Long before 50 Shades of Grey made Mr. Grey famous the world over (as a dom in a piece of dreck, best I can tell – I haven’t read the book), I was known as Mr. Grey. Grey, or occasionally Mr. Grey, was the name by which I went during much of my journey through the demimonde of commercial sex. Incidentally, I thought that “Grey” was a clever name, reflecting as it did the story I told myself – that nothing was black and white, that all about me was grey. Turns out? Just about everyone seeking a nom de whatever in that particular demimonde takes “Grey.” Witness L – she chose “Lizzie Grey” without reference to my own history. And, of course, Christian Grey, in 50 Shades of Grey.
And now, now that I’m out of that demimonde and in a new one? “N. Likes” isn’t my name. “Nick,” the name for which “N” is an initial, isn’t my name. “Lizzie Grey” isn’t L’s name. Liza Bennett isn’t Liza’s name.
I asked Liza the other day to suggest a topic for me, and she wrote, “Assumed identities. Why we use them, whether they help or hinder. Are we hiding or protecting ourselves.”
All of us with noms de whatever have our reasons for having such names. Some are hiding from friends, or family; some, from censorious authorities; some, from colleagues, or professional peers. Some of us are protecting ourselves from social, or religious, or criminal sanctions. Some of us are achieving through compartmentalization what we couldn’t through integration: the opportunity to behave in a manner other than that we might wish publicly to be known for, for whatever reason. Or even the opportunity to do a bit of helpful disassociation, allowing us to gain access to parts of ourselves that previously we have hidden – from others, from ourselves.
When I was “Grey,” I was hiding, protecting. I was ashamed, and scared, and the name served to medicate my fear, to put distance between “me” and what I was doing. It allowed me more effectively to compartmentalize, both because it meant that the women I was seeing didn’t know my real name (for the most part, although inevitably, I told them) and because it meant I could tell myself that the guy doing those things was Grey – he wasn’t “me.”
More recently, as I’ve emerged from shame into grace (as they say in 12-step land), I have a different understanding of the purpose of “noms de….”
My wife, T, took a look at Liza’s question and shook her head. (She has a secret identity too.) “Mine liberates me,” she said.
“I know, right?” I said.
I have the sense that Liza’s may well liberate her as well, and (as always) I’ll be eager to read what Liza may have to say on this subject, because I suspect that for her, as for my wife, as for me, there’s no single benefit of hiding behind a pseudonym. Rather, it’s a complex decision, one with multifarious consequences – positive and negative.
For many, assumed identities serve a defensive purpose, to shield their everyday Dr. Jekylls from their decadent Mr. Hydes. Maybe this is to simplify ultimate Senate confirmation hearings, or something else. But in many cases I suspect it’s more primal – that it’s somehow more connected to residual internalized shame. (Tell me I’m wrong – I don’t mean to speak for you.) To the idea that what we’re doing – having adventurous, joyful sex; writing publicly about that which is rightly private – is somehow embarrassing, shameful.
I’m often struck by the degree of anxiety, fear, almost paranoia that characterizes many of us in this world of “sex positive” people. People are deeply worried – worried that they’ll be “found out.” This is as true of people in London (for whom all of the potential consequences are social) as of those in Jeddah (where there might be genuine physical consequences).
For me, for my wife, I daresay for L, it’s a bit different – and, it’s a bit different for each of us, too.
Sure, there’s a bit of the defensive motivation: life is simply easier when the people with whom we interact in our “vanilla” lives assume that our marriage is “conventional” (whatever the fuck that means), that our sex lives are… uninteresting. It’s easier around the neighborhood, at work, at school, if people don’t whisper to one another, “Oh, that’s N. Have you read those super-hot stories about the sex he had with The Historian? I wonder if he’ll hook up with her again. I hope so.”). (For the record, I hope so too…. )
And there’s the practical: I’ve had one too many experiences with people who turned out to be just a little crazy in ways that I couldn’t anticipate at the outset and… well, let’s just say it’s a good thing they didn’t know my real name, because they might well have sought to wreak havoc (and, had they known my real name, their ability to do so would have been greater). On top of which, Google makes it such that if we don’t want our kids to discover something about us that happens on the internet, it needs to happen in connection with an identity entirely distinct from our “real-life” identity.
But more than any of that, there’s the fantastical: the truth is, N. Likes is a bit different than the guy who invented him. Not all that different – he’s the same height, build, has the same history, etc. But when N. Likes is with a woman, he’s just a bit more, well, ruthless, than his alter ego is. N’s alter ego’s a damned nice guy. The existence of N. Likes gives me, gives him – gives us – license to turn it up a notch, to experiment, to play around. N is, essentially, a fictional character of my own creation. Or rather, he’s semi-fictional – I conjure him often. (Just last night, I’m fairly certain it was N, and not his alter ego, who grabbed a woman whom he had never met before by the hair in a bar and pulled her toward him as he kissed her, as he grinded into her, even as his wife was engaged in a very similar maneuver with a different guy, just a few feet away.).
Sure, N’s based on his alter ego (a.k.a. “me”), but he is notably different. Incidentally, with both L and T, we have all these permutations of interactions – our “real” selves with one another; our alter egos with one another; and then, even, interactions between a “real” self and an alter ego. All that has happened. And it’s, for the most part, not just fun, but actively helpful – in keeping straight just what’s going on, who’s thinking, feeling, doing what, etc.
In my wife’s case, her alter ego and her day-to-day self are almost entirely distinct. She goes hours, days even, without checking her alter ego’s e-mail, and she consciously, mostly willfully, turns T on and off. For me, the boundaries are a bit more porous: N. is always around, as is my real-life version. They’re constantly present. They both check their e-mails compulsively, they both are hyper-sexual. They just express it a little differently.
So for me, for us, our alter egos serve primarily as enablers – as positive enhancers of our experience.
Do you have an alter ego? What purpose(s) does it serve for you?
Privacy. I don’t really write much worth shouting about so it’s not really an issue but that was my motivation. Not just my own privacy but that of the people who are touched by what I write. They didn’t ask to be challenged. In particular my son. He has an absolute right to privacy and children can be cruel to each other – I wouldn’t want a playground tease using me as ammunition. My ma is 69 (snigger… sorry), she wouldn’t judge but she would worry that her friends would be scandalised – I don’t want her having to fight my corner. My ex. He would be hurt by things I have written I think. That wasn’t my intention. So many other people would be affected – it would be selfish of me to deny that.
And beyond privacy what I have found is that I simply enjoy it. I like that I can step outside the mundanity of everyday and just have fun without constraints. There is no promotional goal (stats, traffic, readers etc.), no need to achieve anything. It’s pure indulgence. For someone who is always pushing herself in work and the day to day that has been a real treat. But this weekend I met with people from this ‘secret place’ in real life. I was just my real name. First name no address. But I don’t think I would behave differently just because I was using a different ID. I have not found nor felt the need to be liberated in that way. Perhaps I should think about that some more.
Very interesting topic and one discussed at length at eroticon2012 in the panel that I sat in with a few other people.
When I began blogging 7 years ago, I had a different alter ego and a different life. I admittedly started blogging to express the sex life I wasn’t having and in turn, getting attention from other men. When that life ended, so did that alter ego and Mina Lamieux was born.
I blog as Mina because it allows me some freedoms. I don’t blog as Mina because I am ashamed of who I really am. Not at all. If someone were to out me tomorrow, I would stand tall and proud for the person I am, though I know it will be a difficult journey. I blog anonymously mostly because this allows me to blog freely about my sexuality without the direct judgments of society. Plus, there are reasons for not being completely out in the open. Some family members would disapprove and child custody may be debated. Or, like a lot of cases, jobs could be lost.
Like you, I cannot put Mina away. In fact, I AM Mina and I wish I could just be Mina at all times. Open to the world. I find that the friends I am making now, do know Mina. A lot of them have met me in person through the Mina identity. I enjoy the company of these friends far more than my “normal” friends I hide my true identity from.
However, having people meet you through your alter ego and thus able to read every word you write, starts to censor you as well. I blog anonymously because it gives me freedom, but the more people start seeing the blog, the more I start to hold back.
That last part is intriguing to me. Why do you hold back? Is it because, increasingly, you’re a part of a community in which you’re invested in how you’re seen? Or something else?
I (and my husband) hold back to spare feelings, or to keep people anonymous by their request. Mostly it’s to spare feelings. Nobody wants to read that we didn’t actually find the sex with them that enjoyable. So we hold back and choose not to write EVERY detail.
I am not invested in any community and most people do see me as on outsider since I am quite happy not being involved with a lot of the blog themes floating around. I’m ok with this. I am who I am. I am confident on my own. I’ll continue expressing my opinions.
If you didn’t find sex with me enjoyable, I’d definitely want to know. Live and learn. But I get what you’re saying. I’m not sure I’d want EVERY one to know. And many people might well prefer not to. And, in any case, you might prefer not to TELL me.
In general, I only blog about either a) those who don’t know about the blog, or b) have explicitly authorized me to do so.
This is exactly how we function as well. Either we blog about people openly and anonymously who don’t even know the blog exists, or, if we do blog about someone who knows the blog, they always look at it first and give the approval of the publish.
Lately, because of twitter, we meet a lot more people who already know about the blog. My husband has also decided that he will no longer write about his encounters unless the women he sees ask him to.
As for me, well, my extra marital affairs are rare, So, even though I write about them, they happen once in a blue moon.
I don’t ALWAYS grant pre-approval rights….