Saturday, September 08, 2007

Can't Y'all Read Your Own Stylebooks?

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to see the recent explosion in positive coverage of transpeople by the media. I've done a few interviews and been quoted in a few articles myself.

What I have a problem with when I read or watch stories on transgender people is the continual butchering of pronouns. It has the effect when I'm reading or watching the story video of fingernails squeakily dragging across a chalkboard.

The Associated Press puts out what's called the AP Stylebook. It is considered the journalistic Bible and is updated on a regular basis. I own a copy of it that sits in a prominent place next to my computer. In addition to grammar rules, how to write properly formatted AP stories and other tidbits we writers need to know, it contains the guidelines for language and terminology use when reporting on various groups. Guidelines for reporting on GLBT peeps were adopted and added to the AP Style book for the first time in 2001. It was expanded in the 2006 edition.

From the 2006 AP Stylebook:

transgender: Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.

The New York Times and Washington Post also have stylebooks as well that contain guidelines on covering GLBT peeps. The Washington Post one as of the 2006 edition doesn't have a paragraph in it covering transgender people. In the New York Times one, last published in 2005, it has this to say about transgender people:

transgender; is an overall term for people whose current identity differs from their sex at birth, whether or not they have changed their biological characteristics. Cite a person's transgender status only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader. Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly.

GLAAD even has a downloadable Media Reference Guide, now in its 7th edition that has a transgender glossary of terms and how to cover us.

But it seems like it's pulling teeth just to get peeps to implement these stylebook rules. The gay media at one point were the worst offenders about using incorrect pronouns to report on our lives with one egregious example of it being the notorious article Boston's Bay Windows ran in the wake of the November 1998 death of Rita Hester.

The anger over Rita's mischaracterization in the Bay Windows and Boston Globe articles eventually became the spark that started the Transgender Day of Remembrance vigils that now happen around the world.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen reports in which the person is obviously living their life as a female and they are referred to throughout the story with an old male name, called a 'transsexual male', or the male pronoun is used to describe them.

One of the things that irritated me about the coverage of transgender prom queen Crystal Vera a few months ago was the constant use of her old name when it was blatantly obvious there was a girl standing in front of those cameras.

In this recent story detailing the problems high school freshman and transwoman Vladimir Moran Miller has had with the Springfield. MO Public Schools over dress code, the incorrect pronouns just jumped out at me. And oh, did anyone think to ask the question whether this person has a femme name? It's obvious she's living as female, so that would be one of the first questions I'd ask.

But then again I'm a transperson. When it comes to some peeps in this country they are still in education mode when it comes to us, so we need to ensure that the story is as accurate as possible.

Is it gonna kill media peeps to ask just a few more questions in order to get a more accurate story when it comes to transpeople?


Autumn Sandeen said...

Video of the story, where the CBS affiliate KLOR gets the pronouns/gender identification wrong: Dress Guidelines Causing Problems for Ozarks Student.

There's also a similar story/video out of Texas: Fort Worth Male Student Allowed To Attend School As Female. Same problems with the pronouns/gender identification of the student, plus the school is more aggressively trying to force her to be male.

Mes Deux Cents said...

This reminds me of when people kept referring to Muhammad Ali as Cassius Clay. I think that its a passive agressive thing. They are covering the story yet sort of winking to their audience and saying we are covering this but we don't condone it.
It's just the media pandering to their base the same way GOP nominees for President speak at Bob Jones University.

Jackie said...

That is irritating, rude and ignorant. I agree that sometimes people do it purposefully for whatever reason. I remember talking to a friend when this guy walks up and although gushing with supposed admiration, constantly used male pronouns referring to her standing right there looking nothing like a male. It's all I could do to keep from slugging this jerk. We knew it was that he wanted to make sure I knew. He's a jerk, but there is no excuse for professionals.