The “Gay Girl in Damascus” hoax didn’t cause any real harm…right?

MacMaster in his Che shirt trying to get brown-activist street cred

Cross-posted at NotYourAverageFeminist and  BornLikeThis.

Daniel Nassar and other amazing activists and bloggers who are actually living in totalitarian states think otherwise. Hoax-man Tom MacMaster kind of apologized for the lies, but in the end he feels as though he’s brought light to an issue near and dear to his heart. He’s even joked about writing a book about the entire process.  Tom thinks he’s doing the world a great justice by speaking for a group of people, but I wonder if he’s ever spoken to Syrian LGBTQ folks about their needs.

Daniel Nassar has something to say to Mr. MacMaster:

“I’m so outraged I can’t even type well.

Mr. Tom MacMaster, with due respect, has the audacity to say on the blog he created over the last two years that he did not harm anyone with his fictional writing; I beg to differ.

Because of you, Mr. MacMaster, a lot of the real activists in the LGBT community became under the spotlight of the authorities in Syria. These activists, among them myself, had to change so much in their attitude and their lives to protect themselves from the positional harm your little stunt created. You have, sir, put a lot of lives, mine and some friends included, in harm’s way so you can play your little game of fictional writing.

This attention you brought forced me back to the closet on all the social media websites I use; cause my family to go into a frenzy trying to force me back into the closet and my friends to ask me for phone numbers of loved ones and family members so they can call them in case I disappeared myself. Many people who are connected to me spent nights worrying about me and many fights I had with my family were because you wanted to play your silly game of the media.

You feed the foreign media an undeniable dish of sex, religion and politics and you are now leaving us with this holier-than-thou semi-apologize with lame and shallow excuses of how you wanted to bring attention to the right people on the ground. I’m sorry, you’re not on the ground, you don’t know the ground and you don’t even belong to the culture of the people on the group.

You took away my voice, Mr. MacMaster, and the voices of many people who I know. To bring attention to yourself and blog; you managed to bring the LGBT movement in the Middle East years back. You single-handedly managed to bring unwanted attention from authorities to our cause and you will be responsible for any LGBT activist who might be yet another fallen angel during these critical time.

I’m outraged, and if I lived in a country where I can sue you, I would.”

Well said! Silencing those who are oppressed so that your own voice can be heard is not liberation.  Rather, Tom has committed liberally-educated “do-good” work that he was only able to accomplish because he comes from a place of privilege. I hope he is held accountable for his actions, and if he decides to publish a book, it should primarily feature actual Syrian LGBTQ voices.

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  1. Posted June 15, 2011 at 3:44 am | Permalink

    “Rather, Tom has committed liberally-educated “do-good” work that he was only able to accomplish because he comes from a place of privilege.”

    I don’t think it was even that. His work was really an example of titillating Orientalism that he used to get off on. There’s no good to be seen in that, of any kind.

  2. Posted June 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    The thing that confuses me is that people like Daniel Nessar were the first ones to become concerned when they thought this was real and the first to defend and look to this blog in the past.

    I.e., before it was found to be a hoax, ALOT of people thought this woman was doing good work and bringing much needed attention to the issue.

    That’s why so many refused to believe it was a hoax and first and (before it was confirmed) I even read posts along the lines of “who cares if the person is real what they are writing about is important and valuable regardless of who the person really is”.

    So if the blog was so valuable before, gave a voice where one was needed in an important way before, what has changed now? Because it was a lie?

    It seems the message to me is that if it was never exposed this was a hoax a wonderful blog could have continued.

    Maybe I’m just uninformed somehow though… but comparing opinions on the blog before and after we found it was a hoax you see 100% reversal of opinions. Doesn’t seem right.

    • Posted June 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      “Because it was a lie?”

      Yes. Because it was a lie. Lying about one’s experiences in order to bring attention to a group that you are not a part of is wrong. It is also dangerous. LGBTQ folks facing oppression need to be active in their own time and on their own terms. To lie to them and say, “Look, if I can do it then so can you,” when you haven’t really done it is an awful thing to do.

      This blog’s value was based in its veracity, the truth of a gay woman in Syria expressing her own experiences. Now we find out that it was written by a straight white man in the US and Scotland. That does nullify its value. It brings the WRONG kind of attention to the LGBTQ movement in Syria.

      For one, it provides the Assad regime with fodder for the repression of people in his country by allowing him to claim Western lies and interference.

      Second, it encouraged LGBTQ folks in Syria to risk their safety to look for a person who did not exist.

      Third, it denied the legitimate voice of the Syrian LGBTQ community by supplanting it with a fake, straight, white voice from the West.

      It is absolutely right to criticize this now. Fiction is very, very different than truth, and passing it off as such is quite damaging.

      • Posted June 16, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        I understand… but on this VERY site, when it was first reported it might be a hoax, there were numerous comments along the line:

        “I don’t care if it’s a hoax or if this person is real the blog is bringing important attention where it is much needed”

        Granted those posters assumed the blogger was female – just perhaps a different female – but still.

        Just wondering if anyone still thinks that way or if this is universally condemned.

        • Posted June 16, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

          I can only speak for myself here, but I don’t feel familiar enough with all of the aftermath of this hoax to give a universal answer to this question. While I feel I made my opinion pretty clear in the original post, I believe what came across a lot more clear is the experience of the blogger from Syria.

          Certainly this whole hoax shed light on an a lot of blog readers weren’t familiar with, but is education worth risking the lives of the folks actually doing work where work is needed?

          While we can say this whole hoax has some potential good in it because we learned something, we’re not the ones living there who will have to deal with the consequences.

        • Posted June 16, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

          “I don’t care if it’s a hoax or if this person is real the blog is bringing important attention where it is much needed”

          But that’s just emblematic of Western Orientalism. It denies the agency of the people who need a voice in exchange for empowering those with existing institutional power to write the stories of oppressed groups.

          Why is this attention important? Because some people in the West decided it is? That contradicts what a lot of Syrian LGBTQ folks are saying: they don’t want attention, at least not right now, because of social oppression in Syria by the ruling Assad dynasty or by whatever group might supplant Assad.

          The notion that a straight white Western man can speak for the experiences of someone he knows nothing about and have people defend him is emblematic of the very nature of power and privilege. His “message” is what’s important, even if his message is based on lies and a total absence of real knowledge or experience.

          This hoax has no potential good in it because no good can come of falsifying one’s identity to pretend to be an oppressed minority, then tricking those same people into risking their lives.

          The notion that his blog could educate us about Syrian issues is absurd. He went on vacation there once. His knowledge of the Syrian Mukhabarat is laughably bad, and dangerous to boot. He’s given power to Assad, as well as distracted people from the brutal oppression going on in Syria.

          To wit: MacMaster has done an abominable thing for his own sexual and personal gratification.

          • Posted June 18, 2011 at 2:58 am | Permalink

            but feminists here and all over the feminist blogosphere speak about gay issues all the time and for other women who they claim are oppressed when some women disagree, such as some muslim women and women in african who are followers of FGC. how is this any different? its not. if he cant do it, feminists cant either. would it have mattered if he was a women? or a gay man? or from syria but cisgendered? would those people be horrible too? make up your minds.

          • Posted June 18, 2011 at 3:34 am | Permalink

            Matt, there’s a difference between speaking ABOUT issues and speaking FOR people. I can speak ABOUT race issues, but I can’t speak FOR the African American community, because I’m not African American.

            That’s the problem here. MacMaster had every right to comment on the LGBTQ community in Syria and its condition as he saw it, but he did not do that. He claimed a position of false authority by stealing the voice and agency of that community through falsely representing himself as a member of said community.

            His blog was not impersonal, it was deeply personal, and when all that personal stuff is fictitious it not only becomes devalued, it can also become dangerous.

          • Posted June 18, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

            Well, I feel stupid now. I see what you mean.

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