Maybe the most surprising thing about my conversation with Kinney was how calmly he took the news that the woman he thought was an aerospace engineer had once been a man, and a mechanic.
“Writing a eulogy for a person who by all accounts despised you” – and killed herself – “is an odd experience.” (grantland.com) | There’s an interesting MetaFilter discussion about this piece and the story subject’s suicide.
That’s not how journalism is supposed to work, though. Yes, every reporter strives to uncover the truth. But we’re also supposed to call on our reserves of emotional intelligence to comprehend the people we’re writing about. When someone like the New York Times’ David Carr, who is very much attuned to questions of journalistic ethics, tweets out Hannan’s story approvingly with no hint about the moral dilemmas it raises, it’s clear there’s a cavernous empathy gap between mainstream writers and trans people.
But this is not really about him per se; he is not the first journalist to do something like this and we ought not reduce this to an activist quest to see one man fired before going on with our lives. The true problem lies with the editors who thought this was okay, and with the society that enables this slaughter of women via printing press.
Dr. V joins Chloe Sagal and Lucy Meadows in having been harassed by a male journalist pursuing what they thought was a “good story” that amounted to precious little in the end. In every case, legions of these men’s defenders were quick to blame the victims, asserting that they brought it on themselves either through some deceit or simply by dint of being transgender and thus inherently “in the public interest.”
No one was served by Grantland's article except themselves. Trans people were not helped by seeing yet another one of them portrayed as a demented lunatic trickster (hell, we're going to give Jared Leto an Oscar for doing the same thing). Golfers were not served by learning the woman behind an effective tool in their sport was once a man.
Yet with reckless abandon, Grantland and the writer chose to turn a woman's life upside down so they could get some page views and so the writer's name (which I will continue to avoid here) would get some pub.
“This is the kind of story, though, that breeds cynicism about journalists,” Levin writes, hitting upon an essential point. My initial reaction before reading and digesting the piece was that of many journalists on Twitter: to defend it in order to defend the writing of such stories. Ultimately, though, I hesitate even to cite this article as a deeply flawed instance of a valuable kind of story. The bathwater is dirty enough that I’m willing to lose the baby, too.
We made one massive mistake. I have thought about it for nearly three solid days, and I’ve run out of ways to kick myself about it. How did it never occur to any of us? How? How could we ALL blow it?
That mistake: Someone familiar with the transgender community should have read Caleb’s final draft. This never occurred to us.
Then again, Caleb had spent the piece presenting himself as a curious reporter, nothing more. Had he shoehorned his own perspective/feelings/emotions into the ending, it could have been perceived as unnecessarily contrived.
Neither of them had contacted me in months, since I had sent an email trying to confirm what I had discovered, and Jordan wrote back to deny everything.
Recently, my editor-in-chief — arguing that I should try to be be a bit more understanding of people who don’t really “get it” — said, “Saeed, you’re three years ahead of most people when it comes to thinking about transgender issues.” But I’m not ahead. I’m late. We are all so late. And while we, as readers, writers, and citizens, either attempt to play catch up or come up with more excuses as to why respecting the lives and realities of transgender people is just so hard, transgender people themselves are paying the price for our tardiness.
Let’s say we omitted that reason or wrote around it, then that reason emerged after we posted the piece. What then?
“Bill’s apology did a great job of pointing out that this is an editorial failure,” Kahrl said. When asked if she thought part of the problem is that Grantland’s staff is homogeneous in its outlook, she replied, “I think that’s a valid concern.”
Though Simmons’s conversations with Kahrl informed his letter, it is worth highlighting a crucial place where she and Simmons do not see eye-to-eye. As she wrote Monday and confirmed to me Tuesday, Kahrl believes that any piece about Vanderbilt should not have mentioned Vanderbilt’s gender identity at all. By contrast, Simmons, who declined to comment for this story, wrote, “Even now, it’s hard for me to accept that Dr. V’s transgender status wasn’t part of this story.”
Kahrl explained to me that outing Vanderbilt “would be unconscionable if she were alive.” Of outing Vanderbilt once she is dead, she told me, “I don't see the necessity. This is intrinsic to who she was. This was a part of herself she did not want to talk about or revisit.”
Kahrl revealed that she is also advising Caleb Hannan, the author of the article, on a forthcoming apology of sorts. “Caleb owns this error as well,” she said. “He is intent on doing the honorable thing, in terms of, ‘I screwed up. I want to talk to the right people, put my failure in front of LGBT people.’ He’s not hiding from this. That’s a really admirable quality.”
In 2010, after I came out publicly, I found out that ESPN would be airing a segment about me, including private information about my past. After hearing about the segment, I wrote to the reporter. “It has just been brought to my attention that ESPN…will be using old pictures and videos of me from when I was younger. I am not okay with this. Reason being, we live in a world that does not understand what it means to be transgender,” I wrote. “Every time I see a transgender person in the media, their stories are always centered around their appearance/physical transition. Being transgender is more than a physical appearance. Being transgender is being all of who I am, and that includes keeping certain things from my life private. Please remove the personal information before it airs.”
Like Dr. V, my request was denied. There was nothing I could do.
As many members of the trans community have said on social media, 'My life is not your teachable moment.'"
But, if it is to grow and flourish, Grantland has to keep in mind what it learned from “Dr. V’s Magic Putter” without allowing the lessons to hold it back from edgy, risky journalism.
“We are not in the business to be safe,” said Lovinger, summing up the role of journalists at ESPN and elsewhere. “We are here to make a difference and open up lines of inquiry. You have to question what you do, but you also have to go where the story takes you.”
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