Tina K. Russell

November 25, 2009

Pronouns and the brutal power of language

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:05 pm

ROME (Reuters) – A Brazilian transsexual caught up in a scandal which prompted the resignation of a senior Italian politician — the center-left governor of Lazio region, which includes Rome — was found burned to death in his home Friday. Police found a body following a fire in a basement flat in a neighborhood frequented by transsexual prostitutes and court sources said magistrates were treating the death as murder.

Forensic tests were expected to identify the remains as those of a transsexual known only as Brenda, police said.

Brenda and another Brazilian transsexual were at the center of a case involving the blackmail of former Lazio Governor Piero Marrazzo by four police officers who secretly filmed him having sex and taking drugs with one of the transsexuals.

via Transsexual in Italian political scandal murdered | International | Reuters.

Here’s what I wrote to Reuters:

I’m upset that you referred to Brenda, the murdered Brazilian transsexual at the center of an Italian political scandal, using male pronouns (“he” and “his”) rather than the correct female pronouns. It was even more shocking to see such direct insult in an article about how she burned to death in a firebombing.

It’s rather terrifying to the transgender community, worldwide, to imagine that our identities will not be respected even after our deaths. I can only hope that tragedies like this, the sadly regular occurrence of transgender people murdered for being honest about who they are, will serve as a wakeup call about the brutal power of language. Organizations like Reuters set the tone for society with their use of language, and differences like “he” and “she” mean the difference between “normal” and “abnormal” (whether or not someone’s gender is “legitimate”), which can mean the difference between life and death.

The Reuters stylebook (thank you for putting it online!) does not directly address transgender pronouns, but here is the advice of the AP stylebook: “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.” I hope you will use this wise advice in the future. Thank you!

December 11, 2008

Animal Cussing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:40 am

Remember, the N word is okay, so as long as it ends in an “a,” the “a” has a grave accent, the “N” has a tilde, and it’s being said by an electronic sheep.

Discussion questions:

  1. Do androids dream of foulmouthed electric sheep?
  2. Those accent marks would roughly describe how the word is pronounced by Colonel Stinkmeaner of The Boondocks, wouldn’t they?

November 4, 2008

A historic night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:26 pm

Some thoughts:

First of all, it’s “a historic”! Not “an”! It’s “a” if you hear the “h”, “an” if you don’t. A historic. Thank you. (Sorry, it’s a mistake I’ve heard some people make today, and it’s been driving me batty.)

Second, I’m so happy that the man I supported through the primaries is now going to sit in the Oval Office. It’s a new spirit in America, one in which the philosophy of everyone-for-themselves has failed, and we must learn to work together.

Thanks, everyone! Now that this two-year, nonstop political campaign for the Presidency is over, I’ll need a good, long sleep. I’m amazed, though… it’s a cliché at this point, but yes, I’m impressed we have a black President. I always knew we had it in us as Americans—pundits just love to kick around the football of racism, when Americans really aren’t all that racist as individuals—but I didn’t know it would be so soon that we would have the confidence, the willingness, to send a black man into America’s harshest, most stressful battle and give him the backing he needed to emerge victorious.

I wonder what other awesome things we didn’t know we could do?

Yes we can.

August 6, 2008

No, really, I’m not

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:46 pm

ABC News: Clinton Exclusive: ‘I Am Not a Racist’
When asked, “Do you personally have any regrets about what you did, campaigning for your wife?” Clinton, at first, answered, “Yes, but not the ones you think. And it would be counterproductive for me to talk about.”

But then he added, “There are things that I wish I’d urged her to do. Things I wish I’d said. Things I wish I hadn’t said.

“But I am not a racist,” he continued. “I’ve never made a racist comment and I never attacked him [Obama] personally.”

Okay, Bill, first rule: never, ever, ever, ever, ever say “I am not a racist.” Ever. Second rule is especially never do it when the other person has not volunteered the word. George Lakoff writes eloquently about this in his book, Don’t Think of an Elephant: as soon as Richard Nixon said “I am not a crook,” the public’s mind was made up. Nixon is hiding something. Oh, and he’s a crook.

Methinks the Bubba doth protest too much. Nobody ever accused Clinton of being racist–just racially insensitive–which is why he really never should have said this. And to think he was once so media-savvy…

August 5, 2008

Please, please don’t overdo it

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 2:47 pm

This is why I hate it when William Safire goes on vacation:

On Language – Me, Myself and I – NYTimes.com
So what effect has capitalizing “I” but not “you” — or any other pronoun — had on English speakers? It’s impossible to know, but perhaps our individualistic, workaholic society would be more rooted in community and quality and less focused on money and success if we each thought of ourselves as a small “i” with a sweet little dot. There have, of course, been plenty of rich and dominant cultures throughout history that have gotten by just fine without capitalizing the first-person pronoun or ever writing it down at all. There have also been cultures that committed atrocities even while capitalizing “you.”

Still, there seems to be something to it all. Modern e-mail culture has shown that many English speakers feel perfectly comfortable dismissing all uses of capitalization — and even correct spelling, for that matter. But take this a step further: i suggest that You try, as an experiment, to capitalize those whom You address while leaving yourselves in the lowercase. It may be a humbling experience. It was for me.

It’s a very good and informative article; it’s also full of the cutesy, candy-coated turns of phrase that I cannot stand to read in The New York Times. They make me retch precisely because I imagine how proud the author must have been with them, which makes me cold with fear that such bombast may infect my writing, if it hasn’t already.

I once read a book on writing that recommended that, if you’re afraid to pull a piece of writing from your larger work because you’re too proud of what’s in there, stick it in a file called “cuts” and leave it alone. That way, you’ll always be able to go back to it should you need it; though, he found, he never did. (The book is The Playwright’s Guidebook, by Stuart Spencer. I recommend it.)

July 19, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:29 am

Often Unsure How to Handle Behavior Disorders, Schools Turn to Forcible Restraint – NYTimes.com
The line between skillful conflict resolution and abuse is slipperier than many assume.

Yeah, the line is so slippery, you just don’t know where to draw the slope.

(Actually, it’s a good article. I had a friend with Tourette’s syndrome in middle school, and sometimes he would lash out, and coping with the issue was a mix of him learning not to respond to teasing–not giving the tormentor the benefit of a reaction–and the rest of us having to learn not to push his buttons, because it hurt him deeply and often ended badly. I guess, sometimes kids who act out are responding quite reasonably, in a way, to things that other kids learned to swallow long ago. It’s still an important skill to be able to let it go when you’re angry, it’s just… it takes effort on both sides to settle a conflict, you know?)

(That’s not to say it’s an easy question when or when not to use restraint, as the article described. I’d say it would be an absolute last resort… if a teacher is using it regularly, either the teacher or the student should not be at the school, and my suspcion leans toward the teacher.)

June 2, 2008

On framing, understanding

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:37 pm

Op-Ed Contributors – What Do You Call a Terror(Jihad)ist? – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
The word “jihad” means to “strive” or “struggle,” and in the Muslim world it has traditionally been used in tandem with “fi sabilillah” (“in the path of God”). The term has long been taken to mean either a quest to find one’s faith or an external fight for justice. It makes sense, then, for terrorists to associate themselves with a term that has positive connotations. For the United States to support them in that effort, however, is a fundamental strategic mistake.

This op-ed combines two interests of mine: a) the importance of framing the issue properly, and b) the need for us in the West to understand and respect the Islamic world.

To call our fight against terrorists a “war on terror” was an enormous strategic and psychological blunder for the United States. Criminals have no honor, but warriors do. To call our fight a “war” gave terrorists dignity they do not deserve, and saying they are fighting a “jihad”–a holy struggle–even more so.

It’s sad that we were woken out of our slumber by pseudo-Islamic terrorists with no respect for the message of the Koran. Now we know that we need to do more to understand the Muslim world, but our impressions of it have been shaped by those terrorists and by bigots nudging us to bomb Mecca for the hell of it. So, “jihad”–a sacred struggle, internal or external–and “intifada”–a shaking off–have been defined in our minds by people who do nothing but vandalism to the words of Prophet Muhammad. Michelle Malkin even went nuts over a traditional Arab scarf. Clearly, something has to give.

We cannot let a billion people be defined by the people least qualified to represent them: Islamic terrorists and Western racists. Make some effort to learn about Islam. I listened to Muhammad: Prophet for Our Time, by Karen Alexander, on audiobook. I recommend that, but you can find your own way. It’s all part of being a good citizen.

April 28, 2008

The Subjunctive Mood: A Plea

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:46 am

This was written by my brother, by the way. It is also required reading.

Daily Kos: The Subjunctive Mood: A Plea

The English language has a rich vocabulary but meager grammar. Where most languages’ verbs offer subtle shades of meaning with every choice of suffix, English has only blunt instruments like “should” – our inflections barely account for person and number. So it is that evey last vestige of grammatical nuance is precious and must be cherished.

Which is why, dear friends, I bring this grave news. One of those few survivors is now clinging for its life, and at this very moment its unwitting executioners – some of them on this very blog! – threaten to let it fall away, lost forever.

That victim: The contrary-to-fact subjunctive.

It began on March 10 of this year, with Geraldine Ferraro’s asinine assertion that Obama wouldn’t have gotten so far in the Democratic primary “if he was a white man.” As a defender of the subjunctive mood and a devoted Obama fanboy, I was doubly pained to hear those words. My irritation turned to dismay and horror when I learned that she had said the same thing about Jesse Jackson in 1984, except then she said Jackson wouldn’t be where he is “if he were not a black man.”

And so the subjunctive was dead to Geraldine Ferraro.

Read the rest below the fold, or by clicking the link. Doing so is required. (more…)

February 28, 2008

Black is the New…. whatever

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:35 pm

Go Back to Black – New York Times

What a great and emotionally stirring call for an embrace of pan-Africanism. My dad’s from Norway, so I’m very proud of my Scandinavian heritage. I hope we can all learn from this guy that sometimes, meaning well, we slice and dice ourselves into ever-smaller categories that slowly eclipse what we have in common. Hearing the pundits kick Barack Obama’s race around like a balloon at a party, you’d never realize that black people across America and all over the world see Obama as one of them.

And hell, I think it’s high time we had a black president. I think it’s about time for a woman president, too, so it’s nice that history wins either way. It’s just…

I tell this story a lot: I love Milestone Comics, the short-lived, black-owned comics label in the late nineties that portrayed a truly diverse slate of black heroes and villains. One of their series was Icon, about a wealthy lawyer with superpowers who fought crime alongside his impoverished-but-plucky teenage sidekick.

I remember that one woman wrote to the letters page referring to herself, offhandedly, as “black,” noting that “I’m not African-American, I’m black and I’ll be black until the day I die.” That really stuck with me, and to this day is the example I cite for why I staunchly refer to myself as “transsexual,” and instruct others to do the same for me, rather than the softer “transgender” that is becoming the more accepted term. “Transgender” is a much broader word and I do not doubt its utility, but it irks me to think of people calling me by a word created so that people wouldn’t squirm so much when they talk about me. I’m transsexual, and if you don’t like it, you can stuff it. (I guess part of that is that I also often like to stuff it in people’s heads that, actually, no, my gender does not exist on a fanciful spectrum sprouting forth from the ether and seeding beautiful, wild geraniums which smell like sensual mermaids bathing in the Rhine. But, that’s another discussion. You can write to me, if you want, if all this went over your head.)

Yes, I do have a big concern (though I’m not sure it’s what this columnist was trying to express, so don’t attach it to him) that, in well-meaning attempts to be politically correct, we fragment ourselves into tinier and tinier categories. Look at us, uh, queers: there was gay, and then it was gay and lesbian, and then gay, lesbian, and bisexual, and then that plus transgender or transsexual (though you know which side of the fence I’m on there, I am aware that “transsexual” excludes a lot of people who ought to be included in such diverse arrangements), and then it became a series of initials (not an acronym, those are pronounced as words), and started including queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and spicy Italian salami. I hear a similar dogpile is taking place in minority recruitment, where university officials weary of talking openly about “racial minorities” (and how, yes, they are probably underrepresented at your school, so get to work), have arranged various minorities into an ever-lengthening initialism obfuscating whatever it was they were trying to accomplish.

I say, let’s ditch the political correctness and tell it like it is! You can’t unite around common themes when they’re longer than could feasibly fit on a poster or billboard. Besides… I’ve always been irked by “transsexuals” being lumped in with gay groups, eager to add a “T” to their missions without stopping and taking the effort to learn how to represent us… and as a result, transgender rights has failed to coalesce into a single political movement and has instead ended up in the back closet of gay rights, gathering dust next to old rainbow flags. I’m more comfortable around straight friends who don’t give a flying damn who I am than around gay friends who want to be seen next to me in Stephen Colbert-like photo ops. (Obviously that kind of stuff goes both ways, straight and gay, I’m just saying I don’t appreciate being used as a poster child if it’s not backed up with serious commitment.) I don’t really feel “left out” by organization titles that don’t include me if they include gay people. After all, transsexual rights are not included in the mission statements of the NAACP, or the Anti-Defamation League, or, uhhh… the Free Software Foundation… groups are organized around specific goals, and I’m okay if mine ain’t in them. I’d much rather see organizations struggling to look “LGBT” get serious or drop the “T.”

…That said, I was doubleplus creeped out when I saw a campaign message from Hillary Clinton that emphasized her support in the “LGB” community. That was just weird. Who says that?

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