Much of our obsession with astrology, our obsession with projections about the future, has to do with our anxiety about the present. The state of our world has queer and marginalized people uneasy. But it’s in times like these that the future doesn’t make us anxious, but instead excited to take control of manifesting the world we want to live in. Many of the themes in this issue are a projection of a better queer future: Olly Alexander’s tech-obsessed artistic practice or the visionary outlook on the modeling industry of New Pandemics. Then there are those which comment on the future, by way of looking at the past, like Jacob Tobia’s harrowing tale of navigating the gay world as a genderqueer person, Jim Parsons’ honoring of the AIDS epidemic, or Tom Capelonga’s survey of queer pop culture in the Twentieth Century.
When we take time to look at ourselves and our past, we start to pay attention to what the patterns of our life are telling us. But learning about yourself “is not the same as leading a meaningful life,” reminds astrologer Chani Nicholas. “It’s a portal into something that, if worked with, meditated on, leads to everything else.” We owe ourselves the time to evaluate the space we take up. That awareness gives us reason. It guides us forward, into everything that follows.
The Incredible, Improbable Jim Parsons
On the other end of this phone, a movie star. Or, is it better to call him a TV star? His major film role was a supporting one, afterall. He’s a star of stage, screen, and film. I’m sitting in the office
I share with two other professors of Biology at NYU, but the room – like the campus – is empty. It’s spring break. On the other end of this phone, not a scientist, but an actor who plays one on TV.
“Jim, you’re on with Joe.” That’s his publicist.
“Hi, Jim, how are you?”
And we’re off. I’ve never talked this long to a celebrity. Once, at a party with an ex-boyfriend, I told Retta how much I loved her. I held back every single “Treat. Yo. Self.” joke that sat on the tip of my tongue, a feat I would congratulate myself for while nursing my hangover. “Don’t say that,” she said. “Tell me about you. I’m just a person.”
Jim Parsons , from the moment he said hi, felt like just a person. Maybe it’s because Jim Parsons – JP – is gay and an artist, and I’m gay and something-like-an-artist, and our conversation circled around so many ideas that I talk about endlessly to my friends: how to make a living from your art; the importance of hard work, of craft; the critical role of serendipity, fate, and luck, but how you have to be ready for it when it comes.
We talked for an hour, JP leading the conversation most of the time, driving it toward his comfort zone, which is talking about his work, talking about his family. He did, though, open up, and it quickly felt like nothing was off limits. JP is either very good at managing his image or he’s the type of man who has an image that neatly squares with what good PR looks like, and, truth be told, I’m still not quite sure which is true.
I’m inherently mistrustful of actors – they act for a living, they can make us feel any type of way – but I know that, when the lights and cameras are turned off, when in front of an audience of one, a journalist, friend, or family member, many actors falter and become, irrevocably, themselves. I have an actor ex, and the quickness with which a performance can crack and falter and fall away is something I know too well. We only spoke for an hour, but it didn’t feel like JP had much of a facade. I either believed him, or I wanted to believe him, and either way, his story tells us so much about Hollywood, about art, in 2018, no matter what we choose to believe.
(Excerpt from issue 10)
Murdering Normalcy with Tom Kalin
Tom Kalin is wonderfully breathless. The filmmaker and veteran activist rattles off observations and wry anecdotes with encyclopedic ease, as if each new flurry of thoughts has occurred to him all at once.
In truth these ideas have been turning over in his mind for decades, shaped by his participation in critical moments of queer history and revealed in the referential richness of his work. Coming of age in the 1970s on the South Side of Chicago – in proximity to the correctional center that once housed notorious gay criminals Leopold & Loeb – Kalin developed an affinity for the whispered subtext of popular culture. From ‘confirmed bachelors’ like Truman Capote and Freddie Mercury to the coded carnality of pulp fiction, he was enamored of the unspoken marginalia of crime and sordid gossip. It’s hardly surprising that Kalin’s debut feature Swoon (1992), an icon of New Queer Cinema, would “put the homo back in homicide”, turning a national scandal of sexual deviance into stylized social critique. The same instinct would lead him to produce Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), co-write Cindy Sherman’s farcical slasher Office Killer (1997) and direct the salacious Savage Grace (2007), all with an uncommon sense for empathy.
As a founding member of activist art collective Gran Fury, Kalin helped mobilize gay anger throughout the AIDS crisis in the form of polemical public campaigns like “Kissing Doesn’t Kill” and “Read My Lips”. His acclaimed video works – a number of which now belong in the permanent collections of the MoMA and Centre George Pompidou – are marked by a similarly impassioned and unabashedly queer tone. That sense of conviction is revived in conversation as he reflects on past crises, beloved collaborators and the appalling horror of the current administration.
Calling from a neighbour’s garden in the Catskills, Kalin speaks with the dry humour and generous detail of an old hand. He is prepared to dish on just about anything and does so with warm, animated frankness. Here we discuss the current state of queer activism, cinema as “moral pornography”, and Julianne Moore.
Joe Brennan: Can you recall the first time you understood your relationship to a piece of visual culture as inherently gay?
Tom Kalin: Good question. I was born in 1962 and the world was obviously a very different place, but I knew very early that I was gay. I was the youngest of seven boys and the only gay person of the eleven kids, so I’m anti-Kinsey. [Laughs] I still remember, for instance, the boy in kindergarten who I had a crush on. I didn’t really understand sex at that stage, but I absolutely understood I was attracted to a boy and that no one should know this because I would be in terrible trouble. I remember having crushes on Warren Beatty and Paul Newman, which is amusing to me because they both in some way correspond to my husband. He’s not quite as handsome as Warren or Paul, but he’s dark haired and has blue eyes and there’s a certain bit of something. [Laughs]
Anyway – I responded to leading men in movies in a way that I understood was not normal. I was identifying with the sensitive, yearning female subject in a romantic narrative because there was no other place to identify if I wanted to love a guy and have it be reciprocated.
(Excerpt from issue 10)
Interview by Alexander Chee
Chani Nicholas is an astrologer who writes the kind of horoscopes you want to read to your friends over the phone or share on social media. The urgent connection you make with her horoscopes makes you urgent about sharing them with others. I first found Chani Nicholas’ horoscopes through my friend, the writer Kaitlyn Greenidge, who swears by them. And I was instantly a fan. The voice of her writing comes through like the bullshit detector in the back of my own head, and it was true with that first horoscope. I didn’t just add her on social media when I discovered her – I read her Twitter feed back about a month, read her blog, and bought some workshop materials from her website. I basically went to her website and threw money at her like it was the end of a drag show she had just slayed.
It’s easy to become a Chani evangelist quickly. And her following – 131k followers at last count on Instagram and more than a million readers on her blog – shows this. She’s been the subject of a number of recent profiles, and much of the press surrounding her focuses on her left politics, present in all of her horoscopes, and her willingness to let readers leave her rather than change her overtly political stance – weirdly shocking to the mainstream press – as well as her history as a former actress. But I really wanted to hear about her focus on queer astrology, her much-awaited new book, but also, I wanted the Chani Nicholas origin story – what set her on the road to becoming the astrologer she is now. I met up with Chani in the West Village, near the West Side Highway, on a recent visit she made to New York City. In a cafe of professionally looked-after people, she gave off the air of someone who just showed up looking the way they hope to: casually cool in knee-high boots and jeans, her brown curly hair charmingly adrift. When she looks at you, she has that perfect Susan Dey smirk, like she’s going to laugh at you but you’ll laugh too. And as I found out, this is exactly what happens.
We went for a walk over to the piers, and talked about her first teachers, the give and take of giving a reading, her path to being the force for change she is now, and the ancient sources for her vision of queer astrology. And, of course, her first book, You Were Born For This, coming out next year.
(Excerpt from issue 10)
The Perfect Imbalance of Raul Lopez
One day, while I was scrolling through memes, thirst traps, and other gay internet things, a Tweet jumped out. It simply said: “imagine having a body.” This thought-provoking statement, hiding in plain view among mundane jokes and GIFs, sent me on a spiral of thoughts and questions, the same feeling that meeting Raul Lopez, the face behind the boundary-pushing – scratch that – boundary-breaking brand LUAR (Raul spelled backwards), evoked in me when I met him at his studio in the garment district of New York City.
I knew of Raul and his work before our first encounter, but seeing him work next to his team, switching with ease between Spanish and English, while draping white fabric, cut on the bias, (“It creates this beautiful butterfly-like pattern,” he explained to me, as he signaled for me to move closer and inspect his work-in-progress) was sort of magical and confusing.
Knowing the work that Raul produces, as seen on the bodies of icons like Rihanna and Solange, it was an odd feeling to see his soft side. But after speaking with him about his upbringing, understanding of fashion, the body, and gender, it all made sense. Raul is a rebellious New York kid who loves to adorn and embellish the body. His clothes are more like a sparkling armor, one that beautifies and re-defines the body
Although he designs for men and women – his creations are not for pink or blue – his work questions the behavioral, cultural, and psychological traits assigned to a body and its gender. But why should anyone care? Isn’t every designer and brand embracing this moment? Isn’t fashion the most understanding and queer-embracing industry?
Maybe, but not for a brown kid who grew up in Los Sures – now famously known as Williamsburg – who got punched in the face, hid his Versace and Coogi from his family and fell in love with fashion after watching a Christian Lacroix runway show.
Raul is no fashion rookie. A former designer for Hood By Air, his creative direction for LUAR is fresh and doesn’t play or even look at the rules. His designs reflect his life: a perfect imbalance of the femme, the masc, and loving “everything everyone else hates.”
Ernesto Macias: Before fashion, before LUAR and everything. Tell me about Raul...
Raul Lopez: Well, I was always interested in fashion. My mom actually worked in the Garment District, so I grew up with an industrial [sewing machine] in my house always. I guess the majority of Dominican immigrants worked in factories: It was the only trade they had. So my grandmother had a sewing machine, my aunts, everybody! I was always around industrials and my dad went to school for engineering and architecture, so I was around a lot of construction sites and all that. A lot of that plays into my day-to-day design life.
(Excerpt from issue 10)