The Rostow Report by Ann Rostow

“Before we know it, life will return to something like normal, and we’ll look back on these days as a dreamlike interval. November will come, and the pure ecstasy of putting an end to the Trump presidency will lift our spirits beyond imagination.” 


Oh my God. How is it possible that another month of this torpor has elapsed and we find ourselves continuing to ferment in a slow marinade of television and cocktails? Say it ain’t so, LA! 

This week, we indulged in the History Channel, rewatching the documentary about the industrial titans of the late 1800s, as well as the three-part miniseries about Grant. This, combined with our in-depth study of World War II, both on screen and in books, makes me feel prepared for a graduate exam in American history. I am also halfway through a history of the CIA (Legacy of Ashes) and just finished two books about World War II spies, including one about Virginia Hall, an American society girl who basically organized the French resistance single handedly. With an amputated leg!

At one point, Virginia Hall had to escape France by hiking through the Pyrenees in November and crossing into Spain over a high mountain pass—on her wooden leg. So once again, I was reminded of the fact that our virus quarantine is really not much to complain about. 


As I glide through news items, memes and old emails, I see that Larry Kramer has just died at the age of 84 of pneumonia. A quick calculation leads me to conclude that you will have seen this and read several Kramer biographies by the time this issue goes to press. I will not attempt to add to the coverage here.

Let’s just say, however, that this whole period feels like the end of an era. The backwash of the 20th Century finally rolling out to leave the post-millennial terrain to its own designs. Activists like Kramer and Phyllis Lyon, dead. Gay bars and clubs, anachronisms never to return to their former glory. Civil rights, perhaps stalled for decade or more. Our community, fractured and diverse, in transition. Pride month, not real but virtual. Massive crowded white parties full of naked men and fun drugs? Well, let’s not give up on the 21st Century quite yet!

As May trails away, we still have not heard from the Supreme Court, where our near-term fate is being decided in those two Title VII workplace discrimination cases we keep mentioning. Meanwhile, the lead plaintiff in one of those cases, the transgender funeral parlor employee Aimee Stephens, died in hospice recently. She will not be around to witness the up or down vote on our very humanity that we face in the next four weeks. The Court releases all its opinions by the end of June or the first one or two days of July each year, so our waiting period is necessarily coming to an end.


So the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit gave us a mixed bag of a ruling in the case of a non-binary person, Dana Zzyym, who was born intersex and is trying to get a passport without having to select male or female. The State Department, which has lost in lower courts, came up with five reasons why a non-binary option is impossible, including three reasons that the court dismissed and two others that the court thought might have merit. As such, the panel told the State Department to reconsider Zzyym’s application, and I guess we’ll see where things go.

One of the State Department’s court-approved objections involved the sheer difficulty of allowing for a third gender option, which just doesn’t ring true. The other involved the possible confusion that could arise if a person’s listings on various forms include different gender markers. Indeed, think about the chaos that could ensue if Dana Zzyymm was wanted for murder as a female, but non-binary Dana Zzyym snuck through a passport application with a gender bending sleight of hand and escaped to Tasmania.

Zzyym’s travails may become moot if other agencies continue to allow X markers to indicate a non-binary gender, and indeed it seems as if such accommodations are slowly being made, given how easy it is and how visibility is increasing. Speaking of increasing non-binary visibility, the only morally decent character on “Billions” is Taylor Mason, played to complicated perfection by non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon. Much like the early gay and lesbian characters in 1990s TV, the small screen is a valuable teacher for a society that knows next to nothing about its trans or intersex members. 


Here’s an odd piece of welcome news. Perhaps you recall the spate of murders Down Under back in the 1980s and ‘90s, in which dozens of gay men were found dead under the beachside cliffs near Sidney, victims of “suicide.” According to the BBC, up to 80 men may have been murdered by violent homophobic gangs of the era, thrown to their deaths in a years-long killing spree that authorities chose to ignore.

A couple of years ago, authorities in New South Wales opened up an inquiry into 88 deaths of gay men between 1976 and 2000. Now, 32 years after one of these murders, police have arrested 49-year-old Scott White for the killing of American Scott Johnson, who was found dead on the beach in 1988. White was reportedly not surprised by his arrest, and reports say he acted alone. Johnson’s brother Steve, along with the local government, had offered a $2 million reward for information in the case.

Better late than never, I suppose, although that’s not much consolation for Johnson and his murdered cohort. Stories like this remind us that while we may wax nostalgic for the colorful GLBT follies of the late century, there is also good reason to applaud the relentless march of time.


So, what else is new? Same-sex couples may now get married in Costa Rica, so that’s nice, right? And the Supreme Court declined to get involved in the case of a transgender prisoner in Idaho, who won a court order that will force the state to provide gender confirmation surgery. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had ordered the surgery to proceed, but the state of Idaho begged the High Court to put a hold on that ruling, to no avail. Justices Thomas and Alito disagreed with the Court’s lack of action, which gives me a vague sense of hope.

I’m sure there’s other news of communal concern, but it all eludes me for now. I recall reading about a transgender mayor elected in a small town in northern France. And the President of Zambia pardoned two men who have been in jail since November 2019 for having sex. Oh, and we also have a barrage of conservative crazies blaming gays for the virus and thanking God for cancelling Pride festivities. Same old, same old.

You know what? We feel like we’re spinning our wheels at the moment, but before we know it, life will return to something like normal, and we’ll look back on these days as a dreamlike interval. November will come, and the pure ecstasy of putting an end to the Trump presidency will lift our spirits beyond imagination. Let’s keep our hopes up, dear readers.