TRANSCRIPT: Making the Queer Media You Want to See in the World

This transcript is from the event, Making the Queer Media You Want to See In the World: A Conversation with Riese Bernard and Gabrielle Korn on February 18, 2021. (You can re-watch the event at the link.) This event is in honor of the release of Gabrielle’s book, Everybody (Else) Is Perfect: How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes and because of the fact that Autostraddle is fundraising right now to cover the gaps in our budget through July 2021. If this conversation speaks to you, we hope you’ll help support our independent queer media publication called Autostraddle dot com!


Gabrielle Korn: Are we on?

Riese Bernard: I believe we are on. Yeah.
Hi, everyone. Here we are. We are on. We are here for “Making the Queer Media You Want to See in the World: A Conversation with Riese Bernard and Gabrielle Korn.” My name is Riese. I am the CEO and Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com and the former editor-in-chief. This is a former editor-in-chief chat.
Yeah, Gabrielle, introduce yourself.

Gabrielle: Thank you so much for having me. I am so excited to talk to you. I am a journalist, editor, and former Autostraddle writer and the author of a book called “Everybody (Else) is Perfect” which came out last month.

Riese: Tell us about your trajectory in media? How you got started in media in general and then, yeah, your trajectory/journey. Tell me about your journey.

Gabrielle: Totally. I studied queer and feminist theory in college which as you can imagine doesn’t super prepare you for a career.

Riese: What does really? You know?

Gabrielle: Great question. I worked in digital media for the past 10 years. My first job was as the editorial assistant at on the issues magazine which was a woman’s journal published in the basement of an abortion clinic. Then I got a job at Autostraddle and ended up writing about my passion which led me to Refinery 29 and then I went to Nylon and stayed a long time, eventually becoming editor-in-chief. I currently work at Netflix running Most which is the LGBTQ platform on social media.

Riese: When you started at Autostraddle, did you like it? Did you have fun?

Gabrielle: I loved it. I spent the majority of that time on the couch in my pajamas. It was the first time I ever felt really part of something but I think it coincideed with a feeling of directionless.

Riese: When you like transitioned from AutoStraddle to Refinery 29 what was different?

Gabrielle: I went from being one queer women in a group of queer women to the only lesbian as far as the eye could see. That was really, really jarring for me. I had been so used to being in these queer environments and like, I had done a bunch of activism and internships and volunteer work in queer environments and suddenly, I was the token. I think you don’t realize when you are in queer spaces, how much gay people talk about being gay. It is not like straight women talk about being straight.

Riese: Yeah, they do.

Gabrielle: Yeah but they don’t talk about when they discovered their straightness. The conversation on every level was just different.

Riese: I also felt the same way like in the very beginning of publishing before I started Autostraddle. Within the universe of the queer community and within Autostraddle, I am at the top of the privilege pile. You know, I have all of the privileges compared to the other intersectional identities within the community.

When I was in mainstream publishing spaces, I felt like no one wanted to talk to me. I felt everyone was speaking a language I didn’t know how to speak and as it was tied to being interested in what straight men had to say about anything. That’s part of why I started Autostraddle. Nobody wanted to hear our stories back then. When we were starting Autostraddle and starting to publish the work of all these people who had mostly been personal bloggers, it wasn’t like instead of selling this for $400 we will give it to Autostraddle for free. It was like nobody wants those stories at all. That has changed, obviously, a lot. I am curious from your position what have you seen in queer media and representation in the mainstream of queer stories since you started out?

Gabrielle: To your point like everything. I think something Autostraddle did before anyone did is insisting queer women were cool. It wasn’t a conversation that happened before. I feel like there is an energy around queer content and in order to be relevant you have to acknowledge queer people are people. But when you started Autostraddle and when I came on there wasn’t spaces for us to do what we were doing elsewhere. It just wasn’t cool. It wasn’t what people thought about. I had the same experience that you did which was people just didn’t want to hear about it. There was a very specific turning point later in the 2010s which was when like it happened to me and stuff became the content that started performing. I feel like it was that shift when queer narratives started being added to the mix. People saw this performance of vulnerability on the internet is driving clicks and there was this shift to prioritizing stories that had not been told before. I think it happened online before it happened in print as most things do. I think what’s happening now is that like it has gotten better but not a 100% better. I was the only lesbian on the editorial people. There was one other lesbian on the team.

That’s twice as many on one hand and on the other hand, that’s totally OK. I see new by lines popping up at legacy publications that when I was growing up to pretend lesbian were not women and now writing about us as though they have always done it. My hope is it is not a trend. It’s like how things are going to be. But I don’t really trust anything in media any more.

Riese: In a way, because there was that period of time, when there are LGBTQ verticals popping up.

There was one that is an offshoot of Seventeen. Jezebel had one, Roy G Biv. I was dying of jealously at all these places that had money to promote queer voices. As time went on, all of them folded or lost their funding, or had to let go of their regular staff or move entirely to freelance. It seemed like there was a some sense of maybe we’re not — especially because I feel that was right around the hot take time. SO like, having these takes about what was politically incorrect or problematic were so popular. When that sort of faded away, making the space for queer voices also felt with the hot takes and personal essay things fading, it was like oh, I guess we don’t really need them anymore. But there definitely still is by far —  when we first started, we were writing news stories and hardly news experts. Those were coming from small weeklies. We are getting the information from like the smaller like local papers, local gay papers like windy city times and in other towns because they were not being told in the mainstream or when they were they were being told incorrectly.

Gabrielle: I remember scouring Google for news about people across the country and turning tiny blips into big headlines as part of the strategy. I wanted to ask you what do you think about these major publications having like silos queer content versus just having inclusive content?

Riese: I think, I mean, I think part of the idea of the silo is it is sort of like your dedicating a space like a community space, right, that is in a way it is like you are giving something important by giving it its own like place to be. And I don’t know. I think I feel equally about both of those things. I think that it is — I think it is nice to have like a side space that’s focused on your community. I think there is a lot of things that people don’t feel comfortable. Sort of a side note but I feel with Autostraddle part of what still feels different about is that the people in the continents talking to you are also gay. It is very weird to like be on other sites. Even if it is in the siloed part of the website.

Lots of straight people are there and they have opinions about all of your choices. I think its like — the only bad thing though is then they shutdown those silos, right?

Gabrielle: And to the point of comment, I think that was another really big difference that I felt when I left queer media for mainstream media. The comments on Autostraddle were part of the whole experience and it was like there would be like the same group of people who would also chime in to everything I wrote and I would always respond and it would be like this ongoing conversation and I would look forward to it. When I started writing at Refinery and was writing about largely the same things, suddenly the comments were like, you seem like a really angry person. [Laughter]

Riese: That’s it?

Gabrielle: Yeah, and obviously escalated from there in tone and acquisition but it was very boring. There was also this attitude of like we don’t — just don’t read the comments.

From like a self-preservation/mental health perspective, you are not going to learn anything from people yelling at you which was the total opposite of what I learned from you which is always read the comments and respond. These are the people you are writing for. That was a lesson I took with me into every job I ever had which is the importance of making sure you are actually making things for your audience.

When I went to Nylon I noticed that difference in like a print versus digital situation which was when you are making something that people can’t comment on, which is the first time I had experienced that, you become disconnected from the conversation and I feel like there is no way to continue serving your audience if you are not paying attention and engaging with them regularly.

Riese: If at Refinery 29 they were like do not read the comments, how were they deciding how people felt about the content?

Gabrielle: Clicks.

Riese: Just traffic?

Gabrielle: Traffic, yeah. Which I think a lot of places were doing. Then it became like OK. People yell at us every single time we write a news story about the Kardashians but 500,000 people have clicked on it in the past hour and that’s driving revenue.

Do we listen to the people saying this is cheap and trashy or listen to the clicks supporting revenue? I think for a while everyone in digital media everyone followed the clicks and there were a few years where the internet was bad. Everyone being the first to cover whatever BS news story about whatever celebrity or when Instagram became a thing.

Everyone tried to cover a celebrity’s Instagram post the fastest. The result was that everything became in distinguishable from each other.

You couldn’t tell what website you were reading because everyone was covering the same thing. It was a really depressing moment in time as a writer.

Riese: So was a lot of the content — I should say that like I just have a lot of questions about how normal media works. We so much learned as we go along. We made things up as we went along. We never had an office where we were interacting with people and never had any institution giving us support. I don’t think we had — yeah, we just sort of made stuff up. I am always super curious. And you are the only person who ever talks to me about it. When we do our surveys and are like do you want more celebrity content and people are like no, you already have enough. But it is like you are clicking on it every time.

Gabrielle: I want to talk about Stef’s content. That’s why everybody should support Autostraddle with money.

Riese: Stef did a whole timeline of Kristen Stuart’s whole life with her whole heart. It is self-depricating or self-conscious.

Gabrielle: It is extremely self aware. I think it also creates a fact that the feeling of the celebrities out and living their out lives and talking about it and having their girlfriends on Instagram, it creates a sense of community and like access in a way. I feel like that’s a very special and specific thing that’s different from hair change content. [Laughter]

Riese: Although, we do cover a lot of, when Kristen Stuart got her hair cut that was a big story.

Gabrielle: I mean it’s important.

Riese: I think also when I was —

remember when Us Weekly was everything? Everyone was obsessed with it for a few years. Then other celebrity weeklies came out. I was like I don’t understand any of this and I don’t know why anyone fucking cares about what these people are doing. I was in college in Michigan and there were Us Weekly’s all over the bathroom.

Now I am like is it just because they were straight that I didn’t like it? Or just because Stef wasn’t writing it?

Gabrielle: I think that’s it. I was offered a job at Us Weekly and turned it down because it was the most depressing thing I could think of.

Riese: I interned there.

Gabrielle: Oh, you did?

Riese: This is what I am talking about. These places, and I think then, I am talking this was in 2000. This is actually transitioning to becoming a weekly at the time. They were in the same building as the Rolling Stone which is I really wanted to be. I was like if I can walk around their offices maybe they will discover me? I don’t know.
I was 18. I felt at that time somehow everyone already knew each other. It did feel like —

and everyone was speaking this language I didn’t speak. Again, I have so many privileges going into these spaces that the majority of people don’t have and yet I still felt like so what’s happening here? But I remember I had to go through and look at their entire archive and mark every time Jennifer Aniston appeared in the magazine. I kept fucking up. Every task I had to do I messed up. I could tell she was losing her interest in me as a person so I quit.

Gabrielle: I mean, I think it is a fair point that everyone in media seems like they know each other.

Riese: Right.

Gabrielle: And I remember walking through that Rolling Stone/Us Weekly office and being astouned by how life less it felt. Gray carpet, gray cubicles and I was like this is Rolling Stone? What even is media? Right?

Riese: Because Rolling stone is supposed to be like Almost Famous.

Everyone is cool, defining culture, everyone is doing drugs and they are singing Elton John in the tour bus.

Gabrielle: They might be doing drugs but they are doing it in a very corporate environment.

Riese: Fair. You and I were talking last year, trying to figure out for me what normal salaries were for positions, I was talking about and you told me what normal salaries were for my position and I was like, oh my God. I can’t believe how much more the position is at other places. Even more than I expected which expected for there to be a big difference.

You were like at least you are making that amount for your own dream and not someone elses. In your book you talk about how when Nylon was sold to Bustle that you felt like this lack of a true ownership over what you did. You were able to leave and then your legacy didn’t necessarily live on. I am just wondering if you could talk about that. It is very interesting to me. I can’t really imagine that.

Gabrielle: Yeah, I mean, it was like —

I felt like I was tricked by capitalism into thinking that this title and this position was my life. And like I was the face of the brand. I was leading the team. The person above me was the CEO and the person above him was the board. I did feel ownership over it. I poured my heart and soul into it and one day it all went away and there was nothing I could do about it.

It was like the biggest revelation of my life which was that like I had acted like something wasn’t mine and it wasn’t. I felt like never again will I sacrifice myself for someone else’s thing. I made the business profitable and all these changes that made the brand good and worth acquiring and then it was acquired and I was left with nothing. I didn’t have equity. I had nothing. When I was talking to you about salaries, I think part of the reason why editor and chiefs at legacy brands get paid so much money is because of how those jobs in particular like chew you up and spit you out. And I do remember, I think it was 1-2 years ago, the article about the Conde Naste salaries and lifetime pensions all those people got? That really hurt me.

I felt like all of the EICs of our generation are making 1/8th, if lucky, of those salaries and not getting any of the lifetime benefits but our work is the same.

Riese: Right.

Gabrielle: If anything, we are more hands-on than those people. We are just a lot more involved.

Riese: And the pace of digital is also —

Gabrielle: Totally different. I felt like I came in too late. I missed it. In terms of you and Autostraddle, I remember when we had that conversation feeling like I would do anything to be running my own publication and to be like creating the rules of the publication. I could only do so much. Yeah, I mean, to me it feels different. But I also know running your own company is a totally different experience than I ever had. I don’t know what it feels like to be worried about like —

Riese: Everything.

— everything in the way that you have to. It is just a totally different thing. I know that abstractly that we needed money but I never saw like behind the scenes of the financials. I knew that brand deal we got mattered a lot but I had no idea about the big picture of it.

Riese: Or anything? Money?

Gabrielle: Nope. I didn’t know.

[Laughter]

Riese: [Laughter] Wow. It is like the grass is always greener.

Although I have come around to feeling like probably our grass is pretty green but I would look at, you know, you went to Nylon and were able to hire the people you want today hire and do the things you wanted to do because you had this funding coming in.

I remember when Phillip started at Out and did a Twitter thread of all the people he was hiring to work there and was naming all the people. I am like oh, my God. Obviously I love my team and want to keep them and I am very happy I hired them but if I could also hire these other people? And I was just so jealous. Some of the people in the thread were people we wanted to write for us but couldn’t afford to have. In that case, it was mostly like they didn’t even have the money that they told him they had to run the publication. They ended up owing so many people money and people were not getting paid near the end. I think when we are heading up, we are almost 12, and it seems like there is a lot of disadvantages to the independent nature of Autostraddle but that somehow that this much more conservative way of operating, more financially conservative way of operating, is actually what has enabled us to survive because we didn’t over — we never invested money we didn’t have. We were not getting venture capital and investment. Every penny we spent we had to earn.

Gabrielle: I think the fact that Autostraddle still exists is proof that that was the right way to go about it. So many places don’t exist any more.

With Nylon and my own team, I could hire who I wanted but I couldn’t pay them what I wanted.

Salaries and raises —

Riese: Same.

Gabrielle: — were never up to me. Yeah.

So I think that is like another frustrating part of not working on the business side of things.
I have organized things so differently. I would have invested in different places.
But that just wasn’t a conversation I was allowed to have which I think —

Riese: Why not?

Gabrielle: Who knows? I will never know. I tried.

Riese: Yeah. But they gave you an editorial budget for freelancers?

Gabrielle: But not for my staff.

Riese: Not for your staff. That would be really annoying.

Gabrielle: Yeah. It was what I talked about in therapy for five years.

Riese: Right.

It also seems like one thing I really related to in your book, obviously a lot in your book because we are similar in many ways, was also just the burnout and the exhaustion. I think like part of what these enormous, ridiculous editor and chief salaries lead to is these are people who had assistants and they had nannies and things that enabled them to keep up this pace. We aren’t going to fashion week, we are not invited to parties, we don’t have the same amount of stuff that you had to do as an editor in chief but still the amount of hours you had to put in, it felt like this position, I was always behind. I still feel that way. I feel behind right now. I am behind right now. It is not a feeling. It’s true. It feels like completely unsustainable but I don’t think if that’s ever going to change.

Gabrielle: I think that’s the nature of the job. I think this is a job that people don’t have for more than a few years because it’s 24/7, it’s never done, it just takes so much out of you. I think like yeah, you are right.

That’s why they made so much money and had car service and like loans for homes that were near the office. Things that I couldn’t really dream of living in my studio apartment in bed sty and taking three trains to get to work. That’s a totally different world.

Riese: And it is also, the people below me have the same situation. They also are working way too many hours for way not enough money all of the time which is also sort of why when people talked about Autostraddle asked the success story especially two years ago when we decided to go for it and have a real budget. Even still now, I don’t really feel like we are a full success story because we still aren’t able to pay people what they are worth. And that is always like — before I thought the solution to that was one day we would get an investor for one day. Or honestly one day we would sell. Now, just watching what is happening with like INTO and everything. It feels like everything is being consolidateed under Bustle or Vox I want to say. Like it is all going to become just a handful of media companies that exist and any could be extinguished at any time.

Gabrielle: That’s how I feel too. It is kind of an ethical question of Autostraddle of paying people more money versus giving content to an underserved community.

Riese: Right.

Gabrielle: I don’t know what the answer is. Ideally the answer is there is a wealthy lesbian listening to this conversation and can give you $10 million so you don’t have to worry about it.

Where is she?

Riese: Like straight people when I talk to them are like have you asked Ellen?

[Laughter]

Riese: Or Rosie? And I am like…
not yet, no. We haven’t thought about it.

Over the years, there have been a handful of times when we were almost broke and I found a wealthy lesbian to just write me a check.

Gabrielle: So there is precedent for it.

Riese: There is. They were relatively small checks but it stopped us from — I guess. It kept us going for another month or whatever. You know that saying that’s like New York is for the very thin — or not the very thin, well it. But the very rich or the very young? I feel like that’s also true about media.

Gabrielle: Media?

Gabrielle: Media, yeah.

Riese: There is a lot of like what we used to do, because I felt like we don’t have the money but what we do have is my complete lack of boundaries and willingness to work constantly and a lot of other people’s to do the same. When you started you were writing for free.

Gabrielle: Yeah, I mean I was living in my grandparent’s house when I was working for Autostraddle.

For money I was doing publicity on a film about sex and writing press releases for people. I couldn’t have worked at Autostraddle full-time if I had not had that place to live. I think that’s true for a lot of media jobs. Then it becomes this self-selecting group of people who can afford to not be paid and those are the people who stay in media and who like climb the ranks. Or people have bartending jobs after work and then they burnout because that’s awful.

Riese: Yeah. I think a lot of them have husbands.

Gabrielle: Yes. Which is part of being able to afford having a low-paying job.

Riese: I think that’s always been a problem with lesbian media specifically. I do have, or I did have a safety net, of money leftover from when my dad died and if I had not had that to pay my rent the first year of Autostraddle there would be no Autostraddle. There is a lot of people who obviously don’t have those resources and lesbian media, historically, you worked at the lesbian history archives, we have a solid track record of folding pretty quickly. I think that is a big part of it.

Gabrielle: Should we look and see if there is questions since we are half an hour in?

Riese: Yeah.

Gabrielle: I just click ask a question?

Riese: I don’t know. If I click this and there aren’t know. If anybody wants to ask a question, you can ask a question. I will ask a personal question. There is a book that says when you are a shy little girl you have adorable but when you are a shy woman you are a bitch. I relate to that. I have been socially awkward with a medium personality. I would feel like it is OK. I am fine. I am young.

I can get away with it. I remember getting into the my 30s and I am not young any more. I have to figure out how to to be a real person. I always end upcoming off like a snob or bitch and I am like no, I am actually terrified of you and everybody. How do you deal with that when you are in such a front-facing role and having to charm and speak to people? Multiple people in one day. You would go to multiple events. You would go to a lot of things in a day.

Gabrielle: I think what I realized was people will project whatever they want onto quiet women. The honest answer is pharmaceuticals. Anti-depressants and beta blockers made it easier to be in crowds and talk to strangers. I think I mastered tricks to keep the other people talking and project warmth and smile so that like they know that you don’t hate them. But like I still talk to people all of the time. It was like I was just dying of anxiety. When I was a manager, something I realized was the power in being a quiet person because mostly people just want you to listen to them. Like they don’t want you to talk to them.

Like I think that’s the biggest thing about being a good people manager. Just hearing people out. They often know the answers to the questions they are asking you. They just want you to like bounce back whatever they are putting out. That kind of became a powerful tool for me. I realized that it doesn’t have to be this bad thing and I don’t have to beat myself up about it.

It was a constant struggle. The thing I do as a shy introvert is forget speak. It is not like I am afraid to speak. I just get so wrapped up in listening to other people talk I have to be like OK, come on, it is your turn. That’s an ongoing thing.

Riese: When I was younger, I would just drink before I had to interact with people. Now I am older and I can’t drink. I just can’t drink. I mean I do but very rarely. It is just like my body is no longer interested in it. Also, I would sometimes embarrass myself. I was like I have to get my shit together because I am getting older and need to find a more sustainable way to interact than this temporary crutch that you have been doing for five years.

Gabrielle: And I think I didn’t realize like how much my shyness had to do with being young and full of self-doubt until an Autostraddle event we did at the lesbian archives and gabby, the other Gabrielle, was like why are you so quiet? Are you 22? I was like yeah. And then I remember that conversation so well. She knew the reason I am so terrified is because I am younger than everybody here. Oh, maybe this gets better as I get older. It is not that it has gotten better but I have become better at hiding it and coping.

Riese: Yeah, that makes sense. We have questions now. OK. What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a writer? Do you know that story called how to be a writer in the first line of the story is first try to do something, anything else.

Gabrielle: Yeah, and that’s like usually what I say to people. I mean, I think the thing to know about becoming a writer is that the truth is it might never become lucrative enough to be the only thing that you do. I would think about like why you want to write and what you want to write about and can you do that while doing anything else because, you know, it is really hard to have it be the thing. The second thing I would say is you have to do it and pitch editors. You have to put yourself out there and except you will be rejected a million times. It is often not a reflection on you or sometimes it is.

Riese: I was rejected by After Ellen three times.

Gabrielle: Well, we all know what happened to them.

Riese: Yeah, and so obviously that has not worked out for them.

But, yeah. You are going to get rejected a million times. I wouldn’t get discouraged by that because there is so many factors that go into whether or not your piece is accepted that have nothing to do with your talent.

Also, there are like a lot of writing aadjacentant things you can do whether that’s copywriting or formal textbook writing or copyediting and stuff like that. I mean, writing is a skill. It is a valuable skill.

You forget it especially, I assume, I have always just been good at it. Like my whole life.

Gabrielle: I think in editorial settings you forget not everybody knows how to write. And you can go anywhere else. It is like oh, I do know things. I am good at things. I work in social media now. There is a ton of writing and editing in that.

Riese: You probably will have to write. People still write for free, right? There is still places that don’t pay.

Gabrielle: I don’t know. Probably. You might have to do that. I wrote a lot of things for free. I wrote one thing for $5.

Riese: Do you have advice for people wanted to start queer websites for their local communities? I am in Australia. Um. Set boundaries on your time and how much time you will spend on it every day because it is easy to lose your life getting succeed into something that might not be what you are making a living doing. I think the success of focused websites is your love for the community. You know? If you are a passionate, when we have a lot of our writers and editors who are like this, they are very involved in the local communities and that comes through in literally everything that they do. And I think that like as long as you are coming from that place of love, for your community, it will probably be a great website. Just set boundaries around time and responsibilities if you are setting up situations where people, you know, if it is like a hub for where you are taking — websites people can post ads or post Meetups or whatever. That you figure out ahead of time what type of responsibilities you are going to be taking as the web person for what happens with those Meetups or the results of those ads because that can get tricky.

I think that would be my advice.

I think it is really great you want to do that.

Gabrielle: Yeah, I think that’s awesome.

Riese: Yeah. Work with local community stuff. Ebony who runs Tagg Magazine in D.C. it is very focused on the local community and she works with a lot of local bars and party promoters and stuff. She is very involved in the community and they work together and they are able to make some money from advertising from those events and stuff. I would look at Tagg also. It is a national publication but focused on the local D.C. area. I also really like Australia. They have great flavored milk. I have family there.

What is the future of podcasts and queer digital media?

Gabrielle: That is the question.

[Laughter]

I mean, I think like podcasts are the thing. The podcast moment continues to podcast. You know, with queer media, it’s like we have seen so many things come and go, like, I think it is more of a question of what is the future of media and the problem is that people want content to be free and that doesn’t lead to a sustainable industry model. I think until very smart business minds try to solve the problem of editorial, the future does hang in the balance. That’s why Autostraddle is doing a fundraiser. Like that’s why it is important to give to them because if there is something you love at this point, I think it is on us to make sure that it stays around.

Riese: Surprisingly, I completely agree that it is really important to give money to the media you like especially Autostraddle. But no, to all of it. There has never a time when publications survived solely on ad income. Also subscriptions, events, or for free papers it was their classified ads. It was advertising but more community focused. And necessarily advertising as we looked at Craigslist. People always had apartments and needed jobs so they can rely on that stuff.

There was never a time that many we are moving to digital and ads will support everything was always bananas. There are some places doing that but not many.

They are owned by hedge funds or private foundations and they have their own agenda. Without a combination of ad and subscription revenue without the support of humans, I don’t think that there is a future for queer, digital media.

Gabrielle: I mean I think it is important to think about what you reading and who it is supporting. We live in a time when you can see yourself reflected in all kinds of media, from all kinds of corporations, who never liked to talk about us before. But when you click on those things, you are giving people money who are not part of our community. Maybe the writer of the story is queer. Maybe she makes $55,000 and lives in Bushwick but someone else has a corporation, like $55 million and your click is helping them and they are probably a white man. I think part of what needs to change is we all need to become conscious consumers of the internet.

Riese: I agree. Most media companies that are like big and still surviving there is like a white man at the top of it almost by definition at this point. Any company able to acquire another company there is a white man at the top. A lot of what you are doing is supporting him and the other people up there. But it’s also part of what we said earlier where it is tenuous and you have people at the top of the countries that don’t have investments in the publications.

Gabrielle: And they are profiting off representation which is not the same as investing in it. They are not putting money back into the communities that they are covering versus a queer-owned and operated site which is hiring queer people to create representative content. It is a totally different thing. I think we do benefit from representation period. All the time. No matter where it is. But it is important to understand like the full picture of it. You know, money is tight right now for everybody. I just think it is so important to be aware of like the value of where the media is coming from and who it is supporting.

Riese: I unsurprisingly agree. What do you think about stopping and calling ourselves and others bitches because it dehumanizes us therefore keeping us down?

Gabrielle: I think — yeah, go ahead.

Riese: I was going to say I can keep myself down with or without the word.

Gabrielle: I think the process of words being reclaimed is really fascinating. I don’t know. I think it just depends on who is saying it. Like bitch means something different in queer communities than in straight communities. Same with the word dyke.

Riese: Given the horrible way media works, what can we do for the people remaining on the right side and rep the community well?

Gabrielle: That’s what you were doing at Nylon, you know.

Riese: You have to keep fighting the good fight. You have to stand up for the things you believe in and write about the things you know are important to you and don’t let things like traffic goals and traffic revenue like take you away from the things that you love and the things that are important. I think what is great about this time in media is we can point out the time with institutions and have those conversations and I think it is so important we keep doing that.

Gabrielle: I think when we are in mainstream media spaces or when I am dealing with other people in gay media places, it is advocating for people who have less access and privileges than you do. Even when it is not your — even when we get surveys why are like I know the way they have asked the gender question is wrong. I will email them. I am not saying I am like an exexlimpary example of doing the right thing but I think little things like that. Let them know.

You did talk about a person of this race, or of this trans status in a certain way that wasn’t OK. And I think that if you have enough privilege to have that emotional energy to do that, then you do that, and you use the privileges that you have to up lift the people below you.

I don’t know if that’s what your situation is. But in general, that’s part of it. I am fine as a white queer woman. I am fine.

You know what I mean? At this point it is about the people who are not yet fine and still in your community.

Riese: Yes. Aligned.

Gabrielle: As the managing editor of out sports I love Autostraddle acknowledges queer women that love sports. But I think my site is still seen as a site for gay male sports. How else do you recommend I attract more of us who love sports and love women?

Riese: I have to be honest, there is like balls, hoops, Nets, uniforms, those are cute. I have to be honest that our sports content doesn’t get a lot of traffic. The only sports content we do that gets a lot of traffic is attractive, athletes getting married, getting engaged, take their shirts off, breaking up.

Gabrielle: I think there is this larger issue of queer media speaking very specifically to men versus to women. What I have found, as like the quickest fix, is to think about who you are elevating to a status of someone to be thirsted after. If it is for queer women, talk about hot athletes who are women. That’s my best advice.

Riese: Yeah. I would love to know —

the WNBA is where the most exciting stuff is happening in athletics. I do know that. I do wish I knew. Dawn, if you find out how to get more women sports fans to your site, you can let me know. But then, I guess, you know, yeah. I don’t know besides what we already said. I don’t know. Maybe they are reading ESPN women or something. The Olympics. People enjoy that.

Gabrielle: That’s true. Gymnastics.

Riese: Yes, I do love gymnastics. OK. “You mean there are podcasts other than To L and Back? I only listen to podcasts with Riese.”

That’s true. There is only one podcast and the only one I or anyone should listen to. This is not a question. Oh, they want to see more video virtual events like that. OK. That’s cute. OK. Someone loves how Carley talks about to the WNBA on L and back. “Other podcasts are great.” I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts.

Gabrielle: I don’t either. I don’t understand how people listen to them and do anything.

Riese: Drive?

Gabrielle: Yeah, I don’t do that.

Riese: I am always listening to audio books because I don’t want to be alone with like my own thoughts. [Laughter] You know? That would be terrifying. Everyone so nice about the podcast. Thanks, guys. I appreciate it. I love doing the podcast. We have like five minutes. Is there another question? Or should I ask you another question? Or you can ask me another question?

Gabrielle: We also selected five people for me to send a copy of the book too.

Riese: Oh, right.

Do you have that email pulled up?

Gabrielle: Oh, there it is.

Riese: Jordan, Sydney, Casey, Liliana, Nash, you won a book!

Gabrielle: I am going to sign a book and put it in an envelope and probably my girlfriend will take it to the post office. But thank you so much for RSP V —

Riese: What is your best advice for a writer pitching?

Gabrielle: Make sure that the person you are writing to is the most relevant editor. Like really do your homework about who you are emailing.

Don’t email the editor and chief.

Riese: Don’t email the CEO.

Gabrielle: Don’t email the CEO. Don’t even email the executive editor.

Don’t email a staff writer.

Riese: I think its look at — I think most websites have a thing about what they are writing or what they are looking for. And then also, you can — I think it is good that you show a familiarity with the publication. I think sometimes it can be offputting when it is something that we have already done. You know? But I think there is also like I think having, in my opinion, and I am not an editor so I am not accepting pitches, but having like a voice really, really matters. If even the first line of your email I can feel your voice and who you are, that will grab me every time. I think that that like honestly the first paragraph of your email is probably worth more than you think of it.

Gabrielle: I would also say keep it as short and to the point. When I was accepting pitches, I would want to know one sentence about who you are with like a few links to previous work so that, you know, if you have it, if you don’t have it that’s OK, and then like a headline in bold, and two sentences about the story. If you can’t sum tup in two sentences it is probably not article length. Editors are so busy and just going email, email, email and make it as easy as possible. Vanessa said there are more questions in the ask a question box.

Riese: We also have one here too.

I have a lot of mental things including depression, anxiety and fibromyalgia and that’s one that sidelines my ability.

Especially as I get older. My body especially is a lot less resilient than it used to be.
And that’s — I don’t know how much longer I will be able to do it. You set yourself up as I can do this at the expense of my mental health and there is no guarantee that will change. It is something you really have to keep in mind and to honor and pay attention to. Eventually it will catch up and you will have a nervous breakdown, in my opinion.

Gabrielle: I mean, yeah. The point of my book is I did sacrifice my mental health for success and crashed and burned in a really real way. I think to what Riese just said, make it a priority from the beginning. Know your limits. Like don’t ever bargain away what is OK for you and what isn’t and have a support system.

Don’t skip therapy. Take your medication. All lessons I learned the hard way.

Riese: I think at Autostraddle we’re accepting of that stuff and we can be honest about those things. I was aware of Autostraddle and we can be aware of our limitations. I don’t think I was very respectful of my own limitations and I think that meant for awhile I wasn’t respectful of other limitations as well. It was like we were all in this together. I think that was actually kind of damaging as much as we also do make a lot of room for that in a way that was a way we were trying to be different than other companies that don’t see mental health as important.

They don’t believe it. I guess is a way to sum it up. OK.

“I love how edgey and radical Autostraddle is, even while covering topics like TV shows and celebrities. Do you think that your intersectionalism and social justice makes wealthy queer donors or investors sideline you? Would you feel controlled if you had a major wealthy investor?” Interesting question. I don’t know.

[Laughter]

Riese: When you were working to make Nylon more intersectional and more inclusive, was there any backlash from up top or from advertisers or from anybody of that nature?

Gabrielle: Yeah, I mean I had to have this really uncomfortable conversation with my boss about how advertisers didn’t want to be around our period content. And I was like: But it’s our top-performing content, so which do you want me to do?

Riese: Right.

Gabrielle: And I think we did lose a lot of advertisers. We particularly did seem to lose our luxury advertisers when we centered a political awareness in everything we did. The advertising base definitely shifted. But I think at this point in time, those advertisers realize that they have to be aligned with some sort of political values. There is no such thing as being apolitical anymore. So I do think that it’s different from even what it was even two or three years ago.

Riese: Yeah, I think so, too. Would we feel controlled if we had a major wealthy investor? I think it would depend on the major wealthy investor. My goal with Autostraddle is that we need somebody else helping us on the business / marketing / ad side. We need our rates to be higher. We need our contractors to be paid more. And we need to be able to do that without sacrificing our ability to continue existing, or what we do best, and we also obviously need a lot more representation for people of color and disabled people on our website so those are the goals and whatever we have to do to get there, we’ll do. But those are difficult goals to find a major wealthy investor for, but who knows? Maybe we will.

I mean, if some power lesbian wants to control me with her money, that’s fine.

[Laughter]

Riese: I’m open to it.

[Reads question]

Riese: Oh wait, we answered that one. Oh, are we out of time? Yeah, we’re out of time. We’re out of time, so we can’t talk anymore.

Gabrielle: Well, thank you so much. This was so great. I hope that everyone is inspired to donate to Autostraddle’s fundraiser. Because it’s so important that we keep our queer media alive until a wealthy lesbian comes along who controls Riese with her money.

Riese: Yeah, and if you are that wealthy lesbian, who wants to control me with your money, you can just let me know in whatever way is best for you. You should buy Gabrielle’s book, if you didn’t win it because it’s really great. I read it in one night and I wrote “same” next to a bunch of things, and I sent her screenshots of my diary.

Gabrielle: It was a delight.

Riese: Buy it. And yeah. Donate to our thing. And listen to my podcast. Read our website! We have amazing, amazing, amazing writers. Especially, we have so many new, exciting writers. Yeah, and that’s all. None of the things we’re saying count because we’re over time. Thank you everyone for coming.

[Looking at buttons]

Riese: I love these comments so much. I miss doing things with people.

Gabrielle: Me too. I have faith in comments, again.

Riese: Bye!

End transcript.


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Nicole Hall is Autostraddle's A+ and Fundraising Director, and has been fundraising and working in the arts and nonprofit sector for over a decade. They write nonfiction as well as aggressively gay and sometimes spooky fiction. They live in Pittsburgh with their partner, Sadie. They are also a gardener, project queer, witchy/wizardly human and BFF to a lovely senior rescue dog. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram as @nknhall.

Nicole has written 42 articles for us.

6 Comments

  1. This was such a great chat. I canceled my A+ membership after I lost my job last year, but after listening to this last night I decided to join up again. $30 for an annual cobalt membership is a small price to pay for all the great content here, and our community needs this site to keep existing!

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