Of all the hundreds and hundreds of posts I’ve written over the years as the editor-in-chief of AfterElton.com this one is by far the hardest. You see, this is goodbye. After six years, ten Television Critic Association Press Tours, and more bad television than I care to remember, it’s time for me to move on, and today is my last day with AfterElton.
What’s next? Well, a lot of sleep, for starters. This is an exhausting job and I’m looking forward to some rest. After that? I’m not sure yet, but I do have a manuscript I was working on when I started here that keeps calling my name. Beyond that, I’m sure there are many interesting challenges ahead.
Given how much I’ve loved this job, its ironic to think back to November 2005 when I basically had to be seduced into becoming editor. Back then, I was a novelist and my passion was creating stories and filling them with characters. “What satisfaction would there be in running a website about gay pop culture?” I asked myself.
Turns out a lot. More than I could have ever imagined, and after just a couple of months, I discovered I was born to do this job. Part of the reason it was so satisfying was that when I took over AfterElton from its founder (and my good friend) Sarah Warn, it was tiny and virtually no one had heard of us. Six years later, we’re one of the largest sites of our kind, have won multiple GLAAD awards, broken more stories than I can remember, and established the kind of reputation in the industry and with readers I couldn’t have dreamed of back then.
For example, in past columns, I’ve recounted stories about how television writers — like those from United States of Tara — have told me how much they appreciate our articles about their shows, and how we have actually influenced them with some of our criticism.
That’s one of the things I’m most proud of having achieved here in my time as editor — I think we actually improved the pop culture landscape when it comes to gay and bisexual visibility. There were shows we promoted and championed, from Ugly Betty to Brothers & Sisters to Happy Endings, and movies like Undertow and Shelter where I heard from writers, actors and publicists that our coverage helped a show or a movie find an audience.
And then there were the networks we critiqued for their lack of GLBT visibility. Some have changed markedly over the years including SyFy, which went from being absolutely dismal when it comes to including gay characters to being quite good. I don’t think it’s a reach to say we had something to do with that.
And then there’s CBS. Well, we can’t win them all.
I don’t know if Nigel Lythgoe’s opinions on gay dancers have actually changed, but I know that we forced him to think about them and what he says publicly, as well as how So You Think You Can Dance treats gay dancers. Indeed, at one point or another, almost every network has been held accountable by us and answered our questions concerning their handling of GLBT content. I suspect knowing we’re paying attention makes them think a little more carefully about the images they portray.
And if Star Trek does finally add a gay character, something we’ve criticized the franchise for not doing numerous times, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we made it happen. I’m a huge Star Trek fan and the fact that the show has never included an actual gay character has rankled me no end. Which is why I spent an hour at a recent party waiting to to talk with Hollywood powerbroker J.J. Abrams about this very issue. Based on that conversation, and Abram’s actually hearing what I had to say, I’m actually a little hopeful it might happen now that he’s set to direct the new Trek movie. Hey, J.J. how about naming the gay character Elton? Just a suggestion!
Being editor of AfterElton.com has afforded me opportunities I never dreamed of, including meeting any number of actors, writers, producers and network executives. Some of them were wonderfully positive experiences. Amongst those are Laura Linney (The Big C), Sasha Roiz (Caprica), Stephen DeKnight (co-creator Spartacus: Blood and Sand), Bryan Fuller (creator Pushing Daisies) Bob Greenblatt (president of NBC Entertainment) and, of course, Jane Espenson (Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, HusbandstheSeries.com), who is a remarkable woman and one of the best straight allies the gay community has.
And some weren’t so great. But hopefully I at least forced people like president of Disney Channel
Worldwide Gary Marsh to discuss how insulting it is to tell gay teens they have to “interpret” characters as being gay rather than actually having gay characters.
And then there are the gay actors I’ve had the privilege of getting to know and watching flourish during my tenure. When I first became editor, Neil Patrick Harrris had yet to declare himself “a proud gay man,” but since doing so his career has flourished in a way that proves coming out is not a death sentence for an actor. Oh, and let’s not forget John Barrowman (Torchwood) and Cheyenne Jackson (Xanadu, United 93) who have been out and proud forever, and both of whom set the gold standard for what it means to be great human beings.
There is a long list of people here at AE I want t to thank. First, Sarah Warn for not only giving me this chance, but for seeing something in myself that I didn’t see. And that goes double for Sarah’s partner Lori Grant who always believed in me.
Huge thanks go to my parter Brent Hartinger, who not only was here from the very beginning and influenced the site every bit as much as I did, but who also put up with my incessant obsessing over the site as I tried to read every comment and cover every possible topic. Brent, I’m really, really sorry about all the bad TV I made you watch!
Managing editor Dennis Ayers has been nothing short of amazing to work with. You guys have no idea how much effort puts in behind the scenes (trust me, he keeps the guts of this place running) and his advice and input to me has been invaluable. (BTW, Dennis will be acting as the interim editor until a new editor-in-chief is named, and I’ve no doubt he’ll keep things running right on time. But be gentle with him!)
Some of my best writers are people who were first readers of the site, but who caught our attention with their funny, smart and snarky comments. That includes Snicks, one of the nicest, most decent people I’ve ever worked with. Snicks and I communicated every day via private message and I’d say about 90% of his messages had an exclamation point at the end. His positivity and enthusiasm made every day much much better. Here is to you, Snicks!
Ed Kennedy, the Master of the Morning Memes, is a lesson for anyone looking to get ahead in the world. When Ed first started visiting AfterElton, he had no writing or online experience. We became friends via email, he offered to do anything I might need for the site and before I knew it, his Memes, Twitterwatch and social media skills were integral to the site. Kids, Ed’s a lesson in how to get what you want out of life.
Steven Frank has dazzled me with the wit and creativity in his True Blood recaps. He’s a treasure and a thoroughly good guy. Heather Hogan‘s sheer brilliance in her recapping and graphic work can’t be overstated. Her Neal Caffrey’s Foolproof Guide to “White Collar” Fashion is sheer genius. Speaking of genius, Christie Keith has contributed more than I can thank her for over the years, from her insanely popular Glee recaps to interviews and articles that continue to pull huge numbers years after they were first published. Christie, you truly rock.
Anthony Langford‘s column Langford on Soaps gave readers a weekly view of gay TV around the world, and J.T. Riley let us follow along on his dating adventures, while TigerCub taught us about bisexuality and BriOut not only recapped The A-List: New York, but wrote about issues affecting gay men of color.. Lyle Masaki did such an amazing job of covering TV each week that I constantly found myself checking his column to see what I should be watching.
And, of course, Logo for all of their support over the years.
From left to right: Lori Grant, Brent Hartinger, Sarah Warn, Michael Jensen
That leaves just one more thank you — to you, the readers. I’ve said many times over the years that the site really is you guys. After all, without readers, AE is just a bunch of pixels floating around in cyberspace. I can’t begin to say not only how much I appreciate all of your support and kind words over the years, but how grateful I am that together we created a truly unique and awesome site. The community here is like none other I know of. You guys are passionate, smart and funny, and the discussions I’ve followed on literally thousands of articles over the past six years has truly inspired me.
I want to single out a few readers who have especially stood out. Addison DeWitt who started the insanely popular Ta Da! It’s Me! forum where readers introduced themselves to each other. Talk about the heart of our community. Then there is Miz Liz, CCWayne, TrekBoy, NCGuy, Campion, Dennis MPLS, Cathy.In.Canada, Ulysses, Crawfish Po Boy, and WendyDC. That’s just scratching the surface of all the amazing folks I’ve had contact with over the years, and I want to thank each and every one of you for being part of the AE community.
I know there are people I’ve forgotten to thank and things I’ve forgotten to say. However, my computer seems to be malfunctioning as the screen has suddenly gone very blurry. Let me just say once more how much this site, this experience and each and everyone have you meant to me. I’ll miss all of it more than I can say.
(Feel free to email me at MichaelJensenWriter@gmail.com)