Queer culture online and off

Monika Landry thinks of herself as a shy person. She also identifies as a queer woman.

When she was first coming out, it seemed too overwhelming to do “in real life.” So she turned to the Internet.

It “kind of gave me some starting point to start feeling comfortable,” Landry says.

“And then that’s how … I got the guts to go to in-person events.”

One of the main websites that allowed Landry to feel that comfort, which she still visits often, is called Autostraddle.

“I love Autostraddle,” she says. “(It) was great to start reading experiences of people who were going through similar things, who had similar perspectives.”

Started in 2009 by blogger Riese Bernard, Autostraddle brands itself as “news, entertainment, opinion, community and girl-on-girl culture,” and at 125,000 views a day and roughly 1.5 million unique visitors a month, it’s the most popular independently owned lesbian website in the world.

Now the editor-in-chief and CEO/CFO of the website, Bernard says there was “a huge hole in the market” when she co-founded it with her then-girlfriend Alexandra Vega. Queer-identified women needed a corner of the Internet to call their own.

“We used to be one of a few sources for stories about LGBTQ issues, now we’re one of very, very, very many,” Bernard says.

But, “the community aspect of it actually hasn’t changed that much, nor has the need for it.”

As more and more websites close their comments sections in favour of other avenues like social media, Bernard champions comments.

“We’ll fight like hell to keep our commenting community,” she says.

“That’s how you make connections, I think, and can talk about things with other people like you.”

That’s exactly how it happened for Landry. “The first time I ever went to a gay or queer event it was actually an event at the CoHo  … during Pride, and it was with somebody that I had met in the comments on an Autostraddle post,” she says.

The “CoHo,” or the Company House, is known as Halifax’s lesbian bar –though that wasn’t really its intention, says Mary Ann Daye, who co-owns the bar on Gottingen Street with her partner, Heather Gibson.

“It was very presumptive. Two lesbians open a bar and therefore it’s a lesbian bar,” Daye says.

“Having said that, we wanted to be a place where everyone was welcome … we became what I think we wanted to be and that is a community space for our neighbourhood and for the LGBT community.”

Daye was openly lesbian in the ’80s, when the need for such safe spaces was acute.

“It was a scary time,” she says. “We needed a place to gather and feel comfortable knowing we were among friends.”

Now, in a more accepting climate, Daye doesn’t think the need for such places is as strong as it once was.

“An online community is definitely a way for lesbians to connect with one another,” she says.

“People still need real connection, though.”

Enter Autostraddle, again. Bernard wanted to take the connections being made between women on her website and translate them to the real world.

So Autostraddle launched A-Camp in 2012: a week-long summer camp-style retreat in California for readers of Autostraddle and queer women in general. Landry has attended four of the five camps held so far.

“Going in person definitely allowed me to feel like I was a part of (Autostraddle), even if I wasn’t an online kind of person generally,” says Landry, who says she doesn’t comment on the website very often.

“You know you’re among your people, I guess,” she says, laughing.
Landry has organized several Autostraddle meet-ups in Halifax.

“I didn’t know if we’d get any response because it is kind of a small city, but we got about six to eight people,” she says, remembering the first meet-up.
“I still hang out with some of the people that I met that day.”

Check out Autostraddle at autostraddle.com, or register for the next A-Camp at a-camp.org.

Autostraddle is the world’s most popular independently owned lesbian website. (Photo: Leah Collins Lipsett)
Autostraddle is the world’s most popular independently owned lesbian website. (Photo: Leah Collins Lipsett)