Sex & relationships: What's the right degree of transparency for you?

BlogHer Original Post

What do people know about you online? What do they know about your personal life, your sexual preferences, the little things that make you go weak in the knees?

How do others understand how you perceive yourself? How comfortable you are with your own sexuality? With your relationship life choices? With the people you live with and/or date?

Over the past four years, as I’ve made my own journey from monogamous mom to single explorer to partnered, uh, explorer(still), I’ve had the chance, again and again, to marvel at both the depth of the secrecy some folks engage in (think about Suzie Orman and Michael Stipes coming out) and the radical transparency others practice (my brilliant friend MayMay and my equally amazing friend Sarah Dopp come to mind, as do the inspiring Carol Queen and Good Vibes co-founder—and co-housing authority Joani Blank).

For every person who keeps their sexual self separate from the rest of their identity, there is someone else who just doesn’t see the point of going to the trouble. For many of those who practice radical transparency, their sexual identity isn’t only a private matter, it’s a political statement about what permitted—or not—in a male-dominated society—which means being transparent isn’t only about being true to, and acknowledging yourself, it’s using yourself as political fodder to (help) make a larger point.

Interestingly, this view of sexuality (and transparency) is more about identity than it is about sexual preference. It’s not who you sleep with (or date), it’s how you identify yourself and how you share that with others. Do you integrate your personal life with your work, or try to keep it separate?

For me, over the past four years, I’ve made a effort to keep my personal life both true to my beliefs and relatively transparent. Readers of my blogs know when I got divorced, some of the relationships I’ve had, my personal values around non-monogamy, and some of my interest in sex and culture. On the other hand, I’ve tried not to over share, holding back from giving too much information(TIM) in a way that pits people off or interferes with my work life.

Recently, I read an exchange between young bloggers (in a post and the comments)that got me thinking about what the right degree of transparency might be, and how to achieve it. The post was by Corvida, a young tech blogger who blogs at SheGeeks and at ReadWriteWeb. Apparently, Corvida had a pretty wild time at her 21st birthday party, and was debating whether to post the pix.

“Only a handful of my online friends knew what I’d planned for my birthday and those friends weren’t all that surprised. This is because they’ve seen the “other” side of me. The side of me that’s not all tech, “ Corvida posted. “The side of me that loves rap music, girls, and who is a bit of a…flirt. (snip)…I don’t want to pick and choose which pics should go and which pictures to keep to myself. Yet, I ave a reputation and image to maintain.”

Teresa Wu, another young blogger, responded in the comments to Corvida, saying “ I know how you feel! I'm 19 (almost 20!) and I've had an incredibly difficult time figuring out what's professional enough to go online and what's not. I'm all for transparency in the workplace, but how much transparency is TOO much transparency?”

How much transparency is too much transparency, ladies? How do you decide what parts of yourself to share with the world, and what you keep private? And how do you manage making sure the people you are close to in your life know the right stuff before you tell the world?

Here’s some thoughts from others putting it right out there:

Sarah Dopp, who runs a blog called Genderfork (and who works for Cerado, the tech company that has done work for BlogHer (and is run by Lisa Stone’s partner), came out as queer a year ago and did a post about it. Her point, to cut to the chase, was that this was who she was and she wanted people to know it so they got her. Sarah writes: “…it’s been easier to let people make assumptions about my personal life than it has been to try to explain it to them. The downside of this is having to face some really wrong assumptions, all the while knowing that I haven’t done anything to prevent or correct them.” She then goes on to lay out who she is, what her sexual philosophy is, and how that fits into the (much) bigger picture of her life.

danah boyd, back in 2004, wrote a post about her own identity along similar lines, danah writes “I decided to take this opportunity to be upfront about my sexuality and my views for those who don't know me so well and for those of you who are struggling with attacks or pressure or guilt because of your sexuality…(snip)… It is with a grounded sense of self that is very rooted in my own religious values that i offer you my views on sexuality. They don't have to be your views, but you can only respect me if you respect that this is who i am and what i believe.”

For both of these women, one senses, laying it out there is freeing and the product of much thought, thought Corvida and Theresa are perhaps just beginning to consider.

On the other hand, being totally transparent can also have some issues. Audacia Ray, a sex blogger, editor and activist in NYC, wonders if too much too much transparency is degrading her life. Reflecting on how putting so much of her life out there in public has affected her, Dacia writes “as my Internet infamy has increased and my career has grown and taken me to glorious heights, my ability to connect for real (online or offline) has been shrinking.” Basically, what her (really powerful) post focuses on is how, even with all the transparency, she feels objectified by others, especially since she knows she is “broken.”

Melissa Gira Grant, another well-known blogger in this circle, recently did a post on her blog where she talked about transparency as a by-product of growing up on the net. Melissa writes (in a wonderful and eloquent post): “We don’t fit. We grew up with the internet. We barely had to come out. We’re hyper and more likely to get our community organizing chops from teaching our baby queer friends how to have safer sex with a latex glove, how to sneak into a dyke bar, how to cruise boys on the subway, than how to organize a rally. We learned what we know about politics from fucking and keeping our communities together amidst all the fucking.”

For myself, I’ve been transparent up to a point. I blog here—and in other places—about my current primary relationship, my sexual politics, and causes I believe in—like marriage equality—but I don’t put all the details out there. I also don’t write anything that I’d be embarrassed for some VC or tech guy to look at (what I’ve learned is that more men than I realized enjoy my sex and relationship posts and find them interesting).

My advice for anyone (Corvida and Teresa included) debating degrees of transparency, would boil down into these five nuggets:

  • Go slow and share less. It is easier to add on than to take back.
  • Be mindful of others in your life; don’t shock people in your real life by posting stuff you haven’t told them.
  • Reflect on your desire to be seen as you really are against humans’ impulses to judge. Is it going to feel like TMI? And if it does, do you care? When the answer is yes, don’t post that.
  • What is the work environment you are functioning in? How does adding more views of who you are add to or subtract from your image there? Proceed accordingly.
  • DON’T feel obliged to post personal stuff because it will entertain people and get you page views/links/attention. That way madness lies.. along with Emily Gould.

Related posts and bloggers from around the blogosphere:
In the spirit of honoring foremothers and those who put radical transparency right out there, check out the following bloggers and authors:


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