Rebecca Juro

Greg Grunberg Responds...and So Do I

Filed By Rebecca Juro | December 08, 2009 7:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: Greg Grunberg, media, NBC, transphobia, Twitter

Early yesterday afternoon, I received a email through the Bilerico Project from "Heroes" star Greg Grunberg about my recent post about his tweeting about Chaz Bono. It read:

My comments about Chaz Bono letting himself go had NOTHING to do with the transgender issue. NOTHING. Chaz is overweight as am I and people have jokingly told me that we look alike. I was merely poking fun at that notion. I hope you realize I meant nobody any harm. Lighten up and take good care.- Grunny

greg-grunberg.jpgI decided to write back, because I wanted to explain to Grunberg why what he did was not only hurtful but could even prove actually harmful. I spent a considerable amount of time on this letter, but when I went to send it in reply to the email address his email was indicated as having been sent from, I got a delivery failure notice saying that his email address doesn't exist. This isn't too surprising really, and I don't blame Grunberg for it. Since Grunberg is a major star, I'm sure NBC takes steps to ensure that his personal email isn't inundated with fan mail. I made attempts to locate a valid email address for him throughout the day, even at one point tweeting him directly and asking for one, without success.

Since I have no way to contact Greg Grunberg directly, and since I believe that it's important that he see my response, after waiting for a day to see if I was able to establish direct contact with him I've decided to post his email and my reply publicly, where I hope he will see it. While I'd originally intended this part of the conversation to be more private, it's far more important to me that Grunberg be able to read what I have to say to him than it is for it to be said privately.

(My response is after the jump)

Here's what I wrote:

Dear Mr. Grunberg,

Thank you for contacting me. I understand your position and I can appreciate it, but I'd like to try to help you understand mine and why I wrote and published that piece. I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but there's a lot to say and I hope you'll bear with me.

Mr. Grunberg, Grunny, I am a transsexual woman. I lived the first 35 years of my life in my male birth gender and transitioned to living as a woman full-time in 1997. In those days, I worked a low-paying grunt job in a Blockbuster video store. I was well-liked and on the short list of management candidates, but within two weeks of the time I told my employer I would be transitioning, I was out of a job, just like that. No reasons given, just coming into work one day to be told by my boss that I was fired and to pick up my check on Friday. When I tried to hire a lawyer to fight back, not one would take my case. I live in central New Jersey, and so I contacted the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights for help. After taking a full year to consider my case, the NJDCR determined that it wasn't in the state's interest to protect me from discrimination.

That incident began a six-year unbroken stretch of unemployment for me. Fortunately, unlike in the cases of many of my transgender friends, my family did not turn their backs on me. So, I am able to write you today from a warm and comfortable home in Central New Jersey instead of living in poverty, on the streets, or perhaps even dead. It is estimated (through anecdotal evidence and the few studies that have been done on this) that about 50% of all transsexuals do not survive long enough to transition. By far, the most common reason is suicide. It's also estimated a transgender person like myself currently has a 1-in-12 chance of being murdered in a hate crime in the US.

Three years ago, New Jersey's legislature passed a law protecting transgender and gender-variant citizens from discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations. It did become easier over time for transsexuals to find and maintain employment in the state, but by no means can it be said that it became easy. Then, when the economy began tanking, it once again became as hard as it's ever been for a transperson to find and keep a job in this state. In addition, I can tell you from personal experience that while it may have become a little easier to get hired as a transperson in New Jersey for a while, being promoted above entry level once hired, regardless of one's level of experience, skills, and competency, still remains completely unattainable for many of us just because we're transgender.

Just a few weeks ago, the US Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and it was signed into law by President Obama. For the first time in the history of our nation, our country's body of federal law now acknowledges transgender and gender-variant Americans and defines us as a protected class.

Another bill before Congress right now, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace nationwide, has been around for over thirty years in one form or another, once failing to pass by only a single vote. Despite a multitude of promises made to us by President Obama and Congressional Democrats, ENDA has been removed from this year's Congressional agenda and we've been told it will be taken on next year. Of course, considering how many times we've heard that only to discover that Congress really intended nothing of the sort but only wanted people like me to shut up about it for a while, not too many of us are taking it on faith that this time will be any different.

That's the world I live in, Grunny, and it's the world my transgender sisters and brothers live in as well. I use my own example here because New Jersey is popularly considered to be one of the most politically liberal states in the nation (NJ went for Obama by fifteen points). If someone like me can experience this kind of treatment here in New Jersey, can you imagine what it must be like for those of us who live in states like Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, and other ultra-conservative areas? I've heard their stories and have presented them in the media I make, and I can tell you they are often nothing short of just as horrific as you might imagine.

Grunny, when you make jokes about Chaz Bono, even though your intent is to joke about his weight, that's not what a lot of people are going to take from it. Mixing gender pronouns in reference to a transgender person as you did in one of your tweets is considered deeply offensive in our community, disparaging to Chaz's gender identity, and by extension to the rest of us as well. I know you don't see it that way, but that's how I feel, and it's how many other transgender people and allies feel as well.

As a media professional yourself, you must know that what Chaz is known for isn't his being overweight, it's for being the darling little girl from "Sonny and Cher" who came out a while back as lesbian and then became a guy. With all of the recent media play he's gotten, when most people think of Chaz Bono they don't think "fat", they think "transsexual" or "transgender", and that, in a nutshell, is the problem and a big reason why I felt compelled to write and publish that piece.

Also, there's something else I want to say, something a little more personal:

One of the other reasons I felt I had to make this public is because I'm angry with you, not just for what you said on Twitter, but because I'm a fan. "Heroes" is one of my very favorite shows and I think you're amazing in it. "Heroes" has always held a special place in my television viewing because the story can be so relevant to my own life in some ways. No, I've never been stalked by a super-powered homicidal maniac, but I know as well as anyone what it is to live a life where you're treated badly by your government and those around you just for being different from everyone else. "Heroes" is special to me, and I feel like you've tarnished that for me. I feel like I'll never be able to think of "Heroes" again without also thinking of this, and yes, I'm angry and incredibly disappointed in you for that.

Maybe I'm an idiot for thinking some actor I've never met nor probably ever will meet cares about people like me or what happens to us, but my disappointment was further compounded when one of the people who commented on my post at Bilerico mentioned that you're active with epilepsy charities because of your son. As a lifelong epileptic myself, on medication for it since childhood, your efforts there are something I'm very inclined to laud and support.

I'd ask you to imagine that instead of Chaz Bono, some famous actor got on Twitter and started making jokes (intentionally or not) about epileptics. How would you feel, Grunny? My bet is that you'd feel about the same as I do about this (and I would feel just as strongly if it actually were about epilepsy), and you'd likely feel as compelled to stand up to it as I do in this case.

So, that's it. I've said my piece, and I hope you can understand where I come from on this, why wrote and published the piece, and why I will continue to speak out against this kind of thing whenever I see it. As a transgender writer, blogger, and Internet radio host, I've dedicated myself to working for the day when every gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender American will have the same rights in this country as everyone else takes for granted, and I am as committed and dedicated to my work as you are to yours.

I did not write the piece to hurt you or the show, Grunny. That was never my intent or my desire. I wrote and published it because for all the reasons noted above we must speak out against transphobia in the media, each and every time it happens, even if not intentional, because we cannot afford the social, cultural, and political backlash that can result if left unanswered, and especially not now when we are still actively engaged in fighting for our basic civil rights as American citizens.

I hope you understand, and thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Juro
Contributor
The Bilerico Project


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Pam Daniels Pam Daniels | December 8, 2009 8:07 PM

Hi Rebecca,

Kudo’s on this post from yet another “Jersey Girl!” I’m just beginning my transition at age 54 so I doubt I’ll live to see a world when we T-Persons can just “Lighten up” and take off hand remarks that disparage us. I know the day will come though when a Trans-Person comic will one day be able to do a “stand up” routine that features self deprecating humor! I’m reminded of a great George Carlin routine where he described growing up as an Irish white guy in New York where he and his buddies had to “act black” to be cool! It was funnier than hell and extremely self-deprecating stuff, but cutting edge back in the early 70’s!

I hope I live long enough to be able to laugh at some of the really weird things I’ve been forced to live through instead of crying!

A deeply moving letter, Rebecca. I am going to tweet the link at him and hope he sees this. He must.

Thank you for doing this.

Very good post Rebecca. I hope that he sees it and even learns something from itas I am sure that others will.

Becky,
You have wrote some monumental pieces in the past, but this one far and away beats them all. I am proud you are one of my trans sisters. Thank you.

Thanks for the kind words, all. I just hope it has an impact. I just direct tweeted Greg Grunberg with the link, so I'm hopeful that between me, Firebolt, and whoever else directs his attention to it, he'll see it.

That was a very nice response Rebecca. I am one of those who lives in a very conservative state, (Texas), I also attempted suicide twice, (seriously attempted that required hospitalization), have lost a total of four jobs due to my gender identity and had elements of family disown me. People like Grunny will never get what they say is hurtful. It's like trying to explain color to a blind person, there is no common frame of reference. I never watch Heroes and I've never heard of this guy until I saw your original post but unfortunately, it's very common for us to be treated shabbily in the media, be it news media or entertainment. I have long harbored a lot of resentment for movies like "Dressed to Kill", Silence of the Lambs", "Psycho" and etc., that like to portray us as a bunch of sociopaths and murderers. I hope that your efforts will bear fruit with this guy but judging by the history of it all, I won't hold my breath

I hope you're wrong, Margaret. I'm hoping that because Greg Grunberg does charity work and because I've seen a lot of positive things in his tweets since I subscribed to his feed (such as a request to sign up for a site that donates to Toys For Tots), I'm hoping that he's not a jerk, he's just uninformed and really just didn't know any better.

That's why I wrote the letter as I did, as an attempt to inform and educate, not an attack. The truth is that I really don't think Greg Grunberg is a bad person, just think he doesn't get it. I believe that he honestly thought he was telling an innocent joke, and for that reason I felt it was important to tell him why what he said was seen by us as neither innocent or a joke.

I'd also like to say that it's still not okay to say mean things about someone's weight. fat-hating, trans-hating--it's all about policing someone's body and that's not cool even if you apologize it away as "I'm fat too."

Just not cool.

And let's be clear, "I wasn't making fun of Chaz because he's trans, I was making fun of him because he's fat! Lighten up!" isn't much of an apology to start with...

Audio Verite | December 9, 2009 5:41 AM

I am a bi-sexual 32 year old with friends of all sexes and orientations, I think you not only overreacted and pounced too fast, your reply to him is way over the top and most people, especially people you may have annoyed will not read it all. If wants to know all that, he will read your blog. Complain and move on. All he did was say "she" and you gave him all that and insinuated the worst and rightly he was very curt with you. You actually did more to offend me as a sexual minority, you paint us in a bad weak light. It is true he mixed pronouns, this was not correct of him, but to a hetro guy who sees someone in between sexes he's either half wrong or half right technically. As the self appointed ambassador for "us" you should have just informed him of the right way to say it in a Tweet of 150 characters or less. Not by not casting him down with bigots & emailing him your biography. It was after all a fat joke, and the fatness they share was the point. And yes Chaz, well Chastity was famous for being fat and a girl, she was on fit club and many know that as it was her last major show. She was losing weight and now he is fat. It's a joke. Unfortunate you overreact like this and want people to handle us with kid gloves, and yes this is what you asked. You would have us never be made fun of, except in ways you say its ok. Let Chaz fight this if he even wants, don't ride his coat tales to promote yourself & blog, Chaz is a big boy! If you censor this from your blog, you prove my point, if you let it post, you're getting better, either way, I just want you to read it from a out of the closet 31 bi-sexual who is a artist in the entertainment biz.

And yes Chaz, well Chastity was famous for being fat and a girl, she was on fit club and many know that as it was her last major show.

Is "major" defined as "America's next pathetic fourth-tier-network ripoff of some third-generation reality show that was ripped off from some other reality show that people only watched in the first instance because major networks have stopped spending any money on scripts and actors or even real variety shows - you know, like the one that Chaz's parents had in the 1970s as opposed to the boil that Jay Leno is occupying five prime-time hours a week with"?

If "she was on fit club and many know that as it was her last major show" is the excuse, perhaps no one 'got it' because few ever knew what it is/was and even fewer retained memory of it.

Audio,

As a 31 or 32 year old out bisexual who's not trans (or I presume you would have put it in your list of identifications) what makes you feel you have the right to speak for trans people? This isn't about sexual minorities, but gender minorities. I can agree that a long post like this isn't as effective, and no one's saying this fuax paux is the end of the world, but it's still worth calling him on it.

You base your argument on the idea that we should let him off easy because he's straight and therefore doesn't have as much exposure to the trans folk as people like you do. Except that you don't seem to have much in the way of trans ettiquite down either. It seems almost as if being LGB is not an accurate predictor of whether or not someone can say or do transphobic things -- as evidenced by your own use of mixed pronouns.

No wonder you don't think it's a big deal, you're guilty of the same transgression and apparently think so little of it that you're willing to do it repeatedly in a place you know lots of trans people will read it. If you were trying to prove that cis straight folks are inherently less aware of trans issues then cis LGB folks -- and therefore deserving a free pass -- it kinda just backfired.

Y'know, I thought about how long I should make the letter. My concerns were exactly the same as yours Tobi, that a long letter wouldn't be as effective. I decided to just start writing and see where it took me.

When I'd finished, I thought long and hard about editing it down, but then I decided that I'd said exactly what I wanted to say so I'd email it to him full-length, knowing that even if Grunberg himself didn't read the whole thing there were others who would.

There was really no part of the letter that I found to be expendable to what I wanted to say to him, and in the interest of both clarity and honesty I published the letter exactly as I had written and emailed it to him originally.

Second on what Loaf said. His excuse, making fun of Chaz's weight, is pathetic. And it's been the #1 insult I've read on LGBT sites directed towards Chaz, usually with something like "I don't care if she's becoming a man, but she's really fat!"

Despite the growing population of overweight people in the US, Americans still really do hate fat people. Like, hate. People look at them with disgust, joke about how they move or what they wear, and generally disparage them for "letting themselves get that way."

We seem to think that because some degree of choice is involved in weight gain that it's suddenly OK to hate someone for their weight or appearance. The rise in obesity probably made the situation worse - everyone knows that they too can become fat so they have to show their hatred for fat people even more. The fact that Grunny himself is overweight is telling.

Anyway, good post. Using the wrong gender pronouns when referring to someone who's trans on purpose is an insult, and he can't pretend like his only joke was about weight. he should just accept what he did and move on.

Kenneth Kimball | December 9, 2009 7:46 AM

Nicely put Rebecca. Sometimes we say things we don't mean or that we have not thought through completely. Your response is honest and so poignant. If he wants to open up and learn he will.

Life presents us constant opportunities to learn and grow. Please realize that at the very least, I have been educated and touched by your response. Thank you for sharing it with us.

I find myself agreeing somewhat with Audio. Certainly it was wrong for Grunny to insult Bono based on his weight, but that isn't, in and of itself, automatically an insult to trans people. I can't follow that logic.

If I were to be insulted based on my weight (and being overweight it does happen), I take it as an insult against me relative to my weight. I don't find anything homophobic in it towards me nor towards the whole LBGT world. Sure, it's still insulting, just as was Grunny's insult to Bono based on his weight, but that just doesn't make it an insult to every person who ever transitioned.

bjohm,

The fatphobic insult is significant in its own right. But you want to know why the trans community cares? Well, it's because it was paired with improper pronoun use which was most likely intentional. Intentional mispronouning is just as hurtful as a derogatory slur. If someone was called a "fatty faggot" then perhaps you might see it as an insult to the LGBT world. Don't think it's on par with the f-word? We can agree to disagree, but my point still stands if you use a less powerful word such as "lesbo" or even a non-derogatory term like "gay"

It was a beautifully written response although, perhaps TMI for someone like Grunberg with his inane advice to "lighten up". My point for someone like him is his jokes about Chaz Bono are one half-step away from someone making jokes about his son's epilepsy. And it may be that he would initially believe his son's condition is 'real' whereas being trans is an aberration, but that's all part of the process of media advocacy and education. Let's just say people are more influenced their own intimate pains of life rather than catastrophes which they can experience from a safe distance.

Audio Verite | December 9, 2009 3:29 PM

If you want to attack my typo instead of the substance of what I said, then you have shown your cards, you're mad and nitpick everything, my point is made.

I am not trans-phobic! I was out at 15 and a lesbian school official took me aside and asked if i would befriend a suicidal boy who didn't consider himself gay, but a girl. We are friends to this day. Sadly she never transitioned as her family and religion made her feel a sinner and she lives today as a christian hetro man, who now lives a life of a drug addict with AIDS who sneaks into bath houses with great guilt. I'm the only friend/family who supports her wish her to reveal her true self, even whens he hates herself. So please lecture someone else about me not having any experience with people outside of the scope of hetro, gay and bi. I am very sensitive to this, the false argument of any group who says "you can never identify or understand us" is an outdated concept. We are all human, there is nothing extra different/special about your human experience and struggle. You're need to become your true self is not alien to me, we all have out own metamorphosis, for some it's body, some is mind, most is both on a sliding scale. to be human is to see another person who is not you and yet empathize and feel, to connect cause something in them is also you no matter how different they are. I wish not to get into a flame war. we are all on the same side, I wish we picked our battles a little more smart so these divisions stop keeping us back from successes from the ones who want to keep us down.

Really? "I have a trans friend." Surely you are aware that having a friend in a minority community doesn't mean it's impossible to espouse oppressive ideas about that community. Notice that I never said you were transphobic, I just said what you did was. While I defer to you on your friend's pronoun preference, apparently for mixed pronouns, I'm a bit disturbed at your use of mixed male and female pronouns for Chaz and your insistence that we should overlook it when other people do the same. At the same time I also said it's not the end of the world, just worth calling out.

Also, I wasn't saying that cis folks will never understand trans people but that being LGB in and of itself does not get people closer to understanding trans stuff. Plenty of cis people do, but it isn't necessarily harder to have those experiences when you are a straight cis person then when you are a LGB cis person.

And when cis LGB folks suggest that straight cis people should be forgiven for their transphobic behavior because they don't know better, well, it treats the matter as if respect for trans people is just a little "in" thing that we do in the LGBt community and we shouldn't expect outside of it and that's very frustrating. It doesn't seem appropriate for someone who is not a member of the minority group in question to excuse problematic behavior that members of that minority group are complaining about.

As a side note, and not to be antagonistic, but please be careful about assuming what individual trans people's experiences are based on your experiences with your friend. There's a lot of diversity in our experiences and as it so happens I never dealt with a need to become my true self. As I experience life, I always have been and never stopped being my true self.

UPDATE: GLAAD has posted to their blog about this. It's much appreciated, and I've offered to help their efforts in any way I can. They deserve our thanks for taking an active and positive role on this story as soon as they become aware of it.

Read it here.

Audio Verite | December 9, 2009 6:28 PM

Tobi, I'm so sorry you feel the way you do and think what I have said is in anyway wrong. I tried to re-inform you of where I am coming from, just in case I was at fault and not clear. You have again chosen to use venom rather than intelligent dissent to interact with me. You take my life experience and opinion and twist them into something you feel you can now belittle and nastily sully. I accept that online you can be hurtful to me and not think there is another person on the other side, but what irks me is you pretend I am the one hurting people with my words. Yet you are able to smear my name on this on this blog with no repercussion other than public humiliation and self respect, neither of which seem to concern you. So this was my first experience at this blog and it will be my last. I implore you as I will not read this blog after I hit submit, that you not waste one more minute being negative responding to someone who no longer cares to engage you. I hope your ego is strong enough to move on and not continue to make spectacle out of yourself. I am done with you, I am going to go walk my dog and try to forget this so the next time I want to have an adult exchange online about a very difficult subject, I won't think twice about joining in on the conversation.

Audio,

My last comment was an honest attempt to have a civil conversation without any "venom," so I am honestly sorry that it came across as an attempt to smear your name and belittle you. I can admit that I'm frustrated and in my frustration I have not been as delicate as I could be, yet seeing as how your first comment complained about not wanting to be treated "with kid gloves" I did not realize that would be necessary. I also believe some of the blame lies with the text-only communication that hides our emotional overtones.

I can see that you are earnest and caring and for that I am willing to engage in constructive dialog. But that does not mean that I will refrain from pointing out behavior I see as problematic. I'm not pretending to be hurt by your mispronouning, I am hurt by it. Just as I am honestly frustrated when I hear you claim that mispronouning is not a big deal that we should all cut some slack on it.

I've had people intentionally mispronoun me in serious circumstances -- alongside a "joke" that I ought to be violently castrated, by bigots who were purposefully trying to get a rise from me, even by a student declaring their first amendment rights to call me whatever they wanted in the middle of a hearing on the discriminatory impact of anti-trans hate speech! When I get mispronouned in person my first response is to check if I am physically safe or about to be assaulted. So when I hear the wrong pronouns used and especially when I hear that it is no big deal, then I am impacted by it.

Again, I'm sorry that my words have hurt you, as that wasn't my intention. I do care about people on the internet and I read over my comment to focus it on the points I wanted to make without any indictments of your personality. You are free to read or not read whatever blogs you want. I hope that you find the constructive dialog that you are looking for, but I hope it also allows for people to call each other out when they misuse their privilege.

A wonderful response! I hope that Mr. Grunberg takes it seriously.

Tobi, quite honestly I don't think you have anything to apologize for. The person in question was highly dismissive and even condescending towards Rebecca and didn't come off as wanting constructive dialog in the least. I've heard no comparable apology on their part nor acknowledgement of the hurtful assumptions they made. Yes, I agree, people need to strive for civil exchange but if they come out slinging negation and privilege, please don't feel badly if you called them on it.

Tobi, quite honestly I don't think you have anything to apologize for. The person in question was highly dismissive and even condescending towards Rebecca and didn't come off as wanting constructive dialog in the least. I've heard no comparable apology on their part nor acknowledgement of the hurtful assumptions they made. Yes, I agree, people need to strive for civil exchange but if they come out slinging negation and privilege, please don't feel badly if you called them on it.

"I have a trans friend?" I live in Georgia and racists like to hide their bigotry by saying, "I'm not a racist. I have a black friend." It's not new.

With all of the recent media play he's gotten, when most people think of Chaz Bono they don't think "fat", they think "transsexual" or "transgender",...

You REALLY overestimate how TS men are considered. I've seen for myself that most people don't think "trans*" when they think "Chaz Bobo" -- they think "crazy lesbian in need of attention". That's what TS men ARE to most people. "Transsexual" and "transgender" is a dignity afforded only to TS women by the vast majority.

Chaz is very early in his transition... yes, there might be many who still think of him as butch (although i think that's going to change a lot within, say, a year). But in general society, I think people mostly think that of transmen towards the beginning of their transitions or, perhaps, in instances like 'the pregnant man' media blitz. By and large, most transitioned transmen live very much as males in larger society (and at least one study showed them having increased incomes after transition) and suffer vastly lower rates of violence and discrimination than transwomen do. You think that's a dignity? I do believe that, in some portions of the lesbian and feminist communities, some FTMs are transphobically viewed as some kind of super butch... still fundamentally women (or, at least, honorary women who they'll be involved with even though they ID as lesbian) but I haven't seen that in broader society or media. Transmasculine people, and bois... that's rather different because they usually aren't on T which, within a short period of time, has a profound affect on how FTMs are perceived.