Psuedonyms, Privilege, and Accountability

Trigger warning: mention of rape, abuse, death threats, e-bullying; use of a word that’s often used as a slur as description of sexual orientation; privilege denying people.

I had two separate run-ins, arguments, disagreements, whatever, with two different people this summer. The arguments were about completely different things, but each person holds the belief that if you’re not posting or writing or chatting with your real name, that is, your legal name, then you somehow cannot be held accountable for your words, and are no better than some douchebag on Youtube, languishing in comfortable anonymity. 

Both of these people also claim to be very much into Social Justice.

Guys, you’re doing it wrong.

The first run-in was with Peter Dybing, who never actually personally told me my use of a pseudonym was RONG, but that may be because he doesn’t realize Morag Spinner is a pseudonym. His policy is very clear on his blog, however.

If you wish to comment on this blog please use your real name.

Pagan In Paradise.

The second was with Alison Lilly in an argument on Google+. I’m not going to get into details, but it ended with her blocking me and then telling someone else that I was enjoying berating her with a pseudonym that prevented accountability. (How do I know what she said if she blocked me? The post is public; I happened to see it from one of my other accounts on G+.)

I want to address this idea that pseudonyms prevent accountability.

letmetellyouwhythatsbs

I chose the name Morag Spinner with care. I was Morag in the pagan community and blogosphere for years before I was Morag Spinner, and when I chose the last name Spinner I did so with the full intention of it being my pagan name, and writing books under it. It’s not just a screen name; it’s my pagan identity.

If you ever meet me at a pagan event — or a non-pagan event — and ask “Hey, are you Morag Spinner of The Mundane Mystic?” I will smile, say “Yes, I am zie!” and shake your hand. (Or I will say “I do write under the name Morag Spinner, but for the purposes of this event I am [other person].” Or I will say “It’s 9 a.m. and I haven’t had my coffee yet; until I do I have no name or humanity.”) And if you proceed to ask me “Do you really mean what you said in [such-and-such a post]?” I will either respond with “Every word,” or “I wrote that post a long time ago and no longer fully believe everything I wrote in it. I still stand by ___ and ___, but I can’t fully get behind ___ or ____ anymore.” Or something to that effect.

I have a long posting history (five years this past June) at The Cauldron under the name Morag, and that profile is linked to this blog. I make it no secret that I am the same Morag of The Mundane Mystic (and Maenads of the (R)Evolution).

The fact that I keep my identities — Morag Spinner and what I go by in everyday life — compartmentalized from each other does not detract from accountability with my pseudonym. SunflowerP blogs under a pseudonym, and she and I have been friends for a while now and I still have no idea what her “real” identity is. Nor does it matter. She speaks as Sunflower, and she is accountable for her words as Sunflower. Because she speaks with honesty and integrity, I assume what she says as Sunflower is not that different from what she says as whomever she is when she’s not Sunflower.

If Sunflower’s privilege were to show in a thread we were participating in, and I called her on it, she would not shout “HAH HAH IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK BECAUSE SUNFLOWER’S NOT MY REAL NAME”. She’d be accountable for her words; indeed, she always has been. So what name I know her by does not really matter. (I am not going to quote Shakespeare here; you can do so in the comments if you really can’t resist.)

So why do certain bloggers find the use of “real” names online so important?

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t say that part of it is because of the dangers of the Net. Basically anyone who posts is a target for e-bullying and cyber-violence. Marginalized folks of all stripes especially. I think people tend to believe that if you insist on people using their “real” names it will cut down on trolling or e-bullying, because suddenly! accountability!

The truth is, it won’t cut down on trolling or e-bullying or any of that. I mean, look at Dybing’s 26 comments on my blog. Seriously. Definition of troll, right there. (I don’t classify what he did as e-bullying myself, frankly, though some people might. It’s a sort of nebulous term.)

The bigger reason is privilege. Pure and simple.

If you’re white, able-bodied, well off or at least not poor, heterosexual, thin or at least not fat, cis-gendered, and you blog using your “real” name about things that don’t cause a huge ripple outside the pagan community, if any other groups notice them at all, and you believe that your use of your “real” name makes you a more accountable person than the fat genderqueer disabled poor faggot* who’s calling you on your bullshit and blogs about stuff that’s more likely to get zir death threats and pictures of zir apartment building in zir inbox…your privilege is showing. It’s waving in the breeze like underwear on a flag pole.

When marginalized folk blog about things, very often we’re taking our lives into our own hands. I’m still pretty privileged, and yet I still spend most nights worrying that someone is going to find out where I live and find me and hurt me. Or even just threaten to hurt me; that’s enough to trigger my anxiety to hell and gone and give me more panic attacks than I know what to do with.

Back in July some trolls from the anus of the internet got a hold of one of my vlogs, and I became the target of a vicious e-bullying campaign. It caused such a huge anxiety attack I was suicidal and sobbing. And this was over me being fat. Not even over me being queer as fuck. Or sometimes presenting as male. Haven’t done that in a vlog yet; not sure if I’m going to.

There is a big difference between that and “some marginalized person was angry about something I posted; I’M BEING ATTACKED! Block ALL the profiles!”

Oftentimes marginalized people must post under pseudonyms, because the internet is such a dangerous place for us. It is not difficult for someone to find you if you’re not careful. For several years, searching my “real” name — that is, my LEGAL name, the one on all my documentation — would bring up my mother’s (and mine, at the time) home address. On the first page of results. This was because we’d signed a petition against the paper mill’s proposal to build a new landfill for fly ash in a residential area. They published the petition online, complete with addresses. Way to be classy, big corporation.

If ever this blog gets well-known enough, I can be sure that I will get more people trolling and attacking me. I blog about the rights of marginalized folk, about the privileged fuckery that goes on in Pagandom, I call people out on their bullshit, and I fight against oppression. This makes people angry, and they feel the need to tell me how they angry they are in the form of wishing rape and abuse on me. Or telling me to go kill myself. Or saying they’ll do that for me.

Yet I keep talking, because I won’t let their attempts to silence me succeed.

Disagreement with someone, calling someone out on their privilege, calling someone out for bad behavior — these are not attempts to silence. If you think they are, check your privilege. If you think a pseudonym means whoever’s using it has no accountability, check your privilege. If people are constantly calling out your shit and you keep whining about how you’re being attacked…check your privilege.

Seriously, people. Check yourself privilege before you wreck yourself reputation. 

The only real reason I can think of someone wanting your “real” name is if “accountability” means “I’m able to report them to the authorities.” And if that’s the reason these people have…they need to check their privilege.

*For those of you who are not aware, my sexual orientation is omni-attracted faggot. It’s complicated, and it took me a while to finally figure out what my sexual orientation is — because while gender and sexual orientation are different things, sometimes they’re related. Like when you’re genderqueer and terms like heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual are largely meaningless to you. So yeah. I’m a fag.

5 Comments


  1. I totally agree.
    Just because it is not my so-called legal name, it is not a fake, damn it.
    Tana Adaneth is my chosen craft name in the pagan community for OVER freaking 12 years now.
    I don’t acknowledge any whining about people needing to know my ‘real’ name, so that they ‘know’ who they are dealing with. Fuck that bullshit.
    Dear world: if you don’t feel able to interact with me, because OMGSBBQ Tana is not the name, my dear mother picked for me – just fuck off. Thanks.

    Reply

  2. Seriously? She accused you, YOU, of hiding behind a pseudonym? Wow, that’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard! Though I have to admit, I’d love to know what pissed her off so much :).

    ‘Cause, you know, I love you best when your ruffling feathers and pissing people off. It makes folks think about things in new and interesting ways ;)

    Reply

    1. So far as I can tell, it pissed her off that people were willing to call her on her bullshit — namely that it was her painting the entire pagan community as “assholes” that caused people to react negatively, not that her post “struck a nerve” or the fact that it was on Facebook (the same post on G+ apparently only brought agreement — perhaps this is also because there are still more people on Facebook?). So she deleted the original post where I called her out and slandered me in the comments of another one. When I told her that her use of the word “abusive” to describe my use of the word “fuck” was heinous, she blocked me — under the guise of “Things were getting HEATED so I’m trying to de-escalate”.

      That’s the incident in a nutshell. I didn’t get into it in the blog post because the point of the post isn’t to rip into people.

      Ok, wait, no, it is to rip into people, but not specific people. I didn’t want the post to turn into “AND LET ME TELL YOU HOW MUCH THIS PERSON SUCKS” mainly because it’s not relevant to my overall point.

      ‘Cause, you know, I love you best when your ruffling feathers and pissing people off. It makes folks think about things in new and interesting ways.

      Aww, thanks! :)

      Reply


  3. I’m tickled pink – no, make that tickled purple:D – to be chosen as an example!

    I’m deliberately cultivating persistence of (online) identity – I use a consistent avatar, I link back to my DW (or occasionally my LJ, when Blogger doesn’t want to recognize a DW-linked OpenID or a Gravatar that isn’t a WP blog – there’s a whole long rant in there, and Google’s missteps regarding pseudonyms, privilege, and accountability are part of it), I choose to retain the old habit of signing my name at the bottom of posts. People see these things, and they know, or can easily find out, the kinds of things they need to know when interacting with me online, which mostly have to do with reputation, reliability, standpoint, and the like.

    (The one place where I don’t use that name, it’s partly to support my partner’s identity firewalls, and partly because it’s in a place that has quite a lot of toxicity going on – and even then, it’s a variant that’s not difficult to suss out if the one sussing is applying slightly more alertness and thought than a searchbot.)

    My wallet name does not have online reputation; it will not tell anyone who isn’t already acquainted with me in meatlife anything relevant. Should it ever be necessary to hold me accountable under the law for anything I say or do online, there are already processes that exist for that, so the only way in which my wallet name would make me more “accountable” is by enabling asshats to issue the threat, “I know where you live, so you better be careful!” As Sunflower, though, I’m accountable for my online words and deeds because they affect the reputation accruing to my persistent pseudonym. (As it happens, I also have a certain amount of meatlife accountability as Sunflower; it’s my public Craft name, and there are quite a lot of people – certainly dozens, possibly hundreds – who know me F2F by both names. Heck, just today I got an email from my elder daughter in which she mentioned that seeing lots of sunflowers lately is what reminded her to write.)

    I can never quite decide if the clamorers for “real” names are too naive, ‘Net-illiterate, or privilege-soaked to figure that out; or are massively, monumentally, spectacularly, maliciously disingenuous. I dislike assuming that much malice (it’s well beyond the baseline of “human, therefore prone to petty malice”), but there’s very little room for middle ground. Well, there’s always, “know the argument is specious, know their motives are malicious, are cluelessly unable to distinguish the petty malice they feel from the not-at-all-petty consequences” – so, privilege-soaked.

    I do find it interesting just how often someone who objects to pseudonyms is doing so in the context of objecting to an instance of being held accountable for their words. (Pretty much invariably, outside of hypothetical discussions about the general principles.)

    (Also – I regret to say that I am unsurprised to hear that ALL has been a prat on this matter.)

    Sunflower

    Reply

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