If Your Dream Only Includes You, It’s Too Small

It’s Saturday. When I woke up this morning, I rolled over and opened up Autostraddle on my phone. Last night — at 8:55pm on a Friday — I logged off by casually telling our A+ and Fundraiser director Nicole, “See you back around Slack tomorrow!” They responded, equally chirpy despite the fact that we were both at work at 9pm at the end of yet another impossibly long week deep in the middle of our most stressful season (we’re fundraising $220k for our survival, maybe you’ve heard), “Yep, will def be around tomorrow!”

We worked together all of last weekend, too. I edited one of Nicole’s posts at 9pm on Valentine’s Day with heart shaped take out pizza keeping me company and a bad rom-com on TV. We had just spent almost 48 hours monitoring a temporary Discord server for our A+ members, so that they could get to meet each other in something that more approximates “real life” during a pandemic that’s left us feeling isolated. In fact, even when it’s not a fundraiser, you’ll find us working most weekends. I’m currently our weekend editor. That keeps me logged in every morning. Nicole writes our weekend newsletter for A+ members and minds our various help tickets and inboxes on weekends, too. They also mail all of our member and fundraiser perks. So every Saturday and Sunday there’s usually the two of us, plus Heather Hogan on social media, and all the other editors coming in and out as needed. Even though it’s a weekend, even though we should all be resting. I joke to my friends who don’t quite understand this quirky corner of the universe that our community’s kept alive with grit and boundless enthusiasm, “The internet doesn’t sleep, and neither do we!”

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But in truth, that’s only part of the story. I’ve woken up every day for the last decade, long before I ever worked here, long before I felt comfortable enough write publicly in a (gasp!) gay space under my own name — I used my initials “CP” in the comment threads — and the first thing I did was open up Autostraddle.

It’s hard to explain, really, what made Autostraddle feel like home. It dumbfounds me. How can I put into words that twelve years ago Riese Bernard and Alex Vega pressed a button on Riese’s laptop in her bedroom that flipped our website live? Then Laneia joined her, then Rachel, then Yvonne, Heather, Sarah. And somehow through their collective imagination they created a world that they didn’t know had me in it, but I couldn’t live without.

The first time I discovered Autostraddle, a fictional teenager had just come out on television to her grandmother (word to Santana Lopez!). At 25 years old I was far from a teenager myself, but everything about this silly Ryan Murphy show consumed me so I took to Google, which in turn took me to Autostraddle, and a brief archive dive later I found Riese Bernard writing, “It seems like — with respect to coming out stories — most girls saw a door. Maybe you had gone in but kept it a secret, maybe you stood in front of it every afternoon debating whether or not today would be the day you’d enter. Maybe you opened and closed it constantly, or gayly dashed back and forth through it. Maybe your family or friends were blocking the door. But some of us never even saw the door, even with nobody blocking it, and once it was opened we fell straight in.”

My roommate was out of town and I spent that weekend on our couch upside down with my toes hanging over the armrest and my arms covering my eyes. It felt like someone took all this turmoil I was feeling about coming out at my (relatively) late age and ripped it aloud.

I was moving out into a place of my own that winter. I promised myself that I’d buy a pair of Autostraddle “Straddle This” boxer-briefs and wear them around my new apartment! Men’s underwear! In red! Encouraging someone to straddle them! It was the gayest and most empowering thing I could think of. (I never bought them by the way, I was much too shy).

That same winter, Autostraddle taught me How To Dress Like a Femme so people would finally, just maybe, clock me as gay. In 2012, one of my best friends texted me that his student had published a piece about our next favorite show True Blood on Autostraddle, something at the time we all considered the epitome of queer cool — his student was Gabrielle Korn, who left Autostraddle to lead at Refinery 29, become Editor-in-Chief Nylon, and now heads gay editorial for Netflix — this year, she’s giving back and wrote a letter to help us with this fundraiser because we need your support to keep going.

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By 2015, I was living alone in Pennsylvania — quite literally alone, I knew zero people in the entire state — and pursuing a career that was sucking everything that was good about me dry. I was broke, I was cold, I was more depressed than I had ever been. Rachel announced that Autostraddle was starting a newsletter, “The Autostraddle Weekly,” and I would read it in my car during my lunch break. I counted down the days every week, it felt like having friends. In 2016, Riese announced that Autostraddle was hiring a full time Business Director. I was turning 30 in a few months, and it was the first time I seriously considered I could be doing something else, other than what was currently making me so miserable (Sarah got the job from that listing!). The next winter I’d given up on Pennsylvania and moved back home, pretty thoroughly blowing up whatever I’d built in my life to that point. Heather Hogan noticed that I had taken up permanent residence in the comments of “Boobs on Your Tube” every Friday, basically writing recaps of my own (I felt lost, Autostraddle was my port in the storm). Heather asked if I had ever considered writing about television as a career. She said, “We can pay you. Not as much as we’d like to, but we’ll find the money. Is that something you’d be into?”

I wrote back, “That is something that I would VERY MUCH be into! In fact, I hope it’s not too unprofessional to say that I would love it with all of my heart.”

I had no writing samples. She hired me as a freelancer anyway and changed my life.

They were all a part of my story, long before I was ever a part of theirs.

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If you know my writing, then you know how often I reference pop culture. Given that this is Autostraddle, that’s probably not a surprise. There’s a quote from the director Ava DuVernay that I committed to memory before I truly understood the work of what it meant. I even quoted it in the second piece I ever wrote for this website: “If your dream only includes you, it’s too small.”

I’m asking that you support Autostraddle, not for me or for any single writer or editor who works here, but because our dreams are so much bigger than our own. They are ferocious, all encompassing, consuming desires for this community that you’ve built in laughter and activism and in the knowing nods as you read a personal essay on your phone, realizing that you’re never really alone. My dreams are mighty. Let me tell you about a few of them:

  • Expanded mentorship and career development for writers of color and trans writers of all genders. My career in media wouldn’t have lifted off without the mentorship that I found on this site, and I tell any writer I work with that my goal is that when or if they leave Autostraddle, they feel as if they’ve grown better in our presence. We should be a part of developing the queer talent that’s going to take over the media we see reflected back to us. That’s the real gay agenda. As a small publication, so much of what Autostraddle has learned over the years has been trial-and-error, but from SEO to social media management to internal leadership growth to unlearning toxic and racist work habits, we are doing it. And everything that we learn — we need to be teaching to others.
  • In the last year, Autostraddle has increased the racial diversity of who’s writing our articles (we’re currently just under 50% POC writing for us monthly at 48.5%, and I’m not resting until we smash that goal and make an even larger one!). More than that, for the first time in more than four years, 53% of 2020’s most prolific writers were QTPOC — compared to 37% in the prior two years and between 25-30% in the years prior to that. We are literally changing the voice of this website, brick by brick. I also want to continue our substantial readership growth in POC communities! And it’s not only about production of the front page of this site, but also about how we’re investing in changing the culture of Autostraddle behind-the-scenes so that our freelancers and full-time senior staff of color are supported holistically and can thrive with abundance in our workplace.
  • Autostraddle has a lot left to grow to become more accessible, but we’re finally getting our way down that path. Our videos? From now on, they are and will be captioned. Our podcasts and live events? Transcribed. Our submission forms? Finally reader friendly, and we are sorry it took so long. Our images on articles? Now with alt text — and we’re still learning, so if you see one missing please let us know so we can promptly fix it. But we know this is the bare minimum. In my dreams, Autostraddle has the money for a full accessibility audit and the budget to make the structural changes that will bring about about the real accessibility we desperately need. But those are going to cost, a reason we are fundraising.
  • Thanks to Drew Gregory, this year Autostraddle was invited to our first Sundance Film Festival. And our 12 years of dedicated TV and Film criticism has finally been recognized as a certified publication by groups like Rotten Tomatoes, which means that when our queer and trans critics are talking back to creators, our platform is finally being elevated for them to hear us. And we’re just getting started.
  • I want more content for queer parents, for people in long term relationships and marriage (or finding themselves after divorce). A lot of queer culture is youth culture, but we’re growing up. Learning how to be your best, full self doesn’t end in your 20s.
  • At the same time, I want to ensure that we’re not losing connections. I want to make sure we’re building homes for those inching out of the closet (or nonchalantly busting down the doors!). Every day some other gay buzzcuts their hair and bless their hearts, they still need us. With your help, we aren’t going anywhere. More than that — we’re growing to meet them wherever they are. We’ve had tremendous success growing on Instagram and turning it into a community space. What’s next, AS on TikTok? I would love to see it!
  • I want Autostraddle to continue to be funny and self-deprecating and there for you. I want us to be the people who hold your hand and help you get back to therapy or remind you take your Wellbutrin and tell you that world is maybe on fire, but fuck it at least we have each other. (I finally found the courage to go to therapy in 2017 because of an Autostraddle article, and I know I’m far from the only one.)
  • While we are dreaming big, what about more virtual events? And more, smaller, spread out, in-person events once we can again! What about an Autostraddle film festival? A queer SXSW where we talk about our pop culture on our own terms! More fisting workshops! Fisting for everyone, I say! (If that’s your thing of course, and if it’s not, I want us to help you find whatever your thing is). I want to take our viral articles like “How To Never Call the Cops Again” and turn them into practical community workshops, creating tangible change in our offline lives. Your support will help us dream big like this because we can’t do any of it without funding, without our community.
  • More than anything, I want Autostraddle to be someplace where everything — from our fluffiest celebrity Vapid Fluff, to our political commentary, sex guides, and personal essays — has purpose and meaning, even if it’s just because we loved them and we hope you will, too. I want Autostraddle to continue to be a place where we don’t have to write banal content for clicks or please corporate overlords. I want to know we aren’t compromising our queer feminist values, in fact that we’re challenging ourselves at every turn to live up to them. That each day we get closer to being a better version of ourselves and that we’re helping you become better, too.

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Autostraddle saw me through the worst chapter of my life. It was the light in the tunnel. The dream I have that’s bigger than myself is that we’re still here in five years, in 10. For the next person who rolls over in the morning and grabs their phone and needs us most.

We can be all these things. We can be bigger. Better. All we need is… well, five extra hours in each day. But more practically, we need your help. Every dollar is one that we invest back into our queer and trans communities. And that’s bigger than any of us, because it is all of us.

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P.S.  I’m asking that you support Autostraddle, not for me or for any single writer or editor who works here, but because our dreams are so much bigger than our own. They are ferocious, all encompassing, consuming desires for this community that you’ve built in laughter and activism and knowing nods. Will you help us fill our funding gaps and keep doing our work through July of this year? Will you join A+ or give to support our fundraiserNew A+ memberships help us reach our goal the same as one-off gifts. We know that not everyone can give, but if you can, will you be one of the ones who does support and who keeps this space here for the next me, the next you, the next person who needs to find us?

Carmen is Autostraddle's interim Editor-in-Chief and a black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 281 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. <333333 this. I love your list of hopes for AS, esp increasing percentage of content by BIPOC, accessibility, and content for older queers! Thanks for all you do. I feel much more at home at AS with more content by/for POC.

  2. just chiming into say PLEEEEEEAAAASE donate to autostraddle! My additon to this vision is that Carmen and Nicole can take some weekends off, so they need to hire more people, which means more people getting to work at Autostraddle! all that stuff that ‘costs’ money – paying someone to do an accessibility review of site, to implement accessibility moves, to have time & space to mentor qpoc writers, to take weekend shifts so carmen can have a saturday to herself – it’s paying queer people so they can do all this beautiful work and still keep a roof over their head, and get groceries, and see a therapist. putting our dollars this way works magic, builds power, liberates real people who help liberate us.

    • PS Carmen and Nicole please tell me you have some days off BLOCKED OUT after this fundraiser!! and you have a buddy at AS whose job it is to make sure you take it! as chani nicolas told me, you are not too important to take a break, and you’re too valuable to run into the ground.

    • I was coming here to make a similar comment. Everyone please donate / become A+ members so Carmen & Nicole & all Autostraddle staff can REST. Resting is absolutely vital. An Autostraddle that has the resources for its staff to rest and be human and have a healthy work-life balance is more important to me than how much content is produced or anything else.

  3. thank you for everything, carmen. i feel so secure with you guiding this community. and thank you to everyone who is supporting us in this fundraiser and belong… our dreams are so big, and it feels so good to share them.

  4. CARMEN I LOVE YOU this post made my heart so full on a very empty day! i am so impressed and proud of everything you’ve done and i am so glad you are our EIC and also my friend. you bring such enthusiasm and love and delight to all of your work here and i love your brain and talking to you about the teevee. you make everybody’s work feel treasured and i treasure your work.

    i got nostalgic reading this and looked up when we first talked about you starting to recap stuff for us and i found this little chat i thought would be cute to share:

    6/20/2017
    riese: heather! i know you’re probably tired of my constant questions but! queen sugar premieres tonight do we have somebody writing about it
    Heather: c.p. is writing about queen sugar for tomorrow and will be recapping it in boobs tube — which is starting again this friday — this season.
    riese: yay! i am VERY excited about c.p. in general
    Heather: me too!
    riese: her review was truly so good
    Heather: yes it really was. i have been asking her to write about tv since december but she didn’t feel confident enough to do it and i finally convinced her to give an oitnb review a try and when i read it i was like WHAT. YOU HAVE BEEN ROBBING THE PEOPLE OF YOUR VOICE!
    she was really excited by the response yesterday
    riese: yeah she’s never applied or anything!
    Heather: she’s going to be a good find for us

    IT’S TRUE YOU ARE A GREAT FIND

  5. I’m pretty positive I’ve never commented on anything before, but Carmen what you’ve captured here is exactly why I’m an A+ member. We have to support the things we want to exist in the world, and the space you’ve all made here feels like home for so many people. And I want there to be abundance in that home! For not even the sky to the be limit of what this community can do. Our voices matter out in the world…and are necessary…and autostraddle is proof of that. Thanks for all that you all do. I might be kind of quiet on here (which really no one would accuse me of in real life) but I’ve got your back <3

  6. As another regular who has opened AS first thing in the morning since nearly the beginning, your contributions and leadership have absolutely made this an even better space. When I heard about the EIC vacancy, my very first thought was “I hope CP takes over!” I realize it’s only interim (and I respect whatever the reasons are for that), but I’m so glad you’re here to fill that role for now. And I hope you get some much-deserved rest soon!!

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