Monday, November 23, 2015

Is it possible to be TOO forgiving?

I suspect most of you have heard by now that the author/artist/blogger known as Thorny Sterling has outed himself as a poseur. (For ease of expression I'm going to use male pronouns, although it's entirely possible this individual is female.) Thorny's life is a fiction. The ensemble cast with which he populated that life -- Jazz, Alec, Carter, Grams, Mores, etc. -- are all made up.

I've lost count of the number of m/m romance writers who've fessed up to misrepresenting themselves over the years, at least to a limited degree. None of those other instances particularly bothered me unless plagiarism was involved. After all, ours is a unique genre; it draws writers of all genders (yes, all; I'm abandoning the binary) and orientations. Sometimes we stretch the truth to make it fit our self-images. Or we shroud our true identities for personal and/or professional reasons. For the record, I've never BS'ed anybody about anything except my name. But that doesn't mean other authors don't have perfectly valid reasons, whether practical or emotional, for their benign biographical fictions.

Which brings us back to Thorny Sterling. At first his post puzzled me, because he gives a number of different and equally specious reasons for launching his Grand Deception. (I'll get back to that in a minute.) When I read through the comments, I became even more puzzled. Most everybody was giving him "attaboy" pats on the back and expressing their support. Why? Because they found his posts entertaining and sometimes instructive. And they were charmed by his "Sunshine" persona. And they liked how his other blog characters were written. Then they expressed their good wishes for his future, and some even wanted to hear more from him and, yes, be his friend. In other words, they viewed his biographical fictions as benign. But were they?

"You're a big fat bullshitter who's misled a whole lot of people, but that's okay! You're still cool! Honesty isn't my default setting for relationships!"



This Thorny, this oh-so-endearing make-believe twink, catfished a large and diverse group of people. And he indeed hurt many of them. He didn't just lie his ass off, he kept embroidering his lies and betraying his friends' trust. He invented a suicide and passed it off as real. He invented a disabled veteran and passed him off as real. If you don't believe this kind of shit crosses a line, you need to rethink your line-crossing criteria. The most compassionate of Thorny's followers were reduced to tears by some of his stories. The most generous sent him money and gifts. (It appears he even had a button somewhere for "donations." I doubt any were returned.) So, yeah, these weren't benign lies. People were wounded by them. In a variety of ways.

I used to read his blog in its early days; I found it refreshing and often amusing. Then came a rather startling surge of self-importance in li'l' Sunshine . . . and it was at that point I got suspicious and backed away. Thorny's modest accomplishments certainly didn't justify the creation of a cult, but that was what he seemed to be aiming for. I watched incredulously from the sidelines as an alleged kid in his early twenties began behaving like a seasoned sales-promotion specialist. The Cult of Thorny quickly expanded, and not just around an updated Winesburg, Ohio (maybe I should say Our Town, which was written by his namesake), but also around an impressive array of products and services. His craptastic, derivative novella even got reviewed at both USA Today and Dear Author, and its cover won a Rainbow Award.

Suddenly, a naive and insecure college student was proving himself capable of some pretty savvy marketing.

But more was never enough. The con continued. The adoration and, probably, the money kept pouring in. I felt ever hinkier about him and so continued to avoid his blog.

Until yesterday, when one of my Facebook friends mentioned Thorny's online confession (which came, as confessions are wont to do, only after someone caught him out). I pondered his mishmash of excuses and kept coming back to one sentence: "I knew even then [2010] that gay boys got all the attention." And there, I'm convinced, is the motivation for his lengthy and elaborate con.

Whoever Thorny Sterling really is, he was astute enough to realize what suckers m/m romance readers and writers are for Real Live Gay Boys, especially if those boys know how to work the crowd. And this blogger sure as hell knew how to do that. It's fairly clear from his mea culpa post that generating income was a major factor in the decision to invent Thorny and, ultimately, turn him into a cash cow. Of course, generating attention, doting attention, was the first step in the process. Our Hydra-headed impostor became expert at that, too. The attention and accolades and dollars soon rolled in, and likely would've kept rolling in if the fraud hadn't been exposed.

I guess you know my answer to the question posed in this post's title. Yes. Rarely have I been so put off by a community member's behavior that I've publicly condemned it, but this is one of those occasions. So, in the name of genuine GLBTQ* folks who are struggling; in the name of actual disabled veterans who are struggling; in the name of every struggling person for whom despair has or will become a one-way ticket to suicide (as well as the loved ones of such stricken people); in the name of all tender-hearted allies who were royally and repeatedly duped . . . fuck you, "T". I hope you go away and stay away.

P. S. According to people on Facebook, "Thorny Sterling" is a woman. I don't know her name, though.