In 2007, I started this blog as a voice for myself as a gay woman. I was, and still am, a gay woman who is smart, funny, creative and fell in love with a blogging platform that allowed me to share all aspects of myself and my interests, living in a world as an out-and-proud lesbian.
After starting the blog, I began to consider bringing in a community of writers that could also share their voice and opinions on their own gay world. The idea was to invite writers from all over the country to give their unique perspective on lesbian life, culture, entertainment, politics, music and anything else they felt was appropriate (or not so appropriate).
About 4 years ago from this date (6/17/07) I received an email from "Paula Brooks", a fan of Lesbiatopia:
Renee,At the time, I was also contributing to AOL's now debunked queer blog, QueerSighted.com. She asked me to help her out by writing an article spot-lighting the fact that she wanted to come out to her readers on her OBX surf blog. Her story was touching. She was a deaf 3rd grade teacher with a loving partner named Debbie and adorable twin daughters. I decided to write an article for QueerSighted titled "When Lesbian Surf Blogger Comes Out To Readers, Some Rain On Her (Pride) Parade" which received a great response from the QueerSighted readers, They posted comments on the article with an out-pouring of love and support. I felt by using the power of my words on such a high-traffic site like QueerSighted, I was doing something good for someone who was having a tough time coming out in a small town.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you I really like your blog; its honest and I love your opinions and views on Lesbian issues.
I live in an Open relationship in real life with a long time partner and I don't make that fact a secret and it has caused me some grief. So on my blog I am somewhat reluctant to address lesbian issues much because many of my reader are local Outer Bankers and know who I really am outside of the blogesphere.
You see the entire The Outer Banks is essentially a small town in North Carolina, a small town where I am a 3rd grade teacher, so while my readers know of my sexual orientation, I stay away from the subject of lesbian rights on my blog and stay with my surf mom theme and there are days after I read one of your articles I feel like something of a sell out.
I had a friend who I got to start a blog. She is a very good writer and I used to love to read her stuff. In real life she lives in a hetro relationship and teaches in a catholic grade school. She discovered lesbians sell and started becoming a lesbian right activist on her blog, which annoyed me because while she got the readers, I just could not read about lesbian rights and issues coming from someone I know was in the closet about her own sexuality. We had a big falling out over all of this and don't communicate any more.
I can tell by reading your stuff you have paid your dues sister and you know. I would like to say keep up the good work, you have loyal reader.
I decided, at that point, to invite "Paula" to write for Lesbiatopia. Never once did I question her gender or her identity as a gay woman. She was a deaf woman but despite her struggle she seemed strong, confident, smart and encouraging. Her story seemed interesting to me and I felt like Lesbiatopia would be the perfect place for her to share it. She certainly had everyone fooled as to her identity. I remember exactly how she introduced herself in her very first blog article: "Hi, I’m Paula the Surf Mom; The Queen of the Outer Banks Surf Pirates, sovereign of all that is Surfing, supreme protector and defender of all that is lesbian in the land that is called the Outer Banks of North Carolina and today your dreams of finally getting the opportunity to rub elbows with royalty are going to come true."
When "Paula" signed on, she definitely went above and beyond the call of duty for Lesbiatopia. She brought in new contributors, reached out to media outlets, shared articles on all marketing channels and even helped with site maintenance and design. "Paula" knew a fair amount about web development, from what I could see, and I was certainly learning a lot from her. Our relationship grew into more of a partnership with the site, she was very pro-active and I was receptive to someone who was very focused on making the site into something as wonderful as I had envisioned. I never questioned the motives behind her work on the site. I remained open to this potential new partnership because there seemed to be a fair balance... then things began to change.
I can't really put a finger on when things with "Paula" began to take a turn for the worse. Her articles, emails and comments were turning militant and angry. She was getting upset over little things that were, in reality, not important. It started to feel like a hopeful relationship that was quickly going sour. I remember one weekend in particular where I went away to Palm Springs for a weekend with my girlfriend (at the time), while people were in LA picketing Proposition 8. "Paula" began sending angry emails to the other Lesbiatopia writers about my actions:
This was causing quite a stir with the Lesbiatopia writers. They were coming to me, upset and confused as to why this person was becoming so difficult and angry. It was especially alarming to me because I felt like I hadn't done anything wrong. I began to have a very unsettling feeling about everything. I became conflicted over the situation. Here I was, the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of a site that I had poured so much energy into, and the second biggest influencer of this site was turning from Mr. Hyde into Dr. Jekyll. No pun intended.
Yes Heather, Renee wrote some articles that helped raise some money and a thousand dollars of that money was from a check I wrote… Then she took her own money and went to have a good time in Palm Springs while Julie and others were fighting for her rights in a street not two miles from Renee's home…It is not just Renee, this seems to be a real big problem in our community.
Now you can write articles or you can write checks…
You can pretend everything is going to be ok and go on vacation or you can see it is not and get into the street to raise your voice…
You can get mad at me for getting on your asses to get you out to tell the haters no more or you can get out and get mad at the haters for making you a second class citizen…
I decided it was time to have a conversation with "Paula". Keep in mind, at this point there was little to no money being made on this blog. I never started it with the intention of raking in large amounts of cash, for me it was never about the money. I tried to have a conversation with "Paula" about her tone on the blog. She had become angry and negative, and to be quite frank, it was off-putting to the other writers and the readers. I explained that I wanted the blog to be a fun, light-hearted, entertaining platform, not an angry, militant one. Also, I had never asked "Paula" to do all the work she had done on the blog. All the hours she contributed were completely voluntary and done on her own volition. Please don't get me wrong, I always so thankful to anyone and everyone who contributed to Lesbiatopia. Without them, the site would not be what it is today. There were so many great accomplishments, like the 8against8 campaign, that raised over $13,000 for the Equality California No on Prop 8 campaign. I am forever grateful to all of you. As you can imagine, I was pretty upset when I received an email that simply said, "When you start sending me a paycheck for the work I've done on this blog, then you can tell me what to write and how I say what I say...Till then... I am your partner and not an employee on this thing and as such have as much say how things go as you do."
At that point, I realized that it would be a good idea to sever ties with this person. The tone and the way that they spoke to me was alarming and I was not feeling good about it. Then, I was completely blind-sided when "Paula" locked me out of the backend of the site and made herself the only one to have access to it. She sent me an email stating, "I have the feeds and if you dont want to be put off the air give me my template and my articles... you have 10 minutes." I was now being threatened. I didn't know what to do or who to turn to. I felt as though there was no reasoning with "Paula" at this point, she was completely out of control and I feared the loss of my site forever. The threats didn't stop there. "Renee, I want my articles off your site today… I went to my attorney office this morning and had her draft a cease and desist. I am not f*cking around here… I want those articles off your site. TODAY"
It was the belittling that really drew the line for me. Who did this person think they were?
Renee,I was finally, after much deliberating with "Paula", able to regain access to Lesbiatopia and lock "Paula" out. She had to step down at this point so she decided to move on and start her own blog, Lez Get Real. Through this process though, she had a hard time letting go, as she continued to email, text, IM and even call me and the other writers repeatedly, possibly searching for closure or something more, but it was bordering on stalker behavior. "Paula" did see something in me but whatever it was, it became scary and unhealthy and was not like any business partnership that I ever care to partake in ever again. Unfortunately, through the process, she also scared a lot of my writers away and the site ultimately suffered from the bad publicity.
I don’t have any idea what you thought getting into this pissing match me would accomplish, but I told you when it started that if it did not end, this would be the conclusion.
Now I have long thought you are a bit of a party girl… not very focused on much other then having fun… and that you do just enough to get by…
But I never shared that with you, because I knew I had to work with you and I knew sharing that would do nothing but cause problems between us…
Now since we started this project I have had to make up for you blowing stuff off on many occasions… I did it and when on without saying much to you.
Now just what the f*ck did you think you were doing publicly taking Shannon side over me? I expect my partner to back me up, just like I have backed up my partner.
For Christ sake I am 34 year old… my way of doing things, while they do from time to time upsets people, has been very effective for me and really were good for the blog… and I really don’t give two shits if you don’t like it… just like you really don’t seem to care two shits that working with you can be a real challenge for someone like me.
This is called doing business… I rent to people all the time I don’t like and I do business with people personally find hard to work with.
Now all of this only served to kill something that we both really loved…
good job Gannon."
"Paula" started the new site, Lez Get Real, and continued under the guise of a deaf lesbian activist for another three years. I only ever spoke to "Paula" on the phone once, and it was through her "father" who acted as an interpreter because of her deafness. Thinking back now, I realize that her "father" was actually the imposter himself, Bill Graber.
I'm sure you're wondering what triggered the exposure of "Paula Brooks" true identity. It was actually triggered when a popular Syrian lesbian blog admitted to being a married, American man named Tom MacMaster. According to the Washington Post, journalists, bloggers and fans of this "lesbian blogger" Amina, hunted for clues as to the identity behind the blog. "Paula Brooks" came under review as a possible suspect. Liz Henry, a Web producer at BlogHer.com, questioned Brooks’s involvement with Amina, as Amina had started to write about the Syrian uprising on Lez Get Real before starting her own blog.
Many lesbian bloggers have had interactions with "Paula Brooks" over the last four years and every single one of them was fooled. "Paula" lead people to believe that her partner Debbie died of breast cancer. As for her twins, her surfing girl lifestyle and all the other lies, well, it's all a bit overwhelming to process. I shared countless email exchanges with this person and never once did I question the fact that they might not be who they say they are. After "Paula" and I parted ways and she started Lez Get Real, we never spoke again. I felt it was in my best interest to continue on my own path and didn't feel the need to reconnect with someone who was clearly a loose cannon. Unfortunately, there are many other online writers that have worked with "Paula" closely on her site, Lez Get Real.
The news that "Paula Brooks" is a man has caused quite an uprising in the online lesbian blogging community. As I mentioned before, "Paula" had many interactions with many people in the online community. Another writer, and co-owner for Lez Get Real, Melanie Nathan, wrote about a similar experience she had with "Paula Brooks". According to the recently article she published called Paula Brooks from LezGetReal is a Man – Straight Man Fraud in the Lesbian World, she reiterates a similar experience she had with "Paula". Melanie writes,
"I have been a co-owner on LezGetReal and paid for the site LGR for two years. I left the site because I believed that Amina “the Gay Gal from Damascus” was not authentic. When I informed Paula Brooks, that I could not continue with LGR in good faith because of the blatant antisemitism, she set up a complex plot to assassinate my character and get me off the site. She was abusive and threatening and I resigned just in time before the Amina hoax exploded."I am glad that "Paula Brooks" true identity has been revealed. I am feel incredibly saddened and confused as to why straight men would spend years pretending to be militant, lesbian activists. I have to ask you, Bill Graber, what were you trying to prove? And why did you torment, abuse, threaten and badger these women (including myself) who you claimed to care so much about. I am struggling to understand why these things have happened. It makes me question the validity of online personalities and how incredibly easy it is to be someone or something completely different then who you really are. It seems very cowardly if you ask me, to hide behind a computer and bully gay women. I guess there are some things I will never understand. Is the message here, trust no one? That, in itself, is disheartening, but it certainly makes me question my own naivety I am glad the truth is finally out there, though. They are right when they say that the truth will set you free. I hope that Bill Graber can finally get the help that he needs.
Interested in reading more about this? Geek Porn Girl has also written an article titled The Internet Brings Men Together, As Lesbians.
If you've written an article or had an experience with "Paula Brooks" or someone who faked an online identity, I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below.
- Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Renee Gannon