I call myself a “writer and a revolutionary.” I have struggled for years with that ampersand. There is not a single word for those two things.
Perhaps they are the same thing in the digital age.
I consider myself an activist. Traditional sense, too. I’ve marched. I’ve made signs. I’ve organized rallies. I’ve sent postcards. I’ve phone banked. But I also grew up online, and it feels as much a home as the quote-unquote real world. I’ve been building, sustaining, and expanding online communities for women online for nearly a decade now. Some of this work is explicitly queer, and some of it is more broad.
But my undertaking of this mission – to unite, create platforms for, and mobilize my communities online where we have equitable access to space, to information, to space – grew out of the fire that fuels my more traditional activism.
My work has always sought to harness digital energy for social change and purposefully shape online communities to become centers of empowerment. Whereas community organizers go door-to-door, I go Facebook-to-Facebook. Some movements are articulated by speakers and led by community organizers. Some are articulated by writers and led by digital natives.
When I was sixteen, I had a white iMac in my room. My mother was wary of my use of social media. I had a MySpace with no profile picture and a Facebook that was securely protected from being searchable or visible to people I didn’t know IRL. And when I was seventeen, and Hillary Clinton ran for president, I sought desperately to find people in my comminity IRL who felt the way I did. Impassioned. Excited. I had already become aware of my own feminism, and I was literally dying watching a woman run for president. I didn’t quite find what I needed in my high school. Instead, I found it on Facebook, in a group for HRC supporters where there were about five to ten “regulars.” That was my safe space. It was my war room. Of these regulars, I was the only woman. I was the youngest, and would be too young to vote for Hillary in my primary. I was more emotional than I was rational, often overwhelmed with seeing hostile sexism for the first time. These people – complete strangers – took me in. They explained things to me when I was confused, leveled with me when I was wrong. They protected me when trolls took to the wings. They checked in on me when Hillary conceded. They went from being my biggest secret to people I referred to as easily as I did the kids who sat with me on the bus. They became a part of my world, “realness” of the space be damned.
That experience was powerful. I felt so much less alone. And that feeling less alone fueled my pendulum swing toward activism. Those regulars gave me the support to engage in hard conversations – the fuel to convince my friends to support Hillary, the self-assurance to articulate my policy ideas and political beliefs.
I know now that in 2008 I had experienced my “problem with no name.” And I had found, online, a wealth of links to share and read that affirmed what I was feeling and seeing – and other people there to cheer me on, see me, hear me, respect me. Once someone else told me: “you are valid and I respect you,” “you are right and I support you,” everything changed. Once I realized I was not the only person yelling at sexist news coverage on the television screen, once I found out there was a tangible number of people who agreed with me, by and large, on abortion and LGBT rights and racial justice, once I no longer walked through the world wondering if anyone was as invested as I was, as excited as I was – that was a click moment. That would never have happened to me in suburban New Jersey. That could only happen online.
Years later, I came out. I had cut my teeth by then in the feminist movement, established myself as a leader on my campus in that movement, taken internships and worked on campaigns for women’s rights. But suddenly I was once again lost – me, a baby gay going through her rainbow phase, who had quite literally cornered herself into a very heterosexual feminist discourse. It was around this time that I fell into my work at Autostraddle and began writing. And writing. And writing. Every post affirmed my sexuality, affirmed my identity, made me feel less self-conscious about being a “late bloomer.” Every post gave me the opportunity to rewrite the movement I believed in then, and would and will believe in forever, to fit my new person.
While I was there, I also discovered what a purposeful online community looked like – and recognized its inherent revolutionary praxis. I watched a community engaged in politics support itself, challenge itself, reckon with itself. I watched as we lifted our readers up, celebrated their victories and mourned their losses, and in return they pulled change out of their pockets to keep us standing.But moreso, I saw how deliberate it was – how much care went into fostering this digital family and how much thought went into how to expand and grow it – to bring it into the physicsl world, to keep it oriented toward revolutionary aims.
That opportunity turned my “real” world upside down. I began organizing in a more explicitly queer and inclusive way. I learned about new feminisms and new figureheads. I read Eileen Myles. I began to find the other queer women at AU, and slowly but surely they overtook my group of friends. We joked that we entered into college a few straight girls and some gay dudes and graduated a ragtag group of lesbians. It wasn’t really a joke, though.
Community online fuels a desire for the same offline. Our movements online reflect and shape our movements offline.
This is the now the approach – the instinct, really – that I bring to my work, both as a writer and a revolutionary. As a capital-A activist. As a capital-W writer. It is true that for me this may come more easily, that my preference for explicitly politically oriented content and communities shapes my understanding of this part of the queer universe. It’s true. I’m guilty. It’s as easy for me to take to the streets as it is for me to draft up tweets. It’s as natural for me to show up as it is to share links. That’s why this past election cycle was marked, for me, by the creation of my hashtag “underground hillary club” – a secret space intended for me and my politically-minded friends that grew to be a group of over 5,000 people supporting each other as they publicly admonished sexism on the right and left, who collectively raised thousands of dollars and made hundreds of calls, who finally felt less alone and more emboldened. That’s why at Autostraddle, I was the Community Director and the Feminism Editor – a natural marriage for me in which I tended to readers and carved out space for them, built a relationship with them, purposefully and carefully served them, and then simultaneously did all I could to get them to rabble-rouse with me, to sign petitions, to learn the names of our foremothers. At Ms., I am the Digital Editor – but immediately, from day one, sat down with an agenda for turning our digital spaces into inherently community-oriented spaces – a move which will serve any movement not just in terms of their bottom line but in terms of their mission.
For queer people, for women, for people of color, for differently-abled folks and so on and so forth, community-building is movement-building. Always has been. I am certain movement and community are not separate.
There is no ampersand.
It isn’t just that they can’t exist without one another – it’s that they are one another. In the age of Trump, especially, but at any time. To gather as a marginalized group, as others, is revolution. To claim space, to listen to one another, to support and educate each other. This is how consciousness-raising birthed the women’s movement.
It takes conversations to turn someone into an activist, not a George Soros-funded protest pack. It takes feeling seen, heard, reflected to convince people that they have someone to stand up for – and deserve to be stood up for. It takes knowing you are not alone. It takes knowing someone will stand with you the whole way. It takes feeling like a part of something.
The personal is political. The movement is the community.
When we come together, we win. Surely the opposite is true, as we saw this November. When we allow them to divide us and demoralize us they destroy us, When we stand shoulder-to-shoulder, when we listen and share, when we support each other as friends and comrades – that is when we will win.
We must build the queer internet we want to see in the world. A place where you can read the comments. A home online where you don’t want to hide, where instead you feel more motivated than ever to be seen. A space where you can trust in a stranger’s good faith, let them take you in or feel up to calling them in.
Our existence as queer people has long been seen as a revolution. Indeed, it is. Our pride is a political statement. Our gender identities are galvanizing forces. Our love is a rallying cry. Our communities are our movement. Our work as queer people online is not simply to find one another. It is to embolden, empower, and immortalize one another.
That’s not, to me, just the future of “digital feminism” or “the queer internet.”
That’s the future of our entire fight.