Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gender and Pseudonyms: What I've Chosen To Do

There are two of Me. There is the Me who is loud, public, gauche, Writing Shit On The Internet. And there is the Me who wants to hide for a couple of days playing computer games, or doesn't want her small social party busted in on by some jerk in a bar.

Both of these people are Me, but only one of them will be accessible through my writing (and possible notoriety if it ever happens). Woe betide anyone who intrudes on the Private Me.

The Public Me of Writing is also wrapped up in my name and gender. Yesterday, I read a good examination of this by M.R. Fall over at Tiger Beatdown, entitled "The J.K. Rowling Complex, or, Why My Initials Are How You Know Me". Fall discusses her identity as a playwright, but the idea holds true in publishing - women have a hard time being read, critically assessed and taken seriously, and sometimes a pseudonym can help you get over the hurdle of first reading without gender bias.

I thought this was a good opportunity to discuss what I have chosen to do with my writing identity as pertains to my name.

Twenty years ago when I was taking my first tentative steps into publishing, I decided to chose a pseudonym for the absolute fun of it and to retain some semblance of privacy. At this time I was under the allusion that publishing - like most of life - was a meritocracy: my writing would be assessed on its quality alone, not whether I possessed certain genitals.

How naive. Though I have never been in a position to question whether my gender has anything to do with publishing success - I lay the burden solely at my own feet at this stage, since I have done very little to count as "success" - I am now read up enough on the feminist sphere and know of common examples that show women do not have it easy breaking into the publishing industry or being taken seriously as writers. Amoung many, JK Rowling, George Eliot, the Bronte Sisters, PD James, my latest fave NK Jemisin, and most famously within my sphere James Tiptree Jr all used initials or pseudonyms to render themselves male or gender-neutral.

I am amused by my naivety of 20 years passed that the name I chose was female. It saw me through my small foray into romantic short fiction, and a couple of non-fiction articles published in a local newspaper. In both instances, it was probably a help - an identified woman writing fiction for woman, and in the case of the local paper articles my dad gave me an introduction to the editor and I wanted to identify as an individual.

My mid-twenties was the only time I used my proper first name and maiden name at a publication attempt, when I entered the L. Ron Hubbard "Writers of the Future" competition. Now in my 30s having a proper crack at getting published, and with a lot of feminist reading behind me, I have thought very carefully about how to identify myself. My chosen byline is "A.J. Fitzwater" - my proper initials and my married name.

I chose to do this in a combination of avoidance of gendering, and putting together the Private and Public Mes. My surname is an unusual one; my real name is in there, if obscured by my initials; and there is no gender bias, unless you choose to see it ("AJ" - a male nickname - could be perceived as a male identifier).

Do I WANT to be identified as a man, as so many critics of feminism accuse feminists of? No. Much like Fall's evaluation, I initially felt I wasn't being true to my identity as a woman writer, and belief in making women's voices heard loud and clear. Then I realized I had to get to the audience first, and if non-gendering myself got me taken seriously at the first hurdle, the reader can deal with my gendering at a later point if they like what they see.

Says Fall:
Yes, they were a kind of castration, a partial erasing of my identity, a dismantling of myself. But they were also my liberation, the first step in a subtle destruction of the restrictive gender-authorship perceptions that keep good female authors stuck at their day jobs and mediocre male authors on stage and in print. I wasn’t denying myself. I was denying others the right to make unfounded judgments.

I'm sad that this is the way it is for women writers - I know it goes against my "Fuck It" attitude, but sometimes (a lot of the time) the rules aren't fair. As commentator "Jennifer" said in the piece "It is absolutely infuriating that pretending to be gender neutral/male is the only way around it, still, in 2010. At what point does “post feminist” exist, please? It sure doesn’t now." So, if those rules aren't fair, we'll subvert the rules to suit ourselves.

I don't mind if a reader eventually knows my real name, or that I'm a woman. It is very easy to find me on the Internet - indeed, here I am. I would rather be read without gender bias, and critiqued on my merits, first.

No comments:

Post a Comment