100 Women We Love: Class of 2017

Every June, GO compiles a select list of talented tastemakers, influencers and all-around inspirational women who are making their mark on the LGBT community and on the world at large.

Karen Tongson

Photo by Danny Liao

A USC Professor by day and pop culture podcaster by night, Karen Tongson is an ideal trivia night teammate. An expert on race, gender, sexuality, literature and pop culture, Tongson says she originally “entered academia without knowing exactly what it was.” “I knew I loved to write criticism and non-fiction,” Tongson says. “I also knew I loved literature, and thought ‘teaching’ would be a reliable gig, not quite understanding that’s only about a third of what most scholars at research universities actually do.” But as a fan of the kinds of entertainment that most would refer to as “guilty pleasures,” Tongson worried she’d have to “relinquish [her] passion for pop culture” to be taken more seriously. In her 12 years as an academic, she’s managed to create a career track for herself that successfully fuses the two. “I feel tremendously lucky I get to research, write, and profess about the full spectrum of cultures that interest me,” says Tongson, who has three forthcoming books: “Why Karen Carpenter Matters” (a dedication to her namesake), “Normal Television: Critical Essays on Queer Spectatorship after the ‘New Normalcy’” and “Empty Orchestra: Karaoke in Our Time.” She’s also the co-editor of the Postmillennial Pop book series at NYU Press, and as a co-host on the highly-entertaining Pop Rocket Podcast, she gets to do all the “trash” talking she wants. “When it all came down to it,” she says, “I managed to figure it out.” —TB