Tobi Hill-Meyer

Open Letter to The Advocate

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | June 22, 2010 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Brianna Freeman, Kimah Nelson, Lance Bass, Sissy, Sissy Awards, The Advocate, transphobia

Yesterday I received an apology from Christopher Harrity, Manager of Online Production, apologizing for misidentifying my photo as Briana Freeman. It's quite clear that it was not malicious, but simply a matter of not paying close enough attention while google image searching. He was "horrified" to think that his mistake caused me strife, tried to reassure me that the transphobic commenters were just being mean because it's the internet, and he asked if there was anything else The Advocate could do.

As a matter of fact, there is. I explain how the problem goes deeper than mean anonymous commenters and a random mistake and outline steps The Advocate needs to take to correct this ongoing problem in my open letter behind the cut.

Thanks for getting back to me about this. I think what caught me off guard the most is that such comments could be coming from an LGBT readership. I know that people can cut loose with inappropriate comments that they wouldn't say to your face, but still, I deal with negative comments nearly every day in the LGBT blogs I write in and I've never had anyone ridicule and invalidate my appearance and my gender to such a degree except once in a very juvenile straight space and a second time when the picture you posted ran on a bunch of local media (it's an altered version of the original and I believe it was designed to highlight the hairs on my chin and make the shadows on my cheek look like they could be facial hair).

Part of me does appreciate that the comments were taken down, but I feel that the sentiment behind them will remain as long as they go unchallenged. I wrote my comment response -- and I noticed a few other people did as well -- as a part of challenging and discrediting their transphobic behavior. I know they would be out of context without the original comments, but I feel there should be some sort of response to challenge that behavior. I could write another response or perhaps you could.

But additionally, there seems to be a pattern of lack of attention paid to the trans issues that get reported in The Advocate. Do you remember this story from a year ago? A lot of folks in the trans community do. A trans woman and her cis male partner got a marriage license. Local media sources picked it up claiming that they were a same-sex couple that "fooled" the government -- a typical transphobic sentiment. The Advocate reposted the story unquestioningly when anyone familiar with trans issues would have immediately have known that it was not a story of a same-sex couple after reading this line:

Nelson goes by the name "Kimah" and hopes to have transition surgery one day. Stenson views Nelson as a woman, and does not consider himself gay.

Nonetheless, The Advocate story used male pronouns for Kimah, identified her by her birth name instead of Kimah, put her real name in quote marks to indicate that it is not her real name, and referred to them as a same-sex couple the whole way through the article. A number of people in the trans community brought this to the attention of The Advocate, as that is below the standards we expect from mainstream straight publications, indeed it doesn't even meet the AP guidelines. Kimah's pronouns were changed to "she" but the other elements that invalidated her identity and her and her fiancé's sexual orientations remained.

But even that didn't last. I don't know when it happened, but when I looked back at the story a few months ago I noticed her pronouns had been changed back to male pronouns.

Another small way that you could make things better is to get that year-old article changed so that it is no longer riddled with transphobic assumptions which we know to simply be untrue. I expect this mistake was not malicious, just as I know your mistake last week wasn't, but it does seem indicative of a lack of attention paid to trans issues when they are covered.

And two years ago, The Advocate ran the "Sissy Awards" which highlighted homophobes and called them "sissies." There's not much anything that could be done to fix this article, but it's worth noting that effeminate men were ridiculed just as much as homophobes were in that article and both this and the mishandling of the trans marriage story feed into a cultural perspective that makes it okay to make fun of trans women, call us "men in wig[s]" and discuss how ugly and and scary we are, and how we are dragging down the gays and lesbians.

And for one final example, two and half years ago, the Advocate published an article called Why Wasn't This The Year of Lance Bass, which suggested that Lance Bass coming out was the most significant LGBT issue of the year and directly ridiculed anyone who thought it wasn't. That was the year of the 2007 betrayal of ENDA and the amazing response of United ENDA. It's pretty clearly the most historically significant issue to the trans community for the decade if not more. Having it be ignored in favor of a celebrity coming out made it seem as if The Advocate was drastically out of touch with even the most basic happenings relevant to the trans community.

With all this happening I can't help but wonder if you have any trans people on staff or if they are in positions where they have editorial power. If you really want to make it up to me there needs to be an ongoing refutation of the transphobia that has been instilled in The Advocate readership and some basic trans representation within the magazine. Having non-trans people writing on trans issues can be useful, but is clearly not enough in this case. I can only imagine that a regular trans columnist or a trans person in an editorial position could begin to fix this long-term problem. Given the employment discrimination trans people face, there's an abundance of well-qualified trans writers and editors looking for work and you could probably pick up a good one. I could even suggest a few if you'd like.

So to recap here's what you can do to make it up to me:

  1. Post something challenging the transphobic behavior of the commenters and calling it out as inappropriate

  2. Fix the male pronouns and male references to Kimah Nelson, remove her birth name, remove references to them being a same-sex couple or having fooled the government.

  3. Hire at least one if not more trans people as regular columnists, reporters, and/or editors on staff, preferably at least one editor so they can review other people's stories on trans issues.

Please keep me up to date on progress on these points.



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"Hire at least one if not more trans people as regular columnists, reporters, and/or editors on staff, preferably at least one editor so they can review other people's stories on trans issues."

Don't hold your breath on this one. They are probably in the business of being Transphobic. Sort of like a Rush Limbaugh or a Glenn Beck.

Would you write for the Advocate if they offered you a column?

I'd take that job, Greg. I spent a year as the trans columnist for the Rehoboth Beach Gayzette and EXP Publications and I did quite well according to my editor...that is until I was canned and my column was replaced by a page of pictures of shirtless gay men (and no, I'm not kidding). Frankly, I could use the work and so could many of trans writers.

There's no shortage of quality trans writers for the Advocate to choose from for regular trans-relevant content. I'd like to see that happen, but then we've been waiting for that for an awfully long time already.

Yeah, I know you're not kidding. Just what the world needs more of... unrealistic standards of beauty.

I guess I should re-start my Out subscription so I can complain. It'll have to wait til payday though.

Depending on the compensation and terms, sure. But that's not what I'm angling for. I'm already spread kinda thin and I'd probably have to drop a project. I probably would drop one of my projects if they specifically wanted me, but otherwise, like I said, I could definitely recommend some folks. Rebecca was one of the people I was thinking of.

I was going to say, "I hope you arent holding your breath for a repply?", but Allison beat me to it.

I have never paid much attention to The Advocate, because it was pretty obvious from the occasional issues I looked through in my therapist's office that this mag is pretty much addressed to well-off gay men on the make, with a bit of stuff thrown in for cis-lesbians, and that they were trans-exclusive at best, and more likely transphobic. I was actually pretty happy to see that they mag had failed and gone to being some slip-in to Out, which from what I have seen, isnt much better.

The Advocate?
Well the print version is great to wrap fish in but the electronic one just ends up smelling fishy to me...

Good for you, and excellent response.

I hope they listen, but won't be holding my breath.

The Advocate... what a lost cause that one is. They don't even properly represent their target demographic very well (cis gay men). They never have actually, unless you were a gym bunny disco-lovin' butch-lite gay guy...

I do like your letter, you were more charitable with their motivations than I would have been. I hope something gets through to them as they are currently an embarrassment - and not just about trans stuff, but general basic journalism and fact checking.

While The Advocate has always disgusted me and I am continually appalled by them your behavior here Tobi has been great. Your response and your comments in their space are exactly what we need to see. I find it ironic that they use the term advocate and yet they do not act as such in any way and that you have, in this, shown what advocacy is.
As much as people fight here on TBP I have to say that I appreciate it even more when I see things like the advocate because we have a place where we can advocate for trans, bi, class and racial issues and other issues as they contact our community.
Keep it up Tobi.