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AutoStraddle CEO Riese on Lesbian Culture

Posted on 06 August 2009 by Tim

Straight But Not Narrow You may be wondering why I’m interviewing the CEO of a lesbian and bisexual culture blog, since I’m clearly neither and I’m straight. Basically, I thought it would be interesting and unique. So, while I don’t remember exactly how I came across site, my best guess is that it came up when I was using StumbleUpon. What really caught my eye is that AutoStraddle looked like an great site, it was launched in early 2009 and the quality of the work there is apparent at first glance. With their engaging and often humorous writing style, I deduced that any question I posed would get an equally fun-to-read response. (As you’ll soon see, my deduction was correct.)

AutoStraddle’s CEO Riese discusses their mission, the site itself and lesbians in the media. At the bottom of the interview you will also find a great video of Riese and Alex on the red carpet at the 2009 NewNowNext Awards.

Now, on to the good stuff!

If you were to give a State of the Lesbian Union address, what would you say to your readers and America-at-large about the community? What’s important right now?

I feel this question is best answered in the form of a script for my State of the Lesbian Union Stage-Show.

RIESE: Hi Lesbian Union, you’re super cute! Listen up bitches! It’s time to unite with your sisters, get your faces out there and be proud!

[JULIE GOLDMAN enters stage left with a guitar making guttural lesbian pain acoustic noises, gives RIESE a "hello, SISTER" nod.]

RIESE: We need visibility to change the world!

Ellen DeGeneres [ELLEN DEGENERES & PORTIA DE ROSSI come onstage in cute outfits and start making out next to JULIE.]

JULIE GOLDMAN [earthy/singing]: Change the worldddddd!!

RIESE: We must make ourselves seen and be faithful to our principles but flexible about our methods! Sometimes we have to meet the other team halfway! Fight for marriage equality, get out the vote, study the enemy and approach carefully! When we get equal rights for marriage, employment, adoption, et al, just imagine what we can do then!

[THE OBAMAS dance onstage and beign dancing with ELLEN & PORTIA]

JULIE GOLDMAN (soprano/wail): You gotttaaa meet ‘em halfway!

RIESE: Too often we’re lumped in with gay men ’cause we have the same civil rights issues! But we have to pay attention to when that grouping is appropriate and when it’s just convenient. I think our political & social goals often have more in common with a womanist/feminist agenda, so we also need to focus on building networks that support women! We need to do all that while never, ever, ever, ever cutting men out of the conversation.

[ROSIE O'DONNELL & GLORIA STIENHAM skip across the stage with their arms linked, followed by WANDA SYKES & THE FOUNDERS OF "BITCH" MAGAZINE]

RIESE: We need to know more about our past, men & women both need to pay attention to how patriarchal gendered structures affect our lives and we must work together to subvert that. We must stop being ignorant and/or melodramatic and everyone needs to be honest ’cause scowling is so 2008.

JULIE GOLDMAN (screaming wail): Tell the trutttthhh and be freeee!

RIESE: We also need to focus on building networks that support women. DADT is BUNK! DOMA is NOT PUNK! We need equality RIGHT NOW!

Also sometimes life is just hard, and at those times, it’s best to just make out and wait for the next joke!

[SING-ALONG/DANCE PARTY ensues with people from history coming back to life, etc.]

AutoStraddle.com Logo On the About page, in the We Love the Future section, it says that you’re looking for people who want “to change the world from the grassroots up.” What kind of grassroots movement are you referring to?

Well Tim, the way I see it is like this: the ground ‘if you will’ is covered in grass. Sometimes pavement, sometimes dirt, sometimes flowers or bushes but very often “grass.” If you’re riding a bicycle, you’re gonna wanna stay on the street and avoid the grass Tim. The grass has roots. So if you think about people as grass and the roots being in the ground, that’s where life begins. Really Tim this is about job creation, and making sure that every American can grow their grass, and feel their roots, like the band “The Roots” and what you see there is the spirit of lesbian America and renewable energy sources.

From what I’ve gathered reading through Autostraddle, you’re not too impressed with the mainstream media image of lesbians and bisexual women. What are some of the challenges and are there any signs of improvement?

Our main challenges are:
1) Lesbians aren’t seen as a viable market
2) there aren’t enough women & queer women in positions of power in the media
3) Bible-beating asshats.
4) the patriarchy/financial inequality.
5) the rut we get stuck in by thinking lesbian stories can only be told correctly on the fringes.
6) A lack of racial/ethnic diversity within the representation we do have.
7) Tila Tequila.

Outsider stories are in fact the most interesting stories of all — not just to each other, but to everyone! Ultimately — we have great stories. We’re ready for our “Will & Grace” and/or “Brokeback Mountain” (except not as depressing at the end).

AutoStaddle CEO Riese There are signs of improvement fo’sho. Rachel Maddow, Ellen, lesbians on reality shows. On ‘South of Nowhere’ two girls with long hair held hands in high school! We’ve interviewed a lot of women for Autostraddle who are signs of improvement themselves: Kim Stolz, Julie Goldman, the cast & writers of Anyone But Me, Charlene from ‘Gimme Sugar’, Kate McKinnon, and other ladies at the NewNowNext awards.

The website AfterEllen is a huge thing for our community because they really break down and analyse how we’re being represented and they make this analysis palletable to everyone. Logo the gay channel is promising, as is the initial success of “The L Word,” though I have mixed feelings about how it turned out in the end w/r/t to NOT being the kind of representation we want. But TLW opened up the idea that lesbians are marketable & sexy and women’s stories are deserving of their own show, and that is HUGE.

Basically the more media outlets there are for lesbian/bisexual artists to connect to their audience, the better we’ll all be off. A lesbian movie should have ten websites and five magazines to use to promote their work — every other “special interest” group does.

Don’t even get me started on bisexual people in the media, omg, bisexual women get the shaft (ha! no pun intended!) every time.

Have you been surprised by the success of Ellen DeGeneres? Are there any other notable Lesbian women, either in the US or abroad, that have been as successful?

I’ve actually been a big Ellen fan since like way before she came out, I even memorized most of her first book to re-tell her jokes as my jokes. She’s bounced back from a dark time and I think it’s just because she is really talented, not necessarily b/c America was ready yet. But she forced them to be ready and she succeeded. She’s changed a lot for us. She’s just really hard to dislike, she’s a very genuine person. So I’m not surprised, because of my respect for her talent.

I cannot think of any out lesbian women in the US or abroad who have been as “successful” as Ellen in those terms; as well-liked & professionally accomplished. However, the fact that a young, traditionally attractive and successful actress like Lindsay Lohan is totally nonchalant about having a public lesbian relationship is also quite revolutionary.

Watch AutoStraddle hit the red carpet at the 2009 NewNowNext Awards. Video below!

I like the job titles each of your team members have – CEO of Ideas, Total Cutie and Provoker. What’s the work environment like at Autostraddle?

I would say it is very “virtual,” almost as if we are all ‘at home in bed alone in our underwear getting crumbs on our keyboards.’ Our team is all over the place – there’s six of us in the NYC area, but none of us have apartments big enough to meet in. Then we have other team members in Australia, Indiana, Phoenix and Miami. The times we have been able to find a space to all meet in have been awesome.

There is a lot of very cute provoking going on. Everyone is really funny & smart and we have HILARIOUS reply-alls and there’s all this hope! and exclamation points! That being said our enthusiasm about each other is directly related to our feedback from our readers & the community. Getting a good new comment or email literally saves our day sometimes. So really it’s not us, it’s you.

Also we have AMAZING interns. They are usually virtual but also really cute and provoking. For pride weekend our interns came from all over the world, and our COO from Miami, and that was amazing to be around so many of the group at once.

Sigh, TIM! I wish we had an office to be honest with you Tim, so we could shoot nerf balls at each other’s faces.

AutoStraddle Video Interview with Dan Choi

Since March 2009 when you launched Autostraddle, you’ve seen some pretty impressive growth in traffic. What do you see for the future of the site? Possibly a book? Maybe an Autostraddle album?

If you’re asking “when is Autostraddle going to go on tour with a singing and dancing musical revue” then the answer is VERY SOON, we are in negotiations with Adam Lambert.

But seriously, we’re actually working right now on a redesign that will enable us to better produce tailored content & community-building spaces.

Right now our format determines our content, but with the redesign our content will determine our format. From there anything is possible. New topics — especially more activism & politics, feature-style reporting, style coverage, more multimedia, and more opportunities to take Web 2.0 into actual 3-D life for those who so desire. We also want to add an education element to it since we don’t anticipate lesbian history being taught in the public school system any time soon. Also we’re finalizing our business plan and that’s our most major next step besides the redesign.

I think books are in the three-year plan, as well as other kinds of merch. My Mom keeps asking me to design a reusable grocery bag for her. She’s OBSESSED with this idea. So I think we have to do that soon.

Riese, thanks for your time! It was a pleasure.

Around the Web:

Autostraddle Does the 2009 NewNowNext Awards: Alex & Riese on the Red Carpet! (Note: Mature Language)

  • http://realurl.org/twitted.php?id=3170933505 Twitted by Autostraddle

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  • Bren

    Our main challenges are:
    7) Tila Tequila.

    LOL! So true!

  • Carmen

    Nice interview!

  • Sierra

    Excellent interview. I like the script scenario – FUN!

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