by Rachel and Carmen
Most of us have been trying to embody totally contradictory values during the past year: value rest over productivity during traumatic events, but also do the urgently needed work for our communities and loved ones; put our lives on hold and give up so much of what we need most just until things go back to normal, but also accept that things will never go back to normal; wish each other well “in these unprecedented times” but also keep going even when we aren’t well at all.
At Autostraddle, we’ve faced some of the same dilemmas, both personally and as an organization — how to support the needs of our staff to recover, to grieve, to manage their own health, and to be honest about their capacity while also serving our community during a crisis, one which isolated many of our most marginalized members? Was it possible to work hard enough to earn enough revenue to keep paying our staff even during an intense pandemic recession while still honoring our team’s — many of whom have lost family members and/or contracted COVID themselves — wellness?
These questions carried extra weight because in the last year you carried us through two different fundraisers, prior to the pandemic and at the beginning of it. We needed to stay on track with the projects and priorities we promised to put your financial support towards, and also use what little financial stability we had going into the pandemic to resource our team as best we could, even as we saw an enormous drop in ad sales, and had to increase our reliance on reader support. So many needles this year have felt impossible to thread, but we’re proud of what we’ve managed to accomplish both as a business and as a group of people who want to embody our values and treat each other (and you) like they deserve to be treated during an ongoing, compounding traumatic event — we’d like to tell you about it.
First, we committed internally very early on in the pandemic to no layoffs; we were determined to keep everyone on staff and paid, just as we always have even while other media platforms suffered sweeping layoffs. We did it, and managed to do so without anyone having to take a pay cut. In fact, we decided to allocate a significant amount of our funds to an internal COVID relief fund for our writers. For all but our senior editorial staff, Autostraddle isn’t a full-time job, and we saw many of our writers get laid off from their main sources of income; we wanted them to have a resource they could draw on to make sure bills and rent were paid. We were also able to continue paying salaried editors who needed to take a leave of absence for health or grieving family members, ensuring they at least didn’t have to worry about rent or groceries while also managing a personal crisis.
At the same time, we wanted to put our resources toward new projects that would sustain our community with information, connection. We reimagined and codified our internal budgeting systems so we could set aside money for special projects, which we used for things like Shelter in Our Place, our live digital event series in the early days of quarantine that paid queer creatives to share their areas of expertise with you in a collective online shared experience to connect us in isolation; our editorial series exploring the connections between the queer community’s experience of the AIDS epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic; and Future Present, a folio that asked multidisciplinary creatives what they thought we should leave behind with the old pre-pandemic world.
We’ve maintained our Special Projects budget and have been able to use it to proactively invest in work for special moments for our community like Latinx History Month, Pride, and Bi+ Visibility Week; recently we used it to fund a mental health series from a practicing therapist breaking down therapy modalities in accessible ways. We’ve also been able to set aside a dedicated budget specifically for A+, institutionalizing our value to invest in our community that gives back to us and to prioritize mutual sustainability over mercurial market forces. We’ve been able to use that money to pay queer and trans writers for our homegrown erotica series S L I C K as well as paying queer artists for original artwork for it, and paying our staff for sharing more intimate and personal experiences than might feel good to publish on the mainsite. We were able to prioritize paying our team for the unprecedented holigay extravaganza 13 Days of A+, allocating funds in a way that hopefully brought connection and joy to A+ members, and that also gave our team opportunities to make some extra money around the holidays.
We’ve also been able to evaluate and compensate the work that our staff were already doing prior to and throughout the pandemic in ways that are more aligned with our values. We’ve raised rates across the board, increasing the base rate that the average AS article pays for an Autostraddle writer. We’ve been able to work even more intensively with Yikes, the web design and development team who’s been gracefully keeping our MacGyvered website together; they’ve been able to respond quickly and effectively to your reports of glitches and problems, and we’ve been able to launch some long-overdue projects needed to make our website functional, SEO-friendly and accessible. For instance, have you noticed that you can now browse all of our queer TV and film content in a way that makes sense? We’ve also migrated our survey and form capabilities to Jotform to be more screen-reader friendly, and established firm internal guidelines for alt text in images.
During our last fundraiser, we committed to a new vision for Autostraddle’s next chapter and created a range of measurable internal performance indicators to prioritize our resources and budget toward QTPOC creators, as well as featuring and promoting content by QTPOC writers on our site. As we keep progressing towards those goals, we’re proud that within the last four months, we’ve nearly met our new standard of 50% of our content being created and written by people of color (we are currently at 48.5%, and we anticipate smashing this number this month!). The white members of Autostraddle’s senior leadership team have also established a regularly meeting discussion and development group around dismantling white supremacy in the workplace, to continue internal cultural growth and unlearning that doesn’t rely on the labor of QTPOC staff members. We remain committed to our racial justice goals; they’re vital and at the core of our work. We’re excited to continue growing into an Autostraddle that fully reflects the rich voices of our community.
We’re setting a lot of new goals, actually, and putting a lot of new things in motion — it’s a scary and uncertain time, as we’re not sure what the new year, new administration, new phase of the pandemic, or new ask for financial support will bring. But we know what we want to be able to be and do, and it’s to grow sustainably and build our infrastructure for supporting a larger and more inclusive community while supporting our staff materially and developmentally, with the resources we do have of experience, perspective and a limited understanding of the Yoast SEO plugin.
To that end, we’ve actually already launched a number of internal projects aimed at giving our writers more opportunities for leadership and experience; especially as one of the last remaining bastions of queer media in an increasingly hostile media landscape, we care a lot about giving our writers as much as we can to succeed beyond their work at Autostraddle. You’ve already read a couple of roundtables and projects in the past few months led by our writers, not by the senior editorial team, and can look forward to more in the future; we’ve been able to have some of our latest S L I C K stories guest edited by writers as well! We’ve also invited the entire Autostraddle team to apply for opportunities to lead the curation of special editorial issues and projects, and to head new newsletter projects for 2021 👀. Look out for them in the near future! We’re also in the process of hiring for a new Subject Editor position at Autostraddle who will work alongside Xoai and Vanessa developing content and supporting writers in their own vertical; keep an eye out for more soon!
We’re working to stay in tune with what’s working and what we can provide during this endless ~new normal~, and we were thrilled to see that our live digital Fisting Workshop led by Malic for A+ members was a runaway success; it’s given us the push to work to create new digital and interactive programming around sex & dating and to find even more ways to show up as your go-to resource for how to date and fuck as a queer person. We’ll be launching a new series of how-to video workshops on queer sex & intimacy this spring, with a special teaser on Valentine’s Day; we hope you’re as excited about the possibilities for Autostraddle as a resource hub for queer relationships and wellness in the future as we are.
In keeping with the general vibe of 2020 and now 2021, we’re still holding some conflicting ideas at the same time; it feels like all we’ve been able to accomplish was keeping our heads above water, but looking back at these paragraphs, we’ve managed to do a lot. It was a big gamble to try to pull any of these things off individually; we had no idea what was going to happen at any stage in the past year, or if any of our instincts would pay off. Much like the launching of this website itself, it’s possible we were only able to do any of this because we couldn’t see clearly at the time exactly how challenging and risky it would turn out to be. And yet, here we are again, doing it again: believing that a broader community will find the work we’ve managed to do resonant, and will bet on us to succeed in a future that’s still very uncertain.
One thing we feel is certain is that we can rely on our community to be a part of making our work possible. Will you help us out by giving to our fundraiser today?