A lot of big things happened in my life last year.
First, I went through a breakup. Then a global pandemic began. At the time, I was making most of my income through film acting, live performance and retail work, and all of those industries, of course, promptly shut down. I contracted COVID-19, and while I was never hospitalized, I was sick and scared for over a month. Once I finally recovered from COVID, I developed a yet-to-be-officially-diagnosed illness, which has affected my body every day for a year and a half.
Despite those challenges, I was (and am) in an incredibly privileged position. While COVID claimed lives across the world, the virus didn’t kill me, and it hasn’t taken the lives of my loved ones. I started a beautiful, solid relationship, and my girlfriend and I leaned on each other for support during eerily apocalyptic times. I was eligible for unemployment benefits while I figured out my next career move, and ultimately, I landed on a path that feels more sustainable and more fulfilling than my previous work. I quit acting, which I’d been doing professionally on-and-off since I was five years old, and committed myself to working full-time as a freelance writer and sex educator. I’m grateful that I had the option to work from home while COVID cases soared in my city and I’m still grateful to have this option on days when my illness symptoms are especially debilitating.
I think about that particular form of gratitude often, because my girlfriend lives with a chronic illness called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS, which affects her autonomic nervous system. This system controls automatic bodily processes like breathing, digesting and circulating blood to our hearts and brains when we stand. When an illness interferes with those processes, it’s a big deal. Every day my girlfriend is forced to carefully calculate if and when she can go for a walk or cook or complete a household task without compromising her ability to work. Watching her go through this and living with my own frustrating symptoms has heightened my awareness of how ableism and capitalism are intertwined. Many chronically ill and disabled people are stuck working jobs that exacerbate their symptoms or even put their lives at risk in order to pay bills and cover medical expenses. And due to asset limits, those who receive SSI benefits are often trapped in poverty and are financially unprepared for crises. I’m deeply aware of how lucky I am that my symptoms only limit some of my activities some of the time and that my flexible work schedule can accommodate my needs.
This year, one of my favorite work projects was the Autostraddle series “How To Survive A Post(?)-COVID World,” which I curated and edited in June. I hoped to help readers navigate the logistics and trauma of a pandemic-stricken world, covering topics like long COVID, unstable housing, financial insecurity, grief and more. Autostraddle was able to budget for this project and many others thanks to donations from our readers during our last fundraiser. That’s one major advantage of working for a reader-supported publication — since we don’t have to chase cheap clicks, we get to concentrate on the needs of our community without sacrificing our integrity. We need your continued support to maintain this standard, and that’s why I’m asking you to donate to our fundraiser. Can you help us out?
While “How To Survive A Post(?)-COVID World” was ultimately well-received, readers probably wouldn’t guess that there were some unexpected hiccups behind the scenes. This was my first time editing a written series on my own, but as a Very Confident Aries, I wasn’t worried. I’d had plenty of experience curating variety shows, producing comedy shows and directing rock musicals. I’m painfully organized. I figured that editing a series wouldn’t be a big deal. I’d find some writers and an illustrator, I’d set some deadlines, the writers would turn in their work and boom — a series is born. But it wasn’t that simple. Two writers dropped out at the last minute. Others needed deadline extensions. My hyper-organized, “we-must-adhere-to-the-plan-at-all-costs” brain panicked. I wanted to keep the promises I’d made in my editor’s note. I wanted Autostraddle’s senior editors to be happy with my work and I worried that my plans for this series were about to crumble.
Then I took a step back and thought about what I was actually doing. My series was featuring the voices of people who were actively struggling. I was asking writers to excavate their current trauma in order to offer guidance and solidarity to our readers. Of course some writers were dropping out. Of course others needed more time to complete their drafts. I should have expected that. Creating this kind of content is painful and taxing, especially in the context of an ongoing global pandemic. I realized that if I wanted to make this series happen, I was going to have to be flexible with my expectations and timeline. And I knew how to do that. After all, since I started living with a mystery illness, I’d been forced to adjust the timeline for a lot of things in my own life, including my work.
A few months ago, my girlfriend pointed out that I’ve been operating on “crip time,” which refers to the way that disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent people experience time differently than non-disabled and/or neurotypical folks. I honestly don’t know if I can consider myself part of the “chronically ill community” — my diagnosis hasn’t been confirmed, and I still don’t know whether or not my illness can be treated — so instead of defining this term myself, I’m going to hand this over to Alison Kafer, a queer, disabled writer and professor, who says: “Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.” In her book Feminist, Queer, Crip, Kafer explains, “Crip time is flex time not just expanded but exploded; it requires re-imagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies.”
Over the past year and half, I’ve been forced to establish new expectations for “how long things take” in my life, because some days I feel like shit. Some days I have multiple doctor’s appointments. Some days I’m spending way too much time sending strongly-worded messages through my patient portal so I can access the medical care I need. It’s been hard, but I’ve finally reached a place where I can acknowledge what my symptoms are doing on any given day, and — when it’s possible — adapt. Yes, this Very Confident And Occasionally Rigid Aries learned how to shift plans! If I could do that for my own life tasks and writing, then I could absolutely tweak the timeline for my series. And Autostraddle’s senior editors supported me every step of the way.
I rearranged the publication schedule to account for deadline extensions and found two incredible writers to replace the contributors who dropped out. I even added an additional article to the series because I loved the pitch so much. I’m humbled to have worked with writers who were willing to bring so much vulnerability to their articles and I’m proud of how the series turned out, even though the publication timeline wasn’t what I’d planned on.
A few months after my series was published, I stepped into an official editing role as Autostraddle’s Sex & Dating Editor. Since my first bumbling editing attempt, I’ve learned a lot about the editing process and Autostraddle’s values. I deeply appreciate working for a publication that centers marginalized voices, and because of that commitment, there are times when we have to change our plans or operate on a slower timeline than other publications. Sometimes readers ask us why we haven’t covered a certain topic yet. We’re always doing our best to keep up with the news cycle, but our priority is finding the right person to tackle any given topic — someone with direct, lived experience — and sometimes that process warrants its own timeline.
When news of the Texas abortion ban hit at the beginning of September, Autostraddle responded immediately with a link roundup and a long list of abortion funds that readers could support (thanks, Carmen!). But we knew that we needed more coverage, ideally a personal essay by a queer person who had experienced abortion. Finding a writer who was willing to share such a personal story was difficult, and, unsurprisingly, the first two writers I started working with dropped out. And that made sense — sharing a deeply personal experience with a wide audience is hard, especially when that experience is a subject of national debate. But then Autostraddle’s Culture Editor Shelli stepped in and wrote an achingly honest essay about her abortion. We were able to get it up on our website by September 9th — that’s “late” by traditional media standards, but the outcome was clearly worth the wait.
At Autostraddle, we do our best to offer journalism that’s fun and thoughtful. We don’t always rush to get articles out into the world — we can’t if we’re going to produce quality work that centers the voices of people with lived experience of the topics they’re covering. We’re able to operate this way because we rely on support from our readers and we want to continue producing work in a way that reflects our principles. Can you contribute to our fundraiser and help us nurture those values?
I’m still a (very) new editor and have a LOT of experience to gain, but here’s what I know about the coming months: I want to continue hiring writers whose lived experiences are underrepresented in the media and I want to pay them well for their work. Autostraddle is a small publication with a small budget, but with the help of A+ members and support from our readers, we can offer greater compensation to writers whose work deserves a platform. I’m honored to be part of the team that gets this work out into the world. If you have dollars to spare, will you join A+ or contribute to the fundraiser? Thank you, in advance, for investing in our work — we’ll continue doing our best to make you proud.