No Lie: I Was Editor-in-Chief of My Middle School Yearbook

I’ve been thinking a lot about 1998 lately.

I’ve been thinking about the bedroom that I hand painted with two different shades of candy colored pink (what? yes) and my Rocky Horror Picture Show poster and watching Carson Daly interview Britney Spears TRL while I painted my nails a thick, chemically smelling electric blue color that I got from Claire’s. I’ve been thinking about Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation album, TLC’s “No Scrubs,” how my mom never let me buy JNCO jeans because they scraped on the ground, and the euphoric rush of a new DELiA*s catalog in the mail. I’ve been so firmly thinking about these things because Autostraddle is, in fact, 13 (whaaat? again, yes).

What’s most funny about this is that I didn’t actually turn 13 in 1998? I didn’t turn 13 for a full two years later, in 2000. When butterfly hair clips and platform Sketchers were already being switched out for Y2K panics about the end of the world and Destiny’s Child had their first hit on the charts.

Oh wait. OH WAIT. I turned 13 in neither of those two places. I turned 13 in 1999. Time passes and blends together and sometimes at Autostraddle we cannot figure out when exactly something happened over the course of our 13 years… was it in 2014… 2011?

But back to what’s important, the matter at hand! That’s right! 13! OUR BIRTHDAY!!! Autostraddle is now a braces wearing, chipped black nail polish having, sharpie tattoos and drawing on our sneakers, whole ass 13. THIRTEEN. Just full of hormones and potential (maybe that should be our new tagline). I keep staring up from my laptop and mouthing it to no one in the air, 13. Thir-teen. I asked Laneia if she could believe that something she and Riese started would be going to high school next year and she covered her face in her hands.

How have we all been on the journey THIS long??? One day you logged in to this website because there was a show you couldn’t stop talking about and you were driving all of your friends crazy, or because you were shy about how to have sex with your girlfriend — and now here we are a million inside jokes and gritty, bare-knuckled enthusiasm later. Together.

If you can, will you be a part of seeing this space from that chipped-nail-polish, brimming with potential, early teens and on into our ever-so-much-more mature 14th year? (HA! 14! Can you imagine!?) To keep it very real, we need more money than we’re asking for. We always do. But we’re asking for something that seems do-able, something that will help us inch along so that we can keep planning and dreaming for what’s next. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned at Autostraddle, it’s that those small inches? When we engage in some serious gay planning and we keep nurturing them together, they become miles. If you can, will you donate to our birthday fundraiser or join A+?

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Let me tell you something about this little nerd at 13, she loved to plan for the future. She sat in the front row of every class and filled notebooks (yes, multiple) with notes. If a project was due on September 30th, then baby we were starting to work on it on the 12th. She was Editor-in-Chief of her middle school yearbook (I know) and her favorite after school activity was to buy Litle Debbie Zebra Cakes from the vending machine and sit cross-legged on top of the desks in the English classroom that doubled as the “yearbook office” to make extremely horny jokes with her friends. But she never made the horny jokes that she wanted to make, because the very last thing she wanted to be was gay. She wore her sleeves so long they covered her fingertips and out of nowhere picked up a habit that year of saying “sorry” before every sentence… apologizing for what exactly? Her existence, probably.

If 13 is about being on the cusp of what comes next, of growing out of who you were before and barreling towards what’s ahead and holding on tight, the fullness of unrecognized potential — then its almost certainly about being lonely. There is nothing lonelier than being in between who you were and who you’re about to become.

Middle school was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the twilight late afternoon hours I was left home alone (my secret recipe involved “toasting” the bread ever so slightly first, so that the peanut butter melted from the warmth and the bread never got soggy) and sneak-searching porn on AOL while I watched MTV before my mom came home. It was finally deciding to pack up my Barbies in the basement. But it’s also when I started a different after school tradition, crying to myself while I stared out our small kitchen window over the sink. There was a longing to belong buried so deep into me, it burned a fire that burst around the ventricles of my heart. Then I’d furiously wipe the tears away as suddenly as they’d sprung from my eyes. Tears and porn — the #1 and #2 things that I scrubbed out of existence before my mom’s keys jiggled the lock on our apartment door.

That searching for belonging? It didn’t go away. I think we all still have it, we’re adults with rent due and still on some level we’re just insecure horny little nerds looking for a place to call home. For me, that home was Autostraddle. Maybe you turned 13 in ’99 like I did — maybe it was ’84, maybe it was 2005 or 2010. But also maybe, just maybe, you also found your home here at Autostraddle too. If you did, I really hope you’ll consider becoming an A+ member today. A+ members make up less than 1% of our readers, but that small sliver of individuals who are willing and able to put their money where their heart also makes up 50% of our budget (fundraisers and the people who support them made up another 26% last year).

That’s what allows us to make Autostraddle a home where we can crack a joke about porn and talk about depression in the same breath, will you join us?

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Hormones and heavy emotions — welcome to 13. The best part of this entire school dance, skate party, sleepover celebration of a birthday party is that we are so far from done yet.

Let me tell you how much potential we’re sitting with, the sheer force of the need for this space. At the same time that we’re celebrating our birthday, Autostraddle is getting ready to bring on an entirely new class of writers. We actually started just before the New Year, when we welcomed on to our virtual team five new writers who we had previously worked with and adored, then in February we launched a public open call looking to bring on five-to-seven more. I first started drafting this letter on the last day of our new writer applications and y’all — there have been almost 600 APPLICATIONS!! It’s a new Autostraddle record. Kayla and I will read every single one (I have 424 more to go!). I wish we’d be able to hire them all, but the idea alone — there are so many queer stories left to tell.

There are many writers are bursting at the seams to tell them. Established writers who want a chance to work for a gay editor who will finally just “get it” for once, after having their work torn apart by straight cis men editors at mainstream magazine. Brand new writers without a byline to their name because no one will even give them a chance yet because they’re the “wrong kind of trans.” Baby gays who think no one wants to hear stories about their first real heartbreak and what it has to do with Spongebob Squarepants. But we will. We always have. And that’s why, scrappy paycheck to paycheck, I know that what we’re still building here matters.

I hope today’s the day that you join A+ or, if you can, consider donating to our birthday fundraiser. Autostraddle has so much growing left to do and I can’t wait for all of us to be a part of it. Will you be a part of it? Every person who signs up makes a world of difference to this 13-year-old indie queer media site.

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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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Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 515 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. I, also, was editor of my middle school yearbook. And of my high school and college yearbooks, so I’m an even bigger nerd. Our middle school yearbook office was in the art room, which was lots of fun! Yearbook staff gave me somewhere to belong and the confidence that even as a shy introvert, I could lead an effort and accomplish things. Thanks for what you do at Autostraddle. (Your headline inspired me to renew my A+ membership.)

    • Yearbook nerds unite!!! (So far on staff, Kayla and I were both EICs of our middle school yearbook, Valerie was on her middle and high school yearbook staffs). I guess that means that all of us are in excellent company!

      Thank you for joining again, I hope we former yearbook nerds make each other proud!

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