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Sophie B. Hawkins goes deep in advance of D.C.-area concert

‘90s hitmaker known for ‘Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover’ is on fall mini-tour



Sophie Hawkins, gay news, Washington Blade

Sophie B. Hawkins will sing hits and new songs at her Saturday evening concert in Vienna, Va. (Photo by Shervin Lainez; courtesy No Big Deal PR)

Ellis Paul and Sophie B. Hawkins


Saturday, Oct. 28


6:30 p.m. (doors, 5:30)


Jammin Java


227 Maple Ave. E


Vienna, Va.



Singer/songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins is at a place in her life where she’s being highly deliberate about what she does.

She’s sitting on a finished album but wants to figure out a way to release it strategically for maximum impact. A recurring theme in our lengthy phone chat last week is that there are lots of great ideas, but several are just not high on her priority list right now.

Newly single after nearly two decades in a same-sex relationship, the 52-year-old singer known for ‘90s radio staples “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover” and “As I Lay Me Down” is back in New York focusing on her art and raising her two young children, Dashiell, 8, and Esther, 2.

She makes a rare D.C.-area appearance this weekend at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Va., on her fall mini-tour. Her comments have been edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How does it feel to be back in New York again after so many years in Los Angeles?

SOPHIE B. HAWKINS: Well I was born and raised in Manhattan so when I get home to New York or anywhere near, I feel a certain accessibility to my soul. I feel like this is where I came into the world, where I’m coming back to and where I’m allowed to be me. I can be my age here, I can be a single woman, so exotic and excited to be alive, just in the day, and it’s not weird. I don’t have to drive a fancy car, I don’t have to wear makeup, I can just live and enjoy everyone’s energy and creativity. That’s the difference between L.A. and New York. In California, it’s harder to connect with people and harder to connect with people’s creativity. In New York, it’s very much coming up from the ground.

BLADE: What can we expect at your show this weekend and why are you doing a mini-tour now?

HAWKINS: This mini-tour came about for a very specific reason. I wanted to go out and do solo shows without one single musician, just me because I’d never done that before until weekend before last. I did it in Massachusetts and Maine and I really felt like this was the time for me to just go on stage and really see if I’m a good-enough musician and good-enough artist and good-enough storyteller to get out there and be the person that I am (in my home studio) working and writing songs. … I loved the last two shows. They were my favorites in a very long time because I just got up there with my instruments, my banjo, my drums, my guitar and my piano, and I sang the songs and it was so relaxed and emotional and, of course, intimate, but it was something more. Sort of a heightened experience. … I wouldn’t say it’s me being me because I’m always me, but it’s really one on one. It’s scary but that’s where I really like it the best.

BLADE: How was it received?

HAWKINS: Both audiences, and not that this should ever happen again, but they both gave me standing ovations and they all came back and it was a different conversation after the show. … It really could have gone terribly — that’s why I didn’t do it in New York. I could have walked off the stage and said, “I’m never doing that again,” and called my guitar player. But I’m actually excited to do it more.

BLADE: You’re working on a musical, you have a new album in the can, you did the Janis Joplin play a few years ago and said you even wrote some songs as Janis. What all will you be singing? Stuff from your albums or some of that stuff as well?

HAWKINS: Well, OK, first of all, I’m always going to do my hits. They’re beautiful and I just want people to know they won’t get deprived of that. The second thing is I’m definitely doing some new songs. People seem to really love the new songs and I’m doing one I just wrote a couple weeks ago that’s a brand new original Christmas song so it’s going to be exciting to do one that I just wrote. As for the album, I’m going to be totally candid because I always am, I don’t quite know how to get it out. I don’t want it to just be the same old process of putting all this effort into something and then making no money from it. I’m trying to find a new way and really taking my time. I really love it, I put a ton of energy into it and the songs are, in my opinion, phenomenal so I don’t want to just throw it out and have it go nowhere. The musical is still a work in progress. … I may put the Christmas song out just to have a little something but … I can’t just throw things out there anymore.

BLADE: You did some shows in New York back in June that you said you were going to record to try to capture something elusive you said doesn’t always show up on your studio work. Did you?

HAWKINS: Yes, well, I don’t know if I captured that elusive whatever but I did record all three shows and they were filmed. I don’t know if the filming was good because I haven’t seen it yet. … I’m not sure if I’m going to edit them and put anything out because that takes so much work. I wish I had another me to do that kind of work. And sometimes you’re just too close to it. I thought it sounded terrible when I listened to it in June but then I heard it again in September by accident and I was like, “No, that sounds pretty good, I should get to editing that.” … But again, it goes back to not wanting to just put stuff out just to do it. I’m looking for a right connection. I’m not dying for people to say, “Oh she’s great, listen to this,” and then move on to the next thing. There’s no reason for that. Maybe once I figure out when the album is coming out, the live stuff could be like the thank you for being part of my life and here is this gift.

BLADE: What has it been like rebuilding after going through the break-up of a 17-year relationship?

HAWKINS: Oh, it was awful. Just so incredibly sad, I can’t even tell you. … It’s still so difficult to understand how that could have happened. … I felt like I was saved when I got back to New York … by the skin of my teeth. There’s this amazing other part of yourself that says, “I’ve got to move before the tsunami hits, I gotta get out of my bed and start running” and that’s what happened. The tsunami was coming down on me and my son and I actually got out of bed and said, “We’re getting up now, move, move, move, get the dogs,” and we got to New York and boom, we would have been dead if we’d stayed a moment longer. And I mean completely dead emotionally, psychologically, financially, everything. It’s scary to think about. That’s one aspect of it. But thank God I landed and … could begin again. … There is still a reckoning I’m dealing with in my art and in conversations with close friends, you know, walking around going, “I can’t believe this is part of my story now.” … I never thought it would happen — a betrayal on that level.

BLADE: One song of yours that’s always haunted me is “I Need Nothing Else.” I know songwriters hate to explain what songs are about but can you illuminate us at all on that one?

HAWKINS: I love that song too because of the combination of the visceral and the spiritual and accepting it all as one and knowing that all things go together with no boundaries. All these things need each other and pull each other and tug each other and there’s that feeling of passion that I really love and then the phrase, “I need nothing else,” is what you do — you go through your life and you eliminate, you start to realize what you need and what you don’t need and you come back to this very essential quality. … You bring the drama on when you don’t know what you need and you do so many things to mask and then you find it and it’s unmasked — that’s that song, it’s unmasked, here it is.

BLADE: It’s taboo to say you wanna have sex with Jesus but pop music is kind of this nice place where you can entertain both the spiritual and the carnal, which is forbidden in gospel music. Is that a fair interpretation or am I off base?

HAWKINS: No, you’re so on base and I love that you said have sex with Jesus. Yes, it’s so true and in a way, that’s sort of what we’re doing. … And yes, that is the great thing about pop music and great poetry, it connects all these things. … There’s actually a movie out now that’s about all this called “The Novitiate.” Have you heard of it?


HAWKINS: It’s not out yet but I saw a screening and it’s really a brilliant movie but it’s not with men, it’s with nuns. Oh my God.

BLADE: How long did it take to make “Tongues and Tales” (1992) and “Whaler” (1994)? How long did you spend recording vocals and how long were the whole projects?

HAWKINS: OK, well, “Whaler” took shorter than “Tongues and Tales” because I worked with Stephen Lipson and he was — well, for both albums by the way, we used my demos a lot, which was interesting, so we’d have to include that time. I’d recorded those songs at home first. Like in “Did We Not Choose Each Other” when you hear the frying pans and all the crazy percussion and the keyboards, all that stuff was done at home. “As I Lay Me Down,” the percussion, the keyboards, all that was taken from my original demo and we just overlaid and built upon it.

BLADE: You felt you’d captured something on those that couldn’t be bettered?

HAWKINS: Yeah. There were periods where different producers would try to get away from it but even the head of the record company, Don Ienner at the time, the head of Sony, he said, “No, you’ve got to use the vocal on her demo, that’s why I signed her.” So there were always those moments where we would go back to that. … So “Whaler” didn’t take a long time ‘cause Stephen works fast. “Tongues and Tales” took a long time because I’d never made a record before and Rick Chertoff is known for taking a really long time. He wanted demo after demo after demo after demo. He could spend years on just a thought. It takes him hours to get a freaking sentence out. But in some ways, that’s also why he’s brilliant. He’s like an old-fashioned director. He’ll take you to dinner and you have to include all that in the process. So on “Tongues and Tales,” they didn’t spend anytime on me. It was all about the radio, what will happen to the album, and Rick Chertoff takes everything into consideration but then when it came time for vocals, believe it or not, they gave me like a day. I was really upset about that inside, but I did not wanna complain because they didn’t make me write with anybody, they completely stayed true to my vision so I thought, “Well, OK, I have a day, I’m just gonna use a day.” So the vocals were very fast. … But that worked out OK because I’m one of those people you can’t overdo things too much with. On “Whaler,” though, he did take much more time with the vocals.

BLADE: What happens to all the alternate takes and photo and video outtakes when a major label project like that wraps? Do you get it all or is it sitting in box in a warehouse somewhere?

HAWKINS: I think Sony probably trashed it all because, you know, I fought with them by the third album. I have all the demos, which is shocking. … But they didn’t care about what they didn’t use so I would think by this time they would have trashed everything. I did get a bunch of pictures. … Great outtakes from sessions by David LaChapelle, Bruce Weber and Mark Hanauer. It would be fun to do something with those but at this point in my career, I don’t want to spend the time looking through photos.

BLADE: I sense from what you’re saying there was some frustration with the release of “The Crossing,” your last album in 2012. Was the rollout underwhelming? How do you feel about it now that you have a little distance from it?

HAWKINS: Well that’s why I don’t want to put out another record the same way. I think there are some songs on it that are amazing. I just love “The Land, the Sea and the Sky.” It’s so raw, I don’t know, I just love the feel of it. And I love “A Child.” There are some songs I love. But certain songs I think are terrible on “The Crossing” and those are the ones I actually worked the most on. Like “Betchya Got a Cure,” I think could have been a great song but I think it’s just terribly done. … My manager-slash-partner had lost interest in me as a person and as an artist or whatever and I couldn’t really — I mean, I did it totally alone. No producer, no nothing. I even engineered the goddamn record. It was a beautiful studio, but still. I put it out with zero, and I mean zero, support, so in a way, it’s amazing it sounds as good as it does and it’s as lively as it is. There’s no way really I could have done better in that situation.

BLADE: What was your cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” from? I found it later on a compilation and wasn’t sure.

HAWKINS: That was for a charity album. It might have been breast cancer because they wanted songs by women and I chose that because Joan Baez sang it and I loved it. I recorded it in my apartment where I was at the time on Christopher Street and I just did it at the piano with all those crazy vocals and the djembe drum and that was basically it. But people seem to like it. Sony was pretty mad at me. They said it wasn’t professional enough. I was like, “Well, then, you know, give me some money and I’ll do it more professionally.”

BLADE: Melissa Etheridge’s VH-1 “Duets” special now seems like this amazing time capsule of great ‘90s women rockers. What was it like taping it?

HAWKINS: Well, the first memory is when she called. … I dove to the floor to pick up the land line at a house in L.A. where I was staying and I couldn’t believe I was talking to Melissa Etheridge because this was at the time when she was having her huge, breakout like big, big moment, and I hit my head on the closet door when I went for the phone so I was pretending to be completely with it and cool and obviously I wasn’t. … I remember rehearsing with her and just thinking she was so amazing, her guitar playing and her presence. I loved her and felt like I would have loved her even if she wasn’t Melissa Etheridge, but I never would have because she’s from such a different part of the world. So then we got to the show and I really thought I’d botched it and I was kind of embarrassed. But I loved being with her and Paula Cole was super nice too.

BLADE: I get what you’re saying about prioritizing certain projects over others but it’s been 25 years this year since “Tongues and Tales” and “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” Are you doing anything to commemorate that?

HAWKINS: No, I didn’t really realize it was exactly 25 years. See that’s where it would be nice to have a team to help me remember those things.

BLADE: It’s so cool that you’re able to still devote yourself to art. New York and L.A. are both so insanely expensive and you’re raising two kids. Do you ever feel practical or financial concerns encroaching on your art? How do you soldier on?

HAWKINS: You do have to soldier on as an artist no matter what and as a mother because you cannot let those people down. It doesn’t matter if you have any money or not. The thing about being an artist in this day and age is that you cannot expect any kind of support if you’re in the music business. I’m lucky to have the support and recognition that I do. I see young people I’ve met and let open for me who have these amazing songs, they’re young and beautiful and talented and they’re in a way worse position than me. I’m doing really well, I actually am. … I could make a choice. I could make a lot of money, I mean relative to what I’m going to get back, and throw it in my career right now, but I really do feel the timing isn’t right and it would be a complete waste. I feel it’s a time to be really selective. … I learned with “The Crossing,” it’s not good enough to just stay afloat. It’s actually better almost to disappear and for everyone to think you’re gone forever and you were so beautiful and great then and if you have a rebirth or even if you don’t, then at least your work stands on its own. That’s a big concept. I hadn’t even really thought about it, I was just kind of talking out of my ass but yeah. I’m maintaining an amazing lifestyle in this amazing city and my children and art are doing amazingly well and I will tell you the honest truth — I’ve never been so happy in my life.

BLADE: How has being a mom shifted your artistic lens or has it?

HAWKINS: It’s made me more appreciative and patient with myself. … It’s moved me away from trying to be a perfectionist. … It’s also been fun to see how some things that I thought were just about me, they’re sort of genetic. Like the singing and stuff. … Not so much the creation of a song, but my son is like this amazing little walking poet and he says things that blow me away, but I think maybe he gets it from my mother. There’s some quality about it that’s really fun to see.

Sophie B. Hawkins, gay news, Washington Blade

Sophie B. Hawkins at a 2004 Pittsburgh concert. (Washington Blade file photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)


a&e features

The ultimate guide to queer gift giving

Perfect presents for everyone from roommates to soulmates



Searching for special deliveries for that special someone? Consider these elf-approved, consciously curated presents perfect for everyone from roommates to soulmates. 

Star Wars Home Collection

Movie nights in bed get a comfort upgrade from the Force – for those who uphold Jedi code in the streets but embrace the Dark Side in the sheets – with Sobel Westex’s Star Wars Home Collection, five- to seven-piece twin, queen and king sets suitable for either alliance. Cop a bootleg of the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” (legal copies don’t exist, nor has it been rebroadcast since its one-and-only airing in 1978) and settle in for a snacky screening with premade Johnson’s Popcorn (a Jersey Shore staple) or Pop ’N Dulge’s DIY gourmet kits., $350-$390;, $27+;, $23

Bird Buddy Smart Feeder

Avian enthusiasts get up close and semi-personal with feathered friends thanks to the Bird Buddy smart feeder that allows safe viewing via a solar-powered, app-enabled camera, along with adorable add-ons like a suet ball holder and three-in-one nutrition set to keep the neighborhood’s population happy and healthy., $299-$415

Jewelry – but make it an experience. That’s the premise behind Link x Lou, a quick-fitting accessory service providing recipients with in-person appointments for custom-linked, clasp-less 14-karat white- and yellow-gold necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and rings that wear until they’re worn out. Money’s on ’em lasting longer than the situationship you’ve got goin’, but may the odds be ever in your favor., $55-$500

Orttu Shelton Puffer

Guess who’s coming to dinner? It’s you as an alt-timeline Tom of Finland in Orttu’s fully quilted, oversized Shelton Puffer comprised of double-layered high-sheen fabric and press-stud fastening that results in a slick style statement vers-er than you are., $203

Winter Discovery Mini Scented Candle Set

Apotheke takes the guesswork out of choosing just the right ambiance-inducing aroma with its Winter Discovery Mini Scented Candle Set, featuring six fragrant two-ounce tins in seasonal smells that include birchwood apple, black cypress, blackberry honey, cardamon chestnut, charred fig, and firewood (with a combined 90-hour burn time), and packaged in a nostalgically illustrated gift box accentuated by festive gold detailing., $64

Polaris General 1000 Sport

Resort communities across the country have adopted golf carts as a preferred mode of transportation, and you can establish yourself as a local baddie in Polaris’ General 1000 Sport – in ethereal colorways like ghost gray – equipped with a four-stroke DOHC twin-cylinder engine, 100 horsepower, 1,500-pound hitch-towing capacity, and enough street cred for Boomers to shake their fists at., $17,500+

‘Arquivistas’ Crystal Book

Brazilian crystal devotee Tatiana Dorow has curated an impressive collection of more than 1,000 rare and exquisite minerals – ranging from one ounce to over 5,000 pounds – the comprehensive record of which is now compiled in the sizable coffee-table tome “Arquivistas” (Portuguese for archivist) that’s sure to satisfy, delight, and provide endless holiday-party talking points to the New Agers in your life. (You know they will.), $350

Bovem Globe Trimmer 2.0

There are plenty of manscaping tools on the market, but perhaps none are designed with your delicate bits in mind like the handsome second-gen Bovem Globe body and groin trimmer with its ergonomic textured grip, powerful 6500 RPM with low vibration, varying guards, and replaceable TrimSafe blades that tidy you up without cutting skin or pulling rough hair. Deck the halls! – no more bloody Christmas balls., $60-$87

Lexington Glassworks Decanter Set

Pour one out from Lexington Glassworks’ hand-blown whiskey decanter, each one individually crafted in the company’s Asheville, N.C., studio and detailed with an elegant crackle finish that lends an air of sophistication to any home bar cart. Pair with a set of LG’s complementary rocks glasses, in the same distinguished style, for a cherished gift., $280

Joule Turbo Sous Vide

Your fave chefs’ autopilot cooking technique hits home countertops in Breville’s sleek Joule Turbo Sous Vide stick, which cooks seasoned-and-bagged meats and veggies to a faster-than-ever optimal internal temperature (unattended, no less) before a lickety-split sear and serve results in restaurant-quality dishes deserving of at least a couple Michelin stars for your minimal-mess kitchen., $250

Outlines Shower Liner System

Holiday hosts can practice responsible replenishment amid our planetary plastic-waste crisis when you gift Outlines’ thoughtfully designed Shower Liner System that provides users with a machine-washable cotton top piece and fully recyclable bottom to replace when it’s time to ditch the grime. Set it and forget it with three-, six- or nine-month auto-deliveries., $50

Barbie Perfume

Fight the patriarchy doused in Barbie’s sweet-and-fresh fragrance that, from top to bottom, features notes of strawberry nectar and red cherry, peony and pink magnolia, and sandalwood and soft musk for an extraordinary scent that’s more than Kenough., $65

AiRROBO Pet Grooming Vacuum

Posh pets enjoy salon-style luxury in the comfort of their homes when treated to a grooming session by the AiRROBO vacuum (think Flowbee for cats and dogs), a five-tool, one-stop solution for keeping furbabies’ hair, dander, allergens and mites to a minimum. The portable pamperer includes an electric clipper, crevice and de-shedding tools, and grooming and cleaning brushes housed in a space-saving, HEPA-filtered capsule., $110

Aura Smart Sleep Mask

What does the future of total relaxation and deep sleep look like? Blackout darkness and complete serenity in a dream-state sanctuary when you spend your nights in the Aura Smart Sleep Mask with built-in speakers for guided meditation and snooze-inducing ASMR, zero-pressure eye cushioning, and light and sunrise therapy to help you wake rested and refreshed at home and (especially) away., $190

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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Anatomy of a post-cancellation comedy tour: Ashley Gavin in D.C.

After doxxing and death threats, a focus on jokes that transcend identity



Ashley Gavin is back on the comedy circuit after a summer controversy.

I was dressing up to go to Ashley Gavin’s stand-up comedy show at the Lincoln Theatre when I got a text from Sydnie, Ashley’s assistant. I didn’t remember giving Sydnie my number — although I must have, surely? We had been in contact the past few days about setting up an interview with Ashley about her show here in D.C., and just today we had managed to schedule a time for tomorrow afternoon.

But suddenly the interview wasn’t looking so sure. Sydnie was texting to ask for a list of my questions for the interview, and if I didn’t provide them, I wouldn’t be getting tickets to tonight’s show. I had two hours to get back to her. “So sorry about that!” Sydnie texted.

The ultimatum caught me off guard — but perhaps it shouldn’t have. Ashley Gavin was the subject of controversy this summer for some of her crowd work during a show in Indianapolis. After a fan cheered a little too loudly at a joke, Ashley informed her she was the “the most annoying fan who has ever been to one of her shows,” and that she should “kill herself.” When the fan responded, “I’ve already tried,” Ashley responded that she didn’t try hard enough, and implored her again and again to kill herself. The fan broke down in tears, and left the show.

The familiar cycle of celebrity cancellation played out. Calls were made on Reddit to boycott Ashley’s shows. Ashley released an apology video. YouTubers scrutinized the apology clip-by-clip on their channels. Ashley reported getting doxxed in death threats. (The irony!) The fan Ashley accosted, Olivia Neely, raised money for suicide awareness online. And now Ashley Gavin is back on tour, for the first time since the incident. No wonder Ashley had her assistant screening my questions.

When Ashley took the stage at the Lincoln Theatre, it quickly became clear that her audience is kindling for controversy fire. All the way up front, in the first few rows, are Ashley’s die-hard fans. Some of these fans have paid hundreds of dollars for meet-and-greet tickets after the show. They’re on the younger side, and are largely lesbian or queer. They turned 21 during the pandemic, and they haven’t necessarily been to a comedy show before. They’re fans from online — of Ashley’s TikTok, or her podcast. But all the way in the back are more casual viewers, people who aren’t fans of Ashley specifically, but of comedy more generally. They might have bought their tickets last minute. They’re a little older than the die-hard fans, a little less queer, and they’re more familiar with the offline comedy club scene. 

It’s great that these two different groups can come together to enjoy a comedy show. But there’s one big problem. The online die-hards and the offline comedy regulars have very different expectations for the show. And Ashley isn’t looking to satisfy all of them.

On the one hand, the comedy regulars aren’t necessarily used to the content of her show, which especially on this tour, is largely comprised of material about being lesbian. Ashley wants the straight people in the room to know these jokes are for them too. One of the few bits Ashley carried over from her first special to this new tour involves picking out a random straight man in the audience. She’ll learn his name, and then check in on him after this or that joke later in the set as the ‘representative straight man’ in the crowd. “I’m speaking to the people who might not feel comfortable in the room,” Ashley explained to me during our interview. “I’m saying like, hey, I know you’re there, and this is for you. And I’m really glad that you’re here, you know.”

But if Ashley wants the comedy regulars to adjust to the content of her show, she also wants her online, die-hard fans to adjust to the form of her show, which is offline, at a comedy club or theater. Her die-hard fans are new to the comedy scene, and she wants to make a proper introduction. This isn’t simply out of magnanimity. Ashley intends to put on the kind of show the comedy regulars are there to see. And if her fans from TikTok or her podcast are going to enjoy it, that means adjusting their expectations.

“I’ve read it in my comments [online] before,” Ashley lamented. “I’ve read like, ‘This was not a safe space.’ Maybe because of gross things, or some of the darkness of the jokes. I’m frequently like, what made you think it was going to be a safe space? Art is not a safe space.” 

Ashley Gavin

As Ashley sees things, part of going to a comedy show is letting go and not worrying about whether the jokes are offensive. It’s giving the comedian the benefit of the doubt, especially if you know them from online. And she thinks letting go of your worries isn’t giving up on your political convictions — it’s empowering. “[My fans] are very into social justice, and very into doing the right thing, [and] I want to give them the opportunity to let go a little bit, and release some of their tension, and their pain, and their struggle.”

So one of the more unique things Ashley will do as a comedian is address her online, die-hard fans directly at the beginning of her show. She’ll tell them that she’s on the right side of things, that she won’t pull the rug out from under them, politically speaking. She’ll tell them that they should feel free to laugh, to let it out, not cover their mouths. “I know who my audience is, and they want some safety. And they want some trust. And the fastest way that I can earn that trust is to be up front, and just say I’m not going to trick you tonight. The person you came to see, the person you think I am, I am that person.” But it’s a difficult balancing act. How do you promise your audience safety, while maintaining that a comedy show is not a “safe space”? It’s no wonder the kindling might catch fire, despite Ashley’s best efforts. You’d be forgiven for wondering whether there wasn’t an easier way. Why ask fans who want safety to ride out a non-safe space?

I think it helps to understand what Ashley wants out of being a comedian. A major theme of Ashley’s first comedy special was her frustration with being called a “lesbian comedian.” She talks about wanting to be called a great comedian, not a lesbian one — someone who is in the running with other great comedians, whose jokes transcend any particular identity. And if you want to be a great comedian, and not “the lesbian comedian,” it makes sense that you might want your mostly queer online audience to acclimate to the comedy club scene. She doesn’t want to put on a lesbian show. She wants to put on a great comedy show.

Ashley Gavin

So what of Ashley’s hopes for being a great comedian, post-cancellation? On her Chosen Family podcast, taped just one day before her show in D.C., Ashley gave a picture of where she thought things stood. “My audience has changed. I’m experiencing this new audience now that might be a better fit. Because it’s the folks that saw what happened and kind of understand, OK, these were meant to be jokes,” Ashley told her co-hosts. “The folks who don’t see it that way aren’t really at the show anymore, and the show is far more enjoyable for everybody there.”

When I surveyed the audience after Ashley’s show, her prediction seemed to bear out. Everyone I talked to either didn’t know about the summer’s controversy, or didn’t care. “I know nothing of drama. That takes a lot of energy to follow,” said Sunshine, a fan of Ashley’s from over the pandemic. People wanted to chat about Ashley’s crowd work, particularly the drunk girl from Missouri who just wouldn’t give up. They had nothing to say about Indianapolis. Perhaps for Ashley Gavin, the post-cancellation cycle doesn’t end with her remaining fans forgiving and forgetting. Just the forgetting, and moving on.

CJ Higgins is a postdoctoral fellow with the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

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Meet two key figures behind the most LGBTQ-friendly video game ever made

Baldur’s Gate 3 debuted in August to widespread critical acclaim



(Image courtesy of Larian Studios Games Ltd.)

Baldur’s Gate 3 (BG3) is perhaps the most LGBTQ-friendly AAA video game ever made. It’s also one of the best role-playing games ever, according to Metacritic, the premier website owned by Fandom that aggregates reviews of films, television shows, music albums and video games.

Baldur’s Gate 3 by Ghent, Belgium-based Larian Studios, is a series of role-playing video games set in the Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting. The game has spawned two series, known as the Bhaalspawn Saga and the Dark Alliance.

Baldur’s Gate 3 was released on Aug. 3, 2023 to widespread critical acclaim. Unusually for a AAA game, it had spent six years in development, and almost three years of that in early access open beta testing. Larian Studios developed BG3 as a sequel to the first two games, which were released in 1998 and 1999 respectively. 

Recently the Blade had the opportunity to interview two of the key figures in the game’s development.

Actress Jennifer English played the role of Shadowheart, one of the main characters of the game with whom the player can have a romantic relationship, regardless of their gender. Her partner is Aliona Baranova, an actress and motion capture (mocap) performer who worked as one of the Performance Directors on the game. They met during the production of the game and worked closely together during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Jennifer identifies as lesbian and queer, while Aliona identifies as bisexual and queer. They graciously agreed to give the Blade an hour of their time, right after a grueling weekend at London Comic Con.

BLADE: How was London Comic Con 2023? How were you both received?

JENNIFER: It was like being a rock star. It was incredible. We were both there for Comic Con [2022] this time last year [and] when I first turned up there was no one in my queue [for autographs]. Now this year, there were people queuing for 6 hours at one point. It was absolute madness. But it was also just really beautiful. 

We did one of the panels [this year]. And I was expecting it to be like a 500 or 1,000 seater. When I looked out, it was about 4,000 people. It was really wonderful because Aliona was next to me the whole time, and so many people wanted her autograph as well–like a good third to a half.

ALIONA: The number of people that wanted to take a photo of the both of us was so touching, as was how many people [that] came up to us and said, “We watch your streams” and told us that the representation that we  gave them, and how open we are about being neuro divergent, was so meaningful.

BLADE: Did either of you play Dungeons and Dragons before you started work on this game?

JENNIFER: I always wanted to. I just hadn’t been invited.

ALIONA: No, never!

JENNIFER: I was really lucky that the first time I got to play D&D was with the cast for High Rollers, and we got Mark Humes, who was the best dungeon master, to walk us through it. We felt so safe and guided. It was a really wonderful start into D&D. The space felt very welcome as well, which was nice, and no one seemed to mind too much that we were fumbling through somewhat. And it was really nice to play together as a couple.

BLADE: You posted how you auditioned for the role of Shadowheart in BG3, and Jennifer got it. This led to an interesting start to your relationship. 

ALIONA: So I auditioned, and didn’t get the part. And then another call went out looking for people that had mocap (motion capture) experience, which I did have, to direct. When I sent in my mocap reel I was secretly hoping they’d watch and think, she should be in the game as an actor. But no, they didn’t. They rang me to say they thought I should direct.

I came to direct, did a couple of sessions, and then, during my fourth or fifth session, Jen comes in to record Shadowheart. Everyone is telling me “Jennifer is coming in today. She’s lovely. You’re gonna love her”. And I’m like, yeah, yeah, I’ll see. 

When Jen came into the studio she was an absolute ray of sunshine. It was sickening–she was so wonderful, I could not hate her. I wanted to, so badly, but I just couldn’t. She got along with everyone; she was so friendly. I thought, “you’re making this so hard for me”. 

Then we went in to record, and I thought, okay, well, maybe she’s not that good at the role, and I can swoop in and save the day and be Shadowheart instead. But she was amazing. I wanted to hate her even more, but I couldn’t, because she was so talented and incredible.  I was very naive and very confident. I definitely couldn’t do what Jen has achieved, and she was a far better performer than I was back then. I’ve learned a lot from her since then to become a better performer myself. 

It could have gone one of 2 ways: I could sabotage her and direct her really badly, or I could help this incredible and kind woman out and be a good director for her. The rest is history. And I think we nailed it with Shadowheart.

BLADE: Jennifer, how did you find out Aliona wanted to be frenemies initially?

JENNIFER: I can’t remember how I found out, but I remember being shocked, to say the least. And now we laugh about it quite a lot.

BLADE: What was it like finding the character of Shadowheart?

JENNIFER: I found the voice quite easily, and felt like I accessed her [character] reasonably quickly. There was a lot of collaboration and creativity involved with it. But the one thing I really struggled with at the beginning was the physical side of it, because it’s such an overwhelming thing…you’re put into a grey room with loads of cameras on you, and you’re wearing what is essentially a Velcro cat suit with bobbles on it, and then you’re just told to act naturally. 

One thing that Aliona quickly picked up on was the fact that I have ADHD. A lot of our creative process together was working to find Shadowheart within that—to not fight against it, but use it. That was really wonderful.

BLADE: Are you having any problems with people blurring the line between Shadowheart and Jennifer when you meet them in real life or online, or are people pretty good about keeping them keeping them distinct?

JENNIFER: I think if I had [Shadowheart’s] kind of black cat energy, perhaps. But I am a golden retriever puppy with blonde hair that’s five foot one. I don’t have that kind of statuesque, armor-clad cleric-of-Shar thing going on. So I think our energies are so distinct that it would be pretty impossible to get us confused. 

There is a lot of me in Shadowheart, because I wanted to make her as truthful as possible. [She’s] the part of myself that you’d have to find me in a very vulnerable state to see. That’s a deeper part of myself. Certainly not one that you’d see at Comic-con, or if you bumped into me on the train.

BLADE: I know people who generally don’t like video games who are really into BG3. What’s your take on why this is?

JENNIFER: Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Baldur’s Gate 3 is mainstream. It’s been on South Park.

ALIONA: It’s the mocap. It’s not often that you have nearly all 248 actors do their own mocap. I think that’s why it feels like a TV show or film. I’m biased, but I do think it makes a difference, because I’ve looked at another recent release and you can tell that the voice is done separately from who’s doing the body. You can’t care for them as much as you do in this game, because there’s a disconnect.

JENNIFER: It feels quite jarring because you can’t be immersed in this in the same way, you can tell everyone’s acting, whereas [Baldur’s Gate 3] feels like people are their characters. They’re so good in them.

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