Showing posts with label Gay Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Life. Show all posts

November 11, 2017

Sam Smith Cried







(By 
 This is a mostly complete inventory of the times that sweet, sad Sam Smith cried over the course of two hours on a couch here at the Chateau Marmont hotel on a recent Friday morning: He cried when he talked about the house he grew up in; when he reminisced about a crush who turned on him; when he talked about his first voice teacher. He cried when he talked about writing “Pray,” a song from his new album, “The Thrill of It All.” He cried when he talked about the children he met in Mosul, Iraq, on a recent humanitarian mission, and then he looked down at the sparrow tattoo he got on his arm when he returned home, with “Be good, be kind” written in Arabic beneath it, and he cried again. He cried talking about how much he cried when he watched the movie “Inside Out.” And he cried when he talked about love. When he talked about love, he leaned back on the couch with his limbs splayed and looked upward as if he died momentarily just considering a concept so big.

Yes, the floodgates really opened once Mr. Smith began to talk about love — big, delicious tears that coated and magnified his sad, glorious blue eyeballs but never quite leaked out onto his cheeks. He’s fine with his crying, what choice does he have? His father used to cry at a sunset, or after an argument. He encouraged his son to be emotionally expressive. It worked. The superhighway that runs between Mr. Smith’s amygdala and his tear ducts is deep and well worn. He’s been in love, he said, but it was unrequited. Meaning he’s never been loved back. He was crying again.

It’s been more than three years since his first studio album, “In the Lonely Hour,” flung the planet’s brokenhearted face down upon their beds anew with its wet-pillowed, dark-soul despondence. It’s been that long since his lovely, million-faceted voice called out to the bereft, the forsaken and the rejected and announced itself as this generation’s avatar of romantic despair. It’s been almost that long since he became a real, live pop star: a four-time Grammy winner with five Top 10 singles, an Oscar winner all with one measly LP, less than an hour’s worth of music, to his name. And — when Mr. Smith tells me this, his eyes dampen again — it’s been just about that long since it seemed like there was anything he could do right.

He had been trying. Lord knows he’d been trying. He wanted to be open with the world; he wanted to share his truest self. He wanted to be known. His only goal with his music is to get closer and closer to who he really is, even though that’s sometimes hard when you’re in your young 20s. He’s 25 now. He is trying to bare his soul. But a 25-year-old soul can be a volatile thing. He doesn’t always know how to articulate what he thinks. He doesn’t always realize the implications of what he says. It feels to him like every time he opens his mouth, he gets tased. The soul can be sloppy is his point. The soul can be under construction. Please pardon his soul’s dust during renovations and maturing and figuring things out. This is new to him too.






In 2014, Mr. Smith did something revolutionary. He came out publicly as gay just as soon as his album was released. He was not going to leave the question of his sexuality to guesswork or rumor. He thought this was very enlightened, a gay pop singer just integrated into stardom without the waves and the hand-wringing and the controversy. The handful of out gay pop stars before him — including his idol, George Michael — mostly endured lengthy “are they or aren’t they?” periods before they publicly acknowledged that they were gay. Banking on pop stardom as your whole and complete admitted self wasn’t something that happened every day. “IN THE LONELY HOUR” was a little more than a half-hour crying jag about longing for a man — a straight, married one he was in love with whom he never so much as kissed. Nearly every song was about this: “Stay With Me,” the sad song about wanting a man to stay even when it’s clear he’s not in love; “Good Thing,” the sad song about deciding that he’s stayed too long waiting around — that one begins with a vision of him getting mugged outside the man’s door and dying in his arms like Éponine. And, on the deluxe edition of the album, a cover of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?” which was not a sad song until he sang it.

He told Rolling Stone that he “had to be careful” so that straight people could sing along with his music, too. “I am not Sam Smith, the gay singer,” he said at the time. “I am Sam Smith, the singer who happens to be gay.” He gave an interview where he talked about Grindr and Tinder, the hookup apps, and how sad it was that all the possibility behind love and serendipity came down to a swiping culture, and saying this offended some in the gay community too. He accepted the Oscar for best original song for “Writing’s on the Wall,” from “Spectre,” the James Bond movie, referring to an article he’d read in which Ian McKellen had “said that no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar. If this is the case — even if it isn’t the case — I want to dedicate this to the L.G.B.T. community all around the world.”

Well, he woke up the morning after the Oscars to an assassination’s worth of ridicule, including from an openly gay man who had won an Oscar. The Verge called Mr. Smith’s statement “vague” and “inaccurate,” saying, “If you’re going to stump for a cause on stage, you need to come correct.” Gawker, in an essay about Mr. Smith’s “gay conservatism,” wrote, “His philosophy is, in short, to be gay, but not too gay.” Sure, he quickly realized, the Oscar thing was wrong — he’d meant to say that there’d never been an openly gay lead actor winner — but the other stuff: why was it taken so badly? So what if he didn’t like hookup apps? Why was that surprising? Hadn’t people seen him, dressed like a 1950s lounge act, complete with a pompadour? Hadn’t they heard his retro soul? What exactly about him seemed modern? So what that he wanted his music to be a universal experience? He never said he was the spokesman for gay people.

The vitriol of the Oscar incident surprised him. His heart was clearly in the right place. He was a proud gay man. How could that not mean anything? “I’m not the most eloquent person,” Mr. Smith says now. “I didn’t get the best grades in school. I mean, I’m just good at singing.”
It felt like he was getting hammered every time he opened his mouth. All he wanted was to remind people that love is love is love, particularly his brand of young adult love: heart-eye emoji love, cupid-arrow love, the love from “The Notebook” and “Titanic.” That’s how big love is. Once again, on his favorite subject, he pretend-faints on the couch in swoon and desire. He clutches his heart and makes his eyebrows almost touching a near-steeple of longing. This was the thing we all had in common. Why talk about the things that make us different?

YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND what it was like for him. Mr. Smith was raised in Great Chishill, a village an hour and a half from London with a population of less than 700. He wore a full face of makeup to school — to Catholic school — and fake eyelashes, too, and elaborate arrangements of flowers pinned to his lapel, along with the occasional all-over sprinkling of glitter. Some kids were mean to him about his sexuality, but it was the making fun of his weight that bothered him. His sexuality was not a negotiation; his weight was.

He grew up with two younger sisters in a pink house; there’s a tattoo of its address around the C6 vertebra of his cervical spine. His bedroom walls were painted a shiny gold and his bed had a red silk duvet. He applied cheap, clumpy mascara each morning and on the gold wall next to his mirror, he dabbed his mascara wand to rid it of excess. One day, in detention, someone told him about dream boards, and so he spent the hour making one to put up on his bedroom wall. There was a sketch of a Grammy there. He drew the back of his head performing to an arena.

He came out when he was 10. Literally someone at school said, “Are you gay?” and he said, “I am!” His mother said she’d known since he was 3. He’d always had very short hair, but when he was young, he used to make the gesture of pushing strands behind his ears, like it was long, or flicking imaginary hair off his shoulder. In the car, when the windows were open, he would pretend he’d gotten a hair stuck to his lips and pick it away.

And it was all totally fine, even when it wasn’t, even when the first boy he had a crush on said nasty, homophobic things to him that still make him cry. But he had a lot of friends. There were no other (openly) gay boys. He fell in love with straight boys. He could barely picture a future when one of them would look back at him with lust or sexual curiosity, let alone love. And still he was happy. He grew comfortable in his longing. People sometimes made fun of him, but so what? He understood who he was. He thought that if you know who you are, and if you’re confident in that and you don’t make a big deal of it, people will accept you.

His parents signed him up for voice lessons when he wouldn’t stop crooning throughout the house. He had a manager from the age of 11, then another, then another, each promising him that he would become very famous very soon. It didn’t happen. He moved to London, where he tended bar. One day, he met Jimmy Napes, who introduced him to his eventual managers, who in turn introduced him to the electronic duo Disclosure, with whom he recorded the vocals for “Latch,” Disclosure’s single — and his breakout — in 2012. 

The rest — the album, the tour — it all happened fast. He woke up the day after the Oscars, saw the chaos online, apologized, and slunk off. Why wasn’t this working? People loved his music, but they were turning on him. He couldn’t bear being thought of as a traitor to his people — he was so open about everything! Sure, he didn’t like Tinder, and it’s mostly true that he didn’t like it because it isn’t romantic, but it is maybe truer that he was afraid he would be swiped away. Believe it or not, he did use Grindr, but he didn’t want random hookups so he arranged dinner dates with several very confused men.

Then, one day, he went to Australia for a show, and afterward had a talk with his publicist there, a gay man who lives with his partner of 18 years. The publicist took Mr. Smith to the Stonewall, a gay bar in Sydney, for a drink one afternoon. He decided to help educate him, taking him to a gay bookshop. “My mind just went,” Mr. Smith said. He read the memoir “Holding the Man,” which blew his mind. He watched “Paris Is Burning.” He still has “Tales of the City” on his night table. Next, the Australians introduced him to drag. They crammed his feet into thigh-high, high-heeled boots. They draped a red sequin dress over his 6’2” body. They had barbecues and played Madonna and danced.
“I lived in a village in the middle of nowhere as an openly gay man from the age of 10 years old,” Mr. Smith said. “I didn’t meet another gay man until I was 19 when I moved to London. I just went gay clubbing a few times with some straight friends and with some girlfriends of mine, and then I became famous. I never got an opportunity to find my people in the gay community and find my friends.”

He decided not to drink or smoke or be with a man, even just kissing, for a long time, while he was figuring all this stuff out. He was trying to understand how he fit into the gay community at large. “I just really sat with myself and got to know myself and started to just like my stretch marks and not be so hard on myself and stop watching perfection everywhere.”

He began seeking out the art that struck him as truest. He stopped watching “Titanic” and “The Notebook.” O.K., he watched “The Notebook” again last week but he also watched “Weekend,” the gay indie film, so it balanced out.

Then he found George Michael. He had always been a fan of his music. He was 15 when he saw him in concert. But now, reading and watching interviews with him in his last years, after Mr. Michael came out, Mr. Smith found him to be a great mentor. “I just feel like I’m going to offend someone every time I open my mouth,” he said. “I feel like George Michael had a way of being authentic to himself and honest in a way that was warm.”

Back at the interview in West Hollywood, he leaned back on the couch, looked up at the ceiling and blew a stream of breath out through pursed lips. “People forget but no one learns about gay history in school. Nothing. So I didn’t know anything about my history as a gay man and then words like ‘spokesperson’ are being thrown at me when I’ve just brought out my first album,” he said. “It scared me because I was like, I don’t know anything about being gay, really.”

He realized two things. One was that he was ready to make a second album. The other thing was that coming out as gay wasn’t enough. He now understood that every visible gay person still had a leadership role. He now understood that he wasn’t operating on his own, but that he lived in context to a community whether he’d realized it or not. No, having come out as a gay singer, he realized it was now time to come out as a gay man. 





THE NEXT AFTERNOON, Saturday, he rode to the Hollywood Bowl, where he was performing at a breast cancer benefit that included Lorde and Kesha and Harry Styles. He was wearing a pastel, airbrushed silk, short-sleeve button-down shirt and olive silk pleated pants. “I can tuck them in now,” he said proudly. “I’m a tucker.”

Since he left the public eye for the studio, which is where he’d been since the end of his last tour, in 2015, he’d lost a ton of weight by doing something called “intermittent fasting,” meaning he waits five hours after eating to eat again (and which is also called not eating between meals). A trainer. A nutritionist. He stopped eating bread. Probably being a man in his 20s helped.

His transformation was sparked by seeing a tabloid picture of himself on the beach without a shirt, and that was not the self he wanted to be. He was also concerned about his health. He gets acid reflux, and it’s bad for his voice. He knows other stars “mime,” as he puts it, but he doesn’t want to. His voice is his whole thing, his whole bag of tricks.

Mr. Smith had also cut off his pompadour, which he called his “quiff,” his short hair now reminiscent of George Michael’s on his 2011 Symphonica tour. His hair was thicker than it’s been recently. After the Oscars, it had started falling out from stress, he thought. He began to use Rogaine and take Propecia, and it worked. Men need to talk about hair loss, he thinks. If “In the Lonely Hour” was the myopic look into the heart of a boy helplessly in love, then the new album, “The Thrill of It All,” is about a man who turns his gaze outward. “Midnight Train” is a sad song about ending a relationship that was inspired by friends; “Palace,” a sad song about whether or not love is worth it if it ends; “HIM,” a sad story of an imagined boy in Mississippi coming out to his father. Some of the tracks are about Mr. Smith himself, including “Burning,” a sad song about pining for a man who has left; and “One Last Song,” a sad final ode to the man who was the subject of “In the Lonely Hour.” The new album won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with the first one: The old-timey soul is still there. Mr. Smith decided long ago that his voice was the instrument: melisma, whispered baritones, surprise out-of-nowhere ultra-high falsetto, even a haunting, beautiful croak of longing sprinkled here and there. It is still prime music for “having sex with your sadness,” as Mr. Smith said.

But he can now recount actual relationships in his songs. He’s still never been in the kind of magical “Notebook” love he longs for, he said, but about a year ago, he had a five-month relationship that took three breakups before the breakup took and which is the subject of “Too Good at Goodbyes,” the first single off the new album, which is in the Billboard Top 10 as of this writing. He’s been dating the actor Brandon Flynn, from Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” seeing where that goes.

Backstage at the Hollywood Bowl, Mr. Smith drank a cup of Throat Coat, and then took a Gaviscon for acid reflux. He sang through a cocktail straw while holding up a tissue to make it move with his breath to strengthen his throat muscles, something he learned from an opera singer. He motor-boated his lips. He was ready for the show.

The next day, the news media would pick up a statement he made about feeling as much like a woman as a man, and social media would get on him for being too casual about gender fluidity when he identifies as a gay man. One day he will get it right, he said, his eyes shiny with big, sad Sam Smith tears.

“The only thing I’d like everyone to know is I’m really sorry if I say the wrong things,” he said. “I don’t want to offend anyone and my intentions are genuinely pure and good. I’m still trying to figure [expletive] out and I’d like to be treated like a human. If I make mistakes don’t kill me.”
Yes, one day. One day when he’s old, he said, he’s going to know what to say. He’s going to be someone who can figure out how to think his words through before he says them. He’ll get older, and as he does, he’s going to stop using his falsetto so much, he said. It’s a sound that can’t age with you, and even on the new album, he’s started to sing more in his regular voice. 

Eventually, he’s going to be like Joni Mitchell and just use the lowest registers. He’s going to come out on stage like Joni on the cover of “Both Sides Now,” with a glass of wine and a cigarette (yes, by then he’ll be drinking and smoking again). He’s looking forward to that, when his voice starts to get breathy and broken like Judy Garland’s when she sings “Over the Rainbow” at Carnegie Hall. Eventually he’ll retire and open up a flower shop in the English countryside, he said. He’ll get really into cooking, he’ll have a pet pig named Kong or maybe Flo, and he’ll live forever happily, surrounded by his husband and children and his closet full of drag. His funeral will call for fancy dress, and the men will have to dress like women and the women will have to dress like men. Drag queens wearing big black hats with veils and high heels will carry his coffin out. Then disco music will play. That’s nice, isn’t it? Yes, it’s nice to think of a time when he’ll know for sure just how to be.



Credit
(A version of this article appears in print on November 2017, on Page AR1 of the New York edition with the headline: Counting The Teardrops Of Sam Smith)





November 7, 2017

A Gay Cruise is 50% yea! and 50% Hell






There are gay bars and parties, queer book clubs and beer busts, and then there are events that make the rest of gay culture look quaint: things like circuit parties and gay cruises, gatherings where thousands assemble to forsake sleep and health for days on end and really let themselves go. 
Often, these kinds of events transcend straight society; on an all-gay cruise, for example, patrons may feel a certain kind of freedom they wouldn't on shore, far from the social mores and pressures of heteronormative culture. It's that kind of freedom—and the more troubling elements of gay culture it reveals, too—that's highlighted by the documentary Dream Boat, which saw its US theatrical release on Friday.
Dream Boat follows five diverse gay men as they embark on a massive, unnamed gay cruise. The men hail from places both progressive (like Philippe, a disabled Frenchman who lost the ability to walk to a meningitis infection in his youth) and not (like Dipankar, a young man from India who speaks heart-wrenchingly about his hopes to find a lover and escape the intolerance of Indian society). 
Over seven days and nights, they attend massive dance parties on deck in painstakingly-curated outfits, get drunk, betray existential angst and depression, find friendship, and have surprisingly little sex. They question the limits and paths of their lives back home and face a number of prescient anxieties in gay culture at large: HIV stigma, body dysmorphia, coming out, discomfort with femininity. It's a film ruled by dissonance: On one hand, the accepting, otherworldly nature of a nearly wholly-gay gathering, and on the other, the kinds of internalized discrimination that gay culture brings.
I spoke with Tristan Ferland Milewski, Dream Boat's director, about what drove him to make a documentary about a gay cruise, the marathon filmmaking process on board the ship, and what larger questions his film brings up about modern gay culture.
VICE: What were you trying to capture, emotionally and narratively, going into the trip?
Milewski: I think it's always interesting to dive into a microcosm like this. It has its own codes and rules, but it always mirrors society at large in a way. I think in a way, a cruise like this represents a universal quest—we all want to live and love as we are. And as you see in the film, it's not so easy sometimes.
As long as the world is how it is, people will still need places where they can be themselves without fear and discrimination, and this is a boat, a place, where they can do that. But then again, of course, there might be new norms and new kinds of discrimination. It's an interesting tension to examine. 
For example, within our community, what do we do about our emphasis on masculinity? How do we treat ourselves as gay men? The question for everybody is, who do we want to be as gay men? So it's a bit about identity also. The film gets at these existential questions of life—and in the end, for all the protagonists, there was also a kind of catharsis. The film has very sad moments, but there's also an empowerment in the end.
What were some of those existential questions and tensions?
The quest for love and freedom, but then of course, the things we take from society and internalize—self-discrimination.
There's the performance of masculinity; I think many gay men have this experience, that their masculinity is questioned through being gay, and maybe you're denied your masculinity in a way you internalize. But of course, gender itself is performance. Which comes up quite nicely in the boat's Ladies' Night [a party on the trip where patrons dress in drag], which is the busiest, most joyful and free night of the trip. 
I thought it was important to show the other side of gay culture, too, to show really deep love. There are two amazing couples in the film that really went through a lot. It was important to show them and not just paint this tragic image of being gay. It's all about raising questions: where are we today, and who do we want to be? What potential do we have to turn gay culture into something empowering and positive? What surprised you during the trip?
I always find it incredible when you have these crazy parties, and you see the sun rising, and you see day and night, time and space melt together. And you can imagine that over seven days and nights of the cruise, going 24 hours a day, there's no sleep. Because you can't coordinate with anybody and say "Okay, let's meet tomorrow at 11." First of all, nobody knows what 11 o'clock is or where anybody is. You had to be constantly connected; we had two camera units and we had to stay connected to the protagonists we were following. It was a big revelation to me about how little sleep you can survive on.
What attracted you to the gay cruise in the first place?I think it's a bit like this family—the dream of a family, with the ups and downs that it has. The first time I'd been on this cruise in particular was the year before, but of course I'd been to that kind of event before. But I think that me, being privileged, coming from a place like Berlin, where you have this vast LGBTQIA world with lots of events, everything, and you can choose and see whatever you like. I think in other places there's not such a variety.
Many of the cruisers travelled far to get to the event, and to have this feeling and connection and freedom. It has a certain magic. But it also has downsides. It's a boat of dreams and a boat of disillusionment. And of course, there's this intensity—you go to your limit in so many ways, and your time there is so limited. There's big expectations, the pressure is high, and it's a completely exceptional situation, you're out of your daily life and only mingling with gay guys. Suddenly, these existential questions come up: where am I in my life now? How free am I in my real life? How are my relationships? How is my life going? And depending on the expectations you bring to the boat, you can fly or you can fall. It's very intense. 

August 26, 2017

The Best and Worse Places to Live Gay in America (Aug.2017)

All my life I’ve loved Texas: those big skies, big steaks and big attitudes. I’m there several times a year.

But Texas doesn’t love me back. Certainly its lawmakers don’t, and lately they’ve been hellbent on showing that.

In June the governor signed a bill allowing child welfare groups to refuse adoptions that contradict their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” They can turn away gay men like me.

That same month, the Texas Supreme Court approved a lawsuit challenging the city of Houston’s provision of equal benefits to all married employees, including those with same-sex spouses. Although the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, Texas bucks and balks.

Not New York. My state loves me something fierce. What it did in June was finalize the design of a monument to L.G.B.T. citizens in downtown Manhattan. New York legalized same-sex marriage back in 2011 without any federal nudge.

There’s no such thing as L.G.B.T. life in America, a country even more divided on this front than on others. There’s L.G.B.T. life in a group of essentially progressive places like New York, Maryland, Oregon and California, which bans government-funded travel to states it deems unduly discriminatory. Then there is L.G.B.T. life on that blacklist, which includes Texas, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota. 

States with Pro-L.G.B.T. Laws
NUMBER OF POSITIVE LAWS
0
52
States with Anti-L.G.B.T. Laws
NUMBER OF NEGATIVE LAWS
0
6
Source: Human Rights Campaign
The differences between states — and between cities within states — are profound, and while that has long been true, it’s much more consequential since the advent of the Trump administration, a decidedly less ready ally of L.G.B.T. people than the Obama administration was.

The federal government under Donald Trump won’t be rushing in to help L.G.B.T. people whose local governments fail to give them equal rights, a sense of belonging or even a feeling of physical safety. Despite Trump’s happy campaign talk about how fond he was of gays (and, Trump being Trump, how fond they were of him), his record as president has been hurtful and hateful. Immediately after his inauguration, references to the L.G.B.T. community were scrubbed from many federal websites, including the White House’s and the Department of State’s.

Plenty of the people he pulled into his cabinet have long histories of pronounced opposition to gay rights. One of them, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, leads a Department of Justice that recently went out of its way to make clear, in court filings, that it did not consider L.G.B.T. people to be protected by a federal civil rights law that prohibits employment discrimination. The Obama administration had taken the opposite view.



states don’t have laws prohibiting establishments from discriminating against L.G.B.T. customers
states don’t have non-discrimination employment laws protecting L.G.B.T.
states don’t have hate crime laws specifically protecting L.G.B.T.
Source: Human Rights Campaign
Without consulting or even alerting the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, Trump announced a reinstatement of the ban on transgender people in the military, and he’s now finishing the orders for how the Department of Defense should enforce it — within six months. His first Supreme Court appointment suggests that if he is able to ensconce several more, the same-sex-marriage ruling could well be revisited and changed.

But worry not! Ivanka Trump has our backs! She has tweeted as much, and I guess we’re supposed to find consolation in those crumbs.

We’re at the mercy of our ZIP codes: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are often affected most by their municipality, not their state. In Waco, Tex., the lone justice of the peace who presides over weddings recently admitted that she won’t do so for same-sex couples no matter the federal law. But Houston, just a three-hour drive away, has in instances been a pioneer: Annise Parker, its mayor from 2010 to 2016, is the only openly L.G.B.T. person ever elected to lead one of the nation’s 10 most populous cities. And Austin, the state’s capital, is practically Key West, Fla. — minus the coconuts.

state’s capital, is practically Key West, Fla. — minus the coconuts.  
In June the governor signed a bill allowing child welfare groups to refuse adoptions that contradict their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” They can turn away gay men like me.
That same month, the Texas Supreme Court approved a lawsuit challenging the city of Houston’s provision of equal benefits to all married employees, including those with same-sex spouses. Although the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, Texas bucks and balks.
Not New York. My state loves me something fierce. What it did in June was finalize the design of a monument to L.G.B.T. citizens in downtown Manhattan. New York legalized same-sex marriage back in 2011 without any federal nudge.
There’s no such thing as L.G.B.T. life in America, a country even more divided on this front than on others. There’s L.G.B.T. life in a group of essentially progressive places like New York, Maryland, Oregon and California, which bans government-funded travel to states it deems unduly discriminatory. Then there is L.G.B.T. life onthat blacklist, which includes Texas, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota. 
The differences between states — and between cities within states — are profound, and while that has long been true, it’s much more consequential since the advent of the Trump administration, a decidedly less ready ally of L.G.B.T. people than the Obama administration was.
The federal government under Donald Trump won’t be rushing in to help L.G.B.T. people whose local governments fail to give them equal rights, a sense of belonging or even a feeling of physical safety. Despite Trump’s happy campaign talk about how fond he was of gays (and, Trump being Trump, how fond they were of him), his record as president has been hurtful and hateful. Immediately after his inauguration, references to the L.G.B.T. community were scrubbed from many federal websites, including the White House’s and the Department of State’s.
Plenty of the people he pulled into his cabinet have long histories of pronounced opposition to gay rights. One of them, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, leads a Department of Justice that recently went out of its way to make clear, in court filings, that it did not consider L.G.B.T. people to be protected by a federal civil rights law that prohibits employment discrimination. The Obama administration had taken the opposite view.
20
29
28
states don’t have laws prohibiting
establishments from discriminating against L.G.B.T. customers
states don’t have non-discrimination employment laws protecting L.G.B.T.
states don’t have hate crime laws specifically protecting L.G.B.T.
Source: Human Rights Campaign
Without consulting or even alerting the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, Trump announced a reinstatement of the ban on transgender people in the military, and he’s now finishing the ordersfor how the Department of Defense should enforce it — within six months. His first Supreme Court appointment suggests that if he is able to ensconce several more, the same-sex-marriage ruling could well be revisited and changed.
But worry not! Ivanka Trump has our backs! She has tweeted as much, and I guess we’re supposed to find consolation in those crumbs.
We’re at the mercy of our ZIP codes: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are often affected most by their municipality, not their state. In Waco, Tex., the lone justice of the peace who presides over weddings recently admitted that she won’t do so for same-sex couples no matter the federal law. But Houston, just a three-hour drive away, has in instances been a pioneer: Annise Parker, its mayor from 2010 to 2016, is the only openly L.G.B.T. person ever elected to lead one of the nation’s 10 most populous cities. And Austin, the state’s capital, is practically Key West, Fla. — minus the coconuts.
Tyler, Tex.
“I came out at 60 ... and I was told I could no longer hold any positions of leadership in my church.”I am—or was—Southern Baptist. After I was invited to share my coming-out story in the public library, patrons complained and the talk was canceled. I stay here because my childreLou Anne Smoot
78, lesbian, retired teacher

Austin, Tex.
“Austin is a little protected bubble: a blue bubble in a red state.”There’s a gay pride parade. There’s a gay pride week. I never had to worry about letting bosses know that I was gay. I’ve been with my current partner for about 11 years. We can kiss on the street corner or in our front yard. 
Charles Castle
  
71, Gay, retired school librarian
Our cities and our states often dictate how easily we can be our true selves at work, buy wedding cakes, construct families — even die. I asked Jon Davidson of Lambda Legal, an L.G.B.T. advocacy group, about current cases that illustrate just how repressive some corners of America remain. He told me about Picayune, Miss., where an 86-year-old gay man passed away last year, leaving behind his 82-year-old husband. They had been together for half a century.

Although prior arrangements had been made with a local funeral home, it refused even to pick up the dead man’s body when it learned of his same-sex marriage, according to a breach-of-contract lawsuit by his husband that hasn’t yet been resolved.

I told Davidson that I thought that such don’t-make-me-touch-it hysteria ended 25 years ago.

“Many parts of the country are 25 years ago,” he responded, drawing special attention to the southeastern quarter, from Texas to South Carolina, which, he said, may well generate more than half of the lawsuits that Lambda becomes involved in.

South Carolina: another state that I love, another state that doesn’t love me back, and the home of Tommy Starling, 45, and his husband, Jeff Littlefield, 61. Starling told me that they live there, in the coastal community of Pawleys Island, because of Littlefield’s job in the insurance business, but they dream constantly of moving somewhere that doesn’t cast them as provocative social experiments, somewhere that doesn’t put and keep them on edge.

They had trouble trying to adopt in South Carolina, so they turned to California and to surrogacy to have their 11-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. Starling said that his family stands out in Pawleys Island in a way that it wouldn’t in Brooklyn — or, for that matter, Atlanta — and disparaging, even menacing, remarks have come his way. To protect his kids from such ugliness, he has created, and works to preserve, a bubble of open-minded people around them.

“But it’s getting exhausting,” he said, adding that the family’s occasional travel sustains him. He recalled a trip not long ago to San Francisco, where his husband reached out to hold his hand in public and he reflexively tensed.

“He had to remind me that it was O.K. there,” Starling told me.

“My fiancé and I get disgusted looks
when we hold hands walking into places.”

Holding hands. Such a small thing — and yet so incredibly big for many gay couples in conservative environments and even for some couples in more liberal areas that can nonetheless seem threatening. That came through poignantly in more than 1,000 responses that The Times received after asking L.G.B.T. readers to share their reflections on the freedoms and limitations of where they live.

“My fiancé and I get disgusted looks
when we hold hands walking into places.”

Holding hands. Such a small thing — and yet so incredibly big for many gay couples in conservative environments and even for some couples in more liberal areas that can nonetheless seem threatening. That came through poignantly in more than 1,000 responses that The Times received after asking L.G.B.T. readers to share their reflections on the freedoms and limitations of where they live.
Laramie, Wyo.
“Wyoming doesn’t have any state laws that protect us from discrimination or hate.”They recently tried to pass a bill letting business owners, on religious grounds, deny service to L.G.B.T. people. It makes me feel very unwelcome. I feel powerless. I feel attacked almost. 
Josiah Masie22, gay, in Laramie, near where Matthew Shepard was fatally beaten in a gay-related hate crime in 1998
Seattle
“I definitely feel as though I can be 100 percent open here.”The comfort is so alien compared to Montana or Wyoming. There hasn’t been a single day that I haven’t seen some variety of pride flag on someone’s car, on their home or in storefront windows. I feel grateful. 
Keleigh Russell23, lesbian, grew up in Wyoming, went to college in Montana 

 .
Keleigh Russell
23, lesbian, grew up in Wyoming, went to college in Montana
Readers were acutely conscious of the absence or presence of employment-related anti-discrimination laws in their cities or states. (Only 22 states have such laws governing all gay and lesbian workers, in both the public and the private sectors, while only 20, including New York, have them for transgender workers as well.) Readers mentioned the vigor, or laxness, with which their local governments patrolled against and prosecuted hate crimes.

And one after another, readers said they wished that a modest public gesture of affection wasn’t a potent magnet for stares, slurs or worse.

From a 45-year-old lesbian in Laingsburg, Mich.: “Sometimes I fantasize about living in parts of N.Y.C. or Provincetown, where I would be able to feel comfortable walking down the street holding hands with my wife, but our roots are here.” From a 34-year-old lesbian in Lubbock, Tex.: “My fiancé and I get disgusted looks when we hold hands walking into places.”

I mentioned Brooklyn earlier when I was talking about climes unlike Pawleys Island because Dennis Williams, an executive with HBO who lives in the borough’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, was on my mind. He, too, is a gay dad, although unmarried. At 44, he’s just a year younger than Starling. But his experience is worlds apart.

Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I get the, ‘Oh, there’s no mom?’ But then it’s like they’re proud of me.”I can’t think of a single instance when anyone has been weird or I’ve had to confront any kind of homophobia. I don’t know that I could find this level of reinforced diversity outside of where I am now. 
Dennis Williams44, unmarried gay father of a 3-year-old
Pawleys Island, S.C.
“Somebody said that our kids should be taken away from us and we should be hanged.”If it wasn’t for my husband’s job, we wouldn’t be here. We’re constantly under a microscope, two dads raising kids. We were featured in a local publication and some comments were really nasty. 
Tommy Starling45, married gay father of two children, ages 4 and 11 and about with his 3-year-old son, Elan, he’s pretty sure it’s because he’s a black man and there has been so much discussion about black children growing up with absent fathers. Acquaintances who learn or know that he’s gay don’t register any surprise or signal any disapproval.

“I don’t take this for granted,” he added, noting that he grew up in Kansas and knows gay men in cities less cosmopolitan than New York. 
Of course there are enclaves in Kansas where Williams would find a warm welcome. The college town of Lawrence has a municipal ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, even though Kansas itself doesn’t. (In 2015, Gov. Sam Brownback rescinded one that covered only public employees.) And there are rural pockets of upstate New York that have none of Brooklyn’s progressivism or diversity.

The geographic variations for transgender
people may well be the starkest.




Rockville, Md.
“We have great equality laws in Maryland, which is unusual in its protections for trans people.”
I’ve been tolerated. I’ve even been welcomed. I have a dog, and I remember one gentleman coming up with his dog and asking, “Are you a transgender?” I said, nervously, “Yes.” And he said, “Well, good on ya!”
Stevie Neal
63, transgender woman living just outside Washington, D.C.

Peyton, Colo.
“I’ve gotten slurs. ‘Y’all should be put to death.’ This is just walking down the street.”
Ten miles away from me is the Focus on the Family headquarters, which we, in the L.G.B.T. community, consider a hate group. I get the feeling there are people who want to hurt me. I’ve had people brandish guns at me.

Jamie Shea
39, transgender woman living near Colorado Springs
On the state level, the yardsticks for measuring respect for L.G.B.T. people include, recently, restrictions on “conversion therapy,” which attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. More and more mental health professionals are speaking out unequivocally about its dangers, and more and more state legislatures are outlawing it for minors. New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island and Connecticut did so in recent months; New Jersey, Vermont, Illinois, Oregon, California and the District of Columbia had previously done so. But that leaves 41 states without any such prohibition.

The geographic variations for transgender people may well be the starkest. Harper Jean Tobin, the policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, noted that there are states — Nevada, for one — where changing your designated gender on a government document requires only affidavits from people who know you. “It can be a medical provider, your therapist, your minister, your parent,” Tobin said. But other states, like Tennessee and Alabama, demand proof of surgery and a physician’s signature.

states have laws prohibiting transgender people from receiving I.D.s reflecting their preferred gender identification
states don’t have laws protecting youths from conversion therapy
states don’t have explicit bans on excluding trans individuals from receiving health insurance coverage
states don’t have laws for gender-neutral single-occupancy restrooms
Source: Human Rights Campaign

Ah, Alabama. In May, under the aegis of “religious freedom,” its governor signed a law that allowed taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to deny the placement of children in homes with gay parents. Patricia Todd, 62, who serves in the state’s House of Representatives, remembers the heated discussion there beforehand, because she played a special role. She’s openly lesbian — the only open L.G.B.T. person ever in the Alabama Legislature.


Alabama
“I’m the only open L.G.B.T. person ever in the State Legislature.”
I tell people, “This is my missionary work, and I want to be in the hardest place to do it, and I will not live in Mississippi.” I love the South: the culture, the food, the people. It’s the politics I want to change.
Patricia Todd
State representative, 62, lesbian

California
“There are four L.G.B.T. people in the Senate and four of us in the Assembly.”
It’s the all-time high. The interesting thing is now our straight allies are carrying a lot of our L.G.B.T. bills. Sometimes even my opponents will say, “I never understood that. That’s a new perspective.”
Ricardo Lara
State senator, 42, gay
“I tried to stop the bill as best I could,” Representative Todd told me. “I practically had the sponsor in tears when we were debating this on the floor.” Why? “Because he really likes me. They all really like me. I said, ‘I want everyone to realize: If you vote in favor of this, you’re telling me that I’m not fit to be a parent. And I want you to look at me. You know me.’ ”

The Alabama House voted 60 to 14 in favor of the bill, after which the Alabama Senate voted 23 to 9.

Fifty years from now — heck, maybe just 20 — that kind of thing won’t happen. There’s only one long-term trajectory here. But in the meantime, it’s not O.K. for the federal government to be as cold to L.G.B.T. Americans as the one we have now is, because some of those Americans live in Alabama — or Texas. And those places don’t exactly brim with love.

Most of this information and some of the pictures and graphs appeared on the New York Times

Photos
Lou Anne Smoot by Mark Graham,  Charles Castle by Tamir Kalifa, Josiah Masie by Dan Cepeda,  Keleigh Russell by Ruth Fremson, Dennis Williams by Chad Batka,  Tommy Starling by Tanya Ackerman, Stevie Neal by Gabriella Demczuk,  Jamie Shea by Matt Nager, Patricia Todd by Chris Carmichael, and Ricardo Lara by Valerie Chiang for The New York Times
Produced by
Jessia Ma and Stuart A. Thompson

June 9, 2016

Growing Gay Up in Jamaica {Award Winning Novelist}



                                                                         


Living as a closeted gay man in Jamaica drove novelist Marlon James to such despair that he once wrote he knew he had to leave "in a plane or a coffin." 
He left, on a plane for the United States, seemingly confirming Time magazine's 2006 headline that the Caribbean island was "The Most Homophobic Place on Earth." 
Back for the Calabash International Literary Festival, which features poets, novelists and writers from across the globe, the 2015 Man Booker Prize winner said his own story was actually more complicated. 
"The thing about Jamaica, for such a small country, is that there are 10 different Jamaicas and the one you live in is not necessarily the one that everyone else lives in," said James, 45. 
He described his milieu as for the most part "uptown," very different from the Jamaica that makes headlines as a place where gay people are beaten to death by mobs. International media painted a one-sided picture of his home country, James said. 
"They have a narrative that Jamaica is a place where these anti-gay Gestapos are running around killing people that they are just so desperate to get that narrative." 
Rather than a fear of being killed, the "coffin" comment he wrote in a 2015 New York Times article referred to touching rock bottom and contemplating suicide as he struggled with his identity. 
"I didn't think I could live here as a gay man. But I didn't need a beating to find that out," he said. 
The divide between the better off "uptown" and underprivileged "downtown" creates a constant tension on the island, one addressed in "A Brief History of Seven Killings," James' novel about an assassination attempt on Bob Marley that catapulted the author to global fame. 
The class divide is especially acute for gay people. 
A poor gay Jamaican can face violence on the streets, but an "uptown" gay Jamaican can be tacitly accepted, or at least tolerated. 
"It's the one country in the world I have a right to be in. In the sense that I can step into Jamaica with a sense of entitlement because I am entitled to my country," said James, who lives in Minneapolis and teaches at Macalester College. 
"Which is not to say I'm kidding myself that everything is fine or that I could walk down the street holding some guy's hand or anything like that." 
"The reason that homophobia is so acute in Jamaica is because the church supports it," said the former church-goer who underwent attempts to cure him of being gay. 
But James also acknowledged churches as the "lifeblood" of many communities and a constructive force. 
James has come back to Jamaica three times so far this year, and credits the Calabash Festival for the publication of his first novel. It was at a workshop at the bi-annual event that U.S. author Kaylie Jones convinced James to resurrect the book after multiple rejections. 
"This is also a place where I discovered so much of the world of literature. This is the place where my mind was first blown, in a way. It's a sense of familiarity and family and also discovery. Also, it's nice seeing a beach," he said, sitting by the Caribbean Sea. 
James said he was not ready to move back to a country he had left when he was 37, because of the opportunities for writers in the United States. 
"There's a literary community, there's support, there's infrastructure, there are grants. There are all these things in place to help the writer where I live that are just not here." 
by Rebekah Kedebe

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