Thursday, 3 November 2011

Too much personal information?

The essence of a blog - a 'weblog' - is that it posts up stuff about the blogger's world, as a kind of diary. Not a diary that faithfully records all daily incidents big and small, although it may do that; but a diary of selected items and incidents that caught the writer's attention, and led to a post. Many posts are surely a distillation of impressions that were pondered over, and then offered as a concentrated experience to the readership - a bottle labelled 'read me' - for them to ponder in turn, and perhaps be informed, enlightened, inspired, or even changed.

It may be like penning an article each week for some magazine. Your readership expect regular posts. You want to write creatively and well. You have plenty of ideas that need expression, and some writers - like myself perhaps - have a lot to get off their chests. But unlike working for a magazine, there is no overarching editorial control to restrict what you can write about, no gatekeeper to censor your words and prescribe what is allowed in the way of style and content. In a blog you can be free. And as personal as you please.

The last point is very important. Although there are blogs about fishing and cycling and mathematics and parliamentary life - non-personal 'hobby' blogs you might call many of them - this kind of blog, based on the transition from one gender state to another, quite possibly the most demanding episode of one's lifetime, is a different animal entirely. It's likely to be shot through with extremely personal stuff. For me, and clearly for many others, 'the blog' is our chosen vehicle for expression, a vital outlet, a way of touching the scattered trans population around the world. In many ways our kind of blogging can be regarded as 'group therapy', in which you explain how you feel, and hope for feedback and support. All right, we know of blogs that exist only to upset, mock, and destroy confidence. But I'd say that the rump of trans blogs have a common intention, which includes the sharing of information and experience.

But then that raises a serious issue: just how much information and experience should be shared?

There are various constraints that might apply. Although blogging is one of the least inhibited ways to get ideas across on the Internet, it's surely prudent to have regard to personal safety and the laws of the country you live in. Beyond that, anything goes, but I would personally apply some further restraints, such as adherence to good English, properly spelled and punctuated and organised effectively into paragraphs and sentences, to make it easier to digest. A reasonable, non-strident tone: there may occasionally be a case for SHOUTING AT THE READER, but it puts me off and makes me want to click away, just as I might want to walk away from someone shouting at me in the street, whatever their message. I don't mind emotional language if from the heart - for goodness sake, the writer might be in extremis and on the verge of complete emotional collapse from the strain of living a lie. However painful to read, that person needs attention, and some immediate supportive feedback.

What about 'good taste'? Well, what is good taste? It varies from time to time, and from place to place. My parents' generation were sniffy about many things that I thought were rather sensible. And in turn, I must seem rather uncool to some younger people. It's not just a generation thing, of course. Convention - what 'people' think - or just what 'most people' find comfortable - is important to an awful lot of folk. But again, conventions are not absolute, and slither around, so that over a decade many things become acceptable that were once considered 'bad taste'. Prudery and snobbery and artificial behaviour of all kinds will always be with us, but I would like to think that trans bloggers, who have faced their demons and are battling with prejudice and mockery, have no use for such attitudes. It really achieves nothing to appease other people's sensibilities. It just prolongs the agony for both sides.

What about content? Are there 'forbidden subjects'? Just how much can you pour out your heart? How far can you go in describing some experience? Is discussion of genitalia OK? The details of surgery? What about dating? Do you describe not only the meeting and what was said, but also the bedroom scene? And what your orgasm was like? Or, if you were unlucky, how it all went wrong? Or worse, how you picked up an infection, and what you did to seek a cure? Very personal stuff. Setting aside all questions concerned with 'good taste', should you write a post about these topics?

Assuming that you aren't simply seeking an excuse to be pornographic, then I would say yes, absolutely yes, if it needs to be celebrated. It's your blog. If your readers desert you, you'll find out that you went too far. But a very important personal experience needs expression. The loss of post-op virginity, for example, is surely something to write about, not to be bottled up in the name of 'good taste' or because it may be 'too much information' - all the circumstances, all the apprehension, all the relief if it went well. Why not share it, if this was one of the most memorable things that has ever happened to you?

After I published my piece on that dream a few posts back, even though it was written as a medically-significant event, and couched in plain language, I had some feedback about the risk I took. It was a point very well made, and to be taken seriously. The risk was that a pervert looking for masturbatory material would find my post salacious, and that I could be inviting emails and worse from those likely to stalk me.

Well, I'm not brushing that warning aside. Those who have met me will surely agree that I'm as sexless as a lump of cheddar cheese, and so is the atmosphere of my blog. But I accept that a pervert won't make fine distinctions, and will get off on any mention of vaginas or sticky love juices.

Do I shut up? Should you?

On the whole I think not. I always say that posts on such subjects can be very helpful to anyone who has led a sexually ignorant life until now. I don't mean someone who knows nothing at all, but someone, perhaps of my generation, whose former sex life was scant and unsatisfactory, and certainly safe and unadventurous. For people like that, it may be valuable to read straightforward accounts of what actually happens, what to expect, and not be left to speculate. Not everyone is confident enough to ask a friend. Not every trans person has anyone to ask. So this kind of post, an essay on an experience, is offered as educational information.

If anyone finds that it is all too much, then they can always click away from the blog. But surely too much is better than too little, or not at all.


  1. A well thought out post Lucy, well done. Withing the constraints of decency I believe that almost anything is acceptable as subject matter in a personal blog. One must always try to ensure that in writing anything no-one can take reasonable offence in the content. Pretty much the way one should be in real life. People do have the option of walking away.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  2. I've always found your blog an interesting mixture. You write well and know how to express yourself. I imagine you have many visitors too shy to comment, but go away with questions answered.

    Blogs are as different as the people who write them. That's the best thing about them.

  3. Very thoughtful and articulate post. As a fellow blogger, though I have not put it in "ink" I have often thought about much of what you say and ponder over in your post.
    My blog has changed over time. It was an expression and catalogue of my transition but as that recedes into the past it is now more an online diary simply to record life or as I have just re-labeled it recently, a Pillow Book (see Japanese ref).
    How much is too much? I now write consciously, if I have concerns about what I am typing being public than I don'y type it or I simply record it as a personal/private entry.
    Best wishes x


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Lucy Melford