Hey folks! With all the stuff that I do, and my book now being out, it’s come to my attention that most of you really don’t know much about what led to me being here (and you reading this), what goes on behind the scenes, and the dollars & sense* of what I do.
*this was intentional — a play on words! Huzzah!
A Bit of Background
When I first launched this site, it was nothing more than a showcase for my social justice comedy show I perform at colleges, It’s Pronounced Metrosexual (hence the ridiculously long domain name). In the show, I don’t really do any content knowledge education on SJ issues (e.g., like talking about LGBT issues), but I address the cycle of oppression and leave the group with the Platinum Rule, using examples of how oppression can manifest against LGBT people. I pull these examples from stories of times this oppression has manifested against me, because I’m often assumed to be and treated as a queer man.
The site was a bit hideous, and really only served one purpose: having a website for my show, which was something everyone kept telling me I needed to have. Below is a screencap of that site design. The second version of the site (a bit less ugly, more helpful) has been hiding at www.itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/index-old.html all this time. I have a hard time throwing away sentimental objects, like that shirt I’m wearing in the video.
I was bouncing around performing my show (and doing some other projects when I was home) for awhile before my partner at the time overheard me explaining something social-justicey to someone. She said something like, “You explained that really well. Do you answer that question a lot?”
“Yep, all the time. It’s a common one that comes up in Q&A after the show,” is roughly what I replied.
“Have you ever considered writing any of your answers to those questions down and putting them on a blog?” She said, like it was oh-so-obvious.
“Yeah, of course, I’ve definitely considered that,” I would have said if I had, but [embarrassingly] the thought had never crossed my mind, so I said something like, “Uh. Oh. Okay.”
It was time to learn how to build a WordPress site.
Then I started blogging, made my Genderbread Person
One of the first few posts I wrote was Breaking through the Binary. A common question I answered at my show was “What does ‘transgender’ mean?” and I found answering that without first explaining gender to be problematic, at best. With this post, came my Genderbread Person.
As I mentioned in the original post (and in my book), the Genderbread Person is something that had been floating around the fringes for a while. What I didn’t mention in the post, was that I had tried to find the person who was the genesis for it, but couldn’t. It goes back well before Google, as I’ve had chats with people who were using some early versions of the idea in the 90s. I acknowledged in the post that that I had recently seen it on Tumblr, and shared a version that popped up when you did a Google image search for “Genderbread Person.”
The graphics I found when I started to write that article were problematic (e.g., Genderbread “Man”), and for a long time I had been using a specific schema (with specific labels) to explain gender to people. This way of understanding gender was something that was first introduced to me (without any sort of a graphic/model) at Purdue, where I went for undergrad, during an LGBTQ education workshop I attended (while trying to figure out if I was gay, or, if not, why people kept thinking I was gay). In grad school, I helped facilitate Safe Zone trainings and as part of the training we used that same schema, only it had slightly better labels (the labels I used in the first GP).
For my article, I combined the improved schema I had been using to explain gender for years, with the metaphor of the Gingerbread Man I had seen in a few iterations around the web. I couldn’t specifically cite either one, so I made it clear that I was putting my spin on an idea that’s been bubbling for a while. Evolution, not revolution. I was trying to make a polished-design, comprehensive, accurate, and inclusive model to help support the article I was writing.
“Breaking through the Binary” got a lot of traffic, I changed my site
I had no idea that this article would catch on. In fact, I was quite sure it wouldn’t. I was mainly writing it to refer people to during Q&As after my show. But it did. In fact, after the traffic burst from that and the next few articles I wrote I decided that I needed to rethink what this site was.
I made it to be a showcase to my show, so it was a pretty terrible place to read/browse articles. So I redesigned it to be an educational site, which led to it being pretty terrible at promoting my show. But I was okay with that. The site was never good at promoting my show (that’s all been done through word of mouth) to begin with, so I was just happy to have it serving some good purpose and giving me something meaningful to work on when I wasn’t “working.”
Appropriating Trans* Issues for Profit
Writing that sentence disgusts me. In fact, making money doing social justice work in general disgusts me. It’s something I deeply struggle with on a daily basis. Which is why, many many many more times than not, I can’t do it.
I have made it emphatically clear that everything I produce on this site others can use for free. I don’t even require that people attribute me, though it’s great when they do, because it will provide their reader with context. I literally tell people to steal my work. I’ve even uncopyrighted everything I’ve published here to make this more clear. This is, as some of my friends have described it, quite stupid. But I don’t care. It’s one of the ways I demonstrate and live by my values.
This value is carried on in my book, which I went to great lengths to be able to provide to everyone for free. It would have been way easier to just work with a publisher, let them do all that jazz, and accept royalty checks. But that’s not why I wrote the book. I wrote it because I wanted to share some good.
But what about the show?
Yes, I generally do require the people who bring me to their school/town/whatever to do my comedy show to pay me dollars. These dollars allow me pay a meager rent, eat, and keep my bicycle maintained. But more than that, these dollars allow me to spend 60 – 80+ hours a week working on social justice-y stuff. I couldn’t do that if I had a corporate job, and my soul would probably be too crushed for me to do much of anything at all.
But I also do a ton of shows for free, and I charge less for my show than anyone I know (by a huge margin), because I apparently hate myself. Actually, that was a joke [mostly]. I do it because I value access, and despise profit.
The show and my writing are (as ridiculous as this might sound, because it is odd) apples and oranges.
What about all the money I make from the Genderbread Person?
Not counting my book, I have made negative dollars from the Genderbread Person. For example, doing the TEDx on gender last spring cost me about $500 in travel (and I didn’t even mention/use the Genderbread Person, but this keeps coming up for some reason). The other talks I’ve done related to the Genderbread Person I’ve done for free. And the first time I ever used the Genderbread Person myself in a talk was last summer, years after publishing my version, when I was keynoting a sex ed conference here in Austin.
Below is a picture I saw on Instagram from this past summer (2013) that really cracked me up, because I realized it was the first time ever the Genderbread Person and I shared a stage. And I wasn’t even talking about gender; I was asked to talk about “meeting youth where they are,” and I used the different versions of the model as an example of how increasing accuracy often decreases clarity/ease-of-understanding. And I did that talk for free.
People who book my show do it because they’ve heard about it from other people. Most have no idea that I write articles, do other things, or made the Genderbread Person they’ve likely seen in their Facebook newsfeed. In fact, this got painfully obvious when, last year, I was doing my show at a school and the person who was speaking before me used the Genderbread Person v2.0 to explain LGB/T to the students in the room. She kept referring to “the person who made this” and [incorrectly] guessing what “they” meant by different aspects of it. It was painful. I’m hoping this changes more and more as time goes on, and more people who book me to perform are aware of what else I do, but the vast [vast!] majority of the people who visit my site have no idea I even have a show to book.
Now, counting sales from my book, I haven’t yet made any money, because everything from the pre-order campaign to the initial sales has been put back into the book. But will I make money from it? Yes, absolutely. Will I continue giving the book away for free and encouraging people to use that option? Yes, absolutely. Why? Because making a profit from doing this stuff disgusts me.
Why? Why? Why?
This whole long post has probably culled up a bunch of “Why”s. Here are a few of my guesses:
Why do I include a copyright notice on my work if I give it away for free?
The reason I include the copyright and website url on graphics is two-fold: one, I want folks to know where it came from, in case they have questions or want to see the rest of what I do for context; and two, to prevent people from using graphics/art I create and selling them on posters, mugs, whatevers. Does it accomplish these things? Well, it does accomplish the former, but folks have called out to me to let me know that the latter is happening, and I’ve never actually looked into it/intervened, because ultimately I don’t care. The first version of the Genderbread Person, before I added my own unique “intellectual property” to the model with v2 didn’t have the copyright, but it’s not something I would ever enforce. In fact, a common email response I give to people when they ask to use my Genderbread Person graphic for commercial purposes is “I’d prefer that you don’t, but I’m not going to take any legal action or do anything about it if you do, so take that for what it’s worth.”And again, perhaps this whole section should be written in past tense, because I released my copyright on my work here to end this confusion once and for all.
Why is my Genderbread Person “THE” Genderbread Person?
I don’t know. Because it’s cuter? Because it’s better? Because the timing was right? Because it was “branded” well? Because it was published with a lengthy article explaining it? Because I come from a place of privilege and privileged people only listen to other privileged people? I don’t know. Could be any one of these things, could be a combo of two (I’m leaning heavily on the last two), could be something else altogether. But I wasn’t expecting it to happen this way, though I’m certainly stoked to have doodled something that’s had such an impact on people.
Why does making money doing social justice work disgust me?
Because whenever I get a dollar from someone, it’s a reminder that the only reason I have that dollar is because the world is incredibly unjust. That might sound dramatic or too touchy-feely, but I’m pretty dramatic and touchy-feely. Money in general disgusts me, having grown up incredibly poor, knowing what eviction feels like first hand more than I’d care to remember. It disgusts me so much that I currently live below the poverty line. This means I don’t have health insurance, live in low-income housing, ride a bike and don’t own a car, and live a simple life.
Why have I never addressed this before?
Never thought about it, and it was never brought to my attention to do so. I don’t do a lot of personal stuff on the site, or elsewhere. I focus on making things that might result in some positive change, not reflecting on the past — this isn’t that type of “blog” (really, it’s not a blog at all). I never addressed the lack-of-money side of what I do (and am incredibly reluctant to do so even now) because I don’t want this to be an issue. I chose this work, and I don’t want you to feel bad for me, feel guilty for not giving me money, or feel any sort of pity — this is my choice, and I’m happy. Worst of all, the last thing I want is for me to write some article about how I do almost everything for free and barely earn enough of a living to get by, and have people interpret that as “woe is me” or for it to trivialize other people’s struggles. I want none of that.
Why am I addressing it now?
Transparency, honesty, to provide a full picture to fill in the blanks between assumptions and preconceptions, because I felt like I didn’t have another choice. I don’t want this to change our relationship at all. I like what we’ve got now: I make a thing on here, you share it with your Facebook buds or comment about what I screwed up, end of transaction. I felt like I’d been fairly clear and transparent about all this GP/profit stuff from the beginning, but it turns out I was wrong. That’s the problem with assumptions.