When Zack Rosen wants something, he’ll do anything to get it.
Case in point — a contest to win a full scholarship from Freedom to Marry for the Netroots Nation activism summit later this month in Las Vegas. Rosen made a promise on the adult website Fleshbot: Vote for him, and he’d take off all his clothes.
He won, and Tuesday he’ll make good on his promise. The 26-year-old Washington, D.C.–based editor of the website The New Gay talked with The Advocate about his big reveal, why he’d do anything to attend the summit, and how he really feels about today’s style of activism.
The Advocate: What prompted you to promise voters that you’d take your clothing off if you won the scholarship to Netroots Nation?
Zack Rosen: To use the metaphor of being at the table, I think there’s a big table of activists of various sizes and statures and means right now, and I just really want to be at that table. My website has almost no budget. I work out of my living room. We’re not the most read blog in the universe. I wouldn’t be able to fly myself to this. You don’t often have the opportunity to be around this big a group of people, sharing this many ideas. If I could do anything I had to do to get that chance, I was going to take it.
Did you spend some time considering, OK ... now what happens if I win?
gave it a lot of thought. At the end of the day, it’s just my penis.
Every man has one. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not so terrible
to be seen naked. I don’t find it to be this shameful thing. That said,
I’m slightly scared shitless now that it came through. You can prepare
for it as much as you like, but now the fact that there’s going to be a
naked picture of me online has become very real.
Do you worry about not being taken seriously because of this photo?
I thought about that too. It’s better to be there. I get irked
endlessly by the idea that ... I think a lot of activism today revolves
around respectability. That’s become the track we take. I feel like,
when I was 12 and 13, just becoming aware of what the larger gay world
meant, I remember very aggressive billboards about having safe sex. I
remember protests. I remember people being, not necessarily angrier, but
more vocal than they are now. I don’t like the idea that we’re expected
to act the right way, dress the right way. I think there’s a place for
that, because without it we won’t get anything done, but there’s a place
for the other side as well.
Tell me a bit about your website, The New Gay.
I actually cofounded it three years ago. I started doing it full-time in January 2009. I used to work at the Washington Blade — I was formerly the arts reporter there, and before, I was the editorial assistant ... a job I wouldn’t wish on anyone, anywhere. There’s just so much to do. I noticed that the Blade didn’t always cover things that were relevant to the life I live. Many times, publications like that make assumptions about the things gay people like, the things that will hold their interest. So this blog — me and two other guys were just sitting around, during Pride three years ago there were all of the official parties, and then there was this New Order, Depeche Mode dance party. And we thought, it would be so cool if there was a gay publication that included things like that on their pride calendar. It’s grown to maybe 20 or 30 volunteers from across the country. My idea behind it is to see that queer media reflects the way queer people actually live, not the other way around.
What are you hoping to take away from your experience at Netroots Nation?
It’s a place you can go for ideas and hopefully get some of your own. I can’t really do much with this vision I have if nobody reads us. It’s not just me — it’s the other 30 people who believe in this and work on it and pour their heart out every week. There’s some really incredible things that are being said, and if me going to this helps people read us, that’s great. It’s a lot of people in one place, and I really have a lot to learn. The more I can learn from other people, the more shape I can give to this project.