One highlight of my conference thus far was last night’s
celebration of Alex Doty’s life and work. The event was poignant and the reception
organized by IU afterwards was equal parts joyous and bittersweet. Like many
people there, though I had never met Alex in person, his work has been
absolutely crucial to my own—I can’t imagine there being a queer media studies
without him, and I can’t imagine being able to do my own research without his.
I had never met him in person, but I did have the
opportunity to meet and work with him "virtually”—I was his editor for the
series of three columns he wrote for FlowTV.org a few years ago. In even this
fleeting and disembodied interaction with him, he left a big impression on me.
I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday’s event, especially since I was
not expecting those short pieces to come up in the various remembrances, but
they did. I’ve been thinking about what I learned from him.
Editors of Flow approach academics to write three columns on
any topic they chose over the span of about four months. Contributors are not
paid, and it is not a traditional print journal, so it is a labor of love. Most
often, we get a polite, "No thank you, I’m too busy,” and sometimes we just get
no response. Annie Petersen, the outgoing editor, suggested I approach Alex for
our new issue, as he had expressed interest to her at some point in the past,
but I thought it was a long shot. He was, after all, perhaps the most visible
and significant queer media academic we had ever approached. To my surprise
(though I expect, after last night’s remembrances, this may not have surprised
those who knew him) he responded right away with a cheery and enthusiastic, "Yes.”
I was floored.
His first column came in
right on time. It was an editor’s dream: perfectly written, formatted, and with
carefully-selected images. It was an introduction of sorts, and he went into
detail about his TV viewing practices as a kid and adolescent. As I read through
it, though, I was worried. As an editor, I worried that he revealed too much –
he confessed to his crushes (Pernell Roberts on Bonanza) and his identification with Lambchop and Captain Kangaroo.
Was this TMI? Would this resonate with readers? Was it too casual?
Silly me. I should have known. My insecurities, not his. Alex
was someone who lived the "personal is political,” who spent his career showing
us how he saw things, "taking us along for the ride with him” in the words of
one of last night’s speakers. This is what his work was all about. This is what
he opened up for us. He was fearless in this sense, and that is why his work
has so much power and duration.
I’ve realized in retrospect it was all perfectly planned
on his part. He knew exactly what he was doing – he introduced his queer youth
viewing practices in his first column, he wrote about his current pleasure in
viewing Hot in Cleveland for his
second column, and he finished off with a brilliantly written third piece that critically
read the opening sequence to the 2010 Emmys as an anthem to homonorativity,
though he elegantly avoided aca-hipster jargon. He covered all bases; I’m sure he
had this three-piece arc structured in some fashion from the get-go.
And his writing! Clear, accessible, precise, concise. It is
so much harder to write this way than to rely on buzzwords and obfuscation.
After thinking about last night’s speeches and remembering
this interaction with him, I’ve realized what inspires me about Alex was his intense
courage to be himself, to write things the way he saw them, and do it well,
with no apology. This, coupled with the courage to be kind, warm, and open. How
amazing is that? It is a rare combination, made even more rare by his passing.