Author Roxane Gay on how unnecessary purchases help her regain control in an uncertain climate

A small shopping cart and red computer mouse on pink background, symbolizing online shopping.
A small shopping cart and red computer mouse on pink background, symbolizing online shopping.
Photo: the_burtons/Getty Images

After nearly eight months of relative isolation, I have succumbed to Instagram ads which have, over the past while, become increasingly ludicrous. Or my inability to resist them has become increasingly ludicrous. It all started with an ad for a Lume Cube, a small LED light for better lighting on Zoom calls and during virtual events. It was a business expense, I decided. And it was very much needed because I was looking pallid, at best, on too many Zoom calls. When I started using the light, I felt gratified because everything looked so much better under the warm glow of a bright light. I now have two Lume Cubes and a couple ring lights. …


The fear of traveling in my body made the world seem small, until I did it anyway

Rear view of a fat Black woman sitting on a towel on the beach, watching the ocean.
Rear view of a fat Black woman sitting on a towel on the beach, watching the ocean.
Photo: MesquitaFMS/iStock/Getty Images Plus

I’m a workaholic. Until recently, I had never taken a vacation as an adult. During graduate school and the first few years of teaching, I couldn’t afford a vacation. I had no one to go on a vacation with. And then it seemed like an unnecessary extravagance when there was so much work to do. Those were mostly excuses though, because when I could afford a vacation, I still did nothing. I was fat, I told myself, I couldn’t possibly travel abroad and see the world in any meaningful way.

At my heaviest weight, my loneliest truth was that as my body expanded, my world contracted. I longed to travel but knew I would be painfully limited in where I could go and what I might do when I got there. But then, I had weight loss surgery and as my body has contracted, my world has expanded. …


‘I am getting to know so much about her and, fortunately, I delight in each new thing’

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Photo: South_agency/E+/Getty Images

For the entirety of our relationship, my fiancée Debbie and I have been long distance. Or, we were long distance. She is based in New York City and I am based in Los Angeles and we are both stubborn about changing our geographies. For the first six months of our relationship, I was teaching in Connecticut, flying East every other week. Despite the distance, we saw each other regularly. Then, we just made it work. As frequently as we saw each other, we never really spent a significant amount of uninterrupted time together. I was always jetting off to an event here or there or returning to Los Angeles for my work there, my life there. Or she was jetting off to an event somewhere. Or she had to return to New York, after visiting me in L.A., …


When beautiful lies reveal ugly truths

A closeup photo of Stacey Abrams speaking at an event.
A closeup photo of Stacey Abrams speaking at an event.
Stacey Abrams speaks during the Martin & Coretta S. King Unity Breakfast on March 1, 2020, in Selma, Alabama. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Politicians are not auditioning to be my friend. Every election cycle, I remind myself of this as I consider which candidates to support. I do not need to believe they are the best people in the world. I need to find them capable of the important work they will be tasked with should they be elected. I need to believe that more often than not they will concern themselves with the greater good over what will be the greatest good to them personally.

All too often, though, we treat politicians and political campaigns like entertaining spectacles. We want candidates to enchant us with soaring rhetoric about how great this country is and how they are the best, nay, the only choice to further that greatness. We want candidates to be perfect, always saying and doing the right thing even when we know perfection isn’t possible. Perfection isn’t the goal. …


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For the final issue of Gay Magazine, we wanted to explore power, this thing that shapes all our lives. Our contributors did not disappoint. In “As a Sex Worker I Didn’t Feel Exploited,” Kitty Stryker writers about the juxtaposition between sex work and writing and how she felt exploited in only one of those professions. It is an unvarnished look at the challenges of the writing life, the precarity of it for so many freelance writers who write for far too little compensation, with no safety net and few benefits. Sara Schaff explores the vulnerability women face, and how quickly we can learn about safety and the lack thereof, in the hands of men. The line between anger and love, the tenuous relationship between a mother and daughter, the complexities of North Korea, are at the center of Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s powerful essay, “Mother Land.” We often see the word “triggered” used in the most demeaning ways. Molly Ackhurst and Francesca Lee write about the ways in which our culture has co-opted the language of PTSD to the detriment of people who actually suffer from the condition. There are times when people assume you share their prejudices. Isaac Fitzgerald writes about the discomfort of bearing witness to his barber’s racism and misogyny, how he had to confront his own biases, and the ongoing work he does to be a better man. The ways cultural erasure, identity, and language are intertwined are at the heart of Noor Hindi’s essay “Identity Politic Confessional.” …


Grappling with the uncertainties of the way we are living now

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Credit: Alessandro Vasari/Archivio Vasari/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

1.

It is nearly impossible to avoid thinking about power during an election year. Politicians with varying degrees of talent engage in years of pageantry as they try to convince the most people that they are the best candidate to assume the American presidency. They try to convince us that they can use the power of that position appropriately. And when they are elected, we hope they can fulfill at least some of the promises they make. We hold this hope despite an abundance of evidence that none of those promises will be kept.

We live in a democracy or, at least, that is what we tell ourselves. In a democracy, we have the power of our vote. We are individuals, but we have a say in who represents us at the city, state, and national levels. It’s hard, however, to believe in the power of the vote when a presidential candidate wins the most votes but still loses the election. It is hard to believe in the power of the vote, when time and again, a singular demographic is elevated to the detriment of far better candidates. …


Roxane Gay’s year of reading

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‘Piles of French Novels’ (1887) by Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas. Credit: VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

This was a year where I felt like I didn’t get anything done. I didn’t write much and when I did I wasn’t very happy with what I wrote. I didn’t read much. I travelled too much. Toni Morrison died and I reflected on her legacy. I wrote a comic series called The Banks about a family seeking vengeance and a payday that will change their lives. I had a great meal at Little Dom’s. I wrote about how I have to steal time to write these days. I profiled Melina Matsoukas on the eve of her film debut. I profiled Kerry Washington. I wrote a short story called “Immediate Family.” I made some but not enough progress on a YA novel and my next nonfiction book, How to Be Heard. They are coming along, I guess. I co-wrote a graphic novel that will be out in October 2020. I started no fewer than thirty essays and short stories that are in various states of disarray because the words simply aren’t coming these days. …


The distortions of black and brown lives in the white imagination

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Illustration by Christina Yoseph

The new West Side Story revival attempts to reinterpret the classical music for a contemporary audience in a fraught political climate. It is Romeo and Juliet, but with tattoos and ripped clothing and barely suppressed rage rolling beneath the skin of every character. It is a story of old immigrants versus new immigrants, and how people living on the margins are forced to fight for the little scrap of the world they share. The cast is multiracial and the Sharks are played by actual people of color instead of white actors in brown face so that, I suppose, is progress. …


Some of our favorite essays this year

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Gay Magazine came online on May 1, 2019. Since then, we’ve published 109 pieces by 94 different writers: essays, cultural criticism, and short fiction that we believe in and handle with care. Some of our writers were well known and established, many were publishing for the first time. These are some of our favorites from the past eight months.

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The Pleasure Scale, by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Many parts of my body are numb from surgery. My inner thigh on the right side from open heart surgery. Under my left boob from open heart surgery. My left chest all the way up to my neck from an autologous transplant, with an exception for a quixotic sliver of nipple. My right thumb from the other autologous transplant. The top of my back hurt in a vehicular accident. The inside of my right arm from the transplant. …


Observations from someone who will never be a cat person

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I am not a cat person. I am not an animal person. I have never had a pet, not even a goldfish. A week before we started dating, my fiancée Deborah got two cats, Lew and Theo. On our first date, she told me about her cats and, because several of her exes had given her a hard time about her pets, she had a bit of PTSD around the subject. She tentatively asked if her pets would be a deal breaker. She had no idea about my aversion to animals and my allergy to cats. …

About

Roxane Gay

I write. I want a tiny baby elephant. If you clap, I clap back. Books.: Ayiti, Untamed State, Bad Feminist. Difficult Women, World of Wakanda 1–5, Hunger.

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