SitPS at 1: Unintended Consequences

I’m not a diary keeper. I never have been. I’ve tried many times, but I never keep the habit of journaling. So, when I started this blog exactly a year ago today, I thought that it would be an occasional thing — something I’d use to rant occasionally about sex-related items that I’d read in the paper while having breakfast. I was, at the time, beginning work on a book project that focused on rethinking sexual orientation, but I was pulled to comment on lots of other kinds of sex-related topics, and so I thought a blog would be a place where I could write about those things without “derailing” what I thought was my “main project.”

It really did start that way. But then something happened: people started to read my blog. With traditional academic writing, lots of effort goes into producing work that only a handful of specialists are likely to read. Some academics are very successful at writing for a general audience, and publish excellent, accessible books, but with books the length of time between the writing and the audience’s reaction is enormous, and often you don’t ever know who your audience is. You, the readers of this blog, often react very quickly to what you read here, and I enjoy that interaction immensely.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve abandoned my book project, by the way, but writing this blog has shown me that I can take this work seriously and that books are not the only way — and not always the best way — to publish my thoughts.

Lots of other things have happened in the past year that I’d never have predicted, and were directly connected to having started this blog. One of my favorite concepts in sociological theory is the concept of “unintended consequences.” Unintended consequences are exactly what they sound like: outcomes of action that are often as important as the intended ones, but that were not anticipated in the planning of the action. We sociologists often focus on the negative unintended consequences of policies or social arrangements, but I’d say that in my case, the unintended consequences of starting this blog have been overwhelmingly positive.

While my reason for starting the blog had to do with channeling off material that I couldn’t use in my book project, the unintended consequences of the blog were unrelated to the book project and had to do instead with the social power of blogging.

Here are just a few examples that come to mind immediately.

-I met Judith Levine, the author of one of the bravest, best, books about how the sexuality of young people is treated in US culture, and about how harmful that is to the young people in question. (Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2002.) Someone had told her that I’d blogged about her book, and she emailed, and it turns out she lives part of the year in this city, and we met for coffee. We had a lovely and inspiring conversation, and it was a treat to meet one of my favorite authors face to face. In fact it was during that conversation that Judith Levine reminded me that “Politics is always grounded in emotion,” after I complained about the lack of reason in political discussions of sex. Her statement has stayed with me, and one of my main goals now is to work on changing th way people feel about sexual issues instead of only focusing on changing how they think.

-I met an great bunch of other NYC area sex bloggers. The range of work produced by this group is stunning, moving from beautifully constructed personal narratives to social criticism and activism. I very often find myself inspired by the writing and the lives of these amazing people. I owe a special thanks to Viviane of Viviane’s Sex Carnival for her work bringing together NYC sex bloggers and keeping the Perverts’ Saloon Tea Parties going into their second year.

-I got my partner to start blogging. He is more compulsive about his blog than I am about this one, and we blog about different things, so sometimes we have less time together than we otherwise would, but I love reading the photo-stories he creates about New York harbor, and so do lots of others, so I’m glad to have got him started. His own blog network includes lots of fascinating people and that makes me happy, too. It’s good to have more interesting people around! And while our blog networks don’t overlap very much, there are lots of possible connections: I’m thinking that next year’s Mermaid Parade could see a cross-blog contingent called “Messing around in boats.”

-After learning how easy it is to put a blog together, and then seeing how readily people read and comment on blogs, I began to get a sense of their potential as organizing tools. I used a blog to help organize a campaign to win health coverage for domestic partners of faculty at Nassau Community College. In fact, tomorrow I’m going to attend a meeting of the college’s Board of Trustees, where they are expected to approve the contract extension that contains that new coverage!

-Inspired largely by the amazing conversations that went on in the comments of some of my posts I decided to create a web site that would expand the public square idea and be a community-building effort centered on issues of sexuality. That project, SexInThePublicSquare.org, has already been more successful in its beginnings than I’d dared hope for, and I have lots o hope that it will continue to grow. (If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do!) My co-founder Chris Hall of Literate Perversions, and our intrepid legal specialist and collaborator Tom Joaquin of The Free Lance are even going to apply for nonprofit corporation status!

In fact, I owe a special thanks to Tom Joaquin for agreeing to be a guest blogger here. His posts are always popular and have addressed important legal questions. He wrote that great post about the vibrators in Alabama that kicked off so much fun in the comments that a Mark Day made a YouTube comedy sketch out of it) and also two posts on the recent abortion-ban decision. His guest-blogging here also helped give us a bridge to use in rekindling a friendship. And even more thanks to Chris Hall, who has put in countless hours helping develop the new site. Actually, Chris is responsible for another unintended consequence: I now know enough about CSS code and PHP scripts to be dangerous!

It’s been an amazing year. For an activity that requires so much computer time, there’s been an awful lot of exciting face-to-face meeting of new people, reconnecting with old friends, and making trouble change in the offline world. I’m looking forward to a second year with lots of great intended and unintended consequences!

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1 Comment

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One response to “SitPS at 1: Unintended Consequences

  1. Congratulations, Elizabeth!!!

    That’s so wonderful. xxooxx