A female sex worker and blogger has been exposed as a middle-aged man — which might not be such a big deal if he hadn't used his fake identity to solicit sex partners and naked photos of minors.
According to a Metafilter post by Asparagirl, "Alexa di Carlo" said she was a sex worker and a student in San Francisco State University's sexuality studies program. She also ran a sex advice website for teenagers, and mentored other sex workers via email. But then the anonymous blog Expose a Bro outed Alexa as Thomas "Pat" Bohannan, a computer technician in Delaware. Simply maintaining a blog under a pseudonym might not have been a problem — says sex educator and blogger Charlie Glickman, "Personally, I don't care if someone wants to create an online fantasy personna. I don't think it's necessarily bad or unhealthy to explore the different facets of our psyches by writing stories." But Glickman and others are angry that Bohannon pretended to have credentials he didn't really possess — and added to the misrepresentation of sex work by non-sex workers.
That's not all, though: as Alexa, Bohannon reportedly referred new sex workers to a star client named Matt ... who turned out to be Bohannon himself (if you're not easily creeped out, here's an email in which Alexa describes "Matt"). Worse, he (in another persona known as "Caitlain" or "Cathy") allegedly encouraged minors to post seminude pictures of themselves on his teen sex website. One blogger describes her use of "Cathy's" site:
On the forum, there was a specific few threads for posting pictures of your breasts and ass and more general ones for just pictures of yourself. Complete nudity was NOT permitted but this basically meant that if you posted a picture of your breasts with just your hand covering your nipples, you were fine. Even if you were a minor. She would encourage me when I expressed nervousness about posting a photograph of myself in just that position – I was 17. I posted the picture, and was extremely flattered by the response especially from Cathy. Most of the other members were as far as I know, under 18 or under 21 at least.
The case isn't without its complexities — Sex and the 405 argues that the outing of an anonymous blogger sets "a dangerous precedent": "what's to stop well-meaning members of another community from coming together to expose a sex-worker, who is, by many state laws, engaging in criminal activity (i.e., prostitution)?" And outing has indeed had disturbing consequences for other sex bloggers' lives. But there's a big difference between maintaining anonymity or a pseudonym to protect yourself and constructing a false persona for the express purpose of deceiving people. The teen who wrote about "Cathy's" site offers this example of how damaging the latter can be:
I once felt that Cathy's forums was a huge part of my understanding of my own sexuality, and Cathy herself an orchestrator of how I felt about myself. I was confident and happy and felt safe about showing my body to my friends on this forum. Now I know that the one person I thought of as the safest of all was the one lying about everything – well, I no longer feel very happy with myself. I feel sick and ashamed and terrified that these incredibly intimate, private photos are out there somewhere. I will never again have the confidence in my own sexuality that I once had because of this man, and my trust in people is shattered. I used to want to be like Cathy and tried to feel as sexually liberated as she did. Well now I feel the least interested in sex I have ever felt, because I've lost my own understanding of how I felt about it.
As many have pointed out both in relation to this story and elsewhere, sex work and sex blogging are misunderstood and stigmatized. That's one reason people who write about sex don't always write under their real names. But if everything bloggers are saying about Bohannon is true, then he used his pseudonym to fool and hurt people. He harmed sex workers by adding more misinformation to the conversation about their lives, he harmed sex bloggers by misusing the anonymity some of them need to write safely, and he harmed teens, who already have too few trustworthy resources to turn to when it comes to sexuality. It's unclear whether Bohannon will face any criminal investigation — Expose a Bro's information, while it seems convincing, might not hold up in court. But what is clear is if Bohannon was using a fake identity to act out the deceptions Expose a Bro describes, that identity does not deserve protection.
Image via Valeriy Lebedev/Shutterstock.com