I made a promise to myself about five years ago: I was going to write everything under my real name. I wasn’t going to use pseudonyms when I write essays for my blog or when I write comments on websites. If I felt that I couldn’t say it without it being tied back to me, then I wouldn’t. I decided that it was important to me to be as transparent as possible, and as private as logical. I knew I needed to cultivate ownership and boldness. If something needed to be known, it probably needs an advocate for it. In addition, this was in a phase of life that I realized I struggled with boundaries and this would provide accountability: I value my reputation. So the imperative was this: I better make sure that the ideas were good ones, and I was stating, as far as I could know, the truth. If my name was attached to it, I better be willing to stand behind it. With that said, I was only outing myself. I wouldn’t identify people unless their identities were vital to what was being said or unavoidable (for instance, I belong to a religion which generally only has one church in any given geography; I only have one husband). This decision was made during a time of life where I was finally figuring out that those who love me are under no illusion that I am any better than I actually am, so there wasn’t an imperative to be perfect, just to be as good as I could be.
After a half-decade of this, I have a few observations:
- 1. A half-decade goes quicker than you’d think.
2. Transparency has fewer consequences when the experiences are exclusively yours, and more when experiences are intertwined with others.
3. People may project themselves onto your entries when you don’t identify the essay’s target, which can be very revealing.
4. If you decide not to be anonymous, you will not be anonymous.
It is this last point which is most salient for me. Sunday marks my 1 year Returnaversary to Buffalo. I moved here as a freelance barely-eeking-a-living copyeditor and mother of a small child. I finish this year as a comfortably-employed nonprofit research analyst expecting her second child. I’ve experienced extraordinary generosity from others in terms of opportunities and kindness. I love living in Buffalo, and my social circumstances permit my husband and I to live, and provide for our daughter, a very comfortable life in this city.
Seriously, Buffalo rocks.
It’s also not a very large city. It wasn’t long before I met new people and they would tell me that, “Oh, I’ve seen your name around.” My first thought was, “Dear God, I hope it was for something good.” There wasn’t really a rational reason for this fear. The recognition was usually due to my agency affiliation or they read something I wrote; the biggest risk was disagreement. I quickly learned that anonymity due to newness and sheer numbers was not a facet of Buffalo living. While living in Seattle, I drew comfort from being in a sea of too many people. Now, I see Buffalo’s denseness as a perk. In the same way that one builds relationships by being present, living by your name has the effect of building connections with civic endeavors, especially given that so much of communication occurs in online spaces.
It also has the impact that folks know what you are like.
There are some noteworthy things which come with this territory that makes being known safer. For instance, I do not share intensely embarrassing experiences. I do not belong to any especially marginalized groups. I do not live alone. I do not tend to write about subjects which get other female activists death threats. My employer read my blog and Twitter account before hiring me and felt that it would not reflect poorly on the agency. My husband is a fine, upstanding citizen who makes positive impressions on everyone he meets (for a good reason: he’s a fantastic fellow). I do not live a particularly controversial life, so being known, being comfortable, and being simultaneously authentic reflects a social location that not all people occupy.
I plan to continue this practice of using my name and avoiding anonymity. Honestly, I would recommend it. It cultivated a habit of given pause before publishing my words. It has allowed me to meet a lot of really wonderful people. It preemptively gives oneself permission to be known.