Dear HuffPost Gay Voices,
I can't sit on the sidelines anymore.
After I saw you post a parody video (later retracted) in which a trans woman is murdered as a consequence for voicing her objections to offensive language used on RuPaul's Drag Race, I can no longer publish my writing on your page. This letter is my last blog post on Gay Voices.
I know, I know: I could have simply stopped hitting the "Submit" button. But I need you to understand where my absence will come from. Seeking viewership through violence directed at trans women -- veiled in "humor" as it may be -- means that your page does not get to benefit, among other things, from the labor or passion of my writing. And while the loss of one blogger may be a drop in the bucket, it's something I know I have to do; I took a deep breath, and I'm ready.
Before this, our year together may have seemed great -- but in truth, I've had to make deliberate choices to remain with you and overlook some serious flaws. I believed that the overall positive effects of what I was writing outweighed the seeming lack of trans input/consulting in how your transgender news page selects and presents its content.
That's how I managed to choke back protests at the explicit trans exclusion in your page's title. It's why I pushed aside advice that I freelance for sites more willing to financially compensate me for my labor. And it's why I even decided to continue submitting blog posts after privately voicing a complaint (and, for the record, after receiving an immediate, cordial response from editor Noah Michelson) about your willingness to publish trans folks' names in headlines when we personally disagree with each other.
My growing qualms had everything to do with your position as a non-trans-run platform that has real effects, via your editorial choices, on how trans people can expect to be publicly related to -- and I stopped short of leaving because I believe that there is value in giving voice to dissonant opinions among trans people (and despite my continued belief that there is a lapse in editing when pieces veer into personal attacks).
But in posting Alaska Thunderfuck's video "Ru Paul's Drag Race Season 76" you have tipped the scale decidedly.
While I realize that the creators of this video may deny that it attacks trans women (or, in particular, Parker Molloy, the woman who is currently a lightning rod for opinions on this issue), it's clear to me that it does. Deniability is part of parody's effect, even while the genre simultaneously addresses topical subjects and thereby asks viewers to "figure out" who it's targeting. So it is not a huge leap in logic to interpret the character of "twitter user Joy Less" as, in a broad sense, an amalgamation of all trans feminine Internet-based activists and freelance writers who disagree with the use of offensive language on Ru Paul's Drag Race -- and, more specifically, a direct parody of Molloy.
But even more to my point: This is a video that constitutes violence, both before and during its fatal concluding scene. "Joy Less" is, as other commentators described her, a "man in a dress" -- an indictment often leveled at trans women to dehumanize them. She is coded, unlike the cisgender drag queen character, as a failure -- not solely in her femininity but in being able to "take a joke." She is a visual entry into a hateful lexicon that surrounds trans women in pop culture.
The fact that this video was produced by a gender-nonconforming drag queen does not mitigate its harmful effects. Viewers are still cued to make certain connections -- Joy Less' opinions are invalid, her gender is invalid, her life is invalid -- despite the veneer of in-your-face comedy that says, "We're absolved of blame if you take these conclusions seriously." Like rape jokes to rape culture, this video contributes to a culture of violence toward trans women, implying that it's "OK" to joke about, portray, and envision murder as a consequence for a trans woman's disagreement.
What I'm saying is: Violence can be done without lifting a hand against another person. And its effects are only amplified when a news site like you joins in.
For transparency, I want to acknowledge that my choice to remain with you, and to previously remain silent about my opinions on transphobic slur usage, were partly self-centered. I know I have benefited, as a burgeoning writer, from being exposed to HuffPost's wide readership. Until now I've only voiced my issues in private because my personality shies away from controversy. And I reasoned that as a trans man, I had no place in publicly commenting on issues that largely affect trans women -- my male voice could only have drawn attention away from the female voices that really needed to be heard.
But with this letter I choose to change all that. I refuse to benefit from your platform personally when you detract from my community elsewhere -- especially when you refuse to sincerely apologize or enact your growth in understanding by actively changing your approach. It is a weakness, not a strength, to not admit when you've done wrong by others and to change accordingly.
With this letter I use my privileges (gender, education, ability and otherwise) and their accompanying platform to publicly state my opinion -- and thereby open myself to discussion -- in the midst of an ongoing and emotional series of discussions. I acknowledge that I contribute to a culture of violence toward trans women when I don't call out its perpetrators.
With this letter, I aim to stand in solidarity with trans women. That's what I, as a man, can do (and can keep doing better) in such situations. And further, I ask you to not solely listen to me about the issues I'm addressing. Arguments I've made here have been said first by the trans women I have listened to.
I wish it didn't have to end this way. I believe, at heart, that your initial intentions behind including a transgender section within Gay Voices came from a positive and inclusive place.
But it's become clear to me that Gay Voices really is just (gay) cisgender male voices when content immediately identifiable as harmful to trans women is greenlighted for publication, and when there's a refusal to engage with why this is a problem. For a site to be truly inclusive, it must take action to include trans perspectives in the decision making processes that long precede publication, and it must take responsibility for its real-world effects on trans lives.