Blogs: Here and Queer

by Scott Stiffler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 12, 2007

Years ago, Francis Ford Coppola confidently proposed that, owing to the increasingly widespread use of VHS home camcorders, " ... some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the next Mozart and make a beautiful film with her father's little camera, and for once the so-called professionalism of movies will be destroyed forever."

Decades later, the entertainment industry's ratio of genius to junk remains virtually unchanged; but along the way, an unexpected little something called the Internet realized Coppola's bold prediction that everyday people, given access to a democratic form of new media, would yield unparalleled creative output - and in the process, blur the line between industry product and personal expression. Of course, few among us have the fortitude or abilities to crank out a great film - but God knows everyone has an opinion (and most people, bless their misguided hearts, believe others will find their two cents as valid and fascinating as they do). Hence, the blog: part dear diary entry, part angry letter to the editor, part social advocacy tool, part fifteen minutes of fame gone into hellish overtime.

Still in its relative infancy, the blog is nonetheless ubiquitous and increasingly influential (even TV news shows are bowing to its power, featuring segments with commentary from prominent bloggers). Like every other form of electronic media, the early blog pioneers were hatemongers, conspiracy theorists, and pornographers. But nowadays, everyone from kids barely able to see above the keyboard to jaded grannies are reaching out and touching the masses with their unfiltered manifestos. Two years ago who would have heard of Perez Hilton? And where would Andrew Sullivan be able to vent his rants if he didn't have a blog?

But where can you find the best gay bloggers? A good source is BestGayBlogs.com True to its name, the site is an online resource "committed to providing a single source for information and resources to gay bloggers and their readers. We have one of the most comprehensive exclusively gay directories with lots of in depth information about the writers and creators of those blogs ... Our most popular and heated topics to no surprise are gay rights, marriage, health, relationships, and of course sex."

Chad Macrory, of BGB, says: "For a number of gay bloggers, a blog has afforded a certain level of anonymity that has otherwise limited the individuals from reaching out. It allows a closeted gay man, for instance, to build a community of support while not feeling pressured into anything they may initially feel is drastic. We have also found a number of cases where couples have also met through their blogs and developed life long relationships."

Best Gay Blogs finds its content by searching "for gay blogs through our current directory members and add about 5-10 new gay blogs to our directory every day ... Blogging is a very unique outlet for anyone. It allows for an honest discussion about what is happening in our world. Best Gay Blogs is blessed to be able to report and share what the gay perspective has to say in that context."

As for bloggers, EDGE recently spoke to a few whose online musings are worth your time.

Meet Rod 2.0

Is blogging opinion, journalism, a combination of these elements - or something else? As creator of Rod 2.0, "television writer-gym rat-wannabe novelist" Rod McCullom categorizes his individual brand of blogging as " ... opinion journalism. My background is writing and producing television news, and entertainment programming. Hopefully Rod 2.0 (described as a leading weblog for urban gay men) reflects that and fuses the best of news and opinion. ... As a blogger, you’re acting as assignment editor, managing editor and writer. The blogger has to decide which stories are important, how much space they deserve, and, the slant."

McCullom, who describes himself as "a news junkie and pop culture sponge" gleans his blog topics from a "morning sweep of the daily newspapers and leading gay newsy blogs. Then, there are about 20 blogs that must be read every day or every other day ... CNN and MSNBC is always in the background. I’m a freelance television news producer, so, blogging ’from work’ often means blogging one of the same stories that I’m packaging for air."

As for his readership, "The Rod 2.0 audience is overwhelmingly urban gay men, and, many are black or Hispanic and/or interested in black and Hispanic-related gay news. That’s why there is more interest and audience feedback on stories regarding, politics, employment discrimination, housing, gays and hip-hop, sexuality and the black church, than, say the latest news about Graham Norton or Gore Vidal ... There are some topics that are not comment-heavy and do not receive much reader feedback, but, they are important and will remain an integral part of our coverage ... HIV/AIDS remains a huge issue in the black community and among black gay men, but, isn’t covered very much by the mainstream media, the black press, and, even the gay electronic and print media. That’s all the more it remains an important component on Rod 2.0."

No Britney Zone

Indianapolis, Indiana based blogger, podcaster and activist and Marti Abernathey is the creator of Transadvocate.com, which "exists to give a voice for transgender advocates in the ever growing blogosphere. Abernathey describes the site as " ... a mixture of both journalism, advocacy, and opinion, in that order. I absolutely love writing. I take pride in my work. I think Transadvocate.com has more integrity than many print media outlets. You’ll never read about the latest rumors about Brittney and K-Fed at Transadvocate.com ... I designed Transadvocate to look like a newspaper. The mission statement for the site is tied in to the site’s tagline, ’a blog for every advocate.’ I want to provide a blog space for as many transadvocates as possible. I also want to provide a space where transgender advocates can get timely and relevant news and opinion ... It’s allowed me to bring my voice to other well respected activists and network in a way that was once impossible. I’ve been contacted by advocates in the UK and Malaysia. I would never have that kind of reach in national print media."

Abernathey, who’s life as a community organizer involves work with the Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance, Rock Indiana Campaign for Equality, and the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, keeps that life separate from Transadvocate.com: "I keep a very strong division between my transadvocacy and my blogging. That being said, blogs are a great way to get a message out to the people. The internet is a good way to virally get out messages out at a breakneck speed."

Prince Gomolvilas Reigns

At Bamboo Nation, Prince Gomolvilas "navigates through high and low culture with wit, candor and boba drinks." A successful writer and performer, he adapted the film Mysterious Skin for the stage and received the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Drama as well as an NEA grant and Paramount Pictures-sponsored screenwriting fellowship.

Gomolvilas: "I approach blogging as if I were having a conversation with myself - about entertainment, culture, society, and sometimes politics. I don’t consider my approach ’journalism,’ primarily because when I think of ’journalism’ I think that involves presenting news to the public in a timely manner - for me, it sometimes takes me weeks to get around to writing about something I want to write about."

Gomolvilas, whose good-natured pop culture infused work is refreshingly free of (overt) political agenda, writes primarily about " ... stuff that happens to me or events that I attend. Bamboo Nation doesn’t really have an angle, per se. It’s about ’Prince Gomolvilas.’ So I am my own fodder. But I do read news online every morning and often draw from that to write blog entries, as well as read other people’s blogs - which I also draw from, from time to time ... I tend to avoid items that are too ’newsy’ or topics that seem to be over-saturating the media. I mean, there are tons of other sites where you can read about what Britney Spears is doing, so I don’t think it’s necessary for me to chime in about stuff like that - unless I have something very unique to say about it. Readers do ask me to blog more about certain things, and I will comply because they’re my bread and butter ... On occasion, I’ll hit a nerve, and people will want to provide opposing viewpoints, and that’s always fun."

Indeed, there’s much fun to be had reading the saga of how his thoughts on High School Musical 2 created a virtual tween tizzy in the blogosphere - demonstrating not only that free speech plus free time is often a recipe for disaster - but also, that all it takes to inspire death threats from our current trigger-happy younger generation is the unmitigated gaul to suggest HSM2 is gay in every sense of the word.

Fortunately, the very industry that Gomolvilas so expertly skewers also loves the controversy he inspires. That’s led to notoriety and showbiz glory: "After I started getting involved with the Internet, promoting my work got a lot easier. It really changed the way I’ve been able to market myself and my work. I started blogging in 2003. Nowadays I see blogging as an important part of my creative life. You know how writers are always encouraged to write every day? Well, blogging gives me the opportunity to express my creativity on a daily basis ... I’m able to promote my shows and events through my blog and vice versa. I’ve also made invaluable business connections because of my blog and have found work because of it."

Here, Queer and Growing in Influence

Initially, McCullom began his blog in 2005 "simply to find and present more news by and for black gay men. There wasn’t very much of that before, and, as opposed to complaining about the lack of black gay news content at other blogs or sites, why not create my own? ... Most of my pre-blogging work was related to mainstream news (FOX, ABC, NBC and some talk shows). However, since inception, the blog became a platform for more LGBT-related projects: Becoming a regular contributor and even some cover stories at The Advocate, being named a columnist, and, writing for The Huffington Post, and, more importantly, helping to contribute to the ongoing conversation around LGBT rights."

As an outlet for GLBT experiences, McCullom credits the web in general and blogging in particular as " ... a critical tool for the gay community ... Gay men and lesbians tend to be ’early adopters’ - creating trends and adopting technology must faster than the general population. Blogging has been another example of the pink digital divide: We were early to recognize the potential impact and profitability of blogging. Look at Perez Hilton or Gawker ... In terms of freedom and restrictions, there is seemingly no limit on content and its presentation. You can produce thoughtful, well-written content or gossip and personal rants. Blogging is niche market industry; it’s fairly easy to cultivate an audience if your product is user-friendly and addresses a need."

For Abernathey, "Transadvocate has given transgender bloggers a place to have their voice heard. When I started TA, there was no central location to get trans news and views. I never really understood what ’speaking truth to power’ was all about until Transadvocate.com. On any given day you might see the folks at the Human Rights Campaign, the US House of Representatives, and many beltway IP addresses viewing TA."

Got Queer Attitude?

As a closeted, procrastinating teen, my diary entries consisted of long blank stretches followed by apologies for not writing lately, since I had been "on an intense concert tour as backup guitarist for Kiss."

A more honest and accurate entry would have disclosed my detailed fantasy scenario about how Sean Cassidy, Lance Kerwin and I lived together on an uncharted island where we ran around all day with our shirts off and staged elaborate musical numbers with the three surviving members of The Banana Splits (Snorky had been lost at sea during the shipwreck). Thankfully, today’s gay and questioning youth have more substantial things to say, as well as wealth of online forums.

One of them QueerAttitude.com, "embraces fun conversation and chit chat in an open and friendly environment." Its founder, Graham Hughes, states: " ... none of this was planned. I first put up a webpage almost nine years ago; a solitary page, publishing to the world the inner thoughts of a Scottish gay kid. The site grew and the positive (and from time to time, negative) feedback continued, inspiring the evolution into what we have now - a successful community of thinking, friendly LGBT youth ... We constantly encourage the ’QA Ethos’, which means that we don’t sit back and let disputes get personal. It’s all pretty common sense, but it’s amazing how often these values are forgotten in life. Otherwise though, we are light on moderation and we deal with problems in the most liberal way possible. The fact that we built QA around the forums and the blogs as opposed to the profiles of our members also helps set us apart from your average gay community-come-dating site."

For Hughes, blogs offer "the young LGBT community an amazing opportunity to unleash their feelings, thoughts and fears in a way that many can’t in the real world. For those who aren’t within a supportive environment, the web is often the first place they discuss their sexuality, and find like-minded people ... We can all connect these with issues, especially considering most of them don’t actually go away when we get older. Other than that though, many of the themes are universal - love, loneliness, direction in life." what they had to say.

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy's at The Palace. . .at Don't Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli's 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.

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