Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let me tell you a story…

Some years back, I used to do a lot of photography. I miss it, but it’s a hobby I just don’t have time for anymore.

I got interested in photography by doing art-nude modeling. (Art-nude meaning: not commercial porn. How do you know if you’re modeling for art shots? You don’t wear shoes, you don’t look at the camera, and you don’t smile. That’s my tongue-in cheek definition of art modeling versus porn modeling.)

Since I was used to nude modeling, when I started doing photography myself, I did a lot of artsy nude self-portraits. Made perfect sense to me. I was the perfect model: free and always available when I wanted to shoot. And since I was trying to learn photography – a hobby that can absorb any amount of time and money you throw at it – I posted those pictures of myself on a photo-critique site.

Now, this was in 1999/2000, before chicks taking naked pictures of themselves and posting them on the web was so common. Some of the people on that site were perfectly calm about my images, but some people really got upset over these not-at-all-explicit nude photos. And oddly, part of their problem seemed to be that I said these were photos of me.

(Note: I posted these under my photography-name, not as Mistress Matisse. No one there recognized me as her. Or if they did, they didn’t say so.)

So there was some drama about my artsy naked self, but I tried to ignore the nasty personal cracks and just talk to the cool people and learn what I could from the valid critiques. I did learn things, too.

I’d been hanging around this site for, oh at least a year, when one day I got an email. The administrators of the site were going to be in Seattle the next week, and they wanted to know if I wanted to get together and have a drink.

What, me? I was very flattered. These people were like real photographers and stuff! So I agreed, and we made a date. At the appointed day and time, I arrived at the restaurant – it was The Pink Door, downtown – and saw them. It was a man and woman, a married couple. I went over and greeted them and sat down.

We started making polite chit-chat about their visit to Seattle, and how long I had lived here, and etc. And I thought, “Something funny is going on – there’s a very odd energy happening here, between the two of them, and from them towards me. What’s up with this?”

Then I realized: These people had not truly believed I was real until I walked in. That's why they had contacted me and asked me to meet them - to see if the woman in the photos would actually show up. Neither of them – but particularly the man – had believed I really was who I’d said I was. His wife seemed a trifle less astonished to find that I was the woman in those photos, I did take them myself, and I could nerd out with them about shutter speeds and focal distances, in a manner that only a photographer would do. But both of them were so clearly surprised by me, a real woman who would post nude photos of herself on the web, and talk to strangers about them!

I did not say any of this aloud. I just smiled into my cocktail, because I felt amused by it. It was like a little practical joke they’d played on themselves.

So we had our polite conversation, finished our drinks, said our lovely-to-meet-you goodbyes, and went our separate ways. The next week, they announced on the site that they were letting me choose what image was going to be Photo Of The Week. It was a stamp of approval: she’s real. The personal sniping at me on the site dropped very noticeably.

That’s a completely true story. My point? I know exactly what it’s like to have people not believe you’re real, until you prove it. So, if the much-discussed Alexa Di Carlo really is who she says she is, then I know just how she feels.

It’s easy to say I shouldn’t have to prove who I am, people should just trust me and not question. But not that’s how the world works. We all participate in systems that require us to provide some proof of identification. And we also have things like college degrees, which say, in essence: I know stuff. A bunch of other smart people taught it to me and gave me this piece of paper to show you, so you’ll know you can trust me.

Because that’s the issue: trust. If you don’t have someone’s trust, you can argue the details with them all the livelong day, and it will not avail you. You will never gain an uneasy person’s trust by such a strategy.

How do you get trust? You give it. I know about this. You might say that as a dominatrix, I am a professional gainer-of-trust. If people did not trust me, they would not let me do what I do. I must not only get their trust, I must keep it, and keep adding to it. If I could not do that, I would not have the career that I have.

Alexa, if you are who you say you are, here’s how I see this: a noticeable number of your readers have told you, “We don’t trust you.” Now, if all you want to do is tell sexy stories and re-post erotic images, you’ll always find an audience for that, so I could see where those readers wouldn’t matter to you.

But I had the impression you wanted to offer something more meaningful – advice and real information. If that’s what you want, then your readers must trust you. Thus, it’s a mistake to answer the we don’t trust you readers by saying, “So what, I don’t care.” That would not be smart in a one-on-one relationship, and it will not serve you well in your relationship with readers, either. It’s a defensive response, it undermines your credibility.

In order to keep everything you’ve created with your blog, you have to find some way to recapture their trust. This is the pivotal point - you have to make a gesture here. If you can’t or won’t do that, I’m afraid your personal brand, “Alexa Di Carlo”, will be permanently tarnished and will probably go the way of most blogs – fading into nothing.

I personally can think of a lot of trust-gaining strategies, but let me offer you one that I can help you with. I’m guessing you know the mother of all sexual advice-givers, Dan Savage, author of Savage Love? Dan and I are old buddies - he’s the one who gave me the column in the Stranger, back when I first started writing about sex. Dan also has a podcast. I’ve been on it several times. Why don’t you consider asking him if you could be a call-in guest? I think it would be a good way for people to “meet” you – just letting listeners hear your voice would go a long way towards getting some trust back. But since no one will see your face, your anonymity will be preserved. All you have to do is talk on the phone for a little while.

Here’s what I would do to help you: write a letter introducing yourself and your blog to Dan and pitching him the idea of you being a call-in guest. Send it to me, I’ll forward it to him with a personal note from me, to make sure he gets it. Obviously I cannot guarantee you anything, it's not my podcast. But I’ll do what I can to help you.

I’ll do that for you - even though I’m not sure I can trust you. Because I know what it’s like to be doubted, and I know you only gain people’s trust by giving them yours.

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