24 Incredible Personal Essays We Published In 2014

feature image via shutterstock

This year we published so many stories that smashed your heart open, made your soul explode, exposed you to the unknown, opened your mind and/or reminded you that you are not alone.

This year we published 70 personal essays on Autostraddle.com. 54% were by writers of color and 62% were by guest writers, and topics covered ran the gamut: dwarfism, fibromyalgiaconditional queer love in Russia, reclaiming abuelita knowledge as a brown ecofeminista, bulimia and race, the revolutionary possibilities of brunch for a queer fagette, editing BDSM erotica as a queer topgaming while female, queer black women in love — the list goes on and on. The essays included here aren’t “The Best Of 2014,” because that would be impossible to parse out, but they represent a variety of topics and styles and are all single-author posts rooted primarily in personal experiences. If you missed any of these, you’ll want to fix that very soon.

The Second to Last Woman I Loved, by Roxane Gay (January)

“I had gotten in the habit, you see, of dating women who wouldn’t give me what I wanted, who couldn’t possibly love me enough because I was a gaping wound of need. I couldn’t admit this to myself but there was a pattern of intense emotional masochism, of throwing myself into the most dramatic relationships possible, of needing to be a victim of some kind over, and over, and over. That was something familiar, something I understood.”

Eight Ways I’ve Been Made to Feel About My Asian Eyes, by Robin Yang (July)

“What I’m saying is that for almost as long as I can remember, I’ve thought about my face in terms of how other people see and talk about it. I don’t have a concrete idea of what my face looks like, just what it could look like.”

Because If I Was Honest, Everything I Knew Would Explode, by Tina Vasquez (October)

“We’re conditioned to believe that abuse looks or feels a certain way, so much in fact that when you experience it, it’s not always clear it’s happening. When you grow up in a home where overt violence was baseline normal, your boyfriend punching the wall next to your head or pushing you to the ground as he shoves past you doesn’t seem so bad.”

Before You Know It Something’s Over, by Riese Bernard (June)

“My father died on November 14th, 1995, when I was 14. Every day since the day he died I am one day farther away from him than I was before. This is the truest thing about me. It is the most important and worst thing to ever happen to me. It is me. My father died when I was 14. I will tell people this forever. It is the truest thing about me. I was 14 when he died. My father. I was 14. I am what I have lost.”

The Disappearing Act: Fighting Disordered Eating as a Masculine-of-Center Woman, by Ali Osworth (July)

“I got a taste of something I had never known — shopping in the men’s department afforded my body the opportunity to take up the amount of space it actually takes up. Masculine people are afforded the privilege of space. Feminine people aren’t. Feminine people are supposed to be so small that they disappear. That they maybe make themselves disappear in that quest for lightness, for smallness, for compactness. Like flowers being pressed until they’re flat. Not all feminine people do it, but I think most of them feel the pressure.”

Confessions of a Beauty Queer: The Best Goodbye of My Life, by Djuan Trent (May)

“Everyone keeps asking me, “What was it like navigating the pageant world as a queer woman?” I’m honestly not sure what answer anyone is looking for, but the answer I have is simple: It wasn’t like anything. Why? Because I was strung out on denial.”

Homeward Bound: Searching for the Secret Island of Black Queer Mixed Femmes, by Kim Crosby (January)

“The more my queerness was framed by the culture and the language that I access here, the more my body was marked by what has always been an Indigenous and African practice of tattooing that has since been appropriated by the West, the more boldly this Queer Black Girl accessed space — the more difficult it became to return to that ever elusive place called ‘home’.”

Getting Cruised In The Heights, by Gabby Rivera (November)

“Being cruised is what happens when heterosexism is pushed aside for a minute. It’s what would happen, I imagine, if none of our interests —sexual, spiritual, emotional — were shackled to any sort of expectations. In a world where no one expects anyone else to be straight, people could reach out to whoever they wanted to or not.”

My Personal Is Political: Reconciling My Trauma With My Feminism, by Jess Paige (March)

“A week later, I start having nightmares and panic attacks and flashbacks. Some nights I see that matching pajama set I wore when I was six. Some nights I relive that moment when I asked my friends parents why my clothes were on the floor. Others, I start to remember minuscule moments – being carried to my friends sisters bed, the brain freeze I got from slamming my glass of chocolate milk, a dark figure that I can’t really make out. I had buried this night somewhere deep in my head. It was now being dusted off for the first time.”

Sober in the City: The Life-Changing Day My Addict Partner Left Me, by Ginger Hale (July)

“Her, leave me? Why would she do that? I was the one getting sober, starting all of the hard and painstaking work towards recovery and she was getting a free pass to continue her wild child antics. In fact, once I got sober, she became obsessed that I was going to leave her.”

For All The Girls I Loved Before I Knew I Could, by Audrey White (April)

“It took 14 years more before I let myself fall for a woman. Amanda caught me off guard with her short hair wizardry, but I felt sure it was a fluke. I first had crushes on boys when I was 4. I knew my more-than-platonic feelings for women were some other thing, some deep friendship or sisterhood. As soon as I knew what an “ally” was, I considered myself one. But I did not understand that I myself could be gay. Bisexuality seemed mythical.”

Fumigation: A Love Story, by Mónica Teresa Ortiz (November)

“You loved her like you love Texas summers. The real fucking hot kind like being wrapped in plastic and left out underneath the shadow of a cactus in the Chihuahuan Desert. The real fucking hot kind that you look forward to each June because you’d rather be a pond of sweat for 69 consecutive days in 100 plus degree heat than shivering as the cold slowly licks your bones clean.”

Breaking the Habit: Exes, Past and Future, by Kari (July)

“We ignored the scientists who had intimated that all living things, systems, required balance. We were a dysfunctional system, and if we are to believe that the product of any processes regulates the process itself, then we were toying with mutual destruction. Our product was shit. Like all living systems out of balance, we were unsustainable.”

Schecter 3:16 (Or How Jenny Schecter Saved My Life), by Heather Hogan (January)

“Jenny Schecter was a mess. There’s no denying it. The writing for her character was so outlandishly inconsistent that you never knew which incarnation you were going to get from one season to the next. She was a duplicitous megalomaniac whose self-indulgent, self-destructive antics knew no boundary. But you know what? So is Don Draper. So was Walter White. So was Dexter and Jack Bauer and House and Tony Soprano. But they’re dudes, so that makes them interesting. Jenny Schecter is a lady, so her deal makes her a cunt.”

The Big Reveal, by Jenna Leigh Evans (September)

“Dismissing a cover story as cowardly, I told any classmate who wanted to know exactly where I’d been and why. I fielded questions about what it was like inside a loony bin the same way I fielded questions about what two girls did in bed: enjoying the shock, enjoying the power to disseminate secret knowledge of a parallel and secret world.”

Adventures In Lesbian Baby-Making, by Lynne Marie (February)

“I’m not going to tell you why I had to grow a person in my body because I don’t know. I don’t know why my family couldn’t start with a trip to China or Nepal or Ukraine or the over-flowing U.S. foster care system. I don’t know why I needed a stranger’s sperm to meet an egg in my uterus, a zygote to push itself into the spongy wet red lining of my womb and grow there. I don’t know why I didn’t need to know. I needed money for sperm and a freezer to keep it in and syringes to push it into my uterus. I needed doctors to sign forms that said they were supervising my efforts and I needed Liz to open the liquid nitrogen with her gardening gloves on. I needed the cash price of a Lexus in the bank, and in the end I needed a tenaculum to hold my cervix still while the catheter went in, but I didn’t ever need to know why I wanted to have a baby.”

Trust No One (Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned From The X-Files), by Rachel Kincaid (January)

“‘How long have you known you were bisexual?’ she asked one day. We were in my bed; she spoke into my shoulder with her arms around me. I don’t remember what I told her. Months later, I found a folded-up note in my locker, which was not unusual; it was unusual that it concluded with “What I’m trying to say is I love you.” I folded it back up immediately and hid it between the outer case and inner body of my graphing calculator and went to class. I never told her I had read it; it would have required admitting something was real that I wasn’t ready to believe in, a version of myself I wasn’t ready to believe was possible.”

Learning To Use Chopsticks: Coming Out As Korean-American, by Kaelyn Rich (September)

“When I stand next to other Korean women of my approximate age, it is assumed we are sisters. People just randomly speak to me in Korean or ask me to say things in Korean, forcing me to awkwardly tell them I only speak English (and very poor German). I’ve had more than my fair share of people and partners who exoticize me, sexually or platonically. At the end of the day, I still look in a mirror and can’t see myself fully, even though I’ve tried to unlearn my white-washing of my self. By escaping into my passing privilege, I erased my own identity.”

One Year Ago, A Gunman Opened Fire On Our Car, by Laura Mandanas (November)

“When they rolled me in for the EKG, they told me that it would be okay to cry, which I hadn’t yet, not once. I wondered if that was what a person in my situation was supposed to do. I wondered that a lot in the following weeks and months as I recovered. I drifted in and out of consciousness on my parents’ couch, watching the pundits on an endless loop discussing Michelle Bachmann, and wondered — if my last name was not Mandanas, if the other names involved did not sound similarly Hispanic — would they be talking about us? Did I even want that?”

Know Me Where It Hurts: Sex, Kink, and Cerebral Palsy, by Carrie (March)

“It’s not often (i.e., almost never) that I get told I’m good at a physical activity. But now my body, which had spent so many years letting me down and making decisions without my consent, had gone and done something absolutely right — and done it better. It had done something other people’s bodies, “healthy” bodies, hadn’t been able to.”

To Be Queer, Black, and “Sick”, by Helen McDonald (February)

“The first woman I ever loved told me that when you’re queer and Black, illness is a shadow that always follows you, but that no one ever acknowledges. I walked away because I didn’t know how to see it.”

Critique is Resistance; Resistance is Revolution, by L’lerrét Jazelle Ailith (November)

This is a shorter (not full-length) essay but you need to read it anyhow!

“It’s not enough to read the names of my sisters killed off by the normative nature of this capitalistic system. Moments of silence are not enough. Calling us courageous is not enough. Having one or two trans friends is not enough. We need to begin to develop more complex analysis of the world in which we live.”

Some Things Are Impossible: How A Rural Queer Lives With Depression, by Lila (November)

“Through farming I learned to mold my own badass identity from out of the grip of pubescent shame. I learned to fall in love with myself through my own capability. To fall asleep and mentally recall the fence you repaired, the broccoli you transplanted, the pigs you tended, all in a day, is to feel grounded in your sense of self. So drunk was I on my own ability, that when depression descended — when getting out of bed required half an hour of mental brokering and the walk up to the field felt downright Herculean — I was entirely lost.”

Because I’m Black, Too, by Chelsey (September)

“He didn’t understand that it was beyond that, beyond a two-person confrontation or difference of ideas: It was a willful ignorance of systematized racism, of centuries of life chances taken from black people, and of the continued treatment of black people as lesser-than, as inherently suspicious, as inherently deserving, for some reason or other, of violence, including to the point of death. It was a willful ignorance of the fact that I, his niece, am black.”

I Would Grow My Hair To Cover the City, by Whitney Pow (January)

“It feels like all of this is my fault, but my wife tells me it isn’t when we are sitting on the couch, our foreheads pressed against each other, her hand on my cheek. It feels like if I could have fought more, things would be better. If I had done nothing at all, maybe things would be better. I want to undo it, as easy as letting my hair grow into shocks of black to my shoulders and elbows and knees.” “It feels like all of this is my fault, but my wife tells me it isn’t when we are sitting on the couch, our foreheads pressed against each other, her hand on my cheek. It feels like if I could have fought more, things would be better. If I had done nothing at all, maybe things would be better. I want to undo it, as easy as letting my hair grow into shocks of black to my shoulders and elbows and knees.”

One last thing before we go: Sometimes we write incredible personal essays that are too personal for us to share with an international web of search engines, family members, employers and exes — in the past, those essays would simply never be written, or they’d only exist in our journals. But now we’re writing them and putting them on A+ as a perk for members who contribute financially to Autostraddle, ensuring stories like the ones you just read can be read by anybody, anywhere, for free. I didn’t include A+ essays on this list because not everybody can access them, but if you like the things on this list and would like to read about Rachel’s complicated past with compulsive lying, Laneia going home again, Mey’s first trip to church after her transition, Crystal’s life through Cheesecake Factory visits or how Kaelyn tackled lesbian bed death, you should join!

So… what were your favorite personal essays this year?

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, 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! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3200 articles for us.


  1. Favourites – I LOVED Laneia’s essay about realising ‘home’, and the one above called Fumigation, and one about growing up poor and people’s ‘lake houses’ (maybe that was an archive post?)

    and also one from a Brighton-based Black writer who I’ve only seen here once about how WP in the feminist movement need to step the fuck up. I need to dig this out and re-read it, it bears repeating right now.

    • Ooh that was my essay :) YAY. (I also wrote the one about bulimia and race mentioned at the top of the article).

      • Oh AWESOME – I didn’t make the connection – thanks!! I think your writing is so freakin’ powerful, can’t wait to read your other piece.

  2. Thank you for keeping me on this list. Two of my favorites, that I disseminated far and wide are : Fumigation; A Love Story and I Would Grow My Hair To Cover the City- but AS always has such beautiful essays, please keep up the amazing curation.

  3. I may be wrong, but to me, these personal expressions of these women’s heart and life experiences , happy or sad, define the power and eloquence of female thought!

  4. these essays were AMAZING. i hope people share them far and wide because the point is being loud and never shutting up. i hope y’all help these writers be loud and never shut up.

    “I will tell people this forever. […] I am what I have lost.”

    riese “i am what i have lost” was one of the most jarring thing my eyes had to push inside me this year, and i’m better for it. thank you.

  5. these all make me so proud not even just to work here but just to know these humans. thank you, all of you.

  6. Confessions of a Beauty Queer, by Djuan Trent was one of my favorite things all year. And I Would Grow My Hair To Cover the City, by Whitney Pow. Thank you for publishing such amazing writers.

  7. I once wrote about “female” emotion and was asked rather combatively what I meant. The answer is the emotions we all feel reading these personal essays. I know males would “say” the right things… and mean it… but not feel it physically in the heart like we do. One of the huge differences between females and males….

Comments are closed.