Exᐧcelᐧlence. Noun. The quality of being outstanding or extremely good.

As a person from a marginalized community/identity, it is easy to fall into the self-preservation mindset of being excellent. It’s easy to absorb this message through entertainment and media, as movies and books often don’t center queer characters. Our examples for emulation are desperately flawed. Even when media seems to include queer characters, they are flat and one dimensional – either evil or perfect. These characters do not perform excellence or sainthood; they gloss over flaws. To embody Queer Excellence we need icons who embrace these faults, characters who own their dualities – these are your perfectly imperfect fictional characters:

Pray Tell, played by Billy Porter, is the truth-telling carefree Ballroom Emcee on the TV series Pose. The series takes place in the 1980s and early 90s, boasting an ensemble of trans and queer actors never before seen on prime-time TV. Pray Tell is a gay middle-aged man who commands the ballroom with a firm hand, but always finds time to indulge everyone. He is one of the most lovable characters on the show but is faced with many obstacles: an abusive home, the HIV pandemic and his own positive diagnosis.

Dominique Jackson's Elektra is a trans woman in her forties also on Pose. She embodies the legacy of Queer Excellence, introducing LGBTQ House history in one of the first scenes of the show. On the floor of a New York ballroom, she takes in a young trans woman where we see the depth of her character–Elektra is a reluctant mother. Torn between her desire to help others like her and her fear of emotional vulnerability, she struggles to navigate a mother-daughter relationship. Looking for stories about imperfect queer mothers? Elektra will deliver.

Conceived by the brilliant mind of Shonda Rhimes, Callie’s character at the start of the show is straight. Until, of course, she kisses a character following a bet and questions why she likes kissing her female colleague so much. Way before the conversation of sexuality being fluid became mainstream, Callie Torres, played by Sara Ramirez, was finding out just how true this statement is. So, if you are looking for a character who experiences how non-linear the road to sexuality is, watch Callie Torres’ story from Seasons 2 to 12 of Grey’s Anatomy.

Jeff Perry's Cyrus is a gay republican serving as the first gay Chief of Staff to a reluctant and adulterous President. He rises to become the first gay Vice President on the show, but like most characters on Scandal, his political survival finds itself at odds with moral ethics. There’s no room for flawlessness in this White House.

Dominique is the daughter of Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese parents. She is an actress who leaves home for London at 16 in search of a life she can live free from hiding an attraction to women. When she first arrives in London, she sleeps on the streets until she concocts a story of paternal sexual abuse to the housing council to secure accommodation. Dominique is trusting, especially of people she considers to be well versed in being Black. Nzinga, a British woman but raised in America, finds a perfect next victim in Dominique. Dominique falls madly in love with Nzinga’s Hotep adjacent politics. Before she knows it, they are moving to America where Dominique realizes what a huge mistake she's made.

Novelist Celeste Ng's Mia Warren is the stranger you meet and are drawn into by that sexy mystery around her. One only needs to see a photo of Kerry Washington playing Mia Warren in the book's Hulu series to see how. The character and her daughter, Pearl Warren, travel from city to city around the US in search of the next adventure. Later in the series, Mia’s arch-nemesis reveals her wanderlust is fueled by secrets that require her to never be in one place for too long. Her daughter bears the brunt of this uprooting which Mia thinks is only a minor inconvenience. Running from the truth leads Mia further and further from the only person she’s romantically loved: her girlfriend and former lecturer; the woman who encouraged Mia’s career as a multimedia artist.

You should not feel pressured, especially in your downtime, to be a certain way. The art we consume, either consciously or subconsciously, can make us feel pressured to act and be flawless. The characters from this list are queer. They will entertain you, make you cry, make you fall in love with them, and then make you hate them. One thing is for certain, you will not find a halo surrounding these characters. They are fully human, and they taught me the meaning of Queer Excellence.

Meet the Family

Fiske Nyirongo is a Zambian author based in Lusaka, Zambia.

She was shortlisted for the 2019 Kalemba short story writing prize. Her work appears in online spaces such as The Kalahari Review, Brittlepaper (The Go The Way Your Blood Beats anthology), The Writers Space Africa 2019 magazine Love issue, Boldly Mental, and Unbound magazine. Her first children's title was published in Cricket Magazine's Holiday-themed issue in 2019. She co-created a children’s book for the South African Book Dash model. Her fantasy novella,"Finding Love in Betrayal"was published by Love Press Africa in 2019. She was shortlisted for the 2019 Kalemba short story prize and is a 2020 PenPen Africa Writers Resident.

Celebrate the approaching Mid-Autumn Festival with a new sweet treat and a new film by Netflix/Pearl Studio, weaving Chinese culture and familial comfort.

Photos by Carissa Casares

Summer’s inevitable departure is no time for mourning–it is a time for celebration! And every celebration needs its desserts. If your Asian auntie keeps sending you posts from Subtle Asian Traits or you follow foodie instagrams, you’re probably familiar with Lady M Confections and their famous mille crepe cakes. This Autumn, you'll want to try their collectible limited-edition mooncake lantern available for pre-order this week and in limited quantities in Lady M boutiques beginning September 8. Lady M makes a small selection of mooncakes each year, mostly for their Asian boutiques, but this year's special collaboration is a partnership with Netflix and Pearl Studio’s new animated musical Over The Moon.

The film, dropping this Fall, tells the story of an intrepid young girl who builds a rocket ship to the moon to prove the existence of a legendary Moon Goddess. The musical blends modern day with Chinese folklore and realistic imagery with fantastical world-building, as our young heroine navigates grief and loss. Slated as Netflix's next big Animated movie by Insider, the film also hosts an ~actually~ Asian cast. (Gasp!) This includes the beloved Sandra Oh.

Taking inspiration from Over The Moon, the Lady M mooncakes are packaged in gold and jade lantern featuring intricate, laser-cut imagery of characters and scenes from the film, showcased with an interactive illumination effect. Inside each lantern are six individually-wrapped Lady M mooncakes custom designed with Kee Wah Bakery and available in two flavors: sweet egg custard stamped with the classic Lady M logo and chocolate custard stamped with an image of the mythical moon rabbit.

Mooncakes and lighting lanterns are two classic traditions from the Mid-Autumn Festival, the second most important holiday in China after the Lunar New Year. The festival celebrates the moon at its fullest time of the year (October 1st for 2020). It’s a time for family reunions and spiritual connections. The festival began thousands of years ago as a post-harvest celebration and grew around a folklore of an intelligent goddess, Chang’e, and her husband Hou Yi. This tale, which the movie draws from, is most commonly told as Chang’e coming into possession of an elixir of immortality. But, while Hou Yi is away, her husband’s apprentice breaks into their home and threatens Chang’e for the potion. Instead, she drinks it herself, flying off into the sky and living on the moon to always be close to her beloved. When Hou Yi finds out, he sets out fruits and cakes to offer his wife in honor of her sacrifice, prompting the village to do the same.

Mooncakes are dense pastries typically filled with a lotus seed paste. The sweet treat shaped like the moon and traditionally filled with lotus seed paste, red bean paste and maybe salted egg yolks have a long history in China. In the 14th century, they were rumored as communication devices holding secret messages for rebel forces inside them. In Hong Kong last year, the dessert retained its political connotations as protestors stamped mooncakes with protest slogans condemning the government. Mooncakes are my personal favorite part of the festival, though the salted egg yolk variety are unfortunately not allowed to be brought back to the United States– which I found out when I devastatingly had a couple boxes confiscated at customs.

If you like Lady M's mooncakes, you can try more traditional varieties next time you travel abroad. But with travel still far off for many of us, enjoying these mooncakes with a new musical movie is a great way to travel from home and learn more about Chinese culture.

Meet the Family

Amber Gibson is a Chicago-based journalist specializing in food, travel, wine and wellness. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Saveur, Departures, Architectural Digest, USA Today, NBC and Hemispheres. Gelato, dark chocolate and champagne are her biggest weaknesses. Follow her adventures @amberyv on Instagram.

"Walter Mercado influenced a generation of people to embrace themselves. His viewers passed down his messages of love and positivity to their children."

Art by Diane Lindquist

Walter Mercado was a force that permeated Latino households with positive affirmations and fabulous outfits. His astrological readings inspired people around the globe and he continues to impact many lives today. For some, he was a segment that played in the background of their living rooms. But for others, raised by his readings, he became their entire world. Mercado provided hope for those watching and inspired generations of believers who had faith in their future.

Mercado's legacy is rooted in the number of homes he was able to enter. The HistoryMiami Museum reported in his 30 years on television, he reached 120 million Latino viewers a day. Most recently, his story has been transformed into a Netflix documentary called Mucho Mucho Amor: a story of his journey into stardom with details about the battle he faced with ownership of his image. Despite an unfortunate downfall, his fans have kept his name alive in many ways.

Alex Fumero has a special place in his heart for Walter Mercado. The Mucho Mucho Amor producer says his grandma only cared to watch TV when Mercado was speaking. Fumer says, "she had a very tough life, a 4th-grade education, [always worked] long hours, [and] fled authoritarianism in Cuba. So I think Walter was this little beacon of hope that maybe things would be easier or predictable if she listened closely. She died really suddenly when I was away on a school trip when I was 15. It really rocked me. We were very close. I think Walter became this memory of her. Making this film was a way to connect with her again and Walter became like a new Abuelitx."

The documentary is a compelling ode to Mercado's colorful life. A Puerto Rican astrologer, actor, and personality that filled the room with energy. Viewers get a glimpse of what that personality looked like up close.

One of Mercado's most remarkable attributes was his ability to break gender stereotypes –challenging the narrative of Latinx identity and sexuality. At one point in the film, he tells the directors, "I have sexuality with the wind, with the flowers in the garden, with all the beautiful display of nature! I have sex with life! I have sex with everything! With the clothes, with beauty!"

Walter Mercado influenced a generation of people to embrace themselves. His viewers passed down his messages of love and positivity to their children. Those children have resurrected his legacy in their art and shared it online. Mercado became a social media phenomenon as Latino publications started to share their stories.

Artists and creatives have developed an unofficial digital archive of Mercado’s influence by sharing works inspired by him. Elisa Faye, a designer and illustrator whose Mercado inspired digital art circulated on Instagram says, "I know for lots of people watching Walter was a family affair, but when he was on TV my parents were usually out working so I remember watching him alone or with my babysitter and being in a sort of enchanted trance as his arms moved like flamenco dancers. I was very young so I'm sure a lot of what he said flew over my head, but it clearly landed in my heart because since then every time I see Walter I feel a warm feeling in my heart that is hard to explain." Mercado created a space for acceptance. Free of judgment and negativity.

For Dear Southside creator Estefani Alarcon, Mercado was a staple in her home. Her family would anxiously gather around the TV waiting for him to reach their sign while playfully teasing each other about what he would say about them. Alarcon says, "I never imagined a world without him, he felt immortal because of all the good spirits he expressed [sic] like he would forever remain in our hearts which is true and I think a lot of people who grew up watching his segment would agree." Many people do agree and have honored his legacy in Miami.

HistoryMiami Museum has an exhibition of Mercado's costumes and mementos to celebrate his life. The museum honored Mercado and said he was "One of the world’s most famous astrologers, he is a part of the cultural zeitgeist for Latinos and remains a popular figure that transcends generations."

Mercado will always be in the hearts of his listeners and his legacy will carry on "con mucho mucho amor."

Meet The Family

Kim Quitzon is a multimedia journalist specialized in documentary filmmaking and social media storytelling. She is an LA Press Club Finalist for her work on Dimelo and recently graduated with her M.A. from USC.

Her passion for hip-hop has been featured on Home Grown Radio, Blurred Culture, Pharcyde TV, and LA Music Blog.

Follow her travels on @kimquitzon and find more on kimquitzon.com.

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