Published on December 14th, 2011 | by Wild Gender3
Open Letter to ABC: Y’all Need to Hug Somebody Genderqueer
Dear ABC News,
As a first-time Wild Gender author, im writing to say that I’d prefer that my genitalia remain anonymous. And I imagine as a tween, I would have felt the same way. Which is why I was moved to write you this morning, after waking up to a story on your website titled: “Twin Boys, One Transgender, Become Brother and Sister.”
Your reporter, Susan Donaldson James, ripped much of this story from a more sensitive version, not perfect, but more sensitive, written for the cover of a recent issue of the Boston Globe, about identical twins, one of whom, happens to be a teenage transgender girl.
Your story opens with this lede:
“As early as age 4, Wyatt Maines asked his mother, ‘When do I get to be a girl?’ And he told his father he hated his penis.”
I imagine the sensationalization of this opening paragraph was largely too tasty to let go.
But let’s examine momentarily why this wording is offensive. Judging by your taste in programming—ahem, ABC’s Work It—your company has not yet had the benefit of engaging directly with the gender variant community on issues such as this.
Very simply, Ms. Maines prefers the name Nicole. And her pronoun is “she” rather than the “he.” Using a person’s former name and former pronoun to explain “transgender” is always entirely unnecessary. Really.
And, maybe most obviously, making a direct reference to Nicole’s genitals is not only tremendously insensitive, but unfortunately, it promotes the type of misunderstanding and lack of acceptance toward transgender people that your reporter spends the bulk of the article talking about.
The rest of your piece touches on “hormones,” “testes,” the dangerous aspects of Nicole living her “out” lifestyle, and the Maines’ concerns for her safety.
At one point, you write:
A report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force paints a bleak picture of life as a transgender person in the United States. The 2011 survey, “Injustice at Every Turn,” found that discrimination is pervasive in “nearly every system and institution.”
Truly, “bleak” is the picture your article paints. And “bleak” is what Nicole needs no more of. By sensationalizing her physicality and misusing her former pronouns, you are contributing to the problem.
One of the most painful aspects of the Globe article was the detailed account of Nicole’s fears about growing into a transgender adult. And more specifically, not finding herself accepted or loved by those she is attracted to.
Over the years, the (Maines) family has become close to several adult transsexuals, and Nicole has seen that some have found happy marriages. “She says she does feel better about it,’’ said Kelly (Nicole’s mother), “but still wonders if she ever met a boy who falls for her, and then found out that she was trans, if he would still like her, or say awful things as he skedaddled out the door.’’
The simple fact is, this is wholly scary. Not only for trans people, but likely, all people. What if I fall in love with somebody who is uncomfortable with me?
The reportage in your article does not help. Actually, it harkens to a sleek, smartphone ready version of the turn-of-the century sideshow wherein we are encouraged to “other” her and her body.
Certainly there is a way to discuss trans issues on your website without grabbing for attention using the genitals of a teenage girl.
Sorry to be harsh, but I’m serious.
Instead, let’s be loving and affirming in our reportage of transgender youth. Maybe it won’t sell as many copies or grab as many hits, but so what? Lets take our tack from Miracle on 34th Street—yes, I’ve got floor-room Christmas carols stuck in our heads too—and be unbridledly nice to this community of kids, no holds barred. No questions asked. And ask nothing in return.
I believe the tone of the Globe article was more thoughtful, likely because the reporter actually met Nicole and her family. In light of this, I would like to offer you the chance to physically—in person—meet any one of our trans/genderqueer authors at Wild Gender. We’d be happy to come to your office and give you a hug.
Eli, a trans student at the University of Maine
Special to Wild Gender