Orange Red, Red Orange: Intersecting Identities

Remaining stealth is important to many bloggers for a variety of reasons, and I frequently refer to my inclination for semi-anonymity. But lately it has become increasingly difficult to keep all of my identities in check, neatly compartmentalized and perpendicularly aligned, as my lives intersect in many ways.

Whenever I have to give out my “real” name to someone – by “real” I usually mean last name, as my first name lost any sense of realness long ago – I advise them that I prefer to keep it private, separate from my “online” identity, my trans identity. I explicitly clarify that this means no outward public links between the two. My last name is quite unique, and thanks to my prowess as a professional web person, googling it would lead you straight to me – the “other” me, that is. Thus, I actively avoid creating the situation where searching for one of my names would lead you to the other, especially when it concerns digital fingerprints, which are the most visible, yet indelible, of all.

But the fact that there are situations in which I reveal myself – rather, my last name, or details of the physical world which we’re connected to – unearths the very purpose of writing this.

Where is the line between these two “me’s,” both of which are “real?”

Red Orange

I never could decide where to put red-orange and orange-red.

Professionally, my work has nothing to do with being trans or even queer to any degree. But people ask about my personal life, which includes a lot of time spent doing advocacy and education, not only online, but offline as well. Most of the time I keep it under wraps, because I’m generally quite a private and mostly distrustful person. Once in a while I will let someone be privvy to some details. Rarer still, I will give them a link to this presence, which in some ways is more real than the daily self I put out there.

If you’re a super sleuth, you’ll also remember that I volunteer for a local Speaker’s group, where we talk to schools, colleges, and other professionals about being LGBTQ. As we tell our stories, I’m often compelled to point people to the blog, at least when it’s an older audience. Through this I’ve met many real trans people, queer advocates, medical providers, and well… friends. “Real” friends, or rather, real friends. One of these friends is taking her morning off to take both me and my partner to our driver’s test. Another of these friends brought me blueberries and a sandwich when my partner was away on a trip, and I was at home, sick with the flu.

At some point I let these two identities cross paths, but when exactly is that? When I send an email to someone I met in person, do I send it from my pseudonym, or through my personal account? Suppose we met in a non-trans context, and I had already introduced myself, or my full name was already known, or a friend referred me to them? When I present myself in conferences, what name do I use? What happens when I publish a book?

Order, idealized.

Each situation is unique and complex, with no right answer. What’s more, juggling these identities has led to confusing inconsistencies, both for myself and others. And I much prefer order.

A friend/co-worker, who also happens to know about this “other” me (yes, the rare combination) once remarked that I seem extremely proud of my work here. I’m damn proud! I want my name attached to any of my accomplishments, big or small. I want my partner and my parents and my friends to be proud, to point and say “I know that awesome little person.” I also want to put myself out there, to show the world that “real” people are transgender people, and some of them have a non-binary gender. We simply exist.

It’s not just about an anonymous blog anymore; it has become so much more. It’s about national conferences, local lectures, interviews with news outlets and magazines. It’s about advocacy and education at every chance I get – whether that’s online, or off. It’s about confiding in a stranger on the other side of the world, or shaking someone’s hand. It’s about meeting someone who happens to be 6 degrees, 3 degrees, 1 degree apart from my “other” life, each time more intimately connected in unexpected ways. It’s a (creepily yet unsurprisingly) small world.

Where does one color end, and the other begin?

Where does one color end, and the other begin?

I want to keep my identities separate, but they aren’t distinct – it’s all one me.

Someday, this conversation will no longer be relevant. Until then, I’ll be working on that book.

12 responses to “Orange Red, Red Orange: Intersecting Identities

  1. I know the feeling. I just happen to be in the special class of people whose name is super common, both first and surname (and middle, especially with my first name, apparently). Also, I have a generally low online profile, and there are other SMCs who have probably done things to warrant a google mention, but not me.

    Just an example…before I moved there were 4 “STMs” — Stephanie to males — between 2 or 3 colleges. Scary.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. I enjoy the anonymity of my online self. I recently kinda shot myself in the foot having my mother read my Coming Out Poly post. It should’ve been old news to her but she didn’t take it like that … and then the convo turned to whether or not I was bisexual. NOT what I intended to talk about. And she was uncomfortable – didn’t want to talk or look at me for that matter. Great times …

    • I have a really old post somewhere in which I explained that the reason I write with such candidness here is that I know nobody “in real life” will read it, so it can spare me the embarrassment. As this line becomes more blurred everyday, so do my thoughts around sharing this with others, lest they see those very private things I write about that I never intended for them to see.

  3. I think about this sometimes too. I’ve tried pretty hard to keep from being referenced by name, first or last, in connection with my blog. Anything my real first name is attached to at all is kept separate, with different website accounts and by using different browsers, sometimes.

    I haven’t had so much of the extra-private things on my blog so far, but someday I want to be able to talk frankly about top surgery and my partnership in a way that I don’t think I’d be comfortable sharing with anybody who could Google my name. Especially if I get into writing fiction like I want to, I feel like I’d have to close down or delete my ace accounts if my real name was attached to them. (But I also know that, if I ever get published and attach “asexual” and “neutrois” to my real name in a public way, it would not necessarily be that difficult to figure out who in the ace blogosphere I am. Mmm…)

    The flexibility of being able to manage compartmentalized identities on the internet is so alluring, and then you run into spots where your online identities become offline identities as well — advocacy for you — and I think it’s a problem that people don’t quite know how to deal with, yet, the prospect of the convergence of those things. I do hope that you can find a way to figure out how to manage things comfortably, even if it goes on a case-by-case basis.

    • You’re right, I do handle it on a case-by-case basis, and it’s sometimes more confusing for the other person (because I know who I am, and I can keep track of all my identities).
      It’s a fine line to walk sometimes, and there’s no clear answer. I err on the side of distrust though, and usually it’s proven to be handy.

  4. All. The. Time. I maintain online presences for both my identities and there are times I inadvertently cross-pollinate, but more recently I care less and less. I am both, lots of people know me under two names and understand why I continue to keep some distance between them. I also hope someday this is a non-issue. There are times when I am weary of maintaining both spaces, but there are also times I enjoy having a different (though overlapping) audience online for each.

    For Gender Odyssey I made the conscious decision to register under my .. uh.. professional name? I feel like both identities are engaged in professional activities but that’s another topic. I used the other name, not the one I’m commenting under. Later I felt like I should have used this name, since some people will recognize me as Kyle from Butchtastic, as opposed to the other name. I think I’ll make a modification to my badge, maybe. I don’t know, I do get tired of it, I value transparency and don’t enjoy having to keep everything compartmentalized so much.

    • Glad to know I’m not crazy.

      I did exactly the same thing as you – registered under my “real” name for all the conferences, rather than using Maddox, which is the name most people know me by in trans* spaces. A move I am now regretting very much.

      On top of it all, I’ve recently changed this “real” name, so now all the conference listings are wrong anyway! Since I’ve already bothered the conference organizers for a name correction once, I am way too shy to do it again, so I’ll just suck it up. Not to mention that all my business cards will be going to waste too.

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