Contemplating other hosts

As a rule, I don’t try to out the personality behind a pseudonym. Anyone still reading who can recall the days of Iain Hall versus (then) “Anonymous Lefty” know which side I was on. My sympathies haven’t changed terribly much, even if the specifics may have a little.

By default I also don’t really care about remembering or revisiting the birthnames of transgender people, and further, regard this matter as independent from the ontology of gender and/or sex, and hence of even less fundamental importance. There are no more innately male or female names than there are innately male or female colours or clothes. There are just gender conventions, and these should be optional.

“Jane”, for example, is a perfectly okay name for a guy, and if some fella had the awful misfortune to be named “Jayden”, “Nigel” or “Moonchild” by his parents, then I’m not going to begrudge him the change of name. The civics of this are obviously generalizable to include the name changes of transgender individuals.

(This is entirely separate to the psychology of changing name, which often seems comparable to the psychology of personalized number plates – something for the most part done by people altogether too self-regarding.)

So the rule stands – I’ll default to post-transition names, and nom de plumes, and pseudonyms and aliases and avatars and so on.

It’s not a rule without exception, though, and what I want to do in certain cases runs up against what is apparently new WordPress policy.

For those who don’t know, the “Gender Identity Watch” blog (among others) was bumped from WordPress some time back, initially being locked-out and thereby unable to download their own content to port elsewhere (the owners of WordPress.com, Automattic eventually relented and handed over the archives). The justification given, ad hoc, was that “deadnaming” was done, and that “deadnaming” was a violation of the Terms of Service. This will set a precedent, of course, and it’s also open as to whether or not the concept of “deadnaming” can be generalized beyond the transgender context, to include other folks who don’t use their birth names (“Hey! How dare you use my High-Security Prison Name!?!?”). That, and whether or not WordPress will one day, out of the blue, adopt such extrapolations as ad hoc policy after shutting down yet more blogs.

The given concern expressed by WordPress alludes to the idea that deadnaming (and misgendering) precipitate suicide attempts, something that unlike the consequences of say the denial of medical options for transitioning (in certain cohorts), I’m quite sceptical of. This belief appears to me to be commonplace manners, elevated to idée reçue, elevated to sciencey-sounding Internet folk wisdom, direly in need of some seriously rigorous investigation. Suicidality is serious after all, and it wouldn’t be the first time activist-pushed-beliefs have turned out to contradict best practice. Whether or not the given concern is even the actual concern though, is itself another matter entirely – one which I won’t be getting into.

That’s the current context, but what’s my exception to the rule, given that my general rule is still not to “deadname” or otherwise refer to people by names other than those they comment under?

Simply, I don’t respect the nom de plumes, aliases or pseudonyms of people who are abusers. If you write under a new or false name in the comments, abusing me or someone else, my instinct will be to use the name most commonly associated with your track record should you have one.

If for example, I feel the need to out an abuser in the comments, I reserve the right to do it, and assert that by commenting in the first place participants agree to these terms. This is generalizable to a cross-media context as well – if someone has been abused on Facebook, or Twitter, or in the print media, or the local Town Hall meeting, and it’s relevant to discussion here, I reserve the right. (Obviously, I don’t limit this to the mentioned context of transgender politics, it’s just that this is the case that’s recently raised the concern).

Here’s a few examples of the kinds of exploits I’m talking about that you’d probably want to avoid:

  • “But, I’ll commit suicide if you associate me with my past of sending rape threats to women online!”
  • “But if you associate my current abusiveness with my track record of abusiveness, I’ll get death threats from the Southern Baptist Church of Deaththreatology, who as a not-even-tangential side-note, are still a factor here! I’m the victim!
  • “But if you invoke my status as a registered sex offender and sender of dick pics by using my old name, you’ll be associating sex offending with the social group I’ve since publicly cozied up to!”

The first is emotional blackmail. The consequences of someone else sending rape threats are their own to deal with. If that kills them, it’s just something else horrible they’re responsible for. Don’t be gaslighted into thinking the duty of care for any given random abuser is yours – even if genuine it’d be a special case of suicidality, not the norm. You’re not their nurse.

The second is blame shifting. The initial abuse and the mentioned death threats are the responsibilities of other parties. You may very well play it careful for the sake of practicality, but this shit being brought to your door is not your fault.

The third is holding a social group – usually a minority – as hostage. Consider someone who’s been nabbed for being a sex pest while Pentacostal in the US, who’s then “reformed”, changed their name, moved to Kenya and become a Humanist who pesters women and children at conferences.  “DON’T OUT ME! THINK OF WHAT THIS ATTENTION WILL DO TO THE STANDING OF KENYAN HUMANISTS! AND THINK OF WHAT THIS WILL DO TO THE LOCAL GAY COMMUNITY! THEY’LL BE DRAGGED INTO IT TOO!”

If you’ve been around the traps long enough, and your eyes haven’t sealed-over in disgust, this kind of cynicism won’t seem entirely alien to you. Most people aren’t like this, and most of your interactions won’t be like this unless you’re very unlucky, or just happen to work with assholes for a vocation*. But when people do pull this bullshit, which happens on occasion, and if you’re running a page or a blog, you’ll want to have options available, including, but not limited to, being able to associate them with their track record to give context to something happening in the here and now.

In a practical sense, this often involves the use of their birth name, either directly, or by reference. This is not wrong for you to do, and unless you’re exceedingly gratuitous to the point of abusiveness, or use it as a means of deliberate incitement to violence, the abuser holds responsibility for any negative consequences they suffer as a result. Feel free to blame them.

This position won’t make WordPress happy, though. My understanding is that the ban on this kind of thing is categorical. So be it.

I’ll comply for as long as I have to, but I won’t like it. I’ll reserve the right, and keep that right in reserve until I can use it without the threat of ridiculous consequences.

If WordPress doesn’t change course on this, then I guess I’ll have to find a new digs elsewhere at some point. My disposition towards Twitter isn’t entirely dissimilar, incidentally.

~ Bruce

* Admittedly, this probably describes everyone who has to use Facebook or Twitter as a part of their work.