Alok Vaid-Menon (they/them) is a multi-genre performance artist. They have headlined the New York Comedy Festival and Vancouver’s Just for Laughs Festival, authored a prose book, Beyond the Gender Binary (2020), published two poetry books, Femme in Public (2017) and Your Wound / My Garden (2021), and they’ve appeared on Netflix and HBO shows. Multiplicity is at the root of their sense of possibility. For Vaid-Menon the term means “being able to creatively self-fashion our identities and lives, not merely being offered pre-formatted categories and templates. It means affirming our continual potential for transformation and transcendence.”
One way that Vaid-Menon affirms the potential for transformation is by calling for an end to the unjust marginalization, within the queer community itself, that has historically harmed trans and non-binary people the most. When asked how they would like to see the queer community have grown by next year’s Pride, the artist urged, “I would like there to be unflinching solidarity for trans and non-binary people. Despite the fact that it was trans and gender-non-conforming people who started Pride, our communities have historically been scapegoated and demonized even within the queer community. That intimate betrayal is heartbreaking and disappointing and must be healed.” They added, “One thing I want to keep is all the dancing. We always need more spaces to dance!”
Vaid-Menon is as committed to dancing as they are to self-love. “I didn’t expect to learn how much courage it truly takes to love — especially to love oneself,” they admit. …
Isaac Fitzsimons (he/him) is the author of The Passing Playbook, a young-adult novel about a trans soccer star confronting whether to stay benched or fight for his right to play. The writer knows how important it is to find yourself on a bookshelf. When asked what library he first loved, Isaac recounted, “There’s a children’s library in the neighborhood where I grew up called Noyes Library. It’s housed in a one-room building in the historical part of town and looks like a fairytale cottage. I have memories of walking there with my mom and my brother and feeling like I was stepping into a storybook. For a child in a world that’s so big, having something made just for you feels really special.”
Remembering those who helped him see his own identity, Fitzsimons pays it forward. While some of his fictional characters deal with religious trauma, the author is fortunate to not have experienced this first hand, “in large part due to the rector of the church I attended in high school,” he explained. “Even though I wasn’t out as anything back then, seeing a proud gay man preach from the pulpit meant that I’ve never felt like I must choose between my identity and my faith. As I get older, I realize how privileged I am in that regard.” This role model was who Fitzsimons said he’d like to give flowers: “I’d send a truckload of lilies to Father Beddingfield as a thank you.”
Outside of writing, Fitzsimons likes to spend time in the water, swearing by aquatic exercise as self-care. …
Paul Tran (they/them) has had dreams come true. Their debut poetry collection, All the Flowers Kneeling, was released earlier this year by Penguin-Random House in the U.S. and the U.K., and their work has been featured widely, from the pages of The New Yorkerto the soundtrack of the movie Love Beats Rhymes starring Azealia Banks. When we asked the writer to whom they’d like to give flowers, Tran was emphatic: “My mother deserves all the flowers in the world. She came to the United States from Vietnam in 1989. She raised me on her own and made it possible for me to be the first in my family to graduate high school and go to college. Now I’m a tenure-track assistant professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Everything I do is driven by my hope to give us a life we can be proud of. My book is titled All the Flowers Kneeling, and when I think of who the flowers kneel for, I always first think of her.”
The elements that Tran alchemizes to create magic are love, language, and time. Meditating on the idea of possibility, Tran explained, “I used to think that, if I could, I would go back in time and change the course of my life. I’d tell myself, and those I love, that we were doing our best, and I’d tell us that a better life was yet to come. But, now, I think that possibility means going forward, to keep going forward, daring and dreaming, and to keep seeing what extraordinary magic we can make happen with this life.” …
Vivek Shraya (she/her) is a chameleonic artist who has produced award-nominated albums like 2019’s Part-Time Woman, best-selling books like 2018’s I’m Afraid of Men, and a publishing imprint of her own, VS Books. In I’m Afraid of Men, Shraya shares her record of the traumas that homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia inflict. Her talent for pulling off whatever genre best frames her creative vision has long been nurtured by regular trips to the library. “Being an introvert,” Shraya recalled, “I wasn’t drawn to the so-called cool places in the mall, but I loved the Edmonton Public Library (which was also in malls!) because it was a quiet place full of adventure and discovery, where I could access dozens of books filled with knock-knock jokes, origami instructions, and detective stories. That library was a portal — I could go anywhere, try anything, be anyone — and for free, which was especially useful being from an immigrant household.”
The multidisciplinary artist’s commitment to community shines through when asked what changes she’d like to see by next year’s Pride. Highlighting values like respect and generosity, Shraya revealed, “I would love to see our communities address lateral violence more head-on. How do we find ways to be kinder to each other and if we need to hold each other accountable, how do we do this with respect and generosity?” This sense of responsibility is nourished by the wisdom that to care for the self is to care for others. , “A self-care practice that I’m deeply invested in,” Shraya shared, “is my friendships (and doing what I can not to just center romantic intimacy). …
Charli XCX has always had a plan. It’s been that way ever since she started making music in her bedroom in Essex, England as a young teen. At 15 she convinced her parents to loan her money to record her songs in a professional studio. They also chaperoned her to illegal warehouse parties where she would perform her music to zonked out ravers, often not heading home until sunrise. When she was signed to a major record label at 16, one of the first things she did was pay back the money she’d borrowed from her parents.
Five albums later — her newest, titled Crash, is the last in her record deal — and she’s still calling all the shots. Charli XCX has deconstructed the female pop star and reconstructed her with only the parts she most likes. She’s gone through many iterations, her most recent is the sexed-up bombshell who knows she’s hot and isn’t afraid to flaunt it. After speaking with some of her fans, it’s clear that one of the most compelling things about Charli is her vulnerability. She’s long been vocal about the ups and downs of pop stardom. In 2020 she shared her struggles with anxiety in a documentary that chronicled her writing and recording an album in only five weeks during lockdown. In our conversation she credits that experience, and starting therapy, for her newfound confidence in embracing her body and sexual energy.
We photographed the 29-year-old pop star one early fall day at the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles’ Victor Heights neighborhood. …
We met up with Matt Rogers, at the Bowery Hotel in New York City, where the comedian, singer, and Las Culturistas co-host was staying, while in town to perform his annual musical spectacular Have You Heard of Christmas? Matt was gracious and willing to create some iconic whale tail imagery for this feature and to also answer some probing questions.
What was your first onstage comedy experience? I guess this would be when I hosted my high school talent show, which can’t possibly have been funny but at the time I thought was an absolute barnburner.
Who was the last person to make you laugh? Christine Quinn walked into a room on Selling Sunset and I did laugh.
Who was the last person to make you cry? The Survivor contestants Shan and Liana had a conversation about their bond on the last episode that made me cry.
What is your current favorite YouTube search? “Ramona Singer gets dragged.”
What was the first thing you did this morning? I “morning’d”. Which means I jacked off.
Best piece of advice? My fourth grade teacher Mr. D told me at the end of the year to “have more fun.”
Worst piece of advice? My first manager in New York told me to wear pants that were too tight because the casting directors look at your butt when you leave rooms. My pants were already too tight at the time so this can’t have encouraged good choices aesthetically and behaviorally. …
Cole Escola’s comedic sensibility transcends easy definitions. They’re brilliant at creating slightly psychotic characters, mainly female, from every era except now. We met Cole around eight years ago for a story we published online. After our chat we filmed an impromptu sketch at a deli in Flatiron where they appointed themselves as an aid to busy rich people who needed help choosing their lunch. Cole gave themselves over to the absurd character with the same gusto they’ve given to roles like the demented villain in the HBO satire Search Party and as Chassie, Amy Sedaris’s big-haired, horny neighbor on At Home With Amy Sedaris, a show they also write for. When we shot Cole for this story they inhabited our whale-tail fantasy almost immediately. Like everything Cole does, it was a joy to watch.
What was your first onstage comedy experience? When I was 11 or 12 I called QVC pretending to be my mom so I could talk on the air. Somehow I got through. They were selling a cleaning spray and I talked about how the product was a lifesaver because of “my two messy boys.” I didn’t do it to be funny, I just wanted to be on TV.
Who was the last person to make you laugh? John Early does this bit where he “accidentally” leaves me messages meant for someone else and talks through his extremely detailed plans to kill me and cook my flesh. Nothing funnier.
Who was the last person to make you cry? …
Joel Kim Booster is everywhere. From TV to radio, talk shows to stand-up specials, the actor, writer, and comedian is prolific — maybe you’ve seen him on NBC’s Sunnyside or heard him on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me, or perhaps the web series he co-hosts with Patti Harrison, Unsend, has shown up on your feed. For the past decade, Joel has been making people laugh, first getting his start performing comedy in the Chicago theater scene, then moving to New York in 2014, and now based in L.A., his upward spiral continues. This past summer he filmed the highly anticipated Fire Island, which he wrote and stars in, also featuring his friend Matt Rogers, as well as Margaret Cho and Bowen Yang. We managed to grab a few moments of Joel’s time to snap the accompanying pics and ask him some deep and meaningful questions. How he has time to maintain those abs of his, we’ll never know…
What was your first onstage comedy experience? The theater company I was a part of in Chicago, The New Colony, had a variety show to promote our latest play, Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche, and we had an open spot that needed filling. I said I’d do something but I didn’t really have a plan. What I ended up doing was basically stand-up.
Who was the last person to make you laugh? My boyfriend.
Who was the last person to make you cry? My boyfriend. …
Strong yet sensitive, sumptuous yet severe — the women rendered in Ana Benaroya’s paintings flex and fume in striking color.
Semi-surrealistic and with generous amounts of camp, the New Jersey-based artist’s tableaux feature herculean figures posing and smooching, smoking and drinking. Maybe they’re Titans or Amazons, perhaps genetically-modified humanoids of the future — aliens hailing from a vibrant lesbian planet.
Ana Benaroya grew up collecting baseball cards and action figures of strapping superheroes, and she saw herself in charismatic macho characters like Indiana Jones and James Bond. She also became obsessed with anatomy books, learning the body’s muscles. This knowledge allows her to push past mortal limits in her representations of the figure, adding and stacking bulging muscle definition to maximal, and often impossible, articulation.
In her latest exhibition of paintings at Morgan Presents in the Lower East Side, a two-artist show titled The Muse’s Gaze, Ana’s canvases have been worked in layers: first she uses a base of spray paint, then adds acrylics, and she finishes them off with oils. Her sense of color is on full display — neons and jewel-tones blend and glow to dazzling effect. The women in these paintings tower over audiences, claiming territory as their long hair billows in the wind. In spirit, they may act as imperfect goddesses — ultimately powerful and alluring, but passionate to a fault — moments of total synchronization and indulgent harmony paired with episodes of crippling jealousy and cruel heartbreak. Ana’s vision flips gendered archetypes, and by putting the brutish femme center stage, a new brand of hero is championed.
Ana Benaroya photographed in her studio, Jersey City, New Jersey. …
The GAYLETTER Back Page
Matthew Camp has worn many hats, but rarely a shirt. Originally from the Bay Area, the professional sexpot moved to New York City in his twenties. By Go-go dancing at downtown gay bars and starring in the 2013 pseudo-documentary Getting Go, he was canonized “New York famous” by the early 2010s. Around that time, Matthew also released an eponymous fashion line, as well as a fragrance, cheekily named 8.5, which was sold in poppers bottles. In recent years, Camp’s projects with porno juggernaut Men.com and various non-adult film work have won him a national reputation.
While Matthew initially turned down offers to act in porn, he was eventually convinced. Though many of his films are glossy and well-lit, these days Matthew prefers “the documentation of sex as opposed to the dramatization of it.” Accordingly, his recent OnlyFans content is markedly lo-fi, mostly recorded on a webcam in his home. Perhaps unsurprisingly, life imitates art. In his own words, “porn has really made me take stock of my priorities. And by priorities I mean sex partners. And by stock I mean cum.”
Nowadays, Matthew lives upstate in the relatively secluded Hudson, New York. Despite his retreat from the frenetic pulse of Manhattan, he remains as active as ever. In addition to the content he’s constantly releasing on OnlyFans, Matthew recently appeared on Slag Wars, a reality show helmed by the Cock Destroyers, Sophie Anderson and Rebecca More, as well as on Iconic Justice, a reality court show best summed up as a yassification of Judge Judy. …
With the recent release of his newest EP, Almost Blue, Brooklyn-based artist Tama Gucci leans into a new era of his already storied career. The last several years have seen the 24-year-old expand his repertoire of self-produced music, experiment with new processes of songwriting, and begin performing at clubs across the country. Almost Blue marries Tama’s roots in bedroom-pop with this recent growth, culminating in a project as experimental as it is polished.
Though since 2020 Tama has lived full-time in New York, he visits his hometown of Miami often. While he still feels fondly towards his birth city, Tama admits that his cultural upbringing took place as much in Miami’s physical communities as it did in online spaces like Myspace, Twitter, and Tumblr.
Growing up online, Tama found his footing amidst a frenetic exchange of ideas. Many of his early experiences read as canonical for an extremely-online teen in the 2010s. He was posting on MySpace at age nine — heavily filtered and throwing up middle fingers. In his later teens, working at an American Apparel in Miami’s South Beach, he would check the company’s Tumblr daily to see if they had featured his Instagram photos on their feed.
Though Tama has steadily gained exposure through sharing his self-produced tracks on Soundcloud, he’s had a handful of viral moments as well. One of the first came with the release of his Thotiana remix. The version softened the Blueface track with gentler vocals and a beat Tama originally had made for a James Blake cover. …