Please give a warm welcome to my new son, Theodore “Big Pussy” Cavalieri DiMeow!
Theo is a quiet but inquisitive young fellow, somewhere between 1 1/2 to 3 years old. He greets everyone with enthusiastic head-rubs. A stray living with a feral cat colony, he was rescued by the good folks at Animal Friends of Connecticut. I went down there for a different cat I saw on Petfinder, but as soon as I met this little guy, he reached out his paw and patted me on the arm. When I was about to walk away, he grabbed my shirt front with his claws. It was destiny!
“Big Pussy” and the DiMeo crime family are “Sopranos” references, of course. “Cavalieri” means knight in Italian, as my name, Reiter, does in German. Theodore was the name they gave him at the shelter. It suits him. He is a gift of God.
Mississippi has a new law on the books directly impacting access and use of digital resources like Hoopla and Overdrive for those under the age of 18 throughout the state. Even if granted parental permission, minors may not have materials available to them, if vendors do not ensure every item within their offerings meets the new, wide-reaching definition of “obscenity” per the state. Mississippi Code 39-3-25, part of House Bill 1315, went into effect July 1, 2023, and libraries across the state have scrambled for how to be in compliance…
By definition, any vendor is out of compliance by simply having materials available in their system which depict sexual reproduction or queerness in any capacity. Images of nude female breasts–which are often part of sexual education, reproductive education, and/or biology and anatomy books written for those under the age of 18–would be out of compliance with the law.
These gatekeeping requirements further entrench educational inequality. Teens without good libraries in their hometowns now face further limits on what they can learn digitally. Those exploring different beliefs and identities will have to out themselves to their parents or lose access to potentially life-saving information.
In other free speech news, the Texas Tribune reported on July 11 that “Texas A&M recruited a UT professor to revive its journalism program, then backtracked after ‘DEI hysteria'”. Evidently, A&M didn’t notice that UT-Austin journalism school director Kathleen McElroy had covered diversity and inclusion stories for the New York Times for 20 years. No wonder their journalism program needs help. In any event, some of McElroy’s fellow A&M alumni made a stink that she was talking about racial equity–the horror! We can expect more cowardly behavior from other school admins, in light of the state’s crackdown on talking about things that make white people uncomfortable:
Behind the scenes, A&M spent weeks altering the terms of her job. After hearing about the concerns, McElroy agreed to a five-year contract position without tenure, which would have avoided a review by regents. On Sunday, she received a third offer, this time with a one-year contract and emphasizing that the appointment was at will and that she could be terminated at any time. She has rejected the offer and shared all of the offer letters with the Tribune.
The situation comes at a fraught time at Texas public universities. Schools are preparing for a new state law to go into effect in January that bans offices, programs and training that promote diversity, equity and inclusion. Recently, the Texas A&M System started a systemwide audit of all DEI offices in response to the new law.
Also in Texas, the Supreme Court’s ill-founded decision last month in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis is empowering other homophobes to deny services to gay couples. According to the Texas Tribune:
McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley filed a lawsuit after a state agency warned her about refusing to marry gay couples. She hopes a recent U.S. Supreme Court case about religious freedom helps her cause.
Since Waco judge Dianne Hensley received a public warning from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for refusing to perform same-sex marriages in 2019, she’s waged a public battle against the state agency.
She’s long claimed the governmental body violated state law by punishing her for actions taken in accordance with her religious faith. Now, she has submitted a brief arguing that the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of a business owner who refused services to same-sex couples will help her case…
Her lawsuit alleges that the commission violated her rights under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Her lawsuit was dismissed by a lower appeals tribunal, but last month, the Texas Supreme Court said it will hear arguments on whether to revive the state judge’s lawsuit.
How this will be resolved is anyone’s guess. In her role as a public official, Hensley doesn’t have as much freedom of speech as the private website designer in 303 Creative. At least, that’s how prior case law has treated public employees’ rights to express views contrary to their employer. But given that the Supreme Court shouldn’t even have heard 303 Creative, because the plaintiff lied about having been asked to create a gay wedding website in the first place, one can’t count on precedent to stand in the way of right-wing judges’ desired outcome.
Recent state-level bans on trans health care have repeatedly failed court challenges. The Intercept‘s Natasha Lennard warns that we still can’t be complacent, based on Republicans’ successful long game for overturning reproductive rights.
There’s a relevant analogy here between the common liberal treatment of trans kids: that they’re an unfortunate rarity, which should be tolerated but not celebrated. Against such a threadbare defense of trans existence, the violently committed anti-trans right will surely win.
Liberals putatively opposed to the GOP’s draconian anti-trans onslaught should take heed of the judges’ rulings on trans youth health care. All too many powerful liberal organs — the New York Times perhaps chief among them — have channeled Republican talking points by treating trans children as a site of peril, and gender-affirming treatment for kids as potentially too experimental.
In point after point, however, federal judges from Florida to Tennessee to Arkansas have agreed that arguments treating gender-affirming treatments for youths as untested and dangerous are, quite simply, not based in fact.
“What is clear is that before all kinds of judges, when these bans are tested by what the states are claiming is their evidence, they categorically fail,” Strangio told me. “What that means is that you have a popular discourse playing far more hostile to trans people, far more open to misinformation, than a federal court is at this stage.” Strangio added that “it would be helpful if the center left media were to then cover the cases, after having sparked fear everywhere.”
While I personally feel abortion raises moral questions of harm, which trans healthcare does not, I’ve come round to understanding why our struggles are linked. I can maintain that abortion is an ethically problematic choice in some circumstances, and also that it’s none of my business, let alone the government’s.
The great lesbian poet Minnie Bruce Pratt passed away on July 2. My mom-of-choice Roberta and I had the privilege of meeting her when she donated the books and papers of her late spouse, Leslie Feinberg, to the Sexual Minorities Archives in Holyoke. Pratt’s poetry collection Crime Against Nature, which had recently been reissued by Sinister Wisdom, described losing custody of her sons when she came out. I often think of her poem “This Is My Life You Are Talking About” when cis-het folks debate the “gay issue” or the “trans issue” as if we’re not in the room.
Need a minute to smile? Enjoy this AI-generated Elvis video from There I Ruined It.
I connected with singer-songwriter and poet Nhojj through my friend John Ollom, the movement artist. Raised in Guyana and Trinidad, Nhojj has recorded 7 studio albums and published 3 books. Winner of 4 Outmusic awards, Nhojj has shared stages with Norah Jones, Regina Belle and Estelle. Nhojj views his art as multidimensional healing spaces where audiences can experience themselves through the eyes of acceptance and love.
He filmed this adorable gay wedding with two Ken dolls, set to his original song “Faithful”:
Nhojj has kindly allowed me to reprint two of his poems below.
Ritual of Dance…
Night on a basement floor
Sweet on my taste buds
Beats provoke my waist
Body strips down towels wait
Behind the door cause
I aim to leave it all on this homemade
This house hypnotizes
This afro symphony baptizes
Me by the silk cotton tree
Spirits arise & walk in
Djembe drum sanctifies
Our dun dun purifies
Arms flailing…remake me
Voices wailing…remix me
Feet stomping…rewind me
Speakers thumping…replay me
Over & over & over again…
Gods of Jouvet
Visions speaking in tongues
Spirit of Shango
Lightning & thunder
Beneath my feet
Turn the dial left…
Villages of ancestral domains
Calling forth the rains
Fall down &
Water this parched earth
She didn’t notice me at first, but then I turned, and the light bounced off my being, getting stuck in her vision like a speck of dust. Her eyes narrowed, recognizing something familiar… something distasteful.
Of course this wasn’t the first time. There had been many before her, mostly boys in men’s clothing, with that look of recognition in their eyes, trying desperately to erase this thing inside me. They’d used every trick in their books, teaching lessons they’d been taught about what was right and who was wrong.
This time it only took me 3 years… 3 years to feel my fingers and toes again… 3 years below ground to feel my heart beating… wildly at first, then more evenly, with each new breath. 3 years for me to remember my light, always recognized, would not always be cherished.
So now, every day as sun rises, bending light and shadow round table and chair, I write in my journal, read books from the shelf, and recite the words “cherish yourself”.
Author, journalist, and activist Perry Brass explores the intersection of gay male sexuality and spirituality. His books include The Manly Art of Seduction and the novel King of Angels. This poem, which he has kindly allowed me to reprint, was staged as a musical performance at Dixon Place in 2000 with support from the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus.
The Death of the Peonies
At first they are nothing.
A stubble on the earth
and then their stems shoot up
and tangle and gossip with one another,
and twist their leaves about each other
rancorously, grabbing towards the light
thrusting their fingers out in fisted buds
and penis heads, tight, furled, foreskinned out,
and you wait,
for a soaking rain to please them, but not
beat them down. And you dream
about their flesh, their baby whiteness
and rich Latin reds and extravagant nights of them—
drifting out to the garden to smell—
then they burst, and you’re shell-
shocked from them: their dazzling, belly-
filling, ruthless gaudiness. Your heart triple
beats around them, a bolero entangled in
cockatiel plumage, a bed
washed with petals and you’re diving in them,
dripping; swimming; sinking obscenely,
licking them—with that scent of apple
and mango and citrus breeze
and the clean creases of babies and a ripened banana
and rain pounding your throat.
And at night you can’t sleep from the thought
that this exalted gallop,
hard, rushing, punching the air—
its moments are numbered. You must go
out and kneel in it, as you once made love
to whale sounds on a boat—insane,
but who could control it?
They go off. Your beloved will forget you
and take new partners, while you
can only watch—but this does not stop you
from rolling in the agony—how unseemly, dreamlike,
yet revolting. They have just taken your heart
and popped it and are eating it,
these awkward, hushed flowers turbaned
in the mating call of earth and testicles;
and you blame them. They made you ashamed.
Stripped you. Reached inside and ripped
some vital piece from you, while you
only wanted to lie face down, drenched in their odor,
in the crotch of their enduring artlessness
as that scent, intimate, fleeting
suddenly clears through you
and you draw up to your knees
and roll into yourself to at last
dissolve what figures between you.
And in a burst, it reaches you:
your own waking nightmare has taken you out
as its victim and pushed its jagged knife
into your chest as the sun beat down,
while you screamed with a gag in your mouth— God-take-me-now, God-take-me-now, now, now—owwww—till your blood rushed up
and was met by a heaven of simple lips,
as the Holy Child, knowing, floating
on a cloud of petals blessed you
and kissed that place in your heart
Then all folded into One
rolled into its own thrilling head,
presented on its stem, perfect
through infinity, where its blossom
holds and tempts you
with an aroma of such intensity
that it made you stay alone
in the garden all night.
And in a week or so,
there before you
is that final retreat
when the air takes their petals and drops them
to your feet. And you watch them, exhausted,
mute, stunned, left . . . left in the waiting room
of a choking, single breath.