Not All Thinking is Relevant: Why I’m Done with Thought Catalog

I’ve only been close with one transgender person in my life so far, and she happened to be somewhat famous. Her name was Octavia St. Laurent, known by many from the iconic film Paris Is Burning. There’s nothing I can write here to convey how effervescent and lovely she was, so instead I’ll just state the facts.

Octavia lived about a half hour away from where I attended college in Connecticut. My campus-leader boyfriend hit it off with her after she came to our school to give a lecture on HIV for an event he organized one day. The chemistry was instant and Octavia quickly became something of a den mother to us. She schooled my boyfriend and me on safe sex, emotional wellness, and the importance of being our authentic selves. She gave us sassy yet wise life advice and told us mind-blowing stories from her salacious New York days. She never talked with us about her journey to becoming Octavia. She had nothing to prove; she just was Octavia.

One time the three of us got stuck in traffic for two hours during a thunderstorm, and Octavia and I passed the time by singing and harmonizing to Toni Braxton’s “How Could an Angel Break My Heart” (the Babyface duet version, of course) on repeat. Though it seemed insignificant in the moment, this has since become one of my all-time favorite memories. An 18-year-old white boy from rural Connecticut and a trans woman of color who happened to be a legendary LGBT icon, bonding over nineties R&B together in a Honda Accord. It was a lesson in just how not different we all are.

Octavia passed away at the end of my junior year. This was over a year after my boyfriend and I had broken up and we all lost touch, but the news fucked me up. I regretted not keeping in contact and not acknowledging that although she was a strong, nurturing figure to us when we knew her, Octavia was fighting for her health behind the scenes. I cried for days.

I realize now that briefly knowing Octavia was an incredible gift for the development of my character. I cared about the T in LGBT from my earliest gay days, because I had someone there to translate that T into an H for me. Human.

***

Earlier this week, I finished reading the stellar, capable-of-changing-hearts-and-minds memoir Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a work event a few months ago.

Redefining Realness is a movingly honest account of one woman’s journey. It’s elegant yet raw. It’s the type of story that, even having known Octavia (who I was delighted to see quoted at one point in the book), I had never actually heard before in such authentic detail. I’m much better for having read it.

You can imagine the visceral reaction I had, then, when not even 24 hours after finishing Janet’s book and subsequently reminiscing over my favorite Octavia memories, I came across a severely transphobic rant by Gavin McInnes published by Thought Catalog. If you don’t want to read the piece, just know that it’s a hot mess of misinformed hate speech.

At first I felt enraged toward McInnes for writing something so offensive. But I got over that quickly, as I realized that he’s entitled to think and write whatever the fuck he wants, no matter how horrible it is. So then I just felt disappointed. So, so, so, so, so disappointed in Thought Catalog for publishing it.

For giving hate such a major, influential platform.

***

I have something of a history with Thought Catalog.

The story starts in 2010, a few months before I moved from my small town in Connecticut to New York City for grad school at NYU. Please note ahead of time that I was 22 years old and remarkably callow.

Faced with a lot of free time that summer, I decided to write a book.

This was random, as I majored in music during undergrad and always had my heart set on singing. When it came to writing, I merely had experience crafting longwinded Live Journal essays that were never intended for an audience. They were self-serious and “deep” and little more than personal therapy.

But then I discovered Chelsea Handler books and fell in love with the sensation of laughing via written storytelling. I soon got into the deeper, more literary humor of David Sedaris. And then I read this hilarious and engaging memoir in essays called Bitch is the New Black by Helena Andrews. I proceeded to read every humorous memoir I could get my hands on until I started to hear my own voice developing in my head.

Once that voice started screaming, it was decided: I had to write one of these collections myself.

Based on the deluded belief that my writing was far too quality to be given away for free on the Internet, I shaped my essays in private, trusting that when I was finished I’d somehow just send it to a random publisher and it’d become an instant bestseller because that’s how life works.

I got about sixty pages into my book project before grad school started and I shelved it. Living on my own in the city for the first time, interning at a music label, and having my pretentious views of the world shattered kind of took precedent. I had some life to live before I could write about it.

Though I didn’t want to publish my work on the Internet, I started blogging during the summer between grad school semesters upon reluctantly accepting that book deals generally aren’t just given away to first-time authors with absolutely no platform.

I fell in love with blogging once other people started telling me how hilarious I was, and by the time I graduated in 2012 I was prolific. I measured my worth as a writer in laughs and reasoned that if my blog wasn’t funny, then no one would give a shit. But I was writing about my life, and my life wasn’t always a joke. Sometimes it hurt or sucked or just confused me. So I eventually allowed myself to write about that stuff, too.

Once I achieved a vague balance of hilarity and introspection, several readers of mine started tweeting and sending me links to Ryan O’Connell’s work on Thought Catalog. “This guy’s stuff reminds me so much of you,” they’d tell me in various phrasings. “You should write for this site, too!”

I read Ryan’s work. He published pieces at a rate faster than most people publish tweets, so some of it was fluff while other pieces were absolutely brilliant. I placed my focus on the fluff because, frankly, I was jealous. My readers were right—Ryan and I were similar. Except he was Internet-famous and had a book deal while I had a tiny (though dedicated) following and was nowhere near being a safe bet for a publisher.

Recognizing that Thought Catalog had a massive online presence, I decided that maybe I should go for it. I submitted an old blog post of mine called “Not OK, Cupid.” Within a couple hours, I got an e-mail from an editor at the time, Stephanie Georgopulos, who informed me that they’d love to run it (for free).

Being published on TC led to a spike in readership on my own site, so I did it a few more times. I noticed that with each new post I’d get maybe a thousand new hits and a handful of Twitter followers. It was validating and exciting at first, but then I started reading some of the content on the site that wasn’t written by the small handful of great writers (Ryan, Stephanie, Nico Lang, Gaby Dunn, and some others) whose work I admired. I noticed that much of everything else was unedited, uninformed, unaware, and generally sophomoric.

The low editorial standards of TC made me self-conscious about my own work, so I stopped writing for them and instead decided to focus on my own site and my manuscript.

A few months later, Stephanie reached out to me through my blog e-mail, totally unaware that I was the same Nicolas who’d submitted a few pieces to the site already. She loved my latest post and tried to sell Thought Catalog to me as a place to republish it for more exposure.

Feeling particularly validated that an editor had found my blog on her own accord and specifically reached out, I agreed, reasoning that, “So what if this isn’t a ‘quality’ site? It’s expanding my reach and I need to build a platform.”

I wrote for TC on and off for over a year after that. Throughout, I focused on my craft and submitted to many more reputable publications, but when the rejections poured in, being published on TC was always a bittersweet consolation prize.

***

My most recent pieces for Thought Catalog were posted just last month, weeks before they decided to run Gavin McInnes’ hate-fueled diatribe.

Their choice to publish that piece has made this long-time-coming decision of mine easy: I’m done. It’s over. I deserve better. Octavia’s memory requires more of me. We all deserve better.

The next time I get published outside of my own blog, I want to be proud of the accomplishment. I want to be able to say, “This publication has standards.” At the very least, I want to be able to say, “This publication doesn’t troll for clicks by publishing harmful, misinformed rants by raging transphobic assholes.”

But beyond my own writing career, what I’m more upset about with this whole thing is the fact that McInnes’ piece remains out there and continues to attract thousands of views and shares.

As the experiences I’ve recounted in this essay attest, I haven’t always been an educated, smart reader. I grew up in a small town where many issues (like trans ones) simply aren’t discussed. I was a naïve 22-year-old and an even more naïve 18-year-old. If Thought Catalog had been around back then, I can almost guarantee that I would have read it and taken it seriously.

Whether or not the editors want to acknowledge it, Thought Catalog has major reach and influence. In today’s world, social media presence is power. And with nearly half a million Facebook followers, Thought Catalog has got a fucking lot of it. And to quote Spider-Man, because apparently it’s come to that, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Thought Catalog routinely evades this responsibility (not to mention editorial integrity) by crouching behind their indifferent slogan, “all thinking is relevant.”

Problem is, that’s not true. McInnes’ 1950’s-esque hate speech is not relevant.

It’s straight up fucking dangerous.

 

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Comments

  1. Reblogged this on HyperReality and commented:
    This is an incredible piece from a good friend about Thought Catalog and their “all thoughts are relevant” motto in the wake of Gavin McInnes’ hate-fueled rant about the transgendered community. I, too, am done with Thought Catalog, and I urge everyone to think long and hard about TC and their penchant for publishing everything and anything, regardless of standards, morals, or ethics in a time where we desperately need credible voices.

  2. With all the self-mocking you do on this blog, it is easy to forget how thoughtful and wise you are. Great piece and even greater decision. xoxo

  3. And I hope you post this on Thought Catalog whatever the hell that is. I’m going to read the post that started this.

  4. I want to read the evil post, but I don’t want to give TC another click for teh evil. Everyone who goes over to be outraged by the evil is only telling TC that evil sells. To quote the world famous philosopher, “This sucks! This is total BS!”

    I think you are right to raise your expectations of yourself. Keep submitting your essays to real publishers. You are going to make it.

    • Exactly! In this post I linked to The Advocate’s coverage of it, which gives you a general idea. And thank you so, SO much for that second paragraph! It means so much.

  5. I grew up in the country where the LGBT community was pretty well non-existent. Diversity in general was limited. But then I moved to the city and was exposed (no negative connotation intended) to a much bigger world where things were wildly different than what I was used to. My beliefs on homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexualism were only reinforced: they are humans and deserve equal treatment. It really shouldn’t even be a question of whether or not they deserve it.

    So I am glad to read a post like this, Nic. Also, I read a lot of Thought Catalog in my teen years (which wasn’t long ago) and loved it. I identified with the writers there, and the content published there gave me courage. But now when I check back every so often (and my girlfriend tells me about various article she reads), it all just seems to childish and amateur. I don’t know, maybe I’ve just outgrown it. But now that you mention it, it always did seem to have low editorial standards.

    Followed your blog, and will check out past and future stuff. Solid blog you have here.

    -Matt Gannon, the father who also writes.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Matt! I agree with you that there was a lot to love about TC in its earlier days, which is what makes the direction they’ve taken that much more disappointing.

  6. Oh my gosh this is absolutely perfect!!! I used to have a love/hate relationship with Thought Catalog. Now, it’s just full on “get the fuck away from me.” It really is toxic. I’ve submitted a few pieces to TG, but luckily, they never got back to me. Personally, I think 95% of their content is disgusting and I am SO happy that they never published anything of mine because I do not want my name associated with them.

    I applaud you for writing this, Nic! You have more than what it takes and you do not need TG to help you get there. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for this comment, Tina!!! I completely feel you on that love/hate thing. I used to always see the shitty content, but then I’d read something truly remarkable by one of the better writers and my opinion would balance out. But like you said, now it’s just 100% on the toxic end of the spectrum. Such a shame.

      • Agreed! I initially stumbled upon TG a few years ago after reading a really wonderful post. Then, as I started to find other topics, I was turned off. :/

  7. That seems incredibly hate-filled. There’s some stuff on TC that I don’t agree with and consider backwards thinking, but the McInnes piece goes beyond that. Good for you for taking a stance

  8. Thanks for writing your piece, Nic. You made a great decision.
    I emailed TC and asked they remove a piece I wrote for them after I read the McInnes article. (It wasn’t that great. It was about dental hygiene. Not a popular topic :/)

    I’m also very pleased to see WordPress removed TC from their Staff Picks Recommendations page. Keep writing, keep plugging away. Well done.

    Eva

    • Thank you, Eva! Good for you for having them remove your work! I’ve seen a bunch of writers on Twitter have been going that route as well, and I probably will too. Thinking about creative a separate page here where I can archive my TC posts first so they don’t totally go to waste before doing so.

      • They haven’t removed it yet by the looks of it but that’s ok. Persistence is a great thing. 🙂 So is a good attorney.

        Anything and everything you write is of worth, Nic. Even if the piece is never read by anyone, your writing is your history for you first. 🙂

        • Thank you for that! And I agree – you’ll get it down with persistence, I’ve seen a couple writers have success at it so far.

  9. When I found TC, I followed it. Three days later, I unfollowed it. You’re right, there’s a lot of crap on there.

    Basically, it’s popular because it’s a collection of listicles and people have the attention of a fruit fly. It’s like the Hot Pockets of humor: it’s quick and easy and makes you feel a little sick shortly afterwards.

    Most of America tolerates that kind of diversion (see: cable television) but those of us who prefer to live well hold out for better fare. So, if you’re going to be better fare, hold out.

    • Great analogy! As a creator – in all art, I suppose – there’s always that struggle between gaining the quick fix insta-popularity via the “Hot Pocket” method, versus actually taking the time to craft a quality product and maybe not see such instant gratification. But at least with the latter option we can be proud of our work.

      • Stand in front of a mirror and repeat after me: “I’m better than a Hot Pocket!”

        I like the cadence and flow of your writing. It goes down smooth like vanilla pudding. It won’t be chocolate pudding until you add more sex but you get the idea.

  10. Thank you for writing this! I’ve read articles on Thought Catalog before, but I had no idea they posted articles from people who were hateful. I like how you said that not all thinking is relevant. That’s so true. Some people have thought processes that are narrow minded or just plain wrong.

    • Exactly! There are a lot of narrow minded/messed up thinkers out there, which is fine, whatever, but it’s such a shame when a media heavyweight like TC gives those people a platform. Thanks for your comment, Rebecca!

      • I agree completely! Sure it’s great to have differing opinions, but when it’s an opinion that’s hateful, websites like Thought Catalog should not publish those opinions.

  11. I have had a falling out with thought catalog a year ago as one of their readers. Very few posts have any real value, except for all fluff and no to little substance writings.

    I trust your judgment and have no plans of reading that piece (i’ve had too many uncomfortable and cringe-worthy reads) It’s a shame really, as they have so much reach, and for them to publish that is downright irresponsible.

    I agree with you when you say they are there for the “clicks.” I am also glad that you’ve extracted yourself from them.

    I enjoy your writing, so you’ve gained a follower — one who appreciates what you write and do.

    Cheers!

    • Thank you so much for the follow and the kind comment! Yep, as a readers it’s hard to justify all the crap they flood their feed with, even if it’s not as offensive and extreme as the above example… a lot of it really is just, like you said, total fluff.

  12. Ugh, is all I have to say. I’m with you all the way buddy. I’ve never even come across the site, but if I do I’ll be sure to promptly navigate myself away. Screw hate in all its ugly forms. You’re right, it is dangerous. Different is dangerous. But screw it all because being shamelessly “different” is the most beautiful thing a person can do for the world.

  13. Reblogged this on rata2ee78.

  14. I like your story, but I have to disagree with the standard you are holding Thought Catalog to. Perhaps its more of a personal standard you wish they would adopt.

    I do have a slight bias towards TC; they just recently published a Top 10 of mine. Although not new to writing, I am new to doing it for the general public, so this was a big thing for me.

    • Thanks for the comment, and congrats on your piece being published! TC of course can put out whatever they want, and I think they do a lot of good when it comes to giving exposure to new, unpublished voices (as I was when I first wrote there)…. but with the incredible reach they have, I do expect any site to be more responsible than this. A personal standard, perhaps, but one that has definitely made me lose all respect for their editorial staff.

  15. Reblogged this on Epenthesis and commented:
    Hate speech is never relevant. This is why freedom should always come with a price.

  16. Great post!!! Also guys please check my post since i am a new writer

  17. respecttheroses3 says:

    I used to love thought catalog. All those “20 things a Blank Must Know” or something like that. But after reading and exploring through articles, it started getting bland and offensive. Now that read the transphobia article, I feel enraged.

    • I feel your rage! It’s sad, because there truly used to be a lot to love about the site… and over time, like you said, it just all went so far downhill.

  18. Sad

  19. Reblogged this on hamsaram and commented:
    داستانهای سکسی

  20. I would not have believed this was you until I read “having my pretentious views of the world shattered kind of took precedent” and then I knew this was my Nic (Yes, that’s how I refer to you in my head because it’s totally not creepy at all). What an amazing story and I for one DON’T want you publishing this on TC, because they don’t deserve it. I’m glad you are taking a stand for your own values and your own morals. And to quote Spiderman because yes, it always comes down to that “Sometimes, to do what’s right, we have to give up the things we want the most.”
    Hugs and kisses – in a totally not creepy way. 🙂

    • KATE!!! Thank you so much for this comment! I’d likely refer to you as “my Kate” as well, so we’re even RE: creepiness. And thanks for the input RE: whether or not to publish this there! One of the current editors actually reached out to me about it, and I told him I’m still leaning towards no. It would seem a little counterproductive to my point, I think. Maybe there’s some other (reputable) site out there that’d like to repub it for a wider audience, we’ll see. Hugs and kisses back at you!

  21. Blogs appear to be a fantastic place to share your thoughts. Thoughts are always relevant in that they come from spontaneous or time experienced in considering them in our complex brain centers. You don’t have to agree with everyone, because they are your thoughts and help form your interpretations or opinion about any subject.

    • I totally agree – if we’re talking about personal blogs. People can express the undeveloped, misguided, hateful thoughts all they want on their own platforms, but when a major media force like TC validates such material via publishing it to their massive following, it is, IMHO, not cool. Every other blog of TC’s reach and caliber has much higher standards and would never have published that McInnes piece, which I think is the difference.

  22. ok I’m new at this

  23. Schael.Igwe says:

    Incredible writing. Love this piece

  24. This is brave and honest and wonderful. Thank you. If you are not already doing so, you might want to use DoNotLink to frame the link to the McInnes post. That way a clickthrough from your blog does not improve the search position of Thought Catalog. http://www.donotlink.com/dnl/faq.

  25. Brave, smart, true to your moral compass. Lesson: value more than a few clicks, the rewards are greater. You get to keep your integrity. RIP Octavia St. Laurent

  26. Guess you won’t be writing for The New Yorker either. Michelle Goldberg wrote a puff piece on RadFems that made my blood boil.
    There is no space in my life for snark and hate speech.

  27. I’m sure someone already told you this, but I tried to read that article and got a message stating:
    “The article you are trying to read has been reported by the community as hateful or abusive content.” So, YAY to the rest of the world for knowing what’s up, Boo to TC for not realizing it was “hateful or abusive” to begin with. Maybe, just maybe, this guy has enough power that no one has to approve his posts before they’re published?

    • Ahh just saw that message and for a moment I thought “good, they finally did something!” But it turns out if you click Continue at the bottom of the warning message, you can still read the article :-/

      Seriously, TC??? Just take that shit down already.

      Thanks for commenting – I actually didn’t know about the pop-up message until I saw this!

      • Oh really? Ugh I didn’t see that part,

        Yeah, I went ahead and read their “policy,” and they flat out say some of their material is offensive because they pretty much publish anything and everything, even stuff they strongly disagree with. So it’s completely up to the readers to report hateful content, but even then it just “gets pushed down.” Bleh.

  28. LOL LiveJournal – I had my time there too. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

    • Haha, right?! It was such an interesting time in internet writing. I kind of miss it. Kind of.

      • It’s weird how… distinctive LJ is among all the other, superficially similar sites. For some reason it had a very distinctive sort of… style. I dunno man. There’s good there. But there’s also bad. So, so much bad. I think you feel my mixed feels about it too. x.x

  29. Hey! I’m not sure what your policy is on awards, but I think you deserve the recognition so I’ve nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award! =]
    There is no pressure to accept, participate, or follow the rules exactly.
    If you are interested, you can check it out here: http://wp.me/p374p6-1uS

  30. This was a great piece. Thanks for sharing.

  31. adventurejennie says:

    You’re an amazing person. I just wanted to tell you that. Not that my opinion matters. My thought is that you have been put here because of what you can do. To go along with cliched and over used phrases and slogans, have you heard “Knowledge Is Power”.
    I think that YOU and your words have the power to give the knowledge to change minds and thus help to change the world.
    Those assholes and the people who read posts on Thought Catalog need someone to change their minds. They don’t know any better until someone teaches them. You can’t save everybody… But, you’re one of those voices of reason with the power, experience and intelligence to turn things around.
    Maybe Thought Catalog needs you.

    Just a thought.. You’re brilliant and I look forward to reading your work..

    • Jennie – thank you so much for your kind words, I saw this comment from my phone this morning and it instantly lifted my spirit. You’re absolutely right about that saying – reminds me of another one (from Maya Angelou, I think), “When you know better you do better.” A lot of times people just don’t know.

      In any case, THANK YOU again for the praise and the support – it’s encouraging and fills me with a sense of purpose in this crazy-online-writing world we’re living in! I will always strive to fulfill it 🙂

  32. ,I love your story about Octavia. I shall be finding out more. I found this post in WordPress, never heard of the thought folk before. Good luck with your adventuring. Will be reading more of your stuff here 🙂

  33. objectively, i believe Gavin McInnes is entitled to his own opinions not matter how offensive they may be to someone else.
    i have read articles on Thought Catalog that were offensive to my country and I got angry initially, until I realised that one person’s opinion doesn’t make it fact.
    And thought catalog did nothing wrong in posting it since they are open to publishing anything. I’ve read articles on there that are pro and so i dont see why they will block one which is anti.
    I’m not saying Gavin was right neither am i saying he was wrong, all i’m saying is that it is his opinion which is the only thing one is fully entitled to.
    All thinking is relevant, Nicholas, it just depends on who it is relevant to

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts! As stated in my post, I 100% agree that he’s entitled to say whatever he wants, free speech, I totally get that.

      However, I 100% disagree with you that Thought Catalog did nothing wrong in posting it. Their recent claims that they’re open to publishing anything are false. When I first started writing for them, I had pieces rejected. They are not an open publishing platform, they are a website with producers and editors. For something to be published on TC, it has to be sent to them, and it has to go through a producer or an editor. Publication = validation.

      Anybody can share their fucked up opinion on a blog to their own fucked up following, but not anybody should be able to have that opinion blasted out to 500,000 impressionable followers. Furthermore, such fucked up opinions shouldn’t be ad-supported by major brands such as Verizon, Starbucks, etc. This is why – for me – it’s not a free speech issue, it’s an editorial/journalistic integrity issue.

  34. Reblogged this on kubetal's Blog and commented:
    An immoral, and abhomination

  35. The craving for exposure (and we all want it, otherwise why would we be here?) comes with a price. Ironically, that price is “not getting paid.” And when sites capitalize on this craving (Huff Post is in the same boat), they can afford to just throw shit up there. It’s not costing them a cent. We can’t all be paid for our work, and that’s the nature of our times, but we can choose which sites have the integrity to do our work justice. So good for you, fellow.

  36. So inspiring.

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