This is inelegant, but it’s Real, and that’s a long time coming.
This is not my first go at having a blog. Not even close.
That’s probably not shocking; I’m on the older end of the digital natives, or at the very least, the proto-digital natives; I’ve used computers since first grade, and while my Commodore 64 was very different from my (already outdated, tbh) Acer laptop (or Kindle Fire, or Edge, etc.), tech has always been a part of my life. I was surfing BBSes and forums in eighth grade, reading and posting fanfic by my Freshman year of high school, and building my first personal webpage on AOL when I was sixteen.
That website, by the way, was a garish mish-mash of all the things that I loved at the time – angsty poetry (penned by Yours Truly, of course), musical theatre (especially Les Miserables), and Space Ghost Coast to Coast and The Brak Show. No, I don’t remember why, just roll with it. There was a cringe-inducingly narcissistic and obnoxious About Me page, and pages devoted to all of my friends, complete with “famous quotes,” photos, and inside jokes. It was epitome of self-centered mid-90s teenhood, and it was, in it’s own way, wonderful.
And I have never felt that free or that genuine online ever since.
Some of it may have been the relative novelty of the internet itself; it was, in some ways, just as much as a prosh, fresh-faced baby as I was, all shiny, new, and full of possibility. In the days before social media was so fully and inextricably part of our daily lives, communication through and presence on the internet was still a kinda sorta special thing. It’s hard to explain, except to say that the internet felt smaller. I mean, it was still the most vast and expansive thing we’d ever experienced at the time, but thinking back now on the internet back then? It just felt… closer. Safer, too, in a way.
And it was, at least in some regards. I mean, you still didn’t go around telling just anyone your full name and address, but you also didn’t have to worry about your school or job finding you on social media and pulling your scholarship or firing you. You didn’t have to worry about Grandma accidentally stumbling upon all your erotic poetry, or saying something careless and outing yourself to your family. As a seventeen year old on the internet, I could talk sex, politics, and fandom, all in one breath, and never be worried about who would find it.
Somewhere along the way – between the explosive growth of the Internet and my own growing up – the internet became a potentially dangerous place to be, but dangerous in ways I’d never had to consider before. Online presence became centralized – MySpace, Facebook, Instagram – and it became commonplace to use your full name, to connect who you were online to who you were in real life. The internet had always been about making connections, but it had been about making connections with people that went beyond who you were in the mundane world, beyond your name, and age, your location, your job. Now, it’s a foregone conclusion that this is all stuff you’ll share – hell, it’s the first wave of info to hit you when you do a Facebook search.
Suddenly, I – the real me – had a discernible presence on the internet.
Suddenly, I could be held accountable.
I’ve never posted anything online that I’m ashamed of. I have good web etiquette, I don’t engage in flame wars, I’ve never harassed anyone online. That being said, I don’t want everything I post online to be accessible to everyone, and yes, I know that seems counter-intuitive, but… once I started teaching, a lot of the things I would so freely post about online suddenly became tainted with the possibility of discovery and resulting disapproval by my students, their parents, my higher ups.
Not because any of it was inherently not okay, but because my identity as an educator came with it’s own burden of expectation, and that expectation (in my mind) reeked of sterility. Maybe it was my own overly cautious nature, but suddenly the thought of publishing my fic – fan-based or original – or keeping a public blog with any ties to my actually identity seemed impossible.
While I’d once found this unbelievable liberation and sense of wholeness on the internet, I suddenly found myself covering my tracks, retroactively editing myself, pulling myself back, fragmenting myself. The worst part was, since the internet had really taken off, every article I read about being a successful creative talked about having a “cohesive online presence,” and at that point of my life, my online presence was anything but cohesive.
I hoarded pseudonyms like gold – this was my handle for Archive of Our Own, this was Fanfiction.net, I went by X on my personal LiveJournal and Y on my DeviantArt. I conducted fan-related work under one name, personal journalled under another, posted fiction under another still. I was all over the internet, but keeping up with a dozen different accounts made upkeep and self-promotion almost impossible. I didn’t want my fandom handle attached to my real-life persona for work-related reasons, but I had people who followed my IRL persona who would really love my fanwork – and vice versa. Then there was writing I was incredibly proud of that wasn’t fandom related, but that I didn’t want attached to my name for fear of parents or students finding it, so that was either kept under lock and key (also know as: Friends Only on LiveJournal), or just never posted at all.
This has been my life for over a decade now – self-censoring, hiding, and hoping no one will notice me, while all the while simultaneously pining to be noticed. All the while being told I needed to “brand” myself somehow. It’s bad enough that I have to synthesize all aspects of my creative personality (writing, arts,crafts), but I have to do so under an already fragmented identity.
I’m a creative person who needs the prospect of a community and an audience to be at her most actively creative. I need people to be able to see me. And I need them to be able to see me as truly as I can present myself through an imperfect medium.
I have spent the last almost three years trying to craft a balanced persona – something that rang true, but that I didn’t have to live in constant anxiety of being stumbled upon by people who know me in other facets of my life – “creative,” not “flighty artist.” “Fannish,” not “raving, drooling fangirl.”
And feminist, but not too feminist. Queer, but not too queer. There are still aspect of myself that I need to include in the interest of being genuine, but I tread lightly in the interest of self-preservation. Again, that may be more paranoia than verifiable truth, but there is definitely truth to it.
How do you do it? How do you temper your desire to be “real” with conflicting feelings on how you want to be perceived by any and all potential audiences? How do you quell fears that you will be “found out” when there are aspects of your life you aren’t ashamed of, but guard closely for any number of reasons?