“I’m Your Biggest Fan, I’ll Follow You Until You Love Me”

A man with nothing to lose. -- A photo of Mark Zuckerberg before an unsurprisingly blue Facebook logo.

Anonymity, Privilege, and the Quest for Personal Truth

This article will be a rather long one so I beg your forgiveness in advance, but it is a piece of great personal importance to me. The debate it touches on is one that imbricates with all of our geek lives, and the lives of those beyond our particular nerdy circles. Indeed, as Blizzard recently proved, it is a debate that will touch on many online video game properties.

Randi Zuckerberg, marketing director for Facebook, caused a bit of a stir recently when she resurrected her brother’s ideological hobby horse and proclaimed that progress requires the death of anonymity on the Internet. It is another effort to impose on Internet users a demand for a particular kind of truth that severely disadvantages people from certain backgrounds; to wit, Ms. Zuckerberg and her brother are both cis. They will never have to confront the difficulties that women like me faced before we came out, when anonymity was a blessing that enabled us to shape our identities with less stress and trauma than might have been otherwise imposed on us. It was this issue and several related ones I alluded to when I took Blizzard to task for its abortive RealID proposals to force all of their players to reveal their real names on the World of Warcraft forums.

An Ideology by Any Other Name

What I find fascinating about our society is the great importance we place on our names. Ms. Zuckerberg sees ‘real’ and ‘legal’ names as the key to ensuring accountability and responsibility on the internet. I will leave aside, for the moment, that my life has been materially harmed by many people whose legal names are widely known and who seem to be accountable to no one but themselves. Let us just treat this very simple issue of ‘what’s in a name?’ The answer is: quite a lot.

Randi Zuckerberg

To speak from my own perspective, I hated my old name with a passion. Its symbolism, meaning and impact on my life were not of my choosing. As I have said in very public interviews changing my name legally was one of the most important and pathbreaking events in my life. To hear me speak about my past and how it was in some ways shaped by my having a name I hated is to hear my voice quiver with passion that only great pain can summon. I hated using my old name, I had less attachment to it than I did to my Social Security number. Any opportunity I could use to shirk it, to go by another name, to adopt the whole-cloth persona that a new name can sometimes lend or buttress, was eagerly seized by me. There was far more truth in the names I would choose for myself than there was in the name my father imposed on me at birth.

The Zuckerbergs seem to disagree. For them, a ‘legal name’ is truth. But who decides what a legal name is? In the United States courts have the final say on that, and for the first eighteen years of your life in most states, your parents have veto power over any self-directed name changes. Is your legal name your ‘real’ name? Or is it a mutually sustained fiction that allows others to better fit you into predetermined categories to which you may not otherwise willingly subscribe yourself. To be sure, my old name sorted me into a category I decidedly did not want. It told people what was ‘true’ according to a cissexist and patriarchal doctrine, but not what was truest to me, in my heart of hearts. If anything, I dissolved between the letters of my old name.

The ability to be myself online without the baggage, gendered and otherwise, that came with my old legal name represented something vitally important about the promise of the Internet: I was able to forge my own truth.

What the Zuckerbergs are promoting, consciously or otherwise, is an ideology that is intimately concerned with promoting one truth over another. A truth that is validated with the full faith and credit of patriarchy, a truth that forcibly outs trans people and places still more controls on our identities (in a realm that had hitherto been a great gust of fresh air in that regard).

For the Zuckerbergs, personal truth is what they’ve declared it to be. It is what’s on Facebook. Their quest to promote this truth as a vision of veracity for the whole of human civilisation is not confined to them and, indeed, has many advocates. But there are many people in this world who have come to realise that personal truth is more variegated, complicated, colourful, and personal. It is multifaceted out of necessity; none of us shares the whole of ourselves at any given moment.   We present different shards of self to others as surely as we change clothes regularly to suit the occasion. Personal truth is a d20 die.

A Blizzard of Paperwork

One thing that cis people often take for granted is the staggering number of places where their gender identity is privileged in its acceptance and duly marked down in some file or database somewhere– whether it’s through their names or through an actual gender marker or both. Trans people become experts in this seemingly arcane bit of bureaucratic errata, a hodgepodge of policies abounding for name and gender changes. In the United States your Department (or Registry) of Motor Vehicles has a different policy for such changes than your local Department of Health than the Department of State (for passports– this doesn’t even begin to get into the rigamarole that expats and immigrants have to endure here) than your school than your place of work than the Social Security Administration and so on and so on. Credit rating agencies are thrown into the mix as well as a host of other organisations great and small that have a powerful and invisible claim to your life history that can only be negotiated with via shoving paperwork in all the right places, hiring lawyers, attending court hearings, making lots of annoying phone calls and so on. (For the interested, here is a rundown of what one has to do to change their name in the American state of New York).

When I changed my name, I had to fight with my bank to ensure that my name was properly changed everywhere that bank kept records. I actually had dealt with a transphobic cis woman who made things all the more difficult when I sat down with her at the bank. I’ll never forget the complete change in her visage when I told her my old name. She went from friendly to very gloomy and quiet. Unsurprisingly I found out later that my request had never been filed and I had to spend hours on the phone with various regional offices all over the world and visit a second branch before I could change everything top to bottom (to the bank’s credit, the woman at the second branch was vastly more helpful, kind, and tolerant).

So, you can imagine trans people would be less than pleased with having to add Facebook and World of Warcraft to the list of organisations we have to haggle with. As I mentioned in my previous article on this subject a trans woman I knew had to actually fax documents to Blizzard Entertainment in order to have her name changed on the newly implemented RealID system.

This is reaching levels of un-satirisable absurdity.

“Baby, You’ll Be Famous”

The contempt for humanity does not end with trans people, of course. Women, particularly those who are being stalked, harassed, dealing with abusive exes, are rape and/or abuse survivors, are current or former sex workers, and those who are simply participating in spaces generally contemptuous of women’s vocal presence, have reason to be quite alarmed at this demand the Zuckerbergs are making. The minority of men who fit into all the above categories, or people of colour with non-European names, also have reason to want to have more control than not over their identities and how they are used online.

The argument used by some white liberal technophiles is that through forcing digital visibility we force tolerance on the prejudiced. After all, if all of these groups claim to be invisible in online spaces, runs the argument, shouldn’t they welcome imposed visibility? Well, no. The term ‘imposed’ explains why, but it is also worth examining “who does what to whom” as Catharine MacKinnon might perspicuously put it. You have here the privileged forcing something risky and dangerous on those with less power.

There is nothing right about that situation.

It is also yet another case of imposed vanguardism, a particularly pernicious expression of privilege popular among those on the left or in ‘progressive circles’ where the greatest sacrifices are expected of those with the least power. This is the operation of power that inheres to cis gender radicals demanding that trans people be obligated to transgress gender norms according to a standard set by them. What Mark Zuckerberg and his ilk are asking here is no different. He himself sacrifices nothing: he is already a public figure, a nerd hero of sorts awash in uncounted millions with a movie about his life already in the canon of film. But to achieve his vision it is we who must sacrifice something and gain… an abstract, intangible benefit of living up to someone else’s principles.

Forgive me if I decide to pass.

But there is still one more necessary and vital argument against that towering fallacy of a ‘vision.’ If visibility is the goal, forcing an end to online anonymity is a terrible and ineffective way of going about it. In the most extreme case: survivors oftentimes only can speak because of the anonymity online spaces affords them. It was for this reason that the radical feminist blogger Fugitivus was utterly furious at Google Buzz when it gave her name to her abuser, rapist ex who proceeded to abuse that information. Forcing an end to anonymity would be the beginning of the end for such writers whose voices would be silenced and who would be forced into a deeper invisibility.

A central reality of ‘free speech’ in an oppressive society is that those with the most privilege will speak the loudest. Forcing people to out themselves as belonging to a group disproportionately targeted for hate will serve only to widen that divide, not narrow it.

Anti-Pseudonymity Bingo, courtesy of the Geek Feminism Blog's Mary (See: http://geekfeminism.org/2011/07/08/anti-pseudonym-bingo/) Text version follows at the end of the article.

“I’ll Chase You Down Until You Love Me”

The observant may be either grinning or groaning at the fact that the title of this piece and several of its subtitles are drawn from a Lady Gaga song. Aside from simply being amusing to me (and because I can) it’s a direct reference to the fact that this song, which is in essence about the intrusiveness of stalking someone, could rather perfectly sum up the views of the anti-anonymity advocates. Stalking and harassment are about power, and particularly the imposition of will. It is precisely this which is not only being facilitated by anti-anonymity advocates but emulated in its patterns and strategies. They know what is best for us, we have to suffer for their pleasure, they’re doing it because they love us, they wish to be our protective guardians and keep us safe from “really bad” people.

I have been very forthright about my identity and quite open about my history online. I love my name, my true name, my new legal name, and I share it with pride and dignity.

But I did this when I was ready to do so. I did it at times and places of my own choosing after making carefully thought out decisions. My name is relatively easy to find for most readers of this blog and I certainly don’t mind that fact. In many ways it’s advantageous for me to have my name out there as I would like some of my writing to be citable in my later years in academia. But these are all circumstances specific to my situation involving a good deal of control that I am exercising after having clawed back a lot of it from the various agencies that attempt to regulate my identity. To impose from without, to say that what I’m doing is what everyone must do, however, is monstrous. There is nothing more inherently moral about the way I am doing things, nothing inherently more loyal to some objective truth. What I am doing is engaging politically in the way that suits me best; it does not work for everyone.

Let me tell you another little story here, a brief one, about little Quinnae in her younger years when she was but a wee, unknowing lass. When I first loaded up a proper RPG I was absolutely awestruck by that box that all of us take for granted to some degree now:

Name: ___________.

At the touch of the ‘OK’ button I could have any name I wished. No paperwork, no phonecalls, no angry people, no violent fathers, no anything except striding out into the bright world of adventuring with only a few gold and crappy armour to my newly changed name. That was a personal joy for me that kept me connected to life during periods of darkness when I’d contemplated ending it. The ability to do this with video games, with the Internet– its online games, its forums– kept me alive. Some might say that the Zuckerbergs are talking only about social networking. Leaving aside how important that discrete property is, what they are saying is not confined to that area alone.

“I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away,” she said during a panel discussion on social media hosted Tuesday evening by Marie Claire magazine. “People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.”

Clearly she is referring to the whole of the Internet. The vision she shares with her brother is one of an Internet where anonymity does not, indeed cannot exist anywhere. The fact of the matter is that anonymity can and does bring out the worst in some people, but it is not the cause of that terror. The roots of that lie embedded deep within our society. Racism was not invented on the internet. The problem is not that some racists are a bit more belligerent when they aren’t putting their name behind their rantings. It’s that some racists exist. The same can be said of any type of prejudice. The problem is systemic and a blanket ban on privacy and anonymity, in a society where white/cis/het/male power remains dominant and hegemonic, will serve only to perpetuate that power. ______

Footnotes on Common Arguments

(1) What do you have to hide? This is a very common defence of invasions of privacy that we saw writ large during the height of the Bush years. The fallacy behind it is that guilt is always objectively determined and never subjectively assessed. I do not get nervous going through airport security because I hide something nefarious, but because I am desperately afraid of being hurt by people abusing their power. Similarly, people online who wish to protect their identity simply want to protect themselves, if at all possible, from people abusing power. In an ideal world none of us would have to hide anything; but we do not live in an ideal world. Changing anonymity guidelines would not fix that.

(2) Harassment will decrease if people can only speak using their ‘real’ names. Not if the definition of harassment continues to be set by those with the power to harass with impunity. I have watched far too many instances of men looking bewildered and even offended when it was suggested that their behaviour was harassment, sexual or otherwise. It is identical to the incredulity I see in certain whites who’ve been called to the carpet for racism, or palpitating cis folk who cannot believe I ‘accused’ them of transphobia. Yes, harassment is bad, they say, but they aren’t harassing. And when John Smith says this, his buddies will nod soberly in agreement. Part of the problem with harassment is that the worst offenders will never admit that harassment is what they are doing.

(3) Don’t live in fear. We hear this all the time about all sorts of structural bigotry, including rape culture. The problem isn’t that there are rapists, no, it’s our fault for living in fear. If only we could get over that, go our enlightened acquaintances, we’ll realise that all of that is merely in our heads. An invention of prolonged hysteria. Not based on anything real at all. This sort of nonsense and magical thinking hardly constitutes an argument. It is gaslighting in the extreme. Harassment and stalking online are quite real and very common. Secondly, ‘living in fear’ conjures the supine image of the cowering woman fearing the looming shadow of a man. As I wrote the foregoing sentence it took me a few seconds before I could follow it up with something that was not a swear. That image of the weak and frightened woman is another patriarchal imposition and yet more gaslighting. We do not shiver in terror. We live, and we live beautifully, boldly and corageously; but we do so with caution, with accommodation, with different strategies that we should not have to employ. That is not living in fear. It is simply living. ______

Bingo Sheet Text:

Correctly identifying and banning pseudonym use is easy. Sorry, gotta stop spam! All possible uses of multiple accounts are sockpuppeting. What, you don’t want your friends and family to find you on our site? My online culture uses real names exclusively.
No wonder your minority group is invisible here, if none of you use your names. No one will harass/intimidate you using their legal name! Reputation and legal names go together. “It’s harder to find people under their legal names!”—Joe Smith What do you have to hide?
Why can’t you be honest and faithful to who you are? If pseudonyms are used, they should be officially registered. FREE SQUARE: “don’t be evil” People have a right to know who they are dealing with! Sorry, gotta stop sockpuppets!
Online harassment? Never heard of it. Don’t believe you. Only needed by men pretending to be women. What about the children? I asked my friends and none of us have any problem with it. If you don’t want your boss and family to see it, don’t say it online.
They have your IP address, why even bother? Refuse to live in fear. I will never trust anyone using a pseudonym. Widespread use of pseudonyms has never worked anywhere. Harassment is illegal; use of legal names will let you report it to the cops.

About Quinnae

Quinnae Moongazer, (or Katherine Cross, as she is known in Muggle-speak) is a pizza loving feminist sociologist, trans Latina, and amateur slug herder, working on her PhD at the CUNY Graduate Centre. When she's not studying or gaming she can be found at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Her blog can be found at quinnae.com and her writing has also appeared in Women's Studies Quarterly, Bitch Magazine, Questioning Transphobia, and Kotaku. She is a co-editor of the Border House.
This entry was posted in General Gaming, Social Media, Web and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to “I’m Your Biggest Fan, I’ll Follow You Until You Love Me”

  1. Meg says:

    Even in the “real” world, anonymity exists, often for valuable purposes. AA is founded on this very idea; I wonder if Zuckerberg feels it should be abolished.

  2. Sif says:

    Great essay, Quinnae. Here’s to anonymity.

  3. Kimiko says:

    I notice that the people arguing to connect online identities to offline identities are also people who stand to profit a lot from data-mining..

  4. Rakaziel says:

    Harrassment or it’s prevention has never been the main motivation of their demands, them using it as an argument is merely a try to trick people into agreeing with them.
    Their motivation is the commercial use of having access to the legal names for data mining for selling user profiles and for the CIA, which partially owns aka harvests Facebook and Google (and many more I guess)

  5. Hissingfauna says:

    This was very well written and I related to much of what you said, so thanks for posting it. Anyway, destroying anonymity is a very flawed way of trying to get people to “behave”.

  6. Doug S. says:

    A non-fiction book of no small relevance to the discussion at hand.

    “Privacy laws just make the bugs smaller.” – Robert A. Heinlein

    “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” – Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems

    • DK says:

      David Brin seems to be a nice man. But I’d like to see those arguments about “you have no privacy, get over it” from someone who isn’t a privileged white man who has the success and resources to live in relative security in a conflicted, dangerous world.

      The engineers, tech gurus, and sysops who go on about the inevitability of all this junk are frequently those who are in one way or another the masters of their domain. Or they at least perceive themselves to be.

      Nevermind that much of this conversation is about freedom of self definition and self expression. The kind of “transparency” some imagine should be enacted for “real names” actually amounts to forcing the social (not merely legal) assignment of a single controlled and metered identity on everyone. Again… this is the natural thinking of the person who seeks to understand and achieve by controlling, not by enabling.

  7. KA101 says:

    Good post, on subject material that ideally shouldn’t be happening.

    Had a bit of reading-comprehension fail: reading about google exposing Fugitivus and how removing anonymity silences people, then looked at the sidebar. I think my misreading of the section as “Mafia” [actual text: “Meta”] is understandable.

  8. Korva says:

    Bloody well said. It is one of various reasons why I refuse to use this “social networking” crap. Datamining and the resulting even greater bombardment by thoroughly unwanted advertising and scam mails is another, of course.

    When I first got on the ‘net about 13 years ago, the advice I read was still: guard your privacy, guard your personal data! And never ever reveal anything you are not fully comfortable with or are pressured into. People may stalk you, harass you, and even if you have privilege on your side, the law enforcement may not care because it’s all too new to them and not “really real”. Some advancements on that front aside, I don’t see why the old advice should be any less sound now.

    People are far too careless, IMO — ad too trusting, and probably too clueless how all these “cool, hip, trendy” and allegedly free services WORK.

    It can be so incredibly liberating when, for the first time in your bloody LIFE, you explore the ‘net and find “people like you”. Or “people who believe you”. Or “people who don’t think you’re a freak”. When for the first time you can really share something about yourself without fear or shame. And though these communities may be safe and well-policed, there are 101 reasons why you wouldn’t want to use your real name even there. I guess many people cannot even imagine that because they are “normal” and devoid of empathy for those who are not. Not normal = bad, after all. And then they wonder why we “hide” from their prejudice.

  9. Elena says:

    The whole concept of a “real name” on a global internet is an interesting one, given that naming formats and naming laws vary so much internationally. The first and biggest assumption is that a person only has one name at any given time that is their real, legal name.

    Here in the UK, I can go by any name I damn well please as long as I do not do so with intent to defraud; it’s very common for people who change surnames (perhaps following marriage, civil partnership or divorce) to have official documents in a range of names. I’ve been in that situation myself. This is without getting into people having different names professionally and socially. At work I’ve dealt with people who’ve changed names on a whim or gone by multiple names, all quite legitimately. So, if I want to call myself Elena H. on my Visa card and Red Menace or Ms. Sunlight on a forum, who’s to say that both of the latter aren’t also legal names?

    I find the idea of insisting on the public use of legal names problematic for a number of reasons and have been following posts on this issue on the Geek Feminism blog, but on a personal level I just find it weird that all these privileged real-name-supporters haven’t noticed that many online communities do just fine without real-name policies. It ain’t broke. Quite the contrary. I just can’t get my head around where they’re coming from because it jars so completely with my experience.

  10. U.N. Owen says:

    . “People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.”

    Spoken like someone who’s never spent five minutes on Openbook.

  11. Eraziel says:

    Ah, the Zuckerbergs. I still love the fact that moot, a younger man than Mark, argues so thoughtfully for the right of anonymity. Not because he’s a scholar, but because of his own experiences with his 4chan.

    To know where Zuckerberg comes from we need to know that he knows almost nothing about social studies. For his statement that a person who has not one defined identity lacks integrity I still want to smack him hard. It has been known for years that everybody plays roles all the time. So maybe my role as video-game favouring chick does not work that well with my role as a teacher, especially when parents are involved.
    It is only in our very most private surrounding where we stop playing roles and “be our whole, diffuse selves”. And damn it, I won’t do that on the internet. That’s a public space.

    Another plus for anonymity is that no one (unless you tell it) can see who you are and therefore will not be prejudiced by your identity when they elaborate your opinion. How often do we have that in “real life”? How often will someone disregard your argument just for the reason that you’re younger, have no title, are a woman or do not have DD boobies?

    The internet has changed that – at least when you’re using a pseudonym. Maybe this trend will sooner or later change the minds of people to stop being prejudiced, but that needs time and may not be forced. Especially not by some spoiled, money-hungry white male kid who is so much lacking knowledge in that field of science.

  12. Katherine O'Kelly says:

    Forced identification does nothing to de-fang the predators; it just flushes the prey out of the bushes and makes them easier targets.

    The people I know who are the biggest bigots on FaceBook have no qualms about posting with their real names. They’ve already got majority privilege on their side backing them up–what do they have to hide?

  13. Conan776 says:

    Oh my, that Bingo sheet is just inspired! Nice post

  14. I have to ask: What’s a “real name”? Think about it. Then see if your definition works for everyone.

    To me, a “real name” is the name you choose to be identified by. For me, my “real name” is the one I was given. I like it, it’s what my friends know me as, etc.. But I accept that Quinnae’s “real name” isn’t the one she was born with, from what she wrote. But I still want to know: How do you define the term?

    Another interesting sub-topic is that of identity theft: Is it identity theft to use a pseudonym that someone else does?

    • Ike says:

      My “real” name is the name I would want used in my biography. Not that anyone would read my biography. However, I can see that some people who use different names in different spheres might consider themselves to have multiple “real” names. (Ex: People who speak multiple languages and have names in each.)

      I also have an internet pseudonym that I’ve used almost my entire internet life. I have it set up as my username on EVERYTHING. I wouldn’t consider it identity theft if someone else used it, unless they also proclaimed to be me. I would be pissed, though.

  15. mim says:

    The whole idea is preposterous – all it would do is to make internet work in the very same way as the real world is working now. How did they ever think that a simple change of thechnology would change inidivuals at their core? It didn’t work for newspapers, radio or television, and it won’t work now. The only difference is that a sanctuary is taken away. I never really thought of this perspective before, thank you for describing it so throughtly

    On a tangent, the living in fear argument is just maddening. I currently work in telemarketing (not for long, thank god), every woman there who’ve I’ve mentioned it to, including myself, has been sexually harrassed on the phone, the latest incident as recently as today. All of us, and I imagine that there’s something similar going on with the workers who are using real and non western european names on the phone. That’s something to think of when considering the world that we live in.

  16. ProdiGal says:

    It’s never going to happen. As long as society’s bias is towards irrationality and hyperbole, individuals are going to (rightly) value their anonymity, because everyone has a skeleton in their closet, whether real or a result of said biases of society.

  17. Kasey says:

    Thanks for this article. It helped me think more clearly about something that has been on my mind for awhile, which is how I’ve actually always been a little uncomfortable with the habit of Border House posters identifying their gender, race and sexuality in their biography, (is this a site-wide mandate, or just an in-house style?). I find this problematic partially because this information simply shouldn’t matter to the reader, and partially because it may discourage contributions by those who would rather keep such information private, or feel like they don’t belong here.

    While I don’t agree with their ideas, this did feel a little too much like an unnecessary calling-out of the Zuckerbergs, though. There will always be a conflict between the “particular type of truth” that is represented by birth names and legal documents and anonymous, malleable spaces like the internet. I imagine the edges at which the two meet – like Facebook – will always be full of conflict and debate, and I think this is a good thing.

    Do you believe the latter should consume or replace the other? I’d be very interested in hearing a more rigorous, targeted argument against the formal social constructs that shape a personals “real” or legal identity. Or is there prior writing that you can point me toward that advocates complete malleability of identity in all spheres?

    • Quinnae says:

      Well there is certainly a lot to respond to here!

      Let me begin with the last paragraph. I do feel that the amount of regulation and policing engaged in by powerful entities with regards to identity should come to an end, yes. For the reasons I articulated, for the reasons others in this comment thread have pointed out, the oligopoly surrounding ‘legal identity’ is oppressive and simply does not reflect anything but a legalistic being that is a reflection of itself. In other words, it’s entirely referential. Legal identities only have meaning because the institutions that create and manage them have such importance. They sanction and legitimise certain operations of power (wives changing their surnames to match their husbands’, children being named after their family members, sons and daughters [via trans girls] alike being made their father’s ‘junior’ or ‘the third’ etc.

      In more concrete terms I believe we should have far more control of our identities than we do at present and that changing names and genders on various sorts of forms should involve only my word and not this and that document stamped and signed by so and so. There are cultures where birth names are given for convenience but then a rite of passage into adulthood for the child involves their taking their own name, related to whatever skill they’ve developed aptitude for. That’s a small but brief example of what I’d like to create in our society. A trans woman friend of mine once told me that if she has a kid, she’ll offer as one of their 18th birthday presents a free legal name change if they so desire it. And she’d know why such a thing might be important to a child, whether cis or trans.

      But in essence, many recordkeeping institutions have more say over whether or not I’m a woman than I do, and that strikes me as more than a little troublesome. By what metrics are they definining this? In part based on certain features of my anatomy and in part based on my inability to conceive children. There is no truth about womanhood in this, of course, only the painful truth engineered by institutional self-fulfilling prophecies. An end to that is long overdue, not just for trans people, but for all of us.

      I also have to ask… conflict and debate about what and whom? When it comes to policing the identities of certain people, or using people’s information in a way that endangers them, that isn’t a fun, spirited debate. It’s a discussion we ought not need to have in the first place.

      Thirdly, about the group identification of Border Housers… The idea that the information shouldn’t matter to the reader is debatable at best when it comes to subjects like this. There are still too many cases where a person’s general perspective on certain subjects are influenced by their membership in a dominant group and it is best to get that out into the open and own that membership rather than hide behind a false idea of sameness. For those of us who belong to more marginalised groups… well to give my personal perspective on the matter regarding my own little paragraph, I am proud to be able to say very firmly, ‘look- a transgender Latina wrote this.’

      It shouldn’t matter. But I live in the real world where it decidedly *does* matter to, say, my trans siblings to see one of their own talking pretty and holding her own in the world of discourse. Particularly with regards to trans women of colour.

      It matters that I’m the one saying it because people from my groups are too often spoken *for* in absentia. It matters to me to make plain the fact that I am trans, a woman, and Latina because it matters to others.

      Hopefully this answers some of your questions.

      • Kasey says:

        Thanks for the response. I suppose I don’t see this as an issue of lineage or oppression, which was part of what I was trying to get at with my comment above. I do appreciate how the spaces in which legality and identity intersect could be viewed through that lens though and, from what I’ve heard, the hoops that someone wishing to change their gender must jump through are certainly not trivial.

        Likewise, I don’t see Facebook’s attempts to require real names as oppressive policing of identity, but as an attempt to deal with their ubiquity and all the weird, horrible legal situations that arise when people are using the internet to report or broadcast suicide attempts, organize protests (and riots!), sell drugs, and, yes harass other people. I’m not saying I’m happy with their approach, but I think I can understand why they think they need to do it. (also, as someone mentioned upthread, they’re probably more valuable to advertisers as a result)

        The question of how malleable a person’s identity is is a much more fundamental question than an individual’s freedom to choose their sexuality or gender – it seems to go to the very core of exactly what a society is.

        I can’t really imagine a legal system, or a financial system, or almost any of the sprawling, decentralized structures that make up modern society in a world where identity is fluid to the point where people are not identifiable. Should we be indexed by our social security numbers instead? (this is not a facetious question) Not indexed at all? (this is, as I really don’t see humankind retreating from modern civilization any time soon, barring massive environmental catastrophe)

        Thinking of the practical implications of such a society is immensely interesting, but there are a host of obstacles between the real world and this hypothetical world. It seems to me that, while bigotry certainly exists, there are practical problems that may be orders of magnitude more insurmountable. This is why I asked for prior writing, as its a fascinating subject and I’d love to know more about its history.

        Also, lest I sound too antagonistic toward the idea of anonymity, I think it goes without saying that the past 20 years of near-total freedom on the web have been incredibly valuable in countless ways. I definitely do not think anonymity needs to die on the web because I am not a fascist! But I’m not necessarily comfortable enough with human nature to want anonymity to be universal.

    • Alex says:

      Just to clarify about TBH’s policy regarding folks disclosing aspects of their identities: we think it’s important, for the purposes of this blog, to know where people are coming from with regard to identities (for the reasons Quinnae explained), so we ask all contributors and guest bloggers to describe how they identify *to the extent that they are comfortable doing so*. If someone is uncomfortable disclosing, say, their sexuality, or anything else, then that is not a problem. We don’t force anyone to disclose anything they don’t want to in order to have their voice heard.

  18. Corbiu Geisha says:

    I definitely agree that there is too much regulation of identity by authorities. I could never answer directly everytime someone asks for my “real name” as I could no longer think of my legal name as being me. My legal name is at times a tool of legal maneuvering, which I shouldn’t need if such a restrictive institution was never adopted in the first place, and at most other times another weapon in the kyriarchy’s arsenal of oppresion.

    The practice of patrilinearity has always bothered me. Besides the sexist element, it also threatens to remove a singificant part of a person’s heritage for those of mixed ethnicities, although I am aware that it is motivated from a desire to maintian the patriarchy than racism.

    So I just want to thank you for writing this. It really struck a chord in me.

    • Kasey says:

      I want to challenge a few of the above assumptions. One layer above the idea of a “Legal name” is the idea of a “Family Name”, which is more related to the issue of patrilinearlity. Historically, the use of Family names seems to vary between cultures and seems to only really become codified due to government and administrative needs, such a taxation or a census. While you can certainly argue that this is oppression – taxing and indexing someone under threat of imprisonment is obviously a very literal, tangible form of oppression – it seems like a stretch to claim that this is an example of systemic gender-based oppression with motives beyond simply making the gears of society turn more efficiently and collecting money for the state.

      Of course, the counterpoint to this is to ask why the father’s name is used instead of the mother’s, or instead of a gender-symmetrical name. Putting aside the fact that there have been and are matrilinear cultures, it seems to me like the practice of choosing the father’s name over the mother’s, or vice-versa, may be more of an EFFECT of sexism rather than a EXAMPLE of sexism.

      (btw, the fact that my role in this thread seems to be one of re-framing or disputing cries of oppression is not lost on me – don’t bite my head off!)

      • Corbiu Geisha says:

        I wasn’t saying that the choice of a family name is done purely out of sexist notions, but that it is a symptom of instituted patriarchy (in many cultures) and its automatic adoption deserves some questioning.

        I didn’t word it well and I blame emotions for it. Bad emotions, no dinner for you.

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