People Are Talking About Kidney Girl On Twitter, Here’s Why

AKA Why Your Groupchat Is No Longer A Sacred Space

Kidney girl on Twitter

by Jen Crothers |

There are few things less alarming than the contents of the groupchat being made public - or your friend, or friend of a friend deciding to donate a kidney, apropos of nothing. Both of these things have dovetailed in possibly the weirdest thing you’ll read all week.

So what does a solo kidney have in common with snarky messages shared between pals? I’m so glad you’ve asked. In a hefty New York Times long read (If you’ve got a spare half an hour, you can read the full, intense piece here - LINK), but if tl:dr is more your thing, here’s a surface scratching precis.

Initially, two writers, both alike in dignity, crossed paths in 2011 in writing circles, and this tale of Dawn Dorland and Sonya Larson raises questions about ownership, gaslighting, stalking and the white saviour complex.

So where to begin? Lets start with the kidney. Yep. A kidney. In 2015, Dawn decided she wanted to donate one of her kidneys, and set up a Facebook group to tell her friends and former colleagues about it. If you donate an organ and don’t post about it on social, did it even happen?

She invited friends, family and colleagues from GrubStreet, where she worked. She then posted a letter to the future recipient of the kidney and yes, you guessed it, shared it on Facebook. But she was surprised that people she’d thought would comment didn’t (relatable!) and emailed her mate Sonya. No kidney chat, until Dawn brought it up.

At a writing conference soon after, she bumped into members of a writing group called Chunky Monkeys, which Sonya was part of, which also has esteemed members like Little Fires Everywhere author Celeste Ng (we’ll come back to Celeste later).

Among the event attendees, there was no kidney chat. Dawn explained: “It was just strange to me. I left that conference with this question: Do writers not care about my kidney donation?”

However the kidney tale was only just beginning. Dawn got wind of Sonya having written a short story about a woman who receives a kidney, and admitted it was “partially inspired by how my imagination took off after learning of your own tremendous donation.”

Dawn became a face of live organ donation, and wasn’t best pleased when she learned through some creative Googling that Sonya’s work which was inspired by her kidney donation included an almost identical letter that matched the Facebook post she wrote to her recipient.

Sonya’s book, The Kindest, was to be part of a book festival initiative called One City One Story, with 30000 copies distributed in Boston. But it was not to be. Dawn began emailing Sonya’s places of work, places she’d studied, accusing her of plagiarism, and joined online events that Sonya was speaking at. Plus, she got a lawyer, who sent the festival a cease and desist, sued Sonya, whose career was being ruined and reputation was being destroyed.

The case pootled along until earlier this year, when group messages from the Chunky Monkey group were subpoenaed and made public. Which is absolutely vom inducing.

Here is just one example, in response to Dawn posting about walking in a parade as a representative for orphan donations. “I’m thrilled to be part of their public face #domoreforeachother and #livingkidneydonation”.

Larson replied to a friend who said she was ‘creepily fascinated with Dawn’s post saying: “Oh, my god. Right? The whole thing - though I try to ignore it - persists in making me uncomfortable. … I just can’t help but think that she is feeding off the whole thing. … Of course, I feel evil saying this and can’t really talk with anyone about it.”

“I don’t know,” commented the friend. “A hashtag seems to me like a cry for attention.”

“Right??” Larson wrote. “#domoreforeachother. Like, what am I supposed to do? DONATE MY ORGANS?”

Obviously, it blew up on Twitter, taking in comparisons with Mean Girls, people on both sides of the argument and people berating Dawn’s white saviour complex, coming for a mixed-race Asian American. Roxanne Gay commenting, “Can we talk about Bad Art Friend? Because wow. Some white women have way too much free time.”

Celeste Ng has been tweeting about it too - standing by what she said in the groupchats. Consistent! Sounds like this one’s going to rumble on for a while.

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