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