Trans Man in a Van: driving toward queer resistance in south dakota.

Katrina and Wally are coming to South Dakota with me.

I probably couldn’t have told you Pierre (pronounced “peer”) was the capital of South Dakota before deciding to go to Pride there. Fort Pierre, where Pride was held, is a “suburb” of Pierre, just across the Missouri River and in a different time zone. The entire area has a population just over 15,000, making it the second-least populated state capital in the U.S., even though it’s the ninth-most populous city in South Dakota.

I was thrilled Katrina had time off and felt like accompanying me to South Dakota. It meant Wally could come, too. It’s rare I have company on these trips so I was eager to be a good host. I found a spot at the Cow Creek State Recreation Area, just twenty miles from Pierre, to camp in the night before Pride so I wouldn’t have to ask Katrina to sleep in a random parking lot with me.

I reserved what turned out to be a great campsite, solitary, at the end of a tiny peninsula, overlooking a pleasant lake. There were a lot of flies and smoke from a Canadian wildfire cast a middle-Earth like haze over the view, but we had a nice dinner and Wally played fetch under the setting, apocalyptic sun.

Wally said we didn’t have to drive this far to play fetch.

In the morning, as I was packing up the van, Katrina was throwing the ball for Wally. I came around the corner of the van to discover Katrina on the ground, holding her ankle. She had twisted it pretty bad. Wally was very concerned.

We got her in the van and started discussing options. We could drive home, about eight hours as the Cookie flies, but it would be uncomfortable and disappointing. We decided to head into Pierre for ice and ibuprofen then see how she felt in an hour. We had breakfast, then found the Pride venue only to discover the event would be held entirely indoors.

With Wally banned and Katrina injured, the best option was to find a hotel room where a Law & Order marathon in air conditioning might distract from the circumstances while I attended Pride. Nobody felt like driving home right away. After I made sure Katrina’s foot was iced and elevated and Wally was snuggled up to aid her healing, I headed back to Pierre Area Pride.

This joint is cooler than it looks.

Pride was in the Event Center at Drifters Bar and Grille. It was one large room with a handful of vendors/organizations lining two walls. There were about a dozen round banquet tables staged in the middle, with a small dance floor/performance area to one side. The tables were bedecked with complimentary Queer flags and stickers, and there were flyers with QR codes to tip the Drag Queens. There was a small Drag “closet” in the corner to aid anyone feeling less than festive.

I found this jaunty tiara. It hurt my head.

Pierre Area Pride first took place in 2018 in a hotel across the river. It’s put on by a small number of volunteers who form the board for Pierre Area Center for Equality (PACE), a non-profit, also born in 2018. The group decided to do something for their community after someone’s social media inquiry about holding a Pride in town generated a number of negative online comments. Pride is still an act of resistance, especially in small towns. The organization lacks a physical location but strives to be an online support resource for the area’s LGBTQ population and tries to throw four events a year.

By this point on my tour, I could easily identify the Pride organizers in the bustling event center, even though they were not wearing matching T-shirts this time. I picked out the ones walking briskly, looking as if the entire fate of Queer history was riding on their shoulders and praying their Queers would show up on time for once in their lives. As I took in the scene, catching a contact high from everyone’s earnestness, I remember supposing our Queer legacy, at this surreal and precarious moment in history, in not insignificant ways, does depend on the devotion and organizational skills of small groups of individuals in places like this.

It’s critical to be visible in the capital city of a red state, no matter how small. For the Queer community in a small town, Pride is often the only opportunity all year to gather in a loving, supportive space and meet other community members. The organizers not only have to be brave enough to be out in a small town, but resilient enough to withstand the criticism and harassment that results from being a visible leader. Their event has to be morally uneventful or those same critics will use even the smallest controversy to prevent any future public Queer event in their town. It’s a lot of pressure.

And then I show up, adding one more time commitment, one more element of potential judgement or exposure. And they are always nice to me. I want them to know I recognize how important they are. I drive all that way just to talk to them. Every single small-town Pride organizer I’ve met has wanted me to know how special their community is and why it’s so important to affect change where they are. Fort Pierre was no exception. I was introduced around, shown to a table, and promised interviews, just as soon as they had time.

There is something broken in people who protest this.

Pierre started their Pride with a Drag Story Hour. This relatively new tradition is simultaneously a display of community tenderness and responsibility and a favorite focus of conservative condemnation. I have never witnessed a child who didn’t love Drag Queens reading them a story. I watched those Queens in South Dakota teleport Disneyland to Mid-Western children sitting on dusty laminate flooring surrounded by beige partition walls. This sinister magic is the target of legislation and armed protest nationwide.

The Queens then helped everyone dress up from the “closet” in the corner to set the mood for an all-ages Drag Show for about 40–50 attendees. After a short dance party, the family-friendly portion of Pride was over and there was a dinner break before the adult entertainment began. I was able to sit down with two of the organizers as well as eat some tasty nachos.

Sarah Kanz is a Pierre Area Pride board member. She shared with me she identified as Ace in high school, and told me she suffered from debilitating low self-esteem then. She drove to her first Pride in Sioux Falls (South Dakota’s big city) by herself after graduation. She spent a long time planning her outfit. She told me that experience, being around Queer community, changed how she felt about herself and her possibilities in life.

She came to this Pride in a fun, rainbow-striped mini-dress, donning very sparkly eye shadow. She loves Drag. She made her boyfriend watch Paris is Burning. He’s a fan now, too. She told me most people she knows in town aren’t outwardly homophobic, but you still have to be careful. A good friend of hers was gay-bashed recently at a bar.

Apparently, the river dividing Pierre from Fort Pierre, also delineates the transition from Central to Mountain Time. The bars in Fort Pierre stay open an hour later and draw a rowdy crowd. Sarah said when the state legislature is in season, it brings sex workers to town. Militias drove into town when there was a small BLM demonstration in 2020. She painted a picture for me of an incidentally important small town, animated by a frontier masculinity that is never as charming or philosophical in real life as it seemed in Road House.

Sarah then introduced me to a controversy I hadn’t realized was swirling about this year’s Pride. A small, conservative lobbying group in Rapid City, South Dakota (almost 200 miles away) had posted a video to Facebook warning Pierre area residents the gays were marketing their agenda to children again. Drifters had received harassing emails and phone calls. The local YMCA, which had donated some Y swag for Bingo prizes, lost members and were accused of forcing children in their summer programs to attend Drag Story Hour. A counter-event, a “pray-in,” was organized by two local churches, but took place in a park two days prior to Pride.

Most concerning was the potential threat of violence hanging over the event. PACE hired security. Teams were posted at the two possible entrances to the venue. Josh Penrod, PACE co-president, feels the intimidation may have kept some people away this year. Josh works for the YMCA and was the one who asked them to donate. He told me he was stepping down from the board after this Pride.

Sequeerity at Pride.

He said the YMCA was very supportive despite the pushback. His manager talked with everyone who came in to see a manager about their discomfort. Some Y members even brought their kids to Pride to show support.

Josh was born and raised in Pierre. He says the intensified political climate surrounding anti-LGBTQ legislation, especially in the small capital city, has made it even harder to be Queer there. Prior to the legislative push, Pierre had more of a “live and let live” attitude.

South Dakota’s was the first state legislature to pass a Trans “bathroom ban” for K-12 public schools way back in February, 2016. This was a couple months before North Carolina passed a similar bill and caused a national controversy. South Dakota Republican governor, at the time, Dennis Daugaard, vetoed the bill in March 2016, claiming the bill “does not address any pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota.” He actually had meetings with concerned parents and Trans youth opposing the bill prior to his decision.

It’s hard to remember a political reality where a Republican governor could veto a Republican bill he found unnecessarily controlling and punitive. It’s also difficult to recall the intensity of outrage expressed by corporations, celebrities, and college sports at the North Carolina “bathroom ban”. Remember how the NCAA boycotted the state until they repealed their bill?

Probably not. It’s nearly impossible to remember what was politically possible before Trump’s election later in 2016. Prior to then, there was very little legislation seeking to curtail Queer civil rights. Same-sex marriage had just been legalized the year before.

Since then, the volume and sophistication of anti-LGBTQ bills has compounded every year. Any less extreme Republicans who may have resisted implementing this unnecessarily aggressive anti-Queer campaign are increasingly being replaced by party hard-liners who are either true believers in eradicating “transgenderism” or are devoted to the political efficacy of an “anti-woke” strategy.

Dennis Daugaard was succeeded by Kristi Noem in 2019. She’s one of those updated Michele Bachmann Republican women so popular with conservatives. They all look like maniacal realtors.

Kristi has been more than willing to champion the whole slate of anti-LGBTQ legislation. She had a bit of a hiccup in 2021 when she tried to limit the scope of a Trans “sports ban” to elementary and high schools with a partial veto. She had been worried about the corporate fallout, particularly from the NCAA. She immediately issued executive orders effectively implementing the intent of the legislation. In 2022, she made up for her lackluster Transphobia by personally re-introducing anti-Trans legislation to the State House. A Trans “sports ban,” including at the collegiate level, passed and was signed into law, but her Trans “bathroom ban” died in the State Senate.

In 2023, South Dakota became the sixth state to pass a comprehensive gender affirming care ban for Trans minors. The law took effect July first. It hasn’t been challenged in court because South Dakota is in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals along with Arkansas, whose gender affirming care ban is still being litigated. The closest option for care is Minnesota.

I spoke to Jack Fonder, Community Health Advocate for the Transformation Project in Sioux Falls. His job is finding resources for Trans youth and their families seeking care now the ban has taken effect.

Jack is a Trans man. He came out in his mid-thirties. He helped start the Pride network at Citibank when he worked there before his transition. Through this work, he attended a conference where he saw a Trans man speak and was moved. He realized who he was.

The Transformation Project was founded by Susan Williams, South Dakota mother of two, one of whom is Transgender. When her child came out to her, she searched for resources and support and found little available in South Dakota. She also founded the Transformation Project Advocacy Network in 2020 in response to the increasing legislative attacks. Jack started there by volunteering and was eventually hired.

He told me South Dakota was a test state. Due to its sparse population (one of six states with less than a million people) and the relative remoteness of its capital, it made an attractive target for ambitious conservative groups. Trans advocates have to bus in protesters from Sioux Falls when anti-LGBTQ bills are being debated (a three-hour drive.)

He told me conditions have gotten worse because of the legislation. It brings up issues that most people wouldn’t have thought to get upset about. He said Sioux Falls is probably the best place for Queer community, but it’s still not great. He lives near there with his family in a neighborhood that isn’t very friendly. He’s chooses to be out because there was no representation for him growing up. And he stays because he’s passionate about fighting for Queer youth.

When I asked about Kristi Noem and her influence, Jack said, “no comment.” He informed me of an active law suit with the governor and he couldn’t say anything. I looked it up. Jack’s position at the Transformation Project was funded by a grant from the South Dakota Department of Health. It was terminated after a quarter for failing to meet quarterly filing requirements, but the organization was completely caught off guard and maintains they were in compliance.

A spokesman for Noem told a conservative media outlet that the Governor’s office had been reviewing all contracts with the DOH and Kristi Noem does not support the work of the Transformation Project and the contract shouldn’t have been approved in the first place. The Transformation Project has been the target of conservative ire since the incident was first publicized. The litigation is still pending.

Her name was Lola…

The break in Pride between all-ages and adult time was nearly over and I had desperately wanted to interview the headlining Drag Queen, Dixie Divine. Even though she was from Rapid City, she helped organized Pierre Pride. With only a few free minutes remaining before showtime, she agreed to sit with me.

Dixie is a bearded Queen. She puts on shows in Rapid City as well as all over Nebraska and Wyoming. She’s lived other places, like Denver and Las Vegas, but returned to a smaller mid-Western town to fight for small-town Queers in conservative areas. That is why she moved there. She helps organizers in other small towns put on Prides. We both teared up when she was telling me her story.

She feels Drag is a vital resource for Queer liberation. She has mixed feelings about RuPaul, but credits Drag Race as a unifier. Middle-aged women have watched it and become allies. They show up to Prides to see the Queens. They may have developed empathy for the community through personal stories shared by favorite contestants on the show. Dixie organizes shows in small towns so the people who come to see her can meet the Queers who actually live in their community.

She understands why Queers move away to bigger cities, but it makes her sad and a little mad. “Who’s going to do the work? Who’s going to make that community?…I need and want people to fight.” Dixie doesn’t see herself as a leader. (I do.) It’s clear she’s passionate about her work. “We may not always leave with a full cup, but we generally leave with a pretty full cup. We get a lot of love.”

Dixie disappeared to get ready for the second half of the entertainment. I ran out to the van to go and pick up Katrina. I was supposed to take her out for dinner, but I got so busy interviewing everyone, she got hungry and hobbled over to a seafood restaurant on the river without me. Yes, I felt terrible.

It was pretty charming for the middle of South Dakota.

I got Katrina and Wally back to the hotel with some fresh ice and apologies. She said I had to go back for the end of Pride so I went. The controversial Drag Bingo game was almost over by the time I got back. It was a strictly over 21 crowd. They even checked my ID.

No children were scarred by winning a YMCA water bottle.

It was obvious from the size of the crowd (doubled from daytime) and their cheers that the evening’s Drag Show was what everyone had been waiting for. There were five Queens in rotation and each was met with enthusiasm and dollar bills. At the end of the show, Dixie brought all the Pride organizers up on to make sure everyone knew who they were and how hard they worked. She told the audience, if they needed anything, they could contact anyone on stage. This was their community.

As I was leaving, I had a chance to speak briefly with the owner of Drifters who’d popped her head out of the kitchen to watch the show. I thanked her for her support and asked her about the controversy caused by the religious group in Rapid City. “The closer it got, the more resistance I got. The more I dug my heels in…These are my people. This is my heart. What I’ve gone through these past weeks compared to what this community goes through, it’s nothing. A well-rounded society is important to me.”

I made it back to the hotel just in time for four more episodes of Law & Order. I was sad Katrina had missed Pride, but I’m so grateful for my life and my partner who supports my corny obsession with small-town Prides, even when she’s stuck in a random hotel room with a sprained ankle and a spoiled dog.

Upon returning home, I attempted to interview representatives from several organizations. The founder of Watertown Love, an LGBTQ+ support organization in Watertown, SD was featured in an episode of my favorite make-me-cry-every-damn-time Queer show, We’re Here. We kept exchanging emails and having scheduling conflicts. The same thing happened with Uniting Resilience, a Native Two Spirit, LGBTQ+ organization in Rapid City. Both seemed like amazing communities with fascinating stories so I hope to catch up with them some day.

I was able to talk with April Carillo, a professor and academic researcher in Vermillion, South Dakota. They are also the Vice Chair of Equality South Dakota and on the board at the Transformation Project.

April identifies as non-binary and Queer. They moved to Vermillion to teach. They spent much of their adult life in the Bible Belt and feels like they’ve “leveled up in oppression” moving to South Dakota. They point to “so much nefarious shit with ‘mid-Western nice.’” I detected some East Coast inflection and cadence to their voice and confirmed a passive-aggressive communication style can feel sinister and destabilizing to the uninitiated.

From their viewpoint, the culture in South Dakota is restricted, culturally and economically. They say they’ve never seen this level of hopelessness in twenty-year-olds. “Even the normative kids feel beaten down…It’s like 1984 here.” I didn’t know if they meant Reagan or Orwell, but the sentiment seemed clear. They feel constrained in their teaching. They don’t use neutral pronouns on campus.

They travel to the capital when LGBTQ issues come up for debate and spend most of their free time working on the boards of advocacy organizations. They feel the anti-LGBTQ sentiment ramped up in South Dakota following the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationally in 2015.

That was the same year well-funded, national conservative political advocacy organizations began refining their anti-LGBT, legal and cultural strategy to operate as a fulcrum to move the bulk of their conservative agenda. They used focus groups to choose Trans and Gendernonconforming folks as targets, especially youth. Teams of lawyers wrote and deployed a slate of anti-Trans bills, curating willing legislators in every state. They started with South Dakota.

Working on this series, I’m beginning to discern a structure to this national conservative project. I’m sure I’m missing pieces, and I don’t think it’s a grand, cohesive conspiracy, but I think there are regional and national relationships. One common observation I’ve heard from nearly every organizer I’ve spoken to is the legislation and anti-Queer sentiment isn’t coming from the general, conservative population.

Numerous people have told me their communities used to have a “live and let live” attitude and no one was talking about Trans people competing in sports prior to 2016. That makes sense. Politicians create moral panics to scare voters into voting for the people promising to end them. It takes vast resources and multi-level logistics to promote a successful moral panic. It’s easy to point to national, conservative groups like Alliance Defending Freedom or Focus on the Family, but specialty groups are essential.

There’s social media forces like Libs of TikTok and Moms for Liberty. There’s growing, affiliated militias like the Proud Boys and Patriot Front who show up to Drag Story Hours like it’s the only threat to their masculinity. But the controversy surrounding Pierre Area Pride was manufactured by a type of group I don’t know much about.

The group is Family Heritage Alliance, a name obviously cobbled together from larger conservative groups and designed to signal potential allies. They are a tiny organization, headquartered in Rapid City. The executive director is Norman Woods, and as far as I can tell, he’s the only paid employee.

I know from trying to find small-town Prides, they often don’t show up in general Google searches. It takes time and intention to find them. The video Family Heritage Alliance put together has some production value and, again, took time to put together. As far as I know, no one from that group attended Pierre Pride. The intent of the video seemed to be to instigate protests locally, in Pierre.

I’d heard of an effort like this in Arkansas, when an organizer told me there were flyers recruiting TERFS in his home town back in 2017. I ran into a similar organization called Mass Resistance in Wyoming, trying to recruit book-banners to show up to library board meetings in Gillette. Are there networks of conservative, regional, satellite organizations, lightly funded by larger, national groups, whose sole purpose is to stir up shit at a local level?

I’m not an investigative reporter, but I emailed Norman Woods to see if he would talk to me. He agreed to speak with me off the record. I think that means I can’t really tell you what he said? I can tell you it was eerie. He was calm and friendly. He seemed genuinely curious. He seemed just as cautious of me as I was of him.

I can tell you I think we can outsmart these people. I just don’t know if we can achieve the level of funding and coordination necessary within a timeframe to match my sense of urgency. I did use the opportunity to ask Norman a question I’ve always wanted to ask a true believer. I asked, “if the conservatives won, if you took over government and all the mechanisms of control, what would that look like? What is your end goal? How do you maintain control and override dissent?”

Again, I can’t tell you what he said, but I don’t need to. I don’t think they know. Maybe Betsy Devos has a clear destiny, but I think your average Christian Nationalist is just trying to win the battle in front of them. They’re operating from a position of fear.

The other thing I can tell you, because I found it on the internet, is Norman’s wife used to work for Kristi Noem as a policy advisor until Noem vetoed the sports ban. Kristi has also called for Norman to be replaced as Director of the Family Heritage Alliance. Norman had sent a letter criticizing Kristi’s laziness regarding a “kid-friendly” drag show at a university to a local publication. In a formal letter to the FHA, she said, “I’d encourage the Family Heritage Alliance to evaluate the purpose of your organization. Is it to promote family values, or is it to attack the most conservative governor in the country?”

Conservatives bicker, too. Would it be the “low road” if we figured out how to use their insecurities and interpersonal conflicts against them? They’ve been doing it to us for decades.

Wally thinks it’s time to go home.

If you’d like more information or are interested in resource sharing or solidarity work, here are some links to your Queer community in South Dakota:

Pierre Area Center for Equality:

Transformation Project:

Watertown Love:

Uniting Resilience:

Equality South Dakota:

If you’d like to not share resources, but are curious:

Family Heritage Alliance:

Next stop: Maryville, Tennessee.





Drag Queens

Trans Man in a Van: driving toward queer resistance in Arkansas.

Ty Bo Yule

Ty Bo Yule13 min read·Jun 172

I think I have everything.

I hit the road at 7AM on a Friday morning, only an hour later than I had planned. Set up for Ozark Pride in Hardy, Arkansas, was to begin the next morning at 11AM. My destination for that night was Springfield, Missouri, the last big town on the way to Hardy. Google maps told me it was an eight and a half hour drive. I thought I could make it in twelve.

My van, Cookie Monster, is not built for speed. It only theoretically has cruise control. It has a tape deck, but my cassette collection from the 80s has long since melted. I listened to public radio, then classic rock for as long as I could. Then I shoved my cell phone in my bra strap, by my ear, so I could listen to podcasts for the last two hours of my drive.

I was grateful to finally arrive in Springfield around nine. It was raining on a dark county highway for the last hour of my drive. I pulled into a strip mall and cooked dinner in my van by the light of a Jimmy Johns. I found a large parking lot between two hotels and settled in for the night. I had a weed drink while I finished the Spelling Bee then slept like a big, gay bear.

Rice and beans and weenies.

The next morning, I made coffee in a Home Depot parking lot and was back on the road by seven. I was excited to see my friends again. I had been to Hardy’s first Pride in 2021. The two and a half hour drive from Springfield to Hardy is a long, uninterrupted roller coaster of wooded hills and dead armadillos. Hardy is a tiny hamlet of 743 in the middle of the Ozarks in rural Northern Arkansas.

It’s an unlikely place for a Pride celebration. Hardy was a known sundown town not that long ago. It is still potentially unfriendly to people of color and non-normative individuals who may find themselves wondering where to park their distinctively queer van after dark.

One of the first sights upon entering Hardy.

Arkansas, as a state, has the distinction of being the first in the nation to ban gender-affirming care for minors in 2021. A judicial stay on enforcement of this law remains in place while the legal challenge, brought by four Trans youth, is ongoing. Most of the few providers for Trans healthcare, however, have left the state or discontinued that portion of their practice. Trans individuals that receive gender affirming care in Arkansas now have fifteen years to sue for malpractice, instead of two, making it additionally difficult find insurance.

They were the second state to ban Trans girls from playing sports. They recently passed their own version of a “drag ban”, which prohibits performances in public spaces, that may “appeal to” intentionally vague “prurient interests.”Arkansas governor and unironic SNL skit, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, just signed into law her own version of Florida’s “don’t say gay” education reform, which not only bans any mention of LGBTQ issues before fifth grade, but mandates restroom and changing room restrictions. School employees must get parental permission to use preferred names and pronouns. The bill also centers charter schools, a decades-long Republican project to gut public education and usher in a new age of de facto segregation.

There is a new bathroom ban for adult Trans people, who could be charged with misdemeanor sexual indecency, if they use the public toilet aligned with their identity while a minor is present. It was amended to add “for the purpose of arousing or gratifying a sexual desire” after considerable dissent. Sanders also banned the word “LatinX” for all official purposes as one of her first actions as governor.

This has all taken place in the last two years, since I went to Hardy’s first Pride. Over 500 similarly intentioned bills have been advanced this year in nearly every state with varying degrees of success. (For a well-researched and fascinating account of this top-down legislative siege, I recommend “The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality” podcast by TransLash Media.)This legislation has had the added effect of sanctioning and promoting organized, aggressive, and occasionally violent anti-Queer demonstrations at family-friendly Queer events.

As I drive past the Confederate flags announcing my arrival in Hardy, I wonder what I always wonder about authoritarian ambitions. What is the end game for these American Christian Nationalists? They clearly want to legislate Queers back into the closet. Are they trying to force everyone they don’t like out of their states? Do they want genocide? A new civil war? The Rapture? Are Republican politicians using this recycled moral panic cynically to distract from declining living standards and capitalistic plunder of the middle and working classes?

It doesn’t matter. They are currently making life demonstrably more difficult and dangerous for Queer people in areas that weren’t welcoming to begin with. What is the strategy for Queers in red states? Most of them can’t or don’t want to leave. I found Queers in those places do what Queers everywhere have always done — organize, build community, create joy, and defy bullies.

I turn off the winding county road onto a steep, gravel path I know ends in a terrifyingly narrow concrete slab across a decent sized river. I make it to the other side and drive into the country field where a small sanctuary of love and rainbows is being assembled.I never get tired of this. It’s always worth the drive.What kind of audacity does it take to put on Pride in this place in this time? No matter how far I go to see it, it’s like coming home.

I take my place on the vendor side of the field and set up my little display. There are about a dozen vendor/organization tents. I walk toward the ample, yet decaying covered wooden stage. Next to it, Ozark Pride has a new tent, with their retro 70s chic logo. Abby gets up to hug me and tells me to set up wherever there’s room. We met last time I was here.

Next to Ozark Pride’s tent is Engaging Arkansas Communities, a non-profit providing free STI and HIV testing as well as support and prevention services. I meet Kimberly and Kodee who agree to come talk to me when they have time. I continue down the line of enthusiastic vendors, introducing myself and making new friends when I spot Brennan, the Ozark Pride President and someone who made an impression on me the last time we met.

Brennan came out as Trans exactly two years earlier, the night I was last there, at the Pride afterparty and drag show. Since then, he’s started HRT and organized two more Prides. He’d just had surgery on his knee and was in a wheelchair, being pushed through the soft grass by his wife while he directed support staff.I leaned over to hug him while he tells me the speakers for the show just caught fire. I had noticed a couple drag Queens earlier so I asked how he felt about Arkansas’ fresh “drag ban.” “First thing I did when I heard about it was organize a drag show,” he drawled. I smiled and nodded, but I saw he had his hands full so I ambled back over to my tent.

Kodee came by to chat and check out my book. They agreed to sit for my first interview of the day. Kodee is Trans and lives in Little Rock. They started transitioning at 27. They are HIV+ and explained to me Arkansas also criminalizes people with HIV. If you don’t inform a sex partner of your status, you could be charged as a sex offender even if you don’t transmit the virus.

When I ask about how it is to be Queer in Arkansas and if they’ve ever thought of moving, they tell me they don’t have much of an issue personally, but are concerned for the Queer youth. “If we leave, who’s going to speak for them?” When I ask about the future of Queer in Arkansas, they just smile and tell me, “They (Queer youth) aren’t going to take this shit.” They feel like things might improve when the older generation dies. Wait it out — valid strategy.

Kodee’s coworker, Kimberly, approached my display next. She said telling her own story might help others having similar struggles so she was glad to have an opportunity to share it with me. Kimberly was in an unhealthy relationship eight years previously and then she lost her grandmother. She went through a struggle with meth and tested HIV+ at some point.

She beamed when she talked about her activism work. She loves helping people. She met her husband on an HIV+ dating app and they’ve been married for three years. They have a two-year-old and her husband’s daughter and toddler also live with them.When I asked about Arkansas’ anti-LGBTQ legislation, she replied, “I’m a very loving person. I’m a Christian. Everyone deserves to be their true selves…If we’re not giving support, where does that leave them? …Sometimes, you don’t know the impact you’re going to make on someone, but you still have to try.”

My old buddy, Abby, came over. She’s one of the organizers. She got involved when she met Mama Catherine (another organizer’s mother) at Walmart and she prayed over Abby and invited her to join Ozark Pride.Abby has a twin sister but never felt accepted growing up with her grandparents. She started wearing boys clothes at a young age and knew she liked girls. She told me about her past mental health struggles, but those issues were improving with medication and a new loving relationship.

She and her fiancé are trying to get back on their feet after their house with all of their belongings and savings burned down earlier this year. They’re living with friends in an even smaller town. Abby said she can’t find a job, but got on disability.

When I asked how it was being Queer in rural Arkansas, she said, “I’m loved. I have so many friends…Everything I know is here, so you risk it.” She’d like to move to Texas, eventually, “I wanna see what the world has to offer.” But for now also thinks the situation will improve when the old people die in 5–10 years. Damn boomers.

It was hot. I got up to watch the drag show. Somebody drove to Walmart and picked up a speaker. It wasn’t meant to handle outdoor events, but nobody is complaining. Everybody is cheering and tipping. The Queens’ heels are sinking into the grass, but that doesn’t stop the death drops. A drag King’s dog joins his dad in the act. Watching little kids watch drag Queens is one of my very favorite activities.

Aubi Gold, Mother, Haus of Mineral (center, in blue, in case you were confused)

During an intermission, I asked some of the performers how they felt about Arkansas’ new “drag ban.” None of them seemed intimidated. Aubi Gold, Mother of the Haus of Mineral of Fort Smith, Arkansas, replied, “I’ll walk into any gas station, Walmart, Dollar General. I do not care. Look at me.” In a later Facebook exchange, she told me she “grew up in a small town, just like Hardy,” so she wasn’t “scared of a little rough and tough battle.” Aubi is impressive. She is a talented performer and a natural leader.

It’s late afternoon. The drag show has ended. People are starting to pack up. There is no after party this year. Hardy won’t allow Ozark Pride to use their civic center any more. They claim there was property damage and theft the last time, but consensus seemed to be that was a “load of horseshit.” I have two more interviews I’ve been waiting to do.

The first is with Chase, a drag King I met in 2021. He and his wife and kids live in Thayer, Missouri, close to the Arkansas border. He’s been transitioning for ten years and says it’s the best decision he ever made. He got into drag watching Rupaul, but didn’t start performing until he saw his first King perform at a gay bar in New York. He loves the community created by drag culture and also loves glitter. There is still some in my van.

Hardy crowned their first Queen and King.

When he first started transitioning, he drove to Lincoln, Nebraska for care. His primary care physician is now unbelievably in Arkansas, but he informs me there is only one that he knows of. He says Missouri is no better, but his family and community are there. “I have fought for a long time for who I am and who I wanna be. Where I’m at now, with the support group I have around here, I will continue to fight…for the people who don’t have a voice. It’s the youth I’m concerned about.”

I finally get another chance to talk to Brennan. He’s been busy. His voice has dropped dramatically since I saw him. He says testosterone has helped his mental health. He is the only out Trans man in the area. He thinks about moving to Arizona, but his wife wants to stay in Hardy, so he’s staying.

He got involved organizing Ozark Pride just before the first one by answering a Facebook ad. I asked him how he felt about the day. “Well, everything that could have gone wrong happened (but)…Oh man, I looked out at one point and counted 83 people in the bleachers. And to see that compared to the first couple years, it was amazing. To see how far we’ve come in the last three years, it’s such a sense of accomplishment.”

Me and Brennan.

It was something to be proud of, a perfect Pride. It was time to pack up. I drove back to Springfield and found the same hotel parking lot to crash in.

On the drive home the next day, with time to think, I realized I wanted to know more about organizing efforts in Arkansas. The legislative attacks are taking place on a state level currently, coordinated nationally. Full-time, local activist organizations are often the only resource for strategizing large targeted actions to counter these authoritarian efforts in the capital. Often, these organizations are also founded and run by small groups of dedicated individuals, united around a purpose.

Rumba Yambú is one of the founders of inTRANSitive. They migrated to NW Arkansas as a youth and found activism in junior high when they hand-drew fifty flyers announcing the first Day Without Immigrants march in Springdale in 2006 and organized their friends to hand them out.

After emerging as Trans, they were frustrated at the absence of an organization that confronted the intersectional oppressions faced by Trans immigrants. InTRANSitive started as a Facebook presence to organize against TERF recruitment in Fayetteville in 2017.

I hadn’t ever thought of TERFs as a centrally governed entity that engaged in recruiting, but I know conservative strategists have highlighted “gender critical” feminists’ and “detransitioners’” perspectives as an effort to inflate the scope of their anti-Trans campaign. Were there conservative-funded gangs of TERFS hyping Trans controversy in NW Arkansas before the legislative attack?

Yambú tells me inTRANSitive was self-funded until they testified against the gender-affirming care ban at the state legislature in 2021. They think it was no accident this legislation came to Arkansas first. It was a test case. They say Arkansas didn’t have the organizing infrastructure to fight. National LGBTQ funding organizations took notice of inTRANSitive’s efforts and began to invest in Arkansas.

With the funds, they were able to purchase a building and open the first Transgender Community Center in Arkansas in Little Rock. They provide advocacy and services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. They advocate for and provide translation services for Trans immigrants. They have education and community care spaces for Trans people and have Youth programming. They also provide direct financial support mostly to black and brown Transwomen.

Yambú and InTRANSitive are a strategic leaders against the current anti-Trans legislative attacks. They have organized digital and grassroots campaigns against the massive conservative political agenda in Arkansas. When I asked Yambú if there is anything they’d like Queers in blue states to know, they answered, “It’s eventually going to come to you and there’s proof of that. That’s what I tell funders.”

Tig Kashala, Director of Operations at Lucie’s Place, based in Little Rock, also agreed to meet with me over Zoom. Lucie’s Place was created in 2011 after the suspicious death of Lucille Hamilton, a Trans community member in Little Rock, while traveling to Louisiana. It is a Black-feminist, Trans-led, intergenerational collective providing direct services and advocacy to LBGTQ youth experiencing homelessness.

After being run as a traditional non-profit, the organization was reclaimed by Trans and Queer organizers of color, returning it to its grassroots foundations. Kashala runs their drop-in center with a free closet. Kashala got their first professional credit in costume design at fifteen. They’ve taken their passion for costuming and transformed the free closet into a style consultation resource for gender non-conforming folk that visit.

Kashala grew up in what they described as a religious cult. They have a deep understanding of a Christian Nationalist mindset. “They are not failing at critical thinking, they live in an echo chamber…Conservatives operate in a state of cognitive dissonance. They can’t and won’t come to terms with real situations.” They were kicked out of their congregation as a teen.When asked what they want Minnesota Queers to know, “There are organizers in the South. There is a resistance movement. Southerners need a lot of support right now. Don’t write off Southern states as full of Hillbillies.”

I didn’t personally meet any hillbillies in Arkansas, just a ton of innovative, brave, passionate Queer organizers.

Little Rock is also home to the House of GG — The Griffin-Gracy Educational Retreat and Historical Center. This is the legacy project of Trans revolutionary, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy.If you’d like any more information or are interested in resource sharing or solidarity work, here are some links to your Queer community in Arkansas:

Ozark Pride:


Lucie’s Place:

House of GG:

Next stop — Ottumwa, Iowa.

Wedding Cakes and Country Songs are GAY!

It’s Pride Month 2018! Time to check in on the State of the Gay. As the modern LGBT movement nears its Golden Anniversary, it is important to take a moment to wonder over all the magical milestones we have wrought.

We need not amble far into the past to stumble upon our national relevance. In just the last week, I have learned that even modern country music is, at last, crooning cornily about our traditionally reviled special love for one another… sort of, if you listen real hard and interpret the lyrics positively, and don’t blink while you’re watching the video, that is, if you can make it all the way through video and the rest of the lyrics without falling into a diabetic coma from all of the America that you’ve just eaten.

I would have remained completely ignorant of this aww-inspiring, unexpected endorsement from such a formidable champion of heteronormativity had the New York Times not decided to honor June with a parade of homo interest stories. Kicking off our rainbow month was, “Country Music is Singin a Pro-LGBT Tune”. This opinion article cited Luke Bryan’s current country hit, “Most People Are Good” as a reason for optimism about a broader cultural shift.

Luke Bryan is not gay and didn’t write the song. He has clarified his love for trucks and tits with the title of an earlier album, Tailgates and Tanlines. But, within the refrain from “Most People are Good”, we encounter the lyric that inspired the thought piece. “I believe you love who you love. Ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of.” Robert P. Jones, who authored the Times article, backs up his observation of unanticipated tolerance by pointing out that the accompanying video includes images of same-sex couples and non-traditional family configurations.

I watched the video twice, so you don’t have to, and I may have briefly seen an image of two women holding hands. And maybe my cheaters aren’t strong enough, but I don’t remember any startling family configurations, unless Jones was referring to images of families who aren’t white, also unexpectedly present in a modern country music video.

While I never want to discourage any members of the dominant paradigm or supremacist fringe from not actively attacking the queers, nor do I even want to poop ungraciously on this heartfelt gesture of shit-kickin inclusion, it is important to look at the full portrait this song is painting.

It is a list of People and Behaviors That are Good. Alongside the subtle suggestion that gays may not be that bad, is a wholly predictable, genre-reasserting family of wholesome clichés. Also Good are mothers, people who go to football games and bars, people who work for a living, children who behave like children, and Heaven, even if it has shitty infrastructure. The video is a montage of smiling faces, diverse in age and ethnicity. A female military member and aging fire-fighter are gratuitously inserted in case we forgot we were watching a country music video. Bryan also exhorts us to disregard the nightly news to preserve our faith in humanity. Because, “most people are good”.

Nothing in this narrative is inherently offensive, except maybe one little dig at the unemployed. I am certainly not mad at Bryan for gently introducing concepts of diversity and tolerance to an audience not known for its diversity and tolerance. It’s a goddamn public service. I’d happily buy him a beer.

However, my queers, I have higher expectations of you. Before you go getting all weepy about a bunch of MAGA hats not hating you, I want you to think very carefully about where this puts us…well, some of us. What does it mean to be written into the cheesy, idealistic twangs of Americana? Perhaps we should not trade in our cynicism for a pick-up truck just yet.

Three days later, as a Pride surprise, the Supreme Court handed down its long-anticipated decision in the Rude Masterpiece Cake Baker v. Empathetic Gay Men in love case. The court narrowly decided in favor of the baker. This decision prompted immediate demonstrations and prolific displays of ready-made, HRC-emblazoned protest signs, #It’sNotAboutTheCake, #OpenToAll in front of the Courthouse, as well as a torrent of Facebook tears and self-care memes in my feed. A few level-headed Facebook contributors, as well as sympathetic journalists, have tried to assuage the gay panic and grief, by pointing out that due to the specificity of the court opinion, this ruling actually did nothing to degrade the non-discrimination directives already on the books in Colorado.

First of all, Yay for queer activism! I am almost always a fan. Second, that’s super neat that this case didn’t destroy the hard-won advancements for civil rights in a state that is also the birthplace of Focus on the Family. But, could we all take a moment to objectively critique the sources of ire and grief currently dominating our Rainbow hive-mind?

I must confess my queer sins at this juncture. When I first encountered this case last year, I was viscerally annoyed with the gays. I know at least some of you also questioned their litigiousness in this circumstance. Why couldn’t they go somewhere else? Why couldn’t they publicly shame his business? What about using Facebook? These hypotheticals are irrelevant to my own impatience. When this case arrived on the steps of the highest court in the land, it temporarily became the public face of our beloved, complicated queer movement. It did so again on Monday when it suffered its “benign” defeat. It’s presence on that pedestal demands my solidarity as a known, queer representative to the many straight allies in my life who sometimes look to me for progressive guidance in all things queer. Is there some way we could start voting, as a community, on the issues we give a shit about?

As far as I understand the details of the case, the baker didn’t flatly deny service to the couple. He was meticulous in distinguishing his discrimination. Though he offered them cookies and cupcakes, he declined to use his artistic abilities to create a cake for their gay wedding reception, as he felt that would amount to tacit support of an event he finds objectionable due to his religious beliefs. He also does not make Halloween cakes, which could also be construed as condemning another gay holiday.

He also did not attack them, shoot them, or call the police. The couple, along with mom, left the establishment embarrassed, inconvenienced, and feeling disrespected, but unscathed.

To help make a federal case out of this deflating encounter, one of their lawyers, Ria Tobacco Mar, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, last year when oral arguments were first being made. In it, the first legal precedent Mar cites in defending her clients’ dignity is the 1964 Supreme Court decision against the Piggie Park barbecue establishment owner who refused to serve black people at his restaurants because he believed integration violated his interpretation of Biblical dictates. She went on to cite the Supreme Court decision against Bob Jones University in 1980 for its discrimination against students in interracial couples, and ended her article by recalling the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She, almost exclusively, relied on historic legislation that has incrementally attempted to ameliorate the ongoing horrors of institutionalized racism in this country, to buttress her arguments in this case.

Dear Queer People, please stop doing this. Just don’t. We have our own history of discrimination, violence, police harassment, and public humiliation from which to draw our own defenses. Even if we were to attempt to relegate slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow laws to a realm of unintelligibility in the modern American landscape, we need not look hard to find their current incarnations. To name just a handful of examples; mass incarceration and coerced prison labor, unarmed black men gunned down by unpunished police and vigilantes, and effective urban segregation, due to ongoing bank policies of redlining and racist city planners and school boards. Racial profiling by police is continually aided by concerned white citizens fretting about black people napping, not drinking coffee, not waiving to neighbors, having BBQ’s and pool parties, or simply walking down the street. If that gay couple had been black, they might be dead.

So, for the love of glitter and softball, never make this argument again. I will not defend it or you. Never again should you skitter non-consensually onto the shoulders of the catastrophically violent history of combatting institutionalized racism in this country and use its largely disregarded, but heroic victories to defend your entitlement to a life free from discomfort. Especially without acknowledging that our own queer movement has been complicated by its own racism and classism since its inception. Did you know that some queer people are also black?

Let’s see what’s been happening with the queers who are not white, cis-gendered, financially fine gay men for the past five years while this case has been winding its emotive path through the court system.

Trans people have been kicked out of the military. There has been a rollback of protections for trans people in federal prison. Transwomen must go back to men’s prisons which translates to rape, violence, or solitary confinement. The Department of Education issued a directive to summarily dismiss all complaints from trans students. The Department of Health and Human Services is now encouraging health care providers to deny services for trans patients. And the Justice Department handed down a directive making clear that federal law does not protect people trans people from discrimination, which it never has.

In case you think I’m too trans-focused, let’s see how women have fared. They can be queer, too. The Supreme Court decided that a huge corporation could also hold sincerely-held religious beliefs and deny health care coverage for contraception. Planned Parenthood is in the process of being gutted and hobbled. The federal ‘gag order’ has been reinstituted here and abroad preventing any health care facility receiving federal funds from talking to women like grown-ups. FOSTA and SESTA were just passed under the unobjectionable guise of curbing child sex trafficking. This had the effect of driving the sex work industry even more underground and sex workers back to pimps. It also eliminated most of the few resources trafficked youth had and put them into even more danger. It’s the reason that Craigslist personal ads disappeared. Did you know that a disproportionally large percentage of sex-workers are queer?

If none of these signs of the impending Rapture registered the same number of sad-face emojis over your morning coffee that the cake case did, it may be time to consider your own queer complicity in our collective decline in popular and legislative dignity.

During one of the many sympathetic interviews conducted with the gay men involved in the cake case, one of the men, in recalling the discomfort of that day he was denied a wedding cake, recounted his experience of being bullied in high school. He said that he was initially surprised by the baker’s response to his request and perhaps he had been lulled into a false sense of security in his adult life and especially after the legalization of gay marriage. He thought things had changed.

Things have changed. But, if you are a firm believer in incremental social justice advancements, consider that the erosion of achieved civil rights is probably going to happen in the same manner. If you put all of our tastefully-decorated eggs of hope into the basket of respectability and legitimacy conferred by assimilation into the happy, hegemonic, heteronormative model of marriage, you might be tempted to think that the misfortune of those other queers has nothing to do with your own domestic ambitions. But the Religious Right did not concede when segregation became unconstitutional. They did not give up when women gained discretion over their own bodies. They certainly did not shrivel after same-sex marriage became legal. They might hate us most of all. Their just picking off the pawns right now. But they are coming for you, queen.

My personal, emotional support of gay marriage is boundless in its enthusiasm. I cry at every gay wedding and I am profoundly grateful for my own stability and joy. I’ve earned it. We all have. But it is never far from my mind that the model I have stylized into my own queer version of marital equity, support, and community is based on the same paradigm that has traditionally been used to control women, wealth, and power. It also structurally excludes non-participants from access to common entitlements of cultural and economic ambitions. It is a pillar of capitalism at its heart, and not the sporting kind. It is much more efficient for the wealthy to extract more wealth from a society when that society is governed by conservative social norms. It is easier to control potential populations of resistance by segregating them into categories of legitimate and illegitimate. This strategy has an added bonus of enticing a small number of representatives from the outlying communities with some traditional entitlements in exchange for their apathy toward the further abjection of the less privileged members of their own cultural groups, thus creating an additional layer of preservation for the status quo.

Currently, the Conservative Right has their shit together. They are better at this game than we are. They have been for a long time. Did you catch the part about the wingnut in Colorado who went to three different cake shops around the same time as the wedding cake incident, asking for a cake in the shape of a Bible with a depiction of a same-sex couple X-ed out and the two Bible verses condemning sodomy in red icing? He was also denied service and he sued on the grounds of religious discrimination. It was because he lost his suits that the Supreme Court was allowed to narrowly decide the cake case on religious liberty grounds instead of treading into free speech territory like the Trump administration suggested.

I’m a big fan of conspiracy theories. I often don’t think they go far enough. I think Russia actually manipulated individual voting machines in swing states. I also think they rigged the 2016 Superbowl as a favor to Trump and so that the underdogs wouldn’t win. I am certain that bible cake guy was a plant. Nobody needs that cake. It’s too busy. What party was he throwing with that thing?

There is some serious Handmaid’s Tale shit going down right now. Do you think conservatives in all those states that pushed for “Religious Freedom” laws after same-sex marriage was legalized are going to be disheartened by the subtle nuances of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in the cake case? If you’ve seen the Luke Bryan video, you know that rational critique of complex legal ramifications didn’t make the list of things that are Good. Most assuredly, there are already secret cabals of joy-hating wingnuts all over Red America strategizing how to get back to the Supreme Court. It’ll take a few years. Justice Kennedy is almost 82. Justice Ginsburg is 85. What court will they be facing? How much will they be able to destroy?

Justice Kennedy is a life-long Republican and was appointed by Reagan. He’s the guy that wrote the majority opinion legalizing same-sex marriage. He’s also the guy that wrote the majority opinion in 2003 that finally decriminalized homosexuality, nationally. Through some cosmic serendipity, he has become our guy. I think he was hoping to flesh out his legacy with this case. I think we sent him the wrong case. He suggests as much in his opinion. “The adjudication concerned a context that may well be different going forward…The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts.” I think he was expressing a bit of remorse that he wasn’t able to further our standing in polite society, but I am also a little chilled by his tone. Maybe he’s hinting to us that we better get our shit together, because next time, he might not be there to protect us.

In the last few years, we have lost a lot of ground. It isn’t much of a leap to the nightmare of two new Supreme Court Justices nominated by the Trump administration, or worse, the Pence administration. If that happens, how many cases will it take before they invalidate same-sex marriage once again? You know we are all on a national registry now. What will our LGBT alliance look like after this apocalypse? How have you treated the rest of the acronym in the last decade? How can we stop bitching at each other about pet etiquette/care and renegotiating polyamorous boundaries long enough to be creative about our alliances and our strategies for resistance? Log Cabin Republicans can eat a bag of dicks, but the rest of our comfortable, neo-liberal, home improvement homos should perhaps start thinking about how welcome they will be on the fringe, once they’ve been deported back there.

It is entirely possible that many modern country fans have no idea what Luke Bryan is referring to when he tells us to not be ashamed of who we love. Maybe they think he’s talking about that pretty girl who never talked to that short guy who didn’t make the football team. Are country fans going to be the go-to allies for newly remarginalized queers? We have not traditionally showed them much beyond derision and ridicule. But, besides having the capacity to love and behave responsibly toward our communities and our families, we also have in common with these Good people that we are all currently being screwed by a small population of wealthy oligarchs and corrupt politicians. We are more natural allies with transpeople, people of color, and poor people, but issues of discrimination and injustice belong to us all.

We can do better. Queers are resilient and creative and fierce. We have a built-in reserve of our own fearless wingnuts that could be strategically implemented. Celebrities love us. “We Are The Champions” was written for us. We can’t let Freddie down. That isn’t a campaign song for Donald Trump or a football anthem. It’s a war song. We are fighting a larger darkness now. We must find a way to care about each other’s experiences and fight together. Let us not be cake-eaters.

Gay Marriage Signals GLBT Divorce


I’ve heard conflicting reports. It’s so hard to get to the real story. But, I think in the last week, it’s become official. Hollywood has announced GLB and T are getting a divorce. Actually, I’m not sure of B’s stance. There’s a reason that visibility has always been their main agenda item.  And honestly, I think that for the past decade, G&L have believed the rest of the acronym to stand for perhaps, Boston Terrier.


But, apparently, after 45 years of an arduous, fragile marriage, where T has basically been the homely, resented wife who worked three jobs in the beginning just to support G&L for the promise of their mutual benefit and has always been responsible for the family’s dirty laundry, G&L is simply moving on. They’ve been cheating on T for some time with some younger, hotter arm-candy called Respectability.

However, this shocking announcement was not the result of a chair fight on Jerry Springer, because dreams don’t always come true. Nor did it come out in a press conference held by the HRC, announcing its own irrelevancy and bankruptcy in light of the recent legalization of same-sex marriage, though I’m sure that is forthcoming. No, the imminent dissolution was revealed in the form of public awkwardness on a daytime talk-show, the harbinger of all cultural upheavals.

Ellen Degeneres, for the premier of her thirteenth season, invited Caitlyn Jenner on her show for a chat. I’m sure this seemed like a brilliant and generous idea to Ellen. The long-reigning darling of Likable Lesbians Institutionalizing Cultural Knowledge (LLICK), would magnanimously arrange a popularly-viewed summit of sorts with the newly-crowned Most Recognizable Representation of the previously invisible world of TRANS for mainstream America. Caitlyn edged out Laverne Cox for the title, sadly, because of the whole Wheaties Box/ESPY thing…basically because straight white dudes know who she is.

So, despite the fact that representatives from only two of the four letters of the acronym were present, the L and the T, and they are both also wealthy, famous, and white, (exemplifying basically no one) the drama was sufficient to expose our irreconcilable differences to the audience of popular culture. As a bonus for the G&L’s, emotional damages and righteous sympathy were clearly awarded to Degeneres. I’m sure this will factor significantly in the upcoming custody disputes over freedom rings and other heirlooms, and perhaps even the beloved family pet, Pride.

Dear Judge Judy, pretty please do this for me.


Personally, I will admit that I would have remained completely ignorant of this paradigm-shattering announcement had I not been directed by Facebook to the profuse and lively chatter surrounding the incident. Thank the Goddess for Facebook. How embarrassing would that have been, as someone who is perceived as trans, to show up, unprepared, at a lesbian wedding, say, to which I was invited before the Ellen incident, only to learn that everybody now assumed me to be an unsupportive dick and a real downer because of the divorce and everything?

Before even watching the actual Ellen footage, I casually clicked on a related link bringing me to an article entitled, “Why it’s time to take the T out of LGBT”. It was published in an English Ezine called the Independent and written by a transwoman so it must be authoritative. The link had been shared by several of my friends with brief solicitations for opinion on the subject. “What say you?” Are we voting?

The article begins with, “Why do so many people believe that if you’re transgender, then you must be gay?” I don’t know. Why do so many people believe that if you’re English, then you must be smart? Are you saying that transpeople should have a separate movement so nobody thinks we are gay? She quickly transitions into what I believe was her intended critique of the recent Ellen interview of Caitlyn. Her argument becomes more about ‘Why do gay people assume transpeople are automatically supportive of gay issues?’ Although this question could introduce a productive discourse on the historical power imbalance within the LGBT movement in general, or even why this coalition intuitively seemed beneficial in the first place, the article moves into some weird, uncomfortable queer family reunion picnic territory, where everybody brought hummus and no one brought quinoa salad. The last line of the article should be read in a thick, Minnesota-nice, Michele Bachman accent, “But reactions like Ellen’s tell us everything we need to know: LGB’s and T’s are getting a little too close for comfort.”

Oh boy.

While I could gleefully go on picking apart this specific article, it strikes me that uncritical queer narratives, moored to reactionary identity politics, are simply the situation we find ourselves in now. From the sinister whitewashing of queer history (please watch trailer for the upcoming movie, “Stonewall”) to the mere fact that Ellen’s smug entitlement reacting to Caitlyn’s smug entitlement could possibly herald a new frontier of queer political stratification. What is clear is that we have become a Lifetime Channel Meredith Baxter-Birney version of ourselves. This means that important and complex social and personal realities are being distilled and consolidated into consumable generalizations and then redramatized for sensational effect to startle a mainstream audience under the guise of liberal moral education.


To illustrate, let me offer a short critique of the actual interview.

So, what had happened was…Caitlyn sat across from Ellen. Everybody cheered, cuz they’re supposed to and then Ellen told Caitlyn she looked “fantastic” while supportively grasping Caitlyn’s hand and making sincere eye contact. This is an obligatory greeting for a talk-show host when interviewing: famous women over the age of fifty (previously forty), famous women wearing a dress size over eight, and now famous transwomen. The thrust of this gesture is to convey the host’s, and by extension her show’s position that despite strict conventional, regulatory beauty norms, the guest has been awarded an honorary place somewhere on the sanctioned beauty continuum. ‘You look almost life-like’ is what I always hear. This is also Ellen cueing the audience to cheer in agreement. Ellen knows what she’s doing. She is in the business of cultivating her vision of liberal social empathy.

Ellen is the Sesame Street for homonormativity. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy both shows, but I don’t watch them for my personal edification. My grasp of the number 8 has been pretty solid for only slightly longer than my awareness of the importance of the vest in lesbian fashion. Neither show is readily equipped for complexity or confrontation. Ellen was offering Caitlyn a spot on her happy gay muppet float. Everything was working just fine in her diversity skit, until Ellen asked Caitlyn about her “former” Republicanism. (Maybe Ellen was recruited by the lesbian mafia to precipitate this public split.) Caitlyn answered that she was still a Republican. The audience reacted as if there was an inexplicable pile of shit in their Wheaties, so Caitlyn quickly went on the defensive, maintaining that being a Republican isn’t a bad thing. In this uncharacteristically edgy moment, Ellen tried to reason with Caitlyn explaining that now that Caitlyn had transitioned into a T and had officially obtained her membership into a marginalized acronym, that it would be a conflict of interest to maintain her conservative social values. And then Ellen asked about same-sex marriage, which Caitlyn quickly renamed gay marriage, then tried and failed to assuage the escalating atmosphere of lesbian judgement by stating that, indeed, her views had softened recently. That while still a “traditionalist” and as someone who is older and doesn’t fully understand gay marriage, it was not her place to stand in the way of anybody’s happiness. That obviously did not cut it, Caitlyn.

Not allowing the beloved sanctity of same-sex marriage to lie besmirched upon the coffee table, Ellen tried a different angle. She asked Caitlyn who she thought she was going to date now, even going so far as pointing out Caitlyn’s lifelong track record of loving women. I must say, it shows perverse dedication to the official gay agenda to be the only person in the world who would quiz Caitlyn Jenner about her sex life solely in hopes to label her as a lesbian and thusly, logically bound to support same-sex marriage, rather than to ask Caitlyn Jenner who she’s going to fuck because everybody is fetishistically fascinated by her possible genitals and how they might imagine them interacting with other possible genitals. Well played, Ellen. You get the toaster.

As an important, yet largely overlooked addendum to this interaction, Ellen appears on Howard Stern, like the next day. I used to listen to Howard Stern in the nineties, so I don’t know what he’s like now, but I would have previously considered this an unlikely booking for both parties. That’s what happened though. Ellen, looking like Grover got scolded by Maria, obviously still befuddled, confided in Howard Stern about her feelings over her conversation with Caitlyn. To my surprise, instead of calling her a carpet-muncher and asking to see her boobs, Howard, unprompted, echoed Ellen’s exact logic, positioning himself as Ellen’s sympathetic wingman in solidarity with her emotional distress. Ellen then submits the final piece of evidence to the court in the divorce proceedings. She tells Howard that she doesn’t really understand Caitlyn or the whole thing (the whole trans thing), but she doesn’t want to stand in the way of anybody’s happiness.

you mad, Maria?

you mad, Maria?

So see what happened there? She said exactly the same thing about being trans as Caitlyn did about gay marriage. And she did it on Howard Stern, which adds a whole other layer of irony that I haven’t even finished processing yet.

So what does that mean? That we just don’t understand each other anymore and we should break up? That we are growing in separate directions and we should break up? Did we ever love each other?

In the real world, the Ellen interview of Caitlyn Jenner has absolutely no relevance in answering these largely irrelavant questions. To be fair, Caitlyn herself in the interview acknowledged that her experience has been completely unlike those of others “in the community”. I think she was astutely referencing her own privilege which completely demystifies her continued conservatism. There are G&L Republicans, too.

There have been stirrings for years in the trans community about launching a separate movement. After all, trans people started the first one. It is entirely too common for gays and lesbians to “not understand” the whole trans thing. The last three times I have been harassed about my gender presentation has been by gay men. I have also noticed what I perceive to be an increasing reliance by the trans community on a political narrative that makes a clear and binding distinction between gender presentation and sexual orientation. I’m not sure what the efficacy is of this distinction other than to clarify political identities and to engage in really specific identity politics.

Sentimentally, I guess I understand the impulse to sever one’s journey of gender realization from one’s seemingly supplemental sexual orientation, as it may be perceived by the individual to have caused the larger part of one’s suffering. However, from a theoretical psychological perspective, it makes no sense, whatsoever. You’re gender is completely tangled up in who you have sex with or don’t have sex with and it’s messy. Different partners actually make us feel differently about our bodies and our perception of who we are in the moment. The problem with strict identities is that they’re no fun and they allow no flexibility for the lived complexity of being human.

I was born female and the majority of my first sexual encounters were with men and they weren’t all terrible and I derived a sense of power from the desirability of my female body. However, I was butch from a young age and was really exited about having sex with girls and feeling like a guy. I didn’t start testosterone until I was forty and I did it because I wanted a sex drive, muscles, and some facial hair. I don’t really think of myself as a man and I still have attachments to my butch identity. Also, after a few months on T, I started having fairly strong urges to touch penises for the first time in a very, very long time and it makes me feel kinda gay. But I’m married to the sexiest woman in the world and I like to have sex with her more. So, I have been waiting for some time for the identity authorities out there to give me a label and send me a t-shirt. Thanks.

I know that emotionally satisfying identities have had the potential to be powerful political tools and they can be empowering on an individual level. The problem is that it just becomes increasingly difficult to accurately define or build solidarity around the proliferation of individual identities, precisely because of their specificity. People end up with a daunting list of multiple identities, and because of the restrictive nature of any label, may suppress or hide desires that seem incongruous the socio-cultural niche that they have crafted. It sometimes feels to me as if we have stepped back into the closet to accommodate all of our visibility.

In addition, there are glaring social complexities. The experience that I have had as a white, masculine dyke who transitioned into passing as a white, straight man with the adversity and privilege that has brought is a much different experience than that of a black transwoman who perhaps does not pass. We have much different issues to face, even as we may share a history of individual sadness.

If the big queer divorce is actually being imagined as a realistic public debate, the Ellen interview of Caitlyn must not be its catalyst. If you are at all queer, and have found yourself, in the last couple of weeks, actually engaging in any un-ironic side-taking with regards to this interview, don’t tell me because I will make you do push-ups. Instead, ask yourselves if transpeople, as an encompassing political identity, could actually build a brand new movement that steadfastly incorporates intersecting oppressions involving racism, classism, sexism, as well as transphobia? Not centering these issues has been sabotaging the GLBT movement since its inception. I don’t think Caitlyn will be an appropriate spokesmodel for this vision.

I think, once upon a time, there was a fleeting vision that all of the non-normative experiences contained within the GLBT coalition had something in common. Intuitively, it made sense, even though we’ve never really gotten along. Sissy gay boys and butch dykes are just as familiar with aggression toward their gender expressions as any transperson. Initially, the intended concept was that we were all fighting for freedom of expression and we took a certain Pride in all being different from the norm.

What has happened is that the dominant normative cultural paradigm in America has expanded just enough to allow a certain segment of the gay and lesbian population to assimilate into a certain marginal visibility in the outer reaches of its scope. Homonormative couples are still secretly considered, by even the most liberal example of the dominant culture, to be charming facsimiles of heteronormative couples in this model. The success of this recent mobility has been largely dependent on clear political identities that are not dangerous to the overall structure. I think that there is a bit of an identity crisis going on now that some respectability has been achieved.

There are still plenty of queers out there wishing they could figure out how to be a threat again, to the whole establishment, that honestly, at best, makes everybody feel like shit about themselves. Same-sex marriage was never everybody’s agenda, and the campaign to make it a litmus test for GLBT inclusion has been an integral part of the mainstream organizing efforts the whole time.

I feel like this kind of divisiveness has been trending since the nineties. I’ve been trying to discern the origin of it for quite some time. But, social justice movements in general, historically just have life spans. People don’t feel personally validated by a larger political alliance and retract into a self-preservation individuality or much smaller, more intimate subcultures. This is incidentally also why we can’t have dyke bars anymore.

I wish marginalized and oppressed people all just turned into muppets. The remaining humans would be the only easily identifiable representatives of the dominant culture in this metaphor. There are all kinds and varieties of muppets whose only commonality is that a human’s hand is shoved up their ass or pulling their strings. Then there would be a world-wide muppet revolution and after the take-over, if any muppets strayed outside of the “Rainbow Connection” paradigm, they would just turn human and have to undergo Big Bird’s Empathy Achieved through Sexual Submission Training (BBEASST)…again.

Moving forward, if we are to allow any celebrity to represent our collective suffering and hope, please let it be Kermit the Frog.



Pi Love Ch. 2, Compulsive Neverland Disorder

“Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an identity that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain.” Jose Munoz, Cruising Utopia



I think what is secretly seductive about fictional apocalyptic scenarios, especially ones that involve few survivors, is the allure of fantasizing about the ideal circumstances necessary for all of the horseshit that causes all of our anxiety to be completely erased. I think many start this kind of avoidance therapy early in life. It’s a little like praying for a snowstorm or a minor car accident when you fail to finish your book report the night before it is due. As we mature and our anxiety becomes more complex, so does the fantasy. In the increasingly elaborate best case situation (the one that is obsessively recreated in your mind) all of your friends would survive and your most beloved family members, though because of the state of crisis, all of their disappointment and failed expectations connected to you become meaningless. Debt, financial and emotional, is irrelevant. Your only New Year’s resolution is survival. Dominant regulatory norms for privileged attributes disintegrate. The complex, evolved global systems of oppressive power are reset. Your mother would finally understand your moral priorities and see your true leadership potential.

And, of course, you know you’ll be among the survivors. Because you’re good at surviving. And you think you already understand loneliness and deprivation. And maybe, all the dickheads die. Maybe the aggregate, dark forces of demonic global injustice are scorched and reabsorbed into cosmic dust. Wouldn’t that be dreamy?

Besides just incidentally roughing-out the origins of the Christian faith, I am merely trying to conjure a common state of mind that often accompanies the timeless suffering of just being human, tethered to social and cultural networks and relationships that sustain us and crush us. I think this perverted little end-of-times delusion is a gift of evolution to the human brain meant to temporarily relieve the burden of consciousness. Coming down from a particularly vivid round of daydreaming about a utopic apocalyptic outcome, or your off-the-grid, eat-pray-love Airstream fort can be harsh. Familiar interpersonal cramping sets in, the fit of your shirt reminds you that you haven’t been to the gym in two weeks, while your laundry, bills, and achievement deficiencies line up around your bed in blitz formation. Is it really just another Tuesday? Stupid apocalypse never shows up.

Another, more tangibly destructive way to try to escape your own existence, and one that I chose as a lifestyle, is torching the life you’re in, alienating people who could have cared about you, and hurling yourself at a new potential life, imagining that this time, you’ll be able to stay, and somehow, your own skin will cease being completely uncomfortable. Please keep in mind, anyone caught quoting Confucius (“no matter where you go, there you are”) at this juncture, shall be excluded from surviving the apocalypse in my head.

At the end of the 90’s, the end of my twenties, San Francisco had become uncomfortable. I was exhausted. The city that had been my refuge and my enlightenment, seemed equally exhausted by the 90’s. People were moving away. Some didn’t make it through the decade. The scene was changing, dissolving. Speed-fueled, dirty girl punk shows image were morphing into straight-edge, academically-informed riot grrrl shows.

image A subtle, but important transition. Heroin was the pace at which the city was now limping into the new century, subduing the exquisite anger that had been its hailing beacon. And, of course, I had sufficiently pissed off most of the people I knew and it was time to go.

I thought it was time to grow up. Certainly my parents were wearied by my lack of maturity. I thought I knew what adulthood should look like and that I should go there. I had lucked into a relationship with a woman who actually seemed to be a perfect match for me. Patricia is one of the smartest people I had met. She was unfailingly caring and supportive. She has lots of rad tattoos and cool fashion, and she actually loved me. I’m sure one may be able to anticipate in this story that I screwed this up as well, but for now, we had been together for almost two years when I had somehow talked her into moving to Minneapolis, where grown-ups have back yards and play board games.

I’m sure Patricia would have happily stayed in San Francisco. She’s one of those people who everyone likes and she can stay at the same job for years and years. Nevertheless, at the end of 1999, we packed all of our stuff onto a moving truck, put our two cats, some clothes, and anything of value (not much) into my 1966 Chrysler 300 and started driving out of San Francisco in the middle of a warm night, at the end of August. We had a difficult time finding a hotel that night because of a beanie-baby convention in Sacramento. We had no jobs, no place to stay, and we knew no one in Minneapolis. Minneapolis had no idea that we were on our way.


mine is white


I wanted to buy a house and have a grown-up job. Actually, I, more accurately, “envisioned” those things more than I’d say I “wanted” them. It’s what my new life looked like in my head. I usually have no idea what I want, or even what that word means. It is important to note that my visions usually come true and there is often unforeseen collateral damage. Yes, I am magic. No, I do not completely understand my powers, but four days after arriving in Minneapolis, we had an apartment and jobs.

We both got jobs working for the Wedge Co-op in their new produce distribution warehouse, Co-op Partners. Patricia still has that job. She does their books. I split my time working in the warehouse, driving a truck for them, and working in the produce department at the Wedge. We had both worked for the same woman-owned, woman-operated, organic produce distributor in San Francisco, so our expertise had extra-fancy liberal credentials. We had the usual, palatable urban and queer confluence of affinities. We were good-tipping, transgressive politics-oriented vegetarians, with tattoos, who liked to drink and smoke. We were the new butch/femme power couple in town.

With our exotic San Francisco mystique, and our charming demeanor, we made friends easily. In March of 2000, we closed on our house. It was a boarded-up, abandoned, 100-year-old mess in a South Minneapolis neighborhood that our new friends cautioned us not to buy in. (The same one that is, fifteen years later, to be the home of the new Seward Co-op, which is likely our fault.) To be fair, neither Patricia nor our realtor wanted us to buy this house either, mostly because of its condition, and maybe the smell, but my visions will not be denied. Patricia made the best of it, as she always did, while I set about acquiring new butch skills, pretending I knew how to fix-up our house.

My intention of becoming a grown-up seemed to be fleshing itself out. The house was becoming functional, though still very much in the style of a 90’s apartment in San Francisco. We had people over. We went out a lot. I became the warehouse manager at Co-op Partners which could be perceived as a real job. Our friends admired the stability of our relationship. We got a dog.



It’s hard to say whether I could have sustained that life, had my brain allowed me to enjoy it. I think lots of people fashion lives by assembling psychologically pleasing bits and baubles of expectations and accessorizing with personal cultural affiliations. Bargains on identities can be found at your local Home Depot, thrift stores, and antique architectural doo-dad establishments. I assume many are content with the identity that occupies their space, how it looks, how it is reflected by their community, their family. Some may even be happy. Some experience ennui. I just always felt like my brain was on fire and my face was melting.

Don’t get me wrong, I truly loved Patricia. I loved our house and our pets and our friends. I wish I trusted psychology more to enlighten me on the demon jamboree that has been banging out maniacal banjo duels in my head for as long as I can remember. I think the destruction began in 2003.

I was fat. That has always been a thing. I hadn’t ever been this big. Since I stopped doing speed in ’98 and started drinking nice beer, I had steadily packed it on. My job was less than satisfying. My boss was the most repugnant, vile person I had ever met. Edward, seriously, you are disgusting. Working for him gave me irritable bowel syndrome. The fact that I had never finished college actually caused me nausea every time I remembered it. I had also started wearing sweaters.

I hated being a grown-up. Patricia hated it too, but I think she was just trying to be supportive. One morning, we were having breakfast at The French Meadow on Lyndale. I had ordered a dish that normally came with poached eggs. I don’t like poached eggs, so I asked that they come scrambled or something. They gave me poached eggs. I spent the next three hours, outside, in my truck sobbing uncontrollably. I think I quit my job the next day.

mmm, scrotum toast

mmm, scrotum toast

I applied to the University of Minnesota soon after. Because of the many F’s I had collected from dropping out of school twice, I had to go into an individualized degree program through the College of Continuing Education. This actually meant I could take any classes I wanted. I loved it so much. I had it in my head that maybe I wanted to go to grad school, too, so I took a language, Ancient Greek. My heart was actually touched by the beauty of something for the maybe the first time. I ended up with twice as many credits necessary for a degree, with a 3.94 GPA. I don’t know how people finish school in their twenties.

I had also started working out. I rode my bike everywhere. I even started taking yoga at the U. I lost all the weight and was probably in the best shape of my life. I eventually completed a real triathlon.

Patricia and I threw away our sweaters and remembered that we were cool in the 90’s. And even if we were actually nerds by SF standards, Minneapolis didn’t need to know that.

Our social circle also started expanding. We made friends with all the South Minneapolis hipster queers. We started throwing fabulous parties at our house that everybody came to.

Meanwhile, on the other side of my brain…I started spending more and more time at the gym or the coffeshop writing papers, or even sitting by myself on the porch, anywhere but in the house. My familiar, amiable daily suicidal thoughts were showing their more sinister sides. I wanted to run again. I didn’t know why.

That’s the part that torments and mocks your intellect. Compulsive, self-destructive behavior has never been sufficiently explained to me. Psychology can try to carve it up and name a disorder or disease specific to your behavior that is socially unproductive. Religion can talk about attachment as suffering or the seven deadly sins, which are just severe attachments that create hell in your brain. But those explanations are egocentric and diagnostically unsatisfying. We evolve on a much larger scale. Human culture, with its homogenizing nature, is arguably beneficial to tribes with more cohesive cultures, but I think the force of assimilation is also an elegant and cruel metaphysical test of evolution. If you fit in and thrive, it is likely your genes will be passed on, renewing an assimilating model of human. If you are shunned and alienated at a young age, you are given a second and much harder test. Your own brain will start to weed you out of the pack and no one ever suggests it’s a test. Depression may paralyze you and cause your own destruction. You start to believe that you are of no value to your own pack. Your compulsion to escape leads to all sorts of unsavory and dangerous behavior. You may start to have completely obsessive visions propelling you away from anything that makes you happy because you were not meant to be happy. Happy is for those stupid cake-eaters that fit in.

uh-oh thumbs down for nerds

uh-oh thumbs down for nerds

There is a benefit to humanity that you give by running this gauntlet, however. If you make it through, it means you possess magic mutant rainbow unicorn genes and you really are the only hope for any further human evolution. It’s taken me a long time to realize that my torment was just a dare from Mother Nature. You think you’re acting out of desire, but really you’re just picking yourself off, or at least making yourself more vulnerable to predators.

There are many flavors of compulsion. Mine usually took the form of obsessive crushes on pretty straight girls. C’mon butches, back me up. This may seem benign until you start to recognize that the onset of these epic infatuations always seem to coincide with times in your life when you are closest to potential intimacy and stability. The objects of my preoccupation have never been meant to lead to a successful relationship (and never have). I think I have just wanted to win, like any masculine animal brutishly overpowering rivals, while also overcoming the obstacles of my own anatomy, and achieving some bullshit identity whose entitlements I will never really possess. Maybe I subconsciously believe it’s a way to earn my spot in the pack. As an added benefit, these episodes also completely destroy whatever life situation you’re in that was providing some measure of that completely foreign and unwelcome feeling of actual security and accomplishment.

where are her arms?

where are her arms?

The first crush I had while I was still with Patricia was on my African History professor, which caused me to fail my final. The second was on my yoga instructor at the U, which resulted in me never being able to return to the athletic center. The third was ultimately fatal to my relationship with Patricia. Patricia was even smart enough to know that I was destroying something that I actually didn’t want to destroy and she wondered what the fuck I was doing. I felt like I was possessed. I felt helpless. I felt like a monster. It took over a year to exhaust Patricia enough to leave. I didn’t realize that I could disappoint myself that much or that I could be that sad, but I could not stop myself from wrecking everything and isolating myself.

The only helpful thing I had done, subconsciously, is back myself into a corner. I couldn’t run. I had a dog and cats. I had a house that was basically a psychic projection of myself. And there were a couple of people I couldn’t live without. One, in particular, I have known in all of my previous lives, and once I recognized him, I couldn’t just leave.

I met Benny Benson within a few months of my arrival in Minneapolis. I was pulling a pallet through the Wedge at 6am. As I passed aisle 4, I saw a new person stocking shelves. I thought to myself, “Shit, that’s cute. Look at that new baby butch who works here.” I introduced myself and asked if I could buy her a coffee. She said no and looked at me like I had poop on my face. Over the next few weeks, I saw little sporty spice roll into the Wedge with a super hot femme girl a few times, which delighted me more than it probably should have. We chatted occasionally at work and we were definitely drawn to one another, but there seemed to an odd barrier to our friendship. Then one night, I was playing in a Euchre tournament at Bar Abeline in Uptown. I saw Benny there with that same pretty girl, but the girl seemed to be on a date with some bio-boy and Benny was wearing blue eye-shadow.

The next day I approached Benny at work, confused, and asked, perhaps a bit too aggressively, “Are you a dyke, or what?” Benny started to kind of choke up and finally said, “I don’t know.” Instantly, I felt all of their pain flood into my own chest and knew it. I knew him. In my teens, I was sent a protector. In my twenties, I was sent a mentor. In my thirties, I was given a brother.

I took him to Cafe Wyrd and we talked about butch stuff and that pretty femme girl he’d had a crush on for years, but never kissed. I got him laid by sending an older woman after him. He still likes to bitch about that. Then over the next few years, Benny started going to gay bars and getting himself laid. He played softball with the lesbians who shave their legs. We didn’t actually hang out that much, except that we were the part of each others lives that remained constant no matter what other dumb shit was going on.

In Early April of 2006, I was in my last semester of coursework at the U. I was in a class called Dissident Sexualities in U.S. History which cast new light on my own history and provided new perspective on the communities I had known in San Francisco. I realized that the queers, in the 90’s, in SF, were special, and that it wasn’t just me that had gotten boring in my ridiculous quest to grow up. Across the nation, the gays were treating fabulous like herpes and liberally applying gay marriage ointment to stop the oozing of awesome. Rich old homos were publicly bitching about drag queens and leather daddies in the Pride Parade because we couldn’t scare the hets anymore if we hoped to be just like them. The Townhouse in St. Paul put a security guard outside the men’s room to check ID’s lest a transman tried to pee in there.

So that’s when the fire started. My marriage was ending. Unbelievable sadness worked with my socially reprehensible behavior to effectively burn all ties to the identity I had been crafting. I couldn’t run away, but I couldn’t find safety. The gays were now crusading for assimilation and vying for membership in the dominant paradigm by burning the heretic queers. Where would the misfits go? Where would I go?

Sanctuary. Apocalypse. Creating the circumstances under which the brutality of cultural norms could be suspended for a time, and not just in my head. In order to find the island of misfit toys, I had to build it. I really could see no other alternative for my life or my tribe.

The next morning, I went into work at Linden Hills Co-op, to stock shelves with Benny Benson. I told him I was opening a bar and I wanted him to be my bar manager. Without hesitation or question, he simply said yes. That was in April of 2006, we were open in February of 2007.


4/20/06 so high

4/20/06 so high

It’s finally time to tell you how Pi Bar happened now that you know why.

Pi Love, Preface (Do You Still Believe in Fairies?)

2011-06-27-Gay_Pride_Parade_NYC_2011_H   Another Pride Season came and went this summer as it does every summer.  What does that mean anymore?  Did you go?  Were you inspired?  The Homocorporate Jamboree is part of Americana now.  Should we still bother to believe in the Gay Holiday Spirit?  Should we yet look upon the trails of rainbow glitter, dusting the urine-soaked sidewalks with wide-eyed wonder imagining the glorious, radical fairy that may have left us a shimmery trail of hope for profound subversion and true transgressive potential?  Do Towanda and the goddess still swell within your vagina as big dykes on big bikes rumble past, engines rattling your diaphragm?  Are you truly Proud?  Or has the HRC and Absolut Vodka stolen our magic beans forever?

When was the last time you truly felt that gushy, choked-up, heart-pride at the beauty of the solidarity of a bunch of freaky misfits engaging in the simple, profound bravery of resistance?  I’m not talking about that feeling that you get when you’re at some awesome, completely self-aware activist fundraiser, watching yet another performance by that local queer artist that seems to land every activist fundraiser gig, that you’re secretly not into, but you can’t wait to tweet about it anyway.  I’m not talking about facebook proud. I am talking about that rare moment when you suddenly realize that you are in that spontaneous, organic location of choice… providential, morality-forming choice.  And you choose correctly, courageously, with your whole heart.  This can happen when you simply chose to be utterly possessed and cosmically aligned to the unexpectedly compelling queer performance art. In that moment, when you watched that aging trans-woman, whose voice was cracking while you were sobbing, sing Christina Aguilera’s “I Am Beautiful”,  you understood, completely, you might kill or die for her because nothing else is as important to vanquishing evil in the world as her bravery.  You let that experience change you.  Good and evil may again reveal themselves when you choose to stay on the front line of a riot because you watched the cops, in full riot gear mace the people standing next to you, who (not surprisingly) happened to be transwomen, and your initial impulse to provide care or help them escape, transformed into fanatical awe, watching five of them simultaneously draw mace from their own purses to return the gesture.  The fire-hoses did not move you.  And maybe, at some point, you saw, in an instant, an unlikely opportunity to actualize a fantasy of a physical sanctuary and community venue for the purpose of fomenting that exact feeling of pride and that rare potential solidarity you feared was fading with each passing Pride Season?  You knew you could actually do something real for the community you have most admired and loved, but it was a huge risk.  Would you take it?  Even if it meant there would be nothing else in your life?  And you could lose everything?  Is that swelling in your heart real or are you just having an mid-life identity crisis?  Does it matter?  Because if you truly believe in the Spirit of Queer Past and you let it fill you with gooey psuedo-nationalistic, epic We Are The Champions Pride, is it any less of a miracle when what you envisioned actually manifests in the world? Is there anything else that you are doing with your life that might end up being as important to you as creating something that touches others and changes things, just a little?  What are you willing to give up to see what your heart desperately wants in the world?  To overthrow cynicism, even for a tiny fraction of your life?  images-4

Queers aren’t what they used to be.  It’s probably time to refresh the taxonomy of queer.  To me, it feels like a purely emotional and moral classification.  Anyone who is not an asshole, but must also be some some sort of awesome.  This is important because queer still has potential.  Queer still antagonizes the foundational assumptions of the dominant, Western, cultural paradigm – sex and gender.  The regulatory norms of the dominant culture still fuck everybody up.  They also undergird the principles of colonial capitalism which are, at heart, paternalistic and cause unimaginable destruction and suffering globally. This is not friendly paternalism, dad is an evil dick.  Perhaps you’re wondering what this has to do with Gay Pride.  The only thing that has ever kept the zombie apocalypse at bay throughout human history is the magnetism of the outcast, the gumption of the underdog, pirate mojo, and the “Pride” of moral certitude in acts of solidarity and resistance to a common evil.  Being gay has become kind of boring…and worse than that, lots and lots of the younger generation of queers seem to be pretty ok with that. The rich, old Republican dykes and fags are a lost cause, but it’s the kids I’m worried about.  My worst fear is that they never get to experience that cool feeling that is sort of like when a group of improbable heroes in a cheesy action movie are strutting together in slow motion to face impossible odds.  That feeling actually happens in real life and it is the only thing that has ever organized people and started movements.  Did anybody remember to pass the torch?

I will be the first to admit that I am one of those disparaging, crotchety, aging Gen-X’er that too often and too vocally laments the loss of the nineties.  I bark and bark about the demise of the music and the politics, the fashion and the spirit of that decade.  I growl about “kids today” and I confess to having called them whiny, overly sensitive, boring, and mostly big pussies. (Don’t talk to me about my use of the word pussy.)  And I am not alone in freaky, wrinkly-tattoo, used-to-be-angry-now-I’m-just-grumpy geezertown.  Courtney Love wrote a cute little song a couple years ago about (in my reading) an aging nineties rock star’s annoyance toward Millennial’s insipid pop, called Skinny Little Bitch.  A lyrical sampling…

And you would be oh so dumb to fuck with me
Cause baby you’re much too young to end up with me…

In my vile sex horror and my cheap drug hell
I am all the things you’ll never live to tell
And you will never see the light
I’ll just obscure it out of spite…

Skinny Little Bitch, Skinny Little Bitch… tumblr_lgocat5ryr1qdhwt8

God I love that woman.  I have also listened to human interest stories on NPR that suggest that the lack of unstructured playtime and over-protective or indulgent parenting might be contributing to a generation of young adults with stunted social coping skills and underdeveloped life strategies.  NPR is always so polite.  But then I read Jack Halberstam’s recent blog, “You Are Triggering Me: the Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger, and Trauma” which largely echoes many of my own complaints. As I was reading it, I found it wholly entertaining.  Yeah! Put a trigger warning on my fat, dyke, tranny, hairy tits and ass!  Yeah!  I was completely ready to roll my eyes at any critiques.  But, I read about four or five responses to his article and found, at least, a handful of compelling counterpoints, most significantly that this esteemed, published, queer theorist in academia leveled critiques at the proliferation of rhetorical constraints on academic queer theory ironically created largely by the work of established queer theorists.  This started an internal critique of my own belligerence.  I realized that I have friends in their twenties, many of whom have heard my rants, who I like and respect very much.  I have experienced a great deal of intelligence and wit from some young people recently.  It is not entirely helpful for me to bully youth into adversity or even make them do pushups every time they whine.  I don’t want to be an old hater.  But, something is nagging at me.  Something is missing that I don’t think has ever been missing in a young generation.  What is it?  Am I just out of touch?

Also, let us not forget to place this whole polemic squarely in the unavoidable poo-pile of privilege into which all mostly white, largely academic, socially urbanized and queerified mo’s are sure to step and then act like everybody’s got shit on their shoes.   Young, educated privileged queers, are you sure you have sufficient training and experience to create a fluffy cloud of verbal prophylactics that speaks to and for everyone in the community?  And hey, grumpy old gender studies professor, have you done your due diligence and qualified your curmudgeonry with deconstructive, anti-colonial critique?  I will point out that nobody in this debate is calling young transwomen, especially poor transwomen, or transwomen of color overly sensitive.  And I’d wager that they are probably not present at many backyard safety summits that alter queer custom and speech for their benefit.  And that is because transwomen of color do not now, nor did they forty-five years ago, have the luxury of expecting a world free from potential harm.  They are still fighting for that.  While all the gays are getting married and adopting babies or riding their fixed-gears in a polyamorous peloton, transwomen are still fighting for basic human consideration.  In case you missed the first day of Queer History 101, it was transwomen who fought back at Stonewall in 1969.  A couple years earlier, it was transwomen who rioted at Compton Cafeteria in San Francisco.  It was these events that precipitated the great, slogging, back-biting circus that has been the GLBT Movement for the past forty-five years.  Transwomen were fighting against police harassment and brutality.  They were fighting against housing and employment discrimination.  They were fighting for their personal safety and individual freedom.  And we find out from Time Magazine this year, that transgender issues are “America’s next civil rights frontier”.  The concerns discussed in the article are exactly the same as they were half a century ago.  “It Gets Better”, but not for everyone.

The Time article begins with, “Nearly a year after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, another social movement is poised to challenge deeply held cultural beliefs.”  There are so many things wrong with that sentence, that I’ve been unable to move my head for a half-hour trying to figure out where to begin.  I’m not going to bitch about Time or the journalist.  They both get the ‘way-to-go mainstream publication’ pat on the head.  You have exceeded my expectations of you which are zero.  However, queers, I have higher expectations of you.  It is your fault this sentence was published.  First of all, it would appear that the gay and lesbian agenda of legalized marriage is being juxtaposed to simply being transgendered as similar challenges to dominant culture.  This might imply that the movements have something to do with each other, but wait, “another social movement is poised”.  This mainstream, and traditionally conservative publication has casually named something that should cause shame in the hearts of every Wells Fargo banking, Chipoltle eating, rainbow bracelet wearing, Pride Parade enjoying mother fucker.  There was never a T in GLBT.  Transpeople and gender deviants have always born the brunt of societal discrimination, violence, and exclusion, not to mention all of these things from within their own supposed movement as well.  They started a movement that has been so shitty to them, that it is not surprising at all to find that mainstream America thinks it’s a brand new “frontier”.

To those of you that believe in the efficacy of an incremental civil rights strategy…well, yes, certain things do change, but it appears to be at the cost of reinforcing by renegotiating a timelessly brutal matrix of oppressive power dynamics.  By simply expanding the obligatory guest list of those vying for a seat at the table of dominant class entitlements, you just make the bouncers bigger assholes.  The categories of exclusions become ever more specialized and aggressively policed (often most enthusiastically by the newly entitled).  Racism and classism, you are like gravity, nothing on earth escapes your force.  Gender, however it is perceived internally and externally has everything to do with everything you do every day everywhere.  These mega-categories influence the power dynamic of every single human interaction we have.  And no matter how much you think has changed in the last fifty years, the dominant model of power in the Western World has really not changed at all.  That’s why getting married became so much more important to gays than any other queer issue that had anything to do with poverty, race, or gender presentation.  But I know why those gays fought for that.  They were willing to leave the dominant regulatory norms in place and assimilate as much as possible to the dominant model, to gain access to not only legal entitlements, but a certain gain in social cachet. That happens in all social justice movements.  But, something sincerely troubles me about the queers that seem so aware of all of these easily identifiable problems with mainstream G&L politics.  Something diabolical has seized the great tentacles of traditional, American, clumsy, shit-kickin oppression, against which it was so satisfying to mobilize, and trained them into millions of tiny, wiggly, tickly tadpoles of easily consumable, oppression-friendly, magic chicken fingers that make complacency delicious.

The real reason that some of us old nineties activists get so grumpy about the younger generation of activists is because it actually seems to us that oppression in the fringe is getting more severe, and the global situation is becoming more dangerous.  When we look for signs of clever and functional resistance, we often only find facebook links to Jon Stewart or Beyonce.  I honestly don’t have any answers.  It’s my fault, too.  The main reason I started this blog is that I’ve been having a very difficult time finding my shine.  I don’t know how to begin to fight the situation we are in.  I have been transitioning for almost four years.  I look like a middle-aged white man.  Perhaps the absence of daily micro-aggresions has dried up my access to outsider magic.  At least I know what I’m missing.  Nothing can take away my personal history and my memories.  Or my stories.  That’s what this personal project is for.  Right now, it is all that I have to give.  I am hoping, by the end of telling my story, I will have more.  However, to those adults who were born after I graduated high school, you killed rock ‘n’ roll, so I have to think that you don’t know what you’re missing.  Perhaps you think my emphasis on the emotive power of the Spirit of Queer Past is corny.  It is.  But, I got to live a real life Fairy tale.  I know a story seems anticlimactic after all of my proselytizing , but a good story is a much more efficient way to pass on what you think is important and it is the best reason to risk it all.


So clap for Tinkerbell.  joker-clapping-hollywoods-best-unscripted-moments  And I will tell you a story of fairy dust and pirates, real heroes and real villains, and destiny made.  And just like a creepy, animated Tom Hanks movie that makes you cry when the kid hears the jingle bell or a creepy Tom Hanks prison movie that makes you cry when you realize that a death row prisoner is kinda like Jesus or something, you will get that cheesy, childlike gut rush of endorphins and believe again in queer miracles.

This will be the story of Pi.  It was a queer nightclub in Minneapolis that I began to envision in early 2006.  It closed in late 2008. Though short-lived, the enormity of the experience has delayed it’s telling until now.  I will try to be more diligent about posting the chapters of the story in a more timely manner.  I honestly have just felt intimidated about writing it.  I don’t want to fuck it up.