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I Know Where I’ve Been: All Over The Place, As It Seems

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Travelogues are nothing new in the realm of literature. Ever since the dawn of the written word, there have been innumerable people who want to tell the stories of faraway places they may or may not have visited. Marco Polo was just only the most visible one; there was many who came before him, and many who sought to imitate him afterwards. In fact, one of the first modern satires, Gulliver’s Travels, was written under the thin veneer of being a parody of “traveller’s tales”. So in the age of social media, the concept of the travelogue might seem as dated as the rotary phone.

Which leads to Robert Coles’ I Know Where I’ve Been: A Year-Long Journey of Self-Discovery, a new type of spectrum-friendly travelogue. Though he notes of occasional trips to Mexico and Colombia, most of the travels documents are in the United States and Canada. More specifically, it detailed his travels throughout 2015 and the connections that he had made in the process of reaching his goal of visiting 30 cities by the end of the year. In between the stories about random adventures and quirky friends/lovers are a series of sober reflections on not only his life but also the lives of those around him.

It is in these reflections that one can find the emotional core of I Know Where I’ve Been, and certainly makes it stand out from the standard travelogue. These include stories of his family (specifically of his dad, who died of a heart attack at 53) as well as past lovers (such as “Josh”, with whom he had a fun but ill-fated relationship). It also informs the reader of Coles’ mentality about travel, as his family was not able to travel very much, save for the occasional trip to Disney World or a place like Yellowstone. In a household like that with a person like Coles turned out to be, it is no wonder that he turned out to be such a major traveler. And of course, his sexuality does play an important role at certain moments, including an experience with those with a homophobic bent. Specifically, it first comes to a head when a seemingly nice Christian family turns on him with a vengeance when one of its members catches him looking up certain explicit files downloaded from Limewire.  

Of course, the travel stories in I Know Where I’ve Been themselves do stand out in their own right, which is an important part of a work in this genre. And unlike many popular travelogues, there is a tinge of emotional honesty to most of them, which makes it akin to a mix of An Idiot Abroad and Michael Palin’s Around The World In 80 Days in literary form. Coles does not shy away from the horror stories, such as the Airbnb fiasco in Chicago or a miserable night on the bad side of Detroit. Nor does he leave out some of the stranger things, such as the night in Detroit being followed by a slightly unnerving passport check at the Canadian border. Nor does he gloss over several of the tales of him and his company going on full-blown benders, with the results akin to a remake of The Hangover on a college film fest budget.

However, the experiences throughout his 2015 in I Know Where I’ve Been come out as a net positive, especially with all of the people he met. Standouts include the “Denver Death Tour”, the visits to the Second City improv venue, and visiting Toronto ’s famous CN Tower. Perhaps the most accurate statement by Coles is the following: “While I certainly regret some of the behaviors and wish I could erase some of the memories, I wouldn’t change who I am today because of them.” It is likely the reader will share the same sentiment by the end.

Originally posted 2017-07-30 10:04:24.

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Letters From Abu Ghraib: Visiting the Middle East

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THE MIDDLE EAST – AUGUST, 29TH 2017 – Most of us know how horrible certain areas of this region can be to our community.  To say that the temperament towards LGBTQ+ people is hostile would be a severe understatement. Unfortunately, this is causing us to miss out on a myriad of fun and magical experiences. This article will share some top attractions from the Middle East (predominantly Dubai ) and give advice on how to remain undetected while visiting the region.  It will also detail the horrors that could happen to our community at any moment if we are not careful.

 

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

 

Boasting a very modern feel for a hot spot most people think is nothing more than picking sand out of your trunks, Dubai houses only the top destinations.  

If you love to shop and play all at the same time there is the legendary Dubai Mall, one of the largest shopping malls on Earth. It is home to some of the top name brands such as Armani, Versace, and Alexander McQueen. There are children’s parks and gourmet restaurants attached, too. The mall even houses its own aquarium containing over thirty thousand species of marine life1.

On the flip side, some may prefer relaxation and leisure over activity. Certainly then, you must check out the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. JW is a Five-Star hotel in the heart of the city and sports cutting edge technology in its business center and a legendary spa. Bars and a top of the line fitness wing complete the hotel’s elegance2. Interesting trivia: You might remember Tom Cruise climbing up one of the towers in a certain film… from the outside!

 

Cairo, Egypt

 

Perhaps you are one of the people that yearn for a more rugged experience. Look no further than Egypt.  The nightlife may be fantastic, but even more impressive is the Great Pyramid of Giza, only a short distance away. The impressive, massive structure is actually a burial tomb of the ancient pharaohs and is one of the world’s seven wonders3. Be sure to pose by the guardian sphinx for some memorable snapshots. To cool off, take a stroll by the Nile River that runs past the city. Careful though: You must show respect for the Nile’s bounty lest you upset it’s protecting deities Isis and Sebek.

 

Warnings from the Author

 

Low key is the key. With countless news stories showing beheadings, stonings, and even ISIS casting helpless victims off tall buildings, many people ask why no one has stepped in to end these atrocities. The answer is simple: Homosexuality is illegal in most of the Middle East. This is not just a government law, but a religious one, too. If you are still planning a trip to this region, please pay attention to the next section of this article and seek outside resources and/or protection. For more information on what it is like to be LGBTQ+ in this region, it may be beneficial to read Brian Whitaker and Anna Wilson’s book, “Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East” or another similar text4. I know many of us hate hiding who we are and if that is you, there is nothing wrong with that – but I encourage you to rethink your plans. I have a special word of caution for women: If you are travelling with men and they should happen to offend you in any way, do not let native Arabic men/women see any signs of an altercation. Address matters privately and quietly in the safety of your hotel room or living quarters.

 

Conclusion

Again, I urge you to seek additional help from others both inside and outside of the Community.  It only adds to your benefit.  Most importantly, though, enjoy your trip!

 

  1. “Revel In Retail At The Dubai Mall.”  Dubai Corporation of Tourism & Commerce Marketing.  29 Aug 2017.  https://www.visitdubai.com/en/pois/dubai-mall.
  2. “JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai.”  Marriott International Inc.  2017.  http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dxbjw-jw-marriott-marquis-hotel-dubai/
  3. Encyclopaedia Britannica.  “Pyramids of Giza.”   Encyclopaedia Britannica.  26 June 2017.  https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pyramids-of-Giza
  4. Whitaker, Brian & Anna Wilson.  “Unspeakable Love:  Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East.”  Amazon.com.  2006.  https://www.amazon.com/Unspeakable-Love-Lesbian-Life-Middle/dp/0520250176/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1504028713&sr=8-12&keywords=gays+in+the+middle+east+books

Originally posted 2017-09-22 12:50:33.

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5 Best Educational YouTubers for LGBTQ+ people

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Students are heading back to school, but why should young people be the only ones getting educated? With that in mind, here are my top five educational YouTubers for LGBTQ+ people, no matter your age.

 

Best for LGBTQ+ information: Ash Hardell

Everyone has questions about being LGBTQ+, even those within the community, and it can sometimes be hard to know how to get honest, reliable answers. Luckily Ash, who is genderqueer and pronoun indifferent, has answered a lot of the most burning questions for you.

Whether you’re interested in learning about a sexuality or gender identity other than your own (I had some questions about asexuality which I felt inappropriate to ask the asexuals that I knew in real life) or you’re still figuring out how you identify or you want to know how to be a better ally to your fellow queer people, they probably have a video for you.

 

Best for LGBTQ+ History: Tyler Oakley

They say that to know where we have to go, we must know where we’ve been, which is why it’s important to learn about LGBTQ+ history and celebrate it. Too much of history erases the contributions of LGBTQ+ people and it’s time to put an end to it.

Tyler is in the middle of a series where he talks about the trailblazing LGBTQ+ activists who inspire him; making sure to amplify POC  to avoid whitewashing our history and combat the vilification of their voices.

He also hosts a series called Stories of Queer Resistance, in which he discussed the Stonewall Riots which kicked off the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the USA (which I also covered back in July).

 

Best for Sex Ed: Sexplanations

I think most people would agree that their sex ed classes in school left a lot to be desired; using hetero-normative and cis-normative language, teaching abstinence-only, not teaching you about contraception for sexual acts other than penis in vagina sex.

Now when I began this piece I wanted to include all LGBTQ+ YouTubers but I ran into a slight problem with the sex ed section because gay men would talk about sex ed for MSM, lesbians would talk about WSW, trans people would talk about sex for trans people etc etc. However, I wanted someone who would address all facets of sex ed, so that no matter your sexuality or gender identity, you could become educated too.

Dr Lindsey Doe is a clinical sexologist who not only covers sexual health but also how to perform certain sex acts (giving a blowjob, cunnilingus, and eating ass) using inanimate objects to demonstrate. She also does her best to avoid problematic language- like associating penis with male and vagina with female- or shaming people for their sexual desires.

A strong advocate for consent, completely non-judgmental about sexual acts, and willing to answer your questions. She’s the sex ed teacher that I wish I’d had.

 

Best for Politics: Riley J Dennis

Riley, whom you may recognize from my podcast recommendations piece, vlogs regularly on trending politics and social justice issues, such as Drumpf’s firing of Comey, the Nazi riots in Charlottesville, and DACA.

She also breaks down complicated topics that rarely make it into the news cycle (like civil asset forfeiture and queer coding) into easily understandable segments without making you feel dumb, so if you think you could benefit from a more in-depth knowledge of the political issue de jour, then check out Riley’s channel.

 

Best for Mental Health:  MarinaShutUp

I don’t think it’s a secret that LGBTQ+ people have a higher rate of mental health problems than the general population (one of the unfortunate by-products of discrimination) so we should be honest about our issues and unafraid to voice them.

Marina, a queer woman of color, is very open about her struggles with mental health problems (like negative body image, depression, and social anxiety) as well as providing practical tips for self-care (look after yourself folks!). She’s honest about her own struggles, her mistakes, and her journey, which makes those watching feel less alone with their mental health issues.

 

So what did you think of these YouTubers? Who is your favorite on this list? Who do you wish I’d included? Let me know in the comments below.

Originally posted 2017-09-20 14:18:00.

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TSA: Transphobic (in)Secure A**holes

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Traveling is stressful for everyone, especially when it’s time to go through airport security. People of color, those who speak English as a second language, the elderly, and trans folks are groups of travelers that often face different struggles when interacting with TSA agents than their white, cis, and straight counterparts. Not only are these encounters more frequent and unique, they have higher risk factors and more severe consequences when things don’t run smoothly.

If you aren’t deemed “normal” by the individual TSA agent supervising your line or X-ray station, you may not be able to get on your flight; you may be detained, harassed, and assaulted.

In September 2015, Shadi Petosky faced all of these monstrosities, and recorded her experience on her twitter account. Hida Viloria, a writer and intersex activist, also had a traumatizing experience in 2017. Apparently, little progress has been made regarding the lack of respect, and courtesy displayed by TSA agents.

#NotAllTSA

The Transportation Security Administration is but another example of a federal institution abusing their power, and causing more harm than good. It’s true that not all TSA agents fall under this description, but that doesn’t make the TSA as an agency or going through security at an airport any better. In fact, these “good” TSA agents are the epitome of “apathetic Americans.”

In this setting, the severe concentration of multitudes of microaggressions, coupled with a powerful position, do not yield a positive result.

Symptoms of a Larger Problem

Overcoming an obstacle is always easier when it is broken down into smaller pieces. By addressing individual factors that create the problematic TSA that we have today, we become one step closer to finding a solution. Three key features that intersect with one another can be identified not only in the TSA, but also federal institutions like the police, armed forces, and even corporations.

  1. Toxic Masculinity
  2. Insecurity
  3. Greed

Toxic Masculinity – the Root of Many Problems

According to Huffington Post,Toxic masculinity is built on two fundamental pillars: sexual conquest and violence.” When pat downs turn into groping, and escorting passengers becomes shoving, pushing, and literally dragging individuals, it becomes clear that the TSA stands firmly on both of these pillars.

Once introduced to this level of power, it’s easy for it to get to one’s head.  The National Center for Transgender Equality strongly encourages avoiding confrontations with TSA personnel if at all possible. Like a hard drug, just a taste can leave you craving more. Not only is this problematic, but it can easily become deadly with the simple addition of a baton.

Like a bully finding out their victim won’t be pushed around anymore, TSA agents and police officers feel scared and insecure when they are called out for their behavior. Their power is being threatened. These are the moments that we watch on the news and read about online. These are the moments when innocent people die.

Our Existence is Resistance

It may look like our future is bleak. We are living in dangerous times. Many do not “understand” our community, and with ignorance comes fear – a high-risk emotion, especially when coupled with access to weapons.

It is important to remember that not all violence is created with guns; never has the pen been mightier than the sword than when it is creating legislation.

However, we are not paralyzed; we can remind our senators and representatives of their true employers: their constituents.

Click here to find your senator and representative and how to contact them.

Now more than ever we need to unite as a community. We need to remember that we are magical. We are beautiful. We are a strong, resilient, and courageous community, and we will not let these transphobic, insecure assholes keep us from getting on our flight!


Resources

For a PDF of The National Center for Transgender Equality’s Guide to Airport Security and Rights of Trans People, click here.

If you have been mistreated, or had an unsatisfactory experience with TSA personnel, click here for information on how to file a complaint.

If you have access to a smartphone, consider downloading the app FlyRights. It provides a way to immediately file a report of an incident of discrimination with TSA and DHS when it occurs. Click here for more information. It is available for both iPhones and Android smartphones.

Originally posted 2017-09-21 19:42:36.


Also published on Medium.

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