Ever been good at something you weren’t quite sure what to do with?

I think I need to make some choices this summer about where I want to put my energy, and I’m generously blessed in having a few too many options. Not that any of them are easy. They’re just… there. If I want them.

Over the last year you’ve seen me kindasorta turn into an expert on non-traditional gender and queerness. It was unintentional and a little awkward (which, hey, fits the topic nicely), but it happened. Genderfork, an online art project I started, grew to 5,000 regular readers and is being run by a volunteer staff of 11. Allegheny College flew me across the country to speak on the grey areas of gender and sexuality (which went extremely well). And I’m also running San Francisco’s Queer Open Mic, which is thriving.

I could do more of this. The path is even in front of me, staring me in the face: Genderfork would make a great book. It would also make an incredibly cool Etsy-esque online marketplace for artists and clothing designers. And it would make wonderful nonprofit organization, funneling its funds toward genderqueer and trans youth art projects, community spaces, and workshops (I have a bunch of ideas already). I’ve got the resources and support I’d need to make it all happen, even simultaneously, and I would position myself at the same time to become a more prominent public speaker on the topic.

I could do that. And I might. It seems like a lot of people would like me to, and it might be the right path for me. I’m at a point where I love public speaking, and genderqueerness is a very fun and rewarding world. (Do you know how many people get in touch with me just to tell me I’ve changed their lives? About 3-5 a week right now.) I just haven’t decided yet.

The truth? Gender’s a hard topic. It kinda wears me out.

And the thing is, I didn’t get here because I wanted to be a Gender Expert. I got here because I spent about six months actively exploring my own gender, accidentally created a community around the topic (I did the same thing with creative writing five years ago), and then had fun using the project as an opportunity to hone some of community management skills. It’s also worth mentioning that Genderfork isn’t my voice anymore; it’s intentionally not about me at all. I have a heavy hand in guiding its focus and values, but as Kate Bornstein puts it, the site is a “prism of genders” — it exists to show that there are many, many people in this space. We curate it quietly and we let the content speak for itself. Queer Open Mic has a comparable setup — my role is to create a thriving space for other people’s voices.

In other words, for a Gender Expert, I’m not saying much. (Or maybe I’m just confusing that role with “pundit.”)

At at the same time, this blog (Dopp Juice) has been a little short on content lately, and it’s bugging me. I want to speak. But I’m stuck because I’m not sure what I want to talk about. This doesn’t seem like the right place to hit you with my gender theories somehow. Doing so feels like it will seal the deal on me fully entering the Gender Expert arena before I’m ready for it. I’d kind of rather still talk about social media.

But social media marketing is for “douchebags” now.

::rolling eyes at own internal critic.::

I love community management and sincere social media marketing. That’s something I actually set out to do (or rather: realized it was perfect when i found myself accidentally standing in it). I spoke last week on a panel about Online Promotion for Artists and turned into a giddy 5-year-old, so excited to be able tell people how to make the Internet do more wonderful things for them. I can talk for hours about this stuff. (And a lot of people have figured out that I’m secretly a much cheaper consultant than I let on to be — all you have to do is buy me dinner and I’ll brainstorm on your project with you for two hours.)

But I don’t talk about it — at least not so much online. Unlike with genderqueerness, the blogosphere is saturated with pundits on this stuff. And honestly? I don’t like most of them. There’s a lot of superficial manipulation going on in social media right now, and I don’t like carrying that reputation by association. I’ve started adding wincing disclaimers to my self-description when I tell people I’m a social media consultant. (“Well, sort of. I’m the good kind. I mean…”) I’m no longer quite so proud of something I’m still completely in love with.

You see my dilemma.

More truth: I’m taking this situation very seriously this summer. I’ve given my primary gig notice that I plan on repositioning myself come September. That might mean doing the same job with a new perspective. Or it might mean a different job within the same organization (the creative freedom we have there is hard to match). Or it mean something completely different.

Three months seems like long enough to be able to figure it out.

Wanna help? Maybe we could get coffee soon?

Thanks and love,
Sarah

sarahdopp-lyingdown

I had the giddy pleasure of speaking on the Indy Arts and Media panel last thursday on DIY Online Promotion for Artists (alongside the inimitable Abi Jones and Hannah Eaves). We started a wiki of good online resources for the topic, for those looking for the Cliff’s Notes.

Things I wanna keep pontificating on…

Addictomatic — Woah! Hannah brough up this resource, and it pretty much won for Awesome Tool Recommendation of the night. It aggregates all online vanity searches onto one page (think google alerts + twitter search + everything else you forgot to check). My only complaint is that doesn’t seem to do daily email summaries (I want info to come to me). Maybe we can join together and sway them to add the feature. (They’ll probably find this blog post within minutes of it going live anyway.)

Bit.ly — I had NO IDEA this URL shortener included analytics tracking! (This means you can tell how many people clicked on it when you posted it to twitter… and whether or not they did it through a web browser or another client.) Sorry, is.gd — I know your base URL was a character shorter, but think just found my new best friend.

Asking for money — One of the audience members jumped in with an important question: “So if your bread and butter is getting people to buy your art, where do you put the ‘ask’ in all of this communication stuff?” We fumbled a bit on this one because it’s kindasorta not about that, except it always is. I said: treat social media as a metaphor for your in-real-life friendships… if you ask your friends to buy your stuff every time you see them, you’re not going to have many friends. But if you never ask them at all, they won’t realize the opportunity is there. So you have to strike the right balance of reminding them without being annoying.

There’s more, though, and I realized it on my way home from the panel (so question-asker, wherever you are, here’s what I meant to say): it’s not about asking. It’s about making it really easy for them to buy when it occurs to them that they might want to. Yes, your job is also to get them to want to, but that doesn’t have to be an ask — it could be a matter of talking around it, about it, over it, between it, and consistently building buzz about the awesomeness that is inherent to everything you do. What’s way more important is having the Buy button right there (or as close to “everywhere” as you can get while still being tactful), with a super easy checkout process and as much perceivable instant gratification as possible. We are an impulsive people, and we like to think that buying stuff is our own idea. But we also get distracted by the next shiny thing really easily, so turning our interest into a sale before that happens is your real challenge. The ask is secondary to that.

And in other news… I’ve been avoiding upgrading to iPhone 3.0 software because I’m moving to a place that doesn’t get AT&T, and if I decide to change phones along with carriers, I’d rather do it with a maintained resentment for my current phone’s lack of copy-and-paste and video-recording than with a feeling of lost love.

But someone demoed the new copy and paste function to me at the panel, and my blissful ignorance has been destroyed. Thanks, dude.

genderfork-logo

Genderfork, a community art blog project I started a year and a half ago, has taken off. It’s running three posts a day, each one representing a different face or voice from the community, and has about 5,000 regular readers. From the outside, it seems like this would be an insane amount of work to maintain, but it’s turns out that it’s not, because I’m not doing the blogging — 10 passionate volunteers are. My job at this point is just to take care of them, and to continue making things better.

A bit about how we’ve set this up…

genderfork-blueeyes

  • Everybody who’s helping is doing so because they asked if they could. When I realized I needed help last December, I put out a post asking people to email me if they were interested. Since then, they’ve mostly just come knocking at my inbox without my asking.
  • Each volunteer has their own responsibilities, and their commitment can be met with less than two hours of work a week (this usually goes for me, too).
  • We separated the tasks of preparing blog posts from deciding when they should be published, so most of the volunteers can blog several weeks’ worth content in one sitting if they choose to.
  • Whenever one of us has a question or get stuck, we try to run our ideas past the rest of the volunteers to get feedback on it.  This has helped keep the vision for the site a collective agreement, and it creates a sense of shared responsibility — we’ve really become a team.  (We’ve also started accumulating a stack of silly inside jokes — the inevitable consequence of liking each other.)

genderfork-shineHere’s what’s on our technical toolbelt….

  • WordPress blogging software
  • A Google Groups mailing list so our volunteers can talk to each other
  • Several Google Docs set up for sharing submissions between volunteers and keeping them organized
  • Tweet Later for managing the content in our daily twitter feed

We’ve souped up our WordPress installation with the following uber-useful plugins:

  • Contact Form 7 for our submission forms
  • IntenseDebate for better conversations in the comments
  • Flickr Blog This to Draft to let photo curation volunteers blog directly from Flickr without it showing up on the site immediately
  • Role Manager to let me configure exactly what Contributor accounts have access to (i found this necessary for allowing volunteers to blog photos and videos)

And it’s going well. We know this because our community takes the time to tells us this over and over again, every single day.  Here’s a note we received anonymously last week:

“This blog is wonderful =). Who knows you could be saving peoples lives by doing this.

“I’ve read all the archives, and when i came to the photo of the person with long hair in a brown leather jacket, a strong serious face with a beard and quite obvious breasts, it finally occurred to me, ignore the fact that i am gender queer myself, “this isn’t an exemption to some rule, or people being different – it is people, we’re alive and living, this is who we are”. It is legitimate and beautiful, no different from anything else people do. Thank you because it has taken a long while to be able to feel like that.”

And here’s a handful of the direct messages people have sent us through our twitter account:

“YAY Genderfork! -this site has been one of several things that has enabled me to explore and affirm my gender. Thanks!”

“hi, i’m more than a little forked at the moment, so it’s good to see you around here”

“the tweets are great. Some of them were how I felt when I was 13 so it’s cool that peeps can now share that and not just bottle it up”

“i went clothes shopping yesterday and felt totally confident in both the men’s & women’s sections for the 1st time.”

“Such gorgeous people, such moving words.”

“thank you for existing.”

So that’s what we’re building right now. Neat, huh?

Stick around. There’s a lot more to come.

genderfork-sunlight