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Avery Brooks’ (End of the Year) Survival Resources, Day 3: The Planet Podcast, finding my tribe, and the rise of Autostraddle

12.30.20

 

My goal with this series of posts was to help people, particularly LGBTQ+ and especially lesbians/wlw people, feel a sense of community and support through tough times, like the end of the year, the holidays, pretty much every day of 2020 since March, or you know, just any day. While I started off the first couple of posts fairly general with recommendations to hopefully help lift people up (badass playlist and witty comedies, especially featuring well-written LGBTQ+ storylines), my goal was to also get into some deeper content, both in expressing my own journey, as well as resources that were critical for me when I was looking for a place to belong and/or needing a light in the darkness.

 

(Side note: the current situation with labels/terminology/identifiers is something I’ve been thinking about and discussing a lot with people (for decades actually, but it’s hitting a critical point lately), so more on this soon, but as what I’m about to share will span the 2004-2009 years, just keep an open mind about terms because that’s part of the evolution of this story and the LGBTQ+ community.)

 

*Regardless of whether you read the side note above, please read this very important point for the terms I’ll use in this post. While I initially came out as bisexual, I now describe myself as lesbian and/or gay. I am getting better at accepting the term queer, but it’s a process as it was used as a derogatory term for all of my formative years. Writing the terms I use below is like walking through a virtual minefield. Some terms of today barely existed, let alone were used, when The L Word first aired. So, let me be clear regarding my intent whether I use lesbian, wlw, LGBTQ+ etc. below. I come from a place of inclusion. The L Word and the resulting movements it inspired were significant for many of our journeys and this post is about sharing this incredible, transformational, and revolutionary time in LGBTQ+ history, not just in media representation, but in the ways we created communities and tools for connection in the infancy of modern-day tech (read: the internet). So, if any term inspires a feeling of exclusion to anyone, please know that is not my intent and please look at the bigger meaning of what this post entails.

 

What I had envisioned as a fairly short post of me linking to a podcast that resonated with me during a very formative period in my life and letting people explore it on their own and hope it enhanced their life at least in some small way, took quite a different form today when I googled the podcast to link to and found a bunch of articles that took me on an incredible journey through my own past, as well as that of others, and to one of the most beautiful full-circle moments I could have asked for. It was as if simultaneously finding an old friend (though we had never met in person and may never) and realizing multiple epiphanies regarding my own path and the people/entities/revolutions that coincided to create one of the most poignant periods in my life. And at its heart, it can simply be described as finding my people.

 

But today, I learned more about those people than I had known at the time, and in their own pursuit of their true selves, finding and building their community, and fierce courage in being out in the public eye on that mission, it created a scaffolding for so many of us who were seeking the same, but from the shadows, to live a more authentic life ourselves. Though the people I’ll write about here are not very different in age from me, they carried the torch and burned the barriers motherfucking down despite great personal costs that come from standing in the arena as Brené Brown would say. Over 10 years later, as I’ve entered more of a public space and grapple with some of the same blessings and pains of putting yourself out there, I fully appreciate what they went through and continue to go through. So, to KC, Elka, Riese, Slo, and Green (and the entire Autostraddle OG posse), thank you. Thank you for pushing through and not giving up, and creating a space and mindset for the rest of us to one day step into our own power, when we were ready.

 

So, here’s the story. And if you follow the links in this post, be prepared to set aside 24-96 hours for a deep dive into lesbian/wlw fandom to feed your soul 🙂 But what better way to kick off 2021?!

 

The L Word came to Showtime at the beginning of 2004. I was 6 months into my PhD program in Chicago at the time, and Sex and the City was finishing its final season. I don’t know exactly how I heard about The L Word, except to be pretty sure I paid for Showtime at the time and was distraught over what cultural phenomenon would fill the void left by Sex and the City ending. As I read Riese’s article today (I’ll link to it later in the post), several aha moments happened for me, along with the line that The L Word was like Sex and the City but for lesbians. A line that resonated because I’m sure it was either uttered by me and/or to me at some point. (And could two better things even exist together when you’re navigating your 20s and trying to make a mark on the world?)

 

In these pre-YouTube, early internet days, you had to wait for each episode to come out on Showtime, which might also have meant befriending someone who had access to Showtime, ha. Do you know how long seven days can be when you are seeing some aspect of yourself being represented for the first time in the mainstream? But like, a really hot, LA version of your life and existence. And sure, that point as a choice can be discussed forever as can any major revolution in media, but the situation remained, lesbians were on tv (and youngish attractive ones, which was empowering given the fact that ‘lesbian’ could be a derogatory term when used by someone to describe you. A term filled with an air of flannels and general absence of style that I myself was hesitant to claim at that early period in my life (fast forward 10 years and 99% of my wardrobe was in fact flannels and/or plaids, and yes, there is a difference, and in Colorado, it’s not even as gay as it sounds. But it was gay, for me:) I own it now.). As I was saying, hot, youngish lesbians were on tv, kind of having sex during some episodes even (squint through all the heterosexual sex and there we are), and opening the door for what would be the first major mainstream steps (in my lifetime) toward giving lesbians/wlw a place at the table and creating that community. And as we all know, lesbians/wlw are loyal. Riese’s article gets into the fandoms that were built from this show and the many ways that fans shaped the internet (which was still in its infancy) as a tool to create community via forums, blogs, podcasts, and other avenues. Combine tech skills, vision, empowerment, passion, and scrappiness to DIY when much of this had never been done before, and damn, we’ve got a revolution. Who runs the world? Girls…who like girls 🙂

 

The first season was incredible. Every lesbian fell in love with Marina (think Gal Gadot but then lose esteem for her with a sordid cheating?/polyamorous/countess? thing happening), or was it Shane, or Bette, or Tina, or Dana, or Alice? To cut the suspense, it was either Marina or Shane. Maybe a dose of Bette on the side 🙂 So many incredible characters. Marina was the beautiful, usually straight girl we’d all always dreamed of, except, wait, she’s into women? Holy fuck!

 

Shane. Ah, Shane. I won’t use words for Shane. Just a happy sigh and my heart feeling full that Shane existed for us to witness, identify with, and be inspired by.

 

Bette. I feel stressed even talking about Bette. Someone clear her schedule, because work-life balance, you know? 🙂

 

And Tina. I’ll pause as half of you mutter expletives. As I was saying, there was also Tina.

 

No, I actually liked Tina, in the beginning, maybe because Bette embodied parts of every asshole I had ever dated, and so I was in for Tina. I will say, seeing Bette and Tina’s relationship was like an ethnography of an alternative existence. One you had always dreamed could happen, but had never witnessed firsthand (remember, I was in my 20s and had only been out for a couple of years, so calm down. I know strong love stories between adult women existed long before this, but this was the first time I ever saw it somewhat up close and personal.). It was beautiful, sad, loving, heartbreaking, horrifying, and very, very human.

 

Dana. We all knew a Dana. Maybe we were Dana. Sporty, super gay, in short, the very vague but apt word, amazing.

 

Alice. Hilarious. Quirky. Always curious.

 

Jenny. It’s hard to even think of Jenny without a grimace for what came in later seasons, but she was the lens the rest of us entered this crazy LA world through. And just as importantly, got to interact with Marina through.

 

I remember traveling down to Andersonville to go to T’s Bar, the lesbian bar in Chicago. The place was packed with women, but when The L Word started on the televisions in the front and back room, everyone went silent. Picture 100 lesbians, with alcohol, being completely quiet. I think only images of Xena on a screen have the same effect. And now, maybe Gal Gadot. I remember a group of people walked in the front door of the bar, faced throngs of lesbians staring silently at the televisions mounted on the walls, were shushed by some as they tried to enter, said something to the effect of “WTF? Hell no.” Then turned and left. It was epic.

 

As the second season happened, a straight (I think this is still an accurate statement, though it’s been a while) grad student friend of mine became equally obsessed with the show and came by my place to watch it each week since my roommate and I had Showtime. I mostly just adored having anyone I knew to speak with about this amazing show. When I had to go to Madagascar for a pilot research trip to find what would become my research site for my dissertation, my friend continued to come over to my place to watch the show while I was gone. Alice’s chart took off on the show, and when I arrived home several weeks later, I found a very detailed multi-page chart of relationships and events I had missed on the show secured to the front of my fridge. It’s still one of the best things I’ve ever received.

 

Interestingly enough (science geek moment, feel free to skip to next paragraph) and also a lesson maybe in life imitating art/science imitating lesbians? ;), in the field of animal behavior and evolutionary biology (my focus), social networking was the new hot thing. So, roughly at the same time when Alice’s chart of lesbian relationships was born on The L Word, part of my own research focused on the role of social networks in the female-dominant society of ring-tailed lemurs, a society where adult females rule without exception to adult males (the definition of female dominance is quite strict) and brutal, sometimes fatal attacks can happen between adult females (called targeted aggression) that result in fission of the group. Whether both aspects came together independently and synergistically, I don’t know, but I thought it interesting nonetheless. And in effect, Alice and I were both just trying to use a tool, i.e. social networks, to understand females and their relationships to one another.

 

Skip through going back to Madagascar and conducting first part of dissertation research, and back to the important point, Elka and KC entering the story 🙂

 

So, The L Word definitely had a following by the time 2006 rolled around and the third season was about to begin. From what I’ve read, as many cities were hosting watch parties for The L Word, apparently Albuquerque, New Mexico was not one of them. So, two glorious souls, named KC and Elka, decided to create a podcast to discuss the show. “The Planet: The Podcast for L Word Fans!” was born and provided KC and Elka’s witty, warm, engaging, accepting, supportive, and hilarious take on the details of each episode of the show via their recaps, as well as queer culture more generally. Elka and KC started The Planet Podcast with a Season 3 Preview episode, which I’ll include with links at the end of this post. They then did one podcast episode for every episode of Seasons 3-5, and most of the final Season 6 (more on that at the end). To keep us die-hard fans of the show and podcast going during the long break between seasons, they also posted some summer episodes, which were by far my favorite.

 

They quickly garnered a following of loyal fans who loved their personalities, humor, warmth, and commentary on the show and our community at large. KC and Elka were both out, which was amazing to hear, for those of us who were newly out and/or not yet out. Their unabashed honesty and authenticity in being their true selves was life-giving. Because they never showed photos of themselves, they were also a big mystery, and for quite a while, we were also left wondering are they just roommates or more?

 

A few things that stuck with me many years later include Elka trying out Tito’s vodka for the first time and licking the mouth of the bottle before KC even made it into the house after visiting the liquor store. Flash forward 14 years, and on my counter is my first handle of Tito’s, which I bought on November 7th, 2020, along with a bottle of champagne to celebrate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris being the projected winners of this year’s election. I do drink vodka, not irregularly, I just apparently take a long time to come around to quality vodka (plus there’s an excellent one in Boulder that tops all vodka ever made, but you can only get it if you go to Boulder. Thanks pandemic.) Anyway, when the liquor store owner asked how my day was going with a bit of a pained expression on his face, I said ‘Great!’ as I grinned and put my two celebratory bottles on the counter. (This is a conservative town sometimes, and I’m so over it.) This purchase was for me and friends, before any concerns start flowing in. Though I cannot think of any better day to celebrate with abandon.

 

Back to Elka and KC . . . other gems. KC finding a huge bag of Styrofoam packing material on the highway, stuffing it into her car just as her dog finally scrambled out of the way, and turning it into a DIY punching bag. I respect that. Elka being gone on a research trip in the field with no plumbing (she’s also a scientist) and just wanting to use a toilet when she came home, only to find out their toilet was on the fritz, ha.

 

I don’t know which episode it is in, but at one point, KC claimed February 15th as Gay Valentine’s Day. There is an episode entitled that, so maybe it’s in that one. I thought it was a thing that existed, but I think KC invented it (anyone who knows, feel free to set the record more gay). But I wholeheartedly love it, because a. you don’t have to compete for reservations on the 14th, b. if you’re newly out/deal with social anxiety, you don’t have to deal with all of the stares (well that was the case 15 years ago in a smallish town) for being with another girl on Valentine’s Day (the fact I’m even typing this sucks so hard that it existed and had to be endured/may still have to be endured), and c. it’s less crowded with heterosexuals on the 15th (nothing against heterosexuals, it’s just nice to not have to face being a minority so directly on a day intended to celebrate love).

 

One other brilliant thing and I again don’t know which episode it’s from, but KC shared that she flipped the script in how she spoke to people, such that straight people were the minority and it was okay if they weren’t really gay (implied as the ideal state of being), but their lives still had value, or something to that effect. And that, my friends, is the world I prefer. Elka also called her the great converter of straight girls . . . listen to an episode, you’ll get it 🙂 Here’s a brief interview with Elka and KC in 2006 to give you an idea of their personalities/commentary on The L Word.

 

As fans of The Planet Podcast and Elka and KC grew, more people entered the mix and furthered the fandom that was being built, including a forum that was added for fans to communicate. Slo and Green, two fans who met each other because of the podcast, were another incredible love story in their own right. Green had her own blog I believe (sorry, at this point it’s all mixing together, and I just know the stories and people were poignant but whose podcast or blogs the info showed up on, I am not quite sure. Also, which blog is not the point.) and detailed her and Slo falling for each other, Green flying to visit Slo and having to visit the car to make out before hitting the baggage claim:), and then Green going on the road trip to move in with Slo, in I think Arizona.

 

From the outside, it was incredible to hear about, and gave me hope for the future and maybe finding a love like that down the road as well. Most importantly, these were role models of courage and coolness, these badass, intelligent women who were part of creating and molding, just as much as providing commentary on the culture and community being established at the time.

 

About this same time, I was becoming aware of another major entity in this evolution, Riese. I remember seeing videos of Riese and her assortment of cool friends, including Alex and Haviland, hanging out in NYC, commenting on The L Word, and to me, setting the world on fire. They were my age, and though my life-long dream revolved around studying non-human primates in other countries to better inform human behavior (aka conflict resolution/avoiding genocides, etc.) and doing social justice work on the side when I could, I felt a pang of missing out on the action.

 

I’ll return to Riese at the end of this post, but first back to KC and Elka, and The Planet.

 

Fans loved Elka and KC and many interacted/reached out. KC was really supportive of doodles/animals (if I remember correctly) and they both seemed to value hearing from people (they would read comments and answer questions from the fans on certain podcast episodes). While I usually never would have ever reached out to someone I didn’t know, no matter how much they touched my life, there was something very welcoming about the two, so I went to the store and printed out some photos of lemurs to send to them (mainly KC I think, because maybe she had a thing for lemurs or non-human primates, I forget, but also Elka because ahem fellow scientist, and they’re both incredible humans). Despite not being the best photos, Walgreens as per usual assured that the quality was printed even lower than I could have imagined, yet, undeterred, I mailed (see how old this all is . . . no digital photos here folks) a couple incredibly blurry photos to them and at some point later, KC wrote me back. It was incredibly kind, particularly because they had such a huge following, and she didn’t even make fun of how crappy the photos were, which I’m sure must have taken effort on her part, because she’s sarcastic and hilarious. They both are.

 

Anyway, as I’ve traversed the past year plus in a more public arena, and know the pain of sharing your work and either it falling on deaf ears or getting negative feedback (for me it’s more social media stuff, I’ve been very fortunate with incredibly kind and supportive readers of my book, which I am grateful for every day), I’ve changed my views a bit on reaching out to people, even if they might be strangers, to let them know their work resonated with you (not in a creepy way, though as someone who occasionally receives messages to this effect, it’s really hard to know the difference sometimes, so I do my best to step forward with kindness and assume best intentions until I’m shown otherwise). So, while KC and Elka may have been my only courageous attempt back in the day, I’ve slowly began reaching out to people whose work I admire to let them know. I don’t expect anything back, I just think it’s nice to know that something you put out into the world mattered to someone.

 

Okay, back to the podcast and its following reaching epic proportions. As this is happening, The L Word itself had taken a dip from its amazing first season, but the fans of The Planet were still growing, because Elka and KC had created this entire community where people felt seen. Fans referred to themselves as Kelkians (I never used this term myself, I have some boundaries, ha). Kelka was KC and Elka’s ship name. And then in 2008, KC and Elka organized Kelka Pride in ABQ during ABQ Pride, for Kelkians from the U.S. and beyond to celebrate together. I, as usual, observed from afar, and was so amazed by the impact these two women had on so many lives and the way they got us all to celebrate and truly take pride in something many of us had never had the courage to even acknowledge previously about ourselves, let alone fully step into with joy, confidence, and love.

 

Following that epic event, the sixth and final season of The L Word came out in 2009, and after the first six podcast episodes came out, Elka and KC disappeared. The final two episodes of The L Word were never podcasted about and KC and Elka never returned to say goodbye. While some fans may have been angry, for myself and what I heard from others was more a sense of sadness and loss. The era had ended. And maybe that was the only way it ever could have ended. When I looked for it today, the podcast blogspot, forum, RSS feed, archives on iTunes . . . it was just a series of empty pages and error messages. If I ever find my iPod (super high-tech thing back in those days) and a charger to plug it into and make it functional again (very unlikely), maybe the episodes will be there waiting for me. Thankfully, there is still hope. Some kind soul(s) posted the episodes on YouTube, so allow me to introduce you to “The Planet: The Podcast for L Word Fans!” and KC and Elka 🙂

 

Here is the first episode of The Planet, the Preview to Season 3, and your introduction to KC and Elka!

 

Here is the entire playlist of all of the episodes!!!!

 

And if you only ever listen to one episode, let it be this one. The ‘Off-Season Podcast 05-03-06’ episode. It combines many of the best and most important pieces of what this podcast came to represent, to me at least. Humor, heart, witty banter, inspiration, authenticity, and a call to do better. Highlights of the episode: KC filling Elka and everyone in on her very attractive Spanish teacher’s outfits. KC described her ‘like Carmen but cuter’. (Can we take a moment for Carmen/Sarah Shahi? . . . okay, I’ll continue.) Minutes 6 – 13 of KC relaying this story is so hilarious. Then the teacher trying to out KC in class and KC’s beautiful moment of being truly out and herself. [Side note: The ‘Orcadome’ episode is the follow-up to this one, for closure on the Spanish teacher:) Because KC saved the story to share with everyone, you get to hear Elka’s firsthand reaction as well :)] KC also talks about the importance (even beyond voting) of being out, which leads into a heartfelt discussion of different peoples’ coming-out journeys and families, and the desire for everyone to come out as soon as it is safe to do so, because living an authentic life is so much better than being in the closet.

 

KC and Elka were so far ahead of the game. My only sadness is the years since the podcast ended that many of us have missed their steadfast presence (though they certainly deserved the break from the public eye and gave us all so much in the time we did share), and I can’t wait for those of you who never heard of this incredible movement, to get the chance to experience it now.

 

To end this post, I want to bring it all full circle by sharing two pretty incredible pieces. Near the end of the above episode (around min 48), Elka’s mom, who is incredible and a book lover!, recommends the writer Ellen Hart, who writes “good mysteries with a lesbian theme.” KC responds “I think most lesbian literature is pure shit myself . . . that I’ve read.” Dagger to heart, but! remember this was in 2006, and so the options were much fewer and who knows which books KC had read of those available. Why is this important? Well, because Ellen Hart is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author of the Jane Lawless and Sophie Greenway series. Here’s her very impressive bio, “Ellen Hart is the author of over thirty crime novels in two different series. She is a six-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, a three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Popular Fiction, a three-time winner of the Golden Crown Literary Award in several categories, a recipient of the Alice B Medal, and was made an official GLBT Literary Saint at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans in 2005. In 2010, Ellen received the GCLS Trailblazer Award for lifetime achievement in the field of lesbian literature. In 2016, she was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America.” And the part that I’m leading into is that in 2013, Bywater Books (which is the publisher I’m honored to work with) became her publisher. That’s the first pretty awesome full-circle moment.

 

For the second one, I need to give a little background. As I alluded to earlier, Riese, the co-founder of Autostraddle wrote an illuminating article entitled, “How ‘L Word’ Internet Fandom Built Autostraddle Dot Com: The Oral History”. In the article, she has a conversation with Autostraddle’s Executive Editor, Laneia, about the role of The L Word, The Planet Podcast, and the fandom that KC and Elka helped start that enabled Riese and Laneia to come into their own respective queer identities and create relationships and a community that they would continue to build into Autostraddle, the safe and accepting space for members of the lesbian and queer community. It was so interesting to be reminded of all of these events I had tangentially lived through and to learn about aspects I had never known. And I must say that when Laneia mentioned her screen name, my mouth dropped open. And I spent the rest of the day reliving this time in my life with joy, pride, and more than a bit of nostalgia for the girl I used to be and her journey to who I am today. While I’m glad to say I’ve grown a lot and am much wiser today, these people played a role in my life that will always be one of the truest periods in my journey.

 

So, here is the final full-circle moment for me. After having this meaningful but distanced connection all of these years to The Planet and all of the people it brought together, and rooting the Autostraddle team on from a distance as well, a friend sent me an email back in March, just before the U.S. shut down due to the pandemic. The email, from a person I respect very much as a fellow writer and also a leader in the LGBTQ+ social justice sector, included a link to this article on Autostraddle.com: “Eight Great Angsty Lesbian Romance Books”. My debut novel, Other Girls, had made a list on Autostraddle, and if that wasn’t enough, I was beyond honored that my book was even mentioned amongst works by such incredible writers, including Clare Ashton and K. Aten.

 

I made the following FB post that day.

 

 

I tried to express how much it meant to me, but I think it took a day like today, this incredible journey of the dreams of my past meeting my present in profound ways I could never have even realized until now.

 

So, I guess all of this is a letter to tell some incredible women how much their efforts, belief in themselves, and belief in the importance of building our shared community mattered to me, one of what I feel is safe to assume many, many, many women out there. Thank you.

 

As KC and Elka would say, “Adios amigas”. 🌈❤️

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