E LECTION 2012
THE QUEER YOUTH VOTE
Michael Cunningham REVIEWS 0%2&5-% '%.)53 s 0!2)!( s 5.)4%$ ). !.'%2
ARTIST SPOTLIG HT
SPRING 2012 VOL. 2 / ISSUE 2
Q drops in for office hours with the Yale professor & novelist
The Official Women’s Event Saturday, June 23, 4:00 PM – 10:30 PM Pier 54, West 13th St. @ West Side Hwy. Featuring DJs Missy B & Trini, and DJ Whitney Day
RAPTURE ON THE RIVER
For continuous updates check www.nycpride.org
PRIDE STARTS HERE! Saturday, June 16 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM Location TBD
Sunday, June 24 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM Hudson Street between Abingdon Square & 13th St.
PRIDEFEST Saturday, June 23 2:00 PM - 10:00 PM Hudson Terrace / 621 W. 46th DJs Corey Craig, Freemasons, & Moto Blanco
VIP Rooftop Party Sunday, June 24 Steps off at noon Begins at 36th St. & 5th Ave.
Sunday, June 24 4:00 PM – 10:30 PM Pier 54, West 13th St. @ West Side Hwy. Featuring BORIS & The Perry Twins
DANCE ON THE PIER
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR For the past year, I have been sifting through perhaps the queerest of Yale’s archives. My senior essay grounded me in the activism of the decades immediately surrounding Stonewall, the generation to which we owe the impressive momentum of the early radical queer liberation movements. And while it is easy to think of the 1970s as “the Radical Moment,” it is important to remember that radical queer activism did not stop there. As Professor Michael Cunningham reveals in his interview with Q, the Radical Moment has been alive in the recent past, during our lifetimes, in fact, with the zaps and radical tactics of AIDS activist groups such as ACT UP in the 1990s. But where are we now? As Q explored the queer youth vote in this issue, we saw that while most queer Yalies still align their politics with their queerness, some are starting to divorce the two, producing, in some cases, the elusive gay Republican. As queer people gain the ability to reconcile their queerness with other parts of their identity that had previously seemed in conflict, do we lose our radical edge? The ubiquity of marriage equality in gay activist agendas is one manifestation of this tension. Is gay marriage a radical transformation of an oppressive institution or an attempt to squeeze queer families into heteronormative molds? In his 1995 book Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography, queer theorist David Halperin defines queerness as “whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant.” While queer people have much to gain by assimilation into oppositional structures such as political/cultural conservatism or traditional institutions, we must ask ourselves what is being lost in return. Are we losing our very queerness? Does that even matter? This issue seeks to explore our generation’s relationship to these ideas and asks readers to look at radical potential, both within the activist frameworks of LGBTQ-related political campaigns and within the cultural frameworks of music and film. Can we queer mainstream structures, or else can we participate in them while maintaining our own queerness within these structures? Each generation must shape its own movement, and as LGBTQ communities at Yale and throughout the country continue down a path of cultural integration, we must continue to think critically about the value of queer. – Mara Dauphin
VOLUME 2 / ISSUE 2
The Silent Choir An exploration of the complicated role of gay men in the gospel music community
Q sits down with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Yale professor to discuss writing, activism, and jail bologna
By Wilfredo Ramos Jr.
SEX TOYS AT YALE
Everything from Fleshlights to cucumbers!
The Queer Youth Vote Q finds out which issues are on queer Yaliesâ€™ minds heading into the 2012 presidential election By Ilana Seager
What does virginity mean for queer people, and why does it matter?
UNITED IN ANGER
PARIAH PERFUME GENIUS 30
30 Homophobia and free speech in the 1986 Wayne Dick controversy during Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days
By Chamonix Adams Porter
3 Photography Director Christopher Peak
From the Archives
Webmistress Tasia Smith
Managing Editor Travis Trew
Graphic Designer Paul Doyle
THE GAY ANTHEMS THAT WEREN’T 33 By Mara Dauphin 26
Publishers Wei Yan Jonathan Setiabrata
Associate Editors Rachel Lipstein Edward Oo Ilana Seager
By Ryan Mendías
Q is printed by Knepper Press, Clinton, PA 15026.
For subscription or advertising inquiries, email email@example.com. For letters to the editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Q Editor, PO Box 206821, New Haven, CT 06520.
Q Magazine at Yale is published once each semester of the academic year. It is edited by Yale College students. Yale University is not responsible for its contents. Two thousand copies of each issue are distributed to the Yale University Campus. Subscriptions are available upon request.
We kindly thank the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee and the Yale History department for their generous support. This magazine was also made possible with the support of Campus Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, online at CampusProgress.org.
Q tackles your questions on dating, sex, and relationships at Yale
Editor-in-Chief Mara Dauphin
Yale’s LGBTQ Publication
DROP ME A Q
The Silent Choir By Wilfredo Ramos Jr.
in the beginning there was silence. and then there was a sound, and that sound was a voice, and the voice began to sing. and the voice said: god’s been good to me. and then the crowd began to cheer, and so the voice said: i would guess you can say god has blessed me. and the music began to build, and the voice grew stronger, and the crowd grew louder – and yet there was still silence.
The Voice belonged to the Rev. James Cleveland, a Baptist minister and a prophet in the Gospel tradition. Cleveland’s voice was low and deep, beautiful yet broken from singing too many praises to his Lord. Among his favorites were “Peace Be Still,” “Get Right Church,” and “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired.” His voice inspired a following of disciples that included such A-list Gospel greats as Aretha Franklin and Shirley Caesar and his voice inspires me, a non-religious Puerto Rican college student, to tune into Pandora’s Traditional Gospel station every day to hear him spread the message of God’s love. It comforts me to think, as he says in his songs, that I have been blessed and that I will always be loved. Nearly at peace, I snap along to the rhythms of the Holy Ghost. Recently, I’ve been snapping less. In the last year or so I’ve discovered a vacuum that envelops the Gospel tradition, a vacuum which suffocates a certain truth: many of the voices praising God are gay. In 1999, a white gay
author named Gary David Comstock asked 20 African American theologians and ministers to talk about the place of LGBTQ people in their churches. All of these men and women support LGBTQ people and were working at the time of the interviews to promote LGBTQ issues. They varied in their analyses of what it means to be LGBTQ in a Black church, but they all agreed that there was one thing that LGBTQ people experienced in many Black churches: Silence. They said: Rev. Marjorie BowensWheatley: “…These men had power, but their gayness was not acknowledged, so that dimension of their lives was oppressed.” Rev. Dr. Jacquelyn Grant: “...essentially… the issues are still not being dealt with above the table. It means that it’s almost Bill Clinton’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of approach to the ‘problem.’” Rev Edwin C. Sanders II: “… in Nashville there were six musicians who died of AIDS. In every instance it was treated with a hush. Nobody wanted to deal with the fact that all of these men were gay black men, and yet they’d been there leading the music for them.” That was in 1999. Some things have changed since then — sodomy laws have been repealed, gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military, and some states and even some churches allow gay marriage. Yet the vacuum persists. Gospel artist B-Slade (formerly known as Tonex) has been isolated from the Gospel community since coming out in 2010. Soon after his announcement, the Black Entertainment Television network cancelled his scheduled appearance on their network. With no support from the Gospel community since he spoke, B-Slade has transitioned into pop. Meanwhile, those who denounce
queer identities have been embraced. In 2009, popular vocalist Donnie McClurkin gave a 20-minute speech to a congregation where he declared that he had overcome his own homosexuality and that it was possible for others to do the same. After calling gays and lesbians “broken” people, he led a mass exorcism to rid the children in the congregation of the “demons” of homosexuality. The same year another contemporary Gospel singer, Kirk Franklin, said that “God does not bless mess” and that churches should not be afraid to lose members of the choir (i.e. “the choir queens”) whose lives are a “mess.” Now when I tune into my Pandora account to hear the voice of love, I fast forward through these voices of hate and I listen for voices of tolerance. I listen for words of acceptance. Listening can take a while. It can take a while because the Puerto Rican Catholic tradition has a vacuum set aside for queerness just as the Black Protestant tradition does. It is a silence that makes a 12-year-old think: you can’t be gay and Latino. It is a silence that makes a 14-year-old tell himself that you are only gay if you wear a v-neck. It is a silence that keeps a teenager from having intimate friendships, that forces him to make excuses to his friends and grandparents, that stops him from pursuing love. It is all-consuming and all powerful. Underlying it all is fear, the fear of having to choose between being met with silence or being silent, the fear of leaving one vacuum for another. Yet even in the midst of all that fear, that scared, quiet teenager knows what staying silent can do. He knows that silence really can turn him into a broken person, into someone who will always be loved by his family for who he used to be, who will always be loved by his friends for who he pretends to be, but who will never love himself for who he is. As I sit in front of my laptop, listening to the Rev. Cleveland sing, I hear in his voice the words I have been waiting for: God’s love is all-inclusive. Suddenly at peace, I believe that I can love me, too. qmagazineatyale.com
The Quee Youth Vot How LGBTQ Yalies Vote and Why
By Ilana Seager
With the November elections fast approaching, LGBTQ voters across the country have their minds set on marriage. At Yale the focus is no different. In a survey of 163 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer Yalies, 40 percent of respondents told Q they think marriage is the most important LGBTQ-specific issue in the 2012 election. But that leaves 60 percent of respondents who were not completely convinced by the parades of marriage advocates who point to this single battle as the be-all and end-all for the LGBTQ rights movement. Indeed, there is plenty of discussion among LGBTQ folks on campus about how to ensure that other issues important to students are addressed in this election cycle — 18.5 percent of students, for example, think that attaining employment non-discrimination should be our priority. In fact, the results of this Q survey show that LGBTQ Yalies are not all the liberal, marriage-loving registered Democrats that the popular press makes the gay student vote out to be. Some of us are even Republicans. When Freddie Ramos ‘15 was 11 years old, he dressed up as the Democratic Party donkey for Halloween — just two days before John Kerry lost the race for president to George W. Bush. Electoral politics has long been a part of Freddie’s life. With Latino parents who hail from a low-income area of Ohio, Ramos leaned liberal from an early age, learning from his parents the importance of assisting others and remaining inclusive — traits he sees more often in the Democratic Party than the Republican. But as he has grown older, and started to explore his sexual orientation, things have become less black and white. “Over time I started to think that it’s better for me to register as an Independent,” said Ramos. “I want to be in a position where people can’t count on my vote and really have to listen to me.” Ramos entered the world of politics properly in 2010 when he worked on
a congressional campaign in his home district as a financial intern. It was in this position that he learned the importance of money in campaigning. But more importantly, it was where he found a love of marching at parades and handing out campaign stickers to constituents. In this he found a way to really connect with people that made him feel like he was changing hearts and minds. As a queer Latino man, Ramos said he knows what it is like to not be accepted, and tries to be as understanding as possible of other people and their situations. Politically, his sexual orientation has made him dream of a fair society where redefinition of opinions is more malleable and people are more open-minded. Indeed, queerness leads many LGBTQ Yalies to politics. Senior Katie Miller ’12 grew up as a staunch Republican. Born into a military family, and eventually enrolling at the United States Military Academy at West Point, conservatism was something she never really had to think about. During the 2008 elections, Miller strongly supported John McCain, seeing him as a moderate Republican who was fiscally conservative. But as Miller started to come to terms with her sexuality, she started to pay more attention to news about LGBTQ inequality in the military. And when John McCain emerged as one of “don’t ask, don’t tell”s (DADT) most vehement supporters, Miller decided that she could never vote Republican, a shift that would put her at odds with the community she lived in and serve as the first step towards her debut in the national discussion about the repeal of DADT. Andy Vo ’15, on the other hand, first found his interest in politics when he interned at the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Boston in the organization’s Public Affairs and Education department. 29 percent of Q’s survey respondents have personally worked on a political campaign at a local, state, or federal level, and 23 percent have worked at an LGBTQ organization or on an LGBTQ-specific qmagazineatyale.com
campaign. Vo’s summer with GLAD occurred around the same time that discussion about LGBTQ youth suicide rose in the media, so Vo spent his time working on organizing a conference for local Massachusetts schools’ Gay Straight Alliances. The experience increased his interest in LGBTQ issues, and gave him a more nuanced view of the gay rights movement. “My gayness is central to my politics,” he said, “because my ideas about taxes and the budget can always change, but the fact that I’m gay is never going to change.” Economic and LGBTQ issues do not have to stand in opposition, however. As Miller notes, it is often difficult to parse out fiscal concerns from social matters. Months out from the presidential election, the economy remains the primary concern of all presidential candidates, and 53 percent of LGBTQ Yalies agree that money and jobs are the key issues going into the election. Education and healthcare follow as the next most important issues to students. Keen consumers of the media and global thinkers, queer Yalies are not single-minded when it comes to the current state of the union, though. They know that from an equal rights standpoint, things are a little more complicated. Since President Obama was elected (with the aid of 82 percent of the survey’s respondents who were eligible to vote in 2008), the country has seen significant legislative change in the realm of gay rights issues. In California, the FAIR Education Act, which mandates the inclusion of LGBTQ examples in public school history lessons, was passed, providing countless young people with an awareness of significant LGBTQ people through the ages. Federally, it became legal for gay, lesbian and bisexual citizens to serve in the U.S. military with the repeal of DADT late last year, and in
“My gayness is central to my politics because my ideas about taxes and the budget can always change, but the fact that I’m gay is never going to change.”
February 2011, President Obama stated that his administration would no longer uphold the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ (DOMA) that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In October 2009, the President also signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act which extended the existing hate crimes legislation to include protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation. It was also the first federal law to give legal protections to transgender people. This administration has certainly seen many successes for queer Americans, but there is still a long way to go. Samesex transnational couples still face significant difficulties in gaining the legal status necessary for both partners to live in the same country. Only 16 states have employment non-discrimination laws on the books that include protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity, with an additional five that protect against discrimination based on sexual
POLLING DATA Compiled fromSpring 1632012 Yale students 8 Q Magazine
SEXUAL IDENTITY 9% Lesbian 49% Gay 3% Other 21% Queer 18% Bisexual
orientation only. Transgender people are still not allowed to serve openly in the military, and homelessness of LGBTQ youth is at an alarming high. As we prepare to vote in November, these are all issues that the LGBTQ community must keep in mind, but how informed do queer Yalies really feel about these issues? Q’s survey sample consisted of 63 percent respondents who identified as male (36 percent female, two percent other), while 49 percent identified as gay, nine percent as lesbian, 18 percent as bisexual and 21 percent as queer, with a reasonably even spread across class years and an average age of 20.1. Of this sample, 56 percent felt either highly informed or informed about politics in general while 73 percent felt highly informed or informed about LGBTQ-specific current events. However, only 31 percent of respondents were familiar with California’s FAIR Education Act, a fairly prominent piece of legislation.
GENDER 62% Male 36% Female 2% Other
There are, of course, the highly involved exceptions. Former Ward 1 Democratic Town Committee Co-Chair Amalia Skilton ’13 has worked on six political campaigns to date, and even organized students on campus around Maine’s marriage vote in 2009. Yale for Maine Equality, which Skilton helped coordinate, led six or seven phone banks in which about 75 people participated, and took 25 Yalies to canvass in Maine the weekend before the measure went to vote. This was a new experience for Skilton, who had come to Yale from Arizona where she says there is much less activism around LGBTQ issues. Though she has been openly gay since she was 12 years old, she had never before had the chance to really get involved. “I had always kind of felt helpless,” she said. “And then I got here and I was doing this work, and one day I thought, ‘I feel great now! Why is that?’” For Skilton, the organizing of people into a strong LGBTQ rights movement with solid straight allies is what it’s all about. Indeed, she thinks that this rallying of the troops is what makes marriage such a great topic for LGBTQ people to unite around, as straight allies are drawn to the tales of love and commitment. That’s not to say that marriage would be her pick for the top political issue — “The DREAM Act is my top priority in the world,” she said, referring to the piece of legislation that, if passed, would grant conditional permanent residency to some illegal immigrants. “There are so many queer people who are DREAMers, and they are even more screwed than their peers because many of them have no support from their families.” But Yalies do think that marriage serves an important purpose in the LGBTQ rights movement. Marriage as a unifying force for the LGBTQ rights movement gained a lot of momentum after Proposition 8 was passed in California in 2008, overturning the legalization of marriage equality in the state. In the last year alone, marriage has hit newspaper headlines with
How does a candidate’s stance on LGBT issues affect how you vote?
Not at all
How would you describe your general political leaning?
Other Socially conservative, fiscally liberal Socially liberal, fiscally conservative Very liberal
1.5% Prison reform
0.8% Other 10.8% School anti-bullying
1.5% Transgender rights 18.5% Employment
10.8% Hate crimes and policing
2.3% Homelessness 2.3% Immigration
8, a play about Proposition 8, debuting in New York and Los Angeles, as well as the passage of marriage equality laws in New York, Washington and Maryland. And this progress is valuable. As one survey respondent noted, “the marriage rights debate has elevated the movement to newfound prominence in national discourse.” Marriage is a relatable issue, especially to a young audience like college students who are looking to their futures. But some LGBTQ Yalies are concerned about the push for equality becoming consumed by a single issue. Several students expressed concern that other LGBTQ issues that require reform will be overlooked as the movement focuses increasingly on marriage. “Before my internship with GLAD I thought marriage was the most important thing, because that’s what everyone was 10
talking about, that’s what was changing,” Vo said. “I think [having marriage at the forefront] is useful. Love is something that everyone can understand, and it helps the movement gain straight allies… But now I think ENDA [Employment NonDiscrimination Act] is the most important issue — it affects everyone, regardless of whether they want to get married or not.” But other students disagreed. As one respondent noted: “I initially resisted the overwhelming focus on gay marriage within the LGBTQ rights movement, but have since come to see marriage as symbolic for everything else the movement stands for,” they said. “Being granted the right to marry normalizes queer sexuality, eliminating the idea that it’s somehow less legitimate. Granting non-heterosexuals the right to marry eliminates the idea that gays are a
deviant ‘other.’” However, there is also a school of thought that sees the push for marriage equality as promoting a heteronormative standard for queer life. Supporters of this theory think that mapping queer relationships onto the existing (and not completely successful) framework for straight couples is counterproductive to LGBTQ advancement and radical activism. For Kendra Dawsey ‘13, marriage is less of a threat to the movement and more one issue among many to which the community should be paying attention. The key to this change is the need for more diversity amongst the people who are leading the movement at the moment, Dawsey says. “You’ve got people like Ellen and Portia, but there are no voices of people of color, or low
What do you think the most important LGBT– specific issues are this election?
income communities,” she said. “After all this time, some people in the black community still see this struggle as a white, gay issue.” While less than a third of LGBTQ Yalies who responded to Q’s survey have ever been actively involved in politics or LGBTQ campaigns, this figure is larger than that of the wider Yale community (at least according to the Yale Daily News, which reported that only nine percent of Yale students planned to be involved in local or national campaigns for the November elections.) And some students, like Dawsey and Ramos, think this is completely okay. “Not everyone has to be into politics,” Dawsey said. While some might argue that LGBTQ people are at a historic crossroads in their struggle for equal rights under the law, it is possible that the open and accepting environment that
Yale provides allows LGBTQ Yalies to be less involved in the movement that is furthering their own rights than a more conservative campus might. “The nature of Yale as a liberal campus is that we do just go with the flow,” Kendra said. “Some things are considered ‘duh’ here — for example, most people already support gay marriage at Yale so there is less critical thinking about these topics.” Indeed, Miller has noticed that within the queer community at Yale there seems to be an assumption that if you identify as LGBTQ, you must subscribe to the entire liberal ideology, an idea that Miller says she does not agree with. “Who you sleep with should not have to dictate your politics,” she said. “And I think many people just subscribe to this ideology without really thinking about the connections between issues like immigration, reproductive rights and social welfare.” The liberal emphasis on campus does not just allow for less nuanced consideration of political ideas, then, but also serves as a way to ostracize those who disagree — the ever elusive Yale Republican. For her closest family members and friends, seeing how directly McCain’s anti-gay views on DADT affected Miller made several of them, including Miller’s mother, switch to a more liberal ideology. Other friends, Miller said, have remained Republican but become liberal on the issue of gay rights, with several friends even writing to their Republican Congresspeople to ask for their support in the DADT repeal. This experience showed Miller that people can be simultaneously conservative and queer — a long derided group — but it seems that the ‘culture wars’ that political parties are playing this year will keep LGBTQ Yalies in the closet for a while longer. “Gingrich and Santorum are particularly heinous because they’re using social issues to mobilize support when that’s not really the point of the Republican Party,” she said. When the Republican Party returns to the conservative and
more fiscally focused ideology that is at its core, perhaps more LGBTQ people will align themselves publically with the party. While 78 percent of survey respondents said that they have already decided to vote for Obama in the November election, some queer Yalies do plan to vote conservative. Indeed, five percent of respondents who were eligible to vote in 2008 voted for John McCain. However, this election cycle’s candidates for the GOP nomination seem to be particularly polarizing, with the overwhelming majority of survey respondents believing that a Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich presidency would not have any positive impact on the lives of LGBTQ people. But when asked which Republican candidates (if any) would address the needs of LGBTQ people, a surprising 15 percent of students said that they are confident that Mitt Romney would tackle less controversial topics like bullying in schools. Several others said that while they do not think that Romney would be particularly good for LGBTQ rights issues, they do not believe that he will force the movement backwards. “I think that Mitt Romney is much more concerned with the economy than with fighting gay rights,” one respondent said. “I think he is the only Republican who doesn’t threaten the advancement of gay rights.” Whichever way you lean politically, it is clear that this election will be an important one for LGBTQ Americans. With marriage equality in at least two states on the ballot, as well as other discrimination-related measures on the local level, it is important for Yalies to both vote and engage in the political discussion, through education, donating, or even campaigning. At this historical turning point in LGBTQ rights, we have the right to have our voices heard. These laws will touch each of our lives, so if you’ve never before thought to keep abreast of national LGBTQ issues, now’s the time. qmagazineatyale.com
Michael Cunningham Rachel Lipstein sits down with the Yale professor and acclaimed writer
At the bar opposite the lobby, the women wear gauzy, silky affairs and frozen expressions; the men wear suits. The mood lighting is overpoweringly moody, with the primary illumination coming from flickering boxes and a darkened, plate glass wall enclosing the actors. The indistinct shapes move gently in and out of shadow in a dance of suspended animation, a scene set but not yet animated by its main player. Michael Cunningham emerges from a booth, where he is ensconced with a glass of wine and a companion. He is running late, ten minutes past the time arranged by Sam, who has taken Cunningham’s fiction workshop class twice. Cunningham saunters over to us, hands in pockets, tipping his shoulders forward and back, cockily but with a note of coy self-awareness, like the smile that perpetually nests in 12
the corners of his mouth and eyes. He greets Sam with a hug and me with a warm handshake and equally warm smirk that undermines the formality. The second time we meet, for the photoshoot, it is with a refined air kiss that I stumble through — pucker, smack, and cheek brush. But Cunningham is not one to challenge anyone’s social graces; he is a master at putting one at ease. Within ten minutes of meeting, we fall into amiable conversation. Within 30 seconds, we are standing outside the lobby of The Study in the drizzly evening for fresh air and a cigarette. Cunningham has preciously little time in New Haven, between preparing for and teaching class, meeting with friends and former students, and enjoying the ambience of arguably New Haven’s finest hotel, his office two days a week.
Photographs by Susannah Benjamin qmagazineatyale.com
Outside The Study, we stand under the overhanging entrance, looking out at the monochromatically gray streak of Chapel Street before us. We are talking about his work. After three novels including A Home at the End of the World, he came out with the 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Hours. The Hours traces the lives of three women, one ‘50s housewife, one present-day Greenwich Village lesbian, and one Virginia Woolf. He followed this in 2005 with Specimen Days, three separate stories that trace characters in New York City during the Industrial Revolution, early-20th Century America, and mid-22nd Century America. His most recent novel, By Nightfall, published in 2010, traces the life of a married man in New York City who finds himself strangely attracted to his wife’s younger brother. Each is in conversation with existing literature, with many parallels to Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in The Hours, references to Walt Whitman’s poetry in Specimen Days, and a nod to the allure of male youth preserved in Death in Venice. Cunningham says none of these allusions or literary replies are particularly conscious. “You write about what you most care about. And I care about…all kinds of things. Among them Virginia Woolf and Walt Whitman.” His many pauses make conversation a leisurely affair, and time becomes more or less a contingency as we make our way back into the lobby, slouching side by side into a couch. We are hard-pressed to maintain the pretense of professionalism. If it wasn’t quite clearly writing, one might think charm was his trade. “So, yeah, I don’t have anything as formal or fabulous as a plan, and each book is like ‘Oh, this one now.’ It feels like the oeuvre as they start to accumulate but it doesn’t feel like an oeuvre as you’re going at it.” He indulges in a back-andforth attempt at a more authentic pronunciation of the word. “I’m sure there’s a more French way of saying it but it would involve acknowledging that ‘r’ at the end, which is too hard for me.” He gathers his words carefully, searching somewhere down the street or in the reflective panes of glass for the next word and almost always landing the right one. Many of his sentences end with an upward inflection, with all the indications of a question but none of the uncertainty, none of the connotations of a teenage girl. “I’m doomed to a kind of…narrative monogamy. I go very much from book to book. I know writers who are already thinking about the next book as they’re working on this book. I am not…like that? I can’t be very articulate about how a certain idea sort of descends and percolates and coalesces, but after I finish one book I sort of walk around with a notion, and if it persists over a period of weeks, I’m like, ‘well, that’s it, isn’t it?’” With a dismissive wave of his hand, Cunningham counters a question about when a novelist ought to hang up his gloves. “Oh, I hope never to be done. I don’t think you ever want to be done.” He speaks emphatically. The several pendants hanging from his neck leap off his broad chest as he leans forward for his drink and the beaded hemp and silver bands on his wrists 14
Rachel Lipstein chats with Cunningham at The Study.
rustle delicately. He sports long, tapering leather shoes, which, with his legs crossed, expose a brazen expanse of ankle. They are worn sockless in a manner that seems vaguely European. “I think what you are doing as a novelist is spending your entire life learning how to write a novel by writing them.” He pauses, apparently pleased with this philosophy, though he gives the impression of having articulated it before. “And you, ideally, in your wildest dreams, live to a cogent old age and die still learning how to write a novel.” Delusions of grandeur, he thinks, are inherent in the writing of every novel. “I always have to survive a certain sense of disappointment, even if it turned out pretty well. Floating in the cartoon balloon over your head. A greater book than you can write.” “Can you ever satisfy that cartoon bubble?” “When you start to feel satisfied, then I think you’re fucked. ‘Oh, look, the genius knocked another one out of the park.’ I suspect that the whole notion of the magnum opus and the
significant contribution is something that history bestows in retrospect. I mean, Melville didn’t feel like Moby Dick was it. Fitzgerald certainly didn’t feel like The Great Gatsby was it. History decides that that was it.” “How would you feel if someone assigned it to one of your books?” “Well, I deal with that to a certain degree. Because we don’t know what the future will hold but for now, as far as I’m concerned The Hours was it. And I may…be talking about The Hours for the rest of my life.” “How do you feel about The Hours?” “You know, I feel like…it’s one of the books I wrote,” he says, choosing his words carefully, seemingly satisfied at the end of the sentence but certainly knowing a follow-up question would come. “If it was one of your children, which child would it be – the one that keeps coming back asking for money…?” Cunningham lets out a loud laugh, gravelly and deep like his
speaking voice but with none of the golden brandy seduction. It is, in fact, one of the few laughs that does justice to the onomatopoetic “ha ha ha ha ha.” It is catching. He does, however, dodge the question of familial identification, quickly becoming serious. “I feel okay about it. I’m proud of what’s good about it. I wish it had been better. Ideally each book is a little better than the last book, because with each book you’ve come more into your putative powers. It’s a perfectly good book, and then I wrote two books after it, both of which are…better...but the world picks one of them out.” “Better?” “I guess by better I mean you feel more in possession, you feel like you can go that much more deeply into a character; you feel like you are that much more, like you can spin an interesting sentence, you feel like your sense of scope and possibility can expand.” “Outwardly, Specimen Days is a physically larger book than The Hours. It’s more outwardly ambitious; it spans a larger period of time. There are no extraterrestrial characters in The Hours. And then By Nightfall is outwardly much more modest. Because you know part of it is you don’t want to sort of develop a shtick. You don’t want to be a writer who always writes a variation on a certain kind of book. A rough analogy, I suppose, at best, but if you are a musician and you’ve been trying to write symphonies…then you want to write a sonata? Which is not a lesser form. It’s just different.” “I can’t quite imagine a memoir, but I’m very gradually accumulating a collection of personal essays which in twenty years will be a slender volume that no one will buy.” He laughs with genuine, self-deprecating amusement. “Fiction is the main thing that I do, but I did write one nonfiction book about Provincetown.” Currently he’s writing a screenplay, an adaptation of Turn of the Screw, and a pilot for HBO about a big queer family with adopted children. qmagazineatyale.com
I ask him to tell me it will be better than Modern Family. He promises. Michael Cunningham has an unassailable record of gay activism. He has been arrested about a dozen times. In his work with ACT UP in the 1980s and ‘90s, he marched up and down and up and down Fifth Avenue (once carrying the open casket of his friend, laying him on the steps of the Republican headquarters). He chained himself to his friends outside pharmaceutical companies, invaded Mass at St. Patrick’s, and protested at Bush Senior’s summerhouse in Kennebunkport, Maine. The same unfortunate president was speaking at the Waldorf when Cunningham’s “affinity group” — the small cells that ACT UP split into in order to organize and maintain secrecy—walked through the lobby. They dressed in suits and ties — reminiscent of the early days of gay activism when protesters dressed sharply and according to gender-norms to prove they were just like everyone else. Cunningham and his friends rode the elevator up, doused themselves in fake blood, and walked back out through the lobby. Laughing, he recalls, “No one would touch us. We’d say, ‘HIV. Want some?’” Cunningham reaches out at this point, nearly grazing my face, and I recoil. It is a convincing story. “It was my first experience as a gay man of feeling as a gay man like I was a member of a band of bad-asses who you did not fuck with,” he says, punctuating every word with a jerk of his head. “We are not here to do a floral arrangement, we are not here to consult with you about your drapes, we are here to kick your stupid, ill-informed, murderous ass.” Cunningham was arrested marching down Fifth Avenue in a vigil after Matthew Shepard’s murder in 1998. “Some people organized a candlelight march starting at the Plaza Hotel going down 5th Avenue to Madison Park. It got a huge turnout, 3,000 people, way more than anyone thought.” But most of these people were novices to protests 16
“I think what you are doing as a novelist is spending your entire life learning how to write a novel by writing them.”
and, in the Giuliani era, the police were less forgiving to the veteran street-takers who persisted alone. “Ordinarily the cops were really happy to see a bunch of cute little activists who aren’t a bunch of violent crackheads and they speed you through. We got ‘put through the system,’ which takes about two days.” They were detained in a big holding pen, “50 men, one toilet in the middle of the room. They feed you three times a day. Early in the morning they literally come by in a car and throw the food in.” By this point, Cunningham has launched down a well-travelled anecdote, but I am right with him. “So lunch rolls around, and we all bit into our sandwiches, are going, ‘Hmm,’ and, chewing, ‘is there… something crunchy?’ We peel off the bread, ‘oh, bologna,’ a brown slice of bologna about the color of a band-aid. Special, low-grade, under-processed bologna, with gristle and — few people understand this, there’s a whole line of cold cuts especially for prisoners. Jail bologna.” He was finally released and realized that in a couple hours, he was scheduled to be on the Leonard Lopate show, which was upstairs in the same building. “1 Center Street, a vast civil complex of NPR and jail. Let me tell you, the bologna is much better on the upper floors.” He recollects the time when he was in and out of hospitals, haranguing doctors and the FDA alike, watching his friends dying, listening to tirades on both sides. “It was kind of amazing to see acts of heroism from people who did not look like heroes. To see a 23-year-old disco bunny turn into a warrior.” Cunningham might still have a soft spot in his heart for those disco bunny warriors. Dancing on bartops was, at the time, good moonlighting for a writer and good fun. After the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he says, “two years pass and you’re done. And you’re in Iowa City with no money, and what do you do next? What’s available to someone with no publications and an MFA, which you can wipe your ass with? So people were desperately hoping that teaching those six sections of Freshman Comp at tech-
A Home at the End of the World (1998)
The Hours (2000)
nical school in South Dakota were going to come through, and I thought, ‘You know what, I would rather go to New York and dance on a bar.’ Which was a good career move.” He worked at the Pyramid Club and Limelight, the famous nightclub in a deconsecrated church on Sixth Avenue and W 20th Street. It is now a boutique shopping center. But back then, Cunningham recalls, “There wasn’t much of a uniform. I decided, ‘Well maybe I should work behind the bar.’ And I was a bartender and a writer for years, and I was happy with it, I didn’t really want to teach.” At 36, he was tapped by Columbia to teach a class, which he followed with a few years at Brooklyn College, which he enjoyed, even though it was “way the fuck out there in Flatbush.” At Yale, now 59, he finds his classes — Reading Fiction for Craft (Engl 134) and the upper-level creative writing seminar, The Writing of Fiction (Engl 458) — complimentary to writing. “For three months of the year, to sit in a seminar room and talk to really intelligent people about writing — what is it, why do we do it, how does it work—is great for me. It’s not just some act of charity toward them. And really Yale is by far the best place I’ve taught.” Cunningham has much to teach. Ask him how the light should play across the face of a tricky character. Ask him how to silversmith a ring. Ask him how to occupy. “The tricky thing about actually trying to occupy a space is you can hand-
Specimen Days (2006)
By Nightfall (2010)
cuff yourself to something and the cops come and with nail scissors snip you away and you’re gone in a minute.” Cunningham is talking about the time he kipped outside a pharmaceutical company to protest their delay of AZT, at that time a potentially life-saving new drug. “We talked to those sly dogs at Greenpeace and they said, ‘Okay here’s a really good trick. Handcuff yourselves together but do it through a length of metal pipe,’ which takes forever to cut through. Hours, hours, sitting on the frozen fucking February ground of Nutley, New Jersey! My ass is still not entirely thawed out. You can feel it; there are icy patches even now.” Standing outside The Study after the photoshoot, Cunningham mentions that he is working on a new novel called The Snow Queen. Though he could not speak about a work in progress, The Snow Queen is unlikely to fictionalize his frostbitten fanny or the outfits he wears to class—what he calls “Professor Drag.” We might look for it confidently in a couple of years. He describes his bizarrely regular production cycle. “It’s as if I’m some weird creature from a National Geographic special: ‘This animal lays a novel every three years.’” Cunningham smiles playfully, creases digging in around the sharp eyes, and from the formidable chest, his laugh echoes down Chapel Street. Additional reporting contributed by Samuel Huber, who coordinated the first interview and was present for much of it. qmagazineatyale.com
Photographs by Chris Peak
Depending on whom you talk to, sex toys are either ubiquitous or rare. They are both commonly talked about and stigmatized. They are flaunted as active participants in coupled and private sex lives, and they are locked in bedside drawers with product sites bookmarked on Safari under â€œTextbook Rental.â€? The 18
diversity of opinions on what sex toy usage looks like and how it is discussed at Yale is extreme. Who Uses Sex Toys? Q set out to tackle the demographic question. Who uses sex toys more: singles vs. couples, queer people vs.
straight people, men vs. women, etc. We found this question pretty much impossible to answer. Leah, marketing coordinator at popular NYC-based sex toy business Babeland, says that they predominantly see women in their 20s and 30s who are in couples. They see women browse the racks with their
By Rachel Lipstein
SPEAK SOFTLY AND CARRY A BIG DILDO Exploring Sex Toys at Yale
partners, and they see plenty of queer people. “We get a lot of single people, we get people who are new to sex toys, a lot of people just interested in spicing up their sex lives whether they’re alone or in a couple.” They see more women than men, and a large number of queer female couples. But she emphasizes that
their customer base is diverse. At Yale, it is perhaps even harder to accurately gauge the demographics of sex toy usage. One queer woman said, “At this point, most women (especially queer women) I know who consider themselves sexually open or willing to experiment own at least a vibrator — often more.”
One straight male said, “I personally only know one or two people. But at a liberal place like Yale, it’s probably a pretty good percentage, like 30 percent.” One gay male student estimates that “a good amount of gay men and all women own at least one sex toy, or something they use as a sex toy.” qmagazineatyale.com
A straight male explained that his sexual accessory drawer included a “modest collection of blindfolds, flavored lube, body paint,” but as much as he’d love a Fleshlight, a male masturbation tool, “I’d feel too creepy using a toy all by my lonesome.” Shame or a sense of deviance plays into many students’ decisions not to own sex toys. Anna North, an executive director of the 2012 Sex Week, cited her experience at an event with the founder of OhMiBod, a New Hampshire-based vibrator company. “We had a talk with Suki Dunham, and it was a pretty open conversation. When we went around describing why we were there, it turned out that probably two-thirds of the room was there because they really secretly wanted a vibrator but didn’t feel comfortable buying one or talking to anyone about which ones to buy.“ She continued, “I live in a very sexpositive feminist suite, and, until this year, none of us owned a vibrator. So how many people do I know that I know own sex toys on campus? I’ve had conversations with maybe 16.” Vibration Vibrators have motors and are cherished by both men and women for their versatility, reliability, and unique feel. One female Yalie was enthusiastic and spoke of their wide usage by other queer females she knows. “Vibrators are the bomb. Flat out, they’re the most awesome of all the awesome things this world has to offer (except sexytimes with a real person).” But for every vibrator, there are 12 opinions. One queer female said, “Vibrators are a little overrated. They became this huge part of being a liberated woman, but for me at least, I like real bodies a lot more than toys in the end. But I know a lot of women who can’t get off on their own without using one.” Another queer woman says, “I used to have a vibrator. It was kind of shitty, but I did have my first clitoral orgasm with 20
it. I think women own them a lot more than men, and it tends to be more common among queer/feminist/sex-positive ladies. I think there is a lot more anxiety about bringing them into a partnership (especially with a guy, they’re kind of emasculating I guess?) than in using them for lone masturbation.” “There’s been a move toward abstract and design-centered vibrators,” says Leah at Babeland. One classic style is the Rabbit line. A form factor rather than a particular brand, the Rabbit has, for internal use, a penetrative, gently rotating shaft and, for external use, a “rabbit.” The ears of the rabbit hug the clitoris, providing an extremely focused vibration, while the swirling beadlike pearls in the bulbous base of the shaft stimulate the entrance of the vagina. The Rabbit has made an appearance on Sex and the City and has become an almost garden-variety toy in the world of creative vibrators. Penetration Dildos come cheap and expensive, made from realistic-feeling silicone or alien Pyrex glass. You can find a veined dildo in a variety of fleshy colors (and a base forming a passing imitation of the male scrotal sac) or a bumpy, tentacleesque Octopussy. Asked why dildos do not vibrate as well, Leah says, “A select few do vibrate, or have vibrating components. There are definitely no rules. But a dildo’s main function is not that they’re vibrating. Also, if people want to boil them to disinfect them, which is something you can do with silicone, it is nice that there’s no vibrator in it.” Few Yale women Q spoke with own dildos for personal use, since most prefer vibration. But for those who do, there is an array of creative options and room for more personal expression than vibrators. For example, dildos come Obama- and Virgin Mary-shaped (carrying their respective share of political and religious offense/homage, depend-
‘IF YOU CAN SAFELY PUT A CONDOM ON [AN] OBJECT, AND IT CAN BE EASILY CLEANED, THEN YOU GO HAVE FUN. IT’S YOUR ORGASM.’
ing on perspective). As for males, anal stimulation via penetration (anal beads, prostate stimulators or buttplugs) is an option, though apparently rarely utilized by campus males. Many males find an accessory for solo-play unnecessary or are “ass timid.” One student says, “I do know some guys who’ve invested in dildos for themselves or Tenga eggs (though not Fleshlights because they’re SO expensive!).” Some toys are designed to be penetrated, as with Tenga eggs, jellylike sleeves that have a variety of internal textures, mar-
keted with the tagline “Different Strokes From Different Yolks.” As demonstrated by the pie in “American Pie,” people will stick it anywhere, it just depends how much you’re willing to pay. Harnessed Stimulation At the back of Babeland’s Soho store, a wall of harnesses in multiple colors, materials and degrees of complication hang suspended. Leah highlights the Jaguar as one of their best-selling harnesses. With a sort of classic simplicity, it is made of soft leather to avoid
chafing and the central ring, which sits over the pubis, is replaceable to accommodate different sized dildos. “That’s the important thing when looking for a harness, something that’s really going to work with your body.” This is good advice for one queer female Q spoke with. On Babeland’s advice, she tried the Jaguar and Purple Leo Combo, a harness (“for beginners”) and dildo package. “The dildo was huge and actually painful to use, so...that sucked. But once I tried a couple other sizes, it became a really fun part of my
sex life. Adding a toy in is like having a whole new body part that you’re entirely unaware of. It’s fun and funny and can feel really good, but it can also feel really bad and awkward and I think for that reason, I wouldn’t use them with someone I wasn’t very comfortable with, and I’ve always tried the toys on my own before I use them with my girlfriend.” Harnesses are for men as well. Babeland offers the SpareParts Deuce Harness, with two rings, the upper for a dildo and the lower for a penis. Used to continue penetration between erections, qmagazineatyale.com
QUESTION & ANSWER Why would a girl give another girl wearing a strap-on a blowjob? Here are some responses from various Yalies. A queer female:
A straight male:
“Strap-on blowies sound hot! It’s dominance and positioning! And no cum to deal with.”
“I know a lot of girls who claim to just like the feel of giving a blowjob, so that could be something. Also, fantasizing is a powerful thing, so perhaps the one wearing the strap-on can phantomly feel it in some way.”
A queer, genderqueer individual: “If the female-bodied individual wearing the strap-on is trans-identified, there’s a certain sense to which the reinforcement of strap-on equals penis is a reinforcement of identity and a demonstration of the sexual power of a body that doesn’t necessarily match up to the person’s gender.”
experiment with sizes other than those naturally endowed, or attempt an ambitious solo double-penetration, the flexible fabric, perineum-stimulating straps, and adjustable belt allow male-bodied individuals to saddle up pleasurably. Situational Sensation Handcuffs were incredibly popular across the spectrum, from queer women to straight men. This is perhaps partly due to their accessibility, partly to their low barrier to entry, and partly to the transgressive appeal of reappropriating an object of societal subjugation for one of interpersonal subjugation. They are excellent tools in role-play. If a tactile toy tickles your fancy, Babeland has everything from feathery wands to vegan-friendly rubber whips. In this arena, home supplies are safe bets for DIY improvisation. Your feather dusters don’t have to be hot pink and leather-handled to be hot. As far as the power of imagination goes, everything from maid outfits to hiking boots are fair game. Fetishists find your own niche — situational sexi22
A gay male: “I have no freaking idea. Performing heterosexuality gets them off? But if you like it, you do you.”
ness is a helpful tool and the imagination your most powerful toy. Home Creation Where do we draw the line? Has the elaborate sex toy industry emerged to jumpstart our lagging imaginations, tapping into consumer laziness? To what extent can we use “found” objects for sexual repurposing? When talking about all things sexuality, progressives generally seek expansive definitions of “queer,” “sex,” “virginity,” and “sex toy.” If people are using it, getting off on it, adopting it and treating it as their own, then, as far as Q is concerned, it’s a sex toy. The clear bright line appears to be cleanliness and safety. One Yale student said, “Sex toys are made without harsh edges and can easily be cleaned, but then again so can a cucumber. If you can safely put a condom on said object and it can be easily cleaned (sterilized, more like, depending where you plan to stick it), then you go have fun. It’s your orgasm.” One queer female I spoke to agrees. “Sex toys are so self-defined. Some
people use cucumbers, right? I’ve definitely heard stories, though never gone shopping in a grocery store for my own homemade dildo. I think found objects can be great. Sometimes you need something but you don’t have the specific “sex toy” for that.” She adds, “Funny story: I once used red yarn (looped over so it didn’t chafe) for bondage purposes.” Another queer female does draw the line. “I’m going to define sex toys as something I would actually have to buy at a sex toy store, because I think having to actually shop at a sex toy store is what creates the barrier for use for a lot of people.” But however sex toys are defined, there seems to be no restraint on innovation. There is a sex toy out there for everyone, and if you choose to keep a dildo or two in your bedside drawer, you won’t be alone. These objects not only bring the whimsy of toys into the bedroom but are also tools to challenge the notion of rigid sexual patterns. However you dice, define, or defile them, sex toys will be enlarging the scope of pleasure and possibility for generations of sexually active Yalies to come.
Let’s Talk About Virginity By Jennifer Flynn As a member of Community Health Educators, I spend awkward but amazing mornings talking about sexuality and sexual health with ninth graders. Some of the topics are fairly cut and dry — this is a penis, this is a vagina, any questions? Others, however, are a little more amorphous. Our official stance is that “losing one’s virginity’ means having sex for the first time but can refer to any type of sex…it means different things to different people, and all definitions should be respected.” Inevitably some kids will argue with us. If a guy and girl have vaginal sex, they insist, that definitely “counts.” But what about guys who have sex with guys, or girls who have sex with girls? What counts there? The question is an interesting one,
given that the queer community is defined, above all, by sexual proclivity. Unlike religious, political, or ethnic groups, the LGBTQ community is defined quite simply by sexual preference. As anyone who has ever been asked “Have you at least tried having sex with a (insert opposite gender here)?” knows, some people view the community as an elite club that requires sexual activity for membership. How do you know you aren’t straight if you haven’t had sex with someone of the opposite gender? Are you really gay if you’ve never hooked up with someone of the same gender? As one gay male respondent (we’ll call him Hank) put it, “Perhaps…virginity is more so a vital rite of passage for LGTBQ [individuals
than for straight individuals], as it is a moment when our ‘identifying feature’ is made very real in the flesh.” While I found his personal theory interesting, I was curious to define the terms of the debate. To that end I created an anonymous online survey about virginity for both Yalies and my online queer/kink/ally group of choice to voice their opinions. Of the 54 respondents, ten were straight and 44 identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer. I asked the entire group their opinions as to which activities would “count” as losing one’s virginity among both straight and gay couples. Some of the answers were unsurprising. Just like my ninth grade classroom, everyone agreed that a straight person
would no longer be a virgin after having vaginal intercourse. Stereotypes about gay sex also held true as the next most widely agreed upon route to deflowering was anal sex between gay men (88.9 percent thought the penetrating partner had swiped their v-card, 87 percent felt the same of the receptive partner). These findings are somewhat straightforward. After all, in the heteronormative sex education most of us received, “sex” means vaginal intercourse. And when sex between two men is mentioned, our minds immediately go to anal (at least based on every single crude gay joke I’ve ever heard). However, there were some interesting quirks to the data I gathered. For example, what about when the exact same behavior occurs between two couples, but one is heterosexual and the other is homosexual? In following the thesis that sexuality is a more visible and important marker of identity among the gay community, I found that across the board, participants were more likely to think a given sex act “counted” for gay
couples than for straight. For example, let’s take that anal sex figure. While close to 90 percent of people count it for gay couples, just under 60 percent of respondents believed that a straight person would lose their virginity by having anal sex. A scant 11.1 percent thought a straight person was no longer a virgin after giving a handjob or fingering someone, while a significant minority (35.2 percent) thought the same about gay couples. If we buy into the theory put forth by Hank that queerness is a club that requires some sort of sexual password to get into, it looks like just about any password will do. One of my findings seems to complicate this idea. If losing one’s virginity is indeed a symbolic assertion of sexual preference, I would think that acts highlighting the same-sex nature of the relationship would be more likely to be voted up. For example, I would have assumed that for a gay man, giving another man a blowjob would assert his sexual orientation more than receiving a blowjob. My personal definition for lesbiginity (I just
made that word up. You’re welcome to use it.) is going down on a girl, but not necessarily having her return the favor. After all, a mouth is a mouth. However, I found exactly the opposite. For oral sex, manual stimulation, and the use of toys with a partner, every single act was more likely to “count” for the receptive partner. So there you have it, folks. My powerful research and analysis skills have definitely proven that virginity is…well, whatever you want it to mean, really. There’s no consensus as to what virginity is, or how to lose it, or if it exists, or if it even matters (“The concept of virginity is stupid,” wrote one survey respondent. “I don’t see why queers even try to map something so oppressive and backwards onto their sexual lives.”) I guess in the end I’ll just tell you the same thing I tell my students: It’s important to communicate with your partners and to be respectful of differing opinions. Oh, and always, always, always use protection.
VISIT US ONLINE AT QMAGAZINEATYALE.COM
DROP ME A
By Ryan Mendías
Q — I’m not on the rugby team. I’m not an activist. I have no plans to get involved with the Co-op. Besides wearing flannel 24/7 or chopping off all my hair, how am I supposed to meet other gay girls? A common refrain I’ve heard from queer girls on this campus has been, “Where are the women?” It’s a dilemma that seems particular to women who like women at Yale. I can’t imagine anyone asking where all the gay dudes are since the answer would be as simple as “Sitting across from you in Bass” or “In your Intro. Micro section.” (That’s what we call male privilege, folks.) An advice column’s probably not the best place to delve into Feminism 101: Patriarchy Sucks, but the Spark Notes version helps explain why queer women keep asking this question. In a society where men tend to dominate most aspects of life — gay life included — women are often overlooked. This erasure is especially true of lesbians and other queer women whose experiences are usually forgotten or ignored — it also creates a situation in which the women who do get noticed are ones who are pretty radical in their rejection of patriarchal conventions (i.e., the flannel-wearing, shorthaired dykes you described in your question). Let me be absolutely clear: there’s nothing wrong with being a flannel-wearing, shorthaired dyke. In fact, those are the people out there being big, gay, fabulous challenges to heteronormativity, and the more gender-conforming queers among us owe them quite a bit. But for gay girls who don’t get “read” as queer, it can feel like there’s not really a community for them at Yale. Though the women’s rugby team is definitely a welcoming, queerfriendly space, not everyone’s ready for tackling, rucking, and bruising (and, of course, there are plenty of straight women on the team). Feeling out of place is entirely normal. So normal, in fact, that famed lesbian blogger Krista Burton of Effing Dykes has a whole post about it. Krista’s words of Sapphic wisdom
are particularly helpful here: “Not being ‘gay enough for the gays’ is their bullshit problem, not yours.” She reminds us that, “there’s no one way to be gay. We are all beautiful and unique flowers in the swaying homosexual meadow.” Now, knowing this is comforting, but what does it mean for getting out there and meeting the people you want to date and/or hook up with? Well, as former Co-op coordinator, I think it’s safe to say that no one’s going to conscript you into a protest march just for showing up at an organized gay event. You’re not an activist? Fine, lots of us aren’t. Our parties at 168 York (the closest thing we have to a queer cultural house) are a chance to have fun, flirt, drink, dance with friends, and just enjoy being in a queer space where you won’t get sidelong glances for your dance floor make out with someone of the same sex. So, give it a shot. It might not be your thing, but you won’t know until you try. — I haven’t told anyone this, but I’m pretty interested in having group sex. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something really hot about that idea. Does any normal person my age want that too? How do I make it happen? No matter how progressive Yalies think they are, there’s a certain degree of Puritanism that we just can’t seem to get past. Maybe it’s because the Ivy League is a place that breeds bourgeois conformity. Or maybe we’re just so fixated on tradition that the thought of getting it on in a room full of other people makes us a little nervous. That’s why this question makes me so happy. While the naysayers might blanche and proclaim, “Why, I never!” I think the reality is that, yes, actually, lots of Yale students are interested in the kinkier side of sex. But where are these sexually curious Yalies? Chances are, you’re probably already friends with them. If you’re the kind of person who communicates openly and clearly with friends and lovers about sex, it’s actually not that hard to get a read on how they might feel about group sex. And if you’re hesitant to put the question out there, posting an ad on Craigslist’s personals section is always a good start and gives you a fair amount of control over who’s going to be joining in on the fun. Organizing group play, or even just adding a third person to a committed sexual relationship, involves a bit of planning. No matter how exciting or erotic the idea is, we’re working with a lot of cultural baggage, and with regards to group sex that baggage is pretty heavy. Most people envision something like a cross between 1970s swingers’ parties and bacchanalian orgies from Caligula’s time. What’s most important is finding a group of people you feel comfortable around; nerves are to be expected, but if the thought of being naked in front of someone makes you freak out, it seems pretty likely that they’re probably not the greatest fit. Consider the space, too: Where’s everything going to happen? Do you have to worry about suitemates? Is there enough room on the bed, futon, couch, etc.? Is there a common room where people can hang out before the clothes come off? The small details are easy to forget but will make the process smoother and more fun for everyone involved. Like I’ve said before, being queer means that sex is basically a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. If society already marks you as an outsider for wanting to get with people who have the same junk as you, what’s there to lose by deciding that more’s the merrier?
Tom Chung Having primarily painted before coming to Yale, Tom Chung, MFA ‘13, has since moved almost entirely to photography, performance, and sculpture. It has been in these mediums that he has probed issues of identity with the most nuance and vulnerability. Chung’s work speaks to the mutability of identity, yet does so not with the intent of merely exposing this point – by now, a fairly obvious one – but instead of earnestly exploring the values, fears, and desires out of which we construct our very selves. Candid about his struggles to embrace both his homosexuality and his Asian heritage, Chung sees his art as a means to examine the conflict between the external forces that shape identity, such as homophobia and racism, and one’s own power to define oneself. Ultimately, Chung sees the potential for his explorations of queer identity to extend beyond the queer world. “If you told me my work is going to only impact gay Asian men, I’d stop doing it,” he says. “My experience as a gay man may have given me certain experiences, but I try to use those to talk about fundamental issues of human nature.” – Paul Doyle
Lisa Yuskavage Asked Me to Make 1 Good Piece 2011, Documentation of Performance, Duration 20 minutes
Clockwise from left: Buddha Lapdance 2010, Documentation of Performance, Duration 10 minutes Giddy Up Chinaman 2011, Inkjet Print, 25” x 17” Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2012, Inkjet Print, 44” x 59” The Antidote 2012, Inkjet Print, 44” x 33”
Flower Girl 2012, Inkjet Print, 59” x 44”
Reviewed Ilana Seger
UNITED IN ANGER As we enter the fourth decade of the battle against HIV/AIDS, a new film by producers Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman encourages viewers to take a look back at the more than 25 years of activism that makes this disease unique. In United in Anger, Hubbard and Schulman detail the formation and early actions of the radical AIDS activist group ACT UP (or, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Cofounded by Yale alum Larry Kramer ‘57 in the late 1980s, the group became famous for its unforgiving and media-savvy actions, including demonstrations at the National Institutes of Health and a “die-in” at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
Continued on page 32 30
PARIAH IS NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD
REVIEWS Pariah, a feature film written and directed by Dee Rees, follows Alike, a 17-year old African American (played by New Yorker Adepero Oduye) as she attempts to navigate her sexuality and her dysfunctional, middle-class family. It is an honest look at the struggles of a young lesbian trying to balance the expectations of her family with those of her newly-discovered gay community and her best friend, as well as with her own. This tension is most evident in a hilarious moment in which Alike’s mother forces her to wear a “more feminine” pink shirt in order to “make her more attractive to men.” At the same time, her best friend Laura (Pernell Walker) has come over to help Alike try on her first strap-on. Yet as Alike tries to take on this tough, butch persona, she still seems incredibly vulnerable, not only to her parents’ homophobia but also to heartbreak. The film is not about trying to turn her into a hero or a symbol of gay pride, but truly about her evolution into a strong, independent, queer, black woman. By keeping a tight focus on the young woman and her actions, the cinematography furthers Alike’s evolution as it does not give the viewer any sweeping images of the wider world in which Alike lives. We see the pain in Alike’s eyes as she watches her father repeatedly cheat on her mother despite her mother’s attempts to reinforce a notion of middle class respectability through compulsory family dinners and policing Alike’s gender presentation. We also see Alike flit back and forth between her two competing identities: trying to appease her mother’s wishes for her to be more feminine and trying to be the bulldag-
Adepero Oduye stars in Dee Rees’ new film.
ger protégé Laura sees in her. Yet while Alike’s struggle seems to be very much her own, Laura’s story serves as an ominous reminder to all queer people, but Alike in particular, of the potential costs of freedom and sexual expression. Rejected by her mother and sacrificing her education to make ends meet, Laura is symbolic of the thousands of LGBTQ youths who have been kicked out of their homes and expelled from their parents’ lives because of who they are. Overall, this is a wonderful film that speaks to a niche that is often ignored in the cinematic and queer communities: the queer, black woman. Alike represents many girls struggling to understand their sexual orientation, gender expression, and teenage independence, all at the same time. Oduye convincingly portrays the dual toughness and naïveté that characterizes Alike. Throughout the film, one keeps waiting to see if Alike will choose her mother’s prescribed path or embrace the choices that Laura guides her to make, yet by the end the viewer sees Alike forge her own path. She neither commits herself to living within the gay community nor her heterosexual family, but instead chooses her own parameters of existence as queer, as black, and as female.
Reviewed by Alex Hess
The filmmakers capture the enormous energy that the group brought to activism around the disease. Schulman and Hubbard give a voice to the hundreds of impassioned AIDS activists that made acquiring access to treatments their central drive during the 1980s and 1990s. Speaking to gay men who had the disease themselves, women who brought their expertise from the women’s health movement, and countless other HIV-affected people, Schulman and Hubbard capture the desperation that surrounded every one of the group’s actions. But they also capture the spirit of ACT UP. As a collective that sought to be truly democratic, ACT UP had no organized leadership and instead worked in part as a collection of interest groups that reported back to the group at large during meetings. United in Anger features unique footage of these meetings, and also adopts their democratic spirit by choosing not to use a narrator throughout the film, instead letting the ACT UP members speak for themselves. Footage of small groups of ACT UP members voting amidst a sea of other protestors, passersby and police, is scattered amongst scenes of protestors being dragged away by police, still yelling their demands. The uniformity of these images signals an amazing level of organization rarely seen in health activism. United in Anger also shows the human side of ACT UP and the very real threat that AIDS posed to its members and their friends. The documentary details a later action by the group somewhat inspired by artist David Wojnarowicz, who wrote, “I imagine what it would be like if, each time a lover, friend or stranger died of this disease, their friends, lovers or neighbors would take the dead body and drive with it in a car a hundred miles an hour to Washington D.C. and blast through the gates of the White House and come to a screeching halt before the entrance and dump their lifeless form on the front steps.” The film shows ACT UP members scattering the ashes of their lovers, friends and family members on the grass of the White House, in a very powerful and painful image. The film is compelling, human, and inspiring, and tells a section of history that has not yet been well told. The film’s main flaw — its inadequate telling of the demise of ACT UP — is disappointing but pales in comparison to everything else the film has to offer. For anyone who is currently involved in any kind of health activism — whether as a regular donor or a member of an interest group — this is a must-see film. Often we are overwhelmed by the mass onslaught of pressing public health problems that we face every day in the news, and it seems impossible that we could make any difference. But by taking a moment to remember and reflect upon the impressive and effective activism that has come before us, we can gain some inspiration for achieving change.
FOR MORE INFO ON THE FILM VISIT
Photo by Angel Ceballos
Continued from page 30
REVIEWED BY TRAVIS TREW
Perhaps it’s a cliché to describe a sophomore album as more “confident” than its predecessor, but in the case of singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas (a.k.a. Perfume Genius), whose 2010 debut, Learning, was basically the musical equivalent of watching a tiny bird with a splint on its wing attempt to fly, there’s really no better description. Despite what its saucy title might suggest, Put Your Back N 2 It features the same mournful vocals, dark subject matter and overall sense of emotional frailness that made Learning so compelling, but beefs up the lyrical and musical complexity to provide a richer and more confident piece of work. Hadreas’s knack for effective, economical storytelling remains happily intact. This is especially true of Sufjan Stevens-esque standout “Dark Parts,” in which Hadreas plays the part of an empathetic fairy godfather to a victim of sexual abuse. It’s a depressing setup for a pop song, but the result is powerful without being heavy-handed. In “All Waters,” Hadreas discusses his desire to embrace his partner in public without fear of prejudice. Though this and other references to sexual identity could be viewed as political statements, Hadreas’s explorations of queerness feel more like components to a very personal form of reckoning. All this pain and insecurity might sound like the recipe for an unpleasant listening experience, but Hadreas’s simple, pianodriven arrangements and gentle vocals have a wispy beauty that prevents the album from slipping into sodden moroseness. The album’s expert sequencing allows slow, atmospheric tracks to be punctuated by punchier, more tuneful songs like “Take Me Home” and lead single “Hood.” “Hood,” in particular, provides the greatest evidence of Hadreas’s artistic growth. Beginning with one of the album’s most heartbreaking insights (“You would never call me baby/ If you knew me true”), the song at first seems like just another of Hadreas’s bleak, if highly relatable, explorations of isolation. But in the course of two minutes, he manages to build a convincing case for his own redemption, ending with the uncharacteristically hopeful promise, “I will fight, baby/ not to do you wrong.” It’s this glimmer of hope for the future, this intelligent tempering of grief with the promise of recovery, which makes Put Your Back N 2 It such a powerful statement and such an artistic step forward.
THE GAY ANTHEMS THAT WEREN’T THREE SONGS THAT JUST MISSED THE LGBTQ CANON By Mara Dauphin
Collective memory is a strange thing. It is difficult to pinpoint why the public remembers certain people and phenomena, and how cultural details are filtered through generations. When thinking about music’s gay icons, it is easy to recall Broadway melodies, belting divas, and, for our generation, soft-spoken indie tracks, but what is slipping through the cracks? Here are a few examples of songs popular during our lifetime that today’s drag queens might have been lipsynching to if these songs had only found their queer audience.
1993 NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS Salt ‘N’ Pepa Pushing against the rise of misogynistic and homophobic gangsta rap in the mid-‘80s, female hip-hop artists like Queen Latifah, Salt-n-Pepa, and TLC were initially able to achieve enormous popularity with their aggressive sexuality and unapologetic attitude. By expressing their sexual desire as shamelessly as did male rappers, the ladies of Salt-n-Pepa explicitly called out a sexual double standard between men and women in their 1993 hit single “None of Your Business.” While advocating for a woman’s right to pursue sex without regard for patriarchal social norms, the song also implicitly advocates for the right to pursue same-sex desire with similar freedom. In the music video, after Salt-n-Pepa sings, “Now you shouldn’t even get into who I’m givin’ skins to,” it is a cluster of gay and lesbian couples who shout back into the camera, “It’s none of your business!” While as fierce as any set of divas, Salt-n-Pepa has not left as lasting an impression on LGBTQ culture as one might wish. Due, perhaps, to the influence of gangsta rap in determining contemporary hip hop audiences, Salt-n-Pepa, along with most of their female rapper sisters, failed to earn a lasting place among the accepted canon of gay icons and dykons. qmagazineatyale.com
1987 DUDE LOOKS LIKE A LADY Aerosmith
2000 IT FEELS SO GOOD Sonique
Even those of us born after glam rock had faded to grunge are familiar with the image of the androgynous male rocker. From David Bowie to Mick Jagger, many male performers of the ‘70s and ‘80s rocked long, feminine hair, flowing robes, cosmetics, and copious amounts of jewelry, but some addressed gender in their lyrics, as well as in their appearances. No song embraces this androgyny as fully as Aerosmith’s 1987 hit “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” In a colorful robe and skin-tight pants, lead singer Steven Tyler is conscious of his own androgynous appearance as he makes explicit a sexual attraction to effeminate men, perhaps even to drag queens, that doesn’t end once their male-
ness is revealed. The music video mixes female-bodied models with men in women’s clothing – with even Tyler himself briefly in drag – to create a world in which sexual attraction can reach beyond biological sex. “Never judge a book by its cover,” Tyler warns, “or who you gonna love by your lover.” The image of the androgynous rocker is so prevalent that it would be easy to take the song as a joke, but with such explicit lyrics and visuals, perhaps “Dude Looks Like a Lady” was a queer anthem that just slipped under the radar.
Originally released in the UK in 1998, Sonique’s catchy techno song was a fixture on American club playlists by 2000. While the sensual lyrics of the pulsating love song make no explicit or even implicit reference to same-sex desire, the music videos reveal messages not captured by the audio alone. The video originally released with the song for UK audiences in 1998 features a dominatrixlike Sonique belting out lyrics in a sexy forest as the camera cuts to a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and an interracial heterosexual couple in turn. Here, the universality of love is the central focus. The American video two years later is both more and less explicit. Sonique performs her song at a club full of sweaty people, and while the dancing is steamier and more sexual, the homosexual over-
tones are more covert. One woman glances lustfully at another who is running an ice cube over her chest. Made subtler for American audiences, the queer content of the video failed to make waves for the artist, and despite producing the biggest selling dance song of the 21st century, Sonique fell into pop obscurity soon thereafter.
From the Archives
Unspeakable Wayne Dick and Bestiality Awareness Days, 1986
In 1986, Yale celebrated Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days (GLAD). For 12 days, students enjoyed “lectures, an arts festival, discussions, a rally, and a dance.” Yale graduate and esteemed playwright Larry Kramer ’57 and Advocate columnist Pat Califia spoke at the event. The Monday after GLAD ended, pink fliers appeared in mailboxes on Old Campus and on bulletin boards from Commons to the Law School. The handwritten, photocopied fliers bore an advertisement for “BAD Week ’86: Bestiality Awareness Days.” Under the heading was a long schedule of fictitious “BAD Week” events. The flier mocked GLAD with puns about humans having sex with livestock. Included in the events were “Ms. Seal speaking on Rover v. Wade: 13 years of Bitches Choice: Repudiating The Silent Yelp,” “Goat Lovers of Colour present a talk on PLAYING WITH KIDS: Feta-compli” and “Bishop Bleatmore (Grad Dartmouth ’69) speaking on THE IMPACT OF HOMO ERECTUS ON THE ORIGIN OF THE NEW SPECIES.” The fliers also targeted students directly involved in GLAD. For example, they made reference to Pat Santana, a queer activist and Freshman Counselor, with the notice that “Prof. Pet
Satanna” would speak on “Table Tents and Tolerance.” Four angry GLAD organizers, including Santana, went to Lloyd Suttle, the Dean of Student Affairs. In a Yale Daily News article Santana stated, “We wanted to show him that this shit is on campus.” Suttle responded that as the fliers had not been approved by the dean’s office, they ought not to have been posted. He felt, though, that without knowing the identity of the poster, he couldn’t “really do anything about it.” Finding the perpetrator, though, was a short process. Within days, Wayne Dick, a sophomore from Florida, was exposed as the creator of the fliers. Dick, who self-described as “very conservative,” had made the posters, he claimed, as a satirical response to the politics of GLAD. The Executive Committee of Yale, behind closed doors, sentenced Dick to two years of probation for the creation and distribution of the flier, which it viewed as harassment of queer communities on campus. In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Dick stated that during this probationary period, he would be expelled if he ever committed a comparable offense. Dick claimed that Yale was repressing his right to express his political opinions. He stated that, “I didn’t see any
criticism at all of GLAD Week. Since I personally think that homosexuality is repugnant, I thought I’d put out a poster to say that not everybody thinks homosexuality is so good.” Yale’s Woodward Report on Free Expression at Yale holds that speech is essential and should not be punished. Dick’s allegations that Yale was stifling his right to satirically criticize a politically charged event, therefore, rapidly gained campus and national attention. Nat Hentoff, a Village Voice reporter, crusaded for Yale to end Dick’s probation. In a missive in the Village Voice, Hentoff called Yale’s Executive Committee the “Court of the Star Chamber.” He vehemently stated that Dick had committed no crime, writing “Wayne Dick has not been accused of rape, theft, cheating, or beating up anybody. The student was found guilty of bad speech, no more than speech.” In a letter to then University President A. Bartlett Giamatti, Dick wrote, “I have been told that my poster is not protected by [Yale’s] freedom of expression regulations because it is worthless and offensive. I have seen many posters that I thought were worthless and offensive, but I respect others’ right to express their views.” He said that as he felt that “only one opinion was being heard. I saw no qmagazineatyale.com
Fragment of BAD poster printed in Yale Daily News, 1986. Photo by Chris Peak.
real criticism of the issue.” He finished with, “If my sentence is not overturned, please advise me as to other views that I am also not allowed to criticize, so that I won’t unknowingly violate my probation and the standards of Yale University.” Giamatti responded firmly, stating, “your right to free expression […] will be protected by the university in the future as it has been in the past.” Giamatti, though, left Yale and was replaced by Benno C. Schmitt Jr., who suggested a rehearing for the case. Yale History professor C. Van Woodward also offered his support and acted as Dick’s adviser. In the rehearing, Dick was found not to have violated any of Yale’s regulations. His probation was dropped. Dick stated that he felt that this proved that Yale “lived up to its regulations.” Dick’s case raised complicated questions for queer activists at Yale. On the one hand, his posters portrayed an unpopular political opinion. The right to express such opinions at Yale and beyond is, of course, key for queer people, who have been subject to some of the strictest censorship of any subjected population. At the same time, however, Dick’s language was arguably hate speech—that is, violent speech against queer people at Yale. A facet of the discussion that seems to 36
have been lost early on was the very personal nature of the attacks. Pat Santana, singled out by the poster, stated in the Yale Daily News that Dick “slandered” him. “I’m gay,” he stated, “That’s why I was slandered.” The flier was not simply critiquing the acceptance of queerness, but was also singling out queer individuals for ridicule. The events of GLAD of 1986 forced Yale’s administration to confront its views on homosexuality. For queer critics, Yale’s swift response to a display of homophobia was encouraging. At the same time, though, the swift change of opinion indicates a greater commitment to campus philosophy than the needs of individual queer students. The “Bestiality Awareness Days” flyers were symptomatic of underlying homophobia on a campus that ostensibly embraced gay rights. The battle following them, though, is one that shows a commitment to true discussion of the limits of tolerance—both of difference and of speech—at Yale. More than anything, this case demonstrates the ways in which queerness acts as a lens through which larger ethical questions at Yale are discussed. By 1986, most queer voices at Yale were not silenced: GLAD was endorsed by the administration and was, to an extent, protected when it fell
under Dick’s criticism. The debate that erupted, however, was not about queerness but rather about free speech with the contentious nature of queer issues acting as a catalyst. In 1986 and still today, queer people are caught in the crossfire of larger controversies, sometimes at great cost to the individuals implicated, as can be seen in the personal attacks of the BAD posters. It was Dick personally attacking gay students and singling them out for ridicule and humiliation based on their sexualities that pushed his satire beyond mere political humor. The homophobic language, in the end, was tolerated. The case has not left either a legacy of freefor-all acceptance or Orwellian censorship. The lines of the acceptable and unacceptable, speakable and unspeakable, remain blurred — and queerness remains contested in the middle. Sources: Blank, Stephanie. “‘BAD Week’ Flyer Angers Students.” Yale Daily News, n.d. Hentoff, Nat. “How Yale Punishes Bad Thoughts.” Village Voice, July 29, 1986. Hentoff, Nat. “An Unspeakable Crime at Yale.” Village Voice, July 15, 1986. Hodges, Sam, and Michael McLeod. “Wayne Dick.” Orlando Sentinel, November 16, 1986. Accessed March 20, 2012. <http:// articles.orlandosentinel.com/1986-11-16/ news/0270250122_1_homosexuality-yalewayne-dick>.
Campus Progress works to help young people — advocates, activists, journalists, artists — make their voices heard on issues that matter. Learn more at CampusProgress.org.
for LGBTQ Jews, goys, and allies
Come join the staff of the award-winning Q Magazine! For the 2012-2013 school year, Q is looking for: Editors, Writers, Publishers, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Illustrators, and Webmasters! LGBTQ and Allies welcome! Interested? Email email@example.com for more information!
To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org