interrogating cis bias in WNBA media

interrogating cis bias in WNBA media

Hi, friends! It's been a while, I know. I'm sorry for that. It's not that I haven't had things to say; in fact, I've had about 100 things I've meant to turn into a newsletter and never found the time. But I've published a few stories lately that I'd like to share, and I have some things to say about each of those stories that are too long for Twitter, so here I am.

I know broadcasting is hard and yet I have a lot of things to say about it this week!

For VICE, I wrote about the fact that WNBA broadcasters are struggling to pronounce players' names correctly, and they're disproportionately messing up the names of Black players, players of color, and international players. The story spawned some really important conversations (and you should check out Terrika Foster-Brasby and Nneka Ogwumike and Girls Talk Sports talking about the issue, as well).

One thing my piece did not get into, but is a related discussion, is player pronouns. This has been an issue in the WNBA these last two seasons because of the presence of an openly trans player, Layshia Clarendon, who uses she/he/they pronouns. It's been really cool to watch more and more broadcasters become comfortable alternating pronouns for Clarendon during games. But one thing I noticed was that most broadcasters—with the exception of Sloane Martin on the Minnesota Lynx broadcast and perhaps one or two others—are alternating between "she" and "they" pronouns; very few are using "he."

Now, this isn't necessarily wrong. Clarendon does use those pronouns, so they are not being misgendered. But Clarendon himself has specified that he wants people to use all of his pronouns. “I encourage people to not only use ‘they,’” she told Erica Ayala for The Athletic. ”If someone says they’re OK with all pronouns, that actually means they’re OK with all pronouns. You just using ‘they’ doesn’t mean you get a super point. If people just want to say ‘she,’ I’m like, ‘Whatever.’ But you’re actually missing out the parts of me that are ‘they’ and ‘he.’”

When trans people use multiple pronouns, it's really interesting to watch which ones cis people default to. Oftentimes, cis people see multiple pronouns as an invitation to use whatever is most comfortable for them. And, in this case, while broadcasters are getting more comfortable using "they" pronouns, very few are using "he."

There are probably a lot of reasons for this: it's a women's league, they don't know how viewers will respond to hearing those pronouns used, it's new and therefore uncomfortable for them. But all of those reasons ultimately boil down to the same thing: transphobia, even if it's not malicious or intentional. It is still a refusal to validate the entirety of someone's identity because it causes (or might cause) a cis person discomfort. And that is something I hope more broadcasters will begin to wrestle with and interrogate.

Just like its a broadcaster's job to get a player's name right, it's also their job to make sure they are using a player's pronouns correctly. If a name is unfamiliar, they likely practice before they call a game, until they know they can get it right. Similarly, they can practice unfamiliar pronouns before a broadcast. It's not really that hard. In fact, when I've had friends who struggled with someone in their lives using new pronouns, one of the things I've suggested is to role play with someone else, practicing using the pronouns until they feel natural.

I don't expect perfection, nor do I expect broadcasters to get this down overnight. My goal here is not to call anyone out (except for Sloane Martin for getting it right!); I'm simply doing my job, which is to report on and analyze women's sports and the media that covers it. As a trans person, I bring that lens to my work. And I hope that lens can help cis folks in media continue to question their biases, even the ones they don't realize exist. This is less about demanding that all broadcasters get comfortable using "he" pronouns for Clarendon, and more about asking them to interrogate why they're not.

drag can be, well, a drag

Weirdly, I had two pieces publish at VICE the same day last week. The second one was about the physical toll drag takes on the bodies of the people who perform it. Someone told me they were surprised to see this story from me because it seemed outside my usual beat, but I'd beg to differ on that point. I cover queer sports and, while drag is not a sport, it is a performance art that uses the body as spectacle and entertainment, with marginalized bodies at the center of that. It's directly in my wheelhouse (not dissimilar from when I covered the queer and trans wrestling league and the performers said, "I've never thought of myself as an athlete," but to me they so clearly were!). Anyway, come for the Tyra Banks references, stay for the labor organizing principles!

it's incredible how much damage the hatred of just a few people can do

How do you write about a documentary that covers an issue readers of a publication are already intimately familiar with? That was the question I asked myself when it was time to write about Changing The Game, the film about teen trans athletes that debuted on Hulu last week. Readers of them. already know so much about what trans athletes are up against, they know why trans kids should be allowed to play, they know that trans people should be allowed to be the heroes and protagonists of their own stories. The film's talking points wouldn't be relevant in the way they would be to a mainstream (read: presumed cis) audience.

What I wanted to do was ask Andraya Yearwood, one of the athletes in the film, how it felt to have her running career used as the catalyst for dozens of anti-trans sports bills across the country. I wanted to ask what she thought about how far the hatred of the three cis girls who fought against her ability to compete had traveled since they came for her and her friend Terry Miller, as she watched them pen op-eds for USA Today and testify against discriminatory bills in other states, all while they ran Division I track in college. I wanted to ask Mack Beggs, whose family loved the Republican Party, how they felt about their own party leading the attack on other kids like their own, the one they support wholeheartedly.

And so I did. I hope you'll read it; it's unlike most of the coverage the film as received. And then, I hope you'll go watch the film.

From now until November, you'll get reminders from me to please pre-order my book if you haven't already! Pre-orders mean a lot. Signed copies available through Silver Unicorn Books.