Heads up, this content is 10 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

My longest romantic relationship is not the three-year partnership I just ended. (Though I prefer to say it’s been “rearranged”, because we’re grownups now, and it’s our turn to decide what that means.)

My longest romantic relationship is with the Internet.

(And I have written it so. many. love letters.)

Something about the way it swept me off my feet and carried me into adulthood, the way it told me I was beautiful and valuable when I’d always been a misfit, and the way it provided me with resources and answers whenever I felt sure that I was completely on my own… the Internet has always been more than just access to other people. It’s been my home, my nourishment, my partner… the thing that showed me understanding and gave me an identity when I was so far away from society’s standards that my own sanity was in question… the thing that gave me what I needed when what I needed didn’t seem to exist.

I realize I am now speaking for the next generation of Crazy Cat Ladies — we are the Crazy Internet People — who rely on non-human replacements for human relationships. I could justify it by saying that the Internet really is all about the People, but it’s not. They’re part of it, sure, but they were always there. The Internet added something to make them better.

The Internet is about the access.

It’s about being able to shout a question to the sky and actually get an answer. It’s about being able to shape our own secret stories so they can be heard and felt by that stranger on the other side of the world who desperately needs to know they’re not alone. It’s about being able to create complete crap and fling it out into a field knowing that no one will care, unless you happened to be wrong about it being crap. It’s about building a brilliant wall of mixed sensory input that feeds you exactly what you asked for, along with everything you didn’t know you needed but it thought you should have anyway.

It’s not perfect. Like any lover, it comes with more baggage than a cross-country flight on Christmas Eve. It has daddy issues, it has a temper, it has weird fetishes that you’re not interested in, and it wakes you up at 3am to say things like, “We need to talk.”

Maybe that’s what makes it okay for us to be messy humans right back at it.

I knew this year would have me nose-to-the-grindstone building and rebuilding my foundations. It was time to stop thinking about what I wanted to do, and to just push myself to get it done. A new full-time contract. A new startup. The closure of six years worth of freelance clients. A relationship breaking down. Mix in two speaking engagements at universities on the East Coast and a meeting in Canada, and yeah, that’s a full plate.

No one would fault me for shutting up, disengaging from Facebook and Twitter except for basic updates, and not blogging for awhile.

But I do.

Not just because its professionally important for me to keep building a community, an audience, a constituency, a position in the greater conversation, and (ugh) a personal brand. Yeah, I’m a social media kid, and those things are all my life blood. And when I’m not blogging, I’m not keeping it up. (Actually, I decided that none of that mattered this year. I’ve already got all the fuel I need to build what’s next, and what’s next is for my people, so it’ll all work out in the end.)

I’m kicking myself for being quiet because I am less happy when I’m not interacting with the Internet. I could go on a long anthropomorphizing rant about how you’d be unhappy, too, if you weren’t talking to your lover of 14 years. Or I could just quote gapingvoid and make it simple:

“Sharing makes us happy. Not sharing makes us unhappy. Like I said, [it’s] a fundamental human drive.” –Hugh MacLeod

Or, to expand: The Internet is about access, and access matters because it allows us to bear witness.

That’s it. That’s what we’re showing up for.

Tonight I’m listening to Lady Gaga’s latest album, Born This Way, in which she sings her heart out, making direct eye contact with every young person who’s ever felt like they didn’t belong. And it doesn’t matter that I don’t like her style of dance mixes, or that I think her bridges are trite. She’s singing, and she’s connecting, and she’s telling people they’re not alone, and I love her madly for it. Tonight, she is my Internet. She’s standing up in that role that I treasure — the one that saved me, and the one I stand in whenever I can handle the weight of it because it matters so damn much. The one where we reach out to sad strangers and say, “It’s okay, I’ll hold your hand. Now walk.

I have no conclusion. I’m just hitting publish because that’s better than not. And because if we censor our impulses out of fear of what future opportunities might think, we’re as good as having forgotten our dreams.

(And also because I promised myself no sex until I started blogging again.)

So what do you say. Does this count as showing up for you, Internet?

Can I get a witness?

Heads up, this content is 10 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

Update! The fundraiser is live and we’re over here now: http://genderplayful.tumblr.com

~ ~ ~

Update 12/4/10: I made a video for ya. (Well, it was originally for Genderfork, but it’s for you, too.)
Also: I’m naked in it.

This is the week of shaking trees. Two days ago, I put out a call for stable employment (for the first time in six years). My consulting work has gotten thin and bumpy, and it’s time for something to change.

There’s another idea that’s been on the table for awhile now, though, and I think it’s time I told you about it.

I want to build an online marketplace for gender-variant clothing solutions.

Not a store where I sell to you, but a service like Etsy and Ebay where we sell to each other, in a focused, supportive community. And while we’re at it, we also trade all sorts of tips and inspirations on how best to look the way we want, gender-be-damned.

You know what I’m talking about. Tuxes for hips and breasts. Size 16 extra-wide high heels. Custom alterations, custom orders, custom tailoring. Hot unisex indie designer labels. Hand-made t-shirts. That awesome skirt from your closet that doesn’t fit you anymore. A good chest binder. That amazing jacket you found at a thrift store for $5 that you want to resell. And while we’re at it, let’s bring in styles from every subculture that celebrates androgyny, which is pretty much all of them.

I’ve been thinking about this for a year.

I talked to the staff at Genderfork last winter, and we agreed it should be a separate-but-friendly project (Genderfork is run like activism; this would be run like a business).

I did a bunch of research on software options, and had to table the idea for awhile because a good multi-seller marketplace solution didn’t exist. But I’ve got one now. It came out in September. We can do this.

I have the web development, the project management, and the community organizing skills to make this happen. And I love the people this will serve. Relentlessly.

All I need is time and money.

You know. That stuff.

I’m in talks with a family member who can give me a loan, but they need to know that there’s enough support for the project to warrant the risk. Also? Loans are stressful. It would be awesome if we could offset it with some community support. So…

I would like to launch a Kickstarter campaign.

Kickstarter is a service that lets community members donate to projects (and receive thank-you gifts based on their donation amount), to meet funding goals. The goal and timeline are set in advance. If the goal is met, the donations go through and the project happens. If the goal isn’t met, the donations don’t happen, and we consider it closed.

This is a test.

If we can rally a ton of community support, I will go all in on this plan and make it happen as quickly as is humanly possible. If we get only moderate support, I will take a day job and build this project slowly, in my off-hours. If support seems slim, I’ll consider it closed.

**How You Can Help Without Giving Me Money**

Do you want this to happen? Help me convince the world that it matters, that we need these clothing solutions, and that the best way to get them is to come together and create them collaboratively.

Here’s how you can do that. I want you to make a video of yourself explaining why this is important to you. Use your phone, your webcam, or whatever you have nearby. Don’t make it fancy; just make it real. Tell us what matters to you, what you need, or what you have to give.

I will collect these videos and edit them together to make a promotional video for the kickstarter campaign. Or maybe multiple videos, if you send me lots of great stuff.

The more faces we can show, the better.

Your voice will help me convince others that this project deserves their support. That it needs to happen.

How to get your video to me…

Chances are your video will be bigger than the average reasonable email size. So here are some options (just pick one):

A) Use Google Docs to upload the file. Then share it with genderplayful@gmail.com

B) Get a Dropbox account, put it in the public folder, and email genderplayful@gmail.com the URL to that file.

C) Post it as a video reply to my YouTube video.

A Note on Privacy: I plan to use your face and your voice, but not your name, unless (maybe) you say it in the video.

Deadline: This Tuesday.  As Soon As You Can.  I’m going to start pushing things out to the world this week, so the faster the better, but I’ll continue to make use of material that comes in later, too. It all makes a difference.

This will matter.

Make a video. Do it for everyone who needs this marketplace, but isn’t ready to say so out loud. Do it this weekend. This is your art project. Go.

Love,
Sarah

Update: If making a video really isn’t your cup of tea, another thing you can do is write a paragraph explaining why this is important to you. You can leave that in a comment below or email me at genderplayful@gmail.com, and it will find the right audience. Thank you so much!

~ ~ ~

Update! The fundraiser is live and we’re over here now: http://genderplayful.tumblr.com

Heads up, this content is 10 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

It’s been a rollercoaster around here and I’ve kept my game face on, but there are things that need saying.  Things about what matters, and why, and how keeping a Pollyanna attitude is no more naïve and no less radical than a scowl.

I don’t presume to take goodness at face value, and no, I don’t believe that all we need is love, or that tragedy and injustice aren’t happening every minute in every town the world. I get that. I do. But I also believe in the power of slicing through that grim nightmare with a sharp and unflinching force of forgiveness, kindness, and grace.

I believe in putting all that noise on MUTE and working tirelessly to build haven after haven from the rain.

I believe in disrupting expectations by giving someone a second chance.

I believe in putting white-knuckle fists to the steering wheel and getting the hell out of dodge — even just for a night — when anything is stuck, or broken, or stagnant. And I believe in ending up the next morning with your feet hanging off a cliff, staring at the ocean, the grand canyon, a cityscape, a mountain range, a cornfield, a playground, or even an empty Walmart parking lot if you have to — just as long as the sun is rising and you’re paying attention and you feel free. I believe in bringing that feeling home with you and pouring it into your work, your home, your loves, and your willingness to fight for another person’s moment of relief.

And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I still believe in the Internet. Like I did in 1999, when my secret and hand-coded log/journal/diary thing that didn’t have a genre name yet was an oasis for people digging through Alta Vista and HotBot late at night for someone who was being honest and telling a story. It didn’t matter what story was being told as long as it sounded like secrets being whispered in the dark. Because that was the sound of not being alone.

I still believe in the Internet like I did before everything was archived and cross-referenced in the Wayback Machine and Google’s public caches.  Like I did when still I believed in anonymity.

And some days it’s harder to stay focused on what matters, but I do still believe in the Internet like I did before SEO was a competitive sport. Before businesses started dropping vowels in order to score a good domain name. Before plastic and aluminum grade disposable ads, widgets, and apps littered every square inch of the Internet’s surface like empty Coke bottles after a high school football game.

I believe that sincerity and excitement are critical ingredients for anything to matter, and that that is why the Internet is winning. I believe that everyone who tries to fake those ingredients will either fail or have a house dropped on their heads during a tornado as punishment for their lies and their laziness. But I also believe it’s now commonplace for people to see Internet marketing as a set of cold strategic formulas void of genuine connection, and that this is morally wrong.

It’s not the large companies and marketing agencies that bother me (this has been part of their game forever). It’s the individuals — the folks who are just trying to carve a reasonable space for themselves in the Digital Land of Opportunity — who’ve been taught that analyzing social media profiles and then contacting large groups of strangers with canned and solely self-promotional messages counts as “making connections.”  That it’s not spam. That this is how they’re supposed to do it. That this is what it means to contribute to a community. That’s the part that breaks my heart.

And yet.

And yet, on the same Internet, regular people collaborate with strangers to build free software that makes our lives better. Building a decent website without technical skills is possible.  Designers hand out attractive site designs for free, just to make the Internet a more beautiful place. Photographers give strangers permission to use their photos. Musicians offer their tunes up freely for remixing into podcasts and other creative projects. Artists can raise funds for new projects by getting friends excited about them. Anyone can start a community discussion space. Committed members are happy to volunteer.

While I sometimes miss the days when the Internet didn’t feel like a sensory and information overload bomb, I don’t think I’d go back to them. Our tools, creativity, and commitment to each other have come so far. We’re real people now; not anonymous screen-names looking for fantasy cybersex on AOL chatrooms. Our online and offline lives are so tightly woven together that we get to grapple with one another on questions like “How and when should I keep my social circles compartmentalized?”. My mom is on Facebook, and my she has the power to hide my feed because I talk too much. AND we’ve all stopped using <blink> tags. That’s progress.

Last week, the feature for Queer Open Mic (an event I co-organize) opened with a poem that stunned and rocked me back into place. It started with…

She said to me that most trailblazers
may never see the trail.
May never see the path they cut into the earth,
or the feet that come behind them.

Most days, she said, the act of walking
without a set route probably won’t feel like revolution.
There are too many goddamned branches in your face,
Too much to hack through, dulling the machete
and making your muscles scream for the kind of comfort
your mind can’t hope to welcome.

And it ended with…

She told me it was all impossible, and still
she said, “Go.”
She said, “Leave, and scare the shit out of yourself.
You’ll be glad you did.”

— excerpt from She said, “Go” by Tatyana Brown

We’re pushing paths into this Internet together. I believe the tools and opportunities we want to see are worth fighting for — that these branches are absolutely worth hacking through — but only with our feet firmly planted in the what we care about and love.