24 Incredible Personal Essays We Published This Year

Getting facial feminization surgery. Queer organizing in the deep south. The intersections of social anxiety and butch identity. Joining the post-DADT U.S Army. The many meanings of family. Performing heterosexual love on stage while experiencing lesbian heartbreak. Being a fat trans femme and (working on) being fine with itFinding one’s voice at a Lambda Retreat.

illustration by rory midhani

illustration by rory midhani

We’ve told a lot of First Person stories this year — so many stories from so many brilliant writers that it was hard to whittle it down to just 10, or even just 20.

For the purposes of this list, we limited it to only one essay per author (Carmen had a very prolific year, y’all), and only original essays written for Autostraddle — because we’ve republished so many fantastic things this year, too, like Samantha Irby‘s hysterical inner monologue while maybe or maybe not being on a date with another woman, Andy Marra‘s touching story of how finding her Korean birth mother gave her the courage to transition, Bevin Branlandingham on getting femme visibility on the streets or J.N. Reyna on Sobriety, Recovery and The Art of not dating.

Thanks to the Trans*scribe series we ran earlier this year, we had a wealth of fascinating pieces on the trans* experience to choose from, so be sure to check those out as well as the rest of our First Person section. Every year we get a little further into stories of how it feels to be a queer/lez/gay/bi weirdo feminist or womanist on this planet, and we hope in 2014 to venture even deeper past “101s” into more complicated and specific tales of adventure and mayhem.

But first, let’s look back on 24 of the amazing stories we told this year.


Do Not Consume Psilocybin Mushrooms While Trans*, by Meredith (April)

This is about cisgender people, and men, and the person I love the most, and myself, and how they’re all going to hurt me. They’re going to hurt me so bad that I might confuse my life with a nightmare sometimes. This is about the first time I ever did mushrooms, and it’s about how being trans* affects everything, even bullshit bourgeoise attempts at pharmacological liberation.

Dust to Dark: The Colors of My Craziness, by Helen (February)

I’ve been listed on the news as a missing person and when I find out that there’s an entire police force, thirty men strong, combing the city in search of me, I am enraged — in my mind they’re careless and cruel, misguided and misinformed; they are nameless, faceless antagonists in my struggle to rejoin the night.

True Stories From Lesbian Moms #2, by Vikki Reich (November)

After our children had been born, my mother never once mentioned the impact having two moms might have on them. She judged us for our fondness of tofu and our aversion to toys with lights and sounds and our reluctance to raise our voices but nothing more. Maybe she found my children irresistibly adorable. Maybe she got tired of arguing with me. Or maybe, she realized that we were just a couple of people raising a family.

Fear and Loathing (as a 21-Year Old Queer) in Singapore, by Fikri (August)

Partly in jest, my partner and I often say we want to live on a queer commune in the future. Some of this is literal: the idea of a self-sustaining group household appeals to us on so many levels. More fundamentally, though, this queer commune is a metaphorical expression of the desire for a family life that is richer and more diverse than what the state-sanctioned heteronormative model affords us, one that is bound by affection and responsibility rather than designated roles. We want to live in a society that respects and values that, or at the very least does not actively seek to extinguish it. This is not that society.

Claudia Is Intersex, Let’s Talk About It, by Claudia (February)

In short, unlike typical girls and boys, there are no guidelines telling society how intersex people are supposed to be treated. Intersex bodies create social panic. Our physical traits might not really be so scary, but the implications of accepting our bodies go pretty quickly from what-does-this-mean to what-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-do-NOW?! Biological sex is one of the most fundamental ways human beings identify and understand each other; if our idea of biological sex is wrong, what else could be wrong? It’s too much to handle.

The Army Taught Me That I Can Change My Body (And It Will Still Be Mine), by Vivian (July)

But here’s the deal: I both like and am my body. I am a girl, ergo I have a girl’s body. It’s neat. You know what I think helped me to be comfortable with my body more than anything else? The US Army.

La Virgen de Guadalupe: Brown Goddess in My Heart Forever, by Yvonne Marquez (December)

I did wonder for a hot second if La Virgen would hate me/disown me for being a lesbian, but I knew she didn’t care, because not only did she love me with open arms and no judgement, but I also felt that she supported my women-loving self. After all, she resembles a vulva. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but being the Mother of God and all, it makes sense.

This Happens: Sexual Assault Between Queer Women, by Leah Horlick (June)

That question was the first of many I’ve encountered in a five-year process of healing, rage, and research. But the question I most often get—and still receive, to this day—is one of confusion. When I tell people I was raped by a girl, they ask me: What does that mean?

Butch With A Side of Misogyny, by Kate (April)

Masculinity, as it is widely accepted in our society, isn’t made to build community. It’s made to arrange and reinforce hegemonic structures of power, and them’s the facts. I’m reminded of this when I see gatherings of butches become pissing contests and boys’ clubs, instead of the spaces for growth that they should be. I love groups like bklyn boihood, and I wish I could find more organizations and spaces where masculine-identified queers can empower each other with great conscience and care.

I’m Not Broke As F*ck Anymore, Does This Mean I Made It, by Carmen Rios (November)

I am my mother’s child, and that means more to me now than it ever has. My mother taught me how to make it.  I watched her scrape by and it taught me that there was no shame in it, and even though I’m a little poisoned because I always think, “I don’t need this,” I fucking did it. You know? I’m here. I pay my rent, and my bills, and I feed Eli every day and I buy snacks at convenience stores when I’m hungry and I feel mobile. I feel free. I look up at the sky some mornings just to accept my own limitlessness, just to feel bigger, just to remember the whole of the world I’ve erupted from.

If Joan Of Arc Can Do It, Why Can’t I?, by Mey Rude (October)

I have no time for churchgoers who are going to judge me or tell me that I’m being a bad Christian for being who I am. I was taught that I am Wonderfully and Fearfully Made, and that means that my transgender body is wonderful and is exactly what God had in mind when They made me. In fact, that thought is one of the things that keeps me going in hard times. God created me to be transgender and queer, and so I have to remember, as the Bible says, if God is for me, who can be against me?

Living While Black, Queer and Sometimes Mistaken For Male, by Brittani Nichols (July)

Actual black males have some sort of safety net in their maleness because honestly, a black male of my size is most likely faster and stronger than a black woman of my size (for example: me). If my lack of maleness is revealed, my safety net disappears. I’m not afraid to say that when I’m alone late at night, I would rather they be afraid of me than angry at me. As a black male, I might threaten their safety but as a gender non-conforming black lesbian, I might threaten their ideals.

What I Learned From Buffy About All The Versions of My Queer Girl Self, by Vanessa Friedman (August)

I don’t want to find myself just once; I want to keep finding new pieces of me every day, and I want to remember that I am allowed to discover bits and pieces that I never saw before, and that those versions of myself are just as valid as any versions that came before, and any that might come next.

Please Don’t Thank Me for Loving My Wife, by Generva Reid (September)

I’m obviously failing, somehow, to make it clear that my marriage is no charity project. My wife is not a mangy stray puppy I decided to feed, or a soap-opera character who needed a manic pixie dream girl to save her from her own tragedy. She is the love of my life. So maybe it’s time for me to make a few things clear. If anyone is owed gratitude for being in this relationship, it’s my wife.

It’s More Fun When We’re Co-Conspirators, by Laneia (June)

Do boys get to put their hands wherever they want? I remember years of being a thing boys did things to or decided on. I’d thought I was making decisions then, but the only decision I’d ever made was when it would stop, and even that had failed a few times. No one had ever asked me where they should put their hands. I wonder how people ever know how to do anything.”

A Prairie Homo Companion: How Being A (Very) Mixed-Race Canadian Prairie Weirdo Complicates “POC” For Me, by Malaika Aleba (April)

Having grown up here in Alberta, I’ll never know what it’s like to be part black in a country with a history of slavery and a specific kind of horrible, institutionalized racism towards black people. I want to learn about and listen to the experiences of all sorts of people who identify as Black or as People of Colour, but at the same time, I want to carve out a space for myself, my Canadian weirdo self who spent her early childhood with a white (half Dutch) mother and a father who’s black, but not black like African-American or even black like Afro-Canadian, but Ghanaian.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Flogging, by Ali Osworth (January)

I like to smack my girlfriend on the ass and leave pretty marks! And she likes that too! There’s nothing in the world like a good solid handprint on skin (if you’re into that). But one thing I hadn’t experienced was the power and thrill of a flogger – up until last Christmas, the only hitting I’d been doing was with my hands. Until my girlfriend got me (us) one for Christmas. Hence the Christmas Flogger.

Misadventures in Queer Lady Dating: It’s Not Me, It’s You, by Erin (July)

By assigning the designation of bitter crippled virgin, able society attempts to absolve itself of guilt and accountability for disabled sexual repression. If they can somehow make our discontent a function of our own flaws, they don’t have to examine themselves. If we could just be happier, just be more passive, just not worry about it, all of our problems would be solved. There is one simple, glaring error in this train of thought: society can’t pathologize the individual for responding to conditions that society itself has constructed and reinforced.

Like Love Was A Thing I Could Do, by Riese Bernard (February)

I loved Kat, I know that much. It wasn’t romantic love, but I loved her in a heightened, confusing and often self-destructive way, and I loved her because, just like me, she wanted to eat the city alive. We’d rushed into things — our friendship, living together, all of that, overestimating our compatability during a frenzied, chaotic winter. I didn’t want to be her girlfriend but I didn’t mind what we were doing, either, at least not usually; I was trying on the idea of being one-half of a lesbian couple and as for what she was doing, maybe I’ll never know.

Fat-Booty Butch Wears Leggings — Confuses World, Confronts Self, by Gabby Rivera (December)

I know what I look like. I’m a fucking welcome sign for all queers within a 20-mile radius of me and I like it. I’m proud of it. I just wanna say “hey girl” to you and to your people and also say “hey human” to all those who don’t go by ‘girl’ ’cause I’m down for you and I mean it. I’m that person and holy shit how come it wasn’t as easy to be that person in leggings?

What I Want From My Queer Community: Inspired By An Autostraddle London Meetup, by Hattie (September)

I want an inclusive experience. People who never tell me I’m too much, too little and all the wrong things. I want four hour long brunches and the beginnings of friendships where we forget we’re all here because we’re queer get used to it and might just stay because something in us connects through the shy awkwardness of performing yourself to people who don’t know you yet.

“You’re So… You!”by Lauren (March)

My grandmother used to spend her days assembling massive, 5,000-piece puzzles on her dining room table. Every time we would come to visit, a little more of the picture would take shape: a barn, a sunset, Elvis. Maybe I saw the same methodical, patient determination in Heather. All of the pieces of my womanhood were already there, waiting. But she was the one who showed me the back of the box, the truth of what I could be. She was there at just the right moment in my life, and she was the one who pulled it all together. I finally realized why being a boyfriend had never worked for me: I wasn’t a boy.

Of A Swamp Witch And A Rural Queer, by Sarah Fonseca (December)

Witches, like queers in small places, are also often resigned to burning. But it isn’t the fire that causes our respective demises: It’s the suffocating threat of it.

I Don’t Have An Expiration Date and Neither Do You: How I Learned to Have the Best Day Ever, by Grace Kim (April)

I realized I had just had the best day of my life and none of the things I had done to make it the best day were out of the ordinary. All that changed was the way I approached the day in my mind. I wanted it to be the best day and so I approached it as if it were going to be. It led me to take risks, leave my comfort zone and do the things I’d normally never do out of fear.

Avatar of Riese

Riese is the 32-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1740 articles for us.

21 Comments

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    Reading “I Don’t Have An Expiration Date…” and “Dust to Dark…” have made me realise that I really need to make something out of a day I recently had. I need to write it, or represent it in art, or -something-. Funny that those two were the ones I was drawn to. Both definitely things I needed to read, in different ways.

    Now I need to work out how to write it.

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      You definitely should. If that day really had meaning to you, it’s so liberating to get it out there in some form or another. And maybe what you experienced and learned that day will help some queermos out in Internetland process some feeluns. Give it a try.

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    I think I’m suppose to work today (working from home until the 2nd), but I’m not sure and I don’t exactly want to call my boss to find out so instead I’m gonna go make a cup of coffee, put my glasses on and read all of these.

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    Hi All (but especially the women who’ve made this place what it is),
    I need to say thanks for being real allies to trans dykes. You’ve listened, given us voice and space, and faced attacks from our enemies alongside us.
    Thank you for the acts of sisterhood.

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    “These are a few of my favourite things…”

    This is why I love this community. I don’t think there’s another place in the virtual world that is home to such a diverse group of beautiful writers. Thanks to everyone for letting us into your hearts and thoughts.

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      for what it’s worth, i think kate’s entire column explored a lot of different sides of being butch, from the positive to the negative to the hard to the specific-to-kate. i don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check out the butch please archives, but i think there’s a lot there. we also had some interviews with butch-identified humans in straddler on the street this year who spoke about great/positive aspects of being butch, so it might be worth your time to peruse those archives too, if you’re interested! i also do feel that sometimes it feels as though the entire queer community values/emphasizes the positives of being butch, so sometimes it’s just more interesting to read a different perspective. but as a not-butch-identified human, i don’t mean to belittle the desire to read positive representations of butch identity either…just some of my own personal thoughts. i hope this is helpful :)

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    I missed some of these as I’ve been trying to learn how to person again for a large chunk of this year so I really appreciate this for pointing them all out to me. I need to catch up on this community because I’ve been missing it very much.

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