Why I Outed Myself at Blogher

(NOTE: Don’t miss the Aug. 4 update to this post. And if the personal/professional info theme interests you, check out my new survey.)

At the BlogHer conference this past weekend, I spoke up in the popular “How to Be Naked” session on personal disclosure in weblogs to announce that I am polyamorous and I intend to disclose that personal fact on the site where I advertise my consulting and speaking services. (I’m currently overhauling that site and will announce here when it’s ready.)

I outed myself in that forum in order to make the larger point that humanity is not one-size-fits-all – that many people who are out of the mainstream in one way or another, or who or endure difficult circumstances in silence, often feel alone and vulnerable. That not only hurts them worse – it hurts society by allowing us to remain less aware and compassionate.

It was definitely a bonus that my announcement was greeted with applause. (I wasn’t expecting that.) However, I’m not surprised that some people disagree with my decision to publicly disclose this aspect of my life.

Here’s an online exchange I just had with one person who disagreed with my choice – and who doesn’t seem to quite grasp what being poly means and why I made my announcement…

Yesterday in Playing School, Irreverently, a blogger who goes by the handle “Profgrrrrl” wrote:

“”The ‘moment’ (yes, gratuitous quotes, but you’ll see why) for me was at the end when one woman said that she has a web site for her consulting business and she’s polyamorous and she’s going to put a link on her business site to her polyamory information. Wow. I mean, I have no problem with what she’s doing with her personal life, but do prospective business clients really want to know about your sex life whatever it may be? I mean, should I put on my professional web site “if you lick my toes, I’m yours forever!” (OK, that was a joke. I don’t like having my toes licked. Well, I guess I don’t know if I do or not. It’s never come up. But you get the point, right?)”

To which I responded:

Hi there.

I’m the polyamorous woman who spoke up in the session you mentioned above.

That kind of ill-informed reaction is EXACTLY WHY I’ve decided to come out about being poly. There is an incredible amount of ignorance and prejudice about polyamory, and that will only start to change once people get to know who poly people are. We’re not 3-headed monsters and we’re not irresponsible nymphomanics. I’m choosing to come out publicly so people know that we exist. It’s a small step, but a first step.

The wording of your comment implied that being poly is somehow salacious or shameful. It’s not. Ignorance is what’s shameful.

Since you don’t appear to be aware of this, polyamory is about relationships, rather than sex. Sex usually is part of poly relationships, but that’s also the true with most (but – surprisingly – not all) monogamous relationships. So try to get your brain past the sex fixation and you’ll see what I mean, and why I’ve felt so marginalized in society.

Poly people choose to be open to having more than one intimate relationship at a time. These relationships involve direct, open, honest communication and negotiation between everyone involved. Polyamory is not about cheating, and it’s not focused on recreational sex. (Some poly people are also swingers. Personally, I’m not.)

I choose to be out about being poly in order to limit misunderstandings. I don’t want anyone to think, for instance, that I’m “cheating” on my husband if they happen to see me with another partner. That could launch nasty rumors which could undermine my strong personal reputation for integrity and become a greater stain on my entire life, including my professional life.

I also don’t want anyone else to be able to threaten me with “outing.” I don’t believe in giving anyone that kind of power over my life and decisions, both personal and professional.

Frankly, if a potential client learns I’m poly and doesn’t want to work with me because of that fact alone, I don’t want to work with them. Really. Being poly, I’m keenly aware of the importance of honesty and quality in relationships, and I would not work with someone who finds a significant aspect of who I am threatening, shameful, distasteful, or evil. That is not the basis of a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship.

…And if Focus on the Family doesn’t want to work with me because of that, well, I’m just heartbroken 🙂 Ditto for close-minded people who can’t accept that people (and relationships) are not one-size-fits-all.

In fact, I think it’s likely that by having the courage and foresight to out myself, even more smart organizations may realize that I know what I’m talking about regarding communication, and I’m not afraid to “walk the talk.” Also, you’d be surprised how many poly (or poly-friendly) people are in positions of power in all sorts of organizations. (For all I know, it might work to my professional advantage. I’m not angling to “play the poly card,” but I just realize that reactions can be surprising.)

My announcement in the BlogHer session did not represent an on-the-spot decision to out myself. I’ve thought very carefully about this issue for years, and in recent months I came to the conclusion that the benefits to myself and others far outweighed the costs and risks. Coming out publicly is still a gamble, yes — but I think it’s a wise one. If you disagree, that’s fine. I’m accustomed to disagreement, and tend not to be cowed by it.

I don’t hold it against you that you disagree with my decision. I simply am not going to tacitly deny an important part of who I am – and therefore imply that an entire community of caring, intellligent people whom I treasure are somehow shameful – simply because some people aren’t comfortable with polyamory, or with truly personal disclosure.

Which is, of course, my choice. Feel free to disagree.

– Amy Gahran
Editor, CONTENTIOUS

Postscript: I’m sorry that the blogger who feels I should stay in the closet didn’t raise this directly with me at BlogHer. I would have loved to have discussed this face-to-face. I also want to be clear that I am not calling her stupid or dissing her in any way. That said, I do think her remark indicated ignorance in this one area. We all have our blind spots, that’s fine.

I respect her wish to blog under a pseudonym, and I have not read her blog before, so I’m not familiar with the overall quality of her contributions to the public conversation. My comments here relate to this exchange only, and should not be construed as a broader indictment or attack. It’s just a civil disagreement.

20 thoughts on Why I Outed Myself at Blogher

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  1. Congratulations for your revelation! and your honesty!

    I was at Blogher, too…and the issue of who we are and what we say also came out in the Identity Bloggers BOF session (but more along the lines of how we respond to personal attacks on our blogs).

    I was *very* out this weekend because of the hat–which is in my blog pic. I talked more about having worked as a pro-domme this weekend than I have in a long time, and I definitely know the consequences of doing that–including someone thinking that I still do it (retired about 2 years ago–longer retired than having worked it).

    It seems that, for women, our sexualities end up being out there more often because people are curious about our sexualities. I think our sexualities end up being points of conversation because, for the most part, women’s overall identities are so linked to sexuality. There is a baseline image of woman as mother and good girl, and there are modes of communication around all that. And there is nothing more uncomfortable that sitting in a roomful of women and having nothing to talk because the subject matter revolves around a lifestyle that you do not live!

    Groups of men, when business conversation breaks down, rarely have social conversations around their homes, their kids, their friends. Their conversations revolve around more business, their cars, their sports teams, their individual sport pursuits, their networking contacts–aspects of themselves that aren’t all that personal. Women end up talking about lifestyle choices (the house, the kids, the middle-class way) that are *very* personal. And, as I said, when you are not part of that particular accepted lifestyle choice, eventually you get tired of being the odd woman out, or of faking it to fit in, and you have to say something.

    By talking so much this weekend about my knowledge of female dominance and the sex industry, I realized more of who I am and that I probably belong writing a blogging column for the local alternative press paper than for the more conservative business publication (that is, unless the editor at the business pub is a submissive 😉 )

  2. Since you’ve moved the conversation over here and linked to me and quoted me, I’d like to post the same response I posted in my own comments:

    Amy,

    Thanks for your comment.
    You may think I’m ill-informed and ignorant, but I choose to disagree there. I know exactly what polyamory is (and I’m well aware that it isn’t all about recreational sex or cheating and doesn’t mean folks are swingers) and I have no problem whatsoever with people being polyamorous. My personal philosophy of what folks do in their relationships (and, if related, in the bedroom or other such location) is that as long as no one is getting hurt and everyone is a willing participant, it’s all good.

    I perhaps chose a bad example in saying the bit about having a thing for getting my toes licked, but the point I was trying to make is that I question divulging a lot of personal information on a business site. Why? Because people who go there don’t go for that purpose. To me, this isn’t an issue of polyamory. I raise my eyebrows just as much when we get job applicants who submit CVs that include section on marital status, children and hobbies (becuase that relates to being a professor, how?). There’s the matter of what is other people’s business. I do think, perhaps, that you have a greater agenda here (making info about polyamory public) than I might (how unusual is it that I got divorced and bought a pet hedgehog? OK, well the hedgehog is not the most common thing ever, but I don’t mention it as part of my professional identity … and hopefully I’m explaining what I meant more clearly right now).

    So, that is to say that we disagree about how much personal disclosure is appropriate in a business setting. It is, ultimately, a personal choice. You sound as if you are comfortable having made the choice to disclose information about your personal life rather directly and up front to potential business contacts/clients, and if that works for you I’m very happy for you. Would I be one of the people who would choose to not hire you on that basis? I might — but not because of the polyamory angle. (If I had hired you and later found out from you or someone else in an informal setting I wouldn’t really care and it wouldn’t change what I thought of you one bit). It would be because I would wonder about the lines of business and personal being crossed and I might be concerned that you don’t draw those lines in the same places I do and might not consider my personal/confidential info that you find out to be as personal/confidential as I do. And hey — as I type this I think maybe that actually is a good thing. Helps match people up with those with like values on the self-disclosure at business front.

  3. Congratulations on your courage to come out with this news in a public venue, Amy. You know I think the world of you and, of course, I’ve known about your Poly lifestyle for a long time. But… I have to say that I do find it curious that you’re mixing personal and professional with your new Web site.

    If you had “Other Sites I Manage” on your business site and one of those was “My Polyamorous Life” then that’d make sense to me, but to potentially intersperse entries about your philosophy of relationships and personal life with your professional entries seems at best unfocused.

    I’ll encourage you to reconsider how you could intermingle the two so that people who want to know more about Amy Gahran can be led to other areas, but people who are interested in hiring you for your professional skillset aren’t sidetracked. Your personal lifestyle decisions shouldn’t be relevant to people considering whether to hire you or considering your thoughts and commentary — it’s not much different from advertising you’re black, Jewish or was an abused child is it? — though, of course, they are quite valid and important elements of who you are as a person.

  4. Thanks for all the comments. I think that, once people see how I actually go about implementing my mention of polyamory on Gahran.com, you’ll see that ultimately I won’t be making a huge deal out of it.

    The thing is, on a web site it’s possible to segregate information much more easily than, say, a CV (which is a single document).

    Here’s what I envision: A page that says “About Amy (the person).” That page will mention a few snippets which, although personal, I do think are indirectly or directly relevant to my work.

    For instance, I have asthma and have researched that condition greatly. Which qualifies me to communicate about it and might attract some related projects or writing assignments. I also do origami and am an avid fan of attending live music performances in small venues.

    I’m not alone in making brief mentions of personal matters in a professional context. For instance, my friend and colleague Dave Taylor is very involved with attachment parenting. He mentions this on his business site, briefly. Granted, it’s probably not what people hire him for, but it’s important to him and he has a lot to say on the topic. So much so that he writes a blog about it.

    Now, I’m not planning to blog much about being poly. It’s an important part of my life and I do want the poly community to become more visible and respected. But it’s just not what I want to do with CONTENTIOUS. And I frankly have my hands full and don’t wish to start a separate blog on the topic. I say most of what I need to say publicly about poly in comments to others’ articles and blog postings, and in discussion forums.

    However, I do think my being poly worth a brief mention on my gahran.com site because I could write about polyamory or any relationship style or issue. I have had reason to do a lot of learning about relationships in depth, and have consequently developed a measure of expertise on that topic. I honestly wouldn’t mind if I were asked to write about that topic or work with organizations or on projects related to relationships, family, etc. I think it’s useful to let people know that I offer a rare perspective and considerable life experience in that area.

    And, of course, the poly community would be one increment more visible and real because of my action. Yes, that is a goal of mine. It’s not my life’s work, but it’s important enough to help sway this decision — which, as I mentioned, I’ve been weighing for years.

    – Amy Gahran

  5. Hi Amy, I was in the audience when you made your annnouncement and I was surprised by my response. It was a sort of “oh, not that!” feeling. So as I drove back to Monterey I ruminated on my response.

    Personally, I could not make a whole-heart commitment to a person who was polyamorous. The exclusivity of monogamy is very much central to who I am.

    But the great thing about the new openness to many different ways of being human is, it forces those of us who used to be in the unthinking majority –white, heterosexual, monogamous– to rethink our values and boundaries, and articulate them.

    Profgrrl (who I met through the academic blogging panel also chaired by BadgerBag, who is also openly poly) is very much a secret blogger in that to be blogging openly in her work setting would be to invite a host of unwanted side effects — like getting Dooced.

    I rather agree with her point though — if I am hiring a professional, I do not want to know at the outset about that person’s personal life.

    I know that you live and work in what is really a small town (despite its size). Your point about wanting to preserve your reputation for integrity is really to the point, too. If I were poly myself in a small-town setting, I’d want it to be publicly known, not a matter for whisper and scandal.

  6. Your self-outing makes perfect sense. College towns even ones in cities are gossipy scandal places. (I know this way too well.) You would think internet community wouldn’t be just because of the size of it…but it is. (know this too well as well)

  7. When I first saw the blogher posts that mentioned your coming out, I was surprised and wondered about why you would do that but it didn’t take me long to figure it out. It’s part of who you are and employers (or potential employers) do hire people based on who they are and not just their “qualifications”. I totally agree with what you said about employers who don’t want to hire you because you’re poly are the people you don’t want to work for. TOTALLY agree with that and understand it. I believe you are going about this in just the right way – an About Amy page will do the trick nicely. It’s not like you’re going to have an entire three page ramble about your polyamorous lifestyle. As you said, it’s one part of who you are.

  8. Amy:

    You and I have disagreed both on your blog in and person (at the Press Club), but I’ve always both appreciated and respected your direct POV. This topic is no different. I’m always taken aback by those that can’t separate one thing from another. With the exception of VERY bad things, let’s all be respectful of others’ opinions, beliefs and activities. You’ve got my support here 100 percent! If I’m hiring a professional, that’s all I care about…the quality of the professional services I’m engaging. The rest is not important — if it turns into an interesting conversation later on, all the better! But, I’ll take a competent professional with a personal “quirk,” if you will, over a line-walking person that doesn’t deliver professionally.

  9. Hi Amy,
    Actually I think it totally refreshing what you are doing. At the How to Be Naked session I decided to be even more of an advocate for folks being their WHOLE authentic selves at work. I blog profusely on this topic today. (Personally I don’t understand why people believe love is exlusive or possessive, but that’s another story.) I’m always pushing the bounds of what’s deemed “acceptable” content for a business & marketing blog myself. Purposefully. Intentionally.

    I might have gone a bit overboard on my spewing today re: journalism. I didn’t have a chance to meet you at BlogHer one-on-one and talk about CitJ. I’m proposing a “suffragette” Technorati tag to continue discussions.

  10. Amy-I respect you professionally. I’ve been to Contentious more than a hundred times, I bet and I’ve followed your citizen journalism work closely. Your personal life is yours. You have a lot more to contribute in the online areas you are involved with. I’m very appreciative of what you have already done. I hope it doesn’t get tied up with what you do in your personal life. By the way, I’m a right-wing Republican evangelical Christian who has gone to Promise Keepers events for the past 11 years. There, I’m out. WES

  11. One of the key things for me at Blogher was to forward my thinking about identity: how we express it, particularly online, particularly in blogs. Everything in the “How to Get Naked” session, including your offering, Amy, was part of that exploration. I think this is critical to explore. It is a whole new way of “being ourselves” (or not) that is worth some conversation and thinking. Thanks.

  12. Amy–I applaud your right to take control of how you are perceived and share everything/anything you want to. Is it professional? Who cares? You get to set the frame work.
    For me, the most interesting discussions at BlogHer were about that place where professional and personal overlap and we can each see the choices we are making–your sharing in that context was FANTASTIC. I would like to talk more–best, Susan

  13. I am profoundly uninterested in the sexual preferences or proclivities of any of my colleagues (a group, I should point out, which does not include Amy). I don’t think they have any impact on my professional relationship with them.

    I also, for example, don’t care if any of my colleagues are philatelists. They may perceive their interest in philately as central to their being. I do not, so it’s nearly useless information to me.

    As such, I can think of no compelling reasons to prominently reveal such personal information. I’m not opposed to the revelation–unquestionably the barriers between the personal and the professional are breaking down. However, it’s a matter of little or no import.

    As such, if, in the course of her professaionl blogging, Amy happened to mention her polyamorous status (say, she was at a conference with a partner, or worked on a polyamory advocacy site), that’s fine. That’s in the context of revelant professional activity. The most important thing, as Amy says, is not to make “a huge deal out of it”.

    A huge, flashing sign (or entry) on a professional site that reads “I’m Polyamorous and Proud of It” would perturb me not because of Amy’s choice, but because of the egotism it implies. If I’m her colleague or client, I’m thinking: “why does she think I should care about this aspect of her personal life, when we have a professional relationship? I don’t press my on her.”

    Amy’s philosophy regarding potential business won and lost is dead-on. Though I chose not to reveal as much personal information, potential clients could be repelled by statements on my site. For example, I did a chunk of volunteer work supporting gay marriage in the US. It’s possible a homophobic potential client might look elsewhere because of that. I’ve always said what Amy said–if that’s their view, then I probably don’t want to work with them.

  14. Whoops. The sentence “I don’t press my on her” should actually read “I don’t press my [heterosexulity, monogamy, love of fly fishing] on her.” Darned angle brackets.

  15. If this private aspect is important to you Amy, perhaps a separate blog on the topic, linked to from this blog, would be good to start.

    I don’t understand poly, but I respect whatever you choose to do in your life.

  16. Amy,

    I must admit that I had never heard the term, polyamorous, before reading your post and had to follow your link to wikipedia. I suspected that it was similar to polygamy however; suspecting and knowing are two different things.

    Am I a back-woods, uneducated Texas hick? No. I lived the better part of the 1990’s in Atlanta, GA and my job required me to spend a good bit of time in Boston, MA and Buffalo, NY. I admit that I was exposed to allot of things that you will not openly find here in Texas but polyamory was not one of them.

    My personal convictions on polygamy / polyamory are not as strong as they are on homosexuality. The only problem that I have is that I don’t understand how a person can be emotionally and intimately attached to two different people at the same time. How do you deal with the jealousy, conflicts and possessiveness that are bound to show up? (no response needed)

    Also, I do not believe that polyamory or polygamy is as hotly contested social issues as homosexuality is. Considering what sparked your survey, I can’t help but wonder if asking questions about homosexuality is fair to you.

  17. Amy, so glad you are continuing this conversation here — and that I just found the entry. (Liveblogging that moment was interesting — I figured, if you’re out, you’re out, and so wrote freely.)

    One thing taken for granted in this debate, personal vs. professional, is that for increasingly more people, their heretofore-thought-of-as-“personal” lives are woven right through their professional careers. For some people, work is just work, and they don’t want to bring any of their “real” selves to the table. For me, laboring under that kind of pressure is soulless and dehumanizing, which has required me to both out myself accordingly and to accept where the chips fall, if they may.

    Yes, I’m queer, and poly, and a whore, and yes, I’d much rather, as Catherine La Croix says, “I’d rather be detested for the truth than loathed for the lie.”

    Although, an aside: I also get to enjoy the weird nakedness of the sex industry, where one finds oneself masturbating in front of strangers with one’s colleagues before one even knows the names of the partners of kids. (Talk about challenging one’s ideas of personal and professional…)

    I wonder, after you outed yourself, did you find yourself embroiled in any “interesting” side conversations at Blogher? I suppose I came pre-outed by virtue of my blog URL, and was totally (happily) surprised at the number of sexual confidences and secrets I became party when Blogher attendees took me aside.

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