Occasionally I get email from other aspiring queer bloggers asking for advice, and I received another one recently, so I thought I'd share some general, hard-won blogging advice. Take it all with a boulder of salt.BW's Tips for Bloggers
I'm sure other bloggers feel differently about lots of this stuff, and I hope they'll weigh in with other thoughts they have. What about you, dear readers? What are your favorite qualities in a blog?
- Assuming you want an audience, your blog should revolve around a theme, not just be a diary. For a following, you need an angle. (Once you have a following, it's okay to deviate sometimes--regular readers are forgiving... As, I hope, you all are right now...)
- Let your personality shine through. Whether it's nerdy, quirky, punny, whatever--it's genuine you, and this is the fun of it.
- Keep a running list of possible topics. Then on the weeks you're running dry, check the list and see what inspires you.
- You don't need to know anything about coding or building websites. Personally I use Weebly, because I like their templates and options and easy-to-view stats. But there's also WordPress and a bunch of others.
- Reach out to more experienced bloggers. After you've got 10-12 good posts, ask if they'll put you on their blog rolls.
- Don't feel obligated to post every day. It's nice if you can, but you don't want the blog to feel like something you have to do.
- Give people an option to subscribe to your blog via email.
- Do it for love, not money. I'm positive I've spent more on BW than I've earned. Would I like to make a living writing BW? You bet. Am I willing to post ads all over my page and pimp products I don't care about? No freakin' way.
- Have patience! It can take a really long time for your audience to grow.
- Some people will hate you, disagree with you, and/or think you're stupid--and won't be afraid to say so. Pay attention to thoughtful critiques; ignore the morons.
- Don't be defensive. You will screw up. When you do, admit it.
- You're going to offend some people, even if you try not to. This is not a nice feeling, but it's a virtually inevitable one.
- Readers love pictures, especially if you take them yourself.
- Have fun! Be silly, be weird, be random. If you're laughing while you're writing, your readers will laugh while reading it.
- Keep a separate email account for blog-related email. This will keep your blog life from leaking into your work life, and vice versa.
- Think carefully about whether to be anonymous. It's a hard choice. I'm still closeted for professional reasons (and deeply ambivalent about it), but plan on coming out in the next couple years. Once you're "out," you can't go un-ring the bell. While being up-front about your real identity will increase your credibility (and get you a bigger following, I bet!), it may limit what you feel comfortable writing about.
- Social media is your friend! Lots of people have stumbled across BW randomly through Twitter and Facebook.
- Don't write about friends/family who read your blog, unless they've told you it's okay, or you specifically let them know ahead of time. Some will get pissed off; it's hard to predict who. Also: use pseudonyms.
- Interact with your readers! Most of them will be awesome, and eventually you'll probably get more emails than you can handle, but if you see blogging more as a conversation than a mouthpiece, readers will be engaged (and they'll share smart, interesting ideas that will teach you cool things and inspire you to write more!).
- You're allowed to vary: sometimes you may be funny, sometimes reflective, sometimes informative. Don't feel like you have to keep up some kind of consistent "persona."
- Don't get too obsessed with your numbers, and certainly don't write in response to them (e.g., "People like posts about fashion so I'd better write about nothing but fashion").
- Don't apologize if you go a while without blogging. (Yeah, I broke my own rule recently. Sue me.) Just roll with it.
- Focus on creating good, interesting content. Rachel Maddow said recently that there are too many great content-container creators and not enough great content creators. Be one of the great ones, and strive to get better. I'm talking about technical stuff (for grammar tips, there's no better source than Strunk and White) and non-technical stuff. Think of the bloggers you admire most. Why do you like their posts? Strive to embody the qualities you admire.
- Good writing takes way more time than you think it will.
- Understand that you have something to say. If you're thinking about blogging, it's because you want to tell something to the masses. Don't second-guess yourself. Everyone's an expert on his or her own corner of the world. A blog is an awesome way to share your point of view!
Mad 4 Equality is on! I'm partnering with Bess Sadler
and the Feral Librarian
(pictured left as a sports-loving dyke-in-training) to run a women's and a men's tourney to benefit the Trevor Project
and the Campaign for Southern Equality
Fill out your women's bracket before the first game on Saturday
, and the men's before Thursday's game tips off. Winner gets 1/3 of the pot!
Things You Need to Do for Entry:
- On the PayPal links below, buy an entry ($10 minimum, but you can donate more; it's for LGBTQ equality and youth suicide prevention, after all!). Be sure to name your bracket!
- Sign up for a free ESPN account and fill out your bracket using the same name you typed into PayPal.
- Join the Mad4Equality and/or Mad4Equality Men's group.
We'll also be giving prizes for creativity, so don’t be shy about entering your best theme-based bracket (e.g., cutest mascot or gayest coach).
Yay! Let's go @mad4equality!
I'm excited to share this guest post from a BW reader who's working as a Peace Corps volunteer. I hope you enjoy her insights as much as I did! For reasons that this piece makes clear, she's chosen to remain anonymous. Discovering the Lesbian Underground in Rural South America
Peace Corps is a two-year commitment to do development work in impoverished countries. I am an Agricultural Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in South America. My site is a very rural, impoverished, and conservative village in a conservative country.
I generally present myself as androgynous. Short hair, comfortable clothing, and a slim build make this easy. I didn’t tell my Peace Corps recruiter about my sexual orientation, but I scoured the internet trying to find information on queer life in the small, culturally isolated country to which I was assigned (and on the experiences of queer PCVs worldwide). To my dismay, I found little information. The Peace Corps welcomes queer PCVs, but warns that in many countries they will have to stay closeted—sometimes to work smoothly with host country counterparts, but frequently for the safety of the PVC.
In my village, miles away from paved roads, surrounded by banana and pineapple crops, I am very deeply in the closet. I still dress androgynously, but I have not, and likely will not, tell anyone in my community the direction in which my romantic interests generally lie – the señoras
trying to match me up with their sons don’t know how much of an uphill battle they face. Due to my unfeminine hair and clothing, I also receive far fewer cat calls and less sexual harassment than other female volunteers.
After working with men in the community to rebuild a wall of my house, someone joked that a "man"
would be moving in: me. This comment from a community member made me anxious, and led me to worry about every interaction—to an unhealthy extent. Indeed, my self-censorship has been one of the most stressful parts of being here. I am fearful that they will “guess,” but I actually haven’t altered much. I don't change my appearance or flirt with men, though I certainly don’t flirt with women in my site either. My second year, I’ve loosened up because I know the people in the village, and they know me. For example, when señoras would ask me if I had a boyfriend I used to say, “not right now,” but now I say, “I don’t need a boyfriend.” It’s a small, but significant, difference.
One of my queer volunteer friends says that this is a country of “open secrets:” Secrets everyone knows, but tacitly agrees not to talk about. It makes me wonder, am I living an open secret too? Is it possible everyone in my site knows and are electing to keep quiet?
One of the biggest personal changes I have experienced here is the role my sexual identity plays in my sense of self. Like many people in their mid-twenties from accepting backgrounds, I never viewed my orientation as a big deal. However, here in rural South America, I needed to hide this part of myself for the first time in my life… so it has become more important. I am open with other volunteers and the Peace Corps support staff in-country, but I miss being in an active queer community.
Once every month or two, I travel to the country’s capital to get mail and to socialize with other PCVs. If possible, we visit one of the few gay bars in the whole country. Unsurprisingly, it’s usually full of gay men. However, after a conversation with a posse of local gay men looking out for me, we got directions, scrawled on the back of a napkin, to a rumored lesbian bar. It was months before we found the place. When we finally did, we discovered that we had to get past the guards, ring the bell, and wait for someone to come unlock the door. They’re only open one night a week, but have information regarding human rights campaigns, queer film festivals, and Pride activities. Despite their limited hours, it was nice to know that such a locale existed.
However, I still needed a queer community closer to where I live, and as luck would have it, I stumbled across one! There is a town an hour and a half away, and during my first few months, I traveled there frequently to buy supplies to build my house. A PCV there introduced me to a friend of hers (I’ll call her B), a female firefighter. This PCV told me that B was a lesbian and told B the same thing about me. A few months later, B invited me to a secret, underground drag show! Out here, in the middle of nowhere, there was a community! The event was invitation only, with the location announced a few hours ahead of time. Secrecy was a big priority. Drag queens from all over the country performed, and under a blanket of stars, the rest of us queers watched. It was great! But the most valuable part of the experience was finding out that there is a network, even out here in the rural countryside. However, it’s distressing that such a high level of secrecy is necessary.
Now I find myself dating B’s ex (I guess lesbians are the same world over). This
chapter is unfolding day by day…Our interactions are full of cultural misunderstandings and poorly translated endearments. (Also, how on earth does one discuss strap-ons in a country without toy shops?) She is closeted even to those in her family who would be accepting. I worry that I overestimate the level of acceptance around her, and thereby put her in danger. Her internalized homophobia and self-hatred is another challenge altogether.
I am pleased to have been admitted into the secret lesbian underground of this country. I’ve never met any established lesbian couples, but supposedly several pairs live together, frequently raising children from their past relationships. One of the pairs was comparatively wealthy and lived somewhat more openly, and the other pairs just quietly lived together as “housemates.” I never heard of couples in the countryside, only in town. I also met people who had been part of the lesbian community but ended up marrying men. For some of them, marrying was one of the few avenues of independence they had. Outside of the capital, most people don’t leave their parents’ house till they get married.
I can be an example of a happy, queer, woman within the underground lesbian community. Their eyes went wide when I mentioned that my mother once asked my (ex)girlfriend which of the states with legalized same-sex marriage we would be moving to. I’m not sure what blew their minds more, the fact that marriage was an option for us, or that my mother treated our relationship legitimately. I introduced terms like “family” and “gaydar,” and exposed the underground to television shows like The L Word
and Modern Family
. Seeing queer people on TV just like any other telanovela
was a very significant, empowering experience, especially for my girlfriend. It’s been powerful for me as well: by seeing it from the outside, I truly appreciate the strength of the queer community in the US.
Clearly I can only base this off of the lesbians I know, but but at least in this country, there seems to be less gender nonconformity than in the US or other South American countries. But maybe that’s because all the lesbians I know are from the countryside (the town is in the middle of nowhere. The only real “city” is the capital.
Lesbians here either never find each other (sad but true), or find one other lesbian or gay man who introduces them to her or his friends (like what happened to me). Some of the most important work I’ve done my last few months in the site, has been introducing a few teenagers (males) who came out to me to the community in the town. Additionally, I introduced the community in town to the resources and clubs in the capital.
My Peace Corps experience has changed me in many unexpected ways, including strengthening my identity as a queer person. But more importantly, it has highlighted something else to me, the fact that who I am is not just for me alone. I'm a member of a beautiful community, not just underground in a small country and not just causally out in my hometown: it’s a community that's everywhere, worldwide, where I'd most and least expect it. When I pack my bags, say my goodbyes, and leave this country, I'm taking that lesson with me.
Many thanks to the guest poster for sharing her story. She also wanted me to pass along this link for LGBT Peace Corps Alumni. Do you have an experience worth sharing? I welcome guest post submissions; email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Big news: the Supreme Court just agreed to take on two BIG gay rights cases this term:Case #1
involves the so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act (or DOMA), which is the federal law that says that even if your
state allows gays to marry, married gays don't get federal benefits like Social Security or the ability to file joint tax returns. This case isn't about whether states
have to legalize gay marriage--it's about whether if
a state recognizes a gay marriage, the federal government has to play along. Case #2
comes out of California (see my previous post explaining gay marriage in California
for background). It deals with Prop 8, the ballot initiative whereby those lily-livered California liberals voted to amend their state constitution
to take away same-sex couples' right to marry. In this case, the Supremes could hand down many possible rulings, some of which would affect only California, some of which would affect the whole country, and some of which would kick issues back down to the lower courts.Neither of these cases necessarily has national implications for gay marriage (though they could--#2 especially), but they are still both Very Big Deals, particularly if you share my belief that gay rights isn't "just another issue." I'll wrap it up here and write more later, as this all develops. Here are some links to media coverage of the issue:What do you think about the Court's decision, dear readers? Are you optimistic?
I feel like it would be virtually anti-American not
to say anything about the presidential debate, but for me it hovered between depressing and irritating.
The substance centered around giant economic plans whose conception--let alone implementation--is opaque to practically all of us. Would most people know the difference if Obama had said Romney favored cutting $8 trillion in taxes instead of $5 trillion? Or if Romney had said Obama planned to cut $416 billion from Medicare instead of $716 billion?
Numbers that huge are difficult for most of us to assess unless we've got special expertise and/or gobs of free time. Instead, we assume that the candidate we favor is mostly telling the truth, while the other guy is spinning it somehow. Candidates vaguely reference "studies," but never go beyond that. Are there really "six studies" debunking Obama's critique of Romney's tax plan?
, you might Google it (whereupon the sketchiness of Romney's citation becomes apparent
). But even when you learn that the studies were conducted with biased motives, how do you know they're not accurate? Are you going to go read them and assess their validity? Am I?The debate format--with its time constraint, vague questions, unwieldy numbers, and dearth of precise follow-ups
--makes it very difficult to see who's telling the truth. If you're like me, you end up relying on trusted sources, or on your own assumptions about the candidates, or on the candidates' values as best you can discern them. And this is where Obama could have scored big, I think--turning the topics into questions of values rather than questions of numbers. Gay rights, women's rights, Romney's "47 percent" gaffe--these issues underscore crucial value differences between Obama and Romney. And voters understand values; we have them, too. And since values underpin specific economic proposals, if we only have 90 minutes I'd rather hear about values.Instead of talking about my other reactions to the debate, which will depress you and me both, here are my reactions to the debate I wish I'd seen:
Did you watch the debates last night, dear readers? What did YOU think? I'm looking forward to your comments.
- That Jim Lehrer is one tough dude! Although he was a bit of a hardass with the time limits, I appreciated it, because it made things SO FAIR.
- Saying that a plan will help the middle class is useless unless you're willing to define it (everyone thinks they're "middle class"), which is why I appreciated that the candidates agreed to a definition prior to the debate, so that everyone could be on the same page.
- Obama really scored a zinger with that "47 percent" quip at the end. And the way he looked right into the camera during his closing? So intense--it gave me chills!
- The section of the debate on the pervasiveness of racial inequality really highlighted the difference between Obama's philosophy and Romney's. Of course they both know that America isn't "postracial!" I feel silly for fearing that they wouldn't talk about it.
- That new rule that both candidates are required to provide written citations on their websites the next day for everything they said in the debate the night before? Brilliant. And useful to me as a voter.
- Thank goodness women's issues played such a big role.
I spent several hours working (at day job stuff) this morning, then signed onto Twitter
, only to discover that in the intervening hours, I had missed some crucial (okay, maybe not crucial
, but interesting) stuff. Then I signed onto Tumblr
, which I don't usually use but have been experimenting with lately
. More missed stuff. And don't even get me started on Facebook
Additionally, when I got my latest issue of Curve
in the mail (I'm a longtime reader), it felt a little outdated. I'm not sure if this had to do with layout, format, or content. This led me to wonder what BW readers like to read (well, besides Butch Wonders, obviously). Whether or not you ID as butch, I'd love it if you could take this poll. (And if you check "other," please tell me what the "other" is.)
I'd also be interested to know what's changed for you in the last 2-3 years re: how you get your queer media news and content. Personally, I rely more on specialized sites, as well as particular people (e.g., on FB and Twitter), and less on national news sites (except NPR, which I listen to almost daily). I read blogs more than I used to, and read magazines less. How about you? And: do you access queer-related content differently from how you access other media content?
Today I spoke to a group of college students about butch identity. They asked great questions, and one particularly interested me: On one hand, there's a big stereotype that all lesbians look the same: we're all butch, all gravitate toward plaid flannel, and all hate men.
But on the other hand, the few depictions of lesbians we do
see in popular media tend to be stereotypically feminine-looking (e.g., "The L-Word").
It's an interesting little paradox. I suggested the following explanation:
People don't think of butch lesbians as "attractive," and the media only loves people who are considered "attractive." This is especially true for women. (Think about it: Jack Black
and John C. Reilly
get movie deals. Would the female equivalent of those guys score any leads in feature films?)
So maybe butch lesbians are underrepresented
in the media in the same way that overweight people, people with acne, and physically disabled people are. Maybe the dearth of butch media depiction is just one more example of the "beauty bias" that Deborah Rhode
have been writing about. What do you all think? Any other ideas for why this might be?
Oops! How did THIS picture get in here??
This also got me thinking about what we would want butch representation in the media to look like. It's tough to say, right? We want it to look like "us," but what what do "we" look like?
Personally, I would be most excited to see someone who looks like me represented in a romantic comedy. And I'd add the caveat (since it's my Hollywood fantasy) that I'd love my lesbo rom-com not to simply replicate het rom-coms--that is, I wouldn't want it to simply "remove man, insert butch." For one, this might trivialize the butch-femme dynamic. But moreover, it might trivialize queerness, making it seem like: See? Even "the Gays" fall into a tidy little package that you can read as gender normative!
As I see it, we have a very long way to go when it comes to media representation. Can you imagine a character on your favorite sitcom--"The Office" or "30 Rock" or whatever--where there is a lesbian character and being gay isn't the be-all and end-all of her entire character? I can't.
The only example I can think of off the top of my head is Dr. O'Hara in "Nurse Jackie." I think she's bisexual, but either way, her attraction to women is just one of many interesting things about her (including massive wealth, devastating good looks, killer fashion sense, and a sexy-as-hell accent).
Come to think of it, that's another thing I like about "Nurse Jackie." Jackie (right) appears to be totally straight, but is far less gender-conforming than her queer co-worker, Dr. O'Hara (left). And it's not presented as some "wackily ironic" thing; it's simply presented as is. I like that.
The popularity of women like Rachel Maddow and Ellen Degeneres is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s wonderful to see non-gender-normative women in the mainstream limelight. But on the other, it may give people (think: your parents; your grandparents) the impression that gender deviance means short hair and a ladies’ pant suit. “Even Ellen wears make-up,” they might say, as if Ellen occupies the hinterlands of gender presentation. (The implication being: “So why do YOU have to look like a man?”) By comparison to the mainstream media’s watered-down version of “butch,” in-the-flesh lesbians can look extreme just by donning a suit vest and a tie--especially if you're the only butch someone knows.
Yes, I love Ellen and think she has done a ton for lesbians. But if I get married again, you can bet your cuff links I won't be caught dead in something that flowy!
What do you think, dear BW readers? Is the popularity of non-completely-gender-conforming women in mainstream media a good thing or a bad thing? What would you like to see changed in the media's presentation of butch/dyke/boi types?