Thursday, August 27, 2015

Regarding Trans* and Transgenderism

Last year, in the second half of my piece A Personal History of the “T-word” (and some more general reflections on language and activism), I described what I call the activist language merry-go-round. Here’s how it works: Because trans people are highly stigmatized and face undue scrutiny in our culture, all of the language associated with us will face similar stigma and scrutiny. At some point, every single trans-related term will be called out as “problematic” for some reason or another—e.g., its origin, history, aesthetic quality (or lack thereof), literal meaning, alternate definitions, potential misinterpretations or connotations, or occasional exclusionary or defamatory usage. And supposedly more liberatory or inclusive alternative terms will gain favor. But over time, these new terms will eventually be challenged too. Because the crux of the problem is not the words themselves, but rather the negative or narrow views of trans people that ultimately influence how these words are viewed and used by others.

So rather than constantly trying to eliminate certain words and inventing new replacement terms, I argue that we would be best off challenging the narrow or negative views of trans people that sometimes latch themselves onto trans terminology. That is a brief synopsis of the activist language merry-go-round; I encourage you to read the linked-to essay above, as I make my case far more thoughtfully and thoroughly there than I have in these two paragraphs. 

The reason why I am bringing this up now is because I want to share some of my personal thoughts regarding the terms trans* and transgenderism, both of which have come under activist-language-merry-go-round scrutiny lately.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Regarding "Political Correctness" (my first post on Medium)

Those of you who have read my book Excluded (particularly the last chapter, "Balancing Acts") know that I have long been concerned with the ways in which activist language and strategies are sometimes employed in ways that are counterproductive, or which have the effect of silencing other disenfranchised individuals. My goal in doing this is to foster more robust, thoughtful, and inclusive conversations and communities.

However, in the last year, there has been a rash of mainstream articles about this phenomenon, often framing it under the rubric of "political correctness." For the most part, these are one-sided short-sighted attempts to condemn "language policing" without giving any thought to how we might balance that with the concerns of marginalized groups.

So I have just written a response to one of these recent articles - it's called That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore (and it’s not because of “political correctness”). If you click the link (and please do!), you will notice that I have posted it to Medium. I did so because I am hoping that it gets some attention outside of the "activist bubble" - which it will, provided enough people "recommend" and "share" it.

So I encourage you to read it! And if you like it, please "recommend" and "share" it! Thanks! -j.