authority on the internet

June 30, 2008  |  miscellany

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – Buddha

I’ve quoted that before, but I’m reminded of it again recently. It’s a quality that I always seek in those from whom I wish to learn.

I’ve been using the internet actively for the past fifteen years, since I was fourteen, and that’s not actually exaggeration; I caught a little bit of the BBS days, but really got my feet wet with the telnet chatrooms that were gaining popularity. I’d use the public library’s telnet system and my dad’s engineering computer to chat – live! with people from all over the world! – in Coffeehouse and Shadowlands.

And, as many have said, including Audacia Ray in her recent study of sex on the internet, new technologies are always first used for porn and sex. So, as a teenager, not only discovering a new technology, but also discovering a new sexuality, my primary sexual awakening was online – writing, corresponding, typing out fantasies, and asking questions to a hive mind of various perspectives and orientations and kinks.

I didn’t experiment a lot in person, it wasn’t appealing; but online, I could do anything, and it was safe. Of course, it wasn’t always safe. But I did pretty well for myself. I learned lessons, got smarter.

I started my first personal web pages in 1996, and have had open diaries, livejournals, javascript notebooks, and finally, blogs, online ever since then, in various forms of anonymity. Sometimes totally anonymous, sometimes under my real name. I understand how these communities build and fall and swell and fade, I’ve watched many of them, I’ve built some of them, I’ve heard stories from others who are interested in these things.

In 2000, two major things happened for me: I went back to college after taking four years off after high school, and I came out as queer. At college, I further my informal studies of feminism with gender studies, queer theory, and postmodern theory. I have two degrees, one in Gender Studies with an emphasis on social change, one in English with an emphasis on creative writing.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours reading books, watching films, going to workshops and conferences, seeking out mentors, reading blogs of personal expeirences, going to feminist sex toy shops, talking to friends, about gender dynamics, their personal relationships, queer oppression, social change, labeling, sex, sex techniques, sex toys, seduction, pick-up artistry, androgyny, lesbianfeminism, the 1980s sex wars, intersexuality, transitioning, binding, packing, taking T, putting on makeup, shopping for dresses or bathing suits or earrings or purses, shopping for ties or cufflinks or slacks or a tuxedo, radical acts of subversion, generational differences, strapping on a cock, the history of gender in the US, kink, domination and submission, rope bondage, BDSM, and uh all sorts of other things.

Not to mention that I, personally, have experience with these things in my relationships, my life, and my communities.

When I think about it, all of that history makes sense that here, fifteen years later, I’ve finally settled into this small niche of my varying interests – writing, inner emotional landscapes, sexuality, queer theory, gender theory, feminism, butch/femme dynamics, self-awareness, love, and relationships.

I’m not writing this to brag.

I’m writing this to show where my authority on these subjects about which I write come from.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll continue with all this research into these topics if or when I meet someone and develop a successful, fulfilling relationship, I’ll be disinclined to continue, because I can simply live it, instead of theorize about it all day every day. Perhaps I’ll move on to my next obsessive research subject – building alternative families or aging or performance poetry or who knows what. Perhaps all this has just been my own research into How To Be Me – chivalrous kinky writer, queer butch top, and feminist lover of femmes – In This World. Sometimes I feel like once I “figure it out,” I won’t have to be constantly doing all this work all the time.

Of course, there’s no easy way to simply figure this out, and once it’s “figured out” it’ll probably change, anyway, because it’s increidbly fluid; not only my own understanding of it, but the cultural understanding as well. It’s amazing how much has changed in the past ten years – even five years! Things are moving and growing, and I want to be a part of this activism, this forward motion, this quest for us all to be our highest, best selves, accepted by the world in our freakery.

(I digress.)

My point is, I was reminded recently how easy it is to get online and create yourself as an authority about something on which you are not. And it’s sad to me, and disappointing, how easy it is for people to get sucked into something so false.

I know the internet. Know these blog circles quite well, I correspond with hundreds of people, read intimate, detailed blogs, have friends that I’ve never met but whom I’ve followed for years online. There are some amazing, lovely folks here who are using these tools, this digital medium, to express what is the most true and beautiful and real about them.

But that’s not true of everybody. I find I can usually spot those who are not authentic; they stand out, somehow, I go to their site or read their work and think, something’s just not quite right. It puzzles me, because I don’t use the internet that way, and because there’s such a better way to use this digital tool to connect, so why would you do it the other, less effective and more inauthentic way? Probably out of pure ignorance, frankly – but I don’t really know.

For y’all out there reading, especially about things as completely personal and delicate as your butch/femme gender and sexual identities, this is just a reminder not to believe somebody unless you have reason to do so, don’t take them purely on their word, wait until they prove themselves to you. Identities are fragile, and can get damaged so easily when we don’t have adequate support and validation around them. It’s so easy for one big, painful misunderstanding to put someone off of something entirely, when in fact it is not indicative of how it could potentially function.

Dan Savage had a great call on his Savage Lovecast last week (seriously, it’s now the #1 podcast on the internet, and you’re not listening to it yet?) about developing a bionic bullshit detector, which has also got me thinking about all of this.

Many of us place our trust in people too easily. And when it comes to the very personal and delicate subjects, such as what I discuss here on this site, I really hope you do (respectfully) disagree with me sometimes, I hope you don’t assume I always know what I’m talking about, I hope you question me sometimes, I hope you ask who the man (ahem, “man,” don’t get the wrong idea) behind the site is, I hope you check authority credentials and expect proof of authorty.

I also hope I’ve earned it, from you, from visitors to this site, from readers, from friends, from acquaintances, because I work hard to do so, to stand behind my philosophies by living inside of them, to have a consistent personal narrative, to have reliability in my character, to admit what I don’t know, to speak on things that I know well. In some ways, I’ve made a formal study of these things too, since the one particular ex who manipulated me into such a frenzy.

There’s no easy way to know who’s conning you and who is authentic except to be cautious, I think. (Dan Savage and his caller had a few ideas, too; see, now you really have to download the podcast, don’t’cha?)

As much as I have made a semi-formal study of these topics, and as much as I do have some authority here, I also will always say that everyone needs to figure it out for themselves. I’m thrilled that my process is useful to others, and I’m curious about the processes that don’t look like mine, too. This is me, doing this work, going through the processing, reaching these identities for my own self – now, you go do yours.

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13 Comments


  1. you are the gender buddha! and yeah, the gender buddha solved his problem, so I’ll go solve mine.

    there are so many stories of people being misled on the internet. but there’s so much good work being done online, too, and so many connections forged that would have never been possible otherwise.

    and of course, I know for sure that you’re exactly what you say you are. you might even downplay your awesomeness a little bit. <3!

  2. you had an open diary at some point?! wow. i started writing there was i was in the seventh grade and left it for blogging eventually as well.

    if not for the internet, my exploration of sexuality and gender would have been much slower and i would have led a very depressing adolescence. some days it was the only thing that kept me from feeling completely crazy and alone.

  3. I’ve just begun to read your blog, but it has given rise to several lines of questioning that I hope will further my understanding of who I am. For this I am grateful.

    Thanks for every post, they are always thoughtful and provocative.

  4. What a great post, thank you! Really, using one’s sixth sense to figure out who is real and who is not on the net (can be difficult) but really for most of us is now yet another intuitive social radar. And, for me, in determining who is an authority, is who resonates with me. So, yet another spin on the old feminist battle cry – the personal is political – I can identify authenticity because I recognize something from you (you SS or another internet someone) because it’s also within me.

    I don’t think you’ll stop writing. For those of use who write to process it is unending. Once you figure one thing out, there’ll be something else to untangle. As a writer, you’ll keep writing to process. That is beautiful for us readers. Thank you.

  5. Sin, we couldn’t stop processing all this stuff even if we WANTED to. But we don’t want to, and so here we are.

    ps–I think you pretty much said it all with this post.

  6. And on a completely unrelated note, somehow I’ve managed to MISS the top nav on your site until now. Imagine my confusion when “submission” wasn’t what I hoped it might be…

  7. I tend to consider you an authority on topics I don’t know, and you speak so well of- but I do understand your points made. I try to write things in relation top my understanding of them, and simply leave them out if I don’t understand. I think I personally would learn more if I asked more questions.

  8. hehe, i like the gender buddha. especially "This is me, doing this work… now, you go do yours."

    but i have to (respectfully) disagree with some of what you imply about trust. because i do trust you (and have often been told i trust "too" easily), but i don't feel that has any negative effect on my ability to question you. it simply means that i trust you to be honest and true and good and those other totally subjective, personal things. none of that means you're always right, or more to my way of thinking, that what's right for you is the same as what's right for me.

    but it is a great place to start figuring out the latter (because i trust, also, that you have been studying this longer and more deeply than i have =)

    [Good point about trust - that trusting someone doesn't necessarily mean that you don't question them. - ss]

  9. a related thought:

    at my place of employment, there is a great deal of discussion about the concept of 'information literacy,' which is kind of a catch-all phrase but basically refers to students' ability to assess their own need for information, critically evaluate sources, and appropriately utilize information. it's a skill set that's being formally taught in academia, but it's a good way to think about the rest of life as well. I think a lot of these difficulties (of the kind that must have inspired this post) could be resolved if people learned to recognize their own assumptions when gathering information, evaluate the bias of their various sources, and accept that some ideas are too subjective to be labeled as "true" or "false."

    [It seems to be extraordinarily difficult to teach people how to learn to think for themselves, to teach them how to learn, how to seek out information. I'm definitely curious about that. I like that term, 'information literacy,' thanks for that comment. - ss]

  10. you said "open diaries".. did you actually ever use opendiary.com?

    [Yep, that's what I meant. I had a couple of them, but they were short-lived because about the same time I started having my own hosts and domains and I preferred to have more control over the design and layout. - ss]

  11. it's just crazy because that's the site I use and have used since I was 17 and first coming out and no one EVER knows of OD.

    :)

  12. I totally had a "free open diary" until they had some outage, and deleted half of my journal, so I went to livejournal, which is still where I write my private and personal stuff.

    I agree with Lady Brett Ashley. I trust you, I've met you, I've talked with you; for the most part, you are who you say you are, and more, and you know your stuff. However, occasionally you say things I disagree with, and have no qualms in (hopefully you find it) respectfully voicing my dissent.

    And I agree with this post. One more reason I need a new banner, because I really don't like the term sexpert. When I worked for HMFH, they used it to refer to me…hence it being on my banner. But really, can one ever really be an expert in something like sex? Yeah, not so much.

    I hope you don't think I'm too full of hot air. If you do, feel free to pop me (and I meant that in a totally non-perveted sense).

  13. Usually an authority on a topic is someone who has done formal research and published it. You might consider (in your infinite spare time) taking a grad course to see what that feels like; it gives you an idea of how little we know, how difficult designing an unbiased experiment is, and also a critical eye for what you've read (improves the old BS meter!)

    That being said, research starts with being fascinated about a subject; so keep it up!

    But beware the title "authority". Once you've become an "expert", how can you learn anything new?

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