Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why I use a pseudonym.

Over on Liz Opp's blog, The Good Raised Up  , she comments about blog etiquette and advises that Quaker bloggers use their "real names".  While I am sympathetic to her rationale for this advisement, I will continue to use my pseudonym rather than my legal name.  Here are my reasons.

1.  While I feel called to maintain an online presence, I do not feel safe on the internet.  Locally, I have a public role that draws some negative attention from individuals who are opposed to my research, teaching, and politics.  Some of these people are scary.  I don't want them to see my blog.   Luckily, most of the people who are allowed to come into contact with me now are those who attend my classes or my events.  Thankfully, with only a few alarming exceptions, most of these folks are sympathetic to my views or are at least sane.  I also do my public speaking in places with fairly liberal membership or in venues with security thus increasing my sense of safety.  Although I can't control all elements of my profile and safety as a public speaker, I am reasonably confident that I am unlikely to have difficulties because hateful conservative lunatic trouble-makers are unlikely to go through the bother of attending historical presentations on nineteenth century religious reform and suffrage or to sign up for college classes. On the other hand, I've found that all kinds of wing-nuts will make comments on my blogs who would be very unlikely to attend my presentations. (Don't worry.  I'm not talking about you guys who normally read my blog.  This is why I screen my comments).   Therefore, I'm not likely to open my personal identity and family to a larger, less-controlled and possibly violent audience.  It is one thing to get creepy comments from people who know me only as "Hystery" and quite another to get creepy comments from people who know who I am and how to find my family.  What is even more scary is the fact that most people who read my blog never say a word.  God only knows what the lurkers are thinking.  Scary.

2.  Other relatives sharing my last name are also in the public view much of the time and frequently appear in the local news.  One of these close relatives has already been targeted by a local cable host for her supportive views on homosexuality.  I do not need to increase the danger to her from him or his viewers.  My blog would unquestionably provide further fodder for this malicious individual's homophobic attacks.  I don't think I have the right to take that chance.  I'd like to go on feeling free to write whatever I damn well please without fear that some crazy person will try to sabotage the careers and well-being of my family.  To share my real name means to surrender my authentic voice.

3.  Both my first and last name and their shortened forms are uncommon enough that it would not be very difficult for an individual reading my blog to figure out who I was in "real life."  I suppose that I could decrease the likelihood of this occurring by removing other identifying information about myself (in what region I live, what I teach and research, my religious affiliations) but I feel that those things are much more important for my sympathetic and sane readers to know than my name.

4.  A name is a noise people make when they want to get my attention.  It is not the same as identity.  I am "Hystery" as much as I am the name on my birth certificate.  There are a few friends who know me both as "Hystery" and by my legal name.  I prefer that they think of me more as "Hystery."  It is the identity I have chosen.  It is the identity that has brought forth the thoughts you see on this blog.  I have two other names I use every day apart from "Hystery."  One is for my professional life and one is for my family.  Although there is one person and one personality, each name is associated with different personae.  I just think and respond better when I am "in character".  I would not expect my students to call me by the name I use with my childhood friends and family.  That persona is too goofy, emotional,vulnerable, and socially inappropriate to be a good college professor.  Likewise, it would make me uncomfortable if my family used my professional name.  That persona is too analytical, authoritative, and theatrical to be a good daughter, mother or friend.  "Hystery" is a different persona who allows me a depth my other two names would not allow.  I like her.  Although she merely says the very same things I say to my family and my students, she says them in a way that is unique to her.  Her insights illuminate my beliefs and fears in a way my other personae cannot and her voice has helped flesh out the rest of my life.  I'd hate to lose that.

4.  I never go to Quaker functions beyond meeting because I can't afford them.  But if I did, I could very easily introduce myself using both my legal and my blogger names.  I could wear one of those god-awful stupid sticky name tags with my name and then ("Hystery") written in parentheses.  Anyone who wanted to connect with me regarding my blog work could easily do so.  (Although I think you'd be very surprised.  "Hystery" isn't remotely like the persona I use at Friends' meetings which is too bad.  When with Friends, I do not feel comfortable enough to be the person my family loves nor confident enough to be the person my students respect so I end up being the person who stands close to my husband and hopes like hell no one will make eye contact with me.  That person is a waste of time.)  For the most part, I do not think this is important in my case for anyone to know my Clark Kent personality.  Why bother?  I am marginal enough among Friends both online and in the "real world" that I seriously doubt that there will be any great demand of my time, thoughts, or skills in formal Quaker settings.

5.  I am unlikely to be featured on Quaker Quaker.  I'm always surprised and sometimes even annoyed when I find my blog featured there without so much as a head's up so I'm not sure that I belong to any online Quaker community or that I should be concerned with following their standards.  It became clear some time ago that I'm just the wrong kind of Friend to be a going concern on the Quaker blogosphere.  But when I do make an appearance, I am consistently "Hystery" whenever I am on the internet and this has been the case for some years.  (A notable exception was when I signed up for a web group for Pagans and didn't have enough savvy to keep my real name from appearing with my posts.  This was a major reason why I left that group.)

So that's it.  Maybe I'm paranoid.  I also will not ever put my picture on the internet (although others have without my permission.)  The problem with the internet is that while all of you are lovely people, others who read my blog and my comments on other blogs are creepy as hell.  I'd prefer the creepy folks not know how to find me.  My ability to share myself without having to look over my shoulder all the time trumps any of my discomfort with violating etiquette.  When online, I am most honest and most myself when I am "Hystery".  To disclose my legal name would do nothing more to help Friends understand who I am and what I believe but would instead push me toward greater emotional and philsophical secrecy and silence.


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hello Hystery,

I like your pseudonym, your 'Penn name';-) partially because it has all sorts of nuances and ambiguities.

Your extended reflection reminds me of a time you said that you "contain multitudes," as I recall quoting Whitman.

I think pen names are more fun too. One can play, be creative. They aren't stuffy. One of the best was Clemens' Mark Twain, which was a river term, and meant "safe water." No doubt Clemens meant that denotatively and ironically.

Just curious, do you have any favorite pen names of authors?

I certainly wouldn't want to have an email address such as How boring!

In the Light,

rivermenno (one of my old pen names; no doubt you get the allusions and humor:-)

Hystery said...

I've always enjoyed a good nom de plume. Literary women still make use of this tool to obscure their gender.

Another name I use when writing is "Solace Greening" which references Hildegard von Bingen's work. Of course, when I perform, I take on different names. Occasionally I play Elizabeth Cady Stanton as she appeared at the time of the Convention in '48 but more often I choose to be one of my own ancestors- Susan Bachoven or Lizzie Spangle.

Names are like garments. The person inside is always the same but behavior, mannerisms, tone, and temperament change subtly depending on what one wears. All life's a stage and all that. :-)

Lone Star Ma said...

I think we should do as we like in regards to pen names. Personally, I am "out' as Lone Star Ma - anyone can go to my blog or website or public record and find my real name - it is a writing identity that I very much identify with (my youngest just calls me "Ma")but people around here know it's me.

Poimandrea Alchemi said...

There are other concerns with regards to the Internet and privacy; many of the ex-members of my former group use pseudonyms, or redact their last names only if they have very very common given names, when they post online.

Partly because we don't want to be targeted by the "You're so bitter!" or "Just get over it!" crowds. Partly because we don't want to attract undue attention to family members who may still be in, and who would be ordered to break off contact, or be disfellowshipped as a result. Or in some cases, those posting would be disfellowshipped themselves!

I personally have other considerations that prevent me from posting under my legal name, which I do not foresee being ameliorated any time soon. Just throwing those reasons out there as to why people may be uncomfortable using their real names on the Internet.

(And yes, I have gotten the "I really don't trust you because you don't use your real name" flack from other Quakers online as well.)

I tend to do the opposite to what you do, though; while I have cycled through a great many usernames over the past couple of years, I am at the core still "me", and if anyone ever read what I posted here, they could probably make out who I am very quickly.

I've often wondered if my multiple pseudonyms on the Internet means that I am fragmented, personality-wise, but objectively speaking, that isn't rational. Because whatever pseudonyms I go under, I will always be the nontheist quasi-panentheistic, sorta-gnostic, wannabe-Friend.....

I will note in conclusion, albeit rather snarkily, that your posts show up on QQ usually long after they have already been up on quakersinthewild for quite some time. :-)

Missus Wookie said...

I like your imagery of the names being coats, I too use a pseudonym whilst on line and blogging. My family do not need to have their life, comments, photos etc. easily searchable and stored. Both parts of my name are too easily identifiable to feel comfortable using them.

The public anonymity gives me a (possibly mistaken) feeling of freedom to talk more openly without worrying that someone will be able to track me down.

But I do answer to my blog name if called.

natcase said...

Hystery: Thanks for the post. Ya know, I go both ways on this. I absolutely hear you, Hystery. But I also make a conscious choice to use my real name when I blog, and I would feel really weird using an opaque username.

To me the question is, what makes you the most honest writer you can be? The answer will be different for different folks, depending on what sort of dishonesty they are seeking to avoid. In your case, your honesty requires not being afraid of threat, so you are not weighed against speaking truth by worrying someone will get hurt by a lunatic when you do. In my case, I'm not especially worried about the lunatics, being pretty well buffered and not having an especially publicly exposed life. To me a pseudonym would be a way to not have to own what I say, something that is clearly not a problem for you.

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