Only days after we learned that the author behind A Gay Girl in Damascus was a straight man from Georgia, The Washington Post is reporting that the purported DC-based lesbian mother who edited the lesbian news site Lez Get Real ("A Gay Girl's View on the World"), which re-published Gay Girl in Damascus posts and helped the blog get started, is actually a 58-year-old former Air Force pilot and construction worker from Ohio named Bill Graber (pictured at right). During interviews about the Gay Girl in Damascus hoax, "Paula Brooks" (Garber's wife's name), claiming she was deaf, initially spoke to Post reporters on the phone through her "father," who finally, after numerous conversations, admitted, "I am Paula Brooks." In perhaps the most surreal part of the story, the Post adds that Garber often flirted online with Gay Girl in Damascus author Tom MacMaster without either man realizing that the other was pretending to be a lesbian. Garber has turned over the site's management to Linda Carbonell, who writes under her maiden name but, we're pretty sure, is a woman. As of this writing, the site appears to be down.
Garber and MacMaster have offered similar explanations for their actions. Garber, like MacMaster, explained that he started out with the best of intentions–to demand the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and advocate for other gay issues–and assumed the identity of a lesbian woman because he didn't think people would take him seriously as a straight man. And, just like MacMaster, he rationalized his actions, pointing out to the AP that he helped reveal the Gay Girl in Damascus hoax by tracking the blog's posts to computer servers in Edinburgh. MacMaster "would have got away with it if I hadn't been such a stand-up guy," Graber said.
Today, a lot of people are asking what the intertwined revelations about MacMaster and Garber, coming as they have within days of each other, mean for blogging and the LGBT community. In a letter to Lez Get Real readers, Carbonell writes that while she was "never dumb enough to believe everything on the net," she also "never really questioned whether or not the people were real." At Hyper Vocal, Slade Sohmer concludes, "There you have it: Just two dudes, pretending to be lesbians, potentially cyber-scissoring, trying to change the world one blog post at a time. Ahh, the 21st Century." Melanie Nathan, an LGBT activist and partner in Lez Get Real, tells The Guardian that "the whole gay community of bloggers is freaking out right now" and that Graber, by impersonating that community, has damaged the "trust among the web of bloggers." On that issue of trust, Alexandra Hinton at FemPop throws in a dose of sarcasm:
It must really be hard to be a white American man of a certain age. People keep giving you guys all of the jobs and such so some of you have to find a niche to set yourself apart. You could be the funny one, or the tech guy that only writes in haikus, but no you had to go and claim and identity that’s already facing an uphill battle. Now everyone who claims to be something other that a white American man of a certain age is going to have to provide photographic, video and audio proof.
The blog Autostraddle says that it's been asking its contributors to provide proof of their identity for some time now, and dispenses some advice for straight males who want to advance LGBT causes:
From day one on Autostraddle we required everyone who wrote here to use their real photo and ideally their real name. We didn’t see how we could encourage girls to come out and be themselves if we weren’t living that way ourselves …
Look you wanna be an ally? Be an ally. Be a straight white man ally. We need more of you. Hell, even go ahead and start The Encyclopedia of Lesbian Movie Scenes like another straight guy did — AND NEVER LIED ABOUT IT. You know what? INVEST IN ACTUAL LESBIAN MEDIA. DONATE!