Recently, there’s been a little bit of a kerfuffle over on my crush, Hyacinth’s, blog. Hyacinth wrote a post (thoughtful, not judgmental, highly personal, curious) about the pleasure she takes from “showing her bits to the world,” in response to a previous post by my friend, Liza. A bunch of folks commented on Hy’s post, and Liza has since posted her own response. A lot of writing. Because they’re two bloggers I like, and because I’m a huge fan of FFM threesomes, even if this isn’t exactly your conventional one, I thought I’d weigh in.
Liza wrote a post some months ago on XOJane, in which she detailed a very personal decision not to post pictures of her tits, and the pressure she felt to do so. This post was very personal, but in it, Liza made the common mistake of over-generalizing from her own experience – “There is,” she wrote, “tremendous pressure on women sex bloggers to show our bits to the world, to prove we aren’t hideous hags, and to fuel reader fantasies.” Her next paragraph sounds boastful: “I proved sex blogging can be sexy without sharing naked snapshots.”
In each of these two sentences, Liza chose her words poorly.
First, she suggested that the pressure she felt is universally experienced. And second, the claim – “I proved…” suggests that a) the proposition was in doubt, and b) Liza was the one who dispelled that doubt. Of course, both are wrong. And finally, as was pointed out in one of the comments on Hy’s site, Liza did share naked shapshots on her blog for a long time. They just weren’t naked snapshots of her. So this easily can be read as being somewhat hypocritical.
I know Liza for a long time now. I’m pretty confident what she meant was, “I felt tremendous pressure,” and “I proved to myself….” Had she said this, I’m confident no one would have batted an eye. I didn’t – I knew what she meant, and wasn’t particularly interested in the judgment that many felt she communicated.
But her choice of words was unfortunate. Particularly for a writer who is so terrific, generally, at communicating precisely what she means. A further note: the aside about the reasons she imagined people wanted to see her bits (or tits, or whatever) was particularly unfortunate. I wanted to see Liza’s bits (fuck – I want to see everyone’s bits – especially yours), but not for either reason she imagines. I just like bits (well, mostly girl bits), and particularly those of people whose words, but not whose visages, I know. And I like to imagine that I don’t think anyone a “hideous hag.” I do think a lot of people are fat, and/or not my type, but that’s different. “Hideous hag” communicates a sort of looksism that I’m pretty sure Liza wouldn’t have chosen to portray herself as subscribing to – she’s thoughtful, smart, democratic, and open-minded.
Like Liza, I choose my words carefully, and, I daresay, like Liza I occasionally reveal what I really think unintentionally with the words I choose and, by so doing, either offend, gross out, piss off, or simply turn off readers.
It seems to me this all is fine. We make mistakes, and blogs aren’t books or contracts. They’re unedited, imperfect snapshots of our psyches at moments in time. I think that, constitutionally, I’m a little more open than Liza to the possibility that I’m an idiot, that I fucked up, that I stepped on toes, or that I’m judgmental, obnoxious, annoying, or what have you. (Ok – not the possibility, the certainty.) And this probably is because I am those things more than she is.
I feel for Liza in this. She wrote a column in a highly visible forum (I suspect Liza’s gotten more clicks from that XOJane article than from anything else she’s written) about a deeply personal experience, and some months later, feels blindsided by the negative attention she’s gotten from a bunch of folks who felt judged by her, but whom she had no conscious intention of judging. I don’t believe, as one person said, she “should have seen this coming.” None of us sees our own blind spots – that’s why they’re blind. But sex blogging is a highly personal endeavor, and we all need to be very careful when we presume – or write words that imply that we presume – to speak for anyone other than ourselves.
And we writers count on you readers (and those other writers who read) to cut us some slack. Writing a blog, exposing my highly personal feelings and experiences to you, is risky and brave. It’s rewarding and narcissistic, sure, but it is risky: every time I say something about myself (whether it’s that I found myself thinking about sex in the presence of a bunch of 13-year-old girls, or that I used to take furtive pictures of hot women, or that I am working through my understanding of the concept of sex addiction) I expose myself to your agreement, disagreement, praise, or blame, admiration or judgment. Because I’m a bit of an exhibitionist, this is a big part of why I do it, and I’ve been lucky: I’ve gotten almost no disapproval or harsh responses since I started doing this. But when I do, it stings.
In the “creep shots” posts, I had one or two readers who were very upset with what I wrote, and their views affected me deeply. I felt misunderstood by them, and tried very hard to remedy that, ultimately, I think, unsuccessfully. Ditto with my post on the girls at a bat mitzvah.
Liza feels she’s been ganged up on, blindsided. She didn’t consciously intend to attack or judge anyone. But the reality is, a bunch of folks clearly did feel judged by her. This is too bad.
Today, Liza posted an apology, of sorts. Unfortunately, I think she missed the mark again. For one, she just wrote too much, was too defensive. If I were her, I would simply have written, “I’m sorry. My post communicated a judgment I don’t consciously feel, and I regret that” or some such. Instead, she wrote more words, and ultimately, managed to step on a few more toes. I’ve communicated with her privately about this, but, for example, she writes extensively about her decision to take down the pictures she initially posted on her blog, concluding that now she uses only “ethically sourced” images.
Wait a minute, Liza, are you saying my images are “unethically sourced”? Really?
We could have a discussion about that, but I don’t think that argument is particularly interesting. (I don’t care what the law says; I believe that images – or words – are fair game for reproduction if they’re not being used to generate income.) But it makes me feel bad to be called “unethical,” whether explicitly or implicitly, by Liza, and this is an example of what she did in spades in the XOJane article. Now I don’t think Liza thinks I’m unethical. I think what she meant was that she had chosen a path that felt better to her. But she chose her words in a way that implicitly communicated judgment of those who choose a different path. I think we humans all do well to avoid judgment. “People with opinions,” the Buddha is often paraphrased to have said, “go around bothering one another.”
At the end of the day, I believe that Liza is a great, sexy, smart writer. I am grateful for our writerly friendship, and I feel bad for her, not least because her skin (like mine) is a little thin: the mean (or simply disagreeing) things people have written have upset her. That sucks, and I don’t, wouldn’t wish it on her (or on anyone).
I don’t think she meant what people have imagined she meant, but I do feel she hasn’t been an effective advocate in support of her own meaning, and that’s too bad.
A final postscript: people who write books, or magazine articles, have editors. Editors help avoid precisely this sort of misunderstanding, by bringing perspective to the words we writers write. “Did you really mean to imply this?” they ask, when we might have meant no such thing. On blogs such as ours, we are unedited. Yet another reason we all should cut one another some (a lot of) slack. This has been personally painful to Liza. She is, she admits, a little thin-skinned, but she has taken this all hard, and I feel for her. She is a terrific blogger, and I miss her more regular posts. I sincerely hope the bitter taste she had in her mouth over this episode doesn’t further dissuade her from writing.