Not too long ago I met the lovely Tonya Kay in person, when she last performed in my town with the burlesque group, The Lalas.
Guys, I’m totally starstruck. I’m telling you, Tonya Kay is the fucking bomb: She’s funny, engaging, super-talented, motivated, on the ball, open, energetic, really friendly, and has been performing since she was four years old. (Not to mention, she blogs for Pyragraph from time to time.)
That night, she mentioned something about tactics public figures can use to protect themselves from the crazies/creepers/stalkers (I’m paraphrasing, here), and having a bit of experience with crazies/creepers/stalkers myself, I wanted to ask her some questions about it.
We had a great talk about gender, self-protection, personal boundaries and how to manage them.
I realized I must start giving fans a place to interact with my permission.
Sage Harrington: You’ve been a performer for many years. I can imagine that you’ve been dealing with this nonsense for a long time! When did it start?
Tonya Kay: I’ve been performing since I was four and doing it professionally for 23 years. As soon as you are performing for the public, you naturally have fans. All fans have different personalities — they are just people like us, of course! Some fans are legitimate fans of your work and will follow you on social media, come to your live shows, watch you on television or rent your movie on iTunes. Some fans want to interact more and will request autographs in the mail, request photos after the show, start and continue conversations with you. Some fans want to give gifts.
Some get confused and think they know you personally or are sure you should know them personally — and that’s where it’s unacceptable.
All performers have fans. Performers young in the business or young in the exposure part of the business innocently don’t realize they have fans — or innocently don’t realize all fans have different personalities. It wasn’t until I was on tour in STOMP that my fan base was large enough that I realized how many different types of fans there are out there.
That’s when I realized I must start giving fans a place to interact with my permission.
At that time, social media wasn’t a thing. So I started a forum called the Lonely Garden and what a beautiful place it was — I became actual friends with many of the members of the Lonely Garden from back then and still follow their careers today! I hired someone to build a website that listed all my tour dates so fans could come see me. Nowadays you can build social networks and keep your interactions all online if you like.
Building places like forums, fan pages, etc. — this is not just a place you are offering fans to interact with you where you feel safe and public, but also a place where you can host your fans! Let’s face it, performers enjoy the fan relationship as much as the fans themselves. We want fans and authentic human interactions as much as they do! But all of us want to feel safe, comfortable and free to express ourselves appropriate to that relationship.
Dangerous, abusive, negative fans are irrational. You cannot think them through; you cannot predict their behavior.
Tonya, that is so rad! Way to use the resources available to you. Especially since I’ve read in some of your Pyraposts that you once considered yourself a technophobe. So, how can a “newbie” — someone who’s never had a gross or scary interaction with a fan — know who/how to screen out the bad ones? Some guidelines?
A fellow performer that I admire and respect very much had the worst-case scenario with a dangerous fan/stalker. It changed his life entirely in ways no one wants to change. He said the most enlightening words to me and I will share them with all my performer — heck, human — friends: “You cannot rationalize the irrational.”
Say it to yourself and listen to it.
YOU CANNOT RATIONALIZE THE IRRATIONAL.
Dangerous, abusive, negative fans are irrational. You cannot think them through, you can not screen them out, you cannot predict their behavior. It is irrational!
So we as public figures must set up a SAFE, COMFORTABLE, PUBLIC place where all fans are invited to interact with us. This safe, comfortable and public place has no private information available to either party. Your website does not host a phone number, address or even email address.
If contacted via those means, the contact is not visibly PUBLIC so it is not where fans get to interact. A phone call is not public. An email is not public. A visit to your work address is not public. In anyone’s life, private contact is reserved for family and friends. Fans are not family and they are not friends. Remember that. They may become both if invited! But they are not, as fans, invited to your privacy.
I draw lines quickly and clearly nowadays.
So social media: Google+, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, etc. These places are public. Any interaction is viewable by the public and the public is the strongest community functioning on taboo you have as a public figure. My fans OFTEN put a negative fan or harassing fan in their place for me. I’ve had two fans become abusive in the comments on various blogs I’ve written — they stop when they realize their comments are public or they are shamed by the public for behavior we all know is wrong towards any human being, including performers. You can block someone on social networks. And so on.
There are services like Google Voice that offer a virtual phone number so even your “trusted” work confidants do not have your private number. Contact forms on websites should always be what they call blind submit forms so that your email address is nowhere in the source code of the website and no fan can lift it, nor can any spammers. You can rent a P.O. box to use for your address on ALL THINGS, or, I often just use my agent’s address, making even the simple sending of a gift to me a visibly public action.
I have had to learn oodles of personal info lock-down tactics by error, and have had to train my family and friends on locking down their private info, as well as keeping mine locked down with me. The fact is, humans love humans! We live in cities, we communicate and create art to connect, we WANT to have fans and friends and family surrounding us abundantly! But there’s no reason we shouldn’t do that in a SAFE, COMFORTABLE and PUBLIC setting.
I share a lot of my personal life as a career, but there’s a lot I don’t share, too.
A lot of musicians I know share their email addresses on their websites. I didn’t at first but then added it at the suggestion of a fellow musician who said that it’s nice for it to be there should you get the “big call” (from a record label or some such organization). You’re suggesting a blind submit form instead? Or could you just screen the emails that seem to be sent from fans vs. the ones that seem to be sent from professionals?
Absolutely NO PRIVATE EMAIL on websites. NO PRIVATE INFORMATION at all. Blind submit forms allow you to receive a communication without the other party having your private information. Email is private because the public can’t read what was written to you.
But really, at this point, there is no reason for a fan to even email me. I have social networks and am available to interact on them. And for the professionals, I have agents aplenty who can take calls, inquiries and pass along prospective clients to me. I say, use blind submit forms if you must. Then create an email address that is used JUST to receive anything from the blind submit form so you can terminate it easily and without repercussion at any time if needed.
Do not think just because you are “small time” that you are exempt.
As much as I hate to admit it, my creepy “fan” interactions are really draining emotionally. I don’t feel like doing anything in public/online. I just want to kind of hide away, feel grumpy and violated, and heal. At least for a while. How do you avoid letting this stuff get to you?
Stuff DOES get to me. My lover notices that I am irritated for no reason or just in a bad mood sometimes — and I have to tell him (he doesn’t use social media) what happened online. Or if I am actually concerned for my safety, he is there for me — he bought me a fucking taser — and he takes my safety requests seriously. Like if I text him at 3am after a gig to walk me home, he’s there.
Emotionally, I crack down harder on my privacy every time a dangerous or even creepy stalker surfaces. And I draw lines quickly and clearly nowadays. I do what I need to do to feel safe.
Emotions always change, so I let the negative ones move on by interacting positively with some of my awesome fans online.
There are so many awesome people out there doing cool stuff — I tell myself, “Why focus on the douchebag when I could focus on the hundreds of other inspiring people that follow me instead?”
Someone like me, who totally feels like I’m not on anyone’s radar, would think that this couldn’t happen to me. But it can happen to anyone!
Everyone in the public eye has fans. This includes all professional and semi-professional artists. Do not think just because you are “small time” or “a male” or “a chef, not an actor” that you are exempt. If you start talking to your fellow artist friends of whatever gender, discipline, level of exposure, you will get their “stalker” or “creepy fan” or “abusive co-worker” story. There is no reason to live in fear, but simply make sure you provide that SAFE, COMFORTABLE and PUBLIC place to interact early and you can get to know people and let them get to know your work!
Photo courtesy of Tonya Kay.