Bye Substack!

why I'm leaving & what's next for You've Escaped

Oh god, where and how to begin?

First, don’t panic: You’ve Escaped is moving but it’s not ending. Anyways!

This weekend, I read Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie’s post on Substack Pro, a program where writers get paid an upfront sum from Substack to cover their first year on the platform. There were dogwhistley references to a “broad array of voices” and well actually here’s the quote that made me go “hmmm” on my couch on Saturday afternoon:

With Substack Pro, as with the platform in general, we aim to host a broad array of voices because we believe a diversity of thought is essential to healthy discourse. Inevitably, a small subset of writers we have done deals with are controversial in some quarters, attracting praise and scorn in equal measure. While these deals may invite sharp criticism – even denunciation – from those writers’ opponents, we think it would be a mistake to shy away from making these calls. No writer who says anything important is universally loved; and in fact, sometimes those who engender the fiercest opposition are the ones most deserving of support. This is why the free press is important. A hero can be thought a villain, and a villain a hero. History makes this clear, even if the conditions of the present show only fog.

This immediately felt really suspect to me but I filed it away to look into later and enjoyed the rest of my weekend.

I was starting my day on Monday when my husband asked me if I’d seen Jude Doyle’s post about Substack from Friday which I hadn’t; he read it out loud to me as I ate oatmeal and learned the following about Substack Pro from Doyle (emphasis mine):

Three years down the line, I’m still a feminist, I’m out as a trans person, and in the time I’ve been writing here, Substack has become famous for giving massive advances — the kind that were never once offered to me or my colleagues, not up front and not after the platform took off — to people who actively hate trans people and women, argue ceaselessly against our civil rights, and in many cases, have a public history of directly, viciously abusing trans people and/or cis women in their industry. 

My brain felt like it was melting a bit. I knew the names Doyle mentioned: Glenn Greenwald, Jesse Singal, Matt Yglesias, Freddie de Boer, Graham Linehan. They give a good summary of who these men are in case you don’t know:

Glenn Greenwald started his Substack by inveighing against trans rights and/or ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio, is currently using it to direct harassment at a female New York Times reporter, and has repeatedly used his platform to whitewash alleged rapists and domestic abusers. Freddie de Boer is an anti-“identity politics” crusader who became so infamous for harassing colleagues, particularly women, that he briefly promised to retire from the Internet to avoid causing any more harm; he’s currently using his “generous financial offer” from Substack to argue against “censoring” Nazis while pursuing a personal vendetta against the cis writer Sarah Jones. Matt Yglesias, who publicly cites polite pushback from a trans femme colleague as the Problem With Media Today — exposing the woman he named to massive harassment from Fox News and online TERFs alike — reportedly got a $250,000 advance from Substack. It’s become the preferred platform for men who can’t work in diverse environments without getting calls from HR. 

Those are just the assholes. Increasingly, Substack is tolerating and funding extreme trans-eliminationist rhetoric: They host Jesse Singal, a high-profile supporter of anti-trans conversion therapy who is also widely known to fixate on and stalk trans women in and around the media industry. I would list Jesse’s targets, but at this point, I don’t know a trans woman in media who doesn’t have a story. Graham Lineham is a transphobic bigot so extreme and abhorrent that he’s been permanently banned from Twitter, Medium, and basically every platform but the one I’m using to talk to you right now. He reportedly considers Substack a major source of income.

Like… it’s pretty bad, guys.

Substack is a self publishing platform and everyone has the right to use it, free speech and whatnot. But when a company is actively seeking out and recruiting these writers along with their audiences that they rile up by inciting violence against marginalized people, how can that not clearly show where their priorities lie? How can they deny they function more as a publisher with editorial input by thinking about who (and whose dollars) these writers might appeal to? I mean, I know how and I know why: Substack isn’t a place for writers, it’s a Silicon Valley start up and in tech, money’s always going to be the number one priority. It’s gross. I thought this was the final nail but it was actually Substack co-founder and CEO Chris Best tweeting “Defund the thought police” after people were rightfully asking why Substack was giving these massive financial incentives to those hateful writers.

I know I’m small potatoes, I’m not even at 200 paid subscribers here; but I just can’t fathom the thought of one penny of the money subscribers pay for You’ve Escaped going into those people’s pockets via Substack’s commission. How could I live with myself? How could I ever make any of my trans and non binary friends feel safe ever again? How could I, a queer Latinx chronically ill woman, ever feel ok about just being quiet and supporting this structure that’s just platforming hatred? I just can’t especially when there are other options out there to share my writing. It shouldn’t just be marginalized people who take a stand and leave, it should be cis white privileged people too; you can’t just look the other way at this stuff.

What does this mean for You’ve Escaped? I did some research (this was an incredible resource if anyone is thinking of making the move) and ended up loving the simplicity of Buttondown. It’s a minimalist platform that is more of a tool than an ecosystem in the words of its founder Justin Duke and after learning about it, I realized it’s just what I need for You’ve Escaped: a way to send out writing, an archive for subscribers, and a way to take payment for subscriptions. I’m kind of glad this move is happening so I was able to find a platform that fits my needs even better. You can find You’ve Escaped here now; I’ll be shutting down the Substack on March 20th (Aries season!).

What do you have to do as a subscriber? Nothing. The entire archive here has been migrated over to Buttondown by Justin along with everyone’s email and subscription info. If you are a free subscriber, you’re good. If you’re a comped or gifted subscriber, you’re good. If you’re a paid subscriber, you’re also good; if you pay monthly or yearly, the same rate will apply at Buttondown which uses the exact same Stripe info you signed up with here and has been migrated and connected by living legend Justin. There won’t be a founding member tier at Buttondown, just a yearly membership at $40/year that will give everyone at that level access to the You’ve Escaped Slack community and book club. All you have to do is bookmark You’ve Escaped for access to the archives and wait for new posts to roll in every Wednesday. It’s been pretty painless!

Thank you for supporting me here and validating my voice and work. Thank you to Sarah Gailey for being the best thing Substack ever gave me through the Substack Bridge program; your support and insights have meant so much to me. Thank you to Olivia Bielicz for the incredible logo and branding created for You’ve Escaped. Thank you to Nuggy, Ian, Stef, Zach, Nailah, Sophia, Sam, Jamie, and Katherine for being my rocks, first readers, and biggest hype men. Thank you to everyone in the Slack and book club, it’s been such a joy and comfort to get to know you all and spend time with you. Thank you to everyone who has shared and commented and connected with my work. Thank you for reading and listening and for following this nomad all these years all over the internet. My abuela always told me I was like a cat because I have nine lives and am very, very lucky; once again and as always, I’ve escaped. Be well and see you in your inbox.