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New play “Wink” gives non-binary actor a chance to shine

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Andrik Ochoa stars in “Wink” at Zephyr Theatre (Photo by Ed Krieger).

It’s easy to lose your way in Hollywood

That’s especially true for someone who already faces challenges finding a way – anywhere – to be their authentic self.

“Wink,” a new play by Neil Koenigsberg currently onstage in a West Coast Premiere at the Zephyr Theatre, explores that experience.

It’s a story of the unlikely friendship that develops between the title character (Andrik Ochoa) – a homeless, gender-questioning teenager – and a former A-list actor (David Mingrino) who is now doing B movies.  Both down on their luck in Los Angeles, these two souls are connected by a synchronistic meeting.  They quickly bond over music, art, and life’s unexpected misfortunes; together, they learn that sometimes the best way forward is to stop fighting the past.

Playwright Koenigsberg says, “Volunteering at a New York LGBTQ center for homeless youth was a transformative experience for me. It became the inspiration for ‘Wink.’ I wanted to tell a story about a non-binary kid, about the unexpected connections that happen in life and how it can forever change us.”

For Andrik Ochoa, the non-binary actor who plays the title character, “Wink” is a role that feels very close to home.

“There are so many aspects we share,” they say.  “We are both alone in a big world and thrown into chaos that we don’t fully understand. We get impressed by values and character, not titles or money. Both of us have been outcast, away from family and home, embracing and fighting for our true masculine and feminine selves even when the world may never understand.”

“I wish I had Wink’s innocence, such an open heart,” they add.  “At some point I was like that too, but now the only people I open my heart to fully are the characters that I play. If I’m hurt or feeling joy, no one really knows. Maybe by the end of the run I’ll learn from Wink to open up a little more.”

Andrik Ochoa and David Mingrino in “Wink” at Zephyr Theatre (Photo by Ed Krieger).

Ochoa says it wasn’t always easy to navigate gender identity in their work.  They recall participating in an acting workshop with some of the cast of “Transparent” while still living as a transgender man.

“This was before I was non-binary and I was still finding myself.  It was a dark time in my life and I was surviving.  It was difficult facing the fact that I wasn’t really as happy as I thought, as a trans man, and my most important relationships were falling apart.”

The experience was transformative on both a personal and professional level.  A few days after the workshop, Ochoa was contacted by the “Transparent” producers, who invited them to play a small role on the show.

“Turns out, I couldn’t take the part,” they say, “because I had not gotten my working permit yet. I was very sad, but it didn’t matter because I knew I had what it takes, beyond my years of drama school and training.  Now I was able to understand my emotions like never before and that was a big change to my advantage. I just needed to keep moving forward.”

As a non-binary performer, Ochoa says they have found people in the industry open to evolving around matters of gender identity.

“So far, most people seem excited about it,” they say.  “My agents, even though they didn’t know much about non-binary or the gender umbrella, were extremely interested and eager to learn.  They were not sure how to promote me.  Finally, they said, with a smile on their faces, ‘we should present you as yourself.’

Even so, there are challenges.

“My biggest challenge, since returning to acting after finding myself, is signing up for auditions on casting websites. They require the submitter to choose if they are male or female.  That has been an issue for me, and for them, because I can and want to play both.”

They add, with a chuckle, “On some websites I signed up as male and others as female.”

They continue, “People ask me if I mind playing female characters or if I find it traumatizing.  Not at all traumatizing, ever since femininity is not a prison for me anymore, I feel like I can portray feminine characters with more love, freedom and acceptance than I ever could have before. It’s crazy and it’s beautiful.”

As for the inclusion of characters with non-traditional gender identities in Hollywood’s narrative content, Ochoa says they see progress.

“Maybe not as much right now, but I definitely see it coming in the near future.  People around the world are craving honest and diverse characters.  Audiences want to experience real life, they want to see themselves, and Hollywood is maybe ready to deliver now that there is so much positive feedback for other non-binary artists such as Asia Kate Dillon, Liv Hewson, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Jill Soloway, Kaitlyn Alexander, and others.”

They add, “I am expecting the major streaming networks to come up with something like “Wink,” and I’m optimistic that they’ll start talking more and more about Trans, Non-Binary and all the different gender identities.”

The future may be bright, but for the moment, Ochoa is happy enough to be involved with “Wink.”

“It’s because of the message it gives to people,” they say.  “If we all get to know what every day of our enemy’s lives have been like, we could not hate them anymore, only understand why they are who they are.  People are tempted to think non-binary individuals are confused, I’ve been a female and a male and now I know exactly who I am. I am true. This need to classify people so we can treat them better or worse is just a social construct suffocating human nature. WINK strives to get to the very core of this.”

“And I love that.”

 

“WINK” continues at the Zephyr Theatre (7456 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA  90046),  8pm Saturdays & Mondays, 3pm Sundays through January 13, 2019.  Added performances on Fridays Dec 21, 28, and Jan 11, 2019, no performance on Mondays December 24 & December 31, 2018.

For reservations online www.Plays411.com/Wink or call (323) 960-1055

 

 

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Amazon Prime’s series ‘The Boys’ gets fascism

If the series points to what’s happening now in the world feels too blunt, perhaps it’s because it’s the blindingly obvious

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Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Videos

FAIRFAX, Va. – Perhaps nothing else in media gets the nature of modern fascism better than Season 4 of the Boys.  For those who haven’t seen it, this Amazon Prime show is a gory, dark drama/comedy series about a world where superheroes are real, managed (fairly poorly) by a mega-corporation, and who are–for the most part–entirely awful human beings whose absolute power has corrupted them absolutely.

When the first season aired in 2019, its best moments were linked to events in the real world. Season 2 built on this, exploring how a world with actual Nietzschean supermen could devolve into fascism and fascist ideology.

Seasons 2 and 3’s primary antagonist superheroes were Homelander (imagine a Superman raised by white supremacists) and Stormfront (an actual German Nazi from WWII who was brought back from cryogenic stasis). The show’s reflection of the evils of the real world became more and more direct as the seasons progressed, but there was still a bit of a distance from reality. It was easy to treat Stormfront as something altogether different from modern Americans. A viewer could still see the evil character as a cartoonish relic from another country in a bygone age.

Season 4 of The Boys, however, has dispensed with even the pretense that it isn’t talking directly to the situation in the U.S. today. It asks the question, “what if Fascism came to America, and half the public really, really liked it?” 

While some critics have panned the new season for its overly blunt analogies, they do reflect real life rather than science fiction. Our country is now seeing serious proposals that would normally be red flags.

We have politicians supporting things like the mass arrests of political opponents; open discussions of seizing power for generations; the institution of a state religion; the eradication of transgender people; the execution the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for treason; and dispensing with the constitution. And yet, just like in the Boys, many people don’t see these ideas as a threat. In fact, some actively welcome them.

While I was watching the new season, I was struck by how many times I found myself ticking off things that I wrote about in my book, American Fascism, and in Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.

The show fundamentally gets that, at its core, fascism is indeed the politics of us and them. Fascism frames everything as a fight between the good, pure herrenvolk against the atheistic, hedonistic profligates destroying the country; as a battle between the real Americans versus those who would destroy them.

At every opportunity, The Boys reminds viewers that corporations, the media, politicians, celebrities, and commentators will all ruthlessly exploit this for their own ends, even if many of them aren’t buying what they’re selling. 

The show acknowledges this directly. Season 4’s new superhero villain is Firecracker, who’s basically a young and pretty female version of Alex Jones. She admits that she doesn’t actually believe the culture war conspiracy-theory baloney she peddles. It is transactional: her viewers get to feel outraged and powerful, and she gets the power.

Almost everyone in this fascist ecosystem is spouting vranyo, a Russian word which loosely translates as “useful lies that most people know are lies”, and the villains are fine with that. The outrage bait, and the rubes who do believe the vranyo, give them that power.

While watching Season 4’s first three episodes, I was often surprised by the writers’ familiarity with, and understanding of, fascism’s less obvious aspects. In one episode the megacorp Vought puts on an Ice Capades-style show whose theme is that saying “happy holidays” is a war on Christmas and Christians…but does so in a smiley-happy upbeat way, complete with music in a major key.

This is a classic example of the phenomenon described in Hacker and Pierson’s book, “Let Them Eat Tweets,” where corporations exploit cultural grievances to build political movements friendly toward their own bottom line. The book draws a direct line between right wing populist movements and the corporations using them as a vehicle to put politicians in place who will ensure the government takes a very hands-off approach to their shenanigans (and profits). 

The show’s writers get the difference between istina (the real truth), pravda (the truth we create), and vranyo.  They fundamentally understand how news outlets can create pravda with the “firehose of falsehood” model.  The news media in The Boys is 100% on board with fascism, with some of the parody hardly being parody at all.

When three pro-superhero dupes are murdered (by superheroes), the corporate-controlled media in the show blames it on “socialists”, while elevating the deceased to martyrdom. It’s not hard to see shades of Horst Wessell in this. 

The Boys also understands that “us versus them” fascism requires an enemy, ideally “enemies [who] are at the same time too strong and too weak,” as Umberto Eco wrote in his essay on Ur-Fascism. He was referring to Jewish people when he wrote it in 1995; but in Season 4 of the The Boys, the writers correctly identified the .5% of the population in the US that meets Eco’s criteria for targeting by fascism: transgender people.

As Eco noted, “Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders.”

When we meet Firecracker at a convention for conspiracy theorists, she tells her gullible and adoring audience that Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey are operating a secret child trafficking ring that will home-deliver “a child forced to have trans surgery.”

Later, when Homelander is whipping up a crowd, he tells them that “They want to replace you with some Godless, non-binary socialist like them. Their depraved leader commands it.” He next tells the crowd that “we are the defenders of real Americans.” 

After the rally, Fircracker tells reporters, “”If she (a protagonist) really cares about women, why does she let these transgenders into girls’ bathrooms?” The Boys is perhaps the only mass market media to have correctly recognized that fascist movements globally have zeroed in on transgender people as their primary target.

The pairing of superheroes and fascism is a natural one, too. Eco noted that, “in [fascism] everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology heroism is the norm.” It’s almost certainly not a coincidence that completely amoral, vain, petty, narcissistic, thin-skinned,  fascist Homelander repeatedly tells his audiences of adoring fans, “You’re the real heroes,” without believing a word of it.

Homelander sees people as “toys” who exist only to boost him to his rightful place as ruler. Umberto Eco perfectly captured Homelander’s attitude towards people: “the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler.” At the same time, the masses who support Homelander and his aspirations believe that they are the best sort of “real Americans.” Or, as Eco put it, “the members or the party are the best among the citizens.”

Even the gory, blood-soaked tone of the series captures an important element of fascism. In Robert Paxton’s 2005 book The Anatomy of Fascism, he describes how a key characteristic of fascism is the beauty of violence when dedicated to the group’s success. Fascism glorifies this violence and disdains existing legal restrictions on their exercise.

In Season 4, the baddies deliberately amp up tensions and hostility to spur their supporters to even more violent acts directed against the opponents of superheroes. All the while the mob is dressed in red, white, and blue.

The Boys explores a world where the Nietzschean supermen are free to use unspeakable levels of violence for petty personal reasons and in pursuit of power, without repercussions.  It directly answers the question of what could happen if a leader with the personality of Homelander legally had the right murder anyone they wanted on a whim. Unsurprisingly it’s a dystopian bloodbath, with Homelander keeping those around him in line with violence and extreme levels of intimidation.

The more I watched, the more it became abundantly clear that the writers of The Boys get fascism at a fundamental level. Whether they have read Hacker, Pierson, Stanley, Eco, Paxton, or even me (I apologize if they did), I don’t know. Regardless, they capture so many of the crucial underlying aspects of a fascist movement.

If the show’s analogies to what’s happening now in the real world feel too blunt, perhaps it’s because they’re merely pointing out the blindingly obvious.

Season Four of The Boys is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

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TONY Awards

Queers clean up at 77th annual Tony Awards

It was a banner night for queer theatre artists at the 77th annual Tony Awards, honoring the best in Broadway theatre at the Lincoln Centre

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(Photo Credit: Tony Awards/Facebook)

NEW YORK – It was a banner night for queer theatre artists at the 77th annual Tony Awards, honoring the best in Broadway theatre at the Lincoln Centre in New York June 16. Some of the biggest honors of the night went to the revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along and the dance-musical based on Sufjan Stephens’ album Illinoise.

Merrily We Roll Along, which follows three friends as their lives change over the course of 20 years, told in reverse chronological order, picked up the awards for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Orchestrations. 

Out actor Jonathan Groff picked up his first Tony Award for his leading role as Franklin Shepard in the show, while his costar Daniel Radcliffe earned his first Tony Award for featured performance as Charley Kringas. 

Groff gave a heartfelt and teary acceptance speech about how he used to watch the Tony Awards as a child in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

“Thank you for letting me dress up like Mary Poppins when I was three,” he said to his parents in the audience. “Even if they didn’t understand me, my family knew the life-saving power of fanning the flame of a young person’s passions without judgment.”

Groff also thanked the everyone in the production of Spring Awakening, where he made his Broadway debut in 2006, for inspiring him to come out at the age of 23.

“To actually be able to be a part of making theatre in this city, and just as much to be able to watch the work of this incredible community has been the greatest pleasure of my life,” he said. 

This was Groff’s third Tony nomination, having been previously nominated for his leading role in Spring Awakening and for his featured performance as King George III in Hamilton. 

Radcliffe, who is best known for starring in the Harry Potter series of movies, has long been an ally of the LGBTQ community, and has recently been known to spar with Harry Potter creator JK Rowling over her extreme opposition to trans rights on social media and in interviews. It was Radcliffe’s first Tony nomination and win.

Lesbian icon Sarah Paulson won her first Tony Award for her starring role in the play Appropriate, about a family coming to terms with the legacy of their slave-owning ancestors as they attempt to sell their late father’s estate. It was her first nomination and win.

In her acceptance speech, she thanked her partner Holland Taylor “for loving me.” Along with Paulson’s Emmy win for American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, she is halfway to EGOT status.

The Sufjan Stephens dance-musical Illinoise, based on his album of the same name, took home the award for Best Choreography for choreographer Justin Peck. It was his second win.

During the ceremony, the cast of Illinoise performed “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!”, a moving dance number about a queer romance.

A big winner of the night was the adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel The Outsiders, which dominated the musical categories, earning Best Director, Sound Design, Lighting Design, and Best Musical, which earned LGBTQ ally Angelina Jolie her first Tony Award.

Also a big winner was Stereophonic, which dominated the play categories, winning the awards for Best Play, Featured Actor, Director, Sound Design, and Scenic Design.

Suffs, a musical about the fight for women’s suffrage in the United States, which acknowledges the lesbian relationship that suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt had in song called “If We Were Married,” took home awards for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score, both for creator Shaina Taub. 

Had Suffs also won for Best Musical, producers Hilary Clinton and Malala Yousafzai would have won their first Tony Awards. 

Other winners include Maleah Joi Moon for her lead role and Kecia Lewis for her featured role in the Alicia Keys musical Hell’s Kitchen, Jeremy Strong for his lead role in An Enemy of the People, and Kara Young for her featured role in Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch.

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Notables

Beloved LGBTQ+ philanthropist Bruce Bastian dies at 76

Bastian co-created a word-processing program which later became WordPerfect as a graduate student at Brigham Young University

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Bruce Bastian (Screen capture via Mormon Stories Podcast YouTube)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Bruce Bastian, a successful Utah businessman and pioneering computer software developer who co-founded the word processing company WordPerfect before becoming a beloved philanthropist who donated millions of dollars to LGBTQ rights causes and the performing arts, passed away on June 16, according to an announcement by the LGBTQ organization Equality Utah.

“No individual has had a greater impact on the lives of LGBTQ Utahns,” Fox 13 TV News of Salt Lake City quoted Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams as saying. “Every success our community has achieved over the past three decades can be traced directly back to Bruce,” Williams was quoted as saying. 

Fox 13 reported that Bastian co-created a word-processing program which later became WordPerfect as a graduate student at Brigham Young University with co-founder Alan Ashton, who was a Brigham Young computer science professor. The two developed the software under contract with the city of Orem, Utah, but they retained ownership of it, according to Fox 13.

“Bruce was definitely a legend, running one of the most successful companies, and an out and proud gay individual,” his friend David Parkinson said in a 2022 interview with Equality Utah, Fox 13 reports. “Not only does he give his money, but he gives his time, he gives his connections, he gives his knowledge, to help change Utah,” Parkinson told Equality Utah, of which Bastian was a founding member.

Fox 13 reports that among the organizations to which Bastian was a generous supporter and financial donor were the Utah AIDS Foundation, Utah’s Plan-B Theatre, the Utah Symphony and Opera and Ballet West, and the University of Utah.

A Wikipedia article on Bastian’s life and career says that in 2003, he donated more than $1 million to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. It says he donated $1.7 million in 1997 for the renovation of the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall in 2000 donated $1.3 million to support the university’s purchase of 55 Steinway pianos. The article says he also supported the university’s LGBTQ Resource Center on campus.

Both Fox 13 and Wikipedia report that in 2010 President Barack Obama appointed Bastian to the Presidential Advisory Committee of the Arts.  

Wikipedia, citing the OUTWORDS archive, reports that Bastian was born March 23, 1948, in Twin Falls, Idaho, was raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and served as a missionary in Italy. It says he received a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s degree in computer science from Brigham Young University. As an undergraduate, he served as director of the university’s Cougar Marching Band, the article says. 

It says Bastian married Melanie Laycock in 1976 and the couple had four sons before they divorced in 1993. It says Bastian later married Clint Ford. 

“Bruce’s impact reached far beyond Utah, as a leading supporter of the national marriage equality movement, and a major benefactor and board member of the Human Rights Campaign,” the Equality Utah statement says, as reported by Fox 13. “He has been a rock and pillar for all of us,” the statement continues. 

“Our community owes more to Bruce than we can possibly express,” it says. “We send our love, gratitude and condolences to Bruce’s wonderful husband Clint, and his friends and children.”

In a statement released on Monday, HRC said Bastian joined the HRC board in 2003. It says the following year he joined fellow HRC board member Julie Johnson to serve as co-chair of “the board’s successful effort to help defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposed amendment to the constitution that would have specified marriage as legal only between a man and a woman.” 

The HRC statement says Bastian passed away peacefully “surrounded by his four sons, his husband, Clint Ford, and friends and other family members.” The HRC and Equality Utah statements did not disclose a cause of death. 

“We are devastated to hear of the passing of Bruce Bastian, whose legacy will have an undeniably profound impact on the LGBTQ+ community for decades to come,” said HRC President Kelley Robinson in the HRC statement. “Bruce was in this fight, working at every level of politics and advocacy, for over here decades,” Robinson said. 

“He traveled all across this country on HRC’s behalf and worked tirelessly to help build an inclusive organization where more people could be a part of this work,” she said. ‘Bruce stood up for every one of us and uplifted the beautiful diversity of our community,” Robinson said. “It’s the kind of legacy we should all be proud to propel forward.”

The HRC statement says that in addition to his four sons, Bastian is survived by 14 grandchildren, two sisters, a brother, and numerous other extended family members. 

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Notables

Pete & Chasten Buttigieg on fatherhood

He’s a Harvard grad, Navy veteran, Mayor of South Bend, Ind. & Secretary of Transportation, but Pete Buttigieg has another title: Papa

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Pete and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, raise their two-year old twins, Penelope and Gus, in Traverse City, Michigan, where they recently moved full-time from Washington to be closer to family. (Screenshot/YouTube CBS Sunday Morning)

By Jonathan Vigliotti | (CBS Sunday Morning) TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – When it comes to handling a pair of toddlers, Pete Buttigieg, the unflappable Secretary of Transportation, may appear a little jet-lagged. Pete and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, raise their two-year old twins, Penelope and Gus, in Traverse City, Michigan, where they recently moved full-time from Washington to be closer to family.

The kids call Pete “Papa,” and Chasten “Daddy.”

He’s a Harvard grad, Rhodes scholar, Navy veteran, Mayor of South Bend, Ind., presidential candidate, and Secretary of Transportation, but Pete Buttigieg has another title: Papa. He and husband Chasten Buttigieg share with correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti their journey to parenting twins Penelope and Gus.

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Online/Digital Streaming Media

‘Making Gay History’: Podcast remembers Stonewall 55 years later 

One New Yorker is making sure that the events leading up to one of the most pivotal points of gay and American history are remembered

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Screenshot/'Making Gay History' website

By Gus Rosendale | NEW YORK, N.Y. (NBC 4 New York) – This month is the 55th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and one New Yorker is making sure that the events leading up to one of the most pivotal points of gay and American history are remembered through a podcast called “Making Gay History”. 

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Editor’s Note: Making Gay History is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that addresses the absence of substantive, in-depth LGBTQ+-inclusive American history from the public discourse and the classroom. To learn more go here: (Link)

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Movies

Gender expression is fluid in captivating ‘Paul & Trisha’ doc

Exploring what’s possible when you allow yourself to become who you truly are

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Paul Whitehead and Trisha van Cleef in ‘Paul & Trisha.’ (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Given the polarizing controversies surrounding the subject of gender in today’s world, it might feel as if challenges to the conventional “norms” around the way we understand it were a product of the modern age. They’re not, of course; artists have been exploring the boundaries of gender  – both its presentation and its perception – since long before the language we use to discuss the topic today was ever developed. After all, gender is a universal experience, and isn’t art, ultimately, meant to be about the sharing of universal experiences in a way that bypasses, or at least overcomes, the limitations of language?

We know, we know; debate about the “purpose” of art is almost as fraught with controversy as the one about gender identity, but it’s still undeniable that art has always been the place to find ideas that contradict or question conventional ways of viewing the world. Thanks to the heavy expectation of conformity to society’s comfortable “norms”  in our relationship with gender, it’s inevitable that artists might chafe at such restrictive assumptions enough to challenge them – and few have committed quite so completely to doing so as Paul Whitehead, the focus of “Paul & Trisha: The Art of Fluidity,” a new documentary from filmmaker Fia Perera which enjoyed a successful run on the festival circuit and is now available for pre-order on iTunes and Apple TV ahead of a VOD/streaming release on July 9.

Whitehead, who first gained attention and found success in London’s fertile art-and-fashion scene of the mid 1960s, might not be a household name, but he has worked closely with many people who are. A job as an in-house illustrator at a record company led to his hiring as the first art director for the UK Magazine Time Out, which opened the door for even more prominent commissions for album art – including a series of iconic covers for Genesis, Van der Graaf, Generator, and Peter Hammill, which helped to shape the visual aesthetic of the Progressive Rock movement with his bold, surrealistic pop aesthetic, and worked as an art director for John Lennon for a time. Moving to Los Angeles in 1973, his continuing work in the music industry expanded to encompass a wide variety of commercial art and landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records as painter of the largest indoor mural in the world inside the now-demolished Vegas World Casino in Las Vegas. As a founder of the Eyes and Ears Foundation, he conceived and organized the “Artboard Festival”, which turned a stretch of L.A. roadway into a “drive-through art gallery” with donated billboards painted by participating artists.

Perera’s film catches up with Whitehead in the relatively low-profile city of Ventura, Calif., where the globally renowned visual artist now operates from a combination studio and gallery in a strip mall storefront. Still prolific and producing striking artworks (many of them influenced and inspired by his self-described “closet Hinduism”), the film reveals a man who, far from coming off as elderly, seems ageless; possessed of a rare mix of spiritual insight and worldly wisdom, he is left by the filmmaker to tell his own story by himself, and he embraces the task with the effortless verve of a seasoned raconteur. For roughly the first half of the film, we are treated to the chronicle of his early career provided straight from the source, without “talking head” commentaries or interview footage culled from entertainment news archives, and laced with anecdotes and observations that reveal a clear-headedness, along with a remarkable sense of self-knowledge and an inspiring freedom of thought, that makes his observations feel like deep wisdom. He’s a fascinating host, taking us on a tour of the life he has lived so far, and it’s like spending time with the most interesting guy at the party.

It’s when “Art of Fluidity” introduces its second subject, however, that things really begin to get interesting, because as Whitehead was pushing boundaries as an in-demand artist, he was also pushing boundaries in other parts of his life. Experimenting with his gender identity through cross-dressing since the 1960s, what began tentatively as an “in the bedroom” fetish became a long-term process of self-discovery that resulted in the emergence of “converged artist” Trisha Van Cleef, a feminine manifestation of Whitehead’s persona who has been creating art of her own since 2004. Neither dissociated “alter ego” nor performative character, Trisha might be a conceptual construct, in some ways, but she’s also a very authentic expression of personal gender perception who exists just as definitively as Paul Whitehead. They are, like the seeming opposites of yin and yang, two sides of the same fundamental and united nature.

Naturally, the bold process of redefining one’s personal relationship with gender is not an easy one, and part of what makes Trisha so compelling is the challenge she represents to Paul – and, by extension, the audience – by co-existing with him in his own life. She pushes him to step beyond his fears – such as his concerns about the hostile attitude of the shopkeeper next door and the danger of bullying, brutality, and worse when Trisha goes out in public – and embrace both sides of his nature instead of trying to force himself to be one or the other alone. And while the film doesn’t shy away from addressing the brutal reality about the risk of violence against non-gender-conforming people in our culture, it also highlights what is possible when you choose to allow yourself to become who you truly are.

As a sort of disclaimer, it must be acknowledged that some viewers may take issue with some of Whitehead’s personal beliefs about gender identity, which might not quite mesh with prevailing ideas and could be perceived as “problematic” within certain perspectives. Similarly, the depth of his engagement with Hindu cosmology might be off-putting to audiences geared toward skepticism around any spiritually inspired outlook on the world. However, it’s clear within the larger context of the documentary that both Paul and Trisha speak only for themselves, expressing a personal truth that does not nullify or deny the personal truth of anyone else. Further, one of the facets that gives “Art of Fluidity” its mesmerizing, upbeat charm is the sense that we are watching an ongoing evolution, a work in progress in which an artist is still discovering the way forward. There’s no insinuation that any aspect of Paul or Trisha’s shared life is definitive, rather we come to see them as a united pair, in constant flux, moving through the world together, as one, and becoming more like themselves every step of the way.

That’s something toward which we all would be wise to aspire; the acceptance of all of our parts and the understanding that we are always in the process of becoming something else would certainly go a long way toward making a happier, friendlier world.

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Books

Film fans will love ‘Hollywood Pride’

A celebration of queer representation in Hollywood

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(Book cover image courtesy of Running Press)

‘Hollywood Pride: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Representation and Perseverance in Film
By Alonso Duralde
c.2024, Running Press
$40/322 pages

You plan to buy lots of Jujubes.

They’ll stick to your teeth, but whatever, you’ll be too busy watching to care. You like the director, you know most of the actors as first-rate, and word is that the newcomer couldn’t be more right for the role. Yep, you’ve done your homework. You read Rotten Tomatoes, you’ve looked up IMDB, and you bought your ticket online. Now all you need is “Hollywood Pride” by Alonso Duralde, and your movie night is complete.

William Kennedy Laurie Dickson likely had no idea that what he’d done was monumental.

Sometime in the very late 1800s, he set up a film camera and a wax cylinder to record a short dance between two men, hands around one another’s waists, as Dickson played the violin. It “was one of the very first movies ever shot,” and probably the first film to record men dancing rather intimately alone together.

Back then, and until well into the 20th century, there were laws against most homosexual behavior and cross-dressing, and very rigid standards of activity between men and women. This led to many “intense relationships between people of the same gender.” Still, in World War I-era theaters and though LGBTQ representation “was somewhat slower to get rolling” then, audiences saw films that might include drag (often for comedy’s sake), camp, covert affection, and “bad girls of the era.”

Thankfully, things changed because of people like Marlene Dietrich, Ramon Novarro, Claudette Colbert, George Cukor, Alfred Hitchcock, and others through the years, people who ignored social mores and the Hays Code to give audiences what they wanted. Moviegoers could find LGBTQ actors and themes in most genres by the 1940s; despite politics and a “pink scare” in the 1950s, gay actors and drag (still for comedy’s sake) still appeared on-screen; and by the 1960s, the Hays Code had been dismantled. And the Me Decade of the 1970s, says Duralde, “ended with the promise that something new and exciting was about to happen.”

So have you run out of movies on your TBW list? If so, get ready.

You never want to start a movie at the end, but it’s OK if you do that with “Hollywood Pride.” Flip to the end of the book, and look up your favorite stars or directors. Page to the end of each chapter, and you’ll find “artists of note.” Just before that: “films of note.” Page anywhere, in fact, and you’ll like what you see.

In his introduction, author Alonso Duralde apologizes if he didn’t include your favorites but “Hollywood has been a magnet for LGBTQ+ people” for more than a century, making it hard to capture it completely. That said, movie-loving readers will still be content with what’s inside this well-illustrated, well-curated, highly readable historical overview of LGBTQ films and of the people who made them.

Come to this book with a movie-lover’s sensibility and stay for the wealth of photos and side-bars. If you’re up for binge-reading, binge-watching, or Date Night, dig into “Hollywood Pride.” Popcorn not necessary, but welcome.

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

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Photos

PHOTOS: GLSEN LA Pride Reception Fundraiser

Education organization holds event at The Abbey

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GLSEN Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, center, Poses with Disney stars Aly & Aj at the LA Pride Reception Fundraiser (Photo by David Laffe; courtesy GLSEN)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – GLSEN hosted its LA Pride Reception Fundraiser on Wednesday, June 12 at The Chapel at The Abbey in West Hollywood. There were featured performances from Disney stars Aly & AJ, Angeria Paris VanMicheals of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” as well as Mo Heart. DJ Stacy Christine provided the music.

(Photos by David Laffe; courtesy GLSEN)

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Events

Trans Pride LA celebrating 25 Years with series of events

Trans Pride LA celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest, dedicated celebrations of Trans Pride in the country

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Trans Pride Los Angeles/WeHo Times

By Mike Pingel | LOS ANGELES – Trans Pride LA celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest, dedicated celebrations of Transgender Pride in the country, lifting trans, non-binary, and gender-expansive folks! Spotlighting the Trans*Lounge program as well as other services provided at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, this all-ages, free event expects 1,400+ attendees over two days.

Friday evening, June 14, will kick off with a vibrant TPLA Welcome Mixer, followed by a line dancing lesson by Stud Country instructors Kira and Abigail, and a viewing of the new gallery exhibition “Ides of Gender” by artist Zach Oren.

Saturday, June 15, the Trans Pride Festival will once again take over The Village and McCadden Pl. with interactive workshops, 40+ market vendors and resource partners, six different food vendors, a portrait studio by photographer Devyn Galindo, and a Trans Pride Talent Showcase featuring the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, Fei Hernandez, Amilia, Bailey Moses, and more.

This event is entirely free on both days, June 14 · 6 pm – June 15 · 6 pm PT. All events will take place at the Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza and Anita May Rosenstein Campus in Hollywood. Admission is completely FREE all weekend. To grab your tickets and see the up-to-date schedule, visit: lalgbtcenter.org/tpla202.

Here is the two-day schedule of events:

Friday, June 14th:

6:00 PM – 8:15 PM – TPLA Welcome Mixer Join us in the Village Courtyard at 1125 North McCadden for a welcome cocktail mixer unveiling this year’s Trans Pride exhibit titled “Ides of Gender” by artist Zach Oren. Non-alcoholic beverage options are available.

8:30 PM – 9:30 PM – Queer Country Line Dancing Performance & Lesson by Stud Country instructors Stud Country’s instructors, Kira Kull & Abi Hamilton, will provide a performance that will make you say “yeehaw.” It will be followed by a queer country line dancing lesson open to all.

8:15 PM – 10:00 PM – Cocktail Mixer & Gallery Viewing Continue exploring Trans Pride’s Gallery Exhibit “Ides of Gender,” grab a bite or simply grab a drink while catching up with (new) friends.

Saturday, June 15th:

12:00 PM – 6:00 PM – Trans Pride Festival We are shutting the street down and spreading Trans Joy everywhere! This event includes a Children & Families Activity Area, Live Performances & Entertainment, Educational Workshops, Market Vendors & Resource Fair, Free Food Vendors, and a Trans Pride Talent Showcase! ASL Interpreters will be available throughout the festival stages & workshops.

Trans Pride Los Angeles is hosted by the Trans* Lounge program, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s groundbreaking education & empowerment program dedicated to serving Los Angeles’ trans and gender expansive community. ASL and bilingual (Spanish/English) interpretation will be available both days.

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Mike Pingel

Mike Pingel has written six books, Channel Surfing: Charlie’s Angels & Angelic Heaven: A Fan’s Guide to Charlie’s Angels, Channel Surfing: Wonder Woman, The Brady Bunch: Super Groovy after all these years; Works of Pingel and most recently, Betty White: Rules the World. Pingel owns and runs CharliesAngels.com website and was Farrah Fawcett personal assistant. He also works as an actor and as a freelance publicist. His official website is www.mikepingel.com

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The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Sports

‘Deeply disappointing:’ Lia Thomas loses case to compete in Paris

Anti-trans activist Riley Gaines calls it a “victory” and demands NCAA strip trans champion of “every award, title and record”

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Trans All-American swimming champion Lia Thomas will not be allowed to compete at the Olympics in Paris this summer, or any elite women’s competition. (Screenshot/YouTube ESPN)

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND — Transgender All-American swimming champion Lia Thomas will not be allowed to compete at the Olympics in Paris this summer, or any elite women’s competition, after a worldwide ban on trans women athletes was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. And for the first time since granting an interview to ESPN in May 2022, Thomas is speaking out, as is her fiercest critic, Riley Gaines

The University of Pennsylvania graduate commented on this week’s ruling in a statement issued through her attorney, saying that the decision should serve as a “call to action for trans women athletes.”

“The CAS decision is deeply disappointing,” Thomas said. “Blanket bans preventing trans women from competing are discriminatory and deprive us of valuable athletic opportunities that are central to our identities. The CAS decision should be seen as a call to action to all trans women athletes to continue to fight for our dignity and human rights.”

On Wednesday, three CAS judges dismissed the athlete’s request for arbitration with World Aquatics, the governing body for swimming organizations around the world, claiming rules regarding transgender competitors introduced two years ago were discriminatory.

Three months after Thomas became the first out trans Division I NCAA champion in March 2022, World Aquatics voted to prohibit transgender women who had been through male puberty from competing in elite meets for cisgender women. Only trans women who had completed their medical transition by the age of 12 were allowed to compete with cisgender women. The organization introduced an “open category” in its 50-meter and 100-meter races across all strokes, which would allow athletes whose gender identity differs from the sex they were presumed to be at birth to compete with anyone else. But they would no longer be allowed to compete with other women who were not trans. 

In asking CAS to overturn the ruling last year, Thomas argued that the guidelines were discriminatory, “invalid and unlawful,” as the Los Angeles Blade reported. But the judges dismissed her claim, stating she hd no standing and is not eligible to compete in elite competitions through World Aquatics or USA Swimming “for the time being,” so the policy does not apply to her.

“She is currently only entitled to compete in USA Swimming events that do not qualify as ‘Elite Events,'” according to the judges. “The panel concludes that she lacks standing to challenge the policy and the operational requirements in the framework of the present proceeding,” said the court in its ruling.

The judges said USA Swimming had no authority “to modify such scope of application” of the world governing body’s rules.

World Aquatics said it welcomed the CAS decision in a case “we believe is a major step forward in our efforts to protect women’s sport.” 

Even had the court ruled in her favor, Thomas is not named on the preliminary entry list for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, which begin this weekend in Indianapolis ahead of the start of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris next month.

To failed swimmer turned vocal anti-trans inclusion activist and paid shill Riley Gaines, that is “great news.” 

“Great news! Lia Thomas won’t be able to compete in women’s category at the Olympics or any other elite competition. He has just lost his legal battle in Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling,” Gaines posted on her social media Wednesday, misgendering Thomas. “This is a victory for women and girls everywhere.”

But Gaines did not stop there. A few hours later, she shared an article about the ruling from the right-wing tabloid, the New York Post, and threw down a challenge to the NCAA: “Now the @ncaa needs to strip him of every award, title, and record he stole from a deserving female athlete.” 

Other conservative anti-trans media such as The Daily Mail and other outlets also hailed the decision. But above the fray, one voice has consistently stood out in support of Thomas: Her friend, Schuyler Bailar, who became the first trans athlete to compete on a NCAA Division I men’s team when he swam for Harvard. He called the CAS ruling, “devastating.” 

“This is not inclusion. This is textbook discrimination,” Bailar said in a post on Instagram. “And it is a result of the vicious, disgusting, anti-trans and misogynistic rhetoric that has infected this country and the world. Rhetoric that is not based in science but rather in hatred, fueled by power hungry people who do not care truly about women or women’s sports. I’m not sure what is next in this moment — but history will not look back favorably on this decision.” 

The Blade has reached out to Thomas through her representative for comment and did not receive a response as of press time.

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