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Equality Healthcare PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Trump’s Gag Rule and Alarm Over HIV Pill Are Partners in Sex Panic

I attended my first Pride in 1979, when I was seven years old. In preparation for the march, I made signs with my mom and her partner (now her wife; they got married in 2015 after 37 years together). Their signs were long, lofty, and political. The sign I made was inspired by a button I had seen on St. Patrick’s Day. It read: “Kiss me, I’m gay.”

My mom asked me if I wanted to switch signs with her — was that really the sign I wanted to carry myself? I had no idea why she was asking me this; my sign was better, so of course that was the one I wanted to carry. I admit that my seven-year-old self was almost embarrassingly straight; but to me, carrying the sign wasn’t an identity statement. It was an affiliative statement. I was claiming my place as part of this community, embracing its joy and its pain and its liberation and its struggle as my own. People kissed me all day (and they always asked first).

Almost forty years later, I have devoted the majority of my professional life to the care of the LGBTQ community in all its diversity. Most recently, I have been a staunch advocate for access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the daily pill that reduces risk of HIV infection by over 90 percent. I advocate for PrEP not only because it prevents new HIV infections, but also because it redefines the narrative around gay sexuality that emerged in the HIV era.

In spite of the tremendous gains that we have seen in LGBTQ liberation in the past decades, many still experience the threat of HIV infection as an ever-present shadow over their sexual lives. In our research with the Hunter HIV/AIDS Research Team, we have found that between 25 percent and 39 percent of HIV-negative gay men say they think about HIV all or most of the time in their daily lives, and between 29 percent and 46 percent say they think about HIV all or most of the time while they are having sex. This omnipresent burden of HIV is an underrecognized psychological tragedy of the epidemic.

But even less recognized is the way the threat of HIV infection has operated as a type of social control. Consciously or unconsciously, the constant threat of illness is presented to members of the LGBTQ community as the “cost” of their sexual expression and liberation. In other words, our society will tolerate your having “that kind” of sex, as long as you always remember you can die from it.

These words may seem harsh, but I believe they are critical to understanding the dynamics that have impeded PrEP rollout, including reluctance on the part of healthcare providers and systems to fully embrace it as a prevention strategy. PrEP provides relief from the burden of HIV threat, and many people report that taking PrEP allows them to fully experience intimacy and joy in sexuality without anxiety or fear. But lifting this burden also lifts social control over sexuality. In one of the first PrEP trainings I conducted for providers, one doctor said to me: “But wait — if we give this medication to gay men, they can have as much sex as they want and they won’t get HIV.” Concerns about making PrEP more widely available arise, in part, from discomfort with the notion of gay sex without a cost.

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The fight for PrEP availability and accessibility, then, is at its core a fight for sex positivity and true sexual liberation. Sex that’s free from the threat of HIV is not merely a side benefit of PrEP: It is a central good in itself. Ensuring access to PrEP is a statement that we — as a society, as a public health community — will not use the threat of illness as a tool for social or behavioral control over sexual expression.

At the same time, our society is facing another, parallel debate over health, sexuality, and social control. On June 1, the Trump administration, through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), proposed a new rule for the Title X program, the Public Health Service Act that funds family planning services in the United States. If adopted, this new “gag rule” will prohibit providers in Title X–funded settings from giving abortion referrals or even mentioning abortion as an option in their counseling of pregnant patients.

The new Trump rule would also remove a current regulation that requires Title X–funded settings to provide access to “medically approved” family planning services. The removal of this regulation will allow Title X funding for settings that offer only “natural” family planning methods (i.e., fertility awareness, also called the rhythm method) to patients seeking contraceptive services.

Fertility awareness can be an effective contraceptive method, but only if the individual using it abstains from sex for about fourteen days out of every month — that’s almost half the year. As such, when offered to the exclusion of other methods, natural family planning specifically restricts individuals’ ability to choose when and whether to have sex, unless they want to live with the constant threat of unintended pregnancy.

Social control over sexuality is, in fact, the explicit goal of restricting access to reproductive health services. Consider this quote from a 2011 interview with Sandy Rios, director of governmental affairs for the American Family Association, which supports the new gag rule:Why in the world would you encourage your daughters, and your granddaughters…to have unrestricted, unlimited sex anytime, anywhere, and that, somehow if you prevent pregnancy, that somehow you’ve helped them.” Just as the doctor at my PrEP training was afraid to give people the opportunity to have sex without fear of HIV infection, Rios is concerned that if we give people access to reproductive health services, they can have as much sex as they want and they won’t get pregnant.

If you care about access to PrEP — if you believe deeply in the sexual liberation it can facilitate — then you should care about access to birth control and abortion as well. Denying full access to reproductive health services, like denying access to PrEP, exerts social control over sexual expression by associating it with a threat (of HIV, of pregnancy) even though we have the biomedical means to alleviate that threat. And similar to the fight for PrEP access, these restrictions will fall hardest on people of color, who comprise more than half of all patients in Title X–funded health centers.

Stopping these proposed changes to Title X is an emergency. If the new regulations go into effect, more than 4,000 Title X health centers will be barred from providing comprehensive reproductive care to their more than 4 million patients. To help, you can learn more about the issue; post comments to HHS during the open comment period; tell your representatives how much you care about this issue; or give money to advocacy organizations that are fighting for reproductive justice.

The LGBTQ community has been my community since I was a child, and my affiliation remains strong in part because of our community’s passionate commitment to sexual freedom in all its diversity. I will be marching in this year’s Pride parade with my husband and my son, holding banners for my mother and her wife (whose marching days are behind them, but whose advocacy still burns bright). I hope you will stand with us in the fight for reproductive justice, which is part of sexual liberation for us all.

Dr. Sarit Golub is a professor of psychology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of City University of New York. She directs the Hunter HIV/AIDS Research Team (HART), which conducts interdisciplinary, community-based research.

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Living NYC ARCHIVES Technology

Has Our Delivery Culture Gotten Out of Hand?

I’ve always maintained that a great thing about New York is that, theoretically, you can get anything you want whenever you want it. Need milk at 2 a.m.? Pad thai and BBQ on the same block? Weed brought to you by models? The city provides.

New York’s delivery culture is something the tech industry has been capitalizing on for some time now. Most recently and topically, it’s resulted in the British sex toy company MysteryVibe launching an “on-demand vibrator delivery service” in New York for Valentine’s Day. That’s right: Today and tomorrow, the company is delivering vibrators in under an hour, complete with chocolates and a “tech-savvy Kama Sutra,” whatever that means.

The service certainly raises more questions than it answers. Are the delivery people being trained in discretion, or will they be like your weed hookup who sort of lingers until you relent and offer him some of the product? Who has a vibrator emergency so bad that they need one brought by in less than an hour? Who can’t just use their hand for a day?

“These days in New York City you can pretty much get anything delivered same-day … except pleasure. Which is a real shame, as when you order pleasure products online you’re really excited to try them!” says Stephanie Alys, co-founder of MysteryVibe. Apparently, it’s a growing concern: “We know from customer feedback that while people do a lot of research before ordering, they often order when they need it the most.”

MysteryVibe is hoping to expand to other cities, as well as making this a more permanent option in New York. It’s a PR gimmick, for sure, another example of the tech industry’s incredible ability to solve problems nobody actually had. But by launching it in New York City, they’re also capitalizing on our culture of delivery. New Yorkers thrive on delivery. We define ourselves by it. But it’s turning into a classic horror tale: What if we had delivery, but too much?

***

A friend who moved to Seattle from New York recently told me a horror story. She was home alone one night, and desired dinner. Not having many groceries, and not wanting to drive to the store after a long day at work, she tried to get delivery. But (shines flashlight under my face) nobody would come to her house. Instead, she could drive to a restaurant to pick up her order. The one place that would deliver was a pizzeria, which would charge her a $15 minimum and a $10 delivery fee.

A hallmark of my childhood was the folder of delivery menus by the phone. When my mom worked late, when my dad’s mini-fridge was too small for groceries, there was still dinner to be had. New Yorkers work hard, have small kitchens, and don’t own cars. Many of us also have a hard time carrying bags up and down stairs, or using stairs at all. That we can get full meals, groceries, and anything else you can get at the bodega delivered to our doors for little to no fee isn’t just a convenience. It’s a necessity.

Most New Yorkers tend to understand this, and act out of kindness accordingly. Certainly some of the kindness is out of self-preservation — there were longstanding myths of favorite takeout places that refused to deliver to demonstrated assholes — but also out of a sense of appreciation. What luck that we got to partake of this piece of New York, this thing that we couldn’t get elsewhere. I’m romanticizing a bit: New Yorkers have stiffed delivery guys and harassed service workers, too. But for a long time, you at least had to look them in the eye while you did it.

Apps like Seamless were originally the next logical step in delivery innovation. Instead of having to yell your credit card number over the phone, or make sure you had enough cash for delivery, you just fill out a form online and get the same service you’ve always gotten. New Yorkers were quick to adapt. After all, this is what we had always done.

But most New Yorkers also sensed the stakes had been raised, especially with the boom and bust of the first dot-com bubble. In 2011, Jon Stewart joked on The Daily Show about an early iteration of the delivery tech boom — UrbanFetch, a company that would bring you literally anything in about half an hour, with a T-shirt and free cookies. He told a hypothetical story of two stoned roommates ordering, separately, Scarface and two pints of cookie dough ice cream, and “Goodfellas, two pints of Cherry Garcia, and a dildo that glows in the dark.” UrbanFetch, as you may have guessed, was not a sustainable operation. “My point is this,” said Stewart. “I miss these fucking guys. But we all knew this thing was not going to last.”

But the bubble grew again, and now, among Amazon Prime, Seamless, Postmates, and now MysteryVibe, it’s hard to imagine anything you can’t get delivered. And that’s wreaking havoc on businesses. In a recent article for the New Yorker, Elizabeth Dunn outlined how delivery apps are killing restaurants, with one restaurateur describing them as “an income stream that his business had become dependent upon but that might ultimately be running them into the ground.” Amazon Prime deliveries are made possible by atrocious working conditions. It’s not sustainable, and if it is, it’s because we’re sacrificing too much and too many.

Alys argues that, instead of things like pints of ice cream, instant delivery is actually better suited for luxury products. “There are a lot of hidden fees, especially at the lower end of the market,” she says, “So the economics might not work for a pack of condoms or an energy bar, but they can for a luxury product like a Crescendo.” So sure, it might work. It doesn’t seem like mom-and-pop sex toy shops will be put out by this innovation, cajoled into providing a service they can’t maintain.

Unfortunately, most of New York relies on delivery of that small, nonluxury stuff, and it’s become a problem. It’s too easy to just blame greedy corporate overlords or lazy millennials who don’t like making phone calls. As with most significant cultural shifts, it’s everything’s fault. A desire for convenience based on existing cultural norms, plus an increasing acceptance of doing business through middleman-run apps, multiplied by how much harder it is for most restaurants and stores to build their own online order forms instead of just signing up for Seamless or Postmates, equals a current reality in which convenience is king, and can often be instantaneous. And once that dam has been broken, who wants to go back?

A New York without delivery would look completely alien to me. But I’m starting to see a future in which something has to give, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Maybe the only restaurants that’ll deliver will be the ones that already have the capital to pay Seamless fines, perpetuating the suburbanization of the city. Maybe we’ll all be paying $10 delivery fees like a bunch of Seattleites. Maybe that was what we should have been doing this whole time. But, you know, tip your delivery guy. And maybe remember that waiting two days for a vibrator isn’t the end of the world.

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Artie Lange Talks Crashing, Comedy and Sex with Wild Boars

On HBO’s Crashing, star and creator Pete Holmes plays a fictionalized version of himself: A straight-laced rookie comedian who ends up both heartbroken and homeless when his wife leaves him for another man. Pete finds himself relying on the kindness of a succession of real-life stand-ups, particularly Artie Lange. Like a potty-mouthed Yoda, the one-time Howard Stern Show fixture and original MADtv cast member becomes an unlikely mentor to the former aspiring youth pastor. It’s a perfect role for larger-than-life Lange, who’s as well acquainted with the highs of comedy stardom as he is with the lows—he’s survived drug addiction, alcoholism, and two suicide attempts.

We caught up with the legendary comic about the wisdom of executive producer Judd Apatow, the unparalleled humiliation of barking for stage time, and the types of people you least expect to have sex with wild boars. (You never can be sure.)

What’s the hardest thing about playing yourself?

It’s me. Unfortunately. [Laughs.] Playing myself is like a therapy session, going back over all that. The second episode is very, very much based on something that happened to me. Pete’s character is based on an assistant I had that I told he could open for me if he keeps me away from drugs. The girl who was really involved, trying to give me drugs, is the girl Gina Gershon plays. And she was unbelievably great. I think if that girl from Albany ever sees the episode, she’s going to really like the casting. She’s actually nice, but god, what a crazy night.

That’s great. So, specifically because they know your story, they thought, “Oh, let’s use this real thing that happened to Artie?”

Yeah. You know, it was interesting, the audition was for a totally different character. It was for a fictitious character. And it just had two lines, it was going to be in the pilot. And out of respect for HBO and Pete Holmes, that was great, but the thing that pushed it over the line was that it was Judd. So I said out of respect for Judd, I’ll go over there and audition. The first audition was just Pete, and it went very well, and the next audition was with Judd and Pete. I had looked at the script, and Judd encourages improvising, so I just kind of got an outline in my head of what they wanted to do. Then the greatest thing in the world happened that gave me a leg up on the competition.

In the beginning, Judd said, “Forget the script. I’ll throw out some stories from your book [Too Fat to Fish, Lange’s 2008 memoir].” So I’m improvising about me. It was just the easiest experience, and then Pete is such a good improvisational actor, and comic. And me and him are so different. Me and him look at each other like we’re zoo animals. [Laughs.]

And it worked. By the end of the first week, going back and forth, the character had become Artie Lange. I was a regular on the show and the name of the first episode was “Artie Lange.” That’s called winning the comedy lottery.

I really love the scene in the pizza place where you give it to Pete straight about pursuing a career in comedy. Can you tell me about what shooting that was like?

I’ve got to tell you, this is where Judd just sort of had great instincts with what I could do. He knew I could do things I didn’t even think I could do.

Just as we sat down and we had the script in front of us—you know, you want to respect these guys, they wrote the script. We had four cameras going, and out of the blue, Judd said, “Art, listen, just forget the script. Just look at Pete. Here’s a young comic, just starting out—just tell him what he’s going to face, maybe, if he’s going to be a comedian. Tell him about the life offstage, onstage, tell him about your demons and everything.” Whoa. And the people on the crew who kind of knew my life started giggling. [Laughs.] I’m the Babe Ruth of demons.

And there’s something about Pete. Like, his face. It’s almost like Opie. You want to help him. And you want to say, “Look, pal, if you stay here, this could happen to you. Maybe you should go home and work at a gift shop or something.” I’ve done that for some comics, I’ve done similar things. Maybe not as negative, but I’ve let it loose on people.

I know what you mean about his face.

Yeah. Like, I want to help you, but Jesus. You look like you’re eight years old.

Pete’s character is not what we usually expect from a comedian—somebody from a very religious background, a spiritual guy. Have you met many comics like that?

Well, comics, if they’re religious, it’s usually the Satanic bible. [Laughs.] Look, there’s some that look like that, like they might be that clean-cut guy. Oh, they don’t drink. Oh, they don’t do drugs. Oh, they don’t, like, womanize. And all of a sudden [they’ll say,] “Sometimes I like to fly to Brazil and I have sex with wild boars.” There’s always some crazy thing about them, like, whoa, what are you doing? “Before I have sex I dress up like a chicken.” You learn something crazy.

When I think of shows about comedians, I think of Seinfeld or Louie, where they’re already successful. I love that Crashing is like, “This is such a shitty life for so long.” I was curious, especially as someone who came up in New York and in New Jersey, what do you think they got right about the life of an early comic?

Well, you know, you say “the road” and sometimes you can even make that sound romantic and glamorous, but it’s not that way. You’re bringing the audience sometimes. You’re told to bring people. This club owner on the Upper West Side, I told him that my really close uncle had died, just making conversation. And he goes, trying to be supportive, “Maybe I’ll stop by the funeral.” And I said, “Well, you’ve got to bring three people.”

That was so embarrassing. You realize they’re just using you as a pawn. And I don’t think there’s ever really been a show that’s shown that aspect of it. And then of course, a lot of times they make you go out and they call it “barking.” They literally call it something as obnoxious as “barking.” Come see comedy. Come see comedy. Now in my life, when I see somebody at that stage and they bark at me and they recognize me, they get so embarrassed. And I actually say to the guy, “Dude, dude, dude. Don’t be embarrassed, man. You’re doing what you got to do. I got lucky.”

The biggest thing is, you start to see in the show, the low percentage of people that make it to be even a shitty road comic. There’s so many people who try to do [stand-up] now. The Comedy Cellar’s become this iconic place to go. When me and Dave Attell are out there smoking a cigarette, kids in their early twenties come from all over the world, it seems, to be in front of the Comedy Cellar. And I think that this show shows that to get to even that level—forget sitcoms and Seinfeld and a billion dollars, to get to even that level, where you’re a regular at a club, is hard to do.

Speaking of those kids in their early twenties, on the show, comedians will really shit on each other, but then let Pete into their homes. You’re a mentor to him. In real life, what’s that balance like, between ragging on young comics and trying to support them?

Unfortunately, the more common thing is just ragging on comics. But that was my generation. It’s become a lot nicer now. Everything is less mean these days. Everything’s more—and I’m giving women props here—everyone’s more like women. Nicer. [Laughs.] It’s really changed. The table at the Comedy Cellar, where all the comedians gather before they do a set of stand-up, is on a different floor than the actual show. It’s a big “on next” circle of comedy. And we all used to just really viciously rag on each other. Everything went and everybody had a sense of humor. I said, “If the world were like the table at the Comedy Cellar, we’d have no trouble.” No subject was taboo, from race to sex to whatever. You just goofed on each other. And sometimes, I got to the point where, if I bombed on stage but killed at the table, I was happy.

I think it’s more rare that you’ll actually take a guy in for longer than a night on your couch, but a lot of guys drive in from Jersey, Long Island and stuff. For me, it was like karma almost. If somebody in the same boat as you needs to crash, and you got a way to help, you put that karma out there. Because you like to feel like you’re not alone. You like to feel like you have some blood brothers in this business. You usually get treated like shit, lowest rung on the totem pole, that’s for sure.

There’s been several guys over the years that put me up and I put them up. You remember that, you know? And also, it makes you know stuff about them. If you ever go to a roast and roast them, it helps. [Laughs.]

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CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES

They Can’t Even Make the Sex Hot: On ‘Fifty Shades Darker’

Boundaries are violated repeatedly in Fifty Shades Darker, a film that demands even more submission of its audience than its predecessor, 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey. No safeword can protect you from the sequel’s depleting incoherence, its punishing pileup of plot and its inability to successfully stage, even once, the franchise’s claim to notoriety: sex scenes, whether accessorized with hardware or not.

Doubtless many of the absurdities in Darker’s narrative — which finds Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a Seattle ingénue, getting back together with Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), a tech billionaire dom — are rooted in the source text by E. L. James, though I can’t say for certain; after reading the first book in James’ BDSM trilogy in preparation for reviewing the 2015 film, I discovered that my own masochism can be pushed only so far. James — whose reported clashes with Sam Taylor-Johnson, the director of the first movie, led to the filmmaker’s departure from the series — appears to have exerted even more creative control with Darker: She enlisted her husband, Niall Leonard, to write the screenplay. James Foley, who helmed the 1987 Madonna vehicle Who’s That Girl and, more recently, episodes of House of Cards and Billions, directs.

Or, more accurately, Foley is directed, tasked with cramming in endless subplots concerning Grey’s backstory. These threads — a crack-addict birth mother who appears in the mogul’s nightmares; a discarded submissive who shows up at Ana’s apartment with a gun — demonstrate the film’s conflicting attitude toward his sexual practices, which are simultaneously pathologized and monetized (available on Amazon Prime: Fifty Shades of Grey Hard Limits Universal Restraint Kit and Pinch Nipple Clamps).

There’s more, including face-offs between Ana and the older woman who turned teenage Christian on to his dark desires. Now the owner of a high-end salon (its name, fleetingly glimpsed: Esclave, the French label proof that James has read — or heard of — de Sade?), the seasoned seductress is played by Kim Basinger. Here the actress is an ambassador (maybe intentionally, likely not) from an earlier era of quasi-transgressive multiplex erotica, like Adrian Lyne’s 9½ Weeks (1986), which she starred in opposite Mickey Rourke.

That sex thriller, however ludicrous, did at least convey desire’s derangement, dramatizing these centuries-old words from the legendary libertine Marquis: “Lust’s passion will be served; it demands, it militates, it tyrannizes.” Sex in Darker, as it was in its predecessor, is manicured, truncated, impersonal, corporate — and frequently scored to libido-destroying music (an elevator diddle is accompanied by Van Morrison’s “Moondance”). Despite the nonstop banality, Johnson remains the sole source of allure: Her sleepy eyes suggest nights devoted to pleasure inconceivable to James.

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Sylvie Verheyde’s ‘Sex Doll’ Is a Sex-Work Drama Minus the Male Gaze

Sex Doll’s lurid title suggests a Russ Meyer exploitation fest, but in truth the film offers a toned down, occasionally bland look at sex work. Prostitution has long been a cinematic fixture, and writer/director Sylvie Verheyde seeks to offset the unrealistic depictions by male directors by showing prostitution in a detached fashion.

Virginie (Hafsia Herzi), the protagonist, is first seen lying in bed with an impassive expression as an older businessman type thrusts and grunts unappealingly. Virginie gives an impression of blasé professionalism — she does her job, collects her money and doesn’t get emotionally involved. There’s only the briefest glimpse of nudity, and Virginie’s self-presentation is telling: She favors black clothes and thick, 1960s-style false eyelashes, her severe outfits suggesting a seductive but impenetrable armor.

Her world is soon shaken by Rupert (tattoo-covered male model Ash Stymest in his debut role), an enigmatic stranger with whom she starts an affair. His dozens of tattoos and unclear intentions project sleaze, and the businessmen Virginie beds for money, some of whom have physically abusive tendencies, are even sleazier. In the world of Sex Doll, men are not to be trusted.

For all that, Verheyde allows some sly humor. Virginie jerks off a man while the camera stays fixed on her bored face. In the next shot, she washes her hands — this is work, and it’s not titillating. The penultimate line may well serve as a pointed mission statement: Virginie turns to Rupert and asks, “Aren’t you tired of rescuing whores?” Sex Doll, flat though it may sometimes be, is shrewdly aware of the countless clichés surrounding sex work.

Sex Doll
Written and directed by Sylvie Verheyde
IFC Midnight
Opens February 10, IFC Center

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‘Best and Most Beautiful Things’ Studies a Blind BDSM Woman’s Fight Against ‘Normal’

Best and Most Beautiful Things is a study in isolation as much as a profile of its subject, a young, legally blind woman named Michelle Smith living with Asperger’s.

Garrett Zevgetis’s documentary follows Smith mostly after her graduation from high school, the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, and her return home to Maine. Helen Keller is like an uncredited shadow: She, too, went to Perkins, and the title borrows from her quote, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched; they must be felt with the heart.”

But Smith and Keller are worlds apart. Keller, a prolific author and lecturer, came from a well-connected Southern family and traveled the world, trafficking in optimistic can-doism (and socialism). Smith, from a loving but fractured working-class home, struggles to keep a job and live independently. She displays a quick wit, a powerful mind and a knack for eloquent and even triumphant argumentation, but is easily derailed. She talks up a tentative Los Angeles internship for months, and it evaporates. Smith’s experiments with and activism in the BDSM community, part of her campaign against “normal,” begin to occupy much of her time.

The doc is gorgeously filmed, well edited, and works in close-up, but the result is more voyeuristic than revealing, except to show that desolation is among those things that cannot be seen or touched.

Best and Most Beautiful Things
Directed by Garrett Zevgetis
First Run Features
Opens December 2, Cinema Village

 

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AIDS Taught Me Sex Was Deadly. A Pill Changed That.

In late 2014 I received an email from one of New York City’s largest sex parties for gay men. Usually, the email would have contained this: a time, an address, a dress code, the price. The party had long been condoms-only, but a new safe-sex provision had just been added: “If you do have condomless sex it is assumed that you are on PrEP/Truvada or undetectable.”

I wouldn’t have noticed this email if it hadn’t been for a response from New York’s one remaining condom-only party. This wasn’t an invitation but a statement of policy, an email unlike any sent previously or since. Safe sex is an important project, it argued, and condoms are the only way to be safe. The second party remains condoms-only, and is still alone in this decision. It feels now like a holdover from a different time.

My generation of gay men came after the plague but before the pill. What I knew was that fifty thousand people died in the U.S. in 1995. I was thirteen. What I knew was that sex kills, that no pleasure is ever free of worry, of death. The first thing I learned about sex was Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions, gaunt thirty-two-year-olds on TV. I became a gay man and a scientist with a background in microbiology and biochemistry. Viruses have always fascinated me for being so complex and yet so simple, for being so deadly with so few genes.

But HIV didn’t just kill bodies. It killed a type of sex as well, a type of pleasure. It erased the possibility of my body and another meeting, one moment, without my mortality there too, watching. Sex is this: another body, my body, my mortality, all naked for me to see. I knew about HIV and death before I knew I was gay. I knew about death then, and that being gay might be deadly, and now I sleep with men.

HIV has never left me. I’m nostalgic for the pre-HIV era I never knew. Our image of those years is ambivalent: You could give head in abandoned buildings by the piers, but anything like a relationship seemed impossible to so many, the notion of gay marriage laughable. Gay people weren’t often permitted relationships in a world so threatened by our bodies and how we use them. Now we can get married, but — thanks to HIV — we’ve lost the notion of pleasure without worry. I worry. I only have unprotected sex when in a monogamous relationship. Even then, who knows? Everyone cheats, even straight people.

Those who lived through or were born into the 1980s became a generation afraid of love and the sex it would bring. The writer Hilton Als, referencing the garbage bags that early AIDS victims were stuffed inside, wrote, “I did not say I loved him….If I did, wouldn’t that end up in a garbage bag, too?” Even after HIV became less of a death sentence, I always viewed it fatalistically. Being positive would make it harder — I always felt — to find love and trust and sex. I had reservations about dating someone who was HIV-positive; I knew that if I were positive others would have the same reservations about me. If there were a pill for my worry, I would take it, a cure not for an infection of the body but for the traumatized mind. I would take this pill now, and I would never stop.

 

Some definitions: MSM: men who have sex with men, a term devoid of political or social overtones (unlike, say, “gay” or “queer”). MSM are the community most at risk for new HIV infection. PrEP: pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a pill taken by HIV-negative people to maintain their status. Truvada: The one pill approved for PrEP. It has been used as a component of HIV therapy since 2004, but was only approved for PrEP in the HIV-negative in 2012. In this article, “Truvada” refers to the drug used specifically by those who are HIV-negative, a shorthand that is almost universal in New York’s gay community. Undetectable: An undetectable person is HIV-positive but controlling their infection with antiretrovirals. New research shows that their likelihood of communicating the virus is essentially zero.

Truvada came on the market four years ago, in 2012, but prescriptions didn’t start taking off until early 2014. Gilead Sciences, the company that makes and sells Truvada, reported earlier this year that eighty thousand to ninety thousand people were on PrEP. Twelve and a half thousand people in New York State have filled prescriptions, the overwhelming majority in the city. The number of individuals starting PrEP has increased exponentially, rising fivefold in two years, from the end of 2013 to the end of 2015. A survey by New York City’s Department of Health estimates that 29 percent of MSM ages eighteen to forty in the city are already on PrEP.

For one week, those numbers included me. I wasn’t having sex with a stranger. I was having sex with my ex. He’d been in and out of my life after he’d gone away for a month and I’d found evidence he was cheating. A part of me had always known.

We’d been having unprotected sex for a year. I’ve always had unprotected sex with my boyfriends, a sign that we cared for each other, that we had built something like trust. I insisted on couples trips to the free clinic after three months of monogamy. I loved this man in part because his sex seemed so free, so out of my control. I begged him not to put me at risk. I told him my body was in his hands. He looked me in the eye and said I could trust him. I did trust him. After I caught him cheating, we used condoms. I got tested. He said that he never had raw sex with anyone but me, that it was an intimacy I alone had earned. I believed he was telling the truth. I trusted that he only cheated safely.

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My ex wanted another chance. He wanted to have raw sex again. So one of us — I don’t remember who — suggested PrEP. This was in 2014, when hardly anyone knew about Truvada. PrEP and undetectable were not yet listed as safe-sex options in hookup apps. Gay activists still called it a poison, a party drug. This pill offered the promise of bringing us back together. Truvada was more certain than his word.

We both started swallowing that big, blue pill once a day.

A week later, without touching him much at all, I was on my way out of his life. PrEP made space for me to consider raw sex with him again, but I realized that it wasn’t HIV that made him unsafe. Maybe for the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid of HIV. I was afraid of him. There was no cure for the damage we had done to each other. So I left, and I tried to stay gone.

 

Truvada is not one drug but two: emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate. HIV pills contain multiple (usually three) antiretroviral drugs. This is because HIV mutates rapidly to become resistant to any one therapy. The likelihood of a single virus simultaneously acquiring resistance to two or three drugs is the product of the individual probabilities, a number that approaches zero without ever reaching it.

People at high risk for HIV infection — sex workers, MSM, those with multiple partners — can take Truvada and have unprotected sex with little risk of contracting HIV. There is a 96 percent reduction in HIV transmission for those who take the drug four times a week. For daily use, the reduction is 99 percent. In one key study, none of the participants contracted HIV. Another option — post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP — can be taken after a broken condom or risky sex. These drugs stop the virus from replicating before it manages to find and infect T cells. The virus never becomes a part of us.

In preventing the transmission of HIV, PrEP is at least as effective as condoms. Condoms reduce the risk of HIV transmission through anal sex by 70 percent with consistent and proper use. For men who don’t use condoms consistently — and according to studies, most men don’t — the difference in rates of HIV transmission between sex with and without condoms is not statistically significant.

Those who remain HIV-negative while on PrEP will have antiretroviral medicine consistently in their bloodstream and no virus in their blood. Undetectable people have antiretroviral medicine in their bloodstream and no virus in their blood. In terms of HIV transmission, there is no reasonable distinction between those who are HIV-negative and on PrEP and those who are HIV-positive and undetectable.

For many years there was a respectability politics of condoms. Truvada was vociferously opposed by traditional gay health organizations. Michael Weinstein, the head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, continues to campaign against it. The opposition to Truvada seems to have made Gilead cautious about marketing it. Though the drug has been available for four years, Gilead has started to underwrite advertising only in the past few weeks. Paranoia about PrEP remains, often driven by the idea that other infections (chlamydia, syphilis) will rise without condom use. Bacterial STIs did increase in 2015, though it’s impossible to connect that increase to Truvada. In effect, much of the rhetoric about STIs continues a long history of pathologizing gay sex, particularly raw gay sex, now that we can no longer rely on HIV alone.

When single, I use condoms consistently. I believed this: Responsible, self-loving, caring, good gay men use them, always. I wanted to be that type of man. I was shocked, talking to my straight friends, to learn that they had unprotected casual sex. Gay men were considered unsanitary even before HIV. Our vice president–elect thinks us unfit to work because of our diseased bodies. We have to constantly prove to the world that we aren’t, in fact, sexual monsters, deviants. Straight people don’t carry the same burden of politics, the same history of HIV, into the bedroom.

In the era of HIV activism, gay sex was central to the conversation. HIV was a sexually transmitted disease; how we fucked was how we lived or died. In the fight for gay marriage, we willingly hid our sex. An ex-partner of mine worked at GLAAD, where he trained people to say “gay” and not “homosexual,” because the latter puts the word sex in people’s faces. The fight would be easier if people didn’t imagine the icky things we do in the dark. We won the right to marriage by convincing straight nuclear families that our love is just like theirs. Our sex, too: three times a month, monogamous, missionary, seven minutes, safe.

But there’s always been a tension. Queer people are a sexual and cultural vanguard. Anal sex is kind of our thing; now sitcoms joke about straight couples pegging. We had Grindr for years before Tinder popped up. We’ve been doing monogamish since basically forever.

Gay and HIV activists fought conservative institutions — public schools, the Catholic Church — to make condoms widely available and to train people how to use them. In a world where everyone was dying, condoms were the only way to stay alive. They worked. For decades, condom culture was a type of care among gay men. As we approach four years of a Trump administration, this fight against conservative institutions might be beginning anew. But condoms may have a cultural significance that now surpasses their usefulness in public health and public policy.

I bought into the politics that binds HIV and gay-marriage activism: that condoms matter, that sex must be contained, safe, respectable. I was raised Catholic and always had been a little afraid of my own sexuality. I thought myself better-than because I’d always used condoms. I looked down on my friends who didn’t. Of course humans — of all sexualities — slip up. Of course people are going to find pleasure in doing the very thing they’ve always been told not to do. Sometimes we want things from love, from sex, precisely because they aren’t safe. I wanted my ex; he wasn’t safe. I always suspected he was cheating; we had unprotected sex anyway.

The conventional narrative of the past three decades is that we survived the plague. Then we got marriage, an assimilation into an institution that I always found too narrow for most relationships, even straight ones. What we lost was the freedom of queer sex, queer sluttiness, queer rage, raw sex, queer separatism, hedonism, and free queer love, which might not look like straight love at all. HIV gave gay men who believed in respectability, modesty, and monogamy the upper hand. Marriage used that respectability to gain legal rights. Truvada might be a step toward a new sexual liberation — sex parties, singles and swingers, threesomes even for committed couples — and away from the condoms that made our sex safer not just physically but culturally. No wonder it makes people, gay and straight alike, uncomfortable.

 

Truvada is nothing special, nothing new. The antiretrovirals in it have been used for decades. The difference is the bodies the drugs are put inside, now HIV-negative, no virus in residence, now not ill but pre-ill, infected only by the type of sex we have.

The pill’s out-of-pocket cost is roughly $18,000 a year. Truvada is made by only one company, Gilead. One common criticism of PrEP is that it requires HIV-negative people to take very expensive pills whose side effects are not insignificant. PrEP, the argument goes, turns gay sex into a profitable (and therefore palatable) enterprise in the age of late capitalism, where everything is moral if it’s making someone rich. Gay sex parties aren’t sinful debauchery; they’re added value for Gilead shareholders.

The rebuttal is that PrEP works. It’s most likely less expensive, and involves fewer years of dealing with side effects, than taking antiretrovirals for a lifetime, as those who are HIV-positive must. Yet $1,500 a month for the option of sex uncontaminated by fear of HIV is a high cost for an individual or society to pay.

Gilead has a program that provides free drugs to those without insurance, and there is a co-pay assistance program as well. Theoretically, anybody should be able to get Truvada at low cost. In practice, it’s not that simple.

As I was writing this essay, I had dinner with a friend who had been on Truvada but who had recently had to stop taking the drug. He hit the yearly cap — $3,600 — for the Gilead co-pay assistance program and his co-pay, he said, was as high as $500 a month. With private insurance and a very high co-pay, he was — in terms of access to Truvada — in a worse position than those who have no insurance at all.

“I just want to be able to have sex again,” my friend told me. He’s single and mostly uses online apps for sex and dates, both. He was having a hard time finding men who would have sex with condoms. For my friend, in 2016, PrEP feels necessary to have sex. He wouldn’t have unprotected sex without it, and hookup culture — according to him — has moved on. Condoms are no longer the norm. This does feel new.

I knew the city was building a program to help people with private insurance who max out the Gilead co-pay program. I had met with Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the head of New York City’s HIV prevention campaign, to talk about condoms and PrEP and the city’s programs. We’d discussed people in my friend’s situation. I spent the next two days on the phone with a full alphabet of agencies: first 311, then HASA (only for the HIV-positive) and ADAP (doesn’t cover PrEP), then my city-associated HIV clinic. Nothing. Then state programs, PrEP-AP and the PrEP hotline; then PAN, then Xubex.

On hold listening to badly performed classical music I thought, This is how bureaucracy kills: to Bach. I’d spent months researching PrEP, and I couldn’t help my friend. Once I’d exhausted all the options, I reached back to Dr. Daskalakis, hoping for a nudge in the right direction. Yes, the city knows about the PrEP donut hole for the underinsured. Yes, they are hoping to develop a solution. No, there is nothing yet. It’s been months since my friend has taken Truvada and months, too, since he’s had sex.

Truvada offers sex without worry for fifty dollars a pill. People live and die on the basis of a brief conversation at a clinic about whether and how to sign up. Fifty percent of black MSM are HIV-positive or are likely to be in their lifetimes. New York City is majority-nonwhite. In some places people are still — against medical and epidemiological evidence — going to jail for fucking while HIV-positive. Many still blame an HIV-positive person for their risk when both partners consent to unprotected sex. Even in New York, where the city government is committed to PrEP and stigma-free HIV policy, there are people who fall through the cracks. Outside of this city, those with the least access to PrEP will be people — queer people, poor people, people of color, people in prison, people in rural towns — who have always been excluded from healthcare.

And that is what HIV care looks like before Donald Trump starts running the federal government. Our vice president–elect has led the drive to defund Planned Parenthood — even as the closure of a Planned Parenthood testing center in his home state inflamed a major HIV outbreak.

The coming years could make geography matter even more than it already does — things like PrEP may be accessible in New York and entirely unavailable in rural Indiana. More than five hundred thousand people in America know they’re HIV-positive but aren’t on treatment. This is more than half of all people living with HIV. A friend of mine has a cousin in a deep-red state dying of AIDS, right now, today. He has KS lesions, he’s unlikely to live much longer, he often can’t get drugs, and when he does take medicine he tells his relatives only that he has “cancer.” This isn’t the story we’re telling ourselves, and it’s not one we often hear.

 

When PrEP was introduced, we all wanted to know: Would it change behavior? Would it lead to a world where condom use dwindled and raw sex became — again — the norm? Early research showed that PrEP users didn’t decrease their condom usage. People on PrEP weren’t more likely than they were before to have raw sex, they were just more protected in their actions.

More recent studies suggest otherwise. My experience and the experience of my friends also hints at a culture shift. Almost everyone I asked who still uses condoms has a story of someone backing out of a hookup if condoms were to be used. People are having more raw sex, and they’re more open about it. They advertise it on apps. They talk about it with their friends. I see it now, and I didn’t see it much before.

I’ve spoken to dozens of people, on and off the record, about PrEP. Sitting at my kitchen table with three gay writers, none of whom were taking PrEP, I realized that all the people I’ve talked to — whether they are taking the drug or not — are making a difficult and informed choice about their body, their pleasure, their risk, their sex. Some are using PrEP as a backup to condoms, others as a substitute. Many aren’t using it at all; some use it on and off, when they are not in a monogamous relationship. Some want to start. At my kitchen table, one writer friend said that having lived through the 1990s, he’ll never take the condom off. It’ll never — for him — feel safe or sexy.

Me? When my boyfriend read an early draft of this piece, he asked if I wanted to get on PrEP. “No,” I said, “I don’t. Do you?” Reading this made him feel like HIV is inevitable, especially given the numbers concerning men of color. But this moment we’re in makes me feel hopeful. Even if HIV happens, so what? I used to think that HIV would make it harder to find love and sex. Now we know that HIV-positive and undetectable is safe. It’s sexy. I have friends who prefer to sleep with undetectable men. They know that most HIV transmission is by people who don’t know they’re infected or aren’t on treatment. For an acquaintance who prefers not to use condoms for his hookups, people who know they’re positive and are on drugs are the safest bet.

“Our story is about to change,” Dr. Daskalakis told me. He meant the public health programs the city is about to enact. For me, it’s true of our cultural moment: a disorienting pivot from everything we told ourselves to be true. The line between HIV-negative and -positive, between bodies safe and not safe to sleep with, is becoming porous.

The political moment we’re in only amplifies this feeling. We might go back to 2012 — before Truvada, before we knew that undetectable means safe. We might go back further. I can imagine a future where only people with money can treat or prevent HIV. For many, that’s still today’s reality anyway, and it probably won’t change under the Trump administration. Remember that more than half of the people with HIV aren’t on treatment right now.

So yes, we now have good HIV medicine for both treatment and prevention. Pills don’t cure us, but they might keep us alive. In 1996, people were so near to death, and then they weren’t. Pills do beautiful, beautiful things. Pills can’t do it all. Pills can’t make us better at negotiating consent or understanding risk. Pills are not healthcare infrastructure in communities that need it. Pills don’t erase stigma. Pills exist where people can afford them. Pills exist for people who can get to doctors, clinics, and hospitals.

In New York City, Truvada has become something like mainstream. All living is risky. All sex, too. I’ve slept with people I didn’t love enough when they loved me deeply. I’ve slept with people I loved who didn’t love me enough, who lied, who cheated. I’ve had joy, too, even with that ex: when we made love as midnight brought in my thirtieth birthday. Joy: the Grindr hookup I had whose body fit mine. Joy: the first kiss with my current boyfriend, a bundle of nerves, leaning forward on my couch, our glasses clinking at the nose. For decades, and still too often, these small moments of pleasure could bring death.

In the past three years, I’ve been able to imagine a new type of pleasure. Remarkably, this pleasure is one willing to inhabit my own body. I don’t know if it’s PrEP — even though I don’t take it — or the idea that being undetectable is safe, healthy. I don’t know if it’s because I have a partner I trust with my life, but I suspect it’s something more than that.

Even with boyfriends or girlfriends I trusted before, I could never have sex without feeling my life and death were at stake. Now, with my boyfriend, we strip each other naked, no Truvada in either of our blood. In these moments, my mortality is growing smaller and smaller. Sometimes I don’t think about it at all.

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

‘The Love Witch’ Is the Vintage-Modern Feminist Sexploitation Beauty You Didn’t Know You Needed

Anna Biller’s ripe, vibrant The Love Witch is an act of reclamation — and love. In this out-of-time extravaganza of feminist-satanist serial-killer erotica, the writer/director/producer — plus editor and set and costume designer — has crafted the best kind of homage or parody, the type that honors every thrill and quirk of the original while improving on it. Catch half a scene of The Love Witch and you might think it a glistening new print of some gem of Seventies parapsychological softcore. All those cultists, nude and chanting while their leader brandishes a knife; all those tight, tense zooms onto the eyes of man-killer Elaine (Samantha Robinson).

But listen: As the requisite burlesque dancer spins her tassels, the leader of the cult celebrates the awesomeness of what he calls the “sex dance.” “We don’t view this power as satanic or anti-feminist but as a celebration of woman as a natural creature — an earthly body, a spiritual essence and a womb.” And look: The camera regards the dancer as a performer rather than a collection of body parts, and we see how hard she works, how fluid and inventive she is in her gyrations, and how proud she is.

The Love Witch isn’t the exploitation film it looks like, despite its bacchanals and seductions and black-magic murders. It’s a humane exploitation of exploitation itself, a celebration and a correction, from an artist who has taken everything she loves about her genre, dashed what she doesn’t, and then shaped what she’s seized into a work of urgent, personal expression; here are all the swooningly gorgeous actors you might expect, their faces Disney TV wholesome. Here’s Elaine stripping away her fantastic vintage skirts to expose lacy underthings and set the men she beguiles into grabby ecstasies. But after sex, a rakish professor muses that usually women as beautiful as she is aren’t smart enough for him. Worse: “All the bright ones are homely and don’t arouse me.”

“That seems like quite a problem,” she purrs, and then he bawls. (They all get too emotional for her.)

At the film’s opening, Elaine has been ditched by her ex and now is relocating to a small town before she’s linked to the fate that eventually befell him. There she turns predator, working minor charms to lure new men into bed and then, finding them wanting or weak, eventually facing the problem of how to do away with their corpses. (Biller parodies the banality of male fantasy, with one lover carrying on about how what he really wants to do is shoot up a town like the black-hats in a western and then nip off to the brothel.) She wants love above all else, a Prince Charming and the whole bit, and she tries to use her craft to win it — and then to help clean up when it doesn’t work out. After an early death, she works a spell with a vial of urine and a used tampon, musing that no man even knows what a tampon looks like; Biller wins a laugh later when two hunky cops are flummoxed by this choice of evidence.

Biller doesn’t just re-create the pop-bright look and black-widow storyline of retro occult sexploitation. She embraces the genre’s easygoing pace, letting her film run longer than its inspirations, and she emphasizes — fetishizes, even — what’s most fascinating about those Seventies cheapies today: the world and the time in which all the sinning unfolded, established here through her own production design. (Music borrowed from those cheapies helps.) It’s hilarious when Elaine’s first date with the cop (Gian Keys) who is investigating her own murders finds the lovers-to-be in crisp, matching white button-downs and khakis, astride matching white horses. But when they happen upon costumed ren-festers, celebrating midsummer and tootling away on recorders, the joke becomes reverie, a celebration of this time in this world. That’s The Love Witch: not a spoof but a re-creation, an improvement, and an enchantment.

The Love Witch
Written and directed by Anna Biller
Oscilloscope
Opens November 18, Alamo Drafthouse, Brooklyn

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Best Of VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Best Sex Shop, 2016

Noticing a dearth of like-minded stores in her neighborhood of Flatbush, Angela Campbell opened the What a Gyrl Wants adult boutique in 2012 with education as her main goal. “There’s a lack of knowledge in this neighborhood about sexual health, self-pleasure, and heightened intimacy with your partner,” she says of her discreet shop in the predominantly Caribbean community. Campbell has spent the past four years cultivating an engaging, female-friendly atmosphere where beginners can feel comfortable asking questions, veterans can source more advanced hardware, and everyone can take advantage of special deals like “Anal August.” Whether you’re looking for lingerie or itching to take a class on the art of fellatio, Campbell — who runs the business with her three adult children — takes an enthusiastic approach to resolving her customers’ amorous quandaries. With a private entrance tucked away on a dead-end street, this modest emporium more than makes up for its tight quarters with an outsize, libidinous spirit.

859 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

347-350-9225

whatagyrlwants.com

 

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Trump’s Taxes, ‘Check Out Sex Tape,’ & Cheatin’ Hill — Nothing Rightbloggers Can’t Fix!

Well, that was a crap week for Donald Trump — a poor debate performance; his bizarre obsession with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado and her as-yet-unfound “sex tape”; his suggestion that Hillary Clinton was cheating on Bill; and, finally, the New York Times’ revelation that he lost nearly a billion dollars running casinos.

Rightbloggers, who have mostly abandoned their earlier misgivings and gotten aboard the Trump train, couldn’t do much more than holler “everything’s fine” as it derailed.

After Trump’s performance Monday night, nearly every poll — even Fox News’s poll! — called it for Clinton. But Trump operatives worked overtime to get the spin going counter-cuckwise, as it were.

While Trump’s ground troops just had to push a #TrumpWon hashtag, senior operatives had to get more creative. At the Washington Times, for example, in a column called “The real reason why Trump won the debate,” Monica Crowley said Clinton had been “plodding and grating,” while Trump “enjoyed major narrative advantages” (meaning, I guess, that Crowley agreed with him), had been “aggressive, projecting authority,” and succeeded in “clearing the bar of appearing a reasonable man and plausible president.”

To further support her case, Crowley restated some of Trump’s statements as English, e.g., “The question, he said, isn’t whether she was in the game. It’s how she played it — and what results she produced: We are now less wealthy, less prosperous, less safe, less secure, less powerful.” I’m not sure to which passage of the debate transcript this corresponds — maybe “I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared.… You look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us.” Whatever, it sounds better coming from Crowley; maybe she can be hired to do simultaneous translation at the next debate.

At the New York Post, Salena Zito also said Trump won — in this one bar, anyway, in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Zico portrayed Westmoreland as “formerly or traditionally Democrat-blue… Between 1960 and 2000, Westmoreland County Democrats handily won presidential races with one exception: Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory,” which is an interesting way of saying it’s gone straight-up GOP for sixteen years — to give you some idea, it went McCain 58 percent to 41 percent in 2008, and for Romney with 61 percent in 2012.

Nonetheless, Zito breathlessly reported that Trump had, through sheer force of argument, “won over” patrons of the bar (“Reed said Clinton came across as either smug or as though she was reading her résumé”). The Post included a link to a video feature on how “other viewers across the country were disappointed in what they saw from both sides of the debate.” Now that’s synergy!

Then came the bizarre Machado incident where, after she criticized the mogul for fat-shaming her after she won his Miss Universe contest in 1996, Trump tweeted through the night that Machado was “disgusting,” suggested Clinton had corruptly arranged for her to become a U.S. citizen, and beseeched followers to “check out” Machado’s yet-to-be-discovered “sex tape.”

While everyone else wondered what was wrong with him, Trump defenders dutifully manned the ramparts. “Machado responds to Trump’s sex tape tweet with provocative pose defiling the American flag,” roared Bizpac Review. (They’re talking about this. I must have skipped the part of the Boy Scout manual where it says you have to burn the flag if it touches Miss Universe’s tits.)

At the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway called Machado “2016’s Sandra Fluke, A Democratic Public Relations Scam.” Fluke, the Georgetown student and birth control advocate whose 2012 Congressional non-testimony became a cause célèbre (and got Fluke called a slut by Rush Limbaugh and a bunch of other assholes), may have posed as “a fresh-faced little law student,” said Hemingway, but in reality she was the hardened queenpin of a propaganda campaign “pre-packaged by the country’s most Democrat-aligned public relations firm” and transmitted by a corrupt media (“CNN had 146 pieces dealing with Fluke,” Hemingway gasped) to give the otherwise unbelievable impression that “an innocent, random young woman” had been “victimized by mean old Republican men.”

Now, said Hemingway, it was all happening again! In Machado’s case, the liberal conspiracy was “cutting out the public relations firm middle men” — a tricksy variation! — but though they want you to believe their coverage is inspired by a Presidential candidate’s bizarre and offensive midnight ravings, it’s really about media “coordination.” Also, Hemingway went on, Machado really had gained a bunch of weight — to prove it she quoted a catty story from 1997 on CNN, which apparently wasn’t corrupt back then. “Media outlets could have noted that they themselves were calling Machado a fatty-boombaladdy at the exact same time Trump made his remarks,” said Hemingway, but they won’t because they’re “playing cabana boy to the Clinton campaign.” (A quick search of “fatty-boombaladdy” shows no other citations, but I don’t have LexisNexis.)

Later, Trump further covered himself in glory by suggesting Hillary Clinton was cheating on her husband, necessitating a visit to the talk shows by moral paragon Rudy Giuliani.

Smaller fry did what they could. “Trump has a legitimate point,” said Hank Berrien at the Daily Wire. “Bill Clinton’s rampant and destructive sexual behavior, whether his alleged rape of Juanita Boraddrick [sic], his dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, or tons of other sexual escapades and sexual harassments of women have become a standard part of his legacy. It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Hillary Clinton would respond by looking elsewhere.”

In conclusion, sex Clinton sex sex dirty sex, and “the truth is, the marital histories of both the Clintons and Trump are enough to turn the stomach of anyone who believes in the sanctity of marriage,” said Berrien. Honestly, the woman ought to be ashamed.

On Saturday night, the New York Times revealed it had some of Trump’s tax returns, revealing him to be that rare businessman who can fuck up the profitability of a casino.

After the shock wore off, Trump spokespeople told the world this was proof of Trump’s genius, while operatives such as breitbart.com revealed the already-public knowledge that the Times itself had itself lost money and taken tax breaks — most damningly, in the easy-money world of newspaper journalism, without the reasonable excuses Trump probably had, like Lucky Louie came in and had a big night or something.

Trump also received strong support from Dilbert creator Scott Adams, whose pro-Trump writings delight me, mainly because I’m tried of using Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Ezra Pound as examples of artists whose work I enjoy despite their loathsome politics. “This was a NYT self-kill shot,” tweeted Adams. “Every experienced business person just sided with Trump (on taxes).” (Yes, but he needs a majority!) Also: “It’s either a Trump leak or the luckiest thing that has happened to him in the past year.” You libtards will be sorry when President Trump puts a statue of Dogbert on the National Mall.

Others posited a sinister conspiracy. “It does make you wonder, though, whether Barack Obama’s politicized IRS is deliberately failing to enforce the tax laws against pro-Democrat taxpayers like the Times,” said John Hinderaker at Power Line. “The only thing illegal or unethical is the illegal nature and unethical mindset of the media outlet who published them,” said the Last Refuge. “Just imagine what a Hillary Clinton administration would do to their political opposition with a weaponized cabinet filled with intensely unstable and rabid ideologues.”

Will any of this matter? Trump’s outrageous approach has normalized behavior in a national political campaign normally seen on Jerry Springer, so maybe not. On the other hand, even in our jaded media environment, people get sick of entertaining freaks; the once-popular Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is off the air, consigned to Oprah’s Where Are They Now broadcasts about Mama June’s weight loss. Now that I think of it, and at the risk of fat-shaming, Trump could stand to drop a few pounds himself.