A Few Simple Corrections in Language Could Go A Long Way
From an interview with Columbia University Journalism Professor Ruth Padawer about her cover article on “pink boys” (my critique of the original article itself will come this weekend- I left my notes in another state!):
- The title is “Ruth Padawer on Parenting Boys Who Dress Up As Girls” - This title and the subsequent first question which refers to “boys who like to dress up or play as girls” are actually missing the entire point of the article which is that these boys are not doing anything AS girls but instead are enjoying activities and styles typically reserved for girls in our culture. Pink boys are just showing us some other (albeit unexpected for most of mainstream society) ways to be boys. To refer to their tastes and behaviors as girly is to invalidate their gender identities and freedom of gender expression alongside those identities. It invalidates the fluidity and spectrum of gender expression that these boys and their families are exposing. A better phrase would be “Gender Non-Conforming Boys.” This is also a more accurate title as the piece itself explores gender expression beyond dresses and the color pink. For catchiness, as I’m aware of the importance of headlines in journalism “Boys Who Wear Dresses” would even be more accepting, though it is still an othering phrase clearly pulling at sensationalism.
- Padawer herself uses the term, “transgendered folks,” which is very incorrect. Padawer uses the term “transgendered” in her second-to-last response. This is an inaccurate term and actually offensive. GLAAD notes that this term should not be used in journalism and the the NLGJA includes only the word “transgender” as an appropriate adjective in its stylebook. It is grammatically problematic (as explained here by GLAAD) because only verbs can have an -ed added to make them a participle and transgender is solely an adjective. It is also offensive as it carries a stigma of a negative condition, as many -ed terms too. It is othering at best. As one blogger, wrote: “Is it semantics? Yes. Is it important? Yes.”
With those corrections made, this interview could have been an affirming piece while remaining interesting and maintaining its level of readability.
Introductory Post: What is This Blog All About?
Well mainly I am targeting journalists who have written, are writing, or might in the future write about trans* people and/or gender diversity. Journalists who, we might say, are lost when it comes to issues of gender transition.
It is rare that a trans*-focused (or even trans*-related) story or article is published in mainstream media without inaccuracies, reporting errors, misunderstandings about gender identities, offensive terminology/phrasing, poor pronoun use, and other missteps. Almost always this is out of ignorance on the part of the reporter and almost always it is a serious disappointment.
As trans* people and issues get increasing amounts of coverage in mainstream and popular press, society is gaining exposure to gender diversity. It is through these news stories and reports that journalists have the opportunity to really provide accurate and respectful information to people who would otherwise know nothing about the topic. However the increased amount of coverage has not been coupled with an increased amount of effort by journalists to meet this accuracy and respect standard, and many articles that could have been beneficial to the trans* community have been detrimental. Even seemingly positive articles have the harmful effect of othering or marginalizing trans* people when common mistakes (such as incorrect pronouns and use of words like “feel” when speaking about gender identity - more on all this later) are made, so that even as non-trans* people start to accept trans* people it is not in a true understanding of trans* people and identities nor in an understanding of the greater issue of gender diversity, and instead is set up as the “normal” people being okay with the “abnormal” people.
And often when these mistakes are made, those of us “in the know” react with anger or condemnation and a YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT approach, taking to comments sections or social media.
What I’d like to do is have a space to dissect mainstream and popular coverage of trans* people and issues, breaking down where they went wrong, and suggesting how they could have done better. I will supplement specific critiques with occasional posts explaining why some of the common mistakes are mistakes - e.g. why a reporter (especially a non-trans reporter) should never explain trans people as a person born one way who feels another. My hope is that eventually this will expand to be a guide so that journalists can no longer claim ignorance and will use their medium to accurately reflect the lives and issues of trans* people.