Strange story? No: just a writer who hasn’t grown up yet

If you’re looking for yet another forensic deconstruction of Grantland, my apologies: you’re not getting one.

Nor even the leastest of golf linkies: because as far as i’m concerned that particularly essay is clickbait. If you are remotely interested in the issues it raises, you’ve either read it already in all its awfulness – or read one or more of the infinitely more thoughtful pieces critiquing its narrative.

I doubt i could add much to that. So here’s some personal reaction instead.

A depressing start to the day

As is the way of such things, i discovered this story in instalments. Twitter friends and acquaintances on made tantalising reference to journalistic ethics. Another mentioned grantland.

I knew something was up. So I looked, probably not hard enough: drew a blank. Then, this morning, a journalist i much admire closed the loop and supplied the necessary link.

It was an odd read, since even without assorted hints that there was much wrong with this piece, everything about the site, from the self-consciously retro layout and typeface to the sports focus told me i was straying well outside my comfort zone. As though i’d wandered inadvertently into the smoking room of an english gentleman’s club.

As for the piece! I read it with sinking heart, because i knew this had a tragic end to it and there were enough hints from the off at what that ending might be.

Tell us what you really think

Yet there was something else besides. A presumption, a pretentiousness, a sheer insensitive cloddishness on the part of the author that made me want to reach through the text and take him by the throat and shake him and go: “do you really still not understand what you did?”

Because even now – or at least at time of hammering out his vain waste of words – there is no self-awareness: nothing beyond the pompous posturing of a male egoist.

Let’s stand that up, push past the personal insult and explain what i found so horrifying in this.

The presumption is well-documented elsewhere: the sense that the author seems to think himself entitled to poke and prod at someone else’s life because “it’s a story, innit?”. And he’s a journalist.

But its pretentious and posturing as well: the laboured style, the investigative narrative, the slow pace, the interminable length (it runs to 7,500 words, give or take a few!).

Lack of empathy

Accident? Or a journalist with ideas above their station? Because i’m a journalist and i know i over-write, to the occasional dismay of editors. I naturally prefer the relative liberty of 800 words to the tighter discipline of 600 or even 400. But in the end, i deliver to brief, leaving literary pretension to blogging and opinion pieces and the odd attempted novel.

But this? This outgush? This is someone who sees themself as more than journalist: as that most dangerous of literary creatures, a writer with “something to say”.

Which might be forgiveable – almost – if the piece displayed any least sign of understanding its subject matter, the least trace of humanity. But it doesn’t, treating the human subject in this case as yet another object of legitimate study, along with golf technique and physics.

Absence of experience

The author appears to understand everything about golf – next to nothing about the vicissitudes of trans life. Which is why, having written about it a great deal and having got close to the stories of many, many trans folks, i know all too well how ordinary are the many things this author represents as deception, or lies, or attempts to mislead.

Shortly before christmas i dealt with a local council pursuing a trans woman for alleged fraudulent claiming of benefits. Her crime – according to their computers – was to be sharing a house with her previous non-female identity.

Except, of course, she wasn’t. But the obvious easy way to resolve matters, as many non-trans folk would imagine it, involved outing herself in a way she found humiliating and embarrassing. Was she lying? No. Did her status look odd, underhand? Absolutely.

Ditto the quirky language, the defensiveness. I know these well. And while those with the privilege of not being trans may condemn them as awkward and difficult, almost always there is reason and history behind them. Years of experience of put-downs and discrimination, meaning your average trans person is ever alert to potential danger – because they’ve experienced it so many times before.

Did the author bother to find out any of this? On the evidence as published, no.

The same old same old

In the end, i was left with two distinct impressions. The first, from the off, was of someone who thought he’d stumbled on something big. Hence his self-important positioning of this as a “strange story”.

Sorry, no: this is only a strange – or significant, or important or any other sort of – story if you are fundamentally ignorant of trans reality.

And if you wish to tell that story, maybe you could do worse than get to know the trans community first.

Somewhere in this were echoes of a tone i hoped never to read again – the Lucy Meadow saga from approximately this time last year, through which the UK press for a while adopted much the same story.

What we don’t know about must be news.

They’re not perfect now. Not by a long way. But i’d say they’re better, and they’ve learnt, in a way that those who write tediously about golf have not.

The importance of being important

Last, though, and what creeped me out above all else in this piece was the end. I’ll break the rule i started out with, of not analysing. For here it is, in all its awfulness:

The only person who can provide this strange story with its proper ending is the person who started it. The words she spoke came during our last conversation, when she was frantically trying to convince me of things I knew couldn’t possibly be true. Yet though they may have been spoken by a desperate person at one of the most desperate times in a life that had apparently seen many, it’s hard to argue with Dr. V’s conclusions. “Nobody knows my life but me,” she said. “You don’t know what the truth is.”

This is a par about death: undoubtedly a death with many causes. It would be crass to accuse the author of direct responsibility in it. Yet still, he may have been one influence amongst many.

Which is why i find this par so chilling, because it is so, so studied, so “written”. Structured, neatly divided into balanced sentences, all leading to a neat authored ending. Devoid of sentiment.

The worst i want to accuse is that in writing this, the author finally took leave of all feelings, detached himself entirely, and lost sight of the fact that a human life and a golf putter are different things.

Because lurking below the surface, one level down, is an even worse imagining and one that i would find hard to forgive in anyone: which is that in some perverse self-centred way, this piece is but one long extended gloat.

That writing about an investigation that ended with a suicide is somehow more real, more exciting than writing about sport: and that placing the connection between their journalism and such an awful. ending into the public domain adds vicarious substance to a life otherwise very ordinary.

Like the war correspondent who, in time, becomes addicted to being a war correspondent.

I hope, in this, i am utterly wrong.

About janefae

On my way from here to there
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5 Responses to Strange story? No: just a writer who hasn’t grown up yet

  1. Pingback: Lies, damned lies, and absence of evidence | Jane Fae (Part II)

  2. Hi Jane — Thank you for writing this, and the followup piece. I put links to both of them at the top of my original letter to Caleb & the Grantland editors: http://tmblr.co/ZBYXXw14d_hEN If you’d like me to remove the links, or change where they land, please drop me a line and let me know? Thank you again.

    • janefae says:

      No prob whatsoever. I would very much like to talk with both…but for some reason they believe their privacy trumps public explanation of their ethics.

  3. Pingback: Nowhere for trans women to hide: What Bill Simmons’ apology gets right and so very wrong

  4. Pingback: A Good Aggregate about Dr. V’s Tragic Death | Charissa's Grace Notes

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