More Thoughts on the “Dr. V” Story (UPDATED WITH MEA CULPA!)
While I realize the story feels decades old by today’s standards, I wanted to share this to follow up on Caleb Hannan’s piece on “Dr. V” (which Jonathan previously wrote about). Robert Lipsyte serves as the current Ombudsman for ESPN.com and offers a detailed and thoughtful analysis of the original piece and the process by which it came to be. I don’t have much to offer beyond suggesting it as a strong read. However, one quote stood out to me, as I think it has implications far beyond the piece itself or broader issues related to journalistic integrity:
“I would hope Grantland would defer to the wishes of the trans community on that issue [removing the piece from the site], especially since, as I understand it, the story causes so much pain,” said Kate Fagan, an ESPN.com writer who is gay. “I understand Bill’s impulse to leave it online as a learning tool, but having the story stay up seems as if we are valuing Grantland’s right to learn over the trans community’s right to not feel anguished. As many members of the trans community have said on social media, ‘My life is not your teachable moment.'”
Being fairly disengaged from social media, I was unaware of the phrase “My life is not your teachable moment” nor the sentiment behind it. However, it is a rather powerful statement to make. And one I think we would all — particularly those of of us who tend to enjoy social privilege and empowerment — be well served to consider. While we should not cease trying to learn about the experiences of others, we should not treat their lives, their experiences, their identities, the very core aspects of their being, as simple fodder for our education. There are other ways for us to learn, ways which do not add to the violence perpetrated against already marginalized and terrorized people.
In the comments to this post, lynchings and the aptness of analogizing them to outings were discussed. I was a prime participant and driving force behind those conversations taking the shape that they did and I want to apologize for that. The ball got rolling when Burt said:
Well, now, just a moment. Surely things like photographs of lynchings and Klansman posing with rifles cause anguish, yet we do not redact these from our history. Nor do we edit from public view the internments of American citizens during World War II or the wave-away-you-aren’t-even-being-serious dismissals of same-sex-marriage from our jurisprudence. Nor do we pretend that “serious journalists” and credible scientists espoused and advanced all manner of awful ideas about race, gender, sex, and religion, ideas baked in to the language they used to express themselves on all manner of topics.
Burt was pointing out a conclusion that could be reached if a broad interpretation of Fagan’s quote was followed. I disagreed with this because it was my understanding that Fagan was referring to acts themselves and not depictions of those acts. I responded by saying:
“This isn’t a photograph of a lynching; it is the lynching itself. A “photograph” would be an article discussing the article.”
I should have been much more careful in my choice of language here. What I was attempting to do was demonstrate the difference between an act and the depiction of that act, pointing out Hannan’s piece as an act — an outing — and that we could discuss outings without perpetuating the harm contained within them. I attempted to work with Burt’s analogy and grabbed the first one offered — lynchings — and went from there. This was in grave error. Outings are an emotionally wrenching topics. Layering on another emotionally wrenching topic simply to make a point was unnecessarily and in error. An error that is wholly my own. Burt introduced them amongst a number of historical atrocities and never sought to make an analogy or comparison between them and outings other then to say, “We should not scrub history of our ugliness lest we fail to better ourselves.”
As the conversation evolved, I attempted to resolve this by indicating that I was attempting to draw a distinction between acts and depictions and not make a comparison between outings and lynchings. And if that were not enough, I then did make a comparison between the two, noting that I thought the two acts were more alike than others might have been. This comment, too, was a grave error. Not because it was right or wrong but because I — a straight, white, cis male — am unqualified to speak on the relative moral awfulness of either lynchings or outings. People who identify as I do are not threatened by the very real harm that lynchings or outings present. It was inappropriate, ignorant, and offensive of me to say what I said and I apologize deeply for it.
I wish I had realized the error of my way earlier. Strained and difficult conversations went on longer than they should have because I was unable to recognize alternate and reasonable interpretations of my words. I want to thank others here, Stillwater in particular, for helping me realize my error and properly reflect on it. Again, I apologize wholly and fully for the unfortunate turn that certain subthreads took on account of my choices and the offense, discomfort, or pain they might have caused.