Posted by: Shula Asher Silberstein | 24 August 2010

When Is It Exploitation?

For the past couple of days, I’ve been focusing almost fully on promoting Shades of Gay. I’ve written press releases from various angles and plan to release them gradually to build up a buzz, as well as creating Youtube videos (and a new Youtube channel) and a Flickr channel.

The first press release I put out was about Gavi. I announced that Shades of Gay had an openly Transgender cover designer. I think it’s a very strong release, and apparently others do too because Transgender World News tweeted it and it’s made it onto a couple other Transgender sites.

But now, as the buzz I’ve created in my head dies down, I’m thinking about things. I’m glad Gavi’s presence is newsworthy. She deserves to have her story heard, and I’m really excited about the afterword she’s writing for the book as well as her upcoming cover art. But as we sat together eating our vegetable soup at supper a while ago, I got to thinking: Gavi’s presence as a Transgender woman doing a cover for a novel is what seems to draw the most attention. I want to light the fire that news release may have sparked just a little. But at what point is it exploitation?

When we go to LGBT clubs, people are always interested in talking to Gavi about her Transgenderism. Some people have encouraged her to perform at drag shows because she is Transgender. She and I both think that’s exploitative, at least for her personally. Many Transgender people support themselves that way, but she’d rather not feel like she’s the source of someone’s entertainment because of who she is.

Is it any less exploitative, I wonder, to play up the fact that she’s Transgender to sell books? We’re selling the books for a good cause…two good causes actually. One is suicide prevention. 10 percent of our profits go to The Trevor Project, which is the only LGBTQ-oriented suicide hotline in the United States. The book itself also addresses suicide, as well as providing LGBTQ characters teens can identify with so that they don’t feel so alone. Our profits will also be used to help Gavi complete her transition to her satisfaction.

Gavi’s totally happy with the little bit of media attention she’s already started to get and we’re both looking forward to doing interviews. But still…sometimes I wonder where the line is between announcing and exploiting, between news and exploiting, between being Transgender and gender-neutral ARTISTS and exploiting ourselves.

I also wonder whether I would feel the same way if it were me who was the subject of news because of who I am. In the next couple of weeks I intend to send out more press releases announcing myself as a writer with Aspergers syndrome and announcing that one of my characters is Asexual. We’ll see how I feel then.

I guess I want people to know we live fairly normal lives. I’ve always wanted that; I’ve even blogged about it before. I was tempted to skip this whole blog altogether and blog about something more mundane, like what we ate for supper. Gavi’s really good at making awesome meals out of almost nothing and making up her own recipes as she goes along, and I thought that would probably be infinitely more interesting than musings from someone who isn’t quite famous yet but intends to be, or at the very least intends to be a very successful author.

So anyway, when does allowing our fairly normal lives to become news go too far?


  1. You worry about exploitation because you care, and that is good. However, what you write about Gavi and yourself is truth, and that is great. You are being factual and informative, and since there is a need for representation for LGBTQ issues and role models, it would be a disservice not to inform the public of the unique and qualified artistic efforts by two talented individuals so that people may learn and get inspired.

    And, as my brother said: there is enough room in this world for everyone to be successful…

    My best wishes for the success of your book release…


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