I ASSUME few of you have heard about #kidneygate or, as the New York Times frames it: the curious case of two American writers hurling mud at each other over a short story, a Facebook post, and a kidney donation.
It’s weird, man, but let me explain.
The dramarama began in 2015 when writer Dawn Dorland decided to donate one of her kidneys to a complete stranger. Dorland wanted to share her notes on the experience, so she invited friends and acquaintances to join a private Facebook group. One of the people who accepted Dorland’s invitation was writer Sonya Larson.
Sometime after Dorland’s surgery, Larson wrote a short story called “The Kindest.” The story revolves around an Asian-American woman who has a kidney transplant and whose donor happens to be a needy white lady. The story, according to Larson, is a critique of the “white savior complex.” Larson is Asian-American; Dorland is white.
Dorland learned about Larson’s story through another writer. Dorland called Larson out, and Larson admitted that the story was indeed inspired by Dorland. However, Larson also stood by the originality of her fiction.
A few years passed and Dorland went livid. She found an earlier version of “The Kindest” on Audible and this version contained a word-for-word snippet of a letter that Dorland had posted on their Facebook group. To Dorland, not only did Larson portray her motivations in a negative light — Larson also plagiarized her Facebook post.
Dorland started contacting Larson’s network of writers and publishers. Dorland informed them of the issue, and she demanded that Larson’s “The Kindest” be pulled from publication. One organization gave in to Dorland’s demands. Larson filed a defamation case against Dorland, and Dorland countersued with a plagiarism claim. A legal battle ensued.
Dorland and Larson had common writer-friends, most of whom rallied behind Larson. “DAWN CAN GO FUCK HER ONE KIDNEY,” wrote Larson’s friend Celeste Ng in a private message, a screenshot of which was later submitted to court as evidence.
Dorland didn’t seem to have anyone on her side except her lawyers. She went to the Times and told them about the whole fiasco, and the Times published a 10,000-word article last week that started a winding web of capital-D Discourse about this capital-M Mess. Now here we are.
I read the Times piece last weekend and it was riveting, I must say. My Twitter algorithm quickly caught on. It didn’t take long before my feed became a hot mess of scorching takes and flaming receipts flinging from every possible direction.
I spent the whole day exploring the burning forest of think pieces that sprung up from the viral essay. Did I throw my weekend away over some tabloid-level literary drama? Yes. But did I gain valuable insight into the complex world of art and publishing? Not really.
I was hoping I could share with you my own insights on the matter, but I myself am struggling to come up with something clear and definitive. I’m not even sure if I have to, or why I have to. I mean, what for?
If, say, I come up with a proper response to this #kidneygate shebang — maybe I weave together the intersecting threads of literary elitism and populist politics in light of the coming Philippine elections — what exactly will I gain from the exercise? A self-pat on the back? A mild sense of, hmm — does it even count as an achievement? Ughk.
So, to close, you probably won’t gain anything either if you dive into this #kidneygate sinkhole. Why did I tell you about it in the first place? I don’t know.
“Writers are so annoying,” writes Jenny Zhang in Gawker. I couldn’t agree more.
The featured image is not a kidney. I’ll fix that later — or not. Psh, whatever.