Online Anonymity to Real Names and the Power to be Brave

Woman in a mask by jeweve
Who's the woman behind the mask? Photo by Jan W.

I’m a huge fan of Dear Sugar. Sugar’s advice column touches my soul in a way that I wish more things did. I find a great deal of meaning in what she writes, and many columns bring me to tears, which I am not the type of person to tear up at any sentiment. Sugar’s words dig deep into the truth of the soul. Like being wrapped in a gentle hug of brutal truth. This is why I and countless others love her.

In a recent interview, Sugar announced that she is coming out. While a few people know her identity, Sugar is by-and-large anonymous. She is currently the myth, the Batman. Sugar teaches us how to be brave by telling us about how she was not brave and how to push through our situations.

At first, I was very upset that Sugar was coming out. Identity holds so much baggage. It flavors the words we read. What do we think of Ernest Hemingway since we know he was a drunk? How does this impact Hills Like White Elephants? What do we think of To the Lighthouse when we know Virginia Woolf spent summers at a very similar place? What does it say about my words when you Google me?

When I first started hanging out on the internet, I did so anonymously. I did so in the comfort of my made up name, where I found a group of people with similar interests, who never judged me for who I was. This was huge for me. Especially as a young person figuring out who I was and finding my voice in this world.

No topic was taboo. And never did I worry about a future employer, my grandmother, or even my neighbor judging me based on my online identity. I know I said some stupid shit. I also wrote novels and novels of erotic fanfiction. This was all very beautiful; and I met a lot of my online friends where we spent weekends geeking out over Star Trek episodes or posing Buffy: the Vampire Slayer action figures in compromising positions. We ranged in age from barely adult to those reminiscing about dusty zines created on typewriters and traded under-the-table at early Elfquest gatherings. I will respond to my screenname.

But then came the move to be your “real self” online. College students thought Facebook was private until Zuckerberg and company invited your mom, your boss, and your 10-year-old cousin to the table. Somehow I don’t think my boss cares to know that I spent the entire X-Men: First Class movie waiting for Magneto and Professor X to kiss.

Moving away from my nom de plume to my legal name has in many ways taken away the brazenness of me and the rawness of what I speak. It took me forever to swear here, and it wasn’t until this past December that I used this “real” blog to tell the gut wrenching truth of how I came to be. That I had to face my family telling me, your stories hurt my feelings.

Perhaps, I am afraid this will happen to Sugar. I am afraid her words will be limited by having her name attached to them. I am afraid she will come across as less brave, less of that myth who’s worldly and universal truths wrap around my heart.

But at the same time, I understand Sugar’s need to come out. She deserves to publish a book of Sugar, and she deserves to be able to tell us Sugar-fans that we can support her by buying her current book. I know I want to read her book. So while I’m very afraid, in my own selfish way, I cannot wait to find out who the woman behind the mask is.

I hope that Sugar continues to be brave. That she tells even deeper stories now that she doesn’t have to worry about revealing her “real” identity. I hope that the truth is even more powerful behind her real name. I hope that she continues to speak loudly the stories that not all of us can under our “real” names.

She’ll always be Sugar to me. Even if she turns out to be my mother.*

(*Sugar is most definitely not my mother. This I am 100% certain of. Otherwise, I do not have clue as to whom is behind the column I love so dearly.)

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