“I’ve never been more terrified of anything,” Gabrielle Korn said to me during our interview about her debut book, Everybody (Else) Is Perfect: How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes, out today January 26, when I asked if she’s scared about how the book will be received.
The book, a collection of essays that straddle the line between cultural criticism and personal narrative, is a bold and complicated meditation on media, feminism, and the internet, written from the perspective of a thoughtful and deeply honest insider. It is also very, very gay.
While I can see why Gabrielle would be terrified — she’s a self-identified shy Taurus, and publishing big assertions about the media industry and the way we all engage with it is definitely not the key to flying under the radar — I found her writing to be so engaging and necessary that I am grateful she chose to draw attention to herself in this way.
I’m also not surprised. In all the years I have known her, both personally and professionally, Gabrielle has never backed down from fighting for the things she believes in or from taking a stand to improve conditions for the collective, even if it’s terrifying.
It’s particularly exciting to review Everybody (Else) Is Perfect for Autostraddle because not only is the book’s subject matter relevant to many of our interests, and not only is the book a queer coming of age story, but longtime readers will recall that once upon a time, Gabrielle worked here! Before she was the youngest and first lesbian editor-in-chief of Nylon, before she climbed the ranks to become Director of Fashion and Culture at Refinery29, before she was sitting in the front row at Fashion Week and flying all over the world for stories and using her core values to challenge and change the conversations in and about women’s media, Gabrielle was sitting on her couch in her pajamas writing for Autostraddle dot com.
Full disclosure, I have been friends with Gabrielle for almost a decade. When I first envisioned covering her book, I assumed we’d meet up for brunch in Brooklyn and maybe spend the day together afterwards. Instead the pandemic happened; we met over Zoom in December 2020, each of us sitting in our own bedrooms. It’s been quite a(n almost) year of staring at our collective screens, and this book is now more urgent than ever. It’s refreshing to hear someone who comes from a background of independent media and radical politics and organizing reflect on how the content we all consume from our devices gets made, what the flaws are, and what we need to create a better future.
Gabrielle and I were hired to write for Autostraddle at the same time, back in the summer of 2012. I met Gabrielle multiple different ways all at once: we connected at NYU, at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, at the NYC Dyke March, at Gingers, then at Autostraddle. To be honest I was extremely intimidated by Gabrielle at first — she was so smart and so stylish, so opinionated and so hard-working. It was funny and surprising for me to hear in our interview that she felt like an outsider during her time at Autostraddle, a reminder that no matter how starstruck you are by someone via the internet, it’s possible you don’t know anything about the way they think and feel, or at least won’t know until you directly ask them.
It’s always thrilling when an Autostraddle staff member launches their career into the world of mainstream media if that’s what they want to do, but it’s even more satisfying when they acknowledge the role independent queer media played in their career trajectory. Gabrielle name drops Autostraddle on the very first page of her very first chapter, and in our conversation about the book last month she said, “I learned how to internet from working at Autostraddle. My writing before then had only ever been academic, or fiction, or journalism for journalism classes. I hadn’t experienced that bloggy style… [At Autostraddle I learned] how to write something people will click on. I think that is something that Autostraddle does better than most places — writing compelling stuff, and participating in the conversation in a really active way.”
Everybody (Else) Is Perfect is introspective, vast, fun, and also heavy. From the first page of the book to the very last, Gabrielle tells her story and offers her perspective through a conversational voice, and allows the reader to join her in a world that is often shrouded with secrecy. The goal of both the fashion industry and the media industry has often been to rely on exclusivity in order to position themselves as experts that the consumers are reliant upon, and Gabrielle works to invite her readers into a world that has long seemed inaccessible. Her tone works; even during chapters that were not personally relatable to me, I found I had enough information about the world Gabrielle was describing to be interested in her stories and critiques of it.
As I said in the introduction, this book is also very gay! While I found the media gossip and breadcrumbs to be really scintillating, I found the gay gossip just as enticing. It was also pleasurable to experience the matter-of-fact frankness Gabrielle employs to talk about her life. Some chapters dive more deeply into her sexuality and her dating experience — “Staying Out” and “Happy Weight,” in particular, are filled with anecdotes about managing her identity at work, learning how to move through relationships and breakups and all the big gay mistakes young lesbians are prone to make in between, and casual in-jokes about astrology and sex toy shops and in-fighting — but Gabrielle’s identity as a lesbian and the intellectual framework with which she approaches the world shines through on every page. “The Cult of Empowerment” is one of the most incisive chapters of the book; placed near the end, it reads more as a stand alone essay than some of the other chapters (though they all contribute to the whole story) and uses a quote from Audre Lorde — “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” — as the framework for an airtight argument against the co-opting of the feminist movement by supposed feminist brands. It’s clear that Gabrielle’s background in queer activism, her deep friendships with other queer people, and her formal academic queer and feminist studies have informed the way she sees the world.
Perhaps it goes without saying that a book about the media industry, influencer culture, and being a woman in capitalist America would be filled with really challenging subject matter. Parts of Everybody (Else) Is Perfect are painful to read — Gabrielle does not sugarcoat her reflections on her own battle with anorexia, the praise she received from her colleagues while her doctors sounded the alarms on her health, her experiences with sexism and sexual assaults, the realities around money, salaries, and privilege at the media companies she worked for, and the racism and fatphobia she witnessed from co-workers who were allegedly producing “woke” content.
The biggest strength of Everybody (Else) Is Perfect, in my opinion, is Gabrielle’s insistence on complicating everything. Not only does she leave room for multiple perspectives, she insists that we all interrogate the things we might otherwise accept without question. Many times over in the book — when discussing work, relationships, sexual assault, privilege — Gabrielle holds up two or more examples and demands the reader look and decide for themselves what they think, or what they might need to think more about. This is Gabrielle’s greatest gift as a writer and a thinker.
When I asked Gabrielle why she wrote the book, I was delighted to learn that my perception of her work was exactly what she had been aiming to achieve. “I really wanted to call attention to things that I think are endemic to our culture right now but that we don’t even think about,” she said. “There is so much hypocrisy and competing dualities in everything we do, and I think we’re so in it that we’re not aware of how those things are affecting us. I’m hoping people have some ‘aha’ moments while reading this book.”
Since completing this debut, Gabrielle has left editorial media entirely and now works at Netflix as the editorial and publishing manager for Most, Netflix’s home for LGBTQ+ storytelling on social media. When I asked what the future holds for her writing she excitedly told me that her first love was sci-fi fiction, and she’s always wanted to write a novel — so now she’s doing it. “I figured, why don’t I just do it instead of being sad that I haven’t done it,” she laughed. “I’m trying to write something that is very dystopian and very queer… I’m not sure if it’s working but it’s really fun.”
Before we wrapped up our interview, I tried to ask for a tiny bit of queer gossip. Are there any juicy anecdotes that didn’t make it into the book, I wanted to know.
Gabrielle tilted her head, thinking. “Yeah, I mean, a million. Infinite!”
I asked if she could share anything and she thought for a little while longer, finally sighing and shaking her head; “I have so many NDAs.”