This piece is part of our 2023 Trans Awareness Week coverage. Our Senior Editor, Drew Burnett Gregory, felt like cis people were plenty aware of trans people in 2023 thank you very much, so this week trans writers will be taking us back into recent history — specially post-Stonewall (1970) to pre-Tipping Point (2013).
When I came out as trans in 2017, I knew Autostraddle as a publication where trans people were welcome. Pieces from trans writers had popped up on my Twitter feed and, once I knew to look, there was an entire archive that helped me better understand myself.
This year for Trans Awareness Week, I wanted us to focus on recent trans history. The parameters I set were post-Stonewall (1970) to pre-Tipping Point (2013). As far as I’m concerned, cis people are too aware of trans people in 2023, but that awareness is often accompanied by the ignorant idea that trans people are new. That’s why this recent historical time period felt so essential to me. Not only have trans people been around in distant history — we’ve been around throughout the lives of anyone still living today. That distinction may feel redundant, but I think it’s important to remember.
Once we started thinking about this era, our team realized that Autostraddle itself is part of that history. Founded in 2009, there was half a decade of trans coverage — and lack of trans coverage — before Laverne Cox appeared on the cover of Time.
I’m fascinated by the way individuals and publications can grow. Rather than look to the past to retroactively prove someone or somewhere is bad, I think it’s worthwhile to observe how people and places get better. When I came out in 2017, this site had positive connotations to me. But that environment didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of trans people changing this place for the better and cis people welcoming that change.
There’s a clear journey from Riese as an ally criticizing the treatment of Max on The L Word to trans-related news stories to a photoshoot of a band with one transmasc member to trans writers getting space to answer 101 questions to, finally, trans writers getting to write complex, personal, and unique pieces like their cis counterparts.
All of that is worth revisiting through an archival lens, but I’ve gathered together about two dozen pieces that are especially representative of Autostraddle’s pre-tipping point journey. There are some real gems here, especially in the pieces from trans writers. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: If you’re someone who does not want to read terms used for trans people from 2009 to 2013 then this piece isn’t for you! There’s nothing I personally deem offensive included here, but even the way trans people talked out about themselves during these years was different.
Chaz Bono Talks About His Gender On AM TV And We Like It. by Riese (November 2009)
“Now, let’s get to the linguistic violations! The Associated Press sets a bad example with ‘Chaz Bono says beginning the sex-change process to turn him from a woman to a man is ‘the best decision I’ve ever made’ in Chaz Bono: Sex change is his ‘best decision’, a headline that’s repeated by about 200 other newspapers.
We’ve encountered this issue on Autostraddle before and I was surprised that so many people didn’t know ‘sex change’ is passe.”
Trans Photographer Amos Mac: The Autostraddle Interview by Laneia (February 2010)
“Amos: It was a blast working with Margaret (Cho). She is hilarious, warm, wonderful! Rocco and I had met her in October when we were asked to be part of the music video she was directing for the band GIRLYMAN. Margaret wanted the video to consist of queers, trans people, femmes and butches, as the song, ‘Young James Dean,’ is about butch identity, so her vision was to get as many different types of queers as possible in the video. Rocco and I really bonded with her while shooting it. We just really clicked as friends. Now we call her our ‘TranMa’ (a play on the term Grandma) and she calls us her TranSons. She loves OP and as she is an incredibly outspoken person, she was easy to interview and of course fun to photograph.”
Being Trans Is So Hot Right Now, At Least for Celebrities and Models, Kinda by Rachel (December 2010)
“There’s nothing wrong with recognizing the achievements and accomplishments of trans people. Lea T’s career really is inspiring, and attention should be drawn to the careers of women like Connie Fleming and Candy Darling, the trans fashion pioneer of the 1970s. But to write a full-length article gushing over the trans community’s having ‘made it’ because of a few modeling contracts without even acknowledging that from January to June of ‘the year of the transsexual,’ there were reported 93 murders of trans people, and that that’s only a fraction of how many probably really took place, feels like it’s willfully misunderstanding the climate.”
xxboy Meets World by Sebastian (January 2011)
Note: This piece is the start of trans writers getting the space to write their own pieces. Sebastian wrote several more articles over the next year. I love that even in this 101 piece Sebastian is allowed to be as voicey as the other writers on the site.
“When Laneia and Riese first contacted me about writing for Autostraddle, I had a whole bunch of mixed emotions. The fanboy in me who’d read every Real L Word recap pretty religiously had an “OMG THEY LIKE ME?!” moment. The queer in me was honored and excited about the opportunity to write for a site that is so prominent in the world of non-hetero culture. The man in me felt a little out of place and possibly ignored.
The opportunist wondered if this would help me get jobs and/or girlfriends.”
Trans Etiquette 101: No Offense, But That’s Offensive by Sebastian (February 2011)
“7. Do not ask what the person’s birth name was. There is absolutely no reason for you to need to know this and it is likely something this person wants distance from. It is a particularly offensive question when phrased, “What is your REAL name.” After all, Sebastian is my real name and has been since I started asking people to use it.”
Where the Bois Are: Bklyn Boihood is the Future by M.J. (March 2011)
Note: This is a piece about the Bklyn Boihood collective who would go on to write a handful of pieces for Autostraddle.
“Ryann returns with the story of how it all started — the modest, yet inspired beginnings of a very Big Thing: ‘Back in 2009, we were just hanging out at Genesis’ place. We’d been talking about how we don’t really see ourselves represented in a lot of ways. We didn’t see ourselves at the parties we were going to, we didn’t see ourselves in the organizing world, in any sort of medium.’”
What Do You Mean You’re Not Monogamous by Bklyn Boihood (Akwaeke Z Emezi) (March 2011)
Note: Yes, THAT Akwaeke Emezi. I had no idea they’d written for Autostraddle and discovering their pieces was one of the coolest things about this trip through the archive. I also love that this is a piece about non-monogamy, not specifically about transness.
“I never thought of how I handled relationships in terms of monogamy or nonmonogamy, those specific labels. It didn’t occur to me that there was a term for my preferences, and when it did, I freaked out because I thought, “How can someone want to be with me if I can’t give them what makes them happy?” Everyone I’d been involved with deeply wanted monogamy, and they seemed to be part of an overwhelming majority. I didn’t want to not be able to give that to them, but eventually I reached a point where I had to put my foot down, throw my hands up and say it: I don’t want to be monogamous. Never have. Ever. Ever.”
I’m Just Your Typical Urban Hipset Femme Twentysomething Trans Lesbian by Annika (April 2011)
Note: Trans girl lesbians have arrived! Annika wrote a bunch for the site over the next two years. Annika, if you’re reading this, let me buy you dinner whenever we’re in the same city.
“In many ways, I am your typical urban hipster femme twentysomething lesbian: I work for a greentech startup that has nothing to do with my liberal arts degree. I worry about our generation’s internet addiction (mine included). I spend a lot of money on vinyl and concert tickets. I moved to San Francisco last summer, but I’ll never start saying “hella.” I voted for Prop 19. I’m secretly mad that my love of British slang makes me cliché.
Oh, and I’m a transgender former-University-of-Southern-California-Frat-Boy.”
Chaz Bono Doesn’t Speak For Me: Reluctance About the “Reluctant Transgender Role Model” by Oliver Baez Bendorf (May 2011)
“I in no way want to invalidate Chaz’ suffering, or the suffering of any trans person for that matter, but I take issue with the insinuation that our lives are unendurable. There is suffering, yes, but why must that always be the throughline? There’s such a lack of nuance here—it’s not always that neat equation of once I was suffering, but now life is perfect.”
Annika and Sebastian Answer Your Trans* Questions (Part Deux) by Annika (July 2011)
“Q: What happens if/when someone chooses to not fully transition? I mean, that happens sometimes, right? Like if someone can’t afford surgeries or get them for health reasons?
SEBASTIAN: We don’t really use the terminology of ‘full’ transition, because a full transition means different things to different people. Sometimes people don’t have all the surgeries or procedures or medical interventions because of financial reasons, but often times it is because not every trans person needs or wants every type of medical intervention.”
Trans* Characters Are Increasingly Portrayed By, Surprise, Actual Trans* People by Annika (July 2011)
“My only concern is that trans* actors will be restricted to portraying only trans* characters- this would be a shame, because it would both ignore a lot of talent and reduce us to merely our trans* experiences. I can only speak for myself. Being trans is an important part of who I am, it certainly doesn’t define me as a person. So Zooey Deschanel, if you’re looking for a co-starlet for your next film, I’m your gal.”
OPEN THREAD: Trans Day of Remembrance by Annika (November 2011)
Note: Autostraddle articles used to have robust comments sections, so 34 in this thread is not a lot. But it still touched me to see trans people in 2011 gathering at Autostraddle to reflect on Trans Day of Remembrance.
“Today is a reminder that we all must take responsibility for combating transphobia. It’s about making our voices heard and taking a stand against bigotry and hatred. It’s about creating a future in which the next generation of trans* kids can feel safe and proud of who they are.
Until then, we must honor our dead. Please feel free to share your stories and feelings in the comments section below.”
Gender Blender: An Intimate Film About Life Outside the Gender Binary by Vanessa (January 2012)
Note: There were discussions of non-binary identities, especially from Bklyn Boihood, but this still feels like a shift toward normalizing that experience.
“So how do we fight that situation, how do we break the binary, how do we make the world a safe space for other people to express their true genders once we’ve finally got a handle on our own and the confidence to live openly and truthfully? Well if you’re Lauren Lubin, you decide to make a movie about your experience transitioning from female to gender neutral, and you aim to educate the world so that eventually things will change.”
19 Terribly Interesting Tips On Raising a Trans Kid (From a Trans Kid) by Morgan M (April 2012)
“Don’t equate “Mommy I want to wear girls clothes” with “Mommy is the stork going to make a second trip to drop off my vagina?” Just because your child has these feelings doesn’t mean they are trans, genderqueer or simply fabulous. However, they do need the space to figure themselves out, and if you deny them that I guarantee you the feelings will only intensify over time. If you deny them this chance to express themselves in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone, it will only lead to complexes, trust issues and even more identity issues. SPOILER ALERT: everything you do as a parent makes these.”
Sarah McBride: The Autostraddle Interview by Carmen Rios (May 2012)
“I found out her favorite Spice Girl is Ginger (formerly Baby, but who didn’t outgrow Baby?). But I didn’t even have to ask her for Top 5 Words About Coming Out because as soon as we dug in to what it was like for her, she spurted them out.
‘Surreal. But surreal in a good way. Comforting. Liberating and more than anything – empowering,’ she said, leaning back after thinking hard about each one.”
In a Bind Helps Get Trans* Youth Out of One by Maeve (September 2012)
Note: The first comment on this piece is: “Eh… what’s with all the trans stuff lately?” It made me laugh seeing that, because it’s the kind of comments my pieces have received since writing for Autostraddle. A sign that Autostraddle has had “trans stuff” for a long time and that some cis people always think we’re new.
“‘The program is all based on donations. It’s in the spirit of helping out your own,’ says Kit. Binders are frequently donated by transguys who have had top surgery, changed size, or found a size or style that works better for them. In a Bind also accepts donations of new binders, as well as monetary donations used to offset shipping costs.”
Michelle Kosilek’s Surgery Raises Questions About Trans* Prisoners’ Rights by Rose (September 2012)
“The fact that there’s so much misunderstanding about trans* rights even in more progressive circles does a lot to explain why even normally pro-LGBT politicians, like MA Gov. Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren have come out against Kosilek on this issue. Although Warren’s statement — ‘I have to say, I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars’ – isn’t quite as strongly-worded as that of her opponent in the Senate race, Scott Brown, who called it an ‘outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars’ and referred to a possible overturn of Judge Wolf’s ruling as ‘common sense prevailing.’ There seems to be particularly dismay at Warren’s stance, though, since she’s someone who has made a career out of standing up for the downtrodden, and would be expected to be on the progressive side of things when it comes to both trans* rights and prisoners’ rights.”
Call for Submissions: Trans*Scribe by Riese (February 2013)
Note: This is when everything changed. This call for trans women writers brought so much talent to Autostraddle — including future editor Mey Rude — and really shifted the kinds of pieces trans people could write on the site. It’s kind of wild to think this happened because Annika decided to take an indefinite internet break. Seriously, Annika, thank you for everything.
It’s really worth reading the wide range of pieces that were born from this series.
“So here’s what we’re looking for: writing from queer-identified trans* women — personal essays, features, lists, interviews, advice, anything!”
Getting With Girls Like Us: A Radical Guide to Dating Trans* Women for Cis Women by Savannah (March 2013)
Note: I do want to highlight this one piece from the series. Writing about sex as a trans woman on the internet is challenging and as someone who has done it a lot here, I appreciate this piece for paving the way.
“I happen to have had a couple of awesome relationships with cis women who were already in long-term, (explicitly) non-monogamous relationships. That said, I can’t help but notice there seems to be a pattern in which I am invited to be someone’s ‘thing on the side.’ While I can’t know for a fact if this is because I’m trans, I have heard other trans women relate similar things. In principle, I have no problem entering into such relationships with someone I trust and with whom I feel genuinely close. I’m just saying I know I’m not the only trans woman who feels a bit frustrated when this kind of thing seems to be on constant replay.”
Trauma Queen: An Autostraddle Book Review and Interview by Mey (June 2013)
Note: I just want to note this moment when trans people started being interviewed almost exclusively by trans writers!
“Janet Mock just wrote a blog post highlighting the problem that trans* women of color’s stories so often get pushed out of the way and purposefully silenced. Your memoir is one of the books she mentions that’s changing that. How did it feel to be mentioned in that blog post?”
Real-Life Sofia Bursets: Transgender Women Face a Nightmare in Men’s Prisons by Mey (July 2013)
“The problem isn’t trans women being placed in men’s prisons, or trans prisoners being denied medical treatment, the problem is the entire system. There are no good cops or good prisons, all of them work towards the goal of white supremacy and terrorizing, torturing, locking up, and murdering Black people. Police and prisons must be abolished now.”
Mira Bellweather and “Fucking Trans Women” Zine: The Autostraddle Interview by Kennedy (August 2013)
“So much of what I read about sex and what I have seen out in the world stresses one point over and over to the point where it’s completely useless: communication. Yes, communication is important. Yes, we need to learn how to talk about our bodies. But one of the most common issues I hear about from other trans women is over-thinking everything, and being too preoccupied with our bodies to really enjoy sex.
I have a sort of mantra that I repeat to myself: if you’re in your head, you’re not in your body.”
Laverne Cox, Superstar: The Autostraddle “Orange Is the New Black” Interview by Mey (August 2013)
“I just wanted to tell the story as truthfully as possible. I believe what artist do is take pain and turn it into art. Some of those moments which are similar to moments I’ve had in real life I got to make art out of and I’m so grateful for that.”
And I’m so grateful to all of the trans people who spoke to and wrote for Autostraddle in its early years. I hope this space only gets even more trans with every passing year. <3