"Trans*Scription Service" is a rundown of recent transgender related controversies within the feminist blogosphere, along with links and opinions by Kyosuke. It may be a regular thing. It may be a one time thing. It may be a "whenever in the name of Celestia Kyosuke damn well feels like it" thing. It may feature opinions at some point in the future by other trans* authors corralled by Kyosuke (GET IT, CORRALLED, PONIES?!). If, that is, she can manage to ROPE them into it (Okay, okay, I'm done, I swear). For those new to Jezebel/Groupthink/Powder Room, Kyosuke's avatar for a long, long time was Rainbow Dash. She's a fan of the show. Deal with it.
ETA: Reshared when it's actually evening in North America.
Today's topics: "The Dr. V Story" and Caleb Hannan of Grantland, Bruce Jenner and TMZ, and the problem of binary erasure.
Let's get started, shall we?
Tracy Moore did an excellent evisceration of Caleb Hannan's reporting on the sports website Grantland about the inventor of a "magical putter" golf club, an inventor that happened to be a trans woman.
I have all of the opinions. Many people including Shiny seem to want to know what my opinions are. I've also read the apology by Grantland editor, Bill Simmons. I haven't read the "ombudsman report" by Christina Kahrl. I don't want to be unduly influenced (but I do plan to read it when I finish giving a summary of my thoughts here).
I have many criticisms, but they all spring from the same source: not fucking asking trans people. That's really the root of the story on "the story." Where did Grantland get it wrong? They got it wrong when they assumed, given the variety of backgrounds represented in the newsroom, that any problems with the ethics of the reporting would have been caught. Except there's a problem with that, a problem which was obvious to me, to other trans people, to our supporters and allies here and elsewhere, and to Jezebel's Moore: every single one of those backgrounds are cisgender backgrounds.
Hannan, his coworkers, his editors, and the Editor-in-Chief, Simmons, they're all cis. And we all know that privilege is blinding. And this was a blind spot big enough to sail the USS Enterprise CVN-65 through. In the words of Julia Roberts' character in "Pretty Woman." "Big mistake. Huge."
But at least Simmons acknowledges it:
Whether you believe we were right or wrong, let's at least agree that we made an indefensible mistake not to solicit input from ANYONE in the trans community...We read every incarnation of that piece through a certain lens — just like many readers did from Wednesday morning to Friday afternoon. Once a few people nudged us and said, Hey, read it this way instead, you transphobic dumbasses, that lens looked totally different.
Damn right it did, Bill, but I'm really glad you're copping to it. We agree, you made an indefensible mistake.
The first step Hannan's section editor should have taken is consulting media guidelines for the proper treatment of transgender reporting subjects. They have existed for years. I am not just a trans woman, I am also a journalist. I am a journalist who worked as a member of a state capitol press corps and regularly sought quotes and interviews from political figures. I sat in a seat in front of my section editor (in my case, either news or features) and answered very pointed questions with an AP style guide and other style guides in hand. I have done this many times. For multiple publications. I once had an argument with my features editor over whether to include a drug history in a political figure's distant past as part of the story. I wanted to leave it out. She insisted I leave it in. It ran with the history included against my wishes. The political figure was angry with me; I think I had the right of it still today. It wasn't relevant, but it was sensational. So, I am not unfamiliar with these balancing acts.
Some of the political figures I covered were transgender. As far as transgender guidelines go, most of these guides are online. GLAAD's media guidelines were linked several times as soon as Moore's take down of Hannan's piece went live. There simply is no excuse for the entire chain of command to have failed to find out this information. And, in fairness, Simmons acknowledges that, as well:
Our lack of sophistication with transgender pronouns was so easily avoidable, it makes me want to punch through a wall.
That's great, Bill. It makes us feel that much less safe. It makes us worry that much more about our own experiences with the media. As a reporter myself, I know just how valuable it is to assure our sources, including the focuses of our investigations, feel safe. If they do not, we will likely find ourselves with a quite fewer potential sources, won't we? There aren't many trans athletes, yet, but there are some. They've been treated pretty badly by the media already. You and Grantland had an opportunity here; take the story of an inventor with a fraudulent past who just happened to be trans (the same way most perpetrators of fraud just happen to be cis; they're completely unconnected) and focus in on the fraud and not the gender identity. By doing that you could have signalled you were a safe place to go for trans athletes to share their narratives, and who knows what kind of awesome stories that would have brought to your publication? But your ignorance and your arrogance wasted that opportunity.
There is still fault with Caleb Hannan. Especially his decision to disclose Dr. V's status to her investors. This was a massive ethical breach. One I can't imagine making as a student journalist, let alone a mistake as a 30-year-old journalist with years of experience at multiple publications. And Hannan? He's a great writer. The article itself? A thing of beauty. At least until the end. And at least until you come to a screeching, whiplash inducing halt when he misgenders his subject. There is no denying that Hannan is talented. But reporting fuck ups are still fuck ups, even when the reporter making them is talented. And this was the journalism ethics equivalent of a train wreck.
Ultimately, I accept Simmons' apology as genuine. I even, like several others I have discussed the apology with, believe that there is an inherent, unspoken understanding of cisgender privilege woven into Simmons' narrative. Yet, while it is the Editor-in-Chief's job to protect her or his reporters (again, I've served my time in newsrooms, it is part of the job description), Simmons' defense of Hannan should not allow Hannan to skip out on an apology of his own. We need to hear it.
We deserve to hear it.
NinjaCate and others were expressing concern about the way that Bruce Jenner's gender expression, presentation, and choice of body modification have been treated in the media. NinjaCate specifically seemed concerned that her feelings of outrage at Jenner's treatment might indicate an appropriative behavior. She seems to worry she is speaking for trans people or placing her voice above ours.
Cate, it's commendable for you to be concerned this way. I'm glad you're considering it, and I know I have similar feelings whenever I catch people doing something terribly, terribly racist. How angry do I have a right to be? How much of a right do I have to lecture the other person on intersectionality, on critical race theory, on not being a douchecanoe? Well, I can't speak for all trans folks, of course, but I can tell you now, Cate, your "ewwww, STAAAHP" reaction here is, in my mind, completely justified.
Jenner's gender identity is his business, not ours. Not mine, just because I am a trans person, and certainly not the business of cisgender people. It sure as hell isn't any business of TMZ's.
TMZ's "sources" are where shit really gets crazy:
Multiple medical sources have told TMZ ... getting a Laryngeal Shave is almost always the first step in gender reassignment.
Wait... what? "Almost always the first step in..." What the hell are you "medical sources" talking about? Every transgender person's personal and medical journey is completely unique. Many trans women don't even bother getting any kind of adam's apple reduction, and plenty of trans women never even have to do so. I have a small one, it's noticeable, but it's not enough to overcome other gender markers. I'm not planning to do anything to my neck really ever. Stop talking.
No, seriously, shut up.
What exactly is "binary erasure," you may be asking, and why would a trans person be interested in maintaining the/a binary? Excellent questions, my dear readers. Please follow me down the rabbit hole.
In feminist circles, we often take it for granted that we are looking to destroy or reform the gender paradigm. We look at gender as restrictive. As boxing us in. As the source of all of our troubles. Even many trans people, especially those identifying as genderfluid or genderqueer or bigender or agender or thirdgender, will look at the gender binary and say, "that! That right there is what is causing my pain! I'm not so easily definable that I or anyone else can be reduced to an F or an M. There's no reason why we have M or F or any gender option of any type at all on these documents. Let burn the whole system down!"
Woah there, Nelly. Stop. You see where you said, "anyone else," yeah? That's where you crossed the line from speaking for yourself to speaking for me. Whether I am speaking about my gender identity with cisgender individuals or transgender individuals, I invariably run up against this type of speaking for me. And yet, this isn't speaking for me, because there has never been the slightest variance in my gender. There is no "queerness" to my gender. There is no fludity to my gender. I am not agender, I have a gender. I am not bigender, I only have one gender. I am not thirdgender, because my gender can be found within the two traditional binary designations.
My gender is woman. My gender marker, legally speaking, is F. Therefore, this is what I mean, when I say "I am binary." I often even emphasise this further by saying, "binary to the hilt," to stress that I see no give in my gender, no percentage lower than 100. No mostly or primarily. All and only. My gender was constructed sometime between three years old and six years old as "girl." I was a girl until I became an adult, and then I became a woman. Just like for cis women, where one designation ends and the other begins is difficult to isolate... teenage years? Undergrad years? When I first became an independent adult at 23? But any attempt at isolation is really irrelevant. My gender is what it always was and has always been.
The reason I bring this up in today's issue of Trans*Scription Service is due to responses elsewhere to my passport change. Instead of celebrating with me, I got responses which basically amounted to, "Wow, this whole thing sucks, let's just eliminate gender markers from passports entirely" as well as similar comments in regards to the "wrong body" description of gender dysphoria and its level of accuracy (or inaccuracy).
Here's the most articulate argument (by another trans person, just to be completely clear):
Why is it necessary on so many documents to check a gender? For example, on a CV for a job? On a credit card? Even my commuting ticket wants to say my gender. So do all the shopping cards I have. Enter any web forum, and they ask for your gender. Why? And the problem is, in 99.9% of the cases they leave just 2 options: the F or the M check box. That all creates an atmosphere, that we have to decide between one of them. And that, though many of our constitutions nowadays say that there should be no discrimination because of gender. It is this atmosphere, that gives trans peoples the feeling that they are in the "wrong" body indeed, cause if they feel like the other box, they should look like it as well. Why are those boxes so important?
And on the face of it, these sound like really, really good points. And they are great points... Just not as counters to my position regarding my gender and why enforced removal of gender markers are erasing to binary trans people. For the boxes on various forms, can't we make it optional? I'm all for a "no comment" option or just the ability to not make an option at all. You could even write in your own gender. Kyoko could write a K for Kyoko. That's totally cool with me. However, if you want to opt-in to one of the two designations on the current gender binary because it is an accurate reflection of who you are, I think you should be able to do so.
The reason why enforced removal of gender markers is erasure is this: just as binary trans people are starting to get to a place in history where we finally get to check the boxes we've been fighting all our lives (be they, thus far, short or long lives) to check, there seems to be this movement to say, "Oh, no, you don't need that box, no one needs those boxes, let's just remove the boxes, won't that be better, it's not like the boxes are important."
No. That box is incredibly important to me. That box is incredibly important to other binary trans men and binary trans women. Checking that box is an act of AGENCY. Checking that box is a political act, it is a deeply personal act, it is an act of rebellion, it is an act which is the sum of years of hopes and fears and dreams and hard-ass work. It is full of meaning. And yet we are told by so many folks, cis and trans, that the box is tiny, it is restrictive, it is inaccurate. Well, for those of us who are binary, it's not any of those things.
It's cool if others don't want to check a box, or don't even want any boxes to appear at all on their paperwork. However, don't I have a right to have my box? Don't I have a right to see that designation wherever I want to see it? You do not get to diminish the relief and joy I felt as my paperwork was judged true and accurate and stamped by a notary whereon I had checked F legally for the very first time. Now that I finally have my box, you can't take it away from me.
So please stop trying.
We don't have horoscopes, we don't have Sudoku, we don't have crossword puzzles, but Trans*Scription Service does offer one time-killer in its publication:
Until next issue!