OpEd: An Open Door Closes

A trans perspective on the end of The Bilerico Project

“You need to check it out, Becky,” Marti Abernathey told me, “You’d be perfect for it.” “Yeah ok, I’ll take a look.” I responded, utterly non-committal.

I had good reason to not take Marti’s offer seriously. It was 2007 and I possessed a thoroughly jaded perspective on any media labelled “LGBT.” It was the era of then-Washington Blade Editor-In-Chief Chris Crain’s “Trans-Jack” ENDA editorials, a time when most of the media which labelled itself Queer or LGBT was in reality almost entirely focused on topics and issues of interest to gays and lesbians.

With just a few notable exceptions, columnists such as Gwen Smith writing for the Bay Area Reporter and my own column in the Rehoboth Beach Gayzette, trans people and issues usually only rarely appeared in LGBT media, usually as human interest features or as objects of mockery and derision. With the exception of that which we created for our own community, trans-relevant journalism and journalists didn’t really exist yet.

As an Internet radio talk show host and blogger, I was one of a very small group of well-known and regularly published trans mediamakers, which included not only Marti and myself, but also Gwen Smith, Nancy Nangeroni, Ethan St Pierre, Autumn Sandeen, and a handful of others. Out of all of us, only Gwen and I had scored paying gigs as columnists. The rest of us put their stuff out there as they could, where they could.

After a few weeks of Marti’s badgering, I finally took a look at this Indiana-based blog I’d never heard of before — The Bilerico Project. Owned by Bil Browning, the site’s publisher and his partner (now husband) Jerame Davis, the site’s tech guru, I had well-founded preconceived notions about what any LGBT blog site run by two gay men was likely to be like. There wasn’t much trans-relevant content there then, but what was there was quite good. I was impressed, and I decided I wanted to be part of it.

I got in touch with Bil and made my interest known, providing a long list of my previous writing. By the end of the week, I was on the Bilerico Project contributor roster, only the third-ever trans writer, behind Gwen and Marti, to get a such a slot in LGBT media.

A year later, Marti and I were the first trans Contributing Editors for The Bilerico Project and tasked with a special assignment from Bil and Jerame, to find and nominate quality trans bloggers for slots as contributors. We hadn’t gone to them and demanded more trans writers for the site, they’d come to us and asked us to help them find some. One of our first successful nominations was also the one I’m personally most proud of, Monica Roberts.

It was a major coup for us to be able to bring Monica aboard, not only because she’s a great writer but also because she also represented a segment of the trans community, which had been generally overlooked and ignored at the time, people of color.

Over time Bilerico’s roster of trans voices grew as we added names like Mercedes Allen, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Jillian Weiss, Donna Rose, and Toni D’Orsay. Our trans readership grew as well and became some of the most vocal and active commenters at the site.

And there were the debates, the interviews, the social interaction between the contributors and staff of The Bilerico Project and our readers. They were loud, uncensored, passionate, critical, well-informed, and most of all, good Queer fun.

The Bilerico Project opened its doors to a wide variety of LGBT voices during its run, but perhaps its greatest impact was in the opportunity for community exposure it offered to emerging trans writers who were not being offered the kind of opportunities in LGBT community media we are today. It’s arguable that every trans blogger and journalist publishing at a major site in the U.S. today owes Bil and Jerame a debt.

After 11 years, The Bilerico Project has ended, and an LGBT media outlet, which has played a key role in the advent of trans-relevant media is no more. For many trans writers like myself, The Bilerico Project lifted us out of relative obscurity and recast us as important and valued community voices. It literally changed our lives and the lives of those who honored us with their readership in real and lasting ways. As legacies go, that’s a pretty great one.

 


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