Xtra, Canada's gay and lesbian newspaper, has been creating a stir with ethical concerns over the treatment of trans people interviewed for their paper. Two policies seem to be at the center of the concerns. First is the assertion by editor Danny Glenwright that it can be journalistically relevant to reveal a trans person's birth name without their consent. Glenwright said this after using the birth name of a trans sex worker interviewed in the paper on his personal Facebook account. Secondly, the paper refuses to print the preferred pronouns of those who use "they" as their pronoun. The paper claims it is grammatically incorrect, even though their critics have pointed out that Merriam Webster has released a video saying that 'they' used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun is grammatically correct.
The controversy is becoming increasingly burdensome for the paper. A petition was circulated last spring, and calls for a boycott have been growing since Danny Glenwright's statements in December. Queer musician Rae Spoon was set to be on the cover of Xtra in January, yet they refused permission to be included in the paper when they learned about the boycott and discovered that their pronoun preference would not be respected. Rae wrote a compelling account of the experience on their personal tumblr. This week Ivan Coyote, a columnist for Xtra, wrote a column for the paper pleading with them to change their policy.
I humbly request that Xtra do some serious thinking about what it means for a queer paper to refuse to honour such a fundamentally basic issue so important to many of its readers, or potential readers. All of its trans, gender non-conforming, gender-queer readers and all of our many allies. Call us what we wish to be called.
There was additional drama this last December surrounding Danny Glenwright's Facebook post. When trans activists organized a boycott demanding an apology, the editor wrote his own column in response. He said he "was sorry if I had been hurtful," but when it came to posting the interviewee's birth name he said, "I won't apologize for that," claiming that as a journalist it was his right to "refer to a person's known history in an effort to best tell their story." He also claimed that the interviewee had bullied him as a youth, which she denies. He concludes by chastising those involved in the boycott and telling them that calling him transphobic is an act of bullying. Whether or not she bullied him, it decreases his credibility when he demonstrates that his definition of bullying apparently includes being called out for oppressive behavior.
The complicated back-and-forth is well documented in an article by Morgan M. Page, the organizer who arranged the interview. However, what gets lost in the drama of who said what to whom, various accusations, and who's apologizing or not apologizing for what, is the fact that a policy has effectively just been created. Glenwright reserves the right for the paper to use the birth name of a trans person, not only in social media promotion, but at any time in the paper.
When trans people choose to be interviewed by Xtra, they now have to consider the possibility that their birth name may be printed without their consent, and if they use gender-neutral pronouns, they will have to choose between having the wrong pronouns used or being dehumanizingly referred to with no pronouns at all. Clearly, those who choose not to be interviewed have more complicated motives than simply trying to bully or hurt the paper's editor. When a columnist at the paper, especially one that has been there for 11 years, feels their only recourse is to write a column criticizing their own paper, clearly, something is wrong. Hopefully these concerns can be resolved quickly, but in the meantime, it appears likely that trans people connected to the paper will continue speaking out.