Guest post by Gabrielle Jay.
I have the support and the privilege to be fairly open about the intersection where my life, work, and personality mix, but there are still many individuals with whom I am not out about my involvement in sex work. I’ve been introduced and outed countless times as, “my dominatrix friend” without my consent. I am comfortable discussing my work and am happy to discuss what I do and the knowledge I have accumulated, but on my terms. In situations like this the label ‘dominatrix’ or ‘sex worker’ is placed on me by someone else and it is difficult to navigate the conversation elsewhere after this disclosure.
CTRL+T, CTRL+V, remember password, sign-in, sign out, check mail, find work.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
The freelance hustle.
It is a dance with which I am well acquainted. My online presence is a curatorial performance that I should be able to put on the top of my resume. But which one? I have many avatars. I am an artist, a dominatrix, a care coordinator for a health nonprofit, as well as a social being. I have an online presence for all four of those aspects of my self. For each avatar, I have an email, a website and one or more forms of social media. Filtering through my thoughts and sorting which ones go where—only to be woken up by a frantic phone call from a family member at four in the morning telling me I am doing it wrong. “Gabby! Please take that picture off Facebook! Your boobs are hanging out. You have to be careful about what you post for future employers… and husbands!”
I’ll admit, it took me longer than it should have to realize that I could set my iPhone up to field all of my incoming emails into one inbox. I quickly added my care coordination, art and professional domination emails to the app, and soon my mail from four sources were flowing gracefully into one inbox. With the tap of the envelope icon on my iPhone screen I was transported into a digital world that actually reflected the realities and intricacies of my life. Singing cartoon birds fluttered onto my shoulders, singing Disney songs and holding leather floggers in their beaks. I contain multitudes.
The night I made this discovery I picked up my phone, and saw four new messages in my inbox. There was one from each alias, all commingling peacefully in my inbox, just like they do inside of me. Having all of the information accessible without having to expertly navigate separate tabs and windows was not only a matter of convenience, it was enlightening. It was the first time that my relationship with my phone felt personal and smart. It felt more intuitive than most of my relationships in real life.
In 2012 I ended a two and a half year relationship with a Luddite. It was an amazing relationship in that he was made aware of my online presence and personas exclusively by my choosing what to show him and when. There is a reason I have separate online personas. It’s not that I was hiding anything from him, just that I find our generations predilection for cyberstalking to be unhealthy for developing relationships. That and I am a cyberstalker’s goldmine. I think that this is why I like dating older men: cyberstalking doesn’t come as naturally to them. Just because the information is out there, doesn’t mean it is healthy to consume it. And my Luddite, didn’t.
Fast forward to 2015 and to a post-Tinder society. While getting ready for my first online date, the butterflies in my stomach were accompanied by nagging concerns about disclosing my primary means of making money. I told myself that if it came up I would be honest. There is only so long that get-to-know-you small talk can go on without the dreaded question of, ‘what do you do’ coming up. So after two drinks were imbibed and the question arose, I told him.
When I checked Facebook the next day, I found that my date had sent me a friend request. My mouse hovered over the ‘accept’ button for an hour while I wondered if he would be more weirded out by the information that he would find or if I didn’t accept his friendship request at all. Eventually, I accepted.
Second date. He had read the entirety of my kinky blog, seen my art website and found my professional domination website (all of which are somewhat accessible from my Facebook page to the keen observer). It felt at once like I was seen in my entirety and as a gross violation of privacy. It felt to me equivalent to someone reading my journal before a second date. The power dynamics had completely shifted, and I was uncomfortable and unsure how to move forward with our relationship.
Despite all my information being out there on the web and not particularly hidden, I feel that in real life interaction, my life is still my story to tell and at the pace with which I am comfortable. The information I have disseminated across the web is segregated for marketing purposes and safety and is not necessarily indicative of who I am as a person. This information is not there to provide potential partners with a road map to my psyche.
With my Tinder date, I felt robbed of the exciting getting-to-know-you parts of the beginning of a relationship. I felt robbed of the opportunity to slowly and meaningfully disclose parts of myself to this new person. I had trouble bridging the gap between the personal information that they knew about me and the dearth of information I could gather on them due to their lack of an extensive online presence and their general inability to open up. I was left with a dangerous and uneven foundation with which to build a relationship.
These avatars may make sense contained within me, and though they may be messy in my real life interactions, it is important to have technology reflect and respect the intricacies of it’s users’ reality (or realities). Technology should work for us, no matter how many components to ‘us’ there may be. The ease of being able to check my mail from my many aspects of life in the click of one button overrides the fear of how devastating it would be to send an email from the wrong address and potentially give personal information to a client (or that time I live tweeted a net neutrality conference from my professional Dominatrix account.)
The mail app provides me with intuitive technology that reflects a cohesive sense of identity that I feel within myself. I am seen as a singular being instead of the many different fractured selves that I am forced to present in various situations. Situations where I’m always dreading the inevitable query: What do you do?
Image: Renata Chebel/Flickr