May 2, 2017
“The Rest of You Is for You”: Talking Social Media, Writing and Sexual Assault with Kelly Oxford
Kelly Oxford is not an easy woman to introduce. An early star of Twitter and prolific Snapchatter, she’s an LA-based social media personality without any of the stereotypical trappings one might associate with a title like that. She’s a screenwriter working on a new yet-to-be-titled Hulu comedy; a mother of three kids (Sal, Henry, and Bea) so funny their witty one-liners have been Buzzfeed-a-fied multiple times; and a person outspoken about her experiences with anxiety, sexual assault, and health issues like migraines. After the incriminating Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump broke last year, she started the hashtag #NotOkay, where millions of women shared their stories about sexual assault and harassment, starting an online dialogue about consent that made headlines around the world.
Oxford is also someone who uses social media to communicate openly with fans and followers, who get an insider look at her day-to-day through her frequent and often hilarious posts. But she’s more than just a 140-character joke writer; in the past year, she’s let followers in on some distinct lows, like the unexpected passing of her beloved dog Lou or her separation from her husband.
Given the last twelve months, it seems fitting that her new book, When You Find Out The World Is Against You, is a more introspective and at times emotional collection of essays that explores similar themes to her first collection, 2014’s Everything Is Perfect When You’re A Liar. Here we find an Oxford reflecting on her anxieties, her decision to move to LA, her children, and the loss of a loved one. She opens up not only about the stories she shared through #NotOkay, but the emotional process of starting the hashtag itself. Though with the same humor people have grown to love (like stalking her own husband when he went out for smoothies with a gym friend or embarrassing her teenage daughter when a crush is in the car), ultimately the collection is heavier and more nuanced than her first. If her first collection showcased her humor, When You Find Out The World Is Against You proves why she has staying power. She spoke to Brooklyn Mag about how her books fit together, raising the internet’s funniest kids, and the role of #NotOkay today.
Your last book, in sort of broad strokes, followed your career. This book, however, felt so different—and in many ways more intimate. Do you feel there’s an arc to the essays, or a central theme?
The second book arced with the first book. With the first book, I really wrote it from a hero’s standpoint—no matter what bad things happened I could take it on because I was young. It was from a youth perspective, like a Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume character. For the second book, I wrote it from more of an adult perspective and realizing what problems I had with anxiety and how human I was. The stories I think are similar but since I wrote it from the next stage in a development point of view, they feel a lot different from the first book.
Like the rest of the world, I adore your children, and one of the things I loved so much about the book was the way you weave in your own childhood and stories about your kids, who are growing up in a very different place than you did. Can you share a little about that perspective—as someone who is aware of your formative childhood moments and aware that your kids are moving through those same stages in such markedly unique circumstances?
I really didn’t think about it like that, but obviously I’m making choices based on those things and since LA is so different, I’ve tried to make it as similar as possible to home in some ways. I put them in public schools and I make them come and get groceries. It’s the same way I would have raised them in Canada. I moved to Studio City, which is the most similar to anything I grew up in. The way I was raised, I was really able to enjoy my independence and my independence was celebrated, perhaps too far, and I find I do that with my kids. Everyone is born different from everyone else and your personality is pretty much intact from birth. And you can either fight against that with your kids or let them be. Sometimes you like them and sometimes you don’t—it doesn’t make you a bad person just because everyone is a different person. So I’ve raised them with that in mind. They are people before they are my son or daughter.
What has it been like having your kids become so popular with fans?
It doesn’t affect my everyday life, so I don’t even really clock it. The only time it has really affected their lives is when I traveled to Canada with Bea, and people were coming by the table to say hi to her and not to me—she thought that was funny. That was the only time it has entered my real life. She’s so funny. She really is that funny nonstop all the time.
You’re known for having a fairly open relationship with social media—you’re certainly someone who interacts with followers and who followers feel they know. But your essays really make clear that there is a boundary, and reading your books feels like we’re being allowed to see parts of your life and your thoughts that otherwise aren’t just out there. How do you think about that relationship? Early on did you sort of decide where the line was, or is it something you’re constantly negotiating?
I just separated part of my personality that’s there all the time and have given that piece of the personality to social media. I think a lot of people when they meet me expect me to be a lot more aggressive than I am, and that’s just because that’s a part of my personality but that’s all I’m giving to social media. David Sedaris was asked, “How do you feel about people knowing your family?” and he said, “Nobody knows them.” And that’s the perfect way to describe it. You can share a huge part of yourself–and it’s not strategic for me, it’s just an outlet I find fun—but the rest of you is for you.
You’ve written so eloquently and powerfully about #NotOkay. What can #NotOkay do now, given this moment we’re at as a country?
It is still opening doors for discussion, and that’s the most important. The more we talk about sexual abuse or sexual harassment or sexual assault, it’s already normalized, but the more the conversation is normalized the more people can learn and heal. #NotOkay shed a lot of light on how prolific it is—it’s basically every woman—[especially] for people who haven’t been affected. [It prompted them] to sit back and go, “Oh, okay.” I’m talking about men specifically, and I guess some women don’t realize how often it happens.
It was recently announced that you’re working on a “teen sex comedy” for Hulu. What can you share about that?
I was working on The Disaster Artist with James Franco. I was the on-set writer for the movie, and we became friends and he had this idea for a teen show for girls set in the nineties. He called me up at six in the morning and asked if I’d be interested in doing it. I just finished the pilot. It’s about figuring out what kind of woman you are and how to be a woman in the world. It’s mostly about girls and what they go through from 15 to 20. It’s just discovering who you are and how it’s different for a woman. We’ll show how girls go through it as opposed to how boys go through it.
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