How “L Word” Internet Fandom Built Autostraddle Dot Com: The Oral History

It’s been ten years since The L Word premiered! Welcome to L Word Week!


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January 12th 2004 issue of New York Magazine

On January 18th, 2004, The L Word premiered on Showtime and nearly one million viewers tuned in but I did not. Like many L Word fans, I came to the show a little late and entirely oblivious to the lesbian community’s reaction to the program or the buzz it was building all over the world. Also like many L Word fans, when I did start watching the show, “watching the show” was merely one small element of my fandom. The L Word premiered at a very specific time with respect to the internet’s evolution — right when blogging and online community-building was becoming increasingly accessible, wireless internet enabled uber-private browsing, podcasts were popping up on iTunes and TV recapping was becoming a relatively respected vocation. For the lesbian community specifically, the internet radically changed how we connected to each other and our own identities, offering a “safe space” to explore, meet like-minded humans, and build community without having to leave your own.The L Word became, for many internet queers, a common ground, a narrative we all knew and could talk about, even though things didn’t really get serious until those conversations evolved into more serious ones about our own sexualities and relationships.

So it shouldn’t surprise you to learn, if you’re not already aware, that this website’s roots are, indeed, a blog I started in 2006 to recap The L Word. I was working on a book at the time about bisexuality, entitled The Road Best Straddled (a play on “The Road Less Traveled”)  and so I named my L Word recap blog “The Road Best Straddled” because I was confident the inevitable wild success of the blog would serve as handy viral marketing for the book. I never finished the book, obviously, but the recaps eventually parlayed into bigger and better things. Because my personal blog’s title was This Girl Called Automatic Win — or “Autowin” for short — my L Word blog was quickly dubbed “Autostraddle” and it was through those recaps and this community that I met the people that helped build this Autostraddle — which launched the day Jenny died, in March 2009 — including our Executive Editor Laneia, who, like me, came into her queer identity and internet persona through L Word internet worlds.

So, in honor of L Word week, Laneia and I sat down to chat about the history of these strange online Shane-obsessed communities that are responsible for all of us being here!


 

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Were We Ever So Young? – 2004 – 2005

The L Word premiered in January of 2004, at which time Laneia was living with her husband and son in California and Riese was in Michigan, waiting tables to save up for her big move to New York while endlessly breaking up with the boyfriend she’d acquired during her last year of college. 

Riese: How did you hear about the show to begin with?

Laneia: It would’ve been late 2005, I accidentally changed the channel to Showtime. I’d never heard of the show before then.

Riese: Oh wow! What scene was on when you flipped?

Laneia: The very first scene I saw was Bette talking to someone, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was just super amped to have the movie channels for free and I was getting ready for bed.

Riese: Then you just kept watching it?

Laneia: I left it on while I made the bed. There was something that was loud or otherwise jarring, so I stood there watching it. And then it was Shane and Cherie and I did that thing where you look around the room to make sure no one’s seeing you, even though no one else is in the room, and I shut the door even though there was no reason to and sat on the edge of the bed and changed the channel, like I was never ever going to watch that seriously, I was not. And then I changed it back. And the next day I realized Google’s full potential.

Riese: So they were re-airing Season Two before the premiere of Season Three?

Laneia: Yes. When did you first catch wind of this cutting-edge, groundbreaking new series, Riese?

Riese: I heard about the show from my best friend Becky in college, in 2004. She was straight, in a sorority and a self-declared Jewish American Princess but she was also smart and down-to-earth and amazing. Anyhow, she was like,  “you need to see The L Word, it’s like Sex and the City but for lesbians.”

Laneia: Do you feel like that’s true? I never watched Sex and the City.

Riese: No, it’s not like Sex and the City at all really. But what it has in common, and what Becky probably liked about it, was the centrality of the female friendships and the secondariness of the relationships. Except in The L Word the relationships were probably more “mixed up” than secondary.

But when Becky told me to watch it, I did this thing in my head I did all the time back then but never second-guessed, which was to be like “No I don’t wanna watch that, it’ll turn me into a lesbian!” But then I moved to New York City that summer and started experimenting with girls I met on craigslist but also had a boyfriend. That winter, we got Netflix and my best friend/roommate Krista and I started on The L Word Season One and we became OBSESSED, especially with Shane. We loved it so much. My friend Ingrid from high school would come over every Sunday during Season Two, and she’d make dinner and the three of us would watch it together. They were mostly straight, but we’d had occasionally homoerotic undertones to our friendships as teenagers and there is nobody else I would’ve rather witnessed those two seasons with.

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The L Word Season Two premiered in January 2005

Laneia: That could’ve been a storyline on the show. Did The L Word sorta blow your mind in terms of how it portrayed queer women? Because my mind was blown.

Riese: Yes! And I feel like this is something we’ve talked about a lot, me and you. Before The L Word, I’d never seen lesbians who looked and talked like me and my friends. It’s embarrassing to say this now, but I thought all lesbians were like my Mom’s friends or Amy Ray, with the Birkenstocks, jeans with big belts, flannels, no makeup, all of that. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that style or culture (and I actually love it now!), but where I was in my life then, I just never saw a place for me in that world, so I thought that meant I wasn’t gay.

Laneia: Yes! I hadn’t been exposed to any brand of queer women other than Butch and Very Butch, so even though the women on The L Word still didn’t look or act like me, it allowed me to rethink everything I’d assumed about what kind of women could be gay.

Riese: Right! Because lesbians had never gotten the treatment straight people had gotten on television — which was to be worthy of glamour and sexuality and all that. As a slut who’d been told all her life that lesbians were girls who “couldn’t get a man,” I found the character of Shane so revolutionary and empowering. She had this ego and strength that came from not wanting men, and really wanting women. I fell in love and googled her to death, which eventually brought me to The L Word Online, because they were big into Shane. I think it was Shane’s influence, honestly, that sort of jumpstarted my “lesbian who goes out a lot and drinks and does drugs with girls” phase.


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The Internet: A Place For L Word Fans – 2006

In 2002, two fans of Kate Moennig’s short-lived show Young Americans, Australian “Oz” and Chicago-based Slicey, met in person for the first time at a Young Americans fan gathering being held in Maryland. The two followed Kate’s career faithfully, and in 2003 learned that she’d been cast in a lesbian series then called Earthlings. Oz & Slicey often tipped off lesbian publications and magazines to info they’d gathered about this mysterious show online, and in October 2003, decided to launch their own website to talk about the upcoming program — The L Word Online. By 2006, TLWO was easily the web’s most popular fansite for The L Word, chock-full of spoilers, promos, media and recaps.

In 2006, girlfriends KC & Elka, annoyed that there wasn’t a local viewing party for the Season Three premiere where they lived in Albuquerque, started an L Word podcast called The Planet Podcast so they could have somebody to talk to about the show. And so it began.

Laneia: How did you find The Planet Podcast?

Riese: On The L Word Online — I’d just gotten an iPod and spent a lot of time on the subway.

Laneia: A few weeks after I first saw the show, I got an iPod for my birthday and I was obsessed with podcasts, because you could listen to them while you cleaned the house and literally all I ever did was clean the house or cook. I’m just now seeing the totality of this cliche. Anyway, I found The Planet Podcast because I was looking for a The L Word podcast, and it had the best reviews. That is how I found The Community.

Riese: It’s so weird with podcasts because my memory of listening to KC & Elka is my memory of the laundromat, and the kitchen, and the subway — because I always listened while doing laundry, taking the subway, or cleaning the kitchen.

Laneia: Mine is rocking Eli to sleep and putting away clothes.

Riese: Aww!

Laneia: Oh and grocery shopping! Listening to KC & Elka at the grocery store was my favorite. It was the first time that I allowed myself to completely disengage from the the world and not feel weird or shitty about it.

Riese: Yes, standing in line, thinking “this thing I’m listening to is SO MUCH BETTER than what you’re listening to.”

Laneia: I listened to them while I painted my new kitchen, also.

Riese: This is weird, because like you actually know them, and I don’t — but their sense of humor was really specific, and so much like ours! Right, that was the thing?

Laneia: Yes their sense of humor was so specific and unapologetic.

Riese: And smart. They were smart. They had a balance of intelligent criticism and shameless indulgence that appealed to me and reminded me of me, also.

Laneia: I hadn’t laughed that hard since I’d watched that Dr. Katz episode in ’98 with Brian Regan. That’s a long time to go without laughing super hard.

Riese: I would laugh out loud all the time. It was like having lesbian friends in my ears. Tiny little lesbian ear-friends.

KC and Elka refused, for the first two years of their podcast, to post photos of themselves online, leaving fans to imagine what they might look like.

KC and Elka refused, for the first two years of their podcast, to post photos of themselves online, leaving fans to imagine what they might look like.

Laneia: They also had a way of not making you feel stupid if you didn’t get a joke? I’m usually really self-conscious about that, but I never felt that way with them. I mean wait, KC did actually try to make you feel stupid, but it was so over the top that you didn’t dwell.

Riese: Yes, you’re right. Did you talk to anyone out loud about the show?

Laneia: No! Did you?

Riese: I think I would’ve gone crazy if I hadn’t. I talked to a lot of people about it, and still my own inner life with it was so much bigger than theirs. I traveled three hours round-trip every Sunday night to my lesbian friends’ place in Harlem in the dead of winter to watch Season Three (and do drugs), but it still wasn’t enough! I needed websites and podcasts and screensavers!

Laneia: I had the comment section of The Planet Podcast’s blog, but no one in my real life.

Riese: Also, going through the death of Dana Fairbanks with The Planet Podcast was a big deal.

Laneia: It really was. I felt like they sort of eased us into the inevitable.

Riese: It was like we survived a natural disaster together, and they built up momentum on the podcast, which was so brilliant that season and Season Four. They talked about things people really wanted to talk about.

Laneia: I can’t believe I don’t have the files anymore. I mean I can believe I don’t have them — I can’t believe I can never get them back.

Riese: When I think about listening to the podcasts I still have, though, it’s like thinking about smelling Fuzzy Peach from The Body Shop, like I know it would transport me to this other time that my heart can’t squeeze into anymore.

Laneia: I think I would listen to the one where they were singing “Hello, pile of dog shit, so glad to see you!”

Riese: Yes, I remember that! The Manny. That song was so stupid.

Laneia: But yeah, in general, I just torch every bridge I cross, so I wasn’t upset when I lost the podcasts because I knew there’d be no way to ever listen to them again. With the heart not fitting and all. Wait, were you doing your recaps before The Planet podcast started?

Riese: No, it was because of that podcast and fourfour’s ANTM recaps, which I also loved, that I got the idea to recap The L Word at all. I just felt like, reading him and listening to them, that this was something I’d be good at, a way to start building my career, and it could be a spin-off of Autowin. I was at the gym on 76th & 1st and I wrote in my notebook, “recap l word – start w/s3 dvds, then s4 live.” But during this time The Planet Podcast world was also like exploding, right?

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Laneia: The thing was that we — the commenters on the blog — weren’t getting enough of each other via the comments, and the majority of the comments started to be us talking to each other and playing off each other and FLIRTING, god whatever. So we started blogs of our own so we could, I don’t know, be more? Like more of ourselves in this space. And a few of us would record ourselves doing whatever — telling a story usually — and upload it to our blogs. We were helping each other figure out how to code or upload or share files, because we just wanted more of each other and we wanted to give more of ourselves. It was really exciting and weird.

Riese: I think blogs were more social then, partially because everybody had one. Like most of my most loyal blog readers (of Autowin) were also bloggers, and I read all of their blogs as faithfully as I maintained my own.

Laneia: Yeah, the maintenance of your own blog was like a direct correlation of how much you loved the people who read it. We all installed the sitemeter that showed you what city your blog visitors were in, so I’d know when like, Vicky from Ireland was online and reading me. I kept getting visitors from the Albuquerque area, and another blogger I’d become friends with, Slo, and I would talk about it and we’d freak out — like WHAT IF that was KC or Elka. And then it turned out that it was. And we freaked out some more.

Riese: Did you blog about the podcast?

Laneia: The Planet Podcast was central to our online experience, so it came up a lot, but actually our blogs were pretty dedicated to ourselves. I started doing a joint podcast with Slo — sidenote it’s so weird to use her screen name! My screen name was Green. Even though it seems more authentic this way. Anyway, Slo and I did this podcast that was part advice, part personal stories, and super embarrassing to think about now, but it was one of the most visible ones coming from the core commenting group. I think that’s one of the reasons KC and Elka started to notice us. Also not to brag Riese, but we left really good comments. I was a good commenter.

Riese: You are a very good commenter.

Laneia: After a while their listenership became too huge for just a comment section on a blog, so KC and Elka opened a forum. They asked a handful of us to be staff, which led to us being actual friends. But oh god, I just remembered that the first email I ever sent them, it was so creepy and weird!

Riese: I found my first email to KC & Elka! It’s from December 7, 2006! It’s so embarrassing. I was overcompensating for crippling insecurity.Here it is:

Hi KC and Elka,

1. I love both of you and your amazing podcast. I didn’t really even know anything about podcasts until you came into my life like a ray of sunshine through the dark clouds of Girls in Tight Dresses Who Drag with Moustaches.

2. I’ve tried to spread the gospel of The Planet Cast and all its amazing-ness to all of my friends. I probably think about you guys and your jokes and mention them while we are all watching ‘The L Word’ so often that it could be considered a quasi-obsession.

3. I’ve always linked to your blog from my webpage and blog (I’m a writer here in NYC, a real one, the kind that gets published and stuff and has an agent and actually gets a good amount of hits a week, about 2,500).

4. I decided this season to start doing a little recap thing and create a new blog for it, and I was wondering if you would link to me? Obviously in the first paragraph of this expedition I give a shout-out to AfterEllen’s recapper and to your podcast and talk about how I’m trying to do something different because I don’t want to copy or follow the glory that is your podcast but just add to the world-wide conversation. I just started re-capviewing Season three (from the DVD) to warm up for next season.

It goes on from there, mostly with links and name-dropping.

Laneia: Oh wow!

Riese: When they wrote back to me they told me that they loved my recap blog and would love to trade links, and also said:

“You might also want to consider contacting Sloganx and Green if you haven’t already. They are a couple of our listeners who started blogging and making their own podcast, and it is really blowing up They have a links section that many of my listeners use to navigate the blogs.

 Thanks for writing; we’re really glad that you enjoy the podcast! I’m off to post a link to you now; please also feel free to pimp your site on our web forum.”

Laneia: Oh my god, I miss her! Her little voice.

Riese: Unfortunately for all of us, the first season turned out to be the only good one. Well, Season Five was okay. As soon as we started talking about it, there became a lot less to talk about.


 

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Banner from the top of theroadbeststraddled.blogspot.com, 2007

Welcome To Our Solar System – 2007

A few episodes into Season Four, which debuted in 2007, The L Word Online found Riese’s recaps via The Planet Podcast boards and brought Riese on to be their official episode recapper, re-posting the recaps she put on her own L Word recap blog onto their website. Meanwhile, “Green” was moderating The Planet boards and by the summer of 2007, had moved to Arizona to live with her co-podcastter, Slo.

Riese: It’s weird, I’d never considered posting on the Planet Boards, really. I think I saw the internet as a place for advancing my career as a writer, since that’s the mindset I was in then, and so it was never about casual conversations about things I liked, it was always deliberate and “on-brand.”

Laneia: And you were not a commenter.

Riese: I was not. But I put my link in the forum like they said I could and you wanted to remove it, right?

Laneia: I took my job super seriously obvs because I was drunk with power.

Riese: I think it’s so funny though! That was our first official interaction in the world — you seeing my link on The Planet Boards and being like, “I wanna delete this.”

Laneia: Yeah like rule #2 was that we had to remove spammy self-promo stuff, and yours was hella self-promotional!

Riese: I know! (My best friend, actress) Haviland (Stillwell) was trying to teach me how to be self-promotional. It felt like wearing a clown mask. It came naturally to her so I’d try to channel her! Also they told me I could post a link in the forum!

Laneia: I sent KC & Elka an email that was mainly like, “this is here and she’s funny and she’s cute and her friends are cute, do you want me to remove it” and she was like “that’s the girl we were telling you about!” all happy and excited.

Riese: Aww.

Laneia: Also I was super weirded out because you were in New York and I was just a dumb girl in a house.

Riese: I thought you were so cool! I always felt like you were a kindred spirit.

Laneia: How did all your L Word recap fans end up in your real life though?

Riese: I posted a link to Autowin in my last Season Four recap on The L Word Online, I’d written for OurChart (more on that in a minute), Haviland and I were making these vlogs, Gawker was linking to Autowin — and so slowly but surely I was gathering together all these people from different parts of my web-worlds — like Carly, Crystal, Caitlin, Stef and Alex. Haviland actually emailed Alex after seeing a link to her design portfolio in a comment Alex left on my recap, and I attended their first meeting to design Haviland’s logo ’cause I thought Alex looked cute on MySpace. Seriously that’s why. Also Carly, Caitlin and Stef were all blog commenters who lived in the area and so gradually one by one we kept making plans to meet in real life. The summer of 2007 was really intense and painful for me because of this awful breakup, and I definitely sought refuge online and became kind of agoraphobic. I spent most of that summer writing a lesbian TV show with Carly and sending long emails to Crystal. Carly and Caitlin were also my first friends who also listened to The Planet Podcast and knew who you were, which brings me back to YOU! You started reading Autowin!

Laneia: Yeah Autowin was the thing I didn’t know I’d been missing from everyone else.

Riese: From the get-go I decided you were cooler than me, so this is all very funny. I was always happy when you commented on my blog.

Laneia: Oh, that’s funny, because I felt like a crusty underdeveloped 12-year-old to your 18-year-old effortless cool.

Riese: I think you’re probably correct that my emotional age at the time was ~18.


 

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OurChart: We Can’t Stop Talking About It – 2007-2008

OurChart, a Showtime-backed social network and online magazine spearheaded by Ilene Chaiken, launched in beta in February of 2007. The site was heavily promoted throughout Season Four, though fans quickly noted that the site on the show bore little resemblance to the hot mess OurChart.com was becoming. Riese became one of their first “Guestbian” columnists, and Laneia joined their writing team later that year. 

Laneia: I got that job at OurChart because of Arlan at Your Daily Lesbian Moment.

Riese: Oh yeah, Arlan! I wrote a thing for her magazine once. I made everybody go comment on OurChart for them to hire me as a Guestbian and then they did, it seemed suspiciously easy.

Laneia: I remember that! When they came to her — “they” who, I don’t know — they asked if she knew anyone who would be a good addition to OurChart and she recommended me. Then she told me, and I will never forget this and I think about it all the fucking time, she said, “Do not get an ego about this. As soon as you get an ego, you lose it. The thing that makes you good, you lose it.”

Riese: But you are one of the least egotistical people ever!

Laneia: She told me to always pretend that I was just talking to those 15 commenters that I’d first met.

Riese: That’s good advice.

Laneia: She was right, though — not ‘ego’ so much in the bad way, but ego in the way that you start seeing yourself? Or you think of yourself the way others might. And it fucks with you, thinking of what they’re thinking.

Riese: Yes.

Laneia: Anyway, I think of her saying that all the fucking time.

Riese: Yeah, thinking about what they’re thinking is the #1 thing that fucks with me.

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Riese: And how did you like writing for OurChart?

Laneia: I don’t think I took that job too seriously, to be honest. Lisa had to email me every morning and ask if I was planning on writing something that day. How did you like it?

Riese: I think I wrote three things for them, and then that was it. I was surprised when they told me that their Guestbian columnists were all unpaid. I get it now, because I know that publishing that much content a day online is super-expensive, but also… it was Showtime! Did you have to write something every day?

Laneia: I can’t remember if it was every day, or like x days a week, but I do remember struggling to be interesting and just bullshitting my way through paragraphs so I could get to a question at the end. I just wanted to talk to people. I did keep the first paycheck stub, and I told my mom that I was getting paid by SHOWTIME and she was like “That’s nice, dear.”

Riese: Well I was proud of you, Green!

Laneia: Thank you! My mom had no idea what I was doing — she still doesn’t! She tells people that I blog, I’m a blogger.

Riese: The site was such a shitshow, though.

Laneia: It was [a shitshow]. It was terrible. I was just happy to have a small corner of something, though.  I never felt enough like a real part of it to be embarrassed by it. And now I AM Lisa.

Riese: I would be so scared now if a site like that sprang up, like, “Bitches! They have all this money! They’re gonna cream us. Waaaaa.” And Showtime plugged OurChart on The L Word ALL THE TIME.

Laneia: That’s ultimately what killed them, though! Wayyyyy too much hype.

Riese: It never felt like the people who were really in charge of it were actually around. They propped it up on these celebrity endorsements, but those only lasted for a year or so before we stopped getting exclusive Uh Huh Her stuff and videos from Kate Moennig and Rachel Shelly and stuff. Also, the site they discussed on the show looked nothing like the actual site.

Laneia: They also really overestimated how willing we’d all be to talk about our ex-girlfriends.

Riese: The social networking side of it was just a joke though, it was almost like the people who registered there were kidding when they filled out their profiles.

Laneia: I remember having a conversation with someone about maintaining the integrity of Our Chart’s chart, like not wanting to connect to them because we hadn’t fucked, and immediately being super embarrassed that I’d used ‘integrity’ and ‘Our Chart’ in the same sentence.

Riese: The thing is that The Chart — the original chart, on the show — wasn’t written by a bunch of individuals! It was written by one mean cunt, and that’s how all charts should be written.

Laneia: True. One mean cunt to rule them all.


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Laneia at Kelka Pride, Summer 2008

Making It Pro – 2008

Season Five debuted in 2008, and Riese’s L Word recaps took on new levels of complicatedness and also reflected a conscious attempt to create recognizable “characters” who watched the show with her each week. At this point, both “Automatic Straddle” and The Planet Podcast were selling merchandise. In the summer of 2008, The Planet Podcast crew organized Kelka Pride, an international listener meet-up that would coincide with Albuquerque Pride. 92 people came from all over the world to hike, drink, walk alongside a giant handmade paper maché unicorn in the parade and revel in one another’s glory.

Laneia: Did you want to come to the meetup KC & Elka did? I mean did that cross your mind.

Riese: No, it never crossed my mind to go. I guess I thought it was a thing for people who didn’t have gay friends where they lived, like that it wasn’t for me.

Laneia: Yeah it kinda was that, but also for most of us it was the first time we’d turned online friendships into 3-D things.

Riese: I remember emailing you about Kelka Pride, asking if you were nervous, because I would’ve been so nervous! I felt like (with some obvious exceptions) meeting readers in real life was the best way to make them not like me anymore. I felt comforted when you told me you planned on being drunk the whole time. Then after Kelka Pride happened and Caitlin and I saw the video, we were like, oh, we should go to this if they do it again! It seemed fun. It hadn’t occurred to us that it might just be fun, because from the start I’d only gone to lesbian events for career purposes. That was sort of Haviland’s influence. It was like, where should we go that would be good for the blog or good for pictures or that would get us to meet this or that person?

Laneia: That’s a solid game plan though, Haviland’s.

Riese: It was! We did coverage of The L Word premiere parties and other events and stuff we’d go to in NY and LA … but it was also weird because I hate people. But we were always thinking about the blog and it worked, it did open doors for me and get me paying work and stuff.

Graphics from "L Word" recaps

Graphics from Riese’s “L Word” recaps

Riese: You met KC & Elka in person before Kelka Pride, right? You were like best best friends by this point.

Laneia: We were friends, yeah. Like, beyond me doing merch and being a fan of their stuff, we’d become friends by then. They knew I had kids before anyone else did.

Riese: I guess you both knew secrets about each other, kinda. It must have been really weird.

Laneia: We went to their house in Albuquerque before the meet-up and they had a bookshelf running above the kitchen cabinets, full of cookbooks, I think, and they had Sesame Street bookends. They were just super real and sweet. I think I had a brief moment of feeling really cool and really special because I knew them, but that morphed straight into feeling super protective of them and their brand and their identities.

Riese: Were lots of people from that world meeting in real life and stuff before Kelka Pride?

Laneia: They really weren’t yet, it wasn’t until Kelka Pride that everyone felt super normalized and ready to do something locally, if possible. A couple of girls met up in LA around that time and I think one or two even moved there, which is super funny in retrospect, because I guess that’s just a thing you do.

Riese: What did you actually do at Kelka Pride?

Laneia: The opening night was at this outdoor cafe and I got super drunk because I’d never in my whole life been looked at by and introduced to so many people at once. It was the most overwhelming experience. It was worse than childbirth. Then Elka led hike one morning, and another group dinner. Before everyone got to New Mexico, KC had put together a fucking paper maché unicorn. The float was crazy.

Riese: Yes I remember seeing pictures of the float!

Laneia:  Also Kelka Pride was when I first met [Editorial Assistant] Bren and her fiancé Carrie! That’s important because a couple of years later, she applied to be my intern and of course I chose her and now look at her. Runnin’ shit.

Riese: So many connections made.

Laneia: The best night was at this old house that had been converted into a weird-ass private bar. I remember looking out at the yard from the porch, and the sun was setting and music was playing and there were all these genuinely excited/exciting queer women and no one had cried or thrown up yet, at least not that night, and everyone was just so happy and amped to be near each other. Just like camp. It’s like people were vibrating.

Riese: That sounds about right. At A-Camp it feels like everybody is a firefly.

Photo by Icehouze via flickr

Photo by Icehouze via flickr

Riese: I remember that was the summer that you interviewed me for your blog, because Alex and I had made a ‘zine.

Laneia: You and Alex were dating at this point, right?

Riese: Yeah, we had been for a number of months. I made the ‘zine while she was at a basketball game and then she came home and re-did the whole thing to make it look better. Also, Caitlin pretended to be my press secretary and made you a press kit about me for the interview!

Laneia: Yes! That press kit was amazing.

vintage riese & laneia

vintage riese & laneia

Riese: Oh and remember when Caitlin and Crystal and I won the Uh Huh Her video contest and people yelled at us on their YouTube group and we actually fought with them? Like, we actually spent time doing that.

Laneia: That was very special. That was my first experience with YouTube commenters. We totally spent time on that.

Riese: G-d, I spent a lot of time talking to friends on the internet back then. When I wasn’t hanging out with my friends I’d met on the internet.

Laneia: That was the it — I could never feel too cool or exciting because I knew that everyone else knew that I was on my computer 15 hours a day.

Riese: Yes.

Laneia: I was often embarrassed of myself.

Riese: I was embarrassed that it took me three days to do a recap.

Laneia: It wasn’t really until Autostraddle that I was proud of the time and effort, because I could see what we were doing.

Riese: I guess in a way Autostraddle was always in my mind, even though it didn’t have a form yet.

Laneia: I remember having to justify the time I spent on those fucking stupid Heroes recaps by saying, “They’re paying me $30! This is worth $30!”

Riese: Yeah it was really hard to justify — spending so much time writing things on the internet for free. I donated to The Planet and y’all though, when I could, I felt like that was super important, and some people donated to Autowin, which was really nice too. So you pay it forward into the paypal tip jars of others. When I was working all the time, I couldn’t keep up with blogging, but I didn’t want to give it up. So at some point something had to break.

Laneia: What was the first conversation you had about Autostraddle in a concrete way?

Riese: Well, Carly and I talked a little about this idea: “All Our Powers Combined,” which’d basically just be a landing page for our favorite queer bloggers — we all had personal blogs back then but they were all spread out — but never really did anything with the idea. That was in 2007.

Laneia: The way you initially pitched it to me, I imagined a landing page with pictures of our faces and our personal blogs would feed to this main site, and I was sure I was missing something. Your actual idea ended up being so much better.

Riese: Yeah for sure, but I think those early ideas were super-important too, and we built on them. In 2008, my head exploded from all the things I was trying to do — on my blog, on The L Word Online, my recap blog, guest writers, regular features — that I realized the only way to do all these things was to have my own magazine. I told Caitlin my idea in her car, on 124th & Adam Clayton Powell, in front of my terrible apartment. I had a meeting with Stef about it in 2008, in the summer. It was at a cafe on 110th without air conditioning and it was really hot. Then Alex, Stef and I went out for brunch a few weeks later to sketch out next steps for the magazine, which we were then calling “Excitant.” But it wasn’t until the start of 2009 that I took actual steps to make it happen.


 

watching "The L Word"

Watching “The L Word,” 2009 (photo by Robin Roemer)

The Last Hurrah – 2009

In 2008, The L Word announced that their final eight-episode season would air in 2009, and promos began promising the death of a main character, eventually revealing that the character would be Jenny. The final season was hated by fans, recappers and podcasters alike. OurChart was also shuttered by this point. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Riese and Alex were building Autostraddle 1.0.

Riese: By season six I wasn’t listening to the Planet Podcasts anymore. They came out really late and KC & Elka talked trash about women’s bodies so much that I couldn’t listen to it anymore.

Laneia: Things shifted, yeah.

Riese: Did things shift within The Planet Podcast online community too?

Laneia: KC and Elka were really exhausted and hadn’t actually set out to be or make anything that big. And you know how it takes over your life. I think they felt obligated to continue, because of the listeners and everyone telling them what a huge impact they’d had on their lives, but they were also just done.

Riese: Yeah, people don’t realize how much time it takes up. By the fall of 2008 I was back to working three jobs and I was like, “holy shit, this isn’t a hobby anymore.”

Laneia: Exactly. I mean they were selling merch! Designing and selling merch, based on a podcast in 2007/2008. That is fucking ridiculous.

Laneia models Kelkian merch

Laneia models Kelkian merch

Riese: Yeah, we were too! We sold T-shirts and boyshorts and tank tops in 2007, and then buttons in 2008. Alex designed our shirts and Stef coordinated the printing.

Laneia: Right! Based on a blog. It’s just so weird. The whole thing became so weird.

Riese: I think we sent you some for free.

Laneia: You did  you asked what size I wore and I told you Large and you were like, “no you don’t” and you sent me a Small. I loved that shirt and I left it at KC and Elka’s house.

Riese: Selling merch is harder than it looks, too.

Laneia: Fulfilling those merch orders almost killed me. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Also, everything everyone else was doing was on Cafe Press or some shit, and no one could understand why that wasn’t an option for The Planet.

Riese: Right! PSA: you make like $1 per shirt on CafePress! And the shirts cost the customer like $25.

Alex & Riese in Auto-Gear

Alex & Riese in Auto-Gear, 2007

Riese: I think in the grand scheme of All of Time, the time we’re talking about now was a really young time.

Laneia: Yes, it was.

Riese: Especially w/r/t how to “monetize” this thing that had accidentally taken over your life. I kept applying to write at AfterEllen but they never wrote me back! So I felt like I’d won the game in 2009 when Showtime hired me to be Lezberado and paid me $700 a video for three videos to sit in my room and talk about how much I hated the show.

Laneia: That is a really fucked up approach to promotion.

Riese: I think they were also over it. I would get nervous beforehand and put on five layers of makeup and drink a little. I was trying to save as much money as I could so I could start Autostraddle. But still it was like, all of it was tied back to The L Word.

Laneia: It was so sad how it all ended!

Riese: The show itself fell apart.

Laneia: I’d blocked it until tonight, but KC and Elka didn’t even podcast the finale.

Riese: The last Planet Podcast I listened to was 603, I think. When they were ripping on Jenny’s nipples. After talking about Bette’s arms being fat the week prior.

Laneia: It was like the whole thing went on a full season longer than it should’ve, for The Planet Podcast and the show.

Riese: Yeah, I think so.

The L Word - Season 6

The Season Six Promo Shots

Riese: It seemed like people were really pissed at KC and Elka about not podcasting.

Laneia: They had to move on. We all did.

Riese: Yeah, I wanted to move forward. Also, the world was bleak because the economy had just crashed?

Laneia: Shit was hella bleak.

Riese: So it seemed excessive to be so jaded and pessimistic about Bette’s arms. When also Bette has FLAWLESS ARMS.

Laneia: See, even now I feel so protective of their brand and them as people.

Riese: I hope this is how you will feel about me when I’m still talking about which 90210 character I’d most like to fingerbang and team-picking Wellbutrin.

Laneia: It’s how I feel about us always.

Riese: I never thought I’d ever criticize KC & Elka, because I was pretty diehard in terms of really respecting their right to be rude and mean and even offensive. But that thing — talking shit about a woman’s nipples or arms or body — I just can’t abide that, it’s my thing.

Laneia: I think I looked at it differently, and still do, because of knowing the other side of it. And they were so over it.

Riese: Yeah, I’m sure it was different on their side. Everything usually makes sense when you know how everybody really feels about a thing, even the worst things (and this isn’t a worst thing).

Laneia: I was definitely put off by the body snarking. It was too much and just beneath them? They were smarter than that. They could’ve been better if they’d wanted to be.

Riese: Yeah that’s it, they should’ve been smarter than that. That’s what you make jokes about because you’ve got nothing else to say. But also there’s always the thing where, like, it is genuinely exhausting to do something that involved and built a community like that. That was back then before people realized that, when it was all still seen as a thing people could do as a hobby, make a podcast or write recaps that take three days to write.

Laneia: Yeah. Also building a community was never on their agenda. It’s exhausting for us on the daily, and we signed up for it.

Riese: Yes. It’s a really challenging community, too.

Laneia: It is! Bless them.

Riese: The L Word itself built a community, though. And perhaps also wasn’t prepared. I mean, lesbians have a lot of feelings, and it was like we’d all read the same book and we could talk about it, but as the show got worse, we took it personally. We’d built whole worlds around this show! What the fucking are you doing to it? And look, they tried to make their own online community, OurChart, and realized how hard it was, too, and that they weren’t ready for it.

Laneia: It was obnoxious, how little we seemed to matter at that point.

Riese: Yeah, and it made me feel stupid, honestly. It was embarrassing to dedicate so much time to such a shitty television show.

Laneia: Right.

Riese: But I think it worked because it did have so many different characters and was so all over the place, it hit so many nerves, sooner or later a story was there that most young lesbians new to the scene could relate to.

Laneia: Also because it came along before the internet looks like it does now.

Riese: And it premiered sort of at the exact right moment w/r/t the evolution of the internet. They never would’ve started OurChart if it hadn’t been for the incredible communities that were already building around the show online. It was very unique in how it catalyzed this community because lesbians specifically tended to be isolated from other people like them and therefore ripe for this. I know it was a huge boost for AfterEllen, too.

Laneia: How fucking weird that none of us would be here without it. I mean, I genuinely wonder if the internet would’ve evolved the way it did if The L Word hadn’t happened. Does that sound crazy?  It probably does.

Riese: No, it doesn’t. I don’t know… like I don’t know where I would be. I wouldn’t know Carly, Alex, you or Crystal — so I wouldn’t be me and we wouldn’t be here.

The feature graphic for Laneia's first Autostraddle post

The feature graphic for Laneia’s first Autostraddle post

Laneia: The game was changing w/r/t how other blogs/sites were handling their shit. Suddenly you couldn’t really be a sprawling messy blog or forum and expect to compete anymore. “Compete.”

Riese: Right. And all our stuff was messy. Bless the lord for Alex for coming in and making my shit look better.

Laneia: Christ, we (the community) really were right at the beginning of everything — online-to-IRL communities, web design, the fucking recession leaving everyone tired of bullshit.

Riese: Tumblr.

Laneia: And The goddamn motherfucking L Word.

Riese: Also, by Season Six everything was getting worldsmashy. We were even in that promo on Showtime and my whole life was these people I’d met this way. If we were gonna start this online magazine, we had to do it now, before the community we’d built around this terrible show dissipated. But also the whole end of my friendship with Caitlin made me so depressed in February that i just needed a new place to funnel my energy, so ta-da — AUTOSTRADDLE!

Laneia: You sent me a long email about it at the end of February, which included lots of words including these words:

… we have been building Autostraddle 1.0, which is still a mess as we prepare to launch and right now is bare-bones, but eventually I want it to be everything we love about the internet and a venue for good fiction and eventually an episodic sitcom-style webseries. Not too NYC/LA centric either, I hope to have contributors eventually from all over. I guess the real mission of autostraddle 1.0 is to be smart but accessible, pop-culture savvy but literature-literate, politically aware, DIY and have more of a focus on independent artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and other content-creators. So I wanted to ask you if you’d be interested in having a blog on Autostraddle 1.0 or really contributing in any way, participating in any way. You could write about whatever you wanted or I could give you topics. Your presence would bring more of the audience that we’re targeting and I feel you are very like-minded and witty and good at what you do and embody a lot of the spirit I want to get into Autostraddle. I don’t want to boss anyone around.

Laneia: I’d quit the internet several months earlier because it had become impossible to have an online presence and not talk about my kids, and I was ready to be 100% real and alive and find Jesus on a backroad etc.

Riese: I have an email I wrote you in October 2008 with the subject line “without your blog I have no reason to live i am going to date boys from now on.”

Laneia: Yes! But then there you were with this amazing offer and it just felt important and big, what you were doing. So I talked to my partner and she knew how much it meant to me — honestly if it hadn’t been for her supporting me during those years, there’s no way I could’ve been involved — and then I said yes.

Riese: I WAS SO FUCKING HAPPY. Alex and Tess built the site and Carly, Robin, Stef, Crystal and my roommate Natalie had also signed on to write shit, and so now this place exists because of that show and the story of the show is the story of the internet and how I forced you to be my friend and work for this place.

Laneia: And how you told us all we’d matter and I sometimes didn’t believe you, and then we did.

Riese: Yes!

Laneia: And that’s how I knew that you were psychic.

Riese: Also, I knew you could do this job because I had been really impressed by how you’d handled The Planet Podcast community. Initially we thought The L Word would be a huge part of the next stage of Autostraddle, too, like The L Word Vaults were prominent on our first design. But pretty soon, the show was just a distant memory. However I definitely had Kelka Pride in my mind when I was telling people that A-Camp would work.

Laneia: There really is nothing that a lot of lesbians would rather do than congregate in a space without men.

Riese: THANKS ILENE CHAIKEN!


Feature photo by Robin Roemer of a sketch by Sam Gorrie.


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Profile photo of Riese

Riese is the 33-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 1782 articles for us.

91 Comments

  1. Thumb up 12

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    I love this so much. I may have cried at Riese’s email to Laneia with the description of autostraddle 1.0, also. Because look! Look at this amazing thing you guys made! A space where everyone does really matter, Riese was right. Im so thankful for this terrible-awesome show and you magical humans who made things out of it.

  2. Thumb up 4

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    Thank you for writing this. The Planet podcast and everything that came out of it meant so much to me when I was 16 and trying to figure what was going on in my brain. Seeing the whole story and all the connections written out just makes me feel completely overwhelmed with gratitude.

  3. Thumb up 6

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    Bringing Janie out of retirement for this. The Kelkaverse is still the craziest thing I have ever experienced. The short lived small early days to its insane peak and the eventual demise, each part of it changed me. I figured out my queer self in that time, and met the most amazing people. It truly left an imprint on me that I never expected.

    -Ky

  4. Thumb up 6

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    I can’t believe how long ago this all was and how that community along with all my young cringe worthy and embarrassing antics led to where my life is now. I found myself, moved countries and have now been married for 5 years. It is fing weird…

    What you guys have created here just makes me so happy and grateful that there is this non-fandomcommunity out there for new people to find :)

    – Loula

  5. Thumb up 11

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    Thank you for writing this! I am so proud to say I was there from the beginning – from the first doubts that I was straight (not knowing that girls like me could be gay) and figuring it out with the help of the Kelkaverse and the amazing online community. Thanks Laneia for talking about KC and Elka even though you feel protective – it feels like closure in a way because I never quite knew what happened to them or why they stopped. They really gave us such an amazing gift and I sometimes think of them and wonder how they are.

    I still have all their podcasts and some of yours too, Green :D

    I also want to mention the amazing Melia and Ashley and JC and Megan. I know there were many podcasts that came from the Planet Podcast, but those two as well as SlogreenX made a huge impact on me. I have loads of memories of listening to my ipod while doing things specific to that period of my life. So weird to think about that now.

    And thank you Riese for those hilarious recaps and those amazing vlogs with Haviland – you made those years of my life infinity better.

    Long live Autostraddle!

  6. Thumb up 7

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    I really loved everything about this. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I’m so glad that even though in the beginning everything seemed weird and chaotic in a way that nothing made sense but everything made sense, that y’all were passionate enough to push through and create what you wanted to see in this world.

    I’m so grateful y’all found each other on the Internet. Because we wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t.

    <3

  7. Thumb up 6

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    Well, due credit to the l word for bring folks together. Thank you for finding yourselves and each other and that community, and building something from it. The recaps and autowin were awesome for me, but autostraddle has just become so much.

  8. Thumb up 8

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    Im just glad this place exists and im amazed at how you have turned internet friends into 3D friendships. I mean look at ACamp. The meet ups. The info we share and insights we exchange. The community feeling i hope we all have that isnt limited to here..its amazing you know how much you grow to love other people you dont personally know. Yes its probavly automagic or the elves but whatever because i feel at home more here than anywhere else..im so happy this virtual place exists..

    And thank you to the staff. Because without you guys who knows where we would be today. Riese, goddess of interweb with your second in command laneia. Hats off and bow ties on.

    L word. Youre just but a distant memory but you have brought us together.

  9. Thumb up 8

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    I feel like I am so late to the party…but I made it in the end. I fell off the Internet in ’05 and honestly until the past year had only been facebooking…ugh…which is basically flailing around in your own primordial slime… due to a hectic education and dayjob schedule I had fallen into a world of straight folks,like super super mega straight folks, (except my missus) and no one else who shared my interests/politics/gayness. When I finished my BA I hopped on Twitter, you know for professional purposes and networking and then the lesbians found me and led me home to Autostraddle and boy am I glad. Where else could I read amazing recaps of shows not aired in the UK AND articles about politics and rights and all the stuff I need to know? Where else could I be #TeamTampon, find out I have a lesbian purse and babble on about Yorkshire Tea and being from tiny Yorkshire town of Nogay with a burnt down gay bar…and not be branded a crazy lady? Thank you so much for all of this, so many feelings of gratitude. KOKO you awesome folks.

  10. Thumb up 8

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    I am so in my old Kelkian feels reading all of this. That online community kept me sane for the better part of three years and for that I’m so grateful.

    The Autostraddle team has built something really beautiful and I am so proud to have been reader from the very fucking beginning (if only as a lurker). Thank y’all for this space.

  11. Thumb up 2

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    I didn’t realize how big the L Word online community really was, but maybe it’s because when I was watching I didn’t fully realize who I was. Really the only L Word community I was part of was on SecondLife, but that was around season 4-5. Most of them didn’t want to talk about the show, they just wanted to cyber/talk dirty or act out Carmen and Shane scenes for secondlife cash. Part of why I stopped going there. In fact I tried to discuss the confusion and sadness(partially cause the show was over & partially cause I actually liked Jenny), but had no one to discuss it with(most I knew who watched the show where just finished watching season 5). So, thank you for giving us a safe space for discussing the L Word.

    • Thumb up 3

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      By the time those L Word sims popped up in Second Life I had been there(in the virtual world) for a few years. By this time, Second Life had become over saturated with consumers. In the beginning it wasn’t all about cyber sex, there were many friendly designers/creators/coders and it was an interesting virtual space. I tried making friends with fans of the show on The L Word sims as well but the only interaction I can remember was with a girl telling me she wanted me to be her teddy bear…but I was engaged to a guy. o_O I used to watch The L Word with his mother or my friend; I had to rewatch a lot of episodes because my friend and I…got distracted. Eventually it was evident I wasn’t bisexual, I wanted to be with a woman and after a rainy Melissa Ferrick and Indigo Girls concert I broke up with my fiance.
      I tried getting back into Second Life a few times since then but the only time I really ever enjoyed it aside from the first few years was when it was the only interaction I could have with my long distance gf aside from video chat.

  12. Thumb up 9

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    i love reading about the history of this place and the people who made it and how you all came together. thanks so much.

    also i thought this was cute:

    Riese: Yes. It’s a really challenging community, too.

    Laneia: It is! Bless them.

  13. Thumb up 21

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    God this. I have zero right to feel this way, but I feel like this is a story I’m somehow connected to. I guess we probably all do. It’s the mythos behind this weird, awesome community we are all a part of now and I just love it so much. This is our history guys.

    Also, The L Word totally made me gay.

  14. Thumb up 6

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    I started watching the L Word on 2009/2010 which is also when I started reading Autostraddle, so I missed everything that went up back then, which is why it was interesting to read how it all came to be. Also as someone who was also heavily immersed in online communities and still conserves friends who then became real life friends from those days I love reading stories like this!

    • Thumb up 4

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      Same. I only started watching The L Word in like 2008 and found Autostraddle in 2009/2010. I actually think it’s hilarious because the way I found Autostraddle was through a Tegan and Sara article. Other than The L Word, that is the most stereotypical lesbian thing (for this generation) I can think of. But yeah, I really enjoyed reading about the history of this website/community that I strongly identify with. Even though I wasn’t there, I feel like I was thanks to this article and I had fun peeking behind the curtain.

  15. Thumb up 6

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    Wow this was an excellent read. It’s incredible to hear the story of how Autostraddle became Autostraddle and realize that I was there through most of it.

    I am so grateful for your work that ultimately lead to this website! I listened to KC & Elka’s podcast, to Slo & Green and read Riese’s blogs. Hard to believe it was that long ago…
    It’s truly beautiful what you have accomplished and really nice for us to take a peek at the behind the scenes.

    Nostalgia wave!

  16. Thumb up 4

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    autostraddle’s relationship with TLW will always hold a weird and warm place in my heart. this is where i started to find that there are people like me that are interested in pop culture and making jokes and observations about things that are terrible/awesome. i think about watching all of TLW at the end of 2008, headphones on under the covers in my dorm room, chatting with my first girlfriend about this ridiculous show and what exactly ‘looking very shane today’ meant. discovering autowin and the recaps and then following this thing from its baby days as autostraddle 1.0 to this wild community of hilarious and thoughtful women has shaped me and my sense of humour more than most things. and i love that you told this story as a conversation, because obviously. just feeling lots of warm and fuzzy autostraddle feelings nbd

  17. Thumb up 3

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    It’s so weirdly amazing how this all goes back to IFC.

    But this isn’t about her. This about how you all formed a super team of awesome humans and created a community- a community that stood after the fall of the show that kinda/sorta started it all. How crazy is that? You did that. Thank you, Team Autostraddle! I am forever grateful.

    • Thumb up 6

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      CARRIE! That is wild. Crystal found my blog via a Guestbian essay I wrote on OurChart, that’s the only OurChart related success story I’ve heard in my life until this moment

  18. Thumb up 10

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    Not to toot my own horn, but I was proud to have helped Elka and KC build and design their blogs and message boards. It was time well spent as I made so many friends through their podcast both online and in real life.

    My only regret is never getting to launch OurShart.

    – Foxfire, former message board admin

  19. Thumb up 22

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    Reading this was like reading the best history textbook ever. Do you think one day there will be a college course about Autostraddle? Do you think I could teach it, and offer extra credit for things like knowing Laneia’s original screen name and explaining the etymology of Autostraddle?

    • Thumb up 1

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      I remember a conference call we had with Laneia when we were hanging out in this house we called the “castle in the sky”. We were so excited and wanted to thank her for coming on board with us. And I called her “Green” so many times before calling Laneia by her actual name! Samesies, Bren.

  20. Thumb up 17

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    Hello, this feels kind of strange… I just registered. You know, for everyone there comes a time when you need to register because you finally want to say something. For me this was it.

    I’ve been here a very long time. I came from the The L Word Online through Riese’s recaps. I’ve seen the birth of this site and it feels like yesterday. But wow, how quickly time can pass.
    So yeah, what I really want to say now – because I never did so far – is that I’m really proud. Because you made this!

  21. Thumb up 7

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    oh my god I missed something and never pieced together than laneia = green of slo+green of kelka.

    I so desperately wanted to go to kelka pride but I was 16 and helpless. this post was nostalgia fodder, thanks.

    you can still get their podcasts on itunes.

  22. Thumb up 5

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    It was Laneia’s story, “It’s More Fun When We’re Co-Conspirators” that first introduced me to this site.

    To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know HOW I got to that story (what WAS I googling for exactly? Haha) but I am glad that it led me here and that a site like this exists.

    You guys are awesome and learning how this all came to be makes me jealous that I missed so much of it.

    Cheers to you all!

  23. Thumb up 17

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    I love origin stories so much and this felt like looking at a family tree, where I am still a baby little twig. (For now!)

    I want you guys to know – when you talk about how this lesbian/queer community found each other because they had common ground in conversations about the L Word – all I can think of is how my when I meet other lesbians and queers, so often the common conversation ground I find is Autostraddle. We discuss articles and columns we’ve loved, aspects of queer identity we’ve discovered and new people we’ve met because of this site. I came out in 2012 and I’ve watched enough of the L Word on Netflix to get what that deal is – but the fact that I don’t really *need* to watch those remaining three terrible seasons, because you are here and you’ve given us a space for both our media and our conversations to move on, move past it…

    Holy shit, you guys.

    Thank you.

  24. Thumb up 12

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    this really is everything i care about and i’ve already been really emotional all the time lately and now i’m extremely emotional and it’s a lot. but it’s a good a lot.

    this was kind of like reading my own diary from years ago if i had kept a diary. in that way where the internet makes you there for things you weren’t physically there for. but i was there! i made my best friend be there too! you guys were reporting on things and we were reporting to each other that you were reporting on things.

    some thoughts from among the many thoughts that i want to cry all over everyone:

    + i used to fall asleep to the planet podcast. by that i mean i would listen to it all the way through once in the daytime and the start it over every night and fall asleep listening to it again. i still do sometimes with the few you can play on youtube. i remember being excited when i finally could tell the difference between kc and elka’s voices. i mean i sorta could.

    + i was so happy when y’all won the UHH contest. i had had done something really stupid as an entry. we don’t have to talk about it. weird times. but then y’all won and i was like, “I know them!” and then UHH made that response video where they were like “we know who you are.” and i sat in my room and wondered what it would be like to have more friends who knew who you all were.

    + on the first night of my first meeting with the LGBTQ student group at my school, i met a girl who listened to the planet too and we LOST OUR DAMN MINDS when we realized that we got each other’s highly highly highly specific references. i think that was one of the first times i felt the extreme power of internet community in real life. we had been miles and miles away from each other, listening to these little files in total secret, and yet when i makes a joke about keeping my keys in a bowl of limes she gets it? incredible. that was one of my favorite nights ever.

    + also, I have to say i had coveted that planet podcast shirt that was dark grey and had pink lettering in the front with the unicorn, you know? i wanted it the same way i wanted a few other t shirts which would signal to potential queers on the street that i knew what that was without alerting straight people. to this day i had still been wishing that i had gotten that shirt, but now i’m glad that i didn’t for the sake of not making difficult merch related stress!

    I’m going to run away from the feelings now. but i’m just so glad everything exists. it’s incredible knowing that there are hordes of people who would be entirely different if not for this one singular thing that spawned so much content. i’ll never be over how special that is. or how vital it is.

    and i honestly don’t think i could ever put that into words for you guys.

    ugh. shucks. <3

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    This post was great :) I’m feeling so nostalgic!

    Kelka got me through some of the toughest times and this site has done the same in recent years.

    KC and Elka impacted so many ppl and built this huge community out of the goodness of their hearts. I can’t imagine the energy all that took. I’m forever grateful! I can understand the criticism but I never thought they were malicious about things they said, I guess I have a sick humor and really loved everything they said/did. I always wish I had made it to Kelka pride but it fell in love right before June and didn’t get outta bed till about October that year hehehhe

    Anyway thanks for all the auto straddle staff and community continues to so and thanks to Kelka for all you’ve done!

    Ps- I have all the planet podcasts if anyone is interested. Just email me, I promise to get back to you eventually! Xoxo Cassie dot m dot Fennell at gmail dot com.

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    i knew so many pieces of this story from the incredibly extensive autostraddle excavation i performed in the library after class every day during my last semester of college instead of any shred of the work i was supposed to have been doing (woops), but seeing it all laid out and you guys talking about it is so much. it really does feel like an old family story. like the story of how your parents met. your queery godparents. and it’s beautiful.

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    Thanks for taking the time to do this guys!

    Also, I’m really taken with this idea of the timing of the L Word and the emergence and evolution of online communities. Like do we see this in other potentially isolated communities to such a degree during this time period?

    I suppose there may be a bit of a natural experiment in the fact that Queer As Folk ended right when you’re saying this transitional moment in the internet happened. So a theoretically a similarly situation, but sans this technological transformation.

    …don’t mind me guys. I’m just typing up thoughts and sharing them indiscriminately.

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      No for real it’s sociologically fascinating and I’m personally really interested in the larger body of research around how the internet empowered various niche communities, there’s also a lot out there about online slash/fic and LGBTs as well, which was huge for gay men and gay geeks going back to the ’90s.

      Also, it wasn’t until the success of Queer as Folk that Showtime was willing to consider The L Word, which Ilene had attempted to pitch initially some years earlier. i do think gay men and women took to the internet differently and in some ways, they faced the opposite image “problem” that laneia & I talked about — mainstream gay male culture was represented as very sexual and stylish, even by haters.

      I have this bookmarked from when i came across it last year:
      http://lifeonthesmallscreen.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/fandom-queer-as-folk/

      I think QAF fandom was mainly centered on Livejournal and members-only forums, which was the platform I was using for my own personal stuff between 2000 and 2005, too. On that tip, one of the things that most interests me was the slow transition from writers using handles to using their real names — it was actually considered very strange that I wrote under my actual name when I first started, almost all of AE’s writers (and many of OurChart’s) used handles or psuedonyms and this was considered okay despite the fact that you’d never see a handle used by a writer for large sites for non-LGBTs — because the LGBT community had a unique need for discretion and privacy, we had different expectations of our online voices. I doubt much of QAF fandom was done by writers writing as themselves or writers willing to post photos of themselves online, but that practice is something that has changed radically over the past 5-7 years and i think it has a legit psychological impact.

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        Very interesting indeed! I wonder if the fact that during this time period the political backdrop for the gay community was the battle over same sex marriage (which especially towards the second half of the 2000s started going on the offensive) and the very nature of that movement necessitates a focus on the personal and private sphere perhaps in a way that say the fight for employment protections doesn’t necessarily produce. Certainly the mainstream media when covering the same sex marriage movement often chooses to focus on the personal stories and the movement itself has made that personal storytelling more explicitly part of their strategies in the last few years.

        So I think what I’m trying to say is that in the socio-political milieu at the time (mid-2000s to now) we see greater exposure and visibility of gay people having their everyday lives highlighted. So, like the news story isn’t just gays protest in the capital — it’s look a this loving couple with two kids just living their life oh also they’d like to get married.
        Maybe all that also helped shift this move away from anonymity toward a space of individual and even private voices having a place in a public discussion (versus some sort of super activist public persona) without it meaning something more dire or heavy or fearful.

        I’m not sure if that made any sense, but regardless when are you writing the book and when can I be your research assistant? ;)

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      Those tapes of your grandmother’s sound awesome! I hope your family will give copies to libraries or something, for posterity. One of my uncles was going to do something similar with my grandmother’s experience of being a young single mother during the Depression, though I think he was leaning toward a book of anecdotes. But she had a series of small strokes which left her with severe dementia before he could start that project.

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    I read through all of this today and I think it was the first time I breathed in a really long time. I’m so glad the L word happened so that this could happen so that you could both be here and I could know you.

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    Laneia, I definitely made you stand in a corner with me at camp during prom to talk about this but like… this whole article gave me so many Feelings.

    I was ~15 and closeted to my family and most of my friends when I was introduced to The L Word by a friend I had met on a theatre messageboard (Hi, Laura). I think it was between seasons 3 and 4, and as soon as I caught up in the series to the point where they had started podcasting, she had me listen to The Planet. I remember that I would purposely miss the bus home from school so I could walk and have more time to listen to KC and Elka, and Slo and Green, and Mia and Paul and a few others I can’t remember. I commented occasionally, but I felt that I was too young and inexperienced compared to all of you cool people. I so badly wanted to go to Kelka pride, but there was no way that my little closeted self, who was deleting my browser history constantly from my parents computer, was getting from New York to Albuquerque. But still, with all of it’s flaws, I’m eternally grateful to have found The L Word and then The Planet and Riese’s blogs and then to finally end up here.

    I need to stop writing this so I can stop crying.

    Side note: I don’t think I realized till now that Lezberado was you, Riese. I just clicked on that YouTube video, not really remembering what it was, and then freaked out.

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    Thank you for everything. Seriously, thank you so much. Autostraddle was my first real intro to queer culture and to feminism and for the year and a half that I’ve been here, it’s been so inclusive and warm and oh my god, I’d throw my pie for all you. Autostraddle is my favourite part of every day.

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    Coming from a person who was a Planet lurker and poster for years, and very closely related to this world I have to say that this blog post is entirely too inaccurate (and too self-congratulatory) to call itself ‘an oral history’ of anything.

    When this article came out, I was pretty outraged at how the authors chose to portray the original podcasters (OPs), and shared it with fellow long-time Kelkians who also had certain things to dispute about this piece’s authenticity, how Kelka ended, etc. after debating in my mind and with friends whether to say something, I’ve come to a point where I can’t stand to remain silent.

    I do not at all believe that there is a respectful treatment of the OPs, particularly in the section where this post’s authors give their version of the causes of The Planet Podcast’s dissolution– and therefore would like to to provide an alternative, reasoning to the authors'”THIS-IS-HOW-IT-HAPPENED-AND-WE-KNOW-BECAUSE-WE-WERE-THE-ONLY-INTERNET-CELESBIANS-THERE”

    because I think that around this time there were also a lot of personal ties and issues involved that caused many internet relationships to change as they became real-life ones. So let’s not get it twisted:

    “It wasn’t those jokes about Bette’s arms. I was going to comment on the article, but then I’d have to register. Oh well. I was going to say personal things happened in their lives and that took precedence. That’s all.

    And personally, I didn’t use the forum anymore bc I suppose I didn’t need it anymore. I met a lot of kelkians in real life already and we connected through fb and other means. I feel like we all grew up and got busy with real life is what happened. The forum and podcast did come at the perfect time for us. We needed it to connect. But after we connected in real life, it became unnecessary.”

    If it weren’t for the planet, Autostraddle wouldn’t exist and many of its authors, bloggers, or whatever wouldn’t be connected, wouldn’t be making money off of running this website and collecting all of its users’ data, etc.

    Though the authors attribute the end of the Kelkian era and a decline in usership/fanbase to ” negative comments about women’s bodies”, they ought to simply sayi ‘thank you’ and respect the people who paved the way for their own success instead of showing a little highlight reel of archived internet data and then gracelessly bashing on their predecessors in order to try to situate themselves within their own false sense of internet greatness or notoriety, or whatever.

    On the other hand, I will qualify the authors for the credit that they have given to The Planet for encouraging their own personal connections/growth. Ultimately this piece still comes off as a slightly disdainful and irreverent “fuck off’ to the people who got you to where we are now. y’all should say sorry. Or at lease please clarify to you gigantic army/fanbase of readers that this is your opinion, not a history.

    ~ peace and respect ~

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    i remember being extremely terrified when you asked to meet with me in such a serious way, and i was so relieved it turned out to be yet another Great Idea, but a really really great idea. i could never have imagined all the places it would take us or that we’d be here now. love you weirdos.

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    I discovered Autostraddle last year sometime. I want to recall all of the search terms it took me to find a community that was queer women, literate, politically left, and forefronted queer women’s community by showcasing popular culture and subculture stuff that unites us: ie The L Word… certain musicians, certain authors etc.
    It was not an easy search by any means for me to find Autostraddle. I did not know that such a community existed. I thought those things just existed in places such as Hollywood; in other words in rather rarefied habitats. And it frustrated me greatly that Autostraddle was so hard to find, but maybe that is a comment more to do with my search skills at the time than it is Autostraddles market reach.
    That I found an alive and kicking community of squabbly queer women is great – who can reach out, maybe for the first time on their parent’s computers, on their own, their friends, or a public computer, to a family of queer women who are telling their lives and sharing of themselves in a way that is both courageous, intimate, and vulnerable. You have created an incredible safe and fun space, Riese and Laneia, and this is a very very good example of what a great vibrant, discerning and passionate queer community can be. Thankyou. Your beginnings were tentative and passionate, I wasn’t following any podcasts or recaps then, though I would have loved to and would have been very grateful for your contributions. You have created a community that The L Word in its best intentions tried to create, but you have made this world real, and ongoing. It has momentum, and for that I am very grateful.

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    Ahh Riese all the memories! I feel both a sense of honor and bitter-sweet melancholy after reading this.

    Honored to have been a part of the history of Autostraddle with The L Word Online. And bitter-sweet melancholy at all the missed opportunities I’ve had since The L Word ended.

    The L Word Online was actually published BEFORE The L Word even started (in Oct 2003) and from that point onwards, up until the end of Season 6, Slicey and I had a full time “hobby” with that website. We lived, breathed and ate everything L Word. For 7 fucking years!

    And like you and pretty much everyone who had been along for The L Word ride, we were spent when it finished. Done. Exhausted. We had nothing left to give. Ilene had sucked us dry, so to speak. So when The Real L Word started up, we couldn’t continue. We just couldn’t. I know now that I probably SHOULD have, to at least keep the community we had worked so hard to grow, alive. But we were done.

    Which is one of the reason’s I’m so proud of what you have done Riese. You didn’t give up. You took that community and grew it even more. You made it better and bigger. It was the same vision that Slicey and I had had, but we were just the two of us. We never had the resources or skills you had. We WANTED to make something like Autostraddle, but we were done.

    We talk about resurrecting The L Word Online again someday, but what would it look like? What would it be about? Could we still call it The L Word Online and talk about things OTHER than The L Word? Or is it too late? Do people even remember us still?

    Thanks again for all your work with the recaps. You were definitely one of the people who made The L Word Online an awesome community. And even though I’ve only ever met you that one time, I’m proud to call you my friend.

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    L word mania was way before my time but this was so interesting and cool. I can’t believe it was only a few years ago and the way we used the internet already seems so old-fashioned. It cracked me up to imagine Laneia ‘drunk with power’ and Riese so career-centric!! I arrived here in 2011 after googling Kim Ann Foxman or something. So glad I did. Thanks for creating this website/community/lifestyle.

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    just awwww times a million. back when all this was happening, i was in high school checking laptops out of the library so i could be sneaky and read riese’s recaps. i didn’t know i was gay yet, so i was convinced everyone else would love stuff about the l word as much as i did and was so confused when no one else was into it. luckily, i got that sorted pretty quickly. and when i did, i spent an entire vacation listening to the planet podcast on the beach. y’all’re right, they were totally like lesbian friends in my ears.

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    IT’S SO AMAZING HOW MANY OF YOU ARE STILL HERE. and look at the lovely humans who have joined us along the way who read this whole thing and wow you’re all really great. really really.

    no really, often laneia and I will see names in the comments we recognize from our various past internet worlds and be like “[x] is an autowin person” or “[x] is a planet person” which is shorthand for “[x] is an awesome person.”

    i feel really blessed to have laneia as my friend and as my co-world-maker, there is nobody else i could’ve done this with. she is a really really good commenter.

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    Hey, opened an account on here just to comment on this article.

    I often reminisce on these times, me sitting at my first job and constantly hitting F5 all day on a Tuesday waiting for the recap to be uploaded to Riese’s blog. And then excitedly waiting to see if my comment would get a reply on the Wednesday. (It nearly always did – thanks Riese :))

    It’s funny how special these times still feel – partly because all of this was a direct link to how I met my girlfriend in 2007. It all began by shouting ‘nipple cupcakes’ at a Tegan and Sara gig. Then reading a comment on Green’s article on Ourchart from a person who’s sexuality was described as ‘Kelkian’ who asked if anyone else had heard ‘nipple cupcakes’ being screamed. We got talking about our love for SloganX and Green and Riese and KC and Elka – and sometimes we do still talk about all the crossovers and weird links that led to us meeting.

    We now have a lovely house in the countryside, dogs, veg plot and a lovely garden. And I guess really I wanted to thank you for helping me meet this person. Cos without you guys, I don’t think it ever would have happened.

    So thank you :)

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    For me, too — wow these memories. The L Word and the Planet Podcast and Sloganx all happened right when I needed them most, and I am beyond grateful. The enthusiasm and honesty and adventure was the antidote to the other side of my feelings at that time: boatloads of self doubt, worry, and anxiety. I don’t know if I would have allowed myself to travel down this road so I very badly needed to travel if it weren’t for that positivity. I never got involved, mostly because I am (err, think?) about ten years older then the majority of voices at the time, which made me feel a little like I was peeking into a room full of people both younger and more self aware than myself, eeep. But now I will pipe up to say my thanks. It was a rough time. I lost some friends (they were fairly sh*tty to start with, so ok) and I didn’t know if what I was doing by letting myself get more comfortable with these thoughts and feelings was going to make me so other than my family that I’d lose them. But the Kelkians, Reise, Laneia and the commenters and community — you collectively were just so spot-on in so many ways I knew it was okay, there were people like me and they were fine and fun. And gradually I let me be me, and I’m celebrating 8 years today with the best lady love I could imagine. And our cat. And our big happy families. It was okay! SO. Thank you.

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    it is so amazing to see this whole origin story laid out like this, thank you guys!

    it’s bizarre for me to think about the start of the L word, and where i was in my life, and how much my world has changed since then.
    i remember watching the first episode with people i don’t talk to anymore, and my experience of the show was always so private.
    i’ve always been more shy on the internet than i am in person, and i’m glad that AS exists, for people like me to meet other like minded humans in person. and because i consistently come back here for the lens that y’all use to look at the world.

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