Author Archives: Stella-Jehan


About Stella-Jehan

A genderfluid pansexual activist who lives in Paris with their children: a beagle puppy and a non-binary feline demon. Philosophy and history student. Also writes pretentious poetry, cries a good deal about TV and book characters, pretends they live in an aesthetically pleasing videoclip, and dyes almost everything mint green.

The First Trans Man Elected Into Public Office In Japan

Tomoya Hosoda, a 25 year-old medicine graduate, is the first trans man to be elected into public office in Japan.

He has been elected as a councillor for the city of Iruma, in the region of Kanto, by winning 21 out of 22 seats.

Hosoda is not the first trans politician to be elected in Japan. In 2003, Kamikawa Aya was the trans woman who was elected as a municipal official in Tokyo. As for the global state of affairs, New Zealand was the first country to have a trans member in its parliament elected in 1999, Georgina Beyer.

Hosoda is a very accomplished man. In just 25 he has finished his studies in medical sciences at the Teikyo University, during which he also came out as trans, and he has also been active for a while in the political world. While he was studying he also worked to lower STI rates in Japan, raise visibility of trans issues and, from his position, he wishes to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ, elderly and disabled people. This is what he told Stonewall Japan, an LGBTQ support organization in Japan.

He also told Stonewall Japan:

Until recently, people have acted as if sexual and gender minorities do not exist,” he said. “We have many hurdles to overcome, but I hope to live up to everyone’s expectations.

For me, coming out is just the starting line. It is now time to build a foundation for the people who need to move forward. Some walls can not be overcome by one person. We have to work together, and help each other out.”

Hosoda also took part in the Out in Japan Campaign, an initiative to raise awareness and visibility for the lives of non-straight and trans people in Japan.

He speaks about his coming out and transition process, as well as about the election process, thanking his family and friends for their support through all of it.

My parents, friends, colleagues and old schoolmates support me. While there were so many troubles, a lot of suffering, we can move forward one step at a time.

The more we meet people, the narrow-minded way of thinking will expand.”

Hosoda says he’s received a lot of support and validation from the members of the LGBTQ community since he announced that he would run as a candidate.

Lesbian Period-Drama ‘Shibden Hall’ In The Works

Sally Wainwright, creator of several well-known and successful series such as Last Tango in Halifax, To Walk Invisible, and Happy Valley, is currently working on a new lesbian-centered period drama series that will air on HBO, in partnership with BBC.

Wainwright has included lesbians before in Tango in Halifax, resulting to complaints and criticism by fans after one of her characters was killed. However she apologized and called it a mistake, after she realized about the “extraordinary numbers of lesbian characters [that] end up being killed off” on TV.

The eight-episode drama she’s working on, called Shibden Hall and set in 1832, tells the story of one of the most prominent modern “lesbian” figures in history, that of West Yorkshire landowner Anne Lister.

Anne Lister (1791-1840) was a wealthy landowner, diarist, and traveler. She kept diaries throughout her life, narrating everything that happened to her, including her concerns about her finances, her ideas on renovating Shibden Hall that she had inherited from her uncle, and her lesbian relationships. The latter were written in a secret code, a combination of algebra and Ancient Greek, which was eventually decoded between 1988 and 1992 by Helena Whitbread. She was also harassed for her sexuality in a conservative age and social context.

Her diaries are rich in lesbian experiences that could feel strongly relatable to many queer women even today. She declares: “I love and only love the fairer sex and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any love but theirs.” What she loved to use as a “gaydar” with other women, was giving them books she had read and found rich in male or female homosexual subtext, and wait to see if they would catch the allusions and say anything about it.

Another period drama called The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister aired in the UK by the BBC in 2010, directed by James Kent, written by Jane English (using Anne’s diaries for a source) and starring Maxine Peake as the protagonist. Therefore, it isn’t the first time Anne Lister’s story makes it to the TV.

As for Sally Wainwright’s creation for HBO, there is a release explaining the upcoming show’s grasp of the story: “Charismatic, single-minded, swashbuckling Anne Lister – who walked like a man, dressed head-to-foot in black, and charmed her way into high society – has no intention of marrying a man.

“True to her own nature, she plans to marry a woman. And not just any woman: the woman Anne Lister marries must be seriously wealthy.

“Every part of Anne’s story is based in historical fact, recorded in the four million words of her diaries that contain the most intimate details of her life, once hidden in a secret code that is now broken.”

“The drama will explore Anne Lister’s relationships at home with her family, her servants, her tenants, and her industrial rivals, who will use any dirty tricks they can to bring her down. At its heart is her relationship with her would-be wife, the wealthy heiress Ann Walker.”

Wainwright says: “Anne Lister is a gift to a dramatist. She is one of the most exuberant, thrilling and brilliant women in British history, and I can’t wait to celebrate her.

“Landowner, industrialist, traveler, mountaineer, scholar, would-be brain surgeon and prolific diarist, Anne returns from years of travel to her ancestral home, determined to restore it to its former glory, and determined to marry Ann Walker.

“It’s a beautifully rich, complicated, surprising love story. To bring Anne Lister to life on screen is the fulfillment of an ambition I’ve had for twenty years. Shibden Hall is a place I have known and loved since I was a child.

“I’m also delighted to be working with Faith Penhale again and the wonderful team at Lookout Point after our collaboration on To Walk Invisible, and of course thrilled to be working with the BBC and HBO.”

The show will begin shooting next year.


These Feminists In Gorilla Masks Are Revolutionising The Art World

On Thursday 9 of March I had the opportunity to attend a “gig” of Guerrilla Girls in my hometown, Athens – a presentation of their work in the form of performance that was followed by questions and discussion with the public. It was a really cool event that led to a fascinating discussion with the two Guerrillas who were present, very receptive to questions, concerns and suggestions.

Guerrilla Girls are feminist activists and artists. They always wear gorilla masks in pubic so that no one focuses on who they are so that people can pay attention on what they do instead.

Our anonymity keeps the focus on the issues, and away from who we might be. We could be anyone and we are everywhere.”

Instead of their real identities they use nicknames taken from important women written down in history of art, such as Frida Kahlo, Käthe Kollwitz, and Zubeida Agha. There have been around 60 members in Guerrilla Girls over the years.

They have been around since 1985 when they decided to speak up against the male-dominated art world in New York City, with their main point of reference being a huge MoMA exhibition where women and POC artists were vastly underrepresented – 152 male artists and only 13 women.

Since then they have been shaking the waters of the mainstream world of art, cinema, and popular culture with facts, humour and graphic/visual art that aims to raise awareness and protest against the discrimination and inequality that women face in those areas.

Their motto is “Reinventing the ‘F’ word: Feminism” and they believe in intersectional feminism “and human rights for all people and all genders”.

They also wish to push against mainstream class hierarchies in the world of art, including rich collectors and museum owners who shape and dictate who has the power, who is promoted and whose art matters only based on profit. To do that they ridicule, they protest and complain, using cheap, alternative ways of being heard, such as stickers, leaflets, posters, videos, and street actions.

They told the Guardian:

Whenever you read about artists, a lot of the coverage has to do with how rich they are, how much their work sells for, which wealthy people in the world have them. No one is looking at the system and saying: is this the way culture is produced?”

Gradually they developed, ending up writing and publishing books, doing exhibitions all over the world (including Bilbao, Madrid, Iceland, Istanbul, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York, Sao Paolo, Rotterdam and Shangai), and even being exhibited themselves in the very museums that they’ve called out at times.

You can check out their super cool projects and exhibitions yourself, if you haven’t already! They have received commissions for projects and exhibitions from many different institutions and organizations, including The Nation (2001), Fundación Bilbao Arte (2002), Istanbul Modern (2006) and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (2007).

Some of their most well-known projects include the ironic “Advantages to Being a Women artist” poster they made in 1988, their 1989 poster of Ingres’ painting “La Grande Odalisque” with a gorilla head placed over the face of the nude figure, with the slogan “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”, their poster criticizing the Academy Awards with an “anatomically correct” white male Oscar statue design, and many more.

In their gig in Athens they also spoke up for intersectional feminism, POC rights, LGBTQ+ rights, for the lives of Trans people and against the plutocracy in art. Appearing in Stegi of Letters and Arts was their second event in Athens, ten years after visiting Art Athina for Zubeida. Before the event they said:

In fact, this is for us an investigation trip. We want to see how the art community dealt with the crisis, how they adjusted to it.” And they did.

After their presentation, they exchanged experiences and opinions with Greek-based artists who suffer in several ways from discrimination both in the academia and the industry.

They advised the audience to fight back and raise their voices with ways as simple as is putting stickers up on walls and then run away quickly – that can be applied to raise awareness against discrimination in the worlds of music, theatre, fashion, philosophy, and other ideas that were heard from the audience.

Their most inspiring piece of advice was that, “once you get someone to laugh you got a hook on their brains”. I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but the point is that you always got to aim to get someone, even when they disagree with you, to start having second thoughts about an issue. To bug their heads, make them start considering that things maybe aren’t as simple as they seem. And their advice when it comes to the how? Provoke, complain, use your sense of humour, ridicule, step on names who do the wrong thing, say their names out loud, complain some more.

When it comes to the mainstream-ing of feminism, or its turning into a trend, they said in an interview at Greek online magazine Lifo: “It’s ok! Let’s see how many of them are really feminists. We won’t judge anyone who says they support feminism though. There is no acceptance test, only actions.”

You can find the livestreaming of their gig in Stegi of Letters and Arts, Athens, here.

Guerrilla Girls have also protested against the domination of white men in the film industry with their 2003 “Even the Senate is More Progressive than Hollywood” billboard, their stickers at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, their “Birth of Feminism” 2001 project for The Nation and others. In addition, they have actively and explicitly protested against politicians, mostly Republicans. Their ridicule and criticism of Trump was apparent throughout their entire presentation in Athens, refusing to call him by his name and calling him “45” instead.

They have given multiple “gigs” and presentations like the one in Athens, in universities, art schools, museums, theatres and cultural events all over the world.

Among the audience there were many women who thanked them for being an inspiration throughout the years, encouraging her to keep fighting for her place in the competitive, exclusionary, and discriminatory world of art.

Things Every Queer Woman Should Know Before Buying A Sex Toy

What comes to your mind when thinking of sex toys?

My previous (imagined) experience would include images of tacky, badly photoshopped, even vulgar sex shop webpages with funny product names that sometimes I like to call to my partner’s cat with because they’re small, cute, and like to interfere, like a butt plug (I’m terrible at making jokes, I know, and I do apologize for the effort).

I grew up in a quite sheltered environment, so I know how weird and shameful it might feel the first time when you sneak a few peaks online – let alone visit a sex shop irl – even if, as a queer person, you think you’ve overcome all your internalized shaming when it comes to body, gender and sexuality.

I was lucky enough to be with a friend who didn’t have any of this internalized bullshit, and was also much better educated than me on the matters of silicone friends and jelly companions.

She introduced me to LoveHoney from which I ordered my first goodies – in value-for-money prices, quick delivery, high quality and very discreet packaging. It’s a website I really do recommend, even without getting anything out of promote it because, as my friend thought too, I think that everyone deserves a good, affordable, quality sex life, and sex toys really can help discover what your body likes, spend some bonding time with yourself, or explore further hidden pleasure islands with your sexy times partner.

There are all different kinds of sex toys – and sex shops – out there, willing to fulfill all your different needs and fantasies. Of course, some of them are more queer friendly than others, but what most of us can agree is that, the majority of marketing, advertising, and toy production, is still wrapped in normalized hetero – and cis-normativity. Small steps are still being made towards inclusion – and accessible sexy times for all – but there still remain some issues to be addressed.

In this article, I will not speak as an expert who has visited all basement wonderlands in my country and has written a hoard of reviews online. On the contrary, what I wish to share with other newbies out there, is my young, pure, yet opposed to social constructions of virginity, experience as a fellow newbie who still hasn’t figured out what a Vac U Lock is.

I want to share with you what first grasped my attention on my short and fresh journey through google searches about sex toys for queer peepz, my first floral harness eBay order, and my first ideas of hosting an artistic exhibition with nebula-painted clone-a-pussies, what baffled me, what annoyed me, and what made me squee with sweet-summer-child excitement.

The steps already made – and all the cool stuff

When I said heteronormative, I’ll have to be honest that I expected much worse. I’m gonna stick with LoveHoney just because this was my own lived experience – and because it’s affordable enough to get anyone as indecisive as me easily started – but I’m going to share more directly queer-oriented sex shops below.

First of all, the reviews are pretty amazing. I especially love how explanatory, full of personal experience, and valuable advice the reviews are on the two impeccable rainbow dildos! People can also state their gender and sexual orientation so that the customers reading the reviews can decide how much they relate. The options are quite limited though, to male, female, and I’d rather not say, as well as straight, gay, and bi. I found that rather problematic – I chose “I’d rather not say” and “bisexual”, but when I tried to register for student discount, the options were only male and female…

Now it’s true that the variety of sex toys I came into was intense, and while I didn’t feel that a trans person would see themselves represented, the language was at least not heterosexist.

There were some great products that I wished I had infinite money to order, like the Big Box of Sexual Happiness, the chocolate orange body paint and the dick shaped food I’d love to cook for a formal family dinner one day.

But first of all, let me introduce myself, to…

The butt

Oh, all the fanfiction read under the covers, all the fantasies my upbringing told me to push away. All the fluidity of my different identities and the connotations that came with them… I finally decided to browse online and educate myself on my options. Anal can be particularly tricky – even dangerous – if not done right, so better do your research first. I’ll step away now because I’m certainly not an expert, and do not wish to misinform you on anything, but here is a handy anal guide from early2bed. Warning: some anatomical language.

Before I leave you wondering if I actually have anything to share or if I’m just gonna read some more fanfiction, I’ll show you my fave glittery alien tiny anal starter dildo. Go read the reviews. I trust they will be overly helpful for you.

The whole new world of people whose gender I do not wish to assume based on their genitals

I know that a “whole new lesbian world” is a section many people may feel like it’s lacking from the general sex toy discourse, and it is. It’s something I would be desperately looking for a couple of years ago, in the midst of heterosexist guides and advice. But right now I’d rather not use the term “lesbian”, for several reasons: not all women who love women are lesbians, not all lesbians, bi and pan women have the same anatomy and therefore the same needs, not all people who might be interested in similar products are women, let alone lesbians, and the point, in my opinion, is to start making the sex language– the language that has to do with bodily pleasure – less gendered than it already, heavily and oppressively is.

So what I’m gonna do, is redirect you to another article that you might find pretty helpful, on Cosmopolitan which has been doing admirable work in including sex-positive, explanatory and inclusive LGBT issues. Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo share their experience on visiting Toys in Babeland, a queer-owned sex shop in Brooklyn, and also make perfectly clear that all toys can be used for all bodies and genders, with some creativity! They unbox Strap-Ons, Harnesses, Dildos, vibrating fingertips, butt plugs, and cuffing.

Also check LoveHoney for excellent range of love eggs and jiggle balls, affordable vibrators (this rubber duck is next on my list), and a wide range of Strap-Ons to use with your partner. If you are as cheap as I am, you can go on eBay for harnesses. Just be a bit creative with keywording (you might end up with sexy lacey products directed to cis gay men, but they do their work just fine) but it’s gonna cost you less than 3 euros.

Smitten Kitten is another queer-friendly online shop – with much less gendered, and more inclusive language for people of all genders and bodies. It’s slightly on the pricier side but it is value-for-money, considering just how attractive and artistic most of their products look, the fabulous pelvic exercisers, the realistic skin-tones of their sex toys, the BDSM gear, and finally, their gender expression section.

They also have a mouthwatering, heart-eye-inducing book section, with LGBTQ guides, Polyamory books, Body positive books, and adorable feminist, funny, kitsch, sex and companionship gifts.

The wall-mounted toys

Thank Cosmo and her queer majesty Lane Moore, here you can find a complete guide to wall-mounted sex toys. Riding your wall or kitchen counter can be more fun than you think, but please stay away from the fridge.

The lack of toys directed to trans women

Which is pretty self-explanatory on its own, and it’s very sad and discouraging. An extensive google search will leave you with few to no results, and certainly everyone can use the toys that already exist, but I imagine it cannot feel that welcoming to browse through a page that is misgendering you. I don’t think it would be that hard to create another page directed to the needs of binary and non-binary trans individuals, or at least to keep your products ungendered when it comes to language, colours and stereotyping imagery, in the way that Smitten Kitten does.

Early2bed has this pretty extensive guide for trans women and sex toys, written by trans artist and educator Rebecca Kling. Warning: Just keep in mind that, while it seems very helpful and offers really important information, it uses some explicit, anatomic language.

The packing

What people of the LGBTQ+ community are also looking for when browsing on online sex shops, are packers, packing underwear and harnesses. While usually it’s trans men who pack, in this well-researched and sourced Cosmo article by Lane Moore, that is also a guide to packing for all people, examples of people of all different genders and bodies who are into the habit of packing are given, either for aligning more their body image to what makes them comfortable, altering their gender expression, or feeling more at ease during sex.

If you are looking for something affordable to start with I will inevitably redirect you to LoveHoney, just because I made my first purchase there, but there are many sites directed especially to trans men and gender-non-conforming people out there, that also have a wide range of packers in different skin tones that also allow people to have sex or pee while standing.

Buck Off is another trans-directed toy, considered the world’s first sex toy for trans men, designed by trans activist and entrepreneur Buck Angel. It is specifically designed for people who are experiencing the effects of testosterone while transitioning, and the reason I’m including it is that it might not only be trans men who are in the process or transitioning and experience discomfort with their bodies, but also gender-non-conforming people who might prefer this toy for masturbation. (Warning: anatomic language used in the sites linked).

The variety

A quick google search or just an online/mouth-to-mouth conversation with people from your local community will provide you with many queer friendly-inclusive-oriented shops. Other shops I have no experience with but looked promising were Good Vibes, My Bedroom Spice, Wet For Her, and another great article on sex toys for queer folks. The main issue I think we need to keep fighting against, and urge the mainstream – both straight and queer – sex shop industry to stop doing, is the use of problematic and harmful heteronormative and cis-sexist labelling and language, so that everyone feels comfortable when shopping for their sexual wellbeing and pleasure.

Nipple Brooches Against Censoring

The #FreetheNipple movement is growing bigger and bigger after numerous online and other kinds of protests against the censoring of female – or what appears to be female – nipples on social media such as Facebook and Instagram. A big debate has been sparked, concerning whether women’s nipples are something that must be considered a “private” part of their bodies, or should be displayed freely as it practically doesn’t differ from male nipples – or the nipples of people socially read as men.

The limits between what is acceptable and what not are arbitrary and fluid, and many feminists feel that censoring some breasts and their nipples, and allowing some others, based on few and not always distinguishable differences, makes no sense.

After an Instagram account sharing really close-up pictures of nipples so that it would be rendered really hard to tell to what body they could belong, another initiative started last spring from a group of three friends, who decided to make DIY felt brooches that look like nipples and people can wear on their clothes.

The project (#girlpower16) has felt nipple brooches in all shades of pink. Creators say:

We decided it’s time to involve everyone into our discussion about equality. So we made a felt brooch to wear, to be proud and to express our opinions and protest to others! We also decided to stay out of natural skin tones and stick strictly with shades of pink. Since it’s such a stereotypically ‘girly’ color our wish is to show everyone that despite of our style, gender, race we all can still rock any color we want to!”

Many might argue that this initiative is purposeless, or might not get its point across, but in my humble opinion these felt nipples look really cool and pretty as a fashion statement, and if I had enough money I would order a pair – or three! Nothing says couture like raising a few eyebrows!

17 Queer Spoken Word Artists That Will Leave You Speechless

Slam poetry is a form of spoken word poetry that includes the reciting or reading of an original poem that can be also combined with acting, choreography, and other forms of performance.

The main characteristic of slam poems is to perform them, to focus on certain points with a specific choice of tone or volume in the voice, actions of the body, or facial expressions. The purpose of slam poems is usually to evoke intense feelings, to raise awareness about an issue, provoke, and deeply move people to think, feel, and react. Usually, slam poetry is political, used as a tool of expression against some form of sociopolitical oppression or injustice.

There is no set form, rules, or structure in slam poetry. One of its point is to challenge authority of any kind, and thus literary and academic authority as well. The true judge in slam contests is the audience. According to Bob Holman, a poetry activist and slam poet of the Nuyorican Poets Café, called the movement “the democratization of verse”. In 2005, he said:

The spoken word revolution is led a lot by women and by poets of color. It gives a depth to the nation’s dialogue that you don’t hear on the floor of Congress. I want a floor of Congress to look more like a National Poetry Slam. That would make me happy.”

Slam poetry is often associated with hip-hop and dub poetry and usually takes place in the form of a competition where performers are judged by a panel or by audience response. It was influenced by the free verse style of Beat poets, like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The first poetry slam is thought to have started by American poet Marc Smith, at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago, in November 1984.

It moved to the Green Mill Jazz Club in 1986 and in 1988 the first slam poetry took place in New York City’s Nuyorican Poet’s Café, hosted by Bob Holman. In 1990 the first National Poetry Slam in the US took place in San Francisco, making slam poetry gain ground really quickly, especially in America, where young poets wanted to democratize and diversify poetry, against the strict academic standards.

Slam poetry has often been used to express the feelings and experiences of LGBTQIA+ people, producing intense, moving samples of excellent work.

Here is a list of my favourite slam poems. Don’t limit yourself to reading the descriptions. If you haven’t seen them already, please do; they might change your life, and my words do them no justice.

Listen – Nathalie Tyler

About the gender- binary, stereotypes, and gender essentialism, expectations society has from you, whether you are deemed as deserving of love based on how you conform to them.

Xander Pander – 41 – spoken word

The way a trans person experiences things such as the threat of suicide, being refused proper medical care, homelessness, rejection, these numbers and statistics, while still being told they’re too dramatic.

Lee Mokobe: A powerful poem about what it feels like to be transgender

What it feels like to be transgender, to try to be understood and seen as a person instead of a threat or a bunch of fears, to see your body as your home that needs to be welcoming and comfortable instead of doomed by other people as a mausoleum.

Denice Frohman: Dear Straight People

A letter to straight people, straight allies, straight bullies, and queer girls, speaking about the discrimination a queer person faces, and about having to prove queer love and defending your identity.

Savannah Brown – Hi, I’m a Slut!

On the sexualization – but not acceptance of the sexuality of – women, their fetishization and objectification by society, the double standards imposed upon them, the reduction to their bodies which are policed, harassed and subjected to male pleasure. Intensely powerful words in favour of bodily autonomy, sexual freedom, and against rape culture.

Izzy Inkpen – Hi, I’m a virgin

Reply to the “Hi, I’m a Slut!” video, adding some important points. Focuses further on “woman equals sexualized but not sexuality” in society’s eyes, refers to misconceptions about virginity, and other oppressive expectations society sets on women.

Brenna Twohy – Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them

Talks about pornography, the dehumanizing, abusive ways in which women are often depicted in it, stripped of their autonomy, their right to pleasure and personhood. Uses fanfiction to show why women prefer stories and depictions that include them in non-fetishized representations, letting them be more than a man’s sex object, and part of a bigger story.

Joy Young – The Queer Hokey-Pokey

Talks about the queer haircut and the invisibility of femme people before getting it, the notion that they’re not “gay enough” to belong if they don’t look or act a certain way, the exclusion within the community.

Twoey Gray – A Series Of Queer Love Notes

Addresses problematic standards for gayness from within the community, how harmful and wrong it is to equate sexuality with body parts, gay guys and how they can hold misogynistic or racist views, allies that make it all about themselves, about media representation and the community that settles with bullshit, because we are desperate to be recognized, represented and accepted.

Dia Davina – In Between

About being non-binary and the ways that you need to be loved while finding your place through experimentation, standards about gender, fighting for inclusion and acceptance of every piece of who you really are.

Abbie Wells – I’m a Myth|An Asexuality Poem

A poem exploring all the myths and misconceptions about being asexual, a story of discovering that you are asexual and realizing that you don’t have to meet with all the expectations set by society for sexual people.

Realisticallysaying – X Marks the Spot

A poem on realizing you might be neither a girl, nor a boy. About being non-binary, the social dysphoria of being misgendered, the different ways of experiencing gender dysphoria (or of not experiencing it at all), of realizing that maybe you’re not broken after all.

Darius Simpson & Scout Bostley – Lost Voices

A poem about mansplaining and whitesplaining, recited by a black man and a white woman both of whom speak over each other, for the other person’s problems. Addresses the issue of people speaking over others, of different intersections that are not parts of their identities and of things we haven’t all experienced, but also of realizing that we have all been through different things the need to speak up for others’ needs after realizing your privilege, so that no one is left without a voice .

Keith Jarrett – A Gay Poem

A poem about the discrimination, problematic reactions, and threats that gay people have to face, answering in a unique, sarcastic way, to the question “have you ever written a gay poem?”

Chrysanthemum Tran – Maybe All Transgender People are Really Vampires

A powerful poem about the uncertainty, stereotypes and fears that trans people have to face every day, against the hateful, dehumanizing rhetoric and behaviours directed to them, a cry of desperation that reminds us that trans people are people often stripped by their humanity, and they need to live with dignity and without fear.

Ash Hardel – We get it, you’re gay

A poem about how people might tell you that you’re too loud about being gay, that you make a big deal out of it, when in reality it’s society that forces you to face your identity all the time, to apologize about it, to protect it, to be harassed about it, invisible in a heteronormative context, faced with the privilege straight people don’t realize they have every day.

Melanie Murphy – FEMME|a spoken word film about my bisexuality

Speaks about femme bisexual women who are ostracized by both straight and gay communities, stripped either of their queer identities, or of the expression and appearance that makes them feel more like themselves. Femme bi women are read as queer by straight people only for the sake of fetishization, threatened to be force-turned to straight by men, invisible in the activist world, deemed as confused or going through a phase, alienated and at the same time told they’re privileged.

Stories Of Lesbians And Bi Women During Nazism

Among the people hunted by the Nazi regime in Germany were, obviously, LGBT people who were deemed “anti-social” or “crazy”. Most of us have heard about the pink triangle and what it meant as a symbol of recognition for gay men in concentration camps. But what about gay and bisexual women and their fates during Hitler’s regime in Germany?

The sources of knowledge we have concerning lesbians and bi women and what they went through are limited, but we do know about some women leaving the country and seeking shelter in England and America. Lesbians have been named as the “forgotten victims” of Hitler’s attempt to “ethnically cleanse” Germany, by the German feminist magazine EMMA.

There are gender-related differences when it comes to the reasons, justification and forms of oppression that gay men and women faced in Nazi Germany.

Lesbians weren’t directly referred to by the 1872 law, Paragraph 175 that banned sexual acts between men and sexual acts on animals. That coincides with the general cultural assumption of the era that sex between women is not “real sex”, so lesbians were technically not illegal in Germany, unlike Austria where sexual acts between women were criminalized in the 19th century.

However, there was a justification for the ostracization of queer women that was based on different priorities of the Nazi regime: women were supposed to bear children and be mothers and housewives to German husbands; they were not seen as sexual beings, or as able to have any considerable influence in public and social life.

So the actual issue with lesbian women was that they refused to conform to the Nazi norms of being a German mother and wife. And yet, as Stefanie Gerdes states in her article

What Happened to Gay Women During the Holocaust”, the thought that lesbians could actually be “fixed” and still become pregnant and bear children, was what saved some of them from detention in concentration camps. Homosexual people, in the opinion of Heinrich Himmler, the leader of SS, would “deprive Germany of the children they owe her.

As part of the Nazi cruelty in the concentration camps, homosexual women had to wear a badge, either green as “career” criminals, or black as “asocials” (like Romani and homeless people were deemed). That classification took place because lesbianism was not criminalized. They were also forced into prostitution – unless they were Jewish – and forced to serve SS men as well as homosexual men in order to “heal them”.

The lives of women who didn’t go to the camps were difficult and dangerous, as they either had to pretend they were straight by marrying, flee the country, or live in poverty as they had no husbands and were paid really low wages – while constantly fearing for their lives and the possibility of being arrested.

The research that’s been made has brought up some stories of women who passed through Ravensbrück, the women’s concentration camp 90km north of Berlin. Today we share their stories as a tribute to their memories. (Based on this article).

Henny Schermann was one of those women. She was born in Frankfurt in 1912 and worked as a saleswoman when she was arrested. Official documents stated that she moved only in lesbian bars and she is thought to have been arrested in one of those. According to official Nazi paperwork she was also a “Stateless Jewess” and was selected by one of the Nazis’ death doctors, Friedrich Mennecke who claimed her “unworthy of life” in 1942. She was sent to the gas chamber on the 30th of May that year.

Elli Smula, born in 1914, was another woman who worked at the Berlin trams and was arrested on 1940 after being reported by her employer, Berlin Public Transport, accused of not reporting at work because she stayed up late at nights in parties, having sex with female colleagues. She was logged as a “political” prisoner and the word “lesbian” was also added in her documents. Her mother wrote that she died quite suddenly’ in Ravensbrück on 8 July 1943.

Inge Scheuer was born in 1924 and conscripted into military service as a “Marine Assistant” in 1943. She was found to have a relationship with a female comrade so she was discharged and sent to the Psychiatric Hospital Brandenburg-Görden in 1944. Fortunately, she was released early and survived the war.

Mary Pünjer was born in 1904 and worked in the clothes shop her parents owned in Hamburg. She was arrested in 1940 and admitted to the Ravensbrück. Her documents stated that she was imprisoned because of “political” differences and because she was a “lesbian”. She died in gas chambers in the killing wing of the ‘Convalescent and Nursing Home’ at Bernburg, presumably in 1942.

Another homosexual woman, who was actually sentenced to prison for violating paragraph 129 of the Austrian Penal Code (the paragraph that made homosexual behaviour punishable) in 1939, was Marie Glawitsch, born in 1920 in Graz, Austria. She was also accused of theft and was committed to Ravensbrück as a “career criminal” in 1942.

Rosa Jochmann was born in Vienna in 1901 and became a union representative in a factory that made glass covers for glass lamps. She rose up the movement and joined the Social Democratic Labour Party. That was the reason she was arrested several times. On August of 1939 she was arrested again and in March of 1930 she was sent to Ravensbrück, where she continued to advocate for the rights of others and became a mediator between the camp authorities and the prisoners.

She risked a lot but miraculously survived. The camp was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945, but Rosa stayed back to care for the sick. She became a honorary citizen of Vienna and was awarded a grave of honor in the city when she died in 1994. Her sexuality was not something talked about but she was actually identified as a homosexual woman in a 2005 exhibition about her life and about the persecution of gays and lesbians.

Finally, Stefanie Gerdes writes in her article about the story of Annette Eick, who was born to Jewish parents in Berlin and one of the lesbians who managed to flee the country. Her story is an extremely inspiring one that brought tears to my eyes, as did the other stories of the harsh realities faced by LGBT people during the Nazi regime. She spoke about her experiences during the Third Reich in 2005, together with 5 gay men, as part of the documentary “Paragraph 175”.

Eick had actually realized her identity from a very young age. When she was only ten she wrote an essay in school about dreaming of living her late life with her girlfriend, surrounded by animals and writing. She talked about growing up in Germany before the Nazi regime, when Berlin was still one of the best places in the world for an LGBT person to live, due to the small subculture that existed. She met a Jewish girl from Berlin and they became too close. “I saw a woman who looked a little bit like Marlene Dietrich,” she said. “She is the one I saw occasionally later, the one who saved my life because she was the one who sent me this permit [that saved me].”

During the Night of Broken Glass in 1938 the Germans ambushed the farm where she was staying, preparing to leave with other Jewish children and teen for Palestine.

A police officer’s wife left the cell door of everyone caught unlocked in purpose and all the prisoners escaped. Eick was lucky enough to retrieve her passport from the destroyed farm in the middle of the chaos. She was planning to go to Berlin but a letter arrived for her, from the aforementioned former love affair. The woman who looked like Marlene Dietrich with whom she was in love had mailed to her an entry permit to England. That saved her while her family was sent to Auschwitz.

She lived the rest of her life in Devon, found love in the 1960s, published a collection of poems and died a littler after her 100th birthday, in 2010.

For the last three years a group of feminists and lesbian women from Germany and Austria have led a movement to commemorate the horrible experiences of lesbian and bi women at Ravensbrück. Feminist historians and lesbian groups have been doing extensive research about the issue since the 1980s.

On the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück last year, a memorial stone was laid for the queer women who were persecuted and murdered in Ravensbrück. LGBT people and feminists are applying for a “commemorative orb” to those women to remain at the camp, in order to pay a tribute to them and engrave a hidden reminiscence of history that should not be concealed and forgotten anymore.

Transgender Community Left Out Of India’s Election System

The upcoming election process taking place in India is leaving trans people out, due to lack of proper identification documents.

Statistics released by the Election Commission of India show that a percentage as low as 4% of trans people in India are enrolled in voter lists, while about 41,000 trans people were identified by the 2011 census, and it is believed there are much more. Only 1,654 people are those enrolled in the lists of Maharashtra. According to an election official who spoke at DNA India:

This is abysmally low considering the fact that a dozen hijras roam around Mumbai and Thane”.

Hijra is a term used in South Asia – mostly in India and Pakistan – that refers to trans people who were assigned male at birth. Trans people in India have been legally recognized as a “third gender” outside the binary of male and female. Last year, a bill that protected trans people from violence and sexual assault was passed, with the purpose of increasing employment and education opportunities for trans people in India.

A 2014 supreme court ruling was supposed to establish transgender as a legal category of identity, adding a third gender option on official IDs, as has been done in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

Still, many trans people admit that they wouldn’t change their IDs in order not to lose basic rights like marriage, transferring property or adopting children (all of which are rights only applicable to people who belong to the male-female legal binary), or to be ostracized by their families.

In addition, trans people who wish to change their passports or licenses must go through a screening committee that decides whether they qualify as transgender, a process which often submits them to discrimination and violations from medical practitioners. Trans Indians are also often denied these services because they were obliged, at some point, to flee their family home quickly and without an ID, to join hijra communities in big cities.

Trans people face severe discrimination by medical practitioners and social services in India. According to Shashi Bharti, member of the Naz Foundation Trust, an NGO for sexual health in Delhi, trans clients are often refused anti-retroviral treatment when they can’t provide ID and proof of residence, because of the aforementioned reason.

Activists are speaking up for the need of inclusion of the transgender community in the enrolment process by the Election Commission. Campaigner Harish Iyer says:

Since most hijras don’t have a proper home and many of them lack Aadhaar and other ID cards, they would remain out of the EC’s campaign. Since the right wing government has not been supportive of this community, government agencies are unlikely to go the extra mile to cover the third gender”.

Suhana, a 40-year-old hijra, speaks about the reluctance of trans people to enroll, since they don’t believe that the situation is going to change, even if they actively participate in the elections.

LGBT Group In London Drops Solidarity Banner Over Vauxhall bridge

A London LGBT group has hung a banner reading “Queer Solidarity Smashes Borders” over Vauxhall Bridge on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. The protesters of the group released smoke in rainbow colours, and the demonstration attracted many.

The banner hanging was part of a bigger, worldwide movement that took place on the 20th of January 2017, the day when Donald Trump was sworn into office. The movement is called “Bridges Not Walls” and started from the UK as a collective demonstration of solidarity to minority groups, women and others threatened by Trump’s racist, sexist and homophobic agenda, as well as a protest against the rise of right wing politics in many countries.

There have been over 250 banner drops all over the world where citizens, campaigners and activist groups have gathered to hang a banner over a famous bridge, and then take a photo to upload on the program’s Dropbox and raise visibility and solidarity on those issues. There is a video on the official website that shares the slogan: “They say build walls but we say build bridges.” Participants have registered their event on the action map so people in their area can find and join them.

The initiative started by Hastings ice cream man and homeless shelter worker Will Stevens after the result of the US election, in order to phrase the anxiety of the people who have directly been threatened by Trump’s upcoming presidency.

Spokesperson of Bridges not Walls, Nona Hurkmans, said: “On Trump’s inauguration day we’re taking action to show our support for groups under attack – here in the UK, across Europe and in the USA – and to reject the rise of a dangerous and divisive far rights politics. We won’t let the politics of hate peddled by the likes of Donald Trump take hold. What happens next is up to us and by standing together we can show that the rhetoric of fear and hate have no place in our society.”

Chief Executive of Migrants Organise, Zrinka Bralo, said: “We stand in solidarity with colleagues and friends in the US. We have all read reports of an increase in hate attacks. The emergence of neo-Nazis and white supremacists is scary; the attempt to normalize what is going on is even scarier. We have the responsibility to fight against attempts to divide us. Our shared values of justice, respect for dignity, human rights and the truth must shine through these difficult times.”

The movement has spread as far as Ethiopia, Cambodia, Australia, the USA and many European cities. More than 150 of the banner drops have taken place in the UK, including London’s most iconic bridges. A 25m big banner reading “Bridges not Walls” was planned to be dropped from Tower Bridge in London. Other signs include “No silence on UK violence #BlackLivesMatter” at London Bridge, “What happens next is up to us” at Millenium Foot Bridge, a banner against islamophobia at Southwark Bridge, one for the rights of immigrants and refuges on Westminster bridge, and a Women’s rights banner on Waterloo bridge.

Among the LGBT activists at Vauxhall bridge was the comedian Joe Sutherland, who sent a message of solidarity to all LGBT people anxious about their futures worldwide. He said: “As a queer comedian it’s my job to find funny ways to deal with a bad situation. But what we’re facing now isn’t funny, it’s terrifying. The dirty tactics of mainstream media and politicians in UK, Europe and the USA are trying to divide us into smaller and smaller groups and make us fear each other. I’m here as part of my LGBTQ+ community to show that we stand with others who feel threatened: migrants, muslims, women, people of colour and disabled people. If we support each other then we don’t have to be afraid.”

Trans Artist Anohni Nominated For BRIT Awards

Trans artist and feminist Anohni has been nominated for a Best British Female at the BRIT Awards for her album Hopelessness, a collaboration with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. Other nominees running against her are: Ellie Goulding, Emeli Sande, Lianne La Havas and Nao.

Anohni speaks of the album as a new chapter in her life and says that she hasn’t “spent a lot of time expressing anger in my life, so this record is a new chapter. Anger is energising: it’s quite an empowering feeling.”

Last year, when the album was released, she gave an interview to Kim Taylor Bennett for Noisey, where she talked about her deeply political album, her song 4 degrees, living in Berlin, identity politics, terrorism, unequal wealth distribution, and her anxiety about the state of the world we live in.

To a question about the imbalance between the ostensible progress in LGBT issues and the fear of terrorism, she answered that there is probably a reason why shooting still take place but America refuses to move on gun control, or that everyone shoves identity and gender politics everywhere – which is really important for trans people – but at the same time she feels like women’s issues, for example reproductive rights, are being rolled back. At the same time, people don’t seem to pay attention to what is, in her opinion, the most important issue: that the resources available for most people in the world are getting lesser and lesser.

She also talked about how she felt the need to write songs about what she read in the paper. She’d been writing music about the environment before, but in her new album she explores things such the accountability of her own actions, participation in the modern world, and taxpaying – considering some dreadful things that taxpayers’ money have been invested in, in America, like drone bomb campaigns and Guantanamo bay.

The title and lyrics of the album seem heavy and dark, but the music is uplifting. Anohni said that “there’s this kind of myth that, this point has been widely accepted, that we can’t really write pop music that has intense political content, the heyday of that is long gone. So I thought, oh what a fun challenge—and why not do it to dance music? Why not do it exactly as you said, make it uplifting, and embed it into something really pop and just to see how far we can take it.”

In the same interview, Anohni was asked if can think of a reason why protest music has become uncool. She replied that she doesn’t think that it has become uncool – it’s mostly that it doesn’t really exist in the mainstream artistic scene – and that’s probably because, for some reason, it’s hard to be vigorous, to get involved, to stand up.

She explained that the pessimistic title of her album refers to the feeling of Hopelessness and grievance we all get when faced with the current situation, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect that we are actually hopeless. Anohni also admitted that she doesn’t know whether music can spark change in general, but it does spark change in her.

Last year, Anohni was nominated for an Oscar for her song “Manta Ray”, a collaboration with J. Ralph from the documentary Racing Extinction. Up until then she was the only trans performer ever to have been nominated for an Academy Award. However, she did not attend the ceremony, and she explained why in an intense essay she wrote, titled “Why I am not attending the Academy Awards”.

In this essay, she described her excitement when she found out about her nomination, only to be let down by the list that was announced and included the performers who were going to participate live in the ceremony. She found out that the singers who were going to perform live were only those “deemed commercially viable”. “Simple Song #3” composed by David Lang and performed by South Korean soprano Sumi Jo was also left out of the list and Dave Grohl, not nominated in any category, was added to it.

Anohni said it was degrading to watch articles appearing, referring to her as one of two artists who were “cut” due to “time constraints”. She struggled and thought a lot in order to decide whether she would attend the ceremony, but she felt even worse when she realized that the Oscars had added that she was transgender on their website’s trivia page.

I want to be clear — I know that I wasn’t excluded from the performance directly because I am transgendered. I was not invited to perform because I am relatively unknown in the U.S., singing a song about ecocide, and that might not sell advertising space…

But if you trace the trail of breadcrumbs, the deeper truth of it is impossible to ignore. Like global warming, it is not one isolated event, but a series of events that occur over years to create a system that has sought to undermine me, at first as a feminine child, and later as an androgynous transwoman. It is a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for transpeople that has been employed by capitalism in the U.S. to crush our dreams and our collective spirit.”

She also spoke about almost giving up after the numerous occasions when she had been shut down and told she’d never make a career in music because of who she was, about people who encouraged her to continue, and about amazing opportunities that she had in her life.

As a transgendered artist, I have always occupied a place outside of the mainstream. I have gladly paid a price for speaking my truth in the face of loathing and idiocy,”

Concluding that she decided to not attend the Oscar ceremony, and to maximize her “usefulness and advocate for the preservation of biodiversity and the pursuit of human decency within my sphere of influence”.

Anohni also collaborated with CocoRosie in a new protest song, Smoke ‘em Out, that speaks against Trump and was written “to inspire the weary-disappointed hearts of so many crest-fallen citizens. The announced that the song is supposed “to inspire the weary-disappointed hearts of so many crest-fallen citizens.”

Along with Smoke ‘em Out, the band shared Bianca Casady’s poem that digs deeper into the subtext of the lyrics exploring the unending end of time ambiance and the idea that ‘the future is female,’ and a very necessary force to be reckoned with.”

#DressLikeAWoman: Trump Causes Twitter Storm With Sexist Dress Code

News website Axios were informed by an anonymous source that women who work for the Trump campaign feel pressured to wear dresses. Mike Allen cited this claim in Axios newsletter.

According to the report, male employees “need to have a certain look”, but Trump didn’t really like the suit his press secretary, Sean Spicer, wore for his first briefing, and expects his male employees, according to the same source, to wear a tie, either a Trump one, or try to get away with Brooks Brothers and Armani.

Well, you can also get away if you’re Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

As we read in Allen’s citation, women who work for Trump are supposed to “look neat and orderly” even if they’re in jeans, even if they’re not in positions that are going to get much coverage or have to attend “glitzy events”.

Michael Allen refused to give further details when he was asked to this Friday.

But whether “dress like a woman” were Trump’s actual words to refer to him expecting more feminine attire by his female employees or not, it’s quite safe to assume that it very clearly characterizes his overall view when it comes to women and their reduction to their appearance.

After all, he does have a history of rating them on a scale from 1 to 10, of insulting women who criticized him based on their appearance, and of hurrying to get back to people who used arguments against his own appearance, like his hair or the size of his hands.

Everybody knows that he also happens to be an openly sexist bigot, working actively to ruin the lives of whoever is not a cis straight white Christian man, so yeah.

It makes much sense that uproar was caused on Twitter after the news for the White House dress code instructions became known, especially after 8 years of Barack and Michelle Obama establishing a more relaxed attitude towards the dress code that people in the White House were supposed to follow.

Twitter Users used the hashtag #dresslikeawoman to go a step further from the problematic character of narcissistic Trump directing extremely important real life issues based on appearance as if he’s still part of a glamorous reality show. Women on Twitter tried to question what it means to dress like a woman.

According to Maddie Soper (@misformaddie), a handy guide on how to #dresslikeawoman includes: “1. Identify as a woman” and “2. Get dressed”.

People posted pictures of accomplished women, such as astronauts, politicians in the parliament, pastors, judges, and Olympic champions, in the attire of their work.

Feminists from the navy or the army in camo suits, firefighters, surgeons and racecar drivers, all in their according suits, flooded the internet, accompanied by sarcastic comments directing Trump’s sexist, demeaning behaviour towards women.

As Erin Coulehan writes, even the mainstream, high fashion the rules of which Trump believes he leads his life by, considers such notions about women and their appearance outmoded.

I could gush about how it’s men’s fashion week in New York right now, and designers like Alejandro Gomez Palomo are challenging masculinity in sartorial form through androgynous genius to showcase the myriad facets of menswear to include looks distinctly feminine. I could discuss how forward-thinking it is the 24-year-old designer doesn’t really see the point in going along with gender binaries because that would be boring and it’s way more fulfilling to shake things up.”

Unfortunately, it is up to a man of priorities much more ridiculous and problematic than those that of my horny, paw-licking cat has at the moment, to govern the country that influences the entire planet more than any other. And I wish I could finish this article with a note of optimism, but I have no more left.

So the only thing I can remind myself and everyone reading this, is that we need to stand in absolute solidarity with all our sisters (and not just cisters) in the US, and take in mind not only their gender, but all different intersecting oppressions they might be facing through dark times.

LGBT America In Numbers

The most recent Gallup research showed that Americans are more likely to say that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender than they used to. In total, almost 3.5% of American adults (or 8.3 million people) identified with one of these categories in 2012, a number which has in 2016 increased to 4.1% that translates to 10.052 million people.

The analysis has been based on research that has lasted over five years and was performed on more than 1.6 million adults in the United States of America. It is more likely that the numbers don’t necessarily indicate an increase in the actual number of LGBT people living in the US, rather than an increase in the people who feel comfortable opening up about their sexuality or gender identity.

Among interviewed adults in the research, younger generations are more likely to identify as LGBT. Gallup shows that 7.3% of millennials (born 1980-1998) identified as LGBT in 2016, while in 2012 the percentage was 5.8. As for Generation X (born 1965-1979) the percentage has stayed the same (3.2), and for Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) and Traditionalists (1913-1945) the number has decreased from 2012 (2.7 to 2.4 for Baby boomers and 1.8 to 1.4 for Traditionalists).

When it comes to other identity intersections, the results are as following: people are just as likely to identify as LGBT whatever their gender, racial group, income group or educational level may be. The social groups that weren’t as likely to identify as LGBT were the moderately and highly religious Americans.

In some sense, this poll may indicate some sort of progress, since more young people are comfortable enough to claim an identity of the LGBT umbrella for themselves. The fact that younger people are more likely to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, makes sense in terms of them being the generation who supports LGBT rights the most.

When it comes to same sex marriage, here are some more numbers that indicate what public opinion in America could be shaped like: according to Gallup, it seems like the majority of American adults supports same sex marriage: a 60% of the interviewed population in 2015 that has increased from a 27% in 1996.

The higher level of support is also expressed by the younger generations. People of ages 18-29 who support same-sex marriage have doubled from 1996 to 2014 (from 40% to about 80%) and so have ages 30-49 (from 30% to 55%). The increase in older generations seems even bigger, considering that a considerably smaller percentage of people 50+ (15% and lower) supported same-sex marriage in 1996, numbers that have now exceeded 40%.

An analysis carried out in April 2015 from the Williams Institute, a think tank that focuses on LGBTQ issues, showed that support for same-sex marriage was rising in all the states of America, but more rapidly in states that had legalized same-sex marriage, which shows that laws supporting fundamental human rights that are enforced without society even being seemingly in their favour may actually influence it in positive ways.

On another research, Vox and Morning Consult worked together to figure out the general position of American adults towards trans people, their rights and the laws that concern them, through a series of questions, that were asked to 2.000 registered voters.

The results were mixed and unfortunately not promising. There still seems to be a lot of discrimination against trans identities in the US. The plurality of US adults seem to be supportive of laws against discrimination faced by trans people but the population is still divided on whether trans people should use freely bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

People who answered were divided almost in halves, with 42% said that public facilities should be required to allow students to use the bathroom for their “self-described gender,” while 39% were opposed to that choice. Democrats and younger generations were more likely to support trans people’s rights.

It still remains difficult to know exactly what these numbers are representing, since about 1 in 10 to 1 in 5 voters answered the research questions with “don’t know” or “no opinion”. According to Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport:

I think that at this point, I would be most likely to say that the American public has not formed firm opinions on the new issue of policies or laws surrounding transgender individuals’ use of bathroom facilities and that the public is — to a degree — open to argument on either side. Plus, the available evidence does not consistently support the conclusion that Americans favor laws or policies allowing open access to bathrooms based on an individual’s claimed gender identity.”

Democrat Celia Israel Stands Against The Texas Bathroom Bill

The past couple of years have brought to light heated debates about countless issues connected to the rights and laws concerning the members of the LGBTQ+ community in America. One of the most controversial debates has been about the bills that were introduced in several states, demanding that people in public buildings, schools etc. do not use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, but the bathroom that apparently corresponds to the “sex on their birth certificate”, otherwise they may be charged with fines.

The fact that such an issue as where people are or aren’t supposed to pee is up for debate is absolutely outrageous – and is deemed as such by a considerable part of the population in most states. At the same time, conservative voices have gained ground with claims that mostly have to do with the pathologization of trans identities (especially in childhood) and the so-called protection of women from assault – which is quite ironic coming from the conservative part of a nation that has elected a man with several accusations of assault as president.

The fears based on which these bills are justified, are produced by harmful misconceptions that have nothing to do with reality. The thing is that if such bills pass, the situation becomes even more dangerous than it already is for trans individuals, both adults and children. In fact, trans people are much more likely to be concerned for their safety when visiting a public bathroom than cis women and children, for whom to republican worry is articulated.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who spoke at the Republican Party of Texas State Convention on the 12th of May last year, in Dallas, is in favour of passing a bathroom bill in the style of North Carolina and claims that there is no danger for the economy of Texas, even though the economic consequences in the case of North Carolina were visible: last year, when the bathroom bill was passed, the state lost about $400 million in a span of six months due to legal fees, events that were cancelled, and a damage in tourism.

A study held out by the Texas Association of Business showed that Texas could lose about $8.5 billion a year in boycotts and companies that would change their mind about setting up there business there.

Dan Patrick didn’t worry about such consequences since he considered the bill a priority, holding transphobic views that he tried to cover up with saying that this should not be a problem for “certified” trans people, since they will be able to go to the correct bathroom anyway if they have their documents changed, and with claiming that this bill differed to North Carolina’s in which it wasn’t indicated specifically that alignment with the “original” birth certificate and the bathroom was required.

However, according to Mara Keisling, head of the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Texas bathroom bill is just as bad as the North Carolina one. Keisling points out that the North Carolina doesn’t distinguish between original and current birth certificates.

A survey held out by her group in 2015 showed that only 9% of trans people could eventually change the sex on their birth certificates, due to bureaucratic and financial reasons, so even with those standards the results remain harmful. In addition, the Texas bill allows the state attorney general to carry investigations in individual school districts and collect civil penalties in order to enforce the discriminatory law.

State Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin), an openly lesbian Latina Democrat, said in an interview on SiriusXM Progress that she’ll stand against the bill which she expected to be introduced, and is actually pleased that it is moving early so that they can “let the games begin”. Israel says that the mainstream business communities in Texas have already started preparing to oppose themselves vocally to the bill. She points to the aforementioned study to draw attention to the consequences the bill will have for the economy of the state.

She says:

This is a good report that was done by a very recognized research group, university-affiliated. There will be hearings in the senate and they will hear loud and strong from the business community. My district includes such businesses as Dell, Samsung, Apple. The business community is to be commended. But I’m also going to be challenging them to come out as individual companies to say to my colleagues for whom their business is in their district, ‘This is not Texas and this is certainly not a priority.’”

She points out that famous music festivals like Austin City Limits and SXSW will be negatively affected by a tourism boycott that will probably take place if the bill passes.

In Fort Worth and Dripping Springs, south of Houston, there are districts which have given accommodation to trans youth. Israel explains:

There’s an overwhelming majority of parents, when they are presented with these scare tactics, who will stand up for that transgender child and his or her family, and say, ‘Let’s just let this kid be a kid.’ So we have good things to say in Texas about Texans being respectful and courteous. This bill would of course stir things up at the local level. We’ll see a lot of local leaders saying, ‘Please let us do what we do best. We know our schools. We know our districts.’”

Israel said, concerning the impact such a bill will have on the state’s economy.

We know that people have choices in where they’re going to spend their money. Any state in the union should have learned from North Carolina. Texas did not. And although I’m disappointed, I’m not shocked. And I’m ready to continue to fight for the state that I love.”

Genderless Nipples Against Objectification

One of the most absurd debates of our age that still passes as trivial or of little social importance is the breast debate.

I’m a person with a bizarre relationship to my breasts – my teeny tiny ones that I’ve always been ashamed of. I’ve spent the biggest part of my adolescence tying knots in my bras and stuffing them to the point when they were squeezed up to my chin. I still feel like I’m 14 years old sometimes – it’s not that insecurities are ever logical, have an age or can be measured in maturity anyway – but I do fear that people will abandon me or will stop wanting to have sex with my because of my breasts, even when I don’t feel the need to own a generous pair anymore.

And lately, being a person who still hasn’t got their confusing gender figured out and trying to find my place by pulling experimentation and expression strings, I’ve started spending each day interchanging between “I wish this was bigger” and “I wish this wouldn’t exist at all”.

So in order to sum it up and save this article from becoming about me again, what I want to illustrate is that I never experienced the particular need of posting a topless photo on Facebook or Instagram, or of even going topless on a secluded beach.

This is why this debate never struck me as particularly important, but it turns out I was wrong and simply never gave it enough thought: “freeing the nipple” is bigger than the right to post a photo you look cute in on Facebook and Instagram.

It is about empowerment, human agency and bodily autonomy, and the connotations the two sides of the debate form their rhetoric on, indicate whole different concepts of gender, discrimination, oppression and inequality.

Facebook and Instagram have been censoring breasts that are socially read as “female” from the users’ pictures. This rule is applied also on famous works of arthistorical images such as the Napalm girl, and women undergoing mammograms. Especially when it comes to breast cancer prevention, therapy or healing, Facebook couldn’t be doing this more wrong.

In 2013, Facebook took down pictures of women posing for empowerment, solidarity and raising awareness, after having undergone single or double mastectomies.

After a huge debate, mastectomy photos were let back online, but only after conforming to certain standards: they shouldn’t be showing nipples or a bare, non-altered breast, so practically the battle a cancer survivor has gone through is eventually shoved off with a half-hearted, nonsensical “yes, but”? Are we putting limitations and conditions on the visibility, empowerment and solidarity of cancer survivors?

In 2014 the film Free The Nipple was released by director Lina Esco, to raise the issue of battling legal and cultural taboo regarding female bodies and autonomy, centered around the breast issue.

Since then, the issue of female appearing breasts and their legality and visibility has been broadly discussed. Women have been arrested for public indecency, for being topless with well-known examples dating as recently as 2005 in New York. Several states in America have explicitly legalized toplessness of people of all genders in public places and some others have made it legal only for people breastfeeding in public. In the UK being topless is not technically considered to be illegal.

Last year Instagram updated its policy to allow mastectomy scars and breastfeeding pictures, but it still banned other photos of women’s nipples to keep its 12+ rating in Apple store. But how can we be looking for some sense, when Instagram actually removed the photo of cake because it looked like nipples?

Instagram has banned topless photos of Chelsea Handler, Rihanna, Scout Willis and Miley Cyrus, while it has also removed a post where Willow Smith was wearing a shirt with nipples printed on it.

The online “Free the Nipple” campaign has become pretty big the last few years, featuring photoshopped male nipples on pictures of otherwise topless women in order to protest about the absurdity of censorship policies.

A new Instagram account, @genderless_nipples, publishes close-up photos submitted by users of all genders in order to show the double standards imposed upon women and gender-non-conforming people with breasts. The bio of the account reads:

Men are allowed to show their nipples, women’s get banned. Support ALL genders! Let’s change this policy!”

With the pictures being close-ups it gets pretty confusing and impossible to distinguish gender – not that this is something that can be achieved according to the size, color and existence or not of breasts and nipples in first place – and an image of a male nipple seems to have been removed from the website, even though it practically doesn’t violate any Instagram policy.

The creators of this account are students Morgan-Lee Wagner, Evelyne Wyss and Marco Russo, who launched the page in the general context of the US presidential election, in order to protest for gender equality in social media, during a period when horrible sexist beliefs were so actively reinforced in society.

As we said before, the point is not just showing that nipple on your profile picture – though it’s about that as well. On a larger scale, this is about setting different limits to people of different genders and perceiving people, identities and bodies based on unequal standards because of society’s problematic assumptions, stereotypes and taboos.

Another appalling demonstration of society’s double standards and close-mindedness has to do with the shaming and concealment of nursing babies in public. Breastfeeding is still, absurdly so, considered to be up for social debate, since parents who need to nurse their children in public spaces – and their choice to breastfeed is not only valid but also encouraged by society – are shamed, harassed and censored because they are thought to insult public decency.

Breastfeeding is demonized as something gross and unnatural that should be done in private. This ridiculous argument that is deeply linked to the sexualization and objectification of cis women’s bodies, may deeply inconvenience parents and prevent them from doing what is necessary for their child without experiencing shame and discomfort.

Now when it comes to Facebook it may allow breastfeeding photos, but the woman who wrote this article still had her photo reported as “nudity”, which perfectly illustrates the hostility towards a practice as natural and important as nursing your child, and the demonization of women’s bodies.

Women and non-binary people are often objectified and diminished to their body parts. This is often visible in the rhetoric of anti-breast cancer campaigns, with slogans such as “save the ta-tas” instead of “save the actual human being bearing a body a mind a life and a personality”.

Objectification is dehumanizing, but unfortunately it is still an extremely common way that cishet men see as naturalized enough to treat women. We live in a society that is systematically teaching men that they are entitled on our bodies to the point that they feel like they have a say on everything we decide to do with them.

And still, this debate makes less and less sense as you dig deeper into it. As a trans man writes in this article, his nipples were never a problem in topless photos, as soon as he passed as a guy, and his breasts were small enough for him to not even consider top surgery during his transition. He also points out that men with gynecomastia (apparent in a considerable number of adolescent boys) never get censored from Facebook, even though the appearance of their breasts may be identical to that of women’s breasts. However, he states that it part of the same culture of oppression, control and policing that trans men are obliged to alter the appearance of their chest.

If they didn’t do so, the standards of how breasts are viewed would be shaken, and society doesn’t like to have its standards shaken. So, shake them we must.

The 25th Anniversary Of The Lesbian Avengers

One of the most prominent issues that lesbian and bisexual women activists have had to face across history, has been the avoidance to include the specificity of the issues they face due  to intersecting oppressions, and the focus that has been given mostly to the demands of gay men.

One of the strongest movie scenes I can remember troubling me, ισ one from the 2014 Pride movie which I generally loved: Stella and Zoe, two of the three lesbians of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group, are sitting on a table in the Miners club with Mark and Mike, demanding the creation of a Women’s group that will address specifically women’s issues in a safe environment. Mike asks Stella what is unsafe about the existing environment and Stella replies “I’m a woman, Mike. Okay? I’m also a Lesbian. And a Feminist – ”… But then she is cut in the middle of her sentence by an old lady who leans over and says: “Listen, love. I don’t care if you’re Arthur Scargill. Don’t talk during the Bingo.” Everyone laughs while Stella “silently fumes”.

Coming from an otherwise excellent movie, this scene angered me. Not necessarily because it was poorly written, no. But because women demanding space was the punch line once again, because it was somehow realistic, you know? Being in the activist field myself, I have witnessed incidents of misogyny coming from within the LGBT community, even in 2016. That’s why I think we need more feminism in queer politics, and we need it immediately and constantly.

It was 25 years ago, on the 28th of June, 1992, more specifically, when sex lesbian activists (Ana Maria Simo, Sarah Schulman, Maxine Wolfe, Anne-Christine D’Adesky, Marie Honan and Anne Maguire)  involved in several LGBT groups (including Medusa’s Revenge – the ACT-UP  Lesbian Theatre and ILGO – the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization) started recruiting people at New York’s Pride Parade, shouting at “LESBIANS! DYKES! GAY WOMEN!” that they were “…wasting our lives being careful. Imagine what your life could be. Aren’t you ready to make it happen?”

Lesbian Avenger Ann Northrop said:

We’re not going to be invisible anymore … We are going to be prominent and have power and be part of all decision making.”

Gay and bisexual women were tired of solely working on issues like AIDS and abortion rights while at the same time having the problems caused by misogyny and homophobia and concerning directly them, outright ignored, as Eloise Salholz wrote for Newskweek, covering the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.

They demanded visibility and focused on issues of “lesbian survival”. They soon became a worldwide phenomenon, launching chapters in more than sixty different regions, and soon including issues concerning the intersections of gender, race and class. Already by 1994, 20.000 dykes marched on Washington and more dyke marches started all over the world.

Most of their actions were shocking for the social and time context, intriguing, challenging: the Lesbian Avengers didn’t do calm and careful and waiting: they avoided traditional ways of advocacy such as sit-ins and petitions.

Their first action on the 9th of September, 1992, was against right-wing attempts to suppress a multicultural “Children of the Rainbow” curriculum for schools. Thus, the Avengers attempted not only to shock, but also to break down homophobic and racist stereotypes and to raise visibility for their lives, rights and voices.

They met in Queens School District 24, the one that had the strongest conservative voice, and paraded through the neighborhood to a local elementary school, handing out lavender balloons to children and parents saying “Ask About Lesbian Lives”, wearing t-shirts that read “I was a lesbian child”.

Fire-eating also became a signature for them: The New York Times explains:

It grew out of tragedy. Last year, a lesbian and a gay man, Hattie Mae Cohens and Brian Mock, burned to death in Salem, Ore., after a Molotov cocktail was tossed into the apartment they shared. A month later, on Halloween, at a memorial to the victims in New York City, the Avengers (then newly organized) gave their response to the deaths. They ate fire, chanting, as they still do: “The fire will not consume us. We take it and make it our own.””

The Avengers then marched down 5th Avenue carrying torches and burnt signs reading names of homophobic propositions that most probably led to violence. At the Washington Dyke March that took place in 1993, they ate fire in front of the White House.

This was thought to be the first Dyke March. After that, many followed, usually held a couple of days before the Pride Parade. The second New York City International Dyke March coincided with the anniversary of Stonewall Riots, Gay Games IV and international human rights conferences. Today marches are held even in Mexico City.

The British chapter of the Avengers was formed in 1994 by members of OutRage!.

The New York chapter has developed a Lesbian Avenger Civil Rights Organizing Project, actively placing themselves against homophobic referendums and propositions.

2017 will be the 25th anniversary of their founding, so the historic group’s history is being summed in a mobile exhibit that will travel and stay in several different places in order to sensitize and move more people. They are currently running an Indiegogo campaign in order to fund the 25th anniversary exhibit.

Kelly Cogswell, a member and author of Eating Fire: My Life As A Lesbian Avenger, told The Huffington Post:

The Lesbian Avengers 25 exhibit proves that it’s possible to fight back. We have to. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again. It’s not magic. But sustained activism does make a difference.”


Sandiso Ngubane On Breaking Gender Norms In Fashion

I was a fashion blogger for a couple of years when I was younger, so I have kind of seen what extremely talented people can emerge out of this community, the amount of hard work that is invested and the excellent results produced, sharing insight and inspiration, starting trends through one’s lens, pen and original ideas.

Fashion blogging can be considered a bottom-top form of journalism, coming from skilled amateurs that often wish to recreate the sartorial word as it has been built around them.

People who start off as fashion bloggers with a timer on their camera, eventually build their names in the world of editing, designing and advertisement. Big fashion houses have started taking into consideration the opinions of – and collaborating with – fashion bloggers.

When I got into college I stopped blogging about fashion, mostly because my schedule didn’t allow it, so I simultaneously cut most strings with the fashion blogging world in general, in order to not see something and be tempted again to stuff what I’d felt I’d done enough into the already impossible timetable of my everyday life.

Still, whenever I stumble upon good blogs ever since, a spark lights inside me. Many of them inspire me greatly or encourage me to keep doing what I am, letting me know that I am in the right path, not only in the way I dress – for which little time I have to bother nowadays – but generally concerning my choices in life.

I recently discovered Sandiso Ngubane who runs Skattie together with ELLE South Africa Contributing Editor and Visi Editor-at-Large, Malibongwe Tyilo. Skattie is an amazing fashion website which focuses both on local and African fashion coverage and features articles on news from the fashion world, lookbooks and interviews.

I read on the About Us page that the website was founded in 2010 and was originally a blog called Skattie, What Are You Wearing? Ever since, it gained followers who were both fashion enthusiasts and professionals of the industry.

Sandiso Ngubane “writes stuff and raps to beats”, as they say on their Instagram bio. They are also a Trends Analyst and Fashion Writer who never feared to challenge gender norms in clothing.

On this article titled as “Gender Free”, Skattie talks about feeling comfortable in the skin you live in and how this was a sentiment that had not always been taken for granted in their life. Conforming to gender norms when it came to clothing was hard, since both Sandiso and the world around them, felt like they were different to other boys. Their wardrobe consists of chic garments from the womenswear section, and such a choice is not always that easy for the people who surround you to understand.

Being a person whom people perceive as a woman, I’ve had several weird comments about the floral necktie that hangs on the cardboard Hogwarts sign in my room, and it baffles me to great extents how people will be all 404: Error Conformation to non-Essential, Socially Constructed Gender Norms Not Found because of a harmless tiny piece of fabric with freaking flowers on it, that cost 2 euro on Ebay.

“Is that your boyfriend’s?” they ask. “Do you actually wear that out of the house?” It makes me want to laugh at the thought that, if a necktie shocks society as much, what is going to happen with a lot more than a necktie?

But then again, it’s not laugh material. Many people live their lives by gender norms as if it’s some kind of religion. My mother feared that my tomboy period during middle school will result with me being a lesbian.

Well, she wasn’t entirely too wrong as I did turn out to be queer – pansexual, more specifically – but what people need to understand is that clothing, manners of walking and talking – or all these habits and behaviors that go under the umbrella of gender expression – don’t have anything to do either with sexuality or even with gender identity. Many times people do choose a certain way to dress that drifts away from social norms in order to emphatically express their sexuality or gender and feel empowered in them.

For me, sartorial choices have been, during specific periods of my life, a way to communicate the feelings connected both to my gender and my sexuality, but that doesn’t mean it’s the rule. People don’t have to dress a certain way to be something and vice versa. We should all be free to dress however we please, without other people assuming things about us, shaming or marginalizing us.

Many people have attributed Sandiso’s fashion choices to them being gay, but as they reply, this assumption is wrong: “Not only would that statement be a sweeping generalisation about homosexuality and its manifestations, but it’s one that is steeped in the assumption that I probably want to be, or I like to act like, a woman. Far from it!”

Sandiso continues with saying that they feel more successful expressing themselves through clothes from the womenswear section, and points out that many people do not wish to conform to a binary based fashion system at all. Furthermore, we should not confuse that with drag – which has an element of flamboyance directed to the entertainment and provocation of others – but understand that some people simply want to dress as themselves.

At this point, Lee Hagen, a Marie Claire fashion stylist is quoted: “Being an effeminate, androgynous kid brought me a lot of unwanted attention growing up. Strangers would ask me if I was a girl or a boy and I could never answer them with full conviction that I was the latter. Gender pronouns have perpetually made me feel uncomfortable, especially when referring to myself, because my assigned gender has never been intrinsic to my identity.

I still experience animosity from strangers as an adult, but it’s far less verbal. The eyes say a lot.” According to Lee, fashion is a form of self-expression that can work in miraculously liberating and strengthening ways, and womenswear clothing seems to be breaking these limits more effectively.

Jared Blake, another friend of Sandiso’s, has also experienced many cases of public bullying for the way he dresses, even though there are also people who show appreciation for his unique and seductive fashion sense, and identify the empowering character such a choice may bear in a society that is way too hostile towards forms of self-expression that deviate from the norms.

According to Sandiso, the world is gradually become more and more welcoming for gender-non-conforming and genderqueer people to express themselves and live in their true gender identity. I wish I was just as optimistic – truth is, I’m not. I keep seeing the obstacles that people close to me who do not wish to conform to gender norms encounter. However, I am hopeful for the future, and I do agree that shaping our own lives, identities and expressions in ways that let us live true to ourselves is, in itself, revolutionary.

Sandiso closes their article with these words: “As a dear friend of mine would say, the fact that we understand the fear of being ourselves, yet we refuse to give in to what would essentially be cowardice, is a political statement.”

Based on this article

[1] I use “they” and I do apologize in advance for the case that it is not be the best choice, because I have not yet seen somewhere what pronouns Sandiso feels more comfortable using. The use of this pronoun has not been confirmed, but in order to avoid using a gendered pronoun that might be problematic, I went with the gender neutral “they”.

We Need To Depathologize Trans* Identities

The past couple of weeks have been quite hard for me in terms of sustaining the bubble I’ve created for myself to live in without wishing to become an anti-social being (with glorious armpit hair so kudos to me for that anyway) who only meows and communicates on fanfiction threads. But let’s take it from the very beginning.

The comment section

This January’s National Geographic issue that was released on the 27th of December is featuring a trans person on its cover for the first time in its history. Avery Jackson is a nine-year old openly trans girl from Missouri, with a YouTube vlog series called “Avery Chats”, that gives insight in the experiences of a trans person who has come to terms with their identity at such a young age.

January’s National Geographic focuses on the different issues that young people have to face because of gender roles that indisputably affect their lives. The stories shared with the public are really diverse and offer a valuable insight in the lives of children around the world. National Geographic went to 8 countries and shot portraits of 80 both cis and trans nine-year-olds who talked about the way their gender influenced their lives.

One of these children was a nine year old Muslim girl, Nasreen Sheikh, who lives in a slum in Mumbai, talked about how she wants to be a doctor, and believes that if she was a boy she would have the chance to earn money more easily to help her family.

Another girl was Avery, the girl featured in the cover, who has lived as an openly trans girl since she was 5 years old.

As Robin Marantz Henig says in a story of the issue: we are surrounded by

evolving notions about what it means to be a woman or a man and the meanings of transgender, cisgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or any of the more than 50 terms Facebook offers users for their profiles. At the same time, scientists are uncovering new complexities in the biological understanding of sex. Many of us learned in high school biology that sex chromosomes determine a baby’s sex, full stop: XX means it’s a girl; XY means it’s a boy. But on occasion, XX and XY don’t tell the whole story.”

Editor in Chief Susan Goldberg points out in the editorial of the issue that all of us carry labels that have been applied by others for us without us. “The harsh ones,” she says, referring to those labels, “can be lifelong burdens, indictments we try desperately to outrun.”

To take that thought a bit further, this means that we are constantly defined without our consent by different societies that construct the identities of its members in ways that support different social needs and/or requirements and are presented as essentialist even though they might be socially constructed on a great degree.

Gender is such a label that is assigned at one person’s birth, based solely on some biological characteristics – that may greatly vary and are not as binary as we think. In fact sex, as well as gender, is a spectrum.

Reading the editorial of National Geographic, I greatly appreciated the initiative and looked forward to a look at the issue. It felt warm and nice: to finally have trans people represented, to see a cover that might have, under different circumstances, shown some of my most beloved people as children, giving publicity and normalizing the struggles trans people have had to endure for decades in order to be able to identify as their real selves. Reading this editorial marked a bright day.

Well, bright I say, until I scrolled down on the comments section.

Seeing the amount of bigotry, dismissiveness and uneducated smugness under the picture and the words of a proud, brave, nine-year-old girl, shattered my heart. I refuse to go back on that comments page or quote any of them here – it hurt too much the first time, I was intensely triggered and yes, I admitted both of these things that bigots try to undermine all the times.

People have feelings that can get devastatingly hurt, people get triggered in ways that impair them from living their lives decently, and no, we are not refusing to live in the real world, because the world you describe is not the real world. The real world includes trans people who have every right that you have to live their lives properly and in decency, without being discriminated in almost every part of their lives, harassed, abused and represented as abnormal.

The thing is that, when people feel uncomfortable with something that they don’t understand, they often use strong and heavy systems of beliefs to doubt it. Religion is one and science is another. The National Geographic comment section was full of comments that claimed that trans identities is nothing but a mental disorder. Transphobes often use pseudo-scientific or outdated scientific data to try and prove that the trans reality is in fact a mental disease. And while mental illness is not something that should be stigmatized, and many trans people are mentally ill, claiming that the entire condition of being trans equals mental instability, is more often than not used as an argument to deny trans people their basic human rights.

The bioethics article

Around the same days I read the National Geographic comment section, I also received in my inbox an article found on the Bioethics Observatory page of the Catholic University of Valencia.

The academic article titled “Transsexuality diagnosis and treatment” was so ideologically biased, outdated and problematic that it made me physically sick, not to mention extremely disappointed by the person who forwarded it to me – assuming of course they have read it and agree with it, since we haven’t discussed it yet, but judging by our previous discussions, I can almost safely assume that they might actually agree with it.

This article is starting with the claim that “transsexualism” (an outdated term) is a diagnosis based on medical and psychiatric findings, based on criteria that appear on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10).

However, little do such classifications say about the nature of a human state or identity as a mental disease, especially considering that homosexuality was in the DSM and was declassified as a mental illness by APA only in 1973, and it was explicitly stated in the ICD-10 (2016) that “sexual orientation by itself is not to be considered a disorder”. This happened after long-lasting battles pulled by LGB activists.

Conceptions of mental health and illness, sexuality and gender are fluid and constantly changing, however for trans people progress is unfortunately taking much longer. Up until 2012, trans people were in the DSM as suffering from “gender identity disorder”, while today this is not the case anymore.

APA now classifies “gender dysphoria” in the DSM. APA’s Jack Drescher said that the goal of the declassification was to end the pathologization of trans people simply because their existence made others “uncomfortable”. The scientific community has not given a definitive answer on how trans identity is shaped even though there have been numerous recent researches that redefine the way that we view gender.

Still, the ICD-10 still classifies “Transsexualism” as a mental disorder, so the fact that gender identity disorder per se has only been declassified in the DSM doesn’t get us anywhere near the amelioration of the bigger picture, considering that many psychiatrists around the world follow the ICD in first place.

However, let’s return to our article from the Bioethics Observatory of the Catholic University of Valencia (even though believe me I really wish I wouldn’t have to do that again). According to that article, karyotyping should be performed in order to rule out a chromosome condition that might affect the person’s gender identity.

This shows that the author confuses intersex variations with trans identities (which are two very different things, one having to do with sex characteristics and the other with the ways a person experiences their gender), so his arguments are fundamentally misled.

He then proceeds to suggest the failure of current “ treatments of transsexuality” (by which he means the process of transition that – some of the – trans people who wish to align the appearance of their body in ways that feel more appropriate to them undergo) to change the chromosomal sex. As the author of the article says:

[transition only masks it so that it is outwardly what the transsexual — or their family in the case of children — desires.” (*start of sarcastic brackets * Because obviously not only are all parents of trans children hella supportive, but trans children become trans because their parents make them. Like the person who forwarded the article once asked me in a conversation, isn’t the cause of a trans girl identifying as such, that the same parents who kicked her out of the house because she wore a dress, obviously forced her into wearing that dress in the first place? *end of sarcastic brackets*).

For some reason, the author of the article along with countless other people who have an essentialist, limited picture of gender as a binary, and the thought of anything that doesn’t fall strictly into it upsets them greatly, believe that the real threat is that people’s gender should be strictly aligned to their chromosomes –as if any of us or them are ever going to know anything about their chromosomes or be in any way socially affected by them. He continues, extremely problematically: “It [transition] does not solve the transsexual tendency which, as already mentioned, might perhaps be the result of a possible cerebral abnormality.”

He closes his article with an alarm call about how hard trans people have it – both in terms of health and mental health – but he fails to acknowledge that the reason trans people’s mental stability is so often affected, is in most cases people like him who refuse to allow trans people in ways that help them feel true to themselves and their identities.

The actual harmful consequences

History has shown that the danger of trying to medically and psychiatrically convert identities that people don’t understand at a certain age and social context can have extremely harmful consequences. Countless stories on conversion therapies that were still legal only decades ago (and still are in several parts of the world), performed on gay and bi people show how dangerous the effects of ideologically biased science can be when performed on people whose life is at stake.

Article such as the aforementioned encourage the conservative, outdated and harmful notion that trans people are sick people – not because they might be trans and sick but because they are trans – that need to be cured, in the same way that LGB people were thought to be sick in need of a cure, and were submitted to horrific, dangerous and humiliating procedures.

In addition, this article points out several ways – and there are more – in which pathologizing trans identities gives legal paths for conservative politics to enforce systemic discrimination against trans people, such as vetoing against transgender bathroom bills in the US and legally forcing trans people in more than 30 European countries to undergo sterilization in order to be able to apply for legal gender recognition and have their documents changed.

What’s more, the pathologization of trans identities not only adds to the discrimination, stigma and social exclusion, bullying and abuse that trans people face anyway because of the transphobia in our societies, but also makes access to mental healthcare which is often necessary – especially because of all these things – traced with huge obstacles, such as finding a therapist that is well educated on trans issues and won’t cause you inordinate harm instead of helping you out.

This is alarming, considering that trans people do need easy access to mental healthcare, not only because they are at greater risk for developing anxiety disorders, depression, social phobia and adjustment disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, suicide ideation and attempts, but also because in many countries trans people need to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist in order to proceed to the change of their legal documents.

Many trans activists and advocates think that we still have a long way to go. With gender dysphoria still classified as a mental disorder in the DSM-V and even worse, gender identity still pathologized by the ICD-10, trans identities are still pathologized. Some people argue that complete removal of gender dysphoria from Psychiatric Manuals would prevent its treatment for people who suffer from it. Others believe that what has changed is progress, because gender dysphoria is not a synonym for trans identities, and not all trans people experience it. Rather, gender dysphoria “is a clinical term used to describe the symptoms of excessive pain, agitation, restless, and malaise that gender-variant people seeking therapy often express” (Lev, 2004, p. 910), and some trans people who experience dysphoria themselves want it to stay classified in order to simplify their access to its treatment when it impairs them from having a lifestyle of the quality that they need.

Also, many trans people who are mentally ill as well wish to get rid of the stigma of mental illness that most LGBTQIA+ mentally ill people are facing. According to this position, complaining that the classification of gender dysphoria “makes us look mentally ill and we don’t want it because being mentally ill is a bad thing” is slightly different from “we don’t want our identity to be treated as mental instability”, and the first one is contributing even further to the stigmatization of mental illness against which we’re fighting.

But this is not our debate here. Our demand is that trans identities are not pathologized anymore. It is vital that we educate ourselves and stop feeding into the problematic notion of treating trans people’s existence as if it is up for debate, and denying them their basic human rights simply because we are ideologically prejudiced against them and think we can use science to prove our misinformed, bullshit point.

Trans people are in need of mental healthcare just as everyone is, and considering the stigmatization and discrimination have to go through, for trans people especially it is important to make health care accessible while reducing the stigma of mental illness.

So if you act like you want trans people to be ok, like many of the people who use this rhetoric do, instead of trying to cure an illness that does not exist, respect them, hear them out, and give them voices in the way that National Geographic did, losing many of its subscribers who simply hate on everything that they cannot understand.

Normalising Men In Makeup Is Important

When I was younger, I used to run a fashion blog. Nowadays one of my best friends is a beauty vlogger enthusiast, familiar with most parts of the culture around makeup and trends. While if you dig a bit into it you realize that both fashion and beauty are not only forms of expression but also forms of art, many people would undermine what me or my best friend were interested into as being “too girly” or taking our “lady duty” too seriously.

This is because most processes tied to beauty and dressing up are entangled in way too many double standards. Makeup for example is tied intensely to double standards for women, or people who are socialized as women.  Makeup in its traditional sense is not considered an art form by most people, especially not an art form that all genders can perform.

On the contrary, it’s limited to something that women are just supposed to do, something they are expected by society to do in all occasions in order to be deemed acceptable and considered as beautiful, therefore deemed as worthy of social respect: much like shaving your body hair. Some women don’t even want to put makeup on and they’re often shunned for not making an effort, or for not being feminine enough.

And yet there are double standards here, cause if you care too much for makeup, follow beauty vlogs and save up to buy a set of glam brushes, you are shunned for doing too much lady work; the work you are supposed to do anyway, but on a level that makes you appear as having intensely feminine interests, which is considered a social aspect that people use to undermine you as not worthy enough to do things men do.

Gender roles being so tightly knit in our social practices can make it extremely hard for men who put on makeup.  For reasons that seem absurd, certain arrangements of fabrics have long been thought to be “women’s clothes”, and slightly different arrangements of fabrics have long be thought to be “men’s clothes”, in the same way that makeup is considered to be a “woman’s work”.

Fortunately a massive twist is steadily being made in both the fashion and the beauty industry, following the redefinitions of the social conceptions of gender. Beauty outside the gender binary and cis/hetero-normativity standards is being redefined. There is a powerful community of extremely talented trans beauty vloggers, drag beauty vloggers, and a wonderful community of beauty bloggers who wish to normalize makeup for men.

The lists we can link to are endless: I wish I had the time to watch these imaginative tutorials all day! If someone watches their videos they’re gonna realize this is much more than just trying to look pretty in socially acceptable ways: it is art, and it is beautiful. Galaxies, stars, monsters and fauns, flowers, zombies, and anything you can imagine.

Last year, Refinery29’s beauty editor Phillip Picardi said, concerning his collection Men Wearing Lipstick: “when thinking about how to best showcase some of the season’s most exciting new lip shades, I was envisioning plenty of things: kisses on cocktail napkins, close-ups of pouts, animated GIFs of mouths moving, talking, kissing, eating, etc.

But, then I thought, Why not let boys show us the lipsticks? Women constantly appear in beauty editorials — why would it be weird to let boys do the same? Men wearing lipstick is not a novelty for me: In my world, as a beauty editor and a gay man, it’s a regular occurrence. But, I appreciate the men here taking time out from their jobs to sit down, pick out lipsticks that spoke to them, and try something new for the day. The lipsticks ended up enhancing their looks; making them cooler.

The work of makeup artists can be awestriking whether it is professional or not, and in the past few months history has been written in representing male makeup talents in the rise of this new era.

The first highlight was James Charles, a 17 year old student from New York whose Instagram account currently has 1.2 million subscribers, after becoming the first CoverBoy in CoverGirl’s 58-year history in October! He does his friends’ makeup and has a Youtube channel where he posts his unique tutorials about artistic makeup.

He took his senior yearbook photos twice because he didn’t like the way the highlighter on his cheekbones looked. His spot spread on Twitter and Zendaya tweeted to him: “You win.” Charles joined Katy Perry who is the current CoverGirl ambassador to promote its products, the first product being CoverGirl’s So Lashy Mascara.

Charles said, in his interview with the New York Times:

The fact that I am the first boy is so cool. It shows that this industry is actually becoming genderless, and we’re really making the push toward equal opportunities for everybody, regardless of race, sexuality, gender. I think it’s a huge steppingstone for such a big and iconic company.

Hopefully other people will see this, and when they think, “Oh, this random 17-year-old kid just started doing makeup recently and is now the face of CoverGirl,” I hope that inspires them to really be themselves and feel comfortable and wear makeup and express themselves in a manner they haven’t been comfortable doing before.”

He also addresses the issue of online bullying, saying that there will always be people who will try to keep others from doing what they love. However, his followers are so loyal and supportive that they make hate comments matter much less. He’s always been a fan of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” but he makes it clear that what he does is not drag: he identifies as a boy, and he’s a boy in makeup.

CoverGirl’s competitor Maybelline recently made American Youtuber Manny Gutierrez their first male ambassador. Gutierrez has acquired more than two million Youtube subscriptions since he started posting makeup tutorials in 2014. Gutierrez has a Makeup Geek eye shadow palette and an Ofra lip set named after him. He’s friends with Patrick Simondac, who also has more than 2 million subscriptions on YouTube. This year Simondac was made a brand ambassador for the nail polish line Formula X.

Gutierrez too makes it clear that what he does is not drag. He explains to Marie Claire: “It’s an art form for me. I’m still confident as a boy and I will always be a boy. I can be confident with bare skin and with a full face.”

It’s time for makeup to be normalised for guys: people need yet to realize that it makes no sense to assign genders on liquids and pastes or pieces of fabric, for that matter. Thankfully in 2017 everyone is allowed to do art, to paint on a canvas or tattoo their bodies; it only makes sense that everyone should be allowed to paint galaxies on their faces.

Two Spirit, The Spiritual Concept Of Gender In Native Tribes

In modern Euro-American societies, opposition against socially imposed gender roles, as well as trans and gender-non-conforming people, are often described, in different rhetorics – both conservative and not – as a rather new element of society, as newly-discovered or constructed identities that didn’t exist before Judith Butler or the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

To go a step further, advocating for the rights of LGBTQ+ people is seen – since it is unfortunately only performed and answered in this way – as something radical, as if we are not human beings as valuable as cishet people.

Treating heteronormativity and the gender binary as the default system of an essentialist human condition, apart from being as scientifically and ontologically wrong as it is sociologically problematic and harmful, is also a view clearly blinded by a misleading colonialist American/Euro-centric view. Not all cultures used to view gender in the same way that we were taught it essentially exists as – a strict binary of male and female, where gender and the roles that are imposed by it align in a presupposed way with the biological sex.

Digging into the history of how tribes that were colonised by European countries viewed gender and sexuality is extremely important, not only to denaturalise harmful views that we have been taught to consider as given and essential, but it is also vital for Native American people who wish to decolonise their language and culture, in the process of claiming and reclaiming their gender and spiritual identities.

As Mahealani Joy, a kanaka maoli queer woman and activist explains in their article:

trying to decolonize something means critically examining it, seeing how colonization (aka everything since Christopher Columbus arrived) has influenced it, and then trying to realign things with our traditional community values and practices.”

This is something that many Native LGBTQ+ people do today by claiming, among other things, the term “Two Spirit” for themselves, in order to describe their gender identity, often giving meaning to the spiritual aspects of the word. Identifying as Two Spirit can be empowering for Native LGBTQ+ even though not all of them choose to identify as such, especially considering that Native communities vary greatly in their beliefs, values and traditions, so not all Native people think and feel the same way about different issues, including gender and sexuality. In the process of decolonising their language, for some Native people using the term “Two Spirit” can be a political statement, while some others might choose to use other tribal identities in their own language, since the phrase “Two Spirit” is technically still English.

When the European conquerors arrived at what they called “New World” they found that the Native Americans acknowledged different models of gendered life and distribution of gender roles. There were three-five genders acknowledged: female, male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male, and transgender.

In the same way that European colonisers exploited and systematically exterminated most aspects of the Native tribes that they conquered, they also destroyed the lives and extinguished the existences of Two Spirit people. The same people who were so deeply venerated by the members of their tribe, were described by the Jesuits and the French as merely sinful – and chased as such.

Christopher Columbus’ crew was extremely violent towards Two Spirit people. Euro-Americans forced Native people to conform to the standards and beliefs that European societies had established about gender.

According to Walter L. Williams, author of The Spirit and the Flesh and Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo, and Professor of Anthropology, History and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California, years later, during the 20th century, with the rise of homophobia and the spread of Christian influences, the respect that Two Spirit people held even among their tribes declined and Two Spirit people were forced either by the government or by the predominant Christian religion to conform to standard gender roles. Many indigenous people who couldn’t conform would have to go underground or even committed suicide.

A new era of heightened respect for Two Spirit identities seemed to emerge with the Native American “red power” cultural pride and the rise of gay and lesbian liberation movements in the second half of the 20th century, however Native Americans are still awfully marginalised in many aspects of their lives, and their identities are often not acknowledged as valid.

But what does Two Spirit mean? How did different tribes perceive the concept of gender in other ways than the Euro-American culture?

Two Spirit was referred at by people of the Navajo tribe as Nádleehí, which means “one who is transformed” and by the Lakota people as Winkté, which refers to a person thought to be male at birth but then behaving as a female.

The term also translated as Niizh Manidoowag (which meant Two Spirit) in Ojibwe and Hemaneh (which meant half man – half woman) in Cheyenne. The term doesn’t always translate in the “Two Spirit” phrase that is used universally in the English language. Such examples can be found in the Iroquois Cherokee language where such gender variations are acknowledged but there exist no such terms to describe them.

The term that was mostly used by European and American anthropologists until the 20th century was “Bardache”. It derives its origins by the French “Bardache” which means a male prostitute, and the Arabic “Bardaj” which means “captive” or “slave”. This term was considered to be offensive by Native LGBTQIA+ people who wished to distinguish sexuality and the connotations of it and the spiritual character of their identities. This is why many of them chose to claim the term Two Spirit as an answer against the colonization of their identities. The term started being used again mostly in 1990.

The way someone expresses and performs their gender and sexuality, for many Native tribes, was not something to be judged or interfered with morally. People were judged by their contributions to their tribe and by their character, while parents were supposed to let Nature run its course and thus did not interfere with the way their children would express their gender e.g. with the clothes they would wear, the gender they would choose and the according ceremonies they would follow.

According to Walter L. Williams, Native Americans don’t wish to “force every person in one box, but to allow for the reality of diversity in gender and sexual identities”.

The term “Two Spirit” refers at a body that is inhabited by both a masculine and a feminine spirit. It is today used as an umbrella term to describe gender-variant/gender-non-conforming or LGBTQIA+ members of some Native communities. Two Spirit people are born with both spirits and are able to express the roles of both genders. As it is believed by some Siouan tribes, a child can even choose its gender and have it granted by The Creator.

Two Spirit people were highly respected and thought to have been gifted by The Creator, as they were able to see the world simultaneously through the eyes of both genders. The families of Two Spirit people were considered extremely lucky. Two Spirit people usually held greatly revered positions within the tribe, and they were thought to be intellectually and emotionally gifted. Native people with all bodies and gender expressions could become hunters and warriors and be considered as equally brave and strong.

Two Spirit people could participate in all important social structures and perform all roles directed to a gender different than that of their birth. They could also get married to people of a different gender, without their biological characteristics limiting them. Their gender was to be respected, and it would be considered extremely disrespectful to expect a Two Spirit person to perform the traditional roles of the gender connected to their biological sex.

According to the Lakota actor, Native rights activist and American Indian Movement co-founder Russell Means: “In my culture we have people who dress half-man, half-woman. Winkté, we call them in our language. If you are Winkté, that is an honourable term and you are a special human being and among my nation and all Plains people, we consider you a teacher of our children and are proud of what and who you are.”

However, Walter L. Williams states that the biggest part of the evidence we have about Two Spirit traditions and identities, is focused on the native tribes of the Plains, the Great Lakes, the Southwest, and California, while numerous other tribes with different traditions exist as well, so we should avoid overgeneralising.

Even though in many Native tribes Two Spirit people were highly revered, “[…] many of the documents that report negative reactions are themselves suspect, and should be evaluated critically in light of the preponderance of evidence that suggests a respectful attitude. Some European commentators, from early frontier explorers to modern anthropologists, also were influenced by their own homophobic prejudices to distort native attitudes.”

Mahealani Joy specifically focuses on avoiding generalisation of different Native tribes, starting their article with an incident of a person that claimed that every Native LGBTQ+ person should necessarily be using the Two Spirit term instead of any other universalised term to describe their identities. According to Joy this is not the case, and there are specific reasons for which both decisions of a Native queer person, to either claim this identity or not, are valid.

But is Two Spirit referring to gender, or sexual orientation? In Western culture we hold these categories as entirely different and unrelated. Yet when it comes to different LGBTQIA+ Native individuals claiming the terms to describe their identity, its uses may vary. Some people use it to describe their gender identity based on the initial meaning and history of the term, or to describe multiple genders, and some others use it as an umbrella term derived from their own culture, to refer more generally to LGBTQIA+ or fluid identities.

In below video, produced by Basic Rights Oregon, Indigenous LGBTQIA+ people share their stories, and some of them who describe experiences that gay, lesbian and bisexual people in Western culture can relate to, use the term Two Spirit to describe their identities.

The ways that Two Spirit will be used depends on how the individual will choose to claim it, and the language links between how such a term existed or was originally used in different tribes, and how it can be used today are not that clear, since many elements of Native languages have been extinguished by colonisation.

Many Native LGBTQIA+ people may not choose to identify as Two Spirit because their tribe and its history are not associated with this term, since there exist countless different opinions on this topic and we shouldn’t make generalisations.

Some tribes are hostile towards Two Spirit identities, therefore their members may not feel comfortable to use this term. For the people who choose to identify with this term, it can be truly empowering and send through an important political message against the combined racism and homophobia/transphobia that Native LGBTQIA+ people have to go through.

Many Native LGBTQIA+ people may also choose not to identify as Two Spirit for personal or political reasons, and their choices must be respected. As for non-Native LGBTQIA+ people, they shouldn’t appropriate this term to identify with, since it does not connect in any way to their history, heritage and tradition, and there are important social and political reasons for which this term should be used exclusively by Native people.

If you are a Native LGBTQIA+ person and are wondering where to start from, concerning the Two Spirit term, Joy’s article on Everyday Feminism can offer you some really good resources.

‘Desert Hearts’ Is Getting A Sequel

I remember when I saw Blue is the Warmest Color about three years ago; the bitter taste it left in me had nothing to do with the nature of the sex scenes, or about the guy waxing poetic about female orgasm in a room full of queer women. After all, it was the first movie solely about lesbians I ever saw after already having questioned my sexuality for a couple of years.

What felt the worst when I left the theatre, was that feeling of incompleteness, of having been let down: why wasn’t the scenario all dreamy, cliché and ideal? Why did Adèle cheat on Emma with a guy and they had to break up, drowning their sorrow in more spaghetti Bolognese?

I didn’t know why I felt that specific need; after all real life generally isn’t dreamy, cliché and ideal. That of course, until I knew: this movie, being the only lesbian movie I had seen up to that point, made up the 100% of lesbian representation I had in my life.

I know that this is no sufficient statistic sample to rely upon, but it still was, and it was trying to tell me one thing: as a queer woman you’ll never have a happy ending.

The following year I watched a dozen more of movies featuring queer women. The statistic sample broadened, and the result remained similar: most queer women in movies either end up with a guy, die, commit suicide or murder – and break up somewhere along the process. Whenever I wanted to discuss and criticize that –specifically for Blue is the Warmest Color and for this year’s Orange is the New Black episode-that-must-not-be-named-and-the-existence-of-which-I-still-refuse-to-acknowledge – people told me that they didn’t find that to be a problem: it was realistic. People break up in real life.

People die in real life. Lesbians and bi women are people, so naturally they break up, they die, and their stories have bad endings.

The thing is that, always statistically speaking, the endings for straight – and obviously cis – people in mainstream films and TV series are not always that realistic. There are hundreds of movies with discouraging and realistic endings, but for every such romantic movie, there is a dozen or romantic movies with pulled-by-the-hair, intensely enhanced, unlikely, unrealistic and unbelievably cheerful endings, in which it seems like the entire universe stopped dealing with its shit for a little while to get Brandon and Mary together in the middle of a rainy 5th Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Why couldn’t we just as easily have Brenda, Mary and their seven cats snuggle happily in their cottage on the last shot of a rom-com? Why do we have to dig so freaking deep in indie Imdb lists to find that rom-com?

The world of cinema, after all, is supposed to be the world of dreams. The world of everything, to be more specific: of dreams, of romance, of drama, of realism, yes, but also the world where everything could happen.

Well, everything apart from the cats and cottage and the happy lesbians.

This is exactly what made the 1986 indie movie Desert Hearts so special: in Donna Deitch’s movie, set in the 1950s, Professor Vivian Bell arrives in Nevada in order to get a divorce from an unsatisfying marriage, and meets Cay Rivvers at the ranch where she stays. Rivvers is an out lesbian who draws her into an affair and their romance sparks in a Western setting and soundtrack.

What’s amazing about this film is that the ending is uncharacteristically happy. It’s thought to be the first lesbian film where the protagonists not only survive till the end, but their relationship even gets stronger. Especially considering when it was made, this is somewhat a miracle, revolutionary even for today. It is thought to be a generally sweet and heartwarming film, following the two women, the problems they face and the building of their relationship in depth, featuring some great and unique scenes.

As Robin Morgan, author and second-wave feminist then said: “This was the first lesbian love story—first same-sex love story at all—in which the protagonists were not either porn actors and in which one or both of whom didn’t kill themselves at the end,” and today added that it could be hard for millennials to imagine the atmosphere of complete lesbian invisibility that prevailed back then.

Deitch was told that she would never be able to work in the same town again, and the actors who participated in the movie (even the ones in straight roles) were told that this was a career-ender. She said that after the film’s premier she received “not a very nice review” by The New York Times critic Vincent Canby, whom she later called “not a very nice man”. According to her, such a review from the New York Times was a death sentence back in the day, but Deitch wouldn’t give up: she advertised the film on her own with self-made leaflets that she handed around town with her brother, to people waiting outside cinemas.

Still, Desert Hearts almost reached box office records and was embraced by multiple film festivals when the movie was launched. Deitch was even asked by Oprah Winfrey to direct the TV miniseries The Women of Brewster Place, featuring one of the first lesbian couples that appeared on TV. Her TV career went on for 25 years and she won an Emmy award, a Hugo award and the Sundance Special Jury Prize for Desert Hearts.

After 25 years, Deitch announced at NBC Out, at a screening of the film at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the making of a sequel to the first movie Desert Hearts.  At the MoMA event, she introduced the stars Helen Shaver (Vivian Bell) and Patricia Charbonneau (Cay Rivvers) who stood up and kissed on the stage. Charbonneau’s daughter was also there. She was called “the Desert Hearts’ Baby” since her mother was pregnant with her during the screening of the film.

Deitch is raising funds for the sequel which will be set in New York – that being the only information that has been shared about the project. She recalled her fundraising process for the first movie that took two years to be completed, in the queer-hostile Hollywood environment of the ‘80s.

Deitch had to sell her house in order to raise money, as well as shares that costed $15,000 for a limited partnership. The main funding resources though, came from feminists and lesbians. “There were straight men, gay men, it was a mix,” she said, “People saw it as a potentially quite commercial film.”

Her fundraising methods were more like those used in political organizing than akin to normal Hollywood studio backing – money raised mostly within the community.

The sequel of Desert Hearts is enthusiastically expected, and we hope for it to set a path for more optimistic, encouraging queer movies that will remind us that we deserve a little piece of happiness in the world.

Less Than 1% People In British Advertisements Are LGBT

The world of advertisement (with all its elements that we may appreciate or criticize), is definitely a utopian one. Good or bad, our, your, or your mum’s utopia, it’s still a utopia. We might judge the role-models portrayed in, and goals promoted through advertising as harmful or problematic in terms of consumerist practices, beauty social standards and expectations, as well as lifestyle priorities but, before we go there – and rightfully we should – we need to agree on the purpose of advertising: to portray a perfect world, one we are supposed to want to be parts of. What is deemed to be a perfect world, a utopian goal, is in our society not only influenced, but constructed by the world of advertisement.

Our TV and pop-up windows all say: “This is what you should aim for, and for this reason I’m portraying someone who looks like you – is like you – already aiming for it, to make it clear that you should be already doing the same”.

Again, despite how problematic this mechanism is, I need to focus on the slight glitch I detect: the people in the advertisements aren’t actually like me. Not in the least. Sure, that one person I saw on my parents’ TV the other day did have purple hair – which makes my life slightly more convenient than it used to be when my parents did have the argument that no normal person (which means usual person, person on TV) looked like me and my freaky hair.

But all the chocolate advertisements I see depict romantic interludes only between men and women, address me and my priorities when they want to sell – heaven forfend – razors and fall to far more problematic circles when enforcing the stereotype that women’s destiny is motherhood and housekeeping, that she is the one who prepares the meal for the famished working man who returns home. The people in the advertisements aren’t like my partner either. And what do I mean by all that?

LGBTQ+ people still aren’t represented in the world of advertisement. A research conducted by Lloyds Banking Group has recently showed that less than 0.06 percent of people featured in British adverts are LGBTQ+. This lack of diversity in British TV is apparent not only concerning LGBTQ+ people, but also when it comes to other intersections of the population’s identities, such as disabled people and single parents.

More specifically, only 0.006 percent of advertisements in British TV show disabled people, while almost 18 percent of the British population has some form of disability. Also, less than one percent of advertisements show single parents, while about twenty five percent of adults in the UK are raising their children on their own.

When it came to whether people felt like diversity was missing from advertising, it turns out that 65 percent of the 2,200 people who were included in the Lloyds survey, say that they would “feel more favourable about a brand which reflected diversity in advertising”, while 67 percent of the ones who responded said that they expect diverse aspects of society to be represented in advertisements.

Why aren’t LGBTQ+ people represented in advertisements? It’s probably because we are not Western accomplished utopian material. Most of us aren’t able-bodied, white, cis, conventionally attractive, straight couples with enough income to wonder what to do with it. We don’t belong in a world scattered with stereotypes – and maybe that’s even a good thing. But representation is important in all aspects of human life, and even when we get it, we get it in mostly problematic forms.

We’ve all seen photos of women being together with all kinds of lustful, weird positions and looks. And while normalizing sex, instead of contributing in a society that deems it a taboo is important, white, tall, thin, feminine women being sexy with each other is not what we all look like.

We need representation; we need it to be broader than it is, to be natural, unbiased. We need a kind of representation that gets rid of its tokenistic or objectifying character. We aren’t here as instruments to fill a gap – even though it needs to be filled. We aren’t here to be aesthetically pleasing or occasions to party. We are here, we are queer, and we are different, multi-dimensional people: elders, youth, children, working people, parents and activists. LGBTQ+ people need to be represented and visible, and the industry still has a long way to go.

Hate Crime: The Rise Of Violence Against Queer Woman In Cape Town

Noluvo Swelindawo is the name of the 22-year-old woman who was assaulted, abducted and murdered in Driftsands near Khayelitsha last weekend. She had already been beaten up on Friday night and talked about being attacked the following day. Her partner, Nqabisa Mkatali found that their home had been broken into. Her body was discovered on a footbridge.

Cape Town police are still investigating the hate crime that seems to have been induced by homophobia. This assumption is supported by her loved ones.

According to Funeka Soldaat, the coordinator of a local NGO, Free Gender, says that the Cape Town community and the police don’t seem to do enough for the investigation and fight of hate crimes.

This is indicative of the general situation LGBTI activists in South Africa have to face. Phumi Mtetwa, a Research activist fellow with the Social Change Initiative, says that hate crimes and violence against LGBTI people are factors reflective of what is going on in South Africa. The community and the activist section are tired of feeling outraged and helpless. The problem, as Mtetwa says, does not have to do with the punishment of such crimes, but mostly with the lack of prevention for them. It is deemed crucial that the specificity of the nature of such hate crimes is figured out and dealt with. They are crimes caused by the harmful intersections of different systems of oppression such as poverty, marginalization, patriarchy and misogyny.

Most LGBTI people in South Africa fear for their lives, due to the discrimination they have to face due to their identities. There are laws that are supposed to protect LGBTI people, but in the province the situation continues being dangerous due to lack of social reflexes against discrimination. The laws are not applied properly, resulting to lack of necessary protection for marginalized groups. The weight, according to Mtetwa, falls upon activists, allies and organizations, to seek alternatives when it comes to advocacy work done in un-organized spaces. Unfortunately, it’s an immense weight to be shared between just five organizations doing extraordinary work: the Traingle Project, Free Gender, Iranti and Durban Gay and Lesbian Centre. People should not only expect organizations and allies to deal with what should actually be the state’s responsibility to protect its citizens.

The work that needs to be done is very deep, such as in every homophobic, transphobic, patriarchal society. Awareness has to be raised and people must be educated on understanding, supporting and protecting LGBT I people whose lives are at stake.

Lesbians For Men: A New Book Examining The History Of ‘Faux-Lesbian’ Fantasy For The Male Gaze

TASCHEN has released a new coffee-table book that traces the history of girl-on-girl erotic photography directed at straight men that fantasize about lesbians. The pictures in the book that is written and edited by Dian Hanson, a pornographic magazine editor, historian and model, span through more than a century and are mostly faux depictions of lesbianism, with straight women posing for the male gaze and desire. The book is not failing to treat this paradox precisely: that what is written and communicated through as queer female sexuality, is often misinterpreting lesbianism.

The feeding of that fantasy has survived through decades and, even though fantasies and fetishes are encouraged in their diversity and should not be shamed or suppressed, in many of their contexts I think that we are obliged to look into the social and political connotations of such fetishes – that can usually be translated into relations of power affecting the lives of real people, outside of their bedroom – and unravel how their sexual, romantic and everyday life and identity

Lesbian and bisexual women have long been used as tropes for the pleasure of straight men. The term “male gaze” describes how not only sexual, but most kinds of intimate relationships between women and gender-non-conforming people are still being fetishized by men and deemed as existing for their sake.

This is demonstrated through comments in everyday life such as “Can I watch”, the “She’s only doing it for male attention” assumption coming not only from men but as a projection of internalized misogyny as well, the film and advertisement industry that fill us with images of conventionally attractive, thin, able and mostly feminine women with their limbs interlocked together in rather unrealistic poses.

The issue of male-directed pornography is also an issue that has been raised numerous times. Most pornographic material including women being together is not made by lesbians, but by straight men for the viewing audience of straight men, more often than not treating women in objectifying ways and reducing homosexual relations between them into a trope from which people are actively missing and bodies are simply going through theatrical interacting motions.

De-demonizing the habit of straight men jerking off to imagery, thoughts or even intrusion and participation in queer female sexuality is not, in my opinion, about being progressive and open-minded, and brushing the shame off of kinks. Straight men’s voyeurism can actually have negative effects not only on queer women’s everyday lives and relationships, but also on the formation of their identities.

An excellent comic designed by K – a Canadian non-binary feminist comic artist – concerning the effects a culture of fetishization of female and queer sexuality can have on people, can be found on Everyday Feminism: I want to focus on this comic a little bit before discussing the TASCHEN book.

According to the comic, queer women and often non-binary people, haven’t had access to media, culture, literature and spaces directed to LGBTQ+ people up until late, as in, their twenties. Till then, they had to look for depictions of lesbians and bisexual women in mainstream media, movies and pornography. This was the only way to see ourselves represented – existing.

Most of these depictions have one common characteristic: they are aimed towards men, so while growing up it is significantly easy for a girl to think that her own sexuality can be performed and experienced with men always getting in the way, as if we initially owe something to them.

I didn’t have the experience or tools to understand how damaging it is to constantly have your sexual identity reflected back at you, warped and repurposed for the consumption of others.”

And this does not only stay in the media. While some men sexualize and – seemingly – accept conventionally attractive, feminine lesbians, many of them – sometimes even the same men – may display homophobic behavior, fail to respect a lesbian/bi woman, a gay man, or a trans person, when not attracted to them. The same men usually fail to recognize their privilege, deny supporting us when we demand our basic human rights, and contribute in several ways in our oppression.

Especially when we don’t show interest in them, they might turn violent toward us, demanding our compliance. We’ll be slut-shamed, shunned, cat-called in the street, even “correctively” harassed and raped.

Queer women end up fearing for their dignity, for their relationships and for their life with every tiny step they take. They lose trust in the world around them; they feel like they have to conceal their identities in order to protect them, they feel like they’re being chased from an objectifying gaze. They may even end up letting themselves feel guilty for what is happening to them. Yet the paradox lies that, even the way they have shaped their identities may be based on patriarchal standards set by straight men.

The conclusion of the comic is simple yet concrete and intensely meaningful: lesbian and bi women kiss, fuck, love, get together, marry, make families or simply hang out for their own sake: we don’t exist for the eyes and beds of men, unless we decide to be with a man, in case we’re bi or pan, or simply because life and ourselves make us want to. No one should try to trick us into a threesome or a voyeuristic incident without our wholehearted consent. No one should feel entitled on our bodies, lives, feelings and identities.

Dian Hanson, editor of Lesbians for Men, tells the Huffington Post that the original purpose when putting together the material for her books is not only to entertain, but also to educate her readers. In this book, she researched and brought together photos that can be classified as what is called “girl/girl” in the porn business, “all maintaining the time-worn fantasy of ‘young girls exploring their bi-curiosity’”.

It’s an honest book: it’s not stated that these women are all lesbians, or that the purpose behind the faux- lesbian photos was any other than it really was: to please men.

Hanson says:

I’m a big fan of sexual truth, and believe we can know the truth without sacrificing the fantasy.”

This book offers some interesting insight in the history of lesbian pornographic imagery. It demonstrates all the changes taking place since 1890 between different countries, historical contexts and legal systems.

When it comes to the concept of “lesbian content directed at straight men” and whether it can be harmful or not, Hanson says that when she sees fantasy repeated so often it becomes truth, she feels like she has to step in. She does make clear that this book is not lying by implying that the women portrayed in it are lesbians. On the contrary, the text analyzes the phenomenon of men being aroused by lesbians and focuses on informing men about the background and the purpose of these photos, distinguishing them from real lesbian imagery.

However, this still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but making a glossy coffee-table book for an issue, with pictures of pretty women inside, is kind of glorifying it. “Paying tribute” to the fantasy even from a distanced, critical point of view, seems to me like leaving a slightly open window that says “it’s okay”.

It’s not that simple because it’s not okay. Making a book full of pictures of faux-lesbians posing for the male eye, a book that makes Maxim readers excited, reaffirms it for the voyeurs that the main purpose of lesbian and bi women and gender-non-conforming people, is to fit in their standards and serve as a pleasure object for them, instead of recognizing us like real people who do things, experience things, feel and share things solely for ourselves.

Male Directors Objectified Lesbian And Bi Women Is Still A Growing Trend

The talk about queer representation in the media is one that we’re constantly having, and with every validated right to do so. It’s not a cliché, it shouldn’t be considered one, no matter how much we discuss it, since it has only so many angles to see how it is reflected upon our everyday life, choices, and the formation of our personalities and identities.

I – shamefully – fear discussing trans rights – that legitimately happen to affect my life – with my parents, because I know from the beginning it will be a lost cause due to a harmful and problematic generalization they have formed in their minds because of Greek TV, and I also live in a society that constantly erases one part of my identity, bisexuality – urging even me to question it at times – because some popular series and films make bisexual girls a punchline, or outright refuse to utter the damn word, as if it carries smallpox.

When we discuss representation of queer women on TV, a lot of things can be said, some of them being rightfully optimistic. Contrasting to five years ago, European and American big and small screens can boast for several films and series that do have well-rounded LGBT women in them, queer women that are not the butt of the joke anymore, but actually realistic and interesting characters that other women can relate to.

Of course, there are some major issues due to which we can agree we have cried or ranted at least once: our favorite LGBT female characters will either suffer and die, suffer and break up (because no ending can be a happy ending in same-sex female relationships, while at the same time we’re flooded with a storm of unnecessarily cheesy heterosexual happy endings that the point in counting has been lost about fifty years ago), or sexualized and used as tropes by male directors, even when the characters are well-developed, such as Emma in Blue is the Warmest Color.

This year brought us The Handmaiden, a South Korean psychological thriller adaptation of Sarah Water’s Fingersmith that is considered cinematographically a masterpiece.

In Shannon Keating’s article on BuzzFeed, parallels are drawn between Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, Todd Haynes’ Carol and Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color that are seen as sharing certain elements that point out they were written by women and directed by men.

Respectively, Carol was written by Patricia Highsmith in 1952 and Blue Is the Warmest Color was based on a graphic novel written by Julie Maroh.


All three movies are seen as turning same-sex relationships between women into aesthetically pleasing compositions that focus on panoramic views of almost identical, thin, white bodies, catering to the needs of a mostly male audience, instead of depicting romantic and sexual feelings realistically in ways that lesbian and bisexual women usually experience them.

But how is that tendency explained?

Female sexuality is still perceived by society at large, as something that, in one way or another either belongs to men, belongs to them, can be controlled by men, or somehow exists to cater to their needs. Even queer women are not easily seen – or depicted, in art and popular media – as people who own, perform and share their sexuality with themselves or with other women. That is sadly seen in real life, with LGBT women facing the threats of hate crimes, corrective rapes, harassment and lastly, fetishization.

In many movies and TV series, lesbianism or bisexuality are often punch lines for “experimentation” or “can I watch” jokes, that make men entitled to women’s sexuality even when they’re not invited, depicting queer women as owing something to men who deserve it, either eye-candy, or the trophy of ending up with them after going through a phase. These are extremely harmful stereotypes, especially when lesbians and bisexual women have to fight all the time to have their identities accepted and validated.

Besides, women are denied the rights to their sexuality, while at the same time depicted as solely sexual beings. Marketing campaigns and ads that show women read as involved, usually underline lust and conventional beauty, with women staring directly at the photographic lens – and the viewer – instead of at each other. There are much fewer popular ads depicting women that share a deep emotional bond between them, forming a family together and being visibly invested in each other.


Now, even though representation standards are better met up to than they used to be, one can’t put their finger on diversity: most bi and lesbians in the examples of recent films are conventionally feminine, responding to social beauty standards, and usually white. The Handmaiden has South Korean women and The Pariah black (and less gender-conforming) teenager girls from Brooklyn, but these movies definitely are not the norm. Even in Orange is the New Black, the majority of the non-straight women loved by the fans – aside from Poussey but don’t even get me started on that – are pretty homogenous.

In The Handmaiden, the two protagonists appropriate two Ben Wa balls used as weapons earlier in the film to use them as sex toys, in the symmetrical, aesthetically arranged final scene of the movie, in ways that have been criticized as non-realistic by women viewers who love and have sex with women. The two women engage in several occasions in role-play and symbolic dressing-up, only to soon return to their feminine – sexual – selves.

At this point though, I cannot forget the almost comical exaggerations of Blue is the Warmest Color, how I watched it while accepting my own sexuality and seeing it as a test I failed into: the torturously long scissoring scenes had seemed so boring to me it almost worked as an affirmation I should probably leave questioning sexualities to other people, more bi or more lesbian than I was. Of course, that was a ridiculous way to think at 17 but, if you think about it, it’s also not. Being with a girl, as a discovered later, was in no way as boring as that movie had made it seem.


Not to mention that, as Léa Seydoux said in interviews, a sex scene took ten days to shoot, while the two women were asked to do things that made them feel humiliated.

The Handmaiden also has a controversial – according to many – scissoring scene.

What’s even more eyebrow-raising worthy than the scissoring shenanigans is the entitled guy in the party in Blue is the Warmest Color who sees women as his muses and gives an inspirational ridiculous speech about female orgasms, in a movie, let me remind you, that features two female protagonists being in a relationship with each other.

In a much more refined way, Carol also shows an obsession with aesthetics – which is not a weird thing when you talk cinema – in ways that, according to Keating’s analysis, works into a pattern of women mirroring each other or comparing themselves to each other, just because they are both women.

Added to that, Keating adds that queer women have had enough of their sex lives being depicted as spectacles for straight men, depicting scissoring more often than not and avoiding explicit “finger-dialogues”, as they are often not seen as valid, “full sex” for cishet people. Heaven forfend if they ever show a strap-on on the screen, a woman or a gender-non-conforming person pleasing another woman or GNC completely satisfactorily in a way a male viewer has learnt to think only he would be able to.

All women, and especially queer women, should stop being viewed as owing their sexuality to men, whether that is its direct performance, or a pass for men “to share”. Men don’t own our bodies, our minds, sexualities and experiences, and they shouldn’t feel entitled to fit everywhere within those borders. Sometimes, depictions of queer women that do not come from queer women themselves, but are a product of a cishet male gaze, contribute to these problems, and this is an issue we can’t leave out of our conversation for representation.

LGBTQI Tour in London Teaching People their History

Last year, during my visit in London, I tripped ever so woefully somewhere in my planning process, ending up on leaving two consecutive Sundays for visiting Gay’s the Word (and the hours it was closed, since I learnt this year that it does open for several hours on Sundays).

I walked in front of the closed bookshop twice and stuck my face on the glass all two times, like a kiddie lusting over Christmas window shopping. This year, I returned on a Sunday as well, but I had the wits to at least make sure I’d find it open.

Visiting the LGBT bookshop I had seen in the 2014 Pride movie and hosted the meetings of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners in 1984-1985, as well as many other London organizations’ meetings, was about more than the two poetry books and one fiction book on GNC I returned home with. It was the feeling of feet stepping of history, even if I was doing it with the little-to-no research my schedule allowed and in an amateurish way.

I’m extremely interested in LGBT history, in learning parts of how we got where we are and reflecting on how we can write more of it. Still, even if I don’t have enough time or knowledge to learn about all the important LGBT spots of a place I visit, I’m really keen on making the effort to fit it all and learning new things. And now, more than a month of being back in Greece and already preparing a history month to learn more about the LGBTQI history of our country and honour its protagonists, I read about the first organized Queer Tour of LGBT History taking place in London, run by activists.

But why is such a tour so necessary in London right now? Comparatively to other regions, haven’t things got relatively better? I do realize that such an assumption is simplistic enough, and such comparisons always fail to reflect reality. As an outsider, I found it interesting to learn more about the current situation in London.

The far-right politicians in the UK have adopted a pinkwashing agenda to gain the support of more voters. Their seemingly pro-LGBT stance is supposed to throw shade on their racism and islamophobia, particularly towards refugees. Coburn, who is UKIP’s MEP and most senior gay figure, incorporated this part of his identity in his prejudiced rhetoric to somehow cover the bigoted things he wanted to say:

Many of these people, as we’ve heard, are ISIS. I don’t know about you but I’m a homosexual and I don’t want to be stoned to death.”


One of the biggest factors that led the UK to Brexit, was the systematic sparking of racist and nationalist feelings of the people. With racist attacks on the rise, the situation in the UK right now is not all that ideal. In fact, mainstreaming LGBT issues in order to serve a conservative agenda, has started being formed into a pattern in several regions of the Western world, America, “alternative-right”, and Trump’s supporter and racist, sexist, openly gay vomit-machine Milo Yiannopoulos, forming a strong example. (Just. Don’t get me started on that. At least the original Draco Malfoy’s bleach work was better, and at least he wasn’t a terrible misogynist.)

David Cameron left Downing Street this year after six years, and we need to consider the legacy that his government left behind. Even though equal marriage legislation passed, Cameron’s austerity measures have had a terrible impact on the lives of LGBT people.

As this Independent article demonstrates, the voluntary and community sector of LGBT people are suffering from the cuts of staffing, services and budgets, in a time of great need for such services and safe spaces, especially for intersectional groups that support trans, bisexual, disabled and BME LGBT people. Still, one of the most threatening issues is no other than LGBT homelessness. According to the Albert Kennedy Trust, 24% of homeless youth identify as LGBT and, consequently, mentally-ill, victims of sexual exploitation and violence. Also, according to a 2014 report by Stonewall Housing, access to homelessness services for LGBT people was made even harder because of discrimination, especially towards trans people. Additionally, the Tory education “reform” has allowed schools to decide on whether they’re going to include LGBT-inclusive sex and relationships education, according to their either conventional or more progressive “ethos”.

One also cannot overlook the fact that many of the refugees chased and alienated by the former government are LGBT, and comments derived by the homonationalist agenda are offensive in all possible ways. About 98% of LGBT asylum-seekers are deported from the UK, according to a research held by the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group. Theresa May, former home secretary who oversaw these deportation has managed to stay in history as an “unsung hero” of LGBT rights, as for David Cameron, he outrageously enough won 2016 Ally of the Year award of the PinkNews website.

Queer Tours of London – A Mince Through Time’ is the subtitle presented on their original website. They are starting off on February 2017 and their main aim is to demonstrate, through visiting the most important landmarks of London LGBT history, how people came to be where they stand today, despite the constant boycotting coming from places of power, with the most indicative example being that of the recent Cameron government trying to take credit for “solving the Gay problem”. On the Tours official website, they state quite clearly why they think that such an initiative is deemed necessary in our days: people not only need more LGBTQI events hosted by communities they can interact with and fit in, but they also need to gain power through knowledge, forming a concrete idea of the past in order to build a future on their own terms. Furthermore, Queer Tours of London will offer jobs to LGBTQI homeless people, sex workers, LGBTQI people of colour and queer activists facing deportation, as speak-people in tour groups.

The tour crew point out that in a span of five years 25% of LGBT nightclubs have been shut down, HIV education and prevention measures are being suppressed while diagnoses numbers rise, hate crimes happen every day, mental health services are closing down and LGBT migrants are in an even graver danger, while there is obviously no social housing plans, community centers or museums that cater specifically to LGBTQI rights. This is why such an initiative can play a crucial role in the education, empowerment and mobilization of queer Londoners, visitors and allies.

As we read on this Vice article, landmark points of the future tours will include Mother Clap’s molly-house, a gathering point for 18th century cross-dressers, the Admiral Duncan pub where, in 1999, three queer people were killed by a neo-Nazi bomb that has been turned into a chandelier. Queer heroes and heroines who gave their lives in their battle for rights and liberation will also be remembered in the tour. They will pay a tribute to the Lesbian Avengers, the Gay Liberation Front and its Radical Drag Queens.

We may not all understand Foucault and the different applications and interpretations of his philosophy, but knowledge is undoubtedly power, especially if it helps us understand and recreate our identity in our own terms, especially when Power with capital P and all its systematic forms of oppression try to token themselves clear and appropriate it for us. Such initiatives are extremely important for raising awareness, empowering LGBTQI people and bringing the community together.

Lauren Lubin and ‘We Exist’: A Documentary on the Life of Non-Binary People

Existing is a sum of many things: of being recognized, represented, talked about but also in an affirming way and not simply being referred at in psychiatric textbooks. Existing means being part of a language and incorporated into its habits, having your specific needs identified and catered to, your problems and demands heard and the differences that make you into the unique individual that you are accepted and validated. Existing is not just about living and breathing and going to work.

If you have faced several forms of sexism, racism, ableism, homo-bi-ace/phobia, transphobia or intersex-phobia before, you may already have the experience of what it is like to be a living human being but to have your identity denied, erased, concealed, abused or stripped of its individual existence.

In activism there is no point in making competitions out of people’s suffering and oppression. Someone will always have it better than you, and someone will always have it worse than you because of endless mingling webs of intersecting paths and reasons. That doesn’t mean that we can’t – or that we’re not supposed to – focus on the specific characteristics that distinguish the different forms of oppression each complex identity is facing.

When it comes to people whose gender does not fall strictly into the man-woman binary system that society is imposing on us, one of the main forms of oppression they are faced with, is the denying of their existence. Worst of all (as happens with other LGBTQ+ identities as well), the erasure non-binary people might have to deal with, doesn’t only come from outside the queer community, but also stems vastly from within it.

Non-binary experiences are still being stubbornly ignored even within the LGBTQ+ community, not only from non-straight, but also from binary trans people, resulting to a harmful lack of safe spaces for non-binary individuals.

Society insists on being disrespectful towards non-binary people, starting from the distant, seemingly theoretical debates on grammar and on whether we should accept people’s pronouns, to the insistence on segregating everything by gender, sports, restrooms, hair salons, and practically almost everything else we deal with, participate into or are part of in our everyday lives.

This can only be extremely harmful for both the physical and mental health of non-binary individuals, who rarely ever have their voices properly heard and their needs taken into consideration.

Lauren Lubin is the creator and executive producer of the upcoming documentary We Exist, which explores the lives of people who experience their gender in a way different than those who identify as either men or women. The production of this documentary started four years ago and it is one of the biggest initiatives worldwide that have to do with the specific experiences of non-binary people, narrated by them as they interact with all aspects of flawed, binary societies.


The documentary is an intimate work that reaches up to the most personal issues that a gender-non-conforming trans person might face and can function as a crucial point of reference, relation and inclusion for non-binary people from all over the world.

Lauren Lubin says, in their After Ellen interview with Kim Hoffman, concerning their hopes about the release of We Exist:

I have always seen this film as the first step toward tackling and changing the many oppressing social issues people like myself face. And already, I’ve seen how We Exist has begun to make such changes, particularly among my followers in the We Exist community. My hope for this undertaking has always been to create a film that people like myself can share with their loved ones and say, “Hey, this is me. This is how I feel. I’m not the only one.”

And indeed, We Exist has already grown into a worldwide movement, a phenomenon with visible positive effects when it comes to the representation that non-binary people are deprived of. The platform already extends to 67 different countries and it represents experiences of individuals from around the globe, crossing boundaries set by age, race and culture and offering a multi-dimensional picture of non-binary experience.  People are finally seeing themselves reflected on a project, amongst thousands of other projects that insisted on focusing specifically on either men or women:

I discovered Lauren earlier this week and it’s an incredibly important discovery for me because I now know that I exist. I am gender neutral and hopefully I am at just the beginning… to finally live as me.” –S.


I am so happy to see this that this brought tears to my eyes… After 26 years I am happy ro finally have a place in this world. I am happy that gender identity is becoming more talked about and educated on… I want to thank everyone involved for the work you are doing. This will save lives and encourage people. THANK YOU!!!” –E. (from the We Exist Media Kit found on the We Exist Official Website).

Lubin believes that

it is absolutely within society’s reach, to expand upon the current gender binary system. It’s clear now, and the science backs it up: Gender—like sexuality—does exist on a spectrum. There are pockets of change already occurring all over the world: from Nepal recognizing a third gender, to individual establishments and schools implementing gender neutral bathrooms, to Facebook enabling their users to define their gender on their own terms. But in order to institutionalize and integrate a broader gender system across all of society—academia, medicine, legislation, government identification, and so forth—it’s imperative for change and accountability to occur at the top. Until then, it’s up to us individuals to educate, advocate and lobby against the status quo until that happens.”

They also refer to the discrimination and the erasure a non-binary person has to deal with in most parts of their everyday life:

My current reality as a non-binary person living in a binary world is that once I leave my home, there are very few public spaces where I can fully exist. What’s more, legally I do not fully exist as my true self, which not only dehumanizes my person but also make my life extremely difficult and unsafe. The ideal, perfect day for me would be just like anyone else’s: to step out into the world without question or fear, knowing that I do and can exist as I am, wherever I am, and to be recognized, respected and protected exactly as I am.”

Non-binary identities are often shut down as “Tumblr SJW made-up identities”, downright refusing to respect people’s existence as well as their rightful, valid experiences. In all honesty, no one should demand proof for the way a person experiences their gender and sexuality, given that people’s identities don’t harm other people or their respectful identities in any way.

However, even science backs up the idea that sexuality and gender fall onto a spectrum. One recent research led by the Medical University of Vienna and presented in Huffington Post last year, shows that the human brain holds a wide range of gender differences varying from person to person, independently by their biological sex characteristics. In a society where trans experiences are more often than not pathologized, and their identities objectified, sexualized and heavily misrepresented.

According to the We Exist Media Kit, the documentary circles around Lauren’s life, showing  everyday reality for a person identifying as gender neutral and leaving a positive, empowering note. The trailer looks amazing, both sentimentally and aesthetically, and gives us glimpses of Lauren’s childhood, athletic dedication and transition, promising us a multi-dimensional depiction that can raise awareness about people whose gender doesn’t fall within the binary. Lauren Lubin is actually a multi-talented person, having earned a full scholarship for basketball at the University of Colorado, today spreading awareness about gender issues through their documentary. They have published two books: The Rainforest Awakenings and The Thoughtless Revolution.

Their voice has been heard on ABC Good Morning, Curve Magazine, Out Magazine, TIME, The Huffington Post, on the Everyone Is Gay Tumblr Blog with Kristin Russo (co-founder of The Parents Project, a digital resource for parents of LGBTQ+ children) where they explained what the gender binary means and how gender is a spectrum and spoke about their journey of discovery. They have given an interview with Rebecca Ruiz on Mashable, where they addressed the issue of assuming people’s gender in everyday life without giving much thought into it. Lauren Lubin have also given speeches at several schools, universities and youth organizations such as the Columbia University, the Trinity College, the University of Colorado, Lurie’s Children Hospital Safe Space Day, SpeakingOUT Organization, and many more.

The documentary is directed and edited by Andrew Seger, a Brooklyn-based editor and producer who has worked together with Starbucks, VOGUE and other projects.

There might be a rise in the conversation about LGBTQ+ issues, but equality has not been achieved, especially for the least represented, understood and discussed identities. This is why initiatives such as We Exist are deemed absolutely vital to raise awareness for non-binary and gender-non-conforming issues.



The Necessity Of Gender Neutral Sports For Non-Binary People

Sports have always been a part of human life and culture that presents many ambiguities, especially when it comes to issues such as sex, gender, stereotypes and exclusion, and the situation is, today, no less complicated than it used to be.

Despite their immense success in games and sports, on an Olympic level, women and girls are still constantly told from a very young age, that their athletic performance is not as good as men’s. And yet, the problems that arise dig much deeper, having to do even with extremely problematic behaviors from the behalf even of women athletes, towards other identity intersections that do not fit in a fixed white, cis, straight norm of what is thought by racist, colonialist societies, to be a woman, a man, or anything outside the binary.

Such is the case of the control and policing constantly inflicted, in invasive and unacceptable ways, on people with intersex variations when it comes to competing in athletic events. The examples of Caster Semenya from South Africa and Dutee Chand’s from India in this year’s Olympic Games, and of the inappropriate public discourse that was raised, objectifying these athletes, had people’s problematic conceptions about sports, sex and gender reflected in phobic remarks like those of Shannon Rowbury’s.

This article, a response to these comments, is pretty explanatory of why the misconceptions society has about sex and gender can be extremely harmful for intersex and trans people. It mentions that the Summer Games of 2016 in Rio were the first to allow, after change of the rules, trans athletes to compete without having undergone sex reassignment surgery. There weren’t any openly trans athletes who competed this year, but this is still a remarkable thing for the inclusion of binary trans people.

However, these new rules don’t solve the problem of the participation of non-binary trans people. What’s more, sports in general don’t seem to be inclusive of non-binary identities, which is extremely harmful for athletic non-binary people who end up participating in teams they feel they don’t belong to, having to conform with a gender that doesn’t align with their identity and experience. Sports are supposed to be for everyone, surpassing borders set by race, gender and ability but for people like Lauren Lubin, this is not the case. Non-binary people may feel excluded and wronged by the gender segregation in sports, as their identities are downright denied.

Running is not a sport for everyone; running is a sport for two types of people.”

Running is indeed a sport deeply segregated by gender, something which is made obvious in almost every stage of the process. Non-binary people are forced to compete as something they don’t identify as: as either men or women.

There I was, unable to run as the person I really am – forced to either sit at the sidelines or run under a false identity in order to participate.”

Lauren Lubin is a non-binary runner living in New York City, who originally moved there in 2014 to work on a the We Exist documentary; a documentary that deals with and presents the lives of non-binary or gender neutral people.  They initially took up on running in order to meet more people in this new city, but ended up being a devoted runner. What happened though was that such a deeply gendered sport in most of its connotations and processes soon started feeling restricting for Lubin’s identity and their need to express it and openly live by it.

This year Lubin ran in the New York City Marathon as the first ever openly gender-neutral athlete in the history of the marathon and for them, like for many non-binary people who are passionate for sports, separating people by gender in the sports they want to participate can be a huge issue. It’s not just about “giving things a label”. It’s about having your identity denied in every step you take, every practical process and every effort to belong in teams and communities that have no space for you. Non-binary people who are into sports are forced to either give up their hobby, activities, even their passion, or to try and blatantly disregard their gender and everything it means to their identity, experiences and entire existence.

There is no need for gender segregation in sports, and this is what Lubin supports as well. In our societies, sex and gender are still mashed up into one blurry, essentialist concept in people’s mind, but it’s vital to remember that both are spectrums, that they are not interchangeable terms, and that differences in athletic performance and the way individuals can be privileged over others, are determined by numerous factors that don’t have to do with sex characteristics or gender identity. People’s ability, including factors like their height or their eyesight, is not always determined by gonads or hormones, yet trans and intersex people have been submitted to a dehumanizing discourse that disregards their excellent athletic performances. This shows us that segregation by gender in sports can actually be avoided without negative results in athletes’ performance, inclusion and success.

The argument that still supports gender segregation in sports can still be seen as having sexist connotations and not being well looked into, is that stopping segregation would be unfair for women, whose physical competence is smaller compared to men’s. This viewpoint seems to be the excuse of problematic comments directed towards trans and intersex athletes who are harmfully represented in the invasive, hateful media rhetoric as “cheating”, simply because their bodies don’t fit in a narrow, non-representative Western-centric, cis-sexist norm of what a woman must be like. This all goes with false presumptions about the duality of genders and even sexes, which has been shown to be misleading and untrue.

But would anyone ever consider a taller person, a person with longer arms or with better eyesight as “cheating”? There is a debate on whether there is enough accurate medical research material that shows that testosterone levels can cater to an unfair advantage for trans or intersex athletes. According to medical professionals, the bodies of trans women don’t offer any level of competitive advantage over cis women after they’ve gone through two years of hormone treatment. And with some thought, it is rendered obvious that when we want to talk about “competitive advantage”, physiological factors are not the only ones to consider, since the privilege that some people have, against others, to perform professionally and compete in a high level of sports, most of the time has to do with the obvious effects of class, race, nationality, gender and other intersections that pose limits in people’s lives. Physical characteristics, obviously, vary between individuals in ways and for reasons that don’t always have to do with sex. The need to make sports more inclusive for all identities is immediate.

A quite remarkable example for how this could work in sports is roller derby. According to Alex Hanna, roller derby doesn’t enforce gender segregation and hasn’t done so from the very beginning. The whole philosophy of roller derby evolves around “DIY” and “for the skaters, by the skaters”, making the ground friendly for a more inclusive sport that has evolved on a quality amateur competitive level. LGBTQ+ people and allies occupy a central position in the sport’s organization, catering to the vast needs of inclusion for gender non-conforming, trans and intersex athletes. The United Front of Pioneer Valley Roller Derby is actually a team that accepts all players “regardless of assigned sex, gender identity (or lack thereof), or gender presentation and expression” and this is should actually be a point of reference in an otherwise hostile environment for trans and gender-non-conforming people to live truly as themselves. The largest roller derby association in the world is the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association and its politics are actively directed towards the needs of queer people and of those who don’t conform in norms set by society.

Lubin says:

What I experience today is a dire need for change – there is no place for non-binary athletes to freely compete. We can no longer move forward in the sporting world – or just in general – assuming that gender is binary or that even sex is binary. […] Sports at large is a microcosm of society at large. When we look at sports and how binary it is – how exclusive and often discriminatory it is – we’re looking at a reflection of our society.”

Queer Representation and Harry Potter

For many of us growing up with Harry Potter, it is very easy to say that our lives have been shaped by the books, the series, the fanfiction and the behind-the-scenes additional information.

Years of waiting, nights of staying up late under the covers with a book with the fear of your mother catching you, whole summers of online roleplaying and endless bookmarks of essays, articles, fanart, fanfiction, headcanons, the wonderful, enchanting world that was given birth by the talented J.K. Rowling and was then enlarged and developed with the creativity and insight of the fans.

I was given the first Harry Potter book when I was six, and for more than fifteen years, Hogwarts, the magical universe and all the characters have been an irreplaceable extension of me. I don’t know how to explain what the series has meant to me and I probably don’t need to, since many people my age – as well as my forty year old aunt and my thirteen year old cousin, so not only my age – have daydreamt of walking among the streets of Hogsmeade , or sleep-dreamt of fighting Voldemort and saving the world.

Just to hand out some examples, I remember, when I was seven and my dad told me that being so obsessed with Harry Potter was unhealthy, threatening him ever-so-dramatically that for me to stop he’d first have to kill me and bury my ashes in the box of the Sorcerer’s Stone VHS.

When I finished the second book I made ice cream and hosted a Harry Potter sticker party for my grandma and my aunt. When I bought the Prisoner of Azkaban DVD I verbally greeted Emma Watson appearing on the screen like an old friend, causing my parents to actually worry.

When I was sixteen I dyed my hair magenta so that I could look like a bit like Tonks. And finally, the most treasured childhood memory I still carry with me, was reading the Prisoner of Azkaban while I was out shopping with my mother, and spotting a big black dog on the street.

Harry Potter has been a huge part of my life, and it has shaped not only me but most people my age, to the people they are today. It has taught us acceptance, love, friendship, it has given us courage and enlightened us from a very young age in social issues like discrimination, prejudice, financial and social inequalities, the dangers of a totalitarian government, of greed, hatred, stereotypes and social indifference.

There are studies that show how Harry Potter fans are less likely to vote for Trump in the US presidential election and Pride signs referring to Dumbledore’s sexuality. The Harry Potter series has resulted to social change. In fact, it could have the potential to result to it on a much bigger degree.

Having been an active member of the Harry Potter fandom for the two thirds of my life, I have come to the conclusion that such inordinate success in Harry Potter’s receptivity and impact has two sides: the incredibly talented author, J.K. Rowling, and the fandom itself. People usually tend to diminish the power – both creative and critiquing – of the fans, by laughing at fanfiction or demeaning their needs and demands. What the – extremely diverse – Harry Potter fandom has done, actually, is remarkable.

Not only have people given life to, and extended the universe with all kinds of insightful essays, articles, researches and criticisms, but they have also appropriated parts that are important for different identities and social situations through headcanons, discussions, meta, fanart and fanfiction– of incredibly high quality at times, with remarkable writing I would pay to buy in print – resulting in an even more diverse universe that represents our extremely complex muggle society, its problems we have to face every day, the social and cultural exchanges within it, and issues that found a wonderful, allegoric way to be discussed.

That’s not to undermine J.K. Rowling’s world-changing impact in our growing up, by creating from scratch all those amazing characters and coming up with such spectacular universes, tropes and plots. No one could do that. But somewhere during the process, extremely loyal fans who have actively contributed to making Harry Potter so amazing, have felt betrayed, and I do believe that we have the right to express these feelings, especially when it comes to a series that had so big a potential to change the world and the people in it.

The fandom is not doing trivial job when depicting Harry and Hermione as non-white, to an extent that it’s taken by now as a thing that’s almost canon in most fans’ minds. I’ve seen dozens of Tumblr posts explaining why this is so important for fans who grew up without any other kind of representation whatsoever, how life-changing and empowering this has been for them. And seriously, it makes much more sense that way. It’s realistic.

Our diverse societies consist of people of all skin colors, genders, sexualities and religions. Having an all-white, cis/heteronormative magical universe, while diverse in terms of blood status and creature species, is not realistic in itself.

In fact, especially considering that new, exciting additions still occur in the Harry Potter story, what with the Pottermore material updates, the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trilogy, the revelations about the characters’ backstory on J.K. Rowling’s Twitter, and the Cursed Child play, there is a feeling that Harry Potter’s author has left way too many chances of important, realistic representation of diverse identities go amiss.

Rowling is still putting much work in additional content that has the purpose of expanding the magical universe, without investing nearly enough effort in trying to represent a current complex world she seemingly always used to allude to, and failing to include the experiences of a diverse fandom.

The explicit references to people of color are very few, yet the cast of Fantastic Beasts would be, once again, all-white, if it weren’t for the black woman casted as head of the American ministry of magic, as a result of the complaints within the fandom, and the insight given on History of Magic is North America, in the movie’s promo backstory, is particularly problematic when it comes to the representation of Native Americans. The biggest problem is that, even when there is actual representation, it usually is off-screen, leading many fans to perceive it as tokenism.

Such is the case of the revelation of the existence of one minor Jewish character within the entire series, and the promises for more in Fantastic Beasts, or even of gay Dumbledore, and the way his sexuality was announced after the whole series was over.

Rowling announcing that Dumbledore was gay in 2007 at Carnegie Hall was something the importance of which, and ten years ago, should not be undermined. Many will argue that the author of Harry Potter has done many supportive things for LGBT+ people, such as defending Dumbledore’s sexuality and gay people on Twitter and responding appropriately to complaints made by Westboro Baptist Church about the same thing.

However, a 2007 interview, shows that Rowling’s way to adaptation of LGBT+ issues in the Harry Potter series is trodden with ambiguities: she stated that being gay isn’t a major issue in the wizarding world, compared to other prejudices and forms of discrimination, such as blood status, while at the same time she presents dozens of relationships in Harry Potter and all of them are straight.

There are so many different complex characters, but all of them in heterosexual relationships. There is at least one man who loves muggles, Arthur Weasley, but not even one man – stated explicitly, apart from Dumbledore – who loves other men. There are werewolves, vampires, centaurs and banshees, but not one trans person, or even a gender-non-conforming person, aside from Tonks, who ended up being called by a more feminized ‘Dora’ by Remus after they married.

Other than that, Rowling received backlash for presumably confirming that Sirius Black is not gay and, even after denying doing so stating that there are “no news” regarding his sexuality, and she also answered, to a question about Charlie Weasley’s sexuality, that he’s just more interested in dragons than women.

All that, added to the announcement about Dumbledore – to whom not many teenage kids can relate and who, let’s be honest, while having been in a relationship with a super evil wizard, Gridelwald, and being the only representation, is not the best representation we can have – shows that, it’s not that Rowling is homophobic or has shown she’s got an issue with LGBT+ people, but she simply hasn’t felt the need to grasp on the chances that have been given her to easily and harmlessly represent them.

So here’s what seems to place all this responsibility on Harry Potter and the types of representation in the magical universe: what has always made the series so special, ever since the publish of the first book, was the inimitable opportunity it gave young readers to escape from a millennial world full of inequalities, expectations, anxiety and pessimism, in a world where they could be someone else from the person they were assigned to be, where they could apparate, turn their bully into a weasel and transform into an animal at will, find a place within the magic even if they were the outcasts or the weirdos.

Having these attributes, the Harry Potter series, for many, didn’t meet up to the expectations of kids being othered for their race, sexuality and gender. The amount of “slash” fanfiction, or even the amount of fanfiction with canon characters headcanoned as trans, shows how intense this need was among millennials, and how it eventually did not get catered for.

Speaking of fanfiction, one thing that was quite overwhelming for Harry Potter fans reading or watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was that they could actually identify several fanfiction tropes in the plot, writing, and character development, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We are hungry for fanfiction references and tropes in pop culture – let’s remember the Moriarty-Sherlock kiss – and The Cursed Child managed to weirdly balance some characteristics that catered to that impression, and were downright different from what Harry Potter fans have been used to.

This article sums up the points perfectly well: Delphi’s character with the cool hair and the whole Voldemort’s daughter thing going on for her, appearing out of the blue, the language in which the characters spoke, Hermione and Ron’s romantic time-crossing backstory, the undead Zombie-Robot-Killer-Guard Trolley Witch and, of course, the ever so discussed romance between Harry and Draco’s sons, Albus and Scorpius. Because, let’s face it, it was a romance, and even if that’s not confirmed in canon, it had all the elements that romances written in the Harry Potter universe do, with a similar – if not more realistic and intriguing – background build up.

Albus and Scorpius have been one of the strongest ships in the fandom already after their brief appearance – and zero interaction – in the last chapter of The Deathly Hallows. Imagine the fans’ excitement when the two characters’ deep, complex relationship, started being unraveled before them as they turned the pages, in ways that left little space for doubt when it came to the nature of the feelings the boys shared. Even I, who never experienced any particular interest for the next generation fics, was absolutely thrilled when I saw where it was going… or, as it turned out was going to go, but lost its way somewhere in the last few pages.

Because you see, the thing is that Albus and Scorpius’ relationship was one of devotion, teenage jealousy when it came to one of them showing interest in a girl, and an awkward, hardly believable twist in the end, that left a bitter “no-homo” taste when Scorpius’ attention turned to Rose Weasley – who spent the entire book practically hating him and doing her best to let it show – that felt forced and definitely not quite right. Albus and Scorpius are left devastated when McGonagall separates them, Scorpius feels odd when Albus spends time with Delphi, and romantic vibes are scattered literally everywhere in the subtext, leading even to Albus being the material for Scorpius’ patronus against dementors to be produced.

With all this hope building up while we read the book – feeling that this was certain, it was heading there, queer young Harry Potter fans would finally be represented in the way they deserved – we actually found ourselves in a state of low-key shock when we realized that this was, for once again, not the case. Apparently it was too much for two young boys sharing a relationship with all the elements of a romantic one to be anything more than friends. This denial gave off the same old feeling: that even for people who seemingly support LGBT+ rights, a queer relationship between two boys is not deemed as natural enough, inoffensive enough, secure enough to be put in mainstream teenage –yet dark and mature enough –  literature (or in West End). Yet, for people who are hungry for the representation they can’t easily get, this was significant. It was not just another story which “happened” to have straight characters. It was a reaffirmation that they’re not accepted therefore they should not demand to be visible.

Jack Chellman, Writer and Student at the University of Virginia, writes in his moving and respectful letter to J.K. Rowling: “You wrote a gay romance. You pulled us along by the power of that romance. And then you told us it was unacceptable. The more-than-friendly magnetism between the boys felt real. The strictly straight conversation at the end felt false, contrived. But the script sides with the straight, and in doing so it tells us that there’s a way things are done in this world. That whether you buy into it or not, heterosexuality is what’s normal and natural and inevitable.”

What is described here is called queerbaiting, and it is thought to be a disease that affects most mainstream media, books and stories that young people love and lay their expectations upon. Queerbaiting is the writing trope that gets fans hooked by “baiting” them (aka generously handing out to them all the queer romance/or just the overall queer identity elements they’ve been craving for – always in the subtext) but never actually confirming the existence of such feelings in canon, usually twisting the plot somewhere towards the climax or the end of the series, to have the main characters settling down for love interests of a different gender.

Another occasion that has felt as queerbaiting – or queer erasure in general – is that of Remus, Sirius and Tonks’. Even academically speaking, werewolves are often compared to gay men because of the marginalization parallels, and lycanthropy is often alluded to as a metaphor for the HIV/AIDS virus and the social stigma that surrounds it, an allusion that Rowling herself has confirmed to be true in the case of Remus Lupin. Remus and Sirius’ queerness are ideas strongly applauded by the fans and, even though the subtext supporting their relationship may not be as strong as that supporting Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy’s, it’s still strong enough to make the ‘Wolfstar’ ship one of the most popular in the fandom, rendering it the perfect opportunity for Rowling to give us some representation even if that wasn’t her initial plan – which, spoiler alert, she eventually didn’t.

When (my absolute favorite) Nymphadora Tonks appeared in The Order of the Phoenix – and, to be fair, many a fanfiction appeared shipping her with Lupin even before their relationship was confirmed in The Half Blood Prince – many fans felt threatened by her, led to even misogynistic comments. However I see this case as somewhat different. Remus and Tonks’ relationship doesn’t have to invalidate the presumed queerness of either. Instead, this was actually some excellent opportunity for some bisexual representation, when it came to Lupin, something that of course is not likely to be confirmed as canon anytime soon, since Rowling has already stated in Pottermore in 2013 that Remus had never been in love with anybody before Tonks.

What’s more, Tonks’ character has a number of elements that allude to a stereotypically queer-read young character – from the shifting appearance and colourful hair, to her stereotypically un-feminine attitude and choice to be called by her gender-neutral surname. In fact, Tonks – as well as, according to many fans, hers and Remus’ son, Teddy – are often depicted as not identifying with a binary gender identity. Instead of that being played out though, before and during Tonks’ relationship with Lupin, we see her suddenly being called “Dora” after they marry, as well as being expected to stay back at home – brief reminder that Tonks is a powerful auror in the Wizarding World – with her kid, while the Last Battle is taking place.

The aim of this entire discourse is not to blame the Harry Potter series, since the criticism is being made by extremely loyal fans who reached the point of feeling personally affected and disappointed by staying in the dark, twenty years after the birth of the story, with effort constantly being put in the updates, through Pottermore, The Cursed Child, the Fantastic Beasts sequels and, of course, Rowling’s personal active social media. The issue here is not to demand something extreme, like every single character to be queer. On the contrary, it is actually asking for something to see realistic, in a series where the existence of some very real people is simply erased. It’s not the specific case of Scorpius and Albus, of Dumbledore or Sirius; it’s not just about Remus’ potential bisexuality and the possibilities that open for the fluidity of Tonks’ gender.

It’s the general bitter aftertaste this all leaves. It’s a series of crushed hopes and expectations from something that we held dear to our hearts while growing up. It’s all these put together, all the possibilities that could have effortlessly served as amazing, well-rounded forms of representation to questioning, closeted and anxious kids all over the world. As it is stated in this Vox article, all stories, sequels, remakes and behind-the-scenes information on Harry Potter, are keeping the protagonists strictly at European-centric, white, cis, straight standards, in a world that is changing and presenting all kinds of social issues that should not allow for its representors to be limited to that.

All these concerns are still phrased with love, and for specific reasons: towards the very story that taught us to question Umbridge’s authority and translate that to a wider skepticism towards any kind of oppression, especially towards marginalized social groups, while still being ten years old. Towards the story that taught us to hope instead of giving up, even when the world seemed at its most hostile around us.

Why ‘Ask for Angela’ Is An Important Campaign Against Harassment

We live in a frustrating age, and I’m not saying this in the sense that my grandmother would, or at least I hope I’m not.

We meet the people we date with online and, in my opinion, this is simply extraordinary. I’m not big on dating apps myself, in fact in the short period I tried Tinder I got easily bored and dropped it, but I do understand how helpful this might be for some people, how overly simplifying it must be for most processes.

I do understand, cause going out to meet people is definitely not the easiest thing for me either. My best friend met her girlfriend through Tinder and I just keep getting amazed by all these new opportunities.

We live in a frustrating age, with all that simplification, all these sources and different means to get stuff done, from working online and having the chance to get your voice heard in a blog-style journalism written “bottom-top”, to meeting your partner so easily and start a web mini-series. But at the same time, this age is so frustrating especially because it keeps getting more and more horrifying.

I can see no linear progress here, not of the kind that is relevant and necessary to our times. In a Europe and America with ever-growing sexism and racism, respect for human rights seems to gradually grow sicker, instead of finding the good soil to root and grow.

Women keep living in a constant fear of abuse, in societies that want to be called modern but are, in reality, soaked in rape culture. Being a woman or a gender non-conforming person can be extremely dangerous in our days. My best friend studying in London keeps telling me how unsafe she feels returning home alone at night because of people following her and shouting things at her. In Athens, where I live, we keep hearing devastating news about rape and assault against women and LGBT+ person. A lady I know had some guy flash his dick at her at 8pm outside her house at the centre of the city.

I know men who get angry if I talk about rape culture too often, because they immediately take it as a personal insult. This is all fucking terrifying and, especially with Trump’s election in the US, societies can no longer afford to ignore the dangers certain groups of people face every day.

Solidarity with each other is vital. When you see another person alone in potential danger, being followed, catcalled, harassed, or made uncomfortable by another person, first of all measure whether it’s safe for you to step forward. Is it one person or more harassing another one? Are you outnumbered? Is it a crowded place, or somewhere you can ask for help if needed? In any case, it might be really helpful if you go up to a girl and act like you know them, or call them from the opposite pavement, so that you show they have company.

Thankfully, there are some bigger initiatives to protect women and people facing potential danger of harassment when dating or simply hanging out. Lincolnshire Country Council have a new campaign for awareness against sexual violence.

The #NoMore campaign aims to fight back the harassment that people may experience in public social situations. What they do, is encourage anyone who feels unsafe and uncomfortable when they are alone on a night out, to go up to the bar and Ask for Angela.


It might be a Tinder date going against the plan, a person you just met making you feel uncomfortable or a stranger not leaving you alone. The purpose is to spread the word so that the code can be recognized by the staff of the bar, so that they can call a taxi or help discreetly, in some other way.

User @iizzzzzi shared a picture of a poster that was hung in a restroom, letting people know about “Ask for Angela”, in order to make it viral, while also spreading awareness for harassment issues. The poster reads:

Are you on a date that isn’t working out? Is your Tinder or POF [Plenty of Fish] date not who they said they were on their profile? Do you feel like you’re not in a safe situation? Does it all feel a bit weird? If you go to the bar and ask for ‘Angela,’ the bar staff will know you need help getting out of your situation and will call you a taxi or help you out discreetly—without too much fuss.”

The Lincolnshire County Council’s strategy co-ordinator for substance misuse and sexual violence and abuse, Hayley Child, told the Independent:

The ‘Ask for Angela’ posters are part of our wider #NoMore campaign which aims to promote a culture change in relation to sexual violence and abuse, promote services in Lincolnshire and empower victims to make a decision on whether to report incidents.”

How Leonard Cohen Helped Me Discover Myself And My Identity

Very often I have feared of losing an icon, a role model that seemed to make this utterly nonsensical world keep finding meaning in its turning. In high school I felt honestly threatened by the realization that Ringo and Paul, the remaining Beatles, were actually growing old, and I simply deny thinking about my queens, Maggie Smith and Julie Andrews, being anything but immortal.

I guess that’s what loss and the fear of it do to you, after all, and it is the reason so many poems and songs and prayers have been written in its name, but I’m probably gonna need many years of therapy to start sucking a bit less when it comes to loss, because I absolutely do: I suck.

I deny, I fear with almost every step I take, I have nightmares every other night, I’m horrible. Putting this all into words is way too much for me, and I really need to be over and done with this.

Yet, even though I always felt such close connections to my icons and role models to the point of staying at home faking sick from school because I read Lennon and McCartney’s fighting letters, it always seemed a bit off to me to talk about personal losses when these people who passed away actually had close friends and family to mourn for them and ache intolerably. I had never talked to them, known what they’d smelt like in the morning, whispered a drunken secret in their ears or shared a sleepy coffee with.

Or had I?

When you spend the biggest part of your life so afraid and so sad because you’re so afraid, when the first panicked fits you remember having were because you realize that your dad is a few years older than other dads, which, in your four year old mind means that you might lose him sooner, you need someone to verbalize all the fear that you’re afraid of phrasing for you, in your place. You don’t necessarily need someone to be wise. Sometimes all you need when you’re ten, is someone to say

I’m afraid. I’m sad. I’m lost. I’m a grown man, and yet I fuck up all the time, and I see beauty. And I’m terrified of losing it and so sad that I can make you sad for things you aren’t even close to grasping yet. And, in the end of the day, look here kid, you can turn it all into poetry, without even trying.”

Which, of course, it doesn’t work this way. It took Leonard Cohen five years to write Hallelujah, which I first heard when I was really tiny, in Jeff Buckley’s voice, at Shrek, and then sent creepy love letters to every actor or singer who covered it, thinking I was madly in love with them with their angelic voices when, really, I was unbearably enamored with a song that had a specific effect that no other had ever had: to assure a selfish angsty youth that it was written for me, to capture my thoughts and mine only. I thought that no one else in the world shared with me the religious experience of Hallelujah.

I thought that no one would ever – or had ever done – experience love to the depth that I would. And then I connected the dots: realized that the stunning Suzanne cover by the Greek Flery Ntantonaki, a singer for Manos Hadjidakis songs that my dad always played for me in the car, was originally written and sung by Cohen.

I bought his poetry book. Listened to all his songs from morning till night. Kept notes. Wrote fanpoems. Absolutely sucked at it. Still felt important only by touching his lyrics pasted on the Word Doc. I was there, the high school kid that had rejected poetry and Cavafy just because they were taught at school, was actually gonna become a poet writing fanpoems for Leonard Cohen who wrote fanpoems for Cavafy’s The God Abandons Anthony. Adolescence sometimes makes you selfish, as a coping mechanism for learning how to demand what is not freely given, as a reflex to learning, right after childhood, that the world doesn’t revolve around you. It makes you insistent in being special, chosen, while the world tells you that your voice doesn’t really matter, that others will eventually decide for you, without you, that being different is problematic, that you should conform.

David Remnick’s interview with an 82 year old Leonard Cohen was published in the New Yorker less than a month ago, focusing on the darker aspects of Cohen’s last album-to-be, You Want It Darker, an album “obsessed with mortality”, yet giving a vibe of decided, peaceful readiness for its idea. We can all count in this article for being reduced into tears.

It illustrates Cohen’s life quite masterfully, making you feel like you did know him after all, as if he’s not gone, like it is a potential thing that may happen, that he’ll invite you at his home in Hydra to treat you olives, sandwiches and scotch.

He was a Jew from Montreal who got a grant of three thousand dollars from the Canada Council for the Arts in 1960, and lived by it as he worked on his poetry. Already before he became famous, he specified the kind of audience that he wanted in a letter to his publisher: he wanted to grasp the attention of “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.”

He happened to find what he was looking for in Greece, and more specifically in the island of Hydra, where he met Marianne Ihlen, that was said to be his muse, his antique figure, and kept a warm, meaningful love affair with him for long. His song “So long, Marianne” was for her. She died of cancer earlier in 2016, and he wrote to her that he would soon meet her.

Sometimes I feel that, being Greek, I am deprived of seeing Greece the way Cohen seemed to see it, to of grasping that essence of the primitive, almost mystical effect that helped him work on his mind, concentrate and aim to discover by fasting or taking drugs. He said:

I took trip after trip, sitting on my terrace in Greece, waiting to see God. Generally, I ended up with a bad hangover.”

But how did it eventually make sense to me that Cohen’s passing away was a personal loss? As personal as it has been for thousands and thousands of people.

As personal as Trump’s election and the ridiculous, the absurd irony of having to deal with all that, that our LGBT, POC, Muslim, Jewish, women siblings in America have to stay sane at this joke that history is playing, nostalgic youths that have grown up with all the terror underlying the happiness and the innocence of childhood, or the illusion of progress and ostensible equality, the youths that have grown up with the shudder and the flinch and the knot in the stomach that comes with the divinity of songs like Democracy and videos like the one of Dance me to the End of Love, with all its history and connotations.

That’s why even – especially – from the very privileged position of a white person living in Europe (with the ambiguity of that part of Europe being Greece), every fatal, racist or phobic attack of institutions and enforcement on innocent youths on the other side of the world hits me so fucking personally, even though I shouldn’t have the right to feel this way because I am so privileged, or maybe I should, even more, because I am so privileged.

But how different is that to the effects of ever growing rape culture in my city, how different is that to the horrifying news of trans youth committing suicide after Trump’s election, when the people I love the most in the world is trans, and I’m in the process of questioning my gender? What does old dear late – presumably – straight, male Leonard Cohen have to do with all this? Damned if even I know why I’m making connections where there shouldn’t be, damned me if I even knew where this was going when it started. I only know I’m desperate.

He was hope in his utter hopelessness. He was religion of the most material kind, he spoke of the flesh with such reverence, that I absurdly ended up feeling like it was irrelevant in all its warmth, in all its neediness. If you asked me at seventeen, when I first started questioning my prayers, drifting away from the mechanical understanding of religion that my family had endowed me with, I realize now that I should tell you I kind of saw him like a God, at that moment.

A flawed, broken, mortal prophet that I somehow deemed immortal just because he taught me poetry. And death is shite, and resurrection is shite, so I didn’t want my God to be all that human after all, did I? I think it hit me all that bad because I now realized how desperately I believed in him to say a big fuck you to all that.

That’s too far away from the way he probably viewed his life, how can I know? I’m intensely laughable right now, and pretentious, that I am aware of. But maybe I’m rambling because I need to put into words things I have no proof of. Isn’t religion like that, after all? You just believe things without asking for material proof. So Cohen hadn’t ever stood up, as far as my research let me know, at least, to raise bisexual visibility, or verbally support trans rights, but I just firmly believe that we could count on him for that.

In one interview, asked whether he’d ever had a gay relationship with a man, he replied:

No, not personally. I mean, I think [everybody] appreciates the sense of attraction between [the] sexes and I suppose I’ve been open to my [feelings for] both men and women, so it’s completely [natural for] me to have deep relationships with men. It [doesn’t] take much of a leap of the imagination to [project] deepness into physical terms. But I’ve never [been] deeply sexually attracted to a man. There [have been] moments, but not deeply. I think my deepest [sexual] emotions were towards women.”

In another interview, he replies that he doesn’t regret never having had a relationship with a man,

I have had intimate relationships with men all my life and I still do have. I’ve seen men as beautiful, I’ve felt sexual stirrings towards men so I don’t think I’ve missed out. Maybe I have, maybe it’s time to look into it. Maybe not, maybe I’ve left it too late. Maybe I’ll not be able to get anybody.”

Leonard was successful with women and probably heterosexual. Why is he still a revolutionary icon to my eyes, though? Why did “Take me to church” stir something so deep in me, mostly because I could see it as a child of “Hallelujah”? As a queer kid instead of looking into his personal life, I like to think about his lyrics, even his less explicit, and how they helped me through my journey of self-discovery, experimentation and acceptance.

It was the art of making love a universal thing in ways that other songs and poems didn’t. You don’t necessarily imagine of a conventional kind of coupling even when he explicitly talks about the mating of women and men. Somehow he makes it greater than that, he transcends embodiment even when you talk about the dew on your thighs, he transcends roles even when he gives Alexandra a female name and pictures her sleeping upon your satin and slipping away with a kiss. It’s about the following lyrics: Do not say the moment was imagined/Do not stoop to strategies like this.

It’s not about cliché women becoming symbols. It’s about feelings and states and wanderlust occasionally acquiring gender – or not. Everything is important and yet it isn’t and yet it is, when in Democracy he speaks so specifically about “the fires of the homeless and the ashes of the gay”, and “the wells of disappointment where the women kneel to pray” and he looks for God in irony, yet when he talks about holding on to people as if they’re crucifixes, then it seems to me that he refers to embodied divinity and achieving the beauty of frailty, instead of depositing religion off its high bedroom wall and resting it condescendingly upon a humbly made human bed.

It was the love for love, the stoic, almost systematic, energetic meditation of letting it destroy you. It was the veneration found in the sarcasm, the informed passivity, the peaceful, even questionable resistance. It was a bohemian boy who bought a blue Burberry raincoat with his first money. It doesn’t make sense, and it does. He has been liberating, in the way that growing intimate with my sexuality, with my gender and with other, intimidating parts of my personality have been. He wasn’t explicitly there all along but he was. He might have been a clumsy fighter, I don’t know. Sometimes it seemed to me like he had given up. Puppet night comes out to say the epilogue to puppet day.[1]

Maybe he kind of taught me how I need to fight, though, like all these losses were personal. Like we’re already honest words as we are, that no one needs to fuckin sacrifice themselves for people’s foolishness and blindness to turn into poetry. That dark times are shit, dark times create dark art.

Spare us the dark art. Loving is dark anyway and they say it’s no victory march. We can’t have more dark times. Make it make sense. Be there for each other, thank people for the beauty they give you. Question, live authentically, be cynical, take your time with scrapbooks and moss and dead magazines and lilies and sweating moons, and romanticize the fuck out of wooden kitchen or Van Gogh bedroom chairs.

But be there for each other, now more than ever. Stop romanticizing walking in dark rooms alone. All the rest, you can romanticize. Now more than ever, talk loss and love and friendship in terms the mutuality of which you’re always surprised by. Share things you thought were made for you.

The chorus of the opening track “You Want It Darker” on Cohen’s new record, says Hineni Hineni, Abraham’s answer to God which means “I’m ready my Lord.”

In Remnick’s New Yorker interview, he says:

I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not. It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like: ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to coperate enthusiastically with the process.’ Force yourself to have a sandwich. […] “You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really.”

This is for you that kind of got closer to yourself through this by putting yourself in the center, for all of you that were the only person “Hallelujah” was written for when you discovered it.

And now the wars can start anew
The torture and the laughter
We cry aloud as humans do
Before the truth and after

The Great Divide

[1] Puppets, The book of longing.