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The Special Shelf A Queer Valentine Season
Review: 07 Book The Girls I’ve Been, by Tess Sharpe
Nashville Ballet’s Two Part Series Has Attitude
Three plus two equals family
Relationship 101 12 Getting the Most Out of Our Romantic Entanglements
Stay In for Date Night Make Your Own Massage Oil
Being in a Couple During a Pandemic
Thomas Horton 18 Goodbye, for the Drag Queen in Your Life
What Fresh Hell? The Tennessee General Assembly Returns for 2021
22 Wakanda Is Real
The Special Shelf
The Special Shelf
A Queer Valentine Season Jason Shawhan
February brings a lot of thoughts to mind. In normal years, where the plague didn’t hold sway, romance would be in the air, and candy, flowers, and cards would be sold in great profusion. But in the Covid-19 era, things are a bit different. Also, add in the attempted coup at the beginning of January (note: due to deadlines, there may have been more, which is yet another sobering pitcher of water to throw on whatever embers one might be stoking up for February emotional displays), and everything feels atypically weird. So it’s not exactly the time for the usual approach to the Valentine’s Day experience. It’s weird to try and put together a pantheon of queer romance at the cinema that isn’t plagued by a lot of footnotes. So many titles—landmarks in LGBTQIA+ representation and expression—end in tragedy of one sort or another. Brokeback Mountain is widely (and rightfully) considered a landmark in gay film, but its swoonworthy moments collide with its ending in a way that still resonates almost fifteen years after its release. Last year’s exquisite Portrait of a Lady on Fire, despite the vibrant and visceral love story at its center, must end with the women at its heart separated by mores and era. And this, because of society (and things like the Hays Production Code), means that movies with happy endings for queer romances are a fairly recent thing in the history of cinema. Too often circumstances meant a tragic accident, murder, or suicide for one or both involved parties; or the substitution of a gay relationship for something more palatable to mainstream audiences, like murder (see: Strangers on A Train). But even as recently as 2004’s Troy, from gay director Wolfgang Petersen, the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus was changed from lovers to cousins. There are some victories along the way, like the legendary Gilda, which is sultry and steeped in queer sexuality until about halfway through when the film decides it has to be about straight people and becomes tragically less enthralling, which is a suitable enough kind of gay victory for the ‘40s. Or when omnivorous bisexual jewel thief Laure manages to get away with the jewels, the husband’s money, and the girlfriend in Femme Fatale. Or that very special feeling of running into an ex and there’s still something there, but the time just isn’t right, so you wish them the best and find the morally ambiguous side piece that was always waiting for you to say ‘hey’ (Casablanca). Or when your kink is only being able to express your love for someone by compelling them to marry a Nazi and then periodically verbally degrading them for it (Notorious). There are lots of emotional textures that can resonate for queer viewers in all sorts of films. outandaboutnashville.com
The Special Shelf
A Queer Valentine Season
Think about contemporary mainstream films that sort of do the same thing, but with modern techniques. Think about Wonder Woman, with its utopian space of Themyscira (which, first thing’s first, post-pandemic someone needs to open a lesbian bar called Themyscira) where men are canonically “essential for procreation but not for pleasure,” or whatever it is that 2 Fast 2 Furious is saying about dudes. Or Wild Zero, the rightfully legendary Japanese horror musical that posits a simultaneous zombie apocalypse/alien invasion as the perfect time to leave behind antiquated attitudes toward gender and sexuality. It’s not my place to necessarily call Wild Zero a trans narrative, but it is defiantly about expanding beyond gender binaries and it was saying so in 1999.
Here’s where you can find the works discussed in this month’s column. Femme Fatale, The Handmaiden – Amazon Prime The Fly, Gilda – DirecTV Notorious – FlixFling The Christmas Setup - Fubo
It’s delightful that we’re starting to get films like 2016’s Korean and Japanese-language drama The Handmaiden, which has all the lesbian drama one could hope for (intrigue, grifting, octopus in the basement). It’s a rip-roaring adventure film that deals with intense material but never shies away from letting its characters find a path on their own Sapphic terms.
2 Fast 2 Furious, Casablanca, Femme Fatale, Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman – HBO Max
There’s a new director’s cut of But I’m A Cheerleader that aims to rectify some of the damage done by the MPAA-mandated cuts to its story, much of it pertaining to Megan and Graham’s burgeoning relationship. Likewise the animated series Harley Quinn on HBO Max, which has its own continuity with all the swears, gore, and carefully nuanced portrayal of an evolving queer relationship (as well as multiple characters voiced by gay actor James Adomian, the finest living impressionist in the world). Even Lifetime is getting in on nuanced queer relationships, what with December’s The Christmas Setup (again, deadlines), which hurdled my minimal expectations and delivered a believable, relatable, and cozy gay coupling organizing itself with care and genuine frisson—let’s see if they step up their game for Valentine’s Day.
The Fly - Starz
The goal, as a community, is daunting. And if you’ve got your special someone, spouse, polycule, den, or commune of folk, and y’all are happy, keep it going. And if you don’t have that, the dream factory that is the movies holds all sorts of possibilities, and February is a good enough time to explore your candy options (and it’s good preparation for when the Sweets-Industrial Complex starts getting really experimental during the Easter/Spring season). My custom, the few times I’ve been seeing someone around Valentine’s Day, has been to wrap up a copy of David Cronenberg’s The Fly. It is unbelievably gross, but it’s also the best tragic love story ever filmed (so tragic they even made an opera of it that I’ve never been able to hear or experience). As any queer person dealing with representations of romance will attest, your mileage may vary. But good luck, and hopefully next year there’ll be drunken barn dances for all.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Hulu Wonder Woman - Sling
Casablanca, Gilda, Strangers On A Train – TCM The Director’s Cut of But I’m A Cheerleader and Troy are available for rent on several Video On Demand services. The R-Rated version of But I’m A Cheerleader is streaming on Tubi and IMDBTV) Wild Zero is not streaming anywhere, but there’s a great DVD release from Synapse Films.
The Girls I’ve Been, by Tess Sharpe
Lee Hatcher This book feels exactly like a Netflix special that everyone needs to see—and it is my favorite book of 2021, so far. The Girls I've Been has everything: drama, action, romance, deception, and teen angst (that is what it’s all about). This book has a little of something for everyone, and paired with the incredible plot line that follows a teen con artist—well it's hard to think of a reason not to read it. Maybe if you're a homophobe, the super progressive and realistic lesbian relationship wouldn't be for you. But, for the rest of us, it provides a refreshing take on a lesbian relationship that isn't just a fetishization of the teen girls. Tess Sharpe's The Girls I've Been is truly a testament to her writing ability: I finished it in less than 3 days because I just couldn't put it down. The story follows Nora, or should I say Ashley? It follows a girl who was raised to take on the identities her mother gave her, so that she could help con people. Luckily she was saved from that terrible life of crime and abuse at 12 by her older sister Lee. But now, 4 years later, Nora finds herself stuck in the middle of a bank robbery where her previous life skills mean the difference between life and death for everyone. She, her girlfriend Iris, and her ex boyfriend Wes are all hostages to two psychotic criminals who freely take their anger out on those around them—especially the ones who stand in their way. The book itself is set up to slowly reveal Nora's horrific past as the bank robbery progresses in real time, highlighting the skills she was raised to perfect, as well as the mental turmoil it put her through. Sharpe also meticulously intertwines the complexity of Nora's relationships now and how they are affected by her past, making the book every bit as much a drama as it is an action thriller. The very slow blow-by-blow of Nora's past gives the book a lot of depth, despite taking the entire book to fully uncover her back story. But honestly, the slow burn makes it that much more worth it. It gives the reader time to exhale between bank scenes and just enough time to inhale before watching Nora's twisted childhood unravel. It's also relieving to see Nora's progress, her change in mindset, and the work she has done with her therapist. From a mental health standpoint, the book not only advocates for betterment and awareness but also provides an entire
resources section at the end of the book that provides outlets for people—and it is such a diverse list too! It makes my promental health awareness heart happy to see someone finally writing about such topics in a way that is not just meant to shun or demean people who get the help they need. The book also thoroughly satisfies my progressive, leftist brain in so many small and subtle ways. For starters, the realism of the crimes and operations Nora witnesses and is involved in aren't over the top with fictional flare: they could've been pulled from a Dateline NBC episode. And secondly, it explores the corruption of America in a way that not even Republicans could get mad at. Also, the fact that the main character's girlfriend knows how to make a bomb provides just the anarchist genius the book needed to make it so well rounded. Overall, the book lives up to its description: Nora is her mother's protégé. And that means there is literally never a dull moment. Having read it, I'm now super excited for the Netflix adaptation starring Millie Bobby Brown. I hope she does Nora justice, because with Nora’s personality and wit, it will be a shit show if Brown doesn't nail the character. I'm also curious to see who they cast as Wes and Iris—fingers crossed for a lesbian or bisexual actress and Wyatt Oleff.
Two Part Series Has Attitude
Photo by Karyn Kipley featuring Nashville Ballet Company Dancers in Jennifer Archibald’s Superstitions, 2018.
Following the success of the televised premiere of Nashville’s Nutcracker, Nashville Ballet is preparing to present its next installment of virtual content with Attitude, a two-part series set to release digitally March 5 through 7 and April 2 through 4. Due to the evolving situation surrounding COVID-19, this will replace the previously scheduled performances of Attitude: New Works by Women. Featuring three unique works in a twopart virtual series, Attitude Part I and Part II will focus on presenting audience favorites that highlight the wealth of artistry native to Nashville. Premiering March 5 through 7, 2021, Attitude Part I will feature two fan-favorite works: the smash-hit Johnny Cash ballet, Under the Lights, and Jennifer Archibald’s Superstitions. Originally choreographed in 2014 by former Nashville Ballet Company Dancer and Resident Choreographer Christopher Stuart, Under the Lights offers a unique glimpse into the life and legacy of the infamous “Man in Black”. A uniquely Nashville collaboration, the ballet is set to iconic Cash tunes such as “Folsom,” “I Walk the Line,” and “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” recorded by Nashville-based duo Sugar + The Hi-Lows with their signature rockabilly twist. “Daring and romantic, Under the Lights celebrates the musical legacy of Cash and his beloved June Carter Cash, while honoring one of music’s great love stories,” wrote Amy Stumpfl for The Tennessean. 8
Photo by Karyn Kipley featuring Nashville Ballet Company Dancers in Christopher Stuart’s Under the Lights, 2017.
Joining this crowd favorite is Superstitions, choreographed by award-winning and highly sought-after choreographer Jennifer Archibald. Known for her unique style of movement that blends the precision and technicality of classical ballet with contemporary dance styles like hip-hop, Archibald’s work challenges the viewer’s perception of ballet. This innovative piece is accompanied by an original score from local musician Cristina Spinei. Concluding the series April 2 through 4, 2021, Attitude Part II will feature Seasons, choreographed by Artistic Director Paul Vasterling and set to the timeless music of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, recomposed by Max Richter. Embodying elegance, this beloved ballet offers a fresh and uplifting view on the elements of classical ballet. “Amidst these challenging times, we’ve been honored to continue to make Nashville Ballet performances and programming available to the community in new and innovative ways,” said Nashville Ballet Artistic Director Paul Vasterling. "Though different in styles, these pieces were selected because they each challenge our traditional perception of ballet and invite audiences to see the art form in an entirely new way," Vasterling added. "We strive to present innovative works and celebrate the wealth of talent unique to Music City. Featuring music by Johnny Cash, performed by local duo Sugar + The Hi-Lows, and an original commission from Nashville-based composer Cristina Spinei, this series is no exception."
Photo by Karyn Kipley featuring Nashville Ballet Company Dancers in Christopher Stuart’s Under the Lights, 2017.
Medical research hasn’t always seen you. We’re changing that.
Under continued consultation with a team of trusted medical advisors, close collaboration with the Metro Nashville Public Health Department, and in accordance with guidelines from the CDC and Tennessee Department of Health, Nashville Ballet has instituted numerous policies to ensure that rehearsals and filming for Attitude Part I and Part II are completed in the safest way possible. These include weekly COVID-19 tests, daily temperature and symptom checks, a mandatory mask requirement at all times while in the facility, daily rapid tests for dancers actively filming without a mask, enhanced filtration measures to upgrade the existing HVAC system, social distancing, cleanings, hand sanitizing, and more. Nashville Ballet has also instituted assigned pods during all rehearsals. Tickets for Attitude Part I and Attitude Part II are available now and can be purchased at bit.ly/BalletAttitude. Please note, you must purchase tickets for both performances to receive both links.
Learn more at joinallofus.org/fiftyforward 615-743-3431 outandaboutnashville.com
Credit: Sweet Me Photography
two equals family
The men of Three Dads and a Baby: Adventures In Modern Parenting
There are times in life where you realize that maybe you are not as open-minded as you think you are.
“I think it was probably a four-year discussion,” says Jenkins over the phone.
For example, some of us out there, regardless of our various orientations, skin tones, spiritual beliefs, and upbringing, mistakenly think of ourselves from time to time as being completely open-minded. This hopeful wish for total approval of all things similar and different to us is a nice thought, but we all have our little (or large) prejudices.
The length of their conversation had to do with several things. According to Jenkins, the priority was getting comfortable with the idea of dating outside of their monogamous relationship.
Most often, of course, the question of whether we are okay with something and the subsequent feelings of doubt or confusion that follow are the product of our ignorance, even if we are usually genuinely accepting of new or different ideas. Case in point, the concept of polyamory. In our beautiful country that begs for diversity to be accepted and celebrated (yes, that is a little wishful thinking), the idea of there being a third person in a loving relationship is often either shunned, oversaturated with sexual overtones, or dismissed with the thought “I could never do that.” However, people do, and it not just about the extra sex. Sometimes, it is about building a loving family. In his new memoir, Three Dads and a Baby: Adventures In Modern Parenting, Dr. Ian Jenkins details how he and his two partners decided to become parents, becoming the first polyamorous family to have three men all be on their biological (with the help of two surrogate mothers and an embryo donor) children’s birth certificates. Jenkins, a board-certified internal medicine physician and professor at the University of California-San Diego medical school, and his partner, Alan (last name withheld out of respect for his professional life as he is employed by the U.S. government) have been together for almost 18 years. The two met when Alan, a psychiatrist, was Ian’s student while in medical school. After six years together, Ian and Alan began discussing the idea of possibly dating a third person together. 10
“I think the real issue was kind of figuring out what kind of person (we) would be comfortable with and when we first started talking about this, I think he was more comfortable with the idea of someone who couldn't really compete as a mate. (Alan) felt better with the idea of someone that we didn't really think was going to be a long-term partner, and it turns out that the people who are probably not likely long-term partners are also just not a good fit for us,” continued Jenkins. The couple dated a few people, but there was not really a “click.” Then Jenkins met Jeremy, a 6’5” zookeeper with a talent for nurturing tiny Hawaiian birds (more on that later) eight years ago, and they hit it off over lunch, but there was just one problem. Jeremy was not interested in dating a couple. Jenkins, though, said that was fine and thought there was the possibility that Jeremy could become part of he and Alan’s circle of friends, so he invited Jeremy over for a friendly dinner. “We brought him home for dinner, just to be friends, and we had a great time. We spent every evening for the next week together because we were just enjoying each other's company,” says Jenkins. Some people might assume that, like many people of all sexual orientations, the couple was looking for a threesome or some sort of sexual adventure, this was not the case. “That was never anything that was on our radar. We were looking for a person, not like a specific adventure. Jeremy is a great person, and we just really hit it off with him, and he enjoyed our company. We just spent more time together,
Three plus two equals family and we all realized that we were a good fit, and it would make sense for us to start a relationship, so we did,” says Jenkins. Alan and Ian made efforts to bring Jeremy into their relationship as an equal, not an “extra,” and Jenkins says that took a lot of communication. He also shared that he is very happy that Alan and Jeremy enjoy their time with each other and realized, over time, that it made him glad to know that the men he loved enjoyed spending time together without him because it made them happy. During the conversation, Jenkins mentioned several times that the throuple (and yes, that is a word) are not nearly as interesting as people may think they are or even salacious in any way. They do the same things that couples do, including talking about what to have for dinner, sharing finances, and figuring out what movie to watch together. Before the pandemic, they enjoyed spending time with family and friends, and with three sets of these, for example, they would often have gatherings of 50 or more people. “We're pretty tame and ordinary people. The house is very much like every other house that's raising two kids as best as they possibly can with the right values and making them feel nourished and wanted to set them up for success. It's just that there's three dads instead of two, or a mom and a dad,” says Jenkins. While some people did not necessarily understand their arrangement, at first, Jenkins says that people were typically quick to accept the throuple and did not think much of it. Some of this is covered in Jenkins’ excellent memoir, including how Jeremy’s extremely religious mother was painfully and heartbreakingly slow to come around to the family’s arrangement. Still, the book is much more focused on how these three men came to be fathers in a groundbreaking way. Three Dads and a Baby is incredibly easy to sink your teeth into, and Jenkins’ talent as a writer is substantial. Equally humorous and heartfelt, the story of how the three men decided to become fathers and the assistance they received from two incredible friends, Delilah (who acted as a surrogate for the throuple’s first child, Piper Joy) and Meghan, a lifelong friend of Alan’s who donated the eggs (or “Meggs” as they came to be known), will make you laugh and cry as you root for the trio to build their family. Of course, there were significant obstacles along the way and some heartbreak, too, as an early attempt to add to their family was unsuccessful. The details of this process, replete with a fair amount of medical insight, make Three Dads and a Baby an excellent read for anyone interested in learning more about how in vitro fertilization (IVF) or adopting and implanting embryos works. It is hard to combine educational, informative, and entertaining concepts into one book, but Jenkins more than pulls it off.
and his research into his topic is top-notch. The book also delves into the complicated legal precedents of he, Alan, and Jeremy’s fight to do what was right by their children. “It was a new experience for our attorneys, and it was a new experience for our IVF doctors, as well. If you’re a married couple, it is a pretty straight forward process to do as they can be included on the same contract with a surrogate, but when you’re not married, even if you have been in an 18-year relationship, you have separate contracts with a surrogate because you’re not related to each other,” says Jenkins. While the legal and medical bills continued to add up, the throuple faced each new challenge stoically, though, providing emotional support for each other through some tough battles as they moved towards making legal history. This is another excellent aspect of the memoir as Jenkins detailed each hoop the threesome jumped through to make sure they would each be on Piper Joy’s birth certificate. Jenkins mentioned that some people might have viewed this fight as some type of “grandstanding” to draw attention to their unique situation, but this was not the case. “Our driver for this was not to call attention to ourselves but to protect our child because we are all the parents of these children, and if any one of us needs to consent to medical treatment or take them to the doctor's office, enroll them in school, handle their legal responsibilities for them, we all need to be able to do that, and you can't predict when this might happen,” says Jenkins. When the throuple added their son, Parker Lewis, to the fold, the process was simpler, and there was not even a need to go before the judge as they had with Piper Joy to plead their case for an additional slot on the birth certificate. The courts handled it, and the family grew by one. While it does not sound as if more children are on the way anytime soon, Jenkins can still find time to write and is working on a couple of different projects when he can tear himself away from cooking for his family or snuggling with the kids. When people say to him that they do not think it is possible to love more than one person, Jenkins says he thinks of a woman who asked him that question once, and he thought to himself, “Don’t you have three kids? Which one did you choose to love?” Jenkins concluded with this: “I just don’t think that hearts are made that way to be closed off to more than one person. Certainly, they don’t come that way.”
For one thing, Jenkins does a masterful job of relating this experience from both the perspective of a member of a family figuring out how to navigate these complicated waters with his partners and that of a physician who teaches other doctors how to be great at their jobs. In this book, there is some medical information that is nothing short of phenomenal, and Jenkins’ writing about his profession outandaboutnashville.com
Getting the Most Out
of Our Romantic Entanglements James Grady, with Gert Comfrey It’s February again, and that means Valentines’ Day is setting the tone—but this year against the backdrop of COVID. Last year, the holiday was one of the last occasions before widespread lockdowns established our news social norms. This year, as establishing new connections has gotten that much harder, we thought we would focus on preserving and strengthening our existing relationships. In addition to an article by Barbara Sanders on relationship maintenance during the COVID-19 pandemic (page 16), I interviewed local therapist Gert Comfrey to get their thoughts on some of the things we can do to help our relationships go the distance and become long-termers—should we so desire. James: Gert, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your philosophy as a therapist? Gert: My pronouns are they/them, and I’m queer, nonbinary, transgender, and disabled. So, as a mental health practitioner, I value practices that are queer- and transaffirming as well as accessible to people of all bodies. I also take an anti-oppression approach in my work as a therapist. To me, that means establishing a therapy culture that is rooted in resistance against oppressive systems, while simultaneously championing liberation movements such as racial justice, disability justice, queer liberation, and anticapitalism. I believe that healing work occurs at three intersecting levels: the personal, the interpersonal, and the systemic/ political. Therefore, when we engage on any level, we have the opportunity for healing ripple effects to touch the other levels. For example, if I become a better listener to a romantic partner (interpersonal), it may also mean I become a better listener to myself and my own desires (personal) and/or a better listener to marginalized communities (systemic). James: Well, let’s jump right in! What are some techniques or behaviors that you think help couples last for the long haul—skills that we can develop that give us a better chance of running the marathon? Gert: Here are a few skills or practices that I encourage when I'm doing relationship counseling: 1. Slow down: So often, in a world that seems ruled by the scarcity of time, we forget that one of the most important things we can do to deeply connect with ourselves and each other is slow down. When we take a beat and a breath, we immediately create a bit more spaciousness for us to drop into our bodies and to tune into our hearts. 12
Credit: Cody Stallings Photography
So much of the world wants us to rush. Our relationships can be a powerful exception to that rule. Try not to judge or avoid conflict: Conflict in a relationship does not mean that the relationship is doomed or flawed. On the contrary, I believe that conflict really is the relationship's way of communicating that it wants to deepen. Conflict is the vehicle toward and an opportunity for intimacy. Of course, it does matter what we do and say in conflict. We want to be practicing harm reduction -- doing the least amount of harm to ourselves and others -- in conflict. But conflict in relationships is not something we need to be beating ourselves up about. It literally is telling us that this relationship means something to the people involved. Set boundaries and negotiate needs: Participation in a vibrant relationship means setting boundaries about what works for you and what doesn't. We all have ways of engaging with others that might fall into a few categories: strong no, probably not/soft no, maybe/ soft yes, and sacred yes. It is important for each of us to know the landscape of our own boundaries, and to be able to communicate them with our partner or partners. For example, a sacred or strong yes for me is exercising with my partner, and a strong no is intimidation. It is important for relationships to revisit boundaries, wants, and needs frequently, because we humans are dynamic, changing, growing creatures. Stretch into discomfort: Growing in intimacy in our relationships is not always easy. In fact, sometimes it can feel uncomfortable. That is usually a sign that we are stretching our capacity to connect and practicing vulnerability. When we take the risk and step outside of our comfort zones, we can reap all kinds of rewards. That said, this stretch must be consensual and at our own pace -- so not pressured, coerced, or demanded by anyone else Mirror, validate, empathize: This model of relating comes from Imago Relationship Therapy. When we are taking the role of being an active listener with our partner or partners, it is crucial to try to create an environment where our partners feel heard, where they feel like they make sense, and where they are felt with. A formula I love to work with is inviting individuals to mirror or reflect back what they hear their partner saying, followed by why that thing their partner said makes sense. And then finally, sharing with their partner how they imagine they might be feeling. So it might sound something like: "What I hear you saying is that you feel alone and ignored when I spend a bunch of time on my phone. That makes sense to me because that would be the same conclusion I would draw if I was sitting in a room with someone who was spending more time and attention on their phone than on me. I imagine you might be feeling sad and confused. Am I getting it?"
James: What do you think are some of the relationship pitfalls that can lead people to call it quits perhaps prematurely? Gert: I think a lot of relationships end prematurely when the relationship is dominated by a culture of "shoulds." By this, I mean when a relationship is more about the expectations of who a partner should be, rather than a culture of appreciation for who the partner truly is. Of course, it is important for us to have a sense of what we deserve in our relationships; but unfortunately our interactions with potential partners can become clouded
by the roles we cast them into. I'd invite individuals in relationships to stay curious with one another about what each other is bringing to the relationship, rather than focusing on deficits. I'd also invite a lot of communication on the front end. I've seen relationships dissolve early on that could have been really beautiful if the partners had expressed what they were wanting and needing from the relationship. This also includes expressing our fears, growing edges, past trauma, expectations, boundaries, and desires, which can be very vulnerable, and also very rewarding. Relationships that avoid these kinds of vulnerable conversations may run the risk of ending prematurely, or never really going to a fulfilling level of intimacy. James: Related to boundaries and discomfort, how do we stretch into discomfort, while also honoring our boundaries? How far is too far to stretch? Gert: This is a great and important question. It is crucial that we feel as anchored into our boundaries as we can when we step into a relationship. Knowing what dynamics work for us in a relationship, and which ones don't is critical for honoring our selves, our bodies, our hearts, and our psyches. A boundary violation in a relationship is usually a panic point in the relationship, where we might literally go into fight, flight, or freeze response. This could look like attacking ourselves or another, or avoiding or withdrawing from the situation. This is a distress response, which is our body's way of letting us know something isn't working for us in the current dynamic. James: How can we look at ourselves and tell if we are resisting stretching out of unreasonable fear, versus when we aren't stretching because this isn't a place where I'm currently able to stretch? Gert: The discomfort of stretching feels very different than this distress response. Stretch is about stepping into new and uncharted ways of interacting that ultimately feel like outandaboutnashville.com
growing painsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;they aren't comfortable, but they usually are worthwhile in the long run. When we are stretching and practicing vulnerability, we still feel a sense of connection to ourselves and others, and we feel resourced to be able to grow into new ways of engaging. And of course, the more we stretch and practice vulnerability, the easier it will become. When we are stretching and we ever feel that distress reaction show up, that is likely an indicator that we have stretched beyond what we have support for and are verging on that panicked place of fight or flight. So, that can be a really helpful way to understand our own boundaries and limitations in the moment. James: What role does self-awareness play in our relationships? How can we tell if what we are about to ask our partner for might be too much to even reasonably ask? Gert: Everyone's comfort zone, stretch zone, and panic zones are different, so self-awareness and limiting self-judgment is really important. When I'm doing relationship counseling, I invite folks to bring some awareness to where they might be at any given moment, and to name for each other where they are at. It might sound like, "Hey, I just got off of a really difficult phone call, and I'm in panic zone right now, so I need a few minutes to myself before we talk about that awesome idea you had" or "Gosh, I'm feeling really overwhelmed by what you just said. Could we pause for a moment and hug and practice some eye contact before I respond?" I think checking out our partners' capacity and consent is a really helpful tool, especially if we don't know if what we are about to ask for is too much. And I think also not taking their response personally is also important. I work with couples a lot to get practice at hearing "no" and not taking it as rejection or a value judgment on who they are. Being able to practice saying and hearing no from our partners is so important, and I even coach folks to respond with "thank you for your 'no'" to be able to establish cultures of gratitude around setting boundaries with one another and practicing self-determination and autonomy and consent.
James: Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m trying not to be preachy with this question but â&#x20AC;Ś as Americans we tend to treat relationships as one-size-fitsall, and even in the LGBTQ community many have adopted a heteronormative outlook on monogamy, etc. I hear a lot of slut-shaming of couples with open relationships, triads, poly relationships and the like, which only makes sense if monogamy as the sole relationship model. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on navigating and negotiating the right relationship model for ourselves as individuals and units? Where and when do you think it can be healthy to explore alternative models of relationships? How do we keep our one-on-one relationships strong within them / through them / beyond them? Gert: Oh, I definitely support consensual, mutual, empowered relationships of all kinds, so that includes monogamy, ethical non-monogamy, polyamory, relationship anarchy, platonic life partners, triads, etc. I believe that the queer community has such important things to say about relationships and how we can arrive into flourishing dynamics beyond the scripts outlined by cisheteronormativity and amatonormativity (the assumption that everyone is better off in a romantic, longterm, exclusive coupled relationship). Exploring alternative models of relating outside of monogamy takes creativity, vulnerability, and honesty, and I remind couples who might be considering opening up their relationship that things will only get more complex and therefore need more care and communication, not less. Opening up a relationship or shifting the parameters of an existing relationship can also be a great opportunity for each participant to honestly reflect on what has been working in the dynamic, what could need more support to work better, and what unmet or under-addressed needs are present. Of course, no one person can meet all of our mental, emotional, physical, sexual, psychological, and spiritual needs. So, when a couple is considering opening up a relationship, I invite them to explore what needs in particular would be served in the process. And yes, sometimes couples think that opening up a relationship will solve issues between the couple that really are the couple's to address. A couple's standing issues around emotional intimacy, conflict, communication, quality time, sex, etc., won't just disappear if or when they open up their relationship. Those issues will still be there waiting for the couple to address them regardless of the relationship structure. James: How do we navigate and negotiate alternative arrangements? Gert: I think intentional, explicit conversations about expectations are essential for couples who are considering opening up their relationship. There are so many ways to structure an open relationship or to practice ethical nonmonogamy, so it is really important to try to be on the same page as much as possible. I would also encourage couples to strive to find a balance between rigidity and flexibility when opening up their relationship. We don't want parameters or expectations so rigid that one or both partners feel controlled, stifled, or anxious; however, we also don't want the expectations too flexible to the extent that it creates confusion and lack of clarity. Striking a balance that creates a sense of structure within which the open relationship can flourish is unique to each couple, and I love working with couples to negotiate their way to finding that balance.
Stay In for Date Night Make Your Own Massage Oil
Sara Schuster We’ve certainly had to get a bit creative with date night ideas during the pandemic, even more so while colder weather keeps us from some of the great outdoor options available to us. Navigating safety concerns and social distancing can be distracting when out on a date, so a great option is a stayat-home date. This lets you keep the focus where it belongs: on each other. If you’d like to take a hands-on approach to date night, why not start by making your own massage oil? It’s simple to do and so easy to customize to your partner’s favorite scents. Then you can take turns helping each other relax and relieve some of the week’s stress. If you don’t want to jump into exchanging full body massages with each other right off the bat, you could start with foot or hand massages. You can even do this while hanging out on the couch, perhaps re-watching a shared favorite romantic movie. Or take turns pampering one another while you enjoy a few glasses of wine and have a great intimate conversation. To make your own massage oil, you really only need two things: a carrier oil, which will be the base of the massage oil, and then a small amount of the essential oils to add for aromatherapy purposes. Grapeseed oil and jojoba oil are great options for carrier oils but my personal favorite is sweet almond oil (though of course, don’t choose this option if you or your partner have a nut allergy). Sweet almond oil is great for those with sensitive skin, and also doesn’t leave a greasy residue behind. You don’t need to make a large amount of massage oil, so 2-4 ounces of a carrier oil is a good starting point. Next, you’ll want to choose your essential oils to blend in. A note here that essential oils are highly concentrated and so it’s important to dilute them correctly into your carrier oil. For each ounce of carrier oil, you will only add up to 12 drops of essential oil. NOTE: massage oil is for external use. Essential oils can burn and irritate when taken internally.
There are so many options to choose from when picking out your essential oils. Start by asking yourself what the purpose of the massage is going to be—are you looking to relax your partner? Or perhaps invigorate them for later activities? When I’m looking to relax, I love a simple massage oil of just lavender, but you can also add other calming scents, such as chamomile, cedarwood, or rose. For a more uplifting massage oil, try adding peppermint, any citrus scents, or ginger. If you’ve been working out and have sore muscles, mix a combination of equal parts eucalyptus, rosemary, and lavender. Once you’ve selected your essential oils, you can blend them into your carrier oil and then bottle them. A small lotion bottle with a pump can be very handy to keep around, or even just a small bottle with a flip top. Make sure to label your bottles with the ingredients and dates. I try to use my oils up within six months, and so that’s another reason to make small individual batches. I hope you’ll put together an oil or two to experiment with. You can even make a date activity of it, blending a custom oil for your partner and having them blend one for you as well. Read up on the properties of various essential oils and create a special massage oil for your partner’s current aromatherapy needs! Sara Schuster is a queer community herbalist and medicinal herb farmer. You can find her classes, podcasts, and herbal products at FoxandElder.com or on Instagram @foxandelder.
Being in a Couple During a Pandemic
A pandemic is a real test of partnership. Being with someone without the daily, brief separations of work and other contacts, we may not be enthused by our partner’s constant presence. We may need more time alone. Some partners, though housed together, still don’t seem to enjoy quality time with each other when the days go on and on without some changes in the air. With parenting? I feel much sympathy (and perhaps envy) for couples who are currently parents, who are continually juggling their work schedules with kids’ school schedules and needs. We used to be tired after a full day of work anyway, and now life seems even more exhausting. Who is up for an exciting, energetic evening of glorious lovemaking after such days? During pandemic, people who have open relationships or who are polyamorous may be more worried about infection being shared. Careful practices and good communication are necessary, or more than usual conflict can occur. The fact is that we need to attend to our relationships and partnerships no matter what is going on in the world. Now, there is more risk of couples breaking up and some feel stuck in difficult relationships because they aren’t able to easily leave due to financial or emotional strain. Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) has risen in numbers, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Barbara Sanders Let’s just admit that being around our partners 24/7 is an unusual state of affairs. Don’t get me wrong. Some people LOVE to be with their significant other all the time. But when we are forced to be together by something like a pandemic over many, many months (I count 9), some people get pretty distressed in one way or another: stir crazy, bored, lonely, restless, agitated, depressed, and/or anxious. We have all been living during one of the most extraordinary times in our lives this past year. People have experienced and still experience a whole range of emotions from great fear and terror to anger to out-of-control-ness to relaxation and peace. We spiral between these feelings, having some excellent days and some terrible days. And some people enjoy the fact that they can’t leave home. So many different reactions, so unique to the individual and to the couple. How can current couples, whether physically distant or close in proximity, survive and even thrive during this pandemic? How can we not lose connection with each other, and how do we deepen or strengthen our connection during such a tragic time? Without regular, brief separations throughout a day, partners may not look or feel the same. If you are eating every meal together, not going out much, and not even being able to enjoy friends or family indoors, you may lose some of the joy or energy you usually feel. If one part of the couple has been laid off or your business has closed, you may be experiencing severe financial stresses. How can any of us be good partners if we are suffering or struggling ourselves with our moods and lack of outlets, like going to the gym to work out our stresses?
Couples, who are distant physically from each other given the limits of transportation and safety during the pandemic, have a hard time as well. When conflict occurs in long distance relationships, it can be difficult to communicate effectively and resolve these conflicts when you can’t be near each other to enjoy the benefits of being a couple as well. The truth is that every couple is unique. And, each person in the couple is unique so it is impossible to offer a recipe for couples to follow to survive and thrive during this pandemic. But, I will try: • Spend quality time with each other. Find time and space to be together, alone together, participating in some activity together or just being with each other. Privacy and cuddling are also important. • If you are not in your partner’s bubble of safety, you have to evaluate risk. Is it more risky to the couple’s health for you to quarantine, or is it less risky to be together even if you get infected? Illness and death are no jokes during this pandemic. But, relationships need nurturing as well. What happens in most couples is that each person may have different opinions and beliefs about risk and health. How you resolve these differences matters. • Each part of the couple needs to take good care of themselves. If you don’t take care of yourself, emotions may be heightened and excellent communication is difficult when you are feeling tired, anxious, distressed, or hungry. • Explore new activities for the couple, like chess, card games, TV series, walks in nature, and outdoor activities with friends. Find creative ways to enjoy life, like singing, dancing, meditating, yoga, and artwork. Working together on a common project can enhance your relationship or prompt more difficulties. • Seeking professional assistance may help couples weather this pandemic. Counselors, psychotherapists, couples therapists, coaches, and ministers/rabbis/imams are available.
Being in a Couple During a Pandemic
• Take some time outs from each other. Take a break, be alone for awhile, take some deep breaths, and let yourself relax. Then, wonder how you are feeling and be curious about how you might be participating in any current distress. Above all, try being compassionate not only with your partner but with yourself. • The pandemic is an excellent time to participate in a process called “shadow work,” which means working intensely inside yourself, exploring all of your parts, from the positive and peaceful parts to those negative, critical, and judgmental parts. Shadow work is usually done in a professional setting because we all need facilitation and support outside of ourselves when doing this kind of deep work which can be so freeing and life restoring for individuals and couples. My hope is that we can each bring more grace, forgiveness and gentleness to everyone, ourselves first and foremost. If we can focus on values like love and nonviolence, then perhaps we can help to create a new world where people care about community rather than just about themselves. Couples are a wonderful place to explore and understand yourself better while you practice new ways of acting and being. Instead of holding on to black and white thinking, we realize that there is a lot of gray and many other colors inside us and all around us. Our job is to take care of ourselves so that we can better communicate with and be in relationship with others, especially with our partners. Barbara Sanders, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, writer and activist: BarbaraSandersLCSW@gmail.com.
Thomas Horton Socially-Distant Memorial Service, Procession of Vehicles Gave LGBTQ Nashville Opportunity to Mourn
Friends and family of LGBTQ rights activist and author Thomas Horton, 54, closed out 2020 by gathering at Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens in Nashville to wave goodbye one last time to their beloved “hateful queen”. The author, activist, poet, artist, tech wizard, philanthropist, DJ, singer, world traveler and linguist died December 19 in hospice after a brief illness. The ceremony was spread out across the Gardens’ Sermon on the Mount area and attendees wore masks and maintained social distance. Best friend and Out & About Nashville Contributor Brian Sullivan kicked off the ceremony with quips about Horton’s friends and giving them an “out”. “Looking out at this gathering, I see some of the most remarkable, kind, wonderful people the world has to offer... and also his friends,” Sullivan said. “I want you to know that now’s your chance. As Thomas said, why wait to tell someone you hate them when you could do it right now. Frank saves time. I personally can’t stand any of you, and he really didn’t like you either.” Sullivan spent the last year of Horton’s life with him under quarantine in their West Meade home. Horton was a Nashville native with degrees in French and French Literature, attended L’Alliance française Paris, and taught English to French students in the city of Marseille, France. He was best known for inspiring change and a solid acceptance of reality across the globe through both his writings and speaking engagements. The author of the explicit and kinky novel Titanic Days was a peer support counselor and guide of sex positivity for members of the queer community long before his debut work of fiction. In a recent adults only episode of Out & About After Dark, taped in September with Managing Editor James Grady, he spoke about the topic, explaining what sex positivity does and does not mean. The topic came up of what it’s like to navigate bisexuality between the competing demands of the heterosexual and gay communities. “If you look at the closet as an institution and ask one hundred people, one hundred of those people will say they are glad they came out,” Horton told Grady in the interview. “No one ever says ‘You know, I really wish I had stayed in the closet and hid that part of myself’.” Horton went on to explain that the act should always be done in that person’s own time. He spoke on numerous occasions of the frustration with the erasure of bisexuality, from both society and within our own community. Thomas was not one to waste time with taboos, traditions or religious biases. “There are three things you should always ask,” Horton said. “Is it safe, is it sane, is it consensual. If it meets that criteria, let your freak flag fly.” 18
Thomas guided numerous members of the Nashville LGBTQ community into their coming out and acceptance of hidden parts of themselves. He did this with straight people too. A decidedly and resolvedly single cis man, Horton was said to be the best friend for relationship advice. “On numerous occasions he assisted women in fleeing situations of domestic violence, held mirrors up to the face of gay men in love with a narcissist, talked with people who had just learned their HIV positive status, listened to youth coming out to him as transgender, and sometimes was simply an ear to listen,” Sullivan wrote in a December op-ed for Out & About Nashville. “He spent countless hours with me, assisting people with treatment, helping them find stability, helping them to find themselves.” Horton worked on the advancement of LGBTQ rights on both a federal and state level, and donated to numerous campaigns that fought for equality. In the early 2000s, he served as Creative Director for the 2002 Democratic Coordinated Campaign and later would work for the state as Creative Strategist for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. It was there he worked directly with top aides of the Governor. “In my 25 years in and around journalism and communications, Thomas was hands down one of the most talented individuals I worked with,” recalls one coworker. “To say that he was talented and smart is an understatement.” This sentiment was echoed as we talked with numerous activists and political professionals. That he was a “great guy”, that he was “brilliant”, and that he was “devoted” to advancing the community. A fluent speaker of seven languages, communication was his first strong suit. His second, according to friends, was his humor.
Photos courtesy of Brian Sullivan / Anthony Matula (MA2LA)
Goodbye, Thomas Horton
After reading the comment on a post on social media from a mutual friend that read “I love you, you hateful queen,” Thomas founded the Facebook group You Hateful Queen, and thus, the International Society of Hateful Queens (ISHQ). The about section of this group tells all you need to know before entering: “The world is full of vapid twats. Contemptuous hussies. Dizzy bitches. Wretched hags. You know, people who deserve to be made fun of. We do that.” To become a hateful queen, one must not simply have the ability to be snarky, but more importantly, clever as well. The hateful queen does not blurt out disgust, but disguises their shade as helpful, for example “That’s a lovely dress Karen, did someone have a garage sale?” Or “What a large boat Charles, perhaps tonight your numerous inadequacies won’t tarnish a good night’s sleep.” It is all, however, done out of love. A mirror for support. The group would meet up in public occasionally for “reading sessions”, during which each member present would express their insults with a side of snark and a pinch of truth. It was a glorious and motley crue, according to Sullivan. On occasion, the group would meet for karaoke and cocktails, a favorite pastime of the man his friends in China call “The Happy Buddha.” It was at Corner Bar at Elliston Place where he would often sing duets with a group of minions affectionately and admittedly known as his “whores.” “There are two types of people who don’t mind being called whores,” friends recall Thomas saying. “My friends, and actual whores.” It was at these outings that Horton would express admiration and state the praises of one of his favorite singers, Memory Strong Smith, who performed a cover of Celine Dione’s “My Heart Will Go On” at his memorial service, but left his part instrumental. “I just couldn’t do that. We sang it as a duet, and that part was and will always be his in my mind,” Strong relayed to the gathering through tears. The two were not only partners in shade, but confidantes, who spent hours conversing with each other in between turns to sing at karaoke. “It’s an incredible honor,” Strong said of the ceremony. “One I wish I never had to experience.” The memorial service was limited to family and close friends due to COVID-19 restrictions, and took place graveside at 10:36am. Friends and family say 10:36 is a very significant number for Thomas. He would talk a lot about interesting things happening to him at this time. Occasionally, he would blurt out in a room full of people “It’s 10:36.” Thomas died December 19 at 7:55pm, but he was carried out of the building at 10:36pm. Christa Suppan, friend and owner of The Lipstick Lounge, would remind friends of the significant meaning of the number. “The number 1036 is a message to trust that your home and family will be cared for and material needs will be met,” says Suppan. “It means to give your relationships the time and energy they deserve and bring love to all of your interactions. Enjoy the support of others and give yours in return. Focus on love, joy and peace rather than anger and fear, and keep your spiritual light bright and strong.”
Goodbye, Thomas Horton
“Thomas had significant battles, both physically and emotionally,” Sullivan remarked of his friend. “Most people don’t know what it took for him to get up every single day. He not only did it gracefully but helped so many others in the process.” A procession of vehicles quietly drove past the graveside with silent gestures such as signs on poster boards or leaving a single rose out of the window as the family stood to acknowledge them. Instant (and lasting) kindred spirit from Horton’s college days Trish Crist drove through the procession with a giant daisy sticking out of the sunroof. “Tom Horton, or Tom-Tom as I called him for 34 years, changed my life in a thousand pivotal ways, all of them good,” remarked Crist. “I will hear his laugh and want to ask him questions for the rest of my days. Before there was Google, there was Tom.” Among Horton’s unpublished work are two finished scripts for television series, Legacy, which he wrote with a starring role in mind for long-time friend, actress and model Ashley Love-Mills, and Bayport, both of which have caught the eyes of Hollywood producers. They are now being overseen by coauthor and publishing partner Nannette Clark. “Having the tremendous gift not only of being his attorney and business partner but also one of his closest friends, his writings will be handled with kid gloves,” says Clark. “I will not make the decisions with these works moving forward. He will. And I will consult him, in my memories, often.” Sullivan mentioned famous Thomas Horton sayings throughout the funeral, including: • • • • • • •
“Y’all can go to Hell, I’m going to Brazil” “Yous a creep” “A compromise is the best way to ensure nobody gets what they want” “I don’t truck with goobs” “How VERY DARE you” “I can’t even stand you” “I hate you”
• • • • •
“There’s something demonstrably wrong with you” “You can’t come to my house not nare mo again” “You don’t want THAT in the soup” “She acts a whole ass” “Wash your ass, Brenda”
Whenever friends would remark that they were tired, he’d point to someone wearing something ugly and say “NO honey. THAT’S tired. You’re weary.” “Thomas had a different view of success than most of the world,” Sullivan said. “We waste so much of our lives concerned with taboos and traditions and what we’re ‘supposed’ to do. Thomas viewed success as connecting with other people, and that’s evidenced in the tributes coming in from all across the world.” Tributes that have come in through mail and in a private Facebook group now with nearly 1,000 members reaching from Beijing to Paris to Los Angeles to Nashville. Graphic artist Nano Marques published a tribute in France celebrating his poetry and LGBTQ advocacy. Horton closed out the funeral himself with a recorded cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, which Sullivan referenced in the eulogy. “Please don’t dishonor him by waiting to do something that’s in your heart RIGHT NOW,” said Sullivan. “It’s a wonderful world. It’s a tough world. It’s a big world. But it is wonderful. He made it that way. And it’s up to us to keep it.” More of Thomas Horton’s writings can be viewed at AllPoetry. com/Thomas_Horton. Once safety restrictions are lifted, family and friends hope to plan a larger memorial service surrounding his birthday, April 22, 2021.
What Fresh Hell? The Tennessee General Assembly Returns for 2021 Christopher Sanders
Tornadoes. A pandemic. A Christmas bombing. An attempted insurrection in Washington, D.C. Loss of life. Lost jobs and homes. Political instability. We have all been through a lot, so I do not assume that you are focused on the members of the Tennessee General Assembly, who returned for their 2021 legislative session on January 12. But they are back and part of their focus is on our community, despite all the struggles that we and the rest of the country are facing. So I will presume to ask those of you who are able to give some of your attention to state legislative advocacy over the next few months. Why pay attention? The full picture of the attack legislation that is coming our way is not yet clear. But it is certain that restrictions on transgender student athletes are going to be back. The third bill filed in the Tennessee House of Representatives is similar to last year’s legislation. Based on current information, we are almost certain to see legislation that in some way hampers the ability of transgender and nonbinary youth to access gender-affirming health care. Some of those bills easily passed the Tennessee House last year. We could see them move quickly again this year. What else is coming? Every year since 2015 there have been attacks on marriage equality and other discriminatory bills. We should know the full picture by mid-February. To prepare we have been studying the anti-LGBTQ bills filed in other states. We are usually not the only state to face these challenges, though it is important to note that Tennessee regularly gets a high number of the worst bills in the country. Why is this happening? When these discriminatory bills are filed and we post the information, there is a fair amount of understandable venting on social media. It IS outrageous that in 2021 there are still people trying to use the law to attack entire groups of people, particularly groups with little political power. Despite the federal election and despite the recent elections in Georgia, Tennessee is still socially conservative and that is reflected in the makeup of our General Assembly. Some people have tried to argue that Tennessee is a nonvoting state or a heavily gerrymandered state. Both of these things are true. But if you look at our U.S. Senate races, which are not gerrymandered and do get a strong voter turnout, Tennessee is by any measure a conservative state. It is likely to be a tough legislative environment for the next few years.
So what can we do? Members of the LGBTQ community must continue to speak out during the legislative session and draw in more allies. It has been gratifying to see clergy and business allies step up significantly over the last few years. But regardless of what our allies do, we have to lead. Those who have the time and commitment can serve as district captains during our virtual days on the Hill, which will be announced once we know more about the legislative calendar for 2021. We also need you to participate in the email and phone campaigns on these bills when we launch those. I noticed that participation dropped off significantly after President Trump was elected. Perhaps the reason is that suddenly everyone and everything was under attack. We routinely used to get hundreds of people to participate in those campaigns. The last few years it has been like pulling teeth to get even 200 people to respond. We need to try to get back up to robust levels of participation when these bills are moving in the Legislature. I hope we can count on you to help with that. Another approach is to form new alliances. Over the last year, TEP has joined STAND UP Nashville, A Better Balance, labor organizations, and many others in We Decide Tennessee. This organization seeks to fight what is commonly called “preemption” legislation, but we call it state interference legislation. State government routinely stops city and county governments in Tennessee from addressing problems like job discrimination, a living wage, paid sick leave, and COVID-19, while doing little or nothing to address the problems that the people of Tennessee face. These alliances can make us stronger to work for the change we need in our state. What about voting? Sometimes when these attack bills are filed, people exclaim, “Vote them out!” We do need to register to vote, turn out, and elect good candidates. But legislative elections are two years away, and we need to fight bad legislation between the elections. We will not get the chance to vote them out during the legislative session. We cannot wait two years to make our voices heard. We have a chance to speak out now. I hope we will. We aim to give you many opportunities to do just that. Christopher Sanders is the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. For more information as it becomes available, or to find opportunities to get involved, visit tnep.org.
Real Dennis R. Upkins
Watch us walk, watch us move, watch us overcome, listen to our voices, the sway. The resilience. The innovation. The raw, unfiltered and untouched soul we have can not be touched. —Solange Knowles on why she’s proud to be Black To be young, gifted and unapologetically Black means finding creative ways to honor the ancestors, rep the culture, and celebrate the cinnamon skin you’re in. An example would be that, for the better part of a decade, this lifelong comic book nerd has cheekily identified himself as Wakandan Indigenous and Eternian. What’s interesting is that, to date, my claim as a Master of the Universe has yet to be questioned...nor should it ever be ;-) My Indigenous ancestry is periodically challenged by the same contingent of the mediocre mayonnaise masses who still believe Elizabeth Warren (aka Fauxcahontas) is totes 1/64 Cherokee princess on her cousin’s side twice removed….from reality. However far too often the second I claim I’m Wakandan, smug pedantic bigots practically trip over themselves to klansplain that “Wakanda isn’t real.” It should be noted that it’s often the same clowns who speak fluent Klingon, rep the House of Lannister, all while waiting for an owl to deliver them a letter of acceptance from a British boarding school for witchcraft and wizardry. Not all gatekeepers of white nationalism are of the Caucasian persuasion. Conscious fauxteps (brimming with internalized antiblackness) will justify the use of the n-word, the most disgusting word in the English language (no matter how you spell it), but will throw an epic hissy fit when Blacks genuinely and lovingly refer to each other as Kings, Queens, or gender non-binary monarchs. *Also curious is how of all of the holidays celebrated in December, Kwanzaa is the only one that is regularly mocked and denigrated by nonblacks. Peeped a pattern yet? 22
“It always strikes me as odd that during a season where people either celebrate an old Nordic man and his unpaid elven workers or that one time when God left a teenage virgin girl to awkwardly explain to her older husband that his kid wasn't HIS kid, the one holiday folks feel the need to stress is ‘made up’ is the one where Black people tell one another ‘If we stick together, we gon' be alright.’ Funny how that works...” —Karl Eburne Simply put. There are levels to this. Black people loving themselves and referring each other as royalty is elitist and should be mocked and shamed, but using the n-word and other dehumanizing slurs is acceptable? This is why, contrary to popular belief, it is indeed paramount to place a lid on a barrel full of crabs. Kings, queens, monarchs are more than kingdoms, authority, wealth, titles, or privilege. It's a mindset. It's embracing your power, knowing your worth, and constantly evolving and striving to be the best version of yourself, not only for you but to inspire others and leave the planet better than you entered it. It's using wisdom and discernment before taking action. It's being a leader and leading by example, regardless of rank. It's making the welfare of the people you're responsible for your top priority. It's possessing the strength to make the tough decisions and, if need be, fight for a righteous cause that is bigger than yourself. It's the diplomacy you utilize to deescalate conflict. It's the poise, grace, humility and class you naturally project, even when you don’t think you’re being observed by others. Sidenote: this is how nobility could often be clocked when they were in disguise and trying to keep a low profile.
Wakanda Is Real
It’s also called context. Context is key. And we all know this. But because it involves Black positivity, others will insist on acting brand new and making with the microaggressions, the dog whistle politics and the gaslighting. The same ones crying “Wakanda isn’t real” are usually the same ones who will yell “I AM GROOT”—knowing they aren’t a Guardian of the Galaxy and they certainly don’t possess a tree, a branch, a twig or any other form of wood of note. Contrary to what their fraudulent ads on Grindr would have us believe! These are the same idiots who proclaim to be bosses but are too lazy to show up for work, much less put in work. They call themselves leaders but are too weak to stand on their own and follow every trend and every crowd like a leaf in the wind. These are the same knaves who falsely self-identify as winners when the only awards they receive on their best day are of the participation variety.
#AnAttemptWasMade To paraphrase a sentiment King Odin shared in Thor: Ragnarok, Wakanda is more than a place, it’s an idea. It’s a belief. It’s the best and brightest ambassadors of the
African Diaspora. It’s the magic of all things Black Excellence. Wakanda actually predates Black Panther, Marvel and even Disney. It has manifested in a myriad of forms throughout history. Wakanda is Warrior Queen Amina and the Zazzua Kingdom. It’s Hannibal and the Carthaginians. It’s Cleopatra and her reign as Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, immortalizing her as one of the most iconic figures in all of history. And by the by, to quote a great prophet by the name of Paul Mooney, “Jesus is Black. So was Cleopatra. Know your history.” Know what else is Wakanda? New Orleans, Houston, Harlem and her renaissance, and Atlanta. Wakanda is Rhythm Nation 1814, Shondaland, Wondaland, and Afrofuturism. Some of Wakanda’s proud citizens include the likes of Bass Reeves, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Marie Laveau, the Original X-Man First Class Brother Malcolm, Monica Roberts, King Lebron James, The Purple Clad Purifier of Lake Minnetonka, Solange and her amazing family, Nicholas Almand, Chadwick Boseman, Langston Hughes, Ororo Munroe, yours truly, among others. Oh Wakanda is real. It’s very real. Any claims to the contrary, eff what you heard because the Devil is a liar. Wakanda is right here, right now.