Going Places: Eric Reads the Week, #42

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

Everybody in Minnesota wants you to come visit.

We are, rather improbably, in Stillwater, MN, at the most picturesque, Victorian realness bed and breakfast, The Rivertown Inn. Everybody I've spoken to would like me to invite you to come and visit. All of you.

This B&B used the be a mansion built by the owner of a logging company in the 1800s. It's been lovingly refurbished in the most extra way possible. There is stained glass EVERYWHERE, Tiffany lamps and chandeliers abound, intricate woodwork is nestled into every crevice and corner. This design is beyond. The past was so gay.

It's one of those B&Bs where they serve everyone breakfast at one big, long table. The table had, literally, 5 leaves in it. It was roughly 12 feet long. I screamed. Trying to figure out which fork to use and maintain polite conversation without sounding like a sociopath, I felt, as always, like a combination of Mrs. Peacock in Clue and Julia Roberts in the dinner scene in Pretty Woman.

Most of the people around the table were middle-aged white couples--Minnesotans, a few Iowans, and a few South Dakotans. I should let you know that while I am well-versed in the geography of the United States, I find myself completely unable to understand the Midwest. I have no idea where we are, where it is in relationship to anything else, or how it fits into my existence. I just don't have a context for Minnesota.

No offense to Minnesota, of course. It's not dumb; I am dumb. I just don't get where we are. South Dakota seems so remote and yet it only took us two hours to fly here. Wonders never cease.

Anyway, more than the geographic estrangement, the thing that's really blowing my mind is that this is yet another place in this country where I've been able to find a sense of belonging. Perhaps it's just my liberal, East Coast bubble mind or perhaps it's the reality of, like, living in America, but I am always surprised to find people who are welcoming to me, a black queer person, and my husband. I am even more surprised when I find that people have a context for understanding us as people and can engage us in conversation like anyone else. Perhaps this sounds strange. It feels strange to write about. But as I've gotten older I've become more aware of how many interactions I've had that weren't so much conversations as a series of small, well-intentioned microaggressions.

And it's not geographic, despite my coastal prejudices. It happens in New York as much as anywhere else.

But this weekend in Minnesota has been refreshingly welcoming. As we sat around the breakfast table and I marveled at how beautiful the Midwest is and how nice the towns are, the couples we ate with told me that they are constantly battling the perception that they live in the dark ages and drive horses and buggies. "Tell everyone we have cell phones," a woman from Iowa said. "And tell them to come visit," a woman from Minnesota added. And so I am.

We're here for the wedding of dear friends. David performed the ceremony and I hosted a mini-storytelling show at the reception. The couple are both fans of The Moth, which I host in Philly and DC, and asked me to "do my thing" with family stories at their reception. Of course I obliged. I am always interested in doing my thing under a tent next to a sweet potato bar.

The town we're in is on the banks of the St. Croix river, namesake of La Croix sparkling water. We are in the birthplace of Pampelmousse. We're on a hipster pilgrimage. This is a holy land.

We're going to have a communion supper with little thimble cups full of sparkling water and avocado toast. It seems the thing to do here. And I say that as someone who is only vaguely aware of where here is.

Three years ago this week, David and I were on our third date at the Harry Potter Festival in Chestnut Hill. He was dressed in his graduation gown and a Gryffindor scarf, looking the spitting image of the Boy Wizard. I got really shy around a college student dressed like Cho Chang. David kissed me on the train platform. The air was crisp and electric. Everything was magic.

And a year ago today we got married in a sun-drenched church, surrounded by family and friends, with a live band belting Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston and the Wailin' Jennys. I didn't know, riding the train back from a day spent watching Quidditch with a guy I'd met two months earlier, what kind of trip we were embarking on. I still don't. But I'm here for the journey and all the surprises along the way..

Speaking of journeys, this was one of those weeks where you couldn't help but repeatedly wonder where this country is going. A lot of people made a lot of really questionable choices (which is a pretty good summary of the last year, to be honest). Sometimes the only person who makes any damn sense is Oprah, so let's start with her...

Oprah Hasn't Been to a Bank Since 1988 and I'm So Proud

It started with Ellen asking Oprah, "What's your PIN number?" Oprah, God bless her perfect heart, stares in complete incredulity. It's like Ellen asked "Can you give me turn-by-turn direction to Jupiter?" This is a whole new level of rich. There's wealthy and then there's "hilariously unaware of basic aspects of everyday life." [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Thank Goodness Twitter Is Policing Rose McGowan and Not All of These Actual Monsters

Good news, lovers of freedom! Twitter finally answered our pleas and laid down the law on the account of... ::checks notes:: Rose McGowan?! The actress and advocate was temporarily removed from the service after Twitter said that she had violated their terms of service... Like Munchkinland after Dororthy dropped in, Twitter became a utopian wonderland of mutual respect and civilized discourse. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

I Will Probably Never Get Over This Absurd Stephen Miller Anecdote

Today, the New York Times published a profile of Stephen Miller, the Trump senior advisor whom I sometimes call Young Montgomery Burns or Old Sheldon. It's a rather chilling portrait of the contrarian wunderkind whose placid expressions often call to mind a Keyser Söze statue at Madame Tussaud's. Nestled in the piece, which tracked Miller's quick ascent from high school gadfly to right-hand of the president, is an anecdote that I will probably be laughing about for the rest of the week. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

An In-Depth Appreciation of the New Call Me By Your Name Clip

I fully admit that once the film, based on the novel by Andre Aciman about a sun-drenched May-June romance in 1980s Italy, comes out in November it will be all I'll be able to talk about. From the description alone, it sounds like a Diane Lane movie featuring a same-sex couple, which is, as it happens, exactly what sits in the center of my Venn diagram of interests. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

A Trump-Tillerson IQ Test Is Exactly What the Country Needs Right Now

As you may be aware, the President (of the United States!) recently challenged his own Secretary of State to an IQ test. Don't reboot your brain; you read that right! So... Welcome to the first annual Presidential IQ Test, coming to you live on all channels except for PBS! I'm your host, America's smartest dog, Air Bud. You may be thinking to yourself, "An IQ test? Is this an SNL skit? Wow, that Alec Baldwin is looking bedraggled these days." Don't adjust your set just yet! This is 100% true and 100% what the founders intended when they fought and died for our freedoms. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Some Advice for Bernie on Speaking at the Women's Convention

Far be it from me to question the decision itself. (The irony of I, another cisgender man, telling the Women's Convention how they're doing feminism wrong would be too much, even for 2017. It's not yet bad take o'clock.) But what I can do, Bernie, is remind you of something you probably already know but could stand to hear again (because we call could): Being an ally is as much about listening as it is about speaking, probably more so. [READ THE FULL ARTICLE]

Interview: What It's Like to Come Out to the Whole World at Once

In many ways, Brandi Burgess' is the story of many LGBTQ people from evangelical or politically conservative homes. Many face rejection or scorn when coming out; few, however, find their coming out covered by international press.

In light of National Coming Out Day, I reached out to Brandi—who, I should note, is also a friend—to get some perspective on what it's like to come out in this way and in this political climate, how her life has changed since and how her story might have broader implications for our nation. [READ THE INTERVIEW]

Random thing from the internet...

This was a big Moth week for me. I told a story at the Mainstage in New York City (a first for me!) (Sorry, NYC friends, I was literally up for the show and then back on a train to make a flight to Minnesota) and in between rehearsing the show, performing the show and also, you know, doing my job at ELLE, I hosted the Moth GrandSlam in D.C. Hosting is probably my absolute favorite thing to do. It keeps me on my toes, comedically, it indulges my bottomless desire for attention, and it's a really interesting creative challenge: part curating, part corralling, part creating. I LOVE it. I love it so much I travel 90 miles to Philly and 45 miles to DC once a month to do it. But this isn't about me. The host of the Moth GrandSlam, Tara Clancy, blew my mind, both as a fellow host and as a person who appreciates virtuosic performance. Tara's a Queens-bred storyteller and author with a huge accent and even bigger personality. I was immediately smitten. She was kind enough to give me a copy of her book, The Clancys of Queens, which I have already started devouring. Check out this interview with her on NPR. I cannot recommend her book highly enough.

See the world; it's extraordinary.