Many folks dream of spinning their passions into something profitable — or even sustainable. Aram Vartian, a self-described Dungeons & Dragons geek who, like many, discovered the role playing fantasy game as a kid, is almost there.
Godsfall (godsfall.com) is an original fantasy world told through a game of Dungeons & Dragons played each week with Vartian recording himself as the Dungeon Master and four other players over a four-hour session. He then cuts it down to one hour and layers in music, voice overs and special effects until it sounds more like a radio drama than an actual play podcast. It ends up being one long saga about four young people who have been given the powers of the Old Gods, making them superheroes in a time of knights and castles.
The LGBT-embracing (several characters are matter-of-factly out) podcast has proven wildly successful. Vartian and his cohorts get about 50,000 downloads a month and a Kickstarter campaign launched last week raised $20,000, which will be used to publish a 200-page full color book with maps, art and characters from the Godsfall world. It can work with any Dungeons & Dragons game.
Vartian was 8 when a babysitter introduced him to the D&D world.
“I was completely obsessed from the moment I rolled up a wizard and cast my first Magic Missle,” he says. “Now to see how supportive the actual play podcast community is, is amazing. I have never been involved in media that was less about individual success and more about the success of the community. It’s very refreshing.”
Vartian freelances by day as a multimedia producer. The 40-year-old almost-D.C. native (his family moved to Fairfax, Va., when he was 3) is single and lives in Logan Circle. He enjoys photography and, of course, Godsfall in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I came out shortly after my 15th birthday. The hardest person to tell was my friend Chris whom I told by saying, “I’m gay and I’m in love with you.” He was (and remains) straight, and we were both kids in 1991 Virginia. He held me until I stopped crying.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Alan Turing. He beat the Nazis, helped invent modern computing and was still too delicate to understand that neither accomplishment would save him from intolerance.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Tracks. I know my memories will always be rosier than the reality, but that place had a special magic I’ve yet to see again in D.C.
Describe your dream wedding.
I’m standing next to someone I truly love and admire who challenges and supports me. Everything else is decoration.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
The school-to-prison pipeline. As a nation, we are obliterating a generation of youth for convenience and profit.
What historical outcome would you change?
It would be impossible to change any significant historical event without creating an earthquake throughout all of time that came after. Too risky, I’ll pass.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Woodstock ’99. It was every bit insane as it looked on television.
On what do you insist?
Treating everyone working for the public — waiters, bus drivers, DMV clerks — with kindness and patience because their job is hard.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Me yelling about politics and/or the police. This interview could be published any time before or after now and my answer would be accurate.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Assuming this is something as easy as I take a red pill to switch and a blue one to switch back, I’d buy one of each and see what it was like to be straight for a week. If I could take both at once and turn bi, I’d probably just stay with that.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe there is much that currently lies beyond what we understand as our “physical world” only because we lack the technology to explore or even recognize it. There is no cosmic mystery — given time and resources, humanity will unlock every secret of the universe.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Pay more attention to our LGBT youth than our Pride parade sponsors.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
The iced mochas at Dolcezza are so damn good.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
The idea that equality can be gained through a pair of rings and a bridal registry.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
What’s the most overrated social custom?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
I’ve got my sights on an ENnie Award at the moment. I like obtainable coveting.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That my life would change when I picked up a camera.
Washington is a truly lovely city that is eminently walkable. And if you don’t like anyone, no worry — most of them will be gone in two or three years.
Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes
Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility
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!!!!!”
As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces
New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022
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.
Need a list-minute gift idea?
Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices
You knew this was coming.
You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.
And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.
If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.
For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.
If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.
So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.
The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.
Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.
The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.
For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.
Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.
This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.
Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:
• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org
• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming, thedccenter.org/donate
• Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org
• HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org
• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org
• Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org
• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org
• Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org
• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate
Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature
FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men
Loudoun County removes LGBTQ book from school libraries
Va. bill would restrict transgender students access to school bathrooms
Una ‘besada’ inesperada en La Habana: El activismo LGBTQ independiente sale en defensa del Código de las Familias
Sign Up for Blade eBlasts
Opinions5 days ago
Breaking barriers as an out trans ‘Jeopardy’ champion
World1 day ago
Polish House passes bill echoing Russia “gay propaganda” law
News6 days ago
Grenell emails reveal internal talk on Trump era policy against Pride flag
World6 days ago
Kenya bill seeks to ban gays from having children via surrogate
District of Columbia6 days ago
ANC postpones decision on license for Capitol Hill queer bar
Local5 days ago
Anti-LGBTQ Fairfax school board member named to Youngkin administration
Local5 days ago
The kink must go on
Local6 days ago
Va. lawmakers, activists vow to defend LGBTQ rights gains