Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Tampa Bay Times Thinks 'GENDER BENDER' Is a Good Description Of Trans People

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 11, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Tampa Bay Times, Taylor McCue, University of South Florida, USF

gender_bender2.jpgThe University of South Florida has just done a great thing for its trans students' safety and comfort: gender-neutral housing options.

So, of course, the Tampa Bay Tribune had to go and ruin it all by putting a trans student's picture on the newspaper's front page with "GENDER BENDER" stamped across hir face. As the Transgender Network Tampa observed in its blog,

"Trans issues should not be treated with the sensationalism that they evidenced in putting Taylor on the cover of their paper, with "GENDER BENDER" slapped over it in huge letters... [They] treated Taylor like ze is some kind of freakshow. It has also outed Taylor not only to the entire campus, but to the entire city. Having spoken to hir the past few days, ze is mortified and embarrassed."

The Tampa Bay Times article itself is fairly good, with a few quibbles here and there. Kudos to USF for taking steps to address the needs of trans students, and others who may be better served by gender neutral housing.

"Today the university goes beyond what other universities in Florida typically do with transgender students, by actively offering them the chance to live alone or with a friend of any gender. They can also live with a random roommate without being outed. At other schools, the burden to ask for special treatment is often on the student."

The article goes on to report that, in the spring, the school will launch a pilot program offering several gender-neutral dorm rooms, where anybody of any gender can live with anybody else.

"The test program will offer eight to 10 spots for students who want to live with another student of a different gender." Wait, a different gender? I thought the idea of gender neutral housing is that the housing is, well, gender neutral. Ah well.

"[W]e feel passionately about making USF a complete living and learning environment," said spokesman Michael Hoad. Sadly, this came a bit late to help this student much. McCue, a senior, has five months left on an off-campus apartment.

The article gives some good background on gender neutral housing options at campuses around the country.

Unfortunately, according to McCue, hir experience in the dorms was characterized by "misogyny and homophobia" ensued. When ze complained to a residence hall adviser, nothing changed.

The article correctly notes that trans students have much different challenges from gay and lesbian students. But, uh oh, then it refers to "the transgender lifestyle," as if it's an intense hobby of some sort, like Civil War re-enactors, or gamers.

And this last, ringing sentence, suggesting that trans people are guarding some devastating secret:

"But in the fall, maybe there will be a kid standing in the housing office with a life-changing secret and, for the first time, a box to check."

Still, progress is progress.


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Karen Michelle | July 11, 2011 12:11 PM

Did anyone bother to complain to the paper? Did anyone advise them of the standards acceptable for articles like this or did we just shrug our shoulders and let this opportunity to educate them slip by as well?

I sent a note to the author, the paper and to GLAAD. The author's email is [email protected], and the paper's email is tb[email protected]

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Om Kalthoum | July 11, 2011 3:51 PM

Odd, indeed, because the article itself seems fantastic to me.

Jill, I wish in cases like this you would link to the article so we can see for ourselves what's what. The one I found, USF heads toward gender-neutral dorms struck me as informative, sensitive, neutral and anything but transphobic. Perhaps the newspaper got the message from outraged readers and took down the offensive "gender bender" headline? I wonder, do they stamp, "BREEDER!" across the pictures of self-identified heterosexuals?

When I read something on a blog which is already taken for granted to have a specific point of view, I appreciate being pointed towards the original source material, not only another blog with the same point of view, so I can form my own opinion. Thanks.

And, oh, how times have changed re: in loco parentis since my long-ago college years:

And as far as USF is concerned, parents won’t have a say in the decision, just like they don’t have the right to be notified about students’ grades.
Om Kalthoum | July 11, 2011 3:52 PM

Apologies here, Jill, as I see a link now. Or did you edit?

I did have the link there, Om, but all is forgiven, as our new format puts the links in bold and it can be a little tricky to sight.

Keep in mind that reporters typically only suggest headlines, and in the end, it is usually the editors that make the decision and/or rewrite them. I've seen it happen several times where journalists have practically begged for a less-offensive headline, and lost.

You're correct, Mercedes, and in fact, I did receive a contact from the writer indicating that the title was created entirely by the editors. But I also note that the writer didn't respond to any of the other points.

kelli maples | July 12, 2011 11:33 AM

As long as they are learning something.

I don't think 'lifestyle' was the worst choice of words -- probably just a naive carryover from the discourse on 'gay lifestyles'. Either way, I don't think the author equated being trans with a persona developed in 'World of Warcraft."

And, only speaking for myself personally, when I was 18 and starting university -- being trans WAS a life-changing secret. And indeed having a box to check (or maybe someone to talk to) might have saved me a decade of serious grief. But that was my experience.

Overall, I thought the article was quite balanced. Certainly more kind than the news reports focusing on my university's decision to implement gender-neutral washrooms.

Looking forward to a positive and upbeat article from you, Dr Weiss!