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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

A piece of Puerto Princesa

Eating a plateful of timolok worms may have been one of the highlights for John Ryan Mendoza when he visited Puerto Princesa, but as he discovered, there’s always more to discover in this part of Palawan.

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“Do they taste like what a worm would taste like in your head before you ate it?” said the Facebook message that my Canadian friend sent me after leaving an appalled comment on a photo of me biting a tamilok.

“They tasted familiar, like oysters, but still very different,” I replied, amused.

The tamilok, a wood worm that thrives in coconut tree trunks, is a local delicacy in the island province of Palawan. My transgender travel buddy and I just found them in a menu at Kinabuch’s Grill on the second night of our promo flight getaway. At 130 pesos, we had a full plate of skinned worms with a small saucer of vinegar. The tamiloks only got to the side of my friend’s face for the photo, so I had the whole squirmy plate to myself. They tasted like very, very long oysters. After dipping it in vinegar, I had to slurp a whole juicy one in order to chew it. I finished most of the plate. I just hesitated at the thought that my stomach wouldn’t be so happy about it and may just end up in toilet confinement rather than the Palawan outdoors the next day. I turned out fine and I definitely would have them again, cooked next time. Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital city, offered so much more aside from these quirky tamiloks.

Ka Lui’s cake
We started this Puerto Princesa trip with a dinner reservation at Ka Lui’s Seafood House. We had to go on barefoot to get inside so we had to leave our footwear in numbered drawers at the entrance. The place had a native Filipino ambience and was packed. We were ushered to a low candlelit table for two and were crouched comfortably. We ordered the Ka Lui’s special for the day. At 485 pesos, we had full course meal of veggies, prawns, fried fish in mango sauce, grilled fish, and a young coconut with tropical fruits. The whole night, my transgender friend couldn’t help but notice the good-looking waiters that served the customers. Then we had a surprise for the night- a not just phallic, but really penile cake was served for a birthday celebrant in the next table. My friend guessed right, Ka Lui is proudly a successful gay businessman according to locals. With this gay vibe, I would definitely come back here with friends and have that cake.

Ice cold island tour
On the second day, as Typhoon Gener was raging over most of Luzon, a morning text brought bad news. Our subterranean river trip was cancelled due to the reported dangerous river currents from the local coast guard. Unfazed, we proceeded with the Honda Bay island tour.

At 200 pesos, we rode a tricycle to the boat terminal where we started to pay the various fees and taxes for the tour. We were about to pay 1,300 pesos for just the two of us, when luckily a young (het) couple was also there looking to share a boat with others. There were four islands and one reef that were lined up for the tour. Entrance fees for Pandan and Cowrie islands, 100 and 75 pesos respectively, were paid there at the terminal. All other entrance fees that charged 50 pesos were to be paid once getting there.

We first stopped at Luli island. It was just a sand bar where a highly stilted house and some small cottages stood. The boat man told us that the whole sand bar submerges during high tide. That’s why it’s called “Luli” (lulubog-lilitaw). We just spent a brief time exploring the quite dense mangrove growth and proceeded to our next stop. We then arrived at Pambato reef, where we donned our rented snorkeling gear and footwear. We all rented the equipment at 150 pesos each at the shops near the main highway and then just realized that we can rent them even cheaper at 100 pesos at the boat terminal. Oh well, next time. There was so much colourful fish and corals too see but there was just one problem-the water was too murky. Being in a low pressure area was starting to take its toll on our tour. On a sunny day, I’m pretty sure how much more amazing this underwater world would be.

Next stop-Starfish island. It was starting to rain when we disembarked from the boat and four starfishes welcomed us at the shore. After going around for the camera poses and jump-shots, we realized that those were the only starfishes we ever saw. Maybe we weren’t looking well enough, but I was starting to suspect the starfish welcome was staged. It was starting to get really cold so we all took refuge in the warm seawater. We all wouldn’t recommend swimming here, snorkelling I guess, for the beach was too rocky, unless you are into pain.

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It was on our transit to Pandan island when the torrential rain poured. The island was so shrouded in thick white mists that our boatman got disoriented – just freaky. After around 30 minutes, we arrived at the more developed island all drenched and freezing. Cottages for rent at 300 pesos were at the beachfront and a food and drinks counter was at the interior. We took shelter at a tent beside the food place and had our lunch of grilled squid and pork at 180 pesos per plate. The island was just surrounded with snorkelling spots. After our cold meal, we finally dipped into the soothing warm waters. This time, we brought a feast for the fishes – breadcrumbs. One doesn’t need a life vest anymore since the spots you can feed the fish and find corals were very shallow. Just stay clear from the black gardens of sea urchins and occasional camouflaged stone fishes. They all sting pretty bad.

The weather was getting worse but we were all still resolute to get our money’s worth. After another chilly and wavy trip, Cowrie island proved to be worth it. It had the finest sand and the most pristine waters among all the other islands. This last stop’s warmer water was just perfect for languid swimming after enduring all that cold. We finally sailed back to the terminal and then all parted at our respective hotels after sharing again, a tricycle. Just one classic – share a boat/tricycle, win a friend – day.

Wet City Tour
On our third day, the morning text message made us abandon all hope we had for the underground river tour. The typhoon raged on and the underground river currents could kill, the travel agent told us. We were just left with the city tour option. Our friendly driver agreed to tour us for the whole day at 500 pesos. We first drove to Palawan governor-owned Rancho Sta. Monica, popularly known as Mitra’s Ranch. Located at a hilltop, it had a magnificent view of Puerto Princesa and offered various activities such as horseback riding, trampoline jumping, and ziplining. My friend opted to pay 500 pesos for ziplining. The ranch’s zipline had 3 lines where you can transfer from one line to another thru towers as high as the tree tops. The first zip line is 300 meters long while the 2nd and 3rd zip lines are 150 meters long each. The male zipline staffs were so accommodating to my friend that they agreed to take photos of all her zipline moments and even invited her to a drinking session sometime after work. Maybe it’s just my friend’s charm or just this place’s really friendly locals.

Then we proceeded to Baker’s Hill. It is a bakery/restaurant with a mini park with fun statues, exotic birds, and beautiful landscapes. No wonder, it is a pretty famous dating spot for locals. The Hopia Ube and Hopia Baboy are the bakery’s famous delicacies.

The non-stop cam-whoring at the mini park eventually starved us so we went the nearby Dampa sa Mansion Restaurant for lunch. You get to choose the fresh seafood from the display and just buy the amount you need. You then have them cooked the way you want at 100 pesos. We were awful at estimating the amount of seafood we want and ended up paying much for the food we can’t all consume. We just got them packed for the next day. The place had a nice open space and you can just enjoy the fresh air while dining. Except for really rainy days when mists of water would just spray on your entire table if you are near the peripheries, which was unfortunately our case.

The rains were hard again and the driver updated us of the situation of the other usual city tour spots. On that day, butterflies were a no-show in the butterfly garden, and getting to the crocodile farm or the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center was impossible due to the flood-damaged bridge. We just moved to our next stop – the Binuatan Creations. Binuatan Creations had this weaving workshop where the staff assists you in making handloom woven mats using the indigenous plant fibers of Palawan drawn from the buntal, coconut, buri, cogon grass, pandan, and pineapple. Their products are world-class exports and you can buy these native products at the source. The bags are really good and cheap. Impulsive, broke, and thick-faced, I bought four and had my friend swipe her credit card for me. Once the buying starts, the shopping mode is on for both of us. We then rode to the newly opened LRC 908 Market Mall, where there was an assortment of local handcrafts, pearl accessories, and lots of pasalubong items.

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It was a Sunday and my friend wanted to hear mass at the Immaculate Conception cathedral. The driver then brought us to the Baywalk, which was just very near the cathedral. The Baywalk is a famous place to enjoy the view of the Puerto Princesa Bay to stroll, bike (available for rent), and to try street food. After the usual photos, we were then finally transported to the cathedral. I had an hour to wait for my friend so I just killed time at Plaza Cuartel, which was just a few steps from the cathedral entrance.

Plaza Cuartel looks like a plain city park with concrete pavements, tall trees, water fountains, and benches. With the clinging couples at every corner, I now get why the driver said it is known to be a “lover’s park” for local teenagers. Yet I realized after some reading of inscribed texts at the monument, the ruins of an old garrison and tunnels are proof of its brutal history. This plaza is the site of Palawan Massacre. In the tunnels, 150 American prisoners of war were kept during World War II. It was on December 14, 1944, the Japanese decided to burn them all alive. Many died and only eleven prisoners survived and escaped the mass execution. Then it rained on me at this quite dark conclusion for the city tour.

Badjao at the Seafront
After the mass, we were both ready for our fourth leg of seafood pig-out. At 60 pesos, we got a tricycle to transport us from the cathedral to Badjao Seafront Restaurant. It’s a popular place and is expectedly crowded so we had to reserve a table earlier that day. When we arrived, the winds were strong and it was already quite dark. We had to pass through a hallway with wafting white curtains and can see that the restaurant is built on top of a mangrove forest. The place had large open windows, some of which were unfortunately covered then due to the winds. On nicer weather, I’m sure it has a beautiful sea-view. Named after the Badjaos, the restaurant is adorned with textiles that are associated with the seafaring tribes in the south. We agreed to just have modest dinner since we quite overspent for lunch. The mixed seafood dish was expectedly good. All our neighbouring tables had crabs, shrimps, and all the fish Palawan can offer, and all looked satisfied. This place lives up to its fame.

Big Brother and Garcellano
The fourth day was my friend’s last day and we figured to just enjoy our remaining hours at the House of Big Brother. For 1,000 pesos per night, our “housemate” room had two couple wide beds, a hot/cold shower, wide screened flat screen TV with cable and a kitchenette equipped with modern fire-less induction cooker, electric kettle, automatic rice cooker, refrigerator, microwave oven, cooking and dining utensils. Cooking skills would be very much handy and economical along with Palawan’s bountiful seafood and vegetables that are just waiting in the city markets. Big Brother offers quite a good deal for a larger group and a longer stay.

I still had one more night in the city so I had to check-in into another place by noon time and I fortunately discovered the cheapest place ever- the Garcellano Tourist Inn. It is only 250 pesos per night. Don’t expect Big Brother’s extra amenities, for this place only has fan rooms with private toilet and bath. They have bigger rooms for larger groups but the rates still remain less than 500 pesos. If most of the day you would just be enjoying the outdoors, this place gives you just the comfortable basics for your stay.

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Vietnam in Palawan: Chaolong
On this mission-less day, we finally tried Chaolong for lunch. We have been seeing many of outlets around the city. We discovered from the stories of our tricycle driver/tourist guide that this ubiquitous Vietnamese dish came along after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. At this time, Vietnamese migrants first began arriving in boats in the Philippines. A refugee camp was setup by the United Nations in Palawan. The still existing small community of the refugees, called Viet Ville, is about 13 kilometers up the road from Puerto Princessa.

To be more factual, Puerto Princesa’s chao long should be qualified, the Vietnamese chao long, is “scrummy” rice porridge (the chao) laden with innards (the long). Puerto Princesa’s chao long is flat, thin rice noodles in a sweet-savory broth with your chosen meats (beefbones, beef , pork), served with the indispensable plate containing raw bean sprouts, shoots of basil and mint, and a piece of kalamansi.

We had a taste of this dish at Bona’s Chaolong House and Restaurant, where prices are really cheap. I ordered the Beef Bones with Noodles Special (55 pesos) and French Bread with Cheese (25 pesos). I liked it a lot that I had Chaolong again for breakfast the next day.

Walking along Rizal Avenue
When my friend had to go to the airport for her flight, we just decided to walk from the House of Big Brother. Google maps advised us it was just near, and it was. When we arrived, we both gave tricycle drivers 50 pesos to get us to our accommodation. We realized it was too much. The regular fare which was eight or ten pesos was enough.

I was then alone. I decided to just walk again from the airport and along the stretch of Rizal avenue, one of city’s main streets. The air was so non-Manila. Even while strolling along a street with so many vehicles, the air was clean. Puerto Princesa lives up to being the cleanest and most environment-friendly city in the Philippines. This main road is sprawled with hotels, motorbike rentals, handicraft stores, travel agencies, restaurants, and bars. These are proudly good indicators of an ever booming tourism industry.

It was already night-time when I reached the Baywalk. Locals and tourists just leisurely hang out while viewing the quiet bay. The vibe has been peaceful not only here but throughout the areas I have been so far in the city. Locals and official reports verify that Puerto Princesa is still the most peaceful among the urban centers in the country. Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn had reported that the city has the lowest crime rate and highest crime solution efficiency compared to other urban centers in the country. With strong political will, significant impacts like this are truly achievable.

Ima’s Gulay Bar
It was my last dinner at this peaceful green city so I searched for the nearest vegetarian restaurant. Just a few blocks from where I was staying, I finally found Ima’s Gulay Bar. Quaint and somewhat intimate were my impressions of the place when I got in the wooden cottage. Their menu declared that they served delectable continental vegetarian dishes. I then automatically looked for entries that were unfamiliar. I ordered the spicy okra and mango pasta (70 pesos) and a smoothie called Ima’s blend (80 pesos). The restaurant had a good wifi connection so my partner and I had a “vegetarian dinner date” via Skype. He was also having his veggie bolognaise. With good vegetarian food, affordable prices, quiet ambience, and a free and fast wifi connection, Ima’s Gulay Bay is my instant favorite. I came back the next day for lunch and stayed there to do some writing until I had to leave for the airport.

I was welcomed back in Manila by the remaining wrath of Typhoon Gener. In the taxi on my way home, the strong wind howled, the heavy rain fell, and flood and traffic was everywhere. I just happily thought to myself that I have had a piece of Puerto Princesa and still has that sweet promise to return.

A registered nurse, John Ryan (or call him "Rye") Mendoza hails from Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao (where, no, it isn't always as "bloody", as the mainstream media claims it to be, he noted). He first moved to Metro Manila in 2010 (supposedly just to finish a health social science degree), but fell in love not necessarily with the (err, smoggy) place, but it's hustle and bustle. He now divides his time in Mindanao (where he still serves under-represented Indigenous Peoples), and elsewhere (Metro Manila included) to help push for equal rights for LGBT Filipinos. And, yes, he parties, too (see, activists need not be boring! - Ed).

Travel

Cry freedom

#Buffalo may (just) be a sleepy city in Upstate #NewYork in the US. But it does have surprises – e.g. The Freedom Wall, which celebrates the nation’s historic and ongoing struggles for political and social equality.

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Chicken lovers may know the story – i.e. that the Buffalo wing was allegedly invented by Teressa Bellissimo in 1964 at Anchor Bar in the sleepy city of Buffalo in the state of New York.

The thing though, is, sans the spiced fried chicken, Buffalo has other surprises – e.g. The Freedom Wall.

Located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street, The Freedom Wall was built in 2017 by John Baker, Julia Bottoms, Chuck Tingley and Edreys Wajed.

It was commissioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Public Art Initiative, in partnership with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA).

It was developed in collaboration with the Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor and neighborhood stakeholders.

From the get-go, the intention was always clear: The Freedom Wall eyes to celebrate the nation’s historic and ongoing struggles for political and social equality.

The large concrete wall surrounding NFTA’s Cold Spring Bus Maintenance Depot now has portraits of 28 civil rights leaders.

Some of the subjects depicted include:
Rosa Parks
Mama Charlene Caver Miller
William Wells Brown
King Peterson
Angela Davis
Bill Gaiter
Malcolm X
W. E. B. Du Bois
Frank Merriweather
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mary B. Talbert
Thurgood Marshall
Minnie Gillette
Harriet Tubman

Now, The Freedom Wall continues to encourage conversations about the scope of the long journey toward equality and freedom.

And that a lot of effort still needs to be done to bring about a just and equitable world.

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Travel

Best LGBT nightspots in Vegas

If you’ve been to Vegas before, don’t be fooled into thinking you know all the best places. Bars, hotels and clubs are opening, closing and changing their names all the time.

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Photo by James Walsh from Unsplash.com

Las Vegas – it’s America’s biggest playground and it’s a place where everyone is welcome. Age, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, wealth, social background – none of them matter in Sin City. Vegas has a large and vibrant gay scene, and one that extends far beyond what is affectionately know as the fruit loop around East Naples Drive, near the University of Nevada. 

If you’ve been to Vegas before, don’t be fooled into thinking you know all the best places. Bars, hotels and clubs are opening, closing and changing their names all the time. If you leave it for more than a couple of years between visits, it can feel like you’re entering a completely different city and you have to learn it all again from scratch. 

Five years ago, for example, the Blue Moon resort was the first place on everyone’s list. But Vegas’s first and only specifically gay hotel and resort suddenly closed its doors in October 2014. There have been rumors of it reopening, but none of these have come to fruition as yet. 

Here, we’ve taken a look not just around the fruit loop area but also up and down the strip to find some of the top LGBT nightspots in Glitter Gulch. 

Piranha Nightclub

The exception that proves the rule in the constant swirl of Vegas change, the Piranha nightclub is one constant that has been around for years. The two-floor nightclub is chic, sophisticated and high-energy. The dance floor is always packed, but if you want something a little calmer, it is well worth splashing out on a VIP package. 

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That provides an opportunity to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, as the VIP area and skyboxes are a popular celebrity haunt. As well as offering an amazing view of the dance floor, you can enjoy a luxury patio, accessed through a walk-through aquarium full of – you guessed it – piranhas. Check out the weekend party package for four, which includes two bottles of New Amsterdam along with mixers in the $350 price. 

Piranha is on Paradise Road just to the north of Tropicana Avenue and close to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. 

Sahara Hotel and Casino

Let’s face it, there’s never been a particularly strong correlation between casino gambling and gay culture. As a result you’re not going to find a “gay casino” as such in Las Vegas, but whether you go to Paris, Wynns or the MGM Grand, you’re guaranteed a warm welcome and a great night’s entertainment. 

Having said that, no city on earth has as much choice as Vegas when it comes to gambling halls, so you can afford to be fussy. The Sahara on Las Vegas Boulevard gets singled out here for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a place with its own unique style. Across the board, casino fashion is changing from the archetypal formal wear of Monte Carlo, but the vibe at Sahara is one that really encourages you to express yourself, so make an effort and get dressed up for the night. 

Secondly, though, once you’ve had enough of the blackjack, roulette and slots, there are few places better to catch a show. The Sahara has hosted some of the absolutely classic gay icons across the years. These include Liberace, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Barbara Streisand and Kenny Kerr. 

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Quadz

Fancy something a little more casual? Quadz could be just the thing, with its retro, dive bar feel. The drinks are cheap, the chatter is friendly and it is one of those places that is as popular with locals as it is with visitors. In Vegas, that’s one of the highest accolades, so definitely pay the place a visit. 

The focus here is on traditional bar games like pool, darts and good old fashioned arcade games. There’s a juke box with an eclectic mix so that you can choose your own soundtrack for the night. Quadz also has regular game nights, including Cowboy Bingo once a month and poker every Thursday evening. 

Quadz is on Paradise Road, right opposite Piranha Nightclub, and is open 24/7. 

The Luxor (Temptation Sunday)

If you’re visiting Las Vegas in the height of summer, a pool party makes all sorts of sense. The Luxor Hotel and Casino on The Strip hosts regular gay pool parties of a Sunday. The Luxor pyramid serves as the perfect backdrop for sun-kissed fun around the pool, and the party vibe is enhanced by Go-Go boys and the cheesiest of party music. 

Temptation Sunday also hosts a range of top-notch DJs, so if you are in Vegas for a while, it is worth checking who is on when and planning your visit to The Luxor accordingly. If you want to really make it a party to remember, you could consider renting out a cabana for the occasion. These come equipped for four, and comfy chairs, soft drinks, towels and even a flat screen TV with sports package are all provided for you and your party. 

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The Temptation Sundays Seasons runs throughout the summer months from about May to September.

The Phoenix

Situated on West Sahara Avenue, a short drive to the north west of The Strip, The Phoenix is a friendly cocktail bar that offers cheap drinks, good conversation and a great variety of special event nights.

On a run of the mill evening, there will be no-nonsense bar food, dancing and a choice of video games and traditional bar games to keep you amused. Time your visit right, though, and you could join the fun for an underwear party. Dare to bare and it’s all you can drink for a one-off $5 charge. 

Phoenix is a bar that allows smoking even if you’re not playing casino games, so keep that in mind. For smokers, it’s like a step back in time to the good old days, but for others, it can come a bit of a culture shock. However, there’s a fabulous outdoor patio where you can take in the fresh desert air.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

LGBT athletes who have been an inspiration on and off the field

There are some sports stars across the US and the world who are out and proud. They are paving a path for new generations, so let’s celebrate them.

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Photo by tommy boudreau from Unsplash.com

The sports world is one that loves tradition. In most respects, that’s a good thing, and some of the rituals attached to our favorite sports have become woven into national folklore. There are times, however, when those deeply ingrained practices make it difficult for sport to move with the times. 

It means that traditions dating back to the mid 20th century or earlier can sometimes be accompanied by attitudes from the same period. For example, there is an immense gender gap in professional sports of practically every type when it comes to both the profile of the sport and the money earned by the athletes. Certain sports also show an alarming disparity when it comes to ethnicity. The achievements of stars like Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters illuminate just how few black golfers and tennis pros there are, for example. 

But even more glaringly obvious than this is the underrepresentation of LGBT sports pros. Could it be that even in 2019, outdated “locker room” mentalities mean that there is still a fear of coming out? The good news is that there are some sports stars across the US and the world who are out and proud. They are paving a path for new generations, so let’s celebrate them.

Tom Waddell

The former Olympic decathlete was a man of many talents and of strong convictions. Prior to his professional sporting career, he qualified as a doctor and then served in the US Army as a paratrooper and preventative medical officer. Waddell competed in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, where he placed sixth in the decathlon out of 33 entrants. 

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With his military, sporting and medical background, it was an immensely brave act for Waddell to come out given the attitudes of the early 1970s. In 1972, he joined a gay bowling league, and it was this that brought home to him how few openly gay athletes there are. It inspired him to organize the inaugural Gay Olympics in 1982, although an injunction by the IOC forced an eleventh hour name change to the Gay Games. 

Waddell passed away in 1987 aged just 49. Despite declining health, he witnessed and even participated in Gay Games II, winning Gold in the javelin. To this day, he is remembered with numerous tributes and his legacy is one that will live forever. 

Jason Collins

The center, who played 13 seasons in the NBA, came out in 2013. The news created a media storm, as he was the first active male athlete from any of the four major sporting leagues to come out as gay. The Guardian newspaper said at the time that this was a defining moment for LGBT rights, describing professional sport at the “final frontier.”

Collins himself has always remained level headed, and very much takes the attitude that he is doing no more than less than playing the cards he is dealt. He famously said: “I’m black. And I’m gay. I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”

That conversation is still ongoing and today, Collins is a passionate advocate for LGBT rights. 

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Michael Sam

Despite these inspiring stories, it would be disingenuous to pretend that coming out as a sports pro is easy, or that once done, the world will welcome you, congratulate you and let you get on with your life. Michael Sam knows that better than most. 

The defensive end spent one season in the NFL, playing for the St Louis Rams. Having come out the previous year, he was the first openly gay player in the NFL. His pro career never really got off the ground, and after a season with the Montreal Alouettes he retired from football. Throughout his pro career, there was constant distraction due to debate over his sexuality. An anonymous source in the NFL said that Sam’s decision to come out immediately after college would probably affect his chances of being drafted, while campaigners with placards either berating or supporting Sam were a common site at and around games. 

All this meant that Sam struggled to focus 100 percent on football, and he even remarked that his career might have gone differently had he stayed in the closet. Today, he works as a writer and motivational speaker. 

Caitlyn Jenner

Born William Bruce Jenner, Caitlyn Jenner is without doubt the most famous and talked-about transgender woman on the planet. Back in the 1970s and prior to her gender reassignment surgery, she led the world in decathlon. After winning the gold medal at the 1975 Olympics, it was the then Bruce Jenner who started the tradition of taking a national flag from a spectator and carrying it on the victory lap, something that is still imitated to this day. 

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In 1982, Bruce Jenner featured on the cover of Playgirl. Who could have imagined that the next magazine cover, some 33 years later would be so different? Caitlyn Jenner has shared the highs and lows of gender reassignment with the world through interviews, social media and even her own TV series. She’s a lady that polarizes opinion, but that’s fine – after all, black or white, straight, gay or trans, none of us have an automatic right to be liked by everyone. What is beyond doubt is that she’s done more than anyone to get people talking about gender reassignment and to bring into everyday conversation. And that can never be a bad thing.

Blazing a trail

There are literally dozens of other names we could mention, including swimmer Ian Thorp, boxer Orlando Cruz, diver Tom Daley and England cricketers Katherine Brunt and Natalie Sciver, who recently announced their engagement

The good news is that with every passing year, we can add more names to this list, and the day will come when we will no longer have to. Saying a sports star is gay or trans will be as irrelevant as saying he or she is left handed or wears a size 10 shoe. The important thing to remember is that this change does not happen overnight, and it has only been made possible by those who had the courage to take those first steps. 

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Technology

Tinder is a waste of time for most people

Female Tinder users are, on average, more interested in finding long-term relationships than men are. This also applies to encounters without using dating apps.

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Photo by Marjan Grabowski from Unsplash.com

“For people who don’t pull off one-night stands without using Tinder, Tinder doesn’t offer much in the way of new opportunities,” says postdoc Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

He is the first author of a new article – titled “Hook, Line and Sinker: Do Tinder Matches and Meet Ups Lead to One-Night Stands?” – that appeared in Evolutionary Psychological Science to deal with the use of Tinder. If you’re failing outside Tinder, then you don’t have much to gain from using Tinder, either.

Other authors include: Mons Bendixen, Ernst O. Botnen and Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair

“For people who actually have sexual relations outside Tinder, Tinder use only provides a limited increase in the number of one-night stands,” Grøntvedt says.

“Most of the people who succeed on Tinder have casual sex and hook-ups otherwise, too,” says Kennair at the Department of Psychology at NTNU.

The researchers have previously found that Tinder use did not lead to an increase in one-night stands.

“We have found little reason to claim that dating apps lead to more short-term sexual relationships than before,” says Bendixen, also in NTNU’s Department of Psychology.

There is thus no reason for any moral outrage from anyone.

Swiping

Tinder is one of several match-making apps. It uses location services to find other users nearby and then tries to match users with each other.

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Selecting someone is simple and effective: candidates pop up with a picture and some information on the screen. Swiping to the left means you’re not interested in a meet-up. Swiping to the right means you would like to meet the person. If two people swipe right on each other, the app can help them meet.

But sweeping and searching on Tinder has very limited effectiveness for the vast majority of users, who will probably succeed just as well by meeting live people instead.

Lots of hits needed

A lot of hits are needed on Tinder before any lead to a meeting. And even more hits are required before any kind of relationship can happen, whether we’re talking about a one-night stand or a meeting a partner with the aim of having a long-term committed relationship.

Men and women tend to use Tinder and other dating apps differently. Most women take more time to evaluate potential matches and are more often looking for a relationship, whereas most men are quicker in their assessments and swipe to the right far more often in the hope that a high enough number will result in at least one hit.

About 20 per cent of users had one-night stands after using Tinder. The vast majority of them had only experienced this once. Thus, eight of ten users never have sex after using the app.

“Tinder may offer new sexual opportunities, but these appear to be very limited,” says Kennair.

Only a tiny group of seven people, between two and three per cent of the study participants, had one-night stands exclusively after meeting someone through Tinder. The rest achieved this by traditional dating methods as well.

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Participants were asked to evaluate how physically attractive they found themselves to be. How physically attractive users are can predict the extent to which they succeed in having short-term sex when using Tinder.

“But this also applies when you’re not using dating apps. Some people get a lot, and a lot get none,” says Kennair.

“Both age and attitudes towards casual sex affect how often you actually achieve a one-night stand after using Tinder. But these are the same factors that play in elsewhere as well,” Grøntvedt says.

If you are more comfortable with casual sex, you’ll also have it more often.

“But there’s also a connection between a high interest in short-term sex encounters and less chance of meeting someone interested in a long-term relationship through the use of the dating app,” says Bendixen.

Female Tinder users are, on average, more interested in finding long-term relationships than men are. This also applies to encounters without using dating apps.

But according to this and previous studies, Tinder is not a very effective way to meet a long-term partner, either.

Ernst Olav Botnen had the idea for this study. He is currently a clinical psychologist at Lovisenberg Diakonale Hospital in Oslo.

“It’s interesting to see how the behaviour we see in other arenas, like bars and nightclubs, is reflected in dating apps,” says Botnen.

Of the 269 study participants who were active or former Tinder users, 62 per cent were women.

“Since the participants in our selection are university students in their early 20s, it will be interesting to see if our findings apply to other groups and age ranges in future research,” Botnen says.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

International Money Transfer will cost few cents

We now run business from our flats and hire employees all over the world. And most importantly, we constantly exchange and send money online.

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International Money Transfer will cost few cents? Soon it may be possible…

We live in the age of globalisation and widely-available connection to the Internet. It’s nothing too unusual to purchase good and services from foreign companies. We run business from our flats and hire employees all over the world. And most importantly, we constantly exchange and send money online. If you have ever wanted to make a larger international transfer you noticed how high the fees could be.

Fortunately, with new technological solutions we may soon be able to send money for a few cents. Moreover, our recipient will receive it after just a few seconds.

Current remittance prices

While banks charge sometimes from $10-$30 for an international wire, online remittance companies have a more appealing rates. You can easily send and exchange a thousand dollars for under $5. It’s very easy to do and convenient. All you have to do is send a regular domestic free bank or card transfer to one of the remittance companies and then they will take care of moving your money between borders.

Blockchain impact on remittance

In last few months there have been a lot of news about cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin or Ethereum. These topics were hot mostly because of the incredible and sudden value gains of these virtual digital coins. If you don’t know too much about them – they work just like any other currency. However, they are purely digital. Moreover, there are no “central banks” or other “admins” of the system. So only you have access to your e-wallet.

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There are still lots of obstacles, which prevent any potential wider adaptation of these coins. However, some online stores already accept them among other payment methods. The biggest advantages of cryptocurrencies are cheap fees and quick transfer delivery times. Let’s take a look at the 2nd most popular crypto – Ethereum. It costs $0.2 to send any amount to anywhere in the world. Moreover, your recipient gets the money to his personal wallet just after 15 seconds.

Now, some remittance companies try to utilize blockchain technology to lower their transfer prices.

Better money transfer services

Some of the companies claim that after connecting blockchain solutions to their platforms, they were able to offer their money transfer services in more remote countries. For example, TransferGo started their cooperation with blockchain and cryptocurrency-related project – Ripple.

The CEO of TransferGo said that: “After launching our Ripple corridor to India, we were able to pay out remittances in minutes, Ripple gives us a competitive edge in India, which is the largest global cross-border remittance market, and today we’re moving more than a couple of million pounds per year.”

Ripple tries to help financial institutions benefit from this new technology. Currently most of the banks communicate via SWIFT network (that’s why the international wire is so expensive). As more and more companies decide to try blockchain and for example Ripple’s network, they will be able to lower the prices and increase the speed. In the same interview TransferGo’s CEO talked about how transfer which takes a few minutes is already becoming too outdated for the modern money transfer market.

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Which remit platform is the best?

As even big mainstream financial institutions such as Santander Bank decided to try utilizing blockchain technology, maybe it is the future of remittance and inter-bank communication? We can already see the difference in fees and charges offered by classic remittance companies versus the ones which are not afraid of trying new solutions. Even Facebook is soon introducing their own blockchain-based digital coin. You can read about how Libra can empower financially less-developed regions and bring cheap and almost instant money transfers. All you will need to send thousands of dollars to anyone in the world for few cents is a smartphone with Internet connection…

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Do’s & dont’s for better sex using toys

If it works for you, that’s great, but talking things through before springing anything on (or into) your partner is more than just manners, it’s consent, and you’ll need it before you try anything new, no matter how much you just know they’re “…going to love it.”

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New to the world of sex toys? Perhaps you’ve played solo for years and have finally found or have decided to share the joy with your partner. Either way, there’s some crucial data to take on board when sharing the buzz or maybe the harness with your bedfellows. 

Always ask

Seems straightforward, even mandatory for most of us, but even in the heat of the moment (which might just be your own), consider your partner’s feelings and wishes above all else. If it works for you, that’s great, but talking things through before springing anything on (or into) your partner is more than just manners, it’s consent, and you’ll need it before you try anything new, no matter how much you just know they’re “…going to love it.”

Use lubricant

At the risk of sounding naive, it’s astonishing how many toy owners complain, and then wonder why/how their partner can’t be into it, when they thrust the dry probe or over-sized phallus into what’s usually their partner’s hottest pleasure center. Whatever the toy, if it has any part that sits close to, or penetrates, even a fraction of an inch, use a high quality water-based lubricant, and check before using other kinds, they might just damage/degrade materials like silicone and some newer polymers. It’s easy enough to forget, so make sure you have a steady and ready supply, which leads us to the next point:

Be prepared

If you have a first time toy experience or even a regular date night buzz planned with your partner, plan for it. Make it special, romantic or as fun and crazy as you guys enjoy whatever it is you do, but be prepared. Have plenty of lube, towels and wipes, toy cleaner and condoms; everything that you wouldn’t want to have missing in the heat of the moment. Many a romantic interlude or passionate embrace has been interrupted or ruined with the fateful words like, “You did bring a rubber, right?” or “Hand me some lube, honey.”

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Being prepared incorporates personal and physical hygiene, so…

Be sure and get clean before you get down and dirty

This is especially the case for anyone using anal toys, plugs, vibrators, or pumps. Anything that’s going anywhere near your tushie needs to be clean itself, and you want your rear end to be so clean you could… well, clean enough to do whatever you’re going to do ‘back there.’

Anal douching, even enemas are the unadvertised necessity when it comes to anal play, and it isn’t always spelled out for you on the box. If you or your partner are new to or want to explore anal play, start by exploring the fascinating (and sexy for some) world of cleaning yourself before anal sex.

It’s the same for any kind of sex; for any gender. If you’re sharing yourself (and your toys), you need to make sure both they and their intended users are clean. Guys, it’s your responsibility to clean your manhood as much as it is for any partner to make themselves fresh and appealing for you too.

It’s the same as body parts, never share toys between partners without sterilizing, and be mindful too, because some materials are porous and need a condom fitted to avoid risk of infection/cross-contamination.

Keep it fun and light-hearted

If either partner is new to toys, keep it fun and don’t bring out the biggest, most intimidating toy in the box. Start slow and explore boundaries. They’re there for a reason, and not all partner’s boundaries or preferences/choices need to be overcome. Always only do what feels right for both of you.

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Time and place

If you’re staying over or having a partner stay, consider the toy/s you have in mind. Some people lose control when they have a buzz-induced orgasm, real screamers. Also, consider the type/style and volume/requirements of your toys. Do they make a lot of noise? And if they do, is it appropriate to use them on the day/night. Do they need batteries or power? Refer back to being prepared, but consider how practical and fun what you want to use really is, and you may do this by considering all factors of the intended experience.

Despite what some people think, or the online descriptions suggest, it is not always fine to take your dildo or vibrator to work. It can be fun, but it could also be super awkward for your coworkers or boss if you’re found doing something you shouldn’t be at work. Keep work and play separate. Use your own discernment and common sense as a necessity.

Pleasure your partner first

Unless you have a standing order, if you’re the more experienced toy user, or if the toy is specific to your partner’s needs, focus attention on them first. Making it all about your partner is a secret to most problems that arise from the bedroom in relationships. If you make it about them, your own sense of fulfillment is greatly enhanced, and for guys, it’s a sure way to last longer overall, as well as being what he/she really wants… someone who thinks about them instead of themselves all of the time.

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Make it personal

Familiar users of toys can personalize their experience. Gifting your partner a toy which suits their personality, preferred position or style of pleasure, even if it’s just their favorite color, is a truly great way to customize the toy-based experience.

Don’t depend on toys every time you have sex/climax

It maybe blasphemy for some, but use toys as they are intended, and add accessories to heighten and enhance the natural and intimate sensuality of partnered/solo sexual encounters. Sometimes training your body to climax to artificial stimulation might make the natural response more difficult over time. 

Enjoy toys, by all means, and delight in the intensity of their power, feel and sensations that you can share and enjoy with or without your partner, but keep it real. Like anything fun, if it becomes an obsession, or is keeping you from performing in your non-toy life, it could become a problem rather than a pleasure. Use your own discernment here.

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