Pseudonyms vs. Identities

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Commentary
Title: Pseudonyms vs. Identities
Commentator: 'Nathan Burgoine
Date(s): September 19, 2015
Medium: online
Fandom: original fiction
External Links: online here; WebCite
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Pseudonyms vs. Identities is a post by 'Nathan Burgoine in response to the reveal that Josh Lanyon was not a gay man.

Topics Discussed

  • cultural appropriation
  • sexuality and genre
  • fanfic
  • Rachel Dolezal and Yi-Fen Chou
  • catfishing
  • pseuds

Excerpts

That discussion about pseudonyms is happening again.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the briefest version is this: once again, for what feels like the millionth time, it turns out there’s another female author who writes under a male pseudonym while writing m/m fiction (and/or gay fiction, which is another huge debate I won’t get into with this post, I don’t think).

Now, for the most part, the vast majority of feedback has been, simply put: Oh, who cares? I read the book for the content, not for the gender of the author. If the book is good, it doesn’t matter.

Do I agree? Yes.

And, deep breath, also no.
The way I think most people use pseudonyms is basically branding. The first time I wrote erotica, I considered a pseudonym, but I decided not to. I don’t regret that, but a lot of authors do use a different name to differentiate between different genres or themes. Having a name for erotica different from romance can be a really smart idea if your romances, say, are super-cozy and very fade-to-black. You don’t want a reader to pick up your super-smutty BDSM book and freak out when they they think they’re getting another super-cozy fade-to-black romance. Similarly, authors will sometimes do the same thing when they’re crossing from romance into mystery, or chick-lit into thrillers, or… well, you get the idea. The author bios might be a wee bit fantastical, author photos might have different angles or outfits, but it’s the same person. Many of them will even point out the other names the author writes under – which does open up readers to crossover, but without the jarring impact of “Woah! BDSM!” like in my example.
Now, I hope I’m being very clear about some key things. I absolutely don’t think women can’t write m/m or gay fiction (please re-read that as many times as you need to believe me, okay?) I also don’t see anything wrong with using a pseudonym. I don’t even think there’s anything inherently off about using a pseudonym that isn’t aligned with the gender you identify with. But if you’re adopting a whole persona and identity from a culture – be it a race, sexual orientation, gender, neurotype or any other group to which you don’t belong – and you choose to speak from that role, you’re stepping over a line.

Comments: At the Post

[Kate Sherwood]:
I think you’re making a really valuable and useful distinction, here. Whichever direction we’re coming from, I think clarification of terms, and the concomitant clarification of ideas, is really important. Purely coincidental, of course, that I totally agree with you about the rest of it! A name is just a name. The rest of it, though? It gets tricky.
[ctanwriter]:
For the most part, I agree. Where the bright lines break down for me and I’ve never quite been able to generalize is with FTM writers who start out as straight-seeming women, but through their exploration of fiction writing and/or inhabiting a writing persona come to grips with their own gender dysphoria and ultimately transition to male. After transition we’re no longer supposed to deadname folks or out them as other than what they appear, so where should I stand on transmen who, to use your example, review or give advice based on their authority as gay men? I believe in respecting a trans person’s right to their new identity. At this point I have probably worked with 6-7 erotica authors who started out as married women with kids who adopted a gay male persona first and then transitioned fully over time. If I know that many there are surely many more, as well. Note I’m not bringing this up to contradict your stance, but trying to work through for myself where to draw my own lines, I suppose. It doesn’t seem as if a person should have to legally transition to “validate” an opinion and yet that’s the philosophical stance it leads me to–that I shouldn’t be labeling something appropriation of gay male culture if the person is living as a gay man, but should if that same person hasn’t taken that step. Questions of personhood arise. But maybe I just answered my own question: a person who hasn’t literally taken that step in gay men’s shoes can’t speak of living that experience while those who live as gay men simply can, no sophistry required.
[Erica Pike]:
Recently there’s been the added justification of women being the underdog when it comes to book sales. There are people who only seek out books by gay men, true, but women are *not* the underdog in this genre. For the lack of a better term, women rule this genre. What’s happening outside the genre doesn’t apply here. Women are making thousands of dollars in royalties. Many make much more than many male authors I know. Some men are really struggling, and that lone should prove that this has nothing to do with gender. The men may have more adoring fans on Facebook, but women are doing perfectly well and some are just as adored.
[Carey]:
“I am taking voice, not giving it.” This theme seems to be everywhere right now. Having sat through Gamer Gate and the Hugos/Sad Puppies debacles over the last year, this is the important message, and it is being overwhelmed by the dissent. There is such a fine line between pseudonym and identity, between giving voice and taking it. Thank you for an exceptional overview and illustration of finding – and not crossing – that line.
[Ki]:

I wanted to say something about the kerfluffle that has been flying around about Lanyon, but didn’t have the best words to do it. I would like to say, that I write gay romance or m/m romance (though actually, what I write is urban fantasy with a paranormal element and romance), but I’m female. My name, my real name, is somewhat ambiguous due to the spelling, so I chose to publish under my nickname, which hilariously enough gets pegged as a “woman’s” name more than my real name. That being said, I know sometimes there is confusion. Through various functions of my personality and the fact that I consider myself gender fluid my blog posts tend to be fairly neutral pronoun wise. I’m also pansexual, so there’s the fact that I’m queer in such a way that some people actually take issue with it. I like women and men and other, but I’m currently married to a CISman. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not queer and I don’t have a place to speak about issues that have to deal with the community, but I certainly would never conclusively try to speak about issues that gay men are dealing with.

I don’t like the idea that having a pseudonym can be seen as “lying” to people as long as I don’t present myself falsely to my readership and the community in the ways described in this article. Having a pseudonym, creating this unique name and then writing your heart out under it, almost like a creative muse, a creative spark, is part of the fun of being a writer.
[Renae Kaye]:
As a writer, you have a choice of what name to publish under. I am one of those female authors of M/M, and when choosing a pen name, I thought about what name to use. I considered a male name and instantly rejected it. It’s not right – and to deceive readers by taking this identity is to break their trust when the truth comes out. Because the truth will come out. If you don’t wish to reveal your gender, the wonderful thing about authoring is that you don’t have to. Initials, names that work for both genders, no photo… all of this is available, and can be done successfully.