A self-described “devout Mormon” and “no-man’s-political-gender-sexual-orientation-thinker,” Donna Carol Voss is just starting her blogging career, hoping to navigate the complex issues of gender, male-female relationships, parenting, and faith. This week, she published her second piece at The Federalist and quickly became aghast at how her words had been changed without notification.
Voss’ post, “Gay People Aren’t The Only Ones Hurting,” sought to encourage more sympathy for those struggling with their friendships and their faith because of anti-LGBT positions. She opened by referring to the tragic suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn, but after the piece was published, she learned that Leelah’s name had been switched to “Josh” and her pronouns reverted to male.
That was not her intention. Though she takes some positions against LGBT equality (such as opposing same-sex marriage), her understanding of transgender people has grown quite a bit and she believes it’s important to respect their identities. She outlined this intent in a follow-up at the Huffington Post.
After she objected to The Federalist, she was given two choices about her post: leave it up as they’d changed it or take it down entirely. She chose to leave it up to allow for these conversations. Voss didn’t include The Federalist’s explanation for the editorial change in her Huffington Post piece, but she shared it with ThinkProgress.
This is how managing editor Joy Pullmann defended the misgendering:
I should have informed you pre-publication that it is indeed our style to use biological sex when referring to transgender people. Even if there is some hormone influence, except with XXY people (which are a very tiny minority, often do not identify as transgender, and for whom we would gladly use the pronoun of their choice) transgender people as a whole still either have XY or XX on every single cell in their bodies — which is why our pronoun policy is as it is.
Given that, we are not going to change in the article, but I should have given you the chance to take that into consideration and possibly remove your article because of it beforehand. If you would like, we can take the article down.
ThinkProgress followed up with Pullman for clarification as to how this explanation justified misnaming Leelah as well, but received no response.
The Federalist’s policy completely erases what it means to be transgender, including the significant evidence that there is a biological origin for gender dysphoria and that there is a basic difference between a person’s sex and gender. It’s also violates AP style, which directs reporters to “use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”
The Federalist has become quite the hub for anti-transgender viewpoints, so its preference against respecting transgender identities is not entirely surprising. It does, however, reveal some blatant hypocrisy. Just last week, Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway blasted BuzzFeed for rejecting the idea that there are two sides to the same-sex marriage debate. “It’s easier to pretend there aren’t multiple sides to major issues of the day when you’re only hiring from one side,” she quipped. “Hiring a few dozen people with different viewpoints on the matter would be a good first step.”
Voss is still engaging with The Federalist to see if there’s a way they might allow her perspective on transgender people to be published there in a way that honors her respect for them. She told ThinkProgress that though her perspectives sometimes receive blowback from both sides of the debate, she is adamant about raising awareness, particularly about transgender issues. She acknowledges that Walt Heyer, The Federalist’s go-to “ex-transgender,” has a biased experience that is not representative of other transgender people because “transition regret” is actually incredibly uncommon. She also accepts that Dr. Paul McHugh, conservatives’ go-to anti-transgender psychiatrist, has been widely discredited. And though she’s still figuring out for herself how best to talk about these issues, she wants to bring others along for the ride.
“A lot of very devout Mormons read my blogs, and they are always telling me, ‘I had no idea’ or ‘I never thought of it that way.’ Many have such sheltered experience, they really need something of a travel guide who makes them feel safe enough through our shared similarity to explore more difficult parts of life. Not saying I can make a horse drink, but I can at least show him the water. That’s my mission is a nutshell: lay myself bare and take whatever grief comes in the hopes that doing so will make more people more empathetic to more parts of life they haven’t experienced personally.”
Voss admits that she has a “fairly harmonious alignment with The Federalist,” and she hopes she can still work out a way to talk about transgender issues there without being editorially rewritten. Whether or not the outlet is actually open to the kind of fair portrayals it espouses, as opposed to simply finding more opportunities to erase the lived experiences of transgender people and spread harmful myths about them, remains to be seen.