[Update: After Jessica Wakeman of The Frisky covered my piece and tweeted her coverage tagging in STFU Parents, Blair Koenig aka STFU Parents clarified what was meant (and not meant) by the tweet. We conversed via Twitter (see the conversation). Basically, Koenig says that she considers herself pro-LGBT and pro-trans* and intended the RT to reflect on social media trends, not to imply that the trans* opinions contained in the compilation were absurd. In other words, she did not tweet with malicious intent although she found some elements of the compilation "amusing."
While the intentions were not malicious, I do not personally believe that intention is what matters here. Therefore, on my end, the conversation has not changed my initial assessment that the posting of the compilation is problematic. Whatever the personal intentions of its founder, STFU Parents is a blog dedicated to mocking people's social media entries. In light of that, an account called the exact same thing re-tweeting a compilation of people's social media entries feels dismissive regardless of personal intention. This is especially true when the compilation lumps together trans* people's pain with Monty Python jokes. YMMV, naturally.]
All the plebes are talking about it while all the cool kids are talking about not knowing, caring, or talking about it. I’m talking, of course, about the bonny new baby born to the British royal family.
Popularly gossipped-about news items are often used as opportunities for people to converse about topics that are of interest of them. While this can be considered in poor taste in the case of tragic events, this one certainly was no such downer of a story.
I noticed that many news outlets used the word “gender” in place of the word “sex” to describe the baby being assigned male at birth. Now, I am far more a descriptivist than a prescriptivist. I understand that people use the word “gender” in the place of the word “sex” for various reasons ranging from squeamishness (ew, teh sex) to ambiguity (i.e. the fact that “sex” can refer to genitals). The latter, however, reveals exactly the point: what we know is that the doctors in question examined the baby’s genitalia and determined that they think that the little one is a boy.
This is not a judgmental or political statement, it states the facts — unless you consider CNN to be a bastion of gender radicalism:
Using the information gathered from these tests, your doctor may suggest an appropriate gender for the baby. The suggestion will be based on the genetic sex, anatomy, and future reproductive and sexual potential. Usually, a family can make a decision within a few days after the birth. Parents should be aware that as the child grows up, he or she may make a different decision about gender identification.
CNN might have been talking specifically about babies whose genitalia don’t readily conform to what is considered definitely male or female by social and/or medical standards. Ultimately, however, this is what is done to all babies, just with less examination and consideration in the case of babies whose genitals aren’t considered “ambiguous” (and those babies aren’t exactly uncommon).
In this case, descriptivism and practicality are somewhat at odds. It’s useful to be able to talk about the concepts encapsulated within each of the terms “sex” and “gender” when those words are distinct rather than interchangeable.
Based on that reasoning, I tweeted…
YOU DO NOT KNOW THAT BABY'S GENDER. YOU KNOW WHAT SEX IT HAS BEEN ASSIGNED BY DOCTORS. THAT IS ALL YOU KNOW.
— Heina Dadabhoy (@heinousdealings) July 22, 2013
…to the great amusement, apparently, of someone whose followers await his RTs of silly post-modern liberals in the hopes of pouncing on us. According to a friend who mods r/LGBT, someone parodied the tweet in such a way that the offender was banned from that particular subreddit. In responding to my tweet, people took the most issue with my use of all-caps (fair), my alleged attribution of malice to the doctors in question (citation needed), and my daring dictionary-thumping attitude towards the words “sex” and “gender.”
The assholes of the Internet didn’t stop their fun with a dictionary-thumping, capslock-using cis girl, though, and that’s where it gets really ugly.
Collection of Royal Baby tweets by people who are angry about Prince George being assigned a gender: http://t.co/iEQIJKlKPt
— STFU, Parents (@STFUParents) July 24, 2013
[TW for transphobia in the replies to this tweet]
All of the people in that tweet compilation aren’t necessarily parents. More importantly, some of them are trans* and spoke up and out about their pain and struggles. This, apparently, renders them just plain hilarious in the eyes of STFU Parents and its readers. The last time I checked STFU Parents, it was filled with people complaining about TMI status updates from parents regarding the bowel movements produced by their precious bundle of joy, not a bastion of transphobia. Another formerly adored humor page bites the dust.
Though it might annoy some, it’s not reprehensible to take a popular gossip item and use it to talk about serious issues that affect you and/or other human beings (though it might be to use all-caps). Using people’s disclosures of the pain of their lived experiences to mock and deride them, on the other hand?
STFU, STFU Parents.