As a writer, storytelling is one of my main passions. I love to both partake in and experience moving storytelling, and no one tells important, slice-of-life stories quite the way Humans of New York (HONY) does. A project spearheaded by Brandon Stanton in 2010, HONY has turned into something much larger than the “initial goal – to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street.” HONY has over 10 million followers on Instagram, as well as millions of other followers across other social media platforms. Needless to say, Humans of New York is impacting people all over the world with the stories it captures.
However, HONY has spun into something more incredible in the last week. On September 20, Stanton shared a post calling back to one of HONY’s favorite subjects, Stephanie. She caught the attention of many back in November of 2019 for sharing stories of being a stripper in 1970s New York City. Following the success of that post, Stanton and Stephanie, alias Tanqueray, conducted a series of 20 interviews to convey her life story. While the series was originally intended to be a podcast, the idea was unfortunately discarded due to Stephanie’s health issues. Instead, Stanton announced a week-long storytelling event, in conjunction with a fundraiser sponsored in Stephanie’s name to assist with her medical costs. The outcome of the event and fundraiser has since far exceeded expectations set a week ago.
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“My mom threw me out of the house at seventeen for getting pregnant, then had me arrested when I tried to get my clothes. Then she fucked the head of parole to try to keep me in jail. She was some prime pussy back then. But the warden did some tests on me and found out I was smart, so I got a scholarship to go anywhere in New York. I chose the Fashion Institute of Technology, which I hated. But by that time I was already getting work making costumes for the strippers and porn stars in Times Square. All my friends were gay people, because they never judged me. All I did was gay bars: drag queen contests, Crisco Disco, I loved the whole scene. And I couldn’t get enough of the costumes. My friend Paris used to sit at the bar and sell stolen clothes from Bergdorf and Lord and Taylors, back before they had sensor tags. So I had the best wardrobe: mink coats, 5 inch heels, stockings with seams up the back. I looked like a drag queen, honey. One night a Hasidic rabbi tried to pick me up because he thought I was a tranny. I had to tell him: ‘Baby, this is real fish!”
The week-long series, nicknamed “Tattletales from Tanqueray,” is some of the best storytelling I’ve experienced. Conforming to the Humans of New York interview style, all of the blog posts are in Tanqueray’s words. She’s honest and blunt; the Internet fell in love with that about her 10 months ago. Tanqueray’s stories are so captivating because they’re real. Stanton took no liberties to modify their message, nor did he edit her language. Every tattletale is 100% genuine, allowing Tanqueray to entertain her audience from behind a screen. She’s funny and colloquial, she knows how to work an audience and she pulls it off effortlessly.
Of course, it’s helpful that Stephanie has had an interesting life as well. Throughout the 32-part series, she dives into everything. From her childhood and adolescence into her rise as a Black stripper in the 1960s and 70s, she is completely transparent. She gives specific names and details, breathing life into stories that are incredible on their own. Stephanie utilizes the power of HONY to its fullest, holding nothing back for her audience of millions. Even without the fundraiser, I was captivated and compelled to share “Tattletales from Tanqueray” with everyone I know.
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(13/32) “After a few months in New York I was finally starting to get a little something together. I managed to save enough money to get my own room at the Times Square Hotel. It was just a sink and a bed and a radiator, but it felt like The Plaza to me. For the first time in my life, I could close the door at night and relax for a second. But that didn’t last for long. One morning the owner of the factory called me into his office. I thought I was getting a promotion. But he closed the door behind me and said: ‘Here’s how it’s going to work. Either you sleep with me, or I’ll give a bad report to your parole officer, and you’ll go back to jail.’ This was some old, scroungy looking white guy. Exactly what you’d imagine a factory owner to look like. And I’m not saying I would have fucked him if he was any younger—but you’ve got to be kidding me. So I told him where to put it. I walked out of his office feeling good. I felt like I had some power. But that only lasted for three minutes, because I remembered I was living at the Times Square Hotel and rent was due next week. At the club that night, I started telling Vicki about my problems. She reached into her purse and pulled out a clipping from the Village Voice. It was an ad from a talent agency– holding auditions for GoGo Dancers. ‘They’ll never know you’re black on the phone,’ she said. ‘give them a call.’ And she was right. They asked my cup size. And my measurements. But they never asked if I was white. I practiced all week for my audition. Most Gogo Dancers wore the same ballroom shoes that the Rockettes were wearing, but I could dance in heels. So I bought myself some bright red five-inch heels. And the moment I walked in the door, the guy’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor. I was the blackest thing in the world. I think he’d already made up his mind that he was going to tell me ‘no.’ But I put on some BB King and started to dance. And I knew just how to do it. All slow and sensuous. Not like they do in Harlem. Like they do downtown. And when the music finally stopped, he was quiet for a few seconds. Then he stood up, smoothed out his pants, and said ‘I think we can work something out.’”
The Impact of Human Kindness
And I’m not alone. Over $2,000,000 are in the “Tanqueray Trust.”Over the course of the week, readers from all over the world have donated generous amounts to ease the cost of Stephanie’s medical treatments. The viral posts and GoFundMe have only grown in success with every new story. Watching the fundraiser grow from nothing to millions of dollars has been phenomenal. In the midst of one of America’s most horrid years, millions of people are still able to band together to support one incredible woman. That’s what I loved most of all about the “Tattles from Tanqueray” series—seeing how many people care. The impact of Humans of New York in this regard is such a beautiful thing. Stanton’s project and Tanqueray’s stories are a reminder of how powerful words are, and how much humanity loves a good story.
View Stephanie’s GoFund Me here.
Find more from Humans of New York here.
Featured Image via Humans of New York.