The Staggers, as in “staggering ever faster down an intellectual and moral slope”, has this piece by Stephen Baxter about the Damascus Gay Girl blog, now known to be a hoax perpetrated by an American called Tom MacMaster.
The piece is sub-headed with one of those annoying questions:-
The “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog was a product of an American man’s imagination. But does it matter?
YES IT ******** DOES!!!! There’s all the difference in the world between a real life Syrian activist being taken off by the security forces and some bloke wanking in Edinburgh as he knocks out lesbian porn scenes.
MacMaster’s blog may have been fictional, but he says it was rooted in fact. He wasn’t there in Syria, seeing and experiencing the things his blogging persona claimed to be seeing and experiencing. He didn’t have those feelings; he didn’t have those thoughts. It must have taken a brilliant imagination to get Amina’s story across. Does it matter that it was just that, a story, rather than a real first-hand account?
Well yes it ***** does again. Stephen Baxter answers his question that on the whole, it was bad because of the difficulty that this will cause to genuine anonymous bloggers in repressive regimes. But he has to go through this path of questioning to take you where a 10 year old child could point you to at once – the difference between fact and fiction, between stories and lies, especially lies which bring other people to grief.
The sadness is that MacMaster is, to my mind at least, a talented writer. I think part of the reason why Amina’s story garnered so much interest was the brilliance of the realistic detail, the humanity of the story, the tenderness and empathy with which Amina’s life was depicted. Look back through Amina’s blogposts and you can find poetry, political posts and perfectly paced stories about emotional issues like coming out. See it for what it is – fiction – and you can admire the literary creation of MacMaster. If only he had presented it that way in the first place. If only he had.
The blog’s gone off the air so I can’t provide links. But here’s some of the poetry:-
Beyond the sea I watch her roam
The distant place where is her home
Upon the surf itself she walks
And like a nightingale she talks
She is gentle clean and pure
She is one with the azure
Coming towards me with the Tide
Across the waters I watch her glide
For her, I know, I’d lay down my life
If that, someday, would make her my wife
For all my sickness, she is the cure
If only she could come ashore;
Too close to her and I would drown
Before ever I could touch her radiant crown
I cry because I understand
She’s the Sea and I the Land
MacMaster says that when he writes poetry in Arabic it is stilted, but he is less embarrassed by it in English. However, he is not a man who is easily embarrassed.
MacMaster’s blog started off as a place to publish his extracts from a supposedly autobiographical novel about a gay Syrian Muslim brought up in the USA. This work has evidently been influenced by Rubyfruit Jungle, a well known lesbian novel of the 1970s. The protagonist’s girlfriends are shadowy, the dialogue lacks snap and point, and there are scenes of tenderly smiling sentimentality but there’s enough exotic background, both Syrian and American, to make it quite readable. The protagonist, Amina, is a bit too marvellous – ever beautiful, ever courageous, ever sexy, ever seductive, ever sensitive, aware, right on, full of attitude. A novel with such a piece of perfection as its central character reads like a conceited piece of wish fulfilment – which is what this blog was.
In fiction, including some of the best (eg Jane Eyre), the author will take as a hero someone they themselves are in the eye of God – braver, more resourceful, their virtue acknowledged and rewarded. There is a close relation between fiction and day dreaming. A work of fiction can tell embarrassing tales about how the author imagines himself – in schlock fiction the guy who can do everything and who gets the girl.
So MacMaster created his magnificent woman Amina who then wrote what was supposedly non-fiction, about what was happening in Syria. Through her he could voice his opinions about the ignorance of the West about Islam and his thoughts on Syrian history, politics and sectarianism. She was his mouthpiece and mask that gave him the chance to talk quite dirty, calling Israelis “The Chosen” and so on.
He got carried away, and his fantasy interacted with the real world – a world where less glamorous and outstandingly brave people are dragged away by real security forces to have real and horrible things done to them. That is what stops this story from being hilarious farce.