Ugh. I don’t really have time to write a blog post right now, but this happened, and I feel a need to comment on it, because I’m an erotica author who’s active on Twitter. You may or may not know who ‘Sorcha Rowan’ is, but for those who don’t know, ‘Sorcha’ publishes lesbian erotica on Amazon and Medium. On Twitter, she described herself as a lesbian and apparently carried on a lively set of DMs with women.
However, as it turns out, ‘Sorcha Rowan’ is actually a middle-aged bi guy who is married with three kids. He outed himself on his blog yesterday, apparently voluntarily. You can see the entry here. He is at pains to emphasize that he is not trans or non-binary. He’s just a middle-aged guy who decided to pose as a lesbian woman. According to him, he did this primarily for sales. “Would you really buy lesbian erotica from a dude? Probably not. There you go. I chose a female pen name for the same reason many SF authors chose a male pen name (and many erotica authors chose a female pen name, unless they’re writing gay erotica). I also wanted my pen name and the persona attached to it to be as far away from the “real” me as possible.” In the process, he says. he discovered that he’s brash and sexy and loves sexting and loves sending nudes of himself to people.
He came out because “There’s been an emotional toll. I’ve caused people to think I’m a catfish. I’ve gone further in sexting than I should without being open and honest about who I am. While my intention has never been to hurt anyone, it’s still happened. So, here I am. This is me.
There’s so much wrong here, it’s hard to know where to begin.
First, this is a non-apology. He admits that he hurt people, but never says exactly what he did that hurt people. Was he sending unwanted dick pics? Was he trying to get lesbians to have sex with him? Was he exploiting lonely women or women who were confused about their sexual orientation? Or was he just lying about who he was? It’s not clear what he thinks his offense is.
He’s clearly not ready to acknowledge what he’s done, because he says “I’ve caused people to think I’m a catfish.” That’s not quite it, pal. You caused people to think you’re a catfish because you are, in fact, a catfish. You were conducting intimate online conversations with people who didn’t know you weren’t a sexy femme lesbian and were in fact a middle-aged married man. You stole at least three different portraits of women to use as profile pics, and actively said you were a woman. That’s literally the definition of catfishing.
‘Sorcha Rowan’ used his online accounts to engage in sexting with women who weren’t aware of who he really was. (I haven’t seen any reference to him sexting with men, so I don’t know if he exclusively targeted women or not.) (Update: he hit on at least one male blogger, and “accidentally” sent a sexual GIF to that man’s wife, who had a separate account.) I’ve seen a number of women posting that they felt victimized by him. At least one woman has said that he started sending her unsolicited sexual messages out of the blue which made her uncomfortable, while others have said that they told him intimate things they would not have told a man. He seems to have done this to both hetero and homosexual women. Some female authors feel bad that they recommended him to their friends and readers.
If we put the best possible gloss on this, and accept his claim that this just happened as part of a sexual awakening in which he was allowing himself to explore feelings he hadn’t understood, it’s still problematic, because in the course of exploring his feelings he actively lied to various women, got them to feel vulnerable to and intimate with him, and then caused them shock, pain, embarrassment, and humiliation when he admitted he was actually a man. (And in some cases it appears that he never outed himself.) But the facts suggest that this wasn’t just an innocent game that got out of hand, because at least in one case, he was sending unsolicited sexts and others have said he made them feel uncomfortable.
Furthermore, his own stated reason for doing this had nothing to do with sexual exploration. He said he did it for sales. He understood that a man writing f/f romance and erotica is perceived very differently than a woman writing the same material, and he was afraid his books wouldn’t sell. So he adopted his pen name to make money and hurt a bunch of women along the way. That’s really shitty.
He claims that he did this for the same reasons that “many SF authors chose a male pen name”. Perhaps he’s thinking of authors like Andre Norton, CJ Cherryh, and James Tiptree Jr. But like a lot of clueless guys, he’s using an example of women as a convenient cover, because he clearly doesn’t understand the actual context those women were writing in. Early Science Fiction was a very male-dominated field because it emphasized science and two-fisted adventure, both fields women were not seen as having much credibility in. As a result, female Sci-Fi authors had to write under male pen names (or androgynous ones; Leigh Brackett got lucky in that respect) because editors typically rejected work under female names because they didn’t think it would sell. So Norton and Tiptree had to use pseudonyms just to get in the door. But ‘Sorcha Rowan’ is published in Amazon, where the bar to getting in the door is pretty weak. ‘Sorcha’ didn’t have to pretend to be a woman to get his stuff offered for sale. He just had to do it to get people to buy it.
There’s a good reason that readers shy away from lesbian fiction written by men. In general, men use lesbians as fantasies of male pleasure, not because they’re interested in genuine lesbian experiences. That’s why straight porn has so many ‘lesbian’ sex scenes; straight guys like watching women having sexytime because they can imagine jumping in and sticking their dick into one of them. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the women on the covers of his books are fairly femme. It’s all about the male gaze, which is part of why so many lesbians embrace butch fashion. ‘Sorcha’ claims he wanted to write under a female pen name simply because people won’t by lesbian fiction written by a man, because it tends to be prurient and exploitative, and in the process he wound up demonstrating the very reason people don’t read lesbian erotica written by men.
‘Sorcha’ was using his writing as the erotica equivalent of a lesbian scene in a straight porn film, so he could imagine having sex with women. He was luring women into lowering their guards to him so he could have some virtual sexytime with them. And he knew they wouldn’t do that if he approached them as a man, because he admits as much in his defense of why he chose to write as a woman.
So maybe for him this was about sexual discovery, but for the women he lured in, it was something a lot less harmless in the end. ‘Sorcha’ was discovering his sexuality the way Columbus was discovering the Americas: with total disregard for the natives and a willingness to exploit them for his own benefit without any awareness of what they might think about it. It’s like some shitty 50s Sci-Fi film where the bug-eyed monster wants to have sex with those Earth Women and has to put on a disguise to do so.
I haven’t read any of ‘Sorcha’s’ erotica (lesfic don’t do much for me–go figure), so I can’t comment on whether his stuff perpetuates male fantasies of lesbians or if he managed to do a better job of approximating a woman’s perspective than I expect he did. But it doesn’t really matter whether his lesbian fic is good or bad. What matters is the way he used his writing and online persona to victimize women for his own sexual pleasure. That’s incredibly shitty.
He claims he’s learned that he’s pretty kinky. Maybe he is. But if so, he managed to miss one of the most important principles of kink, which is that it’s rooted in informed consent. Initiating sexual activity while drastically misrepresenting your basic identity and your intentions is a massive violation of consent, and it clearly harmed some unsuspecting women. To me, that’s appalling and repulsive. Your right to your sexual exploration ends the moment it comes in contact with an unconsenting partner.
There’s probably more I should say about this, but I’ve got other things that really need to get done.
PS: Also, what kind of sexual awakening involves a guy pretending to be a lesbian? What’s he awakening as, a catfish? It’s not like he was just discovering he likes women–he’s married and has three kids. He’s not realizing he might be trans or non-binary, because he rejects that identity. He’s awakening to the fact that sexting and sending nude pics to non-consenting women arouses him? That’s not a sexual awakening; that’s just being a dick to women.
PPS: He framed his confession as a ‘coming out’, which misled some people in initially supporting him the way they might support someone who was coming out as trans. But what ‘Sorcha’ did wasn’t a coming out so much as a confession of wrong-doing (albeit one that sought to minimize his offenses). Coming out is an act of resistance to oppression. ‘Sorcha’ wasn’t oppressed. He was living openly as a married man with kids.
PPPS: Oh, and he was apparently sending nude pics of women he claimed were ‘Sorcha’. So either he stole pics off the internet somewhere, or he was recirculating pics his victims had sent him in confidence. That’s a whole ‘nother layer of awful. My heart really goes out to the women he corresponded with, who are probably wondering if their pictures are going to surface somewhere embarrassing.
PPPPS: As more stories have come out, his method has become more clear. He approached lesbians as a woman and maintained that fiction regardless of how they reacted. He approached straight/bi women (sometimes by ‘accidentally’ sending them something sexy). If they indicated they weren’t interested, he’d admit he was a man and see if he could get them to sext or he’d claim that he would always respect boundaries so they wouldn’t think he was a creeper. He approached at least a couple of straight men as a woman and then admitted the truth if they turned him down. So, like most predators, he had a system that he refined as he figured out what worked and what didn’t, and the fact that he kept it going for so long (several years by the sound of it) suggests that he was a pretty successful predator.
In his mind (or at least in his ‘coming out’ post), he saw this as harmless flirtation. The people he was flirting with, however, didn’t see it that way. While some of them reciprocated his interest, others thought what he was doing was creepy even if they shut it down before he admitted the truth to them. This story illustrates an important factor about how privilege works. If you’re in a privileged position: male, married, straight (or seemingly so), it’s very easy to think that it’s ‘just’ flirting, ‘just’ a joke. For people with less privilege, the very same actions can read as a creepy violation of boundaries, an invasion of privacy, a profound betrayal or humiliation, or a harmful assault or violation. Part of privilege is not having to see the harmful ways in which your privilege causes pain and damage to others.
PPPPPS: (I have to be careful—I’m running out of P’s) Yet another way ‘Sorcha’s’ actions are shitty is that they will, inevitably, make it harder for trans woman. ‘Sorcha’s’ scenario very superficially looks like a trans woman (male-bodied person with female presentation online). In fact one reader initially mistook his ‘coming out’ post as a statement that he was ‘coming out as trans’. Many trans woman take their first steps toward a female identity online because it is a fairly low-stakes environment and it allows them to explore their feelings and desires while not having to worry as much about their appearance and whether they can pass. I am sure there are trans women out there who are early in their transition and who have female personas online and who write erotica, and their lives are a little bit harder today because they’re going to be a more afraid of being seen as fakers and liars and predators instead of the innocent people they are just trying to understand their identities, their bodies, and their sexual desires.
Even worse, ‘Sorcha’ validated one of the most common accusations thrown against trans women who want to use women’s bathrooms and showers and changing rooms, namely that they aren’t genuine women but rather male predators in women’s clothing hoping to sexually assault ‘real’ women. The TERFs are gonna have a field day with this shit, and a lot of trans women are gonna pay the price for his ‘flirty fun’.
Every time I think I’ve reached the top of this shit mountain ‘Sorcha’ perpetrated, I realize there’s another summit ahead.
I’ll say it again: Feh.