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Why the queer press & queer TV matter

by Victoria A. Brownworth

Trans man Jordan Cofer was one of nine victims killed in the Dayton mass murders. Photo: Courtesy HRC
Trans man Jordan Cofer was one of nine victims killed in the Dayton mass murders. Photo: Courtesy HRC  

Periodically people ask us why we continue to write for the queer press when we work in mainstream news. We always say the same thing: When mainstream media reports LGBTQ stories like they do straight stories, we'll stop writing for the queer press, too.

In the midst of the horror of the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings that have been a main topic of TV news for over a week, there is a smaller story about one of the victims. The name Jordan Cofer appeared in no news stories about the Dayton shooting. The reason for that is all those news stories referred to Cofer by the name Cofer was assigned at birth, Megan Betts.

The journey to identity for LGBTQ people is often arduous and fraught. The travails of dealing with family can be daunting. The epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth and young adults as well as that of self-harm and even suicide exemplifies this. Cofer was not out to everyone. He was living as a trans man at his college, where he was set to graduate in 2020. He had switched his social media accounts to reflect his name and his identity.

One assumes that Cofer would have found ways to talk about his identity with his family when he felt he could. His brother, Connor Betts, the Dayton shooter, took away that opportunity as he also took the lives of eight other people and wounded 27 others. Connor Betts also took away their parents' opportunity to learn to love and support another son. Compounded tragedy.

This is a small story in the larger picture of mass murder in two cities. Betts had a history of violent misogyny. In high school he kept a rape list of girls who had rejected him. He was suspended, but when no criminal charges were filed, he was allowed to return to the school.

A boy who keeps a rape list at 17 and starts a violent anti-woman band at 19 seems like the kind of person who shouldn't have an arsenal like Betts did. That his sibling was the first person he shot raises myriad questions that will never be answered.

The Jordan Cofer story may seem small in the panoply of mass shootings in America, with a president unconcerned about the unrelenting violence that has resulted in more than 22,000 people being shot since January 1 and nearly 7,500 dead from guns. But for Cofer, who will be buried as someone they no longer were and known as that person for all eternity in both a grave and mainstream media reports, it's another tragic outcome of America's obsession with guns.

Every victim of gun violence deserved better. This is just a heartbreaking reminder that those victims are our victims, too. Not a single news network has made the name change in their reports on the Dayton shooting. Not even to say "also known as." The one mainstream outlet that reported on Cofer several days after the shooting, Yahoo, put the story in their lifestyle section. Lifestyle, not news. They still don't get it.

We have a queer press because without one, no one would know our stories.

Summer noir

We need queer TV for the same reason. We need to see ourselves. In the midst of the mayhem wrought by straight men with guns, we know that scripted TV and reality TV are self-care. Fortunately we have Netflix and Hulu for backup while we await the new fall season.

So we fell into Netflix's brand spanking (yes, spanking) new original series "What/If" last weekend and binged the whole thing. The lush, super-sexy series is set in San Francisco and was created by Mike Kelley, who gave us umpteen seasons of the queerish drama "Revenge" as well as "Swingtown," so you know what to expect. "What/If" is perfect summer noir fluff with a strong gay male subplot to its tantalizing main storyline. This is "Dynasty"-style entertainment TV, so as long as you aren't expecting something too deep, you'll have as much fun with it as we did.

We were surprised to see a gay male, full-nudity threesome in the first episode. The main gay couple invited the go-go dancer who tried to pick up the bottom in the couple at a bar to come home and play. Marcos Ruiz (Juan Castrano) is a nerdy public defender with a sexy black top boyfriend, Lionel (John Clarence Stewart). They are In Love and a cute, if not entirely believable, couple with a truly gorgeous apartment that clearly is Lionel's doing, and a very big bed of the sort we imagine Liberace had.

Sexy dancer boy Kevin (Derek Smith) is super built and buff and looking to play — or maybe to love. But when he came by for the afterparty, it wasn't like what we're used to, we can say that much without spoilers. But we had seen a ball gag and leathers earlier. And all three have very nice bare asses. Very. Very. Nice.

Marcos is brother to the main character, Lisa Ruiz-Donovan (Jane Levy, whom we loved in "Suburgatory" and "Castle Rock"). Lisa is a scientist and CEO of Emigen, a biotech start-up that is going to save lots of lives, if only they can find the right backers. Lisa's married to Justin Donovan (Blake Jenner, who won "The Glee Project," which led to him being cast on "Glee"). Justin used to play for the San Francisco Giants until he had a major meltdown and his contract wasn't renewed. Now he's a disgruntled angry EMT who punches walls, because who doesn't want someone like that coming to their house in a crisis? Justin has some secrets, too.

The plot revolves around Lisa and her relationship with Anne Montgomery (Renée Zellweger), who is a 40something, ultra-chic and super-devious Mysterious Rich Investor with an eye for younger men. Anne likes her trade rough, buff and in thrall to her crazy, dangerous charms. When we first meet her she's wearing a slightly open kimono and shooting arrows at a totem in her breathtakingly luxurious apartment with an extraordinary view of San Francisco. Her assistant, Foster, declares, "Too center left," to which she replies "Three words that have never been used to describe me." And scene.

We must interject here that Oscar-winner Zellweger, who is 50 in real life, has never looked better. Gone are the cherubic girl-next-door good looks that made her the perpetual ingenue in film after film and somewhat typecast her. A few years ago Zellweger had work done, and there was a Big Drama about it in the trades, and everyone was hand-wringing about The State of Plastic Surgery and How Could She, and so she stepped out of the limelight for a while.

Well, mama is back, and she's prowling. People should just stop being so judge-y about women (or anyone) having a lift, tuck or Botox. If it's moderate and you still look like a real human, isn't that transformation that person's business? Yes, we should live in a world where everyone ages gracefully and we don't get judge-y about that, either. Yes, we should live in a world where women don't have to jump through hoops that men do not. But there's some balance somewhere. Zellweger looks great. Middle-aged and great.

Zellweger is the heart and soul of "What/If." She plays Anne Montgomery's venture capitalist with a vengeance. She tears up the screen in every scene with the lightest but most declarative of touches. It's an Emmy-worthy performance.

Anne has a retinue of scary men in her sphere. These include Liam Strom, her mentor. Strom is played by Julian Sands, which tells you all you need to know about how dark the character is. Gabriel Mann, who played the gay lead Nolan on "Revenge," is Gage Scott, Anne's lithe, disturbing frenemy. Anne also has a bag man, Foster (Louis Herthum), who hovers in her periphery ready to do her bidding. David Annable ("Brothers & Sisters") plays Dr. Ian Evans, chief of surgery at a top, unnamed San Francisco hospital.

Be forewarned that the first episode is a little slow-moving, but it picks up and is the proverbial page-turner through the arc of the 10-episode series. Directed by Philip Noyce and executive produced by heavy hitters Robert Zemeckis and Charles Rovan. Enjoy.

Is there anyone who doesn't love Jonathan Groff? We would love him even if he weren't gay, but he is, so. Groff is the lead in the Netflix original series "Mindhunter." Season 2 drops August 16.

The true-crime series debuted in 2017, so it's been a wait for Season 2. Well worth it. The series is executive produced and directed by Oscar nominee David Fincher and Oscar winner Charlize Theron. It's an incredibly dark period piece set in the 1970s, and details the inner workings of the FBI's elite serial crime unit.

Groff plays Holden Ford, a special agent in the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI. Holt McCallany plays Bill Tench, his partner. Together they solve some of the more famous crimes of the period. Anna Torv plays Dr. Wendy Carr, a closeted psychology professor.

"Mindhunter" explores how the FBI began the psychology of criminality and developed the profiling of criminals that is now de rigueur. The slow reveal of what the FBI must do to "catch" the worst of the worst is incredibly compelling. The directing fixates on the criminals, and in doing so gives us a keen entrée into the things that make them tick — and kill.

The dynamics of the characters are what propel this series and make it so captivating. There are myriad true-crime dramas out there set at various points in history. Some are good, some are terrible. "Mindhunter" is stellar. Groff's disaffected Ford, who finds his calling talking to serial killers, is a great character, and Groff gives a great performance.

Torv, who was the central character in "Fringe" and kept us watching far longer than we should have, is terrific here as a woman tortured by her own demons and the time she lives in. Carr is involved with Annalise Stillman (the remarkable Lena Olin), and their backstory takes place in the dual closet of 70s gayness and academia.

"Mindhunter" is about why men kill and why other men are so flummoxed when presented with men who kill, while women, who deal with micro-aggressive male violence on a daily basis, are not confused in the least.

"Mindhunter" may be set in the late 70s and early 80s, but the timing is succinctly present. With mass shooters literally every week in America, "Mindhunter" is delving deep into what was once an anomalous event, one man killing many people. From Richard Speck to the racist Atlanta murders, "Mindhunter" is in many respects the history of how we got to where we are now.

If you didn't watch Season 1, binge that before you start Season 2: they are inextricably linked. Be forewarned, this is a series about real-life murders, and the details and the seeming sociopathy of some of the interviewees are acutely disturbing. This isn't just horror. This is real-life horror. So know what to expect going in. It can be triggering.

If 10 or 20 episodes of anything feel like too much to commit to, "London Spy" is for you. The five-episode BBC original is on Netflix now, and if you missed it (or don't have BBC), it's definitely worth watching.

The gay thriller begins as the story of two young gay men as they fall in love. Danny (Ben Whishaw) is a club boy, fun-loving, outgoing and given to excess. Alex (Edward Holcroft) is interior and brilliant, and claims to be an investment banker. But — and this isn't a spoiler, as you'll see — Alex disappears when they fall in love. Then Danny finds Alex's body. The truth about who Alex was (the London spy of the title) is revealed. Alex was working for the Secret Intelligence Service.

The story revolves around Danny's determination to uncover why Alex was killed, who killed him, and if he was the reason. "London Spy" backtracks into Alex and Danny's relationship. Danny is Alex's first. He went to college at 15, was a genius at everything and never had time or ability to be in a relationship until his chance meeting with Danny.

The development of their relationship is beautifully done, and it's hard not to get all in our feelings as we are reminded that Alex is already dead and this love affair isn't going anywhere. But it also gives us the predicate for Danny becoming the sleuth to suss out why his beloved was murdered.

Danny's own past is fraught and explains a lot about how he came to spend all his time in the clubs. Scottie (played with grim perfection by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent) saved his life. Scottie is Danny's mentor and guardian, but he is also deeply and irrevocably in love with the beautiful Danny, which never bodes well for the guy who is decades older and far less beautiful than the object of his desire — or for the object of that obsession.

This is such a good, deep, thoroughly compelling series: tightly woven, beautifully shot and heartbreakingly sad. The acting is pitch-perfect. We believe everyone, we feel empathy, we are pulled in and stay there til the end.

The gruesome things people do to one another are the thematic structure of our times: erasure takes many forms. These three series we've highlighted delve into what happens when people forget (or never had) their moral compass. It may or may not give you entrée into why and how we live now. But at least when you turn off the TV, it will be over.

So for all that beats within and the ways in which we tell those stories, you know you must stay tuned.

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