On gendering

I have referred to Justine McNally on occasion as “she”. I have also written of their alter-ego, Scott, as “he”.

Mostly, i have tried to avoid either – but over a string of posts and pieces it is not easy to avoid entirely, and this case is one of the most difficult to write about for various reasons.

Usually, though, when i write about people, the following rules apply.

1. Apply the gender they identify with

That’s pretty obvious. If someone identifies as she, they’re she. As he, they’re he. And if they opt for zie – and tell me – that’s what they’ll get. Sorted.

2. Go gender neutral

This is a good fallback. If you don’t know or are not sure, use gender neutral constructions like “they”. That mostly works, but not always. Over a long piece, it screws up style and occasionally leads you into sentence construction you rather wish you could avoid.

Still, respect should trump style.

3. Make it up

No, seriously – though this is my tongue-in-cheek way of saying that there are times when logic and grammar and other stuff just collide in a way that creates results that please no-one (not even myself) very difficult to avoid.

Let’s start with what i’d call the implied DEEP grammar of English. There are some sentences harder to construct than others. I notice this with my son. He happily tells his friends: “Jane, she went to London today”. Easy.

But then he mostly balks at “my dad, SHE went to London”: prefers “my dad, he…”, which i totally understand. And i don’t know what he’d do with “My dad, Jane…”. Possibly explode.

Then there are court and police reports. These set out the genders of victims and accused in cases and, what some peeps don’t always get, as a reporter you are usually required, when quoting these to, er, quote them.

So if a court report misgenders someone, that creates a serious difficulty for the trans-friendly reporter. I have been told – though i’m not sure i believe this – that for me to single-handedly amend gender in such circs would be unlawful. Dunno.

Which brings me to McNally.

There are three factors in play here. First, the courts and McNally’s own lawyer gender with “she”. We can construct whatever theories we like around that – my personal view is that at one point they identified as he, right now, maybe they identify as she, and at some future time, they will decide without the pressure of some truly awful external events.

The court narrative contains a suggestion that McNally has claimed and retracted trans status. Shit! I dunno. See above. Maybe that’s genuine. Maybe that’s for purposes of minimising the sentence. I just dunno.

Whatever, that’s where we are now.

Second, i take advice. Though having spoken to people who regularly write about trans stuff and finding that not all of them are agreed how to report this case, that is only partially helpful.

Third, and here’s where it does get difficult, it feels to me like there is conflict between grammar and broader narrative. According to the court, “she” deceived by passing herself as “he”. Now, try to write that as “he deceived by passing himself as he”. Yes: there are workarounds. But so far, i haven’t found one that isn’t at least a bit clumsy.

Only, to report what the court is doing, one has, it seems to me, to write from the point of the court. Which may, itself, be wrong and cisnormative.

4. Things screw up

Last up, i get things wrong. When i do – and if i do and someone tells me and i agree – i will get the mistake corrected. Ditto (and this happens more often than you think on commercial pieces) helpful sub-editors “correct” me. Usually in a normative direction…though i have suffered being corrected simply because i have a mildly cummingsesque tendency to invent words.

The other day, it was “teh”. Which is either stylish or pretentious according to point of view. But according to a sub, who’d never seen it before, just plain wrong.

Enough. There is a serious point in all of the above. I try. I get stuff wrong. If you think i have, do as one tweeter did ysterday afternoon: tell me and it will get looked at. And in that instance, changed.



About janefae

On my way from here to there
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