Syndicated on BlogHer.com
I’ve been troubled this week by the events in Boston — two bombs exploded at the Marathon, one of the suspects was killed in a shootout (as was a cop), and the city shut down for a day while they hunted and captured the other suspect, his brother, a 19-year-old from Chechnya.

I’m from New Hampshire and I live in San Francisco. An attack on New England is scary and heartbreaking for me. There are people I love who were personally and closely affected by it. A college friend whose family owns a running shoe store at the site of the blast. A friend from childhood who was standing in the blast area with his wife and, mercifully, left 30 minutes before it happened. My sister’s boyfriend’s kids who were standing 200 feet away from the blast, and are in middle school. A colleague whose house was searched during the manhunt. There’s probably more.

Attacks on big events in American cities also shake me and strip me of my sense of safety more than any other kind of tragedy we see on the news. Because on any sunny day, when I’m full of pride and celebrating my community, it could happen to me. And let’s not forget that I live in one of the LGBTQ capitals of the country during a gay civil rights movement. We’re actually a completely realistic target.

So I’m scared. And sad. And angry. At no one in particular.

It’s interesting that earthquakes don’t scare me as much, even though they’re probably more likely to kill me. They don’t come paired with me losing my faith in humanity at the same time.

Humanity. Okay, this post isn’t actually about humanity. This is post is about Facebook. (I get those two confused sometimes.)

As I watched the anger pour out all week on my Facebook News Feed — at the bombers, at people who cheer for the torture of the bombers, at Muslims, at people who blame Muslims, at foreigners and immigrants, at people who blame foreigners and immigrants, at the government, at law enforcement, at terrorism, at the media, and at individuals who make statements in the heat of emotion that don’t hold up under scrutiny — my heart kept breaking further. People I love are in pain and blaming each other.

So now I’m doing the only reasonable thing I can think of to do. I’m directing my own personal anger this week at Facebook, and at recent shifts in Internet communication. I recognize that this is no more righteous or responsible than the other expressions of anger I’ve been frustrated with, but maybe I can make it just a little bit constructive.

Stay with me here.

We used to speak in essays.

We used to write each other two-page letters in mediocre penmanship, and hold long conversations over coffee. We focused on sharing a depth of view, we listened, and we connected. We had differences, but we found our similarities through them, and friendship was a collaborative effort of building bridges. The internet started closer to this, with small forums and chat rooms (like coffee dates), longer emails (because we weren’t overloaded in our inboxes), and long-form blogs and diaries that sparked discussion and empathy.

We also had more carefully selected audiences when we shared those essays. Instead of the very real possibility of something we write being circulated to our mothers, bosses, and members of the Tea Party, we had some trust that our voice would stay in the context of our community.

The audience has shifted. What we have on Facebook now is a giant Rolodex of everyone we’ve ever worked with, slept with, shared a blood line with, went to high school with, or thought was cool once. Custom audience filters exist, but they’re complicated to use and we don’t really trust them anyway. Our default mode is to share anything we post with everyone we know.

The medium has shifted, too. We no longer speak in essays, because essays don’t really belong on Facebook. We speak in photos, links, one-liners, and battle cries. (We’re also hanging out on Tumblr and Twitter, which are no different.) We distill our points down to the jab, to the wit, to the pointy tip, and then we fling it out into the Internet and see who catches it and what they make of it. We derive self-worth from getting “liked” and being told what we said is “SO TRUE.”

One of these alone would be rough. The two of them combined is a death sentence.

Here’s what this pile of changes means for us:

It means that if you have a network of people you mostly agree with, you are now living in a self-sustaining propaganda machine, able to share inflammatory emotional statements and feel like everyone around you agrees with you. (Even if they don’t, or have other friends who feel strongly in other directions. You’re never really sure how your words land with the people who feel too alienated to engage.)

It also means that if you have a mixed network of people with dramatically different viewpoints, you now see multiple propaganda machines. You see someone saying something offensive and someone being offended in the same scroll. You see anger and name-calling, and you can imagine the face of their target because that person is your friend, too. You…

Okay, sorry. I. Let’s be clear, this is about me. This is what I see. And it’s painful. And the only solutions I have at my fingertips are to

A) Unfriend and hide people until I have a network devoid of diversity and old friends who’ve found different paths, or

B) Stop looking at Facebook.

I don’t accept these options. This is my Internet, too, dammit, and I want something better for us.

I’m not upset that we are passionate people with opinions, criticism, pride, and voices. I’m upset that we’re communicating these values in a medium that reduces our points to lolcat-style images with IMPACT white text, and leaves off why we feel this way and how we got here.

I’m also upset that we’re using our “inside” voices with an unfiltered audience.  And that through the magic of a self-editing News Feed algorithm, we’re led to forget that half our contacts exist, and believe that our audience actually is just our friends.  Or worse, when we’re led to feel like this is Our Page for Expressing Ourselves, and that anyone who has an issue with that is way out of line. Because then we’re making people choose between listening to our heated rants and not being able to know us at all.

Broadcasting distilled, emotional battle cries without background context to our entire Rolodexes is further polarizing us as a community. And aren’t we polarized enough as it is?

I want us to speak in essays again, to connect compassionately over our differences, to listen, to be respectful, and to learn from each other. The fact that our audience has broadened to everyone we’ve ever met makes it that much more important to be real, human, and long-form about where we’re coming from and why we feel the way we do.

I’m writing this on a blog that I haven’t contributed to in a year, because Facebook was easier. Speaking in essays is hard work.

But what if we tried?

Over the last sixteen months, I’ve been working with a great group of people to build and nurture a new project: the Genderplayful Marketplace. This online marketplace celebrates diversity in gender presentation and body types. It rallies a community to work collectively on the question, ”How can we build wardrobes we love that fit our bodies well?”, and it offers extra encouraging support for trans, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming folks (an identity set that we define very broadly). The project was inspired by what we’ve learned in our work at Genderfork.com.

The Process

The Genderplayful homepage, in private beta

It started with a fundraiser last year. I promised that we would build the marketplace if we raised $5,000, and we received such a strong show of support that our final total was $8,000. Since then, we’ve just been chugging along, step by step, trying to stay focused on the goal and not get discouraged by the sheer size of it (and all of those damned possibilities that would make it so much better except when they really just make it feel more daunting).

For the first six months, we focused on the tech foundation — WordPress Multi-Site, Buddypress, and Marketpress, coupled with Linode and Springloops — and we worked with designers to build our visual experience. Then we pulled in a bigger volunteer staff to jumpstart our social media presence (meet our Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook accounts — each building their own collage of creativity, curiosity, and community style). We also assigned volunteers to help get our forums going, set our first vendors up with storefronts, develop a community blog, curate some featured content, keep the tech development moving forward, and keep our newfound team happy and healthy.

On January 15th of this year — one year after we finished our fundraiser — we opened our creaky doors to community members who’d supported us along the way for a Private Beta. And now we’re cleaning up, tweaking settings, building missing features, helping vendors settle in, and populating the site with the kind of culture we believe in.

Slowly, but surely. But slowly. Sure.

The Laws of Volunteerism

Featured sellers, community blogging

Eight grand is enough money to deal with legal and financial requirements, to cover tech account costs, and to hire the few services that you can’t easily request from volunteers. (It also buys t-shirts, which were part of the deal for getting community funds in the first place.)

It is not, however, enough money to also hire a staff or fund a professional web development job. And that’s fine — we didn’t ask for that level of support to begin with — but it does mean that everything we do is subject to the Laws of Volunteerism.

These laws, as far as I can tell, are as follows:

Law #1: Our predicted involvement will be bigger than our actual involvement. The energy and excitement that we have at the beginning of a project is rarely sustainable at its peak levels, and the actual time we can invest in a project over the long-term needs to have a realistic bare minimum.

Law #2: We will mostly do things that are either urgent or methodical. Give us a fire to put out, and we’ll jump on it. Give us task to repeat every week, and we’ll turn it into a habit. But ask us to think about something new every day without attaching a major deadline to it?  Yeah, sorry, we’d love to, but maybe you can find someone else to jump in…

Law #3: We need to see that our work is helping others in order to keep doing it. I think the single biggest mistake we made in the first year of Genderplayful was not creating a smaller version of the marketplace that we could release much sooner. As volunteers, we are fueled by the positive impact we have on others, and we lose momentum when that’s harder to see.

Law #4: Real life will get in the way. Job stress, moving, breakups, illness, overwhelm, family issues, school, travel, projects, personal transitions, and other forms of Real Life don’t stop knocking. Ever. Volunteering is a commitment, but it’s a rather secondary commitment to, say, staying alive and healthy, and we have to remain flexible as our own availabilities change.

All of these things have happened to all of us on the project, and they hit our tech team and our organizing/leadership energy the hardest. Which leads me to…

SHAMELESS PLUG! If anyone would like to offer their reinforcements in these areas, please first consider the Laws listed above, and then fill out our “SEND IN THE REINFORCEMENTS!” form with how you’d like to help.

Dreaming vs. Doing

When it comes down to it, we’re still walking and still building, even if it’s messy, slow, and quiet in the darkness some nights.

Ideas are fun and cheap, and Great Ideas are worth doing. Doing, however, requires pushing through every form of resistance your brain can come up with, withstanding the stretch of real timelines, and ignoring all those new fun cheap ideas that show up every morning and tempt you to do something new. Doing a Great Idea (as opposed to just any old idea) helps with that last part, but it still takes force, conviction, and faith to get to the finish line.

And we’re getting there. Soon*, you’ll be able to see and experience all the wonders (or at least the highest priority ones) that we’ve been imagining all along the way.

* “Soon” implies no specific timeline. (We know better than that by now.)

We are going to make it through this year if it kills us
May the bridges I burn light the way

Around this time last year, I kicked off a new project called Genderplayful – an online marketplace for gender-variant folks to sell clothing to one another. It was bigger and harder than anything I’ve done before, and we’re still working on it. It will launch soon. Really.

Shortly after that kickoff, I gave up seven years’ worth of freelance clients and got a real job. At an office. Where people work 9-5 and wear pants. It felt like stepping into another world — one I had never aspired to be a part of. It was the right move and it was worth it, but it required a whole new skillset and mentality from me, and I had to pick them up the hard way.

So when I saw this print by Mike Monteiro at 20×200 last March, I bought it and put it right above my computer in my home. We are going to make it through this year if it kills us. Amen.

The other print of Mike’s that I strongly considered picking up read, May the bridges I burn light the way. I liked it partly for its hat tip to the family business, but mostly because I felt like my past and my freedom were going up in flames.

It sounds crazy (most things I believe do), but it’s not an unreasonable view. By saying Yes to huge things, you have to say No to nearly everything else. You kill new opportunities before they can appear because you no longer have space for them on your doorstep. Daydreaming about how you want to change the world stops being a good use of time, because now you have a focused direction. You answer the question of  ”What do I want to be when I grow up?” for at least the next year, and it takes the fun out of the game. You lose that hungry, creative edge that helped you survive in constant uncertainty because that part of your brain isn’t challenged anymore. (That was valuable! You needed that!)

But the truth is, I had built that creative life so I could get to this point, and dive full-body into what matters to me. I’ve burned some bridges, but those fireworks were a celebration. Sometimes the only way to step onto a new path is to remove the other paths, and I’ll be damned if those flames aren’t lighting the way. I know where I’ve been and I know where I’m going, and it’s worth it. It’s hard as hell sometimes, but it’s absolutely worth it.

I made it through this year and it didn’t kill me. Thanks, Mike Monteiro.

And thanks, Emma. Thank you Will. Thank you Melissa. Thank you Bill. Thank you Sannse. Thank you Jen. Thanks to all of the genderqueers on Twitter and Tumblr. Thanks to all the staff at Genderfork, and to the new staff at Genderplayful. Thanks to my parents. Thanks to Alan. Thank you, Kyle.

And thanks to 2011 for finally fucking ending and being relatively well-behaved in the process. You did your job exactly right.

Here’s to 2012!

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?

I am building.

I am waking up early on weekdays and going into an office and doing a job I love — community management for a company that makes free, open websites for whoever on the planet wants to write and build and share.

I am taking hour-long lunches on a giant beanbag at the back of the office with my laptop, building a little at a time and answering emails from my other projects. And then I am closing down that mail program and not looking at it for the rest of the day while I go back to work.

I am blogging and thinking and maintaining and helping. I am learning.

I am working 40 hours a week.

I am scheming ideas on the train. I am brainstorming while I walk through Yerba Buena Park every morning. I am listening to audiobooks on management, on creativity, on mindfulness, and on how to be a ten year-old boy. I am dancing through the Martin Luther King memorial fountain in the rain on my walk home.

Once a week, I have a meeting at 7am with one of my organizing counterparts to plan more building.

I am spending evenings resting and playing and seeing people. I thought I would spend them building, but I was wrong. I am healthier this time around, and my body needs time to not build.

I am also getting eight hours of sleep a night. Usually. (Okay, seven.) And I eat breakfast every day.

I am building on weekends.

I am writing all over my whiteboard. I am writing all over my shower. I am writing on post-its and notebooks and the backs of envelopes all over my desk. There are wireframe sketches and lists everywhere.

I am forgetting to do my dishes.

I am tackling features and software and code. I am finding bugs and squishing them. I am testing things and researching and talking to myself out loud.

I am working 60 hours a week.

I am untangling the knot of how to build a sustainable community project on only lunchbreaks and weekends. I am cracking the nut of how to build a happy staff without revenue or major investment. I know these things are possible because I’ve done this before.

Twice.

And this time around, I am healthier. I am in love with my entire day, every day. This is what I spent last year preparing for and making possible. It’s here. This is it. I get to build.

It won’t be done next week, but it’s happening.

The Genderplayful Marketplace is on its way.

Sarah Dopp

Photo by Dreamfish

Hi Internet,

Wow. That was some year, huh? I’m still rubbing my eyes to wake up from it all.

Here’s a recap:

I organized some social media workshops, I started an industry blog about community management, and I launched a campaign to build a clothing marketplace (which hit it’s funding goal three weeks early, last Monday!).

I also spoke at Oberlin College, co-coordinated a camp weekend for transgender children, produced a public reading of content from Genderfork, started a personal newsletter, and was published in two books.

I kept hosting Queer Open Mic, I kept shaving my head, I kept on twittering, and I kept Genderfork running smoothly.

I built websites for some amazing clients like Gender Spectrum, Marc Davis, The Personal Data Ecosystem, and THE LINE Campaign. And I pushed my focus from “website development” to “online community development,” consulting on projects for Offbeat Bride, Cisco, and a few others.

It was an odd year. A creative year. A year that required a lot of long drives just to clear my head. It was filled with rebuilding, reorienting, and rethinking. It was jumpy and inconsistent. It ripped me open in all the right places, and it held my hand when that hurt like hell. I’m grateful for every moment of 2010, but let’s be honest: I’m glad it’s over.

It’s time to stop turning my brain upside down and shaking its pieces all over the place to figure out what matters. I know what matters. I know what’s next.

Now it’s time to build.

What about you?

I hope your Internal Annual Review today is just as clear, and that whatever’s next for you is stretching itself out in front of you with a welcoming smile. I hope you’ve seen it coming, and are ready to change gears and launch forward.

And speaking of which, while we’re here, do you mind if I make a few suggestions?

1) Send yourself a letter today using FutureMe.org. I do it every year at New Years (and a few other times during the year when I’m drunk or punchy, just for kicks).  The letter will arrive in your inbox at exactly the same time a year later. Use it to write out what you did last year and what you hope to achieve this year. And use it to remind yourself of what’s important to you.

2) Don’t make New Year’s resolutions that set you up for failure. Every time you break a promise to yourself, you trust yourself less, and that poison seeps into all aspects of your life. Don’t take the bait. Set intentions instead. Make predictions. Generate ideas. If you must play into the resolutions game, then set gentle, realistic goals and make a plan for how to meet them. But really, I think you should just go outside, take a deep breath, be quiet for an hour, and reflect on how far you’ve come already. You’re kind of amazing. Remember?

3) Whatever you focus on this year, make it special. Keep it small enough to stay special, and let it grow when it’s ready. Don’t litter on the Internet by posting things you don’t actually care about. Build up your character and integrity by only doing things that actually matter to you. Practice discardia. Be selective. Don’t just throw spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Pick your spaghetti off the shelf carefully. Go for the one that smells the best. Love that water as it boils. Make your sauce from scratch. Taste test. Get it right.

May your year be full of what you need, and may it challenge you to reconsider what that is.

(And thank you for being here. You make me happy.)

Love you,
Sarah

Hey Everyone,

Thank you so much for all your support for the Genderplayful Marketplace idea. We’ve launched the fundraiser, and already raised $2400 in the first week (plus $335 for the PayPal Haters Fund) from a combined total of 91 backers.

*pause* Did you get that? If you’re skimming, take a second to go read that last line again. None of those numbers are typos. This. Is. Real.

For those who are hearing about this for the first time, here’s the spiel:

What’s the Genderplayful Marketplace?

Genderplayful is a plan for an online clothing marketplace that celebrates diversity in gender presentation and body types. This is for anyone who can’t easily find what they’re looking for in a typical clothing store, with special support for androgynous, unisex, butch, dapper, femme, gender-bending, gender-transgressive, and gender-fanflippingtastic clothing solutions for all kinds of bodies.

Genderplayful cares about custom solutions, and the marketplace will host a lively community that finds and creates those solutions together. Vendors will include indie designers, crafters, clothing makers, tailors, and people selling things from their closets and local thrift stores. Community members will pool notes on what they’re excited about, and vendors will take cues from buyers on what to create more of. The goal is to create a culture-rich gorgeous Internet bazaar for the playful, the exquisite, and the just trying to get dressed in the morning.

About the Fundraiser

If Genderplayful can raise $5,000 in community funding by January 15, 2011, founder Sarah Dopp will commit to making the project a reality. Anything above that baseline number will go toward making the project happen faster and better. (Really, she needs more like $50,000, but she’d rather do it cheaply than wait to do it perfectly.) All financial backers will receive perks based on their contribution level.

Wanna donate?

You can do that right here:

And please spread the word! The more supporters we can rally early on, the stronger this community project will be. The main event is taking place over here: http://genderplayful.tumblr.com

Thank you so much for all your support everybody!

So much love,
Sarah Dopp
founder of Genderfork.com and the Genderplayful Marketplace
(cross-posted from genderfork)

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

~~~

Wow. Okay. Hi. So it sounds like you want a Genderplayful Marketplace to happen. Awesome.

I’ve been humbled and overwhelmed by the letters, comments, tweets, likes, views, posts, and reblogs from the last 5 days. Ya’ll are phenomenal.

And videos are a lot to ask. I know. So far I’ve received four of them. I can work with that, but really, it would make a huge difference to our upcoming fundraising effort if we could bring in more. Also: all of the videos I’ve received so far appear to be from transmasculine crowd (trans men, butch/androgynous women). These are fantastic, and please keep them coming, but it would also mean a lot to the balance of the project if we could pull in some representing trans women, femmes (men, women, and so on), drag queens, and other genderfabulous faces.

So here’s where we get serious. If you’ve been thinking about making a short video of yourself explaining why this marketplace is important to you, go do it. Get it done. Go go go! Don’t worry too much about making it clean and perfect — I’ll be editing it down to chunks and weaving it together with other videos. You will be beautiful.

The best way to send them appears to be through Google Docs. Just log in, hit “Upload”, get it up there, and then hit “Share.” Share it with genderplayful@gmail.com.

For those who might be new to this conversation, here’s my overview of the project, complete with me sitting naked in a towel:

And here’s a small handful of the things people have written…

Why is a marketplace for androgynous clothing important? Because of people like me.

I want to be able to dress up, feel comfortable, feel like myself on a daily basis. I want to be able to have variety in my clothing styles besides just “jeans and a t-shirt” while mainting an androgynous image. I want suits and dresses and kilts and dress shirts that don’t accentuate the fact that I was born biologically female. I want to be able to find a place to buy and replace binders and packers of all varieties. I want a place where boots and shoes are bought and sold that fit my feet and don’t have a high heel.

To those trying to get this project off the ground, and turn this into a reality, I am grateful.

You’ve been to the department stores…

Here is an example of a genetic male androgyne shopping experience:

Go into any department store and look for clothes in the mens section, and you will find the following colors: beige, brown, gray, black, and navy blue. If you’re lucky you’ll find some red, forest greens, or maybe even a colorful Hawaiian shirt. The only place you’ll ever find a sense of color is in men’s dress shirts, but they all of the same cut, and usually are solids or pinstriped if you’re lucky – no scoop neck, V-neck, or something innovative and fun. If you want teal trousers or a paisley patterned shirt then you’re out of luck. Also, the men’s clothing isn’t fitted – it’s meant to fit baggy and not show off your figure. Fitted shirts or slacks are a rarity for men in department stores.

So you go shop in the women’s section and find the color and pattern you’ve been looking for. But the sizes aren’t big enough, the tail of the shirt is too short to tuck into your pants, the darts in the shirt are useless on your flat chest. The trousers would look cute on you, but don’t fit right around the hips, so you find a pair that does, but the pant cuffs are too short and barely cover your ankles.

I think there is a niche market for genderqueer fashion – the only other option I see is to break out my sewing machine and spend all of my free time making my own clothes, and I’m not that good at it anyway.

–Timi

Buying from our peers just feels better.

Where I get my stuff from matters to me. I like the idea of being able to dress the way I want to and buy from my community at the same time. I love the idea of a place where the genderqueer community could come together to swap second hands stuff that worked. I adore the idea of having a place to talk about how to make stuff fit or look cool with other people who get it. It would be fabulous to have a place where I could find people who made genderqueer stuff and support them in making my life a little bit easier.

I am also super excited about having a place where I could sell (or heck, give away) some of my funky femme clothes to my super beautiful funky femme brothers and sisters and siblings.

These are rocking my world, ya’ll. Keep the stories coming!

~ ~ ~

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

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

For the last few years, I’ve been neck-deep in conversations about non-normative gender. Those conversations just expanded today with the announcement that Diaspora‘s alpha launch collects gender as an open-ended text field (which was met with some backlash). For everyone just getting to this conversation, here is some context and backstory, based on what I’ve experienced so far. Note that this is limited to my own perspective and exposure, so please add links to other sources in the comments, in an effort to better flesh out the bigger picture.

The Preface, from Doppland

Two years ago, I wrote an open letter to Silicon Valley, requesting that everyone think about how they are approaching Gender in their data collection forms. If you’re the least bit totally baffled by why we’re even talking about gender at all right now, PLEASE start by reading that letter. It’s gentle, it’s in plain English, and it explains a lot.

(I should also add: I organize Genderfork.com, a community expression blog about gender variance, which gets over 20,000 readers and a helluvalot of contributors and commenters per month. This is a large group of people who don’t don’t fit well in traditional gender categories, and their numbers are only scratching the surface of a bigger demographic. They exist. They vary. I know many of them personally. And I identify with them in many ways.)

Last year I attended the She’s Geeky unconference in Mountain View, where I led a discussion called “My Gender Broke Your Dropdown Menu.” I started by reading that letter, and then tasked the group with trying to solve the design problem of “what would be better than a two-option dropdown menu?” It turned into a conversation about all of the user experience, data management, and business issues that get pulled onto the table when Gender is in question, as well as a brainstorming session on how we might solve them. No surprise: we didn’t come up with a clear answer. But we did learn a lot more about the problem. Really, it comes down to the question of “why do you need the data?” Is it about encouraging self-expression, helping people find dates, making marketing decisions, or reporting user statistics to investors? Your primary goal impacts your choices for implementation.

I followed up on that workshop by writing another post called “Designing a Better Drop-Down Menu for Gender,” which listed all the ideas I thought could reasonably improve the data collection process, from a user experience standpoint (again: just go read it — this will all make more sense if you do).  This set of ideas was a work in progress, and the last idea in the post — a method for open-ended tagging — sparked a few follow-ups.  A designer proposed some early, stylized mockups; Kirrily Robert at Freebase created an alpha version, and Phil Darnowsky further riffed on the idea.  We were all just messing around with ideas at this point.

Then it got real.

Enter: Diaspora

Diaspora is an open-source, community-funded social networking platform that aims to have better privacy than Facebook and lets you own your own content. It’s in the very early stages (they just let in the first round of alpha testers last week), and is facing a lot of criticism on the quality of its code. But it’s still a great idea.

Sarah Mei, a contributor to the Diaspora project, was in that She’s Geeky workshop about gender and drop-down menus. That discussion, coupled with her own personal and professional experiences, led her to change the data collection method to an open-ended text field. She writes about the process she went through to get to this decision over here: Disalienation: Why Gender is a Text Field on Diaspora.

This has received support.

It has also perturbed some people.

…which has sparked further support for the change.

anil dash

Since Diaspora’s code quality still has a long way to go before it’s accepted as stable, I’m sure there will many more iterations to this field. So let’s keep an eye on the conversation and advocate for the best possible scenario.

vCard (and Microformats, and OpenSocial)

Guess what? Diaspora’s not the only project dealing with the Gender Data issue this week. As we speak, the vCard specs team is pinning the next iteration of how our address book data will be organized. Their original plan was to have a field called SEX that allowed for the following attributes (based on the ISO):

  • 0 = not known
  • 1 = male
  • 2 = female
  • 9 = not applicable

Tantek Çelik proposed a two-field solution: SEX (male, female, other, or none/not applicable) and GENDER IDENTITY (an open-ended text field), based on data and solutions he’d explored earlier at Microformats.org. This seems like a reasonable solution to me. (Note: this suggestion is strictly about organizing data behind the scenes. “What will profile forms look like?” is a different conversation.)

I chimed in with an explanation of about why the ISO system is inadequate and offensive, and expressed support for Tantek’s plan.

Kevin Marks pointed out that he and Cassie Doll had also worked out a reasonable data organizing solution, which was accepted in the early stages of OpenSocial and Portable Contacts:

gender:
The gender of this contact. Service Providers SHOULD return one of the following Canonical Values, if appropriate: male, female, or undisclosed, and MAY return a different value if it is not covered by one of these Canonical Values.

In other words: male, female, nuffin’, or fill-in-the-blank. Works for me.

Things are still being finalized, but it looks like vCard will settle on one of these solutions, or a close variant of it.

What Else?

That’s about the extent of my knowledge on the Gender Data Collection story as it’s playing out right now. Let’s pool any links that show where progress is happening, and bring solutions to this obscure but highly sensitive design dilemma to light. Comments offering more constructive views and info are encouraged here (and flaming won’t be tolerated).

Thanks so much,
~ Sarah

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