How the machineries of Western capitalism gaslight you into being unhappy and dead inside, featuring Facebook as a pillar of the a xenophobic genocidal hegemony.
I was planning on changing my Facebook name to make myself easier to find as my name is a little difficult to spell. Apocastasis is not an alias, it is my Real Name. I just happen to have more than one. Like there being more than two genders, this is a revolutionary concept to some people. There’s nothing duplicitous about preferred names, nicknames and other alternative forms of address; just like there’s nothing deceptive about a trans person presenting as their real gender.
But before I was able to enact the change voluntarily, I got Real Name Policy’d. This happened shortly after mentioning it on a friends-only post; lest I forget that Big Brother is indeed watching. Like someone who has willingly posted nudes online and later had similar intimate photos stolen and maliciously leaked, it’s an issue of consent. And I’m not being glib with that comparison either; the real name policy, with its Orwellian title, is a gross invasion of privacy and autonomy.
I defiantly choose to live my authentic self; I am created moment to moment, moving through space and time as I endeavor to learn and grow for the better. I refuse to harden into a solid state and stop evolving. Although I am most widely known as Dorian, my name and my preferred pronouns are context specific. Facebook’s insistence that the name I am known by in the wider community is the same as my legal name is frankly ludicrous. My legal name is nothing more than a bureaucratic invention for navigating the imagined borders of this hellish, inescapable-by-design political system I find myself trapped in.
To create a hypothetical example, George, who describes himself on his dating profile as 32, male, Scorpio, enjoys craft beer, gardening and ironic banjo music to be a woman named Sophia just because that’s what his birth certificate says is absurd. But that’s exactly what Facebook’s legal name policy is enforcing. Paperwork is just that; a bureaucratic tool and nothing more. The real and the legal are not interchangeable.
Never mind the hosts of people who don’t want to use their legal name because it would put them in danger; people fleeing abuse, wishing to avoid racism, being outed as queer, employees who work with belligerent customers and countless others.
Regardless of their reasons for not doing so, expecting individuals to face the internet as a united front is staggeringly naive. We live in a world of vastly lopsided power dynamics. Because of this one mean-spirited person can do untold damage to the life of another with no legal or social repercussions. Your conservative boss could fire you for being a furry with total impunity from anti-discrimination laws by merely making up some jargon bullshit about cutbacks and quotas.
Famously, drag performers were told they need to create a page for their community identities-as if this was some gracious, benevolent compromise. Meanwhile Facebook constantly badgers page holders to pay Facebook to stop it from concealing their posts; essentially holding the creator’s content at ransom.
The social dynamic a Facebook page has with its audience is different than that of a community member; a page is largely a tool for advertising and commodification. To insist a performer use a page rather than a profile is to strip them of their authenticity by placing constraints upon their mode of self-expression to be purely commercial rather than community focused. It is to flatten them into a 2D object. This reveals the fundamental misunderstanding capitalist advertising culture has of authenticity; just look at its persistent, embarrassing failure to harness memes.
Except you, Denny’s tumblr. Shine on you crazy diamond.
This re-defining of realness affects us all, even those who are not impacted by the policy directly. If you are flattened into an easily categorized data-map of self you can be sold things, and you can be controlled. The act of such a flattening is in of itself a prison. One must either break the rules by being true to themselves and face dire punishment up to and including extermination, or deny themselves and accept a new replacement simulacrum of truth. This has global connotations not just for the wellbeing of the individual but is also part of the machinery of rampant poverty among colonized peoples.
Acceptance of this manufactured truth is presented as the correct choice, but oppressed people know it is not a choice at all but a trap. A wholly closeted trans woman financially dependent on her abusive girlfriend is not choosing to stay if her only alternative is to risk homelessness and death.
While Facebook’s policy is largely a consequence of them wanting to mine your data for profitable advertising revenue, in this way it is symptomatic of something far more sinister. People are being pressured into an ideology that anything that cannot be neatly categorized is an inconvenience and an aberration; that the individual is wrong for being different. The construction and enforcement of the legal self is about placing you in a prison of the mind and denying the real.
In my daily life I encounter a lot of people who are deeply, personally confronted by the fact that I exist. It’s like I’ve been cursed to be some unspeakable, unknowable horror like a Lovecraftian elder god; unfathomable. I’m queer and weird in every way there is to be except race. I’m even left handed!
The impossibility of my existence was no accident; I am nothing new to history even though many people would incorrectly assume so, so effective has the erasure of my kin been. I surround myself online with beautiful authentic people who see the real me. This eases the pain of being bludgeoned daily with the tyranny of the checkbox. Thanks to the systematic oppression of macroeconomic forces (in other words, I’m poor through no fault of my own) I’m unable to sufficiently access such communities in an offline capacity. Social media is necessary for the survival of the weird.
The legal name policy is part of a wider attempt to dismantle these havens and pockets of resistance. The end game for such operations is, as always, death. Those who cannot be flattened into a single, predictable facet are abused, raped, murdered, erased and even stripped of their humanity. All of these are the blunt instruments of control. People are infinitely complex creatures; like a globe, all of the self cannot be viewed at once.
Maps are useful, but they are not reality; to think otherwise is a great folly. People are encouraged to believe that the law is moral and good to veil its true nature as an unnecessarily unfair system of oppression. We have people alive today who survived the Nazi holocaust and numerous other such state sanctioned genocides around the globe. And yet I see individuals with the audacity to say ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’! To them such atrocities are distant, other. The other does not exist in their fragile, illusory world; presumably racial profiling and abuse of power by police don’t either.
When I was undergoing a process of medical gender transition, it was still law that a person needed to be sterilized and divorced to be legally recognized as their real gender-because the notion of a man carrying his husband’s child defies easy classification. Forced sterilization bears repeating. I mentioned Nazis earlier. Sound familiar?
Clearly conflating the authentic self with the legal self is, frankly, horrifically dangerous. Facebook not being a governmental body does not make its policies any less dire. It’s infantilizing to deny people access tools of self-determination. It would be a straightforward process to allow individuals to enter custom sets of pronouns into Facebook’s settings rather than make them choose between the offensively labelled ‘male’ and ‘female’. The argument against this is that the system could be abused but this assertion is ultimately farcical. What significant consequence could it have if someone chooses to buttonmash into the box asking to enter pronouns in a they/them/their/theirs format as a joke? These joke pronouns are still how they are choosing to present themselves online. What it does is make people harder to manipulate and categorize, and that is what makes it unacceptable. Anything that threatens the dominant paradigm of a binary dichotomy of good vs bad must be eliminated. The absurdity reaches its peak in people who, upon supplying Facebook with legal documentation are told that their names cannot be genuine as what is acceptable is held against a standard of whiteness. Even if your legal self aligns with the real, unless you flawlessy fit the hegemony you cannot win.
Mainstream capitalism has become so bloated with its obsession with manufacturing a simulacra of the real it’s lost sight of the possibility of the existence of the thing it is trying to emulate.
Imagine a world in which this is the only way to purchase eggs.
Having my legal gender policed and enforced as a child did me irreparable harm. I wanted to play with dinosaurs, not dolls. As an adult, due to my age group and presenting gender I’m inundated with ads for cars. I’m poor. I don’t want a Mercedes. I see advertisers for what they are; suave manipulators exploiting me for profit. They don’t exist to help me make informed choices but to use me, and I refuse to destroy myself to better serve them. I am so very weary of the divide and conquer demographics of advertisers, of binary dichotomies, of us vs them attitudes. The authentic self exists in opposition to the legal self, as the legal self is wholly manufactured. I resist the pervasive lull of artificial desire; that which is designed to shovel materialism into the spiritual hole left by the destruction of our communities.
I’m punk and DIY and green; I’m real. I need genuine connection and self expression. The legal name policy is just another attempt to murder the authentic; to kill me, and I’m sick of it.
*Header image credit: La Pieta by Jan Fabre.