Paula Brooks, lesbian blogger, mom of 4-year-old twins and an adopted baby from Belize, and Deaf person, stepped down this week as head of women's news site LezGetReal.com, claiming to have perpetuated an elaborate hoax for years. "Brooks" described himself to the Washington Post as an ex-construction worker and military man named Bill Graber. Hang onto your hats, because the unfolding story is one of the most tangled pieces of Internet drama and extended sockpuppetry I've ever encountered.
Credit Image: Ewan-M on Flickr
Graber co-founded the women's news site lezgetreal in 2008 and also worked on Lesbotopia.com. As Brooks, he posed as a surfer girl living in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with her partner, blogging as Queen of the Surf Pirates. Sammy the Surf Dog gave humorous weekly surf and weather reports. Paula posted photos of the twin babies she birthed, Halie and Kyma. She wrote of coming out and of her partner Debbie's death from breast cancer. Paula's father guest blogged for her at times in a folksy, affectionate tone. Other Outer Banks bloggers invited her to be the keynote speaker at their 2007 meet-up.
Because Brooks and LezGetReal were tied to the Amina Arraf/Tom MacMaster hoax, many people researched Brooks' background. Brooks claims to have started Amina Arraf on her blogging career, and to have helped her set up the Gay Girl in Damascus blog. The Washington Post's blogger Melissa Bell broke the story on Graber: Paula Brooks, editor of lesbian site Lez Get Real, is really a man named Bill Graber.
As the editor of LezGetReal, Brooks claimed to associates that she had a family member high up in government, which was part of why she had to remain closeted. Her "dad" the colonel or the general got her press passes and passed her inside information about military and government incidents. When her business associates and email or IM chat friends called her on the phone, Brooks' dad would speak for her -- including, allegedly, descriptions of her sex life.
"Linda S. Carbonell", another lezgetreal editor, fiercely defended Brooks' privacy. Carbonell, like LaVictoire and Brooks, gave quotes to newspaper journalists without at first revealing that she was using a pseudonym. Carbonell wrote on June 12, 2011:
Paula has encountered the same situations that my daughter has - physical threats because she is gay. Being deaf, Paula is more vulnerable than most people under any circumstances. She is afraid of something happening to herself or to her children. Just in case you hadn't noticed, it's open season on gays, Hispanics, Jews and Muslims in some parts of this country. Paula lives in one of them. Do you really want to push this until you read on-line that a single, gay mother of three was attacked in the parking lot of her job?
"Brooks" continued sending angry emails and IMs to people right up 'til zero hour. I got this email on Sunday from Paula, before Graber was outed:
There are very good reasons why I don't want my identity out there.... this
would be one of them...
If you had your way, right now I'd have 200 reporters and 30 crazy
Palestinians on my lawn.... and I have children to look out for.
So how doing the responsible thing and stop sending haters to my site, ok?
For someone who claimed from her writing to be concerned with Arab politics "Brooks" certainly had a racist, offensive view of Palestinians. And for someone who wasn't actually a lesbian, Graber sure liked acting like he was scared of homophobic violence.
But it gets worse than hypocrisy -- so much worse.
Several women bloggers have come forward with details of their interactions with "Paula." Paula would approach bloggers, especially lesbian bloggers, to ask them to write for a site. Paula would also offer volunteer work, gaining access to others' blogs, and then after a flurry of accusations and angry emails, locking out the original bloggers and taking control. Brooks would then focus the anger and activism of the bloggers he worked with to attack other GLBT activists and writers. The scary part is that Graber/Brooks kept doing this over and over. The heartening part is that many people developed the boundaries to back away from Brooks, and that now their bizarre behavior is being exposed on the net through collaborative effort.
Melanie Nathan tells her story of working with Paula and then deciding to leave the LezGetReal site.
Renee Gannon from Lesbiatopia, a group blog, wrote The Man who Claimed to be Paula Brooks. What a nightmare story for any blogger!
In 2007, I started this blog as a voice for myself as a gay woman. I was, and still am, a gay woman who is smart, funny, creative and fell in love with a blogging platform that allowed me to share all aspects of myself and my interests, living in a world as an out-and-proud lesbian.
After starting the blog, I began to consider bringing in a community of writers that could also share their voice and opinions on their own gay world. The idea was to invite writers from all over the country to give their unique perspective on lesbian life, culture, entertainment, politics, music and anything else they felt was appropriate (or not so appropriate).
Heather from The Wishful Writer documents many of her email conversations with Paula, conversations that turned into angry and abusive rants from Paula. The REAL Paula Brooks.
Julie Phineas, lesbianmommy, writes of how she was completely fooled by Brooks while they created lezgetreal.com, working together daily for months. Paula Brooks exposed as Bill Graber
CanuckJacq on gaelick.com: Our friend: Lez Get Real's Paula Brooks tells of Paula's boastful claims to inside information and sex with celebrities, complete with chat logs.
Adam from Bilerico Project did a three-part piece on Brooks and some of the people who worked with her.
We are left with a lot of open questions:
Who are these twin children? Did Graber steal some other blogger's baby photos? Are they stock photos?
Does Graber really have a wife, and if so what is her name? Is she Paula Brooks? Why hasn't the "real" Paula come forward -- or anyone who knows her? There is a real Paula from Fairborn, Ohio, at the same address as Graber, who appeared in court as a witness against him in a domestic violence case.
Are the other lezgetreal staffers, Linda S. Carbonell aka Linda LaVictoire, her daughter Brigitte LaVictoire, and others, sincere? (The Bilerico Project appears to think so.) Are they still working with Graber? What about the things they've said and done in the past -- for example, Carbonell claiming to have close relatives in the government?
Who were those other people who spoke for Brooks at Bill Graber's number, who said they were NBC staff - the younger man and older women?
Did Brooks or Graber actually have any contact with NBC, or the Olbermann or Maddow shows?
Was Graber in the military, as he claims?
How did Brooks know about inside political information before it broke, like about Gates' retirement?
What is Graber's real background and resume and can we find other traces of his involvement with Middle Eastern politics? (Because it seems a little odd, especially given the contents of some private chats and emails people have showed me.)
Do you, BlogHer readers, know who you know? Do you know the bloggers you work with?
What kind of behavior do you tolerate in your fellow bloggers? Where do you draw the line and make a boundary? Even if you know a person, if they're mean and angry ... maybe that should be a red flag to back away. And if there's massive drama, you might want to read the Münchausen by Internet article to help you develop your "sockdar" and identify sockpuppets.
On my personal blog, Composite: Tech and Poetics, commenters have still been investigating some of these details and asking these hard questions.
I feel that the BlogHer community needs to know and be warned about Graber, and the possibility of others like him. Some of you might have the investigative skills and curiosity to dig deeper into this mess, to document it in an organized way, and turn up new connections or facts. Some of you may have been contacted by Paula Brooks and could contribute what you know. If you want a project that would help many, many women bloggers, documenting the Brooks/Graber nexus of fail is a very good project!
What do you think? Am I asking the right questions?
More from living