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Why I'm Writing About Sex With My Real Name
The scary but rewarding process of stepping out from behind the pseudonym.
by Chaweon Koo
John was upset. Pacing-around-the-room upset. "You have to stop writing about our sex life." he said. "When I told Patty I twisted my foot on Saturday, she was like 'Oh? Right after you ate your girlfriend's pussy?' How the hell do my friends know this shit?" John and I were living together at this point. I put on a frilly apron to cook him Korean food; he put up shelving with power tools. We were protective of our domestic bliss. And yet this conversation seemed to poke into our bubble more and more often.
"We agreed that as long as I didn't use your name, it's kosher," I said. From the moment we met, he knew I was documenting our non-fucking, bed fucking, every-which-way fucking. It had never been hush-hush; I always gave him a heads-up, then emails with links. He'd told me, "I don't feel comfortable with your writing, but I won't stand in the way of your self-expression."
"But I never asked to be part of your stories." He looked at me as if my writing was etched all over my skin, a radioactive tattoo that needed a Silkwood-style scrubbing. "Jesus! Will you just be a normal person and stop blabbing everything to the world?"
We had a screaming match. I sat at the edge of the bed, remembering seventh grade, when my mother had held my spiral notebook in front of my face and yelled, "Why are you writing about sex? About such ugly, disgusting things? My hands shook when I read it..." Just as I had then, I cried and cried, back to being that confused seventh grader, that girl who was too young to accept shame gracefully.
But as a grown woman, I was calloused with anger and defensiveness. "Fine," I said. "You don't want me to write about you? I won't. I'll cut you out. I'll black bar your name. I'll censor myself. I hope you're happy that you've become North Korea." Later, I swallowed the argument, promising myself that I'd wake up carefree, as if we'd never fought. Yet I was uneasy. Did John have a point? Was I selfishly choosing self-disclosure over the feelings of a loved one? What was driving me to let everything hang out? I felt around the nightstand for my phone, ready to tweet about this conundrum. But I never did.
I'd been writing explicitly about my sex life since before I met John. But none of my previous muses had ever fallen in love with me.
John refused to read my Nerve articles. He couldn't take the negative comments thrown my way. For my part, while I marveled at how some people could express their hostility in such cute terms — like calling me a Korean Snooki — I didn't let the comments get to me. "They're anonymous; no harm, no foul," I told him. But when John heard someone say that I would end up dead in a dumpster, his forearms bulged like Popeye. "If I ever meet that motherfucker, I will punch their mouth so hard that their mom will feel it."
I was lounging in a crumpled t-shirt, zit medicine caked on my face. "Why does it bother you so much? I'm the one being accused of destroying American culture, not you."
"If someone said some shit like that to you on the street, I'd make them apologize. Why is it different if someone says it to you on the internet?"
"It's not a big deal, John. They're like a Greek chorus of haters. They probably watch Faces of Death for fun."
"Fuck them. They don't even have the balls to use their real names."
"I don't use my real name, either," I said.
"But that's different. You're trying to protect the people you write about."
Which was a generous way to look at it. But was I using a pseudonym just to protect others? It wasn't like I was planning a future in politics. And those misogynistic, slut-shaming comments — I had to admit that they were easier to brush off when directed towards a pen name.
A priest raised his palms skyward, chanting in Latin. Behind him, the morning sun streamed through the stained-glass windows. I was at the funeral of John's grandfather.
Before we stepped into the church, John told me: "I don't think it's a good idea to tell my family about... you know... that you write about sex."
"Why should I hide it?" I said. "Without sex, we wouldn't be here."
John kissed my cheek. "I know. But my mom has been practicing how to say your name."
NEXT: "Was my dress appropriately somber? Or did it scream, 'Here is the girl who writes about your son's penis!'"