Nothing short of a delight.
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"But there are seven billion people in the world! I can't possibly stop to consider how ALL of them might interpret something!" "Ah, yes, there's no middle ground between 'taking personal responsibility for the thoughts and feelings of every single person on Earth' and 'covering your eyes and ears and yelling logically correct statements into the void.' That's a very insightful point and not at all inane."
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76 days ago
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83 days ago
"But there are seven billion people in the world! I can't possibly stop to consider how ALL of them might interpret something!" "Ah, yes, there's no middle ground between 'taking personal responsibility for the thoughts and feelings of every single person on Earth' and 'covering your eyes and ears and yelling logically correct statements into the void.' That's a very insightful point and not at all inane."
83 days ago
"But there are seven billion people in the world! I can't possibly stop to consider how ALL of them might interpret something!" "Ah, yes, there's no middle ground between 'taking personal responsibility for the thoughts and feelings of every single person on Earth' and 'covering your eyes and ears and yelling logically correct statements into the void.' That's a very insightful point and not at all inane."

Aspirational living

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I've always been obsessed with where would be the perfect place to live. I live in the middle of Manhattan, with all its variety and scale. This is where I dreamed of living when I was in Berkeley, and when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s in Queens. When I lived in Palo Alto I dreamed of living in Berkeley. When I lived in quiet places I dreamed of noisy ones. When I was poor in Silicon Valley, I dreamed of a hot tub and swimming pool and big oak trees and a creek and a place to throw great parties. When I grew tired of parties, I moved to Boston to live the academic life. I've lived in the midwest, the deep south, up and down both coasts. Yet still I dream of the perfect place. At this point I believe it doesn't exist.

My mother had a dream like this, about our family. In her dream she was June Cleaver, her husband was Ward, her sons were Wally and Theodore. She wouldn't have put it that way, but when you added up her expectations that's what it came to. But she was no June Cleaver, that's for sure (because JC was a character in a TV show, not an actual person). And none of us were who she dreamed we should be.

I'm still looking for the perfect place to live. I have a list of Zillow subscriptions. I have the economic means to live in any of them. And the personal freedom. Yet for some reason I don't move. It's never the day to go, or even the day to start to go. Maybe because by now I know that when I set up shop in any of these places it will be the same life as it was in NY, and in Berkeley before that, and Florida before that, etc etc.

I thought of this story when I saw this picture of the living presidents and first ladies, with one conspicuous absence, the current president. He too has an aspirational story. He was always looked down on in NY society. He may have been educated, but he was crude. He was from Queens. His dream was to Show Them, to make a place for himself at the top of the pyramid. Then they'll see, I imagine the story-telling voices inside Donald's head say. But that's just what he thinks he wants. It's the equivalent of my mother's dream of being June Cleaver, or my hope to find the perfect place to live. He actually just wants to want to be included. Because this is his chance. Right between Michelle and Melania there's the spot for the Current Leader of the Free World. He could have shown up, been gracious and been photographed in the place he created for himself. But that isn't what he actually wants.

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Photographer Denis Cherim’s ‘Coincidence Project’ Explores Uncanny Moments of Synchronicity

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All photos © Denis Cherim

With an eye for unusual juxtapositions and serendipitous moments where the universe seems to synchronize itself just so, photographer Denis Cherim is there with his camera seeing what the rest of us do not. The ongoing series called the Coincidence Project incorporates a wide variety of photographic approaches from landscapes to street photography and occasionally portraiture. Gathered here are some of our favorites from the last few years, but you can see hundreds more photos by Cherim over on Flickr and Facebook . (via Booooooom)










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773 days ago
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The Haight in San Francisco
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782 days ago
These are all fantastic.

194. LANG LEAV: Your life

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Lang Leav is the best-selling author of three poetry collections: Love & Misadventure, Lullabies (winner of the 2014 Goodreads Choice award for poetry) and Memories.

Lang has been featured in various publications including The Straits Times, The Guardian and The New York Times. She currently resides in New Zealand with her partner and fellow author Michael Faudet.

C.S. Lewis – To Love at All
Sylvia Plath – The Fig Tree
Robert Frost – Road Not Taken
Charles Hanson Towne – Around the Corner
Frank Herbert – Litany Against Fear
Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman
Bill Watterson – A cartoonist’s advice
Shonda Rhimes – A screenwriter’s advice
My Spirit is a Roaring Sea
The Calling

– Follow Lang on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
– Thanks to everyone who suggested I check out Lang’s work.
– Full disclosure: Lang’s publisher Andrews McMeel also publish the Zen Pencils books. They have good taste!

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796 days ago
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797 days ago

Learning to draw, learning to learn

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On January 1, 2015, I started learning to draw.

I’d made a couple brief attempts before, but nothing very serious. I’d eyeballed some official Pokémon artwork on two occasions, and that was pretty much it. I’d been dating an artist for seven years and had been surrounded by artist friends for nearly half my life, but I’d never taken a real crack at it myself.

On some level, I didn’t believe I could. It seemed so far outside the range of things I was already any good at. I’m into programming and math and computers and puzzles; aesthetics are way on the opposite end of a spectrum that only exists inside my head. Is it possible to bridge that huge, imaginary gap? Is it even allowed? (Spoilers: totally.)

In the ensuing sixteen months, a lot of people have — repeatedly — expressed surprise at how fast I’ve improved. I’ve then — repeatedly — expressed surprise at this surprise, because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything particularly special. I don’t have any yardstick for measuring artistic improvement speed; the artists I’ve known have always been drawing for years by the time I first met them. Plenty of people start drawing in childhood; not so many start at 27.

On the other hand, I do have 15 years’ experience of being alright at a thing. I suspect, in that time, I’ve picked up a different kind of skill that’s undervalued, invaluable, and conspicuously lacking from any curriculum: how to learn!

I don’t claim to be great at art, or even necessarily great at learning, but here are some things I’ve noticed myself doing. I hope that writing this down will, at the very least, help me turn it into a more deliberate and efficient process — rather than the bumbling accident it’s been so far.

Crude pencil comic from Jan 1, 2015

I started out doing daily comics, just because Mel was also doing them. The first one was… not terribly great. It hadn’t even occurred to me to bump the contrast on this photo.

At this point I was vaguely aware of some extreme basics:

  • things are made of shapes
  • faces are two dots with a mouth under them
  • arms have some kinda little stubs at the end
  • you can do a squiggle to kind of make fur

I’ve had people tell me I was already drawing better than them here. I can see how I might’ve had a tiny bit of a head start: I do live with two artists, and clumsy attempts at web design have given me a slight appreciation for whitespace and composition. Still, I don’t think this is wildly beyond anyone’s ability.

The most important thing was probably the idea of daily comics, which got me to draw at least one thing a day — several, in fact, since they’re comics. I kept this up through the end of March, at which point I just plain ran out of ideas for comics. There are only so many ways to draw “I worked on computer stuff and also my cat does funny things”. But that’s still 90 days, times an average of at least two panels per comic, which is hundreds of drawings. My first insight is thus:

Do the thing. Do it a lot. No, don’t “practice”. “Practice” sounds rote and repetitive; even reading the word makes me feel pre-emptively bored. Just do it. Find an excuse to do it. Any excuse. You want to write embarrassing fanfiction? Do it. You want to make four-chords pop songs? Do it. You don’t need to do something high-brow or rigorous or chosen from a careful gradient of boring beginner exercises. You just need to something.

Even better, do something regularly and release it publicly (or at least to a moderate circle of people). It helps to have some light pressure, and posting something every day starts to feel like it’s expected of you, even if you’ve never explicitly promised anything.

If it starts to feel like too much of a drag, you can always drop it and try something else. You can take a break for a while, you can do some personal work, you can do whatever self-hack will help you keep doing something.

Digital painting of a landscape from an interesting angle from March 26, 2015

Mel’s birthday is March 26. On March 19, 2015, our roommate gave me his old drawing tablet. I spent most of the ensuing week on the above digital painting.

I’d only colored anything a couple things at this point, all of them basically flood-filled. I hadn’t tried shading, backgrounds, textures, colored lines, perspective.

Naturally, I tried all of them at once. Some of these experiments were, er, more successful than others. (Along similar lines, this year, I animated something for the first time.)

Regardless of the outcome, I’d now done my best at all of these things at least once, and learned a lot about each of them.

I’m reminded of every introductory beginner guide to anything ever, which introduces one concept at a time and carefully shields you from anything you haven’t seen yet. Or stories of programming teachers who will actually chide a student for using something they haven’t been taught yet.

Fuck that noise. Dive in; keep trying things you’ve never tried before. It’s how babies learn a language, which I think is pretty impressive, given that they didn’t already know one. Parents don’t restrict their speech to single-word sentences until the baby has caught on, and then start introducing nouns. They talk normally. The baby marinates in the language and picks it up over time by playing with it, starting with whatever’s most accessible.

And hey, this works for adults too. I’m pretty sure being dropped in a country where no one speaks your native tongue will have you picking up a second language much more quickly than taking night classes and having artificial conversations about dinner dates. The only real advantage a baby has is a complete lack of obligations, so they’re free to sit and listen to people talk all day.

Series of eight roughly increasingly better avatars

I figured another way to do the thing and dive in would be to finally draw my own avatar.

This took a few attempts.

The first two were in March, and I used the first one for a while. 3 through 5 were all done in June in an attempt to replace the first one with something better, but all went unused. Number 6 was the first real success, lasting through the end of the year with a few seasonal variations. 7 was an attempt to update it earlier this year, and the last one is only a few weeks old and is my current avatar.

Some of these are really bad, but I can look at them and tell exactly what I was trying to do.

  1. I didn’t even draw this; I made it with vectors, using the mouse, because I couldn’t draw well enough to make it otherwise.

  2. Drawn by hand with a tablet.

  3. The angle worked out really poorly last time, so I tried working around that by aiming from straight ahead. The ears are no longer solid blobs. There are eyebrows! The nose is shaped more like a nose. The previous colors kinda clashed, so this is more reddish overall.

  4. Straight-on didn’t work out and is hardly identifiable as anything, so back to angled. Still trying to work out pupils. Right ear is drawn behind the bow, so it doesn’t look like the bow is holding it on. I don’t understand mouths, so I’ll cheat and do a smirk instead.

  5. More angled, moved upwards to center the face. Shaded and colored the lines this time. Still trying to work out pupils. Around this time I was trying to figure out how ears on the far side of the head work, and something catastrophic happened here. I was waffling on whether the insides of the ears should have one line or two, so I tried compromising with one line plus a shadow. Bow has a bit of ribbon sticking out, as a hint that it’s tied on and not just glued there.

  6. Made the lines much thicker, so they wouldn’t vanish when shrunk down. Kept the shapes simple for the same reason. Pupils reduced to dots, which actually works just fine. Fluff details are bigger, which helps cohesion. Background color matches the bow color, which helps tremendously. Mouth finally works by being aligned with the bottom of the nose. Shape of the muzzle protrusion is, finally, big enough.

  7. More detailed bow shape. Bow is now clearly tied to the ear. Insides of ears are rendered again. Entire mouth line is shown. Some shading is present again. Pupils have expanded, but not too much, and have a glint again. Lines are colored again.

  8. Small fluff details made bigger again. Background is greener to avoid the clash from last time. Mouth is open and has the little corner crease. Lines rethickened. Dropped the shaded lines, since they didn’t work out last time, but kept the lines as mostly a single non-black color. Thickened the white double outline, which looked goofy in #6 when it was thinner than the regular outline.

In every case I was trying to improve on something that hadn’t gone well before. In every case I was trying to make the best avatar I had ever made. Sometimes that meant trying something I hadn’t tried before; sometimes that meant dropping something that hadn’t worked before; sometimes that meant resurrecting something and fiddling with it until it worked.

Always try to do the best work you’ve ever done. The key is that “best” is entirely subjective, and you can define it however you want! I was terrible at drawing digitigrade legs (like cats’ back legs) for the longest time, so for a while my definition of “best” was “has the best legs I’ve ever drawn”. Pick whatever axes you like. Vary them regularly, too — both to avoid burnout and to avoid concentrating on one thing over all else.

I had a high school teacher who liked to say that “practice makes perfect” is wrong; rather, “perfect practice makes perfect”. I don’t think that phrasing is any more illuminating, but I get his point: repeating exactly the same thing over and over will only make you better at that one thing. Incremental improvement is how you progress. (Hmm, I guess that’s not as catchy.)

There’s a catch to doing this effectively, which might as well be its own bolded quip.

Learn how to tell what’s wrong. This is a tricky muscle to exercise deliberately, but the better you get at it, the more (and more quickly) you can learn from your mistakes. Eventually you learn not to make them in the first place.

Are you a programmer? Spot the problems in this snippet of some C-like language:

if (won = true)
    print("You did it!");
    print("You failed!");
    print("Press any key to try again.");

They probably stick out to you like a sore thumb. You’ve seen and made these basic mistakes so many times that your eye has learned to recoil from the very shape of them. You’re far less likely to make them now, because the moment you make the mistake, your brain vomits a little.

Unfortunately, this is something that only comes with experience, so you’ll just have to slog through making the baby mistakes. Asking for expert advice helps a little, but I think it mostly helps you find the mistake in the first place, so you can notice it again yourself next time. Spotting your own fuckups engraves them into your brain much more effectively than having them pointed out to you.

The one hack I can think of is to drown yourself in good work. The best you can find. If you get a sense for what good work is like, you might at least get the sense that something is off about your own, which is a first step to figuring out what the problem is.

You know how some people are “naturally” talented at a thing? It just “clicks” for them? I strongly suspect their actual natural talent is more about understanding their own mistakes in a particular kind of work, which lets them skip over a lot of the boring beginner part where you fumble around uselessly.

Several pixel art landscapes

Know what’s possible. Every skill has its own toolbox, and part of learning the skill is learning what’s in the toolbox. Being familiar with image editing software has been hugely helpful for experimenting with art; for example, changing the color of your lines is trivial if you know how to use alpha lock. If you don’t know, will you even suspect it exists?

I recall a Doom Let’s Play with a conversation that went like this:

A: Ah, these textures are misaligned. It’s so easy to fix, too; you can just press A in Doom Builder to align everything across several walls.

B: Wait, really? I always do it manually.

A: What? Are you serious? So when you have a big curve made out of a lot of pieces—

B: That’s why I don’t make big curves out of a lot of pieces!

If you think something is impossible (or at least impractical), you cut yourself off from whole areas of experimentation.

Listen to more experienced people when they talk about how they work. Poke around your tools and see what all the buttons do. Come up with your own tricks — it sure worked for Bob Ross.

What does this have to do with pixel art? Not much. Pixel art relates to a rough converse of this, which is that sometimes, it’s nice to limit what’s possible. I’d never really given pixel art a try until I made these last month, and it turned out to be a really fun medium. With the drastically lower resolution and a pre-chosen fixed palette (made by someone else), I was forced to forget about how smooth my curves are or how to pick colors that work well together. Instead, I was free to play with the effects different colors have on each other, experiment with light and shading in a very simple way, and add in small details that I’d usually not think about.

Similarly, I’m now trying out the PICO-8 “fantasy console”, a tiny virtual video game system with some fairly severe restrictions. As a result, after a couple days of effort, I’m much closer to having a (graphical!) video game written than I ever have been before. I’m capable of making my own sprites now, and there can’t be too many of them anyway. Even the music editor is simple enough that I can make a passable tune. If I’d tried to make a little platformer in some massively-powerful general-purpose game engine, I’d have drowned in all the resources and code I’d need to find or create. Which has happened before. Probably more than once.

A blank canvas can be overwhelming sometimes; infinite possibilities are a lot to sift through. Cutting down on those options is freeing in its own way.

Pi Day comic, in 2015 and 2016

Step back and acknowledge your progress.

Learning a thing is frustrating sometimes. A lot of the time, even. Progress is slow and incremental, and on any given day, you won’t feel any better than you were the previous day.

Keep your old stuff around. Look at it from time to time so you can actually see how far you’ve come.

I drew these one year apart. I’m still not great — I immediately see half a dozen things in the more recent version that make me wince. But I’m better.

Illustration of a few critters at the circus

I think this is the most recent thing I’ve finished. It’s certainly a far cry from some pencil scribbles.

I hope I can get much better at this. Expressing ideas visually feels like a superpower — I can take vague images in my head and inject them directly into other people’s eyeballs. It keeps turning out to be useful, too: I’ve drawn myself avatars and banners, I drew the header for this site, I can draw sprites and illustrations for my own little games. It even taught me a few things that turned out to be useful for level design.

So, learn a lot of things. Try radically new things from time to time. Write a poem, bake a cake, make a video game. You’ll have experienced making something new, and you never know when that experience might come in handy. Doing rudimentary web design turned out to give me a head start at understanding color; who would’ve guessed?

I’m only writing this post now because I just realized that I hit a breakthrough point. I don’t really know how to explain it precisely in terms of art, so let me try language instead.

A very frustrating stage of learning a new (spoken) language is the late-beginner stage. You know the basic grammar and understand how the language is generally put together; you just don’t know many words. Learning resources are starting to dry up — everything’s always written for complete beginners — but you struggle to transition to learning from real native media, because you have to stop to look up every other word.

If you stick with it, you’ll eventually claw your way up to a kind of critical mass, where you know enough vocabulary that you can start to pick up the rest from context. You no longer need to spend ten minutes fishing through a dictionary just to understand what someone is talking about, and can instead focus on picking up nuance and idioms and more complex grammar. From there, you can accelerate.

I sense I’ve hit a similar kind of critical mass with drawing. I spent a long time fighting just to get my hand to draw the shapes I wanted, which got in the way of learning what shapes I should want in the first place. I realized only days ago that I don’t have this problem nearly so much any more.

That means I can now experiment with different kinds of shapes! It means I can play with line thickness and rely less on undo, because I don’t have to worry that I won’t be able to redraw a line. It means I can try painting more instead of always having a separate lineart layer. I can try more stuff without struggling with the basics.

It took a while to get here, but it’s paying off, and it’s been pretty cool to watch happen.

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The History Of The Homosexual Flight Attendant – Confessions of a Trolley Dolly


‘My flight was being served by an obviously gay flight attendant. As we prepared for landing, he came swishing down the aisle and said “The Captain has asked me to announce that he’ll be landing the big plane shortly, so lovely people, if you could just fasten your seat belts and put your tray tables up, that would be super”. On his trip back up the aisle he noticed an extremely well dressed and exotic woman who hadn’t moved a muscle. “Perhaps you didn’t hear me over those big brute engines, but I asked you to raise your trazy-poo so the captain can pitty-pat us on the ground”. She calmly turned her head and said, “In my country, I am called a princess and take orders from no one”. Quick as a flash the flight attendant replied “Well, sweet cheeks, in my country i’m called a Queen, so I outrank you.....Tray up, Bitch!”


This joke has been doing the rounds for many years. But is this the stereo-typical image the general public has of male cabin crew? The belief that we are all gay and act like something from a ‘Carry On’ film? If so, where did this imagery come from and how has it developed over the years? What made the role so ‘gay’ and how has this led to homophobia becoming entwined with the profession, from both passengers and airlines?

Here we take a look at the highs and lows of the ‘obviously gay flight attendant’, how this stereo-type developed and how prevalent it is in todays aviation industry.

We begin with the early days of flying. During the 1920’s and 30’s flight crews were all male, as it was airline policy to only hire male crew. Stewards such as Amaury Sanchez, America’s first ever flight attendant, were carried onboard for safety related duties. This included loading and offloading luggage, fuelling, dealing with technical issues, assisting pilots to push the aircraft into hangars and rowing the travelling elite to shore from the sea-planes in use at the time. There was no meal service, no beef or chicken, no tea or coffee, no handing out headphones for the inflight movie. The job in this glamorous era was seen to be very masculine, further echoed by the military-styled uniforms worn by crew. Pan Am and Eastern Airlines in the US and Imperial Airways of the UK, portrayed their male crew to be sexually desirable fashion-icons in their media and advertising campaigns.


The first flight attendants were male and carried solely for safety related duties.

Then along came Ellen Church. Hired by Boeing Air Transport (later United Airlines) in 1930, Church was a former nurse and her employment was a resounding success. During the war years, as many men went off to fight for their country, more airlines began to review their ‘men-only’ policies and more female ‘stewardesses’ or ‘sky-girls’ as Boeing Air Transport referred to them, began to appear onboard. Church was the worlds first ‘female’ flight attendant. Yet today she is often hailed as Americas first ever flight attendant, virtually erasing Sanchez’s legacy. His omission from the aviation history books is telling of both the social and historical view of male flight attendants, even today.

Ellen Church

Ellen Church.

At the end of World War II, the civil aviation industry changed dramatically. Advances in aircraft technology meant that more emphasis was placed on passenger comfort, thus altering the responsibilities of the crew. Flight attendants now had to provide meal services, mix cocktails, help a mother tend to her child, clean up after passengers and tend to their every whim, all with an air of charm and class. To the public, these new duties made the role appear much more feminine than that of the pre-war stewards.

Financially, the post-war years were a difficult time for airlines. As stewards began fighting for their rights of employment and the role became more unionised, major carriers looked at ways to keep costs down. The war-time employment of ‘sky-girls’ highlighted the fact that these women could be paid significantly less than their male counter-parts; this at a time where a woman was seen as a second class citizen, especially in America. Wages could be kept low and by introducing strict weight and age restrictions, plus a no marriage policy, turn over was high ensuring most girls were forced out before they gained any seniority. Indeed some carriers such as Braniff in the US, highlighted quick marriage as a perk, “Where do most Braniff hostesses go when they leave us? You guessed it……most of them turn in their wings to get married”.

Culturally, the image of the male steward was now rapidly in decline. Airlines themselves began to poke fun at their own male crew through humour and sarcasm, all with homophobic undertones. Pan Americans in-house cartoon-strip ‘Tale Wind’, included the hapless and rather camp, ‘Barney Bullarney’. The character bore the brunt of jokes from his more masculine engineer and pilot colleagues. Although, completely fictitious and merely a cartoon, stewards had to endure the same mocking and ridicule as their comic-book counter part.

Worst still, the Washington Post went on to refer to stewards as ‘Male hostesses’ and for the men that did take on the role at this time, they were immediately seen as effeminate and frequently suspected of being gay.


Pan American’s ‘Tale Wind’ comic strip,


with the hapless Barney Bullarney.

Airline advertising was also changing. Gone was the masculine imagery of buff stewards in their white military uniforms, replaced by the caring and domesticated stewardess. Pictures of care free parents sipping cocktails, while their child was looked after by the doting stewardess began to emerge, cashing in on the influx of stay at home wives travelling with their wealthy business men husbands.

By the 1950's

By the 1950’s airline advertising was also changing to highlight the increasing number of female flight attendants.

For a short time during the late 1940s and early 50s, there was a resurgence in the hiring of male crew. As aircraft got bigger, airlines wanted to introduce Pursers into the cabin. Many carriers believed that a male would be better suited to this supervisory role and so many of the men returning to flying after the war were subsequently recruited as Pursers. But even now, strict rules were enforced to ensure that gay men were not knowingly hired. Applicants had to prove they had connections within the airline to vouch for their character and declare if they had seen any tendencies towards homosexuality.

In 1949 Delta Airlines ceased hiring men, and Eastern followed suit during the early 1950’s by simply eliminating the role of purser. While Pan Am had been seen by some to be inciting homophobia, with their ‘Tale-Wind’ comic strips, they were actually one of the few airlines that were less discriminatory towards both their male and female crew, removing age limits and allowing women equal opportunities to become Pursers.

But, by 1958 Pan Am too had stopped hiring men. To the unions this was seen as a way to keep costs down. But to those within the industry, this bitter blow was dealt because many of the airlines officials and their wives were increasingly worried about the increasing number of gay men flying as crew. Of course those that remained in the profession could not be outed from their positions. Some airlines attempted to entice them away from the ‘face-of-the-airline’ role that stewards and stewardesses still have today, by offering them behind the scenes office jobs.

The 1950s were a difficult time for homosexuals around the globe. But as such a large number of gay men remained flying, a queer community evolved along with a degree of tolerance from both straight crew and management, very out of synch with societies views of the time. The aviation world became like a safe-house for gay men, in a world where homosexuality was still illegal. In his book ‘Plane Queer’, detailing the history of the male flight attendant, Paul Tiemeyer spoke of this evolving community, “The aisles and galleys of airplanes, as well as crew hotels and crash pads, served the same role that other gay and lesbians found in bars: a place where they could meet others like themselves and even embrace their same-sex desires for the first time”.

Still, it was not without its difficulties and homophobic undertones. At Pan Am’s San Francisco base, lists were drawn up by the straight stewards naming and shaming those they believed to be gay in the hope that management would out their homosexual colleagues. Their actions were futile, as the lists were thankfully never acted upon.

For the gay male flight attendant, the 1960s were seen as a lost decade in terms of recognition from the industry. The career was predominantly all female, all white and all young. Airlines began to do away with the mothering and caring imagery of the stewardess, instead making the female crew an object of desire for the high paying male business passengers with their mini-skirts and knee-high boots. The small group of male stewards that did remain tended to be very senior and very well paid, hired during the earlier decades.

During the 1960's airlines used

During the 1960’s, airlines began to make their stewardesses objects of desire with their risqué uniforms.

But times in America were changing and in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed, airlines were forced to rethink their ‘no male’ policies once again. The act, primarily a race bill, also encompassed women’s rights and forbade work related discrimination on hiring and firing, based on race, religion, national origin and sex. One man who had watched closely the outcome of the Act was Celio Diaz. Diaz had applied to Pan American previously, but as the airline still up held its women-only policy his application was rejected. When Diaz applied again in 1967, bolstered by the outcome of the new laws, he was confident he would be more successful. Rejected for a second time he took the airline to court. Pan Am’s defence highlighted the homophobia which remained in the industry, relying solely on the prejudices against gay and effeminate men to make their case. When the hearing eventually reached the court of appeal, the airlines discriminatory policy was outed, as the judge concluded that the role of a flight attendant was to transport passengers and not reassure their masculinity. However, by the time the case was resolved in 1971 and with the age limit for crew still in force, Diaz was now too old to apply. His dream of travelling the world was not to be. Although Diaz himself was not gay, his success in court opened the doors for other male crew, both gay and straight, to apply and his legacy allowed many men to fulfil their dreams and take to the skies.

As the aviation industry entered the 1970’s, airlines around the world began to hire more and more men. As the decade progressed, this new gender balance meant that the sexual image of the stewardess had to be played down, highlighted by the return of more conservative cabin crew uniforms. By the late 1970s and early 80s however, a much bigger and more tragic crisis faced the gay community, both in the skies and on the ground.

The Aids/HIV epidemic of the 1980s was an unimaginably difficult time for gay men, especially those within the airline industry. Little was known about the disease, other than it’s seemingly indiscriminate targeting of gay males. As there was such a large number of homosexual men in the aviation industry, it came as no surprise that many of those who lost their lives were crew.

Just as attitudes were changing towards male flight attendants and battles were slowly being won for equality, the disease came along and set back narrow-minded opinions by years. Some airlines decided to ground crew who had been diagnosed and in one case, a crew member who they merely suspected. Passengers and even fellow cabin crew, became wary of travelling and working in the confined spaces found onboard aircraft with those who could be unwell; an attitude brought on by fear, poor education and lack of knowledge.

This situation was only made worse by the publication in 1987 of the book ‘And The Band Played On’ by Randy Shilts and the portrayal of Air Canada steward, Gaëtan Dugas as ‘Patient Zero’, the man wrongly accused of bringing the epidemic to America. With so much attention focused on Dugas, the male flight attendant was now implicated in the social and political battles over Aids/HIV.

Gaëtan Dugas.

Gaëtan Dugas.

These prejudices and fear tactics were not just confined to America. In the UK, Dan Air later admitted that they too had stopped hiring male flight attendants in late 1985. This was due, they stated, to the fact that “a large proportion of men who are attracted to cabin staff are homosexual” and “as cabin staff are sexually permissive”, there would be a much greater risk of their cabin crew contracting Aids and passing it on to coworkers and fellow passengers. Their decision was over-ruled by the equal opportunities commission in October 1986 and once again men were subsequently hired by the airline.

A former British Airways crew member told me of various homophobic incidents that occurred during the late 1980’s. Incidents such as pilots who would refuse to be served by the gay stewards and a group of straight cabin crew based in Gatwick who formed an ‘anti-gay club’ to try to out their gay colleagues.

But with time, came research and with research came a greater understanding of the illness. Slowly, as the world entered the 1990’s, attitudes changed and once again male flight attendants were becoming accepted by the travelling public and their colleagues.

One airline in particular was keen to become the USA’s first ‘Gay-friendly’ carrier, after becoming embroiled in a homophobic incident a few years earlier. The American Airlines flight crew had requested new pillows and blankets during a layover at Dallas, on a flight from Washington to California, after a number of gay passengers had been onboard the internal flight. The message, sent by the pilots, eventually leaked to the press causing an uproar among the gay community. Fearing a backlash, and as so many gay people were known to work for the company, American went on to educate its employees and become the first US airline to commit to nondiscrimination of its staff and passengers. The carrier also later teamed up with LGBT organisations such as Stonewall, paving the way for other carriers such as easyJet and British Airways to follow suit and today regularly sponsor and enter their own floats in Gay-Pride events around the world.

Today American Airlines is still at the forefront of campaigning for LGBT rights.

Today, American Airlines is still at the forefront of campaigning for LGBT rights.

So where are we today in terms of homophobia and equality within the industry? Thanks to the early court battles won by the likes of Celio Diaz, airlines are unable to discriminate in terms of sexuality, race or religion. Many people still see the job of a flight attendant as ‘glamorous’ and it is no surprise that many gay men still want to be cabin crew. But more and more straight men also now apply for the role. Indeed, whereas in the 1980s and 1990s around 50 to 90 per cent of all male cabin crew were gay, today it is much more of a 50/50 split.

Attitudes towards the gay community have also rapidly moved on since the early days of flying, both socially and politically. In the 1950’s who would have ever imagined that being gay would be made legal, let alone two men being able to marry?

Unfortunately, homophobia does still exist and with the airline industry having such a large gay community, it is no surprise that it still remains prevalent in the confines of an aircraft.

I recently spoke to some airline colleagues and asked if they had experienced any homophobia during their time in aviation. Many said they had never suffered or witnessed any abuse. Others shocked me with tales of both physical and verbal attacks. By simply typing in the words homophobia and flight attendant into an internet search engine, I was stunned by the number of widely reported cases even today, of homophobia in the aviation industry.

Passengers are often the worse. One comment I overheard was from an older couple who said as they boarded the aircraft, “My goodness, there’s a woman flying the plane and a male stewardess serving the drinks, what ever next?”. Often, when you get a group of young lads onboard there will be some derogatory comments aimed at the male crew. Even my straight colleagues have told me of times where a homophobic comment has been made towards them, further highlighting how all male crew are often tarred with the same brush.

Although, it’s not always the groups of lads or the seemingly un-educated. I once had, what appeared to be, a rather well-to-do lady travelling with her husband and two children who, when I asked her to stow her luggage in the overhead locker told me to “fuck off”, as she would not be taking orders from a “fucking queer”. She was subsequently offloaded from the flight, taking her very embarrassed husband and unsuspecting children with her.

Sometimes, the homophobic attacks can be so severe that the passengers involved end up in court and these incidents are widely reported in the press. In 2009 a flight from Manchester to the Dominican Republic had to divert to Bermuda after three passengers became drunk and traded homophobic abuse with the male cabin crew. One was later charged by British police, while a second man involved was deported back to the UK.

In 2012, Merseyside man John Hawkins 32, was jailed for eight months after his homophobic tirade on a Thomas Cook flight from Manchester to the Canary Islands. Later that year, Thomas Delaney, 40, was sentenced to a 12 months community order and 200 hours of unpaid work after he made numerous homophobic slurs towards two male easyJet cabin crew on a flight to Alicante. And this is just in the UK alone.


And what about our airline colleagues? I was shocked to hear the number of homophobic incidents from fellow cabin crew and pilots. Many crew, from various airlines around the world, told me of captains and first officers who made it very clear that they do not like gay crew. Stories emerged from night stops, including one incident where the gay crew were excluded from invites to dinner and a room party. One flight attendant on the trip told me, “There were three gay lads in the crew and the captain had made it clear from the briefing that he wanted noting to do with us. During a routine visit to the flight deck to check on them, one of my colleagues overheard the captain call him a “fucking puff” as he left and the first officer started to laugh. When he reported this to the purser she just laughed and said that it was just how this captain was. When we arrived at the crew hotel the female crew were invited to join the flight crew for dinner, the invite was not extended to us boys and when we did go down we had to sit away from our own colleagues”.

Another reported homophobic incident occurred when a crew member brought his boyfriend along one of his trips. The captain went on to report the young flight attendant to management as he stated that they had acted “inappropriately and had shamed the company”, all because the couple had shared a kiss and hug with their fellow crew as they left after breakfast.

In 2011, an audio recording from a Southwest Airlines captain was leaked to the press and made headlines around the world. The homophobic rant about his cabin crew colleagues was accidentally broadcast over an air traffic control channel and was heard by various other aircraft. The pilot, who was immediately suspended by the airline, was heard telling the first officer that flight attendants for the airline are just a “continuous stream of gays and grannies and grandes. Eleven (expletive) over-the-top (expletive) (expletive) (expletive) homosexuals and a granny”. The pilot was later re-instated after completing a diversity course.


What also saddened me during my research, was the number of homosexual First Officers who spoke of their fear of being openly gay, for fear of a back-lash from their flight deck colleagues. Numerous First Officers told me they believed if they were openly gay onboard, they would be treated differently by many of the captains they have to fly with.

Of course, there’s also the flip side to the homophobia and stereotyping of male crew. Many of the straight cabin crew I interviewed told me of occasions where their fellow crew have uttered the words “Oh, I just assumed you were gay”. This just further highlights the stereotype, when even (some of) our own colleagues believe this image.

Airlines themselves can also be in the firing line for homophobic slurs towards their passengers. Southwest Airlines was involved in another incident in 2011, after actress Leisha Hailey was offloaded by the cabin crew for kissing her girlfriend, apparently upsetting the passengers around them. British Airways had a similar situation, after a gay couple travelling to London from Cape Town were reprimanded by the crew for kissing each other good morning. And in 2014 BA made the headlines once again, when a passenger was threatened with offloading by the cabin crew after he was asked to stop holding hands with the man he was sat next to.

Worryingly, there’s also the darker side to homophobia within the industry. For some, the physical and emotional bullying became so severe that they left their careers in aviation completely. One crew member told me how his ‘straight’ colleagues once joked of how they were going to use him “like a pig on a spit” when they arrived at their lay-over destination, as he was the only gay guy amongst an all male crew. Once there, a number of these men tried to initiate sex with him. When he refused, some became violent and threatened him. Thankfully he returned to base unharmed and later went on to report the crew who were subsequently fired. But stories of rape and sexual assaults have emerged over the years, especially during the early days of flying, when crew were forced to share rooms with their flight attendant colleagues. Sadly, most of these incidents went unreported for fear of their own reprisals, as homosexuality was still illegal.

Even today, the image remains that most male cabin crew are gay and that this has always been the norm. This is often portrayed in the media, with overtly camp and larger than life male crew appearing in films and TV shows. Who could forget Irish steward ‘Ferghal’ played by Matt Lucas in Come Fly with Me’; or ‘Sebastian Flight’ played by Alan Cumming from the hit BBC show ‘The High Life’.

What many people today fail to realise, is that there have been numerous battles for equality and against homophobia over the years; battles that so many of our former male cabin crew, gay and straight have fought with governments, passengers, fellow crew and airline executives to make the industry such an accepting place for gay men.

I know so many homosexual trolley dollies, myself included, who started their careers in the closet. It was only working in an environment where being gay is so widely acceptable, that allowed us the freedom to finally come out. I’m sure people would struggle to believe that any airline ever strived to become “gay-friendly”, surely this was always the case? I hope from this article you can see that it was not.

And what about our ‘obviously gay flight attendant’? Well he’ll continue to mince up and down the aisles, screaming “tray up bitch” at anyone who dares disobey him.

"Tray up Bitch!"

“Tray up Bitch!”

© <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> by Dan Air.

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809 days ago
San Francisco, CA
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