S1: Hello and welcome to the September edition of Outward. I’m Brian Lowder, editor of Outward. And I’m here with your annual reminder that summer is not over until the 22nd of September, exactly a week from when this episode drops. So don’t let the haters tell you any different.
S2: Thank you, Brian. I needed that. Yeah. I’m Christina Cauterucci, a senior writer at Slate, and I would like to extend a hearty welcome to the person who recently posted on the DC Queer Exchange Facebook Group that she was giving away some of her Pride gear free to a good home, including her by Pride flag. Nothing wrong with the flag! She wrote. I’m just a lesbian now, so I just want to take a moment to congratulate anyone who’s changing flags these days, whatever those flags may be.
S1: Yeah, I think that was a really modeling good behavior in that in that arena. Nothing wrong with the flag. No. My definition has changed, and that’s fine. Everybody’s great. OK, so this is usually the point in the show where we share our prides and provocations. But this month we’ve got a provocation to discuss that is so provoking that it’s the only one. We have the time or emotional energy, honestly, to handle listeners. We are provoked profoundly by the sad and sorry fact that Rumaan Alam, our beloved co-host, is leaving us Rumaan. Why are you hurting everyone like those?
S2: Yeah, I’d like to call you in.
S3: I really thought you were winding up to talk about people to judge or a sort of more reliable provocation. I’m provoked by my own departure from outward. It has been such a great period of time. I mean, how long has it been a year? I don’t.
S2: Even more than a year, because you were over a year before the pandemic is how I measure time now. That’s right.
S3: Getting together once a month or once every couple of weeks to chat with you guys has been such a balm. Like, it’s like technically been work, but it’s also just been really fun to kind of have someone who is not in my immediate family to talk shit to you. So it’s been really such, so much fun. I don’t even think that Kristina and I have ever met in person.
S2: Honestly, that’s so crazy, crazy provocation for me. I really feel like this is the most intimate, purely virtual relationship I’ve ever had.
S3: I agree. I agree. Yeah, it’s it’s the kind of a, you know, it really speaks to what a strange moment. This has been totally right and continues to be for so many people that working relationships can happen entirely on the computer screen. And this is not a working relationship like so many others. I mean, obviously, we are colleagues, but like we get together and have these intense conversations about our lives and about our opinions and about what’s happening in the news cycle. And you know, Brian and I get to hear about what Kristina is reporting on in her other life as like a journalist. And so it’s really interesting to have had this experience, and it’s been really fun to also produce a body of work that I think is really interesting and that I’m really proud of that. We get to talk about everything from, you know, lesbian strippers to a sort of in-depth conversation with people working as political activists like it’s been so interesting and so fun, and I don’t know who I’m going to talk to about this stuff once a month.
S2: Yeah, you can still text on,
S3: Yeah, I’m going to have to text you guys all of my many, many opinions and many, many, many provocations.
S1: Well, after you sign off of this, we are going to have a whole segment dedicated to discussing how interesting you in fact, were. And we’ll decide that in retrospect and certainly let you know, do you just want to tell our listeners what’s coming up next for you? What are you working on? Where can they sort of?
S3: Oh, that’s such a good question. And that’s such a good question, Brian. I mean, I think basically I spent, I would say, the last gosh, since March of 2020 with my kids in my life in a very different way, right? Sort of round the clock, you know, and I don’t want to pretend that I was doing childcare on the clock. But their simple presence made it very difficult to negotiate my own way. And every time we recorded an episode about word we discussed, like what my children were feeling, that they were downstairs watching their iPads being bribed to be silent for nine minutes so Daddy could do his recording. And now it seems, let’s cross our fingers that we are heading into a reality where New York City public schools will be reopened and students will be back in learning and having the life that they deserve that they need to have. And I will therefore be able to make up a little bit for some lost time and that I’ll be able to stop dithering around and stop saying like, Oh, the kids are dancers at the dining tables. I couldn’t possibly write a book. Mm-Hmm. Basically, I have to write a book. I’m scared to say you. You both have my permission to sort of kick my ass if I haven’t started tweeting about writing a book. You know,
S2: honestly, I am terrified of how productive you would be if the past year has been. You being less productive? Right? I don’t even know how you’ve done all of the things you’ve done in the past year. So yeah, I am terrified to see what comes next.
S3: Well, thank you. I mean, I think again, like it was such an extraordinary time. And if you weren’t, you know, facing real illness, if you weren’t facing real privation as I wasn’t, you know, it was easy to feel lost and adrift for a whole host of other reasons, just missing being around other people and being, you know, connected to normal life. But I did try to kind of deal with my anxiety by keeping at work right, by doing this show, by working on the working podcast. I will really miss, you know, writing is a very solitary business, and I will really miss the monthly excuse to talk to you guys and hear what’s happening in your world. But of course, I can still listen to outward, so I will still have that little vintage into what is provoking Bryan and Christina on a monthly basis.
S1: Yeah, you should go read and review right afterwards. So, yeah,
S2: make sure you subscribe.
S3: I’ll tell my friends about it.
S1: So as a little parting gesture, we thought that we would like to offer you a round of goodbye prides as you head out and June. Our senior managing producer is going to join in on this June. Do you want to share your pride for Rumaan first?
S4: Yes, I think of Rumaan as being like Chaka Khan, who’s, as we all know, is every woman. It’s all in me, as she said so many times. And Rumaan really is like, he’s the complete package. Obviously, he’s brilliant. But like, we’re looking at him because we have been on Zoom. We’ve been seeing his house, which is like the most gorgeous house. Beautiful decoration like this is the beach that does everything better, everything more beautifully than you do. And yet he’s still lovable. Mm-Hmm. That’s amazing. And also, I just remember when he would be in person when we saw each other in person again, he’s got this amazing range. He would have these beautiful like bags, and then he bring out this super butch like water bottle. You know, like, not everybody can pull that off. But Rumaan could. And he’s a model. He’s a model to me
S1: the way he has there. And I’m just
S4: so proud on
S2: that note again that this is something our listeners have been deprived of. But Rumaan has grown a gorgeously lush salt and pepper beard, you know, heavy on the pepper over the course of the summer. And you know, it makes me wish that I could grow a beard. Maybe for the first time in my life, the first time in my life of like meticulous removal of facial hair. I’m like, Wish that I had Roman’s beard.
S1: Yeah, it’s real dat.. It’s good stuff. So my pride is just that. A sort of note of gratitude, I guess, for your really constantly keeping the level of our pod high, keeping the discourse up. You know, you’re the one who makes us talk about books and shit makes us have like opera singers on and all that kind of stuff, which has been great. I’m kind of relieved that now that you’re gone, we will just sort of devolve back into reality shows and games on Twitter. But thank you so much for bringing your truly amazing intellect and taste to the show. That’s been really, really fantastic, and we will miss it very much.
S2: In fact, our producer Katya, as we were talking recently about other potential hosts we could bring in and kind of trying to pinpoint what singular quality is Rumaan brings to the show. In addition to being a hot dad, you know, not that we could ever replace him, but Katya said something like, Well, he, you know, brings us real intelligence or, you know, intellectual rigor to the show. That’s his niche. Basically, like, he’s the smart one on the show. I’m like me and Brian. Yeah, it’s my pride about Rumaan is even when we have been talking about some truly provoking people, you are always generous, maybe more so than I’m capable of being always expecting the best of people wanting the best for people. It’s very sweet. But I also think it’s needed nuance that we’ve wanted to bring to some complex issues on the show. But you’re also a no nonsense bitch when it’s warranted, and that makes it all the more searing when you throw shade. And, you know, obviously, if reincarnation is a thing, I’d love to come back as your child in my next life because you just seem like such an incredible dad. I have loved hearing about how you nurture their interests. Give them the freedom to explore all of your stories about how they meet people on the beach. You know, it just seems like your kids have my best life.
S3: Oh God, you guys, thank you so much. I’m like, I feel so embarrassed and so like touched.
S2: You’ve gotten to come to your own funeral.
S3: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great way of putting it like it’s just it really has been so much fun working on this, and it’s just been such a great pleasure to get to know you guys as people. And I don’t know, it’s really it’s helped me feel a lot less alone during this year in which I did feel pretty alone. I think, as I think so many people did, and I think that speaks to what outward is sort of uniquely able to provide as an audio program like you get to kind of eavesdrop on these friends talking and that feels like so much fun and it feels so stimulating. And as you said, Christina, sometimes it can get really heavy and interesting, but sometimes it’s just people bitching and fun, too. So it’s really been such a pleasure. I’m going to miss you guys. But you know, if you ever want to do an episode about gay books,
S2: maybe about your next gay book,
S1: All right. Well, that that makes me cry. I’m tearing up a little bit, but thank you, Ramon, for all of your contributions to the show, and we’re so excited to see what you’re writing time produces. I know I will be reading it. So best of luck and thanks, T.J.. You too.
S3: Thanks, guys.
S1: All right. So the show must go on. June, thanks so much again for joining us. And I would love for you to tell us what is on the docket this month.
S4: Thank you, Brian. September, as we have already established, marks the end of summer and endings are a bit of a theme for with this month. We waved farewell to the wonderful Rumaan and later in the show we’ll be talking about Swan Song, a film about the last act in the life of an extraordinary but also very ordinary small town, Ohio hairdresser and one time gay bar icon. But first, an end to innocence involving priests Grindr and oh, who am I kidding? No one as any innocent ideas about Grindr or do they?
S2: Christina Yes. So this summer, Grindr actually played a role in the outing of a Catholic priest by a conservative Catholic Substack newsletter called The Pillar. The two men who write the newsletter, J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon, who style themselves as journalists, used cell phone data that was publicly available for sale to find out that this priest was regularly using Grindr, visiting gay bars and also going to a bathhouse. Now, this wasn’t just any priest. This was Jeffrey Berle, who was the secretary general of the U.S. Bishops Conference. So just to put that in context, he was a leader in the Catholic faith community, which not only forbids gay sex but also requires clergy members to remain celibate. So the priest Berle obviously resigned, but the pillar isn’t done yet. These men say they have data showing Grindr use among funds traced to other places where priests live and even part of the Vatican City that aren’t open to the public. So you would assume that these are, you know, members of Catholic Church leadership to help us understand how this happened and what the implications might be for all app users, even those of us who haven’t taken vows of celibacy. We are joined by longtime Silicon Valley reporter Casey Newton Casey writes a daily newsletter about social networks and democracy called Platformer. We are thrilled to have him on the show. He calls himself an avowed homosexual, by the way. Casey, welcome to outward.
S1: Thank you for having me.
S2: So let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat. Have you use or do you use Grindr?
S1: Yes, I have used Grindr. I’ve also used Scruff, which is sort of a very similar app. And then maybe like a year or two before the pandemic, I just got both of them off my phone. I sort of came to feel like they’re basically machines for lowering their self-esteem. So I
S3: have yeah.
S2: So did any of grinders. Privacy issues have anything to do with it?
S1: Absolutely. And in particular, the fact that when I deleted Grindr, the company that built it was Chinese. And, you know, while I don’t have the highest profile, I was really concerned that explicit chats or photos that you know, may have been set to me might somehow wind up in the hands of the Chinese government and could cause me problems so. It just sort of felt like just for a good kind of OPSEC as a journalist, I probably should not have any ties to the company. And it was sort of then that I started using scrap, but ultimately I found that the apps were both the same and just sort of had other just like kind of personal effects on me that made me feel like I would be better off without them.
S2: Yeah, I mean, that’s a good point. I feel like there’s like the social aspect of what role Grindr plays in gay male culture and then also the more tech side of things which we’re starting with today. But, you know, I also want to get into that cultural aspect. Can you kind of walk us through as if we’re second graders, which we basically are how this church thing happened? Because, you know, I don’t have Grindr on my phone, but I obviously have Google Maps and I allow location sharing on a bunch of other apps. And I always sort of think like, Oh yeah, I know this is like technically bad, but who’s going to do anything with all this data? And isn’t it anonymized?
S1: Yeah. And I think the first thing to say is that if this explanation confuses, you don’t feel bad. One of the main reasons is that the two journalists who published this story have refused to answer detailed questions about how they conducted their investigation. Grindr itself has been trying to get more information from the publication, presumably so they could do a better job protecting their users. They’ve been unable to do it. But here’s what we do know. As you noted, Christina, your phone is constantly generating location data. That data is being shared with all kinds of developers, right? I am sure we’ve all had that experience of downloading a new app. It asks if it can have access to your location. Right? And a lot of that data makes its way into the hands of these data vendors. Data vendors want that data for a lot of reasons. It often has a lot to do with targeted advertising. But an important thing to remember is that in this country, the sale of that data is almost completely unregulated. We do not have a national privacy law in this country. We have a patchwork of laws that can protect our privacy. In some ways, like you’ve probably heard of HIPA, which protects you against the release of your medical information. But when it comes to Hey, was I at a bathhouse? Was I had a gay bar. There’s no law that’s going to protect you from that. So we know that we have a data set that’s out there and we know that. The two reporters have said that they were presented with this data, presumably by some incredibly motivated opposition researcher waging some sort of nefarious political battle inside the Catholic Church. It’s all going to make a great Dan Brown novel Song, so they get this data set and then they have to correlate it with other pieces of information that you know. So right, so maybe you have a big data set of like a bunch of phones that were in the vicinity of certain gay bars and certain bathhouses. And you know, there aren’t that many of those in a big city. So maybe you start with that sort of data and then you say, Well, where does the monsignor live? OK, he lives here, OK? Hmm. This phone that was at his house all night was also at this gay bar all Friday night. And oh, and then it was at the Bath House, right? And so just by using those few data points, you can start to stitch together a sort of a sketch of who this person was. And if this all sounds really futuristic, I’d encourage you to go back and read a story that my friend Charlie Worsley did in the New York Times, where they took location data that they obtained from a data broker and were able to determine the movements of people in and around the Jan. six Capitol riot. And it was actually very easy for them to determine the real identities of some of these people who had attended these protests. So that’s the gist of how this works, and I imagine it’s raised lots of questions for you because I know it has for me. Yeah, I mean, one thing that came to mind while you’re going through all of that for me for sure was, you mentioned there is no law at the president to deal with this. Is there a political will at all to make some legislation that could like close this, the sort of guy? Yeah, you definitely have advocates in Congress pushing for something like this. Senator Ron Wyden in has been really outspoken about the need to rein in these data brokers in particular. You know, everyone gets mad at Facebook for what they do with our data, but the data brokers are actually much worse and we and we often have no idea how they’re even using our data. So yes, there is some political will, but you know, it ultimately runs into the same issue that you have with any political question in Congress, which is just that Congress is very polarized and very rarely passes any legislation. Yeah.
S2: Have there been other cases like this where somebody buys up, you know, putatively anonymized data, but that you can actually anonymize if you know where someone lives or works and, you know, uses what they know about a specific person to blackmail them, essentially.
S1: Yeah, absolutely. I would say that this is one of a range of tactics that we see being used, for example, by state level actors who are cracking down on dissidents and protesters. You may have heard this year about the NSO Group, which is this Israeli company that builds a variety of sort of. Eyewear products, ways of getting into people’s phones, using their location data, but basically just getting whatever data that they can, you know, to do awful things. So yeah, you know, these phones, which are so magical in our lives for so many reasons, also do leave these data trails that can wind up leaving us extremely vulnerable.
S4: Casey you. And you mentioned earlier that at the time that you deleted Grindr, it was owned by a Chinese company. Yeah. It is no longer owned by Chinese company, but not for some casual reason, but really because the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US Congress said that it had security concerns about a Chinese company having this kind of data or having access to this kind of data about American users and specifically mentioned, I think, members of the military who could be subject to blackmail. And so the company was bought by American investors in, I think, June of 2020 for six hundred and $8.5 million not to get too lost in the in the technology of it. But I’m just super curious what the business proposition is for Grindr. It’s interesting also that the American people who bought the company, the leaders of that company, are straight as somebody who doesn’t use Grindr and never has. I have a lot of curiosity about it, but one of those areas of curiosity is is just why would people invest in this? Because it’s a free to use up, right?
S1: Sure. So, you know, Grindr is basically like any other media business advocate. I would say it’s actually a lot like slate. It makes us money through advertising and subscriptions, right? And you know, just as Slate is a great media business, Grindr is a pretty great media business too. And because it’s sort of become synonymous with gay culture in particular and has become the default meeting place for a lot of gay men. There’s just a lot of money in it. You know, interestingly, one of the ways that Grindr made its money before 2020 was by selling user location data to advertising that right. Right. So this exact phenomenon that we’re talking about the use of our location data is essentially totally unregulated. Grindr was able to use that to turn that into a really nice business.
S2: I know one of the biggest concerns in terms of Grindr selling all this data was that it often included very personal information like people would disclose their HIV status. People would talk about drug use. What type of sex they like to have. In my mind, that makes grinders information more personal and potentially more usable for blackmail or other nefarious purposes. But in terms of data security and privacy, is Grindr a particularly bad actor or is this the norm?
S1: Oh, I mean, I think if you look through the history of Grindr privacy cases, they have been a bad actor in a lot of ways. They have not done a great job protecting their users. There’s this famous case. I wonder if it’s even come up on your podcast before, but this poor guy who went through a breakup and then his ex was extremely vengeful and then just sent wave after wave of gay men to his ex’s house that they were going to find sex and drugs there. And this is actually now become a case that’s actually challenging Section 230. This part of the communications decency law, which is basically the law in which the entire internet rests and the person who is suing, is saying Grindr had a responsibility to protect its user here, and they did it. So, yeah, I mean, I do think that Grindr has been a bad actor in that case. At the same time, you know, if you’re listening to this and you use Grindr, I hope you take this as a moment to look at the data that you’ve shared with Grindr and just assume that it could one day leak out. I just wouldn’t put anything on Grindr that you would end one day not want to be seen by people who are close to you. Of course, in most cases it won’t. But I do think you have to kind of keep that in mind. Yeah. You brought up earlier, you mentioned scruff and passing. And then also we’re talking about this notion of like the straight ownership and Queer ownership and like is one better than the other. And I feel like you said earlier, too, that you didn’t. You personally had decided that Scruff actually wasn’t really that much better than Grindr. My like common sense about that that I’ve evolved over time is that somehow, because Scruff is Queer owned, that it is better or safer. If that’s not true, I would love for you to explain why. Because that might change some behaviors. Well, I mean, look, I mean, the first thing to say is, you know, if it’s working for you, you keep using it. I’m not here to talk anybody out of a good time, you know, and I wouldn’t even say that I would never use these apps again. But I do think that they have dynamics that are too rarely commented upon. And for me, the dynamic that just got to me is that I came to view these apps as essentially mechanisms for gay men to create and then enact pornographic fantasies sort of like, what is the hottest thing that you could imagine happening? And then can I make that happen, like within the next 30 minutes to an hour? And of course, you know, if you’d asked me right when I was getting out of college, you know, would you like to do that? I would say, Well, sure, like that sounds like an incredible time, but. If that becomes your daily lived experience and every day you’re trying to find something newer and harder to do, there is going to be a side effect, which is just all of the people that you’re leaving behind in your wake, who you never want to talk to again because most people don’t watch the same porn clip twice. And so what is the effect of doing that week after week, month after month, year after year? Does it matter how hot you are? Doesn’t matter how good you are at sex, you are going to have it thrown away and blocked dozens, hundreds of times. I don’t think there’s a way to do that without your self-esteem taking a hit. I don’t think there’s a way to do that without you feeling dehumanized in some way. And so I think if we’re going to use these apps, you have to confine them to some spot in your life. Like to me, I think it makes the most sense to use a hookup app like this. If you’re on a business trip, you’re on a vacation, right? You’re there, you’re only going to be there for three days. It could never have been anything else. OK. Like, I think that that’s probably fine to use, but otherwise, like one of my friends said, like it’s easier for him to eat zero Thin Mints than it is for him to eat one theater, you know, and like, that’s sort of how I feel about Grindr and Scruff. It’s like, if it’s in the house, I’m going to get it. So I just have to not have it in the house.
S2: So this brings me to something that I want to ask the gay men on this podcast right now, which is is Grindr too big to fail? Is it too essential to gay male culture to boycott? And I guess in this sense, all lumped in Scruff because we’re assuming that their privacy policies are maybe similar in their effect on self-esteem might be somewhat similar.
S1: It’s a tough question because I feel like everyone that I talk to at least feels like Grindr is toxic at the like. Even if they don’t know about all of this privacy stuff that we’re discussing here. They do have a sense that Casey, I think, describe really well that it is not like healthy for you to be in this kind of hamster wheel of of desire all the time. And yet it like continues to grow, and even people who will talk negatively about it still have it or still use it sometimes or will delete it and then relive it again next week. And so it seems very hard for people to sort of totally get it off their phones for good. It must be just because the design of it is designed to make you want to stay there, of course, like all apps. But also, I do think it it activates a certain part of gay, male sexual culture that, well, I don’t think it’s like completely unhealthy. All the time is very addictive. There’s something very appealing about the kind of the dark room aspect of it where you just like you enter into this world where all of these fantasies, like Casey said, are possible and you probably succeed just often enough to keep you coming back to it. And I do think a lot of people’s imaginations have been like reformatted where they can’t imagine meeting someone at a bar anymore. And that that is sort of what scares me. I can’t like prove that, but it just feels like it is hard for people to even imagine a different mode of encountering folks or sex or just a hookup, even. Oh, totally. Or like, you go to a bar and people there are on Grindr. It’s graph mess, right? Right. Like, you see this happen all the time. I do think that hookup apps are here to stay. You know, in the same way that DoorDash is here to stay and Amazon Prime is here to stay right. If I can like mash a glass screen with my hands and make a hot stranger appear at my doorstep. That behavior is going to continue to exist, right? Like, I actually think that the like the power of Grindr is extremely understated in terms of like what it can do in your life. So I do think, though, that’s going to stick around, you know, at the same time, I read about social networks and the thing we see over and over with social networks is that they rise and fall. You know that even something that looks, you know, extremely mighty and invincible suddenly. Is it right? You know, Facebook is still a big deal, but also people spend more time on Tik Tok now. Right? So is Facebook completely invincible? Probably not. Right. And I sort of feel the same way about Grindr. You know, and I will say that I hope that there is a next generation of these apps that do feel more humane, less transactional or try to like take care of the whole person that’s using their app instead of just sort of enabling the absolute fastest road to sex all the time. Yeah.
S2: I didn’t realize this had happened until I read about it while researching this episode, but I saw that Grindr removed after, you know, users had complained for years about the racism on the app. They removed their racial search filter last summer due to the George Floyd uprising. That just struck me as like one of the most cynical responses, one of the most cynical corporate responses to this, you know, movement for social justice. But, you know, better late than never, I guess.
S1: Right? Better late than never. But I mean, yeah, and this has been, you know, written about a bunch the absolutely casual racism that dominated this, particularly in its first five or six years, you know, the Grindr profile field. Not long, you know, you’d have maybe 20 or 30 characters and guys were using it in their entire profile was just like, no Asians was like, That’s the only thing you want anyone to know about you. Right? But again, it just sort of goes into this extremely like inhumane, depersonalized, kind of bizarre culture that app and shame on them for enabling it. Yeah. So pivoting back to the question of privacy when we’re looking at the terms of service on a new app that I’ve downloaded onto my phone there, too long to read. Nobody can stand it. But hearing what we’ve been talking about today, it makes me want to pay more attention to that. Is there like a control f that I can do on those things that you would recommend to find like the worst possible aspects that would warn me off of possibly participating in an app somewhere to like, digest those things a little bit more easily? I love the question, but I honestly just feel like it’s not like nobody is going to not use Grindr because of what’s in the terms of that space. Sorry. I’m not. That’s a shame. I think what it speaks to is that we wish that we did have mechanisms that protected us, and the terms of service should be one of those mechanisms. But we’re all using so many apps and products on a daily basis, each that have their own terms of service that even if you set aside a weekend doing all the right things in your life and you were using control, have you still probably wouldn’t find all the relevant stuff, right? And no matter what was in the terms of service, these companies would still have the legal right to sell your location data and there would be no recourse. So I do think, you know, we we should discuss and advocate for some sort of national privacy law in the EU. They have what they call the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. And so you have to click that annoying cookies box and every website now. So most people hate it if you are. But it does say some really interesting things like, Hey, if a company collects data about you, you should be able to know what that data is, right? Like a pretty straightforward proposition that is actually law in Europe, but it’s not here. So I think it’s those sorts of things that we should start thinking about really seriously. Maybe companies shouldn’t be allowed to sell our location data, right? Maybe it should be illegal to track me from my house to a gay bar to a bathhouse and then sell that data, right? So I think there’s a lot of really commonsense things that we should push for in legislation and not leave to and app’s terms of service.
S2: Yeah, I mean, what you’re describing is essentially stalking, tracking where people go.
S1: Yeah, when you think about it, the stuff can get really, really bad. I mean, you know, there’s there’s no shortage of stories about bad things that have happened to people using these apps. Now, usually it’s not because they bought location data from a data broker. But, you know, I think even for the non Queer people who are listening to this podcast like this is not just a story about, Oh, like the gay has got caught going to a gay bar. It’s like, no, like if you turn it, I don’t know. I think it’s off by default, but you can turn on location, history and Google Maps, and it will just save every single place that you have that email you at the end of the month. It’s like, how are people committing crimes in a world where this feature exists? Right? The jig is up. So, you know, these kinds of data, you know that we’re talking about today, they’re actually being generated by most of the apps on your phone that you’re using all the time. You ever wonder why there’s 400 weather apps? Well, it’s because they’re all collecting your location data and selling it right? You can’t have a weather app without location data. So they were just selling it to ad networks. These kind of apps are so common. These kind of uses are so common, and so I’m glad we’re talking about it.
S2: Wow. Yeah. It’s like every single app’s business model is just spying on you.
S1: Yeah, you certainly hear some tech companies talk about, like they’ll call it a data minimization framework. And the whole idea is like, how can we build this while obtaining the least data possible? And then how can we dispose of that data after a certain period of time? And I think that’s really great. You know, Snap, which has grown into a pretty big company, grew on the back of this wonderful insight into human behavior, which is that maybe all of our conversations should just not be. We should have a conversation that goes unrecorded and unshared, and that just disappears at the end of us having it. And there are multibillion dollar companies. So I actually think there’s a lot of money here for entrepreneurs who want to build products that do make us a little bit more privacy protected. Totally.
S2: I was going to pivot into how should we feel about priests being outed, but I actually think, don’t even talk about that.
S1: Yeah, yeah. That’s I was like, I was like reading some of the stories where I got on this podcast. And I just guess I’m not a religious person. But then you read like all of these rules and prohibitions and will kick you out of the church if it’s like they’re doing everything they can to make what this guy did as hot as possible. So like, he never he never had a chance. Oh, I mean, just the prospect of getting caught must have made that time at the gay bar in the bathhouse. You can feel the heat. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s seriously. Someone just needs to turn it into like a like an erotic Kindle single and all. But because it sounds nice.
S2: Well, thank you so much for joining us Casey. This has been incredibly informative and a little bit of fun too.
S1: Well, it’s my pleasure. Known as ever, asked me to talk about Grindr before, so when you emailed me, I was like, You know what? I would like to know. And I enjoyed myself quite a lot, so thank you for having me.
S2: Hopefully, this won’t be the last time you get to talk about it on podcast.
S1: Yeah, yeah, whenever, whenever there’s another gay app in the news, let me ask you. Well, yeah. So in introducing a movie, I would normally try to do better than just reading the IMDb timeline. But in the case of a swan song, I got to say I IMDb really had it right, and I Queer, a formerly flamboyant hairdresser, takes a long walk across a small town to style a dead woman’s hair and Queer in a way that is really all that happens. And Todd Stephens remarkable new film Pat Pittsonberger, played exquisitely by Udo Queer, leaves his nursing home and walks across Sandusky, Ohio, in search of a bottle of Avonte hair products so that he can honor a former client’s dying wish that he make her up for the viewing. Yet somehow, that simple journey serves as a canvas for one of the richest portraits of Queer life that I really think I’ve ever seen, especially in regard to gay aging and grief and Queer life in a small town. If that sounds a bit heavy for you, I should also note that Jennifer Coolidge is here as pittsonberger as Salon Nemesis, so there’s a great deal of comedy in that pairing. My feuds have been slowly filling with folks discovering this movie over the past few weeks. It came out in early August, I believe, to streaming and people are really loving it, so I definitely wanted to introduce it to our listeners. But I am also dying to know what you two thought of it. Please tell me
S4: I absolutely loved it. I did not go into this movie with very high expectations. I confess that I kind of had a feeling, Oh God, another small town, you know, another small town gay life. There is spoiler alert, a gay bar that’s about to close, and it’s not really a spoiler. And I just felt I’d seen that. It’s also by the director and creator of another gay movie and another gay sequel, Gay’s Gone Wild. And, you know, obviously I haven’t seen those films, but I just feel like I’ve seen those films and this. Just forget everything. I just said, This is gorgeous. It’s beautiful, and it does. The thing that I most want art to do, which is to evoke an emotion like the story, really can be summarized in a sentence. It’s not about twists and stories. It’s about complex feelings, memories, associations, hopes for the future, whatever being just evoked in a remarkable, lasting way. Like, I still am flashing back to feelings that I had when I watched this movie, you know, four or five days ago now. And I think very specifically, it’s just the first time I’ve seen a particular period or a person who lived through a particular period, really the complications of their life, they felt like, I just say this is not a perfect movie, but on this score, it’s wonderful. This particular error that I’m thinking of, it’s people. In the case of gay men who lived through AIDS are the ones who survived and then the ones that they lost, but also people who, if they had a gay life, they had to do it. They had no choice but to do it by kind of what is the phrase I’m looking for it just
S1: kind of sheer force of their will. Personality?
S4: Yeah, sheer force of will personality just being out there, literally being out there and having to, you know, create a shell to construct a shell around them to put on certain, you know, certain moves, certain, you know, bitchy turns of phrase that were essential for their survival, that they became very good at often, but that ultimately they did not have rights. So they if they had a partner who may well have died, especially during the AIDS era, their families could come forth and, you know, take all their stuff. You know, that nowadays things are better and people might say, Well, you know, things are better now, right? And yeah, they are. Thank you. But what about those people? You know, there’s no reparations for gay people. I don’t get any refunds for all those extra taxes that I paid for my partner’s insurance, which is free to the straight married people. And there was something very powerful about that that I absolutely. I was just so glad to see. Yeah, yeah. For me,
S2: I had an older person, an older gay person in my life who was now to basically anyone but me. Hmm. And he died in a nursing home a couple of years ago. And for her for a couple of reasons, including just his appearance, the main character in this film reminded me a lot of, Oh wow, yeah, and I couldn’t think of anything else while watching this other than I wish he had had this chance to do what Pat does in this film, which he’s for giving people. Not for their sake, not because they deserve it necessarily. But for his own sake, you know, for his own sense of closure, he gets what actually a lot of people, not just gay people, don’t get at the end of their life, which is the chance to put a bow on all of these things that had happened in their life have one last hurrah and also let go of some bitterness. The thing that I found really unique about this film in terms of a lot of gay narratives in general, but especially ones about elder queers, is it didn’t involve a coming out story. You know, it wasn’t about anyone who was closeted to their family or who were even really dealing with shame. You know, that’s not pat at all. One of my favorite scenes that comes pretty early on in the film, you know, he encounters this sort of ornery guy, an ornery cashier at the convenience store making fun of that sort of femme cigarette that he purchased in the. He goes, you know, Wow, yeah, your wife still smokes those and he just takes a puff and says she adores them. And you know, he’s not trying at all to do the queen ify himself. And to John’s point about the sort of shell that he constructs. I thought of when we watched the boys in the band for this podcast and on a year ago, you know, the remake and that film sort of turned me off in part because they were all so mean to each other that I felt was supposed to be indicative of, you know, a certain kind of gay male bonding that does exist, but that I found very off-putting. But it’s much clearer here that, you know, his little insults, even the way he needles his friends, is really a response to the way he has been let down by the people in his life and also like the structures of society that he inhabits. And you know, his need to project that kind of self-confidence, which masks a very soft and vulnerable and gentle center that we also get to see in the way he cares for his clients and the people in his own nursing home? Yeah. So, yeah, I liked that a lot. I think at times the specific plot points could be a little pat. Forgive the pun, definitely in a way that I attributed to the fact that Todd Stephens, who wrote and directed it, wrote this about an actual hairdresser in his own town of Sandusky that he sort of admired from afar throughout his childhood. You know, we’ve actually talked about this with Uncle Frank with Happiest Season, where these are Queer creators revisiting themes in their own life, more times or locations in their own life, and sort of recreating them in ways that feels cathartic. I sort of got that sense for a lot of the little cutesy plot points or the, you know, little interactions, little heartwarming interactions that happen in this film. But it was easy for me to overlook those because of the performance of Udo Queer. Yeah. And like I said, just the singularity of this character in the story.
S1: Yeah, I don’t think we can overstate how much it does. Performance just elevates this thing to something well beyond what it deserves. You know, the sum of its parts and the way that he plays that journey from you were talking about the different guards and channels of this this character puts up, you know, we meet him in the nursing home and he’s basically, like, completely withdrawn, like he is sort of in sweatpants and lying on his La-Z-Boy all day, except for when he cares for this one woman who seems to be catatonic in some way, I think. Does her hair for her, but otherwise he’s just sort of receded completely into himself. And then he gets this invitation to come and do the hair and just sort of like blossoms out of that into this incredible queen. But even that, as you guys rightly point out, is essential to observe protection. So it’s interesting. It’s almost like Russian dolls of some sort. Hmm. Jun, I wanted to pick up on something you said I was interested to in this movie and how we get an elder Queer who is not a saint, who is not a hagiography. It’s not like, Oh, look, how wonderful. Tell us your wisdom. It’s a person who is really like, kind of complicated is one word like broken. In some ways, I think a bit of an alcoholic potentially has just a lot of different struggles that are allowed to come up in this film in a way that it would be very easy to sort of sanitize and not want to see. And something about that textured and then Erdos performance of it, just like captivated me. I could not get enough of this of this guy. Yeah, I’m amazed at how that was all done in such a such a sort of modest movie and a lot of ways the whole film has this kind of 90s sort of scale to it. And because of that, almost a little bit of like just a touch of like surrealism, like some of those scenes that Christina’s talking about that feel kind of, you know, like they had to fit a few and in one day or whatever, like in terms of the filming, something about the way they’re edited together creates almost this like fairy tale feeling for me. And I just I don’t know that I’ve seen much else like. What other? What other sort of. Ames, did you guys really pick up on that you felt like we’re interesting.
S4: I mean, I think most of the movie kind of refers back to the past is a lot of memories, a lot of, as you say, kind of dealing with emotions making peace. Yeah. Some of the things that have happened in life. But there are also glimpses of the future. It’s interesting that we this episode have been talking about Grindr because there’s a slightly odd interaction with, you know, some talk about apps and about the kind of, you know, the way that you can order up sex now. But more movingly, there’s also a scene where Pat at least appears to be seeing some gay dads playing with their sons. And at first, you know, this is something that has no interest in watching the children. What kind of development is this? But as he sometimes does, he says, you know someone will remember them. No one will remember us. And that’s in some ways like, it’s a bit of a god. You know, that’s you putting your finger on the scales a bit there, but also that it’s really profound. That is really true. There’s, you know, there’s something about the loneliness of old age that has been something for many, you know, Queer people for years. I remember reading a book, it’s called Sex Variant Woman, because the woman put together one of the first bibliographies of lesbian literature that was called sex variant women in literature. And she had a super out life. You know, she she was a pioneer, but when she got old, she didn’t have money to go to some special, you know, nursing home. She was basically forced back into the closet after, you know, decades of openness. And I think there are, you know, we all know examples. Cristina, you mentioned one like one of the great challenges of gay life has been, you know, not being alone, not finding other people like yourself. You know, one of the great things about Grindr is that now you can find people. But we also end up often being alone and, you know, to get to something so central with such a little almost a grace note that was really amazing. And, you know, because the movie wasn’t always quite so, you know, it was sometimes a little bit obvious. You know, the scenes in the gay bar are not particularly successful, although I know exactly what he was trying for.
S2: I also think later in the film, it makes the point that even if you don’t have children or members of your biological family or even people who you know, there’s still a thread that connects queer people of different generations. There was a real Pat Pittsonberger, who was a hairdresser and Todd Stephens town. I read an interview with him. He said he wore a velvet fedora, a feather boa, an outrageous pantsuit, you know, and this was just somebody who he watched, he said he sort of became obsessed with him, even though he didn’t know him. And this was someone who gave him the freedom to sort of be different. And, you know, maybe it didn’t even need to be that they were both Queer or that they were both of the same brand of Queer. You know, I was thinking about the first Queer people who I knew as a kid who maybe without me, even knowing it had an impact on me, even even as occasionally I’ve thought back at the first Queer people who I knew, you know, these two lesbians who worked at my middle school. In some ways, I think, oh, maybe knowing them and having that be my first introduction to queerness made it harder for me to see that in myself because they I didn’t see myself right. You know, in terms of aesthetics or gender presentation or whatever. But, you know, watching this film and you know, at the end sort of hearing about the impact that Pat had had on someone’s life, I thought, you know, maybe those people’s very existence made it easier for me because they got other people accustomed to queerness, you know, that can be said of the whole generation or two that came before me. But you know, they also made it easier to be different in that school, regardless of sexuality or gender presentation. And you know, it’s my dearest hope that I can have that impact on someone’s life, even if I don’t know them. So I try to be extra gay in public all the time.
S4: You would look great in a in a leisure suit and a fedora, too.
S2: I love that the seafoam leisure suit that was
S1: just so gorgeous, gorgeous. I wanted to talk about one thing, which is that the issue of Queer labor, I think, is taken up in this film in an interesting way. What I mean by that is the central sort of machine. Driving the plot again is that he has to go style this deceased client’s hair. She is a Republican in her life. She was a Republican and and he knew this and that was a part of their relationship. And I don’t want to spoil it too much, but they you sort of find out that. There is a lot of pain for him in this, because because as much as he sort of idolized her for, for her beauty and like, you know, sort of treated her like a muse, I think a little bit for his craft, for his work. She she really didn’t return the respect back to him. He was sort of entitled to it, but then made this request at the end. And so there’s this interesting comparison, I think, between the work that he’s asked to do for her to create beauty. And then there’s another scene where he is in a drag bar and has to help a Queer person with that skill set. In addition to doing his own drag, which is amazing, and I just thought the juxtaposition of those two uses of like hairdressing, which is such a stereotype, has a bad ring to it, like an old school of like gay talent was something that I enjoyed seeing played out. And I don’t know that the movie has like a super strong opinion about whether, for example, waste was a waste of time to dedicate so much energy to this Republican woman. But it is interesting to think about where we direct our special talents. And I think I think the movie, they kind of ask that question a little bit.
S2: It’s funny because I don’t think this was intentional. I think this was meant to be a heartwarming moment. But for me, it felt sort of sour where Pat goes into this black beauty salon that used to be the beauty supply store that he frequented. Right, right. And you know, they help him out by giving him, you know, they’re afraid that his head is going to get sunburned on this long walk, so they give him the hat that was hanging on the wall under the portrait of the salon’s dead matriarch. So he puts on this gorgeous hat. They sort of give him like a yes queen, which is fine. And then he leaves and sort of immediately casually removes the flowers from it and tosses them on the ground, except for one flower that he keeps on his lapel. And the sort of reminded me of part of a Star is Born that remake with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, where they end up getting married in a black church where it just feels like there’s this, you know, generosity of people of color. Yeah, minor black characters being used to advance the growth of the white protagonist without him really doing anything to deserve it and and their labor not really being recognized other than for what it can do for the white protagonist who we’re all rooting for. So, you know, that was one moment where I felt like Todd Stephens analysis of what that felt a little shallow, but totally. I actually think, you know, from a critic’s perspective, it fits in with what you were talking about, Brian, in terms of where do we direct our labor? Who gets to be the beneficiary of our talents and who, you know, deserves the gifts that we’ve been given from our ancestors? Mm hmm.
S1: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, I think we are all pro everyone saying this is certainly worth a watch. Very, very lovely way to spend an evening. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube, probably a few other places, so go check it out and definitely spread the word. I feel like it’s rare that we get to see again this kind of small, quieter, nineties style Queer movie anymore and watching it, if nothing else, it just made me miss that like that. Now that feeling. And then, of course, this film is in itself fantastic. So it is called Swan Song. It’s from Todd Stephens and it’s streaming now, so check it out.
S4: Well, that’s about it for this month. But before we go, we’ve got your monthly updates to the gay agenda. Christina, what do you have?
S2: I am recommending a newsletter, which is a new format for me. The one I’m recommending is by the author Eric Cervini, who was a Pulitzer finalist for his book The Deviants War, which came out last year about gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny. His newsletters called Queer History 101 and every issue is a little primer on some individual or a moment in history, usually ancient history that we might find to be a little Queer today. You know, as stipulating that it’s obviously ahistorical to call ancient people gay or trans, you know, since those concepts didn’t exist? Yeah, I
S1: had my hand raised as I
S2: yeah, like fully aware of that. But the whole series, in addition to sort of reminding us that contemporary norms or mores are in a lot of ways unique to our own time and place, you know, there. Have been people subverting whatever norms existed in their own time since the beginning of time. Whether those norms be sexual or gender based. So the newsletter has just been full of some really fun facts that I kind of the am always looking for places to interject in dinner party conversation and rarely find, for instance, did you know that Sappho lesbian icon extraordinaire was portrayed in the classical era as a sexual predator of men? So word lesbian zien pronouncing that wrong, I’m sure actually meant someone who enjoyed performing fellatio.
S4: Whoa. Wow.
S2: I know, I know word history. The newsletter also covers some more complicated issues. There was a recent one about ancient Greece that talked about the tradition of pederasty among Greek men and the changing ways that historians have sort of interpreted that practice and increasingly recognizing the harm that was done to the young boys involved in that. You know, something we obviously consider abuse today, but it’s, you know, it’s it offers discussion, questions and citations for further reading. It’s kind of like a syllabus if you wanted to use it that way and certainly opens a lot of moments in history to your own interpretation. So again, it’s called Queer history one on one by Eric Cervini. I highly recommend it.
S4: I mean, definitely signing up for that.
S1: Yeah, right to it. Yeah, sounds awesome.
S4: I want to recommend a book that I read recently, partly because it’s a history book, but it’s about a period I lived through in a very kind of conscious way. I wasn’t like a nipper who was, you know, just sort of seeing things happen above my head. I was in the middle of this thing. And yet when I read the book, I realized that despite having been part of it, my memories had gotten kind of shifted by what has happened since. So the book that I’m talking about is called Olivia on the Record, a radical experiment in women’s music by Ginny Berson. And I think the fact that I’ve said women’s music, you know, nowadays, because it kind of, you know, we stopped having bookstores where we could go and hear this music. We don’t really have the concerts or the gatherings anymore where the performers of that genre do their thing. And I just kind of have these hazy memories of, well, these would be the places where you would see your people the most. Like, there would be thousands of women in a concert hall there. You know, there might be thousands at a festival. And Ginny person, of course, was one of the furies. So she has a lot of experience of radical organizing, radical politics. And after she left the Furies, like a lot of the furies, actually went into a kind of, you know, radical creative projects. And one of hers was Olivia, which was the first women’s record label that kind of defined that genre. Meg Christian, who was also her lover and was one of the artists, as was Chris Williamson, and I think we kind of get stuck in that moment with those two white kind of folky performers. But the book is a really good reminder that actually, you know, Olivia, just which was just one label, you know, actually realized right away after they’d had to kind of big hits from white women that, OK, we have to have some women of color recording now we have to diversify the kind of music that we’re playing. And they did. And also, she tells the story of something which I had heard on an episode of the Slate podcast Hi-Fi Nation about a very kind of difficult moment in their history when Olivia worked with a trans woman who was a recording engineer. And this caused the conflicts that we’re familiar with note, but I had no idea that that happened. And Olivia, you know, women’s music is often written off as transphobic, you know, without much, maybe for certain aspects of it have been, but you know, the whole genre gets tarred with that. And they’re actually, you know, there certainly were some nerves who were complaining about the use of a trans woman, but you know that the label used her. So anyway, just an interesting book, and I found it a useful corrective to some kind of weird ideas that had a kind of changed the record that I actually lived through.
S2: That sounds really interesting. I feel like I had definitely heard that story about the trans engineer. Maybe it was in that documentary that I watched about Curve. But yeah, that surprised me too. And yeah, I’ve got to read that book. Thank you, June. Brian, what are you recommending this month?
S1: OK, so it’s Virgo season, and this is a very at least when we’re taping it, as I forget when it ends. But yeah, at the moment it’s Virgo season, my birthday season. And so. Those powers in me are strong, and I just want to recommend something that I used recently that that was very much in line with sort of Virgo Energy is, but I also think everyone will benefit from the boys. And I went on a camping trip a couple of weeks ago to a camp out and music festival, Queer Music Festival in Pennsylvania, and we decided to get a new tent because we felt like our town just wasn’t doing what we wanted it to do. And we ended up getting a two room tent. I did not know that such a thing existed, but apparently you’ll google it and find them. But a tourism tent that actually was easier to set up than the old kinds with, like the poles and everything. This one is just like a pop up. Oh wow. But the two rooms, let me tell you, this is a game changer. You can have. So one room ends up being like your bedroom, so you put the light mattress and all that stuff in there. The mattress,
S2: you’re talking about camping, you know, you’ll put the mattress.
S1: Oh, the air mattress, for sure. And then in the other room that becomes then your light gear space. Wow. And for me, in the past, like stuff gets all over the floor when you’re camping, right? Like that, you just cannot. It’s impossible to keep it organized, no matter how much you try. There’s just clothes everywhere or whatever. Just having this little divider suddenly, like instituted a whole regime of order on the town like I could not have imagine, like the clothes all stayed in one nice place. The, you know, the toiletries and all that stuff stayed on another side. The food part was somewhere else. And then there was just like this wonderful expanse of negative space in the middle where you could sort of have a living room by which I mean, you sit on the floor or on the ground, but there was room for that. And then when you were ready to retire for the evening, you go into the bedroom and drop the little divider down and it’s like, you know, closing the door on the world. Wow. Oh my gosh, fantastic. If you are a camper and if you are someone who’s in the organization and a Virgo, perhaps your Room 10 will make your gay life even better. I cannot recommend it enough.
S2: Oh, I’m so happy you had that experience. Susan, thank
S1: you. Thank you.
S2: All right. That’s about all the time we have for our episode. Please send us your feedback and topic ideas and outward podcast at Slate.com or on Facebook or Twitter at Slee Outward. Our producer is Katya Kumkova. John Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate Podcasts and the Seafoam Green Leisure Suit In the Closet of Our Dreams. If you like out word, please subscribe to us and your podcast app. Tell your friends about it and rate and review the show so other people can find it. We’ll be back in your feeds on October 20th by U2.
S4: I dig a stay or, as they say, in Welsh, be the whole hoil.