Times when it’s all three

Terry Gross talked to Roxane Gay yesterday.

GROSS: So when you were in college, you fell in love with theater. I guess earlier than that you fell in love with theater. You went to Yale, in part, because of their theater department. And you worked behind the scenes. Was that a way of being involved with storytelling and with people but also being kind of invisible because you were literally offstage?

GAY: Absolutely. It was a way of being a part of something because I’m not a joiner. I never was. And so I was never really interested in extracurriculars. I did them because that’s what you do to get into a good college. But theater is where I found my passion in being behind the scenes because I didn’t want to be seen. I just wanted to be useful. And technical theater allowed me that space. It was the – I had – the best memories I have of high school and the first two years of college are connected to theater.

GROSS: I suppose writing gives you that, too – the ability to say what you want and have people look at your work without looking physically at you.

GAY: Well that’s what I hoped.


GROSS: You’re too famous now. You can’t get away with it.

GAY: (Laughter) No.

GROSS: There’s the internet. And, you know, you travel all over, giving speeches. And you’re on TV. I mean, people know what you look like.

GAY: They do. You know, one of the many reasons I’m a writer is because I didn’t want to be, like, an actor on a stage or on the screen.

GROSS: (Laughter) Too late.

GAY: Whoops.


GROSS: So how is that for you?

GAY: Oh, it’s – you know, I’m afraid of public speaking, so I’ve had to learn how to do it. And it’s gotten much better. And I actually do enjoy doing these events and connecting with audiences because I have a really passionate audience. And it’s a privilege to do. I hate doing television not because I’m on television but because when I go on TV, the amount of hate mail and the amount of trolling I get on social media is unbearable. And so I try not to make myself that kind of a target as often as possible.

GROSS: So when you’re trolled on the internet and social media, do you think that has to do at all with describing yourself as a feminist? Because there’s so much, like, anti-feminist trolling.

GAY: Oh, yeah. Like, I would say 40 percent of my trolling is because I’m a feminist. Thirty percent of my trolling is because I’m black. And 30 percent of my trolling is because I’m fat.

GROSS: I love that you have it broken down into percentages.


GAY: I do. I have so many trolls.

GROSS: Is there any percent where it’s, like, all three?

GAY: Oh, God, yes.

GROSS: They hate you because you’re black and feminist and fat?


GAY: Yeah. The Venn diagram of my trolls would be a circle.

It looks sort of brutal in the transcript, all that (LAUGHTER), but if you listen, it’s not.

GROSS: You’re a feminist. And you write…

GAY: I am.

GROSS: …(Reading) I’m a feminist, and I believe in doing away with the rigid beauty standards that force women to conform to unrealistic standards. And you also write, (reading) I’m not comfortable in my body. Nearly everything physical is difficult. So – and you say, as a fat woman, you’re not supposed to take up space. But as a feminist, you’re encouraged to believe you can take up space – so, again, more contradictions you have to deal with.

GAY: Always. I mean, you always want to be the best version of yourself and the best feminist you can be and as inclusive as you can be in your thinking and in your behaviors. At least for me, that’s something I want. But it’s really hard when you are also just human, and you are dealing with the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. And so I absolutely believe that people should be able to live in this world free from harassment and cruelty at any size and that people should be allowed to be healthy and happy at any size. But I struggle with it sometimes. I absolutely do.

It’s an interesting interview.

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