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Bidding farewell to yet another safe queer space

Queer women mourn the loss of AfterEllen

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“After 14 years, AfterEllen as we know it will be effectively shutting down as of Friday,” editor-in-chief of AfterEllen, Trish Bendix, shared. It was devastating news that shook the queer community at the end of September, and continues to shake us now.

AfterEllen was one of the biggest websites dedicated exclusively to lesbian, bisexual, and queer women. It served the community with pop culture critiques, interviews, and the latest news on our favourite queer celebrities. In the past two years, however, the site has failed to attract enough advertiser support. And in media, if you can’t attract advertisers, you’re as good as gone, no matter how important you may be to a community.

When I first came across AfterEllen, I was 17, confused, and madly in love with a woman twice my age. I had also just discovered Ellen DeGeneres, and instantly became obsessed with her. Ellen taught me that being a lesbian was OK, that you could be gay and still be beautiful and funny and insanely successful. Ellen was the first positive portrayal of a lesbian I had ever seen — and similarly, AfterEllen was the first place where I saw queer women at the centre of attention and being celebrated. As a young closeted lesbian living in a small town in the most conservative part of Germany, AfterEllen was the door to the virtual queer community I so desperately needed.

Hearing about the website’s end was devastating, and I am definitely not the only one mourning the loss. Countless women have also come out and reminisced about AfterEllen’s influence in their lives. One Facebook post I read summed up my thoughts exactly: “AfterEllen brought me a sense of comfort and community at a time of uncertainty and even fear when I was coming to terms with being gay. I certainly don’t think I’m the only one that can say it.”

Besides this nostalgia, however, another frequently expressed sentiment was anger. Anger that queer women have lost yet another space we called our own for so many years, just because someone wasn’t able to make a profit from it.

But why is it that platforms catering exclusively to queer women are unable to generate sufficient revenue to survive? The founder of AfterEllen Sarah Warn has explored one possible theory on this issue. In a series of tweets following Bendix’s announcement, Warn wrote that even though queer women statistically make more money than straight women and therefore at least in theory would constitute an attractive group to market to, advertisers have persistently been more interested in advertising to gay men. “I developed a theory [. . .] that stereotypes work FOR gay men as consumers (travelers, affluent) & AGAINST lesbians (no $$, don’t care about clothes, etc.) [. . .] I had hoped time and data would change minds, but [it] still seems the same.”

Even though acceptance for queer and trans women has been continuously increasing, we are still far from a society where our safer spaces are expendable

AfterEllen has not been the only one affected by this problem: other sites such as SheWired or CherryGrrl have faced similar fates, and even Autostraddle, another major site dedicated to queer and trans women, has previously been on the brink of closing down.

Since the founding of AfterEllen in 2002, times have certainly changed. Warn remembers the early years of the website as being “a strange, limbo-y time for queer entertainment.” Melissa Etheridge was out and thriving, and The L Word had just been announced — yet at the same time, Ellen DeGeneres was still struggling to find work after publicly coming out in 1997. Today, queer culture has moved more into the mainstream, with outlets such as The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed making an effort to include LGBTQ+ voices, thereby significantly expanding the community’s visibility. Nevertheless, this emergence from the margins also means a loss of spaces that queer women in particular could truly claim as their own. This begins with the closure of countless lesbian bars in the past years, and continues with virtual spaces such as AfterEllen being shut down. Even though acceptance for queer and trans women has been continuously increasing, we are still far from a society where our safer spaces — whether virtual or physical — are expendable.

In the wake of the loss of AfterEllen as well as other beloved queer spaces, the question remains what we as a queer community, as well as our allies and supporters, can do. Bendix gives a clear answer to that: “Support queer women, women of color, trans women – give other deserving women your money, your eyeballs, your attention. Donate to their Kickstarters, visit their websites, advertise in their pages, buy their albums, go see their films in theaters, purchase their novels, frequent their businesses. Queer women are worthy. We are worthy.”

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