In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Brett Mannes from Comic Book Queers, as they discuss a proposed Marvel/DC crossover event, first look at Quibi’s queertastic revival of Singled Out, and celebrate a special message from Jodie Whittaker’s The Doctor as our Strong Female Character of the Week.
KEVIN: Diamond suspending shipping of comics BRETT: Geoff John’s open letter re: Stargirl, premiere pushed back a week
DOWN AND NERDY
KEVIN:Child’s Play, Black Christmas, Star Trek: Picard, Steven Universe Future BRETT: Harley Quinn, The Magicians, I’m Not Okay With This
trying times we’ve all come to rely, more than ever, on the essential services
that keep us fed and healthy.
Supermarkets. Pharmacies. Laundromats.
If you’re hearing a chorus of “One of these things is not like the others…” right now, you’re not alone. Employees and customers alike have been confounded by GameStop’s stubborn refusal to close even amidst the escalating COVID-19 crisis and the shuttering of virtually all retail stores outside of groceries and pharmacies and stores that offer similar product. Video game site Kotaku has done excellent reporting on this subject, from fears that corporate wasn’t doing enough to safeguard in the early days of the outbreak, to the doublespeak insistence that by providing equipment for remote work and learning, GameStop can be considered “essential” and not mandated to close– never mind that their high-end keyboards and accessories are hardly what someone would pick up for basic needs, or that midnight launch parties for Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom Eternal were ill-advised in light of restrictions on large gatherings. Employees were even provided with a letter to show law authorities in case they tried to enforce closure; in Athens, Georgia, police officers countered that letter with one of their own, which did not include the store on its list of essential businesses. A popular reddit thread started by an employee shed further light on the company’s misguided and potentially dangerous approach to the pandemic.
This past weekend, GameStop finally switched to a door delivery model and closed stores to customers—those that remain open or have not been forced to close by local ordinances—and officially discontinued video game trade-ins and in-store events. Calls to a number of NYC area GameStop locations on Tuesday were either not answered, busy, or resulted in a perky message explaining that some stores have been closed in response to COVID-19 concerns. This is clearly the right move, but as the reddit poster observed, it should not have taken this long for the company to do so. When we come out of this pandemic, and begin to shop at retail stores, we should think carefully about where our dollars go. GameStop failed both its employees and the buying public by disregarding their safety in a serious situation, and I, for one, will not be supporting them in the future.
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Bobby Hankinson as they discuss all the movies shifting to on-demand to binge during quarantine, the questionable name choices in the upcoming New Warriors, and celebrate Rosario Dawson joining The Mandalorian as Ahsoka Tano for our Strong Female Character of the Week.
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Jon Herzog as they discuss all the shows they’ll be binging while social distancing, new trailers for Disney’s Jungle Cruise & Pixar’s Soul, and celebrate Wonder Woman’s new writer Mariko Tamaki as our Strong Female Character of the Week.
With a new edition of The PLAIN Janes available now, Geeks OUT’s Michele Kirichanskaya had the opportunity to interview the creative team of Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg about the original release, what makes this new expanded hardcover edition so special, and more!
It’s been over two decades since the original PLAIN Janes graphic novel debuted. What was the impetus for bringing it back in a new hardcover edition, along with the triquel, Janes Attack Back?
Rugg: The original PLAIN Janes books were planned as a larger story. The PLAIN Janes was published by DC Comics as part of their young adult imprint, Minx. But Minx was cancelled after two years, before Cecil and I had a chance to tell the whole PLAIN Janes story. Eventually, the rights to The PLAIN Janes reverted to us. When this happened, we realized we had a chance to finally finish the story that we started with The PLAIN Janes! Little, Brown liked The PLAIN Janes and our idea to finish the story so we all decided to do it in one epic hardcover!
Castellucci: Echoing exactly what Jim says. Also, it felt like when The PLAIN Janes came out, the infrastructure for kids comics wasn’t really there. We were really eager to have it come out when it could actually be supported by bookstores and libraries who now have such great curated sections. It was hard to be a little bit ahead of the curve with the book.
Throughout the books, art fulfills a number of roles in the stories of the Janes, acting as a source of healing recreation for the Janes and as rebellious protest against homogenization and terror, carried itself through the vehicle of comics. What is the importance of art to you?
Rugg: Art has always been a source of escape, joy, expression, and hope for me. It’s a way to connect with others–something I really enjoyed bonding over with Cecil. Cecil exposed me to a lot of public art, concept art, and other art that informed The PLAIN Janes.
For me, art is a way to see and better understand the world through other people’s experience and expression. It was my dream for a better life when I was growing up in a small town and felt alone, like I didn’t belong. And it’s become my livelihood as an adult. Art has given me so much and I hope my art pays that forward with others. And by art, I do mean comics!
Castellucci: To me art saves, as I write in the book. I think it is what helps us to make sense of our world and what it means to be human. It can soothe, it can inspire, it can incite, it can heal, it can connect. For me, art is everything. And I mean all types of art. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to tell stories and make art as a profession.
I think it would be safe to say that the original books touched upon very hard truths, drawing parallels between the attacks on Metro City and events following 9/11. Nearly two decades later, our generation is still navigating a terror-world, touched by gun violence and attacks on human rights around the world. In what ways has the audience changed since the original debut versus today? How do you feel you yourselves have personally changed?
Rugg: The relevance of The PLAIN Janes is good and bad. Obviously, you want to tell stories that feel relevant. But in this case, it’s sad because of the parallels that you mention. One of my favorite parts of the Janes is how Cecil was able to show the Janes’ art in so many ways–first as underground fun (almost like punk rock), then community-based and public, and finally as activism. I think that reflects how the audience has changed. People are so active and engaged today. Personally, I think I’m more aware of the challenges that we face today and the role that art and stories can play in this ongoing conversation.
Castellucci: I agree with Jim. I wanted to tell a story about how art saves us in times of trauma. How it can make sense of a world gone mad. I strongly believe that it does that. It actually pains me that the book is still relevant, if not more so. But I also hope that it helps people of all ages to remember that even when it feels like nothing can be done, something can be made. And that art helps us to navigate big complex feelings and helps us to have a common language with which to be able to affect change for good.
Which of the Janes is most modeled after yourself? If you could create a fifth Jane what would she/he/they be like?
Rugg: Probably Jane Beckles since she’s into art. If I could create a fifth Jane, she would be a skateboarder!
Castellucci: I think they are all different facets of me! But I think probably Main Jane as well because she’s the instigator, and as a writer I instigate. A fifth Jane, huh, I actually think of Payne who arrives in book three to be that fifth Jane! But a sixth Jane would be Jane that had wanderlust. A world traveler Jane.
Where do you see the Janes in the future? What would they be doing?
Rugg: Main Jane is an international artist, documentary filmmaker, and works with people to make art (young and old). Brain Jane is a physicist and robotics engineer. Theater Jane is a writer and director (stage and video). Polly Jane is a coach, teacher, and ultra-runner.
Castellucci: Ha ha. I think Main Jane is a fabulous contemporary artist. Brain Jane works for NASA and builds rovers that explore other worlds. Theater Jane is a director. Polly Jane is a dancer!
If the characters of your books could interact with other characters from any fictional universe, which one and who would they be?
Rugg: They would interact with Jason from Friday the 13th and they would figure out a way to defeat him and save Camp Crystal Lake.
Castellucci: They would be in the Magicians and be the magicians who have art magic.
The discussion of mental health plays a major part in the book, from Jane’s and Jane’s mother’s experiences with PTSD and anxiety. In what ways do you think art can help with mental health, or just coping as Theater Jane would say the “crudeness of reality”? (Paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”)
Rugg: Art can help mental health in a lot of ways, and art therapy has been used with people suffering from PTSD. Some art making is very meditative which can be a good thing for anxiety and the “crudeness of reality.” Art is a way to connect with others which can be a very healthy thing–interacting, connecting, sharing.
Castellucci: I think it goes back to being able to express things when you lose the ability to articulate that fear or dread or anxiety. Sometimes making art leads you to the next step of being able to cope.
Who are some of your personal artistic and literary influences? Did any directly inspire or influence The PLAIN Janes?
Rugg: A lot of my influences come from comics. Dan Clowes’ Ghost World is a big influence and it featured two high school girls as protagonists. Love and Rockets, specifically Jaime Hernandez’s Hoppers’ characters from the early days, when they were young punks.
Castellucci: Yeah, for the Janes, I’d say exactly the same as Jim. Ghost World and Love and Rockets.
Any future plans for The PLAIN Janes or other independent projects?
Castellucci: Well I always hope that someone will make The PLAIN Janes into a tv show or a film. Right now I’m working on Batgirl over at DC.
Finally, since this is an LGBTQ+ website, are there any LGBTQ+ authors and/or books that have inspired you and your own work? Can you recommend any titles or authors for other readers?
Castellucci: Sure! Tons! I’m a big fan of David Levithan’s books; Two Boys Kissing was a favorite. I loved Malinda Lo’s Cinderella retelling Ash. Mariko Tamaki is always great; I love This One Summer.
Cecil Castellucci is the author of books and graphic novels for young adults including Boy Proof, The Plain Janes, Soupy Leaves Home, The Year of the Beasts, Tin Star, Don’t Cosplay With My Heart, and the Eisner nominated Odd Duck. In 2015 she co-authored Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure. She is currently writing Shade, The Changing Girl, an ongoing comic on Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint at DC Comics. Her short stories and short comics have been published in Strange Horizons, Tor.com, Womanthology, Star Trek: Waypoint and Vertigo SFX: Slam! She is the Children’s Correspondence Coordinator for The Rumpus, a two-time Macdowell Fellow, and the founding YA Editor at the LA Review of Books. She lives in Los Angeles.
Jim Rugg is a comic book artist, bookmaker, illustrator, and designer. His books include Street Angel, The Plain Janes, Afrodisiac, Notebook Drawings, Rambo 3.5, and Supermag. He is a recipient of both the Eisner and Ignatz Awards and he teaches visual storytelling at the School of Visual Arts and the Animation Workshop in Denmark. He lives and draws in Pittsburgh.
The White Trees is a beautiful two-issue fantasy miniseries written by Chip Zdarsky and brought to life by Kris Anka’s gorgeous artwork and Matt Wilson’s brilliant colors. The story features two excellent queer lead characters and explores themes of redemption and masculinity. It has the feel of a classic western mixed with a high fantasy epic. All of these elements weave together to make a simple but uniquely powerful story.
This miniseries could be a master class in how to word-build without excessive exposition. Zdarsky throws the reader right into the middle of a complex fantasy world, giving just the right amount of detail for the world of Blacksand to feel real. Kris Anka’s artwork manages to tell more story in a few panels than paragraphs of narrative text ever could have. The narrative follows the three ex-warriors Krylos, Dahvlan, and Scotair as they set out on a quest to rescue their two children who have been kidnapped by the Trilonians. Their quest packs a lot into two issues without feeling rushed. It’s got dragons, battles behind enemy lines, and even throws a queer fairy-god orgy into the mix for good measure.
One of the primary themes in The White Trees is redemption, centering on Krylos and his difficult relationship with his son. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn the way that war has robbed him of his humanity and damaged his relationship with his son. Even though he laid down his sword after the death of his wife, he could never escape the emptiness that the war left him with. I was reminded of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, but with a fresh take on masculinity. Krylos is a legendary warrior and decorated hero in the eyes of the Kingdom, but those stories gloss over the damage that war leaves in its wake.
The White Trees subverts the expectations that come with a story about ex-warriors on a quest. Instead of the trope about a warrior who’s lost their edge, this story is more interested in exploring the ways that war robs people of their humanity. How it benefits the greed of Kings at the expense of those who do the actual fighting. That’s a notion that rings as true in the real world as it does in Blacksand. I don’t know if there are plans to do more stories in this world or with some of these characters, but I certainly hope Chip Zdarsky, Kris Anka, and Matt Wilson plan on collaborating again soon.
The first issue of The White Trees can be read on the Image Comics website. For print copies, ask about it at your local comic books shop.
DANIEL STALTER – My reviews for Geeks OUT are of queer comics and literature that I felt moved and inspired by. These are not timely reviews of current releases, nor are they negative or overtly critical. They are simply my way of sharing queer stories that I have loved with a wider audience. For a greater variety of my writing, check out my website, danielstalter.com.
For those who have been following trans illustrator and tattoo artist Fyodor Pavlov, you know that his original full tarot deck has been years in the making. But you also may already be familiar with his art from this deck’s Lovers card, which features two trans bodies unapologetically displayed, and unfortunately massively overshared and copied on sites like Pinterest without credit.
The entire deck has been carefully crafted, with mindfulness to each card’s origin while also exploring oft underrepresented bodies and cultures in each design. Now Pavlov’s vision will finally be available in its entirety, along with a book explaining each card’s symbolism and the choices behind the imagery.
There are only a few days left in the Kickstarter for this tarot deck, so if you need a new queer tarot on your altar, check it out here.
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Eric Green as they discuss the canceling/postponing of SXSW & ECCC as fears mount over the corona virus, the controversy that struck Rupaul’s Drag Race, and celebrate Dreamer getting the spotlight on Supergirl in This Week in Queer.
A non-binary author with a love for baking and gardening, Mason Deaver (They/Them) is the best-selling author of their debut book, I Wish You All the Best. One of the first YA books featuring a non-binary protagonist written by a non-binary author, I Wish You All the Best tells the story of Ben De Backer who comes out their parents, and deals with the consequences of that decision, as well as falling in love for the first time. Geeks OUT recently had the pleasure of siting down with Mason Deaver to talk about their new book as well as their writing process.
How and when did you come to realize that you wanted to be a writer?
It’s a story that I think a lot of authors have. You know whenever you’re younger, you write a lot of books. You take drawings and stories that you type up and you staple them, and like that’s your book. But I really got serious about it after I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. That was a book that sort of I guess kicked me into high gear about wanting to tell my own story and have something similar to that, that people could react to in the same way I reacted to Simon Vs. and Becky’s other books and other queer books that were out there.
How did I Wish You All the Best first come to conception? What were some of the original sparks?
Well, I guess you already answered that.
(Chuckles.) Well, there’s a few more things. Obviously Simon Vs., but then just wanting there to be more out there for trans teenagers. Like there was… I wouldn’t even say shortage, there were just no trans or non-binary books out there. The only one I would say I would even read at that time was If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. So I saw this sort-of gap and I wanted to fill it because, you know, I can’t imagine what a book like this would have done for me when I was a teenager and confused. And so, there’s no way for me to go back in time and hand a book to myself, but if I can do that for someone who was like me, someone who struggling with things and trying to figure things out, then that is like what I wanted to do.
How would you describe your writing process?
For I Wish You All the Best, very chaotic, because I did not plan anything out. That first draft was a 120,000 words of just a hot mess I never want to see again. Thankfully I had people who helped me along the way. Friends, critique partners, and eventually my agent and editors who helped me trim it down and clean it up. And it’s very much different from the things that I had to write after. A lot of the time a book two is a contract obligation, so you have to plan things out so that you can actually sell it. And so book two, I had to plot from beginning to end, and it’s changed a lot, but the basics are still there. And then you know, I’ve had other ideas where I just want to see what happens, just plan this out. And of course I’m writing something else now, but it’s just out there in the wind and I don’t know what I’m doing, and it’s working for now. That might change. (Laughs.)
What has the journey been like since your debut as a YA author?
Oh, it’s been very interesting. A lot of things have changed. I’ve talked with friends who are in similar situations. You know, whenever you debut it’s almost like a wall has to go up, sort of in a way to protect yourself. There are mean people out there on the interest who want to send you random emails talking about how they want to kill you, and it’s not fun.
Oh my goodness (Laughs nervously.)
Yeah, that was a weird morning. But there’s a lot of good things too. Like it’s definitely not been a negative process, and I don’t want to make it seem that way. It’s seeing people online and on Instagram, posting pictures of my book, and reviews talking about how even if they are a cis person how much they still enjoyed it, and if they are trans or non-binary, like how much they saw themselves in the book, and that’s just been, I can’t describe it in any other way but magical. It’s very heartwarming and it makes me feel very good about like what I’ve been able to be
Yeah, you’re actually making a difference with your words.
Yeah, and that’s like what I wanted to do, and I feel accomplished in that now and it makes me feel very proud.
So what are some of the queer YA titles or some of the authors who inspired you?
So Becky Albertallli, who I already talked about her. Definitely Meredith Russo with her books, especially If I Was Your Girl. It was the first time that I saw a trans main character actually get her happy ending and what I felt that she deserved, and the book discussed and talked about her book, but it was never in a way that felt like it was…
Yeah, exactly. It felt like it was coming from a real place, a real author who has gone through these things. And then of course, you have authors like Adam Silvera, who discusses such heavy topics but in such a neat and concise and sometimes messy way that I just adore. If I had to pick three it’s definitely like Becky, Meredith, and Adam.
In the scope of LGBTQ+ literature, how do you think queer YA differentiates itself or distincts itself from other fiction?
I think that, and this is a question that I get a lot and I’m glad that I’m asked it because I’m always feel like we are at the height when it comes to queer YA. You know there’s still a lot of work to do. Queer authors of color and queer disabled authors still don’t seem to have a space and it completely sucks and we still need to fix that, but I also feel like we’ve made a lot of strides in including a lot of people, specially in queer YA. And so, you know, I think what really sets it apart is whenever you look at, say Adult fiction that’s queer, a lot of that has been on tragedy, and it does not end well. But I think in queer YA we’re finally at a place where, you know… of course a queer author deserves to tell a tragic quote, unquote tragic story.
Yeah, like Adam Silvera.
Yeah, like Adam has every right to do that because that is his life and he has lived it, and he has the space to do that. But then on the other side you have people who are telling happier stories, like Becky Albertalli, or I would even say Shaun David Hutchinson. You know, his books are not tragedies, they end happy.
Yeah, that’s exactly it. That’s exactly the world.
They’re realistic, but hopeful.
Realistic, but hopeful, and I think there’s really never been a better time for that.
Yeah, I also say that with new shows like Queer Eye, exposing that queer joy is a revolution in itself.
Like people need to see that in order to let them know they can survive and thrive in our society.
Yeah, and it’s, you know, so much of, if you go back, older again quote, unquote queer YA which wasn’t really queer, is a lot of it based on tragedy.
Like Annie on My Mind was one of the first joyful ones, actually.
Yeah, and you have books that did have trans characters, but like they died. They were killed off, they were murdered, they died of something.
Luna by Julie Anne Peters was one of the exceptions.
Yup, and it’s just very refreshing that I feel like if you are a queer teenager there’s a lot to choose from nowadays.
There’s more variety.
Yeah. There’s definitely a lot of spaces that we need improvement, and, you know, keep striving for that improvement, but I don’t think we’ve ever been better.
Hypothetically, if any of the characters from I Wish You All the Best were to interact with characters from any other established fictional universe, what characters from which fiction universe would they be?
So this is another fun question that I don’t get very often, so I’m glad you actually asked it. But the popular thing, and I do not know exactly why, I have a hint of why, but not a hundred percent, but people seem to love the idea of Ben and Nathan being with Alex and Henry from Red, White, and Royal Blue. Which I, unfortunately, I do not think is plausible because one side of that is the Prince of England and the First Son of the United States, and my characters are just two teenagers in North Carolina.
Who knows, they might do a political campaign.
Yeah (laughs.) Nathan would work on the next one. I do, I am a firm believer that Nathan wakes Ben up at three O’clock in the morning, and while Ben is not happy about being up that early in the morning, they will sit there and they will support Nathan with the t-shirts and the snacks and the custom flags and everything.
Ok, last question. As a debut author what advice would you give to other writers who wish to write themselves?
That it’s going to be hard, and you are definitely going to have to reach into places that may not be comfortable. That you may not feel entirely ok with showing, and that’s ok. There are pieces of the book that I wrote that maybe going back I would not include, but I’m glad that I did, because the book is very honest and I think that that is the most important thing you can be whenever you’re writing a part of yourself into a novel is that you’re honest about the things that you’ve been through, the things that you experienced, the things that you thought, and the things that you know. I really think that honestly is the key. And again, it can be so difficult to be that vulnerable and present yourself in such a way, but in the end it’s worth it because the people you are trying to help that’s what they’re going to appreciate that most.
“Your Post Goes Against Our Community Guidelines.” This message and ones like it have become
increasingly familiar to queer people using social media platforms like
Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Queer sexuality on the internet has become more of a hot button issue
than ever, particularly in the wake of FOSTA-SESTA aka the Stop Enabling Sex
Traffickers Act. This piece of
legislation, nominally intended to protect underage people from sex
trafficking, has had a chilling effect on sex workers in particular and sexual
content—especially LGBT sexual content—in general. (Just look at Tumblr, the once hip
micro-blogging platform that’s been hemorraghing users following their
controversial ban on sexual content.) I
reached out to a number of queer social media users to get their perspective on
Amp Somers is a kinky sex educator who runs the popular Watts the Safeword channel on YouTube—he’s also a card carrying geek, frequently dressing in sexy cosplay or teaching viewers how to do Avengers-inspired bondage. Fwee Carter is a photographer and frequent Flame Con tabler whose work includes the Sexy Nerd Project, featuring attractive guys dressed as everything from Ghostbusters to video game characters. The Side Kink is a gay Latino kinkster and academic who “enjoys playing the defeated hero, abducted sidekick and more”; his sexy, handmade cosplay creations have graced Flame Con on numerous occasions. Peter Clough is a genderqueer artist interested in BDSM and gender representations, as well as an avid Magic: the Gathering player. All of them have encountered censorship online to varying degrees.
“[There’s been an
increase in censorship]to
the point where [Instagram] allows harassment from conservative users who flag
entire accounts,” Amp states. “My
personal account @PupAmp had a number of posts removed/flagged on Instagram.
Many pictures have been removed for reasons from ‘inappropriate content’ to
‘pornography’ to even ‘including children’ in a post. Keep in mind all posts
have been of me and only me and cropped out what is considered ‘inappropriate’
by their site.”
Carter shares the frustration. “They have even started to ban the peach and eggplant emoji’s,” he comments. “It’s getting really bad.” Carter’s photos are sometimes risqué, but never pornographic. That didn’t stop him from getting flagged frequently, to the point where he created a separate account,@lewdshoots, which was subsequently shut down. (He’s since moved it to Twitter, which is very lenient regarding sexual content.) Meanwhile, Facebook deleted his photography page and refused to reinstate it.
“I have seen straight cosplayers have lots of content that runs the gamut from romantic to risque, cheeky to comical and I never really see them noting how often they get flagged,” the Side Kink explains. “Meanwhile queer cosplayers and content can feel like its toeing a very thin line. They don’t even have to have another person in the photos and just have a suggestion of a bulge and it gets flagged.” The Side Kink has had his Instagram threatened with suspension on a few occasions after posts were flagged as “inappropriate.”
Account suspension is an especially big fear for Clough, whose Instagram @cloughabunga promotes his exhibitions. “It’s nerve-wracking because as an artist I really rely on it,” he explains. “I’ve made a bunch of sales through Instagram and connected with galleries and curators so the idea of losing my account is actually terrifying.” Avoiding suspension is easier said than done when making art that involves BDSM, gender, and sexuality: “my content is extremely sexual but also professional,” he declares. He has a separate, personal “finsta,” or alternate account focused on his sex life, but it’s the challenges to his main Instagram that truly rankle him. “When it’s on my finsta and it’s just smut I don’t get too bent out of shape, even though that kind of censorship really shapes people’s understanding of what forms of pleasure can be valid and acceptable,” he muses. “Erasing images of things is a lot like erasing the things themselves. But also when I’ve got a giant butt plug showing under my thong I can’t get too shocked that the world can’t handle it, as sad and puritanical as that is. But when it’s artwork, it really pisses me off, even though I’m not actually sure what the difference is.” Clough recalls a recent experience wherein he posted his friend Patrick McNabb’s “amazing show at [Brooklyn’s] Haul gallery and the images were instantly removed. There wasn’t even any nudity. I appealed the censorship, and eventually Instagram restored the post, with a sort of thin ‘apology.’ But that was a few days after I’d posted it, and the way their algorithms work, basically no one saw it anyway. That’s what’s so insidiously effective about censorship: once it’s removed, no one knows it was ever censored.”
Amp was similarly rankled by the demonetization of his YouTube channel, which prompted him to join other LGBT YouTubers in suing the company last August. He and co-plaintiffs like Lindsay Amer (Queer Kid Stuff) charged that the platform was systematically discriminating against LGBTQ content by automatically flagging videos tagged “gay,” “lesbian,” or “bisexual” as explicit and/or offensive—resulting in lost ad revenue, making them difficult for users to find, and other negative consequences. It was Amp’s tweets about the situation that inspired this piece.
So why the increase in censorship? A couple of my interviewees pointed to the passing SESTA/FOSTA in 2018. “Sites became terrified of being accused of engaging in sex traffic and tamped down on any sexual content,” the Side Kink remembers. Amp, who co-hosted a talk on the subject entitled “Fuck Your Community Standards,” says that “SESTA/FOSTA actually goes after sex positive content in all forms. From sex education to ethical sex work.”
Others see a broader motivation for the purge. Carter thinks a desire for younger users is part of what makes Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, stricter regarding sexual content. He also sees a double standard regarding hate speech vs. LGBT content: “Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and the like continue to allow hate speech but always censor LGBT content. I say content because it’s not just half naked posts. It’s articles and people fighting for justice.”
Amp agrees. “The number of posts I see on Facebook that feature death, suicide, even abortions are astounding,” he remarks. “But the second I promote sex education or sex positive resources, websites or photos, I can see a drop in engagement or, at times, a full removal of a post just because it featured a ballgag in the photo.”
Clough sees a compelling, if
troubling, explanation for this. “Images of violence reinforce our need for a
police state and are therefore way less threatening to the existing power
structure,” he feels. “Images of radical sexual freedom are deeply threatening
by showing how oppressive that same police state really is.”
A few of my subjects
attribute the censorship to a cultural shift as well as to the transformation
of the internet and its platforms into a business. “I think a lot of social media was something
of a no man’s land [in the beginning],” muses the Side Kink. “When these sites and
apps were developed there wasn’t a clear sign of how people would use them or
even if they’d take off. As social media has become a form of communication that
is more universal and more profitable companies have stepped in to make their
apps appeal to the masses. These masses tend to be cis-heteronormative and
steeped in a view of sex that shuns queerness and kink.”
Clough is unequivocal in his
assessment: “Instagram is a deeply homophobic and sexphobic platform,” he says.
“We’re seeing a shift in our whole culture to the right, and sexual freedom is very
threatening because it can be a model for other kinds of freedom, like freedom
of thought or freedom of choice. Neither our government nor the corporations
that shape it have any interest in promoting those kinds of freedom, so
censorship is a valuable tool for policing everything. The scary thing is that
this sort of censorship also comes from within the gay community as well. It’s
fine to put on a harness at a circuit party, but actual sexual freedom and
liberation are just as threatening to mainstream gay Instagram influencers as
they are to the corporations who sponsor them.”
Amp is particularly frustrated by the way social media scrutinizes
LGBTQ folks more harshly than straight ones.
“Large creators like Kim Kardashian, or YouTube personalities like
Trisha Paytas get away with what comes down to nudity on their profiles, which
are constantly in my recommendations on websites,” he grouses. “Other straight
leaning influencers can post ‘artistic nudes’ and have no problems, but LGBTQ
or even sex workers who follow the rules have it much harder.”
The issue may be less about straight vs. gay or violent vs. sexual,
but rather about the changing state of the internet itself. As
Clough says, “the real problem isn’t one specific kind of censorship,
ultimately. The problem is that the idea of public space has shifted into the
digital realm but is controlled by private, for-profit corporations. Let’s be
clear: Instagram isn’t a neutral platform, it has a specific agenda. We have no
say in the values or representations that Instagram is pushing. The function of
these spaces isn’t ultimately to share images; it’s to police them.” For queer communities, who have always challenged
and subverted cultural norms, that may be the biggest threat of all to free and
on Instagram and Twitter @PupAmp and on YouTube: Watts The Safeword. Fwee
Carter is on Instagram and Twitter @fweecarter. The Side Kink is on Instagram and
Twitter @the_sidekink. Peter Clough is on Instagram @cloughabunga.