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Top 10 pop culture moments of 2021

A gay Playboy cover boy, a Satanic lap dance, the ‘Pose’ finale, and Colton’s drama

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It was a memorable year for pop culture, as productions resumed after COVID lockdowns. Here’s our list of the top 10 pop culture moments of 2021.

#10: Lesbian nuns get it on in ‘Benedetta’

(Photo courtesy SBS Productions)

Director Paul Verhoeven (“Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls”) delivered his latest film “Benedetta,” which tells of an Italian nun in the 1600s who receives erotic visions of a nude Christ as well as stigmata before having a lesbian relationship with a novitiate in her convent. 

The title character (played by Virginie Efira) plays “a randy nun whose religious visions and lustful cravings are rolled into a single ball of blasphemy,” as the New York Times wrote. “Verhoeven might have aged, but his love of the lurid has dimmed not one bit.”

The Times also said the movie “presents lesbianism as a middle finger to church power.” 

A modest release, it gained steam on the festival circuit and screened in competition at Cannes. 

#9: Sapphic love in ‘Squid Game’

(Photo courtesy Netflix)

(SPOILER ALERT) It was subtle but the relationship between players 067 (HoYeon Jung) and 240 (Lee Yoo-mi) on the “Gganbu” episode of “Squid Game,” Netflix’s monster K-drama, was embraced by fans as a tale of doomed lesbian love.

While other teams use the 30 minutes allotted for a nerve-wracking series of marble games, the two young women spent all but the final seconds of their time telling each other their life stories. Player 240 loses intentionally, sacrificing her life for her partner’s. She expresses her love just before getting shot.

The show has been deemed Netflix’s “most watched series.”

#8: Olly’s big year

Olly Alexander in ‘It’s A Sin.’ (Photo courtesy WarnerMedia)

It was a big year for Olly Alexander, the Years & Years singer. He drew raves for his role in the five-part British series “It’s a Sin” as Ritchie, one of a group of gay U.K. men dealing with AIDS in the ‘80s. 

In March, Alexander announced that his band was now a solo venture. Kylie Minogue showed up as guest artist on a remix of single “Starstruck” in May. In October, Years & Years guested on Minogue’s song “A Second to Midnight.” A full album is expected in 2022. 

Alexander performed a sensuous cover of the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” with Elton John at the BRIT Awards in May. 

#7: Bretman dons bunny ears

(Photo courtesy Playboy Enterprises)

Bretman Rock, the 23-year-old Filipino YouTuber and beauty influencer known for his makeup tutorials and MTV reality show, made history as the first openly gay man to make the cover of Playboy magazine.

Aside from Playboy’s late founder, Hugh Hefner, Rock is only the second man to appear on the cover (in July, 2020, Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny was the first). 

Sporting a nipple-baring bustier and the famous bunny ears, Rock called the historic moment “so surreal” on Instagram. Sadly, the issue is digital only as Playboy suspended its print product in 2020 after 66 years citing COVID “disruption.” 

Model Ariel Nicholson became the first trans person on the cover of Vogue in September. She was featured with seven other models dubbed “Generation America.” 

#6: Ewan bends over for ‘Halston’

(Photo courtesy Netflix)

Straight actor Ewan McGregor drew strong reviews for his portrayal of late gay designer Roy Halston Frowick (who died of AIDS in 1990) in the Netflix miniseries “Halston,” which premiered in May.

Another Ryan Murphy-produced project, “Halston’s” five episodes follow the designer’s work with Liza Minnelli, booming business, drug use and comeback. 

McGregor, no stranger to screen sex scenes and nudity (he even filmed one with Jim Carrey in “I Love You Phillip Morris”), gets pounded by soon-to-be-boyfriend Ed (Sullivan Jones) in the first episode, though ultimately, the series focuses more on drugs than sex. He won an Emmy for the role in September.

#5: ‘Pose’ wraps

(Photo courtesy FX)

The groundbreaking FX series “Pose,” wrapped in June and was lauded for being the first show to center on trans women of color and cast trans actors in its roles.

The show, which depicted New York City drag ballroom culture of the ’80s and ’90s, only ran for three seasons (26 episodes) but followed the characters over the course of a decade. 

Created by Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, the New York Times called the show “a celebration, a juicy soap and one of TV’s most kinetic and dance-intensive shows.” 

Star Billy Porter told the Hollywood Reporter in May he’s been HIV-positive since 2007. 

In September, Mj Rodriguez, who plays Blanca, was the first trans actor to receive an Emmy nomination.

#4: JoJo makes ‘Dancing’ history

(Photo courtesy ABC)

YouTuber JoJo Siwa, 18, one of Time’s “most influential people in the world” last year, came out as pan (she’s also comfortable with “queer” and “gay,” she said) in January.

In September, the dancer/singer made history on the 30th season of “Dancing With the Stars” as the first contestant to compete with a same-sex partner. She and Jenna Johnson came in second. 

#3: Marvel depicts gay superhero

(Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios)

“Eternals,” the 26th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was released in November, features the franchise’s first LGBTQ superheroes with Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), a genius inventor, who’s married to Ben (Haaz Sleiman) and father of Jack. The couple even gets an onscreen kiss.

Though the movie itself drew mixed reviews but solid box office, the inclusion was widely praised.

“Seeing a powerful gay superhero kiss his husband and feeling the reaction in that theater was a real-life example of why it is important for our stories to be told – especially in films that travel to big cities and small towns around the world,” Variety noted.

Several countries in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, et. al. — denied release; others only agreed to a version that edited the love scenes. 

“It made these Arab countries look so ignorant and pathetic,” Sleiman told Variety. “I have no respect for those governments.”

#2: Colton Underwood comes out — and it gets messy

(Photo courtesy Netflix)

The 29-year-old former NFL linebacker, whose alleged virginity gave him a novel angle on “The Bachelor” two years ago, came out in April on a “Good Morning America” interview. This month, a six-episode reality show dubbed “Coming Out Colton” arrived on Netflix in which he comes out to family and friends and learns gay culture. 

In November, an online petition with more than 35,000 signatures asked Netflix to cancel the series because of stalking and harassment allegations that Underwood’s ex-girlfriend, Cassie Randolph (his choice on “The Bachelor,” though they didn’t end up marrying), claimed in a 2020 restraining order. The order was dropped, but the incident as well as the docuseries raised gay eyebrows. 

“To some, that appears more like a monetized career move than an unvarnished emotional reckoning,” the New York Times wrote. 

#1: Lil Nas X scores big with ‘Montero’

(Photo courtesy Columbia)

Out rapper Lil Nas X proved he’s not a one-hit wonder when his single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 in April.

Its video, which depicts the artist giving Satan a gay lap dance, won “Video of the Year” at the MTV Video Music Awards and People’s Choice Awards and three Grammys are pending. 

The accompanying album, “Montero,” dropped in September at No. 2 to solid reviews and featured two other Hot 100 top-10 hits.

Nas shot to fame in 2018 when his song “Old Town Road” became the longest-charting No. 1 song in Hot 100 history.

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Out & About

DC Center to host estate planning seminar series

Three sessions presented by Murray Scheel

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The DC Center hosts a series of talks on end-of-life planning next week.

The DC Center for the LGBT Community and the DC Department on Aging and Community Living will host “Estate Planning Tools with Murray Scheel” via Zoom. 

Scheel will walk guests through the process of taking care of the end-of-life planning business that needs to be addressed during the golden years. Scheel is Senior Staff Attorney at Whitman-Walker Health’s Legal Services.

This event series will consist of three 1.5-hour sessions:

Jan. 19, 3 p.m. – “Tools for while you’re living” (overview, general power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, disposition of remains, etc.)

Jan. 26, 3 p.m. – “Tools for after you’re gone” (living wills, last wills, assets, etc.)

Feb. 2, 3 p.m. – “Healthcare insurance & long term care” (Medicare, Medicaid, correcting misinformation, skilled nursing, hospice care, etc.)

To register for this event, visit the DC Center website.

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Out & About

DC Center to host legal seminar for trans people

Attorney Richard Tappan and paralegal Miranda Shipman to give legal advice

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The DC Center for the LGBT Community will host a “Gender and Name Change Legal Seminar” on Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m. online. 

Attorney Richard Tappan and paralegal Miranda Shipman will give legal advice and speak on the importance of the legal community within the LGBTQ community, the difficulties of the LGBTQ community in the legal field and name and gender changes. 

Guests can find the link at the DC Center website.

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Books

Seeking love and community in Nicaragua

‘High-Risk Homosexual’ explores author’s youth, coming out

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(Book cover image courtesy of Soft Skill Press)

High-Risk Homosexual: A Memoir
By Edgar Gomez
c.2022, Soft Skull Press
$16.95/304 pages

Here. Try this.

It fits you, but the color isn’t flattering. It’s too long, too short, too tight, too loose. That’s not your style, so try something else until you find the thing that looks like you. The perfect thing is out there. As in the new book “High-Risk Homosexual” by Edgar Gomez, when something’s right, it’s right.

He was 13 when he figured out that he was a problem to be solved.

Edgar Gomez’ mother had left him in her native Nicaragua with his tíos, just for a while because she had to return to Florida to work. He wasn’t there without her for long, but it took years for him to understand that his time with his uncles was meant to make him more masculine.

In retrospect, he says, nobody wanted him to be a man more than he did. He wanted to be liked by other kids and so he told lies in school to make himself stand out. He wanted his mother to see his love of pretty things and say that it was OK. He wanted his brother to acknowledge that Gomez was gay, and to tell him that he loved him.

Instead, after his brother left for college, Gomez got his first boyfriend, a boy he came out to but who couldn’t come out to himself. He was called names in school. He came out to his mother, who freaked out about it. He befriended a drag queen, but “Princess” used him.

Things he wanted: a real boyfriend. Love. A ban on the stereotype of a macho Latinx man.

Things he still had, while in college: his mother and older brother. A tormentor-turned-mentor. A part-time job. His weirdness. His virginity.

Things he wanted to lose, while in college: his room at his mother’s house. His virginity, but that wouldn’t happen until later, during a painful one-afternoon-stand with a hot man who said he had a girlfriend. That hurt, both physically and emotionally but like so many things at so many times, Gomez tried not to think about it.

If he never considered what he didn’t have, he says, “I wouldn’t miss it.”

In a way, you could say that “High-Risk Homosexual” is a book in search of a point. It’s really quite random and told (mostly) linearly, but not quite. It has its peaks, but also low valleys. And you won’t care about any of this, because you’ll be enjoying every bit of it.

Yeah, this memoir is good: author Edgar Gomez’s literary wandering makes it feel much like an honest conversation with readers. There are wince-worthy moments that allow empathy here, and experiences that are unique but oddly ubiquitous, that leave space for a sense of sympatico. There are passages that are so wistfully uncomfortable that you might squirm, or start “snort-laughing,” or want to stop a moment and just think.

And there’s room for that, too, so take your time. “High-Risk Homosexual” is an affable book with just enough seriousness to make it worth a try.

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