Yesterday afternoon my Facebook account was suspended as part of a crackdown on users who refuse to attach our legal names to our accounts.
And if that were the whole truth, I’d already have my account back.
If we could count every HRC supporter who had “Equality” as their middle name and every non-married couple with the same last name among our number, we might have a public apology in triplicate and the “real name policy” would go where splitting Netflix into two services and other awful, exploitative ideas of the internet go to be locked away and politely ignored evermore.
But Facebook picked the battle they think they can win, quarantining drag queens, sex workers, queermos, abuse survivors, and others who rely on the public presence of identity free from the recognition of government for their livelihood, safety, and access to community.
My account, along with several others, was suspended immediately after sharing event info regarding a protest at Facebook’s HQ. Headshot.
Pick up what I’m putting down: this is not about “real names”. This is about containment, the better mousetrap. An identity that cannot be tied to a corresponding credit card or social security number–those of us who’ve had our accounts suspended are required to provide government identification to regain access to our accounts–has a limited potential for revenue. Without my last name, which ties me to how much money I owe, where I’ve lived, and any encounters with the law I may have, Facebook misses out on untold untapped potential.
In the past six months, I have had the following things advertised to me on Facebook:
- Ebay listings for the issue of Rolling Stone I first masturbated to as a pre-teen.
- Ex-Gay therapy services.
- Plastic surgeons who specialize in Sexual Reassignment Surgery.
- Speech therapy services that specialize in helping trans women find a more feminine voice.
It is starkly specific. All of this without my last name or any other identification marker tying me to the meatspace component of myself that pays rent and Campbell’s chicken and stars in bulk.
Facebook is not free. We pay with our data. For use of these services, I have had intimate details of my life and identity traded for advertising space on the sidebars of my discussions about self-harm and my second cousin’s first birthday.To suggest that I should be gratefully complicit in the systemic repossession of people’s right to self-identify because I don’t pay a monetary fee to use is malevolently obtuse.
Facebook is also not entirely optional. Many employers in America require you to maintain a Facebook account–some even demand access to that account. Earlier this year, when I had a job, I lied to my boss and said I didn’t have a Facebook. I was then, with the supervision of a manager, made to create one and send friend requests to my roommate and my mother so I could promote my company to those closest to me on my own time for no pay.
Entire communities rely on social media to sustain them, commercial and otherwise. You think social media and, to greater extent, the internet is arbitrary and “optional”? Well, just you try to harass a feminist blogger without it,
In their selling of this policy, Facebook willfully conflates safety with ease. Having the legal name of your local drag queen or sex worker does not make the average user safer but it does afford them the ease of being able to better monitor other people’s movements: where they work, go to school, who they’re trying to get away from.
The patriarchy is an unfair place and many of us are forced to work in places that don’t share our ideals, accept government assistance, or take on a new name to protect our families from the sort of asshole who takes the red-eye to your city to surprise you while you’re sleeping. To be disallowed participation in a central hub of social and economic exchange because until we “show our work” is to punish people for compromising with an unfair system even though this is essentially your only suggestion (don’t wear a short skirt at night, don’t tell anyone on the internet where you live, etc) when we come forward with how dangerous our lives are.
I changed my last name on Facebook earlier this year to deliberately disassociate myself from other people with my last name. Among them: evangelical television personalities, a family who promote Old Testament intolerance towards gays and people of color, and a guy who tried to murder me as a child.
It’s imperative to me that my work, as a writer, as a community elder, is separate from the context of those people. I do not want suggest that I am or have ever been with those people, and while I actively resist their ethos and efforts, I don’t want it to be seen as the actions of “the rogue member of the dynasty”.
My mother and brother may roll their eyes at this and the idea that anyone would believe that everyone with my legal surname are related and “in on it together”, but their ignorance of how often I am actually asked this question by strangers, and the momentary tension that comes from someone not knowing if I am “safe” or not, does not warrant the stymying of my right to create an identity for myself that allows me to move through the world in compassionate and comfort.
It’s not like Lady GaGa’s being asked to change her name.
DoubleCakes is not merely a persona. It appears in my byline, on my mail. You cannot tie a bill to that name, but it defines me in a way my full legal name never could. People with my name have graced the US Census since the 40′s. It would, in fact, be easier to steal my legal identity than it would be to steal my social one.
This is the true threat that drag queens and sex workers and abuse survivors pose to Facebook and, in turn, to society: if we are allowed to create and live our own identities, then anyone can.
In some states, when you legally change your name, you are required to print your intent to change your name in a publication–for me it was six weeks–so anyone who would object to you changing your name can show up to your court date and make a case for why you can’t change it.
By the time I had submitted my name change, I had full breasts, presented as a woman daily, and had already begun accepting paychecks in my “female” name. It was necessary to my safety and survival–even in the Bay Area I am frequently harassed for being trans–to be allowed this name change. And yet for six weeks anyone with too much time on their hands could read about it in the paper and confront me, regardless of whether or not they had a legitimate claim.
Call it what you will: capitalism, patriarchy, “the system”, our claims to our own names and identities have always been treated as secondary to society’s right to name and mark us, and when we are allowed to remain defiant and unchecked in crafting our own selves, we project the possibility that others could do this too, and this engages the veritable panic mode of, again, call it what you will: capitalism, patriarchy, “the system”.
I don’t think the increasing visibility of trans and genderqueer people is due to some cultural shift of tolerance or a kink in evolution but rather memetic: I have had feelings for a long time that I did not know how to realize, but then I saw other trans women living their lives and I decided I wanted to live that way also, and by doing so I in turn inspired others to honor their feelings about their genders and bodies–though the prospect that I am anyone’s role model is profoundly, numbingly terrifying.
So much of that visibility can be credited to the use of social media. Our active, visible ownership of ourselves erodes the gender binary and cis supremacy. We must defend our right to self-identify, if not for the modest moral high ground it offers, but also because doing so coaxes and cajoles those on the fence to make that brave baby-step to self realization.
I will not give Facebook my legal last name, nor will I show them my papers. Because I deserve the only say on who I am, because I deserve to decide who gets to know what about me, and because Facebook has made enough money from me as it is, it does not immediately require information that could enable stalkers, abusive fathers, debt collectors, and private investigators to find out where I’ve been and where I’ll be.
I will cancel all of the services that I connect to with Facebook, which will cost them hundreds of dollars a year in potential, once-assured revenue. I will post my articles and event pages, which in the past have helped Facebook make decisions on what advertisements are best fit for my friends/followers. I will encourage people to do the same, though I know it will be an uphill battle because living without Facebook is difficult and, once you get over how violating showing a social media site your driver’s license is, it’s a benign process.
Unless you’re a trans woman who can not yet afford to publish your name change in a newspaper for six months.
Or you’re an abused partner who still legally shares the last name of your abuser.
Or you don’t have (American) documentation.
Facebook has picked the fight it thinks it can win. Despite a historical reputation of trans women and drag queens kicking the shit out of the system, and while I know I’m totally in the right, I don’t expect to move mountains with my refusal to cooperate.
Even if it costs me job opportunities and the ability to lazily watch my second-cousin grow up without interacting with her parents. Even if I’ve now lost seven years of photos documenting my transition.
Unpersoning people is what an asshole does. And while Mark Zuckerberg and the people who work for him have been good sports about acknowledging they are assholes, it doesn’t permit them to keep being assholes.
I will not make nice with Facebook. It can make nice with me and the countless others they are actively complicit in exposing to violence.