Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Misgendering is Not OK

I know I'm not the only one who is absolutely sick of seeing Justin Bieber referred to as a girl.  It's been written before.  But I'm going to express this sentiment personally because many of my friends--people who see themselves as very progressive folks--continually post bullshit like the post on the right making fun of Justin Bieber.

I'm no rabid Justin Bieber fan.  But whether or not I care for him as an artist is not the point.  The point is this:  Intentionally misgendering somebody is always wrong, regardless of what reason you think you have for it.  And that's true whether the person in question is standing in front of you or is a celebrity you will probably never, ever meet.

A couple celebrities have become ubiquitously misgendered.  This includes pretty much every openly transgender celebrity, but it also includes many who are either cisgender or who have at least not verbally indicated they are anything but.  Michael Jackson, Ann Coulter, Rosie O'Donnell, and Justin Bieber are in this group, among others.

In every one of these cases, there is an underlying sexism and transphobia.  Men can't be considered men if they have this or that voice or feminine features, and women certainly can't be considered women if they have a different shape to them or speak a certain way.

Using a misinterpretation of somebody's gender as an insult is always in its own way transphobic, because it is using a gender incongruous with a person's assumed biological sex as self-evidently insulting.  There is no other way to view such a thing as humorous than through a transphobic lens.  Without that lens, such humor would not be considered insulting enough to be considered "funny" to begin with.

All of these examples are infuriating to me--yes, even Ann Coulter--but Justin Bieber's case irritates me on a special level.  It doesn't matter that Bieber is a celebrity who is expected to grow a thick skin anyway... people were doing this when he was barely a teenager.  We're talking about a bunch of adults misgendering a minor and thinking it's somehow fucking hilarious.

Realize that when you do this, you aren't just making a few yuks at the expense of somebody who won't know anyway.  You are contributing to an environment where being transgender, androgynous, gender variant, or even just not a stereotypical version of your gender is viewed as inherently insulting.