About a year ago I saw an illustration for understanding gender on Sam Killerman's website, called the Genderbread Person. I really enjoyed it and used it to educate myself and others. Sam is a White Heterosexual, Cis-gender Male and I thought it was awesome that he was working so hard to advocate for marginalized communities. His supporters donated enough money for him to write a book about on the Genderbread person and he travels around speaking about this work. The inspiration I felt for him came to a screeching halt about an hour ago.
While looking up Title IX Protections for the LGBTQ community, I come upon the Gender Unicorn. First, I thought that is the best thing I have ever seen! I love Unikitty (Lego movie reference). Then I started reading why the Gender Unicorn was created. That's when I learned that Sam Killerman had appropriated his Genderbread Person design and made money while doing so. There are essentially only two explanations to this confusion. Sam knew there were other designs made by members of the LGBTQ community, decided to produce one of his own, told no others to duplicate it without his consent, and then made money off it it by selling his new found knowledge. This article investigates the matter further and shows that this is unfortunately the most correct answer.
The other answer could be that Sam never knew there were other designs. He may not have meant to appropriate the design at all. However, we know that his ignorance does not excuse the impact of his actions. Furthermore, if you read through the above article you will see that Sam didn't even apologize for appropriating the work of others. He didn't changed anything about what he is doing and he is undoubtedly still reaping the fruits of someone else's labor. What Sam did was "Columbus" the genderbread person. You can't discover something that has already been discovered, even if it truly is knew to you. You especially shouldn't go around telling everybody else of your new found discovery. That being said, if he makes a big enough deal about it, maybe we will name a holiday after him.
I didn't intend to randomly find a Gender Unicorn today, just like I didn't intend to learn a little more about appropriation; how easily it can happen, how prevalent it is and how large of an impact it can have on marginalized communities. Laverne Cox offered made a powerful comment about appropriation's impact (it's in the above article). When Laverne realizes that Sam's work has been appropriated, she sent the following Tweet:
Thanks to all of the people with Trans Student Educational Resources, I am more informed. In truth, I am not yet okay with most of what I just wrote. Any frustration you sensed in my writing is likely from my discomfort. I don't want to dismiss Sam's work, as before tonight he inspired me. I think this it is also because I share many dominant identities with Sam and i'm afraid of how much I also appropriate the work of others in my writing. On the other hand, I'm also frustrated at how he handled being confronted about appropriation. I wish he would have apologized and made a changed to what he is doing. I just want him to acknowledge those who did the groundwork that led to his success. Sam calls himself an Ally on his website but I don't see him serving the marginalized communities. He instead allows him self to flourish upon appropriated work, inadvertedly silencing the very people who he claims to be an ally to. I will conclude this blog entry by saying that Sam should not call himself an ally. Ally is an aspirational identity that you must continually worked towards, knowing that you will never get badge with ally and your name on it. To strive for a title is to miss the point. I understand it as continually leveraging privilege to extend access to marginalized communities. In this journey, I may befriend individuals who tell me I am an ally to them, but that does not mean I am an ally to an entire community. Sam you cannot call yourself an ally... nobody can.