I’ve updated this post on March 2, 2015 to include new instructions if you wish to participate in the sexuality after cancer blog activity.
In preparing the week 2 content on “where do you draw the line” for the Should I blog course (http://shouldiblog.org), I realized that sexuality issues are something that I don’t really talk about. As someone who had hormone positive breast cancer, I’m looking at the next 10 years of hormone blocking medications and procedures. These can have side effects that no one really wants to talk about in a public setting: vaginal dryness, atrophies, shortening of the vagina – but also other sexuality issues like reclaiming your identity as a sexual being rather than a patient, and body image after treatment.
The reality is, I don’t feel comfortable talking about these things on this blog. They are too intimate, and yet they are important topics that need to be talked about. For me, blogging is about capturing the lived experience of real people, not the medical directions of doctors or pharmaceutical companies. My point is, there are websites out there that talk about the medical aspects relating to sexuality and cancer, but there are few safe spaces to talk about the lived experience of sexuality related issue.
So, I have a new project on the go. I am looking for women who have gone through cancer treatment and what to blog about sexuality under an alias. The idea is, that anyone who wants to blog about it (there is a minimum commitment of writing three posts) can sign up for an account based upon an alias of their choosing. They can then blog about it in any form they wish, as long as they never share personally identifiable information on their posts. Once I have 6-8 women signed up, I’ll build the site. With enough different perspectives, we get anonymity and a platform to talk. I’m still working out the details. If you are a women who has undergone any type of cancer treatment, and want a blogging platform to share your lived experience with sexuality related issues then I invite you to join. To sign up, email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org (please create your alter-identity before emailing me, so I don’t know who you are). If you just have questions about the project, feel free to email me as yourself. If I don’t reply within 2-3 days, try again with the email – given the topic, some of the emails hit may spam filters.
I will keep a list of participants in an encrypted folder on my computer, and I, as the site administrator, will be the only one who can match aliases to real people (something I will not share).
I will ask all bloggers to create an alter-identity before they sign up and the sign-up process will use only the alter-identity email address and name. I need not ever know who you are.
Directions for creating an alter-identity
Not everyone who has gone through the cancer journey wants to be identified as someone who has had cancer. Some of you may wish to blog but also not have your cancer blog be associated directly back to you. If you are a private person, and are struggling with how much to share, you may wish to assume an alter-identity before starting a blog. However, the power if blogging is that it shares the lived experience of the blogger. Blogs that promote products or provide ‘sage advice’ without sharing anything personal can be very shallow. You can tell when the author is authentic, and it is the authenticity of the story that makes it powerful. However, you can be authentic and share your true story without using your true name. You just need to be careful to ensure that you do not reveal specific details that will allow readers to connect-the-dots between you and the alter-identity.
Here are the steps/tips involved in creating an alter-identity:
- Choose a new name. In order to prevent self-identification it is best to stay away from derivatives of your own name. Choose something that you will remember, as you will use it a lot.
- Open a new email account. Use a service like gmail or hotmail to open a new email account assuming your new identity. Use only this account when interacting with your blog and anyone that comments on your blog.
- Create your blog with your new alter-identity. Use only the name (or nicknames) you have chosen with your new identity.
- Be aware of who you are when you browse. When using services like gmail, you are often logged in when you browse the internet. Chrome let’s you have different user profiles (see https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/2364824?hl=en). Make sure that when you are reading other cancer blogs and commenting on the blogs you are using your alter-identity. This becomes even more important if you are participating in collaborative activities like sharing Google documents and co-authoring.
- Write with a different style than you usually do. For example, if you always write in proper English sentences, try out using a lower case i or adding some ‘texting’ words in your posts. Try writing using a different ‘voice’ than you have in your other public spaces. This is more critical for people like me, who blog on multiple platforms already, so I have a very strong public presence. Writing using the same structures would make it easier for people to identify me.
- Avoid being too alter. That is, avoid making up too much about your alter-identity. You still want your blog to come across as an authentic experience – which means keeping your age, gender, race, etc. These things are really hard to fake, but also, changing them damages the authenticity of the story. This needs to be balanced with the next step.
- Avoid being too specific. You do not want to include specifics that will draw attention back towards you. If you have a rare diagnosis for example, then being anonymous is much more difficult. You need to include just enough specific details for the reader to appreciate who you are, without allowing the specific details for them to actually know who you are.