Even in many anti-pseudonymity screeds, there seems be a general acceptance that putting one’s real name and picture online is a position of privilege that perhaps women and people of color might be excused from as vulnerable populations (I’m somewhat cynically reflecting these ideas, not endorsing them, here).

But I wonder if there is something else going on, that is not at all about vulnerability or fear, particularly as regards people of color (and I apologize if these are old ideas—I’ve don’t remember seeing them emphasized in the several discussions of pseudonymity that I’ve read):

For the Chinese-American who has always had a family name and a school name; for the Latino who easily flips between Spanish and English conversations at the same party; for the black female professor who only straightens her hair during the semester—an internet name may simply be a natural extension of the kind of code-switching they’ve been doing all their life. For them, there is nothing fake or unreal about adopting a particular persona.

By contrast, someone who has never had to practice constant contextual adaptation at such a level of self may feel less comfortable with the act of going by another name; they may feel that setting up a persona is an act of deceit, or a loss of part of self. For instance at Prof Hacker, Brian Croxall begins his endorsement of using real names with:

I try to be myself….What being myself online has meant to me has been achieved through using one username across most of the Internet and one avatar.

That’s what it means to him. For me being myself has rarely involved any sort of consistency in my daily life, regardless of the internet. I admit that I’m an extreme case. But the internet didn’t make me that way. I remember desperately wanting contact lenses in high school because while I was already “the smart kid”, I really did not want to be “the geek with glasses.” I love this bit from Rana because it so clearly shows how using a real name is disconnected from being oneself. Half the reason to begin using a variant online name was to signify female more clearly—in other words, to be more myself.

A single avatar? Let’s consider gendered norms for appearance. I was once given a (wholly ridiculous) dress code of “business elegant” for an academic celebration. For men, the range of clothes they might wear in that context was fairly tight—the main decision was whether to wear a full suit or just a jacket and pants. Women, trying to decide what clothes such a context required, showed up in everything from a casual skirt and tanktop to a long evening gown. On another day, they might have made a different choice. Many women also have a much greater range of hairstyles to experiment with, or have had at some point in their life. Women get makeovers. Thus, women rarely present an identical “avatar” in all contexts in real life. Why should they do so online?

I resist photographic avatars because I think they cannot help but lie to their audience. I don’t want to pick one moment, one attitude, to attach to everything I post online, when I may be writing happy, angry, pensive. My affinity for rivers and my love of a curve through the landscape, expressed in my current avatar, are far more fundamental to being myself than any fleeting facial expression.

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