Once upon a time, in January, Dr. Carmen Phillips became Interim Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com following Kamala Puligandla stepping down in pursuit of different pastures. At the time, we weren’t sure what would come next for us — we knew we’d be short staffed for several months (and friends, we sure are!!!) and that we would have to hire a new Editor but we weren’t sure what position we’d be hiring for or how our team would end up getting organized. That vision is growing increasingly clear and part of that is noting that Carmen is very good at this job and that it’s time to yank “interim” right out of her title and place EDITOR IN CHIEF upon her.
Carmen brings to the table bright hopes for our future and a deep love for the roots of this strange little website, going from a reader to a commenter to a writer to a Senior Editor to Deputy Editor to now Editor-in-Chief. Her vision is everything we are and could be (and these are her words, not mine!): “to be smart and funny and a little self-deprecating, to be a home for compassionate, accountable film and tv writing from queer and trans perspectives, and to cover the small everyday of how we live, from how we protect our communities to how we love.”
Under her leadership we have broken through our recent goal of publishing 50% of our posts by writers of color and making it explicit that being a home for lesbian and queer communities also means being a home for trans people of all genders. She has led the editorial team with compassion, pragmatism and heart through so many things, including our biggest fundraising campaign ever and an ongoing SEO crisis. I am so happy to have someone at the helm who I love so much as a writer, a visionary and a friend who screams during TV shows.
That means Carmen Phillips is our new Editor-in-Chief and I bet you’re wondering what t-shirt she wore under her high school graduation gown and good news you are about to find out.
Riese: Dr. Carmen Phillips, I’ve heard that you are now Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com. I used to be Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com also, and as I recall, it was very hard. Do you agree? Is it hard?
HARD BUT WORTH IT I MEAN
Carmen: Hahaaaaaaa! I do think it’s hard, but worth it! It’s… ok so I’m going to open with a cliche (I am corny, please forgive me) — you know how people say, “find what you love and then your work will never be work?” Well, that’s not true! Working at Autostraddle has been the hardest I’ve worked in my life, the most daily hours, weekends, all of it. But also it’s amazing to see what we create. This magic we’re making.
A lot of people will know this, but for most of my 20s I woke up and the first thing I did every day was read Autostraddle. To be behind the curtain to help create Autostraddle? You have to love it to do it, every one of our team has at least three jobs, and wow do I love it.
Riese: Now that you have hung out behind the curtain for a reasonable amount of time, what would you say surprised you most about our behind-curtain activities?
Carmen: I think that there’s a reoccurring bit where one of us goes to get coffee or a muffin we ask in slack if anyone else wants coffee or a muffin? As if we aren’t across three time zones? That’s fun.
But also, I think Autostraddle keeps surprising me because it’s willing to grow. Not everyone is willing to learn new models, try new things. And that’s been true with our business adaptability (it’s no small marvel that we’re still here and indie 12 years years in!) but also in our workplace culture, right?
When I took over as interm Editor-in-Chief in January, one of the things I was most insistent on was that there be regular meetings among white senior staff about how to unlearn and dismantle white supremacy in our workplace, because I want that to be a lifetime commitment. I want to make Autostraddle supportive of the people of color who work here, not as a trend but a lifestyle.
And I was nervous to ask for that!! But, again, I think our willingness to own up to where we can do better and then actually do the work of growing to get there? That’s our strength.
Riese: Speaking of white senior staff, which of us do you think is the most annoying?
Carmen: HARD PASS
Carmen: Maybe sign up for A+ and I’ll tell
Riese: THAT’S A SOLID SELL CARMEN
If we lived in the same place and had an office and I was actually going to the coffee shop real quick, what would you want me to get you for real.
Carmen: I am such a bad gay because the gay agenda is an iced coffee and I have too much high anxiety to have more than like one every two days!! So my favorite drink (embarrassingly) is what’s called a Pink Drink from Starbucks? It’s strawberry açaí tea with coconut milk? But one time I was actually with Heather Hogan in real life at a Starbucks and she was like, “what do you want”? But I was embarrassed to say it out loud!
I think this also happened once with Rachel, now that I think about it.
Starbucks should name their drinks something that sounds less like something I would’ve ordered after a 7th grade dance damnit!!
(My iced latte order is a vanilla iced latte with oat or soy milk)
Riese: I think Pink Drink was what I drank out of a bucket at a frat party in 2002 that did not end well for me.
I’m going to write down your order on my notes app so I’ll remember it forever.
Follow-up question: You currently live in Southfield, Michigan. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and returned to live in Ypsilanti, Michigan from 2015 – 2017. Sarah lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for several years. Rachel went to school in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Our new Culture Editor Shelli Nicole grew up in Detroit, Michigan!!! What do you think it is that makes people who have lived in Michigan so smart, successful and pretty and then also employees of Autostraddle dot com?
Carmen: I think it’s obviously all the Great Lakes.
Riese: LAKE POWER, power from the frigid waters of Lake Michigan.
Side anecdote: I was at a Dodgers game on Friday and a friend was like “so you guys don’t have a baseball team there right?” and I was like UM THE TIGERS and then she felt visibly guilty for 15 minutes.
Carmen: Hahaaaaaahaaaaaaa when I grew up the Tigers weren’t good yet/again, so I was a Pistons fan. Which often surprises people because I pretend not to know anything about sports!
It ruins my high femme reputation.
Riese: Yeah the Pistons were doing v good circa me being in college and we went to a lot of games and screamed really loud.
Carmen: I wore a Ben Wallace “Fear the Fro” shirt under my high school graduation gown.
Riese: I wore a victoria’s secret shelf-bra camisole, a Delia*s skirt and bowling shoes under my high school graduation gown.
Carmen: Oh that is PEAK 90s and I salute you.
So is Lake Power your final answer? for the Michigan Connection, or do you think we all got a great education at Greenfield Village?
Carmen: Lake power, final answer.
Riese: ok next question… within the last six months have you experienced a concussion?
Carmen: Hahhahaaa I did!
Riese: Would you say getting a concussion was more like the 2013 lesbian movie Concussion or the 2015 Will Smith movie Concussion
Carmen: … there’s a 2013 lesbian movie Concussion?
(Maybe you shouldn’t have hired me for this job after all)
Riese: (DON’T SAY THAT IT’S JUST YOUR CONCUSSION TALKING) There is, Robin Weigert is like a woman who becomes an escort sort of. I think. I can’t remember it super well.
Carmen: This is breaking news!! But I will say it was more like the Will Smith one, as my brain was fairly jumbled and I couldn’t look at a screen for days and you all had to cover for me at work. But there were no escorts.
Riese: Okay that is the correct answer thank you.
Okay next question: What do you wish you had more time in the day to do as Editor in Chief?
Carmen: Write things! But to be more specific, I wish I had the time to let my mind float about and stillness, so that I could be my most creative, so that I could write things. The time to let your mind float is such an important part of the process!
Riese: True or false: a concussion is the ultimate mind float?
Carmen: HAHAHAAAAA True.
Riese: I agree 100%
Okay Carmen, if a fairy came down from the marshmallow clouds of the sky and said “I will give you $10k but you have to spend all of it on content for one (1) day.” So you have to create $10k worth of content to debut on the same day. What would you do?
You have like a month to plan, before the $10k day, so you could give people a thing it takes a month to write.
Carmen: Ok great so I have 30 days to plan and 10k to spend??
Riese: Yes! And all the content that the 10k goes to has to go up on one day.
Carmen: I’d want to do a theme day that’s “Queer Art and Activism,” obviously I’d pick a sexier title but that would be the theme — a miniature (because 10k spends faster than one might think) Vulture Fest or SXSW, but instead of just focused on Hollywood, it’s also looking at the ways that stories effect our community.
I’d want to do feature interviews with: Indya Moore and Sara Ramirez or Tessa Thompson, who in my mind really embody this intersection. I’d hire trans Latinx journalists to do the interviews and professional QTPOC photography. I’d also have them record some video elements for social media and to use on our other platforms. That’s about 3 or 4 grand, off the top.
Then I’d dedicate another 3 grand to doing actual community enrichment projects, I’d look for 2 small QTPOC-led orgs, one in a major city with lots of gays and one then that’s either rural or in a small, industrial Midwest city. I’d offer them $1.25k each (which is why the org would need to be small, for the amount to be impactful) to do what they needed with it. I’d use the remaining $500 out of this pot of funds to pay a local queer or trans writer or activist (lots of activists can write!) to document the organization, what they did with the money, and take photos.
I would use the remaining 2-3k in the following ways: Overtime for our tech team YIKES and Sarah, our design director, to do customized skins for the site for the day and all the necessary advertising or hype graphics leading into the day; split what’s left among our editors and subject editors to spend on themed content around “queer art and activism” based on their specific expertise and including at least one multi-media event on Zoom or IG Live to cap off the day.
Riese: WOW I HOPE THERE IS A FAIRY UP IN CARE BEAR CLOUDLAND THAT READS THIS
Carmen: CLOUDLAND FAIRY, WHERE ARE YOU??
Riese: Which publications do you read regularly?
Carmen: Us?? I mean literally us, not US Weekly.
But also: Bitch, The Cut, Vulture, The Atlantic, The Nation, New Republic (I’ve been really digging their new digital media magazine Critical Mass), and also The NY Times. I read Vox or Slate when someone recommends them to me, which happens a lot because I also edit our two of our link round ups!
I usually keep an regular eye on Out Magazine, The Advocate, and NBC’s gay vertical NBC Out?? But that’s less for fun and mostly because, I mean, it’s my job.TM
Riese: Which other writers, editors and creators do you admire or feel inspired by?
Carmen: Ok this is going to be more of a historical reference!! But I first learned about Jeanne Córdova from Autostraddle to be honest, after she left us some finances in her estate. But then I read her memoir and I felt such a kinship to her and just… doing the damn thing of trying keep lesbian media alive, you know? Especially as a Latina. Her life story has just meant so much to me.
To that end, over the course of this job I’ve also learned about BLK magazine and Black Lace magazine, who were both indie owned black gay /lesbian publications in the early 1990s, founded by Alan Ball (BLK) and Alycee J. Lane (Black Lace). They were around for about six years total (less than a year for Black Lace).
And then in the 80s there was Kitchen Table Press, which was a feminist women of color indie press that published some of the greats like This Bridge Called My Back.
A funny story about that is that I met Cherríe Moraga once in college, one of the editors of This Bridge Called My Back. She was the Women’s History Month speaker, and all the Latinx students had dressed up for this brunch with her. She was so funny and humble, she genuinely thought we were dressed up for someone else!! And not that she’s this huge Chicanx, Latinx feminist icon! Anyway I told her that I wanted write like this one day (what did I say? Always corny!) and she signed my book “En Honor de la Fuerza de estas mujeres” — in honor of the strength of these women.
You were probably looking for a more sexy answer! But I feel really comforted when I remember that we aren’t the first people to do this, to try and keep this flame lit.
Riese: No this is exactly the answer I was looking for, thank you and that is such a sweet story about Cherrie Moraga! I feel similarly about drawing great strength from gays of the past who made their little publications work.
Okay next question — what would be your dream queer TV show to watch and write about for Autostraddle? — like who would run it and write for it and be in it and what would it be about?
Carmen: I know I already mentioned Sara Ramirez in this interview, BUT!!! I really want to them star in a queer production, like a Tanya Saracho production. I thought for sure that’s where we were heading after Madam Secretary… and I’m excited to see them in the new Sex and the City reboot, but they are so ridiculously talented I really want them to get the chance to perform with, by, and for other QTPOC. Imagine Sara Ramirez in a romantic dramaedy with music costarring Mj Rodriguez and Samira Wiley and Rosanny Zayas from Generation Q, written by Tanya Saracho? And tell me you don’t want to watch that.
I also… ok this going to seem off the wall, but I’d love to see a dykey Golden Girls? Do we have enough lesbian or bisexual actors 50+ to pull it off? There’s Lily Tomlin and yes I’m basically now just describing Grace and Frankie — but hear me out — the original Golden Girls is most associated with gay men. Then Grace and Frankie had actual gay men characters, both played my presumptively straight men, and a verrrrry homoerotic friendship between the two straight women characters, one of which was played by a lesbian! I feel like we just keep inching our way to the finish line here.
Imagine a bunch of just old gay broads you know, how they used to use that word “broads”? Just like, real cut-no-shit old school hilarious bad bitches. Making jokes together, sitting around their kitchen table eating cheesecake. I want it.
Riese: I WANT IT TOO. And also cheesecake.
Okay. The word “interim” sounds kind of like “intern” even though “interim” and “intern” are like very different things. How do you feel about that?
Carmen: I have spent the last six months with my auto-correct turning interm into intern, so I in fact do have some thoughts on this!
I think being an interm is actually a little like being an intern? Or rather what an intern should be before capitalism got involved and made it about grabbing someone’s coffee for cheap labor. But I think serving as Editor in Chief on an interm basis gave me time to learn on the on the job, which is what we hope an intern gets? I feel like having six months of training wheels has helped with the learning curve!! Because there’s a lot you need to know to keep this Titanic from sinking (wow I should have picked a better analogy)!
It also allowed y’all the chance to experience new energy in the room, so to speak, with me in charge — and if it would work for us. And it’s been different! I’m a different kind if communicator than we’ve had in the past, and I have parts of this job I think I’m really getting the hang of, and parts I needed time to get used to and comfortable with.
Autostraddle had one EIC for its first 11 years, then Kamala Puligandla, our next EIC lead us with such grace before heading off to pursue her other dreams as a writer (buy her book!). So, that’s a lot of change within one year! Now we are twelve, which is an entire generation in internet years, and I think the first priority for all of us has been to find sustainability.
So being an intern interm gave the chance to do that!
RIese: No I think Titanic is a good analogy bc tbh I usually do feel like we just hit an iceberg. I wish we had thought to name you @interimcarmen so it could follow you everywhere like @internrachel does.
Carmen: Oh do people know that our Managing Editor Rachel’s Autostraddle username is actually @internrachel, from when she was an intern a decade ago?? That’s another one of my favorite “behind the curtain” fun facts!
Riese: Here’s another fun fact: A lot of our readers went to grad school. So did you! You are a DOCTOR. Was this the career path you expected when you were working on your degree?
Carmen: I was supposed to be a professor! Like a for real, chalk everywhere, more books than wall space, old drafty hallways and tree lined campuses professor. I spent my entire 20s (literally, it took me 10 years to finish my degree) preparing for it.
The truth is that, the time you spend in a PhD program is about learning the thing you’re an expert in (my training is in Black and Latinx political history and pop culture) — but it’s also about training you for the work of being a professional academic, which is its own subsection divorced away from the reality of pretty much anything else I’ve encountered. And I loved the learning aspects! But I was never built for being an academic. It felt like trying my hardest to fit a square peg into a round hole. And I couldn’t have known that until I was there, you know? But I wish I had given myself the permission to say “ok this isn’t working” sooner, before my student debt piled up at least.
I’m also really fortunate because in the last year of my program, I also started writing here! Which taught me a lot about myself, mainly that I still loved writing about Black and Latinx pop culture! I still loved writing and thinking about politics! And that there were other ways I could make a living doing those very things. Plus, no one ever let me do breaking celebrity gossip commentary in academia. (Their loss)
Riese: If you had to write a thesis (I am only vaguely aware of what a thesis is but bear with me) about Janelle Monáe what would the title be?
Carmen: “An Android in Love with the Way Mary Wears Her Tights: Janelle Monáe and Performances of Afro-Futurist Femme(inities) at the Turn of the 21st Century, 2008 – 2018”
Riese: Would read!
Okay, what is your biggest fear w/r/t the future of Autostraddle? The correct answer here is money.
Carmen: The correct answer IS money! I am living in constant fear, and I think on some level we all are, that we are going to run out of money.
And that’s not to say I don’t appreciate the generosity of all the people who have given to Autostraddle over the years, and especially over the last 18 months when we have needed more fundraisers. Or all of our A+ members, whose subscriptions provide us with a necessary baseline of consistency that lets us go from the day-to-day. But the nature of the beast is that we need to be able to pay people for their work, and I want to pay them for their work. I live in constant fear of a day in which we have to tell the people who are creating this website with us, that it’s over.
Tied to money of course is my fear that Autostraddle will cease to exist. We just celebrated our twelfth birthday and I believe it crosses us into a new playing field. We’ve been around too long to be the new kid on the block, but we’re still too young to be a legacy brand. We’re truly becoming teenagers — which is an awkward and precarious time. I want to see us through that and into the next chapter. I want an Autostraddle that will be here for another 20 years, I want to build a platform that outlives us. That’s my goal.
Of course that ties back to money! Such is the way of capitalism.
Riese: Ok one last question: what kinds of submissions would you love to see from freelancers right now?
Carmen: You know? I’d really love to see some freelance pitches about queer family planning and queer divorce (not necessarily together!… But also?? I very much would love to hear about a queer person family planning while also shopping for a divorce attorney, just saying). I would love to here from more queer people in their early 20s!! What is like right now, to be queer and coming into yourself and also have the world opening back up — just as you’re finding you? Where is that piece! This is going to seem quirky, but I’d love for someone to write us an explainer on why the word Sapphic has come back into style.
I miss fashion content, because who even knows how to dress anymore in clothes that aren’t sweatpants? Also, what are the good sweatpants? The ones that you can wear inside and outside and dress up/down and make your ass look great? I want to know what skin products I should be putting on my face and how to put them there.
I also think we’re always, always looking for stellar reported pieces. Being gay is trendy now and everyone writes about it, but no one is going to write about it with care and nuance, moving away from the 101s and getting right into the muck what matters, like we will. I want to publish pieces like THAT.
Riese: Ok actually I have one more last question, which is who is your favorite dog?
Carmen: MY FAVORITE DOG IS CAROL THE DOG AND I LOVE HER BECAUSE I AM ALLERGIC TO ALL DOGS AND SHE DOESN’T ASK ME TO TOUCH HER, SHE JUST SITS WITH HER BUTT RIGHT NEXT TO MY BUTT
Riese: THAT IS THE CORRECT ANSWER YOUR PROMOTION IS COMPLETE