I am hesitant to write about Essay Anne Vanderbilt but I have been bothered by some of the responses I have seen, even from writers that I have a great deal of respect for. Be forewarned that this post is going to cover some uncomfortable topics. I would like to ask forgiveness in advance if I say something or phrase something inappropriately.
Friday evening, I was scrolling down my timeline on Twitter and started noticing tweets that did not make much sense to me. After following a few links, I finally figured things out. ESPN’s Grantland had published an article a couple of days earlier titled “Dr V’s Magic Putter.” I have no recollection of seeing this article when it was first published but that doesn’t mean anything. I am not a golfer, pretty much have zero interest in golf equipment of any sort and would have passed by this article. However, when I started seeing the tweets, many of them with the hashtag #JusticeForDrV, I read the article.
The best I can say is that I was horrified.
The article starts as a story about how the author had been watching a show and seen about a supposed wonderful new putter that was developed on ‘scientific principles’ that were flipping a lot of golfing conventional wisdom on it head. Then about halfway through, the article morphs from a story about a putter and how it was developed into an investigation of a “con” that includes the outing of a woman (the inventor) as transgender. The author, while investigating the credentials, ultimately outs the inventor to one of her investors! At this point, it was difficult to control my outrage. Then I read how Essay Anne Vanderbilt committed suicide after back-and-forth emails with Hannan after he had already outed her to an investor in her company.
It was tweets from sportswriter Dave Zirin that first got my attention and it was through his tweets that I read this article from Cyd Ziegler of Outsports.com titled “How ESPN and Grantland desperately failed the trans community.” Think Progress had this piece titled “10 Questions Bill Simmons And ESPN Should Answer About ‘Dr. V’s Magical Putter‘” by Alyssa Rosenberg.
By Sunday night, ESPN issued a statement to Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch:
We understand and appreciate the wide range of thoughtful reaction this story has generated and to the family and friends of Essay Anne Vanderbilt, we express our deepest condolences. We will use the constructive feedback to continue our ongoing dialogue on these important and sensitive topics. Ours is a company that values the LGBT community internally and in our storytelling, and we will all learn from this.
Monday afternoon, Grantland posted a piece from Christina Karhl, herself a transgender employee of Grantland:
We’re here because Essay Anne Vanderbilt is dead.
And she’s dead because — however loath she was to admit it — she was a member of a community for whom tragedy and loss are as regular as the sunrise, a minority for whom suicide attempts outpace the national average almost 26 times over, perhaps as high as 41 percent of all trans people. And because one of her responses to the fear of being outed as a transsexual woman to some of the people in her life — when it wasn’t even clear the story was ever going to run — was to immediately start talking and thinking about attempting suicide. Again.
The second is that Hannan crossed an ethical and moral line when he outed Vanderbilt to an investor in Yar Golf. There was no compelling reason to do so; it took the choice of whether or not to disclose her status away from Vanderbilt—a choice that is, barring fairly extreme exigencies, solely to be made by the person it most affects. As Christina Kahrl put it in her review of the piece that ran on Grantland, “revealing her gender identity was ultimately as dangerous as it was thoughtless.”
Last night, Bill Simmons, the editor of Grantland posted a “Letter from the Editor.” The thing that bothers me most is here:
To be clear, Caleb only interacted with her a handful of times. He never, at any time, threatened to out her on Grantland.
Caleb’s biggest mistake? Outing Dr. V to one of her investors while she was still alive. I don’t think he understood the moral consequences of that decision, and frankly, neither did anyone working for Grantland.
There it is. At this point, it really doesn’t matter that Hannan never “threatened to out her on Grantland.” He had already outed her to an investor. Why would or could she believe he was not intending to do the same thing to the world?
Alyssa Rosenberg/Think Progress had a follow-up last night titled “The 4 Most Important Points In Bill Simmons’ Apology For Publishing A Piece Outing A Trans Woman.” For me, the outing of Essay Anne Vanderbilt is far and away the most egregious mistake in this whole mess. Reading Simmons’ note and others, I get a sense of “Hannan made a mistake, but…” on something that should have no “…but…”. Hannan made a grievous mistake, period. Everything that falls off after the outing — from the back-and-forth emails, the writing and editing of the piece, the suicide of Essay Anna Vanderbilt, the concentration on Vanderbilt’s being transgender, the publication of an article that most likely would not have been published without the suicide — all go back to that bright line being crossed where he outed her in the first place.
There is no apology, there are no explanations, there are no mitigating circumstances that can erase that hard fact.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.