It’s been 13 years since Thomas Beatie sat down for his first TV interview and told Oprah — and the world — how he could possibly be pregnant, as a man.
Today, the concept of a transgender man giving birth is hardly novel, although research, education and awareness are still severely lacking. But society has come a long way, and so has Beatie. The father of four, now a stockbroker in Phoenix, spoke to TODAY Healthabout how he thinks the trans community benefited from the media attention his pregnancy garnered, and how he and his family are doing today.
“When my story came out, there wasn’t a single person in the public eye as a transgender man — most people had never heard of it,” Beatie, 47, said. “It was a first exposure for a lot of people. And then on top of that, they can give birth! I think exposing the importance of fertility for trans people was a huge eye-opener.”
In 2008, after he wrote an essay for The Advocate about his pregnancy — a piece he wrote, he said, because he was desperately seeking advice from anyone who had been in his shoes, and fearful that his daughter would be taken away by authorities — Beatie’s story spread around the world. Photos of Beatie cradling his stomach — a bare, enlarged, pregnant stomach — went viral. Requests for TV and magazine interviews rushed in. He wrote a book about his experience titled “Labor of Love,” became the subject of multiple TV specials and even went on to star in a French reality show.
“Everything was a whirlwind,” he said. “But I still don’t regret it.”
After having his first child, Susan, in 2008, Beatie went on to give birth to two more children with his then-wife, Nancy Beatie. The couple separated in 2012, and in 2016 Beatie married his second wife, Amber, who worked at the daycare his children attended. They had a baby together in 2018, to whom Amber gave birth.
Today, Beatie and his family live a relatively quiet life in Phoenix, although Beatie occasionally takes on public-speaking jobs or small acting roles (maybe you saw him as an extra in a U-Haul commercial). His older children — now 11, 12 and 13 — split their time between his house and their mom’s house, about 10 miles away. When they’re all home, they swim together in their pool, play checkers and test out new recipes.
“We’re on this keto kick right now, so we’re trying to make cool dishes together,” Beatie said. “We’re going to make some healthy ice cream.”
Yet, more than a decade after his first pregnancy made national headlines, Beatie said he still hasn’t been able to fully shake the “pregnant man” moniker.
“I thought I melted back into society, that I could just walk down the hall and be anonymous,” he said, referring to the halls of his financial office building. But soon enough, word got out about his public past, he said. Not that he minds, exactly.
“I don’t see anything wrong with being a pregnant man,” Beatie said. “I was so proud to be a dad, and I’m still proud to be a dad. I’m so proud that I was the one to bring my kids into the world. It’s kind of like a badge.”
Mostly, he marvels at how much the world, while still very much flawed, has changed since his story was in the spotlight. This was a time before most people understood the concept of gender identity and what it means to be transgender, let alone etiquette for speaking to or about someone who’s part of the trans community. Beatie recalled being misgendered and “deadnamed” by the media and being the butt of talk show jokes. When Beatie sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters, the news icon referred to one of his maternity photos as a “disturbing image.”
“It was really hard when my story came out,” Beatie said. “People were saying things on TV and in the media that if they came close to saying today, they would be immediately fired. I’m just in shock about how wild, Wild West it was back then.”
Despite the challenges of sharing his story and the fame it spawned, Beatie does not regret talking about his pregnancy experience publicly and said he hopes by doing so that he made things a bit easier for the trans men who came after him.
“I wanted to make sure that for my family, and for other people, that this was going to be something that’s doable, that our laws would respect it,” Beatie said. “So I did feel an obligation to continue to fight. I wasn’t about to lay down and say, ‘All right, fine, call me a woman.’”
Yet he acknowledges that even if public perception of his personal experience has shifted, there is still plenty more work to be done to support trans people hoping to start families — more training among health care providers, equitable access to fertility treatments and parental leave, for starters.
“I think a lot of people are still pigeonholed, thinking that if you want to be transgender, you have to completely get rid of all your (reproductive) organs,” Beatie said. “There needs to be discussions about fertility, preservation. Being transgender, you shouldn’t have to lose your right of having a family. You’re entitled to be happy and have a family and be respected.”
Making friends is a lot harder in your adult years than it was in high school and college, and it’s even harder if you’re looking specifically for gay friends. But commenters chimed in with advice after one Reddit user asked for “specific, actionable, constructive advice” for befriending other gays, and many of their tips honed in on the two Gs: groups and Grindr. Read on for their responses, edited for clarity.
“Work and Reddit. … I’ve met one person off Reddit, but he actually knows quite a bit of people, so I’ve been meeting some of his friends little by little.”
“Usually making one friend will lead you to meeting their friends and basically a chain reaction, if you’re lucky. The usual [advice] is [to] join clubs or group activities, even online ones in your area. I used to go to the bars alone, have a drink or two, and basically just talk to strangers. Maybe someone was alone or someone saw me alone. Sometimes I’d run into someone I hadn’t seen in ages and made friends with their friends. It’s best to not go in with high expectations. A couple of times, it was a dud, but I was happy to leave the house.”
“Find your local LGBT center and volunteer and go to events. There are other queer folk looking for friends.”
“Most of the gay friends I have came from Grindr. The only ones that have stayed are the ones that I didn’t hook up with. My roommate got on Facebook, and it suggested to him a lot of the local gays, and he got to know them that way, just by randomly adding them and messaging them on Facebook. He is braver than me in that respect.”
“Reach out to people that you find interesting! My current best friend and I met after he randomly reached out to me on Facebook 3 years ago. Yes, it started out as flirty but turned into a beautiful friendship. Also, join groups. I have a really good friend in Texas I talk to and FaceTime a bunch. We met through the comment section on a post in the Facebook group we were both in. Granted, we are in different states, but I love having her. I also have another gay friend in Texas I met through the same way! Otherwise, hobbies and common interests. Start a new hobby and find people in your community that are also into that hobby. The more you frequent the same place, the higher the chances of running into the same people and becoming friends. Anyway, I need to take my own advice because I need more friends, but I hope this helps.”
“Back when I was a teenager — 32 now — I used to go to gay chatrooms online and talk to gay guys in my local area. Met up with them, and from then on, I’ve met more gay friends. I guess nowadays an online chatroom is equivalent to Reddit, Tinder, Grindr, etc. Or you can go to gay clubs and bars by yourself, if that’s your thing. I know being there by yourself can be a bit weird and intimidating at times, but people would usually try to talk to you, especially if you’re on your own in there.”
“Oddly, Grindr. Just separated ones I was trying to hook up/date [from] other bottoms I just became friends with.”
Sometimes, Noel Arce has trouble remembering his dads.
Not his biological parents — he never met them: His birth mother gave him up as an infant, and he never knew who his birth father was.
But in 1988, he and his brother, Joey, were taken in by Louis Arce and Steven Koceja, a gay couple from Manhattan. Louis was a social worker, and Joey, 2, and Noel, about 10 months old, were in the foster care system.
The boys had been surrendered at New York City’s Metropolitan Hospital. “Our mother and dad were heroin addicts, and they couldn’t really care for us,” Noel said.
During the week, the brothers and Angel, an HIV-positive 3-year-old, lived with Louis and Steven in their Manhattan apartment, and on weekends, they went to the couple’s house in the scenic town of Rosendale, New York, about two hours north.
“It felt very normal, my childhood,” Noel said. “Like the world operated with moms and dads, and two dads and two moms.”
Noel was always free to be himself growing up — to play with Barbie dolls and dress up in frilly costumes. His dads loved to make home movies; in one, Joey and Angel are playing with Tonka trucks and Noel is picking flowers.
“I was very feminine. I’d always participate in girly things, and my dads embraced that in me,” he said. “That really helped me in my development as a child,”
As he got older, Noel realized that was a unique experience.
“I hear people’s stories of coming out and being rejected, being thrown out. That experience for most gay men is a very hard one,” he said. “I’m very blessed to not have had that.”
The time they had together was special, but it was all too brief. Joey and Noel’s adoptions were finalized in 1993. On June 18, 1994, Steven, 32, died of AIDS-related complications. Five days later, Louis, 47, succumbed to the disease.
Noel was just 7 at the time.
Now 33, he says some of the memories of his time with Louis and Steven are fuzzy. He compares them to a train leaving the station, getting smaller and smaller as it pulls away.
Some moments, though, are crystal clear.
“When I look at some of the photos I have, I can remember the day the picture was taken,” he said. “When I see the bedroom, I can remember being there, I remember certain smells — what was cooking that day. And I remember all the Barbies I had.”
One memory in particular stands out: Noel had just turned 6, and, as usual, the family was making a video. “It was like a horror movie, but, you know, silly,” he said. “I dressed up as a witch, and my brother was, like, a devil. And my dad was videoing it, and we were all having so much fun.”
As an adult, he says, he’s better at holding onto the memories. “But I don’t remember the end. I don’t remember them being sick. I don’t remember visiting them in the hospital.”
When Louis and Steven knew their time was running out, they recorded special videos for the boys.
“There’s a video of them talking to us — explaining how much they loved us,” Noel said. “And there’s videos Louis made for each of us individually. In the video for me, he says, ‘Noel, I know you’re gay.’ And he gives me his thoughts and advice about facing life. I’m so lucky to have that.”
He watched that video for the first time a year after his dads died and, unsurprisingly, didn’t really understand it. About two years ago, he watched it again.
“It was the first time I had an emotional reaction — where I cried,” he said of watching the video.
After Louis and Steven died, Louis’ brother Robert and his wife, Tina, took in the three boys.
When Louis and Steven started to get sick, they had asked Robert and Tina to become the boys’ guardians and started transitioning care.
“Sometimes we’d come over for longer visits,” Tina said. “Other times it would just be the kids and us. We talked to them about what was going to happen, but how do you prepare a child for that?”
She and Louis had known each other since they were kids themselves. “He always, always wanted children,” she said. But, he was an HIV-positive man at a time when treatment options were minimal to nonexistent.
“I said to him, ‘Why would you do this to these kids — taking them in, knowing you have a death sentence, that you’ll disappear on them?” And he said, “Who would know better than me what they’ll face?”
Bringing the boys into the family “changed our whole dynamic forever,” she said. “I was done raising kids by that point, and then there I am, taking these” children in.
But she got much out of the experience, too, she’s quick to add, “maybe even more than the kids.”
“I became involved in AIDS care. I traveled. I met people I never thought I would. I fought for them,” she said. “The man upstairs knew what he was doing bringing us together. It was amazing how my life turned around. If it wasn’t for our family, I don’t know what I’d do.”
Noel, who lives with Robert and Tina in Suffolk County, New York, said he and Joey, who lives nearby, are still very close. Sadly, he doesn’t know what became of Angel, whom he said developed serious emotional problems in adolescence and had to be taken out of the family.
“I don’t know if he’s alive,” he said. “Back then, AIDS was a death sentence. But with the way medication is today, I hope he’s OK — and that he’s happy.”
Noel’s mother was HIV-positive when she was pregnant, and he tested positive for the virus at birth. Eventually, though, he developed his own antibodies and was determined to be HIV-negative.
In April, Noel shared a photo of Joey, Angel, Louis, Steven and himself on the AIDS Memorial Instagram, a page dedicated to sharing stories of those lost to the pandemic.
“We weren’t with Louis and Steven very long before they passed,” he wrote in the accompanying caption. “They never got a chance to see the men we are today but they cared for us very much and gave us a life that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. It’s incredible even now, after all these years, I can still feel what it felt like to be loved that much.”https://iframe.nbcnews.com/VhRU9be?app=1
The black and white image included in the Instagram post was from an early ‘90s photo shoot for “Living Proof: Courage in the Face of AIDS”, a collection of portraits published in 1996 by photographer Carolyn Jones of people from all walks of life living with HIV/AIDS.
“I remember the family well,” Jones said of the shoot. “There were not that many families photographed for “Living Proof,” so they are easy to remember. Those three little boys were priceless together. It felt as though they had all somehow miraculously found one another, and there was a lot of love wrapped up in that photo.”
Noel’s post has received hundreds of comments and more than 15,000 likes.
“I think a friend of mine followed that account, and it got recommended to me,” he said. “But when I saw it, I was like, ‘Wow, all these people are telling their stories.’ And I just kind of felt compelled to tell my story, too.”
The response was tremendous, Noel said, adding that it has been particularly meaningful to see comments from people who hadn’t been directly affected by the AIDS devastation of the 1980s and ‘90s.
“I guess I thought that AIDS was a conversation people weren’t having anymore. That no one cared,” he said. “With young people today, they think, ‘Oh, we have medications, we have Truvada, and [HIV] isn’t something to really worry about, right?’ My fear is that it’ll completely be forgotten. But the page keeps it alive. It makes people remember our history and the people who fought for what we have now … And who even died in the process.”
Noel doesn’t know much about how Louis and Steven were able to take in HIV-positive boys in the late ‘80s. “I do know that they fought for us quite a bit,” he said. “I can only imagine how hard it was at that time.”
He has shared other family photos of his dads, his brothers and himself on social media. It’s comforting, he said, but it also churns up immense feelings of loss.
“God really handed me the courage to look at those pictures again,” Noel said. “It had been years — there’s a lot of pain attached to them. But it was a great childhood, it was. I look back now, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I was so lucky.’”
For the past 13 years, Noel has worked in drag, as Violet Storm, playing clubs in Manhattan and out on Long Island. The pandemic put a pause on gigs, but more recently he’s been able to perform again.
Knowing his dads were gay, Noel often wonders what they would think of his drag. “Not whether they’d approve of it, because of course they would,” he said. “But, would they think I’m funny? That I’m pretty? Would they like my show?”
He has a lot of questions about his dads that can’t really be answered.
“Like, how did they meet? I want to know the whole love story — I want to hear about those crazy feelings you have when you first meet someone,” he said. “What bars did they go to? Did they have a favorite drag queen? What kind of homophobia did they face back then?”
Tina has been a fount of information about his dads, “but this isn’t really stuff she can tell me.”
He recalled doing a show at the historic Stonewall Inn and wondering if Louis and Steven had gone there back in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
“Every time I do a show, I think, ‘Were my dads here? Did they like this bar? Who did they see perform?’ Sometimes I cry when I think about it,” Noel said. “But they give me a lot of courage, too. Before I go on, I get really, really nervous. And there’s a moment where I have to go on, and I think, ‘I’m just going to back out. I’ll leave. I just can’t do this.’ My heart is racing, I’m so nervous, and then I think of my dads, and I’m like, ‘Just do it. Just let it happen.’”
While Noel still has a lot of unanswered questions about his dads, he has learned a bit more because of the AIDS Memorial Instagram: Writer and artist Timothy Dean Lee, who follows the page and frequently comments on posts, knew Louis and Steven back in the day.
“When I read Noel’s tribute it was overwhelming,” Lee told NBC News via email. “It gave me answers to what had happened to Louis and Steven — and to the boys. I couldn’t stop crying.”
Lee had met Louis in the 1980s as a graduate student at New York University, where he was studying art therapy and child psychology. He’d often find himself in New York Family Court, where Louis was working as a social worker.
He’d also see Louis at meetings of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, and protests — and, on occasion, bump into Steven and Louis at the Paradise Garage “dancing the night away.”
“I remember when Louis told me that they were going through the process of adopting the boys,” Lee said. “I knew that adopting for a straight couple was challenging enough, but for a gay couple the challenges were all-consuming. But that certainly didn’t stop Louis and Steven.”
Being a social worker, Lee said, Louis knew the “ins and outs” of the system.
“He was driven. He knew the three boys needed a stable home and love, and he and Steven were more than willing to embrace them as part of their family.”
The last time Lee remembered seeing Louis was about 1990 on the street in the West Village.
“I asked him if he and Steven ever were able to adopt the boys,” he said. “He explained they were still officially foster parents, but they were determined to adopt all three.”
“Louis pulled out his wallet and showed a picture of the kids, saying ‘Yep, Tim, that’s my family.’”
Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth will welcome an artwork featuring casts of the faces of 850 trans people.
For the artwork, 850 Improntas (850 Imprints), Mexican artist Teresa Margolles will cast the faces of 850 trans people in London and beyond.
The proposed sculpture would highlight people whose “lives are often overlooked”, many of them sex workers, forming one of the world’s highest-profile public art commissions.
The casts will be arranged around the fourth plinth to create a Tzompantli, a skull rack from Mesoamerican civilisations used to display the remains of war captives or sacrifice victims.
Due to London’s weather, Margolles expects the casts to wear away and eventually disintegrate, leaving behind “a kind of anti-monument”, she told the Guardian.
The current artwork featured at Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth is Heather Phillipson’s The End – a giant replica of whipped cream topped with a cherry, a fly and a drone – which will be on display until September 2022.
Following that will be a sculpture by Samson Kambalu, which is inspired by a 1914 photo of African independence hero and preacher John Chilembwe with English coloniser John Chorley. The sculpture will highlight Chilembwe, making him larger-than-life while Chorley remains life-size, who is wearing a hat in an act of defiance of a colonial rule that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people.
Kambalu and Margolles’ artworks were chosen by the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group after a public vote of nearly 17,500 people.
Ekow Eshun, the chair of the group, said it received more public votes than ever.
Efforts to erase LGBTQ sex education topics from public school curriculum are growing in GOP-led state legislatures and sweeping moves are tightening in Arizona, Tennessee, Idaho, and Missouri. These policymakers would rather punish LGBTQ people for being who they are than provide them with information and educational resources to live healthy, successful lives. In what has become our nation’s latest culture war, it’s disheartening to know that LGBTQ youth stand to lose the most.
Already, there’s no national mandate for sexual education, and for the few states that do offer it, LGBTQ topics are disregarded or degraded. Non-profit organization Sex Ed For Social Change, states, “nine states require educators to portray homosexuality in a negative manner or do not allow them to speak about LGBTQ individuals.” This points to the dismal state of LGBTQ sexual education as-is. Additional efforts to hide this information will only further disempower queer youth.
One of the ways I can resist these recent efforts is by sharing my story of what I didn’t learn in sex ed. This article is a continuation of the first.
1. Pleasure can come in multiple forms.
For many people, sexual education de-emphasizes pleasure and emphasizes risk. Youth lose sight of the benefits that a healthy sex life can provide, and are unable to visualize the many ways they are able to please themselves and meet their needs for intimacy, play, and self-expression. There are also many ways that people can receive pleasure–polyamory, phone sex, adult toys, and more. Ethical Slut offers new ways of being in relationship with individuals. It’s the bible for non-traditional relationships. COVID-19 and our fear of physical touching taught us the power of phone sex, and these are learned lessons we can continue to carry with us. And with adult toys, there is a laundry list of do’s and don’ts. Do not, for example, use silicone lube on silicone toys, because the silicone of the lube can break down the toy’s material. Always use water-based lube on silicone toys.
2. How to give consent & How to say no
We may have at least been taught that consent is important, but we don’t learn the nuances of communication when we’re in the moment. As I’ve grown older, I realized that “I’m getting tired,” or “I have an early morning tomorrow” are indirect ways a potential sexual partner may revoke consent. It’s also important to understand that at any point, for any reason, a person can revoke consent. Even if we’ve begun ripping off each other’s clothes voraciously, any person can later decide that they no longer want to continue. It is vulnerable receive rejection, and it’s also extremely vulnerable to tell someone you’re no longer interested. It takes maturity to acknowledge that the best shared sexual experience comes from both partners being super, super, super excited about being together. Simply put, your experience won’t reach its full potential when your partner’s experience isn’t the most pleasurable. Sometimes it pays to wait for the right moment. And if just the thought of rejecting someone or hearing rejection scares you or angers you, please, please deeply consider choosing to not engage in sexual activity until you’re more comfortable navigating the level of communication needed to protect yourself and others. This video explains it succinctly:
The irony is that even if GOP politicians are unsuccessful in their attempts to further limit LGBTQ sexual health education, the mere discussion of the topic is enough to impact the sex lives of queer youth. Consider a 2020 Trevor report that found that “86% of LGBTQ youth said that recent politics have negatively impacted their well-being.” If we don’t feel safe, we’re not likely to fully realize our sexual potential. That’s because mental health is sexual health. No wonder so many drugs that impact our brain health also have sexual side effects. Mental health also determines if we believe we are worthy of sex and healthy sexual relationships.
4. You get to decide what sex means to you
I believe I lost my virginity the moment I had oral sex with my first partner. Because this person is still in my life as a friend, he once retorted, “We didn’t have sex.” To some people (e.g. Bill Clinton), I have realized that oral sex really isn’t sex, but to me it is. In fact, I don’t even think orgasming is necessary for sex to have happened. This happens to be my definition, and I believe it’s just as valid as the individuals who have more conservative interpretations of sex. Because I find sex to be such an intimate, personal experience I want to affirm young readers that they are allowed to determine what sex means to them–especially since as queer people the way we have sex is often explained within a heteronormative context which doesn’t work for everyone.
Trying to give readers a sex education in two 1,000-word personal essays is impossible. These thoughts are just my own experience, and it’s likely there are many other things you could add to this list as well. We can’t go back and time and give ourselves the sex education we needed, but we can continue forward remaining curious and doing all that we can to empower ourselves now. The topics in this two-part series only start the conversation. Continue following the links, questioning, and discovering your body.
An already married couple are planning a beautiful “re-wedding” after one spouse came out as a trans woman.
Jae and Rayna Harvey, of Somerset, England, first got married in 2018 in Texas, where Jae is from, but shortly after the wedding Rayna came out as a trans woman.
Rayna told The Mirror that she had been suppressing her true self since she was 11 years old, and that she felt hugely “liberated” after coming out while on their honeymoon in Wiltshire.
The couple are now planning a “re-wedding” to celebrate their love now that Rayna is out, and Jae said: “There’s a bit of a disconnect when we think back to our first wedding as I feel, ‘Well, Ray wasn’t there?’ and I want her in my wedding.
“What I want more than anything is for her family to see her walk down the aisle and for her to have her day – I got to have mine with all my bells and whistles, so now it’s her turn.”
Rayna said that since coming out as trans, she has received “absolutely incredible support” from everyone in her life, including her 93-year-old nan, who buys her “granddaughter” cards on special occasions.
Jae added that at the “re-wedding”, set to take place in Somerset’s Quantock Hills next September, both brides will be “wearing beautiful black dresses” as part of “an all-black and white theme with white, pink and red roses” symbolising rebirth.
In a message to Jae recently shared on Instagram, Rayna said: “Wife, words will never be able to explain how much of a difference you’ve made to my life, I owe most of who I am to you and the time you invested to teach me and to help me get where I want to be.
“From doing my photoshoots, helping me with what goes together clothes wise, holding my hand and reassuring me, to just loving me and being my wife, you’ve got it all, and I’m so so lucky to be loved by you.
“Here’s to another lifetime of love, laughs and happiness.”
A transgender teen’s physical artwork and non-fungible tokens netted $2.16 million at auction at Christie’s on Wednesday.
“Hello, i’m Victor (FEWOCiOUS) and This Is My Life” included five lots by 18-year-old Victor Langlois, aka FEWOCiOUS, a rising star in the increasingly popular — and lucrative — world of NFT art.
An NFT is a blockchain-powered unit of data that authenticates ownership of digital objects — images, videos, songs, even tweets.
Each lot represents a year of Langlois’ life between the ages of 14 and 18, as he began to understand his gender identity, transitioned and moved from Las Vegas to Seattle.
The series includes a physical painting, a video artwork sold exclusively as an NFT and a collection of physical and NFT doodles, drawings and journal entries from the corresponding year.
Upon request, Langlois will deliver the physical painting to the collector in a custom suitcase, Christie’s said in a statement, “an ode to how he transported his earliest drawings and paintings, when leaving behind his past in pursuit of a brighter future.”
The series reflects a traumatic period in Langlois’ life, amid what he describes as an abusive upbringing. After running away from home at age 12, he was raised by his grandmother, a single mom from El Salvador with three jobs and four kids.
“I think she struggled so much that she just wanted security,” he told Christie’s. “To see me wanting to pursue art, she was like, ‘What? Be a lawyer.’ Which I understand. But it hurt when she would say, ‘Your art is ugly and that’s why you can’t do it.'”
Langlois began drawing art on his iPad, he told Decrypt, because he wasn’t allowed paint. The first piece in “Hello, I’m Victor” is titled “Year 1, Age 14 — It Hurts to Hide.”
Since getting into digital art barely a year ago, Langlois has earned just under $18 million. According to Christie’s, he’s also the youngest artist to have work sold through the legendary auction house.
“He went all out on this project and bared his beautiful soul for the world,” Christie’s digital art specialist Noah Davis said in a statement. “I hope his success shines bright for other young creative people who might be struggling with similar issues of identity and acceptance.”
On June 23, the first day of the auction, demand was so high it crashed the Christie’s website, Esquire reported. That success is particularly poignant, Langlois said, because too often trans artists are overlooked.
“Thank you so much for believing in me and my journey. It means the world,” he said in a tearful Instagram video Wednesday. “I put my everything into this, and I was so nervous to come out and to tell everyone who I am.”
The seven-figure sale is also a sign of NFTs’ growing influence among auction houses and the art world in general: Sales of NFTs topped $2 billion in the first quarter of 2021, CNBC reported, with twice as many buyers as sellers.
“I think NFTs are the future,” Langlois told Reuters. “If you’re posting your art and sharing it with the world digitally, I think to offer a way for collectors to own it as a digital asset is just the next step.”
Just as the queer community has been at the forefront of many artistic movements, LGBTQ artists are quickly adopting the NFT model: In April, former YouTuber Chris Crocker transformed their infamous “Leave Britney Alone” video into an NFT that earned $44,000.
The day before Langlois’ auction closed, The Queenly NFT, which bills itself as “the first cryptogallery for queer creators,” held its launch party at the former site of Andy Warhol’s Factory in Union Square in Manhattan, New York.
The inaugural collection includes more than 90 pieces — including works by trans singer Mila Jam, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” stars Manila Luzon and Bob the Drag Queen, gay nightlife photographer Wilsonmodels and lesbian photographer Lola Flash, whose work was just added to the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Brent Lomas, a New York drag performer also known as Ruby Powers, said he developed Queenly as a place for queer artists to get proper credit and compensation for their work, with LGBTQ-allied nonprofit organizations receiving a donation for every sale.
“Queer creators belong in every single space, and we deserve to take up space,” Lomas said. “They’re the ones creating the most explosive and powerful moments with their art. They’re the pioneers, showing people the world in a new way.”
This isn’t just a new kind of art, he added; it’s a new kind of patronage.
“Not every queer artist is going to have access to a place like Christie’s,” Lomas said. “Art should be democratizing, and NFTs allow artists to be in control of their work.”
In 2014, Deondre Moore, who was 19 at the time, decided to get an HIV test while he and his friends were at a nightclub in Houston.
Moore wanted his friends to get tested, “so I knew that the best way to do so was to lead by example and do my test first,” he said. He was tested earlier that year, and had recently been in what he thought was a monogamous relationship with a man he was in love with, so he wasn’t worried about the results.
“They tested me for HIV, I knew it would come back negative,” he said. “Went to the back, ready to hear my results, and he said, ‘Your test came back positive.’”
Moore said he “made up a whole scenario” in his head about why he thought the test result was wrong. But just over a week later, a doctor at the student health clinic at Sam Houston State University, where he was a freshman, confirmed the result.
“The doctor walked in, and very quickly got it out of the way. And he said, ‘Mr. Moore, I’m sorry to tell you, but our test confirmed that you do have HIV,’” he recalled. “What I heard the doctor say was, ‘Yeah, you are going to die.’”
Now 26, Moore takes just one pill a day — an antiretroviral treatment that makes the virus undetectable and untransmittable to others. It’s not a cure, but it means that, unlike a few decades ago, people like Moore can live long, healthy lives.
Treatment for HIV has come a long way since June 1981, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published its first scientific report describing the disease now known as AIDS in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. But advocates say there’s still more work to be done. Stigma surrounding HIV is persistent, and the virus disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men of color, particularly Black men, due to inequality in a variety of areas.
Advocates want to see better health education in schools, better access to health care and, ultimately, an end to the epidemic.
A lack of education — and more HIV cases among young people
Moore’s mother, Kathleen Wingate, said that she didn’t personally know anyone who was living with HIV prior to her son’s diagnosis, so she didn’t know anything about it. Going to his doctor’s appointments with him helped a lot, she said.
The doctor explained to her that she couldn’t contract HIV from hugging her son, kissing him or sharing food and drinks with him.
“And I always thought, ‘Oh, if he touches me … If somebody touches you, you’re going to get it.’ I’ve heard that,” Wingate said. But the doctor told her that if Moore took one pill every day for the rest of his life, he could live to 90 or 100 years old.
Misinformation and stigma persist in part because of poor sex education across the country, said J. Maurice McCants-Pearsall, director of HIV and health equity at Human Rights Campaign.
He noted that young people ages 13 to 24 are overrepresented in new HIV diagnoses, with the age group making up 21 percent of the category in 2018, according to the CDC. Young gay and bisexual men account for 83 percent of all new diagnoses in the age group, and young Black gay and bisexual men make up 42 percent of new diagnoses among young queer men.
“And then we have to ask the question, well, why is that?” McCants-Pearsall said. “Well, there’s a direct correlation with a lack of sexual health education and HIV in young folks between the ages of 13 and 24. That’s undeniable.”
He said HIV’s impact on Black and brown people is also due to social determinants of health, which he said aren’t being addressed for communities of color. “It’s not just enough to give someone a blue magical pill and say, ‘Oh, this is going to prevent you from contracting HIV,’” he said. “No, we have to have comprehensive health care for folks, then address all their needs from mental health to behavioral health services, to increased access to medical treatment and/or prevention services … equal access to educational, employment opportunities, housing.”
Legislation also plays a role. Thirty-seven states criminalize exposing someone to HIV, according to the CDC. McCants-Pearsall said 11 states have laws that make it a felony to spit or bite someone if you have HIV, “even though we know the science tells us that it is not possible to transmit HIV through saliva.”
Twenty-five states also criminalize one or more behaviors that pose low risks for HIV transmission, he said. The penalties for violating these laws can include prison time: 18 impose sentences of up to 10 years, seven states impose sentences of 11 to 20 years, and five states impose a sentence of 20 years “and this is not based off of behavior motivated by intent to harm,” McCants-Pearsall said.
“This is based off of you not disclosing your status or merely the perceived exposure to HIV, and that’s ridiculous, totally ridiculous,” he said.
Ending the epidemic
Thom Kam, 65, was diagnosed with HIV in 1992. He used all natural and alternative therapies to boost his immune system until 1996, when he was hospitalized and officially had AIDS. At that time, the result of a six-month study showed that a combination of three drugs was effective at containing HIV.
“And I did that regimen eight hours every day around the clock on an empty stomach for three years, which was 4,000 plus doses without missing a single one,” he said. “But I knew how lucky I was. I knew how lucky I was to actually be able to do that … really grateful. And so I did and embraced it for myself and for all the other guys who hadn’t had the opportunity.”
In the ‘80s and the ‘90s, he said, he never thought it would get to this point, when one pill a day can make HIV undetectable. “I didn’t know if we could or not,” Kam said. “It was one big dark tunnel, and there was no light at the end.”
Treatments have improved, but Moore said HIV has been around for 40 years, and there’s no cure or vaccine. He added that about a year and a half into the Covid-19 pandemic, however, multiple vaccines exist.
“I think it just speaks to who’s mostly affected, and who was mostly affected then,” he said. Because the HIV epidemic disproportionately affected queer men, and Black and brown people, “no one cared, no one listened,” he said.
But that is not a view that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, shared.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was a leading researcher during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, said the fact that there’s a Covid-19 vaccine and no HIV vaccine is “a scientific issue” and “has nothing to do with effort.”
“We have spent literally billions of dollars on an HIV vaccine. No doubt,” he told NBC News in response to a question in May. What makes a vaccine successful is when the body makes an adequate immune response to a pathogen to clear it and prevent the person from being infected with the same pathogen again.
“That completely is different for HIV, because for reasons we still can’t explain, the body does not make a good immune response against HIV,” he said. “And that’s the reason why we never see clearance of the virus from the body of someone who’s been infected spontaneously.”
As advocates work to end the epidemic or wait for a cure, they continue to fight misconceptions. Among the most common is that HIV is a death sentence, and it is not, McCants-Pearsall said. Another is that if a person is HIV positive, it means “they did something wrong.”
“No one did anything wrong,” he said. “We have free choice. I can love who I want to love, how I want to love them, whenever I want to love them. There’s no shame in that. I did nothing wrong.”
Dr Michelle Telfer, who represented Australia in gymnastics at the 1992 Olympic Games, has described how she “made herself a big target” by becoming a global leader in caring for trans kids.
In a short documentary for ABC News In-depth, Telfer explained that after the end of her gymnastics career at the age of 18, she was inspired to become a doctor by those who had treated her various sports injuries.
She said: “I was trying to decide between doing paediatrics or doing psychiatry. And then in paediatrics, I found adolescent medicine, which is that perfect combination of paediatrics and mental health… I’d found the place I wanted to be.”
In 2012, after returning from maternity leave, Telfer took a job as the head of adolescent medicine at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
She oversaw various services for young people, but her life changed forever when she was asked to lead the hospital’s gender clinic for children.
“I was asked to take over this group of trans children in their care, and I jumped at it,” she said. “I’d never met a trans child before I started this job.”
One of the first children she met with, she was, was named Oliver.
She continued: “I said to Oliver, ‘How do you know that you’re a boy? When did you start thinking about yourself as a boy?
“He was 10 at the time, and he told me his story… It was such a beautiful story.
“And I thought, ‘I can help this child have a boy’s body. How many people can do that?”
Oliver went on to receive hormone treatment when he was 15, with the consent of both of his parents. Now 18, he told ABC News: “I’m in my final year of high school. I’m hoping one day to study medicine, cardiothoracic surgery or something similar.
“I’m really optimistic about my future. I’ve huge ambitions I want to do a lot of good in this world. And I think that, you know, I wouldn’t be in that place, I wouldn’t be able to have those dreams, if I didn’t receive support from Michelle.”
Another of the kids in Telfer’s care, a trans teenager named Isabelle, also appeared in the film. She said: “I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have Michelle and the Royal Children’s Hospital with me. I think I’d equate a large part of my being alive at the moment to them.”
Right-wing newspaper The Australian has written “nearly 50” articles about Michelle Telfer.
But, despite the huge satisfaction she gets from helping kids to be their true selves, as the “debate” over trans people’s right to exist gets louder, Michelle Telfer has has become a “target”.
“There have always been critics,” she said.
“You don’t go into this area of medicine without being warned about becoming a target. And I’ve certainly made myself a very big target.”
“From August, 2019, to the current time, The Australian newspaper has written nearly 50 articles about me and my work,” said Telfer
“The newspaper is inferring that clinicians like me are harming children, that it’s experimental, that the care is novel, and that they’re potentially mentally ill and they’re not really trans.”
In 2020, following fierce lobbying by right-wing media and anti-trans campaigners for a “national inquiry” into health care for trans kids, Australia’s health minister Greg Hunt referred the issue to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
The college shot down the idea of an “inquiry”, instead calling for greater access to gender-affirming services for trans kids.
However, even after the statement in support of her work, Telfer said the articles in The Australian continued and she began to struggle with anxiety.
Finally at the end of her tether, last year Telfer submitted a 42-page complaint to the Press Council over The Australian‘s coverage.
Despite everything, Telfer remains “absolutely optimistic about the future”.
“I know that what we’re doing is the right thing,” she said.
“Society has for hundreds and hundreds of years tried to ignore and dismiss trans people. But now that we’re affirming them, look at what they can do.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic tore through the U.S., resulting in nearly 600,000deaths and a slew of collateral damage, transgender people across the Southeast were participating in self-defense classes catered specifically to them. The courses, organized by LGBTQ advocacy group Campaign for Southern Equality, had one goal: to teach trans people to protect themselves should they be the target of an attack.
The campaign saw the classes as a necessity, with trans Americans facing disproportionate levels of violence — including record levels of reported fatal violence against the community.
“When folks are being attacked and murdered, helping with a name change doesn’t really do much good if we can’t keep our people alive,” Ivy Hill, the community health program director for the Campaign for Southern Equality, told NBC News.
Now, as it seems the worst of the pandemic may be in the rearview mirror for the U.S., Hill hopes these classes will resume — either through their own organization or local grassroots groups. While the damage spawned by Covid-19 is slowing down, the violence faced by transgender Americans — particularly trans women of color in the South — appears to be accelerating.
This year is on track to be the deadliest on record for transgender Americans, with at least 28 trans and gender-nonconforming people fatally shot or violently killed so far, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which has been tracking trans deaths since 2013.
2021 is outpacing 2020, when the group recorded a record 44 trans people killed due to violence. By this time last year, the group had tracked 13 trans deaths. Of this year’s 28 known transgender victims, 20 were trans women of color (16 of them Black trans women), and 14 were killed in the South. https://iframe.nbcnews.com/UdlwyyS?app=1
The disproportionate violence trans Americans face in the South, and more specifically the Southeast, is due to a combination of issues, according to advocates. These factors, they say, include a lack of discrimination protections, a flurry of recently introduced anti-LGBTQ state bills, high rates of poverty and a host of cultural factors. To combat this dangerous brew, local and regional advocacy groups, like the Campaign for Southern Equality, say they are working to fill the void left by their states to ensure trans people have some form of protection where they live.
The Southeast in general is a hostile region for the transgender community due, in part, to “institutional violence,” according to Austin Johnson, an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio’s Kenyon College, who studies the trans community. Trans people face high barriers to health care and housing in the region, and state legislatures in recent years have put forward “persistent attacks” against the community with bills that seek to limit the everyday rights of trans people, he explained.
Add in the high rates of poverty in the region, along with religiosity that promotes a very conservative view of gender roles and sexuality, he said, and there is a combination of factors that contribute to the violence. https://iframe.nbcnews.com/YGXPfXs?app=1
“I think those kinds of norms, all of those intersect with the kind of economic deprivation, educational deprivation, we have in the South, and so when you have all of this deprivation, in terms of the different institutions, it’s going to affect every group,” Johnson said. “When there are some groups that are more disadvantaged, it’s going to affect them. So I think that’s why we’re seeing these really drastic rates of negative outcomes for LGBTQ people and trans people in particular in the South.”
Although there is a disproportionate number of reported killings of transgender people in the South, it does not mean the region is inherently more deadly, according to Eric A. Stanley, an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
The true number of trans people lost to violence each year is unknown, due in part to the lack of a national database to track anti-trans violence, police misgendering victims in official reports and some victims’ closeted status. Absent that, Stanley said, it is impossible to truly judge the regionality of anti-trans violence in proportion to other areas of the country.
“I don’t think anywhere is necessarily safer, as the kinds of anti-trans antagonism that propels so much of the harm is any and everywhere,” Stanley said.
Stanley did note, however, that the Southeast is “less resourced” when it comes to combating violence against the transgender community — and the LGBTQ community more broadly — due to the relatively high poverty in the region and the lack of a social safety net.
Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi — three Southeastern states — are also home to the highest homicide rates in the country, further adding to the climate of violence that trans people face in everyday life.
‘Dehumanized’ by state legislatures
Outside of housing and basic needs, transgender Americans only recently received federal protection from being fired for their gender identity, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. Besides that, there are no federal discrimination protections in other areas of life for trans people, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank.
Hill said trans people’s inability to safely access public spaces without fear of discrimination — and the issues being debated in state legislatures aimed at rolling back the rights of trans people — have created a climate that has “dehumanized” the trans community. That combined with a lack of legal protections such as nondiscrimination ordinances leaves trans people vulnerable and easy targets of violence.
Twenty-two states do not have public accommodation nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people from being discriminated against in public places due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 20 do not have such protections when it comes to housing, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Many of these states are clustered around the Southeast.
“I think for a lot of us, what people kind of miss is just how dangerous or scary it can be just to move through public space, which is something that other folks who are cisgender generally don’t even have to think about,” Hill, who lives in South Carolina, said of being trans in the South.
Tennessee enacted an additional law that compels businesses to display signs that read, “This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom,” if transgender people are allowed to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. The state also enacted a law that restricts access to gender-affirming care for trans minors.
State bills targeting transgender people that did not pass in 2021 will likely be introduced next year, advocates warn. Advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, say serious political change must happen on the federal level to help stem the tide of rising anti-trans violence.
HRC President Alphonso David said one of the most important things that can be done to help protect trans Americans is for Congress to pass the Equality Act. The federal legislation would explicitly create LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs and jury service.
“It is heartbreaking to see violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people across our country,” David said in a statement. “The Equality Act that will provide legal recourse to incidents of discrimination, discourage discrimination, and work to reduce stigma against transgender and nonbinary people nationwide.”
In addition, HRC cited actions the Biden administration took — such as reinstating the Equal Access Rule that allows people to access Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded housing without discrimination based on their gender identity and encouraging the Education Department to enforce Title IX with protections based on gender identity — as tangible solutions to help the trans community.
Some advocates, however, are not optimistic about additional national actions, especially given the slim majority Democrats hold in Congress. That’s why groups like the Campaign for Southern Equality continue to focus on lobbying state legislatures and supporting more local, grassroots efforts.
‘Robust community of grassroots work’
A number of queer advocacy groups in the Southeast say they are filling in the gaps left by the federal, state and local governments.
Organizations like Atlanta-based Southerners on New Ground are dedicated to keeping reports of anti-transgender violence in the news to ensure the public is aware of this ongoing issue.
“Those folks are amplifying their voices and amplifying their stories,” Johnson said of advocates sharing the stories of trans people lost to violence. “I wonder if we didn’t have this robust community of grassroots work, that we wouldn’t even know many of their names.”
In Charlotte, North Carolina, the trans community has been racked by violence. Two Black women, Jaida Peterson and Remy Fennell, were killed in the span of two weeks in April. Ash Williams, an organizer with Charlotte Uprising and the House of Kanautica, which both support the local Black trans community, said the groups’ main goal has been to get money in the hands of struggling trans people so they can find stable housing. After Peterson’s death, the groups raised over $20,000 for trans people of color. Williams said if they had this kind of funding year-round, it may have saved Peterson’s life.
“We believe that how we are organizing is certainly in the spirit of what we understand to be happening across the country, which is, we hope, some kind of cultural awakening that says trans people matter and Black lives matter,” Williams said.
However, he added, distributing funds so the community members can take care of each other only goes so far when there is limited access to health care and other necessary services.
“Because of the way that power structures are, regular people have to show up,” Williams said. “And one of the things that we hope to be able to do is to get people mobilized and to show up for the trans folks where they live.”
Several groups in the Southeast are organizing to provide vulnerable trans communities with essential needs, such as housing, where they say state institutions have failed to provide a path to safety.
“A big portion of the folks that we serve participate in survival sex or sex work. Therefore, they don’t have verifiable income,” Kayla Gore, co-founder of My Sistah’s House, told NBC News last year. “So that’s the reason that they can’t get housing or they’re underemployed, in a sense that they don’t necessarily have access to equitable jobs that will provide them an income that is enough to obtain stable housing.”
My Sistah’s House also provides emergency housing in an effort to keep the local trans population safe in the immediate term.
House of Tulip in New Orleansis renovating a multifamily home in hopes of creating a pilot program to house 10 transgender people facing housing insecurity. The group, according to its website, also plans to establish a “separate space that can serve as a community center” where transgender people have a safe space to visit, access resources and get a hot meal or shower. H
House of Tulip said 1 of every 3 trans people in Louisiana faces homelessness, emphasizing the need for immediate housing as well as investment to help trans people find long-term housing arrangements.
Johnson said local grassroots groups in the Southeast have come to realize in the absence of institutional help, they have to rely on each other for survival.
“When you have that kind of community building, it’s empowering, and people are not going to just roll over and expect this treatment that they’re getting,” Johnson said. “Also, they’re going to honor those who they’ve lost in their community, because they have people to rely on.”