I have been wrestling with “The Facts of the Matter” by Anonymous for about two months, since a fellow writer friend first passed it on to me. The first time I encountered it, I had to stop reading about a third of the way through. Despite my friend filling me in on the spoiler (surprise! It’s a woman all along!), I couldn’t stomach the treatment of what was being said in the essay. That is, out of all the lies to choose to make the point that lying in nonfiction is abhorrent, why choose rape? Why adopt the persona of a rapist?
In the Brevity roundtable, Anonymous claims that “The essay is not alas ‘an abstract falsehood’; I would that it were fiction: but save for the rapist’s persona (which is, as in all nonfiction, an invention), it’s all too true. All of it.” Anonymous brushed over her lie, and this struck me as very problematic because the rapist persona is the part of the essay I found to be most troublesome. It is literally the only lie that Anonymous claims is fiction, and she does not devote more than this sentence to explaining her motive behind why this lie, and not that one. In fact, it isn’t really even an explanation, but more a statement.
As I read the essay, I became angry – no, let’s not lie. I became livid. I was cussing in public spaces, and writing “Fuck you” in the margins of my book, even in the interview section. And here’s why I am so angry: Sexual assault is a real problem, one that must be addressed with the utmost attention and delicacy towards survivors. This essay does not do this, but instead creates a triggering and traumatizing piece in order to produce a gotcha! moment. I am absolutely disgusted that Anonymous compares being lied to in nonfiction to being raped: “A lie can be a violation, a forced entry, a kind of rape.” Being lied to in nonfiction cannot ever be equated the amount of suffering survivors battle and endure. She describes the two acts as “metaphorical kin” in subsequent comments on the Brevity blog, because “both can have devastating consequences.” By holding the two up to each other, Anonymous trivializes the effect rape can and does have on an individual. While lying in nonfiction may also have a negative effect, it hardly comes close to that of sexual assault.
The question I find myself returning to is this: If Anonymous hadn’t created the fictional persona, would the essay be successful? That the essay hinges on this lie, would her argument collapse if it were removed? What would the essay look like if another lie were selected?