KATHY: Yes, Tobin.
TOBIN: You know how everyone is obsessed with Marie Kondo? And, like, Kondo-ing their homes?
KATHY: Yeah, I take issue with that because I love Marie Kondo but I was way ahead of the game.
TOBIN: Me, too!
TOBIN: My sister told me about this book years ago.
TOBIN: She found the book and loved it and then told me that I needed to get this book and all she told me was that it’s in Japanese and translated and that it’s super short. So, I downloaded The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up…
KATHY: Uh huh.
TOBIN: I pull it up on my e-reader and all I see is, like, a page of random sentences in front of me, like ‘What is cleaning?’ So, in my mind, and I don’t know if I was tired or if I just wasn’t thinking, so I was like “Oh, okay, this is the book! I’m supposed to think about what these mean, so I did, like, maybe two minutes of contemplating and then, finally, I’m like, wait a minute, and I click my e-reader…
TOBIN: And it’s the table of contents.
KATHY: Oh, Tobin...Tobin.
TOBIN: But, then I Kondo-ed. And...now I have twice as much stuff.
[KATHY AND TOBIN LAUGH]
[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]
VOX 1: From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy.
VOX 2: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
TOBIN: So Kath.
TOBIN: I don't know about you but these days I find myself sort of clinging to any good news about queer media.
KATHY: Yeah. It’s been a pretty brutal month for queer media. Into, which is this great site that reported on queer issues, was just shut down and BuzzFeed fired most of their LGBT reporters.
TOBIN: Yeah, and the future just seems really uncertain for a lot of queer publications.
KATHY: Uh hm.
TOBIN: Which is why I think recently you and I were both intrigued to hear that Phillip Picardi was going to take over as editor-in-chief at Out Magazine, the longtime gay men’s magazine.
KATHY: I think some people were surprised by the move. Phillip is probably best known for helping transform Teen Vogue into one of the most talked about magazines in the country. Then he started Them. which does great reporting on queer stories.
TOBIN: Right, and now he has jumped ship for Out. He said he really wants the magazine to be more inclusive of POC folks and trans and gender non-conforming people. And his first issue as editor-in-chief dropped just last month and it already feels like he’s shaking things up. So, we asked him to come into the studio to talk a little bit about where he sees his place in queer media.
KATHY: But first, we talked to him about growing up gay in a devout Italian Catholic family and what he learned about hard work from his first job at a McDonald’s drive-through…
TOBIN: Phillip. Thanks so much for joining us. We're so excited. You're wearing a beautiful floral print sweater.
PHILLIP: I sure am. Andy Warhol florals by Calvin Klein. Thank you.
TOBIN: This is already the fanciest interview we've ever done.
KATHY: I know!
[KATHY AND TOBIN LAUGH]
TOBIN: Oh boy...so we’re gonna talk a little bit about your career but we’re gonna back it all the way up. Um, because you’ve talked before about how at age 14, your dad surprised you by dropping you off at McDonald’s for a job you didn’t know you had.
PHILLIP: Not only did he drop me off. He actually made my whole family get in the car: there are five children and two parents in my family. And he made everyone get in the car to basically watch this happen because he thought it was, like, the funniest thing ever. He knew the guy who like owned this franchise of McDonald's and forged my signature on child labor paperwork in the state of Massachusetts and then dropped me off at work. And I thought it was a joke and he was like ‘this isn't a joke. Go ahead kid.’ And I...there I was starting my first day ever working at McDonald's.
KATHY: Oh my god. Was your family your first customers?
PHILLIP: My Family was not my first customer. They drove off, actually. Now that you mention it, I don't remember who my first customers were. I met a lot of really interesting regulars at the drive through and people who like to come in, you know, for meals and stuff. McDonald's was a fascinating experience,very formative one actually.
TOBIN: How was it formative...or at least, what did you learn from working at McDonald's?
PHILLIP: So, there's a phrase at McDonald's or at least the one that I worked at that goes If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. And McDonald's is like this amazing, in a perverse kind of way, microcosm of American capitalism in the sense that everything is about efficiency and they have ways to monitor efficiency throughout and then they incentivize you for being the most efficient employee. And so you're always competing against each other when you work in some of these fast food chains. And so they would be able to measure you based on like, after your drive through shift how many napkins you gave away and if you were, like contributing to waste by giving away too many free things. And so anytime we were just like kind of fooling around...and actually that was the summer of Kat DeLuna’s song, “Whine Up,” which is like an amazing. [SING-SONGY VOICE] “Whine up!” It’s an amazing song. I literally was caught on video because they watched the tapes the morning after. And I just did like a little like burlesque routine to the song “Whine Up” in the drive-through window for my co-workers. And they played it for the whole staff the next morning and then it was like this whole thing about like: “make sure he’s busy” so I was always having to clean things.
KATHY: So then like, your dad just dropping you off at McDonald's. Is that is that like a microcosm of your relationship with your father?
PHILLIP: It for sure is. That is 100 percent accurate and I'm comfortable saying that because I know for a fact he will not listen to this interview.
TOBIN: Fair enough, fair enough.
PHILLIP: The thing is my dad was always harder on me. I have four siblings: um three brothers, one sister. My dad loves my sister treated her like she was like enclosed in this invisible shrine that no one could see except him, always her whole life. And then the rest of us were kind of like a gamble. But my other brothers are all straight. You know, mostly, for the most part like extremely hyper-masculine almost like stereotypes of straight men. My oldest brother was a football player. My second oldest brother was a hockey player who almost went to the Olympics. But ever since I was a kid, my dad always kept me kind of at this like arms length because I was like playing with Barbie dolls and any anytime he would send like set me up for sports or whatever like I would like show up to like baseball practice in like horseback riding pants instead of like regular baseball. And I was always just trying to assert my gayness everywhere I went and he had no idea what to do with me and so none of my other siblings were actually forced to work during high school or college. I was the only one. And so he basically felt like because I was so feminine that I was like too precious and he didn't want me to get this like air that like I was above it. And so he was often you know using his power over me to like assert his authority. And in particular with the work stuff I’m mostly actually really grateful for it. There’s a lot of stuff that you know, I’ve since talked to my dad about, and one day I’ll maybe talk to my therapist about before writing my memoir that will turn into a motion picture. But I think that I'm grateful for the work ethnic stuff because it has really fueled me in a really interesting way.
TOBIN: Another element of growing up that you've talked about before is that your dad is very Catholic.
TOBIN: And you were also raised Catholic.
PHILLIP: Yes, I was.
TOBIN: I’m wondering, when did you realize that Catholicism was going to clash with your sexuality?
PHILLIP: So my dad was so weirdly Catholic like this is not like go to Sunday school and go to church once a week-Catholic like, my dad would go on these trips on the weekend with a bunch of monks and take a vow of silence for a weekend. OK.
TOBIN: Oh, like serious.
PHILLIP: So when I grew up Catholic I am not like your normal Sunday Catholic who like sometimes wears pastels. I am talking about like, my dad, when my little brother and I were swearing, showed us a clip from The Exorcist.
TOBIN: No! What?
PHILLIP: Okay, like that is the level we are talking about Catholicism. It was perverse. Like you know some kids had the Boogeyman? We had Lucifer, so like, that was what we were scared of.
PHILLIP: It was deep you guys it was deep. Deep.
KATHY: Yeah, yeah.
PHILLIP: As you know you kind of go through the steps of like self discovery in terms of like using the Internet and finding out like she's not doing it for me. But he is, you know? I start to come to grips with the fact that I...this is not something that I can hide or repress anymore. This is not something that is avoidable this is just who I am and how my body is wired. This is me and I'm going to need to somehow find a way to come to terms with this. So when I was a kid I used to like in this summer right before high school I would go downstairs and I would watch old episodes of Queer as Folk on On-Demand and then I would delete them from the history so my dad wouldn't see them but I used to turn the TV on to its lowest volume and then sit right in front of the screen with my hands on like, the power button just in case anyone was coming downstairs. And watching that show really did something for me so I basically umm, I used to pray every night and one time I was doing these prayers and as I came to terms with my own sexuality and was like actually proud about my sexuality or trying to figure out how to be proud. I felt like it was hypocritical of me to pray, all of a sudden, or like God wouldn't be there wouldn't listen to me, like, I felt shame. Even though I was trying to figure out how to be proud of myself. And so one night when I was trying to pray I couldn't do it. And so I marched into my parents bedroom in the middle of the night I think it was 2:00 a.m. and I just kind of really loudly declared like I have something to tell you. And my mom like turned around and she was all nervous. I think she probably thought I was in trouble and I was like I'm gay and you know like typical Italian-American women all over the country, my mom just can cry on command. And so she starts wailing and arguing with me. You know the whole thing. And then my dad rolls over and he's a big guy, so he rolls over and I can hear him rolling over. It's dark because I didn't want to turn the lights on and he goes: “Wait, what just happened?” And so then I had to come out over again...
KATHY: Oh no.
PHILLIP:...and tell him that I was gay. And the agreement that we landed on was that I would see a therapist before having these conversations in the future with anyone else. So like it was like our little gay secret. And then you know they took me to a Catholic therapist. And by that point I was just like whatever, bitch. There is nothing you can say to me that is putting me back in this closet.
KATHY: Wait, how old were you then?
PHILLIP: I was 14 years old.
PHILLIP: Yeah yeah. Catholicism was a through-line for me in terms of coming out how I was raised and then also like what fueled this like very antagonistic desire I had to be brazen and bold about who I am especially in opposition to people like my dad was at the time.
KATHY: What about what about now? How are you and your dad now?
PHILLIP: We're good now. You know my my dad is...It's hard like my dad is a product of his environment. And he grew up in a very patriarchal household. And you know even in our culture of just being like Italian-American folks like men are expected to behave a certain way and he was brought up to take care of the family. He was brought up to think that women were supposed to take care of the children. So we have five kids in my family like I've said before my dad never changed a single diaper. Right. And so what I think my dad has come to terms with most recently, that's been really encouraging, is like he called me right before I took this job and was basically like, you know I want to make sure you're taking care of Darien, who's my boyfriend. And I was like, Darien’s fine dad, like why? And he said well you're just so focused on your career. And one thing that I regret about my life is that I focused too much on my career and I wasn't there enough for you guys.
PHILLIP: And so he was like basically trying to tell me like: Don't lose this one, right? In his own way and his own annoying, condescending way. And so we've had that conversation since which has been really nice and now I feel as though there's...because of what I've accomplished in my career, I feel like I have more bargaining power at the table with him or he sees me as a man because I have gained some sort of like what he deems like notoriety or importance. And so because of that I feel like I have more respect in his eyes. So when I say things to him about how I'm feeling or how he makes me feel I do feel like he listens and that's kind of the difference about being a teenager or a kid versus a fully grown up adult, you know, who doesn't rely on him foR financial support.
TOBIN: So you eventually ended up at Teen Vogue and you kind of had this distinction of being Anna Wintour's protege. And for people who don’t know, Anna Wintour is the editor-in-chief of Vogue and she sort of like this, legendary editor that I think a lot of people are intimidated by. So I guess our question is: what is it like to be her protegé?
KATHY: Yeah, what is it like to be a protegé?
PHILLIP: You know so I'm called her protege sometimes and I do not know that we ever called me that personally. So I don't want to speak for her, she’s a very important woman. She is incredibly fierce and not in the [SASSY VOICE] “Fierce!”-way like, snappin’ in a Z-formation, but like fierce in that she is dogged in her determination and so, she is also terrifying. She is larger than life. She's an icon. You know it's like her walking into an office or walking on my floor literally would make people stop in their tracks, turn the other way, run away, you know, not any of which is her doing or her expectation. It's just that people you know think all of these things about her. And so she's, I think she's accustomed to how people react to her which is an interesting experiment in and of itself. But I remember after the election, right after Donald Trump was elected, so Teen Vogue was at the office that night, all of our staff was, I think until 3:00 in the morning if not 4:00 in the morning just because, like many newsrooms across the nation, we were not preparing for Donald Trump to win our presidency. And so we had to basically pivot at the last minute and everything that we had saved for like this momentous occasion of women assuming the presidency we actually had to throw away and then figure out how we were going to cover the person that we'd been essentially telling our audience was not going to represent them well, was going to become the president. So it was 8:00 in the morning and I think I'd barely gotten four hours of sleep when my assistant called me and said: Anna wants the whole team on the 25th floor at 9:00 a.m. sharp and so like, I have 20 minutes to get ready. 20 minutes to call my whole team in 20 minutes to get everyone in the door. So we all rushed in and I'll never forget this but like we all wait in total silence because everyone was very mournful that day in the building. And she walks in: Python boots, Prada dress, sunglasses on, hair snatched for the gods, and she keeps her sunglasses on, and she said there's an article about me that came out today that insinuates that I went too far in my support of Hillary Clinton in this most recent presidential election. And so I'm here to tell all of you that if supporting women's rights, reproductive justice, immigration, and LGBTQ equality means going too far, I hope you all go too far every single day. And then she just walked out. No questions. No time for even a reaction. She finished her sentence and she walked out. We came in at 9a.m...
KATHY: Oh my god...
PHILLIP:...for one sentence. And then she walked out and it fed us for the rest of the time we were all employed for her. You know, it was major, in that kind of that spirit, and like who that was in that room is who I worked for. She was nothing short of a hero to me every time we were together.
KATHY: Coming up, Phillip talks about his fears for queer media and we ask him about the recent controversy surrounding Out Magazine failing to pay freelance contributors.
TOBIN: That’s after the break.
TOBIN: So, I think it's fair to say that you grew up in a middle class upbringing.
PHILLIP: I would say upper middle class.
TOBIN: Upper middle class, OK. But then you like quickly ascend to like this upper echelon of like fashion and beauty and that sort of thing.
KATHY: A place that I don't understand it, just to put it out there, I don't get.
TOBIN: What was the process like of becoming comfortable in that sort of like high fashion sort of glossy world?
PHILLIP: Oh God, I'm still not comfortable. I just went to for the first time in my career, to what we call the circuit which is...you start in London and then you go to Florence and then you go to Milan and then you go to Paris. That was the first time that I've ever done that. And basically there were people who'd come up to me after shows and be like: “Can I just say that watching your face was better than watching the clothes?” Because like I was so excited to be there! I was like, yes! I met Fendi. I was like sitting with my fashion director. We were like cuddling in the front row because we couldn’t even believe it like I’ll never forget being like, literally pinching each other in the backseat of the car after the Prada show, being like: “did we make it? Like did we do it? Like are we actually here? Have we arrived? Does this count?” And it was wild. So I don't feel comfortable in these spaces yet. Fashion is designed to make you feel like you never belong. You know and I think that knowing that and having some sort of self-awareness about that makes it a lot easier to be able to like sit front row at Louis Vuitton and like watching Alton Mason doing backflips down the runway and like not being afraid to scream and cheer and clap your hands like all of the other like jaded people in the front row who are like sitting there like stone faced. You know it makes you see the fun in fashion because you've felt forever like you would never be able to reach this.
KATHY: I don't think I've ever heard that before...fashion is designed to make you feel like you don't belong?
PHILLIP: Yes. Yes.
KATHY: What does that mean?
PHILLIP: It's this sense that the world of luxury that, you always need to attain something else. That the world of luxury because it shrouds itself in mystery that, like, you can't really belong. Right? Because they profit off of you not belonging and buying more to belong.
TOBIN: Can you tell us about a time as you're like, as you've been discovering your sense of fashion and love of fashion, that you feel like you made a fashion mistake?
PHILLIP: It depends on who you're currently talking to. But my fashion director Yahshua would probably say I'm making a fashion mistake every day.
[KATHY, TOBIN, AND PHILLIP LAUGH]
PHILLIP: Yes, when I first interviewed for my job at Teen Vogue, I wore a v neck Zara t-shirt with a zipper on the shoulder and I had, the night before, doused myself in fake tan and I blew my hair up straight with gel. So it was like this big beautiful blow out like Pauly D from the Jersey Shore and waxed my eyebrows with the waxing pot I kept in my dorm room. Um, because I liked them to look like extremely well done. Yeah and then I, like, obliterated my face with makeup and put on the tightest jeans I owned and a pair of loafers and then walked into my interview.
TOBIN: Did you get a look from the person interviewing you?
PHILLIP: I did. In fact the person who hired me later told me he didn't want to hire me because of how I presented but, his assistant told him that I had good writing samples and so to hire me based on my work and not the way I look. Which, imagine that.
[KATHY AND TOBIN LAUGH]
TOBIN: Oh man.
TOBIN: So you made a name for yourself at Teen Vogue. Sort of like revamping that brand and you got a lot of attention for it. And I wonder if that was a lot of pressure? Like, did you feel any imposter syndrome because this sort of happened to you when you were so young?
PHILLIP: That press stuff was so much. And looking back on it, I think it was way too much pressure. And I think it...there are just so many things that I wish we could have changed about that moment in time for the brand because I think it became so much about how we were being perceived by like, a lot of media reporters and a lot of people outside of our demographic. And we took our eye off the ball: what really needed working on which was still the content and the staff. And speaking personally, I will say that like this sense of like we had to grow, and we had to be a bigger website, and we had to be bigger than Glamour, and we had to be bigger than the other brands in the house, like, the corporate pressure, I think, to be bigger and grow and grow and grow came at the detriment of the mental health and stability of our employees, for example. And so that's a lesson that I now take and will not let and allow myself to repeat. But I wish I would have had that foresight back then. Right? And maybe more years of managerial experience would have helped me see that then but we were insatiable to always be the best and always be pushing the envelope and I think it stopped being the organic, like slightly rogue, like cute little editorial meeting that turned into this big story and it started being: what are we going to do next? Right? And it's kind of like the minute you get into this atmosphere of like what's going to hit and how are we going to hit it? Umm, it takes away the soul of it.
KATHY: So, you helped revamp Teen Vogue, and then you started Them. from scratch and then you made the choice to go to Out which has been around for like 27 years. So what made you decide to make the leap from starting your own thing to taking over this publication that’s been around for a long time?
PHILLIP: You know, when we pitched Them. and when I was in the process of creating this idea for it, we had really grand ambitions for what the project could be...What ended up happening was the marketplace and media started changing really, really fast. And so from the time that I had pitched the project to even six months later, the landscape at Condé Nast was looking radically different. And I started to realize that maybe this commitment to growing the brand wasn't going to be possible...and I started to get very nervous with no real assurance that could be offered to me by anyone who had initially backed the project.
TOBIN: Do you feel like that experience, with like starting a queer publication within this like sort of large conglomerate kind of thing, did that change for you, like, how you think about the ability of queer stories to matter within those spaces? Like do you think they can anymore? Do you feel like that sort of knocked that out of you, that belief that they can?
PHILLIP: I think that this is a great question and we go so back and forth on this too even in the way that we talk to each other as editors at Out. I think the great thing about Out is that it's assumed that everyone's queer and you have to explain if they're not. You have to explain why they're there. Or at least we feel that that's the case. And in any mainstream publication, you know, that's writing about a queer narrative or a queer story, being queer often has to be the headline or it has to be laboriously explained and you cannot guarantee that you're going to have a queer editor, a queer editor-in-chief, or someone who's like native to your story who's handling it when it goes through the editing process or the fact-checking process, right? And so that's kind of the nice and liberating thing about not having to appeal to to everyone the way that mainstream media does. If they talk about queer stories, I do think that mainstream media representation is deeply important for queer people and for anyone who's been excluded from those narratives before. But I do think that there's a distinct and unique value in queer media telling queer stories.
TOBIN: I mean, just as like a looking forward thing...Like what are you hoping to see more in queer media?
PHILLIP: I'm hoping that we survive. I think you know what we're seeing is that as queerness enters the mainstream, so as things like Drag Race happen and DragCon becomes overrun by like, you know, predominantly straight teenage girls, which is great, you know? I want the drag queens to have big fandoms and I want that success for them more than anything. There's a question of why we need to still be here. Right? That isn't the true progress only when a drag queen is on the cover of Vogue or Vanity Fair. And it may be true that being on the cover of Vogue or Vanity Fair is a kind of honor that the world recognizes in a way that they don't recognize the cover of Out but Out means something personally to people and to a community of people that Vogue and Vanity Fair honestly may never, right, that there's that kind of connection that you have when something is created for you and feels tailor-made for your life experiences that those magazines don't have the power to convey. And so we have a responsibility to figure out how to keep queer media alive as a community, as the people who work for these brands, and you know, as a people who are consuming the content. You know, my hope is that we are able to survive, and that, you know, sites like Into do not have to close...that Autostraddle grows bigger and bigger and bigger, you know? And that hopefully the corporate media entities who wanted to create queer media platforms maybe find a way to support independent queer media in a way that's a little bit more organic and better, rather than hopefully, cannibalizing the market.
KATHY: So, after we taped this conversation with Phillip, Women’s Wear Daily published an article detailing a long history of Out Magazine not paying contributors for their work. In some cases, people have been waiting years for payment.
TOBIN: And, it’s complicated because it’s not entirely clear who’s responsible for paying those contributors. A company called Pride Media recently bought the magazine, they were the ones who hired Phillip, and they say it’s the previous owners who owe freelancers their money. The previous owner says it’s Pride so there’s a lot of confusion about who needs to pay up.
KATHY: Phillip says that he and his staff are also confused. Before the whole thing blew up publicly, Phillip says they sent a letter to the magazine’s new owners asking that they be clear on when these freelancers would be paid.
TOBIN: Though, when we called Phillip to talk about the situation, he said there’s not much more that he can do at this point.
PHILLIP: As the editorial team, you know, I don’t have control over accounts payable, right? It’s like a very separate and silent operation. So, that’s kind of the pickle that we are in. I think the one thing that I do wanna say is that based on conversations that I’ve had with executives, um both today and yesterday, and especially after the letter was immediately sent to the executive team last week, um I do believe that, the people who are owed money are going to be paid, um and I believe that there will be transparency coming down the pipeline, and we will be continuing to hold them accountable to make that information accessible. Um, we’ll be continuing to stand in solidarity with the people who went unpaid by this magazine for what appears to have been a very long time. And we wanna stop that cycle now.
TOBIN: So, you coming into Out, you know, you really pointedly wanted to change up the voice of the magazine and have more POC voices, more gender inclusivity. Um, and I’m wondering like, how are you planning to get people to trust that Out isn’t a place that’s going to exploit their labor?
PHILLIP: You know, the best thing I can do right now is make sure we can, that Pride, and I’m holding Pride accountable to make good on their promises, to pay people what they are rightfully owed, um, and then after that, you know, as far as we are all concerned, as an organization, right, and as our editors are concerned, it’s a period of necessary rebuilding that we’re basically going to have to do and we thought that the debut issue was going to be a signal of that and now what we’re realizing is, you know, much to our disappointment and dismay because we worked really hard on this and we all came to the table to make this happen and make magic happen, um is basically that we are having to start at step one all over again, and our reputations as employees and our reputations as journalists, and as bosses and managers, are not indicative of this pattern of behavior and we find it reprehensible and so we have to figure out what that means for our place in the company. Um, as continue to make the magazine and make the website.
TOBIN: Well, um, Phillip thank you for making time to take this call and to respond.
KATHY: Thanks so much.
PHILLIP: Of course.
[CREDITS MUSIC STARTS]
TOBIN: Alright, that is our show.
KATHY: Credits time!
KATHY: Alice Wilder!
TOBIN: Production Fellow...
KATHY: Temi Fagbenle!
KATHY: Stephanie Joyce!
TOBIN: Sound designer...
KATHY: Jeremy Bloom!
TOBIN: Executive Producer...
KATHY: Paula Szuchman!
TOBIN: I'm Tobin Low.
KATHY: I'm Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[CREDITS MUSIC STOPS]
TOBIN: A thing that our producer Alice noticed was that you went in an incredible ensemble...and you still wore an Apple watch.
PHILLIP: That is so rude! Alice! You better get your ass in here, Alice. I wanna talk to you about this in person.
TOBIN: So the question is basically...how dare you?
PHILLIP: How dare I? Alice? Wow!
KATHY: Alice, you might need to stand up.
[KATHY AND TOBIN LAUGH]
PHILLIP: I was dragged on Twitter after the images hit. I was filthily dragged. And only by homos. People were like, you went into the Met Gala, bitch, and you wore an Apple watch? I was like, “I forgot to take it off!” It feels like an appendage. Like when I have to take it off at night, I actually get nervous like I told you…
[VOICES FADE OUT]