Today, the world learned that Gay Girl in Damascus does not exist.
Over these last months, there was a girl I'd never heard of living a world away. She lived in a war zone even before the Arab Spring burst forth in hope and gunfire. Her name was (I'm, referring to her in the past tense because like any good fiction, there is a death) Amina Arraf, and she was a lesbian in a society that wished she didn't exist. She blogged and observed, and shared herself in a voice that, I'm told, was clear and complex, and brave.
I didn't know of her, not really, until I read a brief story that she was missing. Her family feared the worst. She'd spoken against the Assad regime and against bigotry. She'd declared herself fit to live and someone took great offense.
Now she was on my radar, but not fully. You see, there are so many things vying for our attention these days. There are presidential hopefuls vying for the coveted title of most offended, most religious, most likely to find those truly at fault and pin the appropriate letter of blame on their chest. There are sex scandals and tweeted-sex scandals and rising prices and falling hopes, and that's a lot to take in, let alone to move aside for a girl across the world.
Today, we learned that she never really was. She is male, American according to NPR, a blogger and a medieval studies grad student in Edinburgh. He writes in response to his curtain being pulled back that he wished to create a voice for issues that he felt strongly about.
I am wondering how long it will be before we toss him on the pyre with James Frey, J.T. Leroy, Greg Mortenson, Stephen Glass. I am wondering if he will be made to apologize publicly. I am wondering if an asterisk will be affixed to his life. I am wondering if anyone who writes memoir was accompanied through their lives-under-examination by personal court reporters, in order to assure their future readers that every word of their recalled conversations made it to the page faithfully. I am wondering if the connective tissue that binds us to what we know of ourselves - what we think, what we remember, what we learned - can ever be only real and true. I am wondering if all of those things could even exist without our imagining them into being, and in the doing, don't we fill in even one gap in time or recollection with messy notions like wish, or hope, or regret? Don't those notions, in turn, rewrite us?
And I am wondering why these people needed to create whole episodes that never happened, and whether it was only to sell more copies, or whether - despite all external indications (publishers' interest, readers' desire to know) - they felt that their story, their life as it was, just wasn't very interesting. I am wondering if they didn't believe in themselves, not as they were.
Mostly, I'm wondering if the act of making themselves up is the worst thing they could have done. They wrote about addiction, loneliness, street survival, human rights, love. I'm wondering, mostly, whether the worst possible thing they could have done was stay silent.
Causes David Rocklin Supports
AIDS Project Los Angeles; ONE Campaign; Human Rights Watch