Finding the Line: Thoughts on Grantland's Perceived Outing of a Transsexual

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Finding the Line: Thoughts on Grantland’s Perceived Outing Of A Transgender Woman

By Brian Byrd | Think Pieces | January 22, 2014 | Comments ()


As a former newspaper reporter and proud owner of a journalism degree from [REDACTED] University, I follow the continually revised, inherently individual rulebooks governing modern media with great interest. I’m not referring to the “AP Stylebook”; rather, the subjective but generally acceptable standards by which responsible writers should conduct themselves. The lack of definition surrounding these fluid, shifting parameters is what makes the following controversy worth exploring.

Last Wednesday, the sports/pop-culture site Grantland published a lengthy feature by writer Caleb Hannan about the inventor of a supposed “magical putter” appearing in numerous YouTube videos and endorsed by well-known former golfer Gary McCord. The club’s brainchild, Essay Anne Vanderbilt - or Dr. V - claimed to be an aeronautical physicist at MIT who developed a revolutionary putter by rejecting golf’s conventional wisdom. When Hannan began researching Dr. V’s credentials and background, discrepancies appeared.

Turns out that Dr. V did not receive aerospace engineering degrees from MIT or the University of Pennsylvania. As Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons would later write, “Just about everything she had told Caleb, at every point of his reporting process, turned out not to be true.” There was something else Hannan learned inadvertently: prior to 2003, Essay Anne Vanderbilt was Stephen Krol, a former mechanic and restaurant manager. Toward the end of the piece, Hannan reveals that Dr. V committed suicide on October 18th, 2013.

I read the story Thursday, and like many others, was floored by both the reporting and the revelations. Nothing struck me as untoward. Accolades for Hannan’s work poured in.

Then Friday came. And a lot of people were very upset. The narrative shifted to one of gross negligence. Many were enraged that a reporter outed a transsexual woman against her wishes. Expletive-laden accusations - including “murderer” - flooded Grantland’s inbox and Hannan’s Twitter feed.

Monday, Simmons penned a thoughtful, enlightening, and candid apology piece where he took sole responsibility for the content and explained in great detail the methodology behind the editorial process. Grantland also ran a companion editorial penned by contributor and GLAAD board member Christina Kahrl that meticulously — and sometimes harshly — examined the areas where the writer and the site erred. After reading Simmons’ breakdown, it’s awfully hard to conclude that Grantland or Hannan willfully outed a transgender individual for the purpose of sensationalizing a story. They are, I believe, guilty of poor decision making and ignorant about transgender issues - a fact Kahrl starkly illustrates and Simmons acknowledges.

Others disagree, including Kahrl, who writes that Hannan was “excited to share” the news that Dr. V was a transsexual woman and characterized his story as reinforcing “several negative stereotypes about trans people.” If you require a pop-culture tie-in, she also calls Jared Leto an “unsympathetic ass” for his “caricature of a trans woman” in Dallas Buyers Club.

Overall, I disagree with several of Kahrl’s positions, although she does raise very legitimate points concerning noun/pronoun usage — Hannan described Dr. V as a “troubled man” — and a seemingly cavalier attitude toward her secret, as evidenced by Hannan’s offhand mention to an investor that Dr. V used to be a man (I urge you to check out the original and both analysis pieces. There’s much more than what I’ve summarized here).

This being the Internet, divergent camp arose, each viewing these actions and reactions through opposing prisms. Critics argue that Cannan’s language, phrasing, and subsequent revelations exhibit a callous and borderline-malevolent disregard for transgender issues, including the fact that more than 40 percent of all transgender individuals attempt suicide. Supporters feel that because Hannan stumbled across the transgender knowledge rather than seeking it out, and that he presented the information in the context of a larger story, adding the controversial subject matter was appropriate.

To me, the inclusion of Dr. V’s gender in the story comes down to two things: relevance, and intent. First, was the fact that prior to 2003, Dr. V was a male living under a different name germane to a story investigating potential deception in the golf world? In my opinion, yes. There were too many open questions about her background. How Hannan could delve into her fabricated backstory without mentioning her years under a different name and gender is beyond me. At the very least, I understand why Hannan and over a dozen Grantland editors considered the info pertinent. Could the story have run without the reveal? Perhaps. But if you agree the information supported the story, I’m not sure it should have.

Grantland was boxed in. Publish the story without the transgender portions, and the site could be credibly accused of attempting to whitewash their direct involvement in a tragedy. It’s difficult to imagine that Dr. V’s fate - and secret - would remain buried in the Twitter age. A cursory Google search turns up an obit.

Simmons touches on this in his apology: “Even now, it’s hard for me to accept that Dr. V’s transgender status wasn’t part of this story. Caleb couldn’t find out anything about her pre-2001 background for a very specific reason. Let’s say we omitted that reason or wrote around it, then that reason emerged after we posted the piece. What then?”

Fair. So then why not yank the story altogether? Perhaps that was the better option, and the one most deem appropriate in hindsight. A few nuggets here, though. One, it’s hard to imagine someone close to Dr. V wouldn’t publicly mention that she was worried a Grantland writer was about to out her in a nationally published piece, particularly after her suicide. Two, spiking the piece raises almost as many concerns as it solves, albeit less publicly.

Does a heartbreaking outcome supersede a story’s merits? Even if the suicide was directly related to Hannan’s line of inquiry, would pulling the piece wipe away its sins? That’s challenging if for no other reason than precedent. Should stories with objectionable resolutions sit on the shelf? Do we not investigate those with a high likelihood of suicide, even if the subject is, say, a morally reprehensible criminal rather than someone who merely embellished facts in order to better market a putter? Hell, would the reaction be the same had Dr. V not committed suicide? I can’t begin to answer those questions. An editor must consider them.

The second piece is intent. I don’t know Caleb Hannan. He comes across as thoughtful and curious from what little I’ve read about him. While several of his decisions create ground for legitimate debate, there’s little doubt that he made a career-altering mistake in outing Dr. V to one of her investors when it wasn’t yet clear his story would include the gender reveal or even run at all. To some, that’s an unforgivable error, and I won’t attempt to dissuade anyone from holding that viewpoint.

Personally, it’s hard to string him up. Maybe it’s because we’re the same age. Maybe it’s because I’ve written stories that painted subjects with less-than-flattering colors and asked questions I’ve later come to regret. Regardless, I can’t imagine the doubt and anguish Hannan is experiencing right now, both on a personal and professional level. It terrifies me partly because I can easily see myself reporting this story in an identical manner, oblivious to the consequences of an outwardly innocuous question. As much as I’d want to believe I didn’t cause someone to take their life, the fact that I’d never truly know with any certainty would haunt me for as long as I breathe.

Furthermore, if I ever made a mistake with a story published here, my first concern wouldn’t be for my own reputation. It would be for Pajiba’s. A scandal’s half-life varies by participant. My name would be forgotten after a few Internet news cycles - approximately point-four seconds - and I could always write again under a pseudonym (spoiler alert: this isn’t my real name anyway). Fair or otherwise, Pajiba would remain known as “that site that caused someone to take their life” for far longer. Few things are harder to rebuild than reputation. The realization that Hannan dented Grantland’s almost certainly crossed and re-crossed his mind a million times since last Friday.

At the same time, I couldn’t begin to put myself in Dr. V’s shoes, faced with the petrifying reality that a deeply personal secret is about to be involuntarily exposed. Like Hannan, I’m essentially unfamiliar with transgender concerns. My singular experience involves an old friend of my wife’s. She came out on Facebook a few months back, and while we haven’t met, I was incredibly impressed with her eloquent post, her bravery, and the outpouring of support exhibited by the online community, particularly considering where we live. That mostly positive experience is probably an outlier, though I didn’t realize it until reading Kahrl’s piece. I know nothing of that world, so to pretend that Dr. V could have handled the disclosure differently is naïve.

The ability to successfully navigate turbulent waters is a skill often acquired through failure. Without experience, we’ll continue to trip over the same rocks. Collective ignorance around transgender difficulties isn’t limited to Grantland. It’s a societal flaw. We rightfully laud the rapid progress made toward gay and lesbian equality, yet transgender awareness still exists on the margins. As such, widespread criticisms that this story was clearly mishandled at every possible turn ring hollow for me. Kahrl’s opinions carry weight because she’s a part of the culture. She’s been through it. Most everyone else - including national sports columnists who initially loved the piece then pulled an e-brake 180 once public perceptions shifted - lack the understanding to call foul. Especially post-publication.

Look, I’m no wise sensei. As I said, I know as little about the transgender community as anyone, and my opinions on this have evolved over the last 48 hours. While I’ll likely never find myself in an identical situation, the takeaways here transcend profession. Draw whatever lesson you feel is prudent, even if it’s as elemental as “be careful.” You never know when it might matter.

Note: This topic may generate a fair amount of conversation, so I’ll try to participate in all reasonable discussions and provide additional context for my opinions wherever possible. However, anyone who takes the position that the writer or Grantland is a murderer - or believes Dr. V deserved her fate because she was exposed as a fraud - will be ignored. Gleefully. Be better than the parties you choose to criticize.

Brian Byrd is a prolific tweeter of subpar tweets. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • premie

    I'm starting to detect a pattern in the reaction to this piece. I think on some level, this makes people upset because the outing can be used to perpetuate a negative stereotype about transgender people. A "Lying con man living a lie" narrative which could be applied to the trans community as a whole. However, in this case, we really are dealing with a lying con-woman. Her story should not be used to paint all trans people with the same false stereotype or to reinforce prejudice but, in this particular case, we have a person who was deliberately misrepresenting herself in order to take advantage of others.

  • premie

    This woman was perpetuating fraud. She concealed her true identity, manufactured credentials that did not exist, and used these falsehoods to induce people to invest in her business and buy her products. That is illegal. The whole time she is representing that she is natural born member of the Vanderbilt family. How the fuck is the truth about her not relevant to the story?? Who she is, what she lied about and why are all germane facts. Sometimes people let their empathy and activism cloud their judgment and skew their conclusions. What if the woman had just lived another life under a different name prior to making all of this up? Would THAT have been relevant?

  • disqus_dIn5QsXhrL

    I love Pajiba, and I think Brian is a talented writer. I don't think he was being callous or disrespectful in writing this piece. However, being the type of site Pajiba is, I'm not sure that this is the ideal primary stance to take in talking about this issue. In my opinion, it doesn't represent our community as a place of thoughtful, open-minded, informed people. This article is Pajiba's one real opinion piece on the topic, and already its title includes "Perceived Outing"? Also, despite the title reading "transgender" above the actual text now, it still says "transsexual" in your actual link, and this is misinformed - and possibly offensive.

    It wasn't "perceived" - Hannan (and Grantland as a whole) did out this woman. And what he wrote clearly caused her enough anguish that it contributed (in whatever amount) to her death. I really don't think Hannan is the person we should be concerned with protecting right now, with his talent or naïveté as an excuse.

    I'm not saying that Vanderbilt didn't do anything wrong - despite creating an interesting (and maybe revolutionary?) product, she absolutely misrepresented her academic and professional credentials. But she did not misrepresent herself as a woman. She was a woman, and the way Hannan discussed her trans status was ignorant and appalling. She was used for a story, and now she's dead. This is tragic, and I don't think Pajiba really needed to publish a quasi-defence piece on Hannan.

  • JarekM

    While the tone of defense in Brian's piece as it pertains to Hannan took me by surprise, and I agree with pretty much everything else you said, I don't think it's fair to say that this isn't "the ideal primary stance [for Pajiba] to take in talking about this issue," because put simply, this *isn't* Pajiba's stance. This is Brian Byrd's stance, and to suggest otherwise is reducing Pajiba's entire staff and readership to one opinion, which we can see even from this comment section, is not the case. Nowhere in Brian's piece did he ever imply that his words represented any opinions other than his own. Perhaps a point/counterpoint sort of thing could be done with another writer whose opinion falls on the opposing side of this matter, but to say that you didn't think Pajiba needed to publish the piece just because you don't agree with the sentiments expressed by the writer is quite a slippery slope.

  • disqus_dIn5QsXhrL

    I get what you're saying, and I am not trying to imply that Brian = Pajiba. But he does represent Pajiba, just as Hannan was representing Grantland, or any journalist represents their media outlet, etc. When some douche on Fox News says something crazy, we say, "Fox News was spreading more bullshit today," right?

    So I guess what I was really trying to emphasize was that Pajiba chose to publish exactly one article on the topic, and this was it. Any relative newcomer to the site would think, "Okay, so if we round up all the stuff around the internet that's been written about this story, Site A was outraged, Site B was ridiculous, Site C was well-informed… And Pajiba clearly knew little about trans issues and was largely sympathetic to Hannan." As a person who likes Pajiba and agrees with the site's general stance on most issues, I am a little disappointed that this was the case.

  • Guest

    I've read a lot of think-pieces on this particular subject, but this one was the one that stuck with me at work. The whole situation is tragic for all involved, particularly of course, Dr V. I would doubt very much that there isn't a lot of regret from everyone at Grandland, Hannan, and ESPN and I don't think I could add to what everyone else here as written.

    What stuck with me though, was Brian's consideration of Hannan.

    I'm 30 years old, and I have a job that has real world implications on people's livelihood. Every day I make decisions and take actions that have ramifications on people's employment. I feel the weight of this responsibility and probably 50% of the time I am making these decisions based on judgement absence of any real practical experience I can draw from. All the while, I'm also trying to balance how aggressive my course of action can be to mitigate unnecessarily risk but still compliment my (healthy) ambition as a young professional. Sometimes I get it right, but I've gotten it wrong before and I remember everything about my missteps and am thankful none were too large to "make right" and I've been allowed to grow and get better.

    Hannan will never get to make it right with Dr. V, make it right with her story, and he may never even make it right with the transgendered-community and their supporters who feel rightly deeply hurt. Just thinking about it through the lenses of my situation haunts me and yes, makes me feel sympathy for Hannan.

  • withfloyd

    This is a HUGE disappointment to read on Pajiba. After so many thought-provoking think pieces, too. Brian, you and Caleb and Bill all need to check your goddamn privilege. Caleb's writing was just plain bad journalism, Bill's "apology" was TO CALEB ("gee, I'm so sorry I failed this fine upstanding young man") and you confused transgender and transsexual while defending a "journalist" whose claim to fame is built around a story that's essentially ZOMG TRANSWOMAN WHAT A TWIST.

    Quite honestly, none of you have any experience or credibility writing about this topic and it shows. The ignorance on display here is appalling. I hope you will read the many links to Shakesville and others who actual know what the fuck they're talking about.

  • HelloLongBeach

    I read Bill Simmons' apology letter and good God! He doesn't get it. I thought his letter came off as disingenuous. I mean the whole thing is about how he and his staff were uneducated about Trans issues and just didn't know how to use pronouns or didn't realize or misunderstood or just didn't think of the consequences of their actions. Nothing about what they DID do.

    I am sorry that I trivialized a persons life and suicide for the sake of a story. I am sorry that I thought that was the RIGHT thing to do.

    I'm sorry your upset is not now and never has been an apology! It only goes to show that he does not understand why people are upset, perhaps because he has trouble empathizing with people. Not Trans people. PEOPLE! Which is all that Trans people are by the way. People. PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE
    You misuse a pronoun or two or all of them, uhg, fine. You use someone's body, gender, color, sexual orientation or ANYTHING as reason to trivialize their suicide, reducing them to nothing more than "troubled man" fuck you.

  • This article is my favorite so far about the entire situation. I'd highlight a few bits and pieces, but I feel like I'd end up copying and pasting the whole thing.

    The important gist is that in the article, in the apology, in all of the fallout, the nuances of who Dr. V was have been lost in this character arch projected on her, and it has been forgotten that anyone's gender status is one single facet of who they are, and is not necessarily relevant or important to any given story. That outing her is still considered an important part of a story that was not in any way related to her gender misses entirely why outing her in this or any context was wrong and unnecessary.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I recant most everything I've said thusfar in this thread. That's all.

  • NateMan

    I'm upvoting not because I think you need to recant anything - you asked questions without judgement, and that's always okay. But you're always good about keeping an open mind and staying civil, which is even better.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I just realized that the questions I was pointing to all stem from the horribly inconsistent reporting and the gaping holes in the story. I was barking up the wrong tree. The main point being that the story should have never seen the light of day as it was written.

  • NateMan

    Can't argue with ya there.

  • HelloLongBeach

    I am unfamiliar with Grantland. Are the writers usually a big part of their own stories? If someone asked me to describe what the piece was about I would have to say it was about Caleb Hannan, his process and his feelings. The story about Dr. V was secondary and the effectiveness and worth of the putter hardly entered into the narrative.

  • Honestly, I'm pretty disappointed to find a thinkpiece on Pajiba of all places that comes down on this side of this story.
    I think it's important to note that from the beginning of Hannan's work on the piece, the ground rules that Dr. V put in place were that she would participate as long as the story was about the putter, and its science, but not about its scientist. Hannan violated those ground rules, and more crucially, he violated the journalistic ethic (that they really, really should have taught you at [REDACTED] University, like they taught me at Bowling Green State University) to attempt to minimize undue harm to your subject.
    It's ludicrous to claim that in a profile of a swanky new putter, the gender identity of its inventor is relevant information. If we were talking about outing a closeted lesbian (for some reason) I can't imagine that this would be a debate.
    I think it's also extremely telling that in Simmons' apology, he made it clear that prior to Dr. V's suicide the piece was likely going to be spiked as there wasn't enough narrative there. Her suicide provided their ending, their coda, their ta-da. And that's fucking disgusting.
    I read Hannan's piece and was absolutely BLOWN AWAY that there was no mention of Dr. V's suicide until the very, very end. There was no rumination on how his actions may have played a role in her act (nor has there yet been such a piece from Grantland) and I find these to be absolutely egregious errors of journalism. A life was lost, and it gets a brief mention in the last couple grafs. He claims the piece is a eulogy, but it isn't. It's a detective story in which our cishet hero bravely finds the solution to the mystery of this strange, bizarre woman.
    It's dehumanizing. It's marginalizing. And those are problems that, combined with this tragic suicide, SHOULD be career ending.

  • Simmons explains -- adequately, I believe -- why the suicide was at the end and why it was written about matter-o-factly. We're all certainly allowed to disagree with that rationale, but he did address it.

    Journalists are under no obligation to adhere to any sort of ground rules while investigating a story, particularly when numerous discrepancies appeared during basic background research. Again, Hannan didn't set out to make this about the inventor. The story moved in that direction after certain facts came to light.

    Not singling you out for this, but it's interesting that many of the same people wanting Hannan to publicly take responsibility or address his/Grantland's role in the outcome are at the same time lambasting him for digging into someone's private affairs. Seems like a bit of a double standard.

    And these are my views alone. Pajiba just provided me an outlet. Graciously, I might add. Any criticisms you wish to level should be directed my way.

  • I honestly do not follow the logic of your third paragraph, here.
    I'm not saying that Hannan should step forward and admit he's responsible for Dr. V's death. I understand that mental health and suicide are complex things and that an A+B=C argument here is unfair to all parties. (Though I do think it's fair to believe that Hannan's piece, his outing Dr. V to one of her investors, and his refusal to spike the piece when Dr. V became erratic and desperate were SIGNIFICANT contributing factors).
    What I AM saying is that I feel his tenure at Grantland should be over. Reporters get dismissed for getting things wrong all the time, it's how journalism works. He blew failed to adhere to acceptable style practices in his misgendering of her (despite reporting and writing this piece while this: was happening).
    He constructed a story that, intentionally or not, appeared callously indifferent to the death of its subject.
    He outed a transgender woman to her investor against her wishes for no valid reason.
    He chased the mystery of Dr. V well past the point of the public's need to know (she was NOT a public figure).
    I'm not calling for Hannan to be fired for killing a woman.
    I'm calling on Hannan to be fired for failing as a journalist, while also believing personally that it's extremely likely that he was culpable in her death.

  • I wouldn't fire him or fail to use him for a subsequent story. Hannan's career would end because his subject took her life. That's a really slippery slope. Furthermore, I don't believe there'd be a call for his termination had Dr V not committed suicide. Fire him, and you're effectively accusing him of killing his subject. That's a bridge too far, IMO.

    That said, I'd understand if Grantland chose not to use him again (although if I had to bet, I'd wager big that he writes for them again given the tone of Simmons' apology). It's not an unreasonable outcome given his mistakes, and there should be some consequence. Ignorance isn't an excuse.

    I'd hate to see his career end over this, though. We always want someone fired, or benched, or arrested, or publicly shamed whenever they make mistakes. What does that solve? Would you be more likely to learn from your mistakes if given a second chance, or if your career was over?

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Does Grantland do any editing of pieces? Honestly, more and more with internet sites, I'm finding that to be the problem. The author/journalist publishes, and no one reviews it first.

  • You should read the Simmons piece. He spends probably 1000 words explaining the editorial process over there.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Thanks. So deep into the conversation I forgot about that part. Then I guess that yeah, Simmons list of regrets about the piece are pretty dead on. Some of those are pretty obvious steps to take.

  • AngelenoEwok

    I think it's a bit of a double standard to complain about the impulse to publicly shame someone who publicly outed a private figure.

    I can assure you, people would still have quite a reaction to him outing her were she still alive. I do think the piece's weird, shrug-y attitude about her death has probably gotten peoples' dander up even more. I'm not one of the people calling him a murderer, I've been around suicide enough to know it's never that simple. But when someone is outed, physical harm (self inflicted or otherwise) is always a possibility. To out someone is to endanger them.

  • NateMan

    I work and volunteer with a number of transgender people, and one thing I've learned is no matter how rough my life seems at any given time, most of these folks have had it worse. I can't imagine being born into the 'wrong' gender for my mental fitness. The amount of abuse and trauma they put up with from the community at large is appalling. So while I don't perceive any malice on the part of the writer, it was still an incredibly shitty thing for him to out her. I don't think he was responsible for her death - there's never one cause when someone commits suicide, and there's rarely anyone to blame, at least not without persistent and blatant bullying. This wasn't that. Hannan certainly didn't help the situation. And he should feel bad about that for a very, very long time.

  • kasper

    Am I the only one that is ready to blame the victim in this case?

    I don't have anything against transgender people. My basic feeling is that it is none of my business or anyone else's.

    BUT, if you have something in your past that you don't want others to know (not saying that transgender people have anything to be ashamed of, but obviously this woman did not want people to know), you don't lie about your past to a reporter who is writing a piece about a product that you are selling.

    SHE put her past at issue. SHE led the reporter down the rabbit hole. Maybe he shouldn't have reported it. I don't think you can make that claim so easily. What he discovered is directly tied to the issue of how much research he did. If he can't answer the question of what name did she use in the past, how can he say for sure that she did not go to school under a different name?

    In any case, don't lie to reporters if you don't want your past to be written about. It isn't like she did nothing wrong and some vindictive executive of a rival company discovered this and fed it to a reporter. She lied about her past in order to sell golf clubs. She put the reporter into a bad position. If he discovered that she went to MIT under the name Stephen Krol, then there would be no story. It would be irrelevant what her name or gender was at the time. But now, her life during that time became part of the story.

    Again, she is the one who made her past an issue. The writer may or may not have used bad judgment, that is debatable. But you can't say she was innocent. She is the only party that intentionally did something wrong.

  • Dumily

    "She is the only party that intentionally did something wrong." What she did wrong was lie about her credentials and education. What she exposed for was her gender history. The two are unrelated.

  • "Am I the only one that is ready to blame the victim in this case?"

    You shouldn't have started with this. Invalidates the rest of your comment, regardless of merit.

    That said, I've wondered why she agreed to talk to a reporter in the first place. Not because of her gender, but because she had constructed a fictitious professional background that she had to know wouldn't stand up to scrutiny. At the very least she had to think her professional career was at stake.

  • I mean maybe she thought (naively imo) that he wounldn't dig into her past. And when he did find out she was trans, she asked Hannan to not write about it? Again, you can't know what she was thinking, but maybe she wanted to take him at his word.

  • premie

    Tough to expect someone else to be held to their word when almost everything you tell them is a lie.

  • Very true. I definitely agree that she opened up a can of worms with the interview in first place with her fake credentials. It's an ethical dilemma for journalist that I would hope she would have realized.

  • lowercase_ryan

    So many questions, this is a freaking rabbit hole from hell. The author screwed up on so many levels, I can't even begin.

    Serious question though:

    Do we know for a fact that Dr. V was hiding her transgender identity?

  • marumori

    Yes, in Hannan's piece, he says that the last thing Dr. V told him was that by disclosing her gender history, he was about to commit a hate crime.

  • lowercase_ryan

    honestly that struck me as a threat designed to get the story squashed. I could be wrong though.

  • AngelenoEwok

    The fact that he outed her to the investor, who was surprised, and the fact that he had to dig to uncover her history at all, suggest that she was living stealth. Honestly, the default assumption about a person's gender history (cis or trans or whatever) should be that it is a private matter, unless that person discloses otherwise. Not just in journalism, but in life.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I concede that you are right about that. I'm wrong

  • marumori

    I honestly don't think that makes a difference. Again, reporting someone's fraudulent academic claims? Totally appropriate. Reporting the details of someone's gender history against their express wishes? So not okay.

  • That's how I read it, too. That entire correspondence was really bizarre, as was the accusations that Hannan was a corporate spy hired by rivals to take down Yar Golf. Not one to judge how anyone acts when they're scared, but I wouldnt know what to make of that if it ended up in my inbox.

  • maureenc

    And that didn't make Hannan think, "Hey, I should maybe check with trans activists, or at least a lawyer, about this"?

  • marumori

    I'm gonna be that queer: check your privilege, dude.

    It's thoughtless at best that you admit to having little to no awareness of trans* issues and trans* people, but that you feel entitled to opinions about forced--not "perceived"--outing. You can't divorce Hannan's actions from a long, brutal history of the involuntary outing of trans* and/or queer people, and the way that's been used to terrorize our communities, any more than we should brush Dr. V's suicide off as statistically likely without examining why 40% of trans* people commit suicide.

    This is not an abstract conversation about journalistic integrity and people's right to information. This is about how trans* lives continue to be devalued and how trans* people's wishes about their lives and their histories are not respected. Some things are appropriate and relevant to a story about golf clubs (lying about education). Some are not (being trans*). People are entitled to know some things (a "scientist" is actually not a scientist). They are not entitled to know other things (the gender history of any other individual). This should not be a difficult distinction to make.

  • premie

    What about a false identity designed to lend yourself more credibility (a Vanderbilt)? Are you entitled to the true identity in that situation?

  • Dumily

    I would argue that misrepresenting yourself as a member of a famous, wealthy family is relevant if it misled investors. The gender history of the person doing the misrepresenting is irrelevant. Ex. "Dr V's claim that she is a member of the famous Vanderbilt family couldn't be verified." Not "Dr V's claim that she is a member of the famous Vanderbilt family couldn't be verified because she totally used to be a man, dude."

  • premie

    That is a good point but lets say the only thing that was disclosed was, "Dr. V is actually an individual named Steven Krol, a mechanic from Pennsylvania". The inference is obvious and I am not bringing this up to be obtuse or argumentative but this is, relatively speaking, a newer issue. What duty do others have to help maintain a transgender person's "stealth" status? Is giving the person's true name, which is pretty relevant under circumstances of misrepresentation and fraud, a violation of their privacy because it can be a de facto outing of their trans status?

  • Dumily


  • Lollygagger9

    So much good in this comment. I can't understand why Pajiba would choose to address this article using an author with no understanding of trans* issues. I'm not expecting to agree with everything posted on Pajiba but damn. This is so disappointing. I expect better.

  • whatbenwatches

    "...Perceived Outing Of A Transgender Woman." Must have been a typo in the headline.

  • ERM 275

    If you admittedly don't know anything about trans issues, then perhaps you should defer to those who do rather than sharing your uninformed opinions in this screed. And fyi, "transsexual" is a term many transpeople find offensive. I believe transgendered is the preferred adjective.

  • lowercase_see

    I cannot upvote you enough.

  • The headline has been changed. That's on me: I wrote it, and I could have used different language. Apologize to anyone who I offended.

  • lowercase_see

    You've saved face on the homepage, but the linked piece and the URL still say "transsexual". And it all still says "perceived outing".

  • lowercase_ryan

    I've now read the article and Kahrl's response. The whole situation is terrible. What I honestly can't decide, and for that matter nor can anyone else, what played more of a role in the suicide; being exposed as a transgender or being exposed as a fraud.

  • The difficulty is that it appears as if both are intertwined -- the fraudulent credentials of Essay Anne Vanderbilt girding the secret of who she was before. When Hannan started pulling at them -- as is his job as a journalist -- her previous life came tumbling out.

    So how do you split that baby? How can anyone say which fears plagued her mind? For all we know, this was but a drop in a bucket and it was something else that was the catalyst for her decision to commit suicide.

    Where I am 100% in agreement is with Kahrl's take that transgender issues and concerns need to have been considered before the article was published. Even if Grantland's editors felt that her gender change was of no relevance to their immediate story, it's something they should have made sure to run past someone with more experience in that rea -- not just for legal issues but for ensuring that their story properly reflected a side that so few know so little about.

  • Been going back and forth on that myself. It's hard for me to believe the fear of being outed didn't act as a catalyst on some level. But it's interesting that most immediately assumed that the professional exposure had nothing to do with it. You're right, we'll never know. Maybe it's for the best.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Thank you for writing this though. I really appreciate it. I think I'm leaning toward her motivation being a combination of the two.

  • $78742978

    "Does a heartbreaking outcome supersede a story’s merits?" Yes, dude. Obviously yes. News reporting can be enormously important, the third estate and etc. When people say they have the right to know, however, I think what is meant is, "We have the right to know about things that effect us, that are important to our lives." I do not think we have the right to know what a grieving mother thinks about her recently deceased child. I don't think we have the right to know what Hollywood children wore to the park. I don't think we have the right to compromise other people's lives because we think we deserve to know more about them. That applies here. I think you're having a hard time differentiating between the "deceit" that is a closet and the "deceit" that is a fraudulent claim. The latter pretty obviously falls into the "right to know" category. This alone might have screwed over the person. The former, though? I'm surprised you have to ask. It is a closet. When you drag a person out of a closet when they're gay, they have to face consequences that no straight person has to deal with. When you drag a transgender person out of a closet, my god the consequences. Do you know what the rate of murder, rape and violence is for transgender people? I can't even consider that deceit. Exposing a transgender person when their whole life is built around the fact that they're not transgender? I cannot stress how much you have truly ruined their life. All their friends, business contacts-- done. You're done. When my uncle became transgender, everything in his life was done. His family was done, his community wanted nothing to do with him, he became impoverished, he was done. Whatever happiness he achieved becoming who he felt he was, was obliterated by what it did to his life. That is why transgender people sometimes view stealth as the only option. I surely would. And when you expose them, you pull their entire life down around their ears. It's a shitty thing to do, but then I've always thought that the reporters camped out in Newtown were shitty too. Maybe reporting the news is just a shitty unethical job, though it doesn't seem to me that it has to be if we keep our priorities straight. Seriously, we're talking golf putters here and one fucking news story that was written pretty well, if not ethically. Obviously Dr. V.'s life was more important.

  • emmalita

    I'm not willing to condem or absolve anyone at this point. I don't know enough about this particular situation. The trans community is becoming much more vocal and activist, which I think is great. They have been invisible and marginalized for too long. Be prepared for some anger. My cousin is a trans rights activist in Texas. I could not be prouder of her. I've never questioned my gender identification or felt uncomfortable with my identity, so it has been a challenge for me to understand and be sensitive to people who have a different experience with gender. It has been a rewarding challenge. I am now very comfortable saying not all women have vaginas and not all men have penises.

  • DarthCorleone

    I've done a lot of thinking and reading about this story, and there are a couple things that still bother me that aren't addressed in Brian Byrd's thoughtful piece here.

    First, the original story alludes to Dr. V's connections with four-star generals and Dan Quayle, or at least McCord's perception of Dr. V's connections with those people. Was McCord conned about that? Were Quayle and the generals conned? If not, how did Dr. V have those connections?

    Second, the educational credentials that Dr. V claimed were fraudulent, but that doesn't rule out her having studied somewhere else or having legitimate self-taught knowledge. If the original request of your source was to focus on the "science" and not the "scientist," it seems to me that a complete journalistic piece would have at least given the reader some inkling of whether the science was in fact worthy. All I'm left with is the viewpoint that Hannan (and, by extension, Grantland) was a complete layman in this respect who didn't do his homework. Their naivete about transgender issues was disappointing and tragic, but their naivete about this aspect of the story just seems lazy and incomplete. The limited bio they give for Dr. V's background under the name "Stephen Krol" even acknowledges its limitations, and if you're going to use the word "eulogy" - probably the worst misstep of a lot of missteps in the writing - you have to work much harder than that. I understand that the scientist's credentials can be relevant to the quality of the science, and researching those credentials is fair to me, but it seems that all interest in the golf club - the supposed original inspiration for the story - goes out the window once the big reveal about Dr. V's gender occurs. By making that the sole focus of the story at that point, Hannan and Grantland blew it and rightfully earned almost all the criticism they have received.

  • Some good stuff here.

    I had a section in this piece about whether journalists should always have to respect the wishes of their interview subject but axed it because of length (so many words, yo). In short, writers acquiesce to requests within reasons, but also follow the story where it leads. Once you've uncovered that the scientist's entire background is a total sham (I'm not referring to her sexuality here), then it's no longer reasonable for the writer to simply focus on the science. The two are intertwined at that point. The story morphed from the putter to the creator because it had to, IMO.

    And I know that all the discussion has centered around the gender reveal, but that doesn't come until quite late in the piece.

  • AngelenoEwok

    "(I'm not referring to her sexuality here),"

    Well that's good, because gender history and sexuality are two unrelated things. Did you also mean you weren't referring to her gender?

  • I meant I wasn't equating a fraudulent background with being a transgender individual.

  • snrp

    "Had to" is a strong term to use when you're weighing a feature (about GOLF) against a person's well being. Hannan could have talked about Vanderbilt's fraudulent credentials without outing her.

  • Miss Goblinpants

    Yeah, in telling the story about the golf club, all Hannan needed to say was that he couldn't confirm Vanderbilt's academic and military credentials and instead he'd found she'd worked as an auto mechanic. Her gender identity had absolutely nothing to do with her credentials, the science behind the golf club, or how well the putter worked. And the fact that he outed her gender identity to an investor was really shitty and shady. Reading the piece, it seemed like everything else got brushed aside by his titillation (and expectation of fame) about exposing her as trans.

  • DarthCorleone

    Right - it's reasonable and understandable that the focus would not be *solely* on the science once your source is shown to be untrustworthy. But as a reader I'm left wondering - shouldn't *some* attention still have been paid to the science at that point, maybe if for no other reason than to pay some respect to the deceased and her wishes? Just because someone didn't go to MIT and worked as a mechanic instead of at the Department of Defense doesn't mean that person isn't intelligent or didn't have some expertise. My knowledge of physics is fairly rudimentary and golf is one of my least favorite sports, but the story left me wondering about these points.

    As for the reveal, yes, it's late in the piece, but the piece is basically structured with that reveal as its climax, and the conclusion doesn't go back into these open questions that I'm raising. Without that reveal and without the suicide, they wouldn't have had a story they deemed worthy of publishing, which leaves the whole matter with an exploitative feel.

  • DarthCorleone

    Just as an addendum, looking back at the story again, I do see that Hannan went back into talking about the putter, but he limited that analysis to anecdotal opinion from golfers and describes how his own success with it waned once the psychological confidence that came from the source wore off. What I'm looking for here are some opinions from engineers that did go to MIT that can vouch for the science. Was the talk related to "moment of inertia" legitimate? If so, have other club-makers tried to exploit this as well?

  • Three_nineteen

    The inventor being trans is integral to his story, because his story is entirely about her. The title is pretty misleading - almost all we learn about the putter is the writer got a free one and he liked it. By the time the writer was finished, he ended up with a story about a "troubled young man". The question is, do we think that story needed to be told? I don't know.

  • I think the writer made a value judgment by merely calling it a story of a troubled young man. He's already decided what gender to assign, which is not being terrible sensitive to the trans issue.

  • lowercase_see

    Oh come the fuck on, I expect so much more from y'all. The falsified credentials are relevant to the story, that she was a transwoman is absolutely, utterly not—unless you're suggesting that women know nothing about golf. Or that trans*people are equally fake.

    "Career-altering" mistake for Hannan? I'm not exactly crying over here. It was a life-ending mistake for Dr. V. Outing someone is always malicious and in the internet age you have to be pretty deliberately obtuse to not know that, especially if you're a journalist.

    I just ... no. Excuse me while I go have another ragestroke.

    "Perceived outing," my ass.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I'm going to catch hell for this but I think it needs to be said. Aside from her threat that running the story would be a hate crime (which I honestly don't take as proof either way, her motivation obviously being to keep the story from being run) is there any evidence that she was living as a closeted transgender woman? From my point of view all we know is that she didn't want the story to come out, we don't know why.

  • lowercase_see

    Would it have been such a revelation for the writer if it wasn't something she didn't want public?

    Trans* people face a horrendously disproportionate rate of violence, and you need proof that she would opt to live outside the protection that passing gives? I'm not your google.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Look, my problem with this whole thing is that it's incomplete. It should never have been run. There is soooo much we don't know. All I'm saying is that you shouldn't assume she was hiding her gender identity. Everyone is clamoring that she was outed, be we don't actually know if she was.

  • lowercase_see

    And you can't assume she was fine with facing the retaliatory violence that can come with being publicly outed as trans. I'm not interested in your privileged posturing.

  • AngelenoEwok

    She was obviously not hiding her gender identity, she was a woman living as a woman and presenting as a woman. If she was out about her gender history, then why did Hannan have to research to find it?

    Not to mention the fact that there are all different levels of being out. A person may be out to their friends, out to their grandma, out to their barista and STILL NOT WANT TO BE OUT TO GRANTLAND AND ITS READERSHIP. Public outing without express consent is morally indefensible.

  • Miss Goblinpants

    Given that she was reticent to talk about her personal life from the start ("First, however, she insisted that our discussion and any subsequent
    article about her putter focus on the science and not the scientist."), she didn't tell the reporter that she was a trans woman, and that at least some of her professional contacts didn't know, I'd say she was pretty clearly trying to keep her gender identity private. If Vanderbilt had wanted to talk about being trans, she'd have brought it up.

  • lowercase_ryan

    at the same time, any research into the scientist could have landed her in jail for defrauding investors, no? I think I'm done playing devil's advocate. I think there is still a TON we don't know about her and her story, which is all the more reason why it should never have been run.

  • I tend to agree that she was closeted, but that stipulation could easily be because she knew any investigation into her background ("the scientist") would reveal a litany of professional lies.

  • Indeed, it's hard to judge whether she wanted to just protect her lies or her trans identity.

  • snrp

    I liked this piece (as a stand-alone: I know nothing about the author/site), which shows how Hannan might have discussed Vanderbilt's credentials without outing her.

  • alwaysanswerb

    This article is really great. It presents a truly technical argument re: the editorial process and how to have published the Grantland piece without disclosing Dr. V's trans status, if said piece need have been published at all

  • Miss Goblinpants

    Reading that actually made me even sadder, because it would have been so, so easy not to bring up Vanderbilt's gender. It would have been so easy to sidestep outing her, and the fact that the writer (and his magazine) decided to out her anyway makes it clear that trans people's concerns and safety are still not considered important enough to learn about or take seriously.

  • lowercase_see

    And if you're going to use the word "transsexual," you'd better be following it up with "Transylvania".

  • I was trying so hard to figure out how to say that, and you managed to both say it perfectly and hilariously. Bravo.

  • jeannebean

    So Caleb Hannan is "thoughtful and curious"? Really? No, he's unscrupulous, mendacious, and knowingly ruined Dr. V's life by revealing her trans status, which he'd told her he wouldn't do. He did this to bring some "punch" to his story, which otherwise would have been rather pedestrian - Dr. V didn't actually attend MIT, but dang! her golf club is tremendous! In order to give his story a salacious boost, he included her trans status as another example of how she was "untruthful" - as if someone's gender status is automatically everyone's business.

    If you want to read a detailed, balanced examination of why this story is HORRIFYING on so many levels, go to Shakesville -

    So you don't want to see Hannan called a murderer? If he'd never met Dr. V, she would still be alive; she is dead because of his actions. What else could you call him, if not her murderer?

  • tonyinabag

    here's another good article about why the entire situation is fucked up.

  • lowercase_ryan

    he knowingly ruined her life? I must have missed that part. He may have in fact ruined her life, but to say he did so knowingly is going too far.

  • I would hope he didn't do it maliciously, but as people discussed above if he was unfamiliar with trans issues, he should have done more diligent research on how to handle the issue. At the very least on the pronoun choice and regarding the sensitivity of the issue.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I agree he made numerous errors in his writing, it was incomplete, lazy, and insensitive.

  • kali yuga

    "If he'd never met Dr. V, she would still be alive; she is dead because of his actions. What else could you call him, if not her murderer?"

    So, if I meet you, and I invite you to dinner, and you're hit by a bus on the way to the restaurant, am I guilty of murder?

  • Sara_Tonin00

    That is a great, clear article (especially with the link to "What if Dr. V was French?").

  • SnappyChicken

    She committed suicide. She's dead because of her actions.

  • Suicide is personal choice. No one can ever understand or truly know why someone takes their life. However, in my opinion the story could have been handled trans issues better.

  • lowercase_see

    That Shakesville link explains it so much better than I could hope to. Thanks for posting it!

  • JarekM

    Whatever one's thoughts on this story (and in the interest of full disclosure, I do feel a bit more critical of Hannan than Mr. Byrd's piece seems to be), I nonetheless think it's a bit much to call him a murderer.

    "If he'd never met Dr. V, she would still be alive; she is dead because of his actions." - There is absolutely no way to know this with any degree of certainty. Nobody but Dr. V knew how long suicidal thoughts might have been harbored or what exactly might have triggered it. One might argue that this certainly could not have helped, but to say without a doubt that Dr. V would not have committed suicide if not for Caleb Hannan or Grantland is more than a little presumptuous.

  • In Hannan's piece, he mentions that Vanderbilt attempted suicide in past, which unfortunately isn't surprising given Kahrl's figures that over 40 percent of transgender individuals have attempted to take their lives at least once.

  • snrp

    I'm sympathetic to the sentiment--I think that everyone who was involved in the creation and publication of the piece behaved reprehensibly--but it's impossible to say that Vanderbilt would be alive if not for Hannan's inquiries.

  • The problem here was how boxed in Cannan was by his findings -- not the change in gender, but the false credentials she was touting to support her product. The fact that Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt did not have a doctorate from M.I.T. and that her credentials were bogus was paramount to the story. (Notice that you still refer to her as "Dr. V" even though she didn't have said Ph.D.) Had she had those credentials prior to her change in gender, then you could argue that the fact that she was once a male could be minimized or even disregarded altogether.

    But the fact is that they were bogus and that they were the basis for her product's sales pitch. How do you reveal that without revealing the rest? How can you?

    Now Cannan did err by revealing his finding to that stockbroker. Whether well-intentioned or foolish by accident, he should have kept his mouth shut, said nothing to anyone outside his editors at Grantland and avoided that altogether. That single act shifts the tone of his actions towards the malicious and makes the story a different one.

  • I referred to her as Dr. V because "Essay Anne Vanderbilt" adds about 200 words to the count.

    The timeline is critical. Had Hannan been able to invalidate the claims without digging into her life pre-2003, then I agree it could be removed. But it was all too intertwined.

    Still don't believe it was malicious. Seems far more likely to me that he didn't understand the ramifications of his question. But like I said in the piece, I certainly won't try to change people's minds on that front.

  • jennp421

    "Had Hannan been able to invalidate the claims without digging into her life pre-2003, then I agree it could be removed."
    I've read the coverage but not the article itself so I guess my question about this statement is why did he have to report his pre-2003 findings? If he said Dr. V had no record of attending, then anyone looking under her name would have found the same thing. He confirmed that she hadn't attended pre-transition either but why did anyone else need that piece of info to verify that Essay Anne Vanderbilt did not have the degrees she claimed to have? I mean, if she had attended pre-transition, the whole point would be mute because he never would have brought up that the degree was fraudulent.
    Also, it's easy to claim ignorance of trans issues but maybe as a reporter he should have then conducted research on the topic before making a decision on how to act.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    First, I'm going to be pedantic - you used "mute" where you want "moot" and "moot" is the opposite of what you want there anyway.

    But to the meat of the matter - if you are dealing with false credentials of someone who has changed her name, then yes, a complete story (to me) means following and reporting on that. Otherwise the follow up is "how could you have found credentials under that name when it's not the given name?"

    But as to regarding trans issues and research into "how to act" - there is no one right way to act. He could have acted more sensitively, done right by the genders etc., but I do think the trans aspect is relevant to the story.

    (of course, my general take is: "golf? magic golf club? who cares?" - but that's dismissive in a different way)

  • jennp421

    I even questioned it when I wrote it. However, I'm not sure why you say moot is the opposite of what I wanted. The whole article became focused on her credentials because he couldn't verify them - if he had been able to verify them either before or after the transition, it wouldn't have been the focus of the article because he could have just written about the putter like he was originally supposed to do.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    "moot" means something IS subject to debate, discussion, and you seemed to be using it in the opposite sense. "A moot point." Which is how it is usually (incorrectly) used.

    subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty, and typically not admitting of a final decision.

  • Katie

    Actually, moot as an adjective and moot point the noun have different meanings. To call a point moot means it doesn't have any practical value.

  • Katie

    Since we're being pedantic

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