Jan. 18, 2012 - Issue #848: City of champions
Stuck on labels
Recognizing nongendered titles a struggle, even at Xtra
There's been a label brouhaha brewing over at Xtra! Canada's Gay and Lesbian News. It's not actually that hard a job to refer to people how they want to be referred to, as much as we've been making a fuss about it lately. A simple business most of the time, every now and then accommodating when requests come up. We've been doing it for years, certainly the part where things flow, adept and change. That's all just part of the game, except some people just really don't want to change.
It started in November when Xtra refused to honour artist Elisha Lim's request to be referred to by the pronoun "they." Although the magazine did run a story quoting Lim saying these words, it would not honour the pronoun switch. A few weeks later Xtra interviewed Lexi Tronic, a trans and sex worker's rights activists. Edmontonians may remember her for the time she spent hosting weekly drag shows here and others might have caught her as one of the original stars of Showcase's breakthrough sex series KinK. The story's editor, Danny Glenwright, decided to share the story on his personal Facebook wall and when he did so he added Tronic's birth name. Tronic was naturally uncomfortable with this, especially since it turned out the two had known each other since childhood in Winnipeg and shared many acquaintances. Glenwright, an editor at an LGBTQ paper, claimed he didn't know sharing the birth name of a trans person was a faux pas, which would mostly be OK if he had just removed it after Tronic asked. Instead he defended himself profusely, used the creepy "some of my best friends are trans!" argument and basically reacted in a variety of transphobic ways. After calls for a boycott he would later issue what was deemed an apology, but the bizarre piece of writing blamed Tronic more than it repented. A few weeks later Calgarian singer-songwriter Rae Spoon would turn down an Xtra! cover and interview because they wouldn't respect "they" as their chosen pronoun and explained it in their blog. Surprisingly, Xtra! allowed poet and 11-year column writer Ivan Coyote to do a piece criticizing them on it called "'They' is me."
Xtra! is a queer magazine with three main publications in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver and a website that covers news and current events across Canada and the world. It's been running since 1984 and is the only place to get comprehensive Canadian coverage of gay news. Xtra! has long served the issues that matter to me and my community, like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid's exclusion from Pride Toronto and Alberta's fight for gender re-assignment surgery. The magazine is fast and thorough with coverage, and is better diversified both with race and sexual and gender variance.
It is forgiveable that Danny Glenwright called Lexi Tronic the wrong name. Few trans people I know get upset at anyone who is truly trying to get the process right. They know it's hard too. They understand. All Tronic wanted was the removal of Glenwright's post, which he refused to do and felt he had the right "to spark debate." In Ivan's column she reveals, aghast, that a student contacted her having been given the class assignment to identify her birth name. Who are these people who think others identities are their playthings?
As for Spoon and Lim, their request for a new pronoun may seem terrifying and new to scared editors, but a time will come that they'll have to surrender to calls for a third label, whatever that may be. We're living in a society where modern, accepting people mostly agree that gender is fluid and grey, but we still don't have common words to describe that. Or we could just scrap the labels all together. That might work, too.
I really like Xtra. Its main webpage shows a focus on queer Canadian and global issues that are not seen on most mainstream gay sites. The visual diversity on the magazine's images—of skin colour, gender expression, age—is unparalleled. That's why this is all so terribly frustrating for activists. If we can't get Xtra on our side, how can we win over anyone else? V
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