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?

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

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.

Good morning.

In a couple of hours, I’m going to a wedding in Dolores Park, at which all of the attendees will be dressed in white, preferably bridal gowns. It will look a whole lot like a Brides of March flash mob, except in september, and with a real wedding involved.

Last night, I hosted the six-year anniversary Queer Open Mic with my co-organizer, Baruch, who is an unstoppable force of creativity and community passion. Last night was one of the first nights in a long time that we ran out of time before we ran out of “if we have extra time” performers.  It sucks to have to turn people away from a microphone, but my head was still buzzing from all the art for hours afterward.

The night before that, I went to the unofficial BlogHer Debriefing dinner (reflecting on a conference I actually played hookie from this year, but have a long-standing relationship to). I walked out with a belly full of enchiladas, two work requests, and the firm encouragement from Shannon Rosa and Jennifer Byde Myers still rattling in my head, telling me I can do this. All of this. Telling me I’m doing better than I think I am.

On Tuesday, I’ll fly to New England for a week of rest, work, family, and foliage. (Mostly foliage.) I haven’t seen New England peak autumn foliage since I moved to California 6 years ago, and I know that emptiness has been getting to me because I painted my apartment red, yellow, and orange.  (BTW, if you’re in New England, the best way to see me on this trip is to be willing to come to me. I’ll probably be somewhere in New Hampshire, excepting a few stopovers in Massachusetts.)

Oh, and I got a laptop last week. I’m no longer tethered to the desktop in my studio apartment, working entirely from home. I can co-work now. I can build websites from hotel rooms. I can make the city my office. (I just have to learn to use a PC again is all.)

And this is all a long-winded way of telling you that I feel awake again.

There’s a poster in my kitchen that Hugh MacLeod drew on for me at at last year’s CrunchUp party. (That’s how he signs those posters. By drawing on them.) I told him, I feel stuck and stagnant and I don’t want to get up in the morning. Draw something that makes me feel awake. He drew this:

It took a year, but I’m feeling it now. I like getting up in the morning again. There’s stuff to do.  I have a team. I like my work. I have a new baby to feed, and it still has a long way to grow, but it already embodies everything I spent the last year trying to articulate.  I have a path now, and it’s not based on what people told me I should do. It’s what I found when I went looking for the things I care about.  And as far as I can tell, this direction didn’t even exist before (at least, not the way I want to do it). I made it up. That’s how I know it’s right.

And something completely freaking spectacular is happening to me because of this shift: I want to meet people again. For the first time in years, I’m interested in being social. I want to dance with everyone, to find more people to be close to, to listen to stories, to connect ideas, to engage.

When I felt lost, I disengaged from others quite a bit. On purpose. I couldn’t afford to fall into someone else’s agenda.

But now I feel unshakeable, and I want to keep walking.

See you soon.

Love,
Sarah

Inspired by a recent email by Melissa Gira about doing something “for the story of it,” I present you with… my decision-making flowchart:


(Click for the bigger, more readable version)

Two different people just asked me about this in the last five minutes, so it seems worth writing out.  And then I can link to this post in my GChat status message! Shortcut!

Here’s the scenario: Through the luck of the emailing, you’ve scored my secret gmail address, and I’m showing up in your chat list.  You’ve already noticed two things:

  1. I seem to be there all the time. Like, 24/7. Like, why the heck doesn’t this Dopp ever sleep?
  2. I am always, always, without exception marked Busy. Red. Unavailable. “Warning warning, saying hi is rude right now!”  Etc. Never green.

There are good explanations for this.

Why are you always there?

I have a Google Android-based cell phone that gets Gtalk.  So as long as my cellphone is on, I’m pokeable.  (Note that if you send me a chat message when my computer is off, I’ll get it on my phone, it will feel like a text message to me. Our communication paradigm will have shifted, and you won’t have any way of knowing. *cue scary music*)

Why are you always busy?

BECAUSE I’M ALWAYS BUSY!  I usually have at least 10 projects going at once, and if I’m at my computer, I’m probably working on one of them. The Internet is my office, and my business hours are Whenever I’m Awake. If you want to hang out with me when I’m taking a break, you need to come meet me at Dolores Park in San Francisco. I’ll be the one stretching, wandering around, enjoying the sun, and not looking at my phone or computer.

So… can I gchat with you?

Sure!  (Maybe.)  Here’s what I’d love:

If you’re working with me on something, you can always send me a message. It’s a good way to get a quick answer from me. If I’m there, I’ll respond.  If I don’t respond, please send me an email.  (Gchat messages are known for getting lost.)

If you’re not working with me on something, please don’t open with “hi” or “hey” or “what’s up?” and wait for me to respond. I probably won’t. Just start with the thing you want to talk about. (And if I don’t respond, follow up over email.)

If you don’t have anything in particular you want to talk about, but you want to talk to me, please ask me if we can get coffee sometime.  Don’t try to catch up with me over gchat.

If you have something funny or interesting you want to send me, go ahead and just gchat me the link.  I may or may not be able to look at it, and I probably won’t have much time to talk about it, but I’ll appreciate the thought.

I know, I know, this is me being weird again.  First I don’t answer my phone, and now this.

But think of it this way: at least I’m reachable.  Remember when I shut down IM completely for four years?  You hated that.  This is my compromise.

Love you,
Sarah

It’s here — the holiday of all holidays — Geek New Year.  The intersection of the end of SXSW Interactive and St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone who made the annual pilgrimage to Austin, TX is wandering home, rubbing their eyes and thinking a thousand new thoughts about how the coming year will be. And drinking.

I skipped SXSW this year, and didn’t miss it much.  But apparently, 2009 Me took some steps to keep 2010 Me in the loop just so I wouldn’t feel left out.  I woke up this morning to an email I’d sent myself a year ago using FutureMe.org. The subject line read, “listenupmotherfucker.” (And I’m such a nice person to everyone else…)

If you’ve watched me twitter on New Years, you know I make a grandiose attempt to discourage everyone in the world from making resolutions.  Resolutions are often about picking something really hard that you feel guilty about, and throwing yourself at it drunkenly with all your might, only to fail in about a month. What does that really do, besides pull a few muscles and prove your incompetence?  We need better traditions.

Mine is writing a letter to myself a year in the future.  I include reminders, predictions, ideas, requests, and stories I want to carry forward.  It’s me having an ongoing, ritualized conversation between the past, the present, and the future, and I love it. I love watching my own story unfold in a correspondence with myself over time.

Except last year I fucked it up.

Last year I forgot to write myself a letter on New Years, and it bugged me for months.  So on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day and the end of SXSWi, after two weeks of traveling, I decided that despite being too wrecked to move, I could see the whole timeline of my life Very Clearly and had a LOT to say about it.

Here’s the letter I received this morning (with a few light revisions to make it more bloggable):

From: Sarah Dopp
To: Sarah Dopp
Date: March 17, 2010
Subj: From me to me, listenupmotherfucker.

Dear FutureMe,

It’s the last night of SXSW and I’m a fucking zombie. I’ve been traveling for two weeks — first a week in Portland and now this. Roomed with Melissa, Boffery’s a madman of vision, and Genderfork is exploding with passion. I want my Dopp Juice voice back. Queer Open Mic is getting its sea legs again, and occasionally I think about book deals and self-publishing. I’m speaking soon on gender and sexuality ambiguities, and in general, my life’s pretty fucking cool.

So why am I so stoned on exhaustion that I can’t even pack my fucking suitcase?

Okay, listen up. I skipped the letter from New Years so this one’s a few months late. Here’s the deal. You’re reading this in 2010, right? Shut up and keep talking. That’s my brilliant plan. Just do that, and you’ll be fine.

No, seriously, though. Here’s what you need to know:

1) Stop calling yourself an entrepreneur. It’s bullshit.

2) Don’t go back to school, even if you know you can. It’s bullshit, and you have better ways to spend your time.

3) If you forget the different between following your heart and doing what seems right, go read XKCD’s Fuck That Shit again.

4) If you get stuck, go read the Cult of Done Manifesto again.

5) Genderfork Book. Build the community. Meetups, volunteers, whatever.

6) Go talk to [redacted] about representing a community that you don’t see yourself as a complete representative of.

7) You can do this. You have to. You don’t know how not to.

Stay alive. I love you.

Sarah

p.s. I really like The Squeeze right now.

I must have been very tired, because I have absolutely no recollection of writing this.

I’m particularly fond of the line, “Shut up and keep talking. That’s my brilliant plan. Just do that, and you’ll be fine.”

And aside from that… yeah… this is how I talk to myself.

Go write your letter now.  It’s a new New Year.

I just spent two weeks on my couch, staring at the wall, nursing a bad case of bronchitis, desperately trying to convince myself every morning that I was healthy again, and then falling over ten minutes later.

This was poorly timed. I had just asked the internet/universe for new clients (and it was delivering); I needed to promote and host January’s Queer Open Mic; I had to host, edit the audio recording, book the next guest, and kick off some written content for Deviants Online; there were a handful of loose ends at Genderfork that I was dropping the ball on (including a physical interactive art exhibit that we were sponsoring and needed to build); and there’s also a big sorta-secret dream project that I’m determined to kick off this year, and I had planned to announce it in January to find out who wants to help.  But instead, I’ve been curled up in a ball, unable to think or do.

Pretty much all I managed to pull off in this time was gathering a few new (less linear) perspectives. Here’s one:

I used to write — poems, stories, essays, daily journal entries, thoughts on napkins, whatever I could use to spew ideas on. I also blogged almost daily here, and was thrilled by my ability to publish something to the whole world with just a click. My writing slowed when I got into building more websites “just for fun” — there’s a lot of creative energy that goes into getting the CSS and HTML, the content and audience, just right.  And now I organize.  My creative needs are met by arranging people, ideas, and spaces together like I used to string together words or snippets of code.  The result is still a piece of art — something I can point to and say, “I did that, and it’s beautiful, it’s even more interesting than I imagined it would be, and it has an effect on the people who encounter it.”  Only now the art is much more alive.  It grows and changes and takes on its own personality and it needs to be constantly fed and nurtured to survive.

I’ll be honest: poems were way easier.  They certainly didn’t care if I got sick.

About a month ago, when I was having a crisis of direction, I called my dear friend Melissa and demanded, “What do I want to be when I grew up, again??” She said, “Sarah, you’re a poet who raises armies and brings people together, and sometimes those poems look like websites.” And sometimes those websites look like armies. And sometimes those armies look like poems.

Genderfork was a photo-a-day project in which I posted photos from flickr to represent my unusual sense of style.

Genderfork is a community space for 13,000+ devoted readers a month, and it’s managed by a staff of ten.

Queer Open Mic was my writing deadline and my creative home — I went there to perform every two weeks for a group of friends in that tiny cafe, whether I was ready to or not.

Queer Open Mic packs 80 grateful performers into the back of a bookstore each month, and they thank me afterward for making them a home.

Deviants Online is a baby now, and I’m excited to see where it will grow.

And there’s this other big project that I want to talk about — it’s not ready yet, but it will be real soon.  As soon as I catch up from being sick.

And my clients, I love you, and I love that you trust me to advise on your organizing — that music you play to your audience and the way you inspire them to dance.

I live for this stuff. I work to build and I build for work. I’ve been sitting on a couch for two weeks agonizing over how disconnected and depressing it feels to not be creating.

But one thing is loud, bright, and obvious from where I’m standing now: It’s gonna be a damned good year.

Hey Everyone,

So here’s the situation. I’m the founder of Genderfork.com, a community expression site about gender variance, and I’m out as “queer.”  I also live in the gayest neighborhood in San Francisco and I host two events: Queer Open Mic and Deviants Online, both of which serve sexual minorities and other beautiful creative weirdos.  I also sometimes speak about gender and sexuality.  It’s kind of a thing in my life.

But then again, in a lot of contexts, I talk about Non-Queer Stuff: I build websites, manage online communities, and try to be a good cell in the living, breathing organism that is Silicon Valley.  This whole Gender and Sexuality association seems to be prompting a lot of questions that I need to catch up on, though, so let’s dig in…

Q: OMG, I’m so sorry, I just referred to you as “female,” and you run that website, so that was probably a really stupid insensitive thing to say. Sorry. Sorry. What do you prefer?

A: I appreciate you trying to be sensitive, but female, woman, and she are fine for me, thanks. If you ever call me a lady or a chick, I’ll probably look at you like you’re smoking something, but that’ll be the end of it. I do identify as genderqueer, but as long as you don’t expect me to fit a stereotypically feminine mold, we can stick to what’s familiar. It’s cool.

Q: Okay, so is that probably true for everyone I meet who seems like you?

A: Nope. People can look similar from the outside but feel differently on the inside, so it’s bad form to assume these things.

Q: Got it. So when I don’t know how a person identifies, I should always ask?

A: The Easy Answer is “yes,” but I’m not going to give you that one right now, because I think you can handle the Real Answer. The Real Answer is that in a lot of situations, the most respectful thing you can do is not need to ask.

Outside of Queer World, we know a lot about people just because they fit the same story that we’re telling. If Jane gets pregnant, we can assume it was from her husband, and if it wasn’t there’s probably a scandal to gossip about. If we meet a man named John in a suit at a party, we can usually assume that John has a penis and that he likes girls with vaginas. There’s nothing wrong with these assumptions when everyone fits the story. They stop being okay, though, when some people don’t.

Inside Queer World, we try to stop assuming. We still do it (a lot — call it human nature), but we try to remember that the stories we’re making up about people are just stories, and we try very hard not to say them out loud until they’re confirmed. The most respectful way to get someone’s real story is to listen, not to ask. If you meet someone new, and you can’t tell what their gender, sexuality, or relationship story is is right away, ask yourself how much it really matters right that moment to know the truth. Find a way to sit with the idea that maybe, this identity is a personal matter that they don’t want to talk about right then. Find a way to be okay with that. We don’t get all of these answers from each other, either, and we’re okay with that.

Then again, if it’s genuinely relevant, or if the person in question is ready and willing to field questions, go ahead and ask. Just be prepared to accept whatever they tell you, even if it doesn’t quite make sense to you, and be very respectful about it all.

Q: Sorry. I shouldn’t be asking you these questions, I guess. Do you want me to stop?

A: Naw, you’re fine. I called this blog post “Frequently Asked Questions,” remember? Keep going. This is helpful to people.

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We, the people who spend most of our waking moments immersed in Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Google, smart phones, and email, despite overwhelming evidence that we’re so good at this stuff we’re over it already, are still trying to figure out how the Internet works.

We are explorative, experimental, creative, excited, and highly judgmental of how everyone else is doing it. We universally agree that spammers and trolls are lame, and we believe we know how everything should be done better, despite the fact that our rules and tools change every day.

Me being no exception to this trend, I hereby proclaim my manifesto of how everyone should use the internet without sucking.

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I believe that all web-based interactions operate on the same principles as in-person interactions.

I believe in social karma. I believe that all people deserve to be respected and treated with kindness, and that whenever you choose not to do this, you set yourself up to suffer consequences, whether directly or indirectly. I don’t care how much they pissed you off. You still have the choice to be nice. (“Smile from the wrists down.” –@Gwenners)

I believe in social capital. I believe that if you have something to sell or promote, your existing relationship to a community determines your ability to get what you want when you ask for favors or put things in front of people. I believe that if you want your community to support you, you need to first support your community.

I believe that your web presence is an extension of your offline presence, and that the sum of all your parts make up you as a complex human being. I believe it’s okay to represent different personas online as long as you can face the fact that they’re all parts of you.

I believe that too many people put ads on their blogs expecting to eventually earn good money from them, and are disappointed. I believe that using your blog to build community and attract or maintain clients, customers, support, and exposure is often a much more realistic and higher-yield endeavor.

I believe that the best opportunities never make it to Craigslist. They go to friends and to friends of friends.

I believe that in order to get followed, read, or subscribed to, you need to first be worth following, reading, or subscribing to. If you look at your web presence from an outsider’s perspective and aren’t excited about what you see, chances are you have more work to do.

I believe that people are here for themselves. They care about you to the extent that you have an impact on them. Even in their most generous moments, it always comes back to them somehow. I believe you should look for how, and feed that.

I believe that “opt in” only counts if they really want it and it continues to benefit them. If you stopped sending your regular newsletter/posts/updates/etc, would your network be disappointed? Or would they not notice? Or would they be relieved? I believe you already know the answer to this question.

I believe you can make money on the Internet with just as much social manipulation and sleaze as you can use in person. I believe you know the difference between benefiting the people around you and exploiting their weaknesses. I believe you understand that, in terms of long-term strategy and overall quality of life, the latter approach has severe drawbacks.

I believe you cannot escape the practical importance of personal ethics by doing business on the Internet, even if you attempt to be anonymous.

I believe that creating meaningless clutter, promoting low-quality products, or talking about things you don’t actually care about on the Internet is littering, and that it affects both your social karma and your social capital, even if you don’t tell your friends about it.

I believe that if you’re blaming the Internet for your problems, you’re not looking at your problems hard enough.

I believe that if you’re starting to hate the internet, it’s time to turn it off and go outside.

I believe that social media only works well when people genuinely care about what they’re talking about.

I believe that if you’re excited about something, you have a responsibility to both yourself and to your extended communities to explore that and express it (in a way that respects both you and them).

I believe excitement is the best indicator of what’s worth sharing.

I believe that if you’re not excited about anything right now, you should seriously consider fixing that.

I believe that showing off is usually okay because a lot of people get excited about watching. I believe that watching is usually okay because a lot of people get excited about showing off.

I believe we have more success to gain from being honest, open, and sincere online than we do from acting like the kind of person we think will be most successful.

I believe that when try to make others feel more comfortable by ignoring what motivates us, we deplete ourselves, and by extension, we damage our relationships.

I believe we benefit ourselves best and most sustainably if we are continually benefiting others.

I believe that sucking at the Internet is both voluntary and optional.

I believe the Internet is awesome, and that it is worth getting excited about.

I believe that we are awesome. And we are worth getting excited about.

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I believe a lot of other things, too. But I’ll stop here. For now. Until I get excited again.

(What do you believe?)