A Journalist “Outs” a Trans* Person, Gets Eviscerated Online: How we are missing the point

A few disclosures from me upfront:

  1. I’m not going to be naming any names in this article: I don’t want to contribute to the public outing of a trans* person (who is being continuously outed again and again in all of the media covering this story), and I also don’t want to contribute to the public torch-mobbing of a journalist who screwed up
  2. I don’t condone “outing” anyone, and can’t think of an instance where it’d be helpful for a journalist to do so
  3. This is an incredibly personal issue for me, so I want to say that while I am the Executive Director of GAB, this is coming more from day job Sam.

What happened?

In general, what happened was a person with a public platform screwed up and the internet reacted. As it always happens in situations like this, one part of the internet was angrily, aggressively, and [no joke] death-threateningly “WTF?!” while another part of the internet was angrily, defensively, nothing-wrong-happened “WTF?!”

Specifically, in this instance, the screw up was in outing a trans* person in the video game community who had recently attempted suicide. One angry part of the internet (which included myself) was all “WTF?! It’s incredibly damaging to a trans* person to do that! How could you be so insensitive?” Then the angry part of the internet reacting to my angry part of the internet was all “WTF?! It’s the job of a journalist to report accurately. You people are way too sensitive.”

Why does it matter?

This situation can be viewed as a case study for how things like this keep happening, and why they’re going to keep happening until we grow as a community (community = both sides of the “WTF?!” coin). Why? For a few reasons.

1. We can’t be sensitive to issues we don’t understand

To a lot of people, gender = penises and vaginas. It’s not that. In fact, it’s so not that that I’ve written an entire book about gender and given a TED talk that distills the major themes of the book down into 16 minutes. Remember when I said this was a personal issue? This is why. This is my life.

The point is — and this applies to all social justice issues, not just gender — we can’t be supportive, inclusive, and health-focused about things we don’t understand. But it’s hard (if not impossible) for us, as a community, to learn because…

2. People won’t feel comfortable talking about these issues until they feel safe making mistakes

We can’t move forward until we can have a calm, safe conversation about sensitive issues. And it’s impossible to have calm, safe conversations about issues like these when every time someone screws up they are immediately vilified. The way things work now, a person’s best bet after making a mistake isn’t to ask “how can we do better in the future?” but to apologize, then never breach the subject again.

Not okay.

We need to take a more educative approach to missteps, instead of a punitive, threatening, and eviscerating one. We need to temper our emotional outrage and exchange accusations for questions, focusing more on the future and less on the past. Above all, we need to realize…

3. We can’t expect love and understanding until we’re willing to give love and be understanding

I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees the hypocrisy in viciously attacking someone for not being empathetic and inclusive. But realizing this doesn’t mean I don’t still have that knee-jerk reaction (just like I never don’t use double negatives). It’s hard not to lose sight of the big picture when your blood is boiling. But that’s when we need the big picture the most.

I had a professor in grad school who would say “We’re all hypocrites, I just try to limit my acts of hypocrisy to three a day.” Let’s all agree to stop letting this be one of our allowed hypocrisies, and start holding ourselves to the same standard to which we vehemently hold public figures. The best way we can start doing this is by realizing…

4. It’s more productive to focus on actions than actors

Our organization is called Gamers Against Bigotry not Gamers Against Bigots because we believe that the vast majority of people who add to the toxicity of the gaming environment are generally good people, but they are generally good people who sometimes use bigoted language, or sometimes make mistakes. Yes, that’s a thing that exists. Life isn’t as polarizing as we sometimes want to see it.

In the situation that inspired this article, it’s my belief that the person who misstepped is a generally good person who made a mistake, then got pinned in a corner and didn’t see a good way out. To help make #1, #2, and #3 above possible, we need to start focusing more on the mistake and less on the person who made it.

How can we make our community safer for trans* people?

This is the question we should be focusing our energy on. So let me talk about it for a bit, then let’s keep talking about it in the comments below.

For the most part, the same things that we-at-large can do to make the world more trans*-friendly apply, but the video game community presents a few particular cases. Here are a few of the gaming-specific things I suggest:

  1. Recognize that a gamer may be out in games space but not in meatspace: games (specifically MMORPGs) present what can be a uniquely safe space where trans* gamers can publicly identify as their gender without the same likelihood of recourse as in the “real” world
  2. Use the pronouns gamers use for themselves in games when referring to them to other gamers (and ask when you’re not sure what pronouns to use): when you’re unsure of what pronouns to use for a person, ask, but keep in mind those are the pronouns they gave you in-game
  3. (added from FBDon’t ask someone if they are a boy or a girl: that’s a personal question, and you don’t need to know the answer; if you’re unsure of pronouns, see #2
  4. Know that it’s never your place to out someone: while you may think you’re doing them a favor (“allowing” them to be their true gender in the “real” world, like they are in games), outing someone before they are ready to come out can be a dangerous, harmful experience; you’re not doing anyone a favor by making this decision for them, and you’re only making other trans* people afraid the same thing might happen to them

Why is it “dangerous” to out someone? Beyond the social and emotional damage you might do, there is the simple and unfortunate fact that transgender people are far more likely to be targeted and become victims of violence, both verbally and physically. Depending on the study you look at (there’s a lot of disparity), trans* people are eight times more likely to be murdered than cisgender people, or — even grimmer — the lifetime odds of a transgender person being murdered are commonly cited to be 1 in 12.

We live in a world that places an extreme amount of pressure on people to fit one of two gender molds. That pressure can have a serious negative impact on many individual’s emotional and psychological health when they don’t fit in the mold they feel they are being smashed into. Games can be a space where that pressure is released, or at least lessened.

Let’s work on making that happen. Comment below to show your support for trans* gamers, and to suggest ways we (GAB, games journalists, gamers, etc.) can make this space safe for trans* people.

  • It all comes back to developer maturity. Every new statistic on the age and composition of gamers shows the average age rising (about 32 now I believe) and the gap between genders closing, or even flipping slightly.

    But what do we have? Game developers creating games for the old stereotype teenage boy gamer. Lots of men with ‘perfect’ bodies, lots of women with ‘wet dream fantasy’ bodies, violence and ego-boosting (YOU are the chosen/prophesied one/hero/savior).

    There needs to be more to ‘mature content’ than over the top gore, tits and drugs. ‘Mature content’ should refer to a mental maturity, looking at complex issues, challenging modes of thought and assumptions… it should not be “All the stuff we don’t want our children to be exposed to, but are anyway every day, through every form of media”.

  • Wasn’t a major part of this story that the trans person had launched a crowd funding campaign ostensibly for a life saving operation that was actually going towards reassignment surgery? I’d thought that was why them being trans was even brought up.

    • Yes, Zach, that’s this story, or rather one of the stories within this story. It’s like Inception of media outrage. Some people were only outraged on dream level 1 (the outing of a trans* person), and that’s what I’m focusing on here because all of the rest of it is really just supposition at this point.

      • merri

        What is the prognosis on “supposition” nowadays?

  • GurlNxtDoor

    Thank you for this article. I want to consider myself a person who uses common sense and understanding, but I know I am just as guilty of having knee-jerk reactions to things that anger me. Thanks for helping keep us all in check.

  • anonymouse

    Eviscerated is a pretty strange way to describe the treatment of a journalist when the person he outed is literally in the hospital at the moment.

    • AC

      In circumstances completely unrelated to this, and could not in any way be described as being eviscerated.

  • Samantha Allen

    Hi GAB,

    Given the gravity of what’s occurred, I think that the backlash against Destructoid and this journalist is a perfectly understandable one. Forgive me if I’m not feeling compassion for someone who publicly outed a transgender person without her consent on the morning after her suicide attempt.

    I also don’t think this is a zero-sum game: Allistair can face very serious consequences for his actions WHILE the community at large works toward understanding. We don’t need to hold hands just yet. Lessons need to be learned first.

    Love and understanding are well and fine, but as a wise friend said recently “demands for politeness are the first weapon of the ruling class.” I don’t think we need to wield that weapon for them right now.

    The message of your post, while earnest, essentially boils down to: Let’s all stay calm and not be too hard on the person who caused this incident. I have nothing against Allistair personally. I honestly wish him every success in whatever career he pursues after Destructoid and I hope that he learns from his mistakes.

    It’s unfortunate, but I do think he has to go AND I think it’s important that he does AND I don’t think that his firing would detract in any way from the project of love and understanding that you propose. As I said, this is not a zero-sum game.

    When people like Allistair keep their positions after such a serious mistake, it sends the message that transgender people like me are other people’s stepping stones. We’re not people, we’re the little lessons that brash, insensitive people grind their teeth on as they learn how to be more “understanding.” I’m through fulfilling that function for others.


    • Hey Samantha,

      Thank you for the comment. It was thoughtful, thorough, and gives me a different perspective on the article I wrote. I want to make it better.

      I read my article about 30 times trying to ensure that I was presenting my intended message, and I thought I was, but I have the unfortunate advantage of knowing *exactly* what I meant to say. And, similarly unfortunately, all the GAB staff and other people I asked for feedback on this article know me pretty well, too. We are all coloring these words with our predispositions.

      “Let’s all stay calm and not be too hard on the person who caused this incident. I have nothing against Allistair personally. I honestly wish him every success in whatever career he pursues after Destructoid and I hope that he learns from his mistakes.”

      That’s not at all what my intended message was. My message was closer to

      “In situations like this, we focus all of our energy on vilifying a *person* who screwed up, and once that person is gone, we move on. I’m arguing here that we need to focus more energy on the *system of ignorance* that’s perpetuating these screw-ups.”

      Sorry that wasn’t clear. How I can I make it more clear? Or, rather, what specific language in the article led you to those conclusions?

      I never addressed the journalist needing to be fired because there are plenty of people doing that already, but I also DEFINITELY did not say that the journalist should *not* be fired, nor would I.

      In situations like this, the journalist is [almost] always fired. That’s part of the script. But that’s where the script ends. THAT’s the issue. I am trying to write a longer script.

    • Slimneb

      Preach love and acceptance all you want, but it is so clear from this and other posts you have made that you hate Allistairs guts.

      ‘Forgive me if im not feeling compassion…’

      You mean after she held the threat of suicide over his head? ARe you talking about the guy who had already talked her down from suicide (maybe more than once from what sources say) She held suicide over his head, and he was so worried so he didnt’ do anything. Then she goes and does it anyway and he feels he has to say something.

      ‘Allistair can face very serious consequences…’

      I hope you’re preaching that Chloe should face consequences as well. Just because we feel sorry for her doesn’t mean she is exempt. Morally, many of the things she did were absolutely atrocious. But the fact is she scammed and tried to commit fraud. Is her punishment coming?

      From what i understand about Chloes situation, she literally had no support from home. Her family didnt support this at all, and were actually quite horrible. What reasons did she have for NOT coming out? She only had an internet persona/identity that was exposed. Unless i’m mistaking, her name isn’t legally Chloe Sagal yet is it? Only the internet community knew her as this. And don’t give me the trans-violence argument. It’s not applicable here, she hasn’t lied to someone in her personal life in an attempt to have a relationship, which is where a lot of the violence comes from.

      I could even argue that Allistair outed her at precisely the right time; whilst she was safe in hospital and wouldn’t be able to harm herself. Allistair acted because he sensed that him not doing anything would probably result in more attempts. He felt that he had to act. I honestly think things can only get better for her from now. Yes it will be a struggle; but i honestly wouldn’t be surprised if i saw and LGBT run kickstarter or something to raise money for her SRS, which i would definitely gift to.

      The flip side of this is that you have ruined Allistairs career. He has effectively been fired from Destructoid, and he will probably be blacklisted from other gaming websites. The second someone hires him, that community’s version of you will show up and cause a shitstorm. And because of PC you will get what you want because you are of course absolutely morally right and correct in every issue that deals with trans.

    • merri

      Does this qualify as a protection against fraud though?

  • in-the-closet

    I am an independent game developer, posting anonymously because I don’t want the Death Star of twitterhate pointed at me. So I will explain this very flatly. Chloe ran a bogus fundraiser and then tried to kill herself on twitch.tv while live followers watched. She is lucky she didn’t end up on Fox News or Drudge Report (and the night is young.)

    Chloe made it a news story by involving Alistair and TwitchTV. With people trying to help prevent a suicide in real time, Alistair and co. reported on the story, like reporters do. He had apparently been close to the situation and had real facts to report, whereas Chloe’s fundraiser goof ruins her credibility. You want to let Chloe manage the entire narrative? Check your browser address bar—this isn’t a fucking twine game. It involves real police, real hospitals, and real reporters. Now the mob are calling for Alistair’s head, and saying it hurts transpeople if he keeps his job? No, I think Chloe hurts the transperson with cancer who tries to raise money for medical bills, who will face suspicion thanks to her bogus metal-poisoning story.

    I never imagined having to post anonymously in a community where i have been openly gay and comfortably expressing opinions for five plus years. The people curating your DIY revolution for you are great when they like your game, not so great when they use their position to behave like thugs and try to “curate” people’s careers for them.

    • in-the-closet

      Ok they’ve circled back to declare Chloe the truth-bringer.

      “we are forced to resort to ‘lies’ to tell our truth. we say we have a

      sore throat when we’re depressed because one has stigma and the other

      Does anyone get the feeling that Alistair was not the only journalist contacted by Chloe?

      • in-the-closet

        Also. there is a logical problem here with Alistair being chastised for outing Chloe as trans, even though that revelation is what enables us to circle back and solipsistically declare that she was telling the “psychological truth”. This frankly politicized notion of truth might be good enough for your blog, but not for journalism and certainly wasn’t good enough for Indiegogo. Reality bites….

  • Pingback: Reconciliation: A roundtable discussion with Chloe and Allistair()

  • your use of “trans*” with the asterisk is linked to a site which explains why you shouldn’t do that when talking about a trans woman. trans* is problematic in any case but at least don’t use it for a trans woman.


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