“Gay Girl in Damascus” is Actually a Delusional Guy in Turkey

As we all speculated, the Gay Girl in Damascus was not who she claimed to be. It was a 40-year-old man from Georgia (the state in America) named Tom MacMaster. He’s from Georgia, was in school in Scotland (where the IP address was) and most recently spoke to the press from Istanbul, Turkey, where he is vacationing with his wife. None of it was true.

He never expected so much attention on his blog but apparently when he got it he just couldn’t stop. Here he is!

An “apology” has been posted on the Gay Girl in Damascus blog, suspiciously absent of explanations like “why” and “don’t you feel guilty about riling up THE ENTIRE COUNTRY about your alleged kidnapping?”

He still thinks he did a good thing by staging the blog. I don’t know if he’s worthy of a “whatever helps you sleep at night, dude,” but well — read it.

Hear that? He’s deeply touched!

Blogging in Syria has been forbidden for eight years, according to Gay Middle East.  I think that Sami Hamwi says it best in that Gay Middle East article which I suggest you read in its entirety:

“To Mr. MacMaster, I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country. We have to deal with too many difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us. Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina’s arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Really… Shame on you!!!”

ETA: The Washington Post has a more detailed article about this asshole:

MacMaster, a Middle East peace activist who is now working on his master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, wrote that he fictionalized the account of a gay woman in Syria to illuminate the situation for a Western audience. Amina’s story may have remained believable, but he wrote of her arrest, his fans — in a desire to help the woman they had grown to care about — found a trail of evidence that led back to MacMaster.

In telephone interviews and e-mail exchanges with The Post over the past three days, MacMaster initially denied any connection to Amina. He insisted he had never heard of her before the news of the arrest and that he had been unaware of the blog.

“Look, if I was the genius who had pulled this off, I would say, ‘Yeah,’ and write a book,” said MacMaster, reached in Istanbul, where he is vacationing with his wife, a graduate student working on a PhD in international relations.

ETA Monday 10am PST: MacMaster has released a more extensive apology on his blog, in which he sounds pathological and confused and still not entirely sympathetic:

Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to write fiction but, when my first attempts met with universal rejection, I took a more serious look at my own work and I realized that I could not write conversation in a natural way nor could I convincingly write characters who weren’t me. I tried to get better and did various exercises (such as simply copying overheard conversations). Eventually, I would set up a number of profiles on dating sites with identities that were not my own as ways of interacting with real people in conversation but with a different personality than my own.

And on and on:

I didn’t mean to harm anyone who is upset. I didn’t mean to hurt the causes which I myself believe in. I didn’t mean to malign anyone. My intentions were good; I got carried away. I owe apologies to those I hurt and will do all in my power to make things right. I only wanted to set forth real information through the use of artfully crafted fiction. I was too successful and I was too caught up in what I was doing. I ignored the consequences of my action.


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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159 Comments

  1. The two articles from Gay Middle are really good, informative pieces.

    I like reading blogs! This is the first time I’ve ever read one from a liar!!! And it’s on such a grand scale!!! Time to increase my internet skepticism… -_-‘

    I’m glad I didn’t read all the posts from GGID, especially the long-winded one. I don’t want to give this hoax bastard another second of my time.

  2. To be perfectly honest, people assume various identities on the internet all the time. That, to an extent, is acceptable. But, particularly in the last few weeks, faking a high-profile kidnapping in a country where more than 10,000 people are in custody, kidnapped, or worse for trying to implement democracy, it is a wanton, dangerous distraction. I don’t have the words or obscenities for my rage right now.
    Also, on a deeply personal and admittedly biased note, I now have no reason to defend this blog against some of its anti-Semitic tirades. I distinctly remember telling myself “So much of this mindset is cultural and political; I’m sure that theoretically this blogger and I could find some common ground.” Nope, just another anti-Semitic asshat duping the world and stunting change that needs to happen.
    Tom MacMaster, get fucked

  3. 1, I am gobsmacked it’s some assholey American guy. (Apparently he is saying he is in Turkey, but this guy is actually an American citizen.) I thought at the very least it was a gay woman — probably a mentally ill Westerner, but a gay woman.

    2, I think the British woman whose pictures he used should sue. The U.S. officials who wasted resources and time trying to track “Amina” down should sue. He probably put real LGBT activists in Syria at risk.

    3, Is it just me or did his apology reek of arrogance, entitlement and delusion? What an asshat. He will be doing an interview with a media outlet of his choice, he says… OH GOODIE. I can’t wait to hear him pontificate and condescend some more.

    4, This made a lot of reporters look like assholes. Even though I was never a high profile reporter, I never conducted emails over email. Once in a great while I would agree to email questions but only after speaking on the phone first.

    • And that poor girl who thought Amina was her girlfriend. How devastating. It would be one thing if this asshole just ran the blog and that’s it. But he actually made friends online and some poor girl in Montreal fell in love with Amina. I think the internet can be a fantastic way to meet people and form real connections, even if you don’t necessarily get the opportunity to meet. This is sad side of it.

      • AGREED. He’s working on his masters? In what field, I wonder (his wife’s in international relations) – perhaps his grad program should rethink whether he has the judgement to earn an advanced degree.

    • re: 4 — tbh, as a blogger, we count on places like the new york times to ensure something is real before reporting on it. like we use them as our fact-checkers, and we’re not alone!

      i also agreed with ‘1″ — i thought it would be a mentally ill gay western woman

  4. It’s funny, because in reviewing the blog, there are an awful lot of posts on there about how no Westerner can understand what the Arab people want/need better than an Arab can. Mr. MacMaster, maybe you should take your own damn advice.

  5. This whole thing still confuses the shitcakes out of me. Wasn’t Amina’s IP address traced to a Scotland university? And now Amina is revealed to be an American man in Turkey? Who, like Amina herself, curiously no one has ever heard of before?

    I just… none of this makes any sense. All I know is that if this Tom MacMaster is for real, then I want to punch him in the balls.

    • One of the commenters points out that the Syrian government will probably use this to talk about how the anti-Assad protests are a Western-directed menace, as just another example of how no good will come from this. I hope all the people saying “Well even if it’s fake at least it brings attention to the cause!” are eating their words. Not all attention is good attention, and all hoaxes do is de-legitimize the causes they represent upon being exposed.

        • Sure! And I realize that part of my comment was a bit too harsh, so don’t feel bad – not everyone reads snopes.com obsessively like I do and is weirdly obsessed with hoaxes and how they turn out. I just remember a lot of entries on there about how people who faked being cancer victims or survivors of suicide and took people’s money and sympathy made those people ultra-skeptical of any philanthropy for the fear of being had again.

          • Nah, it’s cool. You’re intelligent and I respect your opinion, so I’m not offended. It’s difficult backpedal giving someone the benefit of the doubt in light of so much contrary evidence because I feel like I’ve been swindled and it’s definitely humiliating.

        • I also feel like the feelings that the identity didn’t matter (feelings I even shared initially) assumed the culprit would be some other Syrian person, or maybe a composite of different people active in the anti-Assad movement. In that case, while the theft of Lecic’s photos were still gross, the fact that Amina didn’t actually exist didn’t necessarily rob the work of its authenticity, and wouldn’t result in the blog de-legitimizing the larger cause.

          The fact that the blog was maintained by a Western straight White dude, of course, changes it significantly, since he can’t possibly know what the situation is like on the ground. It also means there is hypocrisy in the posts that there wouldn’t be if it was another Syrian person – namely, when “she” talks about privilege and how the West can’t really know what the Arabs want.

          He honestly sounds like some entitled White dudes I know who think that because they’ve taken a class on Middle-Eastern diplomacy and maybe done a study-abroad in Egypt or Dubai or something, that they “really know” the Middle East and “really know” what the people think. Um, no, even having talked to some actual Middle-Eastern people about the situation in their country still does not mean you ARE those people. You’re still White, you’re still from the West, and you’re still filtering everything you hear from them through a White, Western upbringing. And you’re only hearing about these things secondhand, not experiencing them directly.

  6. Boy, do I feel sorry for ”Amina’s” email-girlfriend in Montreal. 500 emails between a married Western douchebag and a gay woman who’d grown to love the blogger?

    Not even mentioning the rest of what he did, this alone proves he is SICK in the mind.

  7. No harm at all. Just numbed the people who care to any concerns about the situation, turned blog-based reporting into a source of entertainment rather than a necessary means to communication, and risked inciting an international crisis over a fictional person.

    No harm at all. Carry on, asshat.

    • Well, I mean he’s currently studying for a master’s in Middle Eastern policy, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be impossible for him to get a job in his field after this. Whether or not anyone sues, I’d say he’s going to face consequences.

  8. As someone who will be living in the Middle East for two years starting this August, I am LIVID that this man PRETENDED to be someone he is not. He has NO IDEA what being a GAY WOMAN in Syria would be like. I am so angry at this man for his callous actions.

  9. My feelings have skewed towards the belief that the person’s identity behind A Gay Girl in Damascus matters and this is a bigger deal than I had originally thought. Before I had given the benefit of the doubt and thought, “oh, maybe it was someone from Syria who was using a fake identity for security reasons.” I do think that would have been defensible, however because the author is not from Syria, gay (assumption, but probably true), or even a woman, I think we can’t prioritize the would-be inspiring message over the weird identity politics going on here. God, and I really wanted to be able to say, “but parts of it could be true!” Buuut, I think he went too far and jeopardized the safety of members of LGBT groups and other activists in Syria by not telling the truth and creating an abduction scare. And seemingly all just so he could try on this interesting and exotic story. It’s funny that he cries “liberal orientalism” at others, when he seems to be the most obvious holder of this kind of attitude.

    • i don’t think you should feel that way. you did so in good faith.

      “no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”

      what if Amina might have been real? thousands of other people are, in fact, being held, tortured, and killed by government forces. macmaster’s lies don’t invalidate your honest reaction to “do SOMETHING, anything.”

      peace.

    • Yeah, me too…

      For me it was one of those moments where I was undecided about whether or not to send the email because there were so few facts available, but I convinced myself that I was being an ass for not taking action more quickly…

      I’m so fucking angry at this dude.

  10. What a complete and utter douchebag. My only hope is that this incident attracts him significant public attention so as to ruin his career in international development because he is dishonest, unethical and totally lacking in the cultural awareness requisite for work in that field.

    ALSO. I notice that he’s disabled all comments on the ENTIRETY of his blog, so that all the a) concerned people desperate to help Amina and b) pissed off people letting him know that an asshole he is are silenced. I’m not particularly surprised, but it shows he’s also a fucking coward to boot.

  11. So bittersweet. Relieved that it’s not true and this fictional person is not really being harmed. Yet, bitter that this fool has the the nerve to say that he doesn’t believe he’s harmed anyone. You falsely carried on a relationship with an innocent person for your own amusement. How did that shed awareness on the situation in Syria? And what is up with his wife? Did she know about all this and support it? Or is she just deciding to support it after the fact?

    • My relief is limited because there ARE real people in Syria undergoing what he claimed Amina was dealing with… including real Syrian LGBT people. And just the popularity of this blog has made it a lot less unsafe for LGBT people there.

  12. Just another example of a straight white male abusing his privilege. Can’t say I’m surprised though. We exist in a culture of misogyny that manifests itself as “We should speak for them because they can’t speak for themselves YAY US.” If this guy was trying to be an ally for women and the LGBTQ community in the Middle East, HE WAS DOING IT WRONG.

    • What’s really hilarious is I get the sense from his posts that he is someone who thinks he is really aware of his privilege and the on-the-ground situation in Syria, and just so much more enlightened and connected than the average Westerner and certainly the “mainstream media.” You can just tell that from the sentence where he accuses the whole focus on discovering Amina’s identity as being an example of how “superficial” reporting on Arab Spring is. Yeah, because wanting to make sure you’re not wasting government resources, and unnecessarily endangering other Syrian activists, is TOTALLY superficial! But a Western straight White dude thinking he understands what an Arab lesbian feels is so totally not!

  13. As a dude, and a friend of several (real-life) lesbians, I’M pissed off that this guy chose a lesbian persona for his dysfunctional LARP.

    I’ve run into suspicions while hanging on the periphery of the LGBTQ community before… women thinking “Oh, he’s a dude… he’s probably just wanting to see women make out”… that sort of thing. My lesbian friends have put themselves out there defending my general lack-of-douchiness, and this waste of good sperm goes and re-enforces every y-chromosome suspicion in the book. Makes me want to do something grossly anatomical to him.

  14. If I could figure out a way to say, “FUCK YOU YOU MOTHER FUCKING LIAR, FUCK YOU, YOU, YOU, LYING LOW DOWN LESBIAN POSING ASS PRIVILEGE ABUSING ASS MOTHER FUCKA” to him in person, similar to Kit’s meltdown at Angus during Bareback, I’d do it.

  15. In fairness, sometimes people should blame themselves for so buying into false tales just because it suits their agendas. You have to think with your heads, folks, not with emotion. Think how bad the fools calling for the Duke lacrosse guys’ heads, and defending Crystal Mangum, felt afterwards. As for this guy and his writing that fooled everybody…… like Flaubert said “je suis Madame Bovary.”

    • The Duke thing is yet another example of how hoaxes hurt the causes they purport to support. No matter how many statistics prove that false reporting of rape only happens in something like 8% of cases and it’s not a serious problem compared to the underreporting of actual rapes, it just doesn’t hold up to people’s emotions re: that one case.

      Humans are not naturally rational animals. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we can become more logical.

    • Did you just really compared a great fiction writer to a bored privileged guy endangering activists and discrediting a cause by stealing someone’s identity and passing as someone he’s not IRL because he doesn’t know what to do with his mid-life crisis?
      I agree that people should think with their heads more, and when I say people that includes you.

  16. Oh yes, Tom, because the only way you can “create an important voice for issues you feel strongly about” is to fictionalize a character, lie about who you are, and create an entire story about this fictional girl’s life. Definitely. There was NO other way you could do that.

    I feel that one of the saddest parts of this whole shitstorm is that he actually wrote some really great compelling pieces. Why didn’t he use his literary talent to tell REAL stories about REAL people and what’s really going on in the Middle East?!

    Maybe because that would’ve been more difficult? Or less exciting? Everything about this guy makes me think he doesn’t actually care about what’s happening in Syria. I think he was just using that situation as inspiration for his own imagination and excitement. If he really cared he would’ve given thought to the danger he was putting people in by creating this blog.

    • Also, he’s really never going to be able to write another piece and have people take it seriously/believe him. If he’s hoping on becoming a writer/reporter/journalist he just totally screwed that up. If I were his professor I would look into whether he ever made up facts, fictionalized sources, or plagiarized in his writing before. I’m sure this wasn’t the first time.

  17. Also: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-13747761.
    More arrogant attempts to explain himself, including the wonderful: “People should stop focusing on the hoaxer and really be focusing on the most important people, the real people who are suffering in Syria.”

    He says about finding the pictures of Jelena Lecic: ‘one day I was flipping through something’, which does raise questions about his hobbies, if he’s flipping through pictures of someone he doesn’t know.

    She says she’ll be taking legal action about it. It doesn’t repair the damage he’s done, of course, but I’m glad to hear she’s doing it.

  18. Besides being an absolutely gross and hurtful hoax (and REALLY FUCKING CREEPY THAT A STRAIGHT MAN IS POSING AS A LESBIAN), the thing that really gets me is the pretentious, condescending defense that he’s bringing light to actual situations through a fictionalized account. No, you do not get to spin this positively and act as if you’re the victim of misplaced outraged when you put those actual people in actual situations at more risk and in a position where they’ll be viewed with skepitism.

    tl;dr, this guy is an asshat.

  19. I honestly, do not know how to put the anger into words. This self righteous pig thought he was helping? Really??? I can’t understand why he would want to do this. It’s one thing to make up this blog, but it’s another thing to steal someone’s identity, string this girl along and think she has a GF, what a complete waste of her life, and then fake a kidnapping and make millions of people concerned, and waste money, time and resources on a fictional person’s kidnapping when they could be invetigating an actual crime. Also that “first sex coming out” post was the most poorly written straight man fantasy I’ve ever read, actually I couldn’t read it all. Shame on you, you perverted notoriety seeking, narcissistic bastard, get over yourself. Also to everyone, on behalf of the U.S., I’m sorry, we’re not all bad.

  20. I thought the NPR article was really interesting and I suggest others read it. He basically said that he continued to pretend to be this Syrian-American lesbian character because it was flattering when he got attention from people for commenting on articles and internet forums. Also because it gained him more access to LGBT sites and made people take him more seriously since they thought he was a lesbian. For the sake of “researching” the character of course. Which I just find violating and disgusting. It sounds like he got really carried away and forgot that there were consequences for his actions. And that these consequences affect OTHER people, too. At least he’s being honest now, I guess.

    Here is the NPR article: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/06/13/137148644/man-behind-syrian-blogger-hoax-something-innocent-got-out-of-hand?sc=fb&cc=fp

    • Scary… I feel that obsessive compulsion in fleshing out my own characters, so from the perspective of an fiction author, I can totally relate to that. But…I’ve never assumed an alternate identity, especially on an international stage.

      Honestly, there are so many ways he could have prevented this all from happening.

  21. Am I the only one who doesn’t hate the guy? I think what he did was incredibly stupid and naive but I think he realizes it in retrospect- how everything got so much bigger than he anticipated. He obviously could have handled things better and it’s horrible that many people were unjustly affected but I don’t think his intentions were malicious. Clearly, he should have stopped when the blog began to attract attention and shut it down in a way other than staging her horrible abduction and understood that he can’t speak for anyone in that position in the first place, but I don’t know. I’m having a hard time being truly angry at him. Maybe that makes me a bad person. I don’t know.

  22. this dude reminds me of the straight guy in my women’s studies classes who would always try really hard to convince us all that he was just as oppressed as every minority in the world because he wanted to feel special. Ugh, fuck that noise.

  23. Prime specimen a la “To Catch A Predator.” Beyond creepy.

    I want Chris Hanson to lure him into an interview with some ice tea.

    Every single one of his responses and excuses are no different than all the guys who claim “The door was open and I just happened to be walking in with a box of condoms from Rite Aid.” wtf.

  24. Interview from Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/tom-macmaster-the-man-behind-a-gay-girl-in-damascus-i-didnt-expect-the-story-to-get-so-big/2011/06/13/AGhnHiSH_blog.html

    What a fucking liar. Developing a romantic relationship with some random woman in Canada was part of presenting issues? Why was he on dating sites? In the comments section, someone links to this proof he was trying to get a book deal: http://www.minalhajratwala.com/2011/06/a-thousand-sighs-memoir-of-a-hoax/ The thing about lying assholes, is that once they get caught, they are still lying assholes!

    • OMG, so Jelena is actually suing him??? I’m glad, very, very glad.

      “In truth, I think this question is irrelevant. It ignores all the effort that I dedicated to putting the gay community of Syria at the centre of debate.”

      Yes, asshole, you put them at the centre of debate… and in peril!!! You brought the wrong kind of attention over them, you idiot!!!!

      “I am like a messiah for the lesbians of Syria.”

      Oh my God… Oh my God… He’s a narcissistic asshole. He’s sick in the head. Oh my God…

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