In the fall of 2016, I was standing outside a club amongst a sea of gays. Ariana Grande was blasting inside, the bassline trickling out onto the crowded smoking patio. Cigarettes dangled out of every mouth. Everyone was handsome, shirtless and in their sexual prime. We stood with mere inches between us, our hands moving without any concern for consent. A drag queen walked around offering anyone who was interested a hit of poppers. 2016 was a wild time.
As I lit another Parliament, I struck up a conversation with a typically handsome, somewhat devious looking, 30-something gay. His shirt read “You and what army?” in a playful, childlike red font. His arms bulged out of the shirt’s comically small sleeves.
Unsurprisingly, our chat slowly but surely slid towards the impending election. With unbelievable certainty, he assured me Donald Trump was what America needed and that he was the only viable option for a sustainable future.
I am pretty sure my cigarette fell out of my mouth.
Needless to say, I did not spend much more time speaking with the MAGA Gay. In fact, I recall making a bit of a scene. I let him know I was disgusted by his support of a nationalist, transphobic reality TV star. Continuing, I asserted to the MAGA Gay that Trump was undermining the rights of nearly every minority group. I stamped out my cigarette with Broadway level drama. I don’t recall being embarrassed.
And why would I have been? At the time, the idea of the MAGA Gay was deeply perplexing. How could someone understand the trauma of living life as a queer person and yet believe Donald Trump was here to save America? That person was not like me. That person was not someone I wanted in my bed. That person was not someone that belonged in my queer community.
Five years later, however, I know I would have handled my interaction with the MAGA gay differently.
As a member of the Alphabet Mafia, I too often find myself lodged inside of the queer political echo chamber. There is an undeniable blanket expectation of progressivism over anyone who finds themselves in the acronym. Anyone even resembling a moderate is quick to be labelled a traitor. You are either with us on the LGBT Left or you were never with us to begin with.
To some, this prescription appears silly, but anyone from an “othered” community understands this commonality. To outsiders, we are not individuals. We are one character—as easily digestible as possible.
Historically, this has not bothered me. As someone who often finds himself on the progressive side of issues, it’s been comforting believing my community consists solely of likeminded people. I like believing every queer person stands for our continued liberation, futuristic ideals of gender expression, and environmental conservationism. It makes me feel safe.
But if that is the truth, are we dimensional? Are we really the community of multitudes we aspire to be?
In August when I met Albert Eisenberg, a political writer based in Philadelphia, I was immediately drawn to his unapologetic nature. As he spoke about his frustrations with the Biden administration, it quickly became clear to me Albert was a conservative. And when he ironically referred to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as ‘Queen Nancy,’ it became clear to me Albert was a homosexual. Our first conversation had nothing to do with queerness and all to do with his frustration with progressivism and wokeness. As we said goodbye, I was fascinated with him… and intellectually provoked.
Of course, I had to speak with Albert again.
It must be said: Albert is not a MAGA Gay. He asserts this multiple times during our second interaction. A self-described moderate conservative, Albert wants to course-correct the prejudices the LGBT community assigns conservatives. Without missing much of a breath, Albert points to Donald Trump waving the rainbow flag as a major moment of acceptance for LGBT people within the Republican party. With raised eyebrows, I can’t help but ask him whether or not the Republican party is done chasing after our rights.
By ‘us’ I mean gay and lesbian people. I have no doubt many Republicans are currently hunting down transgender rights, placing them at the center of their culture wars. Frankly, it is still a topic I feel staunchly opposed to debating.
When framing the question around the Republican pursuit of our liberation, I make a point to ask Albert what he thinks about the roar of “they’re coming for us next” that emerged after the highly controversial abortion bill, SB 8, passed in Texas. I had seen this thrown around quite a bit on social media and had even considered it myself.
Amused, Albert smiles at me as though to say, ‘Oh Arya, you know the answer to this already.’ Smirking, I implore him to elaborate. It is a rare ‘spill the tea, sis’ moment between a progressive and a conservative gay man.
“My thoughts are that there is a lot of money and lots of retweets to be gained by drumming up anger and fear. The automatic reflex of the LGBT Left is to say that ‘they’re coming for us.’ And they never have to correct themselves when they don’t come for us.”
With a deep exhale, I nod in agreement. Too many in the queer community, my nod makes me a part of the problem. I can practically feel the tidal wave of slings and arrows the leftist homosexuals on Twitter are aiming my way.
While almost no one knows a Conservative Homosexual, pretty much everyone knows his twin: The Leftist Homosexual. He is loud, prepared to incite the spirit of Marsha P. Johnson, and, more often than not, white and handsome. He is nearly every gay male celebrity to ever exist and practically every gay male character ever seen on television. He is what society wants you to imagine when you think of us. Remember, as easily digestible as possible.
In Albert’s mind, this fiercely leftist homosexual is an amalgam of feigned wokeness, opportunism and performative activism. When pushed on that caricature, Albert flings an example of gay men being murdered in Afghanistan as a non-issue for the LGBT Left. For him, this is a way to shine a light on the double standard defining a vast majority of our community.
Again, I nod my head in agreement, preparing for the cultural guillotine.
But to define the Conservative Homosexual simply as the anti-LGBT Left would be to undermine him. Particularly when it comes to fiscal conservatism, the homosexual community is filled with prime candidates.
In 2017, the tides turned and studies found gay men actually make more money than straight men. The same has been historically true for lesbians, which resulted in the economist phrase “lesbian premium.” As Albert and I are quick to agree, most LGBT people live in Democrat-led areas, like California. This, however, creates quite an issue for the wealthy homosexual. In California, taxes are higher than the heels of a drag queen doing a death-drop to a Lady Gaga song during a drag brunch on Easter Sunday.
Whilst pondering the financial realities of the wealthy homosexual, my mind wanders back to earlier this summer. I was on a date with a conservative, older homosexual man, and I asked him why he thought gay people were less likely to invest in cryptocurrency, a passion of mine not often shared by my queer peers.
You can’t imagine the sort of blank, ‘girl, what’ looks I get in the line for the bathroom at the club when I bring up blockchain technology.
Sipping his wine, my date pontificated about how gay people don’t like taking risks with money. We may enjoy splurging, but what we work hard for is fiscal comfort. To me, this makes sense. After all, we are still a fairly youthful community. Fiscal conservatism allows for more money to remain in our pockets, for our community to retain wealth and for our buying power to expand. As my date put his hand on my knee, I could tell he was proud of making such a strong argument.
Later that night, while old episodes of Ab Fab played on his TV, he confessed he often felt outside of the community, a conservative leper in an arena of progressive liberals. It was tough not to give him a hug.
When asked about the leper status, Albert is slower than usual to respond. I’ve struck a nerve. Have I asked him something no one has in quite some time?
Considering his place within the confines of the Alphabet Mafia, Albert shrugs.
“It goes up and down, really.”
My response is half joke, half terror.
“With, like, election cycles?”
Albert smiles at this, the kind of smile you only afford someone who you know is really trying to figure you out.
“I mean, 2017, after Trump was elected, I’ve never experienced so much scorn or uncalled for anger. I didn’t even support Trump and I was vocal in not supporting him!”
Continuing, his voice quickly becomes much fiercer, filled with a unique type of pride.
“You know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… That concept of being shunned and being cast out is such a harmful psychological phenomenon for people to experience, especially when it’s not merited. It’s difficult and it’s harmful…”
With those words, Albert demands I reconsider the role the LGBT Left has played as bullies. So many of us experience bullying as youth that it has become a hallmark of the lived queer experience. The idea of now being in those shoes—a fellow queer for their beliefs—leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
This is what Albert warned in a story he wrote in September for the Philadelphia Inquirer: The LGBT Left has become the thing we always swore to fight against.
I let Albert finish his thought.
“The older I get, the more I recognize that this militant, progressive, close-minded wing of upper-middle class kids that are now in their 30s, who just shut out everybody else, they are the definition of privilege and they are so out of touch with everybody else.”
Here, my brain becomes engrossed in the implications.
Is the LGBT Left shutting out those who offer diversity of thought? If so, where does that leave us?
Alternatively, is the LGBT Left actually shutting itself into a room with no windows, destined to live in a vacuum and ouroboros cycle?
Neither sounds appealing, but the latter leaves me feeling queasy. This selective equality is not what we promised ourselves we would become. In fact, this is the kind of thing destined to create cracks in our system.
Our flag may be an all-encompassing rainbow, but often our culture only makes room for specific ideas and phrases.
So, is Albert’s lived experience proof of our community’s failure? A charming, educated, non-militant, conservative homosexual, Albert’s wasn’t pushed out of the community. He was never let in. That is a horrifying failure, one that leaves me a bit speechless during our conversation.
The source of this failure can be traced back through history. When the pursuit of gay and lesbian liberation began, we lacked allies on either side of the aisle. In time, liberals came forward before conservatives did, allowing for our communities to feel seen and heard by a specific party. Within that truth, there was little wiggle room.
We were emblazoned inside of an ‘us versus them’ mentality. We still are.
We have armed ourselves with the pitchforks of ostracization. We continue to systemically villainize ideologies different from our own because that is how our fight for liberation began. But as we witness the rest of our country fail to come together, maybe it is time for us to lead the way.
Should the queer community embrace everyone as unique individuals, just as we have always hoped others would do for us? Should we open the doors to those who share our experience yet have different beliefs? Can we do so without fearing it will harm our community? I believe answering yes to these questions will only further our pursuits of a more inclusive world.
As I continue to grapple with these questions, Albert smiles and leans in.
“I consider it important for people like me who are nice, good people, who are not looney toons, to be out and about and be who we are.”
Queens, prepare your takedowns, think pieces and witty Tweets, because I have no choice but to agree with Albert. Watch below!
The Tea: Will, You Good?
Excerpts from Will Smith’s upcoming memoir, Will
On this episode of “The Tea” Ashley, Blake and Brie delve into the latest celebrity and entertainment news of the week.
Will Smith’s Memoir: Too Much Information?
Excerpts from Will Smith’s upcoming memoir, Will, share his early life desire to kill his father for abusing his mother and how his commitment to method acting destroyed his first marriage.
The memoir also details his relationship ups and downs with current wife Jada Pinkett Smith.
“The Tea” hosts discuss if this is too much information for public consumption or if it’s a positive that Will is sharing his life so openly?
Cancel Culture: Is It a Downer?
Cancel Culture is alive and well in the world, but is it effective and how should those involved respond?
Actress Dakota Johnson calls cancel culture “such a downer” and believes that people can change.
Entertainers like Johnny Depp and Chris Brown have both felt the wrath of the cancel culture machine. Chris Brown released a public apology while Johnny Depp has remained fairly mum. Which method is better for the entertainer’s career long term?
The hosts share their hot takes.
Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson: Just friends?
Kim Kardashian has filed for divorce from Kanye West and Pete Davidson may be the new man in her life.
The reality tv star and comedian shared a kiss while shooting Saturday Night Live and were seen holding hands on an amusement park ride days later.
Are they just friends or is this another publicity stunt of the sort that we’ve all become accustomed to?
Also on The Tea:
Zayn Malik’s family drama and does Mariah Carey ring in the Christmas Season a bit too soon?
Watch the full episode of “The Tea” here:
Five Questions With California State Senator Susan Rubio
Susan Rubio is a State Senator representing California’s 22nd district in Los Angeles County. District 22 spans the San Gabriel Valley and has a large Latino and Asian population.
Rubio was born in Mexico and spent time in the United States before her family was deported back to Mexico. She returned to the United States and worked as a public-school teacher for 17 years before becoming an elected official. Politics is a family affair; her sister Blanca Rubio is also a California legislator.
She joined me exclusively on Erupt News to discuss the top issues facing California and her work related to domestic violence.
Below are excerpts—edited for clarity—from our full interview.
California is a beautiful state, but has a multitude of issues including homelessness, lack of affordable housing, energy and climate to name a few. What are the top priorities you have for the state of California?
Rubio: My priorities are rooted in what I see on the ground here in my district. When I started campaigning for State Senate, I did knock on a lot of doors. I spoke to a lot of constituents. I wanted to see what their priorities were.
Number one was housing and homelessness. That was an issue that so many of my constituents shared.
The first thing I did as a senator, I started with creating a policy to help tackle that issue, specifically in a single Valley. The program that I brought to the district is now looking into building 1,000 housing units that will house approximately 4,000 people. I was able to support it with $25 million. And so right now it’s in progress.
What do you think would be the key move to bettering education, especially in the state of California?
Rubio: For the first time ever, we have universal meals in our schools. I know as a teacher, I found myself buying food for my students because I didn’t want them to go hungry. And so that’s something we can be very proud of.
There’s a bipartisan consensus that the immigration system in this country needs some work. What do you think California and the U.S. as a whole should be doing to change things?
Rubio: We see this issue of immigration and immigration reform as a Democrat issue. But I toured up and down the state, in particular, in the Central Valley, where we have a lot of farm and farm workers. So many of my Republican friends and colleagues know how important the workforce is that they have in the Central Valley that puts food on our table.
So everyone wants to see progress in this respect. We’re trying to work with the federal government.
Hopefully, this year, we can get something done.
What are your thoughts on the way that California has handled COVID-19? Are there are some measures that should be improved on?
Rubio: It’s something no one ever thought would happen and we don’t have a playbook.
I think we’ll continue to keep pushing, make sure that people are healthy and continue to try to respect how they feel personally, but getting them to the point that they felt confident enough that vaccines work.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and you were the Chair of the Senate Select Committee on domestic violence. What do you believe is really important for our viewers to know about domestic violence?
Rubio: I was able to pass a bill that now defines domestic violence in a different way. We think of domestic violence as a physical assault, a broken bone, a black eye. My bill now includes coercive control as supporting evidence in court. And that means anything else that a perpetrator does, by manipulating someone, taking their finances away, maxing out their credit cards—all the psychological abuse that victims face before it gets to the physical assault.
What do I want people to know? I want them to know that they shouldn’t always look for the physical abuse. I always talk to parents in schools. Don’t ask, “Are you being assaulted?” Always ask: “Is your boyfriend coercing you into doing something you don’t want to do?” From the choosing your friends, isolating you from your family, taking your phone away. That is how we need to start thinking about abuse. It’s not just when it gets to the physical assault. It’s everything that happens before that leads to the physical assault.
A bill I passed which is critical to victims is remote testimony. The last bill that the governor signed will allow victims to submit testimony remotely. They don’t have to show up to court to face their abusers, which is the hardest thing for a victim to do. Sometimes they recant or don’t show up in court. So now you could file a restraining order remotely and also submit testimony remotely. Unfortunately, the courts asked for a little bit of time to implement so it will become effective in 2023. So hopefully that will help our victims out there.
Gabby Petito and the Quest for Media Accountability
We live in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, wading through a labyrinth of updates from every which way. In a world where perception is reality, how do we begin to hold the media accountable for its deeply felt influence?
I took a moment to discuss this with Kelsey Vlamis, a breaking news reporter at Business Insider. We focused specifically on the media frenzy surrounding the disappearance and murder of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old “van life” vlogger. This conversation ran the gamut but something that stood out to me was when the well-spoken and thoughtful Ms. Vlamis expressed the idea that “bias” means something different now. It means you have picked a side; it means you stand for something.
Though the news media has long-been accused of biased or one-sided reporting, the measure of that is in the eye of the beholder. Objectivity requires a kind of 360 degree understanding of a situation that seems next to impossible. But for many folks, it has become normal to go to multiple news sources for well-rounded impressions of what is unfolding in the world around them.
We have reached a point with journalistic pursuits where truth is relative and misinformation and disinformation run the show. Perhaps that was always the case with news; there was just less of it. And one would think that with the breadth of options, news would be much more diversified and representative. Why is this important? Because where art has the potential power to shift viewpoints or reframe ideas and ideologies, news media tends to be slightly more insidious. It subliminally controls how we move through life.
Immediately after Petito went missing in Wyoming, her face was everywhere. Coverage splashed across platforms – Instagram, Tiktok, online news outlets and live television were full of the story. Thoughts, prayers and hashtags all in the hopes that awareness would help bring back someone it felt like “we” lost.
Considering her small to medium following online, the wave of attention felt like it came out of nowhere. It was called out as possibly another case of “missing white woman syndrome” a newly-coined phenomenon where the public gets extremely emotionally invested and consumed by the disappearance of a (usually) white woman.
White women are portrayed in media as benign, fragile, the consummate damsel-in-distress, the loving wife, doting middle-class mother or the free-spirited young girl with a bright future ahead of her.
The pictures chosen are of her with her family and friends, smiling, enjoying life before someone cruelly cut the joy short.
What’s wrong with that? Is it bad that we feel instantly endeared to the Gabby Petitos and the Elizabeth Smarts?
No – that feeling is empathy, and it induces a potent pathos that will not let us separate ourselves from what goes on in our midst. We stay glued to the story; we organize search parties and obsessively share each and every update.
On the other side of this coin, however, is an ugly, inconvenient truth.
Between 2011-2020, it has been found that 710 Native people, mostly women or girls, have gone missing in the same area that Gabby Petito disappeared from. Their identities and tribal affiliations remain obscured, we don’t even know if that number is accurate. Their pictures never make the paper. No noteworthy public vigils or press conferences are held.
What is glaringly obvious, is that news regarding the Indigenous members of our communities is not newsworthy. It is like trees falling in an empty forest.
The real number of missing and murdered Native people is probably staggering, considering our country’s attitude towards them historically. Native advocacy groups have evidence of decades of abuse and ignorance.
This leads me back to my discussion with Kelsey Vlamis. She reminded me that holding media responsible is not only about what we cover, it’s how.
What happens when you grow up consistently seeing news showing the stark, lonely mugshots of Black homicide victims or bone-chilling footage of a group of Latino migrants being detained at the border?
It promotes implicit bias and stereotyping while also cementing prejudice into the social fabric of our communities. We rarely know the whole story but our brains make associations and generalizations about entire groups of folks based on how they are portrayed.
Control the narrative and you control the people, skew the narrative…you get the point. Thanks to the internet and social platforms, people have the tools to become town crier, data analyst and investigative journalist in the palm of their hand. In this fraught epoch, almost no piece of information can be taken without a grain or a handful of salt.
There are a few fixes, though. Inclusive hiring practices, press accountability and journalistic integrity, to name a few. We as a public have gotten quite good at fact-checking and calling mistakes or misnomers out when we see them. In fact, Gabby Petito’s family has leveraged the high-level publicity of her story, to elevate those of other open, unsolved missing persons cases. Hopefully the future holds more of that; hopefully what we are beginning to understand is that every human life is relevant and deserving of the same dignity granted to those at the top of the social hierarchy. Every tree is a part of the forest.
Our hearts go out to Gabby’s family and the families of all the missing and murdered Indigenous people, whose names we have yet to learn but whose memories we must honor.
You can watch my full conversation with Kelsey below.