Queerness Is Messy, I Am Messy and That’s a Very Good Thing

The first time I thought about my queerness, I mean really thought about it, I was sixteen years old. I’d just masturbated for the first time. I’d had an orgasm (also my first), and as I lay limp in the steadily cooling bath water, I considered what images had gotten me off: women’s forms, warbled body parts and bleary faces struck senseless by ecstasy; a mosaic of the mind that mostly resembled scrambled porn. These were not the bodies I was supposed to be thinking about. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about bodies at all! God wanted me to keep my thoughts pure for marriage (hadn’t I signed that True Love Waits card? Wasn’t it on file, somewhere in the dusty bowels of the Southern Baptist Convention Center?) But if I was going to think about a body at all, shouldn’t it be that of my future Christian husband? But I hadn’t considered that future spouse at all. In my garbled fantasies, it had been my own hands doing the guiding – touching other women – and the jolt of this realization struck me like a sucker punch to the chest. Oh no, I’d thought. I burst into hectic, horrified tears.

Coming out was a messy, confusing process. By the time I was ready to admit to myself that I was gay, I’d already given birth to a child. I had my son when I was eighteen years old, still wildly unsure about anything in my life, other than the fact I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was not behaving in a way that made any sense to my Conservative Evangelical family, who’d envisioned a Godfearing husband for me and a life of service in the church. I was not behaving in ways that made any sense to myself. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew that I had to do something. To support myself and my son, I began working full time at a public library. I lived this way for nearly all of my twenties, closeted and overwhelmed and depressed — certain nothing would change. Finally, I began taking night classes at a nearby college that offered a scholarship for single mothers. I was broke and I was afraid and I was still very, very confused about my sexuality. I needed answers. It was time to do some research.

That’s my librarian’s mind in action, I think; that scavenging part of my brain that wants to mine sense from the chaos. If I could do research for library patrons, surely I could do that same kind of work for myself. I could excavate my queerness and understand it. I’d pin down exactly who I was and figure out what I really wanted.

But how? The small public library in Florida where I worked was severely lacking in LGBTQ+ references. And I had so many questions. Where was I even supposed to start? How to fuck someone the right way, perhaps. How to fall in love with a woman even though I’d never been able to enjoy the queerest, most hidden parts of myself. Since I couldn’t find what I needed in the stacks, I finally turned to the internet. And holy shit, there was a ton of gay stuff online! Piles of it, stacks of references, comics and articles and stories and fanfiction and essays and bulleted lists. Way too much information, I quickly realized. And not all of it was usable or correct. Most of it wasn’t remotely helpful.

And then I found Autostraddle.

I can remember exactly where I was when I found help: sitting hunched over my ancient library computer, cutting out stacks of cardstock dolphins for an upcoming Storytime. When I clicked on a link from my chaotic Google search (something having to do with The L Word, I’m 99% sure), I wasn’t sure what I’d find. But right away I knew Autostraddle was something special. They seemed to have everything I needed as a confused queer person. I found answers to questions I hadn’t even thought to ask! There was plenty of writing about sex, but there was also information on how to talk to other gay women. How to make queer friends! How to find and watch queer television. How to make queer art. And there were so many jokes! Gay people were funny! I initially hoarded this information like a squirrel with a particularly tasty nut, thrilled to finally feel like I was part of something bigger than myself. But then I shared Autostraddle with other people, which made it even better. I began to find joy in my queerness. I found love for myself and for the large, wonderful, startling queer world around me. I found community.

My work as a writer has always been centered on queerness. I’m a lesbian and my writing is gay; these things are inextricably linked. It would have been impossible for me to write the novels and stories that I’ve created without the help of Autostraddle. They were there for me when I was at my loneliest and my most closeted. Autostraddle made it feel okay to laugh at myself. They reassured me that it was okay to make mistakes. Queerness is messy. I am messy. And that’s a very good thing.

Every time I give to Autostraddle, I am giving to my present self, but I’m also giving to the Kristen who was deeply afraid and lonely. I’m giving back to the version of me that had so many questions and so few answers. By giving to Autostraddle, you are supporting the future of queer media, but you’re also supporting the younger, scared version of yourself. The less-wise you who needed help and support and finally found it. All the versions of us fit neatly together like nesting dolls. Autostraddle is for all of them: past, present, and future.

Go to the fundraiser!

Signing up for an A+ membership was one of the easiest decisions I ever made.

I’m happy to give to Autostraddle, continually, year after year. Without them, this letter never could have found its way to you. Autostraddle is currently fundraising for their survival, not just for the next couple months, but for as long as they can get. Every dollar extends the time until they will run into danger. I hope you’ll join me in supporting Autostraddle today. It’s never felt more important to give back to our community.

Because it’s ours, isn’t it? Messy and wonderful and alive. And that’s worth saving.

Give to the fundraiser!

Sign up for A+!

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

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Kristen Arnett

Kristen Arnett is the queer author of With Teeth: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2021) which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in fiction and the New York Times bestselling debut novel Mostly Dead Things (Tin House, 2019) which was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in fiction and was shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. She was awarded a Shearing Fellowship at Black Mountain Institute, has held residencies at Ragdale Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, the Millay Colony, and the Key West Literary Seminar (upcoming 2024), and was longlisted for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize recognizing mid-career writers of fiction. Her work has appeared at The New York Times, TIME, The Cut, Oprah Magazine, Guernica, Buzzfeed, McSweeneys, PBS Newshour, The Guardian, Salon, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. Her next novel, CLOWN, will be published by Riverhead Books (Penguin Random House), followed by the publication of an untitled collection of short stories. She has a Masters in Library and Information Science from Florida State University and lives in Orlando, Florida. You can find her on Twitter here: @Kristen_Arnett

Kristen has written 3 articles for us.


  1. This is so good.

    “By giving to Autostraddle, you are supporting the future of queer media, but you’re also supporting the younger, scared version of yourself. The less-wise you who needed help and support and finally found it.”

  2. Kristen!!!!! It feels almost silly to write on your posts of all things “this is such damn good writing.” But alas, this is such damn good writing. I’m a little speechless, but so grateful that you were willing to write this for us. And by that I mean, for us as a website, but also for us the people that found Autostraddle when we needed it most and for whom our queerness, our writing, and this website are are all intertwined together.

    Anyway, thank you.

  3. This was beautiful. From one library person to another, librarian minds rock !

    I was already an elder when Autostraddle found me but after years of living inside a relationship bubble, AS helped me come out all over again, to a fantastic new gay world !

    It’s never too late to come out, that’s for sure. And Autostraddle is here to help us see what’s coming around the corner.

    We have to make sure of that.

  4. This continues to strike me to my core. Thank you for this and for talking about all the ripples queer media can have through our lives. I’ll be thinking about this post for a while!

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