Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Magazine prints cover with ink that contains HIV-positive blood
A magazine called Vangardist is seeking to draw attention to  HIV and AIDS with a provocative cover printed with ink containing HIV-positive blood.
The special edition of the magazine features stories of "HIV heroes" at a time when the editors say too many people have grown complacent about the disease.
"There's been an 80 percent  increase in HIV in the last 10 years -- that's according to the World Health Organization -- and that's pretty shocking," said Jason Romeyko, executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi Switzerland, who helped create the cover. "The reason why that's happening is people just aren't talking about it anymore."
Romeyko told CBS News he hopes the magazine will "reignite these conversations" -- and its stark cover certainly has people talking already.
Made with donated blood
Vangardist, which describes itself as a progressive men's magazine, is based in Vienna and publishes in English and German. It claims a readership of 100,000 a month, mostly online. Just 3,000 copies of this special HIV+ edition were printed.
To create it, three people  living with HIV donated blood. Romeyko described them as "incredible individuals" with diverse backgrounds, and they tell their stories in the magazine. One is a 26-year-old gay man from Berlin who calls himself "one of the most normal guys on the planet."
One is a heterosexual man who wished to remain anonymous as he continues to struggle with his recent diagnosis. And one is a 45-year-old woman, a mother, who got infected 20 years ago by her then-husband who didn't tell her he had HIV.
'100 percent safe' to touch 
Though the idea of touching traces of HIV-positive blood may spark a visceral reaction of fear or revulsion, the magazine assures readers that the cover itself is "100 percent safe" to handle.
"Scientifically, the virus dies naturally outside the body. It takes about 30 minutes for it to decompose," Romeyko said. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms HIV cannot survive outside its host for long.
The three donors' blood samples were taken to a lab at Austria's University of Innsbruck, where they were  pasteurized, a heat process that assures the virus is neutralized and incapable of transmission.
From there, the blood was mixed into an ink solution for use in the printing press. But the magazine ran into some trouble finding a printer willing to do the job. It finally turned to a small print shop that had produced its very first issue, and the owner agreed to do it himself, not wanting to make his employees take part.
Everything about the cover is imbued with meaning, Romeyko explained. "We wanted people to actually hold the magazine and just make the comparison -- there's nothing wrong with holding someone who's HIV positive."
For those who are still squeamish, the magazine comes sealed in a clear plastic pouch. "Break the seal and help break the stigma," it says on the label.
"We decided to give people a choice," Romeyko said, encouraging them to take an active role in confronting the issue.
But he realizes not everyone is ready for the hands-on experience: "I showed it to a client and she was too scared to pick it up."
He also admits that some AIDS activist groups and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) the magazine consulted weren't thrilled with the idea and seemed concerned that the magazine might set off a panic or backlash against people with HIV.
It's a little too early to judge the public reaction, since the issue doesn't hit newsstands until next week. But subscribers have received their copies and Romeyko says the issue if already achieving its goal: "It's generating conversation -- conversations that need to be had."
With HIV/AIDS still the sixth-leading cause of death worldwide, claiming 1.5 million lives each year, according to the WHO, the editors felt it shouldn't be treated as "old news" or relegated to just the occasional "awareness day" in the press.
In the opening pages of the magazine, Vangardist's publisher and CEO, Julian Wiehl, writes, "If you're holding the 'infected' print edition in your hands right now, you'll get into contact with HIV like never before...It will make you reflect on HIV and you will think differently afterward. Because now the issue is in your hands."
Once you flip past the provocative cover, there are articles spotlighting "HIV heroes" fighting the stigma of the disease, along with a few avant-garde fashion and pop culture features.
The magazine will be available online for free, although the editors are asking readers to make a donation to an HIV foundation. A number of copies of the HIV+ special edition will be auctioned for charity, and another 15,000 copies will be available printed in regular ink.
vangardist-cover-in-wrapper-310.jpgThe special edition comes sealed in a plastic pouch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How the Mainstream LGBTQIA+ Movement Is Leaving Behind and Even Hurting Our Community’s Most Vulnerable

On the evening of June 28, two very different celebrations took place to mark the most historic New York City Pride week in decades.
The flashier of these celebrations was the iconic Dance on the Pier. As the Pride Parade came to a drizzly end, an exuberant crowd of young, gay and mostly white men made their way to Hudson River Park’s Pier 26, where Ariana Grande headlined a big-budget outdoor mega-party.
Complete with laser lights, multiple jumbotrons, fireworks and a legion of half-naked go-go dancers, the event was a brazen testament to the newfound trendiness of urban gaydom.
Admission started at $80, but that didn’t stop 10,000 enthusiastic fans from snatching up tickets to what organizers billed as one of the world’s top-tier LGBTQIA+ events.
If any of those 10,000 attendees had taken a break from the dancing and glanced across the Hudson to the north, they may have seen the outline of the Christopher Street Piers, where a celebration of a very different kind was taking place.
Here, a motley crowd of queer homeless youths — who definitely could not afford admission to Dance on the Pier — decided to throw an impromptu party of their own.
With the bass from the Ariana Grande concert pulsing in the background, the youths — male, female, cisgender, transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, black and Latino — drank, smoked, sang, vogued and played cards under the dim light of the street lamps.
Both parties paid homage to a common past by celebrating Pride and the decades of struggle it commemorates. Both parties acknowledged a common present by sharing space on the Hudson River Piers, the heart of New York’s LGBTQIA+ community.
But the extravagant Ariana Grande concert and its upscale audience could not have seemed more out of place among the piers that have served as a safe haven for the queer community’s most marginalized — mostly queer homeless youth of color — for decades.
And this growing rift between mainstream and marginalized LGBTQIA+ people makes me fear that our community won’t have a common future.
While the gay rights movement in the United States has achieved a remarkable string of successes over the past several years, including the invalidation of the Defense of Marriage Act and the legalization of gay marriage, not everyone within the LGBTQIA+ community is equally positioned to take advantage of these successes.
After all, although marriage is a declaration of love, in many ways it is also an expression of interpersonal stability, economic security and social respectability — attributes that many marginalized LGBTQIA+ people do not have.
So while love may have won for middle and upper-class gays, many transgender people, queer people of color and queer homeless youths instead find themselves left behind by a community that has become increasingly defined by the interests of its white, cisgender, middle and upper-class members.
Over a decade ago, this powerful subsection of the LGBTQIA+ community decided that the fight for marriage equality would be the modern cornerstone of the gay rights movement – and for good reason.
Marriage is an institution of respectability. The fight for gay marriage suggested that the gay community had grown up, left its radical past behind and was ready to join mainstream society as a reputable partner. It dismantled the hypersexual, flamboyant gay stereotype and replaced it with a more wholesome image that mainstream America found more palatable.
It was also an assertion that the gay rights movement had reached an important milestone, transcending basic issues of health, safety, economic security and social stability.
But the problem is, it hadn’t. 
And yet, as middle and upper class gays poured time and money into the fight for gay marriage, these and other less marketable LGBTQIA+ issues were largely forgotten. 
The number of queer youths on the streets rose. Violence against transgender people increased.
And the gap between the ‘mainstream’ queer community and its fringes grew.
As one gay, black and homeless youth on Pier 45 told me, “It’s like once they had marriage equality it’s like, ‘Nah, we don’t feel your pain any more, sorry.'”
Is this to be the brave new gay world?
A world in which the public face of the queer community – the gay, the white, the cisgender and the wealthy – take their place among society’s elite, leaving the transgender, the non-white, the poor and the homeless to fend for themselves?
A world where queer youths are disowned and thrown out on the street by their families, only to find that they are also considered second-class citizens in the community they reach out to for love and acceptance?
A world of partition, indifference, neglect and self-interest?
Unfortunately, this dystopia has already started to become reality.
As ‘mainstream’ white gay culture has become not only socially accepted, but also widely marketed and commercialized, middle and upper class gay interests have become inseparably intertwined with the gentrification of historically gay spaces and the criminalization of poor, non-white, transgender and homeless individuals within these spaces.
For example, Greenwich Village – long a refuge for queer youths fleeing rejection and persecution – has become a shining showcase for the gay community’s newfound prosperity, complete with organic juice bars, small dog boutiques and seemingly hundreds of overpriced coffee shops.
And as the gay elite have become increasingly integrated into the power structure of society, many have used their newfound influence not to alleviate the inequalities within the queer community, but instead to cement their position at the pinnacle of an expanding LGBTQIA+ hierarchy.
Instead of collaborating with queer homeless youth to recreate the old Village’s culture of diversity and acceptance, many residents of this new Greenwich Village – many of them gay and lesbian – have sought to “clean” their streets of the “Bloods and Crips“, “gangs of unruly youths” and “gay youth of African-American and Hispanic origin” – all seemingly references to queer homeless youth of color.
Instead of proudly embracing the Christopher Street Piers’ rich history as a haven for disowned queer homeless youths, some residents have tried to eject the youths from the piers altogether, arguing that times have changed and queer youth no longer need safe spaces.
And instead of protecting queer homeless youths from harassment, the Christopher Street Patrol has increasingly hounded them for petty quality of life infractions, a strategy eerily similar to that of the anti-gay vigilantes the patrol was in part founded to combat.
As one black transgender youth put it, “The damage comes from our own community. You’d think we’d be safe on our own piers.”
But the worst part about this trend is that because the discrimination is perpetrated at least in part by our own community, it is given a sense of legitimacy.
After all, it can’t be homophobic if it’s queers versus queers, right?!
With the stunning advances in gay rights and growing prosperity of America’s LGB community over the past decade, it’s easy to forget that the very groups we are now marginalizing are the ones who launched the queer rights movement at a time when being gay was still a crime.
If queer homeless youths, black drag queens, transgender women and gay hustlers had not risen up against oppression at Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall over 45 years ago, we would not have gay marriage today.
Our movement was built on the back of our community’s margins.
So as long as LGBTQIA+ youths sleep on the street, transgender people fear for their lives, and queer people of color live in poverty, my new right to marry will be diminished.
The LGBTQIA+ movement still has a long way to go; I just hope the next big battle for queer rights isn’t against the queer community itself.
Colin Walmsley is a government major and anthropology minor at Dartmouth College. Outside school, Colin is an advocate for the rights of LGBT people and other marginalized groups. He has worked at New Alternatives drop-in center for LGBT homeless youth in New York City, and created a documentary about convicted murderers who participate in the Concord, N.H., prison’s art program.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"#LastWords: A Tribute to Men Killed by Police": A project by Shirin-Banou Barghi


Shirin-Banou Barghi created this series of graphics dedicated to those killed by police officers.

kenneth-chamberlain-2-shirin-barghiShe pushed out a back door and ran into the darkness beneath overarching oaks. He lay on the floor near his kitchen, two bullet holes in his chest, blood pooling thick, dying. 
sean_bell_shirin_barghi_last_wordsAt one point, Guzman says, he spoke to Sean Bell and said, “S, I love you, son.” He says Bell said, “I love you too.” Then Guzman says Bell “stopped moving.” –   oscar_grant_shirin_barghi_last_wordsMehserle testified that he meant to zap Grant with his Taser in an Oakland station – but instead pulled his .40 caliber handgun and blasted the man.   trayvon_martin_shirin_barghi_last_words“A man was watching him,” said Rachel Jeantel, 19, who was on the phone with Martin just before he was fatally shot. “He said the man kept watching him. He kept complaining that a man was just watching him.”   michael_brown_2-shirin-barghiThe officer demanded that the two “get the f—k on the sidewalk, Johnson says. “His exact words were get the f—k on the sidewalk.”   kimani_gray_shirin_barghi_last_wordsNew York City police officers shot and killed 16-year-old Kimani Gray in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.   kendrec_mcdade_shirin_barghi_last_wordsThey said they thought McDade was armed because … he clutched his waste band as they chased him onto a dimly lit neighborhood street.   jonathan_ferrell_shirin_barghi_last_wordsJonathan never had an opportunity to reply. He had bullets in him before he could ever hit the ground. So there was not sufficient warning. No one ever told him to stop. He didn’t have time to react.   john-crawford-2-shirin-barghiHe was at the video games playing videos and he went over there by the toy section where the toy guns were. And the next thing I know, he said ‘It’s not real,’ and the police start shooting and they said ‘Get on the ground,’ but he was already on the ground because they had shot him. And I could hear him just crying and screaming. I feel like they shot him down like he was not even human.   eric-garner-2-shirin-barghiThe medical examiner’s office later ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by the officer’s chokehold as well chest and neck compressions and prone positioning “during physical restraint by police.”   amadou_diallo_shirin_barghi_last_wordsDiallo was shot outside his Bronx apartment. The police officers had mistaken him for a serial rapist, who was later apprehended.   last-words“The newly released cell phone footage undermines the statement, showing Powell approaching the cops, but not coming as close as was reported, with his hands at his side. The officers began shooting within 15 seconds of their arrival, hitting Powell with a barrage of bullets.” –     All images used with permission.   Journalist. Photographer. Filmmaker. Shirin-Banou Barghi created this project after recent events reminded her of the 2009 uprising in Iran and the violent police crackdown against opposition supporters.   See the full project at Shirin-Banou Barghi’s Facebook or Shirin-Banou-Barghi’s Imgur.
Want the best of The Good Men Project posts sent to you by email? Join our mailing list here.
- See more at:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"Woman Runs London Marathon Without a Tampon, Bleeds Freely to Raise Awareness"

Woman Runs London Marathon Without a Tampon, Bleeds Freely to Raise Awareness

Kiran Gandhi, M.I.A. Drummer, Runs London Marathon Without Tampon
Kiran Gandhi
08/07/2015 AT 03:15 PM EDT
Kiran Gandhi, who has played drums for singer M.I.A. and Thievery Corporation, decided to run the London Marathon without a tampon. Gandhi let her blood flow freely to raise awareness about women who have no access to feminine products and to encourage women to not be embarrassed about their periods. 

"I ran the whole marathon with my period blood running down my legs," the 26-year-old wrote of the April race on her website

Gandhi, a Harvard Business School graduate, wrote that she got her period the night before the big race and thought that a tampon would be uncomfortable while she ran. But that isn't the only reason she decided to let it flow. 

"I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don't have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn't exist." 

She added: "I ran to say, it does exist, and we overcome it every day." 

Woman Runs London Marathon Without a Tampon, Bleeds Freely to Raise Awareness| BodyWatch, M.I.A.
Kiran Gandhi (right)
Clad in all pink for breast cancer awareness, the 26-year-old finished the race in four hours, 49 minutes and 11 seconds. She told Cosmopolitan that she ran through the pain of cramps and the anxiety of the race (which she had spent a year preparing for) and felt empowered as she did so. 

"I felt kind of like, Yeah! F--- you!," she said. "I felt very empowered by that. I did." 

Woman Runs London Marathon Without a Tampon, Bleeds Freely to Raise Awareness| BodyWatch, M.I.A.
Kiran Gandhi (center) and fellow runners
After the race, she took photos with her family and friends, wearing her period-stained running pants proudly. 

Gandhi tells PEOPLE that she decided to run without a tampon to highlight the sentiment of period-shaming and the language surrounding women's menstrual cycles. She wrote on her site that "on the marathon course, sexism can be beaten." 

Woman Runs London Marathon Without a Tampon, Bleeds Freely to Raise Awareness| BodyWatch, M.I.A.
Kiran Gandhi
"If there's one way to transcend oppression, it's to run a marathon in whatever way you want," she wrote. "Where the stigma of a woman's period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose."

13 questions from Guillermo Gómez-Peña – La Pocha Nostra

13 questions we ask ourselves – Guillermo Gómez-Peña

“13 Questions We Ask Ourselves”

“1. What is our new place, our role as performance artists in this new century?
2. What are future formats for performance art?
3. What do words like radical, transgressive, rebellious ;, and oppositional mean after 9/11?
4. Where are the new borders that we must cross?
5. What are the new reasons for sitting at the table together, so to speak, in a time where all progressive political projects seem to be bankrupt?
6. What binds our otherwise extremely diverse ethnic identities, aesthetics and community concerns? The search for ‘radical’ tolerance and for a new way of presenting and distributing important ideas? Or the need to find a new spirituality emerging out of the debris of our recently fallen world?
7. Where should we place most of our energies; in the local or the international? In the artistic or the pedagogic project?
8. Is it possible to make politically pertinent art in the face of globalization gone wrong, government censorship, panic culture, mindless interactivity, Reality TV, and the general  passivity of the citizenry? Are we able to recuperate the possibility of change in a society like ours, in which all changes implode or are instantly commodified?
9. If we are interested in performing for non specialized audiences, what certainty do we have that these audiences won’t misinterpret our “radical” actions and our complex performative identities as merely spectacles of radicalism or stylized hybridity?
10. If our new audiences are more interested in direct stimulation than in content, can we effectively camouflage content as experience?
11. As performance artists, how to re-humanize, re-politicize and decolonize our own bodies wounded by the media, and intervened by the invisible surgery of pop culture?
12. How can we continue to deal with extremely sensitive issues without sounding self-righteous or scaring away our audiences?
13. Can we get our audiences to co-create the work with us?
I have no answers. We have no answers. We politely ask the visitor these questions.”
Guillermo Gómez-Peña – La Pocha Nostra (LA, USA)

"Out of the Woods"

Several years ago, David Withers, a zoologist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, was digging for crayfish in some creek beds on the edge of DeKalb County, in an area that can plausibly be described as nowhere at all, when he spotted an unmarked road. He had never noticed it and decided to see where it led; after a short drive, he found himself amid a strange encampment. Withers stepped out of his truck and looked around. Cheerful, rickety houses sprouted from the ground like unclassified fungi, or something dreamed up by Lewis Carroll, but what appealed to him most was the barn; on the side, in large yellow letters, someone had written ‘‘Welcome Home.’’ Withers walked up to a shack that appeared to be inhabited and — overtaken by curiosity — he knocked. The woman who came out looked surprised. She told him that he was on a commune for gay, lesbian and transgender people and suggested politely that he leave. Later, Withers called his friend Neal Appelbaum, the openly gay director of the arts center in neighboring Cannon County, and told him about what he saw. Appelbaum explained that Withers had stumbled into Ida, a commune for queer vegetarians; the entire region was home to maybe a dozen rural planned communities for L.G.B.T.Q. people, a kind of sexually nonconforming Amish country. He also pointed out that the fading sign on the barn didn’t say ‘‘Welcome Home.’’ The last letter was not an ‘‘e’’ but an ‘‘o.’’

If you’re younger than, say, 35, chances are you don’t remember what it was like to be a gay man between the Stonewall riots and the second season of ‘‘Will & Grace.’’ You probably don’t remember bars with names like Traxx and Rawhide, their windows smoked to deflect the accidental glances of co-­workers, bars with ‘‘Elvira, Mistress of the Dark’’ playing on VHS, where everyone who came through the door was greeted with looks of longing and fear. You probably don’t remember the Herb Ritts poster of the Pennzoil-­smeared Adonis hefting semi tires, or the Mr. Fire Island Leather contest, or hearing the entire godawful Barbra Streisand Christmas album played over the P.A. while waiting for the bus outside the Castro Theater, or having to take that bus for a half-hour in the first place simply to buy lubricant, which was sold as illicitly as a bong. You’ve probably never heard an otherwise-­reasonable family internist wonder out loud whether your sore throat might be seroconversion illness or the tingling in your fingers a symptom of H.I.V. neuropathy. You’ve probably never had a prospective landlord explain, upon meeting you and your partner, that the vacant apartment in his building is not, as the listing said, ‘‘available immediately’’ but needs to be painted, and that the painting will take seven weeks. And if you don’t remember any of that, consider yourself fortunate.
In those days, the social lives of gay people transpired mostly in large coastal cities, primarily out of public view. The bars and restaurants, the beach resorts and borderland neighborhoods became sanctuaries where, through a tacit agreement with the surrounding world, you could socialize mostly free of scrutiny and overt discrimination. For the young men who settled in these neighborhoods, even that Streisand record functioned as a sanctuary of sorts, by providing a common cultural language with a larger community of gay men whom they were counting on to be their families, because in many cases their actual families no longer wanted to know them. But for some, this notion of sanctuary did not go far enough. For some, the modes of camouflage, code and passing were tantamount to an admission of leading a life defined and hemmed in by others. And so they began to leave the cities in search of a less compromised identity.


Neal Appelbaum, a longtime resident of Cannon County, Tenn. He plans to run for county executive in 2018.CreditCatherine Opie for The New York Times 

In 1979, a gay rights activist, communist and Angeleno named Harry Hay — a founder of a neo-­pagan countercultural movement called the Radical Faeries — urged gay men to ‘‘throw off the ugly green frog skin of hetero-­imitation.’’ Instead of fighting for the rights that straights had, like marriage and adoption, the faeries believed that to be gay was to possess a unique nature and a special destiny apart from straight people, and that this destiny would reach its full flowering in the wilds of rural America. So it was perhaps fitting that the faeries began to refer to their secluded outposts as sanctuaries. There are more than a dozen loosely affiliated sanctuaries across three continents today, but in the same year that Hay made his pronouncement, the mother ship of the faeries landed on Short Mountain, one of the tallest points in Middle Tennessee. It remains home to what is almost certainly the largest, oldest, best known and most visited planned community for lesbian, gay and transgender people in the country, a place that one local described to me as a veritable Gayberry, U.S.A.
With its outhouses, goats and vegetable gardens, it doesn’t appear far different from your textbook commune. Until, that is, you hear about a spot called Sex Change Ridge, a network of hiking trails called the Fruit Loop and a functionary called the Empress. Many residents are known by names of their own devising, like Jazz Hands, Fade-Dra Phey and Helvetica Demi-­Oblique. Twice a year, hundreds of visitors come to the mountain for weeklong gatherings that, sartorially speaking, make Burning Man look like the annual conference of the Modern Language Association. In the decades since its founding, dozens of people not personally cut out for communal living but nonetheless drawn by Short Mountain have settled in the area, most of them men, and they tend to refer to one another as the Family and to the area as the Neighborhood or the Gayborhood. Some inhabit one of the numerous satellite communities — places with names like Breathwood, Daffodil Meadow and Ida — and others treat the area as a part-time second home, coming here as much for the privacy as the fellowship. The name of the commune is no secret and can be found online with a few keystrokes. But as with Occupy Wall Street, its residents reach decisions by consensus, and because some harbor misgivings about being the subjects of stories and other forms of publicity, many spoke to me on the condition that I don’t reveal the name of their home in print. So forthwith I will call it the Commune.
Just about everyone in Cannon County knows about the faeries on the mountain, but over the past 36 years there has been pretty much no vandalism, no spray-­painted epithets or slashed tires, no dropping of the commune as a wedge into local elections. The equipoise between the faeries and the county wasn’t a regional quirk or a sign of encroaching liberalization — the faeries lived in near seclusion and largely stayed out of politics, which is exactly how many residents of Cannon County preferred it. ‘‘In the South, we like to say that every man is king of his own castle,’’ Mike Gannon, the county executive, told me. ‘‘So if you come into this community and mind your own business, everybody will mind theirs.’’
All parties had been minding their business until 2003, when Neal Appelbaum — a 5-foot-6, bearded, bald, Jewish 47-year-old former C.P.A. — bought the old Paul Melton farm on Parchcorn Hollow Road in Woodbury, the only place here that can be called a town without using air quotes. He became one of the county’s busiest developers, landowners and real estate agents. He was elected president of the county’s Chamber of Commerce and chairman of its industrial board and was hired to run the arts center, where, in the Southern way, people call him by the formal-­familiar ‘‘Mr. Neal.’’ Soon there were few aspects of the county’s day-to-day functioning in which he wasn’t involved. Appelbaum says that when Gannon’s term expires in 2018, he will run for the job. Gannon told me he thinks Appelbaum has a better-than-even chance of winning. That would make Appelbaum the first non-­Christian, non-­straight, non-­married-­to-­a-­woman county executive, the first without familial roots in the area and the first openly gay person to run a county in the South.
This dance of the Short Mountain faeries and Cannon County could not have happened until recently, because being gay in this country is changing more fundamentally and faster than at any time in its history. You have to look only to the recent Supreme Court decision that affirms same-sex marriage as a constitutional right to see the beginning of the last act for legally enshrined homophobia. In the decision’s wake, some have struck an elegiac note, lamenting the loss of a shared identity in the coming post-gay landscape; ‘‘The thing I miss is the specialness of being gay,’’ the playwright Lisa Kron remarked in an interview with The New York Times. I wondered whether the gay residents of rural Tennessee shared this lament. I wanted to see how the encounter between gays and straights was unfolding far from the coastal cities, among two of the most culturally divergent constituencies I could think of — rural anti-­assimilationist queers and their evangelical conservative neighbors, both of whom happen to oppose same-sex marriage, though for vastly different reasons. I wondered too about the Commune’s future: What does a sanctuary signify once people are free to leave it?


Hathaway (left) and Be, who share a home in Woodbury, the seat of Cannon County. Hathaway, a costumer, made both outfits. CreditCatherine Opie for The New York Times 

It doesn’t take long to notice that Cannon County is an odd setting for a faerie sanctuary. On the mountain’s steep north face there is a stable that allows visitors to sip on tallboys of beer atop a moving horse, and at the summit there is a Church of Christ bible camp. More than 70 churches cater to fewer than 14,000 people here, a ratio that’s high even for the Bible Belt. Twenty percent of the housing stock is trailers. The last time national TV networks set up camp here was in 1994, when a group called Sons of Confederate Veterans nearly persuaded the county to incorporate the confederate battle flag into its official banner.
The faeries weren’t the first strangers to come to Short Mountain. Locals still remember when it was home to moonshiners’ cabins, and over the years the greenery here has shielded many wayward people from unwelcome eyes. With its limestone striations and sandstone cap, the mountain is a remnant of the Cumberland Plateau and resembles nothing around it. What is around it looks downright strange. The ground erupts in perfectly hemispheric hills that the locals call knobs. They give the place the topography of cheese bubbling on a pizza, one reason neither industry nor large-scale farming ever prospered here. The knobs are fun to look at up close, especially in the summer, when the steep hillsides blaze up like billboards of neon green interrupted only by handfuls of biscuit-­colored Hereford cattle. Sometimes, when a dog barks or a car backfires in Cannon County, the sound, bouncing off the hillsides, can travel for miles.
In 1973, well before Sex Change Ridge got its name, about a dozen mostly straight political radicals from North Carolina pooled money and bought the land on Short Mountain from a retired couple. They were committed to ending the war in Vietnam and to improving race relations; the group put out an underground newspaper and had spent time in Cuba. In Tennessee, they found pockets of sympathetic neighbors, back-to-the-land types who had come to the area after seeing an ad in a magazine called Mother Earth News. ‘‘We were aware of gay liberation and supported it,’’ Milo Pyne, a member of the original group from North Carolina, told me. ‘‘The sexual atmosphere was inclusive.’’
By the late ’70s, many in the group had left. ‘‘Some people discovered that they couldn’t stand each other, and others were starting families and wanted a more conventional home life,’’ Pyne said. ‘‘I wanted the community to survive, so I began looking around for new residents.’’ While visiting New Orleans, Pyne (who then used the surname Guthrie and who identifies as bisex­ual) met several faeries and hatched an idea. He placed an ad in RFD — a publication popular with the faeries that billed itself as ‘‘the magazine for country faggots’’ — inviting readers to come to Short Mountain. ‘‘All around the country, there was a palpable sense of danger,’’ Pyne said. In 1978, Dan White shot a fellow city supervisor, Harvey Milk, in San Francisco City Hall; when White was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder, the city’s gay community looted stores and blew up police cruisers.
The early years were difficult, but a steady stream of gay and lesbian settlers, mostly from cities, found a long-term home on the mountain; Pyne was the sole member of the original group to stay on. Within a few years, the AIDS epidemic added another level of meaning to the notion of sanctuary, and for a time residents tried using it as a hospice. ‘‘There simply wasn’t enough medical care available in the woods,’’ Pyne recalled. Women formed a part of the community from the beginning but remained a distinct minority, a continuing source of controversy. Pyne left to become a botanist in 1985, by which time the Commune had become both a magnet and a gathering place for other gay men and women. ‘‘For a lot of older country people in the area, the transition from hippies to gays was almost imperceptible,’’ Pyne said. ‘‘All they knew is that there was a bunch of longhaired young people doing weird stuff up on the mountain.’’


Harold Patrick (left), the mayor of Woodbury, and Charlie Harrell, the vice mayor.CreditCatherine Opie for The New York Times 

For many men, the Commune became their first encounter with country living and a laboratory for questioning assumptions about the shape and possibilities of their lives. Sandor Katz, who lived at the Commune for 17 years, told me that when he realized he was gay, as a teenager in the ’70s, he became resigned to having to live in cities. ‘‘Years later, while walking through the East Village, I found a coffee table with a detached leg that someone had thrown away,’’ he said. ‘‘I recall calling a friend and asking him how to fix it. I was 28 and had no idea how to put a leg on a table.’’ Shortly after, he learned he had H.I.V. ‘‘Something had to change in my life, but I didn’t know what,’’ he said. Some Commune members he met suggested he visit Short Mountain; Katz settled there in 1993.
Off-the-grid living creates certain imperatives, and in his time there he learned to hunt, build houses, dig wells and preserve food. These days Katz, who is 53, writes about fermentation and food traditions and offers workshops a few miles from the Commune, at an 1820s farmhouse that he restored and expanded. ‘‘Urban gay men have become a de­skilled class,’’ he said. ‘‘Having to learn these traditionally masculine skills was hugely empowering.’’ Sometime after he arrived at the faerie sanctuary, Katz and his friends began calling it the Short Mountain Refinishing School for the Butch Arts.
Amid the doldrums of late January, with New York blanketed in gray snow, I set off for Short Mountain, a journey that would leave my rented Nissan sedan with a partly detached front bumper. Having watched the sun set in the windows of roadside restaurants along Interstate 81, I reached Woodbury under a nearly full moon, and Appelbaum and his husband, Garth Hawkins, guided me the rest of the way to the Commune, a place I surely wouldn’t have found alone. Its entrance came into view at the bottom of a dicey-­looking mountain road. We shared a late vegetarian dinner with roughly a dozen residents at an antebellum farmhouse that serves as the main meeting place and kitchen. I introduced myself to a young woman with a nose ring who was brewing a witchy-­looking tea out of marigolds, calendula hay and something else I can’t recall. ‘‘Hi,’’ she said, shaking my hand. ‘‘I’m Altercation.’’ Someone showed me the way to the nearest outhouse — it turned out to be an open-air four-­seater — and on my walk there, one of God’s creatures lurched across my path, passing so close in the unrelieved dark that the hair on the back of my neck stood up, reminding me of all the reasons I’ve never lived in the country.
I first met Appelbaum in the late ’80s, at the Midwestern college we attended, and it was already clear that he was interested in fixing things, an unusual quality in a society of 20-year-old stoners. Even then he tended to run things, because the people who did it before him weren’t as good at it, and because he wasn’t averse to the responsibility but actually courted it. After graduating, he spent a decade in Chicago, where he became active in Act Up, started a recycling company, bought his first property and met Hawkins, who is now a FEMA reservist. In the end, they found city living inefficient. They chose Cannon County because it combined two qualities that rarely coexist in a single place: a sizable gay community and a cost of living low enough to make full-time work an option rather than a necessity. It wasn’t perfect. The closest places to buy a book or an artichoke were 25 miles away in Murfreesboro, but for Appelbaum and Hawkins, the advantages outweighed the problems.
Soon after they arrived in Woodbury, Appelbaum learned that a logging company was selling a tract of land adjacent to the Commune. Its residents worried about potential developers and the threat to the habitat from aggressive logging, but no one had found a solution. With money borrowed from his father, a Ford executive who later made a small fortune selling cars, Appelbaum bought the 535-acre lot; placed it under a conservation easement that prevented clear cutting, overhead wires and overzealous building; subdivided it into plots; and sold them at cost to longtime visitors to the Commune who wanted to settle nearby but could not find or afford land. It was in this way that he appointed himself the benefactor of the gay hippies of Middle Tennessee.

Continue reading the main storySlide Show

When Appelbaum contemplates the day ahead of him, he scrunches his forehead, crosses his arms and juts his lower jaw out just far enough to reveal a tuft of chest hair sticking up out of his collar, a look that goes a ways toward explaining his high-school nickname, Nealanderthal. He tends to dress like a summer-­camp counselor. He speaks in an uninflected monotone, so when he told me that his neighbor Ronnie Timmons’s bull got loose and was running up and down the road, I didn’t know whether he was joking. But he is in constant flux; motion is too mild a word for it. ‘‘I’m no good at TV shows,’’ Appelbaum told me, ‘‘because I can’t sit still for 21 minutes.’’
Applebaum’s intellectual makeup is unusual — he is fascinated by money, and sees its wide-­angle impact on the world, and thrives at making it, but has little desire to amass it. The interest is almost aesthetic. He abhors waste of any kind; when I reached for a paper towel to clean up some coffee I had spilled on his counter, Appelbaum nearly threw himself in my way, like a halfback, and then handed me a sponge. (‘‘It’s O.K., Neal,’’ Hawkins chimed from the living room in his lilting rural-­Indiana cadence, ‘‘he is allowed to use a paper towel.’’) The house Appelbaum shares with Hawkins — the first fully solar house tied to the power grid in Middle Tennessee — bears out this ethos. It is well built and sturdy, but the downstairs, where they sleep, has a concrete floor and bare plywood walls. ‘‘This is way more house than I need,’’ Appelbaum insisted shortly after I arrived. ‘‘Look at it, it’s a palace!’’ He drives a dented 2000 Chevy Cavalier, and rarely faster than 35 miles per hour. Even the pets are not safe from his frugality. Appelbaum believes that cats are ‘‘basically unreliable,’’ so he began naming his after the letters of the alphabet. He’s named the two that live with him now C and D, after A vanished and B was killed by a dog. The most extravagant object on the property may be the Kubota tractor, which, on days it isn’t being borrowed by a neighbor, sleeps peaceably near the barn. On some days, Hawkins, who favors cowboy hats and Western shirts from the Truck Stops of America, will sit on the tractor and puff thoughtfully on a cigar, looking like Jeff Bridges circa ‘‘The Big Lebowski.’’
Worry rippled across the Gayborhood again in 2006, when the Drug Enforcement Administration and a posse of sheriffs arrested a local excavator named Jeff Young — the charges concerned two semis parked on his property that were crammed with marijuana belonging to a Mexican cartel — and seized much of Young’s land on Short Mountain, much of it near the Commune. The Marshals Service auctions off land seized in raids to developers, but Appelbaum saw an opportunity. A zoologist named Brian Miller had discovered unique species of beetle and salamander in some nearby caves, and Appelbaum, after making many calls, found Withers, who was wondering whether consequential fauna might be found on the mountain too. Withers began digging up the creek beds on Young’s land and located two endangered species: the Brawley’s Fork crayfish and the Short Mountain crayfish, which was previously unknown to science. ‘‘In conservation terms,’’ Withers said, ‘‘that was a slam dunk.’’ Appelbaum drove to meet with every caliber of federal and state official and peppered them with endless emails, calls and memorandums. In 2012, when they agreed to sign over the seized land as a wildlife management area — the first such land transfer in Tennessee history — Appelbaum made national news.
In the meantime, he had branched out. He bought foreclosed buildings, hired a crew of builders from Short Mountain to renovate them and turned them into rentals, finding homes for many strapped members of the Family. Because sympathetic real estate agents weren’t easy to find in Woodbury, Appelbaum got his license. Soon enough, people began to call him with their problems, because he seemed to enjoy solving them. He helped a neighbor who was going blind renovate his home and helped others procure health insurance, dentures, a marriage license. A 69-year-old Vietnam vet and home health care worker named John Greenwell, a onetime resident of Short Mountain who was dying of cancer, wrote his family out of his will and left a quarter-­million dollars to Appelbaum, who dispensed Greenwell’s money as micro­grants that paid for water tanks, driveways, hearing aids, diabetic supplies and an additional 90 acres for the Commune. And the denizens of the Gayborhood would have continued their bucolic existence, except that at some point along the way, Appelbaum became interested in the larger place that they, and now he, occupied.
In business dealings, Appelbaum makes it a point to clarify that he is gay, a habit that occasionally irritates both his detractors and friends, including Hawkins. He isn’t confrontational about it and remains unperturbed by the ideological distance that remains between him and many local residents. When he was being interviewed for the arts-­center position, he told the hiring committee, ‘‘I’m gay — if that’s a problem, let me know.’’ ‘‘We’re all sinners,’’ one of the men responded. Appelbaum and Hawkins married in 2013, at City Hall in Manhattan. ‘‘I wanted everyone in Cannon County to know the exact nature of our relationship,’’ Appelbaum told me.

His candor hasn’t exactly turned the county into the cast of ‘‘Glee.’’ ‘‘Neal never brought his husband to anything, and I hope he doesn’t,’’ said Austin Jennings, the 88-year-old former international president of the Lion’s Club and one of the county’s leading citizens. (Hawkins said that Appelbaum takes him to everything, but that Jennings doesn’t realize who he is.) Appelbaum ‘‘aggravated the crap out of me at first,’’ Charlie Harrell, the vice mayor of Woodbury, told me, adding, ‘‘I don’t care if you’re Angela Davis, if you come here and work hard, we will treat you fairly.’’ I was speaking to Harrell and Mayor Harold Patrick in a flourescent-­lit office at the end of a long hallway in the one-­story town hall. I asked how they felt about working with someone who was openly gay. ‘‘We don’t think of Neal as being gay,’’ Patrick explained. ‘‘We think of him as being a Cannon Countian.’’
Appelbaum’s eye is drawn to large-scale inefficiency, and after a while the affairs of Cannon County’s queer community no longer presented enough problems to monopolize his attention. In 2009, he read in the local paper that the county had lost its three-star status, meaning that it was not in compliance with state guidelines and was in danger of losing badly needed grants. The main reason was that the county lacked a website; none of the leaders knew enough about computers. Appelbaum talked a friend into building the website and offered to sell it to the county for a thousand dollars. ‘‘I basically kind of wandered in,’’ he said. Gannon took him up on the offer, and Appelbaum began wandering in more often.
Everywhere, it seemed, he found an opportunity to fix something. When the town hall and the local high school needed to replace its heating and cooling systems, Appelbaum found federal grants that paid for the renovations. He filled out the paperwork himself — ‘‘I studied that grant and couldn’t figure it out,’’ said Patrick, who is 69. Appelbaum packaged and sold Short Mountain Coffee, an undertaking that paid for a city park to be replanted, and talked the strapped arts center into leasing its roof to an investor in solar panels. In 2010, when Billy Kaufman, an openly gay heir to the Samsonite fortune who lives on the mountain, wanted to open a distillery in the dry county, Appelbaum introduced him to county officials and helped him gather the signatures for a ballot measure that would allow him to bottle moonshine. Two more ballot measures followed, allowing liquor stores in Woodbury and alcohol by the drink in the county — proposals that, by freeing locals from having to drive to Murfreesboro to buy their liquor, would reduce traffic accidents and D.U.I.s and keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue from leaving the county. Despite church opposition (‘‘The deacons said demons would come out of them bottles,’’ Patrick recalled), the measures passed, and now Kaufman employs moonshiners and other locals of all persuasions at the distillery and the restaurant he opened beside it.
To see Appelbaum in his element, I attended a meeting of the county’s Chamber of Commerce at the arts center; it was the first public gathering in the county’s history at which alcoholic beverages were served, and some attendees glared at the punch bowl. As everyone filed into the room, the two things I overheard were: ‘‘So where do y’all worship out yonder?’’ and ‘‘I think you know my wife, Pat Hercules.’’ John Barker, the supervisor of the Middle Tennessee Electrical Membership Corporation, opened the meeting with a prayer, and then the newspaper publisher, Ron Fryar, introduced the business leaders gathered under the paintings by folk artists on the walls. Nearly all the introductions were of the homespun ‘‘Y’all know Dottie of Dottie’s On the Square Antiques ’cause she’s a stone cutup’’ variety, but when he got to Appelbaum, Fryar introduced him with a sober, ‘‘Everyone here knows what he has done for the county.’’ Grudging respect may not feel as good as easy familiarity, but it is what Appelbaum prefers.
Appelbaum told me that the person who taught him the most about comportment was his maternal grandmother, a social worker named Dorothy Lieberman Gruskin from Midwood, Brooklyn. Gruskin dressed elegantly, and among her circle of friends, mostly other middle-­aged Jewish women, she had a reputation for being a fixer. ‘‘She wasn’t particularly attractive, and she wasn’t warm or nice,’’ Appelbaum said, ‘‘but she was the person who would help a friend going through a divorce find an apartment or help someone with a job or money. I suppose I always wanted to be like Dorothy.’’ At his wedding, Appelbaum wore an antique string of pearls that had belonged to Gruskin. When he was being photographed for this article, he insisted on wearing the pearls, for once adding a bit of flair to his LL Bean uniform.


Sandor Katz, one of the world’s leading fermentation experts. He lived at the Commune for 17 years and now resides nearby.CreditCatherine Opie for The New York Times 

Being an aficionado of strong coffee and indoor plumbing, I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to see any more of Short Mountain. But a question kept nagging at me about why — in this age of corporate pride-­parade sponsors and openly gay N.F.L. draftees — hundreds of queers still loaded station wagons and drove for days to a place where many people still believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis. So I returned to the Commune at high tide, when it swells with visitors during the spring gathering. It was impossible to reach the entrance by car, and I hiked along a plunging amphithea­ter of hackberry and wild paw paw trees choked by enormous, gnarly grape vines, so when the clearing finally unfolded below, I felt a little like Captain Cook getting his first glimpse of Kauai. Visitors of all genders, ages, shapes and colors milled about, almost none in street clothes or — as they have been known here since the advent of the Harry Potter novels — muggle clothes. Grassy knolls teemed with minotaurs, cyborgs, warlocks, Myrmidons, figures clothed only in metallic body paint or Pan-like ivy tendrils. A leathery dominatrix holding hands with a unicorn wished me, using the customary parlance, a happy Beltane. A solitary visitor sat on a log, wearing a T-shirt with a portrait of Oprah Winfrey. I passed two young men lying on their backs in the grass; one said, ‘‘ ... or maybe we should just pull ourselves together and get some coffee.’’
At the gathering, I saw sights I cannot unsee and smelled odors I cannot unsmell, but they are not what stayed with me. Unlike many queer enclaves, the place seemed to stipulate no demands; the usual hierarchies — of gender and race, age and attractiveness, money and power — seemed, for those several days, if not suspended, then magically indistinct. Food and drink appeared from dawn till dark, replenished by shifts of volunteers, and the only word I could think of to describe the attitude around me was ‘‘forbearance.’’ Most of those who had traveled here from all parts of the country were too young to remember the ’60s and early ’70s, and it was difficult not to see that the communal-­living experiment, having been largely discredited and left with its chintzy, joss-­stick-­scented reputation, was being revived and pressed into service by a new constituency.
These were the thoughts I chewed over when I nearly collided with a tall, loose-­limbed man in denim overalls who walked with a knobby cane. Two hearing aids framed a face that suggested he had been handsome. Hector Black grew up in Queens, served in World War II, attended Harvard and later joined the Quakers. He spent much of his life involved in political activism and maintained an organic farm in Cookeville, Tenn. He told me he began coming to Short Mountain when he came out, 20 years earlier.
‘‘While my wife and I were raising children, I was leading a double life with other men and finally decided I couldn’t anymore,’’ Black said. ‘‘I was 70. I haven’t missed a gathering since.’’

Just then two slender men in their early 20s, clothed in little but body paint, walked past us. ‘‘What are your names?’’ Black inquired.
‘‘I’m Artemis,’’ one said, ‘‘and this is Summer.’’
‘‘Well, it is certainly very nice to meet you,’’ Black exclaimed decorously, and with a wave of the cane he began making his way, step by step, down the hill.