by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
It has been said that 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.' It's true. We've all seen proof of it. But I don't know what Hell hath none of when a drag queen is scorned! One thing's for certain, Facebook is about to find out; because there are some drag queens that are pissed and they are organizing and starting petitions and planning God knows what else, all because they were asked to change their Facebook profile name from a stage name back to their 'real' name.
I will wait for you to roll your eyes. I did.... I mean, where do these drag queens and burlesque entertainers get off thinking that they have the right to tell Facebook what to do when, by signing up for the free online social network, they are legally agreeing to its rules, right?
Well.... Not so fast! Truth be told, there is a very good reason why the shit has hit the fan, as they say.
It all started a few days ago, when a number of Capitol Hill drag queens began to post that Facebook has frozen their accounts, and demanded that they post using their birth name, and migrate their stage name from a personal page to a business or fan page. Now, somebody should've warned Facebook officials that - even if you are right - it will always be a fight when you demand a drag queen do anything they don't want to do. I immediately thought, 'Well this is going to get ugly.' And it has. But not for the reasons I (and I'm sure many of you) thought.
A majority of the drag queens I spoke with see this as having the potential to get people fired, hurt, or outed as LGBTQ.
Not so simple any more is it?
Local entertainer Olivia LaGarce took action and started a Change.org petition on Wednesday, which, as Seattle Gay News goes to press, has over 1,100 signatures. Olivia LaGarce says that the actions taken by Facebook officials 'Undermines the online communities we have built over the past several years using our stage names. Our chosen names are an important part of our identities and how we interact with our peers and audiences.'
'Although our names might not be our 'legal' birth names, they are still an integral part of our identities, both personally and to our communities,' Olivia LaGarce says in the petition, which can be found at http://www.change.org/p/facebook-allow-performers-to-use-their-stage-names-on-their-facebook-accounts?utm_campaign=friend_inviter_chat&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=permissions_dialog_false&share_id=HjXkgkdTNS. 'These are the names we are known by and call each other and ourselves. We build our networks, community, and audience under the names we have chosen, and forcing us to switch our names after years of operating under them has caused nothing but confusion and pain by preventing us from presenting our profiles under the names we have built them up with.'
And then LaGarce says something that, on the surface might seem a bit self-indulgent, but in all actuality is completely true. 'People we have known (or who have known us) for years are unable to find us, communicate with us, or recognize us in our Facebook interactions now,' she claims.
That is true. As the founder and president at Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) I often find myself booking queens for a gig or fundraiser and, even though I have worked with some of them for close to six years, I couldn't tell you their so-called 'real' name. I know Olivia LaGarce as Olivia LaGarce. That is who I would look for, and without the public outcry created by this petition to get Facebook to reverse its policy, entertainers would lose contacts. And when you are a drag queen struggling to make ends meet and buy something new or be seen in something people will receive you well in, every dollar counts.
And it's not just drag queens. Here is where, I believe, Facebook is really stepping in it. People who have names that are - how would you say - more ethnic sounding than 'John Smith' have been targeted and questioned about their so-called fake name. This group of users targeted by the world's largest social network includes Pacific Islanders and American Indians.
'Many Facebook users - performers or otherwise - use names that are not their 'legal names' to help protect their privacy and anonymity, with good reason,' explains Olivia LaGarce in the petition. 'Victims of abuse, trans people, queer people who are not able to be safely 'out,' and performers alike need to be able to socialize, connect, and build communities on social media safely. By forcing us to use our 'real' names, it opens the door to harassment, abuse, and violence. Facebook claims that the restriction on using 'real' names 'helps keep our community safe' (https://www.facebook.com/help/112146705538576), but in fact this restriction enables our communities to be attacked and degraded, both online and off.'
Most people on the Hill are familiar with local singer and Gay rights activist Chase Silva. He's hard to miss. Silva, like many of his Polynesian/Hawaiian brothers and sisters is a tall man with a booming voice and personality for days. He's sung for the governor, performed the National Anthem at sports events and at political rallies and put in a ton of work to help ensure the passage of Referendum 74, ultimately granting marriage equality to Washington state. His middle name, however, is not as well known. His birth certificate (which he took a photo of and posted on Facebook as proof) has his parents listing his name as CHASE NAHOOIKAIKAKEOLAMAULOAOKALANI SILVA. Someone at Facebook contacted him on Thursday and told him that he needed to post as his real name.
Here is the message: 'Your account has been temporarily suspended because it looks like you are not using your real name. Facebook is a community where people use their real identities. We require everyone to use their full name so you'll always know who you're connecting with. Don't worry - you'll be able to get back into your timeline with your full, real name. If you're using a nickname, you can always add it back into your account later as an alternate name.'
Yeah ... this is uncomfortable isn't it? Silva says they were not having it at FB and so at the risk of losing his account, he conceded and now posts under Chase N. Silva. But he is not happy about it and has joined the ranks of others who are demanding this policy change immediately.
Just to make sure, I asked Chase Silva if at any time, whether applying for school or interviewing for a job has anyone, ever questioned the validity of his name. He says no, it has never happened once - until Thursday anyway.
But it doesn't stop there.
Others have tried, and failed, to do what Facebook is currently doing - asking people to use their birth name when setting up a profile online for social purposes - most famously, Google Plus. In July of this year, the company abandoned the practice after three years of trying to enforce it. In a statement to consumers, Google said they were sorry for taking so long to change the policy, and for causing 'unnecessarily difficult experiences for some of our users.'
According to Slate, when Google Plus launched three years ago, one of the people who signed up was an Iranian activist known widely on the Iranian Internet by the pseudonym 'Vahid Onlin.' Vahid had good reason not to use his real name because in Iran you can be arrested for any online activity the government believes you should be arrested for. Which loosely translates into: If they don't like you, they will get you.
But ... if they don't know who you are; well then, that makes things harder, doesn't it?
When Google suddenly announced that pseudonyms would not be allowed and Vahid's account was deactivated along with many others. Activists in authoritarian countries vulnerable to arrest for their online activity and a bigger set of people who believe in a person's right to define and control one's own online identity began to speak up.
Google Plus took a beating and slowly eased up on the restrictions until finally lifting them completely, and having to admit that despite what they had originally thought, real-name policies just don't seem to work.
The issue with Facebook officials is that the company touts its real-name policy as a way of holding users accountable for their behavior. But, as Slate also pointed out, there are plenty of examples of Facebook users engaging in hateful behavior under their real names.
'Research about online identity shows that 'real ID' policies are not as effective as their proponents claim,' wrote Rebecca MacKinnon and Hae-in Lim in a July 17 Slate.com feature about the failed policy. 'Disqus, an online commenting platform, conducted an informal analysis of about 500 million comments by 60 million users and found that pseudonymous users wrote better comments (and more of them) than those who were using their real names, with anonymous users being responsible for the bottom-feeder-quality comments.'
Interestingly enough, an econometric analysis of a South Korean third-party commenting platform by two Carnegie Mellon professors reached similar conclusions: Although real-name policies are 'likely to reduce the probability of using offensive words, the greater number of users seems to prefer participating in the commenting activity by using their pseudonym accounts.'
'But they found that for active commenters, real-name policies actually increased the frequency of offensive words,' the Slate writers reported.
Surely someone at Facebook has to have seen this information before; one does wonder why then do they continue - even after Google Plus concedes the right thing to do is just dump the policy.
Well, after this article is published, they will know, as it joins reports from other LGBT news and entertainment sources reporting on the subject. Gay entertainment blog Queerty.com reported on Thursday after, undoubtedly the most well known Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Roma brought it to their attention. The San Francisco-based nun was forced to change her personal profile to Michael Williams - a name nobody, unless they knew Sister Roma personally, would ever even think to search for when looking to book the entertainer. Because of this, Sister Roma told her Facebook friends, 'In light of the new demand by Facebook that we use our 'real' names, I am considering shutting down my personal page to concentrate on my 'FAN PAGE.' I update it and interact as much as I can, but I detest the idea of having a fan page. I'm not fucking Britney Spears. I have friends, not fans. At any rate, please follow me there cause this profile may be coming to an end.'
And the Olivia LaGarce petition addresses concerns over having to switch to a page instead of a personal account. 'Facebook has encouraged performers to create or transition to 'Like' pages, but even Facebook admits that pages typically only reach 16% of their audience, unless they pay to 'promote' a post
(https://www.facebook.com/marketing/posts/10150839503836337). We are not large companies with deep pockets, and we cannot afford to pay $30 or more per post to make sure that our friends and audiences see our posts. We are not businesses selling products, we are encouraging our friends to come to our events and performances, promoting charitable causes, and making calls to political action, with occasional mundane daily life updates like every other Facebook user.'
Again, I think Olivia LaGarce is right on target with this. Drag queens often reach parts of our community (and our allies) through their art. They do this, as many of you know, in kind. While that is not of any concern to Facebook (Honestly, why would it be? They don't have to care.), the truth still remains in the words of this petition - they simply will not be able to afford a $30 a post promotion fee. Following that logic, you must again ask yourself, why is Facebook doing this?
Facebook has remained silent about the issue, only occasionally pointing out their belief that this will keep its users safe from Internet trolls. But, as Olivia LaGrace points out, Facebook is 'a poor arbiter of what is or isn't a 'real name.'
'Performers with legitimate-appearing names get locked out of their accounts, while people with account names like 'Jane ICanBeBadAllByMyself Doe' go without scrutiny,' she says. 'And, unfortunately, for those who choose not to use their legal names for reasons of privacy, safety, or preference, there is no way to access their account to download and preserve all their photos and information that they have built up on Facebook over the years without bypassing the name change requirement.'
Cherry Sur Bête
Local Drag Queen Cherry Sur Bête, known for pushing gender boundaries (among others) is known for her ask that the community treat us and others with respect. In fact, it is because of her work as a makeup and performance artist who often blurs the gender lines, she has been asked to participate in an LGBTQ ongoing community forum (much like Ted Talks) called 'Jake Talks: The Language of Gender' (http://www.eventbrite.com/e/jake-talks-presents-the-language-of-gender-tickets-12948688877) to be held September 25, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Gay City Health Project's Calamus Auditorium (517 E Pike St).
I reached out to Cherry Sur Bête, because I noticed that a name change had occurred. Cherry Sur Bête, who I know, is now Gina Sterling, who I do not know. And while yes, I could remember the new name and, yes, I could alert others to the fact that Cherry is now Gina, the odds of me or anyone else for that matter, taking the time to do this for each one of their drag friends, anyone Hawaiian without a true blue American first and last name, and so on, are slim. Cherry Sur Bête, however, is looking at the issue as one that is having a tangible social impact. And like La Garce, she is right on target.
'Our chosen names are an important part of our identities and how we interact with our peers and audiences,' Cherry Sur Bête explains. 'These are the names we are known by and call each other and ourselves. We build our networks, community, and audience under the names we have chosen, and forcing us to switch our names after years of operating under them has caused nothing but confusion and pain by preventing us from presenting our profiles under the names we have built them up with.'
Cherry Sur Bête says this could be damaging to their careers. 'People we have known (or who have known us) for years are unable to find us, communicate with us, or recognize us in our Facebook interactions now; Like Pages do not offer the same freedoms in connecting with others as a personal profile.'
There are functional restrictions, says Cherry Sur Bête. 'Facebook limits your reach to people who have actively liked your page unless you financially 'Boost' the post. Additionally, you are unable to tag others in posts and in pictures. The Like Page structure is simply inferior to a personal profile in connecting and networking with others unless you are paying for their Premium Services.'
'Demanding that we need to disclose our 'Full Legal Name' to the whole of the Internet is an invasion of our privacy and opens the door for harassment and abuse,' reasons Cherry Sur Bête. 'Anonymity and the Internet has a long intertwined history. It used to be that being able to operate without anyone knowing who you are was one of the key doctrines of the Internet.'
In conclusion, the outspoken drag queen warns, 'Facebook is now enforcing their policy of Full Legal Names (or appearing to use your legal name). Are people who require anonymity for lifestyle choices, safety, or career decisions meant to create a Like Page or simply not have an online presence? This will affect you if you are any of the following who uses a pseudonym: Performer Actor Dancer Drag Queen Mental Health Professional Sex Worker Victim of Abuse Anyone who identifies as a gender other than the one on your birth certificate OR anyone who wants to remain anonymous on social media.'
'Our goal in creating the petition on Change.org is that Facebook will realize the need for reform of their Facebook policies, create another option for people using pseudonyms, or simply allow users to go by their chosen identities.'
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