Transgender Woman Attacked At Gym
August 17, 2009
Frank Leaps Transgender Lobbyists in Single Bound
September 1, 2009

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly?

I spend a lot of time here at The Transadvocate posting various news articles from around the web through a plugin that pulls tweets from the Transadvocate Twitter page. Recently Stephanie Stevens from Abnormal Heights and Transgender News Yahoo group started tweeting transgender news on Twitter as well.  This morning she posted the following tweet:

In California, a transwoman led police on a 100 mph chase in stolen vehicle.

In response to that tweet, I asked:

@TransNewsGirl how is this kind of story good for trans people? #transgender #p2 #fem2

I do think it’s a very valid question to ask. Here at The Transadvocate, we are ADVOCATES for transgender/transsexual/gender variant people. Apparently the former editor of Colorez! ( a now defunct Arizona LGBT magazine), Kynn Bartlett,  has issues with my question.

She writes:

There’s been some controversy within the online trans community about even sharing this story; Marti Abernathey (mzmartipants on LJ, where she lists mlgaetjens as a friend) has been critical on Twitter of @TransNewsGirl for including a link to the article in her trans news round-up feed:

@mzmartipants: @TransNewsGirl how is this kind of story good for trans people? #transgender #p2 #fem2

@mzmartipants: @TransNewsGirl how is reporting transpeople committing crimes good 4 the community? #transgender

@mzmartipants: @TransNewsGirl and that benefits who? You? Why not post alerts from dobson and TVC? #cuttingnose2spiteface #p2 #transgender #glbt

Should aggregators of trans-related news stories only report the good ones, and not the embarrassing ones, the scary ones, the negative ones? Hide the ones that make us look like crazy, dangerous criminals? Do trans people serving as information sources (reporters, bloggers, twitterers) have an obligation to the greater trans community at large to carefully make sure that they only present positive images of trans people?

First off, I’m kind of shocked that a former editor would try and defame me by using my online friending of the accused. Am I supposed to do background checks on everyone that friends me on Facebook/LiveJournal/Twitter? I have about 600 people following me on both Facebook and on Twitter. Should I be held responsible for all of  their actions?

Secondly, what does my Facebook/LiveJournal  friending to the accused have to do with the question I asked?

What good does it serve to report on the dirty underbelly of our community? You’ll hear cries of censorship, but censorship is defined as:

the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government or media organizations as determined by a censor.

We are neither the government or a media organization. We are delivering news about the community, to the community. I’m not sure how our brothers and sisters are lifted up or informed by hearing the news that an unstable transwoman stole a vehicle and went on a car chase. If there is a good reason to do so, I’d love to hear it. It would be welcomed much more than ad hominem attacks on my character.

Marti Abernathey
Marti Abernathey

Marti Abernathey is the founder of the Transadvocate and the previous managing editor.

Abernathey has worn many different hats, including that of podcaster, activist, and radiologic technologist.

She’s been a part of various internet radio ventures such as TSR Live!, The T-Party, and The Radical Trannies, TransFM, and Sodium Pentathol Sunday.

As an advocate she’s previously been involved with the Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance, Rock Indiana Campaign for Equality, and the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition. She’s taken vital roles as a grass roots community organizer in The Indianapolis Tax Day Protest (2003), The Indy Pride HRC Protest (2004), Transgender Day of Remembrance (2004), Indiana’s Witch Hunt (2005), and the Rally At The Statehouse (the largest ever GLBT protest in Indiana – 3/2005).

In 2008 she was a delegate from Indiana to the Democratic National Convention and a member of Barack Obama’s LGBT Steering and Policy Committee.

  • Marti Abernathey

    Kynn, if the stories were distributed solely through the community, I could see your point. But the fact is that what we do is monitored. Hell, the guy over at AFTAH loves writing about Autumn. I’m not sure how giving him more ammo is a good thing.

    Personal attacks? Apparently it’s not good form to point out the person giving the advice has little to none when it comes to actual activism? When you fill comments with invectives, you should expect to be called on them.

  • Also, Marti, can you explain how this objection of yours:

    It was simply about a transwoman that committed a crime.

    …squares with the @TransAdvocate feed posting, two days ago, a link to Ariel Attack’s arrest for vandalizing the Democratic National Party headquarters in Denver?

    The page linked to by @TransAdvocate doesn’t even identify Ariel as trans — but @TransAdvocate phrased the link as “Transgender Denver Anarchist Arrested […]” and presumably that’s the only reason it was listed on @TransAdvocate’s twitter feed at all.

    Care to explain the difference between the two situations? Why was @TransNewsGirl in the wrong to post about Leigh but @TransAdvocate in the right to post about Ariel?

    • Marti Abernathey

      She’s an activist, a political activist. The fact that ENDA and the hate crimes bill are soon to be voted on make this story VERY different.

  • Again, if there were references to how the story was written, or about her life being trans, I would get your point. But it wasn’t. It was simply about a transwoman that committed a crime.

    It was a really badly written story about a trans woman who committed a crime. As such, a community response may very well be appropriate. The community can’t respond to badly written stories, however, if you say that we shouldn’t distribute them among ourselves.

    Trans people need to know how we’re being portrayed in the media. It’s important and may even save our lives.

    And I think it’s pretty laughable you’re handing out advice on how to be a good activist. Your bona fides for such a claim?

    Weren’t you just complaining about personal attacks, Marti?

  • Almost forgot to add this!

    It may be a very good thing for trans people to be aware of supposedly “negative” portrayals in the media, if just because that allows us to react to them.

    It’s possible that Leigh could benefit from being contacted by a local trans or LGBT mental health project, community center, or legal service. By passing the news story along to a wider audience of trans people, @TransNewsGirl could get Leigh some community help that she might not have gotten before.

    Trans activists may find it valuable to write to the news agency — in this case, the San Francisco Chronicle — to about the way they reported this news and why they thought it was necessary to specifically identify Leigh as a trans woman if it wasn’t relevant to the news story. You can’t critique news coverage if you deliberately don’t know what it is.

    You can’t be a particularly effective public activist on behalf of your group if you’re unwilling to address how your group is treated in the media — and to do that, you need to examine those media portrayals.

    Marti has this fear that sharing such stories become “an archive that our enemies can search through to use against us” — maybe, but there’s already this thing called “Google News” where you can do the same, too.

    I think there’s much more value brought to the trans communities by @TransNewsGirl passing along these types of posts to the trans community than harm done by these shadowy enemies who might abuse such information.

    • Marti Abernathey

      It’s possible that Leigh could benefit from being contacted by a local trans or LGBT mental health project, community center, or legal service. By passing the news story along to a wider audience of trans people, @TransNewsGirl could get Leigh some community help that she might not have gotten before.

      Lots of things are “possible.” Then again those same things “could happen” by social services in her area.

      Again, if there were references to how the story was written, or about her life being trans, I would get your point. But it wasn’t. It was simply about a transwoman that committed a crime.

      And I think it’s pretty laughable you’re handing out advice on how to be a good activist. Your bona fides for such a claim?

  • Marti, I find it amusing that you consider yourself to be a victim of “ad hominem attacks on [your] character” when my post was in response to you writing this about me:

    “No wonder you’re not working in journalism. Maybe Fox News would hire you. They deal in smear campaigns. It’s something you seem to be good at, you might want to give them a call.”

    • Marti Abernathey

      Last I checked you DID post that she was my friend on LJ/Facebook. That is the kind of “journalism” Fox News practices.

  • Noel

    I just hadn’t seen that comment yet when I posted. Thanks again! =)

  • Noel

    Before I start, I want to say that I’m not necessarily interested in the specifics of this particular story, but I am interested in your argument overall.

    I understand your frustration with this response. However, someone who has read a bit of work about trans people, as well as other social movements such as the lesbian and gay movement, feminist movement, and civil rights movement, I would like to contribute one suggestion that may actually support the posting of some ‘negative’ stories.

    Most recent social justice movements (such as those listed above) have gone through a period where the image of what it means to be a good member of that ‘community,’ be that lesbian and gay, women, or people of color, has become important to some of the members. Instead of building up positive images of the community, it actually works to silence those who do not fit the norms of the new, ‘positive’ image. An example has occurred often when Black women try to speak out against domestic violence committed by black men (for instance, when Alice Walker wrote about this issue in her book “The Color Purple”). Many black women have been accused of working against their Black community because they are making public these negative aspects of their community which some people argue only perpetuate stereotypes. But the truth is that domestic violence happens in all communities, and the Black women who want to bring this issue to light argue that the problem isn’t bringing to light these tough issues; the problem is because there are not enough portrayals of the Black community overall. Instead of arguing that Black women shouldn’t talk about domestic violence, we should work to spread information about the reality of domestic violence in Black community and also work to spread positive images of Black community as well.

    This can also happen in trans community. For instance, we know that trans people are disproportionately compelled to participate in sex work. This does not mean that most trans people do sex work. This does not mean that we should focus only on trans people who do sex work. However, it does suggest that if we were to ignore this because it seems ‘negative,’ we would actually be turning our backs on a portion of the trans community. We don’t need to ignore these stories, but instead continue to work to spread other positive stories as well. In the end, sex work (like domestic violence) isn’t an individual problem, but is caused by larger structural issues that need to be changed, and we can’t change those issues if we sweep the information under the rug.

    While this particular story about a trans woman who stole a car does not seem to have these ramifications, the silencing of other ‘negative’ stories might. So I guess, on this issue, I have little to say about this particular story and I understand why you would be frustrated. At the same time, I believe that the expansion of your argument to other stories may actually be more hurtful to trans people than the dissemination of some of them.

    Best regards. (And I do very much appreciate this feed! Thank you.)

    • Marti Abernathey

      Thanks Noel!

      As I said in my previous comment to Jenna, if the story was about some aspect of trans life that drove her to commit this crime, I could understand its relevance. Anything short of that, I’m not sure how reporting her crime (without the underlying context) helps the community.

  • Marti Abernathey

    Jenna, I agree that Leigh’s blog and her sadness is trans “newsworthy”, in reference to her crime and the things that led up to committing the crime. But the story in question didn’t mention anything about that. Kynn dug that up (and it seems she did so in an attempt to smear me by association). Your point about the story itself not being transgender news is what I’m getting at.

    … And I agree, we need more hugs! 🙂

  • Oh Marti… 🙂 I’m certainly not putting you down for your efforts. Beacons of hope like The TransAdvocate are desperately needed in this weary world. However, you asked what good could come from showing a story like that. In a round-about way, I answered that.

    Actually, in the case of Leigh, the fact that she was transgendered is really just a side-note considering what she did. Stealing a steam utility truck at 2 in the morning is pretty dumb no matter where one classifies themsleves in “the rainbow.”

    It’s really not “transgender” news at all, if you think about it. So, in as much as it’s appropriateness for this particular site, I can agree with you.

    Maybe it could help rally us together to take care of each other. If you read Leigh’s blog, it sounds like she was actually quite lonely. I can only say this because journals are usually written by those who are seeking attention, not by those who have attention. (Yes, I recognize I’m describing myself here too).

    We all need to reach out and hug more often (or hug and reach more often… whatever your fancy is). 😉 We all need to be more supportive of fostering positive energy and not give the negative energy a foothold. For myself, I can tell you that this story made me think about how much quality time I spend with my friends as opposed to bitching about the unfairness of life. So even though it’s a sad story, like a hurricane in Florida, it can help people come together.


  • Marti Abernathey

    I’m not impartial at all, I’m an advocate ;). I don’t think that creating an archive that our enemies can search through to use against us is a good thing to do. In the course of reporting stories you get that same desperation. When talking about prisons and Michelle Kosilek, it starts a conversation on the medical need for SRS. That is a good thing. You also learn about her case and the desperation of her case. I can name hundreds of those kinds of stories. Can you think of any other niche outlet of news that does the same thing? Do you know of a news site about African Americans, Latinos, Christians, or gun owners that report EVERY SINGLE MENTION of crimes committed by each group? I don’t.

  • Jenna

    Obviously as the administrator of this feed, you have the final say on what gets published and what doesn’t. Personally, I’d like to think that the site would be impartial, though, and admit that transpeople make mistakes, poor judgment calls and even the occasional deliberate offensive act. This is in addition to all the praise, hope, love and support that Transadvocate normally provides.

    But then, that may not fall in line with your desires for the site. It is as it is and it’s not always pretty. Maybe it’s just a matter of showing that someone else out there feels as desperate as the reader… and the consequences of acting rashly, without forethought, on that desperation.

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, after all. 🙂