When a Naturist Writer Covers Up

If you’re a naturist writer, you’re already all “exposed,” so why would you use a pen name? 

Writers use pseudonyms for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they want to appear to be a different gender, or to cloak their gender behind initials. Sometimes they want to use different pen names for different genres that they write in, or for different languages that they write in. Sometimes their birth name is the same as that of someone who is already well known, and they want to have a pen name to avoid association with the “taken” name. It’s possible that the writer wants to call attention to the act of writing, as in a kind of metafiction. And, of course, sometimes it’s because they wish to remain anonymous. 

For naturist writers, protecting identity can be imperative, depending on where one lives or what kind of job one has. Ideally, no one would need to use a pen name to protect their identity. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Association with mere nudity (as opposed to sexualized nudity) has been used–unjustly–against writers or other artists in all kinds of settings, from work to church to family to school. Protecting oneself with a pen name has the same basis as the practice of using first names only, a policy in force at more than a few naturist parks and clubs.

If you’re posting to your own blog or publishing your own work, it’s relatively easy to use a pseudonym. If you’re writing on social media platforms such as Twitter, you can create a ‘handle’ that might not have anything to do with your birth name. But some formats and organizations–even specifically naturist ones–don’t allow the use of pen names. For example, at N magazine (publication of The Naturist Society Foundation), there was a debate on the matter, and the editorial board decided that to be published in N a writer must use their legal name. Merely insisting that people use their real names is one thing, but creating a culture where that is not penalized is quite another. Because The Naturist Society does indeed work toward creating that culture by striving to destigmatize social nudity, I believe they are justified in their decision. 

In most other contexts, what’s appropriate is to remember that everyone has a different set of circumstances. It’s easy to judge, but less easy to imagine, to empathize, and to acknowledge that the problem is bigger than any one individual or organization. 

After all, if a fiction writer has a pen name, it’s just one more element of the fiction…

4 thoughts on “When a Naturist Writer Covers Up”

  1. Ha … The only reason I use a pen name is to move up the alphabetical order lists. Having a surname beginning with a ‘Y’ has cost me jobs in the past;
    “We’ll interview 6, Adams, Bush, Clinton, Kennedy, Nixon, Roosevelt, well that’s it … no need to look at the rest.”
    So that when it came to writing books, I used the affectionate surname of my wife, Honey Bun, and became Ted Bun.
    Interestingly, the book I published in my ‘real’ name, Edward Yeoman, has not sold well at all compared to the Ted Bun stories.
    Perhaps I was right!

    1. Yes! I had heard of this before – you’re exactly right. Some writers choose a surname higher up in the alphabet in the hopes their books will be placed higher up on the shelves… and on the lists, as you say. Very good point!

  2. I find this blog post weirdly provocative, Will.

    Provocative, because I think of the oh-so-many writers I know of who write under “pen names”, and do so for various reasons: you allude to “gender” (I think of Victorian women such as Mary Ann Evans who wrote under the name, “George Eliot” because she thought – probably rightly! – that that would give her credibility as a novelist). But then I find my mind running wild, reaching out to other writers who write under a pseudonym: some of them, bloggers, others with published books … thought I think first of such naked writers as Hemingway, who worked naked, standing and typing away at his standing desk (I’m sure I’ve seen a picture of this, perhaps in the “Saturday Evening Post”?), Walter Mosley, J. D. Salinger … though none of these have published under a pen name (that I know of!).

    But there are the many others who, if you meet them (at a clothes-free venue perhaps), you’ll learn their “true” names soon enough; and yet, so many write under a pseudonym … and I like it that you remind us that, while such journals as “N” want no pseudonymous authors, there is often good reason for a person to do so. Thanks.

    What’s weird about your blog, though, is how many directions I find my mind pulled at reading it. My response to your post feels unwieldy, and I need to pull it back on track …

    Well: why do we write? We write because we have ideas that we think have literary merit, and we do so because we’re convinced that the world needs to hear and read the ideas such as they are. We write for the sake of the reader and for the sake of the world. Do our readers need to know who we are? Do our readers need to know what, if anything, we wear as we write?

    Or maybe the real question has to do with the extent to which our writing is a matter of self-revelation. And that, expect, is significance of the illustration you include in this post: “The writer’s job is to get naked.” OK: we get naked in and through our writing; does our nakedness necessarily include the name on our passport? I think, “No. Not necessarily!”

    I was thinking earlier of a quote, and I thought it was from W. B. Yeats. I was wrong: Yeats (who was married for a while to a self-avowed nudist) wrote in “A Coat”,
    Song, let them take it [the coat]
    For there’s more enterprise
    In going naked.

    Five minutes of research brought me the author of the quote I was looking for: William Congreve, who write in 1694, in “The Double Dealer”
    “to go naked is the best disguise.”

    So may we all work cheerfully: and maybe even reveal ourselves in our writing — and our best disguise?


  3. Thanks for your engagement with this “weirdly provocative” post, Allen!

    There’s a photo “out there on the net” of a nude writer at a typewriter that people claim is J.D. Salinger, but that assertion has been debunked: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/salinger-write-nude/.

    Regarding naming and pseudonyms, I’m reminded of J.K. Rowling, whose publishers told her to use initials so that boys would feel more comfortable reading the Harry Potter stories…! And then of course she famously set up a male pseudonym for her mystery series that was ultimately revealed to be her.

    You’re right – to an extent, what does the identity of the writer matter? Of course this is a hot topic in literary theory since at least the mid-twentieth-century French vogue. But even as early as Don Quixote, considered by many to be the first and one of the greatest modern novels, Cervantes was playing with the identity of “the writer” by claiming that the story being related was found written in Arabic, in a market, by one Cide Hamete Benengeli, and translated into Castilian (Spanish) by yet another person.

    Maybe the question takes on a new urgency at present, when well-meaning (or not) content curators reproduce blogposts on their own sites, maybe or maybe not linking back to the original source. Whether that would count as a “naked disguise” I don’t know…!

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