Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Just to Reassure You

Dear readers,

Please rest assured that I am not a middle-aged man posing as a woman. That photo on the left is really of me; I did not steal it from someone I don't know. The opinions I state on this blog are my own, as is the name I write under. The few details I have revealed about myself are true. Except maybe that thing about going on tour with the Beastie Boys in 1992.

I've been following the unravelling of lesbian blogger identities behind the "gay girl in Damascus" and now "Paula Brooks". And I have to say I find the phenomenon fascinating. Feminists predicted some years ago that the internet would dissolve gender identities, but it didn't actually appear to be doing so. One reason was that social media sites insisted on profiles being either male or female, and of course many people use them to display their gendered sexual identities, particularly via photos. So while we have more opportunities than ever to state our opinions anonymously, we tend to do so in a gendered way. Don't believe me? Go to any online article dealing with feminism and see what people say in the comments.

What's interesting here though is that two heterosexual men have been posing as lesbian women, in one case of a different ethnicity too. It's obviously cooler to be a lesbian activist than to be a heterosexual man, in certain circles. And you know, there are days when I wake up in the morning and am really grateful to be a woman. Why, only today I rejoiced in my lack of hair loss. But these two men have taken on identities as members of, let's say, doubly and triply oppressed minorities - because they say people wouldn't have taken them seriously otherwise.

Leaving aside questions of boundaries between fact and fiction and whether anyone's taking them seriously now, I have to say this is the most patronising thing I've heard in a long time. These men assumed false identities because they felt their opinions on female sexuality were equally if not more relevant than those of actual lesbians. In the case of "Amina", we also have an element of western paternalism, with an American assuming a Syrian identity to "combat liberal Orientalism". From priveleged positions, they both attempted to fight other people's battles for them. Good intentions perhaps, but so condescending.

There's a tendency to do this in German books too. Think of the crime writer Jakob Arjouni, whose detective Kemal Kayankaya and colourful assumed surname made critics think he was Turkish to begin with. He's exonerated himself in my mind though by writing well about all manner of things. And let's not forget Günter Wallraff, who still blacks up in this day and age to "highlight racism", as if black people were incapable of doing so themselves.

It is possible, however, for white people to write about ethnic minorities, for heterosexual men to write about lesbians, without pretending to be them. The German examples that immediately spring to mind are the work of Raul Zelik (particularly Bastard, which centres on a German-Korean woman), Christoph Peters' Mitsoukos Restaurant, and Thorsten Becker's Sieger nach Punkten. All fiction, which is allowed. I can't actually think of any examples of male writers playing with female sexuality though.

Interestingly, the man who pretended to be Amina has written that he originally wanted to write fiction. Perhaps he should have done so, under his own name.

1 comment:

David said...

I didn't read the posts of the "gay girl in Damascus" but "she" must have been very convincing, since a number of women want to establish an online relationship with "here" - unless they were all really middle-aged men as well.