By Leslie Robinson
I think it’s self-indulgent for columnists to write about writing. That isn’t going to stop me, however.
I’m a freelance writer. I write this humor column for gay publications around the nation, and I write feature stories, too. Being a freelancer means I can write for a variety of publications. It also means health insurance is more foreign to me than Urdu. Though I can and have written for the mainstream press, I toil mostly for the gay press.
In the name of all that’s holy, why?
It simply isn’t a sensible course of action. On average, gay newspapers pay as well as a paper route. This is not the field for those who want to make big bucks, or even medium-sized bucks. I make bucklets.
Because the publications usually operate on a budget tighter than Twiggy’s waist, they’re perennially on the verge of death. In the last two months, a pair of publications I wrote for landed in the gay-journalism graveyard. Considering they were my two largest sources of income in 2005, I’m not feeling so well myself.
The first, a gay lifestyle magazine for the Pacific Northwest, lasted one year. The second, a newspaper covering metro gay Miami, had been around nearly 30 years. After the ax fell in Miami, both editors were sad but immediately expressed a desire not to be “professional homos” anymore.
One has already landed a gig at a mainstream magazine where, I’m betting, he’ll experience infighting, power struggles, angry readers, procrastinating writers and mediocre pay – and count himself lucky. No longer will he find himself acting as circulation director or layout editor or administrative assistant or advertising manager or janitor.
As a writer I’m duty-bound to badmouth editors, and I’m good at it, but I’m well aware of the many stresses upon them. The stresses burn them out, so not only do publications come and go but so do editors, which means I have to spend far too much time keeping track of which little bugger has run off screaming into the night.
I also have to keep an eagle eye on checks. For the most part, I don’t know when they will arrive, which adds so much spice to my life. Generally in the form of heartburn.
It’s not a pretty picture. Yet I keep at it, stubborn creature that I am.
I’m a lesbian. Gay journalism matters to me. I want to be part of a strong voice announcing that we are here, queer, and unwilling to return to the bus’s rear. I want – get out your hankies, and I don’t mean the kind that signal your sexual wishes – to help strengthen the LGBT community from within, so we can effectively battle without.
Writing my column combines two things I care a lot about, LGBT concerns and humor. Lord knows one often leads to the other.
I have moments when I say, “This is why I do what I do.” Those are the moments when I receive e-mails from column readers, like the gay teenager in the south who has decided he wants to make journalism his future, or the lesbian in Africa who thanks me for spreading the word of the horrors she’s endured.
Of course, there are also the e-mails from folks who detail the eternal rotisserie oven they say I’m headed for, but these make interesting reading too.
My situation is somewhat perverse. I’m a nationally syndicated columnist… who visits the local food bank. If that in itself isn’t funny, may the spirit of Erma Bombeck haunt me Tuesdays and Fridays.