“No, not all representation is good representation. As a community, we’re past the point of applauding representation for the sake of representation,” Jeffrey Masters, host of LGBTQ&A on representation in the queer community. The Advocate’s Senior Editor also talks desire, Pete Buttigieg and Mitch McConnell, gender performance, making wellness facilities more accessible, Whoopi, RuPaul and Oprah and more…
Art for EL CHAMP @zachgrearart
Original Photography @djdumpling
ROLE MODELS and WELLNESS
Body dysmorphia, fitness “goals” and conventional beauty standards all need to be addressed to ameliorate the queer experience in and outside of health and fitness spaces. What does “Redefine Health and Fitness” mean to you and how can this new meaning improve one’s wellbeing?
Hopefully, we’ll begin to place a larger emphasis on how it makes you feel vs. how it makes you look, the internal vs. the external. I go to the gym everyday. I enjoy sweating and getting my heart rate up, and being active has a drastic effect on my mental health. My brain and body operate better when I work out consistently.
That said, I think it’s unrealistic to take how you look entirely out of the conversation. All of us want to look good; we want to be desired. It’s human nature and when you look good, you feel good. But looking sexy means something different for everyone. Traditional beauty standards are beginning to broaden and expand. It’s our job to make sure we interrogate why we want our bodies to look a certain way, and then to see what’s possible given our individual genetics. Everybody is different. That sounds really cliche, but I think it’s really important to remember.
What piece of advice given to you, that you’ve applied, has transformed your life?
It’s OK to keep your opinion to yourself. It’s OK to stay quiet and not debate someone about something that you disagree with. If I meet someone out who thinks that Mitch McConnell is God’s gift to our country…I’m going to just walk away and let them carry on with their night.
Also: drink lots of water. If you don’t “like” water, first of all, that’s dumb, second of all, you can train yourself to like it. Start small and grow from there. There is literally no downside. It’s good for your skin, your mental health, overall digestion. It’s good for everything.
Speaking of beauty, your eyebrows are iconic. Do you have a self-care routine that you employ as part of prioritising your own wellness and in what form does self-care take?
Thank you! I used to over-pluck my eyebrows and a few years ago took way too much off of one of them. Then I had to take too much off the other to make them match. I wore my thick black rimmed glasses for months to try to hide how bad my brows looked. From then on, I decided just to let them grow naturally. Now I only lightly pluck the middle so I don’t have a unibrow. As long as I have two, I’m happy.
Self-care for me looks like a nice long walk around my neighborhood. It means making time to be alone and not look at my phone. With social media, we are never alone, and we’re all in desperate need of time where we can be alone with our thoughts.
In previous podcast sessions, you’ve discussed how in certain spaces you act “straighter” whether you’re in business meetings or in general when you wish to come across as more assertive. How have you reckoned with these discourses of masculinity embodying strength and dominance and can you acknowledge if to date you struggle with any ingrained discriminatory ideologies that you find calling yourself out for?
So, yes, I absolutely will butch it up if it’s going to help me in a business meeting, but this doesn’t really cause me stress. I think that every single person is always performing their gender in different ways, no matter who you are.
Does it make me sad that my subconscious thinks that appearing more feminine among a group of straight men will make me appear weak? Absolutely. I hate that, but that’s also the world we live in. From childhood, we take in messages about the right and wrong way to inhabit our gender. I used to answer the phone as a teenager and my mom’s friends would think I was my mom, because my voice sounded so high. It was very clear that it wasn’t something to be proud of.
I worry that this makes me sound like a self-hating queer, but I don’t hate myself. I’ve spent a lot of time and work to be able to say that and have it be true: I don’t hate myself. But I’m aware of the code-switching that I do with my gender and I’m a little resigned. It can’t be avoided and I think it’s good to be aware that you’re not placing these expectations and assumptions on other people. If someone comes into a business meeting with me and I’m on the other side of the table, I’m always making sure that no one on my team is making judgments or taking someone less seriously because of their perceived femininity.
I value my queer community in Los Angeles because I don’t have to focus so much on the way I present. Even now as I type this, I’m wearing nail polish (a beautiful grey from CVS called Commander-in-Chic) and I won’t take it off before work tomorrow. I’m very fortunate to work in a career where on a day-to-day basis, I don’t have to think about it.
Wellness is often associated with wealthy, white, Barry Bootcamp Instagays and rose quartz worshipping yogis – both admissible characterisations… However low socio-economic groups, in particular, homeless queer youth and people of color are disadvantaged in available mental health and wellness services. How do you think we can render wellness and health facilities more accessible to minorities hindered by structural classism?
This is such a great question and if someone has a good answer, please let me know. Health and fitness are absolutely expensive, especially when it comes to eating well. If someone can’t afford the gym, my suggestion would be download some bodyweight workouts from online that don’t require a gym, take up running, or find a community sports league (these are often very affordable to join). In Los Angeles where I live, there are plenty of free hiking trails.
For mental health services, check out your local LGBTQ center. Many offer group therapy that’s free. For LGBTQ sports leagues, community centers, medical care, and other LGBTQ services, there is an amazing website called GLBT Near Me (https://www.glbtnearme.org/) where you can search to see what’s around you based on your zip code. It’s an incredible resource and a great place to start.
Your Go-To workout track?
It’s cliche but CUT TO THE FEELING by Carly Rae Jepsen is a perfect song. I go to a pretty queer gym and so they play it ever 6-7 minutes. It’s impossible to hear and not feel motivated.
“I still get frustrated with critics because we’ll celebrate something that has LGBTQ characters in it as being “groundbreaking” and “important”, but we won’t talk about the actual merits of the work.”
LGBTQ&A and REPRESENTATION
Whoopi, RuPaul or Oprah. You’re able to pick one as the co-interviewer for LGBTQ&A. Who do you choose and who would be your pipe dream interviewee?
Oprah is just the best interviewer. She knows where the gold is in each interview and how to find it. I would want her as my co-host because it would be a masterclass in interviewing.
I’ve been studying interviews (specifically long-form interviews) for a while and looking back at her interviews has been indispensable.
My dream interview is with Tessa Thompson. When she said that Valkerie needs to find her queen, I immediately raised my hand and screamed, “I volunteer as tribute.”
Past interviewee and intersex activist, River Gallo, pointed out that he took issue at the L.A. GLAAD awards for the “I” in LGBTQI+ being repeatedly left out. For a platform that values representation, is this a point that the LGBTQ&A team have addressed changing for the podcast?
I am such a fan of River and am so happy with how much press his short film, Ponyboi, is getting. We have featured intersex people on the show, and are always talking about who else we need to have on. This is true about all marginalized identities. One of the reasons I started the podcast was that my favorite interviewers would interview a queer or trans person once or twice a year and then that was it. They checked off that box for “trans” and then they were done. That’s not what I want this podcast to be.
Regarding the “I”, I work at The Advocate and our style guide says that we have to say LGBTQ instead of LBGTQI. That’s a larger conversation to be had there. It’s a 52-year old company and change at these older institutions is unfortunately slow. Our previous editor-in-chief left less than 12 months ago and it was only when they left that we were finally able to add the Q to LGBTQ. Before that, it was their policy to write LGBT. The Trevor Project where I work recently changed all of their branding from LGBTQ to LGBTQ+. It’s a larger conversation that everyone has an unfortunately different feeling on.
The nuances of representation have been passionately debated within queer spaces, in particular the question: is any representation good representation or does it need to be perfect? Having had the opportunity to interview Democratic Presidential Candidate, Pete Buttigieg, and given the backlash for restricting voting rights for incarcerated people, how do you weigh in on this discussion and how would you recommend queer platforms, spokespersons and their audiences manage this issue?
For the Pete Buttigieg example, his position on voting rights for incarcerated people came out after I interviewed him so we didn’t discuss it then. That’s something that I don’t agree with him on, but when I’m interviewing someone like a politician, I’m not there to try to convince them to see my side of things. I can interrogate why they believe something, push them to explain their reasoning, talk about the effects of their position, but when they only give you 20 or so minutes with someone, you can’t spend too much time on any one subject, for my show, at least. That might be different for someone else or for a different podcast. All of queer media should cover Pete like any other candidate. All questions are on the table. I’m not afraid to ask about controversial things, but if they have explained their position on something and have talked about it ad nauseam, it might actually be better for me to not bring whatever it is up, especially if it’s something that I can’t shed light on or discuss in a new way.
To your other question: no, not all representation is good representation. As a community, we’re past the point of applauding representation for the sake of representation. I used to watch movies as a kid and I would clock the one background actor with a limp wrist. I’d feel so good about finding someone onscreen who was also queer. Now, we’re past that, or I should say, I am past that. I still get frustrated with critics because we’ll celebrate something that has LGBTQ characters in it as being “groundbreaking” and “important”, but we won’t talk about the actual merits of the work. Is it an engaging story? Is it well-written? Is it enjoyable to watch? Or are we just claiming it to be part of the queer canon because it’s the only movie in theatres right now that has a queer character or storyline?
You’ve mentioned LGBTQ&A’s role in documenting history and how this is pivotal for the future of promoting social equality. In the context of “history repeating itself” there have been parallels drawn with the “send her back” chants, racist tweets and the emergence of fascism in the 1920’s and 1930’s. What do you make of these comparisons, and in your experience and from what you’ve learned from your guests, how would you advise we work together to overcome sociopolitical obstacles?
I think one thing that everyone can do is get involved with their local communities, in LGBTQ-specific spaces or not. I’ve been a volunteer at The Trevor Project for 5 years. I answer phones on their crisis hotline and help train new volunteers to do the same. It’s some of the most rewarding work I do. There are plenty of organizations that you can get involved with.
What I’ve learned from sitting down and talking face-to-face with over 125 (so far!) members of our community is that we need to listen to each other more. Listen—really listen—to what the most marginalized are saying. Pay attention when someone says they’re uncomfortable. It’s easy to think that your own personal trauma is the most important thing in the world and that gives you a free pass to ignore the plight of others.
“USE YOUR TURN SIGNALS YOU MOTHER FUCKING COCK SUCKER (But actually if you’re a cocksucker, enjoy your day!)”
If Jeffrey Masters had a merch collection, what would it say?
Drink more water.
Remember to breathe.
No seriously, global warming is serious AF.
Try being just a little bit nicer to that asshole at your office.
If it’s a bumper sticker, it would say:
USE YOUR TURN SIGNALS YOU MOTHER FUCKING COCK SUCKER (But actually if you’re a cocksucker, enjoy your day!)
This year we’ve celebrated the relaunching of Out Magazine and the Advocate for which you’re the Senior Editor of Special Projects. We’re witnessing a new era of queer and youth pop cultural platforms prioritising stories of representation, and there’s no doubt that queer and trans representation is at an unprecedented level. Is there a social group or narrative that you believe we need to give more attention to and what approach do you hope queer media executes in the future?
I wish that queer media had more money to send reporters to the specific places that news is happening. I want to hear from LGBTQ asylum seekers at the border. I want to hear what’s going on in Chechnya since things have still not improved there.
I also want to know why more of our stories in the mainstream press are not getting covered. When trans people were banned from the military, it was all over the news for months, but when the White House declared that under the Affordable Care Act, doctors were legally allowed to refuse care to trans people, not one network covered it.
I also want to know what we can do to help trans women. Every few weeks you hear a new story about a trans woman (usually a trans woman of color) who has been murdered and reading about it at my home in Los Angeles, I feel powerless. What are five concrete things that people could do to help? I’d like to know.
Also, none of the biggest LGBTQ outlets have a white house reporter at the moment.
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
Hi. I love you. You’re beautiful. But not as beautiful as me.