Celebrities Pop Culture

Are your favorite celebrities breaking gender norms, or just queerbaiting?

As gender roles blur, and sexuality being fluid, there have been allegations around some artists queerbaiting.

Queerbaiting can be defined as the practice of implying non-heterosexual relationships or attraction, to engage or lure in an LGBTQ+ audience without ever explicitly showing such relationships or sexual interactions. The term queerbaiting is used to critique the practice of queerbaiting as an attempt to capitalize on and take advantage of the appearance of LGBTQ+ relationships when there is no actual real LGBTQ+ representation.

Queerbaiting can be seen in TV shows where interactions between two same-sex characters are suggestive of sexual attraction or relationship, but the characters are never in such a relationship. This is especially so when their sexuality is not depicted or mentioned. For instance, Tegan and Michaela, in the TV series How To Get Away With Murder. Yes, Tegan is a mentor to Michaela, but why do we get a closeup when Michaela expresses a devasted face when Tegan chooses to spend time with Annalise. It is subtleties like these that insinuates that there is more to the relationship of the two characters.

[Image description: Tegan and Michaela holding hands] Via ABC
[Image description: Tegan and Michaela holding hands] Via ABC
While the Oxford English Dictionary recently recognized the term in March 2021, it has been used in the cultural lexicon for decades. The use of the term queerbaiting dates to the early 1950s, where it was first referred to as the encouragement of anti-LGBTQIA+ hatred. However, since the 2010s, the use and meaning of the term have changed and, is used in reference to opportunistic acts that aim to appeal to LGBTQIA+ audiences. Although the word “queer” has a history of being used as a slur, it is now used in its reclaimed sense, in the context of LGBTQ+ identities. The word queer is used to describe and refer to things involving people whose gender identity or sexual orientation falls outside the heterosexual mainstream.

In June and towards the month of July 2021, accusations of queerbating surfaced in our pop-cultural discourse at many celebrities, such as Madonna, Billie Eilish and repeat offender Harry Styles. The allegations were that non-queer artists were ‘appropriating’ queer culture and aesthetics in efforts to secure the monetary support and the support of LGBTQ+ fans without having to identify themselves outright openly as queer. This portrayal allows them to brush up alongside the seeming edginess of queer identity, without having to pay the price of openly being themselves in a queerphobic society.

In her music video for the song “Lost Cause”, Billie Eilish is having fun and dancing with other women, in a manner that some see as sexually suggestive. When Eilish shared photos from the video with the message “I love girls”, that was read by some as being indicative of a sexual attraction towards women. Critics, including those of the LGBTQ+ community, defended Eilish and rejected the accusation of queerbaiting and, emphasized that no one should be pressured in having to disclose or clarify their sexuality.


The central principle of the queerbaiting critique is targeted at celebrities who are often on the fence about announcing their sexuality. Comments that have brought on widespread criticisms of queerbaiting range from Harry Styles who draws on a feminine and playful ambiguous display of himself to, the comparison made between Madonna’s 2003 VMA kiss with Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera and, Rapper Lil Nas X’s performance at the BET Awards in June 2021 where he kissed one of his male back-up dancers. Several cultural moments that were seen as groundbreaking at the time are now being scrutinized, as real queer representation is being shown on screen.

Much of the criticism can be taken from a celebrity’s queerness being valid only if said explicitly in public spaces and interviews, or if represented to expectation. Ambiguity is seen as a wrongful act. In Harry Style’s case, this displayed itself as frustration that he portrays himself to be bisexual and continues to be winked at rather than explicitly proving or declaring that he does have sexual relations with other men. In as much as it may be seen as queerbaiting, we cannot accuse him of it without specifying that he is in fact not queer. Our assumptions about his relationship with queerness are only just a leap in the dark.

It can be said that the argument around queerbaiting, recognizes a material injustice and that many queer people are in a fight for their lives and livelihoods. While the sour double standard of praise is given to stars such as Styles, those who originate this aesthetic are faced with daily violence and exclusion. However, forcing one to out themselves as queer can also be seen as violent as it takes away the choice to be candid about their sexuality from the get-go. So maybe some people would like to have their queer cake and eat it too!

Not allowing others to self-determine their sexuality and even doing so vaguely falsely assumes that the queer identity or is rigid, contained and dictated when it is not.

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Style Fashion Beauty Lookbook

This is how you can be conscientious with your spending this Pride month

It’s Pride Month, which means companies big and small are showing up and out for the LGBTQIA2S+ community. While clothing, beauty, and accessory brands are now selling rainbow merch galore, what does the commodification of Pride do for the LGBTQIA2S+ community? Well, depending on which company you’re buying from, nothing. And we have rainbow capitalism to thank for that.

Rainbow capitalism is when businesses capitalize off of the LGBTQIA2S+ rights movement through marketing campaigns and product collections. Much like white feminism, rainbow capitalism tends to be performative and fails to address real issues harming the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Capitalism isn’t always a tide that raises all ships. And this is still the case even if the tide is rainbow-hued. In capitalist U.S. society, the tide is typically man-made and designed only to raise the ships of white people, including minorities like white women and most white members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Capitalist greed is usually the reason why corporations prefer to stay quiet on some of the biggest issues harming the community.

Ghaith Hilal of AlQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, states, “You cannot have queer liberation while apartheid, patriarchy, capitalism, and other oppressions exist. It’s important to target the connections of these oppressive forces.” But most companies aren’t interested in fighting these oppressive forces. It’s easier to change a logo to a rainbow flag than to actively work to end homelessness, the criminalization of sex work, the carceral system, and the violence against Palestinians. In addition, police brutality, climate change, and gentrification disproportionately affect BIPOC and the LGBTQIA2S+ communities— and yet I can guarantee that almost none of the companies waving Pride flags this June will speak out against any of these issues.

Anti-Racism Daily’s Nicole Cardoza writes, “there’s no excuse for brands to ignore the LGBTQIA+ community the rest of the year while only providing rainbows as acknowledgment in June. It seems like some corporations think yearly superficial appeals to the LGBTQIA+ community will allow them to tap into this market, while making real commitments to the community would prove too costly.” Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos agrees, stating: “Brands promoting gay pride and the LGBTQ community may not always be consistent in actually supporting the LGBTQ community, but they still capitalize on the help that people want to give that community.”

Similar critiques have inspired some brands to do more than just launch a Pride collection. Last year, companies standing with the LGBTQIA2S+ community included ASOS, who supported GLAAD; Nike, who partnered with 20 organizations like Campus Pride, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and the National Gay Basketball Association; MAC Cosmetics, who donated 100% of the proceeds from the Viva Glam lipstick to efforts to end HIV/AIDS; among others. However, brands like Nike have been accused of human rights violations, making their Pride partnerships and donations contradictory. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are a part of every single global society, so putting any group at risk is an LGBTQIA+ issue.

This year, brands once again are teaming up with organizations. For example, Converse’s 2021 Pride collection is in support of It Gets Better Project, Ali Forney Center, BAGLY, and OUT MetroWest; Reebok is donating $75,000 to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project; Levi’s is making its annual donation to OutRight Action International; Crocs made a donation to GLAAD; Dr. Martens is donating $100,000 to The Trevor Project, and NYX Cosmetics partnered with the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

There’s also the much-talked-about Pride line from Target. The collection is the retailer’s 10th year in partnership with GLSEN, with this year’s donation amounting to $100,000. TikTok decided to turn everyone’s For You Page into a runway for the collection. But instead of clapping politely, most users were aghast at how ugly, questionable, or unable to read the room most of the pieces were in the collection. Walmart, Hot Topic, Spencer’s, and more received similar critiques.

While publicly supporting the LGBTQIA2S+ community is important, and donations to charities and organizations are a plus, buying from these Pride collections only further lines the pockets of the abovementioned brands and corporations who may or may not be helping the LGBTQIA2S+ community year-round. These brands might seem like they’re putting their money where their mouth is to support the LGBTQIA2S+ community, but their actions elsewhere prove otherwise.

According to GLAAD, more than “40% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and almost 90% of transgender people have experienced employment discrimination.” These stats are extremely high and show why companies have to do more than change their logo in June. If the above brands and corporations genuinely support the LGBTQIA2S+ community, then they will make sure they’re paying their workers’ respectable wages, offering healthcare and benefits, creating a healthy work environment for everyone, and fighting against discrimination with proper training and policies.

Wired’s Justice Namaste argues rainbow capitalism and “rainbow-washing allow people, governments, and corporations that don’t do tangible work to support LGBTQ+ communities at any other time during the year to slap a rainbow on top of something in the month of June and call it allyship.” Wired’s Emma Grey Ellis adds, “A decent share of these corporations could take another lesson in allyship. Being an ally is like being a wingman: If you make it about you, you’re doing it wrong!”

No one is saying brands shouldn’t support the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Discrimination and hate crimes still happen today, and brands publicly standing with the community are important. But solidarity needs to happen year-round and in acknowledgment of intersectionality. Brands need to realize rainbow capitalism isn’t always doing the most good, since most of the profits do not reach the bank accounts of members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

This is why it’s better to bypass most Pride collections and instead shop straight from local and small businesses owned by members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Big-name brands and corporations could have done this by hiring artists, designers, and creatives from the LGBTQIA2S+ community to design their collections or sell their merch in-store.

Rainbow capitalism comes down to the fact that many corporations benefit socially and economically from Pride merchandise and branding. Historically, Pride has been about protests, rights, and liberation. Unfortunately, there is still much to protest in order to achieve rights and liberation for many groups in the LGBTQIA2S+ community. The Human Rights Campaign called 2021 the “worst year in recent history for LGBTQ state legislative attacks,” with transgender people targeted by more than 100 bills introduced in 33 states in the United States.f In addition, there are still 14 countries around the world that criminalize transgender people. How are Pride-celebrating companies working to oppose this legislation?

While Pride is a celebration, there is still much work to be done globally to help liberate the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Rainbow capitalism isn’t the solution.

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History Historical Badasses

Gertrude Stein, the queer feminist at the centre of the art movement

I first encountered Gertrude Stein through her avant-garde poetry in Tender Buttons, an evocative series of short poems that forced writing to its breaking point with sentences like: “Dirty is yellow. A sign of more is not mentioned.” I met her blindly, only through her words, yet I already fell for her eccentricity. I knew there was something wonderful behind the mind that put down on paper the bold tongue-in-cheek yet unbelievably serious statement, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. I just had to explore her art further. So I began scouring old journals and artist profiles to learn more about her. 

Little did I know that the radical art Stein created could almost be rivaled by the art that she nurtured in the artists around her. I found multiple sources that called her the ‘mother’ of modernism, but after getting to know more about her, I am sure that she would scoff at such a title. After all, she left the United States in 1903 to flee the pressures of gender norms. She was also bored with medical school and seeking an outlet to express her eccentric point of view, she settled down in Paris, where she intended to pursue a life free from heteronormativity. She opened a salon in her home for the world’s creative mind, including some of the world-renowned names such as Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. She was the voice of this ‘Lost Generation, the group of American expatriates flocking to Paris– and even coined the term.

The way I see it, she brought together these esteemed artists and in many ways, elevated them through her no-nonsense critique of their work. I had always internalized that a woman inspiring other artists (typically male artists) was a muse. That term is loaded, as there were often sexualized or romanticized elements typically tied to a muse. Instead, what I admired about Stein was that she was a mentor to the ‘greats’. I see her as a woman that had an undeniable presence in her time, respected by those around her. 

Nothing about her was conventional and she embraced her own strangeness, something that drew me to her further. Stein deserves the title of a trailblazer of the modernist period and of queer identity at the time. Stein’s essay Miss Furr and Miss Skeene were among the first story to be published about homosexual revelation, containing the first noted use of the word “gay” in published works to refer to same-sex relationships. She also hosted one of the first avant-garde exhibitions in the United States, funding it with the money she collected from her art dealerships. I have no doubt that every piece of art in the period has her fingerprint.

And she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her accomplishments either. Stein didn’t believe that women must be modest, proudly proclaiming “I have been the creative literary mind of the century.” She never sold herself short, a habit I found myself doing as I presented my own poetry or other writing. I was still working with my own feelings of inferiority, belittling my stories as ‘just’ relevant to female-identifying communities. While she wrote about women and her partner, she didn’t restrict herself to writing women’s stories. I found it so refreshing to see her unabashed pride, as it reminded me to take hold of my own achievements and to be confident. No matter how unconventionally and ‘weirdly’ I experimented with my creativity, I learned that I could (and should) still demand to be taken seriously. 

Regardless of all this, I don’t think she should be idolized. I often like to give powerful women in difficult situations the benefit of the doubt, as do most of the historians and writers that grapple with creating a retrospective of Stein’s life. I witnessed a trend in the way that they wrote about her, that she was ensuring her safety as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France by making these questionable alliances with Nazi figures. As much as I respect her as a feminist and as the backbone of the Lost Generation of artists, I cannot excuse her political affiliations and ironic, confusing pro-Nazi expressions. 

At the end of it all, Stein didn’t strive to be accepted or allow herself to be molded by the society around her. She carved her own place into history and I believe it is important to commemorate it, lest she is lost in the shadows of her male counterparts. As a woman in the art world, looking at Stein as an example liberates me and allows me to embrace subversive expressions of creativity. 

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Culture LGBTQIA+ History Music Pop Culture

The forgotten queer and Black foundations that built electronic house music

Kaytranada made history when he won the Best Dance/Electronic album at the 63rd Grammy awards this year for Bubba. His achievement was iconic because he was the first black and openly gay man to win this award. This historic win also highlighted how far removed electronic music has become from its minority origins.

“When I was making my last album, I was really inspired by early house DJs, because now when house DJs actually come up, it’s really those white DJs and people don’t think about Black DJs in the sense that play House music,” House DJ and music producer Kaytranada explained to comedian Jaboukie about the inspiration for his sophomore album, Bubba in his 2020 PAPER Pride cover story.

Later in the conversation, Jaboukie added: “Specifically when it comes to electronic music, I feel like there’s such a history of gay, Black, queer, trans people being involved in music. It’s interesting because I feel like you have a lineage,” As an openly gay Black man, Kayranada is definitely a descendant of the early ancestors of house.

Like rock’n’roll, electronic dance music (EDM) has also experienced whitewashing. Today, many EDM enthusiasts seem to think that electronic music and genres such as house, techno, dubstep, and many other sub-genres stemming from the universal need to dance were created by white European men in the early 90s. This couldn’t be further from the truth. They often fail to recognize the communities of color, in particular the black LGBTQIA+ community that created electronic music as we know it today. They also fail to recognize the foundation of almost all current electronic music today stems from house music.

The history of current electronic music, in particular, house music, can be traced back to the underground gay clubs of New York and Chicago. Although the exact origin is unclear, the go-to story is that the genre was named after “The Warehouse” nightclub in Chicago’s South Side. Record stores in the city would attract listeners by playing mixes and dance records “as played at The Warehouse”. That was soon colloquially shortened to “house music”.

The nightclub The Warehouse first opened its doors in 1977 in Chicago. It initially operated as a members-only club almost exclusively frequented by Black and Latino gay men. At the time, gay bars and clubs were the only safe spaces for queer folks, away from police who terrorized Chicago’s gay community.

Sonically, house music was born from the ashes of disco. By the early 80s, there was a “Disco Sucks”  movement, a backlash from the oversaturation of the genre. The “Disco Sucks” movement became anti-dance and therefore anti-gay. As a result, house music was born. It was a blend of disco classics, Euro-beat, and synthesized pop. It has now evolved into many genres and subgenres within electronic music and also influenced pop and hip-hop.

A trailblazer and famous for his early house mixes and amalgamation of recycled soul mixes is DJ Frankie Knuckles. Nicknamed the “Godfather of House”,  Knuckles was also openly gay. Other early innovators included Larry Levan and DJ Ron Hardy, who too were gay and involved in the drag scene.

These pioneers and others played a pivotal role in evolving disco into early house music. They explored creative ways to edit, mix and remix records using innovative techniques. This was due to a lack of DJ equipment. Many DJs didn’t have basic equipment such as a DJ mixer, headphones, or turntables with varying speeds. At this time, DJs often also played the roles of DJ, producer, composer, and remixer.

[Image Description: House pioneer, DJ Ron Hardy performing his set at The Musicbox] Via Red Bull Music Academy Daily
[Image Description: House pioneer, DJ Ron Hardy performing his set at The Music box.] Via Red Bull Music Academy Daily
The early 80s was a vital turning point for DJing and music production. Synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, and drum machines became cheaper and more accessible. DJs and music producers in Chicago delved deeper into dance music production and embraced these machines. DJs would loop basslines, add percussion layers, mix in effects, add vocals, and apply other remixing techniques to make music that people would dance to.

Record labels soon took notice of the rapid popularity of this underground genre. In particular, Chicago-based record label, Trax Records, would commercially release iconic dance tracks including Your Love by Frankie Knuckles, Can You Feel It by Larry Heard, and Move Your Body by Marshall Jefferson.

Around the mid-80s, distinct electronic genres and subgenres emerged. These included deep house and acid house. House music and urban club culture, influenced heavily by gay urban club culture, continued to cultivate these new house sounds in clubs in emerging regional hubs like Heaven in Detroit and The Saint in New York. These new regional hubs often merged their own styles of music with Chicago house. The Saint also helped usher in a new era of electronic music and light shows that would inspire much of the rave aesthetic that now become synonymous with today’s EDM scene.

At the same time, house music has spread internationally, becoming one of the most popular genres in Europe. The first major house success outside of the US is considered to be Love Can’t Turn Around by Farley “Jackmaster” Funk and Jesse Saunders, which peaked at ten on the UK chars in 1986. A year later, Jack Your Body by Steve “Silk” Hurley reached number one on the same charts becoming the first house record to do so.

By 1998, Euro-house, particularly French, Italian, and  UK house explosion, was at its height. At this time, more global influences like broken-beat, Latin jazz, and Afro-house were infiltrating into Euro-house which was now considered the house hub of the world.

“The constant innovation and globality of house music led to the emergence of acid-house and in turn techno and all other electronic sub-genres. In the mix of it all, queer folk of color have somehow slipped out of the established narrative.” Author Luis Manuel-Garcia detailed in  An Alternate History of Sexuality in Club Culture.

Despite its globality and its inspiration for dance, freedom, and acceptance, all of this started with the queer Black people in a small underground Chicago club. DJ-driven dance music may have long since outgrown its minority origins, but it is still essential that this history not be lost and Kaytranada’s Grammy win and many Black electronic DJs in this space are making sure of this.

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Book Club Books

“The Passing Playbook” by Isaac Fitzsimons is The Tempest Book Club’s June Pick. Here’s the first chapter.

We’re so excited to announce Isaac Fitzsimons’ novel The Passing Playbook as The Tempest Book Club June read. The Passing Playbook is about a trans boy trying to fit in at a new school after being bullied when transitioning in his last school. As time goes on, he blends in perfectly–big brother, soccer athlete, and proud nerd. All this is at risk when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him. Now Spencer has to decide: cheer from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even though it would mean coming out to everyone—including the guy he’s falling for. LISTEN

As always, we’re collaborating with Penguin to give away a copy. Enter here!  

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Spencer’s morning went to hell when some asshole on a dirt bike swerved in front of Mom’s Subaru.

Mom slammed on the brakes and flung her arm across Spencer’s chest, despite the fact that he was wearing a seat belt, and even if he weren’t, it’s not like her arm would keep him from hurtling through the windshield and becoming sausage meat.

At least she’d already finished her coffee. The last thing he needed was to spend all day smelling like the inside of a Starbucks.

“Is everyone okay?” Mom twisted around to check on Theo in the back seat, but his eyes remained glued to the nature show playing on his tablet. Spencer was impressed by how nothing seemed to faze his little brother.

“Maybe we save the vehicular manslaughter for tomorrow,” said Spencer. He didn’t want to be known as the kid whose mom ran over someone at drop–off. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be known asanything. As far as he was concerned, the less he stood out, the better.

Mom ignored him as she steered the car more carefully up the tree–lined drive and parked at the curb. “Promise me you’ll make an effort today. Talk to people. Smile sometimes.” She tugged on one of his earbuds, pulling it out of his ear. A muffledda–da–da–dun–da–da–da–dun from the song he was listening to trickled out into the car. “It wouldn’t kill you to be more social.”

“It might.”

Mom’s jaw clenched. “That’s not funny, Spencer. Not after last year.”

“Too soon?” said Spencer. If he turned it into a joke he could pretend that he didn’t still wake up in the middle of the night, heart racing, drenched in sweat thinking about The Incident. He called it “The Incident” so he wouldn’t have to remember it all in excruciating detail: the threatening email, the picture of his face in crosshairs stuffed in his locker, the call to the school that prompted a lockdown, huddling in the corner of a dark classroom, the cold tile leeching heat from his body, and knowing that if someone got hurt, it would be all his fault.

“I’m serious, Spence. We don’t have other options if this doesn’t work.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” The back of his neck grew hot and prickly like it had whenever he was awakened in the small hours of the day by the creak of the staircase as Dad crept up to bed after spending all night preparing for the extra college courses he was teaching that summer to pay for Spencer’s tuition.

Even with the extra work, it didn’t take a math genius to figure out that Dad’s paycheck was barely enough to send one kid to private school, let alone two. So after two years in a Montessori program his little brother, Theo, who was autistic, had to go to public school for the first time.

Theo had spent his summer stretched out on the living room carpet in front of the TV watching anything and everything with the word planet in the title. Spencer wasn’t sure how well an encyclopedic knowledge of the mating behavior of amphibians (called amplexus, according to Theo) would go over with other eight–year–olds.

“Hey, what’s with the face?” asked Mom. “This is going to be a great year. For both of you,” she added, reaching around to pat Theo on the knee.

Spencer picked his backpack up off the floor and squeezed it to his chest. He reached out to open the door when Mom said, “Are you sure you want to keep that there?” She pointed at theI’m here, I’m queer, get over it pin on the front pocket.

Spencer’s fingers brushed over the pin. He’d had the same conversation with Aiden over the phone last night.

“Think of it as a test,” Aiden had said. “If someone makes a big deal out of it, you’ll know to steer clear. Besides, how else will you find the other queers?”

“I’m just saying,” continued Mom, “it’s a bit . . . provocative for your day one. Why don’t you wait and see how the QSA meeting goes first? That’s today, right?”

Spencer nibbled his bottom lip. Last night he had agreed with Aiden, but now, seeing the glittery, rainbow letters sparkling in broad daylight, the idea of walking into the building with it on felt like sticking a target on his back. Sure, Oakley might brag about being the most liberal school in the county—-after all, that’s why they’d chosen it—-but it was still in rural Ohio, where just that morning they’d passed by half a dozen churches, one of which had a sign that said:Don’t be so open–minded your brains fall out.

He undid the clasp and tucked the pin in his backpack, hoping Aiden didn’t ask him about it when they debriefed after school.

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“All right, do you know where you’re going?” asked Mom.

“I think so,” he mumbled.

“If you’re not sure, you need to ask for directions.”

“I know.” He tried to keep the tinge of annoyance out of his voice. When Mom got anxious, she tended to treat him like a baby. But this was a big day for all of them.

“Here,” said Mom. She rolled down Spencer’s window, and leaned over him, calling, “Hey, you with the bike!”

Spencer slouched lower in his seat as several kids, including the boy on the dirt bike, turned to stare at them.

“Mom, what are you doing?”

The boy on the bike reversed, rolling backward to the car and stopping outside Spencer’s window.

“I’m sorry about cutting you off earlier, ma’am. I didn’t want to be late.” His voice was low and gravelly and muffled inside his retro motocross helmet.

“That’s quite all right,” said Mom, clearly charmed by his slight Appalachian twang. Her own accent, courtesy of a childhood in West Virginia, came out stronger. “This is my son Spencer. He’s new this year.”

“Nice to meet you.” The boy stuck a gloved hand through the window. The worn leather was as soft as a lamb’s ear against Spencer’s palm.

“Do you think you could show him to his first class?” asked Mom.

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The helmet visor hid the boy’s expression, but Spencer imagined the amusement in his face at being asked to play babysitter. “It’s okay—-” he began, longing to turn around, go home, and try again tomorrow, but then the boy lifted off his helmet and Spencer’s words died in his throat.

He was cute—-all farm boy tan in a navy polo and Wrangler’s. But what really made Spencer’s insides feel like he’d just been dematerialized and rematerialized in a transporter was that this kid, with his brown eyes and megawatt smile currently aimed right at Spencer, was a dead ringer for Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Spencer’s nightly ritual was watching Star Trek with his dad, who would disown him, not as a son but as a fellow Trekkie, if he knew that the only reason he put up with the cheesy special effects was because of his teeny–tiny crush on acting ensign, wunderkind, Wesley Crusher.

Mom gave him a little nudge. “I have to go put Theo on the bus. Have a good day, sweetie.”

Spencer climbed out of the car, careful not to trip over himself, and slammed the door behind him. Did she have to call him sweetie? In front of him? What was wrong with bud? Or sport? Bike Boy’s parents probably didn’t call him sweetie, especially not at school.

He waved them off, watching the Subaru disappear around the corner, and trying to ignore the hollow feeling in his chest.

“So, what grade are you in?” asked the boy, parking his bike and waiting for Spencer on the sidewalk.

Spencer’s thoughts became all tangled up in his head as he tried to shape them into words.

“Are you a first year?” Bike Boy prompted.

“No,” said Spencer, a little too forcefully. He pulled himself up to his not very tall height of five feet. He wasn’t insecure about it, not really, but it would be a long year if everyone,especially cute boys, thought he was a middle schooler who got lost on his way to class. “I’m a sophomore.”

“Cool, me too.”

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He followed Bike Boy up the path to the gated entrance. On the way the boy waved to a couple kids and high–fived another, but he didn’t introduce Spencer. Then again, what would he say?This is the kid whose mom almost ran me over and then made me walk him to class? Not exactly the first impression Spencer wanted.

“Let me guess, you were kicked out of your old school for talking too much.” Bike Boy shot Spencer a wide grin. His two front teeth overlapped slightly, which Spencer found oddly endearing considering that most of his friends had been put in braces as soon as they hit double digits.

Spencer searched for something witty to say back. Something to show Bike Boy that he wasn’t a complete weirdo, but his words got lost again.

The smile on Bike Boy’s face slipped off. “Wait, were you actually kicked out? I’m sorry, I—-”

“I wasn’t kicked out.”

“It was just a joke.”

“I know,” said Spencer, growing frustrated that even the most basic of conversations left him flustered.

Not wanting to prolong the agony, he made a decision when they reached the entrance. He knew where he was going. Sort of. He had taken a tour earlier that summer when signing up for classes.

“So what’s your first class?” asked Bike Boy.

He opened his mouth to respond when someone going past pushed him from behind, and he fell into Bike Boy, who reached out a hand to steady him.

Spencer pulled back his arm like he’d been burned. “It’s okay. I know where I’m going. But thanks for your help.”

Bike Boy searched his face as if trying to see if he was telling the truth. “Are you sure?”

Spencer nodded, scuffing his foot against the floor.

“All right, then. I’ll see you around, I guess,” said Bike Boy, his voice lilting slightly like he was asking a question. He hitched his backpack higher and turned to join the swarm of students on their way to class.

Spencer watched him leave, not with relief, but with something that felt a little like guilt. Maybe he should be a touch nicer to the guy who had offered to help him, despite narrowly escaping death at the wheels of his mother’s Subaru. Hell, Spencer didn’t even know who he was.

Before he could stop himself, he called out, “Wait, what’s your name?”

Bike Boy turned and flashed Spencer a smile. “Justice. Justice Cortes.”

Justice Cortes. Spencer silently mouthed the name before another wave of students knocked into him. He shook his head. The last thing he needed was to think about Justice Cortes, or any boy, really.

What he needed was to keep his distance. If he didn’t get too close to people, they wouldn’t find out his secret. If they didn’t find out, they couldn’t use it against him. Nobody at Oakley knew he was transgender.

Spencer needed to keep his head down, study hard, and escape Apple Creek, population 1,172, where the only traffic jams were caused by tractors and Amish buggies.

But first he’d have to survive PE.

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After a few wrong turns, he finally found the locker rooms just as the warning bell rang.

When he opened the door the nauseating stench of body spray mixed with floral air freshener blasted him in the face, invading his nostrils and making him light-headed.

Spencer hovered awkwardly at the door as a few stragglers in various stages of undress glanced up at him from the wooden benches lining the room. Maybe he should change in the nurse’s bathroom like Ms. Greene, his guidance counselor, had suggested. Private stall, a door that locked, and nobody who’d snap him in half like a twig if given the chance. But then someone might wonder why he didn’t change with the rest of them. First rule of passing: Don’t be different.

He found an empty corner and untied his shoes, avoiding eye contact. He wiggled his toes as a chill from the concrete floor seeped through his socks. After a minute the only sounds in the locker room were the thumping of his heartbeat and the dripping of a leaky faucet.

Alone at last, he jumped into action, wriggling out of his jeans and pulling on shorts from his backpack. He tugged on his T–shirt, grateful, not for the first time, that he hadn’t needed top surgery or to suffer through wearing a binder. Starting hormone blockers at thirteen prevented too much growth and almost one year on testosterone replaced whatever fat there was with smooth muscle.

The late bell rang and he slipped into sneakers, shoved his clothes and backpack into a locker, and hurried out the door.

With its towering oak trees and ivy–covered walls, the Oakley School looked impressive on the outside. But inside, the lemony scent of disinfectant and the squeak of his shoes against the linoleum as he jogged down the hallway connecting the locker room to the gym told Spencer that this was more like the charter school Miles Morales attended than the Xavier Institute. The hallway, which had teemed with the hustle and bustle of chattering students five minutes ago, was empty. He snuck into the gym, where a dozen or so boys were flinging foam balls at each other. One sped toward his face, forcing him to duck. Where was the teacher?

“You’re late.”

Spencer jumped and twisted around to see a man in a baseball cap standing beside him. The man wore saggy sweatpants and a ridiculous–looking cardigan with a hood—a hoodigan?—-and had a toothpick dangling from his mouth.

“Are you Coach Schilling?” he asked, slightly out of breath. “Sorry, I—-”

“Name?” Coach Schilling cut him off.

“Spencer Harris.”

“Harris, eh?” He surveyed his clipboard, rolling the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.

Sweat pooled clammy and moist under Spencer’s armpits. The principal, Mrs. Dumas, had assured him that his school records would have the correct name and gender, but that didn’t stop the panic rising in his chest. If someone had made a mistake, he’d be outed in his very first class, and all of it—his dad working overtime, Theo switching schools—would be for nothing.

“You’re new,” said Coach Schilling. It wasn’t a question. With a school this small, new students must be easy to spot. “Make sure you’re on time tomorrow.” He pulled a magazine from the back of his sweatpants and began thumbing through it.

“Could you tell me what’s going on?” Spencer sidestepped as another ball hurtled toward him.

Coach Schilling, preoccupied with uncovering the secret to getting rock–hard abs in thirty days, barely glanced up from his magazine and said, “Dodgeball.”

“Right,” said Spencer. “But what should I actually be doing?”

Coach Schilling raised a bushy eyebrow and gave three sharp bursts of his whistle. A hush fell across the gym. Spencer’s face burned as all eyes turned on him. Coach Schilling picked up a loose ball and shoved it in Spencer’s hands. “Take this and throw it over there.” He pointed across the painted line in the center of the gym. “No head shots, no crotch shots. Got it?”

Spencer nodded.

“Good. Have fun.” Coach Schilling blew his whistle to start the game then went to sit on the bleachers with his magazine.

Spencer’s knees knocked together as he joined his teammates. At least if it was a total disaster he could probably duck out after attendance tomorrow and Coach Schilling wouldn’t even notice.

After a few minutes of playing, Spencer’s pent–up anxiety about the first day of school dripped away with the sweat. He might be small, but he was nimble on his feet. He ducked, dived, and even got in a few hits himself, until he was the last man standing on his team and found himself outnumbered, two to one.

His first opponent, a tall boy with shaggy brown hair, chucked a ball at him. Spencer did a clumsy pirouette and it whipped past. He grinned as his teammates called out encouragement from the sidelines.

His second opponent threw a ball, which Spencer caught. His team erupted into cheers as the player moved to the sidelines, out of the game. Now it was Spencer and the shaggy–haired kid.

The boy launched the ball into the air. Spencer used the ball in his hands to deflect it back, then threw his second ball, forcing the kid to defend both shots simultaneously.

To Spencer’s shock, his opponent reached out with hands the size of Spencer’s face and caught both balls. Spencer was out.

Coach Schilling blew his whistle. “All right, game over.”

Spencer threw his head back. He didn’t consider himself a sore loser, but he disliked losing enough to make sure it didn’t happen very often. When it did, it was like a kick to the shins: incredibly painful, but unlikely to cause any real damage.

He forced his grimace into a smile as his opponent approached him, hand outstretched. “Nice moves out there, Twinkle Toes.” He winked at Spencer.

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Spencer’s cheeks ached with the effort of keeping his smile from falling. He took the kid’s hand, squeezing it limply. He couldn’t tell if he was making fun of him or not.

As the kid turned around and started walking back to his buddies, Spencer’s pulse raced. He imagined him telling them what he’d just called Spencer and the nickname spreading around the school. His eyes fell on a ball in front of him, and before his brain caught up with his body, Spencer pulled his leg back and let loose. The ball made a perfect arc in the air before smacking the kid in the back of his head.

The kid whirled around, his cheeks flushed and eyes flashing. Spencer’s brain finally caught up.Oh, shit.

“Who did that?” shouted the kid.

All eyes turned to Spencer. Even the girls playing badminton over on the other side of the gym with their own teacher stopped their game.

The kid rounded on Spencer.

Spencer flinched.

“Did you throw that at me?”

Spencer couldn’t exactly lie, not with a room of witnesses. “No, I kicked it.”

“With your right foot or your left foot?” asked the kid.

“I— What?” asked Spencer, wondering what the hell that had to do with anything.

The kid took another step toward Spencer, who found himself backed up against the wall. “That shot. Did you make it with your right foot or your left?”

“Left. My left.”

To Spencer’s surprise, the boy smiled and turned to Coach Schilling. “Did you see that, Coach?”

Coach Schilling was also staring at Spencer with a curious look on his face. “That I did, son, that I did.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Macintosh, why don’t you head to the nurse and get an ice pack. You.” He pointed his whistle at Spencer. “Harris, right?”

“Yes, sir,” said Spencer.

“You’re coming with me.”

Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Random House.

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Sexuality Love + Sex Love

I learned about sex through fanfiction, and it’s a bit questionable

I love fanfiction. I think there’s something about it that you can’t find in published novels or tv shows, it’s unique and hard to explain. And while it might sound odd, there’s a lot you can learn from fanfics.

Most people don’t realize what’s out in the vast web to be discovered. For example, you might be scrolling through the works of your new favorite tv show and finally decide to brave the uncharted territories of mature-rated fanfics. You’ll click on one with a funny summary and then fall down the fascinating rabbit hole to continue reading more. And in doing so, you might actually learn about sex through fanfics.

That’s what happened to me anyway. You see, I never really had the opportunity to learn about sex in my family. My culture treats sex as taboo and then expects girls to grow up wanting to have babies and get married into a life of pleasing their husband. And all this without telling girls about potential dangers that come with sex or trying to make sex sound appealing.

I went through the basic sex ed in school, but that didn’t explain a lot. Most of what I remember was the teacher telling us to use birth control if it came down to it, but we should abstain from sex. Senior year Biology was where I learned about my body properly; I was finally told about the many changes that the body goes through due to our hormones. But most importantly, I learned about male anatomy. At no point before this had anyone explained what sex is. I knew it was performed between males and females, but not how. Before that class, I thought it was code for lying in a bed with a member of the opposite sex. 

And all this without telling girls about potential dangers that come with sex or trying to make sex sound appealing.

And while that class helped clear up some of my more significant questions, it wasn’t enough. But I had nowhere to turn to for learning more. My parents weren’t an option, and asking someone seemed awkward. So I turned to the internet. For the first time in nearly four years of exploring fanfiction online, I dove into what I thought was the dark side and looked at the selection of M-rated fics. 

Thinking back on it, they weren’t even particularly spicy fics that I stumbled across. I was jumping back into the PJO (Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan) fandom for like the third time, and I had exhausted my supply of tried and true teen and lower fics. These fanfics primarily served as a way for me to learn specifically about sex and what it was, how it worked, in a setting that wasn’t overly scientific. It was all very vanilla, but that was fine back then.

Then I jumped into some Yu-Gi-Oh fandoms and looked around at the selection there as well. And that was the first time I learned about sex being possible between same-sex couples. Then I switched from my usual fanfic website to a more known and better one, Archive Of Our Own. And this was where things got interesting because there were tags for everything. If I wanted to explore a specific kink, I could check the tag for it and look at all the options in every fandom. 

And I did exactly that; I jumped through different fandoms and checked out every type of M or E rated fic that was unique and then added the new knowledge to the ever-growing list of things I knew about sex. I explored lots of different kinks. When Fifty Shades of Grey was coming out, and everyone was complaining that it didn’t show BSDM accurately, I went to fanfics to learn what they were all talking about. I’ve read many an ABO fic and several femdom stories. And I thought by reading all these fics; I suddenly knew everything there was to know about sex.

Then one day, an online friend talked about a time that she was sexually harassed and how some of these fanfictions we read lead her to think that it was normal. And I started to rethink the fics I was reading. 

It occurred to me that a lot of the stuff I’ve been reading wasn’t always safe or consensual. These were works of fiction, and therefore not always meant to be an accurate reflection of reality, but I had spent years normalizing the lack of consent that came with some of these stories. I didn’t even realize until a month ago that it isn’t normal for someone to cry during sex or for most people to get off to that. Many of the kinky fics I read also never really detailed much about the relationship outside of the sex, which made for a very twisted view on things. 

None of this means that I plan to stop reading smut fics. I’ve come to recognize that most of what is in these stories is simple fantasy. I should have never expected it could replace the learning that comes from talking to people about their experiences or having sex myself. 

But if anyone else out there is like me, then now is as good a time as any to look a bit more critically at the fics you read and made the conscious distinction between them and reality. I know it’s awkward to talk to others about sex, and let’s not lie on the internet, it can be dangerous

I don’t claim to know all the answers, and there’s no right way to learn about sex. But at the very least, I think it’s better not to put all the eggs in one basket. When you want to learn about something you should look at several different places. I’ve begun taking a more thorough route to my own learning, one which involved properly researching whatever sexual topic comes to mind in fanfics but outside as well with the help of google or asking some very close friends who I can trust.

This new system has been working so far, and I find myself enjoying some of the conversations I can have with people about these topics as well.

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LGBTQIA+ Sexuality Health Gender & Identity Life

Here’s your round-up of 43 gender identity and expression terms

Let’s sit down together and converse about gender, gender identity, and gender expression. Gender is inherently different from sex. Sex assigned at birth is based on biology, while gender identity and expression are complex and personal.

Listed below are 43 gender identity and expression terms with definitions, in alphabetical order. If you are looking to broaden your understanding and knowledge when it comes to talking and speaking about gender, this is a good place to start.

However, it is important to understand these by no means are all the terms that you need to know or all of the terms out there! Also, there are many different perspectives and thoughts about how to define these individual terms. Additionally, many of the meanings and definitions for these terms are always evolving and often overlap at times.

With that being said, here we go:

1. Abigender

Abigender is a gender experience that involves identifying as two distinct gender identities, while simultaneously experiencing an agender identity. Therefore, an individual that is abigender is bigender and agender.


 AFAB is an acronym that means “assigned female at birth”.

3. Affirmed Gender 

Affirmed Gender is a person’s confirmed gender identity.

4. Agender

Agender translates to “without gender.” People who identify as agender do not identify with any particular gender. People also use agender when referring to themselves as gender-neutral or having an undefinable gender.

5. AMAB 

AMAB is an acronym that means assigned male at birth.

6. Ambigender

Ambigender is a gender identity that is under the umbrella of bigender. It is when a person experiences two static gender identities simultaneously and those identities are not fluid.

7. Androgyne

Androgyne is a non-binary gender identity. An androgynous individual is a person whose gender identity has “masculine” and “feminine” elements or qualities simultaneously. An androgyne individual can identify as more “masculine” or “feminine,” it does not have to be equal or stagnant.

8. Bigender

Bigender individuals have two distinct gender identities at the same or different times. These distinct identities are fluid meaning that their distinct gender identities can be present at the same or at different times.

9. Cassgender 

Cassgender is a gender identity that refers to feeling that one’s gender is not important or indifferent towards gender. In other words, indifferent to their gender. However, this does not mean that a cassgender individual lacks gender.

10. Cisgender

Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity corresponds with their assigned sex at birth.

11. Cisnormativity

Cisnormativity is the assumption that all individuals are cisgender and their gender identity matches their biological sex.

12. Demigender

Demigender is a gender identity that derives from the French prefix “demi,” which means half. Demigender means an individual feels partially connected to a certain gender identity or multiple gender identities. It is also used as an umbrella term for demi-identities such as demiboy, demigirl, demifluid, deminonbinary, and more.

13. Feminine-of-center

Feminine-of-center is a phrase that describes people who understand their gender expression and gender identity as more feminine. However, this does not mean that they identify as a woman and does not mean that those that are feminine-of-center will present or represent themselves in a feminine way. It is an inclusive term that includes a number of identities.

14. Feminine-presenting

Feminine-presenting is a term that describes a person who expresses or presents gender physically in a more feminine way. This can be through style, clothing, hair, appearance, behavior, etc.

15. Masculine-of-center

Masculine-of-center is a term that was coined by B. Cole of the Brown Boi Project. It is used to describe people who understand their gender expression and gender identity as more masculine. Similarly, to feminine-of-center, this does not mean that they identify as a man. It also does not mean that those that masculine-of-center will present or represent themselves in a masculine way. It is an inclusive term that includes a number of identities.

16. Masculine-presenting

Masculine-presenting is a term that describes a person who expresses or presents gender physically in a more masculine way. This can be through style, clothing, hair, appearance, behavior, etc.

17. Gender

Gender is on a spectrum, and it is not related to sexual orientation. Gender refers to a person’s identity and is independent of a person’s physical body.   

18. Gender apathetic

Gender apathetic is when an individual does not care for or specifically identify as a certain gender. Those how are gender apathetic are typically flexible and do not necessarily care how other people gender them.

19. Gender Binarism

Gender binarism is the belief that the classification of gender is two distinct, opposing categories. The classifications, masculine/male and feminine/female, are determined by an individual’s sex. The gender binary model enforces social structures, ideologies, and stereotypes that dictate gender roles and norms within our society. Gender binarism supports actions and thoughts that promote the gender binary while simultaneously excluding, harming, and perpetuating the eraser of individuals who identify as nonbinary.

20. Gender identity

A person’s gender identity is based on how a person feels, not by their sex or biological makeup. One’s gender identity is based on their own understanding of themselves. Gender is personal and can be complex. There are numerous gender identities. All gender identities deserve to be respected, supported, and valued.

21. Gender expression

Gender expression is how a person outwardly expresses their gender identity. This includes appearances, behaviors, and interests. Gender expression can also be referred to as gender presentation.

22. Gender-neutral

Gender-neutral does not fit within the gender binary and is non-binary. Gender-neutral refers to language, spaces, objects, and other aspects of our society.

23. Gender non-conforming

Gender non-conforming is not adhering to the ideological systems within our society that dictates and influences gender roles. This term refers to gender expression and presentation. Gender non-conforming can be used to describe roles, preferences, actions, and behaviors that do not align with perceived gender norms.

24. Gender normative 

Gender normative refers to behaviors and ideals that align or are compatible with cultural-expectations and norms associated with binary gender roles.

25. Gender questioning

Gender questioning is the process of actively questioning and exploring one’s gender identity or gender expression.

26. Gender Transitioning

Gender transitioning is a personal process to change one’s gender presentation to match their gender identity.

27. Genderfluid 

Genderfluid individuals have gender identities that change over time and are dynamic instead of static. Their gender identity can change over long and short periods of time.

28. Gender Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is discomfort or distress related or associated with an individual’s relationship with their gender identity.

29. Genderqueer

Genderqueer and nonbinary often overlap. Genderqueer refers to a spectrum of gender identities and can be considered an umbrella term for non-normative gender identities and forms of gender expression. This includes nonbinary gender identities, a combination of genders, experiencing multiple gender identities, those who do not identify as a certain gender, and those who experience other non-normative gender experiences.

30. Greygender

Greygender is a gender identity for those who possess mixed feelings about gender expression and identifies outside the gender binary.

31. Intergender

Intergender is a nonbinary gender identity that falls in between the binary genders, female and male.

32. Intersex

Intersex is an umbrella term that is used for a variety of conditions when a person is born with sex and biological characteristics such as chromosomes, genetics, genitalia, hormones, and organs that do not fit or match the conventional definitions of female and male.   

33. Misgendering

Misgendering is when a person intentionally or unintentionally makes an assumption about a person’s gender identity or refers to a person using language that does not align with a person’s gender identity.

34. Multi-gender

Multi-gender is an umbrella that is used for a person who experiences multiple genders. A person can experience two genders or more at a time. A person can also shift between gender identities. It is also used as a gender identity.

35. Neutrois 

Neutrois refers to an individual who identifies as genderless. However, neutrois is often defined and experienced differently from person to person.

36. Nonbinary

Nonbinary individuals’ gender identities do not fall into the binary categories of female and male.

37. Novigender

Novigender is a gender identity when a person’s gender experience is too complex to label or give a singular word.

38. Pangender 

Pangender is a gender identity that is a nonbinary experience that encompasses a wide multiplicity of genders, which can be infinite.

39. Polygender

Polygender is a gender identity that is used when individual experiences multiple gender identity at the same time or at different times. Polygender typically can identify with four or more gender identities.

40. Sex

Sex and gender are often used interchangeably; however, they are not the same. Sex refers to the biological makeup of an individual.

41. Sex assigned at birth

Sex assigned at birth is the label that an individual receives when they are born that is indicative of their biology. This includes your hormones, chromosomes, and genitalia.

42. Transgender

Transgender is when a person’s gender identity does not align or match with their sex assigned at birth.

43. Trigender 

Trigender is a gender identity that means “three genders.” An individual who identifies as trigender experiences three genders. The three genders can be experienced simultaneously or fluidly.

Before you go, let me remind you one more time to remember that these terms and phrases that describe gender identity and expression are not set-in-stone. The meanings are constantly evolving, and new terminology for gender expression is often being created.

Also, this list is certainly not all the terms used to describe gender identity and expression! Most importantly, these terms and gender experiences can differ based on an individual’s perspective with their own gender identity and expression.

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Sexuality Love + Sex Love

I rushed my first time because I thought I was late to the game

Content Warning: Some parts of this article may depict assault or unclear consent, you can scroll past the section, marked at the start and end with double asterisks**

It’s simple, really: much like Drew Barrymore’s character in the excellent millennium celebrated film, I was (almost) 25 and had never been kissed. Except, unlike Barrymore’s character, I had really, really never been kissed. And until the moment I had been, I couldn’t even decide whether or not I wanted it. Unfortunately, this is not some magical love story: my first kiss—my whole first time, was a massive disaster. 

I’d had crushes, but I’d rarely seen them through: chickening out rather disastrously when I was 19, determined to preserve a friendship I could rely on, rather than a relationship I was doomed to destroy. I’d otherwise been dumped when I was 22 for having a “difficult family history” and mental health issues that left my partner convinced they’d always receive less from me than someone else (it helps for context, to add that right in the middle of this relationship I’d been diagnosed with severe depression and probably wasn’t in the right place for a serious relationship). Needless to say, three years on, I was not looking for love, but I was looking for something.

I had really, really never been kissed.

I’d felt late to the game with my 25th birthday looming in 2020 and seemingly nothing to show for it. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about it before, but suddenly in those last few months of being 24, my lack of experience felt like the last milestone of adolescence I finally wanted to cross.

The second eldest of mostly sisters, I was the last of us and the only one to remain single for so long. While they never made a big deal out of it, it certainly felt like one. I worried they considered me prudish, shuttering more explicit talk when I neared, not wanting to make me feel uncomfortable, I assumed, in my inexperience. They’d later clarify it was in fact because of my indifference.

“Well you can’t know if you’re asexual if you’ve never had sex.”

This too, is true: I’d never understood, in the way it felt like my youngest sister always did, what made this actor or that person hot.

What did that mean?

What did that feel like?

How did I know if I was interested in someone if all I felt when I saw a simple picture was nothing?

My college experiences were borne of deep friendships: I’d cultivated an intimacy that made me feel safe enough to be vulnerable. It wasn’t how they looked, it wasn’t because they were both male.

When I toyed with the idea of finding a label, a well-meaning friend said, “Well you can’t know if you’re asexual if you’ve never had sex.” A few months after that conversation, I could confidently say that having sex absolutely did not make understanding sexuality any easier. 

In fact, if anything, perhaps backed by this sense of feeling broken and behind pushed me to make a decision I probably wasn’t ready for. Now it bears mentioning that I am a planner—I keep shoes in my online cart for months debating whether or not they’re the right ones, or whether I need, need them before executing a purchase. So it’s rather telling that from the time I thought of it (mid-February), to the actual execution of what occurred on the first Monday night in March that I was breaking my own rules by rushing into what I hoped would make me feel better. Rather, I was rushing toward someone I hoped would make me feel less confused. Someone, who, unfortunately, had no idea what was going on.

I wanted to get over this feeling of being “too old” to be a virgin.

A classmate of mine who I considered more than an acquaintance, if not friends, was where I landed. True to my nature, and probably my antidepressants, there wasn’t an immediate frisson. We were both writers, and perhaps through sharing our writing, I thought, in the smallest of ways, knew each other better than random strangers.

So after thinking about it and deciding against it, after a particularly rough week I woke up on Monday, March 2nd and by that evening showed up at his place and asked him to turn me down. 

While he expressed genuine surprise in seeing me there and insisted that he couldn’t enter a relationship with me, he asked me if I wanted to go up. Bundle of anxiety that I was, I did. And I overshared—a lot. Probably too much. I wanted to get over this feeling of being “too old” to be a virgin. I wanted him to understand that I was nervous, but that I could be brave. The only thing I miscalculated was that he didn’t care. 

Sure, he listened patiently as he tried to sober up from the blunt he’d smoked before I arrived. He was quiet, introspective—listened to my anxieties about graduating, about my family life, about my failed relationships. Finally, he asked me why I was there. I didn’t know—to feel seen, I guess. For him to know that I’d been thinking about this—about him for a few weeks. I wanted to know if he could ever—would ever, be interested in me. He paused, then, before asking, did I want him to kiss me now? Only if he wanted to, I said. And he did, so we did. And while I was sure I’d be terrible at it, he said it didn’t matter. So I decided not to worry about it and follow his lead.


There’s a reason we talk so much about consent — because everyone, myself included, will go back to a moment and try to understand what happened. What changed? How did it go from a (somewhat) positive encounter to murky gray so fast? Was it when I joked that if he liked my breasts in my dress he’d like them in my bra even more? Or was it when he shucked the dress, mouth going straight to the cups that I was surprised, but still went with it?

By the time he said he needed to come, and even though I couldn’t because of my meds, it wasn’t fair to lead him this far, it was still only gray territory. Because, it was “of course, only if I wanted to.” I said no exactly twice that night, first when he said he didn’t have a condom (he didn’t prefer them because it was less fun with them).

And yet somehow, after a very enticing, and repeated “come on, let’s just stick it in” that no, turned into an okay. Fine. Sure. Thankfully, the second no stuck—despite his repeated requests that I put my mouth on him, I told him I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t ready, maybe next time.

He had no interest putting his mouth on me, first claiming reciprocity. But he did—just once to help me along. It wasn’t enough to get me ready, but he’d given up trying. Or didn’t notice. So what happened next was pretty painful. So. Extremely. Painful. I’d be bleeding for the next day.

There was an exact moment I swear I was watching my body from the corner of the room, in pain, trying to be into it. Watching him tell me about a girl he’d been sleeping with who also liked how he’d smelled so much she asked what it was so she could get it for her boyfriend. That definitely didn’t help things along. Finally, he gave up.

He didn’t come, I wasn’t into it, and now he needed to read for class. I should probably go. I asked him if he would hold me, but apparently, that was relationship-only privileges, which this was not. I felt like I was slowly returning to my body, but not in those cliched ways. It felt stranger now, that he had seen me naked. That he had put himself inside me, knowing it was my first time, with so little care. I dressed mechanically, saving my scarf for last, feeling his eyes on me as I recovered my hair. 

He wouldn’t ask how I was doing until two days later, the evening after I showed up to work looking “distressed”. He’d get drunk at a concert with a friend that night and tell her he thought he’d fucked up. That I had come on to him. That I’d been obsessed with him, insisting we have sex without a condom. He’d start gaslighting me, reminding me I’d initiated it whereas he’d been clear on the relationship point. So what else did I expect? This was how it was done, didn’t I know? He didn’t like condoms, couldn’t be bothered with them—I was being silly. 

I’d wonder for months during the long hours of quarantine if he was right. If I had pushed aggressively for this. If I had insisted he sleep with me. If, in accordance with his version, I was a villain. Leaving him no quarter, showing up at his place unannounced and insistent. I’d agonize over why he hadn’t been nicer, gentler, rejecting that he’d said that’s how it was supposed to be. 


In my journey for answers, for catching up with the crowd, I suddenly felt all alone (in the middle of a global pandemic), discarded, and unlovable. I didn’t want him to love me, but how could he renounce any responsibility?

Several months later, he wouldn’t have any better answers. He’d start sleeping with a friend in whom I’d confided about what happened. A friend who had at the time claimed to be stunned and so angry with him on my behalf. But suddenly she’d disappeared from my life, choosing him, and as he said it, “his side of the story.”

To be very clear, consent isn’t “tricky”. There’s yes and there’s no.

In the end, I could care less about my virginity—I had no answers and even more questions. My body no longer felt like my own. Every day, it felt like he’d told yet another person about what had happened—exposing me and my body before everyone. It felt like despite my scarf, my semblance of control over who could see my body was gone.

I felt like hiding from the world, anxiously messaging friends trying to feel out if they too were laughing at me, or if they meant it when they said they loved me.

To be very clear, consent isn’t “tricky”. There’s yes and there’s no. Yes is enthusiastic and genuine and if it’s not then it’s not consent. Especially if it’s given after repeated questioning, or is the easier option to get out of a situation.

Women don’t often come forth with encounters that they regret because there’s a misconception that we only cry assault because we regret it ever happening.

I do not regret my choice to want sex.

But wanting it, even approaching someone who knows you want it, does not replace agreeing to it. My only regret is approaching someone who cared so little for me and my comfort that I agreed to something I said no to after feeling pressure to change my answer. For my mental health, I’m not ready to label this assault, but if this has happened to you, you are entirely within your rights to call it such. Your body and choice are always deserving of respect. 

There doesn’t have to be a lesson here. But the only thing that goes without saying always, is that there is no deadline.

There’s no shame in not being interested in sex, in being interested, in pursuing someone, in waiting, in going for it. I was gaslighted and taken advantage of by someone who had no intention of taking care of me.

But I’m not terrified about what’s next. In fact, I’m hoping that he’s the worst I’ll ever have.

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USA LGBTQIA+ 2020 Elections Inequality

Sarah McBride has been elected as Delaware state senator in a monumental win for queer representation

Tuesday was a monumental day for queer representation in statehouses and congress. Early on in the night, Sarah McBride made history by becoming the first openly transgender state senator. The same day saw the first two openly gay, black congressmen elected to the house, Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones. With historical events like this, it’s crucial that we take a moment to understand the importance of these elections.

McBride has just become the highest-ranking transgender official in the United States. Previously the highest-ranking openly transgender official was Danica Roem, who became the first out state congresswoman in 2018.

So, who is Sarah McBride?

Sarah McBride speaking at an HRC event in a blue dress
Sarah McBride speaking at an HRC event via WashingtonBlade

McBride is a Delaware native who has always been interested in helping people through policies and politics. She worked for multiple election campaigns and was elected student body president of her alma mater, American University. Sarah McBride is used to making history. During her time as student body president at AU she made national news when during her last week in office, she came out as transgender. This made her the first openly transgender student body president at the university.

After college McBride proceeded to serve on the board of Equality in Delaware, where she is credited with getting a bill passed which prevented discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. But, McBride wasn’t done achieving firsts for trans women.

In 2016 McBride became the first openly transgender woman to speak at the DNC. She endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential nomination and spoke about the importance of policies which support and protect trans folks.

As she was campaigning to be elected to the Delaware statehouse she partnered with the Human Rights Campaign as their National Press Secretary.

Why this matters to queer folks

Throughout her entire career, McBride has worked tirelessly to create spaces for queer individuals in the world. After it was announced that she won her congressional seat, McBride sent out a tweet specifically for young LGBTQ people.

Sarah McBride tweeting "I have tonight shows an LGBTQ kids that our democracy is big enough for them too"
Sarah McBride statement via Twitter

McBride’s win is impacting queer students at her alma mater, too. American University senior Sarah Ross (they/she) felt hopeful about what this means for queer voices. Ross said, “I think Sarah McBride‘s win will mean she is able to bring conversations to the table that have been relying on the words of queer allies and the few queer people in Congress. Hopefully, her win will enable her to strengthen the fight for legislation supporting queer people and enabling them lives free from harm and discrimination – at least at a legal level.”

Many queer and trans activists feel similarly, with praise erupting on Twitter and Instagram seconds after her win was announced.

Getting in the room

Representation is crucial, but specifically in politics. You need people in the room who have first-hand experiences to push policy in progressive directions. With issues such as the trans panic defense and bans for transgender folks in the military, it’s crucial to have individuals with lived experiences be given a voice in the inception of these policies.

Sarah Ross also spoke on the issue of inclusion, “Seeing queer representation is important to me because I think queer and trans people will not give up on queer issues. I think queerphobic and transphobic Congress members know this and will try to invalidate queer Congress members‘ actions, but once they are in Congress they have the ability and right to push legislation as they see fit. I would like to say I trust queer Congresspeople to fight for what is right, and I hope they prove me right.”

Straight representatives are able to sympathize with queer issues, but they do not know what it’s like to live them. LGBTQ+ senators, congressmen, neighborhood committee members, and school board members have lived the issues that impact their community. They understand how policies affect people’s lives because they’ve had to live through good and bad policies.

Without spending a day in the statehouse Sarah McBride has already made history. Her impact on the transgender community in Delaware cannot be understated, and many in the community are hoping to see her make a mark on politics.


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Sexuality Dedicated Feature Love + Sex Love

Even experimenting with my sexuality seems like a step too far

My whole life, not being straight wasn’t an option I allowed for myself. I knew it was just so much easier to what was expected by my family, friends, and society. A remnant of my upbringing, sexuality in general carried a lot of stigma and pressure. But now that I am on the cusp of adulthood, I wonder how different everything could have played out if I allowed myself to explore. 

I can’t even recall the first time a girl had caught my attention, that’s how far back it was. I must have immediately justified it as liking her hair, or the way that she dressed. Perhaps, I reasoned that I just wanted to look like her, and maybe I did. But then, as I went through my teenage phase, I would often fantasize about girls. I didn’t develop any crushes on anyone I knew, but I wondered what it would be like. 

Scrolling through Tumblr, a haven for young people questioning their sexuality, I found myself wandering over to those pages with the artsy nudes. Appreciating them just for their artistic merit, of course, I would say to myself. But afterward, I would feel such shame that my chest grew tight. What was I doing? Who was I? I never brought it up to anyone else, but I remember being on the verge of tears as I reasoned to myself that all girls were like this. I was just young and curious. From then on, my sexuality became a tough cycle of self-denial and censorship. 

But it didn’t always feel that way to me. Even after I started questioning my sexuality, I was still okay with moving on as I always had, being straight. I normalized it to such an extent that for a while, I stopped questioning it. I pursued relationships with guys and it felt normal, if still controversial to the conservative community around me. When I got older and went on an exchange program for a year, I did the same. On the dating apps, I didn’t hesitate to click ‘men’ as my preference. During my last week there, I swapped phones with a friend to swipe through a dating app for fun. On her screen, a woman’s profile popped up. I knew that she was bisexual, but for a second, it felt like the world was playing tricks on me personally. “She’s cute,” my friend said, peering over. She was.

I felt regret. It was my last few days away from home, so I felt that I had missed my chance to try going on a date with a girl. Although even the thought made me feel nervous, I still regretted never trying and now the door to experimenting with any of that seemed firmly shut. I already planned in my mind how I wasn’t going to tell any of my friends, how I could downplay it if they found out. It was crazy, that I was already prepared to keep it a secret. It struck me that day that I was afraid of experimenting because what if I really was bisexual? Just placing that term anywhere next to me felt earth-shattering.

Perhaps it was fear, or just a desire to avoid conflict. I had always been a non-confrontational person and would rather choose to avoid tension even if I have to give some of myself up. Already in a precarious relationship with my cultural identity and family because of my so-called liberal ideas and forward-thinking when it came to feminism and gender, I didn’t want to seem even ‘stranger’ in their eyes. I didn’t want to be rejected. Every move I made caused ripples, even that year away from home was a scandal. If I dared to experiment, who knew what would happen? It seemed like whether or not I was bisexual, just experimenting had the potential to complicate my life. 

I was afraid of that uncertainty. So I never put myself out there. The fact is that I might have tried it out and found that I actually wasn’t romantically or sexually attracted to women. I could find out that I was. If I had known then that sexuality could be fluid, that it could change over time even without the pressure of labels, would experimenting have been any easier of a choice to make? 

But I still wonder, what if? I think I’ll always wonder about that. I also think about other things I am afraid of exploring because of culture, family, friends, and other external factors. Hopefully, as more awareness is brought to experimenting and sexuality, things will change for the better, and more people will feel comfortable exploring important parts of themselves. As for me, I’m not sure where my life will take me. I wouldn’t rule out anything in my future. This is only the first step, confronting my internal ideas of ‘normalcy’, and I suppose it’s okay to not know if and what comes next.

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TV Shows LGBTQIA+ Movies Pop Culture

45 best queer movies and TV shows that you should watch right now

Happy Pride Month! To spread some queer cheer, we’re sharing a list of our favorite TV shows and films featuring LGBTQIA+ characters. So call up your friends, your boo, cuddle your plants and pets closer to stream the ultimate Pride watch list!

1. The Half Of It

The Half Of It
[Image description: Ellie Chu watching movies with her dad and best friend] Via The Half Of It

What it’s about: Ellie Chu is a small town loner, helping her father with his station master duties and running a business writing essays for her classmates. She insists on keeping to herself until Paul Munsky, a jock, asks her for help writing a love letter to their classmate Aster Flores. Here is our full review of the film.

Where you can watch it: Netflix

2. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
[Image description: Soonam Kapoor anxiously gazing at her reflection] Via Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga

What it’s about: The film title translates to “I Saw A Girl And Felt This Way,” and is Bollywood’s first rom-com starring lesbian love interests. Sweety Chaudry must juggle living in conservative Punjab, impending expectations of marriage (to a boy) and a playwright who develops a crush on her (not realizing he’s not Sweet’s type). 

Where you can watch it: Netflix

3. Moonlight

[Image description: Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, teaching Chiron how to swim] Via David Bornfriend/A24

What it’s about: Split up into three parts, this coming of age film follows the main character through different phases of his life in Miami, Florida where he struggles with his sexuality and identity. Moonlight won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture and stars Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, and Trecante Rhodes. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

4. Love, Simon

love simon
[Image description: Simon leaning in for a kiss underneath the mistletoe] Via Love, Simon

What it’s about: Simon Spier is a closeted 16-year-old, secretly writing letters to an anonymous friend he’s fallen in love with online and carefully hiding his sexuality from everyone. Simon’s carefully crafted life is endangered when a blackmailer threatens to out him to his whole school. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

5. Euphoria 

[Image description: Rue staring at Jules] Via Euphoria

What it’s about: HBO’s Euphoria follows a group of high schoolers. The main story is that of 17-year-old Rue, a drug addict fresh from rehab with no plans to stay clean. Circling in Rue’s orbit are Jules, a transgender girl searching for where she belongs; Nate, a jock whose anger issues mask sexual insecurities; Chris, a football star who finds the adjustment from high school to college harder than expected; Cassie, whose sexual history continues to dog her; and Kat, a body-conscious teen exploring her sexuality. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

6. The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl
[Image description: Lili Elbe, played by Eddie Redmayne staring at her reflection] Via The Danish Girl

What it’s about: Loosely based off of one of the earliest recipients of sex reassignment surgery, this film tells the story of 1920s Danish artist, Lili Elbe, played by Eddie Redmayne. It follows Lili’s transition as husband Einer Wegener to the wife of Gerda Wegener, a tentatively supportive painter.

Where you can watch it: Netflix

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7. Orange Is the New Black

[Image description: The cast of OITNB standing in the prison cafeteria] Via Orange Is The New Black

What it’s about: A dramedy set in a minimum-security federal prison, this series follows various prisoners as they navigate life under lock and key. Piper Chapman is completely unprepared to see her ex-girlfriend locked up with her, as she is responsible for tearing Piper away from freedom and her fiance, Larry.

Where you can watch it: Netflix

8. Killing Eve 

Killing Eve
[Image description: Eve, played by Sandra Oh, a knife pointed at her by rival Villanelle] Via Killing Eve

What it’s about: This UK thriller comedy show tells the story of two female spies and their increasing obsession with each other. Eve, played by Sandra Oh is a bored MI5 agent until she is recruited by MI6 to hunt down international assassin Villanelle. Both women begin to lose focus in their initial assignments and become more interested in learning more about each other. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

9. Sense8

[Image description: The sensates cheering and dancing in victory] Via Sense8

What it’s about: A sci-fi Netflix series, Sense8 tells the story of eight individuals inexplicably connected to each other from birth. Called “sensates” for their extraordinary ability to experience what the others in the group are living through, they must stay alive long enough to find out why a secret government organization wants them dead. Shot on-location in cities like Berlin and Mumbai, Sense8 boasts diversity and an inclusive cast. 

Where you can watch it: Netflix

10. Sex Education

sex education
[Image description: the student body shocked and amused in Sex Education] Via Sex Education

What it’s about: Otis, played by Asa Butterfield, is an insecure virgin and the teenaged son of a sex therapist. After successfully administering sex therapy to a fellow classmate by accident, Otis becomes his school’s most sought after resource as everyone seems to be struggling with “sex problems”. Helping him navigate this new attention is his openly gay best friend Eric and savvy new business partner, Maeve Wiley. 

Where you can watch it: Netflix

11. The Rocky Horror Picture Show 

rocky horror
[Image description: Dr. Frank N Furter and castle servants performing] Via The Rocky Horror Picture Show

What it’s about: A musical comedy production like no other, this film opens on a dark and stormy night when a naive, newly engaged young couple’s car breaks down. They seek help from a nearby castle, whose owner turns out to be Dr. Frank N. Furter, a mad scientist and alien trans woman that has managed to create a muscle man. Dr. Frank N. Furter and the castle servants begin to seduce the innocent couple separately. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

12. High Fidelity

high fidelity
[Image description: Rob, played by Zoe Kravitz] Via High Fidelity

What it’s about: A Hulu original starring Zoe Kravitz, High Fidelity follows the romantic life of Brooklynite and struggling record shop owner Rob. Freshly full of heartbreak, Rob cracks a scheme to come to terms with her love life, determined to track down her Top 5 failed relationships to ask her partners why they left her. 

Where you can watch it: Hulu

13. Queer Eye

Queer Eye
[Image description: The Fab Five of Queer Eye] Via Queer Eye

What it’s about: This Netflix reboot launches a new Fab Five, queer makeover experts that tour the US in search of nominees in need of a confidence boost. Tan France serves as the stylist, Antoni Porowski is the food expert, Karamo Brown is the culture extraordinaire, Bobby Berk is responsible for design and Jonathan Van Ness is the team groomer. 

Where you can watch it: Netflix

14. Modern Family

Modern Family
[Image description: The cast of the mockumentary assembled in the living room] Via Modern Family

What it’s about: A mockumentary following an extended American family, this sitcom is set in suburban Los Angeles. So named “modern”, among the show’s family members are a gay couple on their journey to becoming fathers. Mitchell and Cameron were one of American TV’s earliest depictions of wholesome gay dads. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

15. How Gay Is Pakistan?

how gay is pakistan?
[Image description: host Mawaan Rizwan standing in a crowded street of Pakistan] Via How Gay is Pakistan?

What it’s about: This BBC documentary film investigates gay culture in Pakistan, where the punishment for being openly gay is up to ten years in prison or the death penalty. In spite of the law, this film follows eager and comedic British Pakistani Mawaan Rizan on his quest to find the gay scene in his homeland. Along the way, we learn about Pakistan’s gay dating culture, the large trans community, and meet various gay rights activists. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

16. But I’m A Cheerleader

[Image description: Two young women stare at the camera, shocked.] via Lionsgate Films
[Image description: Two young women stare at the camera, shocked.] via Lionsgate Films

What it’s about: When Megan’s friends and family begin to suspect she’s gay, her parents intervene and enroll her in a weird residential conversion therapy program. It’s a camp ’90s classic of John Waters-like proportions with a message of self-acceptance and community at its heart.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

17. 52 Tuesdays

52 Tuesdays
[Image description: A pair embracing framed in sunlight] Via 52 Tuesdays

What it’s about: This Australian coming-of-age film shares the experience of a teenage girl struggling to deal with her mother transitioning to a male identity. Billie is sent to live with her father, whom her mother Jane divorced for the year that Jane is transitioning to James. The only time Billie gets to see James is on each Tuesday of the week. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

18. Call Me By Your Name 

call me by your name
[Image description: Elio and the graduate student he falls in love with] Via Call Me By Your Name

What it’s about: Starring Timothee Chalamet, this film is set in the summer of 1983 in Northern Italy. 17-year-old Elio becomes involved with his father’s 23-year-old graduate student. As the summer goes on, the two fall in love with each other, remaining closeted and keeping their relationship a secret, despite everyone knowing. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

19. Broad City

broad city
[Image description: Ilana Gazer and Abbi Jacobson] Via Broad City

What it’s about: This television sitcom follows the lives of two twenty-somethings as they try to “make it” in New York. Based on a popular web series and inspired by the leads’ real-life friendship, Broad City explores the bonds and sometimes-cringe humor between the women. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

20. Pose

[Image description: NYC’s ballroom culture in the 90s] Via Pose

What it’s about: Featuring a largely Black and Latino cast, this series focuses on the ballroom culture of New York City in the 80s and 90s. Most notably the show centers the AIDS crisis of the 90s, showing how hard the community was hit by how frequently characters attended funerals. The series also traces the popularity of dance styles and the various contributions of the LGBTQIA+ community to mainstream pop culture. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

21. Gentleman Jack

gentleman jack
[Image description: Anne Lister and Anne Walker] Via Gentleman Jack

What it’s about: Inspired by the real-life diaries of the lesbian landowner and industrialist Anne Lister, this historical drama series is set in Yorkshire in the early 1900s. While restoring her uncle’s estate, Anne Lister meets Ann Walker, an unusual lady landowner with whom she begins a secret and dangerous romantic relationship. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

22. Carol 

[Image description: Carol and Therese in Carol’s living room] Via Carol

What it’s about: Set in 1952 New York City, this romantic drama tells the story of Therese Belivet, an aspiring photographer and the glamorous Carol Aird. Therese and Carol are both struggling with their respective male partners when they meet each other and instantly have a connection. Against the charming backdrop of Christmastime in New York, this film tells the story of a budding romance. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

23. Before Stonewall

before stonewall
[Image description: An LGBTQ+ march for equality] Via Before Stonewall

What it’s about: Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community is a 1984 documentary film about the LGBTQIA+ community before the events of the Stonewall riots. This film outlines the struggles and challenges the lesbian and community faced leading up to Stonewall. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

24. Portrait of a Lady on Fire 

[Image Description: Two women embrace each other just about to kiss.] via Portrait of a Lady on Fire
[Image Description: Two women embrace each other just about to kiss.] via Portrait of a Lady on Fire

What it’s about: Set on a remote shore in Britain in the 18th century. Marianne, a young painter has been commissioned to paint a portrait of a young woman named Heloise, who will soon marry. The director, Celine Sciamma, doesn’t hold back while she explores the growing passion between Marianne and Heloise.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

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25. Brokeback Mountain

[Image Description: Two cowboys content in each others arms.] via Brokeback Mountain
[Image Description: Two cowboys content in each other’s arms.] via Brokeback Mountain

What it’s about: During the summer of 1963, two cowboys start a sexual relationship after they are both hired to look after sheep in the secluded Wyoming mountains. The movie follows the rest of their lives as they attempt to forget their romantic past and move forward in their respective heterosexual relationships, despite an enduring and intense infatuation with one another.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

26. A Very English Scandal

[Image Description: A man in a suit stands with his hand on his hips worried.] via A Very English Scandal
[Image Description: A man in a suit stands with his hand on his hips worried.] via A Very English Scandal

What it’s about: This incredible TV series is based on the true story of 1970s British politician Jeremy Thorpe. He has a secret: he’s gay. Like many men in his position he solicits sex from naive victims then dumps them when he’s done. However, the mini-series takes a twist when he’s charged with conspiracy to murder.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

27. Pride 

[Image Description: A pride march going through London Bridge. A man in a leather jacket sits in other protestors shoulders with a megaphone.] va Pride
[Image Description: A pride march going through London Bridge. A man in a leather jacket sits on other protesters’ shoulders with a megaphone.] via Pride

What it’s about: After Joe is cast out of his family home, he joins an up-and-coming activist group led by a charismatic gay rights campaigner, Mark. Based on a heartwarming true story, the group correlates their struggle with that of the striking miners and head off to a mining village in Wales to try and establish a political coalition against the Thatcher government with them.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

28. RENT

[Image description: Angry men and women stand together in an array of different clothing colors and identities.] via Sony Pictures Releasing
[Image description: Angry men and women stand together in an array of different clothing colors and identities.] via Sony Pictures Releasing

What it’s about: Loosely based on Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème, seven friends living in the East Village of New York City in the ’80s form a group bonded by economic hardship, a love of the arts, and an ongoing battle against the AIDS crisis. It swings from sad to absurd, and has a killer soundtrack full of iconic musical favorites!

Where you can watch it: Amazon

29. Hedwig and the Angry Inch

[Image Description: A transgender woman with long blonde hair and a microphone performs on stage.] via Hedwig and the Angry Inch
[Image Description: A woman with long blonde hair and a microphone performs on stage.] via Hedwig and the Angry Inch

What it’s about: This rock musical explores the life of Hedwig Robinson, a trans East German rock singer, who tours the US with her band while she tells her story. It explores the origins of love, sexuality, and the ever-fluctuating gender of its campy yet endearing title character. Hedwig assists all who watch, in guiding them through what finding that “other half” really means, whether it be love, identity, or a punk persona within all of us.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

30. Dallas Buyers Club 

[Image Description: A man and drag queen sit on bench facing away from each other.] via Dallas Buyers Club
[Image Description: A man and drag queen sit on a bench facing away from each other.] via Dallas Buyers Club

What it’s about: Set in 1985, this film tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a Texas cowboy whose life is turned upside down when he finds out he is HIV-positive. He ends up establishing a way for fellow HIV-positive people to get access to treatments for the disease.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

Try 5 Frames Before You Buy

31. Philadelphia

[Image Description: Courtroom scene. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington sitting next to each other.] via Philadelphia
[Image Description: Courtroom scene. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington sitting next to each other.] via Philadelphia

What it’s about: This movie was one of the first Hollywood movies to acknowledge HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, and homophobia. The story is to-the-point yet powerful: fearing it would compromise his career, lawyer Andrew Beckett hides his homosexuality and HIV status at a powerful Philadelphia law firm. But his secret is exposed when a colleague spots the illness’s telltale lesions. Fired shortly afterward, Beckett resolves to sue for discrimination, teaming up with Joe Miller, the only lawyer willing to help. 

Where you can watch it: Netflix

32. The Birdcage

[Image Description: A man with a painted face and red lipstick, clutches his tie in worry.] via The Birdcage
[Image Description: A man with a painted face and red lipstick, clutches his tie in worry.] via The Birdcage

What it’s about: This hilarious, over-the-top comedy centers on a gay cabaret owner and his drag queen partner, who agree to pretend to be straight so that their son can introduce them to his fiancee’s conservative parents. The results of this, as might be expected, is a hilarious disaster.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

33. Boys Don’t Cry

[Image Description: Hilary Swank looks off into the distance, sitting on a bench.] via Boys Don't Cry
[Image Description: Hilary Swank looks off into the distance, sitting on a bench.] via Boys Don’t Cry

What it’s about: This movie is based on the tragic true story of Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old trans man who lost his life after his gender identity was outed by the woman he’d fallen in love with. The story flows in a gritty and hard-hitting style, and makes sure Brandon’s life and impact will never be forgotten.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

34. Mysterious Skin

[Image Description: A transgender woman with long blonde hair and a microphone performs on stage.] via Hedwig and the Angry Inch
[Image Description: A young man looks intensely in the distance.] via Mysterious Skin

What it’s about“The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life. Five hours, lost, gone without a trace…” These are the words of Brian Lackey, a troubled 18-year-old plagued by nightmares and under the belief that he was the victim of alien abduction. On the other end is Neil McCormick, a young man that moves to New York in an attempt to forget the childhood memories that haunt him. Now, 10 years later, Neil’s pursuit of love leads him to New York City, while Brian’s voyage of self-discovery leads him to Neil — who helps him to unlock the dark secrets of their past.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

35. Ma Vie En Rose

[Image Description: A young boy wearing a white dress wears a veil.] via Ma Vie En Rose
[Image Description: A young boy wearing a white dress wears a veil.] via Ma Vie En Rose

What it’s about: In this Belgian movie, six-year-old Ludovic believes that he was meant to be a little girl, and waits for the mistake to be fixed. Where he waits for the miraculous, Ludo finds only rejection, isolation, and guilt from those in his family and community. It’s a truly powerful movie, and one that comes with its own difficult backstory.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

36. A Single Man

[Image Description: Colin Firth looks despondently at a bookshelf.] via A Single Man
[Image Description: Colin Firth looks despondently at a bookshelf.] via A Single Man

What it’s about: Colin Firth plays an English professor unable to cope with his day to day life after the death of his boyfriend. He decides to commit suicide, but the story changes as his day unfolds. As he tries to survive, he encounters a Spanish immigrant, then his best friend, who just so happens to be in love with him. As a result, he begins to rethink life.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

37. High Maintenance

[Image Description: A man on the phone looks to the distance.] via High Maintenance
[Image Description: A man on the phone looks to the distance.] via High Maintenance

What it’s about: This TV show provides a glimpse into various New Yorkers who are all linked by a common thread: their weed deliveryman. Each episode focuses on clients from every class and borough as they call on The Guy for deliveries.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

38. Margarita With a Straw 

[Image Description: A woman sucking on a curly straw.] via Margarita with a Straw
[Image Description: A woman sucking on a curly straw.] via Margarita with a Straw

What it’s about: A young woman with cerebral palsy moves from India to New York City to attend NYU on a semester abroad. There, she meets a blind girl of Pakistani-Bangladeshi descent and falls in love.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

39. Life Partners

[Image Description: Two friends sit on a bed laughing and having fun.] via Life Partners
[Image Description: Two friends sit on a bed laughing and having fun.] via Life Partners

What it’s about: Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs play codependent friends whose friendship is tested when one of them starts to get serious with a guy. Sasha, played by Meester begins to feel neglected after her best friend’s love life seems to be doing better than her own.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

40. 120 BPM

[Image Description: A young man looks away while another man tries to kiss him.] via BPM
[Image Description: A young man looks away while another man tries to kiss him.] via 120 BPM

What it’s about:  It’s the early 1990s in Paris, and anti-AIDS pressure group ACT UP is fed up with the government’s lack of interest and active censorship of the AIDS epidemic across France. We closely observe the group and their radical acts of protest, whilst also following the brief but beautiful relationship between HIV-negative newcomer, Nathan, and HIV-positive veteran, Sean.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

41. Fire

[Image Description: Two Indian women hold each other warmly, while smiling.] via Fire
[Image Description: Two Indian women hold each other warmly while smiling.] via Fire

What it’s about: Two women abandoned by their husbands find love in each other. This movie caused much controversy when it first came out in India, and theatres were attacked by Hindu fundamentalists because of the lesbian storyline.

42. Faking It

[Image Description: A blond and brunette girl embrace and kiss each other.] via Faking It
[Image Description: A blond and brunette girl embrace and kiss each other.] via Faking It

What it’s about: A romantic comedy TV show about two best friends who love each other — in slightly different ways. After numerous failed attempts to become popular, the girls are mistakenly outed as lesbians, which launches them to instant celebrity status. Seduced by their newfound fame, Karma and Amy decide to keep up their romantic ruse.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

43. This Is Not Berlin

[Image Description: A man with gay written in red multiple times on his body.] via This is not Berlin
[Image Description: A man with gay written in red multiple times on his body.] via This is not Berlin

What it’s about: It’s 1986 in Mexico City, and we meet seventeen-year-old Carlos. He doesn’t fit in anywhere: not in his family nor with the friends he has chosen in school. But everything changes when he is invited to a mythical nightclub where he discovers the underground nightlife scene: post-punk, sexual liberty, and drugs that challenges the relationship with his best friend Gera and lets him find his passion for art.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

44. The Bold Type

[Image Description: Three women wearing luxury dresses.] via The Bold Type
[Image Description: Three women wearing luxury dresses.] via The Bold Type

What it’s about: This amazing show is inspired and produced by Cosmopolitan editor in chief Joanna Coles. Revealing a glimpse into the outrageous lives and loves of those behind the global women’s magazine, “Scarlet”, this incredible show centers around the rising generation of women finding their own voices in a sea of intimidating leaders. Inspired by the life of former Cosmopolitan magazine editor-in-chief (Joanna Coles), the series weaves together the stories and struggles of some truly badass women.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

45. The Color Purple

[Image Description: Whoopi Goldberg sits on a chair with her hands on her face.] via The Color Purple
[Image Description: Whoopi Goldberg sits on a chair with her hands on her face.] via The Color Purple

What it’s aboutAn epic tale spanning forty years in the life of Celie, an African-American woman living in the South who survives incredible abuse and bigotry. After Celie’s abusive father marries her off to the equally debasing “Mister” Albert Johnson, things go from bad to worse, leaving Celie to find companionship anywhere she can. She perseveres, holding on to her dream of one day being reunited with her sister and finding her identity in the meantime.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.