Saturday, June 25, 2011

What's Up With The Fellas?

cross posted from my Media Justice column

This week has been filled with a whole bunch of people who identify as men acting out! So, I wonder, what’s up with the fellas this week?

My homegirl Barbara sent me this evolving story of Tom MacMaster, a 40-year old heterosexual married man who is a US citizen posing as a young Syrian lesbian woman named Amina Abdallah Aral al Omari on the blog A Gay Girl In Damascus (go search for it because I’m not linking to it!). He creates this persona and person on a blog he establishes and creates fictitious experiences, the most recent being that she was kidnapped. I remember seeing this story come up on my Tumblr page with an image of what is to be Amina Abdallah Aral al Omari saying she has been kidnapped. Shortly after that exchange, it comes to light that he was making it all up. In an interview with the Guardian,
MacMaster speaks on the portrayaland is basically very matter-of-fact regarding his posing. Not only is he posing but he’s also stealing fotos of a woman from Facebook and using them for his story(ies).

His reasoning for doing this was one of selfishness. He wanted to be a lesbian Syrian woman because it was a “challenge” for him as a writer. He wanted to be challenged in the stories he creates. Oh, but folks it gets better! He also created an online relationship with another woman in Canada who alleges the relationship was “serious” and may have been sexual in nature as well. MacMaster says he feels “regret” and talks about how hurt he feels for tricking folks all over the world. He says he “regrets a lot of people feel I led them on.”

Now, who does this man think he is? Why does he think it is alright to do this? Oh, right it’s that little thing called male privilege when it hooks up with white supremacy. This is one example where people create specific messages for specific purposes. An example of how art can hurt other people, communities, and halt/distract social justice movements and agendas worldwide. But we can rest assured “justice will be served” right? WRONG. There are currently NO, I repeat NO legal ramifications for anything that he did/created, even stealing the images of another woman.

What message does this send about the lesbian community? Activists in Syria? Middle Eastern women?

Ok, Syria too far away from home for you? Ok, let’s try the creator of the lesbian news website Lez Get Real who goes by Paula Brooks is
actually a man also posing as a woman online. Bill Graber is a 58 year-old heterosexual married veteran from Ohio, posed as a deaf lesbian!

What’s going on here folks? I’m not going to try and “figure out” each man in these stories, I’m far from figuring folks out these days. Instead I’m wanting to understand how claiming an identity and performing what one thinks that identity includes is so appealing. Let’s be honest, since the internets have existed folks have been posing online. Some folks who are against
Net Neutrality could use these examples as reasons to put boundaries on the internets, however what about the misuse of power in these scenarios? I’m not talking about folks who go onto sites and build avatars that don’t look like them to play games or build community, or folks in chat rooms who are looking for something specific, or to lure others into giving them things or manipulating them. Those instances, of people lying about who they are online, is old news. But this, using the media in a way that is international and reaches multiple people is something that may be a bit new, at least it is new to me!

However, the main issue about why folks may be attracted to such activities, I believe, remains the same: power. Kira Cocran at The Guardian speaks to this in her article
The Weird World of Lesbian Hoaxers where she speaks with several lesbian writers. She reports:

In fact, as the psychotherapist and feminist writer Susie Orbach says, they seem to have been using these lesbian personas as a "double inversion – exploiting the 'illegitimacy' of the person they were impersonating to give themselves legitimacy". In apologising, MacMaster wrote that he had seen "lots of incredibly ignorant and stupid positions repeated on the Middle East" online, and had found that when he, as "a person with a distinctly Anglo name, made comments on the Middle East, the facts I might present were ignored and I was 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."
And so he took on the persona of someone whose views are so rarely heard or listened to. Iman Qureshi, a Pakistani lesbian writer, sees this as a very distinct form of egotism. "I think the rise of identity politics – a concerted effort to give marginalised people a voice – has made some white heterosexual men a little paranoid or insecure," she says, "so they invent an oppression and position themselves as victims. I would assume MacMaster felt ostracised from his 'own people', as it were, and as a result took on a persona in which he felt he could be heard without criticism. This seems to me to be a hero complex that's really a very smug delusion – 'Look at me, look at how I'm standing up for oppressed people.'"
Both cases, says the feminist writer Beatrix Campbell, can be seen as a portrait of male dominance – men needing to infiltrate discussions where they wouldn't otherwise have an obvious, and certainly not an authoritative, place. She says that when it comes to MacMaster, "he clearly doesn't have a clue about what the politics of identity has tried to reveal, which is, first, that we are not all white men, and second, that white men are always treated as the supreme identity. Here he is, doing the same thing – claiming the virtue of representing a repressed condition, in a repressed part of the world, deciding that he is the person who will give that voice. That is the supreme irony. Here we have a boundaryless white American boy absolutely habituated to a kind of supremacy, and reiterating that supremacy through his blog. It speaks to an omnipotence that doesn't understand its own limits." As Carolin says, he is ignored the first rule of being an ally, which is "don't try to speak for the people you're trying to support".

Then, I am reminded of Tracey Morgan’s
trifling rant, which I’m sure you have read about, has influenced a lot of the writing that has come my way. I’m sure you’ve also read abouthis numerous apologies. He has been working with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and will be meeting with families of LGBTQI youth who have been murdered because of violence in NYC and returning to Nashville to apologize. Now I could go on a tangent about how GLAAD has it’s own mess to clean up, but for now I’ll stick to Morgan. There’s something going on here and I know I need more time to think on it, but I’m wondering if it is connected to attention. Or rather the impression that people are being seen and heard. I know what it feels like to want to be heard and seen and taken seriously in what you do and believe. So, how does this desire/need become something so harmful and manipulative?

Maybe stories like these are why I’m so thankful for types of media by men like the ones below. The first on is a video of a performer, J-Jon. I have no idea who this young man is to be honest and my searches lead me to different folks, and I’m not sure which to link to so if you have information on this performer please share!

This is my first introduction of him and it came from youth and a teacher at a school where I provided an HIV/AIDS education and prevention workshop last week. After speaking to the students for a class period, the teacher shared with us this artists and song title telling us we would really like the video and song. The teacher shared that the students they work with shared it and they thought we would appreciate it as well. It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that I remembered and looked it up. Now I realize why they think we would appreciate this video. Check it out below, there is some language that may not be appropriate for some work places (no transcript, if someone is able to or knows where one is located please share)

I’m sure if I was in another headspace I could provide further discussion and critique of this piece of media. For now, I’m glad I have it as a tool to use when needed. What are your thoughts?

Finally, this weekend I read an article by a Native writer of novels, comics, screenplays and young adult books, Sherman Alexie. If you are not familiar with Alexie’s work may I suggest his latest works
War Dances and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I have not ever taught Alexie’s work, mostly I’ve read it for my own pleasure and passed books around among my friends and folks I’ve had the privilege to mentor. Yet, when I managed a literacy project for youth of Color in east Harlem six years ago, young adult novels became a part of everyday work. There has been a lot of talk around young adult novels and Alexie has responded.

In his Wall Street Journal article titled
Why The Best Kids Books Are Written In Blood Alexie makes an argument for why young adult novels address difficult and challenging topics (i.e. sexual orientation, teenage pregnancy, addiction, sex, homelessness, rape, -isms, war, survival, etc.).

Alexie argues:

When some cultural critics fret about the “ever-more-appalling” YA books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.
No, they are simply trying to protect their privileged notions of what literature is and should be. They are trying to protect privileged children. Or the seemingly privileged.

It is this privilege that I hope my students may be able to discuss when I use this article in my class. How are our ideas of protection ones that are very specific and limited? How do our ideas of protection reach far beyond books, to law enforcement, social expectations, and reproductive justice? Who are we really protecting and why do we think we even have such power?

Power. It’s a topic that has come up a lot in this article, and in this column since it began in 2008. I think this topic is so important. We must realize that we individually and collectively have power. We must also recognize when we use that power over others versus with others. How that power may shift and become oppressive and we must hold ourselves accountable and learn to grow and heal so that it does not happen again. I think some folks, such as the two men above, have yet to really grasp this idea of power and how to use their power in strategic ways that make connections and not stroke their egos. My hope is that we all discover our power and that we choose to use it to create change that will eliminate any form of injustice and oppression.

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