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How not to write about trans folks

While looking for something entirely unrelated, I came across this article from the San Diego Union-Tribune about a new book on Wendy Carlos. I wouldn’t actually recommend reading the article, as it comes off rather vapid and hollow, and the Union-Tribune’s website is extremely user-hostile. A couple of things stood out to me, however. First of all, I do think journalists and their publications are generally getting a bit better about talking about trans folks. This article could have been much worse. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.

For one thing, the article casually deadnames Carlos for no reason. Throughout the article, they do refer to her as Wendy (and they never misgender her), but just once there’s a pointless little parenthetical with her deadname. I get that she released albums under that name, and I suppose this could be a point of confusion for some casual listener, but any further research by an interested reader would clear this up. In my opinion, there needs to be a very good reason to deadname a trans person, and this article sorely lacked one.

As I mentioned, the article is actually about a new book about Carlos (or, I suppose, about Switched on Bach). The author, Roshanak Kheshti, is a UC San Diego professor, and talks a bit in the article about diversity and intersectionality in the music scene, apparently a running theme in her coursework as well. What fascinates me is that, in an article that is simultaneously about a prominent transgender musician and a professor who teaches about the impact of marginalized groups on culture, gender identity is not mentioned once. I don’t know if this was a matter of Kheshti not bringing up (say) the struggle of transgender musicians, or if the paper simply plucked their quotations around it, but it’s a really strange omission.

I look forward to checking out Kheshti’s book once it comes out, and I have this article to thank for that. But as I mentioned above, it was a rather hollow read and could have done so much more to acknowledge the realities that trans musicians are dealing with. Now more than ever, the media should feel an obligation to lift up marginalized groups, and subtle deadnaming and inattention to their subjects’ realities does not an obligation fulfill.