Almost old enough to drink (the blog turns 20), almost old enough for kindergarten (my blog turns 4)

Birthday cupcakeNormally, I would just post a news item to the Book of Faces and be done with it. But this one? Nah! That wouldn’t do it justice. It has to be answered in the form of a blog post:

Not sure of the exact birthdate, but the blog turns 20 this year. And all of us who have used this medium to share some of ourselves should give credit where credit’s due.

Until I read this story from the Guardian this morning (and thanks to Jim Romenesko for tipping us off via his blog), I hadn’t given much thought to how the weblog began or who invented it. I mean, do you think of Gottlieb Daimler when you sit behind the wheel and turn the key? I wouldn’t be able to pick Justin Hall or Meg Hourihan or Dave Winer out of a lineup if my life depended on it, but wherever you are, thanks much. Maybe my life would be a little different, and not for the better, had there not been a blogosphere.

Read on …

Like just about anything else on the Web, all of us bloggers have adapted and used the medium to suit our own needs.

In my case, my initial need was twofold: to better position myself in the job world in the teeth of unemployment and the worst economic depression in 80 years; and to re-train myself to write.

In January 2010, eight months after my layoff from The Fresno Bee, stuck in the middle of California with no job prospects and already a rising sea of resumes that had gone unanswered, I was stuck for solutions. My friend Jennifer Ward, who had been the interactive editor at the Bee, had just lost her job as well, so she suggested we meet up for coffee at my hangout coffee shop in the Tower District, Revue (which has been sold since I moved home to Connecticut and renamed Mia Cuppa).

(Jen, BTW, landed on her feet very well. She and her husband, Scott, both unrepentant geeks and hardcore gamers, followed their passion into putting together a business plan, taking out a small-business loan, and opening an extremely successful game store in Fresno called the Crazy Squirrel. There always seems to be a tournament going on there.)

She said that, in order to show prospective employers that I was adept with social media — a huge necessity — I should have a blog, a Facebook account and a Twitter account. I said no to Facebook — I wasn’t out yet to anyone back home besides my family and closest friends, and besides, the same people who were saying “You’ve gotta get on Facebook!” wee the same ones who, three years before, were saying “You’ve gotta get on MySpace!” So I avoided the Book of Faces — well, for another year, anyway …

But I did set up a Twitter account … and Jen helped me set up this here WordPress blog, and I started playing around and figuring out what suited me best.

Now, to figure out what to write about …

I had written for newspapers for 20 years, as a sportswriter, entertainment editor and music writer, before I moved to Fresno from New Haven in March 2004. And I was just burnt on writing; at the New Haven Register, where I doubled as the entertainment editor and music writer for 11 1/2 years, I was cramming the equivalent of 2 1/2 full-time jobs into a 55-to-60-hour work week for one lousy 37 1/2-hour paycheck.

And when I landed in California, for a strictly editing position as an assistant features editor at the Bee, I set aside writing — figuratively, it was out in the garage with a bunch of other things that sat unpacked. I didn’t realize until the rubber band snapped that I was that burnt on writing. Save for an occasional CD or book review on Amazon, I didn’t write anything, save for letters and long emails, for six years.

And now, the chance to show the job world I was still relevant was giving me an reason — an excuse, really — to write again. But what about?

Writing had been a mental muscle that had gone flabby. I didn’t want to fill the Web world with trivial little posts about what I ate or where I went; I mean, why? So, what do you want to write about, Frannie?

Then my New Orleans Saints (one of my two favorite football teams) made it to the Super Bowl.

The actual birthdate of Franorama 2.0 — the day I sat down with Jen — was Jan. 13, 2010. My first blog post was on Feb. 7 — Super Bowl Sunday. Wrote it two hours before the game. Followed that up, a couple of Jamesons and Bass chasers and a belly full of food later, after the Saints’ victory.

Then, crickets.

I groped here and there, trying to find a niche. Did a movie review, some album reviews here and there

And then, two months later — my “Duh!” moment. My thunderbolt moment.

I read a story from that morning’s Los Angeles Times — a Column One feature, on the left of page one, about one of their own. Mike Penner, one of their sportswriters (and not much older than me), who came out in 2007 as Christine Daniels — and went back in the closet the following year, then committed suicide over Thanksgiving weekend of 2009, just as I was going through some serious struggles of my own.

I first read about the transition not too long before my own little self-revelation, in January 2008. And I was both fascinated and happy for her. And now this became my cautionary tale. This story ran less than three weeks before I was to take my first hormone shot, and it was a major pause for thought, one of the several speed bumps I encountered as I asked, “Do I really want to go through with this?”

Anyway, I had found a niche. I would write about my transition. The purpose, again, was twofold: to teach my friends and family what this was that I was going through; and to get some of my thoughts down in print in the hopes of writing a book.

And along the way, I would still write about other things as they hit me, be they music or the uncategorizable. Having an outlet to write — and knowing at least some people were reading it — sure helped me keep what little was left of my sanity, as the unemployment inexplicably dragged on into years instead of months.

And a funny thing happened along the way: On those rare occasions when I did get job interviews, the blog was one of the things that got me in the door.

Three years ago, I interviewed for a copy editor job at Miller-McCune (now known as Pacific Standard), a news magazine based in Santa Barbara. And the first thing the director of the foundation  running the magazine said to me was “I really enjoyed your blog.”

Since California is one of the few states where gender-identity discrimination is illegal, prospective employers can’t ask about gender transition. I realized, at that moment, that it was her way of saying, “We know about your transition and we’re cool with it.” I didn’t get the job, as the editor-in-chief  put in his notice three weeks later (though I did freelance for them that summer, which helped keep me from total financial ruin). I’m friends with one of the then-copy editors, and she told me a year or so ago that everyone wrote down their top three candidates on pieces of paper, and I was No. 1 on all of them. Truly, the transition was not a problem.

And it happened in the fall of 2012, not long after I moved home, when I interviewed for six hours for an associate news producer job at ESPN, 20 minutes from the house. The editor and I were small-talking as she walked me back to the shuttle bus stop at day’s end, and she said “I read your blog.” I knew going in that being trans wouldn’t be a hindrance to getting a job at The World Wide Leader, but it was nice to hear that. (Being left on the hook six weeks before she rejected me in a voicemail wasn’t so nice, but you get the idea.)

*****

This last year, the writing has been a struggle. Fewer people read blogs, for one. Hardly anyone was reading what I had to offer anymore; I figured I wore out my welcome. For another, as the lack of full-time employment ground on past the four-year mark, I truly felt worthless and useless and preparing for one last freefall.

I was still writing from a personal place, but the focus of my gender writings morphed from personal revelations — after all, the transition became old-hat a long time ago — to gender identity as the last frontier of civil rights. I’ve always viewed my place in the world as “Look at us!” more than “Look at me!,” and information/education has always been a big part of this blog.

This hasn’t come without some deal of hurt. I got some initial pushback from some unexpected places when I put up a post last March, as the Supreme Court was hearing arguments over marriage equality — and many folks, in their rush to show support, adopted Facebook profile pictures of the logo of the so-called “Human Rights” Campaign, an organization traditionally hostile to transpeople. I put up a lengthy and impassioned response, and eventually some people did come around, but it was a painful process, with some of the reactions I received from people I knew a long time and who had been supportive of me.

So now that I’m back to work and my Mom’s on the mend from her long illness, I’m thinking I should write my damn book; I had totally given up on that because of the aforementioned sense of worthlessness in recent years and because of the growing sense that “No one reads my blog anymore; who the fuck is gonna want to read my book?”

But I’ve seen how a blog can become a successful book. Lori Duron, a wife and mother in Orange County, CA, had been writing about her own unique gender struggle: bringing up a kindergarten-age and gender-nonconforming son, C.J., in a red-state area of the country. And her blog, Raising My Rainbow, became a book last fall (which I now plan to buy, now that I’m again employed).

Anyway, maybe this blog gets me to the next thrilling — and perhaps successful — chapter of my life. Maybe this gets me the book I want to write, and it sends me into the stratosphere. Who knows? Maybe it’ll just be one of a million books about transpeople by that point, and who the hell wants to read another?

But without the invention of the blog 20 years ago, maybe I don’t have a fighting chance of writing this book. So now to stop fighting myself and write …

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