pronouns

Keeping up 2.0: The transgender movement continues to pose media quandaries

Keeping up 2.0: The transgender movement continues to pose media quandaries

The Religion Guy examined aspects of transgender coverage last fall, but this delicate topic continues to pose media quandaries.

We sidestep here the substantive discussion among religious groups, which is well worth attention. All of these issues will show up in coverage of debates inside and among religious groups.

For starters, should journalists apply “nonbinary” pronouns preferred by persons they cover?

The New York Times, long an arbiter of copy desk standards, has experimented with allowing the “mx” identifier. Other proposed neologisms include e.g. thon, hir, ze, zie, zir, xe, xir, xyr, xem, xer, xeir, xis, hirself and zirself. Problem is, even media that want to sidestep old male-female lingo lack substitutes that won’t perplex readers.

The purpose of copy style is to avoid confusion. We see this problem in a paywalled Times item July 5 to conclude the WorldPride celebration, under the hed “’Gay’ - ‘Femme’ - ‘Nonbinary’: How Identity Shaped These 10 New Yorkers.”

One of the spread’s three pages covered a New Yorker born male who now identifies as “nonbinary trans-femme,” but avoids female hormone therapy due to hopes of having children with the female spouse. The Times followed the subject’s insistence on using ambiguous plural pronouns (they, them, their). As a result, head-scratching readers had trouble figuring whether pronouns referred to the individual or the couple.

Given the traditions and structure of the English language, there are no easy solutions here, and copy editors can expect years of debate, agitation and flux.

Th at earlier Guy Memo noted that Facebook recognizes 50-some identities and writers need to know at least key labels beyond the older LGBT as defined by Yale Divinity School:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Keeping up: Transgender challenges ahead for news media and 'mainline' Protestants

Keeping up:  Transgender challenges ahead for news media and 'mainline' Protestants

The New York Times reported this week that the Donald Trump Administration is considering, for federal purposes, a definition that a person is male or female “based on immutable biological traits identified by or before birth,” supplemented if necessary by genetic testing. That would overturn a policy under President Obama to recognize transgender identities.

The Times team repeatedly used the new “Mx.” identifier preferred by Jill Soloway in a lengthy October 14 feature about pro-transgender media. Formerly a married heterosexual raising two sons, Soloway now identifies as “non-binary” after “peeling off” physical femininity (breasts, clothing, hair, makeup) so that “I’m like nothing. Just human.” Soloway produces films and plans to publish a book about “gender-creative” parents who keep their child’s gender “a secret.”

Weeks before that, the Times “Ethicist” column fielded a questioner’s “moral aversion” against attending friends’ “gender reveal party” to celebrate their firstborn because that would affirm “gender binarism.” Prof. Kwame Appiah’s response deemed attendance OK assuming the parents would be equally happy if an infant girl later becomes “a boy, or neither a boy nor a girl.”

There are challenges here not only for elite media policies but for members of “mainline” Protestant churches, clergy and seminiarians. Consider Yale Divinity School’s Reflections magazine edited by Ray Waddle, former religion writer with Nashville’s Tennessean. The current issue — texts not yet posted online — blends support for the budding transgender cause with opposition to patriarchy and #MeToo abuse.

The trans movement says gender identity is “assigned” by the culture, and thus changeable, avoiding considerations of birth genitalia (Yale doesn’t mention chromosomes).

This approach is gaining. Ligonier Ministries’ biennial survey on Americans’ beliefs finds 46 percent of Millennials under age 35 agree “somewhat” or “strongly” that one’s “gender identity is a matter of choice.”

Journalists will ponder words in Yale’s “gender identity & affirmation” guide (.pdf here and note that the “worlkplace” typo in URL is needed for access). Each person’s “PGP” (preferred gender pronoun) is to be followed, and new labels observed — “transgender” not “transsexual,” “gender-affirming surgery” not “sex change,” “cross-dresser” not “transvestite,” or “cisgender” instead of “binary” male or female.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

What four-letter words are now OK? What politically-correct doctrines are mandatory?

What four-letter words are now OK? What politically-correct doctrines are mandatory?

It doesn’t rank with July 4, Dec. 7 or 9-11, but Oct. 8, 2016, is a journalistic date to remember, if one cares about the tone and content of journalism and, thus, American public discourse.

There it was in an A1 lead in The New York Times.

The F-bomb.

No “expletive deleted,” no euphemism, no cautious dashes. In this article a newspaper so dignified it uses honorifics in second references (“Mr. Hitler”) included the B-word, P-word, and T-word in the first four paragraphs above the fold.

What hath Citizen Donald Trump wrought? 

Dirty words can still hit broadcasters with federal government wrath. Yet Boston-NYC-DC and Left Coast editors (not so much in Flyover Country) are certainly influenced by the cultural coarsening from showbiz. Now there’s academic imprimatur from cognitive science professor Benjamin Bergen, whose new book “What the F” contends that uttering four-letter words is good for your mental health.

Journalists are still coming to terms with the grammatically incorrect but politically correct pronoun shift as they/them/their supplant the dreaded he/she/her/his. One Times contributor has employed the xe/xim/xir pronoun plan devised by the transgender movement, and another informs us that in this “age of gender fluidity” the recently coined “cisgender” is now the “preferred term” for those whose sex is defined the old-fashioned way, by anatomy, not psychological “sense of gender.”

“Cisgender,” New York Post columnist Maureen Callahan alerts us, is among the neologisms added this year by dictionary.com, alongside “misgender” (mistaking someone’s preferred gender identity) and “panromantic” (“romantically attracted to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities”). Also new to the lexicon is “woke,” to label someone who’s not merely awakened to his/her/their “white privilege” but super-vigilant about “systemic injustices and prejudices.”

Ignoring the new pronouns can get you in trouble, perhaps even in pews and pulpits.

Please respect our Commenting Policy