Just in case you missed it, Violet Blue did a talk at the big Etech 2008 shindig, a talk that ranges widely across the big topic of sexual identity online and how we construct it, shape it, and especially, defend it (and ourselves, where there’s a difference) from online trolls, stalkers, and haters of all sorts. Here’s Violet Blue about her talk, here’s the transcript.

It’s juicy chewy idea-rich media, the sort of thing that makes me worry about the decline in printed magazines, because I like to buy printed magazines with this sort of info-dense article in them (Wired used to do a lot of this) to read when I’m traveling and have a lot of time to read and think. Just pulling out a random useful and true paragraph:

I’ve been a blogger and occasional full-time editor at Fleshbot.com almost since its inception, a job when full time requires me to scour the internets for explicit sexual content of reasonable quality. We endeavor to cover a wide range of sexual expression and all genders and orientations; one of our regular features is the Sex Blog Roundup. When I did it weekly, I had upwards of 300 text-only sex blogs written by individuals worldwide in my RSS reader — outside the 50 or so usual suspects of variety sex blogs, mainstream media news, linkdumps and sex news blogs. Every week I’d have to cull for new blogs to add to my feeds because invariably a handful of sex bloggers who were blogging “anonymously” had to quit blogging — meaning they were for one reason or another, no longer anonymous. It was such a regular occurrence I developed a snarky attitude toward the anonymous sex blogger, even though they often offered up the juiciest and most explicit posts about sex. Time and again, they are a sure bet for being outed or discovered, have the shortest life span, and are the least reliable for following as a human narrative.

(That paragraph is also nostalgic for me, because I compiled the first of Fleshbot’s Sex Blog Roundups, and immensely enjoyed doing them until I ran out of time to keep up with the extra work. Sadly, I don’t think I understood the full power of RSS back then, or I might be doing them yet.)

One thing that struck me about Violet’s talk, however, was that it describes a dangerous-sounding online world for sex bloggers, full of hatred and weird jealousies and stalker trolls and malevolent creeps, so much so that she’s got an entire array of procedures and tactics for defending herself and returning the fight to her attackers. And that’s bizarre to me; in more the five years of blogging, the worst I’ve seen from that list is ranting commenters who are deeply threatened by a world — the world I advocate — in which no sexuality is condemned or forcibly closeted or judged by any standard other than who gets hurt. Death threats she gets? It’s been months since I so much as got one of those “you’re going to burn in hell” invitations to attend church services.

So, why the difference? I trust Violet innately — as far as I’m concerned, she’s one of the most honest voices on the Internet — so she’s not exaggerating or being oversensitive or doing anything else from the “there there, little lady, don’t be hysterical” laundry list of excuses for men to ignore surprising and unwelcome female narratives. Of course, she is a woman and I’m not. And equally of course, she’s got ten thousand times more skin in the game, literally and figuratively. She doesn’t use a pseudonym, she’s active in print and broadcast media, she lives and works visibly in a vital and media-connected city, she talks about her real and actual life, she gives people handles by which to grab for her, and she bares experiences online that actually matter to her, stuff her enemies can use against her.

Whereas, I sit in my undisclosed location in Red-State America and upload an endless stream of pointers to, and scanty commentary on, sexually entertaining stuff that’s happening somewhere else in the vast internet information ecology. When I started this blog, I didn’t even have a personal sex life to blog about. I was temporarily unemployed and sitting in a studio apartment sharing badly microwaved nachos with an unsympathetic parrot who perched on my shoulder and chewed holes in my undershirt while I blogged. (I know that sounds sad, but I was actually enjoying life quite a lot, apart from the “no girlfriend” thing.) By the time I fell in with The Nymph, I was comfortable with my pattern; sex blogging is something I do about other people, using information they’ve already made public. It makes things much safer and more comfortable, and (combined with the male versus female thing) explains a great deal of the difference between Violet’s and my experiences of the sex-blogging life.

So, that’s a lot of the explanation, but is it all of it? While pondering the matter, and reading reactions to Violet’s talk, I found Ethan Zuckerman’s blog and especially, his notes from his own Etech talk on The Cute Cat Theory Of Digital Activism. He was apparently at Tripod back in those dark ages where most folks needed a service like Tripod in order to “have a web page”, and he formulated the theory that

Any sufficiently advanced read/write technology will get used for two purposes: pornography and activism. Porn is a weak test for the success of participatory media – it’s like tapping a mike and asking, “Is it on?? If you’re not getting porn in your system, it doesn’t work. Activism is a stronger test – if activists are using your tools, it’s a pretty good indication that your tools are useful and usable.

Reading that paragraph was an “ah-ha!” moment for me. Because another huge difference between Violet and me is that, although we are both sex bloggers by any reasonable definition, I’m more of a pornographer and she’s more of an activist.

We both do stuff that blurs the lines, of course; sometimes I make posts that have at least a whiff of activist sentiment in them, and often she links to pretty pr0n pictures. But at any given blogging moment, my first thought is “will this amuse, entertain, or turn somebody on?” And, while I can’t speak for what happens in Violet’s thoughts, she’s clearly got causes — like sex education, to name just one — that animate and drive her blogging, her published writing, her public appearances, whole swathes of her professional life.

Perversely, I think her activism makes her sex blogging even more interesting and entertaining than my detached approach, so it’s not like there’s a sharp division between entertainer and activist. It’s just that — and this is the not-very-startling hypothesis you’ve waded through many long paragraphs to hear about — activists are more threatening than entertainers. They upset more apple carts, gore more oxen, get more done, make more enemies because they threat more status quos. Activists piss people off. Their fans and enemies alike are more animated and engaged.

And that, maybe, is why Violet Blue needs police contacts at the SFPD, while I make do with a lightly tweaked comment moderation plugin for my WordPress install.