A Gay Girl in Damascus a hoax

Tom MacMaster
The real person behind the Amina lie: Tom MacMaster.

Last week a post on the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus, supposedly from the blogger’s cousin, reported the blog’s author Amina Arraf had been kidnapped by security forces. Other bloggers, including myself, posted to raise awareness and encourage folks to take action. Others who had been following the story and noticed information on the blog that seemed fishy began digging. Now the truth has come out.

Amina is actually Tom MacMaster, a married straight white man from the US. The widely circulated photos of Amina were pictures of Jelena Lecic that MacMaster stole.

MacMaster’s statement on the blog after he was outed is dripping with self-righteousness:

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.

Except that MacMaster misled people for as long as five years, building friendships based on a lie. He misled one woman who thought she was Amina’s girlfriend for six months. LGBT folks in Syria have expressed concern the blog brought unwanted attention to their already endangered community. And the controversy around the blog has distracted from, not brought attention to, the plight of actual prisoners in Syria. I could also see it giving those in power in Syria fodder to say the opposition is fomented by outside forces.

MacMaster went on to write that this experience has shown him “the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.” You mean straight white dudes from the US thinking they need to speak for queer women of color in the Middle East? Seems pretty old school to me.

Before the truth came out MacMaster told the Washington Post:

Look, if I was the genius who had pulled this off, I would say, ‘Yeah,’ and write a book.

In case you were wondering if this whole thing was an opportunistic grab at attention and maybe some cash.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • http://narrowcrafts.blogspot.com chelsa

    Another story I read say he’s from Edinburgh, but living in Turkey.

    So, is he American or Scottish, or what?

    I mean, not that it makes a huge difference… but it kind of does, if some random guy from the US was writing about a country and people he knows nothing about vs. an ex-pat writing about the sh*t going on in the country right beside him. Many refugees are fleeing to Turkey.


    • http://feministing.com/members/jos/ Jos

      He’s apparently from the US, went to school in Edinburgh, and is currently “on vacation” in Turkey.

      • http://narrowcrafts.blogspot.com chelsa

        Ah, good. This whole story has been a muddled mess, so it’s nice to get a little clarity about it.

        Thanks, Jos. :)

    • http://feministing.com/members/femcnicol/ Lauren McNicol

      If you wish to see privilege-denying dude in full-force, check out this skype interview between him and Esther Addley of the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2011/jun/13/syrian-lesbian-blogger-hoaxer-video?INTCMP=SRCH

      He’s described as an Edinburgh-based American university student. He flew to Turkey for vacation a few days ago.

      • davenj

        That interview is awful. The amount of time he spends smirking, laughing, and rationalizing just goes to show how little he understands about what he did.

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    When I wrote about the same-sex wedding I attended quite recently, I made special effort to not over sentimentalize or romanticize the ceremony. Yes, one of the participants is from the Middle East, but out of respect for his wishes, I chose not to reveal his country of origin. I sought to write as an observer only.

  • davenj

    “And the controversy around the blog has distracted from, not brought attention to, the plight of actual prisoners in Syria.”

    I’m not sure this is entirely true. Feministing wasn’t exactly giving the Syrian protests and government crackdown any time prior to this. It’s distracting, yes, and attention-grabbing as well. This is worthy of criticism from a methodology standpoint, but you can’t re-write history here and say that Feministing has been really on top of the Syrian protests, either.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    This guy’s behavior/attitude disappoints me. While it’s a relief to know that this fictional woman was never a prisoner, I also feel it distracts from and does a disservice to the many who ARE prisoners, and who HAVE disappeared. Not just in Syria but around the globe. If he wanted to raise consciousness on this issue there are ways to do it without playing on people’s desire for justice and sense of goodwill.

  • http://feministing.com/members/ehebert/ Elizabeth Hebert

    I am honestly not very surprised that this was a hoax. As someone who lived in the Middle East and had contact with the LBGT community, I had my initial suspicions that this wasn’t real. I guess it was just a gut reaction that turned out to be true.

  • ariel

    This reminds me so much of a Savage Love podcast recently where a man continued an emotionally manipulative relationship with someone online for months, creating a false persona. What would compel this man to present himself in this way? How has this blog altered his relationship with his wife? what kind of personal relationships did he form with other individuals online?

  • http://feministing.com/members/josephl/ Joseph Lillo

    And apparently, the editor who gave “Amina” “her” platform is also a fake. This is some next-level rabbit hole shit.

  • http://feministing.com/members/torps/ peni

    And for all the awful deception around the methods, I actually think it says a lot that a straight white man, with the backing of US citizenship, felt entitled to blog about this issue.

    I want to believe that a gay girl in Damascus has the opportunity to blog about her life… but its not reality, is it?