I want to include as many journalism voices as possible in this series. For this next interview, I went to The Advocate, kind of skimmed some headlines, and just picked a writer more or less at random. That writer happened to be Chadwick Moore. As I got to know him via email, it turns out I couldn't have picked a better writer if I'd tried. After you're done with this, go to his website and check out some of his stuff. It's really, really good. My first recommendations would be The Missing Children of Clown Alley or Paradise Nights. But really, you can't go wrong with any of them.
Here's a bit about Chadwick in his own words, naturally written better than anything I could do.
I'm a freelance writer for the New York Times, Out and the Advocate. I'm based in New York City. I'm from Middle Tennessee in the heart of Jack Daniels country. I love Dwight Yoakam and Nina Simone. The first time I sang karaoke was in an Eastern European disco and I dropped to my knees and screamed a death metal rendition of "Moon River." I didn't go over well. I love astrophysics and cosmology and if I ever leave New York it will be in order to see the stars again. I'd like my epitaph to read, "The right answer to the wrong question." Or, maybe, "Based on a true story." It's difficult. Epitaphs are the kind of thing that make you wish you could die more than once.
See what I mean?
Without further ado, Chadwick Moore.
Tell us a little bit about your background. What kind of education or formal training do you have, and what initially drew you to writing?
I guess it goes back to English teachers. They tend to prey on children who are naturally misanthropic, like myself. I had a high school English teacher who opened me up to a love of literature and encouraged me to attend the University of Iowa which is famed for its literary community. There I studied creative writing, literature, and journalism before moving to London to intern at a small publishing company and then to New York where I worked a soul-crushing 9 to 5 and drank/brunched away my 20s.
How did you get your start - what was your first writing job?
My first published story was erotic fiction in a national smut rag. I got paid $150. I met the editor of that magazine on Cape Cod one summer. He suggested I take a whack at erotica to kick start a career in writing. The story got fan mail. Actual hand-written letters from lonely men in the Midwest addressed to my nom de plume, Zeke Wedgewood. It was very encouraging. Around that time I was living on unemployment and interning at one of the most prestigious publishing houses in New York, a gig I got through a powerful friend because I'm not at all pedigree and never otherwise would have landed it. The hundreds of hours spent there rejecting manuscripts was productive in discouraging me from the pursuit of a career in fiction writing, for which I had vague ambitions. I knew I wanted to tell stories and started looking for options that were slightly more viable, like journalism.
Take us on your career path from there... what are some of the publications you've had the opportunity to write for?
By equal parts luck, stubbornness, and panic I harassed editors who gradually began to read my pitches and eventually greenlight some of them. This process continues. But it started with the New York Times, where I still freelance. Now I'm getting a lot of assignments for Out magazine and the Advocate, including two covers this year.
The journalism industry has certainly been going the freelance route in a lot of different mediums. What are some of the pros and cons of being a freelancer?
You have the freedom of making your own schedule, working from home in your underwear, and writing about subjects you've already decided are appealing. But it's very lonely. You don't have an office of people to bounce things off. You're always on the hustle and you have absolutely no security and no benefits. It is very uncommon, I'm told, to transition from freelancer to staff. Freelancing often feels like a very unsustainable existence and you've got to have a lot of pots on the stove to make it work.
It seems whenever people outside the LGBT community hear about issues affecting gays in America, it's either a SCOTUS decision, a state voting on or debating same-sex marriage rights, or a Westboro Baptist Church protest, just to name a few. What stories do you like to write about, and how do you approach them? What stories do you think are underreported?
I was having lunch one afternoon in Moscow with a gay rights activist and she said to me, "We will have equality when we can acknowledge that gay people can be just as beastly and ignorant as straight people." I liked that. If there's one front the gay rights movement has fully conquered it's the media. But we remained pigeonholed in this middle class, white bread, pleasant victim manner by the media. There's so much fear of the Gay Department of Justice's trial by Twitter the media is petrified of going off script with gay people. It's why organizations like GLAAD have sort of outlived their purpose and have moved on to attacking fellow gays and straight allies over ridiculous things like semantics (see recent controversies over the word "tranny" and RuPaul's "she-mail" and Alec Baldwin's off-the-cuffness, and Peirs Morgan v. Janet Mock).
I've never been interested in covering the activism or politics. I'm glad there are people who are covering this, because it's very important. If I were asked to cover a court case about gay marriage, I would probably gravitate towards something else in the room. Like the stenographer. I would want to know what her life is like. I would want to see her home and learn everything there is to know about stenography. Are there legendary stenographers? I know that's been done before, but it's what I find compelling.
I'm very bored by celebrities and people with power. And also by pundits and shouting. So, I always go into a story looking for characters. I try to put a little humor and melancholy into everything.
Have you ever been in a professional writing situation or covering a story where you were confronted by homophobia, protesters, or someone who just didn't like what you were doing? If so, how did you handle it?
I've approached people who got visibly repulsed by a question about gays or gay rights. It's jarring to be reminded that most the world is still like that. It's also kind of hilarious.
Here on Gawker recently there have been two stories: one concerning the possibility FOX News anchor Shepard Smith is gay, and the accusations facing Hollywood director Bryan Singer. One comment I hear a lot is if these stories were about two straight men, no one would even bat an eye. Is there a double standard there? Provided no law is being broken, why do we care if a celebrity is gay, or what they do in the privacy of their own homes?
The gay community probably stirs the pot here more when it comes to outing those in the public eye. Visibility is our greatest asset. Every person who comes out makes it better for everyone else. It's pretty absurd, not to mention offensive, that anyone besides a Republican Congressman would stay in the closet in 2014—for what end? Their precious career? It's so self-centered and cowardly it ought to be classified as it's own mental disorder.
I disagree about Singer. I believe there would be more outrage if he were straight. There's that great Hunter S. Thompson line where he describes, "a curious rape mania that rides on the shoulder of American journalism like some jeering, masturbating raven." He's talking about the rape of women, more points if she's underage.
For gay men the line between consent and statutory rape can be muddier because of the isolation we experience at the age when we're supposed to be exploring our sexuality. A 16 or 17 year old gay kid has much fewer, if any, options among his peers. It's common to hang out with people who've been there before. Sometimes its sexual, sometimes it's not. But it's a delicate area and no one wants to go near it. I think we get into that with the Singer case. It was a young gay guy partying with guys a little older. Now he's saying he was raped and it will probably end in a big private settlement. I know about 16 billion gay men who are exactly like Singer and not one of them would ever drug and rape someone. But who knows. And if a woman was making these claims, forget about it. Singer would be in France by now with Roman Polanski.
Is there a story you've done which garnered a lot of praise, or you're especially proud of?
I'm not very proud of much that I've done. I only obsess over how it could have been better. My February cover for the Advocate, "Love in Putin's Russia," got a lot of attention. Atrocities against gays in Russia was a hot news topic in the lead up to the Sochi games. I went to Moscow to see what all the fuss was about. It was a very enlightening experience.
And I went viral last summer with a 400 word story I wrote for the New York Times about a mockingbird attacking people at a park in Brooklyn. It went up that morning and spread across the web. By noon the satellite-link news vans descended on tiny Transmitter Park with all these reporters on the scene scouring the bushes for a bird. It was my 30th birthday that day. I held my head high.
Is there any advice you got, wish you'd gotten, or have for people who are interested in doing what you do?
Try not to take rejection personally. Or being ignored. It will happen a lot. Don't ever try to pull fast ones on your sources. Don't try to make them say something dumb or humiliating especially if they are less intelligent than you. Treat sources with dignity when they deserve it. Remember we live in an age where speaking to a writer can be a pretty stupid decision. Everything you say about them will be accessible to the whole planet for the rest of their lives.
There's little need to study journalism in school. If you want to be a science reporter, for example, study physics or biology. Then make connections in a newsroom. You will learn a lot more in four weeks pounding the pavement and talking to working journalists than you will in four years of journalism school. And professional journos are always flattered to help a young fledgling if they can.
You can read previous interviews here.