Ok, I just needed to say that: if you are a feminist who has tenure or is even older, you used to own that tee shirt. Yes, in order to win the Democrats had to float more conservative candidates, but look at it this way: our new speaker represents the Castro district in San Francisco! Yes, I am just as worried about the future of a woman's right to choose as I was yesterday -- but THANK YOU South Dakota, thank you Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood (daughter of the late Governor Ann Richards), thank you, you brave organizers who knocked on doors to stop a referendum that would have put Roe on the line in the Supreme Court, and was intended to do so, since you can't get an abortion in South Dakota anyway. And all those anti-gay marriage referendums are pointless and nasty -- but what about the minimum wage referendums that got passed all over the country that are pinned to the rate of inflation? Yeah, baby! This is critical for two reasons. First, it is the only thing that has been done for working people in this country in years -- those people who have three or four jobs per family, and still have to join the military to pay for college or a trade school. Second, it means that the business class may begin to hold the party in charge accountable for ruinous fiscal policies that drive up the cost of living, a move that could alter the political landscape significantly.
In other news, my partner read my blog yesterday, which is only because I told her about it just the day before. The good part is that, although she does not like blogging as a form (this may be related to coming from a very literary family, but I think is more related to questions of privacy), she likes the blog and she still likes me. The bad news is, she doesn't really want to be in it and didn't like the pseudonym I had chosen, so I needed to go back and do some editing, and also explain to the few of you who know me what has changed and why, thus risking putting her in the blog again. But ars gratia artis, as they say out in California.
Permission to blog about others is a tricky and interesting question, because actually no one in my blog has given me permission to write about them, but as I pointed out to N, a great many of our friends do write and publish about their families. And if and when Extravaganza finds out, I am confident he will be thrilled, as he aspires to be a superstar and he understands already that good publicity is critical to his career. But back to my conversation with the love of my life: we agreed to some changes. One which you will note is that I changed the pseudonym to an initial. We picked N, a letter of the alphabet that is in the middle, and relatively uncontroversial and uncoded as, for example, a letter like "X" might be (would you want to be described by the love of your life as X? Not.) She also doesn't want to be called an academic, despite the Ph.D., and we agreed on "teacher" which is true, and also reflects her real modesty about her intelligence and what I think is the great work she does in the world.
But as to her presence in the blog, this is a real personal, ethical and artistic dilemma. My initial reaction was that I didn't want to blog as though I was single (as in unpartnered, unmarried) because one of the things that was tricky about commuting all those years is that in a variety of contexts people treated me as though I was single. I disliked this increasingly, and when it appeared we were going to live together, I looked forward to ironing out this irritation. Back in the day, when I corrected people's misapprehension about my relationship status, I usually had to do it in terms that were less about us and who we were than about what my audience already understood about conventional relationships. And this meant, in turn, that I often had to describe my intimate life to people in ways I found intrusive, burdensome and inaccurate if not incorrect -- why we commuted, how we did it, that we didn't consider our bond to be "the same as" being married (an explanation I usually had to provide, not to conservatives who were "defending" marriage, but to liberals demonstrating their ecumenicism about the institution and about me.) But that we WERE deeply committed. In other words it was a big drag, and usually an unintended invasion of MY privacy. And I suspect it was less of a drag for N all these years, because I was living in Zenith, a place where LGBTQ people are not exactly invisible, but not exactly movemement-oriented or diverse either, and she lived in the highly urban and diverse Big City, traditional home to many kinds of queer folk, ranging from married to free love types. So even though I know this is not going to be a huge issue in the blogosphere, I wanted to start off on the right foot.
But the other dilemma is a real one for abstract and practical reasons. The practical is that N doesn't think this blog will remain anonymous for long, that I have utterly blown my cover and that anyone with half a brain can use the information I have provided to discover my real identity if they try (I would say my characteristic typos are a likelier clue for those who know me.) I didn't tell her that I already blew my cover with Dr. Virago when I tested my Gmail account, because she doesn't know Dr. Virago, and Virago has better things to do than out me (love the apes, Dr. V.) But I also think this would presume that anyone cares who I am, and that I can restrain myself from being egotistical enough to urge my friends and allies at Zenith to read my blog. This last is dicey, given that I am well-known for enjoying the payoff of a quick laugh and not paying enough attention to the consequences of my snarky and perverse behavior. I admit this is a personal flaw and a vulnerability, but it is also probably a good test of character to not make such a spectacle of myself until I consciously decide to NOT be anonymous.
But there are other reasons I am glad that N raised this issue. The ethical question is, what are your obligations to those you write about, aside from doing it honestly and restraining yourself from being out of control critical or making judgements that are likely to wound others? This is something N thinks about all the time, as she is a social scientist of sorts, and a radical person in a research world that is often very exploitative. As a historian, I haven't thought about it much at all until recently because all the people I wrote about were dead. I realize that this isn't a good excuse, but the chances of a nasty phone call or being shunned are smaller when you write about the dead, you must admit. However, my current research is about people who are by and large alive, as well as still really pissed off at each other, and I think this blog question overlaps with the ethical questions and risks attendant to doing that kind of recent history. And what is blogging as a literary form, anyway? Is it memoir, current history, news, gossip, critique, commentary, all of the above? Each of these genres has different, although overlapping, conventions. Which ones help me navigate? At what point do my own thoughts and experiences borrow, or steal, the thoughts and experirences of others? When do they cease to be mine alone?
So I have to think strategically as I sort these things out. One thought I did have is that I have noticed a modern genre of gay male writing -- Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris and Bob Morris -- where the writer is kind of an abject, insecure sissy and the "boyfriend" is always self-assured, masculine, nurturing, confident, and slightly condescending about the author's insecurities (not that there's anything wrong with that!) But I have wondered -- why the pattern? Is it because making fun of themselves then insulates authors from worrying that the Significant Other will object to his/her representation in the essays as the inevitable foil for what must be a more complex, interior narrative articulated by the protagonist? Yo, English professors -- chime in here.
Ok, enough, enough. I managed to bring this blog back to intellectual issues for a hot second. Now it's your turn.
I am Claire B. Potter, Professor of History and American Studies at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. My blogging ethic is neither to name or to accurately describe individuals unless I am writing about a public event, or commenting on information already published about that person in a reputable source. Unless I note otherwise, situations, pseudonymous people and professional dilemmas described here are fictional. Uncivil or mean-spirited comments toward me or anyone else will be deleted, as will advertisements for products or services disguising themselves as comments. The Radical can also be found at her Zenith faculty page and at Cliopatria; scholarly and public writing can also be found here. The banner photo was taken from this page.
It's Gay Pride Month -- And Who Is Gayer Than J. Edgar Hoover?
This content is not yet available over encrypted connections.
The Radical Publishing Company
Click here to get the website for "Since 1970: Histories of Contemporary America", a new monograph series edited by Claire Potter and Renee Romano (Oberlin University) for the University of Georgia Press. Interested in publishing with us? Click the email address on my profile and tell me about your project!