Monday, September 30, 2013

Gender Identification Controversy

Carly Maurer

After Private Manning declared that she planned to live out the rest of her life as a woman, the media was in a frenzy to decide what was the appropriate way to refer to her.

A handful of news outlets decided to respect her wishes and refer to private Manning as Chelsea Manning from here on out and use feminine pronouns. Among these were Reuters, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Daily Intelligencer and The Huffington Post.

The fact that so many media outlets decided not to, however (including The New York Times, CNN, ABC News and The Associated Press), was a horrible decision in my eyes.

What About the Transgender Community?

This decision shows they are out of touch with the transgender demographic in our society. The Associated Press Stylebook states the following about the term transgender:

“Transgender - An umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.”

Who cares if you don’t want to call Manning ‘she’ because she still has a male genitals?  As a reporter for a news outlet, it is not about you or your beliefs! She asked to be referred to as a girl, she has made the decision to biologically become a girl, and she already considers herself a girl despite the fact that her body represents that of a male. They should have followed the AP Stylebook and used the term she preferred.

The proper term at a drag queen show is ‘she,’ and I’m sure it is safe to say that a number of them have not had a gender change surgery. Why did so many news sources find it necessary to use surgery as a quota for being referred to as a woman? These major publications should have respected her wishes and her right to self-identify. As Janet Mock tweeted, “Self-determination is a cornerstone of our nation.”

The decision to continue calling her Bradley and ‘he’ was disrespectful to the LGBT community. The Transgender Law Center even tweeted that the media should refer to Manning as Chelsea, ‘she’ and ‘her.’

This decision sparked a lot of debate, some of which is showcased on Storify. One of the posts that stuck out to me was David Walton’s, “You can oppose what Chelsea Manning did and still think she’s entitled to be referred to with the correct name and pronouns” tweet. I think he is exactly right. By referring to Manning with the ‘she’ pronoun, news outlets would not be saying they support her or don’t support her. They would simply be respecting her wishes and choosing not to alienate a giant demographic of people in the U.S.

Credit: CBS News

Public Confusion 

As for thinking the public would be confused, news outlets could simply clarify in their articles. One can even say something like “Private Manning, who from now on wishes to be referred to with feminine pronouns or as Chelsea….”  I don’t see anything harmful in doing this. Times public editor Margaret Sullivan explained that their goal was to provide clarity to their readers and respect the subject's preferences. Why did they find this so hard to do?

“It’s tricky, no doubt. But given Ms. Manning’s preference, it may be best to quickly change to the feminine and to explain that — rather than the other way around,” Margaret Sullivan declared.

I think she came to the right decision and I was glad the Times was transparent about this decision but I still believe they waited too long. They were not among the first to make the decision to use the term ‘she.’ It seems to me they were overly hesitant and are now going back and trying to explain after the fact, which is exactly what Sullivan indicated wouldn’t be the best way to handle this change.

What About Music Artists?

New York Magazine had a very good point in their article when they brought up the fact that music artists change names all the time. People don’t stop to wonder which one they should call them, instead they respect their wishes and call them by their new name. The fact that there is stigma encompassing the switching of names with regard to sex change shows a bias in the reporting and, in my honest opinion, a lack of acceptance.

The decision to continue referring to Manning with masculine titles was a big mistake by the majority of the media. I think it sadly damaged our credibility and supported the public’s perception that the media is biased toward the majority and does little to speak for those who are underrepresented. It is time that we remember journalism is about giving a voice to the voiceless, not amplifying those already being heard.

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