Being or Becoming Real

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. Back in elementary school when Mrs. Brant, our art teacher, introduced us to poetry, I knew I had found something that could not be replicated or replaced in my life. I found something I needed at that time in my life, and I clung to it. Later, I would go on to write a poem about my favorite doll, Sally, using her as a metaphor for my ill grandmother, before I even had a firm grasp on what metaphor meant.

Writing, poetry and fiction, were tantamount to my experience as a child suffering under traumatic circumstances. I wrote novellas about witches and women with magical powers who had the ability to escape their circumstances. I wrote poems about vampires and overarching, all-powerful female figures who had the means to do unimaginable harm.

Reading and writing were my bread and butter, but I had a school advisor scare the dream out of me. He asked if I wanted to be poor for the rest of my life, I said no, and he said “find a career more practical than a writer,” so I set my sights on becoming a doctor.

It didn’t take long into college before I was failing all of my science and math classes, and thriving in classes that asked me to write, interpret, and create. Around the time that graduation crept up on me, I was applying for jobs and dreaming of a world where I worked at some publishing company on the west coast where there would be beautiful lesbian women surrounding me like an episode of The L Word.

I, not surprisingly, did not find this reality. I moved home to Pittsburgh, got a job at an educational non profit, but still spent my free time writing my own work, and writing and editing work for others.

For many of us, Autostraddle isn’t our only job. We work in the service industry, in journalism, in other fields that may have nothing at all to do with writing. What’s unique about Autostraddle is that while it is a work space, it also is a place where queer and trans people get to express themselves without restraint: our desires, our fears, our humor, all of it can come out in this space. I have the freedom to express myself creatively here, and that is largely owed to wonderful readers and A+ members.

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One of the things that I think plagues young writers is an assumption of what it looks like to be a serious writer. If you’re not writing full time, everyday, and paying your rent with the revenue, you’re not (to some people) a serious writer, a real writer.

This thought terrorized me. I felt disconnected from my art because I had part time and full time jobs that took up most of my time in the world. I wrote on scraps of paper during lunch breaks and tried, at the end of the day, to have an hour or so of “creative time” for myself.

Writers that sign half a million dollar book deals and go on book tours are considered to be the real champions of the industry, where writers that haven’t achieved these goals are still thought to be in amateur hour, despite their years active in writing or their age.

I used to read Autostraddle articles in bed with my ex-girlfriend and say, “Autostraddle should let me write for them.” I did not do anything in the way of achieving that goal, I never sent a pitch or introduced myself to one of the writers or editors online, it was just a thought driven by the need to be recognized.

When Autostraddle did put out a call for writers in 2019, I had been in a place where I had spent the last couple years building my writing voice in the city I lived in, teaching workshops or doing readings for crowds at bars and other venues. When I did these readings, I was always approached by interested audience members who would ask “where can I buy your book?” I’d laugh and say, “I don’t have it yet, but it’s coming!” I’d say this for years and years and still, no book.

When I started writing for Autostraddle, the first muscle I got to flex was my humor. I had been told I was funny by friends and people who came to my readings. I would crack a few jokes to warm up the crowd and then plunge into poems about love, sex, trauma, and heartache. I wanted to keep people interested in my act so I made them laugh then made them cry.

The first piece I wrote for Autostraddle was horror-themed, because I had started in October 2019, and the piece really took off. I remember being so excited and trying to respond to and like every comment I could. People were receptive, I felt an elatedness I hadn’t felt in a long time. I kept writing, trying to put out 2-3 posts a month.

As I built my online portfolio at Autostraddle, other publications started reaching out for stories. I guested on podcasts, people became interested in my voice and my words. My world opened up. I still did not have a book or an agent, but I felt…real.

One of the big things that happened for me as a function of writing for Autostraddle was my essay series Anatomy of a Mango. The first essay in the series, “Skin,” was about having sex as a fat woman, sex with skinny people, sex with fat people, and exploring pleasure. I only wrote that piece because I was approached by one of Autostraddle’s former editors, Kamala Puligandla, to write a column about sex and dating. I would not have written Anatomy of a Mango without being prompted to think about the series by Kamala.

I woke up on the day the essay was published to lots of notifications. One of them stood out, Roxane Gay had retweeted the essay and called it ‘exquisite and sublime” and I absolutely lost my cool. Not only had my work been recognized, but by someone who’s writing I admired, it was major.

a tweet from roxane gay that reads "This essay, by @figwidow, is exquisite. It's about fatness, community, sex with thin people, sex with fat people. It's just sublime." And then has the link to Dani's essay.

Not only was my personal writing thriving, I got to watch as other writers in my orbit worked on novels, landed bylines in Vogue and other major media outlets. I’ve said before online but some of the best people writing right now are writing at Autostraddle. There’s something special about this community of writers that hasn’t been duplicated elsewhere. Yes, there are certainly other talented writers and queer media outlets outside of us, but we really are doing something special here.

From Anatomy of a Mango to book reviews I’ve done for Shira Erlichman and Natalie Diaz, to the writing I get to do about horror and poetry, to doing The Drop with Shelli Nicole, it is all such a beautifully affirming experience. I know that my craft has been honed by writing here. I know that I’ve been pushed to be better by the amazing editors and writers who are team members. I will write for Autostraddle as long as they let me. Y’all are gonna have to kick me out.

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I still do not have the book deal. I came close once and was a finalist for a really cool book prize. I’ve published a handful of poems in journals since starting writing for AS. I’m a slow mover in that sense. I like to stay with my poems like I do with great sex or a good meal. In the eyes of some in the literary world I’m still not even an “emerging” writer.

This doesn’t crush me like it used to. I let my work speak for itself. I’m good at what I do and writing for AS has imbued me with the confidence to say so. I love this work. It’s really remarkable to be surrounded by so many cool queers writing at the top of their game, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Having our remarkable A+ members to help sustain us? It’s immeasurable the work y’all do to keep us writing and working. I can’t thank you enough.

Writing for AS has made me feel real, to step into my own as an independent creative. Writing is a wild world filled with rejection, mistakes, and mishaps, but god do I love it. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. And I’m sure you as a reader have found this space to be so valuable as well. Whether you’re a seasoned queer or just coming out, I know many readers have found community here, and that’s why I’m asking you to join A+ or donate. The more people help, the longer we can create this meaningful work.

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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?

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Dani Janae is a poet and writer based out of Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not writing love poems for unavailable women, she's watching horror movies, hanging with her tarantula, and eating figs. Follow Dani Janae on Twitter and on Instagram.

danijanae has written 157 articles for us.


  1. This was such a gorgeous piece and I related to it so much. Especially as an “older””emerging” writer myself who takes her time, whatever any of that means. But here you made it mean something beautiful.

    I look forward to everything you write here and the AS community is so lucky to have you. Thank you 💖

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