Follow Friday
Black journalists, hairy people in dresses, and "love/hate"

Tre'vell Anderson (FANTI)

Tre'vell Anderson is on the front lines of how the media is evolving: The former LA Times film reporter now writes for the queer culture magazine Xtra and co-hosts a podcast about "the people, places and things we're fans of, but sometimes have some 'anti' feelings toward," called FANTI. They also use non-binary gender pronouns (they/them) and lead the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

On this episode of Follow Friday, Anderson talks with Eric Johnson about better media representation for Black and queer people, how artists are forcing a conversation about identity, and why they have a "love/hate" relationship with their podcast co-host. Plus: The story of a trans woman whose cooking skills got her out of jail.

Follow us:
- Tre'vell is @TrevellAnderson on Twitter and @rayzhon on Instagram
- This show is @followfridaypod on Twitter and Instagram
- Eric is @heyheyesj on Twitter

Who Tre'vell follows:
- Shar Jossell
- Alok V Menon
- Texas Isaiah
- Jarrett Hill

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Theme song written by Eric Johnson, and performed by Yona Marie. Show art by Dodi Hermawan. Additional music by Purple Planet Music, starfrosch, and Katherine Chang.
Full transcript of this episode
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ERIC JOHNSON: Hey everyone. One serious thing before we get started today: As you probably know, Texas is dealing with massive blackouts after a really nasty winter storm. Some folks might be without heat or power for weeks. And it's especially dangerous for anyone who's experiencing homelessness. So, earlier this week, I made donations to charities and mutual aid funds across the state that are helping as many people as they can. If you can help, then look at the show notes. I've posted links to the places that I donated to. And thank you. OK, here's the show.

TRE'VELL ANDERSON: And the ways in which she got out of jail was because these high society folks in the community were, like, "She's about to cater my party. I need to get her out, so she could come to my party!"

ERIC: When is being a good cook a get-out-of-jail-free card? FANTI's Tre'vell Anderson is going to give us the answer, today on Follow Friday.

[ad + theme song]

ERIC: I'm Eric Johnson. Welcome to Follow Friday, a show about the best people on the internet and why you should follow them. If you're new to the show, welcome! Every week, I talk to the internet creators I admire most about who they follow online. These include podcasters, writers, comedians, musicians, and more. They have amazing taste and will guide us to the people they find fascinating who we should be following, too.

I'm here with Tre'vell Anderson. They're an award-winning journalist and editor at the queer culture magazine Xtra and the co-host of the podcast FANTI. Every episode, Tre'vell and their co-host Jarrett Hill talk about the people, places and things they are fans of, but sometimes have "anti" feelings about.

So, here's a clip from their 2020 holiday special, which is called "Santa is Black and Possibly Gay!"

TRE'VELL: I don't like Christmas weather. I don't like snow. I don't like the cold, and that's cause I run cold. And so I feel like when it is cold, I'm going to die, all right? I can't do that, but I've been loving L.A. Christmas, because there's sun, it's 75 degrees outside. You know, people put lights on their palm trees and s**t. I think that's cute!

ERIC: But we're not really here to talk about Tre'vell's work. We're here to talk about the people they follow online. Tre'vell, welcome to Follow Friday.

TRE'VELL: Thanks for having me, Eric!

ERIC: So I have to say, first, that I am very impressed by your decisiveness. And what I mean by that is that every other guest I've talked to so far has had a really hard time figuring out their list of who they're going to recommend. I told you what I was looking for, and you got back to me with a list of four great people in like 15 minutes. That is impressive.

TRE'VELL: [laughs] Why, thank you. That also means that I am tethered to my email, which is probably not a good thing.

ERIC: [laughs]

TRE'VELL: But you know, I happen to know and follow a lot of really cool people, who I'm always interested in giving some extra shine to. So it was easy for me.

ERIC: Well, that's the name of the game here, and I'm glad to be getting just a little taste of your taste.

TRE'VELL: Let's do it.

ERIC: Let's dive right into it with your first follow. I asked you for someone who is super-talented, but still under the radar. And you said Shar Jossell, who is on Instagram @sharsaysso and who writes about entertainment, trans identity and race. So tell us about Shar and what you like about her.

TRE'VELL: So, Shar is an amazing journalist, amazing on-air talent and host and personality and pop culture aficionado. I first met her through, I believe, the National Association of Black Journalists here in LA. I'm currently president, she's currently a member of our board. But she's just somebody who has that energy, that gravitas, that ooh-ah-ah sensation, is what I call it, and who deserves to be on TV somewhere, who needs their own show!

I just want more people to know about her excellence, her amazingness, just because she's ... not everybody's cut out for TV. Not everybody is cut out to have a microphone in front of their face, you know? But she is somebody who always keeps me entertained, always has a breadth of knowledge about a variety of different things.

She could talk to you about the politics and what's going on, the foolishness going on in the White House, but she can also get real deep down and dirty with you and talk about the Housewives or the behind the scenes drama at The View, or, you know, loving hip hop. She can give you that entire range and I just need somebody to give her the platform that she deserves.

ERIC: Well, and that's the thing, a lot of people are told by career counselors or whatever, "You have to specialize, you have to pigeonhole yourself. You're the person who just talks about politics or just about TV." And so it's kind of hard, I think, for people to realize that "No, I have interesting things to say about multiple topics, that my views on multiple things can be valuable. I don't have to put myself in this little box just because that's the traditional way things have been done in media."

TRE'VELL: Very much so. I should say, she is somebody who has kind of a broadcast news background, in terms of what she studied in her early career. And I think that has helped her, right? I feel like in broadcast news — in news, period, if you're looking to be successful as a journalist, you gotta be flexible. You gotta be able to do the City Hall story and then also go to a red carpet. And I think she's just a perfect example of that nimbleness that is necessary in this industry. But also, she talks about everything with that attitude and that desire that like makes you want to listen.

ERIC: Yeah. So, there's some overlap between the bulk of her work and what you do sometimes in your writing and on FANTI; you're kind of on the front lines of how pop culture is changing, how representation is changing, how the way we talk about people's identities, how all of that's changing. So talk a little bit about ... what is it like for someone like the two of you now, somebody who's really actively participating in this conversation? What are the opportunities, what are the challenges, of being in this moment here?

TRE'VELL: I think part of the challenge of just being in this moment is like, for me and Shar specifically, and then broadly speaking, as Black queer trans people who are journalists, who ... we're both freelancers. The journalism ecosystem is one in which there's no security. They are often only interested in our voices either for Black History Month or for Pride month. And we saw, I think in particular, this past June, with all of the protests happening during and in the middle of Pride month, we saw a lot of attention on "amplifying Black voices" and all of that.

But we're not getting the same opportunities. We're not getting the same, you know, long-term staff-type jobs and staff-type platforms as many of our other counterparts. So I think it presents this duality, that we have to kind of embody in the work that we do.

I've been having a lot of conversations about what 2021 looks like for folks in media, for folks in journalism, for Black folks, queer folks, trans folks. And the way I see it is, it's yet to be determined, whether or not all of these companies that made these commitments to amplifying certain types of diverse voices actually do so. But regardless of that, folks like myself, folks like Shar, we'll be in the trenches, doing the work, and trying to spotlight those varying communities and varying perspectives that deserve to be seen.

ERIC: Yeah. I mean, it's one thing to say, "Black lives matter." It's another thing to actually live it and to put that into practice.

TRE'VELL: Prove, you gotta prove it.

ERIC: Every day.

TRE'VELL: You gotta prove that ... You know, I say often that this idea of being an ally or being an accomplice, or whatever, it's action-oriented. You can say it all you want, but are you putting money in Black folks' pockets? Are you hiring us? Are you promoting us? Are you making sure that we have the same opportunities that everyone else has? And you know, everybody's not committed to the work in that particular way.

ERIC: Well, here's hoping that for you and for Shar and for everyone else, the stars continue to rise and the opportunities continue to come up. That was Shar Jossell, who's on Instagram @sharsaysso.

Let's move on to your next follow: I asked you to recommend someone who makes you think, and you said Alok V Menon, who is a gender-nonconforming writer and performance artist. They're the author of a book called "Beyond the Gender Binary," and you can follow them on Instagram @alokvmenon. So tell me about Alok and what they make you think about.

TRE'VELL: So Alok is somebody who I discovered, I think, through trying to find other trans folks of non-binary experience, who could help me understand what life could look like, and they are a writer, a poet, a thinker, a fashion designer. They've literally done it all at the intersection of trying to get this world to just degender everything, right? Degender fashion, degender our language.

We know that really, deeply smart people exist in this world. And that's often something that's reserved if you have a Harvard degree or if you're a philosophy major or something like that. And I feel like Alok is just a well-learned person, who has a very deep understanding of history and of how racism, colonialism, imperialism — you know, all of them, -isms and -obias — inform how we live today.

I'm just constantly, even just by following them on social media, learning different things that I, as a non-binary person, suspected and maybe a little bit about. But Alok always brings this just treasure trove of information with them whenever they walk into a space. And I love how unapologetic they are about being a non-binary person, about being a hairy person, about loving wearing dresses, and all that type of stuff, and their compassion that they bring to conversations about identity formation, about gender presentation, and all of those different things.

They wrote a book earlier this year, "Beyond the [Gender] Binary," that I think really can serve as an introductory text for folks who ... struggle with understanding our genders as non-binary people. I just love everything about Alok.

ERIC: What have you learned from following Alok's work? Like, what's an example of something that they either wrote about or did a video about or something you've seen them do that really expanded your mind or changed how you are approaching, you know, just living in the world?

TRE'VELL: The first thing that comes to mind is ... I remember, even as I was on the earlier stages of my gender journey, knowing and feeling, just deeply within myself, that trans-ness and being non-binary has to be something divine, has to be something sacred, just based on how my mind was wrapping itself around identity and purpose and personhood formation.

And then I remember scrolling past something on social media that Alok was involved in. And Alok talked about the ways in which who we would consider to be trans today were priestesses in pre-colonial communities, across cultures — across Africa, across Asia, etc. And the ways in which, like I mentioned, colonialism and imperialism stripped many of our cultures from that pre-colonial history, right, that was formed without, necessarily, the white European cis hetero gaze foisted upon it.

And since seeing that on Alok's pages, I've been able to do my own research, to really get an understanding about the ways in which non-binary and trans people were lifted up in various societies, as a means of circumventing and responding ... Something that I feel is a common misperception, particularly in Western society, about non-binary and trans people being like a creation ...

ERIC: A new fad.

TRE'VELL: ... in somebody's Hollywood writer's room. Yeah! Or, you know, at the turn of the century, a lot of folks just don't know that history because it's been stripped away from us. And so, I really appreciate Alok for being somebody that introduced that to me in a more tangible way, beyond what I was just feeling, and then that being kind of a gateway for me to do my own education and to figure out more about the legacy and the lineages to which I belong.

ERIC: Yeah, when I was looking at Alok's pages, I was thinking about my American Civil War history and how there were a not-insignificant number of people who were, at least, born "women," who dressed as men in order to fight in the war, I think on both sides. The old-fashioned way the story has been told is that they were pulling a Mulan, that they were just dressing up because they wanted to fight, but then as the war was over, they went back to performing as women. But I do wonder — I mean, I don't know if there's really enough historical record to go back and actually figure this out, but what if some of these were just trans men, right?

TRE'VELL: Yeah!

ERIC: They weren't necessarily just putting on a show.

TRE'VELL: And that's it. That's that history that we don't know. And part of it is because, you know, language is ever-evolving, and maybe those people would not have used "trans" as a label, but one of the things that I've discovered ... I'm allegedly writing a book. My book agent thinks I'm writing a book.

ERIC: [laughs]

TRE'VELL: But my schedule, my energy level be like [screeching noise]. But in my research for the book I'm writing, which is about trans representation, I discovered these histories of people that we might consider to be trans today — assigned female at birth — who engaged in a masculine-centered gender presentation, and were able to do it without ... They had loved ones, they had families, they had careers.

Lucy Hicks Anderson is somebody who I would love just more information about. She was based in Oxnard, California. She was a Black trans woman who ran a brothel, and then she also was a very good cook, apparently. And so she was of a high society nature in that community. So she ran a brothel, and a sailor apparently contracted an STD from one of the women at her brothel. And the police made everybody, including her, go through medical examinations to figure out, you know, who it came from, and that's how her trans-ness was, you know, disclosed.

She was jailed for it. She was tried and convicted, literally just for being trans. And the ways in which she got out of jail, in some of those instances, was because these high society folks in the community were like, "She's about to cater my party, I need to get her out so she could come cater my party."

ERIC: [laughs] "I need hors d'oeuvres, stat!"

TRE'VELL: Listen! OK. And I think that that's one of those stories that we just don't know, that's that history — that Black trans history that we just don't know because of the ways in which our history books have been written, the ways in which certain identities have been pushed out and, you know, Alok is one of those people who I think has helped me just realize and further question the education that I have received.

ERIC: Yeah, well, I think Alok is doing some really great, envelope-pushing work, really kind of changing people's minds. So great suggestion. That was Alok V Menon, who is on Instagram @alokvmenon. We're going to take a quick break now, but we'll be back in a minute with Tre'vell Anderson from FANTI.

[ads]

ERIC: Welcome back to Follow Friday! Tre'vell Anderson, I asked you for someone you have a crush on; this is one of several possible categories that my guests can pick from, and you were the first person brave enough to take the bait. So I want you to tell us about your crush, Texas Isaiah.

TRE'VELL: So I kind of cheated, because Texas Isaiah is my partner.

ERIC: All right, fine.

TRE'VELL: [laughs] That made it easy. But Texas Isaiah, they are a visual narrator, a photographer who does really great work around image-making, particularly of Black, queer, trans, gender-expansive folks. And long before I was ever in a relationship with him, I just was attracted to his work and his work ethic and his positioning and his perspective.

And what I feel as if his work does for the culture ... similar to what I was talking about with Alok, for the challenging of our understandings, about what image-making can look like, and about who can be the sitters in these images. And so we actually met on the set of "Disclosure," which is a documentary on Netflix that folks should check out, executive produced by Laverne Cox, all about trans history, or trans representation on screen.

He was doing behind the scenes photography for the film, and you know, two years later, we're partners, but I think it's just necessary to kind of uplift the work, and then also the person that I've now come to know, and how it's not performative, right? His desire to broaden the lens, or shift where the lens is pointed, in terms of creating a legacy, a history, a canon of imagery that is more inclusive, matches up with who he is as a person and how he moves through the world and how he builds community. That's kind of vital work.

ERIC: It's interesting. The people who are artists, or photographers, who are in any way in the performing arts ... Obviously it's different for you, because he's your partner, but just the way in which everyone making something and trying something new, the new norm is they have to sort of create a sense of relationship with their audience. They have to, even if their intentions and their motivations are completely sincere, there is some element of performance no matter what when you're posting stuff online, you're making stuff for an audience, especially on social media. How do you feel about that? For other artists, do you want to have that sense of, "I know this person?" Do you want to have that feeling of understanding an artist's personal life, their history? Or do you prefer to focus on their work, mainly?

TRE'VELL: That's interesting. So, I'm one of those people who ... I am interested in knowing what personal things motivates a person's work. I do feel that like, as a consumer, those are the types of folks — artists, writers, creators — that I'm attracted to, because that's how I kind of fashion my own life and my own work. It grows out of who I am and how I move in the world.

I think historically, though, we — I'll speak in the journalism context — we want people who are ... who, we don't know that they have a dog. We don't know that they like pottery. We don't know that they like taking long walks on the beach. They are the robots who read the news, read the teleprompter, give us "just the facts."

ERIC: They're all interchangeable. They're all just names.

TRE'VELL: Exactly. As a culture, we're moving away from that. I don't want to say we want more of folks, 'cause I don't like that idea of requiring somebody to be, or do something. But I do think that we're more interested in, you know, a personality, right? We want to know that you are not a robot. We want to know why you do the work that you do, as a means of helping us better understand and better process the work that you're giving us, right?

ERIC: For sure.

TRE'VELL: And I think that's what I find most interesting, in terms of the artists, the people that I find myself wanting to engage with, even on social media, in terms of who I follow versus who I don't follow. I want to know that, you know, you're a real person! And I think we sometimes take that for granted, in this industry in particular. And maybe that's a little different, you know, for singers and photographers and stuff like that. But that's what immediately came to mind when you asked that question.

ERIC: Yeah, I was looking at Texas's Instagram page. And even though I don't know him as a person, I do love the work and I love what he's doing.

TRE'VELL: He's great, he's amazing. Oh, I should also say, you know, for the folks that are out there listening, he has two first names, Texas Isaiah, not just Texas. But yeah, I think he has also challenged me in my work to be, you know, more intentional about who I'm centering, who I'm uplifting, who I'm focusing on, and being comfortable, being unapologetic about doing so.

ERIC: That's great. I love that. That was Texas Isaiah, who's on Instagram @kingtexas. We have time for one more follow today. Tre'vell, this one made me laugh.

TRE'VELL: [laughs]

ERIC: I asked you for someone you have a love/hate relationship with, and you said your FANTI co-host Jarrett Hill, who's on Twitter and Instagram @jarretthill. At the risk of turning myself into the Keemstar of podcast co-host drama ... Love/hate relationship? What's this about?

TRE'VELL: So, here's the thing: I read this in the email from you. And I was like, I probably shouldn't say him ...

ERIC: [laughs]

TRE'VELL: ... But I'm going to say him anyway, all right? For me, how I frame love/hate is ultimately — and don't get mad at me for reframing your question — but I'm one of those people who uses hate as a word in a very loving way.

So for the people that I love, the people that I enjoy, the people that I cherish, I'm saying all the time, "I hate you."

ERIC: [laughs]

TRE'VELL: You know, I say it all the time as a means of irony, as a means of — a recognition of, "you have either made me laugh so much, or positively frustrated me, or held me accountable in so many amazing ways that I hate you, but I really love you."

Jarrett is one of those people. We met through NABJLA, again. He is a great politics and pop culture journalist. Like you said, we co-host FANTI together. It's ironic, because somebody asked me on Instagram the other day, what have I learned doing the podcast? We launched last year, and what have I learned doing the podcast, particularly over quarantine? And I said that I learned that Jarrett is not just a pretty boy, he's actually really smart! [laughs] And he's going to hate me for saying that!

But you know, I think when you work with somebody every single week — he's also my vice president for NABJLA — so we just work so much together. You've got to love people that you work that much with. And maybe there's a little hate, because they know you so well that they check you on your bulls**t. They hold you accountable. But he really is not only somebody I think more people should be paying attention to, but somebody that challenges me to be my best self.

ERIC: Yeah. Talk about the different energies that you two bring to the podcast, to FANTI. Have there been any instances where you just completely could not see eye to eye on something that you were talking about?

TRE'VELL: Hmm. That's interesting. Our podcast, as you know, is all about having "complex and complicated conversations about the gray areas in our lives."

ERIC: [laughs] Well done.

TRE'VELL: And sometimes we agree on whatever the issue is that we're talking about. And sometimes we're just like ... I don't want to say diametrically opposed. We're never diametrically opposed, but we might disagree on certain aspects of a conversation. And so I think about the ways in which we talk a lot about politics, which is his bag. That's what he does. He can talk to you about Mitch McConnell and some other names that I've never heard of.

And he can go in deep, and having that kind of perspective ... My bread and butter is entertainment. You want to talk about films? You wanna talk about movies? You wanna talk about — Films and movies are the exact same thing, oh my God.

ERIC: [laughs]

TRE'VELL: [laughs] If you want to talk about TV, music, like that type of stuff. I think we come together because we're both two Black queer people who love life, who love journalism, and who also don't necessarily believe in the idea of cancel culture ... but we do believe that some people should be canceled.

ERIC: [laughs]

TRE'VELL: And so I don't know if I'm answering your question...

ERIC: No, it's good!

TRE'VELL: But I think that we can see and understand each other's perspective more often than we can't. And though some of the particulars about those perspectives might be different, the overall ethos of us as individuals, and I think of our show, is one where we want to do it in love. We want to do it with respect and compassion, but we also feel that sometimes, you need to shake somebody real quick.

ERIC AND TRE'VELL: [both laugh]

ERIC: Yeah. Before we wrap up, I want you to recommend a FANTI episode, but not necessarily the best one ever, or anything like that. What do you think is Jarrett's best FANTI episode, the best one for his point of view?

TRE'VELL: Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh my God. So again, I'm going to not follow the rules. I'm going to give you two answers. I know that Jarrett and I's favorite episode that we've done is actually an episode that we did while we were piloting the show, and working things out. It ended up making it to our feed. It's called "When Gospel ..." Hmm. I forget the name of it, but it's about our relationships to gospel music and the Black church. And as you know, two Black queer people, and then we had another Black queer guest, to delve into that conversation.

So, I think that's both of our favorites. The one outside of that that Jarrett in particular is really good on ... We have an episode called, "The (News)Room Where It Happens." And it is a conversation about journalism, about diversity — or lack thereof — in newsrooms, and each of our own individual experiences.

And he shares a lot on that episode about what his experience has been like leading up to the biggest moment in his career thus far. He was the person who broke the story about Melania plagiarizing Michelle Obama's speech.

ERIC: Really?! Oh, I didn't know that.

TRE'VELL: Yeah, he was that person who like first broke that story, tweeted it out. It was while he was ... he had been recently laid off from his job. That one moment changed the trajectory of his career, and so he shares so much about what led up to that moment, and then some of the work that we do as an NABJLA president and vice president, for newsrooms and stuff like that.

So I would offer those two episodes for folks to check out.

ERIC: So that one's "In the Newsroom Where It Happens?"

TRE'VELL: That's the name of it. And then the gospel one is like, it's like our third episode. So if you want to scroll all the way ...

ERIC: I just searched for it here. It's called "When Gospel Music Slaps ... and Leaves a Mark."

TRE'VELL: That's what it is! I knew it was something about gospel music slapping. But yeah, that's it.

ERIC: Those are great recommendations. I will have to go listen to both of those. That was Jarrett Hill, who's on Twitter and Instagram @jarretthill.

Tre'vell, before we go, let's make sure the listeners know how to find you online. Where do you want them to follow you?

TRE'VELL: I am on the Twitters @TrevellAnderson and on the Instagrams @Rayzhon. And if anybody out there wants to hire me, you can check me out at TrevellAnderson.com. I love jobs! [laughs]

ERIC: All right. Thank you, Tre'vell! Please, someone hire this person, please.

You can find me on Twitter @HeyHeyESJ and at my email newsletter, Watch This!, where I write short spoiler-free reviews of movies and other things I'm watching. Follow this show on Twitter or Instagram @followfridaypod.

You can find a transcript of this episode, links, pictures, and more at followfridaypodcast.com.

Our theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie. Our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan. Additional music by Purple Planet Music, starfrosch, and Katherine Chang.

Special thanks to our sponsor, Hey, which is making email smarter, better, and more secure. Check it out for your personal use or for your business at Hey.com.

Today's show was produced by BumbleCast. You can hire us to help you start a podcast, or make your existing podcast better. We work with creators of all backgrounds and experience levels. Learn more at bumblecast.fm.

That's all for this week. This is Eric Johnson, reminding you to talk about people behind their backs. And when you do, say something nice. See you next Friday!

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