The More You Drink, the Prettier I Get, Reflections on 5 Years of ‘Welcome to the Other Side’

Wilma Fingerdo and her partner in crime Jayda Pill, Photo by Christopher M. Voorhees

I recall distinctly placing a bet with the other WTTOS cast members shortly before our first show regarding the projected longevity of our shows. I believe the estimates averaged about a year, at that time. The local gay bars were in a slump, and Encompass had just closed. We weren’t sure that there was a market for drag shows. Regardless, EJ Marx had been approached by the owners of the Warehouse in Portage about putting together a show, and performing at their venue. I was initially hesitant about the idea, but thought we could give it a try. I had always blamed the recent onset of gay dating apps, like Grindr, for the closure of our local hangouts. There’s no reason to “go out”, I would say, when a “blow job is just a click away”. Looking back, I was short sighted, and didn’t take into account the camaraderie that was such a huge part of meeting at those gay establishments.

Dena Richards, Photo: Facebook

I was absolutely amazed that our reception for our first show! There were hundreds of attendees, and, of course, Welcome to the Other Side was born. We decided at the time, that we would host shows every other month, and we did that for the next few months, eventually working other venues into our schedule. Please understand that then, and now, I love a lazy weekend, without heels, eyelashes, wigs and girdles, and there was no way that I would strap my ass in a dress every weekend. We decided to take offers from what we considered to be the best venues. I still believe that we work with the best venues. There are many things that are important to me when we work with a partner, now, and into the future. First, and foremost, don’t screw

E. J. Marx, Photo by Christopher M. Voorhees

our patrons. I expect reasonable drink and food prices. Second, a reasonable level of service. Third, their acceptance of the gay and trans community. When Indiana proposed their religious freedom amendment, and gays weren’t able to buy pizzas in Shit hole, Indiana, I called each of our partners, and personally confirmed that they were open for everyone.

Kane Richards, Photo by Christopher M. Voorhees

My goal, now and into the future is to provide entertainment and a welcome environment for our gay, straight, trans, and questioning guest. I love an environment where everyone can feel comfortable in their own skin, and I sincerely hope that we have provided this for you. We have the best job in the world. We can to meet up with our friends, have some drinks and some laughs, and provide a little refuge from society’s judgement. Will you see us in 5 more years? I don’t know, but I can speak for all of us at Welcome to the Other Side…. We appreciate you, and thank you for the fun that we’ve had thus far. Hope to see you Friday.

XOXO
Wilma

Wilma Fingerdo and the entire cast of ‘Welcome to the Other Side’ will be performing at the Uptown Center for Performing Arts in Michigan City’s historic Uptown Arts District for their 5 years anniversary show Friday May 5th, 2017. 

“I’m Gay,” How Two Simple Words Changed Television & Lives

Ellen DeGeneres on the cover of the April 14, 1997 issue of TIME magazine.

This weekend marks the “milestone” of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office as P.O.T.U.S. There is also a another milestone happening this weekend, a more helpful more tangible milestone. The milestone I’m talking about continues to influence peoples lives and it changed the face of American television forever. A milestone that continues to empower the LGBT community of this country. A milestone that set the stage for not only TV characters but real life celebrities and everyday people to ‘come out of the closet.’ 20 years ago today, April 30, 1997, Ellen Degeneres came out not only in real life but in her sitcom “Ellen.” Ellen’s TV personality on her show, the character Ellen Morgan was the first main character of a TV show to come out. A show that was about her and named for her, during a time when there was no “Will & Grace” or “Modern Families” Cameron and Mitchell. This was a first for American television.

To commemorate the occasion I watched the episode in it’s entirety on You Tube. In quirky Ellen fashion it was entitled “The Puppy Episode” “The Puppy Episode” part one“The Puppy Episode” part 2 and it brought back bittersweet memories and emotions. Emotions and memories that I thought buried long ago. As with a lot of people my own coming out was not easy, but whose ever is?

Some of what made coming out so difficult was my own doing. I’m famously known for my procrastination or just simply not dealing with things that I don’t want too. I didn’t want to ‘deal’ with being gay and as Ellen put it when her character came out on the show, she thought these feelings “would just go away.” My “gayness” for lack of a better word didn’t just go away and neither did Ellen’s. In the show her character  couldn’t even say the word “gay,” but as the show progressed she said it and the world was listening. This was one of first times that I realized that art can imitate life. I couldn’t say the word either, until I did. At some point I came out to a close friend. I said, “I think I’m gay.” My friend looked me dead in the eyes and said to me “That’s okay, YOU ARE OKAY.” Amazingly lighting didn’t come from the heavens to strike me down and at that point that’s when I really knew that I would be okay.

The cast of “Ellen.”

 

“I’m gay.” Those two simple words uttered on a sitcom, simple words that changed the world of television forever. Simple words that have changed and will continue to change the world of the person saying them no matter who they are. After I said those words my world changed. I’m not going to lie and say it’s always been easy but it hasn’t always been hard. I’ve had my ups and my downs, but doesn’t everybody go through ups and downs in life, gay or straight? I will say this, the victories in life are a lot sweeter when you are living out of the closet, living your authentic life. At the same time life’s journey can be a lot harder to navigate if your are continuously watching over your shoulder worried that someone might figure out your secret. Carrying a secret burden can keep you just two little words away from the chance of happiness.

I don’t know if in 20 years anyone will remember what Donald Trump did in his first 100 day milestone, but I do know that on this same day 20 years from now we will be once again be looking back at how Ellen came into our living rooms via our televisions and told us all what most of us already knew about her and ourselves. She gave us the “OK” to say “I’m gay.”

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake on this 30th day of April 2017.

John M. Livelsberger will be talking about his own coming out on the podcast “The Coming OUT Lounge” airing on May 10th, 2017.

 

Spouting About Sprouting

Meghan Buell

“April showers bring May flowers.” That’s how the saying goes. Well, April is about to close out. I wonder what lies ahead in May. Flowers, I truly hope.

Springtime is this miraculous time of rebirth for many plants. Everyone begins to get excited as new spouts are starting to show through the soil top. As I see this ritual each year I reflect back to my own personal transition and, in many ways, my own Springtime sprouting. I had a surgery in January 2009. However, it wasn’t until April or May of that year that I started to “sprout” so to speak. The first 3 months were really all about healing. This is the standard healing timeline for many after undergoing a vaginoplasty procedure. Once that was in the rearview mirror the real growth began. My life was in the midst of change. In all essences I began “fulltime” at the same time that I had my surgery. Thus, I was in the midst of a long period of “coming out”. I had begun to peer out of my topsoil and people wanted to know what this sprout was going to become. Include me in that statement, also. I often wondered into what, or more precisely, who I would become. At times it was easy to be myself but it was also very tough. But, as with others who were inquiring, I wanted to see the results now.

My recovery did hit a bump in the road. I was very concerned about this and it began to consume me. It got so stressful that I collapsed at work one day. A co-worker drove me to see my doctor. I was checked out and then my doctor said words I have never forgotten. She grabbed a piece a copy paper with a tiny speck or blimish on it. She asked me why I was so focused on a tiny speck, (meaning my small hiccup in healing) that was on the paper. As a whole the sheet of paper was overall pretty good. It opened my eyes to the fact that things were, in fact, pretty good. I smiled and agreed that I needn’t stress out so much. I needed to let things run their course.

As the sprouts enter the world each Spring, it is important to remember that each of them will grow and change at their own speed and when they are ready they will show us their true colors. Patience my friends. Patience.

Reflections and the Final 12 Hours Before Top Surgery

Photo of Kane Fletcher courtesy of Facebook

It’s 12 hours before my surgery and I’m sitting in front of a camp fire. The very fact that I’m actually having top surgery has not set in yet and I’m thankful for the seven hour drive and the family and friends who are sitting here beside me. Their presence is calming and takes my mind off of my anxiety. I am so happy to all that have helped and I know I would not be here without all the unconditional love and support that I have received over the years.

I will say this, even thought I’m more nervous then I think I have been ever in my life, I am ready to wake up and see myself as the man that I’ve seen within myself all of my adult life. The man I know that I am.

The next few days and weeks after the surgery I will be healing, but when I do heal I’ll be able to share with you what I can’t possibly express right now. My excitement, my hope for the future, and my unapologetic life as the man I’ve become. The next time I talk to you it will be after my surgery, I hope that you all stick around with me for the new adventures yet to come.

Editors note: Kane Fletcher had his top surgery on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 and is currently recovering in Michigan City. Kane will be going back to his surgeon in Ohio for a follow up and you can expect his next column in a week or so.

Kane’s group “Welcome to the Other Side” will be performing at the Uptown Center in Michigan City on May 5th.

Editor’s Note: Thanks Daniel!

Daniel Ashley Williams (Left) and Wally Paynter (right) Photo: Facebook

We here at “The Beacon” wish to acknowledge the hard work and dedication to our own Daniel Ashley Williams. Daniel has put himself out there time after time and week after week sharing his experiences as an HIV positive man living in the Mid-West. Even though we mostly cover the LGBT community in Northwest Indiana and Daniel lives in the Southern part of the state, he was the first person that I thought to participate in our publication.

Because Daniel chooses to share his life though his column “Positive Perspective” and because of his tireless efforts to change peoples perceptions on what it is to live with HIV Daniel was asked to be the honorary chair of the Vincennes AIDS walk on Saturday April 22, 2017.

Thank you Daniel for your openness and thank you for sharing your life with us. We look forward to the things that you have to say and we love helping you say those things.

-John Martin Livelsberger, Publisher of The Beacon by OUT in Michigan City

T -4 Days and Counting Until the First Day of the Rest of My Life

It’s almost here, the day I’ve been waiting for. The day that I never thought would get here. I’m talking about ‘top surgery.’ How do I describe how I feel? It’s like there is an epic space battle happing in my stomach, ‘Battlestar Glactica’ epic. My palms are constantly sweaty and I feel every emotion under the sun all at once. Like I’m in the cockpit of a Colonial Viper about ready to take out a Cylon Base Star all by myself.

There are so many emotions that I am feeling right now, by far I feel excitement the most, it’s almost like an adrenaline rush. That’s how I can explain my immediate feelings about my surgery. Yet I’ve have never had major surgery before so I’m nervous. What if there are complications? What if something goes wrong? I guess that’s where faith comes in, faith in my doctors, nurses, and hospital staff. Faith in the unconditional love and support of my fiancé. Faith in the love and support of my family and friends. Faith in myself to see this next leg in my journey through.

With any surgery there is a risk and sometimes surgery is so vital that you have to weigh that risk. Is the risk worth it? In my case, yes the risk is worth it, but not for the reason that you might think. Yes I’m going through with this not only because it’s the next step on the journey I started over five years ago. I’m going through with this because sometimes doing something major has to do more with the ‘small’ things in life than it has to do with the big ones. Sometimes it’s the things that no one else thinks about because it’s just a part of everyday life, until it’s not. Sometimes it’s the things that most people take for granted.

For over five years I have been binding my chest. In that time I have not felt a shirt on my skin or the sun on my back. The thought of hitting the beach for the first time this summer with no shirt or the binder to restrain me makes my skin tingle, especially the closer I get to my surgery date.   It’s those little things that I miss most. This summer there will be no ‘over heating’ from wearing the binders. I will never have to buy another new binder again. Breaking in a new binder horrible, it leaves painful ‘rub lines’ that sometimes bleed. I know binders are a necessary part of being a trans man, but at the same time after years of wearing one I no longer look at it as necessary, I look at it as a medieval torture device.

The days of worrying if I look like I have boobs are almost over. So are the days of not standing straight and tall because I might look too chesty. There are places I don’t go because I worry that on that particular day I don’t look ‘man enough.’  I will stand tall and I will no longer be ‘afraid’ of my chest. I will no longer worry about wearing a tank top and hope that my binder is not showing in public.

So back to the question, ‘is it worth the risk?’ The answer is hell yes. This is one of the biggest events of my life and one the best things that I’ve ever done for myself. I can’t wait until I’m standing in front of a mirror and I see myself again for the first time. I’ll make sure I tell you guys all about it.

Kane Fletcher’s Group “Welcome to the Other Side” will be preforming May 5th at the Uptown Center in Michigan City’s Historic Uptown Arts District. 

 

Ryan White, a Legacy Not Forgotten

Photo: ryanwhite.com

27 years ago this month marks the anniversary of the death of Ryan White. Ryan was the teenager from Kokomo Indiana that after receiving a blood transfusion was diagnosed with AIDS. After his diagnosis in 1984 Ryan and his family faced discrimination and harassment because of the stigma HIV/AIDS had at the time. AIDS was no longer a disease confined to the gay ghetto’s in coastal cities. AIDS had come to the mid-west and it came to a 13 year old hemophiliac.

After Ryan’s diagnosis he was given six months to live, but after beating the odds Ryan was able to get progressively better. Ryan’s mother Jeanne, hoping to keep normalcy in the boys life, asked Ryan’s doctors if he could go back to school. Citing no danger to other students Ryan won the approval from his doctors to return to school. Unfortunately it would not be as simple as that.

Growing up in Indiana we all heard about Ryan White, “The boy with AIDS.” We also heard about the discrimination and harassment that Ryan and his family faced. Fearing that Ryan might infect other students, parents and school officials rallied against Ryan by circulating a petition to have him banned from school. To so many people living in the mid-west the faces of AIDS were promiscuous gay men living in San Francisco or New York. They would see these men dying horrible deaths on the evening news.

Taking the fight to the courts Ryan not only won the right to go back to school he won the attention of the national stage and became a celebrity of sorts. Ryan’s mother became and still is an advocate to the HIV community. She fought against the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

Ryan not only got America’s attention he got the attention of celebrities, one of them being Sir Elton John, who became a sort of father figure to the  boy and started a charity in his name, the Ryan White Foundation. A foundation to help those with HIV/AIDS, a foundation that would look for a cure. By the end of the 1980s Ryan was not just “The boy with AIDS,” he had shown the world that you didn’t have to be gay or an intravenous drug user to get the disease. He was able to show the world that AIDS is not a punishment from God. He was able to show the world that AIDS could affect everyone from every walk of life. After his initial diagnosis Ryan went on to live for five more years.

On April 8, 1990, one month before his high school graduation, Ryan White died of complications from AIDS at Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. 10 days after Ryan’s death President George H. W. Bush signed a bill into law known as “The Ryan White CARE Act.” This legislation provided more than $2 billion to help cities, states, and community-based organizations to develop and maintain coordinated and comprehensive systems of diagnosis, care and treatment, for those living with HIV and AIDS. The bill has been reauthorized twice.

Ryan’s death was not in vain and his life still has meaning even 27 years later. Programs named for Ryan are the largest provider of services for people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. In Southern Indiana and Western Kentucky the Matthew 25 AIDS Services provides clinical services to nine counties and has offices in Henderson, KY and Evansville, IN. In 2001 they were awarded the Ryan White Part ‘C’ Grant for early intervention services to open a medical clinic.

At a time when there was little understanding of a disease that would decimate a community and fear gave way to common sense a 13 year old boy brought the face of understanding to a nation scared of its own shadow. Ryan White’s legacy lives on and because of his legacy so many millions of people will continue to live on.

 

Don’t be Afraid of Who You Are

Kane Fletcher, photo courtesy of Facebook

My name is Kane, and this is my blog.

I’m 27 years old trans man and I have been transitioning for almost three years now. Transitioning is a process. It’s a process to get your body to become who you know you are and how you envision yourself in your mind, mentally I transitioned years ago.

I have been on testosterone for three years. The anniversary of the day I started hormones I call my “maniversary.” For me testosterone is the second part of the process. Three years prior to starting hormone therapy I had been binding and living my life as close to male as I could. On April 19th 2017 I will have top surgery. Taking these steps in becoming the man I know I am is the right choice for me, but it might not be the right choice for everyone.

Just because you don’t take the hormone therapy doesn’t mean that you aren’t transgender. You still are. Some people can’t take it and others don’t need it. Sometimes it’s not safe for transgendered people to take hormones or even live as the gender that they identify with. It’s not safe because they are living in a place that if they embraced who they really a they could be in very real physical danger kicked out of their home or even killed.

Just like there are no two people alike, there are no two transgender people alike and some choices might work for some people and others not so much. Some transgender people are happy with their voices and the way that they look. Some people opt not to get surgeries. Yet, these people are still transgender and “We See You.”

In the next few weeks I start the next stage of my journey. I have so many mixed emotions, from excitement or nervousness yet the one constant emotion is that I’m overjoyed. It’s a new chapter in my life and I can’t wait to take the next step. My family and friends will be taking this journey with me and I hope you will too. I will be blogging about my experiences of being a trans man in the Midwest and things that have happened to me in my life.

If you or someone you love is trans and you have questions need support or just want to say hi you can reach me at kane@outinmichigancity.com

Kane Fletcher can be seen performing with his group “Welcome to the Other Side,” Saturday, April 15, 2017, at Shenanigans Pub & Eatery located at 6121 US 20, Portage, IN 46368.

We See You

Meghan Buell, Photo Courtesy of Facebook

In May of 2016, then US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, uttered these words during a speech, “…let me speak directly to the transgender community itself…we see you…”. These words brought me to tears then and I just pulled a tissue from my bag now. Why would these three simple words aligned side-by-side-by-side mean so much?

For almost 2/3 of my life I lived an invisible life. I had something that I was unwilling to let anyone see. Granted, for most of that time I didn’t even have a word to describe it but, nevertheless, I hid my uniqueness. The burden of living with a secret is heavy. It can consume a person and alter one’s reality. I did an excellent job of hiding my secret from everyone. I had perfected the covert operation to such a level that maybe a job with the NSA or FBI might have been successful. However, the burden usually always wins out, at least in my experience it does. And, for me, it did.

In 1998, I came out for the first time. It was a terrifying yet exhilarating experience. It was the first time I was visible to another. It was the first time I felt vulnerable. It was the first time I was uncloaked. I was naked, emotionally speaking. This is a common place to be in for transgender folks like me. We have to take this leap of faith in order for others to see us. It is an important first step toward our future.

On March 31 of each year, the transgender community stands and is visible. This is the International Transgender Day of Visibility. For me, everyday is my day of visibility. I live an out and proud life as a transgender woman. For many transgender people this is not the case. I am visible everyday for them. I want them to know that every effort by some to keep us invisible through “bathroom bills” and anti-trans legislation will not erase my existence. It will not erase their existence. I will not let that happen. Because I see you. WE SEE YOU.

Does HIV Make Me Undateable, Part II

Gay men living with HIV is what are we talking about.

Over the years since coming out as HIV positive, friends have asked me if my status makes me ‘undateable.’ The answer is “no,” I’m just as datable and I have just as much to offer in a relationship as anyone else. However, it there are several points that need to be addressed when dating someone who is HIV positive. 

While it’s been said, “There are plenty of fish in the sea,” and while I do believe there is someone for everyone, it seems that most men not all but most who are themselves HIV negative will not date a guy who is HIV positive. This can be difficult if you’re POZ because everyone wants to be loved and valued. There are a wide range of men in the world and there are men who do put the stigma of HIV aside and look past the word positive. The key is keeping informed and keeping communication open. Isn’t that the key for all successful relationships anyway?

The terms Neg and Poz have become the new normal in the vocabulary of our community. Sometimes that’s the first thing one asks when meeting. It’s now standard on every profile in every hook up app from Grindr to Adam4adam to BBRT.  You can find it somewhere towards the middle of a guys profile just after ‘position’ but before relationship status. Yet there is another label which we should start using as much as “top,” “Bottom,” or “Poz,” and “Neg.” That label is Undetectable or U=U (Undetectable=Un-transmittable). Undetectable and un-transmittable is when a person living with HIV has an undetectable viral load. An undetectable viral load is typically under 40 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood depending on the diagnostic tests.

The Prevention Access Campaign https://www.preventionaccess.org started U=U or #UequalsU to fight the stigma of being HIV Positive.
 
According to the Prevention Access Campaign’s web-site: “Collaborated with leading researchers to help people living with HIV who are on treatment and who have undetectable viral loads answer a fundamental question: ‘Am I at risk to my partner?’ The answer is NO. You can feel confident that if you have an undetectable viral load* and you take your medications properly, you cannot pass on HIV to your sexual partners.” 

Let’s start using U=U in our online profiles, lets start making HIV positive men feel welcome back in the ‘dating scene.’ Let’s end the stigma. 

As always it’s about choices. Some still choose to practice “Safer Sex.” You will always want to take care of yourself and your sex partner or partners. Safer sex could be the universal protection of wearing a condom or being on PrEP-Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Having sex with someone who is undetectable can mean a zero to little negligible risk, as long as they are under the care of a doctor and as long as you and your partner are honest with each other. 

There is a lot more to the story than just Negative or Positive. Inform others, start the conversation and share your story. Be part of the HIV Positive Proud community that live with a chronic health condition everyday. Get support from the people you love, whether is your biological family or your chosen family and remember the only way that you are undatable is if you let yourself become undatable and last but not least always keep a positive perspective. 

*An undetectable viral load is typically under 40 copies/ml depending on the diagnostic tests. However, studies show a person living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART) with a viral load under 200 copies/ml also cannot sexually transmit HIV. This is called being “virally suppressed.”