One Last Letter From This Editor

feature image by robin roemer, 2009


Hello my friends,

When I founded this website in 2009 I had a few main ideas: I wanted to make women feel better about themselves, to normalize being weird, and to build a strong coalition of empowered, smart, hungry queer people armed with knowledge and confidence. I’d been blogging since 2006 and through my blog and recaps had discovered that there were actually thousands of people out there like me, but there weren’t any publications for us specifically. So instead we’d gathered around what was essentially my diary, and also around a popular L Word podcast.

The vision behind Autostraddle’s content was for us to have the breadth of topics covered by straight women and men in their magazines — not just politics or just pop culture. I wanted a place for people who wanted smart analysis and literary essays but also appreciated celebrity trash and hot girls in underpants. I wanted to make politics accessible. I wanted trendy design and swear words and relentless honesty and lots of jokes. I wanted to be visible — for all our writers to be real people who showed their faces online and shared their life stories and led readers to do the same. I wanted to de-stigmatize mental illness, and to talk openly about heartbreak and trauma and having ten million questions about life that nobody knew how to answer. I wanted people to feel less alone.

So much work has been done here and also outside of here to transform the world over the last 11 years that now it’s wild to think of anybody “like me” ever feeling alone. But back then, our work felt so alive and so new. Those interns in their tank tops and skinny jeans, avoiding phone calls from their homophobic parents, doing ukulele covers, gathering links about Prop 8 and Lady Gaga and Kate Moennig’s whereabouts. All those long nights and spilled drinks and betrayals and breakdowns and celebrations.

And despite my raging Imposter Syndrome and very intense insecurity, I have recently come to the conclusion that I think we did it? I think I did more or less what I set out to do. I think I’ve taken us as far as I can. When I look at the original Mission and Values I wrote for us so long ago, I feel peaceful and also ready for the next challenge, the next mission, a new vision. What I did was only a small fraction of the work that needs to be done. Autostraddle is ready for its next chapter, but I’m not the best person to write it.

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Thus, it is with great PRIDE and endless LOVE that I tell you that I’m done! I’m done being Editor-in-Chief. I’ll still be here full-time as CEO/CFO, and I’ll still be helping Heather and Carmen lead the TV/Film Team and I’ll still be writing for the site. But I won’t be in charge of editorial anymore.

When we hired a Deputy Editor last winter, the idea was that they would eventually replace me, but we weren’t really sure when. Then 2020 happened; an endlessly looping rollercoaster of tragedy and confusion daring all of us of to investigate our own places in the world — what we can do, what we shouldn’t, where we fit in. The past few weeks specifically have really thrown into sharp focus the importance of redistributing power as we head into what I believe may become one of our generation’s most dramatic and long-awaited reckonings. Under white supremacy, white leadership can be redundant, and it’s time for me to acknowledge that changing that, here, can’t wait.

This is about passing the mic, but it’s also about who is suited to shifting our vision and shaping the stories we tell. Issues most relevant to well-off white cis people have always been prioritized on the political docket, and queer culture has often been synonymous with white culture, a problem we’ve often perpetuated. We’ve evolved a lot over the years, and this past year specifically involved so much work towards a better Autostraddle: leadership training, racial equity training, restorative justice processes, internal re-organization.

This work is far from over, but it has proceeded far enough that I feel like what I’m handing over is not a mess to be cleaned up, but seeds to be planted and grown. I will be giving  those seeds to Kamala Puligandla and Carmen Phillips.

Kamala Puligandla, Laneia Jones, Sarah Sarwar, Riese Bernard, Rachel Kincaid, Carmen Phillips

Kamala Puligandla will be taking the role of Editor-in-Chief. She has done so much already since joining us in December, including conceiving and manifesting the A+ Erotica series S L I C K and editing and curating essays for (our first ever) Asian Pacific Islander American Month Series. She’s seriously one of the best editors I have ever worked with. She’s also warm, kind, patient and chill as well as being wholly unafraid of telling me when I am being annoying or wrong! She’s adept at balancing major priorities and excels at delivering a cohesive vision. Kamala has the perspective we need for Autostraddle’s next stage of development.

Taking Kamala’s role of Deputy Editor will be our current Senior Editor, Carmen Phillips. As she often likes to joke, Carmen started in the comments and now she’s here. She has been a vital part of Autostraddle’s community long before she was hired as an Associate Editor in 2018, and a vital part of our success ever since. Her TV and film criticism has been widely lauded. Carmen is also very clearly a boss, and thrives when she can take ownership of a project or a team, reflected in the incredible work she’s done with Autostraddle’s QTPOC Speakeasy, the TV/Film Team and our last three Black History Month series; along with her facilitation of our recent racial justice trainings and collaboration of hiring processes for Kamala and our new contributors. She’s equally adept at cheerleading others as she is carrying the ball herself. Her passion for this community is evident in all that she does.

Soon Carmen and Kamala will be sharing their visions with you and then gamely sailing this ship into the strange uncertain waters of the present moment. And I think all of us will benefit from having an Editor-in-Chief who doesn’t have two other jobs at the same company!

None of our Editors started their jobs here with any experience running or building a publication. Over the years, the closest thing we had to a road map was the histories of other lesbian publications, mostly birthed in very different times than our own. Our path was informed by those legacies, but mostly we followed our guts. Do we change or refuse to change? What stories do we tell, how do we tell them? Do we want to trail this bandwagon or jump off it? How do we cope with this new competition or that new trend?

I was nostalgically perusing our yearbook last night and there’s a quote from Crystal about a pivotal conversation in the summer of 2010 that took place on my bed (because in New York City, your bed is basically your entire room), when a rival site had launched a column that mirrored one of our own and I decided to ditch ours and make something different. We could let them have it. We didn’t need it. “Her instinct was right, per usual, because the next iteration of how we delivered news content was totally different and better than ever,” Crystal wrote. “That’s what Autostraddle does, and why it’s survived when others have not. It fights and perseveres through innovation and critical thought.”

Something clicked when I read that — about all this, about why my own internal process around this decision since making it a few weeks ago has been honestly pretty chill? Because I know — we all know, I think — that this is, and has been, our obvious next step, the only thing that feels anywhere close to right. Carmen and Kamala are brilliant and funny and inventive and so much more qualified than me to do this, now. This is what we’ve always done, how we’ve always survived, how we’ve kept up against some pretty formidable odds. This is how we go on.

As Ever,

Marie Lyn Bernard aka Riese

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2825 articles for us.

82 Comments

  1. YESSSSS!!! THIS IS FABULOUS NEWS!!! I don’t have words enough to honor all the work of everyone behind this but THANK YOU ALL FOR GETTING HERE :D Thank you Riese! Thank you Kamala and Carmen, I’m SO EXCITED!!!

    • So excited to see this!! Thank you for making this decision – when BIPOC voices are centered, everyone thrives. Also, gotta say a big Thank You Riese for making this space possible. I’ve been reading here since before I even knew I was gay, in 2010… Obviously shoulda known… Haha. Anyway, it’s so encouraging to see new editorial leadership. Looking forward to the coming months & years ❤️

  2. I wanted to thank you but then I realized I don’t know where to begin. So, I just wanted to say that there are so many things I couldn’t have done without you.
    Thank you for all that you’ve taught me.
    Thank you for making so many ordinary moments, extraordinary.
    Thank you for reminding me to stay true to myself.
    thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  3. Thank you for everything you’ve done making Autostraddle what it is, Riese! I can’t imagine who I would be without Autostraddle. I’m so excited to see what Kamala and Carmen do and all the ways Autostraddle moves into a new decade! Change is scary, but good!

  4. riese, for a long time now you’ve been a role model for me. thank you thank you thank you for your existence and your vision and tenacity.
    carmen and kamala were the BEST CHOICES I’M SO EXCITED!!!

  5. Riese, what AS is to me can barely be put in words, thank you so much for all the joy and magic you have made possible. I believe this change will be good for everyone and I am so thankful that you’ll be writing. Lots of love

  6. I do feel less alone and more visible because of Autostraddle, because of you, Riese. Love your writing, love TIRTIL, loved your „this business of art“-roundup. Love the transparency about A+ and about the changes you all make to better AS. Love that I feel part of a world wide community. So thank you deeply.

  7. congrats riese for what you’ve built here and for managing to make it thrive all these years later. i check this site a ridiculous number of times per day so that i can read things right after they get posted – i can’t imagine what it must be like to create something that’s such a huge part of other people’s lives!

  8. Riese I’m emotional!! Thank you for building a space and a community where I feel like my truest queerest self. I can’t tell you how meaningful it is to have a place where I feel valid and seen as a femme bisexual. Autostraddle has given so many outsiders a place to call home, and I’ll forever be grateful for your work and perseverance all these years. So happy you’re sticking around, and so excited to see where Kamala and Carmen (congrats on the promotions!) take us from here. AUTOSTRADDLE FOREVER 🌈💘

  9. Yes yes yes yes yes. Riese, thank you for starting this whole thing which has been a crucial part of my life for years, and thank you for stepping down and passing the seeds, as we need more white people to do. Kamala and Carmen, congratulations on your new roles and I’m SO excited for the future of Autostraddle that you will be leading us into. I’m so thankful for this good news, especially right now.

  10. Thank you for this beautiful piece and your beautiful work and more than anything for making me so damn grateful that I just became an A+ member, there is literally no organization I am more proud to support with my queer dollars. I can’t WAITTTT for the next chapter, and thank you forever for the previous one!!

  11. Thank you, millions of times over, for all you’ve done to build the site and this community, Riese. And thank you for modeling what it means to step back and make space for new, qualified, voices/experiences/ideas/people to take over leadership.

    I continue to be grateful for AS and its people, and my tiny place within it over the years. xoxo

    • I usually never comment, but I have to come out of hiding to say: You’re such a boss, Reise. Like others here I struggle to put into words the import of this site, both personally and in terms of wider social impact. I think it’s greater than any of us can even conceive. You have obviously been an integral part of it all and deserve many more accolades than we can muster, especially during the clusterf*ck that is 2020.

      All of which is just to say: thank you.

      Looking forward to the future as AS continues to grow and evolve!

  12. “normalize being weird” is a great way to put it. autostraddle has always encouraged people to radically be themselves. you do you. to me, it seems like autostraddle both introduced me to and helped shape queer culture, breaking down a lot of heteronormativity for me ten years ago as a baby gay. it was a space for and by queers where it was cute to be a tomboy and get an “alternative lifestyle haircut,” where people laughed at the term “gal pal” and knew there was more going on. it’s a fun, weird space that has been shaped by your voice, Riese. thank you for starting it all!

    and here’s to more weirdness to come. Kamala and Carmen, I can’t wait to read more books, watch cute ladies on TV, know the state of the queer people, and think about date nights under your leadership. also can there be more gardening and bird watching? quarantine + mutual aid + #blackbirdersweek has me wanting to do all the homey outdoorsy things. here’s to the future!

    • very much agree with this comment! this space was so important to my surviving adolescence and unlearning some internalised homophobia. I really can’t articulate my feelings about this at all, unfortunately brain broke <3

  13. As a weirdo whose life has been changed for the better in multiple ways over the years by the existence of this website and this community, thank you from the very bottom of my heart. I am deeply grateful for Autostraddle’s history and excited for its future.

  14. Riese what a lovely letter. Thank you for everything you’ve done for so many people, and giving us a home on the internet. I hope you’ll be able to have a bit of a rest and so glad you’ll still be writing.

    So excited to see where Carmen and Kamala take AS – and congratulations!

  15. Thank you so much for everything you have done Riese, you have made such an amazing, unique place on the internet! My life would be immeasurably poorer without Autostraddle. Lots of organisations are founded by a leader with a vision… but it’s a sign of something well built, and a great culture embedded, when leadership can move on confidently and leave the place in safe hands!
    I know all the editors and writers here will only go from strength to strength. I can’t wait to see what Autostraddle has in store – Kamala and Carmen will be amazing! I’m excited for all the quality new content coming my way.
    (Please keep doing TIRTIL though! Where else would I get my true crime /cruise meditations /longreads into industries whose existence I never considered/ exposes on celebrities everyone has forgotten about? I’m from the UK and TIRTIL basically has shaped my whole view of the USA more than anything else, long may my induction continue)

  16. I don’t normally comment but – Riese, you helped me come out, you helped me find community, you’ve given me laughter and joy when I needed it, space to mourn when I needed it. Thank you for your leadership, and thank you for making space for POC and the future. Excited by this step and for the future of AS!

  17. Riese, thank you for creating this community and bringing it to this place. I loved AS in the beginning and I love how it has evolved and still stayed true to itself. I’m glad you will be staying on as CEO/CFO and still writing.

    Congrats to Kamala and Carmen! I have so much hope for the future of AS. I love how we go on.

  18. The only way I can think to describe how I feel? *chefs kiss*

    But seriously, I appreciate the work AS has always done. But especially in the year, regarding white supremacy. I really loved the line about not handing over a mess, but the seeds to be grown.

    Thank you for this amazing community that you have created Riese. I know this change is right for AS, but I hope it also brings you a more manageable workload and (selfishly) the chance to write more.

    Congratulations Kamala and Carmen, can’t wait to see where you steer this ship.

  19. One of the hardest things for leaders is to know when it is time to move on, and that’s even harder when you are moving on from something that you founded. I’m thrilled that you will still be writing for AS, but I’m also awed by your wisdom in deciding that it is time for new voices to take the lead. As a long-time A+ member I’ve been excited by what Kamala and Carmen are doing, and I’m excited to see AS continue to thrive and change! Best to you all!

  20. Oh my god. Riese: I love you. Kamala and Carmen: I thank you. Autostraddle: I can’t imagine life without you. Big giant hearts to all. This was a nothing comment but I had to say it, my heart is overflowing. xxxxx

  21. What an exciting new chapter! Autostraddle has been with me ever since I first started seriously questioning my sexuality way back in 2010. I like to think we’ve grown and changed together. Thank you, Riese, for all you’ve done over the years to build this community. To Kamala and Carmen, I can’t wait to see where you vision takes us in the years to come!

  22. Thank you Riese for all you’ve taught me and gotten me to this point. Thank you to everyone who has taught Riese and gotten her to this point. Thank you to Kamala and Carmen for the ways you’ve already lead us and will in the future. As someone said upthread, when women of color lead, everyone is made better and allowed to flourish.

  23. I joined A+ earlier this year and am not yet in the habit of commenting on posts, but I want to chime in and say that this website has meant so much to me in the year or so that I’ve been frequenting it, and it’s been really exciting to see how the staff have been humble enough to acknowledge mistakes made in the past and take real steps toward a more radically inclusive future. Looking forward to it!!

  24. Maria Devlin said pretty much what I want to say !

    I’d add : this place, you, Reise, and all the wonderful people who surround you, have shown me what true leadership is all about.

    No one has asked this, but I can’t stand it : What does this mean for CAROL ? I mean it could go either way ; more naps, or more snaps. I’m hoping it’s the latter.

    Vive Marie ! Vive Autostraddle !

  25. Thank you so much for everything you’ve created. It is absolutely remarkable. AS has helped me grow into me in so many ways. I hope that doing a mere two jobs will be a wonderful new chapter for you. And I’m looking forward to continuing to grow along with AS into the future.

  26. Riese! This is so well-written, and I’m really pleasantly surprised to see this site that I’m so happy to read and support continue to put into action the sort of change that I wish I could tangibly see elsewhere. I especially appreciated this bit: “This work is far from over, but it has proceeded far enough that I feel like what I’m handing over is not a mess to be cleaned up, but seeds to be planted and grown.”

    It feels good (like double-plus good in a visceral way) to know that, not only are you making this decision at the time when it needs to be made, you’re also doing it in a way that I’m sure will allow these people of color to shine in the way they can and ought to and deserve to. Glad we’ll still be seeing your work here, grateful for all you’ve already done, and absolutely stoked to watch Kamala and Carmen crush it and take Autostraddle into this big, bright future.

  27. Was listening to the latest episode of To L and Back and Lauren (sidenote: awesome guest) made a comment about AS being community when you don’t really feel you have that around day to day and on other side friends/community not quite understanding the choice you’ve made, which had me reflecting on how much AS has been a community for me over the years.

    I started reading your blog around 2007 via the Planet podcast web galaxy, when I was a senior in college (flashback to burning Planet Podcast episodes onto CD to listen to on my Discman on the train???). Kept on reading when Autostraddle started, through traveling overseas, basic training, overseas postings and deployment.

    I never thought I’d do 10 years and counting in my current job but you guys have been in my life even longer. I came for the lolz and the reading recommendations and learnt a lot along the way.

    Thanks for everything Riese :)

  28. Just joining in the chorus of praise to also say that autostraddle changed my life, and was 100% influential in how I perceive myself as a queer person, and what imageries that opens up. I don’t usually comment but I’ve been reading AS daily for 4 years. I love you guys and again after reading this letter I’m again so so proud of “my” community (love from afar sorry for being such a lurker yall).

  29. Wow, this is big news!!! The end of an era. Riese, you’ve created an incredible website that’s been invaluable to me and my wellbeing over the past ten or so years. Kamala and Carmen: I can’t wait to see how this website moves forward with the two of you! Congratulations! What a big and important step.

  30. I post this like once a year, but I love autostraddle and its people so so much. It/autowin low-key saved by life when I was a depressed 15 year old, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never stop feeling grateful. Since then, as Autostraddle has evolved and become more diverse, I’ve learnt so much and continue to be grateful for all the ways which y’all have helped me be a better person. This current transition feels very in keeping with the autostraddle I know and love, and I think probably will help me and others (especially other white folk) continue to grow our brains. Thank you and endless love xoxo

  31. Riese — thank you for building Autostraddle. It launched in it’s current-ish configuration at the exact time that I was looking for it. Like, literally a month after I started desperately searching for as I was undergoing my queer awakening. It’s like, there was After Ellen and then suddenly there was Autostraddle. This was my baby dyke haven. It’s stayed my online queer home. I’m so grateful for it, for you, and I’m so excited that Autostraddle is continuing to evolve — to be the best it can possibly be and contribute to dismantling white supremacy.

    So really, what I’m saying is thank you. This place means so much to me, to so many of us. I hope this gives you a chance to breathe and I’m thrilled by your choices for EIC and Deputy EIC. Take a rest, you deserve it. 💜💜💜

  32. Thank you Riese, for creating and sustaining the best English-language queer women’s/nb site on the internet, and for your integrity, hard work, humility, and wit. I am so glad you’ll still be writing for the site.

    Congratulations Kamala and Carmen, I can’t wait to see what you do next.

  33. Riese, I would like this moment to write my first (and possible only?) comment ever on autostraddle to give an enormous thank you for creating and shaping this site. I can honestly say without exaggeration that since I discovered autostraddle in 2011(?), it has been the most persistent and safe place for me on the internet – a site that I knew I could come to and be welcome, acknowledged, I will even be defended from all the hostile attacks directed at trans women from all over the political spectrum, alt right to radical feminists. You and your incredible team of writers and editors have created so much content that ranges from entertaining to deeply meaningful.

    Over the years, I have witnessed this site centering queers of color, non-binary and trans people, and disabled people in a way that is the opposite of the tokenism of so many feminist organizations and movements. Kamala and Carmen, I am super curious about how you will pick up, accelerate, and shape this development, and I’m excited about this site being led by two queers of color! Your voices are the ones we need to hear right now, and I am already grateful I can be a listener/reader.

    <3

  34. Riese, thank you for making this space for us, for your leadership, for your dedication, for asking for support and welcoming viewpoints different from your own, for hearing feedback from readers and being open to change, and for your words.

    Kamala and Carmen, I am indescribably grateful for what you’ve brought to us readers thus far, and I am so, so excited for what’s to come. Thank you for everything you share with us, and for everything you do to guide, push, and nurture this website through change and growth.

  35. Riese! Thank you so much for all your work to create and maintain and grow this space. I check Autostraddle everyday and have for a couple of years now, and it’s one of the first things I share with new queer friends.

    KAMALA AND CARMEN, YAY AND CONGRATULATIONS!

  36. Riese,

    I’ve been reading Autostraddle for two and a half years now. It wasn’t until I found it that I realized I had felt alone — alone in that I didn’t see myself represented in magazines and news publications. I didn’t even realize it was possible to be represented in this way.

    As I began to visit the site more regularly, I started to notice that some of my favorite articles were yours. Over and over again, on topics from food to pop culture to random lists that made me laugh at 1 am, it was you who provided the content. You already know this, but you’re such a strong, entertaining writer. This world you created is an amazing one, and I’m thankful I found it.

    Thank you for all that you’ve done! I’m so glad that you’ll still be around.

  37. i came out in 2009, when i was 20, and i found autostraddle. i’ve read religiously ever since. i feel like me and the site grew up together. it taught me what queer would look like for me. and the more it changes and grows, the more capacious my queerness becomes too.

    this is such a good letter and such a good change. heart swollen!

  38. Wow. Thank you Riese for guiding AS to what it is today, it’s truly changed my life. I’m so grateful. Thank you for recognizing this moment as an appropriate time to step aside, but also for laying the groundwork for the transition well before this moment.

    Carmen and Kamala, thank you for all the incredible work you’ve already done here. This site and community have already been made better by your contributions and leadership, and I’m so excited to see what comes next!!

  39. Wow! Thank you for your extraordinary service, Riese. I remember the days of the L word blogspot recaps, the planet podcast and Autowin – all my secret bread and butter in my twenties. Then there was the horrors of OurChart and all the vicissitudes of the queer cultural landscape these past decades. It was so exciting when Autostraddle launched, I would read every word “cover to cover” – Carly’s tv recaps were a blast!
    I turned 40 this year, and though a lot has changed you were always such a magnetic force, and just really somehow trustworthy to me , y’know. I can’t really say that about any leader in any media. It’s very valuable, especially as one ages and is increasingly marbled with cynicism, so thank you for that. I sincerely fantasise about striking it rich before I die …lol…and handing over millions to Autostraddle.
    I will continue to engage and donate in the meantime. All the best to you, Kamala and Carmen and the team for the future.

  40. I have no words except Thank You. Your voice and the community you built has been a constant in my life for 10 years.

    You have created something that is bigger than one person and knowing when to hand over the EIC reigns shows what a phenomenal leader you are.

    Good luck Kamala and Carmen, you have giant shoes to fill but we all know you will both do a smashing job.

  41. Riese, this website has been a massive inspiration for me over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever commented before but i just wanted to say thank you, from over in the UK. Having this virtual queer community has been so powerful for so many people. Im glad we will still get to enjoy your writing (I also really love TIRTIL!). Best wishes to the amazing new editors Kamala and Carmen, so good that Autostraddle is continuing in such strong hands.

  42. Hi everybody I wanted to pop in just to thank you all for your kind words and support of this transition, I’m not lying that reading these comments has been one of the best online experiences of my life. i love you all so much thank you for warming my heart. also so many of you are from autowin days i love that!

    also yes don’t worry i am still doing tirtl

  43. Thank you SO much for this website and for being such an excellent founder, writer, and editor. I have been lurking for years, though not really commenting, and it gave me SO much affirming content and made me feel like I had access to parts of the queer community I was so curious about but didn’t feel like I could share with anyone else IRL as I was questioning my sexuality. It gave me a peek into a world I thought I might want to be part of, but didn’t know how to understand that.

    After reading for years, I finally kissed another woman, one year ago today.

    Thanks to all your amazing work, it was a lot less scary to imagine being part of a new community. I had movies to watch, sex articles to read, cultural touchstones I could be familiar with and, the best part, commentary I could read on my own so that I wasn’t consuming this culture in a total vacuum. There were other people verbalizing the mysteriously strong and specific feelings I felt towards other women. I was such a private person that I didn’t have any other way to become comfortable with the reality of a queer identity.

    Thank you thank you thank you.

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