Meet the Filipino editor behind Condé Nast’s new LGBT-focused publication

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Talusan is an intersectional journalist, author, and now the senior editor of them., Condé Nast’s first LGBT-focused publication and first free-standing digital platform. Photo by LIA CLAY

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Meredith Talusan has never really identified as “normal.” At least, she knows that people have never perceived her as such. As a transgender immigrant and person with albinism, Talusan has always known what it means to live in the margins. But beyond embracing her string of identities, she’s also allowed it to push herself into things beyond what’s expected of her, and it has paid off.

She’s an intersectional journalist and author, but she’s also gained experience in web programming, data analysis, and photography, all of which have helped her create Unerased: Counting Transgender Lives, the winner for Outstanding Digital Journalism, Multimedia at the 28th Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Awards. Now, she works as the senior editor of them., Condé Nast’s first free-standing digital platform. them. is the first LGBT-focused title for Condé Nast, the media company responsible for titles like Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Pitchfork, and The New Yorker.

fb cover photo.jpg "In the U.S., existing LGBT publications tend to have a lot of focus on gay men and gay male culture, especially historically," says Talusan. "[Phillip Picardi, who conceived the website] wanted a publication that would appeal and would focus on the queer community at large, both across identities — gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary people." Photo from THEM./FACEBOOK

them. started as a vision of Phillip Picardi, who is the digital editorial director of Teen Vogue, says Talusan. “He wanted to basically start a new project, and then in the context of doing that, the thing that he realized he really wanted to do was to start a queer publication for a contemporary audience.” them. is touted as a next-generation community platform, with a focus on inclusivity and intersectionality.

“In the U.S., existing LGBT publications tend to have a lot of focus on gay men and gay male culture, especially historically, and [Phillip] wanted a publication that would appeal and would focus on the queer community at large, both across identities — gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary people — but also not assuming whiteness as a center,” says Talusan.“There's a lot of focus on minority issues, international issues, immigration issues, that is not as clear a focus as [on] other LGBT publications.”

It was this vision that ultimately drew Talusan to the role. “I really enjoyed the independence of being freelance, but when I saw that Phil was building a project that really took all of the sectors of the queer community into account, that was something that was definitely super attractive to me, and made me really pay attention to the project and ultimately decide to join,” she says.

CNN Philippines Life spoke to Talusan to discuss them., what it means for her to be senior editor, and her goals for the publication. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

What does it mean for someone like you — transgender, Filipino, and an immigrant — to be the senior editor of them.?

It means a lot to me, and the meaning of it has grown over time as I've matured into my position. Because I think when I started I just lived my life on a day-to-day basis. I tend to be just really focused on the work. I wasn't really paying attention to the ways that other people saw me as potential role model until I assumed this position and people started approaching me from different backgrounds, whether young trans people or immigrants or Filipino-Americans, people of color, usually a combination those identities — intersectional minorities — I think that was when [I realized it].

And one of the things that people would say is that seeing me in my position allows them to envision themselves in a way that they didn't before they saw that there was a trans person, a trans immigrant person of color, a disabled person who has been able to navigate through media, and been able to get to a position of leadership in this context. So that's been very inspiring for me, really, and has made me comfortable saying "Yes, here I am, I'm doing this work, and I'm also serving as an example for the communities that I represent."

What do you want to bring to the table as senior editor of them.?

I think over and above my lived experience and my identities, which already brings a lot to the table because I'm able to speak from a position of experience and authority on a number of different issues across the LGBT spectrum, and also in terms of different communities, I also bring a lot of editorial experience to the table.

I'm an award-winning journalist, I was previously a staff writer at BuzzFeed, so I have experience in a media institution as well. And I'm also like this unusual person who's had both a scientific and a journalistic background, so one of the things I'm really interested in is data analysis and visualization.

And I think, often when minorities are hired into positions within mainstream organizations, there's so much emphasis on the fact that they're minorities that it so often overlooks that they have qualifications over and above their identities, that we have relevant experience, and that our minority identities supplement that experience but don't represent all of us, or don't represent the entirety of the reason why we do the jobs that we do.

site screenshot 2.png “There's a lot of focus on minority issues, international issues, immigration issues, that is not as clear a focus as [on] other LGBT publications,” says Talusan. Screenshot from THEM.

As you worked your way through all of those jobs and experiences, was this always something of an end goal?

No, not really. I guess I'm very Filipino that way. Kasi in America, people are more career-driven. You start in college having this idea of the type of person you want to become and you sort of pursue this one road, this one trajectory. And I don't think I've ever really been like that.

I'm a person who has a lot of different interests and I pursue them really passionately, and so it just so happens that a lot of the paths that I pursued, whether being interested in web programming and data analysis and data visualization, and also being interested in investigative journalism, while also being interested in photography and media, [led up to this].

A position like mine actually didn't really exist 10 years ago when I started out studying and charting my career path. So I wouldn't say that I envisioned myself being senior editor for a media company. What I envisioned myself doing was being able to contribute meaningfully to society and making the greatest impact that I can. And the form that that has happened to take is as the senior editor of this publication.

“If you're a person from a disadvantaged or minority background, it's useful to really keep in mind that whatever it is that society is projecting on you doesn't necessarily have to be the way that you perceive yourself.”

But do you think there was a role or anything in particular that prepared you for this position?

I grew up in the Philippines, I lived there until I was 15, I was in Catholic school there and one of the things that I would say is that the Filipino school system definitely gave me a really strong work ethic. It's something that has really stayed with me throughout my life. And yet at the same time, because of the fact that I moved to the States when I was 15, I was also exposed to being able to think freely and innovatively and sort of think through problems. When I was in grade school, there was a lot of emphasis on memorization, on being told what the answer is. Whereas when I got to the States, there was a lot more emphasis on figuring things out or finding your own solutions.

And I kind of feel like the blend of those two school systems has really helped me navigate through the positions that I'd been in throughout the years. Of simultaneously being able to work really hard on something but at the same time not just follow what other people have done before.

I read a piece of yours on how minorities are often disadvantaged in the workplace compared to their peers. Is working at them. a way of actively combating that and providing minorities with better opportunities?

Absolutely. When Phil offered me this position, literally like a week after I wrote that article, I think it really allowed me to think through my hesitations about moving from writing and reporting, which has been the core of my work ever since I started in media, and [then] moving to an editorial position.

Because in that article I wrote about how difficult it was for me as a trans person never having had a trans editor, always having to translate and explain my experience to people, not just in terms of the articles that I was writing but in terms of the way that I was functioning in meetings, the way that people were treating me, the assumptions that people were making about me.

So when Phil gave me this opportunity to be a person who could mentor younger writers — younger trans writers especially and other intersectional minorities — I really saw it as an opportunity to be the person that I never had, the editor that wasn't available to me in my writing career.

site screenshot 1.png "We put out original content on our Instagram, in Instagram stories, all the time," says Talusan. "We have really amazing video content. I don't think of the work that we put out as there being a separation between text and image or text and video." Screenshot from THEM.

Is there anything you’re hoping to to achieve while working at them.?

I want to obviously be able to grow the publication, like be able to put out influential, widely read work by really excellent people, not just in writing but across different mediums. Just because mediums now are becoming so fluid on the internet, like we put out original content on our Instagram, in Instagram stories, all the time. We have really amazing video content. I don't think of the work that we put out as there being a separation between text and image or text and video.

In terms of my broader goals, I just want to demonstrate that intersectional minorities can lead and play large roles within media organizations and do so effectively and put out work that's original and groundbreaking. And that also minorities in leadership positions can be just as, if not, more effective as people who come from majority backgrounds.

Do you have any advice for aspiring journalists?

One of the things that I would say is that because of the internet, it's gotten easier and easier to be able to come from somewhere that people don't usually associate as somebody coming from and be able to write and work for media organizations. I spent three months between December and March in Dumaguete in late 2016 to 2017 working on a book and I was still writing. I published a piece with The Atlantic and Wired during that time. There's no reason why somebody from the Philippines who has an interesting story to tell, there's no reason why they shouldn't approach organizations like ours. I would certainly welcome pitches from people from the Philippines and other countries.

The other thing that I would say is I think that just because of the fact that I, throughout my life, I have never been the person that people expect to be. I've never been in the majority, I've never been a person who is perceived as like just another person and “normal.” I feel like that has allowed me to consistently have a personality of, ‘Oh, people are underestimating me. I'm going to prove to myself and to them that I can move beyond what they expect of me.’ And I think, if you're a person who comes from a disadvantaged background or a minority background, it's useful to really keep in mind that whatever it is that society is projecting on you doesn't necessarily have to be the way that you perceive yourself.