Will This Blog Post Get Me Killed?
By Lauren Tabak
Lauren Tabak is a photographer and filmmaker, mostly. Follow her here.
It was in the final hours of a deliriously long road trip that Kim and I started joking about creating a fake feminist yogurt shop online. We’ll build a website and take pictures of cows and give them names and a backstory! We’ll film fake interviews of ourselves in wigs and purple tracksuits! We’ll list a menu with toppings like placenta dust and yoni powder! The joking got us through what felt like an eternally long stretch of the I-5, but it also left us thinking -- what’s the point? To make people laugh? To promote our witchy weirdo feminist leftist values and culture while simultaneously giving pokes and props to our feminist foremothers? Could we be funny but also impactful with an art project that was so intentionally deceitful and anonymous?
I once had an ex tell me she was uncomfortable with my online presence. Which is to say, in my interpretation, that she was not comfortable with her offline presence that I was continually documenting. I’m a filmmaker, photographer and journalist -- documenting is what I do. More importantly, I’m a freelancer, and I use the internet and platforms like Instagram to promote the things I do, so other people will hire me to do them. Also, I don’t believe in privacy settings. I operate under the guiding principle that you are either online, or off. It’s my belief that if I type words on my laptop, speak them into my phone, or even mumble something under my breath in a room with some new Amazon or Google router, someone, somewhere might be listening - and if they fell asleep at their desk then surely they’ve recorded it and could still listen later.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to keep certain things private. A few years ago while I was promoting a documentary that I was working on about a lesbian bar in San Francisco, I wrote a piece for Buzzfeed that chronicled my drug use, depression and sexual exploits in the bathroom of said bar -- needless to say, I tried to hide it from my mother. I made my Facebook private, meticulously curated which of my friends could see what, restricted any unapproved posting on my wall -- due diligence, I thought. It took all of three days after it was published until I got the call: “Hi Honey, so I read what you wrote on the internet.”
I wrote the things that I wrote on the internet because I am a storyteller. And they are good stories! More importantly, they are stories that people connect to because, as it turns out, a lot of people have similar stories and experiences. That piece ended up being honored with a First Place Excellence in Online Journalism Award from the NLGJA -- which I think illustrates my theory that whole point of art, and that thing that we all go blindly bumbling around for in life is connection. Like my favorite high school Spanish teacher Mrs. Scherf used to say “La vida es tan, tan cruel” and that’s why weirdos like us, when we find our other weirdos, we hold so tight. Sometimes we do terrible things and fuck everything up, but I digress, and will save that for a different essay.
I also wrote the things I wrote on the internet because I could. I’m white. I’m cisgender. I live in San Francisco. I had enough in my savings account from 10 years of full time employment that I could afford to fuck up, if that’s how this was to be characterized. Also, my mom is the best and I know she’ll still love me regardless of how reckless I was in my 20’s. While I knew that there could be some familial fallout from publishing my story, it never felt dangerous.
About a month after the piece went live, Islamic extremists in Bangladesh published a global hit list of secular bloggers and writers (many believed to be LGBT). Not long after that, Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of the Bangladeshi LGBT publication called Roopbaan was hacked to death with a machete in Bhaka. It gave me pause, but those places were far away, and certainly if I was on an extremist hit-list, someone from the government would like, get in touch, right?
I had actually forgotten all about those events until recently -- until Hillary Clinton lost (?) the election by winning 3 million more votes than her opponent. My world started to feel much more unsafe, even in the Bay Area. It felt like all of a sudden every hateful person was entitled to let everyone else know just how brutally hateful they were. I don’t leave my house in fear that I will be physically attacked -- it’s hard to imagine things could get that bad here, but then again, it was impossible to imagine a Trump presidency (and still is). As Kim and I kept developing the project and talking more and more about what Frochoice.com was going to be, it felt like in order to keep our footing on this slippery slope we’d need to be direct and outspoken about what we’re trying to do, and who we are. And also that we divert a percentage of the profits to people more vulnerable than us -- so we decided that %10 from every T-shirt sale will go to Planned Parenthood.
Thanks for your support. Let’s do what can, k bbs?