Well, this year has been an absolute shit show, so we want to tell you something good! The Autostraddle team racked our brains and came up with our personal 2020 highlights. This year, even the smallest wins count.
Did you take some major steps in your personal growth this year? Did you learn how to knit or get a puppy or finally sign up for online therapy? Drop your 2020 highlights in the comments! We’d love to hear ‘em.
Ro White, Sex & Dating Editor
In other roundtables, I’ve written about how I’ve faced a whole lot of pandemic-related and personal hardships this year (quick recap: I went through a break-up at the start of the year, contracted COVID-19, dealt with weird chronic health issues, lost most of my work and regressed to a level of anxiety I hadn’t felt since my early 20s). I’ve also written about dating during the pandemic and how the circumstances of this year forced my girlfriend and I to have all the Big Talks about our needs and values right away. Now I’m in a healthy, aligned relationship in which I feel supported, secure, valued and understood. We started dating (via Zoom at first) in March, but in COVID months, it feels like we’ve been together for years. Falling into this relationship definitely involved some luck, but we’ve stayed together thanks to our shared willingness to be vulnerable under increasingly challenging circumstances. I’m proud of what we’ve built together over the past ten months, and I feel fortunate that I get to ride the next big, scary wave with this steady, sparkly person by my side.
After losing most of my work this year, I also managed to start freelance writing full-time for the first time in my life. I have a lot to learn, but I’m proud of all of the opportunities I’ve chased down and brought to fruition. I’m having new visions of what my career might look like, and I’m grateful that I get to work remotely right now and do work that I genuinely love. I’m ready to enter 2021 feeling more capable than ever.
Vanessa Friedman, Community Editor
Gotta admit, when Malic first pitched this roundtable I was like, “lol, no.” But that was a lazy answer on my part, because the truth is a few things happened this year that did make me feel good. Here is my short list: I turned in my thesis and graduated my MFA program under extremely strenuous circumstances, I moved back to Portland and transitioned my awesome long-distance relationship into a healthy, well-boundaried not long-distance relationship, I baked a lot of challah and shared it with a lot of people, and on my birthday (12/21 — winter solstice! Great Conjunction!) I released a self-published zine including 25 essays I wrote about home, coming in at 31,000 words and a lot of heart. Also, I got to continue working at Autostraddle dot com as your community editor, and that is always, always good.
Renea Baek Goddard, Writer
After having just a stunningly shitty week near the end of a whole garbage-fire year, I also looked at this and snorted. But I tried to sit with it. I tried several times, thinking and coming back to it and thinking some more. And eventually I feel like it worked.
Tonight, while I was taking my usual doom-scrolling and lip-biting break, I saw a post from my university and remembered that I need to order my cap and gown. I actually graduated months ago — there was no ceremony — but my parents messaged me about it again today. They want graduation photos. Of course! I graduated from college this year! My parents want photos! I have a degree now! The year has sucked so bad that I literally almost forgot.
I graduated high school at 17, so I started college as a child, and I really could not mean that more literally. That little kid never dreamed then of being able to do the things I do now, or know the things I know, or love the way I love. My first piece for Autostraddle published early this year! I completed an internship as a reporter and host at a public radio station. I found out last week that my story was accepted in my school’s nonfiction literary magazine. I worked at a nonprofit for LGBT homeless youth and I still have lasting friendships from there. And I’ve hustled thousands of dollars as an adult entertainer. Definitely not the shy freshman, barely out of the closet, with no idea at all how to be self-sufficient or confident.
Now, while I run around day-to-day thinking I don’t have my shit together and that everything is falling apart, I’m ignoring the massive growth I’ve experienced not only as a writer, media creator, and organizer, but as a person, and as a member of a found family. I love hard and my people love me back. We support each other, and that’s lasted longer than this shitty year.
When bad things happen, my brain just forgets there was ever time before the bad thing — and can’t even dream of a time after the bad thing. I think maybe a lot of us are collectively feeling this way. It felt so great for me to dip back into nice, warm, soft, and beautiful memories. Remind yourself there’s so much more than what you’re feeling right now. Everything is change, and change means dark times and bad feelings are never permanent.
Ryan Yates, Writer
It feels weird to celebrate successes in such a dark time, but I guess that makes it even more important to do! This year I’m proud of a lot of internal progress around how I think about and approach my work and the amount of energy I give it and when. I got bylines in two goal publications – Electric Literature and the Daily Beast – and launched a sex toy recommendation business.
Rachel Kincaid, Former Managing Editor
I know we all love to have a good laugh at that tweet about when your therapist laughs at a joke you make and you think, “This is great. I’m going to get a good grade in therapy, something that is both normal to want and possible to achieve,” and obvs the idea of doing a “good job” in therapy is like, whatever. But for real, in a year when it was really difficult for all of us to do more than maintain, I’m really proud of how much therapy I’ve done and how much I feel like I’m in a better baseline place than I was a year ago. There have been a lot of times when I felt like it was dumb to be trying to work on difficult deep-seated stuff when everything else was in crisis (and that would have been an extremely valid choice to take a break from; just surviving right now is more than enough!) but i’m also grateful & proud that I worked hard to give myself as much resilience as possible and make it easier to get through this year.
Abeni Jones, Contributor
What a wild-ass year. I am an introvert and work remotely, so I wasn’t nearly as affected as many others by the pandemic. It was hard when I had a roommate who was incredibly COVID-averse, so I couldn’t see my partner for months. We even eventually broke up! But then got back together, and are stronger than ever – the stress and drama of the pandemic actually made us really evaluate a lot of things and have a lot of conversations we might not have had otherwise.
My workplace switched to an insurance company (Kaiser) that actually covers bottom surgery without needing to pay a like, $6,000 deductible first. So I am, finally, like five years after I first decided I wanted to get bottom surgery, on the list! They cover electrolysis, too, so that’s where I’m at in the process right now. But it’s really happening! I kind of felt like it never would.
Speaking of my workplace, I was just promoted! It’s wild to think that three years ago, I was broke, working part-time gigs, and barely getting by. I had a few hundred dollars in my bank account. This organization hired me on contract, then full time, then I changed jobs with them, then changed again, and then moved into management, and now leadership! For the first time in my life I can afford a 1-bedroom apartment all to myself in Oakland! I struggled for so long that I thought that would always be my life. But it wasn’t! I will never again believe that things can’t change or get better. Five years ago I essentially gave up on life. I survived, and have spent five long years working incredibly hard to rebuild my entire life — and while there have been hiccups and barriers, like COVID, I’m now living a life I never thought was possible. My life is evidence that one’s circumstances aren’t necessarily their destiny!
Kamala Puligandla, Former Editor-in-Chief
Earlier this year, I definitely had hopes dashed by the pandemic — I had plans for my 35th birthday party that changed, I had wanted to be reading in bookstores with my first novel and to celebrate it with everyone I know all over the country — but those seem like such petty concerns now that 2020 has played out. I feel so lucky that I’ve gotten to keep so much of my life and that the empty spaces have been filled with amazing opportunities: to be Editor-In-Chief of this website; to give people a much-needed taste of bars and parties through my novel Zigzags; to fall in love and start a super fun and supportive new relationship; to collaborate on this radio story on The Heart; to add some hot Mokuyobi staples into my wardrobe and become the proud owner of a portable fire pit; to publish my novella You Can Vibe Me On My FemmePhone with Co-Co Press, and conspire on design and illustrations for its Jan 22, 2021 launch! Those are my highlights — and in a year, when I’ve also held a lot of grief and anxiety with people I love, I’m trying to share as much joy around as possible.
Sally Neate, Writer
Without doubt my highlight of 2020 was naming all of our household tupperware after characters from The L Word.
I can’t pinpoint the gestation of this idea with great accuracy; the disarray of our tupperware crate has been a low-grade niggle for years, but would you believe it never seemed like something that needed to be tackled with any great urgency until this year.
One day this summer, I opened the cupboard door to a PET overflow and, with the kind of optimistic fervour for inconsequential improvements that makes me a dream corporate employee, decided that I could make this situation better. I knew that people sometimes marked or numbered their tupperware pots and lids for ease of matching, which seemed a practical, if unimaginative solution. If there’s one thing this website has taught me it’s that over-investment in The L Word pays lifelong dividends, so it was the tiniest leap to anthropomorphise each tub and anoint them a useless LA lesbian.
A firm top, but highly compartmentalised? That’s Bette. A pair of hot pink Sistemas naturally lent themselves to OG Alice and Gen Q Alice. Looking at the tall skinny tup we called Slim Daddy makes me wonder how we ever thought it wasn’t Slim Daddy. I am yet to confront the level of consumerism that presented me with enough containers to cover both Sounder and Sounder II.
I concede this grand naming event had no material effect on the world. Exactly a week later my mother died, Covid just gets worse, Brexit sucks and society remains structurally and fatally unsound. But do I smile every time I put Lindsay76 through the dishwasher, or laugh fondly when I discover Gabby Deveaux accidentally topping Tasha? You bet I do.
Drew Gregory, Writer
I feel really proud that despite pandemic-induced spikes in mental illness and general global shittiness I’ve actually managed to have a pretty successful year according to my usual ways of measuring success. I wrote a lot of pieces for this site that I’m really proud of, especially this one and this one and I made a movie! I also wrote a new feature I’m really excited about.
But those traditional markers of success aren’t actually what I thought about when first reading this question and they aren’t what I’m thinking about as I go through the always reflective week of my birthday and New Year’s. Instead I’m thinking about how I’m entering into this next year (and the start of my Saturn return) with the healthiest relationships I’ve ever had. I’ve done so much work this year (and in the preceding years) on building friendships that are mutual and supportive and honest, and despite the loneliness that accompanies being single in a pandemic, I just feel really grateful that the people currently in my life are people who I wholeheartedly want in my life and who I feel I can rely on. That seems so simple, but it’s honestly the first time I can say that. I had some really painful experiences this year of both leaving some people behind and working to move forward in a positive way with people I didn’t want to leave behind, and I’m really proud of myself for doing that work even when it was hard. I talk a lot about love and romance but since I was a kid friendship was always the most fraught area of my life and it no longer feels fraught — it’s now my greatest comfort.
Stef Schwartz, Vapid Fluff Editor
I don’t need to tell anyone how much this year sucked. I think I’ve spent more time alone this year than I had previously spent in my entire life before this, and I’m also a frightening workaholic without a job. I’ve been absolutely lost without a purpose and it’s been…a trip.
I moved away from an apartment I had never liked living in, and through a friend I was able to land somewhere decent to wait this thing out, paying what I could actually afford. I didn’t expect to end up living alone there either, but it kind of worked out that way (for now), so I also got to buy all new kitchen shit and decided to go with a theme, and my kitchen game is currently cute as fuck. I learned how to cook a lot of new things, and also learned to bake a pretty serviceable vegan challah.
Also major shout out to my group chat, who will not read this, but they really helped me hold it together during the least social year of my entire life. We watched a lot of movies together over Zoom and Teleparty, which I loved, but my favorite day was when I mailed everybody shrooms and we all went on Zoom and took them together and thus had zhrooms. That may end up being my fondest pandemic memory.
Riese Bernard, CEO
After two months of working all the time and/ or listening to domestic thriller audiobooks and eating cookies while doing jigsaw puzzles in isolation, I was pretty confident quarantine productivity (outside of my job) wasn’t on the horizon for me — but as soon as it became clear that this was going to continue all year, something shifted, I guess. “This is the time,” I said to myself, while another part of myself was like, “is it really.” And surprisingly enough, it was.
I tried to see this time as a cocoon, a time to work on myself so I can be better when the world is safe again. Since May, I’ve written nearly 300 pages of my book and finished my book proposal, which my agent is going to start shopping in January!
I got really into skincare and my skin has not looked or felt this good since like, birth. (Until today, writing this jinxed me and now I have acne again.) My hope is that Rachel will be proud of me to hear that I now wear 50 SPF every day. I got surgery I’d put off for a while and now I can breathe out of both nostrils, which is great — I highly recommend using both nostrils.
I’ve built such a tight, weird, chosen family with my group chat and we’ve been there for each other every step of the way. I’m grateful for them and for all the friendships that I’ve maintained or even strengthened during this time.
Also I wrote short fiction for the first time in a million years and published it on this here website!
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Managing Editor
All things considered, I actually had a lot of good things happen in 2020?????? Especially when it came to my work. I was accepted to the Tin House Summer Workshop for short fiction, where I had the chance to learn from the brilliant Nana Kwame Adjei Brenyah and where I also expanded my writing community. I was also accepted to Lambda Literary’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices, and even though the retreat itself was postponed, I’m proud of the acceptance and have something to look forward to in the future! I made my fiction debut in the queer fiction issue of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern and then had another short story accepted from slush at Catapult! A story I wrote that I’m very passionate about was rejected over a dozen times before getting picked up somewhere and is slated to come out in 2021! Truly wild stuff!!!! I also moved in with my previously long distance girlfriend and gained a stepDOGter (sorry) in the process. We got to live in Las Vegas for almost six strange but exciting months and then moved to Miami, where we’ve made a home together. My girlfriend is killing it with her writing, and I’m so proud of her every day!!! Even amidst the darkness, my life has been full of love this year, and I’m lucky for that. Like I have a hot, smart, funny girlfriend whose writing I’m obsessed with and I’m writing the things I want to be writing and living someplace new that I’m also falling in love with???????? It feels weird but important to celebrate these good things.
Heather Hogan, Senior Writer + Editor
The truth is that I wouldn’t have chosen any of the good things that came from 2020 at the beginning of 2020. Or, I guess it’s more accurate to say I wouldn’t have chosen to experience the good things I experienced in the way I did this year. My life, since March, has been dominated by getting Covid and then developing an oftentimes debilitating chronic illness and disability because of it. Literally everything about my life has changed since this pandemic began: all of my relationships, the way my brain and heart and lungs function, the way I do my job, the way I spend my time, and my relationship to every aspect of my identity. I’ve lost so many things that meant so much to me, including even just the ability to consistently stand up and walk. Sometimes I can’t even remember basic words I’ve known my whole life, like “apple” or “basketball.”
But also, in many ways, this has been a transformative time full of joy, peace, goodness, grace, and deep and abiding love. My perspective has shifted so drastically that the most simple things make my chest fizz with happiness and my shoulders ease with contentment. The feeling of soft blankets against my legs, the weight of my cats lying in my lap purring, the taste of cinnamon strudel, the smoothness of my favorite fountain pen against a fancy notepad, the joy of writing something I’m proud of, the magic of getting lost inside a book, the ways my closest friends have adapted to my new physical and cognitive reality and stayed close to me even when it’s not easy, the generosity of my birth and found families, the success and happiness of the people I love most in the world, and, more than anything, my relationship with my wife.
I wanted to think I was defiantly resilient, and I wanted to think my relationship with Stacy was unbreakable, but I didn’t really want to know that by having it tested. There were months this year when I couldn’t sit up to eat and didn’t have the energy to finish a single bowl of soup. There were dark, dark, dark days of broken and hoarse sobbing that my life was being ripped away from me, bit by bit. There were moments of me blanking so hard in the middle of a conversation that I couldn’t even remember why I was in the room I was in. And middle of the night panic attacks fueled by nervous system dysfunction caused by Covid that left both me and Stacy physically, emotionally, and mentally decimated. But her love and her commitment never wavered, and neither did her genuine delight in the time we spend together, no matter if it’s the same as it’s always been or an adaptation of the past ten years. We got married a few weeks ago. Just me and her and our cats in the living room and our families on the other ends of Zoom. We wrote our own vows, we promised “in sickness and in health” and we knew that we meant it. It was one of the best days of my life. Stacy and I have been in this house together for nine months without another single human soul, hardly ever leaving, and we have never been more deeply in love. Every day is some kind of unexpected happiness and a profound comfort I never knew before now. We sing and we laugh and we eat good food and she drinks good wine and I drink lemon-lime Liquid IV.
I have no idea what 2021 will bring — but I also don’t know, these days, from day to day, what my body’s going to do. There’s an odd and whole new freedom in just letting go of expectations. I might be able to walk three blocks. I might have to lie in bed and be silent to keep my air hunger manageable. I’ve been thinking nonstop about N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky this year: “Some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.” But also: “To those who’ve survived: Breathe. That’s it. Once more. Good. You’re good. Even if you’re not, you’re alive. That is a victory.”
Meg Jones Wall, Writer
This year has been intense, and painful, and challenging. My husband of 11 years and I decided to get a divorce – and while on the surface this may not necessarily sound like a good thing, we have managed to preserve our close friendship throughout this process, to continue treating each other with respect and love and grace, and I have been so proud of both of us as we slowly work to disentangle our lives together and create new ones separately. I moved into a new apartment and have been turning it into the witchy industrial space of my dreams, have had a lot of writing successes and expansion opportunities, and played countless hours of D&D. I’ve made so many new friends and connections this year, and while I still hate Zoom, I’ve been so grateful for the chosen families that have continued to grow in spite of social distancing. My best friend and I realized that we had feelings for each other, letting an already important relationship blossom into something beyond my wildest dreams. And after spending most of the year working on a book proposal and querying literary agents, I finally signed with one of my top choices just a few days ago.
In spite of how isolating 2020 has been, in spite of the struggles and anxieties and impossibly scary moments, I’m living a life now that I’m so proud of. So much has happened, but so much of it is positive and powerful, closing broken doors and opening new ones. It feels weird to say that I feel hopeful for next year, for the future, but I really do. And that on its own feels like a massive win.
Shelli Nicole, Culture Editor
This year gave me the gift of time. Without getting too much into it, I was quite a busy bitch, but not in a good way. I was overworked and didn’t realize it until I was given the opportunity to truly rest. I was so used to working nearly 16 hours a day across 3 jobs that I didn’t see just how abnormal that was.
When it all hit the fan, I was as scared as everyone else. I was worried about the health of not myself but of those that I love. As I finally realized that those closest to me would perhaps be okay as they were taking it all serious, I started to look at myself. I stopped and was able to look at the few things in my life that I wanted to explore more of but just never had the time to fucking do. I wanted to connect more with my spirituality, my ancestral magick, my body and mind and I wanted to put into action these practices that I had a taste of but — not time for.
I’ve been able to do just that, and now that I have a taste, there ain’t no way in hell that I am going back. I have these practices that are so close to my heart that when the world starts to return to itself, I am not pushing them away. I have made a promise to myself to make the world start to work around me and what I want and not the other way around.
I’ve also been able to focus on my WRITING. I have bylines that I am so proud of at places that were on my list for a minute. I’ve built connections with other writers and editors that I never imagined I would, and I have dopeness lined up that I can’t even talk about…and that in itself is just truly wild.
So yeah, it’s been a wild and traumatic year — but I’m choosing to sit in the moments of sweetness that I’ve been able to find throughout it and am eternally optimistic for the one to come.