Trans Lifeline and Grooby: When Saying No Is a Revolutionary Act

By Christina A. DiEdoardo, Esq., Chairwoman of the Board and General Counsel, Trans Lifeline

On the surface, Trans Lifeline’s decision to reject a sponsorship proposal from Grooby Productions was a routine decision by the leaders of a nonprofit to do what they thought was best for the organization and the population it serves. As we quickly learned, to some a woman’s decision to say “No” is itself a revolutionary act which they cannot tolerate.

The facts are simple and relatively straightforward. In late March-early April 2015 Grooby Productions approached Trans Lifeline about entering into a sponsorship deal. The general outline was that Grooby Productions would provide financial support to Trans Lifeline and host some Trans Lifeline banners on its sites and Trans Lifeline would recognize Grooby as a sponsor.

At the time and as of this writing, Trans Lifeline receives the bulk of its revenue from donations from individuals and from sales of t-shirts. In the case of donations, Trans Lifeline can only offer gratitude and a potential tax deduction (since we’re a 501(c) (3) charity) to the donor and to those who buy t-shirts, they get our gratitude and a potential tax deduction and a t-shirt. Neither the donor nor Trans Lifeline is “associated” with the other in any ongoing way under either situation — e.g. if Phil’s Pizza gives us $500 this month, they don’t have to give us anything next month if they don’t wish to and nor do we have to say “Yay Phil’s Pizza!” on or Web site.

The Grooby deal would have been dramatically different than that situation, since it would have digitally linked Trans Lifeline with Grooby’s operations and provided for cross-promotion from one site to another. This raised a number of concerns which I’ll discuss below.

It’s Complicated…..

For those who are unfamiliar with it, Grooby Productions runs multiple Web sites which produce and exhibit pornography featuring Trans women. While that might be a problem for some organizations, it wasn’t for us. At Trans Lifeline, we have always taken the position that respectability politics are bullshit, especially given the importance of the work that we do, which is serving Trans people during the darkest moments of their lives and doing all we can to help them decide not to harm or kill themselves. Besides, the members of our leadership team take pride in being sex-positive in our personal lives and support those members of our Trans community who choose to work in the Adult industry.

What was a problem was Grooby’s liberal use of a word that’s deemed by everyone from GLAAD to us to be a slur — and which is being written out here only in the interest of clarity — “shemale”. Words like this matter to our community, not least because defamatory terms like it are often the last thing our people hear before the bullet slams into their head or the knife into their back. Even when the word is not immediately accompanied by violence, in our view it contributes to the dehumanization and objectification of Trans women and helps increase the overall slaughter of Trans women, particularly Trans Women of Color (“TWOCs”) on our streets.

Originally, Grooby’s team told us that the word was tied into their URLs which could not be changed for commercial reasons but they gave the impression — whether intentionally or not — that the word was on the path to being retired. However, when Trans Lifeline’s Executive Committee (made up of our Co-Founder and President Greta Martela, Co-Founder and Director of Operations Nina Chaubal and yours truly) did our due diligence behind Grooby’s pay wall, the committee discovered instead that the term was as common as condoms at a play party.

Our second issue — and related to the first — was Steven Grooby’s ongoing public battle with Chelsea Poe, a Trans woman and adult performer, over Grooby’s continuing resistance to abandoning terms like “shemale”. The thought of choosing Grooby over Ms. Poe on an issue like this — which is what going ahead with the deal would have meant — was repugnant to our Executive Committee. But the decision wasn’t that simple.

On The Other Hand….

One of the challenges of running a charity is that the human beings entrusted with it have to make decisions using their best business judgment on what’s best for the organization and the population it serves, not their own interests. (In contrast to, say, Stephen Grooby, who can do what he wants with his for-profit business).

The proposed deal with Grooby would have paid Trans Lifeline about $400.00 per month — which amounts to about half of our average monthly phone bill. To get a sense of the big picture, our overall average operating cost is in the neighborhood of $2,800 per month at present, so Grooby’s offer would have been 1/7th of our total monthly overhead.

That’s a significant donation no matter how it’s sliced — and the members of the Executive Committee would have violated their responsibilities if they had rejected the proposal by Grooby out of hand. Discussion over this spanned multiple days — and sometimes went on for several hours in a day. It says a lot about the Executive Committee that they stayed with it until they reached a unanimous decision all members were comfortable with, which was to turn Grooby down.

No Courtesy Goes Unpunished

While we didn’t owe Grooby (or anyone else) an explanation for our decision (which was within the business judgement of the President and Executive Director), as a courtesy and in good faith, we gave them one.

Since Grooby — -without securing either our permission or even giving us advanced notice — decided to make some of our correspondence with them public, I am reproducing the operative email here.

Shortly thereafter, we received a polite, though disappointed — response from our contact at Grooby and we considered the matter closed. Shortly after that, I received a remarkable email from Steven Grooby — who hadn’t played a direct role in any of our negotiations — where he claimed we should be ashamed for engaging in what he considered to be word policing. Needless to say, this was so far removed from the facts of what happened that neither I nor the rest of the executive committee felt it deserved the courtesy of a response. None of us react positively to threats or implied threats, especially when they come from cisgender men who are demanding agency over what Trans women do and object to decisions made by Trans women on behalf of a Trans organization.

Alas, Grooby would not be denied. He turned his e-mail to me into a blog post attacking Trans Lifeline (and me, specifically). I’m not going to link to it here because that would be giving him the publicity he wanted from the deal with Trans Lifeline which we rejected. Several adult performers in his employ have now begun harassing our Executive Director Greta Martela on Twitter, evidently in an effort to punish her and Trans Lifeline.

While a waste of bandwidth, this has about as much chance of getting us to change our minds as I do of being appointed to a judgeship by a Republican president or Greta or Nina marrying into the Duggar family, which is to say none at all.

Transwomen, To Us!

One of the things I’ve loved about the French Foreign Legion is that recruits were taught that if a Legionnaire was in danger, they were obligated to drop everything and rush to their aid no matter if the enemy was an opposing army or the other side in a bar fight, regardless of their personal; feelings about the particular Legionnaire in danger.

Something similar happened after Grooby’s blog post attacking us went up. Trans Lifeline was deluged with support from both old friends and new ones like Chelsea Poe and Courtney Trouble and scores of others. We’re honored beyond words to have their friendship and support and for all their help and assistance, of which you’ll hear more about in this space over the coming weeks and months

Conclusion

One of the main goals Greta and Nina had in founding Trans Lifeline was to empower Trans people to help each other and to exercise agency over our own affairs. Part of that agency is saying no to situations and proposals which make us uncomfortable. As the imbroglio with Grooby showed, that’s an intolerably revolutionary concept to some cis people — and maybe to some Trans people who subconsciously fear what might happen if the chains which hold them in thrall were snapped.

Tough. Our job is to comfort the afflicted, which usually requires the affliction of the comforted if it’s to be done effectively. If this means a cis man who insists on using slurs to describe us has his feelings hurt because we won’t associate ourselves with him, that’s his problem. At the end of the day, we’re accountable to our board, to the community and — most importantly — to the Trans people that we persuade to step back from the abyss.

To all those we serve and who help us do this work via their volunteering and their donations, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Because of you, someone who thought they were doomed may not die today, because they called in and there was a volunteer to take the call.

As the hashtag #NotOneMore implies, our goal is to make Trans suicide a thing of the past. But we’ve got a lot of work to do before that dream is a reality and we thank you for standing with us.

— CAD

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