Midwinter, which it’s by writer Molly Knox Ostertag. It’s a graphic novel. I don’t know what it’s about, but I do know that one of the characters has two dads and that in that particular moment, my kid, who has two dads, saw it and noticed it and affirmed that there was a particular power in a representation of society as it actually looks, as opposed to how people like Lady Imago want us to believe it ever looked right. But choosing reality, which is that we live in a complicated and truly diverse way the world over, is actually preferable to choosing this fantasy that everyone has a mom and a dad and a dog and all of that, all the trappings of what we pretend is normal and that it really matters. It can really matter to an eight year old who is doing his forced march of half an hour of reading before bed to just recognize something of himself in the pages of a book. Look, I think that’s really lovely. So, again, this book, it’s called The Midwinter, which by Molly Ostertag, I don’t know what it’s about, but the rest of it is super problematic. I mean, I’m thrilled, really thrilled by this very tiny gesture that gave my kid this moment of recognition, made me feel really proud.
S2: I’m getting a little teary thinking about that, because also, Remon, talk a lot about how you feel like for your kids. A lot of times they don’t even believe that it’s odd or abnormal to have two dads. But I feel like the fact that he commented on that shows that kids do absorb messages and norms from society, no matter how much they’re insulated within a very affirming bubble. I’m so glad that he got that book. I know.
S4: So sweet. So sweet. Maybe I’ll pick that up. I like books about it.
S2: So since our last episode, the legal and political landscape for LGBTQ people has changed in two major ways. First off, we have a new justice on the, as Brian said, freshly stocked Supreme Court. We’ve got Amy CONI Barrett, who in her confirmation hearings called queer sexual orientation a preference and has also served on the board of a group of private schools that taught students that homosexuality was an abomination against God. On the other hand, we have a new president elect set to take office in January. And that administration seems like it’ll be, let’s just say, an improvement on the current one as far as LGBTQ lives are concerned. So to help us pass the near future of legal battles for LGBT rights and protections, we are joined by Rhea Tabac Omar, the director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. Reia has also worked as a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV project, where she was part of the team that litigated the cases of Amy Stevens and Don Zaida, which led to the Supreme Court’s recent decision affirming federal anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in the workplace. Rhia, we are so happy to have you on the show this month. Welcome to Outward. Thank you so much for having me. So that Title seven case that the Supreme Court decided in June, that was a six to three decision in favor of LGBT rights written by Neil Gorsuch ally. So even if we assume that Amy Tony Barrett would have taken the opposite position as RBG on that case, it still would have come out the same way. How optimistic should that make us about the future of LGBTQ rights and protections under the court?
S5: So that’s a great question. And before we pivot to the future, I do think it’s worth pausing just a moment to appreciate how significant a victory that was this past June. I think bright spots have been few and far between and 2020, and we have to really celebrate them when we find them. And the decision in the case that became known as Barsac vs. Clayton County, Georgia, was really historic. As you said, a. Every decision, not a five four decision, really roundly rejecting not only the arguments advanced by the anti LGBTQ employers in the case, but that had also been backed by the Trump administration. So a really full scale repudiation of the Trump administration’s view that LGBTQ people are somehow entitled to fewer protections than everyone else. You may remember that they had argued that it was fine to fire a woman like Amy simply because she’s transgender, as long as they also would fire transgender men, sort of just fire everyone and then it’s fine. And any kindergartner can tell you two wrongs don’t make a right. And the court completely rejected that theory, because when you think about what it means to be transgender at the very definition of being transgender, as someone whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. And sex, of course, is one of those characteristics like our race, like our religion, like our our national origin that Congress has said can not limit our opportunities to succeed at work. So tremendous, tremendous victory. The question you asked me was, what does that mean going forward? And I think it’s difficult to read too much into the decision because Basak was different from the prior LGBTQ victories in a number of ways. And the first one is it was a statutory decision. So up until this point, most of the major victories we’ve had cases like Lawrence v. Texas, which recognize the right to same sex intimacy, or, of course, Oberg, awful regarding marriage equality. Those were all constitutional decisions. And they called on the justices to interpret what equal protection clause means when it comes to people who are LGBT. Right. And that implicates a whole slew of constitutional interpretation doctrines. We all know about originalism and how it’s been used as a sword against our communities. The best our case involved interpretation of a statute that Congress passed. And so the questions that were very different was not about the original meaning of the Constitution, but rather what do the plain words of the statute that prohibits discrimination because of sex mean? And as I said, when you think about someone like Amy Stevens, you just can’t describe who she is without reference to her sex. A transgender woman as someone who was assigned male at birth, but who is a woman whose gender identity is female. So that was a case in which the LGBT plaintiffs actually were the textualists or had sort of the more conservative judicial interpretation doctrine, because the plain text of the statute actually supported the employees in the case and not the employers. And that’s precisely why transgender people had been so successful making that same argument really for the past 20 years. Federal Courts of Appeals had accepted that position so that it was new to the Supreme Court. It was not new to the federal courts. In fact, trans people had been protected in many places for 20 years. And though Justice Gorsuch had had asked at oral argument whether it might lead to massive social upheaval, those were his words, massive social upheaval to recognize that trans people were protected. Right. They think, in fact, the opposite is true with the massive social upheaval would have been to take away protections that trans people had had for decades and to really disrupt the expectations that most people in this country have, which is, you know, that is already illegal to fire someone for being LGBT. So now that much is settled, what comes next? The court has already heard oral arguments in its next big LGBTQ rights case the day after the election in a case called for Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia. And this is a case that arises in the child welfare context, where Philadelphia, like so many governments, has chosen to contract out its child welfare services. So rather than certify prospective foster parents itself and place children itself, it has contracted with a number of nonprofit organizations to do that work. And some of those nonprofit organizations are religiously affiliated. One of them is Catholic Social Services. And the city learned that Catholic Social Services was actually refusing to certify prospective foster parents if they were a same sex couple simply based on Catholic Social Services, religious beliefs and not based on criteria set forth by the city or by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as to what it means to be a qualified foster parents rather than following the sort of contracted four criteria. Catholic Social Services was adding its own criteria, which is you must not be in a same sex couple when the City declined to renew the contract. Catholic Social Services actually sued the city, claiming it has a constitutional right to engage in the city’s business, but on its own terms. And that is just so devastating because the other religious exemptions cases we’ve seen involving LGBT people, it’s been private businesses asserting a right to discriminate against us. Now, that’s disturbing enough. But here we have an organization that’s actually taking tax payer dollars to do taxpayer work. Right? It’s government work providing for the welfare of children who are unable to stay with their families of origin and saying we have a right to do it, but we’re going to do it our way, not your way. And if you don’t like it, we’ll see you in court. And they’ve taken their case all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. Very, very scary. At an earlier stage of the case, we already had three justices, Alito, Thomas and Gorsuch signal that they would have essentially required the city to continue working with Philadelphia while the case was pending. Now, three justices, not a majority, but obviously some things have changed since then. Justice Ginsburg has passed. She’s been replaced by Justice Barrett and now the case has been argued. So that will be a very, very telling opportunity for how the court is going to view these kinds of cases at argument. It was clear that if the case had involved race discrimination, no justice would have given Catholic Social Services arguments a second thought. But because we were talking about sexual orientation discrimination, they got very serious consideration. And, you know, it’s clear that race discrimination and the history of race discrimination in this country is so unique. It stems from our legacy of chattel slavery. It is unlike any other. Right. So that much is true. But it doesn’t follow that the government can’t also prevent other forms of discrimination. And that’s where I think the conservative justices really went wrong by saying because race discrimination is different, which of course it is, that somehow means that the government can’t have an interest in preventing discrimination against LGBT people. And that’s the part I think they got wrong.
S2: Yeah, we’ve talked previously on this podcast about the conservative argument that even some conservative gay people are making, which is that we’ve achieved all of the major markers of equality we can marry. We we are protected from discrimination in the workplace. You know, now we’re just quibbling over the little things like can we foster a child or can we receive a wedding cake from whichever cake shop we choose? What do you say to somebody like that who thinks, why can’t you just apply to foster a child through a different agency?
S5: Sure. I think there’s really two parts to that question. The first is we actually haven’t achieved all that many victories. And it’s just important to note that so many of our early victories were actually the freedom from something else, the freedom from being criminally prosecuted simply because of who we are. That’s what Lawrence was about. You know, that was a very important step. It was a necessary step, but that is not having all of the major rights secured. We do have this freedom to marry. We know we’re protected by federal employment discrimination law, which, by the way, applies only to employers that have 15 or more employees. The court has not yet said whether that same reasoning applies to federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in other contexts like housing, like education, like credit, like jury service. These are all places where if you take Bostock at its word, it absolutely should cover those contexts. But we’ve already seen defendants in cases arising those other contexts trying to suggest that the result should be different and really resisting. But I think is a natural implication of Boshoff, which is that anywhere that federal law says we’re prohibited from discrimination based on our sex, that includes our sexual orientation and our transgender status. So those things are in fact not secure. They should follow from the court’s reasoning. Not clear whether the court, as currently composed, would reach that step. And that’s why we need Congress to pass that Equality Act to really codify those protections. But let’s just assume that we have those protections and now we’re faced with the question of who can get an exemption to discriminate against us. And you referenced the Masterpiece Cake Shop case, one that’s near and dear to my heart, because I represented Dave and Charlie, the couple in the case for many years. And so many people even in our community have said, what’s the big deal? It’s just a wedding cake. Can’t you just go somewhere else and say, well, it’s not just a wedding cake, right? Planning a wedding is supposed to be one of the happiest times in your life. And anyone who’s planned a wedding can say maybe happy and maybe unhappy, but it’s very yeah, it’s a significant time. Let’s say it’s not a happy time. It’s an emotionally significant time. When you think about the act of choosing a wedding cake, you know, Dave and Charlie had actually waited until Charlie’s mom was going to be in town so that she could help them select their cake. And you think about what it feels like to walk into the store with your mom or with your future mother in law and to be told right off the bat, you know, essentially your dollar isn’t good enough, your kind isn’t welcome here. And what that was like for them, they went back to the car. Charlie broke down in tears, really relying on his mother for comfort. And what that means for the rest of your wedding planning process, you will never walk into another vendor the same way with that confidence of your dreams. Forget wedding vendors. You’ll never go to a car repair shop. You’ll never walk into a bank with that same confidence and without that fear of being turned away just because of who you are. So it’s not about the ability to access wedding cakes, right? It’s about the ability of all of us to go about our daily lives free from the fear of being turned away just because of who we are. And that goes to things that are far more core than the ability to plan a wedding. Although I do think that planning a wedding is actually a pretty big deal. So will the court, you know, erode those protections? I think in Masterpiece Cake Shop, the court really punted and signaled that at least with the folks who are on the court then, which, of course, included Justice Kennedy, who had ruled in favor of over NFL. You know, it was clear that the court was troubled by the conflict, but it was also unwilling to go as far as the bakery and the Trump administration had asked. It was unwilling to say that you can always discriminate against same sex couples simply because of your religious beliefs or simply because the thing you’re selling has to be artistic, because that’s what the baker was asking for and that’s what the Trump administration was asking for. The court didn’t go there and the court really punted and said, you know what, we have some concerns about the way the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. We handled this case, the bakery gets a free pass for its discrimination against even Charlie, but it still has to follow the law in the future, including I think the clear implication was if another same sex couple were to walk into masterpiece cake shop in the future, they would be entitled to buy the same product that’s offered to everybody else. So it was really a one off. And in end, we’re seeing our opponents try and sort of drive a wedge into that one, often to make it bigger than it really was and say, you know what, that wasn’t a one off. But actually that was that was the start of a new line of cases entitled to exemptions. And the question is, you know, will the court buy that or, you know, will it take what I think were somewhat sympathetic questions towards Catholic Social Services, that argument. But will the court sort of limit any exemption to this, yet another context, yet another one off, or will it have appetite to say something, say something broader? But I think the real harm in this case, to be clear, is not the parents, because you’re right, the parents can go somewhere else, though I think it’s profoundly harmful to the children who are entrusted to Catholic Social Services, who are being deprived of the opportunity to be placed with our families. Essentially, as Catholic Social Services is saying, we think kids are better off with no parents at all than parents like you. And that’s true regardless of whether the best family for a child might be an LGBT family. It might be it might not be right. It’s going to depend on the kid. And so that’s really the real losers here. And that’s what part of what makes this so painful, because it’s not about the parents, it’s about the children.
S3: I feel like the Cavanough confirmation was such was a painful moment for a lot of progressives. And then the confirmation of somehow I don’t even know the particular feeling of despair, at least in my own social circle, that, like the Trump administration had had these two very significant victories with respect to the Supreme Court. Do you think that this overstates or misunderstands the role of the court itself, which is how do you and how do you feel you think about the court, especially with respect to the executive, like who is in the White House and how that how that changes the kinds of cases that we see proceeding through the legal system?
S5: Well, there’s no question that the balance of power has shifted in the Supreme Court. And, you know, one thing that’s been really helpful for me as a women’s rights lawyer and former LGBT rights litigator is to realize the court has not always been with the ACLU on the many, many issues that we litigate. So for many of our colleagues, this is actually not a shift in power. This is the way that it’s always been. And that has not stopped us from fighting, you know, whether it’s, you know, engaging in harm reduction, can we because we have found tremendous success in the lower courts. And it’s really only when it gets to this incredibly political Supreme Court where we’ve seen justices take these partisan views that are not necessarily reflected by their colleagues in the lower courts, even those who were appointed by Trump. You know, one example was the dissent we saw from Alito and Thomas and the Kim Davis case, which got so much attention in our community because it was so disturbing to see them really calling for Obama fail to be overturned or severely limited. But it’s important to remember that when the Kim Davis case was decided by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, you know, the three judge panel was unanimous and having no problem at all finding that Kim Davis was in the wrong. And that included, you know, two Republican judges, including one who had been appointed by Trump. So this was really not a partisan question until I got to the Supreme Court. And what can we do? What can we do in the lower courts? How many people can we help? How many harmful policies can we stave off for some amount of time? How many stories can we tell? How much public opinion can we change by telling our stories and by telling our truth, even if ultimately we don’t have the votes in the Supreme Court to get there? And, you know, the other thing is to remember that even the Kennedy court was not necessarily the greatest champion of LGBT people, as I said. I mean, Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion masterpiece cake shop, which really did let the bakery off the hook for its discrimination against even Charlie. And my mind was a real missed opportunity to reaffirm, you know, that core civil rights protections apply to LGBT people in the same way that they do to everyone else.
S1: We’re coming out of this really, I think just like overwhelming, distracting period of the election. And now part of the reason we have this want to do the segment was to like refocus ourselves on what’s coming next. Like, what are what are the next battles that queer people and then people generally should should be paying attention to. If you could pick like two or three top line things that you’re working on. The ACLU is working on that. You would love it if our listeners could sort of pay attention to and that could mean support financially, but also just sort of be talking about and thinking about what would those be?
S6: I think this question of trans young people in sports is so important because these are the most vulnerable people in the LGBT community and the way that we as a nation decide to treat them really as a measure of our decency. This is an opportunity for the new administration to step in and really issue clear guidance, saying that young people have to be treated consistent with who they are in all contexts. We saw the Obama. Administration do this for trans people in the context of bathrooms. I think the time has come for a really loud and unequivocal message when it comes to sports, because the danger that it poses these young people and just the way in which fear of young people who maybe are different is being used to drive wedges between different communities, between the LGBT community and women’s community, though I don’t think it’s been successful. But they’re trying they’re trying really hard to fracture us and we just need to come together. So I’d love to see all eyes on that and is going to be, I think, really brutal season in the state legislatures as we see states try to actually pass laws to do the opposite, which is to bar trans young people from participating in sports consistent with who they are. And we need to all be vigilant and not sort of rest easy knowing there will be a new team in the White House, because so much of this damage can happen at the state level. And that’s really where we need to be focusing our attention. All right.
S2: That’s all the time we have. Thank you so much for joining us.
S3: Yeah. Thank you so much. Was great.
S6: Thank you so much for having me.
S1: Alan Ball is known for his darkly beautiful writing and directing and hit shows like Six Feet Under and True Blood and his hunting study of Frustrated Sexuality and Family Life. American Beauty and Uncle Frank Ball turns this lens on his own Southern roots and whispers there of men in his family who were like him. Also that way, set mainly in nineteen seventy three, the film tells a story of a teenage Beth Bledsoe, who leaves her rural South Carolina hometown to study at New York University, where her beloved Uncle Frank, played by Paul Bettany, is a revered literature professor. She soon discovers that Frank is gay and that he’s living with his longtime partner, Walleyed Nadhim. And that is an arrangement that has been kept secret from the family for years. After the sudden death of Frank’s father and best grandfather, Frank is forced to return home very reluctantly for the funeral, with Beth in tow and to face a lot of trauma that he has spent much of his adult life running away from. For listeners to get a taste of the film will play a clip here.
S7: We can take turns driving. No more not coming. You’re pushing me away again just when you’re going to need me the most. I didn’t come to your father’s funeral. No, I did not want you to come to my father’s funeral. Yes. And I respected your wishes and I didn’t try to talk you into letting me. It’s not the same thing. I have a question. You the stupidest man alive, obviously lukewarm with.
S1: Oh, so there’s a lot that we can talk about in this movie, I think. But maybe one starting place is how did you all relate to Frank’s resistance or terror, really to having his New York City gay life and his sort of South Carolina family life converge? And, you know, is that tension was set in seventy three. Is that a tension that we still feel is sort of relevant today?
S3: Well, you know, the last time the three of us were together, we talked about the boys in the band, which is the test also of this particular period. Right. The 1960s, 1970s also talking about, you know, what it was to be gay in a very different cultural context. Mm hmm. The difference, I guess, between these two texts, right, is that the boys in the band is a text from that moment and this is a text looking back at that moment. And so the simple fact that Alan Ball felt it was important to make this film, I guess, answers that it is still relevant, that maybe there’s something important to remember, that there was a period of time in which people’s lives were dictated by the closet. You know, and I think as a dramatization of how that operated, Uncle Frank is sort of an interesting document. Like it’s useful to see how an urbane and successful man would have maintained this charade, because in the movie we see him introducing his family to a woman who he’s pretending is his girlfriend. And so we see a little bit of how that deceits.
S1: Yeah, this is it, like a sort of hilarious dinner party in New York where they’ve come up to bring the bring the niece to school. And yeah, this friend of the place plays the wife. Right.
S3: And you know, the girlfriend, it’s like maybe that’s not relevant to how our lives are conducted, but there are people out there living this particular conundrum right now. You know, it may not look exactly the same. It may not involve, like the charade of heterosexuality, but there are plenty of people who live closeted or something, closeted experiences for whatever reason. And it’s useful to remember that. It’s useful to remember that even if it’s like teenage boys are pretending to be gay on ticktock, there are still many adults who are not able to be fully themselves around their families. And this is how that can look.
S2: Hmm. I also thought the way they juxtaposed Wali’s, his relationship with his family in Saudi Arabia and Franck’s relationship with his family in the US was interesting and says a lot about the way the Wright talks about Islam today, where a lot of times in response to accusations of homophobia or misogyny in the US, people like Donald Trump and the right will say, well, things are worse in these other countries. Aren’t you glad you live here? I remember you know, that was Donald Trump’s response to Kazakhstan speaking at the DNC. You know, his wife didn’t say anything. She must be so oppressed as sort of a defense against his own misogyny. Even recently, my mom very sweetly posted something on Instagram, a photo from my wedding, along with a request to vote this November. And I had posted something like that. She reposted it and an old neighbor of ours responded with like, oh, so you would rather live in a country where, you know, gays are murdered for further homosexuality. So I think the way this movie showed similar kinds of homophobia in two different cultures was pretty unique. You don’t see a lot of of that kind of explicit analogy drawing in a way that cast aspersions on American culture. I thought that was one of the only like new things the film did. I think it was, for me a little bit of a slog through gay movie tropes that were held together by a lot of really great performances. I enjoyed it very much because of all of the excellent performances and all of the characters who it was like a murderer’s row of like, oh, it’s that guy, you know. Totally. Yeah, a lot of character actors. What did you think, Brian? This was? You know, I think that it takes place in South Carolina. Right. Which is. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. My relationship to this movie is complicated and rich, troubled by it, by these details. Yeah. I mean, the town that he’s from is is in South Carolina. It’s not too far from from where I grew up. Much more rural though. But yeah. I mean, I certainly felt some IDs with the story of the person from the South who sort of in his case, I would say in Frank’s case, you know, flees to New York, my my own experience wouldn’t I wouldn’t put it that way. But, you know, certainly saw it in New York as a place to go be myself in a way that I did not feel possible to me even in early 2000. South Carolina. Right. Not to mention nineteen seventy three. But and then having, you know, having especially earlier in my 20s, like a real a real sense of like two lives where I had this burgeoning career life in the city with with boyfriends and girlfriends and, and sort of life that looked very gay that I did not for a long time. Feel at all comfortable, you know, having touch anything back home, and so when Frank is is sort of in this just like almost sick from from the thought of of of having not just to go home himself, but to have his partner while he does, in fact, insist on coming with him to the funeral, that just visceral like terror about what that might happen is something I have felt like in one way or another, like that was very familiar and I thought well rendered. And thus, you know, overall and I agree that the movie is not terribly new, but it felt like it got at some some of the emotional truths of this dynamic in a way that I hadn’t hadn’t seen before.
S2: Yeah, the movie did a really good job of showing the way that for many people, even if you do have an incredibly vibrant and fulfilling life away from your family of origin, especially if they don’t accept you or don’t know that you’re queer, that doesn’t mean you completely leave that history behind. There is always something there that’s haunting you and that you need some sort of closure, which the way the film ended, I’m not going to spoil anything. But it almost seemed like something that would have been assigned to ball, you know, in therapy. Like, how do you wish this would have ended? What’s the best way this could have ended in a way to tie a bow on this in a in a pleasing fashion?
S3: There is a lot of trope, as Christine has said already in this movie, there’s a lot of sort of the deployment of things that feel familiar and a little bit stale. However. One detail that I really liked or one component of this film that I really liked was the notion of Uncle Frank by virtue of his outsider status as sort of a closeted gay person possessing a kind of different approach to his relationship, to his knees. Yeah, this is a trope, but I really enjoyed it. Like early in the film, we hear him talking to his knees. This isn’t really a spoiler, but he’s sort of trying to encourage her to come to him if she needs advice on sex or if she wants to think about having a different kind of life than she might have been bred to have. And I really love that. And I recognize in that some of my own impulse when I think about, like younger people in my or it’s like there’s the responsibility that you have as somebody who like if you got out and you made a life on your own terms to sort of communicate directly, especially to people who are sort of entering adolescence or reckoning with like what their first steps of adulthood might look like to say to them, like, oh, well, you know, you can also, whatever it is, moved to New York, have a sexual life, like whatever whatever those things are that you can kind of talk about that with a certain kind of candor and that maybe you even have a responsibility to do that. And I think that every gay person I know probably knows what that’s like to recognize not necessarily a gay teen, but a teen who is like a little different. Yeah. You know, and I don’t think Beth is meant to be gay in this film, but I do think she’s meant to be a little bit different, that she’s bookish, that she’s got a kind of intellectual life that the rest of her family doesn’t have. And haven’t we all had that experience of being look at a family gathering and like you recognize that one cousin and you’re like, oh, I should I should talk to them.
S2: I should. Yeah, yeah. You know, it speaks to something that I feel about gay culture, which is that being a part of a queer community gives you all kinds of permissions to make a life that’s different from the norm in ways that sometimes have nothing to do with sex. Yeah, I do appreciate the way that she also recognizes this about him, even if she doesn’t understand what being gay means or that he’s gay. But, you know, his fingernails are clipped, right? Yeah. He like he lives in New York City. And it’s like in that way a little bit of a stereotype of gay men that she recognizes even if she doesn’t attach a sexuality to it. And I think it would have been the same even if he didn’t live in New York City or clip his fingernails. You know, there’s just something about him and she sort of turns that around on him later in the film. In a way, that part of me was a little bit like, ho hum, another movie where we’re like watching a gay character through the eyes of a straight character. Yeah, but Frank has a little bit more like drives the story a little bit more than I think is the case in a lot of other films that like watches a marginalized character through the eyes of a character that the majority of the audience could more easily identify with.
S3: If you watch this movie with your family, if you’re part of the kind of family that can watch a serious movie like this and like together, I do think that, like some members of the family will see it as like, oh, yes, this is sort of profound and interesting. And I haven’t seen this before. And some members of that family, like the three of us, might be like what? We’ve seen this story before and it doesn’t really advance anything. Yeah. That said, Alan Ball is a very, very technically adept filmmaker. And so this is like a very beautiful version of a story that we’ve all kind of heard before. So I’m I’m torn with how to talk about that. Like, I probably never need to see another movie in my life where characters run down a dock and then plunge into like I’ve seen that movie a million times. But, yeah, there’s a reason these conventions do work on an audience. And do you think that they are successfully deployed here? And the depiction of the sort of a doomed romance from Frank’s youth in particular is really tough for me because it’s like I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen this before. I just feel like a lot of gay movies require like that the boys go swimming because. Oh, my God, the interest.
S4: Right. Including boys in the band, like they’re like each other in slow motion, like torso’s brushing towards a it’s a biological. Yeah.
S3: I mean as a gay as a as someone who was once a young gay person myself, like I never like got it on with anybody when I was swimming like like I don’t know how that’s a rite of passage up here. You need to leave. I guess I need to go back to rethink my youth.
S1: It does happen that and balls and family there is that story so that that particular story of the drowning is something that was told to him sort of second hand. I think his mother when he came out that there was this story in the family and in the town that something like this had happened. So it was coming out. I mean, it is you’re right very right that it is a trend, but it also seems to have been true. To some degree for him, one thing I just wanted to say before we wrap up is like I did really just as a Southerner, enjoy seeing its attention to what to the way queerness sort of is discussed and thought about in the south. There’s a wonderful scene toward the end where one of his relatives says after he’s sort of come out, she says to Frank, like, oh, yeah, I remember those backward bobbies that, like, used to run the salon down the street or something like that. You know, it’s it’s not it’s not that that is I guess you could call backward Bobby Ostler, although very cute.
S4: So it’s a very I found it so charming, so charming. You know, I loved it. I would love to be called that from someone like a backwards Brian.
S1: Yeah, but what she was showing was that there is and this is very true, I think in the South, a way that queerness had been acknowledged and sort of it’s not quite such a wasteland as we sometimes imagine. Right. That there are ways of having queer life there.
S3: And Christina mentioned this before. And I want to just hammer this point home. There’s some great performances in this. Margo Martindale, who is one of just like the best actors, I think really is just so winning as the matriarch of this family and made me one like a stoic, serious southern mom of my own. You know, I really did love her performance. And I think Paul Beninese performance is also quite lovely.
S1: Well, Amazon will be releasing this Uncle Frank, this movie on the 25th, just which is the day before Thanksgiving.
S4: So if you are indeed looking for a serious, challenging but not challenging but serious family movie to watch, if you are having Thanksgiving or if you’re alone and want to see someone else’s family have a big yeah, if you would if you love them giving you a family drama, then yeah, definitely. Yeah, yeah. It is a family drama.
S1: So check it out on on Amazon on the twenty fifth.
S3: Well that’s about it for this month. But of course we have to wrap up with the gay agenda, talking about what is on our queer calendars for the weeks ahead. Brian, would you like to get us started.
S1: I would. I’m so excited about this one. It is something that in this particular instantiation I have not seen, but I know from seeing previous versions of it that it will be excellent. So this is Taylor Mark, who is an artist, performer and a MacArthur genius winner, among other things. And a wonderful career artist is doing a show called Holiday Sauce, which is something that I should use correct. Pronounce something that Judy has done for a number of years now. And this time it’s going to be a pandemic edition. And so that means it will be streamed, it will be live streamed on December 12th for people to see. But then I think it will be sort of pay per view later after that. It’s a holiday themed variety sort of show with songs and little skits and that kind of thing. But it’s just incredibly funny. Incredibly, we’re very, very much about, you know, sort of a queer approach to the holiday season and to family and to all the things that come with that. And Taylor is joined in this by other artists who are doing his costumes, which are always just insane works of art sculptures, really. Those are done by machine deisel and some other folks. And there are other performers, other musicians. And so it’ll be just a really, really beautiful career holiday variety show. And so that’s again, called Telematics Holiday Soss pandemic. And it’ll be starting on December 12th and then assumable after that. It’s just one of the best things I’ve ever seen for the holidays and generally. So I highly, highly recommend that people check it out.
S3: I love that. I feel like the quarantine has really brought out the creativity of certain performers. And so, like, if this is a performer you already love, like the chances are they’re going to really rise to this particular moment.
S1: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And anybody can do it again.
S2: This is just I’m going to put you on the spot here because you’re one of the best cooks and cocktail masters I know. Oh, my gosh. Can you recommend something for a small, pared down Thanksgiving celebration in terms of cocktails or in terms of either one cocktail side dish or whatever is inspiring you this month?
S1: I’m inspired to recommend in terms of food, if you insist on doing Turkey, which I’m I’m kind of like a Turkey hater, but if you well prepared for this event. But for people who want to do Turkey, I have long been a fan of doing a turkey breast, relied on a garden, has a recipe that’s very good. There’s other ones and it’s just so much simpler. You just get the turkey breast, you stuff it with delicious things, roll it, tie it and roast it and it saves you all. The trouble of the you know, is the dark meat done? Is the white meat like all of that is avoided and you just have this beautiful. And very like clean, you sort of cut it into these pretty little slices, so I love that. And then DrinkWise, I am really into it’s very old cocktail, but I just I only just sort of discovered it called the Martinez, which is actually thought to be the precursor to the martini, but is a little more complicated. It’s gin maraschino liquor and vermouth and a little bit of bitters. And it is it tastes like fall sort of dark and a little, but not as broody as like a bourbon. Best thing would be sort of more festive with the gin. So that’s what I’ve been doing and will continue drinking.
S4: Thanks, Brian. Wow. That’s a really delivered. Yeah. I want to make that tonight. Yeah.
S1: It’s really it’s I can’t I’m like so into it. It’s great. Yeah.
S2: Well I am recommending Women Zeine this month. Zina’s a little bit of a misnomer. It’s it’s higher production value than a Zeon, more of a chapbook or like a small journal, but it’s a publication of lesbian poetry and visual art. The second issue dropped this summer. It’s called Show Me What You Got. And I just started looking through it. I just got it. The works are all created by Dykes, who are 55 and older. That’s specific to this issue. The first issue, I think, was by rural lesbians. But I’ve been really feeling hungry for the feeling of being in a queer space recently in normal life. I go to my local lesbian bar a lot, and lately, especially as it’s become clear that it’s going to be even harder to see my people outside as the weather gets colder and the days are getting shorter, I’ve been looking for more queer media as a way to feel connected to and part of a culture even as we’re dispersed. So this issue of women Zeine does that for me. It also feels like walking through an art exhibition, which is another thing that I haven’t done enough of in recent months or up. And I’ve been especially grateful to spend time with some of the images of aging women’s bodies in the book, especially those from photographer Judy Brown. They’re part of her antique skin series. And as a woman who hopes to reach a ripe old age, I have thought a lot about what it means that I really haven’t seen a lot of naked, older women’s bodies through a lens of appreciation and not criticism or even at all. And so this Zeine or this journal has really been a joy to spend time with in this increasingly dark and cold month where I’ve been apart from so many people in the community for so long. I see the name of it again. It’s called Women Zeine, W.M. and Zeine. And this issue is called Show Me What You Got.
S3: That sounds great. Yeah. Mom, what about you? I mean, I am also missing a connection, not even just a queer space, but really to any space. Right. So we’ve just been so limited to the domestic sphere. I am normally like a deeply anti Black Friday person. But I just want to say that I am very mindful of the fact that most of the independent bookstores in this country rely on the revenue they make between Thanksgiving and Christmas to survive the entire year. And so I’m really thinking at this moment about our holiday spending, which is significant. But we buy gifts for the kids and their cousins and friends and teachers and using that really thoughtfully to invest in the kind of cities that we hope to return to someday. It’s very easy to find a list of your local independent bookstores. It’s very easy to find a list nationwide of LGBTQ bookstores. And the truth is that both of those subsets of businesses will sell and ship to you no matter where you are. So it is possible to do your holiday shopping at the great lesbian gay bookstore in Philadelphia, even if you don’t live there. And I really want this year to think about how we’re spending our money because there’s no point to me. And living in New York City, there’s no point to me. And living in Washington, DC, wherever you find yourself right now, if we don’t preserve the things that make those places special, it’s very difficult to preserve the gay bars right now. It’s very hard to understand that that’s going to require federal intervention for bars and restaurants. But we can, as the retail consumers, support these independent businesses that make cities what they are. And so that is my gay agenda right now is figuring out how to do all of our family holiday shopping at, like independent and queer bookstores in unexpected places. It really just takes like one more step of initiative than it does to shop on Amazon. But I. Really, do you think it’s worth it? So that is my political agenda for the month.
S2: I love that. Also, sometimes I get a little overwhelmed by the abundance of choices for shopping that we now have with the Internet. And choosing to limit it in that way, I think will be helpful. I accept that challenge. And I also along those lines want to mention something called the Lesbian Bar Project, which just launched. It’s a partnership, weirdly enough, between Leah Deloria and Yagur Maistre to the strange bedfellows. Right, exactly. The pandemic is really forcing some new people to make connections with one another. Don’t know if any lesbians drink Yagur Maestre, but legalizers showing up for our community here. Helyar they put together a list of 15, the only 15, I believe, remaining lesbian bars in the US and are trying to fundraise to keep them afloat during the pandemic. So you can go to a lesbian bar project dotcom again. To your point, Remon, I know small donations are not going to keep these 15 businesses in business for the rest of the pandemic and we need some coordinated action from local and state and federal governments. But I’m encouraged by the existence of this project and I hope that at least small donations can help tide them over until some better new legislation gets passed. Yeah, here’s hoping.
S1: Yeah, we’ll put that on the show page for sure. That sounds awesome. I’ll jump into that.
S2: All right. That is our show for this month. Thank you for listening. And if you have feedback or ideas for topics you think we should cover on the show, please email us at Outward Podcast at Slate Dotcom. We lovingly read all of your messages or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter at Slate Outward. Our usual producer is Daniel Shrader. This episode was produced beautifully by Jessamine. Molly June. Thomas is the managing producer of Slate podcasts and the stoic northern mother. We all rely upon, if you like, outward, which let’s be real. You made it to the end of the episode. You do. Please subscribe on your podcast app, tell your friends to do the same and write and review the show positively so that other people can find it and love it as much as you. We will be back in your feeds on December 16th with our final show of the year. Until then, Fairman.
S4: Bye, guys. Great to see you. Bye, Brian. See, stay gay, everyone.