Queer People You'll Love: Dr. Jon Paul is helping change media for the better
If you have been keeping up with LGBTQ media discourse over the last few years, then you have probably come across Dr. Jon Paul Higgins' Twitter account or read one of their articles in Vice, Complex, Out, or Essense, just to name a few. I'm personally a big fan of theirs and was so glad Dr. Jon Paul was able to take a few moments away from their busy writing and teaching schedule to chat with us at QMM. Get to know Dr. Jon Paul and the important social justice work they are doing.
Queer Media Matters: Dr. Jon Paul, tell us a little bit about yourself to kick things off. Dr. Jon Paul: I’m a writer, speaker, educator, and entertainment enthusiast who is hell-bent on rebranding the ways we thinking about the Black queer narrative in media. Since I was young, I can recall all the stories that I saw about Black/Brown people being one of struggle, and I really think that now - especially now with social media - it is so much easier to profile stories that are redefining the ways we navigate the intersectional experience.
QMM: I’ve been a big admirer of your work since I saw you speak at an NLGJA conference a couple of years ago. I love that on your website, it says, “adding a bit more color to your rainbow.” What are some of the ways you go about doing that?
DJP: Well, I think writing stories on and off the screen that really speak to what it means to be a queer and Black. I mean, nothing about my life has been a cake walk, but I have a lot to celebrate. I got through college. I have a strong support team and I also have been able to work with some amazing organizations that see the beauty in my voice. On top of that, I have been able to encourage other queer Black/Brown people to take up space. Whether it be online, in an office or even in front of the camera, we deserve to be in the room. I have used a lot of my platform to remind folks of that - we are living in a world that was never built for us. Thus, we have to take up the space and create the narratives around our stories in ways that will help others have light at the end of the tunnel (if that makes sense). Basically, I want to be for others what James Baldwin and Audre Lorde are for me.
QMM: In addition to being a respected academic, you’ve also written about entertainment for more outlets than I can possibly name. How did you start building a bridge between both those worlds?
DJP: It really began when I realized that so much of the personal was political and that entertainment is often used as a political machine. RuPaul's work? Political. “Moonlight”? Also political. So I started writing about things from the entertainment lens as a way to remind others that so much of the media they consume has a political connection. And by political, what I mean is that we are forcing the world to see us in ways that the world has never had to in the past. We, (queer people of color) aren’t a monolith and we don’t all share the same story. However, our stories are important and that is why I have centered both academia and entertainment in my work because you can learn so much from both.
QMM: As an educator and speaker, what are some of the big topics you’ve been speaking with students and clients alike about recently?
DJP: Anti-Blackness and how to move allyship to action. So many people know that bad exist and for some reason, folks are so afraid to do anything about it. Thus, a lot of my talks have become about how people can use their privilege to actually make moves around issues. I think the biggest thing I have been hitting on is that Black/queer people are tired. We have built this country in so many regards and the last thing we want to have to do is clean up a mess we never made. I think my talks are really pushing the narrative that it is not enough to be mad about exclusion, racism or sexism. If you aren’t willing to throw yourself in front of the issue, you are in fact a part of the problem.
QMM: How has covid affected you personally and professionally?
DJP: Well, I have lost quite a few friends because of it. My brother had it and though he fully recovered - I think the thing that all of this has shown me is how fragile life is and how quick things can go left if we don’t do what is right. Professionally, it has challenged me to think of my work in new lenses and motivated me to be more honest with myself about what I do and don’t want to do. I think for a long time, because I was falling into the trap of social media, I wanted to be famous for being “the smartest person in the room”. Then I got to a point at the top of the pandemic where I was just trying to survive and I realized that being “smart” wasn’t going to save me. So I started being more honest and truthful on socials and people really responded to that. Folks started following me because they liked how authentic I was about my life, journey and the experiences I was having working/trying to get into the industry. In all, the pandemic and COVID has really made me value my life in an interesting way - a way I never really entertained before all of this began.
QMM: What’s an important lesson you learned this last year?
DJP: How to be more kind to myself. I say that I spend so much time telling other queer folks that they matter while I am in the background treating myself in the manner that the Avengers did Thanos (They really kicked his ass). That said, I wake up every day and ask myself, “how do you want to feel about yourself and your work today?” My point is to remind myself that success isn’t what defines me, how many articles or deals I manage to make - or who knows/respects my work. I have to respect me first and that is something that I have never really done up to this year.
QMM: As a chronicler of LGBTQ and QPOC pop culture, who do you think is doing a good job out there with representation not just onscreen but behind the scenes?
DJP: So many people. Ashlee Marie Preston. Franchesca Ramsey. Steven Canals. All people who are not only fighting for the liberation of others in front of the camera, but also behind it as well.
QMM: When you aren’t writing or teaching, what would we find you doing?
DJP: Probably looking for the best donut in the area LOL! I love desserts, so I am always making something or trying to find something that is going to bring my tummy joy. As of late tho, working out (Running x Peloton) has been my life. Also watching trash TV.
QMM: Who’s a queer person you admire and want to give a shout out to?
DJP: Honestly, the one person that I really want to shout out is my partner. I admire how much love they pour into me, how patient they continue to be and how much joy they bring everyone they are around. I am really, really thankful for him and I wanted him to know that I couldn’t do half of what I do without him. <3