Voicetorn (or “Sarah’s Current Lack of Soapbox”)

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

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29 Responses to “Voicetorn (or “Sarah’s Current Lack of Soapbox”)”

  1. Deb Says:

    If it helps to just talk it out, you are doing that amazingly well.

  2. sarahdopp Says:

    Thank you. :)

  3. Kyle Stone Says:

    One approach would be to try to combine it all together, developing one community/product that combines all of your expertise into a single arena….

    in China!

  4. Drew G Says:

    Wow . . . I never thought I would have to see you choose. Although I think you will always utilize your knowledge and abilities in all arenas. I hope you can find the balance that makes you happy but it would be a shame to see you leave either completely. That said, you need to be happy and no one call tell you how to do that. Keep us posted.

  5. Aki / Autumn Says:

    honestly – i think the fact that you are doing both is what makes this situation unique. I think it is a very interesting corner you've got yourself into. personally, since i work at a nonprofit, i am all for that route. but i work at a nonprofit that is very much into helping other nonprofits with technology – including social networking. i do not believe that you should have to choose, though i understand the dilemma (and energy output!) we are always here to chat if you like!

  6. audaciaray Says:

    I've been doing a similar struggle over the past year, not sure it's exactly resolved yet – but I have a lot of ideas about this. Would love to talk to you at length about this. In short: I think the days of the "social media experts" without a passionate programmatic focus are numbered. The future – or, well, MY future – is in a mix of expertise and using the tech and campaign know-how to further stuff I'm obsessed with.

  7. solidad Says:

    I agree with audaciaray – it's where my future seems to be headed re social media as well. It's sort of strange to be advocating for technology as a means for social change when, as Sarah notes above, it appears that the advocacy position is becoming dominated by self-serving asshats who are mostly in it for the money, not for what they're passionate about. (Being passionate about being filthy rich doesn't really count, I'm sorry.)

    That being said, I wonder if we're all coming to some sort of crossroads point, or will be shortly – what is the functional purpose of all this, in specific? "OK, we're all in the room together, oh we millions. Now what?"

  8. Severe Says:

    To play devils advocate….
    3 months is nevah as long as it sounds like.

    But, I'm always game for tha "wtf am ah daein w. my life conversation" :)

  9. sarahdopp Says:

    Thank you all for reminding me how not-alone I am on this one.

  10. Carrie Says:

    I think combining these two fields into one would be the best. I agree that soooo many social media "experts" are really just trying to sell you something. I know… I see them EVERYDAY in my online world. They are just trying to make money or sell you something. I think creating a REAL social network that is targeted and STAYS targeted at a certain group of people fosters a much better community, than a come one come all focus. I also vote for the book. I think it would be a best seller and help open the eyes of thousands and thousands of people. You don't have to declare yourself an expert… you can say guru. I think the word guru is much better than expert, because I think it leaves room for other gurus; whereas expert makes it sound like the one and only knowledgeable person.

  11. OffbeatAriel Says:

    There's so much to respond to in this post, but for now I'll focus on this: "But social media marketing is for “douchebags” now."

    This makes me so sad. Social media is something I've been obsessed with since I started blogging in late 2000, and I can't deny that I take it a little personally that something I love so much has been taken over by snake-oil salesmen. It's so hard to see the industry taken over by "experts" who were working in Real Estate last year decided 6 months ago to try twitter and TADA! Suddenly they're a consultant. It makes me feel old and crabby, but I remember when I used to go to blogger meetups in SF with Ev and Ernie and Min Jung and it was just fun.

    And it was a five mile walk in the snow uphill both ways to blog! Hurrumph. ;)

  12. sarahdopp Says:

    AMEN.

  13. jeremiah Says:

    I love you sarah

  14. Catherine Taylor Says:

    I guess I've always viewed self-proclaimed experts with extreme scepticism – "think you're an expert? *I'll* be the judge of that!" Akin to the line that those who seek power are often those least fitting to be entrusted with it.

    You'll find the right arena for your many talents, Sarah – right for *you*, that is – and maybe that'll have less emphasis on areas that others want you to be prominent in. You said "It seems like a lot of people would like me to" – of course! Because you're so very good at it… and maybe because, if you do it, then they don't have to. I could (but won't) wax lyrical on the dubious merits and probable pitfalls of taking on roles that others want for you.

    If I've learned anything – and it's doubtful whether I have – it's this – do what's right for you, and by so doing you'll discover the resources and determination to do right by those who matter to you, be they individuals or groups.

    And coffee? Dinner? Awesome! Well, it *would* be, if I were in town…

  15. cheekyboots Says:

    I completely agree that a lot of people talking about social media these days seem to be on the soul-sucking end of things. I like your voice about the topic – it's honest, down-to-earth, and combines the money making stuff with the core of the point of all of this – community and authentic connection.

    I for one vote that you have a gift to give in the social media realm. And your experience with Genderfork informs that. You've gone into the heart of online community and that's important.

    I also think that Gender Queerness, while a complex topic, is almost too narrow for you. Not that it's narrow in itself, but you span so many worlds. I don't see you being a Gender Queer expert as a sole career path. That's my sense of you anyway. I think being an advocate for returning/reclaiming social media for the purpose of true community, and helping people who are marginalized in the offline world create space, income, and a voice for themselves online is closer. But maybe what you want to do isn't a job description that's been written yet. That's OK, you can discover it as you go.

    I like what solidad said, maybe it's about what's next. The asshats are there in every media form. What is unique about social media that can still bring armies of cool together? What can we really do with all this?

    I also second Catherine on not doing things just because other people think you are good at them – dude, I'm sure you are good at a lot of things you do, just because you are good doesn't mean it's your passion. I am actually not worried about you in this respect though, I know how fidgety you are when you are not doing what you love. =)

    I would love to have coffee/food if you come to PDX again. =)

  16. sarahdopp Says:

    Right on target. Damn I'm glad you know me, and vice versa. Thank you.

  17. sarahdopp Says:

    You hit the points I was tiptoeing around. Thank you.

  18. sarahdopp Says:

    i love you too. come hang out.

  19. sarahdopp Says:

    so good to hear from you on this…. and yeah. the combination of all the skills is usually the right answer. :)

  20. sarahdopp Says:

    taking you up on this.

  21. sarahdopp Says:

    You just said it beautifully. I'm thinking about this too. And listening.

  22. sarahdopp Says:

    Yeah, I think our worlds have a lot of parallels here, and it's inspiring to me to see how you've laid it out for yourself so far. I won't be surprised if i end up in similar arrangements. you inspire me. thanks.

  23. sarahdopp Says:

    nonprofits.

    we should talk.

  24. sarahdopp Says:

    I'm sure the balance is in there somewhere… more talking will help me find it… getting closer. :) thanks.

  25. sarahdopp Says:

    Yes.

    China.

    Wanna come?

  26. joy ninja » Social Media Marketing for Non-Douchebags Says:

    […] friend Sarah wrote this post the other day, on figuring out what she wants to focus on next, and how she is somewhat embarrassed to say she is […]

  27. Matt Says:

    I was telling my friend the other day about how I love to hear the "real" side of people. You know, the side behind all the ego driven, culturally taught ways that people seem to get caught up in. It's good to see you letting it out because more people will relate to that on a deeper level. Keep us updated and let your inner light shine.

  28. Melissa Gira Grant » Getting Professionally Naked at South by Southwest Says:

    […] creepy marketers. She founded the groundbreaking online community Genderfork which is not only her her life’s big work but a brilliant platform for getting people to get real online. We talk a lot about identity, […]

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