Thoughts On A Conference Not Attended
First of all, I didn't attend the conference ~ this is important to note. Not only since my comments on the conference are all based on what others told me, but because the reasons why I didn't attend are, I think, equally important to what did happen there.
Primarily I didn't attend because there seemed little there to warrant my attention as a "sex blogger." There were just two sessions on the topic, one of which was the aforementioned "Off The Record" session. (And it's being designated as "off record" created great confusion, both in terms of assessing its value in the "should I attend" way as well as from Libby's "should I cover it" question. Should such a session be held again, great care should be taken to outline what "off record" means and doesn't mean.) The bottom line is that out of a two-day conference, there were only two sessions specifically for "sex bloggers."
While I'm the first to admit that "sex bloggers" are neither "all about the sex and only the sex" (most of us hate being called "sex bloggers" and chafe at the idea that we are limited to "just sex"), I am also the first to recognize that we are called "sex bloggers" (and other names) in order for the "mainstream blogging world" to differentiate "us" from "them". This isn't just a matter of censorship (though I will admit it plays its part), but a matter of categorization. No one, including "sex bloggers," wants kids or others who would be offended to stumble on in, so we rather collectively, if a bit reluctantly, agree to use the "sex blogger" moniker.
However, I'm also the first to admit, the moniker is more than a warning for visitors ~ it can be rather like a scarlet letter or a yellow star.
Now I'm not saying BlogHer was preventing "us" from attending the conference, but I've been to enough of these things to know what happens when you attend a "mainstream" session: Either you have to shut up about what you do or be prepared to face the consequences.
If you do the former, why go? You can't really network and you can't really ask questions because they must be phrased so generically that you get equally generic responses (and look like a simpleton).
If you do the latter, you risk being ostracized. At best, others will avoid sitting by you for fear you'll taint them (grown-up conferences often can resemble high school cafeterias). At worst, you become the poster-child for porn and are expected to answer all sort of questions and address issues past your scope just because you're a "sex blogger" (this is rather like being the only black person in a room full of white people).
And then there's the matter of the conference organizers themselves.
Once word gets out that "sex bloggers" have attended, they'll have to deal with complaints. While I find BlogHer.org is more tolerant than most mainstream groups (they even have a category for sex and relationship blogging), it's not difficult to imagine they would be forced to respond negatively to sex blogging simply because of a majority vocalizing outrage. This outrage, as we well know, would not only be directed at BlogHer but at sponsors and supporters. With few "sex bloggers" in attendance, we certainly would be the minority.
Again, "sex bloggers" could, like "food bloggers", attend more general sessions ~ but we sex bloggers wouldn't be as free to participate simply because "sex" freaks so many people out whereas other topics do not.
Given all of this, I opted not to bother to trek to Chicago for the event.
However, I did hear positive comments on the conference. When Libby told me some of the issues they discussed (she did not give me names or specifics but told me what they discussed, such as privacy, how blogging about sex and relationships had negatively impacted people's lives, etc) I wished I had been there. I think my years of experience would have been helpful, yes; but I also would have liked to meet and network with the small group who had attended.
What I gathered from Libby's comments was that this was a worthwhile experience and that more of this is needed. It made me wish that BlogHer would include we "sex bloggers" in their plans more.
Would it be fair to have 20 "sex blogger" sessions when no other blogging theme has so many? On one hand, the "sex" category clearly has far more specific matters to address than any other area. Name another category which has such issues with hosting, censorship, and legal issues. Sure, all bloggers should be addressing matters of ethics, responsibility, marketing, etc. But add "sex" and there's an added dimension or twist to all these things. And like I always say, mainstream sure can learn a lot from the adult industry. (Even privacy isn't a matter of safety only for those of us who post about sex and relationships.)
If an increase in the number of sessions aimed at "sex bloggers" isn't seen as the appropriate way to go, what about making it clear ~ to all ~ that "sex bloggers" are welcome and will be attending. Take the shock factor out by eliminating the element of surprise. Let folks believe that at any given moment they could be sitting next to a "sex blogger" as well as a travel, food or mommy blogger (and perhaps that lady is all four?) and that she might just raise her hand to ask a question or two.
We promise not to shock, or monopolize; but to elevate conversation. After all, our issues in specific pertain to a large part of the blogosphere; in general we are interested in all blogging issues.
By being more inclusive, not only do we all stand a greater chance of learning from one another, but we break down stereotypes. Perhaps meeting a fellow "sex blogger" will remove the silly fears that "we" are a perverted, disease-ridden lot ~ along with the fear of the unknown.
If you've thought about attending a BlogHer Conference but were put-off by all of this ~ or even if you hadn't before, but are thinking about it all now ~ BlogHer has a survey. You can take this even if you did not attend, so please take it and voice your opinions. Maybe I'll see you there next year?
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