On Vulnerability

About three years ago, I decided to blog under my real name. I’d been blogging under a pseudonym for a few years before that on my college’s alumni server, but it was getting buggier and buggier each year and sites like Open Diary and Livejournal weren’t the only options anymore. So I decided it was a good time to switch providers and revamp my identity.

See, I’d just started a prestigious MFA program, and I wanted to make a name for myself as a writer – of both fiction and nonfiction. And I decided that that name should be my name, not that of an alter-ego. So I got a Blogspot account and started posting – about feminism, about fiction, about my life. It was still a personal blog, but politics were slowly starting to seep in.

The first time I was harassed was at a friend’s house. He’d invited me over to watch Star Trek and as he got out the tortilla chips, he mentioned that he’d been reading my blog.

“I can’t believe you’re writing about orgasms,” he said.

(I’d just written a post on sexuality.)

“Oh,” I said, and decided, for simplicity’s sake, to take it as an edgy compliment. “So did you like it?”

“It’s like… wow, TMI, you know?” he continued. “Do I really need to hear about that? Eww.”

Well, I didn’t write the entry for you, I thought, but was too embarrassed to say it.

The second time I was harassed was by a classmate. We ran into each other on the street and he immediately launched into a tirade: “I googled you and read your blog,” he cried. “Why would you write about that stuff!?” What stuff? “That stuff about sex and orgasms and stuff!” I realized he was referring to the same post. “I mean, people in China can read it,” he declared – the living rooms of Chinese citizens, apparently, being the reference point for how far information about white American women should not be allowed to travel. I politely pointed out that he’d just written a short story about a guy who likes to suck his own dick. What were we supposed to infer about him from that? That, he explained, was totally different.

Female writers have a history of being silenced. When Emily Gould’s essay on blogging was published by the New York Times Magazine, she received over a thousand comments in 24 hours telling her she was “just a stupid little girl,” that she should “get over [her]self,” and that “when a stalker appears in this girl’s life… she will have no idea that she brought it on herself.” (via Bitch.) Last year, Jill Filipovic was bombarded with threats of violent assault after she spoke out against AutoAdmit, and Brownfemipower was forced to stave off hundreds of angry commenters after Amanda Marcotte stole her ideas. The standard response, it seems, to a woman with whom you disagree isn’t to disagree with her, but rather to call her stupid or threaten her with rape. Why would you respond to a woman any other way?

I know that compared to the situations above, I had it really easy. There were only two dudes who took issue with my writing, and they were relatively restrained (although still phenomenally rude and misogynistic). Still, though, it was enough to make me rethink the whole writing-under-my-real-name thing. If this was the response I was going to get – if men who knew me were googling me and then freaking out over what they found – then maybe it’d be better to use a pseudonym when I talked about controversial topics. So I created a new blog, picked “The Girl Detective” from a book of Kelly Link stories, and stopped giving the men around me ammunition.

But I missed my name.

To be clear – I know that there are a million reasons why people write under handles, so I’m not suggesting that I speak for everyone. I know that handles can be fun and meaningful. I’m just saying that for me, it was a form of hiding, and I never wanted to hide. After I became the Girl Detective, I never stopped feeling the urge to say, “Both of those people are me! The person who wrote the Jonathan Lethem essay is the same person who was published in the Missouri Review! The person who wrote ‘The Ivory Ceiling’ on Feministe is the same one who wrote ‘The Spectrum of Assault’ in make/shift!” When I write something I like, I’m proud of it, and I don’t like dividing that pride between my blogging self and my “real” self. I don’t like the idea that if a piece is vetted and published by someone else in a magazine, it’s legitimate, but if I publish it myself on a blog, it’s shameful. I don’t like that so many male bloggers don’t think twice about using their real names, and so many female bloggers would never dream of revealing their identities. I don’t like that I never called those two dudes out on their sexist bullshit. I hate that I gave in to their demands.

And I like my name. I like the sound of my first name – the old-fashioned elegance of the formal version, the simple prettiness of the nickname. I like my good Jewish surname, the history it carries.

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time. I may regret it. It didn’t take that long for people to get upset about my writing last time; I may find threats from radical Zionists or anti-choicers or neo-Nazis or the very dudes I mentioned above in my inbox within weeks. I may lose a job opportunity or two because someone doesn’t agree with my politics. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

For now, though, let’s see if this works.

2 Responses

  1. one of the reasons that i moved to writing on the internet under my real name is that i found that otherwise my writing was far too self-indulgent and lazy.
    of late, however, the primary reason that i continue to use my real name is because i want to test the strength of my political convictions. if there are opinions that i believe in strongly enough that i feel the need to share them with others, then i should be willing to attach my name to those opinions — to take responsibility for them, as it were. and it’s true, this likely has cost me job opportunities, as potential employers google me and discover that i’m muslim or marxist or whatever else. the fact is, however, that i am openly these things in offline spaces too, so i might as well not pretend to be otherwise.

    re. “Both of those people are me”
    that resonated with me, particular with regards to the false binary between academic and nonacademic discourses, as though people who are published in peer reviewed journals could not write for online zines or, more importantly, vice versa. the thing about the net is that it should be able to help in democraticising intellectual/theoretical debates

    in any case, good luck with the shift!

  2. there you go being awesome again.

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