Sunday, 19 January 2014

Whose lies?

The following represents my opinion regarding Caleb Hannan's role in the death of Dr V.

One of my close relatives runs a small business. She constantly complains of how some of her larger competitors resort to dishonest means to attract clients, yet no journalist has ever made it his or her business to investigate these practices. This is because they happen all the time. 

In fact you can dig into all sorts of products to find untruths, lies and false claims. Everything from cigarette manufacturers claiming they improved fitness and didn’t cause cancer to thorough misdescriptions of hotels and holiday resorts, perhaps omitting to mention the building site next door or the flightpath over the beach. Occasionally journalists pick up on something like this and, occasionally lies and untruths make it into the media.  But only occasionally.

So when Caleb Hannan produces an article in which he outs a transwoman who has reportedly failed to provide him with evidence that she was telling the truth about her qualifications and past experience when selling a new type of golf club, then he is talking about something that happens regularly, systemically and persistently. 

I know food supplement companies who claim endorsements from doctors, yet we are not told how much those doctors were paid for those endorsements, or indeed whether they would have endorsed those products if they were not paid. Have you ever wondered how someone working out in the fields all day was supposed to eat a Ploughman’s Lunch? Well the truth is that it is highly likely that no ploughman has ever eaten a Ploughman’s Lunch, at least when he was working in the fields, and today he would be unable to afford a quality piece of Cheddar on sumptuous wholemeal bread since the government introduced poverty wages for agricultural workers. It is a marketing ploy, a con invented in the 1960s by which time ploughmen had been replaced by tractor drivers. Apple’s white, open, clean, forward-thinking, hypercool presentation of its philosophy and its products does not sit well with the filthy, oppressive, slave-labour conditions, accusations of bullying, high rate of suicide and poverty wages at its assembly plant in China.

If we were to search for whiter-than-white business purity, to find a business that does not stretch the truth, which does not use less than honest means to push its products in competitive markets then we would have to look very hard indeed. I have been lied to, not just by estate agents, as you might expect, but by salesmen and women of different companies, solicitors, tradesmen, potential employers, IT maintenance services, laser hair removal providers, rail companies and airlines.

When I say ‘lied’ I mean usually that there were things that I needed to know that they were not telling me, and that, unless I asked the exact right question I would not have been told. 

For example:

Q: “How long is the lease?”
A: “It’s around 80 years.”
Q: “How long exactly?”
A: “Erm, let me get back to you…”

… a week later…

Q: “You were going to provide me with exact details of the length of the lease…?”
A: “erm…yes… It’s...errr... 79 years and 8 months.”

Anyone who knows anything about residential properties in the UK and lease extensions will know that there is a huge difference in the cost of renewing a lease (and thus the resale value) on a property with 80 years and one day left on the lease and one with 79 years and 364 days left, (thanks to Cadogan v Sportelli if you must know).

So dishonesty and concealment of the truth are therefore regular players in the commercial world. When Dr V was selling her new golf club Caleb Hannan suggests that some of her claims about her own past were not true, something that Jane Fae has written about here; pointing out that Hannan has not actually verified his claims, particularly in terms of absence of evidence.

What we do know about the product she was selling however is that it was a good product, it worked. It is something that would most likely have sold itself once a few people in the golf world had got their hands on it and won games, improved their handicaps etc. However Dr V needed to get her product out there and used by enough people for this to happen before one of the larger sports equipment makers copied it and drove her out of business. Yes we have patent laws to prevent this from happening but unless you have almost unlimited access to expensive lawyers you won’t stand a chance of enforcing a patent when you are up against a large multinational company. So she had to move fast if she wanted to capitalize on her invention.

Her product is clearly revolutionary and will change the way golf is played, so what is the difference between telling people its inventor went to this or that university and suggesting to people munching overpriced open sandwiches that they are eating something which is traditional and has probably been around for centuries? Especially when you have promised to focus on the product not the producer. In the end the product is good, in spite of the amateur marketing.

Personally I am inclined not to believe Hannan’s claims about Dr V's lies for the simple reason that he has form in being less than thorough and straightforward in his own journalist career. Not only that but he refused point-blank to negotiate the opportunity to go and verify Dr V’s credentials from her previous life, something that could potentially have resulted in his scoop being less sensationalist. And if he had seen evidence that Dr V’s qualifications, which he doubted were true, that would suggest that some of the other things she claimed were also true. In other words his story would have fallen apart like a house of cards. Was this his motivation behind his refusal to explore this further...?

This didn’t appear to matter to Hannan however and consequently he will forever be tainted with questions about DrV’s death, especially since, as I suspect will happen in due course, evidence comes to light about her past which tells a different story to that of Hannan.

One of the things Hannan has clearly failed to research however is the way trans people live. In some parts of the US, like New York or San Francisco it may be possible to live openly as a trans person. However there are many parts of America, and indeed plenty of other countries too, where being openly trans is a death sentence, or at least a route to social and economic marginalisation. So what he tells us is her ‘dishonesty’ about her gender (and which I would describe as ‘honesty’ about her gender; her real gender is female, if she were to present as anything else she would be lying) is in fact a means of protecting herself both physically and emotionally.

Being trans is hard, cisgenderism in our culture means that the world is not set up to accommodate trans people and as a result we suffer from exclusion, delegitimisation and violence. People, especially in the media, seem to consider us legitimate targets for outing when the story has nothing to do with our genders.  Yet Hannan went ahead with outing Dr V when he clearly didn’t know anything about trans people, how we lead our lives, how precarious those lives can be and how dangerous the world can be for trans people.

How do we know this? Well the most telling part of his entire article we this;

“Finally it hit me. Cliché or not, a chill actually ran up my spine.
“Are you trying to tell me that Essay Anne Vanderbilt was once a man?””

In particular what Hannan describes as a “chill” going up his spine suggests the possibility of a number of things;
  • 1.     He knows little or nothing about trans people
  • 2.     He considers trans people to be inherently evil
  • 3.     He considers trans people to be inherently problematic
  • 4.     He considers that being trans is a form of deception. This is reinforced by his subsequent misgendering of Dr V.
  • 5.     He is transphobic.
  • 6.     He lacks empathy for other human beings

What is most striking about Hannan is how, despite deciding out her as trans, he clearly had no idea about what it means to out a trans person. What would the implications have been for her personally? How would that have affected things like her job, her accommodation and her personal safety and security, the people in her neighbourhood? It is also clear from the story that being trans had nothing to do with its substance other than making it difficult for her to substantiate her claims to her qualifications and experience.

Yet Hannan includes her gender identity in his story in the full knowledge that Dr V’s gender is irrelevant to the substance of the case. In my opinion he does this in order to make it more sensational and more likely to sell. In other words Dr V's life was collateral damage in Caleb Hannan's career, he considered that her life did not matter, especially when presented with the opportunity for a sensationalist and prurient story. Trans people are of little consequence, we are less than human. 

Hannan also joins the lowest of the low when he deliberately misgenders her in the article. This is the oldest trick in the book and an opportunity to make your journalism appear 'edgy' and 'transgressive'. Except it is neither, misgendering is a low level moronic move which any idiot can do it. It is about as edgy and transgressive as neoliberalism and as intelligent as George W Bush.

Had he done a little research he would have discovered that many trans people were routinely advised to cover their past, to invent a backstory, move to another city and start a new life. This used to be standard practice for psychologists in gender clinics and many trans people still do it today. Being in “deep stealth” is a means of survival in a world which is hostile to trans people. I know a young trans woman who lives this way despite transitioning only a few months ago. Of course once you tell one lie, others inevitably have to follow, but these are not deliberate, intentional, malicious lies however, they are lies borne of necessity, forced on us by others in society who are intolerant of trans people. Other people's lies by proxy.

Yet Hannan appears to have done no research and made the decision to out Dr V without considering the consequences for her. This is, in my opinion, unforgivable, especially since it was something that was irrelevant to substance of the story. I suspect that this is the most likely explanation of what happened, and the most generous. Because the other is that he did do some research, was aware of the possible consequences for her but did it anyway, which is even more unforgivable. instead he has done nothing more than rehash the tired old 'trans-as-deception' lie.

And let us be honest here, Grantland is also less than pure whiter-than-white over this story. It did not have to publish, or it could have published without outing Dr V. One suspects that the temptation of go for clickbait and associated advertising revenue was the motivation behind it, in my opinion this is thoroughly reprehensible. 

So let's recap. A person who has a less than pure, whiter-than-white past, working for a blog that appears to have less than scrupulous morals about clickbait, has savaged someone else for appearing, also to be less than a pure, whiter-than-white geeky inventor, and exposed part of her life which was irrelevant to this, to sensationalise her and prop up an otherwise non-story. 

Trans people's lives are complicated, business is complicated, journalists constantly set up straw men of uncontaminated, whiter-than-white, purity as the norm in our society, when it is abundantly clear that this is not the case, they then act like outraged saints knocking it down. Except in this case, as with so many "journalists" they are far from uncontaminated by skeletons in their own closets.

No-one comes out of this with clean hands, but the filthy, exploitative and selfish actions of the editor of Grantland and Caleb Hannan, make Dr V appear almost angelic.