This roundtable was an A+ member request:
roundtable idea: some of the writers and editors talking about their educational backgrounds/what they did before they got to AS. I’m in that stage of my life where I feel like I need a ~career path~ whatever the fuck that means and it’s terrifying and I consider y’all “adults” and I want your life/career advice
We worried that this roundtable would be a bit limited in scope, as the majority of Autostraddle writers are, well, writers. But we trusted that your desires were perhaps more about the journey itself rather than the names of the roads we took or the type of destination we aimed towards. So, several of us pitched in to answer some basic questions about where we’ve been and where we wanted to go, and this is how that turned out!
1. What did you want to be when you were a child?
Erin Sullivan, Writer: I’ve always loved animals and so I thought I might be a vet until I realized being a vet involved things like putting dogs to sleep and maybe doing surgery on horses. No thank you! Also there was a time when I was very into soccer (do I get some sort of honor for making this the gayest intro) and thought I might make a (three year) career out of it.
KaeLyn Rich, Writer, Organizer, Speaker: I wanted to be a Greenpeace activist (specifically I wanted to cut whale nets) and a veterinarian.
Kayla Upadhyaya , Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: According to my second grade journal, I wanted to be a singer “like Jennifer Lopez.” Eventually, this dream evolved into me wanting to be a part-time Broadway star/part-time Hollywood star.
Laneia Jones, Autostraddle Executive Editor: I didn’t have a plan and everything seemed really out of reach and unreasonable, so there’s no answer to this. I knew what I didn’t want to be, though: someone who still lived in my hometown, someone who worked at a boring office job and had to wear pantyhose.
Laura Mandanas, Senior Quality Engineer: When I was 10, I wrote a letter to Disney asking them what I should do to become an imagineer (the engineers who design Disney theme park attractions). They wrote back and told me I should take lots of math and science courses. So I did, and here I am.
I also wanted to be a writer when I grew up.
Molly Priddy, Writer: I really and truly wanted to be an astronaut. Space seemed to be my one shot at actually achieving a life dream of being able to fly – directional floating seemed close enough. I would play all sorts of space games on my computer and imagine I was in my fuselage up in space; Apollo 13 was kept nearly on repeat. This dream died, however, when I learned how poorly my body handles spinning, how much time you have to give to the military before they even consider you for space, and how math and I don’t get along at all.
Nora Whelan, Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: A professional equestrian! I wanted to be around horses from as early on as I can remember, and was finally able to start taking riding lessons at seven. I rode steadily for 12 years, but very few people actually make a living riding in competitions, and I wasn’t filthy rich, talented, or brave enough to be one of them. It’s cool; I still love petting a nice fuzzy horse nose whenever I get the chance, but I’m glad now to be in a field that’s creative.
Rachel Kincaid, Autostraddle Managing Editor: Writer and also astronomer and also marine biologist.
Riese Bernard, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: I vacillated between wanting to be an actress (specifically a Broadway actress, before I realized I was a terrible singer) (not before I performed “Ladies Who Lunch” on my futon for my parents), a YA novelist or a playwright. In high school I decided that I wanted to be a screenwriter/filmmaker.
Stef Schwartz, Venue Manager and Writer: I had so many brilliant, realistic ideas, but I believe I most ardently wanted to either be an equestrian or some kind of writer.
Heather Hogan, Autostraddle Senior Editor: A professional baseball player for the Atlanta Braves or an astronaut.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: So every year in primary school in Malaysia your class teacher fills out a file about you and asks you what your Top Three Ambitions were. My first two were always the same: Writer, which is literally not a surprise to anybody, and Teacher, which I was more surprised by because I found school to be a rather oppressive environment and some of my biggest bullies were the teachers. The third option changed a lot: at different times I wanted to be a rockstar, a stage magician, a fisherman, a chemist, something Internetty, probably others!
Yvonne Marquez, Autostraddle Senior Editor: In the fourth grade, I said I wanted to be a pediatrician because I knew that’s what smart girls said they wanted to be and I was a smart girl. I was really good at math and science in elementary school and even went to a math and science summer camp in 5th grade where we learned algebra and built roller coasters out of popsicle sticks. In middle school, I had horrible math and science teachers and I started disliking the subjects. I think the idea of wanting to become a doctor died in 8th grade.
2. What’s your educational background?
Erin, Writer: I went to the University of South Carolina and got an advertising degree from their journalism school. I always thought that was a weird setup, but it allowed me to take a lot of courses that I probably wouldn’t have had access to had it not been in the journalism school, which was great because I still use a lot of things I learned in those classes today! I minored in Business, because that is what I am – a businesswoman.
KaeLyn, Writer, Organizer, Speaker: B.A. Women’s Studies & Creative Writing, M.A. Liberal Arts with nonprofit management certificate
Kayla, Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: I attended a performing arts high school, where I studied musical theater. From there, I went to University Of Michigan, where I was in the school of public policy and majored in gender and race in public policy and minored in women’s studies.
Laneia, Autostraddle Executive Editor: I graduated high school in a small town in Tennessee and that’s it!
Laura, Senior Quality Engineer: I studied industrial and systems engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology for undergrad, and recently finished Harvard’s HBX CORe program.
Molly, Writer: Graduated high school in Missoula, Montana, then headed off to get my four-year degrees in communication and public relations from Carroll College in Helena, Montana. After that, I went to grad school for journalism, earning my master’s degree.
Nora, Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: It’s a clusterfuck. I didn’t want to go to college right out of high school, but my parents wanted me to and I… I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t put up enough of a fight. Since I’d spent all that time working in barns, my automatic move was to go into an equestrian studies program, which landed me in northeast Ohio with roughly 200 other on-campus students. Next I transferred to SUNY Purchase, where I vaguely planned to go into creative writing, but mostly just drank and followed various significant others around like a sad puppy before dropping out and obliterating my (already not stellar) GPA. A few years later, having worked a number of retail and food service jobs in NYC and realizing I was finally ready to learn in a classroom, I actually bothered applying myself and graduated with a creative writing degree from Brooklyn College. Now, weirdly enough, I miss school; I’d love to go back if I could.
Rachel, Autostraddle Managing Editor: I attended public school K-12 (although I grew up in an affluent area, so it was a very well-resourced public school). Then I went to Brandeis University, a private university about an hour, hour and a half from where I grew up, immediately after high school on a combination of financial aid and loans, about 50/50. After that I was in the “workforce” (lmao) for about a year and then I went to graduate school and got a Masters of Fine Arts in fiction, which took three years.
Riese, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: I LOVED SCHOOL. I did my last two years of high school at Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school for the arts in upstate Michigan, as a Creative Writing major. In fall of 1999 I did a semester at Sarah Lawrence College — you don’t have majors there, but I was doing a “theater third,” a lit class and a humanities class — then I had a mental breakdown, then I moved to New York City with my friends to work at the Olive Garden and intern and do an independent study with SLC, and then I transferred to University of Michigan to finish undergrad in the fall of 2000. I picked UMich because in-state tuition was cheap and I was a mess and wanted to be a less expensive mess. Originally I double-majored in English Lit and Sociology, but dropped Soc so I could graduate on time. I got into the Creative Writing Sub-concentration at Michigan which was this tiny fantastic writing program, and then I graduated in December of 2003 with a B.A. in English Lit and honors in creative writing.
Stef, Venue Manager and Writer: I was a very meh high school student, who went on to study Music Industry of all things at Drexel University in Philly. I also received pretty mediocre grades there, and graduated with a very generalized idea of an industry that was (and still is) rapidly changing shape and very few useful life skills.
Heather, Autostraddle Senior Editor: I went to public school in rural Georgia and to a very small public college in rural Georgia.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: 11 years in Malaysian primary & secondary school, causing a bit of a riot in my final two years because I opted to study Malay Literature in lieu of Biology/Physics/Chemistry despite Humanities being seen as Subjects For Stupid People Who Failed Exams. (I made a difference though; my juniors got inspired to take up Humanities even if they scored “high enough” for the Science stream.) After a gap year, which was seen as highly unusual in Malaysia at the time, I did a year and a half of Mass Communications in a terrible Malaysian university (my schoolmates were awesome, the academics sucked) before taking another gap year to travel and work for a while.
I moved to Brisbane, Australia to study a Bachelors of Creative Industries (think the business side of arts), submajoring in Creative Writing and Creative Industries Management. Despite coming in as a lifelong writer, the degree killed my love of writing for quite some time because I wasn’t getting the support I needed; however, it did help me find a love and aptitude for arts management and artistic direction! A few years later I moved to San Francisco for a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Inquiry, which was basically code for “do whatever the hell you want”: not the most rigorous of programs, but very open to experimentation, and suits my academic-writing-hating ass just fine.
A couple of years ago, while stuck with my parents in Malaysia for 9 months with nothing to do, I got bored enough to start taking online intro-to-business classes hosted by Harvard Business School. I was probably the least business-experienced person in my cohort but got High Distinction; who knew accounting was actually interesting?! I’ve also had a lot of training and courses in performance art, writing, programming, and various other skills.
Yvonne, Autostraddle Senior Editor: I attended public schools my entire life. I have a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.
3. What was your first job straight out of college/high school?
Erin; Writer: I worked for a tutoring company as an office manager of sorts and occasionally I’d attempt and fail to teach someone long division.
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: McDonald’s!
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: Freelance writer! I worked at my college newspaper and after graduation, I transitioned into doing the same thing I was doing there (television criticism/culture writing) but out in the “real world.”
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: My first and longest-held position was as a stay-at-home mom. I did that for about 10 years. Solid work.
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: In my first job out of college I worked as a simulations analyst, building mathematical models of tanks and giving supply chain recommendations to the US Marine Corps. I ultimately decided that I didn’t want to play such an active role in the military industrial complex, but I learned a lot of handy data analytics tricks while I was there.
Molly; Writer: Working at the newspaper in Northwest Montana that I still work at right now.
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: Marketing!!! I resigned myself to probably not writing the great American novel, and ended up doing SEO copy for everything from wineries to bras to nursing homes. That kind of writing remains my only non-artsy fartsy skill.
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: I worked as a barista/food service worker in Cambridge in the last month or so of undergraduate, and kept working there as my main form of income after graduation for maybe four months; later I got a job formatting RFPs for the sales department at a huge health insurance software corporation, which I kept for about six months while also sometimes picking up barista shifts on weekends and working at Autostraddle. I was also working at Autostraddle (sort of, if being an intern is “working”) starting my senior year of college and have been here ever since.
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: I was a waitress at the Macaroni Grill when I graduated, and I maintained that prestigious position post-graduation until moving to New York five months later.
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: In college I worked at a bookstore in Liberty Place and also did a ton of unpaid internships at record distribution companies and online marketing companies. The online marketing gigs were huge for me; I learned that I was capable of doing the actual account executives’ jobs, and made lifelong friends/connections there. I thought that was what I wanted to do, until I graduated from college and immediately went on tour with a band called theSTART. That was it for me. I never wanted to do anything but live music after that.
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: When I was in college I started working as a file clerk at a mid-size company that manufactured superabrasives (which means sandpaper but also means those diamond saw blades that are four-feet tall and cut through the pavement on airport runways). From there I worked my way up to being an accounting clerk and then a senior accounting clerk and then an accountant.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: Building & maintaining the official website for one of my best friends who was a regional TV/media personality, as well as being a youth journalist for a national Malaysian English-language daily, both of which I did right after high school. In between my Malaysian and Australian university years I wrote scripts and was a PA at an Asian music TV station based in Kuala Lumpur.
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: I was a general reporter at The Daily Texan, my university’s newspaper, for a year. I guess that was my first official job because technically I got paid $15 per story, which is nothing for the amount of work I did.
4. What other jobs have you had as an adult?
Erin; Writer: So many! I’ve done transcription work, I’ve done food industry stuff, I’ve worked for a theater company, I’ve worked in marketing, I’ve worked as a writing assistant, I’ve walked dogs, I’ve been all over the place.
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: Rape crisis advocate, domestic violence shelter worker, Planned Parenthood campus organizer and public affairs coordinator, Mary Kay consultant, touring professional speaker on sexuality education, ACLU regional director, adjunct lecturer, food service worker
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: I’ve only had one job that I actually count since graduating college. Technically, I worked as a copy writer at an ad agency for like a hot second, but I like to forget about it. But during college, I worked as a campaign manager for a city council campaign, a copywriter for a website that sells products made from bamboo, and a script reader at a production company.
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: I worked for one month as a receptionist at a chiropractor’s office, where the doctor’s wife was the office manager. I quit that job by leaving for a 15 minute break and then never going back. I worked part-time as a barista at a local coffee shop in California for about a year, until the owner sold the business and we were all let go. Right before Autostraddle started, I spent one month on the verge of a mental breakdown working at Tutor Time in Arizona, which is a chain of preschools and made me want to die.
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: Compliance manager at a kitchen gadgets company, quality engineer at a kitchen electrics company, staff writer for Autostraddle, math tutor, software instructor at a veteran’s center, pre-production specialist at a company that manufactured credit cards, manufacturing engineer at a company that made radios for the Army, internet installation technician, industrial engineering co-op at a graphite milling company, freelance writer at a various publications.
Molly; Writer: Oh so many: gas station attendant, camp counselor, lifeguard at the YMCA, flinging dough at a bagel shop, kneading dough at a bread bakery, and a gracious but never-to-be-seen Airbnb host.
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: Barista, vintage store employee, tattoo shop receptionist, ice cream scooper, local news reporter, BuzzFeed bot.
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: I’ve done a bunch of freelance work, from editing people’s novels to rewriting their resumes to babysitting and nannying. I used to work as an assistant to a literary agent and would help edit stuff, write query letters. Once I helped ghostwrite the memoir of a Loch Ness Monster hunter. A couple years ago I served pierogis at PolishFest for my friend’s restaurant for a weekend; I used to pour drinks at a beer festival back in Michigan sometimes, too.
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: I waited tables all through college. My first summer in New York as a grown-up (aside from when I lived there in ’99 and ’01) , which was 2004, I waitressed at like four different restaurants and got fired from all of them. I started publishing a lot of erotica and doing some freelance magazine work, but a full-time job remained out of reach so I gave up and became a sex worker, which I did for around 3.5 years, on and off. Also during that time I: worked the floor at Banana Republic, did some weird modeling stuff, interned at a literary agency and was eventually promoted to Office Manager/Accountant for that literary agency, interned at Nerve.com, temped for some banks but never lasted more than two days, worked the desk at a fancy tennis club and did all the overnight copywriting for an HR outsourcing agency in Australia (Crystal, who works here, was my boss!). I also did a lot of freelance copywriting and video-editing and freelance writing and regular writing! My best gig ever was when Showtime paid me to talk about the L Word for YouTube, although the comments were vile and life-changing in a bad way.
Stef, Venue Manager and Writer: I worked at another Borders, then ran retail for a venue, then got a nebulous online marketing/merch gig for a local independent promoter. They taught me the back end of live music, which I’d previously only ever seen from the touring band’s perspective. After that, I picked up box office gigs, merch shifts, eventually working up to a job counting money at a bigger club which then evolved into running day-to-day finances and liquor inventory at the Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge. I picked up enough there to learn how to manage a club on my own. Now I’m the dark overlord of a 650-capacity venue in Williamsburg.
Heather, Autostraddle Senior Editor: I left one accounting job for another accounting job and then another accounting job. At my last two accounting jobs I was also the office manager, which meant I was in charge of handing out paychecks and deciding who got to spend how much money on pens and staplers. I started freelance writing a handful of posts a week at AfterEllen in 2008. Founder/EIC Sarah Warn plucked me out of the comments section one random day! Her parting gift was to bump me up to senior editor.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: Oh geez, all sorts of things! A lot of writing in various forms, mostly essay/journalistic rather than fiction per se. Performance art, stage management, office administration, updating websites and social media, passing out flyers for public transport, selling magazines at street corners, selling hummus at markets, a fair bit of before & after school childcare, academic tutoring, assisting with teaching, editing, erotic modelling, assisting with games and events, public speaking, call centre…I’m sure there’s more that people have paid me for that I’ve forgotten because they’re often really ad-hoc.
Yvonne, Autostraddle Senior Editor: I worked at an ice cream shop for a summer in college and it was terrible. I was really depressed that summer and I just remember crying a lot in the back when I wasn’t serving customers. I had a couple of unpaid internships at magazines and I had one paid position as a part-time Lifestyle Editor for an online publication. When I graduated from college, I was an associate editor at a lesbian and gay magazine in Austin for a short while before I started working at Autostraddle as a senior editor.
5. Does your current career differ from your education/plans? How?
Erin; Writer: I think I could vaguely call “writing” my current career, and it differs from my education in that I’m not in an agency setting and I’m not writing about, like, diapers, unless I’m talking about Donald Trump, in which case my education and my current career align perfectly. And my career lines up with future plans in that I’d like to write for television/film.
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: Yes and no. You could argue that I’m using my very liberal arts-based education every day, though the craft of poetry is kind of dead to me career-wise.
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: Well, in high school and college, I thought I would one day run for public office or at least become a top campaign manager who got other people elected to office. I thought I’d go straight from my public policy program to a career in Washington, D.C. Instead, I write about television for the internet. But even though I did have political ambitions once upon a time and those have since been abandoned, I do know that I have always wanted to be a writer in some capacity. I love being a television critic for now, but my real dream is to write for television and become a showrunner. I used to want to be Hillary Clinton, and now I want to be Shonda Rhimes.
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: It does differ from my education in that I am not educated for this position at all! When people lament their imposter syndrome I just laugh and laugh because wow, we should really talk. But here I am!
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: At this point in my life, engineering is my primary career, whereas writing is more of a passion project. I do get paid for writing and have professional development goals relating to that, but when you say “career” to me, I think about where I labor for 40+ hours a week. So from that perspective, I’d say my “career” still falls very solidly within a traditional application of my degree. And then separately, I have an interesting side hustle as a writer.
Molly; Writer: It’s pretty dead on. Writing for this website is where I start diverging! I knew I wanted to write, but didn’t really know what that meant, so I took a job where I did it, and that was newspapering. Writing essays and other personal pieces were not ever really in the plan.
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: From the horse stuff, obviously, yes. My actual major is somewhat relevant to what I do today — as much as a creative writing degree can be relevant to any feasible career, I guess.
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: In the sense that it’s definitely writing and editing, which is what I think I always thought I would do as an adult, it doesn’t. I think I imagined a more ‘traditional’ expression of those things, though, like maybe at a publishing house or something — I mean it makes sense that I didn’t imagine working at Autostraddle because Autostraddle didn’t exist yet! What a world.
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: It’s hard to say because the field I knew I wanted to be in — vaguely, writing or publishing something, somewhere — has changed so much in the time since I graduated college. So things that seemed possible then quickly became impossible, and vice versa. I think I said when I graduated that I wanted to be the editor-in-chief of “a version of Vogue for teenagers,” which was before Teen Vogue existed. But clearly somebody else had the same vision, because now Teen Vogue exists and I didn’t start it! The world of magazine publishing in New York in the mid-00s still felt very off-limits and heterosexual and hard to penetrate without the right “connections,” so I quickly grew weary of attempting to climb the ranks to an Editor-in-Chief position at an established publication. I think my initial plan right when I got to New York was to wait tables while also waiting to “make it” as an author of books, a freelance journalist and/or a TV writer. Then I invented my own Editor-in-Chief position and then I hired myself.
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: Dude, I had no idea what I wanted to do in school; I just knew I wanted it to involve bands. I learned early on that I didn’t have a capacity for the schmoozing aspect of this industry, which is how I ended up dealing with the back end, logistics, dollars and cents. I sort of fell into venue management, but it curiously lined up perfectly with my skill set and turns out to be sort of my dream job. Writing for Autostraddle has happened because of my friendship with Riese and grew from there; I’m happy I ended up writing in some capacity. I definitely did not anticipate finding my niche in queer lady tabloid journalism.
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: Lord have mercy, yes. I had no ambition as a child or a teenager because I spent all my life just trying not to get sucked under by my depression and my family circumstances. When I started college I was on a basketball scholarship and I decided I’d actually probably make a pretty good teacher, a history teacher specifically. But I had to leave after my sophomore year to take care of my mom, so I took a couple of years off and went back to a different small college and by that time I was just trying to figure out how to make enough money to support me and my mom and my sister. I was already moving up in accounting in the office where I was working between my morning and night classes so that seemed like my safest and speediest bet. Now I am a writer and editor for the most beloved and well-known queer women’s website on the internet, which is pretty amazing considering I have no formal training in any of the things I do here and didn’t even realize I was gay until my mid-20s.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: I’ve never really been one for long-term planning, because so much of my life has been dependent on major factors outside my control – the biggest being visas and immigration. My various visa and residency situations really put a damper on my ability to find work, which then leads to further difficulty getting work even with more permissive immigration statuses because then I’m hit with “your experience is not specific enough”. I’m Comedian in Residence in God’s theater; every attempt at a PlanTM falls apart spectacularly.
A lot of my work is still in the creative industries, which does match up with much of my academic background, but a lot of it involves skills and experience I obtained outside of school. I’ve also worked a lot in fields I had no specific education in, such as childcare or admin.
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: No, I’m doing exactly what I want to do. Since high school, I’ve wanted to be a journalist and write for magazines.
6. How does your career square with your family’s expectations?
Erin, Writer: My dad will push the occasional office job because he’s a man of order, but for the most part my parents are happy to have me reveal to them the various ways in which I can make money and not live under a bridge.
KaeLyn, Writer, Organizer, Speaker: My parents told me to find a practical second major when I declared creative writing as my scholarly pursuit. I chose women’s studies. So…they probably had low expectations, especially when I was unable to find work immediately after graduation from undergrad. Look at me now, Mom!
Kayla, Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: I used to tell my parents I would find a way to get paid to watch television, and then I did, so they shouldn’t be too surprised! Still, they were definitely sadder than I was when I abandoned public policy and politics. I didn’t grow up feeling the pressure to become a doctor in the same way that my cousins did, but my parents are still occasionally perplexed by what I do.
Laneia, Autostraddle Executive Editor: I think they thought I’d go away to college and figure it all out there, but when I had a baby in high school, everyone kind of shelved that idea (including me) and accepted the inevitability of me being a stay-at-home mom for the rest of my life. So all this is to say, having a career as the executive editor of the most popular queer lady website in the world was definitely not something anyone expected from me, no.
Laura, Senior Quality Engineer: My parents both rallied hard for me to enter STEM. And good thing, because it’s working out great for me!
Molly, Writer: They’re pretty stoked except my mom isn’t sure why I don’t write about her friend’s uncle’s neighbor who has a neat business or why I haven’t written a book yet.
Nora, Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: My family is happy that I’m happy. I was just talking to my roommate about this particular kind of reasonably affluent white liberal background we share, in which feeling like we’re doing something meaningful is the highest form of status to us and our parents — I guess because it’s assumed there will always be enough money to go around. Which is an extremely lucky position to be in, especially considering the flippancy with which I handled the majority of my educational career. I have benefitted from a lot of privilege.
Rachel, Autostraddle Managing Editor: I mean, I don’t think my family imagined me working at Autostraddle or someplace like it exactly, in part because, again, it didn’t exist. I’m not totally sure how much they understand about what I do as is. But I think they always knew I would sort of do my own thing, and be ambitious about it and take it really seriously; I don’t think anyone is surprised, certainly.
Riese, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: My Mom never put any pressure on me to be anything specific and she’s been really helpful and supportive throughout my career because I think she thinks I’m smart and talented and wants me to shine shine shine like a roman candle.
Stef, Venue Manager and Writer: My family have no idea what to make of my career choices. I think they expected me to be married with kids by now, and my nocturnal schedule has always confounded them. It’s not a regular nine to five, and I’m on call 24 hours a day. I think they’re working on figuring out how to be happy for me.
Heather, Autostraddle Senior Editor: My family is very, very proud of me. I don’t think they understand what I do, exactly, but they have always just wanted me to find something I’m good at that I also love, and this is that thing and they know it.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: I feel like my parents knew early on that trying to expect me to be normal is futile because I was – and still am – such a weird, individualist kid. It was very apparent from the beginning that I wasn’t likely to buy into the whole “doctor engineer accountant lawyer” thing common in our cultures. That being said, they do still hold some expectations of me, though it’s based more on things they know I’m good at or which I showed early interest in rather than what society tells them is acceptable. For instance, they figured I’d be a professional writer or journalist since I was writing so early, but they also thought I’d go into Computer Science because I was similarly precocious with tech. (Dad still asks me when I’ll make the next Facebook.)
Sometimes they live vicariously through me, or try to anyway. Mum used to be a pretty well-known radio presenter in Bangladesh before she moved to Malaysia with Dad, so she’s been following my media work with some interest; hell, many of my relatives have nicknamed me “Oprah” or “Larry King” because of this. Meanwhile, Dad wanted both my sister and I to be as into business as he is; the Harvard course I mentioned earlier was largely his idea, and he was thrilled that finally one of his kids showed not just interest but actual talent for it!
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: My family has always supported me in my career and my writing. But when I first started out with Autostraddle, my parents were worried about my financial situation. My mom, who was an elementary school teacher for more than 30 years, told me to get a teacher certification to teach high school English just in case writing didn’t work out. I had to sit her down and explain to her that if I followed her advice I would be incredibly unhappy and it would be a complete waste of my time. I told her I loved my job and I was passionate about what I do and for me, it wasn’t about the money. My parents just want me to be happy and once I told them I was happy with my career as a writer and editor, they stopped pressing me about my financial state.
7. Is your career a large part of your life? Is passion for this work necessary to you?
Erin; Writer: Writing is a big part of my life and I hope it becomes an even bigger part of my bank account!
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: Passion for my work is really important to me, but I also acknowledge it’s a privilege to be able to only do work you care personally about. Because my work aligns with who I am, I invest a lot in it and I struggle with prioritizing my family and myself when work beckons.
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: My career is a huuuuuuuuge part of my life. I love to write, and I’m lucky enough to have a job where I write every single day. And about stuff that I care about! Freelancing gives me so much freedom, and even though I don’t think it’s sustainable in the long run, I am very happy with my work life for now. And I’m still actively pursuing my television writing dreams with side projects like my webseries. When I have bad work days, I try to remind myself that I’m doing and pursuing something I genuinely love.
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: My career is an enormous part of my life — its roots extend into every aspect of my existence at this point. If I wasn’t passionate about this work, I’m not sure it’s hyperbole to say that we wouldn’t be here? I think that’s true for everyone on this staff: if we weren’t all up to our necks in passion for the work, you wouldn’t know who we were.
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: I feel very okay with doing work just for the money. Every dollar I earn is a dollar not being earned by a straight white man, plus it’s some capitalistic bullshit to think that our fundamental worth as human beings should be tied as closely as possible to work/capitalistic productivity. NOPE, not buying it! Just hand me that cash, thanks, and if need be, I’ll work out what nourishes my soul on my own time.
I happen to really like my job right now and don’t mind taking on some tasks outside of work hours. At the same time, though, I try to be strategic about boundary setting, because I really value having time and energy left at the end of the day to have a life outside the office. Granted, I usually spend that time throwing myself into other forms of work (like writing for Autostraddle), but it feels good to me to be able to do that. So when I’m at the office, I try to be 100% there, and when I’m not, I try to focus as much as possible on whatever else I have going on.
Molly; Writer: It’s a big chunk of my life! Being a reporter in a small town is somewhat of a full-time job if you socialize in public: People start to recognize you, so you have to be a good representation. Also, I am a generally curious person, so having an excuse to call anyone at any time and get the info I want is AMAZING. Passion is definitely necessary, though, because it’s generally thankless work that pays like shit. God, I love it.
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: Fuck yes, though I’ve heard approaching work that way is the quickest road to burnout. My career is hugely entwined with my identity, which has been wonderful at times (like now, for instance, when I’m pitching projects I actually care about!), and terrible when attaching my byline, at the strong suggestion of a few different editors, to things I’ve found to be problematic or just plain stupid. The angst of it all!
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: HAHAHAHAHA yes.
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: It’s my entire life and I feel very passionate about it.
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: Anybody who knows me knows that my career is the biggest part of my life right now. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for a personal life, or really anything else. If I didn’t care about it, I couldn’t dedicate the time and resources to it that I do. When I get overwhelmed, I try to remember that I’m here to facilitate fans having transformative experiences seeing their favorite bands, which is my favorite thing to witness (even if I don’t particularly like the band).
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: My career is the largest thing in my life. I love my partner, my family, my friends, my pets more than anything on the earth, but when I break down the way I spend my time, energy, and emotional resources, I’d say I spend 90% of my waking hours doing Autostraddle.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: That’s an interesting question. Job-hunting has definitely been a large part of my life; one of my biggest life goals is to be financially self-sustaintable, and yet somehow it’s been the one thing I find hardest to accomplish. (Without my parents I’d be screwed, as tetchy as that relationship is.) Oddly enough, the only places really hiring me are the places people claim don’t pay well – arts, events, writing, that kind of thing. It’s true that they don’t pay as much as a conventional office job, and not nearly as regularly – but given that I can’t seem to get hired by a conventional office job, they’re already paying more than zero dollars.
I don’t think I need to be passionate about whatever it is that earns me my keep; if anything, I think the money angle can be counterproductive to passion. I’ve been burned out before by trying to make my passions my sole focus/primary earner and I don’t want to go back to that feeling. What I think would be ideal is to have a day job that’s still pretty good even if it’s not My Biggest Passion Ever, and then have the time and money to work on things I’m passionate about at my own pace.
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: Hell yes, my career is a large part of my life. Yes, I must have a passion for writing and thinking and staring at a computer all day.
8. Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?
Erin; Writer: I think I would’ve focused more on long term goals versus short term goals in high school.
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: I wouldn’t have stressed so much about figuring it all out when I was fresh out of college. It feels like one of those moments you have to make a big life decision, that you have to set the tone for the rest of your career. But really you have your whole life to figure shit out. Who you are at 25 isn’t necessarily who you’ll be at 30 or 40 and you can change careers or even go back to school later if you want to. I’d tell myself to RELAX and not write any future career off.
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: Even though I don’t work in public policy, I don’t think I would take back the experience of majoring in it in undergrad. A part of me wishes I had applied to MFA programs straight outta undergrad. I often regret that I didn’t apply to more women’s colleges for undergrad.
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: I would’ve invested in a proper desk + office chair situation early on. Possibly also a monitor. Oh! I would’ve started saving for retirement right after I graduated high school.
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: I probably could have done without that summer crawling under hotel desks to install internet cables, but aside from that, I think every professional experience I’ve had has been really valuable in building my skillset. And even that experience taught me something valuable: that even though it’s really nice, it isn’t 100% necessary for me to be successful at work to be successful in my life. (I figured out I was bisexual that summer.)
Molly; Writer: Maybe buy a house earlier? Stop throwing money away on rent and buy really great property for cheap during the recession? I can’t really think of anything else because I’m where I am right now because of everything I’ve done to get here. Which seems obvious but is a big thought.
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: I came to this realization recently that there are two good ways to spend your 20s, assuming you can afford to do so: performing a job you can leave at the workplace and actually enjoying yourself outside of it, or busting your ass freelancing to fulfill your own ambitions. I feel like I’ve spent the last decade busting my ass for other people or companies, always with the expectation that if I gave enough, I would get something in return (aside from a paycheck) that never quite materialized; it’s so silly, looking back, since that’s not at all how businesses work. Anyway, my advice would be to stop giving away good ideas and free labor; if you care about something that much, it’s worth considering whether you could successfully sell that passion as a freelancer.
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: You know, I’m not sure I would have done much differently? I really, really hated working in the corporate world but I’m glad I did it, at least for a little while, in part because it gave me a boost in terms of paying down my large amounts of debt and in part because now I know for sure it’s not for me — I think a lot of people in “creative” pursuits harbor a fantasy of like “if this ever gets too hard, I’ll quit and get a desk job with benefits,” and aside from all the other reasons that’s a flawed plan, I now know that I would be miserable, so I don’t harbor that fantasy. I’m really glad I worked in food service — I feel like everyone, ideally, should — and I think it taught me a lot. It sucked to graduate into adulthood during a period when everyone truly believed that taking a bunch of unpaid internships would help you (I know people still sort of think this but it was intense around 2010), because I did a lot of free work that definitely did not lead to jobs, but I did learn a lot and got a lot of weird and unexpected work and personal experiences that have ended up being helpful in surprising ways.
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: I would not have tried to schedule a beach field trip on the last day of A-Camp April 2012.
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: I would have liked to tour for a longer period of time, before I got a cat and a lease and a lot of heavy furniture. I can’t say I feel like my college education particularly helped me with much, but I don’t regret going. Maybe I would have studied something more practical.
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: Nothing. That sounds trite, I know, but the things that make me a good writer and editor aren’t my education or my work experience. What makes me good at this job is my endless well of lived experiences, my willingness to share those lived experiences, and the empathy those lived experiences have given me. I’ve become a good writer because I have read a million works by brilliant writers and because I work really hard. Also it would have taken me years of school to learn everything I did about Photoshop from Harry Potter LiveJournal icon tutorials.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: It’s hard to tell, given how much of my life and my path has been shaped by factors I couldn’t control. Some things that come to mind: dropping Creative Writing from my Bachelors and figuring out if I could make Game Studies my submajor instead (my university started offering it my second semester but it was in a different department), moving to the US earlier instead of Australia (much more opportunity for someone like me there), not going to Terrible Malaysian University at all. If I had any power at all I’d make people act less stupid around visas, but alas.
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: I think I would’ve diversified the work I’ve produced over the last few years. My portfolio just screams GAY GAY GAY and oh, here’s some Latinx stuff. I’m not mad about it but I think it looks like I don’t know how to write about anything else.
9. What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made for your career?
Erin; Writer: I would say having a structured week.
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: I originally moved to Rochester, NY for a job opportunity / promotion at Planned Parenthood when I was 23. I never planned to live here or stay here permanently. I thought I’d work in a big city like LA, NYC, SF, or DC. Rochester wasn’t even on my list. I uprooted myself and Waffle to move here. Weirdly, I ended up making sacrifices in the other direction once Waffle and I settled here. I’ve been offered jobs in D.C. and NYC, but I decided to stay put because Rochester became my home.
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: Financial stability? Hahahahahaha but actually. Like most freelancers, I live paycheck-to-paycheck, and it can be scary at times. But I decided early on that I didn’t want to take writing jobs that merely pay the bills (like copywriting for brands).
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: Maybe the health and wellness of my wrists and eyeballs? I can’t say that I sacrificed a paycheck because I didn’t, really. I’ve been able to take the time I need to be with my family, though I guess there are times when I’m not as available as other parents in different fields… Maybe I’ve sacrificed my sanity? Who knows!
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: I’ve occasionally sacrificed dignity out of a need to preserve working relationships with men who didn’t understand they were being racist or sexist. I try hard not to do this anymore. It’s better to speak up and say something even imperfect to respond, because if you just keep talking, you can usually embarrass the other person into apologizing.
Molly; Writer: Moving away from my person. We spent the first five years of our relationship in different cities because of my internships or jobs. But we’ve been in the same place for longer now, so it’s very exciting and fun!
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: I haven’t 100% sacrificed a social life (I’m mostly a homebody anyway), but my peers have always seemed to have a lot of time to travel — especially with their friend groups. I think I’ve made it to a single weekend-long friendcation in all of my 20s, but I’ve taken steps to change that by forcing a dozen of my closest buds to spend my 30th birthday weekend in the Poconos!
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: I feel like the easy answer here is about time and energy — all of us at AS work really unreasonable hours and have work/life and friendship/work boundaries that are probably making my therapist age prematurely — but honestly when I think about it I think the hardest thing for me has been choosing a career that’s so unique and that so few people understand. Maybe that makes me sound like a snowflake, but honestly even with my queer friends or my friends who are writers or the people closest to me, I feel like I’m always explaining, I’m always translating what I do. No, you don’t understand, this is why this can’t wait til the morning; no, this is why I need to be on Slack on my phone at the restaurant; this is why I had to turn down plans to hang out so I could come up with Sexy Harry Potter Icebreaker questions for camp; this is why I’m crying at 3 pm on a Tuesday because VICE published something on lesbian activists during the AIDS epidemic that I wish we had published. It’s a lot of explanation, and feeling like people who don’t work here don’t get it even when I do understand, and it’s isolating!
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: I don’t want to sound dark or resentful because I’m not!! But I’m not sure there’s anything I haven’t sacrificed for my career at one point or another — family, friends, relationship, money, physical health, mental health, privacy, sense of control, desire to write novels and memoirs, etc. It’s genuinely hard to pick the “biggest sacrifice.” A sacrifice I definitely hadn’t anticipated was how I’d eventually feel unable to be as candid and open in my writing as I’d like to be because I’m scared if I say or do the wrong thing, I will ruin so many lives besides just my own. I have so many unpublished drafts and so many ideas I’m just scared to run with! Biting my tongue is getting harder and harder for me to do, especially since the election.
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: I would definitely have to say my personal life. My friends never see me, and I haven’t been on a date in well over six months. Believe me when I tell you it causes me a lot of heartache.
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: Money, sleep, and consistent connection with people who don’t work at Autostraddle or sleep beside me every night.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: When I was running out of time on my US student visa the opportunity to apply for particular permanent visas for creative types came up. I really wanted to apply; I felt like I only just got started in the US at that point and already I was getting more of a foothold there compared to the 6 years I was in Brisbane before that. However, I couldn’t afford the fees, and my parents felt that they’d already spent tons of money on my Australian permanent residency so trying to spend the same amount on a different country’s application seems pointless. I could have tried harder, maybe crowdfund the thing, I don’t know. But I didn’t, so I eventually had to leave the US – and leave behind so many budding career opportunities there.
That more answers the question of “biggest sacrifice TO your career” rather than “FOR your career”, but I can’t really think of anything that answers the latter question.
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: I would say I’ve sacrificed many solid nights of sleep.
10. Have you had mentors who helped you along the way? How did you find them?
Erin; Writer: I don’t know if I’ve had mentors but I’ve met a lot of people online that have motivated me and lead to some great collaborations!
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: YES. I found them at work, in past bosses and leaders. I also found a lot of peer mentors, who are perhaps even more helpful because we provide support to each other without hierarchy. I have also approached people formally for mentorship, though I find those relationships aren’t as deep and meaningful as the mentors who I came across organically through workplace or personal relationships.
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: Oh heck yes, I love mentors! At my college newspaper, I had several, including Kavi Shekhar Pandey, who taught me the fundamentals of writing about film and television as well as what a “s’mores shot” is (marshmallow vodka, chased with chocolate sauce and a graham cracker). There was also Proma Khosla, who was my first editor ever, and Akshay Seth, who defied mentorship rules by actually being younger than me but taught me so much about reporting. Then there’s one of my best friends Caroline Framke, who is a big reason I got hired to write for The A.V. Club. We initially met on tumblr as friends, but she has become a huge writing inspiration of mine, and she gave me a lot of advice when I was first starting out. Some of the best editors I’ve ever had, like Pilot Viruet and Heather Hogan, feel like mentors because they make me a better writer.
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: We were fortunate enough to have an amazing mentor early on. She reached out to us and offered a crash course in team management — something we knew literally nothing about — and helped us wrap our heads around seeing this as more than a thing we did in our spare time, but instead as a full-fledged, legitimate business we were running. And obviously Riese has been telling me I can do this job since day one and helping me make that true.
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: My current boss is amazing and has created so much space for me to grow over the past year. I did absolutely nothing to find him; I just happened to get lucky. But it’s made a huge difference in how I feel about going in to work every day, and even beyond that, where I see my career eventually heading.
Molly; Writer: Part of going to graduate school for journalism is just getting your foot in the door of the journalism world here. My professors were instant mentors because they all had decades of field experience behind them, and they weren’t coddling us, which I very much appreciated. As my career has continued and there’s more temporal space between us, we’ve become friends. It’s been nice.
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: My biggest mentor has been my former editor Mary Bakija, who’s smart, encouraging, and prolific, with an unbelievable eye for proofreading (hire her!). We met when I was blogging about local news in Brooklyn. We’re no good at working together anymore, though; all we do is talk the whole time.
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: I think my mentors are the other four senior editors at autostraddle dot com, and I found them by applying to work here (and participating in hiring Yvonne and Heather!).
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: Yes, I think so, although they often found me. Amy Lesser, who’s the founder of GO Magazine, was enormously helpful back when I lived in New York, is one who stands out. Kathy Wolfe, who founded Wolfe Video, was also great to connect with and talk to. So was the woman who Laneia talked about in her answer, who helped us become a real thing.
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: Aimee Echo, the singer of the band I toured with taught me nearly everything I really needed to know about the industry, and the dos and don’ts of how to treat touring artists. I found her by… being a big dorky fan of her band, showing up at all her gigs and begging her to let me help them any way I could.
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: I found my mentors the day I started working here and they are Riese, Laneia, Rachel, and Yvonne. Up until then my only mentor had been the internet’s school of hard-knocks.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: What I’ve been lucky to have are people who noticed my potential and my determination and decided to give me a chance. My philosophy is to sign up for anything that looks interesting, even – and especially – if I seem underqualified for it; sometimes this leads me to amazing mentors and supporters who want the best for me and lead me to further opportunities.
One great example of this is Vulcana Women’s Circus, an amazing (and super queer) women’s community circus in Brisbane. At the very beginning of my performance art career they opened applications for participants for a 6-week creative development process culminating in performances at a major festival. I had barely any experience and was a circus noob, but what I did have in spades was a burning drive and a story: dealing with racism and stereotypes as an artist and woman of colour in Australia. They accepted my app and their two directors, Celia White and Penelope Lowther, developed my piece with me, building on my lived experience and interests while pushing my performance skills and comforting me whenever I felt massive pangs of Impostor Syndrome (which was weekly). I pretty much cried when I saw the Big Top for the first time, and the performances went amazingly well. That one gig early on was what gave me the confidence to call myself a performance artist and find more opportunities to build my work – leading up to the MFA in San Francisco.
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: I wish I had more writing mentors in my life, especially people of color mentors.
11. What role has networking played in your career path?
Erin; Writer: Tbh it needs to play a bigger role. Who wants to network. Let’s link up. Who’s trying to build.
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: I love/hate it. Networking is everything, though, in that relationships are everything when it comes to career stuff. I got my first job in my field because I was rejected from another job, but made a good impression on the interviewer. She saw a different posting and thought it was a better fit for me and recommended me for it. I got my other first job (I worked two jobs simultaneously and was offered both positions in the same week.) through connections I made in college. Whenever I’m in a new place or position, I spend a large investment of time just meeting people and showing up at things and building new professional relationships. I hate “networking events” though, like, so, so much.
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: I’m not so great at professional networking anymore. I used to be when I was still on the politics track. But now most of my networking happens on Twitter.
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: Networking is the reason I’m here! Riese knew me from another job I’d had as a forum moderator, which led her to my blog and me to hers. I also briefly wrote for a larger blog (RIP OurChart) where she was doing work as a vlogger. When it was time to put together her team of writers for Autostraddle, I was only on her list because of those connections. When it comes to the daily parts of the job, we’re essentially built on networking, which is something I’m really proud of. I get the sense that most media outlets also rely on networking, but theirs seems to go into generations of families and classmates at elite schools; like the backbone of the boys’ club in media and in tech is money and who you know, whereas the backbone of this queer business is raw talent and our friends’ friends, which is cool as fuck to me. I mean there are people who work here who didn’t begin as someone’s friend, but they’ve often brought in their own networks in ways that have built Autostraddle and A-Camp up to what it is today.
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: It turns out that just doing your work is not enough. You also have to be actively friendly to coworkers, if you want to get any real work done. I would consider that “networking.”
Molly; Writer: Networking was everything. I didn’t know it at the time, or that I was even doing it, but it is the whole reason I’m where I am (other than my talent but you know, that isn’t a real barometer of success in America). I paid for grad school to get connections, which I made at each internship. When I graduated, my cohort was in an internship at the paper I work at now, and she didn’t want the job when an opening popped up, so she recommended me. Ta-da!
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: A huge one, which is weird because I am not a networker in the traditional sense of the word; I can’t tell you how many industry events I’ve attended only to realize I was way too socially anxious to actually approach anyone (or how many industry events I’ve skipped for that reason altogether). That said, I’m incredibly lucky to have stumbled into working with Mary, through whom I met BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith, through whom I actually got an interview at the company. And now that I’ve left there, I have to say, I am so amazed and appreciative of how my former coworkers and other contacts have come through for me.
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: Very little, I think. I wish I was a good networker, but I honestly got to where I am in Autostraddle by showing up and cold-emailing Riese to apply. One of the great properties of Autostraddle is that it attracts great people and they just sort of float into my life as coworkers, writers, commenters, people at camp, whatever, and I really need to do very little! It’s fucking great!
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: Probably not much but I guess it depends on how you define “networking.” Formal businessy networking events have not been particularly fruitful, and I’m not really a ‘people person.’ Alex and I went to a “networking event” for LGBT businesspeople in Chelsea once and that’s where Kim Stolz told me that Michael Jackson had just died, that was an interesting evening.
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: Huge. Some of the people I interned with in 2003 ended up being lifelong friends who I still run into in unexpected ways. It’s interesting now, when I notice the same people I scanned tickets with at clubs six or seven years ago are now agents, managers, publicists, and these relationships are vital. The music industry can definitely be a garbage fire and being able to read people is pretty essential; a solid network can be a lifeline.
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: I can’t think of anything I’m worse at than networking.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: I have an interesting approach to networking in that I don’t really do the conventional White Guy thing of going to networking gatherings and giving people my business card and cultivate leads or whatever. That feels really impersonal and objectifying. Instead I end up meeting a lot of people from volunteering, going to conferences or performances or classes, basically being involved in things I’d go for my own enrichment anyway (the whole “sign up for anything that looks interesting” philosophy again). This leads to a massive and very diverse network of people across fields, demographics, and interests.
My very diverse network has become very useful for each other; I like playing Fairy Godmother, connecting people to the right contacts and opportunities, and some people have gotten famous or successful because of my networking. However, I’m having trouble doing this for myself: I have supporters, sure, but not many that end up helping me get a job or a living wage or some such. I have managed to get the odd job or two from networking, but a lot of typical networking advice just doesn’t work so well for me – e.g. the “network with someone in your dream company” idea hardly ever works to my benefit.
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: I don’t think networking has been important in advancing my career but I use networking to source stories or to find awesome new writers who could write something for Autostraddle.
12. Is there anything you were told you had to do in your field in order to be successful, but you didn’t do it and were successful anyway?
Erin; Writer: Everyone said, “When you start a new job on the internet, make sure the first thing you do isn’t putting up a picture of yourself face down in a hole,” but here I am, still writing for the very website that hosts a picture of me facedown in a hole.
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: Get an M.F.A. (to be a writer). Look “professional” (to be taken seriously). Move to a big city (to work for a big league nonprofit organization).
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: People told me I had to write for free for a while before I could get paid to write, and I said FUCK THAT. Even my college paper gig was paid (not much, but still more than nothing). It boggles my mind that strangers still sometimes ask me to write for free.
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: I definitely thought people had to get college degrees with the express intent of eventually having this type of career, and that there was no way I could do important things in this field without one. Then the housing bubble popped and I simultaneously reached the age where I realized no one knows what they’re doing and everything is made-up. I’ve learned so much through just doing it, paying attention to what’s working and seeking out why, and plowing ahead like I know what I’m talking about.
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: Yeah — I’ve definitely received advice about like, maintaining a consistent professional presence on social media to reinforce my expertise and hireability to potential employers. But I honestly find this idea very boring? If someone somewhere Googles me and finds my well-documented queer feminist political views objectionable, well, that’s on them for looking. Or if someone somewhere digs up some PG13 photos that were taken in 2007, who the eff cares? I’m sure I look hot, and let’s all get over the idea that people can only be one thing at a time, or that opinionated, sexy women can’t be good engineers.
(Note: it’s fine for me to call myself opinionated and sexy. If you are a coworker or potential employer, it is not okay for you to call me that.)
Molly; Writer: Yeah, they said I’d know I was doing a good job as a reporter if both sides of the story were mad at me, because it meant I wasn’t giving in to either. But working at a small paper with a micro-community focus, it’s impossible to want everyone mad at you all the time. It’s better to know your community and let them know you, so they learn to trust you and your newspaper’s judgment.
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: That depends on your definition of success! I could have been more successful at BuzzFeed, for instance, if I’d been happy constantly turning out formulaic stuff that gets massive traffic. But I’m really glad that (while I did no shortage of that stuff) I thought ahead and created a niche for myself through more impactful, identity-oriented projects. Nothing makes me feel more successful than knowing I’ve helped people feel seen, be they subjects or readers.
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: I guess I usually assumed that in order to do the job I do you had to go to journalism school or something like it — not only did I not do that but I have never even taken a class in anything related to journalism. I feel a little better about this after talking to the two people (I think? Is there anyone else I’m forgetting?) I know who did do any j-school, Yvonne and Grace Ellis, because both of them said that it didn’t cover much digital media stuff. On the other hand, Yvonne always knows a lot of things about sourcing and AP style and reported writing that I don’t, so I do feel like probably there are some things I would have benefited from more than that graduate level class on Dante.
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: Yeah everybody told me not to swear and talk about sex and drugs on the internet, but look at me now, motherfuckers!!!!! I OWN THE INTERNET
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: My mom told I should dress more business casual and to not get any tattoos, and now I’m a boss of a lot of people so.
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: Yes, I was told repeatedly by many trained professionals how to “build my brand” but I didn’t do any of those things and now my brand is just exactly who I am. If you meet me in real life, I think you’ll agree every weird and gentle thing I am online is just every weird and gentle thing I am in person, but with a face. I feel like that’s a much happier way to live.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: In Malaysia there were a lot of expectations on body image and appearance for anyone looking to get into media roles; it didn’t matter how good you were in presenting or writing if you didn’t look good. There was no way I could get an on-screen or even on-radio gig because I was so far outside Malaysia’s expectations of “Attractive” and refused to do anything to change that (fuck Fair and Lovely). Then I get to Australia and get a TV presenting gig with their national broadcaster for a few months! Looking pretty much the same as I did in Malaysia! Similarly, I was bullied to hell and back in the Australian burlesque scene partly for not conforming to the Dita von Teese mold (and being outspoken about it)…then I get to the US and get to perform with Annie Sprinkle at SFMOMA and have an MFA among other things, who’s laughing now.
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: When I was in getting my journalism degree, all of my professors emphasized that we needed to be multimedia journalists. They told us that we needed to be able to do video, audio, photography, and write words in order to keep up in the industry. Those are lies. The real lesson is you need to be adaptable.
14. What accomplishment are you proudest of?
Erin; Writer: I’m proudest of having a picture of me facedown in a hole on this very website.
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: It’s not one accomplishment, but the achievement of just feeling balanced and open to many career possibilities. I used to feel like I have to pick a track and stick to it. I’d obsess over what to get a graduate degree in (MFA, MSW, MPA, MPP, and law school were all things I seriously considered). Now I feel like there are so many doors I could open and I don’t even need to have full view of them right now. I’ve been a professional speaker, a sexuality educator, a direct service provider, an organizer, a policy advocate, a boss, and now I’m finding my way back to writing. I feel like I’ve got a better grasp on who I am, what I want to invest in my family, and can prioritize work choices around that without major anxiety. That feels like my biggest accomplishment.
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: When I was at my college paper, I helped co-found Michigan In Color, the first section at a daily student newspaper centered on students of color. None of my accomplishments post-college compare to how it felt to build that section from the ground up.
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: This is the equivalent of “a face only a mother could love” because there’s no way you’ll find this impressive, but I’m proudest of all the internal tools and processes that I’ve put together and/or organized, like our employee handbook, how we operate within Slack, our style guide, etc. I think I’m inordinately talented at two things: effective metaphors and distilling/organizing information, so this is my favorite aspect of my job. When freelancers take the time to tell me how useful our style guide is, or when staff members follow a process I’ve set up and everything works, it’s so gratifying. I spearheaded our entire team’s transition from daily emails and gchats to using Slack exclusively, which, again, is not super remarkable to most people, but was actually a big fucking deal!
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: At my last job, I built from scratch a database system that would comprehensively manage all of our parts lists and compliance documentation. It stored third party test results and could create certificates of conformity on demand, which was new ground for the company. (Before I arrived, it had been someone’s full time job just to file away pdfs and pull them out to send as email attachments on demand.) I’m really proud of the programming skills I developed through working on that project, as well as the way I was able to transform the company culture around documentation control and working smarter.
Molly; Writer: I wrote about how shitty the services for child protection were up here, and a few weeks later the head of the department for the whole state stepped down. I can’t say my article was a direct cause, but I can say we have more people staffing our offices in this valley and the kids aren’t in as bad a crisis. That makes me proud.
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: One of the first photo projects I produced for BuzzFeed featured 10 very different fashion bloggers styling the same dress, and there was this one commenter who I remember was sooo happy to see Magdalena Truchan of Pretty Cripple in the post, since in the 25 years she herself had been in a wheelchair, she’d never seen another wheelchair user in a fashion story. That was pretty fucking cool. There’s also this wonderful young woman who finally felt safe showing the world her heart surgery scar in one of my projects, this project that allowed trans and non-binary folks to tell their own narratives in big media for once, and this post-election shoot that showed the diversity of American people, whether or not Trump and co were prepared to accept them. Sorry; like I said, I’m passionate about it.
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: This is surprisingly difficult! I think what I’m proudest of is cumulative, not one thing (which I realize is intentionally avoiding the question, whatever). I feel like every small moment that I’ve had a good connection with a writer and their work while editing them, every piece that I’ve been able to have some small hand in bringing into the world, or I guess more like the times when I feel like I’ve been able to help someone get closer to saying what’s true and authentic for them in a piece of writing as an editor (or as a writing workshop leader at camp) — the accumulation of those over years is what I’m proudest of. Recently a writer we published told me “Thank you, Rachel, for being my editor and for helping me to feel confident about my writing,” and like, sobbing emoji, forever, at that.
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: I think when Kristin and Marni and I spent like an hour trying to come up with a cute name for the A-Camp hip-hop dance workshop geared towards masculine women / transmasculine people and then all of a sudden it hit me and I screamed: “MASCULINE OF CENTER STAGE.” I did a victory lap after that.
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: Managing this club is a dream I really didn’t think I’d ever realize. I idolized the previous manager, and I’m just trying to do right by his legacy.
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: Becoming a senior editor at Autostraddle. With the exception of meeting my partner, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: In 2015 I co-produced the San Francisco run of Yoni Ki Baat, an annual South Asian women’s theater production modelled after The Vagina Monologues but with everything written, produced, and performed by South Asian women. I had been involved as a writer and performer in previous years and loved every last bit of it, so when I was asked to be a producer I jumped on the opportunity. I wanted that year’s YKB to really push the envelope on what we can accomplish; we just had our 10-year anniversary show and I knew we could be much more diverse and inclusive in our show content and processes. I put in extra effort to solicit written submissions from underrepresented writers (e.g. Muslims, non-Americans, LGBTQ writers), which lead to double the usual number of submissions, including pieces of a much higher quality than many in YKB’s history. I also built new relationships with new organisations, incuding bringing in YKB’s first international fundraising recipient. My efforts in growing YKB’s reach, setting a higher bar for productions, and being more diverse in content and representation, led to YKB’s first fully sold-out weekend in many years; much of what my team and I built in 2015 went on to inform future productions, which just get better and better each year.
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: I’m most proud of bringing more people of color voices and stories to Autostraddle.
15. Talk about a moment of crisis that you overcame in your career.
Erin; Writer: I overcame having a picture of me facedown in a hole on the internet.
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: One that stands out to be is the first time I really advocated for myself with my boss. I was being asked for the second time to take a personal day for this LGBTQ lobby day I felt really strongly about. I finally articulated that it felt weird to be asked to take time off when one of our key priorities as an organization was promoting healthy sexuality and sexual rights. There were tears and maybe a little yelling, so it wasn’t my finest moment, but the message got through and the next year my boss went with me to the lobby day on company time.
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: Early on in my freelance writing career, it started to look like I wasn’t going to be able to make it work. I was running out of money, and I was worried I couldn’t afford rent in Los Angeles anymore. Luckily, I had friends in Chicago who were willing to help me out, so I moved there and lived on a futon in their living room for seven months while I focused on my career and applied to every staff writing and editing job on the planet. I didn’t get any of those jobs, but along the way, my freelance portfolio grew and I was able to get to the point where I could support myself on freelance work alone. I wouldn’t be working as a writer full time today if it wasn’t for those friends who helped me out.
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: Wow, I don’t know if I have a million crises to choose from or none. Whenever our lives and jobs are derailed by outlandish claims, I fantasize about faking my own death and never looking back. That I overcome these fantasies is a testament to my determination to both piss off the people who hate us and never abandon the ones who love us, I believe.
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: There was a time several years ago when the market pivoted and every major housewares company with US sales was suddenly plastering “BPA Free” on everything. In order to remain competitive, my company needed to follow suit — but unfortunately, there was no clear test standard, even coming out of the major labs. I set a deadline, researched extensively, and pulled together a guidance document for the company that laid out the regulatory requirements of all of the markets we were in and hoped to enter; explained the conflicting “best practice” advice we’d received from various labs and consultants; and presented representative test results for our highest risk items. I used the guidance document as the basis for discussion with a group of key players, including our legal team, head of sales, and the president of our company. We went through the risks and mitigation strategies one by one, and eventually came to a consensus around what our company policy would be moving forward.
Molly; Writer: Journalism is kind of a dick because you spend your entire career in the public eye – all the mistakes, all the glory, everything. At the beginning of it all, each mistake felt like the end of the world, because I didn’t yet have the confidence to stick up for myself nor did I have the self-esteem to know a work mistake didn’t mean I was an absolute shit person no one would ever love. So it wasn’t really a moment per se, but more like a movement in my career, when I stopped giving fucks. It was glorious, and my own self felt better and fuller; I started writing essays, and here we are.
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: I mean, this is it. It was a moment of personal and professional crisis unlike anything I’d felt before. I’m not so sure I overcame it so much as I was enormously fortunate to be able to take a step back, and also to get some meds.
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: I’m not sure whether I’ve had one definable moment of crisis; I do think I’ve had (and maybe all the editors have had) some long dark nights of the soul about it, feeling a lot of doubt or having a hard time seeing a way forward. Sometimes it’s when readers are REALLY mad at us about something or seem like they’re on a REALLY different page than us and what we’re doing, and the feeling is like man, if they don’t even like this, what are we working so hard keeping it around for? Sometimes it’s a bigger sense of doubt, like about queer people’s trajectory or place in the world — I get very in my head sometimes about how far we have to go, and how much our work feels like a drop in the bucket. I don’t say that to solicit reassurances that it isn’t; sometimes the history and present of harm against us just feels very big and our individual selves feel very small, you know? But in both cases it usually just takes a little time and perspective, and you can see that low moment in context of ups and downs and sometimes even learn something from it!
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: Let’s take a trip back in time!
january 12, 2012
riese: i feel like i’ve been pretty calm about this
this website being down again ish
laneia: you have
riese: i have to save my half-xanax for the meeting with queerty
we were all blessed today by the fact that the downtime corresponded exactly with when i had the rental car
to go to the post office and target
laneia: yes and also i wasn’t near a computer due to having children
laneia: i was really just assuming it would be handled
by the time i got home
riese: me too
it worked for a while but then stopped
sometimes i feel like
we’re doing something wrong
laneia: like ‘how the fuck much more of this shit do we have to take’?
riese: like there’s something we do that other people don’t do that is the cause of all our problems
what is that thing
laneia: i also feel this way
riese: i think it might be that our business is growing
getting bigger and more complicated
but because of the nature of the industry
our income is not growing at that same pace
like if i had a taco cart, and i was doing well with my taco cart, then i’d have money to like, hire people
or maybe get a taco store
and as i make more money, i would continue to expand
the ‘growth’ would come via making more money
riese: the growth of the business = the economic growth of the business
but our business is growing so fast!
laneia: that’s not how we are. our growth is not monetary
i mean, like
twitter has a similar problem
but they have a lot of venture capital
so it’s been ok
but it’s a very specific internet problem
laneia: yeah i don’t know how this can ever work
riese: like it’s weird that a business can grow without making more money
laneia: like the internet isn’t set up for this
riese: when will this feeling stop laneia
it will stop with camp
riese: i know we can get by, i know we can keep doing what we’re doing, but i feel like we still need a giant cash infusion
i feel embarassed when this stuff happens
laneia: i think, based on all the movies and shows and books i consumed as a child, that all of our problems will be solved by camp
11 days later, I sent my first email to the Autostraddle staff asking for their participation in this weird idea I had called “camp.” Things did change!
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: Listen, you haven’t lived til you’ve had to cope with a sewage emergency behind your bar in the middle of a 10-band festival lineup. I guess I’m taking this very literally, but this job always keeps you guessing.
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: One time I published a movie review of a racist caricature of a bisexual taco written by a freelancer who had never published here before, and then I unpublished and wrote an apology for that review. The Autostraddle community heard me, believed me, forgave me, and was ready to move on. However, Breitbart and Reddit found my apology and decided to make my life a living hell. I was doxxed and trolled and scary men sent me photos of my head Photoshopped onto dead TV lesbians and threatened even my pets. I almost quit the internet forever in the heat of that attack, but I toughed it out and it passed and now I can even eat tacos again without crying.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: In Australia I went from being an innovative and provocative burlesque performer with a strong political voice – to being villified and blackballed precisely because of that strong political voice. The burlesque community in Australia is very small and close-knit, and when the largest producers are publicly attacking me for daring to say “hey maybe producing shows based on ethnic exotic stereotypes isn’t a great idea”, nobody felt like risking their own careers to speak up for me or including me in their shows. I lost a lot of work, lost friends, was pretty much exiled.
To get away from this I went to San Francisco for a summer residency, and fell in love. The city had plenty of spaces for people like me, they loved my work and my personality, they supported my outspoken self and thought my voice was important. I knew I had to go back – my MFA there was really an excuse for me to spend more time in SF, away from toxicity and towards a more healing environment. Indeed I was able to build much stronger work, build up my skills, and get much further with my creative career than I would if I had stayed in Brisbane!
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: Ugh, I don’t like thinking about it but that whole Sausage Party debacle. Heather and I made a mistake, we let some people down but then we owned up to that mistake and the AS community was receptive and forgiving but then a bunch of assholes came after us on the internet and trolled Heather hard. I learned a lot in the first part of what happened and then the second part of it, I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
16. What career would you be doing if not this?
Erin; Writer: I think I’d make an excellent florist.
KaeLyn; Writer, Organizer, Speaker: I think I’d have loved a career working with animals!
Kayla; Freelance Culture Writer and TV Critic: Well, even though I do love what I do currently, I’m still trying to break into the television writing world. But if I were to be doing something completely different than what I do, I think it’d be something in the culinary world.
Laneia; Autostraddle Executive Editor: My other passion and fascination is with pregnancy and childbirth, and the socioeconomic/political/patriarchal factors that shape a person’s experience therein, so! I’d be a midwife focused on teens and/or underprivileged people, supporting their autonomy and treating them and their paths with the respect and excitement and reverence that’s rarely afforded to them but is almost always given to middle/upper-class white women of a certain age. Wheee!
Laura; Senior Quality Engineer: Writing. Alternatively, I think I’d make a great political lobbyist.
Molly; Writer: I’d be a paramedic. I have my EMT training, but another two years of school would be necessary. Holy smokes it’d be fun and hard and scary and great.
Nora; Freelance Reporter, Copywriter, Photo/Video Shoot Producer: Rolling around with horses notwithstanding, I’d still want to be making some kind of art. Illustration, film, printmaking… honestly, all things that yield little money for almost everyone who does them. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Rachel; Autostraddle Managing Editor: This sounds, I feel, like I’m a princess, but after doing this job of digital media here, I can’t imagine doing it anywhere else. I don’t care how cool and open-plan the office is and how there’s always free Doritos and coconut water in the break room and how people share memes on Slack; I think compared to this any other media job would be unbearable. I think I could maybe do an expanded version of the freelance work I do now, editing and some kind of writing coaching stuff; I would also be cool honestly with going back to doing something physical, like food service, if I could pay my bills with it. Honestly bills-wise I’d probably have to combine those two careers, which would be fine.
Riese; CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle: Well if by “this” we mean “magazine writing/online writing” but not necessarily “writing” then I think I’d be writing books or writing for a teevee show. But like if we’re gonna depart from writing altogether, then I’d be a video editor, a documentary filmmaker or a teacher, which I guess are all pretty writing-adjacent but listen, I have very few marketable skills.
Stef; Venue Manager and Writer: I think I’d probably be tour managing? I really honestly cannot imagine working in any other field.
Heather; Autostraddle Senior Editor: I was a great accountant, actually, but I could never go back to that life. I still think I’d make a pretty good history teacher, though. People really like my Bitches Brew class at A-Camp. Also: Care of Magical Creatures professor.
Tiara, Writer and Artist: I have a Pinterest board just for this, haha. Before I dived into performance art full-on I was very active with alternative education and youth empowerment; I probably would have continued along those lines if I didn’t burn out in 2008. I could have followed my childhood passion of stage magic; how many queer women of colour stage magicians do you know? I could have been a pioneer! Currently I’m exploring the world of games, but for a short while I was curious about perfume – if it weren’t for the fact that I was not terribly interested in going back to school to study chemistry I may have been in the olfactory biz by now. So many possibilities…
Yvonne; Autostraddle Senior Editor: I really don’t know what else I would rather do.