The gay girl in Damascus hoax

Amina Arraf and Tom McMaster

Amina Arraf called herself "Gay Girl In Damascus" and wrote a blog as a gay Syrian-American woman. When a cousin reported on her blog that she was arrested by police during the unrest in Syria, others became concerned and began looking for her. What they found led them to a white American man named Tom MacMaster.

Amina was not a real person. Mr. MacMaster had invented her.

His hoax brings up numerous issues. Did a media hungry for news rely too much on sources that can easily be faked? Was the fact that his fictional woman was gay galvanize an already marginalized community? What does it say when a hoax about real events gains so much attention while real events are occuring?

Why did he create an alternative online identity? Mr. MacMaster explains:
It started innocently enough without any intention whatsoever of creating a massive hoax or duping the world. Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to write fiction but, when my first attempts met with universal rejection, I took a more serious look at my own work and I realized that I could not write conversation in a natural way nor could I convincingly write characters who weren’t me. I tried to get better and did various exercises (such as simply copying overheard conversations). Eventually, I would set up a number of profiles on dating sites with identities that were not my own as ways of interacting with real people in conversation but with a different personality than my own.

I was also very involved in issues surrounding the Palestine and Iraq struggles. Ever since my childhood I had felt very connected to the cultures and peoples of the Middle East. It’s something that I came by naturally. My mother had taught English in Turkey before I was born and my father had been involved with Middle East refugee issues when they met. They are both people whom I admire immensely and have continued to do many wonderful works that I can only aspire to.

I’m also an argumentative sort and a bit of a nerd. I was involved with numerous online science-fiction/alternate-history discussion lists and, as a part of that process, I saw lots of incredibly ignorant and stupid positions repeated on the Middle East. I noticed that when I, a person with a distinctly Anglo name, made comments on the Middle East, the facts I might present were ignored and I found myself accused of hating America, Jews, etc. I wondered idly whether the same ideas presented by someone with a distinctly Arab and female identity would have the same reaction.

So, I invented her. First, she was just a name. Amina Arraf. She commented on blogs and talkbacks on news-sites. Eventually, I set up an email for her. She joined the same lists I was already on and posted responses in her name. And, almost immediately, friendly and solicitous comments on mine appeared. It was intriguing. That likely would have been the end of it; I’d just keep her as a nearly anonymous handle for commenting on issues that mattered to me but …
"Amina Araf's" fake blog:
Damascus Gay Girl>>

The comment section on a story at BoingBoing has multiple opinions. Some excoriate him as an asshole for putting real bloggers in danger, while others attack the media for not realizing she was fake. Mr. MacMaster also earns praise for being a type of performance artist. One commenter thinks this is part of the "reality is less real than fiction phenomena."
White man from Georgia is "Gay Girl from Damascus" Boing Boing>>

The Washington Post has the best overall explanation of the whole affair.
‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ comes clean, The Washington Post>>

NPR has a good explanation of how sleuthing solved the mystery.
'Gay Girl In Damascus' Turns Out To Be An American Man, NPR>>

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