Katelyn Burns Fabricated Several Exchanges With Me That Never Occurred

(Update, 1/3/2019: This blog post has repeatedly been taken down by Medium for violating a rule against posting private communication. This is a far more conservative stance on the question of publishing such communication than any mainstream outlet adheres to: Private correspondence is not off-the-record unless all parties involved agree it is beforehand, and even then, if a third party obtains the communication it will often be viewed by news outlets as fair game to publish. So suffice it to say I’m against that rule, particularly in a situation where I need to refer to private correspondence to defend myself against false claims. But I have to abide by it to keep this post up, so for now I’ll simply note where I was forced to delete direct quotes or screenshots from my communication with Katelyn Burns. Maybe at some point I’ll repost the whole thing on another platform, quotes and screencaps intact, but for now I don’t want to deal with it.)

Part of the reason for my Twitter break in December 2017 was that I realized the site shoots a huge amount of unnecessary drama and toxicity in its users’ direction. If you are good at Twitter, you are able to ignore that stuff. I, being someone who is bad at Twitter, am terrible at it — on Twitter, I constantly make things worse and engage with people who for various reasons I shouldn’t engage with.

The Twitter break was, in part, an attempt to reset some of my online habits so I can be more productive and less stressed out about the madness inherent to Online and spend more time doing journalism and writing my book, which are two things I love (I love the latter so far, at least — I’ve been told by reliable sources writing a book will eventually drive me insane). I don’t think Twitter-fighting is productive. Unfortunately, because I write about controversial issues, the Twitter rumor-mill often takes hold and I’m left agape at how certain things get twisted and misrepresented. It’s impossible to fight back against this stuff, overall, given its volume — though I’ve often made the mistake of trying (again, hence the break).

I need to make one exception here to that general rule of not trying to debunk every rumor, though, because a professional writer with an established platform who I’ve met in person is fabricating stuff about me and my behavior in a way that isn’t just designed to make me look wrongheaded or bigoted or stupid — in which case none of of this would be worth responding to — but creepy and unprofessional. She’s is suggesting I did things that, as a journalist who fucking loves what I do for a living to death, I would never, ever do.

Late in 2017 I asked the trans writer Katelyn Burns, who has written for Vice and other outlets, to stop DMing me, cutting off a long-running off-and-on correspondence we’d had. This sounds petty and childish, and I never anticipated I’d be writing about it publicly, but I was upset about the way she had, in my view, misrepresented a lunch we had when she was passing through Boston (where I lived for the summer and the fall before moving back to Brooklyn yesterday) in a piece she had written for Medium. In that piece, in which she didn’t name me but referred to me as a “well known critic of trans health care” — I am of course not a “critic of trans health care” — she claimed I had loudly asked her unprofessional and embarrassing personal questions about her transition process. This simply didn’t happen. I’m not betraying any confidences here in relating this exchange — Burns herself leaked some of the DMs earlier. (Note: This paragraph originally stated I asked Burns to stop DMing me “[A] few months ago,” but I had the timing wrong relative to when I first published this post. Medium doesn’t appear to support strikethrough, so I updated this paragraph.)

In part because Burns hadn’t used my name in her piece, I made it abundantly clear I had no interest in making any of this public. While I had generally enjoyed our DM exchanges, which mostly involved us arguing about the (actually relatively small) sliver of issues we disagreed on when it comes to gender-identity stuff, I was genuinely upset at the way a friendly lunch I had enjoyed had been weaponized:

Since then, Burns has been on the warpath, repeatedly making false claims about me, our correspondence, and our lunch. Things reached a bizarre crescendo a couple days ago with the thread that starts here. It’s full of stuff that’s not true. I don’t mean “not true” in the sense of some unknowable controversy, but “not true” in the sense that it contradicts various emails and chats and audio files I have copies of.

I’m not going to run through the whole thread and everything false in it. Instead, a few representative examples from the top. First, the general background:

Setting aside the “defending conversion therapy” line, an unfortunately common rumor on Twitter, that general background is true. If I tagged Burns into a GamerGate conversation it was obviously accidental, as those guys went after me very hard and it wasn’t fun, and I apologize.

But then:

The implication here appears to be that it was creepy I had tracked down an email address Burns hadn’t shared publicly. But the reason I had that email address was because, contra her tweet claiming literally the opposite, when she emailed me about the Zucker story and GG stuff, she had used it.

Here’s the email Burns sent me criticizing my Zucker article and the GG thing (I’m not revealing a private email address — Burns lists this one publicly on Medium).

[deleted at Medium’s demand]

Here’s the email I sent Burns requesting an interview for the article in question:

It’s the same address.

Moving on:

If a source told me to fuck off in this sort of context, that would be that. I would never respond by pressuring them into an interview, let alone by suggesting that if they turned down my request I would instead talk to someone ideologically opposed to them. That isn’t what happened here. Here’s our full exchange:

[deleted at Medium’s demand]

Burns and I then did a text chat via Hangouts to discuss the parameters of the story. Google automatically saved it:

I can’t share the content of that chat, because as it says right above in our emails, I told her that it would be off the record. That is a serious professional norm I can’t breach. But Burns is welcome to share it, or if someone points me to her publicly granting permission I’ll add it to this post. That chat, too, contains nothing close to me attempting to manipulate her into talking to me. That isn’t something I would do. And Burns quickly agreed to be interviewed, anyway.


After the weirdness with the lunch thing, I saved copies of our full DM history, so I still have access to them despite being off Twitter. According to those logs, the first-ever DM between us was May 5th, when she DMed me to take a conversation we were having on Twitter about the Hypatia transracialism controversy private. “[deleted at Medium’s demand]” she wrote. She started our DM exchange. I never peppered her with personal followup questions, let alone under any “guise.” Nothing in the chat log, which I’ve re-read, was even “borderline” flirty, because I wouldn’t approach even the same ZIP code as flirtiness in DMs with any woman I didn’t know well and didn’t have a preexisting relationship with, let alone one I considered a source.

I don’t consider DMs to be off the record, necessarily — Burns clearly doesn’t since she shared some of ours — but I’m not going to share the logs unless she indicates publicly I have her permission. If she does, I’ll happily post them, start to finish, and everyone is welcome to have at them. Readers will find nothing inappropriate in the context of an ongoing discussion between folks who DM but don’t know each other in real life, zero examples of me asking her personal questions that don’t make sense in the context of such a conversation, and multiple instances of me offering her advice about article-pitching and book-writing, including an offer to connect her with NYMag.com’s editors so she could potentially write for the site. Plus, of course, lots of wonky back-and-forth debates on subjects like desistance rates and detransitioners and so on. For Burns to distort our DM correspondence in the way she has, for her to twist it into something exploitative or predatory, is extremely dishonest. Given her claims, I hope she’ll agree to allow the logs to be posted.

So, to review: Burns suggested it was strange I had access to a private email address she had in fact emailed me from previously; that I bullied her into doing an interview she in fact quickly agreed to; and that I pestered her with followup DMs that she felt were intrusive when she was the one who started what turned into a standard DM correspondence between Twitter friends. Again: All these claims are about my livelihood, about the only thing I’m kind of good at, about the thing I am expecting, hope against hope, to provide for me for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to engage with Burns at all, in public, about what I viewed as a personal dispute, but I take these claims very seriously and they are all completely false.