that kidney story

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 donated kidney.

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,” wrote 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.


  1. rAdishhorse

    based only on your post, here’s my 2 cents: doing good for others is, as they say, self-serving, it makes u feel good. but donating a part of your body? that’s hardcore. ok, maybe, needy. BUT.. idc what the kidney writer wrote or make of that experience, but the other writer — bi-racial whatever or not — is more than just annoying for doing that. ok.. di ko naman alam yung buong kwento..mema lang.. pero kelan ka mag po post tungkol kay F Sionil Jose? Hahaha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jolens

      ‘Yan din mismo sinabi ng isang kaibigan ko! As in same kayo ng thought process! Hahaha. Also, hay nako, ang hirap kumuda tungkol kay F. Sionil etc. — kailangan paglaanan ng oras at effort — so saka na, ‘pag patay na ang issue. Haha.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gabriela

    Yeeeessss, you got hooked too! For me it wasn’t just the piece that did it… But checking in on Twitter. There, the writers – with large followings – were clearly taking Sonya Larson’s side, even journalists from respectable newspapers and magazines. So it all turned into this massive second-hand ‘Mean Girls’ bullying. I felt so sorry for Dawn. I mean, the woman clearly had issues. But no one deserves such public humiliation. We see people suing for stupid reasons all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jolens

      Omg yesss!!! Twitter was hell last week lol. I feel bad for Dawn too, though I can’t help but wonder what she’s like in “real life” — I mean, how come no one in her circle is backing her? You know what I mean? I still don’t like what Larson and her friends did though. It’s…oh man, this whole thing is just bonkers!! ๐Ÿ˜‚

      Liked by 1 person

  3. astrid

    I just read this! And omg, I got sucked into that rabbithole. Hmm, I think at first I was on Sonya’s side. Dawn seemed like an insufferable person but as the story progressed I can see how she’s less harmful than Sonya is. Sonya is dangerous. She denied and gaslighted Dawn, who was being open and honest about her feelings. At the end, the text messages revealed what Dawn was trying to hide all along. And wala namang question that Sonya really did plagiarize the letter. Yet- her circle still thinks they can “ice” Dawn out. She’s also using the POC card. it’s wild. It’s all the wrong things, knowing it and still doing it. This actually reminds me of the Mookie and Lang Leav hullabaloo years ago somehow. Yung pagiging highbrow, cliquey and cruel ng mga literary circles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jolens

      same tayo, at first I was on Sonya’s side kasi parang nakakairita nga itong si Dawn, pero migahd iba rin yung clique nina Sonya! mean girlz TM!

      actually, sabi ng friend kong nag-law school, hindi raw plagiarism yung ginawa ni Sonya. magkaibang medium daw e, something like that, haha.

      still, tingin ko mali pa rin ginawa ni Sonya. talagang sinadya niyang hindi i-edit ‘yung letter out of spite kay Dawn hayyy. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ


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