Men masquerading as lesbians online: allies or cowards?

Paula Brooks June 17th, 2011

A parallel deception which was uncovered in the course of the Gay Girl In
 Damascus fallout was the case of Paula Brooks. It
 was revealed last week that Paula, editor of the website LezGetReal.com – a laughably misleading title, in hindsight – was not a
 lesbian either, but in fact a 58-year-old man named Bill Graber, writes Nine.

Graber spoke of a commitment to LGBT rights and said that he assumed a 
lesbian identity because “I thought people wouldn’t take it seriously, me 
being a straight man.” This merits a closer look, given that while the Gay
Girl In Damascus blog was directed at a general audience, rather than a
 lesbian-specific one, LezGetReal looked inwards towards the lesbian 
community.

As Julie Phineas, co-founder of the site juliephineas.com stated in an e-mail to Graber, after his unmasking, it wouldn’t have been a big drama to just contribute
 to the site under his own name. However, there were layers upon layers to 
his deceit, and he had created a whole story for his character Paula. He
 invented the excuse that she was deaf in order to explain why she was 
unavailable by phone. Instead, people could speak to her father – really
 himself – and he would interpret for her. Deafness was seemingly just a 
convenient characteristic that he could exploit in order to maintain his 
lie, rather than one which involved any kind of awareness of or solidarity
 with deaf communities.

After Graber’s outing, Renee Gannon, editor of Lesbiatopia.com, published
 a blog post describing how Paula Brooks introduced 
herself in 2007 with the story that she was a closeted teacher – and 
with the audacious claim that she was annoyed at a heterosexual friend for
 masquerading as a lesbian online. Although Paula certainly threw herself
 into her new role at Lesbiatopia, as her involvement with the site grew so
 did her aggressive manner. One example of this was when she e-mailed 
fellow contributors to complain that Gannon was on holiday with her 
girlfriend while others were campaigning in the streets against
 Proposition 8. Having assumed a fake identity in order to work for LGBT 
rights, Graber was now telling LGBT people that they were doing it wrong.

Gannon questions why Graber decided to “torment, abuse, threaten and
badger these women (including myself) who [he] claimed to care so much
about [...] It seems very cowardly if you ask me, to hide behind a
computer and bully gay women.” To everyone’s surprise, Graber seems to
 have subsequently used the Paula Brooks account to leave comments on
 Gannon’s post, threatening legal action. One commenter offers, “He has 
always wanted militant lesbians, standing for a single cause… I think he
 might finally get his wish, because there are A LOT of pissed off lesbians 
right now!”

Meanwhile, Tom MacMaster must have been aware that disguising himself as 
Amina, the Gay Girl In Damascus, was not a case of moving horizontally
 from one identity to an equivalent one. “I noticed that when I, a person 
with a distinctly Anglo name, made comments on the Middle East,” he 
explained, “the facts I might present were ignored and I found myself
 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.” What he means to say here, I gather, was 
that his opinion on Middle East issues was distorted by opponents as soon
 as they were made aware that he was not himself from the region. However,
 his phrasing is particularly unfortunate given the quite unlikely 
implication that Arabs are assumed to hate America and Jews less often 
than westerners are.

Both men seem to have interpreted their privileged identities as a hurdle
 to getting the job done. Although their politics were progressive, they 
seem to have missed out on basic lessons about appropriation and
 transparency. This is perplexing, given that the LGBT community has many
 straight allies, and feminist men have a significant presence in the
 blogosphere. Furthermore, knowledgeable westerners are capable of making
 useful contributions to discussions of Middle Eastern politics without 
dominating the entire stage.

For MacMaster and Graber, it was apparently not good enough to present as
 allies; they saw their contributions as too essential to take merely a 
supporting role. They were sufficiently well-informed about the issues at
 hand to convince people that Amina and Paula were real, but also to
 convince themselves that their input as these characters was necessary in 
order to effect change. By inserting themselves into the middle of
 campaigns for the marginalised, they demonstrated a reluctance to hand
over the mic to their supposed beneficiaries. Ultimately this is a story 
about ostensibly liberal people who were able to turn a critical eye on 
the rest of the world, but not on themselves.

 comments

  • Nicely done! You make some great points.

    C.J.

    Fiesty Charlie ∼ June 23rd, 2011 5:23 am
  • Why any surprise around the fact that men like this fervently believe they can even ‘do lesbian’ better than women can? No redeeeming motives, sinister motivations and outrageous that they believe they have any insight into lesbianism. Call me old fashioned, but you know, my lesbianism has nothing to do with men whatsoever, don’t care what female nom de plume floats their boat!

    Louise ∼ June 23rd, 2011 9:38 pm
  • “For MacMaster and Graber, it was apparently not good enough to present as
 allies; they saw their contributions as too essential to take merely a 
supporting role.”

    YES! This is the crux of it all: The arrogance that they’re not satisfied being allies. Great post!

    Alex ∼ June 29th, 2011 4:08 pm
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