Isabel Fall’s sci-fi story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” drew the ire of the internet. This is what happened next.
“In a war zone, it is not safe to be unknown. Unknown travelers are shot on sight,” says Isabel Fall. “The fact that Isabel Fall was an unknown led to her death.”
Isabel Fall isn’t dead. There is a person who wrote under that name alive on the planet right now, someone who published a critically acclaimed, award-nominated short story. If she wanted to publish again, she surely could.
Isabel Fall is a ghost nonetheless.
In January 2020, not long after her short story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was published in the online science fiction magazine Clarkesworld, Fall asked her editor to take the story down, and then checked into a psychiatric ward for thoughts of self-harm and suicide.
The story — and especially its title, which co-opts a transphobic meme — had provoked days of contentious debate online within the science fiction community, the trans community, and the community of people who worry that cancel culture has run amok. Because there was little biographical information available about its author, the debate hinged on one question: Who was Isabel Fall? And that question ate her alive. When she emerged from the hospital a few weeks later, the world had moved on, but she was still scarred by what had happened. She decided on something drastic: She would no longer be Isabel Fall.