Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Action Alert: Bravo's Gay Jeff Lewis On 'Cannibalism, Cremation & Transgender Crack Addicts'

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 14, 2011 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Action Alerts, Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Bravo, homophobic behavior, If The Lampshade Fits, Jeff Lewis, Raina Cox, Sarah Firshein, transphobia, Wesleyan

300px-Flippingout.jpgLast week, Curbed.com featured a story on Jeff Lewis, the openly gay host of Bravo's "Flipping Out" TV series, entitled "Jeff Lewis on Cannibals, Cremation, and Transgender Crack Addicts", an interview written by Raina Cox, an interior designer and author of the blog "If the Lamp Shade Fits," for which the tagline is "Life is too short to live ugly."

To the contrary, this is very ugly.

Curbed.com describes itself as a website with a "fascination with real estate porn in all its many glories."

Mr. Lewis had this to say:

"What's your least favorite of all the houses you've flipped?

The worst one--there was a house I bought on King's Road in Sunset Strip and it was in really bad shape. The older woman who owned it had rented it out to four different people who lived there. She was renting out rooms, basically, and to very undesirable people. Normally when you buy a house, the house is delivered vacant. I thought it was delivered vacant, but when I started the demo I realized there was this basement that I didn't see during the inspection, and there was a transgender crack addict. A lot of times when you buy a house you inherit a feral cat or a raccoon or something, but in this particular case I inherited a crack addict--no joke! It took me a couple of weeks to get rid of he/she. But I didn't even know he/she was living there. It was pretty crazy--I didn't know until demo day!"

The bold emphasis in the quote appears in the original on curbed.com.

I contacted GLAAD and reported this defamatory piece, and posted a comment on the site, as follows:

"Your comment about the poor woman living in a basement, and your reference to her as 'a transgender crack addict,' along with its use in the title to titillate, is shameful. Transgender people are human beings, and not to be used as the butt of your jokes, regardless of their poverty or sobriety issues. You should immediately change the title of this piece and erase that prejudiced remark."

The editor, Sarah Firshein, replied to me with this bland non-reassurance:

"@Jillian Weiss: When interviewed, Mr. Lewis was describing the individual he found living in his basement, who happened to be transgender and who happened to be a crack addict. There's no further subtext than that. That said, thank you for presenting your point of view. We are all in agreement here that transgender folks are indeed 'human beings.'"

Are we? Are we in agreement? I think not. I think your view of the humanity of trans people is a mass of privileged rhetoric about "humanity", which you can discard at will for the putrid reality underneath, to use as linkbait and laugh about at happy hour, while you watch the ad revenue flowing in. For shame.

I spoke to Ms. Firshein today about the story on the telephone. I introduced myself as an editor at Bilerico.com, and asked if she had any comments on the story, and if she would be willing to remove it and issue an apology. Her answer was a curt "uh, no," and to tell me to email her if I had any questions at sarah@curbed.com.

It's surprising that Ms. Firshein, a proud graduate of Wesleyan University (it's next to her name on everything on the web), which has a fine Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, would think that there's no subtext here. Is this what you learned at Wesleyan, Ms. Firshein? As a member of the academic community, I think I will have to check with your professors on that, and see what they're teaching over there.

I don't know if it was writer Raina Cox or editor Sarah Firshein who came up with the title of the piece, but whoever it was, both bear responsibility.

Regarding the interview, while it is true that Mr. Lewis was describing someone, my concern isn't that there was a transgender crack addict in the basement. My concern was that stringing together "Cannibals, Cremation and Transgender Crack Addicts" is a blatant attempt to titillate the audience by suggesting a "Silence of the Lambs"-type comparison between trans people and the gruesome practice of cannibalism and the macabre subject of cremation.

The derogatory reference to this poor person as a "he/she", and the bold-type emphasis placed on the sentence, further cement the inference that, contrary to the words of editor Sarah Firshein, there is indeed a "further subtext." One would have to be blind -- or prejudiced -- not to see that.

Had there been a story about "Cannibalism, Cremation and Black Crack Addicts," bolded and calling the person a derogatory name, would any sane person doubt that there was a racist subtext, whether "intended" or not? There are, of course, trans cracks addicts, just as there are black crack addicts and many other types of people affected by sobriety issues. This is completely beside the point.

I received a call from GLAAD, which contacted Mr. Lewis's publicist. The publicist said that Mr. Lewis "he is going to pass on giving a quote," which means, in PR-speak, that he stands by the story.

Meanwhile, some stellar comments showed up on the site. I flagged one two days ago, but Ms. Firshein did nothing. Here they are, in all their glory:

bigappledining: Get over yourselves people. Jeff didn't say anything that wasn't likely truthful. You don't know if he knew for a fact that the person in question wasn't a crack addict. For all you know, that person offered him a hit, or they found crack in the room. You don't know.

patty cake: what was he supposed to say? A nice young transgender with a drug habit was squatting in my house? You people are nuts.. transgender crack addict is what it was.. and its a deviant period!

guest: How about "crazy fuckin' tranny/drag-queen crack-addict?" Holy shit, get over yourselves, bitches.

travis: are there any other kind ?????

guest: Newsflash -- this website can run whatever headline it wants. It's a business and unless you own it, YOU (like the crack addict who squatted in Jeff Lewis' basement) are out of luck. But take heart; perhaps you can right this wrong by inviting a crack addict to live in YOUR basement. Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lewis is basking in his glory as a successful gay TV star and real estate mogul, on the backs of trans people, for whom discrimination and unemployment are a daily reality in startlingly high numbers.

Good luck, Mr. Lewis, curbed.com, writer Raina Cox and editor Sarah Firshein. Shame on you. Thank you for contributing to the national atmosphere of homophobia and transphobia that have sent anti-LGBT violence, and particularly violence against trans people, into the stratosphere.

I think this post should be taken down, and an apology issued. You can reach Sarah Firshein at sarah@curbed.com, or call Curbed.com here. Curbed.com's facebook page is here. It's a shame you have to "Like" the page before you can comment, but I think it's well worth it. Jeff Lewis can be reached at info@jefflewisdesign.com. You can reach writer Raina Cox at lampshadeblog@gmail.com. Tell them to take down this defamatory post.

UPDATE: Look at this: the Wall Street Journal published the Curbed.com article on its website: http://onespot.wsj.com/realestate/2011/07/06/3d7be/curbed-interviews-jeff-lewis-on-cannibal

GLAAD has crossposted this article with a note: "Please note that GLAAD shares Dr. Weiss' opinions that Jeff Lewis' comments and the framing of the Curbed.com article in question are unacceptable."

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Jaime Dunaway Jaime Dunaway | July 14, 2011 1:02 PM

GLAAD is not apt to do much of anything when gay people or lgb allies say anything transphobic, they seem to have been cowed by the apparent vocal majority that are fine with things like that.

Honestly Jillian I think your over reaction to it is worse than any potential damage to the word Transgender or Transgender identified people.If your going to be mad at anyone how about being mad at the homeless transgender crack addict. Not for being homeless, not for being transgender, but instead for braking into and staying in someones house and for being a crack addict which probably has just as much or more to do with them being homeless than being Transgender does.I've been homeless as I'm sure that there are ton's of other TS/ TG people that have been homeless for all sorts of other reason's. I didn't resort to criminal behavior as I'm sure many of my other former homeless and still currently homeless TS/TG brothers and sisters haven't either. Tacky headline or not the Transgender person involved provided the opportunity for it to be created through their own poor choices and if the fault lays anywhere that is where it belongs.

Honestly, Lisa, I wonder where your head is at. Referencing transsexual people (which is the term they originally used, as noted in the web address of the article: "jeff-lewis-on-cannabilism-cremation-and-transsexual-crack-addicts.php"), or transgender people, or anyone, with cannibalism and cremation, and called her a "he/she", simply vile. Regardless of your opinion about the use of the term "transgender." you should at least be able to recognize that this is dangerous transphobic trash talk. It contributes to the atmosphere of disgust and disdain for transgender and transsexual people, and contributes to the justifications for violence relied upon by the violent. Blaming someone with sobriety issues for that is completely irrelevant. I'm surprised at your lack of understanding of the issues here.

"I'm surprised at your lack of understanding of the issues here."

You ARE??? I suspect you're overstating your level of astonishment Jillian.

Well if it makes you to feel any better I'm not surprised at all that neither of you accepted my statement and went on the attack. Jillian I specifically used the same language as you used in your post and if it makes you feel any better if you had used Transsexual I would have supplied the same comment using Transsexual. I'm sorry but I don't buy into your BS that just because someones addicted to drugs they can't or shouldn't be held accountable for their actions. Your also glossing over the fact that like it or not whether the word used was Transsexual or Transgender I'm still equally effected by it because of the promotion of the word Transgender to include all transsexuals. So like it or not I have an interest equal to yours in ensuring the word Transgender isn't used to cause more harm than the mess it's already created. I stand by my original statement and I'll go even further we are our own best spokespeople and like it or not the actions of anyone of us effects all of us especially when it gets to become a headline issue. Everyone of us needs to be checking our behavior and just because someone is TS or TG does not make them a saint or a model citizen. I think we would gain much more by condemning the behavior that contributed to the article than crying foul.

I'm just ever so thankful she wasn't a real, genuine, transsexual and not just some crossdresser crack addict.

Gina in one way I agree with what mostly has been said here the person's identity really isn't the issue. Right or wrong that identity was included in the article but that alone doesn't lesson any of the responsibility that person has in creating the circumstance that led to writing the article.I really could care less about what that identity is and again I think less crying over that and more attention should be paid to the person's actions. Seriously I can't believe that either you or Jillian are incapable of at least acknowledging that I made a point that wasn't based on TS VS TG. I've made a ton of comments here at bilerico and contrary to popular belief if they were all gone through I can assure the vast majority have nothing to do with TS vs TG. You might even be surprised to find out in some cases I support those who label themselves Transgender and include them in comments.

This is a tough one. I see your point: it's like when commedians use "Filipino hooker" or something like that for a punchline: what does the fact that the person is Filipino have to do with it? Likewise, what does the fact that the person is transgender have to do with it? But it would be difficult for GLAAD to say anything categorical, because Lewis's statement was an accurate description.

GLAAD is taking action, and I will update that shortly.

If the article were to remove transgender from the headline, and fix the 'he/she', would you be satisfied? I think it's also really strange that Ms. Firshein put 'human beings' in the quotes as she did; why would she do that? How does that add anything helpful??

Your emendations would be a good start, Colin, and an apology would be in order as well.

How could it possibly be transphobic... the show has a proud member of the gay community as host? ):

jeff lewis is disgusting himself. I don't think I've ever seen a man with such plumped up lips. Top that with his attitude equals an "undesirable"
Hey jeff stick to what you know, matching drapes with the carpet.

I am proud to have attended Wesleyan University, and not ashamed to admit that I watch Flipping Out. Dr. Weiss doesn't seem to have watched the show itself, because if she did, it would be clear to her that Jeff Lewis, while a talented designer and possessing of an endearingly self-deprecating, self-aware sense of humor, showed no more disdain for the trans-gender crack addict than he does for every person with whom he comes into contact. He's a shallow narcissist, focused obsessively on appearance, but charmingly admits it on camera every week. All this shows is that LGBT people have equal opportunity to be reality TV stars or crack addicts and homeless. What with Marcus Bachmann still subjecting that poor Michelle to a loveless marriage, and Tennessee legislators trying to outlaw the very word "gay," I suggest to Dr. Weiss, and frankly, demand of GLAAD, to go after bigger game than Jeff Lewis.

My dear Benjamin, you seem to have learned as little as your unfortunate confrere. If you think that it is okay to perpetuate prejudice, discrimination and violence against transgender people, simply because Mr. Lewis is unaware of the damage he does, then you truly do not understand the social compact or the tragedy of the commons. People are suffering every day, unable to find jobs or continue their educations, because they are transgender or transsexual. I do not expect privilege to understand this, because you have never seen it with your own eyes. But arrogance cannot be taught.

Well, aren't you presumptious. I am not just a Bravo viewer, but gay, a liberal political donor/activist, and member of many LGBT organizations, and don't need to be lectured to by the likes of you. My argument with you is that you are choosing the wrong battle, and have in fact fabricated the battlefield, since Jeff Lewis certainly did no violence to the transgender addict, and didn't indicate that he was prejudiced or discriminatory (as I told you, if you watch the show, he's arrogant and condescending to ABSOLUTELY everyone.) Now you can relate to that. Your shrill overreaction is exactly why I see blog postings like these and keep right on scrolling.

Well, Benjamin, perhaps you don't like my lecture, but that doesn't make it less true, nor does the fact that you give some of your money to some LGBT causes. Your statement that Mr. Lewis indicated no prejudice is certainly contrary to the facts as I have presented them, and your bare statement that he hasn't doesn't make it so. It also doesn't address the role of the writer and curbed.com's role in this. Try addressing the arguments I have made in my presentation. As for your desire to keep on scrolling past blog posts like these, my question to you is: why didn't you?

Sometimes I just want to turn in my gay card. Don't know who is worse Lewis or his defenders.

Acting like an asshole doesnt suddenly become a virtue just by doing it a lot.

GLAAD has crossposted this blog on their site, with a note stating their support .

They will be making further outreach to the writer and editor.

They have also notified Mr. Lewis that, until this gets resolved, GLAAD will not be able to work with him or have him at any of their events.

What about GLAAD'S Transphobia Jillian are you going to call them on it? Or do you support the same Defamation and unethical behavior that GLAAD engages in towards non transgender and LGBT affiliated Transsexuals and Crossdressers.Common Jillian step up to the plate so we can get this over with and move on. Support me in getting GLAAD to stop defaming non transgender identified transsexuals under their transgender section. Also that they need to place a disclaimer within their media guide that not all transsexuals and crossdressers are part of the LGBT.Just so GLAAD knows if they don't take actions to correct these issues I will be taking civil rights and other legal actions against them beginning early next week I already have the complaint forms and the desire to fill them out against every major LGBT Organization and University that are promoting the unethical belief that all Transsexuals are Transgender and by default part of the LGBT.

I, my dear Lisa, am going to stick to the topic of this post, which is the transphobia of Jeff Lewis and Curbed.com, and I suggest that you, young lady, do the same. There will be other times and places to discuss GLAAD's offenses.

Just wondering Jillian how many more years am I going to have to wait?

By years Jillian I meant on Bilerico the complaint forms go out on Monday.

A lot of times when you buy a house you inherit a feral cat or a raccoon or something, but in this particular case I inherited a crack addict
What did he use to get rid of it then - poisoned bait, or just shooting?

That seems to be the implication here.

Britney Austin | July 14, 2011 10:42 PM

The way I read it, it seemed like prejudice to me. It seemed to me that the article implied that transgender and transsexual people should be compared to cannibals. I don't like trespassers either regardless of whether or not they are transgender or transsexual and regardless of whether or not they are addicted to drugs. The way in which the statements were made by Mr. Lewis is what I would consider to be horrible journalism. I will also state that gay men are certainly not immune to prejudice against transgender and transsexual people.

Is this what inflames our righteous indignation these days? A tossed off remark, without any discernible hostility or mean spiritedness? We should be mindful of something known as "intent." There was no intent to harm in his remarks.

Go ahead, blow your top, I just pitched you a slow ball, didn't I? Tell me how Jeff's (and mine) very dismissiveness creates an environment of hate and phobia in a society where... oh Jesus, I don't have the energy to even finish that thought. I mean, have you even heard of Chelsea Handler's show? Pretty bawdy stuff, packed with insults against Asians, gays, transgendered, you name it. It's her stock in trade. And yet this remark by Jeff, in a pretty damn obscure interview (at least, until you highlighted it) is what burns your butt?

I would ask you to dial it down, but we both know that's not going to happen. There's simply no suitable response to this hysteria, because your righteousness will always claim the higher, somewhat annoying ground.

I await your shotgun-blast pronouncements on my ignorance and transphobia. Meanwhile, I'm going to sit this one out and watch some Chelsey Lately.


Why, Mark, you so and so etc. No, I understand your point -- this interview blends right into the background of the general poisoned atmosphere, and it may not be worth calling attention to. I did consider that. But what really got me going was the smarmy remark of the Curbed.com editor that this isn't transphobia and there's no subtext and that she respects our "humanity". And then that dismissive phone call. I mean, come on, really? Cannibals and cremation and transgender crack addicts? I wasn't going to make a big deal of it when I posted my little note in the comments section saying the post was just all wrong, but that reply from the editor just burned me up. Plus, keep in mind that I get calls weekly from trans people harassed unmercifully at work and those who can't even get work despite oodles of experience. I remember all too well what it was like to have no money and no place to live, and the near impossibility of getting a job. Yes, I am a little touchy. I wish I could adopt a more nuanced view. I'm working on it. I'll probably be less touchy once we pass ENDA.

Jillian - don't hold your breath regarding ENDA. While there is significant discrimination against Gays in employment, it's not in the same league as it is for Trans people, and just isn't that big an issue compared with marriage equality.

From The Sun Chronicle:

A bill that would add the state's transgender population to groups protected by state anti-discrimination laws is even more unpopular with area lawmakers now than when it was debated a year ago.

Although supported by Gov. Deval Patrick, the transgender bill last year died in the Judiciary Committee before ever making it to the floor of either chamber for a vote.

That version of the bill had 104 co-sponsors, while this year 52 have signed on.

...

Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, said her impression is that the transgender rights bill is not a priority of either House or Senate leadership and will only advance if Patrick bargains on its behalf.

It will be a long time before Trans people have the same rights as GLBs in Mass. 22 years and counting, and with less, rather than more, GLB support now with every passing year.

Well shut my mouth. You dialed it down quite gracefully, and with thoughtful insight into your own journey. Thank you!

I forgot to mention that I'm a complete pop-culture idiot. I don't have a TV, and I have no idea what's going out there in TV land. Perhaps if I had one, I'd be more desensitized.

Lord. I watched TV for the first time in ages a couple of days ago--my internet was out, Leno and then the news were on, I had nothing better to do.

It was horrifying how quickly blatantly sexist, ableist, and transphobic shit came up. Like less than half an hour into TV-watching and they had already joked about a woman with large hands "really being a man," made fun of mental illness, and talked shit about how many calories Michelle Obama was consuming.

It's easy for me to get swept up in my world of socially conscious queer/trans folks; leaving that even momentarily was an instantaneous rough awakening.

I'm not sure what the solution is.

Someone says something casually offensive and people get offended. Wow, it sure takes a genius chessmaster to predict THAT one.

Oh, and intent is not magic.

The title is definitely offensive to me primarily because they threw in the transgender word simply to inflame and sensationalize the article. Indeed, if they had left it out the alliterative value would have been plenty to catch a reader's eye. This is, in my view, another tawdry attempt to grab readers by some insensitive media editor, the harm it may cause be damned.

Every small example of this kind of oppression in the media is worthy of comment and condemnation because it all adds up to create a cultural context in which it's OK to do this to trans people. That's why I applaud Dr Weiss and all the other people who call out the egregious abuse of trans humanity in the selfish pursuit of superficial gains.

So, what I'm hearing here from Lewis and his supporters (some here) is that if someone called them the "F"-word, then they would accept the response of "Get over it?" It seems that some non-trans people (cis-whatever) figure they have the right and authority to tell trans people (ALL different trans people) what we should accept as being derogatory and what is not. Who endowed them with this authority? The Pope? Michelle Bachmann?

"Walk a mile in their shoes." Before any non-trans person starts spouting off on what trans people should accept and not accept, you should see if you want people telling you how you should act and what to accept. It's exactly what Mr. Bachmann is doing in his fraudulent clinic. You care to be lumped into the same category as him?

The Glaad Blog is TAKING ACTION!! They cross posted Julian's post and issued this damning action ultimatum demanding action and I quote:

"Please note that GLAAD shares Dr. Weiss’ opinions that Jeff Lewis’ comments and the framing of the Curbed.com article in question are unacceptable."

Translated from Gay speak:

Yes "Transgender Crack Addict" was said by a gay man on national television so that makes it all right by us. Fuck those tra##ys but since a PHD posted this on a GAY blog I guess we'll have to mention it on the GLAAD blog.

http://glaadblog.org/2011/?07/14/guest-post-bravos-ga?y-jeff-lewis-on-cannibalis?m-cremation-and-transgende?r-crack-addicts/

Here's a delicious comment by a reader of the Advocate when they posted the story there:

Name: Valerie S
Date posted: 7/15/2011 10:27:59 PM
Hometown: Ramapo

Comment:
The fact that Todd "Dr Jillian" Weiss (fake woman fake doctor) is still threatening on his blog to abuse his academic class status to stalk and harass the editor of this article a full week after publication- is far more alarming than any off-color comments by the interview subject. Todd: " Is this what you learned at Wesleyan, Ms. Firshein? As a member of the academic community, I think I will have to check with your professors on that, and see what they're teaching over there." Guys like Todd just hate when they can't bully women around. Get over it Todd. And stop stalking women.

Well, well, well. ValerieS shows her true colors by calling me a "fake woman fake doctor," and referring to me as "he" and "guy," despite her obvious knowledge that I am a woman of transsexual history. It is interesting that she believes that I am "bullying" the editor, when in fact I am merely pointing out that her insistence on perpetuating transphobia and homophobia is wrong.

If I may be forgiven for whipping my nerdiness out, whenever I see mention of The Advocate my first thought is "The Advocate ... You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." This did nothing to change my mind on it.

bugbrennan | July 16, 2011 7:52 AM

JW - This line in your piece is patronizing: "Is this what you learned at Wesleyan, Ms. Firshein? As a member of the academic community, I think I will have to check with your professors on that, and see what they're teaching over there."

Jeff Lewis is a jerk. Jeff Lewis made an inflammatory remark. The headline said "Jeff Lewis on ... (insert inflammatory remark)."

Anti-defamation work is fine, but when you pick this as your battle.... I dunno, this seems pretty underwhelming.

"Cannibals and cremation" are particularly offensive in linkage to transgender women, Bugbrennan, because of the negative stereotyping of us as dangerous and psychotic sexual deviants a la "Buffalo Bill" from Silence of the Lambs. You may feel you can brush this one off, but I can't. I do admit, however, that I had no idea who Jeff Lewis was and had never seen the show when I wrote this article. I have since watched some episodes. While his show persona is condescending and mean-sprited, I didn't hear any offensive racial, ethnic, religious or other types of slurs.

Perhaps you could see the need to respond if the title were something equivalently vile about gay men, tapping into defamatory stereotypes about them? What would you think of a title such as "Jeff Lewis On Pedophiles, AIDS and Gay Crack Addicts"? And then put the line about "gay crack addict" in bold, and call him "he/she"?

Of course, pedophilia and AIDS are not equivalent to cannibals and cremation, the stereotypes of gay men and transgender women are often quite different, and pedophilia and AIDS should never be linked as a negative stereotype to gay men, even in jest. If you're outraged by my analogy, consider that I use such a phrase only to point up that reading a negative stereotype about one's community can really get under your skin, and about some remarks by a high-profile TV star one cannot remain silent as a self-respecting person.

As far as being patronizing in my post, I noted in the post that the editor completely brushed me off in a patronizing manner herself. Yes, I admit to being in high dudgeon.