Susan Elizabeth Shepard

  1. HITCHCOCK, Tex. — Robert’s Lafitte, a small bar near the shore in Galveston, Texas, is supposed to be the oldest gay bar in the state. Doll-sized, plastic high heels decorate fixtures above the bar and there’s a small, tinseled stage for the legendary weekend drag performances. On this Wednesday night, it’s quiet. Half a dozen patrons drink at the end of the bar, a few more play pool, and classic country music comes from the speakers. The bartender says that, sure, people have been talking about Michael Sam, the football star from nearby Hitchcock who just became the first player to enter the NFL draft as an openly gay man. Maybe it’s just not that big of a deal anymore, he says.

    Clearly, it is a big deal, because Sam is the first person to do it. It won’t be a big deal when the 10th or 20th or 50th gay player enters the league, his sexual orientation needing no announcement. Sam is, of course, not the first gay man to play football, but he is the first to identify himself as such prior to the draft, becoming a symbol of what has and hasn’t changed. One has to wonder what it’s like for a gay kid to grow up here on the Gulf Coast — not the most enlightened part of the state, but one that’s close to the historically most gay-friendly parts of Texas, Houston and Galveston — and what he’ll mean for the next gay kid to grow up here.

    Mike, a tall, athletic man in a Red Sox cap at Robert’s Laffite, told me he’s always been a Boston fan, even though he grew up in the suburbs of Houston. He doesn’t root for the Astros, and he took exception to pitcher Jarred Cosart’s use of a gay slur in a tweet. (“You have the worst team! You can’t say anything!”) Though he is a Patriots fan, Mike said, “I’d support [Sam] completely, only because he’s from Galveston County, not because he’s a gay player.” Mike, now 50-ish, was an athlete in high school himself, playing tennis and swimming, though he didn’t realize he was gay until after college. Asked about Sam’s coming out, he said, “I think that’s so cool. It’s much different now, and thank God it is. It’s nice.” What would it have been like if there’d been an openly gay guy on one of his high school teams? There was, actually. “The one guy was so out, nobody f—-ed with him,” Mike said. “The people that didn’t know, that’s who they f—-ed with, called ‘faggot.’”

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  5. A strip club with no hip-hop, with no making it rain, sounds like a relic frozen in 1995. But just a couple of months ago, when a friend told me her club was banning rap, I thought back to the actual club where I worked in 1995—a place where rap wasn’t allowed, per the owners. (Who also mandated the clean versions of songs with profanity.) Dancers and DJs got creative, playing a lot of “classic” rap and ’70s funk, which they found they could get away with. The rap ban was ostensibly to cater to an older, more sophisticated crowd, a refrain I’ve heard repeatedly from club managers and owners.

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  7. 11:00 am 02 Aug 2013

    Notes: 2

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  8. Hugo Schwyzer quit the Internet yesterday. The self-described male feminist wrote about facials and pulling tampons out of ex-wives. He tried to kill his girlfriend and is on his fourth marriage. He has been published regularly, most recently at The Atlantic and Jezebel. On Twitter, he regularly searched his name and would passive-aggressively favorite unflattering mentions of himself.

    No longer. Schwyzer also announced he would cease teaching a class on pornography at Pasadena City College, where he is a tenured instructor. He then immediately took part in an utterly bizarre interview with The Cut’s Kat Stoeffel, in which he said things like, “If you look at the men who are writing about feminism, they toe the line very carefully. It’s almost like they take their cues from the women around them” and, “I had an affair, which is very off-brand for me.”

    He also singled someone out as the reason he left Twitter. “After I wrote about Manic Pixie Dream Girls, this guy Chris tweeted, ‘the number one job of male feminists is to never let Hugo Schwyzer get another freelancing gig.’…it was just really hurtful.” The tweet that made Hugo quit came from another straight white man, because that’s who really gets under his skin. He seems to have no concept of the volume or tenor of the invective that women are subjected to online on the regular, either, if that’s what he finds “really hurtful.” When he flounced from Twitter, he made sure to alert Randle and longtime antagonist Malcolm Harris, crediting them with his decision to leave. It was also what many women wanted, but he didn’t acknowledge any of them.

    Randle, a contributing editor at Hazlitt, and Harris, senior editor at The New Inquiry, chatted with me yesterday about how strange it is to be told you’ve driven someone offline. Full disclosure: we’ve all socialized IRL, and Malcolm has edited me.

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  9. Shannan Gilbert was out on an escorting call in Oak Beach, Long Island, in the early morning hours of May 1, 2010, when she went missing in full view. Her driver, Michael Pak, and client Joe Brewer, watched Gilbert run out of Brewer’s house and into the night. Although Gilbert had been on the phone for over 20 minutes with 911 and woke a neighboring couple by banging on their door, Pak lost her trail and she disappeared. The ensuing search led police, in December 2010, not to Gilbert but to the bodies of four women who had been buried in Gilgo Beach: Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Lynn Costello. All four had, like Gilbert, worked as prostitutes and advertised on Craigslist. No suspect has been arrested.

    Without a killer, there’s no procedural story, and no resolution. What New York contributing editor Robert Kolker found while working on a May 2011 story was a different serial killer narrative: how the victims all wound up in a very wrong place at the worst time, and how their surviving family members and friends came together around their shared losses. The book that came out of that research, Lost Girls, runs counter to the previously received knowledge that prostitutes are targeted by killers because they won’t be missed; that women enter the sex industry because of seminal trauma or drug addiction; that signing up for prostitution is volunteering for duty in a cadaver-dog training exercise. Instead, Kolker observes that it is police prejudice, economic pressure, social stigma, and the anonymity afforded by the Internet that caused these women to go and remain missing.


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  10. It’s a Sunday evening, early last December, and the Walmart is out of bread. Ten feet of shelves sit empty between the tortillas and the crackers, holding not so much as a single loaf of store-brand white. There’s still some cereal, but mainly off-brands. This is the only Walmart that I’ve seen with empty shelves outside of hurricane season on the Gulf Coast. It’s also the only one in the country that had to ban RV parking in its parking lot — so many people were living there, regular shoppers couldn’t find a place to park.

    Four years ago, my traveling stripper/escort friend Tara made a guy pay for her services in gift cards from this store. The only accessible ATM in town was broken, and it was a Sunday, so they had to wait until noon for the store to open because of the local blue laws. It’s to her credit, or all her fault, depending on my mood, that I have to shop here at all, because this is the best option for buying groceries on a Sunday night in this flat, charmless, remote town.

    There are gentlemen’s clubs and there are strip clubs, and the differences can be huge. A gentlemen’s club has a DJ, VIP rooms, bathroom attendants, and a dress code for the customers and the dancers. A strip club might have a jukebox and stackable chairs, and share a bathroom with the Mexican restaurant next door. I’ve made plenty of money in gentlemen’s clubs, but strip clubs have always been more fun. Whispers is a strip club. The first time I walked in and saw the carpet — a black light-reactive repeating neon mud-flap girl pattern that looks as if it should be upholstering the back of a shaggin’ wagon — I knew I’d found the right place, even if the stage was just a corner of linoleum-tiled floor bounded by low countertops. You could just tell that this was the kind of club where dancers might occasionally wear flip-flops or cowboy boots on stage and where an ankle monitor or extra pounds wouldn’t keep a friendly dancer off the schedule.

    It’s not the charm that brings dancers to Whispers, though. We’re in Williston, North Dakota, because oil companies are here working to extract the abundant natural resources of the region, and to do so, they require many men to work for them. Female company is far less abundant than the petroleum resources of the Bakken Formation. It is mobile, though, so here we come, the next sign of a boomtown after the oil and the men.

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