Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Warwick Rowers Exposed: Running naked to stop homophobia in sports

Warwick Rower Tristen, my friend Mike & I 
I never thought I would get to interview 3 hot, straight college guys about how they get naked to stop homophobia! Last week three of the Warwick Rowers visited NYC to celebrate the British issue of OutThere/Travel Magazine – and I had the chance to ask them about their work to end homophobia in sports as well as taboos about being naked. 

These sweet, hunky boys with incredibly sexy accents sat with me for a few minutes at the exquisite Marmara Hotel and exposed a lot about who they are (everyone has already seen everything else).

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Even though the boys are (still apparently) not gay, I started off by asking asked each of them what they thought might be their favorite gay destination:

Warwick Rowers pose for OutThere/Travel Mag
WillFor gay destinations I would say Brighton Beach – [which has an awesome Pride event] and great shopping but of course it’s not a beach very rocky, not much sand & the water is really cold.

TristenI went to West Hollywood last year (promoting our calendar) and that was amazing fun so much going on, really a great time. But I also want to plug home, Cornwall, England – big beautiful touristy area [the southwestern tip of the UK].

LucasMykonos – is quite nice – a pretty high standard place – you’ve got quite a good mix of gay culture and more global culture. 

What I quite like about LGBT+ people is they do like to party more than we do and I’ve been to gay clubs not only in Mykonos but in Melbourne and London. 

The atmosphere is crazy; I really like it. I don’t go [to places like that] all the time but it’s always a great experience.

Also, Australia is an amazing place to travel to I’ve lived there for a year and went back since and it’s just beautiful.

Warwick Rowers & Austin, Frank & Alex!
Question 2:  Being naked is taboo in the US. Do you think it’s different in the UK?

Tristen:  It’s more of a big deal in England then the rest of Europe. We had members of the club come over from Germany and France we’ll go for a sauna session and they will come in without wearing anything! We have to tell them, that’s not the rules here.

I wouldn’t say that the UK is that open to nudity.

For example when we went to Spain, we took off our clothes and started running on the beach – and people applauded us. 

How big? Warwick Rowers interview continues...
You do that in England and I don’t think you’d get that response. Definitely mainland Europeans are a lot more accepting.

Lucas [who’s French]:  Coming from France, it’s totally true – when we went to Spain to shoot and guys were like whoa:  Those girls are topless. I [said] ‘its not that big a deal get over it.’

Tristen:  Any country in Europe is quite more relaxed than Britain is UK – Where the US gets it is from the UK – it is the “proper side” of the monarchy. We’re very apologetic as a culture.

Also, that’s why it does work pretty well; the naked calendar is not something common – people really like it people like the fact that you have a bunch of university students out there who are comfortable [being naked] and it works very well.

Question 3:  How do your parents feel about you doing it?

Tristen:  My mom loves it,  at the beginning she was not so thrilled about it. I also told her the documentary which she thought was going a bit too far but now she gets it and really appreciates what we are doing.

Warwick Rowers - clothed version at the Marmara Hotel

Lucas:  My dad [tells me] it’s a great cause, it’s with your mates [friends]; just do it – if u don’t do it now then you won’t do it.

Tristen: His mom sends me emails – she entered a contest we held!

William:  My parents both love it, they are really supportive and really proud of me Grandparents find it a little – bit – too much. Grandma doesn’t quite want to see it!

Tristen:  We originally started the calendar to fund our club. We needed to find a way to make some money – it didn’t really work initially – but when it did we realized that’s where it was from (the LGBT community).

We found out we were gaining from the gay community – so we wanted give back to the community who has helped us so much. 

We started up a foundation and our own organization Sport Allies; it’s really started to shape the values and the ethos of our club.

Question 4: What do you think is different about sports in the UK and in the US?

GAYography Interviews the Warwick Rowers at the Marmara
Tristen:  It’s actually pretty similar. In football {I mean soccer) the professional leagues of UK soccer; in the top 4 or 5 divisions professional leagues there are no out professionals. It’s a big problem. Whenever any sportsman of any type comes out no matter what level, it’s a huge deal in the media.

With Sport Allies – we want to get to a place in the world where sport is a the beacon  of promoting diversity in life.

With sports allies we can get to a place where that’s not a big deal anymore.

It’s a world culture problem – specifically in it’s in team sports. It’s easier to come out in individual sports and there are a lot of professional athletes that come out only after they retire.

Question 5:  Are their many gay members of the club?

Tristen:  Not many but some – not more than in the general population; a few have been in the calendar in previous years.

Warwick Rowers & the OutRight Action gang!
We actively tackle homophobia in the club I’m in charge of inclusivity and diversity. We run talks on how our club wants to act, what our policies are and how we expect our members to behave.

Being involved with the project makes people feel like that being inclusive is important.

Question 6:  What does does the rowing universe look like in the UK?

Tristen:  All the big universities have clubs, about 30-40. It is seen as an elite sport – I would say at Warwick it’s less so because of the calendar, we made it accessible so it’s not as expensive for people who want to participate.

Question 7:  How has being involved in the calendar changed your life?

Lucas:  As a student the calendar it’s made me realize that it’s a big problem – if you’re not gay then you don’t especially feel it or witness it. Getting the support and messages made me realize that nudity is not the big a deal. Now I probably get naked a lot more.

My parents noticed that I was a lot more naked around the house when I was home.

Austin & I look so small!
It was incredible getting to know these young guys – and yes – they are just college kids – even though they are giant guys! It’s clear that they are having a lot of fun – and will do just fine with the ladies (or whomever if they change their mind). They clearly more than tolerate the gay community (it’s mostly the G of LGBT for them) – so it was fun getting to know them & enjoy the event with them the next day at Bene Rialto!

A special thanks to Austin Cartagena, one of our great interns at OutRight Action International who assisted with photography and had the best (final) question for the crew!

Don't forget to follow Tristen, Lucas & Will and the Warwick Rowers on Instagram and...

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Orleans: Decadence or Halloween?

Southern Decadence - New Orleans largest gay event!
After returning from another fabulous time in the Big Easy (way too easy!) for Southern Decadence, I thought a lot about the differences between this uber-gay “music” festival and other great times I’ve had in NOLA. Previously, I only visited around Halloween. This time I was excited to see the much smaller parade that drives right through the “Gay Corner” at St. Anne & Bourbon – but I dipped out of my perch at Oz for a hand grenade with a friend – and somehow got in a “long conversation” with some Tulane students.

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Me dancing on stage at the
Halloween Lazarus Charity Ball!
My new Crescent City friends put it succinctly: Halloween in New Orleans is much more playful –still there’s enough play (in the usual ways) – but Southern Decadence has a much more loud gay (& gay male) – sex, drugs, repeat – circuit-party element. This is accompanied by the rainbow flags on every single French Quarter building, while Halloween offers a bit more substance & creativity with costumes as well audiences from all over. It’s true the Halloween circuit event for charity is certainly a larger party – but that’s about costumes and a bit more than the (lovely) carnal desires. Halloween is also (nicely) just a step less crazy from Mardi Gras; not as crowded or cliché. Locals create an incredible Decadence parade too – but it simply doesn’t involve as many people (or as much of the city).

The View from Oz on Halloween -
I'm forever Peter Pan!
Either way, New Orleans (pronounced correctly as Neew-war-lens, not New, Or-leans or Nawlins) is always an incredibly different and refreshing place to go. First, the weather – my favorite – hot & humid – happily I stepped off the plane from an early cooling-off New York over Labor Day; there's an even better contrast for Halloween and most US destinations. Although its not beachy, New Orleans is definitely America’s most cultural & picturesque Party City – where the bars don’t close; the fun never ends (no, I'm not a Vegas fan; though its the only other great spot you can drink in public). There's nothing better than sitting out on a balcony above it all (Hurricane in hand) listening to jazz (or just chaos) emanating from the city below. That’s the key element of this city – live jazz on the streets and constant classic music at a number of clubs, such as La Masion.

Classic to-go Hurricane
While you pay extra as a tourist here (maybe you should, since the area has only just recovered to a pre-Katrina level of economicgrowth) I don’t mind the higher priced drinks during these party periods – but apparently you can buy $3 drinks most of the time. Frankly, I don’t mind Pat O’Brien’s famous Hurricane or slurping down an official Hand Grenade at Tropical Isle – both about $10. I’m on vacation after all; I can drink a vodka-soda (splash of cran) anywhere! And of course, head down for beignets at Café Du Monde – early in the morning is a great time to avoid the lines and have these fancy doughnuts soak up the alcohol (it’s open 24/7 I learned after a lengthy eve).

St. Anne & Bourbon Street - the center of gay fun!
The “Gay Corner” at St. Anne & Bourbon Street has standby’s Bourbon Pub and Oz – as well as Good Friends not far up St. Anne. This is where the magic happens – and both bars compete. Oz is definitely the younger crowd – and more of a club with the large dance floor and balconies above. Further down Bourbon is Café Lafitte In Exile, the oldest continually operating gay bar in the US and further down (for party weekends) the Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop& bar serves a classic “purple drank” made with whiskey.

Also a must-visit is Corner Pocket, the trashiest of fun bars a few blocks away. Well-endowed (or well-in-need) guys from all over the south come here to get paid for their not so hidden parts as they dance & strip on the bar. An older crowd typically tips the boys at the bar & fully enjoys while tourists and younger guys chat & look on. Usually a place to stop by early in the evening for a drink – and you might even make a very popular friend. If you want an older crowd, head to The Phoenix/Eagle a bit further away and enjoy the leather parties – and upstairs if you dare; I don’t think they even have underwear!

The Country Club - for daytime relaxation on an
otherwise busy party weekend
But don’t just stay in the Quarter – venture beyond Canal & Esplanade to Tulane & Loyola & tour the Garden District’s beautiful homes. Spend a lot of time eating great food - you can't miss Green Goddess for food & awesome drinks. I happened upon a lovely lunch-time show at Buffa's and you must wander Frenchman Street! It’s a wild time in this no holds bar rainbow-clad weekend and the fun doesn’t stop – each day there is also a pool party not too far away – it used to be clothing optional but a drugged girl & overzealous city policing ruined the party. Still you can relax with friends in the hot tub - toast away your hangover and find new friends before heading back to the fun.
Ashton with a Hand Grenade

For hospitable weather nearly year-round (except for those pesky Hurricane's and of course this is not for the heat-sensitive), incredible music - and a gay ole time - New Orleans should always be on your calendar for yearly or at least periodic adventures, be they for Southern Decadence, Halloween, Mardi Gras (for the huge crowd lovers), Red-Dress Run (in August) or just any other time of the year!
Bourbon Pub - St. Anne & Bourbon Street

Friday, July 31, 2015

Guide to the Concrete Jungle -- GAYographer's first published article!

Check out my first published article at the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter!

Fall Offerings Abound in the Big Apple

by Ashton Giese

It's been a cool California summer in New York, which means perhaps the heat might hit us now. Come enjoy smoldering late nights at some of the best parties on the planet, but only after your soul is warmed by the toppest of top-notch theater and your appetite satisfied by your choice of any cuisine from around the globe. Whether or not you're visiting in August, September or later this fall, if the concrete jungle doesn't keep you warm the people, events, and excitement will keep you on fire.

Where to disco nap and store your bag

Don't yet have close friends willing to host you? It's certainly always more fun to stay with a friend, but if you're traveling with the beau or your friends, Hotel Tonight could be an easy last-minute option to find a solid room at slightly less than outrageous prices. Of course, now there's Airbnb – and Mister Airbnb, if you want a gay host. But let me help you choose from NYC's endless locales.
You'll certainly get a good rate up in Harlem or Washington Heights; near the A-C-E or 1-2-3 subway lines you can zip down to "gay central" Hells Kitchen in 20 minutes (or get lazy and meet Colombia students at dive-bar Suite). Also you can crash across town in Astoria, Queens – always a thriving neighborhood – yet there's only one real gay bar, Icon. On the far-east side in Brooklyn, Bushwick will also be inexpensive if you enjoy the hipster experience. Or if you'd rather see strollers than skateboards, stay with the lesbians in Park Slope (on Brooklyn's south side) and go out to Ginger's.
From Brooklyn, at least you can reach New York's newest "Times Square": Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. Weekends here are jam-packed and the subway stop is filled with buskers. Enjoy good eats at Schmorgasburg () on Saturdays and any night of the week you will love the scruffy, hot hipster crowd at gay bar/club Metropolitan. Of course, if you truly want to live like a local, East Village is the best 'hood that feels like a neighborhood and where you'll even find vegan pet food. Eat some of the most different food in the world – from Ukrainian Veselka ("Rainbow") to fancy celebrity-favorite Japanese at Robataya.
Even more, from here, you can walk over to the West Village – arguably the world's best place to wander. Stand in line for famous baker Dominique Ansel's original cronut shop (usually sold out by 9:30 a.m.), browse at uber-designer boutiques and chill out in Washington Square Park as theater troupes, and piano and jazz musicians entertain you. In addition, if you walk south, you're in the heart of all the big stores of Soho. Get those designer tees at Uniqlo and Top Shop and dive into the New York dark, gray style at All Saints.
But of course the most popular location – with still OK rates – is the Times Square area (especially for those short weekend trips). This gives you access to the popular Hells Kitchen area as well as one last critical element of your New York adventure: Broadway.

What's on Broadway this fall

The now on-Broadway production of LGBT musical, Fun Home , is the current Tony Award holder for best musical, and also won awards for best actor, director, original score and best book. Not only is this a must-see for LGBT audiences, but also its intimate – though low-key – presentation will make you cry and laugh. It's not a big number or big production show, but it's special, cute and extremely well arranged for the Circle In The Square Theatre (where every seat is practically on stage).

... Read the rest at the Bay Area Reporter

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Riga: EuroPride where it’s needed!

Rainbow over Riga after Pride weekend on June 22
With the heavy influence of Russian “news” and many people who still consider Russian their main language, it’s difficult to change hearts and minds in Riga – as well as the other Baltic states. That's part of the reason EuroPride organizers decided to hold it here - the first EuroPride in a former USSR country! Thankfully, after nearly 10 years of sometimes dangerous Pride events, there were only a few protesters, a couple thrown items and (pleasantly) many smiling faces & waving hands that lined the route – even a party on a balcony! People here can be and are generous and friendly – yet you won’t immediately be welcomed and making friends, I imagine, takes time. Thankfully, there’s an incredible hipster culture here (Riga's central 'hood was named the most "hipster" in the world!) that in most instances is at least gay-neutral if not friendly.

End of the Pride route in Riga
This is a part of the world known for dreary cool weather – but the sun also shone down on this Saturday for Pride! Locked closed and lined with police for the duration of the day’s activities, Vērmanes Dārzs Park served as the staging ground for the main Pride events. I was prepared (per tradition of late) to wear my rainbow suspenders with shorts – but I realized that not only was the weather not quite warm enough to go without a shirt – that’s the stereotype organizers hoped to avoid. So I wore my Stoli tank top (Stoli is bottled Latvia, not Russia like DanSavage had you believe!) with an open white button-down.

Police in full riot gear protect the parade route!
The route was lined with police – at key points in full riot gear (though not as many as I witnessed for Warsaw Pride in 2013) – and shoulder high barricades (not tape) prevented onlookers from really participating. Yet it was also lined with people sometimes watching sternly, but more often smiling or waving; sometimes accepting rainbow flags I helped hand out and even cheering. Let’s face it, here was not the place where I would get to make-out on the route with my “pride boyfriend” those would only be accessed later at the bar (or via Planet Romeo, Grindr or Hornet). Several times I had to check myself, because new friends even balked at public hugs!

Posing with Country star Steve
Grand & US Embassy Berlin 
Spokesperson, Tim Standaert
The route took us around the main city center in a circle – and a return to the Park for speakers - (including the US LGBT Envoy & Chargé at the US Embassy), songs and cute US (gay) country singer SteveGrand! The week before Saturday’s celebration included dozens of workshops and events at a (truly) hipster local venue known as the Culture House – or as we called it the “Pride House.” All week long, documentaries were shown, speakers explored LGBT issues and people had a constant meeting place to connect. I saw an incredible expose about Baltic Pride as well as a beautiful story of the first gay-married couple in Switzerland. Organizers also held an international conference on Friday – bringing European parliament leaders and major media experts to explain the current (difficult) picture for LGBT people in the Baltics & Eastern Europe. Yes there were a lot of tourists - including many Dutch & Swedish guys here - and even Americans, but I also made an effort to get a taste of local culture.
Golden Bar - Riga

Golden bar and club served as Mozaika’s main Pride Sponsor – with some entertainment and great music all weekend long (even a late-night Sunday close for EuroPride participants!) Competitor XXL (which gets points from me for actually having rainbow visible to passersby) rudely interrupted one of the early Pride press conferences presumably because they were not a sponsor. Sadly, everyone I talked to pretty much bad-mouthed this sleazy bar – and I can see why. Perhaps the bar with sauna upstarirs is not the aspect the broader LGBT community does not want to be associated with – but at least they are willing to put forth a public presence.

New friends in Lithuania!
Besides the dozen or so Latvians involved and volunteering with Mozaika – the local LGBT organization – I met no other locals who actually participated in the events (besides of course the parties) - though even Russians traveled to participate. It’s still difficult for all to be fully and openly gay here. While some may have opposed Pride – questioning the need to "advertise" – most realized its importance even if they decided that they would not march down the street. And that’s the true purpose of Pride – to show some visibility – and to show those that fear that they have a reason not to – that they can be visible.

Pancakes & Rhubarb
Not only did I get to party and participate in helping to show some of that visibility, but I had the opportunity to experience Latvia - and nearby Lithuania as well. The food is hearty - and potato heavy - but I especially enjoyed Rhubarb drinks & potato pancakes - and of course the variety of sausage! Vilnius is also particularly beautiful - and one daring new friend was even willing (perhaps making his own stand) to hold my hand through the city center on a weekday evening. We had some surprised or confused stares but nothing untoward. The weather may be cooler than I would like - but the people here are warm and their desire for change burns bright.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Secrets of NYC: Getting Around - Colossal Calf Muscles

Stars show up at 12am in the East Village!
I love the East Village because it has the most balance between a neighborhood feel, food and fun – plus it’s still very central. Sure, you’ve got to exit on foot to reach the subway but walking is the main-stay of New York. Not only is it more social (great people watching) but it keeps you fit (as long as you don’t get hit by a taxi). Plus you never know whom you’ll run into. Walking through my hood, I happened upon Steve Buscemi and Nathan Lane filming a scene for the Jim Gaffigan Comedy Show on my way to a (thus) interesting but in the end unsuccessful Grindr date.

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But of course you can’t walk always – this is a big city! After my first night in the EV (and my first post), I decided to investigate my subway commute – a pretty penny at $2.75 to enter but weekly (for tourists) or monthly passes are smart to get. A quick 20 minutes down to Wall Street for me; Union Square is a 10 minute walk – and the 4/5 Express can zip you right down. Unless of course there are delays, when it’s likely that the 6 local trains work faster. For the most part, you should remember that “express” trains in Manhattan only get you places 2-5 minutes faster (in the best circumstances) – they are usually slower moving even if they make less stops – and are subject to more delays during rush hour.

Citibiking along the FDR Bike-way
I’ve seen smartly dressed commuters leave the 1 local train from up in Harlem (when I was living there) while I decided to continue riding; 15-20 minutes later they would re-enter my same train to get to local stops in lower Manhattan. Their attempt to ride “express” failed!

In the summer I try to avoid the subway, especially for a commute. Trains can work effectively for many trips – especially from Wall Street to the uber-gay Hells Kitchen area - but the subway can wear you down, especially at crowded & delayed rush hour. Not only is it dirty – but it’s smelly. Of course, the buskers make it fun – and I always hand over a few dollars for making this dreary place livelier. Still, you have to face facts – the NYC subway maybe the longest, most “efficient” US subway system but there’s little competition – and it’s the largest default homeless shelter in the world as well!

Beautiful East River views
Besides walking, what also builds great NYC calf muscles is cycling; Citi-bike-share is also an available option for traversing – though fraught with peril as you compete for space from delivery guys speeding (on electric bikes) the opposite direction on one-ways. Yet there are protected lanes in the city and picturesque spots that you only see while riding.

Nothing beats the Brooklyn Bridge
Thus on my return commute, I discovered my new top option for the summer’s commute! My bike trip takes me down the FDR Bikeway – sadly under the FDR expressway. A blessing in the summer heat (I’m sure) – but on this cool spring day I wanted some sun. The trail isn’t located in an ideal space, but the view out is beautiful with the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge flowing out to Brooklyn and the East River before you. The Westside has a more open outdoor bike trail – and a few major streets are ok to bike down (at least late at night!) definitely avoid the 8th Avenue bike lane – it’s just too full of taxis, pedestrians or food carts!

Yellow cabs are everywhere!
Of course, New York is known for its taxis – and there are obviously times – and places - where they are the most effective means. But certainly not during rush hour periods in midtown or weekend evenings. Uber can be an alternative as well – but usually you can get a cab more quickly and the price is not so different. Getting across town may be a good time to cab – especially if you’re with people – but don’t forget about buses too. Just remember to pay for your fare before you enter the bus at certain (usually busy) places – look for ticket dispensers or signage at the bus stop.

This is very critical on the M60 bus – if you fly into (or depart) LaGuardia Airport (LGA) (and don’t want to spend $40-60 on a cab) you must be sure to purchase your fare and get a receipt before boarding the bus. MTA transit police love to harass tourists in the city who don’t know better – police have boarded my bus on 3 different occasions! It’s a $150 fine if you don’t have your receipt. Flying into JFK is easier – but you can’t avoid paying $7.75 to take the AirTrain and Subway to get into the city.
This guy was in the ad!

So build up those calf muscles – also by carrying your suitcases up and down subway stairs – this is the city where you don’t need to worry about implants; you’ll have strong, sexy "calves" in no time living here. Whether that’s walking, biking or just standing & “surfing” on the subway. Besides, who knows who you might meet in any of these public places – if you’re willing to smile or say hello – I’ve had a few subway “boyfriends” and met more than one group casually on the street; secretly, New York is also friendly if you’re willing initiate.