Semi-Professional Journalism

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Dan SavageSamantha Allen, and others have either linked or – so as not to link – alluded to Gavin McInnes’s recent Thought Catalog hate-rant against the transgender. I tend to agree with Allen, who writes:

I refuse to link to it—that’s how bad it is. McInnes willfully misgenders all transgender people, Janet Mock included, while pathologizing them as “nuts” and fixating at great length on the state of their genitals. It’s repulsive.

McInnes’ piece doesn’t deserve a formal response.

Yep. McInnes does not simply make an argument about gender identity that falls outside conventional liberal (and, as Allen notes, medical) norms. Such an argument might be buried below what it is he did write, but it’s hard to say, given the muck surrounding any possible substance. I’m also not keen to drive traffic to something odious, but it’s viral already, and not linking just invites curiosity, so by all means, judge for yourself whether a piece containing such sentences as, “You will be totally comfortable when your daughter marries a post-op dude and you should have no problems with her smoking his blintz” is, in fact, a thoughtful dissent worthy of consideration.

This scandal reminded me of another recent one on a totally different topic, namely the one that erupted when the Times of Israel – such an authoritative title! – hosted Yochanan Gordon’s oh-so-insightful intervention, “When Genocide Is Permissible.” What do these two items have in common? Here’s a hint, from the Times of Israel’s note regarding their decision to close down Gordon’s blog:

The Times of Israel maintains an open blog platform: Once we have accepted bloggers, we allow them to post their own items. This trust has rarely been abused. We are angry and appalled that it was in this case, and will take steps to prevent a recurrence.

Now check out Thought Catalog’s “About” page:

Thought Catalog works for the same reason that the Internet works: We’re an open and non-hierarchal platform. Anyone can use Thought Catalog to articulate their ideas and stories to the world. No one is excluded from the conversation. The “all thinking is relevant” slogan embodies our networked approach to writing and content production. If you think something and want to tell the world, then it’s relevant and appropriate for Thought Catalog.

What both of these cases have in common, then, isn’t simply that an unedited, unchecked piece of writing (in one case by a well-known writer, in the other not) made it to an audience. Rather, it’s that both posts made it to their audiences in a format virtually indistinguishable from what one might quaintly call published material. Material that at least one other person read, vetted, maybe even made some changes to. This is a combination that, yes, allows some good writing to make it to the audience it deserves, but that also allows everyone who wishes to do so to formulate their most hateful thoughts as “this is what everyone’s really thinking but afraid to say”, and to do so not on a Facebook page or personal blog, but in a format that screams Real Article.

Apart from this formula leading seamlessly to things that sure sound like publications signing off on hate-filled blather, it also screws over the merely naive. The aspiring writers whose musings (almost inevitably on “privilege”) are ripe for mockery on other websites, and who may end up finding that an observation that would have done well to stay between friends has gone viral.

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