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One of the most common situations I encounter as a visible genderqueer writing and working online is misgendering. It’s usually a genuine accident; someone is hastily writing a response piece, comment, or whatever, and assumes I’m a woman based on my initials or what I look like. More uncommonly, it’s done deliberately by someone who’s trying to be snide or witty.
But most of the time, it really is an honest mistake. And, to be frank, I’m not really upset by honest mistakes. We all make them, and when it comes to gender, we are living in a rapidly-evolving society where all of us are treading on really new ground. I have misgendered people by accident. You have probably done it too. You note the correction, apologize for the mistake, and move on.
Sometimes you’re not in a position to ask for or seek out the pronouns someone uses -- and if you don’t know that someone identifies with a nonbinary gender, you might assume that person is a man or a woman. If you don't usually cover gender issues, it's something that genuinely might not occur to you.
After all, we’re fairly uncommon. And, let’s face it, most people dehumanize the names on the bylines; while regular readers might be familiar with an author’s life and profile, that can’t be expected of casual readers, even in the case of a writer who’s outspoken about issues like, say, being genderqueer. People mess up. It's fine. Really.
So, when I spot a misgendering, I try to politely correct it -- more commonly, though, someone else catches it and asks for a quick correction, because I am a busy person, and I don't actually have a lot of time for reading everything on the Internet. Mistakes happen, fixes are requested, and people have the option of making a fix or not. Some publications have style guides that don’t permit nonstandard pronouns, for example, in which case an editor's hands may be tied.
Other people think they’re making some kind of radical political point by not recognizing the diversity of gender and the complexity of the gender spectrum, so they'll refuse to correct it and be nasty about it. Whatever. I’m supposed to tell you those people get me all riled up and upset, but honestly, they just kind of bore me. Dudes, get lives.
So, anyway, since you’re reading this, you probably know about ougate, most of which took place without my knowledge -- it wasn’t until after a series of posts at Gawker and Slate (by the way, thank you so much for the pageviews, you guys) had gone up that I heard that apparently Hamilton Nolan accidentally misgendered me, Madeline and Corynne requested a correction (which is their job, making sure that xoJane and our contributors are not misrepresented in the media), and Hamilton Nolan threw a tantrum because he was offended by my existence, followed by Slate picking up the story to mock me some more.
I’m going to be honest with you: A couple of years ago, this whole thing probably would have left me curled in a fetal position under the covers, because, newsflash, having people attack your gender and make your body a subject of debate in the public forum can leave you feeling pretty miserable. But after years of being on the Internet and working in a very abrasive environment, my response was to laugh.
I’m still laughing, actually, even as I write this, which is making it really hard for me to type, because it’s just so ridiculous. It should be such a nonissue, but of course it’s not, because my gender identity is being used to try to score pageviews and points -- and the dark side of what’s happening right now, the thing you shouldn't be laughing about, is that it's a grim reminder of the very real dangers of not being a cis man or woman. It’s dangerous to be trans, it’s dangerous to be out, and it’s dangerous to talk about it.
Some hacks mocking me isn’t really a big threat to my personal safety, and I find it funny because it’s just so pathetic, right down to Slate’s desperate attempt to be snide with complaining about what a diva I am because I use a lower-case spelling for my name. (Which is, sorry Slate, a legitimate way to spell a name, a not uncommon one, and something you should correct, because misspelling someone’s name is a journalistic error. Even my credit union manages to spell my name correctly, as does the DMV. Would you capitalize e.e. cummings or bell hooks? I would hope not, and if you did, I’d bet you’d be asked to make a correction.)
Because of who I am -- a person who lives on the margins of some identities and talks openly about it -- and what I write about, I think people assume that I must be Very Serious All the Time. You know, constantly angry and bitter, strident, etc etc. In fact, that’s really not me at all, as a lot of my friends will tell you: yes, I write about serious subjects, and yes, I am outspoken about social justice issues, because it’s my passion and also my job.
But, like, I play Cards Against Humanity, people. I almost lost my shit last night when I played “Before getting your dick stuck in a Chinese finger trap with another dick, all we had was queefing.” It might have been a “You had to be there” moment, but the room busted up so hard I was legitimately concerned someone might be hospitalized for breaking a rib. As it was, I squirted peach lemonade out my nose and all down a sweater I’d just dry-cleaned. My nose still hurts, in case you were wondering.
Cards Against Humanity is only the least of my many entertainments. While you may find it hard to believe, the people who know me -- the true me, not the writer and journalist who produces stories for you to read -- actually think I have a pretty great sense of humor, though it can be twisted, nonsensical, and strange as well as raunchy.
So like, I think I’m supposed to write this big long response piece about how hurt I am over this whole thing, having my gender attacked and mocked on major news sites, and how angry I am that trans people don’t get basic respect in the media. How unprofessional it is to post and then mock requests for factual corrections sent to editorial boards.
But honestly? I’m laughing too fucking hard right now to puff up and get all angry for you like a little penguin defending its nest. These kinds of attitudes are pathetic, and the people who support them are pathetic. I don’t have the time to waste on hit pieces targeting me and my identity; if I did, I’d be spending my whole life pissed off, and life is just way too good for that. It’s sunny, the birds are singing, I have a serious weed situation going on in the garden that I need to deal with (not that kind of weed, heyo!), and I need to figure out the best arguments to use in this Trial By Declaration so I can get out of this speeding ticket because hot damn, I do not need my insurance rates going up right now.
So if you want to use me as your little pawn in your culture wars, whatever, have fun with that. And I’m not saying that any of what’s gone down in the last few days has been acceptable, or that people shouldn’t be fighting to address the mistreatment of the trans community in the media, but whiny little hit pieces for pageviews just aren’t worth it.
Save it for the stories deliberately misgendering the trans victims of hate crimes, referring to trans sexuality as “deceptive,” and misreporting the details of the trans experience. Let the Hamilton Nolans of the world have their cat poop-filled sandboxes.
Is ougate totally ridiculous? Yes, yes it is, and I bet you’re surprised to hear that I think so, but seriously, y'all, don't you have something better to do with your time than have a collective cross-internet imbroglio over the pronouns someone uses?