• Star Williams

Why I Used a Pseudonym, Queerly Dear

Queerly Dearest,

Yesterday, I saw a person wearing a T-shirt that said, "NOT A FAN OF PSEUDONYMS." This really ticked me off. I mean, why do people object to pen names, when they have no idea what that artist's circumstances are like? I had a pen name for years and it kept me—and a family member—safe and well. I am so grateful for that pen name identity and everything it did for me.

Under that pen name, I learned what activism was. I fought sexual shame and invested in this world. Thanks to that pen name identity, I came out as a survivor of childhood abuse and received the kind of support I'd never have thought possible. Thanks to that pen name, people wrote me emails that said, "Your book changed the way I feel about myself as a survivor. That's never happened before."

I took this pen name because I knew that my activism would make it very difficult for me, as a person presenting as female. I had a relative who suffered from extreme mental illness, which was untreated because of the choices she had made, and who I simply couldn't trigger, because I knew what it would mean for us both. Had she found out what I was writing about, she would likely have had a breakdown with very serious consequences.

I had to keep us safe.

Also, as a person who has suffered for 20 years from a stress-related, chronic illness that makes my day-to-day life difficult, I knew I needed to minimize my stress, while I carried out my activism.

Here's what I believe: Above all else, protect your truth. You need to be able to speak from your heart, when you need to. Even if you can only speak your truth for 2% of the time, it still has the power to change this world and keep you strong.

I was part of a panel discussion once with two male writers, both of whom wrote about sexuality. At one point, one of them slammed writers who used pen names. He said that we all need to be responsible for our words—that writing about sexuality should model pride and honesty.

As if having a pen name messes with that!

If anything, my pen name kept me honest. And why should we only have one identity anyway? Because some guy who writes about sex and has only ever been affirmed for it, says so?

On that panel, I stood up after him, and told the audience, "I was once turned down for a job because I foolishly told the organization who was about to hire me that I not only published literary short stories, but also wrote about sexuality. Given their reaction, I soon realized this was a mistake. Had I kept my activist writing a secret, I'd probably have been offered that job."

I then sat down again.

That was the end of the topic.

Protect your truths, Queerly Dear. Do whatever you need, in order to do so. Keep yourself safe and your heart alight. When you're able, sing.

And by the way, in my opinion, that T-shirt might as well have read, "Not a fan of people who protect themselves."

You are powerful, Queerly Dear,


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