As if a white, heterosexual male assuming the fictional identity of a lesbian in Syria was not appalling enough, the editor of the online lesbian news site “Lez Get Real” is also a married American man.
Today’s news that “Paula Brooks,” editor of “Lez Get Real” since 2008, is really 58 year-old Bill Graber, a retired construction worker from Ohio, comes on the heels of yesterday’s news that Tom MacMaster is the author of the blog, “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” which chronicled the life of Syrian-American blogger Amina Arraf. MacMaster, 40, created and assumed the fictional identity of Amina Arraf who wrote about the Syrian government’s crackdown during the Arab Spring uprisings through his character. The blog became an Internet sensation last week when readers discovered that Amina Arraf was kidnapped by government security agents. Journalists started digging and asking questions and learned that no one had met Amina and that her photo was a London woman’s.
MacMaster came clean and issued an apology to readers in which he explained why he created Amina Arraf:
“I’m also an argumentative sort and a bit of a nerd. I was involved with numerous online science-fiction/alternate-history discussion lists and, as a part of that process, I saw lots of incredibly ignorant and stupid positions repeated on the Middle East. I noticed that when I, a person with a distinctly Anglo name, made comments on the Middle East, the facts I might present were ignored and I found myself accused of hating America, Jews, etc. I wondered idly whether the same ideas presented by someone with a distinctly Arab and female identity would have the same reaction.”
Aside from lying and betraying their readers’ trust, MacMaster and Graber deliberately chose to assume a lesbian female identity because they thought others would perceive them with more credibility and authenticity than their white, Western, heteronormative maleness would allow them. (It was reported that Graber, who is also in favor of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, started “Lez Get Real” after seeing the mistreatment of friends who were a lesbian couple.)
This bit of information is the most interesting part of the story. Of course, the Internet freely allows lots of people to be someone they’re not. But deliberately choosing a lesbian/woman of color identity deserves more thought. It’s not surprising that the voices and experiences of marginalized, oppressed women are often viewed by others in dominant positions of power as being more authentic and real than their own privileged social identities. This thinking “others” women and makes invisible the social and political relationships that mutually construct our identities. In a sexist culture that assigns emotions to femininity and rationality to masculinity, is it any wonder why men such as MacMaster and Graber think that assuming a particular feminine identity would lend them more clout on issues that they are passionate about? MacMaster and Graber’s good intentions will never be enough. Instead, they were speaking for others in the most damaging way possible.