Beware! demons hide behind the screen

HYDERABAD: From having free-wheeling discussions and finding a space for ‘open conversations’ to sometimes even stumbling on love, the LGBTQIA+ community found a new haven behind the screens of computers and smart phones after chat-rooms and dating apps became ‘safe online spaces’. However, on the flip side, exposing their identities in the cyber space has paved way to harassment, abuse, extortion and even blackmail. How does one secure their ‘cyber safety’? 


Jayan, a city based IT professional, met his ex-boyfriend through Grindr, a dating app in 2015, but little did he know that his life was going to change…for worse. “I started using the app when I was in Mumbai and continued using it even after I shifted to the city. Though the probability of meeting someone who matched my profile was very rare, I tried my luck and finally met him,” narrates Jayan who recently came out to his friends and family.

“The first few dates were all right …but I slowly started noticing a change in him. He started using derogatory terms against people in the community and I didn’t know what was going on. I feared to step out of the relationship because, by then, I had shared every intimate detail with him,” he recalls. After months of abuse, Jayan decided to end the ‘toxic relationship’, but to his horror, he was blackmailed with private pictures and videos, which involved nudity.

“I did not see that coming. Hailing from a conservative family, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what would happen if those photos and videos were leaked. I remained silent, and used to give money whenever he demanded. I distanced myself from him…till he stopped harassing me,” he shares. 

However, after Jayan came out to his friends and family, they took it surprisingly well. “I think I should have initiated that talk much earlier. I was afraid that they wouldn’t accept me. But, they did… and since they supported me, I was able to fight through the hard times,” he adds. But many from the LGBTIQA+ are subjected to such abuse and extortion quite often.

It’s traumatic for anyone to live in the fear of being judged for their gender orientation and/or sexuality. Vinay Chandran, a counsellor who has been working with LGBTQIA+ communities for nearly 20 years, says that you should understand the law to avoid and fight against such harassment. For example, threat and extortion are punishable under Section 384 of the Indian Penal Code. “Let the blackmailer know that you are not afraid to seek legal help or go to the police,” he says. 

But what about people who are still in the closet and scared of consequences? “It’s this fear that any abuser feeds on. They think that you will not reveal yourself. That’s when being comfortable with yourself to tackle the outer world becomes more important,” he avers. 

L Ramakrishnan, a community volunteer, adds that action can be taken against violation of privacy with intent to cause emotional distress and trauma for an individual. “In many cases, people are threatened by strangers or close friends-turned-foes to expose photographs from dating sites or private chat messages and so on. That is punishable by law,” he says emphasising the need to be aware of your legal rights. 

I used to be quiet about the fact that I perform abortions. Now I’m upfront.


The author, a gynecologist who performs abortions, has a tattoo on her arm of a coat hanger and phrase “Never again,” to reflect her concern that abortion rights are being restricted. (iStock/Lily illustration)

One month after Donald Trump was elected president, I leaned back in a black leather chair as a man hovered over me. For the first time in decades, the fate of Roe v. Wade seemed to be in real doubt. Feeling a mix of anxiety, sadness and resolve, I thought: I’m committed now.

The tattoo artist slowly etched, on my right forearm, a rather large coat hanger — the symbol of illegal abortions that cost unknown numbers of women their lives in the years before Roe. Overlaid, in bold lettering, were the words “Never again.” From now on, unless I was in long sleeves, everyone I met would see my tattoo the moment we shook hands — at the office, at parties, in the supermarket, on first dates.

To many people, the only thing worth knowing about me is that I am a doctor who performs abortions. They probably don’t think much about my amazing family, my three little dogs, my devotion to my students, or my skill at restoring old furniture.

At parties, sometimes a woman will catch my eye from across the room and make a beeline toward me. As we chat, she will reveal, in a hushed voice: “I’ve had an abortion.” I’m simultaneously touched and saddened that my new acquaintance feels compelled to tell her story to a complete stranger — and to do so in a whisper.

The party-goers have clearly talked before I arrived: Colleen is going to be here tonight. Did you know she does abortions? I am a symbol before I even ring the doorbell.

How could I expect the men I date to be any different? In the past, I’ve tried every strategy: Burying references in my online dating profile; waiting until the third date to talk about the specifics of my work; carefully dropping the word “abortion” in conversation and watching for a reaction.

And there’s always a reaction. Every man I have ever dated — no matter how liberal or open-minded he professes to be — has flinched, looked away, or gone silent when I first tell him what I do. Abortion becomes shorthand for so many things that are difficult to talk about: intimacy, alienation, poverty, violence, lack of opportunity, disappointment, illness, and the general messiness of human bodies and circumstances. I watch myself transform from potential girlfriend into political symbol. In more instances than I’d like to recall, this has meant that a new relationship ends before it really starts. The majority of American adults support a woman’s right to an abortion, but it’s another matter to date someone who performs them.

Because of increasing restrictions at the state level, abortion access across the United States has gone from bad to worse. For example, in Pennsylvania, where I live and work, a recent bill (SB3) proposed by the state legislature seeks to ban surgical abortions in the second trimester. If this bill passes, my patients’ lives could be endangered; and if I follow the standard protocols to save them, I could be prosecuted under the law as a felon. This bill was written without consulting with any medical experts, and is strongly opposed by all mainstream medical associations and physician groups. And yet, it may pass with enough votes to override even our governor’s veto.

Embracing the symbol of the coat hanger meant also accepting myself as a symbol, which I had always resisted. But as I shed the stigma of being an abortion provider, I felt free. I was tired of playing games, and for the first time in my life, I was ready for someone to love me because I provide abortions, not in spite of it. With that tattoo, I made some other changes: No more batting my eyelashes on dates, feigning innocence or acting apologetic about who I am. No more waiting the requisite three days to call back, or counting down three dates to have sex if I wanted to.

An unexpected side effect of the 2016 election is that many people have become vocal about their support for reproductive rights. Suddenly, dating an abortion provider can be cool, a way to proclaim one’s liberal street cred. I met an investment banker who was close to a decade younger than I am. For him, my profession seemed to add to the edginess of dating an older woman. There was the hard-partying Alaskan fisherman on an extended shore break, who found my commitment to reproductive justice “hot.” So, abortion providers are “hot” now? As time goes on, I sometimes forget about the tattoo entirely. Once, I wore long sleeves before becoming intimate with a fascinating biomedical engineer, and, when he first saw the tattoo, he burst out laughing, apparently delighted by my commitment to the cause.

Neither the tattoo nor my new perspective changed everything. There was the entrepreneur with political aspirations who sent mixed messages and ultimately drifted away. Was it because I could be a liability to him in some future election, or was he just not over his ex? Being more open about what I do has not led to perfect communication or the end of insecurity.

In addition, the ongoing threats to reproductive health care have left me with little extra energy to deal with disapproval or embarrassment from men. If it becomes clear that I’ll have to bend and cajole to win someone’s support, there will be no second date. A friend once said, “Behind many woke men are exhausted feminists” — and I’m no longer willing to exhaust myself for the comfort of others. In the best instances, my newfound impatience and clarity have allowed for deeper connections and a sense of shared purpose.

Recently, an online dating match messaged me and, without knowing my specialty, began lamenting the threat of SB3. He’s an attorney temporarily based in North Dakota, where he’s defending Standing Rock protesters. Our conversation about social justice led to such a strong connection that we ended up meeting despite the distance.

Whatever happens, I will no longer be silent or fearful when a new love interest — or anyone — makes me feel exposed and vulnerable. As my tattoo says: Never again.

READ MORE:

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Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

Trump had received private assurances from then-FBI Director James B. Comey starting in January that he was not personally under investigation. Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing.

Five people briefed on the interview requests, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said that Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week. The investigation has been cloaked in secrecy, and it is unclear how many others have been questioned by the FBI.

A guide to the five major investigations of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to RussiaView Graphic A guide to the five major investigations of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia

The NSA said in a statement that it will “fully cooperate with the special counsel” and declined to comment further. The office of the director of national intelligence and Ledgett declined to comment.

The White House now refers all questions about the Russia investigation to Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz.

“The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal,” said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Kasowitz.

The officials said Coats, Rogers and Ledgett would appear voluntarily, though it remains unclear whether they will describe in full their conversations with Trump and other top officials or will be directed by the White House to invoke executive privilege. It is doubtful that the White House could ultimately use executive privilege to try to block them from speaking to Mueller’s investigators. Experts point out that the Supreme Court ruled during the Watergate scandal that officials cannot use privilege to withhold evidence in criminal prosecutions.

The obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter. Mueller’s office has taken up that work, and the preliminary interviews scheduled with intelligence officials indicate that his team is actively pursuing potential witnesses inside and outside the government.

The interviews suggest that Mueller sees the question of attempted obstruction of justice as more than just a “he said, he said” dispute between the president and the fired FBI director, an official said.

Investigating Trump for possible crimes is a complicated affair, even if convincing evidence of a crime were found. The Justice Department has long held that it would not be appropriate to indict a sitting president. Instead, experts say, the onus would be on Congress to review any findings of criminal misconduct and then decide whether to initiate impeachment proceedings.

Comey confirmed publicly in congressional testimony on March 20 that the bureau was investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

Comey’s statement before the House Intelligence Committee upset Trump, who has repeatedly denied that any coordination with the Russians took place. Trump had wanted Comey to disclose publicly that he was not personally under investigation, but the FBI director refused to do so.

Soon after, Trump spoke to Coats and Rogers about the Russia investigation.

Officials said one of the exchanges of potential interest to Mueller took place on March 22, less than a week after Coats was confirmed by the Senate to serve as the nation’s top intelligence official.

Coats was attending a briefing at the White House with officials from several other government agencies. When the briefing ended, as The Washington Post previously reported, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Coats told associates that Trump had asked him whether Coats could intervene with Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe, according to officials. Coats later told lawmakers that he never felt pressured to intervene.

A day or two after the March 22 meeting, Trump telephoned Coats and Rogers to separately ask them to issue public statements denying the existence of any evidence of coordination between his campaign and the Russian government.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the president’s requests, officials said.

It is unclear whether Ledgett had direct contact with Trump or other top officials about the Russia probe, but he wrote an internal NSA memo documenting the president’s phone call with Rogers, according to officials.

As part of the probe, the special counsel has also gathered Comey’s written accounts of his conversations with Trump. The president has accused Comey of lying about those encounters.

Mueller is overseeing a host of investigations involving people who are or were in Trump’s orbit, people familiar with the probe said. The investigation is examining possible contacts with Russian operatives as well as any suspicious financial activity related to those individuals.

Last week, Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had informed Trump that there was no investigation of the president’s personal conduct, at least while he was leading the FBI.

Comey’s carefully worded comments, and those of Andrew McCabe, who took over as acting FBI director, suggested to some officials that an investigation of Trump for attempted obstruction may have been launched after Comey’s departure, particularly in light of Trump’s alleged statements regarding Flynn.

“I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards, to try and understand what the intention was there, and whether that’s an offense,” Comey testified last week.

Mueller has not publicly discussed his work, and a spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.

Accounts by Comey and other officials of their conversations with the president could become central pieces of evidence if Mueller decides to pursue an obstruction case.

Investigators will also look for any statements the president may have made publicly and privately to people outside the government about his reasons for firing Comey and his concerns about the Russia probe and other related investigations, people familiar with the matter said.

Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that he was certain his firing was due to the president’s concerns about the Russia probe, rather than over his handling of a now-closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, as the White House had initially asserted. “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

The fired FBI director said ultimately it was up to Mueller to make a determination whether the president crossed a legal line.

In addition to describing his interactions with the president, Comey told the Intelligence Committee that while he was FBI director he told Trump on three occasions that he was not under investigation as part of a counterintelligence probe looking at Russian meddling in the election.

Republican lawmakers seized on Comey’s testimony to point out that Trump was not in the FBI’s crosshairs when Comey led the bureau.

After Comey’s testimony, in which he acknowledged telling Trump that he was not under investigation, Trump tweeted that he felt “total and complete vindication.” It is unclear whether McCabe, Comey’s successor, has informed Trump of the change in the scope of the probe.

KÉ Interview: Growing up Gay and Korean

On Jul. 15, Seoul will host the 18th Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF), which is expected to draw crowds in their thousands from Korea’s vibrant queer community, as well as its supporters and detractors of LGBT rights. In the run up to the event, Korea Exposé contributor Chris P sat down with Choi Han-min (not his real name), 29, to talk about what it was like growing up gay in South Korea and how he feels about this year’s festival. The following is an abridged version of the interview that took place in Seoul on Jul. 8.

***

Chris: Let’s start with childhood. When did you know you were gay and what did it mean to you?

Han-min: While I didn’t notice it at the time, I guess I must have been ‘different’ from as early as the age of 6. I used to play with dolls and play the role of princess; my parents didn’t think much of it. At school, I was always known as the strange one, the one who was different and would make the boys and girls laugh. As kids, we were young and innocent and knew little of the world. As we became more aware of gender roles, classmates would start calling me names. To them I was a ‘girl’ or ‘sissy.’ I thought nothing of it, and did not take offense.

So you didn’t mind the name-calling?

Things became tough when I entered middle school. The labelling became more severe and I became aware of the negative connotations associated with the name-calling. By the age of 12 I can say that I was an introvert. I started keeping to myself because I didn’t want to be ‘different’ in front of others. I hated it. I stopped interacting with others as it would cause me pain. My parents must have thought I was a troubled child. I probably was. I was sad.

[South Korean] boys love to talk about girls and dating. Was this ever an issue for you?

On the contrary, it wasn’t. Sure, we used to exchange porn files via online messenger during middle school, but we never discussed these things in person. Luckily, studying came first over girls.

Coming back to my first question: when did you become aware that you were gay?

You know, I consider myself lucky. I grew up in the age of the Internet. We had forums and chat rooms of all sorts. These chat rooms used to have category names bracketed in the title. When I was 12, I remember coming across the ek category. While not explicit in the title, ek chatrooms were for gays. Guys would discuss matters that I could relate to. I developed an online persona; we all did. I joined a Daum online cafe. We all had online boyfriends.

So you knew you were gay?

It’s not that easy. Yes, I definitely knew I was different, I knew I liked boys, and I knew I was part of this secret community, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying I was gay. Instead, we’d use the word iban which is a derivative from the word ilban which means ‘normal.’ It was, and still is, our comfort word to describe who/what we are to ourselves as minorities, without others needing to label us in a derogatory way. In that sense, I knew I was iban.

Was being called ‘gay’ derogatory then?

There is actually a third word: dongseongaeja which literally means homosexual. This word was considered the most degrading thing. The image conjured up by the word dongseongaeja in South Korea is a shady old man dying from AIDS. It was such a horrible word to even mutter, even among iban folks. The word ‘gay’ came with the import of American dramas, websites and whatnot. ‘Gay’ would come to mean ‘likes boys but can also be young, good looking, and cool.’

When did you meet someone for the first time?

I met my first offline boyfriend when I was 13. I still remember our first kiss. It was so exciting.

Did you tell anyone?

Yes, my best friend. But he became distant and I subsequently lost contact with him. Actually, I had always thought of him as iban. He would tell me about how he would touch boys down below. In biology class, I remember he said he was aroused by looking at diagrams of male genitals. But when I told him I had a boyfriend, he suddenly became cold, no doubt because he thought my coming out would make him realize he too was gay. I recently found out he got married [to a girl]. Such are the pressures to conform in South Korean society.

Did you tell your parents?

I told my mom I liked boys when I was 15. She cried. She asked me if I was transgender. Back then, South Korean model-turned-singer Harisu had come out as trans. It was a hot topic. My mom likened my ‘condition’ to wanting to cut off my penis and becoming a girl. She couldn’t understand what I was saying. To her, it meant I wanted to be a dongseongaeja, something unimaginable for any parent. No matter how many times I tried to explain to her, she still couldn’t understand. It’s a useless debate. For her to truly understand, and for her to acknowledge I was gay and not a dongseongaeja, [in later years] I had to introduce her to my boyfriend – first as a friend she would come to like, then as my partner.

Did you feel let down?

Most certainly. Even several years after my coming out, my mom couldn’t understand who I was inside. She had no reference point aside from the church. I was so desperate for her to understand. I needed her love more than ever, but didn’t get it. I became a wild child. I became aggressive. After high school, I went to the UK to learn English. I was so desperate to leave this country.

Do you think South Korea is homophobic?

South Korea is most definitely homophobic. South Koreans, at least the older ones, think gay means dongseongaeja. This country doesn’t teach it at school, doesn’t support it, even imprisons people [in the military]. Things are changing and many South Koreans are exposed to other ways of thinking, be it through film and TV or studying abroad. These days, some think it’s cool to have a gay friend just like in Sex and the City. But many older people, they just cannot understand.

Do you blame religion?

Yes and no. On the outside, it looks like religion is the issue at hand. But I think it is all rooted in Korea’s unfortunate history. Korea for most of its part has been a conservative Confucian country at heart. We have been through many past invasions, hardships, and the Korean War. We have this ingrained mentality of having to unite as one against a common enemy, be it the Mongols [who subjugated Korea in the 13th century], the Japanese or the North Koreans. Christianity was one of the best means to unite people under one dominant ideology. Christianity was also important because it is at odds with communism. I believe the notion of ‘Christianity’ in South Korea is bigger than the religion itself.

The result? We make everything the same. Everyone must think alike. Social cohesion gives us a sense of security. We all pursue the same things, we live in identical apartment blocks. For men, the military universalizes the concept of sameness among men. Anyone or anything assigned to the fringe is considered deviant because it will weaken the glue that binds us all against the enemy. The church has been very effective in spreading the idea of needing to believe in a greater being to help bind them and fight against a fictitious threat.

For radical Christians, you aren’t ‘born this way’ but ‘become this way’ and that’s what threatens them so much. They think if we start to allow ‘dongseongaeja’ to become recognized as part of society, it means making the country weak. People will be lured into homosexuality, the ultimate act of the devil. They think that if the number of gay people spirals out of control, the family unit as we know will disintegrate, rendering South Korea weak and vulnerable. In that sense, while I disagree with it, I understand why they, and for that matter President Moon, are so afraid of allowing gays to serve openly in our military. They claim it weakens our very nation. That’s also the reason you’ll see the radical protesters wearing traditional Korean hanbok attire and waving Korean flags. To them, this is very personal, and at the same time against their Republic of Korea.

 

Is homosexuality their enemy now?

They [radical Christians] need something to be against in order to unite and play up their credentials as patriots. The problem here is that there is no real enemy. Sure, North Korea does exist, but on a day-to-day basis, it does not affect our everyday lives. For that matter, even North Koreans are Koreans… so Christians pick on someone else: gays. The fact is, nothing they say is rational or makes sense. I feel sorry that they believe they are under attack.

Will you be attending Seoul’s Pride Parade?

At first I decided I wouldn’t go. To be honest, I’m scared someone might recognize me. It’s easy for you as a foreigner to be more open than me in South Korean society. I’m trying to build my career, and if people knew, it could have devastating effects. My boss is one of these super-religious folks. I cannot even imagine what would happen if someone from my company found out or identified me.

Also, I think that pride parades are a bit grotesque in that I’m not sure half-naked bodies parading on floats give off the best idea to non-gays. If anything, it might reinforce the radical Christians’ belief that gay means filthy sex. Unlike in Western countries where anything goes, the same cannot be said about South Korea. These people [radical Christians] are raging mad. They have such hatred in their eyes. As they are not rational thinkers, whatever you do or say won’t change their minds; it will only provoke them further.

That said, I do think we need more representations of gay people, to show to other South Koreans that we exist. I still have my reservations, but I think that I would be ashamed of myself if I ended up not going to the parade.

What else does South Korea need to change then?

Netflix. We need soft power – be it South Korean TV or dramas – introducing gay life and gay characters. We need people in positions of authority to come out as gay. We need education. Telling my mom to accept I’m gay was futile. But softly exposing her to it, that was what made all the difference. It is high time to change the narrative of the LGBT community from one of dongseongaeja to that which is gay.

 

Cover image: the 2016 pride parade in Seoul (credit: Chris P)

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Men seeking men makes moves from gay chat rooms

ON STAGE

What: OUTstages theatre festival
Where: Metro Studio, Intrepid Theatre Club
When: June 20 to 24
Tickets: $20, $25 (three-show passes $50) via intrepidtheatre.com or 101-804 Broughton St.

 

Delving into the world of gay chat rooms as a teen probably wasn’t a good idea, Indrit Kasapi admits.

In his dance-theatre piece MSM (men seeking men), the Toronto actor/playwright uses verbatim transcripts of online conversations he had with gay men as a 16-year-old.

“It did shock me how dangerous those situations could have been. But I didn’t feel they were dangerous at the time,” said Kasapi, now 32.

Staged by Kasapi’s Toronto based Lemontree Creations, MSM (men seeking men) will be performed at the Metro Studio next week. The 60-minute work for five performers is part of Intrepid Theatre’s third annual OUTstages queer performance festival, running June 20 to 24.

Featuring an all-queer cast (including Kasapi as a DJ), the show examines gay hook-up culture, racism, homophobia and fetishism. As well as Kasapi’s own transcripts, the text features excerpts of other men’s online chats.

One critic described MSM (men seeking men) as being “not for the timid.” Kasapi says that’s likely a reference to the dancing, which is sometimes on the suggestive side. “There are dancers who are touching each other, moving with each other. Sometimes it can get violent. Sometimes it can get really sexual,” he said.

Kasapi moved to Canada with his family from his native Albania when he was 15. He started participating in gay chat rooms a year later.

“I wasn’t hooking up. But I was meeting others and inquiring. I was a 16-year-old who wasn’t quite aware of who I was, sexually speaking,” he said.

A decade later, as an adult, Kasapi stumbled across the half-forgotten transcripts of these conversations, still on his computer. Realizing they might make a good theatre piece, he put them aside.

MSM (men seeking men) was first performed at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2013 and at Worldpride Toronto in 2014. It was nominated for six Broadway World Toronto Awards.

The five-day OUTstages festival also includes Tomboy Survival Guide, Country Song, Love with Leila, Diva Cab, a series of free lobby talks and an evening of play-reading featuring emerging playwrights.

Tomboy Survival Guide, which played OUTstages last year, is a collection of tomboy tales delivered by transgender performer/ writer Ivan Coyote. Country Song is by playwright-performer Lee-Anne Poole, who learned to play the guitar especially for this tribute to her father.

Love with Leila is created and performed by Toronto’s Izad Etemadi, a former student at Victoria’s Canadian College of Performing Arts. The show is a comic look at the quest for romance by Leila, dubbed a “Persian Judy Garland” by one critic. Diva Cab is a showcase for local performers, including Pacific Opera Victoria pianist Robert Holliston and tenor Joey Bulman. (Full festival details are available at intrepidtheatre.com.)

The OUTstages festival was founded by and is curated by Sean Guist, Intrepid Theatre’s marketing and development manager. Guist says the mandate is to showcase the best of “adventuresome queer theatre” from across Canada.

He stressed the festival is for any theatre lover, not just members of the LGBTQ community.

“What we’re doing with OUTstages is bringing some of those cutting-edge performances that just happen to have a queer lens on it,” Guist said.

Kasapi said that while MSM (men seeking men) is about gay dating, the work has broad appeal. Those who use dating apps will identify with the “funny and frustrating” side of the practice. For others, it’s a “new window” into that world.

Kasapi is now writing a new play for Theatre Passe Mureille, Blood Cycle, about three siblings trying to break away from the Albanian practice of Gjakmarrja, or blood feuding, a tradition in which committing revenge murders to preserve family honour is a social obligation.

As for MSM (men seeking men), Kasapi admitted he’s never told his parents that some of the transcripts in his show chronicle his own conversations.

“When I was reading them in my mid-20s, it was shocking … how open I was in the conversations I was having,” he said.

Asked if he’d have any words of advice for his 16-year-old self, Kasapi chuckled. Then, he said: “Be a bit more careful.”

achamberlain@timescolonist.com