Oliver Willis has written a whiny post about the backlash that some experience when they write incorrectly about trans issues. Whiny is my analysis to be sure and I won’t be surprised if he labels this as bashing. He expresses some important ideas but intermixed with a bit too much BS.

Willis is utterly right that many average persons out there may not know a trans person or understand issues surrounding Gender Identity. But what of that? Our role as bloggers and writers is to change that and educate people.

People are not issues.

I believe one reason people get upset when bloggers botch posts about trans is because it makes trans persons invisible. People are not issues, they are living, breathing, feeling, people and even well intentioned posts become insensitive and offensive.

Consider this part of Willis’s post:

In the last few months or so I’ve noticed that the issue of transgendered people* and how to discuss them and reference them has become more prevalent. This reached a peak with the revelation that Bradley Manning was now Chelsea Manning and there was a whole Media Discussion About How To Discuss This New Issue.

Chelsea Manning’s coming out was roughly six months ago, and there have been a number of other stories about trans persons since then. I don’t mean that as a criticism really, only that Cohen isn’t very up to speed on trans stories. As bloggers, we can not help move the general public to greater awareness if we ourselves lack that awareness.

The biggest problem with this quoted material is here: “transgendered people.” Transgender is a noun or adjective, not a verb and has no past tense.  If Willis had used the media guide he mentions, he may have had this correct from the start. The media guide his an excellent resource.

Cis and trans

One of the least known, yet highly meaningful part of discussing trans, is this notion of cis and trans. It really is pretty simple. Anyone who isn’t trans is cis.  Sure that’s simple, but beginning to think in relation to cis and trans is much more complicated for many of us, because we have spent out entire lives ignorant of the fact that we have cis privilege. We only think and operate from our own perspective and usually fail to consider what biases are built into that perspective.

CIS privilege

We as cis persons often fail to recognize our privilege which adds insult to injury. Consider this part of Ben’s post:

If I didn’t know it, I doubt Joe and Jane America know it and it isn’t their fault because really it hasn’t been a part of our national shared experience in a strong way up until this point.

The very phrase “Joe and Jane America” makes trans persons invisible by suggesting there are two genders, male and female. This is the epitome of a cis privileged comment! It would have been far more sensitive simply to say “I doubt most persons in America…” rather than use gender as a defining characteristic.

Who needs to change quickly?

Willis is also right that it will take time for the general public to become aware and care about their trans neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family members. Trans persons face some of the most obnoxious discrimination and hate, and most trans persons simply do whatever they can to pass and not draw attention.

But bloggers and writers have no excuses. We have a responsibility to make sure that what we write is accurate and helps rather than harm. We don’t get to plead for more time. Cohen writes:

People wise up when they’re better informed and given knowledge with an open hand versus a closed fist. I think we can do this.

Yes, exactly, and this is why Willis can’t get off the hook so easily. The mainstream public is needs bloggers like Willis to get it right and then share it with them.

Here are my suggestions for Willis or any blogger to help get their posts correct when it comes to trans:

  • Find some trans persons who are willing to read your draft and offer feedback.
  • Use resources like the trans media guide.
  • Read trans blogs and try and grasp how these bloggers are expressing things.
  • Accept that you are going to get it wrong sometimes, and each of those situations is an opportunity to do better next time.

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