When this year’s Leading Men feature came around, I jumped at the opportunity to interview NYC-based gay blogger Joe Jervis. His blog, Joe.My.God., has come to be an important voice for and from the gay community; successful for the way he blends humor, activism and real news from trusted sources. But it doesn’t take any dedicated reader long to realize there is a lot more Joe throws into the blender. He’s a gay man who every day tells his own story and pursues his own truth, all the while helping us understand a bit of our own.
Be sure to check out Joe and the rest of Instinct’s Leading Men of 2009 in the November issue, on newsstands now. This year it’s all about guys who are working to make a difference. Their stories will inspire—and they look damn good while doing it.
Never to be one short on words, we had more Joe than could fit on the page. So, here’s the extended interview from one of our community’s most vocal members.
Instinct: How long have you been doing the blog?
Joe: It’s in it’s sixth year. The sixth anniversary will be in about five months.
How did you get started?
Joe: They kicked me off of Manhunt. I was using my profile space to write non-hookup material. I was writing sort of satirical musings on the Internet hookup phenomenon, which was going through its youthful explosion six years ago. Instead of writing, “I’m this, you must be that, and we can meet here,” I was writing things like the Manhunt weather report.
Do you remember any of your Manhunt weather reports?
Joe: It included things like, “High gusts of attitude in Chelsea” or “Use chains where required,” and “Ages will be sharply higher than reported.” My profile started getting passed around Manhunt and I started getting a sort of readership from people in other cities. I was updating it every Friday and people would write to me and say, “Hey you didn’t update your column today.” So the people from Manhunt wrote to me and said, “You know this is for sex, right?”
You talk about your mom in Florida sometimes. Does she read your blog?
Joe: No. She actually found my blog about three years ago. I was sitting in my office one day when I got an e-mail from her with the subject line, “You should have known it was only a matter of time.” I sat there for the longest time thinking, “There’s just no way anything in this e-mail is going to be any good.” At the time I hadn’t morphed into activism blogging. The post that day was my typical musings on gay sex. That day I was wondering which gay sex act could or could not be improved by adding extra people. We made an agreement that she would never read the blog and I would never blog about her having found it.
What brought you from an online journal to an activism blog?
Joe: When you tell your greatest hundred stories and then you start to think, “Where did I go that weekend? Did anything happen? Can I make it like something happened?”
What brought you to activism in the first place?
Joe: I’ll be very frank. Living basically all my life in “gay ghettos,” I’ve always had a very good gay life. The biggest bar scenes, the biggest party scenes, and I took full advantage of them. I make no bones about it on the blog. I left no disco unturned. No circuit party, no DJ fan club…But it was synchronicity. About the time I physiologically and spiritually easing off the gas pedal, I got interested in it. A lot of men my age do, but those who don’t, that’s fine, too. I just had a fire light in my belly for activism. Part of that is just the excitement of New York and the immediacy of the scene here. If something happens you’re a five-minute subway ride away. I trace it all back to my first real major gay event which was the ’93 march on Washington. I was a 33-year old disco bunny who went because there were going to be circuit parties. I still went to all the parties, but I beat those boys up who I was with to get out of bed and get to the fucking march with me. Before 1993, when I was in my twenties, gay activism was sort of an abstract thing that happened in New York and San Francisco and had no real impact on my day-to-day life.
So your passion for activism must provide a lot of content.
Joe: It does, and I try to keep it a positive mix. I know things haven’t been going well for us for the past several months. A lot of defeats here and there, so I try to temper the stories that generate a lot of genuine and necessary outrage with some lighter stories. I typically write twenty posts a day. I’ll start the morning with about 10 news items that have come over the overnight feeds or things that appeared on the evening news, then in the middle of the day a little longer, more contemplative pieces
Do you think young people are more aware today?
Joe: The kids today just blow me away. First of all, they are so incredibly blessed to have access to all this information and positive reinforcement—literally moment by moment on everything they say or do in their gay lives. Ten or 15 years ago, there wasn’t that sort of validation, and that emboldens them. It’s a very powerful thing, this sort hive collective we have on the Internet. I see my young activist friends in New York and I think, “Man, don’t fucking waste this. If I knew what you know when I was your age, Christ. I certainly would have gone out a lot less!”
How do you see your role as a blogger?
Joe: The thing with blogging is that you’re not so much a writer as you are a gatekeeper. You look at sometimes 300 stories in a day and think, “Okay, which ten interest me?” And of those ten, which ten are pertinent to the movement. And of those, which ones will the readers find interesting? Sometimes I judge wrong. Sometimes I post thing I think the readers will find fascinating and it’s a dud. I think, “Wow, I researched this story for three hours and no one cares.” Then I’ll throw something out that seems moderately interesting—and I’ll look back and suddenly it’s got 500 comments.
But your blog doesn’t trade in gossip. Was that a decision early on?
Joe: The whole Perez Hilton thing with Dustin Lance Black really upset me. This is a guy who is an Oscar winner, who is campaigning against Prop. 8. I met him at the Milk rally last year in San Francisco and he is a very nice young man. Those sex pictures Perez Hilton put up, how did that help our movement go forward? That is the ethic for Joe.My.God. and that’s sort of the bottom line in terms of my editorial decisions. I try not to call out our own people when I think otherwise they’re doing us good.
How do you keep stories fresh when so much that’s out there can be seen on a hundred different blogs?
Joe: That is a challenge. When there’s a breaking news story and there hasn’t been any fallout or any time to sort of judge its effect, you’re going to see the exact same story in almost the exact same way on Joe.My.God, Queerty, Pam’s House Blend, Towleroad, and Andrew Sullivan. That’s just the nature of blog news. We’re full-time bloggers and we have the luxury of reporting the news in the time it takes it to happen and us to hit ‘publish.’
How is your blog different from the others?
Joe: I’m on the bubble between Queerty and Towleroad. Andy [Towleroad] doesn’t editorialize about anything. Very rarely will he inject his personal opinion on anything. If he does it’s usually a one-line throw away. His is straightforward news blog. I’m news and opinion. Queerty is all opinion.
What do think your blog means to folks who don’t in large gay communities?
Joe: There is some valid criticism of those of us living in the gay ghetto. Here we are slicing and dicing the minutia of partner registration law, where 300 miles away in rural areas gay people are getting dragged behind trucks. I try to be sensitive to that. I think overall what the gay blogosphere is doing is not making the gay people in rural areas safer, but it’s making them more assertive, more educated, and more willing to defend themselves. That’s probably one of the best things about it.
Some criticize bloggers for lacking journalistic integrity. What’s your take on that?
Joe: We have to be self-policing. I like to think all the major bloggers, with a few exceptions, do a very good job checking their sources and not making unfounded allegations, not being muckrakers, not seeking to destroy good people because of something they did one time that was questionable. But by the strictest definitions we’re not “journalists” either. We’re sort of a combination of commentators, opinion essayists if you will, and newsreaders. We’re really not that far off, in a funny way, from the people who read the nightly news. People who read the six o’clock news aren’t journalists. Journalists are guys sitting at a typewriter or standing there with a spiral notebook and a pen outside police headquarters.
Ethics does have to play into that, because we could just put a bunch of TMZ/Perez Hilton crap out there. The other thing about that is one of the big ethics of journalism has always been to protect your sources, get the scoop, and make it exclusive. There’s none of that in blogging. When any of us has a story or breaking news development, we’ll either share it amongst ourselves first or one of us will blog it and share the link to the other news people so they can get it out too. There is a lot of very generous sharing of information. I think that’s one of the coolest aspects of what we do. There’s not a lot of jealousy or selfishness. I always cite other gay bloggers and they do the same for me.
To read more from Joe, check out his blog at www.joemygod.com