Let's talk about white dudes!
Last week, our Gender Matters columnist Akiba Solomon introduced us to the "Gay Girl in Damascus" blogger, who turned out to be neither gay, nor a girl, nor in Damascus. Instead, the blog -- which had been presented as the ongoing true account of a lesbian woman living in Syria, and the trials she faced -- turned out to be the years-long project of one Tom MacMaster, a straight white American dude with a failed career as a fiction writer. He, of course, revealed this only after an internet-wide activist push to locate the state-kidnapped fictional girlfriend, of MacMaster's fictional persona, in a new plot twist he'd written, in the very real country of Syria, where queer folks face very real injustices.
And then came his faux-pologies, and his pleas of 'raising awareness.' He also apologized to the lesbian woman who gave Gay Girl In Damascus the encouragement to blog... and then that woman turned out to be a straight white dude too.
Akiba digs in and presents several examples of white men throughout history raising up the voices of disenfranchised people, by, uh, posting as disenfranchised people. Read the whole thing; it's fascinating. Is it a hoax? Is it fiction? Is it understandable? Is it a headache to think about? You let us know.
Commenting on Facebook, Tai Miller:
Let me get this straight... People of color aren't being heard so some white guy has to speak for them, but he won't be heard unless he pretends to be a person of color.
Interesting that even when white folks pretend to be someone of an "oppressed group", they still get more attention than a real person of that category would get. Makes me wonder if there is an unconscious instinctual bias/preference towards a certain voice or world view.
[...] Those of us over a certain age (past 20 years old?) have been immersed in a society where the "voice" of "authority" and "credibility" has had a small range of faces.
Maybe the folks growing up in the more diverse Age of Obama will have a world view that's more accepting. The ability to "hear" people who don't fall into the Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, and Peter Jennings mold.
A common mistake by a privileged person writing as oppressed person, is that they have no fucking clue what an actual oppressed person would want.
Turns out that one thing Syrian lesbians don't want is angry attention from their dystopian security state. Who knew? Not "Amina".
Oh and the issue sure is more prominent - as a fraud. Now the next blogger is going to have to reveal dangerously more, and be listened to dangerously less. Some white dude "cried wolf" on their behalf.
Gee thanks, mister white dude.
If it's fiction, have the guts to call it that. Easiest way for a half-ass writer to get recognition is by claiming your fiction is real. Happens every day.
I was playing Eve Online for awhile. At one point someone made a racist joke, someone else said, "that's sortof insensitive dude, what if someone here was black," and he was all like, "black people don't play Eve." That would have been that, but I was offended, I wanted to make him feel guilty, I wanted to watch him back-peddle. I told him I was black. He was shocked. I did a google image search for "black nerd" and found a flicker account of some cool looking dude. I was no different as the black version of me and nothing changed, accept I was occasionally candidly asked things like, why young black people this guy would see down town were "so angry," and I was able to provide a bit of a history lesson and a lesson in diversity and acceptance. I felt guilty, even as I was doing it, but I felt like this lightly racist kid was really getting his eyes opened to the concepts of socio-economic location and history, the fact that black people had a reason to be angry, that racism was institutionalized, and so on. Meanwhile, I felt special. I wasn't just a boring, privileged white male whose experience everyone knows and understands - I was a resource to be called upon to better understand the human condition.
I feel like these guys were doing something similar, defending or giving a voice to an under-represented group, and becoming addicted to the attention that there was no other way for them to achieve. The difference isn't much; I wasn't keeping a blog about black nerd issues and pretending I was being arrested by an autocratic government. Threatening the credibility of people in exactly such situations, or the credibility of bloggers in general. It was just conversations in Eve Online.
While I agree with much of your analysis of privilege in this article, I see some similarities in this MacMaster's story to that of many trans people who have yet to come out.
Many transgender people begin to explore their gender identity in lower cost environments, like online. Engaging in online relationship building and fictional blogging can serve as a release for not-yet-out trans folk, as a way to connect with people who see their inner self. It also can help trans and gender-nonconforming people to explore the boundaries of their gender identity. Many of these people find community within queer circles even if they do not publicly admit to belonging to these communities. It must be recognized that trans people are often viewed as "posing" as the "opposite sex" when exploring or expressing our gender identities. Meanwhile, MacNaster's inability to examine the cultural, racist and sexist issues of creating this online persona(s) heightens the issue.
to which Lincoln Rose responds:
Um, except that trans people actually ARE trans. We go online while we work on coming to terms with OUR identities. OUR identities. You know, people we actually ARE.
This a$$hat was being someone he's not, with no clue what it's like to actually BE a lesbian of color in America, let alone one in the Middle East.
Interesting article but what really comes to my mind are issues of authenticity and to a certain (and more abstract) degree how the internet allows users to shift and manipulate self identity.
About the issue of authenticity - if someone is knowledgeable about a topic but in order to gain a wider audience that person adopts a persona does that completely undermine their viewpoint (for example Equiano or John Howard Griffin)?
I do understand the the faults behind cooption, etc in a RL/pragmatic sense yet I have to wonder does perceived user integrity/honesty online undermine the benefits of online anonymity? I apologize for not being able to explain this point better but, I feel one of the greatest things about the internet is the ability to shift gender, race, cultures, nationality, hell even species (if you're into that type of thing). These men were sucked into their role play as easily as some people might be sucked into thinking they were Elven princes.
I have to wonder - completely random thought - is it the lack of common sense MacGrath and Graber had the cause for anger (along with the unconscious disregard for human beings who are actually in those communities) or is the anger coming from people who bought into the lie?
to which Jonathan Mauk responds:
"I apologize for not being able to explain this point better but, I feel one of the greatest things about the internet is the ability to shift gender, race, cultures, nationality, hell even species (if you're into that type of thing)."
Except that the way this ability is utilized mirrors the oppression of real society. I've known countless women, people of color, homosexuals, etc. who pretend to be straight white males online because they're subject to far less harassment that way. Maybe MacMaster and Graber were subject to some bigotry for their online personas, but they always have the option to go back to being a white male. The danger isn't "real," the use of slurs is not going to make them recall their experiences with racism or homophobia or misogyny because they have none.