To Be or Not To Be….Anonymous, that is
One of the mind-altering panel sessions that I attended at Momentum was Twanna Hines1, moderator, and Shanna Katz2, Samantha Fraser3 and Stef Woods4, panelists, were all originally anonymous bloggers (see footnotes for their “out” stories). They all now show their faces and blog alongside their real name. Katherine Curtis, also on the panel, is a little more like me (half-in half-out) except that she shows her face; she keeps some anonymity by using Kat as a pen name on Naked News..
There are many reasons why bloggers of any niche change from anonymous to open; most of these bloggers out themselves. Conversely, some like the blogger-formerly-known-as Zoe Margolis /Girl with a One Track Mind, have been outed without consent. She was outed because she wrote a book based on her blog, and published it anonymously. Since this happened back before sex bloggers and risque books were “common”, the UK media did everything in their power to find out Zoe’s real name. The damage done to her life was, and continues to be, devastating in many ways.
Blogging about sex isn’t always as easy to do as “the real you”. It’s a touchy subject in this country, and it can be very off-putting for some to openly discuss the sex they’re having knowing all the while that friends and family could be reading about last week’s threesome at any moment. For many, the cloak of anonymity offers freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and less worry that you’ll have to deal with real-life fall-out from the content of your blog.
With my fast-approaching life changes, I’ve considered being “less anonymous” on my blog. I’ve considered finally disclosing who I (at the time of this post still) work for, as an explanation for why I had to be so careful. I’ve considered showing more of my face, or even sharing more personal details about life in general. Instead, I was smacked in the face with a realization during this session: there is no way to reliably and easily walk that tightrope. I would never put my real name on this blog, yet I’d consider exposing details that, if anybody who knew me were to find my blog, would identify me as much as my name or face. It is all too easy to slip up and give away something game-changing. I didn’t think about those details until this session.
It also occurred to me during this session that I really need to re-think how my future plans for the sex toy education parties are going to affect me and my anonymity. One big facet of the workshop was to teach them how to find reliable sex toy reviews – and I feel that it’s easier to find a reliable reviewer by looking to the blogs. (You can go back and read all their reviews, see what they like and how they like it and find someone who’s likes and dislikes mesh with your own; you can also see that they’ve been giving credible and thorough reviews for awhile.) But by teaching them to search for reviews on blogs, you know what’s going to eventually happen, right?
They’ll land on my blog.
While I don’t show my full face and try to only show enough that still gives me a veil of “is that…..? nah….not her,” I could be wrong. One of them could easily find my blog and recognize me! Of course, since these people will be somewhat local to me, there’s a chance they might know others I also know, or others I might write about in the future (should I start going out again). All of which leads to this really big reminder:
When you blog, it is not just about YOU. You are involving everyone in your life (unless of course you never, ever write about anybody other than yourself).Your partner, your friends, your family and even your boss/coworkers/company. If you’re anonymous it’s not as big of an invasion unless one of them finds your blog. If you’re out or decide to be out….you’re not just outing yourself. You’re outing them all. And did they give their consent? Probably not, I’d guess. And even if they did give their consent could they even have a clue what consequences there will be? Can even you foresee the future complications for yourself? Your partner? Your child? Your future child? Your next job? There is a big responsibility to everyone else in your life when you decide to blog publicly about sex. Take responsibility. When the shit hits the fan take responsibility for it yourself. Please don’t expect other people to clean up your mess5.
There are notable downsides to being out. Shanna pointed out that if she ever wanted to go back to her old type of work, in the vanilla world, she’s going to have a very hard time getting a job. On the internet, “Shanna Katz” is completely tied to her old moniker “Essin’Em”. Employers DO Google and man will they ever get an eyeful when they see her internet presence – sex educator, sex blogger, she’s been in porn, etc. Awesome creds for sex-pos jobs, scary creds for say….an accountant. Stef pointed out that she’d like to adopt a child. Will her blog, which is about her friends/dates/sex life, prevent her from being able to adopt a child? Will they employ slut-shaming tactics and judge her mothering abilities based on the blog? Katherine Curtis and Shanna both have had fans try to “friend” their mom, their partner, etc on Facebook. And of course there’s the nut-jobs who might stalk you.
I don’t mean to be the purveyor of doom and gloom here, I truly don’t. I recognize that coming out and blogging as the real you (or in my case, just a little bit more of the real me) can be freeing. No more worrying about someone finding and outing you without your consent, and no more dual identities. So what about a little of each? Sharing some privacy-cropped photos, details of your personal life, attending events where a roomful (or conference-full) of people are putting a face (and maybe real name) to your blog but yet not going completely commando – taking care to draw lines and use different email addresses, not showing your face on a public blog, not sharing even your real first name or the name of the town you live in? But if you think you can pull off that tightrope walk of being half-in and half-out, consider these facts:
- 78% of Americans are online.
- 52% of people are on Facebook.
- Half of those on Facebook are online at any given moment.
- The average Facebook user has 132 friends.
Luckily for me I don’t meet that average number. Over a year ago I had a very close encounter with Facebook’s lovely practice of recommending friends based on things like number of friends in common AND who’s in your combined address books of the third party accounts you both chose to associate with the Facebook account. I’d had a blog-me FB and a real-me FB. One day I noticed that someone who was friends with real-me had requested to friend blog-me. Thankfully, she’s pretty cool and open and had no problem with the blog. But she had uh, ahem, recognized the cleavage in the blog-me photo I’d chosen to use. Not my face, not the background…my cleavage. What if someone else from my friends list at that time had clicked on the recommendation, not by recognition of my tits, but sheer curiosity? Would they have made the connection, seeing more of my body parts? It was a nerve-wracking 36 hours as I did my best to shovel dirt on my tracks and delete my blog-me presence in Facebook.
Another potential disaster that happened, because I was cocky and not thinking, occurred early on in my blogging career. I showed potential OKC or Craigslist dates my sex blog. After all, it gave them a pretty good inside scoop as to what I liked sexually and hey – great conversation starter! I know other sex bloggers who’ve done it as well with mixed results, but I just happened to show it to someone who worked for the same organization as me. The cards collapsed when he figured out where I worked based on one of my photos wherein I showed something outside one of our office windows. Once he knew what building I was in, and based on what I’d already disclosed privately and on my blog about my office…he came over. He didn’t ask, he just did it. Since I was a receptionist and not hidden in the cube farm, he was able to walk right by my desk. He had texted me in warning about 20 seconds before entering my floor so I had the warning and I didn’t look up from my desk. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a guy walk by that had to be him. He didn’t say a word, just walked by. Twice. As I trembled in fear and adrenaline, I realized that he knew too much.
And he had seen my real name.
The panic that ensued on my part nearly got me to yank the blog entirely. He could have outed me to my boss and gotten me fired. It was a HUGE deal.
Instead of shuttering my entire online presence, I removed a few photos, changed a few others, & changed some previously-written details within my blog entries. At the time I balked about doing that. It felt “wrong” to me. Like I wasn’t being as authentic as I could be. But one smart point that Samantha made during the session was this: What is more important: The safety/happiness of a date/partner/job/yourself, or the story? She even brought up the time she was forced to change details & even remove some posts altogether once she was outed, all in the name of protecting someone she cared very much for who didn’t want to be on the blog.
I don’t know what I’m going to do now going forward. I do know that I have a lot to think about, both with this blog and the sex toy education parties I plan to do. The session presented me with a look at what could happen, and to be frank…it scared me. But it is a fear I am thankful for. I WILL be more careful, and I will put a lot more thought into my actions with this blog. I will think about myself, my family, those I’ve talked about on this blog, those related to those I’ve talked about on the blog and so on. I will learn to compartmentalize better and be safer while still retaining my authenticity and not becoming a recluse.
I’d really like to hear thoughts from all types of bloggers who are in various phases of anonymity or out-ness. What are your reasons for the choice? Do you plan to change? Do you have a “shit hit the fan” plan?
- Twanna started out blogging just as Funky Brown Chick when she was approached to do a paid writing gig for Nerve; once it was made known to her that they wanted a face shot to go along with her byline she took the plunge ↩
- Shanna blogged for a good number of years under her roller derby name, Essin’Em. When she got her sex ed degree and started doing college campus tours and various classes it became clear that using her real name (which is what’s on her degree, of course) would make things infinitely more easy. It helped that by then she was working already for a sex-positive company (Fascinations/FunLove) ↩
- Sam was anonymous until she was approached by a national newspaper to do a big front-page type article on her and her husband’s open marriage lifestyle – complete with real names and face photos. They both took the plunge with much thought and reverence given ↩
- As CityGirl, a DC dating blog, Stef attended some blogging gatherings. When she attended things as CityGirl she would allow them to photograph her from the back, showing only her trademark long red hair. When she was at events as Stef the attorney, she allowed full face and name photos. But one day at a DC Blogging bash, an online publication listed her face shot as CityGirlBlog’s Stef Woods, not what she req’d: Attorney Stef Woods. The change was quickly made online and she continued to be partially out in the DC social scene. It wasn’t until her breast cancer diagnosis that she decided to be fully out on her blog in the name of activism ↩
- and yes, I am referring to a few bloggers most of us know – be their situation chosen or outed, I don’t support their cries to the community for money to help them clean up the messes they ultimately made. Cold? Maybe. But when you’re doing something risky, you have to be prepared. I’m not going to help you pay for your unpreparedness ↩