Araujo Case Prompts Media Outlets to Revise Stylebooks
Still, many remain pronoun-challenged
As you might have noticed, I've been annoyed for some time now by the media's inconsiderate use of pronouns for transgendered people (see cartoon "Shallow Grave", post "No Respect for the Dead" and "Further Notes from the Pronoun-Challenged Mainstream Media").
Anyway, this bit of news was brought to my attention by reporter extraordinaire Molly Hennessy-Fiske (see, for example "The Other Woman" or her bio at In the Fray) who was my first editor ever when I was a Harvard freshman joining Diversity & Distinction magazine. From the Columbia Journalism Review's "He Said, She Said" section this month:
A killing leaves a copy-editing quandaryA poor basis for a decision, as this limits respectful pronouns to those folks who can cough up a minimum of $15,000 for sex-reassignment-surgery and other procedures.
By Dana Hull
When Eddie "Gwen" Araujo, a transgender seventeen-year-old, was brutally murdered in Newark, California, last fall, the press faced a conundrum: was Araujo a he or a she? Araujo identified as female, and called herself Gwen after a favorite singer. She had long dark hair and wore makeup. But Gwen was born a boy named Eddie, and was anatomically still a boy the night she was killed. She had not had surgery, and was not known to be taking hormones. Police reports and the coroner list Araujo's gender as male, but the more reporting the press did, the trickier it got: friends alternately spoke of Eddie as "he" or Gwen as "she" -- sometimes in the same sentence. Araujo's mother typically used Eddie, but said that "Gwen" would be on her son's tombstone.
Some California media outlets, including my paper, the San Jose Mercury News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, are reviewing their stylebooks as a result of the Araujo story. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is urging papers to adopt the language from the AP Stylebook entry on "sex changes":
"Use the pronoun preferred by individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics (by hormone therapy, body modification, or surgery) of the opposite sex and 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."
But what does "body modification" mean exactly? Can it include wearing makeup? At the Mercury News, our style dictated that the pronoun match the anatomy one is born with until there's been a sex change.
We eventually settled on Eddie "Gwen" Araujo. A small box explaining our style ran with one of the stories.I have the same suspicion.
Transgender advocates from Silicon Valley argued that genitalia do not determine gender. "We look for neat, precise definitions," said David Yarnold, executive editor of the Mercury News. "At every turn, they said they saw life as being much more nuanced and complicated than we wanted it to be, and I suspect that's closer to the truth than the tidy way the AP Stylebook packages our experiences."