Telling Our Stories: The Aftermath
A couple days ago, I wrote an article titled “Telling Our Stories: The Failure of the Gadfly Papers.” In the days that followed, I received numerous messages telling me how helpful this article was in understanding what the controversy over the papers was about. For all the well-wishes, I thank you.
It also seems like I stirred some controversy with some folks, and I wanted to address two points that have been made on social media about the article. I do this not because I think it’s my obligation, but because it’s instructive to see just how it is playing out.
As a side note, I want to remind people that my primary purpose in these articles is not to critique Eklof’s conceptual foundation. Instead, my thesis is that his reporting of the very events his narrative is based on is so flawed that they render his very arguments questionable at best. The problem becomes that Eklof presents such a one-sided argument that it’s difficult to have a good-faith dialogue about his conclusions until the full stories are told.
The first will be relatively easy for me to answer because they’re essentially ad hominem arguments. A user from the Facebook group Unitarian Universalism — “Faith of the Free” writes:
Actually, I find this piece really problematic — in the prelude of this article Chris encourages a ban of the book then suggests seeking pirated copies of it online rather than going to the source….ie: buying the book legally, or emailing Rev. Eklof to request him to email you a digital copy of the book should he wish to share it in that manner. When an article begins with such corrupt premise, it verges on impossible to trust any opinion that follows.
This person is referring to the author’s note at the beginning of my first article. At no point did I ever encourage a banning of the book. In fact, what I said was:
[Author’s Note: 6/28/2019: Edited to include an additional sentence in the quote that I inadvertently left out.]
There are a lot of good arguments for not reading it altogether. There’s also a good case for not buying it but, rather, trusting those of us telling you that it’s very problematic. In the end, only you can decide what you will do. I hope to show in this article why Eklof’s book is problematic. If, in the end, you still feel the need to read it, please don’t purchase it but, rather, read it through the scanned pages that are showing up on social media. It is recommended you don’t search for it on Amazon or Google as this will only increase its search rankings and bring it to an even wider audience.
I was very much reporting what I’ve read being said across social media regarding the papers. Nowhere do I state that the book should be banned. It’s kind of ironic that I’m being accused of that considering I’ve probably taken the weakest stance on this out of all the social media posts I’ve read, and that really speaks volumes to me about how much some people are wedded to Eklof’s narrative. What I do say is, “If, in the end, you still feel the need to read it, please don’t purchase it but, rather, read it through the scanned pages that are showing up on social media.” Making an ask of someone if they choose to read the book is about as far as you can come from a book ban.
In fact, I’ve not seen anyone flat out tell someone not to read the book. Maybe someone out there has, but I just haven’t seen it. What I have seen a lot of is questioning why someone absolutely needs to read a book that people involved in the incidents have relayed is problematic and hurtful. Again, no one is telling you not to read the book.
As for the piracy issue, I find it extremely problematic and a violation of our responsible search for truth and meaning to encourage the buying of a book that is riddled with falsities and half-truths. I know authors don’t get much in terms of royalties from Amazon independently published sales, but the fact they get anything at all is cause for alarm. I would call on Eklof to put his entire book on his web site as an act of good faith so those who want to read his arguments can do so without buying the book.
And, if you disregarded everything else I say because of how you interpreted my author’s note, you have committed the very definition of an ad hominem fallacy.
The objections I want to address next come from reddit user houseofpuppers, who, perhaps, is the person who, thus far, has come the closest to an actual critique of my article. They start with a defense of Milo’s “right” to free speech, which I won’t be addressing, except to say we fundamentally differ on our concepts of free speech.
The first point I will address is regarding Eklof’s supposed purpose in including information about Kimberly French’s article, “After the L, G, and B.” Houseofpuppers says:
The entire purpose of the discussion regarding French’s article was not to question the article’s meaning or it’s impact. Eklof did not comment on the article except to state he felt it was well-intentioned, which CB Beal ALSO STATED. Eklof’s complaint here was not the article or the response but the idea of concept creep. Very specifically using the language of harm and pain where what you mean is disagreement. “I disagree with what you have to say” is less powerful then “I have been harmed by what you have to say.” And also dangerous. Would you allow a cis white male from Alabama to claim they are “harmed” by the existence of gays? Because they tried that argument because being harmed allows them action in self-defense. If you do not allow that argument for the cis white male in Alabama, you do not get to use it yourself.
This would be a valid critique if concept creep was the only purpose in telling the story, but it becomes apparent from Eklof’s own words that this is not the case. Eklof very much implies that the outcome of the UU World article is that only transgender people are allowed to talk about transgender people. “The main issue with it,” he says,” is that it was written by a nontrans woman.” (Eklof 22) This is not the case, as I discussed in my first article. As CB Beal’s article demonstrates, there were numerous problems in the language of the article compounded by the fact that it felt very wrong that the magazine had chosen to center the experiences of a cisgender person on their very first major article about transgender people.
Eklof further expands on this idea when he implies that there was an effort from unnamed transgender persons to suppress the article before its publication. (Eklof 27) I referenced Alex Kapitan’s blog post in my first article; Alex gives background there on per reasons for asking the article not be published, information Eklof left out of his essay. The reasons I wrote about — inaccuracy of the author and failure to center trans voices in the first major UU World article on the subject — were per fears, and they came to pass.
Suffice it to say that, whatever Eklof’s purpose in including the story, he left out major pieces of it and misrepresented what happened, instead focusing on a couple random Facebook comments from people not directly involved in the situation. If houseofpuppers expects people not to feel angry and hurt by something, I invite them to join a committee on ministry or board at their local congregation. They will learn there that it is human nature to lash out, sometimes inappropriately, and that no amount of reasoning is going to change this. What we can do is be pastoral with people who are experiencing hurt such as this and humanize both the person who was hurt and the person who caused the hurt.
Which is why I continue to hope that Eklof will reach out to me or other people involved. If he did, I would not shame him. I would try to help him understand why what he did was so hurtful to so many people.
As for concept creep, if Eklof was only presenting a critique of disagreement verses harm language without the misrepresentations I reference above, I would be less critical of him here. Houseofpuppers should note that I purposely choose to stay out of the conceptual debate and I take no stance on it in these articles. If they are interested, queer theorist Sarah Schulman has a wonderful book out on the subject that could jump start some thought, Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair. Unfortunately, I am preparing to move out of state so all my books are packed up right now or I would provide some quotes from the book. I think houseofpuppers might find it interesting, though.
What I do object to is concept creep being weaponized against people who are hurting, especially marginalized people. We don’t have to use it to tone police people when they are feeling hurt just because we think they used the wrong words. I have done it myself; I suspect most of us have. That doesn’t make the feelings of hurt any less valid, and we should still attend to the hurt and repair that comes along with them, even if, especially if, in our heart of hearts we feel like the wrong word was used. When your fellow human is hurting is not the time to wordsmith their language.
Houseofpupper next takes on my pointing out of patterns within Eklof’s narratives:
If Chris has no personal knowledge, how does [sic] they…know? Eklof quoted people involved in the incident after interviewing them.
I never denied that Eklof quotes some people involved. He does. He quotes the facilitators from the 2017 LREDA fall convention, and there’s some indication he was also in touch with Rev. Dr. Andy Burnette, the candidate who was hired during the 2017 UUA Hiring Controversy. What I did say is that all of the sources he did quote seemed interestingly enough to back up his narrative. It’s glaring, in every case, who he doesn’t quote. He doesn’t quote Susan Frederick-Grey, Chris Walton, Kimberly French, or any of the TRUUsT steering committee regarding the UU World article. He doesn’t quote the LREDA Board or any person of color involved in the incident at the fall con. He doesn’t quote Christina Rivera, the UUA Board, or any member of DRUUMM, nor the numerous UU World articles which indicate Peter Morales’s resignation was more about how he handled the aftermath of the controversy, not about the controversy itself. He doesn’t even quote the members of the GA Worship Arts Team except for the parts that made him uncomfortable, so it’s impossible to know their motives.
In other words, he didn’t quote anyone who would complicate his narrative. This is Journalism 101: you don’t just quote people from one side of the story; you try to get all perspectives, and say you were unable to get someone’s story if that’s the case. This becomes even more important when it comes to recent events like this. He absolutely should bring in Burnette’s and the facilitators’ perspectives into his reporting. But it feels like he left out any and all perspectives that would bring nuance into the conversation, and that’s a pattern I see throughout the book. I didn’t make the observations because I knew for a fact that things were left out (although people have messaged me in the aftermath and told me that was the case), but because I saw a pattern, and I pointed out the pattern I saw.
If I’m wrong, I invite Eklof to correct me on this. I suspect I’m not, though.
I’ll skip over some redundant comments from houseofpuppers I hope I’ve already covered. The next comment I’ll address is:
Again, the point of this was not that opposing views are not heard, or voted against, the point was the feeling of fear the quoted person reports. It has nothing to do with the outcome, nor does it have to do with the speaking time. It was the fear the person had in speaking. Fear confirmed by the actions of people in this very reddit. Why can trans and POC talk about their feelings but not white people?
This is regarding Eklof’s quoting at length from the delegate who was opposed to changing the name of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. Again, I was not pointing out this quote to get into the nuances of Eklof’s arguments in that section on call-out culture. I was pointing it out only as evidence that opposing views are not being censored. Eklof, however, does strongly suggest that the mere fact the delegate’s words did not prevail is evidence for his thesis. While admitting that his primary point was to talk about how the delegate begin his statement (a preface about having some trepidation about addressing the situation as an able-bodied white male) Eklof does, indeed, state, “Despite the eloquence of this argument, the majority of delegates voted to approve the motion to stop using ‘Standing on the Side of Love.’” (Eklof 32) Eklof seems to imply that people should have seen things this delegate’s way and doesn’t understand why they didn’t unless his narrative is correct. This reasoning is fundamentally flawed.
As for why people of color can talk about their feelings but not white people, I have never heard a person of color say this. What I have heard is an ask that white people talk about their feelings with other white people, at least at first, so as to not inadvertently hurt people of color while working out their own issues. If houseofpuppers (or anyone else) ever needs a safe person to vent and talk about their feelings with, please consider me a person you can turn to.
I won’t address the last few points in the very long post as I think the rest of the points are either redundant or things I don’t take issue with (for example, I don’t doubt that Eklof would say he is for marginalized people telling their own stories, even though he didn’t let us in his accounts in this book) except to say that I absolutely agree with houseofpuppers that shame is not an effective tool for social change — and neither I nor anyone else is asking them to feel shame. What we are asking is for everyone — you and me included — to do our internal work and get over this shame to get to a point where we can nurture each other. I want us to ask questions such as the ones Nora Samaran asks in her book Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture:
What would it look like to belong in this world as our whole selves? What kinds of culture, knowledge, and community structures would we be able to create if we could nurture one another without our armor on, if we could draw out and develop the gifts in one another, if we could care for one another in concrete, meaningful ways, and could protect one another from systemic harms and forms of structural violence, even as we’re struggling to dismantle them? What do we already have waiting within us that can guide us in that direction?
…Hopefully we too will eventually “just know,” intuitively, that any rip or fray in the social fabric is a threat of the well-being of the whole and so will turn toward the hurt, toward threadbare connections between human beings, and mend them, just as we would mend a tear in a perfectly useful coat before the whole coat needs to be discarded. (Samaran 14–15)
I agree with houseofpuppers that we are still far from this goal, but it will take every one of us to humble ourselves and realize none of us are perfect in this work before it can be accomplished, and it won’t be accomplished by writing very biased accounts involving other people in our movement in order to advance a narrative. It is imperative that those of us with non-marginalized identities (I am a white person so I fit in here as well) realize that generational and systemic harm and hurt is not going to go away simply because we stop talking about it. As Susan L. Colantuono points out (though she certainly wasn’t the first to say it), “When you’re accustomed to privilege equality feels like oppression,” (Colantuono) so we need to be extra vigilant that our feelings of discomfort are not coming from that place of privilege. I invite houseofpuppers, and anyone else who wishes, to join me in this work. Together, we just might build the world we dream of.
I don’t plan to continue doing further follow-ups on my article unless something unforeseen comes up, but I felt these two posts were substantive enough that I wanted to address them. I would love it if Eklof contacted me and we could do posts about dialogue. In the meantime, I invite anyone who has further questions to contact me.
Colantuono, Susan L. “News & Insights about Closing the Leadership Gender Gap: When you’re accustomed to privilege equality feels like oppression.” Leading Women, no date, https://www.leadingwomen.biz/blog/when-youre-accustomed-to-privilege-equality-feels-like-oppression.
Eklof, Todd F. The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister (Spokane: Independently Published, 2019)
Samaran, Nora. Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture (Chico: AK Press, 2019)