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New web series ‘These Thems’ explores the queer spectrum through comedy

Authentic casting was paramount to creator/writer of YouTube OML production

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These Thems, gay news, Washington Blade
The cast of ‘These Thems’ is from left Shaan Dasani, Nick Park, Vico Ortiz and Gretchen Wylder. (Photo courtesy of Chatter Republic)

An episodic romantic comedy about a newly out lesbian journeying with nonbinary and transgender friends through New York City’s vibrant queer scene streams Feb. 27 on YouTube’s OML channel.

These Thems” follows 30-year-old Gretchen and her nonbinary friend and LGBTQ educator Vero as they navigate the increasingly-complex-yet-still-inclusive world of colorful queer community. 

Similar to “Pose,” this series features a multitude of transgender, nonbinary and queer characters portrayed by actors who are the same. It’s run by crew members who identify across the queer spectrum.

Series writer, creator and star Gretchen Wylder, who identifies as a queer cisgender femme, and director Jett Garrison, who identifies as transmasculine, recently spoke with the Washington Blade about this show, which both called a “comedy with heart.”

“These Thems” was listed in GLAAD’s “Top Trans Creatives and Stories to Watch in 2019” and has received awards at film festivals in Chicago, Austin, North Carolina and Kansas. It was also screened at Toronto’s Inside Out festival, Atlanta’s Out on Film and Los Angeles’ Outfest.

The series is set to stream Thursdays on OML through mid-April. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Gretchen, can you tell us a little about the show? How would you describe it?

GRETCHEN WYLDER: The show is a queer comedy series that follows four main characters in New York City. We follow a newly out lesbian who is trying to make up for lost time, and a nonbinary/wannabe queer educator who takes Gretchen under their wings. Their best friend is a trans man who is deciding whether or not to out himself at work, and he quickly falls for Gretchen’s best friend who is a cis gay man who is lovelorn and doesn’t really have any experience within the queer world. The audience follows Gretchen’s perspective through her lens of exploring the queer world for the first time.

BLADE: You also named the lead character Gretchen. Was there any special reason? 

WYLDER: There’s a lot of actor/writers whom I look up to who have named lead characters after themselves. Lucille Ball, Issa Rae. … And a lot of it is based off my own personal experience. Some of it is based on my own coming out experience, even though I came out 13 years ago. The first episode is inspired by a similar situation.

BLADE: Would you say you’re similar to your character?

WYLDER: Oh, Lord! We’re very similar, ha! I’m a Pisces and I’ve had my run of heartbreak, so we kind of see Gretchen going through the wringer a little bit. But near the end we see Gretchen reclaiming herself, her individuality and her sexuality.

BLADE: What inspired you to create a newly out lesbian navigating the queer world?

WYLDER: I like to think our show draws from and was inspired by “The L Word,” and it was so important to queer representation. But something that we deliver that “The L Word” doesn’t have is a more broad scope of what the queer community looks like. I feel like as enjoyable as it is, it for the most part it seems to focus its lens on cisgendered and conventionally attractive characters facing relationship troubles, and this show focuses more on the broadness of the New York queer community. One thing I never related to with “The L Word” was the predominantly white, feminine, lesbian circles. One thing that I wanted to reflect was queer intersectionality and to show that sometimes it is really difficult to navigate. We all don’t have the answers and we’re all learning and we’re all growing and the characters are just trying their best and experiencing life together — even if it looks different depending on the character.

BLADE: Was it a challenge writing for nonbinary cast members?

WYLDER: Many of my friendships and relationships are with people who identify as nonbinary or trans and I was very active in the queer community in New York City.When I was writing the show, I had four table readings in New York City. I come from a theater background and it comes immediately across from the audience when something is working or isn’t working. I tell you what, there have been so many rewrites of the script because so much of the language was clunky at first. I would get feedback and something wouldn’t work. It was a lot of trial and error.

BLADE: Jett, what drew you to this project?

JETT GARRISON: I read the script and fell in love with the characters, fell in love with the story — the humor. One of the things that drew me to the project was how beautifully Gretchen wrote all of these characters. Gretchen, the character, is having her coming out of sorts, but this is not a coming out story, per se. It is a coming out for folks who are already in the queer community. We have been over the past maybe five years learning a whole new vocabulary that didn’t exist for some of us in our 30s, 40s or 50s. We didn’t have words like nonbinary or trans, so Gretchen gets a new vocabulary and is excited and overwhelmed and she’s trying her best to figure it out. And I feel like everyone, whether they are a straight cis ally or part of the queer community, has had some kind of moment where they are trying to navigate and honoring somebody’s sexuality, identity or humaness in a way that is foreign to them.

BLADE: How did you become involved?

GARRISON: I’ve been a filmmaker for almost 20 years, and primarily as a queer, feminist, female-forward type of storyteller. Gretchen was reaching out to transmasculine, trans male directors because of a central storyline that she knew she wanted to have an extra set of eyes and an extra heart to pay attention to. And I really connected to our transmasculine character, Asher. I knew that I wanted to develop those stories because we haven’t been seen in these storylines or characters.

BLADE: Did being a transmasculine director help with developing the authenticity in those scenes?

GARRISON: When you are a director working with your actors, whether it is in theater or film, you have to build this trust. … We (two of the transmasculine actors) were able to work in my apartment and have a discussion about what each of their identities mean to them and where they come from. Shaan (Dasani) happened to be a good friend of mine and we talk a lot about different experiences and where safety comes into play about being out — whether it’s at work or in public — so we’re constantly in dialogue. So, when you’re on set, you just develop the shorthand. And when you’re asking for subtle changes in a delivery, or maybe a shading of a line, it also incorporates the writer and Gretchen knew she could trust me and our actors to collaborate and make sure it all worked together.

BLADE: As a transmasculine director, what challenges did you face in the industry prior to this project?

GARRISON: I directed quite a bit. I got my MFA at the University of Texas and one of my shorts was nominated for a student Academy Award. But I haven’t done much directing since I transitioned, which was just a few years ago. It’s been a challenge for me because I identified as a butch lesbian and was a member of many female directing initiatives. But once I transitioned, I kind of transitioned myself out of those communities. I transitioned at a time when our trans sisters were doing a good job of elevating their visibility in the media. For us trans masculine folks, that wasn’t the case for a multitude of reasons. Now, a lot of it is coming out and meeting each other and helping try to elevate one another. “These Thems” came along at a perfect time. Episodic directing has been a goal of mine for a while.

BLADE: Does the show include cisgender heterosexual cast and characters? Are there any funny moments that stand out?

GARRISON: We wanted this to be participatory to see how cis-het connect with us and are a part of this world that we all live in. Our gender reveal party episode is hilarious and we didn’t want our cis-het people to come off as dumb or unknowing but learning about this new world along with Gretchen and the rest of us.

BLADE: Gretchen, how did cisgender heterosexual audience members feel about the show? Did they get what you were trying to say?

WYLDER: Cis-het friends who watch the show enjoy it and so did older lesbians and cis-gay men who are not within the trans spectrum and don’t understand it. So, this is a way to watch and learn in a fun comedic way. The character of Gretchen represents anyone, regardless of how they identify, who is new to this new world and faces its challenges in a funny, relatable way. Humor is something that everyone can relate to.

The cast of ‘These Thems.’ (Photo courtesy Chatter Republic)
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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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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

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.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

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.

FICTION

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.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

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

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