Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dilemma and demand

I am experiencing something of a dilemma and, it being a dilemma, I'm not sure what to do. So I'm asking you some questions.
The story is thus:
Last week I was contacted by a magazine belonging to a U.S. cancer organisation who asked if I would be willing to have one of my blogposts highlighted along with a little interview in their publication. I was flattered and possibly a little excited - it was quite a boost to the confidence to have other people consider that my writing is worthy of this; plus I write this not just for me but for other people with cancer or treating people with cancer.
So, I checked out their site to see if I thought they were something that I would be willing to be connected to and decided they seemed OK. I replied with a tentative 'yes' and asked which post they were interested in.
The person replied pointing to the post Truce - 'huh' I thought; I don't consider that one of my best - it's OK, not bad; but not the best. But I thought that would be OK. I was also asked if I would have a problem with them publishing my real name.
I had to think about that one - people I've corresponded with by email will know that 'Sepha' is not my 'given' name; but if I write to you, I will always sign that 'given' name. I'm not trying to fool you, or lie to you - Sepha *is* me, the things I say here are truer because I use that name. If frees me to be *more* honest with you. Sepha dates from when I very first started using the internet and I didn't know how 'safe' it was to tell people who I was; how much information I wanted the world outside of my control or knowledge to know about me - so Sepha was my alter-ego if you like. Years later when cancer struck and I needed an outlet, Sepha was resurrected to be my blogging alter-ego - again, I didn't know how 'safe' or 'sensible' it was to put my whole self out on display and I was aware that not everything I say on this blog is for everyone's knowledge. Some might say, then why are you posting it on the internet? Why not just keep a diary? The answer, I suppose, is that blogging is more than just recording events; it's reaching out to other people, it's searching for common ground and acceptance and in my case, it was searching for empathy.
I *hurt*, I still do, and somehow that hurt was so great that I needed outside acknowledgement of it, affirmation that I was heard. Somehow, trying to make you, out there, understand what was happening to me helped me, still helps me, to bear it; to keep breathing. Knowing that sometimes I don't cry alone is a comfort. I don't do it because I get some delight out of upsetting other people - does that make any sense?
Where am I going with this, you're thinking. I'm going on to explain to you that not everyone in my world knows about my blog. I have never specifically mentioned it to my family (although I have my suspicions that some at least may know about it, may possibly read it); my partner knows I blog but I have never given him the URL; a small number of my in-person friends know about it, most do not; my work colleagues do not know about it; my guides and the majority of my guiding world do not know about it. And in some of those cases, that is absolutely right. For example, I do not think it would be appropriate for girls for whom I am in a mentoring-type position to be aware of my emotional state. I do not think it would be appropriate for my work colleagues to read about how I feel about working; to know my dilemmas about my job.
Why have I not shared it with friends and family? I'm not sure, to be honest. All my life I've tended to be fairly reticent about my feelings, even with close family and friends. In some cases I equate feelings with weakness (of myself, not others). I have a tendency to feel (rightly or wrongly) that when people know how I truly feel then they have me at a disadvantage; they can hurt me, they will think less of me; they will think I am weak and incapable. Logically, when I look at this, I see that in the case of family and friends, this is ludicrous. My family and my friends would *never* think these things about me and these are the people who are important to me.
The other reason that I use to justify this lack of advertisement is that I don't want to make the people I care about, unhappy. I don't want them to be sad. And I feel that the things I write, are sad. Isn't it enough that *I* am miserable without making others around me feel bad too?

Going back to the dilemma - I thought about all of this and I responded saying that I would be OK with them publishing my first name; but I would prefer they didn't publish my surname. In my head I was thinking that I didn't want people I've met or known 'googling' my name and being led to my blog but that I didn't want to hide completely - because that would feel wrong too. I was looking to exercise a little control over the information available about me on the internet. I thought this was reasonable and I felt like I had been asked what I would like; which was good.
My bad .
The response I had in return was that it was the magazine's policy to always publish the full names of their contributors. I was a bit taken aback - as I had read the previous message as one asking how I would like to be represented.
I replied, explaining that I wasn't looking for anonymity, as such; I was looking to control who my blog was read by and how it was found - especially given how honest and raw I am in some of my posts; and that I hoped we could find a compromise.
Well, no, not really was the reply. Apparently not using the full name of a source or using a pseudonym would "imply that cancer is something that is shameful and to be kept hidden".
For the record, I don't think those things and I tell most people I have cancer and am not known for pulling my punches in talking about it. I've spoken at a medical conference to doctors about the emotional impact of cancer treatment; I've spoken to various groups of people for one of the UK's cancer charities - and yes, they did know my name. They knew my name because I always say it when I begin speaking. I guess I'm trying to say, I don't see myself as hiding; I see myself as suiting the information about myself for the audience I'm dealing with - from my perspective and theirs. That information is sacred - because it isn't just facts and figures; it's me - It's about *my* body and *my* feelings and what am I if I am not those?
And I felt really sad when I got their response, and a bit angry - because I didn't go looking for this opportunity; they came to me, but apparently I'm only acceptable under certain circumstances. And I would truly debate with anyone who tried to say that what I write means less because of the name attached to it. No-one knows my name anyway; I could say I was Minnie Mouse - it's not like my name is world-renowned and carries some particular authority. My *name* doesn't write these words; it can't type or hold a pen; my name can't even *think* these words; it's the me inside the name that does those things. And you know what? I have many names; my dad calls me one version of my name, my brother another, my partner something *completely* different and in part of my head, and out there with you, my name is Sepha. So, which is the 'real' one? Which one's the authority?
So now I am in dilemma - part of me wants to do this; feels obliged to do this; feels I *should* do this - because maybe this sharing could help someone else get through a cancer experience. Perhaps part of my having cancer is about my learning to share; is about me being the sacrificial lamb, if you like but equally, perhaps that's just a load of codswallop.
So, what do you think? Am I hiding but trying to pretend I'm not? Am I trying to be too controlling? How much do you share about yourself on the internet? Would you be prepared to have your full name out there attached to a link to your blog? I'm not asking what you think I should do specifically - I'm genuinely interested to find out how much about yourself you're prepared to put on the internet. For example, do you have different email addresses for different purposes - like commenting on blogs for instance? Do you put your full name on comments? Do you put any part of your 'given' name on comments?
In the past I've been very nice and asked for your comments; now I'm demanding - if you have visited this blog on more than one occasion deliberately then I want you to tell me what you think - no judging on my part (although I do like being able to respond to your comments by email; so when you don't include that I do feel a bit sad - because often I really want to say 'thanks' or to say more to you) That said; on this occasion I don't mind because I want you to say what you think and if you need to do that anonymously then *I'm* happy for you to do that; if you'd like to use a pseudonym then *I'm* happy for you to do that. Let's talk, to each other about this - I think it's important.
p.s. the person I've been corresponding with on this matter has never been *anything* other than nice in the messages I've had - I simply haven't liked the stance that this publication has chosen to take; so no personal-style attacks please - I won't publish them.


Snoskred said...

I think they are wrong, wronggity wrong to assume that using a pseudonym = cancer is something that is shameful and to be kept hidden.

Sepha like you I use a pseudonym on the web for many reasons. If they are not prepared to publish under your pseudonym I have two thoughts for you.

1. Do they already know your real name? If not, use your real first name and a fake surname. How will they know the difference? (if this is the case don't publish this comment as they may read your blog). If they do know your real surname, you could try saying in that case this is my real name - I am using a fake surname to communicate with you and give them a fake surname. ;) Sneaky, huh?

2. If they are not happy to use a fake surname, then let it go. There are big issues with revealing who you are, some of which you have mentioned here. Don't put your well being at risk because they are stupid. And frankly they are stupid, as you say your name doesn't write anything, you do.

I would never, ever, not in a million years reveal my real name to anyone. I never give my blog info to people who know me - not family, not friends. My personal online safety is important to me and I feel that allowing people to know who I am would compromise my safety.

From what you have written here, you have good reasons for keeping your real name to yourself. Stick to your guns. :)

Sweet Camden Lass said...

I just did a quick search and discovered that my gmail account is linked and *showing* against my livejournal profile. Hadn't realised that it showed. So I hid it. And I think there's my answer. I do have a tendency to share too much on my blog: I also know that many of my friends IRL read it, and they are IRL friends 'cos I met them on the internet in the first place. But there are various friends that I won't tell about it. I want some anonymity. Just a tad. If I were to make the link more explicit, I'd start blogging in a different way.

But then... google my name, and google yours. I think there's a lot more people with my name.


Ciorstaidh said...

Hmm. It's not easy, is it?
For what it's worth, I'd be exactly the same as you: they might use my username, they might use my first name (my 'handle' being a variant spelling on my first name, after all), but I wouldn't want my *full* name. And it's not really for identity either; it's because on the internet, I see Sepha, I know it's you (okay, I've only seen you here with that username, but you know what I mean!) People see Ciorstaidh - with or without '84' - they pretty much know it's me (there are a couple of exceptions, but not many, it has to be said). And that's cool. If it's going to be a highlight about "here's someone who's blogging about cancer", I'd have thought your username would be *more* beneficial than your RL name - easier to find, and so on.

So to answer your questions:
Am I hiding but trying to pretend I'm not?
I really don't think you are - the people you are trying to protect, you are already protecting. They don't need to hear everything you blog, and you don't need to tell them. That is the level of control any blogger deserves - a blog is like an open diary in this sense.

Am I trying to be too controlling?
*points up* no, I really don't think you are. It is your prerogative to have control of your thoughts, your news, your posts: like you mention, you are a mentor and role model for young women. They need to not see this. And that's not being overly controlling, that's being realistic.

How much do you share about yourself on the internet? *thinks* my age, my first name, my location (area of London); address to filtered people whom I've mostly met and certainly 'know' through l'internet. I'm pretty blunt about where I am, though I use filters for some things. LJ has that functionality and not all my flist wants to hear about my mental health, and that's cool.

Would you be prepared to have your full name out there attached to a link to your blog? Hell, no. My mother knows about my blog - but Livejournal has filters. I'm friends-only because of harassment last year from an LJer I had met IRL, but the filters are for mother dearest ;)

See you soon, and take care,

~Cio xxx

Anonymous said...

I do agree with you that some things are better left private. Although I understand why some publications would pride themselves on being able to identify their sources, for example to lend credibility to the reporting, this is surely not one of those cases. A first name should suffice. A year or so ago I was approached to be interviewed regarding my "survivorship" and when I asked the writer to only use my first name there wasn't even an eye batted. What should it matter? Does it lend credence to our stories if we give everyone our full name, address and telephone number? Maybe I'm one of those people that only has one name??? Does that mean that I can't write and still have it mean something to people who are reading it - I think not. I have been silently reading you for a long time and want to thank you for sharing. We travel a difficult road and it is so helpful to have company. I hope the people asking for your full name come around because it would be a shame to deny your voice. Take care, and know that someone from Alberta Canada is rooting for you.

laurie said...

Hi Sepha,

I think the policy is misguided.

I have never blogged anonymously. I use my real first name in my blog and if you click on my email, you can find out my last name, too. That was the right choice for me. I am very comfortable with the kind of openness I have chosen for my blog but I do think carefully before I write something about others in my life (friends and family are always identified by first initial) because I know that they will read it. And, so, for me, there are subjects that remain off limits because I am being protective of myself or others in my life.

I can totally understand why others would choose to remain anonymous, in order not to feel limited in what they can express. It is a choice I could easily have made. And I don't think it has anything to do with shame.

I agree that we should not be ashamed of having cancer. I also really hate that society (or upbringing, which is the same thing, really) causes some women to feel shame.

I don't, however, agree that shame is the only reason that some of us choose anonymity.

Cancer takes away our control of some many things in our lives. I believe that each of us should have the right choose how much we reveal of ourselves and how publicly.

Whether you choose to comply with the policy and reveal your real name is completely up to you. It all has to do with your degree of comfort.

You chose to use your real name in the video to which you linked, though....and did I mention that you have gorgeous curly hair (completely irrelevant to the topic at hand, I know)?


Dorothy said...

If the magazine has your real information I don't know why you have to tell the world your personal information if you would prefer to keep it anonymous.

So if it's not important to you, do what feels right. Your stomach feeling is usually the right thing to go by..

Dorothy from grammology
all your gram

Mary Anne said...

I recently came across your blog and I just want to tell you how much I enjoy your writing. It comes across as very thoughtful and honest. Thank you for taking the time and effort to share your experiences.

As for the dilemma, I agree with the other comments left here and my own thoughts are that your first name should be more than adequate for them. Your story is your story, regardless of your name.

I don't put my last name on any of my accounts or my blog. I think the people you are dealing with should be willing to compromise.

Sarah M Dillon said...

i've replied via email as it got very, very rambling (let me know if you didn't get it, i'd hate to think it got lost in the ether) - really interesting topic and discussion, thanks for bringing it up. x

Anonymous said...

I think there's a difference between hiding something because you're ashamed - and being guarded about something, simply because people really won't benefit by knowing. From what I've read here, you're not hiding.
I have no idea how much I share about myself on the internet. On my two blogs, not that much. On the chat forum I'm on, even less. On Yahoo - a fair amount in the past; less now. If somebody had the time to go through and collate everything, I reckon there'd be more than I realise.
I think a lot of people have different sides to their personality, that they don't feel comfortable expressing all at the same time, or don't feel comfortable expressing to certain groups of people. (I know I love acting because I can get to do all sorts of things I wouldn't dream of doing as me, and by writing, I can get characters to say all the things I never dare.) If there are things you feel happier saying as Sepha, rather than you - so be it. Surely the important thing is that you're saying them ?

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