Facebook locked me out of my account this week. “It” wanted me to prove my identity. It would not tell me who “it” was – a robot code crawling through a series of algorithms? A twenty-two year old white guy recently graduated from Stanford? A troll who decided “Dykewomon” is not Facebook-worthy?
I was horrified. What gives this faceless jury the right to demand anyone “verify” who they are? I assumed, though I have no way of knowing, that they would be young white men. I’m an old white dyke Jew. I write. I mostly use my Facebook presence to engage with other writers and activists.
Blocked for twenty-four hours, I had to consider what I would do if Facebook decided I was not “valid.” I certainly wouldn’t open an account under my patronymic – it wouldn’t make sense. I’ve spent forty years as “Dykewomon” to – everyone who knows me, anyone who’s read my books or Sinister Wisdom. My mother kept my books where anyone could read the spine, even after she went blind. My nephews have found me on FB under “Dykewomon.” I would write “Dykewomon” in large letters, in my terrible handwriting, on the blackboard at SF State the first day of classes; years later my best students would ask to friend me. How else would they find me?
Certainly folks have made fun of and cast aspersions on “Dykewomon” over the years. Occasionally I’ve despaired of saddling myself with a name that so clearly announces my allegiances, makes people nervous about reading my books on the subway. I’ve laughed when asked to find someone new to come out to on National Coming Out Day (which happens to be my birthday). Once my agent told me a publisher asked if I’d go back to my birth-name; she wanted to know if she was right to tell him that would be like asking me to go back into the closet. Yes, I said. Thanks.
If I had been permanently blocked, would I have sued, for myself and every other writer – or Native American, abuse survivor, community activist, transperson, immigrant – anyone who has cause to go by a name other than the one on their birth certificate? What would our claim be? Is there a 21-century right to electronic community? A freedom of digital assembly?
So many events this year have given me cause to recall the proverb, “My barn burned down. Now I can see the moon.” I decided I could let go of Facebook. I’m old now, oldish enough; I could turn from the internet back to the page – to handwritten letters and longhand journals. Maybe finish my memoir, write another novel. My publisher and friends, the ones I know intimately, who still have Facebook pages, could post news about me. It’s an almost pleasurable thought. To be banished from the clamor, from all the depressing news, the quizzes that tell me I would be living in NY as Dr. Spock, Patti Smith, the Rolling Stones, Lauren Bacall or Emma Goldman.
Ah, but someone looked at my credit card, my book cover, my ID and stamped me valid, re-opened the gates. My friends said welcome back, said, we’ll vouch for you. But how would they have known? And where would they go to vouch? Today I found out my lesbian cousin in Chicago is marrying her long-time partner in May of 2017. She mighthave sent me a paper invitation. But how would I participate in the conversation where she asks for a way to frame their marriage, undertaken to secure social security and other important contractual rights, as outside the state, as other than the “sacred right” the Supreme Court has ruled it to be? I can’t even think about that tonight, that other rant, since I’m here, meditating on Facebook questioning “Dykewomon,” the woman I call me.