Bill Simmons’ apology – Is ignorance of trans issues still an acceptable excuse?

I have to admit, in this transphobic world, I still find space to be shocked when I come across stories that detail some kind of cruelty against the trans community. In a recent article for the sports Website Grantland, writer Caleb Hannon wrote about Essay Anne Vanderbilt, or “Dr. V” a woman who claimed to invent a piece of  “technologically superior golfing equipment.” While she was touted as a brilliant inventor, some investigating brought out proof that Vanderbilt had falsified her credentials and possibly lied to investors. In the article Hannon also discovered that Vanderbilt was a trans woman. I’m using past tense because Vanderbilt took her life before the article was published. In an admittedly ill-advised move, Simmons and Grantland still went ahead with publishing the article, including the revelation of Dr. V being trans. While Hannon’s intentions may not have been transphobic, the detail of Vanderbilt’s status seemed to be added to help complete the picture Hannon was drawing of Dr. V as a deceitful person.

Because Hannon’s piece – while well-written at certain points, it was easy for readers to assume that Vanderbilt found out that Hannon discovered her status and that she wasn’t properly assured that Hannon wouldn’t go blabbing it around. In his long apology, Simmons wrote “You need to make it more clear within the piece that Caleb never, at any point, threatened to out her as he was doing his reporting.”

But unless the decision to out her in the article came after her death, that’s exactly what Hannon was going to do – out her as trans. And in the rambling apology Simmons wrote, I’m still not sure if the decision to out her came before or after.

And while I don’t doubt Simmons and company that they’re sorry – really sorry and for the record, Simmons or Hannon are not responsible for Vanderbilt’s tragic death – but what galls me is the attitude of “Whoops, we just didn’t know enough about trans issues – we’ll get it right next time, we promise…Live and learn.” In fact in his last paragraph, Simmons writes, “We will learn from what happened. We will remember what [John] Wooden said — ‘If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything’ — and we’re going to keep trying to get better. That’s all we can do. Thanks for reading and we hope you continue coming back to Grantland.”

There’s no excuse in 2013 for not having common sense to understand that outing someone who is trans is a big, fat no-no.

There’s no good that’ll come out of a story like this because this instant is yet again another example of a mainstream writer using trans issues to create a titillating story – Dr. V wove a web of lies including (cue dramatic music) she used to be a he! This kind of story telling is tired and passe (and unneccessary as the complicated tale of falsified credentials and degrees was enough – the trans issue was something out of a tabloid).

What’s troubling about all this is that Bill Simmons admitted failure to realize just how fraught outing a trans person can be. He cops to being ignorant of trans issues – and what’s worse, it looks like his whole team doesn’t know anything either. That’s pretty scary, especially since Simmons is an accomplished professional, and not some green rookie – if we can’t even expect well-educated, seasoned pros like Simmons to get it right, what are our chances with upstarts and amateurs?

Simmons apology was buried underneath a whole lot of explanation and introspection – too much if you ask me – a more succint apology would’ve worked better – direct and to the point: “we banged the pooch on this one – we’re idiots because this late in the game, we still are clueless when it comes to the trans community – in the future, we’ll leave the real reporting to someone else.”

Simmons writes that he’ll use this episode as a learning experience – after all, if we don’t mistakes, how will we learn, right? That would great if Simmons and company were twelve. But we’re talking about adults, here. This is the kind of learning that should’ve been done – past tense, so that when you’re in the position of running a popular Website you don’t step in it like he did.



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Filed under Celeb, commentary, Nonfiction

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