News (USA)

How AfterEllen turned from a popular lesbian pop-culture website into a transphobic haven

After Ellen, TERFs, transphobia
Photo: AfterEllen

AfterEllen used to be a website whose lively commenters celebrated the queer female pop culture of lesbian and bi women, but it has since become a site which believes that only cis women can be lesbians, and that trans women are aggressively taking over the lesbian community.

Case in point: One of AfterEllen’s current front-page stories is a defense of a Twitter user who was banned for asking, “How are transwomen not men? What is the difference between a man and a transwoman?” The story expands into a larger discussion of how trans people are ruining the world for cis lesbians.

As Mary Emily O’Hara explains, AfterEllen launched in 2002 (long before Facebook and YouTube), and its coverage of celebrity lesbians and LGBTQ pop-culture figures created a thriving community there.

In its heyday, the site was regarded as a “lesbian pop culture Wikipedia,” and queer celebrities like comedian Kate McKinnon, actress Sarah Paulson and musicians Tegan and Sara openly supported the site, offering public praise and occasional editorial collaborations.

But a growing movement of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) have become vocal in the lesbian community and AfterEllen has followed suit.

Related: A lesbian appeared on Fox News & was praised as “brave” for attacking trans people

In 2014, AfterEllen was purchased by Evolve Media, a business run by cis man. Around the same time, it laid off its devoted longtime editor Trish Bendix and hired a new editor, Memoree Joelle, who believes that “lesbians deserve a site that caters to them specifically,” meaning one that excludes trans and non-binary women.

Under Joelle’s leadership, the site’s Twitter account has shared a YouTube rant entitled “Dear Trans Women, Stop Pushing ‘Girl D*ck’ On Lesbians.” The site has also ran other anti-trans screeds, and Joelle herself has reportedly endorsed a petition to “drop the T from LGBT.”

In response to the site’s increasingly anti-trans edge, the editors of lesbian publications like Diva, Curve, Autostraddle, LOTL, Tagg, and Lez Spread The Word released a joint statement last December which didn’t mention AfterEllen by name, but clearly referred to it with statements like:

[We] believe that trans women are women and that trans people belong in our community. We do not think supporting trans women erases our lesbian identities…

We strongly condemn writers and editors who seek to foster division and hate within the LGBTQI community with trans misogynistic content, and who believe ‘lesbian’ is an identity for them alone to define. We condemn male-owned media companies who profit from the traffic generated by these controversies….

O’Hara writes, “When asked about the recent controversy and the readers who accuse AfterEllen of being a ‘TERF website,’ Joelle simply says, ‘I thank them for the surge in traffic and hope they find peace.’”

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