I just got blocked by John Avavosis at AmericaBlog. I actually think it’s the first time I have ever been blocked on a blog. I suppose it was bound to happen at some point. To be fair, I was pretty certain this was going to get me booted. At any rate, he wrote a long comment aimed at me right before he blocked me. This is my reply. His words are in italics.
I’m not having a good laugh at all. This entire episode has been really sad. And now you’re trying to do to me what you did to Piers Morgan and Katie Couric. If you can find one pronoun that I got wrong, based on your incredibly complicated and seemingly ever-changing rules, then it clearly means I’m an evil transphobe who must be destroyed. It’s just incredibly sad to see, and it speaks volumes to why your movement is so far behind the gay rights movement.
No, getting it wrong doesn’t make you a “transphobe” – it’s becoming defensive when you get it wrong and accusing people of being over-sensitive when they explain to you why it’s wrong and blaming them for your mistakes.
It’s also your ludicrous idea that trans rights are “far behind the gay rights movement” because of how awesome the gay rights movement is – how expert and awesome you personally are – and how trans people have failed. This is called the “just world fallacy” and it’s a type of victim blaming.
You’re also comparing apples and oranges. But an examination of why the trans rights movement includes unique challenges that the gay rights movement does not deserves a discussion outside this spat of yours.
As for the pronouns, I’ve gotten so many conflicting answers from trans people about what gender to refer to someone before they transition, or come out as trans, or self-identity as trans, that it’s no longer clear what to write. Janet Mock says either she, or every human being regardless of gender identity, or at least every trans person, is born without a gender (and if it’s everyone, then you’re defining the existence of non-trans people too, which I suspect per se will confuse them, to tell them they weren’t born male or female). Whereas another trans person advising me the other night (I asked her advice as Mock had totally confused me in her appearances on CNN), and she told me that in fact some trans women ARE “born boys.” So now I have no idea how to refer to someone trans when they were born, or before they transitioned or came out or self-identified as trans.
You’re blaming trans people for the ignorance of the general population. The “inside language” that is nearly universally used (in my experience) is that a baby is “assigned [gendered term] at birth” and that this gender may be different than the gender they actually are. However, it is understood that this language (however accurate) confuses the general population, so the term “born a [sex]” is sometimes used so that it is better understood – but many consider this inaccurate.
There are two philosophies of education at play here. One is “scaffolding” – the idea there is that you present new concepts in a simplified way and then build on those concepts until you reach a reasonable level of sophistication to be authentic. For example, you learn the Bohr Model first even though it’s essentially wrong. Then you learn about orbitals.
The other philosophy, is that you essentially explain the intricacies of a topic right away, so that the people that you are attempting to educate, do not have to unlearn the over simplified version.
In this regard, unfortunately, trans activists who communicate with the general population find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Where the desire to be authentic is in opposition to the public *feeling* as though they understand. There is no single trans narrative, so even if the general population had the language, hard-rules in communication can isolate and alienate. For example, over-simplification can erase Gender Queer folks by using a definition of “transgender” that is more accessible to a population comfortable with the gender binary.
Yes, a few transgender people do identify as being one gender and then another. However, their assignment at birth is their assignment at birth, so that language is always going to be accurate.
Yes, a few transgender people do identify as being a different gender before they transition. However, before transition their presentation was what it was, so referring to them as “presenting as [gender]” is always going to be accurate.
In Chelsea Manning’s case, formerly Bradley Manning, I was told that you refer to trans people by the pronoun they prefer, so I switched to she. But, in the story writing about her change, I used “he” up until the point I announced that “he” had chosen to be openly trans, and now was to be known as “she.” And if you re-read the story, you’ll see exactly what I did.
I welcome anyone to go read my story and try to find transphobia and visceral hatred of trans people in it: http://americablog.com/2013/08…
Always refer to a person by their preferred pronouns and their name. Let’s say that Chelsea Manning had gotten married and changed her last name. Would you feel compelled to refer to her by her former name when writing about her? NOBODY DOES THAT.
Let’s say that she preferred to be called “Mrs.” after she got married. Would you refer to her as Mrs. Smith for half the article and Miss. Manning for the other half of the article? NOBODY DOES THAT.
Saying “formerly known as” for the benefit of those who have known someone by a different name and will not make the connection otherwise; makes sense, but should only be done when absolutely necessary, and only for the benefit of establishing the connection. When Manning first communicated her name change, this was arguably necessary because she was already in the public eye.
However, if it is not necessary to make that connection with readers – DO NOT DO IT.
In fact, you using her former name right now was completely unnecessary. Do you think I don’t know who she is?
Being referred to as a former name, or even seeing a former name, is upsetting to many transgender people I know. Pulling that shit out is used as a means of abuse by transphobic bigots like Gender Identity Watch. This is not a “small thing” – k?
And I did that for a reason. In writing the story, it was impossible to explain the story without using he. Why? Because if you keep saying she, as in “she leaked millions of pages of secret Iraq war documents, only later to come out as trans” – people are going to think that a woman came out as trans and thus became known as a man. I edited that story multiple times. It’s the same problem Piers Morgan has on his show. If you refer to someone going for sex-change surgery, but you say they were “she” before the surgery, then it sounds like they became “he” after the surgery. But in this case, that’s the opposite of what happened.
It was not necessary to use “he”. You didn’t need to and neither did Mr. Morgan. If you think your readership is that uninformed that they think “trans woman” = AFAB (assigned female at birth) who is a man, then include explanations or links to explanations within your article.
It’s just mind-numbingly ripe – frankly – that you spent hours chastising the trans community and allies on your blog for not being able to communicate to the general public wisely; and you seem completely incapable of doing so. Has it ever entered your damn mind that the rampant ignorance and misconceptions among the general population, and that lack of commonly used accurate terminology within the general population, make effective communication difficult? (Not to mention that myriad of misinformation campaigns from TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) to PJI (Pacific Justice Institute) and other such actively hostile folks.)
Surgery is not the same thing as transition.
Again: Surgery is NOT the same thing as transition.
If you are complete incapable of communicating that to your readership – without them getting completely turned around – you really sort of suck at writing. However, it’s nice to see that you apparently actually understand that making these realities understood is difficult. Also, it’s sort of fantastically annoying that you think trans activists have a magic wand that can sparkle communicate to the general population with simultaneous accessible simplicity and desired authenticity.
I get why you think that it is possible though – you spent 20 years trying to communicate to the general population that you like boys and not girls. WOW – what a goddamn monumental accomplishment of public education.
I appreciate your service. I do. However, please stop thinking that it qualifies you to lecture others as some sort of veteran sage of helpful advice.
Your issues are terribly complicated and confusing. I know many gay people who don’t even understand how gay and straight works among trans people (I do, but only because someone explained it to me once – how if you’re gay become coming out as trans, you can then end up straight after). And my gay friends know far more about trans issues than the public at large.
America does not know your community. You hate that fact. And want to find hate in the fact that they don’t know you, rather than simply doing your job as an advocate and educating people. It’s not my fault that I don’t undrestand all the complicated rules, and that the rules I’m being given by multiple trans people keep contradicting each other. Your issues are complicated, and no one is born knowing them. So go and educate people.
FFS: I’m cis.
And it is your fault. I know that people (not just me) have spent HOURS of their lives trying to educate you; and you still get the simplest things wrong.
At this point, I question your sincerity. You’re not here to educate folks about your issues, you’re here to find enemies, and rather than finding them, you’re creating them.
The reason that I went to your blog and commented for a good couple of days before you put in the “last word” and then blocked me; is that your readership might get something out of it. I suspect the others that were attempting to educate you and your readership before you blocked them as well, had a similar motivation.
I thought that my input might be helpful to you at first (my offer of free consulting on future articles was sincere), but after you showed yourself to be a huge brick wall of willful ignorance on even the most straight forward issues (such as your bizarre insistence that “cis” was a term referring specifically to gay men) and I was made aware of your reputation for being just as insufferable when it came to issues of bisexuality; my aim shifted from trying to help you out to using your comments as a vehicle to possibly articulate some of these concepts to the unnamed several that may have been reading as well.
However much you think that we were “making enemies” the comments suggest that the people who were never going to change their minds were not changing their minds; and that you have lost readership due to continually ignoring the concerns of those attempting to educate you and being indifferent to only the most blatant of transphobic comments while blocking those reacting with annoyance at the transphobia you are giving a platform to.
Thanks for listening.
And the offer of consulting is still open.