Thursday, January 14, 2016

Letter to the Editor: Bluefield Daily Telegraph's poor handling of gender identity

I read an article in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph on Tuesday night, January 12. It was about a transgender woman who was arrested. For what, we don't need to discuss that. If guilty, it's awful. If innocent, that would be great. You can go look all of that up if you'd like.

What bothered me about the article was how insensitive it was to this person's gender identity. This transgender woman was only identified by male pronouns, which isn't how that should be handled. It prompted me to write a letter on Wednesday, January 13. As of Thursday, January 14 it hasn't been printed.

I've written one letter to the editor of the BDT before that wasn't published: that gun thing I sent to practically every paper in WV. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I've applied to work at the BDT over the years probably at least five times. I had one interview for a copy editor position.

I have one small typo that I'm going to keep in, so you can see the original post of what I submitted. It's more a semantics issue and doesn't really change the point I'm making. In the post below, it says "The BDT article features at least 10 different male pronouns..." it should actually say " least 10 different instances of..." since I'm talking about 10 times a male pronoun is used, not 10 different male pronouns.

The letter is below. Check it out. Comment if you'd like, here or on Facebook.

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Since moving away two months ago, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph is one of my primary ways of keeping up with the news in the Mercer County area. On Tuesday night, I saw an article that caught my attention, for all of the wrong reasons. The headline reads "Local youth minister charged with sexual abuse of a juvenile." I'm not going to discuss the charges; that's an issue for the courts to decide. What I want to look at are the issues with describing this individual and how insensitive and ignorant it was. 

The person arrested is identified as James "Jimmy" Lilly. This individual was assigned male at birth and is noted in the article as "in the process of becoming a woman." What that means is Lilly is a transgender woman. The article identifies Lilly as a "transgender man."

The Associated Press Stylebook states that when discussing gender to use the person's preferred pronoun. The most famous transgender woman that we all know about lately is Caitlyn Jenner. When writing about Jenner, we use the pronoun "she" and "her," since that is Jenner's identity. 

The BDT article features at least 10 different male pronouns, ranging from "he," "him," "James," and "Jimmy." 

I don’t know this individual, so I have no idea if Lilly has decided to go by a feminine name. Usually, part of the transition process is deciding on a new name. Bruce to Caitlyn, for example. If Lilly has a female name, the proper thing to do would have been to identify her as such. I can understand that since she was arrested and it is a legal matter, a person's legal name should be included. But, if we're going to go ahead and identify this person as both James and Jimmy, a third name, if applicable, could have been easily included.

This was a very insensitive way to handle a delicate subject. Ignorance is okay, as long as things are done to correct the issue. I wasn't born knowing all of this information, but I made sure to educate myself on it after committing a few faux pas myself. When I saw that the Facebook post for this article had over 40 comments, I was almost scared to read them. All I will say about those are, they weren't as transphobic as I expected. 

Let's use this as a learning opportunity and to become more open-minded as a community. We all need to make sure we do our best to be more sensitive and tactful with those things we do not understand.

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