I was doing some catch-up reading of blog subscriptions when I came across this guest post, Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants, on Copyblogger. The gist of it is that James Chartrand, the voice behind the website and company, Men with Pens, is in actuality a woman and has been all along. I read it, shook my head a little and went on to other things, but it kept nagging at me. I’m not judging her (his?) decisions, they just left me feeling sad. She’s right, women have written under male pseudonyms for generations and gay artists and politicians have had straight covers for even longer – it’s all sad. Whenever people feel that their best option is to deny something that is truly a part of themselves we all lose something.
I can’t deny that there is unfairness and bias out there on a number of different variables. There was a time in America when some light-skinned African-Americans “went White”, cut off contact with their darker-skinned relatives and moved to the Whites-only part of town, schools, and jobs. Better access to education, higher pay, and social acceptance are hard to turn down for yourself and your children when the alternative appears to be prideful poverty. But with that decision their descendants lost a part of their identity and their culture.
There is almost always a third choice to any either/or situation. It just takes some work and some alternative compromise to find it. On my first trip to Dublin, Ireland I encountered a cab driver from Northern Ireland. Every day he drove across the border and down to Dublin to work and then back again at night because it was too hard for a Catholic to get a job in the North. I asked him how anyone could tell and he told me it was all in the names – Patrick if you were Protestant and Padraig if you were Catholic. So I asked him why they didn’t just use another name on their applications and his reply was joking but I think it’s really a serious thing. He would have given up something too important by the switch in spelling. Something that had been built by generations and that was too easily preserved by simply enduring a long commute and a border crossing. Of course it’s not fair but think how easy it would be to spell your first name just a little differently? But then think again about what it would mean in daily life -never talking at work about your family life, holiday celebrations or growing up.
The online world really isn’t that different. Trust is fragile when it’s so easy for someone to hide behind the screen and we have to take so much on faith that they are who they say are. Much of the time it doesn’t even really matter – a how-to article either works or it doesn’t. But how much more would we learn and connect if the author opened up an extra 10%? We all have different lines of privacy because most of us figure out pretty quickly that once you say it online you can’t pull it back. It’s not really that different from living in a small town. Your neighbors really don’t need to know if you buy 2% or whole milk but if you somehow feel the need to hide it and go to the grocery store just before closing to prevent people from finding out… It seems to me there is a huge difference between being private and hiding. Hiding will eventually hurt your career and your relationships because people look for connections and things in common whether it’s in a board room or a chat room.
If you find yourself at this kind of cross roads try to find the third option – the one where you get to stay you - because there’s real value in that even if at the time it seems like something that can be sacrificed.