I can still remember the weekend my mom brought up my column. For over two years I’ve been writing about sex culture and public sex but we had never discussed it, for obvious reasons, or even talked about why I was using a pseudonym.
That weekend was like any other weekend where I’d visit my folks in Waterloo. I arrived in the early afternoon and knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” mom shouted.
“Are you alone?” She asked, to determine whether to wear her hijab or not.
“Yes, habibi, I’m alone.”
The smell of stuffed grape leaves and meat pies wafted out from the kitchen when she opened the door. She worked two jobs so she didn’t have the patience for cooking anymore, yet she still seemed to make a feast whenever I was over. Perhaps it was an incentive to get me to visit more often?
She gave me a kiss and went back to the kitchen. I followed her and leaned against the L-shaped counter, watching her stir the lentil soup over the stove. She filled me in on family news, refraining from judgment, of course. Between me being gay and my brother marrying a non-Lebanese women, we’d been the subjects of enough gossip to make us humble.
My extended family is extraordinarily large, and gossip was epidemic. I have more cousins than I can remember, and those cousins are having kids too. She filled me in on who was pregnant, who’d got a new job and who had moved where and when.
Then she asked: “How’s the writing going . . . Mike?”
I’d always hoped to avoid this subject but I suppose you can’t run away from who you are. It was the first time she’d ever brought up my column or the fact that I was using a pseudonym.
Mike Miksche is obviously not Lebanese. My real name is James, but that’s not Lebanese either, to make things more confusing.
As a new immigrant to Canada, mom had liked James Bond — the Roger Moore iteration, specifically — so she named me James.
I’m the only person in my family without an Arabic name, and a lot of Arabs assume that I changed my Arabic name to an English one to fit in. That practice isn’t uncommon though, especially in a professional setting. It’s much easier to get a job with a name like James on your resumé than Muhammad or Mustafa. My dad uses a different name at work and so do some of my uncles.
Between my light skin and English name though, people are often confused about my identity. Some white folks think I’m brown and some people of colour think I’m white. When I’ve grown my beard too long, some friends and coworkers have said that I look like a terrorist. Needless to say, I trim my beard short before crossing the US border to avoid trouble at customs.
I’d spent a year in Lebanon wanting to get in touch with my roots, but a lot people there treated me like like a foreigner, which technically I am. Though both of my parents are from there, I was born in Canada. I’m not sure what I am. At times, it can feel isolating, but I’m getting better at accepting it.
I started using a pseudonym when I began my column, “Hole and Corner,” in 2015, which was pretty liberating — at first anyway. It was fun to take on a new persona which I could create and control.
The then editor-in chief at Xtra had suggested I should use a pseudonym since I would be writing about sex culture. I was reluctant; I wasn’t ashamed of what I was doing. I’ve been out to my family for 18 years, and I’ve published articles about things like Lab.oratory in Berlin and homosexuality in Lebanon under my birth name.
“Hole and Corner” was much more personal though, since I was not only documenting my experience at sex venues, but my sexual relationships with people like DH who introduced me to BD/SM. The other benefit I saw for using a pseudonym was that my family wouldn’t read about my sex life.
My pseudonym is based on a real person. Mike Miksche was a former air force officer from Texas (he had a Czech background), and a sadist who Alfred Kinsey had studied in the early ’50s. I’d first learned about him in the book Secret Historian by Justin Spring, a biography about sexual deviant-cum-superhero, Samuel Steward. Steward was a writer, university professor and tattoo artist with a legendary sex life.
Funny enough, the first Miksche had a pseudonym of his own: Steve (or Scott — people who knew Miksche had different recollections) Masters (“S/M”) for the erotic art he made. It was fitting given that Kinsey filmed him having brutal sadomasochistic sex with Steward, in the name of research. That’s not why I chose the name though.
At one point, Miksche seemingly fell into the trap of heteronormativity, and married. I can only assume he was ashamed of his sexuality, so much so that he ended up taking his own life by jumping into the Hudson River — that’s what Steward had said, anyway. According to Spring, another account claimed that he’d survived that attempt but later overdosed on pills.
I hardly ever shed tears, but I cried when I read that he’d killed himself. Some people have wonderful experiences coming out, but mine wasn’t one of them. It was a nasty experience, so I could relate to some of his conflicts.
More than being Lebanese or being Canadian, I feel gay first and foremost. Reading about the original Mike Miksche was like finding out about a great-great-grandparent who I’d never known, but who had experienced the same tribulations. I chose his name as a way to honour him.
I’d always felt as though I had to choose between being Arab and being gay. I chose being gay and so my chosen culture was formed in places like Church Street, Greenwich Village and The Castro. Though the pseudonym was established years after I’d come out, it gave my decision a sort of finality.
Although my family knew I was gay, “Hole and Corner” wasn’t something I felt I needed to share with them. But I knew it was only a matter of time before they read it.