Since my last newsletter, I heard from many of the people mentioned therein. “Heard from” is about the most euphemistic way I can put that. Jesse Singal went on a days-long tirade calling me a liar and misgendering me in several different directions. Matt Yglesias swung by my mentions to defend the conversion therapy Singal endorses as not sufficiently brutal to deserve the term, and accused me of trying to “confuse” people. Andrew Sullivan thinks I’m a “crybully.” Glenn Greenwald thinks I’m an illustration of “woke pathology.” In the wake of these men launching their audiences at me, there’s been (as I predicted) quite a bit of harassment from their followings, including some fairly disturbing stuff from Singal’s corner that makes me worry about my family’s safety.
You can often tell a person’s character by the enemies they make, and it is a genuine privilege to be hated by these men. The rage I’ve seen from them — which was predictable, since one of my major criticisms was that they tend to use their platforms to target, bully, and shut down marginalized voices — is by far outweighed by the support I’ve received elsewhere. I have so many messages I honestly can’t answer them all, and I’m sorry about that. Please know that I’m very grateful.
There was one other communication I did want to address publicly: Hamish McKenzie of Substack. Hamish wrote me a long, conciliatory and kindly worded letter defending their business model — my criticism of it stands — and ultimately saying there was a Pro deal on the table if I would consider staying on the platform.
I declined. Yes, there was a moment when I really, really wanted the money — even the minor Pro deals are reportedly very generous, and most writers live in the kind of financial precarity that makes it stupid to say “no” to any steady gig — but if Substack is willing to pay me for this newsletter, then it’s only because they see that as the smallest possible amount of money they could lose. They can stop the bleeding by paying me off, or they can lose even more money when trans and queer users and subscribers desert their platform and they lose credibility as anything but an outlet for professional bigots.
The pressure is working, in other words, and I’m not going to take a payout to make sure a massively successful media company gets to continue promoting and profiting from hate speech. Until Substack adjusts its model to provide real content moderation, I still don’t feel comfortable lending my name, credibility, or even a small percentage of my income to the platform. Included below is the full text of my response to Hamish. I think my tone is probably too conciliatory — reading it, I worry that I give the impression that a quick Band-Aid or a token apology would fix the problem — but you deserve to know my thinking.
Here’s where I’m at: I know the Pro deal would probably be a lot of money. I will probably kick myself for the rest of my life for what I’m about to say, because I need that money, and so does my kid, who needs an education, and my husband, who has been doing the heavy lifting financially for too long.
I cannot take the money if I know that, by doing so, I’m condoning or being used to whitewash the funding of TERFs. I’m not saying we can never have the conversation. I am saying that until content moderation policies are in place to restrict the funding of extremists who target marginalized groups, that conversation ends with “no.”
Jesse Singal is a threat. Graham Linehan is a threat. There are some guys on your platform I don’t like, but I share platforms with people I dislike all the time. This is different. Jesse Singal and Graham Linehan are both professionally anti-trans; they have built their careers specifically around arguing against the civil rights of trans people, and, in Singal’s case, promoting dangerous misinformation about the dangers of healthcare for trans children. In the UK, those myths and lies have already been used to revoke trans healthcare for minors, and in the US, there are dozens of bills intended to affect the same changes.
These men are fringe figures. They have both been subject to sustained protest. Their arguments, by now, are widely recognized to be hateful. The discrimination they stand for was recently rebuked by the Supreme Court. But being widely recognized as hateful didn’t stop the right-wing extremists who eventually led the riots on the Capitol, because they had the Internet, and could build audiences and incomes with it. TERFs have Substack. They can use your platform to generate enough money to live on — however they’re doing it — while they go on this crusade.
As a trans non-binary person, I am exceptionally lucky. I’m white. I have a middle-class income. I have a college degree. I work in a job I’ve always wanted. My family instantly accepted me when I came out. My husband loves me for who I am. I have a great relationship with my kid.
I have everything, and while all this is happening to me, trans children are committing suicide at horrific rates. More than half of trans boys have attempted to kill themselves. It’s 41.8% of non-binary people: https://www.hrc.org/news/new-study-reveals-shocking-rates-of-attempted-suicide-among-trans-adolescen
These kids are in crisis because they cannot access healthcare, they are abused and shamed by parents and peers alike, they relentlessly receive the message that they are worthless and broken and will never lead or deserve full lives, and there are adults like Singal and Linehan building a cottage industry out of targeting them, which has real-world consequences in the form of discriminatory legislation. Why was I given all this good fortune for [sic] if not to stand up for those kids?
So: If you have money to invest in me, then you have money to create and enforce a content moderation policy, stating that you do not host or fund content that promotes hate speech and/or targets marginalized groups. Even Twitter has those policies, and Twitter is a cesspool. Discrimination is not difference of opinion. “It’s just the Internet” stopped being a valid argument when Trump got elected. There has to be an understanding that, as you wrote, writers affect the culture [NOTE: The specific quote, which is highly relevant here, is “writers hold immense cultural value because they influence how almost everyone on the planet thinks”] and writers who argue that marginalized groups are subhuman will get people killed. That stance necessarily involves cracking down on the professional TERFs that use your platform. It involves losing some revenues from their accounts. But those revenues are derived from the death and suffering of kids. They are necessary losses. So is whatever I’m losing now.
You could pay me a quarter-million dollars, but I couldn’t use it to bring a single suicidal trans kid back to life. No amount of money will ever do that. They’re just gone, forever. They were all someone’s brother or best friend or first love. They were all someone’s baby, even if their parents didn’t deserve them. I’m a parent, before I’m anything else, and one fact I always remember is that every child does better in life if they have at least one safe adult. It doesn’t have to be a parent. It can be a teacher or a grandparent or a guidance counselor. Even one benevolent adult presence can save a kid’s life. I have got to be a safe adult to those kids, to whatever extent I can be. I cannot profit from their suffering.
I’m not a martyr. If I took a payout to be silent about the people targeting my community, then I would essentially be getting a big paycheck to never work again, because my audience would not stick with me knowing I could be bought. There is no way of justifying certain things, and if I started justifying them, or just staying silent about them in order to get a bigger cut, I would rightfully lose the respect of the community.
So: If you are willing to work on that content moderation policy, and if I see it enforced, then yes, we can probably have a discussion about my future with your platform. If not, I can just move my subscribers, go on paying rent, and continue living what is, all in all, an exceptionally fortunate life.
I’m not an idiot. I know I’m not going to get that money. But I would rather be paid a little for my writing than a lot for my silence. I wish I could buy my kid everything she wants or needs. But she will grow up learning that, in our family, we are not selfish, we do not help ourselves at someone else’s expense, and we always do what we can to make things fair for everybody. There are a lot of guys with a lot of money whose kids never get the chance to learn right from wrong.
I expect my next newsletter to be sent to you through a different platform.
UPDATE: I’ve selected my new platform and moved my subscriptions over there. If vou’ve been linked to this newsletter from outside, you may not see it, so if you’re in the mood to subscribe, please do so at jude-doyle.ghost.io