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.
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.