It's hard to believe that only six months ago I found myself sitting down to write a blog about the launch of HuffPost Gay Voices. I was still somewhat in shock from having just joined The Huffington Post, and the thought of creating a page (or "vertical," as we refer to them) that could speak to and about the queer "community" (for a discussion of my preference for the term "queer" and my uneasiness with the term "community," have a look at my introductory blog) was a little daunting, to put it mildly.
But it really has been six months -- and an incredible six months at that. After only four weeks online, Gay Voices was ranked by comScore as the most trafficked LGBT news/culture site on the Internet, and we haven't budged since. Millions of people have stopped by to learn about and discuss monumental events like marriage equality coming to Washington and Maryland, the historic passage of Massachusetts' "An Act Relative to Gender Identity" bill, and the touching, emblematic moment last December when two female petty officers in the Navy shared the coveted "first kiss," among others.
While it has been gratifying to see that so many people are reading the vertical, what has been even more rewarding is witnessing such varied viewpoints reaching -- and engaging with -- such a staggeringly diverse audience on a daily basis. Aside from reporting queer news, Gay Voices was launched with the intention of acting as a site for queer people and their friends, families, and allies to sound off on issues and topics that matter to them, and I'm pleased to say that I think we've created just that. In the last six months we've featured blogs from hundreds of people, from celebrities like Elton John and Margaret Cho to organizations like The Trevor Project and the Human Rights Campaign. We've had politicians and reverends share their thoughts, we've had rock stars reveal how not-so-rocking their jobs can be, and we've had everyday people open up and share intimate parts of themselves and their lives.
It's those pieces that have been some of my favorites. Reading the blog from "Amelia," the mother of a 7-year-old boy who recently came out, left me awestruck -- both by the fact that someone so young would feel safe enough to reveal that part of himself (or, perhaps, he has never felt unsafe enough to think he shouldn't) and by his mother's beautiful, loving response. Discovering Janet Mock's moving essay about telling her boyfriend that she was born a boy had me (and thousands of other people) cheering.
It's my hope that, more than anything, Gay Voices will continue to be a home for these pieces and the discussions they ignite. I can think of few things that I would consider more important and potentially radical than thousands and thousands of people -- many of whom may not agree with each another -- coming together in one "place" to "talk."
Speaking of disagreements, not every reaction to Gay Voices has been positive. We've certainly received our fair share of disgruntled emails, Tweets, comments, and Facebook posts over the last six months, and I'd like to take a moment to address the four topics that I've heard about the most:
1. We regularly hear complaints about the name "Gay Voices" and how inadequate it is in terms of speaking about / defining the "community."
This is probably the biggest complaint I've heard. As I noted in my introductory blog, no name is ever going to fit just right, unfortunately. I still like the idea of "HuffPost Queer Voices," but I also still understand why that name won't work. I don't really have anything new to say about this topic except this: believe me, I get it. To our transgender, gender-variant, bisexual, polyamorous, and asexual readers -- and anyone else who identifies with(in) the "community" but is not gay -- I hope that you won't let the name stop you from visiting Gay Voices and participating. Language is important, but it can also be limiting, and I hope we can all find ways to overcome our shared frustrations with the vertical's name by concentrating on its content.
2. Frequently, readers ask us why we are reporting on [insert pop-culture personality or event here] when there are bigger issues we should be worried about, like marriage equality, passing workplace nondiscrimination laws, gay adoption, hate crimes, etc.
I agree, those are all critically important issues. But for me, a site like Gay Voices should be a snapshot of the "community" at any given moment -- and that includes some "lighter fare," too. As much as I believe the vertical is capable of (and does) really important work around giving visibility (and often voices) to the aforementioned struggles (and others), entertainment and culture are big parts of what we do (and what The Huffington Post does). So, in my opinion, a story about Gillian Anderson discussing her lesbian relationships, or an interview with Snooki, can (and should) be a part of the larger experience of being queer. Let's not forget that "gay" also means "happy," and the queer people in my life have often been the funniest people I've known. There's nothing wrong with recognizing that and celebrating it. We cannot survive on calls to action alone (at least, I can't -- and yes, I write that while recognizing that that's a privileged stance to be able to take). Ultimately, Gay Voices is situated within a mainstream site (which, when you think about it, is pretty radical in and of itself), and while not every piece is going to be something everyone is personally interested or invested in, I trust, with the number of new stories we're putting up every day, that there will be something(s) that will speak to you.
3. On a similar note, many people get upset when we do pieces like "The Gayest Halloween Costumes" or "The Gayest Christmas Songs" and ask questions like, "Would it be OK to do a list of the straightest Halloween costumes?"
I actually love writing those kinds of pieces, because they offer the chance to complicate the way we look at culture (popular and otherwise) and what is coded as "queer" or "non-queer." Because queer people and queer culture have been forced to exist (and flourish) underground for so long, and because, up until very recently (and even now), there have not been many positive, healthy, and/or accurate depictions of queer people or queer life in the mainstream, we've had a few options: a) find the rare instances where we do exist and celebrate them (even if they aren't entirely complimentary); b) see ourselves in queer-adjacent personalities or events (like diva worship, for example); or c) take popular culture and bend/subvert it to reflect our own lives and experiences. Stories like "The Gayest Halloween Costumes" often do a combination of all three. And they're also not supposed to be taken quite so seriously. They're (hopefully) fun and funny ways to take part in otherwise non-queer holidays, events, or concepts, and we don't intend for them to win any Peabody awards. As for comments like, "Would it be OK to do a list of the straightest _____," or, "Why is there a gay section? Where's HuffPost Straight Voices?" I would offer that there's no need; the vast majority of the world (and The Huffington Post) is already straight or at least targeting, oriented toward, and/or designed for non-queer people.
4. We also get a lot of outraged messages from readers any time we feature anything that's suggestive of, informative about, or just generally related to sex. So often I hear, "This kind of thing is exactly what's setting the movement back and keeping us from being accepted by the mainstream (aka our heterosexual counterparts)."
I respectfully but completely disagree with the above statement. The reason that we're hated and disenfranchised does have to do with what we do (or what it's imagined we do) in our bedrooms (or hotel rooms, or kitchens, or minivans). And this has a lot to do with how sex is understood and discussed (or, sadly, not understood and not discussed, as the case often is) in this country. At its heart it has everything to do with sexism, misogyny, and the fear (and disgust) of a man not "being a man" and a woman not "being a woman" (and all the power plays and transversals of privileges wrapped up in those supposed transgressions). But I'll let you in on a secret: straight people have sex, too! And what's more, they're doing things that are just as "dirty" as we are (or, knowing my straight friends, maybe even "dirtier"). So, it seems to me, the answer is not to pretend we don't have sex, or that we don't like sex, or that we're as ashamed and embarrassed of sex, as we've been told we need to be in order to fit into the mainstream; instead, we should find a way to lead this country out of the Victorian Era for the betterment of all our lives -- gay, straight, and everything in between/within/outside.
I truly believe smart, nuanced, honest approaches to sex and the fight for sexual liberation will lead to queer liberation, women's liberation, and I'd venture to say all kinds of other overdue liberations. Therefore, Gay Voices will continue to be a sex-positive site (and I should note that posts of a sexual nature have never been, and will never be, gratuitous or sloppy, and overall, they probably comprise at most 3 to 5 percent of all the content we run).
In closing, I'd like to introduce and thank the incredible Gay Voices team for working as hard and tirelessly as they do: Curtis Wong, our associate editor; Clay Chiles, our blog editor; Michelangelo Signorile, our editor-at-large; and Lila Shapiro, our new and first dedicated reporter, who just started on Gay Voices a week ago.
And of course I must thank you, the readers, for showing up every day, as well. Without your comments, thoughts, and voices none of this (or us) would be here, or we'd just be talking to each other (which might be nice for a few days but, I suspect, would eventually end up feeling pretty unsatisfying). So thank you for reading, thank you for writing, thank you for discussing, and thank you for your tips, your corrections, your comments, your retweets, and your Facebook shares, and for telling your friends and family about us.
Here's to another six months, and then another six months after that, and then another six months after that, and so on. But in the meantime, if you have thoughts, comments, or questions about Gay Voices, feel free to send me an email at Noah.Michelson@HuffingtonPost.com, or leave a comment below. My mailbox is always open.