The Queerness of Quarantine Bubbles

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S1: Hello, I’m Brian Louder. Editor of Outward and as my uncut, messy hair grows longer. I can feel my gay powers. It’s like a Samson and Delilah story that in reverse.

S2: Soon I will be a little more than a hirsute husk.

S3: Was nice knowing you, my dear friends. I believe in you, Brian. I’m Christina Cutter Ritchie, a staff writer at Slate, and I’m still weeping over the divine gift of the new Fiona Apple album in this time of need. It’s truly some manna from heaven nourishing me, body and soul.

S4: I’m ramal Allama and I am living every day like it’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Between homeschooling and scrolling Twitter, I have just been self medicating with a nightly scotch on the rocks and I am going to emerge from this period, hopefully without Kofod 19, but possibly with cirrhosis of the liver. But you have to maintain, you know, some grasp on sanity. However you can. And as somebody with many years of baldness under my belt, let me just say, Brian, your hair looks great. Oh, my God. Thank you.

S3: All right. Before we get started this week, we have one order of business. We would like to cordially invite all of our listeners to a special virtual pride hangout on June 3rd. We’re going to be hosting a special guest, Bob the Drag Queen, for an 8:00 p.m.. Let’s call it a Qiqi. We’re gonna be live on the interweb with a few cocktails and snacks. It’s a BYOB. So prepare something for yourself. You can go to sleep, dot com slash live for more details. But just know you can expect something a little Lucy Gousse here than our normal show. And who knows what Bob will have in store for us. It’s going to be so much fun. You can ask us questions, too. Again, that’s June 3rd at eight p.m.. Go to Slate dot com slash live for details.

S2: Yeah, that is gonna be so much fun. I cannot wait. But first, we’ve got another great queer in Teen Times show for you this month. First, we’ll hash out an intriguing proposition that Christina brought to the coven, which is that in a number of surprising ways, queer people may have been better prepared for dealing with the curved crisis, social distancing and all the rest of it than other groups of people. Then we thought we’d discuss two fascinating and maybe unexpectedly related new queer films on Netflix. The titled The First is A Secret Love, and the second is Circus of Books. And then we’ll end with our usual updates. The Gay Agenda. But first, it’s time for pride and provocations. Reman, what do you have for our consideration this month?

S4: I’m feeling kind of proud this month. I just finished reading a book called The Chiffon Trenches, which is a memoir by Andre Leon on telly. It’s a take it’s a take no prisoners account of his years working in high fashion Andre until he began his career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He worked at Andy Warhol Interview magazine. He worked at Vanity Fair. And he was famously a longtime associated with Vogue magazine.

S5: The book is really dishy. It’s really candid about his lifelong friendship with Karl Lagerfeld, the late designer of Chanel. And it’s very candid about his sort of falling out with Anna Wintour, who is, of course, the editor in chief of American Vogue, and really talks a lot about his role and the role generally of black people in mainstream American fashion. And later in his life, Talley gained quite a bit of weight and he talks a lot about what it is to be somebody and kind of an unruly body in the constrained and conventional world of high fashion. It’s a really, really interesting book. It’s sort of like having it sort of like sitting down to drinks with somebody who has seen a lot and is really ready to tell their story. And it’s kind of a nice break from all of the serious news that I know we’re all reading.

S2: Yeah, I’ve seen some fight, some fire quotes. Yes, yes. Yes. It’s especially about miss on exactly what exactly.

S4: It’s really taken fire on the Internet. So, Christina, what are you feeling this month?

S3: I’m provoked this month. I’m provoked by a piece on the strategist at New York magazine titled Elevon Best Mother’s Day Gifts for Two Mom Families. Now, I’m glad that the strategist was making an effort to be inclusive of all kinds of families from Mother’s Day. And I should preface this by saying, gift guys are sort of a constant source of hate reading for me just because if they ever try to attempt any degree of specificity as to. The identity of the gift recipient. It always ends up seeming like completely insulting and reductive and full of crunchy stereotypes. I’ve written about gift guides for men and how they make them all seem like lumberjack, like drunken Beyonce. But one one wonders, why does a mom who parents with another mom need a different sort of gift from a mom who parents with a dad or on her own? And I know I don’t know if the woman who wrote the pieces queer, but the gifts were recommended by members of two mom families themselves. And also Dana Rudolph, who’s the founder of the parenting the LGBTQ parenting site Mamby in its portmanteau of mom and lesbian, in case you couldn’t tell. Oh, nice. So one of my friends who is a lesbian and a mom sent this to me and she was like, why does being in a two mom family mean that? I can’t expect a very expensive, beautiful gift because the suggestions were terrible. One of them is the children’s book Mommy, Mama and Me, which for Mother’s Day, a mom should not expect a present for her own child. It should be something that she could enjoy. Yeah, two of the suggestions are literally just greeting cards that happened to have something about, you know, two moms on them. Don’t get your two moms, one single car. They each deserve their own card and you better get them something besides a greeting card. One of the suggestions was a donation to an LGBTQ family nonprofit. Very well-meaning, kind. I’m sure a lot of parents out there are feeling altruistic in this time. But she also deserves something of her own. And just the and then there was like, you know, send them to a hotel to give them a Serj gift card, things that literally anyone could enjoy. But that sort of drove home to me the absurdity of trying to give, like, narrow down the gift recipient so far that there that there could ever be a specific gift that a lesbian who is a parent would want for Mother’s Day, but not any other kind of person. So the whole endeavor really rubbed me the wrong way, provoked me. You could say, I like it.

S4: I like you know, we I have two kids and we do not have a mom living in our household. And so Mother’s Day always kind of feels like it doesn’t really have a place in our family’s life. And then Father’s Day doesn’t really either because our kids are so young that it ends up just being my husband. David, the night doing nice things for one another. And, you know, like many gay couples, we’re like basically the same person. And I don’t know what the possible gift you could give to him that I would not also want to possess. So, like, it’s like you said, it’s well-meaning, but that’s I can see why that would be provoking.

S2: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Brian, how are you feeling? I am feeling provoked this month as well as some of our listeners may have seen toward the end of April. This organization, activist organization, advocacy organization called By that got on Twitter and claimed that they owned the copyright to the buy flag. Now, that is the flag that is pink, purple and blue bars. Very simple flag. See it all the time at Pride and other events. They claim they earned it and started asking birth like independent artists who abuse the flag and things that they were making. And groups like the HRC and other advocacy organizations to to reach out to make licensing licensing agreements with them. Now, this is pretty audacious, but what was pleasing was that in a rare moment of queer unanimity, every single bio person I saw online vigorously rejected this notion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen, you know, a group of people. So nine to 10. And their hostility to this idea. And it’s worth noting just that. As far as anyone, as far as I can tell from sort of reading up on it, it’s actually impossible to claim copyright on an image like that on a flag in the first place. And most cases, and then especially ones that are sort of just colors and shapes and design in general, those are not things that you can copyright. But anyway, like so so this this precipitated a long, messy series of statements and account deletions and petitions and drama. I’m not gonna get into all of that here if you want to go read about it. The advocate has covered a out, has covered it. Various publications have little rundowns, but I don’t think we need to get into all that on the podcast. The point I want to make is just that even if someone could make this kind of claim legally, no one should. No one should have ownership over a symbol like the like the bayou flag or the rainbow flag or any of the various queer flags that we hold dear because it just goes against the spirit of community that there are therefore. And it’s just sort of a bad luck. So I’m glad that it seems like maybe the bayou community as a whole one my one might hazard has rejected this. And also that by now, the organization that made the claim seems to have backed down. But while this is going on, I was very prevaricating. And so let’s let’s not ever do that again.

S3: Understandably. It does sound like it could end on a moment of pride, though, to see a rare moment of what seems to be unanimity within the community.

S4: I like that social, social, social distancing has not affected people’s ability to stir up drama.

S2: No, not at all. Not at all. Something else. Something to be proud of. Definitely.

S3: So two episodes ago, we spoke with Alfonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, about the disproportionate impact of the corona virus pandemic and the economic recession on LGBTQ people. We’re still more likely than are says and street counterparts to be without health insurance and to work in industries like hospitality and sex work that are suffering right now. This week, we’re going to talk about something a little different. The flip side of that disproportionate harm, which is a little theory I’ve been bouncing around about how queer communities are better prepared than others to weather this kind of instability and the way that our traditions of resilience and family making it can actually sustain us through this crisis. So I first thought about this in relation to quarantine bubbles or pods, as some people call them. For those of you who haven’t heard about this concept, it’s an expansion of the household during quarantine to include a couple of other households, essentially. So you want to keep your group to 10 or fewer people. It’s a way to get more social support, more social connection in what ends up being a relatively safe way, much safer by several orders of magnitude than large gatherings. And if everyone in a pod is following social isolation orders outside of the pod, it’s only very slightly less safe than isolating alone. It’s essentially just expanding your family or your household to a larger size. So my wife and I are in a pod with two other couples. We talked about the possibility of creating a pod for a few weeks before we started hanging out in closer contact. You know, we would. Go on a hike together. Keep our distance sort of feeling each other out. Until, you know, now I think we’ve had one dinner indoors, but it’s been so nice that we’ve still mostly been hanging out outdoors. But we’ve also been picking up groceries for each other, cooking for each other, and generally making a new social unit for this really difficult time. And the whole process of setting this up, you know, discussing relative risk, harm reduction, negotiating boundaries, establishing a foundation of trust and honesty and consent felt very queer, actually, the kinds of conversations that I would normally associate with non monogamy or ethical relationship building in general and sort of reimagining what it means to be a family unit. And because everyone in my pod is queer. We felt highly prepared to do that kind of processing that was required of us in this moment. We were like already halfway there in terms of trusting people to abide by ground rules and trusting them to make the best decision for themselves. So I want to take this moment to applaud queer traditions for setting us up to make this happen. Have you guys experienced anything similar?

S2: Well, it’s so funny because when you you brought this idea to the group and I and I meet you were describing what, you know, the process that you have gone through to form your your quarantine. Cool. And I immediately recognized that I haven’t done that myself yet, but I immediately recognized sort of the the familiarity that you describe between, like, sort of muscles that you already had. Right. From being queer and how they could be used in a different way. And this moment, I had been thinking about the same thing, like in terms of let’s call it like public health calculus. Just we’re try to put a banner over what I’m trying to talk about. For me, you knew as a gay man, I have since the moment I came out, I had been thinking about things like exposure right. To HIV and other issues with HIV, especially especially before prep, like early on in my life. Exposure risk mitigated risk harm reduction. Right. Like, how do you think about, you know, you don’t want to be abstinent necessarily. So how do you find ways of having sex that are safer? Right. Like all of those kinds of modes of thinking are so familiar to me and just so ingrained in the way that I approach and have approach like sexual health in my life that I’m hearing about, you know, a new pathogen that isn’t the same as those pathogens. Right. Are the same as the same as HIV or other S.T. eyes, but is nonetheless nonetheless requires the same kind of mathematics. Right. Made it easier for me to think about it. Right. I remember I, I feel like I was reading articles early on in and during covered where people were sort of seeming to just grasp, just begin to grapple with any of these ideas. And for me, it was like, well, no, of course, like, you know, you if you get tested on this day, then like that tells you something for this amount of time, but no longer than that. Right. Or you need leg. And so so all of that kind of thinking is just so built in to me that this has not that part of this that makes sense, has not felt new or scary. It’s just felt like plugging in different inputs belike to the same the same structure of thinking. And that has been comforting. Right. I’m not I don’t feel so confused about about what testing mechanisms will mean eventually. Right. Because I understand how that works for SDI, as you know. So whatever like that, that was all there already. And I do feel more prepared than I think other people might be. And that has been nice.

S3: And I also think the it’s some people might hear this conversation and think like, oh, this means that queer people will be more likely to be reckless or risky. And, you know, feel less afraid. And so go out and not be isolating is strictly. But I actually think it makes us less likely to do those things because we’re more familiar with assessing the different degrees of risk of different behaviors and understanding. It’s not all black and white.

S2: And the impact on a collective right. Like, I don’t like not all of us think that way, of course. But like, I think more queer people than not certainly consider the impact of individual actions on, you know, I mean, that, again, with HIV. That was just such a huge part of it was just like my. Life does bear on others who may or may not even be immediately connected to me. So it’s it’s it’s that is that thinking is already there and I think, you know, could inspire more caution rather than loss.

S4: I mean, my only the closest I’ve brushed up against this is as a parent where a lot of families I know are really struggling with their kids, especially if there’s only one kid in the household. I’m lucky that we have two and so the boys can kind of socialize with one another. But kids are little social animals and they need human interaction. And so I am aware of families making arrangements like what Christine is describing, where there’s one other family or two other families where the kids can get to play together and they can have dinner together or whatever. And one of the things that I’ve heard from adults involved in these situations is that they’re afraid of talking about publicly. They’re they’re concerned that they will you know, that they will be scolded. That, you know, and so they don’t put it on Instagram. They don’t, you know, share that information. And so effectively, that’s taking place in the closet, which also feels kind of familiar to me. This fear of a fear of probation, guiding a kind of discretion around your social choices feels very familiar to me. And also, when Christina, when you first brought this up, I had told you both the story that a person of my acquaintance seems to be having a very difficult time with the enforcement of the rules, the role observing now that you you may have to wait in line outside of the grocery store or, you know, you may not be able to rely on the help of your nanny and your housekeeper and all of those things. And it is driving this particular person I know, to the very brink. And they are really unable to just do these. Have spoken very publicly about feeling really frazzled. And I have this realization that it was her first real experience of difficulty, that she had never, ever encountered a life that was circumscribed by really anything at all. And that’s pretty remarkable because I think that most of us make calculations constantly with personal safety or with like our own comfort level. Like you do that you negotiate that constantly in society. And there it’s a reminder to me that there are people, mostly straight people, mostly rich, straight people, mostly rich, able bodied white, straight people who don’t necessarily have to negotiate that constantly, who enter every situation with ease and comfort and with the presumption that everything will sort of go as they want it to. And in some ways, being raised that way is to your detriment, because when you do encounter difficulty, you don’t necessarily know how to respond.

S3: Mm hmm. Yeah. That’s a really interesting point. I know there are also a lot of parents right now, especially parents that include a man and a woman has gotten. Who are finding that what they might have thought was an egalitarian setup. It becomes inegalitarian when placed under stress and constraints. And more often than not, the bulk of that extra burden falls on the woman in the relationship. And so I know a lot of very progressive straight couples right now who are sort of grappling with realities about their wage differences and how, you know, when the the man in the couple makes more money, which is usually the case, it makes more sense for the woman to take time off to do child care. And, you know, we could argue for forever about whether or not that calculation actually makes sense. But it it it strikes me and not to say that all queer couples are perfectly egalitarian, you know, if if in egalitarianism as your kink. But it was funny because for a segment on the other podcast that I host, The Waves, which is taking a hiatus right now, I put out a call on Twitter about, you know, I’m trying to hear from women who, you know, about their bulk of domestic labor right now, basically. And a couple of queer people responded and were like, well, there’s two women in my household. And we both started yelling. And I was like, yeah, I know. Like. I’m really proud of you guys. But that that seems like yet another way in which, you know, we the wage gap at any wage gap in a queer couple or in a gay couple is not necessarily gendered. And there are also no strict rules about how to setup a household. You know, we. Negotiate things constantly about what makes sense for our relationship and there’s no default to fall back on.

S4: I think that’s yeah, that is so true, that socio like it’s as you’re saying, Chris, you know, like even I feel like even very progressive straight couples. I mean, most of my friends are very progressive straight people. And I’m often surprised by how they think they fall to default. Assumptions about like shoveling the snow is dad’s job and changing the diapers, his mom’s job, without ever interrogating that or discussing it at all. And that doesn’t take place in my household. It doesn’t. And it’s liberating that it doesn’t. It’s really, really liberating. It would be impossible for me to negotiate working as I am right now and dealing with my kids without a partner who not only respected my work, but didn’t assume that by virtue of my gender, I would be the one to, like, get up and fix the kids breakfast, you know. So, Christina, I mentioned before that I know families kind of constructing an arrangement similar to the one that you describe. And I wondered if you and your partner felt like you were being discreet or private about that arrangement.

S3: 100 percent. In fact, this is my coming and I’m really nervous about it because even I I hadn’t experienced the other day on Slate Slack when the concept of bubbles or pods came up. And it was the first time in a long time that we were really like vigorously disagreeing about something important because usually, like on political issues when we don’t all think the same, but we generally agree on a certain like basic foundation of tenets. This is something about which really smart people, poor and progressive people, can have very different opinions. And so there were a lot of people on slate slack straight people who were like, how can you even trust anyone to abide by the rules of your pod? And I’m like, well, I trust my friends. And also, this kind of negotiation is not foreign to me. And it it it doesn’t you know, it will a like we’ve all done very intense, like mental and communal calculations about the kinds of risks we actually are taking. And they’re very, very slight. But also we feel like the value of being in a community together is something that we can’t go without. You know, with the right being disconnected in a single family unit is not how we function in our lives. And, you know, it only includes more than just the two people in our household.

S2: And we’ve all been through that consensus-based workshops. Oh, my God. Ground, ground, rule making like that’s where we’re all master facilitator. It’s all about stuff.

S3: Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, I, I realized that I am like opening myself up to judgment by saying that I’m a part of this. And you know, I haven’t posted anything on Instagram about it. I’m not. You’re out now. Hodd member. Yeah. But my hope my pod members can remain in the closet. But yeah it definitely feels like. To continue the analogy of, you know, the coming out of the closet, I mean that like, my actions might not only be sinful for me, but could infect the rest of the population, which is a little bit more true in this case than others. But I mean, I just want to assure everyone that I am taking extreme precautions, you know, only hanging out with the people in my pod wearing masks. Yeah, I do. It’s safer.

S2: Well, and I think is you know, I think it’s important for everybody, actually, as we go forward in this these difficult times, TNM of social distancing like this is going to go on at least in states that are smart about it, like for a long time. And I really think that we’re all going to have to find ways of safe as safely as possible, but not with 100 percent safety of of of expanding our our social networks, because it’s just not, as you described it so eloquently just a minute ago, like it is not certainly not natural for me. And I think it’s not sustainable for a lot of people to really just be with their, you know, their home unit and especially with if that home unit is just them. Right. Like those of us with partners and whatnot have at least sort of a built on thing, but like social aspect to our lives. But like even that, like, we are going to need to find ways of smartly expanding those communities. And it’s going to be about risk mitigation, right? It’s going to be about making those calculations. And not everyone will agree, which is the same. The same was true, you know, with with safer sex practices and HIV. Right. Like, people had different ideas about what the right way to do that was. And people, you know, all have to choose for themselves and make that that sort of balance between the good of the community and the needs of the individual. And I feel, again, very prepared to do that going forward. And I think a lot of queers will probably feel the same way.

S4: I think it boils down to that we are accustomed to a belief in the importance of community and doing your part to maintain the order inside of that community. And what the public health crisis that’s unfolding right now is a reminder that we are sort of all a part of the same community. And some of us are accustomed to being participants in the community and some of us are not.

S3: All right. That’s all the time we have for the way queer people are better listeners. We’d love to hear your thoughts on anything we’ve discussed and also about your own experiences during hashtag these times. You can e-mail us at Outward Podcast at Slate, ICOM.

S5: I think many of us would find this period of quarantine so much more difficult without our streaming services. And this month, Netflix is really helping advance the larger gay agenda with two documentaries. Chris Boland’s A Secret Love, which tells the story of potential. And Terry Donahue, a lesbian couple who meet in the 1940s and live a mostly closeted life.

S4: And Rachel Mason’s Circus of Books, which looks at her parents, Karen and Barry Mason, and their unorthodox family business as the proprietors of a gay bookshop in West Hollywood and in Silverlake in Los Angeles. And they’re both great documents of gay life in previous moments. I know we all watched these for our homework for today’s show.

S5: And I have to say that I was really, really touched by a secret love, even though I knew that its agenda was to touch me. It’s hard not to be moved by a love story, especially a love story that spans, you know, many, many decades. These women met in the 1940s. Their two young women from Canada. Terry was a baseball player in the all-American Baseball League, which was immortalized in the extraordinary movie A League of Their Own. A movie I cannot resist watching whenever I catch it on basic cable in the middle of the afternoon. And there’s just something very moving about seeing our. My husband and I, whenever we go to Fire Island every summer and whenever we see are lesbian or gay couples in their 70s or 80s, we always call them our forefathers or our foremothers. And there is something really gratifying about looking at your foremothers and just hearing the story of how their love persevered over decades in a period when it was really, really different matter to be a gay couple. So even though the movie is sentimental and it wants to really push your buttons, I was really happy to have those particular buttons pushed. What did you guys think? It’s a very sweet way to put it.

S2: Yeah. I you know, when I saw the trailer for this for Secret Love, I like was already crying like I was I was like, so ready for for exactly what you’re talking about, Reman. I will say that my experience of watching it actually was a little more complicated than that, which really surprised me. I had sort of settled in for for just a, you know, wow. Hour an hour on our foremothers, as you say. So, so amazing. And they are the couple themselves is really fascinating. And there, you know, the baseball playing was fascinating. The way that they built a life together was really interesting and very much sort of in the you know, closeted is one word, but a bit it’s almost more just like super priva, like it was sort of a myriad of a myriad of being gay together that that is just like about maintaining a very safe space around yourself at home and sort of not. And also having like I mean, they do have gay friends that we meet a little bit along the way, but they certainly didn’t seem to be out and proud in any particular way or like connected to gay politics or anything like that. But the thing that surprised me about the movie was I found myself really bristling at the way the that Terry’s family, biological family treated the couple. There was a strong sense for me that particularly was a a niece who was sort of involved in organizing their, you know, their aging and sort of end of life care, who I felt like really did not take their relationship seriously or as seriously as I would have liked to have seen it taken and sort of treated. Pat, who was Terry’s partner, as a sort of I don’t think she would have treated that person that way if they had been a straight couple. I think they were hundred percent. There would have been a kind of primacy given to what the couple wanted to do, which was, you know, not necessarily go into this or that, you know, assisted living facility or whatever at a given moment. And instead, this needs sort of comes in. It is acting like she has more right to say something than like the spouse does. And that is not something we typically believe in our in our culture for four straight people, certainly. And so I actually found myself very upset in this movie for much of it to see how that was handled. So I don’t know if you all felt that way, but that that was certainly a surprise to me.

S3: I completely agree with that. And I tried to check myself by thinking, like, what would I feel like if my aunt and uncle. You know, my mom’s sister and her husband were in a situation like this where I felt like my aunt deserved better than whatever my whatever her husband was doing.

S2: And we’re talking about just like. No nursing care. That kind of thing. Right.

S3: Right. Like, should they move closer to families? Should they move into an assisted living facility or stay in the house in the city they’ve lived in for 40 years together? I would never feel the right to come in and a key unless there was truly an abuse situation going on to come in and say that I know better for your family than you do or I know better for my aunt. I know what’s best for my aunt, better than you do the person who’s lived with her and been, you know, all but legally married to her for decades. And I think it’s important to note that the filmmaker is Terri’s great nephew. So his mom is the niece that came in and was, you know, bringing all this drama into their life. I mean, that’s my subjective perspective. I was fully team Pat and Jerry. But I thought there was a little bit of a conflict between his desire to give sort of equal footing to the biological family’s perspective and Pat’s perspective. I thought there was a conflict between this, a little bit of a desire for On-Screen drama and what I would have liked for the film, which is to see more of this life that they built together under sometimes really difficult circumstances. I mean, you see almost an entire fight that Terry and Pat and the niece had Terri’s niece have at a kitchen table. And it felt like I was watching Real Housewives or something. Meanwhile. Right. Yeah. The like, very full and vibrant life that they built with their chosen family is only represented in this one dinner they have with their friends. And some photos and videos here in there. And the photos and videos were what was the most touching to me. I mean, I was very hungry for more stories from this very full and happy life that they built together on their own terms. It felt a lot like the straight person’s version of a gay life coming out and marriage being the main storylines sort of book ended by tragedy is like the shame of being in the closet and then death and the family’s acceptance or non-acceptance as the major turning points when really it felt like for much of their lives they didn’t need that acceptance. They didn’t come out until a couple of years before they before, you know, the the documentary filming began. And it was clear to me that they didn’t truly that Terry’s family didn’t truly see Pat as part of the family. And so it was interesting me that a member of Terry’s family was then expected to make a documentary about their life.

S4: It’s true that the movie sort of seems to be a document of this decades long life, but it’s sort of concentrated on a battle about whether or not these two women will enter an assisted living facility now that they’ve sort of at their end of their lives. And I know what you’re saying, Christina and Brian, both that, like you wish the attention had been more on how did these two women, just to kind of ordinary human beings, end up living a life that was so quietly radical and so much of what so much of the tension that arises around the question of whether or not they will go into an assisted living facility comes to a head as a kind of confrontation between Pat and her partners, extended family. And you can and I think a queer person can watch that and see how Pat might have been the strong, resolute one who kind of kept their relationship like that, that she was so motivated by a desire to protect this woman who she just adored so much. And it’s so clear that, like, their affection is so palpable and that Terry’s family perceives her as being kind of difficult and tough and and cutting cutting her biological family off. Whereas I would I would imagine Pat and many gay people would say is, no, she’s not cutting them off. She’s maintaining the family that she had. She and her partner have created, which is, you know. And that took a lot of toughness in the 1940s to be able to make that kind of a life. And it’s a very sad story. And really, it is remarkable that they just had this quiet, an extraordinary, really kind of punk rock life in the suburbs of Chicago. Two ladies working as a reception as receptionists at a fancy interior design firm and getting all dolled up in high heels and makeup and then going home to their twin beds like it’s. A lot of them that’s really just very touching and makes you it makes me think about how I wish we were more interconnected to earlier generations of gay and lesbian people, you know? And I felt a similar thing watching Circus of Books. Circus of Books is about this straight couple with this funny who sort of stumble into this funny business running a pawnshop in West Hollywood and then eventually producing themselves, working as producers on gay pornography. They don’t. They are liberal and they are very humane people, but they do struggle when their own son comes out as gay and. That shows you that there’s sort of a like it’s a reminder of the limits of straight ally ship or like the significance of having like a very, very firm gay family bonds, chosen family bonds. Because what you saw when patent Terry, go visit this gay couple. This gay male couple who they’ve clearly been friends with for decades. And you see how alive they are with one another and how forthright they are with one another. And that’s sort of it’s a reminder of that’s how actually they survived this.

S2: Yeah, yeah. That’s really true. I mean, that the one I’m trying to connect to the question of, like, how how could such a liberal icon circus of books, how could such a liberal family be shocked by, you know, their son being gay? And then how could and a secret love, how could that family literally see this really? I mean, it wasn’t that they were closeted like that. The family members didn’t know this other person existed. She was part was present in Terri’s life throughout. And like, went home with her many times. And they did this amazing straight thing of like being able to, like, not imagine what was happening. It was like, well, we are just like, you know, it’s just, you know, friends who live together in Chicago because the rents expend the magical you know, the magical thinking there is incredible. Yeah. These like these are these fantastical backflips of, like, logic that people have to do.

S4: I empathize with their family, though, because I do think it’s difficult from the vantage of 2019, 2020 to look back at a relationship that was happening in the 1940s and 1950s and say like, oh gosh, I wish I wish my dad and I wish my uncles had treated this beloved and in a better way. And now I should try to sort of make, you know, that my treatment of her and my care of her in her in her final years will sort of mitigate or absolve my guilt about some of that. It’s a tough one. It is a tough one. And it’s a it’s still a very sad story. Circus of books, however, doesn’t go quite so far back into ancient history. I mean, there’s context from early gay liberation in the 1960s as sort of the period that created the store and the period that gave birth to this family’s experience running this shop. And that was just it was a very different time.

S3: I I also saw that sort of desire for late breaking absolution in Circus of Books where Karen Mason ends up becoming a P flag advocate after rejecting her son after he comes out as gay. And I actually think both of these films suffer for their closeness to the closeness of the filmmaker, to their subjects. This film was made by Rachel Mason, who is the daughter of the two proprietors of Circus of Books. And even though it definitely doesn’t turn away from Karen’s homophobia, I think it’s ends on this like superficial happy note about acceptance and tolerance that feels really undeserved and and devoid of real meaning. And it doesn’t. The question that I was asking is not necessarily how can she you know, how did this person who rejected her see her gay son after running a gay bookstore and profiting off of gay people, suddenly become an advocate for P flag? But how does she reckon with the fact that up until the very end, you know, she had this very thinly veiled contempt for her customers and the products she sold? I mean, even in the film and contemporary footage, she goes to this sex toy expo and she’s like, is this for gay? She yeah, we’re homosexual. She’s like my homosexual son. She doesn’t know what the sex toys do, but she’s like, well, that whatever it is that it’ll sell. Well, I know that, you know, she says she’s never even watched the movies that they produced. And it just made me so sad to think about a this straight couple profiting off of gay people and being in charge of stewarding this center for gay life and also the fact that they weren’t the sort of stalwart allies that gay people needed during the AIDS epidemic. They are kind of like, well, our our role to play was these little human kindnesses. We visited people in hospice and whatever. But, you know, if you are running and making money from being the hub of gay life, you know, first for some people and in some way is in Los Angeles, like you actually have a responsibility to stand up and be like a political force. I believe, you know, if you’re making your living and making money from gay people, it felt like there were so many more questions that this couple should have to answer. And. And not in the antagonistic tone right now necessarily, but they just seem like really interesting questions to explore that like a queer filmmaker not related to the subjects could have explored and maybe would seem unfit, maybe would have seen it unfit to end on this note of like waving a rainbow flag in the P flag float in the pride parade.

S2: Yeah. The question of questions like which questions were asked by the documentary, by the director and both of these is really interesting. I mean, I had been thinking about in a secret love like the like, why don’t we hear are like like were so were patent Terry as a political and sort of disconnected from from, you know, the decades of gay politics that they lived through, as it seems. And I kind of I’m realizing just in talking with you all that I kind of took that at face value, like the way the film presented it. But maybe that’s not true. Right? Like, maybe maybe they just weren’t asked about it. And that, you know, as you say, we don’t know the identity of the filmmaker in that case. But like, it does strike me again as like a kind of straight approach. It’s like so you so you didn’t think to ask about like, well, what did they think about Stonewall or like what, you know, whatever, like, you know, to assume that they’re that they’re lesbianism only sort of lied and lies. And the fact that they made a home together is a very somehow like straight view of what gayness means, if that makes sense. Right. Like, it’s like it looks at only the romantic relationship and not not any, you know, and it’s entirely possible they weren’t. Plenty of plenty of queer people, especially that older generation, I think, chose not to sort of be involved in anything. It’s external. So that’s possible.

S3: But like, we just don’t know because the question and they still have a relation to it, rather whether or not they participated, they have thoughts about it right here. Right.

S2: Right. Even if they sort of rejected it. Right. That would be interesting, too. Yeah.

S4: I mean, in their defense, it is so like it was just so different a time. And there is a generational attitude, I think, toward discretion. Or, you know, you just you don’t talk about you don’t talk about certain things or it’s it’s unseemly or it’s just not what you do. You don’t you don’t sort of put put it in people. You don’t put your business out in public. And. Right. I, I’m not unsympathetic to that. And I think one of the what I think, given how few documents there are of gay private life from previous generations, the film is still really effective. There’s a scene toward the end of the movie where the women are moving out of their longtime home and they’re going through some love letters and love poems that Pat had written to Terry. And they’re really affecting. And her niece, Terry’s niece asks, she says, A, why are the pages torn on the bottom? And Pat explains that they would have torn off the signature so that if somebody picked up the piece of paper, they wouldn’t know who had written this love note. So that so that in theory, if, like Terry’s friend had seen it, she could’ve been like, oh, this guy wrote that to me. And that’s very affecting and really important to hear. And it’s it’s very, very powerful. I found it very powerful. I know exactly what you’re saying about wishing that wishing better and wishing that the films, both films had interrogated these things more closely. But I do think there is some value in that particular in what that film captured.

S3: Totally. And and I think it was those moments that made me wish for more of that or like the story that they tell about how they first got together after, you know, Terry was sort of homophobic in her own way, too. She heard that lesbians existed and locked her bedroom door so that they couldn’t come in her room, you know, if there were lesbians on her base during the baseball time.

S2: Yeah.

S3: Yeah. And it’s always every time I see photos of these incredible photos of queer people of previous generations just out enjoying themselves, I think, like, how did they find each other and how do you like cruelty musically back then or start a relationship and. And I loved that’s the story that they tell where, you know, Pat passed a note. And yeah, it was that kind of thing that just made me want a whole movie about about that, about their lives and not just about their the their lives through the lens of what their families could see.

S4: I’m curious what you guys think about this, but Pat and Terry reminded me so much of Edith Windsor, who became so much the face of the movement to legalize gay marriage in this country. And Edith Windsor was a remarkable woman and like really beautiful and darling to look at. She was a really petite and she was quite old when that when that case had gone to the Supreme Court. But I feel like there’s a relationship between the presentation of elderly gay people. And like winnings of public sympathy for gay politics, that when you are when you’re talking about somebody who is, you know, over 60, you’re looking at them in a way that is desexed. And it’s entirely different than when you’re talking about, you know, people our age or indeed people younger. And I wonder if you guys had felt anything similar.

S2: Well, I mean, we know that what you just described was like pretty explicitly the strategy of the marriage equality movement. I mean, when they were choosing perfect plaintiffs like that was that was precisely kind of the goal was to choose people who were tended to be older, not not always as old as Edith Windsor, but like older, but who who were sort of able to be desexed and just be viewed through this sort of respectability politics and like, you know, where you could just look at the love somehow as apart from any intimacy. Right. Like in their and their relationships. I mean, that is that is like very explicitly what was going on. And, you know, it I think it is effective. Right. Like, as I say, I saw the trailer for this and and it was playing on the same kind of sweetness that that was always about. And so I you know, I think that’s that is there the thing that it made me, you know, that it sort of brings to mind that that re inscribes politics. And it again, though, is like the issue of gay aging. Right. There’s like so if we’re gonna use those those people as our as our, like, PR in a way we really should be thinking about like what end of life care and and all about looks like for us. I mean, the big lesson of that movie I think is like you really want to have as a queer, as quick people, especially your plans together for that period of life, so that perhaps. I want to say hostile straight, although in some cases people’s farms are hostile. But like in this case, they weren’t hostile, but just meddling, straight family, let’s say, have to come in and handle your shit and perhaps put you somewhere. You know, there’s there’s a moment where they they ask a assisted living sort of director, facility director, like, have you ever had same same sex couple here before? And they keep getting nose and like sort of confused looks not not necessarily, again, hostile looks, but just like confused or. And, you know, that is why we are building gay retirement homes. Right. Because, like, it is scary to have to go to lived your whole life 40 years right. Together in a world of your construction and then suddenly have to move in with a bunch of straight people who may hate you. And so that, you know, that is what I was thinking about a lot and worried for them a lot. And it seems to be, you know, aging, aging well as queer people is not something that I feel like our movement has focused enough on, even as we have used our elders as as these sort of PR tools. So that’s you know, I don’t know that answers your question, Ramona. That’s kind of what I was thinking about.

S3: That’s really smart, Bryan. And I look forward to the quick retirement community. We all find out. Yeah. Yeah. Looking into show, let’s move to Palm Springs, you guys. Absolutely. Listeners, if you’ve seen either of these films and have thoughts of your own, we would absolutely love to read them. You can e-mail us day or night at Outward Podcast at Slate ICOM. All right.

S2: That is about it for this month. But before we go, as always, we have our monthly updates to the gay agenda. Christine, why don’t you start us off?

S3: I want to recommend a piece in The New York Times by Miles E. Johnson called Little Richard’s Queer Trial. So Little Richard, the architect of so much of American rock and pop music, died on May 9th. And among the tributes to him was this excellent piece about Little Richard’s sexuality and gender performance. He had a very complex relationship to queer identity. Occasionally, he he identified himself with labels under the LGBTQ umbrella. At other times, you know, said homosexuality was an abomination. But he was indubitably queer. And Miles Johnson does a really good job in this piece of contextualizing his queerness and his gender divergence within the rest of American music. And he makes a really good case for the fact that those things about him really inspired his music and were a wellspring of creativity and innovation and clearly something that hits a nerve within the American public. And he names a couple other performers and artists, Josephine Baker, Ma Rainey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin. He writes, It would not be a stretch to say that mainstream culture as we know it is a black queer project often appropriated by others, but birthed by black queer people who I love that love that line. So. Yet it and I loved the idea of this ongoing project of going back through American history and trying to, you know, view the truth of our history, which has been for a very long time, and and even still sort of whitewashed and straight washed. And to fully recognize the brilliance of so many of these artists, you need to talk about their queer identity. And, you know, the and also the ways that they’re black queer identities were appropriated by people who came after them. So it’s a really great piece. I highly recommend reading it. Again, it’s called Little Richard’s Queer Triumph.

S2: That sounds that sounds great. Yeah, I read it. That’s it’s really great. Reman, what do you have?

S4: Well, I started the show by talking about Andre Leon Tally’s memoir. And it made me remember a really, really wonderful book that I wrote a couple of years ago called The Beautiful Fall. It’s a book by a woman named Felicia Drake. And it is a story it is the story set in the 1970s of the rivalry between fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who Talley writes about a lot in his memoir and the late fashion designer You Celeron. And it is just a beautiful, rich work of cultural history, but it’s really kind of suspenseful. And these two great geniuses battle over the love of the same man in Paris in the 1970s. It’s super glamorous. It’s really thoughtful and. Mark, about fashion and about culture. I know a lot of my friends have been saying we’ve struggled to get lost in a book and like think about something besides the news right now. And I feel like this is the book that could really transport you to something that’s just much more frivolous, like sort of a decadent 1970s glamour mildew, which is just so much preferable to looking at your news alerts on your phone in the middle of the night. So it’s called The Beautiful Fall by Alicia Drake. I highly recommend. That sounds lovely. Brian, what do you have for us this month?

S2: So I have another television show to recommend because we are all, as we say, watching a lot of TV. But this one this one is truly remarkable and I really hope people will seek it out. It’s called We’re Here and it’s on HBO. It’s a six part sort of documentary series that they’re running, I think three episodes of aired and there’s, I believe, three more at the time of taping anyway. And what it is, is it’s sort of a Queer Eye style show, but it’s just so much better. It’s it’s it’s. It is what queer I like sort of wishes it were both boat and I mean that in terms of both the new one and the old one. What happens in this show is that Bob, the drag queen, Eureka, Ohara and Qandahar, all of Paul’s drag race fame, descend on small towns across America and gather up a for each of them. They each choose a sort of drag daughter in that town and then go on over the course of the episode to create a big drag show. That is. That goes up at the end. But in the middle, in the midst of that process, we really get this just just some fantastic often really moving and painful and just serious portraits of what it is like to live in these places. And then what’s interesting is that most of the drag daughters are queer people of one sort or another, but some of them are straight. But who who for whatever reason, sort of identify with the queer community or want to challenge their ideas about gender presentation. These kinds of things. So it’s a real mix of people with all different kinds of stories. And these fabulous drag queens come in and sort of really help uplift them and help them say something about themselves in that place. And the show, of course, at the UN, this fabulous and really fun to watch. But I cannot think of a show, a reality show especially that I have seen ever that makes me cry this much or that I might God or that I think is is this deeply smart about what it’s doing. Right. Like even the title. I mean, at first, do you think it’s it’s that these drag queens are like rolling up into town and they really they literally roll up in these insane buses that like like Bob the drag queens looks like a Paris because he’s famous for his song Paris First. So, like his giant yellow hearse rolls into town, it’s like that kind of thing. And they set up these they set up like a safe space somewhere in the town where they it’s like a beautiful drag lounge where they do the makeovers and everything. So there’s that. We’re here aspect. But then what you really realize it’s about is the fact that all of these queer people are are there to write. They’re already there in Branson, Missouri, or in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. And, you know, often living really difficult lives even in 2020. And so the queen’s role is not so much to show off themselves, but to to really just help these people make a big statement about their presence.

S3: And so I got my love. I love that beauty.

S2: It’s so beautiful. It’s so it’s so clearly shows what the magic that drag can really bring to people, the transformation of confidence and sort of presence that it can provide as much as, you know, a great wig. And I just I just love it so much. I can’t speak more highly of it. I think it’s I think it’s great. And, you know, as we said, we will be talking with Bob and June. And so we will certainly be talking about the show then. But in the meantime, check it out on HBO. It’s called We’re Here.

S4: That’s great. I can’t wait to ask Bob about that. I know. Yeah, that’ll be good. Let me go to homework. To homework for our next show. Well, that’s about all the time we have for this month. Please send us your feedback and topic ideas at Outward Podcast, at Slate dot com or via Facebook and Twitter. Or at Slate Outward. Our producers Daniel Shrader. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. She’s the ringmaster of our circus. Are not so secret. Love, if you like outward. Please subscribe. And your podcast app. Tell your friends about it. Write and review the show so others can find it out. We’ll be back in your feeds. On June 17th, you guys. It was good to see you and I will see you again soon. I hope and someday we will all be retired at the same retirement community. God willing.

S1: I can’t wait for that.

S4: All right. Stay safe and stay gay, everyone.