Gay Girl from Damascus is A 40-Year-Old Heterosexual White American Man
Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old Middle East activist studying for a master at Edinburgh University, posted an update headlined “Apology to readers” declaring that, rather than a 35-year-old feminist and lesbian called Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, he was “the sole author of all posts on this blog”.
I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative voıce may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone — I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.
I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in thıs year of revolutions. The events there are beıng shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience.
This experience has sadly only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.
However, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers.
June 12, 2011..
The sole author of all posts on this blog..
The blog A Gay Girl in Damascus was launched in February, as an action to explain “what it’s like to be a lesbian here”, and gathered a growing following as Syria’s popular uprising gained momentum in recent months. Amina described participating in street protests, carrying out furtive lesbian romances and eventually being forced into hiding after security forces came to her home to arrest her.
Yesterday, Tom MacMaster reposted a longer apology letter, stating the different phases of Amina’s growth and calling for directing the attention away from him fictional and focus on the real people, the real heroes and the stories that matter in the Middle East.
Despite MacMaster’s assertion “I do not believe that I have harmed anyone”, activists were furious. Sami Hamwi, the pseudonym for the Damascus editor of GayMiddleEast.com, wrote:
“To Mr MacMaster, I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country. We have to deal with too many difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us.”Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina’s arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Really … Shame on you!!!” (The Guardian).
Salma, an author at Bekhsous wrote: “Regardless who the person behind the blog is, this blog was real to its readers. In a short period of time, it gave a voice to sexual minorities and political activists in Syria and was respected for the courage of the person behind it. For me, “Amina” was as real as her blog; I related to her life, we became friends and exchanged emails, etc. I understood what anonymity meant to her and I know what it means to us. I expected a fake picture and even a fake name; I did not expect a fake personality all together.
I was still hoping while reading this public apology that the person behind the blog was Syrian, that he/she was arrested, that they at least lived in Syria! Sadly Mr. MacMaster with his hoax delegitimized the voice of so many Arab, specifically Syrian, bloggers. He spoke on our behalf without having the right or legitimacy of doing so, while delegitimizing our voice in the process. So I would like to thank you for stepping on our feet, experimenting with our lives, opening the eyes of an oppressive system to our existence, and most of all thank you for lying to us and tricking us into believing you. And since we are issuing out a thank you, we would also like to thank your wife for taking time off from her Istanbul vacation to tell the world that she doesn’t want to be bothered with this mess of news.”