Clue: It is not because I am disingenuous
I have been writing under the name Josephina Bonetto off and on since 2008. As time has progressed, Josephina Bonetto has proved to be unwieldy for username character limits so sometimes I shorten it to JoJo Bonetto.
I started using the name because it was my Second Life avatar name. I created it in March 2007 and had to use Josephina because Josephine was taken. It was loosely inspired by Josephine Jo, a Dramarama episode from 1984.
These are the reasons why I have found writing under a pen name helpful
Back when I was employed in an operational, frontline Civil Service role (the Civil Service code, which governs behaviours can be found here), having an unusual name worked against me. If I were to have any semblance of a life outside of work, protection from the public and my employer, I was restricted in the use of my own name. My employer was not averse to policing social media, in fact, they were quite keen on doing it. If you remain logged in, even accidentally, on a work device, to Facebook et al, they could legally access those accounts and this was something they did do. This was why I started using a pen name.
I did have periods when I was self-employed and felt freer but the internet should be approached as permanent. I regularly “cleansed” my social media accounts, even under my pen name.
When I began publishing on Medium, I included some quite personal posts from my counselling training and some articles about my time working as a webcam girl, plus discussed my own sexual assault. It made sense for me to keep the pen name going, not because I am ashamed but because potential employers can be unforgiving. I also do not want colleagues to only see those aspects of my life when they look at me. I am much more than only those experiences.
In reality, a lot of people know what my pen name is, it is not a secret. I see it as a veil, a layer of protection against stalking activity from individuals and employers.
When I was a cam girl, I also had a separate cam girl name. I had a dedicated website, email address running off my own domain name with privacy enabled on it. I also had dedicated social media accounts. I still suffered from stalking, harassment and unauthorised recordings of my shows by customers (they then posted them online, charging people money to view them). Luckily, the shows were indexed under my cam girl name and after a few weeks, they were buried in the bowels of Google, which is as good as not existing at all. The stalking was a delivery guy for a large courier company delivering a parcel to my home address under my real name and then messaged me on a cam-site saying “Hello [Insert Real Name Here]” trying to arrange to have sex with me for money. I should have got him fired, but I felt too ashamed.
Those experiences have made me very pragmatic about privacy. I like to think that I am an open person anyway, within reason, but I also want the space and the freedom to write about experiences that still unjustly attract judgement. The world is not yet evolved enough for me to admit to being a retired cam girl publicly, under my own name. A pen name, like my cam girl name, gives me plausible deniability.
When writing about my experience of sexual assault, it is important I have the ability to do that without fear of reprisals on whatever platform I decide to use. Enabling people with those lived experiences to have a voice is crucial to recovery, but also to bring about change.
Dispelling Myths to Increase Awareness
This week, I wrote about Alcoholics Anonymous, who do great work and while I appreciate they are not everyone’s cup of tea, there is no doubt that having some support while recovering from addiction(s) can be helpful to many people.
While I understand and value the protection and privacy the anonymity affords people, I do feel that writing about what it is like to experience an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can make it feel less intimidating to a newcomer. Having a pen name enabled me to write that post.
Diversity and Equality
I have discussed some negative experiences in the workplace relating to disability, among other things. While most people who know me well will already know about those experiences, there is no doubt in my mind that current and future employers will see me as too much hassle after reading them, and potentially high maintenance. Organisational culture needs to move on more before I can go fully public on those issues, from my own experience. I won’t apologise for using a pen name to write about them.
I recently wrote an article about a well-known triple murder that happened fairly near to where I grew up and not a million miles away from where I live now. It was a gangland murder. I like to think it was well referenced with a sensitively worded disclaimer, and I was ultimately supportive of the gang members who were convicted when it came to the botched investigation, but what if I had not approached the article that way? It is very easy to offend people on the Internet but I don’t really want to be upsetting prominent gang members. I considered not writing the article but decided I was relatively small fry to them, and it would most likely be fine.
I know that having a pen name will never give me 100% protection but at this point, I am just seeking to minimise risk and exposure to other people’s judgements and “issues”. Avoiding drama is not a negative thing.