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The Initials, Not the Name

I've wanted to say something about this for a long time, but most of my posts I began for the subject were false-starts. Why do I choose to write under my initials, rather than my full name?

When I first started submitting my work for publication, many years ago, I made an active choice to avoid suggesting either my sex or my cultural background by using my full name. I am, firstly, a writer. Anything else that I am is irrelevant to my occupation. I have no intention of, and somewhat disdain, promoting myself as a female writer. If a reader coming into my writing sees my name appearing beneath the title of my story, and reads it like just another piece of the text, with no assumptions of where I came from or who I might be, I consider my work done. If the reader makes any assumptions on his or her own, that's fair enough. But I like to think I contributed to that issue as little as possible.

The cultural issues surrounding my name are slightly more difficult. I have a Muslim name, which clearly states I had a Muslim upbringing, in spite of the fact that I left that religion 14 years ago. I should start by saying I have no intention of changing my name. This was a name my late grandfather gave me, and I bear no ill will towards it. But I come from a country where the choice of leaving my religion is virtually forbidden, and where the legal implications of leaving that religion would also mean giving up my entire ethnicity. I would not particularly miss the latter. As I am firstly a writer, I am firstly a Malaysian. Anything else that I carry in my ancestry is not as important as the culture that raised me.

I've spent my entire life being questioned about my ethnicity and my faith, by my own countrymen, on the basis of my name. I don't think I need or want to explain myself about it more than I already have. I don't need that questioning to follow me into the one medium I feel I have some ability to communicate in effectively.

Having said that, I have previously been published under my full name. Due to the individual policies of publications I've appeared in, I haven't entirely been able to avoid featuring my full name. It's not hard to find me online either. The nature of my non-writing work has meant that I will pop up at a few fairly public sites out there. I do still prefer using my initials whenever possible, and endeavour to keep doing so.

I would love to see a day where I could write the subjects I do handle, use my beloved initials, have people know who I am and where I come from, and be judged merely for my writing. That's never going to happen, and certainly doesn't happen even with the initials I use now. But again, anything I can contribute to minimizing the type and amount of pre-judgment that could occur is helpful to me as a writer. Now all I need to do is write something worthy of my crypticism, spread more rumours about me really being a fifty-something gay man, and find myself a tall thing to hide behind.

Negligible Trivia:

Fact: At least four editors who've previously published me defaulted into thinking I was a guy. Or just couldn't figure me out and went, "Hmmmm."
Fact: I once entered a chat room, helped hit on a guy, and the only other girl in that entire place immediately assumed I was a gay man.
Fact: Girl in chat room was semi-correct, with embellishments and elaborate scrollwork.


Feb. 13th, 2008 05:47 am (UTC)
Re: Not picking publishers
I think I may have seen this reviewer before. His blog is the Elephant Forgets, or something similar? Wildside's publications are very big on promoting female writers. I am aware the publisher there associates the use of initials with hiding one's gender, and he strongly prefers that writers in his stable use their full name to promote both the gender and diversity of his writers. He is, at least, the most recent example of blunt affirmative action I can think of on the subject.

There are days of the week I look at some of this affirmative "by women for women" stuff and just... cringe, mentally hollering at it to stop being a chick flick. But, once again, the writing does not choose its publishers. :)