Gender and Pronouns and NPR
ETA: “On Friday, NPR’s Managing Editor for Standards and Practice Stu Seidel issued new guidance, saying that NPR’s “thinking has evolved” and that the network will honor Manning’s preferences.”
From an article in the New York Times:
…the lawyer for Pfc. Bradley Manning told the “Today” show that his client would like to be considered a woman and referred to as Chelsea.
With that, the debate over how to refer to Private Manning exploded in newsrooms, comments, blogs and Twitter.
I’m sorry, but what is there to debate? My legal name is James, but I prefer to be called Jim. I don’t recall needing other people’s approval for that, and I definitely don’t remember anyone, anywhere ever needing to debate whether or not it was appropriate to call me by my chosen name. Nor has anyone ever demanded I drop my pants before they would acknowledge me as male.
It gets worse. A spokewoman from NPR weighed in on this “debate”:
National Public Radio will continue for now to refer to Private Manning as “he,” according to a spokeswoman, Anna Bross. “Until Bradley Manning’s desire to have his gender changed actually physically happens, we will be using male-related pronouns to identify him,” she said.
Not only is NPR deliberately refusing to respect Manning’s wishes, they’re also explicitly linking gender identity to physical sexual characteristics. Sorry, but neither sex nor gender identity are that simplistic. (See here for an article on Germany’s new law which will legally acknowledge and recognize intersex children, along with some examples and statistics about sex and gender.)
If you’re worried about confusing your readers, you open with a sentence stating that Pfc. Manning has asked to be referred to as female, and with the name “Chelsea,” and you continue from there. But NPR was apparently more concerned with policing Manning’s genitals.
Unfortunately, this is also one of those stories that’s easy to dismiss if it’s not something that affects you personally. It’s easy in part because our culture works awfully damned hard to erase people like Chelsea Manning from our stories and our awareness, in part by refusing to respect their right to be called by the names and pronouns they choose.
When was the last time you saw or heard about a transgendered character on mainstream television? Oh sure, they’re used as the butt of transphobic jokes all the time, but that’s it. (See pretty much every sitcom ever for jokes about the horror of a guy starting to hook up with a woman who turns out to be — gasp — another guy! Yay, let’s all laugh at the intersection of transphobia and homophobia!)
On the same day that NPR’s spokeswoman released this ridiculous statement, one of the panelists on the Diane Rehm show (also broadcast on NPR) joked about how we shouldn’t trust military secrets to a guy who wears lipstick.
Look, I get that if you’ve grown up with a simplistic binary view of gender, it can be both difficult and uncomfortable to move beyond those narrow, exclusive definitions. When a friend of mine asked to be called Rachel instead of Rich many years back, I screwed up sometimes. I used the wrong pronouns. I used “Rich” sometimes out of habit.
It happens. You apologize, and you try harder. These days, trying to think of Rachel as “Rich” feels utterly wrong and bizarre.
But blatantly refusing people the respect and dignity of referring to them by their chosen names? Refusing to acknowledge someone’s identity because of what they may or may not have between their legs? That’s just dickish.
It’s also harmful.
As a society, we erase transgendered people. We treat them as jokes. We pretend they don’t exist, or if they do, they’re simply damaged, deviant, and broken. We don’t accept them as fully human. And we lash out verbally, emotionally, and physically against them.
NPR contributed to that dehumanization today. They contributed to the fear and hatred and violence that goes with it.
For future reference, here’s how the conversation about someone’s preferred identity should go:
- Person A: “Hey, I prefer to be called by this name and pronoun.”
- Person B: “Okay.”
It really isn’t that difficult, people.
ETA: NPR has a contact form for anyone wishing to write to their ombudsman about this. Thank you icecreamempress for that link!
August 23, 2013 @ 3:14 pm
I don’t understand why this is so hard to understand for some people, I really don’t.
I have a friend who is transitioning into who she really is and I think it’s wonderful that she’s dropped her mask of being Joe and is showing us who she really is, Josie.
It’s the first time I’ve had a friend who “came out” as transgendered and it has been a learning experience for me, but the learning has been great! I’ve come to realize that we’re all just gifts waiting for one another to open. What you see on the outside is just the wrapping paper and is meaningless, we tear that off as we rush to see the real present! That’s who we are on the inside, who really are is the gift we give to those we love and trust.
August 23, 2013 @ 3:27 pm
Here’s another good take on the same issue: http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2013/08/23/16941
August 23, 2013 @ 3:30 pm
Also: NPR says “Wendy Carlos” all the damn time. Did they check inside her pants?
Jim C. Hines
August 23, 2013 @ 3:30 pm
Nice, thank you!
Ashe Elton Parker
August 23, 2013 @ 3:34 pm
Though I am a relatively easygoing person for the most part, I’m troubled by society’s overall inclination to ignore/disregard we trans people and our wishes. I’m lucky in that I have close real-life and several online friends who respect me, so I know I’m in a somewhat protected atmosphere with regards to my trans nature. I can tell you that one of the best things for me was when various of my friends told me they’d be happy to refer to me as my proper gender whenever I was ready (I’m not yet due to circumstances regarding my ability to appear as my transgender–and they’re respecting that choice as well). Having and knowing people of such accepting mentality is a great comfort to me, and it’s one of the things which continually gives me the courage I need to finally face my trans nature because one of my greatest fears is how society will treat me as I go through this process.
So thank you. Thank you very much. It’s very comforting and reassuring to be accepted by you, even though you don’t know me personally.
August 23, 2013 @ 3:37 pm
I can’t help but think of the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s, where being a Communist was bad, but being a homosexual Communist was far worse. Not that it was ever explained what one had to do with the other, of course.
August 23, 2013 @ 3:39 pm
I was 24 years old before I ever met a transgendered person (that I know of). I felt awkward at first. I didn’t get along very well with Desiree, and I wondered how much of my annoyance was due to prejudice and how much was due to a genuine personality clash. And to be truthful, I didn’t really understand why she would “want” to be a woman, when life seemed so much easier for men.
I persisted in my lack of understanding for quite a while, but kept it to myself, and somehow we managed to become close enough that she opened up to me and showed me a picture of herself in high school, before she began presenting herself as a woman. After all the time I’d taken getting to know her (though I never did come to see eye to eye with her on most things), when I saw the high school picture I had the strong sense I was looking at a woman in drag.
I’ve thought of that ever since. What it must be like to be *forced* to dress in drag to make other people feel comfortable, to wear the clothes and adopt the attitudes that they believe match your genitalia.
I never did become besties with Desiree, but I’m very grateful to her for putting herself into my life often enough and intimately enough that I was forced to see things from her point of view. Because once seen, you can’t really unsee it. And then the treatment of people like Chelsea Manning begins to seem inexpressibly ridiculous and backward.
What I would wish for everyone is that they could all be in close contact with at least one transgendered person, that they weren’t so rare or so well hidden that the majority could think of them as something other than we all are, just people trying to make (as the Mulan song goes) what we see in the mirror match what we are inside.
I hate that more transgendered people will have to become public figures and endure this kind of scorn just to make that kind of familiarity even possible.
August 23, 2013 @ 3:42 pm
It’s particularly obnoxious that famously-liberal NPR is doing this. Way to not live up to your principles, gang. -.-
August 23, 2013 @ 3:44 pm
Good point. I bet they say Jan Morris, too.
August 23, 2013 @ 3:55 pm
It’s not perfect and I’ve not watched the show in a long time, but here in the UK we’ve had one character in a mainstream soap.
I saw some episodes when the character joined and she seemed to be getting the same treatment as the rest of the cast (nobody lives happily ever after with no stress or strife).
I would like to see more diversity of all types in shows, less perfectly pretty people as background characters, a more accurate cross section of the community portrayed, although in soaps I’d kinda like to see some plot lines where nobody gets threatened or has anything dramatic happen to them, where they manage to live a perfectly ordinary life for a little bit before things go bad again – but I guess that doesn’t pull in the big ratings…
August 23, 2013 @ 4:02 pm
An episode of Elementary included Candis Cayne, a transgender actress, playing a character named Miss Hudson.
August 23, 2013 @ 4:10 pm
According to GLAAD, most of the major style guides indicate that using the subject’s preferred gender is the correct choice. As someone on Twitter noted, this is NPR telling Ms. Manning ‘Tits or GTFO’.
I can’t help but read this not just as everyday gender policing, which is about as escapable as a panopticon, but also a clear lashing out at Chelsea Manning because the tribunal didn’t punish her badly enough.
August 23, 2013 @ 4:23 pm
“Look, I get that if you’ve grown up with a simplistic binary view of gender, it can be both difficult and uncomfortable to move beyond those narrow, exclusive definitions. When a friend of mine asked to be called Rachel instead of Rich many years back, I screwed up sometimes. I used the wrong pronouns. I used “Rich” sometimes out of habit…It happens. You apologize, and you try harder.”
That is it exactly. I met a guy named Dave and we were in a band together, then he sat us down and told us that he was going to transition to Josie. Sure, it made me a little uncomfortable, but I told her outright that I figured that was my problem, not hers, and my job to get over it, and I hoped she’d be patient with me. We all knew it was going to take some adjusting, and we did it. Not always well, and not always perfectly, but we were all her friends and that’s what friends do. We sympathized with her struggle with workplace discrimination, I helped her shop – which was an issue not because she was born male but because she was born red/green color blind, and we all got through it.
I was proud as hell when she asked me to stand as a witness to her wedding (through a convolution of 3 different states and their respective laws regarding gender and ID documents and what documents it takes to get married, it was completely legal at the time for her to marry her wife. They moved away and we’ve drifted apart, but I’m glad I had the chance to have my assumptions challenged. Because no matter what this person wore, or what pronoun they chose to use, they were still my friend.
August 23, 2013 @ 4:33 pm
If this were a debate about how to refer to Chelsea, I would understand—it’s not often someone at the center of an important news story changes their name as events are unfolding. As a news organization, you want your audience to be able to follow continuing storylines. Its not entirely clear what the best approach is. But comments about the gender aspect of Manning’s decision betray an ugly bias.
August 23, 2013 @ 4:39 pm
you can also email anna bross directly: email@example.com
August 23, 2013 @ 4:54 pm
If my 63-year-old mother who was raised by Baptists in the Deep South can be totally accepting of my trans husband (thanks to Chaz Bono’s appearance on Oprah, no less), NPR has zero excuse.
August 23, 2013 @ 5:02 pm
I’ll start referring to him as “she” when I see proof that he now has XX chromosomes instead of XY.
[The rest of this comment was cocooned by an ignorance-eating fire-spider to save as a snack for later.]
August 23, 2013 @ 5:04 pm
I just used the NPR contact form to express my unhappiness.
People have different comfort levels with different issues. Some thirty years ago, I attended a college friend’s wedding. A Catholic wedding. In a Catholic church. I’m Jewish. I had never been inside a Catholic church and didn’t have anything like a good understanding of church etiquette. (Hadn’t spent a whole lot of time in a synagogue, so that was no help.) I was nervous, terrified I’d miss a cue and not sit or stand when I should.
Just before the wedding started, another college friend, a member of the wedding party, came up to me and said she wanted to explain why she was in a tux and not a bridesmaid dress. I don’t believe this was a desire to steal the show, but more a wish to keep the focus on the bride and groom.
The conversation went something like this:
Friend: “I would like you to know that I’m not Sue anymore, I’m Joe. I’m not a female after all, I’m male.”
Me: (deer in headlights silence)
Friend: Are you okay?
Me: (nods) No problem. (continued deer in headlights look. still have to face the wedding). I’m fine.
Suddenly the awkwardness I’d sometimes felt with Sue was explained. I felt no such thing with Joe. As for his genitalia, it wasn’t any more my business than it had been before.
Jim C. Hines
August 23, 2013 @ 5:19 pm
Hey, no problem. And don’t worry, I’ll restore the rest of your comment when I see proof you’re a human being instead of a close-minded and bigoted spambot. Cheers!
August 23, 2013 @ 5:24 pm
If only the science of chromosomal sex was as simple as it’s laid out in a ninth grade textbook!
August 23, 2013 @ 5:45 pm
Somehow I bet the same people who want to force transgender persons to be characterized by their birth genitalia would object to everyone else insisting they drop their pants/lift their skirt so that we know what the proper pronouns are to use for them.
Seriously, though, I just don’t get it. Changing the words you use is basically the easiest thing you can do for someone else, and it means so much to them. We all have the right to define how we want to be identified (and here I’m not just talking about male/female or name choice, but also labels such as “Geek”). Taking away someone’s self-identity is taking away their humanity, and it is something we should never, ever do.
August 23, 2013 @ 5:50 pm
Fair enough. I’ll start referring to you as “Duke” when I see the genealogical proof (complete with DNA verification, of course) that you truly are a high-ranking aristocrat worthy of the term.
August 23, 2013 @ 6:39 pm
Ms Hudson, I think. That made me very happy. I was sad she was only in the one episode though. I hope she’ll be back this season.
August 23, 2013 @ 6:44 pm
Thanks for posting this, Jim.
I’ve kind of been keeping my head in the sand on this one because I’m not sure I can handle the awful, but I’m planning to look at Canada’s public radio’s response and write appropriate responses when I can drum up the mental energy.
My mother told me that democracy now was good about it, but I haven’t caught up.
August 23, 2013 @ 6:53 pm
^^This. Very disappointed.
August 23, 2013 @ 7:28 pm
I agree with everything you said about Manning.
Your question: “When was the last time you saw or heard about a transgendered character on mainstream television?”
Answer: This summer, on TNT’s Major Crimes, a murder victim was a transgender kid, the murder was due to her being transgender, and the varying reactions of her family members (and the cops) were depicted quite well. A few years earlier, on TNT’s The Closer, there was an episode when an older major character was stunned to find out that his former colleague was transgender and much of the episode was about him coming to deal with it.
Sad there aren’t more examples, but I wanted you to know that at least it has happened.
August 23, 2013 @ 8:14 pm
Jim, do realize that the NPR ombudsman and the NPR reporting staff have spent much of the last 18 months having a MAJOR spat over a report: http://www.npr.org/2013/08/12/211386932/npr-ombudsman-differ-on-s-dakota-indian-foster-care-series
In other words, as far as I can tell they don’t give a damn what the ombudsman says, and writing to him is unlikely to make any difference at all (so I would go straight to mocking them on Twitter….)
Jim C. Hines
August 23, 2013 @ 8:17 pm
I was not aware of that, no. Grumble.
Well, for what it’s worth, I’ve also been joining a number of other folks in calling them out on Twitter!
August 23, 2013 @ 8:20 pm
I really don’t understand how anyone could have a problem with this. Everyone has the right to define themselves. If Manning chooses to identify as a woman, we don’t have to understand, but we do have to respect her choice.
The only experience I have ever had that even comes close to this is relatively minor, but I think it helps me to be at least a little more empathetic with stuff like this. I’ve had people get very upset because I told them I preferred to be addressed as Ms. Lastname instead of Miss Lastname at work, because I felt that my marital status had nothing to do with work, and shouldn’t matter.
I don’t want to imply that this one incident is anywhere near what trans people face, because it clearly isn’t, but I guess I’m just trying to say that I know how it feels to be addressed differently than how I prefer, and it didn’t feel good. No one should have to defend their choice of pronoun, or somehow prove that they deserve it, or whatever.
Jim C. Hines
August 23, 2013 @ 8:22 pm
Potentially dumb/ignorant question, but I’ve always read “Ms.” as the abbreviation for “Miss.” Can you explain what I’m missing here?
August 23, 2013 @ 8:26 pm
I pronounce Ms. as “Miz” and it just sounds more professional out loud to me. I was taught in school that Miss was for unmarried women, Mrs. (missus) was for married, and Ms.(miz) could be used for either, so it’s sort of a feminine “mister.” I have seen both Ms. and Miss as options on forms, so I don’t think they are the same thing.
August 23, 2013 @ 8:29 pm
If you are interested in the history of it, wikipedia does a good job.
Jim C. Hines
August 23, 2013 @ 8:32 pm
August 23, 2013 @ 8:39 pm
Yeah, that’s why I went that route myself. When you’ve demonstrated that you don’t care what your ombudsman says, we might as well go straight to the public shaming….
August 23, 2013 @ 8:40 pm
Glad to help 🙂
All honest questions are ignorant, because you don’t know the answer yet. The dumb thing is to not ask, and stay ignorant. 🙂
August 23, 2013 @ 8:48 pm
So, apparently, a storm of public vitriol is what it takes for NPR News to change their stance. They’ve issued new guidance as of today that they will refer to Chelsea Manning by her preferred gender pronouns: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/08/23/214941331/npr-issues-new-guidance-on-mannings-gender-identity
I’m sad that it took public outrage to get this change to happen, but I do want to give credit for moving quickly on this issue
Jim C. Hines
August 23, 2013 @ 8:55 pm
Excellent news, even if it took a crap-storm to get there. Thank you.
August 23, 2013 @ 9:15 pm
I hope people will continue to send them emails, this time thanking them. Without doubt there will be a backlash, and I hope they will hear voices of support in addition to complaints.
August 23, 2013 @ 9:50 pm
I get people who don’t understand why I prefer Ms. when I took my husband’s name. The whole point of Ms. is that it doesn’t friggin’ matter whether I’m married at all, have ever changed my name for any reason, anything. I’m Ms. Lastname the same way a man is Mr. Lastname.
August 23, 2013 @ 10:34 pm
Wendy- I think I may be friends with your Josie; is her wife’s name Nancy?
Jim, add the spouse of a transgendered person, I’d just like to say thank you.
August 23, 2013 @ 11:12 pm
That’s fine. It’s your site, and you can censor or delete as you will. Having read your books, and even more so followed your blog, I appreciate you leaving the main point even though you disagree.
I don’t think I’m bigoted (although half the people I think are bigots probably don’t think they are so), but I really don’t understand how it is any different than suddenly telling everyone I’m a dryad named Deifilia or a cat named Wanda and expecting them to stop referring to me as human. Whether I feel like I’m really a cat or not, the truth is I’m still a person and I don’t see how any journalist would have an obligation to call me kitty just because I prefer to be treated as a cat.
August 23, 2013 @ 11:37 pm
You are making a false comparison, though. You are also (I’m almost positive that this is inadvertant) using a comparison that equates being transgender with being less than human. Like I said, I don’t think you mean to sound that way, so this is just an FYI for future.
A cat cannot be born to human parents. A male human can, as can a female, as can a person who is neither. Ignoring for the moment (and this is a big thing to ignore) that XX vs XY chromosomes don’t actually map out to gender as neatly as was taught in high school, what would you suggest the pronoun be for a person who is, for example, XXY? Or a person who is Intersex?
August 24, 2013 @ 12:16 am
Most literature refers to them as “XXY males,” but I am willing to call anyone with XXY chromosomes whatever they prefer.
August 24, 2013 @ 2:53 am
I really did expect better from npr too. I’m glad they got with the program (after a storm of protest hit them), but really, it shouldn’t have been necessary.
August 24, 2013 @ 3:07 am
I hear you, Katie. I have the additional fun of of having kept my name intact in marriage (my husband and I tell people we both kept our old names). Of course, many people assume I “took” his name initially. Most accept it when I tell them I didn’t, but I do get a few arguments (some along the “Don’t you love him enough?” or “Are you that selfish?” lines). And one Aunt always sends mail to Mr and Mrs his first name, his last name, no matter how many times she is reminded that I kept my given name. It’s a small thing in the scheme of things, but irritating she (and a few others)can’t respect my choice. A recent poll indicated that slightly over 50% of Americans feel that it should be illegal for women to keep their own names.
So I completely sympathize with transgender people who get dissed in this much more hurtful and fundamental way, and I really don’t want to be one of “those people.”
August 24, 2013 @ 3:09 am
Exactly. It’s about respecting other people’s choices, even when we don’t understand (or even agree sometimes) with them.
August 24, 2013 @ 7:02 am
Let me help out a bit. In law school, there is a question that is often asked, which goes something like this:
How many legs does a dog have? Four.
How many legs does a dog have if you call a tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it so, though in law, it may well be treated as one.
Calling someone with a Y chromosome, especially one who still has boy parts, “she,” does not make him a her.
Calling someone without a Y chromosome, especially one who still has girl parts, “he,” does not make her a him.
I realize that feelings, the belief that what you want something to be makes it so, trumps reason for many today, but that is also the source of much of this generation’s self-inflicted ills. Think about the typical headlines today.
It is just that simple.
August 24, 2013 @ 9:46 am
You are aware that gender (you know, that thing with pronouns and all) is a social construct and not a scientific fact, right?
Of course, calling someone who has male sexual organs “her” won’t enable that person to bear children, i.e. not change their biological sex, but it does change their gender. And that’s what this is about.
I am all for getting rid of gender roles, which are superfluous nonsense in my eyes, but if we absolutely must keep them, it seems only fair to me that people get to choose which stupid set of social restrictions and expectations they want to have to follow instead of just being assigned one at birth.
Jim C. Hines
August 24, 2013 @ 10:12 am
If you’re trying to understand, I would suggest reading up on the difference between sex and gender. Sex isn’t as simplistically binary as we pretend it is, and gender is distinct from biological/chromosomal sex.
Jim C. Hines
August 24, 2013 @ 10:14 am
“I realize that feelings, the belief that what you want something to be makes it so, trumps reason for many today, but that is also the source of much of this generation’s self-inflicted ills.”
Huh. And here I would have thought it was things like ignorance and closed-mindedness and the dehumanization of those we perceive as “other.”
August 24, 2013 @ 10:34 am
So, couple questions. If “man” and “woman” no longer refer to physical characteristics, what else can they refer to but a set of gender stereotypes? Instead of fighting against stereotypes, doesn’t this approach embrace them? Secondly, we each have our own stereotypes about manliness and womanliness. If the words are defined by our stereotypes, then either there are as many definitions of “man” and “woman” as there are people, in which case the words are effectively meaningless, or we are right back to imposing our gender stereotypes on other people. Off the top of my head, I would say science, medicine, and law enforcement actually need words with (physical) meaning, but I’m sure there are plenty of situation in everyday life – for example, if you’re meeting me for coffee. Should I tell you the gender I identify with or the gender that will actually help you recognize me (assuming they’re different)? If “man” and “woman” have been repurposed, fine, but what are their replacements?
August 24, 2013 @ 11:23 am
Tangential to the topic: anyone interested in further pursuing the “genetics is a LOT more complicated than we were taught in school” question–there’s a wonderful book called “Cats Are Not Peas” by science journalist Laura Gould. She began the research that led to the book in an effort to figure out how her calico cat could possibly be male. (Calico is a sex-linked trait in cats.)
August 24, 2013 @ 1:43 pm
As usual, whenever someone says “It’s just that simple,” it isn’t.
The model you propose is deliberately ignorant of several complicating facts that make it worthless. Most notably: The brain is a sexually dimorphic organ. Numerous microstructures in the brain have subtle differences between average-male and average-female examples (note that no individual brain actually conforms to the average). All sexually dimorphic organs have a range of configurations which are set before birth by hormonal interactions and cannot be altered afterward.
Treating female-structured brains to male hormonal levels results in gross imbalances; the resulting structural stress, in absence of comprehensive and lasting relief, will result in early death.
August 24, 2013 @ 1:46 pm
This has nothing to do with “embracing stereotypes” and everything to do with taking medical and social steps to alleviate *deadly* stressors on a portion of the population that has no other recourse. The approach of “I want to eliminate gender, coincidentally starting with yours” is simply wrong-headed and damaging. Even if we eliminated all gender stereotypes tomorrow, there will still be people who need to medically alter their endocrine systems with exogenous hormones and hormone blockers in order to eliminate that source of biological stress.
August 24, 2013 @ 6:17 pm
I love that book! I read it when I first got my tortie/calico girl. 🙂
August 24, 2013 @ 6:21 pm
Double exactly. Mrs. Lastname is my husband’s grandmother. I’m Ms. Lastname, except for a few legal purposes.
August 24, 2013 @ 9:24 pm
A better (though still admittedly flawed) comparison would be if you had someone who was born and raised under a particular religion, converted to a religion that is predominantly practiced by a specific ethnicity. There hasn’t been a biological change. The change has only been in how the person chooses to live life and how they identify themselves.
Still, if someone told the convert “I’ll call you a Hindu when you can show that you have an acceptable percentage of Indian DNA. Until then, I am still going to refer to you as a Christian” that person would be a giant jerk.
(Additional disclaimers: Yes, I know some sects of various religions *don’t* accept converts of another ethnicity. I also acknowledge that transgender issues are not nearly this simple. As I said, it is still a flawed comparison, but a little more applicable).
August 24, 2013 @ 9:26 pm
I also want to note that there is no particular reason I chose “Christian” and “Hindu” here beyond that they are two religions I know something about.
August 24, 2013 @ 9:34 pm
Yes, because chromosomes determine everything, right? There are tons of people who don’t even know what their chromosomes ARE – they assume they know because of their appearance, and unless they have cause to test, may never know. It’s wikipedia, I know but here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_verification_in_sports – the last paragraph here: “While it would seem a simple case of checking for XX vs. XY chromosomes to determine whether an athlete is a woman or a man, it is not that simple. Fetuses start out as undifferentiated, and the Y chromosome turns on a variety of hormones that differentiate the baby as a male. Sometimes this does not occur, and people with two X chromosomes can develop hormonally as a male, and people with an X and a Y can develop hormonally as a female.” That’s from this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/22/sports/22runner.html?em. You might want to do some reading before you boil sex down to chromosomes.
August 24, 2013 @ 10:40 pm
Okay, so you’re willing to call someone with an X and a Y chromosome, someone that you agree is usually referred to conventionally as male, whatever they like. So, if that person wants to be called “she”, you have no problem with that. Yet you can’t apply the same logic to someone in an analogous situation, who was born with an X and Y, and who was conventionally referred to as male, “she” despite her asking? I hope you see why I find that kind of baffling.
I’m sure that you don’t ask everyone you meet for a genetic workup. I’m sure that, in your day-to-day life, if you meet someone who is introduced to you as a woman, you use the terms “her” and “she” without hesitation, because that’s what those women want you to use. I’m hopeful that you don’t make some sort of arbitrary judgement that certain women aren’t feminine enough, or certain men aren’t masculine enough, for you to use the appropriate pronouns.
At the end of the day, on this issue, it boils down to two choices: either you choose to respect what someone asks to be called, regardless of your actual understanding of why they want that or, in fact, your agreement or disagreement with the morality of their request; or you choose to say that your opinion is far more important than treating a person as they ask to be treated (which means that you’re behaving like a jerk). I highly encourage you to check out some of the links that have been posted here – there’s a lot of really good information. Nobody is asking you to take a moral stance saying that you agree or disagree with Chelsea Manning’s choice, just that you give her the autonomy to make that choice.
August 25, 2013 @ 2:35 am
Most of us have gender perceptions that align with our physical and chromosomal sex, but some people feel very profoundly that their insides do not match their outsides. I don’t think it just has to do with whether or not you like or embrace most of the stereotypes for your own sex. There are plenty of women and men who have interests and inclinations that are contrary to traditional roles for their gender but who have a gender identity that is aligned with their biological sex. Gender identity runs deeper than just one’s take on gender roles, and the decision to transition to one’s inner gender is never done lightly. The point where a person wants to be called by the pronoun that aligns with his or her inner perception is an important milestone in the process. Who are you to to get so hung up on semantics and your own definitions of sex versus gender you think it’s your job to tell someone whether or not you think she’s female enough on the outside to be “worthy” of being called she (or vice versa)? It’s not your call.
August 25, 2013 @ 2:40 am
“When was the last time you saw or heard about a transgendered character on mainstream television?”
Glee — Alex Newell plays Wade Adams/Unique, a male to female transgender teen with a hell of a voice.
Also: Ugly Betty, The L Word, Nip/Tuck, Degrassi: New Generation, Coronation Street, and a bit further back, Ally McBeal.
It’s changing slowly. TV is barely managing with gay characters, but it’s improved. It takes way too long even with something as simple as non-white characters.
Transgender people are those whose neurological wiring (and thus gender identity — how we think of ourselves,) does not match the physical genital equipment they were born with, (or some of the physical genital equipment they were born with, such as with hermaphrodites.) There is some evidence that this is due to genetic variances or neurological ones. The X and Y genes are not the only ones that control biological sexual characteristics in humans.
We have many variations in humanity. There are a tiny percentage of humans who can recall all their memories (what we used to call a photographic memory.) That’s because they are wired a certain way, allowing them to think in different ways. Some people are genetically prone to depressive thinking. Some people are born with six toes. We don’t freak out if they keep the sixth toe and we don’t freak out if they have the sixth toe removed. It’s simply a natural, biological variance. That variance may be part of diversity and/or it may create a problem for the person that can be addressed.
Transgender people have a genetic and/or wiring variance that has created a mismatch between their mental identity (their brain wiring,) and their bodies. It is utterly impossible for us to change that neurological wiring nor should we need to do so. We can however change the body to match the wiring, if the person is committed to the process over time and with much soul searching and practice on their parts.
We do not insist that a woman who gets breast enhancements legally register as a small breasted woman or hide her bigger breasts. We do not insist that a burn victim who gets plastic surgery to repair that damage legally register as a burn victim or under their previous appearance, rather than their new appearance. And none of those involves something as complicated and essential to life as brain wiring that tells people they are a different gender than the one that other people treat and see them as. Telling these people that they should ignore how their brains work is useless. Telling them it’s a disease is ridiculous. Transgender people are no different than a thousand other genetic variations.
When my sister was about five, she refused to wear the top half of a bikini swimsuit or a one piece. She wore just the bottoms and she had a bowl shaped haircut. When she went to the bathroom, adults would tell her she needed to use the men’s room and my mother would have to explain. Because they saw what they wanted to saw, not who she was. It’s a form of social control and stereotypes, not biology.
August 25, 2013 @ 10:25 am
I remember when Ms. first came into widespread use, and how people mocked the term, saying it was more of that stupid feminist crap and would never catch on.
August 25, 2013 @ 11:00 am
I don’t want to destroy anyone’s gender. I just think that if we remove physical characteristics (i.e. sex) from the definition of “man”, “woman”, and the associated pronouns, then we will be left with words that are either a) meaningless because they have no commonly agreed upon definition, or b) still problematic in the same way they were before because they will still be socially-constructed boxes in which people will be expected to fit themselves if they want to use that label. It would be better, IMO, to remove the gender component from those words and keep the physical characteristics. Then, if you want you can come up with new words to categorize various combinations of behaviors/attitudes/preferences/neural microstructures/whatever and people can sign on if they want to or not if they don’t.
Jim C. Hines
August 25, 2013 @ 11:27 am
This reminds me somewhat of one of the arguments against same-sex marriage, that it’s a slippery slope that will ultimately destroy the meaning of the word.
I don’t buy that argument, but even if I did, so what? Language isn’t static. If gender terminology someday evolves into meaningless, who does that hurt? Trying to police people’s identity because of a hypothetical (and in my opinion, incredibly unlikely) possibility like this, just doesn’t make sense to me.
August 25, 2013 @ 3:20 pm
Which just makes it more important for those of us who are not personally affected to show our support. It’s not difficult to say “Chelsea” instead of “Bradley” and “she” instead of “he”, but by that simple act, we affirm that people have the right to choose their own identities. Those who have the time and inclination, can of course, choose to do more.
I admit that several years ago, when I learned that a person who went by a female name on our RP email list was, in person, someone in an apparently male body, it was confusing. But I adapted, because in the end it didn’t matter what pronoun she went by, she was still herself.
August 25, 2013 @ 3:21 pm
OK, totally screwed up that blockquote. I was responding to:
“Unfortunately, this is also one of those stories that’s easy to dismiss if it’s not something that affects you personally. It’s easy in part because our culture works awfully damned hard to erase people like Chelsea Manning from our stories and our awareness, in part by refusing to respect their right to be called by the names and pronouns they choose.”
Jim C. Hines
August 25, 2013 @ 3:27 pm
August 25, 2013 @ 5:57 pm
Better a word be destroyed than a person.
August 25, 2013 @ 8:54 pm
I don’t intend to be making a slippery slope argument. I agree that it would be no big deal if gender terminology evolved into meaninglessness (although some people will probably still want/need words to describe themselves with). But I think there is a pressing need for words to distinguish between the sexes – as I mentioned before, in science, medicine, law, or even when you’re just planning to meet someone for coffee that you haven’t seen in person before. If you don’t provide alternate terminology, then people are just going to keep using the words we have and this quest to separate sex from gender in our terminology will be that much harder.
If the definitions remain intertwined, then the alternative to meaninglessness is a bunch of socially-constructed boxes that people will have to fit themselves into. I suppose it’s some comfort that they will be able to chose between Society-approved Box A or B or etc, rather than having the choice made for them. But wouldn’t it be better to have no boxes, which we could achieve if we found separate words for sex and gender, and let the gender words continue their march towards meaninglessness (or not, as the case may be) while the scientists and other people who need some precision in their language continue to use the alternative sex-specific but gender-neutral terminology?
August 25, 2013 @ 8:55 pm
Fair enough. I agree!
August 25, 2013 @ 9:09 pm
But I think there is a pressing need for words to distinguish between the sexes – as I mentioned before, in science, medicine, law, or even when you’re just planning to meet someone for coffee that you haven’t seen in person before.
So when it’s crucial for someone else to know the history of what is or isn’t in your pants (which, gee, for coffee I can’t see the need), you tell them. Even with most medical concerns, it’s not all that necessary. I’ve often heard of trans folk who didn’t disclose their status in the emergency room, because it really was not that relevant to getting them breathing better after an asthma attack or whatever.
August 25, 2013 @ 9:11 pm
I certainly don’t want to impose an identity on someone against their will. But at the same time, words are communal property. Language only works because words have mutually agreed upon definitions. So unfortunately, if you change the meaning of a word for yourself, you change it for me too, and vice versa.
August 25, 2013 @ 9:32 pm
HelenS – I was thinking more in terms of studies like into differences in risk of getting different types of cancer or differences in treatment effectiveness between the sexes. A broken arm is a broken arm, but I’m sure there are many medical conditions where sex is important in diagnosis and treatment. Or as another example, discrimination in the workplace (or sci-fi conventions!), where you might want to distinguish between discrimination against people who are female on the inside, but male on the outside and against people who are female on both the inside and the outside.
For coffee, maybe “pressing need” isn’t the right way to put it, but I was thinking of inevitable moments like what Darci describes below, where no matter how progressive you are, there’s always a moment of confusion. I don’t think that will ever go away because, while some of it may be due to expectations created by social constructs, there’s also a ‘pattern recognition’ component. We humans can’t help categorizing things. Not to sound like a broken record, but that’s why I think the solution is to give people sex-specific but gender-neutral words.
August 26, 2013 @ 12:33 am
I watched a personal friend of mine, Jeremy, become Fiona. It was very brave of her to stand up and say “this is who I am.” And, as much time has passed between then and now, it’s a sad state of affairs when it’s even more brave of Pfc Manning to stand up and say “this is who I am” than it was for her to leak the documents. She’s a national hero for blowing the whistle. The least we can do is accept her as who she is.
August 26, 2013 @ 11:09 am
As a friend of someone who has just come out as trans, thank you so much for speaking out on this topic.
I’ve just skimmed through the comments, and of course there were a couple of headdesk (to the power of facepalm) moments from some commenters, but it is nice to see that the discussion in general (and not only on this particular forum) is starting to move toward tolerance and understanding.
Maybe someday in the not too distant future, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream may actually come true (this has been on my mind recently, with the anniversary of that speech just past). Biological determinism casts a long shadow (in multiple areas) sadly. . . But I’m hopeful that can actually create a world where people are judged on the content of their character, and not their physical traits.
August 26, 2013 @ 11:10 am
that “we” can.
sorry for the mental lapse there
August 26, 2013 @ 12:06 pm
‘… for example, if you’re meeting me for coffee. Should I tell you the gender I identify with or the gender that will actually help you recognize me (assuming they’re different)?’
It’d probably be most effective if you tell me whatever will actually help me recognize you. That might very well not include an explicit reference to gender at all – to turn it around, I imagine you’d be able to identify me much more readily as, ‘a tall fat person with long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail,’ than if I just told you what gender I’m usually perceived as. (My gender ID could well be actively unhelpful in many of the venues in which I’m likely to be meeting up with someone who reads/comments here, since it’s ‘geek’:-).)
Of course, you probably weren’t thinking of giving only a gender; IME, people generally don’t – they describe how they look, or what they’ll be wearing, or some such. Sure, most folks who ID and present as one of the traditional binary genders will phrase it as, ‘a man with long hair pulled back in a ponytail,’ or ‘a woman wearing jeans and a blue t-shirt with a sunflower on the front’ – but the gendered identifier is just one item in the description, and usually not the most distinctive item.
August 26, 2013 @ 4:45 pm
And the meanings of words haven’t been changing since the first hominin grunted out the first word for “rock?”
August 27, 2013 @ 8:47 am
Associated Press has said that it will refer to Pfc. Manning as Chelsea and use “she” and “her”
August 28, 2013 @ 4:30 pm
As someone who speaks a language in which a young female human can be the equivalent of “him”, “her,” or “it”, depending on what word I use for him/her/it, I don’t find your arguments about pronouns very convincing.
And as someone who was raised with the old-fashioned idea that some things are none of anybody else’s business, least of all busy-body strangers on the Internet, I don’t think people who (publicly) insist on investigating people’s genitals (or blood tests) to determine what name they are allowed to go by have any right to be allowed into polite company.
BTW, there are people with Y chromosomes who were born with girl parts (not sure about the reverse), not to mention those with more ambigious anatomies. But I guess you’d say “nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf.”
August 28, 2013 @ 5:40 pm
I just wanted to note that there are those who are … for whatever reason … only familiar with that apparently simplistic high-school biology view and were hence taken aback when this hit the news. It’s ignorance. But it’s not necessarily malicious.
Lila, thank you for the book suggestion. (And for the link. I don’t want to be a jerk.)Does anyone else have reading suggestions for someone who is discovering that she’s ignorant … and who really doesn’t want to be?
August 28, 2013 @ 11:21 pm
I know Josie (I had to check with her to make sure it was the same Josie, but I was pretty sure it was, lol); we met not long after she moved out here, and have been friends ever since. She and her wife are doing well.
August 29, 2013 @ 9:24 am
Just wanted to add Sophia on Orange is the New Black to the list of trans characters on TV 🙂
August 29, 2013 @ 10:15 am
Actually, red/green/brown color blind. 🙂
We’ve drifted apart a bit, yes, but I still consider you my friend. And Misha, who replied to this comment as well, is indeed also a friend, along with her hife… wusband… spouse, who is also transitioning and going through the same kinds of **** I got to go through.
Very glad to have you stand as a witness at our wedding. You, and, quite frankly, a lot of people had to do a lot of adjusting. You did quite well.