Community Mourns Loss of AfterEllen
By: Kathryn Trammell
For the past fourteen years, AfterEllen.com has provided queer women with a sense of community that, for many, cannot be found at school, at work or at home. As a community, AfterEllen has become a common shared experience that helps to educate and entertain its audiences who so desperately need and want to connect with each other and to learn about the ways in which they fit into this world. For some, AfterEllen provided the only means by which queer girls and women felt safe enough or comfortable enough to be out – to be themselves. This is why on Tuesday night when it was announced that the largest source of my shared identity as a queer woman, writer and feminist was being shutdown, I felt a piece of my heart break for the thousands of queer girls who will never have the chance to experience the community that has helped guide me through times of confusion and anger and love the way AfterEllen did for me for so many years.
Because AfterEllen was an experience shared by so many people within LGBTQI community, the news of its shutdown resulted in mourning across our already bruised and exhausted community. AfterEllen writers, both past and present, took to social media to express their ire and disappointment with publisher Evolve Media’s decision (and excuses) to shutdown a website that has been “a lifeline to millions of queer people and creators” (Dana Piccoli). Their concerns were echoed in the voices of many of their readers and celebrities alike who called the shutdown “devastating” (Evan Rachel Wood) and proclaimed that “Queer Women Are Worthy” (Tegan and Sara) of having a community like AfterEllen to rely on.
But aside from anger and disappointment, social media also became flooded with gratitude. The footprint that this small but strong community of writers has left on the LGBTQI community has been significant to many. When AfterEllen writer Elaine Atwell asked her followers to share links to their favorite AfterEllen articles in a move of celebration and solidarity, the response was swift. Those of us who’ve woven AfterEllen into the fabric of our identity laughed at early installment of “Brunch With Bridget” or poured over every page of “Best. Lesbian. Week. Ever.” in search of every time we existed in media. They read through the countless recaps of TV shows to see how our favorite writers reacted to the most jaw-dropping scenes that we sometimes secretly dropped our own jaws to because watching those shows with our families might expose something we weren’t ready to discuss with them. We found we could discuss them though with a community of people like us online who truly understood what was being lost by the suppression of that community.
AfterEllen didn’t just provide an entertaining way for us to come together over our disdain for Jenny Schecter (The L Word) or even to discuss our favorite “Kenzisms” (Lost Girl) and “BooRadleyVanCullen” (Pretty Little Liars) tweets of the week. They provided many of us with educated and thoughtful discourse into the issues and injustices our queer community faced in both media and in real life. And when such injustices did occur, the voices of these women did not back down. They grew louder and louder until those outside of our community couldn’t help but learn what we already knew as truth. While the shutdown of AfterEllen is leaving some of us without a safe haven, it is also leaving those outside of our community without a “level of accountability” that AfterEllen provided time and again for so many years (Heather Hogan).
Sadly, the moment AfterEllen’s former Editor-in-Chief, Trish Bendix, spoke out against the current injustice of the site being shut down (which can be read about in her blog post “Eulogy for The Living”), a backlash occurred from the website’s publishers and advertisers that resulted in Bendix’s early termination and in the revoking of her severance pay. And while I would love nothing more than to take Evolve Media, TotallyHer Media and their advertisers to task for the reasons as to why both the website and Bendix have been so harshly cast aside, I will instead do as many writers for AfterEllen have done in years past by drawing to attention that what has occurred is unfair and so fundamentally wrong.
It’s wrong because this was a year in which we’ve seen ourselves turned into dangerous and reoccurring plot tropes. It’s wrong because we’ve been harassed by people who would prefer to make laws that would prohibit us from simply needing to use the restroom. It’s wrong because forty-nine of us risked becoming a political footnote until outlets such as AfterEllen made sure to recognize the true identity of those whose lives were lost. We are now suddenly losing this once vital, vocal website to a group who does not represent us.
In response to a post made at the highest level of damage control possible, former AfterEllen writer Dorothy Snarker was quick to explain just how underrepresented queer women will be in AfterEllen’s future. Snarker provided a much needed reply when the general manager of TotallyHer Media, Emrah Kovacoglu, said that the shutdown of AfterEllen was a rumor and that TotallyHer would continue to work with its freelancers to bring queer content to its audience. To this message, Snarker said, “[AfterEllen] will no longer have an Editor or any queer women steering any daily fresh content. TotallyHer claims they will continue to work with freelancers for new content. But to date none of the site’s regular freelancers – myself included – have been contacted about continuing to write or even given notice about this abrupt editorial change . . . This gives me less than zero confidence that whatever new pieces possibly go up in the future will represent our community.”
It’s all a little ironic, don’t you think? What’s happening to AfterEllen and to the community it has harbored for fourteen years is the same kind of injustice that their voices, which have now been erased, worked so tirelessly to expose every day that came before today. It is unfair. It is devastating. It is a great many things that it should’ve never been because like Heather Hogan said, “The dust of AfterEllen is in my bones. It gave me courage, community and a place to find my voice. It will always have a place in my heart.” And it will always have a place in ours, too.