Some say life is just high school with money. If that’s the case, podcaster William Keiser might see D.C. gays as that mean clique of junior high girls.
In “Popular,” a podcast debuting this week, Keiser, a Princeton graduate and former resident of Washington, holds up a mirror to our gay city and seeks to explore the “social stratification, middle school bullshit, and the secret world of queer D.C.” The podcast is laid out in a sort of queer trilogy, a three-part deep dive into what makes D.C. gays so exceptional. And as we explore the series, exceptional doesn’t necessarily mean extraordinary.
Part one, “Gay Heaven,” explores our gay geography — places still around, places long gone, and what makes one popular in those spaces. Part two, “It’s Not Healthy to Mask,” takes on conformity in our queer community, while part three, “Let the Bitch Eat Her Food,” deals with the relationship between popularity and sex. All created in cooperation with The Gay & Lesbian Review and D.C.’s haus of bambi, Robert Woofter’s local arts organization “dedicated to the complexity of queer identities” as typically seen through dance and music videos but now including podcasts.
The first podcast opens up in that summer of the second vaccination shot — 2021, when it all seemed possible again, where we felt as if we’d been sitting on a spring for months. Before breakthrough cases and long before omicron. The city was alive, Keiser called it ‘intense,’ and Logan Circle was the place to be and be seen. And that is where Keiser first lays eyes on the “Vida Gays.” A group, as he describes, named after the high-end chain of local gyms, and the boys themselves showing off pristine bodies and look-alike attire. (And in full disclosure, I’m gay. I go to Vida, but I don’t think I’d call myself a “Vida Gay”). Keiser takes a sort of Jane Goodall observational look at their habits and behaviors and attempts to place a definition on exactly what it means to be popular. Asked if he had an axe to grind with gay D.C., Keiser paused and said, “I think so.” Taking a breath, he added, “but I have an axe to grind with human nature.” In this first episode you’ll hear snippets from “I Love It When Hot Guys Cry,” a song by Link Lauren.
Asking Keiser what exactly is it about middle school that gays can’t seem to get over, Keiser points to that seminal work in the gay canon, Alan Downs’ “The Velvet Rage.” In it, Downs describes the idea of shame as the main catalyst in the successes that gay men, especially urban gay men, so often seek — socially, professionally, monetarily. Keiser draws upon that in his look at the meanness, envy, and a certain Schadenfreude that he saw as all too common in our gay world. “We can be brutal to each other,” he told me. “The first step is asking why?”
As a trained historian, one part of the series I found particularly interesting is a look at our gay spaces — the social geography we all weave through in being part of the District’s queer community. Stead Park, Logan Circle, Number 9, Trade, Pitchers, maybe even the P Street Whole Foods. What makes these places gay and what they mean to us are questions worth asking. Still many of these spaces are gone.
The storied Town closed in 2018, lost to development. The year 2006 saw the razing of queer spaces in Southeast to make way for a new baseball stadium. But it’s not just a cataloging of our queer spaces.
Keiser examines how we negotiate them, how we move through them. For him, again, it’s all taken back to the pitfalls of the school cafeteria. And our geography can be extraordinary. This city is the most educated, the most physically fit, and the queerest. Our city sits at around 10 percent for its gay populace. All of that coming together can make for a peculiar space.
And do you remember driving into the city for the first time? Moving here with all the excitement? The wonder? The feeling that this is it; this is what I’ve been waiting for all this time. What happens between that moment and now, and how we define ourselves as queer Washingtonians — the gym membership, a kickball team — is what this podcast will look at.
As for what he hopes listeners will take away from the series, Keiser wants it to start a “debate about how to bring consent and anonymous intra LGBT violence out of the shadows in a responsible way.” It’s difficult to say what exactly audiences will take away from it. Some might see it as just a fun and gossipy take on our queer lives on our little patch of 61 square miles. Others might see it as a serious critique of just how and why we behave the way we do. Will there be some shame? Maybe. But isn’t that the job of the artist?
If anything, there will certainly be a debate. Find “Popular” wherever you get your podcasts.
Calendar: Aug. 10-16, 2018
Yoga, dance parties, bear happy hours and more for the week ahead
FRIDAY, AUG. 10
Woof! Happy Hour is at the D.C. Eagle (3701 Benning Rd. N.E.) from 5-11 p.m. tonight. Free pizza is available at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m. and no cover charge is needed before 9:30 p.m. Rail/well drinks are $4 until 11 p.m., Bud Light bottles are $4 until 10 p.m., draft beers are $4 until 10 p.m., and draft pitchers are $9 until 10 p.m. Parking is limited.
Bear Happy Hour, hosted by D.C. Bear Crue, is tonight at UPROAR Lounge and Restaurant (2009 8th St. N.W.) from 5-10 p.m. Drink specials are available until 10 p.m. Rail cocktails and draft pitchers of Bud Light and Shock Top are all $5. Free appetizers will be handed out throughout the evening.
LezLink Happy Hour is tonight from 6-9 p.m. at XX Crostino (1926 9th St. N.W.). The event is a safe space for queer women and is free. For more information, visit facebook.com/events and search “LezLink Happy Hour August.”
GAMMA, a support group for gay and bisexual men, meets tonight at Luther Place Memorial Church (1226 Vermont Ave. N.W.) from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Meetings are also held in Vienna, Va., and Frederick, Md. For more information, visit gammaindc.org.
Women in their 20s and 30s meets tonight at 8 p.m. at the D.C. Center (2000 14th St. N.W. Suite 105). The social discussion for queer women in D.C. meets on the second and fourth Friday of each month and is welcome to all, including newcomers. Following the meeting, members go out to dinner nearby.
SATURDAY, AUG. 11
AGLA hosts Afternoon Jolt today at Rappahannock Coffee Shop (2406 Columbia Pike, Arlington, Va.) today from 2:30-5:30 p.m. The event is a coffee social and attendants are invited to bring friends. For more information, visit facebook.com/events and search “AGLA Afternoon Jolt.”
Pride Outside and the Latino GLBT History Project host a Latinx LGBTQ History Tour today at 3 p.m. outside the SunTrust Bank on the corner of Columbia Rd. and 18th St. N.W. The tour is a mile’s walk, so comfortable walking shoes and water are suggested. Historian Jose Gutierrez hosts the bilingual free tour that highlights various historical Latinx LGBT locations in D.C.
Cobalt (1639 R St. N.W.) hosts VIBES: White Party from 4-9 p.m. tonight. This is the second installment of three monthly queer day parties. Guests must be 18 years or older. It is hosted by Beaux Banks and Ariel Von Quinn. Keenan Orr and DJ Honey are DJ-ing. Jaymes Mansfield is a special guest. This Free Life, a campaign that works to prevent and reduce tobacco use among LGBT young adults, is featured. There is no cover charge for guests who RSVP early online.
Shakira performs at the Capital One Arena (601 F. St. N.W.) tonight at 9 p.m. Her D.C. performance on her “El Dorado” world tour is rescheduled from Jan. 16. Tickets range from $80-1,000. Details here.
Distrkt C’s Winter White party is at the D.C. Eagle (3701 Benning Rd. N.E.) tonight from 10 p.m.-6 a.m. Twisted Dee Martello is DJ-ing. White attire is suggested. Tickets are $28 at distrktc.ticketspice.com/winter-white-2018. The White combo pass, which includes admission to LA Fantasy’s White Sunset from 5-10 p.m. at The Living Room (1008 Vermont Ave. N.W.), is $39.
SUNDAY, AUG. 12
The D.C. Front Runners’ Distance Run is this morning from 9 a.m.-noon at the Taras Shevchenko Monument (22 and P St. N.W.). The running route distance is 8-12 miles. For more information, visit dcfrontrunners.com.
Lambda Sci-Fi, an LGBT group for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fans, meets today at 1:30 p.m. with a social following at 2. Members are asked to bring a snack or non-alcoholic beverage to share. For location or more information, visit lambdascifi.org.
MONDAY, AUG. 13
Washington Restaurant Week begins today and runs through Aug. 19. Brunch and lunch are $22 and dinner is $35. Over 250 restaurants in the D.C. area are participating this year. For a list of participating restaurants or to book a reservation, visit ramw.org/restaurantweek.
TUESDAY, AUG. 14
Inside Out LGBT Radio Show is today from 2-3 p.m. on WPFW 89.3. Listeners are invited to call in and let their voices be heard. After the live show, it will be available on iTunes and Google Play as well as archived by WPFW. For more information or to stream live, visit wpfwfm.org.
Gaymer Trivia hosted by D.C. Gaymers is at Cobalt (1639 R. St. N.W.) tonight from 7-11 p.m. A prize raffle will be available and tickets are one for $1 or 15 for $10. Donations to go toward more prizes and administrative fees are accepted during the event. Cash, credit and Venmo are accepted. For more information, visit facebook.com/events and search “Gaymer Trivia.”
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 15
Zenith Gallery (1429 Iris St. N.W.) presents the “Expressing Humanity: Historical, Spiritual, & Symbolic” today and through Sept. 1. Works by Bernie Houston, Hubert Jackson and Ibou N’Diaye are featured and the exhibit explores how nature can be turned into fine art. The gallery is open Wednesday-Saturday from noon-6 p.m. or any time by appointment. For more information and to see other exhibits that are featured, visit zenithgallery.com.
Grrrls* Night is at the Wunder Garten at NoMa (1101 1st St. N.E.) tonight from 6-9 p.m. The event is hosted by Metro D.C. Democratic Socialists of America, and is a space for women, transgender people of all genders, and femmes to come together and socialize or discuss socialism. New members are welcome. There is a full bar and the venue dog- and child- friendly. Lawn games and materials and instructions for making red rose pins will be provided. Donations will be accepted.
The Tom Davoren Social Bridge Club meets tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Dignity Center (721 8th St. S.E.). No partner is needed to attend. For more information, call 301-345-1571.
Karaoke is at the D.C. Eagle (3701 Benning Rd. N.E.) tonight from 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Karaoke night is every Wednesday.
THURSDAY, AUG. 16
Express Yourself! Madonna’s 60th Birthday Flow Yoga is tonight from 6-7:05 p.m. at 405 Yoga D.C. (1000 Florida Ave. N.E.). The flow yoga session will be accompanied by the music of Madonna. For a chance to win a $100 gift card or additional swag, dress in a Madonna outfit or musical era. Any drop in, class pack or membership can be used. Drop in passes are $19 at clients.mindbodyonline.com.
The Nice Jewish Boys’ Summer in the City Happy Hour is tonight from 7-9 p.m. at TRADE (1410 14th St. N.W.). Extended happy hour specials are available until 10 p.m. For more information, go here.
Rainbow Theatre Project’s play “In the Closet” opens tonight at the D.C. Arts Center (2438 18th St. N.W.) at 7:30 p.m. The show runs until Sept. 16. The show, written by Siegmund Fuchs, a litigation lawyer for the Department of Justice, follows four gay men at different stages in their lives. Tickets are $35 at brownpapertickets.com.
Heather Mizeur remembers Pulse with Melissa Etheridge, survivors in podcast finale
Melissa Etheridge speaks on the horrific event
Maryland state Del. Heather Mizeur honored the victims of Pulse in “The Pulse Legacy: Love Always Wins,” the finale episode of the first season of her podcast “#SoulForcePolitics.”
The two-part episode explores the aftermath of the 2016 Pulse massacre which claimed the lives of 49 victims and was the largest mass shooting at the time.
Mizeur traveled to Orlando to interview Barbara Poma, Pulse Nightclub owner and founder of the One Pulse Foundation; Víco Baéz Febo, one of the survivors, Mayra Benabe-Alvear, the mother of victim Amanda Alvear; and Robin Maynard-Harris, a community activist and a founding board member at the One Orlando Alliance.
Melissa Etheridge, who penned the tribute song “Pulse” for the victims, also gives a brief interview.
“In a time when so much of the news and focus is on the negativity and the poisoned relationships around us, this podcast can be your refuge for how to defeat it with a connection to all that is beautiful and positive in this world,” Mizeur writes of the podcast on her blog.
‘Night Vale’ goes live
Minimalist stage version of hit podcast comes to Lincoln
‘Welcome to Night Vale’
The Lincoln Theatre
1215 U St., N.W.
Monday, April 18 at 7 p.m.
Tuesday, April 19 at 7 p.m.
A floating cat in the men’s room of a radio station, a glow cloud joining an elementary school’s PTA and radio interns dying or disappearing in mysterious ways all happen in just a typical day in desert town Night Vale.
The famed podcast “Welcome to Night Vale,” co-created by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, has been compared to the likes of NPR meets “Twin Peaks.” Mind control, the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home and other surreal events made this the most downloaded podcast on iTunes in 2013. It consists of radio host Cecil giving strange announcements that occur in the town and his ongoing love for Carlos the Scientist who is investigating Night Vale.
The live show comes to the Lincoln Theatre on Monday, April 18 and Tuesday, April 19. It includes a live performance of the script with no prompts or sets. Musicians Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin will open the show. The live show will bring about all the shenanigans fans have come to know and love from the podcast. Actor Cecil Baldwin, who voices Night Vale Community Radio announcer Cecil, says even people who have only heard an episode or two will be able to follow along.
“It’s an Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds”-kind of mentality that this is what radio theater is,” Baldwin says.
Baldwin, a former D.C. resident who now lives in New York City, believes the simplicity of the show is what makes it so popular.
“No matter how young you are, how adept at technology and how quickly you Snapchat, there’s a part of us that really wants to be told stories that are well written around the camp fire,” Baldwin says.
“It’s a very simple format of, ‘I just want to sit down and have this person tell me a story every two weeks and it’s filled with people that I’ve come to know and love or hate,’” Baldwin says. “There’s nothing new about it except the form of the podcast. And we are so grateful because if this was on the radio it would be played once and then it would be out of the airwaves and that would be it. But because it is a podcast people can listen to it all over the world, as many times as they want.”
Baldwin came on board with “Night Vale” when he performed a monologue about having a radio announcer voice in his New York City theater company. Fink, who helped with workshops for the company, heard the monologue and told Baldwin he had an idea for a podcast about “a radio host in a town where every conspiracy theory you ever heard is true.” Fink lent Baldwin a microphone who recorded a part in his apartment and then returned it to Fink who gave Baldwin the part.
The podcast popularity has since grown and even spurned a novel “Welcome to Night Vale,” written by Cranor and Fink, that follows owner of Night Vale pawn shop Jackie Fiero and treasurer of Night Vale’s PTA Diane Crayton. The novel earned a spot on the Washington Post’s top science fiction and fantasy list in 2015.
A novel isn’t the only spin-off the podcast has created. Perhaps the greatest result has been an eager and imaginative fandom that has created everything from elaborate character fan art to detailed fan fiction stories. The social blogging website Tumblr has thousands of blogs dedicated to the podcast featuring people’s own interpretations of “Night Vale.” Baldwin says he’s amazed by the minds of the fans to create their own works, but says the nature of the show makes it easy to create their own “Night Vale” worlds.
“If it was a TV show, the actors playing the characters, that is what those characters would look like. People would have come up with many fan drawings, but because it’s a radio show and because the style of Joseph and Jeffrey’s writing is very broad, it does leave a lot to the imagination. It really does free people up because you can totally take ownership over what they think these characters look like,” Baldwin says.
“Because it allows people to do the heavy lifting with the imagination, people become more invested. We don’t give any easy answers but these people have really sat down and thought about it and daydreamed about what these characters look like and how they interact. They become that much invested.”
A fan favorite to draw and write about is the romantic relationship between Cecil and Carlos the Scientist. Carlos comes to “Night Vale” to examine the strange happenings of the town. Along the way Cecil and Carlos fall in love.
Having a same-sex relationship on the show was never planned, but Baldwin says it was a natural progression because he is a gay actor and that’s how he read Cecil’s affection for Carlos in the script.
“Early on Carlos the Scientist, his role on the show was to be the outsider. He was the guy from the outside world who said, ‘Oh my god your town is messed up.’ But it was through my interpretation of the script, I read a couple scenes and I thought, ‘Oh Cecil sounds really interested in this guy, I wonder why. Oh well obviously he has a crush on him,’” Baldwin says.
“So without saying that out loud, that’s just how I played the scene and Joseph and Jeffrey kind of picked up on that. And a year later we got to the First Date episode which was kind of the beginning of two characters in the middle of all this craziness and the least weird thing about them is the fact that they’re gay,” Baldwin says.
The town of Night Vale also has a diverse group of of queer and trans characters. The Sheriff’s Secret Police, the mysterious and creepy local law enforcement, also have an official spokesbeing that uses gender-neutral pronouns and delivers announcements to the town.
Although not the primary goal, the inclusion of queer and trans characters has earned “Welcome to Night Vale” a substantial LGBT fanbase. Queer Daily Xtra writer Michael Lyons says he never anticipated the show to go as far as it has with including LGBT characters.
“I started listening pretty early on, so even though I heard plenty about ‘perfect Carlos’ from the beginning and I — as I’m sure many others — wished Cecil and Carlos would end up together, I never dreamed the show would go so completely in that direction,” Lyons says. “I think that’s why the show resonates with so many queer and trans people. Cecil and Carlos’ relationship came about so organically, but also so unexpectedly, it felt really authentic and wonderful to those of us who don’t see ourselves represented in most entertainment.”
Gay “Night Vale” fan Aram Vartian also thinks Cecil and Carlos’ relationship is normal despite the strange world they live in.
“I think the relationship between Cecil and Carlos helps to ground the utter insanity of the town around them. It is nice that in 2016 a same-sex relationship is the one thing about a story that can be considered normal,” Vartian says.
Baldwin says there hasn’t been much backlash.
“We just received a couple of emails from people saying, ‘I can’t believe you did this’ and we just said, ‘Well believe it and if you don’t like it, don’t listen to the show;” Baldwin says.
Including so many diverse characters lets people relate to the show and is something Baldwin thinks people use to help them with their everyday lives, despite how wacky Night Vale can get.
“I know in a lot of ways it helps people relate to the world they live in by thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, well if I lived in Night Vale then there’d be dragons everywhere and giant sand chasms that lead to other places in times. That sounds so horrible but everyone in Night Vale handles it so well I can surely handle 2016 elections,’” Baldwin says.
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