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Taylor Swift gives surprise performance at Jack Antonoff’s Ally Coalition

The pop star sang a duet of ‘Delicate’ with Hayley Kiyoko

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Taylor Swift performs at Ally Coalition. (Screenshot via Twitter)

Taylor Swift dropped by Jack Antonoff’s fifth Ally Coalition benefit concert on Wednesday for a surprise performance of her hit song “Delicate.” Ally Coalition advocates and raises funds for at-risk LGBT youth.

Swift joined lesbian singer Hayley Kiyoko at Town Hall in New York for a duet of the single.

Other musical performers included Bleachers, Mitski, Rostam, Regina Spektor, fun. band member Andrew Dost and Lana Del Rey. Former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Sasheer Zamata also performed a stand-up set.

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Sports

The Griner’s holiday message: Remember Americans still detained

The Griners wished everyone “a joyous holiday” and urged Americans to “share a story, send a letter or call a representative

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President Joe Biden meets Cherelle Griner about the release from a Russian prison of her wife Brittney Griner, Thursday, December 8, 2022. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

PHOENIX, Ariz. Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner and her wife, Cherelle released a holiday message on their Instagram marking the first anniversary of the WNBA player’s release from a Russian penal colony.

“One year ago today, because of President Biden, his team and the support of many of you, our family was one of the 58 families made whole by this Administration,” the WNBA star and her wife wrote in the message, which was posted to Instagram.

“We must not forget that our work is not done,” they added. “There are Americans still wrongly detained in countries around the world, including Paul [Whelan] and Evan [Gershkovich] in Russia and several Americans in Venezuela.”

The couple were referencing former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018, and Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in March of 2023.

Russian customs officials in February detained Griner at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. A court later convicted her of importation of illegal drugs and sentenced her to a 9-year prison sentence in a penal colony.

President Joe Biden on Dec. 8 announced Russia had released Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. Griner returned to the U.S. the following day.

Brittney Griner & her wife Cherelle, Vice-President Kamala Harris & Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, this past May before Griner’s first professional basketball game back since being released from a Russian penal camp. (Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The Griners wished everyone “a joyous holiday” and urged Americans to “share a story, send a letter or call a representative about one of the many Americans being held away from their families this holiday season.”

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Out & About

Will Alaska topple Mariah Carey’s “Christmas Queen” crown?

As she graces America’s stages with her newest contribution to Christmas culture, is Alaska threatening to topple Carey? Unlikely…

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With many million followers across various social media platforms, Alaska is one of the top tier of famous drag queens. (Screenshot/YouTube Producer Entertainment Group/PEG)

HOLLYWOOD – If RuPaul, giving out crowns the way he does across Drag Race franchises, ran Christmas — Mariah Carey would be demanding to be crowned its queen. Carey was rejected in 2022 trying to trademark the title, and other stars like Darlene Love, were all for the defeat.

One queen who did not enter the fray, but now could, is RuPaul’s own classic diva and All Star crown-holder, Alaska. 

Alaska launches her “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like ALASKA” Christmas show today. Opening at the Neptune in Seattle Washington, she hits San Francisco on December 10th at Bimbo’s 365. Other stops on the tour include New York (December 14th), Pittsburgh (December 17th), and delivers her to her family’s doorsteps just before Christmas in Erie, PA on December 23rd.

“My mom said, ‘It’s not going to just be Christmas music, is it??’, No. My best friend Jeremy plays the piano in the show and we have been doing Christmas cabarets for years. Our goal is to do as little Christmas music as possible in them. It’s a chance to sing songs that we love and songs we have always wanted to do. There is a drop of Christmas music, just enough to call it ‘a Christmas show’,” she tells me on a recent episode of Rated LGBT Radio.

With many million followers across various social media platforms, Alaska is one of the top tier of famous drag queens. With the RuPaul All Stars’ crown to her credit, her brand is loved and adored. The public first fell for her on the fifth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” where she finished in the final 3 before returning and taking the aforementioned crown as winner of season two of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.”

She has released four chart-topping studio albums, “Anus,” “Poundcake,” “Vagina” and “Red 4 Filth.” With several acting credits and awards, Alaska has also released a young adult novel titled “Alaska Thunderfun and the Inner Space Odyssey,” plus released her memoir “My Name’s Yours, What’s Alaska?: A Memoir” She has toured the globe spreading her otherworldly message of love, kindness and gender non-conformity. Alaska also co-hosts the wildly popular Race Chaser podcast with Willam and co-created the Drag Queen of the Year Pageant Competition Award Contest Competition. She debuted a new live stage show in the fall of 2022 called DRAG: The Musical. She is the face of one of six featured flavors with SERV Vodka. Her latest foray finds her in the world of smells with her “Red For Filth” fragrance. 

“When I started drag, it was not a viable career choice, like it is now, it was underground—this kind of strange thing that not many people knew existed, and if they did, they did not understand anything about it. There weren’t many eyes on it from the mainstream culture. Now that there is, I guess we get our turn to be a distraction so the government can not do anything about important issues,” she says.

When she first started dabbling in drag, her family was supportive, but not quite sure exactly they were supporting. Alaska describes her mother as being “protective”, and not wanting her to be subject to ridicule.  “It took my family a while to understand. That was pre-Drag Race. There was no information as to what being a drag queen even was. Now my family loves it and comes to every show.”

Alaska is famous for her laissez faire stage presence, but the cover hides some anxiety. “I always get nervous when I go on stage. I am not exuding confidence; I am just doing the thing,” she confesses.

Doing the thing, she is. As she graces America’s stages with her newest contribution to Christmas culture, is Alaska threatening to topple Carey as the top Christmas diva? Unlikely.

But it will be a damned hoot to watch her try.

Complete tour dates:

December:

8th: Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theater

10th: San Francisco, CA @ Bimbo’s 365

12th: Montreal, QC @ Le National

14th: New York, NY @ Town Hall

15th: Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Hall

16th: Boston, MA @ Big Night Live

17th: Pittsburgh, PA @ Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall

21st: Chicago, IL @ House of Blues

23rd: Erie, PA @ Erie Playhouse – 2 Shows

29th: Vancouver, BC @ The Vogue

30th: Seattle, WA @ Neptune

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Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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Celebrity News

Taylor Swift named TIME’s Person of the Year for 2023

In a tradition that dates back to 1927, TIME’s Person of the Year is the annual designation for the person that most shaped the headlines

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Taylor Swift (Screenshot/Era's Tour, film documentary release)

NEW YORK – In a tradition that dates back to 1927, TIME’s Person of the Year is the annual designation for the person, group or concept that most shaped the headlines, for good or bad, and this year mega-pop star musical artist Taylor Swift was the magazine’s choice for 2023. 

Swift was among a list of nine candidates which included Hollywood strikers, Chinese President Xi Jinping,  CEO of OpenAI Sam Altman, Trump Prosecutors, Barbie, Russian President Vladimir Putin, King Charles III and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell. The magazine revealed its selection Wednesday morning.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was Time’s 2022 person of the year.

Photograph by Inez and Vinoodh for TIME

The 33-year-old native of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, has been dominating headlines between her record-breaking Era’s Tour, film documentary release and her relationship with Kansas City Chief’s tight end Travis Kelce — among other accomplishments. The Berks County, Pa. native also reached billionaire status this year, thanks to her Era’s tour.

As reported by the Blade, Swift effortlessly incorporates politically charged messages through her music.

Swift’s activism – and on-stage advocacy – includes her pro-LGBTQ+ messaging. In her song, ‘You Need to Calm Down’, Taylor tells homophobic individuals to “calm down” and that they are being “too loud.”

This especially rings true with a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being forwarded in the United States. In the same song, she brings awareness to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation by singing, “Why are you mad? When you could be GLAAD?” 

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Sports

Anti-Trans activists claim trans women have an advantage at darts

Victoria Monaghan became the first trans woman to ever compete in the WDF World Darts Championship in England

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On Sunday, December 3rd, New Zealand's Victoria Monaghan made history as the first transgender woman to compete in the World Darts Federation’s World Darts Championship. (Screenshot/YouTube)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – In recent years, those lobbying for restrictions on transgender individuals have focused heavily on sports. Some of the most influential anti-trans lobbyists in this arena, such as Terry Schilling of the American Principles Project, have stated that sports are an easy way to sell anti-trans policies to people who might otherwise reject discrimination.

Initially, the attacks on sports focused on contests of extreme endurance, such as elite swimming. Lately, however, these bans have entered new arenas. Now, there is a new sport where transgender participation is causing controversy: darts.

On Sunday, December 3rd, Victoria Monaghan made history as the first transgender woman to compete in the World Darts Federation’s World Darts Championship. Monaghan, who has played darts since she was 12, mentioned that the New Zealand Darts Council has been incredibly supportive of her participation.

However, recently, after qualifying for the international tournament, opponents of transgender rights attacked her participation. They argued that transgender women should be banned from women’s darts, claiming her participation was unfair due to supposed “biological advantages.”

Martina Navratilova, a famed retired tennis player known for making anti-trans comments, decried Monaghan’s participation, asking, “how the fuck is this acceptable?” The UK-based organization Fair Play For Women, which opposes transgender participation in sports, ridiculed Monaghan for participating, referring to her as a man.

One commentator claimed that trans women had physical advantages such as being able to throwing harder. One of the most outlandish claims, however, came from Dr. Linda Duffy, a sports psychology professor at Middlesex University. She stated that trans women have an advantage due to “cognition and brain structure.”

See Dr. Duffy’s comments here:

Quickly, however, people criticized the idea that trans women have an advantage in darts. Mark Grimshaw, a UK comedian, noted that the conversation swiftly shifted towards the notion that “women’s brains are biologically cognitively inferior to men,” ridiculing this idea as blatantly misogynistic.

TakedownMRAs, a Twitter account focused on opposing men’s rights activism, also ridiculed the notion that trans women have an advantage in darts. Even some who generally support bans on trans individuals expressed concerns, with one person stating, “okay, this is giving the trans movement ammo.”

There is no evidence supporting the idea that transgender women have a biological advantage in darts. Physical attributes such as strength or height are not significant in the game. For instance, one of the all-time best players, Phil Taylor, who is 5’8″, played in a World Darts Championship tournament at 59 years old. Similarly, there is no proof that transgender women possess a “cognitive advantage” over cisgender women in darts.

Recently, transgender participation in sports with no conceivable arguments for any “biological advantage” has come under fire. This is particularly evident in sports like pool. The same group that is attacking Monaghan’s participation in darts also targeted a transgender pool player for participating in a pool tournament.

Additionally, transgender participation in chess has recently faced scrutiny from FIDE, the leading international chess organization. FIDE stated that trans women “do not have any right” to compete in women’s chess categories.

As for Monaghan, she lost in the first round of the tournament. The woman she competed with, Suzanne Smith, gendered her correctly and stated that it was a hard won game that she was glad to get under her belt. Despite the hate that she is receiving from those who oppose her participation, Monaghan states that this is not the norm.

“Most of the women darts players have been really supportive,” she wrote in an article released the day of her match. “and the others are starting to come around.”

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Music & Concerts

Bold and beautiful, R&B’s Idman gives us a risk we want to take

Idman’s newest release, the EP Risk, and the extended Risk-Reloaded version, is about the complexities and codependence of relationships

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Photo courtesy of IDMAN/Arista Records

HOLLYWOOD – Idman, the gorgeous R&B toned singer/songwriter from Toronto, knows that the ability to be a safely out LGBTQ person is a privilege. 

In a recent Los Angeles Blade opinion piece, they cautioned those progressives who are cavalier about the outing process. They became a spokesperson for those who are susceptible to its dangers.  “I wish we told queer and trans youth more often that there is no standard within which to measure the authenticity of one’s identity, and that they’re valid whether they decide to come out or not. That the world’s reactions to their truths are not their fault, and that they are no less valid in their identities for deciding to withhold it from those they believe cannot honor them,” they write, fully conscious that teens coming out can spark abuse, depression and in some cases homelessness. They observe, “Statistics show that LGBTQ+ youth, especially those of color, are disproportionately affected by homelessness… It’s crucial to challenge the idea that queer and trans people owe intimate details of their lives to others.”

The risk of coming out is one that they, themselves, have been willing to take however, and they do so in a new EP aptly titled “Risk.”

“I know that I get to live in a world and have an experience where I have the privilege of figuring that out for myself… I have the opportunity to explore.  I think I have more of a sadness now in me for my parents and for my relatives in the fact that I know that there are parts of them that they might not ever get to explore in this lifetime, and I know that it’s not their fault.” Idman tells me on the Rated LGBT Radio podcast

Born in Toronto within a very close-knit Somali immigrant community, Idman seems an unlikely candidate to stand courageously as a non-binary sexually fluid musician. They were raised fluent in their parents’ mother tongue . “They really instilled a love for my culture. I was really prideful for my heritage… we come from a religious Muslim community, but my parents were super unorthodox and open minded.” Their mother was a wedding planner and part of that gig was to have the house constantly filled with musicians, leaving an aesthetic impact on the talented Idman.

Even though musically, Idman was initially exposed to the “love is forever” style wedding music, their relationship-oriented songs exhibit a deeper complexity. The songs do not depict a heroine and a villain, but rather two humans trying to figure things out. “When I was challenged to write about love, I was confronted with the fact that the R&B space was really in this energy of toxicity, that we are in an era of ‘ghosting’ and that you need to leave before you are left. I found this genre could only be done through honesty and I wanted my music to be the place where people can tap into the depth where it is not always black and white, and the other person isn’t always in the wrong.”

Idman leapt into the music scene in 2020 with their debut single Down for It. Right from the get, they seemed to signal that they were prepared for the challenges, confrontations and potential fight for individuality that lay ahead. “Feel like I was born for this (this), feel like it was calling me
Never been down for the comfortable, that’s just impossible Never walked the road that was paved for Me,” they sing. The song also projects Idman’s attitude towards those who are trans- and homo- phobic. “Have you ever met a hater, If you know (one) play this loud as hell, I can not hate you for not seeing for me what you can not see for yourself And I cannot hate me,
blessed highly favored while you sit o’ there by ya self.”  It is an attitude that they also reflect in their Blade article when they say, “It’s a shame, it’s a stain and it should be the regret of a lifetime for someone to deny themselves the love of a queer or trans person because they can’t see beyond their own projection. What a flop. It is always their loss. I promise.”

Idman’s newest release, the EP Risk, and the extended Risk-Reloaded version, is about the complexities and codependence of relationships. From the prominent track Hate, which is an ode to hating one’s own feeling of longing for the object of one’s desire, to In My Feels, which laments the inability to let go, Idman examines the layers that could bring emotions in any Romeo and Juliet style romance gone afoul. 

It is in the songs and videos for the tracks Beach and Still where Idman takes their own “risk” by truly revealing themselves. The object of affection in Beach is spelled out in the first line of the song. “I know you’re somebody’s girlfriend but I know you ain’t innocent, I can tell by how you lookin’ That you’re likin’ what you’re seein’ I can show you something better baby all you gotta do is say when.” Idman realized that when that song came out, they had essentially outed themselves as being LGBTQ. Their article that appears in the Blade was meant to be a letter to accompany that event, and to fully underscore what she was saying, and why.

The video for Still took things to a whole new level of representation. The video and song depict a fighting couple who are clearly not straight cisgender. It could be, in fact, a musical video first, showing a song featuring two trans people in a relationship, fighting emotions and attachment just as any other couple might.

I asked Idman if they felt brave in making the video. “I was scared. I tried to back out of it a couple times like the week before I called the director and was like actually can we switch? If you switch the lead out with my trainer, he’s 6’4…”  but they did not switch. “I wanted to use it as an opportunity to show some love on the screen in a different way. I think it is often depicted in a really hyper sexualized way, and I wanted to show the romantic nature of this love, that there are arguments and break ups hurt as much as anyone else’s…I have this opportunity to show that we are here. I’ll take this shot for all the younger kids who need to see themselves in that.”

In 2022, Idman released the single Look at What I’m Doing to You, an ode to the heartbroken who turn tables and choose happiness instead. In it, she coyly teases us, “Look at what I’m doing to you. Told you that I’m trouble times two. It is what it is. So influential. It’s my effect on you.”

It is perfect instruction for those who are listening and vibing on all music Idman.  From the self-talking “Down for It” through to the going for it “Risk”, Idman dares us to look at what they are doing to us.

They are pushing our consciousness on gender identity, and releasing our need to label and judge. They bathe this principle in rich rhythmic music and Somali poetic cadence, which speaks to our hearts and our souls.They are indeed “trouble times two”. 

The effect, if you listen and absorb, is that Idman is “so influential.” We can only hope that influence explodes, and inspires strength for the vulnerable who need its confidence. 

If that happens, the Risk will have been worth it, and that will be Idman’s legacy:

The ultimate effect on us.

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Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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Online Culture

Did Marvel Comics just reveal a classic X-Men character is trans?

Until now, the X-Men have never had a trans member That may have just changed with the publication of X-Men Blue: Origins #1

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X-Men antihero Mystique was portrayed by actress Jennifer Lawrence in four films. (Disney/Los Angeles Blade graphic)

By Rob Salerno | HOLLYWOOD – Marvel Comics’ mutant superheroes the X-Men have always been a metaphor for the struggle against prejudice, boasting a diverse cast of characters that have represented a wide spectrum of characters of different races, sexual orientations, and even species. But until now, the X-Men have never had a trans member.

That may have just changed with the publication of X-Men Blue: Origins #1 by Si Spurrier, Wilton Santos, and Marcus To this week, a story that finally gives the full origin of the mysterious Nightcrawler, who had previously been established as the son of the shape-changing Mystique and a demon named Azazel – all three characters who have appeared in Fox’s X-Men films.

Courtesy Marvel Comics

Be warned, spoilers follow from here.

In the new issue, Mystique finally confesses the truth of Nightcrawler’s birth. As Mystique now tells it, she didn’t actually give birth to Nightcrawler – her female partner and longtime lover Destiny did. And Nightcrawler’s father? Well, Nightcrawler’s biological father is actually Mystique, who explains that with her shape-changing powers, she has lived as both male and female.

Does that make Mystique trans? Well, the T-word is never actually uttered in the comic, but Mystique’s own words when Nightcrawler protests that she’s female are a firm rejection of the gender binary.

“Don’t be pathetic. I have lived for years as sapiens males. Years more as females. Do you know what I have observed? They’re all as awful as each other. The only true binary division lies not between the genders or sexes or sexualities. It lies between those who are allowed to be who they wish, and those denied that right,” she says.

Courtesy Marvel Comics.

The revelation isn’t entirely unprecedented. It has long been known in fan circles that Mystique’s creator and longtime X-Men writer Chris Claremont had intended to reveal that Mystique and Destiny were Nightcrawler’s parents, but that Marvel Comics wouldn’t permit queer characters in their books in the 1980s. 

Eventually Marvel reversed that policy, and Mystique and Destiny’s relationship is a main story in current X-Men comics, with Marvel even referring to them as “the greatest love story in mutant history” in a recent press release. Marvel has also published comics set in an alternate universe where Mystique is portrayed as male. 

While more openly trans characters have appeared in mainstream comics in recent years, these characters have mostly been relegated to guest-starring and supporting characters. For example, Marvel introduced the trainee member Escapade in the X-Men spinoff comic New Mutants last year, while Marvel’s TV shows Jessica Jones and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law gave both heroines trans assistants. 

Mystique is now arguably the highest-profile trans character in mainstream superhero comics, as a major character in comics’ biggest franchise, and having been portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence and Rebecca Romijn in seven X-Men films.

Drawing of Mystique kissing Destiny – Variant Cover to X-Men Blue: Origins #1, art by Russel Dauterman, courtesy Marvel Comics.

Early reaction to the story has been incredibly positive from X-Men’s queer fandom.

“The heart of the story is Mystique embodying the trans ideal of complete and total bodily autonomy, transcending sex and gender to create life with the woman she loves,” wrote @LokiFreyjasbur on Twitter.

Marvel Comics is wholly owned by Disney.

Marvel advancing a story about a gender-nonconforming character flies in the face of a disturbing recent trend in corporate America of being overly cautious about LGBT issues in the wake of far-right backlash after Bud Light partnered with a trans influencer and Target put up its annual Pride display.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Movies

Gnarly ‘Saltburn’ takes us on a sexy, savage ride

Buzzed-about film manages to shock even when we expect the jolt

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Alison Oliver, Jacob Elordi, and Barry Keoghan in ‘Saltburn.’ (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios/Prime Video)

When a movie comes with as much buzz behind it as “Saltburn,” one can’t help but have expectations.

This is especially true when the buzz is fueled by rising talent, both in front of the camera (in this case, Oscar-nominee Barry Keoghan in his first leading role, alongside “Euphoria” sensation Jacob Elordi) and behind it (Oscar-winning writer/director Emerald Fennell, following up her debut feature, “Promising Young Woman”). When you add a deliberately vague, shamelessly provocative publicity campaign, which offers little more than a suggestion of the film’s premise while luring us in with imagery that implies a dark but sexy wild ride through the world of the decadent upper class, it’s almost impossible not to walk into the theater without feeling like you’re in for a thrill.

That, of course, is exactly what Fennell and company want you to feel. “Saltburn,” which opened in wide release the day before Thanksgiving, is a movie that counts on both your expectations and your ignorance; it needs you to be prepared for anything while knowing next to nothing, and it relies on your imagination to make assumptions and draw conclusions as you go. It’s the story of Oliver Quick (Keoghan), a first-year student attending Oxford University on scholarship in the mid-2000s. Relegated at first to outsider status among his privileged peers, he becomes infatuated with wealthy Felix Catton (Elordi), a handsome and popular classmate, and gains his attention through a chance encounter. The two become close companions, and when the school term ends he is invited to spend the summer with Felix at Saltburn – his family’s sprawling country estate.

It’s there the movie begins to follow a more gnarly path. Immersed in the idyllic, dilapidated luxury of Saltburn, Oliver finds himself entangled in the dysfunctional dynamic of the household; he easily wins the approval of Felix’s father and mother, Sir James and Lady Elspeth (Richard E. Grant, Rosamund Pike), but jealous sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), and scheming cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), a “poor relation” who sees him as a threat to his own tenuous position in the family, are a different matter, and he must learn to navigate the behind-the-scenes politics required to keep them at bay.

It’s impossible, really, to say much more about the events that unfold beyond that point, other than to say that it’s a far cry from the nostalgic, semi-sweet gay coming-of-age story it might seem to be in the beginning, if the occasional ominous chord in the soundtrack and the glimpses of ugly human behavior on the screen didn’t suggest otherwise. “Saltburn” is one of those movies that demands to be seen knowing as little as possible about its plot if one is to get the full experience, and we won’t be revealing anything here that would ruin that – not even whether the “will-they-or-won’t-they?” steaminess of Oliver and Felix’s bromance ever comes to fruition.

What we will tell you is that Fennell – whose first film electrified audiences with a devastating twist ending – knows how to play an audience. She sets up “Saltburn” as a flashback; we know from the beginning that something big and presumably bad has happened, and its protagonist is a likable misfit who proceeds to narrate how it came to pass. From the film’s first moments, we are anticipating the twist – which begs the question of how a twist can be a twist if we already know it’s coming.

“Saltburn” addresses that question, though some viewers might not like the answer, by playing not just on our expectations, but on our hopes. While we may expect to be shocked, we also hope for a certain outcome; more than that, we become so attached to that hope that it can blind us to reality, so that when it finally hits us, it feels like we never saw it coming even though it was in plain view all along. That’s the best we can do in explaining how Fennell’s wickedly subversive, deeply disturbing mindfuck of a movie manages to shock us even when we expect the jolt.

Of course, it also delivers plenty of other shocks — drugs, sex, homoeroticism, lots of full-frontal nudity — before it gets there, and quite a few more disquieting, transgressive moments in which we see things that jar our understanding of what we are seeing or simply can’t believe what we’re seeing. When the gravesite scene comes up, you’ll know that’s one of the moments we’re talking about.

Still, it takes more than shock value to make a movie worth watching, and “Saltburn” doesn’t rest its laurels on a bag of manipulative tricks, no matter how skillfully they’re executed. Fennell’s movie delves deep into the economic class divide – a worldwide phenomenon epitomized by the genteel squalor of its upper-crust English setting – through its microcosmic portrait of the Catton family, whose benign and polite demeanor barely conceal the casual cruelty and shallow banality of their lifestyle. Even Felix – who, as superbly played by Elordi, seems genuinely kind and much more grounded than the rest of his clan – is ultimately a spoiled “golden child” used to getting what he wants and not above using his considerable charms to do make it happen. More than that, it plays with the uncomfortable notion that there’s a part in all of us, no matter how much we may deplore the perceived excesses of the one percent, that would be willing to do anything to live in that world. Indeed, it’s this conflicted idea that gives Fennell’s movie its teeth, made even sharper by the fact that, no matter how ridiculous or downright awful her characters may be, she makes us feel for – and even like – all of them.

Of course, she’s also an extremely literate Englishwoman, and she peppers her movie with references and themes from Shakespeare to Dickens to Agatha Christie, while paying ironic homage to the entire “country house” genre of British fiction. Her film craft is bold and distinctive, delivering (with the help of cinematographer Linus Sandgren) pastoral pleasures and Fellini-esque Bacchanales with equally arresting style. She deploys the talent of composer Anthony Willis to provide a stately-yet-gothic musical score that thrums with a low warning of menace, keeping us on edge throughout. And she has the good sense to assemble a superb cast – with the dryly hilarious Pike and the quietly heartbreaking Oliver as standouts, alongside Elordi – to make it all work. 

It’s Keoghan, though, who is ultimately the glue holding “Saltburn” together. His Oliver Quick is a character destined to become iconic, a one-of-a-kind portrait of enigmatic humanity that bestows movie star status upon the young Irish actor after a steadily impressive roster of high-profile supporting roles. When the film is over, you will either love him or hate him, but you will never forget him.

In fact, the same can be said about “Saltburn” itself, which has had its share of negative reviews from critics put off by its over-the-top style and manipulatively orchestrated storytelling. We’d have to respectfully disagree; it’s an outrageous movie, to be sure, but purposefully so – and as for the storytelling, it is through its unapologetic manipulation that a movie which might easily otherwise have been just another mindless, lurid thriller into a savage piece of cinema that you’ll want to see again and again.

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Books

Cunningham’s ‘Day’ is one of the best books of the year

Characters are resilient, even hopeful, in the midst of disease, death

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(Book cover image courtesy of Random House)

‘Day’
By Michael Cunningham
c. 2023, Random House
$28/273 pages

“She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day,” Virginia Woolf, the groundbreaking, queer, gender-bending, feminist, novelist and essayist, writes in “Mrs. Dalloway” of Clarissa, a society woman, wife of a Parliament member and mother, who’s giving a party on a June day in 1920s London. 

Since the pandemic, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, during the Lavender Scare, going back to the dawn of time, who, especially if they’re queer, hasn’t often felt like Clarissa? Even on lovely June days.

“Day,” a new novel by Michael Cunningham, his first novel since “The Snow Queen” in 2014, beautifully and eerily reflects this feeling. Its characters are fearful and fragile, yet, resilient, even hopeful, in the midst of disease and death.

Like “Mrs. Dalloway,” “Day,” takes place during one day – April 5. Only, the day is spread over three years.

The morning of the day is in April 2019 – before the pandemic. When no one’s talking about, let alone heard of, COVID.

The afternoon of the day is in April 2020 – at the height of the pandemic. Before the COVID vaccines have been developed. When everyone (except low-income, essential workers) is locked down by themselves or with their loved ones. 

The evening of the day is in April 2021 when people, wondering what to make of the “new normal,” are beginning to emerge from the pandemic.

As it is in several of Cunningham’s novels, the main characters of “Day,” are a family (along, with a few friends and relations, who are supporting characters).

As with “Mrs. Dalloway,” and with Cunningham’s luminous “The Hours,” in “Day,” the city, New York, and the passing of time, itself, are characters.

“A man pulls up the metal shutter of his shoe repair shop,” Cunningham writes in “Day,” “A young woman, ponytailed, jogs past a middle-aged man who, wearing a little black dress and combat boots, is finally returning home.”

Dan, his wife Isabel, and their two children — five-year-old Violet and 10-year-old Nathan — live in a brownstone in Brooklyn. Dan is a musician. He’s had his struggles with cocaine and has performed in a rock band. Now, he does a lot of house husband/child care tasks as Isabel, a photo editor, works hard to keep her magazine from dying.

Isabel’s charming younger gay brother lives in their attic loft. It’s a New York City real estate/break up thing. Robbie, a sixth grade school teacher, has just broken up with his boyfriend. He can’t afford to live on his own. He questions why, 15 years ago, he decided against going to medical school.

Dan and Isabel decide that Robbie has to move out and find a place of his own because their kids are too old to share a bedroom.

Though, “Day” references George Eliot, it’s a 21st-century narrative. When Robbie, after the virus (never explicitly called COVID) enters the world, gets stuck in Iceland, he develops Wolfe, an idealized version of himself on Instagram.

You never see the word “COVID” or “pandemic” in “Day.” Yet it’s clear that a virus (likely COVID) has entered the characters’ world. Their world, as with real life at the time, has reminders of AIDS. Rob develops a cough that’s reminiscent of a symptom at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Dan and Isabel’s marriage is becoming strained. They are both in love with Robbie. Thankfully, it’s not what you think! It’s not a lust thing. Robbie represents something ideal to them.

Few have more evocatively channeled the sensibility and style of Woolf than  Cunningham. 

Woolf – her awareness that a novel about a day featuring nothing more than a woman giving a party; a man, at a street corner, taking off his hat to greet a woman he knows; or a wife trying to calm her husband, a “shell-shocked” World War I vet; can be as interesting as  murder-and-battle-filled fiction –  is as tightly etched in Cunningham’s DNA as a pair of skinny jeans.

As a teenager in Pasadena, Calif., he devoured Virginia Woolf’s novels as avidly as his friends turned on to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, Cunningham told me when I interviewed him for the Blade before the release of “The Hours,” the 2002 movie of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name.

(“The Hours” was adapted into an opera with the same name in 2022.)

But Cunningham, who is married to psychotherapist Ken Corbett and Professor of the Practice in Creative Writing at Yale University, is no mere imitator of Woolf.

The alchemy of Cunningham’s talent is his own. “Day” was well worth waiting almost a decade for. It’s one of the best books of this or any year.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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a&e features

The ultimate guide to queer gift giving

Perfect presents for everyone from roommates to soulmates

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Searching for special deliveries for that special someone? Consider these elf-approved, consciously curated presents perfect for everyone from roommates to soulmates. 


Star Wars Home Collection

Movie nights in bed get a comfort upgrade from the Force – for those who uphold Jedi code in the streets but embrace the Dark Side in the sheets – with Sobel Westex’s Star Wars Home Collection, five- to seven-piece twin, queen and king sets suitable for either alliance. Cop a bootleg of the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” (legal copies don’t exist, nor has it been rebroadcast since its one-and-only airing in 1978) and settle in for a snacky screening with premade Johnson’s Popcorn (a Jersey Shore staple) or Pop ’N Dulge’s DIY gourmet kits. SobelAtHome.com, $350-$390; JohnsonsPopcorn.com, $27+; PopNDulge.com, $23


Bird Buddy Smart Feeder

Avian enthusiasts get up close and semi-personal with feathered friends thanks to the Bird Buddy smart feeder that allows safe viewing via a solar-powered, app-enabled camera, along with adorable add-ons like a suet ball holder and three-in-one nutrition set to keep the neighborhood’s population happy and healthy. MyBirdBuddy.com, $299-$415


Jewelry – but make it an experience. That’s the premise behind Link x Lou, a quick-fitting accessory service providing recipients with in-person appointments for custom-linked, clasp-less 14-karat white- and yellow-gold necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and rings that wear until they’re worn out. Money’s on ’em lasting longer than the situationship you’ve got goin’, but may the odds be ever in your favor. LinkxLou.com, $55-$500


Orttu Shelton Puffer

Guess who’s coming to dinner? It’s you as an alt-timeline Tom of Finland in Orttu’s fully quilted, oversized Shelton Puffer comprised of double-layered high-sheen fabric and press-stud fastening that results in a slick style statement vers-er than you are. Orttu.com, $203


Winter Discovery Mini Scented Candle Set

Apotheke takes the guesswork out of choosing just the right ambiance-inducing aroma with its Winter Discovery Mini Scented Candle Set, featuring six fragrant two-ounce tins in seasonal smells that include birchwood apple, black cypress, blackberry honey, cardamon chestnut, charred fig, and firewood (with a combined 90-hour burn time), and packaged in a nostalgically illustrated gift box accentuated by festive gold detailing. ApothekeCo.com, $64


Polaris General 1000 Sport

Resort communities across the country have adopted golf carts as a preferred mode of transportation, and you can establish yourself as a local baddie in Polaris’ General 1000 Sport – in ethereal colorways like ghost gray – equipped with a four-stroke DOHC twin-cylinder engine, 100 horsepower, 1,500-pound hitch-towing capacity, and enough street cred for Boomers to shake their fists at. Polaris.com, $17,500+


‘Arquivistas’ Crystal Book

Brazilian crystal devotee Tatiana Dorow has curated an impressive collection of more than 1,000 rare and exquisite minerals – ranging from one ounce to over 5,000 pounds – the comprehensive record of which is now compiled in the sizable coffee-table tome “Arquivistas” (Portuguese for archivist) that’s sure to satisfy, delight, and provide endless holiday-party talking points to the New Agers in your life. (You know they will.) ArtAndAnthropologyPress.com, $350


Bovem Globe Trimmer 2.0

There are plenty of manscaping tools on the market, but perhaps none are designed with your delicate bits in mind like the handsome second-gen Bovem Globe body and groin trimmer with its ergonomic textured grip, powerful 6500 RPM with low vibration, varying guards, and replaceable TrimSafe blades that tidy you up without cutting skin or pulling rough hair. Deck the halls! – no more bloody Christmas balls. Bovem.co, $60-$87


Lexington Glassworks Decanter Set

Pour one out from Lexington Glassworks’ hand-blown whiskey decanter, each one individually crafted in the company’s Asheville, N.C., studio and detailed with an elegant crackle finish that lends an air of sophistication to any home bar cart. Pair with a set of LG’s complementary rocks glasses, in the same distinguished style, for a cherished gift. LexingtonGlassworks.com, $280


Joule Turbo Sous Vide

Your fave chefs’ autopilot cooking technique hits home countertops in Breville’s sleek Joule Turbo Sous Vide stick, which cooks seasoned-and-bagged meats and veggies to a faster-than-ever optimal internal temperature (unattended, no less) before a lickety-split sear and serve results in restaurant-quality dishes deserving of at least a couple Michelin stars for your minimal-mess kitchen. Breville.com, $250


Outlines Shower Liner System

Holiday hosts can practice responsible replenishment amid our planetary plastic-waste crisis when you gift Outlines’ thoughtfully designed Shower Liner System that provides users with a machine-washable cotton top piece and fully recyclable bottom to replace when it’s time to ditch the grime. Set it and forget it with three-, six- or nine-month auto-deliveries. LivingOutlines.com, $50


Barbie Perfume

Fight the patriarchy doused in Barbie’s sweet-and-fresh fragrance that, from top to bottom, features notes of strawberry nectar and red cherry, peony and pink magnolia, and sandalwood and soft musk for an extraordinary scent that’s more than Kenough. DefineMeCreativeStudio.com, $65


AiRROBO Pet Grooming Vacuum

Posh pets enjoy salon-style luxury in the comfort of their homes when treated to a grooming session by the AiRROBO vacuum (think Flowbee for cats and dogs), a five-tool, one-stop solution for keeping furbabies’ hair, dander, allergens and mites to a minimum. The portable pamperer includes an electric clipper, crevice and de-shedding tools, and grooming and cleaning brushes housed in a space-saving, HEPA-filtered capsule. US.Air-Robo.com, $110


Aura Smart Sleep Mask

What does the future of total relaxation and deep sleep look like? Blackout darkness and complete serenity in a dream-state sanctuary when you spend your nights in the Aura Smart Sleep Mask with built-in speakers for guided meditation and snooze-inducing ASMR, zero-pressure eye cushioning, and light and sunrise therapy to help you wake rested and refreshed at home and (especially) away. Indiegogo.com, $190


Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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Online/Digital Streaming Media

Star Trek’s “Space Boos” return for one last Trek in 2024

Star Trek: Discovery, the streaming sci-fi show starring the steamy gay couple played by out gay actors- Paramount+ reveals new cast photo

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Star Trek: Discovery, the streaming sci-fi show starring the steamy gay couple played by out gay actors Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz, will return in April 2024. (Photo courtesy of Paramount+)

SÁO PAULO, BRAZIL — Star Trek: Discovery, the streaming sci-fi show starring the steamy gay couple played by out gay actors Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz, will return in April 2024, Paramount+ revealed today at CCXP, a comic book convention in this South American metropolis. 

It was announced earlier this year that season five of the popular series, set in the 32nd century, will be the show’s final season. Rapp and Cruz have won accolades and worldwide recognition for playing an out gay couple on the show, and they have nicknamed each other their “Space Boo.”

According to the studio, this fifth and final season will find Captain Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery uncovering a mystery that will send them on an epic adventure across the galaxy to find an ancient power whose very existence has been deliberately hidden for centuries. But there are others on the hunt as well; dangerous foes who are desperate to claim the prize for themselves and will stop at nothing to get it.

The series star, Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Captain Michael Burnham, introduced the clip at the convention alongside out gay showrunner and executive producer, Michelle Paradise. 

In addition to Cruz, who plays Dr. Hugh Culber, and Rapp, who plays Commander Paul Stamets, the cast includes queer actor Mary Wiseman as Sylvia Tilly and out trans nonbinary actor Blu del Barrio as Adira. The cast also includes Doug Jones as Saru, David Ajala as Cleveland “Book” Booker and this season welcomes Callum Keith Rennie as Rayner and guest stars Elias Toufexis as L’ak and Eve Harlow as Moll.

Notably absent from the cast photo and press release are out queer actor Emily Coutts, who plays the helmsman Keyla Detmer, Oyin Oladejo who plays Joann Owosekun, the starship’s navigator, and Patrick Kwok-Choon, as Rhys. All three have been regular cast members since the first season, and both Coutts and del Barrio have given interviews about how appearing in such an LGBTQ+ supportive company of actors and production people helped them come out. 

The Blade asked the Paramount+ publicity team about them and a spokesperson said this season, Coutts, Oladejo and Kwok-Choon will all appear in season five, but as recurring guest stars. 
Star Trek: Discovery seasons one through four are streaming on Paramount+, and is available to be viewed via subscription in the U.S. the U.K., Switzerland, South Korea, Latin America, Germany, France, Italy, Australia and Austria. Seasons two and three are also available on the Pluto TV “Star Trek” channel in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. In Canada, it airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel.

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