Nonbinary Comics, Right Now
for The New York Times
Over the course of two weeks, I joined five nonbinary comedians for an evening on the town, watching them perform, and getting a peek behind the curtain of their rising careers. With words & interviews by Shane O'Neill, this Arts feature was a laugh-filled dive into the queer side of comedy.
- Peter Smith is philosophical about the concept of nonbinary gender identity. “All language is wrong,” Smith said. “To pick an identity still has a binary nature to it because there’s still a decision that needs to be made.”
- The stand-up comedian Jes Tom has a go-to pronoun joke: “I like when people call me ‘they.’ It makes me feel less lonely.”
- During their more traditional stand-up sets, Spike Einbinder sometimes uses their trans identity to toy with their audience. “I’ll say ‘Who here thinks I’m a girl?’” Einbinder said. “And usually people are too afraid to answer that.”
- James Tison bristled at the idea that a comedy night by and for L.G.B.T.Q. comedians represents a radical departure from comedy at large or a softening of jokes. “I don’t think anybody has neutral material,” they said. “It’s a made-up concept. There’s just a lot of straight men in the business and we call that neutral.”
- While they do tell jokes about their gender identity (“I’m nonbinary, so I’m not like other girls. Because I’m a person.”), Lorelei Ramirez often veers into absurdist body horror monologues delivered in voices that can test the line between cutesy and creepy.
The Young Fans of Drag
In 2017, for the first time, RuPaul’s DragCon arrived in New York City. During that year, the fanbase for drag culture was exploding in surprising ways. What used to be a culture mostly consumed by gay men was becoming a source of inspiration for many young people both in and out of the LGBT community. An article in Slate quoted young fans expressing, “Drag’s emphasis on creativity and individuality can be an effective way to express yourself. It does not promote narrow or restrictive understanding of beauty or femaleness.”
Pride After Pulse
In June of 2016, 49 people were shot and killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida for being part of the LGBT community. Two weeks later, New York would host its annual pride celebration, bringing tens of thousands of queer people together in public. In the wake of this tragedy, despite how unsafe the streets felt, I worked with a small team to capture portraits and interviews to understand why people still felt the importance to show up. Living queer in public is a gift, and pride in 2016 was a loving memory of the ones we lost and the triumph that can be found in finding a reason, in spite of it all, to pour into the streets and be joyful.