I don’t know if you’ve caught wind of this, but a certain social media website upon which many or most of have come to rely for online communication has recently announced that they will begin to enforce an official policy of “Real Names Only”, i.e. a policy that only legal names will be permitted as identifying handles on personal pages. So far I’ve sort of kept my head down on the subject, not wanting to call attention to myself and get yanked all of a suddy [sic — it’s a Lennonism]. But it’s bound to happen sooner or later, and anyway I’m pretty pissed off. For all sorts of reasons.
Fundamental….FUNDAMENTAL is that I take issue with this 2010 quote from Mark Zuckerberg (alright, it’s Facebook, but you knew that): “You have one identity… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
The facetiousness of this shallow billionaire’s flip statement makes my blood boil with rage. It’s simply not true. Simply NOT true. You have one set of fingerprints on your body, and that, my friend, is IT for the singularity. You are one person to your mommy, and another person to your boss, and another person to your lover, and another person to the guy who’s picking a fight with you at the bar, and another person to the old lady you’re holding the door for, and another person to your children, and another person to the telephone operator. We are playing roles every moment of our lives, subtly adjusting ourselves in calibration to every other human being we come in contact with. They’re all facets of ourselves, whichever facet we are choosing to reveal at any given moment, and they’re all equally real. We cease to use profanity when we visit Grandma. We amp it up in the locker room. Right? Or are we going to be hypocrites about it? And if we are going to start to probe into which of those identities, which of those personae is a lie, Mr. Zuckerberg, where do we stop? The White House? The mass media? The door to your office?
We in show business and the theatre know this law of human behavior more than others, because it is our job. And some, such as the people in the drag and burlesque communities know it still better because they have incorporated theatre to an even higher degree into their lives. I obviously live somewhere on that continuum, closer to drag and burlesque artists than most. I use a professional name, and for many of the same reasons many of them do. I chose this identity because I wish to be this, I prefer to be this rather than the unhappy child I left behind. It is the name under which I am trying to enjoy my vaunted “Pursuit of Happiness”, and if you get between me and that name I am going to be very, VERY unhappy indeed. Further, it is the name by which I happen to be known — a much realer identity in fact than the name on my ID card. When the doctor calls me by real name because that’s what it says on my chart it sounds unfamiliar to me. I feel like saying “Who’s that?” That’s not ME. I get to say who I am. Not you. “Show me your papers” is the very definition of Fascism. I am not going to let your popular play-toy tell me who I AM.
Now, obviously, Facebook is a voluntary association. One I may have to leave. I may be kicked off. That would be a drag, I’ll confess it. I like talking to my friends, but I also use this instrument to communicate with a wider circle of people, to share my writings, and to share information about my shows and public appearances, all of which are conducted under my preferred name. I do not wish to share this stuff under my legal name. The real name? That’s the guy who goes to the dentist appointments, so I have a very good reason for not wanting to be that guy. Not to compare us (except as vaudevillians) but Cary Grant does not conduct his business as Archibald Leach. Are we going to kick the big stars off?
Now I do have a fan page, which Facebook reminds us is an option . It is much clunkier and ineffective to use, unless you can pour tens of thousands worth of advertising dollars into it. Is that their real agenda? Perhaps. But every week or so I receive phony sounding friend requests from suspicious looking pages under Middle Eastern sounding names, which I can only image is some sort of Homeland Security bait. So I can imagine there’s pressure from the government to lock down the rules on this powerful communication tool. And I also remember the bad old days of Myspace, which was over-run by prostitutes. I also get a weekly friend request from those ladies too, politely declined. I can see trying to maintain a little order and civilization in this virtual universe, lest it become the Wild West.
But I ain’t hurting anybody. In fact….um… I promote the work of a lot of artists, and spread a lot of information about history in my own fallible way. I think I’m rather a good citizen in this regard.
But the system won’t even let me strike a compromise. I just tried. I make no secret of my legal name, so I can illustrate what it won’t let me do. It will not allow me to be, for example:
Travis “Trav S.D.” Stewart
Travis Stewart (Trav S.D.)
Can’t even do THAT!
Long story short, my presence at the very least may well soon be drastically and suddenly reduced.
But that’s my story.
My friends in the drag and burlesque communities have their own, very good reasons (beyond the existential one we share) for keeping their legal and public personalities separate. My old friend Dottie Lux has articulated those reasons very well here: http://21stcenturyburlesque.com/facebook-real-name-policy-meeting-drag-queens-performers-dottie-lux/
Here’s another good piece on the subject: http://www.towleroad.com/2014/09/facebook-begins-enforcing-real-name-policy-disproportionately-affecting-glbt-performers.html
Here’s the actual policy that’s going to be enforced.
And here is the inevitable petition to sign.
I obviously won’t disappear completely online even if my personal page gets trashed. You can subscribe here at Travalanche (as I hope you already have)! And I also reach out and can be reached via other social media: Twitter, Google +, etc. And there’s the FB Fan Page, such as it is. But don’t go lookin’ for no “Travis Stewart” Facebook page. That shit ain’t happenin’. And anyway…my real first name is Donald – – and that’ll be a cold day in hell.