I Lived Two Lives; One in the World, One in Computers

Before I jump into my gay essay, let’s talk about how I’m here to ask you to support Autostraddle’s member drive. We need 300 people to sign up so I can keep recapping Yellowjackets and Killing Eve and whatever the next stabby gay show is! And so I can keep doing my whole damn job, too! So, buzz buzz buzz, sign up if you can, and read on!

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I recently rewatched all of the Matrix movies so I could write about them with Drew for Autostraddle. A monologue from Agent Smith in the first movie stood out to me:

As you can see, we’ve had our eye on you for some time now, Mr. Anderson. It seems that you’ve been living two lives. In one life, you’re Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company, you have a social security number, you pay your taxes, and you help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias Neo and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.

For a long time, I lived two lives. One in the world and one in computers. I know a lot of people for whom this is true. Maybe this is or was true for you. I have several close friends who I met over a decade ago because we held this in common. We’re all queer. Back then, that queerness was a closely guarded secret in our “real” lives, so elusive we could barely touch it ourselves. In our online lives on tumblr dot com — arguably the realer lives — our queerness was alive, even if we couldn’t yet name it.

I like to say I was “gay in the tags,” burying my desires in the light gray hashtags that lived at the very bottom of blog posts. They were not subtle. Think: #boobs, #girl crush, #alison brie, #lesbian o’clock. Naming queerness in a tag was safe. It could be read as a joke, as something inconsequential.

As with all internet kids, I used to lie to the people in my corporeal life. I made up an elaborate tale for my parents when I took the Megabus from Ann Arbor to Chicago to visit an internet friend. I told my friends in my dorm I was studying late when really I was seven-way video chatting on a now-defunct site called TokBox with friends who I’d never met irl until four in the morning. I “dated” two women I’d met online, and the relationships mostly unfolded on screens. In my other life, I dated men and tried to convince myself I liked it. In my other life, I could touch and smell and see people, but I didn’t feel seen, not in the way I did on tumblr, where we were all connected by our queerness that was somehow latent and wild all at once.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that almost exactly when I started writing for Autostraddle in the fall of 2015, I also stopped using my tumblr regularly. I’d recently semi-blown up my life. Or, at least, that’s what it felt like to me. Throughout my senior year of college, I’d come out to a handful of people in my “real” life, almost always at odd hours of the night after bad undergrad “cocktails” of our own design. Then I decided to go out and come out with a bang. Just a few weeks before graduation, I booked a theater space on campus and put on a one-woman standup comedy show, inviting pretty much everyone I knew in Ann Arbor. On stage, I said I was a lesbian. My boyfriend at the time was in the audience. It was all complicated and strange.

That relationship ended, and I moved to Los Angeles, and I left Los Angeles, and I moved to Chicago, and somewhere along the way, I stopped needing alcohol or the remove of a stage to say the words “I’m gay” outloud. I started going on dates with women I didn’t keep secret. And when Autostraddle announced they were looking for new writers, one of my best friends — who was also one of those double-lives tumblr friends I’d met but who had crossed over to becoming an irl friend, too — sent the call for writers to me. She said it was a perfect fit. Just a year before, no one would have known that.

At Autostraddle, the lines between my two lives disappeared. I was writing the things I wanted to write and being the dyke I wanted to be.

I mentioned that post about the Matrix movies at the top of this letter, because it’s exactly the kind of writing I think is only really, truly possible at a place like Autostraddle, and it’s exactly the kind of writing I was doing on my little tumblr for a very small but intimate audience of weirdos like me. Collaborative, queer, nerdy, and passionate writing. This is the kind of writing you can support by joining A+.

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I mean, writing with a queer and trans lens about a wildly popular movie franchise with a fellow queer friend who I met online and have only hung out a coupla times in person with but who I feel like gets me on a deep and personal level and who I could text about heartbreak or a bad movie I watched or my rambly thoughts on art or relationships or idk like different kinds of cheese?????? It’s a dream job, a dream life. It’s the perfect merging of my two selves into one coherent me.

Perhaps you are one of the many, many people who read my Yellowjackets recaps every Monday morning a few months ago. I strongly believe that that work of mine could not have existed anywhere other than Autostraddle. Sure, we didn’t invent recapping TV. In fact, I recapped television at other outlets for seven years before becoming a full-time employee at Autostraddle. But the last time I had the sheer amount of creative control, space to experiment and play, and freedom to use my own voice in a television recap the way I do for these Yellowjackets missives was, well, when I was recapping episodes of The Vampire Diaries for free and for fun on my own tumblr in 2011.

Just being gay in the tags never would have been enough. Living two lives was more exhausting than I realized. Autostraddle let me be gay in the main text, baby, and as corny as it sounds, I found myself here, in the words I put to page and in the friendships I made. And I want other people like me to find themselves here, too. When you join A+, you’re helping pay it forward for someone else. We keep Autostraddle majority free to read. Nearly everything I write for this site is accessible to anyone who needs it, all because readers like you care.

And now as an editor, I get to work with so many writers to find and explore their voices, and do you know how fucking rewarding that is! I’ve only been here for about four months, and I’ve already had the chance to edit so much incredible work from ultra-talented writers. The pieces that are the most rewarding for me to work on — creative nonfiction and lengthy personal essays — take the most time and, frankly, the most money. Without the financial support of our members, I would not have been able to make a miniseries like Time Zones Week happen.

I feel like Autostraddle is still a place where I can experiment and play and discover new parts of myself as both a writer and a lesbian, two identities that are inextricably connected for me.

The Autostraddle team is growing, and I am so excited about bringing new writers into the fold. Autostraddle became a bridge between me and myself when I was brought on as a new writer back in 2015, and it feels surreal to be on the other side of the team writer application process. But expansion also comes with a price tag — literally. In addition to the current membership drive, we’re also doing a mini fundraiser for Autostraddle’s 13th birthday. I keep making 13 Going On 30 jokes, because Autostraddle is turning 13 the same year I’m turning 30, but it also feels right that the site and I are both hitting milestone years in tandem. Choosing to support Autostraddle now allows us to keep building bridges for writers who are still figuring out who they are and what they want to say.

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Before you go! It costs money to make indie queer media, and frankly, we need more members to survive 2023As thanks for LITERALLY keeping us alive, A+ members get access to bonus content, extra Saturday puzzles, and more! Will you join? Cancel anytime.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 458 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. Kayla, I can relate so hard to being able to say things on stage or in writing that you could never say otherwise! I had a handful of “soft launch” conversations with friends in college about being bisexual but my big coming out was when I wrote a piece called “So You Think You’re Bi” (please do not fault me for the cringe title, I was 20) for a stage production of Yoni Ki Baat, the South Asian version of the Vagina Monologues. Not only did I see two people I went to high school with in the audience, a lifelong family friend came up to me after and said she couldn’t believe I was bi! And I wasn’t out to my family yet! Love being chaotic in the weirdest way possible.

  2. I really relate to the two lives, one being a queer online life. Except mine started younger and more cringier lol. I started going online in the early 2000s and had little internet girlfriends I found on Neopets where we would roleplay VERY badly conceptualized sex scenes of various gay anime pairings that would just turn into low key cybering. Except we didnt exactly know how sex worked so it was just lots of kissing and grinding basically until our accounts got banned for being inappropriate. Lol, what a time.

  3. I feel awkward sometimes being on this website as a teenager because I feel like every writer here has so much more livid experience with basically everything and I haven’t even made it to twenty yet and half the time I feel as though I know virtually nothing, so it’s always kinda comforting to see where all have you are coming from. I don’t know what I’d do without Autostraddle. I know I’ve said this before but I’m really glad all you beautiful people exist.
    P.S. Kayla, this was fantastic by the way.

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