I was making my way home from a long weekend in Philadelphia last Sunday when I heard the news about Elena Ferrante, a brilliant and engaging Italian author best known for her novels about women’s lives and friendships. My mother, a fellow devoted Ferrante fan, texted me that she had horrible news: Ferrante had been doxxed. My heart sank as I read the article exposing her legal name, written by a man who claims that Ferrante has “relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown” simply because Ferrante admitted to sometimes lying to protect her identity.
As I continued reading, I grew angrier and angrier. This was a deeply misogynist act: a man believed he deserved access to Elena Ferrante, so he outed her because she would not willingly grant him access herself. As my rage swelled within me, I also began to feel viscerally connected to Ferrante. Her books mean a great deal to me, but this tie to her was on a completely different level: as an anonymous (or semi-anonymous) woman writer.
I do not share my legal name, where I live, or information about my career here. Most of my friends and family do not know I am a blogger. I do share pictures of myself, attend conferences, and book speaking engagements. I travel to spend time with friends I have met here and enjoy the rich depths of my relationships with them. It is not that I am half-in and half-out of the sex blogging closet: I simply choose to share some things and not others with the internet at large.
When I chose to show my face on Twitter for the first time, it was a deliberate, autonomous decision. When I submitted a proposal to speak at next year’s Eroticon, it was a deliberate, autonomous decision. When I trust other bloggers, my friends, with details about myself, but do not share that information with the public at large, it is a deliberate, autonomous decision. When Elena Ferrante decided to write anonymously, it was a deliberate, autonomous decision.
These are my choices. That was Elena Ferrante’s choice. Anonymous women and nonbinary writers have control over our own choices. We set our own boundaries, and we deserve for others to respect those boundaries. When Claudio Gatti doxxed Ferrante, he violently invaded her life, broke all of the boundaries she set, and declared his desire to consume her identity more important than her autonomy.
What happened to Elena Ferrante is a real threat for bloggers. Some people do believe we owe them information, like our legal names, where we live, or what we look like. Some men believe they’re entitled to access any part of any woman, and if they don’t know the woman’s “true identity,” they may begin to closely surveil us, as Claudio Gatti surveilled Ferrante. (Note: notions of “true identity” are bullshit. If Elena Ferrante tells you her name is Elena Ferrante, her name is Elena Ferrante. If I tell you my name is Sarah Brynn Holliday, my name is Sarah Brynn Holliday.)
Anonymous writers have a right to privacy, period. We have a right to privacy even if parts of our lives are public. More specifically, sex bloggers have a right to privacy, even if parts of our lives are public. Some of us share pictures of ourselves, talk about whether we have jobs outside of sex blogging and education work, and mention where we live, and some of us don’t. Some of us attend conferences, present workshops, and host podcasts, and some us don’t. No matter what we decide to share or what we do, no one is entitled to any extra information about who we are.