Bringing Pizazz To Lesbian Culture With Wit And Charm
Natasha O’Ryan grew up in a small town outside Toronto. She founded the badass queer lifestyle blog, Effort-Lez in 2014. We met Natash at the Superbutch fashion show in Toronto and became fast friends based on her quick wit, keen fashion sense and community spirit. We even convinced her and her girlfriend, Kate, to drive down from Toronto to NYC to star in our first Kirrin Finch photoshoot. Needless to say they were naturals! Effort-Lez is growing and Natash recently onboarded many new writers to bring in a more diverse range of voices. We spoke with Natash about the evolution of the blog, lesbian culture, being an entrepreneur and the role of fashion in the queer community.
WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT?
Well if I said “Pussy” I wouldn’t be lying, but I’m not sure that is what you're asking. I guess if I HAD to come up with something else, I would say that I’m excited about the act of creating and exploring new projects. What really gets me going is when I can marry that with doing things that have the potential to impact peoples lives. This is where my passion for serving the queer community has stemmed from. I am obsessed with creating that intersection. Effort-Lez (EL) has given me that opportunity to bring those two things together anddddd talk about pussy pretty much whenever I want.
WHY DID YOU START EL?
Truthfully, I just couldn’t find queer media that I really connected with. It was either too serious or didn’t reflect who I was, or my values. I grew up in a small town in Southern Canada that wasn’t hugely oppressive, but also not necessarily a space with many other queer people. So I was constantly searching the internet for queer culture and content and coming up empty handed. Ok maybe not empty handed per say, but with a search history full of blog posts about dildos written by very easily offended women named “Butch”. Also at the time in my life I created EL, I was working in the very conservative retail banking industry, a space where being successful meant also censoring myself in one way or the other. This def meant x-nay on the use of the word puss-ay but as well meant being thoughtful about being very out and looking too “queer”. My employer very much “encouraged” the traditional and feminine in everyway. I felt fraudulent and like I was performing. I was spending time in spaces that didn’t allow me to be myself. I found myself having internalized this idea that I needed to mainstream and not stand out too much. Although I always knew who I was, I wasn’t sure how it would be received. There was definitely self-censorship happening, so that I could be accepted and have the same opportunities and treatment as my peers. I felt like I had a lot to say and I needed somewhere to put it. So I decided to start a blog.
HOW HAS THE BLOG EVOLVED?
In the beginning Effort-Lez was more about having a space for myself, someplace to bang jokes and put my gay lady lens on whatever captured my attention in the moment. But then as time went on and our audience started to grow, EL naturally evolved into a space that celebrated our readers and community. It became very clear to me at that point that EL’s true organic purpose was to celebrate queer culture, promote queer visibility and provide an inclusive community space for queer women. EL is now basically a mirror of it’s community, a media platform and space for anyone who wants to sit with us.
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR BIGGEST LEARNING EXPERIENCES SO FAR?
Well I had a lesbian on our social media once tell me to “keep my stick on the ice”. I might be Canadian, but I have no actual f’ing idea what that means. But it sounded good, so naturally I tattooed it on myself. K that’s a lie, but I do use it often and have taken it to mean “keep moving forward”. Blogging in general is an ongoing learning experience. Going into it, I wasn’t tech savvy and had my 15 yr old nephew teach me everything I know about Twitter. When you’re an entrepreneur with not a lot of startup capital, you have to wear a lot of hats (and exploit your relatives). The real challenge becomes keeping up with all the different elements of the business. With blogging, you need to be able to write, network, pitch to brands, do graphic design, market, social media, SEO, monetize etc etc…The list goes on and on. You have to figure out how to do it all to be sucessful. That’s the biggest challenge, but it’s also what makes me the most obsessed with EL, and insanely motivated. It’s constant novelty and creative demands keep me fully engaged. Whether I’m in the sauna, or grabbing a coffee I’m always working out some idea on how to make some element of EL better. Being so constantly challenged on that level is transformational.
When I first started EL and I would take on some new aspect of the business, I’d always first go through this apprehensive process wondering if I could make it fly, how would I learn it or get it done etc… My daily life with EL is a constant process of doing/learning/experiencing new everyday. I don’t get caught in the weeds anymore or waste time on thoughts like “can I?”…"will I be successful?” Now I just do it, I dive in, I keep my stick on the ice and figure it out as I go. I think in particular for women learning to have confidence in your abilities is cool AF. Always #betonyourself
WHAT IS THE VISION FOR THE BLOG?
I have so many and that is a challenge! I am staying in tune and listening to the voices coming in. I am constantly watching the industry, especially with AfterEllen dissolving. Everyone is nervous about the lasting power of queer spaces for women, both digital or physical. I am trying to learn from the industry, so I can position EL to be able to provide a community space for queer women forevs. I want EL to be the HUB, the center point, a space that links all our diverse subcultures, communities and voices.
We expanded EL to include more writers because I am just one voice and one identity and I can’t represent everyone. I meet wonderful people who have awesome things to say all the time and it only makes sense to include more voices to represent our community more accurately.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON QUEER SPACES CLOSING DOWN, LIKE LESBIAN BARS AND MEDIA OUTLETS, LIKE AFTERELLEN?
Many of the spaces that have been created don’t necessarily represent who we are, and what our interests are or what we are seeking from community interaction. Not everyone wants to go to a club and dance to DJ music. But these are often the only events that are being produced, and everyone is looking at those spaces and eulogizing the death of dyke bars. If we want to create community spaces for women, we need to look at who the women we are serving are, what their interest are, what their lives are like, what their family situations are, etc. If we don’t factor in who our community is, then we are missing opportunities to create spaces.
AfterEllen was the first queer media outlet that catered towards women. They lasted 15 years and that is a great legacy and they had an awesome run in an early market. My girlfriend Kate credits AfterEllen for being her first point of contact to explore who she was when she was coming out. I want to thank AfterEllen for helping shape her into the nice gay lady she is today. Unfortunately I think they ran into business challenges and monetary issues that are reflective of a society that doesn’t support marginalized persons or spaces. I am very sad that they failed, but it makes me feel even more passionate about how to make queer media and spaces viable. I think everyone is trying figure out how we create viable business models within the queer community. I think it is tough, because we must tow the line between mainstreaming and disengagement. You can niche out hard and serve your community, but in doing so you may not be attractive to big advertising dollars. We all have to figure out how to serve the community authentically while seeking out viable business opportunities.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE QUEER COMMUNITY OVER LAST FEW YEARS?
Gender. It’s the conversation we are all having. The queer community is in the process of deconstructing old binary models of gender. We’re totally scraping restrictive social understandings of gender and developing new frameworks and understandings of gender and bodies. We’re also trying to figure out what these shifts mean for our individual identities and groups as well as how that translates into our politics (gay rights and feminist). I wouldn’t say that 3 years ago it was there, and now it is here. But it’s a hot conversation that’s rapidly evolving, and we’re in the midst of huge theoretical, social and political shift. |
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF FASHION IN QUEER CULTURE?
Fashion is like TV and music in that it is very influential on our culture. If you want to know what is going to happen in the future, you just need to look to the runway. People who are designing fashion are creating something new, so there is an avante garde culture to what is happening in fashion houses. Queer designers are trying to create a vision of a world that they want to see. By doing so, they are showing the rest of the world who our community is, and forcing people to open their minds. I think it has real political and transformative power. If we go into traditional spaces and we are not dressed according to conventional norms, then it shows people who we are and creates queer visibility.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE GENDER-NEUTRAL LINES COMING FROM MASS MARKET RETAILERS?
They have a lot of distribution power and marketing channels, but queer designers and the community are the ones creating the thoughts. They are coming from our culture and our spaces, and they are emulating it and selling it. Anything that is honest is always what people gravitate towards the most and speaks the loudest. So as long as it comes from queer people it is going to be fresh, edgy and trump any duplication.
AS AN EXPERT ON LESBIAN CULTURE, WHY DO YOU THINK LESBIANS ARE OFTEN STEREOTYPED IN MAINSTREAM MEDIA AS UNFASHIONABLE OR WEARING FLANNEL?
It is really just lazy. Mainstream media likes to poke fun at anything that is different and outside of the mainstream idea of beauty and privilege. There are a lot of missed opportunities to explore identities and voices that are not being represented. There is so much diversity among the community. It is so hard to represent all the voices, but we need people like Jenna Laurenzo (producer of lesbian short film, Girl Night Stand) and others who have an ear to the ground to create cool queer media that actually tells an authentic story about who we are.
WHO INSPIRES YOU?
So many and it changes all the time. I am obsessed with people who create authentically and put out a message with what they are doing. I think we have some really powerful women in great media spaces that are speaking for us and marginalized communities. I love Amy Shumer. I love how she stands by what she believes in all the time and is upfront and direct about it. Only a truly powerful woman could bring back the tramp stamp. Lena Dunham is doing an amazing job of representing a variety of voices, with her different platforms, like Girls and Lenny Letter. When you are saying something that not everyone is saying it takes a lot of courage, so I respect people who do what they love and do good things with it.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE STRUGGLING TO FIND COMMUNITY?
Reach out, use the internet. We are here and waiting for you. There are so many people who want you to be part of their communities, like EL and Kirrin Finch. Don’t sweat being different. It is easier said than done, because our differences have major impacts on our lives. If we focus more on the ways we are the same and less on how we are different, it can help our perspective. Try to follow the energy, find things that suit you, if something doesn’t feel right, there are always other options. Don’t be afraid to try new things and take risks. If all else fails create a space that suits you. Make a YOU sized hole in the world…and keep your stick on the ice.