The Genderbread Person Redux – When Activism Gets Problematic

[This post has been completely re-written, so if some of the earlier comments seem to be referring to things that aren’t here, that’s because they are. Thanks to Sam B for pointing out the plagiarism issue and to Rachel for helping me find the end of the article…because it’s been just that kind of day for me.]

This weekend I stumbled onto the site It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, and found a graphic explaining the different aspects of sex, sexuality, and gender.

It turns out that site’s creator, Sam Killermann, plagiarized that graphic, and now has thrown a bunch of intellectual property stamps on it, and has even included it in a book he made. (Though you can get the book for free. But he has still made money off of all this.)

The four original authors of the concept are: Cristina GonzálezVanessa PrellJack Rivas, and Jarrod Schwartz

As awesome as it is to have people want to be cis straight while male allies,  we have to as allies constantly keep vigilant that we are not blocking out the voices of the people we are trying to support with our own.  Otherwise we are undermining the very project we are trying to help. And one thing you notice sort of quickly from Killermann’s projects is that you see a lot of him, and hear a lot of his voice but you don’t see or hear a lot of specific people that he is advocating for.

So again, here are some of their voices, specifically on his plagiarism.  (Same link as above.)

And here is one of the earlier gingerbread persons:

Some parts of Killerman’s projects still have merit: the comment thread on this post has some good stuff in it. But I think legitimately, some people will not want to visit his websites.

As Laverne Cox said when this issue of plagiarism was brought to her attention,

“…those who lay the groundwork don’t often get the credit. The universe is trying to tell me something. We cannot silence the voices of those doing the hard work so that we can flourish.”
(Sorry I can’t find the exact tweet. This is also in the storify post linked above.)

That is, without respect for the people we are trying to support, our support is hollow.

From Cisnormativity (the Storify OP):

 Without that respect, any work done in the name of social justice isn’t actually the practice of social justice. It’s erasure. It’s a tossing of the most marginal people from the bus of acceptance, enfranchisement, and citizenship. It’s the theft of lived experiences. It’s why intersectionally marginalized people along multiple axes still cannot reach so many of their dreams, their potentials, or their hopes .

14 thoughts on “The Genderbread Person Redux – When Activism Gets Problematic

  1. There is a complicated and not very happy back story here about who this work really belongs to. I’m off to look for details but it’s not good news.

  2. From http://caitlinsong.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/the-genderbread-plagiarist-with-images-tweets-%C2%B7-cisnormativity-%C2%B7-storify/

    “I am very disappointed to learn that Sam Killerman the author of itspronouncedMETROsexual.com has been outed as a plagiarist. I had previously read his stuff and was proud to consider him an ally. I used the “genderbread person” he copyrighted as original work to help explain trans* issues to friends and family. Now, I have read about and seen the documaentation of his having plagarised this infographic from scholars who copyrighted it in 2005. As an English teacher, I consider plagiarism and intellectual property theft the most vile thing any academic or scholar can do. To steal from a marganalised group and then publish a book and make money off that theft is disgusting.

    I already have a hard time trusting people outside of our community with our issues and his actions have made my trust harder to earn.”

  3. Thanks Sam. This guy is relatively clueless and appropriates the work of people who are actually queer, trans, and so on (he’s a white, cis, heterosexual man). A lot of his “work” shows that he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Avoid him.

  4. …it’s easy to be “prolific” when he’s just stealing other people’s work. And he looks like the sort of person people are comfortable dealing with, so he gets the media attention, the book, the TEDx talk, etc. etc.

  5. He is definitely oblivious to some extremely important aspects of allyship, such as why maybe you as a straight cis white dude shouldn’t be the main figurehead of this kind of activism, even if your privilege makes that in some sense a strategically effective thing to do. (Though from the brief overview of his websites I’ve done, it seemed like he did on the whole know what he was talking about–which makes this issue of plagiarism and ally-exploitation all the more startling. Am I missing something on that front?)

    I’m unclear though about the plagiarism accusation. Am I just missing the link to the original, plagiarized source? (Or is it that the source wasn’t originally on the internet?)

    Storify links back to here:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20130914191549/http://brucel.tumblr.com/post/7303294235/genderbread-man

    But that tumblr is presented as “Bruce Lawson’s Miscellany. Odds and Sods. Not mine. Maybe NSFW.” So the genderbread person on there seems unsourced.

    There is the original thumbnail, however, the source from that was never discovered?

    So, definitely it looks like the name “Genderbread person” was not his own, and the genderbread outline was not his own. And I’ve even seen the using of a person’s silhouette with identity, expression, and sex symbolically represented as parts of the body–so that’s not original either.

    But I’m not seeing where this was originally the work of specific LGBTQ activists and not a general idea that was floating around the internet.

    Am I missing something here?

  6. Here’s the “Conclusion” section (after many clicks at the bottom of ‘Read Next Page’):

    Conclusion

    So we now know:

    1) A social working group in southern California in 2005 produced the prototype “Genderbread Person.” The idea was copyrighted under the names of four people who were instrumental in its development.

    2) In June 2011, someone (possibly SimonBrisbane) was inspired by that infographic to produce what would be the “Genderbread Man,” which would be posted online, then;

    3) In August 2011, the infographic was amended by several other gender & sexual minority (GSM) community members on both Reddit and Tumblr, amended further by others in the GSM community in September 2011 (including one variation by the Cisnormativity project’s Ms. Newbury).

    4) Then in November 2011, Mr. Sam Killermann, a white, straight cis guy, made an online “find” of the “Genderbread Person.” Mr. Killermann fleshed out an antire brand around the previously-developed gingerbread analysis model produced by several other people as a way to wrap his own name for branding profit. As a non-marginalized person (a cis, white straight man), he re-engineered a framework which suited his own world view of how gender, sexuality, and body interrelated — much to the criticism of trans and GNC people who tried to comment on his web site, “It’s Pronounced METROsexual dot-com.” Mr. Killermann omitted source credits on his social media marketing materials. He watermarked and branded his social media resources with his own web site’s URL and with QR codes.

    5) In 2012, Mr. Killermann became widely known to cis and trans people as the “It’s Pronounced METROsexual dot-com” guy who came up with ”Genderbread Person” and published a book built upon his internet find. The e-book is distributed online and is offered for sale on Amazon. Mr. Killermann became a minor internet celebrity.

    6) In March 2013, Mr. Killermann was invited to a TEDx Talk in Chicago to discuss his discoveries on gender, sex, and sexual orientation as a white cis straight guy. His subsequent Indiegogo campaign raised 248% of its goal to pay for the publishing of his book, The social justice advocate’s handbook: a guide to gender — which solicits no review from the marginalized people for whom the book (and his work) is purportedly speaking and advocating.

    7) In May, August, and September 2013, several trans and GNC people online uncovered Mr. Killermann’s plagiarism, used for the profit of his personal brand. They confronted him.

    8) This Storify article, investigating the merit of plagiarism, is published. It concludes that plagiarism and plagiarism-for-gain was implicated in Mr. Killermann’s actions.

    The ‘Final thought’ section that follows is also very important.

  7. Thank you! I didn’t see “read next page” (which is weird, because it’s in pretty big letters. I’m just used to that kind of a bar saying “comments” so I guess I skipped right over it.)

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