This is a Dec. 31, 2017, transcript of Working. These transcripts are lightly edited and may contain errors. For the definitive record, consult the podcast.
Jacob Brogan: You’re listening to Working, the podcast about what people do all day. I’m Jacob Brogan. This season on Working, we’re talking to individuals whose jobs touch on aspects of LGBTQ life. I couldn’t be more excited about this week’s guest, Christina Cauterucci, who is a writer covering gender and sexuality for Slate.
What is your name, and what do you do?
Christina Cauterucci: My name is Christina Cauterucci. I am a staff writer at Slate magazine, and my beat is women and gender.
Brogan: What is your backstory? How did you make your way to Slate, covering issues of women and gender?
Cauterucci: I took a little bit of, I guess, a crooked road to journalism. I didn’t really find out that that was something I wanted to do until pretty late in college. I’d been writing opinion pieces for the monthly news magazine at Georgetown, where I went to school, and there wasn’t a journalism program, but I had taken a class or two, and by the time I graduated, I thought, “This is what I want to do,” but I had no experience besides being on my college paper. I applied to about a zillion jobs. Didn’t get any of them. Worked at the university for a couple of years, and then left a very well-paying steady job for an internship at NPR, which my parents thought was absolutely crazy, but I think it’s probably pretty normal for a lot of people in journalism to do something absolutely crazy. Then—
Brogan: Did they eventually come around, your parents?
Cauterucci: Yeah, they did. Especially, they loved listening to NPR, and so I think once I started telling them, “Oh, yeah, I saw Bob Boilen today,” or “Look, my name’s on the NPR website,” they became slightly starstruck and thought it was a cool thing to do. I think now that my career has fallen a little bit more into place, they understand that things don’t always—in other industries and in this day and age—things don’t always work the way they did when they were looking for jobs where it’s just like, knock on a bunch of doors and give out your résumé and call somebody 12 times, but yeah, I … Looking backward, it all seems to make a lot of sense. My career and my interests seem to make a lot of sense. At the time, it felt like I was just flailing and trying everything, but I just, as a fun side-hustle, I was writing a queer blog, a local D.C.-oriented queer blog where we would review clubs and interview local luminaries and write silly humor pieces and throw parties also, and then—
Brogan: What was that blog called, again?
Cauterucci: It was called Where the Girls Go, and I, actually, I think the first piece I ever published in a non-school-based publication was for a now-defunct blog called The New Gay, which was another D.C.-based queer blog. It was just sort of a personal essay. One of my now best friends, a trans guy named Alexander, who ran Where the Girls Go just found me on Twitter and was like, “Hey, I read this thing that you wrote on The New Gay about being at Pride and dating a trans guy and feeling sort of invisible and like you looked like a straight person at Pride. I think you should write for this blog that I run called Where the Girls Go.”
I was new to the queer scene in D.C., and so that opened the door for not only my crew of my best friends now, but just writing about queer stuff.
Brogan: I don’t want to, I mean, I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves here. I want to hear more about your backstory, but one thing that’s striking, thinking about the way you’re describing this work, this early work of yours, is that it, at some level, seems to fuse real reporting, but also personal experience. I don’t think what you were doing was strictly just the personal essays as we understand it now, but then, as in many of your pieces now, it seems like you were already drawing on your own world that you lived in and your own way of living in it to create some of this work. Is that fair to say?
Cauterucci: Yeah, definitely. I think this is probably true for a lot of beginning journalists, and especially a lot of women journalists, to get a foot in the door when we feel like we don’t necessarily have many traditional professional skills to offer, it seems natural to write about the things that we know intimately. That’s always appealed to me in general, even now as I have felt more confident in my abilities and feel a little bit more established in the field. I find it really rewarding to draw on the things that affect me in my personal life, and the things that I talk with my friends a lot about, and my interests outside of work. For me, feminism and gender, sexuality, has always been something I’ve thought a lot about, talked a lot about with my friends, which is why, just to bring it back to Slate, I loved the work of Amanda Hess, who wrote for the DoubleX at Slate for several years, I think, and—
Brogan: And is now at the New York Times.
Cauterucci: Right, and doing fantastic work there. When she left her job, or when she left the women and gender beat at Slate and I was working at the Washington City Paper, our local weekly, I thought, “Well, I wonder who’s going to take that job? I’ve always loved reading about that stuff. I’ve never written about it.” I had always been an arts reporter and editor, and I thought, “I have written a little bit about this in the past for stuff outside my job.” I had just published an opinion piece in the Washington Post about the cap commercialization of Pride and the way that businesses are trying to capitalize on the legalization of gay marriage, and I was like, “That seems like something that it could’ve been a Slate piece and maybe something that could’ve run in DoubleX. I’m just going to apply for this job.” It’s been wonderful.
Brogan: We’ve jumped ahead of ourselves just a little because it sounds like you had some work that you did between that NPR thing and Slate. It’s not like you just suddenly made that leap.
Cauterucci: That’s true, yeah. I guess I made another decision that might, from the outside, have seemed inadvisable. At the end of my internship at NPR, I had put in a lot of work talking to people in the building and trying to get a job somewhere after my internship was over, and the only job I was offered was some administrative job that I thought would’ve been, again, a really good, steady job. I would’ve been in the building, and actually, the person who ended up taking that job is now doing amazing, more substantive reporting work at NPR, but at the time, I felt like, “I want to see if I can make it freelancing until I can get a job that really draws on what I think are the skills that I’ve learned in that job, of which were more in the vein of writing and reporting.”
I freelanced for a couple of months. I had published a few pieces, or actually, I guess I wrote pretty regularly for the Washington Post Express, which is a free daily commuter paper in D.C. owned by the Washington Post but pretty separate from it, and I wrote mostly arts features for them. I was doing a lot of jobs on the side: I had two shifts a week at a local bakery; I worked a brunch shift at a local restaurant; I was writing press releases for the trade association for alt weeklies and making engagement videos for my friends. I was basically doing anything to make money at the time while also still trying to publish work.
It was freaky. It was also in the middle of winter. It was, I think, January through March when I was doing this, and it was like really dark outside. I was alone all day wondering how I was going to pay my bills and feeling like, “Wow, why did I make that decision to leave NPR,” which was sort of the dream place to work for me at the time, and “Is this going to be my life forever, working two bakery shifts and one brunch shift and writing press releases and making videos, and then also writing things and also applying for full-time jobs.”
If somebody wants to do that, I would recommend doing it in the summer when it’s a little bit friendlier outside, and …
Brogan: Good advice.
Cauterucci: … my partner would come home from work, and she would’ve had a really stressful day, and I would’ve been like, “Let’s play. Let’s hang out. I’ve been so lonely all day.” I was like, “I think maybe the freelance life is not for me.” First of all, I was not established at all in the field. I did not have many contacts, editors that I could pitch things to, so I was just taking a lot of shots in the dark that yielded no leads for me. Also, I missed being on a team and working with people.
Then the arts editor job at the Washington City Paper opened up, and this is where I felt all the random things that I had been doing in my past came together to help me get a job that I felt slightly unqualified for. It was my first big-girl journalism job, and it was an arts editor role, which was kind of a, it felt like a lot of responsibility to me at the time.
Brogan: This is an alt weekly with a strong web presence …
Brogan: So you were going to be covering both Web stuff and also the weekly print material?
Cauterucci: Yes. We had the arts section in the weekly paper, and then, yeah, we were publishing stuff online every day. I was the editor for all the arts stuff and the only full-time art staffer, so it was music and theater, visual arts, and anything, books. It was a lot of fun, and it was a very small staff, and really a family-like environment. It almost felt like a really high-end college paper. We all just had so much fun and really entertained each other’s weirdest and deeply bizarre ideas. There’s not a lot of saying “no,” which was very empowering for somebody who was starting out at my first big job as a journalist, but yeah, it felt like—
Brogan: This was a job that was previously held also by another Slate staffer, Jon Fischer?
Cauterucci: Yeah, Jon Fischer, who is the—
Brogan: Jon’s the business and technology editor at Slate now, one of them.
Cauterucci: Right, and he was the managing editor at the time.
Brogan: Oh, OK.
Cauterucci: I remember when he interviewed me. It was sort of a good-cop/bad-cop situation where the editor in chief was the good cop and Jon Fischer was the bad cop. He would be like, “What’s a D.C. band that you think hasn’t been getting enough attention in the national media?” I forget who I said, but he was like, “Oh, wow. Interesting. That’s actually a pretty mainstream band.” I was like, “Oh my god.”
Brogan: If, for those listeners who have met Jon Fischer, this is almost unthinkable because he is one of the nicest people on earth, but a tough …
Cauterucci: He’s so supportive.
Brogan: … interviewer, apparently.
Cauterucci: I think because he had held that job and also grew up in the D.C. area and was very well-versed in the story, DIY, and punk scenes, he had really high expectations for somebody who was going to hold that role.
I learned a lot really quickly. I think that was a good. I sort of fudged my way into that job because I had been doing this queer blogging, and so I had experience making connections in local businesses, and I had lived in D.C. for a while and had a sense of the lay of the land. I was an arts enthusiast, so I had exhibited at a local gallery and sung at a local bar. It felt like home to me, the beat that I was about to oversee.
Brogan: Were the issues of gender and sexuality that you also had been working at that point already part of what you were doing when you were working for the Washington City Paper?
Cauterucci: Not even a little bit. Eventually, I think after I had been working there for a while and had a better handle on what I was doing and didn’t feel like I was skidding into the finish line every week for our print deadline, I was able to think a little bit more about what’s some sort of cultural criticism that I can bring to this that’s not strictly arts-focused that also brings in broader conversations about gender and sexuality. I did something, this was inspired by a project I think that began in the UK, where I looked up all of the lineups for all the local music festivals one season and did sort of like an infographic about all the bands that didn’t have any women in them, which it doesn’t seem like it would be that dramatic, but it was insanely dramatic, especially for the local metal festival. I think something like 90 percent of the bands had not a single woman in them. When you see all that stuff laid out, yeah, it made a big visual impact.
Then we had a yearly gay issue, which I don’t think that there was a queer person on staff before I got there, at least not in the immediately previous iteration of the City Paper staff, so I took control of that. That was really fun. It was every year around Pride week. We did—this was a Jon Fischer–Christina Cauterucci collaboration—we did the Encyclopedia of Gay D.C. one year, and so we had just local bars and important people and historical moments and did an alphabetized index of Q-and-A’s and funny little clips. It was so much fun.
I did write one cover story that was about, I was groped on the street and reported it to the police, which now, with years’ hindsight, I feel very complicated about, but I had remembered reading that the D.C. police was … there was a report that came out from Human Rights Watch about how the MPD was further traumatizing sexual-assault victims and losing their case files and never following up with them. I wasn’t expecting much when I reported this to the police, and I was very pleasantly surprised with how they reacted. They followed up with me a couple of months later, asked if I needed any assistance. They took me very seriously. They were very sensitive to … I was with my female partner at the time, and they were … I don’t know why I was so surprised, but … I wrote a cover story about that and talked to the cops about the work that they have done in the past couple of years to retrain all their officers and make a special-victims-advocacy unit.
I guess that was something that was completely off my beat, and because the City Paper was very small and very independent, we were able to pursue things like that that weren’t immediately relevant to whatever arts section was coming out in the next week’s paper.
Brogan: You were doing this editing and thinking about section and coverage and what was going on in the city, but you were also doing some reporting at that point as well.
Cauterucci: Yeah, and especially it was mostly arts-related. Most of my big stories were, my big reported stories that I did, were related to the art scene in D.C., but the stuff that interested me was always the stuff that brought in political ideas and issues of gentrification and race and class.
One of my favorite pieces that I did was about a public art piece that the D.C. Commission for Arts and Humanities put in a neighborhood that is historically poor and dealing with the first coming waves of gentrification. They put a piece there by a black artist from New York City, which was a commentary on gentrification and the great migration, but it was essentially a big pile of trash that the city put in a vacant storefront that the city had owned and had sat on this vacant storefront for years and the community had been asking, “Please do something with this empty building.” Then the first thing they do with it is put a pile of trash in it so the community was like, “Hi, we’re trying to clean up this neighborhood, and you just put a pile of trash in it.”
That was a really interesting story to report and something I still think back on occasionally when I write about the arts in the context of my current job.
Brogan: I mean, it was then as now in your work, I think, we’re seeing, an attention to what’s happening to the culture, what’s happening locally, but also to the way that issues of justice, more generally, race, class, gender, sexuality are all intersecting, yeah?
Cauterucci: One thing I like about Slate a lot, as at City Paper, it feels like I have a lot of freedom to direct my own beat, and especially the beat of gender, in particular, it’s more a lens than a beat. There are certain topic areas that are just mine, reproductive rights and sexual harassment and assault, which as really been dominating the news lately. Those are the bread-and-butter of my beat, but if I can just make the case that something I want to write about belongs in this section, the editors have been great about encouraging me to go for it.
Brogan: I guess we can come back around now maybe to getting that job at Slate. The position had opened up. It had been Amanda Hess’s job, as you said, more or less, and they had room for a new journalist under the DoubleX rubric. You applied. You got it.
Cauterucci: Yeah, I was at an editing job at the City Paper. As you said, I was mostly editing. I did some reporting and writing, but definitely not to the extent that I do now. When I saw the job had opened up, I was not sure that I would be able to write as prolifically as the job demanded.
Brogan: Because at the time, it was demanding—three blog posts a day, I think, right?
Cauterucci: Yeah, two to three. And I had never done that before, especially not to the, at the level of quality that Slate published at. At City Paper, I could do two or three posts a day, but they would be one paragraph each, and that’s not really something that Slate does or that DoubleX does.
I decided not to apply for it, but then I went to this amazing two-week arts-critics camp at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. It’s an incredible program. It was fully funded at the time for, I think it was about 12 or 14 arts reporters from around the country to come to this theater center that helps emerging playwrights develop their work. We would watch one or two performances a day, write reviews of them, and then critique each other’s work. We were forced to produce a lot of work, sometimes really late at night. We would watch a play that would end at 10:00, and then have to have something for 9:00 a.m. the next morning. It was grueling, incredibly fun, and we got to learn from some pretty accomplished arts writers. I loved it. I realized that I wanted to write all the time and that I was able to do it, more importantly, that I wouldn’t run out of words to use or get tired of it.
When I got back from that camp, I looked to see if the job was still open at Slate. The deadline had passed. There was a deadline on the job, but it was still posted. This is where having connections comes in. I contacted Jon Fischer, my former colleague, who was at Slate, and I was like, “Hey, do you know anything about this job, and more importantly, do you know if they’re still taking applications?” He said, “Yeah. I don’t think they found anyone yet.”
I sent in my late application, and I had a bunch of interviews, mostly on the phone. I think I met with our editor in chief, Julia Turner, in person when she was down in D.C. The more people I talked to, the more I became certain that Slate was not only fun to read, but a really rewarding place to work at. There were people I talked to who had been there, Julia’s one of them, who had been there for more than a decade. I thought that was a really good sign. Everyone seemed to be in good cheer and had their heads on straight. It didn’t seem like a sharp-elbowed place to work, which was something I was concerned about because I thought everyone at Slate was so smart and so accomplished. I didn’t want to work at a place where we were all trying to one-up each other, and it didn’t seem that way from the interviews. That was important to me, and then I got the job … and here I am.
Brogan: Here you are, and you’ve been in this job for, I think it—
Cauterucci: A little over two years.
Brogan: A little over two years, yeah. What are your actual days like now? When do you get started in the morning?
Cauterucci: When I first started the job, I would get on my computer around 7:30 …
Brogan: Oh, god.
Cauterucci: … a couple of minutes after I woke up, and do a survey of the news. I would look at my RSS feed and my email and Twitter and pick maybe 12 bits of news that were happening. I would call them, I think we’d call it morning links, and I would send them out on Slack. Some of them, I would say, “I think this, this, and this are interesting.” Other writers could say the same and write about stuff. Then sometimes my editor would say, “Yes. Do that,” or “No. Write about these other things.” I was mostly following the news.
More recently, in the past year, maybe or nine months, my post quota has been relaxed a little bit, so instead of writing two or three posts a day, I’m writing one post a day or less. In the past couple of months, I’ve been writing almost exclusively on sexual harassment and assault, and I have a couple bigger pieces that I’m working on, on that topic. I’ll still get started around the same time. I’ll usually get to work around 9 or 9:30, but I am working on the longer projects instead of having little mini deadlines through the day, like send in your first post at noon and your next post at 2:30 and whatever, which I was starting to get a little burned out at that pace.
Brogan: I think it’s understandable that you were getting burned out at that pace, but I will also say that one of the things I remember being so struck by at the time was how good every post you did was.
Cauterucci: Thank you.
Brogan: And then not just, well, I mean it, and you’re welcome, but I’m not just saying that because we worked together for a few years and because I like you a lot, but because I really like, I actually alluded to it once in a piece for Slate, where I was talking about own writing anxiety. I was so struck but how, not just how quickly you were produce, but how good what you were able to produce was. How long did it—when you were just doing these, what we call aggregation blog posts where you’re writing about and trying to add something to a story that’s already in the news—how long did those usually take you?
Cauterucci: I think I would usually try to do one piece. When I started out, I was mostly doing two posts a day, especially when I was getting used writing a lot every day. I think the first one would maybe take me four hours, and the next one would take me—I would do a shorter one toward the end of the day that would take me three hours, and so that leaves room for editing and going to the bathroom and stuff.
Brogan: That’s not just the writing time. That’s the whole experience of working on the piece.
Cauterucci: Yeah, so researching, sometimes making a phone call or two, but mostly not when I was writing that much every day. Then when I would do three posts a day, which I did for almost a year, I guess the middle year, it was, yeah, I would try to do them each in two to three hours. It was exhilarating, especially at first when I had never really written on this beat before. I had always read about it, read pieces on this beat. Like I said, I was really, I followed it pretty religiously, but I had to write about so many different kinds of things, fashion and women’s health and Supreme Court cases and maternity leave and legislation.
I felt like I was having to become a subject-area expert on multiple things a day, which was a lot of fun. I’d be like, “All right, there’s this, a new recommendation from, whatever medical association, that you only need to get mammograms every”—I can’t think of it off the top of my head—“every five years instead of three.” I’d be like, “Let me read a ton about mammograms because I’ve never had one and never read anything about them before, so what’s the thinking on this? What are the studies about this? Who is advocating for and against this? What do people think about it?”
Then, because it’s Slate, we tried to offer a little bit more analysis and argument. I’d be like, “What do I think about this?” or “What does the data say?” This is all within the three or four hours that I’m writing the post. I felt like a little internet sleuth every day, especially when I was writing about something like childcare, something I have no experience in and I knew very little about. I would feel like I was having revelations every day, like, “Oh my god, how do parents do this? It really is so expensive. There’re hardly any childcare places.” I’d get really worked up about it, and then I’d write, I think, a really passionate post about a thing that I had never really felt anything about before that day.
Brogan: Do you think of—I mean, a question that I think is difficult for a lot of working journalists—do you think of the time that you spend reading other journalist’s work or doing this research, does that feel like work to you, or does it only feel like work when you’re writing and revising and publishing?
Cauterucci: Sometimes, I mean … That’s a good question. I think it depends on what the topic is. There are definitely certain things that I write about that I feel more passionate about and moved by than others. There are certain things that I write about that I don’t necessarily find interesting to read about in my free time, so it does feel like work. This is probably going to make me sound like a bad journalist, but pay equity. It’s not something that I love reading about, another piece about how women are getting paid crap in a given industry.
It’s something that I used to write about a lot, especially when I was writing three posts a day and there’s always these new studies coming out or new legislation in the works in different states, but I wouldn’t seek that out in my free time except for the fact that I had to write about it. I wanted to keep up with what was going on in that field of thought, but a lot of other things that I read about that are on my beat I read about because I’m really interested, so feminist critiques of pop culture, anything to do with reproductive rights. That’s also something that before I started this job, I felt like the reproductive rights and reproductive justice part of the job would be one of the parts that I would be least interested in.
I like politics and policy, and so it’ll be interesting on that front, but it’s not something that I’m particularly … Obviously, I’m pro–reproductive rights and reproductive justice, but I didn’t feel like it was my issue. Part of that was the fact that we had another writer on staff, or on contract at the time, Amanda Marcotte, who left a couple of months after I started to write for Slate, but she, that was really her beat, and she was very read up on it and an amazing writer on it, so I felt like, “That’s her thing.”
When she left, it fell to me, and pretty quickly, I got excited and passionate about it, and now, it’s something that I love writing about and that I’ve loved reading about, and I will seek out pieces that delve into theories of reproductive justice way more now than I did before the beat. I think part of it is, the more you know about something, the easier it is to get into an in-depth piece about it because you have a base of knowledge.
Brogan: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense.
Cauterucci: That’s part of what I try to do in my job, is make a piece about something like that interesting for somebody who may not already have a base of knowledge, and hopefully, interest them enough to want to read more about it.
Brogan: For a lot of journalists, one of the other big-time sucks these days is social media, especially Twitter. Is that something that you get pulled into? Do you spend time checking the mentions and whatnot?
Cauterucci: Definitely not as much as I think some of my colleagues and contemporaries. I, pretty quickly, found out that if I read all of my mentions or sought them out, links to my articles, I would start doubting myself or beating up on myself because everyone’s got an opinion on Twitter, and sometimes those opinions are helpful and valid, and sometimes they’re ad hominem and mean. I find Twitter to be a good news aggregator for me. I have lists that I use to bring in thinkers and news outlets that are relevant to my beat and in general, keeping track of the news even not for my job, but I don’t find it particularly helpful to be keeping track of what people are saying about me on Twitter.
Brogan: I mean, I also know, we wrote a few things together awhile back, and I know that they were specific to issues of gender and masculinity in general. While I still occasionally get hate-tweets about the things that we wrote, I also know that, at the time and since, much more of that outrage from men is directed toward you. Though I knew it wasn’t easy to be a woman online, it was really instructive in how bad it can be to see that asymmetry of the hate, frankly, that you received in some cases versus what I got hit with, which was very, very asymmetrical.
Cauterucci: Yeah, I don’t think I actually knew that, I don’t think I recognized that same asymmetry, but, yeah, it feels like now a lot of people, a lot of men’s rights activists and alt-right people and antiabortion people who tweet, it feels like they’re conscious of playing this role of “I’m going to use Hate speech or attack someone’s looks or call them dumb and bad at their job and they should be ashamed of everything they’ve ever written” where I just, I have a hard time believing they actually feel that passionately about whatever I’ve written, but I think it’s a role that they enjoy playing on Twitter to be this thorn on everybody’s side.
The one thing that really upset me was, one time, Gavin McInnes, the guy who founded Vice and also the Proud Boys, the group of alt-right men who don’t masturbate and love fascism, he read a piece that I wrote. I can’t even remember what it was. I think it was about Andrew Puzder, the labor secretory nominee who ended up withdrawing himself from consideration, and he was a fast-food titan who had his fast food, I think it was Hardee’s, have these really bad sexist commercials. I wrote a silly piece about them, and Gavin McInnes went online, I think on Instagram, and found a photo of me and my three bandmates. I was in a band at the time, two of whom are transgender, and he published this photo of me, or tweeted it to his hundreds of thousands of followers and basically said, “Look at the woman who wrote this article and her friends,” and “What do you think of them?”
Then it was like hundreds of tweets about me and my friends, who aren’t journalists. People were Photoshopping things onto the photo talking about parts of my body in explicit terms. I just had, it upset me, and I made my social media accounts private for a while after that. I also got great joy out of reporting every single one of those tweets. I spent hours reporting them to Twitter. That’s also when I found out that people have to really violate a few specific rules for Twitter to do anything about it. Just saying that they want to do a specific thing to a specific part of my body isn’t enough. They have to call me a dyke, or they have to say they want to kill me. It’s, yeah. That was …
Of course, the guy who posted the original tweet, because he merely found the photo and allowed his followers to say things about it, didn’t do anything wrong, in Twitter’s estimation.
Brogan: Yeah, that’s awful. I’m so sorry, Christina. Does it feel worth it when you’re dealing with stuff like that, the work that you do?
Cauterucci: Yeah, definitely. Especially people like that, when it doesn’t involve my friends, I feel like it’s easy for me to let that stuff roll off my back. These are people who I would never associate with in real life who are never going to be my target audience for the stuff that I’m writing—in fact, who are the people whose ideologies I’m trying to combat in the stuff that I’m writing. I’ve found a lot of ways to deal with it. I mute a lot of people. I stopped getting push notifications for DMs on Twitter, which I leave my DMs open because I always want people to be able to contact me, and I don’t want to put my email address online, but—
Brogan: DMs, for those who don’t know, are direct messages, a way of communicating with someone privately on the platform.
Cauterucci: Thanks, Jacob. I would literally wake up to a DM that was like, “You’re ugly … ”
Cauterucci: “ … and have a bad haircut.” I feel like, at a certain point, this is probably cliché, but if I’m riling those people up, I’m probably doing a service with my journalism because that’s what I want to do. I want to be directly confronting these toxic ideologies and groups of anti-feminist fascists. I think it’s worth it. I know that what I’ve experienced is not as bad as many of my other peers in the industry because I just don’t have that many Twitter followers because I don’t tweet that much. I feel like I’m part of a siblinghood of journalists who get hate tweets. The fact that I know that it happens to everyone makes me feel a little less bad when it’s happening to me.
Brogan: Yeah. Well, it seems like you’ve found ways to draw boundaries there. I wonder about work more generally, though, and this is not about harassment or anything, but just about doing your job. You start around 7:30 in the morning, you said. When do you close off for the day, or do you close off for the day? Do you … Slate uses Slack, this chat service that you mentioned earlier pretty heavily. Sometimes it’s still going at 10:30 at night. People are still arguing or shooting ideas off. Do you try to shut that stuff down at some point, or do you generally find that you’re still involved with the work, still thinking about work late into the evening?
Cauterucci: I definitely leave the office, stop checking my email, stop writing usually around 6:00 or 6:30, but because of the nature of my job and my beat, I am thinking about it a lot of the time, but that doesn’t feel like work. It feels, I get excited when I’m not at work and I have a good idea for a story or I talk to somebody, and I think, “They’re telling me about their friend who something happened to,” and I’m like, “Oh my god, put me in touch with that person. That sounds like a story.” I love that, and I love that my beat is expansive enough to include a lot of things that interest me outside of the working day.
Slack is funny. I feel like Slack is a way bigger time-suck for me than Twitter because I’m way more interested in what my colleagues are saying than what random people on Twitter are saying.
Brogan: We do have some very smart colleagues.
Cauterucci: Yeah, we do, and there are a lot of good debates that happen on Slack. A lot of times, those debates will inform pieces that run on Slate. Sometimes they don’t, and they’re just people trying to understand the world and the news. Sometimes, at night, when I’m doing my last Facebook check before bed, I’ll look at Slack to see, A, if anything in the news happened because I don’t get push alerts for the news, which is another part of my drawing boundaries in the Trump era, and sometimes I’ll chime in. It’s a good way to feel connected to colleagues, especially who are in New York or spread out around the country because we do have people —I think only about a third of the editorial team is in D.C.—so there are a lot of people I don’t get to see on a daily basis, but I definitely have a love-hate relationship with Slack, but when I’m trying to focus on writing and there’s a really interesting conversation happening on Slack, it’s hard to pull myself away.
Brogan: Yeah, yeah. You were hired to blog under the DoubleX vertical, under this women’s and gender issues broadly-construed vertical. You do primarily cover those issues still today, especially as you’ve been saying, harassment and reproductive rights and things like this, but you’ve done some writing here as well still about LGBTQ issues and about your own experiences. One piece of yours that has stuck with me for a long time is something you wrote about the side-shave haircut, this haircut that, as you wrote, was once a haircut you once had, yeah?
Brogan: That was a sort of lesbian signifier, and that got kind of appropriated, I guess we could say, by heterosexual women. Do you try to find time to write about LGBTQ issues ever, or does it just come up in the course of your working life now and then?
Cauterucci: Yeah, it’s not a conscious thing. I’m not thinking, “Oh, I would like to write two pieces about LGBTQ stuff this week,” but I try to think of it as part of my beat because it is about gender and about women, but sometimes it’s hard because we do have a designated section for LGBTQ pieces, and it has its own editor. I think I have had to advocate a little bit more to write about that stuff just because it’s not really an explicit part of my beat, even though I might think it is, that it makes a lot of sense, but that’s another area where it’s … those are issues I think about a lot, and I find it especially rewarding when I get to write about them because I think that there is a dearth of smart LGBTQ writing on the internet. I think there are a lot of sites that have really great LGBTQ writers and editors, but few of them are able to make specific-designated space for queer argument and content.
That’s not to besmirch any of my colleagues doing fantastic work out there, but it’s historically been hard for publications to make the case for LGBTQ-specific sections in part because of homophobia and in part because, especially for content related to women or gender, queer, and non-binary people, there’s a sense that it doesn’t sell and that advertisers won’t want their products running next to that content, or that queer women don’t have the money to spend on products or they don’t go out or they don’t do this or that, and so why would advertisers want to advertise to them?
Brogan: Do those, I mean, those assumptions seem like they point to the necessity of this work, though to some extent in that it suggests that there are these complex intersecting forces of socioeconomic conditions and racial ones and so on that are also inflecting who counts as a valuable voice or a valuable subject in the public sphere.
Cauterucci: Totally. I think I’ve loved writing about this stuff at Slate because it is a mainstream site that has an audience that’s diverse in terms of gender and sexuality, and so it’s not, I’m not just preaching to the choir, so to speak. I love the idea that a straight cisgender man might read my piece about the side shave and his mind be totally blown.
Brogan: Mine was.
Cauterucci: Even though … oh, good. At the same time, I think that that piece, or the piece that I wrote about trying to parse the terms queer versus lesbian, I think that those can be really validating and affirming and thought-provoking for queer people, too, who don’t get the chance to read that stuff explored in a dedicated space by a journalist who writes about that stuff a lot, and also to the people who have never really thought about that stuff before.
Brogan: I mean, you mentioned that you have to advocate for your writing on these issues a little more. I mean, does that mean that the pitching process is different for you, the way you reach out to editors or develop a piece is different than it is for the stuff you write under DoubleX every day?
Cauterucci: Yeah, especially because our, like I said, we have a dedicated blog outward for LGBTQ content, which has its own editor, Bryan Lowder, who’s currently on book leave, so sad for us.
Brogan: He’ll be back soon, though, I think.
Cauterucci: Yes. I’m very excited. I think in the New Year, he’s coming back, but so I don’t ever want to be stepping on his toes or approaching his ideas, but especially back in the days when I had a more intense quota, I would want my stuff to run on DoubleX so it counted for DoubleX’s engaged viewership time and page views and all of the metrics by which we measure our success. This is nothing against the editors at Slate, who are incredibly smart and encouraging, but I think it takes a little bit more explanation sometimes to convince a straight editor that this is a very important thing that I should write about. That’s sometimes, but I think other times, it might be harder to convince a queer editor that it’s a story, whereas a straight editor might be like, “Oh my god, yes. I’ve never thought about that. That’s a fantastic piece. Please write about that.” I think most editors at Slate love the idea of having a diversity of perspectives on the site, especially ones that are underrepresented, and queer perspectives definitely fall into that category.
Brogan: Speaking of diverse perspectives, I mean, you’re someone with, I think, a pretty rich personal community of people who are thinking richly about a variety of topics in a variety of ways. Do you think of yourself as someone who’s, given that you have this position, this voice here at Slate, this national publication, maybe international, do you ever try to bring in the voices of people in your own community and your own circle and help them find a larger audience as well?
Cauterucci: I’m not an editor, so I can’t assign things, but I have definitely recommended to my editors and writers who I know personally who I think are doing great work on issues of gender and sexuality and race. One is Miriam Pérez at Colorlines, who’s a dear friend of mine. I try to link to their work when I can, and it’s not hard to find occasions to, because, like I said, they’re incredibly smart and doing fantastic work.
I also, for my friends who aren’t writers, I’ve definitely interviewed them for pieces, especially when I write a silly piece that I’m just trying to compile a lot of anecdotes. I did one piece about Netflix and Hulu and HBO Go passwords and what do you do when you are using your significant other’s password, and then you break up. I think a lot of the pieces that I write like that just by default have a ton of queer representative in them, maybe disproportionate just because my circles and my circles’ circles are heavily queer, and so I feel like I’m correcting the anti-queer bias in media by having like, “Oh, wow, this piece is, just happens to be, almost entirely lesbians.”
Brogan: It seems like this is important in part because finding queer voices, or diverse voices, generally, whatever that might mean, isn’t just about who writes the stories, that that’s hugely important, but also who they speak to. It sounds like you’re speaking to a lot of different folks who don’t often get represented.
Cauterucci: Yeah, totally. With pieces like, pieces about dating, I wrote a piece when OkCupid decided to kick out a well-known white supremacist, kick him off the site, I wrote a piece about how white supremacists and racists are everywhere on this site, and just because their names aren’t known doesn’t mean that they’re any less racist and white supremacist. I interviewed a bunch of folks who have endured Hate speech and racist language and insults on the site. That’s another … pieces like that, I think, in mainstream publications can sort of default skew straight, but just based on who I know and who my contacts know, my tend to skew the opposite direction.
Brogan: Has the Trump presidency changed the way you think about your work and the kind of journalism you’re doing?
Cauterucci: A little bit. I think at first, after he got elected, and I had been covering him point-by-point on misogyny and feminism as I had been in the Clinton candidacy and the Sanders candidacy, when he won, I felt a little bit of a drop in my sense of purpose. I had worked so hard to expose all of the ways in which he was bad for women and queer people and everyone, and he won. Not that I thought that my writing was going to sway the election or anything, but before the election, it really felt like we had a sense of purpose. I felt a similar sense of purpose in writing critical pieces of Clinton and Sanders, but obviously, Trump was a special case, but then we had a lot of talks about this at Slate about what our role could be in the Trump presidency, and I think we all felt like it was more important than ever to focus attention on the marginalized communities who Trump was affecting in dire and life-threatening and livelihood-threatening ways.
That’s something that impacts me as a woman and a queer person and has brought a little bit of a sense of purpose back to my work, where I think just writing openly about the issues that matter to me and my communities and the people that I love is a little bit of a subversive act, that the Proud Boys guy can insult me and my friends all he wants, but I’m still writing, my friends are still making art and music and protesting. As long as there’s Slate and a free and open internet, those voices will continue to be heard.
Brogan: Well, thank you so much for talking with us, Christina.
Cauterucci: Thank you for having me.