Interview for HRC mag
Why did you start blogging? How did you come up with the name, “Pam's House Blend”?
I was completely frustrated by the political climate when I launched the Blend in July 2004. The religious right and the Republican party were working mightily to re-elect Bush and other social conservatives by continually flogging LGBT citizens — using fear tactics that evoked images of child predators, bestiality and other nonsense to demonize us. I had to find an outlet to put my thoughts down. It certainly wasn't to gain readership. I had no comments at all for the longest time, and that was fine with me.
As far as the name of the blog goes, it was originally a play on words about coffee (ironically, I don't drink it myself), reflecting my own blend of opinions and oddball takes on life and political matters. Once the Blend became more popular — and the commenters found their way there and shared their opinions — it became the idea of the blog being branded as a welcoming “coffeehouse” where civil conversations and debates could take place — it just sort of fell into place.
Why do you think your blog is so popular?
It's always hard to pinpoint why a blog is popular, particularly your own. There are probably a few factors at play. Timing plays a significant role. Even though I started blogging regularly in mid-2004, I'm considered a relative “early-adopter.” The exponential growth of blogs of all kinds since that time makes it difficult for new blogs to break through and get noticed.
I think the healthy readership (about 38,000 visitors a week), may be drawn to what's unique about me in the LGBT blogosphere — there aren't too many black Southern lesbians blogging about politics. I'm a mixed bag of perspectives in other ways as well. I lived for many years in New York City (Hollis, Queens and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn in the 70s and 80s) as well as in Durham, NC, where I grew up and reside now, so I'm well aware of the regional cultural divides. I've also been poor (nearly homeless in fact), but I have also lived a middle class existence as well. All of these circumstances inform my work. I don't consciously think about it, it's all just part of who I am.
That said, perhaps people like to read the Blend because, when it comes down to it, I'm really just an average person — I'm not a lobbyist, a political consultant or a professional activist — living my live out and proud in a Red-turning-Purple state.
Another reason for the blog's popularity that is often cited by my readers is that the Blend provides a safe space to talk about difficult issues that affect our community and the country at large — sexism, racism, homophobia, civil rights, life in and out of the closet, class differences…what I call third-rail topics. I work hard to encourage people to ask questions that in our PC society have caused conversations on these topics, particularly about race, to shut down. White readers can ask the questions that usually send minorities into defensive overdrive and know their heads won't be snapped off. If I can wade through Freeperland, I can weather a question about whether blacks can tan. And yes, I have been asked that.
Blogs are so personality-driven. What part of your personality really comes out when you write?
I think it depends on the blog post in question. My blunt, snarky, sarcastic side comes out at times, usually when dealing with issues such as the classic Republican sexual hypocrites, you know, the ones who engage in the most outlandish sexual behavior while attempting to pry into your bedroom with legislation or endless bible-thumping. It seems like there is an endless supply of these folks.
When I write more long-form posts, such as one I wrote about my religious beliefs (This I believe: http://www.pamshouse…), I am usually just typing away pensively, putting my thoughts out there practically unedited, opening myself up in a way that encourages readers to share their views in the comments. I'm not afraid of being vulnerable out there, and I always try to maintain a genuine conversational tone in my writing. It's not always perfect prose, that's for sure, but I hope that the sincerity always rings true.
When people meet me, they usually remark that my offline persona is pretty much the same as my online one.
You've done substantial reporting on issues surrounding the ultra right and its efforts to exploit homophobia. What has surprised you the most in your research into that?
I think that the more I learn about the right wing, the more I'm convinced that they all need a good therapist. The level of dysfunction, intellectual inconsistency, hypocrisy and even worse, the craven amount of fundraising-by-fearmongering is outlandish.
One of my most interesting interviews was with former staff attorney for the American Family Association, Joe Murray, a conservative who has since “come out” as an ally for LGBT rights. Don and Tim Wildmon, the heads of the multi-pronged anti-gay organization, are infamous for their Action Alerts, e-blasts to their members with some of the most inflammatory gay-baiting imaginable to rake in the homophobe dollars. I imagine some poor bigot in Tupelo, MS (HQ of the AFA), saving money from their meager paycheck to fund the AFA hate machine, in order to “protect marriage” or keep gays from adopting children. How many hungry or homeless people could that money help?
And of course, I can't go without mentioning Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth Against Homosexuality. For whatever reason, he seems to like to spar with me, asserting his belief that The Homosexual Agenda is brainwashing the American public, and taking our culture down the path of The Hell Express. Part of his efforts related to “exposing” the agenda is to attend events like Chicago's International Mr. Leather (on multiple occasions) undercover in leather gear to take pictures — to inform his readership, of course. Now how can I not write about that?
What does your wife think about your blogging? Does she have a role of any sort?
Kate is very supportive of my blogging, though she does worry that I don't get nearly enough sleep. She doesn't blog, but she has gone “on assignment” with me, helping to take pictures and stills at the last Servicemembers Legal Defense Network annual dinner, which I liveblogged. She finds it fascinating that by simply speaking my mind or wrestling with tough subjects online — that there are actually people directly involved in the LGBT rights movement that read my work with interest. She is glad that blogging has given voices outside the institutional infrastructure — mine, as well as many others — a chance to be heard.
Kate keeps me grounded. I'm just the geeky wife when not online. We plan on saving our pennies to take a nice long vacation to Vancouver, BC sometime soon (we married there in 2004) and escape blogworld for a while.
A busy blog AND a day job …..What helps you get during those wee hours … lots of coffee?
No coffee, but quite a bit of English breakfast tea, and a few Chessman cookies! The grind of writing 5-7 articles a day is taxing. My blogging software, Soapblox, does allow me to space the release of the posts I write overnight throughout the day so that there's fresh content for readers.
I try to keep myself motivated — if I can just keep the blog humming through the 2008 election and regime change I'll be happy! My “real” job is also quite consuming (I'm the IT Manager at Duke University Press), but unfortunately, like most bloggers, I don't have the lux
ury of quitting my day job to do political blogging full time.
Do you think the majority of mainstream journalists have come to understand the power of the blog? They're your most avid readers, right?
Oh yes, they definitely have realized that, and I know many journalists and staff of LGBT organizations read the blog, but are lurkers (they don't comment). Journalists are reading the blogs, but don't quite understand them very well yet. It's still somewhat of a wild west out here in blogtopia.
There are no deadlines — we're out here 24/7 analyzing and comparing stories, digging up facts and inconsistencies, that makes it difficult to compete. On the other hand, most bloggers are quite dependent on the mainstream media to do the original reporting — we do analysis and followup. It's a symbiotic relationship.
The bottom line is that many talented bloggers don't have the ad revenue, infrastructure or corporate expense account to travel and do original reporting that the mainstream press has. I generate enough ad revenue from the Blend to pay for hosting my site and to travel to some conferences/event, but it's limited. A major problem, of course, is that I don't live in D.C. or New York, where many LGBT-related political events occur, and I have to arrange to take time off from the day job to travel, which can be difficult. Those factors naturally cut down on a host of opportunities for many bloggers in similar situations.
Also, there is a fair amount of tension about access to events — bloggers aren't always granted media credentials, whereas traditional journalists don't have a problem getting access. Bloggers exist in a gray area to many organizations. It's slowly changing, and bloggers have to have a decent record of credible blogging under their belt to be recognized in the same way as mainstream journalists.
Are you optimistic that more lesbians will launch blogs? Any advice to those who do?
I hope there are more out there ready to take the plunge! More voices and perspectives are welcome. One piece of advice — don't be afraid to promote your work by commenting and leaving links to your work (known as blogwhoring) at sites you visit that have a similar feel. Email links to your favorite bloggers — nice ones will provide link love (link back to your blog). That's how I gained readership — and it's the right thing to do.
Regional and state blogging when it comes to LGBT issues are fertile ground to break into. Some of my most popular entries are about first-hand accounts (sometimes with photos or video) passed on from other bloggers about news events in their area that don't hit the major media — fundamentalist protests of local pro-LGBT legislation, gains made that can inform people in other small towns or cities about how to effect change at the local level. All of this is powerful activism — sharing information.
Also, be aware that it will take time, maybe a long time for your blog to get noticed. I had about 300 visitors a day for a long time, perhaps nearly a year, before it picked up.
And finally — find a writing style that is comfortable to you. Many blogs are personality-driven, I find those interesting. You can attempt to do straight reporting, but there are so many sites out there with more resources than you have that it's almost a fruitless endeavor.
Are you looking forward to the campaign months ahead?
I think the 2008 races will be very interesting to watch and blog about. The candidates know that the response time to gaffes and political miscues is almost immediate — that's why they are desperately wanting to get ahead of the blog curve. Campaigns on the left and the right, at local, state, and national levels, are figuring out that they really cannot ignore or co-opt bloggers. The army of keyboarders is too large.
Regarding the races and LGBT issues, I would like to think that the right-wing has retired its homosexual strawman after 2006, but something tells me they may have no choice, since they have boxed themselves in — the GOP presidential candidates have not only chosen to ignore LGBT issues, but have taken pretty fringe positions at this point — not opposing the repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” — come on, the American people are ahead of them on that count. Even Bush managed to squeak out vocal support for the concept of civil unions in the 2004 race. When you have Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, former supporters of the LGBT community running from their own positions, that's a party in shambles. At the very least, it will be entertaining to watch.
What has been the most surprising impact of your blog that you can point to?
That what I write seems to resonate with so many people all over the country — and around the world. It's pretty clear that there are many ways we can learn from one another as we work toward the common goal of equality. Our differences sometimes result in our talking past one another and not keeping our eyes on the prize of civil rights for all.
What really surprises me is the fact that I have been asked to speak or serve on panels because of my blogging. It's a pretty big leap of faith to think that someone typing away opinions as a hobby in their jammies in the dead of night in Durham, NC is going to be remotely interesting or enlightening as a panelist. That's the recovering introvert talking.
And I guess the flip side is that it's shocking to know that so many anti-gay activists read the blog frequently. I receive a ton of email (it's hard to keep up these days), but the taunts, reactions and comments that land in my inbox from these folks makes me think they are in a perpetual state of rage. You know you're popular with that crowd when they start emailing you links to their anti-gay diatribes — one landed in my inbox today. And yes, it was too unhinged to resist posting about it!
Would you say the Internet is still overwhelmingly skewed to the privileged? What are your thoughts about that?
Yes and no. There is definitely a gap of class (and racial) diversity in political blogging (it's only small slice of the blog world), but access to the Internet itself is not skewed only to the privileged.
The prices of computers have fallen through the floor, and within reach of most people of modest means; many people along the socioeconomic spectrum have at access now, through their job, school or home. Broadband (high-speed Internet) access is still problematic, particularly in rural areas, and the cost can be out of reach for many. If you only have dial-up, the Internet is an excruciating experience these days. There's the real gap — the speed gap.