Interview with blogger Joe. My. God., Joe Jervis

If you want a relatively straightforward report of the day’s gay news, you turn to blogger Andy Towle at If you want essentially the same news but with attitude, swagger and fearless taunting of anti-gay “douchebags,” you turn to Joe Jervis aka “Joe. My. God.” Joe and I and his gray cat Shelley sat down for an interview recently in his studio apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Rex: Boxers or briefs?

Joe: Briefs.

Rex: When did this all start?

Joe: The blog started in March 2004.

Rex: Somebody told me it was originally about sexploits.

Joe: Not really, although it’s sexual in its origin in that I was originally frustrated by Manhunt, where instead of putting up the traditional “I want this, you must be that” sort of profile, I would write these sort of snarky-slash-bitchy takes on the entire online-hookup phenomenon — to the point where people would write to me and say, “You know this is for getting sex, right?” And I would instead write things like “Manhunt weather report” and “How to sell yourself on Manhunt: Marketing tips,” and I thought it was amusing, a lot of people did. And I would update it once a week and my profile started getting passed around outside of Manhattan, where people would write to me from, like, Olympia, Wash., and say, “I know we’re never going to meet but I just want to tell you I love reading your profile every week” — and if I didn’t update it on Friday morning as was my tradition, I would get e-mails from strangers saying, “Where’s your column?” And I’m like, “Well, it’s not a column,” and, at one point, the Manhunt service man who monitors improper usage of the service even wrote to me and said, “You’re going to have to start using this the way that you’re supposed to,” because I guess it was being read, you know, and I didn’t mock Manhunt for being Manhunt, I just mocked the entire phenomenon. And after that, and already having been frustrated by the lack of character spaces available — I think it was 600 back then — I decided to, upon the urging of a couple of Manhunters — “You should put this on a blog somewhere.” So I started blogging and a lot of the blog early posts were really silly, when I look at them. I haven’t taken anything down even though I wrote stuff I regret that don’t make me look so great. I’ve left all of them up except for the ones that are about people who now read the blog.

The first two years were pretty much devoted to first-person memoir-ish short stories, nonfiction stories about things that had happened to me in my life here and there, going back even to my childhood. But once the blog became more and more widely read, people started seeing themselves in the stories. Even if I changed Tom to Tim or Keith to Ken, they knew it was about them and it became harder and harder to write truthfully knowing that people I was writing about were often reading it as it came out. And after about 300 short stories, towards the end of that run of short stories, I’d been occasionally commenting on current events and eventually it sort of took over to the point where I was only writing a short story once a month. And after a couple of years of once a month, I pretty much stopped it entirely with the exception of rerunning a handful of chestnuts that I rerun on certain days of the year.

Rex: Your cat is spazzing.

Joe: She’s having the midnight crazies a little early.

Rex: What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened to you as a result of the Joe. My. God. blog? Like a story that had some amazing impact, or something that went wrong, or something about being a public figure now? What’s the weirdest or strangest thing?

Joe: The weirdest as far as being a public figure is people Facebooking my presence in Berlin when I went to Folsom Europe last year, and friends of mine finding out I was in Berlin because strangers were Facebooking having seen me, like a celebrity-sighting, and I thought that was very cool but also a little unnerving.

Rex: Right.

Joe: Or sitting in some random airport at 6 a.m. waiting for the gates to roll up on the food court and having someone tap me on the shoulder and being recognized. I’m very accustomed to being recognized in gay spaces, at events or at bars or at parties or whatever, but on the streets, in public, in airports — that’s very uncomfortable.

Rex: Tell me about the name Joe-dot-My-dot-God-dot.

Joe: Originally, when I was brainstorming the name with my friend who helped me set up the original template — which I’m still using five years later because I know very little about HTML — I told him that I wanted the name to have my name in it, my first name, and have some sort of — in those days pun blog titles were the rage; they were all very punny and I wanted a punny blog title as well. I wanted a pun and I wanted it to have my first name in it and I wanted it to reflect that I was in New York City — and the first, and almost immediately discarded, working name for the blog was Joetorious NYC.

Rex: Thank goodness.

Joe: Which is really only funny if you know about morbidly obese dead rappers but I thought it was hilarious. Joetorious kind of fed into the, as you said, sexploit aspect of the blog and it had my first name and it had New York City in it, but my friends were just like, “No, that’s ridiculous, that’s so silly.” And finally, I really can’t recall now how we settled on Joe. My. God., but it was meant to be, obviously, a play on “Oh my God.” And it was because my English Mancunian boss at work was always using the expression when I would — when she had something for me: “Joe, my God! You’ve got to do this for me.” That was her way of her letting me know that the project was urgent. And so I would tell her, “If you say ‘my God’ to me one more time — just tell me to do it.” “Joe, my God!” And so it kind of grew from there. The punctuation actually grew out of a blog that I quite admired at the time — little. yellow. different. — which was written by Ernie Hsiung out of California, and little. yellow. different. was his, you know, self-referential take on being Asian and small and gay, and it was also the ad campaign for Advil when it first came out, which, you know, that kind of amused me, so I used the same elliptical punctuation in mine.

Rex: You start posting pretty early in the morning and you stop pretty early in the day, usually. You have a real job as well.

Joe: Yes, I do. Typically, I blog in two shifts. I blog late in the evening after 10 o’clock when most of the major news organizations have updated their sites for the following day and I will write about eight or 10 blog posts for the next day and put them on a timer to go up on the half-hour.

Rex: I was just going to ask you about that because I know that you’re posting in your sleep.

Joe: Well, I’m not posting in my sleep but I do like to stagger my posts to give sort of a fresh and interesting life to the blog. I hope that’s not a dirty little secret — that it’s not entirely live.

Rex: Is that built into the Blogger software?

Joe: It’s in the software. You just set the time you want the blog post to go up.

Rex: Under “post options”?

Joe: Yes.

Rex: Who knew?

Joe: Yup.

Joe: And so, yes, people are sometimes baffled when I’ve been posting all day and then at the end of the day I’ll say, “By the way, I’m in San Francisco (now).” “How could you be in San Francisco, you’ve been posting every 30 minutes for the last eight hours?” That’s how it’s done. So, I’ll write most of the morning’s postings the night before and then, in mid-afternoon I’ll usually devote another couple of hours to it and write the afternoon posts which typically do go up live. I don’t really finish that early. My last post of the day usually goes up by 6 unless something happens, if somebody dies or something dramatic is going on in the world. I’m a bit of an insomniac so sometimes I’ll blog live in the middle of the night just because I can’t sleep. I am home office so if anything happens or breaks, you know, my boss is very supportive of the blog and so there’s no problems at all with me blogging while I’m ostensibly supposed to be —

Rex: Oh, you work your day job from home.

Joe: Yes.

Rex: I see, OK, that explains a lot of it. The gay male bloggers that I look at every day are you and Andy Towle at Towleroad; I scan The Slog in Seattle for Dan Savage’s postings, I scan through Andrew Sullivan for gay stuff, I scan through John Aravosis for gay stuff although he has a gay site now. There’s a local blogger in San Diego that I look at named Mike Tidmus.

Joe: Right, I know him.

Rex: And I think that’s about it for me on a daily basis. There’s a lot of stuff out there like Good As You and Queerty and other things that I don’t look at every day (but), ultimately, it’s a pretty small group that you’re in. If you look at bloggers that are exclusively writing about gay stuff … you’re probably the second-most-read blogger after Andy Towle, I would imagine.

Joe: I really don’t know. I used to follow my stats and my Technorati ranking and all that stuff, but it’s self-defeating, you know, if you start worrying about who’s doing better than you.

Rex: … I wasn’t trying to set it up like that — what I was saying is, “That’s pretty cool.”

Joe: Oh, it is very cool!

Rex: I mean, you have, like, accidental clout. You’ve become a person with clout.

Joe: It’s totally accidental. I follow on my RSS feeder about 75 other bloggers — gay bloggers in particular (and) they’re very generous with attributing sources and quotes and, if Pam Spaulding gets to something first, and it’s something we all would obviously blog about, we’ll credit Pam as being the first to write it. That doesn’t mean that she came up with the story or that she wrote the original story, but she was the first to discover it and find it, and we’re all very good about hat-tipping. Even though it might be a New York Times story, but if Pam found it and found it relevant first, she gets the credit. And I depend on my RSS feed. [The cat interrupts us.] Was that her (the cat’s) mouse? She must have put it in places where she can’t get it back, and then she screams at me.

Rex: I think she’s gotten it, or she realizes it’s on the other side.

Joe: That’s a little radio-controlled mouse I bought for her that worked for about three minutes. I finally threw the remote away but she still likes to play with it.

Rex: So, given that you sort of have become a gay public figure and a gay media outlet and a gay voice with clout, how do you deal with people who try to influence what you do or talk you into something that you don’t want to do?

Joe: I am very aware of being managed. And I’m aware when obviously lots of LGBT organizations and other groups want to get their message out and how they’ll try to massage me into being sympathetic either to their point of view or to feeling obligated to parrot their press release or their event or their rally or whatever, and I try to keep them at arm’s length, you know, both emotionally and not to overstep my position journalistically. There are a few groups that are rather notorious for trying to manage bloggers, to make sure that the message they want is the one that we put out. And that’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of good people doing good work and their message isn’t the right message. It usually is. But I’m also very leery of becoming their sock-puppet, and you learn by error. A few years ago, you might be flattered that someone from some major progressive or LGBT group might want to get you on the phone and ask for your opinion, and then a little bit wiser and later you realize that they were sweet-talking you into basically regurgitating to your readers exactly what they want them to read and believe. And so with bitter experience you start treating those sort of conversations with a jaundiced eye.

Rex: A lot of times with a lot of news events, your postings are perfectly straight. The headline, the opening line written by you, a closing line written by you, whatever, doesn’t really opinionize at all. Sometimes, of course, you do. You call people douchebags and fuckwads, but a lot of times you don’t really say anything.

Joe: Well, sometimes the news is opinion-neutral; if somebody died, they died. Sometimes there isn’t really a lot to say other than repeating the fact that there’s X amount of votes on a certain important bill. And, you know, occasionally you color it with, “This guy didn’t vote and should have” or “This woman did and she shouldn’t have,” but other than that, you know — I am not as good as Andy (Towle of Towleroad) at keeping my opinion out of straight news stories and that might be why he’s much more widely read than I, because obviously people think I’m a loudmouth. Andy typically doesn’t use pejorative terms to describe our enemies, whereas I do, which is why I would probably never, if I wanted to, work for, say, the HRC, because anything that I ever did for them, the right wing would come back and say, “This is the same guy who called such-and-such preacher a douchenozzle.” And the Internet is forever and when anyone ever gets a job of any sort of visibility, the first thing the right wing does is try and look for anything that they might have said that could hurt them.

Rex: Do you get threatened sometimes? I mean, because you do call people douchenozzles. I mean, legally and whatever?

Joe: Never legally, except by one person who I don’t care to name because there’s been a complete media blackout on him on my blog ever since he first came to public notice. He has threatened me with legal action, which I ignored. … I’ve got numerous threats of physical harm, of course, from just regular wingnut nobodies who happen upon the blog, and I usually dispatch them in short manner by determining their IP address and sending them a Google map shot of their own house and threatening to publish it. …

Rex: What would you ask Joe. My. God. if you were interviewing him?

Joe: I’ve had friends tell me that blogging to them feels like a homework assignment that’s always due but never done.

Rex: Yeah, let’s talk about that.

Joe: You can’t get into that mode. It’s almost become a compulsion with me to the point where I can’t even go on vacation; I have to haul up the laptop and see what’s happened and post. I don’t think I’ve gone a day without posting for years.

Rex: I haven’t had a day offline in 15 years — a day when I didn’t go on the Internet.

Joe: I don’t mean just not on the Internet, I mean contributing something to the blog. … My blogging volume is much lower on weekends, but I’ll still put up three, four, five posts on Saturday and Sunday.

Rex: I was interviewing Andy Towle and I forget what I asked him, but he said: “I feel overwhelmed right now because I’m doing this interview instead of being on the computer and seeing what’s happened. Something could be happening right now.”

Joe: That’s what it takes. You sort of surrender a lot of your free time and a lot of your peace of mind because it’s always a race. It’s always: Get the story up right away, particularly when there’s elections or breaking news events and, you know, a lot of people depend on blogs like Andy and me, and they’re sitting in their cubicle and they’ll refresh and refresh — and sometimes, you know, the whole concept of live-blogging an event, that’s nerve-racking when you are live-blogging a debate or an election or a protest rally and people are looking for updates not only every hour but every two minutes!

Rex: Right. I did that exactly once and it made me kind of crazy.

Joe: It can be very tough.

Rex: So you’re not making a complete living doing this, you’re clearly making some money doing it but, is it worth it? I mean, what do you get from it? You have to give up a lot to stay current.

Joe: You do have to give up a lot. My (reduced) interest in like going out and carousing and taking advantage of all gay New York City has to offer fortunately dovetailed perfectly with my increasing blogging, so, you know, I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t blogging as much as I do. Because, yes, I’ve got all of glittery, glamorous Manhattan lying at my feet but even if I wasn’t blogging, I’d be, “Well, you know, how many times can you go to the Empire State, and I don’t even want to go to bars.” You know, I can do it from anywhere and even my (daytime) jobby job isn’t irrevocably tied to Manhattan, so if I decided to go back to San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale or wherever, it would be fairly seamless.

Rex: Excellent. Thanks, Joe.

By Rex Wockner


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