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Caitlyn Jenner: American hero or ‘arrogant’ dilettante?

Former Olympian’s prominence a mixed bag for trans community

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Caitlyn Jenner, gay news, Washington Blade
Caitlyn Jenner, gay news, Washington Blade

Transgender visibility in mainstream culture is at an all-time high thanks to Caitlyn Jenner’s media exposure this summer. (Photo courtesy NBC Media Village)

Few would argue that Caitlyn Jenner is the most prominent transgender person in the country right now.

The Olympic champion, who found a second wind of fame as patriarch on reality show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians, is now in the national spotlight after coming out in a Diane Sawyer interview on ABC’s “20/20” that aired in April, a Vanity Fair cover story and huge fashion spread in its July edition and a new reality show. She’s halfway through the eight-episode initial run of her own show “I Am Cait,” which airs Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on E!

For Jenner, who has publicly admitted to shortcomings as a parent to the four children she had with her first two wives — Burt, Cassandra, Brandon and Brody, all of whom have declined to participate on “I Am Cait” — there is early evidence that she hopes to be a worthy unofficial spokesperson for the transgender community. On the two-part Aug. 2 and Aug. 9 episodes, Jenner takes a road trip with newfound LGBT allies and discusses whether she’s a suitable person for the cause considering her new fame as a transgender icon.

Some transgender activists have approached the situation with a raised eyebrow. Posing in high-end fashion gowns and corsets in Vanity Fair, for some, highlights the huge gulf that exists between Jenner and the kinds of homeless transgender women of color Washington-based activists such as Earline Budd at HIPS (a resource agency for sex workers) and Ruby Corado (of Casa Rudy, a local LGBT resource center) have worked with for years, as well as everyday transgender people who struggle with health disparities, income inequality, access to health care for various gender-related procedures and a wide spate of other well-documented issues. Many agree Jenner’s prominence is a good thing but could it send the message to the straight, middle-America heartland that Jenner is anything close to representative of the trans experience?

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, says it’s important to remember two major factors: both the unsung heroes of transgender rights who’ve been working on these issues for decades — she mentions names such as attorney Shannon Minter, activist Marsha C. Botzer, author/artist Kate Bornstein and several others — as well as recent transgender celebrities such as writer/activist Janet Mock and actress Laverne Cox (Sophia on “Orange is the New Black”).

While nobody’s calling it a contest, Keisling says it’s important to keep Jenner in perspective.

“I think Laverne and to a much lesser extent Caitlyn has done us all a really big favor by coming out,” Keisling, a trans woman, says. “I’m probably not in a majority position on that, but I think what Laverne and even Janet Mock have done is in a lot of ways bigger than the Jenner thing, which is burning really brightly right now, whereas Laverne has had this really fiery glow for a couple years now and it doesn’t show any signs of subsiding. I just cannot say enough about what Laverne has done. Being a model of possibility for trans women of color at a time when we really needed that and in a way that could really change some things, she’s done that really smartly and graciously and amazingly.”

National Center for Transgender Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Mara Keisling (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dr. Marci Bowers, a California-based trans gynecologist who performs gender reassignment surgeries and has been an outspoken advocate for trans rights for many years, says she “has a tremendous amount of respect” for Jenner, but says she also has concerns.

“Stepping on the stage and kind of self anointing as the spokesperson for the trans community — and I really don’t think she does this intentionally — but it smacks of being a little bit arrogant and a little naive to the community,” Bowers says. “She must not forget the real pioneers, people like (tennis player) Renee Richards who came out in the 1970s — now that was difficult. … I’ve done hundreds of series and documentaries and these are things that have paved the way for Caitlyn Jenner. … She is literally standing on our shoulders and it would be nice if that was acknowledged. It seems painfully obvious to me. I haven’t watched all of her programming but from what I’ve seen, she doesn’t seem to get it.”

Bowers agrees, though, that Jenner deserves a grace period for being new to LGBT matters.

“I hope acknowledgement will come in time,” Bowers says.

Long-time activist Dana Beyer of Gender Rights Maryland, a trans woman and former eye surgeon who has blogged extensively on Jenner for the Huffington Post, says, “I don’t think there’s any question” that Jenner is now “the most prominent trans person in the world and in history,” an occurrence she calls “a good thing.”

“I just hope the point is made that she is not everyone and we all have different stories,” Beyer says. “That is true of any movement but given the fact that there are so few trans people in the public eye, it becomes even more potent. I have no problem with it. I just hope she speaks properly and gets her facts right and learns a little history, a little about the law and medicine and biology and activism and legislation and all of that stuff. I hope she gets that right. She’s really obligated to do it and I think she will. She seems very humble.”

Possibly further securing Jenner’s spot in an ivory tower, Beyer says, may be her status as an “older, white-collar, Christian Republican.”

“Even if this is mired in identity politics, I think (she) could make a positive difference as long as she knows what she’s talking about.”

Is there a chance Jenner could blow it and set the transgender movement back? Beyer and Bowers both point to Zoey Tur, an Emmy-winning reporter noted for her use of helicopters for live news reporting, who drew heat in March for statements on “Dr. Drew On Call” about trans women in locker rooms, the legitimacy of trans men and more (Tur is trans herself).

“Here you have somebody who was a bit of a celebrity 20 years ago get on CNN and talking about stuff of which she knew nothing,” Beyer says. “The law, legislation — she was wrong about virtually everything she said. Somebody like that is dangerous. … She’s a good example of a recently transitioned person who is not a good spokesperson. … We tend to put the recently transitioned in the spotlight, and that’s not always good.”

Caitlyn Jenner, gay news, Washington Blade

Dr. Marci Bowers and Dr. Dana Beyer (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Shannon Minter, a trans man and legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says so far he’s been impressed with Jenner’s poise.

“Of course no one person can represent the diversity of any community, but Caitlin’s visibility has been hugely positive and has helped millions of people become more aware and supportive of transgender people,” Minter wrote in an e-mail to the Blade. “I know from my own experience as an advocate that she has helped many parents be more accepting of their transgender children. Her experience is different in some ways than that of trans people who are not as wealthy, but she seems to be keenly aware of that and to take her responsibility as a spokesperson and role model very seriously. I have been impressed by her thoughtfulness and especially by her concern for transgender children.”

Transgender author and teacher Alex Myers says it’s been amazing how much dialogue Jenner has generated among his trans friends and colleagues.

“My perspective on it is that she’s giving the movement and the identity better publicity than we’ve gotten in a long time, not even just coming from her and her own presentation but from the questions people are having,” Myers says. “We don’t want her to be the only voice, but I think she’s been well received and I think it’s a much more positive representation than anything else I can think of in recent history.”

Aside from Jenner’s reality show fame and status as an Olympic icon, Myers says stories of trans women tend to play well to middle America.

“I think the media in general is much more fascinated by trans women,” he says. “It’s much more perplexing for a guy who has all this privilege and status — why would they want to give that up? It makes for a much more sensational tale. When trans women transition, they often present in this very glamorous, very cisgender and dramatic way and that’s just not the case with trans men. We look like these short, dumpy guys and we don’t make such a sensational story for Joe Q. Public.”

Earline Budd says there’s a big difference between Jenner and many of the trans women she’s worked with over many years on Washington’s streets.

“I strongly support her but at the end of the day, I do feel it would serve her best if she did reach out to individuals such as myself who are leaders in the African-American transgender community who understand the struggles and the hardship and to engage folks,” Budd says. “She will never be the model for the African-American transgender experience. She doesn’t come from the same plight as many of us. Even my own personal experience of being openly HIV-positive, having been homeless before, having been an addict, having been incarcerated. I understand she is doing some work with some African-American trans women, helping one woman go through nursing school and that is really great, but … at the end of the day, we can’t put all our hopes and needs on one person. … We need to come together and figure out how we can put revenue behind where the real needs are.”

Earline Budd, gay news, Washington Blade

Earline Budd(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Further adding diversity to the wide umbrella that encompasses the trans experience, author and academic Genny Beemyn, who identifies as gender nonconforming, says Jenner is “an anachronism in a lot of ways.”

“It’s amazing how much visibility this has brought,” Beemyn says. “I have gotten more media inquiries in the last few months than I’ve gotten in the last few years combined. It’s unreal the number of people who are doing stories, not necessarily on Caitlyn going public, but trans issues. … I think there is some danger in her becoming the face of transgender people. Even with some of the other narratives that are out there, such as Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, they are all conventional, very feminine, trans women so we’re still seeing some erasure for people who don’t have the ability to look so glamorous or like cis women.”

Even with the concerns, Beyer says the visibility Jenner brings to the national dialogue far outweighs any concerns. She, too, has been barraged with requests for comment.

“A lot of these newspapers really never gave a damn about transgender people until a few months ago,” Beyer says. “This is a huge deal. People are calling to be educated. Nobody cared enough before Caitlyn to want to be educated. We are going to look back at this as being a post-Jenner moment and we’ll talk about things pre-Jenner and post-Jenner. Everything has changed as a result of this because all of a sudden now when these issues come up, people will have somebody to relate all this to. They don’t really know her, but it will be a lot easier to make the sale. ‘Oh really, you’re going to tell Caitlyn Jenner she can’t use the women’s restroom?’”

Beyer says it’s a new era of visibility and progress.

“Who were our options before? (Convicted murderer) Michelle Kosilek? Chelsea Manning? Somebody whom half the population thinks is a traitor? It’s a big difference to go from, ‘Hi, I’m a trans woman,’ ‘Oh, like Chelsea Manning,’ to ‘Oh, like Caitlyn Jenner.’ That changes everything. She’s a great athlete and an American hero and we’re basking in the reflections of that hero status. In today’s America, that’s about as good as it gets.”

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Baltimore DJ on using music as a bridge to combat discrimination

Deezy brings high-energy show to the Admiral on Jan. 28

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DJ Deezy has hosted multiple events in D.C. and Baltimore. (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)

A Baltimore DJ will conclude a month of performances in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. clubs this Friday, Jan. 28, according to the artist’s management. DJ Deezy is set to perform at the Admiral in D.C. at 9 p.m. 

Since the year began, Deezy has hosted electric events at clubs such as Hawthorne DC, DuPont and the Baltimore Eagle Bar & Nightclub. 

The Washington Blade sat down with the DJ to discuss the course of her career. 

The beginning of DJ Deezy’s infatuation with music dates back to her childhood spent between her mother’s house in Baltimore City and her father’s house in the suburbs. 

In Baltimore, Deezy was exposed to the local rap and raw hip-hop scene that inspired her to embark on a rap career in high school. 

Concurrently, she was entrenched in Motown and classic rock by virtue of her singer, songwriter, and guitarist father Ron Daughton’s involvement in a classic rock band. He is a member of “The Dalton Gang” and was inducted into the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Before I embarked on my DJ journey, my father let me record ‘a little 16’ on his tape recorder,” said Deezy. “Eventually, he bought me a wireless microphone that I carried around with me to performances.”

Between her experience as a rapper and watching her father maneuver the classic rock music scene, Deezy acquired varying tastes in music that have influenced how she curates her sets today. 

She “specializes in open format vibes with spins from multiple genres including hip-hop, rap, circuit, and top 40s hits,” according to a summer 2021 press release from her management.

Deezy is also a proud member of the LGBTQ community — she identifies as a lesbian — and this also informs her approach to her work.

“I’m easily able to transition and rock the crowd because I can relate to many different backgrounds,” said Deezy. “I can DJ in places that are predominantly white, Black, or gay [and still do my job effortlessly].”

Centering community

Deezy values representation. Not only because she exists in a field dominated by men, but also because DJs who inhabit other identities aside from being men are less common in the industry. 

The scarcity of Black and lesbian DJs has prompted her to use her career as evidence that people who are different can attract audiences and succeed.

“I want to put us out there especially for Baltimore,” said Deezy. “I know that there’s Black lesbians out there doing the same thing as me, but why aren’t we getting [recognized]?”

In 2018, Deezy rented out a “Lez” lot at the Baltimore Pride block party where she set up a tent and played a set for the crowds tailgating around her. While entertaining them, she distributed her business cards — an act she believes yielded her the contact who eventually got her booked for a residency at the Baltimore Eagle.

While this was a step forward in her career, Deezy acknowledges that it wasn’t without challenges. She likened entering the Baltimore Eagle — traditionally a leather bar frequented predominantly by men —to navigating foreign territory. 

“When I first got there, I got funny looks,” she said. “There’s a lot of these guys who are like, ‘Why are you bringing a lesbian DJ to a gay bar?’”

But Deezy powered through her performance, lifted the crowd from its seats and “rocked the house [so that] no one will ever ask any questions again.” 

She admits that she’s an acquired taste but believes in her ability to play music infectious enough to draw anyone to the dance floor.  

“Feel how you want to feel about a Black lesbian DJ being in the gay bar,” said Deezy. “But music is a bridge that [will] connect us all, and you’ll forget about your original discrimination when you [experience] me.”

While Deezy has mostly performed in the DMV, she has also made appearances in Arizona where she hosted a family event and also in clubs in Atlanta and New York City. 

Her work has also attracted international attention and she was the cover star of  French publication Gmaro Magazine’s October 2021 issue

Looking to the future, Deezy’s goal is to be a tour DJ and play her sets around the world.

“I had a dream that Tamar Braxton approached me backstage at one of her concerts and asked me to be her tour DJ,” she said. “So, I’m manifesting this for myself.” 

In the meantime, Deezy will continue to liven up audiences in bars and clubs around the country while playing sets for musicians like Crystal Waters and RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrity drag queens like Alyssa Edwards, Plastique Tiara, La La Ri, Joey Jay and Eureka O’Hara — all of whom she has entertained alongside in the past. 

Outside the club, Deezy’s music can be heard in Shoe City where she created an eight-hour music mix split evenly between deep house and hip-hop and R&B. 

DJ Deezy (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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