I’ve always joked that my using a pen name connects me to the trans community in a way I never expected: I have an “old” name and a current name, and people get irritated if they feel I haven’t told them my “real” name. Transitioned people tend to get similar questions, albeit the gendered version. But this whole idea of having a “real” name is a funny one to me: Helen is my real name, in that it’s what people call me, and also it’s my legal middle name.

But the naming issue is really the tip of the iceberg, where the issue is more about having a “real” life compared to a persona’s life, and while I’m sure many people experience and understand this idea now, what with online handles and Second Life avatars, there is something about the aspect of being a public person that’s specific:

This fictional version of you is additionally compounded by the fact that, if you’re a writer, the version of you they’re building from isn’t the experience of you (as in, you’re someone they know in real life), but from the fiction you write and/or the public persona you project, either in writing (in blogs and articles) or in public events, such as conventions or other appearances. The fiction one writes may or may not track at all to one’s real-world personality or inclinations, and while one’s public persona probably does have something to do with the private person, it’s very likely to be a distorted version, with some aspects of one’s personality amped up for public consumption and other aspects tamped down or possibly even hidden completely.

All of which is to say these fictional versions of one’s self are to one’s actual self as grape soda is to a grape — artificial and often so completely different that it’s often difficult to see the straight-line connection between the two.

I might posit grape juice instead of grape soda, but you get the idea.