Concerning NPR’s position on Chelsea Manning and pronouns

By , August 23, 2013 5:30 pm

An Open Letter to Anna Bross, Director of Media Relations at NPR

Anna,

May I call you Anna? I read your recent quote in the New York Times, in which you said “Until Bradley Manning’s desire to have his gender changed actually physically happens, we will be using male-related pronouns to identify him.” Since you seem so comfortable determining the gender of trans people, I figured that I – as a trans woman with a penis – should be comfortable calling you by your first name. Since you seem to know so much about me, my body, and what my body means for my identity.

I realize that sex and gender are complicated topics. To be honest, I wish that they weren’t. Life would be much simpler of gender and sexuality were easy to understand. Alas, life is not simple. Sex and gender can be complicated by chromosomal anomalies, genetic quirks, genital development, hormonal imbalances, and – of course – identity.

That last one is ultimately the most important. After all, if your genitalia was imperfect or different than what you might like, I suspect you would nevertheless continue to insist people call you a woman. In a world where gender cannot be objectively defined, we must trust those around us on how they say they’re gendered. It might be rude and presumptuous for me to call you a sexist pig, simply because you were judging someone based solely on their genitalia. But it is definitely rude and presumptuous of you to label Chelsea Manning as a man, simply because of what’s between her legs.

I’m particularly disappointed to hear such gender essentialism from a spokesperson for National Public Radio. NPR is an organization I trust to be impartial, unbiased, and free from the stereotyping that fills the broadcasts of so many news outlets. By speaking as you did, you not only insulted Chelsea Manning, but sullied the name of NPR as a high-quality news outlet.

At the very least, you owe Chelsea Manning – and every other trans person out there – an apology. Ideally, an apology that consists of more than “I’m sorry people were offended.” Because you did something wrong. You actually fucked up pretty badly, even if I’m not optimistic that you’ll ever understand why. I’d be more than happy to continue this conversation, via email or phone or in person, if you’d like to try and understand why what you said was so hurtful. In the meantime, I’ll just have to cut NPR as one of my preferred sources of news, and encourage others to do the same.

Hoping to hear from you,

-Rebecca

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