LezGetReal: Tom and Bill and The Tale of The Fake Lesbians
Welcome to the Internet! Where that 23 year old blonde bombshell from Southern California that likes you for your smile and personality is really a 300 pound middle aged white guy living in his parents basement somewhere down in BumFuck, Egypt, America. Pretending to be a lesbian on online is about as old as the Internet itself. If you’re a lesbian who has pursued other women online, it’s more likely than not that you’ve come across a man pretending to be a woman at some point. If you’ve ever visited the website Lez Get Real you can regrettably join rank with the rest of the duped.
Back when I first started following the lesbian news site, Lez Get Real, it was my understanding that the website was owned by Julie Phineas, a woman I had the pleasure of briefly conversing with via e-mail in 2009, and whose bio on this website states:
LezGetReal.comThis project allowed me to work side by side with the site owner to develop and produce a popular lesbian news site online. This site began as a blog on Blogger.com, where we established a loyal following and team of bloggers. I handled the initial recruiting as well as the editing and publishing of articles on a regular basis. After migrating to the Wordpress platform when the site gained popularity, I handled much of the site migration including template customization, content strategy and the design of the site header using online photo editing software. The logo is by GotLogos.com. This website went on to make a positive difference in the lesbian community and gained popularity and linkbacks from sites like PerezHilton.com. I completed production on this project in July 2009 and the owner has maintained the site ever since.
But is it safe to assume that Julie Phineas knew explicitly that Paula Brooks, site owner and editor of Lez Get Real, was really a man? And by now you know the truth is out about the blogger of A Gay Girl in Damascus. She is also really a man posing as a lesbian. Tom MacMaster, 40-year-old purported Middle-East activist studying for a Masters Degree at Edinburgh University in Scotland. MacMaster, who is married and from Atlanta, Georgia created the online persona and named her Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari; a beautiful, young, lesbian woman living in Damascus, Syria. The blog grabbed the national spotlight when Amina,whose blog had become very popular by then and had amassed a following, was reportedly kidnapped and then declared missing on June 7, 2011.
MacMaster started the blog on February 19, 2011. The blog title accurately described it as being about “an out Syrian lesbian’s thoughts on life, the universe and so on …” And what made it really stand out was that it was started several weeks prior to the start of the Syrian uprisings, also known as the Arab Spring.
I live in Damascus, Syria. It’s a repressive police state. Most LGBT people are still deep in the closet or staying as invisible as possible. But I have set up a blog announcing my sexuality, with my name and my photo. Am I crazy? Maybe. [...] I have to begin by doing something bold and visible. I can, because I’m a dual national and have benefits of politically connected relatives, be more visible than many women here. I’m already out to my family … and I want to be an example to others … to know that one of is trying..
I am somewhat reminded of Orson Wells’ radio adaptation of The War of The Worlds which caused panic and chaos by those who believed the terrifying narrative was real.
But this is no such thing. There’s a clear difference between openly fictionalizing or placing a spin on real events and perpetrating a triple-double whammy by pretending to be someone or something you’re not. No theater training in the world could have aptly prepared Tom MacMaster or Paula Brooks aka Bill Gather and all of the people they lied to for the resulting backlash.
This is one of those chapters in faction (a mix of fiction and fact) where by the end of the story the truth is greater and more interesting than fiction. MacMaster was in the process of writing the story of his life, and he will likely try to capitalize on all of the events leading up to it now. Here’s a quasi academic who doesn’t, at first sight, correlate the difference between fact and fiction and hurt and pain that he’s caused to many. He is so oddly transparent that he and his wife decided to go on vacation in the midst of all the chaos; in the midst of a grand internet hoax coming to light. It’s classic sociopathic behavior from a narcissist and I hope those who read his graduate dissertation pay very close attention to his detail.
The initial apology MacMaster issued was further testament to his abuse and misuse of an unspoken American birthright: white male privilege.
He claims he didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and that would be somewhat understandable if it were just one person at the root of his hurt; that being himself. But there are many hundreds, if not thousands of lives he has greatly and negatively affected.
Tom MacMaster didn’t create Amina’s voice, he took away someone else’s by perpetuating lies. He put real gay bloggers in Syria and every place where homosexuality is illegal in danger by building a wall of lies with which to rest his political, religious, and social ideology upon.
He was and probably still is a wanna-be fiction writer who discovered a way to make an audience keep coming back for more by sensationalizing shit. He fabricated a fictional characters life, and took advantage of good people and a harrowing situation in Syria. His own political endeavors were further emboldened by the feedback he started to receive, and loads of people who wanted to do nothing but help, support, and continue following Amina’s life and activism throughout it all were duped. The fact that he used a fake Syrian lesbian woman’s voice to establish a level of trust and credibility when none was deserved makes his boldness all the more insulting.
People from all over the world rely on bloggers from the Middle-East, Africa, America, India, etc, to report on what’s happening around them. MacMaster joins a growing list of bloggers who learned how to effectively manipulate not only people, but also the media in their quest for attention and/or fame.
It’s really no surprise that people live out very complex fantasies anonymously online every single day. They accomplish this by way of chat rooms, blogs, forums, dating sites, etc, but isn’t there a line that should never ever be crossed when it comes to merging fantasy and reality? It’s my belief that there is, and at the very least our moral compass should not reach beyond possibly, unwittingly putting peoples lives in danger or their careers at stake. Lying about things that could potentially grievously affect people on a grand scale makes a case for greater accountability from all bloggers, including those like me who’ve never claimed to be be journalists, but like to be able to put up a good defense if ever checked.
Another interesting factor is how he only conducted interviews and correspondence by e-mail. Amina’s “girlfriend” whom she was scheduled to meet in Europe is understandably devastated by the revelations. She claims to have had no idea that MacMaster was Amina it is believable due to the fact that they’d never met in person, communicated online, and he reluctantly admitted that she was one of the people he hurt.
Perhaps the most striking is the audacity of his actions of which he’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last. Instead of supporting the efforts of real activists, he’d concocted a fairy tale while living in the comfortable and safe confines of his home, pretending he knew what it was like to be a Syrian lesbian.
In the newest apology published on Sunday, MacMaster called his fictional diary of a Syrian revolutionary an attempt “to illuminate” the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, “for a western audience.” He also wrote: “I do not believe that I have harmed anyone — I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.
And then there’s this: “Syrian state media has picked up on the story and is using it as evidence that the opposition they face in the Middle East are made up of fabricated voices from European and American implants.”
Despite claims that he never intended to hurt anyone I have to say that he’s not only done just that, he’s cast a cloud of doubt over every blogger whose ever had a story to tell.
He cared about getting a narrative, his narrative across. And it should be said that there’s nothing wrong with anonymity or online personas, but among the weaved web of lies MacMaster spun they include stealing another woman’s identity and using her photos to represent Amina in the flesh.
When MacMaster couldn’t keep up the facade any longer, for whatever reason, he stupidly claimed that Amina had been kidnapped by the Syrian government. Her world was about to come crashing down, but then again so was his.
After a woman in Britain said the photographs circulating around the Internet were of her and not the Syrian-American blogger in Damascus doubts began to swirl to the surface as to Amina’s real identity.
The London woman, Jelena Lecic, discovered the use of her photos when an article written in Guardian used one of them. She contacted Guardian and asked them to remove the photos before any action was taken. Amina’s online girlfriend, Sandra Bagaria, the woman who raised alarm about her arrest was also suspected of being Amina, but she is not.
The fraud was elaborate, but poorly executed. What’s not fake is that people are being killed and tortured in Syria, yet the real attention is being placed on McMaster’s disaster. I blame myself for contributing to it, but I don’t apologize for speaking my piece.
For weeks, a touching display of care, concern, and activism on the part of Amina’s supporters was at the forefront for many. Journalists, bloggers, and human rights advocates came together to find ways to pressure government institutions to look further into Amina’s disappearance.
Another victim is Linda S. Carbonell, Managing Editor of Lez Get Real. For having to defend Bill Graber better known as Paula Brooks, who first came under fire for using a pseudonym on the site, then for offering a safe haven to Amina, subsequently losing a main site supporter due to her doubts about the existence of Amina, to actually being a man himself who pretended to be a lesbian.
Both Paula and I have close family members who work for the government. Ginny Thomas is the only person in the government arrogant enough to ignore the restrictions on free speech that are imposed on AMERICAN government workers and their families. Paula and I have always worked under pseudonyms to protect our families. Furthermore, because our site is blatantly and unapologetically liberal, we risk our own jobs if our site is connected to us. America is not free. It just pretends to be.” —Linda S. Carbonell, managing editor
As of early this morning, it was my hope that Paula was exactly who she says she was because according to Liz Henry at bookmaniac.org:
“Brooks had not communicated by voice to the reporters — only over email or chat. Brooks’ online presence looked a bit thin. Ben and Ali tried to verify any of the facts of her education and employment, and could not find evidence of Paula Brooks’ existence. I spoke with people who were close to Brooks and should have met her — but who had never seen her. I have no direct evidence that Brooks is Tom MacMaster, but circumstantial evidence shows it is a good avenue for research. If Brooks is *another distinct hoaxer*, that will be very odd, and will need more investigation.” http://bookmaniac.org/chasing-amina/
Bill Graber is a 58 year old former Air Force pilot who said he used the site to argue in favor of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. Follow the Washington Post article about it here, Paula Brooks, Editor of Lez Get Real, is a man. Linda S. Carbonell, managing editor for LezGetReal said this following the break:
Ownership of the site is being turned over to me and Bridgette. Nothing has ever appeared on this site that wasn’t factually based. Yes, we post opinions, but we don’t post fiction. The issues remain – the disenfranchisement of Americans for race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, poverty – these things are still happening. In 18 months we will have one of the most important elections in our nation’s history, an election that will determine the future of our nation and possibly the world. That has not changed just because Paula Brooks turned out to be guy who let an on-line persona get away from him. Bill has been trying to ease out of the site for a couple of months now. He would have been “retired” in late August.
The bottom line is MacMaster’s apology lacks substance, genuine remorse and the level of emotion found within the blogs he fabricated to his audience for so long. He’s a lying sack. Paula Brooks’ unraveling is equally disturbing, however like Lez Get Real, I’m waiting for his statement.
MacMaster said this before making two subsequent follow up apologies:
Look, if I was the genius who had pulled this off, I would say, ‘Yeah,’ and write a book,” said MacMaster, reached in Istanbul, where he is vacationing with his wife, a graduate student working on a PhD in international relations.
He also said: “I am not the blogger in question. Whomever that person ‘really’ is, I have doubtless interacted with her at some point. I do not know further than that about her. When I first read the news story, I momentarily thought I had an idea who she was. As time has progressed that seems much less likely. I understand there are a number of unusual coincidences regarding the blogger and either me or my wife. Those are, as far as I am aware, simply unusual. I am not going to make more of that.” source: www.electronicintifada.net
Big fat fraudulent liar.
In another odd twist, the Centre for Syrian Studies where MacMaster’s wife, Britta Froelicher is an Associate Fellow, was partially funded by the Syrian government. He says although his wife is a student (I read expert) of the region, he was the sole author on the blog. I doubt there is any truth to the statement. She has a lot more to lose, thus it’s understandable that her husband would take the bulk of the fall.
Lez Get Real, a lesbian news site I had come to respect has suffered a major blow for MacMaster’s and Brooks recklessness. The reporter on African issues, who prompted me to write about corrective rape in Africa on my blog was reportedly driven from the website for questioning Amina’s authenticity.
Finally, MacMaster/Amina was shopping his memoir for possible publication. Read here, http://www.minalhajratwala.com/2011/06/a-thousand-sighs-memoir-of-a-hoax/
The memoir can be read/downloaded here: http://www.minalhajratwala.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/A-Thousand-Sighs-Part-I.pdf
“All of a sudden, after having years of rejection letters, I was getting a whole lot of positive feedback for some fiction I had written. That certainly fed my vanity.”
At least we have a good idea about his next move. I would say a poorly written book is on the horizon, but I don’t know a single person less deserving of another 15 minutes. Not yet at least.
Had MacMaster not been such a sloppy fraud, he’d have realized that glorifying Amina’s fake life to such a degree as to fabricate her high-profile kidnapping in a country experiencing high levels of unrest would bring more attention to her cause. Perhaps that’s what he wanted to happen. I certainly don’t buy the explanation that he wanted her to fade away multiple times before coming up with the plot to fake her kidnapping. The events that unfolded were sensational and I do believe MacMaster was eating up every last bit of the fanfare the posts were generating.
Watch his interview with London based newspaper Guardian:
Response: Yeah, whatever, man.
People are really dying in Syria.
It is not a joke. You are.
You have made fools of people who believed in you.
But now, thankfully, this chapter is ending.
You are no friend of the gay community.
Your deceit has left a stinging welt that will undoubtedly be felt by those connected to you in all the various ways for many years to come.
Please do us gays and lesbians a favor and refrain from pretending to know anything about what it feels like to walk in our shoes.
You know nothing of our struggles, only that your privilege has allowed you to use, abuse and then discard of our community like a fanatic dictator when your gay facade no longer served your purpose.
Your actions are disgraceful and insulting to boot.
Enjoy your 15 minutes, the opportunity won’t likely present itself again, we hope.
Good day to you.