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In the Spirit of Moving Forward

NOTE FROM PAM: This diary is the commentary of someone with trans identity who left Bilerico, and we are not endorsing or not endorsing her take, but are providing her a forum for saying what she has to say about leaving TBP publicly. I have a few comments at the end of the post.

In the spirit of moving forward, there is too much division and no need for more.  As someone who left The Bilerico Project (as far as I know the only one, at this point) during the controversy surrounding the approval of Ronald Gold’s inflammatory “’No’ To the Notion of Transgender” I don’t want to sow more division.  I’ve got a final piece to say, and then will leave it at that.  I may offer this elsewhere – if it’s picked up, I will say that my opinions are my own and should not reflect on anyone else making them available.  This is not intended to spark blogwars but to call for an end to whatever fallout is going to happen from all this.  But it has to start with some final words.

1) It's not about “gay men don't get it.” Let's not flog that again please — I'd be angry regardless of who this came from.  And, frankly, also angry if the target were women, people of colour or any other group of people.

2) My primary comment to Ronald Gold is this: if you haven’t had the experience and your perspective is so out of line from those who have, then it’s time to rethink and do some research.  “Prove me wrong” has no impact coming from someone who has so completely ignored what is easily available in, say, exactly the same forum you just posted in.

(And that said, I actually do think there are circumstances in which it would have been fine to have Mr. Gold post his opinion piece — if it were reworked to fall within the confines of TBP's own Terms of Service, i.e. no misgendering and nothing intentionally incendiary, and if it were preceded by some sort of editorial statement.  Sending it back for more research would have been better, though)

3) (and somewhat off-topic, though involving people who’ve stepped into the fray).  The politics of division and exclusion benefit no one.  It has been said that Gold’s dismissal of trans identities is similar to what is seen as trans dismissal of HBS / classic identities.  This is in fact true.  It is also similar to HBS / classic dismissal of trans identities. I know enough from being bisexual, of partial Native heritage, being near the bottom end of the class system and having a “controversial” history that we all have a vested interest in fighting prejudice together rather than fighting over our little corners of oppression.  When HBS / classic groups start dividing more clearly into smaller factions like androphile (attracted to men) vs. gynephile (attracted to women), you will see what I mean.  I still believe in a common thread, but same or different is irrelevant in the long run.

4) Hardest stuff for last. I want Bil to understand why he’s hurt us and just how much.  (And to be fair, this was an editorial team decision, and reflects on more than just him individually)

Even now, Bil doesn't realize how deeply the episode cut.  My anger wasn't really at him until that rather halfway apology (I still have trouble figuring “positive intent”), but now it exceeds what I feel toward Mr. Gold (and this from someone who typically does not fly off the handle about things, and has defended TBP in the past).  I honestly don't know if he would have reconsidered the second time, if he didn't see the willingness of people to leave over it (which is why I'm not saying “thanks for taking action” now). If things had been addressed quickly and earnestly, people might feel differently than we do now.

Ironically, I like and respect Bil in spite of what has happened.  I probably feel we're that much more betrayed because of that.

I've written for people who get it about trans issues far less than Bil, and they've still known enough to come to me for a second opinion on lesser things than this.  They *want* to get it, more than they want the opportunities they perceive they can get from publishing something blatantly hurtful.

Bil says he simply wanted to spark conversation.  Maybe so, but by first only saying “sorry but it sparks good discussion” (paraphrased), this can’t help but feel like willful indifference.  Yes, he wants the trans viewpoint at TBP, but there appears to be a willingness to sell that readership out if presented with what seems like a good opportunity.  Maybe there isn’t, but it’s sure a difficult argument to defend against right now. Either way, we failed to enlighten him, or else he failed to care enough to act on it.

I'm not asking to be spoonfed — I read WorldNetDaily and Lifesite, FCS.  What I'm asking is that we don't give credence to something this hateful and outdated in our own backyard, and that we don't send out a signal that it's okay to trash a class of people (with no substance to back it up), and we'll give you equal billing and credibility for it.  That is what happened here.

Some of us have taken a lot of crap for defending blunders (not just at TBP) before, and I don't mean to rehash all that, because I think we were still right to do so.  This is different — this is from someone who'd been through that, and was willfully indifferent — or at the very least had a serious extended lapse in judgment.  As a contributor and what I had thought to be a friend, this was sort of like getting a knife in the back and being told to twist a little.

Do those words make you angry Bil?  Then you’re starting to feel what we did on the receiving end of this, and maybe starting to see why coming to you privately seemed an insufficient response.

5) How does he make it better now?  To be fair, I really don’t see that there’s much Bil and the ed team can do to make people happy now, though pulling the post was a start.  As I said after the Human Rights Campaign apologized for their efforts to push a non-inclusive bill through, it’s just going to take a lot of time and consistency to win people back.  They’re still doing that, and there are still doubters.  It’s not a great spot to be in, but there we are.

A group blog shouldn't need a trans editor to screen everything for trans sensitivity (though there should be go-to people for when needed).  Conflict does sometimes cause worthwhile discussion — Bil's actually right about that.  Ron Gold's particular post, though, should have been flagged as being incendiary enough to act cautiously on, maybe get a second opinion, be measured against the ToS and/or be prefaced with an editorial statement.  The slow and halfway initial action has undermined his latest and future actions.

Conflict has a cost too, though.  There has been growing sentiments on several fronts at TBP, including a “sigh, the trannies are acting up again / why should we care” contingent.  We saw this through the ENDA 2007 and HRC debates, too.  Bil and the editorial team have pushed against this attitude the whole way through, but what they don’t realize is that flashpoint events like this are going to galvanize both sides and force them into an either-or situation.

Rebecca Juro has called for the trans community to get back behind TBP and keep educating people.   I doubt I’d ever be invited back after all that’s been said, but even if I were, it would take a considerable amount of time and track record for me to feel that that forum is no longer bittersweet and compromised (and probably likewise a long time before I'd be part of the “family” again).  I know from private correspondence and sentiment posted at TBP and elsewhere that a number of those who remain feel similarly. and they'll want to remember that as they move forward,

Support it or no, but the damage is done.  Some price needs to be paid – Bil and team for the lapse, and some of us for being hard@$$ed.

Now, if you don't mind, plenty has been said and it simply remains up to Bil what he's going to do about it. There are more important things than harping on something that given a reasonably short amount of time will have been inconsequential in our lives. This has already consumed too much time and energy.

Postscript by Pam: Again, my curiosity about this whole flap is that it exposed not only the horror and ignorance of the Gold post, but the revelation to much of the readership of blogs that many do have an editorial structure of one kind or another that has impact on content.

I had to run this through my mind — would TBP post a serious thought piece on gay men not really existing? Of course not, and therein lies the double standard of their editorial decisions related to this transphobic piece. We've all seen “ex-gay” stories making the (preposterous) argument that gay men and lesbians simply don't exist and can pray away their homosexuality and we laugh at the notion. What, pray tell, is the difference between the scenarios?

I thought long and hard about whether I could publish Gold's piece, and I cannot think of any circumstances where it wouldn't have been deep-sixed. To talk about this coffeehouse's style, PHB has a flexible editorial structure; basically we have three baristas plus me who are the “administrators/editors” handling moderation duties, diary promotions and serve as editorial checks on our own work we feel may be inflammatory in an unproductive way.

Unproductive, in this case, means something that will hurt the community's goal of full equality. Good public debate should generate dialogue that results in problem-solving that doesn't take 5 steps back in trust. And that doesn't mean non-controversial; it sometimes means the barista is obligated to police and be present as a commenter in a thread to take the heat. And sometimes we're right, sometimes we miss the mark.

We as a community can do better at presenting controversial topics with more intelligence and factual information than Peter LaBarbera or Richard Cohen. Gold's piece fell into that realm. But that requires quite a bit of purposeful insight as to whether your own views color your editorial judgment — we're all human, have biases that we choose to examine in one way or another.

Part of the beauty of blogs is being able to read and share the wisdom of others, as well as learn their flaws based on personal history and interactions, or lack of exposure paired with an earnest desire to learn — or not. It's not about group think or being PC, but seeing if your mission is in alignment with that of your audience. Or even whether you know your audience as well as you think you do.

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