Friday, February 02, 2007

Perils, and pleasures, of gay blogging

Now that I’ve been blogging and reading other gay men’s blogs for about six months, I’ve begun to form some ideas about blogging, especially gay blogging, both for myself and towards what seems to have developed as a significant cultural phenomenon. The discussion I would like to open here pertains, however, to those gay blogs concentrating primarily on ideas, feelings and experiences relating to gay life. I am not interested here in those gay blogs dealing primarily in pictures of beautiful men or sexy stories; such blogs differ from straight blogs of the same type only in their sexual orientation. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re just not very interesting for my purposes here.

Blogging allows me to discuss ideas about gay life in a broader forum than my own, personal life affords me. I put out an idea or an observation and, at least theoretically, I can get direct reactions and feedback from an unlimited spectrum of opinion. In my personal life I have a fairly large circle of friends I can discuss these issues with, but this spectrum is ultimately still comparatively narrow and pre- selected; they are, after all, my friends. Also, their reaction is frequently influenced by their relationship to me. None of these factors limit the blogosphere.

I generally limit myself to discussion of gay issues. While I enjoy commenting in other people’s blogs on any number of topics, I restrict my own blog to gay matters, since in that specific field I find feedback from this very broad spectrum particularly valuable. While there are several other areas of interest I could blog about, my professional and private life provides a sufficiently large forum to discuss these issues and therefore, I don't really need to blog about them. For a discussion of gay issues, however, blogging provides me with a unique opportunity.

Also, quite frankly, since I am not a professional commentator of gay issues, I can be somewhat free and adventuresome with what I say on these matters; I have no professional responsibilities in this area. Even though blogs supposedly afford a certain anonymity (more about this later), and my professional reputation would probably not be at stake, I still would not permit myself the pleasures of intellectual speculation in a field where I feel professionally responsible.

I feel fairly comfortable with these intellectual limitations I have placed on by blog. The emotional and existential realm, on the other hand, perhaps requires some further explanation. My blog may seem to some denizens of the gay blogosphere somewhat impersonal, distant, and, if you will, tight- assed. In comparason to most other gay blogs, even thoise devoted to ideas, I don't really present much of myself. Of course, even in discussing ideas, you reveal your emotional make up and even aspects of your existential reality at almost every turn; but I seldom make such revelations directly. I don’t discuss my personal life directly, and I make references to incidents from my own background only it they serve to illustrate an idea I want to get across.

I don’t discuss the details of my relationship with my partner since I regard intimacy to be, as I’ve said in other places, an essential ingredient in the mortar that holds our relationship together. I try not to be too judgmental or doctrinaire on this matter, guys, but I really can’t understand people, gay or straight, who discuss details of their relationships in a public forum. Certainly, problems in a relationship can be so painful that a guy feels he has to let loose and open up to someone. But if those problems become so acute, and the two partners are so incapable of negotiating them with each other, that a violation of the intimacy that binds the relationship seems necessary, then perhaps the guys involved need to reevaluate their relationship.

Also, from a practical point of view, what happens when your partner discovers your blog and sees what you’re telling total strangers about him? I can’t imagine that it would help matters much between you. Or perhaps you don’t want it to, and it’s a way of telling him off without having to confront him directly. Sorry, but certain judgmental terms such as “cowardly” come to mind.

Equally baffling are those people who habitually comment on such intensely personal blogs. We all have a certain tendency toward voyeurism--- I’m certainly no exception. Sometimes such comments stem from a sincere desire to help by giving a soul in obvious anguish a bit of support or a perspective on the issue that may help him resolve the issue. Most frequently, however, such habitual commentators view the blog as an alternative to a television soap opera. These people should think about getting a life for themselves.

I admit that the value I place on intimacy in a relationship may be related to my living in continental Europe. Americans and Brits seem to be much more willing to blurr the line between their public and private lives. The sex lives of American and British political and other public figures are considered fodder for public consumption and the public seems to have no problem in making the parties pay politically for perceived transgressions (Bill Clinton, Lady Diana- Prince Charles).

On the European continent, on the other hand, people tend to respond with shock when someone transgresses the line between the private and the public. This week, for example, the wife of the ex Prime Minister of Italy published a letter in a major newspaper demanding a public apology from her husband for having flirted openly with some starlets; the letter clearly intimated that the ex PM had been somewhat less than an ideal husband. The only group that supported the wife was the feminists; most other Italians, both friends and enemies of the PM even agreed that he is sleaze, but they generally condemned the wife’s letter as outrageous. You don’t wash dirty linen in public.

Of course, none of this applies to blogs discussing other types of personal topics in which intimacy isn’t an issue: passionately held political or social positions, problems at work, decisions concerning decorating, even questions of style and clothing. There is nothing problematical about seeking a broader forum for those issues than what everyday life affords.

But this brings us to what I consider the major peril of blogging: Blogger friends. Why should this be a peril, you may ask? It is inevitable, if you’re a regular blogger, that you develop a feeling of closeness, even affection for some of your regular blogger contacts. Even in a rather theme- oriented blog such as mine, there are commentators whose contact I really treasure; such relationships are assuredly even more intense in the more personalized type of blog. This is one of the pleasant, even beautiful aspects of blogging.

But the danger is that these blogger relationships become as important, even more important to you than your actual friendships and social contacts. Real life is complicated and messy. Friendships, if they matter at all, involve responsibilities and can frequently have real consequences, some good, some bad, some mixed, in your life. Blogging friendships, on the other hand, are easy and if uncomfortable, can be discarded without trouble or consequence. They involve no real responsibility.

Worse: If you’re skillful, you can put together a circle of blogger friends who consistently tell you exactly what you want to hear. They become almost like the imaginary friends some of us had as children. I know people who have retreated almost entirely from actual social life into their world of virtual friends. Even if we don’t allow our retreat into a blogger reality to develop to this extent, there is an inevitable struggle between our blogger, and our “real” life.

This is why I try to remain “on topic” in my blog. It would have been fun, for example, to get some of your opinions concerning the decoration of our newly acquired Paris apartment. But for me, at least, it’s hard enough to keep my blog in its place in my life. Bringing purely personal issues into my blog would, for me, only compound the problem.

And then there’s the problem of anonymity. Briefly put, guys, it’s an illusion. You must take it for granted that eventually family, friends, spouses, lovers, ex- lovers, enemies, enemies’ lawyers, etc. will wander into your blog. Google has made this even more likely. Most of us give enough information in our blogs that identification by people from our real life is quite easy. “Discovery” happens so often that I must assume that people who put self incriminating or embarrassing information in their blogs, under the assumed protection of anonymity, are ultimately dishonest and really want to be discovered.

None of this means that I have the least intention of stopping blogging. As long as I can keep my blog on the level of a discussion of gay issues, I’m confident that it will continue to be, as it has been for these last six months, an (at least for me) satisfying intellectual and personal experience.

11 Comments:

Blogger Sam said...

There are many people out there in the ether living in one dreamworld or another. And blogging can certainly be bad for those guys who imagine these imaginary relationships do actually do more for them than real relationships with real people.

For me, blogging started as a way to have sort of an online diary in which I could share everyday, often in a visual way, with Steven while we were apart for 4 or 5 months last year. And to do the same with other family and friends was important too.

It has never been a forum for me to express my deepest and wierdest of thoughts. Never a specific forum for my professional life. It's never occurred to me to post anything I wouldn't want to discuss with my mother here.

I've since also discovered that it is a nice way to find other birds of a feather... even if what may draw us together is ultimately not real on both ends of the equation. Honestly, I never expected to click out conversations with anyone I didn't already know. But here i am doing just that.

In a world in which keeping things real seems increasingly illusive, I agree, blogging is not necessarily the answer, is it? Still, I am very glad to have it.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

When Princess Diana died, there was a tremendous outpouring of grief all over the world. Flowers, gifts and cards arrived at the palace and embassies of the U.K. The truth is, very few people knew the Princess, except as a persona of the celebrity age. The same goes for Elvis, Bill Clinton, Barbra and just about every other famous person. They're flickering images on the tv set more than anything else. Yet, for some people there's a connection beyond that. At least in Blogistan, we have some input in the product, and an ongoing interaction, as superficial that interaction is. Like everything else in life, we just can't take ourselves too damned seriously.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Lotuslander said...

I've deleted two previous blogs out of fear that I revealed too much, like a manic guest on Jerry Springer, but I've rarely written about my partner of the last 12 years, and even certain places I've lived remain vague. But the truth is, I feel like I know some bloggers thousands of miles away better than I know the neighbour I've lived beside for the last ten years. I suffer from social phobia, so blogging gives me a sense of connecting to the world, even if it's only an illusion.

10:26 AM  
Blogger thephoenixnyc said...

YOu are an amazing writer, have great insight and I love the issues you raise. Your concentration on these issues is a welcome addition.

My blog is not focused on any one subject. I sometimes wonder if it should be.

And yes, Europeans are very different from Americans when it comes to the line between openness and personal issues being raised in public.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Jefe said...

Interesting post, particularly the imaginary friends stuff. I'm a veteran (at my relatively young age!) of the listserv era, back when relatively stable groups of people would come together to discuss say, Joni Mitchell, on email. Unsurprisingly those people had some things in common, and others things decidedly not. I met a lot of interesting people in those spaces, interesting precisely because they overlapped with me, but not perfectly.

While listservs are still around, my sense is that they don't often support that kind of conversation any more, because blogs and the revived discussion board have risen to fill their niche. And you're right to point out that personal blogs assemble a community around a particular person. Sure there's a network, and I read the blogs you read and found your blog reading your comment on another blog and so forth, but there's something about the particular space belonging to you that makes it different. Which is also how I feel about my own blog. There are both fun and dangerous things about that, I think.

Most of the commenters on my blog are people I know very well in real life and have for some time. One I actually met on that Joni listserv. A few others I know only through blogging. I haven't really devoted the time yet that could yield a real community of readers, although I feel the murmurs of one developing. It's nice, but it doesn't feel as intimate to me as the listserv once felt, for reasons I can't put my finger on. After all, it's MY space, people are there because they want to read MY writing, right? But still, they'll come, they'll go. They may find some of it more interesting than others and will read as long as there's more of the former but when the latter takes over lose interest. Etc etc etc.

Anyway, and nonetheless, my favorite things about blogs are their idiosyncracies. (That and good writing. I spend no time on any blogs whose authors appear stupid.) Some, like mine, focus on a small, personally-driven random assemblage of topics. Others, like yours, are more narrowly focused. Each bears the constructed personality of the owner in a way that a book or periodical never could, in part because of the periodic updating, in part because the reasons for these choices are ultimately inscrutable and personal, in part because of writing style itself.

And those are the blogs I shall read and whose comments I shall love to receive--the idiosyncrats. (Well, the smart ones.) No yes men or voyeurs or any of that for me. But the people who have found a way to be particular and intimate in this mostly anonymous, distant form. It grounds and flatters me to have them around for as long as they'll have me, and I hope vice versa. It's like everyday moments of intermittent solidarity or something. I like it. And if nothing else, it gives me practice writing.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

LOL I just see blogger people as just another ring of people to share ideas with. Like real world friends, I can wear many different hats; and enjoy the range of topic matters available (from personal to informational). However, I try not to place judgment on people's blogging genres; or motivations for blogging. There are people outside of cyber - who have absolutely no life; and they don't blog. At least the no-lifers (pardon the harshness of that phrase) are finding some sort of social outlet. But I think it's fair to say that this is only a small segment of the blogosphere. Most have jobs, families, and other social obligations - to make blogland their 24/7 priority. I've had a lot of buds who have met in real life. I still don't know what I think or feel, about this concept. But if people are comfortable with what they're doing; and aren't hurting themselves or others - then I say, "Go for it!" But I'd like to caution that one's idea of hurting oneself - differs from person-to-person. Just because you keep a tight wrap on the personal does not mean that you're healthier or more responsible than another blogger. I'm not implying that you are stating this (at least I don't think you are?); but I thought I'd point that out.

Cheers

2:04 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Guys,

To substantiate my point about the pleasures and dangers of blogging, I have been feeling very guilty about not having responded to the thoughtful comments that you six intelligent men have taken the time to make on this post. I have just had a temporary "surge" (excuse the expression) of professional responsibilities. So, for the last two weeks, while I have read your comments and visited your blogs, I haven't had much time or energy to think about anything else but my work.

I really do, however, appreciate ther confirmation from many of you, that you too have had to deal, in a greater or lesser degree with the issue of "keeping it real" in blogging. For some of us it's been more of a problem than for others, but I guess most of us are in agreement that while blogging is a very valuable tool,and brings many rewards, it's not exactly an emotional "free lunch."

9:03 AM  
Blogger The Accidental Activist said...

A typically thoughtful post. And you're right about the dangers of letting the comfortable bubble of blogworld subsume real life, in all its grit and dirt and pleasure.

The blogs I come back to time and time again are the eclectic, the thoughtful, the insightful and the personal. I've been constantly entertained by finding blogs that can make me laugh and cry.

I've personally steered an uncertain course between writing reality (blog as journal), judicious editing (for self-preservation and privacy), vents and observations (for sanity and feedback) and complete fiction (for mine and other's entertainment), plus a few pics of the pretty and scantily clad (because I'm an aesthete in learning). It seems to have sufficed so far.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Ur-spo said...

i've been away, sick for some time.
it is good to be back again and reading your thoughtful comments.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Oso Raro said...

Coming to this conversation a little late, but let me say: a compelling post, covering issues that I have often thought about on my own blog. For me, blogging is all about perfomance, a projection of persona (or indeed personae) to the outside world, whether that be a reader of one or more. And as such, it is always, to a certain extent, an exercise in vanity, not that this is *always* a bad thing.

Perhaps some bloggers begin to collapse the blog the blogger, and the r/t person into one. Perhaps some readers do too. I first started blogging actually because my BF started a blog. So in fact I wanted to initiate a conversation with him through writing online. He is a poet and I am an academic, so the written word was a missing link in our relationship, and indeed we read each others' blogs as another layer of our intimacy. But in actuality what my blog mostly turned out to be, at least for the first half-year or so, was a place where increasingly I worked out a personal and professional trauma that had deeply affected me. At the end of that purging, I was struck by the question of "What Now?" and almost closed the blog down.

What the blog then became was compelling to me, in that it increasingly left academia behind (it's original and now sometimes focus), and began to encompass all those other things that interest us. So as the blog has become more gay and less egghead, it also has attracted different readers and issues and moments that allow a different persona of me, the blogger (Oso Raro, as opposed to me in real life), to come forth.

Following Forster, for me the primary modus of blogging has been connection (along with all the other great things about it, like snark and revelation, which I guess is part of community too). And out of that an electronic community has been formed. But moreover, or perhaps more importantly, for me it is all about representation, and since many of us have real problems parsing representation, I think you find a series of emergent problems predicated on such misapprehensions.

At the very least, and in the end, your commentators are way cuter than my normal ones, so Mazel Tov :-))

2:18 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Oso,

Thanks for your interesting and engaging comment.

You apparently see an enviable (yes, enviable--- no irony intended) identity, or at least a continuum, between your public and private personae that I not only fail to share, but I couldn't even imagine before reading your comment, and then some posts from your blog. On the other hand, I am not a Renaissance humanist or a confessional poet.

It would never have occurred to me to publish an intimate intellectual or emotional exchange with my partner in a public forum. Certainly, we could, with mutual consent, publish an edited version of our interchange, if we though it would be of general interest. But even the idea that our interchange would, in some way and in some form, become public would modify even the original version of that interchange. Isn't there, after all, a contradiction between intimacy and turning one's life into literature? Our communication would cease to be intimate; it would be transformed into an interchange between our literary personae.

Your reference to Forster is interesting, since i had always imagined that what he had in mind by connecting was something that was much more direct and personal. His works explored the possibilities of connection, but they were not vehicles for that connection themselves. Desguising his homosexuality, he assumed, in most of his works, or in all of his works published during his lifetime, the thickest of literary screens and personae. One cant connect with a construct.

Please do not understand these comments as a criticism of your position. I see clear advantages, ethically and emotionally, in breaking down the barriers between one's private and public life. Some can pull it off, some can't.

1:36 AM  

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