Thank you Tin for being a bona-fide queer identifying female, and broaching the topic of fake lez blogs, writing as you were into a story with more immediate consequences. The clear and present danger Hong Kong is engineering for its non hetero- and-gender-normative inhabitants is a reason to “tsk-tsk” big-time. However, I felt that a little more riffing on the topic of faking it, with some additional cultural associations to the “crime” of disingenuously fictionalizing suffering while providing hope was apropos to Queerious. Hence, on http://damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com…
A blossoming 4 month-old blog with thousands of followers, generous accolades for reporting with guts and glory and a world of trust won from the vivacious and tough crowd of Middle Eastern queer women, has recently revealed itself to be a complete and well, disgusting hoax.
You may think of other words to evoke the betrayal, when slowly, the layers of Ameena Al-Araf, author of “A Gay Girl in Damascus”, peeled back and viola- revealed itself to be – a human being, (thankfully Watson the IBM supercomputer doesn’t have such an itch for fame or treachery… yet) but one that’s a yuppie white male on the edge of middle-agedom, misguidedly using his pursuit of higher education “in Europe” to shine a light on the plight of the every gay woman in the hotbed of an Arab spring Middle East. In hindsight, his whole endeavor for a supposed good (his Quaker/Mennonite upbringing teaching him to be the change he wants to see) has been undermined. The “choir” that he was preaching to will move onto more glaring political causes, but rights adversaries such as Syrian President Assad have more ammunition to tout this as proof that reporting of the violent crack-downs of protests (MacMaster played on our heartstrings by faking the kidnapping and disappearance of Ameena) or interests in reform are the work of Western mouthpieces and infiltrators.
As Juliette Kayyem writes in the Boston Globe, “Future social media storytellers from the Arab world will be inherently suspect.” There are already queer rights organizations, like the lesbian-ID’d Lebanese Meem that will have their voices questioned (In 2009 Meem had put out a popular memoir of 41 coming-out stories by queer Arab women called Bareed Mista3jil which is available in English). Other harms related to the Ameena discovery are unfolding in the form of Meem currently succumbing to disheartening infighting with another regional LGBT organization, GME (Gay Middle East) on accusations of Zionism.
The idea of the nom de plume was customarily used by women prior to the 20th century, first to get published and second, to get apprehended by readers without the damning attribution – “woman”. George Sand and George Eliot were women’s pen names and the Brontë sisters used male forenames followed by the last name Currer at the start of their careers. It has always struck me that the exposure and damning of JT LeRoy was overblown, given that the works were technically published as fiction. Bohemian groupies and well-known fans looked naïve, yet vain- unseemly. Is that how we come off?
Yet, imagine for instance, that a book such as Rana Husseini’s Murder in the Name of Honor (2009) based on over 10 years’ worth of journalistic coverage of savage “honor killings” of women in her native Jordan and abroad, turned out to be fictionalized? Considering the forces of patriarchy and ignorance she has come up with already (including the typical allegations of Western infiltration), how swiftly they would move to hush up these crimes! Thankfully, Husseini’s work has helped in gradually shifting attitudes, drawing government attention to the plight of women and children and in the formation of hotlines for when previously there was no one to turn to.
Like all news that has already happened, the media has tried to keep milking the new out of “news” of what has technically seen its conclusion in such a dismaying manner. A new post or two from major publications such as the Boston Globe or the New York Times and an abundance of blog posts have contributed to the conversation on “where do we go from here?”… since last Sunday, when the real live, flesh and blood woman making a stir in the internet with her alleged disappearance was found out not to exist altogether – poof!
Now, please read his excuse for this behavior. To be honest, I had never been a follower, and I first heard of Ameena’s “kidnapping” from my Palestinian-American girlfriend, friends with Ameena on Facebook. However, I can imagine that when reading the words of the now “out” Tom MacMaster, the online buddies of Ameena Araf might find themselves reverting back to a mental image of Ameena as a pretty young woman, doe-eyed with fair skin, a trendy short haircut and a characteristic mole above her left eyebrow. (The woman whose pictures were compromised for MacMaster’s profile came from a Serbian woman living in London.) Now, if anyone who hadn’t followed “GayGirl” in Damascus before can bring themselves to flip through earlier posts- please let me know how you feel as you go through that process and whether you find yourself still wanting to believe. Skimming his apology, modified and expanded in the span of 24 hours, does not a face-lift giveth thy name. From,
“While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground,” he wrote. “I do not believe that I have harmed anyone — I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about”
to actually being contrite, MacMaster continues to display psychotic tendencies. It is impossible to miss Tom’s contended nature and his (what must not be, futile) desire to continue his existence on the web. Ironically, MacMaster’s apology personally seeks forgiveness from “Paula Brooks”, pseudonym of LezGetReal.com blogger. After much flirting between the two lesbians Ms. Brooks, a deaf lesbian mom was revealed to be a retired Ohio construction worker named Bill Graber, 55. How many more impostor internet trespassers can we handle?
Not quite the same, but let’s think of a person, a public figure, who did a less subtly horrifying thing- Don Imus and his smear of the Rutger’s college women’s basketball team in 2007. First, he mixed up some bigotry, then apologized, repented and in the span 8 months landed an even more lucrative conservative radio gig. ‘Imus in the Morning’ is buoyed up by WABC radio and the Fox Business Network. It makes you wonder if MacMaster’s career is just kicking off! Lonelygirl15 of Youtube fame (no queer affiliation) played for two more years after its outing as fiction and spawned a confusing international cartel of spin-offs.
My final thoughts have to do with the question of how a modern-day blogger should position oneself on the side of identity politics versus that of “death of the author”, a perspective tremendously argued by post-structuralists Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. In his text, Barthes says that writing is the “destruction of every voice, of every point of origin”! In it the “subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost.” If Barthes was right and, “The voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins“ then, oddly, MacMaster is the apotheosis of European philosophical tradition! Certainly, this work weaves into the destruction of a notion of stable identity and the art-making of Yvonne Rainer, Cindy Sherman, the writing of Judith Butler, all contribute to this. If the corporeal body still has something to do with it, the intentional fallacy cannot do as echos of 2nd gen feminism resound. Once we see a face, we grant that person a relatively fixed identity, but more than anything we expect integrity- not, intentional prevarication. Identity is especially important when it brings attention to itself as in the form of a body that is marked for control, violence or repression by the powers that be.
Certainly, the LGBT community will not give up on having its truth heard. And, who ever said we mind a little heat…