Every now and again on the internet, somebody comes out and loudly proclaims that they’re going to let their freak flag fly.
Usually, they communicate this via a sentence with two clauses. The first clause says something freaky, and the second clause says, “and I’m PROUD OF IT.”
Sometimes the something freaky is relatively commonplace. “I like to dance a lot”, for example, or “I watch American Idol.” These are small, simple things that probably don’t affect someone’s desire to do commerce with you.
Sometimes the something freaky is a matter of identity. “I’m gay” or “I’m a Republican” or “I’m a gay Republican.” These are bigger things that can affect someone’s desire to do commerce with you – in either direction. If they share or approve of your identity, it might increase your chances. If they disapprove of your identity, it might decrease them.
Sometimes the something freaky is, well, freaky. “I have four wives”, for example, or “I regularly contemplate suicide”. These things are outside of the mainstream. They might scare or confuse people. They might be illegal, or deemed to be dangerous. These are the things that definitively affect desire to do commerce with you – again, in either direction.
As an internet business owner or personality brand, there’s a lot of internal debate as to whether it’s truly safe to let your freak flag fly.
Can I say I have purple hair?
Can I say I’m into BDSM?
Can I say I voted for Bush?
These are the things we think about.
For some business owners, their freakiness is a critical part of their brand. Yes, they’re an accountant, but they also do roller derby. See? They’re quirky!
For others, it’s an ideological issue. Certain issues about their past or present are key parts of their identities or politics, and they only want to do business with people who share those identities or politics.
But… is it safe?
It depends on your definition of safe.
When some people ask this question, they’re asking, “Will I lose money?”
When others ask, they’re asking, “Will I get attacked?”
When still others ask, they’re asking, “Will I still be loved?”
Depending on how freaky you are, and depending on your line of work, yes, you may lose money. If you are flying your flag for legitimate ideological or political reasons, then you’re probably okay with that.
People like me can probably help you find markets that gel with your particular brand of freak, and you’ll probably be okay. But the thing about ideological flag flying is that those who really mean it? They’re usually okay even if they’re not okay. They’re okay with being not okay. Something else matters more.
At the same time, with the right branding, yes, a degree of freakiness can actually gain you money. If you’re the best drag queen web designer in Texas, well, yeah. There’s probably a market for that. That market doesn’t know that it exists yet, but good news travels fast.
Next, physical or virtual safety.
Certain types of freakiness tend to spark violence. Some people get pretty darn angry when they come into contact with politics they don’t agree with. Some people don’t want there to be any drag queen web designers in Texas, or anywhere else for that matter.
In some industries, just being a woman is freaky enough to get rocks thrown at you.
The freakier you are and the more public you are, the more likely you are to get attacked, physically or virtually. If one of your life missions is to stand up and take those attacks so that the world will one day change, I commend and respect you. You’re doing God’s work, and you know it. Thank you.
But if you’re not ready to take on that mantel, you might want to keep your mouth shut and your head down. If you’re freaky and public about it, yup, somebody’s going to attack. If you can’t handle that, be less freaky, or be less public.
There is a prevailing belief in many circles that says that the weirder you are, the better you are. Like Dr. Kelly says – we have a fear of being ordinary. (Edit: Apparently he got that from Brene Brown.) There are certain belief systems that say that if you’re a relatively normal person, you are de facto a loser. There is a countercultural belief that if we are weird enough, we will be awesome, and therefore loved.
Having purple hair does not make you awesome because to think that would be hairist. If you think purple hair makes you more awesome, ipso facto you think un-purple hair is less awesome. That’s hairism. Not cool. See a shrink.
The blending of business and personal on the internet – in partnership with our old pal social media – has made many people measure the amount they are loved in Facebook shares, retweets, blog comments and, yes, sales.
So if we let our freak flag fly and people say, “You’re awesome” and then they buy stuff? We feel safe. But if they don’t say we’re awesome or they don’t buy stuff? Total identity collapse and reinforcement of every mean thing anybody ever said.
What each of us needs to think about – and think about honestly – is WHY we want to fly that freak flag in the first place.
I will list possible reasons, from least frequent to most frequent.
First, and least common, is genuine politics or ideology. If it’s truly political or ideological, you might have a need to know that the people you’re working with are your idea of “good people”. They can’t be gay bashers or racists or cat owners or whatever.
In those cases, you must understand that you are choosing to let your ideology take precedence over profit. You are allowed to do this. Yes, you might make more money, and yes, you might make less. You must be okay with that. You’re allowed to influence it – you don’t have to sit idly by and watch the bills pile up. But you have to understand that this is your choice and, yes, be proud of it.
If you think your freak flag makes you hip or quirky or cool, well, you might be right at the surface level. If you are seeking primarily shallow or inexpensive interactions, hip, quirky coolness can lead to a temporary spike in sales. This is also true if you’re selling a relatively competitive commodity. If I can buy what you sell on every street corner, and both price and quality are pretty much the same, your quirky coolness might be a market advantage.
Be aware, though, that if the purchase really matters, people will pick quality over affinity every time. Even other Texan drag queens will buy 100 great, cheap websites from a boring loser before they buy one mediocre or overpriced one from someone “just like them”.
But the most common reason I see for flag flying is simple insecurity. The flyer was hurt or rejected, probably repeatedly. Early life sucked, and it didn’t improve much. They feel oppressed and repressed. In response, they have decided that GODDAMNIT THEY’RE GOING TO LET THEIR FREAK FLAG FLY.
It is important to note that, while this is reactionary, it is allowed. It’s your business. You can do whatever you want. If you want to turn your business into a form of therapy or redemption or activism, that is your right.
But it is reactionary.
If I decide that my Mormon upbringing was too repressive and I respond to that by saying a particular dirty word fifteen times a post, I get to do that. And you get to be offended by it.
If I decide that women aren’t entitled to act sexually in society and I respond to that by dressing in barely more than a bikini, I get to do that. And your wife gets to tell you you’re not allowed to read IttyBiz anymore. (Your employer is also allowed to firewall me.)
If I decide that the world is mean to fat people and I respond to that by becoming a loud weight activist all over my business blog, I get to do that. And you get to find it boring and unrelated.
The challenge that comes with creating a hybrid between business and therapy (or business and redemption, or business and activism) is that it’s hard to prioritize both. It’s hard to serve both masters. Generally, these businesses aren’t very therapeutic, they aren’t very redemptive, they aren’t very activisitic, and they aren’t very profitable.
Bummer, but so it goes.
Here’s the takeaway: If somebody is freaked out by you, they will not trust you.
If they do not trust you, they will not engage in meaningful commerce with you.
And I’m not just talking about those pesky rich, white, Republican males. This is true for everybody. As a species, we are genetically programmed to fear those who are unlike us. It’s in our DNA, and it takes CONSTANT strength, open-mindedness and perseverance to override this reflex.
Yes, the white Republican male is likely to be a little freaked out by the drag queen, but here’s the part that we, the elitist liberal left, don’t like to mention. The drag queen is freaked out by the white Republican male, as well.
The white Republican male says, “Eeew, why do you have to be so out there? What are you trying to prove? What are you trying to hide?” Yes. Yes, he does.
But the drag queen does the same thing. The drag queen says, “Eeew, why do YOU have to be so fake and boring? What are YOU trying to prove? What are YOU trying to hide?”
This is not an issue about freak flags. This is not an issue of politics or ideology. Ultimately, this is an issue about the marketplace.
Anything you do to limit your market limits your market.
Sometimes that creates an amazing polarity that makes you rich like Scrooge McDuck.
Sometimes that creates the lulling melody of chirping crickets and collection calls.
If you want to let your freak flag fly, you won’t get any argument from me. But you have to know why you’re doing it, and you have to take responsibility for the consequences.