Notes on The Story of V

My portrait in this week's New York Magazine by Andreas Laszlo Konrath

I’m writing because yesterday New York Magazine published a very long profile piece on me written by Carl Swanson which I was rather offended by. After signaling my displeasure on Facebook it seems I stirred up what I can only describe as a “tempest in a teaspoon”.


Let me start off by saying I am very grateful to Carl and Adam Moss, the editor-in chief of New York Magazine for deciding that the hard work I have done over the years was worthy of such a long and beautifully designed and photographed story in the magazine.  I was very excited and enthusiastic to be in the pages of New York despite some misgivings I had based on previous stories I’d read on gay life in the magazine -stories written primarily from a patronizingly bourgeois, white gay male perspective.  The main consideration for me as an artist who was in the process of self-releasing my debut CD, Dendrophile -a record on which I worked incredibly hard and of which I’m extremely proud- has been to get the word out to people about my music and my curretn Sunday night residency at Joe’s Pub without an advertising budget or the support of a label. So getting a profile in New York Magazine was, let’s face it, a coup. I want to make it clear that I am incredibly grateful for what one of my friends described as the “real estate” in the magazine.


Before releasing the record and beginning the promotion of it I wrote a “Users Guide” on my blog to make it easier for the press to know how to address me as a transgendered person and made it clear that I certainly didn’t expect everyone to pay attention to my wishes or to “get it right”. But after Mike Albo’s brilliantly sensitive cover piece in OUT Magazine and I think because I felt a nice kinship with Carl Swanson after hanging out with him for quite some time as he prepared this article I guess I was lulled into a false sense of security.


I’ve seen several comments in various places alluding to the misperception that I was upset with New York Magazine for not using my preferred pronoun (or as Carl put it in the article faux-noun)  “v”. I was neither offended nor surprised. What I was offended by was the tone and what I consider to be extremely aggressive gender policing throughout the story. Within the first three sentences I was referred to as “he” seven times. The second paragraph flat out called me a “cross-dresser” and used buzzwords like “arch”, “grandeur’, “the gay condition”, and incorrectly stated that my audience consists of “mostly gay men”.  It was like reading some sort of pulp gay exploitation fiction from another era. My “hyper-vigilant” hackles were up.


After that, the rest of the article seemed to pitch towards snark and sarcasm, simultaneously listing and devaluing my accomplishments while “speaking for me” in -as Mr. Swanson wrote to me in an email after reading of my unhappiness- trying to “explain you as best I could to people who didn’t know you”.


For the record my “ambition” is not “to be both sexes at once.” I AM both sexes at once. My ambition is to articulate who I am clearly and effectively. I am not a woman and I am not a man, I am not a “cross-dresser”. I am a transperson.  To me that seems pretty clear.  To question or belabor it is completely unnecessary and transphobic. As is the phrase, “certainly he’s never been a conventional transvestite showboat”. Even if I was one it would be okay and these implied hierarchies of acceptable “trans-ness” are innately offensive. “He has too much inner life to be anything like a standard drag queen.” Just because I am not a “Drag Queen” doesn’t make my life or work any more or less important than if I was.  What are Mr. Swanson’s assumptions about the inner lives of drag queens? I know this is said quite often but as far as I’m concerned it can’t be said enough. If it weren’t for certain drag queens and other gender variant individuals lots of gay white middle-class asses would be lots less comfortable and the landscapes of their “inner lives”‘ might be  even more dim.


He used the word “preposterous” as a way of editorializing my childhood notion that I was transgendered and went on to state that my upcoming book, Tango: My Childhood Backwards and in High Heels is about “the necessity of inventing who you are.”  No one invents who they are. That’s like saying a person chooses to be gay or trans.  There is a difference between inventing who you are and accepting who you are.  Accepting who you are, nurturing who you are and having the courage to put yourself out into the world as openly and honestly as you can is not an act of invention. It’s called living.


His piece says, “For the most part of his life, he’s been at war with everyone.” That is a flabbergasting thing to say, and it’s not true. I have many long-term intimate,  loving relationships in my life. I didn’t give New York Magazine access to my lover, my family or any of my close personal friends who aren’t in the entertainment business because this was supposed to be about my professional life. Instead it became a sensationalistic profile in which a cisgendered gay man and his editor sought to put a transgendered person in their place, maintaining their position of patriarchal privilege, proclaiming to be “supportive” while presumptuously trying to explain me to people who are supposedly even more ignorant than they.


Well, leave that to me.


When Mr. Swanson finally got around to describing my work, my Kiki and Herb years, my friendships, etc., he did a fairly good job. Personally I think it was irresponsible to describe the contents of my home and then give the world my address -thieves and bashes welcome!  Come one, come all!!!  But hey, now I’m nit-picking.


Predictably, at the end of the piece he once again veered toward the salacious, “sterility inducing estrogen cycles”, “he’s been known to date female to male transsexuals”. Give me a fucking break, grow up, and as my sister used to say to my niece, “Use your big girl voice”.


In an email from Mr. Swanson he said this piece wasn’t hostile. By denying my identity and asserting his own presumptions it was, in it’s very essence, hostile.  That is why I’m upset.



  1. dwreck says:

    Well, fuck em.

    Part of your allure, at least as a performer, is that you have such a strong sense of identity and that you take no shit. Don’t start now.

    -a cisgendered white gay middle-class fan

  2. [...] Recently, Justin Vivian came out with a new CD, and in the run up to that event, New York Magazine ran a profile on V. To say that is was insulting and patronizing would be to understate nearly criminally, in fact, it would seem that the magazine went out of its way to be a snide, sarcastic and quite frankly mean as it could possibly be. The article simultaneously managed to devalue Justin Vivian’s personal history, professional accomplishments and personal point of view in between veiled and outright insults. Naturally, it took the position of its piece being fair and accurate, which perhaps only put an exclamation point of absurdity to what can only be described as hack job by a con artist in the disguise of a journalist. Read the piece, but let Justin Vivian prepare you for it in V’s own words: [...]

  3. Fairygodmother says:

    Sent the following to New York Magazine… let’s see if they print it:
    “A measure of great journalism is to be transported into an understanding of the subject’s world that one has never before experienced. This is what I was looking forward to in “The Story of V” by Carl Swanson. Instead, I found myself having to navigate the constant (and seemingly unacknowledged) drumbeat of the journalist’s own issues with trans identity. The resultant messiness of this article was a betrayal to both the reader and I suspect Bond. Its a difficult subject, but one that I had hoped your editorial could have taken on with greater integrity.”

  4. slide says:

    Beautifully stated. Thank you.

  5. nipplemuse says:

    just came across a copy of NY magazine with the profile written on you. i too was disturbed by (as you stated) “the tone and what [you] consider to be extremely aggressive gender policing throughout the story. Within the first three sentences [you were] referred to as “he” seven times.” at this onset this turned me off too and hampered my really getting into the article as fully as i might have liked to at the time. i skipped to the end and had problems and again irritated. i then went onto the internet and come up on this and read what you had to say about it which only confirmed my own reaction. hopefully this article will provide a space for more discussion on why many would have a problem with the article despite the authors unrealized ignorance and offensiveness. i’ll get back to reading it at some point as it looks like he has a lot to say in what appears to be a well designed feature. let’s hope it works out the best for you and hopefully Carl will eventually begin to understand the err of his ways.

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