Tag Archives: medium

The Uncanny Valley of Online Dating

Good writing sticks in your head like a catchy song, and a good personal essay relays another person’s experience in a way that makes you understand new things about your own. Sam Lansky‘s recent essay on Medium, “The Theory of Visitors,” does both.

Lansky writes about dating almost compulsively, with the specter of a lost Big Love ever-present in the background, lingering in that frustrating way of lost loves. At one point he writes of “the uncanny valley of online dating,” a reference to the discomfiting effects of things that are eerily-close-to but not-quite human. Online, we are not quite our true selves, with all our flawed, disgusting, delightful humanity. We are our best, curated photos; our funniest, most deliberated-over quips.

Dating in general, and not only of the online persuasion, can feel like an uncanny valley after a Big Love. Everyone feels just a little off in a way that makes them feel silly, like you’re some kind of dating Goldilocks. This one has a weird smile, this one talks too much, this one doesn’t talk enough. He wasn’t the Big Love. It didn’t feel like it I remember it. What if it never feels that way again?

What do those big loves leave us with? What did they take from us? Are we less than we were before them? Will we ever be whole again? Or could we be more than we were before?

Lansky complains to a friend that he’s sick of dating. The friend tells him “the theory of visitors.”

“All relationships are transient,” she said. “Friends who stab you in the back. People you network with at a fancy party. Relatives who die. The love of your life. Everything is temporary. People come into your life for a limited amount of time, and then they go away. So you welcome their arrival, and you surrender to their departure. Because they are all visitors. And when the visitors go home, they might take something from you. Something that you can’t ever get back. And that part sucks. But visitors always leave souvenirs. And you get to keep those forever.”

I thought about this constantly. The visitors. The phrase popped into my head a hundred times a day. It was a little bit sad but a little bit hopeful, like all my favorite things, and it seemed to flick at the funny way people could pass through my life and then be gone forever, ephemeral as ghosts. It wasn’t revolutionary, but there was something unusually elegant about how Debby had distilled this, her theory of visitors, and even sort of spooky. It haunted me into the next night’s date. Tucked away in a corner booth at a wine bar with a guy who had followed me on Twitter (and I had thirst-followed back after looking him up on Facebook, stalking his tagged photos and determining that we had enough mutual friends that he was worth going out with), I might have looked like I was seeing him as him, but I wasn’t. I was seeing him through this new lens, the lens of the theory of visitors.

How long will you be staying with me? I wanted to ask. When will you be ready to move on? What will you leave behind for me to remember you? And what will you take with you when you go?

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Looking Back at Pride Month

Photo: ufcw770

No matter what 45 says — or, in this case, doesn’t say — June is LGBT Pride month. It’s a month of joy, protest and, this year, mourning. June 12, 2017 marked the one-year anniversary of the attack against queer Latinx and Black folks at Pulse in Orlando, Florida. The day before, thousands of people came together in Washington, D.C. as part of the Equality March for Unity and Pride, protesting the presidential administration and standing against discrimination.

Here’s what I’ve done this month, Pride-wise: I interviewed Kelly Madrone, the author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens, and our audience was full of queer teens and their families. I writhed in ecstasy at a Tegan & Sara concert, sporting my “Boyfriend” hat. I stood in silence next to my friends at a local vigil for the victims of the shooting at Pulse. I helped the bookstore choose which queer-centric titles to stock, and I resisted the temptation to drop too much money on rainbow Doc Martens. I spent a hot, happy day strolling by the canal with my friends during Frederick Pride.  July looms; I’ll downgrade my gay apparel to a simple rainbow wristband. The work continues, whether it’s leading LGBTQ sensitivity trainings, correcting people who misgender me or continuing to learn about allyship, organization, and liberation.

1. “Should Pride Be a Party or a Protest?” (Shannon Keating, BuzzFeed, June 2017)

The protests at different Pride parades around the country have inspired conversations about working within the system versus overthrowing it and about the intersectionality (that should be) inherent in the LGBTQ pursuit of equality.

2. “Why Can’t My Famous Gender Nonconforming Friends Get Laid?” (Meredith Talusan, Vice, June 2017)

Meredith Talusan analyzes the dynamics of sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression in the dating lives of two of their friends, activists and non-binary femmes Alok Vaid-Menon and Jacob Tobia.

3. “Where Can We Find Queer Space After Pulse?” (John Birdsall, Eater, June 2017)

Outside the queer zone of Orlando Pride, or our misterb&b, in Okeechobee, we’ve tried keeping to the shadows, our own private zone of safety. I realize how much work we all do as queers to enlarge the bubbles we live and move in, make them nice, fill them with friends and allies. But being on the road makes it clear that, fifty years after Stonewall and the active struggle for LGBT civil rights, so much of our lives still exists in isolated safety zones that don’t always keep us safe.

4. “Protests, Parties, and What We Have to Be Proud of at LGBT Pride 2017.” (Rachel, Autostraddle, June 2017)

We don’t lose our opportunities for joy and celebration when we make space for our struggles and the struggles of our most vulnerable, and when we elevate and center those in need. More than that, our celebrations as a community come out of our struggles, and our survival of them, and the ways in which we’ve helped each other survive no matter the cost.

5. “‘I’m Not Done Living My Damn Life Yet’: Disabled Queer People Speak Out on the American Health Care Act.” (Carrie Wade, Autostraddle, June 2017)

Honestly, every month under the Trump administration feels like a year, and one of the awful things that bubbled up during this year-month is the Senate Republicans’ bogus decision to write a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including massive cuts to Medicaid. Many smart people have written about this better than I ever could, and I found the experiences of these queer and trans disabled folks who rely on the ACA to live equal parts compelling and terrifying. (I’m a fan of 5 Calls, if you’re feeling moved to contact your congresspeople.)

6. “Being Gay vs. Being Southern: A False Choice.” (Brandon Taylor, LitHub, June 2017)

The opening paragraphs of Brandon Taylor’s essay slammed into me like a wave and drove me down to the ocean floor. Take these sentences, for instance:

God suffused everything in our lives the way heat suffuses every particle of air in the summer. There is a time of day in Alabama when the heat reaches its most critical point, when even shade is of little comfort; Sundays gathered all of God’s power to its most frightening pitch and beamed it down on us, testing us, daring us to wither.

7. “Born Before Stonewall.” (Barry Yeoman, Medium, June 2017)

Over two years, Barry Yeoman interviewed over 40 gay, lesbian, queer, and transgender Baby Boomers–“the Gayest Generation,” according to professor Jesus Ramirez-Valles. They discussed their struggles (reconciling the trauma of the AIDS epidemic, aging without the guarantee of a support system) and triumphs (fighting for and winning marriage equality and forming treasured friendships with other LGBTQ folks). Their stories brought me to tears and reminded me of the importance of taking care of our LGBTQ elders.

8. “Little Fish.” (Casey Plett, Plenitude Magazine, June 2017)

New writing from Casey Plett is cause for celebration. Plett is the author of the seminal work A Safe Girl to Love, which spotlights the lives of trans women. “Little Fish” is an excerpt from her upcoming novel.

Finally, you should read Edgar Gomez’s essay for Longreads, “Pulse Nightclub Was My Home.” 

Bonus: I love the adventures of these lesbian cattle dogs. 

The Internet Won’t Prioritize Quality Without an Intervention

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

In an interview with The New York Times, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams admits to David Streitfeld that he thinks the internet is broken — and apologizes for the role Twitter played in the ascendency of Donald Trump.

President Trump has said he believes Twitter put him in the White House. Recently, Mr. Williams heard the claim for the first time. He mulled it over for a bit, sitting in his Medium office, which is noteworthy only for not having a desk.

“It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that,” he said finally. “If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

Trump’s campaign slogan may as well have been Extremity First, a strategy his supporters considered the conscious technique of a mastermind playing 4D chess with the media. What the internet is missing, Williams argues, is an ethical framework, a new business model that will introduce a market correction to what the internet perceives as user demand for extremism:

The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them.

His goal is to break this pattern. “If I learn that every time I drive down this road I’m going to see more and more car crashes,” he says, “I’m going to take a different road.”

But a new road may have other problems. It may, for instance, be a dead end.

Mr. Williams isn’t the only one trying to fix this mess, of course. If he and others can’t find a path forward, if they can’t solve what he calls “the architecture of content creation, distribution and monetization on the internet,” there are unsettling implications for the future of news and ideas. Maybe it will be all car crashes, all the time. Twitter already feels like that.

Williams has been attempting to course-correct with Medium, a publishing platform conceived to intervene on this vicious cycle of misinterpreted rubbernecking with an ad-free, subscription-based business model. Medium’s successes have been tempered and debatable, while its missteps, like so many of the internet’s favorite car wrecks, have been more memorable. (Williams announced layoffs in a blog post before all the sunsetting employees were informed, shocking investors and publishing partners alike; when Williams introduced the $5 subscription model, Bryan Clark published an op-ed titled Ev Williams has lost his goddamn mind.)

While the need for an intervention is readily apparent, the question of how to make publishing sustainable — in spite of, or by somehow newly leveraging, the internet’s existing mosaic of incentives — continues to pose considerable challenges to the viability of new approaches to funding. As fellow Twitter cofounder Biz Stone has said in response to Williams’ statement that he wants to make publishing profitable: “Yeah, so does everyone else.”

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Leave Them Alone! A Reading List On Celebrity and Privacy

Todd Williamson / Invision for JDRF / AP

I read Alana Massey’s essay collection, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangerswith a pencil in hand. I read it behind the counter at work when it was quiet and customer-free. I read it in bed, long after my partner and cat had fallen asleep. I read it in Starbucks when I should’ve been writing but needed inspiration. Massey is a writer I’ve followed since I became interested in journalism. I admired her incisive blend of pop culture and literary criticism. I especially loved when she wrote about religion—Massey spent time at Yale Divinity School—because I went to a conservative Christian college and I was yearning to see how I could translate my weird, vaguely traumatic religious background into beautiful sentences. I bought her book as a reward for myself for meeting a writing deadline.

This reading list is partially inspired by Massey’s excellent writing about the way our society honors and rejects celebrated women—and also about society’s inclination, if not blatant desire, to know every little detail about our favorite celebrities and judge them according to our own arbitrary moral standards. (I’m not immune to this: I spent ten minutes in bed Googling potential paramours of one of my favorite YouTube stars, even though I know it’s none of my damn business.) Why do we feel like we own celebrities—not just their art or their products, but their images and their personal lives? What do celebrities owe us, if anything?

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The Spectacle of Crime: On Detectives, Mysteries, and Dead Girls

Photo: Carla216

When I was little, mystery books were my favorite. I read the Boxcar Childrenthe Bobbsey Twins and the Happy Hollisters. In school, there was Cam Jansen, Sammy Keyes and Harriet the Spy. When I visited my grandparents, I read my mom’s childhood books: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden. My mom gives my grandfather the latest Mary Higgins Clark release every Christmas.

In high school and college I abandoned mystery novels and turned to spooky TV shows instead. My family was “Monk”-obsessed; when “Monk” ended, we watched “Psych.” I threw myself into “Lost” during finals and “Criminal Minds” on school breaks. Post-college, I binged “Fringe,” “The X-Files,” “The Killing,” “The Fall,” “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries”—the list goes on. Now that I work in a bookstore, I’ve started to read mystery novels again. To celebrate, here’s a reading list about fictional detectives and the authors who mastermind their literary crime-solving, as well as real-life detectives searching for the truth. Read more…

RNC vs. DNC: A Reading List Examining the Conventions

In the past two weeks, Cleveland, Ohio hosted the Republican National Convention and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania hosted the Democratic National Convention. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton earned the nominations from their respective parties; they will face off in November. Not everyone is thrilled with this outcome. Ted Cruz urged delegates to vote with their conscience and didn’t endorse Trump, and Bernie Sanders supporters walked out of the DNC or protested outside the convention. I’m equally intrigued and exhausted by the political realm right now, so I’m relying on the thoughtful analyses and on-the ground reporting by talented writers.

1. “The R.N.C. on TV: Ivanka’s Weaponized Graciousness.” (Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker, July 2016)

The dangerous choices of the postergirl for the Family Trump, who, you know, probably isn’t actually a Republican. If you haven’t read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story about Melania Trump, read that, too. Read more…

Celebrate Pride: Stories About LGBTQ Parenthood

I. Coming off a seven-hour shift at the bookstore where I work, I texted my boyfriend something like “I cannot handle the idea of coming home and finishing my reading list, I am so tired, I cannot stay up late tonight, pity me,” except with more capital letters and swear words. He suggested, gently, that I divide the MEGA HUGE OMG IT’S PRIDE MONTH reading list/information dump I planned into several smaller segments, one for each week this month. (He’s pretty smart.) That’s what you have to look forward to this June: I’ll take a particular aspect of community (family, religion, history, etc.) and apply it within a queer framework. Read more…

How They Disappeared: A Reading List

Disappearance takes many forms. It can be self-imposed (going off the grid), a medical metaphor (dementia, amnesia or Alzheimer’s) or an act of violence (kidnapping, murder, conspiracy).

Last week, Longreads brought you Grace Rubenstein’s “The Vanishing: What Happened to the Thousands Still Missing in Mexico?” This week, I wanted to share five more stories about what it means to disappear—either against your will or by your own volition. Read more…

Resolving to Read, Write, and Travel More in 2016

Let’s be real: My 2016 resolutions are intentionally vague. I tend toward self-loathing, so settling on achievable goals is important for my mental health. But I’m still excited for a fresh year and a fresh start, even if time is a social construct. My intentionally vague, utterly achievable resolutions are as follows: Read more…

‘The One Who Gives Birth to Herself’: Rachel Syme on Empowerment and Agency Through Posting Selfies

It’s difficult to select just one perfect quote as a representative sample of Rachel Syme’s excellent ode to the selfie, at Matter. She comes at the subject from so many smart angles that there are too many to choose from. A prolific self-portrait poster herself, Syme defends this hugely popular phenomenon–so frequently derided as narcissistic and shallow, especially in reference to women–as a respectable act of self-expression and self-determination:

We are living in times of peak-selfie, and therefore, peak selfie-hatred. When a phenomenon leaks so completely and quickly into the cultural water supply, people are bound to get freaked out…

Those who see selfies as signs of the end times are focusing on the outliers; the bad actors. The people who accidentally fall into a waterfall and die in the pursuit of the perfect shot. The kids who get addicted to the digital feedback loop and start relying on hearts to get up in the morning. The moms and dads who take selfies when they should be watching their babies; the seething loners who use their selfies as a way to spread hate (if this hate spills over into violence, then selfies will surely get the blame). But these types of delinquents have always existed: the teenagers who don’t pay attention in class, ​the bros ​who snooze through cultural events,​ the trolls who care about snark over compassion. ​There are always going to be tourists who shove themselves obnoxiously to the front of the line, people who put their needs over the needs of others, people who gawk at fires and funerals: these are not unique social problems created by the selfie or its accoutrement.

​What the critics don’t focus on is how to decode the language of selfies when they are being used correctly: what the people in them are trying to do with their portraiture, what big message each individual’s self-representational practice all adds up to in the end.

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