Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Gchat about sexuality, gender, and how they're relevant to our writing

Posted By on 07.12.12 at 02:26 PM

The Reader copy desk
  • ercwttmn
  • The Reader copy desk
What happens when two staff writers with backgrounds in copyediting have a discussion about gender, sexuality, and privacy? For one thing, they spend some time laying down ground rules about how things will be capitalized (don't worry, we cut that part out of the transcript). For another—well, they talk about some stuff. The chat below started with the much-discussed Atlantic article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" but quickly moved on due to the fact that one of us hadn't actually read the article.


Sam: I thought [the Atlantic article] was totally underwhelming. I read it once and thought it was sort of blandly inoffensive and then I reread it on the train this morning and started scribbling angry notes in the margins.

Julia: In reaction to what?

Sam: Maybe I need an adult to talk me down. But it was so singularly focused on not just, like, run-of-the-mill upper-class women, but actually basically two types of people—diplomats and CEOs, or "C-level jobs," as the author put it—that the advice it offered would seem to be extremely limited.

Like at a certain point she's talking about her work in the State Department, where she's obviously got an insane schedule, and she says something about "the minute I found myself in a job that is typical of the vast majority of working women" to illustrate a point about "working long hours on someone else's schedule," but it's like, man, the vast majority of working women don't report to Hillary Clinton.

Julia: I think that's why I stopped reading like a fifth of the way through.

But just to play devil's advocate: you have to write what you know, right?

I was thinking about the fact that everyone's challenges with work/life balance can be kind of specific. I mean, no one has enough free time. Obviously. But for me, dividing my personal life from my work life is challenging, and that's kind of a journalism thing. Like, how much of yourself do you let into your writing?

Sam: Yeah! I think about that a lot.

Julia: I think some people just write about themselves and have no problem with it. But I'm a private person, and I'm not sure I want to do that.

When you mentioned having a discussion about being gay in the workplace, it reminded me that I haven't ever really come out in my writing, and so I started thinking a lot about that. And then Anderson Cooper came out. How perfect is that!

Sam: I feel like when I've alluded to my personal life, so far it's been sort of reflexive—usually in the service of a joke or something.

Earlier this year I mentioned breaking up with my boyfriend in a feature story—I mean, the sentence was true, but I also just thought it was a good sentence—and then we got back together and the story came out and that line was actually in a pull-quote. And he was sort of like, whoa. Maybe give me a heads-up next time?

It was not the sort of issue I'd grappled with before.

Julia: Yeah, everything that involves other people can be an issue for their privacy as well.

I think that bringing yourself into your writing can be a really good way to engage the reader, though. A lot of people do it well.

I actually remember reading a blog post while I was still interning at the Reader like five years ago, and this editor mentioned that she meant to go to the farmers' market over the weekend but didn't get up early enough. And even that seemed weird to me—not that she'd say it, but at the time, I couldn't imagine letting total strangers know what I'd done with my weekend. I've moved past that some, but I still have reservations about sharing personal stuff.

Sam: Also, I'm trying not to veer into boring observations about What Blogging and Twitter Have Done, etc, but I'd think maybe there's more space—or even more of an imperative—to include that sort of information in a blog post, uh, These Days.

I don't know. I don't remember five years ago. If you remember 2007, you weren't there, or something.

Julia: I mean, I think What Blogging and Twitter Have Done is pretty relevant here. You're right that blogging seems to kind of necessitate a certain casualness (is that a word?) of writing, and including personal anecdotes or whatever really helps with that.

Also, cursing. As you've pointed out.

Sam: Yeah, swearing is a very important part of any writing.

Also, you know, depends on what type of writing. You write mostly about food, so I'd imagine it's pretty easy to keep yourself out of the story?

Whereas I just try to make shit up about whatever, so I end up roping myself into things.

Julia: The Internet is just so damn public. And once information is out there, it's kind of always there, even if it sometimes seems like it's trapped in a black hole.

Sam: I just remembered an important detail, which is that I never mention that I smoke for anything that's going into the print version. Because of my grandparents.

Julia: Do you think we can talk about the arguments about gender we've had with other people at the Reader without naming names or being too vague?

Sam: That sounds fun!

Julia: I mean, you've taken on the title of Politically Correct Gay as a result.

Which I'm a little jealous of, by the way. Can't there be two of us?

Sam: PCG. You can have it too. I do want to point out that I am personally vulgar, it's just that I have a few pressure points.

Julia: Do tell.

About the pressure points. I know you're vulgar.

Sam: Well, there was that time we (the gay two-thirds of the Reader copy desk) got into that argument [with an editor] over which pronouns to use for the lead singer of Against Me!, who had just come out as a trans woman.

I think it's fair to say that for us it was pretty cut-and-dried? But we ended up getting into sort of a long argument about it.

I mean, not really argument. Discussion in which strong opinions were expressed.

Julia: As I recall, the major argument was that since she hadn't yet transitioned, she was still a man.

Sam: Which to me betrayed a fundamental lack of understanding of etc etc etc.

Julia: Exactly. I try to remember that it does take a while for people to wrap their heads around these concepts. I guess I'm just surprised that it hasn't happened already.

Also, having to explain that "tranny" isn't really an acceptable word to use anymore.

On the one hand, maybe not that big a deal? On the other hand, can you imagine having to do the same thing with "fag"?

Sam: That makes me remember that one time that I tried to use the word "fag" in a blog post but you suggested to me that it might be a little much.

Julia: See, I am the Politically Correct Gay!

Have you read Miner's column yet this week?

Sam: Yes!

Julia: So of course it's kind of exactly what I've been thinking about. Miner starts out quoting this NYT op-ed columnist who says that "being gay should be no more a 'privacy' issue than being straight is for straight people."

Then he follows up by saying that he's never come out as straight to his colleagues. Which I'm sure is true, but he hasn't really had to. One: it's assumed, and two: he has a wife and kids that most of his colleagues know about.

Just going to gratuitously quote this section because I love it: "If asked if I am 'proud' to be straight, I wouldn't know what to say. If asked if sexuality 'is seen' as a core aspect of my identity, I would reply that it's for others to say but I'm not aware of evidence pointing in this direction. If asked if Mendelsohn is indulging himself in post-Freudian hooey, I would reluctantly say yes."

So . . . is sexuality a core aspect of identity? I guess I'd say yes.

But is it important that everyone else knows about it?

Sam: I'd say yes too. But I actually really blanch at the idea that famous gay people—or anybody, really—have some sort of "responsibility" to come out. Like, I get the argument in favor of it, but ultimately for me the issue is being in control of your identity and doing what you want with it, and not succumbing to that kind of social obligation to announce yourself if you don't want to.

Julia: Yeah, I think that one of the main arguments right now about why people should come out is sort of, "things are better now and you probably won't be discriminated against." I was reading another NYT article that's kind of about that, about Tammy Baldwin.

Sam: By Frank Bruni, no less! Another famous homosexual.

Julia: But that ignores people's right to privacy. It's not like the reason I've never mentioned being gay in my writing is that I'm afraid of the repercussions, either at work or in public. Besides, I think pretty much everyone here already knows.

Sam: I remember I first surmised it when you told me about your love for Dykes to Watch Out For.

Julia: That's a great comic. Everyone should read it, gay or straight.

So I'm trying to think about whether there are any conclusions to be drawn from this. Maybe that's a little too pat anyway.

Moral of the story: do what you want!

Sam: Everyone's different! Unless they're not.

Julia: Gender: it exists!

And so does sexuality!

Sometimes it might affect things, even. And . . . other stuff.

Sam: Boys: call me.

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