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Exclusive Interview: Diane Anderson-Minshall

12 Jan Posted by in • Epochalips Interviews | Comments Off on Exclusive Interview: Diane Anderson-Minshall
Exclusive Interview: Diane Anderson-Minshall

Diane Anderson-Minshall, I first met you back in 1996 when you were the Editor of Girlfriends Magazine and I was the Art Director. I had a 6 year old and a new baby and was struggling to pull off the whole “Mom working from home” thing. I was a bit of a train wreck but the mag was really good back then and I loved that gig. What are your memories from that time period?

DIANE: Oh my god, that was like a golden era for me. Girlfriends was my first baby, it was the first magazine I had really had a hand in founding (along with Heather Findlay and my co-pilot, Jacob Anderson-Minshall, who was of course still a girl, still named Susannah back then;-).  But I just loved those early days of experimenting with queer media, trying to entertain and inform and educate women who I thought of as very much like myself, and being willing to sort of try anything, to push boundaries, to not worry about what didn’t work because so much of it hadn’t already been tested. Now when you’re at an LGBT magazine or a lesbian magazine, when someone says, “Oh that’ll never work on the newsstands” it’s probably true, but back in 1996, nobody really knew. We had some shocks, certainly.

I remember the first time we had a black woman on the cover and one of our big distributors called and yelled at Jake for 30 minutes, telling him that you couldn’t put a black person on the cover of a magazine and nobody would buy us and he (the distributor) should just pull the whole issue. I mean, it was 1996, we lived in San Francisco at the time, this was shocking to us. Now, I look at the scarcity of black women on the cover of Vogue et al and think, ah, not much progress there.

But for me, at the time, there were so many lesbian/bisexual/queer female writers and activists and thinkers putting out work at the time and little mainstream attention it let us actually cover a lot of great work in a way that maybe now gets overshadowed by, oddly enough, all the acceptance we have on say Modern Family and Happy Endings. Not that I’m not thrilled with the advancements in our visibility but I feel like to sell magazines nowadays you do have to cover Ellen more than say Joan Nestle, and that’s a bit of a bummer.

Also, at both Girlfriends and later Curve, the magazine I just spent 7 years as editor in chief, I worked with really close knit, mostly female staffs. A few of my closest friends came out of Girlfriends. (Two have sadly passed away already) I was often energized and inspired by the women around me, like you. I loved having a mom on staff, you were living what was the sort of lesbian dream for me at the time: two moms, two kids, a busy career. (also, btw, one thing you said to me, “the second one isn’t always as easy as the first one” — said when you were overwhelmed with the baby not sleeping I think — has been the one piece of advice I’ve given to every mom I’ve known since then and it’s Jake’s operating ethos every time I want to adopt another Chihuahua!)

Famous for getting celebs to come out during your interviews, you are also a published author, (Blind Eye Mystery Series) and former editor of the queer pubs: Crescent City Star, On Our Backs, Girlfriends, Curve and now theAdvocate. You personally helped change the face of queer media in America. Tell us about your career as a writer and how do you manage to stay true to your queer ideals?

DIANE: My first job as boss was in 1990 as the editor of a weekly, LGBT newspaper in New Orleans called Crescent City Star, which pretty much set the standard for my career in queer media: low pay, exciting ideas, unexpected drama, as much frustration as there is reward. I wouldn’t trade it. I think I’m lucky that Jake supports me—I’m the family breadwinner and that means we go where my job takes us and his career has often had to take a backseat to mine.  And I just feel like this is where my legacy and impact is. I was foster parent a few years and know I touched those kids lives, and I hope the women I’ve mentored along the way feel like I’ve touched there’s as well, but I don’t have kids so each of these publications becomes something more than just a job. They’re like my lifeblood.

Once I thought of quitting the biz and I went through a six-month depression. So whether I’m writing books or magazine articles, it just remains important for me to be speaking to and listening to the queer and trans worlds.  I’m sure my ideals now aren’t the same as they were in 1996 when we worked together, but I’m betting there are a lot of common threads that remain and they’re about covering the world from a queer perspective, something that’s still not done enough and will never be done adequately in the mainstream media. Sure, People wants to fight me for the chance to talk to Cynthia Nixon about coming out, but do they care about the high rate of black lesbian suicide or the emergence of gender neutrality on college campuses? Never.

For the Advocate we’re working on our 45th anniversary this year, and I am going through old archives of the early 90s when I was freelancing for the magazine (with my fancy portable typewriter and a package of stamps)! The magazine was so pivotal for me when I was 20, 21, and I looked back at those old issues and realized they still are great examples of my ideal magazine: they’re like a community, so many real stories they’re almost a conversation unto themselves. I don’t know that we can do that in this day and age of the post-queer Internet but I hope that anything I touch has a tiny bit of that magic to it.

I knew your husband Jake as Suzy back in the day. You were a really cute couple then and still are now. Have you encountered much discrimination from the lesbian community in terms your relationship with Jake?

DIANE: You know when we first decided Jake would transition, one of the big concerns was how it would affect us. We’re both slavishly devoted to the lesbian community (Jake after all identified as a lesbian much of his life and still feels proud to have had the experiences he did) and since I had a fairly important role as the head of our largest lesbian magazine at the time, we were both worried about how it would affect my career. I talked with my publisher and got unequivocal support and talked with my staff, who were almost all supportive at the time as well. In all my time at Curve, only one person who worked there ever questioned my ability to run the magazine based on my partner’s gender identity—so that was nice. And we decided to just be completely transparent about it so when people have questions, however insensitive or ridiculous (most aren’t, most are well-meaning and sincere) then we answer them and I feel like that’s really helped us maybe subvert or avoid any of the discrimination we could find. Like, if you have issues with trans people you probably just avoid us. I know everyone still wants to know how I identify as lesbian still when I’m married to a man and I just say, honestly, my partner’s genitalia just doesn’t define my sexual orientation. When pushed, I’ll say well I guess technically, I’m a bisexual identified lesbian or a lesbian-identified bisexual — whatever it is, I love and have sex with women, but both of us still consider ourselves queer and I remain sexually attracted to and socially committed to lesbian feminism.

But his coming out and transitioning did change a lot of things: Women treat him differently (he realized that he’s not supposed to smile at kids in the grocery store anymore now, for example) and men do as well (he’s shocked sometimes by the way men talk to each other). And, you know we’ve been married almost 22 years now and have had I think maybe 5 commitment ceremonies. After Jake transitioned we decided to renew our vows in 2006, after our lesbian friends encouraged us, and got “legally” married as man and woman, invited everyone, many family members came. What was surprising is that immediately afterwards everyone treated us differently—from family members to bill collectors. By changing one word in my conversation (from “Wife” to “husband”) I was suddenly conferred all the respect and benefits I didn’t even know I was missing because I’ve been in a lesbian relationship since I was a teen. It was bewildering and saddening for us, because we both felt a combination of happy, rage, guilt, etc.

What can we expect from you in 2012?

DIANE: Well, I’m way overdue on a memoir that Jake and I are writing together for Bold Strokes Books. It’s called Queerly Beloved and as soon as we finish the damn thing, our publisher can actually publish it. (I’m the hold up, I’m just so behind this year!) But we’re going to talk about how we went from two little 22 year old baby dykes in love in Idaho to a mixed gender couple in Los Angeles and what transpired in between and how it relates to the lesbian world we’ve thrived in. And I’m the executive editor of the Advocate and SheWired.com and editor in chief of HIV Plus magazine so I hope to infuse each of those with more of what’s missing (for the Advocate, I want to bring more of the LBT in our community and more people of color; for HIV Plus, more young people, and more celebrities, since we’re all touched by HIV in this world; and there are changes in store for SheWired this year but I can’t say what they are yet).

Anything else you want to add about your life?

DIANE: It’s great! Crushingly busy but I wouldn’t trade a thing. If you don’t mind hearing about my boobs too often, you can check out my Twitter feed at @DeliciousDiane and Facebook is just my name.

Read more about Diane and Jake at lambdaliterary.org/interviews  and anderson-minshall.com

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