Just in case it really is just me and my Facebook feed full of poets, but shit hit the fan over the past week or so when a white dude put on fake-Asian-fake-female-face because that was the only way he could figure out how to get published.
Maybe he just ain't that good of a writer, folx?
As a poet who uses a pseudo-pseudonym I suppose I could take questions here. Or talk about it. I publish under a gender-neutral name because I prefer readers (and/or editors, I guess) not to know my gender identity off the bat when they are approaching my poems. However, if you get to my bio, it'll be clear to you what that gender identity is. I choose to obscure my identity in part to avoid readers observing that identity and assuming that that identity is the speaker behind my poems. I have written poems I view as being spoken by men, women, straight men, straight women, gay/bi women (sorry no gay males) and, sometimes, I do not have a gender in mind and don't think it's important to know about the speaker of a poem. I also in general prefer not to identify as a woman if I can help it. I will absolutely speak up and about my gender identity if it becomes relevant to the conversation, like if we're talking about sexism or gender issues, but besides that, I like it to be a non-issue. Why? Because my gender is none of your business, essentially. Because my gender doesn't limit my education, intelligence, charm, asshole-ry or anything else - though it does admittedly limit how much testosterone my body produces, for example.
How is my pseudonym different from White Dude's? A question that I think must be asked. Because White Dude is a member of the dominant white culture and as such enjoys all the privileges of being the dominant class thereof. The conquering class thereof, one might even say. Let's consider: he only puts out poems under an alternate, underprivileged identity when his own, that of an established writer and seemingly-white man, doesn't do it - when he can't get poems published under his real name and identity, when his existing advantages aren't enough, he assumes another identity and reaps what few 'advantages' it might have in the context of poetry, When he chooses to masquerade as an Asian woman, he is stepping into that identity when he chooses, and leaving that identity when it no longer becomes convenient. I am unable to leave the identity of being a woman, which means it gets used against me when I don't want it to. When I de-gender my publication name, I'm preventing things like what happened a month ago over at B O D Y - where editors thought it was cool to factor in their personal opinions of a poet's bio photo when it came to making their accept/decline decision. Read it and weep. I'm not taking advantage of whatever cultural and gendered options lie in front of me until one of them fools an editor into accepting my work. I'm literally hiding myself because I think that's favorable. Because I'd rather not think that editors are judging my photo instead of my poems.
blah, blah blah, blah blah blah blah.
White guy achieves success by pretending to be a minority: outrage at the white guy
White woman achieves success by pretending to be a white guy: outrage at the system.
Art cannot be decontextualized. PERIOD. That's the discussion here. Poetry cannot be evaluated free of the author and context because poetry is reliant on metaphor. Urinal at the airport: a place to piss. Urinal at the Tate Modern: Marcel Duchamp.
Movies are a little easier because they're supposed to be commercial. Same holds true there, though. I've got a short film. Me and my buddy spent about $30k and maybe 3 years on it. It played at a bunch of festivals and I'm proud of it. But I know a girl with a short film that played at more festivals than mine. She made it in a weekend using pipe cleaners. It's stop motion. It's 8 frames per second. It's 3 minutes long. But through graphic representation, it is made abundantly clear that the pipe cleaners (which aren't anthropomorphic, by the way) are lesbians. Which means her pipe cleaner movie played every gay festival there is, and there are a lot of gay festivals.
Can I make a lesbian pipe cleaner movie? Sure, but nobody is going to feature it at a film festival. I'm not a lesbian. I'll say this: I've advocated casting Asians in a number of other short films because then you get to play the Asian film festivals and they are also numerous. I'll also say this: there have been more economic opportunities presented to two white guys with a $40k short film than there have been to a lesbian and her stop-motion pipe cleaners. In the context of "commercial Hollywood" there are more opportunities for me - by far - than for her. In the context of recognition of works by underrepresented minorities, I have zero goddamn business making lesbian pipe cleaner movies.
The outrage at the pseudonym speaks to the stakes. A poetry anthology that celebrates "The Best American Poetry" should select the "best american poetry." A poetry anthology aimed at "promoting works by women and people of color whenever possible" should promote the works of women and people of color. Sherman Alexie got called on his bullshit for moving the goalposts.
THERE's the outrage: minorities have a legitimate beef that the goalposts are almost always further away for them. Non-minorities have a legitimate beef that fringe publications often favor minorities and it's unfair to hide bias. I once submitted to a film festival (and paid $50, I might add) that decided after the fact that they were only going to show films about the suffering of Native Americans. Fine. I have no problems with a "Native American Suffering Film Festival." Just make it clear that you're going to hold one before asking me for $50 to consider my sci fi film about russian cosmonauts. I didn't get my money back, by the way.
These problems always come up when we argue that there's no context to art. Michael Hudson changed the context of his art and it changed its reception. Sherman Alexie was evaluating art using one context and presenting it as another and he got caught. All of this happens in the context of the context-free nature of art and once again, art is revealed to be about provenance.