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Transcript: NEXT: Television Personality and Author Jonathan Van Ness

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MR. JORGENSON: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I am Dave Jorgenson, senior video producer and TikTok guy here at The Post. Thanks for joining us for this edition of “NEXT,” a new series that brings together rising changemakers to talk about issues at the center of the conversation.

It's Pride Month, and I'm thrilled that the one and only Jonathan Van Ness is here to talk to us about that, his book, and a slew of other things. Hello, Jonathan. Thank you so much for joining us today at Washington Post Live.

MR. VAN NESS: Thanks for having me.

MR. JORGENSON: I try to reflect the person that I'm talking to so I wore the shirt that makes me happiest and most joyous, and my wife helped me pick it out. So, hopefully, this feels like you're seeing yourself reflected.

MR. VAN NESS: I love sunflowers, so it was a great choice.

MR. JORGENSON: Okay, good. Thank you. Thank you so much.


MR. JORGENSON: So, a quick note to our audience, we want to hear from you. So please tweet us your questions using the handle @PostLive.

Jonathan, I know in your book, you call Twitter "Yelp for humans." So we're only looking for five-star tweets people. So just give us your best tweets and questions, and we'll try to answer those as well as we're going through this.

But, first, Jonathan, you have become an icon for so many things. You are one of the "Fab Five" on "Queer Eye." You are a hairstylist with a new hair care product line. You have a successful podcast that has also inspired a series on Netflix. You're a bestselling author. There's a second book. There are so many things, I'm running out of fingers here. But my first question for you today in relation to that book is, how did you first tackle that challenge of writing your own story about who you are?

MR. VAN NESS: Yeah. I mean, "Love That Story," which is my second book, and "Over the Top" have been two of my greatest joys and experiences of my life. It was--I think at first, "Over the Top" felt a little bit more intense, I think, releasing "Over the Top," and talking about what I talked about in "Over the Top" felt relatively intense. But then I--it was really interesting in writing my second book, "Love That Story," because I really naturally turned back--turned back to the writing process to kind of process the experience of "Over the Top" coming out and also processing a lot of other things that I had been thinking about and taking the time to learn and ask questions and get to distill that into an essay book with still my voice. So it has like the tonality of "Over the Top," but it's interesting. I feel like I've grown up a lot since I wrote "Over the Top," which was back in 2019. So it's interesting to explore that as a writer and explore where I am now.

There's a lot--there's a little bit of that, "Getting Curious," my podcast vibe in "Love That Story," because at this point, I've gotten to interview like 270-something people, and my podcast has been going for six years. But I've interviewed, like, senators, cabinet members, presidential candidates, Grammy winners, Emmy winners, Oscar winners, Tony winners, like prolific academics, incredible scientists from--I mean, like astronomy to zoology to like [unclear] to astrophysics, like just so much stuff I've gotten to learn and just incredible stories.

So I got to talk a lot about all the different stuff that I've learned and love that story, which is this book right here--

MR. JORGENSON: I think you got it. Yep.

MR. VAN NESS: --[unclear] cover there. [Laughs]

MR. JORGENSON: That was good. Well done. I don't have--I can't really do that. I just have a picture of SPAM here.

MR. VAN NESS: I was like [unclear]. Interesting.


MR. JORGENSON: You nailed it. I don't even know. I have the ocean over here, the Pacific.

But, yeah, I listened to the audio book, which was like basically a five-and-a-half version of--five-and-a-half-hour version of your podcast, so that was amazing. I definitely recommend the book in either format to people because it was a lot of fun to just hear you do that.

And kind of in relation with what you're talking about, the intro is such a good--it's really good glue between the two books because you're starting to reflect on the last book and sort of bring us into the new one. So I really appreciate that about it.

And one of the major themes of that book, "Love That Story," is identity in your discussion about coming out as nonbinary. We asked our audience if they had questions for you, and the first one I want to share is from Tasia/Poe, who wrote, "I discovered I was nonbinary last year during lockdown, and when I found out you were nonbinary as well, I felt incredibly reassured and seen. So thank you so much for that, and I wanted to ask, how did you discover you were nonbinary? How did you come across the term? So many people think it's a brand-new concept, and you have no idea how much you've impacted my life." And there's a nice little heart emoji.


MR. JORGENSON: So a great little question there. Yeah.

MR. VAN NESS: That's so kind, and thanks for sharing that.

For me, I was really honored and blessed to be--you know, when I say "blessed," it's such like a reflex. I was very honored and very affirmed in my experience with meeting Alok. Alok is really the person who--I think I had heard nonbinary, and I think I had spoken--well, just I think I had obviously heard it and didn't really like--I knew about it but not really, and then Alok was really kind of my introduction into realizing that these were feelings that I've had my entire life, and these were things that I identified with my whole life. I just didn't have the language for it, and so that was a really interesting experience. And Alok has become one of my really close friends. I mean one of my best friends and someone who I reach out to for advice and who I look up to and respect so much.

So, yeah, just people like Alok and just--or the thought leaders of our generation, I love them so much, and so that was really who it was for me, but I do think--and that's one thing I was really excited to get to talk about and getting curious on Netflix. And it's Episode 2, the "Can We Say Bye-Bye to the Binary?" It got to have Alok. I got to have Joshua Allen, Geo Neptune. I got to talk to Nala Simone, who is just amazing, and I got to speak to so many people who were just incredible people that I think really got to show that nonbinary and genderqueer and trans people have been here for thousands of years. It's a historical fact.

MR. JORGENSON: It's a wonderful Episode 2 from beginning to end, and I really mean that because, even in the credits, you're doing this dance and that song has been in my head since I watched that episode.


MR. JORGENSON: And we're going to get to that more in a moment, but first, I have another audience question from Joanna in Massachusetts, and she asks, "How would you suggest best supporting grandparents who want to support their grandchildren but have trouble with pronouns?" And I want to add before you answer that that we--this is a question we got a lot. So a lot of people want to do this correctly, and they want to support other people who are making sure they're using pronouns correctly, and I think there's just this desire to do it correctly and go about it the right way and encourage others to do so.

MR. VAN NESS: Yeah. I think there's so many resources out there for us to seek out and learn about on how to utilize pronouns correctly. I do think that it's--you know, if it's a family member, no matter who it is, I think it's--as long as we're coming from an earnest, honest, respectful place, you can ask what someone's pronouns are because you want to do it in a respectful, great way. So you can say, "What are your pronouns?" and then when you make a mistake, it's okay to say I'm sorry and just move on. We don't want to get too much in a clog about like, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I feel so bad," and bringing it up over and over because then it kind of becomes about your guilt.

And I also think that it does become a lot easier to understand the significance of the importance of correct pronoun usage when we think of--when we frame it less about the ally doing the right thing and more about what the trans community is going through at large. And so I think that when we educate ourselves to the things that our trans family members are going through, that will kind of make--I think if you do slip up on a pronoun here and there, but you're doing your best to be a really strong ally and you're having difficult conversations with people in corners of your life that may not want to be the ally that you want to be and if you've having those courageous conversations, I think your family member or your grandkid is going to forgive you for any slip in a pronoun here or there. So that's one thing. I think it's like a wider conversation than pronouns, but--yeah, so I hope that that helps.

I also think that I'm so grateful for your question, and I'm really grateful that you're a supportive ally and family member because we need more of those people, but I think what I am saying is that in addition to wanting to do really well on pronouns, I think that the way that you do really well on pronouns is by educating yourself to the issues at large that trans people are facing and focus on those two and make sure that that person in your life knows that you're aware of what they're going through on a more systemic level. And I think that that will help you make the right choice when you're using pronouns because it will be more front of mind.

MR. JORGENSON: Yeah. And it's either in the Netflix episode or your book or maybe both that you bring up the term--you weren't really familiar with it until about five years ago, I want to say.


MR. JORGENSON: And for someone like me--yeah. And I--you know, I think I pretty much first heard of it, and I don't know when the episode was, but you talking about it on "Queer Eye" and just understanding that. So I thank you for that for me because that's something that I had to start educating myself on, and to your point, I think it's just about having those discussions more than anything that may be difficult at the moment but are going to benefit people largely in the long run, not unlike this episode we're going to play here in a minute from "Getting Curious," which was originally your podcast that got picked up as a show on Netflix.

I have to say really quickly, my Netflix icon is your face. So I realize I see it every week, every day. It's just that like fabulous picture of your hair.


MR. JORGENSON: So, even when I'm not watching your shows, I still click through to see your face every time.

MR. VAN NESS: Oh, that's so [unclear].

MR. JORGENSON: But we have a clip here. It's--thank you. It brings me joy. We have a clip here from a recent episode of it. It's called "Can We Say Bye-Bye to the Binary?" You just mentioned it. Let's take a look at that.


MR. VAN NESS: I looked amazing, though.

MR. JORGENSON: Okay. So I guess the clip was--we had some technical issues there, but as much as I can here, I'll try to move on from that. I know you know the episode really well.

But let's talk about how fashion has become part of your story and how it is a version of self-expression. I know that's at least part of the episode.

MR. VAN NESS: Yeah. Fashion is definitely a part of the episode. I think that in that episode particularly, there is like--it's a lot more than fashion, which is something that we talk about a lot because a gender nonconforming or trans experience or gender-diverse experience is so much more than your clothes and like how you present, and there's so much history. And, you know, there's just generations and generations and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years of people who have come before us who have laid these pathways that, you know, we now stand upon, you know, in seeking trans liberation and gender and nonbinary recognition and, yeah, a world where we can be who we want to be and go into whatever field we want to go into and not face the same discrimination that our cis peers tend to not face. So, yeah, that's that.

But fashion is a really big deal. You know, I love a good or just a colorful moment. I also love to be comfortable. I love to feel good in what I'm in. So fashion is a really exciting thing for me to explore, and I'm really lucky that I get to explore it in the way that I do. So go fashion. I love learning about it. I love getting to express myself through the textures and through the colors and through putting things together, but then I also love like coming home and putting on a T-shirt dress and playing with my cats. So there's definitely, like, a part of me who likes to be comfortable and a part of me who likes to be glamorous and I guess a part of me who likes to be both, but yeah.

MR. JORGENSON: I love--I love that, and I have to say I was listening to the--there's an essay in your new book about your cat, and I'm so sorry about that. But that you told that story so beautifully, and as someone--you know, I got my dog at the start of the pandemic. And I was listening to that just imagining being in your shoes, and I really think that you told that so well. So I appreciate that story, and I hope that people will get to listen to that story about your cat, but there's other things I want to cover. So I just wanted to give you kudos and thank you for that story.

We have an audience question, though, from Patricia in New Jersey, and she wants to know, "What do you know about being queer and how your life"--sorry. "What do you know about now about being queer and how your life turned out that you wish you could tell your teenage self?"

MR. VAN NESS: At the beginning of that, I was like, dang, that's a direct question, like what do you know about being queer?



MR. VAN NESS: And I'm going, and are these questions [unclear]?


MR. VAN NESS: I think what I know now that I wish I could tell my teenage self is that--I wish I could have told myself how much more precious my life is than what I knew it was then. I felt so much more expendable and worthless, and I did not understand like what humanity was. And I think that that's a lot of the bullying and the abuse that queer people endure and think that that's so normal, and what I realize as an adult, that so much of what I went through is--that the idea of normal is like as individual as there are people in the world. And so for me as a queer person in this world that is, you know, very wired for cisgender, heterosexual people, especially for me coming from a relatively--well, very conservative town, I had a lot of trauma from that, and so it made me not like myself.

And I wish that I could tell my teenage self that that had a lot more to do with the community around me than it had to do with myself, and I think that's really what my adult like has been about has been about learning how to parent and nurture and take care of that kid that just did not get taken care of, and I think that's really what healing from trauma looks like. It's learning to be your own advocate and kind of the advocate for you that you didn't necessarily have, even though I had great advocates and coaches and parents and teachers, but I think still as a queer person, even if you do have amazing parents and, you know, family and teachers, it still can be a really isolating experience.

MR. JORGENSON: Yeah. And you do a really good job in the book talking about that with Quincy, Illinois, growing up there. You know, I'm a fellow Midwesterner from Kansas City, so I can--I can appreciate how difficult that must have been.

MR. VAN NESS: Oh, Kansas City.

MR. JORGENSON: That's right.


MR. JORGENSON: Yeah. When--Season 3 and 4 of "Queer Eye," I was like this is like the best ad for Kansas City they're ever going to get. It was beautiful. I was learning about places I had never been to. I was like I should really try that out, so thank you for that.

MR. VAN NESS: It's beautiful there.

MR. JORGENSON: It's beautiful, yeah, and it always has been, but you all did a really good job of highlighting that.

On the subject of self-esteem, you've said before that it catches you off guard when someone compliments you and says, "Thank you for being you," since that implies something about you is negative. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

MR. VAN NESS: I don't think I said that--that it's like when people say like thanks for being me that I think that it's negative. It's more like you're so brave--


MR. VAN NESS: --or you're so confident. It's like that--


MR. VAN NESS: --is kind of like the weird compliment that makes you assume like why wouldn't I want to be myself and like why am I brave for being myself. Why am I confident for looking this way or wanting to dress this way? So, yeah, I think it's just like a weird thing to say when someone--like you're so confident, like, you know, because like the reverse of that is like, "If I was you, I would never dress like that. I would never look like that if I was you." So I think that's really brave. It's just like such an intense thing to say to someone, so yeah.

But, I mean, on the other hand, I think one thing I always have to tell myself and I talk about it in "Love That Story" is that the support and the love is so much bigger than the negatively, at least on, like, my posts. Sometimes when I see, like, other posts about me, sometimes I'm like, oh, my God, this can be really intense, but that's why I don't read the comments. But sometimes I slip up sometimes.

But, yeah, at least the way I experience it, it feels like it's a lot more support than not.

MR. JORGENSON: Absolutely. And, yeah, I can appreciate--again, you know, you talked about Twitter in your book, but sometimes it's like how much of this do I take in and how much do I ignore. It's a really hard thing to balance, especially with someone where you've--as you talk about in the book as well, you shoot to fame, and nothing can really prepare you for that. And I think that--I think you've handled that quite well, and I really appreciate how you articulated that in the book.

MR. VAN NESS: Thanks.

MR. JORGENSON: Of course. And I have another audience question here. This is from one of my three sisters, Ellen, who submitted it, so shoutout to her. She says, "Jonathan works with individuals on "Queer Eye" of various generations. What common ground do they think exists within the generation gaps, and what are the blind spots they have observed in their interactions with Gen Z, millennials, and Gen X?"

MR. VAN NESS: Wow. That's a really good question.

MR. JORGENSON: She's pretty smart.

MR. VAN NESS: You know, I just don't think I can categorize it like that because, you know, sometimes I want to say, like, the kids are all right, like, young people really have it together, but we also see like there's a large amount of, like conservatism in young kids in certain pockets of the United States. There's still a lot of young people who don't know and have honestly been failed by the education system and like have not had the opportunities to learn. I'm talking a lot about in states that, like, have, like, abstinence laws in the--like as far as like sex education. So there's--we just have rampant issues with young people and, like, not knowing how to protect themselves and not knowing how to live adult lives that are safe and healthy for them and productive because we're not really preparing our kids for a future, especially queer young people, to be able to protect themselves. And that's why I went through so much of what I went through, and that's why I feel that it's important for me to talk about that because I went through so much, and there's nothing about not talking about LGBTQ issues or safe sex or societal issues. There's no amount of not talking about that that's going to make those things go away. So we have to empower people with knowledge so that they can make the best decisions for themselves and not pretend like it's not there, and so I think that's really important.

And so whether it's older people--you know, there's some older people that really have it together and really know and really get it, and there's some younger people that really do. And there's some in all of those categories that really, really don't.

So I think what our biggest areas that I could say collectively is--and myself included--is that we are not really showing up for each other. We are going into our own camps, and we are refusing to have conversations with people that we disagree with, and because of that, we are just not building bridges. And we really need to build bridges to each other.

So, if there's someone in your family who is like really conservative and they are just fully entrenched in their ways and we have cut them off and we're not talking to them anymore, it's like how can we reach back out? Or if it's not, those people that are firmly entrenched, how can we reach out to the undecided people? How can we reach out to people that maybe you just don't really talk about it? But there's a lot of people who just don't know, and we need to reach out and make those bridges because we just don't know. And I think we're all guilty of like kind of staying in our circles and like not really reaching out and trying to make inroads with new folks, and there's a lot of undecided people out there.

And this midterm election is like one of our most consequential elections that we're going to have in a really long time. There are state legislators that are literally investigating families for having gender nonconforming and trans youth and seeking mental therapy or hormone blockers or--which are completely irreversible, by the way, and completely endorsed and safe by like every single major medical association in America. They're not like easily given. These are choices that are made, highly individualized, specialized choices that are made between parents and kids, parents and their children and their medical professional. And we've got state legislators that are charging those parents and those medical providers with felonies right now. A lot of these states want to make these laws federal. That's what the GOP plans to do. Not only that, they want to take away health care. There's so--they want to like--when you look at what's going on in Florida and when you look at what's going on in Texas, that's the roadmap that they want to make national.

But when you look at what's happening with Roe v. Wade, that's a huge issue, and these are all results of everyone in every single age group refusing to have conversations with friends and family because it's easier to talk to people about things that you agree with or just go off on someone online, and we got to like have these conversations in real life. And it's because the people that are the most exposed, which is people living in poverty, queer people, people of color, women, gender nonconforming people, those people and especially the people of those--disabled people and those people who have those intersectional--those intersectional overlapping identities, those are the people who are the most vulnerable and stand to lose the most in these midterms.

And despite the lack of direction and unity that we see across the Democratic side, we all have to like understand what's at stake here and show up in our local elections and make our voices heard and say that we as Americans care about our fellows.

MR. JORGENSON: That was--


MR. JORGENSON: --a lot. [Laughs] Yeah. I didn't want to interrupt at any point. That was good. I felt like I just--no. That was--that was amazing and--

MR. VAN NESS: That was something [unclear] to a Twitter--I mean or in a TikTok. That felt like that--I was really--I felt engaged, and my brain was working.

MR. JORGENSON: It was working great. I have about 50 follow-up questions, so I'm just going to settle on one with that.

You know, a lot of work that I do, speaking of Tik--is focused on TikTok, and I do feel like exactly what you said, that people are kind of caught in silos, and they don't even know it, especially in a place like TikTok where it's sort of intentionally built, where you're just getting fed things and you don't actually know where they came from. Do you see any sort of--and this is a huge question, but a solution or a way to go about social media to--I think the word "education" kept coming up when you were talking. So to educate yourself on topics that perhaps your feeds aren't proactively giving you, something that you have to proactively do? Is there--is there a solution of that for people of any generation?

MR. VAN NESS: Well, I do think that seeking out information off of social media through, like, venerated news sources such as The Washington Post or whatever journalist that you follow--there's a lot of journalists on Twitter that you can follow. There's a lot of--I read a lot of Vice. I feel like I read a lot of Slade. I read a lot of New York Times, and there's a lot of different news--I also even will watch conservative news sometimes to see what they are saying. So we all need to be able to take information and process it.

I think that TikTok and Instagram can be valuable places to get information, but I don't think that they're places where I take that information full stop without vetting it and fact-checking it for myself.

I also know that for my podcasts, getting curious from interviewing public health--excuse me--public information experts that a lot of time on social media, if you're seeing a story that gives you an intense and immediate emotional reaction, you could be being exposed to misinformation. So a lot of times, I need--I think about that, and then I go and I will vet the source or vet the statistic and realize that maybe I have been exposed to something that's been like skewed by an influencer journalist. So there's a difference between like an influence journalist and like a journalist on social media. So it's important to like understand as a consumer of information how to distinguish between the two.

So, yeah, I think that what I was really trying to say, though, with every generation is that in the previous question and then, you know, to loop back to this one is that let's get off TikTok and like let's talk to your neighbor. Let's talk to your mom, your dad, your uncle. Let's talk to people who maybe you haven't spoken to in a while. Maybe TikTok isn't the best place to do it. Maybe it's like you go old school and you over back to that, you know, the artist formerly known as Facebook and you make a little post on there because that's a good way for you to reach out to people that are a little bit older--

MR. JORGENSON: I've heard of it.

MR. VAN NESS: --that may be even more [unclear] than on TikTok, you know?


MR. VAN NESS: Or you can just reach out to your family. You can do a group message with your family. You can do a group message if you're a person of faith. Faith-based people are really dragging a lot of stuff through the mud right now for, you know, queer people, trans people. Also, climate change denial is a huge issue in communities of faith. So, if you're a person of faith who is really passionate about climate action or, you know, your God and Jesus like loving all people--I don't know--and like not wanting to judge them and investigate their families for child abuse if there's like a gender nonconforming kid. I don't know. Like, you could get more involved. So maybe it's like about utilizing TikTok but maybe not that being your end-all/be-all, like doing a both/and, like more in real life and on social is what I would say that we need to do more of.

MR. JORGENSON: I love that. I will--for you, I will venture outside of TikTok eventually one day. I think I will give it a shot.

MR. VAN NESS: But I think for all of u s--but I do think that that's a real thing.


MR. VAN NESS: It's like all of us. It's your parents. It's your family. It's like these people on the internet are literally these people on the internet, which are both--


MR. VAN NESS: --important because they are people, and what are the chances that they are really going to go to their local midterm elections and make their vote known in that way?

So maybe they will, and maybe they won't. So let's not discount the real relationships, the other types of real relationships, human ones that we have in life, with our friends and family, because there's a lot of people that--

MR. JORGENSON: Jonathan--

MR. VAN NESS: --we just don't talk to because we think that they disagree, and maybe they do, but let's be fearless in those conversations.

MR. JORGENSON: I think that is the perfect way to end this today. The best and worst thing has happened, which is that I have about 600 questions for you, but we're out of time. That means we had a great conversation.

MR. VAN NESS: Thanks for having me.

MR. JORGENSON: So thank you so much for joining me here today, Jonathan. I really appreciate it.

MR. VAN NESS: Thanks, everyone. Bye.

MR. JORGENSON: And now I'd like to bring in a few of my colleagues here at the Post to continue the conversation, Helena Andrews‑Dyer, pop culture reporter, and Shannon Liao from Launcher here at The Post. Welcome to you both.

MS. LIAO: Hey, Dave. So good to be here.

MS. ANDREWS‑DYER: Thanks for having me.

MR. JORGENSON: Of course, yeah. It's just like another work Zoom but a little bit more public.


MR. JORGENSON: So I'm going to‑‑I'm going to just start things off right the bat here. Elena, you have children, and you heard me talking with Jonathan earlier about how to discuss gender with younger generations. Can you talk to us about how you are or possibly plan to talk to your children about gender and sexual identity?

MS. ANDREWS‑DYER: Yes. Well, I do have children. I'm a mom of two girls, a five‑year‑old and an almost three‑year‑old, and I will say my philosophy‑‑and I'm also the daughter of an out and proud lesbian woman. And I would say my philosophy has always been to be honest and age appropriate, right?

So my daughter, my oldest, who is in elementary school, one of her besties, her ace boon coon, has two moms who are married, and it's‑‑kids, they recognize difference. They see something that might be out of the ordinary, and they point to it. They like to point to it and be real loud like, "What's going on here?" Right? But it's embarrassing.

MR. JORGENSON: Very loud. Yeah. [Laughs]

MS. ANDREWS‑DYER: And it could be super embarrassing, but at the same time, that is the teachable moment. That's the opportunity to say, like, "Yes. And you know him very well. That's your best friend, and he has two moms."

And literally, they'll sit with it and like, "Uh‑huh. Cool," and they'll be on to the next thing, right? And that was in the moment, age appropriate, and honest, and she moves on. And then when she has another question, because she will because all children have is questions, it's to answer it as honestly and as age appropriately as I can in the moment, right?

So we don't talk a lot about sexual identity. She's five, you know, but at the same time, I tell my oldest all the time, you know, people are who they say they are, right? If someone says "I'm a girl," "I'm a boy," that's it. You know, that's it. You take people at‑‑for their word. You identify someone, and I don't use the term "identify" with her, right? That's a five‑dollar word for a five‑year‑old, but, you know, you take people at who they are. And what matters most is that someone is kind, and that someone‑‑and that you are kind to other people. And I think you just keep building on that conversation with young people.

I thought something that Jonathan said that was so great when he was talking about what he would tell his teenage self, right, and talked about being an advocate for yourself, and that made me think about when you're a parent, you know, you are re-parenting yourself. You are‑‑I am re‑mothering myself constantly, and what I'm trying to teach myself is more acceptance, right? What I'm trying to teach myself is to be more knowledgeable of difference and making other people comfortable and all of those things, lessons that I may have gotten in the '80s and '90s that weren't as great as they are now. So I'm constantly thinking of those things and trying to impart them on myself and then my kids.

MR. JORGENSON: Yeah. And I think the other thing that you highlighted that was also sort of a throughline with the conversation with Jonathan was sometimes those uncomfortable conversations, whether it's with your kid or your grandparents or whoever, those are the most important conversations ultimately because there's some actual progress there.

To pivot here now to you, Shannon, here, as a video game reporter, how does LGBTQ and Pride Month intersect with some of the reporting you've been involved in?

MS. LIAO: Yeah. Thanks, Dave. I mean, that was a great question. I also wanted to say, Helena, like that's super important too, and, you know, I would walk by Barnes & Noble, and I see now they have these books that teach children pronouns and more things like that. So I think stuff changed a lot from the previous decades when I was a child.

But, yeah, like when it comes to video game reporting we do at Launcher, our Washington Post brand for gaming, we actually‑‑I wrote a story about, you know, abortion rights and Roe v. Wade and interviewed, you know, trans workers who say that, you know, as trans women, abortion rights still matter to them because it's about the bodily autonomy of the individual, which is like still going to matter when it comes to trans rights and abortion rights, like so that's how they intersect.

And I'll slow down a little bit here.

But, also, you know, like electronic arts, which produces like Star Wars games. They have like Sims 4 and they have same‑sex marriage and relationships in Sims 4. At some point in February of this year, you know, they were going to put that out in Russia, but Russia doesn't allow that kind of content. So they decided to no longer put the game out in Russia.

And, of course, a month later or two months later, it was no longer relevant because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and then, of course, all these gaming companies pulled out of Russia entirely. But it's like one example of how these companies are thinking about representation inside their video games, inside their companies when it comes to like giving, you know, making sure that LGBTQ employees have the benefits they need. For instance, trans workers have been asking to get their, like, dead names erased from the system so like the name they used to use erased from like a computer system so that they can make sure that they are never called by that name again, and that's like one request Activision Blizzard workers had for their company.

And so a lot of times when we're covering these stories about video game companies and about the games they produce, we are also looking at, you know, over time it seems like there is more diversity. For instance, like in 2020, there was a game called Tell Me Why, which is featuring a trans character, and that was groundbreaking for the time because it hadn't happened for years.

And I talked to, you know, trans people who covered gaming as well and critics, and they said that, you know, that has a long time coming. It should have been years ago. So they were not really satisfied with that representation, but I think it's an ongoing discussion.

MR. JORGENSON: I have maybe a whole separate conversation I want to have with you about that because, once again, I have many questions.

It's funny. The Sims is luckily relatable to me. I'm not much of a gamer, but I had Sims 1 back in the year 2000, and I think it's‑‑to your exact point, back then it was two genders, and that‑‑it was very simple, the terms of how the game was made, and now the progress on that has been really interesting to watch and see as it's developed as along with society in terms of what we're talking about.

MS. LIAO: Yeah, absolutely. I remember there was coverage back in 2014 when, you know, there was like same‑sex relationships introduced into Sims 4 and‑‑into Sims, I mean, and that was really like game changing for a lot of people playing and following along, so‑‑

MR. JORGENSON: Yeah. And sorry to keep pivoting back and forth, but I want to‑‑I want to talk to both of you a lot, so I'm going to do my best here to get as many questions as possible.

Helena, another thing that was so interesting about the interview with Jonathan was the topic of language itself, which is kind of what we've already been discussing here, and Lizzo was front and center this week when she came under fire‑‑or in the last week or so for a lyric that included language that was seen as ableist. She reacted very quickly, and she changed the lyric. And if you listen on the radio now, it's already the updated song. So can you talk to us about that response, and do you think it was the appropriate response to the concerns expressed by disability community?

MS. ANDREWS‑DYER: Do I think it was appropriate? Absolutely. Right? And, obviously, Lizzo felt that way too. I mean, if you know anything about Lizzo‑‑I am a pop culture reporter. Love, love, love, love, love Lizzo. Who doesn't? But her music is about‑‑


MS. ANDREWS‑DYER: ‑‑self‑acceptance. It is‑‑it is uplifting, empowering, and enlightening, all of the things, right? That's all‑‑that is the essence of who Lizzo is, and so when this was pointed out to her, I thought it was such an interesting example of this, right, because it was unintentional on her part, obviously. She wasn't trying to‑‑and we don't have to like repeat what the word was, but she wasn't trying to repeat an ableist slur against people who are disabled, right? That's not something she was intentionally trying to do, right? And that's not the meaning of the word that she was trying to put out.

But as soon as it was brought to her attention that that is what that word meant for a lot of people, whether or not she knew it, she realized, okay, this is not what I'm about. This is not the artist I am. This is not who I want to be, so I'm changing it. And, literally, the song was released on a Friday, and she changed it by Monday.

And if you listen to the new version‑‑I don't even think you can get the old version. It's gone. But the new version, it's‑‑it's like there‑‑you know what I mean? The word that they changed and how they changed it‑‑

MR. JORGENSON: Right. You never would notice.

MS. ANDREWS‑DYER: ‑‑it's so seamless. Exactly. You would never notice. It's so seamless, and that was the perfect response, and her fans thanked her for it, right? Her fans were saying, "Oh, my gosh, Lizzo, this is not the way to do a girl," like, you know, with the original version, and as soon as she changed it‑‑and I think she came out with a great statement where she was basically like this is not the type of artist that I am.

And we're constantly getting these conversations. Let's go back to the fall and comedian Dave Chappelle in "The Closer" and all the controversy about how he has been attacking, essentially, the trans community or how the trans community feels attacked by the jokes that he's telling and him saying, "Oh, I'm an artist. I get to say what I want to say," basically, right?

And I think the artists like Lizzo‑‑and even today, I think there was an interview with Jerrod Carmichael, another comedian, who said, "Listen, we are artists as well, but this is not what we want our art to be about. We don't want our art and our legacy to be about punching down. We don't want our art and legacy to be about hurting people." Just find a new word, you know? Find a new word, and it's so easy, right?

And you have these people who say, well, why would this person have to do this, and why do they have to do so much to, quote/unquote, "appease a small minority"? Well, it wasn't a lot to do. It wasn't a lot do for Lizzo, right? That's what we see. Literally, it was a Friday.


MS. ANDREWS‑DYER: Monday, it changed.

MR. JORGENSON: Yeah. And I think that you saw a lot of that in‑‑by her having such a speedy reaction to it, it seemed like everyone else kind of followed suit and like, oh, okay, and as you've noted, I don't know if I even heard the song ahead of time. I heard it after the fact. So it was the best-case scenario in so many ways, where everyone is now hearing the song and they just know is that's how the song is now.


MR. JORGENSON: I'm going to pivot to more news, once again, a totally separate news story here, but‑‑and this one is, you know, even heavier, but the Buffalo shooting suspect was‑‑is facing multiple federal hate crime charges after his shooting rampage last month that killed 10 Black people. And, Shannon, in the aftermath of the Buffalo shooting, you know, Twitch was a big part of this story. What is Twitch doing now in response to that?

MS. LIAO: Yeah, yeah. So, you know, the Buffalo shooting was livestreamed on Twitch, and then Twitch immediately took that down from their platform. But it was disseminated across a lot of, you know, hateful communities like places where they were looking for that kind of content to just spread around and dozens of times until, you know, even though Twitch immediately had taken down the video, it was still available elsewhere. And, at the same time, I think the New York Attorney General was going to investigate both Twitch, Discord, another online platform for talking to people, especially gamers, and 4Chan and also referred to all of these at the same time as, you know, hateful platforms, which is not like to‑‑which is missing the nuance of what the different platforms are.

So Twitch itself is, you know, always trying to like pull down like combat harassment and different kinds of like bad content, but of course, people can always post it really quickly; in that split second that can spread.

Same thing with Discord. We just put out an article today on Launcher about how Discord is adding an AutoMod feature, which would automatic moderation, which is similar to Twitch, using AI to just identify quickly what is violating their terms of service and conditions and just taking that down immediately instead of relying on humans to catch it, you know, which could take much more time, and of course, that doesn't scale if, you know, there are millions of people on this platform. You can have millions of humans also watching them. It's a lot of work, and it's also traumatizing. It can be very hard for them.

So these platforms are trying to rely on a mixture of both human moderation and artificial intelligence, but ultimately, this kind of thing keeps happening over and over again. So it's an ongoing question of how tech companies can address, you know, these kinds of, like, livestream shootings and other terrible content that does disseminate across their platforms.

MR. JORGENSON: Wow. That is, again, quite a bit. I could unpack any of these questions for a full panel, so maybe we'll have to do something in the future.

MS. LIAO: Yeah, I would love to.

MR. JORGENSON: I'd like to piggyback‑‑yes, please, even if it's just a friendly Zoom.

Helena, I have one more question for you, and I want to talk about mainstream TV shows, that they're integrating same‑sex storylines with frequency now. How does this help to normalize queer identities that Jonathan himself talks a lot about‑‑themselves‑‑excuse me‑‑a lot about in their book?

MS. ANDREWS‑DYER: I would say one of the questions‑‑I believe it was like the first question that Jonathan received was from someone who was now identifying as nonbinary and saying that Jonathan was an inspiration, right? "I see you doing it, and now I don't feel alone," right? And that's‑‑I mean, that's what representation is all about. That's what we're talking about when we talk about representation and why it's so important and why it's important to see people of color in certain roles, why it's important to see women, why is it important to see people from all kinds of, you know‑‑all kinds of backgrounds, you know, on TV, in films, video games, and it's all the same thing we're talking about, which is when I see myself reflected in mainstream culture, I then feel validated, right?

And I thought it was so heartbreaking what Jonathan said about when he was talking about his younger self and just not knowing that his life was precious. You know, it's that, knowing that you matter, knowing that your story matters, right? And that is so incredibly important for everyone, from young people to old people.

And so when you have in these mainstream television shows like "Stranger Things," right, which is about kids in small town, Indiana, and one of the characters‑‑one of the main characters from last season and this season is coming out as a lesbian and is working through that, and that's just part of the storyline, part of who she is. And "This Is Us," you had the storyline where Beth and Randall, everybody's favorite couple, their middle child was coming into her identity, and it was her coming into her own and then the parents coming into their own and the grandparents trying to figure it out. And everyone can watch that story and take a piece of it and say, okay, if this is happening there, then this is kind of happening everywhere, right? That is the best part of art, if we're going back to this whole art discussion. The best part of art is when it reflects society, and society is so diverse.

And just as Jonathan said, normal is normal to the billions, each individual billion people on the planet, and when you see all of that reflected back, it's just‑‑it's such a validation, and I know it's happening in culture right now, which is so incredible. And I think as it continues, we can start having these conversations and not feel so uncomfortable, right, because we see it in art.

MS. LIAO: Yeah.

MR. JORGENSON: Yeah. I totally agree. I remember that "This Is Us" episode‑‑well, several episodes quite well, but the one specifically where they came out to‑‑I think it was Kate, and just the whole process of what it might be like to come out to different family members and how everyone starts to learn about it, and that was something that I had never seen on television before, and I really appreciated.

I also really appreciate both of you for being here, but we are out of time. Helena, Shannon, thank you so much for joining me here today. I really appreciate it.

MS. ANDREWS‑DYER: Thank you for having us.

MS. LIAO: Thank you.

MS. ANDREWS‑DYER: It's a great conversation.

MR. JORGENSON: Of course. Let's do it again.

And thanks to all of you for watching, for joining us today, for this edition of "NEXT" on Washington Post Live.

I’m Dave Jorgenson. To learn more about our upcoming programs, please go to Thanks again.

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