Trannyshack founder and drag queen Heklina woke up this morning to discover her Facebook profile page had been completely erased from existence. She’d heard of this happening to other queens in her community last week. Then Facebook sent her a personal message last Thursday that asked her to revert to her birth name, as well.
She says she tried to comply with that request by keeping her drag name and then adding her last name, Grygelko. However, adding her last name as a compromise didn’t seem to be enough for the social network giant. Her entire profile is now gone. And she says she has no way of reaching out to her other drag queen friends because she doesn’t even know what their birth names are.
“I’ve had this name for 20 years now,” she says. “I walk down the street and people say ‘Hi Heklina.’ People know me by my drag name.” She says asking her to revert to her birth name is akin to not acknowledging her as a person.
When asked just how many drag queens this may have affected, Heklina says every single drag queen she knows has been asked to revert to a name Facebook believes is more suitable. Well-known drag queens such as Sister Roma from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Peaches Christ and Pollo Del Mar are only able to be found on their fan pages at the moment.
“As part of our overall standards, we ask that people who use Facebook provide their real name on their profile,” stated an email from a Facebook spokesperson. The real-names policy has been in place for a while, but it’s not entirely clear why drag queens have been suddenly targeted en masse. Heklina was told by Facebook reps that it was just an algorithm that discovered the drag queens and started asking them to change their names.
Facebook’s real names policy page states, “We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you’re connecting with. This helps keep our community safe.” This is problematic for the drag community. Heklina says queens often don’t want their family or others to find them by their real names in order to protect themselves from bigotry and harm.
“This is like in the 1950’s when drag queens would perform at the club and then had to quickly change into their boy clothes after to keep from getting harassed,” she says.
Scott Wiener, LGBT advocate and member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors for District 8, which covers the heavily gay populated Castro/Upper Market neighborhoods, addressed the issue in an open Facebook post this morning:
Preventing drag queens from using the names that actually define who they are also puts a number of people in the untenable position of having to choose between telling the world that they’re drag queens and abandoning Facebook for their drag personas. While many drag queens are “out” about who they are, not all drag queens have that luxury. Plenty of discrimination, hate, and violence toward the LGBT community still exists in many parts of the world, and various people have drag personas that they feel the need to keep separate from the rest of their lives. People who disclose their non-drag identity – and who, conversely, announce to the world that they are drag queens – should do so because they want to, not because Facebook is forcing them to do so in order to continue using their profiles.
Facebook’s answer to this so far is, “If people want to use an alternative name on Facebook, they have several different options available to them, including providing an alias under their name on their profile, or creating a Page specifically for that alternative persona.”
However, asking people to use a fan Page or providing an alias is not a good enough solution to Wiener. “You can’t send or receive messages on a Page or get invitations,” he points out. Wiener also says this doesn’t do a good job of recognizing drag queens as people. He plans on meeting with Facebook representatives this afternoon to talk this out.
Heklina also plans to meet with Facebook this afternoon. She posted about a planned protest at Facebook headquarters before her profile was deleted this morning. She believes this may be why her profile was taken down completely.
“All I know is I posted about the protest and then my profile and other people’s profiles were deleted and so was the Page,” she says. The Page, at least, appears to be up again.
Heklina and about 100 other queens plan to carry through with the protest at Facebook headquarters tomorrow morning if representatives can’t address the naming issues with the drag queen community this afternoon. “It just seems like they are very tone deaf about this one issue. You’re not recognizing me and it’s infuriating,” says Heklina.
The drag queen community and those who support them plan to meet up at Facebook headquarters at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
Update: The protest at Facebook HQ has been postponed. Organizers within the community wrote on the Facebook events page for the protest that they are delaying the protest now that Facebook has agreed to meet with representatives from communities affected by their “real name” policy. Organizers are now asking those interested to come to the Harvey Milk Club’s meeting tomorrow at 8pm in the Women’s Building in San Francisco for an open discussion on the Facebook “real names” issue.