Brooks’s identity came under suspicion Saturday. Journalists, bloggers and fans of a woman called Amina Arraf, who wrote a blog called “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” had started to believe Amina did not exist. Liz Henry, a Web producer at BlogHer.com, questioned Brooks’s involvement with Amina, as Amina had started to write about the Syrian uprising on Lez Get Real before starting her own blog.
MacMaster came forward Sunday to admit that he was behind the persona of Amina, but questions remained about Brooks.
Brooks had told reporters at The Washington Post that she could speak on the phone only through her father because she was deaf. She described herself as a Washington mother of two who suffered from social anxiety disorder. To provide proof of identity, she sent a photograph of a driver’s license, which showed a woman named Paula Brooks.
On Sunday, The Washington Post quoted Brooks as the female editor of a Washington-based blog and agreed to identify her only by her pseudonym.
The Post continued to question her identity Monday after discovering real estate records that showed she lived in Ohio, not Washington. The Post confronted the man who identified himself as her father in numerous telephone conversations over the past four days. He admitted: “I am Paula Brooks.” That man turned out to be Bill Graber.
Graber said he started the site to write about gay issues after seeing the mistreatment of close friends who were a lesbian couple. He said the site was “done with the best of intentions.” He also said that, as a former Air Force pilot, he used the site to argue in favor of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal.
“I didn’t start this with my name because
. . .
I thought people wouldn’t take it seriously, me being a straight man,” he said.
He said he felt sure that no one would discover his true identity until the story of Amina began to unravel. He said his connection to Amina was purely coincidental and started when Amina commented on a post on the Lez Get Real site in February. It “was a major sock-puppet hoax crash into a major sock-puppet hoax,” he said.
In the guise of Paula Brooks, Graber corresponded online with Tom MacMaster, thinking he was writing to Amina Arraf. Amina often flirted with Brooks, neither of the men realizing the other was pretending to be a lesbian.
Leah McElrath Renna, a lesbian mother and media strategist for Renna Communications who has written about and e-mailed with “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” said the revelation about Lez Get Real was “a betrayal of trust.
. . .
The stealing of voice is serious.”
One of Graber’s contributors at Lez Get Real, 62-year-old Linda LaVictoire, who lives in Vermont and writes on the site under her maiden name of Linda Carbonell, said, “I was completely taken in; I have been completely taken in for three years.”
Graber said he hoped the truth of his identity would not hurt the site he had built or set back the causes of the gay and lesbian community. He said he plans to give the site to LaVictoire to run.
Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.