When I was 15, I used to stay up late to watch Grey’s Anatomy. I would watch the show in its entirety on television, sometimes with my mom. Later that night, I would sneak out after pretending to go to bed, open an incognito window on my computer and rewatch every moment of Callie Torres’ bisexual journey. I rewatched kiss after kiss, I delved into the depths of 2009-Tumblr for terrible quality gifs and fanart, and I discovered slash fic. In the span of 6 months, I realized that my interest in the subject wasn’t curiosity — it was an awakening. I was watching a story I could relate to unfold in front of me for the first time in my life, and I had no idea what to do with that information.
I was embarrassed, ashamed and painfully intrigued. I took in every piece of Callie/Arizona media I could find and, eventually, found myself on AfterEllen.com. I remember so clearly the first time that I discovered the AfterEllen Top 100 and realized that I wasn’t the only woman-loving-woman on the planet. (Yes, at 15 I hadn’t ever met another queer woman that was out to me.)
As I moved through the world learning about my newly-claimed identity, I was glued to queer-woman-focused media outlets. Places like AutoStraddle, The Advocate and AfterEllen sustained me. I found other shows with queer women in them and made a binge-watch list that 22-year-old me would be in awe of. I watched everything I could possibly find with queer women in it. Throughout this process, AfterEllen guided me. With Dorothy Snarker’s recaps, Trish Bendix’s Morning Brew (especially Lesbianish TV), and AfterEllen’s notorious roundtables, I kept up my media habits and decided to go into media criticism professionally.
Throughout college, I checked in with AfterEllen and other emerging sites, modeling my own reviews after theirs on my college radio show, in my Gender Studies papers and all over my town’s newspapers. I was convinced that queer-produced, woman-focused media was the future.
Last week, a year out of college and on the path to doing exactly what AfterEllen taught me I could do, I sat down and made a list of my dream publications. The list includes major publications that you’d see on nearly any journalist’s dream list, but AfterEllen was at the top of my list.
On Tuesday, I read Trish Bendix’s heartfelt “Eulogy for the Living” and cried at the laundromat. For years, I’ve followed the site with their thoughtful content, recaps and all great news on queer women. I found my voice through AfterEllen. I learned so much about myself scrolling through the comments section on the site, interacting with the other members of the community and enjoying keeping up with news. In AfterEllen, I finally saw news that felt right for me.
I’ve been writing this piece in my head for 24 hours now, and I’m still not sure that I have the words to explain how shutting down queer, women-focused media outlets cuts me off at the knees. Outlets like AfterEllen give us a space that doesn’t exist often outside of the internet. This space is precious and safe, and it made me feel okay about myself for the first time when I was 15 and every day since then. So, I’m left asking the questions I have been asking for months now, while I watch my queer community being shredded apart by violence: Where do we go from here? What do we do when we don’t feel safe in the real world, and when the internet can no longer provide that space?
The only answer I can come up with is to keep plowing forward. We keep writing, and we keep building the spaces that we need. We work on projects like Bottle Magazine, and we share our stories, perspectives and opinions. We advocate, we create and we support others doing the same work.
Thank you, AfterEllen, for 14 years of queer bliss. You saved me more times than you know.