(Originally posted Aug 7, 2016, here.)
I’ve been thinking about names, genders, what we see of authors online and in public and what we don’t see—both online and in public.
Certainly m/m (and the Internet in general—this is not an issues specific to only m/m) has had its share of people who present themselves as something they are not so they can prey on others. Or try to get ahead. Or just to be shitty to other people.
But when it comes to authors and their online presentation verses their “real-life” presentations, there are complexities there that I’m starting to see.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve realized over time that I’m genderfluid. That simple fact has taken me a bit of time to wrap my brain around. It means I’m trans, but I’ve been fed a narrative that trans means going from male to female or female to male, as if those were the only two options available.
Kind of like people are only straight or gay. (Spoiler alert: I’m bisexual.)
Lately, I’ve seen—once again—people complaining about author personas not being real—or real enough—for them. And I have to say, it makes me very uncomfortable when others go off on someone for not being genuine—like for having a man’s name and interacting as a man online when that person looks and seemingly lives as a woman.
Now, I agree that you shouldn’t say you’re something you’re not. If you’re not a brain surgeon, don’t say you are. For an egregious example of this outside of m/m, there’s Belle Gibson, the Australian who faked having terminal cancer, then said she cured herself through diet and herbs and natural remedies, then preyed on others by being a health guru. She made quite a tidy sum before her scheme fell apart.
But gender? Gender is complex. Gender is also personal. Sometime your gender doesn’t match the fleshy shell that holds you. Then what?
What happens when the person everyone sees off line everyday, the “real” person—the one in photographs—is not the truth.
This is my official author photo from GRL in 2014.
This is me last week.
The latter is closer to the truth than the former. But even in 2014, I knew my gender wasn’t entirely female. I just wasn’t ready to—wasn’t in a mental place where I could—call myself genderfluid. Nonbinary. Enby. Heck, I wrote an Outside the Margins post about that.
I am liminal. Neither straight nor gay. Neither male nor female.
I don’t mind my body, though I enjoy binding and there’s a certain—joy—I get from having a more androgynous shape. Ideally, I’d love to be able to slip physically into the gender of my choice upon waking up in the morning. A little slider I could push back and forth. Push it a little more masc some days, or a little more fem others.
Alas, physical bodies work like that. So, I do what I can with clothing. It’s what I’ve got at the moment.
As I’ve become more comfortable with my genderfluid self, I’ve also discovered that I’m not the only one out there in m/m land who has been looking at themselves, examining why they are uncomfortable with the labels “cis” and “straight” and “woman.” Looking back on their lives and going, “Oooooh. Oh. Yeah. Huh.”
There’s so much more information available about gender and sexuality. More acceptance for people who aren’t in the binary boxes of male and female that get checked off at birth. There are more words to map experiences onto.
I being invited into spaces I didn’t know existed and finding that I’m not alone. I’m not alone.
For me, writing male characters has always been a relief from my body and the society I live in. I can explore my masc side with abandon. I can, for a time, exist as a man. Think as a man. Have the body of a man, even if it’s only mentally. No, I’m not my characters, but I can slip into them and feel at home.
Now, I don’t mind sliding back into fem. I am fem sometimes (hence genderfluid), but that’s not true for others. Maybe—just maybe—consider that for many others, writing can also be a way to slip into the truth when there is no other way to.
Writing can be a gateway that leads to change, or a mirror to reflect back what we know inside our hearts, but don’t have away to bring to the surface.
Not everyone has the luxury of being out, especially out about a gender identity that doesn’t match their body.
What happens when the person that exists online is not pretend? When the online person is the truth and the “real life” person is the mask worn for safety?
Call out scammers and catfishers for what they are: scammers and catfishers. People who prey on others.
Please don’t roll your eyes if someone in the community comes out as trans, genderqueer, genderfluid, or nonbinary. For the vast, vast majority of us, gender is not a gimmick, trust me.
When I wear my binder and menswear, it’s not for some weird scheme to sell m/m books. I do it to feel comfortable in my skin. I wear it to my dayjob. I take a chance walking around the city and my neighborhood dressed that way to be myself. I’m trying to get my outside to match my inside as best I can.
I’m not the only one, either. I keep coming back to that because it’s a comfort—and it’s true. I know there are other m/m authors out there. And yes, they don’t always feel so welcome in this community that supposed to be so open and supportive of queer people—but isn’t always.
My request is when these catfishing or scammer situations occur—remember that it’s not about pen names. Or gender identity.
It’s about shitheads doing shitty things, regardless of names or genders.
When someone uses a gender identity as a gimmick, you know what that makes them?
Kind of like Belle Gibson, who didn’t have cancer. She’s a scammer and a liar. Strangely enough, after that incident, no one started rolling their eyes at other people who say they have cancer and question how genuine they really are.
So please don’t do that with other people’s gender identity when a scammer is unmasked as a scammer.