A (Semi) Open Letter to Anne Rice: Why I use a penname and on "Gangster Bullies" being a slur

So I was supposed to post this a week ago but I couldn't for several reasons.  So I'm choosing instead to post it now, while it's still in mind and because the conversation is still relevant because of its epic levels of sheer ignorance.  I'm still upset about it, I don't think there will ever be a time when I'm not upset about it because I have all too personal ties to being subject to bullying, subject to prejudice, subject to a heck of a lot of things that Anne Rice thinks she knows, but hasn't any idea upon.  But I digress.


I already know that I'm treading a difficult passageway by writing this post because there are going to be people saying "Dude, you're talking about THE Anne Rice?"  Yes, I'm talking about THAT Anne Rice.  Creator of Lestat, and recently acquired purported defender against "gangster bullies".


Wait, what?


Some people are going to be like "Woman, are you nuts?" in terms of me challenging Rice's "opinion" (because, let's be real, it's an opinion, not a truth.) I'm going to try to give some perspective to this, especially given the title of this post.  I'm going to hope I still have my head since this isn't Wonderland, and Rice isn't the Queen of Hearts (But I would argue that the Queen of Hearts would never.  Never!)


To preface this post a bit, I was bullied way back in the day.  I am a proud woman of color; I have an ethnic name.  Sadly, there were people who took one look at my name and noted its similarity to an alcoholic beverage.  There were some people who said it in jest; I can take a joke just as well as anyone and there were times I really didn't mind the comparison, even from one boy who seemed to know me as nothing but that particular name (and while incorrect, he was cool with me and I respected him, even though there were a few times I gave him side-eye glances for things he said).  But when other people - no one in your circles and mostly behind your back - start using the comparison in a way to denounce you by your person, and then couple it with slurs like "Third World Assassin" and the n-word and belittle you with that coupling for weeks on end, there's...no humor there.


Absolutely none.


I've never really talked about this in extended capacity until now, but I figure there's a first time for everything.  It brings up bad memories, some I don't really like digging into.  Suffice to say, I didn't like the comparison and the scars from those still dig deep.


"Rose" is a name I've had for not quite half as long as I've been living, I knew in some venues of my writing aspirations, whether in artistic review or creative pursuits for the future, I wanted to use a penname.  Rose was not only one that I chose, but one that was actually given to me quite affectionately.  In college, I took poetry classes towards a creative writing minor (never got the chance to finish it because of class conflicts, sadly).  Poetry is one of my first loves in writing and artistic expressions.  One of my classmates said I had such a way of providing detail that I could describe the petals on a rose and  make it really vivid. From there, the name just stuck.  I used the handle Rosepetals (of various forms, because there are a LOT of people who use "Rosepetals" as a handle - and even I didn't realize this) for a time as a writing alias, and then it shortened to Rose.  I answer to both these handles.  I'm actually proud to write both under this name as well as my real name.  


I take pride in the name that was given to me by birth as well as by association.  I own them both, and regardless of the names I take on, my voice still remains the same no matter how you slice it. But I like having a choice to use that name when and where I want to use it.  I take pride in living within a free country that allows me the right of choice, of privacy and a means to be able to write under whatever name I choose, as a reader and writer.


Choosing not to use my real name everywhere I go does NOT make me a coward. Nor does it lessen the impact, the pertinence, or emotional resonance of the opinion I give.  No matter what name I write under - my voice, my choice, my vision, my perspective all remains the same.  And you can pretty much tell what I write because of the nature and strength/identity in my voice.  


In one instance, my twin sister actually told me she sorted through about several hundred anonymous comments on a matter and was able to pick out my comment out of that lot because of the style and the way I wrote.  It was so weird because there was probably only one other identifying detail that probably could've led in the direction of me on the matter, but not easily.  There were other people who actually pointed it out too.  My voice is pretty distinct, so even if it's anonymous or under a different handle, it still has weight and identity in its contents.  I think that's true of any written opinion - there's identity behind it - for assertion, for presentation, for even the nature/subject of that comment.  To someone, somewhere, that narrative matters.  Regardless of whom it may be from, it adds to the body of the public sphere for discussion on a number of measures. I think that expression of voice should be protected and respected.


So why the dickens does Anne Rice think she can stifle public opinion by telling people to get rid of pennames for reviewers and removing anonymity for them? On what planet does she think authors have a pedestal over their buying public that she wants to dictate taking rights away from the people who are issuing her paycheck and discussing her work which gives her a means to live or thrive from?  I don't think that's a very smart thing to do.  And then her belittling people who use a penname to give an opinion just because they'd rather not use their real name by *choice*?  Her suggesting that privacy for all individuals isn't a concern, that it's only afforded to a select few (in this case, she's saying authors/writers are only entitled to that in so many words)? That there aren't natural protections to be considered for everyone who isn't an author/writer?


Something's not right with this picture man, and by this picture, I mean the portrait that she's trying to paint for everybody else.  Because I certainly don't share her opinion and I don't appreciate her trying to put words or thoughts in my mouth.  And I seriously don't advocate her trying to take away what I consider a natural right/choice of mine as well as for many, many other people. Just because you use a penname and you're a person who isn't in the writing world doesn't mean that you're a "bully."


I love my given name.  I adore the woman who gave it to me (probably more than words can say. In the time it took me to pen this post, she passed from breast cancer. I'm still reeling from the loss and taking it a day at a time).  But I have reasons why I choose not to use that name in every venue which I comment or post reviews or reflections on products that I buy or peruse, even those outside of creative outlets. Some of it is protection from a number of factors including racism, prejudice, bullying, etc, some of it is because I don't care for people knowing what I think of a particular brand of toothpaste over another or the sanitary napkins I use (because that's no one else's business), but others it's just because.  "Rose" is just as valuable to me, just for different reasons. Why shouldn't I have the right to use them both at my discretion?


Well, apparently according to Anne Rice and company, if I choose to use "Rose" in any capacity - somehow it makes my identity dishonest.  Somehow it makes my opinion less "valid" when it comes to reviewing books or products or expressing opinions in the interwebs. Somehow it makes me a "gangster bully."


Does anyone really know what a "gangster bully" really is? I don't think that's an official term that came from anywhere, heaven forbid not from StopBullying.org or any other official government or non-profit anti-bullying organization. Apparently the term "gangster bully" is used as some kind of term on her part to describe bullying, but I deign to think that Rice is of any expert opinion on bullying, just from the sheer ignorance shown in her liberal use and generic labeling with the term. Rice has actually been continuously using it in conjunction with promoting a petition she's backed over removing reviewer anonymity from Amazon.  While I don't doubt her petition will have as little impact on the actual policy of reviewing as a penny dropping in the Pacific Ocean (and even if it did, there's always moving to other book retailers that protect anonymity or using pennames), my concern isn't just from the fact she's promoting removing anonymity, but for using the term "gangster bully" with the same intention and motivation as a prejudicial slur.  To use it as a silencer, to dehumanize, to berate ANY individuals who dare to criticize or have a variant opinion from her, not just reviewers (case in point: how she targeted Jenny Trout and Nenia Campbell - and THEY are AUTHORS).


That's...not good to say the least.


Let's talk a little about the problems with using the term "gangster bully".   It shows a very ignorant viewpoint when it comes to the very serious problem of bullying.  Bullying is as much a social issue as much as it an issue of psychological and other dimensions to consider.  It's a complex issue that has not just one root.  The victimization of those subject to bullying is a very widely focused matter, and no doubt it should be, because it happens so often in any place where there are gatherings of social groups in measures of diversity, power, and dynamic.  School children experience it, adults experience it, coworkers experience it, people of different backgrounds - race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, etc. - experience bullying for aspects/dimensions of their personhood.  It's inescapable, demoralizing, and horrifying to anyone who's been subject to such treatment.


But to every matter, there's always a flip side.  In narratives like Emily Bazelon's "Sticks and Stones" as well as the teen compilation of "Attack on Bullying" and the informative "Words Wound" - they also mention a problem that goes largely unaddressed: the quick label of "bully" and the rapid, rampant means of punishing those by the label. The term "bully" is sometimes used by those who want to dehumanize or remove personhood and/or responsibility where it should be applied.


Using the term "bully" as a silencing agent is something that should not happen when trying to combat a problem/confrontation/ problematic event (or even another problem entirely, where there are no elements of bullying taking place, but in actuality "drama.")


The term "bully" was never meant to be used as a silencing agent or a way to dehumanize a party in conflict.  If a person uses the term "bully" (or in the case of Rice, the term "gangster bully") to label a person or a group of people in an all encompassing way of negation or denouncement without due consideration, then how is that different than someone with a rampant prejudice using the vague label of THEM or THEY in an attempt to remove or undermine one's personhood?


Does this mean I'm calling Rice out on a rampant prejudice that she has when it comes to using the term "gangster bully"?  Yes I am.  For quite a number of reasons.  And it isn't just on racial terms (which I could get into in another conversation entirely, but I won't at present.  I'm angry as heck at Rice's response when she pointed out that her use of the word "gangster" didn't have racial ties. It was such a dismissal that I can't even begin to convey my upset over it, and I'm speaking as a woman of color.)


It is a prejudice of labeling on her part.  She's using the term "bully" as a label, not describing it pertaining to specific issues or problems that need to be confronted on behalf of a specific set of actions or events from the part of a person or a group of people.  And it's a matter of willful ignorance on her part (as well as the parties she's associating with - i.e. STGRB), because she's not asking the questions that need to be asked in what she's terming as bullying, and eliminating anyone's opinions who challenge her on the inquiry.  And not to mention she's misconstruing the definition of what is ACTUALLY bullying, using it only as a buzz term to describe contentious conflict or hurt sentiments stemming from a specific, and often isolated, conflict.  Often also from a one-sided perspective with an assumption of one party being always right and the other being always wrong.


I've had my fill of this kind of blind assumption and labeling on her part, and if there's something that I'll say off the bat, I - as a reader and writer - don't share her sentiment and condemn it with every bit of experience, intelligence, and might that I have.


I highly value the interactions between authors and readers, and I especially advocate open dialogue over works of literature and art, which include criticism in the forms it takes on.  I will always advocate for the right to freedom of speech as well as a right to privacy for ALL individuals, no matter their background.  I will never play favoritism towards a particular group and I will not blindly label conflicts in vague terms that denounces people in a way that removes their personhood or responsibilities.


I do not tolerate bullying.  And by bullying, I mean ACTUAL BULLYING. (I don't like drama either, but unlike Rice, I can actually tell the difference between the two and can label the situations for what they are.  Because being able to tell the difference is key to being able to address them properly.)  And I treat bullying with the seriousness it deserves, and getting all issues involving the parties involved to an appropriate resolution without the need for blind labels or all encompassing negations or prejudices towards groups.


So, directing this to Anne Rice specifically, I would suggest properly educating yourself on what bullying actually is and to additionally stop using the damned term of "gangster bullying".  You're hurting not only the people who are victimized by bullying or are rehabilitated from engaging in bullying behaviors, but you're also misconstruing and showing a rampant ignorance of the issue for what it really is.  And in an age where this is such a widespread, serious issue, we don't need anyone else whose prejudicial ignorance trivializes and gets in the way of getting the people who need help REAL help.



Rose Summers