On Anonymity: One Writer’s Name

constant anonymity pic

(Liya Rechtman)– Those of you who have been reading ACVoice for long enough may remember my previous incarnation as the anonymous ConstantLy back on SheBomb dot com. ConstantLy was my alter-ego, a feminist Amherst student who could log onto a wordpress site and output all her observations secreted away from two shy-ish, awkward years of college disaster-stories. ConstantLy had a hard “c” and a random capitalized letter in the middle of her name; where Liya Rechtman was in no place to call out the AAS for being sexist and frat-centric or question the misogyny often espoused unconsciously by gay men, ConstantLy could.

ConstantLy, otherwise known as #ConstantLyevolving, was part private joke (picture a drunken night at the end of the senior year of high school: “Liya, you’ll always be just Liya. You’re Constantly Liya. ConstantLiya! ConstantLy! ConstantLiyaRechtman! ConstantLiy a Recht! OMGZ”) and part personal statement of my paranoid relationship with the creation of a published online paper trail. The name was also meant to temporally distance myself from any statement I might make under the pseudonym. ConstantLy, while constantly posting, was more than anything just constantly evolving, as in “evolving” a la Obama. Think: “You cannot hold me to any opinion because even though I articulated that opinion in this public forum, tomorrow I may change my mind. I am a student. I am always learning. I take no responsibility for my actions.”

OK – let’s be real, most people knew who I was, at least at Amherst. There just aren’t enough Jews on campus for me to actually be incredibly subtle. Especially when I explicitly mentioned living in Marsh. Also, I lied when I said I was shy – I’ve never been shy… If you had ever met me, you could probably guess that I was the face behind the voice of ConstantLy. I was no Amherst Gossip Girl, despite the contrived “<3” at the bottom of my early posts. But my anonymity wasn’t so much for the people who knew me – it was for the people who didn’t. ConstantLy allowed me to come out online without worrying about my grandmother finding out and she gave me the space to talk about my sex life without my exes hearing about. So yes, I questioned the College, but I also didn’t want to be questioned about my own criticisms. I didn’t want the face-to-face Val encounters or the angry facebook messages asking for more on my half-formed opinions. I was like a bad TAP hook up: I was ready to do it once, but don’t try to get my number at the end of post, I’m not interested and there’s no need to get emotional.

Most importantly, ConstantLy made me un-Google-able. I wasn’t sure I wanted my views at nineteen to permanently mar my Google searches and everything from my understanding of trans* identity to my feelings on bacon as a Jew to be available to greedy eyes and quick finger tips of future employers and imminent dating prospects. While I enjoyed the platform of writing for a blog and while I looked forward every week to my posting day, I wanted to retain some control and give the big, hungry virtual world only freshly scrubbed crumbs of my identity. After all, we all remember the Chris Coons scandal. In 1985 Coons wrote an anecdotal editorial about his own political trajectory through college called “Chris Coons: The Making of A Bearded Communist” in the Amherst Student and the quote came back to haunt his 2010 campaign for senate. I wanted to judiciously sidestep that mess.

When Craig and I transitioned the site from SheBomb dot com to ACVoice, we thought it was time to come out as actual people with real names. We were no longer ConstantLy and Pandamonium, the mysterious underclassmen writers on SheBomb, but Liya Rechtman and Craig Campbell. We wanted people to take the site more seriously and we worried that if we had weird goofy names, then our readers would be confused by our increasingly intense and thought-out subject matter.

All of a sudden, my co-workers at my summer internship knew I was blogging about them and showed their boss. Those real-time personal encounters with less than supportive readers that I never wanted to have started happening. People recognized my name but couldn’t quite place my face. Of course, there were more serious repercussions too: I was almost banned from speaking at an activist conference because of a highly misinformed post I wrote questioning a transgender woman’s femininity as a religious person. I had to explain to the organizer of the conference that my views, quite frankly, had #evolved in the almost 18 months since I wrote that article, in which time I had come out as queer and taken up leadership in Pride Alliance.

Being named became a huge burden and significantly impeded on my ability to produce material. Anecdotes about my family or my pre-college life? Out. Unless I was 100% sure about them and I got everyone’s permission before publishing. Anecdotes from class? I do ethnographic work with evangelical communities and I teach 6th grade. I do not have the legal backing to write either about children or anthropological work. Out. Feminism and theory? I no longer have the luxury of sounding like an idiot because everyone knows who I am (this is a good thing but still, fluff is no longer acceptable to move material along our main page and create site traffic). I must therefore write something actually worth reading (imagine that!), which is time consuming. I simply couldn’t keep up.

So here I stand (sit, writing) as Liya Rechtman, a writer you know, who you can talk to in person or in the comments section below and who exists in the same time and space bound reality as you. I write this post both as a means of (belated) introduction and as a preface to a three-part series I’ll be doing over the next month on the role of anonymity online, both in the Amherst community via the Muckrake and Amherst Confidential, and then more broadly in the virtual world.

Until next time,