illustration / Esme Blegvad
Tavi Gevinson‘s last letter for ROOKIE gave me all the feels. Even though I was always a little jealous of her youth, privilege, and support, I could not deny the impact she had on the publishing world and the creative community. #Rookie fostered so many great talents and was a dynamic place of solace, hope, and expression for her community. I so understand the perils of trying to grow with something you started when you were someone else. This comes at a time when I am having synchronous feelings about my own publication LADYGUNN.
When I started LADYGUNN about ten years ago, it was just about an idea. I wanted a place for talented artists to showcase their work and for the marginal artists to be SEEN. I wanted to be an editor that wasn’t making media for “black” or “white” or “hipster” demographics. I wanted it to be for everyone. Most of all I wanted people, myself included, to have a chance at creating when big media was telling us to just consume what they had to offer, while at the same time shutting out minorities. Fuck that I thought. WE CAN DO IT! For Us By Us.
The magazine was founded in the rise of the digital era. I was told that I was insane to embark on such a project. I was told that I was too black, too young, too inexperienced. Who was I? Some first generation girl who moved to the big city from some bullshit town in North Carolina (and let’s face it, I had no family fortune to lean back on like most young New Yorkers who migrate to the city). Those same people had to end up eating their words when the magazine became more than a side project I started with a borrowed Mac in my bedroom in Bed-Stuy.
It’s been one of the most satisfying and challenging projects of my life. It has taught me so much about people on a polarizing scale, both good and bad. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the most AMAZING, beautiful and gifted people on this earth. I have also been exposed to some of the most bizarre evils of human existence. With the rise of social media and the proximity the publication had to celebrities and influencers, the ugly heads of those who craved fame more than they craved art really started to shine.
Anyone who knows me knows that I thrive in the spotlight out of the limelight. I am the most social introvert you might ever meet. I’m certainly a zany strong character and love the attention of my friends, colleagues, and family but I never sought that attention from strangers or “brands” on the internet. It’s such a hard era to be in when you both have to sell yourself and your brand while maintaining it.
LADYGUNN remains a conduit for creativity to artists and friends, but my interest and even desire began to shift a long time ago.
I don’t want to make this a race thing, but I do want to highlight the microaggressions and harassment that black women face silently behind the scenes. I never once disclosed publically the torture and harassment I have gone through from an unrepresentative fraction of my peers, but it’s been a lot.
I had one west coast editor I hired and then subsequently had to fire tell me that the magazine would get on better with her leadership because she is white and well connected. She went on to get her MOTHER involved, harass me online, on the phone and aggressively try to sabotage my reputation to the point I had to get a restraining order. I felt like I was in a Black Mirror episode of Catfish. This ceased when she started her own LADYGUNN inspired publication but the irony was never lost on me. I’ve been called a black bitch, I’ve had people look me up and down and then become red in the face when they realized I WAS the editor. I’ve had people flat out refuse to work with me because of my skin color. To all those people I say, lol bye bitch!
More than the A-listers and creative influencers that have graced our pages I’m proud of what LADYGUNN has taught me about myself and the world. I’m proud that I have been an inspiration to so many people to begin their own creative journeys and communities. I’m proud that we have garnered interest through our words and art without one penny from investors. If selling out was easy to do, believe me, I would have done it a long time ago.
This is not a goodbye letter, this is a hello letter. Hello to myself and my future opportunities that line the golden brick staircase of my future, and hopefully yours too.