In 2010, Brandon Stanton started a photoblog of portraits and interviews from people he ran into on the streets in New York City. A decade later, Humans of New York (HONY) has exploded into a collection of stories from people in nearly 20 different countries — including former presidents — and even spawned two bestselling books.
As any avid HONY follower would know, Stanton started a unique 32-post project chronicling a fan-favorite interview subject, Tanqueray — née Stephanie Johnson.
Tanqueray came into the picture in November 2019 when she was first interviewed by Stanton. She was dubbed by publications as “the ultimate human from New York” for her rollercoaster, partly NSFW life story — starting from when she got kicked out of her home at 17 to later becoming a regular in New York’s drag scene and learning Italian from the mobsters who would frequent the clubs she performed in.
Almost a full year later, Stanton had a lengthy transcription of the 20 times he sat with Tanqueray to get her life story that he wanted to turn into a podcast. But Tanqueray’s health was worsening and she didn’t have proper care and insurance, so Stanton knew he had to publish the “Tattletales From Tanqueray” on Instagram to get attention and hopefully raise money for her.
“Her story is priceless,” Stanton wrote in the first post introducing the series. “If the series adds any value to your life over the next seven days, please consider making a contribution to our fundraiser.”
The average person has an attention span of around eight seconds. Stanton was nervous that his audience wouldn’t be able to keep up the momentum to read 32 posts.
“Since social media is geared toward short bursts of communication, I was initially anxious about the ability of a 12,000-word story to engage an audience over such a long period of time,” Stanton told In The Know.
The GoFundMe campaign attached to the project had a goal of $300,000.
“My expectations were blown away by how many people came along on the entire journey,” Stanton revealed. “There was very little attrition as the week went on. It’s really opened the possibility of more long-form storytelling on the blog.”
Two weeks later, the campaign has raised over $2.5 million for Tanqueray’s care and her story has been covered by several publications — including the New York Times — marveling over her life and the success of the GoFundMe.
“I think she’s processing it slowly. It’s really hard to wrap your head around the fact that millions of people read your story, and $2.65 million was raised on your behalf,” Stanton explained.
According to the GoFundMe page, “the trust will cover her living expenses and health care needs moving forward” and then some.
While not on Instagram, Stanton said that Tanqueray is very much aware of her viral story and the new trust. But fame hasn’t changed her a bit.
“When I talk to her on the phone, she’d rather talk about her natural cure regiment and the teddy bear that she is ordering for my daughter, which lights up when you squeeze it,” Stanton said.
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