Things I Read That I Love #11

HELLO and welcome to the eleventh installment of Things I Read That I Love, wherein I share with you some of the longer-form journalism/essays I’ve read recently so that you can read them too and we can all know more about crime in Baltimore and Dan Savage!

This “column” is less feminist/queer focused than the rest of the site because when something is feminist/queer focused, I put it on the rest of the site. Here is where the other things are. The title of this feature is inspired by the title of Emily Gould’s tumblr, Things I Ate That I Love.

The Rules of Misbehavior, Washington Monthly (March/April 2011) – This is basically the life story of Dan Savage. Near the end there’s some analysis regarding Savage’s emphasis on sexual satisfaction as essential to a successful relationship. It’s a really good article, I think.

Cases Crumble, Killers Go Free (September 2002),  The Baltimore Sun  – Jesus Fucking Christ. If you’ve seen The Wire, you’re somewhat prepared for this.

The Literary Pedigree of Downton Abbey (January 2012), The Millions – “In the end, this is the secret to Downton Abbey’s success, as well. The glamour of the earldom draws us in, but it’s the vividly realized characters who surround it — especially the servants below-stairs — that hold it in perspective, and so give it life.”

Leveling the Field: What I Learned From For-Profit Education (October 2011).  Harper’s – Every wonder about Phoenix University — the one that’s always advertising everywhere? Like who goes there? Me too! That’s why I read this article.

Night Shifts (January 2012), The Rumpus  – “Driving home is nothing like driving away, and night is nothing like the day. Life is different at night; we are different. Night tends to strip us of our titles, our worldly roles, our formal clothing and our credentials. Most of us retreat into our private lives and often we seek out secret forms of gratification. Our fear is sharpened, our loneliness honed.”

Shut the Fuck Up: Is Bill O’Reilly a Crazy Narcissist? (January 2012), Boston Magazine – The answer is yes, and the information in the post is ace.

The Devil in Greg Dark (February 2001),  Esquire – The article’s about Greg Dark, an ex-pornographer who went on to direct music videos for stars like Britney Spears and Mandy Moore. But the part of the article that really got me is the part about the Leslie Carter music video he’s shooting during the time the Esquire reporter was shadowing him. Also, prepare yourself for misogyny.

The Admissions Whisperer, San Francisco Magazine (April 2008) – “Clarke, the most sought-after college coach in the Bay Area, is very particular about scissors and glue sticks — also calligraphy labels, accordion files, and color coding (yellow marker for anything positive, orange for negative, pink for not sure).”

Christmas in Baltimore City 2009 (May 2011), n+1  – “No one wants to accept this in a country based on individual mobility and the hope of individual distinction, but it is a fact: blackness still causes the distance to evaporate between who you are and what you have done and what the society has made you.”

Okay, so Longform.org, my favorite website in the universe, had this story up on its site this week, and obviously longform knows how to talk about trans folks although the 1995 story they link to does not:

So obviously I read it, and I didn’t know if I should include it here or not. See, my inclination to want to know your thoughts on it has nothing to do with the story it tells. It’s the way that it’s told. For starters you already know a lot of the story ’cause you saw Boys Don’t Cry and it made you cry.

Death of a Deceiver — I mean, the headline is already problematic, and so is the first sentence and most of the other sentences. I know it’s from Playboy, but they were known for serious quality feature story journalism once upon a time.

I’m not a very politically correct human IRL and it takes a lot to legitimately offend me personally (much less for me to write about something objectively being offensive), but WOW. I’d hope that the writer, Eric Konigsberg, would be embarrassed to know that this article has been republished online. I assume he’d write it differently today. He’s a really well-established and highly respected author with credits from The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The Atlantic and so forth. Back then there was no GLAAD guide to writing about trans folks, now there is, and it’s also in the AP Style book.

If someone wrote this in 2012, I’d assume the author was transphobic or ignorant and engaging in some really nasty victim-blaming. But is this just a product of the times? The transphobia is just latent and insidious. It felt like maybe he thought he was simply telling a story “impartially” the way his readers would expect to hear it. Honestly, it’s likely I read this article in 1995 and didn’t think anything of it, but this time it burned my eyeballs. Thoughts/feelings?

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2696 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. Hey Riese.

    Can Autostraddle start warning for kink? Not because I have some kind of ~moral objection~ to it, but because as an abuse survivor some of this stuff is really upsetting and I’d like to not accidentally click on it.

    Thanks.

  2. I feel like I maybe shouldn’t read that Baltimore article. In the past couple of months two students at my school have been robbed at gunpoint, I don’t need to get any more paranoid than I already am…

  3. I would also suggest the recent Rolling Stone article ‘One Town’s War on Gay Teens’ about the Anoka-Hennepin school district. It’s heart-breaking and infuriating and it’ll probably make you cry.

  4. That article on Brandon Teena was super duper offensive and it also takes a lot to offend me. It -was- 1995 and I can’t imagine an article being written like that now-a-days at all. It really does just seem like the author was really ignorant about how to handle trans* subjects… But seriously. Victim blaming is still shitty no matter what year it is.

    It was also extremely confusing because Brandon is referred to by male and female pronouns.

    Really… just wtf. wtf.

  5. I read the Brandon Teena article when it went up on Longform earlier today, and I found myself barely able to finish it, the transphobia was so blatant and tone of victim-blaming so pervasive. Beyond that, it left me feeling a little overwhelmed at how ill-equipped a respected, distinguished journalist was to deal with the language of a hate-motivated trans* murder only a little over a decade and a half ago. Discussing the “what would it be like if it were written today” with my girlfriend tonight, she concluded, “I mean, 1995…it’s not like this was 40 years ago. I honestly expected better.” Which is really interesting from a perspective of how mainstream journalistic depictions of trans* in America have evolved and how mainstream understandings of gender and sexuality have evolved (Gender Trouble was a wee five years old when the article was written). In any case, a horrifying, fascinating read.

    • Man, yes. I could not get more than a couple of paragraphs in, with all the sensationalism and disrespect toward someone who was Fucking Murdered. I think this is where I had to stop:

      “She was killed, essentially, because she was too successful in passing herself off as a man. She underestimated her own attractiveness and the envy it wrought.”

      Yep, “her” fault, case closed, the end. Infuriating.

  6. Omg, that admissions essay is TOO. STRESSFUL. I’m considering graduate medicine and it is super competitive and after reading that I feel like I should be volunteering 300 hours a week and ideally building my own spaceship in my spare time.

    • i did read that… the thing is that honestly, i wrote an extremely similar article myself on autostraddle not too long ago…

      The Last Days of Gay Rutgers Student Tyler Clementi: New Questions, Some Answers

      …so i had that like “dude you’re not the first one to read all his IMs” feeling — he had some sort of casual interviews with some family friends, which i obviously didn’t have… but beyond that… i think he missed the point and didn’t understand what tyler was going through at all. probably i am just bitter that he got paid $5k to write that article

      i would’ve really liked the article, i’m sure, if i hadn’t spent a weekend immersed in the same material and writing my own article about it already, you know?

      • personally I’m not sure how I feel about the article, mostly I would just say that I found it thought provoking. it was brought to my attention by a friend who’s a lawyer (and a lesbian), and she framed it more around the criminal justice system angle. in terms of dharun facing deportation despite having lived here almost his whole life, her point was that he was a stupid teenager who (we have no reason to believe) ever anticipated tyler would kill himself, and now look what the legal system is trying to do to him. so I dunno, I guess I found it interesting that the article brought up the criminal justice and immigrations issues. I definitely didn’t walk away from the article feeling very sympathetic towards dharum, though..

        • yeah, basically dharum is just an asshole. part of what makes him an asshole is a total detachment from the possibly results of his actions. so i guess he learned his lesson there, but it seems like he should be kicked out of school and have no friends and be made to do charity work or something, i have mixed feelings about whether or not sending him to prison is really the answer.

  7. The article about for-profit universities reminded me of a conversation I had with my exes 10 year old son. He’s extremely intelligent and funny and will probably end up an engineer or possibly a military dictator, it’s hard to say. Anyway, I asked him where he wanted to go to college and he said Phoenix because in all the commercials all of the “Phoenixes” are doing such cool things. Luckily he has 7 more years to realize that the schools he wants to go to don’t need to advertise like that.

  8. Wow, mixed bag this week Riese… there was one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in a long time (Night Shifts,) and one of the most holy-shit-I-just-threw-my-cat-at-the-wall-in-mindless-anger pieces I think I’ve ever read…I think you can guess which one I mean there…

  9. Liked the Savage article and the one about for-profit universities. So are vocational schools the answer? Sure, we need to fill jobs that can’t be outsourced, but that’s really happening by itself. The new world economy is rewarding people with higher education, because they’re able to produce new products and etc etc.

    I think the real point is that Univ. of Phoenix doesn’t produce people with real college degrees, and therefore doesn’t produce people who are able to be successful in the globalized economy. So it’s completely remedial, okay, and that explains the dropout rates; it’s a failure because the whole educational system is a failure. Okay. So what’s the solution?

    Clearly it isn’t maintain these institutions. They are taking advantage of the poor, and that’s the reason we have a government.

    This was a little disorganized…

  10. While the transphobia of that article *could*, charitably, be excused as a product of the time when it was written, what I really didn’t like (and don’t like every time I encounter it in journalistic writing) is that the author kept putting words in “Teena’s” mouth so to speak, writing like they knew what he was thinking/feeling, interpreting the motivations and reasoning of this person… who is dead, and who was dead before the author likely ever spoke to him, his friends and family or had even begun looking into his life’s story. I suppose we are supposed to miss that tidbit in all the excitement, but it’s fairly obvious by the way it’s written that the author probably never knew this person and if they did, they sure didn’t know enough to be writing about him like this.

    The title right off the bat tells you what spin the author is making of this person’s story whether they would have endorsed it or not, but this very non-subtle attempt to write it as though “Teena” (which is the name used despite the fact that “Brandon” was his preferred name was very obvious *in this article* itself) himself had thoughts and ideas that just conveniently backed up everything the author is saying. It’s not true; no one will ever know what Brandon’s real thoughts on himself were, because he is dead and all of this is being pieced together from old records and bits of individually biased accounts dashed with a heaping pile of creative liberty and fiction. Transphobia aside, none of this impresses me, no matter how much of a “product of its time” it may be. Despite how much research and work undoubtedly went into it, I wouldn’t consider this article to be worth printing on paper for all the conjecture it has. I’m aware this is a personal standard, though.

    And those are my thoughts. If I read something like this written today, like you said, they would be different thoughts. I would think that the author was seriously behind the times.

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