In Which Portly Attempts to Determine The Wisest Course
Friday, August 14, 2009
So, I haven't blogged at all for nearly two months.
Yes, I have been busy in "real life" -- building someone a website, making a couple of new videos for people, painting the exterior of the house, working on a novel, putting up a new online class, adjusting to new community members, and spending more time in the Summer air.
But none of those things are really the reason why I haven't been blogging.
The simple truth is, I've been trying to figure out whether I want to keep blogging at all.
A couple of months ago, I was involved in one of those inter-blog incidents that arise now and then. I found myself the focus of an online discussion at a blog that I had never read before -- a blog that I might never have read, had I not become a subject of discussion there, and had someone not "kindly" informed me of this by dropping a link to the thread in a discussion at a blog I actually do read.
Being the curious type, I went over and had a look.
All I can say is -- good thing I'm not a cat.
The statements that I was a whack-job and a scam-artist didn't really bug me that much, especially since they (mostly) came from people I don't know even remotely -- in my line of work, I've heard this stuff before, and after a lifetime of being called "unnatural", "pervert", "sinner", "damned", and worse -- whack-job and scam-artist just don't nearly pack the punch you might imagine.
The participation of people in the thread who I did know, but who didn't seem willing to confront some of the nastier stuff said about me -- some of whom I'd had personal contact with, and a couple of whom I'd actually provided with some pretty involved support in the past -- did bother me a little.
Still, I did what I usually do -- I tried to assume the best and figured that the people who I had thought liked/trusted me, but who seemed fine with standing by as I took a hiding might be either a) just getting caught up in the sturm-und-drang of it all, or b) be scared that if they did speak up, they would become a target of the same type of vitriol that was hurtling in my direction (which seems a rational concern in the circumstances). Once again, my experience as a queer stood me in good stead -- I'm kind of used to people not standing up for me -- even people who say they know and love me.
I opted to just observe my own responses, take care of myself, and generally didn't get my knickers in a twist -- I figured there would be about of week of shit flying in my direction, and then something else shiny would draw the attention of folks who like a good internet rumble.
Since I worked my masochism out a long time ago, I chose to simply stop reading the thread, as I couldn't imagine what possible good it might do me to allow it to occupy more space in my brain.
But then, it followed me "home".
Home to my website (you know -- the one that is associated with my livelihood?). I started getting all these weird, off-topic comments at my other blog and the forums that I maintain, and a raft of bogus registrations from people with handles like "SoYouThinkYourPsychic" and "stoptehscamming".
I did what all good web managers do -- I went into the logs to find out where this stuff was coming from so that I could block IPs if I needed to (my website generally nets about 900 unique visitors each month -- 90% of which are generated from the email list that folks have joined after participating with me in person -- so I was wondering where an extra 400 unique visitors had come from in a week).
Turns out, someone had linked my personal bio at my site in the "conversation" at the blog-i-might-never-have-known-about-but-for-a-"kindly"-link.
My bio -- where I get all exposed and vulnerable and shit about my personal history, and the weird-ass job that I do, and where I come from, and who I am, and who I am trying to become.
My bio at my home website -- where my phone number and address are intentionally accessible, so that people who are interested in knowing more about what I do could find me if they wanted to.
So -- you may think that this is a post about this terrible thing that happened to me when people tried to harass and bully me on the internet.
But it's not.
This is a post about about the basic inequity that can arise between people who are willing to be visible, authentic, and vulnerable -- online and off -- and people who aren't.
I was surprised that I didn't freak out when all this bizarre traffic hit my home site, from people who seemed to have only a couple of things in mind -- 1) to attempt to freak me out and 2) to "make" me feel vulnerable. There was a time in my life when it would have scared the shit out of me, and led to sleepless nights wondering if any of those people were vindictive or insane enough to take their seeming enmity towards me into the meat-world.
I think it didn't freak me out precisely because I'd already been moving in the direction of becoming more intentionally vulnerable and revealed.
I knew, last year, that abandoning my cloak of psuedonymity as Teh Portly Dyke and identifying myself as a real-life person with a real-life profession might result in rejection from some, derision from others, and outright hostility from a few -- but that was a risk that seemed miniscule when balanced against what it would cost me to continue to live my life as a disjointed, dis-integrated being.
So, I opted to come out -- again.
It was heartening to me that when I did this, there was nothing in my blog history as Teh Portly Dyke that I found I wanted to hide or take back as Carol Steinel. It was also heartening (and unanticipated) that my revelations seemed to give others the courage to be more forthright about beliefs and philosophies that they held, but rarely revealed, because they worried that people would brand them as "crazy".
In the months that have followed the conversation-about-me-that-I-wasn't-a-part-of, though -- as the bogus registrations and non-sequiter comments gathered into a big stinky cloud of inconvenient web-management and then slowly subsided -- I gained a deeper understanding of my original motivations in taking on the psuedonym of which I've now become fond.
I realized that, when someone criticizes your anonymous online persona, you think that you can pretend they aren't really criticizing you -- you think you have created something that they can throw stones at, and that you will be able to stand aside from that target and chuckle as you watch the card-board cut-out fall over backwards.
Except that you can't, really.
You still feel it somehow -- at least that was my experience -- and at least partly why I chose to come out as myself, finally -- because the stones that landed on the noggin of Teh Portly Dyke (even before I vulnerabalized myself) actually did give Carol Steinel a headache from time to time.
Conversely, I found that when people praised Teh Portly Dyke, Carol Steinel didn't really feel the appropriate glow -- because there was always that little voice piping up -- "Well, if they knew who you really were, and what you really did, they wouldn't praise you".
The worst of both worlds, really.
But I digress.
Here are some of my current problems with what I call the internet's "Twilight Tendencies":
If I'm using the internet as a tool for revelation, connection, and evolution, and you're using the internet as a tool for entertainment, distraction, and simple maintenance of the status quo, it's likely that our interactions on the internet will reflect the natural tension that can exist between those goals.
My intention is probably going to lead me to an increasing desire to make myself vulnerable and identifiable, and to seek to know more about you (how else can I truly connect?), whereas your intention is more likely to lead you to remain anonymous (because, after all, the beauty of passive entertainment is that you aren't really "in" the game -- your avatar is), and perhaps, one of the ways you might entertain yourself is by poking at the tender spots I've exposed.
I actually don't even have a judgment about that -- a person who chooses to remain anonymous on the web usually does so because they take what is, to them, a "realistic" and cautious view of the online world. From their perspective, my choice to risk being identified may be foolish at best and "asking for it" at worst.
I can understand that because I've been there. The rationalizations I made to myself for remaining anonymous at TPD originally didn't run along the lines that people who opted to be identified were stupid or deserving of harassment, but there was at least a dash of a desire to remain above the fray -- to speak without a certain level of personal accountability, and to experiment with the invention of an online presence in terms of how closely I wanted it to reflect my real-world self.
As time went on, though -- as online friendships transformed from in-jokes at the Virtual Pub to private chats of the LOL-OMFG-variety to private chats of the "What would feel supportive to you right now? How can I help?"-variety to face-to-face conversations on Skype or landline phone calls -- I re-affirmed to myself that the dynamics of internet relationships are influenced and defined by a couple of the same rules that real-life relationships are:
1) There can be no real intimacy without revelation of the self, and
2) Variances in vulnerability-levels in relationship can leave an open door to abuse of power.
One of the things that always bugged me about traditional therapist/client relationships is that #2 up there -- the therapist gets to know the deepest darkest secrets of the client (they have to, in order to be effective, really), but the client, by design and intent, knows virtually nothing about the therapist's inner life.
When used benignly and ethically, this can be a great format for the client -- they don't have to worry about the therapist's sensitivities, thoughts, or feelings -- in fact, therapists are trained to go to great lengths to prevent the client from knowing them -- so that the client can focus on themselves and their own process. They can fucking scream at the therapist and the therapist is not supposed to take it personally.
Of course, if you've ever been in the therapist's role, you'll know, of course, that there is actually a human being in there -- a human being who does respond and react to the client. Sit through a debriefing with a therapist and their supervisor or support team, and it's evident that the well-trained exterior that most show in their office demeanor is very different from what's going on inside.
I've always had questions about the value of a system which requires the de-humanization of one person in order to facilitate the re-humanization of another.
And this lopsided vulnerability is fraught with danger if the therapist is not ethical -- they can manipulate the client very easily if they choose to, knowing precisely what cues might trigger them into unconscious response, and what desires and fears might be used as levers on them.
Differing levels of vulnerability are problematic in less formal, role-based relationships, too -- think of a couple where one person is frank and forthcoming, while the other person is closed and contained. (For some reason, these two people always seem to end up together, too -- at least for a while.)
The forthcoming member of the couple usually sees the other's containment as a sign of distrust, or as something withheld from them. They often attempt to ferret it out of their more closed companion.
The contained member usually sees the other's attempt to "get in" as a violation of their sovereignty, and often retreats further.
I'm the forthcoming type. Which you probably already know.
In a sense, my choice to blog at all was an expression of that outward-going nature -- I wanted to bring more of myself to the world -- but that's become problematic for me in the Half-In/Half-Out world of the internet.
I do want to share myself with the world. I have thoughts that want more room than the kiddie-pool of my brain.
However, I have no desire to swim with sharks.
Sometimes I wish that there were two internets -- one reserved for the Tron-ists, and one for the Space Paranoids
Adherants of Tronism could use their internet as an ocean of potential connectivity beyond their geographical locale -- a place for them to walk in a virtual body that is a direct extension of their physical form, and that is more than just an amusing game. They would realize that metaphorically crashing your light-cycle online could be every bit as painful or deadly as it would be in meat-world, and that bits and bytes arranged into words could actually reach through the screen and have effect on the User behind it.
And the Space Paranoids could continue to "play" their version of the internet. They could remain safely dissociated from their avatars, and could act out all sorts of scenarios and behaviors that they would never, ever consider in real life. They could snark away and scream words that they would never speak to another person face-to-face, and leave bags of burning dog-shit on each other's virtual porches, secure in the knowledge that every IP connection was an anonymous proxy, and no finger-print or DNA sample could identify them.
The problem for me at this moment is that the Tronists and the Space Paranoids are all shook up in the same bag.
As a result, there are places on the internet to which I do not ever venture -- comment threads at YouTube are about the strongest online toxic that I'm willing to expose my psyche to (and that, only in very measured doses).
I'm sure that there probably are people in the real world who spend the majority of their lifetime-word-allotment screaming obscenities at others in person -- but I've created a life where I choose not interact with them, so why would I intentionally wade into the online equivalent of their living room?
And I guess this brings me to my basic dillema about blogging as myself in an environment where others who choose to remain hidden can drop bags of virtual dog-shit at my door:
Why would I invite those people into my living room? Or even tell them where I live, much less invite them to view the contents of my fucking head?
I have no control over the actions and choices of others. This I know.
I know this, too: The vast majority of people who read my blog have treated me honorably, respectfully, and connectively in comments and emails -- and, as far as I know, the way they've treated with me "to my face" matches the way they've treated me "behind my back".
I kind of hate to admit it, but . . . . those burning bags of dog-shit?
While they didn't "scare" me -- they definitely brought up a desire in me to just duck my head and get out of the line of fire for a while -- to shut up and stop being the target of some anonymous person's/people's inexplicable desire to let me know how much they disapproved of me.
I feel sad as I type that, because I think that this is often why people stop speaking up and stop showing up -- it's not necessarily that they're scared -- maybe they're just tired.
I know that's how I felt during the whole thing -- tired -- as if everything I'd ever blogged that had been helpful or insightful or forward-moving -- had suddenly been vaporized -- so fuck it -- why keep blogging?
Which pisses me right off, now that I tune into it.
Am I going to let a bunch of Space Paranoids wear me down?
I'm going to recommit to what I believe in: This technology -- the internet -- has massive potential as an instrument of revelation, connection, and evolution.
I'm going to recommit to what I believe in: Truth -- not "the" truth -- but revelation of personal truth -- is a profoundly curative energy.
I'm going to recommit to what I believe in: If I don't bring my voice -- if I don't bring my self -- to the world -- I have willfully forfeited my right to be an agent of transformation in the world.
So . . . I guess I'll keep blogging.
Glad we cleared that up.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:30 PM