Further Thoughts on the Alexa Thing
Since my post from last week, The Downfall of Alexa Di Carlo, I’ve been getting a wide range of responses from a variety of people. And one thread running through them is that here is a lot of anger around this situation.
I’ll admit that I’ve felt some anger towards the person behind Alexa. I felt anger because of their misrepresentations of sex education. Alexa was presented as someone who was going to “teach your sons and daughters how to suck cock and lick pussy.” Now, as a workshop presenter and organizer, I certainly have no problems with anyone who teaches classes on oral sex- it’s a skill like any other and it’s certainly something worth learning to do, whether from a workshop, a book, a movie, or a website. At the same time, given the current political climate and the battles around sex ed for youth, the phrasing that Alexa used played into the fears that many of the anti-sex ed crowd has. It’s exactly the sort of thing that makes it harder to get sex ed into schools, even though nobody that I’ve ever heard of is actually trying to teach high school classes on oral sex.
I also felt anger on behalf of my sex education colleagues, especially my female colleagues, because I know that many of them have dealt with the challenges of being sexualized, simply because they’re women who talk about sex and I believe that Alexa reinforced that. A lot of female sex educators are assumed to be sexually available, wildly kinky, bisexual, and easy to get into bed. I have no problem with anyone who chooses to do or be any of those things, as anyone who has read my thoughts on sex-positivity will know. And one of the challenges that women in the field face is the way that stereotypes, sex-negativity, the perception of being sexually available, and slut-shaming combine to reduce their credibility in the eyes of the people they’re trying to reach. The fantasy of Alexa played right into that.
Further, some of my female colleagues have had people suggest that the reason they’re sex educators is because they want to be seen as more sexually desirable. Whether it’s intended to discredit their work or them as individuals, this facet of slut-shaming has a serious impact on what they do. Again, the fantasy of Alexa reinforced that.
I felt anger on behalf of my friends, colleagues and allies because of her misrepresentations of sex work. It’s true, as @MsFlaneuse tweeted, that sex workers cultivate a fantasy that is integral to the experience. And it’s also true, as has been pointed out, that misrepresentations of sex work are hardly new- pretty much every movie character who’s a sex worker is about as realistic as the cops are in Law and Order. At the same time, by presenting this distillation of the sex work fantasy as fact, Alexa glamorized it and made it more likely that someone considering becoming a sex worker would do so without having enough information to make a good decision. Alexa also encouraged clients and potential clients to assume that the fantasy would be what they would get, which is the kind of thing that leads to conflict and unrealistic expectations.
I felt anger because I had been hearing for a while about how Alexa had been interacting with young people from sources I absolutely trust, but who couldn’t give me any information that would make it reportable. And now that all of this has come out, I’ve had several different people email me and tell me that they were on these message boards and interacting with Alexa and that there’s even more to this story than we’ve heard. I feel a lot of anger that anyone was taking advantage of the need that young people have for compassionate, accurate, and non-judgmental community and sexuality information. They deserved better than that.
I felt anger because Alexa invited and encouraged adults to email their personal stories of their sexual experiences. Of course, some folks will point out (and I think, rightly) that it’s up to you to be cautious about who you send what information to. And that doesn’t change the fact that because they were convinced that the Alexa persona was a safe person to communicate with, people offered personal information that I don’t think they would have if they had known who it was really going to. Sure, some of them would still have, and I doubt that all of them would have.
Some folks also feel anger because Alexa stole photos from other people’s sites in order to create, especially from BlueEyedCass, in order to create the persona. I can understand those feelings, although I don’t share them. Unfortunately, people steal photos online all the time.
I’ll also admit that some of why I’ve felt anger is that I bought into the story of Alexa and I don’t like feeling ripped off. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has had that experience and it would be disingenuous to pretend that it had never happened. Having said that, I first realized that I had been conned months ago and it’s not something that I currently feel.
Unlike some people, I’m not going to label this person as a pedophile, or a sociopath. Without having met them, I have no idea what their motivations or goals were. In a way, it’s similar to the way that Tiger Woods was labeled a sex addict by people who had never met him and usually didn’t have the clinical skills to make an assessment. Frankly, I’m not concerned with why Alexa was created. I care about how the persona affected and interacted with people.
Alexa did a lot of things that resulted in many people feeling anger and although many of the resulting reactions have been troubling, I’m not surprised by them. The ways that people have jumped to conclusions and have been speaking about this situation reflect a long-standing resentment towards Alexa. Whether those reactions are fair or reasonable and whether they were the best way to deal with the situation has been the topic of a lot of argument, here, on other sites, and on twitter.
It seems to me that it’s worth remembering that anger can make people stupid. It can make us reactive. It can make us defensive. And acting out of anger often makes other people angry, which ends up making a mess, especially when some of them were feeling anger even before all this came out. And although some people have been pointing out the “mob mentality” that the anger fueled, I haven’t seen anyone offer constructive suggestions for how to deal with those emotions.
And of course, Alexa knew that there was a lot of anger because almost a year ago, Carnal Nation ran this piece and there were plenty of angry responses. Alexa disappeared for a bit, before coming back after the dust settled and continuing business as usual. The fact that this situation escalated as it has is hardly a surprise, given how long it’s been going on.
I took some heat from a few folks for participating in outing someone. To be honest, I didn’t really think that part of this issue through. But then, the tweet that I quoted in my post was sent out by someone who has a lot of followers, many of whom are in sexuality and sex education circles. So I figured it was going to be pretty common knowledge, at least among people who might care about it.
But it’s been giving me a lot to think about around the use and values of anonymous personas, screen names, and scene names. Marty Klein’s book Your Sexual Secrets has some interesting stuff on the topic. It seems to me that what a lot of this comes down to is the issue between privacy and secrecy. Privacy is important because we each need to and deserve to be able to set our boundaries around what information we share with the world. This is especially important around sexuality, given the potential consequences of being outed.
And yet, secrecy is what enables people to continue to take advantage of people, to coerce and abuse them, and to commit sexual, emotional, and physical violence. I think this is relevant when we consider how Alexa (formerly Caitlin et. al.) interacted with young people who were looking for support, guidance, and connection. Presenting a persona in order to protect one’s privacy is one thing. Creating an inauthentic mask in order to take advantage of people in need is something else.
I think we need to be clear on the distinction when we’re discussing this. There are plenty of anonymous bloggers who write about sex as well as other topics. As long as they’re not trying to speak for other people and as long as they’re not spreading misinformation, I don’t really care that they’re out there. And when someone starts interacting with youth around sexuality topics, or when someone starts speaking on behalf of other folks, or when their writing makes it harder for people to separate the facts from the stories, I think that’s the point at which someone crosses a line.
Ironically, anyone who has discussed this issue or linked back to the original site has also participated in the outing, whether they supported it, condemned it, or were simply talking about it. After all, any of those links back to the page increased its visibility. I’m not sure that the intention behind it makes any difference, although I want to think about that some more and I’d be curious to know what other folks think.
As Beth pointed out, there were other possible ways to respond. And the irony that the person behind the exposé site has done all of this anonymously is certainly not lost on me. Whoever you are, I invite and challenge you to come out of the closet yourself and model the transparency that would actually be helpful here.
Lastly, several people have emailed me to tell me that they were participants on Alexa’s/Caitlin’s sites. I invite and encourage you to report it, especially if you ever sent sexual or sexually explicit photos or messages. It might not seem like it’s helpful, but when it’s all added up, it might be an important piece of the puzzle.
I’m sure that other folks have been having a variety of reactions, thoughts, and responses as this situation has developed. I’d really like to know what’s coming up for you, either in the comments or here.
The silver lining about this whole thing? I ‘met’ (as much as you can meet someone online) you. This post seemed to echo much of my thoughts surrounding the situation. Whether it be concern for people’s reactions out of anger that came out of it, or sympathy for those involved.
I hesitated to write my own post similar to this to get some sort of closure from my experience with “Alexa”– mostly due to criticism that I was using the controversy to draw attention to a blog that I had created that didn’t deserve said attention.
But it helps to know that people think like this–both objectively and with empathy to the situation.
I’m also glad you are reaffirming the REAL issues as other gray area issues (or non-issues) continue to crop up surrounding the (not so) recent events.
i thought the same thing when i was debating whether to blog on the expose-a-bro scandal: linking to it makes it more visible and that just condemns him more, no? but with the amount of vitriolic speech condemning this individual, i felt it was important for a more distanced, sympathetic voice to be heard. for me, it was especially important to write something because so many people asserted that all sex workers rights activists are in agreement, and that only a sex worker is qualified to make a statement. i felt silenced and spoken for by these people i don’t know personally or feel represented by.
in my own writing and my moderated comments section, i was careful not to publish the person’s name, even creating tiny urls where necessary to avoid publishing his name in a link, though i know anyone who follows the links with see it immediately.
ultimately it was a question of contributing a little bit to the problem (self-policing the internet and playing judge, jury, and executioner) but also a little bit to the solution (hopefully inspiring further thought), versus contributing nothing at all and allowing things to be almost completely one-sided.
of course, that’s just me!!
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