on straight dudes posing as lesbians

By | June 14, 2011

As my pal Wessel says, on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dude.

You may have heard of these two recent stories:

1. Gay Girl in Damascus is really a Straight Guy in Scotland:

The life of Amina Arraf was a good story. On a website called “Gay Girl in Damascus,” this purportedly Syrian-American lesbian blogger wrestled with issues surrounding her national identity, her sexuality, her faith, and the future of her country at a time of open revolt. At a time when most of the information coming out of Syria comes in the form of choppy, graphic YouTube videos or breathless tweets about the Assad regime’s crackdowns, here was a young woman writing from Damascus in flawless English about her country’s social and political turmoil.

And then it all fell apart.

It fell apart because the blog’s author, who turned out to be a straight American man named Tom McMasters, decided to add in a kidnapping plot: He had “Amina Arraf” disappear, had her “cousin” write a post notifying readers of “Amina”‘s disappearance. Readers sprung into action, mobilizing to search for their missing Gay Girl in Damascus. At which point it became increasingly clear that there was no gay girl in Damascus.

2. LezGetReal editor IzRealStraightGuy.

Only days after we learned that the author behind A Gay Girl in Damascus was a straight man from Georgia, The Washington Post is reporting that the purported DC-based lesbian mother who edited the lesbian news site Lez Get Real (“A Gay Girl’s View on the World”), which re-published Gay Girl in Damascus posts and helped the blog get started, is actually a 58-year-old former Air Force pilot and construction worker from Ohio named Bill Graber (pictured at right)….
Garber and MacMaster have offered similar explanations for their actions. Garber, like MacMaster, explained that he started out with the best of intentions–to demand the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and advocate for other gay issues–and assumed the identity of a lesbian woman because he didn’t think people would take him seriously as a straight man. And, just like MacMaster, he rationalized his actions, pointing out to the AP that he helped reveal the Gay Girl in Damascus hoax by tracking the blog’s posts to computer servers in Edinburgh. MacMaster “would have got away with it if I hadn’t been such a stand-up guy,” Graber said.

Based on the general tenor of responses across the web, I surmise that I am supposed to do the following:

1. Register my disappointment and anger.

2. Reassure my readers that I am, indeed, the precise person I purport to be.

(See: Shakesville. Michellebird on the DailyKos.

I guess I’m a little annoyed, but I don’t feel the level of anger that, for example, these writers (Shakesville. Michellebird) do. For one thing, I wasn’t invested in the story like they were–I only heard about the Gay Girl in Damascus blog when it was mentioned in the comments section of a recent post (to argue that there are more serious issues for LGBTQ folks worldwide than those that American queers experience! Ha!).

I’m also firmly in the identity-is-slippery camp. A few years back, when I was first coming out as a queer, I identified as cisgendered. (The term means that my gender identity aligns fairly well with the features that are built into my body: that I am a biological female who identifies as a female.) [Note: I’d link you to that post, but I can’t find it!] But later, I came out as genderqueer. I wasn’t “lying” early on; I simply didn’t understand myself in the same way then as I do now.

Of course, the identity-is-slippery camp does not assume that the LezGetReal and Gay Girl in Damascus bloggers are simply struggling with their own gender and sexual identities. They’re straight white guys who posed as dykes. Which is annoying.

Here’s an interesting take from CurrentMom:

People are messy. The technology we invent is messy, too. Deal with it.

Here’s an even more interesting take, from Something the Dog Said on the Daily Kos:

What we have here are two white guys running up against that fact that their gender and sexuality are going to make it harder for them to have an impact in a certain area. So instead of busting their asses to build their credibility to speak in this area, they take on the role of a someone who automatically has some credibility. The expectation that it is okay to do this just screams that they feel entitled to jump to the head of the queue with their opinions.

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “on straight dudes posing as lesbians

  1. Michellebird (who you mentioned in the post)

    I just last night learned that others (Salon for example, and you) have been quoting/referring to my dailykos article on this topic.

    While it is true that anger was my initial reaction, it didn’t remain my primary one.

    My next response was what my wife and I increasingly do when something in this insane world makes us angry and frustrated – make fun of it. So, she came up with a short article for our site (and there may be others related to this topic – it could happen – but we have this one out for sure):

    Be a Lesbian-Man ™!

    For me, this is the stronger response. My wife and I refused to allow what these straight men did to deter us from moving as we do – putting our writing out on the net, enjoying the process, hoping others enjoy reading our stuff as least partly as much as we enjoy writing it.

    We had fun with that piece. We may do more on the topic.

    And on a more serious note:

    Of course, the identity-is-slippery camp does not assume that the LezGetReal and Gay Girl in Damascus bloggers are simply struggling with their own gender and sexual identities. They’re straight white guys who posed as dykes. Which is annoying.

    In my view, it is absolutely crucial to remember that these individuals are NOT struggling with their gender and sexual identities.

    Gender identity issues are important IMO because demands for proof will privilege cisgendered lesbians.

  2. Jenna McWilliams Post author

    @Michellebird,
    Hello, and thank you for the comment! I need some help understanding your last point. Can you explain further how gender identity issues are linked to the privileging of cisgendered lesbians?

  3. Michellebird

    @Jenna,

    It seems to me that if people start demanding “proof” that a particular blogger/online writer is really a woman, this will do more harm to anyone who doesn’t present as female in a way that this society recognizes. So those calls, if they occur, would privilege cis women over women who aren’t cis for whatever reason.

    And now that I’m writing, I’m thinking, that’s just the gender part. What about the lesbian part? I’m imagining now that every lesbian will have to produce an ex or two willing to attest that she at least sleeps with women.

    And while I know there could be very serious issues with that, my mind is more focused on the many possibilities for very very funny ex-related drama. Maybe one form of “proof” of being a lesbian could be evidence of some sort of lesbian drama … hmmm …

    Anyway, hope what I wrote about gender identity makes more sense.

  4. Jenna McWilliams Post author

    Yes, thank you! I agree with the orientation part of your worries–what if we all have to “prove” we’re queer? It’s the same old dilemma: Straight people don’t have to tell how they knew they were straight, because it’s assumed. And what if you know you’re queer but you haven’t slept with someone of the appropriate gender yet? And what if you’re queer but you’re in a heterosexual relationship? It gets so tricky so fast!

    I do think we’re a little safer on the gender part. Nobody has (so far) asked me to “prove” I’m genderqueer–though I suppose that if I started requesting people to use male pronouns to refer to me I’d be in some hot water. But living and writing in the realm of the genderqueer has led me to think really differently about gender: I follow bloggers who are biological females but identify as man; I follow bloggers who are biological males but are transitioning; I subscribe to Original Plumbing magazine, which does all sorts of interesting awesome things with gender, in its articles and pictures.

    But of course, the other must also take care not to show where the minefields are–and I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I don’t believe women, and queers, are othered in most every possible way. Which is why this issue is so important to discuss, even if we don’t come to a resolution on it!

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