Anonymice? Anonymoose?
April 10, 2015 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Should I stop using my name online? Everywhere? Somewhere? With several pseudonyms? Details after the jump.

I transitioned from male to female a few months ago. I changed my name on Facebook and here on MeFi, where my username was and is my first name.

Now, I'm going through everything I ever got on my old email address (with my old name on it too), resubscribing to stuff and recalling old memories.

I have always used my first name for forums. I never thought there was a need not to use it, even though it was quite an uncommon name in my country. Now I'm getting to the point where I'm going to change my name on some forums I participate in (some more often than others), and I'm about to start posting on my blog. Seeing how most people here use pseudonyms, I'm thinking if I shouldn't do the same.

See, I was never afraid of the repercussions of what I say online. Like my mother, I'm known for calling them as I see them, so nobody that knows me would be surprised by that if they googled me. Now, things are different, though.

First, I'm no longer presenting as male, so I'm exposed to transphobia and misogyny affecting how what I say online is perceived, opening the possibility of stalking, doxxing, or just taking things out of context and using them against me.

Second, my feminine name is much less common than my former name. Even using just a first name, adding two and two with some details you can get from things I say, and it's very easy to trace me.

Third, I'm starting this blog where I will speak about some things that interest me, one of them being transfeminism, and not always nicely. I haven't decided if I will sign posts there or not, but the blog will be linking to a zazzle store with prints of my photos. I may put up a different store for less artsy but sellable stuff I can make using some of my photos, like phone cases and such. That second store may be linked from the blog, or I may use some other means to attract traffic to it. Even though I may not sign blog posts, I plan to link to the blog from my Facebook account, so those who know me would know it's my blog, but if someone finds it on their own they wouldn't know I'm the one writing. I'm also signing up on Twitter and Tumblr to promote the blog (I've read about using those tools effectively to promote a blog, so I will actually be using those platforms, not just linking to new articles).

Also, I'm working on a project that, if things go well, may lead to me getting some more visibility. I'm not talking lady Gaga level of visibility, but more like the guy from The Upworthy. This project, which would come with its community, is where I know for sure I would use my real name. That still means having to be more careful about what I say online, even though I've always embraced and promoted the idea that we are all imperfect and, being human, are entitled to occasionally losing it and saying things that would piss some people off.

So, there's Facebook and the long term project, where I will keep using my real name. Then there's MeFi, some forums pertaining to specific interests (nothing weird, things like pipe smoking or ukulele playing, but where discussions can go off topic and inappropriate to the eyes of outsiders), some more questionable forums where I am already using different names, TG support forums that stand somewhere in between the two, not because they're questionable, but because of the very private things discussed there (some parts of them can't be seen by non members, but some can), and then there's the blog and the social media accounts attached to it.

What would you do? Or what do you do? What made you pick some nick phrase here on MeFi, and do you use it somewhere else or just here?

Thanks for any thoughts that help me make up my mind on this!
posted by Promethea to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There's no great benefit to using your real name. And if there are drawbacks to using your real name, and no drawbacks to using a pseudonym, then the obvious thing to do is to use a pseudonym.
posted by pdq at 8:34 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you should do whatever's less stressful. Transition is stressful enough. Working on big projects is stressful enough. So - is trying to maintain anonymity less stressful than throwing caution to the wind? It depends on your personality. For me, trying to wall off my online life is too much work, so my anonymity is very loosely maintained, if it all. It's like a gauzy curtain at this point. For some people, they need to do absolutely everything they can to maintain privacy and the stress is worth it.

"desjardins" has nothing to do with my real name or identity, but it's become my identity in a sense, since I use it here, on twitter, on tumblr, and a few other places. Any even slightly determined person can trace it to my real identity. What I'm more concerned about is real life people connecting my real name to desjardins, since I often post about BDSM or my family or my crappy day at work. But that would mean mostly inconvenience and hurt feelings; I am not subject to bullying or misogyny in a way that you might be, so my risk calculations may be different.
posted by desjardins at 8:37 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

My old nickname was easily linked to my old name, so I created new accounts everywhere, and ended up not really using any of them and just going back to my old accounts just because everyone knew me by my old accounts, and it was easier than just starting over in some spaces. I don't think it hurts to just create new accounts in all of these spaces and try them both on for size and see how you feel about switching or not. My new account on MeFi is one exception though, I guess, since I couldn't have two accounts at the same time...
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 8:41 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's anything weird at all about strictly compartmentalizing Professional Online - which is responsible for projects, business, creative stuff, etc - and Personal Online, where you're connecting with family and friends. The trick, I think, is going to be deciding which online media/fora belong to which bucket and then working to maintaining an "air gap" between them as best you can. Professional Online would be a pseudonym, nom du plume, "stage name" or what have you. Personal is your locked-down-super-tight Facebook circle of folks.

I've got a generally dim view of online anonymity these days - not because I don't think it's worthwhile, but rather because I'm not sure how feasible it is any more, especially for people with a large and deep (in terms of time) Internet footprint and a determined group of bored assholes out there roaming the landscape.
posted by jquinby at 8:42 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

What jquinby said. If doxxers and the like can find out EVERYTHING about you, they'll also be able to link an online pseudonym to your real name.

The question comes down to how much of your online life you want to hide from the people around you every day, from distant relatives to potential employers. If your work is a part of your identity, and your speaking openly about your transformation is a part of your work, personality and identity, then why hide behind a pseudonym?
posted by Brittanie at 10:39 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Second, my feminine name is much less common than my former name. Even using just a first name, adding two and two with some details you can get from things I say, and it's very easy to trace me.

Third, I'm starting this blog where I will speak about some things that interest me, one of them being transfeminism, and not always nicely.

I will suggest two questions to help you decide:

1) Are there any specific personal connections that you need to worry about? For example, is there a former love interest who is really hung up about their sexuality who would just lose their shit if they realized that this woman called Promethea is that guy they once slept with? Or are you (conservative religious denomination) and you know the church will not only disavow you but members of it will get all het up about the life you are living and the things you are saying online? If you have any personal connections that you have good reason to believe will be significantly upset and unable to let it go, then, yeah, do what you can to be anonymous. That includes not just using a handle but also watching what personal details you dole out.

2) How judgey/blamey/inclined to name specific people/groups/things are you when you write? I think most folks really don't care that much if you do X thing. The problem seems to be when you do X thing and then the way you talk about it makes them feel personally criticized or attacked. Instead of saying "Hey, don't attack me." they say "You and all your ^&()& kind...(ugliness ensues)" So if you are inclined towards hellfire and damnation sermons, yeah, do your best to be anonymous and also watch your back and realize that this sort of thing tends to attract problems and if people are mad enough they may well try to dox you, track you down, and hurt you. But if you can manage to talk in terms of "This is the background on this issue. Many people have concluded X. I have concluded Y. Here are my reasons for concluding Y." and do so in a way that doesn't make people in the X camp feel simply pissed on and vilified, then anonymity matters less.

Yes, the world if filled with people who are simply assholes. It really is. But most of those assholes are spending most of their time just trying to cope with their own lives. So while they may say shitty things to you (or about you) online and pursue other low hanging fruit means to make you feel horrible because assholes gonna asshole, most of them will not expend large amounts of resources (time, energy, money) to hurt you unless they feel strongly motivated. Strong motivation is usually rooted in something personal.

So, for example, I quit using my uncommon first and last name online in part because people have trouble spelling/pronouncing them, but also because I had an affair with a man and it ended and I had reason to believe he wasn't going to just let me go. Five years after our last contact, he called me out of the blue. He had been unable to find me on his own efforts, in part because I had begun going by my more common middle name, and he had to resort to hiring a detective to track me down. We had a nice chat, I explained my situation and let him know he needed to let me go, this was a non-starter.

Because that specific concern of mine was resolved some years ago, I no longer care if he runs across my writing online and figures out it's me. Furthermore, although I talk openly about having had an affair, I am careful to not name him or give out identifying details about him. So I do not believe he has any reason to feel provoked by my openness about my own life. I might someday resume using my uncommon first name. The Internet is a much bigger place than it was when I began going by Michele and there seem to be a jillion Michele's these days, which wasn't my experience way back when. There could be some advantages to having a less common identifier.
posted by Michele in California at 1:36 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'll point out something that matters to me. It might not be the same for everyone, so take it with a grain of salt:

If you are going to use a pseudonym, you should use the same one across multiple sites so that your online persona is consistent. I use my real name for most uses online because I want to be transparent. Still, I get attacked by people who call me a troll or hurl invective at me when their username is something nondescript (think Daryl668 or Anonymouse). For some reason, because they are using an unidentifiable name or a throwaway account, they feel like they can be real a-holes.

By using the same name across the internet, you create an actual reputation for that name (hopefully) and it becomes credible.
posted by tacodave at 3:43 PM on April 10, 2015

You can do what you want, and you can use pseudonyms if if feels right. I don't think there's an etiquette book somewhere about which to use when.

One reason is that things you write today, you can regret them later.

Another is that you should not make it too easy for someone determined to know who you are to track you down and put together all the pieces of your life.

A third reason, and this is why I've sometimes posted anonymously on AskMeFi even though I use an unidentifiable pseudonym linked to a throwaway email, is that a lot of people reply to who you are (or your posting history) rather than to what you're saying. As a transwoman, you'll probably get that a lot.

I joined MeFi because of a major crush I wasn't able to handle well, yet I have no intention of (word of) it filtering into my real world. The same goes for hookups websites that I use.

A contrario, I use my real identity for stuff linked to my professional life and I stay away from Facebook and even professional social media.

My point is, you need to go with what feels comfortable to you and how much privacy (or exposure) you need in your new life as a transwoman.
posted by Kwadeng at 1:40 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

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