Hi. This is the last post I am ever going to write on Substack, barring unforeseen circumstances. Not because I am going to quit writing this newsletter (well, “writing,” considering my pitiful output thus far, but joke’s on me for starting a longterm creative project in Twenty Twenty), but because Substack is profiting from transphobia.
In case you don’t know what’s been going down on Twitter–it’s okay, neither did I until my buddy James gave me a heads up–it turns out that Substack has been quietly paying well-established writers to publish on their platform and thereby lend Substack their following and credibility. In return for these payments, the writers agree to give Substack 85 percent of their paid subscriber revenue for their first year on the platform, as opposed to the usual 10 percent cut. Some of the writers to whom this deal has been offered are trans. Others have made careers out of callous transphobic fearmongering.
As you might imagine, Substack has been taking a lot of heat for this business model, and their response may be adequately summarized as “who give a shit.” This is a shitty response! I understand it is hard to wade through the treacherous, disease-infested waters that are the ethics of online content moderation in 2021, and I would like to take Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie at his word when he writes that the platform “aim[s] to host a broad array of voices because we believe a diversity of thought is essential to healthy discourse.” I might find it easier to do so if Substack were not literally paying people to be stupid transphobes online–with the understanding that after a year’s time, it will be their turn to profit from said stupid transphobia.
Basically, Substack is trying to have it both ways: they want to make money off trans people, but they also want to make money off people who think trans people should not exist. They are doing this not because they want to foster healthy discourse or protect free speech or whatever bullshit platitudes they come up with. They are doing this because it is the most lucrative option available to them. Of course they would want to maximize profits by taking money from as many people as possible. Why alienate either a notable trans woman or a notable anti-trans bigot, when you can make the most money by claiming to support both of them?
Now that Substack’s double-dealing strategy has been exposed, it is rapidly losing viability as a profit option. And this is where Substack’s true ideological priorities emerge. If, after their initial rightful drubbing, they had sided with trans writers, and vowed to deplatform and defund transphobes, they would lose out on their generous cut of the transphobes’ paid subscriber revenue. The fact that Substack has not done this indicates to me that transphobes bring in far more profit for them than trans writers do; they have little reason to fear the financial reprisal that might result from losing trans writers and their paying subscribers. As long as this is the case, I don’t think Substack’s position is going to change. I expect more purposeful vagueness, more tacky platitudes, and more transphobia on their platform.
Last July, I wrote about pandemic-era Tumblr fatigue and my resultant desire to find a new home for my longer written pieces. I had chosen the name The Penultimate Blogging for my newsletter in acknowledgment that no platform will ever be The Ultimate, that I might once more have to migrate to another site. As I put it back then:
Substack is probably not the right platform either, quite frankly; I read some of their articles for new writers about building your audience and defining a niche and that shit honestly gave me hives. That being said, Substack is a lot nicer for longform writing than Tumblr, I like the interface, and I am intrigued if not entirely convinced by the prospect of an email newsletter. So we’ll see how this goes. If it sucks, IDK, maybe I’ll move to Neocities or something.
And it turns out that Substack does suck, so onto the next platform.
If you are reading this in your inbox, I’ve already moved the email addresses of all my current subscribers to what will be my newsletter client going forward. All entries prior to this one will be available there too, and I also plan to create a full backup archive of my newsletter as a blog section on my personal website, which I will link in a future email when it is up and running. I’ve actually been doubting Substack for a while, even before I found out about the heinous shit they’re doing with and for people’s money, and so this is in a way the perfect opportunity to try out some less morally questionable blogging options I’ve had my eye on. I am already excited to make the switch.
Last thing I have to say on this topic: if you’re trans and you’re reading this, I love you!
Okay that’s it for now. I am going to go eat dinner and watch television. Expect an essay from me circa this weekend about, IDK, the pear wiggler or Kpop boys or something. Until then, take care.