I got another one of those gross MySpace messages this morning. You know, the "hey baby, nice tits, I want u 2 suck my dick" kind?
I get sexually harassed on the internet -- and on the street -- a fair amount. I've developed a thick skin about it, because if I got seriously traumatized every time someone made an uncomfortable comment about my sexuality, gender, or body, I'd never go online or leave the goddamn house. Sexual harassment is pretty par for the course for women (both cis and trans) in general, but I've participated in a lot of discussion recently about sexual weirdness towards women in online communities - everything from gross MySpace messages like the one I just received, to outright stalking. A disturbingly high percentage of men on Teh Interwebs see "woman" and "internet" in the same sentence and just assume "sexually available." The same way that a disturbingly high percentage of men see a girl walking down the street and think "Hey, she's A WOMAN, therefore she is sexually available to me and I am fully entitled to say whatever I want to her."
I know that, in my case, a lot of the web harassment has to do with the fact that I talk about sex, I openly cruise on the web, and I've got sexually suggestive photos of myself online. I'm aware that that makes me an easy target. But I'm wary of people who tell me that if I didn't post such sexy photos or talk about cocksucking, I wouldn't get harassed. That's disturbingly close to "Well, you wouldn't have been raped if you hadn't worn that dress!"
Posting a photo of yourself on Flickr where you show some cleavage is not asking for harassment. The same way that wearing a low-cut top walking down the street doesn't mean you suddenly want everyone you pass to comment on your breast size. Having a profile on a personals site is not the same thing as asking for harassment. The same way that being sexually open and exhibitionist doesn't mean you're immediately consenting to sex with every person you meet.
It's possible to be slutty and not want everyone's attention all the time. It's possible to invite people to cruise you, to welcome desire, and to still say no sometimes. Saying yes a lot doesn't make a slut's "no's" any less valid.
I also think it's important to distinguish between flirtation and obnoxiousness, because I'm sadly certain that some of the dudes writing those "baby, I want 2 hit it!!!1!" messages really do think they're being flirty and not creepy.
Flirtatious and cordial cruising done with some style is a hot and excellent thing. I once had a woman flirt with me online by emailing me that she loved my writing, my curls, and my vintage dresses, and that I was exactly the kind of girl she wanted to... well, that's between us. It was nice and sexy without being sleazy. She obviously respected me (and for the record, she got dates out of it).
I think the key to internet flirting is also the key to in-person flirting: a balance of confidence, humility, and grace. Don't presume the other person is going to say yes. Don't act all entitled to their attention and/or ass. Just be your sweet, sexy, and charming self, and hope for the best.