Similar hoaxes have been perpetrated by people who falsely claimed to belong to various minority groups. Ballastexistenz recently posted this link to an article about a writer who misrepresented himself as Native American and wrote about alcoholism on the reservation. There was also a scandal of this sort in Australia a while ago, when a middle-aged white man who had been unsuccessful in trying to get books published under his own name pretended to be a young Aboriginal woman so that he could sell a book that dealt with racial issues.
These writers had defenders who, like Oprah, said that it didn't matter who really wrote the books and that they had merit, regardless of authorship, because they raised the readers' awareness of serious social issues.
It's easy enough to proclaim that writers should be truthful in all things, but in fact, none of us can meet a standard of absolute truth. We shade our words and filter our experiences to make our points most effectively. We choose what to talk about and (as an inevitable corollary) what not to talk about. Total authenticity in writing, without these filters, would amount to little more than stream-of-consciousness babble. A line must be drawn somewhere. What are our ethics? What price authenticity?
I have just learned that a person associated with the autistic civil rights movement, a person whom I respected as a strong voice for justice, is a fraud. When xe became involved with autistic advocacy, xe claimed to have been placed in a special-needs school after a childhood diagnosis and to have been unable to find work as an adult, except for part-time unskilled jobs, because of discrimination. This was all a lie. In fact, xe is a successful, college-educated author and journalist who presumably was collecting material for a book.
Certain other activists who know xyr true identity have decided to keep the matter hushed up. We don't need a scandal, their reasoning goes, and this person's book may turn out to be helpful to the cause.
I have a confession to make: I haven't raised my voice to argue otherwise. In a world where Dr. Mengele types are chemically castrating autistic children for fun and profit, I have a hard time scraping up any moral outrage about the behavior of a journalist who is "on our side," no matter how dishonest. Maybe this is indeed a situation where the truth of the message is more important than the truth about the author. Or maybe I'm just rationalizing.
I came very close to not writing this post at all—to letting it fall through the filter. Who am I to talk about autistic pride and authenticity in representing one's experiences, anyway? I'm certainly not the arbiter of truth in journalism. I'm just another coward hiding behind a net nickname on Blogspot. As Elton John said in Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, "there's plenty like me to be found."
This has left a very sour taste in my mouth.