Lesbians, Lies and Blogs
I have been following the recent furore surrounding the "outing" (or "inning") of the writer of the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus. This blogger, who claimed to be a lesbian living in Syria called Amina Arraf, was reported to have been kidnapped, but turned out to be a 40 year old married male American postgraduate student living in the UK. Even more bizarrely, another lesbian blogger, who reportedly flirted with "Amina", has also turned out to be a heterosexual man. I've heard of "lesbian invisibility", but this is ridiculous.
LGBT and Syrian activists are understandably upset, feeling that Amina's blog, now exposed as a lie, does little to help real people who experience oppression in Syria. The writers of these blogs have apologised, but argued that they wanted to help the LGBT cause but felt that they would not have been listened to due to their status as heterosexual men.
If that claim is true then it's a shame. Personally, I'd love to see more straight men sticking up for LGBT issues, and when heterosexual rugby union player Ben Cohen recently set up a Foundation to combat homophobia and bullying, he was widely applauded. Here's a gratutious picture (which will probably triple the number of readers of this blog).
So, if you're a straight man who cares about LGBT people, really, you don't need to pose as a lesbian to "get heard". But I wonder if such bloggers had other reasons for assuming lesbian identities - more to do with sexual excitement.
I don't want to judge though. I've taken on the guise of a range of different characters over my long and undistinguished internet history, which began all the way back in the early 1990s when the internet was mainly used by academics (and was a much politer place as a result). I can at least safely say that it was never with political intent or to get a sexual thrill, but merely for the purpose of making other people amused.
Back in the 90s, when the web was a very different place - no videos, fewer pictures - I used to read the Usenet groups quite often (they're still out there - the internet equivalent of Ceefax), and I assumed a couple of "personas". The first was an angry woman called Bessie who was very upset at the amount of swearing and sexual content on television. Inspired by Mary Whitehouse, she was always interrupting threads to complain, and was regularly organising marches to London to picket television studios. Her attitudes were so obviously Victorian and hysterical that she didn't fool anyone thankfully, and I got bored of her quite quickly as she became a bit of a one-note pony. I retired her, and then started up a more interesting persona called Shirley.
Shirley was a much more complex character. Clearly a fantasist, she claimed she had been a make-up lady on a popular television programme, and had many hilarious and clearly untrue stories about the cast members and off-screen dramas. She claimed a long-standing feud with one of the nicest cast members, and would regularly paint pictures of actors which were the exact opposite of the characters they played. She claimed one very butch actor had a collection of antique dolls for example.
She was now retired, crippled with arthritis and housebound - only able to use the computer by holding a stick in her mouth and pressing the keys with it. She was hideously ignorant of many topics (she thought Romeo and Tybalt were characters from Crossroads), jealous of anyone who'd had an education, and had strong opinions on almost everything. She quickly polarised the Usenet group she posted to - some members were "in" on the joke and started fake feuds with her, or claimed to have met her, thus validating her existence further. Others guessed she was a fake but found her hilarious and were happy to have her around. But another group also doubted her veracity and were angry that she was disrupting the group. Shirley responded to all her critics with disarming self-deprecation. She would simply agree with everything that her detractors said, flattering them while pulling herself down "Oh, I'm just a stupid old woman with no qualifications... everything you've said is exactly right and now I've considered it I promise to think more carefully before posting..." which usually had the effect of winning them over or stunning them into silence. It was impossible to hurt her because she was too ignorant to understand that she was being insulted - when someone called her a moron, she mistook it as a compliment. Because many internet users thrive on escalating conflict, they had never met anyone like Shirley who took nothing personally because she wasn't real.
Her crazy postings are still out there - co-incidentally, I came across them by accident a few weeks ago, and reread them all. I don't remember writing any of them, but I'm quite proud of some of them - she was my Edna Welthorpe, and I'm kind of sorry I retired her when I did.
My third (and last, honest!) internet persona is Jamie4U, who was probably the most sophisticated attempt I've had at constructing an online persona. Although also clearly fake, Jamie had his own blog, complete with photos of himself (actually pictures of me dressed up) and all of his friends (or freinds as Jamie spelt it). Jamie is a shallow, narcissistic, idiotic young gay man, enjoying the dubious status of top-dog in a small northern town. He has an on-off relationship with an older man called Brian, who he treats terribly, and catalogues the petty dramas of a small circle of friends - Miss Thang - a frightening drag queen with no morals; Barbara - a drunken middle-aged lesbian, Keith (aka Mavis) - the plain-Jane "friend" who Jamie constantly deserts; Debbie - an overweight, often violent, faghag. Jamie's relationships never last, and whenever he tries to better himself, he always ends up snapping back to type. A lot of the humour is based on the disjunct between Jamie's self-image and how others actually perceive him, particularly when he leaves his closed world and ventures out to the larger cities like Manchester and London. Jamie once published a rude message at Alistair Appleton's website. Alistair Appleton is an attractive gay tv presenter, whose website tends to produce lots of gushing praise from men who are in love with him. Jamie was typically dismissive, and his posting contained an obvious mathematical error regarding Alistair's age (a sore point). Naturally, many of Alistair's fans jumped to his defense. Sadly, Alistair never got in touch with Jamie's haughty offer to be his boyfriend.
I guess you could say that Lubin Odana is an identity - although it's the one that's closest to me. Lubin is much more opinionated than you would find me in real life - where I tend just to keep my mouth shut. But I think my days of being someone else are long gone. It was something I associate with doing in my 20s mainly, and possibly a sign of immaturity. Or maybe I'm just not very funny any more.