At One Point, It Saved My Sanity

You know that phenomenon where your dream uses the ringing of your alarm to convince you the alarm’s something different? The memes of people dancing to their alarms in their sleep? That happens to me a lot. In the past few months, I’ve struggled to turn off an alarm that I couldn’t see because the screen was covered in glistening, wet eyeballs. Another time, I deactivated a series of about-to-erupt volcanoes with a snooze of my alarm (you’re welcome) and went back to sleep.

Then, sometime this past December, when planning for this fundraiser was already well underway, I half woke up to an alarm that read “Swipe to accept they/them pronouns.” I swiped and went back to sleep in a cloud of absolute peace. When the alarm rang in ten minutes, I knew that what I’d been actively thinking about all year was something I had to deal with sooner than later. It wasn’t a matter of whether they/them was me — it was how I was going to tell other people.

It wasn’t until February that I told anyone. I wanted to wait until after the fundraiser, until I’d had time to process. If you don’t know, these fundraisers require an immense amount of human power; helming it has meant a marathon of 7-day weeks since the end of January. The first week of this fundraiser, Sadie counted that I worked 102 hours and it’s kept on like that, with most days starting with organizing somewhere between 9 and 10 am and ending with tasks marching on past midnight. I’m writing this very sentence at 3:25am.

I couldn’t sleep and so I just brewed an entire mug of espresso and went back to work. I’m not a workaholic, as hard as it may be to believe. I’d really LOVE to just sit down and read a book. I’m worried about my seedlings. How are they? But I just believe in this place and deep in my bones, I know that Autostraddle has a role to play in the future for so many queer people and I SIMPLY WILL NOT GIVE UP OKAY? Our dreams are too close and too precious to give up on, even if we are very, very tired, as I’m sure you are. Still, I have to ask, will you give if you can? We are so close to meeting our goal.

(If you’re wondering, the mug is a present I got for Sadie and reads “World’s Greatest Butch Daddy”.)

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But honestly, this fundraiser was going to be a lot easier if I could get this off my chest. I was shaken to find myself back in the closet, or to have come out of the closet just to find myself in a bigger, different one. I like it when my behavior tracks with stats. Lots of people have come to new realizations about their gender during the pandemic and it’s satisfying to be among them, a part of a historical trend. Maybe this is you, too. Maybe you’ve found yourself here recently because you’ve realized something about your sexuality, or what you want for yourself and the shape of your life. Maybe you’ve been here a long time, or for a little while now. I see you. Hey there.

The idea that you don’t need a place, only to realize that you in fact do need it again, maybe differently this time, is achingly familiar in this moment. When in-person interaction has been reduced wherever possible, it’s important to have this home on the internet. And I know I’m not alone.

I took some time to reflect/cringe at my nonbinary child/teen/adult self, because it’s obvious in hindsight. Then, I talked to my therapist, first, then my person (Sadie, referenced above) who was predictably loving and affirming.

As my therapist said, “You’re in the best possible situation in your workplace. You’re lucky there.”

And yeah. Let’s talk about that.

Here’s where I came out in Slack pretty awkwardly on 2/22.

A screenshot of a Slack conversation that goes as folllowing: Nicole: "Also, was going to say this in the meet but I'm using they / them pronouns, now and I think I updated where appropriate but who knows. rachel: "congrats, Nicole!" Heather: "amazing, nicole!" carmen: "nicole!! just a bunch of happy emojis for you!" followed by heart eyes, fire, sparkles, ta-da, and an orange heart

This is more than a workplace where they’ll notify HR and we’ll all be polite about my pronouns. Autostraddle has held out against reactionary, transphobic stances, sometimes in sharp contrast to other “lesbian” outlets. The people who’ve been here and the people who’ve written here have sculpted a home, one I deeply believe in preserving because I know that it’s still here for me.

I believe in Autostraddle’s work because, yes, we need queer media in general. And also because I see the evidence of this space — Autostraddle specifically — being deeply necessary on a day-to-day basis. Since I arrived in November 2019, I’ve read through all your recent survey answers (the ones where you can write a paragraph if you want) and have been reading every comment with every fundraiser contribution, questions you send in for advice, submissions to the A+ box and more — and it is fucking hard out there. Maybe you’ve just come out to your family, or your parents won’t accept your partner, or you’re stuck living somewhere you wish you weren’t, or you’re struggling with being your full self at work, in school, just in your town. We see you. We know we have to be there for you, to do our best to guard this safe space, so that at least you have this to come home to, after all of the IRL of your day.

And then, on the other side, is this question: If Autostraddle goes away, what will be left on the internet? We’ve all heard about conspiracy theorists and QAnon. Over the past few years, I’ve watched in horrifying high definition as someone close to me became radicalized by algorithms that prey on fear. Greedy websites and social media giants tugged at the string of their loneliness and insecurity, video by video and unfounded article by unfounded article, until they unraveled. This is the entropy that a click-at-any-cost internet drives us toward. Losing Autostraddle would take us one giant step closer toward the abyss that’s threatening to consume one of the greatest tools we have for human connection.

And who else is wrapped up in all that fear and anger and reactionary rhetoric but TERFs!

Which brings me to this response we got after a routine fundraiser email, the same week I came out at work. I received it in my inbox (because all fundraiser email responses get pinged to me. Don’t worry if they’re for someone else I forward them <3):

The reason I don’t read Autostraddle anymore is its not about lesbians — its all queergender, transgender, non-binary people and I feel excluded and marginalized as a lesbian.
Good luck with your radical queergender publication. I can’t relate to it.

I’ll take the luck. We need it. And, yes, we are queer. We’re queer as all heck, thank you. And to thank you for our well wishes, do you want me to… lend you Gender Trouble? I took all the Judith Butler books in my divorce because no, he did not deserve Butler. So, just let me know okay?

That was a week! I wanted to scream into the void “Please stop red-pilling lesbians!” but the void was not listening.

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I want us to stick around, because the voices of the writers we publish need to be amplified. We learned from Riese over the course of the fundraiser that the top search result for “lesbian movies” these days is from Good Housekeeping.

First of all: whomst is reading this? Second of all, when you get your lesbian movie recs from Good Housekeeping, are they collaborating with you to build a better world, a better publication, to center voices that actually comprise our queer community — or are you a just new marketing segment to them? Do you want your lesbian movie recommendations from Marie Claire (who is 3rd in search results for “lesbian movies”) next to a profile of six conservative women who are “changing the Republican party” or something in honor of Women’s History Month WTF MARIE CLAIRE? (I refuse to link to the aforementioned and also I do not mean to imply that anyone here is reading Good Housekeeping for your lesbian movie recs.) Honestly, why would any of these places rank higher in search engines than Autostraddle when it comes to queer film?

We’re fundraising now to make up for a drop in digital ad sales due to the pandemic, yes. Media outlets have made numerous cuts and lay-offs, sometimes closures, since the pandemic began. This is true and we are definitely affected. Our fundraiser total came about by subtracting our projected income (primarily A+ income) from our total monthly costs through July. But the thing is that we have about four and a half months until end of July at this point. This fundraiser is timed, not just to get us through to July, but to give us four months to figure out our survival, to make plans, to pound the pavement for revenue and to work on our SEO and continuing to fireproof the house so we can bring you our best selves (such as they are available during a pandemic) and the best of what this place can be over the coming months. I don’t want this level of fundraising to be our permanent state of affairs, but we are facing the realities of 2021 and making it work. Thank you for being along for the journey. (Will you help us out, if you can?)

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But Nicole, it’s 5:25am and you’re still working on this. Why on this gay earth do you care so much about Autostraddle?

Okay, but it wouldn’t be fair if everyone else dug into their work history for this fundraiser and I did not.

A cool side-effect of working in the nonprofit sector has been that while I have an excellent track record for fundraising, membership programs, annual appeals, grant-writing (including the dubious honor of having a grant I wrote appear as one of the featured grants at the biggest, oldest moneyed foundation in town), fundraising events, working with boards and committees — the works, I have been forced out of not one, but two fundraising jobs in my career. Both were in the arts. Both were at founder-led organizations. Both treated me like garbage after I worked my ass off, and both were, at the time, led by cis white men who had meltdowns after being challenged to simply… be a little bit better.

At one, I watched a founder side with and protect an (alleged) sexual predator. In solidarity with the survivors, the workers at this place came together and collectively demanded that the alleged predator be terminated and that we have a revised investigation and sexual harassment reporting policy, because reporting this person led to him receiving just one day of sexual harassment training when the allegations were deeply troubling and violent and he exhibited a pattern of allegedly using the workplace to find and groom people (I must say “allegedly” here but also we’re talking initial allegations from over five separate individuals, with more women reaching out later on, so you know). My personal reward for engaging in collective bargaining? I was not spoken to at work, not given credit for grant moneys I secured, and purposefully left out of all-team fundraising meetings. That’s called retaliation, and my coworkers and I filed an NLRB complaint. We collaborated, in solidarity with survivors, to work with a reporter from our local NPR station and get the whole story out there.

Meanwhile, the very same newspaper that Harper (of Happiest Season) worked for IRL harassed, gaslit and printed misleading coverage about the situation involving my life and the lives of everyone involved. This same garbage pile of a paper also endorsed Trump last year. Independent journalism is important y’all. At one point, it saved my sanity because it was the only outlet that would actually tell the truth. One of these outlets (it’s NPR) is reader supported. The other of these recently consolidated with a conservative Ohio newspaper. I have a mug from one of them that says “Public Radio Nerd” on it, because I gave to one of their fundraisers before I ever needed them. I have trauma from the other.

There is very little in my life that has ever so clearly demonstrated the need for independent, reader-supported, membership-funded media than this — that, and the existence of Autostraddle. (Do you want to become an A+ member? I’ll email you every Saturday with the A+ e-news, you’ll get access to bonus content, and you’ll help keep us here!)

That was long. But I want to illustrate a point here. Autostraddle is a founder-led, arts company. An independent media company that answers to our readers, our supporters, our members, you. Growth can be immensely difficult for a space like this, a veritable last-of-its-kind situation. Autostraddle is special because of its capacity (and track record) for growth and change and accountability. Sure, I’d like for this place to be the one, the one that does not collapse. At this point it’s really starting to feel personal even though I know it isn’t, but I can say that I really think we’ve got something here. I want to see what we can do if we just have the resources to keep building and reaching.

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TO TOP IT ALL — I love what Autostraddle publishes. I’ve been in the art world for well over a decade. I have raised money for good art, for art I kept coming back to day after day… and I’ve raised a lot of money for some pretty questionable art. And I can honestly say that when I get up in the morning — or find myself here at 5:55am, still up — ready to get to work, that one of the things I never question is who I’m working for and why I’m doing this. Because the people at Autostraddle produce some damn good art. Everyday that I read Autostraddle, I’m impressed and excited and psyched to see what we’re doing. I don’t always get to comment as much as I’d like to, and sometimes I have to mute the fun conversations happening in Slack — probably because I’m creating fundraising plans or working in Excel or maybe even packing up some of your perks, but I’m so honored to be among so many talented people who are dedicated to their craft, and to play my small part in making their work possible.

Being the A+ and fundraising director means that I’m working for everyone here. I’m working for the readers and the A+ members, for our supporters, and I’m working for the writers and artists, in service of what they’re making happen. I want to see Autostraddle’s team continue to grow and thrive. I want to see more writers get their start on Autostraddle. I want us to send people who have a vision for the future of queer media out into the world and to see what they build, so that our queer media ecosystem expands and we enact The Gay Agenda across this internet and publishing hellscape.

I bet you share some of the same dreams.

When I started reading Autostraddle, really reading Autostraddle, I was packing boxes and looking over my shoulder. I felt unsafe — physically, mentally, in every way. But that little sliver of community was there. I didn’t comment. I lurked. Sometimes an Autostraddle article was the only laugh I’d get that day. I wasn’t scared about coming out. That had happened again and again over the years, as it does. I was scared about other things, and whatever I read but can’t really remember because of anxiety, I know it was great. We can be there for people in a variety of circumstances, through life changes and challenges, through the real nerve-wracking shit. Autostraddle’s stuck around, like so many of us, against all odds, and I want it to still be there, for every gay person making a list of plans for what’s next in their life.

Sun’s rising, now. The little bit of Pittsburgh’s downtown that I can see out of my window is twinkling against a backdrop of blue getting steadily lighter. I’m going to raise my Diet Dr. Pepper to you (that espresso is long gone) and send some gay blessings your way on this new day. Thank you for all your support so far. Thank you for believing in a space I believe in, just from me to you.

We’re getting so close to our goal. Will you consider helping us out, right now, so that we can reach our goal, take a nap, and then get right back to our work? Some traffic stats on fundraising posts tell me that if everyone reading this gave about $5-$10, we’d wrap this right up. Of course, if you share this post, our odds only get better. Will you help us see what’s next in this pink light of a new day?

With love and hope and caffeine,

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Nico Hall

Nico Hall is a Team Writer for Autostraddle (formerly Autostraddle's A+ and Fundraising Director and For Them's Membership and Editorial Ops person.) They write nonfiction both creative — and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret longform project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 229 articles for us.


  1. Thank you for this essay! And for putting together such a beautiful, heart-rending fundraiser.

    The love the AS staff has shown (and been paid for showing, I hope!) for this place is astounding.

    • This is a beautiful letter, and it breaks my heart that y’all don’t get to work under sustainable conditions regarding working hours. I know the choice is “AS stays + no sleep” but I wish it were different. I don’t know how else to say that. Still I’m glad that you all are honest about it and wish you alllll the best Nicole, lots of rest very soon. Sleep, breaks, days off, weekend off. The things every comrade should have access to.

      • Ok this should have been it’s own comment + I’m already an a+ member just not logged in rn x

        + I <3 AS

      • It definitely is true that there haven’t been many easy choices this year and last, that everything is a tradeoff, but still. Thank you for being there for us while we do the best we can and thank you for being an A+ member, for supporting, and for helping us to have the time we need to plan and be proactive! We will get some rest soon. Don’t worry!

  2. This is such a lovely piece, Nicole. Thank you for sharing your gender exploration with us and also for all your hard work to maintain this beautiful and brilliant space. I’m glad to be a queergender nonbinary transgender reader 🏳️‍⚧️

  3. Update: just upped my membership by a level. It’s not much, but its what I can afford right now. Nicole, I hope you get to take a nap soon.

    • 😭 thank you! Me too! We’re really doing this thing and I’m so touched by you and everyone who’s helping!

  4. Thank you for sharing this. You’ve been kicking butt in this role and I’m genuinely thrilled to learn that you get the affirmation & love you deserve.

    I sincerely hope that at least some of the planning over the next several months will include strategies/structures that allow every single one of you to get the rest you need and deserve (not just vacation, but like. Sustainable working hours ongoing). At least from an outsider’s perspective, it seems like the current situation comes from a place of survival and love for what you’re making, rather than misplaced glorification of the grind/hustle, which is a good start. But it doesn’t change your human needs. We wanna keep you around for a long time! <3

    • Thank you so much!! I agree that we’re definitely not here to glorify hustle culture. We’re now at the anniversary of when we knew that we were going to have to fundraiser in 2020 if this space was going to stick around. And it has certainly not been easy since then. Luckily, I’m in a place where I can put in these hours, for now, to get us through. But that being said, we are all going to get some rest right after this fundraiser and are looking forward to more balanced time. One of the truly amazing gifts people have given us by contributing is that we do have time, now, to figure out sustainability, to be able to get a sense of the lay of the land and be proactive in our planning for the rest of the year, instead of having to just react to whatever is thrown at us!

      Thank you for being here and for being an A+ member!! And thanks for this kind note <3

  5. this was a wonderful story and piece and i am so glad we have you here on our team and i am so eager for us to meet our goal so you can maybe sleep for a week

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