Transitioning to a public identity

I recently bit the bullet and created a facebook page for Perpetual Tangent. Scary stuff, as I did it through my facebook page, my personal facebook page, which means technically people might know I have a blog; people I know. Which means they might read my blog. And they might hate me forever. Or something. I know, irrational right? Yeah, but this blogging thing is pretty confronting in terms of revealing personal stuff. I started it with a view to being able to pour my heart out and know I was safely anonymous, but that just wasn’t cutting it any more so although I’m not explicitly stating my surname and where I live right here, I’m sure in time, if people actually care, it will come out. But so what? Am I afraid to express my opinion? I’ve pissed people off a few times in real life, why is the internet any different? That’s made me think of a whole other post…

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It’s a funny thing, this truth-telling business, being really honest and open online. Most blogs I read, including those of friends, use real names, although some use pseudonyms for referring to others. I find the most compelling blogs to be the honest, truthful ones, really raw stuff, like what Eden writes.  Then there are those bloggers like Amanda Blake-Soule who has created the most amazing space over at Soulemama and constantly inspires me. Yes, she uses all real names, photos of herself and others, but she isn’t completely open.  She is, however, open about how she defines her online space. And it’s easy to understand her reasons; she wants to maintain the beauty and purity of her blog. It’s got clear parameters, obvious themes and a real identity, so to upset this harmony with anything negative or gritty wouldn’t be in keeping with the blog’s very nature. I love that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not censorship. Fairly recently, when the whole gay marriage thing became legal in Maine, which is where Amanda lives with her family, there was some heated discussion in the comments of a lovely post Amanda did regarding the celebrations. There are a fair few Bible bashers amongst her followers (fairly typical of the US demographic, I guess) who got pretty hot under the collar about it all. ‘Marriage is between a man and a woman, the Bible says so, bla bla bla bla…’ Some people vowed not to come back, some were a bit more level-headed, saying they respected her choice to have those views but were personally opposed to gay marriage and would just not be reading posts on that topic. A lot of arguing back and forth about the Bible and Christian values happened. I read quite a lot of the comments but I didn’t see Amanda weigh in. Which is kind of refreshing. She probably just noticed all these comments coming in, read some, and quietly closed off comments after a few days. She may have also thanked everyone for their views. I like her peaceful nature and that she chooses not to get into some debates but rather to respect everyone’s views and quietly state her own, if relevant. That’s the way to live in peace. And the wonderful thing about her way of dealing with controversy, which inevitably happens online, is that she rarely gets slated. People can’t really bag her out because she gives them no ammunition. I’d find it hard not to have an opinion and go in for the fight sometimes, so I admire the way she doesn’t really do that and it serves her well.

The other side of the coin is that there are whole communities of people with nothing better to do that slag other people off. Usually people they don’t even know in real life. Often people they’ve never even had an interaction with online. I recently read Gina’s post on The Feminist Breeder blog about the Get Off My Internets (GOMI) site and associated forums. I couldn’t help myself, I had to read some. I found it entertaining, for a short while, but after a while I began to get a sick feeling in my stomach. I realised that these people, who come to this site specifically to berate other people must really have some issues. It got me thinking about opinions and views. There’s always that thing now online where you post something, for example, a meme about how breastfeeding is normal and natural and people who are offended shouldn’t look, and someone might have an opposing view. They may be harsh and say, hey, I’m offended by it and I don’t want boobs up in my face at random in public. Or they may say, hey, seeing boobs as a result of a woman breastfeeding makes me uncomfortable. It’s a feeling and I can’t change it. And there comes the ‘thing’: it’s like a paradox. On the one hand, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, even if it differs significantly. Cool. Okay so they’re entitled to express that opinion. Cool. So is it the way they express it that makes it ‘wrong’ or creates arguments? Perhaps. But if you’re really adamant about something, if you feel that there IS only one way, you might be a bit more forthright about it. And then what? Can you be accused of forcing your opinion on someone else? It’s hard because in a way you are. Yet really you aren’t because no one can be forced to believe anything. The difficulty arises when bloggers make offhand comments that they don’t see as offensive but others are offended by. It’s all about interpretation and intention in the end; the interpretation of the audience, and the intention of the blogger. In the online world, a world of writing, editing, marketing, manipulation and impression, this can get really messy. If you were to have an ad for the internet, the slogan would read, ‘The internet: prepare to be pissed off’.

GOMI is fun for about half an hour, but then it starts to get tedious and icky. It can’t be good to wallow in all those put downs all the time, even if it’s you doing the putting down. Some of the criticism on there is really unconstructive and, frankly, a bit libelous. Yeah, okay, it’s an anonymous forum on the internet, no one’s getting sued. Who gives a shit, right? True. But I must say I found it slightly unnerving to read some of their rants about people like The Feminist Breeder or even new bloggers just getting their profiles out there. Someone might not be the best writer or have a lot to say, but who are you to belittle them? Get a life.

Anyway, all this leads up to my latest thinking on blogging and the anonymity of one’s online presence. Given I’ve bit the bullet with facebook (I’m starting to think I should minimise activity on my personal profile and just post as my page now), and that I’ve posted a few things recently there and here and on twitter that give a few clues as to my name, I am less concerned about staying anonymous. I know that if people did start to take an interest in this blog, it’s inevitable I’ll get flayed alive at some point. There are always people out there with something to say, and no one could have the same views as me. The question is, do I follow Amanda’s lead and stay as neutral as possible or do I go all out, guns blazing, ala TFB and kick butt? I don’t know yet, but if it happens, I’ll have to come up with some sort of plan.

Postscript: Since I drafted this post, TFB has decided to move to a subscription-only model, meaning people actually have to sign up and pay a nominal fee to read her posts. Ballsy or crazy? I can understand why she did it, given some of the horrible stuff she has had to put up with, especially as she is estranged from some of her family and they seem a little crazy about it and like to slag her off online – it’s a self-protection mechanism. BUT, as a reader, I am not reading her posts any more. The main reason is that I don’t want to pay, it’s not worth it for me, but the secondary reasons are that I was getting a little bit over her stuff and it just wasn’t ‘speaking’ to me any more and I found a lot of her most recent posts to be a bit too self-obsessed and gushy and neurotic. So sometimes we simply move on, and what was once compelling reading is now pretty ordinary. It might be just that I’ve changed, I don’t know. Sometimes you’ve just got to let things go. I wonder if the GOMI losers have anything to say about this though…