Maybe, for once, the Press gets Transgender Pronouns Right

A friend of mine just sent me a link to a tragic story where Kayden Clarke, a suicidal guy with Asperger’s, was holding a steak knife when police came into his apartment in response to a suicide-prevention call. For details as to what happened next, I can’t do the subject justice here, but please go read up about it. Anyway, Kayden Clarke was shot and later died in the hospital. There’s much to say about that, and many people are already saying it, so I’ll leave “center stage” to them. These are indeed, literally, issues of life-or-death importance.

Based on two articles I’ve read, I’ll limit my own second-hand observations to something much less important, which is how well the press articles I saw handled the gender issues in their reporting. The guy who was shot was a trans guy. As I understand the concept, this means the person was born with a male brain structure, and female plumbing. A person’s brain is what most fundamentally makes that person who he or she is, so the brain structure is what most fundamentally determines gender.  So, never mind the plumbing, this was a guy. A trans guy, but nevertheless a guy.

On that premise, the newspaper articles did well. They referred to him by his chosen name, Kayden Clarke. Correctly, they referred to him as a man. The articles used the correct pronouns: “he” and “him” and “his” … good. That’s how it should be.

  • Let’s throw wrinkle #1 in there. Imagine that the trans guy hadn’t as yet changed his name from how it was on his birth certificate, and that his legal name was Danielle Jacobs. That indeed seems to be the case. So, a good way for the articles to handle this would be to mention the formal legal name but to do so in the proper context, so that the legal name doesn’t imply that the guy isn’t a guy, i.e., so that the legal name doesn’t confuse the issue. And correctly is indeed how the articles handled it. Good.
  • Let’s throw wrinkle #2 in there. Imagine that the trans guy’s mother doesn’t acknowledge that her offspring, being a trans man, is a guy. The mother would, in such a situation, refer to the deceased by the legal name and would use female pronouns. That indeed seems to be the case. So, a good way for the articles to handle this would be to quote the mother accurately but to then also reconcile this to the facts of the case, so that the mother’s quote doesn’t confuse the reader into trying to guess whether Kayden was a guy or not. The one article, that quoted the mother, handled this correctly too. Good.

Any time a citizen is shot by the police, it’s a serious issue with much potential for confusion. When there’s a trans person involved, there is even more potential for confusion. Not that innocence or guilt depends on gender, but facts are facts, so let’s get them straight. Fact is, transgender people are not figments of the imagination. We exist. We know our own gender better than those around us do. And autopsies have vindicated this phenomenon, in fact, when the time came.

Not that many years ago, I recall seeing newspaper articles mentioning some or other police activity involving a trans person.  The person’s true gender (based on their sense of self, in turn based on their brain structure) as opposed to birth certificate gender (based on their external plumbing) was pointedly downplayed or negated. Any reference thereto was done in a condescending way such as by stating the person was wearing clothes of the opposite gender and was claiming a nick-name belonging to the opposite gender.

Using that style of bad journalism, the tragedy described above would have been written as “Danielle Jacobs was shot by police. She was wearing men’s clothing at the time, claimed to be a man, and went by the nickname of Kayden.”  Such snide trans-negating reporting would just add insult to injury. Not that it’s going to help Kayden, but perhaps such bad reporting is finally fading into dis-use.

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