My Ten Favorite Articles That I Wrote in 2016

Since 2013, I’ve highlighted my favorite articles that I’ve written each year—so here are my professional highlights of 2016, including my ten favorite stories I wrote over the year (see below).

Academically, I wrote and presented my thesis, before graduating from The University of Texas at Austin in May.

As a writer, I wrote hundreds of articles for more than a dozen different publications.

I started the year off reporting for the Austin Chronicle, where I wrote 20 news articles, mostly focusing on the city’s battle with Uber and Lyft.

After graduating, I interned over the summer with the Dallas Morning News‘ Editorial Board, where I wrote more than 40 opinion columns and editorials—many of which were also published around the country, from the Charlotte Observer to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald to the Sun Sentinel in Florida to the Albany Times Union to the Virgin Islands Daily News and a handful of other publications in between. Following the Dallas Ambush, I was interviewed on Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, and SPIN 1038, a radio station in Dublin, Ireland. In August, I won the DMN‘s in-house writing award for Commentary and Criticism between April and June. My three winning entries (on sexual assaultTrump, and homophobia) made me the only intern to win an award.

After wrapping up my internship with the DMN, I started working as a news writer for Complex, where I wrote and aggregated 338 articles on just about anything and everything between September 1 and December 29, which was my last day with them.

Throughout the year, I continued to freelance music articles for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News’ GuideLive.

Below, in chronological order, I’ve hyperlinked ten of my articles that I’m most proud of from this year.

  1. Motivated by Sweaters, Dallas Rapper -topic Is on a Feel-Good Campaign– Dallas Observer – February 10 – Music Article

Early in the year, I interviewed Dallas’ own So So Topic (aka -topic) about his project, My Favorite Sweaters. This article was only one of a handful of articles I wrote in 2016 about the local rapper.

  1. Open Carry: Boobs and Breasts – SXSW-timed open carry event overshadowed by toplessness” – Austin Chronicle – March 18 – News Article

By far the most entertaining story I’ve ever reported, I wrote about one of Austin’s weirder days, which included guns, breasts, sex toys, and a life-sized cross. This article was cited by Reason.

  1. All men must work to stop rape culture– Seattle Times – June 9 – Opinion Column

This award-winning column, about the infamous case of Stanford’s Brock Turner and our “boys will be boys” culture, was published around the country.

  1. Trump is a drug — exhilarating, terrifying, and sure to bring a hangoverDallas Morning News – June 30 – Opinion Column

I wrote this column after attending Trump’s campaign rally in Dallas. While some of my writing on Trump didn’t turn out so well, I’m especially proud of this column, which was cited in The Atlantic by James Fallows.

  1. The segregated Second Amendment: America’s long history of unequal gun rightsDallas Morning News – July 7 – Opinion Column

I wrote about the tragic death of Philando Castile as well as the fact that black Americans don’t seem to have the same gun rights as white Americans.

  1. Campus carry is problematic, but not dangerousDallas Morning News – July 18 – Opinion Column

Having previously extensively reported on campus carry, I argued that campus carry has had and will have negative consequences for the University of Texas at Austin, but that it won’t be all that dangerous.

  1. Cutting back on private prisons is progress, but we need to end mass incarceration” Newsday – August 19 – Opinion Column

This column, which highlighted some of our criminal justice system’s problems, also appeared around the nation, including The Dallas Morning NewsThe La Crosse Tribune in Wisconsin, The South Bend Tribune in Indiana, The Intelligencer in Pennsylvania, and the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, among others.

  1. Sex toys in Austin expose the right’s hypocrisy on political correctnessDallas Morning News – August 25 – Opinion Column

Regardless of your opinion on campus carry, you can’t deny that #CocksNotGlocks brought international attention to the issue—and the reaction to the Cocks Not Glocks protest revealed exactly why it was so necessary.

  1. Chance the Rapper Preached His Hip-Hop Blessings at The Bomb Factory – Dallas Observer – October 17 – Concert Review

I’m incredibly passionate about the intersection of hip-hop and religion (which was the topic of my thesis), and I was already a longtime fan of Chance the Rapper—but nothing prepared me for just how gloriously sacred Lil Chano’s concert would be.

  1. Dallas is taking a RIGHT step on mental illnessDallas Morning News – December 28 – Editorial

Even after my internship, I still occasionally contribute to the Dallas Morning News, both as a columnist and on behalf of the Editorial Board. This is a topic that’s especially important to me, so I was glad to write about it on behalf of my hometown paper.

Advertisements

My Ten Favorite Articles That I Wrote in 2015

Carrying on with a tradition I started in 2013 and continued in 2014, I’ve decided to point out some of my professional highlights of 2015.
Over the year, I’ve continued contributing to the Austin Chronicle, covering news and even writing two cover stories for them this year (my two longest articles ever). I wrote more articles for The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Observer this year, but I also wrote for The Chicago Tribune and The Houston Chronicle, two of the biggest papers in the country, for the first time this year. At the 2015 Central Texas Colloquium on Religion in February, I presented an academic paper “MCs & Marx: Examining Rap from a Historical Materialist Perspective,” which I will expand into my honors thesis.
With just a semester and my thesis left, if all goes as planned, I will be graduating in May from The University of Texas at Austin with a Plan II Honors, Religious Studies Honors, and History triple-major, with a minor in American Studies. This summer, I will be interning full-time with The Dallas Morning News‘ editorial board.
Below, in chronological order, I’ve included ten of my articles that I’m most proud of from this year.
1. “It’s good to see millennials venture beyond politics as usual” – The Dallas Morning News – Jan. 9 – Opinion Column
After hearing of a young socialists club at my high school, I was reminded of my own history of high school activism, and decided to write in support of those of us who fall outside of the political mainstream.
2. “UT’s Student Government Winners Mix Substance With Satire” – Austin Chronicle – Mar. 27 – News Feature
While lots of people are now familiar with UT Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky and Vice President Rohit Mandalapu, they first made national news when they campaigned to take over the student government. I wrote about RotMan for the first time following their electoral victory, though at the time, I wasn’t expecting to write so much more about the duo over the year.
3. “Do UT Frats Have a Race Problem?” – Austin Chronicle – Mar. 27 – News Feature
After reporting on incidents of racism in the UT campus community, I talked with Dr. Richard Reddick, a UT alum and professor, and looked into some of the reasons why the Greek community can often seem hostile toward racial minorities.
4. “Written in Stone” – Austin Chronicle – May 29 – News Cover Story
Finally putting my history degree to use, I wrote my first solo cover story (and my longest story ever) in May about the history of racism at UT-Austin and how its physical landscape reflects that.
5. “Dr. Fenves, tear down this statue” – The Dallas Morning News – June 10 – Opinion Column
After reporting in my cover story about the long legacy of racism at UT, I wrote an opinion column in my hometown paper urging UT President Greg Fenves to remove the Jefferson Davis statue from our campus.
6. “‘Southern pride’ is not white supremacy” – The Chicago Tribune – June 19 – Opinion Column
Following my column advocating the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from campus and after Dylann Roof murdered nine people in a historic black church, I wanted to make clear that there’s nothing wrong with ‘Southern Pride,’ but that there’s a whole lot wrong with the South’s history of racism, especially during the Confederacy.
7. “Adios, Jeff!” – Austin Chronicle – Sep. 4 – News Feature
After first advocating the removal of UT’s Jefferson Davis statue back in 2013 and after all the time I had spent covering the controversy and history of the statues, it was a special moment for me to be there live to cover the removal of the statue.
8. “Black lives matter—so should their votes” – Scalawag Magazine – Nov. 11 – Opinion Essay
Originally a longer research paper for my “Constitutional Design” class at UT, I wrote about some of the Electoral College’s flaws, particularly its role in enabling and arguably encouraging racial inequality for the newly-created Scalawag Magazine, which covers the culture of the American South.
9. “Law allowing guns in buildings at colleges will invite trouble” – The Houston Chronicle – Nov. 21 – Opinion Column
Unfortunately, my “pointless screed,” as one unhappy commenter described it, might be behind a paywall for some. Still, it was an honor to have my thoughts about campus carry published in one of the largest papers in the country.
10. “Let’s Go Gun Crazy” – Austin Chronicle – Dec. 18 – News Cover Story
My third cover story ever, this article was one of the most entertaining pieces I’ve ever written, and almost certainly the most absurd.

My Ten Favorite Articles That I Wrote in 2014

Last December, I highlighted my ten favorite articles that I wrote in 2013, and I’ve decided to try it again this year.

First, here’s a quick summary of my 2014: I continued writing for the Austin Chronicle, mostly covering local news. I’m still the opinion editor for The Horn and still occasionally contribute to the Dallas Observer and The Dallas Morning News. I’ve kept writing for the Texas Travesty, which was named the “Readers Best Local Non-‘Chronicle’ Publication” by the Austin Chronicle (and during the fall, I was the Travesty‘s Senior Food Critic). At school, I’ve studied and written about a variety of topics, including history, Christianity, and hip-hop. In the spring, I rapped for charity. In November, I started working part-time for Pluckers Wing Bar, handling marketing and donations.

All in all, I wrote over fifty articles this year. Below, in chronological order, are the ten of my articles from 2014 that I’m most proud of:

1. “For popular rapper, an unusual calling card: sobriety” – The Dallas Morning News – February 14:

I grew up reading The Dallas Morning News‘ Points Section every Sunday morning, and those articles definitely helped inspire me to write. So it was a dream come true when my essay about rapper Macklemore and his struggle with addiction was published in the Sunday Points section.

2. “Facebook ‘Threat’ Case Unresolved” – Austin Chronicle – February 28:

While an especially frustrating case to cover, the story of Justin Carter is an important story for me  – and anyone else who values free speech. My reporting on the case was even cited by NPR.

3. “Online Privacy: Technical, Political, or Both?” – Austin Chronicle – March 28:

As a result of whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s leaks, many Americans are becoming more conscious of their online privacy and security. I interviewed multiple experts for the story, including Phil Zimmermann, Elissa Shevinsky, and more.

4. “Stand up to injustice, even if you stand alone — and remember the ‘tank man’” – The Dallas Morning News – June 5:

The Tiananmen Square protester known simply as ‘Tank Man’ has long been a hero of mine, so I was grateful to get to write about his heroism, twenty-five years after the event.

5. “The Texas GOP Stands on a Platform of Ignorance” – Reason – June 28:

Reason is one of my favorite publications, so I was honored to write for them. Earlier this year, the Texas Republican Party’s 2014 platform condemned homosexuality, arguing that being gay “must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle.” They even supported reparative therapy, a controversial practice aimed at helping homosexuals embrace their “authentic” heterosexual identity. And I wasn’t too happy about that, so I wrote about it.

6. “The Best Bible Verse-Checks in the History of Rap” – On Faith – July 29:

In 2013, I explored the profane by writing about “The 30 Most Disturbing Songs of All Time.” This year, I strayed from the profane and focused on the sacred – I wrote about the best Biblical allusions in hip-hop.

7. “A.Dd+ Chronicle Their Nawfside Love on New Nawf EP” – Dallas Observer – August 12:

Just this last week, Dallas hip-hop duo A.Dd+ won three Dallas Observer Music Awards – Best EP, Best Rap/Hip-Hop Act, and Best Live Act. Back in August, I interviewed the duo about their Nawf EP – which pays homage to ‘Nawf Dallas,’ the neighborhood where the duo is from (and where I’m from as well).

8. “Talking Songs with Joe Purdy” – The Horn – September 10:

Joe Purdy is one of my all-time favorite musicians, and I had the privilege of interviewing the singer-songwriter before covering his concert in Austin.

9. “Pluckers is the bomb – ISIS is not” – Texas Travesty – September 23:

If there’s one thing I love, it’s Pluckers Wing Bar. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s war. So I connected the two in one of my (hopefully) humorous articles as the Texas Travesty‘s Senior Food Critic.

10. UFC Fight Night Pounds the Erwin Center” – Austin Chronicle – November 24:

While I’m generally not too big of a sports fan, I do enjoy MMA, and I was lucky enough to cover a UFC event for the Chronicle. And before covering the event itself, I had the chance to interview UFC featherweight Cub Swanson.

My Ten Favorite Articles That I Wrote in 2013

My writing was first published on July 29, 2011 (“Why are public schools so afraid of religion?” in The Dallas Morning News). Through 2012, I had only published opinion columns and letters to the editor. Fortunately, this year I was able to not only continue writing op-eds, but also write news articles, concert reviews, features, interviews, listicles and even a cover story.

For a quick summary of my writing this year: Early in 2013, I was first hired for The Horn, where I am now the opinion editor, an opinion columnist and reporter. In March, I joined the staff of the Texas Travesty, the student-produced humor publication at The University of Texas at Austin. Between June and August, I interned with the alt-weekly Dallas Observer. In October, I began my internship with the alt-weekly Austin Chronicle, where I’m still working.

Below, in chronological order, I compiled my ten favorite stories that I wrote during 2013:

Put the brakes on texting bans – The Horn – April 18, 2013:
Opinion column arguing that banning texting while driving is a bad idea.

Learning the lessons of rejection – The Austin American-Statesman – May 18, 2013:
Opinion column discussing what I’ve learned by dealing with rejection. (A version of this column also appeared in The Dallas Morning News.)

Mac Miller Talks About Religion, Twitter and His New Album, Which is His Best One Yet” – The Dallas Observer – June 25, 2013:
Interview with rapper Mac Miller.

See the world from a different pew” – The Dallas Morning News – August 2, 2013:
Opinion column advocating the benefits of occasionally attending different churches.

Graffiti artist brings clothing company to Austin – The Horn – August 5, 2013:
News feature about artist and entrepreneur Clif Claycomb and his clothing company The Early Hours.

The 30 Most Disturbing Songs of All Time (NSFW) – Phoenix New Times – August 21, 2013:
Listicle of the most messed-up songs of all time. (Versions of it also appeared in the Dallas Observer and OC Weekly.)

Stand-up comedy is the most essentially human art form – The Horn – October 3, 2013:
Opinion column arguing that stand-up comedy deserves more respect as art.

Debate: Should Performance-Enhancing Drugs Be Legalized?” – Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine – October 17, 2013:
An opinion piece in which I argued that performance-enhancing drugs should be legalized. On the opposing side, Thomas Murray, the president emeritus of the Hastings Center, a non-profit bioethics research institute, argued that PEDs should not be legalized.

‘Don’t Call Me Sir’” – The Austin Chronicle – December 6, 2013:
News article about George “Rattlesnake” Ramsey, a fascinating conspiracy-theorist who hopes to become the governor of Texas and then the president of the United States.

Urban Rail: Which Way to Connect?” – The Austin Chronicle – December 13, 2013:
Cover Story (News Feature) about Austin’s Project Connect, that I co-wrote with Michael King.

Fixing the Unbroken

DISCLAIMER: Names have been changed and I was unable to verify some of the claims. Still, I think it’s a powerful personal story that needs to be shared to illuminate some of the hardships of the LGBTQ community.

* * * * *

One of the center’s staff members told Caleb Kent, then a 16 year-old junior in high school, to take off his pants and underwear and sit down in the chair.  Kent already knew from experience that it wasn’t his place to question orders.  He knew to just do what he was told.

The staff member then strapped Kent into the chair and attached electrodes to his genitals, one on each testicle and one under his penis.  The man then stood behind Kent as the silent, dark room was lit up with the images projected onto a screen.  But they weren’t just any pictures; they were of semi-nude and completely nude males.  With each slide, Kent’s genitals were shocked.

While it seemed to last forever, each electroshock therapy session lasted for about fifteen minutes, and they occurred about twice a week for the six months that he was at the center.  Afterward, little, if anything, was said.  He was simply told to get dressed and go back to group therapy.

The humiliation was agonizing.  The pain, of course, was beyond excruciating.  Still, he went along with it, too afraid to complain about it to anyone.

And that wasn’t even the worse experience that Caleb Kent endured during his time in conversion therapy, also known as reparative or ex-gay therapy.

* * * * *

Caleb Kent is now 31 years old and works as a landscaper.  He grew up in a very religious family, being the fifth generation to attend the Church of Christ, which, by Kent’s account, was very fundamental in many ways.  The services included no music and all dancing was considered wrong and unbiblical.  Women were not permitted to speak in church and were expected to conform to household roles.

Kent’s father worked in construction for most of his life, until 2003 when he started working in ministry.  Kent’s grandfather was a minister at the Church of Christ, and his grandfather’s brothers were leaders or ministers in the church as well.

Between construction and ministry, Kent and his family moved around quite a bit.  While he was born in Washington state, he also lived in California, Portland, Oregon, Dallas, New Mexico and Idaho while growing up.  For a little kid, Kent told me, “It’s always tough at first because you get attached to an area and attached to people, but I took it in stride.  I didn’t have much choice about the matter.”  Most of his childhood was spent in Idaho, where he moved around 6th grade and where he eventually graduated from high school.

Around the age of 12 he started having his first same-sex attractions.  He didn’t really understand why he felt that way and he kept it to himself, especially given that his family, like many people he knew in the conservative, religious Idaho, never really discussed sexuality at all, let alone homosexuality.  When his parents did happen to talk about homosexuality, it was exclusively negative, putting down or bashing gays.  For Kent, it wasn’t shocking to hear his parents say hurtful things about homosexuality because that’s what he expected from them.  After all, he was always taught that homosexuality was wrong.

At 16 years old, Kent brought his feelings to the attention of his minister, who set him up with a personal counselor.  Without his parents knowing, he met with the counselor twice a week for about four months.  They would discuss his attractions and study Bible verses that supposedly dealt with homosexuality.  For the counselor, Kent’s feelings were a behavior that needed to be changed, so he encouraged Kent to do things like wear a rubber band around his wrist and when he had homosexual thoughts he was instructed to snap the rubber band on his wrist, with the intentions of associating those thoughts with physical pain.  Did the counselor help?  “Oh no,” Kent told me.

“Being the very naïve teenager that I was,” Kent started looking at the men in exercise magazines around this time.  His parents soon put the pieces together and they weren’t happy, to say the least.  “It was Hiroshima.  It was a nuclear explosion,” Kent explained.  “Mom was just beside herself and dad was just fit to be tied.  I felt like crying.  I felt like I let everybody down at that point.”

His father, who had always been very stern and at times borderline abusive, “put the fear of God” in Kent.  He went and talked to their minister and was angry when he discovered that Kent and the minister had kept the earlier counseling a secret.  Realizing that Kent had already been to counseling, his father wanted a more aggressive approach.  That’s how Kent ended up in a Christian counseling center in Boise, Idaho, where Kent would attend after school three times a week for five hours.

Kent declined to name the counseling center, which is no longer in business, because he doesn’t want any of his fellow members to have to relive the trauma of it.

Along with fifteen other kids about his age in the center, Kent participated in individual counseling, group therapy and Bible studies.

With similar aims of the previously mentioned rubber band method, the center conducted group sessions where the group members stretched out their arms and would tap their knees whenever they had homosexual thoughts.  When they tapped their knees, a staff member would prick their arms with small pins, often until the kids’ arms were spotted with blood.  If the staff didn’t think that the kids were confessing to same-sex thoughts enough, the kids would be locked into a dark, empty closet for periods of about twenty minutes – a common punishment in the center.  For example, during one group session, Kent just naturally crossed his legs.  The counselor abruptly stood up and threw him in the closet and told him that he couldn’t come out until he learned not to cross his legs, which was seen as unacceptably feminine behavior.  On multiple other occasions, he was paddled multiple times for reasons such as talking about homosexuality in a positive light or hugging other group members.

While Kent’s not certain, he assumes that his parents at least had an idea of what was occurring at the center, but they thought they had to do everything that they could to ‘cure’ Kent of his homosexuality.  Still, Kent never complained about it to anyone, and does think that if his mother, with whom he was a very close until she died of cancer in 2009, knew the extent of it she would’ve pulled him out of therapy.

But neither Kent nor his parents would have ever guessed what else Kent would endure at the center – waterboarding.  During one group session he started bawling because he was overwhelmed by what he was going through.  The staff members pulled him aside and told him to stop crying, told him that there’s pain a lot worse than what he was crying for.  So they took him to a separate room, put him on an inclined table, and poured water on his face.  “The most traumatic counseling experience I’ve ever been through,” Kent noted the obvious, “to say the least.”

While he couldn’t confirm it, staff members told Kent, very matter-of-factly, that multiple of his fellow group members had committed suicide throughout his time there.  The kids couldn’t ask any further details and they weren’t allowed to talk to each other during the sessions either.  At first, Kent didn’t know how he felt about the news.  But the more he thought about it, he admitted, “I was kind of happy that they did commit suicide because they got out of there.”  His time there was hell, so he assumed that it was just as bad for everyone else.

After about six months in the group, he confessed that he felt that he no longer had homosexual feelings.  After being questioned and grilled about the confession, Kent’s parents eventually let him stop going to the center.

While at the time he did truly think that he had been cured, about a month later, his same-sex attractions were back to normal.

* * * * *

In November of 2012, after failing again and again to change his sexuality, Kent had had enough.  While living in New Mexico, he was “very depressed, very beside myself.  I felt like dirt, like trash.”  One night, he grabbed his bottle of almost 90 pills and scarfed them down.  “I just couldn’t live with these feelings of attration to a man,” Kent sighed.  “I just couldn’t do it. I tried to be what I thought was a good Christian at that point.”  His roommate came home to find him passed out on the kitchen floor and called 911.  Kent was rushed to the hospital, where his stomach was pumped.  That’s when he decided to move back to Dallas.

Arriving in Dallas in January, he moved in with a family friend who also happened to be a minister.  Still hoping to change his sexuality, Kent sat down with him multiple times and discussed homosexuality.  But when the minister resorted to the same lessons and same Biblical passages as Kent had heard over and over again, it finally hit him.  “I finally accepted who I am and I am gay and there’s no changing that.”

At the end of February of this year, Kent finally stopped attending sessions.  In March, after looking for churches as well as looking into the gay community of Dallas, he came across the Cathedral of Hope, one of the world’s largest LGBTQ-inclusive churches.

While he still battles with depression and anxiety, he’s much more comfortable with himself now.  His parents have made progress toward accepting him and his sexuality.

“My outlook is looking good.  There’s going to be some bumps along the way, of course, but it’s looking really good so far,” Kent smiled.  “I’m optimistic but cautious about what’s going to happen in the future.  We’ll just see what happens.”

When I first considered myself a writer

I’ve known how to write for a very, very long time.  But knowing how to write doesn’t make you a writer, in the same way that knowing how to shoot a basketball doesn’t make you an athlete (although it took me quite a while to realize that).

Continue reading

SHORT STORY– Eventually, Hopefully

I’ve never written a story before. I’ve written articles and speeches.  I’ve tried poems. I’ve even tried rap.  I’ve never written a story before.

Continue reading