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Who was ‘When We Rise’ for, anyway?

ABC series comes off as gay TV for a straight audience

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When We Rise, gay news, Washington Blade

A scene from ‘When We Rise,’ a new miniseries that dramatizes the lives of key players in the early years of LGBT rights. (Photo by Erike Schroter; courtesy ABC)

Are we all waiting on gay television to mature? To sort of catch up to where we are as a community? It seems, too, that we as a group are still somewhat starved for representations of ourselves on the small screen. When I was a kid, we only had Billy Crystal on “Soap” or maybe Paul Lynde on “Bewitched” reruns. Things slowly began to improve, a gay made-for-TV movie here, a character’s gay brother makes a single-episode appearance there. Then suddenly we were treated to “Will & Grace,” and the troubled “Queer as Folk,” which seemed like “Will & Grace – After Hours.”

After all this, I had high hopes for Dustin Lance Black’s “When We Rise,” ABC’s four-part miniseries documenting the gay and lesbian rights movement. And why not, really? Gus Van Sant stepped in to direct. Mary-Louise Parker was there. So was Guy Pearce. And Black had shown his talents as a writer with “Milk.” But high hopes aside, “When We Rise” fell rather flat.

Though I very much appreciate what “When We Rise” was attempting, I couldn’t see past its problems. Its tone was preachy. Its messages about unity and strength in diversity landed like anvils. I stopped counting the clunky cliched lines like ‘we are stronger together,’ or ‘you don’t know how strong we are,’ or perhaps ‘strength. let’s get some and be strong with it together.’ All this gave way to some melodramatic moments. Beyond that, actors were switched out to play their role’s older counterparts, making the timeline rather confusing.

Perhaps I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Friends complained about being bored a mere 30 minutes into the first episode. And viewership declined sharply nationwide after the first night. It could be, given what we’ve been given, that we simply expect less from gay television are are quick to change the channel to the myriad other options out there, gay or not gay. But it could also be that “When We Rise” wasn’t really gay television at all. That is, were we as gays and lesbians really the intended audience? Besides hearing from friends that the program was more or less yawn inducing, so too did I hear of them receiving loving text messages and teary voicemails from parents who had watched the entire series. Watched and learned. And before having done so they apparently had no idea that gay history was even really a thing to begin with, still too they had no real understanding as to just how fraught with peril the movement was up until very recently.

It did take some courage for ABC to show this history to a primetime audience. But are gays really a primetime viewing audience to begin with? What else ABC chooses to broadcast might be a clue there. Would gays be taken in by “Dancing with the Stars?” Even “The Real O’Neals” packages its gay themes into a it-can-happen-to-the-best-of-families box. I’m reminded of what I often heard of “The Cosby Show.” Recent disgusting revelations about Cosby himself aside, critics often called it “black television for white viewers.” Was “When We Rise” gay television for a straight audience? If that’s the case, then so be it. Maybe we need more gay representation on the small screen and not simply for our own sake.

If we were looking for the gay “Roots,” maybe we should keep looking. But if “When We Rise” was gay history for the uninformed, perhaps it did its job.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer who contributes regularly to the Blade.

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In debate, Biden must stay on offense

President needs more lines like ‘I am running against a 6-year-old’

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On June 27, President Joe Biden will debate the man he has called a six-year-old. A great line, and he needs a few more like that. Unless there is a clear stumble by either candidate, we know what they will say. Trump will call Biden ‘sleepy Joe,’ among other names. But the reality is, people are used to it. They are not as used to Biden returning the favor. And Biden, aside from referring to Trump as a convicted felon, needs some lines that will make headlines the next day. Something with a little humor in it, but still making a strong point. 

Trump is scary. The recent column in the Washington Post on how Russ Vought, the former president’s budget director, is laying the groundwork for a broad expansion of presidential powers, is truly frightening. Now if it were me, I would be able to use my usual litany of words when referring to Trump: racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic pig, found liable for sexual assault, and convicted felon. I may even go as far as suggesting society replace the word felon with “Trump.” People at trials could be convicted of 34 “Trumps.” But Biden can’t really use that. Maybe Biden can do something like look him in the eye and say, “You can’t really believe all the BS you keep spouting!” Then add, “The world is a complicated place, and even most six-year-olds seem to have a better understanding and grasp of it than you do.” 

Then there is the focus on the very serious part of the debate. The discussion of issues including the economy, abortion, contraception, and foreign policy. Reminding people, it was Trump who killed the immigration bill in Congress, telling energy billionaires if they raise him a billion dollars, in essence bribe him, they can “drill baby drill.” The president needs to speak to African Americans, Latinos, women, and the young. He needs to tell each of those groups what will happen if the six-year-old he is running against, were to become president again. 

Then he needs to look directly into the camera and say to the audience at home, “It isn’t only Trump you need to fear, it is the people he will surround himself with. His sycophants and cult, who will let him get revenge on anyone who says a word against him.” You can count on the fact it will be much worse than the last time around when he tried to stage a coup, because no decent person will work for him.

The first debate will take place 18 weeks before the Nov. 5 election. So much can change between then and the election. Remember when we talked about an October surprise? In today’s world there could be July, August, and September surprises as well. Between now and election day we will be treated to an overload of polling, most of it wrong. We will read hundreds of headlines, many of them clickbait. If you watch TV you will get to listen to hundreds of talking heads, many knowing no more than you. The difference being, they are being paid to spout off on the election, giving not facts, but their opinions. 

It seems every four years we hear this could be the most important, the most crucial, election of our lifetime. Well, this time those who say it just may be telling the truth. One candidate, convicted of 34 “Trumps,” is telling you he will be a dictator, and using Hitler’s words. He has the likes of Russ Voight advising him, and openly says he will seek revenge. Nothing could be more frightening. He is telling the young he doesn’t care about climate change, and telling the poor their programs will be cut because he will cut taxes for the rich.  

He calls our soldiers, those who sacrificed their lives and died in wars, “suckers and losers.” He called John McCain “a war hero because he was captured,” saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” This frightening, sick man, with the world view of a warped six-year-old, will lead the United States if we aren’t willing to stand up to him, and his MAGA cult. Yes, I am afraid! And you should be too! If you are a woman, a minority, a member of the LGBTQ community, or just poor, be scared, be very afraid! If Trump and his cult win, you will lose what little you think you now have.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Why you should celebrate pride with a musical about GenderCannibalism?

Rose: You Are What You Eat, through June 23 at Woolly Mammoth.

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Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth.

Because when I came out as trans my aunt told me it was because I ate my twin in the womb…and that’s what the show is about

Because…remember that time when you decided to dress like exactly like your older sister; or you stole your mothers’ makeup or your brother’s tie; or you decided to dress up like Katherine Hepburn for halloween when you were (i dunno) 10; or you started to look eerily like your lover…..that’s all gender cannibalism

Because because because because because….” because if you know that song this was made for you…and if you don’t…it’s okay, we’ll work on it

Because you can probably find a cute date at the show irl instead of just swiping in your phone…think of theater as an in person dating app without as much drunkenness as the bar

Because maybe that cute date is me

Because you can sing along to music written by a bunch of queers from Philly and D.C. 

Because we are all so hungry and so so thirsty 

Because I guarantee you will leave feeling fed

Because cannibalism puns are tasty

Because it’s a comedy

Because there are pay-what-you-can tickets

Because it plays all of June

Because we are consuming gender all the time but rarely watching what and how we eat it 

Because it’s an anti-assimilationist endeavor: the corporations can’t co-opt “gender cannibalism” for pride month (but there is merchandise available at the show…)

Because it’s only 75 minutes

Because I dance around in tighty whities with socks on my hands

Because there is a free clothing swap and treats in the gallery next to the show

Because why not?

Because you will be cast as my Mother, and that’s the role of a lifetime (or at least my lifetime)

Because you won’t know what will happen; you can’t pause or rewind the show; you will be taking a risk; you will find it’s more than just entertainment; you will feel me talking right to you

Because I’ve been writing this show for 34 years and am finally ready to share it with you

Because I’ll be in the lobby afterwards to say hi, and receive hugs, stories, and phone numbers 

Because I made this piece for you, my dear deviants, trans folx, genderful ones and for the people that care for us. It is a good laugh and a good cry and meant as a gift, a way to end your day feeling loved, nourished and worthy

Because don’t you want to be nourished and reminded that you are loved and worthy? 

And frankly because art needs you to survive and you need art to thrive

Because I took the time to write this letter to you and you took the time to read it, and neither you nor I want to waste that investment

Because you won’t want to miss it

Get tickets to Rose: You Are What You Eat, playing through June 23rd.

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Elon Musk is a danger to society

X has become a warped platform that spews anti-trans hate

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Elon Musk (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

Elon Musk is officially a danger to society. As of mid May of 2024, X.com, the platform formerly known as Twitter, has started banning accounts that use the word “cisgender” or “cis,” deriding it as a slur. For those who don’t know, “cisgender” refers to any person whose gender aligns with the genitalia they were assigned at birth. Erasing the word “cisgender” from tweets, or X.com remarks, ensures that gender nonconforming people can’t articulate the bigotry they feel in this world. 

Musk has been notorious for his transphobia. It didn’t just start in mid-May of this year. In June of 2023, during Pride month, Musk liked a bunch of transphobic tweets. For instance, he promoted the Matt Walsh documentary, “What is a Woman?”, which was a film in transmisogyny. 

Moreover, in July of 2022, Musk’s transgender teenage daughter sought separation from her father because he was hateful toward her and bullied her because of her gender identity. In December 2022, Musk tweeted “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” mocking the words that transgender people need to enunciate who we are. This wasn’t the first time that Musk mocked pronouns. 

Musk is becoming increasingly dangerous toward trans people, especially as X.com takes on a new dimension — turning into a warped platform that spews conspiracy views, including right-wing thoughts that trans people shouldn’t exist, and other ultraconservative opinions. 

What adds heavy weight to the danger that Musk poses is the relative success of his companies and the wealth, measured in dollars, that he carries on his shoulders. SpaceX is valued at around $180 billion, and Tesla is worth approximately $571 billion. The more wealth Musk accumulates, the more power is attached to his transphobia. Already, he is consciously allowing employees within his companies to mock transgender people. Having a CEO who openly teases a marginalized population is a recipe for that company to tease said population as well. 

As a former small business owner, I’m actually a huge fan of Musk’s work. The billionaire is brilliant beyond belief, and, after being bullied in school in South Africa, earned degrees in physics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania. At one point, he was working so hard on one of his first startups that he often slept in the office and showered at a local YMCA. In interviews, it is clear that Musk borders, if not embodies, genius. His intellectual prowess is second to none. 

Additionally, the mogul has been open about his diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar disorder. It’s impressive, to say the least, that Musk has racked up all of these accomplishments despite having these diseases of the mind and body. He has vocalized his use of ketamine therapy, for instance, in treating his bipolar, which is a ballsy move to make as CEO. 

Unfortunately, though, Musk just won’t stop with his transphobia. He is making X.com a non-democratic place for sponsored conspiratorial speech, and banning words is the farthest thing from freedom, which is a virtue he claims to embody. 

Many scholars of Elon have noted that he lives in a distorted reality, and I have to agree with that sentiment. Banning “cisgender” from X.com is certainly a distorted thing to do, and should be looked upon as a danger to society. 

Isaac Amend is a writer based in the D.C. area. With two poetry books out, he writes for the Blade and the Yale Daily News. He is a transgender man and was featured in National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” documentary. He serves on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Contact him at [email protected] or on Instagram at: @literatipapi

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