Language isn’t neutral or objective. It is a vessel of cultural stories, values, and norms. And in the United States, everyday language plays into the violent, foundational myth of this country’s origin story—Europeans “discovering” a virtually uninhabited wilderness and befriending the few primitive peoples who lived there—as well as other cultural myths and lies about Indigenous Peoples that are baked into U.S. culture and everyday life.
It’s Time to Reject the “Cross-Dressing Killer” Archetype: An Open Letter to JK Rowling and the World
A month ago, I was hired to do a sensitivity read of a manuscript prior to publication, because the publisher wanted to ensure that the book was sensitive to trans communities. When I read it, I was horrified. It was a murder mystery that featured a cross-dressing killer.
I wrote a seven-page letter to publisher and author alike, explaining in painstaking detail that the fictional cross-dressing killer is a harmful archetype and describing the impacts of this archetype, including the decidedly not fictional trend of violence directed at Black trans women.
So it was with a sense of having a recurring nightmare that I read that JK Rowling’s fifth installment in her pseudonymously authored murder mystery series, Troubled Blood, released today, features a cross-dressing killer.
What does it mean?
Mx. is a non-binary or gender-neutral title of courtesy, equivalent to Ms., Mrs., and Mr. It’s most often pronounced “mix” or “məx” (with a schwa, or toneless vowel sound).
Posted on June 30, 2020
Be a radical copyeditor. When someone says “all lives matter,” engage with them (particularly if you are a white person, like me), and help them understand why saying this makes things worse, not better.
As many people have articulated over the seven years since the Black Lives Matter movement began, no one interrupts a breast cancer awareness event by yelling “all cancers matter,” or defaces “save the rainforest” bumper stickers with “all ecosystems matter,” or blocks a rescue crew from reaching a burning house because “all houses matter.”
Posted on August 14, 2019
In the days since Toni Morrison became an ancestor, the outpouring of feeling has served as a testament to her greatness and her impact on the world. Thousands—perhaps millions—of people have shared quotes by her and about her, striving yet inevitably failing to express the fullness of what she meant and what she did here on Earth.
The story that white culture has long told about her is that she is a great novelist. (A great, Black, female novelist, of course.) But her greatness could never be contained in such a limited frame, and the millions of people whose lives she changed won’t allow it. For Toni Morrison, being a writer, an editor, a critic, and a teacher were inseparable from one another. She was all of these at once, and more. The power of language demanded no less.
Posted on July 22, 2019
Over the last year, a number of public figures have drawn praise and ire for referring to the facilities in which tens of thousands of people are being imprisoned by the United States without due process as concentration camps.
What has resulted is a “rhetorical cacophony regarding historical accuracy and proper terminology,” in the words of Lauren Duca of The Independent.
If, like me, you believe that language not only describes but creates reality, the primary question should not be “what is the correct definition of concentration camp and is that definition being accurately applied?” but rather “how am I morally obligated to describe and respond to what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border?”
The five practices below are designed to help you use language to humanize in the face of dehumanization and practice liberation in the face of violence and hate. But first, some context.
Posted on August 6, 2018
What does it mean?
The word enby, alternately spelled enbie or enbee and pluralized as enbies or enbys, refers to a non-binary person (someone whose sense of self is not exclusively girl/woman or boy/man).
Posted on July 24, 2018
Are There Limits to Self-Identity Language?
Q: In response to your piece about person-centered language, my mind goes to difficult situations where I’ve interacted with marginalized people who use/identify comfortably with terms I understand to be oppressive, e.g., a trans woman using the term “tranny.”
In another more privileged direction, I’ve interacted with people who don’t identify with the term “cis” despite being cis, and have heard members of oppressed groups say, “you don’t get to choose not to be cis.”
So I guess my internal query is, how far does the agency of one’s identity go? And does language that marginalizes an oppressed group supersede the desire of an individual in their expression of identity through language?
Posted on July 13, 2018
Today I made a third major update to The Radical Copyeditor’s Style Guide for Writing About Transgender People to add four sections on how to avoid writing or talking about trans people in ways that are invalidating or otherwise harmful. (Remember that context is everything, and that all trans people have a right to describe themselves in whatever language feels best to them.)
I also updated section 1.4 and the note that follows it to reflect better language that has emerged for instances when you want to be clear that when you say trans you aren’t referring only to trans women and men but also non-binary people, as well as the recent trend in trans communities to perceive trans and transgender as having separate meanings.
See below for these new sections or click through for the updated style guide.
It has long been a pet peeve of mine that the word diverse is widely misused in the English language. Diverse is defined by Merriam-Webster (my favorite dictionary) as:
- differing from one another
- composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities
Unfortunately, diverse gets misused to refer to people or things that differ not from one another, but from what is considered to be mainstream, dominant, or the cultural norm.