You may have seen Spenser Mestel on American Ninja Warrior. You may have seen his name on bylines for publications ranging from The New York Times and The Guardian to Vice and ESPN. He’s also a must-follow on Twitter if you’re into politics, sports, Drag Race, or anything in between. Better than all that? He can also school you on voting right in his weekly newsletter–a worthy subscription in a time where state after state is buying into “the big lie” and trying to make it harder to vote.
We had the great pleasure of chatting with Spenser about voting rights, primary frontloading, fitness, and a little bit of Drag Race. Dive in, learn a little, and then get active in your state fighting for ballot access.
1. It’s been over a year now since the COVID-19 pandemic started. What do you wish you had known a year ago that you know today?
I wish I’d known to buy birdseed on day one. I started putting it out on my fire escape a few weeks ago, and now I can watch my little chonksters fly in and out while I work. Especially on days when the only other person I see is my boyfriend, it’s really nice to have some company, as sad as that sounds.
2. What media are you really into right now? TV, Music, Film, Comics, Books, etc.
3. What do you think the biggest struggle is that we face as a queer community right now?
Access to affordable and compassionate health care, whether that means trauma counseling, help with substance abuse, PrEP, hormones, gender affirmation surgery, IVF, etc.
4. What action can readers take today to try and impact voting reform in a positive way?
Volunteer to be a poll worker. It is a wild ride, and you’ll never look at elections the same way again.
Other than that, contact your senator and ask them to abolish the filibuster. Otherwise, there’s no hope for federal election reform.
Also, confirm that your voter registration is up to date (with your current address), and if you have a few dollars to spare, donate to The Brennan Center.
And don’t forget to subscribe to Spenser’s Super Tuesday 😉
5. What’s the best advice you could give someone just beginning their fitness journey?
Finding something you like and look forward to is much more important than choosing whatever you think is “best.” Ideally, you’ll be physically active for the rest of your life, but not if you dread every second of it. Even though I love working out, I fucking hate running (and swimming and rowing) and wouldn’t do it once a month, let alone every day.
Especially now, with so many classes available online, you can give pretty much anything a shot: barre, hip hop dance, yoga, pilates, HIIT, Olympic lifting, kettlebells. Try it all — even things you hated as a kid. When my (straight) brother asked me to play on his softball team last year, I was terrified. I remembered hating baseball as a little gay boy, but when I played I realized that what I hated was the toxic and bro-y environment, not the sport in itself. As an adult, especially on a co-ed team with a few beers in me, it was a totally different experience.
Also, don’t waste your money on supplements (the only ones proven to work are protein powder, caffeine, and creatine), and check out the 800-gram challenge if you’re curious about nutrition. And not to be that weird CrossFit evangelist, but there’s actually a huge queer community within CrossFit.
6. What’s worse polarization or centrism?
If we’re talking about voting rights, centrism. There is no center anymore. Either you believe in the Big Lie or you don’t.
7. Got any hot 1099-centric tax tips for other freelancers out there?
It’s worth hiring an accountant because they can help you with deductions you may not even be aware of (even if you use TurboTax).
8. If you could describe yourself as a food order what would it be and why?
A Sweetgreen salad because I’m basic.
9. The trend in primaries for the longest has been front loading. In 2020 we saw that the Democratic primaries are regionally balanced so that the south has tons of power. Do you see state parties in other regions trying to move their primary earlier to combat this?
I know Nevada is trying to become the first primary, but I don’t think any one state should carry all that weight. So if it were up to me, I’d probably condense everything to one or two days, like they do with Super Tuesday. That way, the campaigning season is shorter (dare to dream) and not so distorted by the demographics of any one place.
10. Do you find it dangerous at all when Marjorie Taylor-Greene and her ilk are turned into punch lines? Or is it just a necessary coping mechanism?
MTG is spreading such obviously deranged ideas, so how can she not become a punchline? To me, what’s more dangerous is all the “mainstream” Republicans, like Georgia’s Secretary of State, who denounce the fringe conspiracy theories but still support ID laws and other voting restrictions.
11. Who are your top 5 RPDR queens of all time franchise-wide?
This is an impossible question. Bob the Drag Queen, Katya, Shangela, Alyssa Edwards, and Bianca del Rio are up there for me, though Jiggy Caliente is the best drag name and no one can change my mind about that.
Also, one of my quarantine projects was building this idiotic RPDR quote generator.
12. What struggle or roadblock have you encountered in life and how did you get past it?
The year after I graduated college, I was in Cairo getting a master’s in Arabic. I’d done gymnastics and diving, so I joined a local parkour team, and during practice one day, I over-rotated a flip and broke my neck.
I spent the last few months of my program in a thick plastic neck brace, which I was still wearing when I moved to New York City. It was incredibly stressful because they didn’t know if the bone would fuse or if I’d need surgery. Thankfully, it ended up being the former, and after I was cleared to take off the brace, I started working out seriously, which eventually led to me competing on “American Ninja Warrior” and becoming a fitness journalist. I guess the lesson there is appreciating the opportunities that you have. I was a few millimeters away from severing my spinal cord, so I’m still grateful that I can walk, let alone do CrossFit.
Poster image by Krishnanand Kelkar