When I was hiding out under my covers watching lesbian movies in pieces on YouTube, I was reading two things: Riese’s personal blog and AfterEllen.com. In June of 2008, not very long after I came out, AfterEllen founder and Editor in Chief Sarah Warn plucked me from the comments of a Hot 100 post and offered to let me write a few blog posts a week for AfterEllen, a gig that eventually came with a senior editor title. I met my future wife because of the Skins recaps I wrote on AfterEllen. I met so many of my dearest and best friends because of the Pretty Little Liars recaps I started on AfterEllen. My hero, Scribegrrrl, became my mentor and then a deeply beloved friend because of AfterEllen. As did my hero Dorothy Snarker, the very first real writer to tell me I had what it took to become a real writer. Trish Bendix and Karman Kregloe and Sarah Warn and Malinda Lo allowed me to find my voice. The dust of AfterEllen is in my very bones, and today Trish Bendix announced that Friday will be the site’s last day.
There’s no point in pretending that AfterEllen and Autostraddle have not existed in a competitive tension for the last several years, especially as our visions for the queer community and editorial ethos began to diverge, but I will tell you truly that I am shocked and heartbroken to hear that the site is shutting its doors. Countless lesbian and bisexual women have discovered their sexuality because of AfterEllen, have come out because of AfterEllen, have found community through AfterEllen — and for a very, very long time, it was the only website that held pop culture accountable. Sarah Warn founded the website with the tagline “Visibility Matters,” and AfterEllen’s contribution to the visibility of queer women is frankly incalculable.
AfterEllen’s announcement comes during a year when the media landscape is changing more rapidly than it has in over a decade. Every week, it seems, news breaks of another site laying off dozens of beloved writers, as sites with big time capital — the Buzzfeeds and Vices of the world — suck up more of the market and more of the advertising money. And as Facebook continues to change the way websites find readers. And as fresh-from-college writers are forced to devalue their work for “exposure” and veteran writers are deemed disposable. The most vulnerable websites, of course, are those who cater to niche markets, particularly ones who cater to women, and super particularly ones who cater to queer women. AfterEllen, it would seem, has been swept up in this tidal wave of change.
AfterEllen meant so much to so many people. It has meant so much to me. It will always have a hold on my heart. I would not be who I am today without it.
When the news broke, our inboxes, comments and social media lit up with one question: What does this mean for Autostraddle? I’ll let Riese answer that question.
The current online media landscape is not friendly to the type of media we create. Since 2011, the percentage of our revenue generated from advertising income has been in decline, and since 2013, the actual amount of advertising-generated income has been in decline. In order to stay afloat, we bust our asses to run events, put on massively complicated camps, print merch, provide bonus insider-y content for A+ members — and the shuttering of AfterEllen is part of that same story. I never thought we would outlive AfterEllen. Never. They’re AFTERELLEN. They were the first lesbian website I ever read, they have an archive of writing about lesbian pop culture that was unrivaled for so long. Plus, they had Viacom! They got bought by Totally Her! They had that corporate money! But corporate money isn’t the answer, is it? Even with that money, they couldn’t turn a profit. I suspect the same would be true for us — actually, I know it would be, because Totally Her tried selling ads for our site too, and that didn’t work either.
There is only one way for sites like ours to survive and it is with your support. If you can’t join A+ or buy merch or donate, share our content on Facebook or other social media, or do your online shopping at Amazon or Wildfang or Babeland or wherever through our links. Tell your friends about us. Leave comments that bring joy to the hearts of our under-paid writers. I’m proud that we still exist, but we’re often on the brink of not existing anymore, and this job has never been easy. It’s always a struggle. But we love this work, we love you, and we are more determined than ever to do everything we can not to leave you. Also because I have abandonment issues.