Category Archives: Personal

Milo, Laurie Penny, the Lost Boys, and Toxic Masculinity

 

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Milo Yiannopoulos lost a book deal, a plum speaking gig, and his job this week. Photo: Flickr

I’ve spent a lot of the last three months calling Trump supporters and the alt-right monsters. I did so on this blog. I did so in The Independent.

But there is something missing from my analysis, and it’s something Laurie Penny touched on in a much praised and much derided piece for the Pacific Standard. Before I get into what Penny did and didn’t say, though, let me tell you a story.

When I was 22, I met a young 18-year-old straight boy. We’ll call him Jacob. Jacob was white, blonde, heterosexual, and totally lost in this world. Beyond anything, he was impressionable. Jacob only wanted to be liked. To belong somewhere. Gangly, bumbling, and painfully awkward, Jacob and I met through student government. I took an instant liking to him. He was sweet, goofy, and though intellectually inelegant (as 18-year-olds are apt to be), clearly intelligent.

Jacob looked to me as a mentor, and I to him as a kid I could help. I nurtured him and invited him to hang out with friends and go to parties. Eventually he pledged the fraternity I always hung out with (but didn’t belong to). I didn’t think this a good idea – Jacob was too sensitive, too vulnerable, and frankly too cerebral to really fit in with this hard-drinking, fast-fucking crew. I’ve written about my own college years drinking and fucking my way up and down fraternity row, and I was afraid that blend of toxic masculinity (which at the time I got a high off of) would kill poor Jacob.

Fast forward eight or so years, and he probably disagrees. I still don’t. Jacob was relentlessly picked on, though I must stress not hazed, by the guys in the fraternity. Most of it was the good-natured banter that twenty-something men tend toward. Some of it was a lot crueller. All of it proved too much for Jacob, who began drinking heavily and was prone to becoming violent when intoxicated. It got him banned from some fraternity parties and even, for a time, my house – unless he stayed sober.

Around this time, Jacob took a women’s studies class at my behest, and even began dating a lovely feminist woman. It seemed that he would sort himself out. But a year after I moved to Chicago, I got a call from him saying they’d broken up, and that he was in a very dark place. No stranger to dark places myself, I took a Megabus to see him. He rebounded, and I left.

As friends who live hundreds of miles away from one another often do, we drifted apart. It wasn’t really until last year when I drunkenly called him to catch up that I realised the boy I’d met who entered this world of toxic masculinity grew up into a misogynistic man and Trump supporter. We’ve not talked a lot since.

I’m from Kentucky, so the fact that people I know and even considered friends voted for Donald Trump isn’t all that surprising. But reading Penny’s piece, I thought specifically of Jacob and the strange, drunken, and desperate course he travelled from a dorky college kid to a self-identified feminist to the type of guy who, had he been born a few years later, could’ve been in that car with Penny and Yiannopoulos, evacuating UC-Berkeley.

I’m going to quote at length from Laurie’s piece here, because I think she makes two important points – one clumsily and one cogently. First, this:

It is vital that we talk about who gets to be treated like a child, and what that means. All of the people on Yiannopoulos’ tour are over 18 and legally responsible for their actions. They are also young, terribly young, young in a way that only privileged young men really get to be young in America, where your race, sex, and class determine whether and if you ever get to be a stupid kid, or a kid at all. Mike Brown was also 18, the same age as the Yiannopoulos posse, when he was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014; newspaper reports described him as an adult, and insisted that the teenager was “no angel,” as if that justified what was done to him. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when he was shot and killed in Cleveland for playing with a toy gun. The boys following Yiannopoulos are playing with a toy dictator, and they have faced no consequences as yet, even though it turns out that their plastic play-fascism is, in fact, fully loaded and ready for murder.

This is the bit that seems to have gotten Penny the most flack, and to be fair, I get it. Writer Mikki Kendall summed it up best in a Twitter thread, in which she points out that Penny building her argument on the bodies of dead Black martyrs is callous and insensitive. I take that point. (I’m posting the first tweet in the thread below; please read and consider it.)

Still, engaging with who gets to be seen as a child, or an innocent, or have their behaviour excused because of youth is a worthwhile intellectual exercise, because in our culture not everybody gets to have youthful indiscretions. That is, in fact, almost exclusively the purview of straight cis white men.

So while perhaps Penny’s word choice was unfortunate, I don’t think her point was far from the mark. And yes, impact matters more than intent, but I have always believed that intent should be considered when thinking of how we respond, because it does still matter.

I say this not only as a defence of Penny’s own work and intentions, but because it plays right into the next very important point she makes. While, as she writes, “these are little boys playing games with the lives of others,” she also points out that Yiannopoulos

exploits vulnerable young men. Not in a sexual way. Not in an illegal way. Yiannopoulos exploits vulnerable young men in the same way that every wing-nut right-wing shock-jock from the president down has been exploiting them for years: by whipping up the fear and frustration of angry young men and boys who would rather burn down the world than learn to live in it like adults, by directing that affectless rage in service to their own fame and power. This is the sort of exploitation the entire conservative sphere is entirely comfortable with. What happens to these kids now that the game has changed?

If you think that centring white male Trump supporters is the antithesis of everything you stand for and the very thing both Penny and I have dedicated our careers to not doing, well, you’re right. So let me say before we go any further that I will absolutely side with any marginalised community over angry, privileged, adultalescent men – whether 17 or 70 – who leverage their power and privilege to harm the most vulnerable. As I’ve said many times, to many friends, and on many panels, I say now for the first time in print:

Explanations are not excuses

There is absolutely no excusing the behaviour of Yiannopoulos, his fanboys, President Trump, or any of the enablers, gatekeepers, or even voters who propelled them all to where they are today. None. But I do think the left, the resistance, and for that matter American culture generally could benefit from asking ourselves what brought them to this point.

If you read Penny’s piece, it’s clear that it wasn’t economic anxiety. If you look at the polling data on who voted for Trump, it’s clear too. But I think Penny hit the nail squarely on the head when she labelled these groupies “the lost boys.” Because I know a boy like them. I know Jacob.

Jacob graduated university in 2013 and moved to a mid-sized southern metropolis in search of the elusive American dream. He found dead end after dead end, working a sales job he didn’t like which (if I recall) he was eventually fired or laid off from. He found dating hard, impossible even. Women just didn’t seem interested in him.

At some point between 2014 and 2016 he moved back to his parents’ house in a small southern city and resumed working at the fast food restaurant he worked at while in high school. Last I talked to him, which was probably last spring, he was the manager. He was still living at home. He was still single. And he was noticeably and perhaps understandably angry about it.

It was at that time he told me that he thought, like Yiannopoulos, that feminism was a cancer on Western society. It had damaged the natural order of men on top and women subservient. All the social progress we made wasn’t working for him, so it obviously wasn’t working for anyone. Best to go back to 1956.

This is of course absurd. It is also straight up sexism.

Yet – consider one of the young men in Yiannopoulos’ posse, who told Penny that “I think a lot of people in this crew wouldn’t be part of the popular crowd without the Trump movement. I think that some of us are outcasts, some of us are kind of weird. It’s a motley crew.”

This quote gave me pause, and I reread it probably four times before going on, particularly the phrase “popular crowd,” which is one most often heard in high school cafeterias, not political discourse. That phrase in and of itself conjures up adolescence, immaturity, and a childlike longing to be recognised as part of the crème-de-la-crème of your social unit. That is not the phrase a well-adjusted adult uses unironically.

I have often times thanked God that I’m gay, because I think it saved me from going down this darkly bigoted path. Being openly gay in Kentucky from 2001 – 2011 did for me what it clearly never did for Yiannopoulos: it made me empathetic to other minorities. But if you read the essay I wrote for Salon about trying so desperately to belong to Greek life at my alma mater, you’ll see that I tried desperately to fit in with the oppressive class:

But from under them I could still obtain a certain level of social cachet. My reputation as someone who would fuck but didn’t talk grew, and with that, came a certain level of trust. “Put a cock in his mouth and he’ll shut up,” one of my buddies once joked. Suddenly, I was invited to the premier parties, not just from the fraternity I was hanging out with, but others. And I went, because it felt good. Being invited signaled acceptance, even if it was only on their terms. I might not be one of them, but I could hang with them, and that meant something.

I was a women’s studies minor. I knew better. Yet I still fell for the trappings of white heteropatriarchy, which as I said in that essay, is one helluva drug – especially to a working class gay kid who had never found any semblance of social acceptance anywhere else.

The sociologist Paul Kivel has a theory he calls the “act-like-a-man box,” which explains the pressures men feel to achieve, to provide, to dominate women, and to suppress their emotions and how these things can negatively impact not only their mental health but their politics. It’s basically a handy diagram to explain the theory of toxic masculinity, and square in the middle of it can be found Jacob and the Milo Yiannopoulos fan club.

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Paul Kivel’s “act-like-a-man box”

Yiannopoulos first came to American prominence through GamerGate, which was a sexist backlash against women playing video games masquerading as being about journalistic ethics. He built his cult following of basement dwelling, Red Bull chugging nerdy men by tearing down the women who many of them felt were invading a space where they could live out their misogynistic, violent fantasies without retribution or critique. Games were all they had, because for many of these men, they were social rejects. (I can say this with some certainty, as the gamers I know who are well-adjusted adult humans reject GamerGate, Yiannopoulos, and Trump without hesitation.)

Yet these are men who were, for a variety of reasons – whether because they were nerdy, or more effeminate, or overweight, or socially awkward – emasculated by the patriarchal norms described in the act-like-a-man box. Instead of burning the box and liberating themselves, they retreated further into it, where they found Donald Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos waiting to exploit their anxieties and insecurities for profit and for power.

Jacob wasn’t a gamer, but he was in the act-like-a-man box too, and Trump and Yiannopoulos found and converted him too. These Lost Boys, as Penny calls them, were lost because they – for whatever reason, or for many reasons – couldn’t live up to the pressures of socially constructed toxic masculinity. So they turned to people who could help redefine that.

This is probably key to why Milo Yiannopoulos so appealed to these young men. Sure, as Penny points out, they weren’t gay, but Yiannopoulos simultaneously defied the norms of masculinity – camping it up, wearing his pearls, openly talking of sucking dick – while being embraced by the patriarchy. If he could do it, they likely thought, so could they. It actually makes perfect sense that Yiannopoulos was the standard bearer of these Lost Boys. He accessed the social currency they desperately want to possess.

Of course key to all of this is how they viewed what it means to be a man. The toxicity isn’t only what it does to them, but what it does to others. That to them being a man meant dominance, violence, and sexual control of women is exactly what enables rape culture to thrive and domestic violence rates to stay abysmally high. It’s patriarchal, white supremacist bullshit that keeps women, racial minorities, LGBT people, and other marginalised groups oppressed. But – and this is a fact many leftists don’t want to grapple with – it also hurts white cis straight men who are denied agency unless they fit these narrow parameters of what it means to be a man.

It has been pointed out numerous times that Yiannopoulos was brought down not by his bigotry but the bigotry of others, whose homophobia was so triggered by what he said about the pederastic paradigm (and I do believe that’s what he was trying to say) that they exiled him from Trumpland. Whether his Lost Boys continue to follow him remains to be seen. Judging from the comments on his Facebook page, I think many will. I also think, as someone who has followed Yiannopoulos’ career since 2009 (which is around the time Penny and I first followed one another on Twitter), that we’ve not seen the last of him. His career has at least six lives left. What the next one manifests as, though, is anyone’s guess.

If Yiannopoulos can’t rehabilitate his image in the alt-right and even mainstream conservatism, someone will surely rise to take his place. As Penny’s article shows, there are plenty of Lost Boys waiting to play Peter Pan. One of them will assume the mantle in due course.

When they do, though, I hope we have a better understanding of who they are and what they’re all about. Because I think understanding the toxic masculinity – and the denial of it – that gave rise to Yiannopoulos and his cult following is important. Besides the obvious “know thy enemy” trope, if we’re ever to successfully deconstruct white heteropatriarchy, we have to know how it harms men too, and also what it can propel them towards. I chose feminism, socialism, and queer theory, opting to burn this shit to the ground. Yiannopoulos, Jacob, and others chose instead to find alternative means of accessing the power and privilege they felt they were denied. That is the more pernicious and dangerous path, one which has undoubtedly led us to where we are today – an era where the progress we’ve collectively made over the past 50 years is in its greatest peril.

We need to think about how we can reach, maybe not these men who are already lost causes, but other boys and men who could become them. And to do that, we need to grapple with toxic masculinity. We need to include it in our analyses and activism.

That doesn’t mean we stop centring women, people of colour, LGBT folks, disabled folks, immigrants, or any other marginalised group. We can’t. That work is too important – more important – and frankly more pressing. Lives are at stake. When you’re in the middle of a war you don’t ask the soldiers to think about how they’ll rehabilitate the enemy after victory. But for those of us who have the currency to spare, we should start examining these questions and considering how to raise principled and purposeful boys into feminist men.

None of this is to excuse any behaviour. “I was just following orders” wasn’t an excuse at Nuremburg, and it isn’t an excuse here. These assholes need to be held to account, full stop. And they cannot be let off the hook. Again, explanations are not excuses. But to not examine how they became who they are is to risk raising the next Milo Yiannopoulos.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a journalist and essayist based in Chicago. He writes about British and American politics and pop culture. His work has appeared at The Independent, The Huffington Post UK, The Daily Dot, and Salon. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan.

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In memory of Lily Jayne Summers

 


My friend died.

Though I’ve said these words aloud many times in my 30 years on this earth, it never gets easier. So when Alex told me that Lily had passed away, and Pink News confirmed my worst fears, I went numb.

Lily Jayne Summers was an incredible human being. If you knew her, you knew warmth, compassion, and humour. If you didn’t, gee, did you miss out on knowing someone amazing. Lily was the kindest, most decent person I knew. The outpouring of grief on British political Twitter, regardless of party, speaks volumes. Lily was a young woman who judged people based on their personalities, not politics. She sought not to languish over our divisions, but to find commonality. A stalwart Labour activist and prospective council candidate in Swansea, she was still willing to not only work with, but befriend and love, people from across the political spectrum.

Lily first came into my life over three years ago. She, and her dear friend Ben, were running an upstart political commentary site called The Columnist. I asked if I could contribute, and she agreed. Lily was still a teenager; I was a recently-made-redundant 27-year-old looking to start a new career. I didn’t believe in myself, but this teenage girl gave me a chance because she saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. It was Lily that encouraged me, promoted my work, and has led me to where I am today. Without her, I would not have a career.

Beyond that, though, Lily was a friend. In the early part of 2014, when I was too depressed to get off the couch and spent months on end in my apartment, Lily talked to me, counselled me, and never judged me. She understood. She routinely checked up on me, making sure I was eating, I wasn’t drinking too much, and that I was looking for jobs. Lily, the teenager, saved this adult’s life.

As time went on, Lily committed herself to her studies and to Labour activism. But we never lost touch, and she never lost the compassion she is renowned for. After Trump won, Lily messaged me to make sure I was okay and to encourage me not to give up on my home country. Working class people, she said, needed me. She was that way: she always saw good in people who didn’t necessarily see good in us as LGBT people. She always believed that humans are, at their core, decent. And she sought to bridge divides that many of us thought too broad to broach.

This was no mean feat. Lily faced transphobia almost everyday of her life. She dealt with transphobic trolls in person and online. Yet she still kept faith that people were, on the whole, good and kind. Maybe they lacked understanding, she thought, but they didn’t lack compassion.

Lily Jayne Summers was unlike anyone I’ve ever known, and I can unequivocally say unlike anyone I’ll ever know again. While our epic Facebook chats will forever remain dear, and private, to me, below are some of my favourite exchanges on Twitter with her.

The start of a beautiful friendship:

 

When I realised she understood my sense of humour:

And then later served as tech support:

Our first massive disagreement:

 

And then our second:

When she low-key shaded our friend Ben Pelc:

 

Our third massive disagreement:

 

We were soon back on the same page though

Oh and there was that time she totally draaaaged Robyn for her Bieber fever

 

Still, she understood thirst:

And held us accountable:

Without lowering standards:

I mean this was not a woman who suffered fools gladly:

 

Lily was not a woman who was afraid to set the record straight:

Though never say she didn’t cross party lines:

Always a good friend:

Even if she was a hashtag opportunist:

Though she was always there to lend a helping hand:

While smacking me with truth:

Yet still speaking truth to power:

Something we can’t forget about Lily is how anti-Corbyn but pro-Labour she was:

She never lost her charm, though:

Until she supported Sanders, haha:

I wish she had, Lily. 😦

Back to her principles:

Let Mitt Romney never forget how she felt about him:

And never forget her last tweet to me, and to America:

I love you, Lily.

30 Things I’ve Learned at 30

 

30 at 30

The author at 24 (photo: Kat Johns)

In many ways, turning 30 is less of an existential crisis than was turning 25. I turned 25 crying on the floor of a fraternity house bathroom. I turn 30 with health insurance, a budding writing career, and a guy who makes me smile every day. Things are good. Sure, there are a lot of regrets. My 20s were a series of bad choices and unfortunate events. But I’ve learned a few things along the way.

Before I fell down in a puddle of tears and urine on that Formica floor, I composed a list of 25 things I had learned at 25 and posted it to Facebook. Now, the night before I turn 30, I’m publishing it publicly for the first time, along with 30 more things I’ve learned in the past five years. Do with this information what you will: take it, scoff at it, ignore it. But I have to say, I wish I’d known all of this ten years ago.

25 things I’d learned at 25

  1. Despite what you think at the time, it is possible to laugh through tears. And it feels amazing.
  2. You are lucky if you have 5 true friends in this life. Not at once; at all.
  3. Everybody has their own problems, and if you could see theirs, you’d be glad to keep your own.
  4. The world is kinder and gentler than we make it out to be.
  5. There’s a reason why it’s cliché to eat ice cream when upset: it works. It really will make you feel better.
  6. The best friends are the ones you sit in silence with and it isn’t awkward.
  7. Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. You never know who you have the power to destroy.
  8. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does
  9. Keep all your receipts and balance your cheque book. It’ll save you a world of hassle.
  10. If you have to justify a purchase to your friends, you probably don’t need to buy it.
  11. Even if you can’t excuse someone’s behaviour, you should look for an explanation. You may just find some compassion that way.
  12. University is really very easy—if you make school your first priority.
  13. Beer really is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
  14. We all have our vices. The trick is not to let them control us.
  15. Sometimes it is okay to change who you are for somebody, so long as you’re changing for the better.
  16. Nothing is scarier than the day you realize that your parents are human, too.
  17. If you’re in a relationship that must remain secret, you probably shouldn’t be in it.
  18. Honesty is NOT always the best policy. If a lie is harmless and can make somebody happy, lie.
  19. If your friends can’t or won’t put their differences aside for you, they’re not true friends.
  20. Blood is not always thicker than water. Blood is blood. We ought to say that LOVE is thicker than water. (Only that doesn’t really make sense.)
  21. There is no shame in asking for help, and almost always someone willing to give it.
  22. Anything worth having is worth risking it all.
  23. Anybody who says they have no regrets is lying or an emotionally-stunted Neanderthal. Plain and simple.
  24. Something can be both right and wrong, good and bad. Most things exist in a grey area.
  25. We are the masters of our destinies. In life, there are no answers–there are choices.

And here are 30 more things I’ve learned in the past five years.

  1. Comparing yourself to others is the most counterproductive thing you can do. We all have our own journeys, and we all start in different places. You also don’t know what hurdles they’ve jumped to get to where they are.
  2. Unless you are a Kardashian or married to one, it’s a safe bet that no one hates you as much as you hate yourself.
  3. Don’t hate yourself. Forgive yourself. Every day.
  4. The people who remain in your life will sometimes surprise you. People you think are fleeting friends will prove to have remarkable staying power. People you think are your besties will disappear forever
  5. Losing touch with old friends is an active choice. You’re tired, and all you want to do is pour a glass of wine and watch Scandal. I get it. Pick up that damn phone and call your college roommate. She misses you.
  6. If a straight man tells you he’s straight, believe him. Even if he holds your hand as you walk down the street. Even if he drunkenly lets you run his hands up his shirt as you dance to Charlie Puth’s “Marvin Gaye.” Even if he kisses you cos he’s always wanted to know what a beard feels like.
  7. You’re probably not in love with your old friend. You probably just think you are because you’re having a quarterlife or midlife crisis and reaching for the most familiar man.
  8. Love is a goddamn scary thing, and it doesn’t get any easier as you get older. Sex and the City had it right. Does he think about me like I think about him? I don’t know. But that’s the exciting part.
  9. Find one artist who speaks to you and stan hard for them. Seriously. There’s something remarkably comforting about listening to someone’s music grow and evolve along with your own life. (For me, this is Adele.)
  10. Sometimes, it’s better to address bigotry through verbs rather than nouns. He isn’t homophobic, what he said is homophobic. You have no idea how much more receptive people are to being called out when you’re calling out their actions instead of their personalities.
  11. Tribalism is what makes politics so goddamn ineffective. Talk to people who oppose you. Befriend them. And if you’re in Congress or Parliament, for God’s sake, work with them. Effective governance is bred in compromise.
  12. Social justice warriors are often just as closed-minded and obnoxiously vile as the bigots they oppose.
  13. People fuck up, but that doesn’t mean they should be destroyed for it.
  14. Clean your damn apartment because you really never know when someone is going to stop by. Or you’re going to get laid. Also, always have Febreeze on hand. (Preferably in seasonal scents.)
  15. If you can avoid it, never live anywhere without a dishwasher. I mean it.
  16. In the immortal words of Jen Lindley, “anything you look forward to for too long is invariably a disappointment.”
  17. Being content doesn’t mean you’re happy, and you should never confuse the two.
  18. It really is okay to say “no” to your manager, to friends, to family, to Donald Trump. The world won’t end.
  19. Work to live, don’t live to work.
  20. For the most part, your colleagues are just that—your colleagues. They are not your friends. There are rare exceptions, but keep things as casual and professional as possible. And whatever you do, don’t sleep with a co-worker.
  21. Everything you do online can come back to haunt you. For a solid year a comment I drunkenly left on a YouTube video pulled up if you Googled me. I befriended a writer who, two years later, found a comment I’d left on an article about her. Think twice before you tweet.
  22. Pizza is as addictive as crack. Something to do with the combination of the fat and grease. But seriously, this is science. Limit your intake.
  23. They all got just as fat as you have.
  24. Never be the drunkest person in the room. Always find the drunkest person in the room, gauge how intoxicated they are, and be at least two drinks behind them.
    24.5 Unless it’s an open bar on a corporate dime. Then bombs away.
  25. If you’re drinking alone, ask yourself why. Then find a very good therapist to help you work it all out.
  26. It’s worth dropping the extra money on a good bottle of wine.
  27. Stop buying expensive clothes. No one looks at what you’re wearing after you graduate college.
  28. Just because you don’t “get” something doesn’t mean it’s invalid. Your opinion is but one of billions. And if your marginalised friends tell you something is important, listen. They may actually know better than you.
  29. The world doesn’t exist as we think it should; it exists as it is. Work to fix the things you can, but be prepared to work with what you’ve got.
  30. Your grandmother was right about everything.

Equal at last: A few thoughts on what the SCOTUS decision means to me as a gay man

Just over a decade ago, I sat weeping as my home state of Kentucky passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions in our fair commonwealth. I was 18 years old, a freshman in college, and had worked tirelessly trying to persuade my fellow Kentuckians to vote against discrimination. I went door-to-door in Bowling Green, talking to voters about what it means to be gay. Some were sympathetic, even understanding. Others were forthright in their opposition to equality. Most were polite. A few were hostile.

I knew we were unlikely to win, but at 18, I think you always have hope that somehow things are going to work out in your favour. That, you know, it can’t possibly be as bad as you think. But it was. 75% of Kentuckians voted to amend the state constitution to bar gay marriage. We were one of many states to do so that year.

As the night crept on, it became clear that not only would the amendment pass, but that President Bush would be re-elected on a platform that was decidedly anti-equality, swept back into the White House by a tide of homophobia he himself had instigated.

I was at my friend Jonathan’s house. We’d recently stopped seeing one another romantically, but it still felt right to be together. He was the gay person I was closest with, and on that night, I desperately wanted another gay person with me. We cried in one another’s arms, taking shots of vodka or gin or whatever was in the house, really. Drinking numbed the pain. Cuddling cured the sense of rejection. America might hate us, but at least we had each other.

A couple days later, I had a conversation with my friend and fellow activist Kelli Persons. “It won’t be our generation that wins marriage,” she told me sombrely. “We may see it in our lifetimes, but it’ll be our grandkids who get it done.”

I agreed. It was a stark juxtaposition to the jubilation I felt when the Massachussets Supreme Judical Court ruled in favour of equality the year before. In November 2003 I was a senior at Leslie County High School, deep in the East Kentucky coal fields. My life was a daily crucible of homophobia, with slurs so violent I still find it hard to believe I made it out unscathed. As a teenager whose only exposure to gay people had been Jack McPhee on Dawson’s Creek, the Massachussets ruling was a complete shock. I had no idea that there was a place in my own country where I was actually viewed as equal before the law.

I decided I had to move there. I applied to colleges there. I got accepted to one.

But fate had different plans, and I ended up at WKU, where on election night 2004, I felt the full weight of bigotry and oppression land upon me like a giant homophobic anvil.

I spent the remainder of my college career fighting for LGBT equality. When the university closed the Outlet, our LGBT resource centre, I pressured the university to reopen and rehouse it, a fight I’m still waging as an alumnus. I became the president of our gay/straight alliance. I helped form a statewide network of LGBT students pushing for fairness in our schools. I spoke at a rally when one of those students was expelled from his university for being gay. I became a vocal supporter of domestic partner benefits for university employees. I cried when, in 2010, that came to pass.

Never did I fathom that five short years a Supreme Court decision would render that whole fight irrelevant. I could only dream as big as health insurance. Never did I imagine our relationships would be granted true equality in this country. Not so soon. Not before I turned 30.

Yet here we are. Something I’ve dreamt of, worked towards, and fought for since I was a teenager is finally a reality. And it feels fucking great. True, I’m not getting married. I’m not engaged. Hell, I’m not even seeing anyone. My most committed relationship is with bourbon. But that doesn’t matter.

You see, this day means something to every gay, lesbian, and bisexual American, regardless of whether or not they’re rushing to the alter. Today, the Supreme Court of the United States of America affirmed to the masses what I have known all along—that I am equal. They didn’t give us the right to marry; they acknowledged that it’s been there from the beginning. I already knew that. Today they pointed it out to the rest of you.

The first time you feel as though you are finally an equal citizen of these United States is a feeling I can’t really describe to anyone who isn’t also experiencing (or hasn’t in the past experienced) such euphoria. There are no words. But there are actions, which may illustrate what it’s like. Here are just a few things I’ve done today:

  • Ran into my office screaming “gay marriage!”
  • Blasted “Born this Way” through half the city
  • Had a mimosa
  • Had another one, bought for me by the straight guys at the bar I always go to cos EQUALITY
  • Cleaned my apartment
  • Did laundry so I’d have a REALLY cute outfit to wear to the gay bars tonight
  • Decided that outfit made me look fat and chose another one
  • Broken down in tears at the convenient store
  • Danced to “Same Love” in my back yard and gave no fucks
  • Shouted “Glory to God!” as I read the decision
  • Chosen a wedding venue (my college campus)
  • Sorta proposed to a British guy
  • Broken down in tears in my car, making it difficult to parallel park
  • Wished my cousin happy birthday
  • Lifted a glass to Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, and Ellen Degeneres
  • Cried again

There is still work to be done, I know. We can still be fired for being ourselves in 29 states. My trans siblings, especially my trans siblings of colour, are being murdered in our streets. Kids are still being sent to conversion therapy. “Faggot,” “dyke,” and “gay” are still deployed as insults in high schools throughout the country. And somewhere, right now, while I’m typing this and celebrating, an LGBT child is begging for food or sleeping on the streets. We’ve got a long way to go.

But for today, for just one glorious day, I am focusing on the fact that for once we’ve gotten it right. For once, this country has acknowledged that all men and women, even gay men and women, are created equal. That for once my dignity as not only an American, but a person, has been federally and officially and finally recognised.

Today, as we prepare to celebrate Pride, I am proud. Proud to be gay. Proud to be an American. Proud to be finally, truly, and irrefutably equal.

The Curious American: Live from London

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You lot really are amazing. What started off as, if I’m being honest, a seemingly naff suggestion by Twitter followers in February has come to fruition. Because of you. I’m sat in London (well, Walthamstow) ahead of the general election, ready to report and analyse my heart out for the next two weeks.

When we started the GoFundMe campaign, the idea was simple: use the ingenious format developed by Humans of New York to cover the British general election. Ask everyday Londoners, and maybe people elsewhere in the country too, what they think in both the run up to and the fallout from 7 May. What is their biggest concern? What do they hope changes? What can Westminster politicians do to improve their lives?

This is still going to happen. But I would like to, on occasion, take it a step further. Instead of just posting a few sentences “in their own words,” with a few people (whom I’ve yet to meet, mind!), I’d like to dig deeper and put their particular lives in the broader context of politics and policy. What do the policies of these parties, and the likely coalition government—whatever that looks like—mean for this person? This is a question I want to ask. Additionally, I’ll offer some of my standard fare, and possibly even return to a cheeky post or two.

While here I’m going to be focusing mainly on The Curious American. I don’t plan on pitching a whole lot anywhere else. Full editorial control is one of the nicest things about having my own platform. It means I can publish things when I want, and given the context, that is more important than ever. So watch this space, because it’s going to be more active than ever before.

And again, that’s all down to you. You all have given me this opportunity. You’ve shown that you believe in me and my work, and that means more than I can ever express. I hope I do you proud.

Before I go to Asda to buy a hair dryer, because daft me left mine in Chicago, there are three people I want to thank in particularly. They have been the ones who truly made this a possibility. Unfortunately, they’ve also made it clear that they wish to remain anonymous. So all I’m going to say is that I am truly humbled by how generous and kind you were, especially since I know you’re sacrificing so much, and not just financially, so that I can pursue my dreams. I am very fortunate to know all three of you.

Everyone else, if you still want to give, I could still use the money. I’m on a shoestring budget here, enough to get around London but that’s about it. I’d love to be able to take a couple day trips, or to even just not have to worry about whether I’m spending too much while I’m out in the field. So there’s still time to get a nice little paragraph like the one before! (And, you know, to help continue to make my reporting a reality.)

I also want to open this up to suggestions. Anything you’d like to see me write about, talk about, or ask about? What kind of content do you want while I’m in London? Maybe something that doesn’t have anything to do with British politics, even. You lot made this happen, so for the next two weeks you lot are driving content. Let me know in the comments below!

x. Skylar

In memory of Christina Annesley.

Christina

Christina Annesley. Photo: @chrstinadarling on Twitter

 

As many of you will know, my friend Christina Annesley passed away yesterday from natural causes. She was on a prolonged holiday in Thailand and southeast Asia. I’m not going to focus on the sensationalised media coverage of her untimely death, nor do I want to write about Christina the politico. She was more than that. She was a diamond, a Whovian, a wine aficionado, and a warm and compassionate human being who made friends across the political spectrum. The outpouring of grief from every corner of the British political twittersphere illustrates how beloved our Christina was.

Was. Feels perverse referring to her in the past tense.

I never met Christina in person, something I will forever regret. I was meant to, back in November, but our schedules never synced up. Still, she invited me to stay with her. She was that kind of person. A stranger she knew only online, from an ocean away, was invited into her home cos kindness. Like I said. A diamond.

My thoughts and (oh, she’d hate this) prayers go out to her mum and dad, her mates, and Olly, her beloved. I can’t imagine the utter pain you must be experiencing. Light and love to you all.

But this isn’t a mournful post. Where I’m from, in Appalachia, we have a tradition of wakes, where we stay up all night around a coffin, remembering the good times and celebrating the life of the person we’ve lost. With that, I give you what is, in a way, Christina’s best bits, at least with me. These are a series of tweets between Christina and me over the past year, tweets I will forever remember, smile at, and cherish.

Christina, we will forever miss and mourn you. You were a rising star, a rock star, and simply darling. This world is not as bright now you’re not with us.

And I know you’d hate this song, but it’s basically been playing nonstop in my ears today. I apologise in advance for all the God and religion and stuff. I’m American. I can’t help myself.

But ma’am… rest well. Sleep soundly. We love you.

Fuck 2014. Let’s Raise a Glass to 2015!

Me, in the autumn of 2014

Me, in the autumn of 2014

My mate Jim tweeted about a tradition he has of opening the door to show the old year out and show the new year in. I like this.

I’m happy to see the back of 2014, and excited to meet 2015.

Look, this year fucking sucked. I entered it depressed, was sacked from a job five days in, and pretty much wallowed in misery for the first 10 months. It’s the year I gained 50 pounds, and losing it has been a struggle. It’s the year my brother deployed to Afghanistan. My adopted Chicago mum was diagnosed with cancer, after my adopted Chicago dad had to have emergency surgery on their holiday in Hawaii. It’s also the year I didn’t have sex. Not once. Nope. Never.

But this is also the year I published my first national piece in America. It’s the year I got a free car. And a free trip to London. And it’s the year I started working with an editor who not only gets me, but really seems to believe in me. It’s the year I met the Doctor and took off in the TARDIS, the year one of my best friends married her soulmate, and the year I attended my first NLGJA conference. It’s the year I reconnected with my family, met 4 of my nieces and nephews. It’s the year I met booberry.

I just gotta get this out though. This year has been hell. The Columnist folded, unexpected and unannounced, even to its writers. MB was a horrible fit for me, and completely unfairly sacked me. Starbucks is, quite possibly, the worst job I’ve had since I was 18 and worked at our campus “sports bar” (use that term loosely, cos they didn’t serve alcohol). And at the end, my best friend moved away. This year was bloody miserable.

But I’m optimistic. I’m looking forward to 2015. I’m starting it off right. I have an essay about to be published at a major US site, and I’ve got a regular contributing gig to a UK magazine I’m going to start writing for. I’m going back to London in February, and I’m hoping that booberry and I can figure out something (if he wants to; I’m not convinced he does). And I’ve got a good day job that, while it’s not my passion, I like. My boss is awesome. The people I work with are awesome. I can’t complain.

My family is all in good health. My friends are so incredibly supportive. My life is good.

I’m spending New Year’s Eve getting drunk by myself in my apartment, but that’s my choice. It seemed fitting. I needed to decompress from the year. I needed to reflect. I needed to process everything that’s happened.

And I have. And it’s done.

2014, fuck you. 2015, kiss me.