To Be or Not To Be….Anonymous, that is

One of the mind-altering panel sessions that I attended at Momentum was Who is SexyKitty69? Exploring the social media pros & cons of anonymity. 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 YOUYou 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?
  1. 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
  2. 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)
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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

16 Responses

  1. Joker_SATX says:

    It must be something cosmic. Today, I sort of dumped Livejournal for almost the same reasons. Anonymity is a very powerful thing. There are times where I like to be personally recognized and there are times where I want to hide in the shadows.

    If this helps you, I see this conundrum as the guy trying to walk past the metal detector with a knife. The answer? Carry two or multiples. That way, they can confiscate one while you still keep the other. So, my answer? Have two blogs. One private…one public. It will be tough to juggle, but for me, I think it will be worth it.

    ~My writing voice would give me away. Plus I’ve already tried that, and then when you have your blog friends who comment who are also sex bloggers, in addition to “other” bloggers, the pathways will be made and eventually dots will be connected.

  2. Molly says:

    Very thought provoking post Lilly and a dilema that I am faced with each and everyday to be honest.

    I guess you could call me semi out. My close friends know all about my blog and obviously my partner too and rather alarmingly my parents have also discovered its existence through some meddling family members. It has caused some tension between us, but I am proud of my blog, my sexuality and my writing and I refuse to stop doing it just because they don’t like it. I have toyed with coming out fully, the one reason that has so far stopped me putting my face to my blog is my children. I would hate to think if them being bullied ‘made fun of’ by their friends because their Mum wrote a sex blog. In time though, as they grow and mature I am hoping this will change. I want thme to know that there Mum was never ashamed of her blog or her sexuality. It’s just all about getting the timing of that right.


  3. Molly says:

    Sorry me again, just wanted to add that I think attitudes are slightly different in the UK towards sexblogs and certainly people who work in the sex industry. The Page 3 ladies of the Sun have seen to that. Many of those girls have gone on to have careers in all sorts of walks of life and to be mothers and wives. I think our more open attitude to nudity has made that possible. Another good example if the woman who wrote Diary Of A Call Girl.


    ~But if the attitudes are so different, why did they give Abby Lee/ Zoe Margolis such a hard ass time with her blogger-turned-book? She wanted to be anon but the paps were persistent.

  4. Its a tough choice to be anonymous or not. I just wish that the rest of the internet world would respect those choices.

  5. Mr Fun says:

    This is a great post and is really informative on a real issue, Mrs Fun and I like to say that we are not anonomous just discreet.

    Personally I’d love to be out there and just say whatever I wanted whenever I wanted however I know that my current employer would not be impressed. As soon as I get a new job though I will no longer care, I’m suppoed to be under contract for a while though so I either have to try to break it or just be patient.

    ~ That’s fine for now, but what about in the future? I’d hate to think you’d get turned down for a really great job just because you want to be more open on your sex blog

  6. bzzingbee says:

    I am and plan to continue to be anonymous. My close friends know that I review sex toys and porn and a few of them read my blog. My mother knows that I review things too, but I haven’t given her my blog address. The main reason I choose to stay anonymous is that my job has very strict policies about things posted online. I’m pretty sure that having my real name associated with my blog would result in me losing my job. I balance what I write with protecting the people involved in the writings by keeping them as anonymous as I am. I will talk about things we did but not their job, life, or location.

    I loved your post. It definitely got me thinking about whether I’m being as careful as I think I am. Initially, when I got my blog going I had it all set up and associated with my regular personal email but later worried that could link me somehow easier and got a separate email address. I plan to continue to blog anonymously even though sometimes it would be nice to be more open.

  7. Nadia West says:

    I’ve often fantasized about being an open blogger, but I know that my job would have a fit. And I didn’t pay $$ to go to grad school only to get blacklisted from librarianship. (Though, granted, there are A LOT of open-minded librarians.)

    As for the people I write about, they all get pseudonyms and I leave out identifying information (I’ve never mentioned MasterDoc’s speciality). The majority of them know they’re going to be on the blog and give me their “nom de blog.” I don’t have kids. My parents might be shocked but it wouldn’t make them stop talking to me. My biggest worry is my job. I don’t really have an emergency plan, I just hope I can either lie enough to get out of it (plausible deniability) or my union will take a stand on my personal life being mine even if it’s on the internet (I’m not relying on that). I never blog at work. I often won’t tweet about something going on at work so I can’t be positively identified – but I’m not 100% careful with that by any stretch.

    I just keep hoping the shit doesn’t hit the fan, or if it does the fan’s not on. :-)

  8. Ferns says:

    I am ‘kind of anonymous’.

    There are links from my internet presence on BDSM sites to my blog. When I meet people from those sites, either friends or potential submissives, they have either seen my blog or will find it soon enough because it is pretty common to ask for Fetlife profile name for ‘friending’ purposes. Those I get to know get my real name, which is unusual enough that I am easily Google-able. Voila, the link is made. I like to think that revelation is my choice, though, and wisely made.

    I still do have personal issues, though, with writing about others in my life, the idea of talking about them smacks of ‘talking behind their backs’ and/or revealing thoughts about them that swim around in my head that I haven’t spoken directly to them about might be hurtful or unfair or some other thing… they are my thoughts, but saying “God, what a boring date!” is a horrible thing for anyone to read. So I am mindful and conflicted about that.

    I have no links to my vanilla life/friends/real name in my blog, and although I do try to be careful, I am sure a clever person could put the two together reasonably easily because I am pretty lazy about it.

    For me, the issue of ‘coming out’ is more social than professional. I cringe to think of vanilla people who know me socially having an inappropriate and intimate knowledge of my sex life… I just think it’s ‘icky’ and I don’t want to be looked at ‘like that’.

    Professionally, I have just quit a senior corporate job and hopefully will never go back , but IF I do, then I do think being anonymous is important for job searching. They will never *say* “We didn’t hire you because of that”, but my expertise is in a conservative male dominated industry, so I am sure I would just quietly be dropped from contention.

    My view is that if you have a life full of unknown possibilities ahead of you, it is not worth the possible impact to out yourself. Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever and can’t be undone.

    Great topic, thanks for it.

  9. Sadie Smythe says:

    I was going to participate in Samantha’s panel until it became apparent I wasn’t going to make it out to Momentum this year, which was a bummer!

    But I, like you, am straddling that anonymous/public fence, although leaning over to the more public side. I am beginning to merge my two identities, I even made a public announcement on my RL Facebook page recently (I will be blogging about that next week) because I am simply tired of hiding aspects of myself from people that I have known for many years, such as the vast majority of my Facebook friends.

    Because I am a mother, I chose to write under a pseudonym. My biggest concern in being a sex writer (and now performer/producer of a sex-based performance series, BedPost Confessions) is the impact it might have on my daughter. But now I realize that if I do all of it right (coming out, merging my two identities), which is my intention, then I can actually be a really stellar example for her. I can and will show her, by living a life that is open and honest and sex-positive, how to do the same. I hope anyway. I have never had a job where it mattered what I did on the side, which is an advantage. There are other risks, of course. But I am learning that nothing worth doing is without risk. So I just be as safe about things as possible and keep on keeping on.

    Thanks for this post!


  10. mySub says:

    This is a very thought-provoking post. I am anonymous and plan to keep it that way, mainly because of society’s attitude to the subject. Even among my closest friends, only a few know that I write a sex blog, and only one (gasp!) knows that it is BDSM-themed (double gasp!)

    So I get the near-freedom of blogging as I please. On the other hand, my ingrained attention-whore-ness is bringing me down. It’s a hard thing reconciling anonymity with an urge to publicize it as best I can.

    Thanks for the reminder that not all is roses out there, and peoples’ trust has been abused. I needed that.

  11. France says:

    Thank you for this post. We all need a reminder, from time to time, to take all the precautions necessary to avoid being outed if we can’t handle the consequences.

  12. Ericka says:

    Given that I am now working as a freelancer, I think it’s ok to be public. But if I were still trying to make it in the corporate world, I would be in big trouble. I waited to start my blog until I quit my job, just to avoid problems.

  13. Kayla says:

    I’ve been really careful since day one to make sure to make all new accounts for everything that is related to Kinky World. I’d much prefer to stay anonymous just because I don’t think I could honestly review sex toys in an unbiased and detailed way if I knew my parents could read it.

    If something did happen, though, I’d be okay with my job and such, but the worst would be what would happen to the boyfriend. His profession has some strong requirements, and as such, I have to make sure not to endanger those by staying anonymous. I am considering a career in sex education, though, and if that came through, I think I’d pick up my real identity, but until the schooling and such is complete, I think I prefer to do it this way.

    (amazing post, by the way.)

  14. Molly says:

    “But if the attitudes are so different, why did they give Abby Lee/ Zoe Margolis such a hard ass time with her blogger-turned-book? She wanted to be anon but the paps were persistent.”

    Actually I think this is a result of being anon in the first place, the papers saw a story and went for it, just like Belle du Jour, if they had been out in the first place, no story and no fallout BUT I suspect no lucrative writing career at the end of it either. Seems both these woman have been outed but both have gone onto to make major successes from it. Might have ben tough at the time, but they were not fired from jobs, in fact Abby Lee was given a job on sky news.

    Maybe being out means there is no story, which is the case with the page 3 girls. There is no anonminity there, so no big exposure story.


  15. Roland Hulme says:

    I think this is a fascinating topic, and one I’ve been thinking a lot about ever since I wrote that article about it on SexIs. You wrote it brilliant, Lilly.

    The conclusion I eventually reached in my own musings will probably piss a lot of people off (but what’s new?) because I decided that any of us bloggers who assume some kind of entitlement of anonymity are deluding ourselves.

    We present ourselves publicly in an attempt to engage an outside audience. We’re basically journalists and writers no different to those in magazines or books. We can make attempts at remaining anonymous (or half anonymous) but at the end of the day, if we decide we want to have blogs, we do so at the cost of jeopardizing our anonymity. If you don’t want to be “outed” don’t have a blog, as simple as that.

    And while I detest the scum who deliberately “out” an anonymous blogger, I do so more because it shows an inherent lack of respect for that blogger’s desire to be anonymous, rather than because it’s “wrong.” You can’t exist in the public realm while having a private identity. You just can’t.

    For example, I can understand Zoe Margolis’ frustration at being outed, but I think it’s totally contradictory of her to complain about it after having a successful book published off her writing.

    Let’s face it – we all blog because we have egos and we want attention. The risk of that, however, is that we don’t get the type of attention we want. That’s a danger inherent in what we do; and we shouldn’t complain about some entitlement of anonymity where none actually exists.

    I think respectful blogging “best practice” is to respect each others’ anonymity (I think it’s the ultimate blogging disgrace to “out” another anonymous blogger) but I write that knowing that not everybody we interact with out there in the blogosphere holds themselves to that level of mutual respect.

  16. Jane Blow says:

    I’ve always been “this way”, I’ve always been digging in the sex archives, nose in a book/internet learning all I could and eventually choosing to talk about it. Around the discovery that this will be my career, I decided to expand and the name sort of fell into my lap. I didn’t have an “other name” until a couple of years ago. Now that this part of me had a name, “Jane” I actually feel more at home with myself.

    I don’t need Jane, I could perfectly well have kept going with my actual name. But I couldn’t shove it, and Jane is more easily “brand-able”, so it is more of a career choice. My actual name is reserved for family, and the few who knew me before “Jane”. Most of them call me by a previous nickname given to me foreverago… so it is even more especially strange for me to hear my name (especially said in full). She is just a shell for my family to cling to as I go further down the rabbit hole. I find myself having to think to write it on official documents, that never fails to be odd.

    I used to care less about a cross over, but there are people I am friends with/family who don’t care to have my career shoved in their face even though I am “out”. As Jane gets “bigger”, the blog more spread, I’m hiding my true name more just to keep the creepos away. But I say where I work (bc I don’t plan on leaving “xxx”), what I’m doing, and where I’m going if it is an event etc. I just ask that my friends don’t tag “Jane” if we’re just out hangin’… not everyone cares and not everyone needs to know what else I do with my life.

    Anonymity, I’ve found, is a blessing and curse; it should be used as a weapon to protect and a tool to help lead/live fearlessly… as corny as that sounds.