People have said a lot of things about Lauren Duca. She's...divisive. As recently as yesterday, while I was composing a piece on the 28-year-old timed to the publication of her book (opens in new tab), BuzzFeed published an in-depth report (opens in new tab) by Scaachi Koul that revealed Duca’s NYU students had filed a formal complaint against her, alleging she prioritized promoting her book over teaching, stole time from class to meditate, and “consistently targeted” one student for whom English is a second language.
You might think Duca would just disappear. Some on Twitter are actively wishing for that to happen. But when it comes to Lauren Duca, there’s always more to say. And no one says it quite like Duca herself.
So instead of another profile, here’s Duca, in her own words, as told to me, in a series of conversations—including after observing her class at NYU and a few weeks later at her apartment (decorated with an action figure of herself and a framed portrait of Joan Crawford that resembles her grandma). Finally, we spoke again by phone around 6 p.m. last night, just before she went to “smoke a joint while being burned at the stake.”
On the last 24-hours of her life:
“I feel frustrated today, but I intend to keep going—I've gotten through these bumps before. There should be a BuzzFeed quiz, ‘What's the way you hate Lauren Duca?’ I did my laundry and I looked at Twitter a little bit and that sucked, so then I closed it, and I still existed in the world. I don't know, I guess at least the pictures of me they used were cute. My hair looked weirdly cute in cartoon form.”
On the BuzzFeed story (opens in new tab):
“The reason this profile is being written is because I wrote a book. And the book I wrote is intended to empower people with the information they need to be active citizens in a constant and sustainable way. I've shared a lot of myself—maybe more than I should have—in the process of modeling what it looks like to play an active role. But the thing I'm fucking saying is that we are in a moment of crisis and people need to understand how to fight back. I guess that stuff isn't entertaining or needed by one of the smartest writers at BuzzFeed.
I don't want to do a takedown of her as a reporter—I don't think that is the best use of my energy—but this whole thing has been unproductive, and I want to have this productive conversation about my big idea. I'm trying my best and if you find it off-putting, there's an unfollow button. Use all the energy that you’re using to hate on me to love on someone you think is doing it right. Like go buy Scaachi’s book—I'm not even kidding, go read her book, like, please link to it (opens in new tab) in this quote.
I have flaws, but I know where my heart is at and I have represented that in this book. So, I would ask anybody who’s read that article, anybody who has read anything about me, to allow me to make my case for the possibility for a brighter future. If I didn't have substance, if I was just doing this for attention, I would be in a bikini selling you the tea that makes you shit on Instagram.”
On her NYU students:
“I really brought my whole heart to the work of trying to teach. I didn't really know how to do it. I've never taught before, and I didn't get clear guidelines or instructions. I had to spend three hours—minus the ‘45 minutes I meditated every class’—trying to articulate what I care about, why I do what I do, and my case for first person reporting that includes rigorous research. It was really hard and I don't think they paid me enough money to do it. It's absolutely bonkers how expensive the class was, and how little they pay the teachers. I honestly think that higher education is a huge fucking scam and I am disappointed with how it went. There's just such an emphasis on the grades and I found it very frustrating to be trying to encourage students to express themselves with joy and be repeatedly asked, ‘What are our grades?’”
On accusations of targeting a foreign student:
“It really concerns me that there’s an idea that I would in any way target a student based on their identity. I believe wholeheartedly in equality and equity, so that was very troubling to me and I do feel the need to address it: It was my first time teaching a journalism course and there were struggles that I was not equipped to handle. I didn't totally know how to teach to a high school student [there were three high school students in Duca’s course as part of a precollege program] who was not speaking fluent English. I was trying my best to communicate with her with no teaching experience. She also didn’t do her work and she dipped out of class. The institution told me I should hold all students to the same standard. I think it’s really important to emphasize that I did not target any student based on their identity; I didn’t target any student beyond the way I would target anyone who just didn’t do their homework. But to be clear, I'm not a great teacher, for real. I've learned that. I guess at the end of the day, everyone should just be relieved that I didn't put my dick in anyone's hands.”
On the many opinions people have of her:
“Even when it's positive, people have a lot of ideas and assumptions about me. It's unnerving. One is the obvious stock troll shit, and then one is a stealthy condescension and this undercurrent of sexism that sets an impossible standard for what it takes for me to be considered intelligent or deserving of a voice. And then there is—and it is not insignificant—maybe jealousy, which, fair guys. Fucking society is not valuing writing enough. Everyone is scrounging away, even the people who have jobs. So, sure, I have sympathy for that because I used to be struggling. And then I'm sure there's part of the pie chart that are people who I’ve bothered or offended. I make mistakes and you're allowed to not like me, to be clear. But I do think I'm on the side of truth and beauty and light, and I'm funny, so I just…like, I don't understand why people are always taking special time dislike me. They could direct that energy at people in power who are doing great harm to society at large.”
On being harassed:
“There are all different flavors of the way people like and dislike me, but the troll stuff is pretty cut and dry. When you're getting photoshopped into a gas chamber, you're not like whose morally superior here? It's clear. And I just realized in a very plain way that there was this screaming ugly force, willing to make death threats, willing to make rape threats, that just wanted me to shut up. There was a post on 4chan at some point that said ‘harass her until she has a mental breakdown or goes into porn.’ I was like, I hope it’s porn!”
On that Jezebel piece (opens in new tab):
“I did not read it and I have no intention of ever reading it. I had a couple people watching out for it. I was playing Pac-Man and I got a call from one of my best friends and he said, ‘It's up,’ and I said, ‘Okay,’ and I deleted Twitter off my phone. And you know what's amazing? It just kind of goes away. That's what I would say to anybody: You can wait 12, 24, 48 hours. If your mentions are ugly for that long, just don't go on the website. And then people do something else. I was like, Oh wait, my world is still here. My bodega is still here, my exercise studio is still there, I’ve got friends coming over. My whole life still exists and that's just a stupid fucking website.
There are these weird loopholes in the way we deal with celebrity figures, public-facing people of any kind where, yes, those people that have a significant share of the marketplace of ideas need to be held accountable and have a responsibility. However, that doesn't mean that it's legitimate journalism to just dig through their trash, throw it around and be like, ‘Isn't this ugly?’ If it has no impact on what their current work is and if it's not influencing how people are making decisions as they move through the culture, then it's not journalism. It's something else.”
On apologizing to her former coworkers at Huffington Post:
“They can kiss my ass. That was a toxic ass fucking... You think there's not more to the story? Come on, please. That was a toxic environment, that was an absolutely miserable place to be and I was receiving long-term harassment. So, no.
I would also say I was fucking miserable. I was closeted and tortured and angry and scared and that was a toxic ass fucking work environment. And guess what? When you come into a newsroom and you are incredibly talented... The Daily Beast talked to me about it and they quoted something about how I had undue self-regard and that did bother people in the newsroom. It's like, well I was right about that, wasn't I?”
On being impenetrable:
“The best part is when you've been canceled and you realize that it doesn't mean anything. It doesn't matter. Or I guess it didn't work? I actually feel a huge sense of relief in knowing that my haters have basically done free oppo research on me, dredged everything up that there is to dredge up, and I'm sitting here still.
There are a lot of people who think, ‘She thinks Trump's bad, how special, how original. She just got lucky.’ No, I have managed to maintain a relevance in the political conversation by continuing to have smart and informed opinions. I'm not proud of past mistakes of any kind, but I refuse to embrace a bunch of shame about it. Fuck that. I know that my heart is good, and I know what I believe, and even if I fuck up, I don't have any of the fear anymore. Thank you to my haters, you brought me to where I am today.”
On her hopes for her book:
“I really believe in this book (opens in new tab) as something that can lay the foundation for truly millions of young people to get involved in the political process. I'm a great communicator and I am excited people will take my voice even more seriously now that they see this work of cultural analysis. I hope my book changes the fucking world. I know it's going to do that. It is going to be a best seller; I don't even have to wish for that. That's happening.”
On being divorced:
“I've gotten divorced and I've got no shame about it at all. It was amicable and I have decided that ‘divorcée’ means that bitch has lived.”
On her metamorphosis over the past three years:
“I mean, name it, I've gone through it. I've gotten over an eating disorder, I've gotten divorced, I have confronted my parents about a very difficult relationship, specifically with my mom. I have done the therapy, done the ayahuasca, I believe in God now, I'm gay now. Really, I don't know what else. I think I did them all—all of the awakenings.”
On finding God and herself:
“The way I believe in God is it's about feeling grounded and being able to get to your quiet place inside and connect to that infinite interconnected sense of love and that that comes from being able to truly be yourself and to be able to be in touch with that.
I could not be more grateful that I figured it out because I was fucking miserable before, until not that long ago. Until I fully figured out I was gay, I thought about killing myself all the time. It was not good. So this has all been a blessing. It couldn't have been more excruciating, but it also couldn’t have been more worth it.”
On coming out:
“I thought I was bi. I met my husband when I was, like, 20 and was just like, yeah, this is what it is. This is what sex is, sure. I guess it was enjoyable to the extent that genitals can be stimulated by physical touch. And I am femme, so it was very easy to just always have a boyfriend and there just wasn't time for other pathways to form. It took a while for me to fully realize it, and fully realizing it looked like falling in love with a woman who I was also hooking up with. After that, it was crazy. I understood what I was attracted to differently. I inhabited my body differently. In my past life, I thought I had everything I ever wanted. I had a job as a writer, I had the apartment in New York, and I had the husband. And then I was like, I think I'm broken because I had so much and I was like, Shit, this sucks. For a while I tried to escape by chasing work and my joke is that I'm glad it took me so long to figure out I'm gay because lesbians have sex for a very long time—it's like, are you free for six hours, seven hours?—and I think I would have been too healthy and pleasured to have ever gotten a book done.”
On whether she still has secrets:
“My mind went right to nudes, and I was like, no, but I look good in those. I sent those for a reason. I'm not going to send you nudes, but they're good. I'm a journalist, so I'm telling you the truth when I tell you my nudes are good.”
On the one secret she is keeping, for now:
“The intricacies of a very weird fucked up relationship. I'm not the one who looks bad, it's just embarrassing and shameful that I allowed myself to be treated that way. It turns out that even if you write the article on gaslighting, you can be gaslit. I don't think I knew that it was even possible to get into that kind of situation. It doesn't look the way I've been trained to expect it to look like, through the misandry paradigm where you're like, ‘Fuck him.’ With a woman it's a little harder. I had a big, not-all-women-are-good moment.”
On being topless:
“I want to be topless all the fucking time. I do realize how it would look if I started walking around New York topless as I was promoting my book, so I will wait until next summer to start fucking doing that. But I am in my fullest form when I'm topless.
I was at a festival and I was topless for the whole event and this shirtless guy comes up to me and he's like, ‘What do you like about being topless?’ And I was like, ‘What do you like about being topless?’ And then he's like, ‘It's different, it's different.’ I was like, ‘How is it different?’ He was like, ‘Yours make milk.’ I was like, ‘Well then they have a function—cover those useless things up.’”
On being her own worst critic:
“I was a perfectionist and I knew I was being too hard on myself, but I thought that was my edge. I thought that I needed that discernment or tortured ambition. No. Now I still have a fuck-ton of ambition but I'm creating from a place of joy and I'm also not constantly criticizing myself.”
On whether she worries she’ll never have a column that goes as viral as ‘gaslight’:
“I tweet things and they're on Fox News. Do I worry about going viral? I might fake my own death soon.”
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Kayla Webley Adler is the Deputy Editor of ELLE magazine. She edits cover stories, profiles, and narrative features on politics, culture, crime, and social trends. Previously, she worked as the Features Director at Marie Claire magazine and as a Staff Writer at TIME magazine.
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