Sunday, September 16, 2012

To Pseudonym or To Pseudonot?

This is a cross post from my other blog, Jeff's Journey, under the title Visibility. I posted it here as well to address the Readin' and Writin' aspect of pen names.

I recently had a conversation with a fellow writer and good friend regarding the use of pseudonyms. In the past, female writers would write under male names since writing was a male dominated field and this was the only way for women to get their writing to the public. Some male writers would use female pen names when writing traditional romance novels; after all, men aren’t supposed to be romantic. As recently as 1997, a female writer was encouraged to use a pen name as it was believed her book would not appeal to its target audience; 10-14 year old boys, because it was written by a woman. She refused but consented to use her initials and Joanne Kathleen went on to write one of the most successful series in literary history, Harry Potter.

Because of past attitudes, we older gay men had become accustomed to compartmentalizing our lives, which many of the younger gay generation have not experienced to the extent we have. We had one identity at home, another at work, and a third (or fourth) within the gay community. We struggled to keep them all separate for fear someone would discover our secret. In today's world, while it is a bit safer to come out, some prejudices still abound as do our own memories and fears. A colleague confided in me that a well-respected, educated parent pulled her son from his class out of fear the teacher's homosexuality would be contagious and infect her child; or worse, he would molest the boy! This took place in September 2011!

Many writers who write across genres use pen names so as not to confuse their readers. Anne Rice is one such writer. Ms. Rice has written a large number of books with vampires and witches as her protagonists as well as two other wonderful historical pieces, all under her own name. Many artists try their hand at different media as a way to grow creatively and writers are no exception. Ms. Rice decided to try her hand at something a little 'different' and wrote erotica under the name Anne Rampling and, in my opinion, some hard core sado-masachistic pornography under the name A. N. Roquelaure. She later came out as the author of all those works.

Charles Dodgson was a brilliant mathematician and wrote several mathematical treatises. He was also an accomplished wordsmith and loved playing with words and language. He wrote several classic pieces under the nom de plume, Lewis Carroll.  Would the readers of his mathematical works have chosen to read his literary works? I seriously doubt any readers of his books would have chosen one of his mathematical tomes for a light read, not that his literature is light by any stretch of the imagination.

As the gay community struggles for equality, visibility does become important. Some people undecided on marriage equality were ultimately persuaded in favor of the issue by meeting same-sex couples who then shared their stories of mistreatment. Over history, visibility of LGBTQ people has indeed changed minds. Yet, we never know and cannot comprehend the pain, the sorrow, or even the joys of our brothers and sisters and therefore, we may never understand why some choose to come out and others don't.

A gay author may choose to use a pen name, or not, depending on a few factors. How out is the author to him- or herself? To his or her friends or family? Is the writer trying to reach a variety of audiences? Would the audience buy the book knowing the author was LGBTQ?  And I’m not even going to touch the ‘gay authors can’t write straight characters’ line. Of course we can, many of us have been masquerading as straight for years. With proper research and preparation, I believe any writer can write characters of any race, gender, age or orientation.

The Pride Parades of today continue to serve the purpose of visibility. The first ones were held in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Today, Pride Events are held throughout the year on every continent except Antarctica, and have become major events complete with committees and regional coordinating organizations.

Visibility can take on many forms. There are those who like to be in the front lines, and those directing from behind, and there are even those of us who have been in the front and still want to continue our visibility, but now on a more quiet platform. I’ve been on the front lines. I’ve marched in parades, I’ve been part of political groups. I’m ready for a change.

I am one of those men who compartmentalized his life early on. I was not out at work, until I was out to myself. I came out to my family in stages, so I kept some secrets from many people. Now, I am out to almost everyone, except my students and their parents, though I believe some of them suspect, and may even know. Some of the compartments I used to live in are; man, gay, Caucasian, teacher, writer, homeowner, pet parent, divorced. I move in and out of the compartments as needed. I have spent the last thirty years putting myself together, with the last two being some of the most difficult and rewarding.

As I embark on this new path of author, I’m choosing to use my name for all my works. I’m choosing to use it because I am tired of compartments. I am the only male teacher in my grade level. I am the only white male teacher in my school. I am the only openly gay staff member at my school. I am the only openly gay homeowner in my community. I am the only teacher homeowner in my community. I am tired of being the (fill in the blank). I don’t want to be known as a gay writer, nor do I want to be known as a writer who happens to be gay.

Photo courtesy of GJ Spiller Photography.
I want to be me.

I just happen to be a gay divorced Caucasian homeowning male teacher pet parent who writes.


  1. I love that you shared this on your writing blog. Great for other writers to find.

    1. Thanks! So far, you're the first! If you post it, they will come.