Dear AirBnB… (a letter of concern)

21 04 2016

Dear AirBnB,

Wow, can you believe how far you have come in just 7 short years? Back then, when we first became hosts in early 2011, nobody had a clue what this was. Most of my friends looked at me with utter consternation and asked, “Wait, so… your’re letting a complete stranger sleep in your home??” with genuine concern for our safety.

After 5 years of hosting, in first a cozy town and then in a big city, I have to say that we have seen some amazing transformations over the life of AirBnB. Some are great! Some not so great. We have mixed feelings about others.

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We host because we LOVE our neighborhood. We also love to travel. So, we love to share all our favorite things about our town with visitors, to help them have the best possible locavore experience during their stay in Indy. And we get to learn about where our guests are from, their own culture, and their own adventures in traveling this magnificent globe!

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As AirBnB has grown, there has been some controversy.
I’ve read all about the stuff transpiring in big cities like NYC & Paris, and the more recent public battle in San Fran. I certainly did not like what was happening there, and was grateful that problem didn’t affect us in our much smaller city.

 

cropped_initiatives-fountain-square_web_1413983859-e1460575659170In the past 6-12 months, however, I have seen a dramatic change in our neighborhood, now that AirBnB is becoming so much more popular. Not in a good way. Outside investors are now flying into Indy, gobbling up cheap rental houses (where our friends who work as busboys and poets used to live). These investors are then flipping these cost-effective rentals- installing granite counters, white subway tile, and stainless steel appliances- and kicking out the local folks to make more money on AirBnB. They are providing ZERO personal, local flavor, and are turning AirBnB into a vapid money-making scheme.

 

What we LOVED about AirBnB, was the personal touch!! And now we are getting crowded out of our own neighborhood so someone who lives in California, or New York, can “get rich quick.” This seems SO opposite of the core values and mission of AirBnB. Or at least that’s what we thought. Were we wrong?

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What do YOU  think, AirBnB?

Is having absentee hosts the kind of transformation you envisioned when you went public?

If not, change is in order.

 

Here are my thoughts. It’s time to clamp down and make hosts have limitations, in order to preserve that personal, local flavor that differentiated you in the marketplace in the first place. I would propose these three simple steps to preserving the character of the peer-to-peer platform:

 

  1. Hosts must live in the zip code they host in. Period. NO LONG DISTANCE HOSTING.
  2. 12801628_10209410092079465_5208121896916928251_nHosts must give the option to GREET guests in person, when desired by the guest. No more of this absentee host bullshit. Sure, sometimes we are traveling too, and cannot meet in person- but we always let the guests know that when they book! And if we are in town, we ALWAYS offer to give them a quick tour and walk them to the square, and usually grab a drink with them if they like. That’s why most of our former AirBnB guests become actual friends. It’s so awesome!
  3. Put a cap on how many listings one host can have! I just heard about one person who has TWENTY HOUSES that he lists on AirBnB in our vicinity. Twenty!!! How personal could that possibly be??? Honestly, we have 4 active listings (2 entire houses and 2 rooms in our home), and sometimes it can take a lot to keep everybody straight when you have a lot of folks checking in and out every day or two. I don’t know what the right number is, but I think you could limit hosts to something like 6 or 8, and that would still be pretty generous, and stop greedy outsiders from kicking all the long term renters out of our neighborhood.

 

 

gentrification-620x350Gentrification sucks. I know that it’s a complex issue that I won’t resolve in the next two paragraphs, but as much as we can, we should be trying to transition neighborhoods in a way that builds & strengthens community while maintaining diversity.

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We use our income from AirBnB to subsidize rent for local folks in our other rental. Our own personal business model is a 1-for-1 ratio of AirBnB to local folks. It pays our mortgages, while also preserving the rich cultural socioeconomic diversity that makes our neighborhood so desirable. It’s in AirBnB’s best interest to be invested in preserving this diversity as well. I know that when I travel, I don’t want to get stuck in some stuffy neighborhood where all the houses look perfectly quaffed, everyone looks the same & is afraid to hang out on their front porch for fear of the “others.” But that is exactly what will eventually happen if AirBnB does not do something to stop this money-hungry transformation that our neighborhood is starting to succumb to.

2016-04-20_16-26-18I sincerely hope you are still reading this, and that you take our suggestions to heart. We loved AirBnB, but at this point we are less and less interested in sharing our host experience with others because the market is so over-saturated, and starting to lose some of its core values. I hope you are as committed to preserving the local, personal aspect that made AirBnB so successful in the first place. I know we are.

 

10492426_677134702369157_7868290351175616890_nSincerely,

Your 5-year SuperHost,

Kelly Weger

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It’s not a ‘Femme’ Thing – The Power of Clothing & Identity

1 04 2016

The Tomboy & the Awkward Teens

Growing up, I was a pretty awesome tomboy. I ran to keep up with my two older brothers, scraping knees and dirtying dresses to try to climb into the forbidden tree house in the woods. I caught frogs and bathed turtles in the dog’s water bowl. As a preteen, I went back and forth between wearing baggy clothes to hide my shape, and conceding to my best friend’s fashion advice about short shorts and makeup. Like many girls that age, I struggled to be comfortable in my own skin as I tried to define who I was. However, I was the girl who always picked up other people for photos, in order to prove my strength. I also taught myself how to sew my own clothing around age 14 in order to create a unique style that fit my body the way I wanted it to.

 

 

I learned the incredible power that clothing can have over perception. Dressing like a girl also meant being ogled as a girl. Sexism was alive and rampant, and men from 16 to 60 regularly honked or made comments as I walked down our small town streets. My best friend thought it was cool to get hit on by older men, and she loved the attention. I, on the other hand, hated it. I didn’t want boys to see me that way, and I developed a fear of being stared at or hit on by the opposite sex. If I’m invisible, I’m safe from that objectification.

By the time I started college, I had overcome much of my body image issues, thanks in large part to the unconditional love of my high school sweetheart, who is by and far the most respectful man I have ever met. With his gentle love and support, I started to feel confident in myself, and in control of my life. I dressed how I felt best, and didn’t concern myself with what other people thought. I started to shed myself  of the most eclectic attire that I hid behind in my youth, and started to search out a style that could be both uniquely my own, but also professional. As I started my career as a young Architect, I liked looking put together, because it made me feel like an adult who deserves to be heard. I dressed for respect.

 

Dressing for ‘Real Life’

I donned appropriately fitted suits at work, trying to balance comfort and professionalism with pieces of feminine flair. As a young woman in a male-dominated field, I had to balance many aspects of my appearance, to look serious, yet distinctive. I had no desire to repeat the offenses of the 1980s, with ridiculously bulky shoulder pads to compete with male body types. I had to look like a peer, but not a dude. In lieu of the fashion-forward blouses that the secretaries and interior designers wore, I learned to wear conservative collared shirts in collars beyons the blue or white of my male counterparts. If I was feeling a blue pin stripe sort of mood, I might add -(gasp!)- dangling, sparkly earrings! I wore my long hair mostly up in a bun or a low ponytail, but would let it down when I felt the need to look more feminine. Outside of work, I was still an active athlete, and often wore comfortable shorts with ample pockets, and practical sports bras beneath tank tops or t-shirts. You never know when you might run into someone with a frisbee and have an impromptu game of ultimate, after all! I owned one pair of strappy black dress shoes with a chunky heel that I could walk in, for that rare occasion that required me to wear a dress. For the most part, I dressed only feminine enough to be clearly identified as a woman, but never accused of being ‘girly.’

Even in my twenties, being hit on by guys gave me the creeps. I avoided unwanted male attention by dressing in a way that should not say, “Hey look at me!” and I think I escaped the worst of the sleaze. Yet, it still happens, and no matter how polite or nice the guy may be, I never know how to respond, and I hate the attention. Being in a long term relationship gave me a shield to protect myself from such unwanted attention, and I learned to quickly insert “my boyfriend” into all conversations with the opposite sex- just to be clear. I had no interest in any other men, and was grateful to have the safety of my relationship to help fend off occasional suitors.

 

Switching Teams- the Lesbian Uniform

My previous partner of 14 years is a very masculine man, tall, with broad shoulders, strong arms, a square jaw, and a deep voice. Compared to him, even in combat boots, or chuck a boos, I was always the feminine one.

Then, at the age of 29, I met a woman. Not just any woman, but my soulmate. And a lesbian.

Nothing can prepare you for switching from straight culture to gay culture. Everything you think you know about who you are and your place in society is rapidly dispelled. Dating a woman is entirely different than dating a man! There’s no ‘his’ and ‘hers’ expectations, no gender roles to despise, you are suddenly free to follow your heart! The dichotomy of masculine and feminine almost entirely disappears. (Almost). There are no longer any lines in the sand, or an understood balance of yin and yang. Nobody looks at you and asks, “why is SHE going to play with the guys while her boyfriend makes dinner?” In reality, I found this transformation quite liberating, yet I learned just how much I still clung to those stereotypes that I fought so hard to break down.

 

Pin the Tail on the “Femme”

When I started dating Bethany, everything changed. She herself is a dichotomy of masculine and feminine, with her short but funky hairstyle, her feminine curves, and her extensive tattoos. She can rock a dress all night long, only to change into carharts and wrench on her motorcycle the next morning. Being next to her suddenly brought into question some parts of my own identity that I never expected. When people see us together, especially straight people, they immediately want to categorize us, to be able to clearly label us, in order to push their own comfortable, hetero-normative gender roles onto us.

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“Which one of you is the ‘boy’?” the unfamiliar breeders sometimes wonder. As offensive as this question is, in gay culture, the same things still happens, except it’s ‘butch’ and ‘femme’ instead of ‘boy’ and ‘girl.’  So when people see us together, they see Bethany’s tattoos and short hair, and immediately decide that she’s the butch and I must be – by default- the femme. F-E-M-M-E. Me??? Seriously? At first, I was extremely offended. I’m not a girly-girl, by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, people want to put a label on me, and my long hair seems to be the only indicator they can see, so… “Femme” it is. All the sudden, now that I’m with a woman, my context has changed how people perceive me.  When she dresses ‘butch,’ I end up feeling more ‘femme,’ by default.

Looks can be deceiving. The reality is, I’m the one who gets called to remove the icky spider from the bathroom. I’m the one who deals with the tiniest occurrence of blood. I’m the patient yet tough negotiator. I’m the one who comes in from the yard with dirt under her fingernails every weekend. I’m the one who hates makeup. And I’m the Femme???

My wife is the one who loves getting dressed up in elaborate costumes with full, dramatic makeup. She’s the one with both a shoe and a wig collection that would make Theater Bizarre folks jealous. She’s the one who is sensitive and passionate, in need of more cajoling and reassurance. She’s the one who is incredibly thoughtful and considerate, and remembers everyone’s birthdays. So does that mean she’s the femme??

 

The truth is, we both are both. We joke that I’m a femmey butch, and she is the butchy femme. Within each of us, we have both feminine and masculine characteristics that play to our strengths.

 

Learning all the nuances of lesbian gender roles and identity is tough when you are new to the gay scene. Nothing translates from my previous life as a straight ciswoman.

 

Learning to Embrace Femininity

As a feminine tomboy, becoming an open lesbian was a real game changer. Suddenly, I had a new title that was way more effective than “taken” to ward off male attention. In the past, some men would literally hit on me and say “I don’t care if you’re married.” GROSS. But now, as a lesbian, I’m completely off the table for straight guys. (Obviously, there can be a sidebar conversation here about monogamy and polyamory, but that is outside the scope of my expertise or interest). Unlike the straight version of myself, being gay suddenly felt liberating. I now finally understand why it bothered me SO much when men hit on me. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t single, or that an individual was unattractive, it was truly that what I did not want sexual attention any men.

 

1898110_761767903905836_219651953483986976_nAs I learned what it meant to be comfortable with the title of lesbian, a shocking realization occurred. I spent decades of my life trying to break the perception of a woman being weak and frilly and liking to cook and clean. I revolted against traditional women’s work, even refusing to learn to cook until my mid twenties, because “that’s what they want women to be good at.”  I had never even made a pot of coffee in my life until I became a lesbian. Take that, male chauvinism! Now that I was no longer bound by the stereotypical gender roles, I learned that I can actually enjoy being feminine.

 

Suddenly, instead of fighting for an expansion of equal gender roles, I could do whatever I wanted. With my beautiful soulmate at my side, I was liberated to be masculine one day or feminine the next, without fear of bringing down the perception of women as a whole. I enjoyed the secret pleasure of knowing that I could do more pushups than most of the people in a room, while wearing elegant attire. Wearing a dress still sometimes feels like I’m in drag, but I love it. It’s fun!

Most of all, my wife makes me feel beautiful and sexy in a whole new way, that makes me want to dress more flirtatious around her. Over the first year or two after coming out as gay, I rediscovered and redefined myself as a woman. I finally felt entitled to claim my femininity, without fear that it would discredit my other strengths. It was a glorious discovery, and a journey that I hope will never end!

 

Sincerely yours,

A happy, femmey butch








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