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The Age of Genderqueer and "They" Has Arrived

The Age of Genderqueer and "They" Has Arrived

The Age of Genderqueer and 'They' Has Arrived
BJ Pasqual

These are scary times, but good news can be found -- even at the Social Security office.

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So the Associated Press finally updated its official style guide to include "they," although Paula Froke, lead editor for the guide, noted acerbically that it should be used "sparingly" and that "it's usually possible" to write around it. And probably better to write around us too.

We seem at last poised to enter the Age of Genderqueer. I would like to think of the AP needing to reverse that position in a few years, explaining that "he" and "she" are acceptable but should be used "sparingly" and that it's usually possible to write around rigid binary pronouns.

It was about 20 years ago that I had my first run-in with the AP style editors. It was not a happy one. Just as now, trans people were dying at a terrible rate. Brandon Teena was in the news, but he was the wrong face for the epidemic -- most of the victims were not white trans males living in farm country, but young black trans women in large cities. Every time, the news coverage would mispronoun them and then misname them -- insisting on using "he" and their male birth names and even in death denying them the dignity and identification for which they had paid so dearly. It was horrible, and it misrepresented both the cause and the effect of their murders.

While it is far from true that every journalist or even every news outlet slavishly adheres to the AP's style guide, it was the standard and the place to start.

At GenderPAC we asked the AP for a meeting and, with an assist from GLAAD, got it. This was actually a big deal, since this was a time when many national and regional gay groups were still proudly LGB but not T.

What we got was two salty senior associate editors who were more used to adjudicating dangling participles and split infinitives and were quietly amused to find themselves caught in the middle of an impassioned plea by some transgender political group. It was the highlight of their morning and probably the story they shared around the AP water cooler for years.

But they made the change.

Of course, the very next murder a few weeks later was covered by some small-market newspaper whose writers completely ignored the style guide. But at least GPAC and GLAAD could protest and try to educate them. And eventually, coverage did change.

And now they've come around to "they." Even for transpeople, maybe the Age of Genderqueer is around the corner.

Which brings me to my recent filing for Medicare. What dismayed and then angered me was that my card came back with big black bold letters marked "Male."

I haven't had to fight this particular fight for over a decade. I admit I was out of shape for it.

The last time had been over a dozen years ago when I filed for my first passport. The State Department demanded proof of my surgery from the attending doctors (along with a lot of other really intrusive documentation).

It was humiliating and I was pretty enraged. Cisgender society just can't get over its fixation on genitals as equal to gender. They are always pointing at our genitals, commenting on or inquiring about our genital status, marking it down somewhere, using it as the excuse to oppress us or otherwise making sure we fit them into their insane and oppressive bathroom/driver's license/name change/[fill in your own blank here] system in the most degrading and stigmatizing manner possible.

But my surgery was in 1978. We were part of that first big cohort after the pause that followed Christine Jorgensen's change.

The doctors who did my treatment were old white guys at the Cleveland Clinic who were all dead or nearly so at that time. And as the clinic had long since closed its trans program, even getting medical records was difficult or impossible.

So I faced the nightmare that wakes every transgender person with terror in the middle of the night. Yes, I suddenly had ... undocumented genitals. After watching the nightmares the Republicans were visiting on innocent immigrants, I couldn't even imagine what the government would make of genitalia that had suddenly and of their own accord, well, gone rogue.

After 40 years of living a female, I could only guess what new indignities would be required to change my Medicare card.

On the other hand, I didn't really want to get injured or sick and end up rooming with a guy in the hospital and being addressed as "Mr." by doctors and nurses simply because that's what it said on my insurance card.

So I manned up and called Social Security in D.C., angry and sad and scared all at the same time, ready to fight to the death with whatever small-minded government bureaucrat stood between me and a Cisgender-Certified Groin.

I need not have worried. They were surprisingly polite, even solicitous. As were the two men at the local office they referred me to, who waved me to the head of the line, photocopied my driver's license and passport, and sent me on my way.

Two weeks later, a new card arrived. I didn't even need a panty check. Think of that -- the Social Security Administration was kinder to me than the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. It fairly boggles the mind.

Maybe things had changed. A little. Maybe as the Age of Genderqueer dawns, in just a few small ways, it does get better.

RIKI WILCHINS is an author and advocate.

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The Age of Genderqueer and "They" Has Arrived

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