In a comment thread on Becky Juro's post about the Ron Gold controversy, a commenter asked me some very important questions. And since so many others have asked similar questions, I thought I'd put my responses into a blog post to further that important discussion.
I am new here, and trying to determine whether tbp is a "good fit" to be reading. though it is disheartening to know that some editors felt that the legitimacy & validity of trans experiences are "controversial" and up for debate, I trust that it's still possible the majority of contributors here could be worth reading.
you have said that this is an inclusive blog, that (essentially) mr. gold's post and its approval by the editors was an isolated incident, and thus I/we shouldn't paint the blog with a broad brush based on the inaccurate and blatantly transphobic piece that he wrote. if I am correct in this (and feel free to call me out otherwise) then I have a few questions...
I think you hit most of my major points pretty well and I'm happy to answer your questions as best I can.
-do tbp's terms of service apply to posts like his?
TBP's terms of service always apply to contributors, yes. In thinking this topic needed to be broached, Bil made a poor judgement call about whether this post crossed that line. We do tend to be rather lenient when someone's words attack an idea and not a specific person. Unfortunately, words like "deluded" and "mutilated" are very hurtful and feel like a personal attack and Bil didn't fully consider that aspect. He has taken responsibility for that.
Having this explained better than I was able to at the time is why Bil and the rest of the ed team ultimately decided to pull the article and also remove Gold as a contributor. That is a pretty drastic measure to take in our book and I believe makes clear that we take the concerns of the trans community seriously. If it were a stunt or done out of some malice, I would think our reaction would be much different.
I want to acknowledge here the good folks who reached out and did this education with us. They were understanding, respectful, and kind even though they too were horribly and deeply hurt and offended by Gold's words. There were some strained words among some dear friends, but it was good and healthy in the end and I think will make those relationships stronger.
-in the spirit of inclusion, what measures are currently taken to prevent transphobic content here?
First, all education is a journey. We're all at different places in that journey and we're, hopefully, all moving in the direction of better and more complete understanding. So, education is a big part of the process.
We've had 3 of our trans contributors offer to join the ed team and we will be adding one or more of them to the team in the hopes of doing a better job in the future. We have had trans ed team members in the past, but we currently do not have anyone who is trans on the team. We try to be very diverse, but being on the ed team is really a hard job for a group of volunteers.
We're also having discussions about what else we may need to do. We're a deliberative and cooperative team and we think it's vital to have input from inside and outside our group and have time to process our thoughts. It's hard to know exactly how to fix something when you're still getting your ass roundly kicked for it.
-in what ways are trans contributors supported?
We actively seek out and recruit trans contributors and have done so since the beginning. We regularly evaluate our coverage and look for under-represented perspectives on trans (and really all LGBT) issues and topics areas and then search for and recruit voices to speak to those issues and topics.
Other than marriage equality, our trans-related posts have the most heated and lively comment threads of any other posts on the site. We do our best to moderate those threads so they don't get out of hand. We are considerate of all points of view, but we try very hard to make sure that personal attacks and *-phobia(s) get tamped out quickly. We can't always hit that goal 100%, but it is our constantly repeated mantra to do so.
-if there is disagreement over whether content will be hurtful to trans people, which voices in the debate are granted greater credibility: trans voices or non-trans voices?
Anyone with direct experience will always have more credibility than someone who does not. I'm certain that if a trans person had been included in this discussion to begin with, the post would have never run - at least not in the form it ran with such derogatory and hurtful language. That was an oversight and something we intend to not let happen in the future.
Trans concerns do not take a backseat here. We believe in putting everyone on as equal of footing as possible. Not understanding an issue is not the same as not being respectful of such issues. Mistakes do and will happen and I believe they are an important part of learning and growing. We cannot undo the past, but we can learn from it and work toward preventing those mistakes in the future.
-was this just a publicity stunt to increase traffic?
This question wasn't asked in the original exchange, but I've added it because so many are throwing around the accusation that this was just a stunt.
First off, all blogs take measures to help increase their traffic. From using keywords to make your content easily found in searches to getting and giving links to other relevant content that builds the "web" that makes the internet run.
Also, posting pictures and videos that are popular is very much common practice around the blogosphere.
What isn't common practice, and we feel rather insulted having insinuated, is that we would intentionally cause harm to members of the LGBT community just for the sake of a few extra hits. I fail to understand what good that serves.
There is no good in having an angry swarm of visitors show up for a few days and then go away never to return. Our goal is to build a loyal and dedicated readership over time. That's what makes a blog successful in the long term.
It's our job to make that content easily found and accessible so the readers do indeed come to our site for information, but we want them to stick around when they come. If they leave in disgust or anger, we've only hurt ourselves and it serves no purpose. Anyone who knows anything about building an online community knows this and it's something we take seriously.
We're provocative, we push boundaries, and sometimes, we post some fluff too. But we'd never cause intentional hurt for the sake of traffic to the site. The idea is ludicrous.
-what changes will occur to prevent this from happening in the future?
I've given some of the answers to this question in my answers above. I think the most important change has already happened: There is a better understanding of the power of words and that there is more to learn about being sensitive to a community's threshold's and standards - they may be different than one's own.
We will definitely include trans voices on discussions about trans topics and how we cover them or allow them to be covered. I think our biggest mistake was not reaching out to the trans community before this piece was published.
We won't let something like that happen again.
We're putting together a new site design that has some new features, such as a comment reporting mechanism and entry recommendations that will hopefully empower our readers to be more active in shaping the way content is handled on the site.
Other than that, the discussion is ongoing. (Trust me, I haven't talked about much else in the past few days.) So, the request for input and ideas is an honest one - to paraphrase Becky in her post - this place IS for all of us. We'll push your boundaries, make you think, and sometimes make you scream...But it's never our intention to be disrespectful or hurt members of our own community.
That's what guides us and that's why I'm confident about the future.
I invite your thoughts, questions, and/or critiques in the comments.