Roxane Gay Has One Hot Take That Just Might Shock You

Photo: Reginald Cunningham.
Roxane Gay is a very opinionated person, so much so that she’s made it her literal business to share those opinions whenever she can. The esteemed writer, professor, and cultural commentator has been talking and writing about her innermost thoughts for over a decade, sparking discourse about controversial topics ranging from feminism to fatphobia. And in her newly released book, Opinions: A Decade of Arguments, Criticism, and Minding Other People's Business, Gay has a selection of those hot takes neatly arranged for your viewing (and debating) pleasure.
With all of this discourse under her belt, one would think that Gay might be tired of always being expected to give her thoughts, and yeah, she admits, it can be exhausting. In a society where social media enables anyone to share both truths and lies (Twitter), and half-baked hot takes at will (TikTok), discourse fatigue is inevitable. But at the same time, Gay understands the power of sharing her thoughts. That’s why she’s compiled some of them for Opinions, a collection of writings that spans the last 10 years and revisits some of Gay’s strongest opinions about politics, love, and the underrated magic of the Fast & Furious franchise. (She’s a fan.) 
In a virtual chat with Refinery29 Unbothered, the cultural icon gets real about the burden of cultural discourse, self-care in the digital age, and a hot take that she knows might just make you look at her sideways.
First hard-hitting question…how are you? 
Roxane Gay: It's complicated. I’m okay, compared to people in Israel and Palestine, yes. But the [writers’] strike was hard. It really was. To sort of lose your income for five months was a lot, and I certainly was luckier than most. Even though it was challenging, it wasn't impossible. So I am both just dealing with a lot but while staying mindful of the privileges that I have.
That's the common sentiment that people are feeling. It could be worse, but also, things kinda suck right now.
RG: Yeah, it's interesting the ways in which we always try to minimize our challenges.  I'm trying to just recognize that it's okay to say things aren't all that great.
Thankfully, there's still something for us to celebrate because your book, Opinions, is out! Could you talk to me about the process of selecting these different essays that you've written and putting them together for this work?
RG: Thank you. I'm working on two books — a YA novel and broadly, a book of writing advice — and I realized that I’ve been writing a lot of different things. I wanted to put them together in some way. I started looking at a lot of the opinion writing I've been doing for the past decade,  and I saw that I had amassed a fair amount of work. The one common thread was, My goodness, do I have opinions! So that's where the book started. It just felt like a great moment to release a book and have a conversation about opinions and what it means to argue and how to argue hopefully, most of the time.

A lot of the issues I'm writing about are issues for me that are fundamental questions of how we get to live and who is allowed to thrive.

roxane gay
So many of the essays you’ve curated for this book are about things you’ve consistently written about for the past decade. As I was reading each chapter in the race section, specifically, I was struck by how often history repeats itself; we can never stop talking about topics like police brutality and rape culture because they’re still occurring. As a person who is sharing their opinions and commenting on culture in society, you must experience discourse fatigue — how do you manage that?
RG: One of the things I noticed as I was putting the book together was that it felt repetitive, but then I realized it's because a lot of these things keep happening. I hope people take away from the book is that repetition is a sign that we have not evolved in any way on some of these issues. It's incredibly frustrating because it's not that you delude yourself into thinking as a writer that you're going to change the world, but you do hope that collectively, enough of us start to agitate about certain issues that we’ll see even incremental change. I don't know that we've seen that much of that in the past decade which is really, I don't even know…heartbreaking, right? Infuriating.
Still, I try to have really good boundaries with myself and recognize that it is not my job to opine on everything and to respond to, for example, every horrific thing that happens to Black people in the United States and abroad. I think that’s really helped over the past several years — recognizing that, sometimes all I have to say is, “This is unacceptable. We have to acknowledge this.” Even if we don't have solutions, a lot of times when you write about social issues, people expect you to solve these very long, ongoing ones. I mean, we're even seeing it this week with everything that's going on in the Middle East where people somehow think that sharing half-assed opinions online is going to resolve this 75-year issue. It won't. I recognize that and try to, not necessarily lower the bar per se, but be more realistic with myself about how and why. I know when I should speak on something. And when I just can't, I don't.
I know that for me, my job is to be online, but there are times when I take a break, and I'll come back to find that the world is on fire. Like, I was off Twitter for three days. Why is there so much chaos going on?
RG: I make it clear that I might have a thought, but I'm only going to say something when I feel qualified in some way, when I feel like I can bring a perspective that’s interesting and relevant and that really helps. Here’s the thing I've taught myself — and it's only in the past couple years that I've really been able to believe it. One of my jobs is to be a cultural commentator and to be aware of what's happening in the world, but if you take some time off from being online, and you come back to find everything on fire, that's fine. You're not a fireperson. It doesn't mean that you're not doing your job or that you're not aware; it means that you’re human. Sometimes, we do need to step away. A lot of what happens in discourse is because some people are very much too online, and they take that as a badge of honor. I take that as a reminder to go outside. Read a physical book. Go be in the world with people. Talk on the phone, God forbid. [laughs] And just remember that the Internet is not the only thing, and that life happens away from it.
Photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins.
That's a good direction to take this in because I wanted to ask about the opinions in Opinions. There are essays in it as early as 2014 and as recently as last year — looking back, are there any opinions that you feel differently about now? 
RG: People keep asking me that, and I get why. The thing is that a lot of the issues I'm writing about are issues for me that are fundamental questions of how we get to live and who is allowed to thrive. So my opinions on, say, police brutality haven't changed — they’ve probably gotten stronger.  I think that I've moved further left as I'm starting to learn about abolition and what it would mean to really think of a new way of law enforcement because I don't think you can reform something that is so inherently corrupt. That and other opinions have only deepened.
This isn’t to say that Opinions is just take after take of hard stuff, though; you kept a great balance between the heavy sociopolitical topics and the less grave, lighter subject matter. When people think about cultural commentary, the sentiment is that it's always super deep. But sometimes, I just want to have fun and gossip about nonsense. Like, yes, let’s argue about Fast & Furious because I truly don't get it. What was it like to weave in those moments of fun alongside the more difficult conversations?
RG: First of all, I'm gonna schedule some time with you to really bring you into the Fast & Furious family. But having range is my ministry, and I wanted to demonstrate that range in this book. My work isn’t all really horrific things. I love pop culture. I love books. I’ve done quite a lot of criticism, and I think criticism can take a lot of forms. Sometimes, it’s a love letter to an amazing franchise that is the best filmmaking out there.
Or the really great Ask Roxane advice you included towards the end of the book. 
RG: Thank you! I just have a lot of opinions. [laughs] With advice giving, it’s often far more about the advice giver than the person who's receiving the advice, so I’m mindful of that and really focus on what each person is really asking. And when I'm giving advice, I always want people to recognize that they might already know some of the answers.

A lot of what happens in discourse is because some people are very much too online, and they take that as a badge of honor. I take that as a reminder to go outside. Read a physical book. Go be in the world with people. Talk on the phone, God forbid.

roxane gay
This is a more unserious question, but I’m curious — what’s the most ridiculous hot take that you have? 
RG: More people should ask this because everyone is sooo serious. But my most uncut inconsequential take is about flying through the airport. If you are not prepared to move through the security line in a fast and efficient manner — and I'm not talking about people with disabilities or people with children, but grown ass adults who act like they have never been to the airport before — you need to go to a different lane. I really think that airports should have lanes for seasoned travelers who already have everything prepared and lanes for people who are less frequent flyers.
Not the segregation!
RG: Absolutely. Bring it back! [laughs] TSA knows how often you travel, so if you’ve met a certain threshold miles-wise, you should get to go to this lane. if you have not, stick to the left, to the left. And I know this is a ridiculous take because, in the grand scheme of things, it's totally fine — we're all going to the same place, and the planes are truly not going to take off any sooner — but please. I have a lot of travel takes, honestly. I could write a whole book just on being at the airport. That's the next book, actually: Travel, by Roxane Gay.
You did say that you’re working on new books, though! Anything you can share?
RG: I did! I'm writing a romance novel — with Channing Tatum! — and it’s really romantic. And super spicy. 
Oh my God. That’s amazing, but it seems…random?
RG: It is random. But also not? You’ll see!

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