A (Hopefully) Final Update On This Katelyn Burns Thing (Updated)

Jesse Singal
Feb 23 · 12 min read

Since December of 2017, I’ve dealt with the fallout of false accusations leveled against me on Twitter by the writer Katelyn Burns — accusations centered around the claims, among others, that I somehow psychologically bullied her into an interview (that she in fact quickly agreed to), emailed her at an account it was creepy I knew about (that she in fact had emailed me from previously), and instigated a DM conversation (that she in fact instigated) in a way she found vaguely discomfiting. This all started shortly after I asked her to stop direct-messaging me on Twitter. The short version of the saga, originally published in December of 2017, is here (ignore the date — long and boring story about having to republish it), but that account is quite abridged.

Here’s a subset of the original batch of tweets, with fabricated stuff — I mean ‘fabricated’ in the strongest possible sense of the word — outlined in red:

These tweets, as intended, sparked wild rumors about me that haven’t died down since then, and also contributed to the publication of an article on a far-right website claiming I had been “accused of harassing trans women” (Burns’ since-deleted tweets were originally embedded in the article). (Minor update, 2/26/2019: The preceding parenthetical originally read “Burns’ tweets are, for some unexplained reason, now deleted, but were originally embedded in that article.” That was confusing phrasing — the “for some unexplained reason” was meant to refer to the tweets’ disapperance from the article, not from Twitter, but obviously the reason they disappeared was simply because they were embedded directly prior to their deletion.)

On repeated occasions, Burns has simply tweeted things about me oriented in the exact opposite direction as reality. My ‘favorite’ example — big airquotes — came after I sent her a December 2017 email asking her to retract her false claims, but explicitly stating I was not attempting to exert any other control over her writing or tweeting: “I am not asking you to stop criticizing me — you have an inalienable right to call me a transphobe or a piece of shit or whatever else for the rest of my life, however much I may disagree with those designations — but simply to delete the subset of tweets about my conduct I believe are factually inaccurate,” I wrote.

Here is how she subsequently recounted the content of that email in February of last year:

After my Medium post providing the short version of what happened, things continued in this vein, for a long time — in fact they never really let up. Burns’ claims have gotten both vaguer and more serious-sounding over time, perhaps because she has realized that if she specifically says I did X, she won’t be able to provide a screenshot showing X had occured. If, on the other hand, she just shoots as many vague accusations as possible in my direction, those, surely, will stick. And they have, of course. (That also might account for why she tends to tweet these accusations, wait awhile for them to spread, and then delete them with no explanation.)

During her June 2018 tweetstorm about me, the accusation, inasmuch as there was one, was that she had had the “deeply personal and scary” experience of a “cis man” — me — “[making her] feel uncomfortable.” This was after we had already gone through multiple rounds (see preceeding mile-high pile of documentation) of her claiming I had done X or Y, followed by me promptly producing chat logs showing that either X or Y hadn’t happened, or the exact opposite had happened. But “made me feel uncomfortable” — how do you even respond to that? (The “future wiki page” appears to refer to her belief that the idea that she is a dishonest person spread as a result of my Medium post.)

The June escalation was the most dramatic and worrying one, because she stated I had other victims, too — of what, the tweetstorm didn’t really say — who hadn’t come forward. Some of them were also cis women:

A common theme, throughout this campaign, has been Burns’ claim that I won’t leave her alone, that all she wants to do is move on. Who could possibly side with the person relentlessly harassing (according to Twitter) a trans writer?

At the time she tweeted this, Burns hadn’t heard from me in more than a year.

But I haven’t contacted Burns since December of 2017, when I was attempting to get her to retract the false claims (at the time, I sent her all our chat logs and an MP3 of an on-the-record interview with her I had recorded with her consent, to make sure she had these materials and could review them if need be).

A very strange and telling episode occurred in early February of 2018, when I tweeted my snarky disappointment at how quickly multiple outlets and twitter users had turned on Rose McGowan after a trans woman accused her of transphobia at a book-signing event — so quickly there wasn’t sufficient time, prior to their valorization of this woman, for it to be revealed that multiple young women had accused her of sexual predation on Long Island (including at least once in a social-media post from years ago, long before the McGowan incident). “When you’re so woke you platform people notorious for aggressively hitting on 13-year-olds at malls,” I tweeted on February 3rd.

Burns decided that this tweet was about her, rather than the general situation — she had written a piece about it, but was one of approximately a million people who chimed in one way or another — and fired off an email to me that evening threatening me with legal action for the alleged subtweet. I didn’t respond (obviously). Four days after legally threatening me for subtweeting, Burns published a Medium post titled “Jesse Singal, Please Leave Me Alone” that was written as though she was suffering from an endless wave of harassment at my hands, and had no choice but to “retract” her prior claims against me because of that harassment. (It has since been taken down without explanation, like so many of her claims, but if someone can find a working archive I’ll link to it.)

“Late last year, I came forward with my story about how Jesse Singal made me uncomfortable on multiple occasions,” she wrote. And I just wouldn’t stop making her uncomfortable. “This piece isn’t going to relitigate any of the he said/she said that’s transpired since,” Burns wrote, “but I feel I must make it clear where I stand on this after Jesse has chosen to insert himself uninvited into my life on both Christmas last year and my birthday yesterday.”

“Insert himself uninvited into my life” is the language of deeply creepy coercion and boundary-overstepping. But at this point Burns hadn’t heard from me at all since I had simply asked her to retract the false claims (an email sent early on December 26th, so technically not even on Christmas Day, for what that’s worth). I initially had no possible clue what she could have meant by saying I “inserted myself” into her life on her birthday, the date of which I didn’t know but which Google told me appears to be February 6th. I didn’t communicate with her at all on her birthday, though, because I hadn’t said or sent a word to her, again, since December of 2017. Until you have had someone announce to the world that you “inserted yourself into their life” on their birthday, when you didn’t communicate with them on their birthday, or any other day in the recent past, I would argue you don’t understand how weird this internet-drama stuff can get.

Anyway, Burns solved this mystery for me during the June tweetstorm:

So in five months or so Burns went from “insert[ed] himself uninvited into my life… [on] my birthday yesterday” to “appeared to subtweet me… on my birthday,” in reference to a tweet that didn’t mention her or tag her which was published three days before her birthday. If you are having trouble following along, you are not alone. Surreal as it is, the Alleged Legally Actionable Birthday Subtweet Incident nicely sums up what it’s been like to experience this whole thing.

As the accusations have escalated, and as Burns has, more than once, publicly proclaimed that I am harassing her and that she desperately wants to be left alone, she has repeatedly contacted me — once to threaten to sue me over the ALABSI, once to ask me to take down the above-linked-to post defending myself because it was hurting her Google results, and once, via Medium and less than two weeks after publicly asking me to “leave [her] alone,” to attempt to start a debate about a post I wrote about gender dysphoria.

I haven’t responded to any of this. When I have mentioned her at all publicly, it has been to defend myself against the false claims she has made, and to highlight how ridiculous it is to portray someone defending themselves against false claims as committing acts of “harassment.” All the communication between us for the last 14 months has been instigated by Burns.

I have complained about this whole dumpster fire on Twitter from time to time, but I haven’t openly written about the full damage it has done, and I’m not going to at the moment. In short, though, when someone in your professional network makes false claims like this, especially at a time when the world is becoming, finally, more sensitive about and less incredulous toward claims of men harassing women, those claims quickly spread and mutate and get amplified. It’s now a Known Fact in some quarters — quarters I rely on, or will rely on, for my ability to do journalism in the future — that I “harassed a trans woman,” despite the fact that the harassment in question allegedly occurred online, that all the communications were logged, that Burns has the logs, and that no log showing me to have harassed her, or to have acted in an otherwise appropriate manner, has ever been produced.

I’ve tried, in multiple ways, to resolve this offline. They’ve all failed. And now, another frustration: Last year, Burns’ employer, Rewire.News, asked her to produce chat logs substantiating her (myriad) online claims, and she wasn’t able to give them anything. If Rewire.News would acknowledge this publicly, that would instantly settle this dispute for all but a tiny subset of people. But Rewire.News refuses to do so.

I initially found this out in an off-the-record setting involving someone I’ll call Rewire.News Higher-Up. I emailed RHU, and in a subsequent email conversation that was not preceded by any off-the-record agreement, she acknowledged that yes, this had occured: Rewire.News had asked Burns for the logs, and Burns hadn’t been able to provide any. I asked RHU if Rewire.News could provide me with an on-the-record sentence or two stating this. It really would settle this — the zillion times a year Burns’ allegations come up, I could point everyone to that statement. I (obviously) was not asking for Rewire.News to denounce Burns or discipline her or anything else — just for a public acknowledgement of what had been revealed in that off-the-record setting, and now in my own inbox: Burns had accused me of various misdeeds, had been asked by her employer to produce receipts substantiating those claims despite having all the logs in her possession, and had been unable to do so.

In a subsequent back-and-forth, RHU refused, for various reasons. She said that Burns wasn’t a staffer for part of the period when this was going on and therefore this doesn’t really involve her (RHU), which strikes me as a little bit of buck-passing given that some of it did plainly occur during Burns’ time as a staffer, including the June tweetstorm. RHU also said that, after she had gone back to Burns on this subject, Burns said that actually she did have logs she could share with Rewire.News, but she didn’t want to because they were extremely personal.

Supposedly, then, these conversations entailed a subject which sits at a peculiar level of personal-ness: too personal to reveal to one’s boss, but not so personal that it was weird to talk about with a casual Twitter acquaintance, which is what I was at the time. I have no idea what sort of information could sit at this level of personal-ness, not least because I’ve reviewed the logs at length and I believe that anytime something personal came up — always on Burns’ end, always unprompted by me — it was something she also shared openly on Twitter. Plus, Burns could simply excerpt the offensive and/or discomfort-inducing stuff I said and send that to her employer — why does she even have to turn over the full logs?

Further bolstering her case that Rewire.News has no responsibility here, RHU said that Burns also said that she has sought out no communication with me recently, other than responding to multiple instances in which I have tagged her on Twitter. This likely won’t come as a shock to those three of you who have followed the story closely and understand the way Burns reacts when someone points out she has been dishonest, but these, too, are lies — as I mentioned, Burns has repeatedly tried to contact me, and it’s plainly the case I haven’t tweeted at her since July of the Year Of Our Lord 2017 (I guess someone could accuse me of having deleted tweets, but I didn’t — and again, no screenshots anywhere). There’s a pattern here!

I wish Rewire.News would reconsider this. It’s frustrating to me that finally an adult stepped in to adjudicate this increasingly asinine, 14-month-long dispute between two journalists, but won’t simply acknowledge, publicly, what she found. If the outcome were different and Burns had revealed some terrible thing I had said to her in these logs, of course Rewire.News would have every right to stand behind its employee and release a public statement to that effect. But instead the opposite happened, and Rewire.News won’t acknowledge that.

I’ve spent so many irritated, soul-melting hours on this. It’s been deeply unpleasant and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone — not even Katelyn Burns. At this point, all I can really do is shrug. I’m going to tweet this post out a few times, and of course refer anyone who continues to spread these rumors to it. But other than that, I plan on dropping this as long as there are no more fabrications. If anyone has questions about what happened, email me directly and I’ll be completely forthright. I still have some lingering worries about this campaign hurting my career in the long run, of course, and I recognize that some of the damage to my reputation is unfixable, but I’ve gone out of my way to explain what happened in detail and to document my counterclaims.

If after all this — after more than a year of escalating Twitter accusations never backed up by anything concrete, after Burns being asked by her own employer to provide evidence and being unable to do so — you still think I wronged this person, I don’t know what you tell you. That constitutes a religious belief, and I learned long ago that it’s pointless to argue about religion.

(Minor, immediate-post-publication update: After this went up and I notified RHU that it had, she told me about some sort of ongoing drama about shortening the name of Rewire.News to Rewire — another publication has that name — so I switched every instance of the latter to the former.)

(Update, 7:06 2/23/2019: In its original form, this blog post didn’t tell the story of the Alleged Legally Actionable Birthday Subtweet Incident. But now it’s there.)

    Jesse Singal

    Written by

    Contributing writer, NY Mag, and working on a book about half-baked psychology. More frequent content at jessesingal.substack.com and twitter.com/jessesingal.

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